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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 10, 2008

INDEX:

SYRIA / PALESTINIANS

Former President Carter’s Trip / The Elders’ Trip
Secretary Rice’s Call with Former UN Secretary General Annan
Assistant Secretary Welch’s Briefing for Former President Carter
Possible Interaction with Hamas / Issue of Sovereign States Meeting with Hamas
Hamas a Terrorist Organization

PALESTINIANS

Issue of Hamas Becoming Part of National Unity Government
Conditions of International Community / No Indication Hamas Prepared to Meet

MISCELLANEOUS

U.S. Image Abroad in Light of Undocumented Immigration Enforcement in U.S.

KOSOVO / SERBIA

Call for Elections by Serbia / Kosovo a Sovereign State
Adoption of Constitution / Possible Violence

BURMA

U.S. View of Draft Constitution / Serious Concerns
Claim by Burma that Foreign Governments are interfering in Internal Affairs
Aung San Suu Kyi

NEPAL

Constituent Assembly Elections

ZIMBABWE

UN Meeting / Issue of Zimbabwe Worthy of UNSC Consideration and Discussion

NORTH KOREA

Assistant Secretary Hill’s Meetings in Singapore and Beijing
Status of Declaration / Substance of Declaration Important

PAKISTAN

Democratic Process / Urge Dialogue Among Parties to Settle Differences

CHINA

Olympic Torch Run in San Francisco


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:36 p.m. EDT

Good afternoon. At this rate, Lambros, you’re going to get in, like, 10, 15 questions. (Laughter.) I’m not surprised. Let’s go ahead and start off with Matt.

Can you – were you able to find out exactly when it was that Welch spoke to President Carter?

I was unable to pin down the exact date, but I think it was that weekend of March 29th or so, when we were on the road. The Secretary was on the road traveling –

Okay.

and David spoke with former President Carter, I think, that weekend – spent about, you know, a half hour on the phone or so.

While – so in person --

And prior to that, David had also spoken with – this is David Welch, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs – had spoken with former President Carter’s staff about the trip in general.

Okay. Well, then the – so if I have the timeline correctly, this conversation had – this 30 minute conversation happens, well, while --

About two weeks ago, yeah.

-- while he and we were in either Jerusalem or Amman?

Right. Well, in the region. In the region.

Okay. And then on Tuesday, Secretary Rice calls Kofi Annan and they discuss the trip of the elders.

The real -- the reason for that discussion was really to talk about Kenya. They took the opportunity to talk about other things.

Okay. Well, but that comes up. So --

Yeah.

So then on Tuesday, later Tuesday, shortly after this phone call, the elders announce that they’re postponing their trip?

Right.

Yeah. And now --

If you’re saying so, I believe you. I don’t --

Yeah. It’s on the website. There’s a statement that says we were planning --

-- I don’t know that.

-- to go, but now we’ve decided to postpone it.

Sure. Okay. I take that as a statement of fact. I don’t know.

The Elders.org -- I’m sure they appreciate the plug. So they postponed their trip. And now, today, the Carter Center announces that former President Carter and Steve Solarz among other people, are going to go on their own on the same – virtually the same itinerary that the elders had planned on going. You know, does – this would seem to suggest to me that the Secretary of State has more influence over Kofi Annan than she does over the former President. I’m wondering --

I think these are -- the elders to which you refer -- I don’t have the complete list – is a robust group of statespeople, former elected leaders. And they are going to each make their individual decisions about where they go and with whom they meet. You know, as for former Secretary General Kofi Annan -- you’re getting to the issue of interactions with Hamas here. He’s fully aware of where we stand on that. He will make his own decisions, as will former President Carter and other members of this group.

Did the Secretary ask or suggest to Kofi Annan that the timing might not be right for the elders to visit?

She – look, Matt, the level at which she operates, she knows that these individuals are going to make their own decisions. They don’t need to hear from her what the United States’ policy is. So in terms of whether or not the United States influenced anybody’s decision, you have to talk to them about their thinking.

Well, here it is. Carter plans to go with the elders.

Yeah.

The elders cancel their trip, and then he – and then after being specifically advised that this particular meeting with Hamas, if it should happen, is a bad idea, he’s going to go ahead and do it anyway. What does that say?

That says that he is the former President of the United States and he will take his own decisions. And if he decides to travel to Syria, we will provide full support befitting a former President of the United States while he is in Syria. One thing we will not do, however, is in – have the Department of State, in any way, engage in any sort of planning related to a meeting with Hamas.

You discussed this a little bit this morning, but in the past few months, you’ve kind of given the Egyptians, you know, the license or, you know, kind of discussed with them their plans to engage Hamas, specifically on the issue of border crossings. Why it is okay or – you know, did you kind of tacitly approve of the Egyptians doing it, but it’s not okay for someone like Jimmy Carter or Kofi Annan (inaudible)?

Well, it’s a completely different situation. You’re talking about sovereign states. And when we talk to a sovereign state about, you know, their thinking of, in any way, engaging with Hamas, we make it clear where we stand on this. You can read that very clearly through our numerous public statements on the issue. You can go back to the Quartet statement from London back in 2005, I believe, and understand exactly where we stand.

Now, with respect to the Egyptians, they already had an initiative underway to talk about secure

-- better securing that Philadelphi Strip, which lies between Egypt and the border with Gaza. They were also talking to Hamas about bringing an end to the rocket attacks. That is their initiative. In terms of the former President, he as well as others are going to make their own decisions about engaging with Hamas. But they’re completely, completely different situations.

But why is it the characterization of whether a person is an individual or a sovereign state? I mean, why is that a difference? I mean, Kofi Annan presumably had his own initiative that was kind of trying to instill the message of peace. So what’s the – I understand that they’re different entities.

Right.

But why is it okay for one and not okay for another?

Look, we provide – we’re just providing our counsel in terms of --

But you didn’t – but in terms of Egypt, did you provide counsel to Egypt not to talk to Hamas?

No, they make their own decisions. I mean, do we have to go back to the history of the nation-state system and the international order?

No.

I mean, these are – you know, I -- frankly, I don’t get the question. I think these are completely and in every possible way separate and distinct cases. So I guess I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

They’re separate and distinct cases but they’re both talking to Hamas, and you seem to approve of one doing it and not of the other.

You know, Elise, I’ve given you an answer that I can give you here without going through the history of the international order.

Yeah.

Well, wouldn’t you agree, though, that the timing was a little awkward for these elder statesmen if they had gone ahead with the trip? And, I mean, would you counsel them and say: Listen, the negotiations are in a – sort of a sensitive patch, we’ve just come out of a sort of a no-negotiating pattern, we’re now negotiating again; if you start talking to Hamas, this is going to make it difficult for us? I mean, you don’t have those kinds of conversations?

Look, they make their own decisions. They make their own decisions. They know exactly where we stand on these issues. They have their own resources and contacts throughout the reason – region, putting aside Hamas. They understand fully well where things stand. And these are people who are experienced at working on the international stage, so they’re fully capable of making their own decisions.

But is it your view that people with the sort of international credibility and standing of Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan, if they were to meet Hamas, then that gives Hamas, you know, credibility of its own kind and makes your job more difficult in terms of isolating Hamas?

No, because it doesn't change the nature of Hamas. For example, within the past year I know the Russian Government has had meetings with Hamas. That doesn't change the nature of this group and the fact that it is a terrorist organization and responsible for the deaths of many, many innocent civilians. That doesn't change the nature of it.

Now, in terms of sovereign states meeting with Hamas, we, again, have made it clear where we stand. And if they choose to do -- choose to have such meetings, that is their decision. But again, we emphasize to them if you do go down that path -- and, you know, our counsel would be not to engage Hamas -- please emphasize to them that they should comply with the just demands of the international community. And that is a message, I’m sure, that all of these individuals who are contemplating such a move are fully aware of. They know exactly where we stand. Former Secretary General Kofi Annan, he was a member of the Quartet; he was part of negotiating that statement in London, so he fully understands where we stand. I mean -- and I’m sure that that is one data point among many that they take into consideration. But ultimately, they’re going to have to make their own decisions.

Well, if it doesn't change the nature of Hamas -- these meetings -- why would you advise former President Carter not to see them?

Well, it’s -- again, it’s a -- I said this because I wanted to make it very clear that -- where we stand, particularly because it involved the travel of a former President. And it was worth repeating in this particular case where we stand and the fact that we counseled against it just for that reason, just so it is very clear where we stand, and make it clear that this would be an individual decision by the former President if he were to have such a meeting. Very unique circumstances regarding this, as opposed to --

Kofi Annan or someone else?

Correct, yeah.

And that unique circumstance is that he happens to be the former Commander-in-Chief of the United States? That’s --

Former President, yeah. I think that that’s pretty -- pretty plain.

Okay. So Welch said to him then, basically, what you’ve been saying all along: We would not -- we would counsel against such a meeting, but if you do decide to go, please tell them that X --

I didn’t-- you know, I didn’t talk to David about that part of the conversation.

Well, it was 30 minutes long. That sounds like a --

But it was -- it was about where we are in our efforts in the region writ large. I mean, again, you have to understand when former high-ranking officials of the United States travel abroad on -- for a variety of different reasons, very often they will seek a briefing from the White House or the State Department or the Department of Defense, depending on the particular issue, about U.S. policy, where we stand on particular issues of international interest in the region to which they are traveling. And it is a courtesy that we extend on a regular basis because we think it is important that these officials be informed of where we are. Now, that isn’t to say that they are going to agree with us, that they are -- in any way support our policies. But we think, as a matter of courtesy, it is important that they are informed of where we stand.

So Carter asked for this briefing?

Yes, yeah. And it wasn’t about Syria or Hamas. It was about travel to the region in general.

So it was deemed important enough that Welch should take 30 minutes of his time during a trip to the Middle East while he’s with the Secretary going back and forth between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it was important enough to do it then, even though the trip was not supposed to happen until this month?

It was -- you want to have a timely response to a former President. When a former President calls up, you want -- obviously, you want to extend the courtesies of giving a timely response to an inquiry.

But, Sean, did he kind of seek -- I know he asked for the meeting about the general kind of mission to the Middle East and everything. But did he specifically ask you whether it would be unhelpful for him to meet with Hamas, or it was in the context of the whole discussion of the trip where it came up that he might meet them? I'm just curious -- was he --

Right.

-- was he asking you whether it would be helpful or not?

Look, I am -- I’ve gone as far as I'm going to go in describing the conversation, you know, out of deference to the former President. He can -- if he chooses himself to describe in greater detail the conversation, then, obviously, will -- he will. I am not going to do that for him.

Yeah.

Separate issue. Canada today --

Can I stay on this? I'm sorry.

Mm-hmm.

Just on a different track. Would it complicate your mission if Hamas becomes part of a national unity government, leaving the negotiation (inaudible) to Mahmoud Abbas?

President Abbas has made it clear that that is not something that he is pursuing. He's laid out certain conditions for Hamas: renounce -- turn away from violence; recognize previous agreements by the PLO, which includes recognizing Israel's right to exist. I haven't seen any indication that Hamas is prepared to meet those conditions. And President Abbas couldn't have been more clear, just on this last trip, in public, standing next to the Secretary and saying that those were the conditions.

But they were talking (inaudible) basically getting the two factions together should -- should be a part of the government. Would you willing to talk to them if they don't meet their criteria, recognizing Israel, renouncing violence --

Our position has not changed. And I -- there is no contemplation of changing that position. Hamas understands what the conditions of the international community are. They can read the Quartet statement. It's up on our website. So they understand fully well what the conditions are. Nonetheless, they have chosen to ignore those things and to, again, engage in violence against innocent civilians. I don't see any evidence that they are contemplating changing their behaviors at all.

Samir, the same subject or something different?

This is on President Carter. Did Ambassador Welch give former President Carter any message to carry to President Assad?

No.

Canada today has announced it is blocking the sale of a satellite firm, because it has sensitive satellite robotics technology, to a -- to the U.S. rocket-maker Alliant Technical -- Techsystems. They argue, apparently, that -- the Canadian Government -- that it would threaten Canadian sovereignty to put such technology into foreign hands; i.e., U.S. hands. And I just wondered whether you had any comment on this, whether this is something that you will -- you know, whether you'll, you know, oppose it or whether you'll send a note to the Canadian Government on behalf of Alliant?

I'm not familiar with the issue.

Could you take the question, please?

Sure, be happy to.

Thank you.

Goyal.

Another subject, Sean. Sean, this is a case of fraud and cheating by the companies in India and in the U.S. and also middlemen here. Hundreds of Indian workers are being brought from India with the promise of green card and H1B visa. And hundreds of them were protesting last week at the Indian Embassy and they also met with the Indian Ambassador. If State Department have heard anything from the Indian Embassy or Ambassador about this case? And now they are stranded here because no jobs and no work -- what they were promised.

And also, about 372 cases in the federal court, in the court in Atlanta. So there are almost thousands of people like that, that they are being brought here with a promise. Are you -- is the Secretary aware of – if you can look into this, because it's a huge problem? Also, the case involves so many thousands of students also from India with the promise same thing, that they now will go to school also, but they are promising jobs.

Okay. If there's an aspect of this particular issue that relates to the business of the State Department, I'll be happy to post an answer for you.

And another question, a little --

A shorter one?

Yeah, a shorter one.

Okay.

There are mass illegal immigrant arrests are going around the U.S., including many in Virginia. Do you think U.S. image abroad in many of those countries -- are you ready to handle that, or if you are hearing any kind of those because you have been trying to get, as far as the U.S. image abroad is concerned, but now many countries feel that what's going on as far as land of immigrants that the U.S. is concerned --

Goyal, I'm -- I think you should direct the particulars of your question to the people responsible for enforcing our laws here. As for the U.S. image abroad, it’s very clear and we have worked very hard to make it clear to the people around the world that the United States is a welcoming nation, whether people are coming here to visit or coming here to emigrate.

Lambros.

On Kosovo. Mr. McCormack, the Serbian Government has decided yesterday to have elections in twenty-three municipalities in Kosovo during the general elections of May 11th. Are you going to deploy forces in order to stop extremist Albanians not to disturb the Serbs to exercise their political right to vote?

Well, I am not familiar with this particular issue, but I think it bears reminding everybody that Kosovo is a sovereign state and it is not for another sovereign state to call for elections in another sovereign – call for and organize elections in another sovereign state. You know, beyond that, I just am not familiar with the particulars of this case and we’re happy to look into it for you.

Yesterday, the Albanians in Kosovo adopted a constitution which will be enforced June 15 when the UN completes a handover of powers to the Albanians and to the EU forces. Since, Mr. McCormack, there are a lot of fears that the fighting will erupt between extremist Albanians and EU soldiers, I’m wondering who will be in charge to keep the order?

Well, we have been working very closely with the new Kosovar Government and it is my impression that those responsible for any sort of agitation really are the people coming in from the outside. So it’s not the actual – it’s not actually people who are resident in Kosovo that are disturbed, that are agitating or even turning to use of violence. It’s really those people coming in from the outside and that are being sent in from the outside that are causing the difficulties and the troubles in Kosovo. So, I think your attention is actually focused on the wrong group of people. You should focus primarily on those individuals and governments outside of Kosovo who are trying to stir up trouble in Kosovo.

The USA Today report, do you have anything on that? There’s a report that they’re --

I will – yes, it’s --

-- hundreds of millions of dollars in behind dues to international organizations from the UN peacekeeping -- ILO? Do you --

I will happily organize, either on an individual or a group basis, a briefing for interested parties by experts in this particular issue. So, we – Gonzo will be in touch with you, so --

Okay. Thank you.

Get in touch with Gonzo if you’re – if you guys are interested in talking in detail about this issue.

Gollust. Let me move back here.

I was wondering if the State Department has had a chance to take a look at the new draft to Burmese constitution. It has now been published and will be voted on next month. It has some unusual provisions.

Right. We have just been able to take a look at it and a first reading indicates some issues of serious concern. It, at first glance, would appear intended only to perpetuate the rule of the existing military junta in Burma. It does not provide for the kind of open, serious and sustained dialogue with the democratic opposition forces in Burma that we, as well as other members of the international community, have called for, and that, for example, Aung San Suu Kyi herself has called for. So at first glance, the – this draft constitution that the regime intends to put to a vote does not give much hope to those who are looking for real democratic change in Burma.

The Rangoon government is claiming today that the – that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party is taking its cues from foreign governments and that foreign embassies are interfering in the political process in that country.

That’s a canard. Look, the – these – Aung San Suu Kyi and those who are pushing for democratic change in Burma are Burmese patriots who are -- who have an interest in a better future for all of the people of their country. These are people who have been working on these issues long before the international spotlight ever focused on them.

What’s – how do you say duck in Burmese? (Laughter.) Do you have – do you have any comment yet on the Nepalese election, an election that I note President Carter was observing?

Right, right, right. Initial reports are that it is proceeding with some levels of violence and some issues of concern, but in both of those cases, at least initially, it would indicate that the level of violence and some of the issues of concern are somewhat less than we might have expected going in. It is an important moment for Nepal, and we’ll see exactly how the election process plays out and what international observers have to say about the process, not only election day but in the run-up as well as post-election. So I don’t think the election results are going to be known for another week to 10 days. And during this period of time, we’ll have an opportunity to really gather all the facts and assess them to provide a more – a more definitive analysis of the election and the election period.

And on another election or post-election, were you able to find out anything about moves at the UN for a meeting on Zimbabwe?

I did. I looked into it and I think it’s – the intent of this meeting, as I understand it, as called by the South Africans who hold the presidency of the Security Council this month, is to talk about the relationship between the UN and regional organizations, including the AU. Now, in our view, the issue of Zimbabwe is something that merits discussion with international institutions, including within the Security Council. So whether it’s this meeting or some other meeting, we believe that this is an issue worthy of Security Council consideration or, at the very least, discussion.

We’ll see whether or not the members of the Security Council take this opportunity – the opportunity of this particular meeting to take up Burma. It remains to be seen.

Not Burma, Zimbabwe.

Burma – Zimbabwe, sorry. I was on the last question.

Yeah.

On North Korea --

Oh, yes, back there. Yes, in the back.

Is there any other informal and separate agreement between the U.S. and North Korea in Singapore meeting? If you have any, can you tell us what is the contents of informal agreement between U.S. and North Korea?

I’m not prepared to characterize the discussions beyond what I have said previously, what Chris has said previously. The Singapore meeting, in Chris’s firsthand characterization, took the discussion beyond where they were in Geneva. Chris had the opportunity to have some further discussions with other members of the six-party talks, his counterparts in the six-party talks in Beijing. He’s now back here in the United States.

There’s work that remains to be done, and our basic position is that we are prepared to continue in that work. We are prepared, along with the other members – other four members of the six-party talks, to fulfill our obligations as North Korea fulfills its obligations, which includes dismantlement of the – dismantle – disabling of the Yongbyon facility as well as a declaration.

There was a formal agreement, an informal agreement, that there are two kind of agreement held between U.S. and North Korea (inaudible)?

Again, this is not between the U.S. and North Korea. We are engaging them in the context of the six-party talks. We are fully consulting with the other members, the other four members of those talks other than North Korea, about the declaration and the process of working with North Korea to produce a declaration that is acceptable to all the members of the six-party talks. So this is not a U.S.-North Korea issue.

There was – what was the other part – the other part to your question? Sorry.

There’s an informal --

Oh, right. As to – we have said the – the form of this is – of the declaration is not necessarily important. What’s important is the substance of it, whether or not it is acceptable to the other members of the six-party talks. So you know, whether it comes in one, two, three, four, five or more pieces of paper, that’s not important. What’s important is the substance of it.

Can we go back to Nepal, please?

Mm-hmm.

If -- as far as violence are concerned and elections are concerned, if they have help after -- any U.S. help (inaudible) the violence, during elections or --

Not aware of any requests.

And another one, quick one. Are you worried about ongoing violence in Pakistan between the lawyers (inaudible) against Musharraf, because now, government is not even stabilized and they are now destabilizing a democracy, which is not even formed under the government.

Well, they have a functioning government that was –

Yeah , but --

-- elected by the Pakistanis.

But the lawyers are now fighting among themselves. We thought they were fighting against Musharraf.

And how does that concern us at the State Department in terms of a response? I mean, look, you want – this is part of their democratic process. Our concern is that, the – this dialogue take place within the confines of their law and constitution. We would, of course, urge everybody to turn away from use of violence to settle differences.

The last question, but it’s kind of important for you. Anything to say about the Olympic torch events yesterday in San Francisco?

Well, the local officials in San Francisco did a fine job, it would seem, of carrying out the tasks that they had before them. We were fully in support of them, here from the State Department Diplomatic Security. We provided some advice, assets. But they were in the lead on the issue.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:04 p.m.)

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Released on April 10, 2008

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