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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 15, 2008



Security for Former President Carter’s Trip


President Assad’s Offer of Assistance to Lebanese


Secretary Rice’s Schedule
Iraqi Neighbors Conference


South Africa’s Actions Toward Zimbabwe and President Mugabe
Zimbabwe in Economic and Political Crisis


Travel Alert Deals With Reported Violence on Portions of Northern Border


Views on Democracy In Russia Are Well Known
Who Heads Political Parties in Russia Is Decision for Russians


Status of Embassy Baghdad / Majority of Facilities are Ready


Threats/Rhetoric From Iran Against Israel


View Video

12:38 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don’t have anything to start off with by way of opening statements, so we can get right to your questions.

QUESTION: Yeah. Sean, can you – there seems to be some confusion. I don’t know where it’s come from, from either former President Carter’s staff or people in Israel at the Consulate in Jerusalem or the Embassy in Tel Aviv, but what is – did the United States ask the Israelis, Shin Bet specifically, to assist in providing security for President Carter while he was in Israel – former President Carter?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sorry, not familiar with the details of this story. Let me look into it for you. The Secret Service provides protection for former presidents. We obviously – anytime you have a former president, we obviously have a liaison between the Secret Service and our Diplomatic Security. Let me try to get to the bottom of your question, and the essence of your question is, did we go to the --

QUESTION: Well, it’s based on – apparently, there’s – there are reports and I think even from President Carter – former President Carter’s people themselves that they sought assistance from Shin Bet in – to – in protecting – in protecting him, not to take over from the Secret Service, but to assist --


QUESTION: -- and that that was denied.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. So you’re --

QUESTION: And – and though they were told that – I’m sorry, that someone at either the Embassy in Tel Aviv or the Consulate in Jerusalem had made this request to the Israelis and that that request had been denied. And there seems to be some confusion over whether, in fact, that request was actually made by the – by --

MR. MCCORMACK: I see. I see.

QUESTION: -- the State Department.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Let me see if we can get to the bottom of the issue and get you an answer. We’ll post it up for everybody.

Okay. Charlie, come on, man. (Laughter.) You missed your chance.

QUESTION: I know there’s more.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: Can I – go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I ask – (inaudible) Carter security question?


QUESTION: DS doesn’t have any role in the Pope’s visit, does it? Or does it?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware of any --

QUESTION: The Secret Service?

MR. MCCORMACK: -- any role that they may play. You know, I can’t account for – maybe they’re assisting in some regard, but they don’t have the lead. That’s right.




QUESTION: President Assad has reiterated today that Syria is ready to provide all possible assistance requested by the Lebanese brothers, as he said. Do you have any reaction?

MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn’t seen the statement, but – but again, there was, I think, about a week or two weeks ago, a similar offer of security assistance, which I believe that I, as well as others, found highly ironic given the history of Syria offering “assistance” to the Lebanese people. They could, you know, if they truly wanted to, help the Lebanese people, they could start by actually treating Lebanon as a sovereign state. They could encourage, in a number of different ways, the expansion and deepening of political and economic reform that would have the effect of strengthening the sovereignty of Lebanon.

So without having seen the full quote, I guess I can’t provide a detailed response, but color us skeptical that Syria truly has the best intentions and the best interests of the Lebanese people at heart when they make offers of assistance.

QUESTION: A follow up? Will there be any meeting in Kuwait on Lebanon? There were stories that there would be a meeting, that Secretary Rice will attend this meeting and other foreign ministers.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check into exactly what her schedule is going to be on the ground in Kuwait. There are going to be – she’s going there for the neighbors – Iraq neighbors conference, but I expect that there are going to be a number of other side meetings as well. I’m not trying to point you in the particular direction of any state, but – let me see where we stand with respect to the scheduling of those meetings. It’s still an evolving schedule.


QUESTION: Would – to follow up – this is a follow-on. I know what --


QUESTION: -- you were referring to, but --


QUESTION: -- as long as you’re checking, would you --


QUESTION: -- check the schedule to make certain that you can tell us that there are no scheduled meetings with Iran or Syria --


QUESTION: -- as well as on Lebanon?


QUESTION: Unless there are scheduled meetings, of course.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, I will, yeah.

QUESTION: And North Korea. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: All right. We’ll try to provide you a full view into her meeting activities on the ground in Kuwait.


QUESTION: The President --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sorry about those Indians last night.

QUESTION: The President of South Africa -- ha, ha, ha. (Laughter).

MR. MCCORMACK: There we are. Just for the record, I threw him off balance, threw him off balance, top of the ninth. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The President of South Africa is being accused editorially and elsewhere for taking a rather blasé attitude for some of the recent events in Zimbabwe. And I’m just wondering whether the United States shares the notion that maybe South Africa’s efforts here have been insufficient.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, each state is going to have to act in accordance with what they believe are their own interests and what they can do. South Africa has arguably the most leverage of any state around the globe with Zimbabwe and with President Mugabe. How they choose to deploy that leverage and use that leverage ultimately is going to be a question for them.

But the issues that you raise in terms of the editorials questioning how South Africa has, to this point, chosen to use that leverage, is good questions. But ultimately, it’s going to have to be President Mbeki and the South African Government that answer those questions. I can’t answer those questions for them.

Zimbabwe is in a crisis. We are in a crisis in Zimbabwe. You have an economy that is shattered because of the policies of President Mugabe and his government over the course of the years. You have a political crisis in which the Election Commission has refused to announce the results of an election and now are calling for a recount, a recount that would be conducted after there has not been a good chain of custody regime in place for those ballots and those ballot boxes, so anything could have happened between election day and when a recount takes place. And that’s a cause of deep concern, not only for the United States, but other countries around the globe.

So as you consider those facts, it is a worthy question for all states, including South Africa, to answer what can they do, what can you do to help end this crisis and to put Zimbabwe back on a better path, one that will mean a better future for Zimbabwe and the people of Zimbabwe.


QUESTION: The Travel Advisory to Mexico.


QUESTION: A two-part question: What went into it as far as the elements that prompted the advisory?


QUESTION: And why wasn’t it a total caution for Americans not to go to Mexico at all, or at least the northern region?

MR. MCCORMACK: These Travel Advisories are done in a completely separate channel. The Consular Affairs folks, the security people get together and offer their best assessment as to the situation on the ground in a particular place, whether that’s Mexico or elsewhere. The advisory that you’re talking about deals with a very small portion of Mexico along the border, and there has been reported a lot of violence that has happened over the course of the past year or so in that border region as a result of conflicts between various organized crime organizations along that border region that -- involved in narcotics and drug smuggling.

So it’s a region that bears watching, and we’re actually working quite well with the Mexican Government to try to get to the root causes of that. And President Calderon has worked very closely with us on the Merida Initiative, which is really aimed at getting at some of those root causes and to rooting out organized crime in Mexico.

In terms of the specifics, I don’t – you know, I don’t have a tick-tock for you as to who did what and when, as to the advisory. But it – I have it here and it’s something that came out of the U.S. Embassy. And Ambassadors ultimately are responsible for ensuring that American citizens have all the information at their disposal in order to make informed decisions about their movements and travel.

QUESTION: I guess because it involves not only violence between, for example, drug gangs or what have you, but also kidnappings and attacks on individuals. Why wasn’t there an advisory to suggest to just staying out of that northern region for the time being until you get the answers that you’ve described them pursuing?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, look, again, I can’t give you – I can’t get you inside the decision-making loop. And I’m not in it and rightfully so. We in Public Affairs are not part of that decision-making loop. Rightly, the Consular Affairs people and the security people work on these, they come up with the language and draft them and we release them. I’m not sure it’s the best idea in the world to actually get inside that decision-making loop, because there’s something to be said for the integrity of that, people working just on behalf of American citizens, providing the best information that they possibly can so that individuals can make a decision about their travel.

Ultimately, you know, whatever warnings that we may put out, it comes down to an individual making a decision about whether or not they want to heed those warnings and take into account the information that we provide them in making decisions about where they travel or not travel.

Mm-hmm. Sylvie.

QUESTION: President Putin has been elected the head of his party, political party and he already said that he accepted the – to become the next prime minister. Does it concern you? Do you think it’s a positive development for Russia?

MR. MCCORMACK: That – who is the head of a political party in Russia is something entirely for the Russian people and the members of that political party to decide, not for us – not for us to weigh in on, really.

And as for our concerns about the course of democracy in Russia, those are well-known. You’ve heard that from Secretary Rice. You’ve heard it from the President. We’re very straightforward about it in public as well as in private. But ultimately, a question like this, you know, who’s the head of a political party in Russia, is one I’m not sure that we should really be weighing in on.


QUESTION: Is the Secretary pleased that the Embassy in Baghdad has finally been certified for occupancy?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I haven’t talked to her about it, but I’m taking a flier on this one. Yeah, she is pleased that we’re – that we have a facility that meets all of the strict international standards for safety and construction that our people can now begin to use. When -- you know, when people actually move in there, is going to be a decision for Ambassador Crocker to take along with his staff.

But the – I think the vast majority of the buildings and facilities on the compound are ready for people to begin the work that will allow people to effectively use those facilities, basically, you know, making – you know, moving equipment and computers and that sort of thing into the facility, so that when Ryan makes a decision about starting to move people from current facilities into the new compound, they’re able to pick up work like that and use it effectively.

QUESTION: Sean, the Iraqi Foreign Minister has said yesterday that the Iranians has conveyed the time and the date of the last meeting with the Americans to the U.S. Embassy directly without passing by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. Do you have anything on that? And he said that’s why --


QUESTION: -- that meeting hasn’t been held.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you. You know, I didn’t check today where we are on the Crocker channel in terms of meeting. I’ll -- we’ll post an answer for you guys.

QUESTION: A final question on Iran. An Iranian military official has threatened today that Tehran will wipe Israel off the map if it targets Iran. Do you have any reaction?

MR. MCCORMACK: More unbelievable rhetoric out of the leadership of the Iranian Government about attacking a fellow member of the United Nations. You know, we’ve heard this kind of rhetoric before from President Ahmadi-Nejad and it -- I think any -- any civilized person finds that disturbing. And all the more reason why the international community is right to act in the ways that it has in order to, you know, not allow the Iranian Government to use the international financial and trading systems for illicit purposes, whether that is supporting terrorism or working on a nuclear program.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:53 p.m.)

DPB # 68

Released on April 15, 2008

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