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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 16, 2008

INDEX:

GEORGIA

Query on Russian Plans in Abkhazia and South Ossetia
U.S. Supports Georgian Territorial Integrity and Sovereignty

AFGHANISTAN

Alleged Assistance to Taliban / Coalition Forces Working Against Taliban
U.S. Focused on Assisting Afghan People With Security / Building Capacity

EGYPT

Military Trial of 25 Egyptians on Money Laundering / Terrorism Charges
Egyptian Agreement with Russia on Civil Nuclear Program
Foreign Minister Gheit’s Meetings / Travel to U.S.

CHINA

Discussions Between President Bush and the Pope on China
Comments by CNN Commentator on Chinese
Phone Discussions Between Secretary Rice and Chinese Counterpart
Encourage Dialogue With Dalai Lama
Discussion About Opening New Consulates in China and U.S.
Locations of Virtual Presence Posts

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Update on Americans in Plane Crash

ZIMBABWE

Reports of Political Arrests / Harassment of Opposition Figures
Election Tallies Need to Be Released / Other States Need to Use Leverage
Political and Economic Crisis / All Sides Must Turn Away From Violence

TURKEY

Court Case Against AK party


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:37 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have any opening statements, so we can get right to your questions. Whoever would like to begin.

Sylvie.

QUESTION: Did you have time to get some details on this Russia plan to boost links with Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're still examining what it is that they are, in effect, proposing to do. But in the meantime, I will reiterate our unshakable support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia.

QUESTION: And Georgia has reacted and said that it's an attempt of annexing the two regions and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, let us take a look at exactly what has been proposed to the Foreign Ministry that it do before I offer any more detailed reaction. But I think that the top-line point that I have made speaks to exactly the point that the Georgian Government is talking about, and that is our full, unshakable support for Georgia's territorial integrity and its sovereignty.

Yes.

QUESTION: Nazira Karimi for Ariana Television from Afghanistan.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Some of the members of the Afghan Parliament say that they have evidence that shows coalition forces recently dropped some weapons and logistical supplies for the Taliban in the south. I don't know, do you have any special comment about that? Is it true? This morning, I got this information.

MR. MCCORMACK: That NATO or ISAF forces provided --

QUESTION: Yes, coalition forces.

MR. MCCORMACK: I -- it's just not true. You know, our coalition forces, NATO and American forces, are in Afghanistan to work with the Afghan Government to fight those who would try to turn back the clock on the progress Afghanistan has made, and that includes the Taliban.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: Sean, do you have any reaction on the conviction of 25 Egyptians by military courts for money laundering and planning terrorists activities or acts?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, our concerns center around due process in this regard. And there had been some previous rulings by Egyptian civil courts saying that these cases should be handled within the civilian court system. And despite those rulings, these trials proceeded within the military court system, closed to outside scrutiny. So I can't speak to exactly the evidence that supported these cases. But our concerns really focus on whether or not due process was served in this instance.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yes, two questions on China. The first one is when President Bush met with Pope today, did they talk about China, particularly the possibilities of (inaudible) relationship between China and Vatican?

The second one is CNN's commentator, Jack Cafferty, called the Chinese a bunch of goons and thugs. So the Chinese Foreign Ministry has demanded an apology from CNN. Did they contact with the State Department to talk about this matter, and what's your comments on these matter?

MR. MCCORMACK: On the latter of those points, I'm not aware of any contact. The State Department -- you might turn to your right and ask the CNN correspondent their -- their response to that request. And I'd refer you to CNN. Elise, if you care to share a response, now is your moment.

On the former, this was a meeting at the White House, and I think my colleagues at the White House can provide you an answer as to what the topics of discussions between the President and the Pope were. The President and the Secretary of State have made it a point to engage Chinese authorities on issues of religious freedom. That is part of the dialogue that we have with China.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that the Secretary called her Chinese counterpart --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- today?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, she did speak with him about a variety of different topics. Spoke – they spoke about Iran and the efforts of P-5+1 to work on the two pathways, the incentives and disincentives package, the packages, the – on the incentive side. Dan Fried, the Acting Under Secretary for Political Affairs met with his counterparts in Shanghai just today to discuss those matters. They made some progress, but there’s still more work to be done on the issue of a so-called refreshed package of incentives. They had some good discussions, but more to follow on that. They talked about a variety of different issues, as well. They talked about the issue of Tibet. They talked about Taiwan. I’m trying to think what else came up. Off the top of my head, that’s all that I recall about the conversation.

QUESTION: Did they talk about the soon-to-be meeting between the Dalai Lama and a U.S. official?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t believe that came up. I don’t have a full readout of the phone call but, you know, from our side, the Secretary reiterated what you have heard us say in public, and that is encouraging the Chinese Government to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama and his people.

QUESTION: Did she talk about the possibility of opening a consulate in Lhasa?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t believe that came up. You know, I –

QUESTION: Did we ever get an answer about, you know, how high on the list of priorities this – that is? How high, you know, or how advanced the planning or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the – we have not yet initiated the discussions with the Chinese Government on that. It’s a reciprocal matter. I think the Chinese want to open another consulate here in the United States and we have an interest, obviously, in expanding our presence in China as well. So, you know, I can’t speak to the – whether or not, as of today, we’ve actually engaged the Chinese Government on that. I would expect when that happens, it’ll happen at a lower level than the Secretary talking to the Foreign Minister about it.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say, though, that in terms of U.S. presence in China, that Tibet would be the next place on your list that you’d like to have a consulate or is there another city that may be --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think there are other options, but the Secretary expressed our interest in having a consulate there.

QUESTION: Or if somebody – if there was to be, that --

MR. MCCORMACK: And –

QUESTION: -- and you would like that to be the next one, if there was to be a next one?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Matt, I can’t speak to what our order of priority is on this. I know that the Secretary talked about this in her testimony up on the Hill and she expressed an interest in it. But I can’t give you our East Asia and Pacific Bureau’s wish list in that regard, but it is – as the Secretary stated, a priority for us.

QUESTION: Do you – one more on that. Do you currently have one of those virtual posts in Lhasa or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t believe we do. I’ll check to see if in China we have any of these virtual presence posts.

Yeah, Libby.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that there were four Americans that survived the plane crash in the Congo the other day?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, in the Congo, yeah. And they – they escaped with some minor injuries, but yeah, there were four Americans involved in the crash. We don’t yet have a read of whether or not there were any American citizens on the ground who were killed or injured. But we don’t – in terms of discussing the case more, we don’t have a Privacy Act Waiver for the four Americans, so I can’t really get into any more of the details.

Samir.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. unhappy with Egypt’s agreement with Russia to develop a civil nuclear program?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not familiar with the terms of the agreement. We have, in general, been supportive of responsible states developing peaceful nuclear energy programs under IAEA safeguards, those states that are NPT members. But I can’t speak to the specifics of this agreement. I’m not familiar with it.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary going to see tomorrow Minister Aboul Gheit?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have to look at her schedule. I know that he’s traveling to the United States. I have to look at her schedule, though.

Yeah. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Fifty activists were arrested last night in Zimbabwe and doctors report that they have treated 150 other opposition activists since after the March 29 elections. Do you have comment on this latest? And what do you expect out of this security meeting in New York?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the – to handle the last part first, the topic of the Security Council meeting, which is being chaired by the South Africans is really to talk about the UN’s and the Security Council’s relationship with regional organizations, in this case, the AU. But I fully expect that our representative to the meeting is going to take advantage of that – that meeting and - to talk about Zimbabwe and I would expect others would as well. I don’t expect the Security Council at this point to take any formal action with regard to Zimbabwe. But we will bring it up as a topic of discussion.

I can’t speak specifically to these reports of the arrests that you are talking about, but we have seen legitimate, credible reports of harassment of opposition figures, certainly, people being roughed up. And it is quite disturbing. What is taking place in Zimbabwe now runs counter to the interests of the Zimbabwean people, who, we believe, have an interest in building a more prosperous, more democratic state. President Mugabe, unfortunately, has not ruled in a democratic manner.

The first thing that needs to happen is the election results from the recent election that took place need to be released. That hasn’t happened thus far and we’re disappointed that the court ruled against the opposition’s petition to have the government and the Election Commission release these results. Every day that passes by while these ballots and the ballot boxes are not under a supervised chain of custody really raises questions, certainly in the minds of the international system, as to what the government exactly is planning as a next step.

There have been talks about runoff elections, but given the fact that they – the government has refused and the Election Commission has refused to release these election results from the first election, it really raises a lot of very serious questions about plans for a runoff or a recount. We would urge all states, including South Africa and neighboring states and other states in the international system, who have an interest in seeing Zimbabwe transition back to a democratic pathway, to use what leverage they have to encourage President Mugabe to return to that path. We ourselves are going to continue to speak out against – speak out about what is happening in Zimbabwe. We have in place a number of different sanctions and actions, but thus far, they have not led to any change in Zimbabwe.

Yeah, Matt.

QUESTION: Who is representing the U.S. – is it Zal – at the meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll check for you. I’m not sure. Zal could well be there. I’m not sure, though. I’ll check.

Yeah, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Do you think the opposition should participate in a runoff --

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s a decision that we can’t make for them. They’re going to have to decide about how – how they deal with this unfolding situation. Clearly, we are – it’s a crisis point, I think. Politically and economically, Zimbabwe is in crisis. And that’s unfortunate because it’s really the creation, I mean, almost entirely, of the current government through the policies that it has followed over the course of the years.

What is very important, though, at this period of crisis, is that all sides turn away from use of violence. That does not serve anybody’s purposes, whether it’s those in opposition to the government or the government against those who are merely seeking to express their views in a peaceful manner. So, you know, our strong admonition to all sides in Zimbabwe is to turn away from any use of violence.

Yeah.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you -- I’m just curious to know, when is it exactly that you think that Zimbabwe went off the track of democratic rule? And this is a pretty young country. It’s only 23 years old.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I know. I can’t -- Matt, I can’t give you -- you know, I can’t give you an exact date. I can only speak to my experience standing up here at this podium, and I think for almost that entire time I can recall talking about the issues of democracy and the lack of freedoms and the sort of diminishing space for political freedom in Zimbabwe and, certainly, talking about the downward spiral of Zimbabwe’s economy. So you know, I’ll leave it to others to try to pinpoint that in time, but I -- in almost my entire tenure as spokesman, I can remember talking about these issues.

QUESTION: Is there anything you can do -- the U.S. can do beyond kind of call for the release of the election results? I mean, I know Zimbabwe is already kind of sanctioned to the hilt, but is there any additional measures that you’re considering to put pressure on the --

MR. MCCORMACK: I can’t speak to anything specific, Elise. I don’t -- you know, I don’t know if the policymakers are contemplating anything else. As you pointed out, we already have -- our leverage up quite a bit in terms of our sanctions, what we have imposed on individuals as well as on the country as a whole.

I mean, you don’t -- the one thing you don’t want to do is get yourself in a position where you are punishing the very people that you’re trying to help. So we have tried to target these pretty directly on those we think are responsible for the, you know, reduction in the freedoms in Zimbabwe. But you know, I -- you know, we will see how this unfolds. We are not the country with the greatest leverage with Zimbabwe. That doesn't mean we, in any way, are going to, kind of, reduce our profile in speaking out about what’s going on in Zimbabwe. But it does mean we are going to try to encourage others with greater leverage to exercise that leverage to try to bring about some change in Zimbabwe.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) provide us again, what is the country with the greatest leverage in Zimbabwe?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's South Africa. South Africa.

QUESTION: And do you think that South Africa, for example, could send observers for the runoff of the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, again, I don’t want to get into -- at this point, get into these questions of runoffs or recounts, which are, you know, currently being contemplated in Zimbabwe. I think that the more productive avenue is to focus on releasing the election results that are there. They are held. They are known. The Zimbabwean people deserve to know what they were.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the manner in which SADC is dealing with this matter?

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the manner in which SADC region is dealing with this matter?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, they had -- they had a vigorous debate at their last meeting. Each country in that group, SADC, needs to take account of what it thinks is the right thing to do, what is the right thing to do to help the people of a neighboring country. We can’t dictate to them what action they take. But we would encourage them to take account of the situation, to look at the trend lines in Zimbabwe, and to use what influence and leverage they might have with Zimbabwe to really try to turn this in a better direction.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, another question about Afghanistan. Mr. McCormack, you might know that the Afghan Government has suggested to discuss or talk with some member of the Taliban. On the other hand, their names -- some of the Taliban’s members names on the terrorist list. So in case if they get and reach -- to get agreement, then what will be the U.S. reaction? Still their names will be on the terrorist list or they will removed?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, our views of the Taliban have not changed as an organization. Now, I know that the Afghan Government has a program that it has initiated to try to reconcile politically those who can be reconciled and bring them into the process of governing, given certain conditions: turning away from violence and – and supporting the process of political and economic change that is underway in Afghanistan. We ourselves are focused – focused on assisting the Afghan people in working with the government to provide them security, to give them a sense that they, you know, can not worry about their – their immediate security, their immediate livelihood, look out into the future, trust their government, and to try to build a better Afghanistan and a better future for them – for themselves.

So in that regard, we’re there to help the Afghan Government with security issues, we’re there to help with construction, we’re there to help build the capacity of the Afghan Government.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary Welch traveling with Mr. Hadley in the Middle East?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have to check for you. I have to check for you, yeah.

QUESTION: And do you have any update on Mr. Hadley’s mission?

MR. MCCORMACK: Check with my friends at the White House about that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. There is a legal closure case against Turkey’s ruling party, and Secretary Rice talk about it a little bit yesterday. On the other hand, EU Commission stated on this case, “To close a ruling party is a political case and unacceptable and it doesn’t fit EU democratic standards.” So my question is: Does United States agree on this comment or support this EU position?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think you have some words from my boss on that, and I don’t really have much to add to those.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Back on the Georgia business.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What does it mean when you say the United States is committed to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia? Does that mean that if someone else tries to – someone else threatens that integrity, that you would do something about it?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it’s a political statement.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it is --

QUESTION: But --

MR. MCCORMACK: It is – it is a – that is a political, diplomatic statement, not a --

QUESTION: So it doesn’t mean anything? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: I hardly think that the word of the United States means nothing. I would beg to differ on that point.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On the Six-Party talks. The verification methods of the nuclear programs that will be in the declaration, is – do you expect the verification methods also to be included in the declaration or is it something that will be (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s something that will be handled in the verification subgroup.

QUESTION: The subgroup - is that part of the denuclearization working group or is that a completely new --

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s a new effort. It’s a new part – well, “new.” It’s something that has been integrated into the talks and, I guess, as a bureaucratic grouping, been organized within the context of those talks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Charles, yeah.

QUESTION: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:57 p.m.)

DPB#69



Released on April 16, 2008

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