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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 18, 2008

INDEX:

CUBA

Series of Steps Announced by Cuba Over Recent Weeks Are Cosmetic Changes
Still a Fact That the Cuban People Cannot Freely Elect Leaders, Express Views
Comparisons With China, Saudi Arabia, Others
Easing of Travel Restrictions

MIDDLE EAST

Former President Carter’s Travel / Meeting with Hamas / Private Citizen
Efforts of Private Citizens Different From Efforts of U.S. Government
International Actors Need to Strengthen Legitimate Palestinian Institutions
Comments by Representative Myrick / President Carter’s Passport
Secretary’s Meeting with the Egyptian Foreign Minister

SOUTH KOREA/NORTH KOREA

Secretary’s Meeting with President Lee / Prepare the Ground for Camp David
Judgment on Declaration Will be Withheld Until the Declaration Has Been Seen
Nothing in the Process is Inevitable / Based on Performance of DPRK
If We Get to a Declaration, It’s Going to be Subject to Robust Verification
Travel Dates for Nuclear Experts / Composition of Team

PAKISTAN

Efforts to Contain al-Qaida in Pakistan / Cooperation with Pakistan
Cross-Border Transit from Pakistan into Afghanistan Source of Concern

DEPARTMENT

Secretary Rice’s Top Priority is Making Sure Department Employees are Safe
Security Officials Do a Fantastic Job Against a Determined Enemy

SUDAN

U.S. Always Looking for Opportunities to Address Deep Concerns Over Darfur


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

2:01 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to Friday. I don’t have anything to start off with, so --

QUESTION: Neither do we.

QUESTION: Yeah, Sylvie has a question. Thank you, it’s the only one. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Today, playing the role of Charlie Wolfson, Matt Lee. (Laughter.)

Yeah, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Cuba announced an easing of the travel rules. Do you have any comment on that? Do you – did you prepare yourself to the event of a huge amount of travelers coming to the U.S.?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I’m not sure if there have been any particular preparations in that regard. You might check with DHS and, you know, even at this, our assessment is that this series of steps announced over the past several weeks really amount to cosmetic changes. You know, one could really – easily raise the question of whether or not, because of the decades of economic deprivation, the – any individual has, except for the elite, in the government, have the wherewithal to travel anywhere. The – it is still a fact that the Cuban people can’t freely select who runs their country, who will govern them. It still remains a fact the Cuban people can’t think at work for themselves or can’t think at home.

So while we have, along with all of you, followed the press releases coming out of the Cuban Government, I think the sum total of what it is that they have announced really doesn’t amount to much.

QUESTION: So it’s got to be all or nothing? They have to get rid of everything? They have to become a full-on U.S. style democracy all at once or you are not going to be happy? I mean, don’t --

MR. MCCORMACK: No --

QUESTION: Don’t you get points for incremental changes?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ll tell you one thing you don’t get points for is transitioning power from one dictator to another without the Cuban people having any say whatsoever in whether or not they want that person to head their government, or even what kind of government they’re going to have. They don’t have a say today. So, you know, you talk about all or nothing; well, we’re just looking for something. And what we have thus far is nothing.

QUESTION: Well, are you saying --

QUESTION: So you don’t think – you don’t think reforms are possible?

MR. MCCORMACK: What does it amount to? How does it change the ability of the Cuban people to really, for themselves, decide what their – what the future of their country is going to look like? You have a situation now in which a handful of people who have been in place for the past several decades determine the direction of this country, what happens in the country, whether or not people can express their opinion freely in the town square, which they cannot. That situation qualitatively has not changed from, you know, today to 10 years ago to 20 years ago.

QUESTION: So are you talking about Cuba or China?

QUESTION: Or Saudi Arabia? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.

QUESTION: No, I mean, can I put you on --

QUESTION: No, Sean, I’m serious. You’ve just described something that – you know, you -- that’s a situation in some countries that you’re very friendly with.

MR. MCCORMACK: The situations are qualitatively different. Now we – for example, China; you look at the political and human rights situation, absolutely, we have stark differences there, but you also see a situation where, economically, the Chinese people have many more opportunities than they had (inaudible).

QUESTION: Well, that – but that came about, though, in incremental stages from the end of the – and isn’t that what you’re seeing in Cuba?

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s our assessment, Matt, that, no.

QUESTION: No?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, you don’t.

QUESTION: Well, can I follow up on that? I mean, there – as we’ve both said, there are a lot of countries like Saudi Arabia, for instance, where there’s no – they – the people have absolutely no choice in any form of government and you say that reform is going to take place at its own pace; reform in Saudi Arabia, reform in Egypt, reform in these countries are taking place in their own pace and you, in fact, praise the little things that these countries are able to do to offer more freedoms, offer more political participation. And don’t you think you’re missing an opportunity here to encourage more reforms like you’re doing around the world by, you know, kind of dismissing these little things that the Cubans are doing?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we don’t think we’re missing out.

QUESTION: No, I mean, could you give a fuller answer than that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t think it requires one.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Let me preface a question on this situation with the comments from the United States Government on cell phones as an example, the (inaudible) of cell phones is that only a few people in Cuba can afford them. But there are many lines of people in Cuba waiting to buy cell phones. So this goes here to a very crucial area with the United States, and that's the immigration to the United States. There (inaudible) three big obstacles: the carta blanca that is needed, the invitation letter and the money that it costs to get the permit (inaudible) travel freely. Isn't that going to cause a massive influx of people to the United States?

MR. MCCORMACK: You would have to talk to the Department of Homeland Security for their sorts of assessments or the Coast Guard. I don't have that kind of assessment.

QUESTION: But isn't the (inaudible) in Cuba?

MR. MCCORMACK: I've answered the question.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Carter's meetings in Syria?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Are you not concerned that because as the former President, this is the broker of the – you know, form a peace deal with Egypt?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Do you think this is not lending some kind of legitimacy to Hamas, you know, having this kind of very high-level meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. We have stated our opinions previously about the meeting. I don't think I really need to reiterate it. You can go back and take a look at what I've said. But to the point of your question, I don't think anybody is confusing the policies of the sitting United States President and this government with the efforts of a private citizen, albeit, a former president.

QUESTION: Sean, a couple of things on --

QUESTION: A follow-up, please.

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: He said in a press conference at American University that he considers himself immune to this policy, that he was acting alone. Are you not concerned about that kind of activity?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I didn't see the full context of his remarks. I'm not sure what he means by immune. He's a private citizen and I don't -- and I'm not aware of any strict legal prohibitions in this regard. But you know, as to – I really -- I haven't seen his remarks, so I can't give you a more full answer than that, you know, other than I don't think people are going to confuse the efforts of a private citizen, former President Carter, with the very clear policies of the United States Government.

QUESTION: But are you not concerned that people in Syria might confuse this? I mean, that (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don't know. I guess -- I suppose that's the risk one takes when they decide to take a step, meeting with somebody like Khaled Mashaal in Syria, that you -- one leaves oneself vulnerable to exploitation by the Syrian Government of these kinds of meetings.

QUESTION: Just sort of – a couple more on this, Sean. What he said today was he didn't think it was possible to move the peace process ahead without Hamas. He said he didn't care whether Hamas represented 10 percent of the Palestinian people or 40 percent. But to have them completely excluded from the equation or the, kind of, conversations is counterproductive.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, I think we've made our views clear. We find it very odd that one would encourage to have a conversation between the Israeli Government and Hamas, which doesn't even recognize the right of the Israeli Government to exist, so how can you have a -- is that really the basis of a conversation?

Our view is that what actors in the international system should do is strengthen those legitimate forces for peace within Palestinian society represented by President Abbas, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and their government. There you have a real opportunity to have a real negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians that can lead to the reality of a Palestinian state. You're not going to get there by going down the other pathway, which is represented by Hamas and other rejectionist groups who are responsible for the murders of countless innocent civilians. It’s our view that you should focus on those who want to bring about peace, who have turned away from violence, who have renounced terrorism and then – and encourage negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians and then present the Palestinian people with a choice. You can have a state or you can continue down what will ultimately be a pathway of frustration and further fruitlessness.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you saw these comments from Representative Sue Myrick, but she said that Carter’s passport should be revoked over this. Do you think this is such a treasonous crime that it deserves such treatment?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look – (laughter) – he is a private citizen. I’m not aware there are any restrictions on travel to Syria for U.S. citizens, other than trying to get a visa from the Syrian Government.

QUESTION: Sean, if I might get back to Cuba, once again, any visa given on the exterior is handled by State Department, not by DHS? So these people who would apply for these visas would apply to State Department, not DHS? Do you foresee any impact on these changes?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not aware of any. We’ll, we’ll let you know if there are.

Yeah. Samir.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout about the Secretary’s meeting yesterday with the Egyptian Foreign Minister? I mean, what was the – they talk about?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have to confess, I wasn’t in the meeting, Samir. I know that on our agenda was to talk about some of the obvious issues: talk about the state of play of the Israeli-Palestinian discussions, not only political discussions, but some of the more practical aspects of security and prosperity that are at stake between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Talking a little bit about the situation in the region, talked a little bit about Lebanon, talked about U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relations. It’s a general description of the topics that I know the Secretary intended to cover.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Ken.

QUESTION: What came out in the Secretary’s meeting with President Lee at Blair House this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: This is a – this was a meeting in preparation for President Lee’s meetings up at Camp David. And that he’s going to have – I don’t have a readout. They just did it one-on-one. I believe it was one-on-one. And she typically does this before meetings between President Bush and another head of state, just to prepare the ground. We did have an announcement of a deal on beef, which was most welcome. I think you saw a statement from Trade Representative Schwab. And of course, the -- President Bush and President Lee are going to talk about six-party talks, U.S.-South Korean bilateral relations, and that agenda was reflected in the discussions between the Secretary and President Lee.

QUESTION: Did the subject of the North Korean nuclear declaration and what might be required under that declaration come up?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. I’m sure, given the news reporting from yesterday, that it came up. And I’ll take the opportunity to reiterate what I said this morning. And that is that we have yet to see a declaration. We, the other members of the six-party talks, have yet to see a declaration from the North Koreans regarding all aspects of their nuclear activities. And we are going to withhold any judgment on this declaration until we have a chance to see it. And you’re not going to see any recommendation go forward to the President of the United States from this Department until we are comfortable with this declaration, until we believe that it is acceptable.

And whatever declaration there is, as Secretary Rice pointed out yesterday, is going to be subject to robust verification. And if at any point along the way, if we actually do get to a declaration, and I’ll come back to that point in a second, it’s going to be subject to robust verification. And if, at any point, there’s – we or anybody else in the six-party detects that the North Koreans have attempted to deceive us or attempt to provide us information which was misleading or, in any way, false, then there are going to be consequences for that.

And I want to return back to the point about this process. It is important to keep in mind that while there has been progress that has taken place within the framework of the six-party talk concerning disabling the Yongbyon facility and some of the other discussions, there’s nothing in this process that is inevitable. It is based on performance. And if North Korea, for example, doesn’t perform, then the process is not going to move forward. And they are not going to receive the benefits that they might otherwise have received, if they had performed on the process, so --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) more on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Could you be any more specific than you were in the gaggle this morning about the dates that Sung Kim and the other – the nuclear experts are going to meet at Pyongyang?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they’re going to – I think they’re going to meet Tuesday, Wednesday. They’re leaving Sunday.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: And it takes some time to travel there and I would expect that they’ll be there Tuesday, Wednesday. They’ll probably have discussions that’ll last a day and a half, two days.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mid-week, they’ll be there mid-week. We’ll keep you up to date if there’s any change to that.

QUESTION: Are there people from the verification bureau going with them or is that (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. I’ll –we have to check on that to see.

MR. CASEY: We’ll try and get you something.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we’ll try to check to see what the composition is. I expect that it’s probably going to be an interagency team, because really, what you’re talking about some detailed technical items here as well, especially as they would relate to a declaration and subsequent verification of the declaration.

QUESTION: Are they going to be talking about additional facilities beyond Yongbyon? Is that an issue in the declaration?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have yet to see what the North Koreans have put forward. They have not yet come up with their final declaration, so we’ll see. If they bring up other facilities, then of course, that will be a topic of discussion.

Yeah.

QUESTION: I have a couple more. On Pakistan, last October, the State Department had said that there was significant progress in eliminating safe havens for al-Qaida in Pakistan in the border areas. But recently, I think as early as today, the GAO released a report saying that just the opposite, that al-Qaida is able to attack the U.S. and has succeeded in establishing safe havens in Pakistan. Can you explain the discrepancy?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, progress doesn’t mean that you have succeeded. And quite clearly, the tribal areas of the FATA region of Pakistan is not an area of Pakistan that’s fully under control of the Pakistani Government. It hasn’t been, I don’t think, in the history of Pakistan. And it’s still a source of deep concern for the United States Government as a place where violent extremists are, to some extent, able to operate. And we have a program of cooperation with the Pakistani Government to try to address the fact that this is an ungoverned area of Pakistan.

Now, while we have made some progress (inaudible) the Pakistanis, the Pakistanis have made progress in this regard, it is still a source of concern not only for us and the Pakistanis, but also the Afghan Government. We’ve talked a lot about the fact that this is an area right along the border with Afghanistan that is a source of cross-border transit from Pakistan into Afghanistan, where those people can launch attacks in Afghanistan. So it’s a source of concern. Progress has been made; a lot to do, a lot to do.

QUESTION: I just have one more. The bombing of the Embassy in Beirut kind of sparked the Inman commission and -- you know, which looked at Embassy security and then that was enhanced even after the bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. But, I mean, it still seems as if – and the GAO, I think, put a report out earlier this year that a lot of embassies are still vulnerable to attack and that security still needs to be enhanced in a lot of these embassies. Where would you say that the State Department is in making sure that all of its posts are meeting the kind of conditions --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- to make it not vulnerable to attack?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I’ll see if I can – I’ll – we’ll try to get you a detailed answer if you guys are interested more widely in a briefing from our security experts, then I’ll try to arrange something for you. As a general rule, I know from firsthand experience that Secretary Rice’s top priority is making sure our people are safe and that they have the resources and, in this case, the kinds of facilities that they need in order to do a good job on behalf of the American people. But in terms of the technical requirements, whether or not all the embassies meet Inman standards and questions about setbacks and all the other attendant security precautions, we’ll try to either get you an answer, or if there’s wider interest, get – organize a briefing.

QUESTION: It just seems like in the last, even two years, I mean, you had a bombing of – in Damascus and then there was in Yemen and, you know, recently in Serbia. It just seems that the embassies are still very vulnerable to attack.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it’s a reminder that there are those who want to use violence to try to go after the United States Government and sometimes, overseas, the manifestation of that is the American Embassy.

Our security officials do a fantastic job in keeping our facilities and, most importantly, our people safe. That said, you are fighting a determined enemy. It's a thinking enemy and they adapt their tactics as we adapt to their tactics. So it's a constant game of remaining vigilant and also trying to think ahead and stay one step ahead of how people might try to go after you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, Gollust. Please proceed.

QUESTION: Some Darfur advocacy groups are troubled by a published report yesterday suggesting that the United States might be ready to take some normalization steps with Sudan in return for relatively minor concessions on the part of the Sudanese. I'm wondering, what's your take on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it's safe to say that we are always looking for opportunities to address what are some deep concerns about Darfur, as well as continuing implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan. This is an incredibly complex problem, as you all know. We've been talking about it for a long time in this briefing room. And while we are always, you know, exploring possibilities in that regard, we are not going to sell out the principles that we have stood for and that this President has stood for concerning Darfur: addressing the humanitarian needs of the people in Darfur and then trying to get in place a more stable situation in Darfur, meaning the AU-UN presence, and coming to a peace agreement with all the parties involved and then implementation of that agreement.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)

DPB # 70



Released on April 18, 2008

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