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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 23, 2008



Up to Israeli Government on Its Level of Exchange with Syria on Any Peace Deal
Discussions Should Not Be Substitute for Israeli-Palestinian Track


News Reports About Intelligence Community Briefing to Capitol Hill
Five Members of Six-Party Talks Waiting for North Korea’s Declaration
Declaration Subject to Verification
Declaration Must Be Consistent and Acceptable to All Parties
Declaration Has to Include Accounting For Proliferation Activities


U.S. Encourages Those Who Have Leverage with Zimbabwe to Use It to Bring About a Peaceful Resolution


UK Prime Minister’s Proposal of Arms Embargo


Secretary Rice’s Meeting with Georgian Foreign Minister Bakradze / Agenda
U.S. Supports Georgia’s Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity


Transitional Federal Government President’s Visit / Process of Political Reconciliation
Committed to Fighting Piracy
Issue of Peacekeepers Is On His UN Agenda


Timetable for Peacekeeping Forces to Darfur


Reported Cuban Government Eavesdropping on Dissidents and US Interests Section


Ongoing Issue of Negotiation between U.S. and Japan on Beef Exports


View Video

12:53 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. How are you all?


MR. MCCORMACK: Good. I don’t have anything to start off with, so we can get right to your questions. Whoever wants to lead us off?

QUESTION: I got nothing.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right. Do I hear a second of that?

QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about a Syrian report that Prime Minister Olmert has offered to give up the Golan Heights in exchange for some sort of peace deal?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I -- clearly, that would be something for the Israeli Government to respond to concerning its veracity. We have always said that it is up to the Israeli Government, their level of exchange and involvement with the Syrians concerning any kinds of discussions between the two governments regarding a peace deal. Our only concern would be that any of those discussions not be a substitute for the Israeli-Palestinian track. But again, check with the Israeli Government concerning the veracity of that particular statement.

QUESTION: Actually, I forgot, I do have something, but it’s not in the Middle East. Is that okay?

QUESTION: Can I -- I have something on the Middle East.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Secretary Gates said a few moments ago that the American public may soon find out about a connection between Syria and North Korea. Will the State Department have any role in a briefing to the American public about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’m sure you guys are going to keep asking the questions and, you know, stay tuned. Perhaps, at some point, I will have different answers than the ones I have given you this morning and in the past on this.

There have been a lot of news reports about a briefing by the intelligence community to Capitol Hill concerning all these news reports about cooperation between North Korea and Syria in building a nuclear reactor. At this point, I don’t have anything to offer with respect to either (a) briefings on the Hill or (b) those news stories. But keep on asking.

QUESTION: What advantage would it be -- what advantage would there be to putting that information out there publicly?


QUESTION: For you -- for the Administration. I mean, you’re in the middle of six-party talks.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, a couple of things. Again, irrespective of these reports that are ongoing now, we have certain responsibilities to brief the Congress on matters of foreign policy and national security, in this case, intelligence matters. So, again, there is a certain responsibility that goes along with the good governance and the functioning of our government. Certainly, we are committed to that and we have committed to working closely with the Congress on matters related to national security, intelligence and foreign policy.

Now, with respect to the six-party talks, those will advance or not based on the merits of the actions of the parties involved -- the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China. At the moment, we are at a point where five members of the six-party talks are waiting for the North Koreans to provide a declaration as well as to complete their obligations to disable the Yongbyon facility. Thus far, they have not completed all of those obligations. And we shall see, I would expect, in the coming period of time whether or not they are prepared to fulfill those obligations. If they do hand over a declaration to the Chinese, who are the hosts of the six-party framework and the six-party process, all the five parties will have an opportunity to assess and judge that declaration. They will assess and judge that declaration, whether or not it is consistent with North Korea’s stated obligations under the second phase of the process that is underway now, and whether or not it is acceptable. And we have a variety of different means by which to judge that.

It is only at that point and once they have fulfilled their obligations that we will take a look at whether or not the United States fulfills its obligations and the other parties fulfill their obligations under the six-party talks. And it bears repeating that any declaration is going to be subject to verification. It is going to be subject to verification from beginning and off into the future, should the process move forward. And if at any point there is any hint or it is detected that there is an attempt to mislead or, in fact, they did mislead, there will be consequences. And it also bears repeating something that the Secretary said last week, something that I have said as well. There is nothing inevitable about this process, which gets me back to my first point, and that is the six-party talks and that framework will move forward based on the merits of the actions of the parties involved in that process, whether that is to move forward and eliciting cooperation or in dealing with noncooperation. We’ve seen both sides of that equation.

At this point, we will see whether or not North Korea is up to fulfilling its obligations, and that really will determine whether or not that process moves forward irrespective of any briefings on the Hill or elsewhere.

QUESTION: But, Sean, you’ve seen in the past North Korea’s actions, whatever its obligations are, they kind of tie it to things that are going on in the United States or things that you do; for instance, just like the whole BDA thing --

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- they held up their end of a bargain that had absolutely nothing to do with the BDA thing because they were kind of holding it hostage. So isn’t there a concern that North Korea is going to balk on fulfilling its responsibilities based on what might go on on the Hill?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, a couple things --

QUESTION: Is this an effort to torpedo -- do you think it’s an effort by some to torpedo this deal with North Korea because they don’t want it to go through?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. And again, irrespective of how the North Koreans might react, we have certain responsibilities that we’re going to abide by as the Executive Branch of the government. And --

QUESTION: How the North Koreans might react to what?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, hold on, hold on. What she was saying about the – a hypothetical briefing.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. And look, you know, if that is the case, if they are just looking for some reason to not perform or to not cooperate, they are going to find some reason to do that whether it’s a briefing to Capitol Hill or a briefing in public or some other perceived misdeed or provocation.

So, again, the process will either move forward or not based on the actions of all the parties. And in this case, the focus is on North Korea, what – are they going to perform on fulfilling their obligations. And that will be the metric that everybody uses to judge whether or not this process moves forward. And there isn’t going to be any recommendation to move forward in the process from this building, from this Secretary of State to the President, unless you have a declaration that is consistent with what we know about their activities and one that is acceptable to all the parties involved.


QUESTION: Sean, one of the points of the declaration or any accompanying document or any second document is for them to disclose their proliferation activities, which is something you insisted on. So given that that document should include information about that, why not perhaps wait until then to brief Congress? Why this week, since it’s been months at least since you’ve known about whatever you know about Syria and North Korea? And yes, you have a responsibility to brief Congress, but you know, apparently, the timing is of your choosing. So why not wait until that declaration is submitted and then explain to Congress what exactly happened?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I said, I’m not in a position to confirm any particular briefings. The State Department – I don’t think anybody has written that the State Department is implied in any of these briefings that the press is reporting. So you might talk to the intelligence community about any briefings that they may be doing and the timing behind that -- those briefings.

QUESTION: But doesn’t the intelligence community include INR here?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, but they – you have a Director of Central Intelligence as well as a Director of National Intelligence. And the State Department component of that is one piece of that. They have the overall responsibility for those issues.

QUESTION: But no State Department official is going to take part in them? If there is a briefing, whenever and wherever, the State Department is not going to be involved in --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware of the State Department doing any briefings on this issue tomorrow on Capitol Hill.

QUESTION: But whether or not there are certain – whether or not the State Department participates, you said there are certain responsibilities to brief Congress. So can we assume that the timing of that is linked to the six-party talks?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again – I would separate these two issues, these reports of these briefings and the six-party talks. I can’t emphasize enough – I mean, there has been this sense, almost, that this process of the six-party talks is – has some sort of inevitability; it is going to move forward no matter what. That isn’t the case. It is the case that it will move forward and we will continue moving towards the goal of achieving a denuclearized Peninsula as well as working on other aspects that are outlined in the October* 2005 agreement if parties perform. That’s the metric. And we are certainly, as an Executive Branch, going to fulfill our obligations separate and apart from that to brief the Congress on issues that they have a desire to be informed of and which we have an obligation to brief them on.

Yes, Param.

QUESTION: Sean, has the Department discussed with the U.S. experts team that were in North Korea on (inaudible) discussing the declaration with Pyongyang?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think Sung Kim-- he’s still in Pyongyang -- he’s going to make his way out tomorrow morning via the land route -- he went in via the land route -- and then make his way back here. And the Secretary will have an opportunity to get a full briefing once he returns back to the United States.

QUESTION: Any initial assessment?



MR. MCCORMACK: None that I’m going to offer in public.

QUESTION: Any – did the U.S. at all confront North Korea about its links with Syria, so far?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have made it clear to North Korea, so have other members of the six-party talks, that any declaration that they provide has to include an accounting for their proliferation activities. And part of the six-party talks now is a mechanism to deal with proliferation issues. It’s very important.

Did you have a question?



QUESTION: The Zimbabwe opposition --

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Hold on a second. Anything else on North Korea, Syria, six-party talks? Okay. Yes, please go ahead.

QUESTION: The Zimbabwe opposition leader two days ago visited Nigeria – visited the former president of Nigeria to talk about the post-election crisis. My question is: Do you think that Nigeria could, at this point, play a stronger role that South Africa is currently playing? And as he did in the case of Liberia where, you know, he was able to persuade the former president Charles Taylor to leave the country.

And then secondly, would we expect the U.S. to call – make a specific call to Nigeria to step up and, you know, mediate in the crisis? Secondly, the Niger Delta militants recently said that they would like to have a chat with the former President Jimmy Carter. I don’t know what your reaction would be to that. Thank you.

QUESTION: A very careful one.

MR. MCCORMACK: On the latter, I’m not sure that the former President has expressed an interest in dealing with that matter. I’ll be happy to check for you whether or not there’s been any contact here about that.

As for Nigeria or any other African state’s role in bringing a resolution to the current political crisis in Zimbabwe, we would encourage those who have some leverage with the government to use that leverage to bring about a peaceful resolution to what is a very deep political crisis. We have encouraged South Africa, specifically, because I think there is a perception there, I think it’s the reality that the South – current South African Government leadership does have quite a bit of leverage with President Mugabe and his ruling party.

If it is the case that Nigeria feels as though it does have a role to play in bringing about a resolution, certainly, we would encourage that. We would encourage anybody within the international community that feels as though they have a positive role to play to do so.

QUESTION: Still on the Niger Delta, the militants say they have, you know, sent a letter to the U.S. Government, you know, and they actually blew up some Shell pipelines two days ago, saying they didn’t get a response. I don’t know, can you confirm if a letter was actually received by the U.S. Government?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don’t know. And I would suggest that there are better ways to express displeasure than actually blowing up pipelines.

QUESTION: Yeah. Does the U.S. Government have faith in the capability of Nigerian Government to manage this crisis since it is disrupting oil supplies?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, regardless of the latter part, it is an important issue that I know the Government of Nigeria is dealing with. And certainly, we would encourage them to deal with it. Fundamentally, these things come down to political issues. Now there's -- the kidnapping of people and the use of violence is something that we condemn. But I understand that this is something the government – this issue is one that the Government of Nigeria is dealing with.


QUESTION: Can we stay on Zimbabwe? Or, Matt, were you going to – just on Zimbabwe. Have you seen the comments by Prime Minister Gordon Brown about calling for an arms embargo?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have. And at this point, we want to understand better what are the specifics, what are the details of what it is that the British Government is proposing. Certainly, as a matter of principle, we believe that it is prudent for any state that is contemplating export of arms to the Zimbabwean Government to reconsider those exports. And we have seen a recent case involving a Chinese ship in which neighboring states have allowed -- have refused to allow their territories for transshipment of such weapons. Again, these we believe are prudent steps given the current political situation in Zimbabwe.


QUESTION: Can you expand on the Secretary's comments with the Georgian Foreign Minister about -- a little post-meeting recap of what they discussed?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure where you're going to -- just -- what did they talk about?


MR. MCCORMACK: They talked very much about U.S.-Georgian relations. They also talked about an issue that's been much in the headlines, and the issues of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And you know there was a recent incident in which a drone was alleged to have been shot down by Russian fighters, and that's something that is of concern to us and we're trying to get the facts.

But all of these things get back to a central point, and that is the United States’ strong, unshakable support for Georgia's sovereignty and its territorial integrity.

QUESTION: And the other meeting with the Somali?

MR. MCCORMACK: Somali --

QUESTION: And the (inaudible) resolution?


QUESTION: Proposed UN resolution.

MR. MCCORMACK: Proposed UN resolution on what, piracy?

QUESTION: Well, piracy, yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Piracy. It was a very interesting meeting and the president is clearly somebody who is committed to the process of reconciliation within Somalian society and to try to expand the rule of a central Somalian government over all of Somalia. Clearly, there is a long way to go in that regard. And he is clearly somebody who is committed to trying to fight piracy. And he's going up to the UN, I think either today or tomorrow, to talk about that. And that's something -- certainly we support those efforts.

There is also another issue. They talked about the peacekeepers, deployment of peacekeepers, and that's something, again, that we strongly support. And I know the president is going up to the UN and that is going to be another issue on his agenda. So, a very interesting meeting -- somebody who is clearly trying to work on behalf of the best interest of the Somali people. It's very difficult. They have had, as he described it, 17 years of civil war.

And he believes politically they have made some progress in terms of trying to bring some reconciliation between -- among the clans. There are still, as he described it, elements who are intent on using violence -- violence, al-Qaida and other associated groups to try to undermine that progress. And we certainly expressed our support for the president in bringing about a process of political reconciliation and also trying to act in a responsible manner in the international community. And I would point to the piracy issue as an example of that.


QUESTION: A new topic?


QUESTION: On Darfur?


QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to what the UN said yesterday that the peacekeeping forces probably won't be in place until some time next year and, you know, kind of saying that the urgency of this is that 300,000 have been killed in Darfur in the last five years?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, it’s – it’s too long. It should have happened by now. And you know how hard we have been working on this issue, from the President to the Secretary on down. Under Secretary General – Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has certainly been a positive force at the UN for trying to bring attention to this issue and trying to get – get the gears in motion in terms of planning and deployment of forces. But it’s been tough. It’s been very, very difficult. And as you point out, in the meantime, people have died.


QUESTION: Yeah, on Cuba, the Cuban Government apparently has been listening to conversations between the Cuba Interests Section and some political dissidents and they have been putting those conversations in public. There’s been a lot of protests from those dissidents. And also, they have recorded conversations from a congresswoman with dissidents. Have you anything on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware of the specifics of the story, but they seem to listen in on everybody else’s conversation in Cuba, so I don’t see why we wouldn’t be surprised by that.

QUESTION: Well, but those are American officials in Cuba, so they’re really spying on them.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, again, I don’t know the specifics of the story. I know that our people in the Interests Section have a healthy sense that somebody’s always watching or listening. And as I said, it just points to the fact that the individual Cuban citizen has absolutely no expectation or rights concerning their own privacy and freedoms.


QUESTION: Did the Secretary attend the meeting today between the President and the King of Jordan?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don’t believe so.

QUESTION: Did she talk with him or any contacts?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she recently visited with him, I think, on the trip before last.

QUESTION: No, I mean during his visit today.

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware that she’s met with him. I’ll have to go back and check the schedule, Samir.

Let me just add at the end here, as I was thinking back in my response here, I don’t want to leave the impression that at all that this is an acceptable situation for the Cuban people. It’s obviously an abhorrent situation.

Yeah, Matt. Do you have anything?



Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: What are your reactions to the U.S. beef import into Japan that was found to be noncompliant?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, I understand that this is an ongoing issue of negotiation between the United States and Japan. And the Japanese people and the Japanese Government should be confident in our good faith in negotiating on this topic and making sure that we are able – we follow through and uphold the agreements that have been made. And it’s our hope that this issue can be resolved in the very near future.

QUESTION: And just to follow up, since this is coming on the heels of South Korea agreeing to open up its market further, how do you think this will affect ongoing U.S.-Japan negotiations to further open up the Japanese market to U.S. beef?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’m not sure that there’s a – there’s a linkage between the two. I think we take them in their own right. Of course, we would encourage any state to take note of the forward progress on other negotiations on a similar topic.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:18 p.m.)

*September 2005 agreement.

DPB #73

Released on April 23, 2008

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