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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 30, 2008



Diplomatic Request for Expulsion of Ten Diplomats
Action Unjustified and Unwarranted
Functioning of U.S. Embassy
Number of Belarus Diplomats in U.S.
American Citizen Zeltser Detained / Should be Released on Humanitarian Grounds


Taliban Remains Threat and Challenge
Counterinsurgency & Reconstruction Efforts
Support and Funding for Taliban


Media Report that Department of State is Drafting Letter of Warning to Iran
Iran’s Support for Taliban in Afghanistan
Iran No Longer Playing a Responsible Role in Iraq and Afghanistan


Reports of Russian Troop Buildup Along Border
Ask Russia to Reconsider Recent Steps
Abkhazia and South Ossetia / U.S Supports Territorial Integrity of Georgia


Ayman al-Zawahiri Stating CIA and FBI Fund Iran and Hezbollah


Government’s Talks with Militants
Effort to Integrate Reconcilable People to Political Process
Too Early to Tell What Results it Will Yield / Encourage the Efforts


View Video

12:46 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I don't have any statements to begin with, so we can get right to your questions. Who wants to start?

Okay. Charles.

QUESTION: You'll tell us what Belarus and what the --


QUESTION: -- situation is between the two countries and why it is and how many people have left the -- or plan to leave --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, sure, sure.

QUESTION: -- and where the Ambassador is?

MR. MCCORMACK: The Ambassador's still here in Washington on consultations. Our chargé in Belarus today received a formal request from the Belarusian Government to have ten of our diplomats at the Embassy leave within 72 hours. Since this was a formal diplomatic request, we will comply with it. We told the Belarusians in private, and we will say in public, that we believe that this action is unjustified and unwarranted. We want to have a good relationship with Belarus and work to try to improve that. But we are not going to do that and sacrifice the principles of pushing for freedom of expression, political freedoms and other -- and other freedoms in Belarus.

As for what reaction we will have in response to this, we are considering what our response will be.

Yeah, Gollust.

QUESTION: Sean, you -- this -- the staff in Belarus has diminished, I think to a point where the functioning of the Embassy is, I think, limited. When the ten leave, I mean, what's going to be left? I mean, can you --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we're going to have about four people who are left, once -- once the ten leave. We're going to try to provide American citizen services as best we can. There was just a visit on the 25th with Mr. Zeltser, who was detained by the Belarusian authorities and is in a psychiatric hospital. They placed him in a hospital. We have requested, on humanitarian grounds, that he be released.

In terms of the continuing function at the Embassy, we are going to continue to try to do the -- our work as best we can. The visa processing unit is essentially closed down at the moment, but we do continue to provide American citizen services.


QUESTION: How many diplomats does Belarus have here? And I've got a follow-up, more on substance.

MR. MCCORMACK: What -- what was it, five, Gonz?


MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, five. Here in New York -- in Washington?


MR. MCCORMACK: In Washington.

QUESTION: Because they had recently reduced as well, hadn't they?

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. Correct.

QUESTION: Yeah. Have they also got some in New York, though?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they have a consulate in New York. I don't have -- we -- happy to track down the numbers in New York.

QUESTION: Well, the -- more on substance, what's the way out of this? I know that Karen Stewart has said that, you know, we could go back to a dialogue if they release Alyaksandr Kazulin. Is that still the case or what's sort of the way out of this, tit for tat?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, you can ask the Belarusian authorities for their -- the motivations behind asking our diplomats to leave. Like we said, we don't believe that there's any justification for it. We can -- you can hypothesize that they weren't happy about the fact that we continue to meet with those people in Belarusian political circles who have an interest in seeing greater political freedoms, freedom of expression and other kinds of freedoms in Belarus. Sometimes these people do that at risk to their own personal safety. We've seen examples of that.

So while we want to have a better relationship with Belarus, we're certainly not going to sacrifice our principles in the interests of trying to do that.

QUESTION: Just one more. Have they ever given you an explanation of why they’re holding Emanuel Zeltser?

MR. MCCORMACK: He was charged -- he was charged under their criminal statutes, I believe, but I don’t -- I’m not sure that we have gotten a detailed explanation. In any case, we believe that given the current condition and his current conditions, that he should be released on humanitarian grounds.


QUESTION: You said you were considering your responses. Are you considering a reciprocal action that would --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not going to tip my hand at this point, Kirit, but we’re considering our response.

Anything else on this matter? Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Yes. Nazira Karimi from Ariana Television, Afghanistan.


QUESTION: In State Department report about global terrorism that released this morning said that the Taliban was a big challenge and threat in 2007. My question is, in spite of thousand of U.S., NATO and Afghan forces, why so the Taliban are a big challenge and threat in Afghanistan?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they’re determined enemies and they would like to turn the back -- turn back the clock on all the progress that’s been made in Afghanistan. And, frankly, these kinds of battles, which are essentially counterinsurgency kinds of operations on behalf of the Afghan Government by, you know, our forces, by NATO forces, by Afghan forces, are essentially counterinsurgency operations. So it just -- and these kinds of fights take time. And it is also the case that it will take time to help construct Afghanistan. In some cases it’s reconstruction, but in some cases it’s construction, putting in place basic infrastructure so that people can help, you know, participate in an economy, a thriving economy, and plug that economy into the regional economy as well as the global economy, and therefore help build a better, more prosperous future for Afghanistan and, in doing so, work on those basic governmental functions like good governance that will give the Afghan people confidence in their government, and more and more look to them in order to provide services -- security services as well as infrastructure services. All of that needs to be integrated and all of that will take some time.

QUESTION: Where they get support and funding?

MR. MCCORMACK: Who, the Taliban?

QUESTION: They get it out --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don’t -- off the top of my head, give you a list, but I’m sure -- I know that some of them are involved in narcotrafficking. That’s a source of some of their funding. And I can’t tell you where else. I’m sure they have other means of funding as well.

It doesn't -- it’s one of those -- sadly, one of those kinds of activities that doesn't take a lot of funding in order to buy, you know, bullets, guns and explosives.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: CBS had a report last night, talking about preparations in the U.S. against Iran, and possible attacks on them.


QUESTION: And the end of the report talked about a -- something the State Department is doing to draft some sort of letter to the Iranians to kind of warn them. Do you have anything --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I saw the same report. I’m not sure to what the report was referring. I really don’t know.

QUESTION: New topic?


QUESTION: As you know, Russia has decided to increase its peacekeeping forces in breakaway Georgian regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Do you have anything to say about this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’ve seen these news reports and, you know, some of these Russian actions in terms of troop buildups along the border certainly risk destabilizing the region, and we would ask Russia to reconsider some of the steps that they have taken recently. We have asked them to reconsider some of the statements that they have made recently.

On the Georgian side, we haven’t seen any similar buildups. They’ve had normal troop rotations through the Kidori Valley. And, frankly, the Georgian Government has taken responsible steps in terms of reaching out to citizens of those regions, both South Ossetia and as well as to Abkhazia.

So we have an interest in seeing a peaceful resolution to any of the differences between the people in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and those regions in Georgia. But, fundamentally, there is an unshakeable commitment by the -- on the part of the United States to Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over all of Georgia’s territory.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to something that she mentioned?


QUESTION: If you could just update on the two carriers in the Persian Gulf , and also in this report today it mentioned that the Revolutionary Guard continue to provide weapons and financial aid to the Taliban to support activities in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number-two man to al-Qaida, said in a speech that’s been airing all over the world that Iran and Hezbollah are funded by the CIA and the FBI, and the Taliban and al-Qaida should do everything they can to work against Iran. So if you could just comment on that --

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Well, on the last of those, it’s just farcical. It’s just not – there’s no grain of truth in that statement. In terms of the carriers, you can talk to the Department of Defense. They’re the ones -- the relevant authorities in that regard. And you just cited a passage from the terrorism report in terms of where the Taliban gets some of its funding and I certainly – certainly don’t dispute what’s been written in the report.

QUESTION: On Iran, in 2003, they helped kick out the Taliban during the (inaudible) invasion. So now, they’re funding the Taliban? And the – al-Qaida had said that that’s (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: No, there was a period of time when Iran did play a responsible role in Afghanistan. And we actually worked – they were part of the Bonn process. They were there at those meetings as well. The problem has been, both Iraq and Afghanistan, we have seen indications where Iran is not playing a responsible role. And you have outlined in that report an example of – in Afghanistan, of how they are not being a good neighbor to Afghanistan.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on reports of an American kidnapped by the FARC in Panama?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t, no.


QUESTION: Another question. What is (inaudible) the new government of Pakistan and leaders of the Taliban, they have reached an agreement to stop fighting? What do you think about it and how much will be the affect for Afghanistan?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’ll see. We’ll see what comes of this effort. We understand that it is an attempt on the part of the Pakistani Government to try to peel away those people who are reconcilable to a political process, who want to integrate themselves into the fabric of Pakistani political life and actually want to have the FATA become a fully functioning part of Afghanistan*. For centuries now, it has been almost – although for the past 60 years or so, falls within the territory of Pakistan. It has not really been governed by the central Pakistani Government.

So it’s an effort to try to integrate that region and those people into Pakistani life. There are going to be those who are irreconcilable to any political process and they need to be dealt with through other means. So, this is an attempt on the part of the Pakistani Government to try to achieve a positive goal. And certainly, we support that. Of course, any sort of political dialogue and outreach needs to be integrated with other kinds of efforts, security measures as well as economic and development measures.

As for what this might produce, we’ll see. We don’t yet know. There have been attempts in the past that have not succeeded. That’s a tough problem. So we’ll see what the current effort yields. It’s too early to tell.

QUESTION: What is reaction about this decision?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, too early to tell what results it will yield. Certainly, we encourage the Pakistani Government to make these efforts because it’s in everybody’s interest – Pakistan’s, Afghanistan’s, and ours as well as all people who have – are fighting violent extremists, that the FATA region be part of Pakistan in terms of being governed by the central Pakistani Government on a daily basis, which it is not today.

QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 12:59 p.m.)

DPB # 76

* Pakistan

Released on April 30, 2008

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