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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 12, 2008

INDEX:

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

Construction Announcement / Will Ask Israelis for Clarification
Issues Underline Importance of Final Status Agreement
Two Sides Committed to Negotiation and Making Progress
From Policy Perspective, Need to Keep Eye on Strategic Objective
Focus of Secretary’s Efforts is Getting Discussions Moving Forward
Salam Fayyad Comments

SAUDI ARABIA

Notification to Congress of Proposed JDAMS Sale to Saudi Arabia

MACEDONIA/GREECE

Readout of Secretary’s Meeting with Macedonian FM Antonio Milososki
Discussed Macedonian Application to Join NATO / Kosovo / Macedonia Name Issue
Urge Macedonia and Will Urge Greek FM to Participate in Nimetz Process

SUDAN

Preview of Secretary’s Meeting with Sudanese FM Deng Alor Kuol
Urge Sudanese Government to Do Everything Possible to End Violence in Darfur

RUSSIA

Long-range Aviation Flights / Something We Watch Closely

PALESTINIANS

Looking at Litigation Issue / Possibility of Statement of Interest
Committed to Defending Rights of U.S. Citizens and Defending National Interest

IRAN

Levinson Status
No Update on UN Security Council Resolution

IRAN/IRAQ

Nothing to Announce Regarding Talks / Iraqis Will Announce

JAPAN

Service Member in Japanese Custody
Mid-Level Officials from Embassy Met with Japanese Officials Yesterday
Chargé Was Summoned Today, Met with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister
Ambassador Schieffer Expressed Regret Over Incident, Concern for Victim

KOSOVO

Query / UN Security Council Meeting on Kosovo


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:55 p.m. EST

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

QUESTION: I have two real quick ones, but they may end up being longer. Do you have – have you seen the Israeli decision on building the new thousand houses in the –

MR. MCCORMACK: I saw the news reports about it. And this is, again, something that has come up from time to time. Most recently, it came up around the President’s trip to the Middle East, and I know that he had a good discussion with Prime Minister Olmert and the President and the --

QUESTION: Obviously, not that good.

MR. MCCORMACK: What’s that?

QUESTION: Well, sorry. Continue.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, this issue I would expect from time to time is going to come up in the absence of a final status agreement. We have made our views very – you know, very clear on this. The Israelis understand what our policy is. The Israelis have made certain commitments that they talked about in public during the President’s trip. And with respect to this particular – these particular news stories, I’m sure that our people are going to go in and ask for some clarification to understand exactly where in this process this announcement lies.

But again, we have made very clear what our views are about these kinds of announcements. It doesn't – we’re going to seek clarification, but just because you have an announcement, that doesn't automatically lead in the near term to construction. So you have to understand where in the process this is.

But at the end of the day, it’s just these kinds of issues that underline the importance of getting to a final status agreement. And certainly, we have the very firm commitment from Prime Minister Olmert and his government, President Abbas and his government, and certainly from President Bush and Secretary Rice, that we’re going to do everything we can to get to a final status agreement. If you get to a final status agreement, you’re not going to have these kinds of issues that come up and serve as potential irritants to the ability of the Israelis and the Palestinians to make progress.

Now, despite over the past several weeks a number of different incidents that have arisen, whether that is the continued rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel or the suicide bombing in Dimona, you still have these two sides committed to negotiation, committed to making progress, and in fact, making progress.

QUESTION: Can I just –

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: What kind of progress?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well --

QUESTION: Before we get into that, do you see this announcement as a potential irritant or as an irritant? I mean, yes, it’s among – the rocket attacks --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ve seen the reaction from the Palestinians. I’ve seen clips from the news stories from the Palestinians. And quite clearly, they have a reaction. They have certain views about this. And that was the basis for my – for my statement about a potential irritant.

QUESTION: Well, the good discussions – the good discussions that the President has had, as well as others – the Secretary, David Welch, whoever else – you know, you – I think that you have told the Israelis that, look, this is – these kinds of announcements could be a potential irritant. And when you say that, you know, it’s not clear, you’re going to seek clarification and it’s not clear when the construction is actually going to start, what possible good can it do if, you know, the Israelis come out with announcements about a thousand new homes here, a couple hundred here, if, you know, they’re not – if even they don’t intend to build them for another ten years, by which time you’re – hopefully, you’re well into the agreement, a final peace agreement?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, one would hope that by that time we – there will have been a Palestinian state for some time.

QUESTION: So --

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, Matt --

QUESTION: So when does your patience – is it – do the Israelis have unlimited patience along with the billions dollars in aid that you’re giving them? Do they get your unlimited patience?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. But I guess – I guess the – yeah, I understand you guys have to write news stories every single day. But you know, let me tell you how it looks from a policy perspective --

QUESTION: With respect to --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no, no, hold on. You got to ask your question. I get to give my answer. And I’ll try to answer your questions as best I can. But let me tell you how it looks from the policy side. And how it looks from the policy side is you have issues that will arise from time to time, like today’s – today’s announcements, today’s news stories. You have issues of life and death; for example, suicide bombings, preventing terrorist attacks, and those come out. And those need to be managed on a daily basis.

And with respect to this – these particular announcements, I’m sure our people are going to go in, seek clarification and find out exactly what this means. And then based on that, perhaps we will have something more to say, perhaps not.

But from the policy perspective, what you need to do is you need to keep your eye on the ball. You need to keep your eye on the strategic objective. Because if you’re able to achieve the strategic objective here, and that means getting to a final status agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, these kinds of questions aren’t even going to arise anymore. They’re not going to come up.

And so I’m --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: You’re right. We’re not there – we’re not there yet.

QUESTION: You know, you keep telling them not to do things like this that are provocative or irritants, and they keep doing them.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Matt --

QUESTION: And it’s not the question of we having – us here having to write stories about it every day. There wouldn't be a story to write if the Israelis didn’t keep coming out and saying these kinds of things.

MR. MCCORMACK: But you know, look, I told you, Matt, we’re going to – I’m sure our people are going to go in, they’re going to ask for clarification and understand better exactly these news stories and what they – and what they mean. And if there’s anything further to say about it at that point, we will.

But again, I can’t underline the point enough. I think you’ve got it but I’ll say it again, the focus of the Secretary’s efforts, and I know the focus of the Palestinians as well as the Israelis and those Arab states and others in the international community who want to see a final status agreement, are focused on getting those discussions moving forward. You are going to have – I am sure, I am positive -- between now and when we have actual agreement on – that final agreement, on those final status issues, there are going to be any number of issues that arise, that distract, that have the potential to distract both sides— that have the potential to serve as irritants.

What we're going to do is we're going to try to, as those issues arise, try to resolve them; if we can, try to prevent them from happening in the first place so you have better understanding; but ultimately, keep the focus on the discussions between the Israelis and Palestinians and keeping those moving forward.

QUESTION: You said that the President had a good conversation with the Prime Minister. But after this conversation, it was announced that now the Prime Minister had the control of the new buildings in the settlements. So what does it says about the control that the Prime Minister has actually --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sylvie, as I’ve just said, I am sure we're going to go in and get a -- gain a better understanding about this announcement. And as a result of that, if we have more facts, I'm sure that we'll -- we may have more to say about it, we may not. We'll see.

But, you know, in terms of trying imply something more about this action regarding the commitment of Prime Minister Olmert to this process, certainly we and -- I would point you completely in the other direction. We firmly believe that Prime Minister Olmert is deeply committed to working with the Palestinians and deeply committed to pushing this process forward as fast and as completely as they possibly can.

QUESTION: Sean --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: You can be deeply committed and not keeping the control. It's not the same. My question was about the control.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, and what my reply to you is that I'm sure we are going to go in and ask the Prime Minister's office, ask the Foreign Minister's office, for more information about what today's announcement actually is.

QUESTION: Two questions. One, did they tell you in advance that they were going to announce this? And secondly – on the 1,100 homes. And then secondly, do you see these potential irritants as being thrown out there as kind of roadblocks and just to slow the process down --

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: -- so that they're not pushed into a corner to agree to something they don't want to?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. Do I see this as a negotiating tactic? No. Absolutely not. Look, I'll let the Prime Minister's office and the Israeli Government speak for itself with regard to the announcement. If they have anything further to say about it in public, they will. As I said, I'm sure we'll go in and ask for more information about it.

But these two sides -- the Israelis and the Palestinians -- know that it is in their interest to reach an agreement. We're going to do everything that we possibly can to help them. We are going to do everything that we can to rally the support of the international community to help them reach an agreement. And there's no doubt in our mind at all that both sides are equally committed, deeply committed, to trying to reach an agreement.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I'm aware of. I have no idea. I didn't even ask the question.

QUESTION: And where in the world is David Welch this week? Is he --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'll have to check. I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I didn't see him this morning at the staff meeting, so --

QUESTION: And what about the three generals, what are they doing this week?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don't know. I mean, I think Will Fraser, Lieutenant General Fraser, is --

QUESTION: In the region?

MR. MCCORMACK: -- in the region. I know that just because I talked to him on the ride back from Afghanistan. But as for the others, you know, I don't keep track of these guys' schedules.

Yeah.

QUESTION: You spoke earlier about progress. You said they are still making progress.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What kind of progress, because it's not obvious from here?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, sometimes -- sometimes you are better able to make progress by not talking a lot about it. And I was -- I will let the Israelis and the Palestinians describe for themselves how they see the state of play in their discussions. But you're not going to find us talking about it from any podium here or anywhere else what kind of – the details of their discussions or where they’ve been able to close, where there are still gaps and exactly what the state of play is. I can give you general assessments, but I don’t think it serves anybody’s purposes to start talking in any detail about it. Certainly, not from our end.

QUESTION: So you can assure that progress has been made. You’ve seen details and areas closed, whether it made progress?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I’ve offered our assessment of where they stand at the moment. You can talk to them about how they see things.

QUESTION: Sean, you’ve made references to (inaudible) the potential irritants line. You talked about those from the Israeli side and those from Hamas. Are you aware of any potential irritants that have been actually introduced into this situation by President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority?

MR. MCCORMACK: I guess the answer to that question depends on perspective and you can ask the Israelis if they’ve seen any from President Abbas, whether or not he has done anything in terms of a potential irritant.

QUESTION: But you don’t recognize anything that he’s done as –

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not trying to identify specifics, Matt --

QUESTION: Well, you’ve identified the housing announcement as a potential irritant.

MR. MCCORMACK: And I have talked about a number of other – a number of other things that have served as obstacles, Matt, to this.

QUESTION: Right, but those are related to Hamas.

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, you know, I’m not going to – you know, I’m not going to get pinned down in discussing, you know, what may serve as a potential irritant in the eyes of others. But I think one can generally assume that things that distract – that can potentially serve to distract the attention of either the individuals in negotiations or publics can serve as irritants. Look, you know, for example, the – in the past, the Har Homa incident, quite clearly, that was something that was an irritant to potential progress, absolutely. So we talked to the Israelis about it. We talked to the Palestinians about it.

And in large part, those sorts of things depend on the perceptions. It depends on the perceptions of the Israelis. It depends on the perception of the Palestinians. I’ll tell you, though, that if you are – if you actually do have a process in place, if you do have a process that if you catch them in a quiet, honest moment, both sides will tell you that there is progress being made, the ability of these kinds of extraneous events to negatively affect that process and progress in that process diminishes over time, because you have that process in place, because you are making progress.

QUESTION: That means that you regard in the end the Har Homa thing as extraneous?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, no, no. That’s – no, Matt, that’s not what I’m saying. Come on.

QUESTION: Sean, the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said yesterday that nothing has changed since Annapolis till now and they are doing their part on the roadmap and the Israelis not. What’s your reaction?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have anything to add to what Prime Minister Fayyad said. Look, everybody’s entitled to their own views. You’ll get various views from various members of the Israeli side and from the Palestinian side.

Yeah.

QUESTION: But are you disappointed that, what is it, two months later or more that nothing really much has happened?

MR. MCCORMACK: And how long have there been people trying to bring peace to the Middle East between the Israelis --

QUESTION: Yes, but you have a program here. I mean, you’ve said that you want something to happen by the end of the year. You’ve set your own – you know, goalposts.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look -- well, we’d like to make as much progress as we possibly can. We’ll see. We’ll see how far we get. I mean, we can – you can tell that the President is determined, you can tell that the Secretary is determined. We’ll see how far we get. There’s – at this point, the history isn’t written. We’ll see how it plays out over time. I can assure you, however, however it turns out, that the Secretary is absolutely 100 percent committed to trying to move this forward. She devotes a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of focus to this issue, as does the President.

QUESTION: It’s a different subject.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Just a technical question, really. On January 14th, you – the Administration notified Congress of its intent to sell JDAMs to Saudi Arabia. And that kicks of a 30-day clock.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Is that legislative days or calendar days? Because if it’s calendar days, it’ll be over the day after tomorrow.

MR. MCCORMACK: Wow

, you got me. I don’t know. I think it’s calendar – I think it’s calendar days, but --

QUESTION: Could you --

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll have to get a ruling – we’ll have to get a ruling on that --

QUESTION: I’d like to know.

MR. MCCORMACK: A point of order. We’ll have to ask the resident parliamentarian. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

Lambros, what, you want to talk about the Middle East?

QUESTION: On FYROM.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, what a surprise.

QUESTION: Mr. McCormack, any readout on the today’s meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Foreign Minister of FYROM Antonio Milososki?

MR. MCCORMACK: The Macedonian Foreign Minister and the Secretary had a good meeting. They talked – they talked about Macedonia’s application to join NATO. They talked about Kosovo and the subset of the issue related to NATO. They talked about the name issue, the so-called name issue with respect to Macedonia.

And, you know, our bottom line, which the Secretary reiterated, is we urged Macedonia, as we will urge the Greek Foreign Minister when the Secretary sees her later in the week, to fully participate in the process that is being run by the Secretary General’s Special Representative Nimitz. He’s working hard on it – working hard on this issue and we urge them to use that process and use the good offices of Ambassador Nimitz to find a resolution to the issue.

QUESTION: A follow-up? On the bilateral effort, any concrete effort like mediation by Secretary Rice for a solution on the name issue, as you said, between Greece and FYROM?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. She – I’ll replay what I just said. She urged them to use that process, use the process that is being run by the Secretary General’s Special Representative. She urged them to – she urged the Foreign Minister to use that process to find a solution, as she will urge the Greek Foreign Minister when she sees her on Thursday.

QUESTION: And again, there were no suggestions?

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: Possible new names?

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: Who initiated the meeting and how long lasting?

QUESTION: Fred.

MR. MCCORMACK: It was half an hour—it was half an hour. I don’t know. These things are always worked out by mutual agreement.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary met the Sudanese Foreign Minister yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, that’s coming up.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. And what is she hoping to achieve in that meeting? What's she's going to be -- what's on her agenda?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, the top couple issues are ones that you've heard before. One, to have the Sudanese Government do everything it can to end the violence in Darfur, to cooperate fully with the AU and the UN in deployment of forces into Darfur, to do everything they can to facilitate the access of humanitarian groups so that they can deliver humanitarian aid, bring an end to any attacks that are ongoing now. And also, looking south, to fully implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the various sub-agreements that are part of the overall agreement.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Have you seen President Putin's interesting comments about retargeting Russian missiles toward Ukraine if it wants to join NATO or if it does join NATO?

MR. MCCORMACK: Here he goes again. No, I --

QUESTION: You have not?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have not, no.

QUESTION: These -- again, I'll --

MR. MCCORMACK: Threw you off with that, didn't I? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes. The Reagan impersonation was a bit of a surprise.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, at least you recognized it. It was good.

QUESTION: I'm too old.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you say what the State Department is saying to the families of terror victims worried that the State Department will intervene and block any lawsuit payments from the Palestinians?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I know that this -- there's a specific ongoing issue. The U.S. Government is taking a look at this. It's a matter of current litigation and the U.S. Government is taking a look at what, if anything, it will do in terms of offering a statement of interest. I think that that's the technical term at hand.

Look, the -- we are absolutely committed to defending the rights of our citizens. We are also fully committed to pursuing our national interest and defending our national interest. At this point, I don't have anything to offer in terms of a decision one way or another on this particular issue. We'll keep you apprised in the coming days if there's any change.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) something may happen within days?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect in the coming days. I don't know if there's a specific timetable, but I think there's a judicial timetable that's in place here. It's not really ours that we would be responding to. I think -- there's a judge in this case that has certain -- and the judge has certain responsibilities to make decisions in the case.

QUESTION: Were you able to find out who from Bellinger's shop went over to Justice for this meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, I didn't ask. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Well, that's all right. And then just the other thing is -- I'm wondering, you know, what -- if and when the Administration decides to give the court a statement of interest, does that come from here or does it go through Justice? Is it --

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, technically? You know, I don't know, Matt. I'm not sure. I think it would probably be -- if it were, and I have to emphasize the "if" here, I think it is generated by us. But I'm not sure if we deliver it directly or Justice does. I think that we do, but I'm not -- or I can check if you're interested.

Lambros, you've already had all yours.

QUESTION: On this one --

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Yeah, George.

QUESTION: Is there any -- a formal move by the United States to express concern to the Russians about the bomber overflight of the carrier?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I checked into this, and I think any expressions of concern will probably be carried out through military-to-military "diplomatic" channels. We don't, at this point, intend to do anything on behalf of the Department of Defense. The Russians have made the decision to resume some of their long-range aviation flights involving some of their -- some of their assets left over from the Cold War. I guess they’re still flying, so keeping them in good working order.

But you know, beyond that, I don’t think we view it as a particular threat. It is something that we watch. It is something that we watch closely, and I’m sure folks over at the Pentagon watch it as well.

QUESTION: So you sort of keep it on the radar. Any further – other – has there been any further correspondence with the Iranians about Mr. Levinson?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have not checked.

QUESTION: Could you check, please?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, be happy to.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: And what about the talks about Iraq with the Iranians?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing.

QUESTION: A date?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing to announce at this point. What we’re going to is we’re going to allow – if there is in the near future any announcement of a date, we’re going to allow the Iraqis to do that. They’ve been working to – working with both sides, the Iranians and us, to come up with a date that works for both. And so out of courtesy to them, we’ll let any announcement come out of the Iraqis and we’ll be happy to talk about it after that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on the Okinawa rape incident (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new from this morning. I can review where we are. This is just a horrendous crime and we take it very seriously. And at the moment, I understand the American service member is still in Japanese custody, and the procedures are such that once the individual is formally charged, then he is turned over to our custody prior – prior to and during the trial taking place and during – depending on the course of the trial, the person is either kept by the U.S. Government, U.S. Government officials, or turned over to the local officials to serve out a sentence.

We – yesterday, I believe – had mid-level officials in our Embassy go in, without being summoned, to Japanese officials to express our deep regret for this incident and to make it very clear that we’re going to cooperate in every possible way. Today, early in the day local time in Tokyo, our Chargé was summoned in. He went in and had a meeting with his interlocutor over at the Embassy. And I also believe that today Ambassador Shieffer, who had been out of the country, returned to the country and made some statements on the matter.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, any update on the UN Security Council resolution on Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: No updates. They’re hammering away up in the Security Council, working out language.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Is there a UN Security Council meeting scheduled this week on Kosovo? Apparently, the Russians would like a Security Council meeting on Kosovo before Sunday.

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll check. I’ll see. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Good.

QUESTION: Did you say today the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires was summoned? Who summoned him and who did he have the meeting with?

MR. MCCORMACK: It was – he – let me check for you.

QUESTION: Or did you say specifically he wasn’t summoned?

MR. MCCORMACK: No --

QUESTION: He was.

MR. MCCORMACK: He was. We went in at a lower level yesterday on our own accord to express regret, and then today the Chargé – a higher level official – was summoned in.

QUESTION: By?

MR. MCCORMACK: And he met with Japan’s Vice Foreign Minister. So there are a couple stages to the process here.

QUESTION: And do you know what he said in that meeting or what --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have any specific notes of it. But I’m – based on our views of the issue, I’m sure he expressed our deep regret regarding the issue and also underlined the fact that we intend to cooperate in every way possible in this case.

QUESTION: What would happen in this – would he be subject to military justice from the military justice system, or would he be charged in Japan, or would he be sent back? Do you --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’d have to – I’d have to go back and look at the specific agreements. There are agreements in place that govern all of this. I think he would be tried in a local court, I believe, and then subject to any penalties by the local court. Now, whether or not in the end he would – an individual would serve out a sentence in local jails or is remanded to U.S. custody to serve out a term in a military jail, I don’t know. If you’re interested, we can sort of get the details of that for you if you want.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, great.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:20 p.m.)

DPB #27



Released on February 12, 2008

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