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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 14, 2008



ECA: National Council for International Visitors Meeting, Feb 13-16
Department Role in DOD Satellite Recovery


Rice Travel to Kenya / Secretary General Kofi Annan
Status of Political Deal / USG Support
Annan Announcement Tomorrow


Putin’s Prime Ministerial Intentions / Direction of Russian Democracy


Date for U.S.-Iraq-Iran Meeting in Baghdad


Death of Hizballah Leader Mughniyah / Syrian Role
No Plan for Embassy Alert


3rd Anniversary of Hariri Assassination / Rice to Release Statement
Support for Lebanon Tribunal
Department Role in Filing Statements of Interest in Civil Cases / DOJ


Rice Meeting with Greek FM Bakoyannis
Support for Amb. Nimitz in Greek / Macedonian Naming Issue
Greek Threat to Veto NATO Expansion


Rice Meeting with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon


Looking Ahead to Kosovo’s Announcement


View Video

12:39 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody.

Just one quick note on behalf of my colleagues at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. We put out a Media Note on February 11th about “Citizen Diplomats from Across the Nation Gather at the National Council for International Visitors Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.” So I would just note that this is open to press coverage, February 13th through 16th. So --

QUESTION: Today’s the 14th --

MR. MCCORMACK: – So yes, 14 would fall in between 13 and 16.

QUESTION: Between the 16th – I thought you didn’t like to do numbers.

MR. MCCORMACK: I can understand – you are probably an English major, a journalist major. Don’t do numbers.

QUESTION: But dates are okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: You’re safe in here, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, speaking of dates, can you tell us where the Secretary is going to be on Monday?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. She will be traveling with the President. And she will be making – peeling off from the President’s trip for a short period of time to go to Kenya. The President has asked her to do this. She’s going there to support the efforts of UN Secretary General – former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to mediate the – bring about a solution to the political crisis that currently exists in that country that has existed for several weeks now and has resulted in far, far too many innocent lives being lost. So we want to do everything that we can to support those efforts. We have been involved from the very beginning in trying to help the two parties come together and bring about an end to this crisis. So it is just another way of manifesting our support for seeing an end to that political crisis, and most certainly an end to the violence that has --

QUESTION: Her schedule – who does she plan to see and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what I will try to do is if before the trip we can put out a definite schedule we will for her travel. I would expect, though, that she’s going to see President Kibaki, that she will meet with President Odinga and most certainly the President and – Mr. Odinga.

QUESTION: Careful, careful. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m sorry. Mr. Odinga, President Kibaki, as well as meeting with former Secretary General Annan. And there – you know, she – there’s a possibility she could meet with some civil society leaders as well. And I assume that there will be some press events along the way as well that might be of interest to your colleagues.

QUESTION: How long is she going to be there, just –

MR. MCCORMACK: Hours – a matter of hours.

QUESTION: So she’s not going to spend the night?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. She’s going to return back.

QUESTION: Can I take you back to something we discussed this morning, because I want to give you a –

QUESTION: Can I just ask one more? I’m not finished here, yet.


QUESTION: Who invited the Secretary to go to Kenya? Was it on the U.S. initiative or did Kofi Annan ask the Secretary to go?

MR. MCCORMACK: I honestly don’t know. I know that this is something Jendayi talked to her about a few days ago. And the Secretary talked it over with the President as well. So I’m – I can’t tell you. Secretary Rice has been in contact with Secretary General Annan during this process. We’ve been very supportive of it. She is going there in support of what he is doing to lend her good offices to the effort and as well as to demonstrate the United States Government’s support for what he is doing there.

QUESTION: I thought he just announced that the two parties reached an agreement?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I looked into what you said this morning. And my understanding is this, that Secretary General Annan tomorrow, about nine o’clock our time here and I think five o’clock local time in Kenya is going to give an update of where the process is. And out of deference to him, and keeping in mind that this is a critical moment in this political crisis, I’m not going to try to offer any sort of description of where he believes the process is and what potential progress has been made. So for those two reasons, I’m just going to defer any comment until after Secretary General Annan has spoken tomorrow. And I think that it is currently scheduled for the morning, our time, here. And then, as soon as we take a look at what he says, I’ll be free to offer some comment.

QUESTION: Is Secretary Rice expecting that there will be or is she hoping that there will be a deal in place when she gets there on Monday?

MR. MCCORMACK: We would all like to see a deal as soon as possible. If that is – if that comes tomorrow or the day after, then --

QUESTION: -- if they haven’t gotten a deal by Monday, is she still going to go?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think that – I think all things being equal, that she plans on going right now. And whether or not there’s a deal in advance or there is not yet one that is

finalized by the time she’s scheduled to go, I think in either case, she plans to go.

QUESTION: So you mean the deal is not finalized yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: I am not going to speculate one way or the other. I’m going to let Secretary General Annan speak about where he sees the process and what progress has been made in bringing the two parties together towards a deal.

QUESTION: Does she expect to actually get involved in trying to broker a deal if there isn’t one by Monday? I mean, is that part of --

MR. MCCORMACK: She will take her read from Secretary General Annan – he’s on the ground – as well as from Jendayi, who’s been closely linked into what’s happening in Kenya right now. So she’s going to do what she thinks can help the process move forward. So she’s going to take a read of what the situation is prior to her trip and what she sees on the ground and she’s going to do those things which she thinks can help get to – either get to a deal or effectively implement a deal and to allow the Kenyan people to move beyond this very difficult period in their political history.


QUESTION: New subject?


QUESTION: Apparently, the Pentagon is – if they haven’t already, they’re going to today, say that they’ll – their preferred option to get rid of this satellite that’s been falling is to shoot it down and that the State – and the State Department apparently has some role in this. Do you know what that role might be?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that there’s a – there’s perhaps a briefing that’s planned or some announcement planned --

QUESTION: Okay. So in a situation like this involving a satellite, what would – I don’t – I just don’t understand, what does the State Department have to do with it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, let’s let events unfold. We’re happy to talk about the State Department’s role in any of the kinds of scenarios that I’ve seen in the news, played out in the news. One might suppose that if the United States has decided to take some action that you want to make sure that everybody understands exactly what actions are being taken so that there are no misunderstandings or misperceptions. And I’m sure, also, reassuring people vis-à-vis treaty obligations and all manner of diplomatic as well as legal issues. You know our job is to talk to foreign audiences and foreign governments. So I’m sure that that’s – if, in fact, there has been some decision to take some action, that that is what our role would be.

QUESTION: Okay. So it doesn’t – it wouldn’t have anything to do with the – I don’t know, the scientific office here or something like that? It would simply be in a – this is – you’re telling foreign governments who might have an interest, this is what we’re going to do and don’t get (inaudible) –

MR. MCCORMACK: My understanding is that this would be in our role – a traditional diplomatic role.


QUESTION: Can you give us some details on the next trip of Chris Hill in Asia?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ve seen some news reports about this and I know that Chris is in the process of updating his schedule. He hasn’t finished that work yet, so once he’s finished updating his schedule, we’ll try to fill you in on what that new schedule looks like. He’s not ready to talk about it yet.



QUESTION: President Putin today indicated that he would like to become a long-serving prime minister.


QUESTION: His exact quote was, you know, “I would work as long as possible,” that his post – new post, you know, won’t be transitional.


QUESTION: I just wonder whether you had any comment on that, whether you think that, you know, that’s the sign of a healthy, striving democracy when he’s indicating how long he wants to serve or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, President Putin is somebody who clearly has an interest in working on behalf of his country and creating what he views as a better, more stable, prosperous, and democratic Russia. We've expressed pretty clearly our concerns about the direction of Russian democracy and some of the developments that have taken place within the context of Russian democracy, Russian law and Russian political processes. We're going to continue to speak out about those as long as we see trends that are a source of some concern, not only for us but for others.

That said, we are going to continue to work with the Russian Government, the next Russian president, I would expect the next Russian prime minister, as well as the various ministers in the next Russian cabinet on a variety of different issues because it is an important relationship which is very broad and complex and one in which we will seek to maximize the opportunities where we have a common interest and common goals. Where we have some differences of opinion, we'll work to see if we can bridge those differences of opinion in a constructive way and also in such a way that we don't trade on principle. And where there are differences that we can't bridge, then we'll do whatever we can to ensure that those differences don't pose insurmountable obstacles to having a broader and deeper relationship. We believe that that is in the interest of the United States and Russia. We also believe it is in the interest of that relationship and the interest of the Russian people that political and economic reform in Russia is both deepened and broadened and certainly that is our only wish for the Russian people. And we don't fear a strong Russia; we welcome a strong Russia. We welcome a Russia that is playing a positive constructive role on the international stage and a Russia in which the wills, the desires, hopes and aspirations of the Russian people are able to be expressed through their political system and that the will of the Russian people is very clearly expressed through that political system.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Can you clarify the status at the moment in the talks between the U.S., Iran and Iraq concerning Iraq? Can you just clarify where they're at at the moment?

MR. MCCORMACK: At the moment, I don't think there's agreement on the date. The Iranians recently came back to us via the Iraqis, or came back to the Iraqis and saying that the tentative agreement on a date for getting together to talk about security issues in Iraq didn't work for them. Okay. I can't tell you the reasons behind that or what their, you know, why they decided to cancel the tentative meeting that was put together. You know, quite clearly, they thought their people had better things to do, I suppose.

We are prepared to continue to use this particular channel for a constructive exchange on issues related to Iraq and Iraq security. But you'll have to ask the Iranian Government why it is that they decided not to participate in the meeting at this time.

QUESTION: Can I just ask on the assassination, the Hezbollah leader? There's a certain school of thought that says Syria was complacent in this, that they allowed this to happen. Do you have any comments on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you who was responsible.

QUESTION: Speaking of that region --

QUESTION: Well, can I just follow up -- I mean, there were, you know, kind of high-level officials, foreign ministers and others in Syria that were calling this a terrorist act and that this guy was a hero and a martyr and all these things.


QUESTION: I mean, what does that -- what do you think of that? That a lot of Arab leaders are kind of speaking out against this killing, that this guy is some kind of martyr, when he was believed to be responsible for the killing of U.S. citizens

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen the various comments. I can't speak to them. I think I pretty clearly expressed how we viewed this situation yesterday and I'll repeat it: The world's a better place without this man in it.

QUESTION: On that same topic --


QUESTION: Is there any plan for U.S. embassies to go on alert at all? I know the Israeli embassies are on alert over those -- do you know of any U.S. plans?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not aware of any particular plans. But this is one of those cases where our security people and embassies around the world take a look at the threat information, the various -- the facts that are out there before them and take whatever steps they deem prudent to ensure that our people are able to do their jobs in a safe environment and in the safest possible way.

Typically, if there is any credible substantive information that we need to pass along to the public that we have received and that we would act upon ourselves, usually there's a -- either a Travel Warning or a notice that goes out to the public or something that is -- goes out from the embassies. I'm not aware that we've issued anything at this point in that regard.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Beirut, Lebanon – anyway --

MR. MCCORMACK: There could very well be. I wouldn't be surprised if they took security precautions. But they're already at a heightened level of security, certainly in the wake of --

QUESTION: Shooting.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- the attempt on our embassy vehicle a couple of weeks ago.

QUESTION: Can I -- related but not exactly (inaudible), I've been waiting with bated breath for the Secretary's statement on the Hariri anniversary --

MR. MCCORMACK: We should have it out soon. Matt, we should have it soon. But, look, it's -- I believe the third anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri and it is a day in which we should reflect upon all the sacrifices the Lebanese people have made on behalf of building Lebanese democracy and reinforcing Lebanese sovereignty and reinforcing the idea that Lebanon should be able to direct its own affairs free from outside and foreign interference. Sadly that day has not yet fully arrived for the Lebanese people. We're going to continue to stand with the leaders of March 14th as they work on behalf of the Lebanese people to build a more stable, prosperous and democratic Lebanon.

And just the juxtaposition of events today in Lebanon couldn't be more stark. Where on one hand, we mourn the loss of an important leader in the form of former Prime Minister Hariri and celebrate all that he did and the sacrifices that he made on behalf of his country, with other statements about a cold-blooded killer terrorist responsible for the loss of innocent life. It's our firm conviction that the people of Lebanon are going to choose the path represented by former Prime Minister Hariri and those who are working to further his cause and in behalf of his memory.

QUESTION: You are reading from a statement or those are your words?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Sometimes you read the statement, but you say it’s -- but that's not what her statement says?

MR. MCCORMACK: Her statement will come out separately.


MR. MCCORMACK: That was an extemporaneous statement for your behalf for your use in your news copy.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yes. Thank you. And then just a little (inaudible) on Lebanon.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, Samir.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the Secretary said she expects soon a positive announcement regarding the Hariri tribunal. What did she mean by that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: She said yesterday in her testimony in Congress that she's expecting soon a positive announcement about the Lebanon tribunal for the Hariri assassination.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, we've been -- you know that we, along with many others in the international system, have been working very hard to establish this tribunal and to get it underway. I don't, at this point, have any announcements for you. But our hope is to be able to get the tribunal up and operating as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Is this going to be part of the discussion with the Secretary General at the dinner tonight?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect Lebanon would come up, along with a host of other topics including Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, global climate change, Sudan. There's a lot on the agenda with the Secretary General.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we (inaudible) Lebanon? Have you -- has the Department yet decided whether it's going to file a statement of interest in the case of -- the civil cases against the --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, to my knowledge, no. And there was actually – there was, just to do some housekeeping, there was a question the other day about which agency would actually file this and I talked to John Bellinger, our legal counsel here, and he said it’s actually the Department of Justice that files these. We have a seat at the table in talking about these issues, whether or not statements of interest, and this is not limited to this case, but just in general, these sorts of briefs or statements that are filed with the court are actually filed by the Department of Justice.

QUESTION: But who writes it?

MR. MCCORMACK: The Department of Justice. I mean, obviously, we would have some input to it, but it is – it is their – I guess -- I’m not sure if it’s a legal prerogative or it’s a legal and/or bureaucratic – it is, at least, a legal and/or bureaucratic prerogative.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I know you said that you’ve been asked to file this statement or whatever, but does this Department have any kind of decision on what its input into this process is going to be?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you won’t be surprised, Elise, to hear that we’re not going to talk about our internal discussions.


QUESTION: On Greece, Mr. McCormack, anything to say about – on today’s meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis?

MR. MCCORMACK: The Secretary looks very much forward to her meeting with the Greek Foreign Minister. There’s a lot to talk about. I think the state of U.S.-Greek relations is very good. In terms of the subject matter outside of the bilateral relationship, I think they’ll probably talk about Kosovo. They’ll probably talk about Macedonia and Macedonia’s interest in joining NATO and I think that’ll probably take up most of the time. If there’s time for more discussion, perhaps we’ll talk about the importance of diversification of energy supplies as well as routes of delivery for those energy supplies. That’s something I know Greece has a great interest in. I think that’s really about it.

QUESTION: On Kosovo, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Ivanov stated yesterday, “We think if it comes to a unilateral recognition of Kosovo that would be a precedent. That would be -- definitely be beyond international law and it would be something close to opening the Pandora's box and will undermine the security of Europe.” Similar statement, Mr. McCormack, made today, Russian President Vladimir Putin against U.S. and EU policy vis-à-vis to Kosovo. Any comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ve heard those views before. We don’t agree with them. We don’t – we believe that the issue of Kosovo is sui generis, that it is not precedent-setting in any way, shape, or form.

QUESTION: Let’s go back to the Greeks.


QUESTION: Does the Secretary have – offering a list of possible name compromises for the Macedonia --

MR. MCCORMACK: No. What – what we support is --

QUESTION: Perhaps --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- the good offices of Ambassador Nimitz, who is the Secretary General’s Special Envoy for this issue. And just as she did with the Macedonian Foreign Minister the other day and today with the Greek Foreign Minister, she is going to encourage both sides to use the good offices of Ambassador Nimitz to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution to this matter.

QUESTION: On the same issue – same issue?


QUESTION: What is the U.S. position of the threat by Greece to veto the expansion of NATO?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, there’s going to be a discussion within NATO councils about to whom NATO should offer membership, to whom NATO should offer a membership action plan or some other more formal state of relationship. Those discussions are ongoing within NATO. We know that the so-called name issue is one that’s quite sensitive for Macedonia as well as for Greece. That’s why people are spending so much time and so much effort to help the two parties arrive at a mutually agreeable solution. It’s our view that they should be able to arrive at a solution using the good offices of Ambassador Nimitz. I think we believe that they should listen very closely to what he has to say.


QUESTION: Who has the Secretary spoken to in recent days with regard to Kosovo and how you’re all going to proceed on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday or whenever you all jointly, you know, recognize Kosovo?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have my usual list of her phone calls. Off the top of my head, I don’t – I don’t recall any conversations about Kosovo with any of her counterparts in recent days. We can – we’re happy to do a double-check and do a release for you afterwards. And in terms of speculating about future events, I’m certainly not going to do that here, standing here today.

QUESTION: You don’t want to repeat your policy or anything?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think everybody understands what it is. They fax us the transcripts, the wonder of the internet.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:02 p.m.)

DPB #28

Released on February 14, 2008

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