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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 9, 2008

INDEX:

KENYA

Assistant Secretary Frazer’s Trip / Discussions
President Kibaki’s Cabinet Appointments / Clarification
Need to Find a Mutually Acceptable Political Solution

IRAN

Incident in Strait of Hormuz / U.S. Response / Communication of U.S. View
Iranian Claims that U.S. Fabricated Video Ridiculous

ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN

Administration’s Use of Phrase “Jewish State”
Issues of Boundaries and Right of Return Need to be Negotiated

PANAMA / FRANCE

Possible Extradition of Manual Noriega /Legal Process Needs to Play Out


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:40 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have anything to begin with, so we can get right to your questions, whoever wants to go first.

QUESTION: Can you update us on Jendayi Frazer's whereabouts?

MR. MCCORMACK: She's in the Comoros Islands. She will return to Nairobi on Thursday morning, local time.

QUESTION: And when she gets back to Nairobi, what will she be doing?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would think she's going to continue the same sort of diplomacy that she's been engaged in since she arrived there this week; that is, trying to work with both sides, work with Mr. Odinga, President Kibaki on how they might open up that channel of communications and how they can start exchanging ideas that will resolve this political crisis, allowing them to move out of it, reducing the opportunities and chances that you're going to see political violence break out and ultimately, moving Kenya forward down the road and strengthening their democratic political institutions.

QUESTION: You said this morning that she had spoken with President Kibaki yesterday before --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: -- she left, after his announcement of --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- half of the cabinet being named. Did -- were you able to find out if that was an in-person meeting and --

MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't check. I'm sorry. I'm not sure. She has been meeting with him in person. There hasn't been any problem with her getting access to President Kibaki. We're very thankful for that. So she's met with him in person a number of different times. I don't know if this particular exchange was via phone or in person.

QUESTION: And have you decided whether you're still disappointed or not that he didn't go ahead and --

MR. MCCORMACK: My very nuanced explanation from this morning, Matt, still stands.

QUESTION: It stands.

QUESTION: Can you say whether she asked the president to clarify his reasoning for what you regarded as yesterday's disappointing action?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. She talked to him about it and she talked to him about how this was perceived. And the perception was that he was trying to put in place a political fait accompli just as he was negotiating, set to sit down with his political opponent -- I guess that's the best way to describe it at this point, the opposition, the political opposition and just as you had President Kufuor arriving in Kenya to lend his good offices to try to bring about a solution. That obviously does not -- you know, whether that was his original intention or not, that does not send the right signals to try to resolve the political crisis.

We expressed our displeasure at that. We were quite disappointed by it, by the action. Jendayi subsequently was able to sit down with President Kibaki, talk through this issue with him, and he clarified for her that this was, in fact, not meant as a fait accompli, but was intended just to keep the government up and running while there was some politically negotiated -- negotiated political settlement to the crisis.

QUESTION: And just to be clear, and this may be -- may just be the fact that we don't have those quotes in our story, but we don't have a clarification from him on the record saying that he -- I'm not saying he didn't say it in public.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Somewhat -- to your knowledge, did he say this in public or did he just make that clarification in private to you?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. This was just conveyed to -- this was just conveyed to me. I don't know if it was in public or not, but that's our understanding of this.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, today, he called for a broad-based government and that's what we heard. Does that mean they're shaping up as a national unity government and is that something --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know the shape of any final deal that's going to take place. Ultimately, that's going to be up to them. I would expect that they're going to be -- before you actually get to a deal, and it is our fervent hope that they do arrive at some political solution and settlement here in the not-too-distant future.

There are going to be a lot of different permutations of what this might look like. Ultimately, it's going to be -- it's going to have to be something that they can live with and that their various political constituencies can live with. If it's going to stick as an agreement that really resolves the political crisis, it has to be something that they can live with. I don't know exactly what it's going to look like. I can't tell you whether or not this is a precursor to a national unity governor or some other solution or whether a national unity government is part of some other larger solution. We'll see. I'm -- it's a long way of saying I'm not sure how exactly this is going to turn out. They're going to have to resolve it.

QUESTION: So this --

QUESTION: Can you do me a favor? Can you check on whether you believe he said this publicly?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Thank you. And -- thank you.

QUESTION: So this clarification was that -- and you said these appointments were to keep the government up and running. So it's more of a temporary appointment. And so a political settlement can be reached?

MR. MCCORMACK: That's a way of describing it. I don't know if those are his exact words, but the implication is you need to have some people in charge of these ministries just to keep the government up and running and functioning at the levels that the Kenyan people expect and that would be ongoing while there were political -- presumably some political negotiations.

QUESTION: Sean, why shouldn't we regard this as an effort to establish a political fait accompli? I mean, it's not -- it doesn't appear that he coordinated this, doesn't -- you know, with the opposition. It's --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that was the problem, is that that was certainly the perception of it. That was certainly how we read it and we spoke out about it. And there are a lot of different ways you can go about this. He clarified that that was not his intent in doing this. Certainly, we take him at his word. It's time to try to move beyond whatever misunderstandings, misperceptions or however you want to characterize it and actually get to a negotiated solution. And it just points to -- you know, that whole episode just points to the fact that this is a very delicate, sensitive situation where any sort of misperception, miscommunication can really lead to a further spiraling down in terms of the levels of violence and nobody wants to see that. And certainly the Kenyan people don't want to see that. Anything else?

QUESTION: I'm going to take you Turkmenistan eventually, but I'm happy to defer to other more pressing matters. I'd go to Turkmenistan --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, no, -- you know, we will eventually. I'd have to get your answer, if it's the same question from this morning.

QUESTION: It's the same one from this morning, yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll get you an answer for it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say on the death of Philip Agee?

MR. MCCORMACK: Philip Agee. I'm not aware of --

QUESTION: This is the ex-CIA --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I know who he is. I'm not aware of --

QUESTION: -- and he died in Havana today.

MR. MCCORMACK: Not aware -- not aware of the reports. I'll probably leave it to somebody else to respond to that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: On the Iranian naval incidents, any updates on any kind of response we can expect from the States?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I said -- I talked yesterday and talked this morning about the fact there is -- we do have an option of communicating our views on the matter directly to the Iranian Government, via the Swiss channel. That hasn't happened as of this point. We'll let you know if, in fact, it does. But it is an option for us to be able to communicate. We have spoken pretty directly and extensively about this in public and I'm sure that they have tuned in and heard what it is that we had to say.

QUESTION: Well, Sean, what are the factors in determining whether or not -- I mean, obviously it's an open -- it's a possibility and an option -- what are the factors that would determine whether you exercise that option?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's just -- you know, a variety of different factors. The bottom line is do you believe it's an effective way of conveying directly to the Iranian Government the points you want to make. It's just a more formal way of doing it.

QUESTION: The President's comments just now in Jerusalem may have obviated the need for such --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think he was pretty direct. He was pretty direct and I think he made it very clear that this is a serious situation that we take very seriously.

QUESTION: The Iranians claims that the U.S. fabricated the video, what do you make of that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I don't know. I think they may just be projecting their own behavior onto others in terms of what they might do in a similar circumstance. I mean, look, that's just ridiculous. I completely dismiss that out of hand. You know, maybe they're embarrassed by what these individuals do. I -- you know, I can't account for it. It's a ridiculous claim.

QUESTION: Is the United States considering imposing sanctions on an Iranian Qods force member and --

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the Treasury Department has some announcements that they are going to be doing at 1 o'clock. I'm not going to preempt my colleagues --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- talking about -- that's for them to announce anything in that regard. Is that what you were asking, Dave?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: The usage of the word "Jewish state."

MR. MCCORMACK: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: This is stirring a lot of resentment in the Middle East that reminds us of the Administration's use of the word “crusade” in the Middle East and what we lived through at that time. I would like to hear from you a clarification about this because the people in the Middle East and many commentators and even some officials are seeing the usage of the "Jewish state" quotation from the American Administration -- they hope that it is different from what the Israelis mean by it. Because what the Israelis mean by it is to have a purely Jewish state that would lead to kicking out of the Palestinians from it, that the Palestinians would not have their right to live in their own land also. So --

MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible) I've got it. I've got it.

QUESTION: -- could you tell us what the (inaudible) -- the Administration means by this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, first of all, we've talked about it in the past. It's very clear what it is that we mean. If you're getting at the issue, for example, of borders and right of return, the President of the United States just talked about it in a press conference; these are things that need to be negotiated.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, Sylvie.

QUESTION: A court in Miami just decided today that Noriega would be expelled to France. I wanted to know if the State Department has already taken the measure they asked us to take.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. My understanding of the process, where it stands at this point, is that there are still some other legal/judicial steps that both the plaintiff as well as the Department of Justice can exercise. So there's still a legal aspect of this that could potentially play out. We are -- the State Department, if it does get to that point, we're in essence sort of the end of the line. The question legally has already been determined by the time it comes to us. My understanding is that is not necessarily the case and DOJ could probably fill you in on it.

But ultimately if -- once all the legal questions are resolved, it could come to the State Department. Then we would be responsible for making a decision on a warrant and then possibly turning -- allowing the individual to be turned over to France or --

QUESTION: And technically it's extradition, right?

QUESTION: Yeah, it's extradition.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I think -- yeah, it's an extradition request.

QUESTION: Sean, I believe you -- I don't know if it was that the Department has said it publicly or privately. I can't remember, actually. It was a while ago. But you've said that you don't anticipate that you would -- if you had a legal decision determining that he should be extradited you couldn't see a reason why you wouldn't follow the court's recommendation. Is that correct?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think at this point, we'll -- you know, let the legal process continue to play out. Any questions about it probably are most appropriately answered by my colleagues at the Department of Justice. When and if it gets to the point of coming to the State Department, I think we can probably talk more extensively about it. But I don't want to presume anything at this point, while there's still a legal process that's underway.

QUESTION: And I have also another question about Iran. Do you have any news about the sanctions also?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Treasury Department.

QUESTION: Okay.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:51 p.m.)

DPB # 6



Released on January 9, 2008

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