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


^ ^ Proposed U.S. Arms Sales to Gulf Countries ^ ^ Notification to Congress of Proposed JDAMS Sale to Saudi Arabia ^ ^ Status of Letter on Administration Policy

^ ^ Reaction to President Chavez's Call to Remove FARC from Terrorism List

^ ^ US Embassy's Warden Message on Threat to Domestic Airline Flights

^ ^ Bombing at Hotel in Kabul / Claim of Responsibility/Welfare of American Citizens

^ ^ Update on P5+1 Discussions / Prospects for Ministerial-Level Meeting ^ ^ US Contact with IAEA Director General ElBaradei

^ ^ Reported Kenyan Opposition Accusation of Kibaki Recruitment of Ugandan Troops

^ ^ Deputy Secretary Negroponte's Meeting with Polish Defense Minister

^ ^ Detention of Human Rights Activist

^ ^ Elections


View Video

12:41 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me just start off with one note of interest. I know people were asking about it this morning and I anticipate that I will get questions about it, so let me pre-empt those questions. We did do a notification to the Hill this morning about part of the Gulf Security Dialogue arms packages. As you know, we do these in and they're of a piecemeal fashion. As they are ready and prepared to go up to the Hill, we go ahead and do the notification. So today's notification was just about one part of this overall package that I know you all have been writing about over the past several months, I guess.

Under the auspices of the Gulf Security Dialogue, the Administration today initiated the formal 30-day congressional notification process for the proposed sale of 900 Joint Direct Attack Munitions. The acronym for that is JDAMs to Saudi Arabia. And the best back-of-the-envelope estimate that I have of the cost for those is about 120 million -- million -- million. And we have done just for the historical records here, we've done five other Gulf Security Dialogue cases. There's already been the notification. We have done these in December. The list of those are two proposed sales to the UAE -- one, a Patriot missile system; two, an E2C Airborne Early Warning System support, one to Kuwait which is for Patriot Missile System upgrades and two others to Saudi Arabia; some targeting pods and AWACS upgrades. So that's where we stand. That's the most up-to-date information that I have with regard to the sales. And as there are other pieces that may need to be notified, they'll go and do this. But I know that this was an item of particular interest to you, so I wanted to fill you in as best I could on it.

QUESTION: How do you respond to some of the critics on the Hill that say that these JDAMs could potentially threaten Israel with the precision --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's an issue that we have talked to the Saudi Government about, we've talked to the Israeli Government about, and we've worked quite closely with the Hill on this. I think we've been working with the Hill on this particular issue for pretty close to a year, almost, and we've spent a lot of time ensuring that we abide by our commitments to a qualitative military edge, QME, for Israel and this is something that President Reagan first talked about and it has been reiterated and reconfirmed by each successive President after that. And we are committed to maintaining that qualitative military edge for Israel.

QUESTION: And some of these critics in Congress also say that, you know, Saudi Arabia hasn't delivered on some of the things that are very important to the U.S., they haven't done enough to fight terrorism, they support Islamic extremism and that they haven't improved their human rights record. And how do you think this fits into this package if it does (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, Saudi Arabia in its efforts to fight terrorism -- whether that is going after cells, picking up individuals, breaking up the financial networks -- has made quantum leaps from where it was in 2001. They have realized that this is a threat to them as well as to their close friends and allies.

So they have done -- they have made great progress in fighting terrorism -- picking up individuals associated with terrorist groups, breaking up terrorist cells, cracking down on terrorist financing. That isn't to say there isn't more to be done and they have to remain vigilant. We talk to them about that. We maintain an active dialogue with them on those issues.

And in terms of political reforms within the kingdom, that has been also something we have talked to King Abdullah about on a regular basis, if not every time the Secretary has met with him, and I'll leave it to the party out in Riyadh right now to talk about what is going to be on the President's agenda. But it is something that we talk to them about. They have started the process of reform. Now it is going to move at a different pace in each of the countries of the Middle East and we continue to urge them to move on that as quickly as possible, but it is not the same situation as it was back in 2001 on either of those counts.

QUESTION: Sean, two things. So do you have a total on the other five that have already been notified?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let me do this. There is a website for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, DSCA, www.dsca.mil. And what they do is, I can just show you, they have copies of these news releases up there for each of the sales. I expect they're going to have one up there for the JDAMS and it gives you the cost for each of the components.

Now, our -- sort of, again, back of the envelope, estimate for the JDAMs plus the other four -- other five notifications that I gave you was about $11.5 billion. So you'll see the JDAMs is actually a pretty small component. That comes out at about 120, 123 million.

QUESTION: One hundred and twenty-three, okay. And then there's a letter of Administration policy or something that's also going up --

MR. MCCORMACK: A statement of Administration policy?

QUESTION: Some letter that's supposed to address the reservations that people on the Hill have. Is that included in the notification or is that something separate?

MR. MCCORMACK: Honestly, I don't know, Matt. I would assume they'd go up at the same time if there is such a letter. I know that we've talked to members of Congress about this. I can't tell you whether or not there's a letter. I'm happy to look into it and see if there is something that we have put down in writing in terms of assurances.

QUESTION: The other five that you refer to --


QUESTION: When does the notification period end on those? You said it was in December, but when in December? Has that period passed?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's -- yeah, that period has passed.


MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, that period -- I have a note here that says they were notified in December and that the 30 day waiting period, if you will -- that's not the technical term but it amounts to a waiting period has been completed on those -- on the other five.

QUESTION: On the other.


QUESTION: One other subject.

QUESTION: On the -- what about the Israeli arms package? When are you going to give notification on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: These things come out piecemeal in terms of notifications with respect to proposed arms sales. And if you check this website on a regular basis then they can update you on that.

QUESTION: But when do you think, though, that that's going to come up? Because the Israelis said over the weekend or some sources are saying --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to speculate on these things.

QUESTION: Okay. Some were saying that they have been given assurances that they're going to get better systems than the Saudis.

MR. MCCORMACK: If there was any further notifications to be made, it will go through the regular processes, you can keep your eyes on this website www.dsca.mil. They can keep you updated when those notifications go up.

QUESTION: But have you reached a deal with the Israelis as to exactly what's going to be in that package --

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I don't talk about any --


MR. MCCORMACK: I don't speculate on the arms sales. What I can do is talk to you about notifications that we have done. And if there's any notifications that we make about any country in the future, you can look at that website and you can also ask me about it and I can do a little research and provide you whatever information we can provide in public about it.



QUESTION: On Colombia. What's your opinion about the proposal of President Chavez to remove the status of terrorist to the FARC?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, you'll excuse me if we don't take that advice. Look, they earned their way on to the terrorism list and those are things that people look at constantly. If there is any reason whatsoever to take a group off the terrorism list then that's done. But I'm not aware of any substantial change in a pattern of behavior by the FARC that would merit their being taken off a list.

QUESTION: But do you think that eventually, like remove this status now (inaudible) to start the peace process in Colombia?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we work very closely with the Colombian Government on this issue of the hostages. And one of the things that has been quite heartening for us is that President Uribe has made a point of telling us that he isn't going to differentiate between hostages. They're all hostages. It doesn't matter what nationality they happen to be, whether they're American or Colombian or any other nationality, and that is quite reassuring to us and as well as to the families of those American hostages. We certainly are quite concerned about them. They should just -- they should be released unconditionally so that they can be reunited with their families tomorrow. There's no reason on earth to hold those people.

QUESTION: What's your opinion about the meeting? They're eventually meeting with three congressmen -- Democrats -- with members of the FARC in order to --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to offer any comment on that other than to say we work very closely with the Government of Colombia on this issue.

QUESTION: Briefly to another issue -- the bombing of the hotel in Kabul.


QUESTION: First, what do you know about it? And second, I understand there weren't any American embassy people at this party that the Norwegians were having for their Foreign Minister, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Information is still coming in, so I'm -- I've seen various news reports about two fatalities. But I'm, again, not going to make any comment on the -- any numbers or the -- who might be involved at this point. Let's let the information come in. I've seen a claim of responsibility. I'm not in a position to confirm that, but I am also not in a position to dispute it as well.

At this point, it very clearly appears to be an act of terror. There are indications that it was a coordinated attack intended to strike at innocent people who just happened to be in this hotel. It is a hotel that is frequented by Westerners, other expatriates, but beyond that, I can't offer any assessment in terms of fatalities or injuries or the nationalities of anybody who may have been injured or killed.

QUESTION: But at the moment, you don't know of any Americans?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know -- at the moment, I don't know of any Americans.

QUESTION: Change of subject. How are the discussions going with the P-5+1 for a new resolution on Iran? Is there a political directors conversation planned soon? Is there a ministerial-level meeting planned soon as well?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll keep you up to date on any ministerial-level meetings. It has been a topic of frequent conversation at the political director level. We are continuing to work with our colleagues in the P-5+1. We don't yet have an agreement on the text or -- of a resolution. We are working towards agreement on the elements of a resolution, but nothing's done until everything is done and I would expect that the conversations will continue. If there is an opportunity for the ministers to get together to really hammer out something, then I'm sure that they will avail themselves of that opportunity, but I don't have any announcements for you at this point.

QUESTION: It appears that the Chinese and the Russians are still uncomfortable with some of your suggestions for the resolution. The --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, part of the negotiating process, even among parties that are working very closely together with the same strategic objective, is to get to everybody's comfort level, so you have the overlap in the Venn diagram where everybody can agree upon something and hopefully, that is something that is meaningful in terms of getting the Iranians to change their behavior.

As a group, we have not yet been successful in that. One would hope that the leadership of the Iranian Government would start to make a different kind of calculation about the costs and benefits to continuing to pursue a uranium enrichment program. The Security Council has called upon them to suspend those operations and in return, they can have negotiations with all the members of the P-5+1, including us.

QUESTION: Is the NIE still providing a good excuse for the Russians and the Chinese not to sign onto some more punitive actions against Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think -- I'll let the Russians and the Chinese speak for themselves -- but I think what most took away from the NIE in reading it was a confirmation that the Iranians did have a military nuclear weapons program in violation of their IAEA obligations. And that is something that Director General Mohamed ElBaradei is following up with the Iranians.

We fully support the efforts of the IAEA to have the Iranians come clean on their past history of a nuclear weapons program and what it is exactly that they were doing and a full explanation of how far they progressed in those efforts. The international community does not, at this point, have those answers, so certainly, we support the IAEA in those efforts. But also, Iran needs to comply with the demands of the Security Council.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to ElBaradei since he had his meetings? Has the Secretary had any calls with him?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you. I don't -- I know that she intended to call him. I don't know that she has done that. Let me check it out for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Nicholas.

QUESTION: Also on this, Sean, he was in Iran in the past few days, so there were reports that Iran asked the IAEA to resolve the nuclear issue within four weeks. I don't know whether it was a promise on their --


QUESTION: -- behalf to resolve it. The Secretary has said many times that ElBaradei and the IAEA are not in the business of (inaudible) diplomacy; they're experts who verify things and then report to the Security Council. So what do you make of this promise or the arrangement that, you know, Iran might resolve everything it has on the nuclear issue with the IAEA within a month?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, if, in fact, they do resolve it to the satisfaction of the IAEA and the members of the Board of Governors, certainly, that would be positive. We don't have any indication, judging by Iran's track record in dealing with the IAEA, that they intend to resolve the issue. Now they may have a different definition of the word, "resolved." They may provide some answers that are wholly unsatisfactory to the international system and consider the issue resolved. I don't know if that's their definition of "resolved."

Our definition of "resolved" is, very basically, answered to the satisfaction of the IAEA and its Board of Governors all the outstanding questions that we have for the Iranian Government regarding their nuclear activities. Now separate and apart from that are the demands of the UN Security Council. These are Chapter 7 resolutions that have the force of international law. That's a separate issue from what Director General ElBaradei is doing. He's focusing on, and rightly so, issues related to the IAEA. That falls directly within his purview.

Previously, what the Secretary was referring to, and it still stands, is that those issues are completely separate from issues related to the Security Council. It's the member states of the Security Council that are going to make judgments about whether or not Iran has fulfilled the requirements of UN Security Council resolutions. That's the distinction.

QUESTION: So do you attach any significance to that promise or arrangement?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll see. I think at this point, people are going to only attach real significance to it if they actually produce. Thus far, they haven't.

Yeah. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: On Colombia, what information does the U.S. Department of State have on the possible airplane attack?

QUESTION: In Colombia, there is a warning for the U.S. citizens living in Colombia to not take planes and leave. There is a sanction during this time. Do you have any information about (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any information beyond what was stated in the Warden Message. There was some discussion about this, I think, maybe a week or two ago when it first came out and that's something that, if it were to be put out today, would have been put out as a public travel notice warning to folks. So the fact of the matter is, it was put out; it was put out by our embassy as a Warden Message and it is publicly available. I don't have any other information beyond what is publicly stated.

QUESTION: Sean, another IAEA question. There were reports over the weekend that the agency has expressed interest in visiting, inspecting the site in Syria that was bombed by Israel in September because there was some new activity being detected there. Do you think that would be a good idea?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's up to the IAEA to make those requests. Certainly, we support the professionals of the IAEA in making these kinds of requests of a member state. I think it's up to those professionals to make those kinds of requests.



QUESTION: Any truth to Kenyan opposition accusations that Kibaki is recruiting Ugandan troops (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't heard that. You know, I hadn't heard -- I can't -- I'll look into it and see if there's anything that we know of that could either refute or substantiate that.



QUESTION: A preview of Mr. Negroponte's meeting with the Polish Defense Minister (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not much beyond the fact they'll probably talk a lot about missile defense. I would expect that that is going to be the main topic of conversation and this is, let's remember, a negotiation and the Polish Government has interests that they are going to represent on behalf of the Polish people and the United States has interests. We are NATO allies and I would expect that we're going to be able to make some progress in trying to finalize some of these arrangements. I don't expect that it's going to be finalized during this particular meeting, but the Deputy Secretary will make all the points that he thinks he needs to make in order to help get to a solution.


QUESTION: Do you have anything about the arrest of Hu Jia, the Beijing-based human rights activist and the following house arrest of his wife and his attorney?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Yeah, this is a case that we have been following closely and we've brought it up with Chinese authorities. It's disturbing and I would expect that the Chinese Government would want to provide some details about this case. It's one that is important and that our Embassy here -- our Embassy in Beijing is following quite closely.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Taiwan's parliamentary election results?

MR. MCCORMACK: What I would say is that we have seen the results and offer our congratulations to the people of Taiwan for a successful democratic election. We look forward to continued, close, unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan.

QUESTION: Do you think that this an indictment on President Chen Shui-bian's --

MR. MCCORMACK: I can read this to you again. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That won't be necessary.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:01 p.m.)

DPB # 9

Released on January 14, 2008

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