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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 15, 2008

INDEX:

IRAN

Working on Ministerial Level Meeting / Possibly Berlin / Nick Burns
Language of UNSC Resolution / Strategy for Road Ahead
Pressure Iran to Change Behavior / Iran Remains a Threat
Lessons of NIE / Iran’s Weapons Program / Susceptibility to International Pressure

LEBANON

Embassy Vehicle Hit by Bomb Blast / Occupants Safe / Both Lebanese Nationals
Still Collecting Facts / Ongoing Investigation
Private American Citizen Also Injured / Not Life-Threatening
No Assessments of Target at This Point / Won’t Let Analysis get Ahead of the Facts

AFGHANISTAN

Only One Casualty that We Know Of / Not a USG Direct-Hire Employee
Contact with Family

KENYA

Members of Parliament Sworn In / Election of Speaker
Ambassador in Nairobi Monitoring Parliamentary Actions and Debate Today


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:13 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.

Yeah, Sue.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the P-5+1 meeting yet? Can we make an announcement yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't. I'm not in a position at this point to make an announcement. We are working on a ministerial level meeting. We don't have anything to announce at this point. There's been a lot of discussion in the press about, you know, the possible meeting venue in Berlin. I'll let the host of such a potential meeting speak about it before I do. But we have been working on a ministerial level meeting. Nick Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, has been talking to his political director counterparts about the elements of a resolution about -- as well as about language of a resolution. If ministers were to get together, I would expect that they would talk about it -- a resolution as well as mapping out a strategy for the road ahead after passage of a third Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Nick Burns spoke with his colleagues during a conference call or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Individually.

Yes.

QUESTION: What might this road ahead be? I mean, what would you like this road ahead to be? I mean, do you know if there's been incremental sanctions? I mean, what's your --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the basic strategy has been to gradually increase pressure upon Iran to try to get it to change its behavior to come into compliance with the demands of the Security Council which, by the way, have the force of international law. I don't expect there will be any deviation from that overall general strategy, but they will talk about how exactly they might proceed afterwards. I'm not going to try to prefigure what the conversation might entail. We haven't even announced a meeting yet, so I'm not going to start talking about what they might discuss in a meeting that has not yet been announced.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Any update on Beirut?

QUESTION: Stay on same subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Go ahead, Gollust.

QUESTION: Could you discuss the impact that the NIE assessment has had on this entire process? I know Chancellor Merkel suggested that it is at the very least loaded. What's your assessment?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't really had a chance to talk to our folks about their assessment of whether or not it has slowed the process. A couple of reactions. One, it was a change in the assessment by the intelligence community. And I think that, of course, that gets attention around the globe. But as the President has said, it does not say that Iran is not a threat in the past and will not be a threat if it continues to develop a nuclear weapon. That is our assessment that they have been a threat, remain a threat, and will be an even greater threat if in fact they continue along the pathway to uranium enrichment and maintain the possibility of developing a nuclear weapon. The NIE says that it halted the military portion of their program.

The other part to the international reaction that I have been able to glean in discussing with people around the Department, but what they've heard from people overseas has been shock that Iran, in fact, did have a military program aimed at militarizing their nuclear technology so that they could build a bomb and that they had made some degree of progress toward that goal up until 2003. Now, they did respond, according to the NIE, to international pressure. And again, an important point to remember as we're having this discussion in the international community. Apparently, it is possible to get Iran to change its behavior in the assessment of our intelligence community.

So those were a few of the lessons that I have heard people take away from this process. One, they had a military program. Iran needs to answer those questions. Two, they can -- they are susceptible to international pressure in terms of changing their policy course.

QUESTION: Sean, why would that be a shock that Iran had some kind of military program and that they were seeking to weaponize?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, you haven't been, you know, exactly 100 percent clear all along, but you've been talking in terms of that you believe that they do. So why all of a sudden now that your suspicions have come true is this a shock?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, not a shock to us, but in the international community -- a shock, surprise; perhaps shock is too strong a word.

QUESTION: But why would it be a surprise if this is what you were suspecting all along?

MR. MCCORMACK: I suppose it's just a matter of reading it in black and white. You can talk to others in the international system, other states about their reaction to it. I can only give you a general characterization of a few of them. You know, shock might be too strong a word; perhaps surprise and alarm -- mixed with some alarm about the fact that they had a military program and that they were making progress toward that goal and also a desire to get answers from Tehran about what was the nature of that program and how far did they go.

Charlie, you had --

QUESTION: Can you give me an update (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, just to recap a little bit. There was an apparent bomb blast in Beirut. One of our Embassy vehicles was hit by that blast. Very fortunately, the two occupants of that vehicle, Lebanese nationals who work for the Embassy, were safe. One sustained some slight injuries, treated. They were non-life-threatening injuries. I can't tell you whether or not that person has been able to go home or is still being treated at the hospital.

We have people on scene right now who are going through and continuing to do the investigation, collect information, collect evidence. So we don't yet have a full picture of exactly what happened, who was responsible, who was exactly being targeted. We'll, of course, in the days ahead take a look at the facts and the evidence and if there are any implications for our security posture in Beirut, of course, we will make adjustments.

I did receive word after the gaggle that there was an American citizen who was injured by the blast, a private American citizen not attached to the embassy in any way, shape or form, who was injured in the blast. We have talked to that individual. He is being treated for some injuries at a local hospital. I believe the nature of the injuries is not life-threatening. So that's the latest that I have.

QUESTION: But this American then was not in the car? He was --

MR. MCCORMACK: Correct. A private citizen, yes. Not in the car. Yeah.

QUESTION: There was a rumor that this car was part of a convoy involving the ambassador. Is that true or false?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, I'm not going to talk about any operational security or any facts that may get to operational security aspects of how we do business in Beirut. I will only say that there are -- there were two individuals, Lebanese nationals, who were in the car that were hit by the blast.

QUESTION: Sean, I think the embassy is saying that they believe that the car was targeted.

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't account for that. Look, I'm not going to -- at this point, I'm not going to let the facts get ahead of the analysis.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: And I don't think anybody should jump to any conclusions. The facts may lead us -- may lead us to that point. But we have been on the phone with the embassy and they are not, at least in our conversations with them, making any assessments at this point. We will see over the next day or two or the next several days where the facts lead us and what kind of analysis we can draw from those facts.

QUESTION: Without talking about any operational security, can you confirm that the people in the car were security officials with the embassy?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to talk about their identity, only to say that they were Foreign Service Nationals.

QUESTION: Okay. This seems to be one of the few in recent history attacks against non-Lebanese targets. I mean, does this --

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, our vehicle was hit by the blast. I am not going to let our analysis get ahead of the facts. We still -- literally, we still have people on the ground collecting information. So while we may have more to say about this in the days ahead in terms of what our analysis is of what happened, hopefully we can find out who's responsible and we can also determine who exactly was being targeted by this blast. It was very clearly an act of terror intended in some way to harm people, to try to use violence in order to achieve some aim. I can't tell you what that aim is because we don't know who is responsible for this. And it's an act that I know the Lebanese Government has condemned and certainly we would condemn as well. But let's see what the facts tell us in the days ahead and what conclusions we can draw from those facts.

Yeah.

QUESTION: They're calling it a act of terror, are you -- and targeting American as well?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I think if you were just listening to what I said, I'm not going to let the analysis get ahead of the facts. We still have people on the ground collecting information right now. We could very well end up in that position in the next day or two, but let's first collect all the facts, do an analysis of it, and see where that leads us. Now, very clearly, you have an intentional explosion intended to harm individuals. It's an act of terror, I think, by definition. I can't tell you who's responsible for it and I can't offer you a definitive conclusion at this point as to whom it was targeting.

QUESTION: Are you linking by any means the attack in Beirut to another one that happened for over ten days ago in Khartoum?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not -- no, I'm not going to make any linkages whatsoever at this point. What we need to do in the cold light of day is take a look at what the facts tell us. There's an ongoing investigation in Khartoum. If anybody sees any patterns here in the days and weeks ahead, of course, we are going to investigate those. But I can't in any way, draw any linkages between this incident and any other.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, was the driver one of the two FSNs you're talking about?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And the American citizen, he just happened to be in the area at the time? And it was a coincidence.

MR. MCCORMACK: Correct. It was a coincidence. Coincidence, yes. As far as we know, it was a coincidence. Okay. So the lightning rod is over and we're --

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On Kabul actually.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you give us an update on the injuries and whether there was -- there's conflicting reports where there were multiple U.S. casualties.

MR. MCCORMACK: There's only one casualty of which I'm aware. It was an individual who was not a U.S. Government direct-hire employee. We have been in contact with the family of the individual. And out of respect for their wishes, we're not going to talk in any more detail about the individual or what that individual was doing in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Do you think that they were contractor or not?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm just -- I'm not going to go any further, out of respect for the family's wishes.

QUESTION: But you have notified them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, we have. Yes, we have --

QUESTION: Last night or this morning or do you --

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you. I'm not sure, Charlie. I believe yesterday, but I'm not sure.

(Inaudible), did you have anything else?

QUESTION: Change of topic.

MR. MCCORMACK: Can you comment on the Kenyan elections for the parliament -- elected opposition?

MR. MCCORMACK: I tried to get some more information just before I came out here to the briefing to see whether or not there was in fact an election of a speaker of parliament. The last information I had was that that process was underway. The members of parliament were being sworn in and that one of their tasks today was to elect a speaker of the parliament. I don't yet have any information about that. I'd be happy to post something if we do have an election and some reaction to that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: They elected somebody from the opposition.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there you are.

QUESTION: Just a couple minutes ago.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there we are. The news organizations are ahead of the State Department.

QUESTION: Is your ambassador back here in Washington now or is he still in Nairobi?

MR. MCCORMACK: He's still there. He was actually monitoring the parliamentary debate and the actions today.

QUESTION: Okay. Is he leaving? I thought I saw he was going to be in Washington tomorrow. I wasn't sure.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. He was, as I understand it, he was there today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:26 p.m.)

DPB # 10



Released on January 15, 2008

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