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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 31, 2008

INDEX:

RUSSIA

Senator Lugar’s comments on START I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty)
Will Look into Correspondence Sent to Congress
Working on Post START I Regime with Russians

PAKISTAN

Working Closely with Government of Pakistan on Fighting Extremists
U.S. Has Good Dialogue on Counterterrorism with President Musharraf
Query on the Death of Terrorist Abu Laith al-Libi

DEPARTMENT

Secretary Rice’s Travel

MISCELLANEOUS

Human Rights Watch Report
Promoting Democracy, Basic Human Rights at Core of U.S. Foreign Policy

KOSOVO

U.S. Position on Kosovo Unchanged

NORTH KOREA

Sung Kim’s Arrival in Pyongyang
Preliminary Meetings with Official At Ministry of Foreign Affairs


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:58 p.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Good afternoon, Lambros. Welcome back to the briefing room, happy to have you here. I don’t have anything to start off with, so we can get right to your questions.

QUESTION: Were you able to figure out what Senator Lugar was talking about this morning on the START I?

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, I have to look into what sort of correspondence we’ve had with the Hill. I haven’t fully been able to get to the bottom of that. We are working on a post-START I regime with the Russians, looking at what might come in its place and it has obvious implications for the implementation of the Treaty of Moscow as well. So we are in dialogue with the Russian Government about this issue to include, during Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates’ joint trip to Moscow – I think it was back in October and they did talk about this issue. But at this point, I don’t have anything further to add. I have to do a little more digging in terms of our correspondence with Congress.

QUESTION: So you don’t know if there has been some kind of a revision of the Administration’s thinking in terms of what should replace it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I wouldn’t say – I wouldn’t say a revision. Look, we’re in a discussion --

QUESTION: Well, obviously --

MR. MCCORMACK: We’re in a discussion with the Russians about this, so over time, you know, you’re --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: There’s give and take here, so --

QUESTION: I’m not sure I understand why you have to check with correspondence from the Hill. I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: I understand that there was some correspondence, some letters that we had sent up to the Hill to update Senator Lugar as well as others with respect to where we stood on the issue, so that’s what I’m referring to. I have to get – actually see what it is that we’re talking about in those letters.

QUESTION: Right, but those letters reflected the Administration’s current thinking on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Correct.

QUESTION: So what is the Administration’s current – without regard to the letter, what is the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, without – with --

QUESTION: What are you saying (inaudible) the letters before you --

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s right, without respect to the specifics, I think I’ve just described it in general.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you know when these letters were sent?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Recently? In the last, you know, day or two?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think it’s within the past couple months.

QUESTION: Past couple months?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

Okay, Nina.

QUESTION: Pakistan, it’s a kind of broad question, I’m afraid. We’ve had two top intelligence officials on this visit, which is now public. A couple of weeks ago, officials were telling us that the tribal areas in Pakistan are the worst stage they’ve been in a long time because of the entrenchments of al-Qaida militants there. I want to know your level of concern about this. Do you feel that Musharraf’s cooperating? Are you pushing him for more cooperation and if so, what are your points of frustration with him?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let’s get into the points of frustration – just kidding. No, look, we’re working – we’re working very closely with the government in Pakistan on fighting violent extremists and fighting terrorists, some of whom are on Pakistani territory. We know that. The Pakistanis have talked about that. There is a lot of concern about those tribal areas – North Waziristan, South Waziristan, the presence of Taliban and al-Qaida and various other sympathizers on that territory. There – still, though, this is an area that hasn’t been under any sort of real governmental control for its entire history, looking back a hundred years. So it’s a tough issue, it’s a thorny problem, and we’re working on it very closely with the Pakistanis. It’s as much a concern to them as it is to us, as it is to the Afghans and others who are operating in Afghanistan, because it’s from those areas that you’re seeing a lot of these terror threats emanate. President Musharraf had an initiative dealing with the tribal areas. He himself admitted that they needed to relook that, retool it and see how they can make it more effective. We have various assistance programs working with the Pakistani Government that are directed at the FATA areas and I can try to get you some more information if you’re interested in the specifics of that.

QUESTION: What about your reaction to the comments that he’s made publicly recently? I mean, he talked about characterizing, you know, American ground troops that could possibly go in, as in -- they would be regarded as invaders. He said at Davos that al-Qaida wasn’t his priority, but the Taliban was his priority. I mean, isn’t this undermining –

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have a good dialogue on counterterrorism with President Musharraf. And Pakistan is a sovereign country and we respect the sovereignty of our good friend and ally, Pakistan. That said, we’re working very closely with them on counterterrorism issues. We have a real interest there. We have real interests in seeing that those travel areas are no longer safe havens for terrorists. I know that the Pakistani military and the security services are up against some real obstacles in terms of cleaning out those areas, but we know that President Musharraf is absolutely determined to, at every turn, fight terrorists, fight violent extremists.

QUESTION: Well, would you like him to give the U.S. more latitude in terms of actual ground troops or covert operations? Can you talk about that at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Well, covert – any sort of intelligence operations, I have no comment for you. In terms of the military and the military-to-military discussions, those are probably best answered by my colleagues over at the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: There must some level of frustration at the moment, surely. I mean, things – I mean , essentially, there’s – you know, you’ve had the two top intelligence officials personally go for the day for face-to-face talks with him and the new army chief. They must have -- I mean – they’re wasting their time to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, that’s something they – that’s not the nature of policymaking. Look, you have a problem; you have a problem here that you have violent extremists, al-Qaida resident in those tribal areas. And the attitude is, how do you fix it; what are the things – what are the steps that we can take that are most effective in driving them out, bringing to justice those who can be brought to justice and, in some sense, providing some better horizon for the people in those tribal areas so you don’t have any backsliding into supporting or at least turning a blind eye to the presence of these individuals on their -- on that territory.

So that’s the attitude. It’s not one of, well, we’re really frustrated or we – this emotion or that emotion. It’s, how do you fix the problem.

QUESTION: But do you feel that you can work with them still on this particular issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: We -- yeah, we believe that absolutely we can work with President Musharraf and the Pakistani Government.

Charles.

QUESTION: On a related subject. Do you have any information about reports of the death of Abu Laith al-Libi, one of the terrorists in Waziristan?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing for you on that.

QUESTION: You don't know anything or you don't have anything you can tell me about it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing for you on that, Charlie.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the next travels of the Secretary?

MR. MCCORMACK: I expect we'll probably have an announcement out in the not-too-distant future for a brief trip that she's going to make.

Gollust.

QUESTION: The Human Rights Watch annual report is out today.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: One of the things it suggests is that there's a tendency by the United States and some European allies to sort give the good housekeeping seal approval to autocratic governments that hold effectively sham elections. They named a list of countries -- Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about that --

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't read the report. I'm sure if there is some serious and interesting points in it, people will take them into account. Look, first of all, promoting democracy, promoting the basic human rights around the world is at the core of our foreign policy. I think you've heard people from the President on down talk enough about the centrality of the promotion of democracy and freedom around the world to our foreign policy. I don't think there's any question about that. Secretary Rice most recently talked about this at Davos where she gave a very interesting speech, if I might add, about the alignment of values with national power and how if you don't have that sort of alignment -- values with national power and the application of resources behind those values and the policies that represent them, then you aren't going to have an effective foreign policy. So there's no question about where we stand on this issue.

In terms of, you know -- in terms of elections and all the other things that go on around elections and that are components of any thriving democracy or are components of a democracy that is evolving in the right way toward the kind of democracies that we'd like to see around the world, it takes some time and it's going to evolve in different ways and different states according to their own particular history, values and culture. That isn't to say that anybody's lowering the bar, that anybody gives any country a pass in terms of being able to cross off the list basic universal human rights, saying, well, that doesn't necessarily apply to our country. Our belief is it applies to every country and should apply to every country.

So what you do as a policymaker or as -- every step along the way you encourage these countries to evolve politically, economically, to deepen and broaden democracy in countries where it already exists and where it has not taken root, work hard in terms of dialogue with those governments and application of resources to see that it does take root. It's a long process. It's going to take -- it's the work of generations. We've talked about that. It's the work of generations in the Middle East. So in some areas we have seen some progress. We've seen progress in the Middle East. We've seen progress around the world. Is it always as fast as we would like to see? No. But then again, you're not going to get to the point where we all want to be if we attempt or others attempt to try to impose a solution or some cookie-cutter approach to every country around the world.

Lambros.

QUESTION: On Kosovo. Mr. McCormack, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha stated yesterday, "There should be no fear both Albanians in Albania and these in Kosovo are against the idea of Greater Albania and will be obliged to respect the border of its neighbors." Personally, Mr. McCormack, I have been convinced. I have (inaudible) fear. But I'm wondering, however, if you have been convinced since in a few days the Pandora box, Kosovo, will be finally opened.

MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros, I think you understand very clearly our position on Kosovo. It's unchanged. We know what the end point is going to be. It's a matter of working the diplomacy up until that point. We're in very close consultation with our friends and allies in Europe who have a deep interest as well in this issue. And I don't think you need me to recite the talking points for you.

QUESTION: No, just (inaudible) me this.

MR. MCCORMACK: I see a lot of headshaking around the room and nobody else wants me to repeat --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) did not clarify that it is not his business to reject the sovereign right of Kosovo Albanians of an independent Kosovo if they will decide to (inaudible) Albania. I’m wondering, Mr. McCormack, how the U.S. Government considers the unification of Kosovo with Albania since you fully support the independence of (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: Nobody’s talking about that, Lambros. Nobody’s talking about that.

Matthew.

QUESTION: Sung Kim has arrived in Pyongyang?

MR. MCCORMACK: He has and he has had – according to my latest information, he has had some preliminary meetings with officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He expects to have some more tomorrow. I think his travel schedule is that he’ll be either out or on his way back Monday – by Monday, so I don’t know exactly how he’s going to be travelling out, whether it’s via China again or out through the DMZ.

QUESTION: But I thought he was going to be there in North Korea until Saturday. No? And then --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- he’ll be back here on Monday?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:11 p.m.)

DPB # 20



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