|Daily Press Briefing|
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
July 16, 2008
|Under Secretary Burns to Travel to Geneva as Part of Delegation Lead by Solana|
|Conditions for P5+1 Negotiations with Iranians Remain|
|U.S. Committed to Diplomacy and Diplomatic Solution|
|Two Tracks Remain / Change in Signal but not in Substance|
|Comparisons to North Korea|
|Divisions within Iranian Regime|
|Companies Increasingly not Wanting to Do Business in Iran|
|Costs to Iranian Government Growing|
|U.S. Decision Making Process on New Tactic|
|John Boltons Comments / Criticism of New Tactic|
|Secretary Rices Discussions with Javier Solana|
|Under Secretary Burns Schedule / Itinerary|
|Russian Policy on NATO Granting Membership to Ukraine & Georgia|
|Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Calling for an Apology for Ambassador Khalilzads Remarks after Vote on Zimbabwe Resolution|
|Upcoming Election in March|
|Visit by Palestinian Negotiating Team|
|International Court Decision on Mexican Nationals on Death Row in U.S.|
|Prisoner Swap with Hezbollah|
|Status of Shebaa Farms|
10:34 a.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning, everybody. Before we get started, I wanted to make a few points concerning some stories I’ve seen in the newspapers and on the wires and on the TV this morning. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Bill Burns will attend, as part of a delegation led by Javier Solana, Mr. Solana’s meeting in Geneva on Saturday to hear the Iranian response to the P-5+1 offer made about a month ago in Tehran. This is an offer that outlined a very clear set of attractive incentives for the Iranian Government to suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing related activities. So Under Secretary Burns will attend the meeting as a participant. He’ll be there to listen. He’ll be there to hear the Iranian response. And I would expect that he will also make the point and underscore the point that the P-5+1 condition for realizing full-blown negotiations with the United States at the table remains that Iran needs to suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing related activities. Should they take that single step, the United States and its partners in the P-5+1 will meet with the Iranian delegation anytime, anyplace, anywhere, to talk about a variety – any variety of subjects, but certainly our focus will be on the Iranian nuclear program.
Secretary Rice believes it’s a smart step to take. There’s no change in the substance, but it sends a strong signal. It sends a strong signal to our P-5+1 partners, it sends a strong signal to the world, it sends a strong signal to the Iranian Government that the United States is committed to diplomacy, to finding a diplomatic solution to this issue. It underscores the Secretary’s signature on the letter that was part of the transmittal to the Iranian Government of the most recent P-5+1 offer, as I cited before, handed over in Tehran. And it also underscores again, the condition of the United States and the P-5+1 for realizing negotiations.
So in essence, we are able to emphasize the two tracks of our diplomacy – the incentive side, the disincentive side. I think it’s pretty clear, and we can talk a little bit about recent events on the disincentive side, but there has been a robust response from the EU, from the world, in implementing Security Council sanctions. The Iranians are finding it much more difficult to access the international financial system. They are finding, one by one, their major banks being designated either by the EU, the U.S., or Security Council resolution, or all of the above. And it’s making it much, much more difficult for the Iranian Government to operate in the international system, thereby making clear to them that if they continue down the pathway that they are on, they are going to find themselves more and more isolated from the rest of the world.
And with that, I’d be happy to take whatever questions you have. Yes, Matt.
QUESTION: Why – you know, why is not the decision to have Burns attend not a capitulation to the Iranians? You know, you’ve offered full – even though, recognizing the fact that he is not or you’re saying that he is not going to be negotiating --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- your offer to them is to sit down at the table with them. Isn’t this sitting down at the table with them before they’ve done anything that you want them to do?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, the central – the pivot point, if you will, the central condition in the – at the heart of our policy is the fact that there is a condition for realizing negotiations with the Iranians. And that condition is that the Iranians take the step of suspending their uranium enrichment program. That is at the heart of the two-track policy.
So it – what this action does, as I said, is a – it’s a – you know, it’s a signal, for certain, but it’s not a change in substance. And the fact that Under Secretary Burns will be attending the meeting really serves to clarify the choices that the Iranian regime faces. They understand very clearly, I think, the cost to them for their continued defiance of the international community. And again, we can go through some of those if you want to. It also underscores the fact that if they make that choice, then the United States and its P-5+1 partners will fulfill their commitments. There was a one-time-only deal. We thought it was a smart step to take. The Secretary of State, conferring with the President and his top national security and foreign policy advisors, thought it was a smart step to take. And again, it – you know, it may be a signal, for certain, but it is not a change in substance. And again, I think any informed conversation about the policy has to start with the idea that at the heart of the two-track approach is conditionality. There’s a condition placed on the Iranians. We have been consistent from day one on that in talking about it, and that will remain a condition. And as I said, this particular signal is a one-time-only deal.
QUESTION: What happens if the – if Jalili tries to engage Ambassador Burns in some kind of a negotiation or try and take him off to the side and have some kind of a private meeting? Is he under instructions that he cannot do so?
MR. MCCORMACK: There aren’t going to be any one-on-one meetings. Look, I’m sure Ambassador Burns will be polite, as we have been in other encounters with Iranian diplomats in a variety of different venues when we have encountered them. And just as an aside, instructions to U.S. diplomats if you do find yourself in a position of encountering an Iranian diplomat is that you are to be polite but not engage in any substantive discussion. And that, I assume, will be Bill’s instructions here. And I’m sure – look, you know, Bill Burns is one of our most experienced diplomats. And I’m sure that, should the event occur that you have described where, you know, Mr. Jalili tries to engage him, I think Bill will make a strong point of highlighting to him, “Mr. Jalili, if you want negotiations, you know what to do. You can advise your government to suspend its enrichment-related activities, then you’ll see the Secretary of State at the table along with other ministers from the P-5+1.”
But, you know, again, Bill is an experienced diplomat and I’m confident that --
QUESTION: You don’t think they know that already? I mean, you’ve made it clear over and over again. Why is his presence there somehow going to change the equation?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, part of – you have multiple – you know, in setting (inaudible) there, you have multiple audiences. Of course, it’s a signal to the Iranian Government that should they meet the condition that has been put out there for them by the international community, then the United States and its partners are going to abide by their stated commitments to be at the table.
It also sends a signal to the Iranian people, I think. And that’s very important, because one of the things that we have seen since the offer was – the most recent offer was tabled about a month ago – is the beginnings of a debate in the Iranian political system that has erupted into public. We’ve seen evidence of it in public with various high-ranking Iranian officials expressing different points of view in public about the advisability of taking up the P-5+1 on their offer. Some have said that they should. Others have, again, persisted in the view that they – the Iranian Government shouldn’t take up that offer.
One of the things – a couple of things that we did – the P-5+1, when we made that offer about a month ago: We published the offer in Farsi. We broadcast it. We made a point of telling the Iranian people, here’s what’s on the table. Just in case your government hasn’t informed you, which they hadn’t, here is the offer on the table. And the Iranian people with, you know, inflation raging at 25 percent and on an upward trend and a variety of other negative economic indicators, I think understand what the costs of starting --
QUESTION: Getting close to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Understand what the costs are to the Iranian Government persisting in these policies. So, part of the signal also is to the Iranian people highlighting the choices – highlighting the choices that face their government. And again, you start to see this political debate in Iran. And I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, you know. I’m not placing any bets.
But one of the calculations that went into this decision is, you know, by sending a signal and underscoring all the things, both on the incentive side and the disincentive side that we have talked about, these start to change the calculation in the Iranian political system. Do those reasonable people, those reasonable decision-makers that we’re looking for in Iran, maybe start to change their calculations? Well, maybe they start to win some of the arguments within the Iranian political system. And maybe the outcome of that change in calculations is that they do take up the P-5+1 on the offer.
Again, I’m not laying any bets. I’m not making any predictions. I don’t know how that will turn out. But again, we think that this is a smart step that follows on and is consistent with our two-track strategy, and our strategy of gradually increasing the pressure on the Iranian Government and highlighting and contrasting the choices that they have there.
QUESTION: Yeah, one more and I’ll stop. The – you say there’s a signal – a signal being sent to multiple audiences.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Would – is another audience the broader international community, in terms of showing your commitment to sitting – to a negotiated, diplomatic solution to this? One key member of that international community would be your good friend in the region, Israel, which has – appears to be getting a little anxious about what’s going on and when.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, you know, we – you know, both through our words and our actions, are demonstrating that we’re committed to trying to find a diplomatic resolution here. You know, as the President of the United States himself has said on multiple occasions, also, he never takes any option off the table.
But it’s a serious issue. I mean, the – you know, in dealing with this nuclear issue in Iran, the stakes are high for the international community. I think a number of people, a number of political leaders in the international scene have observed that the Middle East is – certainly would be a different place and a more uncertain and unstable place if Iran possessed a nuclear weapon.
So the stakes are high, but we believe that the strategy we have put in place with our partners in the P-5+1 gives the international system the best opportunity to find a diplomatic, negotiated outcome to the issue at hand.
QUESTION: Could you --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- just elaborate a little bit on the Secretary’s talk with President Bush and the others? When was it and how long --
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you know, I’m not going to get into the details of the Secretary’s discussions with the President. You know, the White House can speak on behalf of the President, and should they want to talk about any more of the details, then obviously, they would. The Secretary never talks about her conversations with the President.
QUESTION: But it was generally to agree on the conditions for --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it was to talk about – you know, talk about the issue, talk about where we are in our diplomacy, and talk about this step. But it is something that both the Secretary and the President talked about and they both agreed upon. This is a smart step to take.
QUESTION: Is part of the logic behind this that you’ve looked at what’s happened in the North Korea talks and you’ve decided to extend the same strategy in Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, it’s apples and oranges, Iran and North Korea. In terms of the – you know, where we stand on the issue, where they stand in terms of their development in their nuclear programs, the history is there as well. You know, I guess you could say one very general common thread is one that you would find really throughout diplomacy and that is, very oftentimes, if you’re trying to confront a tough issue, it helps to highlight the contrasts, various pathways – various consequences, both negative and positive for certain decisions by the party at hand – in one case, North Korea, in the other case, Iran.
So in that sense, yes. And you know, also, it’s a lesson in the importance of trying to deal from the point of leverage. You know, and again, that’s a strategy that this Secretary has employed in, you know, these negotiations. So I guess in those two, if you will, metaphysical senses, you know, the strategies are the same, but they differ in their specific application.
QUESTION: Is part of the logic as well in joining these talks because you were a little nervous that -- I mean, the other five --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. And joining the talks was a one-time deal.
QUESTION: Well, whether it’s one time or ten times --
QUESTION: -- you’re still there. But is part of the idea here that you would like to be a partner at the table? I mean, you’ve been sort of at the outskirts here. You’ve not been – right -- in – the last time that it was presented, you were not there. Is it your sense that you need to be more where the action is, that you need to play a bigger role here and that --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think anybody can have their characterizations. I would differ with that characterization. I think we’ve been right at the heart of this strategy. As a matter of fact, if you go back to the Secretary’s first trip to Europe as Secretary of State, as a matter of fact, her first trip as Secretary of State, you really have her engaging in a serious way with her European interlocutors and the EU-3 countries is just the – at that point, the EU-3 countries, on how to address the issue of Iran. And it was really the Secretary looking – going back to May 2006, who outlined this and put together this basic strategy, this two-track approach with the kind of coalition, if you will, that we see right now with the P-5+1.
So the United States has really been at the center of putting together this strategy, organizing and leading the international community on this particular issue. And again, I’m not – by saying that, I’m not trying to diminish the role and contributions of anybody else in the P-5+1. Each have made important contributions. But it is worth noting that this is a topic that the Secretary Rice has engaged on, really, from the earliest days of her tenure as Secretary of State. And again, we’ll see how this evolves. We think that this gives us the best opportunity to realize the kind of outcome the international system is looking for. But the ball is in the Iranians’ court. And we’ll see what the outcome of this public -- you know, this debate which has emerged in public, at times, in Iran plays out.
QUESTION: To follow up on your point that you’ve made numerous times already about it’s a one-time deal.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Why should the Iranians or others take that seriously? First of all, you said you wouldn’t do it at all – wouldn’t be there at all. And the Secretary came out some time ago and said, “We’ll do it if.” And then you said, “But we’re not going to come to the table, (inaudible) signing the letter but we’re not coming, now we’re coming.” So why do you limit yourself? Why should anyone take it seriously and why do you limit yourself by saying it’s a one-time deal?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Charlie, all I can go back to it is a point that I’m making about the centrality of the condition for realizing negotiations. That is unchanged. The substance is unchanged here. Is this a new tactic, if you will? Yes. Does it send a signal? Yes. Is the substance any different? No. So, you know, I would argue that the fact that Ambassador Burns will attend the meeting, underscores, as I said, a commitment to diplomacy, the fact that if the Iranians take the step of suspending their enrichment-related activity, they will see an American at the table, they’ll see the Secretary of State for negotiations. But absent that, they will not see the Secretary of State, they will not see negotiations with the P-5+1.
QUESTION: Just a few weeks ago, you said that you wouldn’t do something like this, and now you have. Can you tell us what changed in your thinking to change your calculus? Is it because you have a sense of the response the Iranians might give? And also, is it an attempt to temper the kind of escalation in the region that’s still between Iran and Israel?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Right. Well, um – a couple of things. In terms of the Iranians, I would cite the public debate that you’ve seen emerge as a result of the offer that’s been put on the table. It really is extraordinary what you’ve seen emerge in the media and the press, just by looking at some of the quotations from various Iranians officials. There’s a clear divide there. There’s, you know, clearly a group or individuals who are, at the very least, interested in considering taking up this offer. On the other hand, there are people that believe that Iran should maintain its current posture, continue to defy the international community, and incur even greater costs. That’s on the incentive side.
And we believe that, in part, that debate has erupted because this offer was made in public. We published it. We made a point of translating it into Farsi, so everybody could see it. There would be no mistake and no misconstruing what the offer was. On the disincentive side, you’ve had a number of different things that have changed, really, in the past month or so. You have the EU back in June designating 38 entities and individuals. You have the Bank Melli being designated by the United States and the EU. Again, that’s something that occurred a while ago. You have the United States designating an additional 11 entities. You have continued implementation of Security Council resolutions. You start to see a number of businesses deciding they’re not going to do business with Iran. One high-profile example of that is the European company Total deciding it is going to pull out of the South Pars oil and gas development deal. It’s a huge step. And they cited the fact that because of the uncertainties surrounding doing business with Iran, they were going to pull out of that project. Again, I’ll let them describe for themselves what exactly those uncertainties are.
So you start to look at that catalog of events over the past month or so – for the past several months – and you start to see a pattern of increasing costs to the Iranian Government. They are starting to feel the effects of Security Council resolutions. They are starting to feel the effects of the United States and European countries working together on individual designations and steps that individual countries might take. You know, Iran’s credit risk rating has been downgraded. Iranian companies are no longer able to get leverage of credit in order to do business on the – in the international trading and financial system. So there are real costs here. The situation is changing. It’s static. So you take a – you take stock of this evolving situation and you decide what, perhaps, are the best steps that we might take to advance the diplomacy.
QUESTION: And so you’re taking this step because you there’s an opening now?
MR. MCCORMACK: We’re taking this step because we think it’s a smart move. And again, I – you know, I can’t predict for you how the Iranians will react. I can’t predict for you how the Iranian Government will react. We’ll see. But do we think that this is consistent with our policy of highlighting the contrast between the two tracks, gradually increasing the pressure on Iran, highlighting the – or heightening the contrast for them? Yes, absolutely.
QUESTION: You know, just -- again, are you trying to temper the tensions in the region by attending this and emphasizing the diplomacy?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that’s been our emphasis for some time, from the very beginning. So you know, I don’t think that that is – you know, that is a primary concern here. Is it an ancillary effect? I don’t know. I can’t tell you. That’s for others to determine by their reaction to this.
You know, our focus is on how do we make this diplomacy work, how do we most effectively implement the strategy that we have. And we think this is a smart step to do so.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) multiple audiences, particularly the European allies, did they seek Mr. Burns’ inclusion in the delegation? Did they speak directly to Secretary Rice --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t – I don’t know, if you go back through the history of this, whether or not they ever mentioned it. This is an idea that we generated.
QUESTION: Did Mr. Solana invite him? How did that work?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again, I can’t speak to the definitive history of this, but this is an idea that we generated that we’ve been thinking about over the past month or so, and decided it was the right step to take. And in terms – you know, it’s an important point. It also signals to other audiences – European audiences and audiences in our P-5+1 partner countries – that the United States is committed to this. And it also sends an important signal of unity to the world as well as to the Iranians that the P-5+1 is truly united in pursuing the two-track policy. And you know, you see that on the incentive side as well as the disincentive side, and I think I’ve tried to catalog for you some items on both sides of that equation.
QUESTION: Did this idea come from Secretary Burns – Assistant – Under Secretary Burns himself? And what is the significance of the signature on – Secretary Rice’s signature on the document that was transmitted to Tehran? I mean, did the U.S. not sign the previous offer, the original one?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can’t tell you. I mean, it went with the support of the United States. This was one of those, I guess, additional steps, one of the refreshed steps, I guess is the term that we’re using, that we attached to the offer that we made about a month ago. And we thought it was – we thought it was, again, the right thing to do. It demonstrated – it does – it did a little bit of what Under Secretary Burns’ presence at the meeting will do, we believe. It signals unity. It signals to the world, to the Iranian publics, that we’re committed to this diplomatic track, that we are committed to following through on our obligations should the Iranians take the single step of suspending.
In terms of – in terms of the idea being generated, it was generated within the U.S. Government. I’m not going to go any further than that.
QUESTION: You said that this sends a positive signal to, you know, Europeans and others. But for some within the Administration and outside, the more hawkish elements like John Bolton, for example --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- this is seen as, you know, appeasement and that you’re kind of giving in. John Bolton said today it’s as if the – you know, it’s the Obama Administration six months early. I just wondered about the debate within the Administration in terms of coming to this point, and what do you say to those such as John Bolton who strongly reject this approach?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I guess when he gets elected, he can follow his own policies. Look, you know, the fact of the matter is the President and the Secretary of State – and I’ll let others speak for themselves – believe that this is the right step. It is an effective, smart, diplomatic tactic, if you will, that doesn't change the substance of our policy. And in terms of – in terms of others like – the great thing about America is you can freely express your opinion. Duly noted. And – but we believe that this is – that this is the right strategy. We believe it’s the right policy, given the circumstances, to try to achieve the stated objectives of everybody in the international system, and the stated objectives of the United States. Believe it’s in our foreign policy and national security interest.
QUESTION: Were the Israelis consulted ahead of time on this move by --
MR. MCCORMACK: We did some – we informed a number of our diplomatic partners, but I won’t go farther than that.
QUESTION: Did they include Israel?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not going to talk about the who’s. We did, we informed. We didn’t consult. Yeah.
QUESTION: Solana’s office said today that there was a phone call between Solana and Rice yesterday when this decision – this final decision was made --
MR. MCCORMACK: There were. We got one. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can you confirm that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, they did talk. Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you – can you confirm that they have been talking about this for the past month? Was the U.S. under any pressure to make this decision this week?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. As – look, the idea, certainly this time around – and again, I would reiterate what I said in response to Charlie’s question, is I can’t give you the definitive history of this. But this is an idea that we generated. It’s an idea that we talked about within the Administration, considered, and ultimately decided upon taking. I think it’s received a generally favorable reaction, certainly among the P-5+1 partners. The Secretary did talk to Mr. Solana yesterday about it. You know, again, we’ll see how this plays out. We’ll see what the reaction is elsewhere.
QUESTION: I know (inaudible) being framed as a negotiation. I know that the U.S. envoy will just be at the table, he probably won’t speak, but are you not concerned that, in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of Iran, that this will – this will just look, in simple terms, as if the U.S. is sitting down at the table as they see these pictures around the world?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you know, I can’t – you know, I can’t shape everybody’s perceptions. I mean, people – you know, if people – if they want to put a square peg into a round hole, they might take away that conclusion. But the fact of the matter is he’s going to attend the meeting, he’s going to listen to what the Iranian response is. And yeah, I would expect that he would take the opportunity to affirm the condition that the P-5+1 has laid out about suspension being a condition for realizing negotiations. It’s not going to be a negotiation. I can’t say it any more simply than that.
QUESTION: So on the nuts and bolts of this, when is he leaving and does he have any other stops?
MR. MCCORMACK: He’s going to make his way to Geneva starting tonight. He’s going to leave tonight, do some consultations along the way, I think. What’s today? Wednesday. Thursday. Friday he has a --
QUESTION: Today’s Wednesday.
MR. MCCORMACK: Today’s Wednesday. Thursday, he’ll have some consultations pertaining to this matter in Europe. And --
QUESTION: Brussels or --
MR. MCCORMACK: Friday --
QUESTION: Not in Geneva? Is he going to somewhere else?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t – you know, I don’t know exactly what his itinerary is. Friday, he’s going to have some consultations at the IAEA related to the India civ-nuke deal. And then Saturday --
MR. MCCORMACK: In Vienna. And then Saturday, he’s going to be in Geneva.
QUESTION: But you don’t know where his first – are there multiple stops on his way to Vienna to --
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. I don’t know that. I don’t know that.
QUESTION: Sean, I was wondering if, emblematic of the debate going on in the Iranian political world, that they might show up in Geneva without a definitive answer, they might want to haggle on the terms of the incentives package and kick this down the road. Is there any kind of timeframe expectation for them to give you a straight answer?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. One can never tell, Dave. They have said that they intend to give a definitive response at this meeting. Having previously sent a letter as well as made some public statements about it that they said that they would provide a definitive response to the latest offer at this meeting, we’ll see. We’ll see if they do. Again, it’s difficult to predict.
QUESTION: Why do you expect Iran – that the Iranians will change their position or approach to this matter if Mr. Burns is not allowed to negotiate Mr. Jalili?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, because I assume that Burns simply showing up at a meeting isn’t – as much respect as I have for Under Secretary Burns, that that is not going to be the thing that itself tips the balance in terms of the decision-making equation in Iran. But what I would expect is that, again, those reasonable individuals within the Iranian political system who can do cost benefit analysis will start to perhaps make a different cost benefit analysis of the Iranian Government continuing on the current pathway that it’s on.
As I said, you know, I cited a few things on the disincentive side. In part related to the strategy that we have pursued, there are very real costs that are mounting in the Iranian system. They – as I said, the credit risk rating has been downgraded. Many banks have stopped issuing letters of credit to companies seeking to do business with Iran. The government has had to scale back export credits. Companies which trade with Iran have to reconsider whether or not that business will make any commercial sense. They have inflation running at 25 percent. They need to create a million jobs every single year just to keep pace with their demographics and to keep their economy moving. They’re not doing that despite having oil at $140 a barrel.
So there’s – you know, there’s mismanagement that is going on of the Iranian economy, putting aside any Security Council or individual state actions. The – however, the sanctions and the steps that the international system is taking accentuate the fact that the Iranian Government is mismanaging their economy, therefore increasing the cost to the Iranian Government of pursuing the kinds of policies that they’re pursuing.
Contrast that with an attractive offer on the table, the heart of which is that they can have civilian nuclear power, which is their stated objective, should they come to agreement with the P-5+1. And the call – and the only price of admission for that is suspending their uranium enrichment program. Again, I think a set of reasonable, rational decision-makers will look at those cost-benefit analyses, look at the trend lines and say, this is a no-brainer. Let’s take up the P-5+1 on this offer. We’ll see if that is where the trend lines take us in terms of the Iranian decision-making apparatus. It hasn’t been to this point. We’ll see if that calculation changes.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up on a couple of different things. In terms of the U.S. decision-making --
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- to come to this decision and in terms of the problems you’ve cited that Iran has now, did the U.S. receive any signals directly or indirectly from the Iranians that, should you take this step or movement, would be made?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware of anything in particular, Charlie. Again, we’re – you know, we’re operating off of, obviously, our own information gathered through a variety of different sources. But also, a lot of the – you know, a lot of the public statements, what we’re seeing in public and, as I have cited numerous times here, very clearly, a debate ongoing in the Iranian political system. I am not aware of any particular messages or signals.
Anything else on this, on Iran? Okay, we’ll go over here and then we’ll move to the back, sir.
QUESTION: Russia’s foreign policy document which has been approved by President Medvedev said that Russia maintains its negative position towards NATO plan to grant Ukraine and Georgia NATO membership. What do you think? How difficult will it be after this for Georgia and the Ukraine to get membership action plans in December?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, NATO – NATO, at the summit in Bucharest that President Bush attended, made very clear its position on MAP and eventual membership for Ukraine and Georgia. I don’t think they could have been clearer. It was a very strong statement. And while there is a NATO-Russia Council, and again, we as well as other members of NATO consult closely with Russia, they don’t have a vote. So it will be the position of NATO members to decide when to extend MAP status, when to extend membership status to any of the states.
QUESTION: On Georgia?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Georgia? Yeah, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Any decision on a date for Bill Burns to meet his counterparts and the friends of the Secretary General to resolve the Georgian crisis? Secretary Rice mentioned the Georgian --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, let me check for you. I know that that’s an ongoing matter of discussion, but let me check for you.
Yeah, I promise I’ll get to you next, yeah. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Yesterday, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Africa said that they’ll be seeking an apology from the U.S. after last Friday incident where Russia and China vetoed the American-proposed sanctions against President Mugabe and his people. Mr. Zalmay went out of the Security Council and start blaming South Africa for the veto, and went further to say that the President of South Africa is out of touch with his own people, and even went further to suggest that the sooner he be removed, the better.
I mean, clearly, you know, he was biting, you know, (inaudible) true diplomatically and this was a diplomatic blunder. I mean --
MR. MCCORMACK: On whose part? On South Africa’s part for voting against the resolution?
QUESTION: No, on Mr. Zalmay, I mean, to go out of the Security Council and call (inaudible) attack the head of the state.
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, there is a transcript of Ambassador Khalilzad’s remarks. It’s available for all to see. I looked at it and I don’t see anything in there that merits an apology.
QUESTION: So are you going – are you not going to apologize (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said – you know, like I said, I read the transcript. I don’t see anything in there to apologize for.
QUESTION: So – but are you partly blaming South Africa for the veto of Russia and China?
MR. MCCORMACK: Each individual state made its own decision. South Africa could have stood on the right side of history and voted for the resolution. They chose not to. Again, their decision. And let other – let people judge their action.
QUESTION: Can you give us a readout, if you please, about the visit by the Palestinian negotiating team and their talks yesterday here?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t – Samir, I don’t have any readout for you. This – we have ongoing discussions both with the Israelis and the Palestinians on the political negotiating front, as well as on how each side is doing in implementing its Roadmap obligations.
QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit more about Secretary Burns’ stop in Vienna with -- consultations with the IAEA on the India Nuclear Accord?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I don’t have any more details for you than that, that he is going to be in Vienna at the IAEA for some consultations on India’s civ-nuke. I’ll see if there’s anything more that we can offer on that.
QUESTION: Senator – yeah, Senator Kerry is introducing some legislation to overturn 20 – a 20-year ban on HIV-positive individuals coming to the United States. I guess this is a legislative matter, but I wondered if the Administration had a position on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check. I’ll see if we – you know, typically, we issue statements of Administration position. I don’t know if, at the stage of just introducing a piece of legislation, that we do so. But certainly, if we have one, I’ll draw from that and post an answer for you guys.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: The World Court has apparently urged the U.S. to delay executing Mexicans on – some of the Mexicans on death row. Are you looking into this? Have you – is this something that you would do or maybe the Justice Department?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, John Bellinger, the State Department Legal Counsel, argued the case before the International Court. And he is actually – he was actually there today to receive the decision. I haven’t had a chance to talk to John, and you know, I’m not sure he has had an opportunity to review the full decision of the court. And until we have an opportunity to do that and have an opportunity to talk to John about his interactions with the court today, I’m going to defer answering it. But we will get you an answer to the question.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Michel.
QUESTION: Sean, do you have any reaction on the prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah, and do you expect anything to be happened regarding Shebaa Farms?
MR. MCCORMACK: Shebaa Farms – it’s an issue of, I think, continuing discussion. At this point, the – there are a number of different actors that have responsibilities in this regard, but I believe the UN and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have certain responsibilities with respect to the cartographer. So it’s an issue of continuing discussion and concern.
In terms of the business of the prisoners, you – I refer you to the Government of Israel for any comment.
Oh, sir. Yes, one more.
QUESTION: Yeah, just to follow up on my previous question --
MR. MCCORMACK: And give me another opportunity to apologize? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, not really. But another opportunity to give me, you know, sort of the latest how is the diplomatic relations with South Africa following this issue of Zimbabwe.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, look, we have – we have a good relationship with South Africa. We disagree sometimes, but we are able to disagree in such a way that, you know, when we do it in public, we’ve talked about it before in private, so it doesn't come as a surprise to either side.
QUESTION: Jendayi Frazer said yesterday that there was hope when – following the March elections in South Africa, that the successor, who is likely to be Jacob Zuma, would take a harder line on Zimbabwe. Is that what you’re hoping?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of elections, that’s up to the South African people to decide who gets elected. I think it’s only a matter of fact, if you look at the public record, that Mr. Zuma has taken a different stance than President Mbeki.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 11:16 a.m.)
DPB # 126
Released on July 16, 2008