|Daily Press Briefing|
Gonzalo R. Gallegos, Acting Deputy Spokesman
July 21, 2008
|Cable Regarding Embassy Practices for Visiting Congressional Delegations|
|Cable Designed to Let Posts Know What They Can and Can Not Do|
|Travel by Senators McCain, Obama / Posts Concerned About Being Ethical|
|Personnel Were Provided Necessary Information to Give Equitable Treatment|
|Differences Between CODEL Travel and NODEL Travel|
|Sitting Senators Running for President|
|Delineations Between Which Meetings Posts Can and Can Not Arrange|
|Russian Statements on Missile Defense / Not a Threat to Russia|
|Missile Defense to Provide Security from a Growing Danger|
|Russian Arms Trade with Venezuela|
|Meeting Between Mugabe and Tsvangirai / A Vehicle for Undertaking Talks|
|Need for a Process that Would Express the Will of the Zimbabwean People|
|India Civil-Nuclear Deal / U.S. Continues to Support|
|U.S. Looking to Ensure Troop Levels Based on Conditions on the Ground|
|U.S. Desire to Shift Role in Iraq / Flexibility, Not an Arbitrary Timeline|
|Visit of Syrian Intellectuals, Possibly Officials Travelling as Private Citizens|
|In Washington at the Invitation of the NGO Search for Common Ground|
|A/S Welch Prepared to Meet with Group|
|Various Cultural Exchanges / Opportunity to Speak with Syrian Private Citizens|
12:55 p.m. EDT
MR. GALLEGOS: Alright. Good afternoon. I don’t have any – I’m sorry, I don’t have any statements for you. So I’m guessing you all have some questions for me, though.
QUESTION: Can you be any more precise about the reasons for the – sending this cable about what employee -- embassy employees can and can’t do for visiting delegations, visiting candidates now, as opposed to four months ago?
MR. GALLEGOS: Yeah. As you saw, one of the newspapers here in town reported the fact that there was a cable that had been sent to our post overseas that discussed basically some of the dos and don’ts, what they can and shouldn’t do for both CODELS, which is congressional travel that’s federally funded, and NODELS, which is travel that is not funded with federal funds. And basically, the idea here is to, first of all, let the person know and understand what they can and can’t do and to assure all that each candidate would be – each individual participating in this NODEL travel would be dealt with in the same way.
What had happened was that -- you know, we communicate pretty regularly to our posts. This is a big bureaucracy and we communicate with our posts to advise them of legal requirements and to ensure that they understand their responsibilities. In the past, we’ve done that via cable and through e-mails. What we’ve done – and obviously, I spoke earlier today about some differences between now and four years ago.
One of those differences is the fact that we have two sitting senators who are running for election. And what had happened was earlier this year, Senator McCain had done a couple of trips to overseas, and we had communicated to his campaign and we had communicated to the post – actually, excuse me – we had communicated to the post where he visited pretty much the same information that was provided in this cable that went out. Subsequent to that, we find out that Senator Obama had intended to travel and therefore we decided to send that same general information that we’d sent out to the post about Senator McCain to all of the posts around the world.
Our posts are concerned that they do things right. They are concerned that they are perceived as fair and equitable in their treatment of all of the travelers. And there were questions coming in about what they can and can’t do, what they should or shouldn’t do. And our ethics lawyers, working with our legislative folks, decided that the time had come to send out this cable to all posts.
QUESTION: So you had sent -- at the time of Senator McCain’s travel, you had sent something just to the particular post that he was visiting?
MR. GALLEGOS: That’s right.
QUESTION: Now, this is going out to all posts?
MR. GALLEGOS: And now this went out to all posts, so that whatever travel either candidate or anybody participating in a NODEL trip, which is a trip that is taken that is not at the expense of the American people, they would know and understand what they can and can’t do.
QUESTION: You said pretty much the same --
QUESTION: What form did that take?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I tell you, unfortunately, I don’t have the exact cables or other information that went out on my left hand and this cable in my right hand. So I’ve been told that it is the same information and they decided to codify it in an ALDAC, which, in our terms, is when we want everybody to get the same message and to get on the same sheet of music, that is what we do. We send a document that goes out to all of our posts around the world.
QUESTION: The first time you said, “pretty much the same,” which implies some differences. And just now, you said “the same.” Can you –
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I think we can – I’ll tell you what, why don’t I save us both time. I’m not going to parse those words. I don’t know if the wording was exact. I don’t know if the paragraphs were in the same order. And I do know that one was sent to posts that were participating in that travel, and I do know that this ALDAC came out subsequent to or – as a result of the questions that we were getting and the information that we felt it was important for us to provide our posts so that they are able to do their jobs, to do it effectively, to do it in the fairest way possible.
QUESTION: But just to clarify, the earlier communication was also in the form of a cable and also came atop Rice’s signature?
MR. GALLEGOS: My understanding was that there are various forms of communication with the posts to make sure – those posts where Senator McCain traveled, to make sure that they understood the same type of information that was provided in this ALDAC to all posts.
QUESTION: Again, when you said there – questions were coming in about what they could and couldn’t do, was there anything that happened during any of McCain’s visits that potentially caused a problem or from which questions arose about what they could or couldn’t do?
MR. GALLEGOS: I have no indication of that.
QUESTION: When you say that questions were coming in, did you mean about this particular trip coming in from Senator Obama? And did his staff ask embassy employees to do any of the things in the cable, like, did they say, you know, Senator Obama’s staff asked us to arrange X and we want to make sure that that’s okay?
MR. GALLEGOS: I tell you what, I couldn’t get at any specifics about it nor could I talk about it any specific or individual trip that had come. What I do know --
QUESTION: Well, do you think questions were coming in --
MR. GALLEGOS: What I do know --
QUESTION: -- about the general nature of the two candidates or about this particular trip?
MR. GALLEGOS: What I do know and understand is that our posts were concerned that they were asking us questions, and that we wanted to provide an answer that we could give them that would ensure the equitability of action of our officers overseas, that would provide them a legal basis under which they could act, and that we’re providing with information so that they could follow up for any additional questions.
QUESTION: But when you say --
MR. GALLEGOS: We have some very good people in this business who plan and who look forward. And so, questions coming in could be somebody from the post, where a trip had been announced or was understood somebody might go, but they don’t have verification that they’re going to go. It could be from somebody who was just pondering, an admin type, who was just pondering, “What do I do if,” and so questions come in. They took the totality of this interest, understood that we needed to make sure that all of our people were singing from the same sheet, and they provided them this information so that they could proceed in an efficient way.
QUESTION: Can I just (inaudible)?
MR. GALLEGOS: Sure.
QUESTION: The information that was provided to the specific post concerned prior to Senator McCain’s travel, was that in the form of a cable or not?
MR. GALLEGOS: I’m not sure of exactly how it went.
QUESTION: Okay. And then second, however that was conveyed, can you – you know, I guess it could have been an email or something, but could you provide that to us so we can look at whether there’s any difference between the two?
MR. GALLEGOS: We’re not in the general practice of providing you all with that information, although I do know that people do leak it to you, which is how the story came out, I guess, on this one. I’ll look into it.
QUESTION: Okay. The reason I ask is that you yourself gave differing accounts. You said “pretty much the same,” then you said “the same,” then you said you weren’t going to parse it, and were – you know, there may be no story here. It may well be that you gave precisely the same or substantially the same advice in both cases. But I would like to see that, and since you’re not able to tell me, I would be grateful if you would give us the text of the original – of the earlier messages regarding McCain’s travel.
MR. GALLEGOS: I will see what we can do about that. However, I want to be clear about this. The most important thing for us, as an institution, was the fact that our folks, our people in the field, our action officers, were provided with the information they needed to provide equitable treatment to these individuals.
That’s the most important thing for us. It’s stated specifically by the Secretary in the cable, in this latest cable to them, that they would treat with an even hand representatives of these individuals, as well as the individuals themselves. It’s the most important thing to us. That’s what we want to be able to do. And through this information we provided them, they have the information they need to proceed in an efficient way to carry out this --
QUESTION: Was there some kind of concern that they weren’t going to do that? I mean, the military, for instance, has been kind of sending out, you know, various photos of Senator Obama, you know, with the troops, things like that. I mean, is there a concern on the part of the Secretary that diplomats need to be reminded to be even-handed?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, our concern is that they know and understand what their responsibilities are, and that they carry out their actions in an informed way. And that’s what we’ve been able to do with this cable.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what their responsibilities are, and what is it they can and they can’t do?
MR. GALLEGOS: I’ll tell you, I’m not going to go through the entire cable here for you.
QUESTION: General lines?
MR. GALLEGOS: General lines are that there are some actions that can be carried out when a person is traveling in one manner, when a person is not traveling in that manner. What it comes down to is what can resources be applied to for a participant. Now, that obviously shifts when the participant is a senator, which we have in these cases, at which point, when there is no government money involved, we would be able – we would not be able to provide some forms of support in terms of briefings, in terms of travel, that type of thing.
Bottom line here is when security comes into play here, there is an element that we have to review and decide whether or not, you know, that is an issue that we need to move forward with, that we need to provide information and we need to provide support for. So that’s the type of thing that they have to look at. But other than that, I’m not going to be able to go any deeper.
QUESTION: Can you at least put in perspective for us whether this is the kind of cable or the exact kind of cable that has gone out in previous year – previous elections?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I wanted to preface it at the very top, and I did preface it at the top, this is a situation where I was not able to determine when the last time we had two sitting senators running for election. So that’s a different aspect than in previous years and therefore would provide us a situation where we would have some information being different than the general cables that provide information on responsibilities and what people can and can’t do that we’ve given out the last four years and eight years and 12 years before – before then, so --
QUESTION: Senator Kennedy --
QUESTION: Just to follow up, whether you have two senators or one senator – four years ago, you had one senator, Senator Kerry. I mean, is – and in previous election cycles, you’ve had other elected officials.
MR. GALLEGOS: My understanding, that this was not an issue four years ago.
QUESTION: Why not?
QUESTION: I mean, shouldn’t Senator Kerry have been treated in accordance with U.S. laws regarding the use of funding for – you know, for a presidential candidate making a trip?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, my understanding is that the issue – people were – people seemed to have understood and were comfortable with the information in the way that they provided that – the services that they were to provide him when he was traveling as a candidate. Other than that, I don’t have any more information.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, I don’t – I don’t understand what you mean there. When you say that people seemed to be comfortable and it wasn’t an issue last year, are you saying that posts didn’t ask the same kind of questions last year?
MR. GALLEGOS: I’m saying I don’t remember reports about it. So I don’t remember reports about it. I don’t remember it becoming an issue, so – yes, Param.
QUESTION: Gonzo, can you confirm that, under the new directive, they cannot help the candidates arrange for meetings and – or receptions, or arrange receptions for them?
MR. GALLEGOS: Yeah, I’m not going to get into the brass tacks of that. I don’t have this in front of me, so I don’t want to go down that path. However, obviously, in terms of their being senators and asking to meet with government officials so that they know and understand the issues that the U.S. Government is facing and dealing with any issues that they’re going to have to deal with as presidential candidates and as potential presidents of the United States, then yes, we can assist them and can participate with government officials in those meetings. However, in terms of other private sector funding, my understanding is that, no, we don’t.
QUESTION: What’s wrong in helping the candidates with all this (inaudible)?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I believe – I’m not a lawyer so I’m not going to go into any finer detail than there is a question of the expenditure of the people’s funds and what candidates should pay for themselves and what congressmen should be provided in terms of information they need to perform their jobs.
QUESTION: Can we go back to – you said that the Secretary’s – the most important thing to the Secretary was that the two candidates be treated in an evenhanded manner. Our interest is in seeing that that is indeed the case, or has been the case, and therefore I would again request that you provide to us the communications sent in advance of Senator McCain’s travel so that we can see for ourselves that the cable recently sent is substantially the same as whatever communications were sent before --
MR. GALLEGOS: I will take that – for the third time, I will consider that taken under consideration.
QUESTION: Isn’t there a difference, though, Gonzo? I mean, didn’t Senator McCain lead a congressional delegation; whereas, in this particular case with Senator Obama, I believe that trips to Afghanistan and Iraq were part of a CODEL but some of these other countries were not. Is that – isn’t there a difference?
MR. GALLEGOS: I probably couldn't tell you. In fact, I’m telling you right now I couldn't tell you the exact difference between them. What we have are senators who are traveling who are requesting information, and under certain circumstances we want to be able to provide them with that information so that they can perform their jobs, and we’ll provide them with that information. And this cable was something that was put out to assist our posts in determining which – what situation these different requests fall under.
QUESTION: It seems as if – I mean, it seems as if, though, you’re suggesting that one of these senators has been requesting information and resources and treatment that made diplomats feel uncomfortable.
MR. GALLEGOS: I’ve never made that suggestion, Elise. I have not made that suggestion. What I’ve said is that information, when requested, can be provided under certain circumstances, and is provided to them.
QUESTION: In the – on the current trip, Senator Obama just this morning met with Nouri al-Maliki and some others. Is there any difference between what is being done to set up that sort of meeting or the one with Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, than has been done either for Senator McCain or for Senator Obama’s traveling companions, Reid and Hagel, on this trip? Is there – are – do diplomats have different rules for, like, because he’s running for president they can’t make this phone call on his behalf, like right now today, or not?
MR. GALLEGOS: I couldn't get into the – that down into the weeds on that for you, Anne.
QUESTION: Well, isn’t that the question? I mean --
MR. GALLEGOS: I think that there is – in terms of a meeting with the prime minister of a country, that would – by a senator be requested, that would be something that, to my understanding, that we would assist in coordinating and then likely participate in so that we could see and understand what was being discussed.
QUESTION: Because he’s a senator and he’s traveling in --
MR. GALLEGOS: As a senator, yes.
QUESTION: -- in his senatorial capacity?
MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.
QUESTION: Is there any attempt made to figure out what is the senatorial capacity and what is a presidential candidate capacity when it’s the same human being?
MR. GALLEGOS: I couldn't tell you how they delineate that; however, I would assume that if we have a sitting senator who is visiting a country who has a desire to speak to an official of that country, we would qualify that as something within his capacity as a senator.
QUESTION: So why is it different than because he’s on a CODEL versus not a CODEL? I guess, I mean, he’s going to want to talk to President Sarkozy in France, right? I mean – and he goes there by himself. Well, why is it different that you could set it up for Maliki and not for Sarkozy?
MR. GALLEGOS: I believe it has to do with what resources can be used to fund, what U.S. Government resources can be used to fund.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Maybe I’m being dense, but I just don’t get the distinction. I mean, he’s a senator. He’s going to both places. He’s going to want to talk to the president of both places.
MR. GALLEGOS: Yeah, I see what you’re saying. The issue is when they want and need to travel to stay in various locations and to meet different people, then this cable will help the post decide which meetings that they can provide assistance with, which would be government officials, other groups that the U.S. Government may have interactions with in an official capacity, and other meetings they may want to have which don’t have anything to do with officials of that foreign country.
QUESTION: So in answer to Anne’s question, the post in Paris can provide help arranging a meeting with President Sarkozy?
MR. GALLEGOS: My understanding is that, yes, that would be something that would fall under it.
QUESTION: Can you explain why? Because in reading the recent cable, it says posts may not do the following, and there’s a series of bullet points. And the final bullet point says – so posts may not do the following: arrange the candidate’s meetings.
MR. GALLEGOS: Yeah.
QUESTION: So why is it permissible to arrange a meeting with Sarkozy if you construe this to be potentially a campaign-related activity?
MR. GALLEGOS: Because we allow the posts to extend courtesies to a member of Congress visiting in personal or semi-personal activities. One of those would be meetings with officials of the government. So there are meetings – let’s not be disingenuous. There are meetings with government officials and there are other meetings with nongovernment officials that candidates or other people participating in these programs may want to make. We were trying to delineate for our posts which meetings they can and should assist in preparing – in arranging and those in which they could expect to ask to be allowed to participate in, and those that they shouldn’t make.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. GALLEGOS: Yes, please.
QUESTION: Russia says it may start flights by long-range bombers to Cuba because of the U.S. plans for missile defense, and I was just wondering what, if any, concerns you might have about that. Have you talked to the Russians about these statements?
MR. GALLEGOS: This is the first I’ve heard of it. However, I think our position on the missile defense is oft repeated and has not changed. This is something that we do not believe is a threat to Russia, that we will work very hard to make clear to them that this isn’t. The fact that we are talking about – I believe it’s something like ten missiles that are designed to – for a defensive capacity from an attack in the opposite direction is something that we don’t see as a threat to them and that we have repeatedly stated that we will continue to work with them to help them come to an understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
QUESTION: Well, don’t you think that flying long-range bombers to Cuba and – it would be concerning to you? I mean, you know, thinking back to the Cuban missile crisis – you know, things like that. I mean, wouldn’t that kind of escalate?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, we’ve heard various comments coming out of Russia on this since -- Elise. Number one, I’d have to – I haven’t heard the reports, to begin with. Secondly, I’d have to talk to our folks to see, you know, who did these – who did these reports – do you know who they came – who made the purported comments or --
QUESTION: Air Force -- the Russian Air Force.
MR. GALLEGOS: The Russian Air Force. You know, I’d have to talk to our folks to see where we stand on this. Like I said, I’ve just heard about this. It’s a threat that’s made --
QUESTION: If you could take the question.
MR. GALLEGOS: Be happy to take it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. GALLEGOS: Thank you.
MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.
QUESTION: As you’re well aware, Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe have met and agreed to begin a process to try to work out some kind of a power-sharing agreement. Is this a good thing that Mr. Tsvangirai should be embarking on such a negotiated process, particularly with Mr. Mugabe, whom the U.S. Government seems to believe essentially stole the last election?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, we support a negotiation process that leads to a result that expresses the will of the Zimbabwean people. Our understanding is that this MOU that was signed by the leaders of the ZANU-PF and both factions of the MDC is providing a vehicle for undertaking talks, but that they haven’t actually started the talks. I think – we’re obviously keeping an eye on what’s happening there, and we are going to continue to watch it closely.
QUESTION: By the will of the people, do you mean that leads to Mr. Tsvangirai and his party, essentially, leading the government to run the country?
MR. GALLEGOS: No, I think we’ve been very specific about that in the past. And what we’re talking about is an election that is free and fair and open, and that all parties can participate in without fear of aggressive acts against them, so --
QUESTION: So you’re looking for another election that would be --
MR. GALLEGOS: We are looking for a process that will express the will of the Zimbabwean people.
QUESTION: So you would be amenable to a power-sharing agreement?
MR. GALLEGOS: We are looking for a process that will be amenable to the Zimbabwean people. I don’t think that we have defined that from this podium and nor will I start today.
QUESTION: Do you think that President – South African President Mbeki can be an honest broker in this case, given his close ties to President Mugabe?
MR. GALLEGOS: I think we are looking for countries that will come and support the Zimbabwean people in as official way as they can so that they can come to a resolution of the situation.
QUESTION: Well, just – but does South Africa support the Zimbabwean people or support President Mugabe?
MR. GALLEGOS: Talk to the South Africans. I think they can tell you what they support and don’t.
QUESTION: No, but I’m asking you if --
MR. GALLEGOS: I’m telling you to speak to the South Africans so that --
QUESTION: Well, I can’t ask the South Africans if the U.S. thinks that South Africa is an honest broker.
MR. GALLEGOS: I would say if you want to know, I think you should talk to the South Africans about what they think about Zimbabwe. We’ve made it very clear what we think, which is that we believe that the Zimbabweans should be allowed a process in which the will and the expression of the people is brought forward.
QUESTION: Well, what would be considered an expression of the people?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, we believe – we’re hoping that other elements in Africa – we have spoken about the situation that has gone on there. We are looking forward now to some resolution that will be worked out by the parties involved, all parties involved, that will come to a solution.
QUESTION: Regarding Elise’s question earlier about Russia, you mentioned that there would be only ten missiles involved. But it’s our – my understanding that one of Russia’s main concerns is the U.S. having a toehold. It may be only ten missiles now, but they’re concerned it could escalate and so on and so forth. So have you addressed that particular concern?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, our concern is about the security of the region. And you know, our allies – NATO has spoken out in support of this. We are looking to implement this to provide for security from a growing danger that will affect all of us, not just Central Europeans, and that’s our focus here, is to move forward with that.
QUESTION: If Iran does decide to comply with the U.S. – the UN sanctions regime, and the situation there is defused as it would seem to be since the Bush Administration sent over a high-level envoy, would that decrease the risks in that region of the world?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I’ve heard about three “ifs” in that question, so when we reduce it to no “ifs,” I think I could get to a point where I might be able to respond to that. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Just one on Zimbabwe, the last part when you mentioned that we are looking forward to some kind of resolution by the parties involved --
MR. GALLEGOS: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you rule out power-sharing as part of this?
MR. GALLEGOS: I think we’re waiting to see the evolution of this process.
QUESTION: Evolution of the left – which process is this?
MR. GALLEGOS: A moving towards a resolution that will allow the will of the Zimbabwean people to be felt.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: If I could draw your attention to Assistant Secretary Boucher’s statement to Rediff, which is an Indian website. He has said that the Administration intends to go ahead with the nuclear agreement with whatever government is in charge in Delhi, even if it’s a minority government. Now, can you tell me how many agreements of this kind have been signed with minority governments?
MR. GALLEGOS: I don’t – I think this is a pretty unique agreement. What we have stated is that this is an important agreement to us. We believe it’s an important agreement for India. Indians have to decide whether or not they wish to proceed with this agreement. We have said that we continue to support it, and we’ll do all we can to move forward with it once we hear from the Indians.
QUESTION: Well, (inaudible) because the fate of the coalition government hangs in the balance.
MR. GALLEGOS: My understanding is there may be a vote tomorrow, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see where we go with this. I’ll be here tomorrow, same time.
QUESTION: After the meeting between Senator Obama and al-Maliki, a government spokesman said that he hoped that American troops would be out by 2010. Your reaction to that year, and does that affect current negotiations with this Administration?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I think – look, what we – I think Dana took this question, I think, at the gaggle, the White House gaggle this morning, but you know – basically, you know, we have an aspirational goal of these general – what we call this general time horizon, which – where we are looking to ensure that our troop levels will be based on the conditions on the ground. What’s happening on the ground is going to be driving what we’re able to do, how we’re able to assist.
That being said, we obviously – and have spoken often about our desire to shift, you know, our role there to one where we’re training – conducting counterterrorism, training with the – with the Iraqis, and to allow them to move forward in gaining more and more control of the various spaces in their country. I think the main words here are – we’re looking at flexibility and not an arbitrary timeframe. So we’re going to continue working with them. White House put out a statement on Friday which dealt with that, and that’s where we are.
QUESTION: What comment, if any, do you have regarding – that Mahmoud Abbas congratulated Samir Kuntar for his return to Lebanon?
MR. GALLEGOS: I don’t have anything on that. I’ll have to take that.
QUESTION: Staying in that region, you were asked earlier about Syria officials meeting State Department officials this week. You have anything on that?
MR. GALLEGOS: Yeah, I think I do. Here we go.
We’re aware of a visit sponsored by Search For Common Ground, an NGO that includes Syrian intellectuals and possibly officials. The group is coming as private citizens and academics, not as a government delegation, will be in Washington at the invitation of the NGO, Common Ground. In terms of meetings here at the Department, the U.S. sponsor to the trip, Common Ground – Search For Common Ground, as is normal practice proposed a meeting with the State Department for the Syrian delegation, it’s customary for us to receive such visitors. And our NEA Assistant Secretary of State David Welch is prepared to meet with them.
Right now, my understanding is that we’re not sure who will be participating in the group or how many, so we’re going to have to wait and see how that plays out in terms of what --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) scheduled right now?
MR. GALLEGOS: That’s right.
Yes – I’m sorry, Samir, yes.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) advisor to the Minister of Information --
MR. GALLEGOS: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- and another one was an advisor to the Prime Minister. How they won’t be government – is it --
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I did ask that question cause it came up this morning. And we see participation in this trip that the individuals will be acting in a private capacity, in an individual capacity and not as representatives of their government.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) --
MR. GALLEGOS: I am not sure, like I said previously, who exactly is going to be on this trip, or when or if they will be meeting. But in a general sense, Assistant Secretary Welch has said that he is prepared to meet with them if requested. And so we’re going to have to wait and see if the request is made, when it’s made, and what it’s made for.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that they had proposed a meeting?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, they proposed a meeting, but in terms of the participants of the meeting, I’m not sure. But any participants we would consider as a private citizen of Syria.
QUESTION: So it’s --
MR. GALLEGOS: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- customary to meet with such delegations? Any delegations can come and – any delegation can come and meet Assistant Secretary Welch?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, these are – we have – there are various cultural exchanges sponsored by the United States Government and not sponsored by the United States Government that officials here at the State Department participate in on a regular basis. These are programs that we would expect to develop wherever our embassies are overseas, wherever we have a specific interest in developing relations.
You know, the fact is that we are finding and looking for ways to decrease the isolation of the Syrian people while we continue to pressure their government to change its policies. And this would be seen as an opportunity for us to speak with Syrian private citizens about what’s happening in their government -- in their country, about what’s happening here in the United States, explain our policies, why we have them, and then to discuss any specifics about their trip that they would want to participate.
QUESTION: But they’re not private citizens. They’re advisors to (inaudible) ministers.
MR. GALLEGOS: We would see – as I said before, Elise, we would see anybody who participates in this trip as a private – as acting in a private capacity.
QUESTION: So it would not be considered an official meeting with the Syrian delegation?
MR. GALLEGOS: No, it would not.
MR. GALLEGOS: Sure.
QUESTION: I’m sorry to do this, but I wanted to give you an opportunity. You know, you said pretty much the same, and then you said the same.
MR. GALLEGOS: Yeah.
QUESTION: And rather than having me write that the State Department gave different descriptions of it, do you prefer to go with one versus the other? Is it pretty much the same or is it the same?
MR. GALLEGOS: I think what I would say is that the same basic information was provided to Senator McCain’s campaign and provided in this ALDAC to all of our posts that went out, provided to the posts that requested it for Senator McCain’s travel, and then provided to our posts in the ALDAC that went out to every post.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you.
MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Hugo Chavez is on his way to Russia to sign off on some deals to buy military weapons and hardware. What’s your reaction to those purchases and the trade relationship between Caracas and Moscow?
MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I think – well, we’ve spoken to that relationship in the past. You know, we believe that, you know, the Venezuelans likely have a substantial number of weapons and arms to carry out the security functions that they need. We’re not here to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. But I think it’s clear that, you know, the – Hugo Chavez has his government to lead. He’ll make the decisions he needs to make. However, he has other situations at home that he may want to pay more -- close attention to.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. GALLEGOS: All right. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:29 p.m.)
DPB # 129
Released on July 21, 2008