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



Deputy Prime Minister Mofaz in Washington for U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue


U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement / Negotiations Ongoing
Kirkuk Groups Should Avoid Unilateral Action / Need for Provincial Election Law


Legislation on Comprehensive Settlement for Families of Victims of Terrorism
Congress Has Critical Role in Moving Legislation Forward
Issues of Sovereign Immunity / Lautenberg Amendment
Funding for Payment of Compensation Claims Settlements
Fair and Just Compensation Is In Best Interests of Families and the United States
U.S.-Libyan Relationship


Claims by Radovan Karadzic of Deal with Ambassador Holbrooke
U.S. Government Renders Assistance to Bring War Criminals to Justice


U.S. Condemns Acts of Terrorism in India


U.S. Resources Devoted to Fighting HIV/AIDS


Liancourt Rocks


Question about Timeline for Iran’s Response to P-5+1 Proposal


View Video

12:34 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me start off by just correcting one small thing from the gaggle. I was asked whether or not Minister Mofaz was here in Washington for the U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue. I said no. He is, in fact, here for the U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue. Under Secretary Burns is leading it for our side. They had sessions this morning. They'll have more sessions in the afternoon. So with that correction for the record, we can get into your questions.


QUESTION: How close are you on this agreement with Iraq on the security agreement? And - I mean, you had said the Administration wanted to do it by the end of this month. It's the end of the month, so --

MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't say that. I said that we're going to work on it. Negotiators set the deadlines. The President spoke to this issue this morning. He talked about the ongoing discussions with the sovereign Iraqi Government about this agreement. He also talked about the return on the success that we've had from the surge, and how all these surge combat brigades are back in the United States and tours have been shortened for our troops; all very positive developments, along with the positive developments of the Iraqi security forces becoming more and more capable in taking the lead on operations, as well as the Iraqi political process developing. So those are all positive things.

And in terms of the negotiations, those are ongoing and I don't want to detail those. The President has spoken to it, and I think my colleagues at the White House have spoken to it as well.

QUESTION: But will there be a timetable or a withdrawals horizon in this agreement?

MR. MCCORMACK: There have been a number of statements out of the White House on this. I know that there was a recent --

QUESTION: My question is still unanswered.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- statement about that, statement, indeed, as the negotiations are ongoing, as is appropriate. All the questions are not yet answered. So the talks are still ongoing. I think there was a statement out of the White House maybe a week or so ago about issues related to this strategic security horizon - my words - not the exact words from the statement issued. You should refer to those words in the statement as the definitive description of what it is we're discussing with the Iraqis.

QUESTION: Compromised Libya legislation was just passed at the Senate, literally about five or seven minutes ago --


QUESTION: You didn't really want to talk about it this morning. But I'm wondering now that it's cleared this hurdle - it was unanimous - is --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I believe they were using an unanimous consent provision. It moves onto the House at this point, yes.

QUESTION: Yes. So would you like to say anything about it now or is it still too sensitive because --

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Look, we think that for the families of the victims this was the right - this would be the right move to pass this legislation. We think it will allow them the fair and just compensation that they've been seeking in an expeditious manner. It would also, from a bilateral U.S.-Libya perspective, allow the United States and Libya to finally close the book on a contentious period in our relationship and to look to the future.

So, again, there - Congress has a big say in this and it's - what they do or do not do is critical to this moving forward. But again, we think that this deal - and the legislation is part of that deal -- at root allows these families to get the compensation that they've been seeking in an expeditious manner. You know, absent this deal, absent this legislation, they would, of course, still be free to seek compensation in the courts if none of this happened. But that - who knows how long that would take? It could take years and years and years.

QUESTION: Well, do you have any idea when the House will take it up?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. That's - you know, their calendar. We are, of course, seeking to have the Congress address this issue, both houses, in an expeditious manner.

QUESTION: Do you see any particular problem with it on the House side?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to handicap it. We're, obviously, in support of the deal and working closely with both. We worked closely with the Senate and are working closely with the House on it.


QUESTION: Sean - go on.

QUESTION: Does your response to my question now mean that it is a little - the issue is - it's a little less sensitive now than it was this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. It still is a sensitive issue and it's a sensitive time because the House has a say in this.


MR. MCCORMACK: And, you know, again the - you know, I would underscore what I have said, that this is, we believe, in the interest of the families of victims. It's in the interest of the bilateral relationship as well.

QUESTION: Just to get it on the record, can you explain what is your understanding of what the legislation, which is written in a rather opaque manner, would do; that it would remove the application of the Lautenberg-sponsored legislation that passed earlier this year?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me get you the exact wording here to make sure that the lawyers don't jump all over me. What would happen is that the sovereign immunity for Libya would be restored under the legislation only when the United States receives the agreed-upon money to pay American claimants and the Secretary issues a certification provided for the legislation.

So basically what you're talking about is sovereign immunity, which, again, gets to the issue of the ability to file future lawsuits on this matter, and having the current lawsuits closed as a matter of the deal negotiated with the Libyans.

QUESTION: And why is this so sensitive? Libya has in the past reached multibillion dollar --


QUESTION: -- agreements to compensate the victims of acts for which it accepted responsibility, notably, you know, the Lockerbie bombing. What's so sensitive about this right now?

MR. MCCORMACK: Because there are various components to this. You know, there's the component of the Libyan Government making payments to the families of the victims. There's the legislative component. Obviously, the Libyan Government would be seeking some - what we refer to here, sovereign immunity relief, from the Lautenberg amendment. And these are all carefully balanced pieces to a deal. And any - taking out any one piece or modifying any one piece to it could scuttle the entire deal.

QUESTION: And what do you say to people who have argued that this deal - well, first of all, am I correct in understanding that this deal would resolve all of the compensation claims by American citizens killed or injured in acts deemed by the U.S. Government to have been Libyan terrorism?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's a comprehensive settlement.

QUESTION: Right. So - but I think it pertains only to American citizens. And lawyers for non-American citizens that have compensation claims against Libya argue that this leaves them out in the cold. How do you address that criticism?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, nobody can bring back the people who were lost or heal completely the wounds of those who suffered. The fact of the matter is this is - the United States Government has responsibilities to its own citizens. That doesn't mean that we turn a blind eye at all to others or the suffering of others. But the fact - the basic fact of the matter is we have a responsibility to our citizens and to act in our national interests and the best interests of our citizens.

QUESTION: Sean, who is it that actually - I'm sorry. I haven't read as much of this as should, but who actually will administer this fund or funds?

MR. MCCORMACK: The funding would be - the legislation would provide that the Secretary would certify that the U.S. has received -

QUESTION: The U.S. Government --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- sufficient funds. No appropriated funds or U.S. Government appropriated funds are involved in this. I'll read this, just because it's all carefully crafted by the lawyers, and I want to make sure we don't have any missteps here.

Legislation provides the Secretary would certify the U.S. has received sufficient funds to provide payment of settlements referred to in prior legislation and fair compensation for claims of Americans for wrongful death or physical injury. The - all of this refers to the possibility that implementation of the agreement will involve creation of a new entity to collect the required resources. The immunities would be to ensure that there would be no interferences with the collection, transfer and distribution of resources to American claimants.

So there would be some new entity that would be created --

QUESTION: Our government?

MR. MCCORMACK: A mechanism -- I honestly don't know, Matt. I know --

QUESTION: The reason I'm asking is that there does appear to be U.S. Government involvement in the money. Not that its taxpayers' money, it's not going to be Libyan money, obviously. But there is now official government involvement in the transaction.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there has been official U.S. Government involvement in the sense of helping to broker this deal.

QUESTION: Yeah, but even - but prior - previously, before Welch started - David Welch and Libya started talking about this comprehensive settlement, and while the earlier agreements were - the compensation deals were being - you guys had deliberately stayed out of it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, we did.

QUESTION: So what changed?

MR. MCCORMACK: What changed was the idea that we wanted to try to see that these families got the just compensation that - you saw a number of different attempts at trying to bring closure to the chapter, this chapter in the lives of these families and individuals who were injured, as well as to close this chapter on that era of U.S.-Libyan relations. And there were a number of attempts at that; none of them quite got there. And we saw an opportunity to do something that we believe was in the interest of our citizens, working on their behalf, as well as also to further the interests of the United States.

QUESTION: And the last one on this: Are you hopeful that this - if this does go on and passes the house, that you will be able to get at least a hearing for your ambassador-designate to Libya and the money for any of this (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I can't tell you, Matt. I know that those issues have been hung up in the Senate for a variety of different concerns. You know, I can't speak to whether or not this would address some of the concerns in the Senate. We have - even before this deal came together, we've been pushing for a hearing for the Ambassador and also for the (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Unsuccessful push.

MR. MCCORMACK: Unsuccessful, yes. Look, I - you know, I don't think that that was really a serious part of the calculation. However, should this all move forward, and we hope it does, if there is an ancillary benefit in that regard, then so be it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) And the - what's the amount of money that the Libyans need to come up with to address all these claims?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have the details. And even if I did at this point, I don't think that we would talk about them, again, because we're still - while there is a discussion, I know, up on the Hill about this, I think it's best that I say as little as possible about this, even though we've spent the last ten minutes talking about it - just because, again, we want to see this move forward. It is a sensitive time in the deliberations and the consideration of this up on the Hill. So I'm just going to leave it where I have for the moment.

QUESTION: The reason I ask is that, I mean, if the State Department is going to have to certify that they've gotten enough money, the State Department must clearly have in mind a figure. And some of the figures are already public. I mean, the figures aren't locked up.

MR. MCCORMACK: I understand. I understand. I've seen news stories. I'm sure that there's a lot of public discussion about it, but I'm not going to go any further than I have on the topic.

QUESTION: And then the last thing: To what extent, other than the issue of your stymied efforts thus far to get that ambassador, you know, confirmed. To what extent has the U.S.-Libyan -- and in what practical ways has the U.S.-Libyan relationship been sort of held back? I mean, obviously, it's improved dramatically since '03, but -- by the failure to resolve these outstanding terrorism cases? And to what extent have commercial interests been harmed by the Lautenberg-sponsored amendment and, you know, the sort of curtailing of Libyan sovereign immunity and, therefore, the ability to freeze their assets?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Yeah, I honestly don't have an assessment of, you know, to what extent, if at all, commercial interests have been inhibited by the Lautenberg amendment and the fallout from that. You know, I really - I don't know. I believe that the Libyan Government has kept up a dialogue with a number of outside commercial entities, including those from the United States. I don't know whether or not that dialogue's been impeded by anything, by the Lautenberg amendment, at all.

But this - in terms of a relationship, this has been an important, unresolved issue. We have citizens that had claims in the United States courts that they were seeking to be made whole on. And that was, of course, a real concern with us. And as you pointed out, the relationship's come a long way since 2003. But in order to really have a - you know, a fully functioning relationship across the whole spectrum that one might imagine - political, cultural, economic, diplomatic - this issue needed to be resolved. There's an opportunity to resolve it now and we'll see. If it does get resolved, we'll see where the relationship can go. Certainly, there would be a lot of promise there in terms of the diplomacy, in terms of the politics, and certainly, in terms of economics, I'm sure.

Yeah, Lach.

QUESTION: Secretary of State Rice has said she wanted to go to Libya. Would this be the last barrier? Or you don't want to get into that yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: No travel announcements at this point.


QUESTION: By the way, is she ever going to go to Democratic Republic of Congo? She cancelled the trip saying she wanted to spend more time there. You remember that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we got seven months or six months left, 193 days, I think, something like that, not that I'm counting.


QUESTION: Sean, new subject?


QUESTION: May -- I have a broader question in connection with the Prime Minister of Pakistan's visit to here. While he was visiting, there were - there were bombings going on in India and also violence in Kashmir. And at the same time, this morning, today and tomorrow, Kashmiri American Council is hosting a conference on Kashmir, and they want to resolve and solve the problem in Kashmir through peaceful matters. And they condemn all form of terrorism.

And also, there was a congressman, James Moran speaking. What he was saying, that as far as India and Pakistan problem or Kashmir problem or their relations are concerned, also with the U.S., he was saying, really, that F-16s are not required as far as fighting terrorism over there because they are aiming at India.

My question is, as far as Pakistan Prime Minister's legitimate concern, why this issue come - discuss as far as Kashmir issue, how it will be resolved and solve all of the (inaudible) policy change in the U.S., how the U.S. is going to intervene in this or be a partner in this under the new government in Pakistan?

MR. MCCORMACK: No policy changes.


QUESTION: On Turkey?


QUESTION: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan stated in the decision in the Constitutional Court not to ban his political party, "Democracy wins. Political and economic stability wins." Any comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: I talked about this issue yesterday when somebody asked about it.

QUESTION: Yes, I saw that.


QUESTION: One more question?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah - no.


MR. MCCORMACK: No, behind you.

QUESTION: A follow-up to Mr. Goyal's question.


QUESTION: Which is, yesterday, you said no decision has been taken to change the decision to upgrade the F-16s, to release money for that.


QUESTION: And if I remember right, today is the deadline for releasing the funds.


QUESTION: Going ahead with the release of funds?

MR. MCCORMACK: No change from yesterday.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yeah, Radovan Karadzic said this morning that he struck a deal with Richard Holbrooke whereby if he retired from public life, he wouldn't be prosecuted by The Hague Tribunal. Was such a deal done?

MR. MCCORMACK: Ambassador Holbrooke has, in the past, denied such claims. I refer you to him for any further details or questions you might have about it. In terms of this Administration, we have, from the first days of the Administration, have been very consistent in urging the Serbian Government to turn over Radovan Karadzic as well as others that are wanted to the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.

QUESTION: Can I have the next one?


QUESTION: I'm sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: It's a follow up. Was any kind of agreement struck with Karadzic?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, the question pertains to Ambassador Holbrooke. You can ask him, but he - I will repeat that he has, in public, denied any such deal.

QUESTION: Just one last one on this. What is the U.S. doing now to aid the hunt for (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have, through the - a variety of different means, sought to provide all appropriate assistance to help bring wanted war criminals to justice. I'm not going to detail any further, though, what that assistance might entail.


QUESTION: Just one more - wacky Karadzic questions. Karadzic today said that "Holbrooke wants my death and regrets there's no death sentence at this court. I want to know if his arm is long enough to reach me here." Does a comment like that rise to the level of getting a State Department comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, the man is standing trial for war crimes. He has an opportunity to defend himself in The Hague. That is not an opportunity that was afforded to any of his victims.


QUESTION: Sean, just a quick question. The Secretary was informed or is she in touch with anybody in India as far as bombings, ongoing bombings? And also very many -- many cities in India are on a high alert because of these ongoing bombings.

MR. MCCORMACK: It's, you know, condemnable that you have these kinds of acts of terrorism and that innocent lives were lost. Secretary Rice has not, on these occasions, been in touch with the Foreign Minister. But certainly, as we do in all such similar cases, we stand with the Government of India in seeking to bring to justice those responsible for these acts of terrorism.

QUESTION: And quickly, just as far as a SAARC meeting now going to start, is the U.S. - is going to be there or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Which meeting?

QUESTION: SAARC, South Asian Regional --

QUESTION: Starting in Colombia.

QUESTION: Starting in Colombia - Sri Lanka.

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.


QUESTION: Yes, on HIV/AIDS. Mr. McCormack, President Bush yesterday with Presidential Global Coordinator Ambassador Mark Dybul --


QUESTION: -- signed into law a massive international program against HIV/AIDS and an AIDS bill of $48 billion over the next five years.


QUESTION: Any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: It's a great testament to the American people that they have devoted such massive resources to fighting AIDS - HIV/AIDS. I think it is a mark of the United States leadership on this issue. And it's - there are many groups, organizations, people around the world that are invested in and involved in fighting HIV/AIDS.

QUESTION: The $48 billion are a grant? What's the --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have the details for you, Lambros.

QUESTION: And one more question. Since Ambassador Mark Dybul is the main figure on this crucial issue of HIV/AIDS --


QUESTION: It is possible to have him down for a special briefing?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll ask. That certainly would be appropriate.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: In - Kurdish counselors in Kirkuk today have said Kirkuk should be part of Kurdistan. And the Arabs there are very angry and say, you know, this could have a civil more war over this or a civil war in that area.


QUESTION: What - how would you suggest, or what do you suggest they do about solving this problem, seeing as it is threatening instability there in a relatively peaceful place, and it's holding up the provincial election law?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, we talked to the Embassy a little bit about this. And I know it's been out in the news. I don't think that we've been able to finally confirm it for ourselves. But we have had a longstanding view that the individuals or groups in Kirkuk should avoid any sort of unilateral or provocative actions. The way to resolve this is within the confines of Iraq's laws and constitutions and - constitution, not constitutions. And what is needed is passage of a provincial election law. I know that's something that the Iraqi parliament is working on now, but that will be critical to help resolve a lot of issues, including those related to Kirkuk.


QUESTION: Yeah, I want to go back to the map issue --

MR. MCCORMACK: The map issue, sure.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) Islands.


QUESTION: Why, if the initial change to this map was made to bring the map into conformity with your policy, was it - was a decision made to change it back to what it had been before to something that is not reflective of policy?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, the decision was taken because it was -- in the course of this exercise, it was detected that there were a number of anomalies and inaccuracies in the database. And so instead of doing these piece - addressing these piecemeal, it was decided to look at them globally, if you will, to look at all of them at the same time. And to further make sure that the technical aspects of this process, as well as the interagency process that underpins it was done in the right way, that not only took into consideration the technical aspects of these kinds of designations and decisions, but also the political, meaning diplomatic, considerations about what is and what is not sovereign territory of given states.

So it was a way of, if you will, resetting back to a baseline so that you could proceed from there.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I don't understand. Now you have a map, an official map out there that is in - at odds with what your policy is. And I don't - when you talk about the other errors in the database, does that involve other countries? Does this mean that you're going to recognize Burma as Myanmar? I mean, exactly - you know, how much whining does a country have to do to get you guys to put something out there that is antithetical to the - to your policy?

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, I can't really give you a better answer than I have given you, other than it was decided that this was the most appropriate course to take at this point.

QUESTION: So, when will the review of all the multiple other errors --


QUESTION: -- meaning this one. I mean, this is the point. You changed so that it is now an error.

MR. MCCORMACK: It is ongoing and it will be - I don't have a timetable for you, when it will be completed, but it is ongoing.


QUESTION: Sean, you may have dealt with this earlier. But the Foreign Minister of Iran Motaki suggested, I guess it was late Wednesday, that he's unaware that his government is facing a deadline to reply to the P-5+1 proposal. He says there's no deadline.

MR. MCCORMACK: Maybe he should --

QUESTION: What's your understanding of it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Maybe he should pick up the phone and call Mr. Jalani - Jalili. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Pick up the phone and call Mr. Jalili.

QUESTION: Is that it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, that's it.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:59 p.m.)

DPB # 136

Released on July 31, 2008

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