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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
June 4, 2008



Crackdown on Charities in Zimbabwe the Wrong Thing to Do
U.S. Calls for Immediate Release of Morgan Tsvangirai
U.S. to Use Levers of International Politics to Bring About Different Situation in Zimbabwe
South Africa is in Unique Position to Encourage Zimbabwean Leadership to Change its Behavior
Links Between South Africa Leadership and ZANU-PF
U.S. Call for Zimbabwean Government to Create Conditions for Free and Fair Elections


Four of Seven Fulbrighters Have Been Able to Travel from Gaza to Jerusalem
U.S. Continues to Work with Israeli Government on Remaining Three Cases


The Secretary’s Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert


Senator Obama’s Comments on the Final Status of Jerusalem
U.S. Continues to Help to Bring about Peace Without Respect to Presidential Politics


No Plans for Secretary Rice to Meet with Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in New York


View Video

12:46 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don’t have anything to start with this afternoon, no statements. We can get right to your questions.



QUESTION: The detention of Tsvangirai and other opposition leaders as well as the crackdown on charities?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is deeply disturbing news. I talked yesterday a little bit about the crackdown on the charities. And, you know, talk about exactly the wrong thing to do at a moment of food crisis in Zimbabwe and elsewhere around the world; they start to cut off the lifeline of more than 100,000 people in Zimbabwe.

In terms of the detention of Morgan Tsvangirai and others, it’s a deeply disturbing development. We have confirmed, after discussions with MDC officials, that he was and is being detained in the town of Lupane, L-u-p-a-n-e. To my knowledge, he has not yet been charged and there is no information on what plans the Zimbabwean Government has with regard to his detention.

We would call for his immediate release. And we’re sure that all others who have an interest in seeing free and fair elections take place in Zimbabwe return to democratic governance are going to call for the same. And that’s really what we know at this point.

Yeah, Sue.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Tsvangirai’s safety while he’s in detention? I mean, previously, he was very badly beaten up --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, he was. And that’s part – that certainly is part of this. And it’s an excellent point. And that he should be released immediately unharmed, untouched. Because as you point out, there were – there was an incident in the past where he was badly beaten. And we would hope and call upon the Zimbabwean Government to create an atmosphere in Zimbabwe where those who have political views different than the government can speak out free from threat and intimidation and violence; sadly, that has not been the case. But we’re going to continue to speak out about it and try to focus the spotlight of the international system on Zimbabwe in the hopes that that will help spur some change and that it will also spur those with the greatest amount of leverage over the leadership in Zimbabwe to use that leverage to bring about a different atmosphere in Zimbabwe.

QUESTION: Sean, all of that is well and good. But for the past decade, you and your predecessors at this podium, as well as the secretaries of state, have been saying the same thing. And Mugabe – the situation has only gotten worse, and Mugabe has only retrenched and held on more tightly to his grip on power. When is enough enough? And when is – is it no longer just words and calls for the immediate neighbors – when is it time to go beyond that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’re – Matt, we are simply up against, at the moment, the hard facts of international politics. We – I would say we have done more than speak words. We have put in place tough sanctions against the leadership, against individuals, and targeted them in a way that will not, we hope, affect the Zimbabwean people in a negative way, but really try to put pressure on those people who hold the levers of power in Zimbabwe.

And I know – look --

QUESTION: But he --

MR. MCCORMACK: Do we wish – do we wish that the situation were different? Absolutely. But the fact of the matter is, when you are faced with situations like this, it’s a matter of politics. It’s a matter of leverage and trying to create that leverage, and trying to get those who have it to use it. And states like South Africa, for example, need to use the leverage that they have. It is, as you point out, a tragic situation. This is a state that was once a model for Southern Africa. It was a net exporter of food. It was a proud state that emerged from a colonial past. And the rule of one man and his party has destroyed the economy of the state and really destroyed any tradition of democracy in Zimbabwe.

So, look, were it different, we would be much happier. And just because at this point the situation has it that President Mugabe is still in power and seemingly more entrenched, as you point out, it doesn’t mean we’re not going to continue to do everything we can to use the levers of international politics to bring about a different situation.

QUESTION: Right. Well, aside, you just mentioned that – you just said that you weren’t – you were doing more than talking. You would impose these tough sanctions --


QUESTION: -- which you hope won’t affect the Zimbabwean people in general. But the problem here is that they haven’t affected the people you’ve targeted with these sanctions either. Certainly, there’s been no change in behavior at all from those in a leadership position in this government.


QUESTION: And in fact, they may have even – you know, their actions have gotten even more repressive --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, again, another lesson of international politics. We can put in sanctions, the UK can put in sanctions, others can put in sanctions. But unless you have a truly concerted, focused effort to put in place sanctions and enforce them, leadership of this kind is going to find a way around those things to relieve the pressure. What you need to do in international politics, and we are trying to do this, is to create an atmosphere where there is pressure as much as possible on this government to change its behavior.

To this point, the international system has not succeeded in that regard. That doesn’t mean we’re going – not going to keep trying.

QUESTION: What can South Africa do?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don’t need to go into the history and the linkages between the leadership in South Africa and the ZANU-PF of President Mugabe. But they go back a ways. And I think everybody knows the reality that this government and the leadership of the South African Government is, I’d say, uniquely positioned to go to President Mugabe and the leadership there and to encourage them to change their behavior. That isn’t to say that South Africa is alone in having leverage with Zimbabwe, but I think they are in a unique position in that regard.


QUESTION: A couple of weeks ago, the Secretary made a round of calls to neighbors and to the SADC countries. Has she done that again today in a bid –

MR. MCCORMACK: No, she has not. I know she knows about the situation and is following it closely, but she has not.

QUESTION: Well, are you looking into doing that because, I mean --

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s certainly a possibility, and we’ll let you know if she does.

QUESTION: And in terms of South Africa using its leverage --


QUESTION: -- are you – who are you speaking to within the South African Government to try and encourage them to do --

MR. MCCORMACK: We have been – talked about – spoken with those in the South Africa Government over a period of time. And I think I’ve reported previously the Secretary, in the past, has spoken with President Mbeki. And we’re going to continue to do that because that, frankly, is the way we see to try to change the situation, using political leverage within the international system.

QUESTION: But you yourself pointed out the links during the liberation struggle between ZANU-PF and the ANC.


QUESTION: Why do you think that the South African Government is going to, you know, turn back on years where they’ve had a very strong relationship and put --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that’s a question for them. And I – and the reasons for doing it, I would only point to the tragedy that is unfolding in Zimbabwe, looking at the economic mess that they have made, that President Mugabe has made of the Zimbabwean economy, the fact that many in the – in Zimbabwe are dependent upon foreign food aid, humanitarian aid now. It’s quite clear that there has been a dramatic retrenchment in political freedoms in that country. So I don’t think that there’s any more need for examples of why to act. The question that – it’s really more appropriately put to the South African Government, as well as others, as to why they are not exerting the maximum amount of leverage.

QUESTION: Do you think – just one last question – do you think that the runoff election should be postponed? Because the climate is obviously, you know, not conducive to being – to having a free and fair poll if someone like Tsvangirai can’t even get out there and campaign.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that we would, before making that kind of assessment, want to understand the assessment of the MDC, certainly, as the opposition party, before we make any such pronouncements. I don’t think we’ve heard anything from them in that regard, but we are deeply concerned about whether or not the proper conditions for a free and fair election, which we’ve talked about in the past, can be brought about in this period of time.

We continue to call – call on the Zimbabwean Government to create those conditions. But given – given their history, I think that that call also comes with a healthy dose of skepticism and, certainly, realization of reality on our part.

QUESTION: I’m sorry if you’ve – no, go.

QUESTION: How much more of a pariah can you make Mugabe?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it’s not a matter of our making him a pariah. I mean, he has done this to himself, and sadly, in doing so, inflicted great harm upon his own country.

QUESTION: Are you planning on sending – and I’m sorry if you touched on this earlier – are you planning on sending a representative from the U.S. Embassy to the place where Mr. Tsvangirai is being held? Because your Ambassador --


QUESTION: -- has been involved and intervened before –

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I know he has. Let me – I’m working to try to get some information from the ground in Zimbabwe from our Embassy, and I’ll see if I can convey with a little more granularity exactly what it is that they’re doing.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Kirit.

QUESTION: Change of subject?


QUESTIONI: Do you have any update for us on the Fulbrighters in Gaza? There was a report that they’ve gone to – or some of them, not all of them, have gone to Jerusalem for interviews?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right. There are four of the total of seven have been able to go to – travel to Jerusalem. They’ve submitted their visa applications and done all the necessary steps for those applications to be considered. There will be a review process now in which the applications are reviewed and vetted. And once that process is completed we’ll notify them of whether or not the visas have been issued. As for the remaining three who did not travel from Gaza to Jerusalem, we are continuing to work with the Israeli Government on those three cases. The Israeli Government is working in good faith on these cases. And of course, if they have any additional information or concerns, we’re going to listen to those and come to our own evaluation. But we’re continuing to work with the Israeli Government on that, and I would underscore that they are working in good faith on – working in good faith with us on the issue.

QUESTION: A couple – couple things. First, do you know if this came up in Rice’s meeting with Olmert?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t. I didn’t speak to the Secretary about whether or not this came up.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the case of the three, is that because they didn’t receive their exit permit or is that due to another reason?

MR. MCCORMACK: They have not received their permits, that’s correct. But as I said, we are working with the Israeli Government on that.

QUESTION: And then with the timeline on the other four, are they back in Gaza, do you know?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they are back. I think they have returned to Gaza. And I don’t have a timeline for you to how long the review process takes.

QUESTION: Do you know when they’re supposed to actually arrive if they, in fact, get their visas?

MR. MCCORMACK: Here in the United States, should everything play out as –


MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have the timeline.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: Sean, I know it’s difficult for you to comment on what the presidential candidates say, but –

MR. MCCORMACK: But you’ll ask, anyway.

QUESTION: But I’m asking anyway.


QUESTION: In Obama’s speech, he made definitive comments about the final status of Jerusalem --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: You know, he said it had – it would remain undivided or remain the capital of Israel. What do you make of these kind of comments?

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s part of a presidential election. I’m not going to comment on them. You know what our policy is with respect to Jerusalem as well as all these other so-called final status issues or important political issues. The Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, led by President Abbas, are in discussions on all of these issues. (Inaudible) we all know about the borders and right of return, as well a whole host of other sensitive and important political issues that need to be resolved by the two sides if they are going to accomplish an agreement between the two of them. So that is where we stand. That is our policy. It is for the parties to resolve these issues. And we are going to, you know, continue to do what we believe is right in terms of bringing about – helping to bring about peace without respect to presidential politics.

QUESTION: But don’t you think that’s a dangerous thing to say in the current climate?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not going to comment on presidential politics.

QUESTION: Can I ask you –

QUESTION: Well, how about this? I mean, you have the Secretary speaking at the same place that --


QUESTION: -- this happened today --


QUESTION: -- yesterday, and kind of playing down or lessening expectations for getting this kind of deal in this Administration, making it clear that any final deal is going to have to come in the next administration. Now, you have a candidate who could be in the White House next year. Doesn’t it at all complicate your efforts right now to get them – to get the two sides, the two parties, moving towards this kind of outline, contour agreement, if one of – one of the two main candidates to succeed this President in the White House is pronouncing judgment on a final status issue? It doesn’t have any impact at all?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Matt – look, not from our – certainly, not from our view. You can talk to others involved in the process as to what – you know, what weight or how they would view the remarks of presidential candidates. I can’t speak to that. I can only speak to our efforts, our focus, where we stand. And as I said, we are going to proceed and do what we believe is in the best interest of the United States foreign policy interests, our national interests, and the interest of bringing about peace in the region, irrespective of presidential politics.

Lambros, welcome back.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. McCormack.

MR. MCCORMACK: We missed you.

QUESTION: Thank you. I miss you, too, all of you -- all of you, also. On FYROM --

MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible) you’re going to create that sort of atmosphere.

QUESTION: His vacation was that long.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, okay. I got you.

QUESTION: On FYROM, according to reports, the Prime Minister of FYROM and the winner of last Sunday’s elections, Nikola Gruevski, is in New York, and I’m wondering if Secretary Rice is planning to meet him.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, there are no plans.

QUESTION: One more question. On June 2nd, you called upon the government of Skopje to re-run elections in districts where people were not able to cast their ballot freely. Do you have any update on that issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t. Nothing beyond my remarks the other day.

Okay. Anybody else?

QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:02 p.m.)


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