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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 25, 2008

INDEX:

CHINA/TAIWAN

Defense Department Interaction with Chinese on Shipment of Materials to Taiwan
Secretary Rice’s Communications with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang

CHINA

Olympics / Importance of Universal Human Rights in China

CHINA /TIBET

U.S. Urges Chinese Government and Dalai Lama to Engage in Dialogue

MIDDLE EAST

Secretary Rice to Travel to Jerusalem, Amman / Meetings with Palestinian Officials

PAKISTAN

Deputy Secretary Negroponte and Assistant Secretary Boucher’s Meetings in Pakistan
U.S. Engagement with New Pakistani Government
U.S. Position on Those Who Peacefully Express Political Viewpoints in Pakistan
Decisions about Pakistani Judges Made by Pakistani Political System
President Musharraf’s Relationship with the U.S.

EGYPT

Incident Involving U.S. Contracted Cargo Ship at Suez Canal

ZIMBABWE

U.S. Concerns About Actions that Could Influence Outcome of Zimbabwe Elections
International Pressure to Bring about a Change in Zimbabwe


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

DPB # 54

12:14 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon to everybody. I don’t have – don’t have anything to start off with, so we can get right to your questions.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what the State Department’s role is, if anything, in dealing with this latest Pentagon misshipment of items. Can you tell – in terms of how you dealt with this through AIT and the Embassy in Beijing or contacts that you’ve had here with the Chinese Embassy?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll have to check for you on AIT. I don’t know. Didn’t ask about this. This is really a DOD matter and DOD issues. Both in Beijing and here in Washington, the Department of Defense handled the briefing of Chinese officials. So in that sense, we weren’t – we were aware of and, certainly, the Department of Defense was very open and collegial in terms of making sure that we were well informed all along the way, with respect to this particular incident. But the Department of Defense handled the diplomatic contacts in terms of informing the Chinese Government. I’ll check on the AIT. I didn’t ask that question before I came out. We’d be happy to post an answer for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Have the Chinese, that you’re aware of, issued any kind of – have they complained? Have they made a formal protest?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware of any. Check with the DOD. See if they’ve – what they heard back from the Chinese. I haven’t seen anything in public.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary call the Chinese yesterday?

MR. MCCORMACK: Did she speak? No, she did not.

QUESTION: She didn’t call since last week?

MR. MCCORMACK: Correct. Yeah. She spoke with – on Wednesday, March 19th, she spoke with Foreign Minister Yang.

QUESTION: Okay. And also I wanted to know what U.S. would think about the possibility of a boycott of only the opening ceremony? That’s something apparently President Sarkozy has –

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll let other foreign leaders speak for themselves, other states speak for themselves. I’ll reiterate our view, and that is that the Olympics is an important international sporting event. We are going to treat it as such. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to continue to talk with the Chinese and emphasize to the Chinese Government about the fundamental importance of universal – the application of universal human rights in China. That means allowing freedom of expression, freedom of religion and a variety of other fundamental freedoms that we think it’s important for all people around the world to enjoy. So we have done that. We will continue to do that, I expect, after the Olympics as well. But in terms of how we treat the Olympics itself, we will treat it as an international sporting event.

QUESTION: Do you think that it’s possible to express somebody’s opinion during the Olympics about the human right in China? One example, wearing some – a t-shirt of some (inaudible) showing --

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s going to be – that sounds like an individual choice to me. Individuals will have to make their choices in that regard.

QUESTION: Would you condemn --

MR. MCCORMACK: On the other side – on the other side of that, we would encourage the Chinese Government to put their best face forward during the Olympics. The world is going to be watching. And it’s an opportunity for China to allow greater freedom of expression, greater freedoms for journalists to report on events in China in – during the Olympics and great application of those fundamental human rights that we have talked about.

QUESTION: Have you gotten any response from the Chinese Government (a), to Secretary Rice’s suggestion that they adopt a new policy toward Tibet because their current policy is unsustainable in her view, and (b), to your request for U.S. diplomats to have access to Lhasa or other parts of the region?

MR. MCCORMACK: On – on both of those, I don’t believe we have heard back from the Chinese. It remains our view that the Chinese Government, in responding to protests, should exercise the greatest possible restraint. Violence serves nobody’s purposes and that applies to both sides. And in order to deal with this issue over the medium and long-term, to have a sustainable solution, as the Secretary said yesterday, that we would urge the Chinese Government to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama, that he is a man of peace, he is a man of reconciliation, that he could be part of the long-term sustainable solution to questions surrounding Tibet.

QUESTION: Okay. One other one. Can you, for the record, tell us as much as you can about the Secretary’s meetings when she’s in the Middle East and where she’s going to be?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. We’ll put out a trip announcement. We’ll put it out this afternoon. She’s going to be traveling to Jerusalem. She’s going to be traveling to Amman. I think she’s going to be having some of her meetings with Palestinian officials actually in Amman. They are going to be transiting there. I’ll try to clarify for you whether or not there will be any travel to the West Bank.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yep.

QUESTION: And can you say what days she’s going to be in Amman? Is that something you can (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Off the top of my head, I can’t recount it for you. There’s been so much travel recently, I sort of lost track of the days, but we’ll put out the trip announcement this afternoon.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Nicholas.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what Deputy Secretary Negroponte and Assistant Secretary Boucher are doing in Pakistan? Why did they go? And anything you know about meetings with members of the new government?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, in terms of the meetings and the schedule, we’ll try to keep you updated on a rolling basis regarding those meetings. He has met with President Musharraf. I think he’s met with Mr. Nawaz Sharif and I would expect that he meets with Prime Minister Gillani as well – as well as other important members in the – of the Pakistani political elite in the political power structure.

Simply stated, it’s an opportunity for us to engage, at a very senior level, with a new Pakistani Government as they are making this transition, another transition to a new phase of their democracy. They are recently coming out of a period of time in which there was a diversion from the pathway of democracy. We welcome the fact that they are now back on that pathway to democracy, that they have held elections in which the Pakistani people can have confidence. There is now a new prime minister. There will be a new government. We look forward to working with that new government as well as President Musharraf, going forward.

Now there are a lot of questions as to, you know, who’s up, who’s down in Pakistani politics. How the Pakistanis decide to arrange themselves vis-à-vis power-sharing, who has what authorities, who has what responsibilities, that is going to be for them to decide. The Pakistani people have spoken via an election. It is now up for their -- up to their political leaders, on the basis of the results of that election and within the confines of their law and constitution, to form a government, to put out a platform for that government and to work together in the best interest of Pakistan.

We look forward to working with that new government, and we have some overlapping interests. And fundamentally, we would like to see a Pakistan that broadens and deepens its economic and political reform. We think that's good for Pakistan. We think it's good for the region and we think it's good for our interests as well. We think that those -- that and fighting violent extremism are inextricably linked. The long-term hedge against the expansion of violent extremists and terrorists in the region and in Pakistan is the broadening and deepening of these economic and political reforms. That said, you also are going to have to address some of these individuals via security measures. And we are working with the Pakistani Government on that.

So just to sum up, it's an opportunity to take stock of where Pakistan is now and also to look forward in terms of where Pakistan is going and where the Pakistan-United States relationship is going.

QUESTION: You just said you will have to address some of the issues with the extremists with certain security measures.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: As you know, members of the leaderships of the two main parties in the government have said that they are willing to talk to people you view as extremists and perhaps terrorists, in a strategy that is quite different from President Musharraf's strategy of dealing with them. What is your view about how much space is there for actually talking, whether it's negotiating or just talking to those people?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I think what we're going to do is -- well, first of all, we've seen the public comments, obviously. But we're going to let Deputy Secretary Negroponte and Assistant Secretary Boucher have the meetings. I'm sure that they will engage in a dialogue on a variety of different issues, including how to fight extremists and how to fight terrorism. Let's let them have those discussions first, before we offer any particular comment about what the platform of this new government might be. Let's have a better understanding.

QUESTION: But they're not going into these meetings saying to the Pakistanis, absolutely, we are against talking to these people, since there are millions of dollars -- of American dollars that are actually involved in fighting these people, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let's let the Deputy Secretary have his meetings first. I'm sure he'll do some press while he's out in Pakistan and --

QUESTION: Oh, yeah, really? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm sure he will -- I'm sure he will do -- I have not spoken with him, but he has in the past done press while he's been in Pakistan. So let's let him have those meetings. Let's have the two sides have a dialogue that friends will have. And I'm sure we'll have some further comment either during or after the Deputy Secretary's trip.

QUESTION: So this one -- you don't have a (inaudible) on this issue of talking to extremists? You don't have a position now?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we -- you know where we stand with respect to dealing with terrorist groups and violent extremists. You're asking me in the context of Pakistani politics and what the policies are of this government. What I'm telling you is; let's let the Deputy Secretary have a meeting, have his meetings, understand exactly what Pakistan's policies are going forward, how they intend to address a whole variety of different issues, before we start getting into a public commenting, back and forth, based solely on the public comments of the Pakistani officials and not on a full understanding of what their policies may be going forward.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The Bush Administration did not -- conspicuously, did not call for the restoration of the dismissed supreme court justices and other senior judges in Pakistan. Yesterday, Prime Minister Gillani moved to release the justices and judges, and it would appear that they are likely to be restored. Does the U.S. Government have a view on their release and on their possible restoration?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, our view from the very beginning of the imposition of certain measures by President Musharraf has been that those who are peacefully expressing their political views, participating in the political process, should be allowed to do so. They shouldn’t be thrown in jail just for expressing their political views. So that applies to anybody who was desirous of participating in the political dialogue in Pakistan at the time. So to the extent that any of these people fall in that category, absolutely, that’s a positive thing. It would apply to whether or not these people were working for NGOs or were journalists or were political activists or were, you know, political bureaucrats or judges. It applies to that broad category of people. I wouldn't break it down by profession necessarily.

As to what happens with the judges going forward, whether or not they return to their judgeships, that is completely a decision for the Pakistani political system to arrive at in the context of their laws and their constitution. We’re certainly not going to try to interpret those laws or constitution for them, nor are we going to try to dictate to them what they should or should not do in this regard.

QUESTION: You don’t think that they were removed in an extra-constitutional manner, given that it was done during a period of emergency declared by President Musharraf?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we talked about that at the time, and my answer is still the same. I’m not going to get in the business of interpreting Pakistan’s constitution for them.

QUESTION: One other one. Do you regard President Musharraf, as Deputy Secretary Negroponte has said, as an indispensable ally to the United States?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, he has been a good friend of the United States during this period of -- from 2001 moving forward. He is the President of Pakistan. We will work with him as well as this new government. These are the kinds of questions that are more appropriately addressed to the Pakistani political system and the Pakistani people. In terms of what are the relative powers of the presidency versus the new government, what authorities, what responsibilities the presidency has versus the government, those are all going to be decisions that they have to take.

But President Musharraf has been a good friend and a good ally in the -- in a variety of different regards. And prior to the imposition of the measures that he did -- the extra-constitutional measures that some have talked about, he had Pakistan on a fundamentally different course, a more positive course, in our view. And it’s good that Pakistan has now returned to that course that has as an objective a different kind of Pakistan, one in which all Pakistani people can enjoy the benefits of a more open, more vibrant Pakistani economy in which all Pakistanis can feel as though they are invested in the political system and that they have a government that is truly working on their behalf. That is a more positive vision for Pakistan.

So as to who leads Pakistan forward from this point to continue that process, that is a decision that is completely in the hands of the Pakistani people.

QUESTION: In a democracy, is anyone indispensable?

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s a great theoretical question. You know, I mean, you can go -- historians have this argument all the time whether it’s the person or whether it’s the era. I’ll leave that to the historians to answer.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Just on Suez, any updates from this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new from this morning. Just to recap a little bit, there was an incident of a U.S. -- well, a cargo ship that was contracted by the U.S. Government by the Department of Defense to transit U.S. Department of Defense materials passed through the Suez Canal. There was, apparently, an incident. We are working at senior levels of the Egyptian Government -- our Ambassador is working with senior levels of the Egyptian Government to understand what happened.

The reason why you want to do that is you want to make sure that it doesn't happen again. At this point, I think we’re still trying to get a good timeline and sort through all of the facts. But like I said, we’re working through this in a cooperative way with the Egyptian Government so that these sorts of things don’t happen again in the future.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense of who was in this boat and why it was approaching the vessel?

MR. MCCORMACK: The smaller --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t. I don’t, at this point, no.

QUESTION: Do you think it could be appropriate to apologize?

MR. MCCORMACK: For what?

QUESTION: For an incident that was maybe not necessary?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think you’re making judgments based on an incomplete set of facts. I think what people are trying to do now is to establish the facts, establish the timeline. Now, I think you’ll hear from some that the vessel operated in an absolutely appropriate manner and warned off approaching vessels in an internationally recognized and appropriate manner. So let’s not leap to any conclusions here.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I asked this question because I understand that the Ambassador apologized on Al Arabiya.

MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn’t heard that he had done that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Zimbabwe. Do you have -- the opposition is saying that their candidates are not allowed a campaign and the government in Zimbabwe is denying access to foreign journalists to cover the election. Does that raise concerns about the possible-- possibility of any free and fair elections?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, absolutely, and we’ll put out a little more detailed statement for you. But essentially, what you’re seeing now are all the things one would do if you wanted to, in some way, influence in an extralegal way the outcome of an election. You’re looking at, you know, cooked ballot rolls, printing of extra ballots. You mentioned a few other actions, so yes, we are quite concerned, quite concerned about how things are unfolding in Zimbabwe. And it’s not a – unfortunately, it’s not a new situation in Zimbabwe and we can only hope that international focus and pressure on Zimbabwe will allow an election in which the will of the people is actually reflected in the outcomes.

QUESTION: Do you think --

MR. MCCORMACK: The people in Zimbabwe certainly deserve that.

QUESTION: Do you think that the international community has done enough to put pressure on the government?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, hard to say that this is an issue that has been outside the spotlight of the international community. We have focused quite a bit on it, we as well as others. It just goes to show you, when you have somebody who is as determined as President Mugabe and those around him to hold onto power through any means that they see fit, whether that causes the country to suffer severe depravation and damage, it’s – it’s very difficult for international pressure to bring about a change. But nonetheless, we are going to continue to try to focus the spotlight on what is going on in Zimbabwe.

QUESTION: So given the situation, what do you see the chances are for this election actually being representative of the will of the Zimbabwe people?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let’s see. Let’s – I mean, we’ll – at the moment, given these concerns, it looks like that is – that is – that’s going to be a difficult outcome to achieve. We’ll see.

QUESTION: So there is a chance, then?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, Matt, I --

QUESTION: On a – zero on a scale of one to ten?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let’s – you know, let’s let the election take place here. Let’s make a judgment based on the facts. We’re – we are giving a preliminary assessment at this point, but you know, the situation doesn’t look promising in that regard. Let’s put it that way.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:35 p.m.)



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