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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 28, 2008

INDEX:

NORTH KOREA

Reported Comments by South Korean Foreign Minister on Food Aid Discussions
U.S. View of North Korea Missile Launches

CHINA/TIBET

U.S. Diplomat Currently in Lhasa

DEPARTMENT

Secretary Rice’s Discussion of Race in Washington Times Interview
Secretary Rice’s Future Plans
Prospects for Secretary Rice to Attend Olympic Games’ Opening Ceremony

MISCELLANEOUS

Issue of Anti-Koranic Film in Holland
U.S. Firmly Supports Both Freedom of Expression and Religion

ZIMBABWE

US and International Community’s Concerns about Election Preparations
Group Monitoring Elections from State Department
US Embassy Personnel Will Serve as Election Monitors/ Deploy at Various Polling Stations in Country

TAIWAN

Possible U.S. Visit of Taiwan President-Elect Ma

MACEDONIA/GREECE

U.S. Urges Both Macedonia and Greece to Use the Nimetz Process to Resolve Differences
NATO Will Speak to Issue of New Members at Bucharest Summit


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:55 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Afternoon, guys. I have to shout to project back to those in the back of the room. I don’t have anything to start off with, so the floor is open.

QUESTION: There are reports saying that the U.S. is – the South Korean Foreign Minister has said that the U.S. is talking about providing 500,000 tons of food to North Korea?

MR. MCCORMACK: No updates on our humanitarian assistance at this point.

QUESTION: But can you confirm that or --

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: Do you have a response to the North Korean missile launches?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, it is important to note that North Korea should refrain from any of these kinds of missile launches. It’s – their energies are probably best directed in other areas. But as far as our information goes, this was part of their normal or usual military exercises. And that said, they should refrain from these kinds of activities. We would hope that they would direct their energies towards fulfilling their obligations under the six-party talks, and as they are fulfilling their obligations under the six-party talks then we, as well as others involved in the six-party talks, are prepared to fulfill our obligations.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if you’ve gotten any more information about the diplomat who will be traveling to Lhasa, the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. It’s – if you want to go by diplomatic rank, he is a Second Secretary. He is somebody in the political section who speaks fluent Mandarin and his portfolio is Tibet. So he is currently there in Lhasa as part of this tour. He will also endeavor to meet with any American citizens who may have remained in Lhasa during this period of time.

QUESTION: We didn’t – sorry we’re late.

QUESTION: Have you heard back --

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s okay.

QUESTION: Have you heard anything from him yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: We haven’t heard anything back from him other than just the briefest, most bare-boned reports.

Yes, Libby.

QUESTION: Sean, I wanted to ask you about some comments Secretary Rice made yesterday to The Washington Times.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: She made some extensive comments about race in America.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.

QUESTION: And I know we’ve heard a lot of this --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- from her before, some of the same language, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Why does she feel it is important now? I know the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- is there any particular reason why she wanted to get into it so extensively yesterday, because from all accounts, she was pretty animated about it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as you point out, she’s talked about this issue before. She’s a prominent person in the American life who is an African American, so it is only natural that she gets asked these questions and she is perfectly comfortable asking them. I would point out that if you look at the --

QUESTION: Answering them. You said “asking” them.

MR. MCCORMACK: Answering them.

QUESTION: Right, okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s an interview – I would say – I sat in on the interview -- it was an editorial board with The Washington Times. I would say probably 80, 90 percent of the questions were about – directly about foreign policy. It was toward the end that somebody asked her about some of these questions and she was perfectly comfortable in answering them, responding to them in much the same way I think you’ve heard her respond to similar questions in the past. Going back, looking at her record in public life, I think you will find her answers were quite similar. So it was responding to a question; she’s very comfortable answering them.

You can check out the transcript up on our website and as a matter of fact, I put a blog post up about this today because it is instructive for people. We talk a lot about democracy promotion around the world. It’s a centerpiece of this Administration’s foreign policy and you will hear from some people, some pundits who say, well, we don’t push hard enough. You’ll hear from others who say, you know, to stop wagging your finger at us about our democratic – our progress along the pathway to democracy.

And it’s useful, as we Americans talk about this, to reflect back upon our own struggles to build a more perfect union. So it’s – I put it up there on the blog because I think when we are considering issues of democracy abroad, it’s also important to reflect back on our own history as we talk to others about it.

QUESTION: She also mentioned that she had watched Senator Obama’s speech. Is there any sense that she wanted to sort of weigh in on that debate? Because obviously, it’s been –

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think if you look at the transcript, she specifically says not – don’t do politics. I am the Secretary of State. I’m not going to get into politics.

QUESTION: Are you quoting his --

MR. MCCORMACK: What’s that?

QUESTION: Were you intentionally quoting his speech?

MR. MCCORMACK: What’s that -- me?

QUESTION: “A more perfect union?”

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I think you’ll find that there is another historical reference to that. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You know, the Secretary may not do politics, but there’s been a lot – there have been a lot of suggestions this week that she may be interested in a vice presidential slot and that her appearance earlier this week at a conservative (inaudible) --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- somehow is a pointer that it’s not – the door is not completely closed and that because of her sort of unique position in American politics, that she might be interested in taking on that responsibility.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, well, again, you can look back at the transcript in The Washington Times, but in the interest of not having to reference another news organization’s transcript, her answer when somebody asked her that was, no, I’m going back west of the Mississippi. And you hear that from her in public. I can attest to the fact that that is her line to her friends and staff as well. She intends – once her job – her tenure here at the State Department has finished, she is headed back west and I would also – she reminds us that she’s still a tenured professor at Stanford. She’s just on leave from Stanford, so I think that she intends to go back there and then pursue other interests in private life.

QUESTION: So when John McCain comes out in six months time and announces -- are you going to eat your words?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) We don’t do politics here at the State Department.

QUESTION: You can be a Vice President’s spokesman.

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) You know, I’m going to head somewhere west of Foggy Bottom myself after I’m done with this.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I thought it was east of Boston, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Is there any concern here about the release of this anti-Koranic film in Holland?

MR. MCCORMACK: Our view is that the United States firmly supports both freedom of expression and freedom of religion. We believe that in a free society, people have the right to express their views. Those who disagree also have the right to reject such views, so long as they do so peacefully.

QUESTION: Thanks for the spontaneous response.

MR. MCCORMACK: There you are.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the forthcoming elections – upcoming elections in Zimbabwe? President Mugabe yesterday was handing out free cars to people and it seemed to be a little bit of a vote inducement. I just wondered whether you had any comment overall on how the elections might be run and what’s expected?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we – sure. We -- I talked about this the other day and our view is still the same. We have a group, by the way, that is going to be very closely monitoring this here in the State Department and once the elections have concluded, we will have an assessment about not only the electoral – a final assessment about the electoral process, as well as about the results.

But in addition to some of the questionable activities which you have mentioned, I will just run through a couple of other things that we have observed along – in the run-up to the election: inaccurate voter rolls, including the presence of dead or non-existent voters; considerable overproduction of ballots; absence of independent observation of postal voting to prevent multiple voting; inadequate polling stations in urban areas for the large numbers expected to vote; and the permission of police forces to be present inside polling stations in contravention of an agreement reached between the ZANU-PF -- the political parties, essentially, ZANU-PF and MDC as part of the Southern African SADC negotiations.

So there are a lot of big question marks hanging over this election in terms of the integrity of the electoral process. You raise some on your own. So we'll see what the results bring and we will have a reaction once the actual balloting has been completed.

QUESTION: You said that you have a group at the State Department closely monitoring. Do you have anyone on the ground at the embassy? Are they closely monitoring or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely, absolutely. And I thank you for bringing it up. We have about ten people who are serving as election monitors who are going to be deployed at various polling stations around the country.

QUESTION: Are they with any particular group or is this --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, just U.S. embassy people, yeah.

QUESTION: Just U.S., okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mr. Gollust.

QUESTION: Sean, a couple of Indian soldiers who were participating in some joint exercises with U.S. forces at Camp Pendleton Marine Base are missing for about ten days, and the Indian Government says it's turned to the State Department for assistance. I wonder if you have a read on that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me post an answer for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: It's the first I've heard of that incident.

Yeah, Sue.

QUESTION: Any comment on the Taiwan President -- President-elect visiting the U.S?

MR. MCCORMACK: We have -- the answer is the same as I have provided you earlier in the week. Mr. Ma has indicated publicly he would like to visit the U.S. before his May 20th inauguration. We are presently taking his request under consideration. Any U.S. decision will be consistent with the unofficial nature of our relationship with Taiwan and with our one China policy based on the three communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: That's another spontaneous response for you. (Laughter.)

Yeah, Lambros.

QUESTION: On FYROM.

MR. MCCORMACK: Macedonia.

QUESTION: On FYROM, I said. You are saying Macedonia, I'm saying FYROM. Mr. McCormack, why Secretary Rice has the attitude whenever speaking for FYROM, always is saying that it must become a NATO member, ignoring, however, the name issue, focusing only how FYROM should be admitted to NATO with the present name? Since the Secretary, once again, repeated that in her interview today in the Washington Times, I'm wondering why she is doing that, sending different signals to Athens and Skopje?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, she says the same thing when she meets in private with the Macedonian Foreign Minister as she does to the Greek Foreign Minister -- we urge you to use the Nimetz process to resolve your differences over this issue. NATO will speak to the issue of new members when it meets at the Bucharest summit. It is, therefore, obviously, a critical issue because Macedonia is an applicant for NATO membership. And because NATO is a consensus organization, of which Greece is a member, in order for Macedonia to be offered membership and for it to be able to accept that membership, you need to have a consensus vote. And there’s an outstanding issue, as we all know, concerning the name. And we have therefore urged Macedonia and Greece to use Ambassador Nimetz’s good offices to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution to what is a longstanding and difficult as well as emotional issue for both sides.

QUESTION: And for example, she said, “It would be a pity if something that has to do with antiquity were to get in the way. What I think is a very important step for 'Macedonia.'” How the Secretary, an expert in geo-politics, is ignoring the fact that the present name most clearly (inaudible) claims against Greece?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, Lambros, we made our decision, okay. Each state will have to make its own decision with respect to what name it recognizes Macedonia under. Some have taken a different decision from us. We understand that. It is for each state. But there is a wider alliance issue here at stake. The Secretary has alluded to that. And because there is now a wider alliance issue here at stake, we think it is important that this bilateral issue between Macedonia and Greece should be resolved. There is a mechanism that we have urged both sides to avail themselves of -- Ambassador Nimetz. We have met with each side separately as well to encourage them to make progress and come to a mutually agreeable solution on this matter.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Anything else?

Sue.

QUESTION: In this Washington Times interview, the Secretary also referred to the Olympic Games, saying that, you know, previous boycotts were feckless and she didn’t think it was a good idea.

MR. MCCORMACK: She referred specifically to the 1980 –

QUESTION: To the Moscow Games.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary herself plan to attend the opening ceremony? I mean, is that in her –

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll keep you up to date on her --

QUESTION: – on (inaudible) schedule?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll keep you up to date on her travel schedule, yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:07 p.m.)

DPB# 56



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