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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 7, 2008



Conference Call for Press with Chargé d'Affaires Shari Villarosa Regarding Situation
US Contact with Burmese Government Regarding Access for US Assistance and Experts
US in Contact with Neighboring Countries Regarding Situation in Burma and Assistance
US Working to Pre-position Supplies and Materials Should Assistance be Allowed In
US Embassy Working with NGOs, Donors, and UN Relief Agencies on Assistance Needs
French Foreign Minister’s Comments Regarding a UN Resolution to Force Delivery of Aid


Demonstrations in Beirut / Hezbollah Closing Access to Airport


Inauguration of New Russian President


Reported Eritrean Military Build-up on Border with Djibouti


P-5+1 Incentives Package
Iraq Foreign Minister’s Comments on Iran and US Relations


UK Appeals Court Ruling on People’s Mujaheddin


US Beef Imports / Protests


Extradition of Carlos Mario Jimenez


View Video

12:42 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. A couple of notes. One administrative note up front. We are putting together a conference call for you guys at 1 o'clock with Shari Villarosa, who's our Chargé d'Affaires in Burma. Thought you might be interested in hearing directly from her what she's seeing on the ground and her impressions of the scope of the disaster that the world is now attempting to deal with.

I also want to talk to you a little bit about what we in the U.S. Government are doing to try to bring about a situation where the Burmese Government will allow in not only our assistance teams but other assistance teams. We've been in touch with the Burmese Embassy here in Washington to encourage access for U.S. assistance and experts, and we have also been in contact with neighboring countries to Burma, including Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia to encourage them to use whatever leverage they may have with the Burmese Government to allow assistance teams in. We have the U.S. Ambassador for ASEAN Scot Marciel -- M-a-r-c-i-e-l -- in the region and he's working the issue. We've also been in contact with China, Japan, and India about their using whatever leverage and influence they might have with the Burmese regime.

We are working to pre-position supplies and materials for the eventuality that assistance is allowed in. We are, in that regard, working very closely with the Pacific Command of the U.S. military. We have provided overhead imagery to the Burmese Government and to the UN to assist them in damage assessment. Our people on the ground -- and you can ask Shari a little bit more about this -- at Embassy Rangoon have been working with NGOs, the donor community, UN relief agencies, and the Burmese Foreign Ministry on assistance needs.

So that's just a little bit of an update for you on what we're doing. I know it's a topic of interest. And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: What exactly – sorry -- just on the call. Is that going to be something we can use the audio for broadcast or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, yeah.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: What exactly are you saying in your conversations with the Thais, Malaysians, Indonesians, Chinese, Japanese and Indians?

MR. MCCORMACK: Very basically, use what leverage you have with the Burmese Government to allow -- to get them to allow in outside assistance teams so that they can help make assistance -- assessments so they can provide on-the-ground assistance to help out with what is very clearly a humanitarian disaster of immense scope.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding -- it's my understanding, and I want to make sure if yours, too --


QUESTION: -- that these six countries that you named --

MR. MCCORMACK: This is -- that's not an exclusive list. I just wanted --

QUESTION: No, but all of these countries, the Burmese have allowed people in from these countries. Do you understand that to be the case?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know, Matt, I don't know that's the case. I know that there are a handful of assistance workers that have been allowed in. I was just listing -- for example, the UN assistance team, a small number of them have recently been allowed in. But again, the kind of response that is needed in this case to deal with a disaster of this magnitude is going to be something much larger than currently -- then the current trend lines would demonstrate.

QUESTION: What do you make of the French Foreign Minister saying that the UN ought to consider forcing --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, I saw that, Matt. I think we would probably -- we want to understand better what Foreign Minister Kouchner is proposing. We have in the past dealt with issues related to Burma in the Security Council. Those are of a political nature. Our focus now, working with the French and others, is going to be using whatever leverage we have politically and diplomatically to have the Burmese regime make a different decision, set of decisions, than it has made up until this point.


QUESTION: What was the response from the Embassy here to your requests? And how far along are you in terms of actually securing visas? I mean, have they come back to you and said, no, you're not allowed in at all? Or they're still considering it?

MR. MCCORMACK: I'll check for you, Sue. And maybe in time for this conference call we can generate some of those answers. We haven't gotten an answer whereby the Burmese Government has said that, yes, the assistance team that is pre-positioned in Bangkok does have visas. I'm not sure that we have been told no, at this point. But at the very least, it is not the case where they have been granted visas.

QUESTION: But they have not, as far as you know, been told no? Just --

MR. MCCORMACK: Not to my knowledge, but let’s check for you. I don’t believe that we -- that they have them yet, but we’ll check for you.


QUESTION: Just to clarify something you were saying yesterday about the aid and where it was going to, in the event that this DART team cannot get in, is this aid going to be given to UN agencies directly to --

MR. MCCORMACK: NGOs and other assistance organizations.

QUESTION: Okay. And then --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know if the UN is part of that.

QUESTION: Okay. I understand that the U.S. has offered some sort of military assets to the Burmese for (inaudible) cleanup, if they want.


QUESTION: Is that something that could be given through the United Nations if they wanted to go in, if the Burmese don’t allow us to come in on our own and do it? Or --

MR. MCCORMACK: The U.S. position has not been traditionally to put U.S. military assets under UN command. There are -- you can talk to the Department of Defense for more details about the kinds of assets they either have in the area or that will shortly be in the area that could possibly be at the disposal of those coordinating disaster relief. I don’t have the specifics for you, Kirit, but there certainly are some assets there that could be used that could be helpful, we believe.

QUESTION: Right. But again, you wouldn't want that to be under UN control if they were -- if that were an option?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t believe -- you know, you can talk to the Department of Defense about their desires regarding chain of command. But I would just point to past history that that has not been the case.


QUESTION: Can you say where --

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me back up on one point.


MR. MCCORMACK: They have worked closely, of course, with the UN and other international actors in disaster relief, most recently several years ago with the disaster relief for the tsunami in Southeast Asia and South Asia. But the military, our military, worked very closely with humanitarian organizations, other governments, and I believe the UN in that case. But they, again, operated under a separate chain of command.


QUESTION: I just wondered where you are pre-positioning this material that you said -- that your -- the supplies and material --


QUESTION: You’re working to pre-position some.

MR. MCCORMACK: I can try to get you some more info on that.

QUESTION: And on the ships, I know you just said that we’d have to ask the Pentagon, but Kouchner did say that the French, British and Indian navies had ships directly opposite the worst hit areas. And I just wondered if you have any idea whether these assets that you’re talking about --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t --

QUESTION: -- those assets are close by as well.

MR. MCCORMACK: Check with -- check with DOD. But I believe they are in the area. I don’t know that we could describe them as being directly opposite the areas affected, but they’re substantial assets and it’s our belief that they could be of some assistance, some great assistance in helping relieve the humanitarian suffering that is going on in the affected areas.

QUESTION: Just one more thing on this, on the outreach to the six -- the six countries. Is that happening here or in those capitals?

MR. MCCORMACK: In the capitals as well as here.

Anything else on Burma? Michel.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the demonstrations in Lebanon and the blocks made by Hezbollah on the airport route?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I know that these demonstrations have taken place under the guise of labor demonstrations, but I believe that Hezbollah has actually linked them back to some moves that the cabinet had made. So I think that that reveals the action for what it is.

The Lebanese Government is dealing with the issue. Of course, nobody wants to see any violent confrontations occur. And I would just note that these kinds of actions serve only to hurt the interests of the Lebanese people. If you have access to the airport road cut off, that, of course, affects tourism, which is a real source of revenue for the Lebanese economy.


QUESTION: Reaction to the new Russian President’s inauguration and what you think are the chances for political and economic change?

MR. MCCORMACK: In Russia? Well, I mean --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- that’s I think really a question for, you know, pundits. You have pundits to answer in terms of what are the prospects of real change.

QUESTION: But Secretary Rice talked about the need for change and was interested in --

MR. MCCORMACK: The -- I mean, we’ll see. You know, our views are clear in terms of political change and the direction we believe that Russia should be going in. Ultimately, though, it’s the Russian Government and the Russian people who are going to have to make those decisions. But clearly, we think we have been distressed by the direction of Russian politics and the Russian -- Russia’s democracy over the course of the past several years.

In terms of their economy, I don’t -- you know, I don’t really have an assessment for you other than, for us, we would encourage it to be a place that clearly abides by the rule of law, where that is strong, where it is upheld, where businesses can make investments on a level playing field. We believe that our companies, given the opportunity, can compete with anybody in the world.

And in terms of our cooperation with the incoming Russian Government, I would expect that we would work with them as we had previous Russian governments and -- on issues of mutual concern and interest. Where there are differences, we’ll try to work through them. Where we simply agree to disagree, we’ll try to do so in a respectful manner.

QUESTION: And you say this phone call is at 1:00?


QUESTION: That’s in, like, eight minutes.

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s right. Hey, I’m willing to move as fast as you guys are.


QUESTION: Sean, Djibouti has written the UN Security Council about a -- apparently, an Eritrean military buildup on their border. Is this something you’re aware of, concerned about?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll have to check for you, Dave. I’ll see if we’ve received anything from the Djiboutian Government.

Yeah, Sue.

QUESTION: Do you have anything new on when the incentives offer will be given to the Iranians, when Solana is going to go?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing -- nothing new. I would expect that in the coming period of time. I think there are still some details that are being worked out among the P-5+1. There was an agreement announced, but, of course, subject to working out a couple of the minor details. But in the coming period of time. Once I have a better bead on the exact timing, we’ll certainly fill you in on it.

QUESTION: Is it still your sense that it will just be Solana, or will some of the other political directors go?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the form -- again, the form is one of those questions that they’ll resolve. Certainly, we won’t have a representative at any such meeting. Of course, if the Iranians decide they would like to suspend their enrichment-related activities, then, of course, we would reconsider that decision.

QUESTION: And then just on one quick related note. Iraq’s Foreign Minister said today that Iran and the U.S. should, you know, stop all this bickering and back-biting and sit down and talk.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, we have made clear in terms of the nuclear issue that we are ready to sit down with the Iranians, and they, in that forum, can bring up any issue that they want to bring up. The Iraqi Government itself has recently gone to the Iranian Government for the first time and expressed directly to them their concerns about Iranian activities in Iraq. That’s a significant step. So we – our interest is in seeing an Iraq that continues to build on the gains that it has made over the past year or so. And we would encourage Iran to play a positive role, a positive, transparent, neighborly role, in Iraq’s future. Our interest is in seeing an Iraq that is more stable, more prosperous, and integrated into the region.

Yeah. Lach.

QUESTION: The British Government has just lost a court ruling, an appeals court ruling, to keep listing the People’s Mujaheddin as a terrorist organization. Would that weigh in any way in the State Department’s own review? I understand it comes up in October?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll have to check with our lawyers, Lach. I’ll see.


QUESTION: Tajikistan. The United Nations Population Fund put out a report that seems to have been ignored by virtually everyone. There’s an epidemic of young women in Tajikistan pouring gasoline on themselves and setting themselves on fire to get out of abusive marriages. And – I have the report here. They said the conditions were better in the Soviet period when they had access to universal education, healthcare, and job opportunities and now --

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven’t seen that report. I mean, certainly, the circumstances that – the actions that you’re describing are horrifying. But I would have to look a little bit more deeply into this particular --

QUESTION: I can give --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, why don’t you hand it off to somebody over here and they can look into it.

QUESTION: A quick question on South Korea. Since they decided to reopen exports – um, imports of U.S. beef in South Korea, there have been daily rallies of up to 10,000 people protesting the decision. And I’m just wondering what is your response to the South Korean public who are saying that U.S. beef is not safe to consume and are angry at the U.S. which will be exporting it to them? And also, how will you manage this from becoming a major issue between the U.S. and South Korea?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think the best way to do that is to provide the Korean people information. U.S. beef is safe. We would encourage them to try it. I don’t know what sort of rumors there are that are out there, floating around. I would encourage people to look beyond all of those. That American consumers obviously enjoy products from America’s ranchers, and we are very proud to be able to export those around the world. It’s good and safe.


QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Colombian extradition of Carlos Mario Jimenez?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll put a statement out for you later.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:56 p.m.)

DPB # 81

Released on May 7, 2008

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