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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 9, 2008

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT

One Woman Initiative Fund for Women’s Empowerment Event / Secretary Rice
Update of Secretary Rice’s Phone Calls on a Variety of Issues

LEBANON

Secretary Rice’s Statement on the Ongoing Violence in Lebanon / Confessional Harmony
International System Offering Political and Diplomatic Support to Lebanese Government
U.S. Ongoing Assistance and Support to Government of Lebanon
Evidence of Violent Groups Linked to Syria Fanning the Flames
U.S. Working Closely with Lebanese Military / More Effective and Professional Institution
State Department Briefing on Situation in Lebanon Later Today
In Contact with American Citizens in Lebanon / Should Exercise Caution
U.S. Concerned About the Killing of Lebanese Citizens
In the Middle East There is a Divide / Syria / Iran / Hezbollah / Hamas
Lebanese Government Standing Strong / Acting on Behalf of Lebanese People
Lebanese Government Dealing Effectively with Situation on the Ground
U.S. Fully Supports Government of Lebanon

BURMA

Secretary Rice Urged All Parties to Do What They Can in Offering Assistance
Burmese Government Will Grant One C-130 Flight to Transport Humanitarian Supplies
U.S. Actively Engaged in Trying to Use Diplomacy and International Politics
Mission Is to Get Food and Assistance to Those Who Need it
Delays Compound the National Disaster / Most Significant Problem Will Change Over Time
World Prepared to Offer Assistance to Burma / International System Mobilized and Ready

INDIA

Secretary Rice’s Phone Conversation with Foreign Minister of India
Secretary’s Comments on Food Shortage /World and International System Are Changing

ZIMBABWE

U.S. in Touch with South Africans
Up to Leaders of Opposition to Come to an Understanding / Need for Support of Neighbors
Need for the Will of the People to be Expressed in Form of Government Leading Zimbabwe

COLOMBIA

Laptop Incident / Leave It to Colombian Government to Go into Detail on Matter


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

1:15 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I have a couple things to start off with here, the first of which is a Media Note we’ll put out after the briefing here, and just encourage you to make note of the fact that the Secretary is going to be having an event on Monday in the afternoon.

This is at the One Woman Initiative. It’s the Fund for Women’s Empowerment. This is something the Secretary has been deeply involved in, as you know, hosting a number of meetings. The focus on this issue and the centerpiece of this particular meeting is going to be the announcement of a public-private partnership of corporations, foundations, and the U.S. Government that will apply $100 million to projects aimed at empowering women. So we’ll put out a Media Note for you on that after the briefing.

And second, I’d like to update you on some of the phone calls the Secretary has been making on various issues this morning. She’s been quite busy. First, on Zimbabwe, she has spoken with Botswana President Khama, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Zambian President Mwanawasa, and Tanzanian President Kikwete. And she really wanted – she wanted to talk to these important leaders. Some of them are part of the SADC. Secretary General Annan, obviously, is somebody who is – plays an important role in the international system, but is – and particularly on issues related to Africa – to talk about the current situation, how they see the situation moving forward.

On Lebanon, she spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister al Faisal. She is now – I think right about now, speaking with French Foreign Minister Kouchner and also Secretary – UN Secretary General Ban. With Secretary General Ban, she also spoke with him about Burma as well. And on Lebanon, it was really to talk about the current situation, what the international system can do to support this Lebanese Government that is acting on behalf of the Lebanese people in the face of illegal acts by the armed gangs aimed at destabilizing the political situation in Lebanon.

On Burma, as you know, she yesterday spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang. I mentioned Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. And she also spoke with Indian Foreign Minister Mukherjee. Of course, part of their discussion also was about the Indian Civil Nuclear Deal, but they focused quite a bit on the issue of Burma. And the message there from the Secretary was to urge all the parties to do what they can to reach out and use whatever leverage they have with that top decision-making layer in the Burmese regime to get them to reverse the course that they have been on in terms of not allowing large scale humanitarian supplies to come into Burma, and then also, and very importantly, to allow experts who are – can offer assistance with humanitarian relief into Burma.

Then, finally, I have a statement from the Secretary, and this is on Lebanon. We’ll put out a paper version of this after the briefing, but again, this is from her:

The United States is deeply concerned about the ongoing violence in Lebanon. We condemn the use of force by illegitimate armed groups and call upon all parties to respect the rule of law. Backed by Syria and Iran, Hezbollah and its allies are killing and injuring fellow citizens, undermining the legitimate authority of the Lebanese Government and the institutions of the Lebanese state. Seeking to protect their state within a state, Hezbollah has exploited its allies and demonstrated its contempt for its fellow Lebanese. No one has the right to deprive Lebanese citizens of their political and economic freedom, their right to move freely within their country, or their sense of safety and security.

Our support for the legitimate Lebanese Government, its democratic institutions and its security services is unwavering. This support is a reflection of our unshakable commitment to the Lebanese people and their hope for democratic change, economic prosperity and confessional harmony. We will stand by the Lebanese Government and peaceful citizens of Lebanon through this crisis and provide the support they need to weather this storm. With --

QUESTION: What harmony?

MR. MCCORMACK: Confessional harmony.

QUESTION: Confessional harmony?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. What it refers to are the political arrangements between the various groupings within --

QUESTION: Sorry. Didn’t know --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- Lebanon.

QUESTION: So on Lebanon – yeah, on – the – you said that when she spoke to the Saudi, the French -- or was speaking with the French and Secretary General Ban, it was – what they were talking about was what can the international system do to help the Lebanese. And what was the answer to that question?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, fundamentally, it’s a situation that the Lebanese Government is going to need to deal with on the ground. But of course, we are offering our political and diplomatic support, as are many others in the international system, to the Lebanese Government, which is acting in the best interests of the Lebanese people. It is really worth underlining the fact that these armed gangs, in taking their actions, have killed Lebanese citizens. It is also becoming more apparent now that the linkages that we know exist and then – and are ongoing between Hezbollah and Syria and – and Iran are starting to manifest themselves in the current crisis. We are seeing, now, some evidence of those groups that are linked to Syria, that are in Lebanon right now, are taking a much more active role in fanning the flames of violence and those acts that are -- those acts that are really destabilizing the political situation in Lebanon.

QUESTION: So you're saying that Iran and particularly Syria are --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm saying, in particular, Syria -- I want to make sure we put this in the right context. We've had a lot of questions about Iran and Syria and the linkages between Hezbollah and are they playing a role in the current crisis right now.

I would say, up until this point, I haven't been able to say that. But I -- in talking to our experts who are really watching the situation on the ground quite closely, they are starting to see some evidence of those groups on the ground that have been linked in the past to Syria and are known to -- and over which the Syrian Government is known to have some influence are starting now to engage in acts that serve to really fan the flames of violence in Beirut.

Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: You said you will provide political support. Is there any intention to provide any military support to the army?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. We -- going back to this past summer, Samir, we have been working quite closely with the Lebanese military in terms of training and equipment. The programs, in terms of the kinds of assistance we provide around the world, is actually quite modest but has been important for the Lebanese military, which we believe is really a much more effective and professional institution now that serves the interests of the Lebanese people as a whole. I don't have any information for you about any recent assistance that we have provided in the context of this current crisis.

QUESTION: When you say that –

QUESTION: What about in (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any information about that, Sylvie. Again, as I said, we have an ongoing problem -- ongoing program of assistance. But I don't have any information about whether there is any uptick in the level of assistance in the context of this current political crisis.

Yeah.

QUESTION: So, just to clarify, when you said in your statement that you're going to provide support needed, you mean political and diplomatic support? You don’t mean anything --

MR. MCCORMACK: At the moment, that's what we're talking about, yeah.

QUESTION: Can you give us any idea of what evidence you're talking about, linking these -- the Syrians with the --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's really just -- it really is reporting back on the ground, as simple as seeing some of these groups that are known to have strong linkages to Damascus, and over which Damascus has some known influence, starting to engage on the ground, out in the streets, and really engaging in the kind of acts of -- or at least encouraging these acts of violence in -- that result in kind of an atmosphere of political instability.

QUESTION: I was under the impression you thought Hezbollah, as a whole, was in Syria.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, that's true in terms of the linkages. But there are -- you know, there are a variety of different groups now in Lebanon, as you know, and there are various groups, individuals that are known associates, proxies for Syria. And your -- we hadn't seen any evidence of their really engaging during this crisis. But you're starting to see more evidence now on the streets and on the ground of their starting to engage. And that's the basis for my -- you know, revising --

QUESTION: Okay. Is that --

QUESTION: -- our earlier statements. And, you know, as I said, at the beginning, we didn't see it. Now we're starting to see more of it.

QUESTION: Okay. Is that -- does that mean that your -- you guys have evidence of specific individuals who are known proxies or known associates who --

MR. MCCORMACK: Groups, individuals. What we're going to also try to do is get you guys a briefing later on with some of our -- at least one of our Lebanon experts to maybe provide a little bit more insight to you -- for you on this.

Samir.

QUESTION: Is she considering calling Prime Minister Siniora too?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll let you know if there's any other phone calls. I wouldn't -- I certainly wouldn't rule out that possibility.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you provide information at this point about any Americans killed, injured, the status of the Embassy at this point?

MR. MCCORMACK: The Embassy is working. They're obviously taking the appropriate -- the steps that they believe are appropriate to do their work in a safe environment, a safe and secure way. We're in contact with the American citizens who are in Lebanon as – partially as a result of the experience in 2006, we actually have a pretty robust Warden System and system of registration for American citizens there, so we’re in contact with them, letting them know the – how we see the situation. Of course, anybody on the outside who’s considering traveling back to Beirut should take a look at the situation on the ground. The airport is closed; you can’t actually travel from the airport in. So as always, it’s an individual decision, but I think, given the circumstances, they should really exercise an abundance of caution.

QUESTION: Are you in contact – are you trying to provide any assistance to Americans who are trying to leave the country at this point?

MR. MCCORMACK: We – again, that’s going to have to be on the individual initiative of these citizens. We’ll do what we can, but at this point, we’re not engaged in any authorized or ordered departure of our Embassy employees. So any decision for individuals to leave is going to – they’re going to have to make that on their own and find their own means to leave. But of course, we’ll do what we can. It’s one of our primary missions, to make sure that we help out American citizens as they’re traveling overseas.

Yeah.

QUESTION: You said that there’s evidence of these groups that are backed by Syria’s engaging -- evidence that they’re engaging --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- engaging in what way? Supplying weapons, supplying manpower, what?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would just – I’m not going to get into any more detail other than to see – we’ve started to see them out in the streets and engaging in the – in acts that really serve to fan the flames of instability.

QUESTION: Is it ultimately (inaudible) for Iran too, that they’re engaging on the streets? Have you seen anything --

MR. MCCORMACK: Haven’t – I can’t say – I can’t say the same thing about Iran. Charlie --

QUESTION: You can say nothing on – regarding Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. Charlie, we’ll try to get you some more information. Again, we’ll try to do a briefing with somebody who is one of our Lebanon experts.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The March 14th Group and their decision – I guess one of the main decisions behind these clashes is their challenging of the telecom system that Hezbollah is pretty much their strongest point. Does the U.S. maintain its support for the March 14th Group? Do you think they’re at an advantage point right now?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we – in the Secretary’s statement, she restated our unshakable and unswerving support for the government, and the March 14th movement is a pillar of that government as well. We are absolutely in contact with them. Our Chargé on the ground, Ambassador Sison, is in contact with a variety of individuals who are involved in the government as well as the March 14th movement.

QUESTION: And as far as – well, it seems to be Hezbollah taking control of many areas of Beirut. Is that a concern for the U.S. Government? How concerned are you about it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we’re – we are concerned, as are many others. And it’s – you know, it isn’t – you asked the question: Is the U.S. Government concerned? Yes, we are concerned, absolutely. But the real question is: Why are we concerned. And that is because in engaging in these acts, in these aggressive, violent acts, Lebanese people – Lebanese citizens have died. So these people are killing Lebanese citizens and they’re trying to, as we’ve seen before, turn back the clock on the kinds of progress, on the economic, political front that this Lebanese Government has made.

And certainly, we are going to do everything that we can in terms of political, diplomatic support that we can to support this government. And that is, in effect, supporting the Lebanese people in their desire for a different kind of Lebanon.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: I’m a little confused there. You just said that you didn’t see evidence Iranian-backed groups are trying to fan the flames, but the first time you mentioned that, actually, you said Syria and Iran starting to manifest itself. Which one is it, just to look at --

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s – sorry for the confusion. We’re looking at Syria. Yeah, we’re seeing evidence of these Syrian-backed groups.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: The March 14 leadership had a meeting and issued a statement saying the – the Hezbollah operation is paying to bring Syria back to Lebanon and Iran to the Mediterranean. What – how do you react to this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Very – very clearly, in the Middle East, there is a divide. And on one side of that divide, you see Iran, you see Syria, you see their proxies, Hamas, Hezbollah, and other violent groups. On the other side of that line, you see responsible states that have an interest in seeing a different kind of Middle East that have – support a democratic Lebanon that is able – that has a government that’s able to exercise sovereignty over all Lebanese territory. You see support for the creation of a democratic Palestinian state. You see support for a democratic Iraq now. Some of these governments themselves are not democratic, but again, they express support and manifest that support in tangible ways for a different kind of Middle East.

So we can see, if you look across the map of the Middle East today, various points where those forces for -- that aim to turn back the clock, those forces of violent extremism, those forces that have -- that call themselves resistance forces but really are engaged in sort of a deception of the resistance -- of that term, use of the term -- are trying to fight back against the spread of democracy, fight back against greater prosperity and freedom for the people in the Middle East. And that is the larger context in which these kinds of struggles like we see in the streets of Beirut take place.

Yeah.

QUESTION: What kind of evidence points to Syria when you say, you know, you’re seeing evidence of Syrian-backed groups?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: And is -- just to try to join up the dots, is Hezbollah one of these groups? You’re talking about Hezbollah groups, you know --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, not specifically Hezbollah. We know about the links between Hezbollah and Syria. But again, I can’t point to Syria pulling the string on Hezbollah in taking these actions. Like I said, I can’t be more specific than our reporting back from the ground seeing evidence of these individuals, these groups, known members of these groups, out in the streets engaged in acts of violence, engaged in acts designed to fan the flames of crisis. I can’t be any more specific than that.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: How concerned are you that you might be -- what might be happening is kind of a repeat of what happened in Gaza, in the sense that you have a – here, you have a group that has been designated a terrorist organization by yourselves and others battling -- fighting for control -- fighting against a legitimately elected --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- government or a government that you consider to be legitimately --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- elected for control of a piece of -- a piece of territory that is – that’s critical? The -- as you had with the PA, you have helped the Lebanese armed forces--

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- PA security forces in Gaza were overrun. Some of that stuff was then taken by Hamas.

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you -- are there any concerns along those lines or that you may -- at least in terms of U.S. assistance falling --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- in the hands of Hezbollah, or -- and also the larger picture --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Are there concerns that Hezbollah might take control of Lebanon?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, each of these situations are completely different in terms of the specifics of the situation, the history, so again, I don’t want to draw any linkages between Palestinian areas and Lebanon.

I would say that it -- the common -- the only commonality is one in which I tried to describe in answer to Samir’s question, in talking about the basic struggle between those forces that are interested in building up democratic governing institutions that function on behalf of the people to -- are pillars of the democratic society, part of which is providing security to the people, and those who want to rule not by the ballot box, but by the Kalashnikov. And that’s a real struggle in the Middle East today. You see that struggle in the Palestinian areas. You see that struggle in Iraq. You see that struggle in the past couple days in Beirut. So in that sense, there is that commonality. But I, again, don’t try to -- I, in no way, am going to try to draw us any linkages between the Palestinian areas and what’s going on in Beirut.

In terms of the assistance, no, I don’t -- I haven’t heard anybody express those kinds of concerns.

QUESTION: Well, aren’t you worried that the result may be the same?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again, I can’t tell you what the ultimate motivations or strategy of Hezbollah is in taking the steps that they have taken, violent steps that they’ve taken over the past several days. They very clearly wanted to destabilize the situation. They clearly wanted to provoke a confrontation with the government.

You know, again, the Lebanese Government is standing strong. They are acting on behalf of the Lebanese people. The institutions are functioning, including the military, on behalf of the -- the Lebanese people. And we have every confidence that they will be able to deal with the situation, although this is certainly a direct challenge to the Lebanese people. You know, you can see that, in that the real victims here have been, quite literally, innocents victimized by the actions of Hezbollah.

QUESTION: How are you going to stop Hezbollah, or how are the Lebanese going to stop Hezbollah if the army's going to stay out of it? And I take it --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- from your talking this morning, that the army, if it did get involved, could easily divide because they are made of different factions.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me -- but the army has undergone a number of different tests over the past year or so, certainly. And that -- each time, they have met the test put to them and functioned under the orders of the elected government and on behalf of the Lebanese people.

There was another part to your question?

QUESTION: Well, the army -- I mean, you may have (inaudible) of the river, the north -- by Tripoli, they faced down the Palestinian leader --

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. Yeah – no, no, no, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- and the Islamic militants.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: But here, we're faced -- the army -- there are Shiites in the army and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- they would be facing Hezbollah. So how can you have Shiites fight Hezbollah? And it seemed this morning, you were happy that the army stayed out of it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not going to --

QUESTION: (inaudible) stop Hezbollah --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not going to be armchair -- look, I'm not going to be an armchair general, and I would encourage others not to be armchair generals as well. The government is effectively trying to deal with the situation on the ground and they have command of the army, and they are deploying the army in ways that they think will be effective in dealing with this. I would encourage people not to second-guess the government in that regard. They are acting in -- we believe, acting in the best interest of the Lebanese people.

It's really Hezbollah, again, that is acting contrary to the interest of the Lebanese people, in fact, killing innocent Lebanese civilians. So any sort of veneer that they might have tried to portray -- tried to use in portraying themselves as a resistance movement, I think has been completely stripped away, given the actions of the past several days.

Yeah.

QUESTION: People in the Middle East are saying that the U.S., pretty much -- not forced, but encouraged the March 14th Group to take this action and are now pretty much leaving it to face the consequences. Is this true? Are you -- is the U.S. maintaining its support for the March 14th -- for the consequences that now Hezbollah is wrecking upon?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we fully support the Government of Lebanon and (inaudible) -- and the political factions in that government that are working on behalf of the Lebanese people. What you're talking about is the Lebanese states simply exercising sovereignty over the territory of Lebanon. They are acting on behalf of the Lebanese people. You have a situation with Hezbollah that is trying to act as if it is not part of the Lebanese state in terms of building (inaudible) fiber optic networks, exercising a great deal of influence over how the airport is managed and run and what comes in and what comes out. You know, quite simply, for any government that is responsible to the people that elected it, it cannot stand by and have some entity operating as if it is outside the control of the state.

Now I know that throughout Lebanese history, and this has been a particular struggle and a particular issue, but the fact is this government has steadily been working to strengthen the institutions of the state and strengthen the institutions of the government so that they can effectively govern, and govern on behalf of all of the Lebanese people. So the actions that the government took certainly were legitimate actions that any government around the world would recognize as working on behalf of the people that elected that government.

QUESTION: But by taking this action, and the clashes that ensued in the last 48 hours, is it realistic to say that there is a possibility that the March 14th group can actually come out with even less influence, less control?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I'll leave it to political pundits to, you know, do the political scorecard. We support this government. We support those in Lebanon who are fighting on behalf of democracy and the Lebanese people.

QUESTION: Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, anything else on this?

Kirit.

QUESTION: Burma, if we could switch topics?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Could you tell us a little bit more about this plane that's going on Monday, where it's going to be coming from, what it's going to have onboard? And then, if you can give us any sort of tick-tock or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- readout of how these talks went down and how you got the agreement to go in?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I guess, as I understand it, we first got word back, it was today, via the Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister, who had a conversation with our Chargé Shari Villarosa in Rangoon, who said that they would grant permission for one C-130 flight coming in, I think, on Monday. You know, our intention is to use that to transport in humanitarian supplies. I can't specify for you what exactly those will be. But we're going to make as effective use of that flight as we possibly can.

Was there anything else, Kirit?

QUESTION: I mean, did they give us any reason for why now? I mean, why -- was there any particular --

MR. MCCORMACK: No. It's an opaque decision-making process, as I've said. I think it has suffered from the fact that there's the government, then there's the layer of leadership there who really makes the decisions. I'm not sure that there's the most efficient flow of information up the chain. But it is positive that one flight has been allowed in. Quite clearly, in order to meet the humanitarian needs that exist as a result of the humanitarian disaster, there's going to be -- need to be many, many, many, many more flights that are allowed in.

I understand the World Food Program is working through some of the difficulties that it initially had in getting some of its aid in there, and they're going to resume flights. Again, what needs to happen is a massive influx of humanitarian assistance and a significant influx of humanitarian relief experts who can not only provide immediate assistance but also provide a on-the-ground assessment about what further is going to be needed. You know, every indication is that this is just a massive humanitarian disaster as a result of the cyclone hitting and some subsequent storms that have come in. So there is quite clearly an immediate, large-scale need. We are prepared to be part of that. And as I -- as you can tell from just in part getting one small window into our diplomacy through the Secretary’s calls, we are actively engaged in trying to use diplomacy, international politics, to get the Burmese regime to reverse the current course that it has been on.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Given the World Food Program’s problems with its aid being initially seized and confiscated, whatever they want to call it, how concerned are you that that will not happen to -- or that that might happen to your plane when it arrives? Have you received any assurances? You won’t -- I’m assuming you haven’t received visas yet for this team to go in. How will it be distributed? Have you worked that out?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we’re -- we’ll focus on (a) composing the flight in terms of what’s going to be on it and the humanitarian assistance. You know, it’s always a concern when you’re going into a situation where you don’t have the usual kinds of networks, distribution networks that you have in these kinds of situations. I can’t speak to the specific circumstances surrounding the World Food Program. I think that they are probably best positioned to describe those. I’m not going to -- you know, I would expect that we wouldn't see a repeat of that. But again, you know, we don’t know. If we do run into any difficulties, of course, we’re going to deal with them. The mission here is to try to get food and assistance to those who need it.

QUESTION: And what’s the distribution mechanism (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, normally, when you -- I mean, the distribution mechanism on the ground right now?

QUESTION: For Monday (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: For Monday. I won’t try to speak to that, Kirit. I can’t give you the details on it.

Okay. Anything else on Burma?

QUESTION: Yeah. Actually, that was my question. At this point, you don’t know who’s going to distribute the aid that you’re going to --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don’t. We’ll -- again, we have been pretty good at trying to get you the details of who’s doing what, and we’ll try to -- Gonzo, we should probably try to do a briefing on Monday, update from AID about what we’re doing.

QUESTION: And is there any update then on the visas other than that they still haven’t been granted --

MR. MCCORMACK: Still working it. Still working the issue.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Was there -- and there was no -- was there any rationale given for Monday as opposed to, like, immediately or tomorrow?

MR. MCCORMACK: Don’t have any insight to that.

Yeah. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Do you have a sense about what each day’s delay in getting aid in means in terms of the impact on the people here?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can’t quantify it for you in terms of numbers. But quite clearly, the -- the delay and the human component of this compounds the natural disaster. So you know, clearly, as you have every tick of the clock that goes by without aid flowing in, without the assistance from experts who really know how to address these kinds of situations, you compound the humanitarian crisis, you compound the human misery, you compound the possibility of people losing their lives as a result of the natural disaster.

QUESTION: What’s the best estimate now of what the death toll may be?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have a good estimate for you. I know that there are a range of estimates. But I think it stands to reason that with each passing day that you don’t have this kind of assistance and a massive effort to address what is a clear humanitarian disaster, that that toll is going to rise, although I can’t offer you an estimate.

QUESTION: What is the biggest problem, though? Is it hunger? Is it disease? Is it -- well, what is --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it -- you know, I’m not an expert in these things, but I think the people who deal with these kinds of humanitarian crises will tell you that it -- the nature of the most significant problem will change over time. Certainly, you know, hunger is a problem, lack of shelter. And then over time, in part because of those factors as well as others, disease can be an issue. But again, we’re not on the ground. We don’t have international groups on the ground. We don’t have good reporting out of Burma right now. So I can’t tell you what is currently, today, the biggest problem and even a week from now what is going to be the biggest issue.

QUESTION: Sean?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: Just to follow, it’s been one week, and according to press reports and other experts, over 100,000 people have died in Burma and also millions are living in or sleeping in water. And many countries, including the U.S., are not allowed. So don’t you think that some way, somehow, international diplomacy have failed? And what can you insert in the future something like this to save the millions of victims or human beings?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Goyal, I think we just spent a long time, not only today but also in the past couple days, talking about not only our response but the response of the international system. Clearly, we’re prepared, we’re ready to offer massive assistance. The world is ready to prepare -- is prepared to offer massive assistance that we believe is needed given what we know about the scope of the disaster.

It is -- the issue to this point has been the decision of the Burmese regime not to allow in this large-scale assistance. We’re doing everything that we possibly can -- the United States -- but importantly, the entire international system is mobilized now to do what it can to convince the Burmese regime to change its decision.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Two questions. Why is this flight not going until Monday and why only one plane? This was both mandated by the government to you?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. That’s what we were told. One flight Monday. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. And then do you have any indication that they’re -- that they may allow more in? And was there anything more on that or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Don’t know. Certainly, our hope is that regardless of whose airplane it is or, you know, who provides the material that’s -- the humanitarian assistance that’s in the airplane, that you get more assistance in.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Did she meet with the Deputy Foreign Minister in person?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. I’m happy to track -- try to track down that detail for you.

QUESTION: Well, then the other thing is -- did she -- does -- is the Deputy Foreign Minister aware that there is a lot more out there that could come in, and did she also make the case to him again about the visas for the DART team?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know specifically in that conversation whether or not she did. It has been a repeated talking point for us with Burmese officials, so they clearly have --

QUESTION: But you -- you’ve told them that there is X amount out there which is a lot -- a lot more than one planeload, right? And they said okay just to one?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, Matt, I don’t know that we have specified – you know, while we – you know, that we have, for example, 50 or 60 or whatever planes ready to go, however many it is. I feel comfortable in saying, however, that the – certainly, the people with whom we interact in the Burmese regime have an understanding of the readiness, not only of the United States, but of the entire world to respond to the humanitarian disaster and the scope of the kinds of assistance that we – and when I say we, the international system is prepared to provide.

QUESTION: On India?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.

QUESTION: Sean, can you talk a little bit more about the Secretary’s call with the Indian Foreign Minister, Mr. Mukherjee, and also – on the nuclear deal? And also, there is some kind of confusion or misunderstanding among the people in India and also in parliament, especially the Lefts, that comments made by the Secretary last week about the middle class rising in India and because of the food – the rise of food around the globe is blamed on the Indians, that they’re doing better, eating better or there – people are angry in India, from these comments from the United States.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in terms of the phone call, Goyal, I’ve described it in the terms that I’m going to describe it. I’ve seen the press reports, certainly, about this particular reaction. And certainly, nobody in the U.S. is trying to single out a government or – nobody in the United States is expressing the sentiment that – that it is not a good thing that, you know, there is greater calorie intake among more people around the world than ever before. That is a positive thing.

I think the statement just gets to the basic fact that the world and the international system is changing. And the fact that you have greater economic prosperity around the world, whether it’s in India or China or elsewhere around the world, and as a result, there are – there are different standards of living, a positive sense, that is good for the international system. That really speaks to some of the goals of – that were expressed at the inception of the current international financial, economic, and political system when you look back to the immediate post-war period in ’46, ’47, ’48. It’s a positive thing.

So again, I’m not sure how – what prism people are viewing the remarks through, but I would encourage them to not look at them in a way that is intended to single out, in a negative fashion, the people of India or anybody else around the world.

Yeah, Matt.

QUESTION: Change in subject to Zimbabwe. Why this sudden flurry of calls on Zimbabwe? Does it have to do with President Mbeki’s visit and if it does, why didn’t she call him?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there’s – we’re in touch with the South Africans, but we’re – I know that there is quite a bit of activity and a lot of discussion among the SADC countries, as well as within Zimbabwe, about how – how to move forward, what are the appropriate next steps.

Fundamentally, it’s going to be up to the opposition parties, the leaders of the opposition party in coming to some understanding of how they would like to proceed. There are a variety of different options out there, but fundamentally, they’re going to have to decide. Whatever the decision is about how to move forward, it’s going to need the support and encouragement of neighboring countries, SADC countries, as well as others in the international system, us and other interested parties, the U.K. – you can go down the – you can go down the list.

So the Secretary and Jendayi just thought it was the right time to engage at a high level to get a sense for – from leaders in the region who really have some deep insights into the situation and how it might go forward -- as to what the situation is, how they saw it, and how they were thinking about it – might move forward.

Yeah, yes.

QUESTION: Was – is there any response at all today to the article in the Wall Street Journal saying that ties between Venezuela and FARC may be more extensive than at least were publicly known previously?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I saw the article and there’s been a lot of reporting about this and I think we’ve talked a little bit about it, even over the past months. And clearly, if there are such ties, that should be of deep concern to the region as well as the international system. I will leave it to the Colombian Government to talk at the moment in any more depth about what they have learned through their analysis of the contents of the laptop and other information that they may have gleaned. They were – I know that they were working quite closely with Interpol to make sure that they were confident in the provenance of the information that they were looking at and how that fit together with all their various other sources of information they have.

So I'm sure, at a certain point, we'll all be talking a lot more about this. But I think it's really only appropriate to allow the Colombian Government, at this point in time, to go into any more depth about the issue if they choose to do so.

QUESTION: Will the Secretary continue to support the trade agreement with Colombia in the meantime?

MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Until the authenticity of the files are --

MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely. Again, I -- and when I was talking about the provenance, the validity, and -- being able to confirm the provenance of the file, I don't think anybody -- I haven't heard one word uttered questioning it at this point. It's just that when you're going through and doing a careful analysis, you want to make sure you know what you know and you know where it came from. But I haven't heard any discussion that -- in any way that there was anything suspicious about the provenance of the files, I guess is the way to put it.

Yeah. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can I just make a follow-up on this question in Zimbabwe?

MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Was the Secretary, in particular, as it is now clear that Zimbabweans are not going to have a runoff because of the situation there, the violence, arrest of lawyers, journalists, the killing of opposition supporters, are you worried that we are likely to have in Zimbabwe a leader who is going to rule for another year without a mandate?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think everybody's concern is that the will of the people is expressed in the form of the government that leads Zimbabwe. That is -- that's the fundamental question at issue right now. And I'm not going to dismiss any particular possible means to achieve that outcome, you know, other than to add, as we always do, that violence serves nobody's purposes. So it's going to fundamentally going to be up to the, you know, opposition to take a look at what are the best options for moving the political process forward. And of course, they will be consulting very closely with neighboring states, other leaders that might have some influence over the situation.

QUESTION: Was there any reason why you couldn't speak directly with a mediator in that situation in Zimbabwe this morning?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I -- perhaps -- you know, I don't have any particular -- particular reason. She wanted to get a sense from these leaders -- you can see they're a pretty high-level group of people -- as to their insights into the current situation.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: To follow on the Venezuela question, actually. Those files in the laptop were passed onto the U.S. for their own analysis. Has there been any conclusion in that? Do you have any sort of --

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not going to -- I'm not going to get out ahead of the Colombia Government.

QUESTION: Sean, quick on Nepal, please. Sean, now the terrorist organization which is on the U.S. State Department's terrorist list and a part of the Nepali Government and now they are politicians or political party. And they're asking the State Department to be off the list of the terror list. I mean, do you have any comments that -- or terrorist organizations are now becoming politicians or part of the governments? And are you now prepared to take them off the terrorist list?

MR. MCCORMACK: We'll get back to you with something, Goyal.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:58 p.m.)

DPB # 83



Released on May 9, 2008

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