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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 13, 2008



Relief Efforts / Efforts to Work with NGOs to Find Out if Aid is Getting to Affected Areas
Comparisons to DPRK Food Aid Situation / Completely Different Situations


Food Aid in DPRK / Improvement of Monitoring Mechanism
Reports of an Agreement on Food Aid / No Final Decision


Extradition of 14 Former Paramilitary Leaders / Indication of Strong Relationship
Mechanisms to Allow Information To Flow Back / Wide Airing of Information


U.S. Not Meeting with Iranian Interlocutors / Proposal to Iran / Delivery Mechanism
Iranian Proposal / Iran Knows What the Requirements Are / Not Close Thus Far
Incentives Package Delivery


Chinese Government Has Said It Will Accept Donations / U.S. Initial Contribution
American Diplomatic Personnel Accounted For / Consulate in Chengdu Open
Reports of Missing Americans in a Panda Sanctuary
Offer to the Chinese for Search and Rescue Assistance / Monetary Assistance Most Useful


Bombings in Jaipur / U.S. Condemnation
Quite Clearly an Act Designed to Take Innocent Lives


Lawsuit by U.S. Victims of Attacks in Israel
President’s Travel to Israel to Commemorate 60th Anniversary / Possible Substantive Talks


American Vietnamese Political Activist Sentenced to Jail in Hanoi


Questioning of Several Chiefs of Mission by Zimbabwean Police / Harassment
Indicative of the Atmosphere in Zimbabwe Right Now / Life for Zimbabwean Citizens
Not Productive to Have U.S. Government Monitors / Origin of Monitors in Question


Friends of Lebanon Statement / Support for Government / Continuing Program Assistance
Performance of Lebanese Military / Tough Situation / Progress of Military
Issued Statement a Good, Strong, Solid Statement / No Lack of Condemnation of Hezbollah


Rewards for Justice / Reports that Al-Masri Was Dropped From List / No Information
Generally, These Decision are Made to Find the Most Effective Way to Address Threats


View Video

12:43 p.m. EDT

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

QUESTION: Sean, do you know if your people who are in Bangkok have yet – have gotten reports from the NGOs in the field about whether the food aid that arrived or that you guys sent actually got to the intended recipients?

MR. MCCORMACK: Hadn’t heard, hadn’t heard. I know that we’re going to try to, as best we can, cobble together a feedback group to – so that we can understand, as you said, whether that aid that is entering into Rangoon is making it down to distribution points in the affected areas. And what we were hoping to do is work with NGOs to try to get an idea roughly -- you’re never going to get a precise accounting of it, but roughly whether or not the food that we are sending in is making it down to affected areas. I don’t have feedback from our guys yet. Be happy to, once we have an assessment, you know, a large enough sample size to make an assessment, provide that.

QUESTION: Okay. You’re aware of the reports that not all --


QUESTION: -- things are getting to where they should be going and that --


QUESTION: -- in some cases, that spoiled goods are being given to civilians and the military --

MR. MCCORMACK: I know. I’ve seen all the various reports. At this point, I’m not going to offer any particular comment until we have, as I said, some reliable information or information that we can consider reliable, and that we have enough of a sample size there to assure ourselves that either things are working or things aren’t working or somewhere in between.

QUESTION: Well, I’m – the reason I’m asking this is because of the – it’s somewhat related to the idea of distribution of food aid to North Korea, to where you’ve made this distribution and ensuring that it gets to the people a precondition for that aid. Why not – why wasn’t that the case with Burma?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you’re – well, you’re dealing with, first of all, a natural disaster in Burma. You have a quick reaction --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- down there. In North Korea, it has been an ongoing problem. It is not just us that has had concerns in that regard, but others; the World Food Program, for instance, did. Now, all of that said, we actually did have some very good conversations. The team that went to North Korea had some good conversations about North – what North Korea believed it needed in terms of humanitarian assistance and how we might go about improving the monitoring mechanism for the distribution of that food. That, as you pointed out, was really sort of the biggest hangup that we had in the past.

We have, to a large degree, been able to work through what we – or come up with what we believe could be a better monitoring mechanism for the food. So we’re now taking a close look at what the needs are, what our capabilities to help fill that need might be, as well as, you know, seeing if everybody is comfortable throughout the U.S. Government with the kinds of monitoring mechanisms that would be put in place. I don’t have an announcement today.

QUESTION: Right. So it’s a question of urgency? Is that what you’re saying? Because some would argue --


QUESTION: -- that the situation in North Korea is urgent and has been --


QUESTION: -- for some time.

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Look, they are completely different situations, Matt, just totally and completely different situations. With North Korea, you have a long history of dealing with this issue. And while we have made attempts to work – you know, work through it and come up with a better monitoring mechanism, it isn’t really up until the current day that we think that we are on the verge of coming up with a monitoring mechanism that is much better. In Burma, you have something that came upon the world in Burma quite suddenly, and you’re doing what you can to try to remediate what is a terrible, terrible situation.

You know, I’m sure that we will all have an opportunity in the future to do after-action reports and to think about how to improve responses. Up until this point, the real obstacle has been the regime.


QUESTION: So the news reports that you’ve agreed on 500,000 tons of food aid are wrong? Is that what you’re saying, that you haven’t reached a deal yet?

MR. MCCORMACK: What I’m saying is I don’t have any announcements for you today. No final decisions have been made. But we did have a good set of – the information that the team brought back was fed into our decision-making process, one which is really almost constantly ongoing, where you’re looking at the need, the capability, and then, as we just talked about, the need for robust monitoring mechanisms.

QUESTION: Would you say you’re leaning sort of more towards sending that food aid?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we had some good discussions. We’ll probably have some announcements for you in the coming days, but nothing for you today.

QUESTION: Because last week, you said they were inconclusive, so --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, and we had a long discussion about that. Just because it was inconclusive, we didn’t have the information back from the teams, so I couldn’t offer you an assessment of their discussions there. They’ve had the opportunity to come back, report. People have had a chance to digest that information, analyze it. And we’re working on, now, a proposal for food aid to address the humanitarian need in North Korea.

QUESTION: So would you say, in principle, you’ve agreed to it?

MR. MCCORMACK: What I’d say, in principle, is we don’t have an announcement till we have an announcement and there’s no announcement today.

Yeah. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: On Colombia and about extradition on --

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Anything else on – hold on a second – anything else on North Korea food aid?

QUESTION: An aid question for China or is that --

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s totally separate.

QUESTION: Another subject.

MR. MCCORMACK: That is as we would say, only tangentially, both regionally and topic-wise related.

Yes. Colombia.

QUESTION: Yeah. On Colombia and about extradition of 14 paramilitary leaders that happened this morning, there is a concern about what’s going to happen with the victims and their crimes. Probably they’re going to be an impunity. What’s your opinion about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, I think it’s – the extradition of the 14 former paramilitary leaders is an indication of the strong relationship between the United States and Colombia and also demonstrates the Colombian Government’s commitment to the following through on the justice and peace process. There are mechanisms in our bilateral arrangements which will allow for information to flow back to Colombia in response to questions posed.

And I would expect and I’ll – let me state upfront, the Department of Justice is going to talk about any judicial procedures or processes. But I would expect if there are judicial processes and procedures, that there would also be a wide airing of the kinds of information that not only we, but the citizens of Colombia and specifically those who had friends or family members victimized by these paramilitaries, would be able – would have access to.


QUESTION: Different topic? Iran says it’s going to put forward its own proposals --


QUESTION: -- to resolve this little nuclear dispute.


QUESTION: I just wondered what your views were on Iran coming up with its own ideas. Do you think that it would have merit -- that their proposals would have merit?

And then secondly –


QUESTION: -- when are you going to – or when is the P-4+1 going to do that --

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing for you.

QUESTION: -- excluding you?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Nothing for you.

QUESTION: They’ll deliver it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, we’re – I know people like to make a lot of the fact that, you know, we – we’re not going to send our political director to Tehran or elsewhere to meet with Iranian interlocutors concerning the proposal that’s been on the table. I think that distracts from the fundamentally sound offer which is on the table for the Iranians and now has been refreshed and will be presented to them again in the not-too-distant future.

Now, as for the delivery mechanisms and – those will be worked out. But frankly, that is – those are just minor protocolary niceties at the --

QUESTION: What was the word?

MR. MCCORMACK: -- protocolary niceties at this point.

QUESTION: Is that a real word?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it is. Check it out.

QUESTION: Well, I will.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. It’s – yeah. Matt, very often, I know you have to refer to the dictionary for the big words we use at the briefing here. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Anything that, you know, gets beyond the three, four-letter limit. You know --

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: So look, we’re working through all of those. And in terms of the Iranian proposal, they know what the requirements are. It’s been clearly stated in Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors statements and resolutions. So they know what – they know what the bar is. Thus far, they have not even come close to getting over the bar, but we will –we shall see.

QUESTION: So you don’t have -- hold out much hope for this? You think it’s going to be –

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll see. Given the track record, if they continue on the trend and pathway that they have been on, I don’t think anybody is going to hold their breath. But one, again, would hope that they decide to change course in the face of mounting cost to Iran for its behavior that is clearly outside the lines of acceptable behavior in the international system as defined by three Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: So you haven’t set a date for the delivery of the refreshed packaged?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think – I would expect it’s going to be soon. I don’t know. I haven’t checked this morning, but I’m not aware that anybody has agreed upon a date on the calendar.

QUESTION: So have you agreed upon the text of what the letter and the – whatever’s going to accompany it – and the --

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, we’ll – in the fullness of time, when all of this gets delivered, we will talk about all of these various topics in detail. At the moment, I don’t have anything new for you.


QUESTION: Time is getting pretty full on this. I mean, you can’t say anything about what exactly is the delay, and is Iran refusing to receive –

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no.

QUESTION: -- a delegation that doesn’t include the U.S.?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. We’re still dotting some Is and crossing some Ts among the P-5+1.

Yeah. Gollust back there.

QUESTION: Well my question – Libby seemed to start asking about the state of play with China –


QUESTION: on U.S. earthquake aid. Could you --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right now, the Chinese Government has said it will accept donations. And I believe that they have specified monetary donations, and we have approved a $500,000 initial donation. The Embassy came back to Washington with that request. It has been approved. So I would expect that that is going to be delivered very soon. I understand also that the Red – International Red Cross is going to be putting out a call for donations. We’ll, of course, take a look to see what we can do to help with what is very clearly a very difficult situation for the Chinese Government and the Chinese people as they deal with this natural disaster.

Again, from our point of view and our folks, our people are accounted for. Our consulate in Chengdu is up and working and appears that, at least through visible inspection, hasn’t suffered any damage. And we’re continuing to work with people on the ground there as well as anybody who has an interest in welfare and whereabouts of friends or loved ones.


QUESTION: There has been reports of some Americans who are in a panda sanctuary somewhere out there and they can’t be found. Do you have any information --


QUESTION: -- about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the – I think the responsible Chinese ministry has said that they are okay and accounted for. We haven’t had any direct contact with them, though.


MR. MCCORMACK: So I can’t based on our direct contact or experience with them, I can’t say that they’re okay, but we have heard they are okay.

QUESTION: And then the other question was, you had said, I think, yesterday, that the U.S. is considering or making ready certain teams to go in for search and rescue and so on. Do you know any news on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. The offer still stands. Thus far, the Chinese haven’t put in a request for those – that kind of assistance. And, you know, having, back during Katrina, been on the receiving end of those kinds of offers, very oftentimes, you know, offers of monetary assistance are really the things that are most useful during these initial periods.


QUESTION: On India, Sean, do you have anything on these – apparently, there were a number of bombings earlier today there.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we’re still collecting some information about this. But, you know, given the facts that we know now, quite clearly, these bombs were intended to claim innocent life, and it’s something that we very clearly condemn. I don’t – I can’t offer you any more insight as to who might be responsible or who the victims were. I don’t have any news reports of American citizens being affected by this, but again, as the situation develops and we get a little bit more information, we’ll probably have a more full statement out this afternoon about it.

QUESTION: Can you rule out whether it was al-Qaida or not?

MR. MCCORMACK: Don’t know. I mean, it was – as I understand it, based on the reports that we have, is five or six bombs set off, timed to go off in a compressed period of time, either in sequence or at the same time; quite clearly, an act designed to take innocent lives.

QUESTION: Can I go back to China for just a second?


QUESTION: 500,000 is for who?

MR. MCCORMACK: Disaster – it’s disaster relief. It goes to the NGOs working on disaster relief.

QUESTION: That’s what the Chinese have asked for? They’ve asked for cash donations to NGOs or they’ve asked --


QUESTION: -- for the money to go to them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, I think it goes through NGOs. I can’t tell you exactly what the end use is for, Matt, but it’s humanitarian assistance. I can’t tell you whether it’s for food or tarps or plastic sheeting or water, that sort of thing.

QUESTION: But it goes to NGOs?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it goes through NGOs.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: Yes. Sean, U.S. victims of attacks in Israel and their families are suing Swiss bank UBS for $500 million alleging it financed terrorism by doing business with Iran. Do you have anything on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t, Michel. Let me check for you. You know, when – you know, our, obviously, sentiments are to make sure that victims of terrorism are able to, in a fair way, address their claims. But I want to tread carefully whenever you have legal issues involved, so let me check on that.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that American Vietnamese political activist who was sentenced to six months in jail today in Hanoi? And he was accused of terrorism. He’s being allowed to come home, but I wondered whether you had any comment (a), on the sentence and (b), whether – and the charges of terrorism against him.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me understand the facts of the case a little bit better before I offer comment.


QUESTION: Do you have anything on this incident in Zimbabwe between the diplomatic convoy with the U.S. Ambassador and the police in --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I guess there were – let me get the list here and get this right. There were several chiefs of mission. Our chief of mission, Ambassador James McGee, chiefs of mission from the U.K, EU and Japan and officials from Netherlands and Tanzanian missions were questioned for about 45 minutes today by Zimbabwean security forces outside – at a roadblock outside of Harare. Now, this was, I believe, also after they were – they had visited a hospital. They were delayed from leaving the hospital grounds. They were questioned as to what they were doing there.

In neither of these cases were any of the individuals physically harmed. Nothing was confiscated. And their travel after the roadblock, which was the second of the two incidences – incidents continued uninterrupted. I don’t know if -- you know, the Ambassador will follow up as he sees appropriate with the Zimbabwean Government, but it’s indicative of the kind of atmosphere that is -- that exists in Zimbabwe right now. If you have foreign diplomats accredited to Zimbabwe who are facing this kind of treatment, you know, you can only imagine for Zimbabwean citizens what life is like if they make an effort to speak up and voice their opinions. So again, it’s indicative of the kind of atmosphere that exists in Zimbabwe right now.

QUESTION: Do you see it as a form of harassment?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think I’d want to talk to Ambassador McGee a little bit more closely, but you know, yeah, I guess it is harassment. You know, I don’t know how he felt, but if -- by definition, if on two occasions you’re held up for, you know, nearly two hours and questioned about what you’re doing by security officials, then yeah, that’s harassment, sure.

QUESTION: And on a related matter, the Zimbabwean Government has said it will only accept -- it will not accept international monitors from countries that have imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe and only if those sanctions are lifted will international monitors from those nations be allowed in. I wonder whether you had -- is this something that you might consider, you know, lifting sanctions so that your monitors --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t think --

QUESTION: -- can go in?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it’s our view that probably beyond our Embassy officials, I’m not sure that it would be productive to have U.S. Government monitors there. Now, the question of from where monitors should come is an open one right now. We would push for more openness to more countries and more monitors as our default position. It’s something that we are talking very closely with the SADC countries that are, you know, effectively in the lead on this, as well as with the UN, who is also going to play an important role in generating monitors on the ground there.

So you know, our default position is that there shouldn’t be any restrictions in terms of nationality or geography regarding the monitors. But again, we’re working with the SADC and the UN on this.


QUESTION: On the Secretary’s last trip to Israel and West Bank, she talked a good bit about the importance of lifting roadblocks and checkpoints that actually mean something --


QUESTION: The qualitative --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, qualitative measure (inaudible).

QUESTION: Can you update us on the status of that, you know, review and whether she’s going to take up the same question on this trip that -- for which she leaves today?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll she’s traveling with the President --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- and so she’s part of the President’s party. You know, I don’t --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m -- I don’t know if she’s going to have any side meetings or not. But the President’s travel to Israel is not intended -- it’s intended to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary. Now, I would suspect that along the way there would be substantive discussions, but you know, I’m -- the White House will handle description of those discussions.

As to the review of the roadblocks, I haven’t talked to Will Fraser recently. Maybe we can try to generate something for you guys. I don’t have an assessment.

QUESTION: On that, do you know anything about a Canadian aide to General Dayton going down to Gaza and meeting with Hamas?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don’t.

Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you issued the statement on the Friends of Lebanon.


QUESTION: How is this -- these commitments and the statement going to translate on the ground in Lebanon?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what specifically are you referring to, Samir?

QUESTION: I mean, like how are you going to strengthen the government and allow the army to play a different role?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, those are, at the end of the day, going to be decisions that the Lebanese Government takes in terms of how it addresses the current situation. We have supported -- we and the Friends of Lebanon have supported this government diplomatically and politically. We’ll continue to do so. As I said, we have had a continuing program of military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces. I think that’s been valuable in terms of the capabilities of those armed forces, not only training but in terms of material. That continues. I know others have programs of cooperation. So there are a lot of different ways that we can continue to support Lebanon, and I don’t have anything more specific to offer you at this point, though.

QUESTION: Anything from the Security Council? Any action through Security Council?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I know that it was a topic of discussion among members of the Security Council.

QUESTION: On military aid, the President’s interview with Al Arabiya yesterday said he was not satisfied, fully satisfied, with the performance of the Lebanese army. How can you, at this point, assure taxpayers that the aid has been well spent? And he appeared to be indicating -- you know, hinting that there may be a request soon for more aid. How -- how will that money be better spent if their performance wasn’t up to snuff in this go-round?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think you just look back at the qualitative measures and their performance up in the camps in -- around Tripoli, down in Nahar al-Bared, the performance was outstanding. Again, I’m not going to --

QUESTION: That didn’t threaten the U.S.-backed government in Beirut, however.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it’s -- look, you know, I’m not going to offer an assessment of their performance from here. I think that the Lebanese Government has used them in ways that they thought benefitted the best interests of the Lebanese people. And it’s a very tough situation. But it’s an organization that has made progress in terms of its capabilities over the past several years. It used to be the case that this was a military that could not help exercise sovereignty throughout all of Lebanon. Now, there are still issues with respect to that and control of borders and other things. And quite clearly, the -- Hezbollah’s illegal activities and violent activities posed a challenge not only to the institutions of the government, but also to the military. They are responding to it. Our job is to do what we can to help them respond to it.


QUESTION: You said that the Military Assistance Program is continuing.


QUESTION: Would you – and would you consider stepping up this program?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have anything to announce in that regard today.

QUESTION: Sean, on the conference call, what – how long did it go?

MR. MCCORMACK: Wasn’t a long time. I don’t have a – you know --

QUESTION: I understand it was something like 4:11. It was supposed to start at 2:00. It couldn’t have started on time. It wasn’t two and half --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. I think it was like 45 minutes or an hour.

QUESTION: 45 minutes?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, you had a lot of – and as I went through --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- yesterday, a lot of participants. So --


MR. MCCORMACK: – and their ministers, so –


MR. MCCORMACK: -- all like to talk and --

QUESTION: Right. So, is – how come it took about -- almost four hours for the statement to come out?

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s – Matt for a multilateral statement, that is record time, man.

QUESTION: Yeah. It is? Then how come that’s --

MR. MCCORMACK: Absolutely. That is light speed.

QUESTION: How come that statement doesn’t have the word “Hezbollah” in it?

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, this is – look, it’s an agreed-upon statement. You know, we don’t write them ourselves. If we wrote them ourselves, it would come out a little bit differently. That said, we think it’s a good, strong, solid statement.

QUESTION: It seems an awful lot like the Arab League statement from –

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look – hey, look at what Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said today, concerning Lebanon. I think that’s a very strong statement. So there’s no lack of condemnation of what Hezbollah has done. Everybody understands that their acts were illegal acts that resulted in the deaths of innocent Lebanese. So they have demonstrated a willingness to kill the citizens of their own country, which is certainly a tragedy for Lebanon and all the more reason why the world is rallying to the support of this government.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: I have a question regarding Rewards for Justice. There was an interesting report this morning in US News & World Report that al-Masri, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq was dropped quietly from the list. He had a $5 million reward for him – he was then added to a DOD list at only a $100,000 reward. Can you explain why he was dropped from this list?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, there – these things always involve a lot of discussion and it happens from time to time, you know, to – essentially, you have people making judgments that doing that will actually be more effective in helping get -- either dealing with or getting our hands on this individual. So I can’t – I don’t want to go into it any more than that. But essentially, people on the ground think that these actions will actually help them in what they’re doing to address the security threat posed by these kinds of individuals.

QUESTION: Is that indicative of you seeing his influence in Iraq waning? Do you see him as not as important? Is that --

MR. MCCORMACK: Kirit, you know, to try to open up this any more and walk through it really defeats the purpose of taking the steps that they did. I would – I would say only that this is – these types of things, and I don’t have specific information on this case, but in general, I know – I’ve been aware of previous cases where this was considered – that there’s a lot of input from people on the ground before those kinds of decisions are taken.

QUESTION: Okay. And I guess that that was my question, was whether this was a decision that was made at the behest of somebody in Iraq or –

MR. MCCORMACK: I can’t tell you the originator of the idea. But I know for a fact in these cases that the folks on the ground have heavy input.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: Sean, after what happened in Beirut, have you sent any message, any clear message to Syria and Iran to stop interfering in Lebanon?

MR. MCCORMACK: I try to do it almost every single day from here. I don’t think it --

QUESTION: (inaudible) the statements.

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware of any direct communication that we’ve had, certainly, with the Iranians.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)

DPB # 85

Released on May 13, 2008

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