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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 5, 2008

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT

Death of Mexico’s Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño Terrazo
Transition Team Update / Briefing Books for Incoming Transition Team
First Things on the Agenda for New Secretary of State

RUSSIA

Remarks Made by President Medvedev
Russia’s Action is Disappointing / Missile Defense System Not Aimed at Russia
U.S. is Open to Talk with Russians
U.S. Has Gone the Extra Mile to Meet Russian Concerns to Missile Defense

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. Military Takes Greatest Care that Innocent Lives are Not Lost
U.S. is Still Reviewing Efforts in Afghanistan

MIDDLE EAST

Quartet Meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh
Common Interest, Common View / U.S. View on Russia Has Not Changed
Parties in Region Want Participation of U.S. in the Process
Secretary Rice Has Not Changed Her View on How Process Should Work
Core Goal of Annapolis Process was to Get a Deal
U.S. Focused on Moving Process Forward In a Responsible Way
U.S. Expects an Assessment That Reflects Where the Process Stands

IRAQ

SOFA Still Being Worked On
Ambassador Crocker Will Convey Agreement / All Issues Being Taken Seriously
U.S. Formulating Responses to Iraqis

INDIA

Issue of U.S. – India Civil Nuclear Agreement


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video 

11:48 a.m. EST

QUESTION: Take two.

MR. MCCORMACK: I was just going say, “State Department briefing take two.” 

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: The State Department briefing lounge is closed. We’re now to the briefing. Let me start again with one statement, then we can talk a little bit about the transition stuff, then get into your questions. I want to read a statement. This is from me. This is regarding the death of Mexico’s Interior Minister.

We were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño Terrazo and his colleagues in a plane crash on November 4th. Our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of all of those who died in the crash. Secretary Mouriño was a valiant leader in our common war against drug trafficking and organized crime. He’ll be greatly missed by colleagues and friends in the United States.

And just on the transition, a transition note. Folks from our transition team went down to the transition space here on the first floor of the State Department, about 5,300 square foot – square feet, just to make sure the phones, lights, computers, and everything else were in good working order so whenever the incoming team is ready to move in, we are ready to accommodate them. We have 24 people working full-time on the transition. These people are going to work to help with everything from security clearances to legal and human resources paperwork, make sure that everything that they need is done for them. There are also countless other people throughout the building who are going to be helping out, producing papers, briefing books, giving oral briefings upon request. 

I brought down a few of the briefing books that we have prepared for the incoming transition team. This one here, State Department Operations, this is the budget book; very important for the incoming team. We have here the Looking Ahead, which is essentially all the important dates that the next Secretary of State and his or her staff are going to have to deal with, everything from APEC summits to NATO ministerials to other scheduled meetings. This is – that’s so they can start to get a handle on planning out their calendar. 

We have here – this is the Management Overview book, and it’s just – it’s basically organized by the Under Secretaries as well as the various other bureaus that are underneath it. It gives the incoming Secretary and his or her staff an idea of how the Department is organized, and just an overview of how the State Department is organized. And then we also have some overview papers. Again, this follows the same sort of structure as the Management Overview book. This just starts to get into kind of – into some of the substantive issues that each of the bureaus is dealing with. This is the only one of the four that we have thus far that is classified. Obviously, there are going to be others produced along the way that are classified. 

And with that, I’m happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Do you want to peek inside the Looking Ahead book and tell us what the first thing is that is on the agenda for the next Secretary of State, unless it’s --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it’s not dictating the agenda. It --

QUESTION: No, I know. But the first meeting after January 20th, after --

MR. MCCORMACK: The first? Let’s see, January 2009, what do we have? What do we have listed here? The first international event, here we have the World Economic Forum listed, Iraqi provincial elections. We have a PEPFAR report. Obviously the State of the Union, that is to be scheduled. So those are the kind of – those are the kinds of things that are listed in here.

Again, that doesn't mean – for example, World Economic Forum, that doesn't mean the next Secretary or his staff, is going to be participating in it, but those are the kinds of things that are out there.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yes, I have two questions. Interfax News Agency, Russia. Who would be the head of the transitional team on the side of President-elect? Do you know about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t. You’ll – and as a general operating matter, I’m happy to answer questions that I can about what the career professionals and other staff here at the State Department are doing to help with the transition, but any other questions about the composition of the incoming team, I’m going to leave that to the folks that are coming in.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments about recent suggestions made by President Medvedev about the relocation of Russian missiles to Kaliningrad Oblast as a response to ABM location in Poland?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we’ve talked about this issue before. Certainly, the Russian action is disappointing. But I’ll say it again. It bears repeating. The missile defense sites in the Czech Republic and Poland are not aimed at Russia. Certainly, the small number of interceptors that will be located in those – and will be located at the missile defense site are – will be easily overwhelmed by the Russian forces. This is – this missile defense system is designed to protect against rogue states – for example Iran – who are working on long-range missile technology. So this isn’t aimed at Russia. The steps that the Russian Government announced today are disappointing, but again, this is not directed at them. Hopefully, one day, they’ll realize that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.

QUESTION: Sean, one, if Secretary has spoken with President-elect Obama in any way?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, she hasn’t. I’ll let you know if she does. 

QUESTION: And second, as far as foreign policy under the new administration is concerned, Afghanistan is a major issue and now President Karzai is saying that he needs help; the new secretary or the new administration must stop innocent killings of civilians in Afghanistan. So what do we have new for that reason (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, all I can say is, speaking on behalf of the current Administration, is that our military takes the greatest possible care to make sure that innocent lives aren’t lost in the course of military operations. They’re very, very careful. That isn’t to say, on occasion, it doesn’t happen. And when it does happen, these instances are thoroughly investigated, and we try to learn from those incidences so they’re not repeated in the future.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up quick?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. 

Yes.

QUESTION: Back on the Russian issue. Will the Secretary perhaps try to reach out to Medvedev about this? Because it was a rather tough speech, you know, in which he outlined several things that they intended to do in response to the missile defense thing. Or at this point, are you just going to leave this for the incoming administration to deal with?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don’t think she has any expectations to meet or reach out to Medvedev. I would --

QUESTION: Or talk perhaps to –

MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect – look, on her upcoming trip there is going to be a Quartet meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh. I’m sure that she will take some time to have a separate meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov. We will – we continue to work together on issues where there is a common interest and a common view, where we can accomplish things. I would point to the passage of the most recent Security Council resolution concerning Iran as an example of that.

There are, however, very clear differences that we have concerning Russian actions and Russian behavior; Georgia is Exhibit A in that regard. And our views concerning Russia’s actions in Georgia haven’t changed.

QUESTION: Would you think that him giving a speech today is perhaps this test that Joe Biden warned might be coming right away for the new administration?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not going to comment on politics. But I think this is an annual speech given on the same day.

Yeah.

QUESTION: One brief one on the transition. The 24 people, that doesn’t include Burns and Kennedy and --

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s right, yeah. It bears repeating, the leadership of the transition in the State Department -- the career professionals -- are Under Secretary Bill Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs; Under Secretary for Management Pat Kennedy; and the Executive Secretary of the Department Dan Smith. So they sit atop the structure making sure that everything is running properly, that the incoming team has everything that they need in order to do their jobs.

QUESTION: And who – which one of those is in charge of the lights? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: That would be Pat Kennedy -- (laughter) – management.

QUESTION: Can I go a bit more substantive than this? How’s (inaudible) SOFA – response to the Iraqis? What’s going on with that? Has it been given --

MR. MCCORMACK: It has not been given yet.

QUESTION: What’s happening with it?

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s --

QUESTION: Is it still being worked on or --

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s still being worked on. Yes, indeed.

QUESTION: And what form is it taking?

MR. MCCORMACK: What form? What do you mean?

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I want to know what’s in it, but – (laughter) – I know you’re not going to ask that – answer that, so –

QUESTION:  Well, he might.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no.

QUESTION: Well, when would you expect it to be --

MR. MCCORMACK: In the --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible), and how?

MR. MCCORMACK: In the coming period of time – in the coming period of time, Matt, I would expect Ambassador Crocker in Baghdad to probably convey it.

QUESTION: A follow-up? Would you say that like some of the changes are acceptable or kind of workable between the Iraqis, and then some of them are, you know, that you have more of a problem with? I mean, it’s not like a up – up or down --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: -- like thumbs up, thumbs down reject – (inaudible) rejection?

MR. MCCORMACK: They were – there were a lot of comments, you know. We take them all seriously. I think in terms of getting – in getting at important issues or core issues in the SOFA agreement, some more directly relate to core issues than others. But we’re taking all of them seriously and looking through them in formulating our responses.

QUESTION: Is it still the case that you are finished negotiating, though? It may be a case where you say, okay, I’ll agree to this word change or that word change, but pretty much big picture, you’re done negotiating this document?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, I go back to what – you know, what I’ve said and what Dana Perino has said over at the White House in terms of the bar for any changes. You know, it’s a pretty high bar for any changes. But again, we’ll take a look at what is suggested. We’re formulating our responses. The Iraqis took some time to think through what they wanted to provide us by way of comments, and we’re taking our time in providing that response back to them.

Gollust.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the Secretary’s expectations for this Middle East trip? And does she feel that her ability to get anything done is impaired by this lame duck status that she now (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, everybody knew November 4th was coming up. So look, the parties in the region clearly want the participation of the United States in this process. And frankly, the Annapolis process wouldn’t be in place without the United States. That – all of that said, a deal is not going to get done without the two parties making some hard decisions. Now, they have made a lot of progress, as reported by them to us as well as to others, on a number of different issues. They’re not done yet.

I would expect that what we are going to do is we’re going to try to put this process in the best possible place going forward so that whomever comes next can formulate their policies, take a look at the process, and possibly use it, take it further. But again, most essentially, it’s going to come down to the parties in the region.

QUESTION: Can you talk about whether she’s bringing any kind of paper or, you know, kind of bridging proposal?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, she’s not.

QUESTION: She’s not?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no.

QUESTION: Because there were some reports from Jerusalem that she’s bringing some kind of bridging proposal to see how she sees that they can --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, she has not deviated, and is not deviating, from her view of how this process should work. Fundamentally, it’s the parties that are going to have to talk about the compromises that are possibly out there for them to make. 

Of course, she, as well as our team, can offer their good offices in terms of identifying for the parties those areas where there might be some commonality. Sometimes when you get very close to a topic, it’s very difficult to see areas where there might be possible agreement. She’s played that role throughout this process. I would expect she’ll continue to do so as long as she is involved in it. But she’s not changing the way she operates in terms of this process.

QUESTION: When you say that you’re trying to leave this process in the best possible place for whoever comes next, have you given up on the Annapolis goal?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, they remain. I think certainly the fact that you have elections in February in Israel greatly complicates the ability to conclude an agreement. So our focus is going to be on moving the process forward as far as it can be moved forward in a responsible way, while preserving the process. That has great value. When you think back, it was about a year ago that the Annapolis process started. And we think that this mechanism and that this process and all its various aspects – the political, the on-the-ground, the security aspects, building up the institutions on the Palestinian side, as well as the regional aspect – have great value going forward. 

QUESTION: But the core – the core goal of Annapolis was to get a deal by the end of the year. Is that possible?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, the core goal of Annapolis was to get a deal. And --

QUESTION: Well, there was also a deadline that they said, they put on there. 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, we are going to try to move the process forward as far as we can, but do it in a responsible way so that – and look, given the realities of the political calendar in Israel, of course, that greatly complicates the process and concluding an agreement before January 20th, 2009. But the fact is that it has come quite some way in – during the past year. 

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Do you have a recent update on the Visa Waiver Program between the U.S. and South Korea? 

MR. MCCORMACK: No. 

QUESTION: When --

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new. I don’t have anything new. 

QUESTION: -- should we expect it coming? 

MR. MCCORMACK: I know it’s being – it’s being worked. 

Yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Back on the Middle East trip and the Secretary’s trip, the original purpose of the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting with the Quartet was for two parties to give some more information to Quartet than they have in the past about the substance of their negotiations. 

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. 

QUESTION: Are they really in a position to do that at this point --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: -- considering the political situation on each side? And how much do you expect them to reveal at this point? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’ll see. Yeah, we expect an assessment from them that reflects where the process stands and how they see it. So, certainly, that remains an important goal and important to the process in terms of maintaining the international support for it. 

QUESTION: Sean. 

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Charles. 

QUESTION: Does the Secretary view this as her last trip to the Middle East as Secretary, or do you anticipate yet another one?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing is scheduled at this point, Charlie, but I would expect she goes back to the Middle East. 

Goyal. 

QUESTION: What I was pointing at earlier, my question was that we have many visits up and down from the U.S. to the region in Afghanistan and Pakistan recently. Many visits from the Defense Department and Under Secretary Boucher was also there just a few days ago. So do you have anything new coming up from there for the upcoming new administration as far as the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is concerned? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’re doing a review of our efforts in Afghanistan. That’s not yet completed. I would expect in the coming period of time in the coming weeks, that’ll be completed. 

QUESTION: One on India, please? Where do we stand, as far as some bureaucratic things are still on the table as far as U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement is concerned? The President has on his desk, but still, we are not in business until those hurdles are away and he signs certifications on a number of things. 

QUESTION: Goyal, I don’t have an update for you. 

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can I try the missile defense issue from another angle? Did you essentially decide to freeze the process of consultations, of meaningful dialogue with Russian on that, and simply let it crash and burn and give it to another administration? 

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Look, we’re – look, we’re – the problem isn’t on our side. Certainly, we’re open and willing to talk. But you know, the Russian Government --

QUESTION: Well, I’m afraid your saying, you know, guys, it’s against rogue states, it’s just not good enough to assuage fears. We’re talking about strategic defense issues here.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, the fact of the matter is we have gone the extra mile in terms of trying to meet Russian concerns with respect to missile defense. But you know, clearly, they’ve made up their mind that they don’t – at this point, that they don’t like the idea and they are going to resist it in every possible way. That doesn’t change the utility of missile defense and the importance of it to the NATO alliance. 

Certainly, I think all are open to continued Russian dialogue and cooperation on this, but the fact of the matter is this is important for the security of the alliance. And I will say it again: It is not directed in any way, shape, or form at Russia.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:05 p.m.)

DPB # 187


Released on November 5, 2008

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