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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 18, 2008



Protection of Shipping from Piracy / Meetings at NATO and United Nations


Interference with Diplomatic Pouches


China Overcomes Japan as Biggest Foreign Holder of Treasuries


U.S. Supports the Nimetz Process
Macedonia Files with International Court of Justice in the Hague


Assistant Secretary Hill’s Travel to APEC Meeting
Under Secretary Jeffery to Represent the U.S. at APEC Ministerial


Secretary Rice Scheduled to Meet with Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski


Secretary Rice Scheduled to Meet with Seif Qadhafi
Status of U.S-Libya Relationship
Case of Fathi al-Jahmi
Pending Nomination of Mr. Cretz as Ambassador to Libya


Legal Process for Former President Chen Shui-ban


View Video

10:38 a.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, on to part two, or maybe technically part three of the briefing. Who wants to start?

QUESTION: Well, what was part one?

MR. MCCORMACK: My introduction.


MR. MCCORMACK: You weren’t here for that, Matt.

QUESTION: I missed it. I’m sorry.

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s okay. Sorry about the Bills. It’s a tough loss.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on the Saudi oil tanker that was kidnapped off the east coast of Africa and is now in a Somali port frequented by pirates?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think DOD probably has a better handle on that. I’ve seen a lot of quotations from people related to the Fifth Fleet. They’re monitoring the situation very closely. I can’t offer you any more detailed accounts than they have already given in public.

QUESTION: But what are you doing in terms of the diplomacy on this? There have been quite a lot of discussions on how to approach this increased piracy along the east coast. Are you pulling together a meeting to try and work out a new strategy? Are you –

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the –

QUESTION: Have you got your maritime lawyers on the case working out how far they can go, what they can do?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, there are a few parts to that. First of all, up at the United Nations, we’re working with other members of the Security Council to take a look at what might be done in the Security Council that would allow more effective action. I’m not a maritime law expert, but there are limits to what you can do in these kinds of cases.

That said, there are vessels in the area from Russia, from NATO, and European countries that are specifically charged with ensuring that humanitarian supplies get through to Somalia. And they also have certain missions with respect to trying to prevent piracy. In doing so, trying to prevent piracy or to deal with acts of piracy, ensuring the safety and well-being of the crew is really of paramount importance. That is a long tradition.

So it’s a hard issue when you’re talking about these acts of piracy taking place in the – on the high seas outside of the territorial waters of any country. All of that said, it’s gotten people’s attention. It has gotten people’s attention for quite some time. I know the Secretary is concerned by the matter, and she has asked people here in the Department to take a look at what else might be done beyond what we are already doing in the Security Council about these issues. Because, you know, eventually it does have real economic effects when you talk about potentially shipments in that area, in the area off the Horn of Africa into the Red Sea.

So it is an issue we’re taking a look at, but it is also not an easy one. It’s a complicated issue.

QUESTION: There’s going to be a NATO meeting in Brussels shortly. Are you planning on raising this issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: You mean the ministerial?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm, the ministerial. Are you going to –

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll check for you.

QUESTION: Are you planning on raising it?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll check for you. I know that at the perm rep level and at the mission level, that they have been working on it, obviously, of a deployment of a – you know, or authorization of a NATO force down in that area. I’ll see as we get closer to that meeting what exactly will be on the agenda.

QUESTION: I mean, what’s the mood like for an international intervention of a, you know, major force, sending more ships from the Fifth Fleet, for example, or from elsewhere as (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, you can talk to DOD about the deployment of their forces. You’re – I saw a quotation from somebody out of the Fifth Fleet talking – you’re talking about an area of a million square miles of ocean. And there – obviously, this is a real issue. It’s a real international concern. It affects a lot of different countries, not only those that own the cargo, but also the flag registries of a lot of these ships.

But there are also a lot of other missions around the world. So navies and militaries are going to have to make decisions about how they array those forces. I know we do have some in the region that are engaged in various kinds of operations, including counterterrorism operations. But I would leave it to the Department of Defense to describe in any more detail any plans that they may have concerning deployment of their assets.

QUESTION: The pirates are expected to demand ransom for this ship. That’s what they’ve done previously. What would your advice be to the Saudis? I mean, they’ve got a $100 million worth of oil on that ship, and obviously their crew is at risk.

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t think they need our advice. They’re fully capable of –

QUESTION: But as a matter of principle, though, usually the U.S. is not in the habit of paying up ransoms, whether it’s for humans, for cargo –

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you know, in the context of this question which you raise, I am not going to try to offer any advice to the Saudis on the issue.

QUESTION: Can we just stick with this money thing for one second?


QUESTION: I mean, reading between the lines, it seems pretty clear there’s not a whole lot of enthusiasm, at least as you’re reflecting it, in the Administration for any kind of a greater American –

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we already – look, again, I leave it to the military planners and the civilian and military officials at the Department of Defense to make decisions about deployment of their assets. That’s not for us to do here at the State Department. They are the experts in assessing risk, assessing the possibility of success in a mission, and also assessing the various obligations that we as a nation have. So you know, I certainly don’t mean to dismiss the issue. Far from it. We were just talking about this issue over the past several days with the Secretary, so I know that she is concerned about it, and I know we are looking at what else we might do as a nation working with others to try to address the issue.

But as I said in response to Sue’s question, it is a complicated issue, and there is established international law that – regarding the high seas and what can and can’t be done. This is not a new issue. Our first Secretary of State dealt with the issue of piracy more than 200 years ago, led to the formation of a navy for this country. So it’s an issue that we have a lot of experience with, and there’s a lot of case law and international law that guides us. But all of that said, we are taking a look at what we might – what might be done, and we are trying to work in the Security Council to see what might be done.

QUESTION: When you say you’re taking a look at what might be done, could you paint a few additional scenarios, apart from what’s going on at the UN?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not at this point, no. No, we’re just taking at look at the situation to see what else might be done.

QUESTION: What about advice for shipping? Is that updated?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I’m sure that there – you know, there are folks responsible for those sort of things, notice to mariners and so forth. I think those – I think they come out of the DOD. But you know, look, we’ll provide our input and all information, make sure that people are aware. But ultimately, individuals and private business have to make their own decisions and assessments of risk.

QUESTION: Are you reaching out to lawyers, for example, and others (inaudible) –

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Sue, I don’t know. I don’t know.


QUESTION: I’m not sure exactly, but does this merit – never mind. Is State sticking –

MR. MCCORMACK: They’re pretty good at assessing their own risk, by the way.

QUESTION: Sticking in this area of the world, yesterday both the Embassy in Asmara and then the State Department put out messages talking about closing down the – well, closing down the consular section for all their emergency services.


QUESTION: And it talked about how the Eritreans were interfering with the diplomatic pouches. Can you be more specific about what that means – interfering? Are they, like, rummaging through these?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I saw –

QUESTION: I mean, are they taking things?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I heard about this and I heard about the suspension of regular consular operations. Let me look into it more for you, Matt, and get a better answer for you than I have already.

QUESTION: And do you know if there’s going to be any kind of a reciprocal – I mean, are there going to be any steps taken on the Eritreans here?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll check. I’ll check for all – on all these things, Matt.


QUESTION: Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but apparently China has surpassed – starting in September, China surpassed Japan to become the biggest foreign holder of treasuries. This has been sort of coming for a while. But does that kind of thing have any – that kind of issue have any effect on your diplomacy in any way in terms of the leverage that the U.S. has with someone like China, as opposed to an ally like Japan?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I am aware of. I have not detected any. You know, look, we – it’s probably best that my colleagues at Treasury talk about these things, but I would just make one note. Certainly, this didn’t – that didn’t happen overnight. But again, I have not detected any effects similar to what you asked about.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: Is there any Quartet meeting in D.C. soon?

MR. MCCORMACK: Quartet meeting?


MR. MCCORMACK: Not at the level of minister, no. No, I mean, I suspect – look I – between now and January, will there be another Quartet meeting? Possibly. Possibly. But at this point, there’s nothing scheduled.


QUESTION: On FYROM. Mr. McCormack, FYROM yesterday addressed the name issue to the International Court of Justice at Hague against Greece. According to the FYROM’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, the question is going to take at least five years. How do you react, since the U.S. Government desire is that FYROM should become a NATO member in December 2008?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, Macedonia will make its own decisions. It clearly made its own decision in deciding to file a case with the ICJ. We continue to support the cooperative process of finding a mutually agreeable solution to the name issue. We support Ambassador Nimetz and in his efforts. So that’s our focus. Macedonia has made its own decision with respect to the ICJ.

QUESTION: Do you have any communication/consultation with the Government of FYROM on this issue of the International Court of Justice?

MR. MCCORMACK: What’s that? I –

QUESTION: Communication or consultation about this move to address the issue at the International Court of Justice?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, it’s their decision. Let me be as clear as I can be: we support the Nimetz process.

QUESTION: You’re not filing an amicus brief or something?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Macedonia has taken its own decision in what it believes to be its own best interest.

QUESTION: And the last question. November 14, the U.S. Agency for International Development has announced a new U.S.-FYROM public-private partnership. What is the purpose of this new alliance with Skopje?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ll check for you, Lambros. I’ll check for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Do you have any travel plans for Ambassador Hill to Peru?

MR. MCCORMACK: To Peru? Yeah, I think he’s probably going to be going as part of the APEC meeting. The President’s headed down there this coming weekend. The Secretary will travel with him, and Chris Hill will be going down there in his capacity as Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs. A number of East Asian countries are going to be attending APEC.

QUESTION: Do you know if he’ll be traveling with the President and Secretary?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s got a seat on the plane. We’ll see. We’ll see if he makes the cut.

QUESTION: Actually, speaking of that, who is going to be going to the ministerial beforehand since the Secretary will –

MR. MCCORMACK: Reuben Jeffery. He’ll be representing us.

QUESTION: Any progress on securing a protocol – a verification protocol with the North Koreans?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think they’re – we’re still working through the Six-Party process, the schedule, the heads of delegation meeting. And it’s at that meeting that we hope to “Six-Partyize” the understandings that we have negotiated with North Korea.

QUESTION: Are you going to make those public?

MR. MCCORMACK: I expect that they will be public documents.


QUESTION: Why isn’t the Secretary going to the ministerial for APEC?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, she very much wanted to attend. She has attended in the past. But there were some issues and meetings that required her attention back here in Washington, so she’s decided to send Under Secretary Jeffery.

QUESTION: Speaking of those meetings, does she have any separate plans to see Olmert when he comes?

MR. MCCORMACK: I believe she does. I have to check her schedule, Matt, but I believe she – she typically does have a separate meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister when he comes in.

QUESTION: Did Secretary Rice tell Olmert and the other Israelis during a visit that the interests section will not be opened under this Administration, that it will be passed to the next one?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’re still looking at it. It’s an interesting idea.


QUESTION: Do you know anything about the Polish Foreign Minister being in town at all this week?


QUESTION: Any plans that you know of –

MR. MCCORMACK: She’s going to meet with him, yeah.

QUESTION: – meetings with Department of State?


QUESTION: When is –

MR. MCCORMACK: I have to check. I don’t know. I just glanced at her week-long calendar, and I have to confess I –

QUESTION: It doesn’t say (inaudible). It’s not on the schedule as (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yes, it’s on the schedule. I just can’t recall, standing here right now, exactly what day it is.


QUESTION: Has the Secretary met the – Qadhafi’s son yet, Seif?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, she has not. David Welch has met with him. He is here on a private visit. And people have inquired as to, well, what are they going to talk about. Well, he’s a person that has an interest in Libya’s future and where Libya is headed. He’s going to have a variety of meetings here. You can check with the Libyan Embassy. I believe that ranges from – all the way from meeting with members of Congress to NGOs to Executive Branch officials.

QUESTION: But you have no plans for the Secretary to meet –

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I expect she probably will.


MR. MCCORMACK: She will. I’ll – again, I’ll check. You know, I didn’t look at her schedule that closely, but you know, she will – it’s this week. It’s this week. It’s either today or tomorrow. We’ll let you know exactly when it’s –

QUESTION: When it’s happened?


QUESTION: And also, if you could ask specifically the question of whether she raises human rights concerns with him.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it’s a private meeting. I’ll see what she wants to say about the meeting afterwards. She has raised human rights issues when she visited Tripoli. We as a government have and continue – and will continue to raise human rights issues.

Look, the relationship with Libya has come a long way. But it has a long, long way to go, specifically in terms of freedoms, universally recognized freedoms in Libya. We’re going to continue to work on those issues. And I know it’s come up. Various individuals said, well, you know, you’ve given up a lot by having the Secretary visit Libya, you’ve given up a lot in terms of establishing normal diplomatic relations with Libya. Well, Libya has done much of what we have asked it to do to change the relationship. And in making these kinds of decisions, you have to say, can you effect change more by having a more normal relationship and thereby, you know, having a more reasonable expectation of success in terms of human rights, in terms of having those universal freedoms in Libya or not. The decision that was made by the President and the Secretary in – you know, in part, that you can effect change more by having that more normal relationship. And Libya has demonstrated through its actions that it is willing to take tough steps in order to change the relationship.

QUESTION: Sean, just a –


QUESTION: You know, since she’s already met with the leader himself and it’s not really that much of a surprise that she would see his son, but surely you have a better reason for her meeting him than he’s a person who has interests – who has an interest in Libya’s future.


QUESTION: Presumably, all Libyans have an interest and she’s not meeting with every (inaudible) –

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Look, of course, well –

QUESTION: Why? (Inaudible) more specifically, you know –

MR. MCCORMACK: He’s here – look, he’s here on a private visit. You can talk to –

QUESTION: And can you tell us what –

MR. MCCORMACK: Hold on, hold on.

QUESTION: He doesn’t have any official position, so –

MR. MCCORMACK: No, he does not.

QUESTION: Right. So –

MR. MCCORMACK: No, he does not.

QUESTION: But surely, there’s got to be a – there’s got to be another reason than he’s certainly a person who has an interest in Libya.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, of course. Of course. He is the leader of Libya’s son. Now, he does not hold an official government position. He’s head, I think, of the Qadhafi Foundation. So one would reasonably expect, given just those two facts, that he will have some influence over the course that Libya as a state pursues over the – you know, over the next period of time.

QUESTION: So always an open door.

MR. MCCORMACK: There we are.

QUESTION: Speaking of Libya.


QUESTION: Did the Libyan Government pay the $1.5 billion into the fund – compensation fund?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. I think it’s all there.

QUESTION: Halloween?


MR. MCCORMACK: What’s that?

QUESTION: It happened on Halloween, or that’s when you announced it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: That’s not what you’re asking.

QUESTION: Oh, oh, excuse me. You’re right. You’re right.

QUESTION: I’m asking whether the Libyan Government paid the $1.5 billion.

MR. MCCORMACK: The money is all there.


QUESTION: You raised the issue – you said that, you know, there’s still a long way to go with Libya in terms of human rights and other issues.


QUESTION: What about the case of Fathi al-Jahmi that the Secretary raised when she was there?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’re going to keep raising it. We’re going to keep raising it and try to affect the situation. It’s a – it’s one that is – certainly has her attention. She’s going to keep working on it.

QUESTION: But how far has she got in terms of – I mean, he’s still being held in a hospital room. Apparently, the conditions in the hospital room are quite dire, according to his brother. You know, cockroaches on his bed, he’s not allowed out.


QUESTION: It’s apparently a very difficult situation.


QUESTION: Do you have an update on the conditions he’s being held in, for example? Have you been inquiring?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t. I don’t, Sue. And you know, there are lots of people around the world who are activists for all the right things, for greater freedoms for people in their countries, who are – who suffer terrible injustices. And the United States is a beacon for those people, and we very often give voice to those people when they don’t have a voice. And we have a strong record going back over administrations, Republican and Democrat, for being that voice. And we’re going to continue being that voice for those people, and to work not only to improve their personal conditions, but also to further the causes that they are sacrificing for.

QUESTION: But did David Welch raise that particular case, for example, and others?

MR. MCCORMACK: I didn’t talk to him about the contents of the meeting.

QUESTION: Could you ask that, please?

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: Where do things stand on Mr. Cretz’s nomination to be ambassador to Libya and on the funding for purchasing the land?

MR. MCCORMACK: Still pending up on the Hill. The Senate is in session for a brief period of time this week. They have a lot of business that they’re dealing with. And, obviously, what they deal with is their prerogative. We certainly hope that we can move Mr. Cretz’s nomination and associated issues forward. We’ll see.

QUESTION: Do you have any expectation that that will happen or –

MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll see. I don’t want to lay odds here, but we’re working closely with the Senate.

In the back. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Can I move to Taiwan issue?


QUESTION: It’s about former President Chen Shui-bian’s case. Chen has been transferred from the jail to a hospital after almost one week’s hunger strike. He continually claims that his arrest was a politically motivated action. I’m wondering if there are any comment from State Department?


QUESTION: And also, the AIT Director, Mr. Stephen Young, he made an announcement last week. He said the detention of the former President Chen Shui-bian, not only Taiwanese people, but also friend of the world will be closely watching the legal system process. And he said, quote, “We believe it needs to be transparent, fair and impartial,” unquote. I’m wondering, does the U.S. Government have any concern on Taiwan’s legal system? Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll give you my quote: This is a matter for Taiwan’s legal system to resolve. We are confident in Taiwan’s democracy and its legal system, and we have every expectation that the process will be transparent, fair, and impartial.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, great.

(The briefing was concluded at 10:59 a.m.)


Released on November 18, 2008

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