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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 19, 2008

Visual from today's briefing:
Photo of Secretary Rice Signing "Say No to Violence Against Women" Pledge



Secretary Rice Signed UNIFEM “Say No to Violence” Pledge Yesterday
Statement on UNIFEM “Say No to Violence Against Women” Campaign
Working Closely with President-Elect’s Incoming Team to Ensure Seamless Transition
Secretary Rice Commitments to Ambassador Sherman, Mr. Donilon


Won’t Offer Advice to Saudis / Piracy Remains an International Concern
Pushing For UN Security Council Resolution on Limitations of High Seas Vessels
Indian Navy Engagement with Pirates


Reaction to Comments by Al-Zawahiri, Taliban
Contrast Between the West and Terrorists on Democracy


Secretary Rice, Assistant Secretary Welch Have Raised al-Jahmi Case Several Times
U.S. Concern for Human Rights Cases Around the World
U.S. Has Made Numerous Attempts to Visit Mr. al-Jahmi
Secretary Rice to Meet Colonel Qadhafi’s Son Tomorrow


Talks in Geneva a Positive Step
Waiting for Meeting Readout from Assistant Secretary Fried, Matt Bryza


False Sense of Stability of Region Prior to September 11
Middle East in a Great Period of Change
U.S. Working with Regional Actors to Bring About Positive Change / Real Stability


Pattern of Iranian Government Signing Agreements That Don’t Lead to Anything
No U.S. Objection to Iran Possessing Peaceful Nuclear Energy, Only to Full Fuel Cycle
Bushehr Model / Fuel Take-Back Provision
Process for Mediating with Iran Already Exists: P5+1, Backed by UN Security Council


View Video

10:04 a.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning, everybody. One brief statement for you. Go ahead and put up the photo. The Secretary signed the UNIFEM Say No to Violence pledge as part of a campaign at the website saynotoviolence.org. This is a UN-sponsored campaign that is designed to get individuals to sign up to advocate and pressure governments around the world to make ending violence against women a top priority. So she did this yesterday morning. I just have a short statement from her that we’ll also release with this photo after the briefing.

One year ago, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM, began its global campaign to advocate among publics and governments for an end to violence against women. In the course of the year, we have taken important steps to address this issue.

During its June 2008 Security Council Presidency, the United States focused on actions that would follow from UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace, and Security.”  On June 19, the United States chaired an open United States – chaired an open Security Council thematic discussion on the topic of violence in situations of armed conflict. The debate culminated in adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1820, which condemns the use of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.

Violence against women remains a fact of life in countries worldwide. Like poverty, HIV/AIDS, poor maternal health, and lack of access to education, violence against women is an ill that affects the person, her community, and her nation.

As the campaign to “Say No to Violence against Women” enters its second year, we should dedicate ourselves to creating awareness among individuals and communities of the great damage violence against women inflicts, and commit ourselves to end this atrocity.

So we would encourage you to visit the saynotoviolence.org website. And you can make your own decision whether or not you sign the pledge.

And with that, I’m happy to take your questions. You can bring down the picture.

QUESTION: This tanker off the coast of Somalia.


QUESTION: Back there again, yeah.


QUESTION: Apparently, the Saudi Foreign Minister says that they’re in – the company is in negotiations with the pirates. And I just wondered whether you had any comment on these ransom negotiations, whether this was something you --

MR. MCCORMACK: As I did yesterday, I’m going to decline to offer any advice to the Saudis on this matter. The issue of piracy is, as I stated yesterday many times over, a concern to us as well as others in the international system. The issue of piracy has been with us, as an international system, unfortunately, for quite some time. We – the American Navy came about in large part because of piracy in the Mediterranean more than 200 years ago. So we’ve been dealing with this problem a long time.

We in the State Department are trying to come at it from the diplomatic and political angle. We’re working in the Security Council to try to pass a resolution that could perhaps help deal with some of the limitations that currently exist in dealing with vessels on the high seas. You can talk to the Department of Defense about the deployment of their assets and what the activities of those assets might be.

I would note that the Indian Navy engaged with some pirates in the – off the Horn of Africa. You can talk to them about the particulars of the incident. But as I understand it, the Indian Navy vessel was fired upon; they fired back, sank one of the vessels, and captured some of these pirates as well.

So there is action that is taking place. But you are also talking about a very, very large area – surface area in the Indian Ocean area just off the Red Sea, off the coast of Somalia.

QUESTION: You say you’re coming at it from the diplomatic and political angle, but what are you doing and how far have you gotten?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’re working in the Security Council, like we’ve been talking about --

QUESTION: But you said that --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- over the past days.

QUESTION: You said that yesterday the Secretary had asked the Department to take a look at what else you could do outside of the Security Council.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, and I know they’re meeting today.

QUESTION: Who’s meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Eliot Cohen brought together a group of people.

QUESTION: Who’s – I mean, what is the strategy here? Because it appears, looking from the outside, that not a great deal is being done and that maybe the Security Council is where it’s at.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, no, it’s -- look, it’s an international problem. You’re not going to solve this – the United States is not going to solve this alone. No one country is going to solve it alone. You can see, in very practical terms, the fact that this is an international problem with the fact – you know, by the fact that you have Indian naval vessels, you have Russian naval vessels, you have NATO vessels in the area. You have U.S. vessels that are in the area that are involved in counterterrorism operations. And again, they have certain obligations under certain circumstances involving piracy. So things are being done.

But there are also – there’s international law, there’s common international practice that needs to be dealt with here. The folks up at the Security Council are trying to address some of the issues that are perhaps obstacles to preventing piracy. I’m not an expert in maritime law, so I can’t list all of those obstacles for you. But the people who are expert in these matters are trying to deal with them. We are taking a look internally here at the State Department to make sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to work with others to address what is an international problem.

QUESTION: Sean, you said that you’re not going to give advice to the Saudis.


QUESTION: But in the past, you’ve been very outspoken about not paying ransom to groups like the Taliban.


QUESTION: What’s the difference? Is it – you speak out against giving money to terrorists groups but not pirates, or you don’t want to give advice to the Saudis?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. You know, I usually don’t from the podium, give advice to other governments. We pick and choose our spots when we think it’s appropriate to speak out in public about our thoughts. We do. We don’t do that in every circumstance.

QUESTION: But broadly, do you think it’s a bad idea to pay a ransom to pirates?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you know, you’re asking a question in the context of a specific incident, and I’m going to refer you back to what I’ve said before. I’m not going to offer them any advice.


QUESTION: Sean, I’m sure you saw the comments by the al-Qaida number two today.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yeah.

QUESTION: He called President-elect Obama a house negro. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. It’s just, you know, more despicable comments from a terrorist. And if anybody needed more of a contrast between what the west and the United States stand for in terms of democracy and what these terrorists stand for, I don’t think you need to go any further than those comments.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: On a separate issue, Mohamed – I’m sorry -- Fathi al-Jahmi’s brother is complaining that the State Department is not doing enough in terms of putting pressure on the Libyan Government.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, I saw the e-mail, yes, I did.

QUESTION: Yes. And he’s particularly critical of your comments, as well as David Welch.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I know. I saw that.

QUESTION: And I wondered whether you had any response to that. And also if you could be a little bit more specific as to exactly what you are doing.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think you’ve heard from the Secretary about it. David Welch has raised this case numerous times. The Secretary has raised this case numerous times. We will continue to raise the case. And you know, rather than talk in detail in public about everything that we might do, we try to focus on effective action.

And again, you know, look, I saw the e-mail comments criticizing me personally, criticizing David Welch. Well, you know, look, I understand the position this – you know, this – Mr. al-Jahmi is in. His brother is in very, very difficult circumstances, being treated, to say the very least, unjustly. I get that, I understand that pain of a brother.

But I’m speaking on behalf of the United States, and I have to make it very clear we are concerned not only about Mr. al-Jahmi’s case, but other human rights cases around the world. And one thing I do take exception to is the idea that somehow we are not attentive to pushing the issue of human rights, whether it’s in Libya or anyplace else around the world. I don’t think – I would put the record of this Administration up against any American administration or any other government around the world in terms of promoting universal human rights and pushing for human rights.

QUESTION: So you would reject his criticism that you’ve sat back and let your – put your interests ahead of your --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t want to get – look, I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth with Mr. al-Jahmi. Again, I understand, you know, the pain of a brother who has a loved one in dire circumstances. I get that. I’m just not going to get in a back-and-forth. But I will make the point that we do pay a great deal of attention, not only to the case of Mr. al-Jahmi in Libya, but other human rights cases worldwide.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli paid a visit to Mr. al-Jahmi in his hospital or attempted to see him, to see whether his conditions are --

MR. MCCORMACK: I know we have attempted to.

QUESTION: But have you been able to?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll check for you. I know that we have made numerous attempts to.

QUESTION: I mean, can you confirm the claims that Mr. al-Jahmi’s brother makes that there are cockroaches in his room, that he has a skin infection, that he’s being --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I will see. There are a few questions that I have to answer for myself in that: one, you know, have we been able to collect this information; two, what position are we in in terms of being able to share information? And I’m not going to get in the position of sharing information about somebody when that individual may not want information to be shared. I don’t know. I don’t know that.

So I’ll look into it for you. I’ll see when the last time is that we were able to see Mr. al-Jahmi in Libya. I can say that we have made numerous attempts to do so.

Yeah. Yeah, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Any comment about the first Russian-Georgian talks in Geneva?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it was a first step. It was a follow-through on the agreement between President Sarkozy and President Medvedev. The first attempt at these discussions fell apart when the representatives from the areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia walked out of the talks. There was a disagreement about who would be considered a full representative and have a seat at the table. So it’s a positive step that now these discussions have taken place. So I would characterize them as an initial round of discussions. I haven’t received a readout from Dan Fried -- Assistant Secretary Dan Fried, who represented us at the talks, along with Matt Bryza. He may be talking to the press locally there, but I’ll also attempt to get his impressions of the discussions and try to convey those to you.


MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Is there any concern that during the period of transfer of power there might a threat from al-Qaida, that it might use this time to launch some kind of attack?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that threat exists every single day. Secretary Rice likes to talk about the idea that for anybody who was in a responsible – position of responsibility on September 11th – you know, every day is September 12th for you, so you are, of course, very attentive. And the President and his Administration takes very seriously its responsibilities up until the very last second, when power is transferred. And I know that we – I’ll let the office of the President-elect speak for how they view the situation. I think I’ve seen some quotations, talking about this very issue from the President-elect.

But to ensure that there is nothing that falls between the cracks, that there are no gaps, we’re working very closely with the incoming team to make sure that the transition is seamless. We already have members of the transition team here at the State Department. We have already started that process of providing them information. Of course, this is going to be a two-way process. They’re going to have questions that they want to have answered. We’re going to make sure that they have everything they need to do their job. Secretary Rice conveyed that to Ambassador Sherman and Mr. Donilon herself. And she’s committed to making sure that this transition is professional, it’s effective, and it’s seamless.


QUESTION: Also, there is -- a U.S. intelligence officer said that the U.S. intelligence sees future of instability in the Middle East. Do you get this feeling? Do you --


QUESTION: In the future, an instability leaning – a Middle East that’s leaning more towards al-Qaida ideologies.

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll leave it to our intelligence communities and others to make those kinds of objective assessments. I would just offer up a thought that the Secretary has offered up previously when people talk about stability and they yearn for the halcyon days of 2001 and the prior period. You have to really say, well, what stability? You know, it was that so-called stability that produced al-Qaida, that produced, you know, 19 men plotting and succeeding in the plot on September 11th. It was this sort of false stability, and you can just go on and on and down the list in terms of the threats.

Clearly, the Middle East is in a period of great change. And we are doing what we can, along with others in the international community, to work with those in the region who want to see a different kind of region, who want to see a different future for themselves and for their children. And so that is an effort that was – really, you know, emanates from the Middle East states in the region, groups in the region, individuals in the region. You saw the Human Development Report out several years ago. It’s an indication that there was a yearning for this kind of change.

So, of course, we want to work with individuals, groups, and states in that region to help bring about that kind of change, and to achieve a real kind of stability, which is based on the ability of people to express themselves, to choose who would lead them, to think at work and to think at home, and to realize their full human potential.


QUESTION: I just wondered, has the Secretary spoken to Senator Clinton in the last few days on, you know, what it’s like working as Secretary of State? Or has she given her any tips just in case?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) You’re directing that question to the wrong place. You know, we don’t deal with transition – the personnel transition issues.

QUESTION: Yes, but you know who the Secretary has spoken to. So has she spoken to Senator Clinton?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, she hasn’t.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.


Yeah. Lambros, (inaudible).

QUESTION: Okay, Mr. McCormack. On Turkey/Iran.


QUESTION: Ankara and Tehran, before yesterday, signed an accord reinforcing agreements to develop Iran’s gas fields and in the transit of Iranian gas to Europe at the rate of 35 billion cubic meters.


QUESTION: Would you have any comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, Lambros, I haven’t seen that particular announcement, but there’s a pattern here of – you know, with the Iranian Government. They like to actually sign these agreements that don’t actually lead to much of anything. They’re – you know, they make nice headlines, but they don’t have any practical effect.

QUESTION: Last Friday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan told us at the National Press Club that Ankara does not object Iran to possess nuclear energy for peace purposes. Any comment?

MR. MCCORMACK: Neither do we. We don’t object to Iran possessing peaceful nuclear energy. We do have objections, of course, along with the Security Council and the P-5+1, to their possessing the full fuel cycle. We don’t have a problem with --

QUESTION: So you are not --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- peaceful energy and nuclear – I mean, that is one reason why we actually encouraged Iran to look at the Bushehr model as a way of their having peaceful nuclear energy. The key to that particular model is the fuel take-back provision, so they have access to this peaceful nuclear energy, but they don’t have access to the technology and knowhow and the materials that might be used afterwards in a nuclear weapons program.

QUESTION: And the last one. Prime Minister Erdogan told us also that Ankara could play a positive role as a mediator in the stalled negotiation with Iran over the nuclear program. Do you accept his offer?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, there’s a – there’s already a potential process in place for the Iranians should they choose to accept the P-5+1 process: It is the backing of the Security Council. We, of course, encourage anybody with an interest in this issue, and I would suggest that any of Iran’s neighbors would have an interest in Iran not having a nuclear weapon, to use whatever influence they have with Iran to encourage them to take up the offer of the P-5+1.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Sorry, just one thing I forgot to ask you. Does the Secretary still plan to meet Colonel Qadhafi’s son tomorrow?


QUESTION: And secondly, did David Welch raise the case with Fathi al-Jahmi in his talks with Seif?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t --

QUESTION: I had asked you yesterday to check.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, I’m sorry. I did not check. I will – I will check.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay? Great.

(The briefing was concluded at 10:23 a.m.)

dpb # 196

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