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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 10, 2008



Congratulations to President Martii Ahtisaari for Winning Nobel Prize


Getting Details Right on Verification Regime / Move Process Forward
Phone Calls with Japanese, Chinese and South Korean Foreign Ministers
Fully Prepared to Meet our Obligations / Getting the Details Right
Consensus-Driven Mechanism / Japan and Abduction Issue
Ambassador Hill’s Meetings


Working with Turkish and Iraqi Governments on Threat of Terrorism from PKK


American Citizens Released / Pleased to be Able to Help
Syria is Not a Mandatory Notification Country under Vienna Conventions


Political Assessment / State of Consultations with French Foreign Minister


Ensuring Compliance with International Obligations


View Video

12:30 p.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I have one brief statement about the award of a Nobel Prize this morning. The United States warmly congratulates President Ahtisaari and commends the Nobel Committee for its wise decision to award the Nobel Prize to Martii Ahtisaari. President Ahtisaari has dedicated his life to promoting peace throughout the world. It is deeply gratifying to see his work and achievements honored in this manner.

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

QUESTION: Do you have any other brief announcements on North Korea? Because --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t. Nothing new. Nothing --

QUESTION: Traditional, you know, delisting from the terrorism list?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new for you today, Sue.

QUESTION: Has a decision then not been taken, and is this because of Japanese problems in Tokyo of the U.S. delisting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, yeah, I’ve seen a lot written about this in the past few days, and let me just, in very general terms, describe for you what has been happening the past several days and past weeks about this. This has been about getting the details right on a verification regime that we hope will move this process forward so that we can get to the ultimate goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. That’s what these past weeks and past days have been about.

So you’ve had a lot of consultation not only within the U.S. Government, putting our best minds to work on this issue. There’s also been a lot of consultation with our partners in the Six-Party process, the Six-Party mechanism, and that’s happened up and down the line. It’s happened from, you know, the Secretary on down. The Secretary just this morning had phone calls with the Japanese Foreign Minister, the Chinese Foreign Minister, the South Korean Foreign Minister, and I would expect that she’s going to be speaking with Foreign Minister Lavrov in the coming days about this.

Chris Hill and people who work for Chris Hill, as well as other people in the Department, have been consulting in similar ways with their partners in the Six-Party process. So that’s what this has been about, and we’ll see if we get to the point where we have a verification protocol and regime that all the six parties can agree upon that will allow this process to move forward.

And on this question of the terrorism list, we are fully prepared to meet our obligations as North Korea meets its obligations. And again, the enabling condition here is agreement on a verification protocol. But the answer – the short answer to your question about the terrorism list – no decision has been taken yet. We are where we were yesterday and the week before and the month before on that issue.

QUESTION: Apparently, the North Koreans gave Chris Hill a proposal to bring back, which is what the U.S. has been looking at. Can you, number one, confirm that?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’re not – what I would say is this is part of the process that I just described to you, getting the details right and getting to the point where there’s a verification process and protocol that we can assure ourselves will allow us to verify the declaration and to move forward in a way that when we do get to the point of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, we know, in fact, it is denuclearized. So that’s the careful work that you’re seeing – that you see being done right now. A lot of it is going on behind the scenes. And I know there’s a lot of interest in this story. Believe me, when there’s something from our perspective to announce on this, we will – we’ll make sure you guys are there.

QUESTION: But would you be prepared to accept a verification declaration or mechanism that’s less specific to begin with, with the promise of following up later with a more specific one?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not sure --

QUESTION: In other words, the Chinese would sort of – anyway, would you be prepared to initially accept a less specific verification mechanism than initially?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the thing about verification and the work of verification, and there’s a lot of experience here that I guess informs this work although it’s not directly related, doing verifications and inspections and the kinds of things that are standard for international agreements, they’re key and they’re key for a reason: to provide assurance to all the parties. And important to making sure that these things work is making sure you get the details right.

Now, if you do get to the point of agreement on a protocol, you have the additional step of going from words on a piece of paper to actually implementation on the ground. And I’m sure that there will be discussions about that as well, and how do you, in fact, in very practical ways, make things work. But the point where we’re at now is making sure everybody agrees on the words on the paper which reflect concepts and ideas that will allow us to have assurance that this is a good verification protocol and regime.

QUESTION: Sean, a week ago, it was about – it was more about choreography before Chris – well, while Chris was there and before he went, and that there was no new substance being talked about. It seems like what you’re saying now is that’s different from that, that getting the details right is about substance and it --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we were talking about in no new substance is Chris wasn’t bringing new proposals --

QUESTION: Well, but he’s now coming back --

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s right. That’s right. He has come back. And there are elements of choreography here and there are elements of making sure the details are right and that there’s a common understanding of all the details.

QUESTION: Well, Sean, is it – would it be fair to say that the consultations that the Secretary and others are having with the other four parties are about getting them onboard with something that the Administration has given its blessing to?

MR. MCCORMACK: The way I’d put it, Matt, is we are chairs of the verification working group, so in a sense we are – we work on behalf of the six parties, as do chairs of the other working groups and sub working groups on behalf of the other six parties. So you know, while we may take a lead on one issue and the Chinese may take a lead on another issue and the South Koreans, for example, on another, we’re all ultimately responsible to report back and to discuss with the other members of the Six-Party Talks. It’s a consensus-driven mechanism. So that’s the best way I can answer it. It’s not the – it’s not a sense of, well, the U.S. has decided something and there’s arm-twisting going on to, you know, get everybody else to accept it. It’s a consensus-driven mechanism. So this is part of the normal diplomatic process, I guess.

QUESTION: So then that implies then that there – for some reason, there is not yet a consensus.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, it’s more briefing them on the discussions that we’ve had, answering questions that various others have had, working on – you know, working on issues related to choreography. And again, making sure that everybody understands all the details and that everybody is comfortable with all of the details.

QUESTION: Because that -- and okay then, so does that mean that until the Secretary speaks with Lavrov, there won’t be anything done?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not going to put a particular timeline on these efforts, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, it’s just there need to be – before any – before something can be agreed to, if there is something to be agreed to, does she feel the need that she’s got to speak to Lavrov?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think she’s going to talk to him again. I’m not going to try to draw any causality here between one action and another. I’ll just say that once --

QUESTION: No, I’m not suggesting that the Russians are a problem here. I just --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no, no. I --

QUESTION: -- they are a key player in this so --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I understand. I understand.

QUESTION: She hasn’t talked to him yet.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I understand. And you’re trying to draw a causal link, and I understand that. I’m not going to do that. I would just say that we are consulting closely with all the members of the Six-Party Talks.

QUESTION: Sean, are you also looking for any kind of practical move by the North Koreans, perhaps stopping any activity at Yongbyon, anything like that? Are you looking for that kind of on-the-ground reaction?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that certainly as a process – as part of a process moving forward, meaning the Six-Party process, you have the North Korean Government getting back to a state where it is actually working on – actively working on disablement and making progress towards that, as opposed to going in the other direction. And we’ve seen them take a variety of steps over the past month which take them in the other direction. Now, we have said – we have expressed our wish that they not only stop those steps which take them in the wrong direction, but reverse those steps. And we would hope and expect that if the process is going to move forward, that they take active steps to reverse what they have done over the past month and move the process forward towards the disablement and further – the further phases which mean actual dismantlement.

QUESTION: Well, what’s the latest on your observers on the ground? Because today they were told to prepare to go home. Are they --

MR. MCCORMACK: They – we actually had a new team that just came in. They’re still there on the ground, as are the IAEA inspectors, as I understand it.

QUESTION: But they’re there, but they’re not permitted to actually go into the sites, though, correct?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I know for certain that the IAEA has not been permitted to do its work on the site. I’ll have to check to see what the activity level of our inspectors and what they have been scheduled to do.

QUESTION: Also one last thing, you’re putting great emphasis on details and verification.


QUESTION: You’ve said this several times in this briefing. Can you explain why the dedicated department for verification here has not really played an active role in recent discussions and hasn’t been party to this document that Hill has brought back?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know to what you’re referring.

QUESTION: People have told me that they feel that they’re out of the loop.

MR. MCCORMACK: Who exactly is out of the loop?

QUESTION: I can’t say.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, okay. Well, if maybe you can tell – if you can --

QUESTION: Well, there is a name attached to this on the website and that would be on the website of her news organization. That’s Paula DeSutter.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, look, I’ll let Paula speak for herself. But just an hour ago, I was sitting in a meeting with her and the Secretary and Chris Hill and a number of other people involved in the Six-Party process. So talk to Paula. But she seemed to be fully participating when I was there.

QUESTION: But doesn’t it seem strange that they haven’t been up till now?

MR. MCCORMACK: Actually, I guess I – we’ll let others speak for themselves. But on behalf of the Department, the Secretary is very clear about making sure that all of the people who need to be involved in the process and the necessary expertise is brought to bear on the problem. So I – you know, again, I can’t speak to anybody’s level of involvement on a daily basis, but I can just -- from what I’ve heard in this meeting, they have been participating in the process. I can’t tell you, you know, has everybody been at every meeting? No. I daresay not. But if everybody were at every meeting, the government probably wouldn’t move forward.

QUESTION: But lastly, have you had any verification experts that have been present at any of these meetings with Chris Hill?

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of whose –

QUESTION: In Pyongyang, yes.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don’t know if we’ve filled the room with people, but you don’t necessarily have to have the entire U.S. Government present in a meeting. I mean, if we did that, we’d have about 50 people in the delegation.

People are fully informed. And again, people have an opportunity to participate in some way in the decisions that Chris Hill talks about in those meetings, or Sung Kim talks about in those meetings.

QUESTION: The Japanese have said publicly that they don’t think the timing is right for the delisting to take place until the abductions issue is resolved. Is this something that you’re speaking to the Japanese about, and is this what’s holding up the decision?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what we’re working on are the details of the verification protocol. In terms of the abduction issue, you’ve heard from the ultimate source in the U.S. Government, President Bush, on this issue, within –I can’t nail down the exact date for you, but he has restated in public and in private, as has Secretary Rice, the importance of getting the abduction issue resolved as soon as we possibly can in this process. And we are fully consulting with the Japanese Government on all aspects of the Six-Party process.

QUESTION: But do you think the abduction issue should be resolved before you get to the delisting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we’re consulting closely with the Japanese Government.

Yeah, Sylvie.

QUESTION: You said that you expect the North Koreans to reverse some decisions and move forward. Do you expect them to do so before the delisting, or as you delist?

MR. MCCORMACK: I would say as the process moves forward, we would expect that – if there’s a very clear signal that this process is moving forward and everybody agrees that it is moving forward, then I would expect that North Korea in short order would also make it quite clear that the process, from their perspective, is moving forward, taking actions to reverse what they’ve done.

I’m not going to draw a particular timeline for you, other than to say if the process is moving forward, we would expect all aspects of it would move forward.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can you confirm the reports of new activity at the nuclear test site in North Korea?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. Nothing for you on that.


QUESTION: Do you have any more details on the call with the Japanese Foreign Minister with Rice?

MR. MCCORMACK: No more details for you, other than they consulted on the Six-Party Talks.

QUESTION: Were they different from the other consultations with the other foreign ministers at all, or – I mean, was there any major differences?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he is a different person. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I know, I know, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, so in that sense, yes. They are different.


QUESTION: If they finally meet their obligation on North Korean side about the verification regime, it’s going to be you who announce the delisting of North Korea from the list, or somebody else? It’s going to be you here --

MR. MCCORMACK: Me, personally?


MR. MCCORMACK: If you’re putting in a special request for me, and we do get to that point, I promise I will be here.

QUESTION: It’s going to be announced in the form of a normal press briefing, or somebody else like Chris Hill?

MR. MCCORMACK: Just – we’ll, of course – if there are any new developments in the Six-Party process that, you know, we are part of, we will make sure that you are all well-informed.

QUESTION: Sean, going back to the first part of that last question: Was more – were these calls all -- only about the Six-Party Talks --


QUESTION: -- or were – there were no other topics discussed?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think in the course of the calls, they might have had some, you know, one or two other things pop up. But it was – they were about the Six-Party Talks. And it’s typical for these calls, you know. One side or the other might throw in one other topic. But they were about the Six-Party Talks.


QUESTION: I think you’ve said you’re now working on the details and –

MR. MCCORMACK: Have been working on the details.

QUESTION: Have been working on the details and consulting your allies about what went on in Pyongyang since Chris Hill has come out. Would it be fair to say at this point that to move the process forward, the ball is in the U.S. court?


QUESTION: Or in the five parties’ court?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think we all have shared responsibilities in this. It’s a consensus-driven mechanism. So you – in that sense, you have to have all the six parties taking some action.


QUESTION: But for the next step, is the ball in the U.S. court?

MR. MCCORMACK: The next step is to get a verification protocol, regime, agreement on that, that will allow the process to move forward. And in that respect, everybody has a role to play.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify one earlier point. So as the process of getting the facts right continues here, is that matched in any way by a cessation of activity in North Korea?

MR. MCCORMACK: Get the details – the details right of the process. I haven’t seen any reversal of their reversal. We’re looking for that.

QUESTION: May I? And one more question?


QUESTION: If and when it comes to de-listing, can the President do that alone and is it effective immediately?

MR. MCCORMACK: That is something, actually – I’ll have to check with our lawyers, but I think it’s actually something the Secretary of State signs.

QUESTION: Immediately?

MR. MCCORMACK: What’s that?

QUESTION: And it takes effect immediately? Do you know that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you do that on a provisional basis? I guess you could always just put them back on if you decide you want to.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I think there’s one final step that’s left. And you know, again, I can’t – I don’t know the – you know, the name of the document that is signed, but it’s a – it’s an approval by the Secretary of State.

QUESTION: What color ink do they use? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Typically, it’s black ink.

QUESTION: Pencil. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You mentioned again consensus-driven mechanism, which, you know, it certainly suggests there is not consensus yet among the five.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it’s just – no. Look, I guess you can – there are a lot of different ways you can write this. I would urge you to write this in the way that --

QUESTION: Great (inaudible) Bush Administration --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, it’s the normal process of diplomacy. You know, when you have – when you have one party that’s on – you know, in the lead on behalf of the other parties, it takes time to make sure that there are proper consultations that are done.

QUESTION: Well, you know, I understand this. But I’ve got to get back to my earlier question, which is this – whatever it was that the North Koreans gave to Chris, it appears as though you here in Washington are okay with that, and – but you can’t go forward until you get the other four onboard, and that’s what – and that is what’s going on right now.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, it’s not – you know, we’re not dragging --

QUESTION: No, I didn’t suggest someone’s being dragged. I’m just --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, it’s the normal process of diplomacy. And we – look, in the fullness of time, if we are – if we do get to the point where we have a verification protocol, we will be able to explain this process in full and excruciating detail, including with the people firsthand experienced in it. But at the moment, I am going to defer those questions until the point that we do perhaps have an agreement on the verification protocol.

QUESTION: All right. And is that pretty much out for today?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I wouldn't expect to see anybody else today except for the Secretary when she signs the U.S.-India civ-nuke agreement.

QUESTION: Are you going to ruin our weekend? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Libby, you know, we’re all on duty 24/7. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You think there might be something tomorrow, then, or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not trying to foreshadow any particular day for you.

QUESTION: It is a long weekend, though, Sean.

MR. MCCORMACK: It is a long weekend. It is a long weekend.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. I don’t think these folks back here are ready to let you. You haven’t had a question yet. We’ll come to you.

QUESTION: Following up on his question , Secretary Rice and Japanese Foreign Minister spoke on the phone for 40 minutes, and also some Japanese officials said that they need some time, some more time to review this U.S. idea on the verification protocol. So is there, like, any disagreements between the two countries in regard to --

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s part of the normal process of diplomacy.

QUESTION: And are you willing to wait for other partners to sign on to the idea?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, everybody has a vote. Everybody has a vote.


QUESTION: Following up on someone else’s question, did you say that having them reverse their reversal or ceasing any activity at Yongbyon would be a requirement for them to come to be de-listed?

MR. MCCORMACK: What we – what I said is that we would expect that if the process moves forward, we would expect it to move forward in all of its aspects, meaning that North Korea would fulfill its dismantlement obligations, which now means that they have to reverse some of the things that they’ve done over the past month.


QUESTION: Yes, on Turkey. Mr. McCormack --

MR. MCCORMACK: Are you going to congratulate President Ahtisaari?

QUESTION: To be honest with you, I’m not pleased. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: I am saying the truth. I am saying the truth.

The Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan stated that a buffer zone in northern Iraq could be created as a countermeasure against attacks by Kurdish rebels from this territory? Any comment since thousands of U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: We are working very closely with the Turkish and Iraqi Governments on a common problem; that is the threat of terrorism from the PKK.


QUESTION: On October 17th, a vote will be held for a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council, for which Turkey is a candidate. I am wondering, Mr. McCormack, what is the U.S. position on that crucial issue, keeping in mind that Turkey never implemented the UN and Security Council resolution vis-à-vis to the Turkish invasion and occupation of the Republic of Cyprus.

MR. MCCORMACK: We never talk about our votes before we cast them, Lambros.

QUESTION: The American journalists who went missing and then were held in Syria --

MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm, yeah.

QUESTION: Mr. Luck has spoken to the newspaper that he worked for in Jordan and said they had been held for eight days. Does that comport with what you understand --

MR. MCCORMACK: I only know --

QUESTION: -- that the Syrians – were the Syrians in violation of any kind of a notification requirement?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, actually, in terms of the account, I will let them tell their own story. It’s not for me to tell their story. We’re just pleased that we were able to help them and --

QUESTION: Displeased?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, we were pleased. We’re pleased that we were able to help them. One factoid for you. Apparently, Syria is not a mandatory notification country under the verification – under the Vienna Conventions. So you know, I guess this is sort of an a la carte convention. You sign up to some parts and not others. But this is the facts as they’ve been given me.

So that what that means is they do not have an obligation under the Convention to tell us when – or to tell another country when one of their citizens has been arrested. But I would say that Syria, within hours of our inquiring of them whether or not they had American citizens, responded to us that they did, and that shortly thereafter the individuals were released and allowed to return to Amman.

QUESTION: Okay. So I guess you don’t have – even if they were held for eight days, you don’t really have any leg to stand on if you wanted to complain about this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, these are the technicalities of --

QUESTION: But it’s not --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m just – I’m trying to be very factual here and just stick to the facts.

QUESTION: Well, fair enough. Is it your understanding or is the Embassy, either in Damascus or Amman’s understanding that they were, in fact, held for longer than a week before being released?

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, you know, again, I’m just going to let them tell their own story.


QUESTION: Georgia?


QUESTION: Foreign Minister Kouchner said today that, to him, Russia has respected its part of the agreement, the 8 – August 8 agreement. Do you agree with that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you, Sylvie, and see what the answer is. And we’ve talked a little bit about doing a political assessment—and let me see the state of our consultations with the French Foreign Minister.

QUESTION: He also said that it was imperfect and that they hadn’t – there were still too many troops in the breakaway regions. And while they pulled out of the security zones, they were still, you know, double the number that they had been previously, and that they had not abided by that ceasefire obligation.

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, let me – let us provide you an answer.


QUESTION: Yes. There were some troubles in Syria yesterday. The authorities launched an operation in the largest Palestinian camp in Syria, the Yarmouk camp, and many people got killed. Do you have anything on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m aware of the reports, Samir. Let me see if there’s anything that we can offer you.


QUESTION: Yesterday and the day before, I had asked you about coordination on the Somalia ship hijacking --


QUESTION: -- and yesterday you said there was an – you had gotten an unsatisfactory answer.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think --

QUESTION: I saw it was posted, yes, but now I consider that to be unsatisfactory. (Laughter.) So if that met your standards, that’s great, but it didn’t meet mine. (Laughter.) What exactly is the U.S. doing with the Russians in terms of planning to – in terms of coordinating a response to this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, let me see if we can further refine our answer for you – to your more refined question.

Lambros, you already had two.

QUESTION: Two questions for Greece, please. Mr. McCormack, why the U.S. Government is pushing Greece to accept your program ESTA, S-A-T-A, on exchanging information on suspected terrorists in order to give the approval for the Visa Waiver Program?

MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros, I’m not familiar with the details of your question, so let me try to get you an answer.

QUESTION: So you’ll take this question?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’ll see if we have anything to say about your question.


QUESTION: Apparently, the IAEA suspects a Russian citizen to help Iran to improve its enrichment capabilities. Do you have anything on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the IAEA can offer any particular facts that they may have about that. I would say only that we would expect that any member of the IAEA do everything that it – they possibly could – it possibly could – to ensure compliance with all of that country’s international obligations. And I’m not saying that any country hasn’t. It’s just a general statement.

QUESTION: And still no notion as to when there’s a P-5+1 conference call?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not scheduled yet.

QUESTION: Going back to the Secretary’s calls. Not on North Korea, but you mentioned that other topics might have come up. Might the financial situation have been one of those topics?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t believe it did. I don’t believe it did in those calls.


QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 12:55 p.m.)

DPB #171

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