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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 31, 2008



U.S. Condemns Bomb Blasts in Assam


Reviewing Comments on SOFA / No Formal Reply Given to Iraqis Yet


U.S. Supports Discussions Between Dalai Lama’s Representatives and Chinese Government


North Korean Delegation New York / Participants


Passport Records May Have Been Accessed for Illicit Purposes
State Department Working with Law Enforcement Authorities
Steps Taken to Help Protect Personal Information
Individuals Immediately Notified by Letter
State Department Involvement in Passport Case


Individual Detained in Iran


Syrian Government Requests for Closure of American School and Cultural Center
No Further Discussions with the Syrians


Assistant Secretary Frazer’s Meetings / Travel in the Great Lakes Region
Trying to Work Diplomacy / Open Channels of Communication
Working to Address Immediate Violence in Region
Humanitarian Assistance Assessment Underway
U.S. Supports UN Call for Additional Forces for MONUC
Government Forces
Long-Term Solution Includes Institution Building in Great Lakes Region


Transition is a Rolling Process / Briefing Books


View Video

10:49 a.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning, guys. I have just a couple of points I want to make about the bomb blasts in Assam, India that have claimed some lives.

The United States condemns these attacks. There is absolutely no justification for the use of violence against innocent people. We convey our condolences to those who lost loved ones and friends in this attack, and certainly wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured in the attack. Ambassador Mulford has also spoken out and condemned this attack as well. And we do not have any indications that Americans were injured or killed in the blast.

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

QUESTION: Do you have any – is there any update on the SOFA discussions?

MR. MCCORMACK: No updates. We received the comments. We’re still reviewing them. They’re – I don’t have an exact number, but they’re numerous in terms of the comments, so we’re working through all of those, trying to put a lot of thought into how to respond to them, but I don’t think we’ve given a formal reply to the Iraqis yet.

QUESTION: Is there going to be a formal reply or --

MR. MCCORMACK: I would expect that there will be.

QUESTION: And will it be a point-by-point reply or will it just be, no?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) I suspect it would probably be a little more detailed than the simple one-word answer. Look, people are – the Iraqis clearly take this seriously, as do we. I think you can – that’s evidenced by the negotiating process that we have here. So we’re going to try and take some time. And we do have a little bit of time. I know the – you know, we’re – December 31st is the deadline, I guess, but we do have a little bit of time and we’re going to review the comments and try to formulate our responses.

I can’t tell you whether or not, you know, we’ll group together a response like, okay, 1 through 10, here’s our response and10 through 20. We’ll tailor it to the subject matter as well as, you know, the substance of our response.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yeah, the Dalai Lama’s representatives have arrived in China now for this latest round of talks. Do you have anything more on those?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new. I didn’t hear any reports about the talks this morning. We do support these discussions between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese Government. It’s something, if you look back over the past six months, we actually have been quite forward-leaning in supporting these talks, so it’s good. We hope that they’re serious and that they are substantive.

QUESTION: There was a – if I could follow up, there was --


QUESTION: -- a statement released by Gordon last night and there was a line in there which urged both sides to be committed to the talks. Do you – do you see any sign that either side or maybe even both sides are not committed, not fully committed?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. This is another way of saying, look, we hope that these are substantive and serious and that they use it as a channel for trying to resolve differences that exist between them. There’s been an off-and-on history of these discussions. This isn’t the first time that they’ve met. But we hope that this is an effort that will yield some results.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Do you know any more about the North Korean delegation that’s going to be in New York apparently next week? And I think Chris Hill said that Sung Kim --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, Sung Kim.

QUESTION: -- is going to meet with them.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Sung Kim is going to see them, yeah.

QUESTION: Do you know what days and --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll try to get the details for you. I saw – I ran into Chris yesterday and I asked him about this. I guess Sung Kim is going to see them. This is one of those so-called track-two efforts where there’s an NGO or a private organization, nongovernmental organization that’s sponsoring a conference. The North Koreans have been invited to attend. I believe they’re – the level of their representation is at the deputy to Kim Kye Gwan, who’s their head of delegation in the Six-Party Talks. Ambassador Kim, from our side, is going to see him. I’ll try to get the details for you in terms of dates, et cetera.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on this passport issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: I do, I do. Got some details for you. I’ll – let me cut to the chase. We – the State Department was working with law enforcement authorities, so there’s a limit on what we can say about specifics, but as we got the names of potentially affected individuals from law enforcement authorities, we immediately contacted those individuals via letter.

To date, we have contacted – we have notified 383 individuals whose records may have been assessed – accessed by the suspect in this case for illicit purposes. To the best of our knowledge, most of these individuals have not experienced identity theft. Law enforcement officials are still investigating this case, so I can’t give you – I can’t say that 383 is going to be the final number. There may be – along the way, we find that there are more people.

And again, our practice is to notify those individuals immediately and that we also offer free credit monitoring for one year for anyone whose file may have been accessed by this individual and any – and the potential for – and there’s the potential for identity theft. So – and that’s – I think if you look at these sorts of cases, as unfortunate as they are and as hard as we work to make sure that they don’t happen, if you look – your private sector and the public sector, that’s standard practice to offer that credit monitoring.

We also have, in the wake of this case, we – and this was – I think it first came to the attention of Department officials, I think, around the time of all the news stories and the reports of access by individuals of the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees. I think we all remember those cases.

So in the wake of all those cases, we took a number of different steps to help protect personal information -- that’s a solemn trust that we take very seriously -- that we have a series of mandatory audits. We enhanced the mandatory auditing system. We enhanced the monitoring list. We improved training. And we also revamped internal reporting procedures as well.

QUESTION: How – in addition to the credit monitoring, what if these people actually suffer identity theft? Are you willing to reimburse them for expenses?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll have to –

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I’ll have to check, Elise. I don’t know. I’ll check with the lawyers to see what it is that – what our policy is. And I don’t have that info.

QUESTION: Wait. Did you say that this came to light at the same time as the breaches on the candidates’ files?

MR. MCCORMACK: They’re not connected. It was -- the timing --

QUESTION: The same time?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Department officials became aware of the particular case around that time. I can’t talk anymore about it.

QUESTION: It was months and months and months and months ago?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, yes. But again, it was a law enforcement matter that law enforcement officials were handling.

QUESTION: So when did these letters get sent out?

MR. MCCORMACK: They were done in two tranches. Thirty-eight individuals were sent notices on July 10th and approximately 345 people were sent notices on October 6, so very recently. And again, we sent these notices out as we got the names from law enforcement officials. So as soon as the State Department got the names of the individuals, we sent out the notices.

QUESTION: Do we know if the person involved has been fired?

MR. MCCORMACK: The – (laughter) – they’re not working in their former capacity. They don’t have access to the personal information. I honestly don’t know their status.

QUESTION: Okay. Could you check?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll check for you, yeah. But suffice to say, they’re not accessing personal information.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I mean, this gets into a question of, you know, look, everybody has a right to defend themselves against accusations. And it’s still a matter of ongoing investigation, so there’s not a whole lot that I can say. Let me see if I can answer the question of whether or not formally they’ve been separated from the Department of State.

QUESTION: And could you say if this is a contractor or an actual employee, and then whether – I guess, what the timeline is for his – when he was first taken off of his --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, yeah. Let me see. I’ll try to – I’ll see if we can get that information for you and release it.


QUESTION: We have been asking questions for a while. I am sorry if I missed something, but what about this young Iranian American feminist who was arrested in Iran? Did you check her nationality? Is an American – is she an American citizen?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’re still working on this case, and there’s not a whole lot I can say about it, just because there are no Privacy Act waivers. Suffice it to say, as in – as with past cases of American citizens being detained in Iran unjustly -- in many cases, simply just for expressing an opinion that runs contrary to the policies of the Iranian regime – we speak out and do what we can.

There’s two sides to that. We stand ready to help. Of course, family members also have to make it clear that they want U.S. Government intervention in cases. Sometimes it isn’t the case that the family members either want us to say anything at all about it or to help out, just because sometimes they think that that might not be helpful to a successful resolution of the case.

QUESTION: But is she American?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, that is something -- that’s a question that, at this point, I can’t answer for you.

QUESTION: Well, if she wasn’t an American, the Privacy Act wouldn’t apply --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. I know, Matt. Look, you know, I really can’t – this is one of these cases where, you know, I get put in these ridiculous positions like this. And – but I have to err on the side of respecting – you know, respecting the law and respecting the wishes of the individuals involved.

QUESTION: But is it correct that if someone is not an American citizen, the Privacy Act would not apply?

MR. MCCORMACK: I believe that would be the case. I’m not a lawyer, but --

QUESTION: And you can’t discuss this case because of the Privacy Act waiver? Thank you. We got your answer.

MR. MCCORMACK: There you go. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You mean that her family doesn’t want the U.S. Government --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not going to – again, I’ve spoken generally about these kinds of cases. I’m just not going to go any further.

QUESTION: Have you had any more contact with the Syrians about what they’ve done, what you’re – what you may or may not do?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we have – let me get the – the date for you here, see if I can find it. We did have – our chargé Maura Connelly on the 29th so that’s two days ago – was called into the Syrian ministry of foreign affairs. We reported that and I think we talked about that. And she received a verbal demarche communicating the Syrian Government request that the American Cultural Center be closed. The Syrian Government also requested that the Damascus Community School known as – known in Damascus as “the American school” be closed by November 6.

We are considering our response to that demarche. It is the weekend in Damascus right now. These facilities, in any case, wouldn’t be scheduled under normal circumstances to reopen until Sunday. So at this point, I can’t give you an update. We’re considering how we’re going to respond to that oral communication from the Syrians.

QUESTION: So I think the answer to my question, then, is no.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, technically, they’re not closed yet, because they haven’t been --

QUESTION: Well, I asked if there had been any further discussions with the --

MR. MCCORMACK: No further – there have been no further discussions.

QUESTION: And so as you consider your responses to this, are you considering just ignoring what the Syrians have asked?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are a spectrum of different possible responses here.

QUESTION: Yes, ranging from --

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) I guess ranging from --

QUESTION: Compliance to noncompliance? I mean, is there --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, yeah. Yes. And stuff in between. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you say, well, thank you very much for your request, but we’re – we say no?

MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, there are a range of possible responses. I think you’ve defined either -- both ends of the spectrum.

Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Why the Syrians want to close the Center and the school?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. Ask them.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Yes. Back to the North Korean delegation again. Do you know if Ambassador Hill will be attending or his North Korea counterpart? You mentioned that --

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t believe Kim Kye Gwan will be. I’m not sure if Chris plans to go up to New York. In any case, Ambassador Kim is going to be up there.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Do you have anything for us on Congo right now? Do you -- where is Jendayi and is she in Goma?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, she’s actually in Goma right now, or she was in Goma today, at this moment, 11:03 Eastern – you know, Eastern Time, I don’t know if she’s still in Goma. She was planning to go from Goma to Kigali to have discussions with President Kagame. And this weekend, she had plans to also go to Uganda. And these are – and she previously visited with President Kabila in Kinshasa. These are all players in this Great Lakes conflict.

So we’re – as I said a couple days ago, we’re working on the politics of this. We’re trying to work the diplomacy and open up channels of communication critically between President Kabila and President Kagame to try to address the immediate violence that’s going on there and potentially to try to come to some more long-term, sustainable solution.

In the meantime, we’re also working to try to get humanitarian assistance in there, additional humanitarian assistance, and also supporting the UN’s call for additional UN forces for MONUC.

QUESTION: Sorry, just on the aid and then on the forces. What are you doing specifically? When is that going to be – when are you going to announce a plan on aid and then --

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing --

QUESTION: -- and what are you doing on the forces? You mentioned that might be --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, well, the DPKO, the peacekeeping office in the UN, has put out a call for additional forces for MONUC. We support that call. The U.S. – we’re not going to contribute U.S. forces to this, but we support the contribution that others might make and believe it’s important – it’s important that there be capable forces there as well.

In terms of aid, I don’t have anything additional to announce at this point. We’re doing an assessment of what might – what else might be needed and what we might do.

As one further note, we did receive some initial reports today that there is some reduction in the level of violence, but still you have a really massive problem in terms of in that region, again, crossing borders, over a million people internally displaced. So there is an immediate issue and then there is a long-term issue. We’re trying to work both.

QUESTION: For the long-term issue, you must be worried about reports of the government troops looting and killing civilians.


QUESTION: I mean, can they be a reliable force to guarantee the security of --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, a lot of these questions about – you know, about the forces and what exactly rebel forces are doing and the various groups that are operating in that region – that’s why you have the UN there, the MONUC forces. Those are really to provide a force in which populations, whether they be local populations or internally displaced populations, can have confidence in. And anytime we do hear reports of – whether it’s government forces or rebel forces committing atrocities or behaving outside acceptable norms of behavior, those are – those are looked into. But the key is to make sure you have a good, strong MONUC force there.

QUESTION: But that’s a short-term solution. What about the longer-term indications for --

MR. MCCORMACK: It is. The longer – well, the longer-term solution is to get a political solution, a political resolution to the differences here, to ensure that there are well-trained, professional security forces in all of the various countries around in the Great Lakes region, so you don’t have these kinds of issues arrive. Clearly – arise. Clearly, that is a long-term – that’s a long-term process that is – that involves institution building in – institution building in some places where there aren’t strong institutions.


QUESTION: Why aren’t you going to contribute U.S. forces?

MR. MCCORMACK: We – it’s obviously a critical problem that, you know, we take a look at how we might be most effective around the globe when those security issues come up. And it’s the assessment that this is a mission that’s best fulfilled by others.

QUESTION: Is that possibly because you don’t – I mean, the U.S. military is already stretched You don’t really have the forces to send.

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll let the military speak for themselves in terms of their assessments. But if you just look at the public comments, they make it clear that the United States can handle whatever situations it’s confronted with.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. ever contributed to a peacekeeping force in Africa?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can’t remember – I don’t know the answer to that question, Matt. I’ll look at historically. I mean, clearly, there have been times when we have had presences on the ground, although separate from the UN.

QUESTION: I forgot what I was going to ask. Oh yeah, I know.


QUESTION: On the transition. So are the transition books all ready to go, or are there people waiting until, you know, Tuesday at midnight to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, nothing like a deadline to focus energies. Now, I know that papers are being assembled, and I can’t tell you exactly in what state of readiness the books are. I know, for example, you know, my bureau contributed some papers to it, and I signed off on those papers a couple of days ago. So we’re – we, at least, are well ahead of the deadline.

And what I expect, this is going to be a rolling process and an interactive process. So what you’ll have – and I hope on next Wednesday, presuming that there is a declared winner of the election, that we’ll have the books out here to show --

QUESTION: Do you have some reason to believe that we’re headed for --

MR. MCCORMACK: I have no –

QUESTION: -- a Florida-style recount?

MR. MCCORMACK: I have no reason to believe that – you know, I think as all of us have learned over the past couple of elections, you have to wait until all – until the votes are tallied and there is a winner declared. I’m certainly not going to get ahead of myself.

But we’ll try to have the books actually out here so you can get a look at them. We’re not going to let you take a look inside of them, but we’ll have them here. And the – it’s going to be a rolling process, as I said. The incoming team is going to have questions. They’re going to make additional requests for information, different papers that they want produced.

And we’re going to do everything within our power to make sure that they have all the information that they need, whether that’s written or in person, interviews and discussions, so that the incoming team, when they take responsibility on January 20th at 12:02, they have everything that they need to make the decisions and to – that they need to make and to take responsibility for American foreign policy and national security.

QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 11:10 a.m.)

DPB #185

Released on October 31, 2008

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