|Daily Press Briefing|
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
September 12, 2008
Visual from today's briefing:
Map of Georgia
|Secretary Rice Participating in Steven Farley Memorial Service|
|Venezuelan and Bolivian Ambassadors to the United States Persona Non Grata|
|U.S. Has a Positive Agenda for the Western Hemisphere|
|Venezuelas Chavez and Bolivias Morales Have Not Helped Democracy|
|Chavezs and Morales Accusations Are Baseless/Accusations to Distract Attention|
|U.S. Still Has Diplomatic Relations with Bolivia and Venezuela|
|Russian Bombers Sent to Venezuela|
|Russian Forces Still in Georgia/ In Violation of Cease-fire Agreement|
|Secretary Rice Phone Call with Foreign Minister Lavrov|
|Russian Gas Pipeline|
|Six-Party Talks Verification Protocol|
|India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement on Capitol Hill|
|Power Sharing Deal|
|Secretary Rice Meeting with Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic|
10:43 a.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning, everybody. Just a couple of notes before a statement that I have for you.
The first of those is just to bring to your attention the fact that we have a memorial service that’s actually, I think, ongoing right now for Steven Farley, who lost his life working on behalf of the United States Government in Sadr City just recently. Secretary Rice is participating in this memorial service, and it’s a time when we can mourn Steven’s passing, but also to celebrate his life and his service to his country.
The second is, just after my briefing, we’re going to have a separate briefing with Ambassador Jim Foley and his counterpart from the Department of Homeland Security talking about Iraqi refugees. And to not steal Jim’s thunder, we have good news to announce regarding our targets for admissions of Iraqi refugees, so I’ll let him make the news. But that would be right after my briefing, so whoever would like to stay afterwards, we’ll try to do the transition as quickly as we possibly can.
And I have one statement to read to you – this is from me – then we can get right into your questions.
We regret the actions of both President Hugo Chavez and President Evo Morales to expel our ambassadors in Venezuela and Bolivia, respectively. This reflects the weakness and desperation of these leaders as they face internal challenges and an inability to communicate effectively internationally in order to build international support.
Charges leveled against our fine ambassadors by the leaders of Bolivia and Venezuela are false -- and the leaders of those countries know it. The only meaningful conspiracy in the region is the common commitment of democratic countries to enhance opportunities for their citizens. The only overthrow we seek is that of poverty.
As is well known in the region, we continue to focus on our larger positive agenda for the hemisphere, which we call a social justice agenda for the hemisphere. The values that we and our democratic friends favor are carrying the day in the hemisphere. The governments from center-left to center-right are implementing pragmatic policies designed to help their citizens prosper in the globalized economy. These policies are favored by the vast majority of people in the hemisphere. No country has ever improved the well-being of its citizens by antagonizing neighbors and refraining from fruitful integration with the world’s democracies.
Those who shout the loudest are not making the real news in the Americas. The real story of our time is the quiet, evolutionary change promoted by pragmatic governments and their constituencies who want to improve the lives of their citizens. Those changes will not occur over night, and we still have work to be done. But we are on the right path, and will continue to work with our democratic partners to better the lives of our citizens.
And just also one note, because I know that will be your first question, we have informed the Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States he will be expelled and he should leave the United States. I believe that President Chavez last night said he was recalling him. I can’t tell you whether he is actually here or not, but he will be expelled.
And with that, I am happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Do you know if Ambassador Goldberg has left La Paz yet?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t. Let me check for you. If he hasn’t left already, he will be leaving soon.
QUESTION: Ambassador Duddy is here in the United States?
MR. MCCORMACK: He is by – just by happenstance here in the United States on a separate personal matter.
QUESTION: Does he have to go back and get his stuff?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know exactly how it’s going to work. I guess we can have people pack up his stuff.
QUESTION: Have you actually received official notice by Venezuela of their – of the action that Chavez said he would take?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’re taking that announcement as official notice. I can’t tell you whether or not we’ve received an official diplomatic note. I think as of the time I came down here this morning, we actually haven’t received the diplomatic note from the Bolivians. Nonetheless, they’ve made it very clear what they – what their intention was and we took them at their word. We take President Chavez at his word in this particular case. And we have reacted appropriately.
As I said in the statement here, these are actions that are made out of weakness by both of these leaders. Both President Morales and President Chavez are – face serious internal issues, particularly in Bolivia. President Chavez is clearly worried about his protégé in Bolivia, President Morales. He has also committed a number of serious missteps in the region just recently, if we look at what happened with the FARC in Colombia. He is also – happened to invite in the Russian military for – quote, unquote – “military exercises.” I don’t think that there is any question about who the predominant military power is in the hemisphere.
And as I said, we are watching the deployment of the Blackjack bombers closely. I think we have a picture in the back, can we – yeah, so we have a picture that was taken of the – one of the Blackjack bombers as it was coming to Venezuela. As you can see, we are watching it closely. And of course, if it can’t make it back, we’d be happy to make sure the guys get back when they’re intended to go back on the 15th.
And as I said – but the real message here is the fact that we have a positive agenda for the hemisphere. We are working very closely with those others in the hemisphere who share these values, who have an interest in promoting democracy, who have an interest in doing what’s right for their people. None of what President Morales or President Chavez did helps their people one bit. As a matter of fact, all it does is serve to isolate them from the rest of the world. So they can take those actions. We, of course, will react appropriately.
But our main focus is going to remain on trying to build more prosperity and to spread freedom throughout the hemisphere.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you think that the Russians are still stirring up the situation in Latin America after what happened in Georgia?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don’t know, Sylvie. And you can ask the Russian Government what their intentions are. You know, I would – although I’m not drawing any linkage, I would contrast what our forces were doing in the military -- in the Black Sea delivering humanitarian assistance, whereas I don’t know what the message here is with this Blackjack bomber that’s headed to Venezuela and the U.S. naval ships that are, I guess, apparently steering toward Venezuela again. We’ll see if they actually make it there. Somebody told me that they had a tugboat accompanying them in case they break down along the way.
But our – you know, our agenda is a positive one for the region. I can speak definitively. And I think it’s clear to all what our agenda is for the region.
QUESTION: Can you tell us if the sanctions against some Venezuelan leaders that were announced today at the Treasury are linked to the expulsions of the --
MR. MCCORMACK: No. This is something that has been entrained for some time. As you know, the kingpin designations are things that we do annually and it’s something that has been in the works for quite some time.
Can you bring down the photo?
QUESTION: For those of us that don’t know our jets on sight, what kind of fighter jet is that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think it was an F-15.
QUESTION: It was an F-15?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) two. What --
MR. MCCORMACK: What’s that?
MR. MCCORMACK: That was only one of them, yeah.
QUESTION: That was the last one, I take it.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, yeah, there were two -- apparently two. I don’t know. You can ask the Russians. Apparently, there were two of these bombers that were going. This is just a photograph of one. And obviously this photograph was taken from another American or NATO aircraft.
QUESTION: And (inaudible) --
MR. MCCORMACK: It was taken, I believe, as the bomber was transiting in the Norwegian Sea or around Iceland.
QUESTION: Uh-huh. And what did you say about naval ships?
MR. MCCORMACK: The naval ships?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, apparently, the Russian Government has announced that they were – previously that they were sending some naval ships as part of this so-called military exercise. And I had seen one report where I think they were actually being accompanied by a tugboat. And I – previously they had mentioned that the Russian Government – it was very interesting that they found some ships that could actually make it that far down to Venezuela.
QUESTION: Sean, in terms of signals – I actually have other questions, but in terms of signals, yesterday Governor Palin gave her first interview and the word “war” was bandied around in relation to Russia. Do you have a response?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is what takes place in our free and open democracy where you have a free and open press that’s able to interview the variety of freely nominated candidates for the American presidency. I’m not going to comment on our political system. That’s not my job here at the State Department.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. All right, then can I ask on a different subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: South Ossetia first, two things. I presume you are interested in discussing the situation in the UN, so my question is -- will you be giving visas to Ossetian and Abkhazian representatives to take part in those discussions?
MR. MCCORMACK: As always with any request of this type, we’ll take a look at what our obligations are under the headquarters agreement.
QUESTION: Okay. Another question on that is have you looked at Senator Clinton’s call for a fact-finding commission here in the U.S. to establish the facts on the ground of what happened in early August in Georgia?
MR. MCCORMACK: I have not seen that, but I’m glad you brought that up, actually. Facts on the ground. So why don’t we bring up the map? What I’d – what we’re going to bring up here is just a quick map of where Russian – roughly where Russian forces are in Georgia right now. And I bring this up just because it’s a – as a baseline for all of you. And we can see as the days and weeks go along whether or not Russia is going to comply with their international obligations.
We won’t – you know, we can talk about it as much as you want. But one thing I – if you look at the map, one thing I really want to point out is very clearly, first of all, there’s the international boundary around Georgia, and that includes Abkhazia and South Ossetia. So make no mistake about it; South Ossetia and Abkhazia are part of Georgia, in our view, as well as the rest of the international community, except for a couple of outliers.
If you look at some of the administrative boundaries, you can see quite clearly outside of those administrative boundaries we have Russian forces arrayed east to west and north to south in the port city of Poti and then also heading east. As well, you have security check posts – check posts arrayed.
So you can get an idea of the fact that Russian forces, in contravention of the mid-August ceasefire agreement, are quite clearly still in Georgia. They shouldn’t be there. So there is a geographic aspect to this. There’s also a numerical aspect to this. There’s been a lot of discussion about the numbers of Russian forces.
Under the existing international agreements, the members of Russian forces that were allowed – or that were – on August 6th in South Ossetia were about 500 men in one peacekeeping battalion. In Abkhazia, there were about 2,500 men in three peacekeeping battalions and one airborne battalion. And there were some pockets of peacekeeping forces south of Abkhazia in the security zone that lies within – that is – lies within Georgia.
So this mention just the other day of 7,600 that would be in Abkhazia and South Ossetia quite clearly is a violation of the agreement that the – President Medvedev signed in mid-August. So make no – so there are, again, two different measures here. There is the numerical measure. There’s the geographic measures. And as this map shows, quite clearly there in – Russian is – Russia is in contravention of the ceasefire agreement that President Medvedev signed in mid-August.
We have a chance on – starting on Monday for – to see whether or not they are going to comply with the second agreement that President Medvedev signed. And then there are certain – there are stages to that. And so what I’d like to do, if all of you find it useful, is to use this map as a baseline. And then over the days and weeks, we’ll see approximately where the Russian forces are and whether or not they are actually complying with their ceasefire agreements.
QUESTION: But (inaudible) about the Georgian forces too, but –
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it’s Georgia, so they’re allowed to be there.
QUESTION: Right, but --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, you’ve had enough questions. Let’s move up front here.
QUESTION: On – on the subject, there was just – on the map, I wondered what the red lines are. I assume the red dots are the – the Russian forces. But I also had another question.
MR. MCCORMACK: The – which? The --
QUESTION: Red lines –
MR. MCCORMACK: -- red lines around Senaki and (inaudible)?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MR. MCCORMACK: These were – those were lines indicating where the Russian troops had penetrated to as of about mid-August, 19 – the 19th of August. So there has been some movement, as you can see.
MR. MCCORMACK: But again, still very clearly in Georgia, not in places where they’re supposed to be, not in places where they were allowed to be by international agreement, not in places where the mid-August ceasefire agreement allows them to be.
QUESTION: I – I think the Russian Foreign Ministry said yesterday that Lavrov and Rice had spoken by phone. I think it said that she had called him.
MR. MCCORMACK: That’s right.
QUESTION: And I wondered was that the first time they had spoken since August the 15th? And secondly, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s account said that he told her that EU monitors would not be allowed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. So I’d like to have your account of the conversation and what she might have told him in response to that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. In terms of the questions of monitors, OSCE versus – versus EU monitors, let me get a written response to that, because it is a complex issue.
They did speak yesterday. Secretary Rice initiated the phone call. And it was the first time – I can’t tell you exactly when, but it was when she was on the plane ride back from Georgia, August 15th.
QUESTION: You had said before, yeah.
MR. MCCORMACK: And it was a wide-ranging discussion. They obviously focused on Georgia as well. And quite simply, the Secretary urged Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia should comply with its international obligations, including the ceasefire agreements that it has signed, the two of them that it has signed.
They also talked about other issues. They talked about Iran. They talked about North Korea. They talked about the India Civil Nuclear Agreement. So the – there was a heavy emphasis on Georgia, but there were also those other topics that they touched on.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, why do you have to clarify on the monitors? I don’t understand what –
MR. MCCORMACK: Because the OSCE monitors are governed by previous international agreements. They are also covered by the August, I think 18th, ceasefire agreement. Then, there’s a second ceasefire agreement which was signed which included a provision for EU monitors –
MR. MCCORMACK: -- once again, as a separate mission.
QUESTION: I think that’s what he was referring to.
MR. MCCORMACK: No, I get that and I understand that. So – in order so that we are all very clear on this, let me give you a written response. We’ll put that out later this afternoon.
QUESTION: To follow up on the map itself, whose map is it?
MR. MCCORMACK: It’s our map, State Department map. We produced it specially for this --
QUESTION: State Department produced?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we produced this, yes. We’re – just to give you a little of the process, I thought that this would be, again, incorporating the technology in the briefing room, I thought this would help all of you get an understanding of what it is that we see in terms of Russian forces, where they’re arrayed, where they should be, where they shouldn’t be, where they’re allowed to be and where they’re not allowed to be. So we work internally here with a number of different bureaus to bring together this information. But this is – you know, it’s a State Department map.
QUESTION: The reason I asked –
MR. MCCORMACK: And again, I have to – I’ll give you the – there’s a caveat down here, names and boundaries, representation are not necessarily authoritative, meaning the scale – the scale of this thing.
QUESTION: But the reason I ask is because it’s a map showing troop positions, and this is not a Pentagon-generated map or generated by another agency of the government?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the information contained in the map is U.S. Government information, I guess, is the best way to put it. But this is – I’m showing it to you here in the briefing room, so it’s unclassified. But people worked very hard to try to put together this information to provide it to the journalists, to provide it to the public. We thought it was a useful presentation of the information.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yup.
QUESTION: The Foreign Ministry in Russia is taking offense to your use of the words, “these guys,” to refer to Russia. They say it’s more – adorns more to a Texas bar than in a diplomatic back and forth. So if you might respond.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, get out the fainting couch for them. You know, what can I say? They should probably focus less on exactly how I phrase things and maybe focus their energies on getting out of Georgia.
QUESTION: You said that the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov about Iran. And Mr. Lavrov today met with the Iranian Foreign -- Motaki – Foreign Minister Motaki today in Moscow. Are you confident that this meeting about the Iranian nuclear program is going to be – to be compliant with the Six-Party Talks?
MR. MCCORMACK: You mean with – I don’t know. You can talk to the Russian Government about what their intentions are. But you know, they, of course, have voted for these resolutions and are part of the P-5+1 process. We would hope that the message to the Iranian Foreign Minister is to comply with the just demands of the international community.
Yeah, over here.
QUESTION: Changing the subject, going back to Venezuela --
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. We’ll come back to that in a little --
QUESTION: One more on that.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: You said that they discussed the India nuclear agreement. Can you tell us a little bit more about what --
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not going to get into the details of it. But of course, Russia is a member of the Board of Governors of the IAEA. They played an important role – the IAEA played an important role in moving this agreement forward. And the Secretary’s message – basic message was this agreement was good for India, good for the United States, good for the international nonproliferation regime.
QUESTION: Is she meeting with any lawmakers today about the India nuke deal and its –
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing scheduled today. Nothing scheduled.
QUESTION: Can you guys give any update on efforts to get legislation that would sort of do away with the 30 day waiting period?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think the – well, first of all, the Congress is really going to be in the best position to talk about that. They can talk about their parliamentary rules and how they applied this particular piece of legislation.
We’re, of course, working with them every step of the way. And we would – I think they’re pretty clear on our desire to move this legislation forward as quickly as possible. But ultimately, it comes down to leadership both in the House and the Senate, as well as the individual members and voting on a piece of legislation.
Yeah. Anything else on –
QUESTION: Sean --
MR. MCCORMACK: Hold on, no, hold on. No, no. Hold on. Hold on. Anything else on Russia? Anybody has another chance on Russia, and then we can move on to other issues.
You have one on Russia?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, here you go.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary talk with Mr. Lavrov why they are sending these bombers to Venezuela?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t think she brought it up.
QUESTION: One more question.
MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll get to you, Lambros.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you, if I may, to put this on the internet so we could all admire this on the internet, also, the map.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. Absolutely. As a matter of fact, we have paper copies here if you want to pick one up on the way out.
QUESTION: And to come back to my original question, since you have all this information, since you have all the -- you did not answer the question about Senator Clinton’s call. What – will you support a fact-finding commission here?
MR. MCCORMACK: I – again, I’m happy to provide you an answer. I haven’t seen the quote; I haven’t seen the proposal.
QUESTION: It was a couple of days ago, indicating --
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m sure we’ll provide you an answer --
QUESTION: One more question, one more.
MR. MCCORMACK: You’ve already had enough questions. Let’s move over to Lambros.
QUESTION: On Russia, again. Mr. McCormack, in light of the events in Georgia and the situation (inaudible) invited to join NATO, do you see any prospect of reconsideration of NATO’s (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think the Bucharest summit statement was definitive and still pertains.
Anything else on Russia?
QUESTION: One more on Russia. This is – could you still characterize NATO as a defense alliance if (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: The NATO charter hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Do you have the map?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I think we’re – I think we’re all set on the map.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just on Venezuela, a real quick one. President Chavez said yesterday, as he often says -- he threatened to cut off Venezuelan oil exports to the United States which, of course, is its largest customer. And I wonder why or what risk the Administration sees to the possibility that Venezuela might do that or why you discount that risk, you don’t feel like it’s a risk and --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Yeah, Arshad, that’s just – sometimes in this job, you have to know where your boundaries are. And that’s a question that really gets down to oil market issues. I, of course, can comment on diplomacy and national security and policy and so forth. That one, I’m just not going to get into, though.
QUESTION: Can I ask you one just related to it? Is it fair to say that you made the judgment that you didn’t think there was such a great risk of that and that you did not feel constrained in any way, therefore, in deciding to expel the – their Ambassador here?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, putting aside – putting aside the question of oil and markets, look, we took the decisions that we thought were appropriate, as well as needed, in this particular circumstance.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
QUESTION: What --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah – no, we – over here. We’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: Just about that. This week has begun -- in Miami – in some trial about this guy that was (inaudible) Argentina with $800,000. He has said many names, this trial – Hugo Chavez, some ministers, some guys in the – in the political police and stuff. It has happened – begun with that. After that, President Chavez and all the ministers have said that it’s a threat of the empire, the United States, and they say that United States is behind it – trying to kill himself and trying to make (inaudible). What would be your answer to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, anything having to do – I mean, anything having to do with this trial, I’m going to have to refer over to the Department of Justice. We have previously spoken about the charges that were brought several months ago. I can’t remember exactly when they were brought. But now that you have an ongoing judicial proceeding, I am not going to offer any comment on it.
QUESTION: And is it – it would be like, considered as a reaction to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: The only thing that I – the only thing that I can add about this trial, which I have said before, is that this is entirely a judicial matter. It has to do with United States law and allegations of the United States law being broken. It has nothing to do whatsoever with politics or diplomacy.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sorry if I bother --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, please go ahead.
QUESTION: I mean, my point is if it has some connection, this answer – all these – all this consideration of President Chavez has said is the Government of the United States is trying to kill him, is trying to make (inaudible), is trying to sabotage the government, all of that he just said yesterday.
MR. MCCORMACK: It’s just baseless. I saw one news report and I have to admit, I didn’t ask the U.S. Government to do up a tally, but I saw one news report that said he has done this, I think more than 20 times, made these kinds of allegations recently.
So look, this is part of the playbook. Whenever things – whenever – and you can see it also in Bolivia as well – whenever things aren’t going well, either domestically or internationally – and I think it’s safe to say both for President Chavez and for President Morales, if you look at their different yet – their separate situations, it’s clear that they’re trying to distract attention.
You have President Chavez, his – all of a sudden, his revenue stream is dropping. He’s made a lot of spending promises. He quite clearly has made – had problems regarding Colombia and the FARC. His protégé in Colombia obviously has troubles, internal political troubles. So look, this is part of – that’s part of the playbook when they roll out these accusations, and they’re totally baseless.
Okay, let’s move back. Charley.
QUESTION: Sean, still on the same topic – topic. What is it going to take to calm the diplomatic waters with Venezuela and Bolivia? And what is the United States doing to accomplish that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we – Charley, we are open to a good relationship with every country in the hemisphere that wants it with the United States. There are some states that have stated quite clearly through their actions and through the rhetoric, they don’t want a good relationship with the United States. That’s fine. The message is we are – the rest of the hemisphere is moving forward. It is going to become more prosperous. It is going to become more free. There are – we will work with the countries of the region who want to work with us on issues related to social justice. Those countries that don’t – that aren’t part of that wave in the hemisphere, it’s sad for their people, but they’ll probably be left by the wayside. That doesn't mean, though, that we don’t care about those people, and we remain open to having good – a good relationship with the people of Venezuela, with Venezuela, with the people of Bolivia, with Bolivia.
QUESTION: But can you say what the United States is actively doing today to reinstate the full diplomatic relations with the two countries?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, look, I don’t -- we have embassies there. We have people that are going to be working there on a daily basis, diplomats doing their jobs. It just so happens that each of these countries has expelled our ambassador. We have, in turn, taken steps to expel their ambassadors. We still have diplomatic relations between these countries. Clearly, they are not at – it’s not business as usual, quite clearly, if the ambassadors have been expelled, but there still are diplomatic relations.
QUESTION: Sean, in the case of Bolivia, there’s – you mentioned economic development and the interest. There are three areas – the economic assistance and development to Bolivia, the drug war against (inaudible) drug war, and the preferential tariffs which, I think, end this year.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: What’s going to happen in those areas?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have any announcements in that regard. I mean, as I stated yesterday, we’re taking a look at our relationship with Bolivia in light of Bolivia’s actions. And I would just stay tuned in the coming days and weeks to see what repercussions and consequences there are for the steps that Bolivia has taken.
QUESTION: It’s a similar question, actually, Sean. So just to be clear, when you talked about consequences yesterday and you referred to those three relationships, the consequence we can expect although there’s certainly the possibility of more consequences beyond declaring their ambassador PNG and indeed --
MR. MCCORMACK: Certainly going to – certainly not going to rule out other steps.
QUESTION: And just to be clear on the DEA stuff, it was the biggest base, the one in Chapare was the biggest base, I think, DEA had.
MR. MCCORMACK: I didn’t ask that question, whether or not it was the biggest one. But it was – apparently, the issues were isolated to that one area, that one region.
QUESTION: How confident are you of maintaining the DEA presence in the west of the country, and how important a priority is it given the importance of the war on drugs to make that a priority – something that you can sustain where you --
MR. MCCORMACK: The issue of – in terms of effectiveness and presence is probably best put to the DEA. They have the expertise that – resident there that can talk about the ability to operate and what potential effects this might have on their regional efforts. I do know the efforts can – are going to continue. They’re too important to let up. Anytime you have an obstacle, it’s the nature of this kind of fight, the fight against drugs, where you look for other ways, other ways around those obstacles.
QUESTION: On North Korea, are you --
MR. MCCORMACK: Hold on, hold on. Let’s see – we’ll – I’ll come back to you. Anything else on Venezuela or the region? Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) The Government of Honduras had a ceremony today to receive the accreditation for Hugo Llorens, the U.S. Ambassador, and they just denied the accreditation. Do you – do you see this as one more reaction? Actually, they said that this is in solidarity with the rupture of relations between the United States and Bolivia. Do you see this --
MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn’t heard that. We’ll – I’ll look into it for you and we’ll check out the facts and see what we have to say.
Yeah. Anything else on the hemisphere? All right, we’ll go to you and then we’ll come back to you, Nina. Yeah.
QUESTION: On North Korea. Are you working with other Asian nations like China to build in new contingency plans about North Korean leadership if there’s any kind of a change there? Has your thinking changed and your strategy changed there?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I’m aware of. Of course, we’re talking quite closely with the other members of the Six-Party Talks about how to move that process forward. We haven’t seen any movement from North Korea recently over the past weeks in approving a verification protocol. We’re consulting quite closely with China as well as others in the process about how to move that process forward, what leverage they might bring to bear with North Korea to approve the verification protocol and therefore move this entire process forward.
QUESTION: And just a quick follow-up. The North Korean number two has said – he sort of indicates that there’s still room for negotiation on this stage. Are you encouraged by that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we haven’t heard no from the North Koreans in terms of the verification protocol. They just haven’t acted to finalize an agreement. Of course, we’re going to continue talking. That’s part of – we, the other five parties. That’s part of this process.
But there – in terms of what is required in a verification protocol, there are certain things that are going to be required, and these are commonly accepted international practice, in order to give the other five parties and the rest of the world confidence that North Korea has, in fact, provided accurate information and that they are going to follow through on any steps they take to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the level of concern is just simply on the Kim’s state of health? Is it something that you have contingency plans for? Are you aware that there are other people you can deal with? Can you just tell me --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, in terms of Kim Jong Il’s health, I’m not going to have anything new to say about that. I’m certainly not discounting all the news reports that are out there.
Look, there is a decision-making process within the North Korean regime. I can’t outline that for you, and I think it’d be probably pretty difficult to describe in complete detail. It’s an opaque regime. It’s closed. What we’re focused on is the, I guess, inputs and outputs. And thus far, we haven’t seen the right outputs to move the Six-Party process forward from the North Korean regime.
Quite clearly, there are a set of calculations that they need to make, individuals within the North Korean regime, about costs and benefits. There are quite clearly a lot of benefits to North Korea to move this process forward, and we’ll see what calculations they make regardless of who happens to be involved in that decision-making process. The calculate – you know, the facts really haven’t changed. I can’t speak to whether or not North Korean decision-making processes have changed or will change, so I just don’t have insight to that.
So at its most basic, what we’re looking for is actions. And we’ll see what North Korea does in the coming days, weeks, and months.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) there’s a difficult question that Kim has to sign off on any major kind of movement forward? Are you confident that you can move forward with – if he is incapacitated?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, again, that gets to his health. I can’t speak to that. And their decision-making processes – of course, we can all speculate what they might be, but for me to do from this – to do so from this podium, I – you know, I would be doing it from an imperfect set of facts. I’m just not going to do that.
The bottom line is, regardless of what those processes are and whoever is in them, they need to act in order to realize the real benefits to North Korea and the North Korean people that are out there.
Yeah. Anything? Here, let’s move around. Yes, ma’am. You’ve been waiting.
QUESTION: President Bush handed over the India-U.S. nuclear agreement to Congress two nights ago --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- with a covering letter in which he said that the fuel assurances are not legally binding. That’s a moot point with India. What did he mean? What happens if India tests? What happens to fuel assurances?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll – since it’s a letter from the President to the Congress, I’ll refer you over to the White House for an answer.
QUESTION: Can I ask a quick --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- follow-up? Can you tell us what the 123 Agreement says about fuel assurances? A lot of congressman in – over here have raised issues. They’re nervous about what this means. Can you clarify what --
MR. MCCORMACK: We’re going to – we have had good discussions with the Indian Government on this matter, the 123 Agreement, as well as a number of other issues, and we’re going to be providing quite a bit of information. We already have to the U.S. Congress, and there’s going to be testimony during that process. I’ll let that testimony and the information that we’ve provided the Congress speak for itself.
Yes, sir, in the back.
QUESTION: Does the Administration have a target date for ratification of the nuclear deal --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’d like it as soon as possible. I’ve heard a lot of different – I’ve heard a few different dates about when this session of Congress will adjourn. And I think, if you talk to the Hill, they’ll talk about, you know, the end of September as being the date they’re going to adjourn. We’d obviously would like to move this forward as quickly as it possibly can.
QUESTION: By that, do you mean September 26th, or are you talking about a lame duck session, or what --
MR. MCCORMACK: Questions about when Congress is – adjourns and is in session, those are questions entirely for the leadership of the Congress to address.
The Administration would like to see and is doing everything it possibly can to get this agreement done this year.
QUESTION: One more follow-up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: So if President Bush sends a letter, a cover letter on this deal, and says something, is that binding on the deal? Like, does it hold? Is it --
MR. MCCORMACK: It’s all a matter of the public record.
QUESTION: Just one last question on this. Now, the letter has a – accordingly has a reference to sensitive technologies. Is that synonymous with enrichment and reprocessing technologies?
MR. MCCORMACK: Who has?
QUESTION: The letter that --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, the cover letter speaks for itself. I’m not going to have anything to add to it.
Anything else on this?
QUESTION: We have another briefing, right?
MR. MCCORMACK: What’s that? We do. We have a few other questions here and – okay.
MR. MCCORMACK: Zimbabwe, okay.
Daniel, you have the first and we’ll come back to Sylvie.
QUESTION: Can I just ask, first of all, if you have any information about the nature of the power-sharing deal? And secondly, given that this is something that obviously has been entered into by both sides, whether you’re reconsidering the sanctions that you currently have on Zimbabwe and officials and government-related sanctions in that light?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let’s take it one step at a time. We’ve seen the press reports about the deal and we’ve started to try to get some details about the deal. I’m going to withhold any more definitive comment until I think we have a full understanding of it. Clearly, the – Mr. Tsvangirai is comfortable with the deal, so I would expect in the coming hours and days we’ll have an assessment of it. You know, our bottom line is anything that reflects – any deal must reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people as expressed through the ballot box during their last election.
Yeah. Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: I have a (inaudible) question. So during the visit of the Secretary of State in the Maghreb was a (inaudible) of the United Nations League-led peace talk on the -- in Sahara discussed? And what’s your reaction to the appointment of the Ambassador Christopher Ross as envoy?
MR. MCCORMACK: It did come up. She talked about it. There’s no change in policy. I think we issued a – didn’t we issue – the – a taken -- we issued a taken question on this, the response to it. We’re happy to issue it again. But the bottom line is there’s no change in our policy. And in terms of the appointment of Ambassador Ross, we think he’s a fine man for the job.
QUESTION: And so, what about the – what’s your reaction about the appointment? The appointment of --
MR. MCCORMACK: We think he’s a – the perfect person for the job.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: What about her meeting with the Serbian Foreign Minister today?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what is on the agenda?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would expect that they’ll talk about the way forward for the relationship. I think it’s no secret that – for Serbia, in terms of its relationships with many countries in Europe, with the United States, it’s been a bit of a – an emotional period. We understand that. We want to try to move their relationship forward. We’re open to that, of course. And I’ll try to get you a readout after the meeting to see what they actually discussed.
QUESTION: Okay. Because I understand they want to discuss the Kosovo question again and how they can bring up the Kosovo question at the International Court of Justice.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: Is it something that would be a blow to the U.S. policy or --
MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll get you a readout after the meeting.
QUESTION: When is the last time they met and where, do you know?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. We’ll find out for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I just ask on – related to Russian oil pipelines. The U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, a couple of days ago, published an editorial in one of the newspapers there. And among the things he – statements he made were suggestions that Sweden reconsider its cooperation position with – on the Nord Stream pipeline between Russia and Germany. I gather the Swedes would have to approve going through their territorial waters. And he also said that Europe may want to reconsider the South Stream pipeline. Is that official U.S. policy?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t – I have to confess, in that – to that level of detail, I can’t give you an official response. I can, at a very general level, provide you with our view that it is important to have a variety of sources and a variety of delivery methods for hydrocarbons going to Europe.
QUESTION: On the specific – can I follow up on this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: The German press says that the Germans have actually made an official protest, or an official objection, to the United States about this comment from the Ambassador in Sweden.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is that correct?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll check for you.
Yeah. Yes, ma’am. I think we’re going to have to make this the last one because we have to move on. Yep, we do.
QUESTION: You mentioned earlier that the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov talked about North Korea.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What did they talk about? And what, if any, are the Secretary’s contacts with her Six-Party Talks counterpart this week?
MR. MCCORMACK: To my knowledge, there haven’t – she hasn’t had any other contacts with the other four members with whom she talks on a regular basis. It was just a very general conversation about the Six-Party process of which the United States and Russia are part, and the importance of moving it forward.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 11:25 a.m.)
DPB # 151
Released on September 12, 2008