|Daily Press Briefing|
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
September 15, 2008
Visual from today's briefing:
Map of Georgia
|PNG of U.S. Ambassadors to Bolivia and Venezuela|
|Status of Ambassadors to the United States|
|Authorized Departure of Embassy La Paz / Status of Embassy|
|Planned Protests in La Paz|
|Credentialing Ceremony of U.S. Ambassador to Honduras / Hugo Llorens|
|Venezuelan Cooperation on International Drug Trafficking / Treasury Designations|
|Status of Flights by U.S. Air Carriers / DHS Function|
|Reports that Chinese Consul General was Consulted on Attacks on Falun Gong Protestors|
|Agreement Between the MDC and ZANU-PF / Implementation|
|Compensation for Farmers Who Lost Land During Land Reform Process / Great Britain|
|No Change in Policy Regarding Licensing Requirements / U.S. Steps to Aid Cuban People|
|U.S. Commitment to Assisting the Cuban People with the Humanitarian Crisis|
|Update on Russia Military Presence in Georgia|
|Russia Has a Lot of Work to Do to Get Out of Georgia|
|NATO Membership Action Plan / Upcoming December Meeting|
|Op Ed by U.S. Ambassador to Sweden / German-Russian Gas Pipeline|
|Diversity of Supply and Delivery Sources for Hydrocarbons|
|No Official Policy Position Regarding Proposed Pipeline|
|Secretarys Meeting with Serbian Foreign Minister|
|Visit of the Malaysian Ambassador to the State Department|
|Reports That the Afghans Have Turned Over of the Son of Aafia Siddiqui to Pakistan|
|Deputy Secretarys Travel / Status of U.S. Funds for Khmer Rouge Tribunal|
10:34 a.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning, everybody.
QUESTION: Good morning.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t have any opening statements, so we can get right to your questions.
QUESTION: Maybe you can update us on the latest developments in your stellar relations with Latin America.
MR. MCCORMACK: Latin -- to what are you referring, Matt?
QUESTION: Well, let’s see. I don’t know. Is there anything new in the Bolivia-Venezuela front, in terms of the ambassadorial expulsions?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing that -- nothing new. Our – let’s see, we’ll go down the list here. Our, I guess, former Ambassador to Bolivia, Phil Goldberg, left this weekend. I think we –
QUESTION: What do you mean former Ambassador?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he’s no longer the Ambassador there. He’s been PNG’d. He’s not going back. The – he made some statements on the way out, so he is on his way back to the United States. He hasn’t made his way back here. Patrick Duddy, who was our Ambassador in Venezuela, was already in the United States.
Any other -- in terms of other developments, you saw that on Friday we went to authorized departure in Bolivia. We put out a Travel Warning there. There is no update to those Travel Warnings.
We’re – there are some planned protests, I believe, in and around La Paz. We’re watching those closely, as it might affect our Embassy and Embassy operations. Right now, our Embassy is up and running full speed in terms of the consular as well as other functions. The – we have talked to the Government of Bolivia regarding security at the Embassy and the security for official personnel in Bolivia. They understand their responsibilities to provide protection. And at this point, we believe that they will. We have confidence that they will provide any protection, should it be needed. And I think that’s about it for right now.
QUESTION: How about the two ambassadors that were here? Have they left?
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven’t checked. Have we checked? Have they left? We’ll check for you, Matt.
QUESTION: Anything more on Honduras? They refused to give – take the credentials from your Ambassador there?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we – I checked into that a little bit further. And if you – you yourselves can check with Honduran authorities as well. There were a couple other ambassador credential ceremonies that were scheduled that were also delayed. I’m fully confident that Hugo Llorens will be able to present his credentials and get to work as the United States Ambassador to Honduras in the very near future.
QUESTION: Are there any plans for punitive measures against any of these countries that have taken diplomatic steps against--
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, like I – as I said on Friday, and even the day before, we’re taking a look at what our options might be. I’m not going to – diplomatically speaking, not going to rule anything out, not going to rule anything in at this point. So there are a number of different possible avenues. You know, certainly, when we look at the law and look at our responsibilities, there are some things that we could do. But again, those depend on – many of those depend on the facts on the ground. And we’ll – when we have more to say on that, we’ll let you know, but, at the moment, I don’t.
QUESTION: Sean, on the PNG theme, is the U.S. – is the Administration considering taking action against the Consul General of China in New York? Are you aware of this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Consulate – no. Fill me in. Why might we be doing that?
QUESTION: There was a report that a Falun Gong undercover activist recorded the Consul General admitting that he had consulted with Chinese protestors who had beaten up on Falun Gong activists in Queens. And this – that the press report had quoted anonymous folks in this building saying that there’s – they’re considering expulsion.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I will certainly take a look at that. And I’m sure that if there is any – again, I can’t attest to the specific facts. I’ll look into those for you. And if, based on the facts, that there’s any action that is appropriate that we take, then, of course, we will.
Sylvie. Yes. Did you have something on --
QUESTION: On Venezuela, actually.
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: I wanted to get back to Venezuela --
MR. MCCORMACK: That’s fine.
QUESTION: --on the Drug Enforcement Agency. Any new developments related to the United States work there in terms of fighting the drug trade there?
MR. MCCORMACK: In --
QUESTION: In Venezuela.
MR. MCCORMACK: In Venezuela? I don’t have any updates for you. DEA is probably best placed to do that, since they are running the program.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, I just wondered --
MR. MCCORMACK: Under our Ambassador, but --
QUESTION: -- if any party notifies State of what – of what they’re trying to do, considering the current situation.
MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll let them comment on any operational aspects of what they’re doing there.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Anything else on --
QUESTION: Still on Venezuela?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: These Treasury decisions were based, apparently, on the computer information that was obtained from a couple of months ago --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- during the raid. Is that right?
MR. MCCORMACK: You can talk to Treasury. They were the ones responsible for that process. Look, they’re charged with enforcing the law as it’s written, based on all of the available information that they have. I can’t tell you what that universe of information was. But that is their responsibility. And these things are based on facts. There are statutory requirements, and if they have a certain set of facts that meet the threshold of the statutes, then they are obliged to act, which they did.
Anything else on Venezuela or Colombia?
MR. MCCORMACK: Bolivia. There we are.
QUESTION: You spoke in some detail about curtailment of drug enforcement operations in Bolivia. Any update on that, just in the past several days?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new for you today.
QUESTION: Actually, also, unrelated to these two things, there was a – I asked last week – I can’t remember if it was Thursday or Friday about – and maybe you answered this in the briefing on Friday that I missed – but about the flights by U.S. airlines being curtailed.
MR. MCCORMACK: There is nothing new on that as of Friday, and I don’t think we have anything new this morning. One of the things that DHS does as a function, they --
QUESTION: No, no, this wasn’t DHS. This was those governments --
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no, I understand. But part of that function in terms of flights and certifications gets down to looking at airports and looking at security and those sorts of things. But there has been nothing that I have seen new regarding flights between the U.S. and Venezuela.
QUESTION: My question is about Zimbabwe.
MR. MCCORMACK: Zimbabwe.
QUESTION: Now that the agreement has been signed --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- and maybe you know a little bit better about it and whether --
MR. MCCORMACK: A bit more. We don’t have a full picture of it. We have not yet seen the agreement and all of its details. We have had some briefings on it, and from what we have learned from the MDC briefing us on the detail – what – the details of it, then we would welcome this agreement, again, with the caveat that we haven’t yet seen the full agreement. And it is our hope for Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwean people that they could – they can now move forward, that this – the agreement, as we understand it, can be fully implemented, and that the agreement be implemented in such a way that it reflect the will of the people, as expressed in the recent election.
QUESTION: And are you optimistic it will be able to implement?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’ll see. You know, you can get agreements and it’s important to execute those agreements, implement those agreements. We’ll see how it’s implemented.
QUESTION: On that subject, the new power-sharing leadership there in Zimbabwe has called on Britain to accept responsibility for compensating farmers who lost their land during the land reform process there. I wondered what you thought of that idea. Should Britain be compensating farmers there?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think that’s for the parties involved to comment on, and not for us. We don’t seem to be an issue in that particular question.
QUESTION: On Cuba. Cuba’s student newspaper is reporting that the Interests Section requested a six-month freeze on this – on the entire embargo or on certain imports of construction materials to allow them to rebuild after the hurricanes. I was wondering if – (a) if the State Department has received such a message, and then what’s your response?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there’s been – there have been a few developments, and on that particular question, we have not changed our policy with regards to the licensing requirements. But I have some figures here that since Hurricane Gustav struck Cuba on September 7th, that we have licensed approximately $250 million in agricultural sales to Cuba. And that would also include lumber as an important reconstruction material within this category of agricultural sales. So we have taken steps to aid the Cuban people.
And we also on September 13th informed the Cuban Government that the U.S. is committed to providing up to $5 million in relief assistance for Cuban hurricane victims, and that we could fly emergency relief supplies to Cuba as soon as they, the Cuban Government, authorize such assistance.
On the 14th of September, just yesterday, the Cuban Government informed us that they would not accept a donation from the United States. And our reply was that we regret that the Cuban authorities have not accepted this offer of humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people.
So we have been consistent in marrying up our actions with principle, and that is that we are committed to trying to assist the Cuban people with a humanitarian crisis. I have outlined for you a couple of steps that we have taken in terms of the licenses that we have granted and also the humanitarian assistance. Sadly, the Cuban Government has not taken us up on that offer.
QUESTION: On the licensing question, is that – can we expect any more of that or is that going to be all that’s going to be granted at this point?
MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll, of course, take a look at the requests as they come in and look at those licensing requests with an eye towards the humanitarian situation in Cuba and how such – each individual request might help ameliorate the humanitarian situation for the Cuban people.
QUESTION: Do you have any comparative figure for that, like the same period a year ago or something?
MR. MCCORMACK: We’ll look into it for you. If we have some facts and figures we can share with you, we will.
QUESTION: Any – any detail of that back and forth on the 13th and 14th? Is that – were those face-to-face meetings or letters or --
MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll see if we can find out for you, Charley. I don’t know.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Any updates on your Georgian map?
MR. MCCORMACK: Actually, I do have some updates on our Georgia map. Let’s bring up September 12. This was the map from Friday. It’s going to come – there it is. There it is. Okay. So this is from Friday. And you can see around the areas of Poti and Senaki that there are security outposts – outposts there that represent a Russian military presence.
Let’s go to the map of today, September 15. And you see Poti and Senaki, that those troops have moved. You still see, however, significant Russian troop presence in areas – around Khashuri and Gori, Kaspi* as well as in northwestern Georgia. Again, those troops need to exit according to the ceasefire agreements. But again, this is based on information that we have which would confirm what the Russian Government has said and what the Georgian Government has said about some Russian troops beginning their withdrawal.
QUESTION: So is there an assessment on the American side about (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the assessment is that they have begun withdrawing some of their troops from Georgia, consistent with the ceasefire agreement; as a matter of fact, a little bit early. Today was the day that they were supposed to start. I think that they started a bit early. And as you can see from this map – and again, this was updated just this morning – that troops have moved their security checkpoints and their presence out from areas around Poti and Senaki. But again, you still see that Russia has a lot of work left to be done to get out of Georgia. So we will continue to update these maps as the facts on the ground warrant.
QUESTION: Okay. And we didn’t get a response to the German question on Friday, the question of the Germans’ protest or representation of --
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, right, right, right, right, right. As a matter of course with these kinds of – any kind of diplomatic exchange, we keep those diplomatic exchanges private. But I understand that this was with respect to an op-ed editorial run in a Swedish newspaper by our Ambassador to Sweden, Ambassador Wood. I’ll let everybody – they can read the editorial for them – the op-ed for themselves.
But the fundamental point he was trying to make, and I think one needs to focus on the fundamental point, is as a matter of policy, we have been in favor of a – where it concerns Europe – a diversity of supply sources for hydrocarbons as well as a diversity of means of delivery of those hydrocarbon – carbon sources.
QUESTION: And was there presentation, or not, with that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t – I’m not going to get into any particular diplomatic exchanges we may have had with the Germans or others.
QUESTION: Can you say directly whether the opinions and the advice given in that editorial reflected U.S. policy as far as the State Department --
MR. MCCORMACK: We have no official policy position with regard to this particular proposed pipeline round. I think it’s called Nord Stream. So our position, as the U.S. Government has been, just generally speaking, to urge a diversity of supply sources and a diversity of means of delivering those sources of hydrocarbons to Europe.
QUESTION: On Georgia?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: The NATO Secretary General visited Tbilisi and he didn’t make any mention of the Membership Action Plan, to talk about it. And I’m just wondering if you’re worried that, you know, whatever support there was in the alliance for Georgia and Ukraine gain a membership action plan— if it’s just going to flitter away now before you have your – your – when it’s discussed again in December?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. No. Okay. Anything else on Georgia? Okay. We can bring the – we can bring the maps down, Murph.
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, we – let’s --
MR. MCCORMACK: -- go to Lambros and then Matt.
QUESTION: On Serbia. Mr. McCormack, any readout on the last Friday meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic?
MR. MCCORMACK: Only in the most general terms, they had a very good discussion about a number of matters, including U.S.-Serbia bilateral relations as well as Serbia’s relationship to the EU and to Europe.
QUESTION: Do you cooperate better with the present Serbian Government than the previous one?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, Lambros, we -- you know, we work well as best we can with all governments with whom we have diplomatic relations. This was a good conversation.
QUESTION: One more question. U.S. State Department contractor accused of slipping into the passports of presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama and has been charged with unauthorized computer access according to federal prosecutors. Any comment?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would refer you to federal prosecutors for any comment.
Yeah. Yes, sir.
MR. MCCORMACK: On Malaysia, you brought in the Malaysian ambassador into the State Department on Friday. Can you explain why you did that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check into – you – for – check into that for you. Off the top of my head, I don’t know.
QUESTION: Two things I don’t know if you’ll have anything on. You’re aware of this woman, Mrs. Siddiqui, who was detained in Afghanistan and brought to New York to face charges. Her son, who is a dual U.S.-Pakistani citizen, has just been turned over by Afghans to the Pakistanis. Do you have anything on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I can say only that we’re following the matter very closely.
QUESTION: So you can’t confirm that that’s happened?
MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, Matt, I can only offer that comment.
QUESTION: All right. And then the second thing is is that the Deputy Secretary is in Cambodia today. According to the Cambodians, he told them that the United States is going to drop its hold – or, it will release money on funds for the Khmer Rouge tribunal. Can you check into that and see if that is –
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, I can.
QUESTION: -- see if that is correct?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, I can.
QUESTION: Because he has said nothing, unusually, in public about this, and that we only have the Cambodians’ side.
MR. MCCORMACK: I will check into it for you, Matt, yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 10:52 p.m.)
dpb # 152
Released on September 15, 2008