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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 16, 2008



Secretary Rice to See FM Lavrov at the UN General Assembly
Secretary Rice Meeting with Russian Ambassador-designate Kislyak / Credentialing Ceremony
Secretary’s Speech Scheduled for Thursday / Important Statement about U.S.-Russia Relations
Russia Still Needs to Get Out of Georgia / They Need to Fulfill Their Obligations
U.S. Would Like to Work with Them on Other Interests of Mutual Concern


P-5+1 Meeting to discuss Iran at the UN
U/S Bill Burns to Have Gathering with the P-5+1 Political Directors


Lebanese Effort Designed to Move Country Forward
Expect All Parties to Abide by Security Council Resolutions


Reserve the Right to Take a Look at Our Relationship with Bolivia
Withdrawal of the Peace Corps Volunteers / Wanting to Make Sure Our Citizens are Protected


Release of the Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries List


Anniversary of Blackwater Shooting


Agreement / Reflection of Zimbabwean Politics / Expect That the Agreement be Faithfully Implemented / We are Supportive of It / Wait to See How This Plays Out


Contact Through the New York Channel / Looking for Agreement to a Verification Regime


Aid Program with Armenia / Armenia has Suffered as a Result of Diminution in the Flow of Goods


Name Issue


Holding Khmer Rouge Leaders Accountable for Their Crimes
Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia Has Made Significant Strides to Overcome International Concerns


Ready, Willing, and Able to Work with Whomever Emerges from Primary as the Leader of Kadima


View Video

11:00 a.m. EDT

MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning, people. I don’t have anything to start off with. We can get right to your questions. Excellent. (Laughter.) Off the hook. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Georgia is saying that phone taps show that Russia launched the war. Do you – are you looking at that? And these phone taps were distributed to – among U.S. agencies and --

MR. MCCORMACK: I wouldn't comment on any intelligence matters, Sue. Look --

QUESTION: Well, who do you think started the war?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, as we – well, quite clearly, Russia invaded Georgia. And we have talked before about the Russian response being completely disproportionate to events that preceded their invading Georgia. And we have said previously, as I did yesterday, look, we would welcome a transparent look at all of the events surrounding August 6th and 7th and the days, weeks, and months before. It is, you know, quite clear that there was a miscalculation on the Russian side. 

The focus now should be, however, you know, given all that history, trying to move forward. Russia needs to abide by its commitments to get out of Georgia. We are going – we, as well as other members of the international system, are going to continue to assist Georgia as best we can so that they can move forward and start to rebuild their state in the wake of this violent action by Russia.

QUESTION: And on a vaguely related issue, does the Secretary plan next week when she’s at the UN General Assembly to meet separately with Lavrov? Is that on her schedule? And when did she last speak to Sergey Lavrov?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we are still working through her schedule. She’ll see him, at the very least, in the annual P-5 – I think it’s going to be a breakfast now – that’s hosted by Secretary General Ban. And I would expect that she will see him in other places along the way up at the UN General Assembly. But we will see if there’s a separate bilateral meeting. I’ll keep you up to date on that.

And she last spoke with him on Thursday, September 11th.

QUESTION: It’s a breakfast now?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think it is.

QUESTION: Well, what should we read into that, Sean, that it’s a breakfast instead of a lunch?


QUESTION: I mean, every year for the past – quite a few decades --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- breakfast tends to --

QUESTION: -- it’s been a luncheon --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, I’m just working from memory here, which, as the years go by, is increasingly imperfect. And you can read into it what you want. Perhaps breakfast is a lighter meal and they can get more done. I don’t know. 

QUESTION: It’s cheaper.

MR. MCCORMACK: It could be a cost-cutting measure. I don’t know. It’s – the Secretary looks forward to getting together again with her P-5 counterparts and the Secretary General.

QUESTION: And then on this, she’s seeing Ambassador-designate Kislyak.

MR. MCCORMACK: Kislyak. I think very soon, in about half an hour, about 11:30 or so. 

QUESTION: And what might one expect will be raised in this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it’s a credentialing ceremony, which is something --

QUESTION:  Is it? It’s listed as a courtesy call.

MR. MCCORMACK: A courtesy – it’s a credentialing ceremony. He’s presenting his credentials. He’s taking up his duties here as the Russian Ambassador to the United States. So I would expect that they probably chat for a few minutes. They know each other well. He served previously as, I think, the equivalent of, roughly, an under secretary or deputy secretary in the Russian Foreign Ministry. So we have a lot of experience dealing with Ambassador Kislyak. We look forward to working with him as he takes up his duties here.

I’m sure that they’ll touch on some of the issues that the Secretary raised with Foreign Minister Lavrov in that call, talking about Georgia and also talking about those areas where we might continue to work together where we have previously to good effect – Russia, North Korea, perhaps the India civ-nuke deal. That was a topic of the – of conversation between the – Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Lavrov. 

QUESTION: Iran issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: Iran, yeah. I mentioned Iran. Yeah. 

QUESTION: So it’s just a – formality-wise, so after – after this meeting, he will be the Ambassador?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, I’ll have to check my protocol book, but I think officially, yeah, the last step in the process is presenting one’s credentials and then one officially takes up duties as the ambassador.

QUESTION: Because the Russian Embassy was saying yesterday that that wouldn’t happen for several days. That’s why we’re asking.

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll have to check for you. I’m not – you know, I’ll check with Ambassador Brinker’s office as to how this – how this works. Look, with all these things, there’s always some paperwork that needs to be filled out, and perhaps there’s some lag time in that. I don’t know. I mean, there’s --

QUESTION: Is there any --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m sorry, yeah. There’s nothing political in it. If that’s, sort of, the – the implication here, I think --

QUESTION: No, no. We’re just trying to figure out what to call him.

MR. MCCORMACK: Gotcha. Well, I’m going to call him Ambassador Kislyak. You can figure out what you want to call him.


QUESTION: Is there going to be a P-5+1 meeting to discuss Iran at the UN? France said today that the P-5+1, or the P-5, had – there was no other choice but to impose UN sanction – another round of UN sanctions on Iran following the IAEA report. Britain has come out and said that Russia, I think, and China are a little less enthusiastic. But are there plans for a P-5+1 in --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll have to check the schedule, Sue. I believe that there is. You know, again, this schedule is just now being put together and it’s really starting to gel and come into – you know, the full view. So we’ll – you know, we’ll have it for you. I would expect that there probably will be one. I know that Bill Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, intends to have a meeting or a gathering with the P-5+1 political directors in the not-too-distant future to talk about the way forward.

QUESTION: This – one day this week maybe?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you exactly when it is. I think it’s towards the end of this week, might be Friday.



QUESTION: Is it Friday?



QUESTION: The one next week will be on the ministerial level, then?

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me?

QUESTION: The P-5+1 meeting next week will be --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah – again, I have to – let me check for you, Kirit.  But yeah, it would be at the ministerial level.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything more about the Secretary’s speech on – scheduled for Thursday? And are you expecting any sort of – to announce any sort of shift? And also, can you tell us anything more about the potential for military aid to Georgia?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think the Department of Defense is leading an assessment mission in that regard in terms of aiding Georgia. I read, actually, in news reports that they were either traveling or on the ground in Georgia. But you can check with the Department of Defense as to their exact status. But they – they’re taking the lead on that, doing an assessment of what the potential needs might be to partner with the civilian reconstruction response that we as well as others in the international system have participated in.

In terms of the Secretary’s speech, she’s still writing it, still working on it. I hope to have a little bit more for you tomorrow about it. It’ll be an important statement about U.S.-Russia relations. And of course, coming from Secretary Rice, not only in her capacity as Secretary of State but an expert on Russia, I think it will have some particular significance.


QUESTION: Do you have a stake in kind of moving on in terms of Russia, you know, moving on from all the rhetoric that you had in recent – recent weeks over the Georgia incident? I mean, do you --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

QUESTION: Well, it’s – you know – I mean, there’s no – it seems – it seems --

MR. MCCORMACK: Because I don’t have a snappy quote today about Russia; is that it?

QUESTION: No, no, no. There seems to be a slight, sort of, change in the rhetoric and a much softer tone coming from the podium than there was, say, 10 days ago.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I don’t know. I was accused just the other day of talking like I was in a bar in Texas by the Russian – by my Russian counterpart.

Look, you know, my rhetoric is appropriate to the situation and appropriate to events, and certainly, I will respond as I see fit. Russia still needs to get out of Georgia. They still need to fulfill their obligations as were made twice over to President Sarkozy of France. They also have a number of other obligations that they have committed to in terms of working through problems that are the object of interest of the international system, Iran being one of them. They have committed to that process. And we’ll see if they follow through on these commitments. 

We would like to work with them as well as others in the international system on issues of mutual concern. Working to prevent Iran from obtaining the technology that can be used to construct a nuclear weapon is not a favor to the United States or anybody else. It’s in Russia’s stated interest not to allow that to happen. It’s in Russia’s stated interest to work to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. So again, their participating in these activities, which we hope that they will continue to do, is not a favor to us or anybody else; it’s in their interest.


QUESTION: Can we just get back to the sparring between Russia and Georgia about responsibility? Is there a formal United States review about what transpired on --

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware of a formal review. Of course, we are aware of the events in the months, weeks, and days leading up to August 6 and, of course, what transpired after August 6. Look, Russia invaded Georgia. Their troops remain in Georgia. They need to get out of Georgia.


QUESTION: Sean, the Lebanese leader came back to the table today to discuss Hezbollah arms. What do you expect from this dialogue?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I understand that Lebanon has started a national dialogue and this is a Lebanese effort designed to move that country forward. It has had longstanding political divisions. And my understanding is this is an attempt to try to move the country beyond those political divisions and in a more positive direction.

QUESTION: And what about Hezbollah arms? Do you expect any decision?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there are Security Council resolutions that govern the flow of arms into Lebanon, and we would expect all parties to abide by those Security Council resolutions.


QUESTION: Bolivia. Do you plan to announce any – any new measures, you – about Bolivia, about the suspension of aid?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. As I have said before in the past few days when I have gotten this question, we’re going to reserve the right to take a look at our relationship with Bolivia and, where we feel appropriate, to take steps that reflect the current state of that relationship. At this point, I’m not prepared to announce anything. But again, we reserve the right to review that relationship.

QUESTION: So the withdrawal of the Peace Corps volunteers has nothing to do with any reduction measure?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we want to have a good relationship with Bolivia and the people of Bolivia, and the Peace Corps is an important part of trying to help the people of Bolivia. That’s what they’re there trying to do. But of course, we have to look at the situation on the ground, and it’s our obligation to take those steps that we think are necessary to ensure that our people are able to accomplish the long-term goals of that mission. And we believe that this was a prudent step based on the situation on the ground in Bolivia.

QUESTION: I understand there will be an announcement on drug – on the drug report later today?

MR. MCCORMACK: At 4:30, David Johnson will be down here. I apologize for the need to reschedule that, but --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- it will be done today.

QUESTION: Okay. And could this – if Bolivia was – was designated as not complying with – or not doing all efforts, it could be – and in the drug – anti-drug fight, would – would it – would it lead to a suspension of aid? Could it be --

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, Sylvie, I’m not going to try to preview either the majors list – the so-called majors list report or any other step that we may or may not take at this point.

QUESTION: So hold on. Just on the Peace Corps thing?


QUESTION: So this was a – this was – prudent step given the situation on the ground, so it was a security --

MR. MCCORMACK: Security played a big part in it.

QUESTION: And is that at all related to – I realize Peace Corps is completely separate, but it is similar to what was – the problems that were being faced by the DEA guys?

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, I honestly don’t have the level of detail to provide you that sort of assessment. The – both had the common thread of wanting to make sure that our citizens are protected and that over the long term, they are able to do their job. You know, any sort of harm that would come to any of our personnel would imperil the ability over the long term for us to have the kind of programs that we have there right now. So the common thread of security -- I can’t tell you if it was the same kinds of concerns that led to both of those actions.

QUESTION: But yesterday, you said that you had spoken – or you had received – you had spoken to and gotten assurances from the Bolivian Government --

MR. MCCORMACK: That was concerning the Embassy.

QUESTION: Just the Embassy?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, concerning the Embassy, yeah.

QUESTION: The physical building?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. There were some – there were, apparently, in the area and in La Paz, some protests. But again, they were, as I understand it, relatively small.

QUESTION: But -- so does that mean that they specifically have not just said that they will take all measures necessary to protect --


QUESTION: -- U.S. Government personnel or Peace Corp volunteers?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. No, no, no. You have two different situations. One – with an embassy, you have the physical plan and you have a bit more control over a situation, as opposed to individuals being far outside, in some cases, the capital city, where we have any sort of physical plant. And you do it on a case-by-case basis in terms of the – you know, both individuals as well as programmatically, what are the right steps to take. And we will always err on the side of making sure that –

QUESTION: Well, fair enough, but I’m just wondering if --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- that our people are safe.

QUESTION: Has the Bolivian Government told you that it’s not able to assure the security of individuals?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no, no. Not at all, Matt, no, no. I mean, again, there – in terms of doing security assessments, this much I know: They’re apples and oranges, you know. I’m not a security expert, but you have two very different situations. And we’re going to do what we think is prudent.

Yes. Okay. Yes, ma’am. 

Well, any – first of all, anything else on Bolivia, or – just Russia? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s the first anniversary of the Blackwater shootings. I was wondering if you had any updates on the investigation.

MR. MCCORMACK: Good question. I, at hand, do not have any updates. I know that the Department of Justice is looking at the matter and what actions might be taken, but I don’t have any further information for you. And we’re a bit constrained because the Department of Justice is involved in the investigation, offering any detailed comment.

QUESTION: Would you support it if they indicted the individuals involved? Would you --

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s not for us to say. Those are the decisions for the professional prosecutors at the Department of Justice to make.


QUESTION: On Zimbabwe, have you –

QUESTION: Oh, one – one more thing on Blackwater?


QUESTION: After those shootings, a lot of recommendations were made, including mounting cameras and other devices on all vehicles. Has all that happened, or --

MR. MCCORMACK: Fair enough. I – you know, I know the last time I checked on this, which was some time ago, we had made substantial progress on all of the – in all of these areas in terms of mounting cameras, making sure that there is a diplomatic security person in each convoy, having everybody go through the awareness training about rules of engagement, what they were. So I know that we had made substantial progress in that regard.

It’s a fair question, though, as to how well we are performing on that checklist. So what we’ll try to do is – by today, I think it’s reasonable – if we can get it today, I will endeavor to do so, get you an answer to that –

QUESTION: That would be --

MR. MCCORMACK: -- going down the checklist of see – seeing how we’ve done, a fair question.

QUESTION: And also, have there been any other incidents involving Black -- could you please check what the status is of other security incidents --


QUESTION: -- involving Blackwater over the past year?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll see what we can provide as a general response to that question.



QUESTION: On Zimbabwe, have you had a chance to look at the details of the agreement? And if not, why not? It’s been a few days.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’re getting a copy, I guess, a copy of it, as are others. I understand that it’s, you know, 50, 60 pages long. So we’ll get a copy of it and review it. 

But very generally, this is a Zimbabwean document. This is a reflection of Zimbabwean politics and an attempt to move those politics forward. So what we would expect is that the agreement be faithfully implemented, this agreement that the MDC said it supports and is comfortable with. Therefore, we are supportive of it. So we would expect that it be implemented, that the – not only the letter of it, but the spirit of it be implemented, and that that end result reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people, as it was expressed during their recent election. 

QUESTION: A follow-up on Zimbabwe?


QUESTION: Can you comment more broadly on the fact that this was an African-mediated solution, that there were no – that the UN was not involved in this, for example? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think it speaks to some political evolution in Zimbabwe that you – that we have gotten to this point. I don’t think that, without the spotlight of the international community, however, on the issue – on what transpired in Zimbabwe that you likely would have gotten to this point. 

But it is heartening that you see Zimbabwean politics get to the point where you can have an agreement that the opposition and the current regime both agree on and agree will be implemented. We’ll see how this plays out. But certainly, it is a good moment for Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC that they have gotten to the point where they can negotiate this kind of agreement.


QUESTION: The Europeans have said they’re not going to (inaudible) sanctions yet, and I think that’s your view as well. 


QUESTION: But are you looking at increasing assistance to Zimbabwe? It’s a country where, as you know, inflation is – I don’t know, a million percent or something.


QUESTION: And people are really struggling there from the other side, because there is a deal, does that open up the opportunity of pumping more funds in? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, a fair question. I’m not aware that we have reconsidered that, but we’ll -- I’ll take a look at the question. We’ll get you an answer. 

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: On North Korea, since Chris Hill came back from Beijing last week, has there been any direct contact with North Koreans? And if not, do you have any meetings scheduled in New York? 

MR. MCCORMACK: I assume that we’ve had contact with them through the New York channel which is, you know, absent travel, typically the – I mean, the way we communicate with North Korea. 

QUESTION: And do you plan to have – do you plan to have a meeting of the Six-Party Talks ministerial during the UNGA? 

MR. MCCORMACK: No plans for it at this point . 


MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: The current situation in North Korea, I think, has – of -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may lose his power. What contingency plan does the U.S. have? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I – you know, again, I have no indication that that is, in fact, the case. But we will – look, the way – the way I put this to you and the way I would urge you to consider it – consider the situation is we look – we know what inputs are. We look for outputs. The – there is clearly a decision-making process in North Korea. I can’t tell you exactly who’s up and who’s down and, you know, who participates in that decision-making process. Others can do that. It’s an opaque system. 

What matters to the international system is the outputs. And thus far, that decision-making process has not yielded the outputs that the international system and, more specifically, the Six-Party Talks is seeking. What we’re looking for now is agreement to a verification regime. And we are going to continue to urge North Korea to agree to that verification regime so we can move this process forward and we can get on with the business of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and in the process of doing so, North Korea can realize step by step, a different kind of relationship with the rest of the world. 

QUESTION: Does the U.S. and China – today -- talking about the situation in North Korea? 

MR. MCCORMACK: Of course. Of course, we talk about how to move the Six-Party process forward. 

Yeah. Is there anything else on North Korea? Go to the back, sir. Yes. 

QUESTION: Thank you. Back to Caucasus. Very recently, the Government of the United States announced that the package deal of aid will be delivered to Georgia, like $1 billion. And then also, there was initiated from Congress, from several congressmen, to deliver aid to Armenia, which also suffered during the recent war, and also because Georgian railway and ports were not functioning for a period. So does State Department, the Government of the United States, discuss now such kind of possibility in this perspective? Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: For Armenia?

QUESTION: For Armenia. Yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: I am not aware of any new initiatives with respect to Armenia. I know we have a substantial aid program with Armenia and a good relationship with Armenia. It is also true that Armenia has suffered as a result of the – for a time period, the cutoff or substantial diminution in the flow of goods from coming in to Poti and down to Armenia. I’ll check for you to see if there’s any movement to consider an additional aid package for Armenia. I’m not aware of one at this point, though. 

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Yes, Mr. McCormack. Thank you. On FYROM. (Inaudible) the United States deliberately derailed the negotiation on the FYROM name issue by recognizing it with its constitutional name, as you stated hundreds of times in this room, and promptly pulled the rug under the feet of Ambassador Matthew Nimetz. Now you pass the buck to the UN and still pretend the U.S. has no role to play on the matter. 


QUESTION: Do you want to believe that the Department of State honestly wants a solution to this problem? 

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I don’t know that I’ve passed – I don’t know that I’ve passed the buck. Dan Fried as well as others have been directly involved. Ambassador – well, when she was Ambassador to NATO, Ambassador Nuland was involved in this issue. We continue to remain interested in the issue and urge the two parties to come together – Macedonia and Greece – over this so-called name issue.

QUESTION: Did you find anything on my pending question if the Department of State is going to allocate money in order to help the Cyprus talks to reach an agreement, as you did during the Annan plan period?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think we made progress on Lambros’s question.

MR. MCCORMACK: We’re working on it, Lambros. 

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: As always. 

QUESTION: As always --

QUESTION: Did you manage to get answers to those two questions that I had? Did you manage to get answers to the two questions that I had at the end of the briefing yesterday, one on the son of Mrs. Siddiqui being transferred to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing new on that.

QUESTION: And then the Cambodia issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: As a matter of fact, we did. And I have on Cambodia – I have some –

QUESTION: The cone of silence has been --

MR. MCCORMACK: Don’t sound so surprised. Don’t sound so surprised.

QUESTION:  -- has been lifted from D.

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) That’s unfair, Matt. 

QUESTION: No, it’s not. 

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll just read – I have a few points on this. I’ll read them off to you and see if they’re useful. 

We are committed to helping Cambodia in its efforts to hold Khmer Rouge leaders accountable for their crimes. The State Department has notified Congress of our intention to provide $1.8 million to help the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the E-triple-C, complete its task. We believe that the court is now capable of meeting international standards of justice, and our decision at this time to identify funds reflects our belief that the court has the capacity to respond effectively and appropriately to these allegations.

While the court still has more to do, the ECCC has made significant strides to overcome international concerns about corruption, mismanagement, and political influence, including adding a new international deputy administrator, strengthening management practices, and establishing procedures to deal with allegations of wrongdoing.

Nonetheless, the court must still take appropriate steps to address the current allegations and hold responsible those involved.

QUESTION: And this was – a similar message was conveyed by the Deputy when he was there?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the issue was discussed by the Deputy in Phnom Penh.

QUESTION: Yeah, but, I mean – but he told them that they were going to get the money.

MR. MCCORMACK: I have not spoken with the Deputy, so I can’t vouch firsthand for his message. But the issue was raised. 

QUESTION: Sean, the polls in Israel show that Tzipi Livni would win the leadership of Kadima. If that happens, do you think that will accelerate the peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis?

MR. MCCORMACK: Are you asking me to comment on an election before it’s taken place? No, thank you. Look, there’s a primary that’s taking place for leadership of Kadima. We are willing – we are ready, willing, and able to work with whomever emerges from that primary as the leader of Kadima. 

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:31 a.m.)

DPB # 153

Released on September 16, 2008

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