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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 13, 2009



Secretary Rice Co-Chaired the First Meeting of the Iraqi-U.S. Higher Coordination Committee


Comments by Israeli Prime Minister Olmert
Deliberations at the UN / Status of Mubarak Initiative / U.S. Abstention
Secretary Rice’s Consultations with the White House
Potential for Further Egyptian Discussions with Hamas and Israel
U.S. Prepared to Provide Technical Assistance on Tunnels
Acting Assistant Secretary Feltman’s Travel Plans


U.S. Directive on Arctic Region Policy


U.S. Role as Observer to Discussions / U.S. Encouraged Resolution on Commercial Terms


Food Aid Program
North Korea’s Obligations under Six-Party Process
North Korea’s Status as a Nuclear Power


View Video

10:30 a.m. EST


Good morning, everybody. Before we get started with the questions, I just wanted to note for you the first meeting of the Iraqi-U.S. Higher Coordination Committee. And I mention this because Secretary Rice chaired on the U.S. side this Coordination Committee. It was done via SVTS over at the White House, and this was something that was envisioned under the Strategic Framework Agreement process. It will help guide the implementation of that agreement. So we’ll put out a – put out the full statement for you after the briefing.

QUESTION: What is it? The what?

MR. MCCORMACK: The Iraq-U.S. Higher Coordination Committee. And for those of you who –

QUESTION: Higher, like –

MR. MCCORMACK: Higher. Higher. H-i-g-h-e-r. So for those of you into acronyms, that’s HCC. And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.


QUESTION: Yeah. Given Prime Minister Olmert’s comments yesterday, why should – why should anyone still – or why should anyone not believe that Israel is controlling U.S. foreign policy as it relates to the Middle East?

MR. MCCORMACK: I did see the reports of his comments, and let me just start off by saying I don’t know the context of the comments. I don’t know if they are reported accurately. I don’t know if the Israeli Government would say, yes, that is an accurate quote.

What I can tell you is that the quotes as reported are wholly inaccurate as to describing the situation – just 100 percent, totally, completely not true. And I can – you know, I can vouch for that, having been up there at the United Nations the entire time, witnessed Secretary Rice’s deliberations with her advisors. I knew about the phone calls that she was doing and I can tell you a couple things.

One, very early on in the process, as far back as Wednesday, the Secretary decided that we were – we, the United States, weren’t going to be put in a position of vetoing a resolution, made the decision to support going forward with a resolution. At that point, there was a debate whether or not we were going to try to get a presidential statement or a resolution. We decided that point – at that point that we were going to go for a resolution and we weren’t going to be – if we could get one that was agreeable to all the members of the Security Council, we weren’t going to be in a position to veto it.

Second, that afternoon, all that afternoon, Thursday afternoon, Secretary Rice’s recommendation and inclination the entire time was to abstain, for the reasons that she described both during the Security Council session and subsequently in interviews. So I can tell you with 100 percent assurance that her intention was 100 percent to recommend abstention. She, of course, consulted with Steve Hadley at the White House as well as with the President. I’ll let the White House describe any interactions between the President and Prime Minister Olmert. But – so this idea that somehow she was turned around on this issue is 100 percent, completely untrue.

QUESTION: How could the prime minister of Israel get such a – you know, how – he certainly is under the impression that he singlehandedly prevented the United States from voting for this resolution. Why would he – why would –

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt – Matt, I –

QUESTION: How could he –

MR. MCCORMACK: You would have – you’d – Matt, I can’t tell you. You would have to –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: And again, I can’t – you know, I can’t posit and vouch for the – whether those remarks are accurate.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary speak with the President before – just before the vote on – on the resolution?

MR. MCCORMACK: She spoke with him a couple times, a couple of times. One – I think once prior to the President speaking with Prime Minister Olmert, and then once afterwards, as well. But again, I can tell you 100 percent – with 100 percent assurance that her intention, again, going into the conversation with the President, was that she was going to abstain.

QUESTION: Well, what does this say about Prime Minister Olmert, then?

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, look, I can only –

QUESTION: – (Inaudible) this Administration’s last week in office –


QUESTION: – and dealing with someone who has – you know, is the leader until February of your closest ally in the Middle East –

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, look, I can only say – I can only –

QUESTION: Have you –

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, I can only account for –

QUESTION: Have you asked for clarification from the Israelis about these comments?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not – I don’t think so. I don’t think that we have.

QUESTION: So you’ve just – just – you’re just dismissing them? I mean, you’ve just decided that they’re not worthy of –

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the facts – it’s the facts – I mean –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: – all I’m doing is –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) any kind of a response?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, look, I – again, Matt, you know, I’m – if the Israeli Government – if they, you know, feel it necessary, they will clarify, correct the record, whatever. I don’t know. All I can do is offer the facts as they are from the American side.

QUESTION: Well, but you haven’t asked them for any kind of clarification?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I know of, no. Not that I know of. Look, Secretary Rice and Prime Minister Olmert have a very good working relationship. They’ve worked through some very tough issues –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) he said this?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: She doesn't have any – she hasn’t had any –

QUESTION: Has she – well, will she talk to him again while she’s still in office?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. She – if she has occasion to, you know, in terms of the substance, I’m sure she will.

QUESTION: Was the Secretary embarrassed by the fact that – or ashamed that she had – that she told the Arab – the Arab foreign ministers that the U.S. would support the resolution, and then had to abstain?

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s an inaccurate representation of events. No, she was not at all embarrassed or ashamed of the actions that we took, not only in pushing through an important resolution, a good resolution, the text of which we supported, the objectives of which we supported; but also, she felt as though the way that the United States voted in that Security Council chamber was the right way to vote.

QUESTION: Well, this is the elected leader of – under – indicted – albeit, you know, one with corruption charges pending against him – of your – the elected leader of your closest ally in the Middle East. And I find it surprising that you’re not – that you’re not trying to get a clarification on these comments.

MR. MCCORMACK: Perhaps – you know, perhaps we will, Matt. I – you know, I can only speak to what we’ve done. But – and again, all I can offer is – are the facts. I can’t vouch that Prime Minister Olmert was quoted correctly in the story or the context of the remarks at all. You’ll have to talk to the Israeli Government about that.

Okay. Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the U.S. Government issued a directive that seeks to enforce U.S. power and sovereignty in the Arctic, and it’s being interpreted as a direct challenge to some of Canada’s interests in the Arctic. Why, and why now?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ll have to look into that for you. I can’t say off the top of my head I’m familiar with the directive. But you know, this has been a topic that we have talked with Canada about many, many times. I’ve been there for those meetings. We understand the sensitivities and we try to work very closely with Canada, understanding their point of view, also trying to convey to Canada, certainly, our views of sovereignty and prerogatives in terms of passage through the Arctic Ocean areas.

But in terms of a specific response about this directive, I’ll try to get you an answer.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: The top official of Gazprom accused the United States of being behind Ukraine’s behavior during this gas shutoff crisis. He said they are dancing to a tune of elsewhere, essentially. And he might – may have been talking about U.S.-Ukraine relations in general or the agreement that you signed recently with them. What do you think?

MR. MCCORMACK: Bizarre. Look, totally without foundation. This was an agreement that was negotiated on the basis of commercial interests between Russia and Ukraine. I believe that the Czech Republic, in its capacity as the president of the EU, participated and facilitated these discussions. We were an observer from the sidelines on these discussions. I think if you look at our rhetoric, as well as our actions, it was only to encourage a resolution based on commercial terms. And that once you – once an agreement was reached, that it be, you know, transparent that others could see for themselves what the agreement was. But that was it. That was really the extent of it.


QUESTION: Do you have the latest on North Korean food aid in terms of allowing the worker – the Korean-speaking workers in?

MR. MCCORMACK: We’re still – we’re still working on the visa issue for the Korean speakers.

QUESTION: And what is the reason that North Korea is giving you, especially if it was in the original agreement, that they’re not allowing Korean speakers in?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll check for you. I don’t know that we’ve gotten a reason. We just haven’t been able to get to the point of getting the Korean speakers in.

But, yeah, I will note part of the program is moving forward, part of the food aid program that we’re distributing food with American NGOs. That is moving forward. It’s just the WFP portion of the program that is affected by this. We want it to move forward. We’re working hard to try to resolve this issue.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: North Korean’s foreign ministry released a statement today saying that it will give up nuclear weapons only after U.S. normalizes ties with the country and drops its hostile policy against North Korea. What’s your response to this?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, our response has been, and continues to be up until January 20th, that certainly we wanted the Six-Party process and want the Six-Party process to move forward. It’s very clear what North Korea’s obligations and responsibilities are under that process, getting to the point where you had – where North Korea has a more normal relationship with the rest of the world, including the United States.

In order to really get to that point, North Korea is going to have move through the Six-Party process, and there’s going to have be a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.


QUESTION: In this statement North Korea refers itself as a nuclear state. Does the U.S. recognize North Korea as a nuclear state?



QUESTION: Sean, any update on the Egyptian negotiation – mediation between Israel and Hamas?

MR. MCCORMACK: It’s ongoing. I understand that there were – there will potentially be some more discussions with a Hamas faction, Egypt having discussions with Hamas, and perhaps some discussions with Israeli representatives. But the Egyptian Government can give you a better feel for the state of play in the negotiations. I do know that they’re serious in terms of the effort trying to reach an agreement. I can’t tell you exactly how close they might be.

QUESTION: Did the State Department send any – did the State Department send officials to Cairo to consult on how they help on the tunnels?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there’s – we’re prepared to help with technical assistance. And I believe we might have some people headed that way to offer some technical counseling advice.

QUESTION: Because there was a report last week that Assistant Secretary Feltman may go to –

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. He’s – right now, he’s here in Washington. I don’t think he has any plane tickets for Cairo at the moment.


QUESTION: Yeah, I need to get back to this UN thing for just a second because –

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, good.

QUESTION: – I think the diplomacy is – it’s over my head, at least. Why would the Secretary work so hard for three days on something that she planned not to vote for (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, you are – no, that’s not what I said. I said that we were –

QUESTION: Is this (inaudible).

MR. MCCORMACK: On Wednesday, she decided we’re not going to be put in the position of vetoing a resolution, so it excludes that possibility. So you have two possibilities left: voting for it or abstaining. And she decided, given where the state of negotiations were in terms of the Mubarak initiative, that abstaining would give the best possibility for those negotiations to move forward and actually resolve the situation on the ground. We believed that a resolution could help in that, but ultimately it was not going to solve it. You had to have concrete understandings in order to fully resolve the situation on the ground. And that was only going to happen via the Mubarak initiative.

Look, that’s our assessment. We believed that it was important to give the Council an opportunity to speak on this issue. It was obviously very important for the Arab foreign ministers that were there. We supported the text. We supported the objective.

But the fact of the matter is that resolution wasn’t going to solve the problem on the ground. It could help, and we didn’t want to do anything that would have hindered the ability to resolve the situation on the ground.

QUESTION: Well, how could voting for it have hindered –

MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, you’ve – we’ve gone over this how many different times round and round?

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR. MCCORMACK: You’re venturing into flagellum equus mortuus territory. Look, I tried to explain it as best I can.

QUESTION: Tell the entire world that this is beating a dead horse. It’s not.

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I’m not – no, Matt, look, I’ve answered – I’m only trying to point out I have answered this question, or tried to answer this question, many times.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) resolution to begin with. You wanted a presidential statement. Then when the Arab foreign ministers said that they would not leave without there being a resolution, you decided – is this correct – you decided that, yes, you would work and –

MR. MCCORMACK: Any – Matt –

QUESTION: – work toward a resolution. At that point, you had already decided that you wouldn’t vote for it?

MR. MCCORMACK: That’s not what I said, Matt.

QUESTION: That’s why I’m asking.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I tried to explain it the best I can. You can go back in the transcript and read it.

Look, anytime you go into a – you know, multilateral diplomacy, you have a number of different options. And you have to decide at what point you foreclose various options and what pathway you are going to end up going down. The Secretary decided on Wednesday that we were open to pursuing a resolution. That was a pathway that we were ready and willing to go down. And again, this is all based on trying to help resolve the situation on the ground.

At that point, on Wednesday, you had the very beginnings of this Mubarak initiative – over Tuesday and Wednesday. We thought that that had some promise. So – and again, we thought that perhaps a resolution could help with that. So we were ready to explore that going forward.

And again, as time progresses, and we had hoped that the Mubarak initiative would have progressed a bit further than it had. It hadn’t. At that point, we thought a resolution would help the situation. And we thought that taking the course of abstaining on the text, which we supported, was the right way to go.

QUESTION: All right. Can I – I have two very short, but semi-related. One, do you know anything about an arms shipment to Israel that was supposed to transit through Greece that has been – now been cancelled or postponed because of protests at the port?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’ll check into it for you.

QUESTION: Okay. And then, do you know anything about the – Iran says that it’s tried four people on charges of working with the State Department and the CIA to –

MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn’t seen that. I’ll check into it for you, get the details from you and we’ll get you an answer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Okay, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 10:46 a.m.)

DPB # 6

Released on January 13, 2009

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