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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 14, 2009

INDEX:

MISCELLANEOUS

Usama Bin Ladin Videotape / Indication of his Isolation

ISRAEL/GAZA

Prime Minister Olmert’s Remarks
Rocket Fire from Lebanon / No Claim of Responsibility / No Desire for Gaza Conflict to Expand

INDIA/PAKISTAN

Managing Tensions in Aftermath of Mumbai Attacks / Cooperation in Investigation

CUBA

Fidel Castro’s Health


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

10:19 a.m. EST

MR. MCCORMACK: Good morning, everybody. I don’t have anything to start off with, so we’ll get right into your questions.

Kirit, welcome back.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Any comment on the Obama [1] tape?

MR. MCCORMACK: We haven’t been able to authenticate it. We’ve heard it. Look, I think it’s just another propaganda effort. The fact that he releases it in the form that he does, and with the message that he has in which he criticizes Muslim clerics, he criticizes Israel, he criticizes the United States, he criticizes the President-elect. I’m not sure there’s anybody in there that he doesn’t criticize except for himself, which I take as a sign of his very real isolation. I also take it as a sign that al-Qaida has largely been driven from the heart of the Middle East, Iraq, in that fight. Yet, it is also an indication that al-Qaida and bin Ladin are still out there, and that continued vigilance from the – to protect against the threat that still exists is required.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. Government satisfied that it’s – that the tape itself is current?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. I don’t know that we have (a) determined its authenticity. I don’t, however – I don’t standing here have a reason to question its authenticity. And I don’t think that we have been able to pin it down in time yet. The folks that usually occupy themselves with those things are doing so.

QUESTION: Do you see him trying to take advantage of the Arab and Muslim anger over events in Gaza?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I don’t know. I can’t answer the question because I don’t know the timing of it. I don’t know when it was made, if it was just a coincidence that it was – that it came out at this period of time. I just don’t know the answers to those questions.

QUESTION: Even if you can’t the link two, can you say that the timing of it will further throw fuel on the fire?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I can’t say that, Lach. Again, as if – just the few lines that I’ve had briefed to me -- I haven’t read the entire transcript – he does seem to lash out at everybody, including Muslim clerics, including Ayatollah Sistani, as well as senior clerics in Egypt as well. So he seems to be lashing out at everybody. And like I said, it just seems to be an indication of his isolation.

Kirit.

QUESTION: A different topic. Has there been any follow up with Prime Minister Olmert about his remarks. He’s – his spokesman is still contending that whatever he said was true.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, look, I guess that’s their position is sticking to it. I stick by what I said yesterday: It’s completely and utterly 100 percent false. And we have talked to some Israeli officials. I wouldn’t characterize this as having sought an official clarification at this point. But we have talked to some Israeli officials. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

But look, the description as reported – the description of events, as reported, is fiction -- 100 percent fiction, 100 percent false.

QUESTION: In those conversations has that included Prime Minister Olmert?

MR. MCCORMACK: No.

QUESTION: On these rockets coming from Lebanon, are you concerned about a continuation of fire of rockets from Lebanon?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, of course, nobody wants to see this, you know, any of the conflict that is now going on in Gaza expand. I don’t think that there’s been any claim of responsibility. We have, about four or five days ago, seen isolated rocket launches as well. But you know, again, we haven’t seen any claim of responsibility, and certainly nobody wants to see this expand. As a matter of fact, I think, during the last rocket launches the Government of Lebanon condemned the launch.

QUESTION: Do you think there are Palestinian fringe groups (inaudible) there?

MR. MCCORMACK: Don’t know. I don’t know, Lach, at this point. We don’t know. I mean, certainly there are a lot of potential usual suspects in this case. But I don’t know that there’s been any definitive claim or that we can say definitively who is responsible.

Samir.

QUESTION: Are you doing anything at all to talk to the Israelis to be careful not to bomb Lebanon, for example (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware of any conversations in that regard.

Charles? Anybody?

QUESTION: Yeah, I just want to --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Lach, go – keep going.

QUESTION: Just right up to the 20th. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, that’s right. This is – this is the penultimate briefing. There will be one on Friday, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, the head of India’s army confirmed that Pakistan has redeployed troops along the two countries’ tense border, a reaction to that. How much concern do you have about that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, we are – we have been watching very closely for some time and talking to both sides, the Pakistan side and the Indian side about managing the tensions in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Mumbai. To this point, both sides have managed to do that successfully, some of these troop movements notwithstanding, both on the Indian side as well as the Pakistani side. We have seen some of these deployments. But you know, overall, relatively speaking, we have seen some cooperation between India and Pakistan. We would like to see more the exchange of information about the Mumbai attacks so that you can get to the bottom of exactly who was responsible, see the entire plot, and hold all responsible for their actions, and make sure that in doing so you prevent any further plots from getting to the point of execution. We’ve seen some of that. We’d like to see more. I think Richard Boucher put it, I think, pretty -- very neatly in saying each side has pieces to the puzzle that the other doesn't, so in order to complete the picture here, they need to cooperate.

QUESTION: Do you think such troop movements are manageable in terms of not inflaming tensions?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, thus far, they have been. Thus far, each side has managed the aftermath of Mumbai in such a way that the tensions haven’t escalated in a way that has been unhelpful to maintaining peace and stability.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) stay on (inaudible)?

MR. MCCORMACK: Charles.

QUESTION: Have you got anything today on the latest round of rumors about Fidel Castro’s health?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing definitive.

QUESTION: Nothing definitive?

MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing definitive.

QUESTION: Do you have anything somewhat less than definitive?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, nothing – you know, I’ll --

QUESTION: More than rank rumor?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I’m not going to – I’m not going to venture there at this point. Obviously, there have been a lot of reports over the past many months that he’s been quite ill.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right.

(The briefing was concluded at 10:25 a.m.)

DPB # 7


[1] Usama


Released on January 14, 2009

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