Wednesday, June 20, 2007

State Department Daily Press Briefing, 06/20/07 (VIDEO, PODCAST)

Daily Press Briefing, Spokesman Sean McCormack, FULL STREAMING VIDEO file is windows media format, running time is 17:07, PODCAST of Briefing mp3 format for download. Washington, DC, June 20, 2007, 12:45 p.m. EST. Streaming Audio of briefing mp3 in m3u format for online listening.

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I don't have any opening statements so we can get right into your questions.

Please, proceed.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, again. Now after the gaggle this morning --

QUESTION: -- the White House has confirmed to Al Jazeera English that Mr. Bush has been talking to Mr. Blair about the possibility of taking over the Quartet Mideast Envoy position. The Russians at this very moment are expressing dismay of this at the United Nations. What will Mr. Bush have to do in order to bring them on board so that his friend Mr. Blair can get the job he wants?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I would remind you that the Prime Minister still does have a day job at the moment. He is Prime Minister of the UK. And far be it for me to comment on what his future plans might be once he leaves office.

But putting that aside for a second; there is a need, as President Bush and Prime Minister Olmert talked about just yesterday at the White House, for the need to lay the groundwork for a Palestinian state. And part of laying that groundwork is building up Palestinian institutions, building up economic capacity, building up those economic institutions, building up those political institutions within the Palestinian system so that when you do have a Palestinian state eventually, you have a state that can function as a well-governed state that serves the needs of the Palestinian people.

Now, the Quartet did previously have an envoy that performed some of those functions in the very discrete -- in the discrete case of Gaza, Jim Wolfensohn, and he did a terrific job on behalf of the Palestinians and on behalf of the Quartet. So there is, we believe, a need to perform that particular function in working with the Palestinians in the Palestinian system to develop those institutions. And again, putting aside the political track because that's something that Secretary Rice working with President Bush is going to work directly with the Israelis, the Palestinians as well as Arab states in consulting with the Quartet. So there is this idea out there of can we identify a person that could fulfill those functions. And I think that the idea has some merit. Clearly there needs to be some more consultations on the matter.

But as for particular individuals at this point I'm certainly not going to get into it.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. Government support Tony Blair then? I mean, is he damaged because of Lebanon and Iraq?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I'm not going to -- far be it from me from this podium to comment on Prime Minister Blair's future plans. Prime Minister Blair is somebody who is passionate about the issues of the Middle East and who has played a very constructive role in the international system on these issues -- a clear leader within the international system of very high standing. So I would expect that Prime Minister Blair certainly would have a variety of different options from which he could choose once he leaves office. But as for any particular comment on these news stories I'm going to avoid that at this point.

QUESTION: Sean, just to follow up.


QUESTION: Has David Welch been in London consulting with Prime Minister Blair?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Yeah, David Welch is in London and he's consulting with our British colleagues on a variety of issues related to David's portfolio.

QUESTION: And that would include the aforementioned issues of how to build Palestinian infrastructure of Palestine.

MR. MCCORMACK: I think -- Charlie, I'm going to leave the diplomatic discussions within that diplomatic channel. But I think you can safely assume that they will touch upon the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian track, but more specifically how do you work to build up those Palestinian institutions. It's a very discrete task, separate from the political track, but nonetheless, one that is going to be absolutely critical for that day when a Palestinian state does come into being so that you can be concerned not only with what the outlines of a Palestinian state might be, but what is actually going on inside that state and that's one of the important points that President Bush made as far back as 2002. And it all falls within the framework of laying this groundwork for an eventual Palestinian state.


QUESTION: When was the last time that Secretary Rice spoke to Tony Blair directly?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you exactly. Within the past month or two I know that they have spoken. And certainly they saw one another when Prime Minister Blair was here for his visit with President Bush. I don't know if they have spoken subsequent to that, though.


QUESTION: Mr. Abbas gave a wide ranging speech just now.

MR. MCCORMACK: Excuse me.

QUESTION: Mr. Abbas gave a wide ranging speech just now. Among issues he raised was that they were foreign elements fomenting the crisis in Palestinian territories. He also said -- talked about a premeditated plan between Hamas and foreign elements abroad in fueling this crisis. And he also talked about a plot -- Hamas plot to murder him.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I certainly can't offer any particular comment on those specific allegations beyond the fact that we, as well as others, have had deep concerns about Hamas' links to outside groups, outside states as well as other violent extremist groups that have been operating in the Palestinian areas. That's no secret. Whether that's Syria or whether that's Iran or others, it's of concern not only to us, but apparently of grave concern to President Abbas as well.


QUESTION: Can you take us any further than this morning on the Quartet phone call and any schedule going forward?

MR. MCCORMACK: At this point -- I don't really have much more to offer at this point on the Quartet phone call. They were mainly concerned with the topic of when they would next get together. And I think they're still sorting that out at this point as to when the Quartet would meet again. Obviously there had been plans for Quartet meetings at the end of this month in the region. I think given the events, as we have seen them unfold in the Palestinian areas, would indicate that at some point we will have that meeting. But I'm not sure that that will take place at the end of June. You want this Palestinian Government to be able to get its feet on the ground and start working on behalf of the Palestinian people and give that some time to happen; maybe have the opportunity for President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert to meet as well. But we're going to be in close contact with the members of the Quartet and I wouldn't be surprised if in the coming weeks you would see even an envoys-level meeting in the region and that at some point, the principals will get together and I couldn't tell you exactly where or when. But nonetheless, they are in close contact, if not actually meeting together.

Anything else on the Middle East?

QUESTION: Sean, the Quartet meeting in Egypt has been canceled, right? It's confirmed.

MR. MCCORMACK: Again I think that given the events in the region, I think that at some point that meeting is going to take place. I'm not sure that it will take place at the end of this month, though.

Yeah, Zain.

QUESTION: I just want you to respond to some comments that former President Jimmy Carter has made, basically accusing the U.S. and Israel and the European Union of trying to divide the Palestinian people by giving aid to Abbas and nothing to Hamas and Gaza. I'd like you to respond to that.


QUESTION: And he also said that by not supporting Hamas when they won the election victory, that we're criminals. That's a sort of a second element to that.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, the former president is a private citizen and he's going to have his own opinions and I'm not -- certainly not going to get into the position of criticizing a former president of the United States. But quite clearly, on the issue of our actions in the wake of the Hamas victory in the elections, we have a different view and I think that the President and Secretary of State have articulated that different point of view.

As for the idea that we are somehow treating Fatah and Hamas differently, absolutely; Hamas is a terrorist organization and we're not going to provide aid to a terrorist organization. Neither we nor the European Union or others around the world are going to provide aid to a terrorist organization. Providing aid to Hamas and -- is not the sine qua non for being concerned with the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people. We're very concerned about the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people, a condition -- one might add -- that has been brought on by the attack of Hamas on legitimate Palestinian institutions.

So because of our concern for the future humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people, the Secretary announced just the other day that we are going to pledge $40 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency so that they can provide assistance specifically to Palestinians in Gaza.

Now I would add as an aside to all of this, it is through Hamas' own actions that they have brought this situation upon themselves and, sadly, on the million-and-a-half people in the Gaza Strip. Hamas, through their actions, has now taken on the responsibility for providing food, medicine, electricity, gas for all of those people. And I would submit to you that Hamas' actions take the Palestinian people in the Gaza farther away from their dream of a Palestinian state.

So this idea that somehow we are not concerned with the plight of the Palestinian people, I think, is simply wrong.

QUESTION: Just -- if I may just follow up, Hamas has come out today with a specific list of what it says -- it seized something like $400 million in U.S. military equipment from Fatah. Do you know anything about this? Can you confirm that? Can you shed any more light on that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that would be very odd since the extent of the security assistance program that was only just beginning and, in fact, was only in the tens of millions of dollars -- so I would caution you against using figures like that coming out of Hamas.

Yes, anything else on the Middle East? Lambros.

QUESTION: On Turkey, Mr. McCormack, very important, this one, because there's a lot of stories all over in Turkey. Last Wednesday at the Hudson Institute, which is under the supervision of a federal agents of the U.S. Government, was a secret meeting seeking some ideas to overthrow the Turkish Government of Recep Erdogan via Iraq. There were inter alia representatives from the Turkish general, the Turkish military attaché, the son of Jalal Talabani, other Turkish civilians, and members of the Bureau of Intelligence of the Department of State.

I'm wondering why DOS representative participated in such a meeting against democracy in Turkey and particularly the most decent, honest and particular -- excuse me, and popular Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan.

MR. MCCORMACK: So let me get this right. You're coming to the defense of Prime Minister Erdogan?

QUESTION: I'm defending democracy in Turkey and for information on --

MR. MCCORMACK: And as is the Turkish Government and we have faith in Turkey's secular democracy and we believe that that secular democracy is supported by all aspects of Turkish political life, including the Turkish military and by Prime Minister Erdogan and his government. So I can't speak to such --

QUESTION: For this --

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't even tell you if such a meeting took place, Lambros. I, furthermore, cannot tell you that somebody from the State Department was at such a meeting. I can't tell you if this is imaginary or not. You know, of course, we're going to meet with Turkish Government representatives and we're also working with them very closely on a variety of issues related to Turkey's future with the EU, Turkey's role in the region, and most importantly, also Turkey -- how Turkey can work together with Iraq to address the terrorist threat.

QUESTION: And one --

MR. MCCORMACK: That's it.

QUESTION: On Greece --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, that's it. That's it. Yeah, in the back.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on the American citizens detained in Iran? Has there been any response through the Swiss Government?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have any updates, unfortunately. No, there has been no news in that regard. I would only add that we want to see these people allowed to return to the United States as soon as possible.

QUESTION: That includes Mr. Levinson?

MR. MCCORMACK: That includes Mr. Levinson.


QUESTION: Yeah, on the U.S.-China Senior Dialogue, did Deputy Secretary Negroponte bring up the topic of China's investments in the Iranian oil sector?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't gotten a readout of the meeting. It's going to actually spill over until tomorrow. I hope at the end of the dialogue, that we'll be able to provide you a little bit more robust readout of what they actually discussed. I talked a little bit this morning about sort of the general areas that we envision they would talk about there, but we'll try to get you more information about what they actually talked about.

QUESTION: But just as a matter of record, what is the U.S. position on investments in Iran and particularly the energy sector?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there -- this question has come up before about the Chinese national oil company potentially being interested in investing in Iran's oil and gas sector. Well, the United States has laws that are applicable in this regard that are -- and there's a review and possible penalties that are triggered by any investments that actually take place above a certain level.

And I'm sure the Chinese Government is aware of that. We've talked to them about this, I think, within the past several months when the news stories came up that the oil company was interested in talking to the Iranians about investments. There's a big difference between talking to the Iranian Government and even negotiating with the Iranian Government about potential investments and actually investing money, which is -- which really gets you to the trigger point and I don't think the Chinese Government is anywhere near that at this point.


QUESTION: Also a follow-up. Will Taiwan question be included in the senior dialogue? And also, consistent with the U.S. recent remark on Taiwan's sovereignty issue, President Chen Shui-bian in Taiwan called the U.S. attention to this six assurance made by Reagan Administration, especially on the issue of sovereignty. I don't know if you can tell us -- you know, has any -- is there any change in U.S. sovereignty's position on the Taiwan? And what's the content of the -- you know, U.S. six assurances?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. As for whether or not Taiwan has come up in the senior dialogue, I can't tell you. I haven't gotten a readout of it. Very often, the Chinese Government raises the issue of Taiwan and we provide them with a response that they are very accustomed to hearing and that response hasn't changed in some time.

Look, with respect to our Taiwan policy, you have heard many, many times over, me repeat it and Secretary Rice repeat it; that policy is unchanged. And you can go back in the transcripts and take a look for yourself exactly what that is.

QUESTION: Yeah, but there are so many different elements and President Chen Shui-bian especially indicated six assurances, so --

MR. MCCORMACK: I can refer you back to the many times in the recent past that we have talked about what our policy is.

QUESTION: One additional question.

MR. MCCORMACK: This fellow right back here had one question -- yeah, and you --

QUESTION: While we were -- during the course of the BDA issue, you repeatedly said that you didn't want to get into a play-by-play --


QUESTION: -- and hoping to get to the end of it before --


QUESTION: -- offering us some insight. So now that it seems to be pretty much resolved, is there anything more you could give us that you had been hesitant to previously?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not at the moment, no.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Yes, there were talks on the Western Sahara in New York that just rolled up+. Do you have anything -- any comment on this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't. I'll be happy to look into it and see if we have anything to offer. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.)

DPB # 110

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