Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
December 12, 2006
Potential Departure of Saudi Ambassador
US Has Good Working Relationship with Amb. Turki al-Faysal / Saudi
US Working with Saudis on Common Threats in Region
Secretary Rice’s Meeting with Saudi Ambassador
Prime Minister Olmert’s Comments on Nuclear Weapon / No Change in
GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) Demand for Chapter 7 of UN Chapter
Iranian Behavior / President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad’s Commentary on
Iran’s Holocaust Denial Conference
Arab League Proposal for Lebanon / Amr Moussa in Lebanon
Issue of Shebaa Farms / Syria Should Move to Resolve the Situation
Lebanese Government Must Find Solution
Issue of Shifting of Responsibility to Iraqis / PM Maliki Wants
More Control Over Forces
Differences and Sectarian Violence Must Be Resolved by Iraqis
US Wants to Help Iraq Build a Better Society, Defend and Govern
Presidential Review of Iraq Policy / Review Generating Questions
US Continues Assisting Iraqis Toward a Better Future / Positive
Role for Others in Region
Countries in Region Concerned About Violence and Extremism
Assistant Secretary Hill’s Schedule / Briefing
Oil – Fuel Dispute
Issue Should be Settled within Commonly Acceptable International
12:53 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. Who wants to start us off? We don't have any opening statements. All right. AP, you guys are on a roll.
QUESTION: Do you have any information on the departure, or the sudden departure, of the Saudi Ambassador? Are there reasons for that?
MR. MCCORMACK: You can check with the Saudi Embassy on that. To my knowledge, they have not made any official announcements. I'm going to leave it to the Saudi Embassy and the Saudi Government to talk about any personnel changes that may be occurring, if any. We have a very good relationship with Ambassador Turki al-Faysal and we have an excellent relationship with the Saudi Government. We're working together very closely on a number of different issues right now in a number of different fora. You have the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Gulf -- and the Secretary has had three meetings within the past three months, I think, with that particular group and the Vice President was just in Riyadh. The Secretary has an excellent working relationship with a variety of different counterparts on the Saudi side going all the way up to King Abdallah, so we have a good strong working relationship.
We see a number of common threats in the region. We're working together on those common threats. As for the potential departure of the Ambassador, I'm sure that if he is leaving that it will be -- it is for his own reasons and I will leave it to the Saudi Government and the Saudi Embassy to talk about it.
QUESTION: Do you have any information on the health of the Foreign Ministry -- Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't.
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: Did Secretary Rice talk to Turki al-Faysal at all before he left?
MR. MCCORMACK: She did have a meeting with him yesterday. It was for about half an hour and it was a meeting that was scheduled in advance. I can't tell you how far in advance but it wasn't something where he called up that morning and said I need to come to see you. But she did see him yesterday.
QUESTION: But did this come up? Is this where it --
MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't talk to her about the content of the meeting.
QUESTION: Did she know he was leaving before the meeting?
MR. MCCORMACK: That gets us back to this chicken and egg problem. The Saudi Government hasn't made any official announcements about his departure.
QUESTION: Sean, would you say the U.S. had excellent relations with Dr. Faysal, with the Ambassador?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right, yes. We had a good working relationship with him, yes.
QUESTION: You spoke about the GCC.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: The GCC today demanded the application under the Chapter 7 of the UN chapter on Israel after the Prime Minister Olmert implied that Israel has a nuclear bomb.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: What do you think of this --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, from everything that I've seen about Prime Minister Olmert's comments, the Israeli Government has said that there is no change in their policy, which has been neither to confirm nor deny possession of nuclear weapons. And so to my knowledge, there is no change in any policy.
QUESTION: Well, maybe his tongue slipped, but he was the second one to say that in a few days. The new Defense Secretary also said something like that recently. So do you think it's a good thing when you are trying to stop Iran to get a nuclear weapon that everybody speaks about the --
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, Sylvie, there is no --
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) --
MR. MCCORMACK: There is no change in the Israeli policy. They have stated so. And I'm not going to try to draw any equivalence between Iran's behavior and any other state because, quite frankly, Iranian behavior is far -- the behavior of this particular regime is far outside the bounds of pretty much any regime that we see on the face of the earth -- or, if not, then a pretty small collection. So you know, Iran is, in our view, in abrogation of its treaty commitments not to seek nuclear weapons when they committed -- they committed under the Nonproliferation Treaty to try to develop peaceful nuclear energy and not -- and forego the development of nuclear weapons.
QUESTION: Do you see it as -- I mean, Sean, I understand that they are claiming that they have not changed policy, but the fact of the matter is he's quoted as saying they are -- they, meaning the Iranians, are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel and Russia. That's different from several decades of Israel's policy where there has been a very deliberate decision to maintain ambiguity as to whether they have such weapons or not.
Regardless of whether they're calling it a change in policy or not, does it seem to you to be destabilizing for one significant player in the region to -- for its Prime Minister to state that they have nuclear weapons? Is that not a destabilizing thing?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I guess the Israeli Government is quibbling with your fundamental premise. They're not saying -- they're saying that's not what he said or meant to imply.
QUESTION: Lebanon, please. The Arab League is trying to broker a deal between the pro-Syrians and the pro-Western camps in the government. Do you support the efforts of Amr Moussa in doing this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we talked a little bit about this yesterday and Amr Moussa is in Lebanon trying to do what he can to broker a compromise that would defuse the political crisis that's ongoing in Lebanon right now. As I said yesterday, there are a lot of different voices. There are some voices that are helpful. Amr Moussa is, I think, trying to lend his personal good offices to the issue.
But ultimately this needs to be the Lebanese that come to any solution. Maybe there are some outside ideas that may be flowing in. That's fine, but fundamentally they have to decide what is the political way out from the current situation.
QUESTION: But do you support it?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's not a matter for us -- not a matter for us to support it or not. It's a matter for the Lebanese Government, led by Prime Minister Siniora to assess whether or not there's any merit in the ideas and if so, to act on it. But that's completely a decision for the Lebanese Government to make.
QUESTION: In an interview there are some remarks that were published today in the Post, Siniora complained about a lack of concrete support from the United States, saying he'd been getting lots of paper but it wasn't recyclable, is the way he put it. Any comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Look, I understand. It's a difficult situation in Lebanon right now. And I can understand the desire of Prime Minister Siniora to move forward and solve some problems. One big problem that he sees and that he has on his plate is the issue of Shebaa Farms. I understand his desire to resolve that issue, but right now it is very complicated. It gets into maps and which ones are valid, which ones are not. But fundamentally it boils down to one point and the biggest single obstacle to resolving the Shebaa Farms issue right now is Syria. Secretary General Annan and the UN have drawn certain lines. There was a process that everybody agreed would help -- would be a step along the way to resolving the situation, and to this point Syria has not moved at all in trying to resolve the situation. So they are the single biggest stumbling block actually. And you know, in the way forward, if there's anything the United States can do to help resolve the situation, of course, we will try to do what we can. But Syria is the stumbling block right now.
QUESTION: Well (inaudible) --
MR. MCCORMACK: I was giving Charlie the rope --
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Very well.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, we should institute, like a two- or three-second rule. Silence and no questions within a couple of seconds, then automatic cut off.
All right. Arshad, you got your hand up.
QUESTION: There was a story in the FT today that echoes some things that the Post wrote last week, essentially talking about what they perceived to be an increasing effort by the Bush Administration to blame the Iraqis to essentially shift responsibility to the Iraqis for what is going on in Iraq from the United States. One, would you dispute that idea that the Bush Administration is in fact trying to shift responsibility, blame the onus to Iraqis for the violence in Iraq?
MR. MCCORMACK: No. We're not. The Prime Minister Maliki when he met with President Bush said that he wanted to take over more responsibility, more control of Iraqi forces. Right now there's an arrangement where Iraqi forces worked very closely with the multinational forces on the ground and there's a lot of intensive consultation with Prime Minister Maliki before any sort of military security operation is undertaken.
Prime Minister Maliki said he wants more authority and more responsibility and control over those forces. That's a good thing from our perspective. And we can fight the terrorists. We can fight the insurgents. It is a more difficult and much more complicated problem when you start talking about sectarian violence, and the roots of this are -- the route to resolving the sectarian violence and the people who are going to have to come up with a solution to that are fundamentally the Iraqis. We can help. We can assist them as they deal with those people who are not invested in the political process who want to continue to operate outside the political process.
But any divisions that may exist in Iraq along sectarian or other lines, those questions have to be -- those differences have to be resolved by the Iraqis. They have to resolve them through making the tough political bargains that are out there on the table now, whether that is dealing with a hydrocarbons law or dealing with issues of federalism or dealing with issues of de-Baathification. We can't solve those problems for them, nor do we want to solve those problems for them.
And that -- those sorts of political differences really are the root, along with some other factors as well, of some of the sectarian violence that you see going on right now. So you have to have a full-spectrum effort to try to resolve those sectarian differences. There are some cases where you have to use force. There are some cases where you have to get at the root causes of the political differences and then also you have to provide economic opportunity and reconstruction for all areas of Iraq so that Iraq really is for all Iraqis.
So those differences the Iraqis have to solve. It's not a matter of trying to shift blame to them. We're there with the Iraqis. We want to help them build a better society, as the President has said, build an Iraq that can sustain, defend and govern itself. That's our goal. Part of that equation is resolving the sectarian violence issue.
QUESTION: So you completely reject the sort of blame-and-run idea that's in the FT?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely not. That's -- there's no basis to that.
QUESTION: What's the date on the reconciliation conference by the Iraqis?
MR. MCCORMACK: I know that they're working on it. I don't know that they have set a formal date for the conference. I know that they were looking at some point here in December. I can't tell you right now if they've actually scheduled a date for the conference.
But it's -- again, it's a very hopeful sign. They -- nobody wants to resolve these differences more than the Iraqis and more than the Iraqi political leadership. These people have paid a price. The Vice President, who is coming in to see the Vice President -- to see the President today over at the White House and then he'll be over here later to meet separately with Secretary Rice, he's lost three family members in the past year, his two brothers and a sister, one brother as recently as October. That is a terrible price to pay, but this man persists in trying to work on behalf of the Iraqi people and work for a better Iraq. We're standing with people like Tariq Al-Hashimi who want to build a better future for their country. You don't abandon people who are trying to do that under the circumstances that they're operating under right now.
QUESTION: A senior White House official has been quoted as saying that the results of the President's review of Iraq policy are more likely to come out next year than this. Is that -- and I'm not asking you to rehearse what you've told us before about how it's a rolling thing -- please, I get --
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, no, the reason why -- no, but one point. No, and I'm not going to go through it, Arshad, I promise you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: But the one point, the reason why I kept repeating that, is because it seemed this sort of idea of -- this misunderstanding of how the review works persisted in the reporting that I saw, so I felt it was important for me to try to set you guys straight.
QUESTION: Point noted. But here's my question: Does the possible delay in this -- has that led to any change in your planning or your work on this? Has the President come back with more questions on stuff? Is there -- I'm not suggesting that there's some specific document you hand him, but --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Clearly he had more questions and he -- you know, we got some of those upstairs yesterday when he was over here going over the reconstruction efforts, the State Department efforts, PRTs as well our regional diplomatic efforts. So yeah, this is generating questions at his level and I assume also at the principals level as well as the deputies level. People are working hard to come up and give their best effort to answer all of those.
Tony will talk about it, I am sure, at this briefing today, which I think is going on now, about the reasons why. But you want -- this is big questions, big issue. You want to make sure that you get it right. And we here at the State Department will do everything that we can to make sure that the President and policy makers have all the information, have all the options, the best ideas that we can generate, in order to make the best overall decision about which -- what's the right way forward.
QUESTION: Sean, have U.S. allies in the region, in the Middle East, that are mainly Sunni, expressed any concern to you that Sunnis in Iraq may be abandoned or they're worried about that or they want reassurance about that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, if anybody's concerned about that, they shouldn't be from our perspective. We want to continue to assist the Iraqis and do what we can in their efforts at reconciliation and to make sure that you have an Iraq for all Iraqis. That means Sunni, Shia, Kurd and various other minorities in Iraq. So they shouldn't -- the fundamental question here is is the United States going to stick with Iraq and the Iraqis who are fighting for, you know, a better Iraq. And the answer to that is yes. And we have also -- we, while we are putting in that effort, have encouraged others in the region, Iraq's neighbors, to play a positive role. And that's the whole basis of this International Compact for Iraq that we here at the State Department as well as the Department of Treasury have been working on. And so the idea is to try to generate not only support from the United States, but also others around the world and most especially in the neighborhood.
QUESTION: So countries like Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Jordan, the Sunni majority countries have not expressed concern to you directly that they're concerned at the growth of Shia power in the region or Iranian influence in the region?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, here's what we're hearing and what they're concerned about. They are concerned about the same thing that we are and that is the growing efforts by those who want to use violence and extremism throughout the region to blow it apart and whether that's in Iraq or the Palestinian areas or Lebanon. And so they -- we share that concern as well. So that's the whole basis of working together in the GCC Forum, as well as the International Compact for Iraq and all our other bilateral contacts that we're having. How can we work together to try to get a better situation in Iraq, in the Palestinian areas, in Lebanon and elsewhere throughout the region? So that's their basic concern. I'll let them describe their own particular concerns, whether it's in terms of Shia, Sunni, I'll let them do that. But in terms of the conversations that we have, the dividing line is really one of the mainstream of the region, people who want -- you know, want a more peaceful region, want a more stable region, want a more prosperous region and those who want to blow it apart with violence and ideologies that are just 180 degrees off from where most of the region wants to go.
QUESTION: In Iran, the President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad again had words about Israel and he said that Israel will soon disappear as the USSR did. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, just absolutely outrageous. You know, you get to a point where it's hard to find the words to describe the statements that are emanating from the Iranian President, continuing in this commentary about his desire to wipe Israel off the face of the map and it's just -- again, it's hard to find the words, his despicable behavior. The conference that they have put together to try to undercut what is historical fact regarding the tragedy of the Holocaust in which millions of people lost their lives, then talking furthermore about trying to wipe off -- wipe a county off the face of the map, it's just absolutely astounding that in this day and age, and in particular in a region that is really trying to turn a corner in terms of its -- in terms of its past, that you have these kind of statements. It's just absolutely astounding.
QUESTION: North Korea. Do you have any clarification on Chris Hill's schedule for the weekend? Is he going to be meeting with Kim Gye Gwan?
MR. MCCORMACK: No updates for you. We're actually going to try to get Chris out here to give you a little briefing at some point before he leaves. I don't have the exact time yet, but maybe by that time, the time of his briefing, he'll have a little bit -- a few more details about his schedule.
QUESTION: Here, in this room, you mean?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment -- if you don't, that's fine, but I'd flag this.
MR. MCCORMACK: No I don't. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: There's another dispute between Russia and -- oh, come on. Russia and Belarus. Come on, come on. Russia and Belarus, this fuel oil dispute. Did you guys look into this and does this -- do you see this as just sort of a commercial or trade dispute or do you see this as Russian bullying of its neighbors?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't want to dive headfirst into that one without all the facts, and we don't have all the facts.
MR. MCCORMACK: But to restate, these types of issues should be settled on the basis of market forces and within the boundaries of commonly acceptable international contracting behavior with regard to commerce and hydrocarbons. No country should -- and we've talked about this, our concerns in this regard with Russia before. No country should try to use energy as a weapon in this regard. We've seen some of this -- we've seen behavior that has raised those concerns before. I can't tell you specifically if that's the case here with Belarus, but it raises the question at the very least.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:14 p.m.)