June 17th, 2006 11:44 EST
United States Support to European Union Conference on Darfur
MR. ERELI: Hello, everybody. Glad to see you. Assistant Secretary and Spokesman Sean McCormack will be out shortly. We thought we'd start off today's briefing with a readout from our Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer of the Somalia Contact Group meeting yesterday where Assistant Secretary Frazer was representing the United States. She'll give you a little bit of a readout from that meeting, then be available to answer a couple of your questions before we start the regular briefing with Spokesman McCormick, so Assistant Secretary Frazer.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Thank you, Adam.
As you know, we held the inaugural International Somalia Contact Group meeting yesterday in New York. We held the meeting at the mission, the Norway's mission. They're the lead country to develop this Contact Group. The purpose of it is to coordinate our policy on Somalia so that we can support the Transitional Federal Institutions. We can achieve our objectives of bringing assistance to the people of Somalia, social, economic development and humanitarian assistance, so that we can also work with Somali parties to prevent the country becoming, or stop the country as a haven of terrorism and instability in the region and in Somalia itself. And especially our message at this point in time is that the Transitional Federal Institutions and the Islamic Court Union, which you know has sort of moved from its presence in Mogadishu to other towns like Jowhar in Somalia, that the two entities should come together in a dialogue for peace and stability and development in Somalia.
The attendees at the inaugural meeting were Norway, the U.S., the UK, Tanzania, Sweden, Italy, the European Union, representatives from the African Union, representatives from the United Nations, including Jan Egland and Francois Fall, who's the SRSG for Somalia. I think that the inaugural meeting put us in -- was a very good start in terms of sharing information about what is a very dynamic situation right now in Somalia. And also starting to develop a way ahead in terms of the coordination of our policy to achieve those four objectives: support for the TFI, support for aid to the people of Somalia, support for our efforts to prevent terrorists -- terror action from Somalia and in Somalia, and to support regional stabilization throughout the region.
So I'm open for any questions that you might have. Yes.
QUESTION: I was going to --
QUESTION: Do you anticipate the Islamic Courts playing a sort of central role in the transitional government or the transitional government sort of moving towards becoming more of a government of national unity? And also, do you intend soon to reply to the second letter that they have written to the United States trying to assure you that their goals are noble?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Well, as we've said, the situation is very dynamic and we have to reserve judgment about what the ultimate intent of the Islamic Court Union is in this phase. What we have pushed for and that the message, as I said, that came out of the International Somali Contact Group is that it's critically important for the TFI and the chairman of the ICU to begin a dialogue to then decide for themselves what role the ICU would play. The first letter, as you know, stated that they were not interested in taking over government or even being in government, but you know, it's a dynamic, fluid circumstance and that will really be the product of the Somali people's decision, particularly as represented through that dialogue that the Contact Group is asking for and urging.
QUESTION: This is a classic failed state, at least so far, and the Secretary has been talking for some time, and so did Secretary Powell, about the imperative of preventing failed states from being a staging area for terrorists. There are those who would say that you're getting a late start on Somalia. What would you say to those who contend that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Well, as you said, Somalia is probably a very unique situation in the world. It's probably -- as you say, it's the classic failed state. It may be even the only failed state, real failed state where there is not any form of a government except for the Transitional Federal Institutions, which are just taking up their place in Somalia. They were based in Kenya, as you know. So it is very complex, very difficult.
What I would say is that we're not getting a late start in Somalia. We have been engaged. The international community has been engaged. What this new initiative does is tries to coordinate that engagement so that it's much more effective, particularly effective insofar as supporting the Transitional Federal Institutions which have now actually met. Their parliament has held a session. They're in Baidoa. I think they're looking to get to Mogadishu. But we have an entity in those existing institutions to start mobilizing international support and assistance through and for and with.
So I think that, you know, we've been providing humanitarian assistance. Last year we spent about 85 million, over 85 million in humanitarian assistance to the people of Somalia. We certainly have been not in the lead but we've been supportive of the regional states and the United Nations, which has been in the lead on negotiating between the various parties and clans to create the Transitional Federal Charter and then the institutions that grow out of them. We've been a part of that process all along.
And certainly, as you know, our counterterrorism objectives have been twofold: One, we need to work to deal with the East Africa al-Qaida operatives who were responsible for bombing our embassies in Kenya and in Tanzania and for the attack on the hotel in Mombassa -- Haroon Fazul, Saleh Nabhan and Talha al-Sudani -- really trying to make sure that Somalia doesn't remain a safe haven for them; but also building the capability of the states in the region: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and others to build a network to establish the capacity to monitor their borders, immigration control, to share information and to prevent this type of al-Qaida cell from taking root across the region as a whole.
MR. ERELI: Teri.
QUESTION: How does the U.S. view the Islamic Court Union now and are they going to be considered a partner for negotiation in this? And how has the U.S. done diligence on the group to make sure that there aren't extremists, that there aren't any -- that there aren't people advocating solely violence as a way forward?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Well, as I said, we are reserving judgment about the Islamic Court Union. You certainly can't make a judgment based on two letters. They're signaling to us their intent to work in the context of the priorities set by the international community; that is, preventing terrorism, supporting stability, working with the Transitional Federal Institutions. But we will have to make a true judgment by their actual actions.
As I said, the Islamic Court Union is a heterogeneous group and so it's very likely that there are elements within it that may be more extremist and others that are more moderate, so we will have to see how they negotiate with the Transitional Federal Institutions. I was asked earlier about the U.S. responding to the second letter and what we, as an International Somali Contact Group, said was it's not important their dialogue with us. What's important is their dialogue with the Transitional Federal Institutions. It's their dialogue with the clan leaders. It's their dialogue with civil society that matters.
The TFI needs to be the mechanism for organizing and coordinating an inclusive dialogue with all elements of the Somali polity, you know, or the Somali society, I should say.
MR. ERELI: Elise.
QUESTION: Some of your partners in the Contact Group going into the meeting have expressed a lot of unease on your focus on the counterterrorism aspect of Somalia in the last year or so and are really pushing a more, kind of, wide and comprehensive approach. Would you say that while you talk about these four pillars, is this a shift from really focusing on the counterterrorism, in the United States' view, to building up those institutions? And what specifically are you going to do to engage these groups together? As you know, the TFI, while you're pushing this as the major mechanism, doesn't have a whole lot of legitimacy and a whole lot of power right now in the country, so why are you focusing on them?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Well, I should say our objectives and our policy to Somalia has always been integrated and all four of those elements are interrelated. Certainly, stability in the region is important to preventing terrorist attacks. Clearly, counterterrorism has to remain a core interest of the United States. It's one of our global priorities and we've actually been hit in East Africa by terrorists who are now residing in Mogadishu. And so it's the responsibility of America to protect its citizens and to work with neighboring countries to protect their citizens. There was a time in 1989 when people said there's no terror threat in Africa. We learned dramatically that that's not the case. And so the pursuit of dealing with an al-Qaida East Africa cell, as represented by these individuals in Somalia, is an international priority and I think that that was affirmed by the Somali working group, the Contact Group yesterday.
MR. ERELI: There's time for a couple more. Jon.
QUESTION: You make no mention of the warlords.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you see them finished as a political force, a military force? And also now would you concede that it was a mistake for the U.S. to back them, if that's the case?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: I have to say that who's a warlord and who's not a warlord is a very fluid thing in Somalia. And I think that what we need to do is to, you know, we were told that the Transitional Federal Institutions, it was just said that it's somewhat a weak institution. That's certainly the case. And the reason why we continue to back the Transitional Federal Institution as the key entity is because it's the product of the United Nations, the IGAD community and the international communities work through negotiations over years. I mean, so we're trying to back that entity.
And I raise that because you know that now people are saying, well, some of the warlords were a part -- were ministers in the TFI and were leaders in their community. So this entity, the TFI, has to become an inclusive mechanism. It needs to reach out to all of the clans. It needs to reach out to all of the leadership. It will be a mistake to suggest that somehow the Islamic Courts Union or even a TFI have replaced the clan base of Somali society and the importance of clan leaders and clan elders or, for that matter, civil society. It's a very dynamic -- it's -- there's no state as such and so it's very dynamic in terms of where the power center exists at any one moment in time. What we're saying is that all elements need to engage in a dialogue: the clans, all the clans; the Islamic Courts, which were set up to fill a gap in terms of providing social services to communities, providing some degree of order, rule of law; as well as the Transitional Federal Institutions, which is an international and Somali legitimate existing institutions for reestablishing the state.
MR. ERELI: All right, one more question. Or we'll do two more. David.
QUESTION: Yeah. You mentioned the al-Qaida people by name living in Mogadishu. The Islamic Courts Union disavows any connection with terrorism. What's the deal here? I mean, are they not being genuine about terrorism? What's their relationship with these people?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: That's a good point. There may be some in the Courts -- it's a heterogeneous group so there may be some of the Courts and some clans that are associated with certain Courts who are actually providing safe haven, or some extremist elements within the Islamic Courts Union. But you could say that it's the Islamic -- you know, a court, you could say it's a clan, you could say it's a particular warlord. You can use any one of those adjectives to describe the fact that some people are providing safe haven for these terrorists.
Today it's the Islamic Court Union. You know, tomorrow it's this particular clan. You know, the next day it's this particular individual in this clan who happens to be the organizer of this militia that protects this court. It's dynamic and fluid. What we're trying to do is gain greater information, fidelity, and also make it very clear to all entities in Somalia, whether it's clan elders, whether it's Islamic Court militias, whether it's warlords, whether it's business people, however you want to characterize them, that these foreign terrorists are going to continue to be a critical interest of the United States. They have to be -- they're indicted. They have to be turned over. And it's not in the Somali people's interest to harbor foreign terrorists.
MR. ERELI: Libby.
QUESTION: Yeah. How is the U.S. going about gathering information about the ICU? I know you say you're going to wait until you see what their actions are and how they engage through dialogue, but what is the process now to gather information on such a heterogeneous group?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Well, we know some things about some members of the ICU. We have the International Somalia Contact Group to try to work and understand. That's the point of sharing information. We reach out to IGAD. I said Francois Fall was at our meeting. The European Commission has people on the ground as well. And so we're trying to reach out to all parties in the international community to try to find out what others know. Some of these individuals are known entities to us.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) U.S. intelligence operations trying to get in there and see what --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: No, it's the U.S. Government. It's diplomacy. It's my attending the International Somalia Contact Group yesterday and saying, "What do you guys know about the Courts? What have they done? Which are the particular ones?" It's sharing of information across the board. It's reaching out to the diaspora community in Washington and internationally saying, you know, what do you know about, you know, the particular court? So I mean, it's reaching out to clan elders in Somalia. Our embassy, as you know, in Nairobi meets and talks to business people. The business people were part of the impetus for funding these courts to establish some degree of rule of law and sort of reaching out to Somali business people. Civil society women's organizations. I've gone to Minnesota, for instance, with Senator Coleman and met with his constituents who were some of these Somali business group. I think the mayor of Mogadishu was there. So we're talking to all -- I mean, across all sources of information.
QUESTION: But -- I'm sorry -- are you talking to the courts?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: We're talking -- as I said, we're talking to all elements. Some of the members of the diaspora are in certain clans which are associated with certain courts. It's very -- it's diverse.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on something you said about the indicted al-Qaida members. Will their extradition by a condition of greater U.S. involvement or would you be willing to talk to a group that you think might be holding them?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Well, I think we have to talk to all groups because the intent is to get them turned over. And so if there's some group that is actually giving them shelter, then engaging that group, either directly or through others who have better relationships with them, it has to be a focus because these are very dangerous individuals continuing to plan operations that will kill Americans as well as the citizens of our friends. And so we've got to have them handed over.
QUESTION: Does that get the U.S., though, in the position of basically bargaining with someone who is harboring a terrorist?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: No, it doesn't get us in a positioning of bargaining. You bargain when you're not unequivocal about what the end objective is. When you go to someone who is harboring a terrorist or a group of people who are harboring them and then you tell them unequivocally you have to hand this person over, and you push for that result, I don't think that that's a bargain.
MR. ERELI: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Thank you very much.
MR. MCCORMACK: Hey, everybody. Here you are, wow. All the people here must be for Jendayi. Thank you for staying. (Laughter.)
I don't have any opening statements, so I can get right into your questions.
QUESTION: You want to do Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure, go ahead. It's up to you.
QUESTION: Ahmadi-Nejad, first -- basically, the second day in a row, said -- made at least some overture or said that they're interested on some level. Although you said -- you have said that you're waiting for a formal response through Solana, do you take this as, at all, an encouraging sign?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm not going to try to comment on the various rhetoric coming out of Tehran or elsewhere concerning Iran's thoughts on the proposal in public. I think what we're going to do is we're going to -- as I said before, we're going to wait for the formal response through Mr. Solana. He gave them a full sense of the incentive package. He certainly provided them with a full sense that there are two pathways. We, along with the other members of P-5+1, would encourage them to take the positive pathway. It's out there for them and we would encourage -- certainly, Mr. Solana is available to answer any further questions they might have, so we'll just -- we're going to withhold any definitive comment about the Iranian response until we do receive that formal response.
QUESTION: Any indication in the last day or two that that response is any closer?
MR. MCCORMACK: Nothing that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: China, as a member of the new UN Human Rights Council --
QUESTION: Stay on Iran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Do you have anything on Iran -- we'll come back to you, sure.
QUESTION: Sean, are you disappointed that you haven't gotten a response yet? I know the weeks, not days thing --
MR. MCCORMACK: Weeks, not months.
QUESTION: Weeks, not months, but weeks, not days, too.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: But even Mr. Solana said he hoped for a response by the end of this week, so he seemed to have some indication it would come by now and it hasn't.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think we fully expected that this would take some time. I mean, when you didn't hear an immediate response one way or the other, I think that the betting was that there was going to be -- it was going to take some time for them to respond. Now, certainly, we're ready to give them that time within the confines of the weeks, not months idea, but I think they are taking their time to look over the proposal. We would urge them to carefully consider their response and we hope that it is a positive one and that they meet the conditions that the international community has laid out for them.
QUESTION: Do you take Ahmadi-Nejad at his word, although that word has passed through wire reports or whatever, that he's instructed his administration to look at it seriously?
MR. MCCORMACK: We would certainly hope that they would. We urge them to look at it seriously, because it's a serious offer and it's a serious proposal on behalf of the P-5+1, so we would urge them to look at it seriously and we hope that there is a positive response.
Yes. Anything else on Iran? Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Is it possible that as this plays on out, you would get mixed signals from key officials there, which sometimes seems to happen? I mean, Ahmadi-Nejad says one thing, Khamenei another, sort of different centers of power in Tehran. And how do you deal with the situation without going into what the response is, if you get some sort of a mixed signal in the end? I mean, what happens?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we'll see what they have to say. That's one of the reasons why we're just going to look for the definitive response through the channel of Mr. Solana, because there have been a number of different statements by various officials, so what you want to do is you want to wait, give them time to sort through it within the confines of the weeks, not months, and just wait for that one definitive response. I think that it's certainly to be expected there would be some public rhetoric about it. We're just going to wait. We're going to wait to see what their response is.
QUESTION: On Cyprus?
MR. MCCORMACK: On Cyprus.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried stated June 8th, "We do not and will not recognize any government other than the Republic of Cyprus on the Island of Cyprus. We are clear about this. None of our policies are aimed at or imply creeping recognition of any other political entity." Do you agree?
MR. MCCORMACK: I agree that there's no change in our policy.
QUESTION: Okay. However, according to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Ah, laying a trap for me, huh?
QUESTION: It's another question. However, according to a letter written, the same Daniel Fried on June 13, a few days later, filed a protest with the Cyprus Government they way Nicosia conducted the talks for Turkish accession to the European Union. And I'm wondering under which capacity Mr. Fried did that, making U.S. policy, Mr. McCormack, (inaudible) meeting like it's a joke, to be honest with you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, in terms of our policy with respect to Cyprus, it hasn't changed. Now with respect to Turkey's accession to the EU, we support that accession with the understanding that those final decisions are going to have to be made by Turkey and the EU, but we support their accession to the EU. And what that means is that we also, at certain times and important moments, we do contact members of the EU to urge them to be as constructive as possible in the discussions that they -- that the EU is engaged in with Turkey to come to some sort of agreement and to urge flexibility in those discussions. That's what those contacts are about.
MR. MCCORMACK: That's what I'm talking about. In terms of contacting individual EU member-states about Turkey's accession, we do that with a number of EU member-states, including with the Cypriot Government.
QUESTION: Okay. One more question. The Turkish Secretary -- excuse me, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday said, "The situation in Cyprus has become more complicated due to the fact Cyprus is a member of the European Union and Turkey has the desire to become EU member, too. When a country is in the EU club and another one wants to join the same club, the situation has become more complicated." May we hear, Mr. McCormack, your comments since both U.S. and the EU (inaudible). They're working very hard for the reunification of the island, a part of which for 35 years now is still under Turkish invasion and occupation.
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, in terms of whether or not the situation is more complicated, I'm going to leave that to others to analyze. You can talk to plenty of foreign policy experts that can offer their opinions on that. Look, we urge the EU to be constructive in their talks with Turkey about accession. We think that it's important. As for the issue of Cyprus, our policy hasn't changed on that. You know exactly what it is.
QUESTION: As for the UN?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think I've answered the question.
QUESTION: The European Union today has agreed on an aids scheme for the Palestinians and they say that they anticipate the other Quartet members will sign -- endorse this particular scheme. So I wondered have you received any details on this? Are you expecting there to be an official endorsement in the next few days?
MR. MCCORMACK: A couple things. Let me go through the process first. There will be this afternoon a Quartet envoy-levels discussion. David Welch will have a conference call with his counterparts in the Quartet to go through what the proposal is, if there is a proposal. I would expect, as a result of the end point of the consultations among the Quartet will be a Quartet statement in which they talk about their support for this proposal. Whether or not you need to have the ministers discuss the proposal, we'll see. But right now, what we know we have is a Quartet envoy-level discussion.
Now in terms of the actual proposal itself, we've made, we believe, quite a bit of progress in talking to the EU about their proposal. And we think that there -- it does show some promise. But again, it hasn't been finally discussed among the Quartet members, so I'm going to withhold judgment on whether or not we will finally support it.
Now what are the basic elements of this? And again, this is an EU proposal. There are three separate areas of potential support. The first one is in-kind assistance in operating costs and this would be for the health care sector. The second potential area for support would be support to some of the Palestinian utilities and specifically the power plant in Gaza and keeping a fuel supply going for that. The third potential area for support and this is the, I believe, probably the most innovative part of the EU proposal, is a basic needs allowance. And that would be a basic needs allowance provided to the most needy of -- among the Palestinian population.
So this, I think at first glance -- and again we have to withhold final judgment about this until you have a full Quartet discussion. Certainly, it does go down the pathway of meeting the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people which is -- which was really the source, the -- sort of the root of this proposal up in New York when the ministers got together. They wanted to find ways that we might, or the international community might help provide for the basic humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, given the policies and behaviors of a Hamas-led government. And there are certain restrictions there -- the matter of law and a matter of regulation and frankly as a matter of policy, that we don't want to cross certain lines. And certainly I think this proposal is headed in the right direction. We'll see what the Quartet finally has to say about it.
QUESTION: Does the United States plan to contribute to this fund or would you merely just back others in the funneling of funds?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have already provided a substantial amount of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people. Most recently, I would point out in-kind $10 million worth of in-kind medical assistance which would be medicines as well as medical equipment. As for any further contributions, I'll try to keep you up to date. At this point, there aren't any further contributions planned.
QUESTION: So the fact that at this point there are no plans to join in with contributions within this fund? This would be run solely by the Europeans with some Israeli contributions possibly.
MR. MCCORMACK: This would be an international financial mechanism. And again let's not get ahead of ourselves, because this has not been -- this has not been finally discussed among even the Quartet envoy level, never mind the principals level. We'll reserve judgment on whether or not we need to have that, that level of discussion. So it's a mechanism that the international community could use. I saw some press reports saying that the EU intended to make substantial contributions via this mechanism. As for other individual international organizations, entities, or states, it's going to be a decision for them to make.
QUESTION: Sir, can I just follow up on that? I'm not quite clear as to why the EU has to -- have you asked the EU confers with the Quartet on this issue? Because if you're not actually giving any money, why should America have a say?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, because this was an initiative by the Quartet and certainly, within -- in keeping with the spirit of the Quartet, the members of the Quartet, even though they may be taking individual action, would, at the very least, consult with the other Quartet members. Now in as much as this is an international financial mechanism, meaning that others might contribute to it, whether it's the Russian Government or others throughout the world, the agreement among the Quartet members up in New York is that the EU would take the lead in developing this proposal, but it would be the Quartet that would finally look at it and determine whether or not it was consistent with the principles that they had laid out months earlier in London.
QUESTION: Is it conceivable that you could actually, in the future, deliver aid through this mechanism, the U.S.?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, let's not get ahead of ourselves. It hasn't been approved yet, but certainly there would be a potential at this point. There -- we don't have any further plans for additional aid, but again, I'm not going to close the door on that.
QUESTION: The EU statement doesn't mention salaries and it appears that the proposal wouldn't cover salaries expressly, but it does talk about social allowances. Is that the same thing as you referred to as a basic needs allowance? And how is that different than a salary and is it something the U.S. could support?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm not going to get into the details of this until we actually have some final Quartet approval on it, but what the third part of this talks about is, it talks about the needs; what are the needs of people, what are the humanitarian needs, which was really the basis for the genesis of talking about this. You know, what we're trying to do is we're trying to address the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian areas. And it was, as part of this proposal, thought that you would do actually a needs-based assessment; who are the most needy and what it is -- what is it that the international community might provide them?
Now as part of the in-kind and operating costs in the health care sector, there is a proposal to give a basic allowance for providers of health care services that have not been paid. So there is -- you know, again, an allowance there. It is -- I'm not going to go down -- further down the road in discussing the details of it. I think I've given you the outlines of it, in as much as we're comfortable talking about it now without it having been finally approved by the Quartet.
Yes, anything else on this? And then we're going to go to you. On this topic?
MR. MCCORMACK: He's been waiting, then we'll get to you, George.
QUESTION: Thank you. China, as a member of the new UN Human Rights Council, will have its human rights record reviewed, as all members of the council will in the coming year or two, which is different than the Human Rights Commission which existed prior to this. What role will the U.S. play in this review and what procedural or technical barriers will exist that might prevent the U.S. from contributing because the U.S. isn't a member of the council?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'll have to check for you. I have to admit I'm not fully familiar with the rules and regulations of the Human Rights Council and how the U.S. might provide whatever inputs, information, or points of view to the Council. As you point out, we're not members of it, so we'll try to get you an answer.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, George.
QUESTION: A senior North Korean official has applied for a visa to come to the United States. Do you know the status of that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, in keeping with our practice in matters related to visa applications, we don't talk about those. There have been -- I will say, however, there have been a number of academic conferences that have been scheduled in -- both on the East Coast and the West Coast, to which North Korean officials have been invited. We would -- we don’t have any, at this point, final pronouncements on whether or not visas would be granted to North Korean government officials to attend those conferences.
QUESTION: A follow up on North Korea?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) North Korea is about to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile test very soon. What countermeasures does the United States have?
MR. MCCORMACK: An interesting topic. There are reports North Korea may be preparing for a long-range missile launch. In recent days, we have been consulting with friends and allies in the region and elsewhere. Together, our diplomacy and that of our allies has made clear to North Korea that a missile launch would be a provocative act that is not in their interest and will further isolate them from the world. A North Korean missile launch would be inconsistent with the 1999 moratorium declared by Kim Jong-il, which he reaffirmed in 2002. This would be yet another instance of North Korea -- if, in fact, they did follow through with a missile launch -- another instance of North Korea violating international commitments it has made.
We would regard a missile launch by North Korea as inconsistent with the September 19th six-party talks joint statement that talked about joint efforts for lasting peace and stability in Northeast Asia. We would urge North Korea not to undertake such a provocation and instead, return to the six-party talks to achieve the vision laid out by the September 19th statement.
Now, you asked another question and on that question, I would say only that we have a variety of national technical means that we could use to monitor the situation. We, of course, will take necessary preparatory steps to track any potential activities and to protect ourselves.
QUESTION: But what contingency -- the United States have any countermeasure for --
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I've said what I'm going to say on the matter.
QUESTION: On the same subject, Senators Levin and Clinton sent a letter to the President this morning asking to develop a coordinated strategy to address North Korea's nuclear missile threat, in which they're calling for some mechanism to deal with it before -- to deal with the problem before North Korea can deliver a missile to U.S. soil. Are you prepared to come up with any other alternative to the six-party talks?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think since you're talking about a letter to the White House, I'm going to let my colleagues at the White House address it; often a technicality.
QUESTION: In the diplomatic effort you described to convey to North Korea that this would be a bad idea, was it also conveyed to them what the consequences would be if they were to launch it? And what response, if any, have your allies received?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, our focus right now, Ann, is on working with friends and allies to send the message to the North Korean Government that such a launch would be a provocative act and we would, instead, urge them to focus their energies and their activities on returning to the six-party talks and engaging in those talks in a constructive manner to really follow through on the good progress that was made, that was evident with the September 19th joint statement.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Anything else on North Korea?
QUESTION: A couple more African questions. The EU says it wants an international conference on Darfur to try to push through the peace accord, since it doesn't seem to be moving along very well. And also, just before we came out, the UN Security Council said that Charles Taylor could go to The Hague now for trial and I wonder if you have any news on that, whether that's going to move along now, now that Britain has agreed to accept him.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it's certainly a positive development. The holdup was getting a commitment from a responsible country that if Charles Taylor was convicted by an international tribunal that they would, in fact, house him because you couldn't send him back to Liberia.
The UK has made that commitment although they do have to follow through in passing some legislation, I understand. So as a result of the UK's commitment, which we would applaud, the process is able to move forward. So certainly a positive development.
QUESTION: Any timelines? Have you heard whether -- how quickly this can happen?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have a timeline. Certainly we would urge the people involved in making that tribunal work to have it move forward as expeditiously as possible.
QUESTION: And would you support the EU call for an international conference on Darfur?
MR. MCCORMACK: I hadn't seen that, Teri. Let me check and see if we have a response on that.
QUESTION: The Venezuelans apparently want to set up a factory for Kalashnikov rifles. Do you have any observations on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: We've talked before about their outsized military buildup for a country of that size and the nature of the threats in that region. They have previously talked about their desire to purchase advanced fighter aircraft. They've already purchased 100,000 AK-103 assault rifles from Russia. So you know, I'm not quite sure what else they might need a factory for. They already have a 100,000 of these rifles so, you know, why do you need to produce more? It certainly raises serious questions about what their intentions are in their desire to build this plant. So I think it's just another sign that, in fact, this buildup does not -- or their announced plans for this buildup do not match their needs and certainly go well beyond what they might require for their defensive needs given the fact they already have these other weapons purchases in train or already completed.
QUESTION: Any reaction to their announcement they're going to buy Russian planes now? They've said that before, I think.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I saw that. These aircraft -- the notes that I have here are that they are a multi-role fighter that can carry high-precision air-to-surface weapons capable of engaging multiple targets at one time. It's a real -- you know, certainly a real concern and we'll be in touch with the Russian Government, who would be the potential source providers of that -- those fighter aircraft.
QUESTION: So have you asked -- actually asked Russia not to sell them to Venezuela?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, yeah. We'd -- I think we will ask them to take another look at any potential sales they have given what Venezuela's real defensive needs are, what the real -- what their real intentions are in making these arms purchases.
QUESTION: But we haven't had much luck interceding with them in other arms deals like this? I mean, how would you expect them to respond when you're asking them basically to not take a bunch of money?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we would -- that doesn't -- you know, that doesn't mean that you don't go back to them again and try to prevail upon them to take a look at the circumstances in this case.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Change of subject? Sean, it's been about 16 months since the Hariri assassination and the question is: Does the United States feel that there is progress being made? Are you satisfied with the pace of the UN investigation and do you have any thoughts about what's a reasonable amount of time to wrap it up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, what you want to do is you want to make sure that any investigation is conducted and any conclusions reached on the basis of facts. Sometimes those facts take a while to bring together, especially when you're trying to piece them together from parties that might not be too interested in helping out. You're also trying to deal with a scene in which it was not immediately secured and so all the evidence might not be available.
Look, Mr. Brammertz's mandate, I believe, was rolled over yesterday and he is proceeding with his investigation, is proceeding with interviews. He has a number of leads that he wants to follow up on and sometimes these things take time. Certainly, do we wish that we could have come to a more rapid conclusion as to who was responsible for this murder and to hold that individual or those individuals to account? Certainly. I think that certainly the Lebanese people and the international community would like to see that.
That said, we fully support Mr. Brammertz in his investigation and that we are confident that over time, given focus and continued support for this investigation, that we, the world, will know ultimately who was responsible for this murder as well as the other murders, the 14 other murders that have been committed since Mr. Hariri's assassination, that Mr. Brammertz is assisting the Lebanese Government with in terms of their investigation.
QUESTION: So you don't feel that it's being needlessly drawn out? You think it's legitimately taking this long or however long?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's a complicated -- it is a complicated investigation. Certainly, you know, would people like to see a conclusion? Yes. But sometimes these investigations take time. Mr. Mehlis and Mr. Brammertz are very conscientious investigators. They want to do this right by the book. We certainly support them in their investigation.
QUESTION: Changing to Iraq. Today's suicide bombing inside a mosque, is this particularly concerning to the U.S. given that it's inside a place of worship and comes two days after a -- you know, a large crackdown in Baghdad on security?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, we certainly condemn that act, that act of terror. Trying to go after people engaged in worship, it's just a terrible, terrible act. And I think it gives you a little window into the kind of people that we and the multinational forces and the Iraqis are trying to fight. I think it underscores the importance of supporting the Iraqis in their security efforts. We're going to do everything that we can to help the Iraqis secure Baghdad as well as to secure the rest of their country and we have confidence that on a daily basis the Iraqi forces are getting better and that they want to, they want to take responsibility for security in Baghdad as well as elsewhere through the country.
MR. MCCORMACK: Lambros, again?
QUESTION: Two more questions.
MR. MCCORMACK: Gosh.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. Government respect the ICAO, International Civil Aviation Organization, rules over high seas?
MR. MCCORMACK: All right. What's the other shoe here, Lambros?
QUESTION: The question is ICAO considers the Athens is in charge for the entire FIR, Flight Information Region, over the Aegean Sea national and international airspace. Do you accept this since you are flying to the Souda Base in the Island of Crete every day crossing both international and national airspace?
MR. MCCORMACK: We'll have to get you a specific answer to your question. Certainly as a matter of principle the United States Government lives up to its international obligations.