"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
12:45 p.m. EST
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.
MR. MCCORMACK: Charlie.
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.
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.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
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.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.)