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"As is" reference - not a United Nations document

Source: United States of America
15 June 2007



Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman

Washington, DC
June 15, 2007


INDEX:



ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
Assessment of Security Assistance Program to Palestinians
Hamas’ Control of Gaza / Hamas Responsibility for Governing
Quartet Members Phone Call / Discussion of Hamas in Gaza and Quartet Response to a New Palestinian Government
President Abbas Appoints Salam Fayyd as Prime Minister to Form New Government
Prospects for Direct Aid to Palestinian Government
Potential Ramifications of Hamas Control in Gaza
Security Concerns and Stopping Smuggling from Egypt into Gaza
Efforts to Advance Peace Process Between Israel and Palestinians
Secretary Rice’s Plans to Travel to the Region
Secretary Rice’s Phone Calls
TRANSCRIPT:

/...

QUESTION: Can I ask, Sean, your -- the White House gaggle this morning, which I guess was on Air Force One, your colleague Scott Stanzel said that the State Department was looking at ways -- how the security assistance to the Palestinian Authority might -- different ways to program that or I don't know what -- how to deal with that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on what he was talking about?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I can't offer any specifics for you at this point, but as a general matter we now have a new Palestinian Prime Minister that has been appointed by President Abbas. He's been charged with forming a government. This is a person that the international community has long experience with, has great confidence in. He has a sterling reputation among members of the international community. So given this change in circumstances, as he is forming his government, we are going to take a look at ways in which we can follow through on what the Secretary said yesterday. And that is, how are we going to support President Abbas and support a Palestinian government that is committed, presumably, to the Quartet principles. So we're going to take a look at all the various aspects of, you know, security assistance. Keith Dayton is going to continue his work. What, if anything, do we need to do in order to support President Abbas? Do we need to make changes to the program? So we'll take a look at that.

QUESTION: The existing program, the 60 million that --

MR. MCCORMACK: The existing program. Right, exactly. So we'll take a look at that. The discussion among the Quartet has already begun about providing -- given these changed circumstances, is the Quartet going to take a look at what else it might do in terms of providing assistance to the Palestinian Authority. We ourselves have not done -- very rarely done that directly to the Palestinian Authority in the past. So we're going to take a look, given the changed circumstances with the new Palestinian government, at what we might do and also start those conversations. Well, we've already started conversations with others about how to respond to the new Palestinian Government and support them.

QUESTION: Is there any thought to the idea that as the Palestinian Authority's authority shrinks that the aid or the assistance might shrink as well?

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't heard anybody talk in that way, Matt. I think there's still real needs. You still have to build up Palestinian institutions. You still have to have a professional security force. And it is our view that this Palestinian Government is a Palestinian Government for all Palestinians, including in Gaza. Now, as a practical matter, given Hamas's actions over the past couple of days, they are not going to be able to exert much control over what happens in Gaza. That will fall to the responsibility -- that responsibility falls to Hamas. They are going to be responsible now for feeding, providing for 1.3 million Palestinians.

Now, the international community is also going to very closely monitor the humanitarian situation in Gaza. There are food stocks there. So we are going to take a look -- we're going to watch very closely the humanitarian situation there. But the -- through their actions, through this attack on legitimate Palestinian institutions, they have assumed full and complete responsibility for those Palestinians. And in that sense, it is really the Palestinian people who are the biggest victims out of what Hamas has done.

QUESTION: Is there any --

QUESTION: Just to -- no, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, just -- is there any concern that assistance, perhaps in-kind assistance or cash that may have already gone to Fatah elements in Gaza is now in the hands of Hamas?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't -- there was a secure vetted mechanism to provide monies via Salam Fayyed who was Finance Minister in this government. I can't tell you what if any assets Hamas might have in its hands as a result of its attacks. At this point, I'm not sure anybody's done that assessment yet, but I'm sure people will go back and do that.

QUESTION: Well, presumably anything that went to Gaza is now --

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, and I can't tell you, Matt. I can't tell you. I'm sure people will do the forensics on it, but I can't tell you standing here right now.

Yeah.

QUESTION: (inaudible) things. On the question of the security assistance that the U.S. has been providing to the Palestinians through General Dayton, Matt suggested the possibility of the amount being reduced. But what I want to ask you is if you can be more explicit. When you said you were looking at changes to the program, are you, in fact, considering increasing the amount of money that would go? The reason I ask is Assistant Secretary Welch the last time he testified on this in Congress at the very end of his testimony said that they were considering -- you were considering requesting a reprogramming of the $27 million, roughly, that didn't go through.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: So you were clearly thinking about this even before this --

MR. MCCORMACK: There was some -- you're correct; there was still some in reserve. I made the statement only to indicate that we're going to take a look at what it is that we can do, what existing programs are out there, what ongoing programs are out there, what if any changes might need to be made. I'm not presuming any changes need to be made at this point. So those are things that we're going to take a look at over the next couple days.

QUESTION: But surely it's more not less. I mean, surely exactly what you want to avoid is a repeat of what happened to --

MR. MCCORMACK: I certainly don't mean to indicate any decrease in the level of aid; only that we have existing programs, we have existing efforts and we want to take a look at whether or not those are -- those efforts are appropriate to the task.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout of the Quartet call and of whether there was active consideration of ending the ban on direct aid to a new Palestinian government that accepts the Quartet principles --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

QUESTION: -- and, yeah.

MR. MCCORMACK: In terms of readout of the Quartet phone call, the way these usually happen -- the way it usually happens is there's a statement that emerges and they're at the David Welch level now looking at that. It will emerge at some point, perhaps as early as this afternoon. It was a first discussion in the wake of what Hamas has done in the Gaza and I would say that those discussions about how the international community, and specifically the Quartet, might respond in a positive manner to a new Palestinian government that adheres to the Quartet principles -- its members adhere to the Quartet principles started. So we started that conversation. I can't tell you that they have come to any definitive conclusions. And you have to remember this is taking place at the ministerial level. They're not there with spreadsheets and lining in, lining out dollar amount. So they -- it was the beginning of a general discussion about how the international system might react in a positive way to support President Abbas, Palestinian moderates and a new Palestinian Government.

QUESTION: And some practicalities on this. Would you need a new Palestinian cabinet to have: (a) been sworn in; and (b) made some kind of a statement about its support for the Quartet principles to respond in a tangible positive way?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm not going to lay out the sort, of you know, the sort of hurdles. It could be that you look at the composition of this said government and it comprises people who have a long history of meeting, in essence, the Quartet principles not only through their words, but through their actions. So I'm not going to try to lay out some specific tests. I think that if you take a look at the Prime Minister of this government, you look at the fact that President Abbas has appointed Salam Fayyad as the Prime Minister to form a government that this is a government that intends to abide by the principles that previous Palestinian governments had before -- prior to the Hamas-led governments.

QUESTION: The last one for me on this, if I may. If you were to respond positively, which I'm taking as a code of, you know, removing the aid ban or the ban on direct aid, would you have any opposition to such aid flowing to Gaza which at least theoretically you say is under the Palestinian government but in reality is controlled by Hamas on the ground?

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. I -- look, people are going to take a look at the first question, you know, how can you support the Abbas government? I think we want to be very positive and forward looking on that. In terms of the questions of ensuring that monies don't flow to Hamas or fall into the hands of Hamas officials, I think the same strictures apply. Obviously, it's a tough question when you put that -- rack that up against the need to and desire to help alleviate any humanitarian suffering that may accrue as a result of Hamas' actions. So people are going to look at that. We, of course, have our own laws and regulations. We're going to abide by those and we're going to ensure that -- we're going to have to assure ourselves that any funds are not directly aiding Hamas and -- according to the U.S. law and U.S. regulations.

People are going to take a look at these things, but there's -- so you have, in essence, some competing demands here. You have a very clear desire to ensure that humanitarian assistance gets to the Palestinian people who, as I said before, are really the victims in all of this, and on the other hand, making sure that this is -- that these efforts don't end up directly aiding Hamas.

Yeah.

QUESTION: It has been roughly one year that the boycott of the government -- the Hamas government has been in place. And what is your assessment now? Do you think it's -- do you think it was a success, because it has shown that Hamas cannot govern? Or do you think -- do you have any regret about the situation it has led to?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, any idea that somehow, the international community was responsible for the actions Hamas took, I think, is just completely off base. This is -- these were the actions of a terrorist organization. They showed their true colors. They showed their true colors in executing people -- as reported by the news -- in hospitals, dragging them out of their houses and shooting them in the head in front of their families. So we got a clear view of exactly the nature of this organization and I think those actions actually bear out the stance of the international community in saying it is not going to -- it was not going to provide aid to Hamas unless it met certain conditions. And I think that given what we have seen over the past few days, the actions of Hamas only validate the principled stand that the international system took over the past year.

Now, as I said, the -- you know, the real victims in all this are the Palestinian people. We don't want to see the Palestinian people suffer as a result of the choices of a few people who have decided to launch these attacks and the few people who have decided that they are not going to meet the demands of the international community. We will see. We will see what happens -- happens in the future. Like I said, Hamas now has responsibility for providing sustenance and other materials needs for the Palestinians now in Gaza. We'll see what happens.

QUESTION: Sean, now you're sort of stepping back and leaving Hamas to govern, what does that mean for the region and for the United States that Hamas will be running this strip of land? What are your concerns about that? What are the dangers of that?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, there -- well, first of all, let me reiterate the fact that in our view the Palestinian Government that is being formed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyed is the Palestinian Government for all Palestinians, including those in Gaza, with the caveats of course that I mentioned in that -- in practical terms, that's a very difficult proposition.

I think that everybody's primary concern is security. And I know that Israeli officials, as reported in the press, are concerned about that, looking at that. It's important that Egypt ensure that there is not the smuggling that has gone on from Egypt into Gaza via the Philadelphi corridor. That's going to be very important to ensure that you don't see an inflow of more violent extremists, more cash, more arms, more ammunition into the Gaza via those smuggling tunnels. So that's going to be very important.

And beyond that, I'm sure that people are looking at other potential ramifications of this down the road.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about al-Qaeda?

MR. MCCORMACK: Al-Qaeda filling in there?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't heard any reports of that, but of course we're concerned about others trying to take advantage of the situation. In the past, Iran has meddled in Palestinian affairs. You have had other Palestinian rejectionist groups that operate out of Syria flowing in people and money and arms into those areas. I can't tell you that there has been any al-Qaida presence. I'm not aware of any.

QUESTION: In that context, (inaudible) to the proposal for an international force along that small corridor?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, look, I think everybody is going to take a hard look at any ideas that are put out there. I know that this has been a suggestion by a few. But I think the primary responsibility for that, if not the full responsibility of that, will fall to the Egyptian Government, and they fully understand the importance of it. They understand that there's more to do in that regard in stopping any smuggling that goes on between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. They have over the recent period of time actually increased the assets that they have in that area. So it is going to be a big responsibility that will fall to Egypt. And whether there's any need for or interest in international forces in that area, we'll see. I'm sure people will take a look at it and make assessments.

QUESTION: Sean, have you seen any evidence at all of an invisible or not so invisible hand of Syria or Iran in what's going on?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I haven't checked into this, Matt. I have not come across anything that indicates that those outside the Palestinian areas were pulling the strings on this. It may well be the case, and over time that may well become evident, but I can't tell you that right now.

QUESTION: Sean, another potential victim of this is the Secretary's efforts to nurture some kind of a dialogue about peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And I wonder how you think you can proceed to advance that effort, given that the cleavages within the Palestinians have been so vividly and brutally displayed. Do you plan to keep trying to negotiate with President Abbas when he doesn't control the territory where about half his people live? What is your -- how do you plan to proceed on that --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the Secretary and the President are committed to trying to move forward the Palestinian-Israeli track as well as the Israeli-Arab track. In terms of immediate practical arrangements, I expect that she probably will keep plans to travel to the region towards the end of the month. We'll keep you up to date if there are any changes to that. I think it becomes all the more important to continue those efforts to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to come together in the wake of what Hamas has done.

It is all the more important to try to resolve the practical daily irritants in the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians and all the more important to work on what we have referred to as a political horizon, so that the Palestinian people understand that there is a very clear pathway for them to achieve a Palestinian state. That is the choice that is between the Palestinian people and before the Palestinian people. And fundamentally it's only the Palestinian people that can make that choice. They can choose between that pathway and they can choose another pathway that leads down the way of violent extremism, which is a dead end. It's not going to result in a Palestinian state. So I would put to you that it is actually all the more important that these efforts continue, that the -- and I can assure that the Secretary is going to continue to apply her focus and her energy to those efforts.

QUESTION: Just one more on this. There's -- you know, there's this idea that has surfaced more in the media than I think elsewhere of a sort of West Bank first strategy. Is that what you're considering? Does that make sense to you?

MR. MCCORMACK: Arshad, I think that over the coming days and weeks we'll assess how it is that we move the process forward. At the moment we do have channels between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And I would add that if you just look at the public comments of the Israeli Government, they have expressed their interest in working with President Abbas and working with him to advance that Israeli-Palestinian track.

QUESTION: So -- let me get this right. You said at this point you do not rule out the idea of kind of a Palestine/West Bank with -- at peace with a peace deal?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that's not what I said, Matt. That's not what I said.

QUESTION: Well, you didn't --

MR. MCCORMACK: What I said was that we are going to in the coming days and weeks look at how we might move this process forward.

QUESTION: Is that -- and that could be a possible -- I'm just saying bifurcation of --

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, this is -- you're putting out these straw men. What I'm saying is we're going to take a look at how to move this process forward.

QUESTION: Well, you say I'm putting out straw men, but you're not knocking the straw man down? You're saying--

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not trying to guide you in any particular direction here. I'm not going to, you know, -- I am not going to try to lock the Secretary and the President into a particular path at this point. We are going to take a look at how to move forward.

QUESTION: Is this a suggestion that is being considered as a way to move forward?

MR. MCCORMACK: We're going to take a look at how to move forward.

QUESTION: Can you rule it out as something?

MR. MCCORMACK: I've answered your question.

Joel.

QUESTION: Sean, was this past Sunday's Palestinian Capitol Hill rally and their lobbying of Congress on Monday in any way trying to influence members of Congress, of course, seen by the Iranians and al-Qaeda and did the same group attempt to come to the State Department to talk to any of the officials in that regard?

MR. MCCORMACK: Not that I know of, Joel. No.

QUESTION: As we move toward the final, we have a conclusion of the North Korean banking matter.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, yes.

QUESTION: There's a report --

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.

QUESTION: I'm sure the resolution of the BDA issue. This morning we asked about the calls the Secretary made.

MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Can you give us a list of those.

MR. MCCORMACK: Sure. We'll go through -- go through some of the calls that she made yesterday. She talked -- and I talked about some of these yesterday. She talked to President Abbas, talked to Israeli President Peres to congratulate him. She talked to Egyptian intelligence chief Suleiman. She spoke with Foreign Minister Livni.

QUESTION: Yesterday she spoke to Suleiman? I thought it was on Monday.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. No, yesterday. And then she also talked to him on Tuesday.

QUESTION: She talked to Livni yesterday?

MR. MCCORMACK: She talked to Livni yesterday.

QUESTION: And Monday, right?

MR. MCCORMACK: And Monday, you're correct. She spoke with the Norwegian Foreign Minister and she spoke with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. And as you know, she had the Quartet call this morning and Foreign Minister Lavrov, EU High Rep. Solana, EU Foreign Minister Ferrero-Waldner, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, Secretary General Ban and the Secretary were on those -- was on that call. That's -- those are the phone calls.

Anything else on the Middle East? Samir.

QUESTION: Do you think this situation will help advance the peace process now, the President's vision?

MR. MCCORMACK: Samir, we'll see. We'll see if, in this crisis, emerges an opportunity to move that forward. It's going to obviously require the concerted efforts of all interested parties, it's going to require the focus and energies of everybody who wants to try to bring peace to the Middle East. So we'll see. We'll see, Samir.

/...

QUESTION: On Iran, I know you said that you don't -- we're sure that any particular parties are masterminding this inside Gaza, but you have talked in the past about Iran's support for Hamas. There are also -- obviously, you talked about their support for militias and providing them with explosives and now, a lot of talk about doing this in Afghan -- that perhaps weapons from Iran are reaching Afghanistan. Do you think that this is a plan by Iran to expand this into some kind of proxy war where they're trying to influence groups fighting the U.S. around the world, and how can you counter this?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know if it's directed exclusively at the United States, but it's no -- it's no secret that they have used other, you know, outside groups as proxies to try to extend their influence within the region and to try to export their particular brand of revolution. We've seen it with Hezbollah. They also have links with a number of other terrorist groups throughout the region. So I can't tell you that this is directed exclusively at the United States, but certainly the United States is affected by it, as are any people in the region who actually have a different vision for the Middle East than does the Iranian regime.

Their behavior is troubling in many, many regards. You've pointed out just a few -- the transfers of arms, support for terrorist groups. Our views on their nuclear program are well known, not to mention how they treat their own people. So it's not surprising that they are engaging in these kinds of unhelpful, destabilizing activities, and we are going to continue to do what we can to try to put a stop to it, working with others. And we would call upon the regime to also change their behaviors. We would hope that they would come around and actually try to play a more positive, stabilizing role in the Middle East.

QUESTION: Sean, just a follow-up on Iran. As far as Iran is concerned and their support not only in Iraq but also terrorists in Afghanistan, and continuing their -- with their nuclear program. But last week, Senator Lieberman said that diplomacy has not worked and will not work as far as dealing with Iran is concerned. He said that the only way is to get military action. So how -- where the Secretary stands on this beyond diplomacy against Iran?

MR. MCCORMACK: The same place she has stood for -- you know, if you asked me the question yesterday, last week or a year ago. She believes, along with the President, that we are on the proper course and that we are focused on trying to find a diplomatic resolution to the differences on the nuclear issue that exist between Iran and the rest of the world.

/...


(The briefing was concluded at 1:14 p.m.)


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