State Department Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
May 7, 2007
12:15 p.m. EST
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I have two brief announcements for you. The first concerns the deaths of the Multinational Force Observers in Sinai over the weekend.
The Department of State is saddened by the deaths of nine MFO, Multinational Forces and Observers peacekeepers. It included eight French and one Canadian who were killed in a tragic accident when their plane crashed during a training mission in the Sinai Peninsula on May 6. We express our deepest condolences to the families and colleagues of the victims as well as to the Governments of France and Canada.
And also, just one quick trip announcement regarding the Secretary's travel. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Moscow May 14th and 15th for meetings with senior government officials and representatives of civil society. Her discussions with Russian Federation leaders will cover a wide range of bilateral and global issues including Iran, Kosovo, Israeli-Palestinian concerns and missile defense. And we'll have more for you on the specific meetings as we get closer to the departure date.
With that, I'd be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Any other stops?
MR. MCCORMACK: We may add some other stops, so we'll keep you up to date on that.
QUESTION: I have a question -- if you guys don't want to go.
MR. MCCORMACK: Feel free to jump in.
QUESTION: Sean, NBC did an interview with President Assad today in Syria.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: And I wanted to get your reaction to a couple of things he said. He told us that the U.S. is not doing enough inside Iraq to stop the flow of foreign fighters, so on the Iraq side of the border, the U.S. isn't doing enough. He also said it's impossible for him to seal the entire border of Syria and Iraq, so he doesn't know who's crossing and doesn't know who's coming in all of the time.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: He said the U.S. has provided no evidence and only allegations of the flow of foreign fighters coming in.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: He said he has no interest in supporting the insurgency in Iraq because it would only cause chaos for his country.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: And he said you also can't solve any problems -- any of these problems without talking to each other. So --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: There is a whole list of things he was sort of lobbing at the United States and I'm wondering what your reaction is.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, first of all, we wouldn't really have to police the border if there weren't an inflow of foreign fighters coming in through Syria and I would point out that they don't just fly into -- fly in with helicopters to the border region and then cross over; they fly in through Damascus Airport, then travel out to the border region and across into Iraq. And the Syrian authorities themselves have previously actually clamped down on the flow of those individuals traveling in from outside of Syria headed in towards Iraq via Damascus Airport, so they know well how to do this.
Secretary Rice had a meeting on the margins of the Iraq International Compact meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh just several days ago. This was -- it was a professional, business-like meeting in which the Secretary encouraged the Syrian Government to do what it can to enhance stability in Iraq. She made the point that that is in Iraq's interest and Syria's interest as well.
It's important to note that very oftentimes, when you have a country that serves as a transit point for jihadists, that oftentimes, those jihadists either don't go back to their original destination or they decide that they like that transit point better than their final destination and that's a -- that would be a negative thing for Syria's long-term stability. So it's in Syria's interest to take care of this problem and to address it and we'll see if they do. As I said, it is in their interest and we'll see if they take this opportunity to follow through, with actions, their words when they say that they have an interest in a secure, stable Iraq.
QUESTION: Were you able to follow up at all in what Caldwell said that last week, that there seemed to be some improvement in the Syrians in controlling this flow of --
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I don't have any other information beyond what he has done. This is the reporting that we get from our Multinational Force colleagues in Baghdad, that they have noticed some improvements along the border. We would hope that that would continue and that you actually see a trend in the Syrian Government acting to control -- better control that border. Of course, the Iraqi forces are going to need to do what they can to help control their own border, so there are two sides to this, but you don't have a problem to begin with if there isn't that flow of foreign extremists coming in via Syria.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary present any evidence of this that the U.S. has? Did she present that to the Syrians?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, it wasn't that kind of meeting and frankly, they full well understand what the issue is.
QUESTION: Can you say how the government is going to follow this week Waxman's meetings with Iranian and Syrian representatives?
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, in terms of the Syrian representatives, we'll see. The way that the Syrian Foreign Minister left it with the Secretary was that that they -- he would go back to Damascus and consult with his government about what next steps they might take, and we'll see what we might do at a working level in the coming weeks and months on that issue. I think we'll wait to see what sort of steps the Syrian Government decides to take with respect to the border.
With respect to Iranian Government officials, there is a channel in Baghdad, the ambassadorial channel, that is open. It's open to both of us and it's one of which we can avail ourselves, either side. And that would be a channel that focuses on discussions regarding stability in Iraq and the security situation. So nothing to report in that regard at this point, but we'll try to keep you updated on that.
QUESTION: But weeks and months, not days?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would -- again, we'll keep you updated on it, but I would look for what happens in the coming weeks on both of those issues.
QUESTION: Can you talk more specifically about the steps you asked them to take?
MR. MCCORMACK: Who?
QUESTION: The Syrians, what steps you asked them to take with regards to their border.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I'm not going to get into specifics, but there are a number of different things you can do. You can look at it at two levels. One, there is the actual dealing physically with control of the border and what more the Syrian Government might do in that regard.
There's another layer to this and that is actually stopping the foreign extremists coming into Syria at the airport. We've talked to them about that before. Obviously, there are a number of other steps in between that they might take to break up the networks that support these individuals as they kind of flow through the pipeline from Damascus into Iraq. So I'm not going to specify exactly what they might do, but the idea is just that: stop that pipeline, because it's in Syria's interest and it's in Iraq's interest.
QUESTION: So when President Assad says they don't know who the terrorists are, you don't believe him when he says that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I think they have -- I can't tell you if they know every single individual coming through there, but they understand, I suspect, in a general sense, if not in a specific sense, exactly what those networks are that support the individuals flowing from Damascus over the border into Iraq.
...QUESTION: Still on Secretary Rice's travel. If I'm not mistaken, it had
been expected that as part of this trip, which would take her to Moscow,
that she was also going to have meetings with Israeli and Palestinian
leaders. Is that not planned anymore? And does that mean she (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: It's possible that she could make a stop in the Middle East
on this trip, although I would not expect it at -- on this trip that she
would travel to Israel and the Palestinian areas. There is obviously a lot
of politics in Israel that they're working through at this point, but we're
going to continue our efforts to advance the Israeli-Palestinian track. And
her -- if she does make a stop in the Middle East, I would look for her to
focus on ways in which we might do that, although not necessarily stopping
in Israel and Palestinian areas.
QUESTION: Is that a change in plans?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I would say it's a change in plans, yeah. But it
doesn't -- it should in no way denote any -- less any of our focus on the
issue and our determination to help the two parties move the process
QUESTION: But it does denote a certain complexity of -- in the situation in
Israel these days?
MR. MCCORMACK: The political situation in Israel has become a bit more
complex in the near term. I think that that's safe for anybody to see, but
we're working closely with the government of Prime Minister Olmert as well
as the partners on the Palestinian side.
But all of that said, I -- we remain confident that we are going to be able
to work closely with both sides to try to advance this process, and to help
them along the pathway so that you can ultimately realize an Israel that is
more secure, that has a neighbor that is committed to fighting terrorism,
and for the Palestinians so that they can realize a Palestinian state.
QUESTION: This morning, I think you said in the context of the benchmarks
that you look forward to having a more formal discussion about that within
the next few weeks.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does that mean that you plan to or you're looking for a way to do
a trip to the -- to Israel and the Palestinian territories in the next few
weeks to follow up on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure -- we'll see with respect to the Secretary's
schedule. On this next trip coming up, I don't expect her to stop there.
QUESTION: No, no, I get that, but --
MR. MCCORMACK: But it, whether -- for instance, David Welch or somebody else
like that might go out there, umm, it could, well, I haven't checked with
David on his travel schedule, but we're -- you know, this isn't meant as --
you know, a document that is written and cannot be changed. It's meant to be
an iterative document that both sides -- we can work with both sides to add
or subtract to its (inaudible) -- it's a starting point, really. And we keep
saying, as well as our officials out there, Jake Walles and Dick Jones, have
worked with -- presented this in an informal way to both sides, and I
wouldn't be surprised if David at some point travels out there. And surely,
the Secretary will be out there in the not-too-distant future.
QUESTION: Sean, you did mention the term earlier, which is civil society
"building" or "strengthening," especially when the Secretary goes to Moscow.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: There are groups especially here in Washington and others in the
Middle East that are working on that; more of the business side of the
equation. They want to stamp out terrorism. Now, last week you issued a
terrorism report. Would it be helpful to bring out a report more on a weekly
basis to pinpoint where some of this activity is? You constantly mention it
in a general sense, but more a specific sense to let possibly some of these
terrorists and insurgents know that we know that they know so that they will
begin to see that there are other ways around just fomenting trouble.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Joel, I don't know if a weekly report is the way to do
that. And certainly, there -- we have people every single day who are
engaged in efforts to prevent terrorist attacks, to break up terrorist
networks. But more importantly, we are working in support of expanded
freedoms throughout the Middle East and cultural exchanges, people-to-people
dialogues, that really get at some of the root issues that lead to people
turning to violent extremism as a way of expressing their unhappiness with
the government or their situation vis-à-vis the rest of the world.
Released on May 7, 2007
GI Note: Special thanks to Dr. Aaron Lerner of IMRA (http://www.imra.org.il) for pointing out some of the most appropriate paragraphs.
Full briefing transcript can be found at www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2007/may/84412.htm