(Focus News Agency) — Washington DC. The United States said Monday it was troubled by claims of irregularities in Ethiopia’s elections last month after weekend results showed that the ruling party won nearly all the seats.
“We did not have observers out for local elections. So it’s very difficult to make a judgment about the claims of irregularities in these local elections,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
“However, there have been enough of these kinds of claims by opposition parties that it certainly does raise concerns about the elections,” he said.
The electoral board said Sunday the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) won nearly all seats in local polls and parliamentary by-elections that were marred by boycotts and accusations of repression.
It said the EPRDF won more than 3.5 million of the 3.6 million seats contested on April 13 and 20. The victory brought to 408 the number of seats the EPRDF and its allies hold in the 547-member assembly.
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Read the full briefing below:
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
May 19, 2008
12:48 p.m. EDT
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon. I don’t have anything to start off with, so we can get right to your questions.
QUESTION: Yeah, Sean, in the last two hours or so there’s been some – a bunch of interesting developments going on down Cuba, Venezuela way. I’m wondering if you can – and I realize you talked a tiny bit about the Cuba situation this morning, but the Cuban Government has now come out and made these accusations formally against Mr. Parmly and linked him with this money from Posada Carriles.
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m – you know, I have not seen any news conference. The only assistance for which I am aware is the U.S. Government providing humanitarian assistance to the families of political prisoners that the Cuban Government has essentially abandoned. But I’m not aware of anything else beyond that.
QUESTION: It’s cash, though, from private American citizens?
MR. MCCORMACK: There are also private groups that provide such humanitarian assistance payments, which are allowed.
QUESTION: Through the Interests Section?
MR. MCCORMACK: I – you know, I’m not aware of the mechanics of it, Matt.
QUESTION: And then on Venezuela?
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: They’re complaining that, apparently, a U.S. military plane has violated their airspace or something, and the Ambassador –
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I saw the report just before I came in here, and we’ll look into it. But as a matter of the basics, we respect Venezuela’s sovereignty. And I’m sure we’ll look into these allegations and provide them with an answer.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: They said that they’re going to summon the U.S. Ambassador – the Venezuelans. Do you know if that’s happened already?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. I don’t know that it has. If it has happened, it’s only been very, very recently.
QUESTION: Sean, on Cuba?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Is there any policy that prevents U.S. diplomats from being a means of delivering cash to those who may be dissidents in Cuba?
MR. MCCORMACK: You mean actually on the ground there? I’m not aware of the mechanics or the regulations that guide it. I’m sure that there’s a careful accounting of all of this that is done by the U.S. Government, as we are good stewards of the American taxpayers’ dollars. We believe that this is a prudent humanitarian gesture and certainly consistent with our policies, and it’s been ongoing for quite some time.
QUESTION: Well, are you saying that all the money – the only money that you’re aware of is for – U.S. Government money, it’s not private –
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, but that’s outside of U.S. Government channels, Matt.
QUESTION: No, I understand that. The accusation, though, is that – and I’m not sure exactly why this accusation is startling or surprising –
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: There may be some rule against it.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: The accusation from the Cubans is that the head of the Interests Section has been delivering cash from private U.S. groups to the political opposition in Cuba. Somehow that –
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as I said — you know, again, Matt, I don’t know the specifics of this. I am not aware of the mechanics. I don’t steep myself in these things. I do know, however, that there are – we, the U.S. Government, has programs to provide humanitarian assistance to people that are essentially forgotten by the Cuban Government and that there – we allow, or we do not stand in the way of, private groups doing that as well.
QUESTION: But is it part of the U.S. policy, the head of the Interests Section, can he go ahead and wire money or send money to these groups?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, I can’t – you know, I’m not here to talk about the specific mechanics of this. I’m sure that we can find some expert who can delve into the weeds of this, if you like. I’m certainly not going to do it.
QUESTION: Sean, you’re kind of here to answer questions that we have about –
MR. MCCORMACK: And I have. And I’ve given you the answer. I’ve given you the answer.
QUESTION: — this issue and the Cuban Government has come out –
MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, I’ve given you the answer that I have to give you.
QUESTION: Okay. That you don’t know?
MR. MCCORMACK: Matt, I said I don’t have – I’m not aware of the mechanics of this. You know, if we – if you guys want to delve into the mechanics of this as to who provides money to whom, then I’d be happy to find somebody who has green eye shades on and who can do that for you. I’m not going to do it.
QUESTION: Sean, let’s say this would violate international law. Would the U.S. be ready to sanction the head of the Interests Section?
MR. MCCORMACK: We’re not violating international law.
QUESTION: Well, can I ask you a simpler question then?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: The Sunday Times in South Africa reported over the weekend that Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader in Zimbabwe, was supposed to return home on Saturday but they discovered an assassination plot against him. Do you want to comment on this, looking at the fact that there’s a runoff on the 27th of June and this morning the Government of Zimbabwe said they won’t allow any international observers during their –
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, that’s a real concern. We have laid out what we believe are the – (cell phone rings). Sorry to interrupt a phone call. Anybody want to take it and we can –
QUESTION: Sorry, sorry.
MR. MCCORMACK: We’ve been quite concerned about the conditions for a free and fair electoral runoff. If you look at the conditions on the ground at the moment, they don’t exist. You need to have international observers on the ground. You need to have a very clear independent electoral commission. You need to have the military completely outside of any sort of attempts to intimidate those who are opposing the government. You need to have an environment where people who are campaigning in opposition to the government have an opportunity to do so in a way that they feel is – that they are not threatened or intimidated. Those individuals need to have free and fair access to the media. You don’t currently see those conditions on the ground.
We’re going to continue working with, especially, Zimbabwe’s neighbors to try to create those conditions so you can have a free and fair runoff.
QUESTION: It seems Secretary Rice has just met with the Iraqi –
QUESTION: One more – sorry, I have one more on Zimbabwe.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: On Zimbabwe?
MR. MCCORMACK: Go ahead. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you actually give any credence, though, to the claims that there’s a plot to kill Tsvangirai? I mean –
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not –
QUESTION: — are you looking into it?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware. I’ve seen the news reports. I’m not aware that we can substantiate it one way or the other. Clearly, this is somebody who has suffered injuries at the hands of government or government-supported forces, so he clearly has a well-founded basis for his personal safety.
Now, as to the specifics of these allegations, again, I can’t substantiate it one way or the other. But clearly, this is an individual that has been targeted by the government, or at least forces that support the government.
QUESTION: As the United States has done in other circumstances, would you be – is it a possibility that you could provide protection, the U.S. could provide some sort of protection for Tsvangirai?
MR. MCCORMACK: That’s not something we’re contemplating at this point.
QUESTION: That’s not something you’re –
MR. MCCORMACK: It is not. It is not something we’re contemplating.
QUESTION: Can I quickly follow up?
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: On Zimbabwe. Given (inaudible) Sean, do you really believe that it is realistic to have this runoff on the 27th of June?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we’ll see. We’ll see if the conditions present themselves such that we can say in good conscience that an election can be held in a free and fair manner and that the will of the people will be reflected in the results of the vote. At this point, we’re not prepared to make a statement about that one way or the other. But we can state serious concerns about the situation on the ground as we see it developing now, and whether or not that portends for a free and fair election. And certainly, at this point, you look at the conditions on the ground, it doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that you stop working the international politics of this and see if you can create the conditions for a free and fair electoral runoff.
QUESTION: Do you trust the Zimbabwean Government?
MR. MCCORMACK: Do we trust the Zimbabwean Government?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think that we’ve given our answer as to, left to their own devices, whether or not they would have a free and fair election.
QUESTION: It seems Secretary Rice has just met with the Iraqi Kurdish prime minister.
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Any details? And was anti-PKK cooperation discussed?
MR. MCCORMACK: I think the – I wasn’t in the meeting, so I can’t – and I haven’t had a chance to talk to the Secretary about it. It was on the agenda, talking about the internal politics in Iraq and how Mr. Barzani saw it, but also talking about issues related to the PKK. You know what our message is. We’ve outlined that quite clearly in public and it’s really the same message in private as well.
QUESTION: Would you be releasing or just preparing a guideline at – about the (inaudible)?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t expect we’re going to say much more about it.
QUESTION: A question on Kirkuk –
QUESTION: Is Secretary Rice traveling to Greenland for an Arctic Ocean’s conference?
MR. MCCORMACK: Greenland?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
QUESTION: Something that Denmark’s organizing. The Russians will be there, Canadians, demarcating the –
MR. MCCORMACK: Not on the schedule.
MR. MCCORMACK: I mean, it could always make its way onto the schedule, but it is not on the schedule at the moment.
QUESTION: The United Nations and ASEAN have scheduled a donors meeting for May 25th. Can you comment on what you think – whether this is a constructive response, and also whether the U.S. will be sending a representative and at what level?
MR. MCCORMACK: At this point, we can’t commit to sending anybody. We need to understand the details more of what is being proposed. Certainly, an important question that needs to be answered is how can groups, states, be assured that any humanitarian assistance donations actually make their way down to the people in the affected areas. So we’re going to reserve any sort of judgment on this pending a better understanding of the details of what’s being proposed.
QUESTION: Is it pretty safe to say that Secretary Rice will not be representing –
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t anticipate that she –
QUESTION: They’re inviting at the ministerial level.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I don’t anticipate that she would be there.
QUESTION: More than a hundred countries are meeting in Dublin for about two weeks to negotiate a ban on –
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: – cluster bombs. Is the U.S. position still that you oppose a ban on cluster bombs? You still support the use in some circumstances of cluster bombs?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, this is – it’s an important question and a complicated question, and so what I’d like to do is actually arrange some special briefing for you on the topic. We’ll have somebody who is an expert in these things talk to you about it.
QUESTION: But could you provide just a comment on whether – do you still support the – you still support the use of cluster bombs or you don’t support the – let me turn it around. You don’t support a ban on cluster bombs?
MR. MCCORMACK: There are two separate processes that are going on. There’s the Dublin conference, which is part of the Oslo process. We’re not participating in that. There’s a separate process, which is the Conference on Conventional Weapons. We are participating in that. But again, beyond that, I’m just going to – I’ll arrange a special briefing for you guys.
QUESTION: But why are you not participating in the Oslo process, along with China and Russia?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, we’ll get you a briefing on the matter.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: Can we just get a little bit of a detail about – I know you weren’t there in the talks between Prime Minister Barzani and Secretary Rice, but what are the talking points, and maybe can we get something in the afternoon about it?
MR. MCCORMACK: I just told you basically what they were talking about.
QUESTION: Secretary Rice is going to meet with the Prime Minister of Spain this afternoon.
MR. MCORMACK: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What is on the agenda?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he – there was — just recently happened over the weekend, a EU-Latin America Summit. I think that they will talk a bit about the hemisphere and, you know, the – how he sees events in the hemisphere. Certainly, we both have interests here. I know that Spain has been quite active in maintaining its relations with other states in the hemisphere, particularly in Latin America and South America. Probably talk a little bit about Afghanistan, talk about the Middle East. I know that the Foreign Minister has a particular interest in the Middle East, various topic areas having to do with the Middle East. So that’s sort of the broad agenda.
QUESTION: Okay. And how would you characterize the relations with Spain?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, they’re, you know, a good relationship with the Spanish people and Spain, and we’ve worked together on issues of mutual concern.
QUESTION: This morning I asked you about the subpoenaing of the chief executive of –
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: — British Aerospace. Did you get anything on that? Has the State Department had any role in that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, as you might suspect, in cases involving the Department of Justice, the lawyers say that I just refer everything over to the Department of Justice. I think our only role, as I understand it, has been to encourage cooperation by the UK side with the efforts of the Department of Justice. And that really has been, to my knowledge, the extent of our involvement in it. It’s really a legal matter.
QUESTION: By the UK side, meaning by the UK Government?
MR. MCCORMACK: I, you know, that’s — you know, I don’t know who –
QUESTION: Who you encouraged?
MR. MCCORMACK: — the Department of Justice is interested in with respect to this matter. You can talk to those guys over there to see if they have any further elucidation on that.
QUESTION: The Mexican newspaper El Universal attributes to U.S. intelligence the fact that the group Los Zetas, a paramilitary group whose members were formerly trained here, they just became this huge drug cartel. Any comments on that?
MR. MCCORMACK: Not an issue I’m aware of. We’ll look into it for you.
QUESTION: This morning we spoke briefly about the Kuwait – Kuwaiti elections, and you said you would have –
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Looked into it and, look, as far as our people are able to tell, that these were free and fair elections and the results of the election reflected the will of the Kuwaiti people.
QUESTION: And the fact that almost half the seats have been won by Islamists?
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, it’s – it is a result that, apparently, reflects the will of the Kuwaiti people.
QUESTION: On Hamas, anything –
QUESTION: It doesn’t seem disturbing to you?
MR. MCCORMACK: No, no.
QUESTION: Then how about the absence of women being elected?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, again, that’s an issue for the Kuwaiti people to decide upon. I know that when the Secretary was in Kuwait, she met with a lot of Kuwaiti women activists. And I suspect that over a period of time, that you are going to have women much more present and represented in the political process. In our view, that is a very positive thing. I think it was – as a matter of fact, it was at that meeting that she was presented with a t-shirt by this woman that said 50 percent of a democracy is not a democracy at all, alluding to the fact that women weren’t full participants in the political process in the parliament. And I think that that is certainly a sentiment that the Secretary can echo.
QUESTION: Do you have any more from this morning on France resuming contacts with Hamas?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I’ll leave it to the French to describe these contacts. As I understand it, it was a private citizen, but I’ll allow them to describe their own contacts and their own policy vis-à-vis Hamas. I understand that it hasn’t changed. They subscribe to the policy that Hamas must live up to the requirements of the Quartet declaration in London. It’s certainly our policy as well.
QUESTION: So you’re not bothered by their decision –
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I’m not aware of any deviation from France’s stated policy that Hamas must live up to the Quartet principles.
QUESTION: Would you not prefer that they not have such contacts?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, it’s – you know, we’ve made clear that we don’t think that contact with Hamas is something that brings peace any closer to the people of the Middle East.
QUESTION: This morning you said it was neither wise nor appropriate, and I’m wondering –
MR. MCCORMACK: Don’t believe it’s wise or appropriate, either. Again – but private individuals will make their own decisions. We can counsel otherwise, but ultimately, it’s going to be up to them to make their own decisions.
QUESTION: Will you be counseling them? Will you be in diplomatic contacts with the French talking about it?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s anything further to – that’s needed in this regard. If David Welch thinks that he needs to reach out to his counterparts to understand anything more, reinforce the message, then I’m certain he will–
QUESTION: You know, Sean, Bernard Kouchner is not a private individual.
MR. MCCORMACK: –he will meet with them.
QUESTION: Well, he’s the one who’s talking about having people from his ministry, people – the people who are meeting with him are not private individuals, unless I misread something.
MR. MCCORMACK: I – the quotes that I read refer to a private individual, somebody retired.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) quote that he described that as contacts between France and Hamas.
MR. MCCORMACK: We’ve – you know what our view is.
QUESTION: So do you see it as sort of comparable to President Carter’s visit? Do you see the two in the same light?
MR. MCCORMACK: What we were talking, with respect to President Carter, about a former American president. We have a particular responsibility, when asked a question about the contacts of a former American president, to provide an answer. We did. In general, we do not believe it is appropriate– wise to have contacts with Hamas. We don’t – we firmly believe that such efforts don’t bring the cause of peace any closer. As a matter of fact, it, in certain circumstances, can make it more difficult.
We believe that Hamas should be forced to make a choice. They have failed in governing the Gaza. They have a negative and dark vision for the region. We are trying to work with responsible parties, parties interested in peace, who have renounced violence, who recognize Israel’s right to exist, to provide a better pathway and a more positive vision for the future and provide for the possibility and eventuality of a Palestinian state. That’s where we believe people’s efforts should be focused.
QUESTION: You said that Hamas should be forced to make a choice. Now do you think, as a diplomat, that Hamas could be convinced to make a choice?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we believe that certainly, there are those who are just irreconcilable to any political process and any peace process. They need to be dealt with wherever they are through security measures. Individuals will make their own decisions on the ground. The Palestinian people will make their own decisions on the ground. What we are trying to do is provide them a positive outlet for their energies, a positive vision for the future where they believe and can be assured that their children are going to grow up in a Palestinian state, that they’re going to go to Palestinian schools, that they are going to have the ability to govern themselves. That is the vision that we are trying to lay out, working with President Abbas and his government.
QUESTION: Sean, you said that in general, you opposed – that you – in general, you felt that it was unwise or was not wise or appropriate. Does that apply also to the Egyptian contacts with Hamas over Gaza?
MR. MCCORMACK: Look, they have their own contacts and their own policies. You can talk to them about what those are.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t bother you, in other words? I mean, it’s – the reason I’m asking is that you’ve just said that it is unwise and inappropriate for the French and I’m essentially – and then you said generally it’s unwise and inappropriate. And basically, I’m wondering if the Egyptian case is one where you feel that it is perhaps appropriate or –
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we want to see a calm prevail in the region. We believe it’s a good thing that you don’t have rockets falling on Israel launched by Hamas and by others. The Egyptians state that they are trying to play a positive role in bringing some peace and calm to the region. I will allow them to describe their own efforts.
QUESTION: You talked –
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah.
QUESTION: — about a vision that would encourage extremists and others and the Palestinians to make a bet on the future. But didn’t President Bush discourage many Palestinians? President Abbas seemed pretty negative about it and –
MR. MCCORMACK: How so? The President –
QUESTION: After the speech. I’m talking about the speech to the Knesset.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Well, he also gave another speech in Sharm el-Sheikh. Look, he – President Bush and Secretary Rice are committed to trying to bring about a Palestinian state. Secretary Rice – I see it up close – devotes a tremendous amount of time and energy to trying to bring that about, working with the two parties as they engage in discussions about all the most difficult political issues that remain between them. We will also focus on trying to bring about a changed situation on the ground. We have made some tentative steps in that regard in a positive way. But there’s a lot more work to be done.
So if the question is whether there is a commitment on the part of this Administration, this President and this Secretary of State, I think the question is really – that commitment is really unquestioned. I know that some would like to see the process move forward faster. If this – look, if this would – if this were easy, then we would have had a solution of this 60 years ago, but we don’t. It’s hard. And we’re doing everything that we can to help the parties come together.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. MCCORMACK: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry, on Ethiopia. One – I asked you this morning on the Ethiopian local election?
MR. MCCORMACK: Oh, the local elections, right. Well, we do not typically, and in this case, we do not have observers out for local elections. So it’s very difficult to make a judgment about the claims of irregularities in these local elections. However, there have been enough of these kinds of claims by opposition parties that it certainly does raise concerns about the elections. All of that said, I can’t – we can’t, as a government, offer you a final judgment just because we didn’t have people on the ground. What would be particularly troubling is if we started to see a trend of other discrepancies and troubles in future Ethiopian elections where you start to have a trend line in those elections. That would be particularly troubling, but certainly, we have taken note of the claims of the opposition.
QUESTION: But there were problems with the previous election in 2006, I think it was. So do you see this as a trend line generally, then in elections? I mean, you had problems then, there were apparently problems — now Human Rights Watch and others have said that, you know, there’s sort of a – there’s a feeling of – a campaign of repression – or climate –sorry, climate of repression.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. You know, it is – the task of these kinds of elections is trying to make them better and better each time. And also, once you’re – once elected, to govern in a democratic manner. Certainly, there have been issues in the past in Ethiopia in that regard, but I think that we see, generally speaking, an improvement over time. Now, we’ll see whether or not this data point, with respect to this local election, is an anomaly or whether it is, you know, part of – part of a trend that needs to be addressed.
QUESTION: Sean, can I just follow up on the Palestinians, a minute ago. President Abbas yesterday actually was quoted as saying that he was not pleased with what – by what he heard from the President during his trip and that he’s not very keen anymore on the United States playing a major role in mediating between Palestinians and Israelis. Is the Secretary still planning to do what she’s been doing in the past several months and go there often and sit down with both sides together or separately? Because (inaudible) Abbas really sounded disillusioned yesterday.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I didn’t see his quotes, Nicholas. I can’t speak to them. I didn’t see them. The only thing I can tell you is after talking to her and after speaking with the Palestinians after her meetings with them, certainly, they welcome her efforts. I mean, the center of gravity of the discussions is between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and properly so. They are the only ones that can come to an agreement. They have to want this. They have to want to do this.
We are there to push, to prod, to cajole, to sometimes sit with them individually and together to try to see if there are areas of agreement, commonality where we can bring them together. Sometimes they don’t see those things themselves. But I’ve seen nothing, at least nothing – I have observed nothing that would indicate the Palestinians don’t want the United States involved in these efforts in the way that we are.
QUESTION: Can you stay — one more on Cuba, please? Stepping back a little bit, as far as the final months of the Bush Administration is concerned, is there any risk that you might, by your support of prodemocracy dissident group in Cuba, actually taint them in the eyes of the Raul regime for the next White House administration to try and broker some sort of agreement between the two?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not sure I understand the point.
QUESTION: Well, right now there are these allegations that you’re supporting with –
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: — with paying cash and so on. Is there a point in time where the Administration is wrapping up, where you might be more cautious than otherwise because your time’s running out and the next administration is going to have pick up from there? Are you setting the stage for them?
MR. MCCORMACK: Whether it’s Cuba or any other policy, we’re going to do what we think is in the best interest of this country and in the best interest of American foreign policy. This President, this Secretary of State, have responsibilities all the way up until January 20th. And they are – I know Secretary Rice intends to continue to fulfill her responsibilities as long as she is Secretary of State.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:14 p.m.)
DPB # 89
Released on May 19, 2008