Thursday, December 13, 2007

State Department on Lebanon and Syria-December 12,2007

State Department
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 12, 2007

QUESTION: Lebanon?


QUESTION: You said that you linked this assassination with some others during the last two years.

MR. MCCORMACK: And just note that --

QUESTION: Does it mean that you see the (inaudible) of Syria?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I don't. I can't tell you who is responsible for the assassination that occurred in Lebanon just today. I note it only because there is a coincidence in timing. I can't tell you whether or not that is planned or whether or not is in fact a coincidence. And I'm not trying to at this point in time because we don't have the information attribute any particular group as being responsible for this.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: Still on Lebanon. Do you have a reaction to the Syrian Foreign Minister's denouncement of the assassination?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, you know, anytime you have officials in the region speaking out against the use of violence as a political tool, I think as a minimum standard, you can say that that is positive. But for it to, in fact, have real meaning, it needs to be something that the -- that government is committed to. And it's not entirely clear at this point that Syria, as a government, is committed to turning away from the use of violence to gain political leverage and advantage in the region and certainly, has not turned away from supporting those groups which have sworn to use violence and terror to undermine the progress to bring about a more stable, prosperous, and democratic Middle East.

QUESTION: Without a usual suspect in these kind of cases, do you think this is significant that they've come out with this statement?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't attribute any particular motivation to it. You've have to ask the Syrian Government as to why, at this point in time and with respect to this particular act, they chose to speak out. I don't know.

QUESTION: But you said that you can't say that Syria's turned away from the use of violence for political leverage in the region. Do you think they're still trying to do that specifically in Lebanon, use violence as a political tool?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know --

QUESTION: I'm not saying in this particular --

MR. MCCORMACK: No, I know. Look, there have been a lot of -- going back over the past year or so, there have been a lot of suspicions about Syria's involvement in political assassinations, attempted assassinations, use of violence, and interference in Lebanon's internal affairs. We've talked a lot about that over the past year. I can't pin any particular act on the Syrian Government. I just can't draw those -- connect those dots for you, but certainly, there -- over the past year, there have been a lot of suspicions about it.

QUESTION: What is the current level of discussions -- I mean, I know we don't have the ambassador there, but you do have an embassy -- level of discussions between the government or the embassy and the Syrian Government in terms of the political situation in Lebanon and their need to stop any interference? Are there any discussions whatsoever about the issue?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'm not sure -- I'm not sure what the most recent contacts that we've had between our embassy and the Syrian Government are. They've gotten a pretty clear message about the fact that the world doesn't want them to interfere in Lebanon's political affairs. This goes back some time. And the Secretary made that quite clear, when she last saw the Syrian Foreign Minister, as part of her message.

QUESTION: Did you see the remarks made by the Syrian Vice President yesterday?

MR. MCCORMACK: I didn't. What did he say?

QUESTION: Well, he criticized the Annapolis conference, that nothing will come out of it and that the U.S.-Israeli plan for the Middle East failed and Syria will not give any concessions that the U.S. were pressuring it to do.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. You know, I don't know. I don't know for whose consumption he put that out there. I can only say that during the actual -- during the conference itself, one -- taken as a whole, one could say that the Syrian representative's remarks were constructive, so -- you know, I don't know -- I don't know for whose consumption they put this out.