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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Sean McCormack
Sean McCormack
Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Press Secretary for Foreign Affairs
August 11, 2004

Sean McCormack

Hi, this is Sean. It is good to be back with you on "Ask the White House". Let's take some questions....

Mike, from New York writes:
It seems to me that one of the biggest problem developing countries have is corruption. Is there a way that the US can help the people of these countries fight corruption? Perhaps this kind of help could increasing the quality of life for the all people in the world.

Thanks, Mike

Sean McCormack
We would agree that fighting corruption is an important issue that needs to be addressed and that is also an impediment to development in many countries around the world. That is why President Bush made good governance a key metric for those countries who would receive development assistance under the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) initiative.

Announced by President Bush in Monterrey, Mexico in the fall of 2002, this initiative is designed to provide development assistance to those countries whose “best practices” across a number of different areas, including good governance, a focus on health and education programs for the country, and sound economic policies. In May, we announced 16 countries eligible for MCA funds, and congress appropriated $1 billion this year for MCA funds; we are continuing to look at what other countries might qualify in the future.

Our goal is that recipients of these funds will serve a role models for other potential recipients that might emulate some of these bet practices. I want to emphasize that our development assistance to those countries most in need around the world continues and is not affected by the MCA initiative.

David, from Lawrence, KS writes:
What progress has been made on the humanitarian side of the war in Iraq? On the news only the military and security side is presented, but improving the lives of Iraq's people can also greatly dampen terrorist support, both in Iraq and elsewhere in the Mid-East, without costing American lives.

Sean McCormack
David, we have focused a great deal of resources to helping the Interim Iraqi Government (IIG) improve the lives of Iraqi citizens, both at the local and national levels. Our embassy in Baghdad works daily with the IIG on funding these projects, both large and small, and the international community has stepped up its efforts to assist the Iraqi people.

We are making good progress in helping the Iraqi people build a better future for themselves, and this hope for a better future free from the oppression of the past will help improve the security situation. A free, democratic Iraq will also be a beacon for change in the Middle East.

One of the great challenges of our generation will be to help the countries of the Middle East change in reaction to calls for greater freedom coming from the region. That is why, along with our G8 partners, the President announced the Broader Middle East Initiative at the G8 Sea Island Summit. This initiative is designed to respond to those calls for change coming from the region, such as what we saw during the conference earlier this year hosted by President Mubarak in Alexandria, Egypt.

Change in the region is also key to our long-term efforts to fight and win the war on terrorism. Each day we use the full resources of our government to go on the offense against terrorists worldwide, and we have had some success breaking up terrorist networks, drying up some of their finances, and holding individuals to account for their terrorist acts. But we must also work to change the environment that produced individuals who thought it was acceptable to fly airplanes into buildings and kill thousands of innocent people. That is why we are working to help spread freedom and greater opportunity to the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Broader Middle East.

Ducson, from New Jersey writes:
Don't you think some American credibility would be restored worldwide if we joined the International Criminal Court? The requirements for prosecution by the ICC are pretty strict (the nation with jurisdiction must be doing nothing and the crime has to be fairly severe). I think using the ICC for political purposes would be pretty rare. A small price to pay for a show of international cooperation wouldn't you say?

Sean McCormack
The President decided that the joining the ICC would put our troops and officials at risk of politically-motivated prosecutions. We believe that each should be held responsible for holding to account individuals responsible for violating the law. Where countries are not able to do so, we believe individual international tribunals can be formed to hold individuals to account, just as is now being done in the Hague with Slobodan Milosevic.

We are now working with countries around the world to sign Article 98 agreements, which are allowed under the Rome Statute. We believe this solution will provide needed protections for our personnel while respecting other countries desire to join the ICC.

George, from Sherman Oaks, Calif. writes:
The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocides as any act committed with the idea of destroying in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.''

Given the definition, why has the United States not labeled the Darfur atrocities genocide?

Sean McCormack
We have a team in the field collecting information as to what is taking place in Darfur. The team’s findings will add to the review that the Secretary of State has initiated. Regardless of what you call it, what is happening is horrific and we are acting with the utmost urgency to stop it.

I would add that the President has challenged the international community to address the situation in Darfur, and asked Secretary Powell to visit Darfur himself to assess the situation. As a result, we have provided more than $179 million in aid to date, of the $299 million planned through the next fiscal year.

Chris, from Rochester NY writes:
Sir, I think this idea (ask the white house) is an excellent one.

I admire the president very much and his entire staff - despite the fact im a Democrat. He has my vote in November. Well, His Foreign policy has been superb in my opinion. Once and a while on the news we see them talk about the North Koreans and the nuclear problem, how often does the President work on this particular issue?

Your doing a great job. Thanks for taking the time to look at my question

Sean McCormack
I agree "Ask the White House" is a great idea and I enjoy being able to answer some of your questions.

The President devotes a great deal of attention to the issue of North Korea's nuclear program. As we speak US diplomats working with other members of the six-party talks to set a time for the next working group meeting.

The President started the six-party initiative in the wake of N Korea's admission that in addition to a plutonium program, they had underway a highly enriched uranium program that violated the 1994 agreed framework.

The initial meetings of this group were held in Beijing last year. Since that time we have gained agreement from four of the five other members of the group that N Korea must dismantle its nuclear program in a complete verifiable and irreversible manner.

We will continue to work with our partners in the six-party talks to achieve the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

Michael, from Minneapolis, MN writes:
What is the United States going to do to curb the Iranian nuclear threat?

Sean McCormack
The US is working closely with our friends and allies to address the threat from Iran's nuclear program. The US has long voiced its suspicions concerning Iran's nuclear program and recent discoveries by the IAEA have heightened the concern of our European allies as well as other members of the IAEA Board of Governors.

The US and its allies cannot allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons and we are working closely with our friends to address this issue. We have supported the efforts of Germany, France and Great Britain to put limits on Iran's program.

To date, Iran has not lived up to the commitments made to this group and we call on them to meet these commitments. We have also worked closely with Russia to ensure that any nuclear fuel provided to Iran be returned to Russia upon completion of its use.

We expect to have intensive discussions in the run up to and during the next Board of Governors meeting which takes place in September. And we will discuss with our allies a number of possible next steps.

jay, from navarre,florida writes:
Maybe you can help me. Ive asked this question three times without any response. What are the constitutional ramifications of letting an outside, private organization such as the OSCE 'oversee' the AMERICAN voting process? Why cant there be a panel made up of ONLY United States citizens? Would George Washington have allowed something like this to happen and why werent americans citizens (we the people)asked about this before hand? Arent these our elections anyways?

Sean McCormack
Jim Wilkinson answered this question yesterday on White House Interactive

Bottom line is that by inviting OCSE observers in to watch our elections, we set an example for other countries around the world that they should also allow election observers into their countries.

Lee, from Arkansas writes:
Watching the news about the controversial push for an all around intelligence czar, I was curious if such a position would undermine the check and balance system the constitution had in mind? Or at the very least would it create even more tension between the agencies due to differences in ethics and regulations? Thanks for your time.

Sean McCormack

As you've seen in the news the President agreed with the advice of the 9/11 commission to create a National Intelligence Director. We believe that creating such a position will help ensure that policymakers in the future will have the best possible intelligence to use in making decisions about how to best protect our country.

We are now working through the precise responsibilities and authorities that the NID would have. One thing is clear, nothing is off the table except having the NID in the White House and as a member of the Cabinet. We believe these two exclusions help maintain the independence of our intelligence agency.

As we work through the details of the NID's responsibilities and authorities, we want to ensure that while we better integrate the exchange of information we ensure American's rights are protected.

The President has made clear that equally important as making changes in the Executive branch, that Congress must reorganize itself. Without change on the Hill we will not realize the full benefits of change in the Executive branch and it will be more difficult for Congress to effectively exercise its proper oversight role.

Sean McCormack
Thanks for emailing in your questions. It's always heartening to see American people so well informed and engaged on important foreign policy issues of our day. Thanks again.