State Department Noon Briefing, November 13, 2003
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2003
1:30 p.m. EST
MR. ERELI: Good morning, everybody -- afternoon, I guess, by now. I don't have any announcements today. Who would like to have the first question?
QUESTION: I know everything, so I have no questions.
MR. ERELI: Good. Same for everyone.
MR. ERELI: Matt.
QUESTION: I have a feeling he doesn't know everything.
QUESTION: No, I don't. I certainly don't.
I would like to ask you about Iran and the IAEA and Under Secretary Bolton's comments last night, and if what he said about it being impossible to believe the conclusion of the IAEA report, does that mean that the United States has decided that regardless of what happens at the meeting on the 20th in Vienna, you want the Board to refer the Iran nuclear issue to the UN Security Council?
MR. ERELI: We have made it clear for some time that we believe that Iran has a nuclear weapons program; in fact, the Secretary has said all along that what they are doing is for a nuclear weapons program. We have received the IAEA report. We are looking at it. We are studying it. We have not come to a conclusion about what actions to take on the basis of that report.
Our priority for this week is to work with other IAEA Board members to ensure that the November 20-21 meeting in Vienna takes the action that is appropriate and effective based on what the report puts forward. This was one of the issues that the Secretary discussed with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in his meeting today, and we concur with Secretary Straw that this report is very worrying.
MR. ERELI: Period.
QUESTION: Well, that's fine, except that -- except for the fact that you've already come out and basically said that you think that it's wrong.
MR. ERELI: I haven't -- what we have said is --
QUESTION: I mean --
MR. ERELI: What Secretary Bolton said is what the Secretary has been -- Secretary of -- Under Secretary of State --
QUESTION: What Secretary Bolton said, as you remember from the transcript, was that it is impossible to believe the conclusion of report that Iran -- their -- the conclusion the report that Iran -- the conclusion of the report reached about Iran -- about there not being any evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. That seems you're casting credibility on the report's conclusion, if not outright saying that it's just flat -- it's wrong.
MR. ERELI: What we've made clear for some time is that we believe that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.
QUESTION: Yeah, you said that.
MR. ERELI: And without getting into -- and so, therefore, what Under Secretary Bolton said is perfectly consistent with that position.
As far as the IAEA report is concerned, we are studying it. I'm not going to talk about it publicly. We will work with our IAEA colleagues to determine what is the best way forward on the basis of that report.
QUESTION: Can I just say, I'm a little surprised that you're saying you're not going to talk about it publicly when Bolton came out last night and said basically that it was a lie? So --
QUESTION: You mean you aren't going to talk about it publicly.
MR. ERELI: I think what -- let's just leave it at this, that we believe that Iran has a nuclear weapons program --
QUESTION: Regardless of what the IAEA says?
MR. ERELI: -- that we've believed it for some time, and that senior officials of this Administration, including Secretary Powell, have been making that clear for some time.
MR. ERELI: And in that sense, what Secretary Bolton said -- Under Secretary Bolton said last night is perfectly consistent with that position.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. ERELI: As far as the IAEA report goes, I really don't want to get in -- I don't want to comment on it publicly beyond what's been said, and all I really want to do is say that we're going to be studying it, that we're going to be consulting with the other Board of Governors members to decide what's the best way to move forward on it.
QUESTION: Adam, Under Secretary Bolton's comments, as always, were cleared, correct?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: So his statement that he regarded the IAEA report's conclusion that there was no evidence of a nuclear program was impossible to believe reflects the collective view of the U.S. Government because it was cleared through all the respective agencies, correct?
MR. ERELI: Correct.
QUESTION: Well, if you find their conclusions impossible to believe, why can you not give us some indication that you might act on that conclusion that what they say is impossible to believe, and report the matter to the Security Council?
MR. ERELI: I'm not saying that we won't act on -- I'm not saying that we won't act on the conclusions presented in the report. All I'm saying is that I'm not going to discuss what our view of the conclusions are, at this point, what our view of the conclusions are, and what we're going to do because that's -- we're still discussing that ourselves.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, Adam, given your track record here in disagreeing with UN weapons inspectors, agencies on weapons of mass destruction, you know, just in the last year, let's say, and it's -- the credibility there is not -- it hasn't been proved yet, and some would argue that it doesn't exist at all. What's been the reaction that you've been getting from your IAEA fellow colleagues, as to your conclusion that the report is bunk?
MR. ERELI: I don't really have too much reaction to report from fellow colleagues.
QUESTION: Are you hopeful that other countries see it in the same light as you? I mean, Foreign Secretary Straw said yesterday something quite opposite of what Under Secretary Bolton said.
MR. ERELI: Right. I think what Foreign Secretary Straw said is that the report is worrying. We would certainly agree with that. He also said that they showed some cooperation in providing information to that report. We would also agree with that. As far as what other things the report shows or doesn't show, recommends/doesn't recommend, I'm just not going to get into it, other than to say, we're going to be studying it, and we're going to be taking the action with our Board of Governor colleagues that we think is appropriate.
I would also say that, you know, it's been our stated position for a long time that Iraq has a -- has a nuclear weapons program.
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. Iran has a nuclear --
QUESTION: It may have been, at one point, about Iraq.
MR. ERELI: On this subject today, Iran has a nuclear weapons program and has been deceiving the international community about that program for a long time, and it will certainly be interesting to note whether, and to what extent the IAEA report documents what we've been saying for many, many years.
QUESTION: Okay. But, Adam.
MR. ERELI: I don't think that's clear.
QUESTION: But, Adam, this raises -- for some weeks, you've been saying, let's wait and see the report, as though this was going to be the gospel truth, and then when it comes out you say it's impossible to believe. Well, how do you now then see the function of the IAEA? I mean, do you think it has any credibility or any function left, or how do you see it?
MR. ERELI: I mean, it sounds like you're jumping to conclusions.
QUESTION: No, but if its writing the reports which are impossible to believe, what use does it serve the United States?
MR. ERELI: What Under Secretary Bolton said is the conclusion that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program is impossible to believe, based on the evidence.
QUESTION: Well, that's the conclusion that they reached.
MR. ERELI: That I would not go from there to presume a wholesale indictment of the IAEA in the report. I think the IAEA is doing valuable work. We were one of 34 members of the Board of Governors who agreed on a resolution on September 12th, on what Iran needed to do to come into compliance or to demonstrate compliance. And we will work with our colleagues and the other Board of Governors on November 21 -- 20 and 21 -- to decide what are the most appropriate steps, based on this report, and all within the context of established treaties and obligations and international institutions and organizations that have credibility, legitimacy and importance.
QUESTION: Well --
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- if the IAEA is making conclusions from this report that it can't prove that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and the U.S. maintains and it does, are you prepared to act on your own if the IAEA doesn't refer this to the Security Council?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Let's wait. Let's wait for the November 20 and 21 meeting.
QUESTION: Can you explain then, Adam, exactly what arguments you're -- given the fact that your allegations, similar allegations that you made in the past about Iraq have not yet been able to be proved, why anyone should believe you when you say that this report is not -- is not believable? What's the argument here?
MR. ERELI: I think the -- yeah, if you look carefully at what the Secretary said before the United Nations on February 5th, and what the interim report by David Kay presented, there are a large number of claims that we made on February 5th that were borne out by the evidence that David Kay subsequently found.
And so I would say, number one, that our intelligence has proven to be good, has proven to be accurate, and while the report is not yet final, it's only an interim report, it does show that Iran, as we claimed -- I mean, sorry -- Iraq, as we claimed, had a -- an active weapon program to develop weapons of mass destruction that it concealed in violation of its UN Security Council obligations.
We've also been saying for many, many years that Iran was actively seeking nuclear technology in violation of its NPT obligations, and was deceiving the international community and lying about what it was doing. We look forward to seeing what the IAEA said on that, and we believe that our information will be shown to be accurate.
QUESTION: Just as it was with Iraq, do you want to say that?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. As I said, with Iraq. Look at what the Secretary said, look at what David Kay found, and there is a significant correlation, and the investigation isn't over yet; and when the investigation is over, I would expect that David Kay will find more than he's reported up to this date.
QUESTION: Change of subject. Has the Department had time to assess the new Palestinian cabinet and evaluate whether there is the latitude for successful peace talks, and is there speculation that Abu Abba -- or sorry -- Abu Alaa, will meet with Ariel Sharon within ten days and will you facilitate the talks?
MR. ERELI: The Secretary spoke with Abu Alaa, the new Palestinian Prime Minister, a short while ago. He -- they had a good conversation. The Secretary congratulated him on the formation of a new government. He told the Prime Minister that we are looking forward to working with him and his cabinet. He also made the point that performance is what counts, and that the Palestinian cabinet needs to declare its firm opposition to terror, and to take tangible immediate steps against terrorist organizations, and that's -- that's what we would be looking for.
QUESTION: Do you foresee a meeting in the near future?
MR. ERELI: Between the Secretary and Abu Alaa?
MR. ERELI: I don't -- I wouldn't want to speculate on that.
QUESTION: Are you going to send Mr. Wolf out to see Mr. Abu -- Mr. Qureia?
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything new on Assistant Secretary Wolf's travels -- or Ambassador Wolf's travels.
QUESTION: On Israel, or on the Middle East and Israel in particular, do you have any reason to believe -- has the United States yet taken a decision on whether to deduct any funds from the loan guarantees for the fence?
MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of, but let me check on it for you, see if there's been any change.
QUESTION: Could I -- just about the phone call -- can you -- I'm -- I guess you weren't here yet when it -- the last Palestinian Prime Minister came in, so you may not be able to answer this question. But can you say whether the Secretary's conversation with Abu Alaa was similar to the one that he had with -- when the previous Palestinian Prime Minister came into office -- performance counts, the message was pretty much the same?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, our view hasn't -- well, I can't speak to the --
QUESTION: Abu Mazen got the same message that Abu Alaa got?
MR. ERELI: Right. I can't speak to the conversation, but what I can speak to is our policy, which has, you know, remained consistent that the Palestinians need to take concrete action against terror in order for us to be able to move forward on the roadmap.
QUESTION: Did you receive -- did he receive any assurances from Abu Alaa that anything would happen on that front?
MR. ERELI: Not that were reported to me.
QUESTION: On this same subject. Yesterday, Assistant Secretary Burns gave a speech in which he came down pretty hard against Israeli settlements. Has there been -- and along the lines of Arshad's question, has there been -- have you made a decision yet on how much you're going to deduct from the loan guarantees for settlements?
MR. ERELI: No, we have not.
Anything more on Israel-Palestinian issues?
QUESTION: Question on Bolivia. In op-ed piece in today's Washington Post, the former President of Bolivia calls for U.S. and European aid to help Bolivia market its natural gas. Is this the solution to Bolivia's economic problems and is the U.S. willing to help?
MR. ERELI: Let me say that the United States is willing to help Bolivia provide -- provide for -- provide economic growth and economic opportunity to its people. That is one of the pillars of our policy not only towards Bolivia, but to the entire hemisphere, and we are supporting both Bolivia and its neighbors in taking the steps it needs to provide that opportunity.
As far as talking about the specifics of the gas pipeline, I'm really not in a position to do that today. If you want to get -- if you want our -- a statement of policy on that issue, I'll look into it and get back to you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Joel.
QUESTION: I have a question, returning to the Middle East, apparently, the compound that was blown up at Riyadh about a week or so ago, they're saying that religious police came in three months earlier and were complaining to the people living in that particular compound area about their westernized style or lifestyle.
Is there anything the Saudi Government is doing more effectively that meets with your approval to combat this religious, secular type of void between them.
MR. ERELI: What Saudi Arabia has made clear publicly is that the threat of terrorism and the scourge of terrorism is something that affects Saudi Arabia and the Middle East as much as it affects the United States, that they stand with us foursquare in the effort to fight terror, which means detecting and moving against the individuals responsible for blowing up innocent women and children and men, and just innocents, for whatever reason.
But, and in that sense, I think there is -- there is a common bond between us and a common purpose and a common mission, and that we're very satisfied with their support in this.
QUESTION: Yeah, do you have anything to say about the Japanese decision to delay any deployment of troops to Iraq?
MR. ERELI: Don't have too much for you on that, Matt. I mean, I have seen, sort of, varying reports. Obviously, we believe that the international community has a stake in and a role to play in supporting security and stability in Iraq. We currently have 32 countries that are contributing almost 24,000 troops to coalition stabilization efforts in Iraq.
As you know, we're in discussions with a number of countries on contributions to these efforts. We respect the particular constraints on different countries and we leave it to the governments of those countries to characterize how and when and what circumstances they will be able to contribute. But beyond that, I don't really have much more to say in response to that specific report.
QUESTION: Well, do you have any, do you know, are you aware of any conversations between here and Tokyo about -- on this matter, or from the people in this building, or is that just being handled by the Pentagon?
MR. ERELI: There may have been some conversations at the working level. I'm not aware of anything at the senior leadership level.
QUESTION: Adam, on the Mujahedin-e Khalq, there's a story in the Post today and a statement almost identical, quoting Secretary -- quoting Condoleezza Rice, and there's a statement that's almost identical from Rumsfeld, essentially saying that the United States in Iraq has contained members from the Mujahedin-e Khalq and is going after them, screening them. It says that they've been -- their heavy equipment has been taken away. It doesn't say anything about whether they've been actually fully disarmed.
A couple of questions:
One, to your knowledge, have they been fully disarmed? Have their guns been taken away, which presumably would be a logical step given that the United States Government regards them as a terrorist organization.
Two, if they haven't, why haven't they?
Three, have you had concerns over the last couple of months that the -- that the U.S. military personnel in the region haven't been treating this group as a terrorist organization?
MR. ERELI: The important point to make here, before going into the details of your question, the important point to make here is that opposition on the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, has not changed. It is a foreign terrorist organization, and it should be treated as such.
The President has made it clear that the United States wants to create an Iraq that is free of terrorists. Dr. Rice's statements on the MEK, I think speak for themselves, so I don't really want to go beyond or have anything beyond what she said.
As far as the specific issue of what arms they have, what arms they don't have, what actions have been taken, as you said, they're in Iraq under military observation or custody, or whatever you want to call it. I'd refer you to DOD to say what -- you know, at this point in time what precise steps have they taken. But clearly this is an issue that they are on top of, and that they are acting fully consistently with the views of Dr. Rice and those who are -- those who are looking at the situation.
Is it the State Department's view that their arms, however small, should be taken away?
MR. ERELI: I'm not sure. Let me check. I'm not sure what our view is on that that specific issue, what arms should --
QUESTION: I mean, I find it hard to understand that you wouldn't have a clearer position on that view because it's hard for me to understand how someone could be a Foreign Terrorist Organization and be allowed to keep their arms.
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: You know, it would seem to me as sort of a logical sort of step to take. So I would love it if you would let me know if that is, indeed, your position that their arms should be taken away.
MR. ERELI: I will get you something on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Yes, Teri.
QUESTION: Just to add to that, Deputy Secretary Armitage said a couple of weeks ago on the Hill that he did not believe they had been disarmed. So if there's an update since then, that --
MR. ERELI: Right. That's why, you know, I said to Arshad, you know, what is the exact status today, you know --
QUESTION: Right. That was a couple weeks ago, so there may be changes since then.
MR. ERELI: Exactly. What is heavy arms, what is light arms, what is, you know --
QUESTION: But how can you have somebody be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and let them keep a pocketknife? I just don't get it.
QUESTION: I have another question.
MR. ERELI: We'll look into that for you.
QUESTION: They let him run an office downtown.
QUESTION: I have another question. Upstairs today, Secretary Powell said that you are now looking at alternatives to possibly having the timeline in place -- or having a timeline, as the U.S. envisioned it, in place by December 15th, which would involve having a constitution written as one of its first -- one of its first tasks.
Could you discuss that a little more fully? Is the U.S. no longer certain that constitution writing should be the first order of business for the IGC?
MR. ERELI: Without getting into the details of what -- what's being discussed in Iraq between Ambassador Bremer and the Iraq Governing Council, let me just say that -- and as the Secretary said -- what we're looking at are ways of accelerating the political transition from the CPA to a fully sovereign Iraqi government.
There are a number of ideas out there that the Iraqis have come up with, that Ambassador Bremer brought back with him to Washington, that have been discussed within the U.S. Government, and the fruits of those discussions Ambassador Bremer is bringing back with him to Iraq to talk with his Iraqi colleagues about, with an aim towards coming up with a -- coming up with some -- with the aim of helping the Iraqis come up with a plan.
I think the elements, such as the constitution, are there. But I don't really want to get into sort of a what's up, what's down, what's likely, what's not likely, because that's a discussion that Ambassador Bremer is going to be having in Baghdad.
QUESTION: But is it possible that one of those options is that there will be a new government named, formed, before a constitution is written? Is that in play?
MR. ERELI: There are a lot of ideas out there, and I just don't want to get ahead of what the Iraqis are going to come up with.
QUESTION: Well, if I can follow up, the Iraqis have already said that they would like to have an interim government in place before there would be an election. So, I mean, that's what they're calling for, that's what they came up with.
MR. ERELI: Well, you know, there are a lot of reports out there. There are a lot of Iraqis. Let's let Bremer and the Governing Council, you know, get together, come up with a program, and wait until -- wait until they've basically agreed on what they're going to do before we start handicapping different possibilities and responding to the multiplicity of different reports and statements that are out there.
QUESTION: All right, new subject. Can you give us an idea of what you -- what the Secretary would like to see on the agenda, what his priorities are for those meetings on Tuesday in Brussels, or maybe you can do them tomorrow?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, let's -- let's look at maybe getting you something a little bit more thorough than what I can give you from the podium because I don't have anything for you today.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. And then, can you just enlighten us as to what Beth Jones -- Assistant Secretaries Jones and Craner are doing in Central Asia this week?
MR. ERELI: Beyond human rights, I don't have a lot of details. Let me get it for you. They're going to, I think, a number of countries in Central Asia, as you say, to deal with human rights and democratization issues; but which countries and what issues, I'll have to get back to you in more detail on.
QUESTION: If they're going to Uzbekistan, can you check into whether they're going to look into the multiple deaths from torture of people while in detention?
MR. ERELI: Sure. Sure.
QUESTION: Do you suppose she could background us when she comes back?
MR. ERELI: We can put that out there as an idea.
QUESTION: Some Iranian journalists have said that they were abused by the U.S. military while in, while in detention. And while I know that you would the military to talk about that, has there been any complaint sent from Iran through any of its intermediaries to the U.S. Government to the State Department on this?
MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of. We usually don't comment on those kinds of communications, but if we have anything we can say, I'll look into it and let you know.
QUESTION: One more thing. Do you have anything to say about the Japanese whale hunt that began yesterday? Not my other whale --
QUESTION: Not that one, which I already got answered. This one is separate.
MR. ERELI: Okay, I don't have anything on the latest whale hunt.
MR. ERELI: But if we do, I'll let you know.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Thank you.
(The briefing ended at 2:05)
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