State Department Noon Briefing, November 18, 2003
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2003
MR. ERELI: Good afternoon. Welcome to the briefing today. I don't have any announcements, so, Barry.
QUESTION: Yes, there's been -- there's been some vague talk about another UN resolution on Iraq. Can you provide any additional information? We haven't gotten any.
MR. ERELI: I think, if you look at -- you know, there have been a number of resolutions on Iraq up till now, the latest one being 1511. Our focus now is, obviously, on working with the Governing Council to move forward on a plan for political transition. The next step in that process would be the Governing Council presenting to the Security Council, further to Resolution 1511, its timetable. Ambassador Bremer and the head of the Iraq Governing Council, Jalal Talabani, signed a program on Saturday, I believe, in Baghdad, that outlined sort of the transition plan.
At some point a resolution might be useful or helpful in that transition. And Secretary Powell spoke to that yesterday in his comments with German Foreign Minister Fischer. But I wouldn't want to sort of preview or suggest that anything is imminent.
QUESTION: Well, what would it help -- the transition? Or would it help define a UN role, or both, or what?
MR. ERELI: Well, as the -- again, I don't want to preview anything because I don't think there's a lot to preview. But, you know, we've always made clear from the very beginning that as this process develops and evolves, that should there be a utility to the Security Council passing a resolution to help advance that process, then it's a possibility. But I don't want to suggest that there's something in the works that is about to be presented.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, you said at some point it might be useful or helpful. You said it wasn't necessary, but why would it be useful or helpful if -- if previous resolutions have already called for a UN role, what is the purpose?
MR. ERELI: Well, there are different aspects to the transition. It's not just the UN role. It's, you know, a new Iraqi government, and the relationship with that in the international community. So, you know, there are a lot of -- we're dealing in hypotheticals here so I don't really want to spend a lot of time talking about hypotheticals. But I would say that, at some point, it is possible that a resolution would be useful in this process, not ruling it in, not ruling it out, could be.
QUESTION: Different subject.
MR. ERELI: Different subject?
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. The Foreign Minister of Mexico has just announced yesterday that the Mexican Ambassador at the UN is going to leave his post starting January 1st, and most of the politicians in Mexico are talking about this because his comments against the U.S. policy on Iraq and other things, and I remember Secretary Powell and Richard Boucher talking with -- kind of angry about his comments.
So my question to you is: I know you never go over his head -- but what is your reaction to that? Are you guys happy that he's going to leave the post at the UN?
MR. ERELI: The decision on the appointment of Mexican Government officials is something that the Mexican Government makes, and it's something that is appropriate for the Mexican Government to comment on. I would dispute your suggestion that Secretary Powell or Ambassador Boucher expressed anger at comments by Mexican officials.
What Secretary Powell said was that he was not familiar or had not seen, when he was asked about the Ambassador's comments, but took issue with any -- with, in general, the suggestion that the United States considered Mexico its back yard, and made the point that that, indeed, was not the case.
QUESTION: But that was only one of the comments he made. But, before that, I remember Secretary Powell in an interview with a Mexican television and Richard Boucher here telling us that they are calling to the Ambassador to be more helpful of the U.S. policy toward Iraq. So that's not the only comments he made. And we know there are some members of this Administration that were not happy with him. So are you telling me that's not something that he upset the U.S. Government with his comments against the policy toward Iraq?
MR. ERELI: What I'm telling you is that this is a decision made by the Mexican Government. You'll have to ask the Mexican Government about the reasons for its decision. The United States looks forward to working with the Mexican Government and its officials in a spirit of partnership and cooperation that characterizes our relationship with Mexico.
QUESTION: But, obviously, the relationship between Mexico and U.S. has not been easy one. But, certainly, there are people who expect that now that the people who was making noise in this relationship, especially in a position very critical in a moment like this, has been removed.
Do you expect to see any improvement in the relationship? What do you expect of this announcement or this change?
MR. ERELI: The U.S.-Mexico relationship, as Secretary Powell said last week at the conclusion of the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission, is on a strong foundation, is moving forward in ways that benefit both countries. We have an outstanding dialogue, an outstanding cooperation on the issues that we work on.
So I take issue with your suggestion that somehow the relationship isn't -- isn't strong, isn't dynamic, isn't moving in a positive direction. And in the context of that relationship, we have outstanding -- we have outstanding -- we cooperate very well with the officials that represent the Mexican Government, and we will continue to do so in our mutual interests.
QUESTION: Yes. Can I move on to a different subject?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Over the past two days, a gentleman with the name of Farid Ghadry -- he's a Syrian-American -- and along with a number of other Syrians, held two-day meetings over here, opposition meetings for the Syrian opposition. And my question is: Did Mr. Farid Ghadry meet with any State Department official? Is the State Department familiar with a Syrian opposition conference being held in Washington? And he had a round of, you know, conversations at The Washington Institute and other places.
MR. ERELI: Let me ask our -- ask the relevant bureau whether this gentleman had meetings with officials in the State Department. I'll have to check into it for you.
QUESTION: Yes, and as a matter of policy, is the State Department, the Administration, encouraging Syrian opposition in some way? What sort of policy you have?
MR. ERELI: I think you'll notice, without specific reference to Syria, that our officials, whether in Washington or abroad, meet regularly with representatives from across the political spectrum, and we do not confine ourselves to meeting only with government officials. We think it important to have a dialogue with the different political tendencies across the spectrum. So, without referring to this specific case, I would say, in general, this is something that we do and that we think is important to supporting democracy and political pluralism.
QUESTION: Change of subject? Iran. The Secretary said he was having very candid discussions with the Europeans on the IAEA resolution, that he had some -- that the U.S. had some disagreements with the resolution. Could you expand on what those disagreements are, and how the U.S. is approaching the IAEA meeting, what you'd like to see come out of it?
MR. ERELI: I haven't seen a transcript of the Secretary's remarks, so I will not try to elaborate on them or interpret them beyond what he said. And he also spoke to this, I think, pretty extensively yesterday, and I don't have much to add to that. I think where we are is that we are working this very energetically in Vienna.
The President and Secretary Powell will be in Britain for the next few days, where they will be talking to their British colleagues. Under Secretary Bolton is meeting with his counterparts from IAEA member states.
We are all keen to see our concerns addressed in a meaningful way, and to ensure that Iran is meeting its commitments to the IAEA and its NPT treaty obligations. That's the direction that we're moving in. That's what we're trying to accomplish.
Yes. Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: Change subject? Any comment on the elections in Yugoslavia in which less than 50 percent of the people participated?
MR. ERELI: You're referring to the presidential elections --
QUESTION: That's correct.
MR. ERELI: -- of last week, in which there was a voter turnout of 38 percent, I believe, and that pursuant to Serbian law that, because of the low turnout, the ballot was deemed invalid, and there will be subsequent elections at a later date. That is part of the Serb -- the Serbian constitutional process. That process, by all -- by all accounts, is being followed, and so there is really not much -- not much more to comment on than that.
QUESTION: Anything on the Albanian elections in which a lot of irregularities have been taking place?
MR. ERELI: I would say that we have been following this matter closely through our Embassy in Tirana. We have been in touch with every level of the Government of Albania to ensure that all election irregularities are corrected promptly.
QUESTION: One more question. Last Friday, the Department of State said that PKK is a terrorist organization, but ANA, the Albanian National Army, is not a terrorist organization, despite the fact that -- of killings in one year now against FYROM in western Balkans, in general.
May we know why ANA is not a terrorist organization but only, as the statement says, just a bunch of criminal extremists?
MR. ERELI: As you suggest, Mr. Lambros, we posted an answer to that question last week. And in that answer, we noted that, according to the law which requires us to designate Foreign Terrorist Organizations, there are specific criteria, which, on our analysis, the ANA did not meet, and therefore does not classify it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. At the same time, we did note the harmful role that it's playing, and the steps that we are taking to address that situation.
But as to why it is not a Foreign Terrorist Organization, the short answer is that there are specific legal criteria that must apply before an organization is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and, in our analysis, that criteria did not -- was not fully applicable to the ANA.
Yes, Mr. Christophe.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on an Egyptian initiative to invite Palestinian officials to discuss a possible ceasefire or truce with Israel?
MR. ERELI: No, I have not seen the specific -- reports of the specific initiative that you mentioned. I think Ambassador Boucher addressed this general issue yesterday when he was asked about the visit of Mr. Omar Suleiman to Ramallah and I think that the views that he expressed on that subject yesterday would characterize our view of such an initiative.
QUESTION: On something different, do you have an update on Mr. Kelly's trip to China and his talks with the Chinese officials?
MR. ERELI: On Assistant Secretary Kelly's travel, he met in Tokyo with Foreign Minister Kawaguchi and Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba. They discussed North Korea as well as other issues of concern.
He then traveled to Beijing, where he arrived today. He will meet with members of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday before heading to Seoul. In China, he will discuss issues related to ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program as well as bilateral issues. He will go to Seoul on Wednesday, where he will stay until Thursday -- or, I'm sorry, where he will stay until Friday.
QUESTION: Is this moving the date of the six-party talks any closer?
MR. ERELI: I think Secretary Kelly made clear yesterday that we continue to hope that a second round of talks can be held in mid-December, but there is still no firm agreement on dates.
QUESTION: I don't know if the Chinese emissary has already been to North Korea. He was supposed to check out the situation, and that would be the thing that would trigger a setting of a date. But I'm at a loss. I don't know if he's been there. You don't know that the pieces are in place yet, yes?
MR. ERELI: Well, the Chinese -- you'd really have to talk to the Chinese about that. They're the ones that are putting this -- putting this next round together, so they would be in a better position to answer that question.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. ERELI: Same subject?
QUESTION: On that, yes. Today or yesterday, Secretary Rumsfeld called North Korean regime an "evil regime." Do you think this kind of remarks is helpful in the context of preparing the resumption of talks with Pyongyang?
MR. ERELI: No comment.
QUESTION: On the same subject, did you say who, exactly, Mr. Kelly would see in Beijing because there seemed to be some uncertainty about that?
MR. ERELI: I didn't say.
QUESTION: You didn't say?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: What did you say, exactly? I can't remember.
MR. ERELI: I said members of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
QUESTION: Oh. That's it? That's all you have?
MR. ERELI: That's what I have.
MR. ERELI: Yes ma'am.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate on the bilateral issues? What are they? Does that include Taiwan?
MR. ERELI: If bilateral issues are discussed, that usually does include Taiwan, but I don't have the full, sort of, list before me.
QUESTION: Right. The director of AIT here, Mrs. Shaheen, was just here in the Department. Do you know or can you find out who did she talk to and on what subject?
MR. ERELI: I'll look into it.
QUESTION: Okay, one last thing? The Chinese Foreign Ministry has named her name to criticize some of her recent remarks and something she said first, and then she --
MR. ERELI: I think Deputy Secretary Armitage addressed these issues just a few hours ago -- so I don't really have much more to say beyond his very ample discussion of the issue. Thanks.
QUESTION: And Mrs. Shaheen criticized Taiwan, so --
QUESTION: She criticized --
MR. ERELI: If you'll look at what Deputy Secretary Armitage said, he said that she's -- well, I won't paraphrase his remarks. He spoke to the subject. I'll leave it at what he said.
QUESTION: And was he speaking -- what was --
MR. ERELI: This was briefly when he was doing the Educational Exchange walk-through. There was some journalist who --
QUESTION: Do you have a -- will you have a transcript of that?
MR. ERELI: Let me see what I can get for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Turkey. On Turkey?
QUESTION: Mrs. Shaheen criticized Taiwan's decision to portray his --
MR. ERELI: Excuse me. I'm just not going to get into a back-and-forth about what Ms. Shaheen said and everybody's reaction to it.
So this is a subject we've dealt with very extensively. Our policy on Taiwan is clear and, you know, you can look to the record as to what those statements are. But I really just don't want to get into a back-and-forth about characterizations of what was said and not said. That just doesn't seem to be productive.
QUESTION: But on the submarine purchase, whatever she said -- was that her personal observation or public policy from the DOD and State Department?
MR. ERELI: Let me tell you what the public policy is.
The policy is that we are examining a number of options on how to provide for the sale of submarines, and we continue to discuss these options with Taiwan. The details on this issue remain to be worked out.
We will continue to assist Taiwan in meeting its legitimate self-defense needs in accordance with our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act.
QUESTION: Excuse me, though. Do you mean options in the sense of one version of a submarine or another? Or do you mean a submarine or perhaps something else?
MR. ERELI: I think defensive capabilities.
MR. ERELI: Are we done with China, North Korea and Taiwan?
QUESTION: Just one more easy one.
Do you have more detail about Prime Minister -- Chinese Prime Minister's visit early December? And will he --
MR. ERELI: No, I don't have any details on that.
MR. ERELI: Iraq?
MR. ERELI: Turkey?
QUESTION: Yes. Did you offer finally any kind of help to this tragedy in Turkey, like the Israelis, since it is something in your declared war against terrorism globally?
MR. ERELI: Secretary Powell, in his discussion with Foreign Minister Gul on Saturday, offered any assistance that Turkey would require to respond to this heinous act of terror. As of now, we have not received any request for assistance, but we would certainly look positively at any such request. I would note that the Consul General in Istanbul and our Chargé in Ankara both attended the service today held in Istanbul for the victims of the tragic attack.
QUESTION: I just wonder if you guys have any reaction to some comments and public media articles about Saddam Hussein's voice that was broadcast this weekend. The critics of the U.S. are saying that that demonstrates a failure of the United States in the plan on Iraq because the main target, Saddam Hussein, is still alive and criticizing United States.
Do you have any reaction to that? Do you consider it a failure that you haven't got him or he's still alive?
MR. ERELI: Well, we don't know if he's still alive.
QUESTION: Well, the President said that --
QUESTION: If I recall correctly, he confirmed it was Saddam Hussein's voice. The President said it was --
MR. ERELI: Well, there are two questions. Is it his voice? And my understanding, based on what -- on the analysis of the tape, was that it is not conclusive one way or the other whether it is or it is not his voice. That's number one.
Number two, the question was: Are you -- is it a failure that he's alive? And my answer to that was, we don't know for a fact whether he is alive, or we don't know for a fact whether he is dead.
And the final point is, the measure of success or failure is the Iraqi people having a better life and having a safer and more prosperous country, and by that measure, I think -- I think we're doing pretty good.
QUESTION: So how do you characterize the public meetings and protests by the Iraqi people against the U.S. military presence in their country? Something that --
MR. ERELI: Well, if you go -- I would suggest you go to Iraq. If you want to report on Iraq, and what the public thinks about the situation there, the best thing to do is to go there and see for yourself and not presume that everybody in Iraq is protesting against the situation there, because that's just not true.
QUESTION: And it's true that everybody is happy?
MR. ERELI: I didn't say that either.
QUESTION: Well, I --
MR. ERELI: But, you know, what I said is that the situation now, compared to the situation in Iraq before Saddam Hussein, is, I would contend, indisputably better. And I would also suggest that you'd be hard pressed to find many Iraqis who would prefer having Saddam Hussein around, and maybe those who would are the same few small minority who are blowing up Red Cross workers and anybody who is trying to work for the betterment of the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: On another subject? The Australian Defense Minister was in this building this morning. Do you have any readout from his talks with Mr. Armitage?
MR. ERELI: Senator Robert Hill, Australia's Minister of Defense, met with Deputy Secretary Armitage for about 40 minutes today, November 18th. It was one of a number of consultations with U.S. officials that the Defense Minister has scheduled during his visit here. They discussed the situation in Iraq, Australia's defense capability review, the Department of State's role in achieving interoperability between U.S. and Australian forces, the free trade agreement, the status of the International Traffic and Arms Regulations Exemption Agreement legislation for Australia -- that's a mouthful.
QUESTION: All that in 40 minutes?
MR. ERELI: Yes, all that in 40 minutes. And the joint strike fighter, as well as President Bush's October 22 to 23 visit to Australia.
QUESTION: About how long was the meeting?
MR. ERELI: About as long as that answer. About 40 minutes.
QUESTION: They didn't need translation, I guess not.
QUESTION: Did they talk about Taiwan?
QUESTION: Maybe they did need translation.
MR. ERELI: I'm not --
QUESTION: Did your friend agree there's only one China? Can he explain what that means?
MR. ERELI: Have we just about exhausted your areas of interest today?
QUESTION: I have one.
MR. ERELI: Yes, Elise.
QUESTION: I have one. This is on Colombia, if I can put something in. Could you give us a status report on the pilots, the American contractors whose plane went down in February, and were taken hostage by the FARC? What -- does the U.S. believe they are still alive? What are they doing to secure their release?
MR. ERELI: Okay. You're referring to Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes, and Marc Gonsalves, who are three U.S. contractors kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, shortly after their plane crashed in southern Colombia on February 13th, 2003. That was eight months ago.
Since then, we, the U.S. Government, and Colombian authorities have vigorously sought to locate and bring home these three Americans. The FARC murdered the pilot of their plane, Thomas Janis, and Colombian national Luis -- Luis Cruz, soon after the emergency landing. We are intensifying our efforts to punish the FARC for these crimes and prevent future ones.
To that end, we are preparing to offer a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any individual involved in or responsible for the kidnapping of these Americans and the killing of Thomas Janis, including members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
This reward will expand upon the existing Department of Defense and Embassy Bogota Reward Program that provided for up to $340,000, and the possibility of a U.S. visa for information leading to the location of the hostages. I would note that specific details of the campaign will be released when the reward offer is officially announced.
QUESTION: Well, you've been trying for some time now, haven't you?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: What's holding it up? I mean, what's -- it was about a month ago that you said you were preparing it.
MR. ERELI: Yes. There is some procedural stuff that needs to be done. It's not all completely finished yet.
QUESTION: In a recent interview, the former Ambassador to Colombia Ann Patterson said that the U.S. was reaching out to the FARC through various intermediary channels or groups, in an effort to secure their release. How are those efforts going? Is there any indication that, perhaps, the FARC is willing to let them go? And what about -- anything about a prisoner exchange for FARC rebels?
MR. ERELI: Those are -- the prisoner exchange is not something -- I would have to check -- but that's not something we're really looking at. I think, you know, the point that Ambassador Patterson made is that we are -- we are sparing no efforts to use all means at our disposals and all attempts, all sources of information and all channels possible to locate these individuals and to secure their release. This is something that hundreds of people are working on every day and want to see resolved in a way that spares their lives, reunites them with their families and deals a blow against the kind of criminal activity that the FARC engages in.
QUESTION: Correct me if I am wrong. But I think you were also looking to help of the Venezuelan Government for this case; it is true?
MR. ERELI: I don't know if specifically Venezuelan. I certainly think we would welcome the assistance of anybody who can be helpful in this situation.
QUESTION: And did you say when the reward program will be officially announced. You're officially announcing it now, isn't it?
MR. ERELI: I'm announcing that we are preparing a reward.
QUESTION: Also on the same issue, Colombia. Could you tell us what were the main issue to the U.S. Government take in consideration to make this change in this reward program, I mean, to establish this new reward of $5 million, was the killing of this U.S. citizen or there was other elements?
MR. ERELI: There are a number of considerations that go into listing somebody, or listing individuals or groups under the Rewards for Justice Program. They relate to, as you suggest, the crime committed, the nature of the suspected perpetrators, the situation in the country where the crime was committed. So there -- you know, there are a number of criteria that we look at. And when it's determined that a reward for justice is -- a reward is -- would help resolve the situation, and is consistent with where the investigation is and where the attempts to capture these people are, then we decide to go ahead.
QUESTION: On another election, the Georgian elections. Are you pressing the Georgian Government, the Georgian authorities, to get a result announced as soon as possible and to sort out all the irregularities and so on? Nothing much seems to be happening apart from people protesting. In fact, that seems to be deadlocked. Has the United States taken any initiatives to keep up its campaign to get this sorted out?
MR. ERELI: We continue to press the Georgian Government to resolve this election in a responsible and credible way. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Linn Pascoe met today in Tbilisi with President -- with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, as well as with opposition leaders. His meetings will continue tomorrow.
Ambassador Pasco is urging all parties to resolve problems related to finalizing this election for the good of Georgia. We expect the Georgian Government to announce final election results this Thursday, November 20th, which is the deadline for doing so in Georgia's election code.
QUESTION: Did he go there especially to do this? Was this a sort of special mission?
MR. ERELI: The purpose -- yes. The purpose of his travel to Georgia was to raise these issues at a senior level, by a senior official.
QUESTION: Has he been anywhere else or is it just a one -- just to Georgia?
MR. ERELI: I'll check. I don't know his full itinerary.
QUESTION: Well, was the purpose of his trip to the region to go to Georgia, I guess was the question.
MR. ERELI: I'll check. I'll check.
Yes. Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: The Prime Minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be in the town in order to meet with Vice President Cheney November 25th. I'm wondering, do you think there will be any meeting here at the State Department in the meantime?
MR. ERELI: November 25th?
MR. ERELI: I'll look into it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: One more?
QUESTION: Just one. In Saudi Arabia this morning, there was an event by the U.S. Commission on the National Religious Freedom. I understand members of that commission are appointed by the President. They had pretty harsh words for the Saudis and the call for urgent change. My question is: Does the State Department or the Administration really satisfied with the pace, with the rhythm of reform in the Saudi Arabia, or do you want them to accelerate that? Do you --
MR. ERELI: Well, I mean, obviously this is an issue of discussion between our two governments. I'll refer you on the question of -- since you talk about the Committee on Religious Freedom, I'll refer you to our Report on International Religious Freedom, where we talk about that issue with respect to Saudi Arabia as well as with respect to other countries. But as far as specific comment on that, on their -- what they said, I don't have any.
QUESTION: And on the pace of reform in Saudi Arabia?
MR. ERELI: The pace of reform in Saudi Arabia? You know, this is a subject we've addressed pretty extensively. Crown Prince Abdullah has announced some ambitious and important reforms. We acknowledge those, and we trust that what he is doing is something positive and in the interest of -- in the interests of Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can you say anything about the President nominating a new ambassador to Saudi Arabia?
MR. ERELI: I believe that announcement -- that that nomination was announced yesterday from the White House.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Vice President of Syria, Mr. Halim Khaddam, has reinforced the Syrian position that Syria has no intentions whatsoever in helping the Iraqi resistance, and those points were supported by high-ranking officers of the U.S. Army a few weeks ago, that Syria -- there is no such operations of crossing the borders from Syria to -- into Iraq. Can we say that the United States would see a positive element in the Vice President of Syria, his statement last night that Syria has no intentions of helping the resistance in there? Can we see in this a positive element in the dialogue, an ongoing dialogue between the United States and Syria?
MR. ERELI: I haven't seen Vice President Khaddam's statement, so I'm not really in a position to comment on it. Obviously, if a senior Syrian official says that Syria will not support terrorists going from Syria into Iraq to undermine stability there, that's welcome. It's also important that, you know, that those words be backed up by demonstrable actions, number one.
Number two, as far as the dialogue goes, your question about dialogue, I think we've made pretty clear to the Government of Syria what our areas of concern are with regard to a variety of policies that it follows, from support for terrorist organizations that are attacking Israel and those who want peace with Israel, to questions of keeping control on its border with Iraq, to weapons of mass destruction programs.
There are a whole range of issues that we've let Syria know we're concerned about, and have made clear to Syria what kind of action we would like to see taken.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 p.m.)
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