State Department Noon Briefing, December 4, 2003


Thursday  December 4, 2003

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Washington, DC
December 4, 2003

BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- Peace Talks
-- Travel of Acting Assistant Secretary Charles Snyder
-- Secretary Powell's Meeting with Dr. John Garang

-- Travel Warning

-- Secretary Powell's Meeting with Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo
-- Roadmap

-- Possible Expanded Role of NATO
-- Fund for Peace Report

-- IMF Review of Voting Rights
-- President Mugabe/IMF Meeting

-- Interpol Red Notice for Charles Taylor
-- Appropriations Bill Provisions for Withholding Aid

-- Update on Efforts to Schedule Six-Party Talks

-- Genocide Convictions

-- Bombing Near Embassy in Kabul

-- President Paksas Trip Postponed



MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I don't have any announcements and would be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Well, first off, could you say what the State Department thinks about the elections or the negotiations that seem to be in prospect in Sudan, with the rebels saying they will send a delegation to the Sudanese capital Friday, an unprecedented trip to buttress talks in neighboring Kenya on ending the long civil war. Is something -- I imagine you support that. Do you?

MR. ERELI: I've seen the reports you're citing, Barry. I don't have anything, sort of, authoritative from the parties themselves. As you know, there are talks underway between the Sudanese People's Liberation Front and the Government of Sudan to resolve what is the world's longest running and one of the world's most costly, in terms of life and treasure, civil wars.

Those parties have committed to reach an agreement by the end of December. Those commitments have recently been reiterated in meetings with the Secretary and telephone conversations. Our acting Assistant Secretary for African Affairs is in the region working with the parties to facilitate this agreement, and efforts continue apace.

QUESTION: Where is Mr. Snyder?

MR. ERELI: Mr. Snyder is traveling between Sudan and Kenya.

QUESTION: So would he expect -- is he going to participate in this, or via on the satellite (inaudible)?

MR. ERELI: I would say he's working with the parties to help their, to support their efforts.

QUESTION: Do you know when he went or when he's coming back?

MR. ERELI: I can get you the details on that.

QUESTION: Adam, how recently was the Secretary involved on the phone?

MR. ERELI: The Secretary met with Dr. Garang. I believe, we can get the schedule for you, I believe it was two weeks ago. He has had conversations with the negotiators, I believe it was last week.


QUESTION: Change of subject?


QUESTION: The Travel Warning in Saudi Arabia? Is there anything you could add to that in light of yesterday's announcement, I believe it was, of the arrest of one of the November 8th bombers?

MR. ERELI: I think the Travel Warning pretty much speaks for itself. It notes the continued threat information concerning Western housing compounds, and reiterates the need for people to remain vigilant and urges Americans to defer non-essential travel to Saudi Arabia in light of the continuing security situation there.

QUESTION: Is there anything on the arrests you can say?

MR. ERELI: No. I don't have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: Has there been any conversations that the Secretary's had with Saudis in the last few days?


QUESTION: What about Armitage? Nothing?

MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Is Armitage going to discuss Iraq at all or the Middle East with the Deputy Prime Minister of Spain this afternoon?

MR. ERELI: I don't have information on that meeting for you. I can ask.

QUESTION: Is this Deputy Prime Minister or Deputy Foreign Minister?

MR. ERELI: Of Vietnam?

QUESTION: No, of Spain.

MR. ERELI: I don't -- I don't have anything on it for you.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister.

QUESTION: I don't want to beat a dead horse, but I have to kind of here. On the Middle East and the Secretary's meeting tomorrow with Mr. Abed Rabbo and Mr. Beilin, I'm just -- I want to try and get -- to nail down exactly why it is that this meeting is happening and what the threshold is for -- I mean, is it because of who these people are, their previous positions or their current personality status in the Middle East that makes this -- that makes them earn or gives them -- makes the Secretary want to meet with them? Or is it the content of the Geneva initiative itself that makes it -- that makes a meeting worthwhile? Or can anybody who has an alternative -- I mean, suppose Barry and I or someone got together and came up with an idea. Could we get a -- would we merit an audience with the Secretary?

MR. ERELI: You know, that's a real hypothetical that I won't go into. (Laughter.) Most hypotheticals I don't. That one definitely.

But I think, you know, this has been -- this has been very thoroughly addressed every day this week and most of the days last week, most recently by the Secretary in Brussels and by the President today in the White House. And I think the points they make are two. One is the President's vision and the roadmap are what the Administration are committed to. That is what we are energetically involved in pursuing as a way to achieve a Palestinian state and an Israeli state living securely side by side.

There are people with ideas out there that we think are worth listening to, and that's why we're meeting with them.

QUESTION: Yeah, but is it the people themselves that -- or is it the ideas?

MR. ERELI: I guess both.

QUESTION: Okay. So, in other words, if there were, say, somewhat less well-known people behind this, they may not -- you know, they might not be worthy of a meeting with the Secretary?

MR. ERELI: I think these ideas at this time are of interest and worth talking to people about.


QUESTION: To follow up on that, does that mean somehow that the Geneva accords are preferred to the roadmap or --

MR. ERELI: No, it means -- I don't know why you would even suggest that when I very, very clearly, explicitly stated today, yesterday and the day before, and when the Secretary very clearly and explicitly stated that today and the day before, that the President's vision and the roadmap are what we're committed to, that's our focus, that's the way forward. And nothing that we do should be construed as diluting that commitment or wavering in that commitment.

QUESTION: You're having enough trouble selling the roadmap. The Israeli Prime Minister has accepted it with reservations, this plan, which I don't think is unofficial, because the Palestinian is an official Palestinian. He says the plan has Arafat's support. This plan is known. I mean, its provisions are well known, and they're -- and the Prime Minister of Israel is opposed to the process.

So why would Mr. Powell and Mr. Wolfowitz and whoever else is going to get into this, why would they risk causing more problems to an already delicate and troubled roadmap by giving an audience to a plan that goes far beyond anything the Israeli Government -- I can't say would never accept, you never know -- but that goes far beyond the Israeli Government's positions on these issues?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. I would take issue, Barry, with your suggestion that somehow the roadmap doesn't have support or is faltering in any way.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. ERELI: The fact is that both the Palestinians and the Israelis have very publicly and repeatedly stated their support for the roadmap, stated their commitment to the roadmap, as the way forward.

The Quartet, and the international community as represented by the Quartet, is actively engaged in helping the parties to move forward on the roadmap. And this Administration is foursquare behind that effort, and nothing that we are doing should be seen as a lessening of that commitment.

QUESTION: But wait a minute. But the main point, whether there is a disagreement on how vibrant the roadmap is and how healthy it might be, to be implemented it requires two parties. It requires the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli leadership. The Israeli leadership is dead set against this private plan, or whatever it is, this non-official plan.

Why, again, I'm asking, would you give an audience and a reading and a hearing to a plan that one of the two leaderships you need to implement the roadmap is hotly against?

MR. ERELI: Because, as the Secretary --

QUESTION: Wouldn't this antagonize Israel still further?

MR. ERELI: As the Secretary said, our interest in talking to these people is because they've got ideas that are out there that are worthy of discussing, that are not inconsistent with a commitment to pursue peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as is laid out in the roadmap. So one should not exclude the other.

QUESTION: Okay, I won't belabor it. I mean, you don't get -- one doesn't get access to the Secretary of State and the Deputy Secretary of Defense by simply having some ideas. I mean, there are ideas all -- there's world federalism. I mean, there are all sorts of ideas out there. There are ideas -- I mean, you know, there are ideas for -- on every subject under the sun. And it just isn't that easy to get the Secretary of State to share his time, which is limited, to every idea that comes along the pike, unless you have a motive. Your motive could be to promote these ideas. Your motive could be to, you know, sort of needle the Israeli Government by showing them that you're open to ideas that are far removed from those they like, so maybe they'll take something that's closer to what you want.

I don't know what your motive is, but the nonchalance of all this is unbelievable, as if the Secretary of State, you know, nice fellow that he is, is always willing to talk over ideas with people who have ideas. (Laughter.) I don't know about Matt's peace plan, but, you know, we have a -- we can come up with a plan to remodel the press office. You know, will he -- can we have an hour of his time tomorrow?

MR. ERELI: We believe that this is -- and the Secretary believes--that this is an appropriate thing to do, and the Administration believes it's an appropriate thing to do, and let's just leave it at that.

Any other subjects? I'm surprised. Elise.

QUESTION: I know this was discussed in depth in Brussels today, but the Secretary spoke about possible discussions with NATO about taking a larger role in Iraq or helping, as you've said before, to backfill resources. Could you discuss a little bit about what possible role NATO might take?

MR. ERELI: I think we're at a very early stage, quite frankly. What we've noted is that there -- of the NATO countries, I believe 18 are already participating in some fashion in Iraq to help support security and stability there. There's a recognition that the security and stability of Iraq is something that the international community has a vital and direct stake in, and NATO, as one of the world's -- as the world's, perhaps, preeminent alliance, certainly is a part of that effort.

I think they are looking at ways to do more. We obviously welcome and encourage that. We want to see the international community more involved in Iraq. NATO has expressed support for considering an expanded role in or an enhanced role in Iraq. They are looking at options and we'll be working with them as they do that.

QUESTION: Well, what kind of role would you like to see NATO take? Is it -- is it to supplement the coalition forces or is it to take a larger, more formal role?

MR. ERELI: I'd say, look, it's not up to us to dictate or tell NATO what its role should be. It has to be a discussion by NATO among the NATO members about what they think they can and should do. And let's let them work that out and we'll support them.

QUESTION: Another issue. Russia is coming up to elections. There are allegations of irregularities. Do you have something to say about --

MR. ERELI: Russian elections?


MR. ERELI: I don't have anything on Russian elections.

QUESTION: Duma elections.

MR. ERELI: Don't have anything on it.


MR. ERELI: Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Does the United States take a position whether Zimbabwe should be expelled from the IMF, as the IMF board seems to be preparing to do? I presume that you are in favor of this, as you're on the board, but --

MR. ERELI: Yeah, I checked into this before coming out here, Matt, and this is what I was able to come up with. I don't know if it's going to satisfy you.

But, in June of 2003, the IMF suspended Zimbabwe's voting rights because of its failure to pay its arrears. Yesterday, the IMF reviewed that decision and decided to keep the suspension in place. I'm not aware of any other activity or plans for additional IMF action against Zimbabwe.

QUESTION: Okay, and on a related matter. Realizing that you're not a member of the commonwealth but you have said things about this before, what does -- I presume you're happy with the fact that they didn't invite Mugabe to the meeting in Nigeria.

MR. ERELI: Yeah, I wasn't aware of that. But, I mean, we believe that, you know, Zimbabwe's actions have made it a pariah in the international community.


QUESTION: Could I ask --

QUESTION: No, wait. Okay, as we stay just on Nigeria, does the United States believe that the Government of Nigeria should respond to this -- I don't want to say arrest warrant because you're going to say that it's not an arrest warrant -- I'm aware of that -- but whatever this red thing, whatever the Interpol put out --

MR. ERELI: A red notice.

QUESTION: A red notice, yes, for Charles Taylor.

MR. ERELI: The international -- or Interpol issued today an international wanted person notice, otherwise known as a "red notice," for Charles Taylor. We believe that this is yet another sign that international attention on Charles Taylor is increasing. Our position has not changed.

We believe that Charles Taylor must be held accountable for his actions. He should address the charges against him in the Special Court for Sierra Leone. At the present time, he is challenging the jurisdiction of the Special Court, and we expect a decision on this challenge before the year's end.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, that's all very well and good, but what about the Nigerians?

MR. ERELI: He's in Nigeria. Nigeria -- and we're very grateful for this -- agreed to accept Taylor in exile, in order to prevent further bloodshed in Liberia. And they are -- we are -- I think, we and Nigeria share the same goal of seeing Charles Taylor held accountable, and we will work together to achieve that end.

QUESTION: Yeah. But do you think that they should act on this Interpol red notice?

MR. ERELI: This Interpol -- I think we should let the judicial process take its course. There are charges against him at the Special Tribunal, the Special Court. He's challenging that jurisdiction, and a decision is expected shortly.

QUESTION: Yeah. But that doesn't --

QUESTION: Nigeria.

QUESTION: The two things don't square, Adam, because you say that he's challenging it; but then, at the same time, you say that he has to address the charges. So, I mean, would you -- if, for some reason, the court comes back and says that it's not -- it's not in this Special Court's jurisdiction, don't you still think that -- you still think that he should face the charges against him, right?

MR. ERELI: Let's wait. Let's wait to see what the court decides.

QUESTION: Does Nigeria have any obligations to -- you know, to turn him in, if Interpol issues this kind of a warrant?

MR. ERELI: This warrant -- my understanding is, this isn't a warrant, first of all, and it doesn't obligate any government to take action. What it does is it allows -- it gives national police an additional tool to make a provisional -- provisional arrest, but the decision to do so is one that is made by the local authorities.

QUESTION: But Nigeria has responded, Adam, and said that it doesn't lean towards handing Taylor over to Interpol. That's what a spokesman for --

MR. ERELI: Right.

QUESTION: -- President Obasanjo said today. So that doesn't -- that doesn't seem to be promising.

MR. ERELI: I wouldn't draw that conclusion. I wouldn't draw from that the conclusion that Nigeria doesn't support bringing Charles Taylor to justice.

QUESTION: But it's not going to do anything to facilitate that?

MR. ERELI: No, I didn't say that either.

QUESTION: So you believe that Nigeria is willing to hand over Taylor, if they -- if a stronger arrest notice is put out, or an arrest warrant?

MR. ERELI: I really don't want to be the position of speaking for the Government of Nigeria. But we believe, we and Nigeria share an interest in seeing Charles Taylor brought to justice for his actions. That is a process that involves a lot of steps, a lot of legal steps.

This is one of the pieces of the puzzle. If there is not action taken immediately in response to this, one should not draw the conclusion that people are somehow unwilling to, or have lost their commitment to seeing Charles Taylor brought to justice.

QUESTION: Do you know, Adam, on the Nigeria question, if you have been successful in getting the language removed from the appropriations bill on withholding aid if countries --

MR. ERELI: I believe that passed, but I'll have to check and make sure.

QUESTION: It passed with it in?

MR. ERELI: I believe so. But I'm not absolutely sure, so let me check.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Is Nigeria proceeding at a pace the U.S. approves, dealing with the Taylor matter, in handling the Taylor situation?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. We are working well and productively with Nigeria on this issue.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Korea? There were -- I know there were delegations coming, Japanese, South Korean. Could you bring us -- I think the talks were to -- lined up today maybe, maybe you can give us some sort of update?

MR. ERELI: Sure. Let me give you the ticktock. There are three meetings at the Department today. At 11 a.m., there was a bilateral meeting between Japan and the Republic of Korea; at 12:30, there began a U.S.-Japan working lunch; and at 3 p.m., there will be held a U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea trilateral meeting.

Yesterday, we had a bilateral meeting with the Republic of South Korea, and in all of these meetings we were discussing the next round of six-party talks.

QUESTION: The trilateral, that's Kelly presiding, or Kelly --


QUESTION: Okay. I'm sure you're aware of The Wall Street Journal story. What's the Chinese impact on your scheduling of the six-party talks?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. Let me say very clearly that we are ready to meet without preconditions. We support an early resumption of the talks, and we're optimistic that the next round can be taking place in the near future.

There are intensive diplomatic discussions and efforts currently underway to achieve a second round of talks. We are in close contact with all the parties. We are discussing a number of ideas about how to make a second round of talks more productive. I would say that, you know, all participants in the talks are coordinating to bring them to pass.

QUESTION: Well, China's -- you may disagree with this, but China's sort of had an up front role.

MR. ERELI: That's --

QUESTION: That's quite --

MR. ERELI: That's indisputable.

QUESTION: Okay. And, of course, they were the host, et cetera. Have they presented a schedule or an approach or whatever you want to call it, a way of holding the talks? You know, friends can disagree. I mean, is that something that is causing some ripples of -- you know, ripples of discussion, if not disagreement, here?

MR. ERELI: As I said, Barry, we're discussing a number of ideas with all our partners, but I really don't want to get into the specifics of these discussions.

QUESTION: Well, if everything was -- I mean, would it be fair to say if everything was going smoothly the talks would be held as scheduled, as tentatively anticipated, on December 17th, right?

MR. ERELI: Well, you know, this December 17th date was put out there, but I don't think anybody in any position of knowledge or authority has given people reason to believe that the December 17th dates were serious. So I would say that, you know, as the Secretary said, you can't postpone something that hasn't been scheduled, number one. And number two is, this is complicated, it takes time.

QUESTION: And the State Department's definition of "near future," would that extend, at least, till February?

MR. ERELI: I'll leave those words where they are.

QUESTION: Well, you were saying this year, now you're saying near future.

MR. ERELI: Yeah. We'd like --

QUESTION: I mean, you know, we follow words and we know words are used artfully and by some consideration. You don't just pluck them out of a hat, out of the air. Now, if you're talking about near future, it strikes me that you're beginning to -- the State Department is beginning to give ground on its expectation of talks within this month.

MR. ERELI: We're ready to start talks as soon as possible.


MR. ERELI: We're working with the parties to make that happen. And I don't want to get in the speculation game of when that will happen. I think, as the Secretary said, we're optimistic that it can happen in the near future.

QUESTION: Are you prepared to offer North Korea, in advance, the language of the security guarantee so that they'll sign on to a date?

MR. ERELI: Like I said, Elise, I don't want to talk about the details or conduct the discussions from the podium.

QUESTION: Well, what's delaying the setting of a date? Is that --

MR. ERELI: I wouldn't say there's anything delaying the setting a date. We're ready to go. North Korea has not yet agreed to a date. Ask North Korea.

QUESTION: I'm curious as to why you opened this whole thing with the "Let me make this clear, we are ready to meet without preconditions." Are you --

MR. ERELI: Well, because the suggestion --

QUESTION: Are you ready to meet with preconditions?

MR. ERELI: The suggestion was in the article cited, as well as in the other questioning, is that somehow what's being held up is the United States refusing to do something that other people are calling for. And what we're saying is there aren't any -- or that the talks have, you know, hit a snag. What we're saying is there aren't any preconditions here. So it's not that we're, you know, standing in the way of something. We're ready for talks.

QUESTION: So I just want to make sure your point that the without precondition means, or even North Korea in advance showed any preparation to renounce the nuclear weapon -- you can take the -- you know, you can take the table?

MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. Could you repeat that?

QUESTION: You say that without precondition.

MR. ERELI: Right.

QUESTION: You said that you are ready to go without precondition. That means so even, you know, without any pledge by North Korea in advance, you know, renouncing of the nuclear weapon, you can go to Beijing and take -- share the table. Is that your position?

MR. ERELI: I'll leave it where I had it before. We're ready to go without preconditions.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the verdict yesterday, the Rwandan war crimes (inaudible)?

MR. ERELI: I would note that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda convicted three media leaders yesterday. They were convicted of genocide, incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity for the direct role they played through radio and newspaper broadcasts and articles in spurring the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which over 800,000 people were killed.

The tribunal ruled clearly that these public incitements led directly to massacres and that they violated international humanitarian law. Such acts, the court ruled, are intolerable uses of the media.

This ruling is a warning worldwide that those who would commit such acts will face justice.

QUESTION: Even if there's no special court for them?

MR. ERELI: If you do these things, you'll face justice.

QUESTION: There are some that have said that this causes a chilling effect on free speech and media. Does the Administration share those concerns?

MR. ERELI: I think the court ruled that there was a clear link between criminal use of the media and massacres, and in that sense the ruling was appropriate.

QUESTION: So you do not believe that there is any chilling effect on freedom of speech or expression?

MR. ERELI: I would say we --

QUESTION: Which is something that you guys are going to push very hard to get against some opposition in Geneva at this Information Summit.

MR. ERELI: I would say we support the ruling of the tribunal in this case.

QUESTION: And are you meaning to suggest, by saying that this is a clear signal, that the United States or the U.S. proxies might start looking into trying media figures for other cases of incitement, perhaps in the Middle East where you've had --

MR. ERELI: I don't mean to signal that.

QUESTION: No? Not Iraq?

MR. ERELI: I'm speaking -- that is not my intent.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. ERELI: Yes, Tammy.

QUESTION: In Kabul, there was an explosion of -- which was reported, I believe, to be a rocket attack in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul earlier today. Do you have any information about it, whether the embassy was, in fact, targeted? I think ISAF's also in the area.

MR. ERELI: Yeah. I don't really have much I can share with you. What we know is that at about 4:15 -- I'm sorry. We know that today a rocket blast occurred about 300 yards from the U.S. Embassy. There were no injuries. There was no damage to embassy property. We are reviewing our security posture and looking at the circumstances of this blast, but don't really have anything, sort of, conclusive that we can share with you now.

QUESTION: So it's unclear whether the embassy was the target?

MR. ERELI: Yeah, I would say so.


QUESTION: Do you know anything about the cancellation of the military exercise with Taiwan?


QUESTION: And is it correct that the United States suggested to the President of Lithuania that he postpone his visit to the United States to meet with the President because of problems at home?

MR. ERELI: That's not correct. I think, on December 4th, President Paksas announced in a press release that he was postponing his trip to Washington for December 8th. This is a decision that he made on his own, not -- for his own reasons.

I would just have the following to say about this decision: Number one, that the government and people of Lithuania have been valued partners of the United States in our common efforts in the war on terrorism and our joint elections efforts in Iraq, as well as on the issues of transatlantic relations. We respect his decision, and we look forward to welcoming him to the United States at an early opportunity as soon as circumstances permit.

QUESTION: Even if he's impeached?

MR. ERELI: As soon as circumstances permit.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you welcome him, or would you welcome any president of Lithuania?

MR. ERELI: We welcome the visit of the President of Lithuania, as soon as circumstances permit.

QUESTION: All right. Well, you don't -- you don't take any -- never mind. His legal problems notwithstanding --

QUESTION: How about the vice president, if the president somehow can't make it?

Could you logistically tell us how this meeting will -- with Secretary Powell -- will take place tomorrow, because there's a Wolfowitz angle?

There have been rumors, reports that it's a joint session. Will the Secretary see the two architects separately from other U.S. officials, and when might this happen tomorrow?

MR. ERELI: I'll have to look into the details for you, Barry. I think it will take place tomorrow morning sometime. But the specific choreography, let me look into for you.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Have you seen the Fund for Peace report on Iraq? They had a few suggestions for the Administration --

MR. ERELI: Just a few?


QUESTION: Just a few, and some (inaudible). Do you have any response to that report?

MR. ERELI: I haven't seen the report.

QUESTION: Can you say anything about any new Governing Council members coming -- coming to America, coming to the United States to meet with the Secretary, or any U.S. officials?

MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of. I mean, there are Governing Council members who are here on a fairly regular basis, but I'm not up on the latest travel, their latest travel plans.

Thank you.

(The briefing ended at 1:40 p.m.)


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