State Department Noon Briefing, January 13, 2004
|Tuesday January 13,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
TUESDAY, JANUARY 13, 2004
QUESTION: Well, the President is going to make an exception of Canada insofar as getting primary contracts, at least in the next round in Iraq. Are there other countries that might be treated similarly? Do you know?
MR. ERELI: I think we've always made it clear in discussing this issue of eligibility for prime contracts in Iraq that circumstances can change. I think what the President said in Mexico today was that Canada has made clear its commitment to the vision of a free Iraq, and it is in recognition of that commitment that they're eligible for bidding on contracts, I think, in the second tranche of contracts that will be coming out on Iraq.
In answer to your question, Barry, we've always said circumstances can change. If there are new developments with respect to other countries, we would certainly take that into consideration and report it.
QUESTION: Well, you cited one explanation, I mean, as Canada's support for a free Iraq. Don't Germany and France and Russia, maybe, support a free Iraq?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, you know, I'm not going to sort of get into what the specific criteria for these decisions are. I think I'd let the President's words speak for themselves. He said that Canada has been -- had been very strong supporters of the Madrid Conference, they want Iraq to succeed, they want Iraq to be free, and they understand the stakes of having a free country in the Middle East. So I'd just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Canadian officials said that France and Germany, French and German companies, were also likely to be allowed to bid on prime contracts in Iraq. Do you -- is that right, or is that just wrong and they're misinformed?
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything to report in terms of likelihood or unlikelihood of other announcements in this area being made.
QUESTION: Is it anticipated that the second tranche -- and this may have been addressed, but I missed it -- would be paid for -- those contracts would be coming from U.S. taxpayer money?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, we're talking about -- when we're talking about the money for the contracts, it's the $18 -- coming from the $18 billion.
QUESTION: Oh, it's still that? Okay.
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: It's not an additional?
MR. ERELI: No.
MR. ERELI: Yes, Adi.
QUESTION: As far as I understood it, of the $18 billion, $14 has been doled out in various ways through RFPs, $1.8 through USAID. The other $4 billion of the $18 has been delayed until after June, and so we're talking about the $4 billion, then, right?
MR. ERELI: Right. I don't really want to get into a detailed discussion of this, of the numbers because that process is being managed through the Program Management Office run by the Department of Defense. They can give you the latest tally on sort of what's been tendered, what has yet to be tendered, and who has done the tendering and who has done -- and what awards have been given. So it is a process that has begun. There is some money -- a portion of the $18 billion that has been obligated or put aside for certain contracts. There's another portion that hasn't. But what those specific amounts are, I'd refer you to DOD.
QUESTION: The President talked about, Canada was in support of the Madrid Conference. So is he saying that in the future, that countries who may want to become eligible for prime contracts, that they first need to take measures in reference to Iraqi debt relief? Is that what he's trying to say?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't read more into it than what he said. And for, sort of, interpreting the President's comments, I'd refer you to the White House. I think the key point we're making here is that by its actions and by what it has demonstrated, Canada has shown a serious commitment to Iraq, and to the future of Iraq, and to the stability of Iraq, and that is something that we are responding to.
QUESTION: Adam, do you know offhand what Canada's contribution was in Madrid?
MR. ERELI: I don't. I don't know offhand.
QUESTION: I have a question --
QUESTION: But that's the reason why?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't say there is --
QUESTION: But that's part of the reason --
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't say that is the reason why.
QUESTION: But it's part of the reason why? Their generous contribution?
MR. ERELI: I would say -- I would say their contribution and their important role in Madrid, which goes beyond money. It also means -- it also goes to political and diplomatic support and an expression of commitment to Iraq. It's not all -- it's not all tangible.
QUESTION: Adam, I have a second question concerning Iraq. Apparently, U.S. troops have been attacking with, I guess, justification, various mosques, and they found weapons a week and a half ago stored there. And they've just arrested a Imam in Tikrit who has been inciting, I guess, out and out war against U.S. troops. Has there been a change?
And I guess some months ago, I asked Secretary Powell what your State Department was doing with respect to Islamic leaders. There's a conference being held in Qatar now. Are you sending a representative there or monitoring that particular conference?
MR. ERELI: I don't have any information to share with you on the conference you mentioned. I think, obviously, there are a number of positive developments going on in the Middle East in terms of democracy and citizen participation in the democratization process, both in Qatar, in the Gulf, and elsewhere, and we are very much a part of that process, both encouraging, facilitating and supporting where we can and where it's welcome.
On the subject of insurgency in Iraq, I think, you know, you talk about specific actions. I'd refer you to DOD for those details on what was done where, and why. I don't have that kind of information, but what I can tell you is that, you know, we've made it clear that the security situation in Iraq is one of the three key areas that we're focusing on, along with economic reconstruction and political transition.
I think we're making important strides in the security area. I think we're seeing that the number of attacks go down. We've had some important successes, many of which you're all familiar with. But it is a -- going to be a long slog. It's going to require sacrifice. We recognize the lives that have been lost, and we are committed to seeing this through.
QUESTION: Yeah. On the subject of political transition, there was a report this morning that the United -- that you would alter your plans for the selection of the transitional government, basically, because of the strong or the inflexibility of Ayatollah Sistani. Is that correct? And if it is, how exactly do you intend to simplify or make the process more transparent?
MR. ERELI: I don't have a lot of details on the intricacies of the political process in Iraq for you. What I can give you are some, sort of, general guidelines. I think the most important thing to say in this area, of which there has been some doubt expressed, is that --
QUESTION: Before you go on to this --
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- can you say is it true that you're planning to alter the --
MR. ERELI: That's what I'm going to --
QUESTION: Right. So can you say? Can you give a yes or no answer to that, and then go on to the --
MR. ERELI: I'll answer it this way. There has been some doubt expressed as to where we stand on the November 15th agreement. Let us be clear that the November 15th agreement was endorsed by all of the parties of the Iraq Governing Council. It is -- it remains the plan that we, and the people of Iraq, are moving forward on to respond to their desire to see an accelerated transfer of sovereignty. The plan provides for that transfer of sovereignty to take place by the end of June. All parties agree that that plan is still operative and is still the basis for what we're working on.
Now, that plan has certain provisions, one of which is the selection of a transitional assembly that would -- in mid-March. There are -- there is discussion on how exactly those -- that assembly would be selected. We are engaged with different parties in Iraq in those discussions.
But I wouldn't want to lead anybody to think that somehow the November 15th agreement has been put aside and we're starting over again.
QUESTION: But --
QUESTION: When you say --
QUESTION: So, wait, wait --
MR. ERELI: Let's go -- Matt, follow-up.
QUESTION: Yeah, just -- so the answer is yes, you are considering -- there are -- that you may -- you may revise the initial process -- the initial -- what had been planned as the initial process to select the assembly, because of that, the situation on the ground and the attitudes of certain people there?
MR. ERELI: Let's be clear. We're not talking about rewriting the November 15th agreement.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, I didn't suggest that.
MR. ERELI: There can be discussions with -- there can be discussions with different parties in Iraq about the modalities or the technicalities, if you will, of how caucuses are conducted, how indirect elections are conducted, and to ensure that it meets the needs of both transparency and openness, and at the same time, an accelerated timetable, which is what the Iraqis want. So there is a method that is both legitimate and transparent and meets the outline of the November 15th agreement that we believe we can arrive at.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, though, you have no plans to meet Ayatollah Sistani's demand that that transitional assembly be selected through direct elections?
MR. ERELI: You know, I would point to what Ambassador Bremer said today in his meetings with the press, where he pointed out a number of aspects of direct elections that made it hard to have them and, at the same time, meet the accelerated timetable.
The -- you know, he noted that in Iraq at the present time, you know, there are basically technical limitations to having full-blown, direct elections. There is no electoral law. There are no political party laws. There is no census. There is no voter registration. There are no electoral constituencies. There are just none of the things that you need to conduct a, you know, a general election that, I guess, would meet the criteria of "transparent and fair."
So that's just a -- that's a statement of fact.
QUESTION: So the bottom line is that you're quite happy or you're willing to talk about changing the nature of the caucuses, but that you view full-blown, direct elections as an impossibility, given the timeline --
MR. ERELI: I would say we are engaged with, as part of the democratic process, the wide diversity of views there are in Iraq in order to meet -- to meet the twin goals of timeliness and legitimacy, and that there's a way to do that.
QUESTION: Excuse me, wide diversity of views. I thought -- while Mr. Bremer says they haven't had a census in nearly 20 years, there are estimates that the Shiites are 60 percent of the population. And he says, you know, democracy, the majority rules. So I -- and this is a war that was hard fought for all sorts of principles, presumably.
How do you have it if -- on the one hand, you're speaking of a, the State Department's speaking of a diversity of views; and on the other hand, it's acknowledging that the Shiites may control the country. Is there some conflict here? Do I misunderstand?
MR. ERELI: I didn't say anybody controls the country.
QUESTION: No, I know you didn't. You spoke of a diversity of views --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I mean, Iraq is a pluralistic, multiethnic society. I think that it just follows from that logically that there are diversity of views on a whole host of issues, one of which is not, however, the November 15th agreement, which has the endorsement of the Governing Council, which represents the full range of Iraqi constituents.
QUESTION: Well, I understand all that. And I understand what you said. But I also understood Bremer as saying that; you know, in democracy, the majority rules. That's the way it is. We don't question that. So how do you, in your plan, or in a revised plan, take account of a diversity and try to maintain diversity, while at the same time, having majority rule? I don't see how you can do both. Unless you have some -- some special --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I would -- I think I just would simply say there is a way to do it. It's something that, you know, every nascent democracy has to work its way through, and it's a process. There are a number of elements of that process. I think, you know, the administrative law is an element, the direct elections for a constitutional assembly is an element, the indirect elections for the transitional assembly is an element. You've got to look at it in toto and not just at one moment in the process.
QUESTION: One other thing, please. This Ayatollah, who is -- issued these demands beginning on Sunday --
MR. ERELI: The Grand Ayatollah Sistani.
QUESTION: The Grand, Very Grand Ayatollah -- has -- he is described in press accounts as a moderate, but he's also described as somebody that doesn't want to speak to Bremer. Is that true?
MR. ERELI: I'm not -- I can't comment on, sort of, the channels of communication. What I can say is that the Grand Ayatollah is a man of great stature whom we respect, and whom we recognize as an important leader in Iraq, and whose opinion we take very, very seriously.
QUESTION: Well, but -- I thank you, and that helps, but what I'm trying to say is, if you're having discussions internally and with Iraqis about fine-tuning your plan, in light of what he has said, partly, how do you have discourse with him? Or do you talk to him?
MR. ERELI: I think they're -- I think we are able to fully understand and appreciate his views and fully communicate our views that they are also understood and appreciated.
QUESTION: In reference to this possible tweaking of the caucus system, is it your understanding that it needs to be put into the fundamental law, which is supposed to -- it's to be put in place on February 28th -- that you have a deadline of February 28th in order to, sort of, have this possible tweaking of the caucus system delineated into the fundamental law. Is that your understanding? Does it need to be put into this fundamental law?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't make that assumption. I think what is clear, however, is that the administrative law is obviously going to be -- there is going to be a relationship between what the fundamental -- the administrative law, and, you know, what comes afterwards in "direct elections" elections. But, you know, precisely -- the precise sequencing of this, I wouldn't be able to respond to with the degree of specificity that you're looking for.
QUESTION: And what is the role of the UN in all of this? I mean, you have the letter, a confidential letter, from Mr. Hakim to Annan late last year -- I think it was on the 20th or 29th. You have his response to that, on this subject of caucuses versus direct elections. Where -- what is the role of the United Nations, and do you see this as the major issue that will dominate the discussions on Monday at the UN?
MR. ERELI: It is one -- I would say a couple of things: One, the UN has a very important role to play in this. Number two; it will be one of the issues of our discussions on Friday. Number three, I think it's important to point out to the --
QUESTION: On this Friday?
MR. ERELI: January 19th. Monday. Sorry. It was last Friday we had talks. And the third point is that the UN has a lot of expertise in electoral processes, in setting up systems, election commissions, election bodies, monitoring elections, helping people set up regulations. The whole infrastructure of democracy is something that the UN does very well.
So we clearly think that, you know, both in the indirect election process, as well as the direct election process, as well as the constitution writing process, there is an important part for the UN to play, and we are looking to help them fulfill that role.
QUESTION: You're two days away now from the meeting. Any idea who the U.S. representative will be?
MR. ERELI: Nothing to share with you today.
Yes, Elise has had a question for a long time.
QUESTION: Is it okay if I follow that up quickly?
MR. ERELI: Elise, do you yield? Yes.
QUESTION: So are you saying that as you look at revising, or fine-tuning, or tweaking, or whatever the word of choice is today, the plan, that the UN, because of what you call its expertise, may have a role in trying to work out some compromise with the Ayatollah?
MR. ERELI: I think what we're looking for is for the UN to be a partner with the coalition and the Iraqis in standing up a democracy in that country. And that's what we're trying to achieve.
QUESTION: But, in this -- but in this caucus process? Or not?
MR. ERELI: Sure. I mean it's -- sure. We want -- you know, if they go there now, they would definitely --
QUESTION: Yeah? Maybe you could also send some Democrats from Iowa.
MR. ERELI: We could, we could. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Might be able to help them out.
MR. ERELI: Not mutually exclusive.
QUESTION: No, but seriously --
QUESTION: -- if they can go there now?
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, first of all, apparently, the UN is saying it's going to send a team, a small team, back.
MR. ERELI: I've heard that.
QUESTION: Yeah. So I presume you're happy with that. But do you see the UN -- you see a definite role for the UN in the process of how the Iraqis select their transitional assembly?
MR. ERELI: I think the UN -- in that process, the UN would have a role to play, yeah.
QUESTION: Would or could?
MR. ERELI: Would.
QUESTION: We've talked --
MR. ERELI: Yes. I'm sorry. Elise is -- Elise, please.
QUESTION: We've talked about this before, but because Bremer reiterated that, you know, majority rules and things like that, a lot of Shiites in the majority are calling for some type of theocracy in the country. And how -- I mean, how much of a factor in setting up this caucus system is the U.S. trying to avoid Shiites voting for some kind of major theocracy in the country?
MR. ERELI: We are not trying to structure the outcome of anything. I think what we are trying to do is we are trying -- and this is what you see in the November 15th agreement -- a process that is responsive to the Iraqis' desire to accelerate the transfer of sovereignty. And the November 15th agreement is what, I guess, that process of consultation produced. It's not designed to produce an outcome other than giving Iraq back to the Iraqis.
QUESTION: But does the U.S. --
MR. ERELI: And as far as, you know, the idea of a theocracy goes, I think that's really something that's going to be addressed in the administrative -- in the administrative law and the constitution. And, ultimately, how Iraq is governed and on what basis it's governed, and how its society is structured is going to be a process that the Iraqis are going to determine for themselves.
QUESTION: First, I need a clarification. Do you consider the wire service reporters to be Grand Ayatollahs? I mean, there seems to be too much attention, and a direct dialogue without raising hands, and they just start and why we are sitting here and saying, "Oh, oh, oh, I'm here."
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: I think you should take questions in sequence and go the second and third round.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: No, really.
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: Can we vote on that? (Laughter.)
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. Please. I take your point.
QUESTION: There seems to be a dialogue here, people starting just like that and you start engaging them. Question is, I think what the Grand Ayatollah Sistani is asking for, is an elected constituent assembly to frame the constitution. He doesn't want the constitution to be framed by U.S., hand-picked people, because once you have a constitution, you are stuck with it, and that, the constitution governs the system of government whether it be democracy or dictatorship.
So I think he's right that while your full--, you know, your technical difficulties for full-blown direct elections may be there, but I think the constituent assembly election, holding it directly, shouldn't pose any problem because they will not be governing. I mean, the governing assembly will govern it.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I would -- I mean, I would refer you -- I don't want to speak for the Grand Ayatollah. He can -- I mean, what he --
QUESTION: Well, I think -- okay.
MR. ERELI: I would refer you to what he said. I would refer you to him for what he said, or his people.
The November 15th agreement calls for direct elections for an assembly to write a constitution, so that's already there.
QUESTION: Adam, there seem to be more immediate needs. Down in Basra, which is down in the southeast in Iraq, there seems to be some protests for lack of jobs and many of the population are just sitting around with their hands tied just doing nothing, accomplishing nothing, and they want to get working and help their families. Is there anything that USAID or other groups, such as the NGOs, are doing to lessen that plight right now?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I mean, I can't -- I'm not prepared right now to give you a sort of full readout on all the sort of -- on all the economic reconstruction activities that are there, that are going on, but they are extensive and having quite an impact. I mean, I would note that, for example, cell phone service began last week in Iraq -- the first time that cell phones have been available there in 35 years. I think that's --
QUESTION: Well, Adam, I'm sorry. No one had cell phones 35 years ago.
MR. ERELI: Okay. First time cell phones have been available in Iraq since the availability of cell phones -- since the availability of cell phones, period.
I would also note that, you know, power has long ago been restored to above pre-war levels, that we are employing an ever increasing numbers of Iraqis -- the number is well over 100,000 -- in police and security services.
So, I mean, we recognize the need to provide for jobs, the need to provide for jobs, the importance of gainfully employing a large, idle population. I think that that's going to be the focus of our activity. We're making progress. But, you know, it's a long-term thing.
Yes. I'm sorry; Teri has had a question for a while.
QUESTION: That's okay. I was going to ask about the UN team going back in, but anyway, on -- can I change the subject now, everyone?
MR. ERELI: Finished with Iraq?
QUESTION: Yes. There are reports that Iran is continuing to obtain uranium enriching equipment and that they say that this is not covered by the IAEA restrictions, nor their promise to suspend such programs for the time being. Do you have any idea if the U.S. -- U.S. believes they are continuing to obtain equipment and what you might able to do about it?
MR. ERELI: You know, I had not seen those reports, frankly. We, you know, our position is very clear. They have signed the additional protocol. They have committed to meeting the -- meeting their requirements as laid out by the IAEA Board of Governors.
That requires sort of continued verification, continued disclosures. We will be looking to them to meet those commitments. And without speaking to your specific question or the specific reports, you know, obviously any sort of -- any deviation from those commitments would be viewed very seriously.
QUESTION: I think they're saying there's a loophole -- that they can still acquire equipment as long as they don't enrich. Could you see if you have anything?
MR. ERELI: I'd have to see.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout of Deputy Secretary Kelly's -- I mean, Armitage's meeting this morning with the Chinese envoy?
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?
QUESTION: Yeah. It's usually better to interrupt before I finish the question, though.
QUESTION: I -- I didn't know --
MR. ERELI: It's okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So today the reformists in their government, some of them are threatening to resign. Do you think that's something that the United States would encourage, or do you think they should not follow through on their threat?
MR. ERELI: No, I think what the United States encourages is listening to the voice of the Iranian people. And we encourage free and fair elections. That's our position. That, I would simply say that decisions about who should govern the country in Iran are best made by the citizens of that country through an open and transparent process.
We noted yesterday that there are attempts to, I think, limit that process or curtail the openness of that process by excluding certain candidates; and it was our view that those attempts should be disavowed by the government.
QUESTION: And by continuing to express the U.S. views, don't you think there might be a risk that you're playing into the hands of the Governing Council, undermining the reformists, because they become viewed as pro-American and having American support?
MR. ERELI: I mean, we are stating our position as a matter of principle that applies everywhere -- not to one country or another country. So what we're saying in terms of support for free and fair elections and the people of the country being the best -- the source for determining who governs the country is a universal standard that we apply everywhere.
QUESTION: Am I correct in thinking that it was -- that there was no change in -- your opinion since yesterday hasn't changed? That's basically what you said yesterday.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: That is correct? Okay. And do you regard what you're doing now, in answering a question about what the U.S. thinks about this, as continuing to insist on your view?
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry, I don't understand.
QUESTION: Well I, it's just an unusual question that -- to ask what your opinion is and then to suggest that you might be playing into the hands of someone else by answering the question.
I'm just curious if you see it that way. I mean, would you have not answered the question or said, "Our position hasn't changed since yesterday," which is basically what it was, if you weren't -- if you weren't insisting on the U.S. position?
MR. ERELI: What I'll do today is what I did yesterday and which I'll do tomorrow, which is, I will be -- I will happily and confidently state the position of the Government of the United States.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Matt. North Korea. Sorry. The Deputy Secretary's meeting with Mrs. Fu Ying.
Deputy Secretary Armitage today met with Chinese Director General for Asian Affairs Fu Ying. They discussed the North Korean nuclear issue and the six-party process. We expressed our appreciation for China's active engagement with North Korea and the positive role that China continues to play in the six-party process.
Both sides agreed to continue working towards another round of six-party talks to be held at the earliest opportunity.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, was there some question that you might not be working towards?
MR. ERELI: That's -- you asked what they discussed.
QUESTION: And so they came in and they both -- and you both agreed to do something that you had been doing for the last three months, and there was no suggestion that you weren't -- you were going to stop doing it?
MR. ERELI: Well, I'm just not going to go into -- I mean, I don't have more detail to share with you on the substance of the meeting than that.
QUESTION: But the Chi --
MR. ERELI: Tammy.
QUESTION: No, on that. I'm trying to follow. China's been, you know, the lead on this, taking the lead on this. In the past, you've -- the State Department has announced China conveyed this view, that view of North Korea.
Did you get any new information about North Korea's intentions, or have they dropped their preconditions, or have you, even in a general sense, do you have the impression from China that North Korea's amenable to holding that next round pretty quickly?
MR. ERELI: You know, I think what I really have to say on that, frankly, Barry, is that, you know, I don't have much of a change to report to you. I mean, we've said that -- we've said that we're eager to get back to talks. We want those talks to produce an outcome -- an outcome related to, you know, the way forward on the dismantlement, the complete and verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program. That continues to be the focus of our deliberations with all of the parties, how we can attain that objective and what needs to be done to bring the parties together in the next round.
But, you know, beyond saying that that is the focus of our discussions, and that, I think, you know, you have to see them in the context of not just China and -- Chinese-American discussions, but meetings -- ongoing meetings with all the parties, there is just not a lot more detail than that.
QUESTION: Two things. One is, after the meeting, Fu Ying suggested that some progress had been made. Can you share anything about what progress was made (a); and (b) did Secretary Armitage share, even a partial readout that the U.S. has from the unofficial delegation that went over?
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware that the delegation's -- that the subject of the delegation's visit came up. I don't have -- I wasn't told that it had. As far as, you know, Mrs. Fu Ying's assessment or characterization of positive, I'd leave it to her to sort of explain what was behind that. I mean, we've been saying for some time that we're hopeful that a new round could be convened soon, and that remains our position.
QUESTION: But it, to kind of go on what Matt is saying, you've already said you're willing to come with no preconditions. Why is she here? Like, what are the discussions centering around? Is it in terms of trying to get North Korea to come to the table and agree to a date? Is there something that the Chinese are looking for from you, in order to get North Korea to do that? I mean, why -- it seems as if you and China are pretty much on the same page that you both want the talks to get together. So why are these talks taking place?
MR. ERELI: Well, I mean, I would point out that, as the convener of these talks, or the country that is hosting the talks, China is in -- you know, China has a number of contacts with the North Koreans and with the other parties. And as part of putting these talks together, it is useful and helpful to meet from time-to-time to update us on what's been going on, to share views on, and assessments of, the latest developments.
That's both in relation to what, you know, they've heard from the North Koreans, what we've heard from the parties that we've been in contact with, and to see if we can't find a way to get the talks started. I don't see that as sort of requiring any dramatic new development.
QUESTION: But what remains? You've both said that you agreed towards -- working towards the six-party talks. What remains to be done in order to get these six-party talks?
MR. ERELI: I think what remains to be done, is for North Korea to agree to come to the talks. That's -- in a nutshell.
QUESTION: Have you been able to get a more a detailed briefing from the -- either one of the two unofficial delegations on their visits?
MR. ERELI: No, I'd expect a more detailed briefing later this week.
QUESTION: Okay. And do you know anything about a report this morning that says that North Koreans, in at least one of the meetings, denied having the HEU program?
MR. ERELI: Right. I've seen that report. It's not a new report. You know, what I would simply say is that, you know, on the subject of the enrichment program, the North Koreans have admitted to us that they were pursuing a highly enriched uranium program, and at various times, they have stated their intention to reclaim, to have reprocessed plutonium from spent fuel.
If you want to establish -- if we really want to establish the veracity of what is and is not happening in North Korea, I think it's up to North Korea to convince the international community that they will abandon the pursuit of their nuclear weapons and show us, once and for all, what's going on.
QUESTION: So they have to prove -- for you to be satisfied, they have to prove that they --
QUESTION: A negative --
QUESTION: Yeah. They have to prove a negative, which is something that you haven't, that you were always reluctant to.
MR. ERELI: Well, they've said to us that, "We have an HEU program."
QUESTION: Yeah, and then they denied it publicly.
MR. ERELI: And then they've denied it publicly. So it's, you know, it's up to them to prove the validity of its claim, one way or the other.
QUESTION: Well, my question is, are you -- do you know if they repeated that denial to either one of those two delegations?
MR. ERELI: I don't. I don't.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MR. ERELI: North -- still on North Korea?
QUESTION: I was just thinking --
MR. ERELI: Mr. Ota.
QUESTION: Thank you, rather. Some report on the -- we got some report this morning on the North Korea special envoy on North Korean issue, Mr. DeTrani --
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- we had talked to in New York last week. Can you say anything on that?
MR. ERELI: Mr. DeTrani, our special North Korea envoy, did travel to New York last week for his first visit to the -- to KEDO, as the U.S. representative to the Korean Energy Developmental Organization. While there, he met with KEDO Executive Director Ambassador Kartman, his two deputies, and the staff of KEDO.
While in New York for the KEDO visit, I would note that Mr. DeTrani also made a brief introductory call on Ambassador Pak Kil Yon, North Korea's permanent representative to the UN. He made that call in his capacity as the U.S. Special Envoy to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
QUESTION: Can you say anything on the -- about the timing of his visit to New York and especially North Korean mission, and the way of discussing about the how to figure out the, you know, six-party talk? And on the other side, you're going to maintain again, you're going to start maintaining the, you know, bilateral kind of contact with North Korea?
MR. ERELI: No, this is -- no, I would not -- I would not confuse this. I mean, DeTrani is the special envoy to North Korea, so it's appropriate that he meet the, you know, as an introductory call, he has just taken over his duties or recently taken over his duties, so it's appropriate that he meet with his point of -- principal point of contact in New York.
I would not suggest that there's any sort of bilateral stuff going on. The focus for dealing with the North Korean nuclear program remains the six-party framework. We are committed to the six-party framework, and in fact, DeTrani emphasized the importance of the six-party framework and the centrality of the six-party framework.
So there is no way, I think, anyone should take away from this the impression that somehow it's a alternative to or diversion from the multilateral handling of this problem.
QUESTION: Adam, excuse me, but do you know what day that was that he went up there? And second, do you know anything about a KEDO mission to North Korea?
MR. ERELI: He went there on January 8th. And I don't have anything for you on a KEDO mission.
QUESTION: He went there when? January?
MR. ERELI: Eight.
QUESTION: On Libya, can we go back over what you said yesterday, and the -- reports came out after our briefing that maybe there needed some clarification on the point as to whether Libya would have to completely finish its -- dismantling its programs before you would start discussing political issues?
MR. ERELI: I'm going to refer you the President, who really is the final authority on all this as something you can take to the bank, where he said on December 19th: "Genuine progress by Libya to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction programs will be met by tangible improvements in relations with the world community." He also said, "As the Libyan Government takes these essential steps and demonstrates its seriousness, its good faith will be returned."
QUESTION: Okay, so that's in tandem, certainly isn't consecutively, correct?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I would --
QUESTION: So, this is kind of -- this is different from what you said yesterday, yes?
MR. ERELI: I'd just let the President's words for themselves.
QUESTION: So you're waiting -- is that correct? You're waiting for the White House to tell the State Department whether to remove Libya from the terrorism list, and whether to take other technical -- the President will immerse himself in these technicalities, the law, the regulations, the -- Libya's record, and come to a decision, and then tell the State Department what it should do about this? Or does the State Department initiate anything here?
MR. ERELI: Well, I think, Barry, it's no secret to any of us that policy on Libya or policy on any country is determined by the President of the United States. And we are faithful executers of that policy. The President -- the President has said that as Libya takes steps to eliminate its programs and demonstrates its seriousness, its faith will be restored. State Department is actively involved in assisting Libya to meet its commitments, and we'll, you know, have assessments and recommendations to make in this regard as Libya fulfills its commitments.
The final decision, as it is in any, you know, big policy issue, is going to be with the President.
QUESTION: Follow-up question though. The impression you gave, as least to me, in your first answer was that everything's in a holding pattern until the President flashes his word --
MR. ERELI: I think -- I think --
QUESTION: -- or reaches a decision. But --
MR. ERELI: The point was, we are -- we are watching Libya's actions and we will base our actions on what, on its follow-through on what it's committed to do.
QUESTION: What's the next, I mean, assuming there is a next, excuse me -- you know, talking to the British and the Libyans, separately and together, about -- and then sending people there, Americans and British. Can you bring us up to date? There was that meeting that Mr. Bolton had in London.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I would say that --
QUESTION: And I thought there were supposed to be several follow-ons, but I've lost the train.
MR. ERELI: I think that, you know, we met last week in London with the U.S. -- I'm sorry, with British and Libyan officials to discuss how best we can assist Libya to fulfill its commitment to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology control regime class missiles. Those discussions were productive. I would say now we are working -- we continue to work at a lower level with the UK and Libyans on next steps in terms of addressing those issues.
But I don't have anything to tell you concretely on what those next steps will be or when they will be taken.
QUESTION: Are there any other meetings set up like this, scheduled as of now?
MR. ERELI: Not at the Under Secretary level, that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: How about at the Assistant Secretary Bill Burns level in Cairo? Was that discussed?
MR. ERELI: The subject, obviously, I'm -- obviously came up with the Egyptians. But in terms of concrete, on the ground actions to -- designed to help Libya meet its commitments, I don't think that was a topic of conversation.
QUESTION: Okay. So what was it -- the topic? What were the main topics of the conversation?
MR. ERELI: With Egypt?
QUESTION: Yes, in Egypt. I'm just looking for an update on Burns' travel.
MR. ERELI: Don't have an update much beyond what I said yesterday, which was working to help both sides meet their commitments on the roadmap, talking about our assistance program to Egypt, talking about the President's priorities for a vision of democratization and transparency in the region, and, obviously, what's going on in Iraq.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, some people in Cairo seem to be under the impression, and I don't know why, but -- except that Burns apparently talked about this, is that the Israel-Syria -- that the United States would like -- would like Egypt to do what it could, do what it can, to push for a resumption of talks between the Israelis and the Syrians.
Is that correct?
MR. ERELI: I don't -- I didn't get readout from Ambassador Burns or his staff on what was discussed. I think what I can say on that is what, you know, we said yesterday, which was this is something we think is useful and would welcome. And, you know, to the extent that it can be facilitated and others can help bring it about, I think that would be great. But did they discuss it, and at what level, what depth did they discuss it? I just don't know, Matt.
QUESTION: Can I ask one?
MR. ERELI: Yes, sir. QUESTION: With the Israeli insisting on having peace negotiations with Syria along with having -- with keeping the Syrian land at the same time, the Syrian Government yesterday announced that it would not be trapped into a negotiation for the sake of negotiations, or into a theatrical stunt with Israelis, that they want negotiations based on 242 and the American Administration's, the first Bush Administration assurances, letters of assurances, that going to achieve peace for land.
Is the United States in the position -- do you see the United States in a position where it would seek the moments now and try to play more active role in reinvigorating real negotiations between these two parties, based on the past promises of the U.S. Administration's promises?
MR. ERELI: I don't know what promises you're talking about.
QUESTION: That based, peace for land --
MR. ERELI: That's UN resolutions. That's not a U.S. promise. That's a UN resolution.
QUESTION: The letters of assurances of President Bush, the father, has assured that the Madrid Conference references would be guaranteed during a negotiation between the Arab side and the Israeli side, peace for land.
MR. ERELI: What I can tell you is this that if the Israelis and Syrians want to solve the conflict between them, they need to sit down and talk directly to one another. If the United States can facilitate that process, those negotiations, we stand ready to do so, and we have always stood ready to do so.
But it is something that the parties are going to have to decide they want to do, and we will do everything we can to help them achieve that.
QUESTION: I don't have a question. I guess following the elections a month or so ago in Georgia, I think the State Department made a statement about this, but could you please clarify, we're willing to pay the Russians to pull their troops out from Georgia, and is the sticking point, obviously, nearby in Chechnya?
MR. ERELI: Let me check the record. I -- that doesn't immediately jump to my memory that we offered to pay the Russians to leave Georgia. I think what we have said is that we look to Russia to fulfill its Istanbul commitments and sort of remain -- or follow that closely.
QUESTION: Very briefly, did you get an answer to the question that was asked yesterday about Mauritania?
MR. ERELI: Yes, I did. The issue on Mauritania is that, as part of the broader Pan-Sahel Initiative, PSI, to those of you who follow acronyms --
QUESTION: PSI? I thought that was the Proliferation Security Initiative.
MR. ERELI: I'd say PSI with a footnote, Pan-Sahel Initiative, the United States is cooperating with the Government of Mauritania and other governments in the region to strengthen their capability to control their borders, respond to threats within their territory, and enhance regional security cooperation.
I know there were some reports yesterday about threat information to U.S. citizens or interests in Mauritania and Senegal. We don't have any information to corroborate those reports. We are certainly not dispatching an anti-terror team to counter such threats.
I would say that this is a sort of part of a worldwide program that we have where U.S. military personnel go to conduct border security training with host country counterparts for six weeks. The training includes provision of non-lethal equipment and other kinds of instruction, including human rights sensitization.
QUESTION: Is it possible to confuse an anti-terror team and some kind of training team?
MR. ERELI: I guess so. That seems to be what happened.
QUESTION: Okay, my last one is the -- I'm wondering if you have anything to say about the Sudan peace talks, if there's any update on that, as the clock ticks down to the State of the Union Address?
MR. ERELI: No update. The Secretary spoke with Dr. Garang on Friday, is the latest sort of update I have for you on that.
QUESTION: Can you give us readout on the calls he had today?
MR. ERELI: Today there are no calls to report.
QUESTION: And do you have any reaction, or maybe it's coming out of Monterrey, if there is one, about Aristide's pledge to have elections in six months?
MR. ERELI: I haven't seen it.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:58 p.m.)
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