State Department Noon Briefing, January 22, 2004


Thursday January 22, 2004

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Washington, DC
January 22, 2004

BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- Six-Party Talks/A/S Kelly Remarks/Chinese Efforts
-- Delegation Visit

-- A/S Wolf and Deputy A/S Satterfield Travel/Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

-- Special Envoy Baker Travel/Successes

-- Human Rights Issues

-- Peace Road Map

-- Secretary Powell's Travel/Inauguration of President-elect Saakashvili

-- Secretary Powell's Travel/Meetings with Foreign Minister Ivanov, President Putin, and Defense Minister Ivanov
-- Proliferation Security Initiative
-- Iraq Pre-War Arm Sales
-- Troops in Georgia/Istanbul
-- Democratic Development

-- Outbreak of Disease

-- Killing of Union Leader Vichea

-- Succession of Nevis

-- Dialog Between the Countries

-- Chuck Lee Update



MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to our briefing for Thursday. I don't have any announcements, so I will offer Matt the first question.

QUESTION: Thank you. I'm just curious to know if there is anything, really, behind Assistant Secretary Kelly's comments downstairs just a little while ago in which he said that the United States is very hopeful that there will be a -- that there will be a new round soon of six-party talks, or if this is just basically the -- if anything has changed since yesterday, when Secretary Powell said he was also very hopeful.

Is there anything new? Or is this -- has the ball moved at all?

MR. ERELI: We're still hopeful.


QUESTION: But not very hopeful?

MR. ERELI: What I would say is that Secretary Kelly just finished talks with his counterparts, his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, as he said. These were good talks, productive talks, constructive talks. We come away from them convinced that six-party talks is the way to resolve this difficult issue, hopeful that another round can be convened soon, but still not at the point where we're in a position to announce dates or to give you any, I guess, more detail about when those talks might reconvene.

QUESTION: So the answer is no. This is just kind of paying lip service. This is just kind of a standard thing to put some words out today because he was asked, obviously, but --

MR. ERELI: Well, I would say the words are not empty rhetoric. When we say we're hopeful, it means that there are --

QUESTION: I'm asking if there have been any -- if there is any reason why you say you're very hopeful today as opposed to why you were saying you were very hopeful, or hopeful yesterday or the day before or the day before that. There is not any kind of -- are you getting closer?

MR. ERELI: I would say that they are -- when you have regular interactions with people, with parties, whether it be in our embassies, whether it be by phone, whether it be in meetings, these are interactions that help move the ball forward and help clarify thinking and build bridges. And that dynamic is continuing. We are not seeing -- we are not seeing, I would say, stasis or setbacks.

At the same time, we have not yet reached the point where, you know, we can announce that there are going to be talks. But when you come out of meetings like this and you do have a convergence of views and you do have a good sharing of ideas, then you can -- then it's accurate, I think, to characterize the atmosphere and our expectations as hopeful.

QUESTION: Yeah. But I just -- I just don't understand, because, I mean, for more than a year, all three of these countries that were involved in these talks today have agreed on the fact that the way to move forward is the six-party talks and that's what they said again today. I don't see, you know --

MR. ERELI: I guess I would just counsel patience.


QUESTION: Wasn't it a setback when you weren't able to reach agreement on a comprehensive, final declaration in advance of the meeting to be ratified at the meeting?

MR. ERELI: You know, that's presuming that that's what held things up and I wouldn't come to that conclusion.

QUESTION: What about the Chinese effort to do this? I mean, it's been widely reported that there was this effort to reach prior agreement going into the meeting and that effort has not borne fruit.

MR. ERELI: But that doesn't necessarily mean that that's why there's not a second round of six-party talks. The reason there's not a second round of six-party talks is because North Korea hasn't yet agreed to come to a second round of six-party talks and that's what we're trying to work on. And the result of the meetings today, as well as the result of our conversations with the Chinese and our appreciation for the efforts of the Chinese to do this, are positive.

Yes, Joel.

QUESTION: Is one of your difficulties with the six-party talks, is it possibly you're trying not to have it turn into a six-party circus and that you want possibly the IAEA and others to come in? Now, we just had this tour by congressional members as well as, I believe, two scientists from Livermore and some others that visited North Korea a week and a quarter ago, and there's still a dispute of what they were shown. And are you waiting more to see what North Korea would do, in other words, to have them more forthcoming?

MR. ERELI: The short answer to your question is no, and I would caution you against confusing these two subjects: subject one being the visit of the delegation to North Korea; subject two, the six-party talks. They are distinct and, in our view, certainly do not bear a direction relation.

We are -- the Chinese are working to put together the next round of six-party talks. We are appreciative of their efforts and supportive of those efforts. And I think, you know, we have said, as Secretary Kelly said this morning, we're ready to go back to talks now.

What the delegation discovered or reported about their trip to North Korea, I think, is a matter of public record. They have talked about it pretty extensively. It is -- I wouldn't characterize it beyond what they've already said, other than to point out that what they saw, what they experienced, is something of interest and of note but does not pertain or influence directly what we're trying to accomplish in the six-party talks.

Yes, Saul.

QUESTION: Can I just clarify something from the earlier question? Are you confirming that the Chinese made an effort to produce a prior agreement before the next round of talks, and their efforts to get that document done failed?

MR. ERELI: No. What I'm saying is that the reason that we haven't had six-party talks yet, or a second round of six-party talks yet, is because the North Koreans haven't agreed to come to six-party talks.

QUESTION: But that doesn't answer the question.

MR. ERELI: And -- but as to what -- as to the question of what the Chinese -- what the statement was, I wouldn't have more to say on that than what we've already said before, which is that, you know, we have been discussing with a variety of parties, including the Chinese, what, you know, we could accomplish at a second round of talks. But that does not -- those discussions are not what have prevented a second round from being convened. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: New topic? John Wolf's trip to the Mideast. Do you have any additional detail about when he's traveling?

MR. ERELI: I can tell you that Assistant Secretary Wolf and Deputy Assistant Secretary Satterfield will be traveling early next week. I know you're looking for a specific date, but at this point I don't have a specific date I can share with you. But I can say they'll be there early next week.

QUESTION: Is it just Israel and the PA, or are there other locations?

MR. ERELI: The only two stops I have at this point are Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

QUESTION: But you did say that they're going to be speaking to Palestinians, so presumably they'll go into the West Bank at some point.

MR. ERELI: Yeah, right. Well, I mean, stops on the trip. It doesn't mean that they won't be going other -- they may be traveling and meeting people. They can meet them in Jerusalem as well. But I don't know their specific itinerary, when they're in Jerusalem, what points they'll be going to.


QUESTION: In terms of Iraq and debt relief, James Baker obviously just came back from the Middle East and secured some favorable statements from Saudi Arabia, amongst other countries. What's the next step now? Is it time now to discuss an informal meeting of the actual Paris Club to ham out exactly the nitty-gritty details, or is -- are there going to be more trips? I'm just trying to figure out the strategy from this point on.

MR. ERELI: Yeah, I'd really refer you to Secretary -- to Special Envoy Baker for that. He has just come back from his trip. He concluded the visit today. As you suggest, he had very productive meetings with leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. They all issued statements stressing that debt reduction for Iraq is necessary to ensure the successful reconstruction of Iraq. They all agreed on that debt reductions should be substantial and should occur in 2004, and they all committed to initiating negotiations promptly.

I think as far as what are the next steps in Special Envoy Baker's program, let's let him come back here, make the assessments that he's going to make, and I'd leave it to him and the White House to sort of share with you their thinking on, okay, what -- how do we go from here.

What I can do for you today is acknowledge the sort of important successes that they have met with so far. I think they have also said that, you know, obviously, negotiations among Iraq's donors to restructure that debt are important and should begin, but when that all takes place I don't have any details for you.

QUESTION: Adam, just to follow on that, are any of these agreements tied to the return of sovereignty to Iraq?

MR. ERELI: I don't have -- not that I'm aware of, but I certainly would not pretend to have a full readout of the discussions.


QUESTION: There seems to be a report that the Uzbek Government has taken control of some of the human rights and democracy groups that were in opposition, and it seems to also be a problem. Have we spoken to that government? I know we're trying to get more friendly relations and also their help in Afghanistan. Has that become a prime sore point?

MR. ERELI: I haven't seen the reports that you cite. What I can tell you, obviously, is that the issue of human rights in Uzbekistan is something that we follow very carefully, that we raise with the Government of Uzbekistan on a regular basis and make clear our view that respect for human rights and treatment of political dissent and tolerance of the expression of that dissent and freedom of assembly are things that are important and that are critical to the long-term stability of the region.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) most recent U.S. --

MR. ERELI: Statement?

QUESTION: -- position on -- I guess not. Can I ask you about Zimbabwe?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about this apparent -- well, about President Mbeki's comments today about a new dialogue between Mugabe and the opposition?

MR. ERELI: I haven't seen -- I have not seen that report so I don't really have anything for you on it.

QUESTION: Adam, I interviewed Martin Indyk yesterday and he said that he believes all indications that the Palestinian Authority is on the verge of collapse within the next year, and he also said that he believes most observers think that the roadmap is pretty much dead, at least for the year, and the election is also a factor in all this.

Could you rebut that in any positive way?

MR. ERELI: I really don't believe it's my role to rebut political pundits and experts --

QUESTION: Well, yeah. Yeah. Not the individual.

MR. ERELI: You know, I have great respect for Assistant Secretary Indyk and his contributions to Middle East peace. I think from the point of view of the United States Government, we are, as the visit of Ambassador Wolf or Assistant Secretary Wolf and Ambassador -- or Deputy Assistant Secretary Satterfield indicate, we remain fully engaged with the Palestinian Authority, with the Government of Israel, in an effort to realize the President's vision which we remain committed to and which we believe is the best hope for bringing peace to that troubled conflict. And we will continue to work with both parties to assist them in fulfilling their commitments that they made to the President at Aqaba.

And, you know, I'll leave it to others to characterize what they believe the state of the roadmap to be. I can tell you that members of this Administration are fully engaged in doing everything we can to help move the parties forward in fulfilling their commitments.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have anything -- can you say -- or you may be the wrong person to ask about this. The Secretary's trip this weekend, has there been any more refinement on his schedule in terms of who he might be meeting with in Tbilisi, other than the new President? And just -- do you have anything you can say just generally about anything more than what was announced in the statement?

MR. ERELI: The Secretary, as you all know, is traveling to Georgia for the inauguration of President-elect Mikhail Saakashvili, which takes place on this Sunday, the 26th, I believe. He is -- or is it Saturday the 25th?

QUESTION: Saturday.

MR. ERELI: Saturday the 25th. Let's get it right. He is departing -- we are departing on the Friday for the inauguration on the --

QUESTION: The 23rd. Today is the 22nd, Friday is the 23rd, Saturday is the 24th, Sunday is the 25th. The inauguration is on Sunday.

MR. ERELI: Thank you. He is traveling to -- the inauguration is on Sunday. He will attend that inauguration. He will meet with Saakashvili and other Georgian officials, as well as members of the Georgian public. He will also meet with other foreign leaders attending the inauguration. However, I don't have any meetings to confirm for you at this time.

I think that generally what I would say is that we are optimistic about the future of Georgia, as witnessed by the recent elections. The Secretary will want to discuss ways in which we can be helpful to Georgia's continued democratic and economic development.

Following his visit to Georgia, the Secretary will travel to Russia, where he will meet with Foreign Minister Ivanov, President Putin, and possibly Defense Minister Ivanov, and other civic groups.

He will discuss a wide variety of issues, among them global challenges such as nonproliferation, regional issues such as the need to cooperate in the former Soviet republics, as well as a number of bilateral issues, including economic and trade, and Russia's progress towards WTO accession.

QUESTION: Do you know in terms of the proliferation area if he's going to be carrying on Under Secretary Bolton's campaign to bring the Russians on board with PSI? And related, just the -- the cooperation in the former Soviet republics, that would include Georgia, yes?

MR. ERELI: Yes, that certainly would.

QUESTION: Yes. And then just one -- the other thing on that, is the Iraq and the arms -- pre-war arms sales still an issue -- is that something that's likely to come up, or is that not?

MR. ERELI: You know, I wouldn't want to speculate about that last issue. It may. It may not. It's sort of hard to tell. I don't think it's really at the top of the agenda.

On the question of proliferation, there are a number of proliferation issues to be discussed: obviously, Iran, what's going on in Libya, North Korea. The proliferation security issue is an agenda item, but I'm not really in a position to go into what, sort of, the details of what those discussions would include.

Does that answer your question?


MR. ERELI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Russians still have troops in Georgia, right?


QUESTION: Is this a matter of concern?

MR. ERELI: We are looking for Russia to fulfill its Istanbul commitments in that regard.

One more, Matt? Same subject?

QUESTION: I have one, but it's not on Georgia -- I mean, not on Russia. MR. ERELI: In the back.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary concerned at all with some people are calling an emerging democratic authoritarianism in Russia -- Putin's control over the media, lack of real political opposition, any of those?

MR. ERELI: I think both the United States and Russia have a common interest in the development of democracy, democratic development in Russia, the development of institutions and processes and the rule of law. This is something that we discuss regularly and I wouldn't characterize it the way you did.


QUESTION: Adam, in the last month or so there's been a wide outbreak of a Asian-type bird flu. It's affecting Vietnam, now Thailand -- they're calling it now a cover-up and apparently it's far more deadly than SARS or could be.

Are we giving assistance to both Vietnam, Thailand and other Asian governments with the adequate resources to put an end to this? There are millions of chickens that have been slaughtered, much like with mad cow and such.

MR. ERELI: You know, you always ask me these health questions and I never -- I never think to look into it before coming out here.

I don't know that this is an issue the State Department is involved with. Perhaps we're doing something through our embassies. It would normally be -- I would normally refer you to those government agencies that deal with epidemics and health issues, but I can check and see what, if anything, we're doing through our embassies to assist the host governments to confront this disease.


QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the assassination of this labor union leader in Cambodia?

MR. ERELI: We -- the United States strongly condemns the killing today, on January 22nd, in Phnom Penh of Mr. Chea Vichea, who -- Mr. Vichea is, or was the President of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia. He was a champion of labor rights and the free trade union movement in Cambodia, and this is a movement which the United States strongly supports.

We deplore this cowardly act of violence, and we call upon the Canadian -- the Cambodian Government to undertake immediate and effective action to bring the perpetrators of Chea Vichea's murder to justice.

It's important that a culture of impunity in Cambodia not be allowed to exist.

QUESTION: This person was also closely connected with the main opposition party there. Do you have -- is there any concern on the U.S. side that this may be an attempt to stifle dissent? Or do you know?

MR. ERELI: I wouldn't want to speculate on the motives of, or what's behind this murder. Let's let the investigation take its course.

Obviously, it is disturbing when somebody of his stature and, as you mentioned, social prominence and social importance is so brutally and deliberately gunned down. And that's why we think it's important that, you know, the authorities in Cambodia take every step possible to find out who did it, why, and bring them to justice so that this, as well as other acts of violence that happen, do not go unpunished.


QUESTION: I had -- my last one.

Last week you guys put out, somewhat mysteriously, a statement about your concern, or your position about the possible secession from St. Kitts & Nevis of the island of Nevis.

I'm wondering if you can explain exactly why you did this, and if you can't, if I could suggest that we all might take a fact-finding trip (laughter) to discover exactly what the situation is there?

MR. ERELI: Yeah, I would say, you know, one reason we sometimes put out statements is to register our concern and the attention we are devoting to a specific issue for the implications that it has for peace and stability. I think this was the case in this instance. I'll look into it and see if that's not -- if there's another reason, but, you know, I urge you to go there and do your own fact checking.

QUESTION: Yeah, no, I will, Adam. The problem is is that Nevis has not seceded from St. Kitts, and although there has been, for some time, a movement afoot to do it, it hasn't progressed to the point where such a move is imminent or not. So I'm just wondering if, in the United States' view, that there is -- there is some reason that after, I think about almost two years of this going on, you decided last week was the appropriate time to do this.

Now, I don't know. It may have been the Summit of the Americas and it may have come up there and that's why. But I'd just like to know.

MR. ERELI: We'll look into the circumstances.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: One more?

QUESTION: Sure. Is the Department encouraging Israel-Syria dialogue at a high level? Do you see that as a possibility in the near future? And is the idea of such a process good in terms of lowering tensions in the region?

MR. ERELI: I'm trying to think which one I want to answer first.

I'm not going to speculate on whether high-level dialogue between Israel and Syria is going to happen in the near future. The position of the United States is, I think, pretty clear on this subject. We've enunciated it from this podium as well as, you know, in private conversations, that direct negotiations between Israel and Syria are the most effective and preferred method for solving the dispute between those two countries -- perhaps the only way to do it, frankly, and that we are supportive of moves in that direction.

And what was the third part?

QUESTION: Are you doing anything actively to encourage that this year? Could you let us know any -- could you tell us anything about this?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. This question comes up from time to time. The last time it was asked, I didn't have anything particular to report to you. That certainly -- that hasn't changed.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Falun Gong -- the Chuck Lee update? Okay.

Chuck Lee, we -- a consular officer visited him in Shanghai on January 15th. It was the 16th face-to-face visit with Mr. Lee and the 26th time a consular official has spoken with him since his arrest in January 2003.

Mr. Lee reported that he is in good health and feeling well. He thanked the consular officer for the assistance he has received and for the frequent contact.

QUESTION: The fiancée of Charles Lee said that -- who has been in contact with Shanghai Council and said that Charles was forced to do some prison labor there. I just want to confirm it.

MR. ERELI: I -- he did not -- to my knowledge, he did not tell us that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: One more question.

QUESTION: The Israelis--the Secretary spoke today with the Foreign Minister and expressed some degree of support for the Israeli position that the tribunal in The Hague shouldn't be hearing the case involving the barrier. Is that accurate?

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

(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)


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