State Department Noon Briefing, March 5, 2004

 

Friday March 5, 2004

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Friday, March 5, 2004
1:00 p.m. EST

BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

SOUTH ASIA
-- Secretary Powell to Travel to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan

ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
-- U.S. Elections and Timing of Israeli Action on Settlements in Gaza

IRAQ
-- Transitional Administrative Law Signing Delayed
-- Reported Assistance by Russian Engineers to Iraq's Missile Program
-- Saddam Hussein and Possible Trial

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
-- Proliferation Concerns/Export Controls

RUSSIA
-- Upcoming Presidential Elections

CHINA/HONG KONG
-- Secretary Powell's Meeting with Martin Lee

SOUTH AFRICA/HAITI
-- U.S. Discussions with South Africa About Haiti and Aristide
-- Prospects for Donors Conference for Haiti

LIBERIA
-- Draft UNSC Resolution to Freeze Assets of Charles Taylor

MISCELLANEOUS
-- Treatment of Guantanamo Bay Detainees

UKRAINE
-- Death of Journalists in Ukraine
-- Shutdown of Radio Kontynent

MIDDLE EAST
-- Under Secretary Grossman's Trip to the Region
-- Greater Middle East Initiative

VENEZUELA
-- Violence in Venezuela/U.S. Concern


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

FRIDAY, MARCH 5, 2004
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

(1:00 p.m. EST)

MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to our last briefing of the week. Let me begin with an announcement that we'll put out after the briefing, announcing travel by the Secretary of State to South Asia, beginning the week of March 14th. He will be traveling to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he will meet senior leaders -- senior officials and political leaders to discuss a wide range of bilateral and security matters including regional issues.

In India, he will, Secretary Powell, will be talking about the next steps and beyond in our strategic relationship. In Pakistan, Secretary Powell will cover a wide range of issues with our key ally and partner in the global war on terror. And in Afghanistan, Secretary Powell will focus on the consolidation of economic and political reconstruction and look ahead to the International Conference on Afghanistan in Berlin.

Arshad.

QUESTION: Adam, in Pakistan, does the Secretary -- what does the Secretary plan to say about the issue of nuclear non-proliferation? You will recall that a couple of weeks ago, he talked about how Pakistan needed to completely uproot this network. Is that going to be his message?

MR. ERELI: I think what we'll be looking -- we'll be reviewing what has been accomplished, the strong steps that Pakistan has taken to combat this problem that effects not only Pakistan, but really all of us who seek to prevent WMD getting in the hands of the wrong customers. And we'll look at how we can engage with Pakistan on international nonproliferation standards.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with what they've done so far?

MR. ERELI: Yeah, we are.

QUESTION: And is it still your view that the pardon of Mr. A.Q. Khan is sufficient, that no additional sanctions should be applied to him?

MR. ERELI: I think we've made it clear that it's our understanding that it's a conditional pardon, that investigation is continuing, and that strong measures have been put in place to prevent it from reoccurring.
QUESTION: Well, just one other on the trip. You talked about current and sort of future cooperation with India on the strategic partnership. Do you expect there to be any announcements of going further on that than you did, I think, in the January announcement about the "glidepath" and the Soviets, and so on.

MR. ERELI: Right. Yeah. As you'll recall, you know, we had a fairly extensive discussion of what the strategic partnership involved. I think what we'll be focusing here is -- or in this trip is, you know, further discussion of that, as well as working together to strengthen not only the global economy but to expand trade between our two countries. And, obviously, the strategic partnership has an important role in that.

QUESTION: And last one on this. Are you trying to give a push to the Indo-Pakistani peace efforts?

MR. ERELI: It's important to point out that we're going to India and Pakistan because of the important, and I think close, bilateral relationships that we have with each of those countries.

At the same time, it's important to recognize, I think, the important forward movement that both countries have made in addressing issues between them. So that will definitely, I think, figure on the agenda of our discussions in both India and Pakistan, but it will, by no means, overshadow the other very, very important bilateral issues that we have with each one separately.

Adi.

QUESTION: Do you see the possibility of a trilateral meeting with representatives from Delhi, Islamabad and Secretary Powell?

MR. ERELI: I don't foresee that, no.

Teri.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. ERELI: Okay.

QUESTION: In the Middle East, there are stories saying that the Bush Administration has pressured Israel not to take any action on these Gaza settlements until after the U.S. election. Is there any truth to that?

MR. ERELI: That doesn't sound right to me. I think the way I would characterize our discussions with Israel over its plans is sort of ongoing and evolutionary in the sense that we continue to have talks about their ideas, seeing what they involve, and basically ensuring the basic premise that whatever Israel does doesn't inhibit negotiations between the parties and compromise a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which is really the only way that it can be resolved fundamentally in a long-term way.

QUESTION: But there's been no suggestion that a certain timeline that would hold off making any significant moves until after November, there's been no suggestion of that?

MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of, no.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have an interest in establishing a timeline?

MR. ERELI: I guess, you know, everybody always wants to sort of combine an electoral timeline to a policy timeline. I guess you can always find a reason to do that or find some justification for doing that, but you're not going to get it from me.

Our position is -- and it's been a long held one -- President Bush enunciated it in June 2002, a vision for two states living side by side. We are committed to that. We are committed to the roadmap, as are other parties. We continue to pursue that agenda and we will continue to work with both parties to help move it forward.

There are developments that happen that you have to take into account, that you have to work with, but to make some kind of linkage with an electoral cycle, I think is really stretching it.

QUESTION: So if they were to pull out of the Jewish settlements in Gaza before November, that would be fine with you? You have no objection to that?

MR. ERELI: I think our policy is not tied to an electoral timeline.

Yes, Joel.

QUESTION: Adam, Israel seems to have been sitting on a fence here. There are right-wing, I guess you could call them, "ultranationalists." They've just arrested two of those people with an explosives lab, who were then going to bomb some of the Arab areas.

There are, seem to be also, some constraints with popularity -- I think we've mentioned it here -- with Sharon and his election schemes with his sons. But nonetheless, they, in what Teri just cited, they're talking about instability prior, I guess, to our presidential election that I don't know whether they wanted -- meaning in Gaza and West Bank -- so are there, indeed, some considerations concerning that?

President Mubarak is coming to Texas next month.

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: What's the --

QUESTION: Do we want --

MR. ERELI: I've lost the thread of the question.

QUESTION: Do we want Egypt to intercede in Gaza?

MR. ERELI: Egypt has been a close partner to the United States and to the parties to this conflict in helping find peace. I fully expect that the subject of the Arab -- or the Israeli-Palestinian -- situation between Israelis and Palestinians will figure in our discussions with President Mubarak, and that Egypt will continue to play a helpful and constructive and important role in trying to resolve this longstanding conflict.

But what precisely is going to be on the table, what specific measures are going to be talked about, I think is a little bit premature to say.

QUESTION: Can we do Iraq?

MR. ERELI: Do we want to change subjects?

QUESTION: Well, it's on something in the region, but George can go first.

QUESTION: Same subject?

MR. ERELI: Same subject.

QUESTION: You talk about this timeline and not related to the -- the policy timeline is not related to the electoral timeline. Talking about the timeline of the policy, do you expect anything in the coming weeks?

And second, what is your policy regarding this handling of the security of Gaza to the Egyptians, or today they are talking about another version of the British troops or any other troops?

MR. ERELI: I think there are a lot of ideas out there. Frankly, I don't have enough clarity on any of those ideas to be able to comment on it one way or the other. I think there's a lot being written about it. But what is actually the actual state of play is perhaps not the same as what you read in the papers.

The other issue of what to expect in the next few weeks, I think what you can expect is continuing engagement by the United States with both parties to really help facilitate progress. In that sense, you're not going to see a major shift in our approach to this problem.

QUESTION: Another -- can I -- if you can clarify exactly, because in recent days, there are a lot of times that quoted officials saying they are not negotiating with -- we don't have negotiation with Israelis, we just exchange ideas. Can you explain to me what does this mean?

MR. ERELI: I think it's pretty self-explanatory. You know, we are involved with both Palestinians and Israelis in helping them to meet their commitments under the roadmap and to take steps to ensure that terrorism ends and that both sides can move forward in meeting their commitments.

Obviously, as we've always said, Palestinians stopping terrorism is an indispensable first step in this process and Israel has talked about a number of steps it is considering for -- to protect itself. Those steps are under discussion. And I think it's -- it can't be much plainer than that.

Yes, Teri.

QUESTION: Do you have a departure date for the team, the NSC and Bill Burns team?

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

QUESTION: Expecting it next week?

MR. ERELI: I wouldn't want to speculate.

QUESTION: Can we do Iraq?

MR. ERELI: Can we do Iraq? Iraq.

George.

QUESTION: Are you finished?

QUESTION: I'm done.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the signing ceremony that didn't take place in Baghdad?

MR. ERELI: There's a lot being said from Baghdad on the subject. I really don't have much more to add. I think what we're seeing is democracy at work. This is an important document, an important document for the future of Iraq, a document that is being written and will have to be embraced by Iraqis. They have a number of sort of fundamental issues that are fundamental to their future to work out. It's a complicated process. They're doing it in a peaceful and consensual and democratic way and we're supporting them in that effort.

I think we believe they'll be able to work through these issues, and democracy in Iraq will move forward.

QUESTION: This also in the region.

MR. ERELI: Anything more on Iraq?

QUESTION: I've got one that's on Iraq which is not the same thing. It's, do you have any comment on the New York Times report that Russian engineers aided Saddam Hussein's long-range ballistic missile programs and whether you have raised that issue with the Russians?

MR. ERELI: I don't have anything really specific on that report. We've talked about the issue a number of times in the past and what we've said is that, you know, all such non-proliferation issues we take very seriously. Without referring to the specifics of the article in question, since it relies on purported intelligence, what I can tell you is that weapons nonproliferation is a key element in our dialogue with Russia. We regularly discuss it, including transfers of WMD and missile technology. And as with all cases of illegal transfers, we take appropriate actions when there's evidence that activities of concern have taken place.

I think Elise was next.

QUESTION: Yes, kind of along the same lines. A New York Times editorial yesterday kind of made the case that lax trade regulations in Dubai were in large part responsible for the Khan network being as successful as it was and that other exporters over the -- weapons exporters over the years have also benefited. Does the U.S. feel that the trade regulations in Dubai are too lax? Have you contacted the government on doing anything about this?

MR. ERELI: I will check into that specific question for you and see if we can't get something for you on what we've done, if anything, specifically with regard to Dubai.

As a general proposition, I think if you look at what we're doing worldwide in our -- you know, the issue has come up recently with Malaysia with the Proliferation Security Initiative. We are taking efforts to help countries, work with countries to strengthen their regulations and legislation and capabilities in outlawing and enforcing measures against nonproliferation.

QUESTION: Well, is there any evidence that the government was not -- either was involved in it or kind of knew that it was happening and didn't take steps?

MR. ERELI: None that I'm aware of, no.

QUESTION: Can you take the question?

MR. ERELI: I'll take the question. But I --

QUESTION: Well, can you take the question on any kind of opinion that the government has on whether the regulations are too lax and whether there are any steps to get --

MR. ERELI: I will take questions as to what we have raised with the government of Dubai regarding the regulations and whether we think there was any government complicity in alleged nonproliferation activities.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Yes, Joel.

QUESTION: Adam, are you worried or troubled concerning the upcoming presidential type elections in Russia? And also, Ivan Rybkin, who was -- Rybkin -- saying that up till now it's been a farce, and he's been -- he won't enter the race.

MR. ERELI: I don't have any comment on individual candidates, frankly. What we have made clear, and I think what the Secretary made a very eloquent statement on in his op-ed in Izvestiya several weeks ago, was that a strong and healthy democracy is something that is in all of our interests and that we'd look to Russia to guarantee -- provide the kind of guarantees for open and transparent elections that allow people to participate, allow people to campaign, allow people to get their message out and give the voters a true and accurate picture of the full range of choices that are before them, and that it's -- that such a process can only produce good results.

Yes.

QUESTION: A follow-up. It seems over the last number of months, between the media arrests and the curtailment of media and the businessmen's arrest -- not just one but several -- it's that perhaps Putin is trying to steer the election his way. You are always saying you want a free and open democracy to flourish. Is that the case now?

MR. ERELI: That's what I just said. There are those reports. The best way to put -- the best way to dispel them is to have an open and accessible and well-administered electoral system.

Christophe.

QUESTION: Another country or issue. Do you have a readout of the meeting this morning between Secretary Powell and Mr. Martin Lee of Hong Kong?

MR. ERELI: They had a good meeting. They discussed, obviously, the situation in Hong Kong. Secretary Powell voiced our continuing support for the democratic process in Hong Kong.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that. When he left the building, Mr. Lee said that the Secretary -- I'm quoting him -- "was obviously concerned by the situation with regard to democracy in Hong Kong."

MR. ERELI: The way I would characterize it is, you know, obviously, we expressed the view that, you know, democracy in Hong Kong is important to us and we support the democratic process in Hong Kong, and that we will continue to voice support for that process.

At the same time, you know, we are committed to the principles of the Hong Kong Policy Act and we support the greatest possible degree of autonomy in Hong Kong under the one country/two systems formula.

QUESTION: But are you concerned about anything the Chinese are doing?

MR. ERELI: I think what we voice support for is the democratic process. And we have made it clear to all the parties that such a process is in the interests of both China and the people of Hong Kong.

QUESTION: All the sentiments that he expressed, is it fair to say that Secretary Powell expressed all that in the meeting with Mr. Lee?

MR. ERELI: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Good, thank you

MR. ERELI: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. support Martin Lee's agenda to introduce democracy to Hong Kong by 2007, or the U.S. has no certain position on this?

MR. ERELI: We're not endorsing one person's policy or another person's policy. What we are endorsing is a government in Hong Kong that is responsive to the aspirations of the Hong Kong people.

A follow-up?

QUESTION: Yeah. And would the U.S. consider to take concrete steps to help Hong Kong achieve this democratic reform?

MR. ERELI: I don't think that that's really a question that is relevant. In other words, the United States doesn't need to help the people of Hong Kong practice democracy. They have a long experience in that. They've got a dialogue with the Chinese Government and with the Chinese, and so that's a process that's already in place.

QUESTION: Change the subject?

MR. ERELI: The same subject?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: I guess what Mr. Boucher said yesterday was that you think the basic law in Hong Kong is important to Hong Kong people. And in the basic law, the democratic process is in there, one of the article, I think. And so I guess you are -- I just want to get it clear -- so you support -- you think the basic law is important to Hong Kong so that -- what does that mean? I mean, is there any linkage with this and the democratic process in Hong Kong?

MR. ERELI: Well, I mean, there's linkage to the extent that -- yeah, there is linkage. The basic law provides for a process of democratization that includes full consultations between the people and the government and that's something we support.

Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And just now you said the Hong Kong people have a good dialogue or something, communication with the Chinese authority, which is not quite what I heard from Martin Lee in yesterday's Foreign Relations Committee's hearing.

He said that he was not allowed to go back to mainland China, and actually, the people in Beijing said that he was daydreaming if he wants to go back. So I just want to get it clear what information you got.

MR. ERELI: You know, I think that the point I was making was that -- the original question was, you know, what is the United States going to do to help the democratic process in Hong Kong?

And my point was, we will continue to voice our support for that process, but there is a legal framework and a process underway in Hong Kong under the one country/two systems formula, and that process is working its way out.

QUESTION: Well, I don't think the question is what the U.S. is going to do to support Hong Kong in their move for democracy, but what else is the U.S. going to do to ensure that China respects democracy in Hong Kong?

MR. ERELI: We will continue to work with all the parties. And -- well, I guess I don't accept the premise necessarily of the question.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, as you said, Hong Kong -- the people of Hong Kong are interested in democracy so -- sorry -- it doesn't sound like, you know, there's anything you need to do to them to fight for democracy.

MR. ERELI: Right. And --

QUESTION: But, I mean, the root of the problem is whether China is going to respect democracy in Hong Kong, isn't it?

MR. ERELI: And I don't -- well, I guess -- China and the people of Hong Kong have a dialogue and have a legal framework for moving forward on this, and we support that dialogue and that legal framework. And that is the process that is working its way out, working its way through, and that's where we are.

QUESTION: I'm really sorry, but I'm still confused here. I think there is, as I said before, that what I heard from Martin Lee was that he was not allowed to go back to mainland China and so are a few other activists, democracy activists. And so you support the dialogue? It doesn't mean this dialogue has already been in place, or what?

MR. ERELI: There are communications, there are discussions, between the people of Hong Kong and China.

QUESTION: You know it doesn't --

MR. ERELI: And -- excuse me -- and those discussions are going to continue, and that is a channel of communication. That is a dialogue. And, you know, who was talking to who, when, under what conditions, that's not something necessarily I'm going to get into details on.

But there is a legal framework. There is a process underway and it's important that that framework and that process be respected.

Yes, Joel.

QUESTION: Adam, do any of the talks with China have any bearing with what also is going on? You want them to take the lead, perhaps, with the six-party talks with North Korea. Is there any linkage you see in their attitudes?

MR. ERELI: Distinct issues. Still on this subject?

Still on this subject? Thomas.

QUESTION: Can I switch to democratic process?

MR. ERELI: No, no. Still on -- (laughter.)

QUESTION: This is on Haiti.

MR. ERELI: Ready. Haiti. Go ahead.

QUESTION: There are still these stories out there about Secretary Powell calling the South African President Mbeki, asking him to take Aristide into exile when he left Haiti. Can you say anything about this, clear up?

MR. ERELI: Secretary Powell spoke to this, said he didn't call Mbeki.

QUESTION: I didn't see that.

MR. ERELI: Am I right, Tom?

QUESTION: I didn't see that either.

QUESTION: Where did you see that?

QUESTION: Where did he -- I didn't see --

MR. CASEY: I would have to check the -- where he said what, but I don't believe he's ever -- as far as I --

QUESTION: Where did he say that?

MR. ERELI: All right. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't have any information that Secretary Powell called Mbeki.

QUESTION: At any point?

QUESTION: This is at any -- this is like last, you know, last weekend during the whole --

MR. ERELI: Right, right, right.

QUESTION: He has said on the record that there was a first country of preference --

MR. ERELI: Right.

QUESTION: -- that Aristide wanted to go that was not available. Is that country South Africa?

MR. ERELI: I don't have any comment on that either.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about now, South Africa is calling into -- oh, sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they didn't have an answer.

MR. ERELI: No, what I can tell you is that Secretary Powell talked to the South African Foreign Minister today. They talked about the developments in Haiti and how things unfolded over the weekend, and both of them expressed support for a democratic and peaceful resolution to Haiti's political problems --

QUESTION: Did they discuss --

MR. ERELI: -- and constitutional.

QUESTION: Did they discuss where Mr. Aristide may eventually end up?

MR. ERELI: No, other than where he is now. I mean, he is where he is now, but next steps and where he might go or may not go was not a subject of discussion.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. still involved in any efforts to find a place for him, or is that over?

MR. ERELI: That's -- for us, it's not something we're actively involved in.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Why would South Africa be involved in this? They're hardly a regional partner of Haiti.

Okay.

(Laughter.)

MR. ERELI: An eloquent answer.

QUESTION: Could we just be clear? Did Secretary Powell call the South African Foreign Minister or any other member of the South African Government? We've been asking about Mbeki, but --

MR. ERELI: Right. No.

QUESTION: During that flurry of calls, there were no calls to any South African official?

MR. ERELI: Not a call.

QUESTION: Do you know?

QUESTION: And another question. Thank you.

The Central African Republic has been saying that it needs funds if it's going to keep Aristide. Is the U.S. considering donating to this cause? Have there been any requests?

MR. ERELI: I'm not aware that we've gotten a request. And if we were to have requests, I wouldn't want to speculate on what the answer would be.

QUESTION: Is it -- would you allow the -- Aristide to come here? He has family here.

MR. ERELI: Again, we have not gotten such a request.

QUESTION: Well, did -- not just Secretary Powell, but did any U.S. Government officials sound out South African officials about the possibility of Mr. Aristide's coming here?

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

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: Sir. Still on Haiti?

QUESTION: Nope.

MR. ERELI: Anything more on Haiti?

Yes, Adi.

QUESTION: Are there any plans for a donors conference for Haiti like there was for Liberia -- international donors conference, maybe in coordination with the World Bank?

MR. ERELI: Maybe somebody's mentioned that somewhere, but I don't see a concerted effort on that idea. I wouldn't rule it out. But it's not something that's being actively -- it's not something under active consideration right now.

Yes.

QUESTION: Same general subject, sort of.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, on Liberia, he mentioned Liberia. (Laughter.)

There was apparently a request (laughter) -- he did --

QUESTION: Yeah, that's directly related. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It works. It works.

QUESTION: Aren't we still on the issue of donors conference?

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: On the issue -- no, on the issue of African countries, there was a request made at the UN, I believe, for more to be done to cut off Charles Taylor's influence in Liberia, and access to money and things like that.

And I believe we were told here by a senior official not too long ago that Taylor's influence had definitely been cut off. Can you explain that?

MR. ERELI: I think what you're referring to is a draft resolution, which we have introduced at the Security Council today to freeze the assets of Charles Taylor, his immediate family members, senior officials of the former regime and his close associates.

The purpose of this draft resolution is to prevent these officials from using misappropriated funds and property to engage and promote -- or to engage in and promote activities that undermine peace and stability in Liberia and the region.

This was something that a UN panel of experts recommended in a 2003 report to the Security Council Sanctions Committee and the draft that we presented today takes up that recommendation and recognizes that Taylor and his associates continue to pose a threat.

I think obviously, the situation, as we've said before, in Liberia is improving. Charles Taylor is under, you know, under watch in Nigeria. This is a, I think, a prudent and welcome measure that really, I think, is something that's good for the future security of Liberia.

QUESTION: Isn't it overdue? I'm surprised that if you depose a leader and you put him under house arrest somewhere that he still has full access to money that he gained while president of a country. Why wasn't that done before? Any idea?

MR. ERELI: No, not really. I mean, I think that frankly, this is something that is good and useful --

QUESTION: And overdue.

MR. ERELI: -- and was done in a timely way. If there had been a need to do it earlier and faster it probably would have been done, but given the circumstances, given the situation that he's in, and all the other sort of constraints upon him that we weren't facing some sort of -- how should I put it? -- rampant flow of money. But this is, as I said, prudent and preventive, and done in a timely way.

QUESTION: But is it an indication that he does still wield control over some of those people who are still in power in Liberia?

MR. ERELI: I think it's an indication that there are funds that he and other members of his family and other members of the former political regime could have access to that it's in the interest of Liberia that they not have access to.

QUESTION: So, but what about -- I mean, so how will these funds -- are you recommending that the funds be supervised by somebody, or that he's not allowed to use them at all? And is this all the funds that he has, and like how would he live otherwise?

MR. ERELI: I don't have the details of the resolution for you simply because it's under debate and under review in the Security Council. So it's really not final yet. My understanding is that this would be a freeze on these assets. But, obviously, he would be able to -- I mean, he's going to be able to live.

Tammy.

QUESTION: You said "misappropriated funds and property."

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What do you mean by property?

MR. ERELI: I can't be more specific than that. I can't. I just don't have the details.

Yes, sir.

Still on Liberia?

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. ERELI: Anything on Liberia?

QUESTION: Can you talk about -- I know it's Iraq and Pentagon, in some respects. But what would the State Department like to see happen over there to where you would be in a position to see Saddam go on trial?

MR. ERELI: This, first and foremost, is something that the Iraqis are going to do. He's an Iraqi. He committed crimes against Iraqis, first and foremost, and it's the Iraqi people that will bring him to justice. So we will be working with the people of Iraq, with the government of Iraq, to help them put in place a sort of legal and institutional framework that can assure that Saddam Hussein receives a fair, open, transparent and credible trial for the crimes that he committed.

QUESTION: Do you have any sort of an expectation -- I mean, Bremer's talking about, you know, constitutions, elections, and things that'll happen by the end of next year. Within all that, is there some expectation of when there might -- the institutions might be in place?

MR. ERELI: Right. You're referring to, I think, the November 15th agreement, which kind of lays out a general timeline for the political transition of Iraq.

QUESTION: Judicial systems.

MR. ERELI: The legal issue, or the legal question of Saddam Hussein -- this was drafted, I think, November 15th, before Saddam Hussein was captured. So, but the legal issue or the legal issues or the legal timeline involved in Saddam Hussein's trial aren't part of that agreement, and I wouldn't want to sort of speculate about, you know, how long is this going to take.

QUESTION: Well, there -- is there any clamor among Iraqis to get going on this at some point?

MR. ERELI: I think this is something that is being worked on. It's not getting necessarily all the headlines. But the preparations for trying Saddam Hussein are -- is something, or are something, that are being worked on pretty consistently.

QUESTION: And one more.

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Guantanamo. There's -- Vanessa Redgrave will be in town Monday with some other people to protest.

MR. ERELI: Which town? Guantanamo or Washington?

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: Washington, D.C. Right here.

QUESTION: Havana. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: This town. "In town" means the town I'm in. Yeah. Do you -- can you speak to what these people are unhappy about in some positive way as to why they have issues with the way that's being handled and why they shouldn't worry about it and everything's okay?

MR. ERELI: Well, I'll let them speak for themselves. I don't think they should be -- if they're unhappy, they shouldn't be unhappy because we've gone to great lengths to ensure that the process for sending people to Guantanamo, treating people at Guantanamo, reviewing their status at Guantanamo is above criticism. And I think in the last several weeks, we've gone into great detail about what that procedure is.

We've also made it clear that these are -- that the governing legal framework for what we're doing at Guantanamo are the Law of War, and that people under the Law of War are treated in certain ways, historically and legally, and that we, according to those laws, are treating these people better than most enemies of -- or most people held under these laws have been in the past.

But, you know, I don't know why they're unhappy. I guess I'd say they shouldn't be.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Sir.

QUESTION: Adam, as a post-script to a discussion we had in here yesterday about Ukraine and broadcasting, a broadcast executive, who apparently was considering carrying these U.S. broadcasts died in a car crash -- I believe it was yesterday -- that his associates say might not have been accidental.

Is there anything -- is the U.S. looking into this or concerned about it?

MR. ERELI: Yes. The issue of the deaths of journalists in Ukraine under suspicious circumstances, as well as the repeated silencing of free media in Ukraine is a subject of serious and ongoing concern for the Government of the United States. We made a statement in that regard yesterday at the top of the briefing.

The latest incident, which you referred to, is the death of an independent radio station chief, Heorhii Chechek, who died in an automobile accident a few days ago. We still don't know all the facts related to the death, and I would say it's a little early to speculate on what were the full circumstances.

However, as I said earlier, there is -- clearly, there is reason for concern based on the history of murder and disappearances of journalists in the Ukraine. I would also note that a number of prominent political figures in Ukraine, including the chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament's Committee on the Media, Mykola Tomenko, have called for a full investigation into this matter and the United States Government supports this call.

This is not the first time we've called for an investigation into the serious deaths of journalists. We -- another journalist, investigative journalist was murdered in 2000, Heorhy Gongadze; television station director Ihor Alexandrov was murdered in 2001; and editor Volodymyr Karachevtsev was killed in 2003, as well as others.

In addition to these deaths, I would note that the Government of Ukraine is stifling the free press. Yesterday, as we reported, Radio Kontynent, which was broadcasting Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty transmissions, was -- had their transmitter confiscated. The station that had been broadcasting Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty before that was Radio Dovira, and it stopped its broadcasts on February 17th, when new management assumed control of the station.

I would also note that in addition to harassment, intimidation and violence against individual journalists, there have also been persistent reports that the presidential administration issues press directives on how to cover news events.

Finally, our Ambassador in Kiev, John Herbst, immediately raised our concerns about the moves against Radio Kontynent with the Foreign Minister and we delivered the same message to the Ukrainian Ambassador in Washington.

QUESTION: Do you know the name -- regarding the man who died in the car crash a couple of days ago, do you have the name of the radio station he worked for?

MR. ERELI: Let me check.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. ERELI: Do you know, Tom? Okay.

QUESTION: It's on the wire.

QUESTION: Adam, do you think you can trust --

MR. ERELI: Yeah, check your wire.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you think you can trust the Ukrainian Government to do the investigations into these cases? Obviously, there's a long string of them. I haven't heard any, you know, conclusions that there was any -- there were any misdeeds. But you've got to be -- you've got to be skeptical of them. How can you trust the government to do the investigation?

MR. ERELI: Well, I'd say let's take things step by step. An investigation is a necessary first step. And it would be a, I think, a welcome -- it would be a welcome set of circumstances if we had an investigation to evaluate the fairness of. We don't even have that yet.

QUESTION: Well, it's been four years since Gongadze disappeared, ended up dead. What are you -- have you had any satisfaction on that case?

MR. ERELI: No.

QUESTION: I mean, are you still pushing three years later and --

MR. ERELI: Yes, yes. It is an -- it is a subject of continuing concern and ongoing engagement with the Government of Ukraine.

QUESTION: It's outrageous, isn't it?

MR. ERELI: I'm not going to editorialize.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Thomas.

QUESTION: May I take you to Greater Middle East?

MR. ERELI: On to Greater Middle East.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any readout of the Grossman meetings with the leaders and different people in the region?

MR. ERELI: Yeah, I think we spoke to this earlier. He had, I think, good, frank discussions with the foreign ministers of Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain; laid out our thinking behind the Greater Middle East Initiative; listened, did a lot of listening; and I think made the point that the genesis of this initiative is from the region itself and from sources such as the Arab Human Development Report, reformers in the Greater Middle East, leaders in the Greater Middle East calling for change, calling for transparency and openness and participation and reforms, social reforms; and that the ideas we're looking at as part of the Greater Middle East Initiative are in response to that and seeking ways to support trends already underway and help the people of the Middle East do what they've themselves have said their goal is.

QUESTION: Concerning the initiative, is there a text talking -- we are talking about? Is that what was published before in (inaudible), for example? Is this a draft or a final?

MR. ERELI: There is a not a --

QUESTION: Or still it's ongoing?

MR. ERELI: There's not a final plan. As I said, we are in the discussion phase, which is why Under Secretary Grossman went to the Middle East, as part of that dialogue, as part of those discussions. Under Secretary Larson went to the Middle East the week before. Secretary Powell has discussed these ideas extensively with people, with leaders of the Middle East. He discussed it with the Tunisian President, he discussed it with the Moroccan Foreign Minister, he discussed it with the Bahraini Crown Prince.

So this, Under Secretary Grossman's trip, I think, should be seen as a piece of a larger whole, which is an ongoing set of discussions between the United States -- between all the people involved in this idea, between the Americans, the peoples of the Greater Middle East, the Europeans, other members of the G-8, about how we can work together to support the initiative for change which is coming out of the region.

QUESTION: There is something kind of -- a miscommunication or misunderstanding to each other -- I mean, these two parts of the world. I mean, I'm not trying to editorialize, and I don't want you to editorialize anyway.

The question is the priorities. Still, the Arab side or Middle Eastern side is saying, oh, first Middle East peace process, and then you can do -- democratize whatever you can do -- and Grossman is saying something different, or, I mean, assuming that he is saying something different.

So where is this common ground in this process? I'm not trying to --

MR. ERELI: No, I understand. I think it's -- let's take as our point of departure what President Bush has said very forcefully on the record. He has said in June -- in his speech of June 2002, our goal is two states living side by side; and this Administration, my Administration, is committed to realizing that vision.

So we are on record as -- from the President of the United States -- as committed to that and putting the resources of the United States into realizing that vision.

The President has also been very clear about the United States support for freedom and democracy and opportunity around the world. He made it very clear in his speech to the National Education -- the National Endowment for Democracy and at his speech in London, in Whitehall -- very eloquent statements of how the United States believes people have the universal aspiration to freedom and how living in freedom is a natural and productive state.

And so you can move towards both of those goals simultaneously. One does not need to come at the expense of the other. In fact, they are mutually reinforcing and mutually supportive.

And so to those who contend that one should wait for the other, or you can't do one without -- you can't -- you have to do one before the other, I would simply say our vision is, the President's vision is, that you can do both, and that you need -- we need to do both. And we will work with those who support us in that effort.

QUESTION: Can I ask another question? I'm trying to understand. You said we are going to support who needs our support. I mean, but you are mainly dealing with the governments, as it seems, that --

MR. ERELI: On the Greater Middle East Initiative?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. ERELI: Oh, to the contrary. The idea of the Greater Middle East Initiative is, yeah, you work with governments, but you also work with civil society activists. You work with teachers. You work with private business to promote private enterprise, to promote small and medium businesses, to promote trade. This is much broader than a government-to-government dialogue.

Yeah, government is a part of it, but it's not exclusive to it.

QUESTION: And when there is a sign of confusion there regarding the term "Middle East, the Greater Middle East," what does it mean geographically, let's say?

MR. ERELI: I wouldn't want to define it right now. I think we're looking beyond just the Arab world, let's say, to include places like Afghanistan, for example.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. We have a question in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah. We keep hearing references to the -- to President Bush initiative of 2002. But it almost the end of his presidency for this term and the Arab world, the media, the politicians, everybody is talking about where is the beef of that initiative? They see -- they hear lots of talks about it, but they see great alliance between this Administration and Mr. Sharon Government, who is the harshest Prime Minister that the Arab world has seen or the Palestinians have suffered from.

Initiative is welcomed in so many circles, the unofficial circles, but the people of the Middle East are questioning where is -- we don't see anything on the ground. President Bush talked about his initiative. Spokesmen from this podium have -- they keep repeating, referring to it, but people need results. We don't see any results.

MR. ERELI: I think, you know, this has been a process trying to help the Israelis and Palestinians reach a peaceful resolution to their conflict for some time. There had been significant progress made in giving Palestinian responsibility for their -- for territories, in enhancing the capabilities of the Palestinian Authority, in contacts and relations and capabilities between Israelis and Palestinians.

What has, I think, bedeviled us and continues to bedevil us, is the ongoing use of terror by Palestinian groups to prevent progress. And that is why we have continually said that if there is going to be progress, we've got to have meaningful actions taken against those groups that are -- continue to blow up buses, and every time there's some progress being made, bring things to a halt.

QUESTION: The delays in implementing these initiatives are actually helping these groups who are --

MR. ERELI: No, I think what's helping these groups is that actions aren't taken against them.

I'm sorry, we've got one question back here.

QUESTION: It's about Venezuela.

MR. ERELI: Yes.

QUESTION: Does the United States recognize the security force in Venezuela has the right to maintain order during the opposition riots in Venezuela?

MR. ERELI: I would say this. We note with concern the violence in Venezuela. We urge the Government of Venezuela to respect the Venezuelan people's peaceful exercise of their constitutional rights and to avoid the use of excessive force.

QUESTION: So do you --

MR. ERELI: We also call on the protestors to act in a non-violent manner, including during demonstrations planned for this weekend.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: One, in the back.

QUESTION: Yes, just to follow up on the Greater Middle East? How do you find --

MR. ERELI: Actually, let -- okay.

QUESTION: How do you find the European reaction when you went to the G-8 to endorse your --

MR. ERELI: We're, as I said, having discussions. We're getting, I think, some positive reaction from the Europeans. And I think we'll see more in the way of sort of dialogue and cooperations as we move forward.

QUESTION: But you saw France and Germany. They are not happy and they are going to --

MR. ERELI: I have not seen -- I haven't seen that.

QUESTION: -- present some, maybe contradictory.

MR. ERELI: I haven't seen that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: Okay.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:52 p.m.)

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