State Department Noon Briefing, March 18, 2004


Thursday March 18, 2004

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Thursday, March 18, 2004
12:49 p.m. EST

BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- Statement on Release of Political Prisoners

-- Statement to be Released on Human Rights Crackdown in Cuba

-- Formation of New Government

-- Responsibility for Recent Baghdad Bombing
-- Role of United Nations
-- UN and Transfer of Sovereignty

-- Status of U.S. Relations with Spain, Spain's Troops in Iraq

-- UN and U.S. Attempts to Address Clashes between Albanians and Serbians
-- Anti-American Protests in Belgrade
-- Stand on Kosovo Independence and Contact With Albania

-- Israeli Supreme Court Decision to Halt Continuing Barrier Construction
-- Egypt Offers to Send Ambassador Back to Israel

-- Response to Saudi Comment on Arrests of Political Activists

-- Status of Talks, Nuclear Program
-- Effort of China to Broker Settlement
-- Efforts of South Korea to Set Target Date for Talks

-- Comments Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq
-- Poland's Support for Coalition in Iraq

-- Announcement Regarding Elections

-- Upcoming Talks in Switzerland

-- Designation as a non-NATO Ally and Implications for Relationship With India

-- Kurds and Territorial Integrity of Iraq



12:49 p.m. EST

MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the State Department briefing for March 18th. We have a couple of announcements to start off with. The first one will be read by Miss Nafiza Soluji, who is a student at the Muslim Community School of Potomac, Maryland and is here at the State Department participating in our annual Job Shadowing Day, along with 140 other high school students from around Prince George's County.

We're very, I think, pleased and honored to have these students with us in the Department. Deputy Secretary Armitage has a student shadowing him. I have Nafiza with me, and her colleagues are here with us in the press briefing room.

So anyway, Nafiza, would you like to --

MS. SOLUJI (Student): Release of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. The United States welcomes the news that President Ilham Aliyev pardoned and released 129 prisoners on March 17. Twenty-six of these individuals had been identified as political prisoners by the Council of Europe, including former Prime Minister Surrat Huseynov. We applaud this step. We urge the Government of Azerbaijan to make more progress on human rights, including the resolution of the cases of those still in jail following the October 15-16 post-election demonstrations. Thank you.

QUESTION: Are you taking questions?


What kind of a job do you think Secretary Powell is doing?

MR. ERELI: Enough political commentary. The other statement which we'll be putting out -- thank you, Nafiza, that was great.

The other statement we'll be putting out after the briefing, in contrast to the positive steps taken by Azerbaijan, is a recognition of the one-year anniversary of the brutal crackdown on independent journalists and economists, trade unionists and human rights advocates in Cuba, and noting that that crackdown was followed by show trials, which were a travesty of justice. And in response to that, what we are doing, which we'll be announcing today, is denial of visas to those government officials and government witnesses who participated in the show trials. Look for that after the briefing.

I'm now open to questions on those statements or anything else that's on your mind.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The new government in Haiti does not have any representative from President Aristide -- former President Aristide's party. And I wondered if you had any comment on that, since it is the largest party in the country.

MR. ERELI: Two comments. First, that -- well, first, let's welcome the formation of a new cabinet in Haiti. That cabinet was sworn in yesterday. It consists of 13 ministers and it is the product of broad consultation and consensus within the leadership of Haiti.

As you'll recall, it started with a Tripartite Council composed of government opposition and international community, was then expanded to -- the consultation process was then expanded to include the Council of Eminent Persons.

There was, I think, a broad and inclusive process that resulted in the appointment of this government, which is a government of technocrats -- a government largely of ministers who have worked in previous governments, who bring technocratic skill and experience to the task at hand.

I would point out that many of them, or several of them, have served in former Lavalas-led governments, so I would characterize it as nonpartisan, technocratic, but loyal to Haiti and with experience from all political forces that have been governing in Haiti.

QUESTION: So you have no problem with the arrangement. Is that right? It's -- the exclusion of the major party doesn't trouble the State Department?

MR. ERELI: You know, I don't look at it in terms of exclusionary --


MR. ERELI: Rather, it's inclusionary.

QUESTION: It's inclusionary, except some party's left out.

MR. ERELI: You know, that's political commentary. I would say that --

QUESTION: Is that -- I'm engaged in political commentary?

MR. ERELI: I would say that -- I would say this, Barry --

QUESTION: I could look up exclusion in the dictionary.

MR. ERELI: I would say that -- I would say this is a government that the Haitians have come to, that the Haitian political forces have agreed on, and therefore, it is inclusive of the views and desires and will of the Haitian political spectrum.


QUESTION: The Prime Minister earlier said that he would actually include members of Aristide's party. Is there any reason -- I mean have you discussed the kind of cabinet you want to have with him?

MR. ERELI: This is -- the composition and formation of the cabinet is something for the Prime Minister and the Council of Eminent Persons working together to come up with and decide what's best for Haiti and what works for Haiti. We are supportive of that process, not prescriptive.

QUESTION: But you worked so hard in Iraq, for instance, to get broad representation to foster democracy. And whatever account is accurate about the departure of Aristide, clearly, the United States played a prominent role in events in Haiti lately, and is this being done without consultation with the United States? Are you a silent, what should I say, approver of this arrangement? I mean the State Department.

MR. ERELI: No, I think we're an active -- Ambassador Foley -- first of all, the international community is involved through the Council of -- I'm sorry, through the Tripartite Council. So there is a role for the international community to play; it has played a role. Ambassador Foley, as well as the other CARICOM ambassadors and supporters of Haiti, have been working with the Haitian authorities, with the opposition, with former -- or members of the former government to put together and to help them put together a government that is representative and that works.

That's what they've done, and they've done it in quick order, and they're going about the task of looking forward to elections in the future that can be representative of desires of the Haitian people. That's good, that's positive, that's laudable. We support them. We've been with them from the beginning and we'll continue to support them as this process takes its course.


QUESTION: I wanted to go to Iraq.

MR. ERELI: Let's go to Iraq.

QUESTION: Is there any initial thoughts about who is responsible for the bombing yesterday? Do you think Mr. Al-Zarkawi is involved, Ansar al-Islam? What are your initial thoughts right now?

MR. ERELI: Not being on the ground in Iraq, I hesitate to pronounce upon facts and evidence that I haven't seen and not involved with. I think we've made it -- we've been making it clear for some time, but particularly after the discovery of the Zarkawi letter, that we anticipated a spike in security incidents as the June 30 date gets closer.

And the reason for that is, as the terrorists themselves admitted, their room for maneuver, and their ability to disrupt things is going to markedly decrease when Iraq becomes sovereign for the country. So their aim is to disrupt that transfer of sovereignty and to sow discord in the country in the period between now and June 30th.


MR. ERELI: So -- and what we're seeing, I think, bears that out. But the fact of the matter is that, you know, every day Iraqis -- Iraqis see themselves as the targets of these attacks and are, every day, signing up to fight them.

I mean, the interesting thing to note is that, you know, savage and horrible attacks have been carried out against Iraqi police and Iraqi security services, and yet, Iraqis continue to come and register and volunteer to join the ranks of security services because they are taking ownership and see themselves as critically involved in this process. And that is -- that is, I think, a sign of things to come, that the Iraqis aren't standing for it. And I think members of the Governing Council spoke to it yesterday in voicing their horror and disgust at the -- at choosing, you know, soft targets, -- people in hotels as the victims of the latest attack.

QUESTION: But do you think that these are remnants of the Iraqi regime who are upset with their country being moved in this direction, or do you think that this is possibly foreign fighters that are just fighting the principle of democracy and freedom in general? Are they colluding with each other?

MR. ERELI: Those are -- I think both -- both those elements are at work in Iraq. Which one, or combination of them, were involved in this latest attack, I really couldn't say.

QUESTION: I want to ask a similar question. You used the word "terrorist," but I think you used it in a descriptive sense, correct? The State Department doesn't know, does it, whether a known terrorist group is responsible for the bombings. You're describing the attack on civilians as an act of terrorism --

MR. ERELI: Right, I think the --

QUESTION: -- but it could be leftover Saddam Hussein loyalists. Couldn't it?

MR. ERELI: This was a terrorist act.

QUESTION: By the nature of it.

MR. ERELI: Committed by those -- this was a terrorist act committed by terrorists, whether they're former Saddam Baathists or Ansar al-Islam cadre, I think, is a finer distinction.

QUESTION: I was trying to determine if the State Department knew of the known terrorist group that did it. And apparently --

MR. ERELI: Yeah. Not that I'm --


MR. ERELI: -- not that I am prepared to talk about.

QUESTION: As these attacks increase or seem to be increasingly savage attacks, as we get closer to the June 30th date, will the Administration reconsider the date? Because it seems that Secretary Rumsfeld yesterday was suggesting that there may be some flexibility on the date.

MR. ERELI: We are committed to the June 30th date. That is what our planning calls for. That's what the Iraqis are looking forward to, and we are going to make every effort to meet that expectation.

Yes, Charlie.

QUESTION: Do you have any casualty figures? Are there any American casualties in yesterday's attack that you know of?

MR. ERELI: No, we have no reports of Americans killed or injured in yesterday's attack.

QUESTION: May we ask about Spain?

QUESTION: Well, can we stay on Iraq?


MR. ERELI: Iraq.

QUESTION: Security was obviously a big issue for the UN when they left, after the UN bombing there. To what extent do you think that this spike in violence and attacks is actually going to again hamper a potential UN role in Iraq?

MR. ERELI: We've made it clear that the security of the UN is a major concern for us, and that the Coalition Provisional Authority and coalition forces will do everything in their power to assist and support the UN mission in Iraq. I think what I'd like to point out today is the fact that we have received the letter -- or the UN has received the letter from the Governing Council inviting them to return to Iraq. This is -- I think the UN is working on a response to those letters. This is a welcome and positive development. We look forward to working with the UN on next steps.

I think the -- we have always been very grateful to the UN for the role they have played. We think they have a very important role to continue to play. And I think we'll cooperate closely in every way we can to facilitate their mission and ensure that they can operate in Iraq safely.

QUESTION: No cold feet from the UN?

MR. ERELI: Not that I've heard.

QUESTION: But some members of the Council appear to have a problem with Brahimi, some of the Shiite members. And I wondered, what -- does the UN now have to come up with somebody else to do this or --

MR. ERELI: I don't think so. I think they've -- despite what might have been rumored or reported, the Governing Council, as a body, has invited the UN back. So I think they've worked through the issues and share our understanding and recognition and appreciation for what the UN can do in Iraq and want to be a part of that.


QUESTION: It's Iraq; it's Spain.

Has the U.S. heard anything from the incoming Spanish Government about the -- a complaint or whatever -- commentary -- about what three prominent Republicans suggested yesterday? The Speaker, the Chairman of the International Relations Committee, and I don't know what DeLay's title is -- Whip, I don't know.

QUESTION: Majority Leader.

QUESTION: Majority Leader -- that the vote was appeasement of terrorists -- that the vote in Spain electing them was an act of the Spanish people appeasing terrorists?

MR. ERELI: Yeah, we've -- I think we've spoken to this at length over the past couple of days. I don't really have anything new to add to that.

QUESTION: I mean, the Spanish Government hasn't said anything to our Ambassador or to the State Department that -- what they thought of such remarks?

MR. ERELI: Not that I've been informed about.

QUESTION: And on the troops situation, it's not totally clear -- to me, anyhow -- whether they are going to withdraw, or they will withdraw -- will not withdraw if the UN authorizes peacekeeping troops. Where does that process stand, getting the UN to authorize it?

MR. ERELI: I can't speak to what the Spanish Government plans or intentions are.


MR. ERELI: As far as where things stand with the UN, as we've said before, in the context of a transfer of sovereignty, we would be prepared to look at, or willing to consider, a new Security Council resolution recognizing those circumstances. What its terms would be and what issues it would cover, I think, is something that is a little too far in the future to begin speculating about right now.

QUESTION: Could we go back to Iraq for a second, on the status of troops?

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Will the status of troops, come the interim government, be negotiated strictly with the Pentagon and the Iraqi interim government, or is it something that the Department of State and Ambassador Bremer will also work out?

MR. ERELI: This is -- I mean, this is an issue that will involve, I think, various agencies of the U.S. Government and the senior U.S. representative in the country.

On Iraq? Dmitry.

QUESTION: No, I wanted to go to Kosovo.

MR. ERELI: Kosovo? Iraq?


QUESTION: Middle East. Saudi.

MR. ERELI: Let's go to Kosovo.

QUESTION: Thanks. Does the United States Administration support the idea of urging the United Nations Security Council meeting to consider ways out of this situation in Kosovo?

MR. ERELI: Let's go to the beginning. I think -- yesterday, we put out a statement deploring the recent incidents of violence in Kosovo, specifically, clashes between Albanian and Serb communities, which caused numerous death and injuries. Since then, we have been working intently in Pristina, in Belgrade and in NATO, to help stabilize the situation and bring some calm to Kosovo.

In the UN, there will be a meeting in open session today in which the UN Secretariat will be making an official report on the status of events. And we plan to make a statement condemning the outbreak of violence and offering our full support to Special Representative Holkeri, KFOR, and the international missions working in Kosovo to restore order. We also expect the Security Council to make a strong statement on the need to halt the violence and we will be supporting that statement.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on Kosovo?

MR. ERELI: Follow up.

QUESTION: Yeah, because the government in Belgrade said that they insist on the new resolution condemning the violence and finding some kind of solution for calm down the situation.

Are you supportive for the -- some kind of new resolution today in Security Council?

MR. ERELI: What we are supporting in the Security Council today is a Presidential Statement.


QUESTION: Yesterday in the statement, you said this violence had the potential to --

MR. ERELI: "... threatens the process of democratization and reconciliation."

QUESTION: Yeah. But the very future of Kosovo -- what do you mean by that?

MR. ERELI: No, it didn't say that. It didn't say that.

QUESTION: Well, there were several revised editions, but it said that it threatened the very future of Kosovo.

MR. ERELI: The statement as released said: "The escalating violence threatens the process of democratization and reconciliation in Kosovo and must end."

QUESTION: Oh, you -- the revised version finished it there?


QUESTION: Was there a reason, then, for retracting that part of the statement?


MR. ERELI: There was a state -- (laughter) there was -- I won't get into editing processes. The statement, as issued, said the violence must end.

QUESTION: Middle East?

QUESTION: Excuse me. On Kosovo again.

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What do you think will be the consequences concerning dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina? In 2005, there is supposed to be a assessment of progress in implementation of standards.

Is this like a big setback?

MR. ERELI: It needn't be. It can be a catalyst for dialogue and reconciliation that supports the process for peaceful change in Kosovo.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Just one more question. American soldiers were actively engaged in separating the two sides that were in the conflict. Are there any reports from the field? And secondly, there was unrest all over Serbia. In Belgrade there was some expression of anti-American sentiment towards U.S. Embassy. Do you have any comments on that?

MR. ERELI: For information about activities by U.S. soldiers I refer you to the Pentagon. On the demonstrations in Belgrade yesterday, I would note that today our Embassy is closed due to concerns about large-scale demonstrations that are taking place near the Embassy. Last night there were major demonstrations that resulted in damage to our property. The Serbian police are providing additional security to the Embassy and barring any further violence we would expect to open tomorrow.

QUESTION: Did you have any contact with government in Belgrade?

MR. ERELI: Yes. We are in touch with the government in Belgrade on this issue.

Middle East?

QUESTION: Yes. Are you aware that the Israeli Supreme Court today intervened to stop the building of 25-kilometer stretch of the wall? And was that as a result of American pressure or anything like that?

MR. ERELI: I wasn't aware of it. I think this is a process that Israel is working its way through. We have made our views known. I wouldn't call that pressure, I would just call that stating what our policy is.

QUESTION: One other item. President Mubarak said that he's ready to send his ambassador back to Israel, but he asked in return that Israel refrains or stops saying that we have no Palestinian partner for peace. Is that a trade-off that you would encourage?

MR. ERELI: What we encourage is normal relations between Israel and its neighbors.

Yes, ma'am.


MR. ERELI: We'll come to you next after the Middle East.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Okay. You talked about conveying your opinion to the Israelis concerning the wall. But on the other hand, while the presidents of Syria and Egypt are actively now consulting with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on reactivating and launching the Beirut Summit Peace Initiative with Israel, we see the United States Administration continuing, actually, to display what could be considered in the Middle East, and is considered by some circles, to be indifference regarding the Israelis' wall that is cutting deep into the Palestinian occupied territories. Wouldn't you think that this U.S. passive attitude could further undermine your credibility, especially when you have just announced your Greater Middle East Initiative?

MR. ERELI: Your question ignores so many facts, it's astounding. It baffles me how anybody can suggest that we -- that our position is passive. You've been to enough of these briefings to know that we have been very outspoken in our position of the fence, that -- and made it clear that Israel does have the right to defend itself, but we are opposed the fence in areas that it -- in areas where it takes over territory that is the subject for negotiation, and to the extent that it makes -- it increases the humanitarian suffering of the Palestinian people.

That has been the clear and consistent message that we've enunciated publicly and to the Israeli Government. And I think it stands on its own merits.

QUESTION: Now with the Israelis continuing building the wall and encouraging --

MR. ERELI: The Israelis have shortened -- excuse me -- the Israelis have shortened the wall and changed its routes in a number of places.


QUESTION: Have you seen the Saudi Foreign Ministry response to your characterization yesterday in regard to the arrests on Tuesday? They note that you've -- a failure to consult with them before releasing your statement.

QUESTION: Did you release a statement?

MR. ERELI: I'm not aware that we released a statement.

QUESTION: Well, made a statement.

MR. ERELI: We speak out regularly and forcefully on behalf of human rights around the world when it's appropriate. And in this case, when asked about our views of the arrest of reformers, it was, I think, right and proper to say what we said. And we'll continue to say it, whether it happens in Saudi Arabia or whether it happens elsewhere.

QUESTION: They referenced it as a internal security matter. Is that -- I mean, is there any consultation now as far as this issue? I mean, as far as getting to the, I mean --

MR. ERELI: The subject of reform and change and human rights in Saudi Arabia and in the region is an ongoing subject of discussion and dialogue between our governments and the governments in the region. It is, I think, important to recognize that -- and this is one of the fundamental, I think, ideas between the Greater Middle East Initiative, that people in the region are yearning for change, and that that yearning and that that yearning and that energy needs to be heard, needs to be channeled in a positive direction.

It's what the people there are calling for. And Saudi Arabia had taken some important steps in that direction, in the area of reforms and consultations and democratization. So we want to see that continue and we'll speak up in favor of that, as well as noting areas where there's been backsliding, in Saudi Arabia and if it happens elsewhere, elsewhere.

QUESTION: Have you seen the notice, though, the --

MR. ERELI: No. I have not.

QUESTION: Did you -- yesterday, you said you were going to raise it with the Saudis. Did you?

MR. ERELI: I'll have to check and see.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Kosovo. Do you prefer independence Kosovo or integrated again to Serbia?

MR. ERELI: This is a subject that I think -- right now, we're looking at Kosovo fulfilling steps that it has undertaken with the international community, and the subject that you raise is something, I think, that doesn't pose itself at the moment.

QUESTION: And do you consider the Albanian reactions against the Serbs as terrorist acts or something else?

MR. ERELI: Look at our statement yesterday. I think you'll get our view on that subject.

QUESTION: And since U.S. and NATO, sir, they apprehended in the Balkans and (inaudible) Kosovo and both the U.S. and NATO consider Albanians their partners and allies in the American war against terrorism internationally, did you have any direct communication with Tirana or Pristina to defuse this crisis?

MR. ERELI: We have been in contact with all regional capitals in an effort to respond to the situation in Kosovo.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: North Korea?

MR. ERELI: North Korea.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: They put out a statement today saying that disarming the nuclear deterrent will lead to invasion.

Is there more roadblocks to the process?

MR. ERELI: I've not seen that statement.

QUESTION: KCNA put it out this morning.

MR. ERELI: I have not seen the statement. I think that we have made it clear that we have no intention of attacking North Korea, and that in the context of a commitment to complete, irreversible and verifiable dismantlement of its nuclear programs, we would be prepared to offer security guarantees.

QUESTION: But is this part of a process where you move one step with them and you move two steps back? Because you've just finished talks. You've got talks coming up. And every time there seems to be some progress, they seem to be putting out statements that say this.

MR. ERELI: This is, as we've been clear, something that we and the -- our other partners in the six-party talks are committed to. We recognize that it's going to take a while. We're patient.

We've accomplished, I think, some important progress in the last two rounds. We're working on setting up the parameters and processes for a working group to follow up on the last round and prepare for the next round.

So I think that, you know, while you might look at one statement and try to, you know, draw some, some conclusions as a result of it at one given point in time, it's important to look at it on a continuum, and that continuum is characterized by forward movement.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Chinese Foreign Minister is going to North Korea next week. And do you have any comment? Did you know about it beforehand, before the foreign ministry announced it?

MR. ERELI: I won't comment on, you know, what we knew when, in terms of Chinese Foreign Minister travel to other countries. I would say simply this, that we have, I think, established a pattern of close consultation with all our partners in the six-party talks on this issue, and that that close consultation and China's really excellent leadership of the process, as the host of the talks, has produced progress. And we're confident that, you know, that trend will continue.

QUESTION: The Chinese envoy, Minister Dai, when he was here, did he bring any message or proposals or things to be talked about for the Chinese who go to North Korea from America?

MR. ERELI: That's just not a subject that I'm prepared to get into from the podium.

QUESTION: And the working group, do you expect that to happen in April and in Beijing?

MR. ERELI: I don't have a timeframe for you.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia.

MR. ERELI: Let me go to -- Elise.

QUESTION: On Poland. Apparently, the Polish President said today that he believes his country was taken for a ride or misled on the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

MR. ERELI: I have seen the press reports of that statement. I haven't seen the statement. I think that, you know, as we've made clear, Saddam had acquired, had developed, had used weapons of mass destruction. That was a fact that everybody knew, that had been proven to the world. It had also been proven to the world, as a result of defections by Saddam's son-in-law, that he had chemical and biological weapons and active programs.

It was also proved by David Kay and in his interim report that Iraq had active weapons programs, had scientists who were actively deceiving the UN, and had the intention, should sanctions be lifted, to quickly, I guess, be in a position to quickly resume production of WMD.

The fact that we haven't found any actual stockpiles did -- came as a surprise to us. The search is not over. We continue looking. But I think his intent and capability and the fact that he had them was well known. And I'd also point out that before we went to -- before we actually got into Iraq, it was the view of not only us, but intelligence services around the world and the UN that WMD was there.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Let's stay on --

MR. ERELI: We've done -- yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. ERELI: No, I think it was the same subject.

QUESTION: Are you disappointed or worried because the --a major ally of the U.S. in the war in Iraq today making such statements, critical statements?

MR. ERELI: Like I said, I've seen press reports of the statement. I don't know -- I haven't seen the statement itself. We have no reason to have any sort of questions or doubts about Poland's steadfast support of the mission in Iraq. And I would simply note that only a few days ago they made it clear that they would, you know, they were with us shoulder-to-shoulder in the efforts to bring stability and prosperity and democracy to Iraq. So it's not something that is cause for concern.

QUESTION: Well, what do you think about --

QUESTION: In fact, is there a need to get an explanation? You have an ambassador there. Is there a need to get an explanation to see if the statement reflects their true attitude? I mean, you refer to it as if it's, you know, just a news account. And it's a Polish statement.

MR. ERELI: Let me put it this way. We have a strong and close relationship with Poland. They are a friend and they are a partner and I think our discussions with the Polish Government will take place in that context.

QUESTION: Well, Adam, actually what he said was that he believes that Poland was misled on the weapons of mass destruction but that he still feels now that they are there it is important to stay the course. So I guess the question is, do you think that this -- these kind of revelations by your allies damages your credibility for next time when you need international support to go against a threat that you believe is imminent?


QUESTION: Next on Saudi Arabia.

MR. ERELI: We did ask -- we did talk about it maybe while you were out.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) criticism?

MR. ERELI: Yes. Yes.

This gentleman on Georgia has had a question.

QUESTION: This morning (inaudible) a meeting between Georgian President and Ajaran leader Abashidze. Do you have anything about that?

MR. ERELI: Yes. President Saakashvili announced earlier today that he and Ajaran leader Aslan Abashidze have reached agreement that will allow Georgia to hold democratic elections on March 28th throughout the country, including Ajara.

I would also note, specifically, that Mr. Abashidze has committed to meeting international standards, and that international observers, led by the OSCE and domestic observers, will monitor the elections.

This agreement came as a result of more than six hours of meetings between President Saakashvili and Mr. Abashidze, and produced a set of measures that will reduce tensions in Ajara.

We are encouraged by the progress that was announced today and will continue to follow developments closely and urge both sides to adhere to their commitments.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: I have one more on North Korea.

You said the Libyans sent North Korea, or the other way around, some nuclear technology.

Do you know, or has anybody done an assessment, if the nuclear program in North Korea is more advanced or backward than the Libyan -- that you demonstrate in Oak Ridge the other day?

MR. ERELI: Not -- the state of the North Korean nuclear program is -- the technical details and the state of it is not something we're prepared to talk about, I think, publicly.

I think the point we've made quite clearly is that they have an active program. They -- that it is, by universal recognition, a threat and it should be completely and irreversibly and verifiably dismantled.

QUESTION: Has the -- the display that you showed all the media the other day at Oak Ridge -- has the U.S. Government given that kind of information or photograph or anything to the North Koreans for them to see?

MR. ERELI: No. Not that I'm aware of.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Cyprus, Adam -- any comment on the Cyprus talks in Switzerland on the highest level with the presence of Prime Minister of Greece, Costas Karamanlis, Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Erdogan, UN Secretary General, but not the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who refused to attend?

MR. ERELI: You're asking about the discussions where?

QUESTION: In Switzerland.

MR. ERELI: In Switzerland that are coming up?

QUESTION: Yes. It's already -- it was decided.

MR. ERELI: Yeah. On this -- on the upcoming talks in Switzerland, we fully expect that all sides will abide by the commitments that they made in New York on February 13th, which include sending representatives to the talks in Switzerland next week.

Our understanding is that the United Nations is awaiting indication of who will represent and be in a position to make final commitments on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots.

As a general observation I would say that the Cyprus talks process led by the UN remains on track. Our understanding is that it was announced in Ankara today that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan will attend part of the Switzerland talks.

And I would also note that Greek and Turkish representatives held a positive meeting in Athens yesterday to discuss security aspects of the Annan Plan, and reached agreement on several points.

QUESTION: Do you know who is finally is going to represent the U.S. Government in those talks since U.S. is involved?

MR. ERELI: Let me get a name for you.

QUESTION: And any possibility for Secretary Powell to attend these talks since he is in charge to mediate, too, as the --

MR. ERELI: This is a -- excuse me. It's the UN-mediated process.

QUESTION: But also, according to the President, Powell is involved, in the communication --

MR. ERELI: Powell is -- well, the United States is involved. Secretary Powell is actively involved --


MR. ERELI: -- in just talking with the parties and encouraging them to do what they can to support the Annan plan and the Annan-led mediation process.

QUESTION: But any possibility for him to attend the talks?

MR. ERELI: It's not something that's being under active consideration.

Yes, Saul.

QUESTION: Pakistan is going to be named a major non-NATO ally. Is there anything major, in practical terms, about this, or is it just symbolic?

MR. ERELI: I think it's a recognition of our close and continuing cooperation with Pakistan in the global war on terrorism. This is a fairly, I think, exclusive club, if you will. Other major non-NATO allies are Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, the Philippines and Thailand.

I think it shows -- demonstrates a commitment to a positive and long-term relationship with Pakistan. It comes on the heels of our pledge to work with Congress on a $3 billion multi-year assistance package for Pakistan. Practically, what it involves is foreign -- access to war reserve stockpiles on Pakistani territory, cooperative training agreements with the United States and ability to use foreign military financing for commercial leasing of certain defense articles.

So it's important, I think, materially, but also very important in that it sends a signal of close and strong and lasting cooperation.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: Do you think that's going to -- I mean, the access to kind of war reserves and foreign military financing, that kind of thing -- do you think that's going to kind of heighten tensions with India in any way?

MR. ERELI: No, it shouldn't. I mean, this is something that we have -- first of all, we have a good and close relationship with India, independent of the relationship with Pakistan.

I would point to the strategic partnership which we announced here in January that shows, I think, the strength and depth of that relationship and the kind of cooperation that we're engaged with with India, in the area of trade and development of high-tech goods. And we don't see our relationship with India or Pakistan as a zero sum game.

I mean, we look at it on a case-by-case basis. There's a unique set of circumstances in each country, which we appreciate in the context of our relations with that country.

QUESTION: Having said that, though, were the Indians notified beforehand that you were going to take this position?

MR. ERELI: You know, this is not something that we cared to advertise beforehand.

In the back, and then we'll go to Syria.

QUESTION: May ask about the working group meeting?

MR. ERELI: The which?

QUESTION: North Korea -- the working group meeting.

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You said there's no timeframe. The South Korean Foreign Minister then said he is expecting -- he was expecting it happen in April. I'm just wondering if you are talking about, if you are discussing about it together or was it just South Korean one-sided thinking or their proposal?

MR. ERELI: Right. No, I mean, we are discussing the working group with our partners. I think there are a number of ideas out there, a number of views. I'm not saying it will or won't happen in April. I'm just saying that I'm reluctant to give you a date or pin down a date simply because it hasn't been worked out yet and we've all seen how, you know, if you float a date out there, people get hung up on it. And then when it doesn't happen for a variety of reasons, somehow it's a setback. So right now we're not in a position to be able to say it's going to happen, you know, sooner or later or now or some other time.

I think our goal is, certainly, to have them before the next round of talks which are scheduled to take place before the end of June.


QUESTION: Sometimes the Administration are dissatisfied with your cautious approach to what happened in Syria, calling on Syria to exercise tolerance. In fact, they view what happened as a Kurdish rebellion emboldened by the freedom and liberties of their brethren in Iraq. Will the Administration, in fact, at one point encourage or support, let's say, a separatist movement, a Kurdish separatist movement in Syria or an insurgency and so on? Or how would it --

MR. ERELI: That is speculation of the highest order. Our policy is clear. We do not support separatism. We support peaceful exercise of people's rights within the context of, within the context of territorial integrity.

QUESTION: Even though that Barzani yesterday for the first time ever used the term, "Syrian Kurdistan." Like, another -- like some sort of --

MR. ERELI: I don't know what Mr. Barzani said, but, you know, our policy towards Iraq is that we support the territorial integrity of Iraq. That is certainly our policy towards its neighbors.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: This is probably useless. (Inaudible.) Have you heard anything about Pakistani troops surrounding what's being called a high-level target in the border area?

MR. ERELI: No, I've not seen that report.

QUESTION: Have you heard anything otherwise?


QUESTION: From your own sources?

MR. ERELI: No. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 p.m.)


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