State Department Noon Briefing, April 6, 2004
|Tuesday April 6,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
NORTH KOREA/SOUTH KOREA/JAPAN
TUESDAY, APRIL 6, 2004
1:15 p.m. EST
MR. ERELI: Hello, everybody. Let us, let me welcome back our Haiti travelers, especially Mr. Gedda, who looks in fine shape, having had a run-in with a Haitian air conditioner yesterday.
QUESTION: Paul Baskin had his baby Monday night, too.
MR. ERELI: Congratulations to all the -- and the fathers and head bashers in the audience. (Laughter.) Who would like to have the first question?
QUESTION: How about an Adam-bashing question?
MR. ERELI: On to the Adam bashing -- Adam smashing.
QUESTION: You may have seen the report from Hong Kong about the Chinese are not giving the Hong Kong democracy advocates much leeway these days. And you may have seen an announcement on that, in fact, today. Any comment?
MR. ERELI: We have seen that report.
I guess our comment would be simply to restate our policy on Hong Kong and on democracy there, which I think you're very familiar with: That policy is that we support electoral reform and universal suffrage in Hong Kong in keeping with the Basic Law's own goals, and we would encourage dialogue, continuing dialogue between the Government of Hong Kong and the people of Hong Kong toward that end.
We would also encourage the Hong Kong Government to do everything possible to respond to the expressed aspirations of the Hong Kong people for electoral reform and universal suffrage.
We would also note that international confidence in Hong Kong is predicated on its rule of law and high degree of autonomy, and we will continue to watch the situation in Hong Kong closely, and our goal is to support Hong Kong's continued stability and prosperity.
QUESTION: Does that mean, Adam, that you believe that the Chinese parliament, the NPC, should not have the right of review over anything that has, over any changes that might be made?
MR. ERELI: I guess I'd put it this way: that Hong Kong's continued prosperity, Hong Kong's continued stability, Hong Kong's continued success depends on, and will continue to depend on the autonomy that was envisioned by Beijing nearly 20 years ago when it created the "One Country, Two Systems" framework, and that our aim is to support that, that kind of autonomy, that kind of prosperity, that kind of stability, consistent with the Basic Law.
QUESTION: What, but do you, do you think that the right of review by Beijing over, over, over what it goes on in Hong Kong is consistent with the Basic Law?
MR. ERELI: I'd put it this way: that the Basic Law guarantees "One Country, Two Systems," that it is critical for "One Country, Two Systems" that there be a fully autonomous and open society that is governed by the rule of law in Beijing. I'm sorry, in Hong Kong.
QUESTION: Okay. I'm try -- really, I'm only looking for a yes or no answer.
MR. ERELI: Sorry. I'm sorry if I can't accommodate.
QUESTION: Does that mean that you don't -- you don't have an opinion on whether the NPC should have final say?
MR. ERELI: No, it means that our opinion is that Hong Kong ought -- prosperity and stability is important to autonomy.
QUESTION: Right, I got that. You've said that three times now.
MR. ERELI: So that's, that's what our position is. That's the best I can do for you.
QUESTION: Iran said today that it plans to increase its cooperation with the IAEA, and at the same time said that it wants UN IAEA inspections to end by June. Do you have anything to say about that?
MR. ERELI: On the subject of cooperating with the IAEA, that's great as far as it goes. I would sort of point out that we've heard promises like that before and we've also seen them broken before.
I'd point out to you that on October 21st Iran told the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom that it would "suspend all enrichment -- uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the IAEA." Then they later went on and said that, "Okay, but that doesn't include domestic manufacture and assembly of centrifuges.
Then again, on November 10th Iran sent a letter to the IAEA saying that it had -- that it had decided to suspend "all enrichment-related reprocessing activities in Iran."
Then, again, on February 23rd it said it would suspend assembly and testing of centrifuges. So we've heard this before. At the same time, in subsequent statements, they said they were going to continue. So I guess we'll have to wait -- the short answer is we'll have to wait to see.
It's great if they actually live up to their promise, but so far, they haven't done that. And really until they do that, this investigation, this process of review by the IAEA has to continue.
QUESTION: So the idea of a June deadline is completely unacceptable to you guys?
MR. ERELI: I think that there's a schedule in play here. The IAEA Director General will be presenting his next report in May, I believe, and the Board of Governors will meet in June to review that report and decide on appropriate next steps based on that report.
QUESTION: So in other words, it's possible that, you know, if they want to set some kind of a deadline out there -- June, July, whatever, that's okay with you? The Irani -- I mean, I can't see why you won't -- why you don't want to say that the Iranians to set a self-imposed deadline for these things is in any way acceptable to you all. I can't see why it would --
MR. ERELI: I think what -- the timeline that we're working on and the timeline that matters, is the IAEA timeline. And that IAEA timeline calls for Iranian cooperation. So let's work on that timeline, not on alternative timelines. And the case will be closed when the IAEA requirements are met.
QUESTION: New topic.
MR. ERELI: New topic? New topic.
QUESTION: On Haiti, some reports that the -- that Aristide's interior minister was arrested and that he's now under protection of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.
MR. ERELI: I haven't seen those reports, and I don't have any information to substantiate them.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq?
MR. ERELI: Iraq?
QUESTION: Yeah, there are some independent conservative analysts like Anthony Cordesman of CSIS that have long warned that active opposition by the Shiite population would doom the occupation and make Iraq ungovernable. Do you think that you guys are at that stage?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Is the occupation doomed and Iraq is ungovernable?
MR. ERELI: No. No.
QUESTION: Are you fast moving towards this?
MR. ERELI: I -- you know, I'd just -- how should I put it? I'm sort of reluctant to start engaging in a debate with every analyst and think tank person, no matter how, sort of, insightful and knowledgeable they may be. Let me do this. Let me sort of give you our take on the situation in Iraq.
MR. ERELI: I think what we're witnessing, frankly, is efforts by a small, although small and vocal minority, to resist the rule of law, to resist political pluralism, to reduce -- resist peaceful expression of political aspirations, and to use violence and intimidation to impose their view on the great majority of civic-minded Iraqis, who want to have a peaceful and democratic country governed by the norms that the rest of us live by.
And I think that's what we're seeing. I don't think we're seeing anything that's either widespread or shared by a large part of the population. And I think that the other point to make here is that -- you know, for those who talk about the end of occupation, the fact of the matter is that a, I think, very active and intense process of transition to sovereignty has been underway for some time and it's, you know, it's gaining momentum every day, and that we're looking at a June 30th transfer of sovereignty.
Special Representative Brahimi arrived in Baghdad -- or arrived in Iraq in the last couple of days. He's started his meetings. They're going well. We're working with the UN. We're working with Iraqis. And what we're seeing is Iraqis becoming, you know, ever more ready to take over the affairs of their country, and there are some small number of Iraqis who see themselves being faced with the possibility of having decreased influence, decreased role if that influence and role is predicated on peaceful participation of the political process, and they're acting out against it.
I would also -- well, anyway. That's --
QUESTION: Could I have a follow-up? A fellow by the name of Larry Diamond, he's a democracy consultant with the CPA in Iraq. He accused Iran of being actually behind what's going on, and he said that if they continue to destabilize Iraq, we will also destabilize Iran. Could you comment on that? If you know about that.
MR. ERELI: I really don't. On the subject of Iran and Iraq, I think that we have certainly made our position clear, that none of Iraq's neighbors, and particularly Iraq, has an interest in --
MR. ERELI: None of Iraq's neighbors, and especially Iran, thank you, has an interest in domestic turmoil, domestic unrest or destabilizing Iraq. That it's in all of our interests to support a peaceful transition to Iraqi sovereignty. And we certainly look to, again, all of Iraq's neighbors to act in ways consistent with that understanding.
QUESTION: So, if your opinion that Iraq is moving in the direction of being ready to take over power on the 30th --
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: I mean -- you're sticking to the deadline no matter what? I mean, there's nothing --
MR. ERELI: I would say there's no reason, no cause to shift the deadline based on what's going on. In fact, what's going on, I think, gives impetus to meeting the deadline.
It's important to remember that the accelerated timetable had its origins in the desires of the Iraqi people to take over their own affairs. So postponing that, or pushing that back, I think, is something that would run contrary to what the Iraqi people want and would only make sense if it was something that they were pushing for, since it came from them and they want their country back and we certainly support that.
QUESTION: Okay. But isn't -- I mean, I know you'd like to hand over on the 30th, but isn't the, kind of, reality of that predicated on whether Brahimi has some success in finding some kind of agreement on how to choose the government, how to help the Iraqis choose a government?
I mean, if his meetings are not as successful and don't come up with a plan, as you hope, I mean, you're still going to hand over on the 30th?
MR. ERELI: The transfer of sovereignty on the 30th is predicated on the assumption that there will be an authority to transfer sovereignty to, and we certainly think that assumption remains a valid one.
QUESTION: With Al Sadr vowing a standoff to the death, and also with all these Islamic militants gaining ground, you will allow completely a transfer to any entity that's Islamic-based or clerical-based? Do you want a secular-type transition?
MR. ERELI: Let me take issue with this notion of ethnicity or religion. Sadr and his small number of followers, we don't see them as representative of a religious cause, but rather as representative of political gangsterism. They are not acting in the name of religion; they're acting in the name of arrogating for themselves political power and influence by violence -- through violence because they can't get it through peaceful persuasion.
So this is not a question of being worried about Islamic extremism. The other point I would make is that leaders of a variety of communities in Iraq, both secular and religious, have denounced the violence that Al Sadr is practicing. So this is not a question of Islamic extremism versus secularism, this is a question of, I guess, civic-mindedness versus thuggery.
And that divide is not a divide that is made on the basis of one's religion or one's ethnicity. It is based -- it is one that is made on one's approach to one's fellow citizens. And the great majority of Iraqis, I think, are following the path of discourse and compromise and dialogue; and that's what we're trying to see prevail in Iraq. And that's what we believe because it is rooted in the Iraqis own desires, will succeed.
Yes. QUESTION: This might be a question for the Pentagon, but I thought I'd try. There's a story in Sunday's edition of the New York Daily News, and it asserts that four soldiers serving in Iraq are "contaminated with radiation, likely caused by dust from depleted uranium shells fired by the U.S. troops," and also that they could be the first confirmed cases of inhaled depleted uranium exposure.
And if you can't quite comment --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, let me just stop you there. This subject -- I haven't seen that report. This subject of depleted uranium in Iraq has been kicking around ever since the first Gulf War. And as a result of a number of studies and a number of really sort of thorough, thorough investigations, the notion of poisoning through depleted uranium, I think, has been debunked pretty thoroughly. So I would say that -- make that as a general comment, but as far as the specific report, which seems to be the latest iteration of a longstanding story, I would refer you to the Pentagon.
QUESTION: Change of subject. Our Embassy in Amman has put out a Warden Message saying that a terrorist cell was targeting the Embassy. Could you tell us any more about that?
MR. ERELI: Very little, actually.
QUESTION: That's fine.
MR. ERELI: What I can tell you is that the Jordanians captured some individuals who they believe were affiliated with the Zarqawi al-Qaida network. As a result of their investigation, they discovered that among the targets these individuals were looking at was the American Embassy. They informed us of that. And on that basis, we issued the Warden Message.
I would note that the investigation is ongoing. It is being conducted by the Jordanians. And we will continue to sort of follow closely and work with them in order to protect our citizens and our interests.
QUESTION: Was there any sense that they got all of the people in the cell? Do you know that? Or will there -- may still be some out there?
MR. ERELI: I couldn't say that. I think what I could say to that is that the investigation is ongoing.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to add to the Embassy statement on the conviction today and death sentences handed down to Zarqawi and the seven others? Or --
MR. ERELI: Well, frankly, I haven't seen the Embassy statement. What I can tell you from our position here is that we deeply appreciate the excellent support and cooperation from the Jordanian Government. They have acted in an exemplary way throughout the investigation, prosecution and conviction of those responsible for the murder of the USAID official, Laurence Foley. And I would only add that, you know, it's important to note here that those who go after Americans and harm Americans should note this verdict and note that we and our partners in the war on terror will continue to go after them.
QUESTION: To go back to the previous subject, you said that the Jordanians had reason -- had subsequently found reason to believe that this cell was looking at the U.S. Embassy in Amman as a target. Did they have an actual plan to attack it that was disrupted or foiled? Or was it just one of a list of potential targets that they were thinking about?
MR. ERELI: I couldn't tell you at what stage the operation was, and that's because I don't have the information.
QUESTION: Can I change the topic?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you actually have an agenda for the TCOG meetings, the information TCOG meetings coming up?
MR. ERELI: We will be discussing, as I think I spoke to last week, reviewing the next steps as a follow-on to the last round of the six-party talks, both in terms of reconvene -- or preparing for the next round in June, but also importantly, on putting together a working group that would meet before the third round.
I think that -- as you know, there have been a number of meetings and discussions since the end of the second round. This meeting will be an opportunity to sort of compare notes on those meetings between officials at a variety of levels and see how, sort of, to plot strategy -- I'm sure that's a bad expression -- plan strategy for next steps.
QUESTION: Just to follow-up on working group and U.S. -- U.S. are optimistic about holding a working group within the end of this month?
MR. ERELI: I'm hesitant to put a timetable on it, frankly. I think that the parties are working seriously towards that end. But when it finally proves to be, you know, practicable to put together the working group, both logistically and substantively, I don't want to speculate or put out something on that.
QUESTION: Speaking of putting out something, will there be a statement at the end of the meetings? And if so, well, where will it be released? The TCOG.
MR. ERELI: The three-way meetings, the informal three-way meetings, which are taking place in San Francisco? I think that probably depends on how the meetings go and whether the three decide they want to say something about it. So they're not -- as a matter of course, we don't put out statements. So I wouldn't presume it one way or the other, frankly.
QUESTION: Change of subject? Congressman Frank Wolf is calling for the President to support a UN resolution that would start an investigation in Darfur and determine whether, indeed, genocide is being committed there. Is that something the State Department would support? Do you think that would be useful?
MR. ERELI: I have not seen the statement -- or, I'm sorry, I have not seen Congressman Wolf's proposal. It's the first I've heard about it. So obviously, I think, you know, we recognize Congressman Wolf as a sort of -- someone who is committed to and dedicated to the prospect of promoting peace in this troubled part of the world. So, you know, we respect what he has to say.
I would make two points here: One is, I think the White House will be probably putting out a statement on Darfur where they express their position -- our position on the ongoing conflict there. You know that we spoke to it -- we put out a statement last week drawing attention to this issue, and also pointing out that we are doing what we can to mobilize international action on behalf of the long-suffering people of Darfur.
I would also add to that that the Secretary talked to both parties, Mr. Taha and Mr. Garang, over the weekend, to the Government of Sudan. He expressed our deep and ongoing concern about the situation in Darfur and made it clear that we were looking for the Government of Sudan to take action to help resolve the serious humanitarian crisis there. Those are the two points I wanted to make.
QUESTION: Do you think it's important to find out whether what is happening there suits your technical description of genocide?
MR. ERELI: I think what's important is, I mean, we have people on the ground there now who are -- actually, not -- who are on the ground, both in terms of facilitating humanitarian aid as well as working with the parties to promote a peaceful settlement between the rebels and the Government of Sudan.
I think we have a good sense of what's going on there. I think we've called it a humanitarian crisis. But I -- I really hesitate to use the "G-word" at this point, not really having considered it in that light.
QUESTION: Change of subject.
QUESTION: I'm still on Sudan. About an hour or so ago, General Sumbeiywo, Naivasha said that they have -- that the SPLA and Khartoum have now reached an agreement on the three disputed areas and that something could be signed within four or five days. You know anything about that?
MR. ERELI: I had not seen that report. I know that Assistant Secretary -- Acting Assistant Secretary Snyder left for Sudan yesterday -- I'm sorry, left for Kenya yesterday. He has been meeting with the heads of delegation at the Sudan talks. The Secretary spoke to both parties over the weekend, as I mentioned.
The point that we are making to both the SPLA and the Government of Sudan is that this is make-or-break time in the negotiations. It's time to bring the process to a conclusion this week, and that's what we're hoping to see.
QUESTION: Just to go back to Darfur for a second, does the U.S. State Department believe that what is going on there is genocide or not?
MR. ERELI: Like I said, I mean, I hesitate to characterize it beyond the way we already have, particularly in our statement on Friday, absent a more careful consideration of the facts.
QUESTION: But are you not carefully considering the facts, is that what you're saying?
MR. ERELI: I'm saying that I have not -- I, as the spokesperson, am not in a position, given the review of the facts that I have, to qualify or characterize what's going on in Darfur beyond what we have already done publicly in our statement.
QUESTION: But if you say that people on the ground have and a good sense of what's going on, and you're not using the word genocide, that would lead to the conclusion that you have assessed the situation and you don't believe it's genocide.
MR. ERELI: I would not -- I would really refer to -- the latest on what we believe is what we issued, the statement, I believe it was Friday. That is the current statement of our position.
QUESTION: Can we go to the Middle East?
QUESTION: One more on this one. You mentioned that the Secretary's talking to Taha and Garang. I thought -- Garang is not related to the Darfur --
MR. ERELI: No, he spoke, but on this -- for this -- he spoke with Garang and -- he spoke with Garang about the talks in Naivasha. With the Sudanese side, he spoke about both Naivasha and --
QUESTION: And what did he hear back from the Sudanese Government about Darfur? Did he get any assurances that they were going to take action?
MR. ERELI: I think we got a -- a good hearing of our concerns and a willingness to take them on board. I don't think we got any firm commitment.
QUESTION: Adam, the Israeli Prime Minister Sharon told the Israeli press that all along, his intent with the separation was to sort of circumvent the creation of a Palestinian state or relegate it for some time in the future. Do you have a reaction to that considering that that really conflicts with the President's position for a two-state solution?
MR. ERELI: I hesitate to react to your accounts of press reports of what Sharon said. What I will tell you is what our position is. Our position is that we remain committed to the roadmap; we will continue to work with the parties to help bring about the President's vision of a two-state solution; that Israel has proposed some ideas recently that are worthy of consideration; that we are working with the Israelis and the Palestinians and the international community, quite frankly, to explore those ideas. But the goal remains the same. The goal remains a two-state solution achieved through the roadmap.
QUESTION: Did you request a clarification on this issue from the Israeli Government or from the Prime Minister Sharon himself?
MR. ERELI: On which issue?
QUESTION: On what he stated?
MR. ERELI: On the press report?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, what --
MR. ERELI: Elise.
QUESTION: I mean, you've always had these assurances from Israel that it won't attack Arafat. And now Sharon is saying that he doesn't feel encumbered by that.
MR. ERELI: I think if you look at -- two points. One is --
QUESTION: He's not saying that he has any plans to go against him right now, but he's saying that he doesn't feel encumbered by any kind of --
MR. ERELI: Two points. One is, I think -- the previous question was dealing with the roadmap and a political solution. You're raising another issue, which is Israel going after individuals.
We've seen Sharon's comments. I've looked at -- we've looked at the actual quotes. We don't see anything particularly new in there. We see a restatement of what they've said before. And you know, I would restate what we've said before, that we don't support that kind of action and we've made our views known to the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Since the latest round?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: You've made your views known since the latest round of statements?
MR. ERELI: No, it's -- we don't see anything new in the latest rounds of statements. I think publicly we've made our views known. I'm not aware that we've made any approach to the Israeli Government on these points specifically.
QUESTION: You said that --
MR. ERELI: No, I'm sorry. Ms. Hoda.
QUESTION: Okay. You said that the roadmap, or the initiative, should be linked to the roadmap. Do you mean a timeline link, organic link, or just open-ended?
MR. ERELI: I don't think I said that. I said that the President -- we remain committed to the President's vision of a two-state solution. The roadmap is the way to get there. Israel has proposed some ideas, which we are exploring, but I would not link those -- obviously, those ideas have to be consistent with commitments in the roadmap.
MR. ERELI: But I would not say that we are looking to amend or change the roadmap in any way.
QUESTION: Do you think that -- and just the ideas from Prime Minister Sharon, to withdraw from the settlements in Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank, would this be enough to make a historical promise for a solution?
MR. ERELI: I'm not in a position to discuss in any detail the ideas that have been proposed by the Israelis. That is something that is the subject of ongoing dialogue between us and between our partners, and I'm just not in a position to comment on it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah, the Pakistanis have reacted somewhat angrily to comments made yesterday by your Ambassador to Afghanistan. I think he's basically restating them as we speak right now at another event.
I'm wondering if you have anything to say about his comments that the United States will step in if the Pakistanis prove to be unable or unwilling to police that -- their side of the border.
MR. ERELI: We've had a good dialogue with Pakistan on the subject of moving against terrorist elements operating on their territory. I think we've seen in the last several weeks -- months, even -- concerted and courageous actions by Pakistani forces against those elements. These actions have involved the loss of considerable Pakistani life, which -- for which the Secretary expressed appreciation in his recent trip to Pakistan.
It's important to note that this is going to be an ongoing effort, that there are deep-rooted and committed terrorists in that part of the world who need to be acted against. Pakistan is doing that. We appreciate that, and we'll continue to work with them in any way that we can to help support that effort. It's not a question of now or never, it's a question of let's -- we're both in this for the long haul.
QUESTION: But, I mean, the Ambassador said that the U.S. was prepared to go into Pakistan and physically go after these guys.
MR. ERELI: That's a -- frankly, I think that's an eventuality that unfortunately, we don't have to deal with at this point.
MR. ERELI: That fortunately, we don't have to deal with at this point.
QUESTION: Returning to the Middle East, also aside from the Israeli statements, the PLO has invited Hamas to join into their decision-making, meaning part of the PA Government, whether -- if and when Israel withdraws from Gaza. Do you have any comments concerning their decisions?
MR. ERELI: I don't know if that's true. I haven't seen that report, so I really couldn't make a comment on it. I think -- obviously, you know, we consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Our view is that, far from being welcomed into any partnership or cooperation, Hamas should be ostracized and disempowered as an organization.
QUESTION: Yeah, do you have any comments on the conviction of this Russian academic on charges of spying for the United States in a trial that has been pretty soundly -- roundly condemned by human rights groups and others?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I would note that, if you look at our Human Rights Report, we, too, have expressed our concerns with the way the case of the Russian scholar Igor Sutyagin was handled and, in particular, its lack of transparency and due process.
We would note that the trial was conducted in a closed court, and therefore, we're not in a position to know what the evidence was -- what the evidence was that was presented. And without commenting on the specifics of the case, I would just reiterate the concerns that we expressed earlier, that there were problems with the lack of transparency and the due process. And those concerns remain.
QUESTION: So they're wanting to sentence this man to 17 years in prison, I believe. What do you, does that --
MR. ERELI: My understanding is he could receive a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Again, I'm not in a position to comment on the evidence of the case or the court's decision beyond saying that the way it was handled has to raise questions about the conclusions of the case.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. We have one more question.
QUESTION: Yes, on Russia. Do you have any readout of today's meeting; Secretary's meeting with Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov?
MR. ERELI: Yes. The Secretary -- Secretary Powell and Secretary -- I'm sorry, and Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov met today for about half an hour. The last time they met was during the Secretary's visit to Moscow in January. They had a very good, very friendly exchange on, really, the whole range of issues, on, obviously, NATO, regional security issues, the war on terror, Middle East, Iraq, Kosovo. It was a very broad and free-flowing exchange.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:55 p.m.)
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