State Department Noon Briefing, June 18
|Friday June 18,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
FRIDAY, JUNE 18, 2004
12:45 p.m. EDT
MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to our final briefing of the week. I don't have any statements to open with, so let's start with your questions.
QUESTION: Can you offer an update on what's happening in Saudi Arabia, and does it look to you like the Saudis are doing all they can to be helpful?
MR. ERELI: The Government of the United States and the Government of Saudi Arabia are doing, I think, everything they can to resolve this situation peacefully and positively. We are working to secure the safe release of Mr. Johnson. We believe that there is no excuse for not releasing him immediately and unconditionally.
The Government of Saudi Arabia is, I think, sparing no effort to help resolve this situation, and we are working with them fully to cooperate and to assist their efforts.
QUESTION: Can you, without getting into, obviously, you know, kind of sources and methods of the investigation, can you talk a little bit about the manpower that's being expended on the investigation?
MR. ERELI: I don't have a lot of detail to share with you. There are significant Saudi -- first of all, Saudi Arabia, the Government of Saudi Arabia, is in the lead in this law enforcement action. They have considerable manpower assets that they have devoted to this effort. I don't think there is any way you could say that they're being lax about responding to it.
We, certainly, at the Embassy and throughout the U.S. Government are doing everything we can to help in every way possible.
QUESTION: Having said that then, are you disappointed that you haven't been able to find him? Does it seem like you should have been able to?
MR. ERELI: Obviously, we would prefer to have Mr. Johnson safely with his family, at this time. That said, this is a difficult business. And the fact that the situation is still unresolved, I would not take to be a reflection of the lack of commitment or a lack of activity or a lack of engagement on anybody's part. We all know it's a tough business.
QUESTION: Has anybody made any analysis of the tape of these guys? I mean, it's kind of morbid. But do you believe they're going to carry out their threat to kill him?
MR. ERELI: We are taking this situation with the utmost seriousness and responding appropriately in that context. You can't -- having seen the images we've seen, you can't but be moved and energized to do something about it. And that's what's happening.
QUESTION: Tammy. Is there any cause for you -- is there any cause for optimism, based on the efforts that have taken place to date?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't want to characterize it in terms of optimism or pessimism. We're taking this thing seriously, we're working methodically, and we're doing everything professionally that we know how to respond.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about -- when exactly does the 72 hours end, and has there been anything heard from the kidnappers since the Tuesday tape?
MR. ERELI: I don't have any information for you about what's been heard from the kidnappers. Again, I would refer you to the Saudis. But the Saudis and the U.S. Government have made it clear that they're not going to negotiate with terrorists or with kidnappers.
As far as the 72-hour deadline, it's a little hard to fix with precision, since we don't know precisely when the terrorists who claim to be holding Mr. Johnson imposed their death threats. But we're working on the presumption that the 72-hour deadline arrives at some point today.
QUESTION: So just to follow up, you say you don't know -- you don't have any information about what's been -- whether anything's been heard. Does that mean that it's possible that there's been some other communication and you just don't have information about that, or --
MR. ERELI: I would never say that anything's impossible. But I don't have any information that would suggest that such a report is more or less likely.
Nothing else? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Vladimir Putin says that he communicated to the United States that Saddam's regime was possibly planning attacks on U.S. soil. How did he communicate that to the U.S. Government? Through the State Department?
MR. ERELI: We've seen the same reports that the official services of the -- or that the Russian security services passed information to American colleagues about plans for Saddam Hussein or his agents to attack the United States. I don't have, from the State Department, have any information to share with you about that because it didn't come through us. I would refer you to the services in question.
I would note that the United States and Russia have a very good and close counterterrorism -- record of cooperation in the field of counterterrorism. We've worked well together in the past, both in terms of information sharing as well as other areas. But on this specific report, I just don't have anything to share with you.
QUESTION: When the United States built its rationale for going to war with Iraq, did it use this information as part of that?
MR. ERELI: I don't know what this information is.
QUESTION: Has any similar kind of warning been sent through the Russian Foreign Minister to Secretary Powell?
MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of, no.
QUESTION: Nothing similar conveyed like that?
QUESTION: Well, without talking specifically about any information provided by Russia, did the U.S., before going to war, have any reason to believe that Iraq was planning actual attacks against the U.S., whether in the United States or abroad?
MR. ERELI: I would refer you --
QUESTION: I'm talking about specific attacks.
MR. ERELI: Right. I would refer you to the wealth of statements that are out there on the public record starting with the Secretary's February 5th presentation at the UN about the links between Iraq and terrorism, about the relationship between terrorists active in Iraq and al-Qaida and attacks against American targets. And I think what the -- the case is compelling is that there were relationships, that there were real and active threats against American targets and that it was the responsible thing to do to act against those threats.
QUESTION: But you're not saying you know of a specific attack planned by Iraq against the U.S. that was thwarted?
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything more to add to the public discussion of this than what is already out there.
QUESTION: Were you taken by surprise by what President Putin said or did this really evolve with senior officials in the building?
MR. ERELI: Since it wasn't communicated to this building, it didn't ring any immediate bells. Whether it rang bells in other buildings --
QUESTION: You mean even at the Secretary's level?
MR. ERELI: Even at the Secretary's level, it was not something that I think we -- that immediately jumped to mind in terms of jogging people's memories.
QUESTION: And when you said the word, "real threats against us," what were you referring to?
MR. ERELI: Well, the record is clear. I mean, if you look at the attack against Laurence Foley, if you look at other activities by Ansar al-Islam and al-Zarqawi to name just a few, if you looked at the links that we had seen between Iraq and al-Qaida, the United States was, you know, at the center of their bullseye. And, you know, they systematically attack American diplomats and American facilities.
QUESTION: Whose bullseye? Zarqawi, al-Qaida's or Iraq?
MR. ERELI: Both, both.
QUESTION: Iraq had the U.S. at the center of its bullseye?
MR. ERELI: No, well, Iraq -- Zarqawi and al-Qaida did. There were links between Iraq and Zarqawi and al-Qaida. Iraq had been, you know, had already tried to assassinate one ex-president of the United States. They were actively trying to shoot down American planes in the no-fly zones. So there was a pattern of hostility, of targeting, of association with those who had committed acts and had every intention of committing acts in the future.
QUESTION: But we're talking about specific -- we're just asking about specific attacks that were thwarted.
MR. ERELI: Yes, and as I said, I don't have anything more to add to that than what's already on the public record.
QUESTION: Speaking of security in Iraq, can you say anything to maybe assuage the concerns of State Department employees who will be asked to serve after June 30th? Because I understand you're beefing up the embassy presence, and in a serious vein, isn't this a pretty major request to put people in there? Or can you say something about you're confident about the security, in this regard?
MR. ERELI: We are very aware of the security environment in Iraq and the challenges to our personnel. Obviously, in Iraq, as with every other mission that we run, the safety and security of our personnel is our top priority. And we are sparing no effort to provide them with the resources and the assets and the procedures to protect them, both in terms of training, in terms of materials, in terms of infrastructure. It's a challenging assignment. It's a tough assignment. I think it's one that we all go into with our eyes wide open. But we think we can manage the risk and accomplish the mission.
QUESTION: Can you discuss numbers?
MR. ERELI: Of?
MR. ERELI: I think that issue was addressed last week in a briefing that Ambassador Ricciardone gave. He sort of provided the ballpark of about 1,000, I think.
QUESTION: New subject? Well, actually, just one more. Yesterday, some Foreign Service Officers, diplomats that have served in Iraq, talked about the need for Congress to pass the appropriations bill that would really help the State Department in terms of diplomats that are going to serve in Iraq. Is there anything you can say on this, whether you --
MR. ERELI: There -- the State Department has identified its funding needs and has taken the steps necessary to secure the moneys to run our mission in Iraq, both through the end of this fiscal year and we are -- our intention is, I think the Administration's intention is, to provide a -- submit a supplemental in early next year. So we have, between now and then, I think, identified -- determined what our needs are and identified the resources to meet those needs.
QUESTION: These people are saying that, you know, as far as the infrastructure and the, you know, resources, that's fine, but these extra funds would really help the diplomats, per se, that are going to be serving there, in terms of their families, in terms of their quality of life, in terms of training, in terms of, you know, the needed staff that would be able to -- are you saying that you don't need this money?
MR. ERELI: I don't know what specific statements you're referring to and what the specific requests or needs that they pointed to are, so I really couldn't tell you whether what they're talking about has been provided for or not. What I can tell you is that, at the most senior levels of this Department, they have done a very careful scrub of what we need to run our mission successfully. And that includes providing, really, first and foremost, that includes providing for our people, for their safety, for their well-being, and not neglecting their families, either.
So having done a careful scrub of those needs, we have looked through the resources we have at the Department, we have looked through, you know, other funding sources, other pots of money, and identified those funds that will carry us through to the next supplemental.
QUESTION: Change of subject? Back on the issue of Iran, in Vienna, they've now passed your resolution, and I would also like to know if you have any reaction to some more new satellite images that show that Iran may be clearing a space for a reactor at the Arak plant and is fortifying around Natanz as it if expects an attack.
MR. ERELI: Let's deal first with the resolution from the IAEA, which was adopted today by the Board of Governors. We welcome this resolution. We commend the excellent work of the International Atomic Energy Agency and we note that this is the fourth resolution that has been adopted unanimously by the Board. It maintains strong pressure on Iran to comply with its Nonproliferation Treaty safeguards obligations and to cooperate fully with the IAEA.
Some other important points in the resolution to note: It makes clear that Iran's cooperation has not been full or timely; it notes that Iran's declarations to the agency have been incomplete and inconsistent; and it also makes the point that Iran has delayed inspections.
We would join in the resolution's -- or we do join in the resolution's call for Iran "to take all the necessary steps on an urgent basis to resolve all of the outstanding questions" that the IAEA has, particularly the highly enriched uranium and low enriched uranium contamination, and the nature and scope of Iran's P-2 centrifuge program.
QUESTION: And what about the photos?
MR. ERELI: Oh, the photos. I haven't seen the photos or the reports about them. I would simply repeat the general -- without commenting on them, since I haven't seen them, I would repeat the point, the general point that Ambassador Boucher made yesterday, which is that the reason much of the activity in Iran is suspect is because of a clear and long pattern of deception. So when you talk about potential sites and when you talk about potential activity, the best way to answer those questions, frankly, is for Iran to be fully open and transparent about a program that it claims to be peaceful, and to meet the calls of the international community and the IAEA to -- and to provide full information. And that way people will be able to answer the question clearly or -- clearly what this is and what this isn't. But until they do, there are always going to be these lingering suspicions.
QUESTION: The IAEA actually has had access to these sites and has gone in and looked at these exact -- at this exact activity, but just it wasn't public until now. Do you, nonetheless, have concerns even if the IAEA has seen them and --
MR. ERELI: I am not familiar with the site so I really couldn't comment.
QUESTION: To put this in a broader perspective, why is it important that Iran not have nuclear weapons?
MR. ERELI: Because we believe that proliferation of nuclear weapons is destabilizing to the region and to the world and that it is in the interest of the international community to control the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. That's number one. Number two, let's be clear: Iran has treaty obligations that it is violating and that, in and of itself, should be cause for concern and justification for action that the international community is taking.
QUESTION: How about their missile program and their ties to terrorist groups?
MR. ERELI: Likewise. Longstanding concerns that we have that we are working, I think, tenaciously to address.
QUESTION: Well, if this is drawn out and longstanding and ongoing for so long, might Iran face serious consequences if it does not comply?
MR. ERELI: I think if you look at the resolution, it notes that time is running short or it notes the passage of time in dealing with this issue. And, obviously, I think that patience is not limitless. This is the fourth resolution. This is the fourth time that Iran has been called upon to share information, the fourth time Iran has pledged to stop activity but has continued activity. And it is the fourth time that the Board has said it views these issues seriously.
Looking ahead to September, I think, you know, here is an important point to make: Iran wanted the file closed at this meeting. That clearly didn't happen. And the reason it didn't happen is because what the Board has asked Iran to do over the last three meetings has gone unanswered. So, looking ahead to the fifth meeting, I think that again we will be looking to Iran for answers, for cooperation, for fulfillment of commitments that it has made.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up to that?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Well, why wouldn't they get the impression that patience is limitless because, like you said, this is the fourth resolution and you have been -- every resolution -- I mean the resolution in November was very tough and it said that, you know, any kind of further omissions by Iran or -- I don't remember the exact language, but, you know, it threatened further Board action. And it doesn't seem really that there had been any action taken since then, I mean.
MR. ERELI: I think a consensus is -- let's put this in perspective. Let's go back two years. Two years ago, the United States was saying Iran had a program, Iran was a danger. And everybody was saying, "Oh, come on, you guys are crazy. You guys are just beating up on Iran because you got it in for them."
Well, two years later, everybody is on board in the form of four resolutions that, hey, there is a program, there is a clandestine nuclear program; it is a problem and we were seized of the matter and we are united in demanding action. That is a significant accomplishment and that process has a momentum of its own. I am not going to predict where it's going, but I would note that clearly Iran is on the hook to demonstrate to the international community and the IAEA that it is complying with its treaty obligations and that it is fulfilling its commitments to disclose information and stop proscribed activity and to stop activity that it has said it will stop.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed that the resolution doesn't include a time element?
MR. ERELI: No, this resolution, I think, we are satisfied with.
QUESTION: Do you think that the time element might have given it more teeth and given Iran --
MR. ERELI: I don't know what you mean by time element. The time element is that -- well, there are two time elements: one is the next meeting of the Board in September; and two is, it does note the passage of time, which introduces, I think, a sense of urgency greater than was there before.
QUESTION: Do you think that this case should be referred at some point, if Iran does not comply, to the UN Security Council?
MR. ERELI: That's been our longstanding position, that, you know, that it is -- that issues such as violation issues that have been mentioned, at the appropriate time should be referred to the Security Council. Let's let this process play itself out and see where we are in September.
QUESTION: When you say "play itself out," it's pretty much just repeating itself. You call in each resolution for them to come clean and then in the next meeting you say, well, they didn't come clean probably.
Is the reason that you're not pushing for it to be reported to the Security Council that you haven't got the support from other IAEA member nations, or is it because you don't want to provoke a provocation while you're deeply involved in Iraq?
MR. ERELI: I think it's -- we are working with the other members of the Board of Governors to craft a broad-based and consensual approach to this issue, which we all agree is a problem. We've made significant progress in forging an international consensus -- in a multilateral form, I would ask that you note -- and that this consensus and this working through this forum is producing results. It's informing us more and more about a clandestine nuclear program, it is providing clear and indisputable benchmarks for Iran, and it is moving in a direction, I think, that we think is productive.
QUESTION: And you say that -- you said it was unanimous. Were there any abstentions?
MR. ERELI: I don't think so. I'll check, but I don't believe so.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: The New York Times has a lead editorial today strongly suggesting that the international community, including the U.S., hasn't done enough on Darfur. Also tossing out the idea that the United States and the EU, for instance, might consider personal sanctions against the leaders of the Sudanese Government to pressure them in turn to rein in this militia in Darfur. And this -- what about the idea to --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I saw that article, that editorial. I don't think it said we're not doing enough. And -- because that, as we've discussed at length before, I think, no country has done more than the United States to both draw attention to and respond to the crisis in Darfur.
What the article suggested was, or noted that -- the article noted or the editorial noted was that we had designated Jingaweit, the militia leaders, for sanctions, and that that wasn't what was needed; what was needed was going after Government of Sudan officials who were supporting the Jingaweit and pushing the military to -- Sudanese military to protect the homeless populations or the displaced populations in Sudan.
I would refer you to a New York Times article, same paper that did the editorial, on Saturday and which quoted the -- or, I think, which quoted the Secretary as saying that -- you know, calling on the Sudanese military to protect those internally displaced persons. If the article didn't quote the Secretary, it's certainly available in the transcript.
The point here is, we've been on record a week before the editorial as calling for exactly that. So that is the position that, I think, the U.S. Government shares.
On the subject of imposing sanctions on Government of Sudan officials, it's something we're looking at. It's an idea under active consideration. We are reviewing available information to determine which specific individuals could be designated as responsible.
QUESTION: I think it was in that same interview last Friday with the Times --
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- the Secretary mentioned the possibility of declaring the situation there to be a matter of genocide. Can you advance that at all?
MR. ERELI: What the Secretary referred to was a review of the classification. The Secretary also made the point that -- and then that review is underway. I don't have any update for you.
The Secretary also made the point that people are at risk now of dying, and we have a responsibility to act on their behalf because, God forbid the worse happens, legal distinctions about genocide versus ethnic cleansing are going to seem rather hollow.
So we are moving quickly, I think, and resolutely, to address this crisis with the understanding that it is a crisis, it is a humanitarian crisis, people are at risk, and we need to prevent -- we need to help them. And the legal distinctions are, I think, important, but they're not slowing us down in any way.
QUESTION: Well, wouldn't a designation of genocide trigger certain actions that would have to be taken by this government?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, they would trigger, at a minimum, the need to hold certain -- certain actions to hold those responsible accountable.
QUESTION: Could you flesh that out in practical terms?
MR. ERELI: No, I couldn't. Well, it would require, I think, legal mechanisms and legal action to respond to a finding of genocide. That's the --
QUESTION: May I?
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: But just one last point on that. So if the legal distinctions that would trigger some things, would trigger some things, and you're saying that classifications seem hollow, why don't you just do those things right now?
MR. ERELI: Well, what I'm talking about is our focus is on helping the people of Darfur who are suffering and who are at risk. And whether you classify it as ethnic cleansing or whether you classify it as genocide is, at this time, at this critical moment, is not going to make a difference in helping those people. What's going to make a difference in helping those people is taking actions to stop the depredations being committed against them and getting them the assistance they need, and that's what we're doing. And we'd be doing that if it was called genocide or we'd be doing that if it's called ethnic cleansing.
Now, if it's called genocide, certain -- there's a certain legal response that comes into play, setting up mechanisms to hold those responsible accountable. But again, that's important and that's called for, but what we're focusing on right now, in addition to the interagency review, is doing everything that we can to prevent people from dying.
QUESTION: When you say it's under active consideration to put sanctions on individuals, what is it that you're weighing up?
MR. ERELI: We're trying to identify the indiv -- well, to impose sanctions, you have to meet certain legal criteria: identifying the individuals that might be susceptible to sanctions and determining whether they meet the legal criteria for those sanctions.
QUESTION: But you are always saying that it's the government that's backing them --
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- and the militia that's responsible --
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- so the leader of the government, aren't they responsible? Where is the legal technicality that stops your identifying?
MR. ERELI: Well, since I'm not a lawyer, I couldn't tell you. But before -- when you identify somebody for sanctions, you have to be sure that the person can't come back and say: "Oh, no, no, no, you've got it all wrong. You don't have the evidence. It's not me, it's somebody else." You have to make sure your case is -- will hold up. And that's --
QUESTION: But you've been making the case all the time that the government's responsible for the militias.
MR. ERELI: Yes, and we have to get all of our ducks in a row and say which individual, who did exactly what and make sure that the information is -- meets a standard that can withstand challenge.
QUESTION: Is all of this affecting the big plans to hold the White House ceremony to which the leaders in Khartoum and the leaders of the SPLA would be invited to celebrate the signing of agreements leading to peace between the north and the south?
MR. ERELI: Well, I think what is -- there are a number of issues at play here. Number one is, the -- in the Naivasha agreements, they have not been finalized to the point where things would be ready for a White House signature. So we're really not there yet.
The larger question of, if things were ready, what would you do, I couldn't answer directly. What I could say is what the Secretary has said, which is that the United States cannot consider normalized, fully normalize relations with the relationship with Sudan, as long as the situation in Darfur persists.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
QUESTION: Can I ask one more on that, Adam?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: The same said editorial talks about certain countries in the UN Security Council that are protecting Sudan's interests and basically blocking stronger action there. Do you agree with that, that there are (inaudible)?
MR. ERELI: I would make two points to that. One is that the Security Council passed a resolution last week, I believe it was last week, welcoming the Naivasha protocols and the settlement between the north and the south, but also noting its concern about the situation in Darfur. So that we have made progress in bringing this issue before the Security Council and it is under active consideration by the Security Council.
As to what the political dynamic is on the Security Council regarding future action, I don't really have much of a comment, other than to say that, clearly, this is -- the situation in Darfur is a crisis that the Secretary General has said he is very concerned about, that the UN Security Council has spoken to, that is a matter for action by the international community. And we will be working -- we have consistently worked with the international community, both in Geneva and in New York and in the African Union, to bring every pressure to bear, every resource to bear on behalf of the people of Darfur, who are being -- who are at risk and being attacked.
Yes, Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: Any answer to my yesterday's pending question regarding a Pakistani senior member of al-Qaida, who has been arrested in the Republic of Cyprus, and he has been expelled to the unknown destination in full cooperation with the U.S. and Cypriot security officials?
MR. ERELI: Did we put it -- did we take that -- post that question yesterday? I think it's -- I don't have anything more to add to Mr. Boucher, Mr. Lambros. It's a law enforcement question. I don't --
QUESTION: He said, I will see. What can I do?
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything more.
QUESTION: Do you know if he has been brought to the United States or to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba?
MR. ERELI: No, I don't.
QUESTION: Your Ambassador to Greece, Tom Miller is, again, in Washington, D.C., less than in ten days. Any idea about his new arrival?
MR. ERELI: No, I think Mr. Miller, as Ambassador Boucher said, will be actively engaged as ambassador through the completion of his tour of duty.
QUESTION: But do you know if Ambassador Miller's new arrival is related to the information that he is going to be replaced by the new Ambassador to Greece, Charlie Ries, prior to the Olympic Games in Greece? It was a lot of report to this effect.
MR. ERELI: No, I think Mr. Boucher -- Ambassador Boucher answered that yesterday.
One more question? Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you know if the Foreign Minister of Mexico, Mr. Ernesto Derbez, has today a meeting with Secretary Colin Powell?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: No? And the Secretary Powell and Foreign Minister Derbez talking the last dates about the ranch up in Arizona?
MR. ERELI: I don't have any information about a Secretary Powell-Foreign Minister Derbez call, so I don't -- I'm not aware that one took place.
QUESTION: One more on Cyprus?
MR. ERELI: One more on Cyprus.
QUESTION: Yes. How do you comment on the reports in Cyprus and Greece that all of these measures you have taken recently regarding the isolation of Turkish Cypriots actually is against the presence (inaudible) in the occupied territory of Cyprus involving the Turkish invasion and occupation; and, most important, Mr. Ereli, they are moving to the direction of the recognition of a so-called Denktash mini-state?
MR. ERELI: I would simply say there has been no change in our recognition policy on Cyprus. We are taking steps in acknowledgement of Northern Cyprus' supportive role in favor of the Secretary General's settlement plan to help ease their isolation, but this in no way compromises or changes our longstanding recognition policy.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)
Copyright 2003 Q Madp PO Box 86888 Portland OR 97286-0888 www.OurWarHeroes.net