State Department Noon Briefing, July 21, 2003
|Monday July 21, 2003
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman
MONDAY, JULY 21, 2003
2:07 p.m. EDT
MR. REEKER: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. I do have one announcement I would like to make and we will put out a written statement following the briefing; that is that Secretary Powell has today announced the selection of Mitchell B. Reiss as the new Director of the Office of Policy Planning.
Dr. Reiss is currently the Dean of International Affairs and Director of the Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William & Mary, and Professor of Law and Government at the college. He has extensive experience in issues relating to nuclear nonproliferation, including work on North Korea. He is published widely in the field of International Affairs and Arms Control. Dr. Reiss has degrees from Williams College, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Oxford University and the Columbia Law School.
Dr. Reiss has served previously in government, including as Special Assistant on the National Security Council and as a consultant to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and as a consultant here at the Department of State, as well as with the Congressional Research Service and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
So we will put that statement out as well as a full copy of Dr. Reiss's bio after the briefing.
QUESTION: Phil, do you know if that appointment is going to be -- as it was, as it was with Haass, he was confirmed by the Senate even though he did not need that confirmation as an Ambassador-at-Large. Is that the same deal with this guy?
MR. REEKER: I would have to check on that. We can see once he gets started, but I don't know this is obviously a decision the Secretary's made consulting with the White House and we look forward to Dr. Reiss joining us in due course.
QUESTION: Will Dr. Reiss be taking on the diplomatic duties, it's not a question about the title, but Haass often was not just the director of the State Department's think tank but was also sort of an Ambassador-at-Large who would -- went to see Chavez and would, sort of, carry important messages. Is Reiss going to have that role or is he going to be focusing more just on the long-range planning?
MR. REEKER: I would say at this point that Dr. Reiss will be doing exactly what the Secretary and he decide he will be doing. We will let him get started in that and the Secretary can determine what specific assignments --
QUESTION: You know, Haass was a special envoy to Northern Ireland --
QUESTION: He still is.
MR. REEKER: Indeed. And he still is --
QUESTION: He worked with the Iranians.
MR. REEKER: And so what we are announcing today is the Secretary's selection of Mitchell Reiss as the new Director of Policy Planning and we will look forward to him joining us here at the State Department and in due course as special assignments or anything else comes forward, he certainly has an impressive background to be able to deal with any number of issues in service to his country and his government and to the Secretary of State.
QUESTION: There's probably a lot of questions about Liberia --
MR. REEKER: Sure.
QUESTION: Let me please kick it off with asking you to tell us what's going on in the embassy compound, whether Americans are leaving, being evacuated, embassy functions and any damage or, I hope, not anybody hurt.
MR. REEKER: Well, as I think you have seen widely reported, a stray mortar round hit an apartment building on the main embassy compound earlier today and a mortar round hit a house on the embassy's Greystone Annex compound, which is actually a separate compound away from the embassy and not currently being occupied by embassy personnel in Monrovia.
Obviously, we are keeping in close touch with our embassy there and monitoring very carefully the situation. There were no injuries reported from the strike on the main compound but we do understand there are several dead and wounded at the Greystone compound, among the internally displaced people who have been residing there.
There was a separate incident some of you have seen reported, in which an embassy local guard was injured in front of the main compound, and one private American citizen who was running to enter the compound also received some minor shrapnel wounds in the arm. We are strongly condemning the rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, for their continued reckless and indiscriminate shelling of Monrovia.
They need to think about the plight of the civilian population, the humanitarian workers, who are there to alleviate suffering, and this breaking of the ceasefire is something we call on them to end. The ceasefire needs to be upheld. The talks in Ghana are an important decision point. And Liberia's only way forward is through the peace process under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States. So we are watching very carefully.
As you know, we earlier yesterday announced that we would be reinforcing security at our embassy, which was done, and we are keeping in close touch with the Ambassador. Some private American citizens were assisted by the embassy in departing. I believe some journalists had departed, and some third country nationals as well.
QUESTION: Yeah, what are you doing to persuade ECOWAS to interpose a peacekeeping force?
MR. REEKER: Certainly we are keeping in very close touch with the United Nations. The Secretary has spoken with Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations, and we have been in close contact with regional leaders. We have been -- as the President said, we have been discussing what we can do to help the peacekeeping troops, the ECOWAS peacekeeping troops, that will move into Liberia.
We want to see that action take place. And so we will continue to carry out those discussions, those contacts, and to see that they move as quickly as possible. But it is incumbent upon the parties in Liberia as well, to keep their commitments, the commitments they have made to the United States and to the international community, to the neighboring states and abide by the terms of the ceasefire, and to operate along standard principles of human rights and diplomatic conventions.
If we are to trust them in the future to participate in the democratic governance of Liberia, we need to be able to see them keep their commitments now. So as I said, we are calling upon the leader of the LURD group to immediately halt that offensive and for all Liberians to reenergize their efforts in achieving a peaceful negotiated settlement through the Accra talks taking place in Accra, Ghana.
We would also remind the leaders of Guinea and neighboring states of their international obligations and responsibilities to control their borders and prevent the flow of weapons and combatants into Liberia. So we keep monitoring this situation closely. It remains a major concern for us. I think you saw the President's remarks a short time ago.
QUESTION: Phil, do you have any evidence that there are -- there are flows of ammunition and people across borders from neighboring countries?
MR. REEKER: At this point I don't know that I could get into any details on that, but it is something we want to keep an eye on and we want neighboring countries to do that as well so that everybody takes all steps possible to control this, as well as putting the onus on the different groups within Liberia to stick with the ceasefire and live up to their responsibilities.
QUESTION: Okay. You're -- I understand that your call for the LURD to stop its offensive is being made in person to representatives of the group both in Accra and in Conakry. Is that correct?
MR. REEKER: I do believe that's correct. I don't have a readout of specific contacts we have had, but there are representatives of that group in neighboring capitals and we certainly are reaching out to all those concerned in neighboring countries, in Monrovia as possible, and as I said, the Secretary, himself, has spoken with Secretary General Annan today as well as yesterday on this situation.
QUESTION: There is also some talk about a -- well, I don't know if -- about a big meeting here in the building sometime this afternoon about the situation at which decisions about the status of the embassy might be discussed. Do you know anything about this?
MR. REEKER: As I said, we are monitoring the situation. The Secretary, himself, is monitoring the situation closely. We are in touch with Ambassador Blaney who is on the ground, of course, in Monrovia watching the situation carefully.
We recognize the danger there as you have seen with stray mortar shells and random gunfire around so it is a dangerous situation. We want to monitor that closely in terms of the security of our personnel and the situation on the ground.
QUESTION: And the last one -- you've pinned down that these shells that hit the two compounds were from the rebel group?
MR. REEKER: I don't know if I could go that far. You know, mortar fire comes from a long distance away, but certainly we have seen this reckless and indiscriminate shelling that has been carried out by the LURD group, that is the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, and we think that has got to stop. There is a ceasefire that needs to be upheld and all of the parties in Liberia have responsibilities to see that that happens in the interest of the future of Liberia as well as the immediate safety of the Liberian people in Monrovia and those that are there to help them.
QUESTION: In terms of embassy personnel still there, we already -- we knew that there was a skeleton -- a small skeleton staff to begin with but have additional personnel been evacuated along with these journalists and other Americans that you have spoken about in the last day or so since the increased fighting in Monrovia?
MR. REEKER: I don't know if I can give you a particular nose count. Obviously, the number of Americans in official capacity increased with the 41-strong security team that the Department of Defense talked about -- in a notice last night -- that arrived today. I do believe that there have been some individuals that then came out that were assisted in departing. Exactly who they were, I was told about some private American citizens who requested assistance in departing and we facilitated that. So I don't think I can give you an exact number of people at our embassy. We are still operating. We are still monitoring the situation on the ground with those people, but I can't give you any specific numbers.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, Phil. I know you're reluctant, generally, to give exact numbers and without asking for an exact number, can you talk about 100 or 200 or fewer than or more than or dozens or something that would help pin it down a little bit?
MR. REEKER: I would not want you to think that there were hundreds, so we are not looking at numbers into the three digits on our embassy compound. Obviously there may be others in Liberia that we try to keep in touch with, but clearly it is of concern to us regardless of the number. Each one of those Americans is of concern to us and all of the people in situations, third country nationals and the Liberians, themselves, who are suffering greatly under this.
The way forward is to end the violence, to uphold the ceasefire and move forward with the talks that have been going on in Ghana. There are some crucial decision points. We want to see action on the part of the countries in the region who we are working with to determine when they are prepared to move in and lets effect this process and see a better future for the Liberian people.
QUESTION: And just to follow up, you said the Secretary talked to Kofi Annan today. Has he spoken with anybody else on this -- on Liberia? Or is Kofi Annan the only --
MR. REEKER: That is -- you know, he has been speaking with the Secretary General fairly regularly. He spoke with him yesterday and as well on Friday and Saturday on Liberia and obviously discussions here within the U.S. Government. But in terms of foreign officials, he has been focusing on his discussions with the Secretary General at the UN.
QUESTION: Where does the Taylor situation stand? Taylor. President Taylor.
MR. REEKER: How do you mean? His --
QUESTION: Well, I mean, you know, you asked --
MR. REEKER: He is still there --
QUESTION: -- keep the commitments.
MR. REEKER: He needs to go.
QUESTION: -- message for Mr. Taylor as well as the --
MR. REEKER: Exactly, as the President has said, he needs to go, he's made a commitment to go, and he needs to go as well. So we are monitoring the whole situation and we want to see everybody keep their commitments and --
QUESTION: On the possibility of some U.S. peacekeepers, I'm trying to figure out if he must go for there to be a decision to send in some or is that simply one of several considerations? It's more tangled than that, I think.
MR. REEKER: The President continues to look closely at the situation. He is -- obviously we've had a team, as you know, in Liberia to evaluate the situation and provide information as well as any recommendations. I don't have anything new to announce for you.
I think you heard the President just a little while ago remind you once again that we are working with ECOWAS to determine when they are going to be prepared to move in. The President has said earlier that these are -- that we are prepared to help ECOWAS and we are in the process of determining what will be necessary to do that. But I can't give you any more specifics in terms of any decisions at this point.
QUESTION: Just from off the wall -- thinking of Iraq, for instance, does the Department have any opinions about the orientation that they would like a successor government to take? Are you concerned about who might succeed him -- what kind of groups --
MR. REEKER: Clearly -- that is part of what the talks in Ghana have been about, Barry.
MR. REEKER: They have been at some crucial decision points in terms of a democratic government for the future of Liberia, which we think is vital there. This is the type of discussion that is ongoing, but first and foremost there has to be an end to the violence, there has to be a ceasefire. The people of Liberia are not going to benefit from this kind of violence, this type of indiscriminate firing of what we have been seeing in terms of mortar rounds and gunfire. So that's got to stop. They have got to keep up with the ceasefire to which the parties agreed and we will continue to watch on that basis.
QUESTION: What's your understanding of why the ECOWAS countries aren't in there now or planning to go in shortly?
MR. REEKER: I would think you would have to talk to those individual governments or to ECOWAS as a group. They need to make their plans. We are, as the President indicated, looking at what we can do to help them, but we would like to see them move in according to the plan that has been developed in Ghana.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the delay in getting a peacekeeping force into the country is emboldening the rebels to move forward and are you, in your discussions with the Secretary General through -- and his discussions with other African leaders -- are you urging a swift deployment of the force?
MR. REEKER: I don't think anything should embolden the rebel leaders. They made an agreement. They made a commitment to a ceasefire. They made a commitment to the United States, to the international community, to the countries in the region and to the people of Liberia that they would hold to a ceasefire and allow this process to move forward.
Clearly we want to see the ECOWAS troops deploy as they have discussed. We want to do what we can to support that. The President will make appropriate decisions at the time, but I think first and foremost, once again, is these groups need to stop shooting their guns, need to stop firing their mortars, need to focus on the process going on in Accra and let that process take place. That's what will guarantee a better future for the people of Liberia. And so that is where we are focusing.
QUESTION: On a possible evacuation of the embassy, is it a decision hasn't been made because you feel that these people are safer in the embassy compound now than if you were to move them or that you're not sure that the situation warrants an evacuation?
MR. REEKER: I suppose it is "c"-- none of the above, that we will monitor the situation and make any decisions that we need to in that realm. Obviously we are in touch with Ambassador Blaney as I already said, watching carefully. It is clearly a dangerous situation on the ground. We did move in the additional security troops who are on the ground there, but we are concerned about our people and about the people of Liberia. But at this point, I don't have anything to announce.
Still on Liberia?
MR. REEKER: I don't know. Anybody else on Liberia?
QUESTION: So if I'm hearing you correctly, of the two mortar shells that were at the American Embassy today, only one American citizen injured in those two shell attacks?
MR. REEKER: The best reports, based on our conversations with people there at the embassy are that a stray mortar round hit an apartment building on the embassy compound and there were no injuries reported from the strike on the compound.
In a separate incident, there was a local hire guard who was injured in front of the main compound of the embassy, and one private American citizen, who was coming to enter the embassy compound, received a minor shrapnel wound in the arm.
But I don't want to forget about those that were killed and wounded among the internally displaced persons, the Liberians, who are -- have taken up residence at the Greystone compound near the embassy, where mortar rounds went in, and there are reportedly several dead and wounded there.
QUESTION: I realize you can't talk specifics regarding security protocol, but this is now the second time that a mortar shell -- if I understand it correctly -- has hit the Greystone compound. Were there any additional security perimeters put in place after the first attack there, which I believe killed a couple of Liberians?
MR. REEKER: I don't believe the Greystone compound, as I said, is part of our secured perimeter.
QUESTION: But, I mean, it's -- there weren't any additional security perimeters put in place there? Isn't it part of the American --
MR. REEKER: No, it's not part of the American embassy compound that is being -- that is secured now and being part of that. It has not been.
QUESTION: Philip, the one American, the private American who was wounded, was that a photographer?
MR. REEKER: I don't know.
QUESTION: Phil, you said that -- I want to get the word -- that the mortar shell that hit the apartment complex on the embassy ground was a stray. Do you know that? How do you know that it wasn't aimed there?
MR. REEKER: I guess completely I don't.
QUESTION: I mean, if they're aiming at the Greystone next door --
MR. REEKER: I didn't say they were aiming at Greystone next door. There is a lot of indiscriminate shelling that appears to be going on. And, as I say, that's what we have condemned, is reckless and indiscriminate shelling of Monrovia -- all parts of Monrovia. This isn't limited just to the embassy where these shells have landed or to the Greystone compound there in the vicinity. This is occurring around Monrovia and we think it's got to stop.
QUESTION: Can I ask you something?
MR. REEKER: Yes. One more.
QUESTION: Just prior to your coming to the podium, there was a report in the news that some of the people that were killed have -- in the area of the embassy -- were brought by others in the neighborhood, piled in front of the embassy walls, and they were -- they're upset that the United States hasn't gone in there maybe weeks ago or within days to help solve this situation. And, of course, Liberia was founded I guess 1869.
MR. REEKER: Yes, we are quite familiar with the history, Joel, thank you. I think the President has been very clear, and he spoke also just before I came out here on the fact that we are working with ECOWAS to determine when they're going to be prepared to move in.
We have said that we are willing to help them in this process, and we will make appropriate determinations at the time. Again, though I think you need focus on the people on the ground, the various groups who are carrying out this violation of the ceasefire that was reached, which is an important part of pursuing this process.
If these people on any side are acting in the best interest of the Liberia people, they will end the violence. They will stop shooting guns, stop firing mortars and bring an end to that, focus on the talks in Ghana, and that is the way to move forward.
Okay. We're going to change subjects, and Jesus has the floor.
QUESTION: It's on Mexico.
MR. REEKER: Yes.
QUESTION: About the matricular consular. The State Department share the sense that some members of the House of Representatives have on the matricular consular. Do you feel it is a real cause of danger of national security for the United States, and if that's the situation, what do you want to the Mexican Government respond? To stop issuing the matricular consular, or what is the other option?
MR. REEKER: Well, I think you are sort of ahead of us in the way you framed the question. At this moment, there is not a formal U.S. Government policy on the issuance or acceptance of foreign consular identification cards. There is an interagency process that is looking at this, and the Homeland Security Council is leading those deliberations. And they will formulate, in due course, a federal policy for consular identification cards.
There have been moves in the Congress, as you know, that -- amendments that would -- would require, if enacted, certain actions, and we need to examine how those actions would relate or interact with provisions of the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations. So we have to look at all of these legal issues and check out inconsistencies between other obligations like the Vienna Convention. And that is a process that is still ongoing.
QUESTION: A follow-up on the same question. Last week, as you mentioned, the House of Representative did passed an amendment which is a very concrete thing to -- for the State Department to regulate the issuance of consular identification cards by any foreign government, obviously starting with Mexico.
What is the State Department's position on this amendment, and what are the chances or your assessment on this amendment becoming enacted or being passed by the House?
MR. REEKER: I can't possibly give you -- I can't possibly give you --
QUESTION: Well, you don't have an assessment of what the future of this or the census of this --
MR. REEKER: No, I don't do Congressional analysis of that. But what I can do is repeat what I told your colleague, and that is that we are evaluating the requirements of the amendment known as the Hostettler Amendment. There are requirements in that amendment that, if it were to be enacted, would interact with provisions of the Vienna Conventions on consular and diplomatic relations.
And so we have to have a process of deliberation, which as I said, is being undertaken through the interagency process and examine the legal issues that are raised by the amendment including any inconsistencies that would then arise between the requirements that would be opposed -- imposed by the amendment, and obligations that we have under international conventions.
QUESTION: The government doesn't oppose the amendment as it is right now, as it was passed last week?
MR. REEKER: We have to look at it and determine what the ramifications of it would be, so I can't give you a specific thing. There is no, as I said, formal U.S. Government position or policy on the issuance of such -- such cards. And that is why we have an interagency group examining this to help formulate a policy. And we will look at what this amendment, in terms of its -- what it would require should it become law, and how that would interact with obligations that we have under existing international conventions.
QUESTION: Can we go next door?
MR. REEKER: Next door.
QUESTION: Yeah, Cuba has denied that it is jamming any television, satellite television or radio signals intended for broadcast to Iran. Do you buy that?
MR. REEKER: Well, as Ambassador Boucher indicated to you on Friday, we met with Cuban Government officials, I am told, both here and in Havana, to convey our concerns regarding interference of broadcasts to Iran, apparently emanating from Cuba. And we noted that the interference appeared to be intentional jamming. We asked the Cuban Government to investigate the matter.
We have not had a formal response from the Cubans. But the government has responded publicly by rejecting any accusation that it is involved in the jamming, but they did agree to look into the issue according to their public statements. So I don't think I can give you any further information at this point. We don't have enough information to know who is responsible, but that's one of the reasons why we sought the assistance of the Cuban Government in identifying the source of this, and we'll look to see their response.
QUESTION: So you don't have any assessment of their denial, whether you believe it or not?
MR. REEKER: No, as I said, we don't -- we aren't in a position to know exactly who is responsible, or exactly what's happening, but the Cuban Government agreed to look into the issue. And so we'll wait to see what they have to say once they have done that.
QUESTION: Do you know if they have continued to your knowledge?
MR. REEKER: I don't know.
QUESTION: Okay. And then yesterday --
MR. REEKER: Let me make sure I don't know.
QUESTION: And one related thing. On Friday, Ambassador Boucher was very careful not to say that he believed that it was coming from Cuba. He said, "the vicinity of Cuba," and you have just asserted Cuba.
MR. REEKER: I asked him that again. And this all has to do, as Richard indicated, to be able to determine where these things are coming from. They are taken in sort of grids. And Cuba is in that grid, the vicinity of Cuba, I can say that again if you want. We have been talking about Cuba.
QUESTION: No, I was just talking about a change or if you have some greater certainty about Cuba.
MR. REEKER: No, there is no change. The change is the public response we have seen from the Cubans, which is what we'll wait to see in terms of more detail from them.
QUESTION: Same country?
MR. REEKER: Same country, yes.
QUESTION: What was the State Department role in the decision to send back the people who -- the Cubans who hijacked the boat?
MR. REEKER: Well, as you're aware, we, the United States repatriated 15 individuals to Cuba today. This was done after taking into account our obligations under international law, our migration accords with Cuba and our commitment to ensuring a coherent migration policy that protects our borders.
And so with the Justice Department and the Coast Guard fully looking into the facts of the case, it was determined that 12 of this group of 15 appeared to have unlawfully taken the vessel, that is the "Gaviota 16," from Cuban territory and kidnapped three Cuban security guards. And during the interdiction by U.S. authorities in international waters, some of the 12 involved also physically assaulted Coast Guard boarding personnel.
QUESTION: But in view of the previous incident in which hijackers were executed, did -- you don't have any reservations about sending these people back to their possible death?
MR. REEKER: First of all, we carried this out consistent with our standard practice under the Migration Accord with Cuba, and that is that the Department of Homeland Security interviewed all 15 individuals to determine whether they had protection concerns and found that they were not eligible for protection because they had committed acts of violence in Cuba, as well as those who had committed acts of violence against the Coast Guard personnel. So those that stole the vessel were disqualified for consideration as refugees under U.S. law.
We did feel, however, that it was incumbent upon us to take into account the lack of due process that resulted in the execution of three Cuban hijackers, as they were called, of the ferry Baragua, back in April. At that time, you will recall that we, as well as many other countries, called upon or condemned the Cuban authorities for failing to provide for a fair and transparent trial for the individuals involved in that case.
And on July 17th, Cuba volunteered an informal statement to us indicating that they did not view this case as similar -- that is the new case with the Gaviota -- as similar to the Baragua, and informed us that the accused would be tried on charges of armed robbery and kidnapping, not on charges of hijacking, and that the Cuban Government would ensure that no individual would be sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for any act committed with respect to the Gaviota case.
And we received that communication then in the form of a diplomatic note that includes their commitments, with respect to the charges as I outlined, and so.
QUESTION: You said you received that note on the 17th, is that correct?
MR. REEKER: No, the 17th is when they made an informal statement. We did get a formal diplomatic note from them preceding this repatriation. I don't know. I can't tell you exactly when, but prior to the repatriation we received that note.
QUESTION: Did they clarify as to why they considered it differently from a kidnapping, and how much conversation was there between the two sides?
MR. REEKER: No, let me correct you. They have stated that the charges -- the accused will be tried on charges of armed robbery and kidnapping, not hijacking.
QUESTION: I meant why they viewed it differently --
MR. REEKER: Yes, you'd need to --
QUESTION: -- from a hijacking.
MR. REEKER: You'd need to ask them that.
QUESTION: And can you talk about how much discussion there was from both sides? Because the other part of that report was that the Cubans also agreed to seek no more than 10 years.
MR. REEKER: That's what I just said, yes.
QUESTION: But can you talk about how -- was there discussion between both sides before they had issued that formal notice?
MR. REEKER: Well, as I said, on July 17th, some days ago, the Cubans informally made this statement to us that they did not view this case as similar to the Baragua and told us how they expected to carry this out because we felt it was important to take that into consideration given the lack of due process that the three Cubans from the ferry Baragua in April had experienced.
And so we made that quite clear to the Cubans, who then responded to us with their statements, which I think they have released publicly as well.
QUESTION: So you basically said you are not going to return these until they clarified the charges they would be brought under?
MR. REEKER: I don't know that I could use your words. I'll stick with mine.
Yes, Elise. Oh --
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. REEKER: No, somebody else.
QUESTION: I actually have some follow-ups on the Mexican issue.
MR. REEKER: I think we have probably kind of exhausted it, but feel free.
QUESTION: No, well, if I may --
MR. REEKER: Yes.
Did anybody else have anything on the Cuban issue first?
Let's do Cuba, then I promise we can go back to Mexico; and then we can move on to anything else. Okay?
QUESTION: Just so I understand, so did the -- did the Administration say to the Cubans, "We will not repatriate these people unless they are guaranteed not to be executed?"
MR. REEKER: We made quite clear our concerns, as we had with many others in the international community, about the lack of due process that the earlier hijackers had faced when they were returned -- when they were in Cuba, and then were executed. We said at the time, I think, that we condemned the fact that Cuba did not provide them with a fair and transparent trial for those individuals.
Now because the Gaviota case, the more recent one, had initially been called a hijacking by the Cubans, we were very concerned about a similar situation. And that's why we felt that we needed to look at it closely. But, as I said, Cuba made voluntary statements, informal statements, which they then followed up with formal statements.
Exactly the process, and the back and forth on that, I just couldn't tell you the overall process, but what I can tell you is the results and the decisions that were made. Let's remember that we first looked at the case and determined that on the basis of international law and Maritime law, that it was not possible under governing U.S. law, or international law to bring charges, with respect to the assault that had taken place, or any other acts of violence, while the vessel was -- it had to have been taken by Cuba, as the flag -- the flag of the vessel, let me put it that way.
So we determined that we couldn't deal with this. The Cubans responded in how they were going to deal with this, the charges that would be brought and the process. And so they were repatriated, as you know, this morning.
Anything else on the Cuba side of things?
Then we're going to let this lady do Mexico.
MR. REEKER: You were going to do Mexico.
QUESTION: I thought she -- they have Cuba.
MR. REEKER: You have Cuba?
QUESTION: I have Cuba, but not the same topic.
MR. REEKER: Well, let's -- do you want to finish Mexico or?
MR. REEKER: Okay. Let's do that, and move on.
QUESTION: We could finish Mexico. Why not?
Last week, also Congress passed a sense of Congress, urging the Administration to initiate immigration negotiations with Mexico. I was wondering what you have to say about that sense of Congress.
MR. REEKER: I don't make it a practice to comment on the sense of Congress because it is, as you state, the sense of Congress. And we have a separation of powers here in the United States, in terms of the legislative branch having the prerogative to issue such things.
I think the Administration and the executive branch has been quite clear in wanting to pursue immigration issues with our close friend and close neighbor, Mexico. I don't have any news on that front or anything new to provide you, but can certainly refer you back to what we and the White House have said for some time.
QUESTION: And also, Mexico at the United Nations sponsored a resolution to provide aid or help the humanitarian -- protection to humanitarian aid workers. And there is reports that the U.S. Government is against that resolution, and that they threatened to veto the resolution. Do you have anything on that?
MR. REEKER: I will have to check. I don't know. I don't know anything about it.
QUESTION: No, I'll have to look into it.
MR. REEKER: Okay. Any last things on Mexico? Cuba?
No, then Elise will be next.
QUESTION: On North Korea, there were some reports over the weekend that the U.S. believes that North Korea actually has another nuclear site that it is using to complete these spent fuel rods. Can you specify --
MR. REEKER: As we have discussed before, as you know, it is very difficult to know what goes on in North Korea. And certainly the North Koreans and individual North Koreans have made statements at various times, as we've said, that we certainly can't corroborate.
We receive a steady stream of information on various types of activity in North Korea, much of which is unsubstantiated and can't be confirmed. And I would put, certainly, the one report over the weekend into that category. So I don't think there's anything really new to add there.
QUESTION: On that -- as you know, the Secretary had talks on Friday with Mr. Dai, the Chinese Vice Minister, Vice Foreign Minister. Can you give us a bit more detail of that? Did you see any progress towards arranging another round of talks as a result of these contacts you had with the Chinese?
MR. REEKER: I don't think I can give you anything more than we did in the afternoon on Friday after the talks. Secretary Powell, along with the --
QUESTION: It was well into the evening.
MR. REEKER: It was afternoon, I believe, Matt.
QUESTION: Seven hours after noon.
MR. REEKER: We just wanted to keep you up. No, indeed the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary met for two and a half hours with the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai-Bingguo and the Chinese delegation.
They discussed in detail how to achieve our common goal of a peaceful, non-nuclear Korean Peninsula through multilateral talks and as you also know, the Vice Foreign Minister briefed us thoroughly on his discussions earlier this month in Pyongyang. The Secretary certainly expressed appreciation for the tremendous effort China put into this matter and of course noted the President Bush has consistently pursued a diplomatic approach despite the North Korean threats and steps in the wrong direction.
So it was a very extensive and useful exchange about the way forward to achieve the peaceful and diplomatic end to the problem posed by North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons, and I would just say once again we share with our Chinese friends the goal of a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula with a complete, verifiable and irreversible termination of North Korea's weapons programs. So I don't have anything to announce on next steps, but certainly you know our views.
We think any lasting resolution rests on those with a direct stake in the outcome, being part of the dialogue process, and obviously that is why we have clearly stated our preference for five-party talks to include the South Koreans and the Japanese.
QUESTION: Phil, can I just follow up very quickly? There is a South Korean report today that three-party talks of the Beijing format might -- could, will resume in early September. Is there any basis to that? And secondly, the North Koreans are saying today that they've revived the demand for a non-aggression pact. What's your position on that these days?
MR. REEKER: We have certainly never ruled out the possibility of a trilateral meeting as one next step, but as I said and I will say again, we believe that a lasting resolution means that those with a direct stake in this -- in the outcome, need to be a part of the dialogue process. And that is why our preference has been for five-party talks.
I don't have anything to announce in terms of specific next steps or dates or any such thing as that and I think our position remains where it was Friday when we last discussed this.
QUESTION: And the non-aggression pact?
MR. REEKER: I think our position remains exactly where it was. We have made quite clear that we have no intention of attacking or threatening North Korea.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary give the Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister any message or letter for the North Koreans?
MR. REEKER: I don't know of that kind of detail. I mean, we got a briefing, clearly, because Vice Foreign Minister Dai had been in Pyongyang, so we heard from him, you know, about his meetings there. And I just don't have any more detail to offer you other than we had a very extensive discussion about this and I think we made clear that we believe that it is time for the other parties to join multilateral talks to ensure that all of the key issues are addressed and certainly we will continue speaking as we have, even over the weekend, closely with our Chinese colleagues and also with Japanese and South Korean interlocutors and of course we keep in close touch with other friends and allies as well because this is a situation that is of concern to the entire international community.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR. REEKER: Yes. Follow-up? Oh, different. Anything else on North Korea?
QUESTION: President Bush said a while ago that it's nothing new that North Korea is in the process of developing nuclear materials. So does it mean that U.S. has confirmed North Korea is reprocessing its spent fuel rods?
MR. REEKER: No. I think we are exactly where we were. On that I don't have anything new to offer in that department. We have said for some time our belief of North Korea's of one, possibly two nuclear weapons, but also the great concern that we have about the nuclear weapons program they, themselves, said that they have and that's what we are focused on is bringing a complete and verifiable and irreversible end to that program. That is what we are working with the Chinese on, what we talked with them about in the meetings here on Friday, and what we continue to focus on in our discussions about North Korea.
QUESTION: Yes. So based on the results of the meeting Friday, do you think Mr. Dai have to go back to Pyongyang? How do you think?
MR. REEKER: I think you should ask Mr. Dai about his travel plans. I would not presume to announce travel plans for him.
QUESTION: But will the United States give some advice or suggestions --
MR. REEKER: We will remain in close touch with the Chinese, as I have already said and continue to share views and again, appreciate the tremendous efforts that Vice Foreign Minister Dai and his team that the Chinese have undertaken in this, I think, very important, multilateral diplomacy.
QUESTION: Also, we have a kind of a very hopeful report from Seoul yesterday. The Korean Times writing maybe September 6th next meet?
MR. REEKER: Your colleague asked that question and I don't have any --
QUESTION: Over here. I'm sorry.
MR. REEKER: -- any dates or specific next steps. We have made quite clear what our hopes are, what we would like to see. I don't have any next steps or dates to announce. I have seen all kinds of reports that float here and there and we will just have to see what the next steps turn out to be.
Okay. We are going to change subject to --
QUESTION: Still on North Korea?
MR. REEKER: Over here. Yes, sir. I'm sorry. I've got to look over on this side sometimes, too.
QUESTION: When you say you don't have any intention to -- of attacking North Korea, I think you talking about military operation. But what North Korea wants seems to be something in broader perspective. That is, they want the assurance from the United States that the regime of Kim Jong-il stay intact. Are you ready to give that assurance?
MR. REEKER: What we are focused on is having multilateral talks to deal with the issues focused on the North Korea attempts to develop more nuclear weapons. And what we are concerned about is the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That's a subject of great concern to South Korea, to Japan, to China. And we have been working very closely with all those countries to pursue multilateral discussions with the North Koreans about how to bring about an end to this.
North Korea has put themselves into this situation, isolating themselves from the rest of the international community. And they can get themselves out of this situation by participating with us and the other countries that are most closely involved in finding a solution to this that brings complete and verifiable and irreversible termination of their nuclear weapons program.
QUESTION: So what can you say about regarding the regime's survival?
MR. REEKER: I think we have made very clear what our position is. I don't have anything else to add. What we are focused on is pursuing a peaceful and diplomatic solution to this. And we have made quite clear that we have no intention to attack North Korea. And that is the basis on which we are trying to pursue the multilateral talks, and the same thing we discussed with the Chinese delegation on Friday.
Okay. We're moving on to -- let me guess.
QUESTION: On the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, do you know anything about a meeting this week with a British delegation to talk about that?
MR. REEKER: Well, the White House put out a statement last week that described meetings that would be expected. I'd refer you to the White House statement of July 18th, after the President's meeting with Prime Minister Blair.
And we're going to welcome to Washington this week a British delegation led by their Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, who will participate in talks here to look at a solution that satisfies our mutual interests, the mutual interests of the United States and the United Kingdom. And, similarly, we will -- we will talk with the Australian legal experts. I don't have a specific timetable for you on those meetings. I'd have to check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. REEKER: Okay.
QUESTION: Mr. Reeker, there is a pending question on Cyprus from last Friday's briefing, to the effect that the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, is threatening now to send settlers to the occupied territory of Cyprus, Varosha of Famagusta, for the first time after 29 years of Turkish invasion occupation. Since this new threat is against the UN plan of the U.S. effort to find a solution to the Cyprus problem, I am wondering if there is an answer or comment on that question.
MR. REEKER: I think what you are referring to, because we did check into this, is a letter that Mr. Denktash announced he had sent to Secretary General Annan, and then made quite public. As you know, in the past, he has made numerous public comments on the subject of Varosha, and discussed some in reference to this letter of July 11th, where he proposed in the letter new confidence-building measures on the island of Cyprus. A lot of the press reporting of his comments has varied considerably.
And so I think specific questions regarding his comments need to be directed to him. What we have looked at, even though the letter was obviously not addressed to us, but since he made it public, we note that he suggests some confidence-building measures in this letter. And, in general nature, we would look forward to learning more detail, for example, the subject of Varosha is not in fact addressed in the letter itself. And so, as I said, there have been a variety of confusing press reports.
Let me be very clear that we support the UN Security Council resolutions from past years, which call for the maintenance of the status quo in Varosha until it is returned to its rightful owners. And so we, in that vein, are also supporting the efforts of the Secretary General and his plan.
We certainly would continue to welcome genuine mutually acceptable confidence-building measures that would foster contact between both the Greek Cypriot community and the Turkish Cypriot community, that would increase understanding between the communities on the island and improve the atmosphere for achieving a just and durable settlement.
QUESTION: Yeah, Phil, are you aware of any new developments other than the impending visits of Prime Minister Sharon and Abbas that would have led the President to unprompted -- unpromptedly during his news conference with Berlusconi, give a pretty blatant warning to Syria and Iran about supporting terrorists, or is it just the same, the concerns that you had in the past?
MR. REEKER: Well, certainly, I mean, we discussed on numerous occasions our concerns about Syria and their support for terrorism. And we have discussed -- discussed the fact that we have discussed that at the highest level with the Syrian Government. I think you were on the trip with Secretary Powell when he raised those concerns once again with President Assad.
We have talked about the need for closure of terrorist organizations, those that reject peace in the Middle East, closure of organizations headquartered in Damascus, and steps to date are insufficient. We have seen some steps taken, but we don't consider those to have addressed the fundamental issue of decisively ending operational terrorist activity of these groups that are present in Syria.
So if Syria is truly committed to comprehensive peace and supporting the aspirations of the Palestinian people, as well as desirous of better relations with us, with the United States and other nations, they must take more than cosmetic steps, and they need to make a strategic choice to end this type of activity.
QUESTION: There isn't any -- there hasn't been any new development in the last several days that would -- that you're aware of that would make this more of an issue, or that would lead the President to just come out and say this without realizing it?
MR. REEKER: I think there have been some press reports about Syria and their desire to pursue peace. We have certainly long made clear our support for and the importance of direct dialogue between Israel and its neighbors as being essential to comprehensive peace in the region, but you'd want to talk to Syrians about some of the reports that were made on that.
QUESTION: Okay. There is an Iraqi delegation going to the United Nations, as you know, from the Governing Council. Perhaps, you could give us your version of what exactly you see their mission to be, and what you see their status to be, and on what basis they will be participating in any Security Council meetings.
MR. REEKER: The visiting representatives of the Governing Council -- there are three of them. They will participate in a Security Council session on Tuesday and I believe they will be hosted in New York by the Council on Foreign Relations. Someone had asked on Friday whether they were traveling to Washington. I believe we posted the answer that we said that there were no plans, as far as we knew of, for the members of the Governing Council to travel to Washington.
In terms of the other question, I think you need to ask the United Nations. I don't know.
QUESTION: Well, not entirely, because in a sense you're in charge of these people. I mean, they are your -- your allies, your friends, your appointees, so what exactly is the relationship between -- I mean, is the United States running this delegation, or are they coming as independent Iraqis, or what?
MR. REEKER: I think they represent the Iraq Governing Council. We have discussed that before. I am not going to go over chapter and verse again, what you have heard us talk about here about it and what Ambassador Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority have told you in great length about that.
The Secretary General has reported on implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1483, which directly called for creation of a body like this. It's the resolution by which the Security Council established a framework for Iraq's stabilization, political transition, and economic reconstruction.
The Secretary General's Special Representative in Iraq, Mr. De Mello, is also going to make a presentation to the Security Council. He has been in Iraq since June the 2nd, following the resolution. And so we certainly have welcomed the report of the Secretary General that's been discussed in some press accounts already. We're studying the recommendations.
We're looking forward to the briefing tomorrow at the Security Council and hearing from Mr. De Mello. And we certainly have, as we have indicated, valued the partnership with the United Nations. And this is the principal body. The Governing Council is the principal body of the Iraqi interim administration that was endorsed by this resolution.
So it's an important first step I think for them to come to the UN to talk to the Security Council, part of Iraq's reintegration into the international community.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, there was some confusion last week about whether this delegation would seek Iraq's seat in the General Assembly, and also about the U.S. position on that. Have you managed to refine --
MR. REEKER: I don't know. I'd have to go ask if somebody is focusing on that.
QUESTION: Do you know when Ambassador Bremer is coming for consultation in Washington.
MR. REEKER: He has been here. He is already in Washington.
QUESTION: Did he have a meeting with Secretary of State?
MR. REEKER: He met Secretary Powell this morning.
QUESTION: And do you have anything on that?
MR. REEKER: No, as Ambassador Boucher indicated to you last Friday, we don't normally do a lot of briefing -- or reading out of our meetings between and among U.S. Government officials.
QUESTION: And how long is he going to stay? Mr. Reeker, how long is he going to stay?
MR. REEKER: I don't know. You'd need to ask his people that from the coalition provisional authority.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. REEKER: Yes, Matt. Sorry Betsy, you'll be next.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to think that this plane going down in Kenya over the weekend --
QUESTION: I have same subject. I'm sorry. Can we --
QUESTION: Iraq related.
MR. REEKER: Okay.
QUESTION: Can you first confirm that Ambassador Bremer is not taking part in the meeting tomorrow with the Iraqis in the Council? And secondly, France has now officially called for second resolution to bring other countries into the reconstruction, especially the security effort in Iraq. Do you have -- can you just tell us whether you have been working with France or other council members up in New York on that?
MR. REEKER: I don't have anything new on that subject beyond what Ambassador Boucher briefed extensively on Friday. I am not aware of any decisions on that. We have Resolution 1483. Any further steps, as Richard indicated, it would be premature at this point. We want to hear the report, I think, makes the most sense, to hear the reports tomorrow.
I don't believe Ambassador Bremer is part of that, but I just don't know is the straightforward answer. You might check with his people or with the UN. But I can certainly check for tomorrow.
QUESTION: I have two questions. One, Bearing Point, a company in suburban Virginia has been awarded a contract to help jump start the Iraqi economy and I'm wondering if you have any reaction to that?
MR. REEKER: I think I do.
QUESTION: Whether this is good, bad or indifferent?
MR. REEKER: I think you are a little ahead of the game. And like I like to say, you can't report the news until it happens.
The Economic Governance Contract for Iraq has not yet been awarded. The U.S. Agency for International Development is in the final stages of awarding this contract. Obviously I can't really comment on the award or the actual contract until they have signed the contract with the company. But since you are interested, I got a few facts about this.
There were ten companies solicited to bid on the proposal on June 6th of this year. It -- we looked at companies with a previous contract history with USAID. Each of these ten countries has at least one existing what we call, an Indefinite Quantity Contract, in the economic field -- that is a five year contract awarded competitively for some of the global projects that are part of our assistance program. So whoever is the ultimate contractor in this will work closely with Ambassador Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority, with the Treasury Department, and obviously with the Iraqi people under AID auspices to undertake these steps for what is wide scale economic reform and recovery.
So that will include things like regulation of trade, commerce and investment; providing support to the central bank, to the ministries of finance, commerce, industry and could include a privatization program, but that process will have to be undertaken in close cooperation with those on the ground. Obviously these things have to have a certain amount of flexibility built into them to give the men and women working on the ground in Iraq the ability to respond to the situation as it arises. So, be happy to confirm that once it actually takes place.
QUESTION: And a second -- before, in the run up to the war, the information about the buying of uranium from Niger kept cropping up. The State Department had said, "We don't believe this to be true." Joe Wilson had said that --
MR. REEKER: Now, you need to -- before I can accept the premise of some of your questions, you have to look at what was -- what the State Department said in terms of questions -- not a question of whether or not something was true but how confident --
QUESTION: They doubted the veracity of it.
MR. REEKER: Right. So I just don't have anything to add, Betsy. Not to -- I mean, you can feel free to go ahead, but there was an extensive briefing on this at the White House on Friday.
QUESTION: No, I understand. I'm just trying to ask why do you think this kept coming up and therefore made it into this briefing?
MR. REEKER: I just don't know, Betsy. There was an extensive briefing where questions like that were asked at the White House on Friday and I would refer you back to them.
Okay, Matt was the next one -- to look at Kenya.
QUESTION: Well, do you -- yeah -- do you have any reason to believe that this plane going down in Kenya over the weekend that killed this American family was anything more than a tragic accident? And the reason I ask that is because you have for some months been putting out warnings about the terrorist threat to civil aviation in Kenya --East Africa, generally, and Kenya, specifically.
MR. REEKER: I don't want to suggest any particular thing there, because we don't know all the facts. Let me first of all extend our sincerest condolences to the family and the friends of 12 U.S. citizens who were passengers and the two South African citizen pilots who were killed when their privately chartered plane crashed into Mt. Kenya on Saturday evening.
We are in contact with the family members of the U.S. citizen victims, and out of deference to the family we are not going to be releasing any additional information regarding the victims, but our consular officers from U.S. Embassy in Nairobi are at the crash site with Kenyan officials.
There are poor weather conditions, I'm told, on Mt. Kenya and they are hampering recovery efforts. At the request of the Government of Kenya, representatives from our Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are en route to Kenya to assist with the investigation of this crash, so I couldn't give you any more information than that. We just don't know at this point. I can't say there is anything to indicate anything other than a tragic accident. But obviously, we do want to let the investigators actually look at the situation closely.
Here and then we'll go over here. Yes.
Let me guess.
QUESTION: Do you want Turkey to contribute troops to Iraq Stability Force? Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said that the United States asked troops from Turkey.
MR. REEKER: No, I saw all those reports, and indeed, the subject was raised during meetings on Friday, I believe, in Ankara between the General Abizaid, the Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command and as well as our European Commander General James Jones and their Turkish counterparts.
As you know, we have had discussions with a number of countries, including NATO members like Turkey on contributing to stabilization operations in Iraq. It's a subject that we will continue to discuss and I would think it would certainly come up when the Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul is in Washington this week. As you know he's scheduled to meet with Secretary Powell, I believe, on Thursday.
QUESTION: If that's the case, are they going to be in Northern Iraq or other parts of the country?
MR. REEKER: I just, at this point, wouldn't want to speculate on anything. Those "if" questions that Richard talked about last week, let's continue to have these talks with our Turkish allies and see where we go, if there is any more news after the meetings this week.
QUESTION: As you said, there is a meeting between Secretary Powell and Turkish Prime Minister Gul on Thursday. Will Ambassador Bremer join this meeting?
MR. REEKER: I don't believe he is expected to, but I don't -- I have no indication of that.
QUESTION: Do you know what kind of delegation --
MR. REEKER: On the Turkish side?
QUESTION: No. On the U.S. side.
MR. REEKER: Oh, as normally, the Secretary's bilateral meetings with his foreign counterparts, besides the Secretary, of course, include a senior official from the Bureau of European Affairs and other officials may be involved in whatever the major topics are from a variety of offices here in the State Department and even sometimes the Spokesman or his faithful, loyal deputy. So we will be able to try to give you a readout of that meeting after it occurs.
QUESTION: It will be a working lunch, so maybe?
MR. REEKER: You know, I just don't know the full format of the meeting. I believe it is scheduled for Thursday and since it's Monday, when we get to Thursday we will give you as much detail as we can of that.
So, go ahead, Joel.
I'll come back.
QUESTION: On Sunday's talk shows, Ambassador Bremer was shown a newspaper article concerning a cleric that's -- I guess incitement, wanting to stir up anti-American feelings, and such. And we last week also had these press interviews on ABC television network with the morale of our troops there.
Are there any specific thoughts to quell these religious-type incitements in clerics? And do you think that -- or see whether Iran or Syria, as you said earlier are causing all of this?
MR. REEKER: I think, first of all, if you were watching the program, I hope you stuck around to see Ambassador Bremer's response, because that's what I would point you to first. I think Ambassador Bremer has done a terrific job under difficult circumstances. No one would deny that there are great challenges ahead for the Coalition Provisional Authority, and for the Iraqi people who are trying to rebuild their lives after decades under the abysmal rule and misrule of Saddam Hussein's regime, but they are living without fear.
They are able to speak out and express their views, which they could not do without being afraid of people coming in the night to take them away, and their families then finding perhaps years or decades later their remains in mass graves, which we're seeing occur in Iraq with regularity, and so we're going to keep at this.
There are a lot of good things happening in Iraq. Ambassador Boucher described a number of them last week, in terms of local government, local councils that have increasingly taken responsibility for managing local matters, health care, electricity, water, their newspapers and a diverse press that have been started.
And, as I said, people are speaking out after 35 years of imposed silence. There are courts and courthouses operating. There are police back on the streets in Iraq. We're focused on security; we're focused on helping the Iraqis regain their prosperity; and we're focused on democracy for the long term.
There are members of the former regime who have opposed this and who have, you know, banded with terrorists from outside Iraq, and we have been quite clear about that; that they have been attacking the success that we have seen. They have targeted areas of progress because they are against the Iraqi people having a new and better future.
And so we'll continue working with allies, working with the Iraqis to move forward on this. But I think Ambassador Bremer addressed that very fully, some of the challenges he faces. But what we are trying to do and how we are moving forward, and I think if you step back and look at some of these facts and not concentrate only on the challenges, and, indeed, the many difficulties that we face, you'll see that there are a lot of positive developments.
And I think the Iraqi people are speaking out about them as well, if you look at some of the polling data that we have seen recently, and how they want to have a better future and want to put in the past the horrors that they experienced under Saddam Hussein.
We've got a couple of more. This lady has been very patiently waiting, and she has something. Please.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Reeker. Venezuelan General Chief Commander of the Army says that the referendum is not going to take place in August, it's not going to take place this year. The U.S. Government, as member of the Group of Friends, has any comment on that, any?
MR. REEKER: We certainly have seen the press reports, the Venezuelan press reports about the Chief Commander Garcia Carneiro's comments regarding the prospects for a recall referendum as the government in opposition in Venezuela agreed under their May 29th agreement. As we have noted before, on previous occasions, these political issues we think should be left to civilians. This isn't a question for active duty military members to address.
And so we would like to see both sides honor their commitments, that is, the government and the opposition, honor their commitments from May 29th, and set a framework for the recall referendum that's allowed by the Venezuelan Constitution and called for by the Organization of American States and the Group of Friends. And so we would reiterate the need for Venezuela's National Assembly to exercise its constitutional prerogative and expeditiously finalize selection of a national electoral council, so the electoral process can move forward.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Saudi arrests today?
And the second question I have is just to nail down what you said earlier about the --General Abizaid and General Jones meeting with their Turkish counterparts on Friday. There was discussion, are you saying, of Turks providing military soldiers for peacekeeping forces and that sort of support in Iraq?
MR. REEKER: The subject was raised at that meeting.
MR. REEKER: Yes.
And you had -- sorry. He had --
QUESTION: Saudi, Saudi Arabia?
MR. REEKER: Oh, Saudi. I don't think I have anything on those arrests. I saw the news reports on it, but I'll let you check with the Saudis first.
QUESTION: Yes, your Ambassador in Sao Tome, can you say whether he is reporting any progress in persuading these two leaders to restore the elected government?
MR. REEKER: Well, we are pleased that all of the 14 people taken hostage last week have now been released. We understand that they are confined to their homes while negotiations continue. We continue to urge a peaceful nonviolent resolution in Sao Tome including allowing the elected government to continue to function.
President Menezes is still in Nigeria where he was attending a conference, as you know. Our Ambassador Kenneth Moorefield, remains in Sao Tome, and he is participating with other negotiating partners in talks with the military officials involved, and with the opposition Christian Democratic Front. So those kinds of talks go forward, but there are some -- some positive steps, at least, that the hostages have all been released safely.
QUESTION: No determination yet on aid and --
MR. REEKER: Yes, I don't have any final determinations, as they continue to see how the situation goes.
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