State Department Briefing, September 26, 2003


Friday  September 26, 2003

Office of the Spokesman
September 26, 2003

Remarks to the Press by J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

September 26, 2003
Washington, D.C.

(1:00 p.m. EDT)

QUESTION: What do you think about Ambassador Jordan and Saudi Arabia?

MR. ERELI: I talked to your colleague about that. Ambassador Jordan, several months ago, informed the Department of his intention to leave Saudi Arabia for personal reasons.

He has done an absolutely superlative job in our relationship with Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabian Government holds him in the highest regard, as does the Secretary and the Department of State. He is a fabulous ambassador and a fabulous representative of his country; and he is leaving for personal reasons.

QUESTION: Is there any episode that contributed, perhaps, to Saudi unhappiness with him?

MR. ERELI: I would dispute the suggestion that there is any Saudi unhappiness with him. They have, as far as I know, publicly expressed their support for Ambassador Jordan and the work he has done in the bilateral relationship.

QUESTION: I understand there was some unhappiness because he said something that could have been interpreted as meddling in Saudi internal affairs.


QUESTION: This was at a social event --

MR. ERELI: No. No. That does not sound right. I would refer you to the Government of Saudi Arabia for official comment, but that does not square with what we have received. In fact, they have told us that they wish he would stay.

QUESTION: Adam, do you guys have any comment on --

QUESTION: Arshad, you got something?

QUESTION: Yeah, I've got a couple of things, George and I hope you can hear me.

Do you have any comments on reports that Aung San Suu Kyi is going to be taken out of the hospital and returned to house arrest after her surgery?

MR. ERELI: We have seen those reports. We can't confirm them at this time. We remain concerned about her situation as well as those of other political prisoners currently under detention, and we reiterate our calls for the junta to immediately lift all restrictions on her and to release all other political prisoners.

QUESTION: Do you guys have any comment on reports that the Venezuelan Electoral Commission has issued new guidelines under which a referendum on Chavez's leadership would be postponed until next year?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. We have seen those reports. We are studying them with our embassy to analyze the details, so I really don't have anything more specific than that, other than to say that, as we've said before, we support an electoral solution and this is obviously something for the Venezuelans to -- people to make work.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Colombia next door?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. I don't know if I have anything, but go ahead.

QUESTION: The -- this Novak column yesterday --

MR. ERELI: Right. We would take -- we believe our management of the Airwing Program is superb. We've been managing it for over 17 years based on an act of Congress establishing the program in 1986.

Over the last -- for the first time in the last -- for the last ten years, coca cultivation in Colombia has gone down, as has poppy cultivation by 10 and 15 percent, respectively, I believe.

We are spraying record amounts of acreage. The program has earned numerous awards, as well as the praise from many members of Congress. We take the safety and security of the pilots extremely seriously. They are risking their lives every day in the program, and we are working with the Colombian Government to expand intelligence cooperation to protect them, to provide improved armed support to enhance their protection, and finally, I think that, you know, their dedication and their courage has resulted in a decrease in the amount of drugs flowing into the United States and reaching our people.

So, you know, we saw the editorial, but it's something that I think the facts, if they are presented, don't support the conclusions that were drawn.

QUESTION: Well, do you want to talk about the memo that McLaughlin wrote?

MR. ERELI: Sure. I mean, that was a memo by one employee. There are, you know, obviously issues that go with any program. Without getting into the substance of the memo, because it was actually quite long, I would simply say that this is a program that's complex that we manage, that we do very well -- that we manage very well, and that has shown results, and that, you know, as with any program, there are always, sort of, things you can fix, things that you can improve, but that's far from a wholesale indictment of the program.

QUESTION: Why is he leaving next week?

MR. ERELI: He is -- my understanding is he is retiring from the Civil Service, but I would have to check on that for you. You might want to ask him.


MR. ERELI: But the other thing, George, is frankly, I mean, this is a good news story -- this program. And I would invite you and your colleagues to report more with us, with our cooperation, to report more extensively on it. Because we believe that, you know, if you look at the program and you analyze what it's done and you get the facts before you, you'll see that it's really something that not only the Department of State, but the American taxpayer can be proud of.

QUESTION: I have written that. But now I'm looking for a negative story.


MR. ERELI: Well, I wish -- I mean, I'm not going to be one to help you with that. I think, you know, this is a good story.

QUESTION: Okay. You got anything else, Arshad?

QUESTION: Yeah, I've got two other quick things. There's a story in the Journal that cites Administration officials as having told Congress this week that they expect bilateral donor pledges at the Madrid Conference to be about $2 billion. Is that accurate? Was there any such testimony or briefing to the Hill, and is that what you're now expecting?

MR. ERELI: I can speak to State Department testimony, and having talked to those offices that did the testimony, that was certainly not a number put out from us because it's really not -- at this point it's a little premature to start coming up with figures.

The point to make here is that the United States is working with all donors to get the maximum amount possible for Iraq. We've been talking quite openly about what our estimates of the overall needs are. There is a needs assessment currently being conducted by the international community, the World Bank, the UN and others. Their reports should be out shortly, and that will provide another good picture of what Iraq needs.

Once those two things are out there and we're all in Madrid, it will become very clear that this is an enormously important and an enormous opportunity to resolve or support a need for stability and security, not only in the region, but for the international community.

And we believe that there will be a strong and positive response to that need. But to say at this point that that response is going to be $2 billion is, I think, really misleading.

QUESTION: Well, regardless of whether your briefers were the ones that put the number out there, do you have any reason to believe that $2 billion is an accurate reflection of the U.S. Government's expectations for that conference?

MR. ERELI: I think we're expecting, we're expecting, not only at that conference, but as this, you know, moves on -- this is a long-term effort -- I think we're expecting there to be widespread recognition that the needs are great and that the international community will respond accordingly.

QUESTION: But you can't say whether you think $2 billion is right or wrong?

MR. ERELI: That's just so highly speculative.

QUESTION: Okay, then one last one. The Egyptian Foreign Minister Maher this morning said, he urged the United States, essentially urged the United States to deal with Arafat, saying that he was the -- a part of the solution, not a part of the problem, an elected Palestinian leader, and one that other Palestinians are likely to follow.

He also said that there are efforts underway to negotiate a more permanent ceasefire with the Palestinian militant groups. One, do you have any interest in dealing with Arafat now? And two, do you know of any such efforts to negotiate a permanent ceasefire with the militant groups?

MR. ERELI: Egypt is a close friend and a valued partner. Our position on Arafat obviously hasn't changed, and our focus is on helping the PA and working with the PA, the Palestinian Authority, to decisively crack down on the terror organizations that are attacking the peace process.

QUESTION: George, you ready for a Week Ahead?


QUESTION: Week Ahead.

MR. ERELI: Week Ahead. Do you want to start with today? The Secretary should be back here early this afternoon and then he goes to, I think, Camp David tonight for lunch with President Bush and President Putin.

They'll have meetings there tomorrow, including a lunch.

QUESTION: Is he going to dinner tonight and then to lunch tomorrow?

MR. ERELI: Yes. Well, let me look just a second. I'm not sure about dinner tonight, frankly. I know there's a lunch tomorrow.


MR. ERELI: You might want to check with the White House. But I'm not sure about the dinner.


MR. ERELI: On Monday the Secretary will be going to -- can you hear me, George? Monday the Secretary will be going to Detroit to address the U.S.-Arab Economic Forum. That address will be at 7:30 p.m., returning the same evening to Washington.

Tuesday he has two bilateral meetings, one with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam, and a second with the President of the Republic of Burundi.


MR. ERELI: 11:00 and 4:30, respectively. Wednesday he will attend the President's bilateral and working lunch for the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Thursday he will meet with the foreign ministers of the Group of Friends of Venezuela.

QUESTION: This Thursday?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. Friday he will meet with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary.


MR. ERELI: 10:30.

QUESTION: And how about a time for their Thursday meeting with --

MR. ERELI: 11:00.

You know, there's one thing I forgot to sort of highlight for you guys. I wanted just to draw your attention to this. I know that Reuters did a story on it, which I'm very pleased about because it's the only wire service I've seen do a story on it. But in the other, you know, in the category of good news stories, I would refer you to a statement we issued yesterday on a security agreement in Sudan.

This is really significant and something we're really quite pleased about, which is that the Government of Sudan and the Sudanese -- Sudan People's Liberation Movement Army reached an agreement on security arrangements in the process that has been underway through the Kenyan mediator, Sumbeiywo. And this is pretty historic and, you know, the remaining details of a final peace accord are in the process of being negotiated, and both sides have said they're working to bring that process to closure quickly.

So there's some important and good things going on there.

QUESTION: Any events for Armitage or a congressional testimony next week?

MR. ERELI: There is congressional testimony next week on Tuesday, I believe. Let me get back to you on what committees it is.

QUESTION: Okay. And nothing for Armitage?

MR. ERELI: It is Armitage.


MR. ERELI: I'm not sure if it's public or closed.

QUESTION: We usually get the Deputy Secretary and then any congressional testimonies, if you could that to us, we'd be grateful.

MR. ERELI: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you, Arshad. Anything else, George?

QUESTION: No. I thank you very much.

MR. ERELI: Appreciate it.


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