State Department Briefing, November 19, 2003
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
MR. ERELI: Good morning.
QUESTION: Good morning.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR. ERELI: Thank you, Lambros, for correcting me. Good afternoon. No announcements to begin. Who would like to ask the first question?
QUESTION: Well, we'll have to go in the same ground again, but I hope only briefly because there are stories out -- I know one story I'm familiar with. This is running on the Associated Press wire from the UN, that the UN -- that the U.S. is ready to begin drafting a new resolution on Iraq for the UN to consider. Could you deal with that please?
MR. ERELI: There are a lot of stories on this issue. Let me try to clarify it, as best I can. The Secretary said yesterday, Secretary of State Powell, said yesterday that it's premature to speculate about a new resolution. No decisions have been made about whether or not to pursue UN Security Council action.
We believe that Resolution 1511 provides a good framework for the political transition process in Iraq. We also believe that there is ample authority under its provisions for the Governing Council to carry out its plan, and that it's signed on November 15th. At the same time, as the Iraqis move forward with the accelerated process outlined in the political agreement of November 15th, it might be appropriate at some point to consider whether any further UN Security Council action is called for.
So we're not foreclosing any options should further Security Council action be deemed useful, but we'll make a judgment on that as we move forward, which is what the Secretary said yesterday.
QUESTION: Could it be that the same parties who were eager to have the United States to give ground in running Iraq could be behind the move for a new resolution to sort of drive the point home that the U.S. should go away?
The French wanted you to go away yesterday but -- actually, by the end of the year. Could this be inspired by people who don't like the -- don't like the U.S. policy, in the first place, or didn't until the policy changed?
MR. ERELI: I think what we all -- we all have the same goal, which is to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis, as soon as is -- as soon as possible and practical. That's what we're working on. That's what we've all stated we want to see. And I think that, as this process moves forward, we will -- the United States certainly will -- and our -- we look forward to working with our Security Council partners in doing what we can to support that process.
QUESTION: Follow up on that. The Russians now are proposing to organize an international conference on Iraq under the UN auspices to begin to elaborate a peace plan for Iraq. How do you see this idea?
MR. ERELI: That's the first I've heard of it, so I'd have to see who said what.
QUESTION: Formulated today by Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister.
MR. ERELI: It's news to me.
QUESTION: Well, to go back to the question of the resolution, do you know, where did this idea come from?
MR. ERELI: A resolution?
MR. ERELI: You know, we've always said that as this process moves forward resolutions may be useful at different points along the way. So it's not like it's a new idea. You know, there have been a series --
QUESTION: So why suddenly is it growing into prominence?
MR. ERELI: No. I could not -- I wouldn't want to speculate. I would think that, you know, obviously 1511 called on the Iraq Governing Council, or invited the Iraq Governing Council, to present a timeline for transition by December 15th. They're well on their way to doing that. And so that's the next stage in the process. Maybe some people are looking at that stage and thinking something should come up.
But, you know, you'd have to ask -- it's just impossible to speculate why people are suggesting that there's something in the works.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments? I believe yesterday at the UN, a director of the UN Food Agency James Morris, was critical saying that only a fraction of the monies invested in the rebuilding of Iraq could then feed the world poor, and very critical.
MR. ERELI: I didn't see those comments. I think that what Resolution 1511 and Madrid have made abundantly clear is that the international community has a stake in the future of Iraq, and the international community is committed to doing what it can to help the Iraqis rebuild -- rebuild their country so that we can all benefit from a democratic and prosperous Iraq.
QUESTION: Yes, on Cyprus. The Reuters News Agency attributed a statement to Ambassador Tom Weston, who showed the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan recent visit to Cyprus in the occupied area by Turkish invasion occupation forces as a positive element that could revive efforts to reunify the island.
I am wondering how Ambassador Weston came to this conclusion since Mr. Erdogan stated during his visit that there are in Cyprus two entities, two people, two ethnicities. The question is simply the destruction of the island.
MR. ERELI: Ambassador Weston is currently in Greece. He left here on Sunday to meet with political leaders in Athens, Ankara, and Nicosia. The purpose of his trip is to convey U.S. views on the way ahead to a Cyprus settlement. Those views, as we've discussed, are clear. We urge all parties to express to the UN Security -- the UN Secretary General, as soon as possible, the necessary political willingness that he has requested to resume negotiations under the framework of the UN Good Offices mission on the basis of the Annan plan.
That is what Ambassador Weston is discussing on all his trips. I've seen reports -- we've seen reports of the remarks that you quoted. I think what's important to point out here is that Ambassador Weston's visit, that what's important about Mr. Erdogan's visit, is how his visit and statements will be used by various political actors in northern Cyprus. And it is our position that we'd like to see them sign on to the UN plan and begin serious negotiations.
QUESTION: Finishing that question. May we know the U.S. position, the well-known legal case of the Greek Cypriot, Titina Louizidou?
MR. ERELI: That was an issue that raised by the Foreign Minister of Turkey, and I'd refer you to him for that -- for comment on that issue. That's not something that we're, you know, prepared to comment on.
QUESTION: As the U.S. Government, you don't have any position on this issue?
MR. ERELI: I don't have any position to share with you.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any feedback on whether the State Department officials met with Syrian opposition members or had a meeting?
MR. ERELI: Yes, I checked on that for you. We did not meet with them at the State Department. There was an event hosted by a think tank in Washington, at which a State Department representative attended -- to which a State Department -- at which a State Department official attended.
QUESTION: And did he cross paths with Mr. Ghadry, I think it is?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I don't know the precise choreography. I mean, he gave -- it was a presentation, a State Department official was there. I -- you know, I think they attended as a member of the audience, but there wasn't much more to it than that.
QUESTION: Does this State Department official customarily attend those think tanks?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I mean, we -- you know, when there -- we routinely, when there are -- when think tanks have programs that are of interest, we go. I mean, that's part of the -- that's part of our job.
QUESTION: Can you say what official?
MR. ERELI: I think it was a desk officer?
QUESTION: But they didn't meet -- I mean, they didn't --
MR. ERELI: No, it wasn't a meeting. It was the --
QUESTION: Did they -- but did they even shake hands and say hello?
MR. ERELI: I don't know. And if they did, I wouldn't read a lot into it, one way or another, if they did or they didn't.
QUESTION: No, I wouldn't -- but he's never visited the --
MR. ERELI: Pardon?
QUESTION: He is not -- he is not Syria's Ahmed Chalabi, as some people say.
MR. ERELI: He has not been received at the State Department.
QUESTION: He's not Syria's Ahmed Chalabi?
MR. ERELI: (Laughing.)
QUESTION: Actually, I'm not sure that's a very good example, given the relations we've had with Ahmed Chalabi.
QUESTION: While we're in that part of the world, Hezbollah TV -- which I don't think can be seen in Washington -- but evidently, they've moved along with their series, and the latest installment, evidently, is the old Russian and Nazi libel that Jews sacrificed Christian children to use their blood.
This -- for Passover -- this time the Rabbi authorizes it. It's a gripping documentary. I wonder -- I can imagine what the State Department thinks about it. But what is the State Department doing about it?
MR. ERELI: Let me tell you first what the State Department thinks, and then I'll tell you what the State Department is doing. As you say, Barry, there's a television series that -- Arabic television series that's running on Hezbollah TV. Last night it featured the sacrifice of a Christian boy to use his blood in the celebration of Passover. This is a libelous presentation, by Al-Manar, which is the domestic and satellite TV station of the Hezbollah party.
It is despicable and merits the strongest condemnation possible. Such venomous anti-Semitism has absolutely no place in the civilized world. Such programs, I think it's an understatement to say, do not contribute to the climate of mutual understanding and tolerance that the Middle East needs.
As you will recall, when this series began airing, our ambassador in Beirut, Vincent Battle, made his views known -- made the views of the U.S. Government known to the Government of Beirut, and our chargé in Damascus Gene Cretz, raised the issue with the government there.
We will be underscoring our concerns once again in light of this latest outrageous episode of the program.
QUESTION: In light of all these specific anti-Semitic type of either television series or bombings, both in France and in Turkey recently, Mayor Giuliani was sent by the State Department to a conference in Geneva a while back. Are you going to ask that that conference reconvene with respect to these latest outbreaks and such?
MR. ERELI: No, not that I'm aware. I mean, the issue of anti-Semitism is something to which we are committed in a variety of fora, with a variety of officials, to combating -- the instance you site is one, but there are, sort of, consistently others.
QUESTION: Did you have anything on the New York Times story today about the follow-up to the seize of the theater by Chechen rebels in Moscow October of '02, and any follow-ups which may be contemplated in light of the fact that an American was killed, or died, in that process?
MR. ERELI: No, I don't have anything further on that for you, George, but I can look and see if we've got anything to say on what follow-up there has -- if there has been any follow-up on it. I'll check.
QUESTION: Do you know if there's any al-Qaida -- does the Administration contend that there's any al-Qaida influence in that event?
MR. ERELI: In the Moscow theater --
MR. ERELI: -- bombing?
MR. ERELI: I haven't seen any sort of finding of, you know, a conclusion on that. You know, these things are always sort of looked at, but whether there's a definitive conclusion to the question or not, I'm not aware that there is.
QUESTION: Could you give me the U.S. assessment of the IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program?
MR. ERELI: I think we've talked to that pretty -- pretty extensively. Certainly, the Secretary has yesterday, and I don't really have a whole lot new to add.
What is it, Tom? What number? Okay.
We -- it is our position that General Baradei's report confirms that Iran has been undertaking clandestine enrichment and reprocessing related activities for almost two decades, and that it is in direct violation of its NPT safeguards obligations, and that it is systematically concealing its efforts from the international community.
We believe that this program and its deceptions are of grave concern to the United States and the international community, and that's why the IAEA's Board of September 12th, the Board resolution of September 12th, called on Iran to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities, and Iran subsequently told the IAEA that it would do so.
Regarding what steps the Board of Governors may take regarding Iran, I would say that we're continuing to consult with the Board members on that. We've made it clear that we have -- we want to see an end to Iran's nuclear program and that we have a shared interest in making sure that it comes into and remains in compliance with its NPT obligations.
QUESTION: There doesn't seem -- there's no UN -- reference to the UN in your brief. What you just stated is quite the European position. Is it the U.S. position that it's premature to go to the UN with this?
MR. ERELI: I think that those -- that that is an issue that is under discussion in Vienna, and I would defer to the experts that are conducting those negotiations and wait till they've -- they have an outcome of their efforts before talking about, you know, what may or may not be done.
QUESTION: There's a meeting scheduled tomorrow. A few weeks ago, I understood from a senior American official that maybe there will have to be another meeting or two. What is the current expectation? Do you think tomorrow's meeting will be decisive in any way, so far as a plan of action?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I wouldn't want to -- I'm not going to predict one way or the other what happens. Let's let the diplomats do their job and go from there.
QUESTION: Same subject. The Secretary obviously didn't think much of the European resolution. Do you know whether the United States is drafting an alternative resolution for submission to the Board tomorrow?
MR. ERELI: I do not know.
QUESTION: The same subject. As of this morning, Iranian exiles are saying that the ElBaradei team were duped and taken to a decoy site on their tour of Iran. Are you working in any way or hearing from those Iranian exile groups?
MR. ERELI: I've seen -- are you referring to the National Council of Resistance reports?
Let's be clear about what the National Council of Resistance of Iran is. It's an alias of a Foreign Terrorist Organization, the Mujahedin e-Khalq, and, you know, we don't -- we just don't have any -- anything to do with them or their reports.
QUESTION: Even if -- I mean, in the past, their reports have proved quite useful to you on Iranian nuclear facilities. Do you mean to say that if they come with new information about Iranian nuclear facilities or activities, you will ignore them?
MR. ERELI: I think that's something for the IAEA to take up.
QUESTION: There are some reports that ElBaradei would like a stronger -- a stronger condemnation of the Iranians than the draft resolution by the European contingency provides. Have you been talking directly to Mr. ElBaradei about how another resolution perhaps could be -- I mean, do you think that there would be some kind of middle ground between where the Europeans are coming down and --
MR. ERELI: Well, that's what --
QUESTION: -- I mean, a meeting of the minds between the U.S. side and ElBaradei?
MR. ERELI: I'll let ElBaradei speak for himself. What we're doing is working with the Director General and the other members of the Board to address in a meaningful and important -- meaningful way, the findings of the IAEA. That's what's being done in Vienna, and that is taking into account what the members think and what the Director General thinks.
You've had your hand -- yeah.
QUESTION: In The New York Times today, they -- the generals, the U.S. Generals Charles Swannack and General David Petraeus, on the borders of Syria and Turkey, they have acknowledged what Syria has been saying all along, that it's been trying its best to prevent any fighters or any group from infiltrating the borders with Iraq. They said that only handful of people have been captured from the borders of Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Do you find it appropriate for you to acknowledge what the Vice President of Syria yesterday said concerning this very matter, I mean, and before that, the denial of the Syrian Government of allowing any groups of infiltrating the borders or that it is not trying, you know?
MR. ERELI: We spoke to this yesterday, where we said that, you know, where we noted that -- where you said that the Vice President of Syria had said that Syria is committed to doing something, and our response was that's good, and it's important to see follow-through on that.
I saw the comments by the American military leaders. I think what we stress, and what we continue to stress is that the borders should not be used by foreign terrorists to come into Iraq to attack the efforts of Iraqis to rebuilt their country. And that continues to be our position.
QUESTION: Do you see your statement now coming in compliance with what the generals are saying in yesterday's briefing?
MR. ERELI: The generals are saying that -- of a recent period of time -- as I understand what the generals saying is of a recent period of time, they have caught X number of people coming across the border. I am not in a position to evaluate or comment on what they present as facts. What our view is, in the State Department, is that this is an effort that requires commitment and consistency. And that's what we're looking for.
QUESTION: I wonder if you can go back quickly to the Syria position. You just said that nobody from the State Department looked at them. Do you know if anybody else from other agencies looked at that?
MR. ERELI: I can't speak for other agencies.
QUESTION: And does it mean anything to you that they were assigned a translator from the International Visitors Program? Does it --
MR. ERELI: I'm not sure that that's true. I'm not sure -- you make that assertion. I'm not sure that it's true.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry. Can I change the subject?
MR. ERELI: Yes, you may.
QUESTION: Regarding Mr. Kerry's trip, and he went to Seoul yesterday, and maybe China -- negotiation with China might be a highlight during his (inaudible). Can you say something on the, you know, Mr. Kerry's meeting with the Chinese?
MR. ERELI: Sure. I can tell you that he met with Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo and Wang Yi, and with Director Generals for Asia and North America Fu Ying and He Yafei. They discussed North Korea, as well as other -- as well as other issues.
Assistant Secretary Kelly arrived in Seoul this evening, and he will meet tomorrow with Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-Hyuck and Blue House officials; he returns to Washington on Friday.
QUESTION: Can you say something more contents -- I mean, in terms of setting a date or, I mean, do you feel he has to go back to Beijing again or Wang Yi or Dai are coming again? Do you have some sense of that?
MR. ERELI: I -- you know, not having been in the meetings, not being with Assistant Secretary Kelly, I wouldn't want to try to characterize what has come up in his meetings. I think that if you're looking for announcement of the date that will happen when a date is set. And since there has been no announcement, I guess there is no date.
QUESTION: On China. Two little questions. The first one, China has decided to send "blue helmets" peacekeeping forces to Liberia. Is that something that you -- you welcome or?
MR. ERELI: Well, yeah. Right now, we have, as you say, UN-led effort. That is something that we've signed onto. So, to the extent that other nations supported and are contributing to it, that's a valuable and welcome thing.
QUESTION: And the second question. China today warned Taiwan that any move toward independence may trigger a war.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I've seen that -- seen that statement. I would reiterate what our policy on this issue is, which is that the use of force to resolve cross-strait differences is unacceptable, we oppose any attempt by either side to unilaterally change the situation -- or change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, and we believe that cross-strait dialogue is essential to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait area.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the firing of the Mexican Ambassador to the UN?
MR. ERELI: Are you serious? I addressed that pretty extensively yesterday.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, I wasn't here. Is he going to be sorely missed?
QUESTION: Yeah, I was wondering, the Saudi cabinet -- cabinet met a few days ago. They talked extensively about support of the new government in Iraq. I was wondering if you had a comment on that. And also, how involved are Arab governments in establishing the government in Iraq?
MR. ERELI: I did not see the comments that you referred to. But, you know, obviously, support of Iraq's neighbors -- support of Iraq by its neighbors is important and we believe there is -- you know, there is -- they're fully on board with helping the people of Iraq and the government of Iraq assume its responsibilities. I don't -- I think that's just a sort of state of affairs that is pretty evident.
QUESTION: Sir, do you have any response to Jim Oberwetter's nomination?
MR. ERELI: Who?
QUESTION: Oberwetter, Jim, for the --
MR. ERELI: Do I have any response to it?
QUESTION: To his -- yeah.
MR. ERELI: He's the select -- he's been nominated by the President. So what's there to respond to?
QUESTION: Well, is there anything you can say about him becoming an ambassador to Saudi Arabia?
MR. ERELI: He is an able and outstanding representative of -- if confirmed, he would be an able and outstanding representative of the President to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: Well, if I may try. It seems as if, I'm not sure of his complete background -- I've seen his resume -- but that his claim to fame, if you will, is that he has an extensive oil background, and, obviously, that U.S. oil interests in the Kingdom are very important. But now that the President is placing so much emphasis on democracy in the Middle East, would it not be better perhaps to have someone who has more experience in advocacy in democracy and things of that nature? And what are his qualifications to work on this?
MR. ERELI: Well, obviously, this is a White House nominee, but I don't think it would be wrong to say that we believe that this man is the best man for the job since -- because he has the President's confidence, if confirmed.
QUESTION: Adam, there have been talks in Gaza City -- I guess I and others had mentioned this earlier -- related to stop the militants in the battle between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And yesterday, President Mubarak of Egypt was -- either collapsed or was taken from the podium during a speech in the parliament. And the question is: Was that really a removal from the stage for a supposed cold or is it possible a terrorist warning or -- an imminent warning there?
MR. ERELI: I think the Egyptian Government -- I would refer you to the Egyptian Government on President Mubarak. We have been told that he is suffering from a cold and that was the reason for his temporary absence from -- or temporary departure from the podium in speaking to parliament.
QUESTION: The reason I phrase that question is that there, obviously, others oppose for them to intercede in these talks to maybe stop them to --
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Also on the Middle East. Now that the Palestinian cabinet is in office and Prime Minister Qureia is at his post, is there any thought to giving any more direct aid to the Palestinians? You've said in the past that you've been impressed with the Palestinians on reforming its finances, so.
MR. ERELI: We have -- no, we have our -- a program of assistance that is -- that's in place and underway, but I'm not aware of any plans for expanded or new assistance beyond what's already been provided for or planned.
QUESTION: On Albania, since you told us yesterday that the legal criteria do not apply in the case of the Albanian National Army to be declared as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, may we know those criteria?
MR. ERELI: I think I would refer you to the website and the Patterns of Global Terrorism and other information that's available there. It's pretty extensive. I mean, I'm not going to go into it here. It's on the website.
QUESTION: One more question. What is your government going to do in order to correct, as you said to us yesterday, all the irregularities in the recent Albanian elections against the countries with the Greek minority, number over half a million in the nation of three. Even moderate Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou angrily stated yesterday, "The Albanian Government's behavior and the behavior of the Albanian authorities created skepticism regarding the real targets."
MR. ERELI: Yeah, this is an issue, as I said, that we, along with the OSCE and other concerned parties, are working on with the Government of Albania. I don't have any specifics for you, other than to say that it is, you know, part of our ongoing engagement with the government there, and that the Embassy is pursuing it.
QUESTION: So you have no results, any response?
MR. ERELI: Nothing to report to you today.
QUESTION: I don't know if you'll have anything on this, but there was an interesting editorial the other day by the Jordanian and Danish foreign ministers in the Financial Times on creating a model, an OSCE-type model for the Middle East. Are there any discussions with the U.S. on this?
MR. ERELI: I -- not really. I mean, our focus is pretty much in terms of international coordination and efforts, the roadmap, through the Quartet, and on Iraq, you know, through the coalition. But in terms of new international organizations for that region, it's not something that we are -- that we have under, that is under active discussion.
QUESTION: With President Bush's tour in London, he delivered a speech. How do you characterize that speech as related to the September 24th speech earlier and Secretary Powell speech, I believe, in Lexington, Kentucky? Is it a reaffirmation of what he had said earlier? Are you trying to push forward with more concerning new developments?
MR. ERELI: You know, I'll admit, I have -- and I shouldn't admit this. I should be ashamed to admit this. I haven't read the speech yet. So before I comment on it, let me read it.
QUESTION: And thank you
MR. ERELI: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:20 p.m.)
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