State Department Briefing, December 31, 2003
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
MR. ERELI: Let me start off with a brief statement marking the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations with China. January 1st will be the 25th year of having normalized relations with China and over the past 25 years, we have worked to transform the relationship from its tentative beginnings to one where today we have a wide-ranging, candid, constructive and cooperative dialogue about issues that are important to the peace, security and prosperity of the world.
We look forward to continuing and deepening that dialogue and cooperation in the coming years.
Who would like to have the first question of the last briefing in 2003? Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: Yeah, can I just follow your statement on the latest things happening in Taiwan? Taiwan's leader, Chen Shui-bian, just signed a referendum bill and he claimed there will definitely be a referendum in March. I'm just wondering, how the U.S. (inaudible) is concerned the referendum could increase the cross-strait tensions. And the referendum also appears to represent a deepening of Taiwan's democracy.
MR. ERELI: Clearly, we've said that we opposed any unilateral measures that affect the status, the current status, including this referenda. We believe that cross-strait dialogue is the way to resolve these issues, and we continue to make that position known to both parties.
QUESTION: And Taiwan authority is going to send a delegation, probably -- to Washington, probably next week, to ensure the U.S. that the upcoming referendum is not meant to change the status quo. What could the delegation tell the U.S. that could possibly lessen the U.S. concern?
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware of the visit, the planned visit of this delegation, so I really wouldn't want to comment on that. And I think that we have made our, you know, we have made our concerns very well known. I think they're a matter of public record and private discussion, and we would urge the Government of Taiwan to heed them.
QUESTION: And the other question. Taiwan's leader, Chen Shui-bian, he basically pointed that China's continuing missile buildup has -- as having nullified the four noes pledge, and -- he said during his inauguration in 2000. Does the U.S. still hold him accountable for his four noes pledge?
MR. ERELI: Yes. We still recognize the commitments he made in his inaugural speech and the four noes and believe that they are still operative and still pertain.
QUESTION: Hey, Adam, going back --
QUESTION: Last question.
MR. ERELI: One last question.
QUESTION: Yeah. The -- Taiwan's leader, Chen Shui-bian, used a term "to wage a holy war against the mainland" in his recent campaign rally. I am wondering how the U.S. perceived this. Do you think it is a provocative move, or just election language?
MR. ERELI: I think our focus is, and we believe the focus of all parties should be, on peaceful dialogue to settle problems, and that is where efforts should be put.
QUESTION: Yeah, I just want to make sure. So you're saying your position on Taiwan hasn't changed in the last 25 years?
MR. ERELI: That is on the record.
QUESTION: That's -- okay. Just glad that we've got that straightened up after this question.
MR. ERELI: Yes, Adi.
QUESTION: Are you saying there's only one China?
QUESTION: Can you go -- hold on, wait, wait, wait.
QUESTION: No, I want to make sure there's only one China.
QUESTION: I want to go to the mainland for a second. Do you have any reaction to the sentencing of the American citizen there? I think there were two dissidents, someone named Benjamin Lan?
MR. ERELI: Yes, Mr. Lan.
QUESTION: Yeah. And how does this fit into your deepening and continuing cooperation with the Chinese that you have had for the past 25 years that you want to continue?
MR. ERELI: On the specific issue of Mr. Lan, a U.S. citizen named Benjamin Lan was sentenced on December 31st to three and a half years in prison. A U.S. consular official from the Embassy in Beijing attended the sentencing. It is our understanding that Mr. Lan will be deported after completing his sentence, and Mr. Lan's time spent in detention since May 2003 will count towards the three-and-a-half-year sentence.
I would note that he has been detained in jail in China since May 14th. U.S. consular officials have visited him regularly since his detention. He was tried on charges of inciting subversion and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. A U.S. consular official from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing met with him last on December 17th and he was reported in good health.
On the broader issue of bilateral relations, I think, you know, we've made it clear that we have good, cooperative relations, we have the kind of relationship where we can work together on issues where we see eye to eye and that are in regional interest of peace and stability. On other issues where we have differences, we have the kind of relationship where we can be frank and honest and put our cards on the table and tell them where we think there are problems and address them constructively.
I think that the issue of human rights and rule of law is certainly one that we raise regularly with the Government of China. On this specific case, I don't have anything particular for you on whether we've gone in from a human rights perspective.
QUESTION: Well, what did you think of the process? Was it rule of law? Was it fair? Did he get a fair trial?
MR. ERELI: Let me get you our opinion on that. I don't have --
QUESTION: Well, more than that, are the charges political or are they real? I mean, if you can look into it.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I will look into it.
QUESTION: It's the last time we'll ask about him. Obviously, he's packed off and he's finished; he's been sentenced.
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: So, you know, you won't hear anything --
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: From the public.
QUESTION: -- from the press corps anymore. It's just that, you know, having a guy at the sentencing is very -- is not very reassuring. The question is whether he --
MR. ERELI: Well, I mean, I guess I'd put it this way. I am not familiar with the facts of this case.
MR. ERELI: And not, you know --
QUESTION: No, no, it's okay.
MR. ERELI: I am not in a position to comment on the legal proceedings and the credibility of the charges and how they were conducted.
MR. ERELI: I can look into that for you.
QUESTION: Yeah. That's all I was asking.
MR. ERELI: Matt.
QUESTION: Another sentencing. I realize your embassy in Hanoi has already said something about this. I wonder if you have any additional comment to make about the cyber dissident who was convicted of translating one of your very own -- whatever you want to call -- handouts on democracy on the Internet.
MR. ERELI: Right. What we're referring to --
QUESTION: I knew there was a reason Ken was sitting here.
MR. ERELI: What we were referring to is the sentencing of Nguyen Vu Binh, a Vietnamese citizen, who expressed his views on the Internet and attempted to form a political party. Mr. Binh is a journalist. He was arrested in Hanoi in September 2002 after posting on the Internet several essays promoting democracy and human rights. On December 30th, he was sentenced to seven years in prison, followed by two years administrative detention for spying.
We strongly condemn this harsh sentence. We are especially concerned that the Vietnamese Government may have targeted Mr. Binh because in 2002, he submitted written testimony to the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam. It is our belief that no individual should be imprisoned for their peaceful expression of their views, and the sentencing of Mr. Binh clearly violates international standards for the protection of human rights including freedom of expression.
We remain concerned, in general, about Vietnam's treatment of dissent. This is, I would note, the third case that we are aware of this year that has involved an individual who posted his views on the Internet. The United States urges the Government of Vietnam to immediately release Mr. Binh and all of those imprisoned for peacefully expressing their views, and we strongly urge the Government of Vietnam to put an end to its ongoing repression of peaceful dissent.
QUESTION: That complete statement makes me wonder why there isn't something comparable about what's going on in China --
QUESTION: An American citizen.
QUESTION: -- unless it's a criminal case and you know it is.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Right.
QUESTION: And, I mean, human rights is an old -- it's just, you know, kind of a throw away line. You're dealing with a regime there that isn't democratic. And if Americans get thrown in prison, just attending their sentencing doesn't seem to cover it.
MR. ERELI: Right. Barry, as I said, I endeavor to look into the facts of the case in China before commenting on whether justice was served or not.
QUESTION: Well, can we presume that if it was the 25th anniversary of U.S.-Vietnamese relations that the last -- that your little diatribe there wouldn't have been in the (inaudible)? No?
MR. ERELI: No, I don't think you would make -- I would not make that presumption.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) was in the statement.
Okay, now it's time to beat on Israel. Are they going to expand -- I mean, evenhandedly, of course -- are they going to -- I don't know if the word is thicken, expand -- new homes for Israeli Jews on the Golan Heights? Is that an awful thing for the State Department?
MR. ERELI: We've seen the press reports about expanded settlement activity, Israeli settlement activity in the Golan. I don't know how accurate those reports are, frankly, and I would refer you to the Israeli Government for clarification.
As a general matter, whether in the Golan or the West Bank or Gaza, we oppose all settlement activity.
QUESTION: On what basis?
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. We have said clearly and consistently Israel should freeze settlement construction and dismantle unauthorized outposts.
QUESTION: That's the West Bank.
MR. ERELI: And the same applies --
QUESTION: There are no unauthorized outposts in the Golan Heights. There are plain old settlements.
MR. ERELI: They should freeze settlement activity.
QUESTION: Okay. They're not violating the roadmap there, are they? There is no roadmap.
MR. ERELI: Well, the roadmap applies to the Palestinians but --
MR. ERELI: -- at the same time, we believe, and it's been our longstanding policy, that there should not be settlement activity in land that is the subject -- the final status of which has not been determined through negotiation.
QUESTION: And there's another -- a parallel report. A Druz member of Likud -- it wouldn't be the first, but he's going up to Damascus to try to see if there's any real interest in negotiations being resumed. Does the State Department have a view of that?
MR. ERELI: The State Department supports direct negotiations between the Israelis and Syrians to resolve the issue of the Golan.
QUESTION: Why is it that you're shedding doubt on the reports that they are planning to increase settlement --
MR. ERELI: I'm not shedding doubt. I just can't confirm the accuracy of the reports.
QUESTION: So you guys have not been in touch with anybody over there to find out whether --
MR. ERELI: I guess our indications are that there might be some -- there might be some reason to seek clarification of the reports.
QUESTION: So are you intending to cancel out what you said when you said, as a general matter, we oppose all settlement activity?
MR. ERELI: Yes, yes, I was intending to cancel that out.
QUESTION: That is no longer operative?
MR. ERELI: Retract that from the record.
QUESTION: So --
MR. ERELI: I would say that we continue -- our policy continues to be that Israel should freeze settlement construction.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. So you weren't intending to make that new policy?
MR. ERELI: I was not. Thank you for giving me that.
QUESTION: There has been a great deal of attention these past couple of months on debt relief in reference to Iraq, and rightfully so, but there hasn't been too much emphasis, it appears, on debt relief towards the whole continent of Africa. And the reason why I bring this up is because the Secretary, in an interview with, I think, Michael Reagan, the radio show, the other day said that in the coming year AIDS, HIV/AIDS, is an issue that he will spend more time on, he will devote more of his resources to tackling this very difficult issue in the coming new year.
But how can you tackle this incredibly difficult issue without dealing with debt relief in Africa, given the fact that some of these countries spend more money on servicing their loans than they do on combating that horrific epidemic?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. No, clearly, there are a number of needs in Africa and we are going to be focusing on those needs intently in the coming year. I would note a couple of things already this year that are important to remark: the Millennium Challenge Account, the AIDS initiative and the amount of resources being devoted to that.
And finally, I would note that yesterday President Bush approved the designation of 37 Sub-Saharan African countries as eligible for tariff preferences in 2004 under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and we see this as a recognition that there are a number of countries in Africa that are making continued progress toward market-based economies, the rule of law, free trade, economic policies that are aimed at reducing poverty and protecting workers' rights, and we are going to continue to encourage that by seeking to develop the kind of economic relationship between us and them that allows that kind of progress to continue.
Debt burden is an issue, and I think, you know, it's something that we all need to keep in mind.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up? These 37 countries, is this something that they already enjoy and that this is merely an extension, or is this something new?
MR. ERELI: Most of these countries received tariff preferences last year. Angola was included this year because it made progress in 2003 on various eligibility criteria. I would note that two countries that were on the list last year were taken off this year, and those are Central African Republic and Eritrea.
MR. ERELI: Central African Republic, because of a military coup there, and Eritrea because of deterioration in human rights.
QUESTION: That would be your embassy staff who are still locked up or what?
MR. ERELI: Specific issues -- I don't have that for you, Matt. Oh, actually, I do. I take it back. They have closed the independent press, arrested journalists and editors, and continue to detain political dissidents without due process.
QUESTION: That wasn't --
QUESTION: That's Eritrea, right?
MR. ERELI: That's Eritrea.
QUESTION: Those two guys who work for the embassy that (inaudible), right?
MR. ERELI: Oh, the local employees?
MR. ERELI: That does not include them, but obviously that's an issue of concern.
QUESTION: Change subject.
QUESTION: Wait. Are you saying there were 38 countries, until like today, and the loss of two, and the addition of one means a net loss of one?
MR. ERELI: This year, the President added Angola and took off Eritrea and Central African Republic.
QUESTION: So what did he do yesterday?
MR. ERELI: He approved the designation of the following 37 -- of 37, which included what -- the countries they were last year, except for two, and added one.
MR. ERELI: Yes, Libya.
QUESTION: The story of the PSI interdiction. Can you confirm the interdiction of a, I guess, U.S.-led, we would even say, interdiction of a shipment of nuclear parts to Libya?
MR. ERELI: What I would say is a ship was diverted, based on intelligence, that it was carrying centrifuge parts in early October.
QUESTION: That's what you would say, totally?
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: A ship was diverted that was known to be traveling to deliver them in Libya?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I'm not going to get into more, more than that. I mean, you've seen the press reports. I would simply say that, you know, I think what this incident shows is that the PSI is -- Proliferation Security Initiative -- is robust, producing results, fulfilling the mission for which it was intended, which is to detect and interdict shipments of components as well as block activities that are used by countries to evade their international obligations and develop weapons of mass destructions, programs and capabilities.
QUESTION: But you wouldn't confirm that Libya was trying to do that with this shipment?
MR. ERELI: I'm -- you know, I'm not going to get into the details of this report, other than to say that, you know, what you've read is basically accurate.
QUESTION: And what impact would you say this had on convincing Libya to conclude these negotiations that had been going on for about six months at that point?
MR. ERELI: You know, I think it's difficult to -- it's difficult to come to conclusive -- it's difficult to come to conclusions about what motivates one country to do something without sort of hearing directly from that country. I think what can be said is that this was a significant and important development. It showed --
MR. ERELI: Well --
QUESTION: The (inaudible) you're referring to? Okay.
MR. ERELI: -- period. It was a significant and important development, period. What impact it had on Libya agreeing to have inspectors come or have teams come to Libya to look at its programs, I think you should ask the Libyans.
I would note that, you know, these negotiations were underway for a long time, that this was something that we were working together hand-in-hand with the British on for many months, and that there was a process well underway when this took place.
I would also note, as others have, that after this diversion, there were certain actions that took place. Was there a causality? I think one could argue that. But can you come to a definitive conclusion about it? It's hard.
I think the best way to look at it is we are pushing on all fronts to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destructions, and those efforts are producing results. They're bringing countries that have weapons programs to the table. They're detecting and seizing shipments. They're doing this in a way that is coordinated with like-minded countries around the world. And it's something we should recognize and I think be proud of.
Yes, Mike -- Mark.
QUESTION: Adam, do you think this casts any doubt on ElBaradei's comment in the past couple of days that Libya's nuclear program was at an early stage?
MR. ERELI: We spoke to this yesterday and what we said yesterday was, let's not rush to conclusions about the extent of -- the exact extent of Libya's weapons programs. It's going to take awhile to come to a full understanding of exactly what they have, and how close they were. And the IAEA is going to be going back to Libya. There will be other teams going back to Libya.
We are going to work together with them to help come to a good understanding of what Libya's capabilities and intentions were, and we're going to work with Libya to help it fulfill the commitments that it said it wants to, wants to fulfill. So I just, you know, I think what's clear is that there were efforts underway. The full scope and extent of those efforts are yet to be determined.
QUESTION: Yeah. A new subject?
QUESTION: Can I ask one, another one on proliferation?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the degree to which rogue scientists in Pakistan were responsible for helping Iran in its efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability?
MR. ERELI: I don't -- no, I don't have anything on that. I mean, it's a subject of speculation and reporting, but I don't have anything official to say about it.
QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts on the admission yesterday, or the day before, of Khieu Samphan that there, in fact, was a genocide in Cambodia in the '70s under the Khmer Rouge?
MR. ERELI: I had not seen that admission.
QUESTION: Really? That's unfortunate.
Okay. And tomorrow, I presume, it's a holiday so you're not going to be here, so I'm wondering what good wishes, if any, you have for the leaders and people of Haiti, who are celebrating their 200th anniversary of independence.
MR. ERELI: Bon anniversaire.
QUESTION: Yeah? Can you do that in Creole?
MR. ERELI: Can you?
QUESTION: No. But can you -- do you have anything on it?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Do you know who is leading the U.S. delegation to the -- ?
MR. ERELI: Actually, we had something on that last week, so I can get it for you.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. abandoned hope for the Sudanese peace deal by the agreed upon deadline, just a few hours from now? Or, actually, it's over. In Sudan -- when does it turn midnight in Sudan?
QUESTION: They're eight hours ahead of us.
MR. ERELI: I think we are -- we remain hopeful that the parties can reach an agreement. I would note that they are the ones that said, you know, they thought they could get it done by the end of the year. That deadline may slip, probably will slip, but the important point I think to make is that they are very close. There are really just some small issues dividing them. We think that there is a historic opportunity here, that the moment should be seized. We are working with both of them to resolve these few remaining issues that are outstanding.
They have said they are going to make every effort to close the gaps that remain. So this is something that we are going to push very hard on, or work very hard on, to help them realize.
QUESTION: Adam, you say that you are still hopeful that they'll reach an agreement. I mean, you've got like three hours.
QUESTION: Two hours.
QUESTION: Two hours.
MR. ERELI: I'm not saying by the end of 2003, but I would say soon. Soon. We are still hopeful that an agreement is possible soon.
QUESTION: Soon, but not today?
MR. ERELI: It may not happen today.
QUESTION: Did the phone calls go through to Garang and Taha yesterday?
MR. ERELI: Yes, the Secretary spoke with President Bashir, Dr. Garang and Vice President Taha yesterday.
QUESTION: Has he been telephoning (inaudible)?
MR. ERELI: He has. He has spoken to -- today he has spoken with -- actually, I don't have the latest for you on that. Do we have anything? Yeah, I don't have anything for you today, no.
MR. CASEY: I'll get it for you.
QUESTION: Do you have any embassies closing for threats, New Year's Eve threats?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Oh. Good deal.
QUESTION: What about the Secretary's -- is the building open Friday?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Can we come?
QUESTION: I was going to ask --
MR. ERELI: The Secretary was in today.
QUESTION: Yeah, that's the second day, yes, since -- his second day in a row.
MR. ERELI: His second day.
QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask you about, you know, appearances he might be making, but if you're open Friday we can ask you Friday.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, we'll do a Week Ahead Friday.
MR. CASEY: I won't be here, but --
MR. ERELI: We'll do a Week Ahead Friday.
QUESTION: I won't be here either, but I can --
QUESTION: Are you going to brief on Friday?
MR. CASEY: I tell you what, I'll find out and e-mail you.
MR. ERELI: If there is popular demand, I will try to be as responsive as possible.
QUESTION: All right. We thank you, and Prospero Aņo Felicidad.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:40 p.m.)
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