State Department Noon Briefing, March 16, 2004
|Tuesday March 16,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 2004
12:30 p.m. EST
MR. ERELI: Good morning, everybody -- afternoon, rather, excuse me.
Who would like to -- no announcements, so who would like to have the first question?
QUESTION: Adam, on --
MR. ERELI: Saul.
QUESTION: On Iran and -- the IAEA and Iran have said that on March 27th that the suspension of inspections can resume.
Do you think that this two-week period can be used by the Iranians to actually hide some stuff that the inspectors are actually supposed to find?
MR. ERELI: What it shows is a continuation of a pattern of delay and deception and denial, which, I think, three Board of Governor resolutions have commented on. And the point, the point we would make is that, you know, this decision is regrettable. It's time to come clean, fully, unequivocally and completely.
QUESTION: On the resolution, obviously, in any negotiations there are different positions, but the Europeans were slightly at a different point than the United States. Do you think that the division is counterproductive in getting Iran to comply or is, actually, this role of "bad cop, good cop" -- does it serve your purpose?
MR. ERELI: I think there is a -- you know, it's important to point out that these resolutions are adopted by consensus. And the resolution, the most recent resolution represents a widely held view. It is consistent, the resolution. It is measured.
As I said before, it is the third time the Board of Governors has expressed itself by consensus, which reflects the unanimous will of the international community. So I wouldn't qualify it as "good cop, bad cop." I would qualify it as a clear and unequivocal statement by the international community that Iran needs to fully declare its program and fulfill its pledges of transparency, which actions such as the one delaying a UN -- a visit by the IAEA for two weeks belie.
QUESTION: Are we still on the Middle East?
QUESTION: Yeah, on Iraq.
The meeting with Mr. Armitage today and ElBaradei, will it focus on Iran, in particular, or was talk on, obviously, Libya and other things?
MR. ERELI: Deputy Secretary Armitage and IAEA Director General ElBaradei had a very good meeting today. They talked about Iran, Libya, as well as the President's Non-Proliferation Initiative, which he spoke about in his NDU speech, National Defense University speech. And I think the -- an important point to take away from all this is that in that speech, there was important ways in which both the United States and the international community can work hand-in-glove with the IAEA in combating proliferation. And I think that was a view that was agreed upon by both Deputy Secretary Armitage and the Director General.
QUESTION: But since the reaction from Iran, has there been any new approach, has there been any new focus for this meeting?
MR. ERELI: The resolution called on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA in its investigations, and pointed out that there were still a number of outstanding questions that the international community had that they would seek to answer by their next meeting in June. So the focus now is on resolving the outstanding questions about Iran's nuclear program and doing so so that the IAEA can meet again in June and come to some conclusions about what Iran is up to.
QUESTION: In the meeting, when you said they touched on Libya, there have been a couple of criticisms about the display in Oak Ridge yesterday of the Libyan components, one that -- it's a bit more of a show than anything and makes it look like a dog and pony show. And then also, more specifically, it gives the impression that the United States is disarming Libya and not that they signed up for disarmament by the IAEA.
MR. ERELI: That would be an incorrect impression. I think it's clear that first and foremost, that Libya has taken a important and commendable step in deciding that its WMD programs don't serve a useful purpose, and second, that it has -- that the United States, along with British and the International Atomic Energy Commission (along with British and the International Atomic Energy Agency) have had a great deal of cooperation and help in working with Libya to help Libya follow through on its stated desire to get rid of those programs in a comprehensive and verifiable way that will allow Libya to devote its resources to the welfare of its people and, you know, reenter the international community.
So this is by, you know, by all accounts and by all means, a very cooperative and multilateral effort that involves Libya, the United States, Great Britain, and the IAEA and other international organizations, the OPCW, as well, in helping to address this issue, which Libya has, of its own volition, decided to do.
QUESTION: So you don't -- you don't think this could, in some way, the great show, embarrass Libya, because while they're cooperating with you and the international community, the Arab world, obviously, has a different view and Qadhafi is criticized in the Arab press for, you know, cowing before the United States; making a show of it only heightens that impression.
MR. ERELI: I don't -- this is not a design to embarrass anyone. It was simply designed to demonstrate the kind of materials that are involved here. And anybody who sort of thinks that this is sending a message of seeking to cow anyone is really misreading it.
As I said before, this is a very cooperative process, and it is a process that is being led by, initiated by, and supported by Libya and the international community.
QUESTION: What was shown yesterday was (inaudible) percent of the Libyan program -- allegedly there are 500 tons that are on the way to the United States. What will happen to them? Are they going to be destroyed? Are they going to be displayed? Are they going to be stored somewhere? And then I have follow-up.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I think those are technical questions which really aren't relevant to the issue at hand. The issue at hand is helping a country willingly disarm. And that's what we're all working together to do.
The disposition of the equipment will be done in such a way that it will be incapable of being used for destructive purposes.
QUESTION: And my follow-up on that -- the President, or the White House sources say that the President will allude in his speech of Friday on -- to Libya, will point to Libya as a good example of, you know, justifying the war in Iraq.
Now, on the other hand, there are other -- or Democrats -- or someone like (inaudible) writing articles saying, look, you know, the Libyans, you know, knuckled under the pressure of the sanctions and not really what happened in Iraq.
Is it a good idea for the President to be saying that this is --
MR. ERELI: I think whatever the President says will be a good idea.
And you can bet it will be -- it will be -- anyway, I am not going to preview the President's remarks, nor comment on the --
QUESTION: -- the pundits.
MR. ERELI: -- process of how those remarks are prepared. I'd just urge you to stay tuned and to write about them with the importance and deliberation that they deserve.
QUESTION: Adam, with respect to Iran, with this, hopefully, end to their nuclear program, do you see their ultimate aim as a threat of coercion against the Sunnis and the June 30th transition of power to the -- or, from the CPA?
In other words, they fought a war with Iraq years ago, and it's their way of maybe starting up or intimidating a new government?
MR. ERELI: I would caution you against making those kinds of connections. I mean, obviously, you know, I don't want to speculate about one government's motivation for maintaining a nuclear program with military applications.
But I would note that this is a program that has been underway for over a decade, and it's something we've been talking about for that period of time. It's something we've been trying to draw attention to, so it certainly predates the recent events in Iraq.
QUESTION: Change of subject to Haiti?
Now it's not only Aristide who is making accusations about the U.S. role in his departure, but also, Maxine Waters has made remarks today saying that the U.S. Government had a hand in helping the opposition threaten Aristide. She went so far as to question whether the U.S. actually organized a coup, blaming Noriega in particular.
I know we've been through refuting many of these allegations, but I guess you have to do it again.
MR. ERELI: Consider them refuted. They're not true.
President Aristide voluntarily, of his own volition and his own initiative, with no coercion, resigned as president of Haiti and left the country in order to spare that country further bloodshed, which was the result of his misrule.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) she's calling this another regime change by the U.S. Anything -- with that in particular -- she says it's a policy of regime change, and pre-emptive strikes on Haiti.
MR. ERELI: Where to start. First of all, it wasn't pre-emptive, because the country was falling apart. We tried to work with all parties to come to a peaceful solution. When that proved impossible, and when violence was threatening to tear the country apart and to produce a horrific repeat of what it had been through ten years ago, Aristide, in assessing the situation, as I said, decided to do the wise thing and spare his country further suffering and resign. That was something that he decided to do.
So it wasn't the United States supporting regime change, it was the decision of the leader of Haiti that it was in the interest of his country that he leave. And he decided to do that, and he resigned. And he wrote his own letter of resignation, and he asked us what we could do to help him leave.
QUESTION: If I could follow up. I don't know if Teri brought this up, but there are some accounts that he claims that he was actually brought to the airport under some kind of rouse that he was about to have a press conference -- I don't know if you've seen the reports -- and that -- I mean, and apparently those are backed up by -- on the record by one of the pilots, and that the U.S. military said that they were going to transport him securely to a press conference and, in fact, took him to the airport, and then put him on a plane.
MR. ERELI: False. Completely, utterly without basis. As we've said before -- and, you know, I would also point something out, here. Every time the subject comes up, our story stays the same and our version of events remains the same. But every time the questions come, it's with a different twist, according to a different version that somebody else is putting out there.
So, you know, let's go back to what we said the day after this all took place. He approached us, he asked us -- he said he was thinking of leaving. He asked us what we could do -- if we could assist him in leaving. When we came back to him, his bags were already packed. When we asked for the letter of resignation, he said, "It's in my suitcase, which is already packed. " And we said, "It's time to go to the airport." So he said, "Great." We're on our way to the airport, we got to the airport, the plane landed, he got on the plane and he left. There was no discussion of a press conference. In fact, there was concern on his part that there not be publicity, because he didn't want anybody to interfere with his departure.
QUESTION: On another Haiti-related matter. The Venezuelan Government is saying that it does not recognize the new Haitian government. Also offered Aristide exile, but on the idea of not recognizing the Haitian government, are you concerned that this -- that other -- other leaders in the region who have said that Aristide left under questionable means are not going to recognize this new government?
MR. ERELI: I think CARICOM and the members of CARICOM have been fairly outspoken in pledging their readiness to work with Prime Minister Latortue, and the future government of Haiti in helping to rebuild and reestablish the political process in that country. So we have every expectation that that will happen.
QUESTION: Are you worried that the rumors that he was duped into leaving the country may actually snowball among his constituency or supporters in Haiti and create a problem?
MR. ERELI: Our focus is, frankly, on helping eight million Haitians rebuild their country, as opposed to what one former president may or may not be doing.
QUESTION: Do you have anything yet on the new government breaking relations with Jamaica over letting him visit?
MR. ERELI: I don't know if that's entirely accurate. They've recalled their ambassador. That's not the same as breaking relations, number one. Number two, you'll have to ask the government of Haiti for this fact, but my understanding was there had been a sort of order issued for all ambassadors to return to capital for consultations. So I would look at it in that light.
QUESTION: Not over the Aristide issue? If everybody asks their ambassadors to be recalled, it would have been over Jamaica giving --
MR. ERELI: No, no, no. Before that. Before.
MR. ERELI: Before.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) still on Haiti with Venezuela. When you were asked, you obviously replied generally about the CARICOM. But what specifically about Chavez's comments -- what's the U.S. reaction? You know, he says the doors are open for Aristide to come. He still thinks Aristide is the president. Is that useful?
MR. ERELI: I just saw those remarks on a wire service before coming
out here, so I'm
QUESTION: Yeah. Is there any message that President Chavez should take to heart, given events in Haiti and the ouster of Aristide?
MR. ERELI: I don't have any wisdom to impart on that score.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the purpose that you went regarding Jamaica accepting Aristide for his visit was to say that it wasn't useful. One may have expected a stronger reaction, considering that Haiti itself is upset. That kind of reaction -- do you not -- are you not concerned that it's sending a message to other governments in the region like Venezuela that they can take a harder position supporting Aristide and actually encourages Chavez to make such a statement?
MR. ERELI: You know, I guess you guys are looking at the situation differently than we're looking at it. We're looking at what's going on in Haiti. And we're seeing a sea change from the way things were three weeks ago. We're seeing the rebels putting down their arms, going back to where they came from. We see relative domestic peace and tranquility. We see consensual politics returning to Haiti. We see a new government about to be put in place. We see the path toward constitutionalism and elections clear. And we see humanitarian aid being given to the people who need it.
So -- and we also see that there's going to be a lot of work needed on the ground to keep this momentum going. And sustaining that momentum, and keeping progress moving forward is the best way, not only to help the people of Haiti, but also to, I think, take the wind out of the sails of those who would look backward rather than looking forward.
QUESTION: So all that said, part of Haiti's present and future is its relations with countries in the region. What can the United States do to help Haiti have better relations if it's already got problems with Jamaica and probably now with Venezuela?
MR. ERELI: I think that -- let's not overstate the case. CARICOM has said clearly that it is committed to the goal of restoring and nurturing democracy in Haiti as well as the social and economic development of the Haitian people. That includes Jamaica. The fact is, they've offered a temporary visit by former president Aristide to meet family members. So that's what they're doing. That need not and should not, and we don't expect will come at the expense of peace and progress in Haiti.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject?
MR. ERELI: Spain.
QUESTION: Today, the airwave, the radio and newspapers -- everybody's talking about how -- the win in Spain, the victory of the Social Democrat is really a win for al-Qaida and terror. What is -- is there an assessment by the Department of State on this?
MR. ERELI: The win for the Socialist Party -- the win of the Socialist Party is a win for democracy and the Socialist Party. Those who suggest that somehow it's a victory for terrorism or al-Qaida, I think, should look at the pictures and footage of the demonstrations in Madrid and throughout Spain the day after the bombing, and look at the millions of raised fists and clasped hands among Spanish citizens in solidarity with each other and in solidarity with the fight against terror. There can be no more eloquent expression of a rejection of everything that these savages stand for, than that peaceful and emotional expression of strength and conviction and courage that the Spanish people showed.
It knows not politics nor ideology, but humanism. And that's what we're seeing. We're not seeing, we're not seeing partisan politics playing out in response to terrorism.
QUESTION: If the people are taking --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that terrorists may attack at U.S. allies, other U.S. allies as a result of this?
MR. ERELI: Terrorists target anybody who opposes their view of fanaticism. They've targeted U.S. allies; they've targeted people who aren't U.S. allies.
What I think we've learned since September 11th is that we are all potential victims and we've all got to work together to prevent these murderous people from practicing their blood sport.
QUESTION: If these people are staunchly against terrorism, which, somehow, the U.S. has divined them to be, would you expect, since you say it's a democracy, would you expect that the Spanish -- the new Spanish Government would be as firm-standing, as firmly alongside the United States against terrorism, as the defeated government is? Was?
MR. ERELI: I would refer you to the words of the new -- of the leader of the Socialist Party, Mr. Rodriguez Zapataro, who has said his number one priority and the number one priority of his government that he would head is the fight against terror.
So -- and, you know, President Bush and he discussed our shared commitment to that end and I think that the -- again, the Spanish people have showed that they're fully behind him.
QUESTION: How can you dismiss the fact that 95 percent of the Spanish people were against the war in Iraq, which was part of your war against -- at that point, you described as a link with terrorism? And you -- your rationale for the war keeps changing.
But you would expect that the Socialists would be as tough as the previous government, which defied public opinion and stood with the United States?
MR. ERELI: I don't think, Barry, the -- I don't accept the suggestion that after the greatest terrorist attack in its history that Spain, its government or its people, are going to lessen their resolve, or their commitment, or the energy that they devote to pursuing terrorists. And to suggest something like that defies credulity.
QUESTION: I'm just asking --
QUESTION: On the issue of Iraq --
QUESTION: I'm asking if you expect them to take up arms like the previous government was prepared to do, and did?
MR. ERELI: On the issue of Iraq --
QUESTION: On the issue of Iraq --
MR. ERELI: On the issue of Iraq, the government has said that it will be reviewing that issue, that absent a mandate, that it would look to withdrawing its troops. As I said yesterday, let's see what happens. First of all, they said they wouldn't do it before June 30th. A lot can happen between now and June 30th. Maybe there will be another mandate. We think the existing mandate is sufficient, that 1511 explicitly provides for a multi-national force in Iraq, but that in the context of the transfer of sovereignty, another resolution may be appropriate.
So let's just wait and see. I wouldn't get into the prediction game. We'll deal with the facts on the ground as they are.
QUESTION: But can I -- can I follow up? First of all, though, I mean obviously, this prime minister does not think that the current resolution is a mandate. So how much more of an importance is a resolution before June 30th?
MR. ERELI: You know, it's something we've always said we would consider, and we would look at.
QUESTION: Are you --
MR. ERELI: So that hasn't changed.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that other U.S. allies in Iraq -- that their publics will, you know, see the -- that there be a trend in this matter, that other publics whose governments went against them and went -- sided with the U.S. in Iraq, will now choose a new government that perhaps wouldn't be friendly to the U.S. position in Iraq?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: But since you said yesterday the reaction that you get -- the prime minister described the war as an error and a disaster. It can't be more clearer than that. I mean, now how would you describe the relationship? Will it see it as more of alliance -- will you see it as more of like Germany and France relationship with the U.S. regarding the war in Iraq specifically? We're not talking about terrorism, just Iraq. Or to even go worse, because if he decides to pull out the troops, it's going to be even worse than that.
MR. ERELI: You know, relationships are more than, as we all know, than one issue. And, you know, one issue is not going to determine where a relationship goes. We have, first and foremost, a staunch and steadfast ally in the war on terror in Spain. We have a NATO partner. We have a long history of cooperation and close relations on a number of regional issues, including North Africa and other areas.
So, you know, with Spain, as with other countries, there are going to be issues on which we don't always see eye-to-eye on. That was the case with the present government; it will be the case with the future government, from whatever party. There's no bilateral relationship in which you agree on everything.
But there are alliances that endure despite -- and perhaps one could argue because of differences. That is the case with our allies such as Britain, it is the case with allies such as France, it is the case with allies such as Spain.
So I wouldn't read too much into any one specific aspect of the
relationship. The fact is, looked at in its totality, this is -- Spain
has been, is, and will continue to be an ally whose
QUESTION: I agree with you. I couldn't agree any less. But I'm talking about this one particular -- you cannot just dismiss that Iraq's been, from the viewpoint of Spain, as an issue. It's a major issue, something that --
MR. ERELI: I'm not dismissing it. I wasn't dismissing it. I'm just saying it's not the only thing to talk about. I'm saying there are lots of other issues.
QUESTION: So how do you describe that? I mean, it's just a disagreement with an ally, just like you disagreed with France and Germany?
MR. ERELI: Let's -- our view -- I'll describe to you what our position is. And our position is that the world is a lot better off with Saddam Hussein gone, and that it was time for the international community to act, and it acted with full justification and legitimacy in a way that removed a threat that was not only threatening us, but was threatening the international community, and that it was done with the cooperation of the international community, and that the world is a lot better off as a result.
QUESTION: Can we go to the Middle East? Today in Europe, Chancellor
Schroeder said that they needed new European policy to combat terrorism.
Are you concerned that
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Have you been given assurances that it'll be in coordination with the U.S.?
MR. ERELI: This is an EU initiative. I don't really have a lot of details on it.
I think that, you know, we've got existing, very close cooperation with all the countries of Europe in the full array of efforts and activities to fight terrorism, from intelligence to law enforcement, to financial networks, to border security. These are, you know, rather complex and intricate linkages of networks. It's pretty close cooperation and so, you know, obviously the EU is going to have its own, its own meetings and its own discussions and its own deliberations, but the fact is the fight against terror is a global one and we all work together very cooperatively in protecting each other.
QUESTION: Have they give you any notion of what new wrinkles, or whatever, they might put on this fight?
MR. ERELI: Not that I've been briefed on.
QUESTION: As we speak now, there is a major incursion, in fact, invasion of Gaza. Are you -- have you issued a statement or have you spoken to the Israelis to restrain or hold back?
MR. ERELI: I've seen the reports of Israeli actions against targets in Gaza.
I would reiterate what we've said before in these types of situations, that Israel was the victim of a terrorist attack a few days ago. We understand their need for self-defense. At the same time, we urge the Israelis to consider the consequences of their actions and to minimize the loss to innocent civilian life and property.
QUESTION: But apparently this is, I mean, more than just a helicopter attack. In (inaudible) there's a major push, attacks push deep into Gaza.
MR. ERELI: I don't have those kinds of operational details. I think the same statement would apply.
QUESTION: But there is the report that the Israeli cabinet itself took decision of targeting leaders, very high level, like Hamas, for example. I mean, where does this leave the region, with the killing and counterkilling? Does the U.S. doesn't feel that there is a time now to step in and to do something more than to send the envoys and coming back and issuing the same statements that we hear for the last, God knows how long?
MR. ERELI: I think the United States' position has been, and this is what I enunciated yesterday, that the key to stopping this cycle of violence is to act effectively against the terrorists who perpetrate the kinds of killings we saw earlier in the week, and that lead to the kind of actions we're seeing today.
And that is what -- that is something that we have, frankly, been tireless in trying to bring about. And we will continue to work toward that end. But it's hard to see how you're going to get real progress as long as control over Palestinian security forces is divided, as long as there's not a will among -- or the will or the capability among the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority, to move against the organizations that are carrying out these senseless attacks. Because in the final analysis, again, as I said yesterday, they do nothing to serve the aspirations of the Palestinian people.
QUESTION: Can the Israelis accomplish that by their forays into Gaza? Can they compel the Palestinian leadership to confront terrorism, and/or does the U.S. believe that Israel could defeat, can defeat terrorism with military action?
MR. ERELI: Our view is that the only viable, long-term solution to this problem is a negotiated solution, a negotiated political solution.
That said, there has to be an end to terror.
QUESTION: But there's reports in the Israeli media that Palestinian President Arafat refused to crack down on Fatah activists -- Al-Aqsa, of course, is responsible for the attack.
Does the State Department have a response to this? Can Israel negotiate with a side which refuses to crack down on its own people?
MR. ERELI: I think the -- it's clear that, you know, we are frustrated and we've said it many times. We are frustrated by the Palestinians' lack of success and lack of movement in creating a unified and accountable control over the security services and taking effective action against the terrorists. This is something that we've, you know, we've called for, we've tried to -- we've worked to effect, and that we'll continue to work to effect, because its absence is clearly a source of instability.
QUESTION: Could you --
MR. ERELI: Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: You don't think that people can --
MR. ERELI: No, I mean the leadership. I mean the leadership.
QUESTION: -- battered as they are can stand up and say "Enough of this, let's throw those folks out of here?"
MR. ERELI: I mean the leadership.
QUESTION: You mean the leadership. Okay.
QUESTION: Regarding yesterday -- it was right before the briefing, so you didn't have time to see Sharon's comments. But his comments that he doesn't have a partner to negotiate with and he will stop negotiations -- what do you make of those comments? Have you sought any clarification from the Israelis on it and are you afraid that this means that Israel is abandoning the roadmap for the time being?
MR. ERELI: I think -- as I've said before, we are frustrated by the absence of a unified, responsible and accountable Palestinian leadership. We continue to work with the Palestinian leaders toward achieving this goal. We think it's important that the Israelis do so as well.
President Sharon -- not President, excuse me -- Prime Minister Sharon as we've also said, has presented some interesting ideas for how to deal with the current situation. Those ideas have been the subject of ongoing discussions between the Israeli Government and the Bush Administration. Those discussions are continuing.
I would also say that, you know, when they were last in Israel, and Assistant Secretary Burns and Deputy National Security Advisor Hadley did meet with Palestinian leaders.
So this is a dialogue, this is a process that's continuing. Both sides had reiterated their commitment to the roadmap, but there's a lot of work to do.
QUESTION: But, I mean, this was all before the attack, of course.
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: So, I mean, now the Prime Minister is saying that he doesn't have a partner. You're saying that you don't see a unified and accountable Palestinian leadership. Do the Israelis have a partner in this process, and -- I mean, if they don't, is it reasonable to allow them to stop negotiations for the time being?
MR. ERELI: For the time -- I would focus on what you say for the time being. I mean, as I said before, this is -- there is no way to solve this problem other than the two sides talking to each other. There are some ideas, recognizing that talks may be difficult, talks may be impeded by certain things, there are some ideas out there for managing the situation in the interim. Those are ideas that we're discussing.
But, you know, we are continuing -- the parties have said that the road map is still the way forward. The goal remains the same, a two-state solution. You can't get to that goal without talking to each other, without negotiations. So that is the end game.
QUESTION: There is some criticism that Israel, in fact, has undermined the PA and, is fact, almost bankrupt now, and the security service is not functioning because of the inter-fighting and other reasons as well, and is unable to deal with the situation. And that's because of the Israeli reoccupying of land and incursions over the last two years, not recently.
So what does -- I mean, do you think this valid? Do you share this point of view that, in fact, Israel has played a great role in destroying the Palestinian Authority, and therefore, it's meaningless to issue any statements (inaudible), unless they stop terrorism, nothing can forward?
MR. ERELI: I don't think it's right to give anybody a free pass, as -- there's, you know, on both side it's, "Oh, it's the other side's fault that we haven't done this," or, "It's the other side's fault that we haven't done that."
I don't think you can say the fact that the Palestinians haven't done what they committed to do is the fault of the Israelis. That's just way, way too simplistic and ignores, you know, certain choices the Palestinians have made -- that the Palestinian leadership has made.
And you've got to recognize those choices, and you've got to, you know, own up to them.
QUESTION: Adam, just to clarify -- when you said that there are some ideas that you're discussing for managing the situation in the interim, are you referring to the ideas that Sharon has put forward?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Not to make too many parallels here, but obviously the Palestinian situation has been going on for a long time and you've been frustrated by the lack of leadership, been working with these new Palestinian leaders. But Arafat still is hanging around.
Do you think this is a situation -- I mean, obviously, Haiti and the Palestinian situation are two different -- apples and oranges -- but do you think it's time for Mr. Arafat to consider what's best for his country, and/or would-be country, and perhaps consider stepping aside?
MR. ERELI: Arafat has certainly not acted in the best interests of his people, in our view, because he's -- he has not -- well, he has failed to fulfill a number of pledges and has not acted against terrorism, and has not allowed his government to act against terrorism. That is a glaring failure.
QUESTION: But at the same time, I mean, he hasn't made good on a lot of the promises that he's, you know, promised to do and you were certainly holding Aristide's feet to the fire in terms of what he should be doing for the Haitian people. So, I mean, how come we're not seeing more calls for Arafat to consider what's best for his people and perhaps step aside?
MR. ERELI: I just, you know, they're -- I think they're two very distinct situations, and drawing those kinds of parallels, I guess, while interesting intellectually --
QUESTION: Well, that's why we're here -- it's interesting intellectually.
MR. ERELI: -- are hard to sustain, you know, politically and in view of the reality on the ground. I mean, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of the Palestinian Authority is a totally different ball of wax than Haiti's history and the specific circumstances that led to Aristide's departure, which was made on his own volition, considering the welfare of his people.
If Arafat were to come to the same conclusion, well, you know, that's -- that is a, you know, that is quite a hypothetical.
QUESTION: Are you going to be able to make any meaningful progress with the Palestinians while Arafat's still in office?
MR. ERELI: I think that if the Prime Minister was able to exercise the authority that a prime minister -- that he is, on paper, empowered to do, then that would be a great step forward. And it's possible, yes.
MR. ERELI: Middle East?
QUESTION: Yeah, well, there's more Middle East? I don't know.
MR. ERELI: You're on.
QUESTION: I'm trying to come up with any other area to go to.
How about just saying thank you? I don't know.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you.
MR. ERELI: No, no, no. We've got some more questions in the back.
Do you have questions?
QUESTION: Mine --
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- is on Venezuela.
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: What is the U.S. reaction to the decision of the Electoral Tribunal at the Supreme Court that the National Electoral Council should not subject 800,000 signature to extra verification?
The Venezuelan Embassy has issued a statement saying that the tribunal's decision is unconstitutional. It says the tribunal does not have jurisdiction over this matter, but rather, it would be a matter for the constitutional tribunal.
What is the U.S. reaction?
MR. ERELI: The U.S. reaction is that we are not Venezuelan constitutional experts, that, you know, it is our understanding that the electoral chamber of the Supreme Court suspended the decision of the National Election Council regarding the 870,000 signatures.
It is also our understanding that the National Electoral Council will appeal this decision. Our view has been that this is a process that needs to be carried out transparently, constitutionally, and in a way that reflects the will of the people. Those are the guidelines that Friends of Venezuela and that the OAS are looking to be followed, and we support that approach. But if you ask me to comment on the competency of one Venezuelan state institution over a particular matter versus the competency of another Venezuelan state institution, I'm not going to get into that kind of discussion.
QUESTION: Can you comment on the Secretary's trip to both India, Pakistan, and, I guess, next onto Afghanistan? It's the one bright area --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, let me just stop you there. I'm going to leave comments for the Secretary's travel to the Secretary's party.
QUESTION: Just anything on the Republic of Georgia and the situation in Ajara? And it looks like the blockade's underway, they're arresting the leaders of the area, and it doesn't sound like what the Secretary had in mind when he was there a little while ago.
MR. ERELI: I would say we continue to watch the situation in Ajara closely. We are in contact with both sides. I think that, you know, we support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. And I would also note that, you know, given the central government's responsibility to ensuring that March 28th parliamentary elections are as democratic as possible, it's particularly important to keep things together in Ajara, as well as the rest of the country.
QUESTION: As far as the blockade itself? Is that something the United States supports?
MR. ERELI: I don't really have a considered view for you on that.
QUESTION: Yes, on the Olympics. NBC news today attributed a statement to your Ambassador to Greece, Tom Miller, by which, "If Athens does not beef up security, the U.S. will not send athletes" in the Olympic games in Athens. Do you have anything on that?
MR. ERELI: That's a report from where?
QUESTION: From NBC news.
MR. ERELI: NBC?
QUESTION: Yes. Today. Yes.
MR. ERELI: I think I -- first I saw that was in a London -- he was quoted in a London paper.
QUESTION: Yes, it was started from London --
MR. ERELI: And that report was --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Los Angeles Times and today it was --
MR. ERELI: That report was completely erroneous. Ambassador Miller never said any such thing.
QUESTION: On Cyprus --
MR. ERELI: On Cyprus.
QUESTION: According to the UN, the last phase of the Cyprus talks will take place in Switzerland. I'm wondering who will be present on behalf the U.S. Government.
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: And according to Reuters, the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf
MR. ERELI: No.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)
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