State Department Noon Briefing, April 28, 2004
|Wednesday April 28,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE (OSCE)
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 28, 2004
1:07 p.m. EDT
MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to our briefing today. I don't have any announcements. I'd be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Do you have any observations on Mr. Brahimi's timetable for selecting Iraqi leadership?
MR. ERELI: We note that the United States, as well as the Security Council, welcomed Ambassador Brahimi's very comprehensive briefing yesterday, and we joined the other council members in adopting a presidential statement that recognizes the importance and the urgency of his efforts and the UN Electoral Assessment Team.
I would say we welcome his provisional ideas. We would note that they form a good basis for putting together a sovereign interim government that will assume governing authority for Iraq on June 30th. And we support his continuing efforts and will engage in further consultations with the CPA, with the UN and with the Iraqis over the next few weeks to follow through on what he presented at the Security Council yesterday, specifically, looking to establish a "viable and credible" political process for forming an interim Iraqi government.
QUESTION: Do you have any more information -- I don't know if people want to stay on Iraq, but if they don't, on Syria, Do you have any more information about what happened yesterday?
MR. ERELI: On Iraq? Any more on Iraq?
MR. ERELI: On this -- okay --
QUESTION: Well, on Ambassador Negroponte.
MR. ERELI: Let's go to Syria.
QUESTION: Do you have any more information on what, exactly, happened, and any idea who was behind it?
MR. ERELI: There is some information I can share with you, and I'll share with you what we have. A lot of the information, frankly, is still sketchy, still subject to, I guess, confirmation and investigation.
What we know is that there was a firefight between Syrian police and unidentified gunmen in a residential neighborhood of Damascus yesterday evening. Our understanding is that three of the gunmen were killed, and a fourth is in Syrian custody.
During the course of that engagement, there were explosions. What caused the explosions we're not really in a position to say because we haven't been able to conclusively determine what caused them.
This incident was at a, as I said, in a residential area of Damascus, specifically at a small apartment building, which -- a former resident of which was a UN agency, but the UN had not been resident there for some time.
We do not have any independent information on the identity of the attackers. We, therefore, will not at this point, at this time speculate -- or any time for that matter -- speculate on their identity, on who they were or if they were affiliated with groups and what groups they might have been affiliated with.
I would note that the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister has described them as "part of a religious extremist group," but we don't have any more information than that.
QUESTION: Do you have any --
MR. ERELI: Let me -- just to finish up, all U.S. personnel, official U.S. personnel in Syria are accounted for. Our Embassy facility is secured. I would note that the incident took place in a part of town that is distant from our Embassy. There are no reports of American casualties. Our Embassy today in Damascus is closed, except for emergency services. They are reviewing that status today and should have a decision about tomorrow shortly.
QUESTION: You said you weren't going to speculate on any groups. But I'm wondering if you can say whether you have any reason at all to think that this might be linked to al-Qaida.
MR. ERELI: We do not have any information at the present time linking these people to al-Qaida.
QUESTION: Where does your information about the three gunmen killed, and a fourth in custody, come from?
MR. ERELI: The Syrians. Actually, it comes from the Embassy. It comes from the Embassy.
QUESTION: So an Embassy witness saw three people killed and another one arrested?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't say it was a witness. I would say it's information that we have from our Embassy, based on what they have been able to gather in Damascus.
QUESTION: And did you submit a request, official or otherwise, on details of what happened, who these guys are?
MR. ERELI: No, I wouldn't say we've submitted official requests for details. It is a subject that obviously we are interested in; we will be following closely.
QUESTION: Are you likely to lower the Embassy staff as a result of that?
MR. ERELI: No, there is no consideration being given to that at this time.
QUESTION: Can you take as a question, you said that a decision on whether the Embassy will be open tomorrow, you expect to have one soon. Can you take that as a question and then let us know when --
MR. ERELI: We will let you know before the end of the day what -- here, what the status is for Damascus tomorrow.
QUESTION: What about the American School in Damascus?
MR. ERELI: The American School, as the Warden message yesterday indicated, was also closed today. We will endeavor to get you the status of the American School, along with the status of the American Embassy, by the end of the day today.
QUESTION: Yes, Adam. Congressman Elliott Engle in press conference a few minutes ago -- said the incident appeared to be staged. Do you share that assessment?
And also in the same press conference, he criticized government for not implementing the Syria Accountability Act
What's your take on that?
MR. ERELI: I presented to you the facts as we know them, and I'll just let our, sort of, presentation stand on its own merits and not respond to what other people consider to be the sequence of events.
As far as the Syrian Accountability Act goes, I don't have anything really to announce on that for you today. I think we've made clear that the Syrian Accountability Act requires us to take certain actions in the absence of Syrian actions. We have -- we are taking our responsibilities under that legislation seriously and will make an announcement at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: Some Syrian officials speculated that this attack may be in response to their cooperation with the U.S. against al-Qaida. How would you rate the Syrian cooperation at this point against al-Qaida?
MR. ERELI: We have said that Syria has been helpful to us in certain aspects in the war on terror, particularly in the area of information sharing, and we have recognized that cooperation.
We have also made it clear that there are other aspects of cooperation, which, I think, have not been as forthcoming, particularly in the question of repatriation of Iraqi funds and control of the border. Those are issues that we are engaged with the Syrian Government on and continue to try to seek positive movement in those areas.
As far as the connection between cooperation in the war on terror and this latest incident, I think, as was suggested in your question, it's speculative.
I think we had a question here. Yes?
QUESTION: I think U.S. previous Ambassador in Damascus who covered the area of between 9/11 and just very recently -- Mr. Ambassador Theodore Kattouf -- he mentioned yesterday in a interview on one of the networks -- he gave the opinion that the great help that the United States has received from Syria in countering the efforts of the terrorism of al-Qaida is -- that Syria is going to pay a heavy price for that kind of cooperation with the United States. So that was -- that came from a -- that is a recognition that comes from a U.S. Ambassador who covered the area, the period between the 9/11 and until very recently.
How much credibility you think we should give that Ambassador's statement?
MR. ERELI: I would make two points. Number one, as the bombings in Madrid, in Riyadh, in Casablanca, in Istanbul -- pick the spot -- have made clear; no state is immune from, or no society is immune from the threat of terrorist attack. And that includes Syria. So that, I think, should just be accepted as a fact of life that we live with in the modern world.
The second point I would make is, you know, to reiterate something that we've been saying for some time, that the way to deal with this issue is to get on the right side of the issue and to dedicate yourself wholly and fully to the fight against terrorism. There's no compromise. There's no accommodation with people who will wantonly kill innocent life to advance an extremist agenda.
And that's why I think we consistently call on Syria to cut its ties with terrorist organizations, to make a clean break with those who advocate violence and the killing of innocents for political purposes, and to get on the right side of this issue.
QUESTION: But we are talking about a specific incident, and specific statement by a U.S. Ambassador to Syria. He is talking about al-Qaida trying to take revenge from Syria for its stand with the United States.
MR. ERELI: You know, as I said, I'm not going to speculate on who might or might not be responsible for this. We have -- what has become clear to us since September 11th is that the threat of terrorism is real and it is something that can touch all of us at any time. And once you come to that conclusion, there is really one reasonable response, and that is to fight the threat without reservation.
QUESTION: Yesterday in the earliest reports from Damascus, it was reported that there might be a second explosion or set of explosions down near the parliament building downtown. I take it from what you've told us today and the reporting the Embassy is giving you, that that didn't happen.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Reports of explosions in other locations have turned out to be erroneous.
QUESTION: You referred to this as a, I think, gunfight or firefight between police and unidentified gunmen. Would you, in fact, call this an act of terrorism?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, that may need qualification. I think that there was an engagement between -- what we can say now is there was an engagement between police and unidentified gunmen.
As I said earlier, we have not been able to specify the identity of those gunmen. The Syrians have said and shown evidence that these gunmen were in possession of large amounts of explosives and other equipment associated, commonly associated with terrorists.
I'd put it that way.
QUESTION: Is the charge that Congressman Engle made about being staged -- sets a bad precedent in putting the blame on governments that have hidden agenda when, you know, there were -- when they are, in fact, victims of terror attacks?
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. I did not see Congressman Engle's comments, so I'm really not in a position to get into a discussion about their implications.
QUESTION: Yeah, I want to change the subject away from Syria.
MR. ERELI: Are we ready to change the subject?
QUESTION: But also to, kind of, engagements, and that is, the -- what do you know about the incidents that have happened in southern Thailand over the last 24 hours? And are you concerned at all that the very -- or what appears to be a very high death toll may show kind of an over eagerness or heavy-handedness on the part of Thai authorities to clamp down on Muslim activists?
MR. ERELI: We are concerned about the violence in southern Thailand, and we are in close contact with the Thai Government on the situation there through our Embassy. Again, there aren't a lot of details I can share with you about who, in our assessment, is responsible, what their motivations are, or what their agenda is.
QUESTION: But wait a second. Who was responsible -- I think it was the Thai military that was responsible.
MR. ERELI: Well, let me clarify that. We, at this point, don't have information that any individual or group has claimed responsibility for attacks against Thai police stations, which started this round of violence.
There's an investigation that's going on, and at this point, we're not going to speculate about who might have been behind the attacks against the 15 Thai police stations in southern Thailand.
There hasn't been anybody who's claimed responsibility so far. What I would say is that we continue to monitor the situation. We're in touch with the Thai authorities. And we stand ready to provide any assistance they might need.
QUESTION: Yeah, but when you say you're concerned about the violence in southern Thailand, are you only concerned about the attacks on the police -- the police station bombings, or are you also concerned about the government's response?
MR. ERELI: I think we're -- well --
QUESTION: I presume you're aware of the raid on the mosque and the --
MR. ERELI: Yes, and the killing of over 100 armed militants.
MR. ERELI: We are concerned about threats to public order and stability in Thailand, in southern Thailand, represented by these attacks. We want to work with the Thai Government to help them get the situation under control in a way that is responsive to the needs of the citizens of that part of the country.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Matt's question, though. It really is a fairly high death toll. Do you have any concerns that excessive force may have been used in this by the Thai Government authorities?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I just don't have enough information to give you a qualified answer -- a considered answer to that.
Yes, Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: On Turkey, according to Reuters News Agency, under the wisdom of -- leadership of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, his government has sent to parliament yesterday a package of constitutional amendments and reforms in order to succeed entry talks into the European Union. One of the measures includes, finally, the removal of the military representative from various agencies, sending them into the barracks where they belong.
Any comment on those reforms?
MR. ERELI: I really don't -- I don't have a comment on that other than to say, obviously, we support Turkey's accession to the EU. But as far as what Turkey is doing toward that end and its discussions with the EU on that subject, I'd leave it to those two groups.
QUESTION: Any update on Cyprus?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Well, wait a second.
QUESTION: The European Union is this where you're --
QUESTION: I was on Cyprus.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Cyprus. Me too.
The European Union appears to have reached an agreement among themselves on how to treat northern Cyprus, and a key aspect of it seems to be allowing free trade in goods from northern Cyprus across the green line into the south. Have you had a chance to see that, and would you expect, as Richard suggested yesterday, that your actions will -- he didn't quite say mirror -- but would be similar and comparable to whatever the EU decides to do?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, as we indicated, we are following -- we are watching closely what the EU does with respect to northern Cyprus. We are aware of these developments. I don't have anything specific to share with you today on what our response may be as a result of them.
QUESTION: Can you echo what he said yesterday about likely to do something comparable?
MR. ERELI: I think that we, as Richard said yesterday, we are looking at ways that we can, I think, be responsive to the "yes" vote by the Turkish Cypriots and work to help the people of northern Cyprus, I guess confront, or deal with, the challenges they may face as a result of the island continuing to be divided.
QUESTION: Adam, there seem to be a couple signs, or increasing signs at least, over the past 48 to 72 hours that despite -- well, that the UN plan could be resurrected in some ways. We've had the Greek -- and Greek -- and the Greek Cypriot community saying that that -- that's the indication that they have gotten. The Secretary General said this morning in New York that it would -- you know, it's still out there, and Richard had made some kind of semi-ambivalent or nebulous comments about that yesterday.
So what is it? Are you still hoping that you're going to be able to convince the Greek Cypriot community that this is okay, and that even if it doesn't go by May 1st, that it could happen, you know, on the basis of this plan or on this plan in the near future?
MR. ERELI: I would say this. I mean, obviously, our long-term goal is a unified Cyprus, and that is not something that is going to be given up as a result of this referendum.
But at the same time, I'm not aware, frankly, of sort of active plans or diplomacy regarding a reconsideration or re-voting on the Annan Plan. What we're looking at now, frankly, is how to manage the consequences, the disappointing consequences, of the vote over the weekend.
QUESTION: All right. Well, I find it interesting your use of the words, "our long-term goal is a unified Cyprus." It was, in fact, your immediate-term goal just five days ago, so --
MR. ERELI: Let me remove the adjective. Our goal is, was and remains, a unified Cyprus.
Do you have a follow-up, Mr. Lambros?
QUESTION: No, no.
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: I have a question for a different subject, on the Berlin Conference.
MR. ERELI: Anything on Cyprus?
QUESTION: On the Berlin Conference.
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: On the Berlin Conference --
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- do you have anything?
MR. ERELI: No. I think the Secretary is in Berlin. He has delivered remarks at the conference and he has given a number of press events, so I'll -- I think it's better said there.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Iraq?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Mr. Brahimi suggests in his plan, he goes along almost in tandem with what the Administration says and wants, which what you would have in Iraq is a civil administration that would be responsible for, I guess, civil administering the country, and preparing for the 2005 election. Could you tell us how the division of governance will be in Iraq under that plan?
MR. ERELI: I would really refer you to Ambassador Brahimi's presentation at the Security Council yesterday. It's a public document. It lays out in relative -- in as much detail as we can at this point, his thinking about the general structure of the transitional authority, the transitional government and its composition and its mandate.
And it's all consistent with what we've been saying, that you're going to have a transitional government that bridges the point from which the Coalition and the occupation end, to the point at which there is a fully invested government of Iraq, chosen directly by the people of Iraq, and that this interim government will be responsible for managing the country during that interim period.
But as far as the details, I think, number one, it hasn't all been fleshed out; and number two, what there is is pretty ably and comprehensibly presented in Brahimi's intervention at the UN yesterday.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up. Now, the Iraqi defense, civil defense forces, who would they report to, an Iraqi entity, or they would report to the Coalition forces?
MR. ERELI: My understanding, sketchy as it is, is that responsibility for security and -- responsibility for security will be a responsibility exercised by the U.S. forces -- or by Coalition forces by agreement with the Iraqis.
Now, where individual units of Iraqi forces fit in, that's a level of detail that, I think, is a little bit more than I can speak to.
QUESTION: Even sketchily.
MR. ERELI: Sort of sketchily.
QUESTION: Did the U.S. ever get any word, I believe, yesterday that Spain was going to try to work out a new international force that they believe would not -- would not be opposed by the Iraqis, and was going to try to bring in France and Germany? The Spanish Foreign Minister today has said that that's not exactly true, that there is an initiative, but that several countries have ideas like this. Have you heard anything? I think you guys were invited, but --
MR. ERELI: Wow. No. That's a lot of things going on. No, I had not heard --
QUESTION: You didn't see even the reports about it?
MR. ERELI: I've not seen reports about that.
MR. ERELI: That doesn't mean that they're not there; I just haven't seen them.
I think that, obviously, what we are very much interested in is engaging as many countries as possible in supporting the future security and stability in Iraq. It's a topic of discussion, as we've noted earlier, with a number of Coalition partners, with a number of potential Coalition partner -- all the Coalition partners, a number of potential Coalition partners. It will be a subject, I think, in the UN. It's a subject of discussion with NATO, so this is a, obviously, an issue that we're all looking at, but I can't speak to the reported comments by the Spanish Foreign Minister.
QUESTION: And on the U.S. efforts, have you had anybody now agree to come along?
MR. ERELI: There are -- you've probably seen press reports of some countries that are -- said that they are considering or intending to pledge, but we don't have anything sort of final and official to talk about.
QUESTION: Are you working, Adam, with Jordanians on some kind of letters that will be exchanged when the King comes next week?
I understand one of the letters from President Bush will say that the United States is not prejudging the final outcome of any negotiations between the two sides, as he and the Secretary and you have said many times, but the Jordanians want to have it in writing, as the Prime Minister of Israel wanted to have in writing what the President pledged?
MR. ERELI: I would refer you to the White House for that. This is an issue that is -- that concerns the President and the King of Jordan, so they would be the ones to really talk about it.
QUESTION: You're saying the State Department is uninvolved in any negotiations that might be going on?
MR. ERELI: No, I'm saying that for matters concerning a letter signed by the President that the President's spokespeople should be speaking to it, not me.
QUESTION: Can I move on? Just there's some reports that there will be a working group meeting of the six parties coming up in a week and a half, something like that? I can't remember the exact date. There were reports in Russia and in Japan, I think.
And also, while we're on North Korea, have you made a decision on any more additional aid in response to the people?
MR. ERELI: Those reports we have seen. I'm not in a position to confirm them. Consultations are actively underway on the subject of convening a meeting of the six-party working group in the near future. Hopefully, an announcement can be made soon. And it is our hope that a meeting could be scheduled or a meeting could take place as early as May, but there's no final agreement on a specific date.
QUESTION: And you would expect the Chinese to make the announcement, if and when?
MR. ERELI: If there were to be an announcement, it would probably be by the Chinese.
QUESTION: Okay. And on the thing concerning the --
MR. ERELI: On the aid -- nothing really new to report on the aid. I think there is maybe some clarification to -- regarding what we discussed yesterday. There was a question that, you know, have you responded to the World Food Program's request for an additional 1,000 metric tons of food aid to North Korea.
There wasn't a new -- a request for new aid, food aid, to North Korea as a result of the train accident. These 1,000 metric tons comes from the appeal for 2004, so there's no new food appeal for North Korea from the World Food Program as a result of this train accident.
We have, as you know, provided $100,000 in nonfood assistance to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. These funds are going to support household packages to 2,000 affected families, which covers about 10,000 individuals.
As we said yesterday, we're also prepared to provide medical supplies and equipment as well as a team of specialists in emergency medical work -- in emergency medicine to work with the North Koreans if they're needed. We have not been taken up on that offer. And that's where we stand.
QUESTION: But it hasn't been declined, though?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: It just hasn't been responded to?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: You don't have anything on the reports that North Korea has more nuclear weapons than has been discussed publicly?
MR. ERELI: I don't really have anything more than the White House spokesman said in his meeting with the press this morning. It's been our longstanding, I think, assessment by the intelligence community that North Korea has produced one, and possibly two, nuclear weapons. There is -- we don't have any new official estimate from the intelligence community on, sort of, changes to that.
Obviously, we have serious concerns about North Korea's nuclear program. It's something we follow closely. But we have not come to any definitive conclusions, and therefore, I think reports about what they may or may not have at this point are speculative.
QUESTION: Do you believe the North Koreans when they say that they have reprocessed all 8,000 fuel rods?
MR. ERELI: Obviously, we take the reports seriously. Again, it is my understanding that there is not a definitive conclusion of the intelligence community as to whether those rods have been reprocessed or not. But I would refer you to the appropriate agencies to give you their views.
QUESTION: I don't know if this has been addressed, maybe in another venue not in this town, but have you had any luck with the Sudanese yet, getting your visas for your DART team?
MR. ERELI: The short answer is, no, we have not. In fact, the latest from the Sudanese Government is to publicly question the need for a Disaster Assistance Response Team at all. And this we view as unacceptable. They continue to up -- they not only continue to hold up visas for our team, but they also continue to restrict the ability of the humanitarian community as a whole, to respond to the crisis in Darfur.
We strongly urge the Government of Sudan to allow unimpeded access to Darfur immediately. In our view, their continued delay of access to humanitarian relief organizations in the international community is preventing assistance from reaching their own citizens, many of whom are in desperate need. And it also draws into question their commitment to the well being of the people of Sudan and their intent to resolve the situation in Darfur.
QUESTION: When you say is it -- they have just said that they are not sure about the necessity of your team or the team of -- or every -- or the whole gamut of people?
MR. ERELI: The latest statement is questioning the need for a Disaster Assistance Response Team from USAID.
QUESTION: How many members?
QUESTION: How many members of that team will there be if they are approved, if their visas are approved?
MR. ERELI: 28.
QUESTION: Can I ask another USAID-related question? On Monday, the --
QUESTION: More on Sudan.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MR. ERELI: Sudan.
QUESTION: There is a -- something called the Syrian Reform Party. They are posting on the web that Sudan has demanded that Syria withdraws or pulls out SCUD missiles, WMD projects, and so on. Have you heard anything about that?
MR. ERELI: No. Sorry.
QUESTION: You have not been told by the Government of Sudan that they have actually asked Syria to pull out whatever equipment that they might have?
MR. ERELI: In Sudan?
QUESTION: Yes, that's what they're saying. They're saying that the Syrians have storage warehouses, and, you know, SCUD missiles and stuff.
MR. ERELI: I have not seen that report.
QUESTION: Yeah. On Monday, HHS pulled funding for a meeting that was supposed to be coming up with the Global Health Council. And then yesterday, AID was informed that it was going to have to withdraw its promised funding for this event. Can you explain why since the State Department is the operator of -- or the overseer of AID?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, let me apologize, Matt. I -- you asked me about that yesterday. I completely forgot about it and didn't get anything for you. We'll do it before the end of the day. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: The other day, the possibility of a visit here by the Saudi Foreign Minister was mentioned, and then was sort of dropped. Do you know of anything about him coming here either tomorrow or Friday?
MR. ERELI: Let me check. I don't. Let me see if there is anything on the schedule.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Iraq? I don't know if we talked of that.
MR. ERELI: We talked about it. What's the issue?
QUESTION: Forgive me if somebody asked the same question. But the President just now was talking with the Swedish Foreign Minister. He seems to emphasize the military action, and said that nothing will stop the march of freedom. Does that mean the U.S. is abandoning now completely the negotiation --
MR. ERELI: Is this Fallujah?
QUESTION: Fallujah, yes.
MR. ERELI: I think the -- General Kimmitt spoke to this very extensively today in Baghdad. We -- discussions are continuing. We will proceed with wisdom and determination in confronting what is an intolerable, I think, challenge to the peace and security of Fallujah by a limited number of -- limited number of people who continue to resist turning over arms as is required by the Coalition Provisional Authority.
We're continuing discussions. We want to resolve it. We want to resolve it peacefully. We're doing everything we can to do it in concert with, and consultation with, the people of Fallujah and the Sheikhs of the region.
I would note that the clashes that you're seeing are as a result of us being fired upon. We have said that we will give the elements time, but that we will take action to defend ourselves, and that's what we're doing.
QUESTION: Are you aware of negotiations that's happening now at the moment?
MR. ERELI: I'd refer you for this, the latest on what's happening right now to our people in Baghdad.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: One question. Mr. --
QUESTION: When are you going to release the Annual Report on Terrorism?
MR. ERELI: That is being released tomorrow at 2 p.m.
QUESTION: 2 p.m.
QUESTION: A quick question on the meeting between the Qatari Foreign Minister and Secretary Powell.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: How would you characterize it?
MR. ERELI: I would characterize it the way that Secretary Powell characterized it yesterday, as a chance to meet with our good friend and strong partner, Qatar, to discuss, I think, mutual goals that we have for a bilateral relationship and for the region.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:45)
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