State Department Noon Briefing, October 22, 2003
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2003
MR. ERELI: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to the briefing. A pleasure to see you all. No questions -- no, no questions. (Laughter.) We started that way yesterday. I'll say this: no answers. I mean plenty of questions. Sorry about that. No announcements today. Plenty of questions. Hope to have answers for you. Who wants to start?
QUESTION: On Iran, is your language the same today as yesterday, or can we move the ball?
MR. ERELI: Same language today as yesterday, and I would refer you to comments the Secretary made. I think we've put them out as a transcript. What's important is implementation, and that's what we're looking for.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on India's new proposals with regard to Pakistan opening up some more border crossings, talking directly to Kashmiri separatists, and maybe resuming sports cooperation?
MR. ERELI: Yes. We note that today, at a press conference in New Delhi, India's Minister of External Affairs put forward a series of proposals to significantly upgrade transportation links and people-to-people contacts between India and Pakistan. We warmly welcome these proposals. They represent a major step toward establishing normal links between these two important neighbors, and for providing a foundation for real progress in resolving differences between India and Pakistan.
QUESTION: Do you think it's a good idea, the idea of talking directly to separatists? Do you welcome that too, or just the transportation stuff?
MR. ERELI: We've been encouraging increased engagement between the parties, and we welcome steps that do that.
QUESTION: One other unrelated thing. On Northern Ireland, does the United States have a position on whether the IRA should be more explicit and transparent in its disarmament, as Trimble has demanded?
MR. ERELI: Our view is that the issue of decommissioning weapons in Northern Ireland is something that has to be worked out, or that needs to be worked out, between the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and the IRA. Having said that, the more transparent the active decommissioning is, the more confidence it will generate.
QUESTION: Who has taken over, or has anyone taken over, from Mr. Haass since he went to the Council in terms of the special role on Northern Ireland?
MR. ERELI: Mr. Haass retains his responsibilities for Northern Ireland. He is in consultation with the parties at present, although still in the United States. So that portfolio remains with Dr. Haass.
QUESTION: Can you talk briefly about the reports of a secret new cooperation deal between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia? And also, the Government of Jordan has been dissolved with a new cabinet in the upcoming days or weeks.
MR. ERELI: On the developments in Jordan, I don't have anything particular to say on that. That's, you know, part of the governing process in Jordan, and I'd leave it to the Jordanians to comment on.
As far as the reports that you've mentioned, we've seen them, we've seen the allegations. We have not seen, however, any information to substantiate what would seem to us to be rather bald assertions. We are confident that Pakistan clearly understands our concerns regarding proliferation of nuclear technology, and we would also note that Saudi Arabia is a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, under which it has agreed not to obtain nuclear weapons.
QUESTION: Have you approached either government about ascertaining whether these reports are true, or is this general policy?
MR. ERELI: This is our general policy. I would say, without referring specifically to these reports, the issue of nonproliferation is something that is part of our ongoing dialogue with many countries.
QUESTION: Have you specifically asked them about these latest reports?
MR. ERELI: I've seen the report that it was raised in conversations with Pakistan. To that, I would say we regularly raise the full range of issues and it's not something that we're going to get into of was this issue raised or was that issue raised in this meeting or that meeting.
QUESTION: On North Korea.
QUESTION: Just to follow that up on --
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: At what level was the discussion in Pakistan raised? There is a report in the Washington Times that it was done in the highest level, even the President and -- between the two presidents. Is that correct?
MR. ERELI: For comment on what issues President Bush raised in his meeting with Pakistani officials, I would refer you to the White House. As I said before, in our meetings -- State Department officials -- we regularly raise the full range of issues.
QUESTION: On North Korea. On KCNA, the North Korean News Agency, they are saying that they will not consider the acceptance of this non-aggression document, whatever the U.S. is thinking of, if it's required that a security guarantee is North Korea's obliga -- I mean, sorry if North Korea would have to drop its nuclear program in exchange for the security guarantee.
Have you seen the North Korean comments, and do you have anything to say except that we've seen these things from North Korea often and blah, blah, blah?
MR. ERELI: We have seen these things from North Korea. I would note that they have not contacted us regarding either those remarks or reaction to what the President said in Asia.
Referring to what the President said, I would note he said, either today or yesterday, that in response to this report that, you know, we're going to stay the course. We are committed to working with our partners to find a multilateral diplomatic resolution to this issue and that commitment will continue.
QUESTION: Has anybody taken Pritchard's place yet? I don't know if I'm just behind. No?
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything new on that.
QUESTION: Is it still the New York channel that we communicate with North Korea through? I don't know if that's still --
MR. ERELI: Ran through the end of -- in the five-party -- in the six-party talks.
QUESTION: So they would contact us in different ways --
MR. ERELI: There are a variety of ways for the North Korean Government to make their views known.
QUESTION: One-forty-four countries approved the (inaudible) General Assembly resolution, asking Israel to stop the building of the wall, and the American officials did express their opinion that that wall, the building of the wall, was a problem.
So why the American Government is so reluctant to okay such a resolution, even though its allies -- all the European Union members -- have approved it? What kind of problem do you see in that resolution, and aren't you worried about such a -- about a reaction for such a decision by the United States in the Arab world, in the Middle East, even around the world? Why cannot the United States show more fairness, you know, when it comes to dealing with legitimate resolutions?
MR. ERELI: You speak about fairness. What's fair, when you are drafting and presenting documents such as UN resolutions, is to be balanced and to include mention of all the issues involved. This resolution didn't do that. It didn't include any mention of the terrorist groups that are responsible for the ongoing violence in the region and for trying to destroy the efforts of the many well-intentioned parties to bring peace to the region.
And, you know, as long as we're dealing with one-sided polemical resolutions that put all of the blame on one side and do not recognize the responsibility of others, particularly these terrorists groups, then, you know, it's not a fair -- it's not a balanced resolution that we can support.
And I think what's clear in this case is that there were others, including the EU, whose efforts we appreciate, that tried to get tougher language into the resolution that specifically mentions the suicide bombings and the group that -- the groups that perpetuate them, as well as language on Palestinian security responsibilities. None of that was in there.
So, I guess I take issue with your assertion that somehow we're the ones that are being unfair.
QUESTION: On the same issue. A Russian draft resolution is circulating since yesterday at the UN urging both parties -- I mean the Palestinians, the Israelis -- to abide by the -- by the roadmap. Did you see the text and do you have any comments on it?
MR. ERELI: I'm not familiar with that, with that resolution, so let me check on it before I get back to you.
QUESTION: I'm a little perplexed by something. In a taken question on Monday, you said the Deputy Armitage, in his conversation with Mr. Aliyev, had noted his "strong performance" in the Azerbaijani elections. And in the statement that was put out under your name yesterday, the U.S. Government was really quite critical of those elections, cited serious deficiencies of a very wide range, from ballot box stuffing to voter intimidation. And I don't understand why Mr. Armitage would have talked about his strong performance when it appears that the election -- and there were contemporaneous reports suggesting that it was -- that there were so many irregularities. But what was the context in which he was talking about the strong performance?
MR. ERELI: Let's be clear about one thing, and that is that the U.S. Government has been consistent and speaking with one voice about our serious concerns with the elections in Azerbaijan and the aftermath of those elections. That was the case before the elections, it was the case immediately after the elections and before the final, sort of, report on those elections was released by the OSCE, and it was the case after that report was released and we issued a statement. But let's go step by step and see what happened.
As a general rule and as a general policy, we are strongly committed to promoting democracy and human rights throughout the region. And our statements such as the one we did on October 4th and the one we issued -- October 14th, excuse me -- and the one we issued yesterday clearly state that policy both generally and explicitly with regard to the elections that took place.
At the same time, we believe that we've got to stay engaged with these countries. We have long urged the Azerbaijan Government to ensure that the elections for the President would be free and fair and reflect the will of the people. We put out a statement to that effect on October 14th, the day before the election. On Friday, October 17th, two days after the election, Deputy Secretary Armitage, called Ilham Aliyev. I would note that these were after the riots but before the arrests, the wave of arrests, took place.
He told Dr. Aliyev that while we would work closely with him and his government, it was also important to remind Mr. Aliyev of the importance we attached to government restraint -- Azerbaijani Government's restraint -- in the aftermath of the election.
The Deputy Secretary also told Mr. Aliyev that people who commit crimes, whether police or opposition, should be prosecuted. And he warned against a worsening of the situation with any kind of Soviet-style roundup.
Unfortunately, I would note, that when media reported the call, talked only about, you know, the initial points and not about the very emphatic and serious cautions that the Deputy Secretary made as well.
Finally, yesterday we put out a press statement following the announcement by the Central Election Commission of the final results, in which we made clear our unhappiness that admonitions to the Government of Azerbaijan had gone unheeded, and expressed our deep disappointment in the election itself.
So I guess, you know, to summarize, I think we've been fairly clear, fairly consistent, fairly hard-nosed about this, in making our views known that -- with regard to what we considered the performance standards in this area.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? So when you put out a statement, your deep concern over the elections, yet Secretary Armitage called -- Deputy Secretary Armitage called to note his strong performance, was he noting his strong performance saying --
MR. ERELI: His strong performance was a fact.
QUESTION: Okay, but was he saying that it's a little curious that you -- that considering -- was he trying to, you know --
QUESTION: These are the kinds of reasonable questions about the irregularities in the election.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, it's -- it's, "Mr. Aliyev, you performed strongly in the election. You got a lot of votes." That is a recognition of an objective fact. At the same time, you know, and we're going -- at the same time, there are serious problems here that need to be addressed, you know, and that we're concerned about.
QUESTION: Well, there are plenty of times that you find that an election was not free or fair and you don't recognize the election. So are you saying that even though you had questions about the election, you are willing to recognize the results?
MR. ERELI: We're going to -- I think what -- you know, if you look at our statement from yesterday, we're going to work with President-elect Ilham Aliyev and his government, but we also believe that Azerbaijan's leadership missed an important opportunity to advance democratization by holding a credible election.
QUESTION: I guess it just seems curious to say that he got a lot of votes when you yourselves, a couple of days later, note that there are a lot of allegations of ballot box stuffing and that some of those votes may have been false.
MR. ERELI: What's the inconsistency? You can get a lot of votes, but at the same time there are instances of mishaps or instances of messing around with the voting. One does not cancel out the other, one taints the other. So it's a question of -- it's really a question of -- it's a question of degree.
QUESTION: So why even raise it at all, then? You know? I mean, if you -- and I don't mean to give you a hard time, but I just couldn't understand why he would talk about it --
QUESTION: It sounds like a compliment, "You had such a strong performance." But if it was -- if those were votes gained by illicit means, you wouldn't want -- you know, that's not a good thing.
MR. ERELI: You can say you had a strong -- you had a strong performance, but we would note that a lot of the -- you know, that -- and remember, the time in which it was done was before the report, but we would note that there are serious allegations and serious concerns with how the voting was conducted and tabulated.
QUESTION: So it wasn't necessarily meant as a compliment when he called and discussed that?
QUESTION: But he didn't say that in that call, did he? I mean you haven't told us that he raised questions with --
MR. ERELI: What I've said in terms of the call is that he said, you know, that we did have concerns with the election and that we were concerned about post-election violence and dealing with that in a responsible way that met international norms and standards.
QUESTION: With Secretary Powell going to Cairo to meet with President Mubarak, is there any call on the Egyptians to offer troops in Iraq?
And secondly, what initiatives do you expect Secretary to involve with President Mubarak concerning the Palestinian issues, especially in Gaza, the tunnels and such?
MR. ERELI: Secretary Powell will be meeting President Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh shortly, if not right now. They will be discussing a full range of issues. Egypt is a close and valued ally.
As you mentioned, obviously Iraq will be on the agenda for their discussions. We will be encouraging Egypt, as we are encouraging all countries with whom we discuss this issue, to help the Iraqi people take over responsibility for their country as soon as possible and to contribute in any way they can. Egypt is definitely -- is looking at some things, and we find that very helpful.
On the roadmap, they will obviously discuss that as well, ways that the Secretary, I think, will make clear, you know, the importance -- our view of the importance of the Palestinians taking concrete steps to dismantle the capabilities of organizations of terror that are actively working to frustrate the progress of the parties in meeting their commitments.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)
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