State Department Briefing, October 23, 2003
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
MR. ERELI: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to the briefing today.
QUESTION: That's your first mistake.
MR. ERELI: It's not a good morning?
QUESTION: It's the afternoon.
MR. ERELI: Oh, yeah. Thank you for your patience. No announcements. Let's open the floor for questioning.
QUESTION: Did you see the story out of Israel about Israel's plan to build 273 apartments in Jewish settlements?
MR. ERELI: I saw the story just before coming out here. Don't have any -- can't really comment on it other than to say we have made our policy clear, which is that under the roadmap, Israel has made a commitment to stop settlement activity, and sticking to that commitment is important.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. stopped pressing the Israelis on the fence, on building the fence?
MR. ERELI: Our message to the Israelis is clear, consistent, and that is that while it does have the right to take measures to protect itself, the fence is problematic in areas in that it prejudges the outcome of negotiations on borders and territory.
QUESTION: Adam, in the last day or so various news organizations are viewing a military video that has been put out by the IDF showing this -- evidently a car bombing with two missiles in Gaza. And Palestinians are saying that many of the civilians have come into that section to view the car, and it was hit by a second missile. How do you view that when in the video there are very few people, if not any? Is this just propaganda on both sides?
MR. ERELI: I haven't seen the video. I would simply reiterate our urging to both sides to take steps to reduce the violence: on the Palestinian side to take concrete steps to dismantle terrorist organizations, their infrastructure and their capabilities; and on the Israeli side, while recognizing the right to self-defense to take -- to be mindful of the consequences of their actions and take precautions to avoid the killing of innocent civilians and damage to civilian property.
QUESTION: Adam, has there been any decision yet on how much money is going to be withheld from the loan guarantees for the settlement activity?
MR. ERELI: There has been a decision to withhold money from loan guarantees. The decision on exactly how much has not been made.
QUESTION: Do you know where that process stands?
MR. ERELI: I'll check on it.
QUESTION: On North Korea, are there any plans for talks through the New York channel?
MR. ERELI: Our focus remains the six-party talks that the Chinese are coordinating in terms of putting together the next round. The New York channel remains, remains a -- open, as it has before, but I would note that it is not a channel for negotiation.
MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of at the present time. As I said, it remains open should it be needed and of utility.
QUESTION: Back to Israel and Palestine, don't you think that using the F-16s fighter jets in attacking targets in refugee camps is not using excessive power by Israel?
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything more to say on that issue than what we've said before.
QUESTION: So, what can you tell us about this Talal Nasseriddine -- I don't know if I'm pronouncing his name right -- this Liberian who's in California, and how he managed to get here despite a UN travel ban?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I'm afraid there's not really much I can say on that. There are two issues that -- I'm constrained in two ways, actually. I'm just -- let me see where it is. On whether he entered the United States or not, that's an Immigration and Naturalization Service issue, and I'd refer you to them.
On whether he was issued a U.S. passport or not, those -- that kind of information is confidential. We do not comment on passport records. If he were to have been issued a passport, that would be governed by Privacy Act waivers, Privacy Act waiver considerations, so I'm not at liberty to speak on that either, quite frankly.
QUESTION: Can you talk about his activities as a diamond trader?
MR. ERELI: No. No, I don't have information to share with you on that.
QUESTION: Is he someone who's had frozen assets because he's someone that's involved with al-Qaida? I mean, is this someone that the U.S. --
MR. ERELI: That's a -- that -- we'll check, let me check into that for you. That's, you know, that deals with other aspects of his activity that I just don't have information on right now. But let me check on it and get back to you.
MR. ERELI: In the back.
QUESTION: About Iraq. Ambassador Edelman in Turkey, yesterday he said that U.S. wait from the Turkish side decide several important point. And the same time, and the Turkish Prime Minister and the Turkish Foreign Minister said that they are waiting to U.S. side to decide either to want the Turkish soldiers or not. And yesterday or today, I'm not sure, is the Los Angeles Times has reported that Ambassador Bremer asked from the Washington, "Don't send the Turkish troops." Can you give us some detail what's going on right now?
MR. ERELI: We continue to believe firmly that Turkey can make an important contribution to stability in Iraq. We remain hopeful that an agreement to this end, that is satisfactory to all the parties, can be reached. Diplomatic contacts between the U.S. and Turkey to discuss Turkey's troop contribution are underway and continuing. We are consulting closely with the Government of Turkey and the military on the details of the troop deployment. And we are also consulting with the Iraqis in the Governing Council on this issue.
QUESTION: About Ambassador Bremer request? Can you confirm that he did -- did he ask to don't send the Turkish troops in here?
MR. ERELI: I'd refer you for interpretation of Ambassador Bremer's remarks, or confirmation of Bremer's remarks, to the Coalition Provisional Authority.
QUESTION: Hi. Is the approval of the Governing Council essential in order to have the Turkish troops come into Iraq?
MR. ERELI: We want to do this in a way that is satisfactory to all the parties concerned: the Turks, and the Iraqis, and the other forces, and our Coalition partners. Our goal is to help enhance the security of Iraq and to help benefit the Iraqi people, so obviously their views and their needs are an important part of this.
QUESTION: But not necessarily essential?
MR. ERELI: I'd -- I stick to what I said. Important -- it's not an either/or question. This will be done in a way that is acceptable to everybody.
QUESTION: The Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash today with a statement declare non person grata (sic), the U.S. representative, the overqualified Ambassador Tom Weston, during his visit in Cyprus on the mediation mission on behalf of your government. According to the post, this aggressive move by Denktash was carried out at the advice of the chairman of the Turkish Joint Chief of Staff, General Hilmi Ozkok. What is the reaction of the U.S. Government?
MR. ERELI: We have seen press reports about Rauf Denktash's comments. We haven't seen actual, the actual comments, themselves. Ambassador Weston does not have a scheduled meeting with Mr. Denktash. He is holding all the other meetings he normally has when he visits Cyprus. These meetings are with leaders on both sides of the island, including a wide range of Turkish-Cypriot leaders.
QUESTION: Do you have any doubt about his talks in Ankara?
MR. ERELI: I think I spoke to that issue yesterday. Those talks were positive, and productive.
QUESTION: One more question. The other day, the same Turkish gentleman, Hilmi Ozkok, torpedo the official Greek-Turkish talks in Athens by the Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou and his counterpart, Abdullah Gul, with an extensive interview in a Greek newspaper at the request of the general, appeared on the same day of the talks expressing his disagreement on the Greek-Turkish rapprochement saying, actually, "I am in charge in Turkey and not the political leadership under the popular government of (inaudible) Abdullah Gul." Since the U.S. Government is very much involved in the Greek-Turkish rapprochement process, I'm wondering if you have any comment on that?
MR. ERELI: No comment, other than to restate our, you know, our firm belief that all parties to the Cyprus issue, both sides on the island, and Greece, and Turkey should resume negotiations as soon as possible on the basis on the Annan plan.
QUESTION: No, no, I'm saying about the Greek-Turkish talks in Athens on the (inaudible), which is a different story.
MR. ERELI: I'll pass on that one.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) another persona non grata thing. Just, presumably that's an act -- that's a diplomatic formality where they'd actually have to inform you if they were diplo-png-ing him. Surely they haven't done that. Nobody's told you that he's been formally dissed by Denktash.
MR. ERELI: That is correct.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: On another subject? Venezuela. Venezuelan Government accused the CIA to be involved in a plot to overthrow and kill President Chavez. Do you have something to say on that?
MR. ERELI: Yes. We've seen those reports. These accusations are irresponsible and completely without foundation.
QUESTION: That's it?
MR. ERELI: Do you have a follow-up?
I would note that the reports claim that a U.S. company was involved. That company, Wackenhut, is a private U.S. company providing security training to corporations and governments worldwide. Efforts to divert Venezuelan public opinion by making false claims will not serve either the government or the people of Venezuela in their search for a constitutional, democratic, peaceful and electoral solution to the crisis in their country.
QUESTION: And just to follow up. This accusation can inflict some harm in the relation between both countries?
MR. ERELI: U.S.-Venezuelan relations are based on shared interests and other considerations. I don't think that this issue is going to be of such a scope to seriously call into question those relations.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Nothing on Mr. AP? I wanted to go on the record and sort of take issue with Mr. Guggenheim.
MR. ERELI: Maybe I should have done that on the record at the top of the briefing.
QUESTION: You can still do it on the record.
MR. ERELI: Why don't I do something on the record? Can you turn the lights on? Let me do something on the record here. Because I've got to say, I say a paper -- I saw an article today -- I just -- it got me really riled up.
QUESTION: What topic are we talking about?
MR. ERELI: This is the AP article on the report on the downing of the spray plane in Colombia on the 21st.
QUESTION: Spray plane?
MR. ERELI: You know, the --
QUESTION: Ad, the fumi -- one of those.
MR. ERELI: The eradication. Exactly.
QUESTION: When was this?
MR. ERELI: This was on September 21st. There was an AP article today in which said there's a report, a confidential report of investigation done by the FAA and the State Department with the findings. And the report and another American official who was formerly associated with the program make a number of accusations that we that we really want to take issue with quite publicly. And that's why I want to do this on the record.
In response to the AP article on the September 21st accident and the report, ensuing report, I wanted to make three points. Point number one is, we are very proud of our program. It is an outstanding program that is successful and that is conducted by brave people who are sacrificing their lives every day to keep drugs from coming into this country. We take their protection and safety seriously. It is our highest priority and we reject suggestions to the contrary.
Number two, we are proud of this program. We are happy to discuss it, pleased to discuss it with whoever wants to look into it and investigate it and we welcome that kind of examination and dialogue.
Number three; we cooperated with the author of this article. This was a, confidential -- this incident was a personal tragedy and dealt with a confidential report. We are disappointed that the story was rushed to print without due consideration to the sensitivities of the people involved or sufficient time for us to respond, because the suggestion was made in the article that we didn't share information and we didn't cooperate with the article, and that's just not true.
QUESTION: So you did cooperate?
MR. ERELI: We talked -- we were in contact with the author and we provided him information. Because it was a confidential report, we had just seen it, we had to not only digest the information, but decide how to treat it since it is confidential. So that, you know, you just can't do that overnight.
QUESTION: What about the substance of the report that --
MR. ERELI: The substance of the report -- the report makes, has sort of five major findings. I don't have the article with me. It makes five major findings, all of which I would take issue with.
It says we don't armor the planes sufficiently. We do armor the planes. Does it prevent every bullet? No, it doesn't prevent every bullet. For that, you'd need a flying tank. You know, we need to remember this is dangerous business. You cannot -- it is very difficult if not impossible to make these planes shoot-downable-proof, but we do armor them and we do try to enhance their defensive capabilities.
Then he talked about, there's not -- we're not getting good enough intelligence from the Colombians. We have intensified an outstanding intelligence cooperation with the Colombians. It provides a wealth of very important data that are used to enhance the safety and security of these missions.
I would say that, you know, it's impossible to know everything that's going on, but that's the nature of the intelligence business. But there is good cooperation, there is good intelligence sharing, and we're working to enhance it regularly.
It says that there are not enough troops on the ground to provide support for the missions or support when pilots are shot down. That's not really -- that's not entirely the case in the sense that Colombian counterdrug brigade and other army ground troops regularly conduct interdiction operations in the vicinity of aerial eradication missions and provide increased support when required.
Another thing that I wanted to talk about in terms -- when we talked about the ammo -- going back to that. In addition to increased armor on the planes, we provide self-sealing fuel tanks and explosion-resistant tank inserts into the plane. The pilots, in terms of safety and security receive specialized training for the type of flying and local conditions they're going to encounter. They also get advanced survival training in case of a forced landing.
And finally, I think one point that the article made was that there's not enough protection given to the missions. The Colombian National Police have added an additional helicopter to each squadron of aircraft that escort these planes to protect spray missions.
QUESTION: When did they add this?
MR. ERELI: I don't know. I have to find that out for you. Can we get that? When did they add the additional helicopters? And armed security escort helicopters and at least one search and rescue helicopter accompany every spray mission. So all told, that, to me, constitutes pretty robust efforts across the board to maximize the safety and security of the missions and the protection of the pilots. It's not a perfect science. It's a dangerous business.
Last year there were 339 rounds of gunfire fired at our -- at these pilots, versus 194 from the previous year, so clearly the program is working. It's getting people riled up and they're trying to attack it, and we're taking every measure, increased measures to protect them and to keep this program going.
QUESTION: What were some of the issues raised in the confidential report? I mean, how would he have -- was he making this up? How did it get in there?
MR. ERELI: The, you know, the report is confidential. I would say that we are going to release a sort of sanitized or, you know, summary of the report. I think that there are ways to improve things. There are always ways to improve things with every program, and there are fixes. But the article suggested that it was sort of like an either/or proposition; that we weren't doing enough and it wasn't a concern for us, and people were dying as a result of our inaction. And those are exaggerations.
I'm not saying the program's perfect and I don't want to suggest the program's perfect. But I do want to suggest that the issues involved with the program, we know about, we're concerned about, and we're working to take steps to improve, but also to put out there that a lot has been done.
QUESTION: And so you take issue with the writer's characterization of the conclusions in the report?
MR. ERELI: I take issue with -- I take issue with rushing to the report, rushing to print the story without giving us sufficient time to get out a full consideration of the issue, number one. And number two, take issue with the suggestion that we are not doing enough to protect -- that we are not concerned about or doing enough to protect our pilots and our people.
QUESTION: So you had other answers coming to this person and --
MR. ERELI: Other answers were in the works.
QUESTION: You're telling me that (inaudible) of the week, right, and you'll get back to it.
MR. ERELI: Well, when you've dealt with a report that's leaked and that we haven't even gotten yet, I don't think a week is that long. And, I don't even think the family had the report. Let me just make sure about that. I'm not sure. Don't quote me on this one. I'm not even sure the family had the report.
QUESTION: By the way, do you have anything on the Australian travel warning for Saudi Arabia?
MR. ERELI: The Australian travel warning for Saudi Arabia? No. But we have a travel warning out still in force.
QUESTION: But they're having -- they have voluntary departure as of today and we just sent -- our families are back.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, we're not looking at it like that.
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