State Department Noon Briefing, November 6, 2003
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2003
12:45 p.m. EST
MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everyone. I'd like to start with one announcement. Secretary of State Powell will deliver a policy address at the City College of New York on Monday, November 10th, in commemoration of the centenary of Dr. Ralph Bunch, the great civil rights advocate, world statesman, and Nobel Peace Laureate.
Secretary Powell will discuss the United States' new approach to supporting development in emerging democracies. The address, which starts at 5:45 p.m., is sponsored by the City College of New York President Gregory Williams, and the college's Colin L. Powell Center for Policy Studies in cooperation with the Foreign Policy Association.
QUESTION: Is that his old classroom?
QUESTION: He never went to class. He always says (inaudible).
QUESTION: He went to classes here, didn't he?
MR. ERELI: For details, you can talk to the organizers.
QUESTION: Well, I have a detail perhaps you can answer.
MR. ERELI: Yes, sure.
QUESTION: Will it be piped in?
MR. ERELI: Let me check. We'll do our best for those who can't go, on B-NET.
QUESTION: Can I move on?
MR. ERELI: Over to you, --
QUESTION: All right, well, I suppose almost simultaneously his Deputy will be in the Middle East. I wondered, Bremer's been here. The Iraqi Governing Council -- or at least several of them -- have visited. The Secretary has just been there recently. Does the situation need a morale lift? Is that why Armitage is going over there? A boost?
MR. ERELI: As we said yesterday, this is a visit that has been in the works for some time and I would look at it in the context of our, you know, ongoing engagement with the countries of the region to support the global war on terrorism; to review issues of bilateral concern or bilateral cooperation; as well as to get a personal view of how things are going in Iraq.
One thing to note is there are a large number of State Department personnel working alongside their colleagues from other agencies of the U.S. Government to help the Iraqi people, and it's certainly appropriate that the Deputy Secretary of State go there and see, firsthand, the great work that they're doing.
QUESTION: It sounds like it is a bit of a morale boost if not -- and other things as well if he's going to, say, meet and greet the State Department people living in that tense environment all these months.
MR. ERELI: Yes, I would note that, you know, it's regular practice for our senior State Department leadership to, when they go abroad and go to visit American facilities, to meet with the staff who work there.
QUESTION: Can I ask you something else? The Pentagon -- and I'm looking for clarification here -- is speaking in terms of the Poles and others rotating out of peacekeeping next year. Frankly, it isn't clear to me if leaving or giving up the command or both or whatever. Can you provide any clarification? And it's a good time to ask again -- have you had any offers of support to replace them if they're going? Remember that resolution was going to open the door to additional contributions, anything on that?
MR. ERELI: Right. On the -- on the sort of logistics of the movement of troops in and out of Iraq, I'd refer you to the Pentagon for those -- for that information. As to where we stand on additional troops or negotiations with other countries on additional troops, don't have anything new to report today. I think I mentioned yesterday that one of the subjects under discussion with -- between Deputy Secretary Armitage and the Deputy Foreign Minister of South Korea was the contribution of South Korea to the international coalition there that was announced some weeks ago. New -- new contributions to report today, I just don't have anything.
QUESTION: The reason I asked is because General Pace referred reporters to the State Department, but -- all right.
MR. ERELI: Yes, Charlie.
QUESTION: A loose end on following up Barry's question. On the number of personnel the State Department has in Iraq, do you have a rough number, an exact number to give us on that?
MR. ERELI: I don't. The figure that -- or the measurement that sticks in my mind is that when all the State Department people are there, it will be the largest deployment of State Department personnel in any one place, I guess, other than Washington. So it's significant, but I can check and see what, maybe what our numbers are now and where they're going.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Yes, Arshad.
QUESTION: Yes, change of subject from Iraq.
QUESTION: You want to stay on Iraq?
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iraq?
QUESTION: Oh, go on.
QUESTION: Well, I didn't want to, you know, ask too many questions at once, but these -- what do you want to call them -- the conversations that Iraq, before the war, was trying to have with the U.S. through intermediaries in an effort to prevent the American war against Iraq, were any of those -- at least speaking for the State Department -- can you say whether any of those overtures were given serious consideration?
MR. ERELI: Let me echo what the White House spokesman said earlier today, and that is that we never received any legitimate or credible opportunity to resolve the world's differences with Iraq in a peaceful manner. What I would note is that, number one, the Baghdad regime knew what needed to be done, they had many opportunities over the course of 12 years to signal to the United States and to the international community that Iraq was willing to accept its international responsibilities. Such a message of acceptance of those responsibilities was never conveyed officially by the former Iraqi regime.
What we did see were vague overtures through third parties that appeared to be focused on attempts to forestall military action, as opposed to reach -- as opposed to fulfilling UN Security Council resolution requirements.
QUESTION: But by these accounts, at least the contact that is getting a lot of ink and airtime now, the Iraqis, Saddam Hussein, number one, was saying he didn't have weapons of mass destruction and he was inviting American inspectors to come there and verify that. Now, either that's vague or the report is inaccurate.
MR. ERELI: Right. I would say this: Based on Security Council resolutions and clear statements by the United States, as well as other countries, what Iraq needed to do what was clear. An acceptance of those obligations was never made in a credible or acceptable way.
QUESTION: On this, was the State Department ever involved in the decision of whether to pursue the talks that Mr. Hajj is saying he was offering? It sounds like it was Richard Pearl and DOD who were making those decisions. Was the State Department part of that process?
MR. ERELI: That specific -- there are lots of reports out there. That specific report I'm not aware that we had any involvement in. I'm just not aware.
QUESTION: So you don't know if, when the offer was supposedly made, it was also run through the State Department -- do you think we should pursue this? That was not --
MR. ERELI: What I can tell you is that -- is that when the -- when the responsible officials in the U.S. Government looked at these offers, it was determined that they were neither credible nor legitimate.
QUESTION: And none of those officials were State Department officials, do you know?
MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of. But as I said, there is a level of vagueness to all of this that makes it difficult to nail down.
QUESTION: Feel free to clarify.
MR. ERELI: No, the reports are vague, the offers were vague.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes, moving back to Armitage's trip. The President has said today that Saudi and Egypt leader -- a Saudi-Egypt leadership role needs to be taken for democracy in the region. But my question was, I thought Iraq was going to lend that example.
And I also wanted to know if Secretary Powell has been in contact with Saudi or Egypt in the last 24 hours pending Armitage's trip, as well as any contact he's had with the replacement for Robert Jordan.
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm. We have -- there have been no -- no calls at the Secretary level on -- to those two countries in the last 24 hours.
On the President's speech, I think what the President made clear and what the Secretary will make -- will also reiterate on Monday is, the view of the United States that democracy and development go hand-in-hand; that in looking forward or trying to ensure a peaceful and prosperous future for the peoples of the region; a democratic -- the development of democracy is essential, and is something that the United States will support.
QUESTION: Does Mr. Burns stay with him or does he have his own schedule?
MR. ERELI: Assistant Secretary Burns will be accompanying the Deputy Secretary on his travels.
QUESTION: And then will he do additional travels on his own?
MR. ERELI: My understanding is he's coming back on the 11th. I'm not sure if there is a separate schedule for Assistant Secretary Burns after the trip, but he will be with the Deputy Secretary during the trip.
QUESTION: Again, on the -- on Armitage's trip. Can you tell us, if not detailed schedule, is he going to Baghdad only, or is he going to four or five other places in Iraq? Is he --
MR. ERELI: I don't want to get into the sort of details of his travel in Iraq.
QUESTION: Well, but is he going to go to other places in Iraq, which is not really a detail? Not too specific.
MR. ERELI: I'm not sure. Not sure on that.
QUESTION: On the President's speech, the United States has had a long history of having as close allies many countries, particularly in the Middle East, that are -- have not been democratic in the least. And I'm wondering if the President's speech today should be taken as sort of a recognition that that was -- or as a statement that that was mistaken.
MR. ERELI: I would take the -- I would echo what the Secretary said yesterday in his remarks on China, is that the United States views it as a measure of our -- the closeness of our relationship and our friendship with these -- with our allies and our partners that we can speak candidly about -- about what we agree on and some of the things that -- where we see things maybe a little bit differently.
And on the subject of democracy, this is an issue that we feel very strongly about and are eager to share our views and to help work with others in ways that we think are mutually beneficial.
QUESTION: Is there any possibility that the United States might put a little distance between itself and countries that don't pursue democracy in the region, but might still be of some strategic value?
MR. ERELI: Yes. I would use the word "partnership" to describe our approach to this, looking for ways to work together in partnership with both governments and civil society across the world, and particularly in the Middle East, to empower people, to help improve their lives, and to the extent that there's a willingness to engage in that, it's great. And we can work together to our mutual benefit. Not everyone is going to be in the same position to do the same thing, and we recognize that there are differences between countries. There's not a cookie cutter approach. But there is a -- there is an eagerness to engage on our part that we want to make clear.
QUESTION: But there are no particular consequences for U.S. allies that don't choose to participate --
MR. ERELI: Right. I wouldn't focus on, you know, rewards or punishments. That's not the issue here. The issue is common interests.
QUESTION: How did you answer people -- there are people already saying this, you know, less than an hour or so after the President's speech, that his list of countries that are making progress toward democracy and his list of countries that need to do a lot more, sort of closely allies with those that are friends and allies in the United States and those that aren't. I mean, Iran, you know, problematic though it is, actually has had elections -- but comes in for some fairly harsh criticism. Some people would refract his speech and the list of countries through the prism of, "Who's our ally, and who's are not? -- Who is not?"
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry --
QUESTION: Do you -- do you would you agree with that?
MR. ERELI: I guess -- I'm reluctant to, sort of, interpret from here the President's speech and where he's going. I'd, you know, it's just not something I'd feel real comfortable doing.
QUESTION: Diplomacy. Okay. Georgian elections. The election commission was expected to release the results, I think today, and has said that they're now going to delay doing that. Do you have anything new you want to say about that?
MR. ERELI: Right. We have seen those reports about delaying the release of the vote count results. We continue to work with the Government of Georgia and the election commission to conclude the counting and to release the results in a timely way. This remains a concern, and we are in regular contact with the government on this matter.
QUESTION: Have they given you any indication of when they might actually release them?
MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: The latest pronouncement from North Korea is --
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. Anything more on Georgia? Okay.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. I shouldn't have presumed that. North Korea, now, is talking about having a nuclear capability powerful enough to deter any U.S. attack. I guess that's not really surprising since they normally talk about using their weapons aggressively and not just defensively, but do you have any response to this latest bluster, and also anything to report on the North Korea talks front?
MR. ERELI: I would repeat what we've said at the highest levels of this government, including by the President of the United States most recently in Asia, we have no intention of attacking North Korea.
QUESTION: Anything on talks?
MR. ERELI: On talks? Not really. As we said yesterday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi will be in -- or is in town today. He will be meeting with Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Jim Kelly. And he will be meeting with the Secretary tomorrow, I believe.
QUESTION: Okay, good.
QUESTION: Can you give us some sort of readout on the Kelly meeting, which I think is going on right now?
MR. ERELI: Yes. I've asked for it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the meeting here involving the South Korean yesterday?
MR. ERELI: Not more than what I said yesterday.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary cover any interesting facts about the deportation of a Canadian to Syria? As you know, the Canadians are very upset about it. The guy says he was beaten. Has he jumped in, and what's the net result?
MR. ERELI: What I can tell you on this case is that the Secretary spoke yesterday with Canadian Foreign Minister William Graham. They discussed the Arar case, and the Secretary agreed to share additional details with the Government of Canada as soon as they become available. So we are looking into the matter, and when we -- as soon as we can -- we have something to share with the Government of Canada on it to respond to their concerns, we'll do it.
QUESTION: Do you know at this stage whether the fellow was a suspect in terrorism, in a terrorism situation? There must have had good cause to get him out of here.
MR. ERELI: The decision to detain and deport him was a law enforcement decision; therefore, I would not be the one to speak to that.
QUESTION: There were -- oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: If we're on the same topic, Secretary Powell, in a meeting with Mr. Graham last year, said that specifically that the RCMP provided information to the FBI linking Mr. Arar to al-Qaida. Is that, in fact, the case? Are you still operating on that basis? Are you still making that claim?
And will Secretary Powell reveal those names of any RCMP allegedly involved? And, if so, when?
MR. ERELI: As I said, Secretary Powell undertook with Foreign Minister Graham to look into the details of this case. That is what we are doing, and we will report back to the Canadian Government when we have -- when we have something we can tell them.
QUESTION: Is there anyone that's willing to express any regret that this man, who appears to be innocent, was deported by the United States and suffered torture for almost a year?
MR. ERELI: I guess the point to make here is that, let's establish what the facts were and then proceed on that basis. And right now what we're trying to do is to look into the facts, get a clear picture of what happened and why, and then see if we can't, can't respond in a satisfactory way to the concerns that are out there.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Chretien says --
QUESTION: Are you talking about what happened in Syria?
QUESTION: Prime Minister Chretien says that Canada should have been consulted before Mr. Arar was deported. Was Canada consulted? And, if not, why not?
MR. ERELI: That is what we are looking into.
QUESTION: Well, on the larger --
QUESTION: Are you looking into whether Syria mistreated this fellow?
MR. ERELI: That -- that is not one of the areas under our competence in the sense that what the Syrians did to him and under what circumstances is not something for the U.S. -- that the U.S. Government is in a position to investigate and determine.
QUESTION: Well, on the larger issue of dual -- Canadian dual-nationals, because this person, apparently, was a dual-national --
MR. ERELI: Syrian-Canadian.
QUESTION: Right. Has there been any -- at the time, Canada had said that any dual-national should go to Canada first for interrogation before going to his -- to another -- the other country of origin, and was kind of trying to get some kind of agreement with the United States to promise that Canada would be the first place for these suspects to go.
Have there been any arrangements with Canada -- I know you're looking into this specific case, but in the future -- that any dual-national suspects, one of the nationalities being Canadian, that they would go to Canada first?
MR. ERELI: Let me take that question.
QUESTION: The United States often says that it looks into what would happen to people if they send them back. I mean, some of the immigration policies are based on that very fact. How can you say that it doesn't apply in this case? That you don't -- that what Syria may have done when you sent him there isn't relevant?
MR. ERELI: No, no, no, I -- what I'm saying is that -- is that -- the question was: Is the United States investigating in Syria the circumstances of the individual's -- the treatment of a Canadian citizen by the Syrian Government. And my point was simply that we're not really in a position to do that.
QUESTION: Why not? You were the ones that released them to the Syrians, so obviously, do you not bear responsibility for what happens once they're there?
MR. ERELI: It's not -- I would say that those -- that before you jump to those conclusions, it's important to establish the facts, and that's what we're doing.
QUESTION: I don't know if, based on the information that you have right now, if you can say whether or not the State Department was involved in making the decision as to where this individual should go, or was that purely at Justice?
MR. ERELI: I don't believe so. This was -- as I said before, this was a -- this was a -- these decisions and actions were taken by law enforcement agencies on -- based on law enforcement considerations.
QUESTION: Can I change the topic? What is the State Department's position on whether the 17 U.S. prisoners of war from the first Gulf War should be able to collect the damages that they won in court this year from Saddam's government?
MR. ERELI: Our position is that we want to be fair to all Americans, especially those that have suffered at the hands of terrorists and tyrants. We want to do this in a way, specifically, that does not put at risk Iraqi assets, which the President has ordered be used for Iraqi reconstruction. Therefore, what we are doing is supporting legislation, which would establish a program that provides benefits to U.S. victims of international terrorism, including the 1979 Tehran hostages and the Iraq human shield victims, in a fair and streamlined way.
QUESTION: So -- I'm sorry -- so there is a -- POWs are being treated as victims of terrorism? I mean the same --
MR. ERELI: The PO -- the POWs is a separate issue and is covered by -- well, they have a separate status because their -- their status is not illegal while being held by an enemy during an armed conflict.
QUESTION: Right. But so, it would be part of that same program? I mean, I'm confused.
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: They won -- they won damages in court.
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Presumably, it would come from Iraq's frozen assets. So I --
MR. ERELI: Yes. The view here is, using Iraqi assets to -- for compensation -- for compensation for victims is something that's hard to support because what we want to do is ensure that those Iraqi assets are -- go towards rebuilding Iraq for victims of terror -- whether they be the '79 host -- 1979 hostages or human shields, our view is there should be a separate -- there should -- we support blocked Iraqi -- we support -- I'm sorry -- we support establishing a program that would -- that would provide benefits to those victims.
As to the POWs, that's a separate issue, a separate legal issue, because how they are -- how they are covered deals with the -- a separate -- separate legal entity, or a separate legal regime, different from the other victims.
QUESTION: So I guess the larger question then is, should they be compensated? What is the view? Should they, in fact, be compensated?
MR. ERELI: Yes I don't really have -- I don't really have a view on that. What I have said is our view is that -- that the POW issue is a separate issue.
QUESTION: Adam, I seem to have a recollection that Iraqi assets about a year ago, well before the war, $300 million worth were used, in fact, for -- to compensate victims of terrorism.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Is that your recollection?
MR. ERELI: Right. But I would also point to you a Presidential Determination of May 7th, 2003, which said that any provision of law that applies to countries that have supported terrorism was made inapplicable to Iraq. And as a result, U.S. courts didn't have jurisdiction to hear such cases, as those filed by the Gulf War POWs and the human shield victims.
QUESTION: On a different subject?
QUESTION: I'm sorry. If we could just stay on this for a minute. I'm probably the only one here who is confused.
What is the -- is the U.S. position right now, it doesn't know what should happen with the 17 POWs from the first Gulf war, in terms of compensation, that that's a matter that still needs to be resolved?
MR. ERELI: Right, right. Specify for me which -- these are the seven -- these are not the human shield victims, these are the POWs?
MR. ERELI: All right. Let's -- and I've told you everything I have got for you on this.
MR. ERELI: If you want more detail and a fuller, sort of, legal explanation of what the distinctions are and what our position is, we'll try and get it for you.
QUESTION: On Burma. Do you have anything on the UN Rights Representative, Mr. Pinheiro meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi today?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Especially, I believe, after Mr. Pinheiro was very harshly criticized yesterday by members of U.S. Congress.
MR. ERELI: We understand that the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Mr. Pinheiro, has seen Aung San Suu Kyi. We don't have additional information on his visit. We remain supportive of his efforts and continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those held for freely expressing their political beliefs.
In the back. I'm sorry. Follow-up?
QUESTION: No, not a follow-up, but on another issue.
MR. ERELI: If I could just --
QUESTION: Can I go back to North Korea, please?
MR. ERELI: North Korea. Well, let's just go -- you, sir.
QUESTION: I'd like to go back to North Korea too.
MR. ERELI: Okay. Well, let's go to North Korea.
QUESTION: According to media reports, DPRK said today, the stopping of the light water reactor project will be a total destruction on the agreement reached between North Korea -- DPRK and the United States; and therefore, DPRK will take all necessary measures, as a result of that. Is there any reaction from the State Department on this?
And also -- please.
MR. ERELI: Yes. I would say that the reason -- you know, it's important to remember that the reason all of this is happening is because North Korea violated its commitments under the -- under the Agreed Framework. That's what started this whole thing. And under those agreements, North Korea is obligated to allow the safe removal of equipment from the site. KEDO has reminded North Korea of its obligations in this regard and we expect it to comply.
QUESTION: But North Korea said that it would prohibit any move, sort of, prohibit the equipments there in the -- on the project to be moved away from North Korea.
MR. ERELI: Right.
MR. ERELI: And I've -- you know, we have made clear that we believe it has an obligation under the agreement to allow the safe removal of that equipment. I wouldn't want to speculate about how KEDO would respond to a refusal to abide by those obligations. It would be up to the KEDO board to determine what actions would be appropriate.
QUESTION: And do you concern that this -- do you have any concern that this will be a barrier for another round of six-party talks? The Chinese Vice Foreign Minister is right now in town. Do you think this issue might be starting up in the talks?
MR. ERELI: Obviously, the issue of the next round of six-party talks will be something that's discussed. I wouldn't want to speculate on, you know, how one set of events affect another. Our point is that the six-party talks are the mechanism that we are pursuing to seek a peaceful end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program. China is actively involved in working to set up another round of those talks, and we support those efforts and we'll continue to support those efforts.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) it might be up to the North -- Executive Board of KEDO, but could tell me your position on the sending of a Mr. Kartman, Executive Director, to North Korea to solve this kind of a problem?
MR. ERELI: Again, I think that's a KEDO -- that's a KEDO matter and a KEDO decision.
QUESTION: No against that?
MR. ERELI: We are a member of the Board, so he would -- he's going to be doing it with the full support -- if he does it, it would be with the support of the Board.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)
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