State Department Noon Briefing, November 14, 2003

 

Friday  November 14, 2003

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Friday, November 14, 2003
12:40 p.m. EST

BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

DEPARTMENT
-- Assistant Secretary Kelly Travel to Japan, China, and South Korea
-- Meeting Between Deputy Secretary Armitage and Partner Commission Members
-- Secretary Powell and Regional Television Interviews
-- Secretary Powell's Travel to Belgium and The United Kingdom

RUSSIA/IRAN
-- Nuclear Cooperation

SRI LANKA/NORWAY
-- Norway Suspends Peace Talks

PAKISTAN
-- Meetings with Foreign Secretary Abdullah Abdullah and Counterterrorism Efforts

NIGERIA/SIERRA LEONE/LIBERIA
-- Detention of Charles Taylor
-- U.S. Congressional Efforts to Impose Sanctions and $2 Million Reward for Taylor

SYRIA
-- Syria Accountability Act Effect on Sale of Syrian Oil

GREECE
-- Alleged Disparaging Comments and Greek Government Complaints

TURKEY
-- Sezer Government and PKK

ALBANIA
-- U.S. Position on Albanian National Army

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
-- Criticism of Sharon and Roadmap
-- Defense Minister's Alleged Statements on Military Flights Over Syria

GEORGIA
-- Protests and Election Controversy

IRAQ
-- Process of Transferring Power to New Iraqi Government
-- U.S. Dedication to Stability in Iraq

SAUDI ARABIA
-- Opening of Embassy in Riyadh and Consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran

TAIWAN
-- Visit of Senior Government of Taiwan Official


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2003
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

12:40 p.m. EST

MR. ERELI: Good morning, afternoon, whatever. It's Friday. Glad to be here. No announcements to start things off, so why don't we go to your questions.

QUESTION: Could you tell us more about Mr. Kelly's visit -- the who's, what's, when's and where's?

MR. ERELI: I had that yesterday. I don't have it today. I will get it for you after the briefing.

QUESTION: The South Koreans are saying he's going there to prepare for the next round of talks with the North Koreans.

MR. ERELI: He is going next week, as we said before. He is going next week to Japan, Beijing and Seoul, and he will be talking with our partners there about six-party talks and ideas for reconvening those and subjects for discussion at those talks. Precise dates we've got for you. I don't have them here.

QUESTION: At least that's what you said two days ago.

MR. ERELI: Right. It hasn't changed.

QUESTION: Okay, good.

MR. ERELI: Matt, do you want to --

QUESTION: I don't have any --

MR. ERELI: Any guidance for us on --

QUESTION: Well, I believe that he's going to Beijing first and he's leaving Sunday, George.

QUESTION: Any more answers?

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: Another question?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: What is State Department reaction to the Russian-Iranian military (inaudible) discussed during President Putin's meeting with Mr. Broushani -- I guess I could have spelled it correctly -- he is the head of Iranian National Security Council.

MR. ERELI: Oh, Rouhani?

QUESTION: Rouhani, right. I think it happened two days ago, right?

MR. ERELI: I don't have anything on that. We have made our concerns regarding Russian-Iranian cooperation in the nuclear field clear. We think that Russia has been responsive to those concerns. But I don't have anything new to say with regard to that meeting.

QUESTION: Yes, well, they discussed -- Mr. Rouhani asked Moscow to sell new C-300 ground-to-air defense launchers.

MR. ERELI: I have not seen those reports.

QUESTION: Okay. Any chance I will get this reaction on Monday?

MR. ERELI: If we have a reaction, we will provide it to you on Monday.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Far afield and not on any major topic. Do you have anything to say about the suspension of the peace talks in Sri Lanka?

MR. ERELI: We are disappointed that Norway's negotiators have found it impossible to move forward with the Sri Lankan peace process at this time. We applaud Norway's efforts to keep the peace process moving forward, and we encourage their mediators to continue efforts once the President and Prime Minister have resolved their political differences.

We continue to stand behind Sri Lanka in its search for peace, and encourage the Government to continue negotiations with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in order to end nearly 20 years of conflict. We urge the President and the Prime Minister to work together to bolster the peace process, and to protect Sri Lanka's democratic institutions.

QUESTION: Okay. Staying in that region. The Secretary's meeting with Abdullah Abdullah this afternoon. The Deputy Secretary is meeting with the top --

MR. ERELI: Pakistani Foreign Secretary.

QUESTION: Yes. Dr. Abdullah, over the past couple of days, has been complaining ever more vociferously about Pakistan's failure -- or what he says failure -- to crack down on militants in the northwestern frontier provinces. I'm wondering if there is going to be any effort to try and bridge that this -- in these two -- bridge these problems in the -- in the meetings this afternoon.

MR. ERELI: I think it is reasonable to assume that this subject will be raised in both meetings. I would refer you to the Deputy Secretary's comments in his last visit to Pakistan on the subject of Pakistani counterterrorism efforts, which he praised and which he pointed to as an example of stepped-up determination and energy by the Government of Pakistan to address this issue. Obviously, there are -- everything is not perfect, but the intent and effort is commendable.

QUESTION: Is it still the U.S. belief that some elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence services are not -- do not share President Musharraf's --

MR. ERELI: Our position on that hasn't changed. We think that Pakistan is committed to the fight against terror, and is doing everything that they can to effectively fight against terror.

QUESTION: So your position hasn't changed?

QUESTION: So it's still --

QUESTION: Because what Secretary Armitage was that he did not think that up and down the rank, from the rank and file to the top of the Pakistani security establishment, not everybody was behind the effort. And that's still your position.

MR. ERELI: Right. Look at what Deputy Secretary Armitage said, and he was very careful about what he said I think, and that was that systemically, institutionally Pakistan is on board and doing what needs to be done. That is not to say that every single individual in the entire country is necessarily, you know, in lockstep with that. That's a paraphrase.

Yes, Joel.

QUESTION: I have a question concerning Charles Taylor. Is Sierra Leone and Nigeria doing everything that they can to detain Charles Taylor? He's living in a jungle villa, and, of course, you've put out a reward for his capture and detainment.

MR. ERELI: Let's remind people, first of all, why Charles Taylor is in Nigeria. He went to Nigeria as a way to get him out of Liberia, to keep him somewhere where we knew he would be, and to constrain his activities. That's number one.

Number two, let's also remind people that we, as well as the Nigerians, I believe, support bringing Charles Taylor to justice for his crimes. And that remains a firm basis of our policy.

I think that his presence in Nigeria is -- there are terms under which he is there. We are working with the Nigerian Government to ensure that he meets the terms of that presence, and we are also working with the Nigerian Government and the court in Sierra Leone to facilitate bringing Charles Taylor to justice.

QUESTION: Are you, Adam, aware of moves afoot on the Hill or elsewhere to punish Nigeria by withholding some assistance if they do not turn Taylor over to the tribunal?

MR. ERELI: I'm aware --

QUESTION: And if you are aware of them, what do you think of them?

MR. ERELI: We believe that -- as I said, we support bringing those accused of violations of international humanitarian law to justice. At the same time, as a general matter, we oppose restrictions on the President's authority to conduct foreign policy of the United States. He should enjoy the maximum flexibility in designing assistance programs to further our national interest. The restriction that you mention, Matt, we believe disregards Nigeria's important role in Taylor's relinquishing power.

We supported Taylor's exile to Nigeria because we knew it would save lives, and because we understood that Nigeria would be a location from which Taylor could begin to address the charges pending against him.

Taylor is in a non-restrictive environment in Nigeria. He is under de facto house arrest --

QUESTION: In a what environment?

MR. ERELI: In a restrictive environment.

QUESTION: Okay. I think you said non-restrictive.

MR. ERELI: No. He is in a restrictive environment. He is under de facto house arrest, and restricting assistance to Nigeria would be counterproductive.

QUESTION: Unrelated thing. On -- does this -- is it your understanding -- and if you don't have an answer, if you could take it as a question, I would be grateful. Is it your understanding that the Syria Accountability Act would bar U.S. companies from trading in Syrian crude oil? I don't expect you have an answer, but I'd be grateful if you could get one.

MR. ERELI: I will look into it. I would also note that under the Syrian Accountability Act, as it is proposed -- it hasn't been, I don't believe, finally passed.

QUESTION: I think it's been passed, but not signed, I thought.

MR. ERELI: I will have to check on that, too. I think it's been passed -- hasn't been passed by both houses together. Has?

QUESTION: Has, yes.

MR. ERELI: Okay. Let me check on the actual status of the bill, number one. Number two, on whether it restricts oil sales to --

QUESTION: Not oil sales. Sales by -- sales of Syrian oil by U.S. companies.

MR. ERELI: Sales of Syrian oil by U.S. companies.

I would also note that there are a number -- in the bill -- there are a number of possible sanctions that are at the discretion of the Administration to use, of which they had to do two, but there could be waivers. So there are a number of conditionalities involved there. So the question is: If you were to use this, would that bar?

QUESTION: Well, I guess I'd -- I mean, I'm interested in both things: one, whether it requires you to bar -- whether there is anything in the bill that says you should bar this; and, you know, as a separate matter, I do understand that there is waiver authority in the bill.

MR. ERELI: Yes. Okay, we will look into it.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Taylor real quickly?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: I'm wondering as well that Mr. Armitage met with the Vice President of Nigeria yesterday. Is the U.S. giving any kinds of assurances to Nigeria that it's not going to post this bounty that -- or any assurances that these congressional measures aren't going to be taken that seriously here?

MR. ERELI: We are discussing with Nigeria the best ways to bring Charles Taylor to justice in ways that respect the sovereignty and integrity of our friends in the region.

QUESTION: Well, I guess a follow-up to all these questions concerning Charles Taylor. But does the State Department see any present inroads of his tampering with the existing new Government in Liberia since his exile?

MR. ERELI: Obviously, that is something we are very -- we remain very concerned about, and we keep a close eye on things to ensure that that does not happen and does not prejudice the peace process that is underway in Liberia.

I'm sorry, you had a question?

QUESTION: I was just interested in the disposition of the $2 million reward money.

MR. ERELI: The $2 million reward money, I would remind you, is -- the way it is appropriated -- is that it can be used as an additional tool that is at our disposal, to be used as necessary.

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MR. ERELI: It means that --

QUESTION: The language doesn't use "as necessary." I don't think that's what the sentence said.

QUESTION: But you can still decide whether you want to institute this $2 million? It's been allocated?

MR. ERELI: It is available to be used. It doesn't mandate that it has to be used. It is to be used as -- it is an additional tool that is available to be used, as necessary.

QUESTION: But what -- what would make it necessary to use it?

MR. ERELI: If Charles Taylor's situation were to change and that if we needed -- if, in order to bring him to justice, a reward was necessary. Usually, as we said earlier, this is -- you know, rewards are if you don't know where the guy is, if you're trying to track him down, if you need information to find him and in order to bring him to justice.

QUESTION: So, if he escaped his restrictive environment, perhaps?

MR. ERELI: It's a hypothetical, but that's a hypothetical that works.

QUESTION: So, at this point, you have no plans to post the reward?

MR. ERELI: I would say, at this point, we are - it is not something we're actively looking at because the situation doesn't require it.

QUESTION: New subject? Your Ambassador in Greece seems to have gotten himself into a little bit of hot water with the government for going on television and disparaging some comments that -- viewed as anti-Semitic by the composer of "Zorba the Greek."

MR. ERELI: Where's Lambros?

QUESTION: The Greek Government has formally complained about this this morning. Do you have anything to say?

MR. ERELI: I haven't seen the Greek Government's complaints. I haven't seen the Ambassador's comments.

QUESTION: Have you seen "Zorba the Greek?"

MR. ERELI: And I haven't seen "Zorba the Greek," -- is it -- I haven't the "Zorba the Greek," program that you're speaking about.

QUESTION: No, no, no. The composer of "Zorba the Greek."

MR. ERELI: Yes, okay.

QUESTION: So standing with the -- standing at the side of the Greek Minister of Culture, said that Jews are evil.

MR. ERELI: Before commenting on it, I would want to have all the information and give it a considered reflection.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: Mr. Lambros, do you have a follow-up?

QUESTION: No follow-up. No comment on this issue, only Theodorakis, the composer.

(Laughter.)

Anything on the upcoming trip of the Ambassador Tom Weston to Athens, Ankara and Nicosia for the Cyprus issue?

MR. ERELI: No. I don't have anything new for you on that.

QUESTION: Any readout for the today's meeting here at the State Department between Deputy Secretary [Richard] Armitage and the Foreign Ministers to Albania, Croatia, and FYROM?

MR. ERELI: Deputy Secretary of State Armitage met today with representatives of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia in the inaugural session of the Partnership Commission created by the Charter of Partnership among Albania, Croatia, Macedonia and the United States.

Secretary Powell co-signed the charter in Tirana this past May, as you will recall. The Deputy Secretary in the meeting praised the hard work already done to prepare these nations for Euro-Atlantic integration and pledged U.S. assistance with the remaining work ahead.

We are hosting day-long meetings today with representatives of these three countries to review reform and encourage cooperation in their individual efforts to join NATO. We express our full support for the Charter of Partnership and plan to issue a joint statement along with the three regional co-signers.

QUESTION: Adam?

MR. ERELI: Yes.

QUESTION: How do you assess the resolution of the Kurdish group, PKK, in Turkey's (inaudible) Government, considered always as a terrorist organization and not as a national liberation front? Do you have anything?

MR. ERELI: Yes, we will be putting a statement out later today on that subject.

QUESTION: And the last one, what is the U.S. position vis--vis to ANA, A-N-A, Albanian National Army? Do you consider its members as international terrorist organization or freedom fighters in the Balkans?

MR. ERELI: I'm going to take that question and get back to you on it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Joel.

QUESTION: Adam, in the last day, ex-Israeli security generals have criticized the Sharon government, saying that they should reverse course and settle the conflict with the Palestinian Authority. And yet, there are other groups, such as Rabbis for Human Rights, that are helping the Palestinians to get at their crops and olive groves.

Do you view those type efforts as helping this so -- peace process or just a further adding more controversy?

MR. ERELI: There is always controversy, and I don't want to add to it. So what I will say is what our policy is and remains, that both sides need to stick to their commitments to the roadmap and we remain committed to the roadmap.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about the current situation in Georgia? That would be the --

MR. ERELI: The election. Georgia, whose capital is Tbilisi.

QUESTION: Not the U.S. Georgia.

MR. ERELI: Yes. There must be a song about this one, too.

Our thoughts about Georgia are much the same as they were when we previously discussed this issue. We have serious concerns about the conduct of Georgia's elections, as we've said --

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

MR. ERELI: As we have said, there were problems with vote counting and collection. Ambassador Miles has made these concerns known at the highest levels of the Government of Georgia.

We understand that Georgian election authorities are discussing a number of options to address these concerns and the problems created with vote irregularities. No final decisions have been made, to our knowledge.

We believe that it is important for all sides to respect the role of peaceful assembly in the political process and to take all steps to prevent violence.

We are urging the speedy resolution of the election situation, and the announcement of a final vote count.

QUESTION: Okay, I wasn't really wanting -- I know that, what you said about the election. I was referring to the instability, you know, the growing protests and calls for Shevardnadze's resignation. You don't have anything about that?

MR. ERELI: This is something that the Georgia people and political parties are going to have to resolve. We hope that they do it peacefully through dialogue, in a way that respects the rule of law and meets the needs of the people and institutions of Georgia.

QUESTION: You don't support Shevardnadze, though?

MR. ERELI: We don't support - we are not backing one candidate or another in this process. We are backing the rule of law. We are backing dialogue. We are backing transparency. Don't read my comments to be backing away for or against anybody. This is something that the Georgian people are going to have to work out.

QUESTION: Okay. It's just that when the President of Bolivia found himself in a similar situation -- former President of Bolivia, several weeks ago, you guys came out saying you supported him.

MR. ERELI: I think we said we supported the constitutional process.

QUESTION: Well, no, in fact, you said you supported him.

MR. ERELI: You know, I don't mean to suggest we don't support Shevardnadze, but I also don't want to suggest that we support one candidate over another in this process.

QUESTION: Adam, in the last day, Secretary Powell presented five different -- or was -- did -- or held five separate interviews with regional television networks. Is this customary for the Secretary to do this, and what advantage do you see from those interviews?

MR. ERELI: That was one question the Secretary was asked by one of the interviewers, and I will try and answer it the way he did, although not as eloquently or fluently. The Administration wants to present its case to the American people. We do that all the time. This was one way of doing it. The Secretary speaks regularly to media in Washington, internationally, and outside Washington. So it is important, we feel, for us to put out the situation as we see it so that the American people can hear from their leaders what their thinking is and what's going on.

So, you know, it was important what he said. But the fact that we are doing these kinds of things is, I don't know, not necessarily that newsworthy.

QUESTION: Are you able to give us a better idea of what the Secretary's going to be talking about in Brussels on Tuesday?

MR. ERELI: I can give you more than I had yesterday. I don't know if it's as much as you want, but I'll see what --

QUESTION: That's good, since you didn't have anything yesterday.

MR. ERELI: I will see what I can do. The Secretary will be meeting in Brussels with his European colleagues to discuss the issues of regional stability and global security that are of concern to both the U.S. and the European Union. Specifically, he will meet with the EU Troika, and, at the invitation of Foreign Minister Frattini, he will, the Secretary will also attend an informal working lunch with Ministers from the 25 current and soon-to-be EU members to discuss the principles of the U.S.-EU cooperation in an enlarged European Union.

These meetings will give the Secretary an opportunity to consult with European Union leaders on bringing security and stability to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as joint efforts to combat terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, developments in the Middle East and our continued cooperation to enhance peace and stability in the Western Balkans.

QUESTION: The Belgian Foreign Minister is under the impression that the Secretary's going to be meeting with him as well, separately. Is that correct?

MR. ERELI: I think that meeting is under consideration or being arranged. I don't know if it has been finalized yet.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Any other bilats?

MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: Now, are you saying -- well, is the issue of European -- ESDP, going to come up, the idea that has since been shelved, but that you opposed the creation of a separate European command outside of Brussels? What about the repeal, the Belgian repeal of their war crimes law? Any of this going to come up?

MR. ERELI: ESDP, as you mentioned, is an active subject of discussion. I wouldn't be surprised if it comes up at some point in the discussions.

QUESTION: Are you still opposed to it?

MR. ERELI: Our position on that has not changed.

QUESTION: No, no, I -- well, are you still to this creation of -- although they have scrapped the plans to build the headquarters, there's still the idea of having something separate from NATO so --

MR. ERELI: Right. I understand that is something that we are discussing with our European partners, and, you know, I would just leave it at that. We have not changed our position to support it. I will put it that way.

Number two, on the war crimes issue, I think that has been pretty much laid to rest, so better left there.

QUESTION: All right. And one more -- one more thing. The Europeans also think that the Secretary is going to be discussing this rift, as it were, over information about airline passengers?

MR. ERELI: That is a subject that we are -- that is being looked at. I think it is primarily a Department of Homeland Security issue, but it is on our radar scope.

QUESTION: Do you expect steel, WTO, to come up?

MR. ERELI: Not at the top of the agenda that I am aware of.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. ERELI: I think it's the security issues and the other things that I mentioned.

QUESTION: On the war crimes thing, has the Secretary been avoiding Brussels because of that law which existed before it was watered down?

MR. ERELI: I think the last time there was a meeting in Brussels last year, he couldn't -- the reason he didn't go was primarily a reason due to scheduling and other commitments, as opposed to --

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

MR. ERELI: No, this was last year, when they had the last ministerial -- but I think that the reason he hasn't been going to Brussels is more to do with scheduling than the war crimes thing.

QUESTION: So it was not an inhibition?

MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: I can't let the briefing end without asking about Iraq. Do you have -- do you have any specific reaction to the French Foreign Minister's proposal that he -- proposals that he made yesterday for the creation of a new council, a new interim council that would --

MR. ERELI: I didn't see those reports, Matt, or his proposals, so I really wouldn't want to comment on them, other than to say that, you know, this is -- we are looking to the Iraqis to present their ideas for assuming authority over their country. And that is what we are hoping for at -- December 15.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the Secretary suggested that sovereignty or some responsibility needs to be transferred before possibly holding elections and writing a constitution. And I'm wondering if, despite that fact, you would encourage the Iraqis to start forming political parties, organizing themselves, in the hopes that they will someday have an election.

MR. ERELI: Clearly, there are a lot of ideas out there, Arshad. The ones that you mentioned are among them. This is a dynamic process, creating a democracy. You know, there are a lot of components to it. Ambassador Bremer is in the process of discussing many of those ideas with the Iraqis.

The Iraqis have come up with a lot of suggestions themselves. What they finally agree on, what they finally determine as the best course of action for them is, I guess, something we are just going to have to wait for. So I really wouldn't want to handicap it more than that. What they decide is right for them, given their body politic and their history and the kind of future that they want, let's let them come up with their preferred course.

QUESTION: The Embassy in Riyadh is going to reopen tomorrow. Has this decision been made because you no longer think that there -- that the threat that you talked about when you closed the embassy, in the first place, is still there?

MR. ERELI: This decision is made after a careful assessment of the existing security situation in Riyadh, and I would also add Jeddah and Dhahran, the consulates there, are opening. We believe that given what information we have, and given the security measures that we've taken, it is safe to open the embassies to the public starting on Saturday.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Oh, I'm sorry. One more question, two more questions.


QUESTION: United States has been calling for de-escalation of this tension in the Middle East in the last few weeks. Now we see a new attitude rising again, that Israel's Defense Minister today is boasting in The Washington Times that Israel has flown jet fighters over civilian targets in Damascus and government buildings.

Do you see in his statements a contradiction to your calls for de-escalation of the situation?

MR. ERELI: I haven't seen the Defense Minister's statements. And we continue to urge all sides not to take provocative actions or actions that could unnecessarily exacerbate the situation.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. Matt.

QUESTION: Sorry. And do you have anything on the visit of this senior official from Taiwan?

MR. ERELI: I had something yesterday; I don't have it today. I can get back to you on it.

Yes.

QUESTION: Adam, can you say something to counter the perception generated this week that the U.S. policy in Iraq went from being committed for the long haul, and doing whatever it takes, to something quite different?

MR. ERELI: I would say there is nothing that we have said that should contribute to such a perception. Every senior official in this government, from the President on down, said that we are going to stay with it, as long as it takes. We are going to -- we are not leaving Iraq before Iraq is in the hands of Iraqis and safe for Iraqis.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)

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