State Department Briefing, December 30, 2003
|Tuesday December 30, 2003
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
MR. ERELI: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to our briefing today. I don't have any statements. So would George like to ask the first question?
QUESTION: I see the Secretary is telling The Washington Post that he's encouraged by recent moves by Iran. I assume it's an accurate quote. And could you enumerate the moves that he's talking about?
MR. ERELI: I think the Secretary mentioned a couple of positive signs we've seen, you know, with regard to developments in Iran over the past year. One, obviously, has to be the Board of Governors resolution on Iran's nuclear program. This was something that, as we've said earlier, we've been pushing for a long time.
We've been working consistently to bring the international community's attention to what we have been saying is a serious problem that has been characterized by intensive and wide-ranging diplomatic efforts over a long period of time to bring the international community's attention to this issue, to forge a consensus that it is a problem of concern, and to deal with it in a positive, forward-looking, serious way.
And I think the outcome of that or the latest sort of development in that area was the Board of Governor's resolution, which recognized -- had the 35 members of the Board of -- IAEA Board of Governors recognize by consensus that Iran had not been complying with its MPT obligations, and setting forward a program for them to do so, and making it clear that failure to follow through on those commitments and to follow through on that program would have -- would have serious consequences. So that is -- that is something that is worth noting and putting in the positive column.
A second thing would be, obviously, the signing of the Additional Protocol, moving that ball forward, getting Iran to live up to its commitments, follow through on its commitments. Obviously, much more needs to be done. And I don't think there was any suggestion that somehow the game is over or we've won and we can rest on our laurels, quite the contrary.
Follow through is key to this. Iran made commitments to IAEA. They made commitments to the EU3, and it will be critical in the period ahead to see that they follow through on that commitment. And we'll be working, as we have in the past, with our international partners, to see that that those commitments are honored.
Another positive thing which he talked about, obviously, was the recent contacts between the U.S. and Iran. They came in tragic circumstances, obviously, the earthquake in Bam, which was, as I said, a tragedy for the people of Iran. We reached out to the Iranians. We offered our assistance. That offer was -- was accepted, and I don't think you can see that as anything but a positive development for the people of Iran. It was a humanitarian gesture, let me stress. It was not a political gesture. It was not motivated by political concerns. It was something that, as President Bush said, represents the humanitarian spirit of the United States.
So those are all sort of positive and encouraging signs, and obviously, it's worth noting. On the other hand, that's not to diminish the serious concerns that we have about Iran's policies and Iran's behavior, starting with terrorism. You know, it's important to note that Iran is among the world's major, foremost sponsors of -- state sponsors of terror, and this is a -- this is something that remains a fundamental priority for us to contain and to roll back.
And, as I said earlier, Iran's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear, but also biological and chemical, is something we will be continuing to follow. So frankly, you know, if I had to wrap it all up, I'd say, "Look, there are still serious concerns out there. Don't mistake that. At the same time, it's worth noting that there have been some positive developments over the past year."
QUESTION: Are there any possibilities that --
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that, then?
MR. ERELI: I think he had a follow-up.
QUESTION: All right. Can you say anything about the prospects for dialogue?
MR. ERELI: What I can say on the issue of dialogue is that we have always left open the option of engaging Iran in -- or engaging in dialogue with Iran at an appropriate time; that hasn't changed. We continue to be willing to engage with Iran on specific issues of mutual concern in an appropriate manner, if and when, the President determines it's in our interest to do so. So again, that -- I think that statement was made quite clearly by Deputy Secretary Armitage in testimony before Congress in October, so there hasn't been any change there.
QUESTION: Can I ask you something?
MR. ERELI: Follow-up.
QUESTION: There is a statement from President Khatami. It just came on the wire now saying that he rejected any negotiation with, with the American government unless there is fundamental change in what he called, "its hostile policy towards Iran." How do you react to that?
MR. ERELI: We're not offering negotiations.
QUESTION: So how was it interpreted as a negotiation? Because the article in The Washington Post was saying that, that there were -- the United States was willing to, to resume talks or negotiation. Is that a misquote?
MR. ERELI: Well, I'm not going to comment on what others have written or others have said. I will state what the United States' position is. And the United States' position is, and has been, and continues to be that we are open to dialogue with Iran at an appropriate time and on specific issues of mutual concern when it serves our interests, and that that is a decision that the President will make.
QUESTION: How will it be defined when the time is appropriate? Will that be when Iran has made some moves on, for instance, on al-Qaida suspects, support -- alleged support for Hezbollah and Hamas? So is it up to Iran to make concessions so that the United States can talk to them or are you prepared to be proactive and address some of their concerns to kind of bring this (inaudible)?
MR. ERELI: I don't think it's useful to get into a discussion of possible scenarios.
QUESTION: There have been some developments concerning Israel, as well as the Palestinian Authority. This morning --
QUESTION: Still on Iran.
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. Iran.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, go ahead. Iran, stay on Iran.
QUESTION: Can you give us a better sense today of the aid that the United States sent over to Iran, and do you know if it actually has been used yet, whether it's made any difference on the ground?
MR. ERELI: Well, I can tell you that the Disaster Assistance Relief Team that was led by USAID and arrived in Iran yesterday has been very warmly and positively received by the people of Iran. So I think that is a clear indicator of the impact and the importance of their participation there.
As we said yesterday, that team numbers 84 members of which there are seven Disaster Assistance Response Team members led by USAID, 11 members of the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team, and 66 members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which includes 60 medical professionals and a six-member management support team. The team deployed to Bam today, so they are now on the ground in Bam providing assistance.
I would also note that, in addition to these 84 member team that USAID is leading has put together, the U.S. Agency for International Development is also preparing two airlifts of prepositioned relief commodities from Dubai into Bam. These relief commodities include 300 rolls of plastic sheeting for temporary shelter and 12,500 blankets.
I would just note that, I think, one foot, one foot of plastic sheeting -- or 10 feet of -- one foot of plastic sheeting is enough to cover 10 people. So -- or I'm sorry -- each roll of plastic sheeting provides temporary shelter for 10 families. So if you've got 300 rolls, that covers 3,000 families. Those -- these commodities will be delivered to Iran as soon as the logistics can be arranged. That's primarily airspace and ramp space issues.
I would also note that if people are interested in helping assist the disaster relief efforts in Iran, the most important thing that they can do is to make cash contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations, and that you can get information on those organizations and how your -- how your money will be spent and make your donations by contacting the following website, which is www.relief, r-e-l-i-e-f, web, w-e-b, one word, .int, www.reliefweb.int. And this is something that appears in USAID's most recent fact sheet from yesterday detailing what's been done on -- in Iran, and how interested -- or interested parties can contribute.
QUESTION: Still Iran?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Did the U.S. Government made it conditional that the aid will be delivered by U.S. military plane and not to be channeled through the UN agencies?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Not at all?
MR. ERELI: No. Our concern was to get it there as quickly and efficiently as possible, and this was the arrangement that suited everybody best.
QUESTION: Elise Cairn (ph) with Reuters.
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you saying that Secretary Powell's comments represent no softening in the U.S. stance against Iran?
MR. ERELI: I think President Powell -- excuse me --
Strike that from the record. Secretary Powell's comments speak for themselves. He says there are positive developments. Those positive developments are there for everybody to see. There remain serious concerns. We are open to a dialogue at an appropriate time.
QUESTION: But are you more, are you more hopeful now than in the past that there will be some sort of a dialogue, I mean, in the future?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't characterize it as optimistic or pessimistic or hopeful or not hopeful. What's important for us, as I mentioned in the case of the IAEA and the commitments to declare its -- and monitor its nuclear program, what's important are actions. What's important is seeing follow-through. What's important are meeting international commitments, and that is what we're looking -- that's what we're looking for in the area of WMD, in the area of stopping support for terrorists, in the area of cooperating in the fight against terrorism, particularly concerning al-Qaida leaders that Iran has information about. So these are all aspects of our policy that we want to see actions on.
QUESTION: But if there's no change, then what, what are the encouraging moves toward Iran?
MR. ERELI: I was -- I spent a long time on that before you got in.
MR. ERELI: The positive signs that we're seeing.
QUESTION: Oh, encouraging isn't -- encouraging is a direct quote, though, right?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, right.
MR. ERELI: Right, and I detailed what those were earlier.
QUESTION: Right. Okay.
MR. ERELI: Yes, Nikolai.
QUESTION: So what you're saying is that the recent developments, as tragic as they may have been over the past few days, have done nothing to change American attitude or American policy towards Iran, in the political sense, not the humanitarian.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Right. I mean, we've always said that humanitarian concerns are considered on their own merits, and that is on the need. The need for help in Iran is clear and compelling, and the American people responded to that need. And that is independent of political considerations. We're not going to let political considerations get in the way of helping the Iranian people when they need it.
QUESTION: And (inaudible)?
MR. ERELI: And I would also point, you know, another example would be North Korea. I mean we just approved 60,000 tons of food aid to North Korea to help starving people in North Korea. That decision was based upon need and obviously the ability of the -- for that aid to reach the people for whom it's intended. But you can have political differences with countries, but at the same time, help them, or help their people when they need it in situations of humanitarian crisis.
QUESTION: And these political realities can't get in the way of humanitarian systems, then should we also conclude that humanitarian gestures won't get in the way of political considerations?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I would say they're distinct. They're distinct.
QUESTION: Do you see any possibility for progress in relations with Iran before Iran is tested with respect to inspections of their nuclear facilities?
MR. ERELI: I'd put it this way: Iran's follow-through on its commitments to the IAEA and to the international community are critical.
QUESTION: Change of subject.
The Palestinian Authority has, and the Israelis together, are possibly going to come to negotiations in the new year. Yet, Israel this morning reentered Nablus to look for militant extremists, and also they've also warned settlers they've got to move out of these outposts. And yet, at the same time, Syria has just invited a Likud Party member to come talk for possible negotiations. Is there anything planned for January or early February, with respect to these ongoing talks?
MR. ERELI: Both parties have made clear that they remain committed to the roadmap. The roadmap remains the best way to move forward to realize the President's vision of two states. What we're seeing, I think, is efforts by both sides to meet those commitments, the dismantling of outposts, which Israel is doing. The exploration or discussion of having discussions between Israelis and Palestinians is something that is important in this context and something that we would welcome. And we will continue to work with both parties, Israelis and Palestinians, to assist them to meet the commitments that they have made under the roadmap.
I wouldn't want to predict what may or may not happen in January other than to say that we will be continuing all our efforts to see that these commitments are met, are upheld.
QUESTION: Change of subject, Libya. The U.S. plans to send its own team of inspectors into Libya, as I understand it. Do you have any details on when that team might be assembled, who it might be made up of, and any reaction to ElBaradei's apparently unenthusiastic response to that?
MR. ERELI: On Libya, let me say a couple of things. First, I would note that the Secretary spoke with Director General ElBaradei today and made the point that we look forward to a thorough IAEA investigation of Libya's nuclear facilities and we also look forward to hearing what the IAEA found out when it went to -- on its visit to Libya.
I would caution anybody against rushing to any conclusions. This is going to take a long time. It's not, as the result of one visit, that we are going to have a complete picture or be able to come to any final conclusions about Libya's programs. It's really far too early at this point to reach any firm conclusions about the extent of these -- of the program. I think it will take at least a couple more months for the IAEA to develop a full picture of Libya's nuclear program. That was certainly the case with South Africa, and I wouldn't expect it to be any different in the case of Libya.
The point about teams going, other teams going to Libya, I would say simply that we, the United States and the State Department, are working with all the relevant agencies of the U.S. Government, as well as the British Government and international organizations, the IAEA and the OPCW, to determine how best we can assist Libya in getting rid of those weapons programs which it has said it wants to get rid of. Those are consultations that are ongoing.
As far as teams moving when, where, what their composition is, I don't really have anything specific to report to you at this time.
QUESTION: But would that mean -- that sounds like it wouldn't be a team that would go in and duplicate or extend the IAEA work. It would be -- the U.S. has apparently already decided that it would be for a different purpose, to go in and dispose of the weapons. Is that what you're saying?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I wouldn't -- you know there's a lot of stuff in Libya. It's been there for a long time. It's going to take awhile to determine what exactly is there, how to deal with it effectively. There are going to be a number of entities involved. Coordinating all that is going to be complex. And frankly, we're not ready, I'm not ready yet, to get into the level of detail that you're asking simply because we haven't gotten that far.
We are, as I said -- it's important to remember that, you know, this has become a public issue only in the last two weeks, so it's going to take awhile to sort of get the process down, to establish the mechanisms and the processes to move forward on this.
QUESTION: Can you characterize Secretary Powell's phone call with Mr. ElBaradei at all? Can you say -- can you tell us anything about how cooperative Qadhafi is from ElBaradei's recent visit?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I really don't have much to say about -- I don't have anything to share on the conversation as it related to Qadhafi. I would note that the Secretary spoke with Mr. ElBaradei, or Dr. ElBaradei, before he left on this trip. So this is a regular, an ongoing dialogue that we have been having on this issue, and as I said, we will continue our consultations both at the working level and at the senior level.
QUESTION: There is no sense of disappointment here that the IAEA team visited only four sites when, in fact, there are a lot more? And are you saying that it's just a matter of time before they get to all the sensitive sites?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I really can't speak to what the IAEA is going to be doing in the future. What I would tell you is that this was an initial visit. There's a lot to do in Libya. How the labor is divided and what the responsibilities are is going to be something that we continue to work on.
QUESTION: I have a question related in the last half week. Secretary Tom Ridge of Homeland Security has instituted an elevation of the terrorist warnings and he has now both demanded that foreign air carriers include sky marshals, and also, perhaps, as well for cargo planes. Are you hearing from smaller countries that say this is a hardship? Are you getting any type of indications from -- in talking with various governments, and what are you hearing from them?
MR. ERELI: I would refer you to the emergency aviation amendments that were issued yesterday for details on what we're asking other countries. I'm not sure that -- I don't believe it's insisting that air marshals or that law enforcement or appropriate security personnel be put on all flights, but that in cases where we see there is a threat, we may require that there be appropriate security personnel in order for that flight to come to the United States or overfly the United States.
So anyway, I would refer you to the emergency amendments for the specifics on that. As far as reaction from other countries, I have not heard at this point of any negative or -- negative reaction or protests to what we are calling for.
QUESTION: Do you have any more details on the explosion yesterday in Riyadh?
MR. ERELI: I don't. I don't.
QUESTION: There was, I guess, a bit of a conflict between, I guess a U.S. characterization of it maybe being an al-Qaida bombing, and then the Saudi characterization of it being --
MR. ERELI: Right. I don't think we ever said it was an al-Qaida bombing.
MR. ERELI: I think there was initial reports that it was more than it was, so they're still -- as of yesterday, they were still looking into it. I don't have the details of the extent of the explosion or who was behind the explosion. I would think that's something the Saudis would be able to give you.
QUESTION: Is there -- do you have any response to The New York Times piece this morning? The New York Times had a piece, a front-page on the -- well they, they've kind of used a bit of that, yesterday's incident, to highlight a problem of assassination attempts in the kingdom. I was wondering if you had any kind of response to that.
MR. ERELI: Not really. I think, you know, we've made that we think the Saudis, especially since May 12th, have stepped up considerably their capabilities in fighting terrorism. They recognize, as we all do, that they are a target and have reacted -- reacted in an energetic way to help the fight against terrorism both in Saudi Arabia and worldwide.
Yes, sir. In the back.
QUESTION: Adam, I was just wondering where did the Secretary -- where was the Secretary when he spoke to ElBaradei? There was -- has been speculation that he might return to the building this week.
MR. ERELI: That speculation is not speculation; that speculation is fact. The Secretary chaired the 8:30 senior staff meeting today. He was in his chair as I came down to -- shortly before I came down to brief, and he may be walking around the building today. So perhaps there will be a Secretary sighting.
QUESTION: The call came -- he was in the office when he made that call then?
MR. ERELI: Let me -- I'm not exactly sure of his precise location, but I would say that he has made other calls since he's been in the office.
QUESTION: Is he back at full schedule?
MR. ERELI: Not really. Not much -- not many people in the building are given that it's a holiday. But, no, he will be back at full schedule next week.
QUESTION: How's he feeling?
MR. ERELI: Glad to be back.
QUESTION: What other calls has he made?
MR. ERELI: He has spoken to Sudanese President Bashir and Spanish Foreign Minister Palacio.
QUESTION: Anything to report on Sudan?
MR. ERELI: That we continue to do what we can to help the parties reach an agreement, and the sooner the better.
QUESTION: Tick, tick, tick, tick.
MR. ERELI: Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: One more question.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the two Americans in the Philippines?
MR. ERELI: The two Americans in the Philippines will be returning to the United States.
QUESTION: And what will happen after they do?
MR. ERELI: I'll give you a full readout on that issue. The Philippine authorities have issued deportation orders for the U.S. citizens Michael Ray Stubbs and Jamil Daoud Mujahid. I'd refer you to the Philippine authorities for details on the procedures regarding their return to the United States. And as far as what their situation here, I would refer you to U.S. law enforcement authorities.
QUESTION: On that subject, then, can you really say anything more about the identities of the American who was killed and the American injured in the Iranian quake?
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware that we have any change to the Privacy Act waiver on that.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR. ERELI: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 p.m.)
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