State Department Noon Briefing, January 12, 2004
|Monday January 12,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
MONDAY, JANUARY 12, 2004
1:05 p.m. EST
MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to our briefing today. I don't have any announcements so let's proceed to your questions.
QUESTION: Well, I'm sure these questions are being asked all over town today, but former Treasury Secretary O'Neill's remarks that the war against Iraq didn't need 9/11. It had long been anticipated -- in fact, more than anticipated. The President was going to go to war with Iraq from the get-go and he didn't need a 9/11 to come to that decision.
The State Department's a player. What is the impression at the State Department -- that the President didn't go into the White House determined to go to war with Iraq and things happened that turned his, turned him in that direction, or what? If you can deal with that.
MR. ERELI: As we so frequently say, we don't do book reviews.
QUESTION: No, this isn't a book review.
MR. ERELI: I would --
QUESTION: That was funny the first few times --
MR. ERELI: I would simply say this -- that I think the Administration's record is clear on this issue. Saddam Hussein was given every opportunity to fulfill his international obligations and the requirements of UN Security Council resolutions. Those resolutions made it explicit what he needed to do. He refused to do it. President Bush, Secretary Powell and our coalition partners took every step possible before resorting to force to achieve a peaceful resolution to this issue. It was Saddam Hussein who chose not to abide by his international obligations. And I think it's clear that this was not written in stone or preordained. It was a matter of choice and the choice was Saddam Hussein's and he has to live with the consequences.
QUESTION: Well, okay. I hear you and that's a pretty straightforward answer. But those of us who were around for the first Gulf War, you know, there's a similarity. Mr. Baker went out there and made all sorts of demands that he knew -- had to know Iraq couldn't yield to, that there was a case against Iraq and Iraq couldn't turn things around. Are you saying that this Administration gave Saddam Hussein an honest opportunity to turn things around and he just didn't do it, or --
MR. ERELI: Yes. Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
QUESTION: Adam, was the decision to go after him made in August of '02 or in January of '01?
MR. ERELI: I think if you follow our public statements, the President went to the UN in September -- September 11th, 2001, laid out the case --
MR. ERELI: 2002, yeah, excuse me. September 11th, 2002, laid out the case for the international community to, and the UN in particular, to enforce the resolutions that it had passed with regard to Saddam Hussein and his weapons programs.
He challenged the international community to bring Saddam Hussein into compliance and to act decisively, to do so peacefully. And at that point, no decision had been made. The choice was Saddam Hussein's.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a collateral question, which is a little more difficult, I think, for you to answer? Secretary Powell's the person to ask. But Mr. O'Neill's portrayal of these high level meetings, and you know what there -- what his -- how he described them, so I won't go over that; but has -- did Secretary of State Powell find that, indeed, and there -- we do know, the record shows that he had somewhat diverse views than some other people had on some serious issues, which is not unusual -- did he find that there was a serious exchange, with the President being at the table that he had a chance to present these views and others presented their views, and the President listened to the competing views and made, made his mind up there or later? Or did he simp -- did he kind of know what the President was going to do anyhow, before the conversations ever began?
MR. ERELI: Frankly, Barry, I'd have no way of answering that. What I can say, simply, is this: that the United States as a government, and I believe, as a nation, went into this with the full backing of the decision of the President of the United States based on a belief that he had given every consideration to what, what we were doing, and it was in the best interests of the United States and the world and we continue to believe that.
QUESTION: Adam, do you have any comment on the protests in Iran against the Iranian Guardian Council's decision to bar certain liberal candidates from standing in elections?
MR. ERELI: We, as a matter of course, support free and fair elections in Iran, and we are therefore opposed to interference in the electoral process. We call upon the Iranian Government to disavow attempts by the Guardian Council to shape the outcome of the February 20 parliamentary elections. And we would note that a government's handling of the electoral process is one of the fundamental measurements of its credibility.
In that context, what I would note is that decisions about who should govern a country are best made by the citizens of that nation through an open and transparent process. The options of the people in that regard shouldn't be limited by other institutions, so as to prejudge the election or the outcome of an election.
I think we have also made clear that -- on numerous occasions, that it's important that the voice of the people be heard in Iran.
QUESTION: Yeah. I'm just curious. Is it you are, therefore, opposed to interference in the, in the election process? As I understand it, the Guardian Council under the Iranian rules has this --
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- this right to do so.
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: So what's your argument against the Iranians? They're going to respond that they're not interfering, that you're interfering --
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: -- by telling them what to do.
MR. ERELI: And I would also say that the --
MR. ERELI: -- that their government -- there are measures within the government and within the governmental processes for the Government of Iran to invalidate those decisions. So this is something, a procedure, that is provided for in the Iranian constitution. And we think it's important that the process be transparent, be fair and be open to all.
QUESTION: Is the process for invalidating the Guardian Council decisions, is that just the fiat of the supreme leader, or is it some other process that you're aware of?
MR. ERELI: You'd have to check. My understanding is it's the Department of Justice, the Ministry of Justice that does it.
QUESTION: Well, what is your take, then, on the Interior Ministry saying that it doesn't -- that this is a bad move -- the Iranian Interior Ministry?
MR. ERELI: I don't have any comment on the Iranian Interior Ministry. I've told you what we think, so --
QUESTION: You don't have any comment on the Iranian Interior Ministry, yet you have a comment, a pretty harsh comment, about the -- the Guardian Council?
MR. ERELI: I don't know what the Interior Ministry said. I haven't seen a report. I don't -- I'm not going to comment on something I haven't seen.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) there's the critical meeting at the United Nations. Has there been a decision yet as to who the representative from the Bush Administration will be at that meeting?
MR. ERELI: There has not been a decision who specifically will attend the meeting. What I can tell you is we'll be appropriately represented. A decision on representation should be made in the next couple of days.
I would also say that we look forward to the January 19th meeting as a useful opportunity for both the UN and the Governing Council to sit down and discuss the political transition in Iraq, particularly what the Iraqis foresee as the UN role in that transition and over the course of the next six months.
QUESTION: Before he went to Moscow, did the Secretary over the weekend have an opportunity to - Moscow? -- Mexico. Did the Secretary talk again to Kofi Annan about this?
MR. ERELI: The Secretary spoke with Secretary General Annan twice over the weekend. This, obviously, was a subject of discussion, yes.
QUESTION: And what? Did he tell him who the U.S. is sending?
MR. ERELI: No.
MR. ERELI: Anything with Iraq, the UN?
QUESTION: Any other conversations by the Secretary over the weekend, while you're on that subject?
MR. ERELI: The only thing I have to share with you is the Secretary General, and he spoke to Ivanov a little while ago today.
QUESTION: From here or from (inaudible)?
MR. ERELI: From the -- on his trip.
QUESTION: Was there a specific topic that they were to discuss, or just --
MR. ERELI: I don't have the details.
QUESTION: While you're there, can I just dispense with something here? I, frankly, didn't see the report, but apparently there have been reports of Russian help, military help, for Iraq. Is that something that crossed your radar?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I'd say that's not a new story.
QUESTION: No, I didn't think so. Not jamming now, which is not a new story, but actual tangible equipment.
MR. ERELI: Right. What I have on that is --
MR. ERELI: What I have on that is that basically where we are today is where we were when we last spoke about this publicly in March of last year, specifically that we had information that sensitive Russian-made military equipment had been sold to Iraq before the war and posed a threat to U.S. forces there. We told the Russians we took the matter very seriously and we raised the issue with the government numerous times at senior levels. We continue to look into this case. We gave Russia a lot of data to establish the veracity of our contentions and we will continue our dialogue with Russia on this, this issue, and would note that cooperation in other areas has continued.
QUESTION: That's a (inaudible) description of the situation, but I have one question, at least.
Was this detected, and did you speak to the Russians about it, before the war, or once the war had begun, do you happen to know?
MR. ERELI: I'll have to check on that.
QUESTION: Because it was prewar, right?
MR. ERELI: When we first raised it with the -- when we first raised it.
QUESTION: Did the Russians ever give you a credible answer as to how this equipment that you believe got there, got there?
MR. ERELI: I think this is a subject of ongoing discussion. There are a variety of explanations. Our concern, I think, is to ensure that measures are in place so that this kind of proliferation doesn't happen again.
QUESTION: So then you intend to let it drop -- the United States?
MR. ERELI: No, I didn't say that.
QUESTION: It sounds like this is not a dead issue, like the Russians have said that it is. You say we continue to look into this case. Does that mean that you're continually providing the Russians with information, or how are you continuing to look into this (inaudible)?
MR. ERELI: We continue to have discussions with the Russians to determine whether it violated any U.S. laws -- the proliferation.
QUESTION: U.S. laws or UN sanctions?
MR. ERELI: U.S. laws and UN sanctions.
QUESTION: The last time I remember us talking about this, which was, you know, whatever -- nine months ago -- it seemed like the Russians were not providing you with very much in terms of their own investigation and, sort of, a candid discussion of what may have happened.
Are you satisfied with the efforts that they've taken over these nine months to come up with the answer as to how this stuff got there?
MR. ERELI: I would say that we are receiving cooperation and we continue to pursue the case. I would put it that way.
QUESTION: Would you call it good cooperation?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't -- I don't have any reason to say yes or no on that. I mean, I think I would just characterize it as cooperation.
QUESTION: President Chavez and Venezuelan Government officials have said many times that it is only up to Venezuela's national electoral council to decide if the requirements for the recall referendum were fulfilled by the opposition in order for the recall to take place.
My question is, why the U.S. Government insist that it is the President of Venezuela who has to allow the referendum like Mrs. Rice did on Wednesday, when she urged President Chavez to demonstrate that he believe in democratic process by allowing the referendum?
And my second question is, --
MR. ERELI: Let me answer the first question first.
MR. ERELI: Before I forget the first question.
Our position is that Venezuela's constitutional process has to be followed, and that this needs to be transparent, governed by the rule of law, and that the United States, as well as the Friends of Venezuela, support the recall process as it is provided for in Venezuela's constitution. That's our position.
QUESTION: Okay my second question is, what is your opinion about the comment of the Vice President of Venezuela who said that relations between Venezuela and the U.S. are good and smooth? And he also highlighted good relations in the fight against drug trafficking, against terrorism and about oil markets?
MR. ERELI: I don't have any sort of response to the Venezuelan Vice President. If he's satisfied with relations with the United States, that's great.
QUESTION: Adam, do you have any information on a report of terror threats against the U.S. and, or U.S. interests or Americans in West Africa? Do you have a report --
MR. ERELI: I don't. You know, I've seen press reports about information concerning Mauritania. I've -- I tried to check into it before coming out here. I was not able to get anything that we can share with you, or to get anything, period. So let me say that that's something we're looking into. If there is cause for concern, we would certainly do the appropriate, but I'm not aware of anything, anything to go public with.
QUESTION: Adam, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affair --
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: -- Deputy Assistant was quoted, I don't know if she was quoted accurately or not, but I mean, she must have had some information to say what she said.
MR. ERELI: Right. She is in the region now, so like I said, I haven't been able to -- we haven't been able to sort of track it down, but we'll be working on it.
QUESTION: Can I go to North Korea?
MR. ERELI: North Korea, sure.
QUESTION: My earlier attempt was just trampled on, unceremoniously.
MR. ERELI: Sorry about that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: The team is -- teams are back. Have you talked to them? Do you expect to talk to them? And do you have any evaluation of what the North Koreans are up to?
MR. ERELI: Yes and no. We did talk to -- we did talk -- we were -- we received an initial readout in our Embassy in Beijing on Saturday. The delegations did visit the Yongbyon facility. I would say we didn't get any details. And I think we'd expect to get a fuller readout some time after they return to Washington.
QUESTION: When is that?
MR. ERELI: This week.
QUESTION: Do you know -- you said you didn't get any details. I'm wondering if you got -- if they told you that they were shown what the North Koreans claim is recently reprocessed plutonium?
MR. ERELI: That kind of technical discussions, to my information, didn't take place in any, in any great detail, so that I know that there has been a lot written in the press about what they saw, what they were shown, and all that sort of stuff. My information is that that kind of reporting is, at this point, premature and speculative.
QUESTION: They didn't even generally say we saw something that they told us was recently reprocessed?
MR. ERELI: I don't think we got that level of detail.
QUESTION: Adam, reports over the weekend suggest that the efforts to have a document agreed to before a six-party conference are not going very well. Do you have anything on that?
MR. ERELI: I would simply note that Chinese officials are coming here tomorrow for talks with Assistant Secretary Kelly, and that this will provide us an opportunity to continue discussions with our six-party colleagues, particularly China, on efforts to resume a second round of six-party talks.
I don't know that I'd be as pessimistic, George, as you suggest. I think what we've noted before is that we think that all parties are pretty fully engaged in this process, that the discussions that we're having with -- or that are being had between all the parties are serious and positive, and that we're hopeful that talks can be resumed.
QUESTION: The Secretary on Saturday was quoted as telling NHK that he was reasonably confident that there would be a new round in the not-too-distant future and there have been other sort of similar comments. Just to dot the I and cross the T on this, there is still no date set for this, correct?
MR. ERELI: Still no date.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, Joel. Still North Korea?
QUESTION: No, no.
MR. ERELI: North Korea?
MR. ERELI: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the North Koreans latest statement in which they said they would freeze the graphite reactor, but they did not mention other facilities such as a laboratory, where spent fuels might have been reprocessed?
MR. ERELI: No, I really don't have any comment on that statement.
QUESTION: Adam, Ambassador Satterfield is conducting, at this hour, a Middle East-type conference in the building, but I have some questions concerning the Middle East.
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians seem further apart now. Over the weekend there was a 80,000-person demonstration against the settlement pullouts in the West Bank, and also, the Palestinians in a worst-case-scenario are looking, again, for a one-state option. And further, the Israeli Government has invited Assad to Israel for peace talks. What are you doing to possibly facilitate that?
MR. ERELI: Well, let's start with -- let's start at the end and go to the beginning.
On Syria and Israel, Syrian-Israeli talks, I think we've made it consistently clear that the United States supports a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including peace between Israel and Syria. We have long made clear the importance of direct dialogue between Israel and its neighbors, and that this is an essential element in achieving comprehensive peace in the region.
I would refer you to the governments of Israel and Syria for specific details on what's being reported about the Israeli President's invitation to Syrian President Assad, as well as whatever subsequent actions there may be to that invitation.
QUESTION: Can we continue on that for one second?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you, given your longstanding support for direct contacts between the parties, do you applaud the fact that an Israel official made such an overture to the Syrians, and do you, perhaps, regret the fact that the Syrians seem to have rejected it very, very quickly?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I'm not sure, frankly, what -- I haven't seen what the Syrian reaction to it was. What I think I would say on that is, is what we say, you know, on most of these issues, which is that direct dialogue is good, direct dialogue is important, that's the quickest way to solving these issues and engaging in a process that leads to a negotiated settlement. So we, we welcome any step that leads to face-to-face meetings to resolve the issues that are producing instability.
QUESTION: According to Reuters-Dow, a high level U.S. official said that the United States now is deeply worried about Taiwan's coming referendum is going to change the status quo of the Strait and might have chance to drag the United States into the costly conflict with China. Do you share this worry, and will Bush Administration take any further serious step to prevent this scenario from happening?
MR. ERELI: I don't really have anything new to add to what we've said, I think, just about every day now on this subject, which is, you know, that we're opposed to unilateral actions like a referenda, that the way to deal with cross-strait, with the cross-straits issue is through dialogue. You know, you talk about what the referenda is going to be. There are a lot of reports about what the referenda will be or won't be.
We've made our position clear. President Bush made our position clear in the meeting, in his meeting with Premier Wen of China, so I mean, that's -- that's where we are. Taiwan, the Taiwanese are having a debate in Taiwan. That's healthy, that's for the Taiwanese to do. But we are opposed to referenda which would be a unilateral action.
QUESTION: You don't think that the referenda is going to change the status quo and has the bad --
MR. ERELI: I don't know what the referenda is going to do. I don't know what the referenda is going to do. I'll tell you what the U.S. position is, which is that, you know, referenda that deal with -- that deals with the status of Taiwan is a unilateral -- is unilateral and something we oppose; it should be done through dialogue.
QUESTION: Yeah, just wanted to know if you had anything on Ambassador Burns, Assistant Secretary Burns.
MR. ERELI: Assistant Secretary Burns arrived in Cairo today. He is there, as the Secretary said yesterday -- no, no, sorry. As the Secretary said last week on January 8th, he is there to see if we can't get some forward movement in getting the Palestinians to crack down on terror, to be more decisive and active in that area, as well as to discuss with Egypt, our close partner, a number of bilateral issues. And then he is going on to Iraq.
QUESTION: Will he be talking about the President's call for democratization in the Middle East? And presumably that appeal would apply to Egypt as well.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I'm sure that subject will come up, as it regularly does, with Egypt. And, you know, I would note that we have a number of programs in Egypt dealing with transparency, the rule of law, civil society, and that we are, you know, looking at other assistance programs in those areas in the coming year. So those should be a subject of discussion.
QUESTION: A follow-up. Yeah, there's been some discussion out of the State Department talking about eagerness on the State Department's part to discuss Iran with Egypt. I think Burns -- and you can clarify this -- is going to Kuwait also later this week. And I was wondering, Kuwait has signed a bit of a trade negotiation piece of legis -- or piece of work, and -- with Iran and I was wondering if there is a kind of concerted, constructive effort at the State Department with countries in the region to work on the Iran issue, not just with Egypt but with Saudi Arabia, with Kuwait, other countries.
MR. ERELI: I would say this. The subject of Iran is -- our position on Iran is something that forms a fairly regular part of our dialogue with states in the region. I think, you know, we make it clear to them what our concerns are, how we view the impact of Iran in the region, and what we can do collectively to help protect security and stability in the region.
There are no secrets there. It is the questions of terrorism, weapons prolif -- weapons development, proliferation, common concerns that we all have, I think. And, you know, we sort of share our views with them.
I am not aware that Assistant Secretary Burns would be going to Kuwait. I hadn't heard that. Obviously, schedules change, but my understanding was that this was a Egypt-Iraq visit.
QUESTION: Yeah. What's the story, if there is one, about the weekend, the story that appeared over the weekend about you guys wanting to set up some kind of a diplomatic mission in Libya soon?
MR. ERELI: Right. I'd say that story is a bit premature. You know, we're not at the point yet where we are discussing reestablishing diplomatic relations with Libya. I think that the first step is to verify that WMD elimination has been completed, and as that is done we would be prepared to enter a political dialogue about such things as sanctions, investment and more normal relations.
So let's take this one step at a time.
QUESTION: Right. Well, the story actually made clear that this wasn't going to be an embassy, but that rather this would be a kind of support office for people who may be eventually sent to Libya to conduct the verification of their pledge. Is there anything along those lines being looked at?
MR. ERELI: I would say our focus for now is, you know, figuring out how best we can assist Libya to meet the commitments that it has undertaken. We met in London last week. We're looking at putting together some teams to go to Libya. That's where our focus is right now.
And as far as next steps go, it kind of depends on how things go for now.
QUESTION: Well, if you're looking at teams to go to Libya, would that constitute some kind of a -- would they have an office or some kind of a --
MR. ERELI: At this point we're just looking at in-and-out.
QUESTION: What would be the purpose of State Department officials going to Libya? Because I thought most of the verification work was being done by experts from the CIA and from the Defense Department. If you guys don't wish to have, or don't even with to discuss diplomatic representation right now, why have State Department officials go to Libya?
MR. ERELI: This would -- I mean, this would not be a formal -- even if there are State Department people and there -- I would remind you there is a Bureau of Verification and Compliance, a Bureau of Nonproliferation, a Bureau of Arms Control in the State Department -- so that, you know, even if there are State Department people that go there, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a diplomatic representation.
QUESTION: You said that you're not looking at diplomatic relations with Libya until the nuclear -- or till the WMD is eliminated. Are you saying that they would have to completely dismantle all WMD before you'd think about lifting sanctions, or do they have to, like, make some good faith effort that they're in the process of making good on their pledge before you would consider any kind of political discussions?
MR. ERELI: I'd say that we are looking to verify that WMD elimination has been completed, and then we would be prepared to enter a political dialogue.
QUESTION: So if you're not -- so just to put a fine point on it, you're not going to enter into a political dialogue until the whole programs are completely and verifiably dismantled?
MR. ERELI: That's what I said.
MR. ERELI: Joel.
QUESTION: Adam, I have a question concerning the Saudi Government itself has just put a brand new public affairs channel to counter some of what they perceive as a little biased reporting by Al-Jazeera. Is that worthwhile, or have you been talking with them concerning this?
MR. ERELI: About Saudi Arabia's television station?
QUESTION: To counter Al-Jazeera.
MR. ERELI: No, if Saudi Arabia wants to put up a television station, that's -- that's Saudi Arabia's business.
QUESTION: Adam, if I could ask you about one other weekend story that popped up. This was the Post story about the State Department's determination that Uzbekistan had failed to meet its standards on human rights and the President's subsequent decision late last year to waive, to grant them a waiver, allowing them to continue to receive cooperative threat reduction program money.
And I have two questions, specific questions, on this, which if you don't have the answers, if you could take, I would be grateful. One, what exactly is the criterion that they failed to meet, with regard to human rights? What is the standard? Two, under that standard, does failure to meet that standard bar any categories of assistance other than the cooperative threat reduction program? And does it bar military-to-military contacts?
MR. ERELI: Let me tell you what Section 568 of the current draft of the Foreign Operations Bill requires us to do, which is to certify that Uzbekistan is making substantial and continued progress on the strategic framework signed in 2002, including respect for human rights, establishing a genuine multiparty system and ensuring free and fair elections, freedom of expression and the independence of the media. The bill requires us to make this certification before any 2004 funds may be made available to this Government of Uzbekistan. Our report is due to Congress by April 2004. So that's when the, that's when the report is going to be on Uzbekistan's performance.
We are now engaged with Uzbekistan in ways that they can -- steps they can take to meet these provisions including looking to the highest level of governments to condemn torture and take firm steps to end its use; credibly investigating deaths in custody linked to torture; allowing domestic and international NGOs to operate without restrictions and opposition parties to register; protecting the rights of observant Muslims and religious minorities. And we've made clear that we're looking to Uzbekistan to make tangible progress on these issues.
QUESTION: My question was about the decision that was taken at the end of last year --
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- in which the President did indeed issue a waiver, and the White House announced that, I think, on December the 30th. Is that the same standard?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I think it's -- I'm pretty sure. I'll have to check. I'm pretty sure, but I'll check.
QUESTION: Okay. And can you check also on whether it bars -- it sounded like from the language you've just read, which I guess is applicable, from the current draft legislation for the current year, but that it would bar any money going to Uzbekistan. Can you also check whether it would bar any military-to-military contacts?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, we'll check on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Have you reached agreement with Turkey on U.S. troops kind of rotating in and out of Iraq in transit through Turkish bases?
MR. ERELI: Not that I'm -- not that I would want to comment on.
QUESTION: A quick question concerning Brazil. With this fingerprinting, they've changed their mind. And is that resolved only because of the meeting in Monterey, Mexico, that you wanted to get that out of the way? Who gave up?
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware on the latest in that. You say it's resolved. I hadn't seen that, but let me check into it for you.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the latest arrest in Zimbabwe of some independent newspaper types? And any comment on the specifics of the reason why they got into trouble with Mr. Mugabe?
MR. ERELI: No, I don't have anything on it. Let me check.
(The briefing ended at 1:45 p.m.)
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