State Department Press Briefing, February 20, 2004
|Friday February 20,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
MR. ERELI: Let me begin, if I may, by giving you a little update on the situation in Haiti, since I think that's what most of you are interested in.
Our Ambassador in Port-au-Prince, Jim Foley, along with the ambassadors there of the Bahamas representing CARICOM, the special mission of the OAU, France --
MR. ERELI: OAS, sorry -- France, Canada and Germany representing the European Union, met with President Aristide. The meeting began at 11 and ended -- has ended shortly, I think about 15 or 20 minutes ago. They presented -- they will be meeting with the opposition this afternoon at three o'clock. They will be presenting a plan based on the CARICOM initiative for political reform and a return to the rule of law in Haiti.
Tomorrow, an international mission will travel to Haiti to meet with the government and the opposition. Their aim will be to secure acceptance of the plan and to discuss its implementation. The international mission will consist of representatives of the United States, Canada, France, the Organization of American States, CARICOM, as well as the EU and the Francophonie countries.
The United States will be represented by the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega.
I'm not going to go into details of the plan at this point, but I think what we can say is that it is based, as Richard said yesterday, it is based largely on the CARICOM initiative and it proposes a mechanism for achieving a political solution and a peaceful resolution to the situation in Haiti.
QUESTION: Is there a deadline attached to this, deadline for acceptance?
MR. ERELI: You know, I'm basically going to leave that sort of issue to the international mission to deal with when they go present it and discuss it with the Haitian Government. I don't want to get into the details of what the terms are and what the procedures are for accepting and implementing the plan. That is a process that is underway now. Let's let our diplomats and the Haitians discuss the issue and not go into the sort of back and forth of it.
QUESTION: I recognize that the meeting with President Aristide just finished, but is there any way to get any sort of a readout from it later today as well as the meeting with the opposition?
MR. ERELI: We'll try to be as forthcoming as we can. But I would sort of underscore the fact that we are in an intensive and delicate diplomatic negotiation and that our primary purpose and our primary goal is to secure a peaceful resolution to the situation, to the problems currently plaguing Haiti and that's what's going to guide our efforts and how much we say over the course of the next couple days. But I'll try to, you know, we'll talk to our expert and see what we can do for you.
QUESTION: Do your (inaudible) -- do your partners agree with the U.S. that the President was duly elected and the President should stay in power?
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to speak for other countries. I will tell you what the United States' position is and that is that we are not asking for President Aristide's departure and we will not support change outside the constitutional process in Haiti.
QUESTION: I'm a little confused. Were there two delegations, one that met today and another that's meeting tomorrow?
MR. ERELI: No. The people who met today were the resident ambassadors of those countries in Haiti.
QUESTION: I see.
MR. ERELI: And the people that will be meeting tomorrow are representatives of those countries that are traveling to Haiti, with one exception -- or two exceptions, and that is the Francophonie and EU members of the international mission will be represented by their resident ambassadors in Port-au-Prince.
QUESTION: Thank you. And may I just follow about, Americans -- reports of Americans leaving the country. Are those reports true?
MR. ERELI: I don't know what reports you're referring to you but I can --
QUESTION: There was an Associated Press report, for example.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. What I can tell you is that we do not have statistics but our observers on the ground tell us that they have not seen evidence of large numbers of Americans leaving Haiti in larger than usual numbers.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On the plan, without -- I know you said you didn't want to kind of detail it, but can you just say in a general way what it means when it proposes a mechanism for political solution? Can you expand on that at all?
MR. ERELI: Without getting into -- again, without getting in the details, what I think we see in Haiti is a body politic that's broken, expectations of access to the political process, participation in the political process, commitments to that that have not been kept, expectations that have not been fulfilled, rejection and resignation. And the important thing is to address those -- address those inadequacies and put together an entity, a government, that can, I think, build a broad-based and participatory government that responds to the wishes of the people, bearing in mind what civil society is doing, what the opposition is doing and what the constitution provides for.
QUESTION: You said that -- most of the things that you've been saying kind of center around what Aristide and his government have not done. So do you think that the opposition, given the fact that, you know, some of these armed gangs are really not considered opposition, but -- is there -- what is the opposition's responsibility in all this?
MR. ERELI: Quite simply, I think the opposition's responsibility is to work together with all the political forces in the country in a spirit of -- in a spirit of unity and compromise, to come into the political process and to work for the good of the collective as opposed to the good of one group or another. I mean, that's what Haiti needs. Haiti needs people to rally around a national purpose. And we're interested in helping them build the kind of structure and process that will allow them to do that and allow them to fulfill their own aspirations. It's difficult, it's complicated, but there is a way to do it. And I think that's what meant broadly by a political solution.
QUESTION: Obviously the basis of the plan is CARICOM. If you just take that plan down, they may say, "You're wasting our time because we've already seen this." I know you can't go into details but can you tell us the area in which the new plan is actually -- has the extra elements?
MR. ERELI: Well, first of all, I would reject the notion that we're going to take that down there and they're going to go, "Oh, it's the same old thing, we're not going to do it." I would point out that the Government of Haiti committed to the CARICOM prior action plan on January 31st, so that's a plan that's been on the books that has been committed to, so it doesn't make sense that they would reject it since it's something that's already been accepted.
But I think that what the team will be bringing down is basically the CARICOM action plan with some modifications to take into account the latest developments in Haiti, both in terms of the security situation as well as the political developments, and find a way to help these parties bridge their differences, and, very importantly, to establish the kind of order that would be necessary for international assistance to come to Haiti.
QUESTION: So when you're persistently asked are you willing to let Aristide step down, the answer is always, we're not looking for that, and we wouldn't count on him being pushed out. But is, as part of this plan, any suggestion that the opposition and the government get together to discuss that possibility?
MR. ERELI: I'll put it this way. We are not putting forward a plan that calls for Aristide to step down.
QUESTION: Do you want them to discuss that type of thing?
MR. ERELI: I'll stick with what I said. Our plan does not call for Aristide to step down.
QUESTION: Could we move on?
MR. ERELI: Teri.
QUESTION: One more on Haiti. Just to get a little bit more detail about the people that met Aristide today. Since they were not presenting this new plan at this point --
MR. ERELI: They were.
QUESTION: They were presenting it this morning.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: So the delegation is just going down to --
MR. ERELI: To discuss the plan, to basically --
QUESTION: To continue these discussions. But why do you need other people if you've already got -- I mean what's the purpose of the second delegation?
MR. ERELI: The purpose of the second delegation is to bring representation, diplomatic representation at a high level.
QUESTION: A higher level.
MR. ERELI: A high level, not higher, high level, to the Government of Haiti and to the opposition, to signal, I think, first of all, the international community's common purpose and common cause in helping Haiti come out of this crisis, and more importantly, or equally importantly, to help them work through, I think, some of the very difficult issues that have brought them to this situation.
This is -- and the other point to make is, as we move forward in this process, there is going to be the need for continued international involvement. And so it makes sense to do it at this level, at this time, in this way.
QUESTION: So you would envision them staying on the ground for awhile, to (inaudible)?
MR. ERELI: That's not what I said. I said, as we continue this process, there will be -- continue to be a need for international involvement. I don't have their exact itinerary, but I don't expect them to be there for a prolonged period.
QUESTION: A couple days?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't want to specify. I don't think for very long.
QUESTION: If Aristide stays in power, what kind of cabinet will you like to see for the country, something -- somehow independent from the President or prime minister? Distinct from the President's party, or kind of coalition cabinet, or do you have any plans?
MR. ERELI: I think what's important is that a new government in Haiti be seen as independent and credible, and that -- independent, credible and inclusive. And those are the broad, I think, guidelines of the plan.
QUESTION: A new government, Adam, the plan is asking the Haitians to come up with a new government?
MR. ERELI: You know, I would refer you to the statement by the Organization of American States that was put out yesterday, that addresses this issue, and the OAS calls for the appointment of a new government through the identification of a neutral and independent Prime Minister who enjoys the public trust.
QUESTION: Which operates independently of the President -- of President Aristide?
MR. ERELI: Which operates according to the constitution. The constitution defines the relationship between the prime minister and the President, and that's what we're calling for, is respect for the constitution.
QUESTION: Yes, one last question. And it's one of the details you may not want to get into. But are the diplomats who are going down tomorrow going to be taking anything in the way of specifics on the police presence that they might be willing to send in to help the situation?
MR. ERELI: Thinking has certainly been done along those lines, but any decisions are contingent on what the Haitians can provide in the way of political stability.
QUESTION: Can we move on? Speaking of plans, you had a plan --
MR. ERELI: There are many.
QUESTION: I know. Not all of them are vigorously alive. Putting the roadmap aside for a moment -- the plan for Iraqi transition. Now that Mr. Annan has received the suggestions and shared some of them -- with the public, actually -- and probably much more with other governments including the U.S., what is the status of the U.S. plan now? Does it have to be totally reconsidered except for the target date which --
MR. ERELI: I'm not familiar -- I'm not aware of any U.S. plan, but -- there is no U.S. plan.
QUESTION: Well, the plan that the U.S. worked out with the Governing Council.
MR. ERELI: You mean the November 15th agreement.
MR. ERELI: That is an agreement between the Coalition Provisional Authority --
MR. ERELI: -- and the Iraqi Governing Council that represents a consensus with the political forces and the political entities in Iraq -- yeah, that plan.
I think what's important to underscore here is what the Secretary General said yesterday, what Ambassador Bremer said yesterday and what the Secretary said yesterday, is that there is broad consensus and agreement on two very important and fundamental things: number one, that there need to be direct elections for a fully invested government of Iraq and that we all agree that that's a goal we're going to work toward; and number two, that sovereignty's going to be transferred to the people of Iraq on July 1st.
MR. ERELI: And I think that those are, you know, those are aspects of the November 15th agreement that are -- have stood the test of time, let's say.
MR. ERELI: And there are other very, I think, important points of the November 15th agreement which, you know, you need to keep in mind. The administrative law is going to -- is now with the Governing -- draft is now with the Governing Council. They are reviewing it. They are looking to make -- looking to release that by the end of February. And that will provide a bill of rights for the people of Iraq, or the beginnings of a bill of rights, and specify other sort of important federalism and governance issues.
There will be a transitional authority that takes over from the CPA on July 1st. The precise nature of that transitional authority and how it comes into being is a subject of discussion. The November 15th agreement had a certain plan. That plan has come under questioning and as a result of that questioning, the UN has gone there, looked at the situation, will probably come up with some recommendations. The Iraqis have some ideas of their own. Obviously, you know, we've got our views. And what we are going to see over the next weeks or so is a discussion of those views and a coming up with something that represents a consensus, that represents something that everybody can live with and that can get the job done.
QUESTION: Adam, when you hand over to the Iraqi governing -- this new transitional authority, what kind of role do you envision for the UN in terms of, you know, you're not going to be the occupying power anymore; the Iraqis will have sovereignty. Where does the UN fit into all this?
MR. ERELI: I think we've always made it clear that the UN has a vital and essential role to play in the future of Iraq, politically, economically, socially, in humanitarian terms. We've felt that way from the very beginning and there -- we felt that way from the very beginning.
If you look at the November 15th agreement, if you look at what the UN is saying will happen, or they're looking at what's going to happen after the transfer of sovereignty, there's still a lot of work to be done in terms of organizing the direct elections, determining, you know, what entity those direct elections produces and how that process plays itself out. That will be, you know, something that the UN, I think, is very, very directly involved in.
But again, I would want to make one important point. The Secretary General said yesterday that he has heard the report from Mr. Brahimi. He is going to -- he and Mr. Brahimi are going to be presenting, I think, their formal recommendations -- or their formal findings, if you will, because I don't even know if it's going to be recommendations -- next week.
So I don't want to get too far ahead of that and sort of second-guess what they might come up with. But I think they're generally along the lines of what I've described because that's what the Secretary General said yesterday in his remarks to the press.
QUESTION: The weight of all this seems to have shifted. I mean, you're just absolutely beholden to the UN now. I mean, you were asking about U.S. policy and the U.S. policy seems to be to wait and see what the UN has to say. I mean, that's just an observation, it's not a question.
MR. ERELI: I would take issue with it. I don't think -- I think -- I object to the word "beholden." I think what we have said from the very beginning is that the political future of Iraq, first and foremost, is something for Iraqis to decide and something that we are working with Iraqis on, bearing that in mind, and that in that process, the UN has a unique contribution, unique expertise, and we'd like to see them play an important role. That's what's happening, that's something that we welcome, and it's something that we think is for the good of all.
QUESTION: All right, it's a U.S. occupation and that's what's coming to an end, not a UN occupation, and it seems to me the U.S. has to decide and is trying to decide how to make that transition with some help from the UN.
But in any event, going back to the plan or the agreement, it called for direct elections next year. Might those elections be moved up now?
MR. ERELI: Let's see what the UN says.
QUESTION: See what I mean?
QUESTION: You said that --
QUESTION: I mean, the U.S. doesn't have an opinion? We want to see what the UN says?
MR. ERELI: I think we want to -- we want to work with the UN and we want to work with the Iraqis on something that is acceptable to all.
I mean, we can have our views. And I'm not saying we don't have our views. But that, at the same time, you know, we're not dictating the political future of Iraq. We are working with the UN and the people of Iraq to help them forge a democratic state -- not easy, not obvious, rather complex and requiring a lot of consultation and discussion. But it's not something that's going to be done by making a pronouncement of what the U.S. view is far ahead of the game.
QUESTION: Well, that -- that's what I wanted to follow-up on, actually. The U.S. does have its views, so without hiding behind whatever the UN might say next week, has the U.S. come to the conclusion, as others have, that caucuses are not the way to go?
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to pronounce any obituaries. What I will tell you is that we are -- we are sympathetic to the needs of the -- the views of the Iraqis and what the Iraqis want to accomplish and what the UN -- and what the UN thinks. And we will work with all three to come up with a process that is acceptable and workable and meets the needs of the Iraqi people to run their own country.
QUESTION: But do you still believe that the caucuses will do that, the caucus system could do that?
MR. ERELI: You know, the system is workable to the extent that people want to work with it. So, you know, we've seen lots of comments, reactions to this proposal. You know, there are parts of it that might work, there are parts of it that might not work. There are a lot of ideas out there right now. Could some version of a caucus persist in a revised plan in some form or another? I mean, I suppose. I wouldn't want to speculate. The key point here is not whether there are going to be caucuses or not, not whether caucuses are alive or are dead or in what form they're going to be, or there are going to be "upward" caucuses or "downward" caucuses -- I've heard those phrases used. The key point is that there will be a transitional government that takes power on July 1st, and that transitional government will be empowered and legitimized in a way that allows it to fulfill its mission of serving as a transitional authority from the time that sovereignty is transferred until the time that a successor government selected by direct elections can take -- and a constitution written -- can take place.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, yesterday the Secretary said on ABC Radio that he thought that there is not enough support, I'm quoting him, "not enough support for the caucuses system to be workable." So the Secretary himself, in fact, seemed to bury the idea.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I'm not -- look, don't mistake me. I'm not saying the caucuses are alive and I'm not saying the caucuses are dead.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the Secretary has been saying that --
MR. ERELI: All I'm saying is -- all I'm saying, and this is what the U.S. Government is saying, is that there will be a transitional government that has the legitimacy and the power to do what it needs to do.
You guys are focusing on how that's going to -- how that government is going to be formed, the process that it's going to be formed, and there are a lot of ideas right -- out right now. There's not one that is, I think, something that you could sort of say is going to be accepted and say is going to work. So let's just let that process work itself out.
QUESTION: Adam, we're not focusing on mechanics. The mechanics that the U.S. agreed with the Governing Council on reflected certain American values and interests and policy -- balance, making sure that all parts, all communities in Iraq are represented, and there were other reasons for this arrangement.
And I guess instead of repeating my question, I guess I have to ask you if you think the UN, you know, the French, the Germans, the Russians, people who didn't even want you to go into Iraq -- do you feel they share the U.S. objectives to make sure it's a balanced government, that it doesn't become some, you know, fundamentalist regime and other such things, that the Kurds are protected, for instance, do you think everybody agrees on that? Because you're deferring to the UN, which means you're deferring to France, Germany, Russia and other countries that didn't want you to go in there in the first place.
MR. ERELI: What everybody agrees on, and I think they've been very clear about this, is that a democratic, pluralistic Iraq that has the support of the international community is critical to the stability of the region and is in the interests of the international community, and that the international community is committed to it for that reason, as well as their sincere humanitarian concern for the people of Iraq and to ensure that they never have to undergo the nightmare that they have just been through for the last 30 years.
QUESTION: What is going to be the relationship between the U.S. military, the U.S. forces there, and the sovereign government? Are the U.S. forces going to respond to the sovereign government, or are we going to have two completely independent powers functioning in the country at the same time?
MR. ERELI: Well, U.S. forces are always under the command of the President of the United States, and --
QUESTION: Well, how are they going to coordinate their --
MR. ERELI: And they operate in countries according to understandings and agreements signed with those countries. And so I don't expect it'll be any different in Iraq.
QUESTION: Is that something's that's being discussed right now as part of the transition?
MR. ERELI: I don't have that level of detail. I mean, it certainly is an issue that is being worked on, but the precise mechanics of that I'm not in a position to get into.
QUESTION: The Secretary said commanders, U.S. commanders. Everybody says that. That's a given. I wouldn't imagine they'd be under the control of, you know, Balinese generals.
But the Secretary said that the -- with sovereignty restored for Iraqis, agreements will have -- on the military, on the U.S. peacekeeping presence -- will have to be worked out with the Iraqi interim government. This was an interview. We weren't all there. We didn't have our own interview, so there's no opportunity to ask him if that means that the Iraqi -- sovereign Iraq can tell the U.S. peacekeepers to pack up and go home.
MR. ERELI: I mean, I don't think anything I said contradicted that.
QUESTION: No, you didn't.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, sure. Yes, that is -- that is possible. That is a theoretical possibility. It is a sovereign country. They can -- they have that -- sovereign countries have that right.
QUESTION: Adam, Paul Bremer said the other day that the U.S. was not going to accept or could not accept some kind of Islamic state based on Islamic law. Does that contradict with your -- I mean, yes, you want a pluralistic society, but if you want true democracy in Iraq, how can you avoid it if the Iraqi people -- if the majority of Iraqi people, Shiites in this case, decide that that's the kind of country that they want to have?
MR. ERELI: I'd refer you to -- you've obviously read Ambassador Bremer's transcript from his press conference yesterday. I would refer you to that press conference for the definitive statement of what our views are on the issue of Islamic law and rights in Iraq. I think there's broad agreement, and this will be addressed -- the other point I would make is this will be addressed -- in the administrative law. It is, obviously, an issue of importance and sensitivity to all Iraqis and it is, as you say, ultimately something that they are going to have to decide for themselves.
QUESTION: But, I mean, should the country decide that it wants to have Islamic law, I mean, is that something that the -- what can the U.S. do to stop that?
MR. ERELI: Well, I just think that's a very -- how shall I put it? -- bald hypothesis and it ignores a lot of different possibilities. I mean, I guess that's a theoretical possibility but it's not the kind of speculation that I think at this time is sort of realistic or appropriate.
QUESTION: But isn't that one of the reasons that the administrative law is being held up in the first place?
MR. ERELI: I think one of the reasons is the basic -- that one of the primary purposes of the administrative law is to guarantee the rights of all Iraqis regardless of, you know, gender, ethnicity or religion.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Iran?
MR. ERELI: Iran.
QUESTION: Do you think the elections reflect the will of the people, and are you concerned that the lackluster voter interest shows a trend away from the people finding a political voice?
MR. ERELI: It's a little early at this point to talk about turnout numbers. Obviously, we're monitoring the elections closely and the turnout closely, but let me refrain from comment until -- until credible numbers about voter turnout are available.
I think looking at the process leading up to the elections, there are reasons for concern. First of all, we would note that two reformist publications were closed down in the run-up to the elections. I would also note that the offices of the largest reformist party were closed.
In addition, candidates have been barred from participating in the elections in an attempt to limit the choice of the Iranian people regarding their government.
These actions do not represent free and fair elections and do not -- are not consistent with international norms.
QUESTION: So four years ago, I think, when you -- the State Department criticized the elections and was seen to support the reformists, it seemed to backfire. Looking back at the choice you made then how to assess the elections, are you not worried that this just plays into the hardliners' hands because you're criticizing them for their actions against the reformists?
MR. ERELI: I don't think we're more critical of their elections than the Iranian people are.
QUESTION: Khatami -- Khatami voted -- sort of said something like, "Woe is me," but he voted. You obviously still believe, this building still believes, that there's a vibrant reform movement in Iran?
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to opine on the vitality of the reform movement in Iran. I think the Iranian people have hopes and dreams and the way to realize those aspirations is through the election of a government that represents them. To the extent that they cannot do that or to the extent that that -- those aspirations or that will is frustrated, that's disappointing.
And I would also point to you in this regard, to very eloquent speeches that the President has made about people's fundamental yearning and destiny to be free and the benefits of freedom. That applies very much to the situation at hand and I think is very germane to what we're seeing in Iran today.
QUESTION: I -- what I was driving at is whether a reform movement can live and breathe in that setting. Can I ask about cooperation with the IAEA? The Secretary discussed it briefly in a wide-ranging speech today and he said, you know, that we want more from Iran, we want more cooperation, must follow through on promises with action. I mean, that's -- isn't the Administration's view of Iran a little more critical than that? I mean, on the nuclear issue? Washington Post says they're simply lying, in an editorial. Is Iran not only not forthcoming, is it lying to international monitors?
MR. ERELI: I would look at the text of the Secretary's speech. It's very --
QUESTION: I have it in front of me.
MR. ERELI: It's very robust.
MR. ERELI: We -- you know, it is important that Iran stop its nuclear program, full stop. Not pieces of it here, talk about pieces of it here and hide pieces of it there. They need to get out of the nuclear weapons game completely. And that's the goal, I think, of U.S. policy.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. ERELI: I think it's -- what we've seen so far in terms of cooperation with the IAEA is mixed at best. They have not ratified the additional protocol, although they have said that they will adhere to it. They have provided some information but clearly not all, as we continue to discover.
So this is not -- how should I put it -- this is not an indication of a country that's come clean.
QUESTION: Question on non-proliferation issues, a couple of things. A report came out from IAEA saying that indeed Libya had obtained plutonium. Did you see that before you came out?
MR. ERELI: No. Sorry.
QUESTION: Nothing on that? Can we talk some more about Pakistan then, as more and more reports come out about the nuclear black market and the reach of A.Q. Khan? Now Malaysia is saying -- Malaysian police are releasing some reports and I wondered if you're in touch with Malaysia and concerned about these reports that he had sold -- what's the latest one, HEU to Libya, and also, of course, these nuclear centrifuge parts we talked about earlier yesterday?
MR. ERELI: Yes, we have a close and ongoing dialogue with the Government of Malaysia on the issue of nuclear proliferation. It certainly predates the latest stories you've been reading about A.Q. Khan but we have gone to them at senior levels to discuss ways we can work together to expose and act against the networks that appear to be supplying nuclear -- material that can be used in nuclear programs to the highest bidder.
I would say that there is no indication that -- we don't have any indication that the Malaysian Government is involved -- the entities that are suspected of involvement are private sector entities -- and that the Government of Malaysia has been working with us, I think, closely and cooperatively to confront what we recognize, what we both recognize as a threat to each of us and to the international community as a whole.
QUESTION: What -- are there new agreements that might be signed with Malaysia? I think that even some in Malaysia are suggesting that there could be more export controls.
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything -- that certainly is a -- it certainly would be possible. But I don't have anything to tell you about today.
QUESTION: Can I ask you on something else? Is there a decision, and if there is, could you share it with us, on whether there will be a waiver of sanctions against Syria?
MR. ERELI: That's not a decision that I think we've -- there are a couple of steps before that and I would encourage you to look at the terms of the Syria Accountability Act where they lay out what the process is. But we first have to report to Congress on whether Syria has -- and my language may not be technically accurate here -- but whether Syria, you know, has -- is in violation of the terms of the act or not, and then based on that report, there would be a decision whether to recommend -- whether to recommend sanctions, what sanctions to recommend, and then what sanctions could or should be waived.
Those are all -- that process has yet to play out. My understanding is that it all takes place about -- well, it, you know, there's a delay of a number of months between when the act was passed in December and when the report is due and when the decisions on sanctions are made. So that is still playing out. There is no -- there are no decisions that are imminent.
QUESTION: On -- in those two areas?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Mr. Lambros in the back. You've been -- any more on Syria?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Syria.
MR. ERELI: Syria. Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: I heard a report that the border between Syria and Iraq had been closed, or part of the border has been closed. It was a report that came out yesterday.
MR. ERELI: Have not -- have not seen that. It has not come to my attention.
QUESTION: Secretary Powell also touched on Syria in his speech today. He connected the issue of the alleged WMD to domestic political intentions. Many others in the Middle East and around other places see the WMD as an issue that is strongly connected to the needs for peace and security arrangements in the Middle East and especially between Israel and Syria, should a peace effort be more productive, especially that Israel has a huge pile of those weapons.
Wouldn't it be more productive for the Administration to put more serious efforts on the peace -- the American peace efforts between Syria and Israel, rather than using the criticism and less productive means at this time?
MR. ERELI: I think it'd be more productive for Syria to get rid of its WMD. Look at what Libya did. Look at what Libya did. Libya came to the conclusion that its attempts to develop WMD were costing it money and causing it isolation, and that it made the strategic decision that WMD is not going to protect us and is not going to buy -- it's not going to protect us and it's not going to buy us any friends.
And so that was a wise decision, and I think other countries with similar programs would do well to look at that example and think for themselves, you know, what's in our long-term interest.
QUESTION: Syria is not proven to have those alleged weapons, first. And secondly, Libya is not neighboring Israel, who has proven to have a huge pile of nuclear and other kind of mass destruction weapons. There are certain arrangements that many others, I mean, you know, see that they need to be satisfied through a peace process where Syria would be granted also its wish that it has addressed to the United Nations in order to evacuate the whole Middle East of all these weapons.
MR. ERELI: Let's be clear. Peace between Israel and Syria is a goal that we all share and is something that the United States has said it will spare no effort to help accomplish and to help achieve. And to the extent that Syria and Israel have come to the realization that they want peace and that they are willing to engage in serious discussions toward that end, we will be there to help them.
QUESTION: Well, they seem to be in a great need for help. For example, the Vice President of Syria, just the day before yesterday, talked to the media about serious efforts through the Turkish Government and Foreign Minister that conveyed Syria -- directly Syria's wish to restart the peace talks with Israel.
What we have the next day is the spokesman of Mr. Sharon denying these efforts, totally, almost. I mean --
MR. ERELI: Let me just close it this way, if I may.
QUESTION: Yeah, please.
MR. ERELI: Peace between Israel and Syria is not going to be achieved by spokespeople like me talking about it from a podium. Peace between Israel and Syria is going to be achieved by meaningful engagement at senior levels. So that's where the action needs to happen, not in the -- not from the briefing room.
QUESTION: On Israel, can you talk about -- do you have any readout so far of the delegation that just returned, who they met with?
MR. ERELI: I don't really have too much for you on this. What I can tell you is that the delegation that went to Israel has returned, that Assistant Secretary Burns, Deputy National Security Advisor Hadley and Senior Director for Near East and African Affairs Eliot Abrams met with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Sharon and Chief of Staff Dov Weisglas. I would say that their discussions are still ongoing, still in process, even though they've left, and I'm really not in a position to offer further public comment at this time. I think they're going to brief the Secretary and the President in the next day or so, and I'd want -- so let's let that happen first.
QUESTION: What about on the Palestinian side? What about on the Palestinian side? They were supposed to -- weren't they supposed to --
MR. ERELI: Assistant Secretary Burns met with Palestinian Prime Minister Qureia's of Staff Hassan Abu Libda.
QUESTION: The Secretary said, answering a question today, that he'd hear the group, he'd meet with the emissaries this afternoon. And the White House says that they will see the President on Saturday. I hope we can get some sort of a readout of the Secretary's meeting with him later today, if that's possible.
MR. ERELI: We'll see what we can do.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. ERELI: I sort of doubt it, given that -- well, I'll see what we can do, but I would not be overly optimistic on that subject.
QUESTION: Are the tests -- are the test results in on the powdery substance?
QUESTION: Can we stay on the Middle East?
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Sorry. Alan Larson is going to be the next high-level official to visit there, I understand?
MR. ERELI: Under Secretary for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs Al Larson is departing today, February 20th, on a trip to the Middle East. He will be back on February 27th. He is traveling to Ramallah, Jerusalem, Amman, Riyadh and Cairo. The purpose of his trip is to discuss key bilateral economic and trade issues, as well as to seek views on the Greater Middle East Initiative.
QUESTION: The Secretary made a point, again, in response to a question, about -- and it's not a unique point, it's been around a while -- that more must be done to improve the economic conditions for the Palestinians.
Is there any chance that Mr. Larson will get into that, with some suggestions maybe to Israel?
MR. ERELI: In Ramallah, Under Secretary Larson is going to co-chair, along with Palestinian Authority Finance Minister Salam Fayadh, the first meeting of the U.S.-Palestinian Economic Development Group, which is a bilateral forum to explore practical ways to expand jobs for Palestinians, develop -- stimulate growth and encourage investment in the Palestinian economy.
QUESTION: Do you know -- do you happen to know about when that will happen?
MR. ERELI: No, I don't have the specific date.
QUESTION: Well, did you say he's leaving --
MR. ERELI: He's leaving today.
QUESTION: So it must be next week, then, it would seem.
Powdery substance? Do you want to --
MR. ERELI: Well, Mr. Lambros has been waiting for a long time.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sir, any update on the Cyprus talks in Nicosia?
MR. ERELI: No, sir, I don't have an update for you on --
QUESTION: How do you comment on today's report by the Christian Science Monitor that in the second day of the talks, "Greek and Turkish Cypriot negotiators staked out positions that were far apart as they met"?
MR. ERELI: I don't have any comment. I haven't seen the report.
QUESTION: Anything on the bombing attack against the profound Turkish Cypriot politician Mehmet Ali Talat?
MR. ERELI: I think we spoke to that yesterday.
You're 0 for 3, Lambros. That's a strikeout. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: According to --
MR. ERELI: I'll give you one more.
QUESTION: One more, sir. According to Western Policy Center report, "Turkish General Tolon, Commander of Turkish Aegean Army, branding as traitors those Turks who support a Cyprus settlement, and without a substantial effort to engage the Turkish military in this process, the Cyprus settlement is probably not achievable. Raul Denktash does not control a single bullet or a single soldier in the north of Cyprus, and all indications to date are that Prime Minister Erdogan does not accept control there either."
How do you comment, since your government is on the highest level very much involved in this process?
MR. ERELI: It's really not my position to offer political commentary on comments by a Turkish official. I would simply note that in its public statements and private diplomacy, the Government of Turkey and the authorities in Turkish Cyprus have committed themselves to the Annan plan and have committed themselves to reaching an agreement and supporting an agreement, and that that's the right thing to do.
QUESTION: Mr. Lambros is probably too gracious to ask this question, so I'll ask it. Didn't you guys go a little bit overboard in exuberance about the prospect that after, what, after 41 years, two Cypriot communities might be coming to terms? It sounds like things aren't going so hot. It sounds like the same old stuff, doesn't it?
MR. ERELI: This is -- Secretary General Annan and his very able Special Advisor Alvaro de Soto are leading a, I think, a difficult diplomatic effort to resolve the longstanding dispute. They are committed; I think the international community is committed to supporting them. There is a unique opportunity here to reach a settlement in time for a united Cyprus to join the European Union, and I think none of us will spare any effort in trying to achieve that very worthwhile goal.
QUESTION: Just a couple of quick ones on North Korea, Adam. There are some reports out of South Korea that China, South Korea and Russia are thinking about giving oil to North Korea for a freeze on their programs. I wonder if you heard any of those reports and you had any reaction to that.
MR. ERELI: I haven't seen those specific reports. You know, reports like that aren't new. I think we've made it very clear that we don't -- we're not interested in providing economic rewards or inducements. But beyond that, let's just let the negotiating be done in Beijing on February 25th in the six-party talks. That's where these issues are going to be resolved.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, then. If those three countries are actually doing something like that, isn't that really in contrast to the irreversible, complete, verifiable --
MR. ERELI: I don't know that that's -- I don't -- I think that's a pretty fallacious assumption.
QUESTION: Okay. Now that Barry left, how about the white powder?
MR. ERELI: The white powder.
QUESTION: One on Syria.
MR. ERELI: Let's do the white powder, and then we'll go to Syria. On the white powder, following up on what -- on the white powder that was found yesterday in a package in the State Annex 1 at Columbia Plaza, the FBI sent a sample of the substance to their laboratory for analysis and the Department was notified last night by the FBI that that substance tested negative for presumptive biological agents. The affected area in State Annex 1 has been cleared for re-occupancy, and the area's air handlers have returned to service.
QUESTION: Will you confirm that the package came from India?
MR. ERELI: No, I can't. Not that I won't, I just can't. I don't know.
QUESTION: But would you if you could?
MR. ERELI: I would if I could.
QUESTION: Regarding Chalabi's statements to the London Daily Telegraph, that even -- that his intelligence information given to the U.S. may have been faulty didn't really matter, the objective was achieved. Do you have any comments regarding that?
MR. ERELI: Heroes of error --
MR. ERELI: -- I think was the term used.
QUESTION: Yes, heroes of error.
MR. ERELI: (Laughter.) No, no comment. I think that, you know, again, the Secretary spoke very eloquently to this in Princeton today. And I think David Kay has borne out that the intelligence that we had that showed Saddam had the intent and capability has been borne out and that it was a good thing that we acted when we did because otherwise the world would still be in considerable danger.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing ended at 1:55 p.m.)
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