State Department Noon Briefing, March 15, 2004
|Monday March 15,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
MONDAY, MARCH 15, 2004
12:25 p.m. EST
MR. ERELI: Good morning, everybody -- great to see you all here. It's a full house. All right, with that, I guess we're all feeling so good we'll just call it a day.
No announcements today. Who has the first question?
QUESTION: Mr. Sharon is not feeling so good. He says he has no peace partner and there's nobody to hold peace talks with on the Palestinian side and he says other similar things.
What is the U.S. view that despite the bloodshed, Israel should keep plunging ahead?
MR. ERELI: The U.S. view, first and foremost, is to condemn the horrible terrorist attacks that occurred in Israel over the weekend. We condemn them in the strongest possible terms. We convey our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims, and we express our hopes for a speedy recovery to those who were injured. We have conveyed our condolences to the Israeli officials, as well as reiterating our support against terrorism.
The point to make here is that there really, there can be no excuses for the kind of terrorist violence that we saw happen over the weekend. It is up to Palestinian leaders to take immediate and credible steps to end the terror and violence. That hasn't been done to date, and there are, frankly, no excuses for it.
We need to see actions that demonstrate that terror will no longer be tolerated. And the other point to make is that innocent civilians are not the only victims of terrorist attacks like these. They also undermine the aspirations and hopes of the Palestinian people for a better and more secure future.
QUESTION: That's the same statement you make every time, maybe there's a word or two different.
The question I put to you is, Sharon says he has no peace partner,
there is no reason, there is no way he can continue negotiations. Does
the State Department agree on Sharon? Does the State Department support
Sharon that it -- at least there should be a suspension of efforts, or
does the State Department think that Israel should plunge ahead? Or do
you have some other view of all of this?
Secretary -- Prime Minister Sharon has presented some interesting
ideas about how to handle the situation in light of current reality. We
have been discussing those ideas with him. We continue to have those
discussions. Assistant Secretary Burns, Deputy National Security Advisor
Hadley, Senior Director for the National Security Council Elliott Abrams
returned last week. They've briefed -- the Secretary and National
Security Advisor Rice have been briefed on their trip, so I think we'll
continue to see a serious engagement by the United States with both the
Israelis and the Palestinians, to keep this process engaged.
MR. ERELI: I haven't seen the remarks that you're referring to, Barry, so I wouldn't want to -- I'm not in a position to respond to them definitively. The fact is the Palestinians are there. They're not going away. So, you know, I -- you're telling me what one person said, so that's secondhand, third --
QUESTION: I'd just prefer to know if it was in person.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Well, you're telling me -- I can't respond to something that you said that somebody else said. I haven't seen the transcript. I think that we've got a process. We've got a roadmap. We've got commitments. Those are what we're going to base our actions on.
QUESTION: It just -- it had just crossed on the wire. So let's get into the, you know, the minor stuff here.
It took 24 hours for the State Department to condemn this attack. There was nothing yesterday, nothing that I could -- with a dozen phone calls -- come up with. You say the U.S. has been in touch.
Has the Secretary of State picked up the telephone and called the Foreign Minister and expressed the views, the remorse, or whatever it is -- the condolences that you've expressed on behalf of the Department?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm. My understanding is that our condolences were conveyed by our Ambassador to Tel Aviv.
QUESTION: So there has been no -- just -- there has been no contact above the ambassadorial level since this attack?
MR. ERELI: I'll check into it, but not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: Does the United States still think it's a good idea to have a meeting between the Israeli Prime Minister and the Palestinian Prime Minister?
MR. ERELI: A meeting is something that we have supported. But given the circumstances, particularly the bombing over the weekend, I'd refer you to the parties for any comment on, you know, the decision to cancel that meeting.
QUESTION: So the violence goes on, and despite violence, your general position has been to encourage such a meeting, saying that's one way of going forward on the roadmap. Why, this time, leave it up to them whether or not the violence affects their decisions to not have U.S. --
MR. ERELI: Well, I mean, the decision to have meeting is a decision that is going to be made by the people going to that meeting. And they're the ones to offer commentary about the timeliness or whether they want to have a meeting or not.
As a general proposition, we support a meeting. But given the specific circumstances, clearly, recent events have to be taken into account. And for comment on the decision not to have a meeting and how recent events factor into that, I'd refer you to the parties.
QUESTION: My only question is, does the -- do those recent events affect your encouragement whether or not you're encouraging a meeting to go ahead?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't look at it that narrowly, Saul. I think that, you know, let's take the broad view of this. And the broad view is that, first and foremost, the Palestinians need to crack down on the groups perpetrating these attacks and put an end to terror. And until they do that, meaningful progress is going to be very difficult.
At the same time, there's -- the solution to this problem is a negotiated political solution. And to have a negotiated political solution, you have to talk to each other. So there are a number of elements here, but it starts with ending terror, and that's not being done.
QUESTION: Is it true that Stephen Hadley told the Prime Minister of Israel that they will not, they will not reward them for evacuating the settlements in Gaza? Is that a policy?
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything to comment on what National Security -- Deputy National Security Advisor Hadley may or may not have said. Those are private discussions that I don't comment on in public.
QUESTION: Well, he had one point, today or tomorrow the President (inaudible) visit or -- National Security Advisor?
MR. ERELI: I'd refer you to the White House for what they're going to do.
In the back, yes.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) how can he command the situation in Georgia? There is confrontations --
MR. ERELI: Let's stay with the Middle East.
QUESTION: I was going to go to Spain.
MR. ERELI: Teri.
Do you know yet whether Israel asked for any compensation from the U.S., any help financing the pullouts?
MR. ERELI: I don't. I don't.
QUESTION: You don't know whether it came up?
MR. ERELI: I don't know if it came up.
QUESTION: Regarding the expected visit of Silvan Shalom, the Foreign Minister of -- it's still on or it's changing the --
MR. ERELI: I don't have any information about a schedule change, but I'd refer you to the Israelis.
In the back.
QUESTION: Yeah, do you have anything on what Secretary Armitage might be discussing with the Tunisian Defense Minister?
MR. ERELI: I would note that, you know, this is a part of a sort of regular series of meetings we've been having and we continue to have with our Tunisian friends.
The Secretary was there in December, I believe. Correct me if I'm wrong. December?
Late last year, let's say.
The President had very good meetings with President Zine Ben Abidine -- Ben Ali.
Now we're welcoming today, the Minister of Defense of Tunisia Dali Jazi, where he will meet the Deputy Secretary today. They'll discuss bilateral defense issues, counterterrorism, Tunisia's upcoming presidency of the Arab League and other regional issues.
I think as a general proposition, we appreciate the support and friendship of Tunisia as we work together on democratic and economic reform, human rights and counterterrorism.
QUESTION: Is the Greater Middle East Initiative still coming up in these meetings with Arab dignitaries?
MR. ERELI: The Greater Middle East Initiative is an ongoing subject of discussion. Whether it's -- whether and how prominently it features in today's talks, I wouldn't be able to say. But you can rest assured that it is something that we are actively discussing with our friends in the region, as well as our European and G8 partners.
Still on Middle East?
MR. ERELI: Let's go to Georgia, since we started with Georgia.
QUESTION: Do you have anything about Georgia? There is confrontation between Central and Ajaran Autonomous Republic Governments. And as I know, Russian military forces are standing in the streets.
MR. ERELI: I'd say there are a lot of reports about what exactly is going on the ground. And without getting into detail of those reports because it's very hard to confirm what the facts are, let me just say that Secretary Powell has been in touch with President Saakashvili. He spoke with him on Sunday evening. He has also spoken with Russian National Security Advisor Ivanov today. He -- Secretary Powell urged President Saakashvili not to allow this situation in Ajaria or Ajara to escalate.
Our ambassador to Tbilisi, Ambassador Miles, traveled to Poti in Ajara, with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Passy, who is currently the Chairman in the Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. They met today with President Saakashvili and Georgian Prime Minister Zhvania and urged all sides to refrain from violence as the situation develops.
So I would say that we are in touch with all sides. They are meeting to ensure that the situation remains calm and is handled in a way that is consensual and not violent.
QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: You have military presence in Georgia? Do you foresee any situation where your troops will intervene militarily in this, you know, confrontation?
MR. ERELI: We've been in contact with the Russians, and they have indicated to us that their troops will remain in their barracks unless threatened.
QUESTION: No, no, your troops.
MR. ERELI: Our troops?
QUESTION: Yeah. You haven't - you haven't got troops there --
MR. ERELI: We don't have troops. I mean, I think this subject has been gone over to death, quite frankly.
We have a very small number of military personnel in Georgia that are helping train counterterrorist forces to go after terrorists in the Pankisi Gorge. This was something that was responded to -- is in response to a request from Georgia and her neighbors to crack down on terrorism that's affecting the region.
They're very few in number, and their presence is being phased out, so any discussion of a possible U.S. military role in this is completely inconsistent with the facts on the ground.
Yes. New subject.
No, I'm sorry, Nadia, go ahead.
MR. ERELI: Spain.
QUESTION: With the change of the government, and now there is the possibility that the new prime minister might pull out the Spanish troop from Iraq -- I know you will say we have to wait until it happens, but supposedly, it's going to happen. How does this leave the U.S. coalition, I mean, it's called the coalition of the willing, will it be the coalition of unwilling now?
Are you worried about that? And secondly, they were saying, basically, they're not going to pull them out unless there is a UN plan with more of international commitment. Are you more likely, now, to work with the UN on a bigger and better deal than it is now?
MR. ERELI: Let me first congratulate the Spanish Socialist Party for their election victory, and congratulate Spain on the strength of Spanish society and Spanish democracy as it is demonstrated over these past difficult days. President Bush called Mr. Zapatero today to congratulate him. Our Ambassador to Spain, Ambassador Argyros, also placed a call to the new Spanish Prime Minister.
I would note that the party leader, Mr. Zapatero, Rodriguez, has said his first priority would be fighting terror; and that Spain will continue to fight groups that direct violence towards other countries. We stand ready to support his government and Spain's people in that effort.
As far as the issue of Spanish troops in Iraq goes, let's see what develops. It has been said that there needs to be a UN mandate for those troops. We believe there is such a mandate in 1511. At the same time, we've also said that in the context of a transfer of sovereignty on June 30th, we -- a new resolution is possible, so the new government is just forming.
They're formulating their policies. They'll be taking actions over the next couple of months. Simultaneously, there'll be things happening in Iraq and in New York. So let's see how it all plays out before we come to any definitive conclusions.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that now, a lot of European countries are meeting, talking about, you know, some of the consequences of, you know, support - well, supporting the U.S. in Iraq? Are you worried that - that the kind of political shift in Spain will cause other countries to give pause about supporting Iraq as you go forward?
MR. ERELI: I don't foresee any weakening in support of Iraq.
The fact is Iraq -- the case, I think, has been made quite compellingly, first and foremost by Iraq and by Iraqis for helping their country and for recognizing the vital importance that the success of democracy in Iraq has for the region and the world. I think that's sort of an accepted - that's an accepted fact of life in the international community.
So it's not a question of people jumping ship on Iraq. It's a question of deciding how best to contribute to stability in that vital part of the world. We've seen a new interim constitution. We've seen growing responsibility by Iraqis for the affairs in Iraq. So, that's the fact on the ground, and I think that's recognized pretty widely.
QUESTION: But how can you say that it's not going to weaken the -- the coalition? I mean it's a major ally of the U.S. I mean, you have Spain and you have Britain, and Spain now, under the influence of a new government that they might pull out?
MR. ERELI: All I'm saying is, let's wait to see what happens.
QUESTION: Yeah, but do you think you need a new strategy to deal with the situation? Like, you cannot ignore it, definitely.
MR. ERELI: I'm not ignoring it. I'm just saying let's see -- wait and see what happens, number one, and number two, the point I just made is that I think that it's, by and large, it's accepted as a given that Iraq's success -- that we all have a stake in Iraq's success; and that we're all going to contribute to it in the ways that we can. And I don't -- you know, so for that reason, you know, I'm not -- I don't think there is cause for concern about the future success of the experiment -- or not the experiment -- the future success of what we're all trying to accomplish in Iraq.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Okay. I just want to know, how can affect the new Spain President position the relationship between United States and Spain? He say here, the war in Iraq was a mistake. So is that -- I mean, how can it affect the relationship?
MR. ERELI: Well, there are lots -- not everybody agreed with the decision to resort to force in Iraq. Obviously we and the many others that participated in that -- in Operation Iraqi Freedom believe it was the right thing to do, and believe that subsequent events have borne out the wisdom of that policy.
At the same time, there are others who disagree and who disagreed at the time, and we continue to have good and productive relations with them. And I would note, they are -- they have since expressed a recognition of the importance of Iraq and a commitment to supporting Iraqi reconstruction and political development. So I really don't foresee any kind of conflict in that area.
QUESTION: Still on that topic?
MR. ERELI: On?
QUESTION: On Spain. Do you expect the ascendancy of the socialists in Spain to impact other U.S. allies, such as Italy, and wouldn't this be a trend in England, and so on? I mean, how will that --
MR. ERELI: I'll leave the political commentary to you --
QUESTION: As you push for the successes in Iraq, do you think having a new UN resolution is key to that now?
MR. ERELI: I think we've said looking at a new UN resolution in the context of transfer of sovereignty is something that -- something, you know, we may do. We haven't committed to it one way or another, but it certainly is -- has been discussed, and it could be appropriate at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: Back on Spain. If the bombing last week was indeed al-Qaida or some faction, how would the -- I mean, and clearly, the Spanish people expression in the polls yesterday was that they're not feeling more secure, given what happened. How does the United States make the case to ask for Spain for their continued support in Iraq when the Spanish people aren't feeling safer?
MR. ERELI: I can't speak for the Spanish people, and the Government of Spain will do what it believes is in the interest of the Spanish people to do. So I think that's where I would leave the answer to that question.
QUESTION: Can you offer any details about assistance that the United States has offered to Spain to find out who was responsible or any details about requests Spain has made from the United States for --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I don't have anything new on that for you. We have offered any assistance that Spain might need or might request. I'm not aware that we have received any specific requests for assistance.
Teri -- Elise.
QUESTION: New subject?
QUESTION: I get the first new subject.
QUESTION: Well, I thought I got it.
QUESTION: I think it's the same subject.
MR. ERELI: One more on Spain.
QUESTION: No, two more on Spain.
QUESTION: This follows up, you know, there are huge problems for Blair in Britain, but basically because of their support for the war. Do you think in any way there's a momentum building that could actually affect public opinion here domestically that could weigh on, you know, the Bush Administration's popularity?
MR. ERELI: Again, that's political commentary that I just don't feel comfortable talking about.
Change of subject. You.
MR. ERELI: Spain?
QUESTION: Spain. Could you respond to the allegation that the U.S. Government -- including from this podium, joined the Spanish Government in the -- initially after the bombing in downplaying the role to al-Qaida -- and in, you know, promoting the idea that it definitely was ETA that was responsible for the bombing? And, you know, political motives are being attributed to those statements, which are --
MR. ERELI: I don't think -- if you look at the record, we did not say anything that put us on the side of it being one group or another group. What we always said was, "This is what the Spanish Government is saying. This is what the Spanish Government believes, and we leave it to them to speak to this issue."
We were not in a position to make an assessment of responsibility. It was an investigation being conducted by the Spaniards and a subject on which we deferred to the Spaniards for comment.
QUESTION: I'll speak on behalf of Teri and myself. Could you talk about the bomb that was defused near the U.S. Consulate in Karachi today? Have you found anybody responsible?
MR. ERELI: We have not -- I think just as a comment, would praise the very alert and courageous action of all those involved in detecting and responding to what could have been a horrific explosion. I think this shows that people are -- that counterterrorism cooperation is effective and can work.
Early this morning, the security personnel at the Consulate noticed a van being parked near a perimeter wall of the Consulate in Karachi. Pakistani authorities were called to the scene, and found and defused a bomb in the vehicle. An investigation is underway.
QUESTION: Have there been any letters, any notes, any claims of responsibility yet?
MR. ERELI: Not that I have right now.
QUESTION: Do you believe in any way that this was kind of a warning in advance of Secretary Powell's visit to the country? Do you have any reason to believe that?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't speculate. I would note that Karachi has been the scene of bombings for some time. So, I mean, there's, unfortunately, a pattern of this kind of activity. So I think that should be taken into account when you're sort of trying to figure out why.
QUESTION: Two -- about two years ago, there was a similar attempted attack on the Consulate. Have you thwarted any other attacks on the Consulate that we don't know about right now or, I mean, do you consider --
MR. ERELI: If we have, I don't know about it either, so -- no, I don't mean -- I think that clearly, our -- I don't have any specific examples to cite for you. But clearly as a result, I think, of our stepped-up war on terror, there are terrorist attacks that have been thwarted and that are thwarted at various stages of planning and operation. These are kind of the successes that sometimes we can't talk about.
QUESTION: Was that also his plan in going, the Secretary's plan?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: At all?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Can we move to Haiti?
MR. ERELI: Yes. Are we done with Karachi? Done with Karachi. On Haiti.
QUESTION: Yeah, so President, or former President Aristide is on his way to Jamaica now. Have you got assurances from this country, I mean Jamaica, that his staying in this country is going to be purely private and temporary?
MR. ERELI: That is what the Jamaican Government has said -- that he is there for a temporary visit -- for personal reasons. The Jamaican Government, I think, has also said that they welcome the appointment of the new Haitian Prime Minister Latortue; that they are -- that they will be working with CARICOM for a -- towards the goal of restoring and nurturing democracy and constitutional processes in Haiti. So we look forward to working with the Jamaicans as well as our other CARICOM partners on that very important task.
I would also note that there are some important developments in Haiti to look at and to recognize -- that that country is moving forward in establishing stability and constitutional democracy.
The multinational interim force is patrolling the streets with the
Haitian National Police. The Prime Minister is working with the Council
of Eminent persons and considering names for a new cabinet. And what you
basically see is a country returning to normal. This is a good thing.
It's something that we all, I think, can be proud of, and we should all
sort of redouble our efforts to assist the Haitians in getting back on
MR. ERELI: I think, you know, our focus is on helping Haiti. Aristide is a former president. He is not a government official. He is coming for a personal visit, and the center of action is in Haiti, it's not in Jamaica. And I think we made that view clear to the Jamaicans. And I don't see that there's much disagreement on that.
QUESTION: Secretary Rumsfeld said over the weekend that the U.S. hoped he wouldn't come back to this hemisphere.
MR. ERELI: Well, I think, you know, National Security Advisor Rice said it's a bad idea. But, you know, he's here.
QUESTION: But you can't -- you didn't -- you can't say whether you guys conveyed that to the Jamaicans?
MR. ERELI: I don't think we were -- we were not supportive of his coming back here.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR. ERELI: It doesn't -- well, you know, it doesn't, in our view, serve a useful purpose. But he's here. He's on a private visit. And he's here temporarily as a former president of Haiti.
QUESTION: Well, so when you say it doesn't serve a useful purpose, do you mean that it could serve as a detriment? And could you explain why?
MR. ERELI: No, I'd leave it at what I said. It doesn't serve a useful purpose. But let's keep the focus, you know, where it should be, which is on what's going on in Haiti, helping the people of Haiti move forward in their political process and ensuring that, sort of, violence does not have an opportunity to rear its ugly head again.
QUESTION: Following on what you said about Haiti's returning to normal, what's the status of the Embassy, U.S. Embassy personnel? Are they still limited to Port-au-Prince area, or have they been out to the countryside to check on what the situation is there?
MR. ERELI: Our Embassy personnel is moving around, I would say, in a sort of careful and prudent way. I'll have to check and see what the sort of -- see what specific restrictions there might be. But clearly, we're -- you know, we're getting around. Our USAID teams are getting around. Our INL teams are moving around. Our military attachés are getting to the port and helping out there, so I mean there is wide circulation.
I would also point out that our Embassy is open for limited American citizen services, so -- all indicators of a gradual return to normalcy. We're still on Ordered Departure, and that will be reviewed at the end of the month.
QUESTION: Would you take the question as to whether they have gotten beyond Port-au-Prince?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Including the AID teams you mentioned?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm. Sure.
QUESTION: Can we come back to Iraq?
MR. ERELI: Let's finish with Haiti.
QUESTION: What about reports last week from U.S. military personnel that some of the rebels have not disarmed, and they hadn't honored their pledge to disarm and they were still controlling parts of the country?
MR. ERELI: I think this is an ongoing process. I wouldn't want to report to you that everything is -- everything is back to the way it was before. But it's an ongoing process. It's a process that I think is moving in the right direction. And the important point is that it's something that -- in which the Haitian National Police are directly and actively involved.
So, it'll take time, but it is underway, and it is working.
QUESTION: Can I change?
QUESTION: Still Haiti.
MR. ERELI: Still Haiti.
QUESTION: Going back to the Jamaica issue. Aristide's family wasn't in Jamaica before this, this family visit was organized, so does the United States recognize that there's more symbolism to the visit than, than family reasons; and therefore, do you interpret it as a gesture of support for the former president by Jamaica?
MR. ERELI: His children were in the United States, so there's a geographic connection. As to what signal the Jamaicans are sending, I'd refer you to the Jamaicans.
QUESTION: Did he ask to come to the U.S. to see his family?
MR. ERELI: Not that I know. I do not believe so. Mr. Dmitri.
QUESTION: Your boss, Ambassador Boucher, from this podium attempted to announce G8 foreign ministers meeting before Sea Island summit last Friday. But apparently, you were not ready for this. Are you ready now?
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything more now than we did on Friday.
QUESTION: Taiwan's second election, our first referendum is going to be held this Saturday.
Do you have any expectations or concerns on this election, as well as the cross-Straight relation after the election?
MR. ERELI: No, I don't have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Yeah. China's National People's Congress yesterday passed formal legal guarantees of human rights and private property. Do you have any comment on that, or do you see this as a demonstration of the kind of positive social and political reform that the U.S. hopes to see?
MR. ERELI: We welcome the inclusion of language regarding respect for private property and protection of human rights, which was voted into China's constitution yesterday.
We think that protection of private property and human rights are the cornerstones of a modern, open, economy and a productive and creative society governed by the rule of law.
I would note that implementation of these provisions will be key. And you know, having laws on the books is one thing, but taking action to enforce them in a consistent way is another thing.
And we certainly hope that these -- that the follow-through on these constitutional amendments will be robust and urge the Chinese government to revise laws to conform with these new constitutional provisions.
QUESTION: You recently --
MR. ERELI: Anything else on China?
QUESTION: Yes, actually. Is it going to be enough to avert a U.S.-backed resolution?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't tie one to the other on the issue of a resolution. I'd say that this is something that we're seriously considering, a resolution in Geneva.
We continue to discuss our concerns about the human rights situation in China with the Chinese Government, and it's under active consideration.
QUESTION: Okay. So they've made no decision yet?
MR. ERELI: Nothing that I have to confirm to you. No.
Back to Taiwan.
QUESTION: Does State Department receive any information from (inaudible), our representative office about a warrant ask you to help us arrest economic criminal in L.A. who just had a public conference yesterday? Chen Yu-hao.
MR. ERELI: I'll have to look into that for you.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: Could you update us, please, on Mr. Brahimi's plans? When is he going back to Iraq, and can you define his mission? Has it changed? What do you think it will be?
MR. ERELI: I can't. I can't. I'd refer you to Brahimi for an update on Brahimi's plans.
I think, you know, the Secretary spoke to this in his interviews on -- over the weekend where he said that, you know, we look forward to the UN going back there and continuing its work. When that happens, it's something that I think that is under consideration or deliberation at the UN and with the Coalition Provisional Authority and with the Iraqis.
When they left, they said they were coming back, but I'd have -- I couldn't -- you'd have to talk to them to see what their latest plans are.
Clearly, discussions are underway -- are ongoing about the political transition. It's something that's going to be taking place in a few months. Clearly, the UN is going to play a role in that. But as far as the latest scheduling goes, I just don't have any for you
QUESTION: Do you -- do you have anything, Adam, on the -- how this new interim authority is going to be chosen?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Have there been any new decisions?
MR. ERELI: No, nothing new for you on that.
QUESTION: An issue with the UN, a CPA spokesman yesterday said that timing, that the schedule, the 30th of June schedule is running into difficulties because --
MR. ERELI: Who said that?
QUESTION: Some spokesman for the CPA, it was a (inaudible).
MR. ERELI: Oh.
QUESTION: -- that the U.S. is under a lot of pressure, here. That's the way he put it, on the June 30th date, because apparently some members of the council of the Shia, you know, they don't like a bigger role for the UN.
MR. ERELI: I didn't see those remarks.
I think that, you know, June 30th is still the date and there are, as I said, active discussions on what the political transition will look like, what the interim authority that takes over on June 30th will look like.
As we've said before, there are a number of ideas out there, and for each one of those ideas there are a number of parties that have a number of different opinions. So this is part of the negotiating process, part of the development process.
Is there pressure? I mean, there's a deadline that we all want to meet, and it's going to require intensive discussions involving a wide cross-section of Iraqis, the UN and the CPA. But it's a process that will eventually lead to a transfer of sovereignty on June 30th.
QUESTION: Will the Administration agree to a lessened role by the UN as the pressure goes on?
MR. ERELI: A what kind of role?
QUESTION: A lessened role for the UN, as what's talked about, let's say, two or three weeks ago?
MR. ERELI: These are all -- you know, it's really in the realm of the speculative.
I think what we want to see is something that -- we want to see an active and important UN role in this and we want to see something that is agreeable to all Iraqis.
MR. ERELI: Finished with Iraq?
QUESTION: No, one more.
This might have been covered before, but how large is the U.S. Embassy in Iraq projected to be?
MR. ERELI: This was covered last week in a backgrounder. It will be big, yeah, very big.
QUESTION: How many people do you have?
MR. ERELI: I'm not in a position to give numbers.
MR. ERELI: But it will be one of the, if not the largest, mission abroad.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) bigger than a breadbox?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: What is the latest with Ricciardone? I mean, he was last week here having a closing session with the Senate regarding the future of Iraq; and then I don't know what you said next.
MR. ERELI: Ambassador Ricciardone is in charge of the aspects of the transition dealing with the stand up of the American Embassy there, as opposed to the political transition.
So he and Under Secretary Grossman were giving a briefing on the Hill. But that was just a -- that was not testimony. It was a briefing.
And Ambassador Ricciardone travels to and from Iraq pretty regularly. I don't keep active tabs on where he is at any one moment. But this is a process that's going to be, you know, consuming a lot of his time and taking a lot of -- logging a lot of miles.
QUESTION: When you are saying this is going to be the biggest mission in the whole world.
MR. ERELI: I said it will be one of the biggest.
QUESTION: Okay, I don't want to put words in your mouth. It means that by June 20, after June 30th, it's -- CPA is going to be merged, right? Merged or disappear, or what's going to happen?
MR. ERELI: Well, I don't want to get into sort of all the legal technicalities and precisely, you know, what will happen, what all the stages are involved because it's more complicated than I'm -- than I know about. But on June 30th, sovereignty will be transferred to the Iraqi people and to the Iraqi government.
And that whatever American institutions are in Iraq will be subject to the sovereign authority of the -- or not subject to, but will have to deal with the sovereign authority of the government of Iraq.
QUESTION: The head of France's armed forces said today that Usama bin Laden narrowly escaped capture by French troops in Afghanistan, possibly several times, and they are determined to get him by the end of the year. Anything to say about that?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Yes, on the Olympics. How do you comment on the proposal that made that forces should be involved in the Olympic games in Athens for security reasons?
MR. ERELI: You know, the Greeks have reported that they are asking NATO for assistance with security at the Olympics. I'd refer you to the Greek Government for commentary or information on that request, or to NATO.
And we've made our position clear that we are and will continue to work with the Government of Greece to support them in any way that they request and think is appropriate to enhance security for the Olympics. And we have every confidence that they're going to be able to do that.
QUESTION: Any update on the Cyprus issue?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: The Stratford Institute of Austin, Texas -- well known for its connections with the intelligence community-- in a recent four-pages report says in the light of that census for Cyprus to reunify prior to May 1st are not possible, and this could result in a new Greek-Turkish crisis.
Any comment on that?
MR. ERELI: No, I think we're committed to the Annan plan, and we believe that there's a unique and good opportunity to reach an agreement to allow for entry of a unified Cyprus into the EU on May 1st.
(Whereupon the briefing ended at 1:15 EST)
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