State Department Noon Briefing, May 17
|Monday May 17,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
MONDAY, MAY 17, 2004
1:15 p.m. EDT
MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department's briefing for today. I don't have any announcements and would be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: I don't know what you could add to the White House reaction about the assassination in Iraq. The White House, of course, doing the typical "we'll stay the course" type of reaction. The word "quagmire" comes to mind, but I guess that's editorializing.
You guys are still confident you're going to have a democracy in Iraq? And I know Saddam Hussein is gone, but aren't there other versions of Saddam Hussein that could take over the country, maybe with a more fundamentalist flair?
MR. ERELI: We'll be putting out a statement after today's briefing, I think, expressing our sense of sorrow and loss at the tragic assassination of the current President of the Iraq Governing Council, Izzedin Salim. As Ambassador Bremer said earlier, and I believe the President will say in a statement to be put out by the White House and Secretary Powell will reiterate, this is a shocking and tragic loss for the people of Iraq and for all of us who are committed to the prospect of a free and democratic and pluralistic country.
I would note the statements coming from a number of members of the Iraq Governing Council, I think that answer to your question, Barry, and reiterate their commitment to working toward that end, and, to the contrary to your suggestion, show their determination to achieve a better future for the people of Iraq, one that's based on the rule of law and equality and respect for the rights of minorities, as reflected in the Transitional Administrative Law.
So this is something that we all remain committed to, all rededicate ourselves to and will continue to work tirelessly to achieve. An important milestone on the path towards a fully democratic and pluralistic Iraq is the transfer of sovereignty on June 30th, which is proceeding at pace and will happen.
QUESTION: Do you attribute these attacks to impatience with the transfer of sovereignty? I mean, how does transfer of sovereignty relate to whether the security, either American or Iraqi or combined, is adequate to prevent this type of tragic event?
MR. ERELI: These attacks, unfortunately, are not new. We've been seeing them for some time. They are the product of a small number of former regime elements and other terrorists that seek to derail the will of the vast majority of Iraqis to have a country based on -- based on the rule of law and based on principles that the rest of the international community respect.
This, as I said, is not new. It remains something that we have to deal with. But I would also point to something very important. And that is that, you know, currently -- and this is something that people necessarily pay a lot of attention to -- but, currently, there are 210,000 Iraqis involved in providing security for their country. That's a significant contribution. It's a significant number of people, and that number is increasing.
Those are Iraqis involved in the police, involved in border security, involved in protecting infrastructure, involved in civil defense, and it makes a difference. It means that Iraqis are taking over responsibility for their country increasingly. We see that in the transfer of ministries. We see that in the spread of local councils. We see it in a whole host of ways.
So I would just underscore the fact that there is a tense security situation. It is something that we all have to work together on. But the Iraqis are doing their fair share and they're eager to do more, and we look forward to a transfer of sovereignty in which Iraq will be fully sovereign over its territory.
QUESTION: Do you have -- does the U.S. have a grasp on who did this?
Because, I mean, there are reports it was Zarqawi.
QUESTION: To follow on the Salim issue, can you tell us, first off, what role may have been discussed, if any, for him in the new interim government with Brahimi, or what his role was in the current Brahimi discussions? And can you talk about what is being done on the ground to -- I mean, this is in the context of other terrorist attacks, but, clearly, it was a targeted assassination of somebody involved in who was the President of the Iraqi Governing Council. I mean, this --
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't -- I'm not in a position to come to that conclusion that this was a targeted assassination attempt. All I think we can say at this point is that there was a bomb that blew up and killed people waiting to go into the Green Zone. Whether they knew that Salim was there or not, I have no way of being able to confirm that.
You asked about Brahimi and his role in -- or the process of putting together a transitional government and what was Mr. Salim's role in that process. Obviously, the relationship between Ambassador Brahimi and the Governing Council is a very close one and it's a very important relationship because, as we've said, the new government, the transitional government, is going to have to be based on a consensus between Iraqis, the Governing Council, the CPA and other actors on the Iraqi political stage.
So, obviously, as head of the -- President rotating -- or as the rotating President of the Iraqi Governing Council, Mr. Salim had an important role in those consultations. That role will be taken over by the new President, but also involves -- and it's important to point out -- all the members of the Governing Council, as well as Iraqis of prominence throughout society.
QUESTION: Was there any anticipated role for him in the interim government, or was that -- were discussions along those lines --
MR. ERELI: I'm not privy to or aware of sort of the state of who's in and who's out and the calculations of what the next -- the transitional government is going to look like, so I couldn't say.
QUESTION: Are you saying there is not concern that these people are being targeted for assassination? CPA says the car drove right up next to his car in a convoy and exploded.
MR. ERELI: I'm -- all I'm saying is that I can't confirm it for you. What we -- this is the second member of the Iraqi Governing Council brutally and senselessly killed. The first one was Ms. Aquila, who was also an Iraqi of, I think, great integrity, great dedication and great wisdom. It's a loss to the Iraqi people.
There are, I think, Iraqis every day, or fairly regularly, who are working for a better Iraq in a variety of capacities, from working on local councils to working with the coalition to working as teachers, who are targeted by assassins who have no aim other than to, I think, breed chaos and disorder so that the will of the majority won't prevail. Salim -- Mr. Salim is the latest victim of that, and we mourn it.
QUESTION: If you don't know who did it -- I mean, I don't want to get tedious here. You don't know who did it but you're able to say these acts are being committed by people who simply want to have chaos and disorder. How does the U.S. Government know whether there are people here with an agenda that they foresee a different Iraq from the one you do, the democratic Iraq that you're working hard to install, and that they have a different outcome in mind, maybe a fundamentalist autocracy, maybe something else, maybe a new kind of dictatorship? How do you -- if you don't know who did it, how can you be sure they're just freelance troublemakers and aren't people with a plan?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I guess --
QUESTION: It's inconsistent.
MR. ERELI: I guess maybe you're splitting too fine a hair on this.
MR. ERELI: I think if you ask, "Okay, is it Zarqawi or is it another group? Which specific group is it?" I can't tell you that.
MR. ERELI: Obviously, this attack fits the pattern of previous attacks carried out by what we call former regime elements or anti-coalition elements loosely linked to a web of terror that -- whose aims and purposes we think were articulated clearly by the Zarqawi memo of several months ago that talked about trying to foment a civil war, sowing disorder and creating the kind of conditions that would prevent a transfer of sovereignty and an Iraq that is run by Iraqis.
You raised the question of fundamentalist -- religious fundamentalist uprising and theocracies. That's an agenda that we just don't see here.
MR. ERELI: Let me go there. Saul.
QUESTION: The Secretary said that U.S. troops would withdraw from Iraq if the interim government makes that request. He's also said it's really unlikely. But the occupation is unpopular among Iraqis.
What is the United States doing to ensure that an interim government is not pressured to actually make such a request? Is there some kind of mechanism that you can put into the Status of Forces negotiations?
MR. ERELI: You're really posing a hypothetical that we -- that we don't see as -- that we see as so remote as to not necessitate the kind of actions you're suggesting. The hypothetical that we answered was a theoretical possibility. It is not one that we see as a realistic one, for the simple reason that in all of our conversations with the Iraqis, at almost every level through society, there is a strong desire on their part to have coalition forces remain in order to help Iraqis deal with the security situation and to help train and develop an indigenous capability to do with it; and there is a recognition that that's going to take time, and that we will need to arrive at accommodations to allow for the forces to stay and to allow for the kind of cooperation and training and unity of command that will fight this scourge.
I would also point out to you, there are a lot of people talking about Iraqis want this, Iraqis want that. There was a very instructive poll a couple of months ago that shows a lot of ambivalence about the occupation. Yes, they want occupation troops to leave -- people. But, yes, they're also concerned about security and don't want the troops to leave without taking care of security.
So you've got to look at both sides of the coin here. And I think when you look at the nuances and the different shades of popular feeling, you will see that it's not a black-or-white issue. It's not like June 30th comes and everybody should go. To the contrary, it's June 30th comes, help us to help ourselves.
QUESTION: I'd like to follow up on what he said. In addition to what the Secretary said about withdrawing, if the Iraqis ask them to do, there is an article in the Times of London today talking about that Washington and London actually put in a plan for withdrawal the moment the security situation stabilize, they're already thinking of leaving. And they're describing that as a strategic change in the U.S. and within policy in Iraq.
I mean, would you think that this is, again, adding more weight to the fact that now they are taking seriously that withdrawal from Iraqi is an option?
MR. ERELI: If you ask me, are you surprised that you're planning to -- you are drawing up plans to leave Iraq, I would say, no, I'm not surprised because we've already said we're not -- we don't plan to stay in Iraq. We don't want to stay in Iraq one day longer than is necessary. We're only going to stay in Iraq as long as we need to get the situation, the security situation, under control and enable the Iraqis to provide for their own security. And then, American troops will leave.
Now, obviously, if the Iraqi government -- there will probably be some lasting relationship, some lasting ties, some last -- some residual presence, as there are in most countries with whom we have longstanding relationships.
But the fact is, and we've always said this, America is not an imperial power. America is not in Iraq to occupy Iraq or conquer Iraq or keep Iraqi territory. We are in Iraq for a very clear purpose, and that is to free the country from a ruthless dictatorship, which we've done; and to enable the people to provide for themselves as a free and prosperous and democratic country. And once that -- and secure. And once that's done, we will leave as friends and allies.
QUESTION: Adam, considering that we're six weeks away from the turnover date, doesn't it strike you as somewhat odd that we don't have any idea of what shape of government there will be in Iraq considering that you, you know, on July 1, the whole Iraqi thing will be dropped in State's lap, so to speak, and they would have to negotiate Status of Forces Agreement and so on?
MR. ERELI: We have a very --
QUESTION: So how close are we? Do we have at least a vision of what kind of government there will be?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, we've articulated that vision, I guess, I thought pretty clearly, but maybe not clear enough.
There's -- on June -- if you look at the Transitional Administrative Law and the Brahimi plan, it says there's -- on June 30th, there's going to be a transfer of sovereignty. That sovereignty will be transferred to a president, two vice presidents and a prime minister, who will appoint a cabinet. Actually, I'm not sure they -- I think they appoint the cabinet. And that that transitional government will run Iraq for a period of about seven months until direct elections can elect a national assembly, which would then, you know, invest a legitimate, fully legitimate, full representative transitional government.
So we're talking about something that will be in place for about seven months, and the structure is -- the structure has been articulated. The sort of profile of what kind of people are being looked for has been articulated by Ambassador Brahimi.
I would also point out to you, as the Secretary has made clear these past couple of days, that, really, if you look, you can already see the outlines of this transition taking shape in the transfer to Iraqi authority of eleven ministries. Remember, under this Coalition Provisional Authority, it's the Coalition Provisional Authority that ran ministries with a Coalition Provisional Authority administrator or advisor over the ministry in making the ministry's decision. That relationship has ended in eleven ministries, including the Foreign Ministry, including the Ministry of Defense, including the Ministry of Health. I mean, these are important ministries that Iraqis are running for themselves and making decisions over, you know, resources and policy on their own, independent of, or relatively independent of, the CPA.
So I would say that: (a) the future is -- the outline is clear; (b)
if you look at what's going on now, you already see it taking place.
QUESTION: Adam, today, in a second bombing, traces of sarin gas were found and, apparently, two or more U.S. soldiers sickened. Are you having to warn other countries in the immediate area, such as Iran and Syria, and perhaps others? WMDs, of course, apparently, have not been found within the interior, in other words, homegrown in Iraq, but have you been monitoring that situation for foreign influences?
MR. ERELI: Obviously, the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq continues to be a primary concern of the United States, something -- and the coalition -- something that the Iraq Survey Group continues to work diligently on under the leadership of Charlie Duelfer. And their work is ongoing and so I think the jury is still out there.
Obviously, we know that Iraq had an active weapons of mass destruction program, they retained the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction, and we know they had the intent to do so.
As far as reports that sarin nerve agent were found in an artillery shell in connection with this latest explosion, I can't confirm that for you. An investigation is underway. What that investigation uncovers, I think, will give us some answers, but we don't have them right now.
On Iraq, still?
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Back to Salim. Which would be -- which would be worse for our situation there: that the President of the Iraqi Governing Council could be killed in a random act of terror; or that the President of the Iraqi Governing Council was targeted for assassination as we're trying to hand over power?
MR. ERELI: It's -- it's not a question for which there is, I think, a satisfactory answer. It's -- either way, it's terrible. Either way, Iraq and the friends of Iraq have lost a champion and someone whose, I think, contributions will be -- will be missed.
Whether it was by accident or by happenstance or design is irrelevant to us in the sense that we and the Iraqis are committed to fighting and rooting out and eliminating the people that are perpetrating these kinds of acts because they hurt Iraq, they hurt the future -- and they hurt the future of the region because they are preventing what the great majority of Iraq and the great majority of the international community want, which is a stable country that can live in peace with its neighbors.
So that's what we're committed to doing. That's how we're going to respond to this act. And that's the spirit in which we're going to mourn the loss of Mr. Salim.
QUESTION: Could you please switch to -- try to find -- what?
QUESTION: Can I just follow up the last question?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on his question again. I know you said this, too, earlier, but Mr. Zebari today said that it has been a target assassination. And the rumor is in Iraq basically that his name was mentioned as a possible name for the new Iraqi government. And if he's been assassinated because of that, then this is a new strategy basically that whoever did it are going after the people who are going to be appointed for the new government. Are you worried that this is going to affect the transfer of power to the Iraqis on June 30th?
MR. ERELI: You know, you're asking me to pronounce on a matter of fact that I am not in a position to do. I haven't seen what the foreign minister has said. I don't know what the investigators have uncovered. And so I'm a little reluctant to say conclusively this is a targeted killing or this isn't a targeted killing.
What I can say is that what you have seen in the response to this act, as expressed by the members of the Governing Council themselves, is a renewed determination to work together for the people of Iraq, to transfer sovereignty, to give Iraq back to the Iraqis and to continue along the path toward democracy and a free and sovereign Iraq.
That is what they, themselves, have said they're committed to, having seen the horrific acts and knowing the situation personally, firsthand. And I think that is the answer to your question. They, themselves, have said that this will not deter them; this will not dissuade them.
QUESTION: Can we go to the Gaza situation? We've heard endlessly, of course, how the U.S. doesn't want Israel to demolish homes, so if I can get beyond rhetoric, is there an analysis here that Israel is in the stages of planning a major offensive? And can you tell us, to the extent you know, what is the state of the discourse between the U.S. and the Israeli Government in trying to reverse whatever Israel is preparing to do?
MR. ERELI: We are discussing this issue with the Government of Israel, seeking additional information from the Israel Government of what it is doing and what its plans are with regard to the demolition of homes in Rafah.
MR. ERELI: I think the Secretary made clear our position on this issue yesterday. And it is important, from our point of view, that Israel, while recognizing its right to defend itself, while recognizing that the security situation on the border remains difficult, that Israel act with restraint.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on that?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Under the Geneva Convention, the demolishing of homes in an occupied territory is considered a war crime. Do you consider this a war crime?
MR. ERELI: I think our policy on that is well known, and I don't have anything new for you on it.
QUESTION: Do you see the Israeli action of continuing of this destroying the Palestinian homes, hundreds of homes, as a Israeli attempt to deepen the embarrassment of Secretary Powell in Amman, where he faced lots of criticism? And some people say that he didn't -- his speech sounded like he wasn't truly aware of the feelings of the Middle Eastern politicians in there about the situation in the Middle East and the grievances of the Arab world.
MR. ERELI: I think Secretary Powell is very well aware of the feelings in -- feeling in the Arab -- feelings in the Arab world, and the United States is sympathetic to their grievances. That is why we work, I think, so tirelessly on behalf of this issue, on behalf of trying to resolve the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians, and on behalf of acting resolutely against terror and against targeting of innocent civilians by terrorist groups that has done so much to scuttle and frustrate the hopes and efforts of those of us who are committed to a negotiated solution.
QUESTION: Do you see the Israeli action as a reason that they were trying to widen the gap or to cause more problem for Secretary Powell while he is meeting with the Arab foreign ministers in --
MR. ERELI: I don't see any basis for that speculation.
QUESTION: Well, is he -- can I just ask you?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are you getting a response from the Israeli Government? Here is a specific. The Secretary said yesterday, "This does not contribute to Israel's security." Is Israel responding to that and saying, "Yes, it does," or is it saying -- you know, we have no -- we know what you're in favor of. We know what you're telling Israel, but we don't know what Israel is saying in response of anything.
MR. ERELI: Do you want me to answer for the Israelis?
QUESTION: Mm-hmm -- no, I want you to tell us -- well, you have to answer for the U.S., too, because if you're not getting an answer from the Israelis, it says something about the accomplishments or lack of accomplishment of your initiative. You're asking them to do things. You're saying -- you're giving advice, you're saying, "This isn't going to improve your security." And do they come back and say -- what?
MR. ERELI: Again, I won't speak for the Israelis. But I will tell you that I think we are engaged with them on this issue. That dialogue is important, and we hope it will prove productive.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to the general topic of the Geneva Conventions that were raised earlier?
There was a report over the weekend that the White House Counsel, Mr. Gonzales, had come out with a memo, shortly after 9/11, saying that the events of that and the war on terrorism made the Geneva Conventions, essentially, in some cases, irrelevant, in other cases, the provisions being -- were made quaint.
I'm wondering if you can -- if you have anything to say about that, first of all, then I have a follow-up.
MR. ERELI: I would really refer you back to February 7th of 2002, when this issue was fully addressed when the White House announced its policy on the applicability of the Geneva Conventions.
QUESTION: I didn't remember in that, which I did look at, anyone referring to its provisions as being quaint or that it would be irrelevant.
MR. ERELI: Well, look back at that. And that -- look back on the White House's decision to apply -- regarding the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to Guantanamo detainees, there is a lot of -- a lot discussed about that decision at the time. We made our views clear.
I'll reiterate them now: that the State Department, as in all interagency discussions, presented a full consideration of its views in the interagency process. We think that's our obligation to promoting good policy; that all ramifications of decisions are considered. The decision, as stated on February 7th, was made, and that's a decision that we support.
I don't have much more to add.
QUESTION: Can you try to answer my question, though, which was about this memorandum?
MR. ERELI: Well, I don't --
QUESTION: You don't have --
MR. ERELI: I'm not in a position to comment on a White House memorandum.
QUESTION: Okay. What role does the State Department see the White House Counsel in having in the interpretation of treaties that are entered into by the United States and that are overseen by the State Department and not by political appointees, but by, rather, career diplomats who have institutional knowledge of international obligations, of the U.S. international obligations?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I think this decision, or the decision on applicability of Geneva Conventions to the Guantanamo detainees, was a -- was a decision made by the President, based on an interagency consultation, taking into account the views of multiple parts of the administration, including the White House Counsel, that has, as the President's chief legal advisor, has an appropriate and important role in the process.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say the State Department still considers all the Geneva Conventions to be -- to be relevant and applicable in this modern day and age, and that the State Department does not believe that any of its provisions -- any of the provisions in the several conventions, to which you're a party to, have been made quaint or irrelevant?
Do you -- is it the U.S. position that all of the Geneva Conventions remain relevant?
MR. ERELI: It's -- it's the -- I would say the U.S. position --
QUESTION: Well, I -- I'm not asking you about whether it should be applied to Guantanamo or not. That was answered, as you said, two years ago, and what your position was then -- on that then.
MR. ERELI: I'm not -- really not clear what you're asking.
QUESTION: You understand that now this -- that with various reports and allegations that are out there, that the atmosphere was such, created by that decision, that it led to abuses in other places. And if, in fact, the White House Counsel -- Counsel believes that parts of the Geneva Convention have been made quaint or irrelevant by the -- by what's happened in the war on terrorism, I don't -- I don't see why it's not appropriate to ask you if that's the -- if that's the position of the agency in the government which is responsible for overseeing these treaties.
MR. ERELI: Without commenting on what the White House has reported to have said or not said, because I'm not really in a position to confirm it one way or the other, I think it's safe to say that the Geneva Conventions are international legal instruments to which the United States is a party and will -- will act accordingly.
QUESTION: Adam, is there problems that you foresee, for instance, at the United Nations, with humanitarian-type committees and such? You'll get a country that suddenly takes a monthly round of chairing that committee, a committee that is looking for humanitarian and food relief, things of that sort, and that country themselves are suspect.
Recently, we've had the -- in Africa, the problems with Zimbabwe, with Darfur. And apparently there may be an ongoing dispute between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. If you can foresee a particular problem, it's -- one of the criticisms might be -- by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, other such groups -- is that you're late to actually maybe denounce a particular -- particular event that's occurring or policy of some of these governments.
MR. ERELI: What's the question?
QUESTION: So the question is, I think the reason that Matt has brought up his question is that it's -- you're criticized two and three years down the line to be a bit more proactive and demonstrative against governments. What are you doing to change those -- (laughter) --
MR. ERELI: I'm going to take the question. I'll just take the question.
QUESTION: It's just too long. It's just too long.
MR. ERELI: And we'll get back to you.
QUESTION: Make shorter questions.
QUESTION: I will, I will. I promise.
MR. ERELI: Yes, Saul.
QUESTION: I'd like to change the subject to Sudan.
MR. ERELI: Yes. Sudan.
QUESTION: Can you give us an update on what's happening with the visas?
MR. ERELI: As you know, last week, visas were issued to -- or visas were approved for all 27 of our staff that wanted -- that sought to go to Sudan. There are currently 11 who are now in Khartoum; 16 are outside of Sudan and will go when -- when we can sort of figure out how they can best be utilized there.
The problem, now, is getting permits to travel, for the 11 to travel in Sudan. As you know, a visa gets you into the country, but to travel around the country, you need permits. So if you want to go to Darfur, you have to get a permit from the government to go to Darfur.
My understanding is, once you get to Darfur, you need additional permits to go to different places there. So the 11 people in Khartoum did receive travel permits; however, the permits are only valid for three days, and the Government of Sudan requires 72 hours notice prior to travel, so that sort of renders the permits useless by the time they've received -- they're received.
And what we're doing now is requesting longer permits for the teams so that giving them permits will actually permit them to travel to Darfur. This is really, I guess, more of the same: making it difficult for humanitarian workers to do their job. And it's disappointing.
QUESTION: They're good for three days? In other words, from the date of application?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. You get your visa -- you get your permit and they're good for three days.
QUESTION: Are you sure about that? Because that sounds different than what was explained to us last week.
MR. ERELI: Here's what I'm -- what I'm given. The permits are for only three days. You get your permit, then you apply to travel, and you have to apply to travel 72 hours prior to the time you travel. So, by the time you travel, your permit is no longer valid.
QUESTION: Well, the understanding that it was before was that you apply -- you get -- you tell them you're going 72 hours in advance, you go 72 hours later, and then were there for three days. Is that not the case?
MR. ERELI: My understanding is that the permits are useless by the time they're received because of this 72-hour prior notification rule. That's -- so that, in effect, a three-day permit doesn't help you.
QUESTION: Okay. I'll --
MR. ERELI: But I will check --
QUESTION: -- because that sounds --
MR. ERELI: It's an important distinction.
QUESTION: Not only is it an important distinction, but it is very hard to believe that any government would be that stupid as to think that they could get away with that.
QUESTION: You don't think so?
MR. ERELI: No, I'm making commentary. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can you just -- on the numbers and the dates, which -- did all 11 of them receive the travel permits, and when was that? Because the six had been there for some time.
MR. ERELI: Right, yeah.
QUESTION: And just if you can get the numbers and chronologies --
MR. ERELI: I don't know if that's really -- really -- I guess why is it important if they all got -- they're all in Khartoum. They all got their travel permits. They've -- all 11.
MR. ERELI: There have been six there, I think, for well over a week. Another five came last week.
MR. ERELI: So this was all in the last couple of -- within the last week or so.
QUESTION: And the date that the worthless travel permits were issued was when -- Friday, Saturday?
MR. ERELI: I'll get that for you.
QUESTION: You have no reaction other than disappointment?
MR. ERELI: Well, I think that this is -- it was disappointing. We've been engaged on this issue. The Government of Sudan knows our concerns. There are people suffering in Darfur. It's urgent that humanitarian workers be allowed to go there. And we will continue to work to resolve this situation and get help to the people who need it.
QUESTION: Now, this is the DART team, right?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: You seem pretty patient. Is there a time when patience is going to run out?
MR. ERELI: This is an issue that requires, I think, persistence, determination and resolve. That's what we're bringing to bear here. I would also note that we have been working actively in the international arena to get access not just for our people but for aid workers from other countries, from the UN and from NGOs. So this is a -- this remains a full court press.
Still on Sudan? Okay, Sudan.
QUESTION: Adam, as you know, the Khartoum government has caused this uproar and crisis, both in Darfur and earlier in southern Sudan. Ex-Senator Danforth was there about a year or more ago trying to settle that controversy in the eastern portion of country. Where was the coalition to go after that central government in Khartoum?
MR. ERELI: I mean, we've been -- I think, as I said to Saul, our engagement with the Government of Sudan has been consistent and persistent and resolute, whether it's dealing with the tragedy in the south of Sudan or the tragedy in the west of Sudan in Darfur. These are longstanding issues that we are committed to helping resolve and that we will continue engaging the Government of Sudan toward that end.
QUESTION: Did you not say earlier about the imminent -- you know, incoming deal that's --
MR. ERELI: The imminent agreement?
QUESTION: Just around the corner?
QUESTION: Any day now?
MR. ERELI: President Bashir and Chairman Garang have both announced that the negotiations are close to conclusion. The drafting committee in Naivasha is finalizing the power-sharing section of the agreement, and both parties remain optimistic about signing an agreement soon.
QUESTION: So, on the power-sharing issue, they still -- they've concluded that. What has come up that has prevent -- that has provided a problem in the drafting?
MR. ERELI: I guess the best I can do for you on that is, Saul, is to tell you that, when you go from a verbal agreement to a written agreement, it's not necessarily an immediate translation, and that you have to -- it requires time.
QUESTION: Do you know what it is that one side thought they had --
MR. ERELI: No, I do not. I do not have details for you on the substance of the issues more than I've already indicated.
Okay, let's go to East Asia. Mr. Ota.
QUESTION: Sorry, I just want to ask about the working group in Beijing. The Secretary clearly said Friday there is no -- there was no breakthrough. And could you elaborate what was discussed in Beijing more from U.S. side?
MR. ERELI: The working group meeting -- the working group meeting in Beijing concluded on Friday, May 15th, with a meeting between Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo and the heads of the delegations. The meeting, I think, afforded all parties an opportunity to meet at a working level to review their positions. They spent three days, I think, going over where each stood on the important issues.
I think the important -- the important thing that came out of the meeting was a agreement to support a second working group meeting that would take place before the third plenary session, i.e., the end of June.
So good meeting, good exchange of views. Don't know that I would say that there were any breakthroughs, but an important agreement to try to get another working group meeting before the next plenary.
QUESTION: Have you found any slightest progress on the issue, I mean, substance, except just agreeing with the -- agreeing on the another around of talk? Can you say that?
MR. ERELI: You know, I'm not really in a position to declare progress or not progress. The fact is that, as we all know, there are different approaches to these issues. We believe that we have developed a strong consensus among the five on the need -- on the danger that North Korea's nuclear program poses to the peninsula and the international community, and the need for complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of that program.
It is now a question, I think, of moving forward in that. So, in that, I suppose, where they are is a symbol of progress, in the sense that you are addressing issues head on, you are meeting regularly at working levels, you're having a sustained dialogue and you're creating a process. That process, we expect, will, or should, produce results.
QUESTION: Adam, did you say that the five -- obviously, excluding North Korea -- are on board with the CVID?
MR. ERELI: As a goal, and that cannot --
QUESTION: Is that verifiable --
MR. ERELI: And that came out of the last working group -- at the last plenary.
QUESTION: The last plenary? Okay.
MR. ERELI: Oh, I'm sorry. Yes, Taiwan?
MR. ERELI: China.
QUESTION: Anyway, China issued a statement on Sunday sternly warning Taiwan not to press for independence, or it will crush their schemes. But, at the same time, they also offered the prospect for fresh peace talks and enhanced cooperation. So does this approach, abandon the independence in favor of dialogue, mirror the U.S. policy?
MR. ERELI: Let me give you our views on the Chinese statement, which I think you're asking about. Right?
MR. ERELI: Okay. This is a statement, as you say, that was issued, I believe, yesterday, on Sunday. There are portions in the statement that threaten the use of force against Taiwan, and we view those parts as unhelpful. And the use of force is a message that we, the United States, oppose.
I would also note that there are constructive portions of the statement, and we would urge Beijing to focus on those positive elements that talk about how the two sides can move relations forward. It has been our position, and it continues to be our position, that differences between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan need to be resolved peacefully, through dialogue, and that continues to be the direction that we urge both parties to take.
QUESTION: Adam, first, in this newly issued statements, there seems like a "One China" principle still be the precondition for dialogue, as Beijing issued. So U.S. already said that you urge both sides to continue dialogue without any preconditions. So, well, do you have any comment about --
MR. ERELI: There has been no change in our position. So, you know, we oppose the use of force, we oppose unilateral action by either side that would change the status quo, and we continue to encourage both sides to engage in dialogue to peacefully address their differences. And we reiterate, from our -- on our part, our commitment to fulfill our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: But we've got more. We've got a lot more. So if you want to go, go, but I'm going to stay until we answer the questions.
QUESTION: China's strong warning just came days before the inauguration, which suggests China feels, I mean, some sense of urgency in warning Taiwan's leader before he makes this speech. So does the U.S. share the same sense or urgency or concern, and, I mean, at the possible content of the speech?
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to speculate on what -- what were the motives behind the statement. I will, as I have, expressed our views of the statement and leave it at that.
QUESTION: Could you tell me whether the U.S. has been informed or had been informed before the Taiwan Affairs Office made that statement during the weekend? Did you --
MR. ERELI: Yes, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called Ambassador Randt on Sunday to preview the statement.
QUESTION: On the other side, are you getting any briefings of any kind on what President Chen might be saying on Thursday, during his inaugural?
MR. ERELI: Nothing that I have to share with you, or nothing that I'm aware of, frankly.
Oh, I'm sorry. Do you have one more question?
QUESTION: Yes, yes. In the Taiwan Affairs Office statement, there is a -- there seems to be a new element, which is, through discussion, putting an end to hostilities across the Taiwan Strait and building military confidence-building measures, confidence-building measures militarily. My question is: Is the United States prepared to help, do anything to help facilitate that goal?
MR. ERELI: I really have nothing more to add than what we -- than our, sort of, traditional message on our commitments to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act. We'll continue to fulfill those commitments and to provide for Taiwan's defense.
QUESTION: Still on this.
QUESTION: The Secretary --
QUESTION: Sorry. When the Ambassador was reviewing this preview of the document or the statement, did he note to the Chinese that it was going to be unhelpful to have the aspects about use of force in it?
MR. ERELI: I don't, Saul, have any details for you on the Ambassador's discussions with the Chinese. So I couldn't tell you what was said in that meeting.
QUESTION: It's something about Hong Kong.
MR. ERELI: Okay. Hong Kong, and then we'll go to Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: Okay. Assistant Secretary Kelly just visit Hong Kong. And I wondered, do you have anything to brief us? Did he, you know, get any chance to talk with the people there and express U.S. concern about the democracies?
MR. ERELI: Let me check with colleagues in East Asia and Pacific Affairs and see if I have anything to share with you on Secretary Kelly's visit.
Yes, Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: Yes. Any comment of the upcoming visit to Washington, D.C., this Wednesday, by the Greek Prime Minister Konstandinos Karamanlis?
MR. ERELI: That is a visit that is -- he's coming to visit President Bush. And that, therefore, is a visit that will be handled by the White House. And I'd refer you to them for comment on the visit.
QUESTION: According to Reuters News Agency, your Ambassador to Greece, Tom Miller, stated, "I am not anymore Ambassador to Greece. I am a security officer." May, then, we know what Miller's status to Greece right now? What is going on exactly?
MR. ERELI: He is an ambassador who is very busy with security issues related to the Olympics.
QUESTION: According to the same dispatch and referring to the Olympic Games in Athens, Tom Miller said, "We focus on an al-Qaida-type of things." Do you know what he's talking about, and what exactly Tom Miller role is in Greece right now?
MR. ERELI: As the U.S. Ambassador, Tom Miller's role is to, I think, manage relations between -- as the President's representative -- between the Government of Greece and the Government of the United States, and he's doing that very ably on the issues across the board that concern Greece and the United States: economic, political, commercial and security.
Obviously, the global war on terror is one of -- one of our primary concerns internationally and bilaterally with countries around the world. We are working with Greece, as you well know, to ensure a safe and secure Olympics, and, in that capacity, the United States Ambassador is very active.
QUESTION: Greek police arrested three British journalists in the last two days, who tried to sneak into the main Olympics stadium last Saturday without permission by the government. Do you have anything on that, or you can comment?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Why no?
MR. ERELI: These are British journalists?
QUESTION: Just a minute. You are concerned about the security of the Olympic Games. A lot is going on. Those three guys have no any credentials -- something like that -- they have tried to sneak into the Olympic stadium, they have been arrested and they have been sent, even, to London. And I was wondering what is position of U.S. Government.
MR. ERELI: Our position -- the position of the U.S. Government is that the Greeks have committed to hosting a safe and secure Olympics, and we have every confidence that they will do that, and we will continue to assist them in every way that's appropriate.
And as far as security incidences in Greece, I'll leave it to the Greek security authorities to comment.
QUESTION: In the Greek newspaper Pontiki, P-o-n-t-i-k-i, which means mouse, a proclamation appeared by a group named Revolutionary Struggle for its countries of which Greece has been attacked in the name of terrorism and ordered by the entire American press whether (inaudible), including by the local newspaper, was composed. Any comment on this campaign?
MR. ERELI: Address it to the press.
QUESTION: What did you say?
MR. ERELI: Address the question to the press. We're not attacking Greece at all.
Mr. Preston --
QUESTION: How do you explain the fact that any appeal group in Greece is considered by the media as terrorists?
MR. ERELI: I don't know that that's true. I don't think that's true.
QUESTION: What's not true? Did you read what happened the last three days by 45 newspaper, and actually I'm talking of the larger, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, et cetera, et cetera, to this effect?
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. I just don't really want to get into a debate about how the U.S. press treats groups in Greece. That's between you and the U.S. press. I think that as far as the U.S. Government is concerned, as far as the State Department is concerned, Greece has committed to a safe and secure Olympics, and we're confident that they'll be able to do that.
QUESTION: Last week, the spokesman of the Republic of Cyprus, Kypros Chrysostomides, met here at the Department of State with your spokesman, Ambassador Richard Boucher. Do you know anything about that, what is the purpose of this meeting, and if they discussed any change of your policy vis-à-vis to the Republic of Cyprus after the referenda?
MR. ERELI: I don't think they discussed any change in policy because there's no change in policy that I'm aware of. As you know, Ambassador Boucher has the title of Ambassador because he served as the President's Representative to the Republic of Cyprus. In that capacity, he made a lot of friends in Cyprus, and I believe that these gentlemen were acquaintances of his. They were in town and they took the opportunity to get together, which is, I think, normal and welcome.
MR. ERELI: Okay. No. That was done with Mr. Lambros. We still have more back here. I was just talking about Lambros.
QUESTION: Congressman Waxman sent a letter to the Secretary today about the -- there was also an article about it in the Post today about the issue of the Report on Global Terrorism, allegations that some of the data was manipulated, that it showed fewer incidents last year, and whereas the numbers might show otherwise. Do you have any comment on that at all?
MR. ERELI: No, I haven't seen the letter, so I really couldn't comment to it. Are you talking about the "Report on Global Patterns of Terrorism?"
QUESTION: Yeah, it was in -- there's an op-ed in the Post, as well, on the same subject.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I'm sorry. I didn't read it. But let me look into it and see if we can get you an answer from Counterterrorism.
QUESTION: The 28th is an important date in Venezuela because the 800,000 people whose votes were scratched by the government have one day or two days to reinstate them, despite all of the maneuvers and trickery of the government. What is your take at this point on this referendum that you've been holding up as the solution to the Venezuelan crisis?
MR. ERELI: Our take hasn't changed from the last time we talked about this issue.
We support the efforts of the Carter Center, the OAS and the Friends of Venezuela to ensure that a credible, constitutional and transparent process reflecting the will of the Venezuelan people is carried through. As you say, there will be a review of the signatures invalidated in a few weeks. It's important that everybody be given an opportunity to participate in this without harassment and without coercion, and that the will of the people be heard and be respected.
QUESTION: So the international observers are thrown out, as the government politicians are urging?
MR. ERELI: That's, obviously, something that we would not -- we would not support. But we continue, I think, along with our friends in the Carter Center and the OAS and the Friends of Venezuela, call on the government and call on the people of Venezuela to allow this to proceed peacefully and according to -- according to the procedures that have been laid out.
QUESTION: Following the Indian elections, do you foresee any particular advantages or problems with a total opposition government coming in?
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to opine on domestic Indian politics.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:15 p.m.)
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