State Department Noon Briefing, May 19
|Wednesday May 19,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
WEDNESDAY, MAY 19, 2004
1:05 p.m. EDT
MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to our briefing today. I don't have any announcements and welcome your questions.
QUESTION: Well, naturally enough, on Gaza. The ambassador, our U.S. Ambassador, spoke to the Israelis in Tel Aviv, I assume, seeking information and clarification. Could you give us an idea of what he was told? We know what Olmert said here yesterday. But, of course, there are new events, new losses of life. What is the U.S., through Mr. Kurtzer, finding out from the Israelis that you can share with us?
MR. ERELI: Let's begin by recognizing that there was a tragic loss of life today in Gaza. The President has just spoken to this at the cabinet meeting. We are deeply troubled, troubled by these casualties of civilians in Gaza, and as well as the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Rafah in southern Gaza.
As the President pointed out, it is essential that innocent life be respected in order for us to be able to achieve peace. As you said, Barry, the U.S. Government, at a variety of levels and a variety of capacities, has been in close contact with the Government of Israel about the circumstances of today's incident.
The Government of Israel has expressed its regret and has told us that it will be investigating this incident fully. I don't have anything -- anymore details than that for you. I think we all recognize the nature, the severity of what happened today. But let's let the Israelis investigate, and let's make the point that restraint is critical on all sides.
QUESTION: No, we're not finished. This is liable to take some time. Regret about what? Regret about today's incident? Regret about the loss of life, generally? What is the Israeli Government telling the U.S. it regrets, if it was specific?
MR. ERELI: I would refer you to the statements by the Israeli Government that expressed regret for today's incident in Gaza.
QUESTION: Okay. And you say at various levels, has the Secretary of State been in action on this?
MR. ERELI: The Secretary of State has not spoken to any Israeli officials at this point.
QUESTION: And does the U.S. accept or -- is the U.S. satisfied with the Israeli response?
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to character -- I don't think there's a need to characterize our, our views of the Israeli response. I think what's important to point out here is that we have registered our deep concern. We have made it clear that restraint is critical. And we've made it clear that innocent life has to be respected on both sides.
QUESTION: One last thing and then I'll give someone else a chance. The Israeli Vice Prime Minister met with the Secretary yesterday, and then he came down with the Ambassador, and they gave their explanation or account of what they're doing, which is to try to destroy tunnels through which weapons are passed on to what some people call, "militant groups," other people call terrorist groups; and that they're not aiming at homes, but indeed, when they go after the tunnels, homes often are damaged.
They likened the assault on Israel to the condemnation -- that there was a massacre in Jenin, which, of course, turned out not entirely to be the case. What is the U.S. view of what Mr. Olmert -- nobody came down with him from the U.S. Government -- of what Mr. Olmert said? Is that an acceptable explanation, today's event aside?
MR. ERELI: I will not try to give you commentary on another government's statement. What I will tell you is what our position is. And that position is that we oppose the demolition of homes of innocent Palestinians. We've made that clear to the Government of Israel in the meeting with Mr. Olmert, as well as in meetings with other officials.
We have also recognized Israel's right and the importance of Israel's right of self-defense, and we have urged them to act with restraint to avoid taking actions that are provocative or that exacerbate the security situation.
QUESTION: So, presumably, they could destroy a tunnel that runs -- that is implanted in a house, but somehow the house would not be affected.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I'm not going to get into --
QUESTION: Is that what you're --
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to get into sort of technical --
QUESTION: Is that what the State Department thinks?
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to get into technical hypotheticals. I think we've made our views very, very clear.
MR. ERELI: And I'll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Could I have a follow-up?
MR. ERELI: Let's go to Nadia and then --
QUESTION: When you say the Israelis told you they are investigating, what exactly are they investigating? Is it the fact that they're hitting peaceful demonstrators with their rocket that came from -- or missile coming from a helicopter or a tank, or actually they're investigating that it was a mistake that the actual missile was hit within the --
MR. ERELI: Investigating the circumstances of this incident, what exactly happened, what were the reasons for that happening, and what -- I think that's the best way I could put it.
QUESTION: Adam, if -- while the investigation is underway, could the United States, under the Arms Export Act, ask Israel to suspend its operation using American weapons in situations like this? Because they conclude --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, as we've said before, Said, the provisions of the Arms Export Control Act are fairly well known and come into play in certain specific circumstances. And I don't think it's necessarily applicable to this situation, so I don't think the question necessarily pertains.
QUESTION: But considering that this is an ongoing operation, the Israeli Defense Minister said this will go on for a very long time, so we are likely to have incidents like this again, could you at least say or can you --
MR. ERELI: We have spoken -- we have spoken -- every time this comes up, you ask the same question.
MR. ERELI: We've spoken to it.
QUESTION: But you never answered it.
MR. ERELI: But the answer is the same today as it was previously, and that is that the requirements of the Act are very specific and I refer you to the Act, and that will give you your answer.
QUESTION: Do the Palestinians, too, have the right to defend themselves? They are an occupied party being killed by occupiers. Do they have the right for self-defense?
MR. ERELI: Let's take a -- let's take a broader view of this. I think the important point to make here, and what today's -- and what the violence over the last several days and weeks shows us, is that violence is not going to solve this problem. Realizing the President's vision of two states living side by side is going to require dialogue and political compromise, and that is where we are trying to move the focus, rather than an endless cycle of rhetorical debate about who did the -- or along the questions that you posed.
It's clear that to us that the Palestinian Authority needs to do more to fight terror, that they haven't done enough; and that there are elements, terrorist elements, among the Palestinians, organizations that are bent on frustrating the ambitions and desires of the great majority of Palestinians who want to live in peace with Israel; and that there is -- that the leadership of the Palestinian Authority has committed itself to a political process to help achieve that goal. And our position is let's get back to that political process. Let's take the steps, effective steps, to end the violence and to reengage in a dialogue based on the roadmap.
QUESTION: So there's no rights for no self-defense?
MR. ERELI: I said I'm just -- as I said, I'm not going to get into that debate. We're going to focus our efforts on encouraging -- encouraging dialogue, encouraging a political process based on the roadmap that gets at some of the terrorist activity that frustrates progress while, at the same time, seeks to take tangible steps to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians and to bring them the kind of autonomy and authority that they're seeking.
And that is why -- that is one of the reasons why -- we think that the Sharon plan provides such an opportunity because it offers a chance of breaking the cycle of violence, withdrawing from territory, abandoning settlements, giving Palestinians control over land, and reinvigorating institutions that can meet the needs of the people.
That's where we want to see things going, and that's the direction we're trying to move things in.
I'm sorry. Elise.
QUESTION: But not -- all of that notwithstanding, I mean, even if the Palestinians are willing to take some steps, or anything like that, it doesn't seem like it's going to be done in the amount of time that this ongoing operation is happening today, right now. And you've been urging Israel to kind of take more care and, you know, avoid civilian casualties for at least a good part of this week. And that doesn't seem to be happening. So what can you do to stop it?
MR. ERELI: We are going to continue to engage closely with the Israeli Government and with the Palestinians to do everything we can to get them to exercise restraint; to turn the focus to dialogue and to engagement; and to move decisively against terror.
That was, I think, the substance of the Secretary's meeting with Abu Alaa. It is the substance of meetings between American and Israeli and Palestinian officials in other fora. And it is the path that we think is the best path to produce results.
QUESTION: The UN's human rights envoy is calling this a war crime and a violation of humanitarian -- international humanitarian law, and wants the Security Council to look at that, as well as at an arms embargo against Israel. Is the U.S. willing to look at that, or do you reject it outright?
MR. ERELI: I haven't seen those reports. I would note that there is, currently, a discussion underway in the Security Council regarding a draft resolution. Those elements, obviously, are not part of it. And so the question, in that sense, is a bit hypothetical, but -- so I --
QUESTION: It's not hypothetical that he's called it a war crime and wants the Security Council to look at it. Is the U.S. willing to look at that, to consider it enough to have a set of remarks?
MR. ERELI: I'm not -- like I said, Teri, I haven't seen the remarks. I'm not prepared to engage them until I've seen them.
Our focus now is on a Security Council resolution that is being debated within the Security Council, and we think that's the appropriate vehicle at the moment to address this issue.
QUESTION: Would you consider an arms embargo against Israel, or is that out of the question?
MR. ERELI: I think that's a hypothetical that I'm not going to speculate on.
QUESTION: You said that our position is very clear in terms of Rafah and what's been going on there, and that is that we do not support the -- we oppose the destruction of homes of innocent Palestinians.
How many innocent Palestinians are homeless now because their homes have been destroyed versus guilty Palestinians? And what exactly -- does that -- that leaves open the possibility that we, I assume, support the destruction of some homes? Whose homes are those? How is that determination made? Is it made in court? Is it made by a field commander? Is it made by a guy on a bulldozer? What's the -- what home destruction do we support?
MR. ERELI: You're asking a question that would -- that I'm not a position to give you a judgment on. Simply -- let me finish.
MR. ERELI: I'm not in a position to give you a judgment on. I think when you see, when you see women and children out on the street without a home that it's, it's very difficult to understand how that can be justified. And really, that's the approach that we're taking to this issue.
I'm not going to argue that -- I'm not going to try to give you a definition of what's justified or what's not justified, what's innocent or what's guilty. I can't do that. What I can tell you is that we are troubled by these scenes of devastation and we would urge, urge everyone to take the steps necessary to avoid them -- avoid providing provocations, avoid giving people the excuse to do it in any way. And that's what is so important about urging restraint and breaking the cycle of violence for the simple reason that the distinctions and semantics that you raise are sometimes very, very blurred.
QUESTION: Well, I mean you said our policy is clear, so I just want a clarification of innocent Palestinians are. And do you know how many innocent Palestinians are now homeless?
MR. ERELI: I do not know that.
QUESTION: Do you -- because we were told yesterday by the Israeli Ambassador that the Palestinians are destroying their own homes. Is that a position that the U.S. also --
MR. ERELI: I don't have any evidence to substantiate that.
QUESTION: Our point was that, that the ambassador said it outside after meeting. Was it an ex -- was it something that they mentioned in the meeting?
MR. ERELI: Not that -- I wasn't in the meeting, so I couldn't tell you definitively yes or no, but it's not something that I was aware of.
We're still on this subject.
QUESTION: Yeah, same subject. Do you keep any statistics of how many homes have been destroyed, let's say, since the beginning of May, how many people are made homeless? Do you have a way of doing that?
MR. ERELI: I can check into it for you. I'll look into it for you.
QUESTION: Same subject. Are Palestinian demonstrations as a terrorist activity or what? What do you call them?
MR. ERELI: I mean, I would not call a demonstration, a peaceful demonstration, a terrorist activity. But I don't think -- I don't know that that description has been made, certainly not by us.
QUESTION: Sir, hypothetically, if the description is determined to be the case, that there were actually innocent, will you condemn in the strongest terms --
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry, Said. Let's --
QUESTION: -- the death of Palestinian innocent --
MR. ERELI: Let's leave things -- I'm going to leave things where they are, where I said they are. They're investigating. We are deeply troubled, deeply concerned, call for restraint and call for the end of -- call for the respect of innocent life.
QUESTION: Adam, I just --
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: I know you -- I'm sorry if you discussed this already, but why are you entrusting Israel to investigate? Because any time you've ever asked Israel to investigate before, to my knowledge, they've come back with their rationale that they've been giving you on any given circumstance. Why aren't you undertaking your own investigation?
MR. ERELI: You know, we will -- we will ask for the facts. We will look at those facts. We will come -- we will work with -- we will work with our partners to come to an understanding of what happened. And I think let's just leave it at that.
QUESTION: According to UNRWA, which is a UN organization works in Gaza, and ICRC and Amnesty International, they put the figure of people who were made homeless to a thousand so far. Is the U.S. doing anything to alleviate the suffering in terms of humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I would note that the United States is the leading donor to the Palestinians. We give 75 million a year in assistance through NGOs working in areas in the Palestinian Authority and we give 75 million a year to UNRWA, so we are a large supporter of that on a regular basis.
As to whether there are additional monies or resources being considered for UNRWA, I'm not aware of that. But let me look into it. And if there are, we'll get back to you.
Still on this subject? Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Secretary Powell was more direct than normal over the weekend in his criticism of Israel, certainly more so than the White House, and today President Bush wasn't too strong in his criticism. Is there a strategy to have Colin Powell out more in front on this, being more critical than the White House?
MR. ERELI: I guess I would take issue with your characterization of the public line. Both the Secretary and the White House spokesman have used the same language on this. They have both said we are opposed to the destruction of homes of innocent Palestinians, so that there is a consistency of publicly expressed views by the U.S. Government. So I guess the premise -- I would take issue with the premise of the question.
QUESTION: The Administration has made clear what it wants the Israelis to do and has reiterated their right to self-defense. What is it that the Administration wants the Palestinians in Rafah to do during this operation?
MR. ERELI: Well, we believe that there are security measures that can and should be taken urgently, both by the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Egypt, with the support of the international community, to address the problems in this area: first and foremost, to work to end the smuggling of arms and prevent the -- you know, prevent the use of these tunnels; to train Palestinian police; and to reestablish dialogue.
QUESTION: But something like train police is a longer term. I'm talking about what do they do during the operation. Should they leave their homes? Should they shoot back?
MR. ERELI: Honestly, Saul, I don't have the level of operational insight into what's going on there to give you a detailed answer to that question. What I would say --
QUESTION: But you were saying what the Israelis should do --
MR. ERELI: What I would say -- what I would say is this. What I would say is this, is that this is a time for both the Palestinians and the Israelis to exercise maximum restraint. That means avoid provocations, take steps to alleviate humanitarian suffering and to prevent and move against terror activities.
QUESTION: Are you aware of complaints by the Palestinians that ambulances and other rescue vehicles were blocked on their way to rescue people? And over the last few days --
MR. ERELI: That is a recurring complaint. I think -- I haven't seen the latest ones. But that would certainly go to the point that I just made about taking steps to ease the humanitarian suffering of the Palestinian people.
QUESTION: So this is something the U.S. brings up with Israel and asks them to --
MR. ERELI: It is -- reports such as those are part of our ongoing bilateral dialogue.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on the question of the public line here. You said, both the Secretary and the White House spokesman have used the same language on this. The President gave a major address yesterday, himself, and didn't mention this. What message is that sending?
MR. ERELI: The message that that's sending is that you will not see that language in every utterance by a senior official on every public occasion.
MR. ERELI: We'll go to you, Mr. Lambros, next.
QUESTION: Just following up on my colleague's comment. The media in the Middle East is viewing the United States' stand now as siding with Israel, right or wrong, and that the United States is very capable actually of taking a tangible steps to stop the Israeli massacre of the Palestinians there.
Do you see your reluctance to use stronger language or taking stronger stand as inflecting actually a negative impact on the public policy, the American public policy in the Middle East?
MR. ERELI: We are using the language that we think is appropriate for the circumstances. We have seen the tragic loss of life, innocent life, and we are calling it like we see it. We are saying that it's important to get the facts, and that innocent life must be respected. That's what we're saying based on what we've seen, based on what we know. I don't think that implies a bias or a lack of concern for what has happened. And I would urge those who hear our message not to read into it, support for one side over the other side.
QUESTION: But when you say, as you gave three steps, avoid provocation, alleviate human suffering, and take steps against terrorism, don't you think that Israel can use that last point to say that that's what they're doing? And their justification is that they are taking steps against terrorism.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I was referring to Palestinians taking steps against terror.
QUESTION: Okay. Because you said both sides. So I just thought that --
MR. ERELI: Thank you for that clarification.
MR. ERELI: Any more on Rafah?
Okay. Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: Yes, on Cyprus. The Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, asked yesterday, the UN -- during his meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan -- to continue to pursue reunification with the Republic of Cyprus saying, "I am not ready to accept the recent developments as a full stop, but only as one phase in the process."
What is the U.S. position on the Cyprus issue under the present circumstances?
MR. ERELI: Our position on the Cyprus issue under the present circumstances is, we regret the referendum that did not approve the Annan plan. We feel that that was a historic opportunity that was lost. We are conducting, at the present time, an interagency review of our Cyprus policy. That review is still underway so I don't have any new details to share with you.
Our goal is to help ease the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, given that they expressed their clear desire for peace with Greek Cypriots and membership in the European Union. We are coordinating our efforts in this area with the European Union and, in that context, we would note that the Greek Cypriots have said that they share the goal of extending EU benefits to the Turkish Cypriots as well.
QUESTION: One question. Are you planning any new initiative right now to this effect?
MR. ERELI: As I said, we have an interagency review underway, but no decisions have been made, so I don't have anything specific to share with you.
QUESTION: How long it's going to take?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't put a time limit on it.
QUESTION: And one other. In the recent days, we notice the lack of criticism by the American President regarding the security over the Olympic Games in Athens. I am wondering, as the U.S. Government, are you satisfied with your cooperation with Greece for the safe games, and do you still have confidence that the Greek Government and the new Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is going to succeed there?
MR. ERELI: Yes, Mr. Lambros, I will give you the same answer today that I gave you yesterday; that we continue to have confidence in Prime Minister Karamanlis' commitment to host a safe and successful Summer Olympics.
QUESTION: On Iraq. Italy is asking for the Iraqi government to have a say over Iraqi forces after June 30th, and the Secretary has said that the U.S. commander will obviously have sensitivity to Iraqi needs and that there will be consultations. But those two things are not quite the same. Is there anything that you're looking to put into the Status of Forces Agreement or in the UN resolution that can make clear what exactly the relationship between the Iraqi forces and the U.S. commander will be?
MR. ERELI: We have spoken, I think, to this issue fairly -- fairly clearly, but let me just give you a summary, if I may.
Iraqi forces will be under the -- will report to the Minister of Defense. As far as security and stability operations in Iraq go, after the transfer of sovereignty, we are looking at mechanisms for a unified command that would allow forces from a variety of nations, including Iraq, obviously, to operate in a coherent, coordinated way.
Those arrangements of unity of command mechanisms are really nothing new, and the situation we're looking at in Iraq is not -- well, maybe on a scale it's different, but by its nature is not different, from a number of such arrangements in different areas of conflict or instability.
In Kosovo, in Bosnia, in other international deployments involving coalitions, involving different countries, you have countries that have command over their forces, but for operational reasons, also buy into a unified command under the head of one authority. So that's going to be the arrangement in Iraq. And I think that that arrangement takes -- addresses the Italian concerns that you mentioned.
QUESTION: So where is it that they have a say over what their forces do, because they're under the U.S. command?
MR. ERELI: The Iraqi soldiers report to Iraqi, Iraqi command authority, the same way that Polish soldiers report to a Polish command authority. But when you are, when you are conducting operations, or deploying forces, or moving forces around, for, I guess, operational coherence reasons, you need a unified command.
Now, the decisions that that unified command makes are a product of discussion, consultation, with the different components of the unified command, be they Iraqi or be they forces from other countries. So it is a -- it is a process of consultation. It is not a process -- it is not something like you seem to be suggesting where, you know, you have to go here and you can't go there. It's a little bit more, I think, fluid and professional than that.
QUESTION: And are you going to listen to -- obviously, you listen to France, but will you do anything about their request that there's actually a time limit on the multinational force?
MR. ERELI: We've seen that. We've seen that. I think that's an issue that's being addressed fairly, fairly collegially in the discussions on -- the informal discussions on a UN resolution, which are underway.
QUESTION: Let me paraphrase an issue that was raised earlier today.
Come June 30th or July 1, the Embassy will continue to be in the Green Zone. Now it is occupied. What will the relationship be? Is it going to be rented? Is it going to be bought? Or is it going to be, since, you know, your presence there will be totally diplomatic and sovereignty will be turned over to the Iraqis, so, have you worked that out?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Obviously, we'll -- we'll -- there will have to be an arrangement with the government of Iraq for use of that land. Again, this is an issue that we deal with in embassies around the world. There are different arrangements depending on the different circumstances in the country, so we will obviously have to arrive at an agreement with the government of Iraq. That is something that I don't think will pose any great obstacle or difficulty.
QUESTION: Something else?
MR. ERELI: On Iraq?
QUESTION: Still Iraq.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. You?
QUESTION: If I can, yeah.
MR. ERELI: Well, let's -- you had one -- we'll go to --
QUESTION: Sure. Sure.
MR. ERELI: Nadia.
QUESTION: You know, yesterday one of the Iraqi National Council express pessimism about the security situation, and after that, the assassination of the president. Now they think that the security situation is so bad that, in fact, it will prevent the handover of power on June 30th. Do you share that point of view?
MR. ERELI: I hadn't seen that view expressed. It's not -- it sounds a little extreme, quite frankly.
We are not hearing or seeing, from among those who we're having discussions with on the political transition, that kind of dire assessment. Obviously, security remains a concern. Obviously there are actions that are being taken to address it, but the political -- the process of political transition is moving forward and I -- Ambassador Brahimi continues his consultations there.
We are in active discussions with him and with Iraqi, Iraqi leaders of all stripes and groups -- looking forward to putting together an interim government that will take over on July 1st, and I think it's on track.
QUESTION: Anything else?
MR. ERELI: Still Iraq?
QUESTION: How soon will the names emerge that are going to be in the interim government? Will there be enough time, for example, for what Russia wants, which is them to sort of be assessed internationally? And have you got enough time to, with them, make these agreements that you're talking about?
MR. ERELI: Well, we need to remember that this process is being conducted according to a plan laid out by Mr. Brahimi in February, I believe. I may be corrected on that, but, basically, on the Brahimi plan, and that plan calls for an interim government that is arrived at by consensus to be -- to take over on July 1st.
Mr. Brahimi is fully engaged in, I think, the final stages of that process. I would refer you to him and his office for the exact steps, according to which the process will end, what is going to be done by who, when and where.
But suffice it to say, that consultations continue to be good, continue to be positive, and we expect that we will have a government in place to take over Iraq by June 30th.
QUESTION: I haven't asked in a long time or heard in a long time. Is the U.S. looking still for a government that's ethnically and in other ways diverse?
MR. ERELI: Mr. -- Ambassador Brahimi has spoken to the criteria that he's looking for: Iraqis of integrity and -- integrity and experience and wisdom that are representative of Iraq. And I would leave it at that. I think, obviously, the ethnic composition of the government is something that's, you know, a big topic of discussion.
QUESTION: After the transfer of power, I know that Ambassador Negroponte will report to Secretary of State Colin Powell and on to the President, and then General Abizaid will report to the Pentagon and on to the President. But to coordinate between the two is there a special liaison office, or are you thinking of a special liaison office that is actually to work out whatever problems that they have?
MR. ERELI: There are representatives of the combatant commander assigned to the embassy. So there will be a number of -- there will be a number of mechanisms and processes by which General Abizaid can coordinate and communicate with Ambassador Negroponte, not the least of which is direct communication between the two of them.
But to put it simply, Iraq would be like -- our embassy in Iraq would be like our embassies everywhere, where in an area of responsibility for a combatant commander, there are, within the embassy, representatives of the combatant commander assigned to the embassy that are responsible for that kind of coordination.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about something else?
QUESTION: No, wait.
MR. ERELI: On Iraq?
QUESTION: No? Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to Ayatollah al-Sistani's call for all armed elements to get out of Najaf?
MR. ERELI: We have seen those -- we have seen those comments. I think what it shows you is that support for Mr. al-Sadr and his militias among the Shiite community is -- is not there, that he's isolated. And we are, I think, actively working to ensure that his militia cannot continue to run lawless through communities that really don't want him there.
QUESTION: Are you optimistic that these remarks will help?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't -- I wouldn't want to characterize it really one way or the other. I think it's in -- it's noteworthy, but -- and we continue to keep up the pressure. And we continue to be, I think, committed to making sure that this man is -- and his followers, or this man, let's say, is brought to justice by Iraqis under Iraqi -- under Iraqi law.
QUESTION: Will there be a U.S. delegation to the Taiwan President's inaugural?
MR. ERELI: I believe we talked about that last week -- or, actually, we didn't. The American Institute in Taiwan announced that Representative Leach would be leading an -- leading a group going there. But I wouldn't -- I'd refer you to their statement -- that status.
QUESTION: I wanted to verify that there is one because there's a report that the Chinese Government is objecting to the sending of the delegation. So have you got a -- have you heard a complaint and --
MR. ERELI: I've seen the reports, but I'm not aware of any official demarche.
QUESTION: Adam, could I talk about -- or ask you about North Korea?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: I suppose you saw the story about North Korea raising the issue of light-water reactors at -- in the working group. And there's a report of a U.S. response, which is not -- which was not entirely negative. Do you have anything on that?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, that's really not accurate. We did not -- we did not, I would say, welcome or entertain in any way that idea, for a number of reasons: number one, because, really, the light-water reactor issue is something that KEDO deals with; but number two, and more importantly, our goal at the working group is to reach consensus on, by everybody on the need for a complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament.
Talking about one program or another, one aspect of North Korea's nuclear program or another aspect of the nuclear program is not where we're at. Where we're at is complete, talking about all the programs together, and verifiable and irreversible.
So before we talked about any one aspect of the program, we're going to want to get recognition that complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement is the agreed upon goal, and not -- and in addition to that, getting North Korea back into the NPT and the additional protocol safeguards and moving along the road to compliance. Those are the, I think, critical first steps.
QUESTION: So the North Koreans didn't raise it?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't say that. I would say that the issue -- yeah, okay, let me take that back. The North Koreans did raise the issue, but it's not something that we entertained.
QUESTION: Well, can I follow up? Is it that you -- is it that you said like it's not, nothing's off the table? Did you give a direct no to that?
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Or did you say, well, you know, that's not something that we thought about, and until you, you know, start the irreversible -- the --
MR. ERELI: Let me put it this way, Elise. Let me put it this way.
QUESTION: The ICVD --
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to describe for you the back and forth of negotiations.
QUESTION: Did you reject it out of hand, or did say we're not discussing that yet?
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to get into sort of back and forth of the negotiations. What I will tell you is we made our position clear, and our position is what I just described it for you, that our objective remains complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear programs, and that's where the focus needs to be. We're not prepared to provide inducements to North Korea for compliance with its international obligations.
And I would also add, just -- and I'm not sure that this came up in the meetings. But I would also add, as a matter of policy, that we do not see a future for the light-water reactor project.
QUESTION: With the North Koreans raising the issue, though, did they either explicitly or implicitly acknowledge their HEU program?
MR. ERELI: I think that's splitting hairs. I would not want to characterize the North Korean statements one way or another. What I would say is our position remains the same, which is that we believe that North Korea does have an HEU program. And that's why it's so important to come to terms on or to accept a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement.
QUESTION: But wouldn't it be significant if they did acknowledge the program?
MR. ERELI: There is -- you know, we've seen -- they have acknowledged it in the past, so I don't know if it would be that significant. They have acknowledged it in the past and -- and then they've denied it in the past as well.
So you have the North Koreans saying both things before. And that's why I said what's important to us is not necessarily what the North Koreans say on one occasion or another, but is our analysis that, on the basis of what we have been told and what -- and our consideration of the issue, we believe they have an HEU program, and that it's important to include that in complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement.
QUESTION: A new subject from North Korea?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Let us make sure that what is your -- the U.S. policy as of today is. When you say complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korean's nuclear programs, do those programs include all sorts of programs, for military use, or for peaceful use, or whatever?
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to go into that kind of detail. I think I will leave it to our negotiators to talk in private about that kind of issue.
QUESTION: Which means you leave the possibility that --
MR. ERELI: No, I'm not --
QUESTION: -- you may let --
MR. ERELI: Let me be clear. I'm not opening or closing or trying in any way to change our position on this issue. And please do not read into my comments anything more or anything less than we've said in the past.
QUESTION: Yes. But you don't have any new position --
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: -- so I just want to --
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- go back to your past position. What was your past position? Is that --
MR. ERELI: I'm afraid I can't offer you any more clarification than I already have.
QUESTION: Another issue on Korea?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any time schedule for the negotiation with South Korean Government with regard to the withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Korea?
MR. ERELI: This is a -- is this in reference to going to Iraq or in reference to the Global Force Posture Review?
MR. ERELI: On both, I guess the answer would be the same -- (laughter) -- which is that this has been the subject of ongoing consultation with the Government of South Korea, but keeping in mind one important point, that nothing that we're doing in any way should suggest a diminution of our commitment to South Korea's security or any change in fulfilling our treaty obligations.
QUESTION: Well, on another state sponsor.
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: Ready? On Cuba.
QUESTION: Change of subject.
MR. ERELI: Cuba?
QUESTION: On Cuba. Yeah. There have been numerous trials over the last month where dissidents are sentenced to jail for things like reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And, yesterday, the Cuban Foreign Minister said that some of the new measures the U.S. has taken against Cuba are actually designed to provoke a mass emigration, which would allow the U.S. to declare war on Cuba. So if you'd like to address all of those things, please.
MR. ERELI: I'll begin by deploring the imprisonment of three more members of the Cuban opposition, who were sentenced on May 18th by the government for disorderly conduct and contempt of authority. In fact, their real "crime" was to study The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at a home in Havana over a year ago. And in the year since that, I would say, innocent gathering, they've been on -- they've been awaiting trial.
As you know, Teri, the imprisonment of these three dissidents comes on the heels of another summary trial earlier this month in which 10 opposition members and civil society activists were sentenced up to seven years in prison on trumped-up charges.
These actions are yet another indication of the efforts by the Castro regime to clamp down on anybody who dares exercise their fundamental human rights or criticize in any way those who are in power. They are indicative of how Castro has isolated himself and has gained the opprobrium of the international community.
As to the allegations that you raise, as well as other allegations that somehow these dissidents were paid agents of the United States Government, those are just ridiculous charges and we think that they reflect Mr. Castro's inability to tolerate any opinion differing from his own.
QUESTION: What about the mass emigration charge, that you're trying to get Cubans to leave, leave Cuba en masse with these economic measures, and so that they arrive on U.S. shores?
MR. ERELI: No. We're not the ones persecuting and arresting people. We are, in fact, calling for respect of their dignity and their human rights in a way that will allow them to live as free people.
QUESTION: Yeah, but that doesn't answer the question.
Cubans are saying that the U.S. is trying to provoke a mass migration to justify an invasion, and this would be --
MR. ERELI: That's rather -- that's a fantastical notion.
QUESTION: This would be the result of the tightening of economic sanctions, which was announced last week or so.
MR. ERELI: That is -- that's conspiracy thinking taken to the nth degree.
QUESTION: Okay. That's an answer.
QUESTION: On Sudan? Can we move on to Sudan?
MR. ERELI: On to Sudan.
QUESTION: So yesterday there were two things: one, taking them off one of the terror lists; and the other, really underlining the message that the pressure from the U.S. is not going to ease on Darfur. Have you had any sort of reaction from Sudan? Have they shown any movement in the Kenyan talks because of what happened?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't make any linkage between the two. The Kenyan --
QUESTION: You wouldn't, but would they?
MR. ERELI: The Kenyan -- you'd have to ask them. On the talks in Naivasha, there has been little change since yesterday or the day before, for that matter, in the sense that the parties are close. They are translating, I think, verbal agreements into written agreements, but they are not there yet.
On the situation in Darfur, again, unfortunately, there has been little change in the sense that our DART team continues to wait in Khartoum for permits to travel to Darfur to assess the humanitarian situation there and prepare for the delivery of additional assistance.
The rains are coming. Time is running out. A humanitarian disaster looms. And the Sudanese Government is not helping to resolve it.
QUESTION: Yesterday, the Secretary gave a speech to InterAction, and a substantial portion of his prepared remarks dealt with the situation in Darfur and dealt with him saying very firmly, we will not normalize relations with the North Kor -- or with -- I'm sorry, North Koreans -- (laughter) --
MR. ERELI: Them, too.
QUESTION: We will not normalize relations with the Sudanese Government until this situation is taken care of. We are going to keep the pressure up. We're not letting the pressure down. He did not mention in that speech the action that was taken yesterday, that he, himself, took on the Sudanese Government. Can you explain the omission on the Secretary's part?
MR. ERELI: I guess I would explain it this way: that -- on -- we are -- the Secretary was focusing on the humanitarian situation in Darfur and what our concerns are about that situation, and what we are doing and what our position is towards the Government of Sudan related to Darfur, but also within the context of the broader relationship.
It's sort of like your last question is. How come in, you know, every speech you don't put this issue? I think that, really, you don't have to mention every aspect of the relationship when you're talking about a specific issue.
As far as, you know, we could have also said that -- and it would have been a statement of fact -- that: yes, there's a problem in Darfur; yes, we're trying to agreement; and, yes, we have seen cooperation from Sudan in the last year on fighting terrorism. That is a statement of fact, and I think we've -- is on the public record. But it doesn't have to be in every speech on Sudan.
QUESTION: There is a report saying the U.S. informed China some key points of Taiwan presidency inauguration speech based on what the U.S. has been briefed by the Taiwan authority. Can you confirm that?
MR. ERELI: No, I cannot confirm that. In fact, I have no information to substantiate it. I think that there will be an inauguration tomorrow, and we all look forward to hearing the speech in its entirety.
QUESTION: But did the U.S. and China, I mean, exchange views about what to expect from the inauguration speech?
MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of. I think -- I don't know that that would be necessarily something that we would do.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I may have missed this, but can you take it if necessary? Were you aware of the reports, can you comment on them, of a U.S. helicopter firing a missile on a wedding party in Baghdad, killing 40 people?
MR. ERELI: I'd really have to refer you to the Coalition Provisional Authority. They'd be in a position to answer that.
QUESTION: In India, the situation -- the political situation seems to have resolved itself. Are you happy, content that the democratic process played out? Or is there some concern in the government that, well, there was a sort of a surge of nationalism?
MR. ERELI: That gets into the realm of political commentary, which we generally don't do. I think we are -- we have noted that the Indian people have spoken once again in a vibrant and dynamic democracy, and we look forward to working with the government that they have chosen.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:55 p.m.)
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