State Department Noon Briefing, September 15, 2003
September 15, 2003
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
SEPTEMBER 15, 2003
MR. ERELI: Good morning, everybody, hope you had a good weekend. Welcome to the State Department briefing, no announcements, so I'll go straight to your questions.
QUESTION: There is a KCNA report accusing the United States and Japan of holding up food aid to North Korea. Is there any truth to that? Is the United States doing anything to prevent others from giving humanitarian food aid to North Korea?
MR. ERELI: On the issue of food aid to North Korea, we provide -- the United States provides food aid on an entirely humanitarian basis. It is not linked to political issues. This year, we are providing 40,000 metric tons of food -- food aid to the North Korean people through the World Food Program. Most of this aid has already been delivered.
The United States is considering whether to provide an additional 60,000 metric tons of food aid. And in making this decision, we are considering three factors: Demonstrated need in North Korea; competing needs elsewhere; and the extent to which we can assure that food aid reaches those for whom it is intended.
On that last point, we remain concerned that North Korea has not allowed the World Food Program access to all vulnerable North Koreans, and that it has restricted the World Food Program's ability to monitor the distribution of food aid, and these are serious issues. We have discussed these concerns directly with the North Koreans, as well as with the World Food Program and other donors; unfortunately, North Korea continues to restrict access and monitoring.
QUESTION: On your first two criterion, I'm a little puzzled by number one. Are you suggesting that there is a question that North Korea might not need food assistance? I mean, I thought it was pretty well understood by everyone that there was a severe shortage.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, without -- I don't want to link -- these criteria are long established.
QUESTION: Yeah, but it seemed to me that number one has already been established.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, it's still a criteria. It's a well established criteria, but it's still a criteria. When you are considering whether to provide aid, one criteria is the need for that aid. We are not debating the need for the aid.
QUESTION: Okay. So, and now, on --
MR. ERELI: What we're debating is, or what we're having issue with is --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, exactly.
QUESTION: Okay. So number two really -- number two also, you are not suggesting that there is another country with greater needs, where this additional $60 million might go?
MR. ERELI: I put it this way. Having assessed the situation, we believe it is appropriate that -- or -- that we believe that 60,000 is an appropriate amount of aid given -- 60,000 metric tons is an appropriate amount of aid considering the need and -- both in North Korea as well as competing needs elsewhere.
QUESTION: Okay. So it's really just number three, then?
QUESTION: And to go to number three, when you announced the 40,000 back in February, you said -- you had said the first two, and then you said, "donors ability to access all vulnerable groups and monitor distribution." Monitoring is still a major concern for you?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Also on North Korea.
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is there any progress towards a new round or even a TCOG or "non-TCOG-TCOG" meeting that you guys have frequently --
MR. ERELI: TCOG-non-TCOG (laughter) COG-T?
MR. ERELI: No, I don't have anything for you on it.
QUESTION: Same subject. Also on the problems with North Korea, the Red Chinese have placed 150,000 troops on the northern Korean border. Has that been worked out at the meetings recently in Beijing or is this just on their initiative?
MR. ERELI: We are aware of reports that China has shifted responsibility for border protection along its borders with North Korea and Burma to the People's Liberation Army. This shift is -- would be consistent with China's practices elsewhere along its borders. So that explains the shift.
Still on China? North Korea?
QUESTION: On Wednesday, the UN General Committee will discuss the issue of Taiwan representation in the UN. What is your -- the United States position on that?
MR. ERELI: I can tell you it hasn't changed.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject to Iraq?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Secretary Powell, in reference to the whereabouts of David Kay, said, "David isn't here." He was referring to the fact that he was not in Baghdad. "So I could not meet with him. I think he's back in Washington preparing his report."
Do you know if Mr. Kay is planning on meeting anybody here from the State Department today, tomorrow, in the near future?
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware of David Kay's schedule, and so I really don't have anything further to add to that.
On Iraq? Anything on Iraq?
QUESTION: Could you tell us if the -- as the negotiations continue on the resolution, if the U.S. is willing to compromise on the timetable for Iraqi sovereignty in order to compromise with the French position?
MR. ERELI: Well, I guess I would take issue with the idea of compromise on a timetable. It presumes that there is a timetable out there that people are discussing, and that's -- that's precisely the point. What we're asking in our -- in the ideas that we've put forth, what we're asking is the Iraqis to come up with a timetable. And so --
QUESTION: -- in such a time --
MR. ERELI: Let me finish.
MR. ERELI: So the idea is that the Iraqis, the Iraqi Governing Council, in consultation with the Coalition Provisional Authority and the UN, would come up with a realistic timetable for drafting a constitution, for ratifying that constitution, for holding elections, and for transferring full sovereignty to the Iraqi people. That's something that we're looking for the Governing Council to do.
So the idea would be they would come to the Security Council with their proposed timetable, and that is an idea that has -- that, quite frankly, has a lot of support and a lot of traction.
QUESTION: But is the U.S. prepared to modify its timetable if --
MR. ERELI: It's not our timetable. It's the Iraqis' timetable that they are going to develop. So how do you modify a timetable that we would not modify a timetable that hasn't been developed by others yet?
QUESTION: Well, the point is, though, that the French have put down, at least informally, at least with de Villepin, a one-month or a definite time. I think his question is really: Are you willing to accept the imposition of a timetable on the Iraqis or on yourselves for turning over sovereignty in the UN resolution in order to get the French and/or others on board?
MR. ERELI: Right. A couple of things: One is this is a resolution that is going to be voted on and approved by 15 Security Council members. So let's not get into it's one country versus another country. This is a consensual process coming out of Geneva. I think it's pretty clear that there was a good meeting, points of convergence on a number of issues, one of which was the unanimous view that sovereignty should be transferred to the Iraqi people as soon as is possible and practicable.
On the timetable for that, there are some that want to move faster than others. The question is, what's realistic?
The idea that you would go give the Iraqis -- put everything in the Iraqis hands tomorrow or in a month doesn't work if they're not -- if they don't have the capability, the structures, the processes, the institutions, the legal frameworks in place to do that.
And we believe that, you know, during the course of the next -- in due course -- in New York in discussions with other Security Council members, we'll be able to work out a way to bring these different views into convergence and come up with a good resolution for turning sovereignty over to the Iraqis in a way that is both realistic and practical, and serves the interests of the international community.
QUESTION: How can you say, though, that some want to move faster than others if you are insisting that you don't have any timetable at all -- that it's up to the Iraqis?
How do you know that a month is too soon for, you know, the French is -- the French position is moving faster than you when you, yourself, say that you don't have any timetable?
MR. ERELI: Well, the idea is that the Iraqis come up with their timetable, right?
QUESTION: Yeah, what if the Iraqis come up with a timetable -- I mean, I realize this is a hypothetical, but if the Iraqis come up with a timetable, are you going to have veto power over it? Are you going to say, "No?"
MR. ERELI: This process of coming up with a timetable is a consultative one. I would note that there -- I would also note the comments of the Iraqi Foreign Minister with Secretary Powell in Geneva -- or not in Geneva, excuse me -- in Baghdad, that we -- there really is a lot of convergence on this. We really see eye to eye on how this should take place. So you stress the notion of conflict. I would stress the notion of consultation and cooperation, and this comes through very clearly in the Secretary's comments of his trips --
QUESTION: Well, according to the transcript there, the Iraqi Foreign Minister said he hoped it would be mid-2004 or maybe late-2004 before there can be a government there with full sovereignty. Does that strike you as realistic?
MR. ERELI: I don't want to second-guess what the Iraqis -- what the Iraqis say. Let's let the Iraqis engage in this process and come up with their plan in consultation with those who are working with Iraq to help move Iraq forward. This is a cooperative, consultative process that has a common objective and will produce the desired result.
QUESTION: But the guy said it publicly. I mean, do you guys have a position on that? Does that seem reasonable? He said mid-2004 or late-2004. It's on the record. It's in a transcript. What's your view -- good, bad, indifferent, no?
MR. ERELI: Let's let the process take its course. The Secretary said a process is underway. Let's let the process take its course.
QUESTION: I just want to dispute the idea that any of us are "stressing" that there are differences about this and -- because, I mean, it's happening. It's not we're stressing it. It's just happening, and you have mentioned it yourself. Some want to move faster than others.
MR. ERELI: Right, right.
QUESTION: Which means there's a different --
MR. ERELI: I'm not --
QUESTION: -- which means there's a different --
MR. ERELI: I'm not criticizing you.
QUESTION: When you say consultative and cooperative, what we're trying to get at is: Is there room for the United States to compromise on this issue down the road?
MR. ERELI: I think we're going to work with the other Security Council members to come up with a consensus position that serves the interests of the Iraqis, as well as the international community, in a responsible way.
QUESTION: Some of the members of the Iraqi Governing Council, such as Ahmed Chalabi, say that the transfer of -- the lack of transfer of power to the Iraqis is really hurting the reconstruction of the country and that, you know, as soon as possible, that the Iraqis should receive more and more powers.
Is there a way, without actually transferring sovereignty or, you know, complete authority to the Iraqis, that you can give them more responsibility or more decision-making than you do currently right now?
MR. ERELI: Well, I think if you look at what's happening in Iraq -- I mean, it's important to focus on what's actually happening there. And in the few weeks since they named a cabinet, you've seen a lot of signs of Iraqis taking over more and more control of their affairs.
You've got a Foreign Minister that has been accepted at the Arab League. You've got a Foreign Minister who is going to represent Iraq at the United Nations. You have a judiciary that has now been -- that has been declared independent -- having independent powers from any political authority. You have a Baghdad Council that has elected, in a very sort of democratic and consensual way, a leader of the council. You have more and more Iraqis involved in providing security for Iraq.
So there is a steady process underway of Iraqis taking over greater and greater responsibility for a greater and greater number of aspects of their affairs. So that is forward movement. That is actually quite rapid, I would say.
The other -- the question of sovereignty that goes, however, to the whole issue of, you know, what do you have -- is it of sufficient scope and breadth and depth to run the country. For example, for a government to take over, it has to have -- you know, you kind of need a constitution that provides that government legitimacy, that lays out a process by which that government is going to operate. So these are all necessary steps. You need to have popular participation, a popular mandate that is represented by elections.
So these are steps that need to take place as a part and parcel of a sovereign entity, you know, taking over in what is perceived as a legitimate way. And that takes time. That can't be done in a month.
QUESTION: When did the UN decide to seat the Council? I wasn't aware of it.
MR. ERELI: I think it was said in -- on the trip that the Foreign Minister would be going to UNGA.
QUESTION: And that he is --
MR. ERELI: I would refer you to the transcripts.
QUESTION: It was said on the trip?
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: In other words, the Iraqis said that he was going? Are you leading some kind of drive? As far as I know, today is the first day of the General Assembly, and I don't think any decisions have been made on filling particular disputed seats.
MR. ERELI: We'll talk about this after the briefing, but in a transcript I did see it said that the Foreign Minister would be going to the UN.
QUESTION: Adam, one of the new Iraqi Council members, a Laja al-Khuzaai, has said that U.S. troops are mistreating civilians. Is this true? And she's also saying it's an army of occupation. Now, I understand she's a member of the Council, but she could also be talking as an individual. Do you see that some of this difficulty is being ironed out?
MR. ERELI: I think that the -- for any instances of mistreatment, I would refer you to CPA or CENTCOM.
I would say that, you know, American -- in Secretary Powell's talks with Iraqis, he came away with the very distinct impression--and he spoke to this, I think, quite eloquently--the sense of gratitude, gratitude to America, to President Bush, to the American people and to the armed forces of the United States for liberating Iraq, for freeing them from 30 years of horror and tyranny, and that that contribution was something that was of historic proportions and something that has real, heartfelt gratitude from those Iraqis who the Secretary dealt with and who he heard from. And I think we see stories of that every day.
Now, obviously, there are going to be others who say things differently. But the fact is, we are acting responsibly, carefully, deliberately, with the interests of the Iraqi people at heart.
QUESTION: Can we move next door?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts on the reaction to the IAEA resolution from Iran that seems to be -- there seems to be some confusion over what, exactly, they're planning to do. But I'm wondering if you have anything more to say than what you said last week when, you know --
MR. ERELI: Confusion is a good word. They're saying different things. We're saying the same thing, which is that we hope that Iran will see this resolution as an opportunity to respond to straightforward questions in a clear, concise manner, and to take the other steps needed to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency resolution.
QUESTION: Can you say whether you found it heartening that at least some of them are saying that they plan to stay in the NPT and --
MR. ERELI: Actions speak louder than words. Let's see them take the actions that are called for.
QUESTION: But you would look -- you would take a dim view of their withdrawal, is that correct?
MR. ERELI: I'll just stick with what I've said and not go off on tangents.
QUESTION: Okay. Tangents?
MR. ERELI: Whether they do this, or whether they do that.
QUESTION: Well, to some people, they have threatened to. That's not really a tangent.
QUESTION: Security Council discussion today?
MR. ERELI: On Palestinian issues?
QUESTION: Yeah. Larson -- Lord Larson seems to describe the situation as -- it is becoming to be a -- at a dangerous or critical junction. And he also seems to put a lot of emphasis on the Israeli building of the wall, annexation of the new Palestinian lands, and continuation of the building of settlements and killing of Palestinian leaders. He put lots of emphasis on that, and he was supported by many allies of the United States in their speeches today. So what's your comment on this event today?
MR. ERELI: Nothing new, really. We have been quite clear and consistent that both sides have obligations that both sides need to rededicate themselves to, obligations based on commitments made by each side toward the other consistent with the roadmap, which is still there, which we still look to be followed.
As far as the debate in the Security Council goes, we do not believe a Security Council resolution would help further the purpose of peace and security in the region. The best way to do that is through political dialogue between the parties and by the parties. That's where the focus needs to be.
More specifically, we're looking to the Palestinians to take the steps, the critical steps to end the activity by terrorist organizations, which, as you know, is empowering a prime minister, creating a cabinet free from association with terror, and taking steps to dismantle and disarm the terrorist organizations.
QUESTION: Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov welcomed the idea of sending international troops to Israel/Palestine. What's your comment on that?
MR. ERELI: A very theoretical proposition at this point.
QUESTION: So are not for that idea at all. Are you opposing it?
MR. ERELI: It depends on a whole host of circumstances that just -- that aren't particularly germane at this point. At this point, our view is the focus needs to be both sides doing -- following through on what they have committed to do.
QUESTION: What's your comment on the cancellation of the visit by Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli Defense Minister, to Washington?
MR. ERELI: You'll have to ask him why he canceled his visit. I don't have any reaction to it.
QUESTION: Since it's come up on the other side lately, just to get it on the record, do you believe the United States is being an even-handed broker in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
MR. ERELI: I believe -- yes, I believe the United States is being an even-handed, responsible broker. I think the President's vision is, as stated on June 24th, is clear and compelling, two states living side by side in peace and security. That's what we want to see. That's fair, that's just, and that's what we're committed to working to achieve.
QUESTION: But how about in the approach to getting to the end of the process? Are you being an even-handed broker in that regard?
MR. ERELI: I think we're asking -- we're not -- both parties -- the question is for the Israelis and the Palestinians. They have made commitments to doing things to achieve peace and security that is in their interests, so we are working with them to help them follow through on their commitments. That is responsible and that is proper.
QUESTION: Related to United Arab Emirates. It's almost confirmed now that Israel is sending an official delegation to the IMF World Bank meetings in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and it is the first time an Israeli official delegation visits that Arab country. Is that something positive, negative, it's good, bad?
MR. ERELI: It's just a question that, to the extent that countries participate in international organizations and strengthen those international organizations and contribute to the responsibilities of the global community, not much to criticize there.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary have any plans to attend the late Swedish Foreign Minister's funeral on Friday?
MR. ERELI: The level of our representation at that event has not yet been decided.
QUESTION: Yesterday, I read with interest a story in The New York Times, which had to do with Burma, and very -- included in this article I was a bit startled to read that the State Department had been forced to retract its statement that Aung San Suu Kyi had been on a hunger strike after the ICRC visit found her not to be on a hunger strike. I was gone most of last week so I missed your retraction. Can you elaborate a little bit on it?
MR. ERELI: You didn't miss it. There was no retraction.
QUESTION: Oh, okay, so the story's wrong.
MR. ERELI: In the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, can I follow up? Do you believe that Aung San Suu Kyi is still on a hunger strike? Is it still your position?
MR. ERELI: We have said previously -- this has been covered pretty extensively. We believed that we had information that was credible that she was on a hunger strike. On that basis, we issued a statement calling on -- calling on the Burmese Government to release her, or at least to let people come see her and verify that that wasn't the case.
Subsequently, someone did go see her and verified that it wasn't the case. We were grateful for that verification. We continue to call on the Government of Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all others held for the peaceful expression of their political beliefs immediately.
QUESTION: So you still believe that at the time you got your information it was correct, that she was on a hunger strike?
MR. ERELI: We believe that the information was credible and that it was -- it would have been irresponsible not to act on it --
QUESTION: Okay, well --
MR. ERELI: -- and call attention to it.
QUESTION: But did you say that you are not retracting the statement?
MR. ERELI: No, we are not retracting the statement.
Let's go over here. Sure. No, no, I'm sorry. Front row.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have a reaction to the coup in Guinea-Bissau?
MR. ERELI: I would start by saying we don't have an embassy in Guinea-Bissau. We have seen early reports, according to which President Kumba Yala was placed under house arrest and the military, under the leadership of the chief of staff, declared it had seized power during the early hours of September 14th.
We understand that the country is calm and that all Americans are safe and accounted for. We support the efforts by ECOWAS to encourage the Government of Guinea-Bissau to return to civilian rule and will work with others, including France and Portugal, to promote that result.
QUESTION: Adam, the --
QUESTION: Hold on a second. Can we stay on Guinea-Bissau because I'm sure -- are you asking on Guinea-Bissau?
QUESTION: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: So do you have a problem with this coup, or do you think it's a good thing?
MR. ERELI: I'm going to stick to what I said. We want to see --
QUESTION: Which was pretty much nothing.
MR. ERELI: We want to see Guinea-Bissau return to civilian rule.
QUESTION: Do you want President Yala to be let out of house arrest and restored to power, or do you just want to see -- you don't care who it is?
MR. ERELI: We want to see -- there's a process -- there was a process underway before this coup. We want to see that process take -- be followed through and return to civilian rule.
QUESTION: You want to see the October elections happen without -- but is it okay if the military is still in power, overseeing, running the country during the election?
MR. ERELI: We, and the international community, urge the military rulers to restore civilian rule as soon as possible.
QUESTION: But not necessarily with this president?
MR. ERELI: I, well, don't have more than that.
QUESTION: Adam, the Government of Zimbabwe seems intent on closing the main opposition newspaper in Harare. Any reaction?
MR. ERELI: I think they have closed it, not intent on closing it.
MR. ERELI: We are deeply troubled by the September 12th raid by armed members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police on the offices of the Daily News and Daily News on Sunday newspapers, and by the Government of Zimbabwe's decision to prevent those newspapers from publishing. These actions are unwarranted infringements on press freedoms, and they are the latest incidents in a pattern of intimidation and violence directed against the independent media.
We call on the Government of Zimbabwe to permit the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday to resume publishing at once and to cease intimidation and harassment of the independent media. We will follow closely the Zimbabwean Government's treatment of the Daily News and its publisher.
QUESTION: Is that in any way different from the statement the embassy put out on Friday?
MR. ERELI: It is not the statement the embassy put out on Friday.
QUESTION: Can you talk about this reward money for Hambali, that was written about for the capture of Hambali? It was written about today.
Is that something the State Department is handling or is this more coming in the form of aid to various government, foreign government agencies who participate in the war on terrorism?
MR. ERELI: I'll have to look into that one for you.
QUESTION: Over this weekend, it was the first time for the Chinese media to report on the genocide lawsuit filed by Falun Gong people against the former head of China. And in that report, they used the word "libelous" four times. And the report has no when and where and why, and no name for the Chinese leader who was sued, and that this lawsuit was dismissed by the court on Friday, last Friday. What's your comment on this?
MR. ERELI: Let me look into it and see if I can't get something for you.
QUESTION: And also, a follow-up. I remembered last week, the Spokesperson said that the Chinese Foreign -- Administration of Foreign Affairs had a meeting with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to discuss the case of Charles Lee, the U.S. citizen, and also a Falun Gong practitioner, jailed and tortured in China, as well as some other issues.
And this case -- I mean, the lawsuit, genocide lawsuit in the United States was ruled on Friday. Do you think there's any linkage between these two events?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't want to speculate on it.
QUESTION: Adam, do you have any response to the failure of the WTO talks in Mexico?
MR. ERELI: Sure. "The United States appreciates the hospitality shown by the people and Government of Mexico, and particularly for the leadership shown by the chair, Mexican Trade Minister Luis Derbez, at the Cancun ministerial. While we were not able to reach consensus in Cancun, the hard work of the chair and of the five facilitators and others is greatly appreciated.
We worked very hard with other countries, both in Geneva and Cancun, to narrow gaps, unfortunately, others took inflexible positions that made effective negotiations impossible. We are now assessing the state of play and studying next steps on how to proceed. For more details, I would refer you to yesterday's statement, September 14th, by Ambassador Zoellick and Secretary Veneman."*
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:55 p.m.)
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