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17 March 2004

State Department Noon Briefing, March 17, 2004

Spain, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, release of Pew poll, current U.S. international relations/diplomacy, Armitage/IAEA ElBaradei meeting, Iran, Israel/Palestinians

State Department Deputy Spokesman J. Adam Ereli briefed the press at the noon briefing March 17.

Following is the State Department transcript:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Washington DC
March 17, 2004

BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

SPAIN
-- Response to Remarks of Deputy Secretary Armitage on Spanish Elections
-- Response to remarks of Spanish Officials
-- Remarks Made by Ambassador Black on al-Qaida
-- Status of U.S. Relations with Spain

IRAQ
-- Coalition Forces/Honduran Troop Rotations
-- Invitation by Iraqi Governing Council for United Nations' Return
-- Issue of a New Resolution
-- Update on Iraq's Transitional Government

SYRIA
-- New Sanctions Possible for Syria/Suppression of Kurds

LEBANON
-- Suppression of Non-violent Activists' Political Expression

SAUDI ARABIA
-- Arrests of Political Activists in Saudi Arabia
-- Status of Progress on New Reforms

DEPARTMENT
-- Response to Release of Pew Poll on U.S. Diplomacy
-- Current U.S. International Relations/Diplomacy
-- Readout of Meeting Between Deputy Secretary Armitage and IAEA Director General ElBaradei

IRAN
-- IAEA/Iran's Nuclear Program
-- Engagement with Iran on Issues of Mutual Concern

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
-- U.S. Humanitarian Commitments to Palestinians
-- U.S. Reaction on Israeli Targeted Killings of Hamas Political Leaders


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 17, 2004
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have any announcements today. Shall we go to AP for the first question?

QUESTION: Okay. The Deputy Secretary in three interviews says that the Spanish Government was defeated because of perception; in fact, in one interview he says it himself that they mishandled the terror attacks. The only elaboration he provides in one of the interviews is that they held, initially, held the Basque separatists accountable.

Is that the widespread view in the State Department? And can you flesh that out a bit -- say, what did the Spanish Government, which, of course, stood by you, did that was wrong?

MR. ERELI: I'd say, without doing a post-mortem on the elections, which really, you know, I'm not in a position to do, I think the Secretary's, the Deputy Secretary's words stand on their own.

The point that we have consistently made is that to those who are pointing to al-Qaida and terrorism as an explanation for the results of the elections in Spain, our answer was: Look at the political process and the issues that were being discussed by the Spaniards for an explanation of what happened and why, as opposed to outside forces.

And as the debate in Spain, I think clearly shows, there was the issue of how the investigation was handled was an electoral issue. That is just a recognition of what is being said and discussed in Spain, nothing more, nothing less.

QUESTION: Well, but -- I hear you. But mishandling, what did -- can you be a little more specific? What can they do --

MR. ERELI: Yeah, not --

QUESTION: -- that the U.S. thought they didn't do right?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. Not really. It's not the U.S. saying that the Spanish mishandled the investigation.

QUESTION: Oh, it's Armitage that's saying the Spanish mishandled the investigation.

MR. ERELI: It is commenting on that that is what is being assessed in Spain as the issue, not commenting on whether that assessment is right or wrong, whether the investigation was handled right or wrong, but just a recognition that that is what the debate is in Spain and that is what is motivating -- that is what appears to be motivating people to vote one way or the other, not necessarily whether they're, you know, afraid of or not afraid of terrorism. And in fact, I think we've been quite categorical in saying that we and the Spanish people stand together united against terrorism and one should not see -- we certainly don't -- in the election results, any weakening of resolve to fight terror.

QUESTION: So Mr. Armitage should not be seen as agreeing with the perception. He is simply reporting what he understands Spanish people's perception was.

MR. ERELI: We are noting what it has -- what has been remarked upon in Spain and making a distinction between what the Spanish people have identified as the motivating factors, as opposed to what others have.

QUESTION: Today, the Spanish Ambassador Javier Ruperez kept referring to Islamic extremist terrorists and not once mentioning al-Qaida. Is there a feeling that maybe now there's a proliferation of Islamic groups that are freelancing in terror or something? What is going on?

MR. ERELI: I guess it would be more appropriate to ask the Spanish official to explicate his remarks. We, I think, in commenting on terrorism, have -- and Coordinator for Counterterrorism Ambassador Black has made this point a number of times, that al-Qaida, while al-Qaida is still a force, it is a diminished force.

And at the same time, we see new permutations of terrorist activity that are fluid and mobile and need to be understood and confronted. This is a, to put it simply, a moving target and an evolving target, and one that I think experience has shown we need to be alert to at all times and in all places.

QUESTION: I think what also Ambassador Black has said is that -- you know, originally, while we were focused on al-Qaida, al-Qaida is less of an organization now than a -- now it's more of a mindset of these, like, groups that are going off in the name of the kind of views espoused by al-Qaida, but not -- maybe they met some al-Qaida people at one point, but aren't necessarily "members."

So I mean, do you think that more attention needs to be paid to fighting this extremist mindset, rather than going after these, like, kind of disparate groups themselves that you really don't know who you're going after anyway?

MR. ERELI: It's not an either/or proposition. It's both. You've got the cells and the organizations and the activities and the operations that are ongoing that are the focus of intelligence, law enforcement, financial restrictions of the United States and all our partners in the global war on terror.

At the same time, you have the conditions that give rise to extremism that we're focusing very, I think, intently on. And in that, you see our efforts to deal with the conditions that lead to extremism -- the lack of opportunity, the lack of future, the loss of hope, the stagnation in people's lives and ideas that lead them to think there is a dead end and the only way out of that dead end is violence and destruction.

So we are looking at ways to address those, some of those root causes of terrorism. And that's why we, I think, feel so strongly about programs like the Middle East Partnership Initiative and the Greater Middle East Initiative, as well as programs in other parts of the world that aim to alleviate the desperation in which so many people find themselves.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Spain again? The Prime Minister, another statement on the radio today, saying that the decision to take the troops from Iraq is clear and anything that is taken in the past by a previous government is not going to be abided. But he went further to say that terrorism is not going to be fought by Tomahawk missiles and bombing.

And now do you see him now, it's not just in Iraq, but him taking a different line completely of how he fighting terrorism? Do you see that could be a potential problem between Spain and the U.S. over fighting?

MR. ERELI: You know, we're getting into a pattern here of asking to comment on everything that comes out of any official's mouth. What I will say is what I said yesterday, and what the President has said, is that, we and Spain are partners in the war on terror. We share a common goal and we share common objectives, and we are, I think, united in working together to pursue that goal and those objectives. And our relationships with Spain, now and in the future, will be guided by that shared commitment, and I don't see anything being said by Spanish officials to cast doubt on that perspective.

QUESTION: So we shouldn't read too much into the statements that comes daily, you think?

MR. ERELI: I think that one should keep in mind the fundamentals, and the fundamentals are sound. They are a historical and abiding partnership with a NATO ally and a country that shares with us the pain and loss of terrorist attacks and a bond made in blood, if you will, that I guess two countries such as ours, who have been through these losses, cannot but be closer because of that.

QUESTION: Adam, I think (inaudible), the Prime Minister is coming in, calls the occupation a fiasco. Do you think that can be squared with what you have just said?

MR. ERELI: I think that there are different opinions as to what the right course was in Iraq. We have our view. They may have their view. We're looking forward to a better future for Iraq. We're committed to that. There are 35 members of the coalition that are committed to that, and I'm sure that all countries that believe in a better future for Iraq can find a way to help that outcome.

QUESTION: Have you all settled on whether Honduras also is withdrawing troops? There is one explanation being given that we're going to come out anyhow in June. Is that the going assessment of a Honduras withdrawal in June?

MR. ERELI: Yeah, I'd really refer you to the Hondurans for the latest on what they're doing with their troops.

I would note that, my understanding is they had a commitment to stay through June. That commitment is going to be honored. What they decide to do after June, obviously, is a decision that they're going to make based on their democratic processes and considerations.

Some countries have parliamentary approvals that need to be obtained in order to extend the renewal. I would note that there have been a number of countries that have reiterated their resolve to continue their military deployments in Iraq, and there are others that have made it clear that those commitments are open ended -- Poland, the United Kingdom, Italy have said this; and that others have reaffirmed that their current troop rotations will continue.

So you know, I think we're pleased at the participation, grateful for the help and recognize that it makes a big difference and Iraq is the beneficiary.

Yes, Christophe.

QUESTION: Can we move on to Syria?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: And so Secretary Armitage this morning or yesterday evening said that the U.S. is going to impose sanctions, new sanctions on Syria soon, and -- but the sanctions are going to be tough. Can you be more, more specific about the time and the nature of these sanctions?

MR. ERELI: Right. I don't have much to add to what the Deputy Secretary said in his radio interview yesterday. I think, you know, we've made it clear that we would be coming to a decision soon on imposing sanctions on Syria, that the law calls for those sanctions absent Syrian -- absent certain Syrian actions. We haven't seen those actions. So as the Deputy Secretary said, expect a decision soon.

QUESTION: Do you know if a waiver is involved? The President signed, signed it, I understand, but --

MR. ERELI: I will leave it to the White House to announce what the President has decided.

QUESTION: Oh, well let's leave out the President's signing, but it's an Administration decision. Will Syria -- will the sanctions be waived or will Syria be penalized?

MR. ERELI: The decision is being made by the President, and the White House will announce that decision.

QUESTION: Still on Syria.

QUESTION: I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Syria?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. Saul.

QUESTION: Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: It's on the ethnic clashes. Do you want to do the sanctions?

QUESTION: Oh, the sanctions.

MR. ERELI: Do the sanctions.

QUESTION: A lot of U.S. businesses are complaining now that, like, a lot of them are in the middle of deals with Syria and that these sanctions are going to kind of affect these deals that are going on. And right now, with the economy kind of in flux that this is not the time to be sacrificing American businesses to make a point with Syria.

MR. ERELI: Right.

QUESTION: Can you respond to that?

MR. ERELI: I would simply say, let's not get ahead of where we are. Right now there has been no decision announced, so I think it's premature to speculate on what the decision will be and what its impact will be. Let's wait until we have the facts, and then you can go about analyzing them.

Saul.

QUESTION: On Monday, you called on Syria not to use increasingly excessive force with -- regarding the ethnic clashes in the North.

What's the United States been doing over the last few days, what's it doing now to prevent things escalating there? The violence is continuing.

MR. ERELI: Yeah. We would note that the recent suppression of protests, both in Syria and in Lebanon, over the last couple of days: In Lebanon, students protested peacefully at several universities against the continuing domination by Syria of Lebanon and the continued Syrian military presence there, those protests were suppressed by police; in Syria, citizens of Kurdish descent have been protesting the lack of equal rights and in the ensuing violence, the authorities have not only killed an injured demonstrators, but also clamped down hard on normal life in cities where there is a Kurdish majority.

We have made our concerns known, and we reiterate our call upon the Government of Syria to stop suppressing non-violent political expression in Syria and Lebanon.

QUESTION: Just on that, you're reiterating a call that Syria doesn't suppress in Lebanon or is it --

MR. ERELI: Non-violent political expression in Syria and Lebanon.

QUESTION: But the -- how are the Syrians suppressing the expression in Libya -- in Lebanon?

MR. ERELI: In Lebanon? I think through their domination, their important and significant military presence and their domination of the political scene there.

QUESTION: Can you tell us if you voiced the same concern about the arrest of the reformists in Saudi Arabia? Four of them have been released this morning, but still many academics were still in jail.

MR. ERELI: Yeah, I would say that on the subject of the recent arrests in Saudi Arabia, we are deeply concerned that a number of individuals who are peacefully supporting reform in Saudi Arabia have been arrested and imprisoned on March 16th.

I think it's particularly noteworthy, in light of recent positive moves toward reform in Saudi Arabia, which we welcomed. These moves included citizen participation, formation of human rights organizations, the announcement of municipal elections and other citizen activism. Given those recent positive moves, we find these arrests a very disappointing backward step and will raise this issue with the Government of Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Well, can we stay on that? A lot of these activists were supposedly related to this national unity dialogue that the Saudis were -- and human rights issues that the Saudis were -- said that they've been interested in promoting. So does this give you pause that the Saudis are serious about, you know, moving forward on their human rights record? Is this just kind of for show, for international public opinion?

MR. ERELI: Looking at the recent positive moves in Saudi Arabia, which are to be, I think, lauded and praised, this is clearly a step backwards. And it's inconsistent with, I think, the kind of forward progress that reform-minded people are looking for.

On Saudi Arabia? No? Public diplomacy?

QUESTION: Yesterday, the Pew poll released some really abysmal findings in ten countries about U.S. summit and this country. And they ranged from the U.S. to France, to Morocco, Jordan and so on, with the exception of, of course, the U.S., and to a lesser degree, Great Britain. The public has a very negative view of the United States. Do you have any comment on that? Have you seen the report?

MR. ERELI: I've looked at it. I guess my comment would be that, you know, we are committed to policies of partnership and multilateralism. This Administration, from the very beginning, has sought to resolve the dangers that we all face by working in partnership with others and will continue to do that.

I think, you know, leadership is sometimes controversial. But, you know, we believe that we're doing the right thing. We believe that we're doing the right thing to defend the American people from the dangers that 9/11 made so evident to all of us. We believe we're doing the right thing and we did the right thing by liberating Iraq or freeing Iraq from a brutal dictator who was bent on -- or who had developed and used weapons of mass destruction. And we believe we're doing the right thing by helping to establish a new democracy in the Middle East.

And I think, you know, that the judgment of history will be favorable to what we're doing and that, in the long run, the brightness and justice of what we're doing will be very readily apparent. And now, as we look forward, I would say we're on the right track in working multilaterally to solve a lot of other problems that we're facing in the world, through the six-party talks to deal with North Korea, through the IAEA to deal with Iran and Libya, through our friends in the CARICOM, and, as well as Europe, to deal with the troubles of Haiti.

I think that wherever, you know, if you look across the board, you know, America is trying to work in partnership with others to help promote freedom and empower people to have better lives. That is something that I think will redound to our credit in the end.

QUESTION: In defense of the country to what you said, the Middle East countries that's been questioned, they said the opposite. They think the Middle East is less democratic now by the act that the United States took by invading Iraq, and in fact, it does not help.

And it's not just in the Middle East, but allies like Turkey and probably Germany and France. Do you think they are --

MR. ERELI: I haven't heard that. I would ask the people of Iraq --

QUESTION: What? I'm sure (inaudible) --

MR. ERELI: -- if they feel like it's more democratic now than it was two years ago.

QUESTION: We're talking about the Middle East -- the general -- the bigger -- and certain allies, as well, they said the opposite completely.

MR. ERELI: I think that the --

QUESTION: So I'm just saying is it a matter of a different opinion? Do you think they have their opinion and the United States is just different on that and you are right, it is not a matter of who is right, who is wrong, just people are different?

MR. ERELI: Well, everybody's entitled to their opinion. I'm just explaining, you know, our approach to things. And our approach to things is, as the President said many times, both -- but most eloquently at the speech to Whitehall and at his speech to the National Endowment of Democracy that everybody has a right, the fundamental right to freedom, and freedom is the situation, or is the condition, which allows people to realize their aspirations, help themselves and create a better world for those around them, and that that's a condition that we're going to actively try to promote. And we think it's the right thing to do, and we think that history will bear out the wisdom of that approach.

QUESTION: Staying on that topic. Some people feel that the Administration is backing away, or toning down the rhetoric that has marked, you know, we're the sort of gangsters right after September 11th, and now it's becoming more international is because there is a public sentiment over perception on the American public that we may be winning the war but actually losing the peace.

And I want to ask you if the State Department has been instrumental in sort of, you know, pushing the Administration toward toning down that kind of rhetoric and becoming more internationalist?

MR. ERELI: I think we've been -- you know, we've been internationalists from the very beginning. And the notion that somehow we've gone from being unilateralists to multilateralists, I think, ignores certain important facts.

I mean, if you look at, if you look at the President going to the United Nations to deal with the issue of Iraq, that is, from the very beginning, an embracing of a multilateralist, international approach to a problem that concerns the entire community.

If you look at our National Security Strategy from last year, you will see that, you know, 98 percent of it, including, you know, the introduction and most of the first two-thirds talk about working in partnership with countries towards mutual, mutually-shared goals of democracy and security, so that there are no shortage of examples going back to the beginning of this Administration of a commitment to international engagement.

At the same time, I think it's fair to say that no country, including the United States, is prepared to give up or sacrifice or compromise on its right to act in self-defense when it is threatened. And that's -- that is a, I think, a fundamental law of international relations that no country would disagree with.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Iraq, for a minute. Have you heard of any NGOs or -- have decided not to enter Iraq after the recent shootings, and has the State Department issued any warnings or advice to NGOs operating inside the country?

MR. ERELI: I'll check. I have not heard.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: Yes, Dmitri.

QUESTION: Can I change it from Iraq?

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Iraqi Governing Council has now invited the United Nations to return. Is that something you welcome and what do you hope that the UN's return achieves?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. We've seen the reports about a letter from the Iraq Governing Council to the United Nations inviting them to return. Having not seen the letter itself, I'm not in a position to confirm it. Obviously, we've made clear for some time that we believe that the United Nations has a very important role to play in the political transition of Iraq.

We certainly supported the issuing of such a letter so that, should it have been received, that is something we would certainly welcome. And we would look forward to the United Nations returning to Iraq in a timely way so that we could, you know, begin working together with the UN, the CPA and the people of Iraq in putting together a political transition that prepares Iraq to receive sovereignty on June 30th.

QUESTION: Are you looking for a resolution to say this? I'm a little bit out of sync here.

MR. ERELI: On the issue of a resolution, we've said that, in the context of the transfer of sovereignty, we would be prepared to look at a resolution in the appropriate circumstances.

QUESTION: I mean --

MR. ERELI: But we've not, you know, made a commitment one way or another.

QUESTION: You mean a resolution -- well, transfer of sovereignty, we know.

MR. ERELI: Right.

QUESTION: So if nothing else, it would, what? It would reinforce the transfer of sovereignty.

MR. ERELI: That's one idea.

QUESTION: But what about these other things you're talking about?

MR. ERELI: Well, you know, we've all dealt with resolutions before.

QUESTION: Would you hope that that would be a (inaudible)?

MR. ERELI: It's a -- I don't want to get ahead of the game --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. ERELI: -- in terms of sort of predicting what a resolution -- what provisions it might have, what provisions it might not have, in what circumstances it would presented and how it would be debated. That's all a very, you know, complex process. But I think it behooves us to wait a little bit closer to the events at hand to talk about than really get into now.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. ERELI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: This letter just went out to the UN. And, I mean, you have a lot of work to do to set up a transitional government before June 30th. Do you think that this is amount of time to kind of -- enough time to set in place a transitional government that is able to take over on June 30th? And do you see right now any kind of building, the building blocks of what the transitional government is going to look like?

MR. ERELI: Yes and yes. We think there's time and the process, you know, the process of putting a transitional authority together, you know, has been ongoing. As you know, the National Security Council official, Mr. Blackwell, has been out there numerous times. He's out there now. Ambassador Bremer -- this is an issue that Ambassador Bremer deals with, you know, every day. Mr. Brahimi was in Iraq last month dealing with this. We expect the UN will be back fairly soon.

So this is a process that's been, that, you know, just because you haven't been reading about it every day in the press doesn't mean it has been on hold. It is something that we and the Iraqis are working on fairly steadily with our eye on the date before us.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) agreement yet?

MR. ERELI: No.

Yes, Dmitri.

QUESTION: Has the Russian Government asked you to assist in any way the resolution, diplomatic crisis with Qatar over Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev assassination?

MR. ERELI: Not that I have anything to say about, but let me look into it to see if we've got anything for you on that.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the talks yesterday in this building between Mr. ElBaradei and Armitage?

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Are there indications that Mr. ElBaradei was bringing some kind of message from the Iranians to ask for direct talks between the U.S. and Iran? Are you aware of that?

MR. ERELI: I really don't have anything for you on that. What I can tell you is that, you know, as we said yesterday, that the Director General and the Deputy Secretary talked about a number of issues, including Iran. And on the subject of Iran, I think we noted our appreciation to the IAEA for helping to bring together consensus on a third Board of Governor's resolution about Iran's nuclear program. And we look forward to working together to try to -- work together to try to assess the full scope of that program in time for the June board meeting.

On the subject of, the broader subject of Iran's nuclear program, it was agreed, I think we shared the view, that the best way to deal with that program is through the IAEA and the process that I think is working well up to now. And is - as is evidenced by three unanimous Board of Governor's resolutions that clearly lay the way forward for Iran and call on it to take immediate steps to comply with its NPT safeguards obligation and comply with the UN -- the IAEA's verification and investigation work. That's the way forward. That's the message that I think we're united in sending to all those who would suggest that somehow there's a way to get around what the IAEA and Board of Governors is calling for.

QUESTION: So you're saying there's no need to supplement that with direct talks with Iran?

MR. ERELI: I'm saying that the process that we have with the IAEA is the way to deal with the issue. On the broader subject of talks with Iran, you know, we've always made clear that we are willing to engage with Iran on specific issues of mutual concern --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. ERELI: -- in an appropriate manner, and if and when the President determines that it is in our interest to do so.

The fact is that Iran knows what those issues of concern are: They are terrorism, they're its nuclear program, and it's their support for terrorist causes around the world. So let's see, let's see. We haven't seen movement on any of those things; and therefore, you know, the talk about a dialogue, I think, is misplaced.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. You don't see any movement on the nuclear issue?

MR. ERELI: I think what we've seen is delay and deception.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean -- all right. I mean, they certainly have had a little cooperation with the IAEA --

QUESTION: But you said you're willing --

MR. ERELI: Okay.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. ERELI: Point taken.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: You said you're willing to engage Iran on issues of mutual interest, but then you just went on to talk about all of the issues that you have with Iran.

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But, I mean, do you not see issues of mutual interest that either side can call the other side and say, you know, I think this is an issue that we should be discussing right now, like al-Qaida, for instance?

MR. ERELI: Well, we have, you know, we have established channels of communication with Iran. So if there are needs to talk about issues through those, those channels are appropriate.

New channels, new ways to talk, you know, again, would be, I guess, considered or visited in consideration of the specific circumstances, if it's in our interests, if it's appropriate and if the President decides that it's something we want to do.

But let's, you know, let's be clear about what exists now. What exists now are, you know, established channels of communication, clear enunciation of what our issues are and I haven't seen much movement on those.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Middle East, to the Palestinian issue?

MR. ERELI: The Palestinian issue, sure.

QUESTION: No, excuse me.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) report that 40 percent of Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza do not have adequate access to food, and there are another 40 percent are likely to be in that situation and face malnutrition over the next two months. Is the United States doing anything about that?

MR. ERELI: The United States is doing a lot, and I would refer you to --

QUESTION: Could you give us --

MR. ERELI: -- you know, I would ask you to do your homework. And I would ask you to look at our transcripts from December and January, where we talk about meetings in Rome with Deputy Assistant Secretary Satterfield for the ad hoc Liaison Committee with Palestinians, where Deputy Satterfield went to, I think, it was in January, to the region, where Under Secretary Larson went to the region this month. And in all those instances, what we are doing is we are working to help relieve the humanitarian burden on the Palestinian people by not only being the largest aid donor to the Palestinians, which is an important fact that I don't think is maybe sufficiently noted, but second of all, in working with the Palestinians to help them set up the structures and processes and institutions to give relief to their own people.

And this is an ongoing U.S. commitment. It's something that we work closely with the Palestinian Authority and the international community, including the United Nations Relief and Works Administration, to do -- to realize. So the charge that somehow the United States isn't doing anything to help the Palestinian people and relieve their suffering, I think, ignores very important and ongoing work that we do and that we commit ourselves to seriously and with conviction.

QUESTION: Oh, I'm not suggesting the U.S. is not doing it, but quite the contrary. I mean everybody knows it's the biggest donor. I'm saying that the situation has deteriorated dramatically over the past three weeks because of the conditions.

Will the U.S. take, you know, a sort of maybe an emergency measure and have, you know, convoys of trucks under its own auspices, or whatever organization, to move food around and so on?

MR. ERELI: I would put it this way. I would put it this way: That the welfare of the Palestinian people is a subject of serious and ongoing concern to the American Government, and it is something that our officials and our government are committed to addressing. And we do it directly with the Palestinians, we do it with the international community, and we also do it with the Government of Israel by stressing to them the need for them to take steps to relieve the humanitarian suffering on the Palestinian people.

And we do see, we do see results, from time to time, the issuing of work permits, the relaxation of closures and other things like that.

But I would also be remiss if I didn't tell you that -- and this is a point I made yesterday -- that the ongoing use of terror as a way of dealing with political aspirations is undermining the aspirations of the Palestinian people and undermining the welfare of the Palestinian people.

And it's something that if we want to see, you know, I think, some meaningful change, an end to terror, nothing could do more to help the Palestinian people than to end the terror being perpetrated by organizations purportedly acting on their behalf and in their name and for their benefit.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Yes, Elise.

QUESTION: Just one more on the issue of targeted killings in Israel. Israeli officials have continued to say they're going to intensify targeted killings against political leaders of Hamas. Are you afraid that this could, that these actions could just create even more of a cycle of violence and create more chaos?

MR. ERELI: Yeah, I think we've been emphatic in making the point that, while Israel needs, you know, has the right to take actions in self-defense, it needs to keep in mind, bear in mind the consequences of those actions for broader peace, the prospects for peace more broadly.

QUESTION: Well, but are you saying that targeted killings of political leaders of these terrorist groups is a consequence that they might want to consider? I mean, that the targeted killings or preemptive whatever they call it, would actually serve to create more violence, more of a cycle of violence?

MR. ERELI: I think -- you know, we've been pretty clear about this. Our position on targeted killings hasn't changed. We've also said that the cycle of violence must stop and the beginning of that is an end to the use of terror and terrorist tactics to achieve political ends. And I think it's just important to keep that point at the forefront.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Thanks.

(The briefing ended at 1:05 p.m.)

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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