21 January 2004
State Department Daily Briefing, January 21
Iraq, Venezuela, Libya, Israel/Palestinians, Malaysia, Middle East, North Korea, Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe
State Department Deputy Spokesman J. Adam Ereli conducted the department's daily press briefing January 21. Following is the State Department transcript:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 21, 2004
12:30 p.m. EST
BRIEFER: J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
United Nations Delegation / November 15th Agreement / Direct Elections
Fair and Transparent Process for Bringing Saddam Hussein to Justice
Demonstrations / Democracy
Discussions at Summit of the Americas
Travel to the Region by Assistant Secretaries Wolf and Satterfield
Security Situation in Gaza / Killing of American Officials
U.S. Commitment to Roadmap/Middle East Peace
Anwar Ibrahim Conviction/Denial of Bail
Discussions Regarding Situation on Lebanese-Israeli Border
Discussions Regarding Support of Hezbollah Operations
Nuclear Program / Hecker Comments / October 2002 Meeting
Informal Trilateral Consultations
Process for Handling Detentions / Freedom of the Press
Status of Peace Talks
Visit of Special Envoy John Danforth
Nuclear Weapons Program / Compliance with NPT Obligations
Status of Elections / Resignations of Cabinet Ministers and Vice Presidents
Terrorism Watch List
U.S. Policy on Guantanamo Bay Detainees
U.S. Views/Discussions on Detainees
Political Opposition / Freedom of Expression
MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everyone. I don't have any announcements. So who would like to have the first question?
QUESTION: Well, I'd like to try again, but I don't have high hopes, because it's pretty clear you folks haven't decided how to fine-tune -- "refine" is the word of choice now -- your complex formula for transition into Baghdad. I could try though.
I could ask you: One, if there is some sort of a compromise approach emerging and what are its main provisions; and secondly, is there any question that the UN will send a delegation there to try to give you a hand?
MR. ERELI: There is a chance that the UN will send a delegation. I think we spoke to this extensively yesterday.
QUESTION: Is there a chance they won't send a delegation? I hope --
MR. ERELI: Is there a chance they won't send a delegation?
QUESTION: Yeah. Is there any doubt that they'll send a delegation?
MR. ERELI: I think the outcome of the talks at the UN on Monday was that a broad agreement on the importance of the UN resuming its role in Iraq, the Secretary General committed to seriously consider, and with urgency, the request for a technical team to go there. The Secretary said we expect to hear back from him in the not-too-distant future. So I think, in terms of what the specific outcome is going to be, let's -- it's with the Secretary General. Let's leave it with the Secretary General, and when we hear from him, we'll let you know.
As far as your question about what kind of solutions, compromises, refinements are going to be arrived at, again, that's an ongoing process. Let's let the system work out. I think we've -- everybody has made it clear that we're, you know, sticking with the November 15th agreement. We're looking at ways to take into account and work into the process, concerns of some parties, and what we're open to is refinements that make sense and get the support of everybody involved.
Let's remember, the November 15th agreement is a consensual agreement representing the -- representing what all parties in Iraq, represented on the IGC agreed to.
QUESTION: Well, the Administration and the UN Secretary General seem in agreement that there isn't time to hold real elections, direct elections before the July 1st deadline. And now, I notice the Secretary is speaking of hoping to keep to that deadline. Now, last week there was that deadline is immutable. Is the deadline movable a little bit, if it's part of a package that will resolve these differences?
MR. ERELI: We are working within the framework of the agreement. The November 15th agreement is still what we're shooting for, and I would say that the timeline of the agreement remains the timeline that we're working according to.
QUESTION: There are other agreements -- sorry -- other deadlines associated with the November 15th agreement. There's a February 28th one related to the fundamental law. I think there's another one in March. Are those -- could those be shifted, pushed along closer to June?
MR. ERELI: No, I --
QUESTION: Because of the stance of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani.
MR. ERELI: I would say that the timelines as provided for in the November 15th agreement remain valid and on target.
QUESTION: And is it still -- to be absolutely clear, is it still the position of the U.S. Government that there simply is not enough time between now and June 30th to organize direct elections?
MR. ERELI: I would -- you know, I would refer to what Ambassador Bremer has said on the score and what the Secretary General, you know, in his letter referred to, that direct elections poses a lot of logistical challenges that are difficult to meet given the importance of an accelerated transfer of sovereignty which is one of the principal components of the November 15th agreement.
QUESTION: With respect to the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, he's asked for: (a) the execution of Saddam Hussein almost immediately; and secondly, there seem to be more protests. Now I can understand maybe job-wise, some of those protests. But is there any worry that this is now going to more a religious type of protest?
Granted you're talking government to government, you're also talking to the Iraqi council. Have you also asked the Iraqi council to intercede with him to see if he will moderate some of his views?
MR. ERELI: It's not a really -- I don't think it's a question of asking the Grand Ayatollah to moderate or modify his views. On the issue of Saddam Hussein, I think we've made it clear that we will work with the Iraqis to help them establish a process that is fair and transparent and that brings Saddam Hussein to justice. That is our commitment.
On the subject of demonstrations, I think what you're seeing is, frankly, democracy in action. People who before were -- had their tongues ripped out if they criticized Saddam Hussein can now gather in the thousands and the tens of thousands and make their voice heard. These are peaceful demonstrations. They are demonstrations in which the people of Iraq are expressing their views and that is a welcome change to what we saw under Saddam Hussein.
QUESTION: You know, in a sense, it's not inconsistent with protests. I mean, we've got protests in this country, and they are an expression of democracy. But the protest could be -- the protestors could be conveying a message, and their protests have often been expressed in anti-U.S. terms. So are these democratic demonstrations that tell you you're not wanted there?
MR. ERELI: I think there are different demonstrations. So without speaking to any one in particular, because on any given day, I think you could find one or another demonstration that supports whatever your point of view is.
The point that we're making is that these people speaking out, people making their voices heard is a healthy part of a democracy. And our goal is to help the Iraqi people develop a system and a process that responds to the will of the people and represents the will of the people in a government that is capable of providing prosperity and stability for the long term and that is based on political pluralism and democratic values.
QUESTION: In order for us to do direct elections, if they were to take place, most parties, such as the UN and the Bush Administration, believe it's not possible. But if they did take place, you would obviously need a census. How would that happen? I mean, would you use the census that, I assume, the last one from the former regime when Saddam was in power? Would you have to carry out an entire new census just to have direct elections? Do you --
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Let's not get ahead of ourselves here, and I would, again, urge you to look at the November 15th agreement. There is a long-term process for development of democratic institutions in Iraq, including direct elections for a constitutional assembly and the drafting of a constitution and the phasing out of the Transitional National Authority. So we're talking about, you know, the Transitional National Authority taking over sovereignty on July 1st, but that -- but the November 15th agreement goes well beyond that and provides for direct elections and the very important ongoing process of setting up lasting institutions. It takes a while.
And obviously, there are logistical issues involved in those direct elections. This is one thing, I think, that we have discussed with the UN, is the important and vital role they can play in helping set up a system that addresses some of the questions or looks at the questions, does a needs assessment, says, okay, what do we need, when do we need it, how are we going to get it? We'll work with the Iraqis, but this is a big task, and it's a long-term task.
QUESTION: With the difficulty of holding direct elections before July 1st, often one impediment that's cited is that there isn't, sort of, a registry. There isn't a sense of who -- what's wrong with using the old registry under the Oil-for-Food Program?
MR. ERELI: You know, I'm just not in a position to opine on different models and different possible solutions. I think what's important is that the November 15th agreement represents a way forward that all the parties agreed to and that meets a variety of needs, among them accelerated transfer of sovereignty and representative and inclusiveness. If there are ways that we can work to refine some of those provisions, I think it's important. We're committed to doing that. It's one of the reasons we need a UN -- we asking for a UN technical team to go in and look and see what can be done in terms of process.
But really, I'm not in a position here to debate all the ideas, possible changes there could be. Let's let the UN team go there, or let's hope that the UN team goes there and can report back on some of its findings.
QUESTION: This UN technical team, should it go, how confident is the United States that Sistani would accept the findings of such a team?
MR. ERELI: One step at a time.
QUESTION: The Secretary in the afternoon said he was going to speak again to Kofi Annan. Did he? Did that happen late yesterday?
MR. ERELI: I think the Secretary said that he expects to hear back from the Secretary General in the not-too-distant future. He has not heard back from him since uttering those words less than 24 hours ago.
QUESTION: I think he said later in the day, but that's okay.
MR. ERELI: The transcript here says "not-too-distant future."
QUESTION: Changing subjects.
MR. ERELI: Changing topics? Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. President Bush, in his efforts of fighting corruption has restricted the international travel and suspended entry into the U.S. of certain person who have committed, participated or are beneficiaries of corruption crimes and terrorism.
So I would like to know what is the position of the Department of State about all the people that are being requested for the Venezuelan Justice for corruption and terrorism and are living here pretending to ask for political asylum that have been objected by the general attorney of Venezuela for considering that presumably they cause damage to the Venezuelan nation. Some examples are: Juan Fernandez, Carlos Andres Perez, Jose Antonio Colina, German Varela
MR. ERELI: These are people who are in the United States now asking for political asylum?
MR. ERELI: Can't comment on pending political asylum cases. We just don't do that.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the Venezuelan Government are being requested for these people, the Venezuelan Justice.
MR. ERELI: Right. They have -- it is our normal practice not to comment on political asylum cases, people who are in the United States, whether they have or have not -- confirming whether they have or have not requested political asylum or what is the decision on such a request, should it have it been made. So I'm just not going to comment on it.
Yes, ma'am. On Venezuela?
QUESTION: Yes, Venezuela. Okay. Secretary Powell defined, a few days ago, that the relationship between Venezuela and the United States are somewhat tense. There is any step or any new initiative to bring the two countries together to reach an approachment to improve the relations?
And -- well, I have a couple of questions and --
MR. ERELI: You know, not much has changed since the Secretary made those remarks a few days ago. I think, you know, I would point to the important discussions we had multilaterally at the Summit of the Americas in Monterey, looking at ways to improve trade and democratic development in the hemisphere. Those issues certainly apply to Venezuela, as others.
On Venezuela-specific issues, we have a recall petition underway, a process that is going on, that is developing or proceeding according to the constitution and the rule of law. Let's see how that develops. And, you know, as far as new initiatives go, in terms of the bilateral relationship, I don't have anything to announce today or to elaborate on.
QUESTION: I just have two quick -- yeah.
MR. ERELI: One more, one more.
QUESTION: Only one? Or two? No?
MR. ERELI: One is enough.
MR. ERELI: There is not much to say.
QUESTION: What happened with the announce that Mr. Shapiro, the ambassador, the U.S. Ambassador in Caracas is leaving in July? Is this because of the current situation between the two countries?
MR. ERELI: I had not heard that. I had not heard that announcement. But, you know, I don't have -- I can look into it and maybe we'll get back to you on that.
QUESTION: Adam, Representative Weldon announced this morning that he is going to Libya, later this week with a bipartisan group of lawmakers. I was wondering if he is carrying any particular message from the Administration, and if you felt this is useful visit, given the -- I think you're at a somewhat sensitive stage of trying to get the Libyans to let you remove their equipment that --
MR. ERELI: I wasn't aware of that trip, frankly. I think that, without having the details, I wouldn't really want to comment on it.
What I can tell you is that, you know, as the Secretary said yesterday, we have a team in Libya now working with the Libyans to help them meet their disarmament obligations -- or their disarmament commitments. We think this is an important step, and I would say we're working together closely and quickly, I would note, to follow up on the commitments that Libya has made.
QUESTION: Do you have an interim report, an early -- is it too early to have any sense of whether Libya is keeping its word?
MR. ERELI: Well, I think that, you know, noting that the team is there.
QUESTION: That's what I meant.
MR. ERELI: Noting that the team is there, it came at Libya's invitation, --
MR. ERELI: -- that Libya is facilitating its work, are all very positive indicators.
QUESTION: But I mean the team -- it's too early for the team to have given you some notion --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I don't have a sort of operational readout for you --
QUESTION: That's what I meant, yeah.
MR. ERELI: -- of what the team has done to date.
QUESTION: But Libya is facilitating this?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Adam, on that, can you, when you check -- as you're checking into this delegation, can you find out if they have applied to have the passport ban lifted, which they will need to do if they're -- unless they're intending on going on another passport?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I will check. I would also, you know, suggest you talk to the delegation also.
QUESTION: Well, no, because I want to know if you're going to approve it or not.
MR. ERELI: (Laughter.) Those are two questions: Check into whether they've asked, and what the decision was.
QUESTION: No, I just want you -- yeah, you need think about -- I just wanted you to check, yes, they asked, and not have the answer. But I want both.
MR. ERELI: I will check into it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: And another possible travel -- bit of traveling. It's a little late to ask. They may even be back by now, for all I know, but I couldn't get an answer yesterday whether reports that Satterfield and Secretary Wolf were going to the Middle East, and if they are, you know, if you'd say something illuminating about their aim?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I can tell you that Ambassador Wolf, who you will recall resumed his duties as Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation, but still has his responsibilities as Chief of the U.S. Monitoring and Compliance Mission, will go, in that capacity, along with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield to the region shortly -- I don't have dates for you -- for consultations with Israeli and Palestinians that will be focused on security and monitoring issues.
They're going to make clear, as we have been doing for some time, that in order to make progress on the President's -- on the roadmap and the President's 2002 vision of two states, both sides need to meet their responsibilities and obligations.
We're going to be looking for concrete steps from the Palestinians to confront terror and violence, as well as progress on reform. And we will be reiterating to Israel the need for sustained efforts to improve the humanitarian situation and stick to other commitments, including settlement and outpost activity.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Same topic. Has the Palestinian Authority cooperated fully in the investigation of the killing of three Americans in Gaza on October 15th? And does U.S. aid to the PA, is it conditioned on the nature of its cooperation?
MR. ERELI: I would note on that issue that there is not a resolution of the security situation in Gaza, particularly the apprehension of those responsible for the killing of American officials there, and we need to see that.
The aid to the Palestinian Authority is not conditioned, to my knowledge, on resolution of that specific issue. So unless I'm wrong on that -- if I'm wrong on that, I'll let you know, but I don't think it's conditioned on it.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that Wolf and Satterfield are only going to Israel and the Palestinian territories, or are they -- will perhaps Satterfield have other stops?
MR. ERELI: I don't have information on it. If there are other stops, I'll let you know.
QUESTION: Let me ask you about Malaysia's jailed former deputy.
MR. ERELI: Is that it on Israel-Palestinian issues?
QUESTION: Well, I -- yeah, I'd just like to -- yeah, one thing on that, which is that you're -- I'm sure you're going to throw the Satterfield-Wolf trip back in my face, but --
MR. ERELI: No, no, nothing thrown in your face.
QUESTION: -- but I'll ask it anyway, and that is: What would you say to people in the region, in Europe, particularly, who are concerned that the President last night in his State of the Union Address didn't mention the roadmap or Middle East peace in terms of -- specifically in terms of Israel and the Palestinians, or Israel and any other Arab country with which it is still technically at war -- what would you say to their concerns that this appears now not to be a priority for the Administration?
MR. ERELI: I would say that that's an erroneous conclusion, and I would say that there are no shortage of public statements of commitment by senior members of the Administration, including the President, to resolving this longstanding issue. I would also point to statements the President made regarding America's commitment both to democracy in the Middle East, to reform in the Middle East, and to fighting terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere as relevant to this issue.
QUESTION: Do you recall -- do you have a -- I assume you do since you mentioned it and included more senior officials' public statements, including the President -- when the last time -- I'll ask the White House, too -- when the last time the President actually discussed this publicly?
MR. ERELI: Doesn't leap immediately to mind.
QUESTION: Okay. And are you --
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: Was there any effort by the State Department to get some reference, any reference at all, to this into the -- into the speech last night, given the fact that Secretary Powell, since the first of the year in his New York Times, "what we will do in 2004," said that there would be a new push on this issue, and that his speech to the -- his pep talk to the embassies, the closed-circuit TV one, he said the same thing, and then to have --
MR. ERELI: And in his press conference.
QUESTION: And in his press conference and in other fora, come out and say that this is all going to be a big deal, and then for the President to ignore it, I mean --
MR. ERELI: Right. I would just make this point, Matt, that not every issue gets into the State of the Union speech, and I think that it would be erroneous to conclude that it not being in the State of the Union speech is a lessening of commitment or a lowering of the priority of this issue.
QUESTION: Well, the problem with that, Adam, is that it's been in every single one of his State of the Union speeches before. In fact, if you go back and look, it's been in every single State of the -- not just his.
MR. ERELI: Right, right. I guess it flows from that, then unless it's in every State of the Union speech, it's somehow walking back from the commitment, and that's -- that's --
QUESTION: That's the impression that it leaves.
MR. ERELI: But that's -- that's why I'm saying that's erroneous, that we are not less committed to a solution to this problem simply because it wasn't in the speech.
QUESTION: Maybe it didn't lend itself to an applause line when he was checking off what he perceives to be successes, and it's hard to say that peacemaking in the Middle East has been -- it's a commitment, but you can't claim success. So maybe you're waiting for success. Maybe in his next State of the Union speech, if that happens, he'll talk about the Middle East.
But let me ask you about the Deputy -- the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, who --
QUESTION: Can we please stay on the Middle East?
QUESTION: I'd like to follow on my question on the Middle East, please.
QUESTION: Let's -- yeah, sure.
MR. ERELI: Do you yield?
QUESTION: I'll let him go, yeah. I'll come after him.
QUESTION: You noted that the deaths of the three Americans remains unresolved. But what I -- my question is more, is the United States satisfied with the nature of the cooperation it has received from the Palestinian Authority in the investigation?
MR. ERELI: I think, as I said, that we continue to call for the apprehension of those responsible for the killing of the American officials there and that the failure to apprehend those responsible is an issue we're concerned about.
QUESTION: Would you cast Assistant Secretary Wolf and Mr. Satterfield's visit to the Middle East as part of the push that the Secretary talked about at the beginning of the year, or, of course, it's just part of the normal --
MR. ERELI: I think the Secretary mentioned explicitly this trip earlier in the year in one of his public appearances or interviews. So, yes, it is directly tied to it.
QUESTION: Well, not specifically.
MR. ERELI: He said that, I think, Ambassador Wolf would be going out soon.
QUESTION: He said there would be some travel to the region soon.
MR. ERELI: I think he mentioned Wolf.
QUESTION: Could I ask you about --
MR. ERELI: Malaysia? Yes.
QUESTION: The jailed Deputy Prime Minister who was denied bail. The State Department, Human Rights Watch have registered distress over his plight, Anwar Ibrahim. How do you folks feel about how he's doing in that -- that country today?
MR. ERELI: Well, we're -- you know, obviously this continues to be an issue of concern for us. We believe that his trial and conviction to a prison sentence of nine years was marked by deep flaws in the judicial process. We have consistently expressed this view. We regard Mr. Anwar as a political prisoner and our Human Rights Report has consistently stated that.
QUESTION: Well, is their justice system -- does their justice system begin to approach a democratic justice system?
MR. ERELI: Without commenting on Malaysia's justice system as a whole, I would say this trial, this -- the application of justice in this case was flawed.
QUESTION: Yeah, but that was what you said, you know, years ago when the actual verdict came down. What do you have to say about the denial of bail?
MR. ERELI: I mean, his incarceration from the first, from the beginning, is unjustified, in our view, and I think the denial of bail and the continuing of keeping him in prison is a -- does not reflect well on the justice system.
QUESTION: Can I return to a question about the Middle East? Over the week, there's been clashes both in Gaza, clearing out suspected hideouts, and that involves tunnels, and also there have been some clashes up along the Lebanese border in the Bekaa Valley. Will Egypt have any -- give any cooperation to seal off those possible suspected tunnels, and also anything that you're specifically telling the Syrians to dismantle those terrorism type headquarters in Damascus?
MR. ERELI: On the situation on the Lebanese -- Israeli-Lebanese border, we are in close contact with officials of the Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian governments to urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid any further escalation. We believe that it is in the best interest of all the parties to maintain calm along the Israel-Lebanon border area. We reiterate our calls on all sides to abide by their assurances to the United Nations Secretary General and to ensure that there are no further violations of the UN-demarcated withdrawal line.
With respect to Syrian involvement with Hezbollah, we have also made it repeatedly clear to Lebanon and Syria our serious concern over the escalation, the calculated escalation by Hezbollah, and we've made it clear to them our view that there's a new strategic dynamic in the region and that the time has come to end their support for Hezbollah's terrorist operations.
QUESTION: You said that you want there not to be any further violation of the UN line.
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Does that mean that you accept UNIFIL's conclusion that the Israelis did cross it, in violation of the agreement?
MR. ERELI: I'll tell you what. I think I'm not going to rule on who violated the line.
QUESTION: Well, the UN has already ruled on it. I'm wondering --
MR. ERELI: I said I'm not going to rule on it.
QUESTION: Well, I'm not asking you to rule on it. I'm asking --
MR. ERELI: I'm going to say that there should be no further violations.
QUESTION: Well, who violated it?
MR. ERELI: That's what I'm not going to rule on.
QUESTION: Well, then what are you -- how can you say no further violation?
QUESTION: If you say no further violations, then you're saying that there are.
MR. ERELI: Let's put it this way.
QUESTION: Was there a violation in this case?
MR. ERELI: Yes, there was a violation.
QUESTION: And you -- but you just don't want to say who it was?
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: Was it -- that's -- why not?
MR. ERELI: I would say that -- I would say this, that Hezbollah has taken calculated and provocative actions and that those actions should stop.
QUESTION: Do you believe, then, that the Israeli violation of the UN-demarcated withdrawal line was not a provocation? Was it an accident (inaudible)?
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to opine on that subject.
QUESTION: But whatever Israel did is not -- is not the same thing as -- is not a provocation, in your eyes?
MR. ERELI: I would -- I would simply say that all sides need to stay away from the demarca -- stay away from the line, abide by their commitments that they made to the UN, and that Syria and Lebanon need to reign in Hezbollah and stop their support for Hezbollah.
QUESTION: But you would suggest that Israel keep control of its vehicles in this area so that they do not cross the line in violation of their agreement with the UN? Yes or no.
MR. ERELI: I would say that they should abide by their assurances to the Secretary General.
QUESTION: Can you change to North Korea?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: Mr. Hecker, the nuclear scientist who was in North Korea two weeks ago testified today and said he is not convinced that North Korea can produce nuclear weapons, plutonium-based nuclear weapons, which is actually what many people in the -- some people in the Administration have been saying all along. But does that or any other findings that that delegation has shared with you, have any effect on all the efforts that you are now making to reconvene or anything about diplomacy over the issue in North Korea?
MR. ERELI: I don't know if you're characterizing Hecker's comments correctly. I mean, what I read is he said, you know, you can't -- based on what he saw, you can't make a firm conclusion one way or the other. What we, you know, what we've always said is that North Korea has claimed to have reprocessed plutonium. They have also claimed to have a Uranium Enrichment Program, highly enriched uranium.
It's clear that the region, as represented by North Korea's neighbors, are seriously concerned about North Korea's nuclear program and that we have a process underway that is aimed at achieving the verifiable, irreversible and complete dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program. That remains our goal, that remains a -- something that is in the interests of the entire region, and I don't think that this, the trip that the delegation made is distracting -- distracts us from that goal.
QUESTION: Hecker also testified that the North Koreans made available to the delegation a transcript of the famous meeting in October of 2002, the point being that the North Koreans are saying that the, that transcript does not indicate any North Korean acknowledgement of an HEU program. And I assume you have the transcript in hand.
I don't know if you've been briefed on it. But if you haven't been, could you get an answer as to how your transcript and how theirs match or don't match?
MR. ERELI: You know, what I can tell you is that there were numerous American officials at that meeting, that what was said was vetted by a number of translators, that there was no doubt in the minds of the officials who were in the meeting or in the translations that were made of the comments and subsequently analyzed about what was said and what it's import -- and what was its import.
QUESTION: Could you tell us whether you conclude that their transcript has been doctored?
MR. ERELI: I can't speak for the North Koreans. I can tell you, on behalf of our government, what our conclusions was, what our assessment is, and I'll let the North Koreans speak for themselves.
QUESTION: I think we have said that they concluded that -- they being the non-official U.S. team that went there had turned over the North Korean transcript to the State Department to review it. I think that's why George is asking the question. We're not asking you to speak for them. We're asking you to tell us what you conclude based on your reading of that document and your comparison to your own --
MR. ERELI: Let me see if I can get an answer for you on that.
QUESTION: Just as a follow-up and just for the record, does the U.S. have a tape recording of those talks? Are they just notes?
MR. ERELI: I don't know. I don't know.
QUESTION: Sorry. I just want to follow-up on your comment about the -- you say that while he didn't, you know, make any final conclusion of the reprocessing of whatever, but he emphasized the nuclear, you know, producing capability by North Korea. He emphasized many times that they can produce six kilogram of plutonium per year, he needs 5 megawatt reactors. So can you say -- can you see any implication for other six-party talk on this comment?
MR. ERELI: No, I don't think there's a direct implication for the six-party talks on that comment. The purpose of the six-party talks is to achieve the verifiable, irreversible and complete dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program.
The fact that it has a -- I think the fact that it has a nuclear capability -- and this all stems from the fact that is has a nuclear capability; and that there are serious concerns about that nuclear capability and the danger that it represents to the region; and that it remains the consensus of all concerned that we need to work together to address the threat in the interests of the region and the people of the region, so that they can stop fearing nuclear attack and stop spending their money on weapons that don't serve any useful purpose, and instead redirect their energies to the peaceful pursuit of prosperity and the betterment of their peoples.
QUESTION: One more question on that?
QUESTION: Sorry. I'm also interested of a discussion between the delegation and Kim Gye Guan, Vice Foreign Minister of North Korea. Kim Gye Guan indicates their concern, you know, he -- Mr. -- according to Mr. Hecker, Kim Gye Guan say the reprocessing is a red -- crossing a red line for North Korea. Can you say anything on that? And also, if you can, can you qualify it's your red line on this issue?
MR. ERELI: No, I've not seen those remarks so I really wouldn't want to comment on them.
QUESTION: Do you find North Korea, that North Korea has made "positive signals"?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is that because there are new positive moves on behalf of North Korea, or just that since they said they would freeze all nuclear activities?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I don't know what Japan was basing its comments on, so I --
QUESTION: So the delegations coming -- that are meeting today --
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: -- are they coming over with a new assessment of what's positive?
MR. ERELI: Let's start from the beginning. You referred to meetings today. Assistant Secretary Kelly for East Asian and Pacific Affairs will meet bilaterally this afternoon with his Japanese counterpart, Director General Mitoji Yabunaka, and then with his South Korean counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck.
Tomorrow morning, there will be a meeting of the three of them in informal consultations on the subject of ending North Korea's nuclear program. I wouldn't want to get into before they meet what the subject -- you know, what they're going to discuss beyond what I've just said. I'll let -- you know, let's let the meeting take place and then react to or talk about the substance of those meetings later.
QUESTION: Is this a TCOG meeting?
MR. ERELI: I would call them informal trilateral consultations.
QUESTION: So it's a non-TCOG TCOG?
MR. ERELI: It's informal trilateral consultations. Couldn't be any clearer than that.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on this Pakistani journalist who has gone missing and whom a Pakistani court has ordered the government to produce?
MR. ERELI: I'm not -- let me check, Matt. I'm not really sure. What case are you talking about?
QUESTION: This is the guy who was detained along with some foreign reporters earlier this month and the two -- the two foreign reporters were released, gone home, but their Pakistani colleague has disappeared.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. This is what I can tell you. I think I would say that we've seen those reports. We expect any detentions to be handled in a transparent manner and according to the normal judicial process. We strongly support press freedom in Pakistan and elsewhere, and we have conveyed our concerns to the Government of Pakistan as part of our ongoing dialogue with them.
QUESTION: The Pakistani, at least for the moment, maybe they haven't checked hard enough, but the authorities in Pakistan say that they don't know where this reporter is. Do you -- does your comment mean that you believe this reporter to be detained?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I don't have a lot of details on exactly, you know, what the back and forth on this has been. I know we've raised the issue -- our Embassy has raised this issue with the Pakistanis in Pakistan. I don't have anything for you in terms of their official response.
QUESTION: Sudanese Vice President Taha apparently plans to go on hajj sometime before the end of the month, and I wonder if you have any comment on what -- how this bodes for the peace talks, if it suggests to you that they, rather than being just a few weeks away from resolution, might in fact get strung along even further because he'll be, according to a Sudanese official, they'll have to be adjourned when he leaves.
MR. ERELI: Where we are now is that the parties are still engaged in peace talks in Naivasha. These discussions are continuing on the outstanding issues, particularly the status of the three conflict areas, the Nuba Mountains, Abyei, and the Southern Blue Nile. There have been, as you say, public -- or discussions about adjourning the talks temporarily for a period of time to observe the hajj. I would say that a pause has not been confirmed by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development mediators, but it wouldn't be uncommon.
I guess the short answer to your question would be, they're still working on it. We believe they're still committed to reach an agreement. There's a few tough issues outstanding and we'll keep at it.
QUESTION: Would you prefer that they not adjourn and just keep trying to put this, put this 20-year problem to rest?
MR. ERELI: I think we are going to work with them in a constructive way to help them resolve their differences, but I wouldn't want to say what, specifically, should or shouldn't be done to help reach that point.
QUESTION: When did Senator Danforth leave?
MR. ERELI: He left last week. I want to say -- I want to say on Friday, but I'm not sure. I know it was last week. I can check --
QUESTION: So --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) left here Saturday.
MR. ERELI: Instead of Friday.
QUESTION: He was here yesterday.
QUESTION: So, in fact -- I'm aware of that, thank you, in the back. So in fact, he only spent a day and a half in there?
MR. ERELI: No, I'll check. I believe he was there longer, but I can check and see exactly how long he was there. I think it was longer than that.
QUESTION: Adam, in Davos, the Iranian President has given a speech in which he, among other things, says that Iran has never been pursuing weapons of mass destruction, that they didn't ship elements of a nuclear weapons program to North Korea. Have you -- did you get to hear any of his comments before you came in here?
MR. ERELI: I saw them on the ticker and said, "I betcha they're going to ask me about that." What I would say, you know, I didn't see his comments. I think that we've been, you know, we've been fairly consistent in saying publicly for a long time that we believe that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, and we've called on the international community to act to confront this threat.
I think the actions by the IAEA Board of Governors speak to that. There have been commitments made. And it's important now that we continue to work together cooperatively with the IAEA, with our partners there, to ensure that those commitments are followed through.
QUESTION: Do you think it's strains their credibility at all, if you felt they had any to begin with, to say that they never had this stuff, now that they've agreed to let inspections take place? I mean, they've said you won't find anything, but to come out and say we've never pursued it is a little more explicit.
MR. ERELI: You know, I just, I think that there is widespread recognition that there are grounds for concern and that Iran needs to be very forthcoming in opening up its facilities, in complying with NPT obligations, in allowing the IAEA to do its work as it has committed itself to do, and let's let that process take its course.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Iranian Guardian Council's decision yesterday to reverse the ban on 200 candidates to any of the elections? I think that's only about 5 percent of the total number that they have banned.
MR. ERELI: What I would say is that this is a evolving situation and there are a lot of developments every day. We are watching these events carefully. I would note that, you know, the reports today are that several unnamed cabinet ministers and vice presidents have submitted their resignations. The important point is that we think it's important that Iran's leadership permit free and fair elections through an electoral process that meets international standards, and that the Government needs to be responsive to the needs of its people.
QUESTION: Changing subjects? Do you have anything on one of the Kuwaiti -- members of the Kuwaiti royal family, a younger member, arrested for some sexual abuse in Valley Forge, a military student?
MR. ERELI: I've heard reports on that. I haven't been able to substantiate them. Let us look into it and see what we can say.
QUESTION: Can you see if there's been any cause for diplomatic immunity or a waiver?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: I just want to clear something. Will the U.S. Government allow the entry or (inaudible) people that are being requested for corruption and terrorism, for any country, it can be Venezuela, Brazil, any country?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I would say we have a terrorism watch list that seeks to identify those who are -- have ties to terrorism, and we have a very active program with our embassies in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that those who have violated our laws or who are intent on doing harm to the United States will not gain access to the United States.
QUESTION: Adam, in Azerbaijan, opposition factions and some human rights groups are saying that the Government has launched a crackdown on the opposition, basically, in the wake of the October 15th election; there have been scores or hundreds of arrests, remands in custody. Is that something the U.S. has observed as well?
MR. ERELI: Yes, we have urged the Government of Azerbaijan to expedite the investigations of the persons detained during and after the October 15th presidential election. We believe the authorities should either charge those arrested with crimes and present the evidence against them or release them. And we call on the authorities to proceed in accordance with international standards and to provide all appropriate legal protections and due process to all the detainees.
QUESTION: Secretary Powell, when he goes to Georgia next week, is expected to meet, I think, with the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan. Can he be -- would he raise this matter with him?
MR. ERELI: I would note that, you know, the Secretary's schedule in Georgia hasn't yet been finalized. U.S. authorities regularly raise this and other human rights issues with senior Azerbaijani officials, so it's not -- you know, it may come up. But it's not as if, if it doesn't come up, we don't raise it regularly.
QUESTION: Does your call for detainees to be either charged or released apply universally around the world or is it only in Azerbaijan in this specific instance?
MR. ERELI: I'm sure you have a specific question in mind.
MR. ERELI: I mean, I would say that, you know, every --
QUESTION: I'm wondering if you would apply it to, say, prisoners of the United States who are held on foreign soil.
MR. ERELI: I don't know. What's the question?
QUESTION: I'm asking if you believe that people who have been arrested should be either charged or released.
MR. ERELI: I prefer not to talk in hypotheticals. Give me a specific case.
QUESTION: It's not a hypothetical.
QUESTION: Why doesn't this -- why doesn't this apply to the detainees at Guantanamo? I mean --
MR. ERELI: I think the detainees in Guantanamo, we are -- we have a process underway, as Ambassador Prosper has elaborated on, to determine what threat these detainees pose. I would note that these are prisoners -- people caught in conflict, and that that's a very different situation, but that there is an active process underway to determine what is the threat they pose and to act accordingly and that we are moving with all speed and care to resolve these issues.
QUESTION: What about the hundreds of people that were arrested that weren't -- that aren't held in Guantanamo, that are just held in U.S. jails with no access to an attorney or to their families?
MR. ERELI: Under the wartime prosecution issue.
QUESTION: Just to clarify what you said before, you said you are in the process of trying -- you have a process underway to figure out whether they are a threat. You didn't say anything about a process to determine whether they've committed crimes, and therefore whether they should be prosecuted for them. And I wonder if you think it's okay to detain people indefinitely, if you think they might be a threat.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I -- you know, I think we've -- I think Ambassador Prosper has spoken to this pretty thoroughly, both in on-the-record briefings with you, as well as in briefings he gave in London last week where he outlined in great detail the approach we're taking to this and made very clear that there is a process underway to deal with this issue.
And I would also refer you, for a legal argument about why we believe that our treatment of the Guantanamo detainees is lawful and humane, to the op-ed piece that our legal counsel at the State Department, William Taft, wrote last week, I believe, in the -- I'm not -- I don't remember specifically which paper, but that gives you a very, I think, considered discussion of this issue with full legal justification as well as political justification.
QUESTION: So, in answer to my question then, the sentiment that these people should be either charged or released applies only to Azerbaijan here?
MR. ERELI: We are working to -- as far as we're concerned, we are doing everything possible to address this issue in a legal and humane way, the detainees in Guantanamo.
QUESTION: No, no, no.
MR. ERELI: And in terms of the Azerbaijanis, they need to be, as I said, charged and have evidence presented against them, or -- and proceed -- and have the authorities proceed in accordance with international standards and provide legal protections for them if they are going to be prosecuted.
QUESTION: But your -- okay, but your admonition applies to Azerbaijan only.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Joel.
QUESTION: Is that a yes? I'm sorry.
MR. ERELI: I've addressed the issue as much as I can. There's not more I can help you on it with.
QUESTION: In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has jailed opposition leaders and there's a big trial going on, or beginning, with one of his chief opposition rebel groups. And is this strictly a U.K. Commonwealth problem or an African problem or are we trying to, as well, intercede in that?
MR. ERELI: I think we've made pretty clear our view on how the Government of Zimbabwe is dealing with political opposition and the freedom of expression in that country. This is a -- this is an issue that the Commonwealth has addressed, that the United States has addressed. It is -- Zimbabwe's record on this is, I think, well-known and pretty deplorable, but I don't have anything particular in this specific case you're talking about.
In the back.
QUESTION: Yes, another American jailed in foreign country, Charles Lee. Do you have any update on that?
MR. ERELI: No update.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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