31 March 2004
State Department Noon Briefing, March 31, 2004
Serbia/Montenegro, Libya, Mexico, Iraq, Israel/Saudi Arabia/Palestinians, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, France, China, Cyprus/Greece
Deputy State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press at the noon State Department briefing March 31.
Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
12:50 p.m. EST
BRIEFER: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
-- Department Statement on Foreign Operations Export
-- Financing and Related Programs Appropriations Act
-- Arrest and Transfer of Fugitive Indictees / Ratko Mladic
-- Certification / Status of Humanitarian Assistance
-- Under Secretary Grossman's Remarks
-- Serbian Legislation on Assistance to Indictees
-- Abuses of Human Rights Activists / Fathi al- Jahmi
-- Status of Economic Sanctions By United States
-- Ongoing Dialogue with Libya
-- United States' International Court of Justice Violations / Mexican Prisoners on Death Row
-- Killing of U.S. Contractors
-- Alleged Differences Between Ambassador Bremer and State Department
-- Preparations in Transfer of Iraqi Sovereignty
-- Freedom of Press / Closing of Al-Hawza Newspaper
-- Senator Lugar's Middle East Reform Initiative
-- Solutions to Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
-- Offer of U.S. Assistance
-- Uzbekistan Investigation of Terrorist Attacks
-- OPEC Oil Decision to Limit Oil Production
-- Secretary Powell's Meeting with Saudi Arabian Officials
-- U.S.-French Relations
-- Detention of activists in Tiananmen Mothers Campaign
-- Talks in Switzerland / Support of Efforts by UN Secretary General Annan
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31, 2004
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
12:50 p.m. EST
MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me begin, if I may, with a brief statement, which we'll be putting out after the briefing today.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has determined, pursuant to Section 572 of the Foreign Operations Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriations Act, that he cannot certify to Congress that Serbia and Montenegro is cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and, as a result, as of March 31st, new assistance for Serbia will stop.
We call on the authorities in Belgrade to cooperate fully with the Tribunal by arresting and transferring their fugitive indictees, particularly Ratko Mladic, to face justice before the Tribunal.
It's important to point out that if Serbia and Montenegro takes action in the future, the Secretary is prepared to review such actions to determine whether they meet the requirements of the law.
QUESTION: Can you confirm the amounts involved? Yesterday, Richard said it was about a quarter of $100 million. Is that right? Do you have a more precise figure?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I'm not going to sort of get into specific amounts here. What I would tell you is that $100 million has been appropriated in assistance to Serbia, and the Support to Eastern European Democracies Budget FY04 has been appropriated. Of that amount, 43 million has been spent, so that the amount subject to withholding would be the -- would come from the remainder.
But I would also note that if you look at the Act, humanitarian assistance, assistance to promote democracy in municipalities and assistance to Kosovo and Montenegro are exempted from the freeze.
QUESTION: So do you stick with Richard's line from yesterday that about a quarter of the 100 million is what is affected? Do you have any reason to doubt that?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't get into a specific accounting of it because things can move around within the parameters that I've described. I wouldn't want to be more specific on how, of the 47 million, how much is going to be frozen because I'm not aware that a specific determination, based on what the requirements of the law are, has been made.
QUESTION: 57 million.
MR. ERELI: 43 and 57. Yes, 57.
QUESTION: But in that 57 million, you're saying that there is money that is not affected; i.e., the money to Kosovo.
MR. ERELI: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: And what else was it?
MR. ERELI: There are three categories that are exempted: humanitarian assistance and assistance to promote democracy in municipalities and assistance to Kosovo or Montenegro.
QUESTION: The reason I'm asking is Richard said it on the record, it's in the transcript, and I think we ought to be given some understanding of whether we can still go with that.
MR. ERELI: Richard said about a quarter.
QUESTION: Of 100 million.
MR. ERELI: About a quarter.
QUESTION: Right. You okay with that?
MR. ERELI: With the emphasis on "about."
QUESTION: Do you have any idea where it's -- well, I guess you don't because you can't tell us. But at the moment, how much of that, how much of the 57 million outstanding, is supposed to go for those three protected --
MR. ERELI: I don't have a breakdown for you on that.
QUESTION: Do you think you could get that?
MR. ERELI: Um --
QUESTION: Could you take that?
MR. ERELI: I could take it, but I don't know if the answer would be available today. I mean, it might take a while because of the way the money is moved around, frankly.
QUESTION: Well, is it possible that that money that is protected -- the money that is not protected --
MR. ERELI: Exempted. I think the word is exempted.
QUESTION: Right. The money that is -- no, but the money that is affected by the suspension --
MR. ERELI: Right, right.
QUESTION: -- is it possible that that money could be shifted into one of these exempt categories?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: No? Well, then I don't understand how you say it can move around.
MR. ERELI: Let me give you a considered opinion. Let me take the question and give you a considered opinion on it.
QUESTION: How many at-large criminals are there besides Mladic, do you know, in Serbia?
MR. ERELI: We believe that 16 indictees spend a preponderance of their time in Serbia and Montenegro.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what conditions were present this year that led you to not issue the waiver as you have in other years?
MR. ERELI: Basically, the open presence of indictees in territory under the control -- in Serbia and Montenegro.
QUESTION: But that's been true -- that's been true since you issued this law.
MR. ERELI: I would say that if you look at what's happened this year, Serbia has not acted to arrest or transfer well-known and very prominent indictees to the Tribunal's jurisdiction, even though political leaders have called for both the voluntary surrender -- and the government -- of the indictees as well as the government to take action.
So these are, I think, very open and clear problems that not only us but people in Serbia have said need to be taken care of.
QUESTION: So you think their behavior has deteriorated.
MR. ERELI: I think we haven't seen -- they have not done things that have been asked of them.
QUESTION: As they have in previous years?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, they have done things in previous years that they haven't done in terms -- they have rendered people in previous years.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Change of subject? No?
QUESTION: Just one more. Adam, you mentioned Mladic. Have they -- do we know of specific instances where Mladic has surfaced and they haven't captured him?
MR. ERELI: Not that I am aware of, no. I mean, I think what's -- what we believe is that all indications are that Mladic -- that we believe that Mladic is in a position to be apprehended and should be apprehended.
QUESTION: Different subject?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Different subject. No?
MR. ERELI: Same subject.
QUESTION: I have a question on this subject. First, is the U.S. Administration taking into consideration the fact that the government in Belgrade is actually new, that it was recently formed, and also, the current events in Kosovo?
MR. ERELI: I would refer you to the remarks by Under Secretary Grossman in Serbia yesterday where he noted that, in his meetings, that he came away with the belief that the leadership there recognizes its responsibilities, are eager to meet their responsibilities, that cooperation with the United States is certainly possible, and that the government there is prepared to work with us.
I would also make, you know, the important point here that we want to see Serbia succeed, and we want to work together with Serbia to help it meet its international obligations, and so that we can all, you know, move forward in full integration with the Euro-Atlantic community.
QUESTION: Serbia, yesterday, adopted a law on providing assistance for The Hague indictees. Will this have a negative effect on future consideration of assistance?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't want to get into that kind of speculation. We did see the passage or did note the passage of that legislation, which basically extended benefits that were being paid to family members of indictees, extending those benefits to the indictees and the defendants themselves.
I wouldn't want to speculate on what prompted the Serbian parliament to pass this legislation. For our part, our focus is on -- is not on the government -- on assistance that the government may extend to the families of the indictees, but rather on seeing that the indictees that remain fugitives in Serbia, such as Ratko Mladic, are brought to justice.
QUESTION: Do you see anything wrong with it? I mean, these people have been indicted but they haven't actually been convicted, so why shouldn't they continue to get paid?
MR. ERELI: Like I said, I'm not going to comment on domestic Serbian jurisdiction. Our focus is on getting the fugitive indictees before the court. That's what Serbia's international obligation is and that's what we want to help them fulfill.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that they're acting any more vigorously to try to fulfill those obligations?
MR. ERELI: I think, put simply, there's important things that haven't been done and there's more that needs to be done. That assessment is reflected in the decision not to certify.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq?
MR. ERELI: Iraq.
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry, Nadya was ahead of everybody.
QUESTION: The Libyan dissident Fathi El-Jahmi was supposed to address a meeting to talk about the democracy and human rights situation in Libya, and it's taking place now at Congress. But, in fact, he is unable to do that because the Libyan authority has cut off his phone line and he was beaten after he gave an interview to Arabiyya on Friday.
Are you concerned about this situation? Have you been in contact with the Libyans to raise what possibly could happen to him?
MR. ERELI: The subject of Fathi El-Jahmi is an issue that we have discussed with the Libyan Government along with or in the context of a broader discussion on the importance of human rights and respect for human rights. And we've made clear that this is an issue which we take very seriously, which is an important element in our assessment of relations across the board wherever we are, with whatever country we're dealing.
We were certainly, I think, disturbed and troubled to hear of reports of renewed harassment of this individual and take those reports very seriously, and we'll continue to monitor the situation carefully and will not hesitate to speak up on behalf of abuses of human rights activists when they occur.
QUESTION: Well, do you link the situation on the human rights in Libya, for example, to lifting the ban on American oil companies to work there?
MR. ERELI: I think that they're really talking about -- how should I put it? -- different tracks. There are -- there is legislation covering the issue of economic -- a variety of economic sanctions on Libya. There are requirements by law that govern how those sanctions are imposed, implemented and carried out. And in dealing with those sanctions and in reviewing those sanctions, the requirements of law have to be kept into -- kept in consideration.
At the same time, as I said before, human rights is a ongoing and prominent concern, a prominent issue for the United States, and will continue to be.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, you said that you had discussed this particular man's case in the context of a broader discussion.
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Have you discussed this with the Libyans since the latest reports of his mistreatment?
MR. ERELI: I will check. We've not had any senior-level contacts since Ambassador Burns met Qadhafi in Libya. This attack, this incident, happened subsequent to that meeting. We perhaps -- we might have raised it with our people in Libya, but let me check on it.
QUESTION: And secondly, related to that, if I may, I thought that when the President issued his statement back in August following the resolution of the Pan Am 103 issue, I thought that human rights was explicitly tied, along with a whole bunch of other things, including fighting terrorism, resolving Pan Am 103, meddling in parts of Africa, as among the -- you know, and WMD, of course -- as among the things that Libya had to make progress on to see an improved relationship with the United States.
So I didn't think that these were two unrelated things.
MR. ERELI: I didn't say they were unrelated. I said they are distinct --
QUESTION: They're on separate tracks.
MR. ERELI: -- they're on distinct tracks, and that the issues governing economic sanctions have a legal basis, and that decisions made on economic sanctions will be made consistent with the law.
But I would also say that, you know, we are, as the President laid out, looking at the future in terms of Libyan actions. So, obviously, we'll be looking at Libyan actions.
QUESTION: Including on human rights?
MR. ERELI: I'd leave it to what the President said in December.
QUESTION: One more? Just to -- in August -- just to put a finer point on her question. If the Libyans are, and I don't know whether they are not, but if they're beating up dissidents, surely that would make you a little less inclined to improve the relationship, right?
MR. ERELI: I think, as I said before, it is something that we take seriously and we view with concern.
QUESTION: Do you think that Qadhafi was emboldened by Burns' visit to go ahead and beat up on dissidents?
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to speculate on possible motives.
QUESTION: When you said about the people in Libya that are, you know, this kind of quasi-Interests Section that you have right now, I'm not even sure if it's a full Interests Section, but what is the interaction between the people there right now, the diplomats, and the Libyan Government? I mean, at first it was to kind of facilitate the weapons of mass destruction team. But now, is there like regular interaction with the government --
MR. ERELI: Well, there are a number of activities going on, as we've been talking about, I think, quite regularly.
There continues to be work done in the disarmament area. As we've mentioned before, there are teams going out there in the area of medical assistance and educational exchange, so it's facilitating the visits of those teams.
It is -- we have an ongoing dialogue with the Libyans, so carrying out the work connected to that dialogue requires regular interaction with the Government of Libya and that's what our people are doing.
QUESTION: Have there been any efforts yet to make contact with opposition members, as we do in other countries?
MR. ERELI: We have met, certainly, here. I don't know -- I couldn't speak for what's going on in Libya, but certainly here we have met with groups that are not part of the governing -- the governing body or the governing organizations in Libya.
QUESTION: I meant there. I meant there, yeah. This Interests Section, are they yet reaching out to opposition --
MR. ERELI: I don't really have any details at the tip of my tongue to share with you on that.
Anything more on Libya? Okay, let's go to Mexico.
QUESTION: Today, the International Court of Justice has ruled that the United States has violated the rights of 51 Mexicans who has been condemned of the penalty. And according to the court, these Mexicans prisoners weren't told about their rights to get a consular aid, and therefore, didn't receive it.
What is the position of the State Department and have you talked already with the Mexican authorities?
MR. ERELI: I don't know if we've talked to the Mexican authorities yet. Let me check on that and see what contact we've had.
Let me just point out that this is a decision by the International Court of Justice. We received it this morning. It's 61 pages long. It's a very complex ruling. So the short answer to your question is, we're going to study it carefully.
I think, just to elaborate a little bit on it, the decision, as you said, concerns about more than 50 individuals that have been tried and convicted in a number of different states. And the issue before the court was remedies when consular information was not provided.
Let's look at the decision and we'll decide, based on studying it, how we can go about implementing it.
One important aspect of the court's decision, which we think is noteworthy, is that it appears to reiterate the court's previous decision regarding such cases and to reject a number of requests for additional remedies, which we think is noteworthy.
But beyond that, it's really hard for me to go into a lot of detail about it, because it's just -- it's got to be a matter for further study.
QUESTION: Is there any parallel that can be drawn to other cases, similar cases with Mexico and other countries, in which the death penalty has been involved and the United States hasn't paid particular attention to the decision from the International Court?
MR. ERELI: I think the circumstances of these cases are unique and I wouldn't want to make general comparisons. I mean, every case, whether you're talking about these cases or the cases you want to draw comparisons to, have particular sets of circumstances. So I would really, you know, hesitate to do that for those reasons.
QUESTION: But they only --
QUESTION: Isn't there a common theme on virtually all of these, that the states contend that they are not aware of their responsibilities to provide consular access?
MR. ERELI: Right. And that is, I think, what's -- I don't know, what's your question?
QUESTION: Isn't there a common theme?
MR. ERELI: To all these cases? Yes, there is a common theme to all these cases. But the crimes that were committed, the sentences, the courts that were involved, the legal proceedings in each case, are distinct, number one.
Number two, the point I would make is that we have said, and I think the court recognized, that we would make efforts, and we have made efforts, to improve our record of compliance with the Vienna Convention and that's something we are, you know, I think serious about and the court recognized that.
QUESTION: So if --
QUESTION: Could you elaborate a little bit more about those efforts? I mean, are you talking about with authorities trying to make sure that they are complying with this issue every time that a foreign national is detained?
MR. ERELI: This is -- I mean, this is a wide-ranging and fairly, I think, comprehensive effort that involves education and coordination between local, federal, law enforcement and judicial bodies to ensure that rights are respected, laws are obeyed, and proper procedures followed.
It's something that I think every legal law enforcement system in the world should strive to continually improve itself, and we're certainly doing that.
QUESTION: But can I follow up? If you say that -- first of all, can you say why these particular cases are unique? And if you're recognizing that, in some of these, or a lot of these instances, that the states weren't, you know, fully -- didn't fully recognize their responsibilities under the Convention, what is the kind of superseding authority here? The States -- the United States' signature to the Vienna Convention or state law enforcement, which doesn't --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, we're rapidly getting into an area of discussion that exceeds both my institutional authority and intellectual competence. (Laughter.) So if you'd just like let us leave it where it is, I think I've just about answered the question as fully as I possibly can.
QUESTION: But can you say what's unique? You said these cases are unique and you said --
MR. ERELI: I would say it's sort of a statement of the obvious that every legal case has its own unique set of circumstances. No one legal case is exactly like another legal case.
QUESTION: Just to finish on that, if the United States is looking forward to improve its record, allowing --
MR. ERELI: I think the court recognized that we have improved our record.
QUESTION: Allowing that -- foreign nationals to have access, consular access, in cases such as this, then that means that when that has not happened in the past, the United States will be willing to recognize that fact and allow the judicial system to take charge and review if those cases can indeed be reviewed.
MR. ERELI: What the court ruled here was that where there is a breach, that the United States should review and reconsider the conviction and sentence, taking into account the breach of the Convention. That was the court's ruling. That's what we are going to study and that is the -- that is as far as I can go, given where we are in the process.
QUESTION: Well, actually, Adam, you went a little bit further earlier, to my question. You said we will study the decision and then we'll decide how we can go about implementing it. Does that mean that you have accepted -- that you are going to implement this in some fashion?
MR. ERELI: I would say that we will study the decision and -- study the decision, and, based on that study, decide what's the appropriate actions to take.
QUESTION: Are you aware that it is possible for the federal government to order a review of state cases?
MR. ERELI: I think that's -- like I said, there are complex -- a lot of complex legal issues involved here, and that's why we want to study it before pronouncing what we're prepared to do.
QUESTION: So you're not saying right now that you are going to -- you are, in some manner, some way, shape or form, going to implement this decision?
MR. ERELI: I don't -- if that was the suggestion, if that's what you --
QUESTION: Well, that's what I wrote down. Maybe I wrote it down wrong, but I thought that's what you said.
MR. ERELI: I don't mean -- all I meant to suggest, all I mean to say, is that we will study the decision and decide on appropriate next steps based on that study.
QUESTION: Change of topic to Iraq?
MR. ERELI: Iraq. Teri.
QUESTION: Thank you -- for all of us.
Do you have any reaction to the events of this morning and can you now confirm on the record that the four contractors killed were American citizens?
MR. ERELI: I think the United States Government is appalled by the horrific attacks and the senseless loss of life that we saw in Iraq today. We can confirm that three -- excuse me, that four U.S. citizen civilians were killed in the attack in Fallujah. Our consular officials have been working to -- on this issue.
We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and we'd just note that they were trying to make a difference and to help others; and that it's important that we all remember what we're working for in Iraq, which is a freer, a better, more democratic place; and that it's going to require -- it's going to require commitment and sacrifice, and the U.S. Government is certainly committed to sticking this through to the end.
QUESTION: Can you tell us -- you said that they were there making it a better place. Were they the aid contractors and that's what they were actually doing there?
MR. ERELI: I'm not able, at this point, to give you more details on who the civilians were working for and what they were doing. I hope you'd understand that, in the process of notifying next of kin, coordination on all kinds of personal issues means that we're just going to have to hold off on providing a lot of additional details.
QUESTION: Are there guidelines for NGOs and people who work for private businesses with respect to security precautions?
MR. ERELI: I'd really refer you to the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority, on that. Obviously, I think that the Coalition Provisional Authority and the State Department puts out a number of warnings, guidelines, notices concerning personal security in Iraq. When individuals go to Iraq, there are a number of places that they -- and authorities they can consult with concerning what are dangerous areas, what are appropriate security precautions to take. But to give you, I think, more detail, you'd have to talk to the people on site.
QUESTION: Adam, could you shed some light on some alleged growing differences between Paul Bremer, Ambassador Bremer, and the State Department? I mean, as the day is getting closer and closer to the turnover, some say that Bremer, who reports to the Bush White House, is not ceding the power that he should as the day draws near to the State Department that will assume responsibility on July 1.
MR. ERELI: I would --
QUESTION: Can I answer that?
MR. ERELI: I think the -- what I can say to that is to answer -- I would emphasize the word "alleged." The fact of the matter is that we're all in agreement that sovereignty is going to transfer on June 30th from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the Iraqi people and that an embassy will be the representative of the President and an ambassador will be the President's representative to the Iraqi government.
And I think we're all working -- the State Department, the White House, the Coalition Provisional Authority, the Department of Defense -- are all working, I think, collegially, smoothly and with a common sense of purpose, first and foremost, to help the -- help prepare the Iraqis for that transfer of sovereignty, and, secondly, to put in place a U.S. Government entity that is -- that is ready and able to continue our support for the Iraqi people in the form that makes sense when the sovereignty is transferred.
QUESTION: Also, if I could follow up on this one. It says that the State Department favors someone like Thomas Pickering to replace Paul Bremer, while the Pentagon favors someone like Paul Wolfowitz.
MR. ERELI: Right, right. That's just more Washington gossip.
QUESTION: Adam, can you just confirm for the record that all branches of this government always work harmoniously and in sync? (Laughter.) There's never a problem between any of them and they always agree, particularly on very sensitive issues like Iraq?
MR. ERELI: Right. Just like us and the press.
QUESTION: The CPA has closed Al-Hawza newspaper because it says it was inciting anti-American feeling, but today in the street of Baghdad there is new literature coming in the forms of videos and CDs asking for -- well, it's inciting again this anti-American feeling.
Do you know where the source is, and what can you do about it? I mean, you can close a newspaper, but this is, you know, on the black market. I mean, this --
MR. ERELI: I think there was very specific -- I mean, let's first state for the record that, you know, we are firmly for freedom of the press, freedom of expression. I think what you're seeing in Iraq every day is eloquent testimony to that commitment.
The paper in question, there were a number of -- a number of very, I think, provocative and false statements that were inciteful, and that, pursuant to the regulations, the decision was made to temporarily shut it down for 60 days.
One of those things that they published was that an attack against -- a suicide bombing against a religious site was conducted not by a religious bomber but by a U.S. helicopter missile strike. That's obviously not true, and the intent and purpose of that was to incite actions against not only coalition forces but Iraqi civilians.
QUESTION: You want to stay on Iraq?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: It seems like the U.S. Government has hired another London-based firm to sort of start the campaign of ads and advertisements and so on, trying to explain democracy to the Iraqis. Have they not learned from the Charlotte Beers kind of situation? They are spending $62 million --
MR. ERELI: This is -- there is so much editorializing in your question. Let's stick to the facts. The facts are, the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority, has entered into this contract and so I would -- I think you should address your questions to them.
Second of all, there is a good and positive message to get out, and that message is that the coalition is there to help, that Iraq is better off today than it was under Saddam Hussein, and that together, Iraqis working together can make their country a better place. And that's a powerful message and I think it's a message that serves the public well.
QUESTION: Has the State Department had any chance yet to review the Senator Lugar initiative, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations of the Senate?
MR. ERELI: We have read Senator Lugar's remarks with great interest. We found them thoughtful. We share many of the same views, particularly the need to support economic, political and education reform, as well as women's empowerment in the region.
Like Senator Lugar, we are firmly committed to supporting homegrown reform and modernization in the Middle East. Like Senator Lugar, we believe that ideas for reform need to come from the region, not imposed from the outside. And we agree with Senator Lugar about the need for programming in the region.
We think that the Middle East Partnership Initiative, which the President launched in May, 2003, is an important and meaningful step in this direction. It places special emphasis on the needs of women and youth, as students, entrepreneurs and agents for change.
QUESTION: What about the need for the Arab-Israeli conflicts to be preceding the success of any Middle East initiative, the importance of putting an end to that struggle and convincing Israel to come to terms with peace and accepting the offer of the Arab countries of Beirut --
MR. ERELI: Is that what Senator Lugar said?
QUESTION: No, I'm saying, what about that? Do you have any light to shed on that part of his saying that there is a need for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict --
MR. ERELI: Well, we agree -- we agree there needs to be a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. That's what -- you can write that down.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) today, though, I mean, you didn't allude to it --
MR. ERELI: Okay, let me talk about it today. We strongly believe that peace, stability and prosperity in the region require a solution to the Arab-Israeli and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are committed to helping the parties reach a solution to that conflict.
I would note that Assistant Secretary Burns and National Security Advisor -- Deputy National Security Advisor Hadley and Senior Director Abrams are there in the region for precisely that purpose, that our efforts to bring about a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians have been unceasing, unstinting and unrelenting, and that they will continue to be until we can -- until we find a solution to that.
At the same time, we do not believe that the aspirations of millions of people in the Greater Middle East -- young people, old people, rich people, poor people, for a brighter future, a future of economic opportunity, of education, of women's empowerment need -- should be held hostage to a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that you can pursue both dreams, if you will, simultaneously.
And both are important. Both are critical. But it is not a one-or-the-other proposition.
QUESTION: May I ask one more question?
MR. ERELI: One more.
QUESTION: Follow-up. I think from my listening to his remarks, the Senator Lugar remarks, I think he focused on a comprehensive peace in the Middle East that would include -- I think he -- it implies that it should include Syria and Lebanon. It seems like those statements are repeated by -- you know, focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian tracks only, where is the Middle East? The whole Middle East is in need for that kind of peace and not only on the Palestinian track.
MR. ERELI: I would not disagree with that.
QUESTION: So you're unequivocally saying the State Department is in favor of peace.
MR. ERELI: Okay. Questions. Questions.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, he spoke about a trusteeship --
MR. ERELI: Okay, this is not the forum to engage in a debate between State Department and Lugar's presentation, so let's just --
QUESTION: On Uzbekistan. Yesterday, Richard said that the Secretary had offered assistance to Uzbekistan and that the Embassy was going to follow up. Have the Uzbeks actually said yes, we'd like some, and specified what they want?
And secondly, a lot of people seem to be getting arrested in Uzbekistan as they investigate the blast earlier this week. And I'm wondering if you have any concerns about the way in which the Uzbek authorities are going about investigating just what happened and whether they might actually be casting their net a little wide.
MR. ERELI: In answer to your first question, Uzbekistan is still considering its needs and has not formally responded to our offer.
In response to the question, the second question, I think it's clear that, based on the horrific attacks that Uzbekistan has suffered in the past few days, that it is -- that it, like the rest of us, is a target of terrorist action. They are taking, I think, aggressive response to those attacks. We will support them in providing them whatever assistance they need to combat the terrorist threat that they face. The United States and Uzbekistan have, I think, close counterterrorism cooperation, a program of close counterterrorism cooperation, and it's important that we continue that cooperation.
As far as the details concerning the operations that are ongoing, it's hard for me, frankly, to comment on, since I have not seen the kind of facts that you're citing. Obviously, you know, we've got to -- we've got to -- we live with this every day -- balance the need for respecting rights, liberties and the rule of law, and moving decisively against terror. And again, it's not -- it doesn't need to be a either-or proposition.
QUESTION: Adam, does the Uzbek's decision to close the Friendship Bridge over the Termez and to most -- virtually, to virtually all traffic, I think -- does that have any, does that cause you any concern, considering the fact that it's such a vital lifeline into northern Afghanistan?
MR. ERELI: I hadn't seen that report, Matt, and I don't really have details on what it involves. So, if we have a view on it, I'll get it for you.
QUESTION: Do you --
MR. ERELI: Teri. Can we go to Teri?
QUESTION: Or Tammy.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you still on Uzbek still? Could you talk about any U.S. reaction to the OPEC decision to limit oil production and any conversations that anybody in this Department might have had with Saudi officials on this?
MR. ERELI: I don't have much to add to what Scott McClellan said on this earlier today at the White House. I think we've made it clear consistently that oil prices should be set by market forces in order to make sure that we have adequate supplies available. That's always been our view. It's a view that we regularly share with world oil producers. And, you know, it's a subject that we have ongoing consultations with, but I don't have any sort of specific conversations to relate to you on it.
QUESTION: Were there any recent conversations with Saudi officials on oil prices?
MR. ERELI: Not from here.
QUESTION: Did Secretary Powell take this up with Crown Prince Abdullah when he was in Saudi Arabia?
MR. ERELI: This was a -- Secretary Powell did meet with -- when Secretary Powell met with Crown Prince Abdullah, or I would say with the Saudis in Riyadh -- I'm not sure with which official it was raised -- in one of the conversations, the subject of energy and energy resources did come up, but I don't have much more detail for you than that.
QUESTION: Can you confirm whether there's going to be a TCOG meeting in San Francisco next week?
MR. ERELI: I cannot confirm that. I had not heard of it.
I'm sorry, we still have some more questions. Yes.
QUESTION: There was a cabinet shuffle in France and Foreign Minister de Villepin is being reassigned to Home Affairs. Do you think it's a good idea? (Laughter.) Could you comment on his tenure? And do you view his departure as protesting -- as affecting in any way, the relations between the U.S. and France?
MR. ERELI: These are press reports. I'm not aware that any formal announcement has been made so I will reserve comment until -- I will reserve comment, other than to say that the United States and France, I think, enjoy excellent relations, and we look forward to working closely with whatever government President Chirac chooses.
QUESTION: Well, Adam, you're going to reserve comment? You're actually going to say something about it after you have it confirmed?
MR. ERELI: Well, I'm not going to comment --
QUESTION: I'm a little surprised --
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to -- I don't have any comment on a specific cabinet until the specific cabinet has been announced.
QUESTION: But you would miss him, right?
MR. ERELI: In the back.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on Beijing's arresting of the three womens in the Tiananmen Mother campaign?
MR. ERELI: We urge the immediate release of the three relatives of victims of the crackdown of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests who were recently detained in Beijing. The detention of the three women, who are members of the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign, as well as the Chinese Government's refusal to reassess the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests and the continuing imprisonment of political and religious prisoners who have spoken out for their civic rights and religious freedoms, calls into question China's claim that its human rights record is improving.
QUESTION: Last one. On Greece -- a Greek Government official said that the chances of a Cyprus settlement are poor. Do you have anything to say about that? And once Secretary General Annan, I guess, makes his announcement later today, do you expect to have any comment on --
MR. ERELI: I think that the talks are continuing in Switzerland, that they are intensive, that the Secretary's, you know, been in touch with the parties and with Secretary General Annan, and that we're confident that they're serious about it and committed to it. And we look forward to continuing to support Annan's efforts.
QUESTION: Has he been in touch with them today?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you say who?
MR. ERELI: The Secretary spoke with the Greek Foreign Minister and the Turkish Foreign Minister and the Secretary General.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:38 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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