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27 July 2004

State Department Noon Briefing, July 27

Announcement of transfer of French Nationals from Guantanamo, Iraq, Sudan, Israel/Palestinians, Greece, Middle East/Powell's travel stops, Cuba, Iran, China

State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli briefed reporters July 27.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
1:00 p.m. EDT

BRIEFER: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- Announcement of Transfer of Four French Nationals from U.S. Control at Guantanamo to French Authorities

-- Companies that Cease Operations in Iraq
-- Reports that Egypt Paid Money for Release of Hostage

-- Status of UNSC Resolution
-- Secretary Powell's Diplomatic efforts
-- Timing of UNSC Vote
-- Update of Humanitarian Situation
-- Provisions in the UNSC Resolution

-- Arafat Consolidating Security Services
-- Prime Minister Qurei Withdrawing Resignation

-- Question of Troops in Cyprus
-- Use of American Equipment by Turkish Forces
-- Alex Rondos
-- Annan Plan Regarding Demilitarization of Cyprus
-- Ohrid Agreement

-- Secretary Powell's Travel Stops in Region/Connection between Secretary Powell's Visit to Egypt and President Assad's Meeting with President Mubarak

-- Prostitution and Sexual Tourism in Cuba

-- Iran's Commitment in Cooperating with IAEA

-- Actions Taken Against Hong Kong Newspapers


TUESDAY, JULY 27, 2004

1:00 p.m. EDT

MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to our briefing today.

We'll be putting out after the briefing an announcement on the transfer of four French nationals from U.S. control at Guantanamo to control of the French authorities. That transfer took place yesterday, so look for that after the briefing. And I'll be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Well, just a lot of the same --

QUESTION: Can I just ask about that for a second?


QUESTION: Considering the French announced this multiple hours ago, is there some reason why you just don't read us the statement now or --

MR. ERELI: I'd be happy to read you the statement, if you'd like. "The United States transferred four French nationals from U.S. control at Guantanamo Bay to the control of French authorities on July 26. Three French nationals will remain in U.S. control at Guantanamo as we continue to examine the intelligence and law enforcement value, as well as the threat that these three individuals may pose to the U.S., France and the international community. This decision was the result of discussions we have had with the Government of France. It is our understanding that these French nationals will be investigated and prosecuted, as appropriate, by French law enforcement and judicial authorities."

I would note that this transfer is part of a cooperative effort between the United States and France to fight terror. It is based on the assessment by our two governments of the potential threat that the French nationals may pose to the United States and France, the law enforcement or intelligence value the detainee may possess and steps French authorities will take in order to minimize any potential threat associated with this transfer.

We appreciate the cooperation we've enjoyed with France on this matter and we look forward to continued close partnership on the war and the war and terror.

QUESTION: I have something on that. A Jordanian company now is ceasing operations in Iraq. Does the U.S. hold, if that's the right word, companies to the same standards that it would like to hold governments? In other words, are they, in a sense, breaking the defenses against terror by capitulating like that?

MR. ERELI: Let me make the following points. First of all, this was obviously a difficult decision and one that the directors of this company felt that they had to take. Our views are well known. We do not make concessions to terrorists and we do not feel that that is the best way to fight terror. The best way to fight terror is to stand firm against the terrorists. We've made that clear, I think the Iraqi government shares that view, and together we are determined to confront those who use innocent life to terrorize others.


QUESTION: Change subjects? On Sudan. What's the status of the resolution?

MR. ERELI: At the UN Security Council, experts finished discussing the text yesterday. These discussions produced useful and helpful comments. Today, or this afternoon, ambassadors on the Security Council will meet to discuss the resolution and we'd like to see, hopefully, a vote by the end of the week. But we'll see.

QUESTION: The Secretary has been very busy, as we all know, over the weekend and again Monday. This may be coming out on the trip, but has he been back on the phone? Has he been working the foreign ministers, et cetera, to try to get a common front on Sudan?

MR. ERELI: The Secretary, as you note, was very active over the weekend and yesterday. He spoke today with Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos. He will be traveling, as you know, to -- or he is traveling -- sorry -- he's already arrived, as you know, in Egypt, where he will be having discussions with the Egyptian -- the new Egyptian Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and President on developments in Sudan as well as other issues.

So the diplomacy continues. The Secretary remains very actively involved and will continue in that capacity through the resolution of this issue at the Security Council.

QUESTION: Is the final presentation of the resolution and a vote just being held up by lack of support, or why would you only hope for a vote by the end of the week if it's within your control to bring it?

MR. ERELI: These things, having followed a number of Security Council resolutions, you're, I think, well aware that diplomatic negotiations on issues such as of international peace and security that involve, you know, different points of view and different appreciations of the issue require a thorough airing of the views, require discussion, negotiation, compromise. It's difficult to put a precise timetable on that process. We are hoping that we can wrap it up this week. I think that's what we're shooting for. But let's see what happens in New York.

QUESTION: But it's no longer hoping -- being delayed because you're hoping to see a dramatic change by the Sudanese Government, as was the case three weeks ago, perhaps?

MR. ERELI: I think the consensus is that a resolution is needed.

QUESTION: It's hard to ask everyday so, and I don't mean to, or expect to be major changes, but do you have any update on the humanitarian situation? Because this goes very much to the matter of whether the Sudanese Government is keeping its word. You seem to consider that an essential objective here.

MR. ERELI: Yeah. And the answer is -- the answer is not fully, not adequately. On, I think, all aspects of the commitments there are problems. It is not a situation where one could say that everything is being done that they said they were going to do. On the humanitarian situation, as we've said before, there have been improvements in the humanitarian situation.

But at the same time, access in Darfur continues to be hampered by: 1) the deplorable security situation; and 2) by continuing bureaucratic obstacles that limit the international community's ability to respond to this crisis. So, you know, given that situation, you can't just sort of stand back and be passive.

QUESTION: You have no question, do you, that they could do better, do you? In other words, if they're not doing what they should be doing, then it's very easy to draw the inference they want to see more people killed than made homeless, unless there's an element of inefficiency. I don't know if there's fault here to --

MR. ERELI: Well, let me put it this way. If you look at the draft resolution, it calls upon the Secretary General's Special Representative to monitor the situation and report after 30 days. I think those are the kinds of questions, those are the kinds of issues that we are asking the Security Council and the Secretary General's representative to report back to the Security Council on so that we can have all the facts and make informed judgments.

QUESTION: Are you looking for this meeting this afternoon to reach a consensus so that you can get something in blue by, say, tomorrow or the next day?

MR. ERELI: I don't want to put a timetable on it. I think the important -- I mean, I don't want to --

QUESTION: You did. I know you said that hopefully by the end of the week.

MR. ERELI: I'm not going to say what we're going to do, what's going to be done precisely today, precisely tomorrow, other than say the ambassadors are meeting. Hopefully, we'd like to see something -- action taken by the end of the week. The purpose of the meeting today, the ambassadors meeting, and it may move onto
tomorrow, is to take onboard views of the text, suggestions for the text and move forward on that basis. But I'm hesitant to tell you tomorrow we will do this when the discussions today haven't even started.

QUESTION: What changes, if any, did the experts recommend be made to the resolution?

MR. ERELI: I don't have that level of detail for you. I can tell you that the resolution itself contains a number of provisions that involve an arms embargo on the -- and I think I spoke to this yesterday -- an arms embargo on the Jingaweit. It brings forward the benchmarks from the UN-Government of Sudan joint communiqué. It calls upon the Government of Sudan to fulfill those commitments made to the Secretary General. It demands the arrest and prosecution of the Jingaweit and it, as I said, calls for a 30-day review and provides the basis for the Council considering further actions, including sanctions.

Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Change of subject. Palestinian Prime Minister Qurei has withdrew his resignation after Chairman Arafat has agreed to give Qurei control over the Interior Ministry and loosen his grip on the security services.

What's your comment on that?

MR. ERELI: I don't really have much of a comment on the political maneuverings within the Palestinian Authority. The important point for us is that concrete actions are taken that produce tangible results on the ground. The results that we want to see are real consolidation of the security services, real authority vested in the prime minister and real moves against the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian territories. That's really the basis on which we're going to make our assessments, as opposed to who's up, who's down, who's in, who's out on any given day.

QUESTION: Well, you've been demanding for a long time that Arafat turn over control of all the security -- the security apparatus to the prime minister.

Does this -- does what he has done today go far enough for you guys?

MR. ERELI: I don't think we can -- we have a basis to make a conclusion from what we've seen today.

Yes, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Cyprus, Mr. Ereli. In a taken question raised by the distinguished Greek Cypriot reporter Michael Ignatiou on July 21st from the occasion of the 30th, invasion and occupation of Cyprus to Mr. Boucher about the legality of the Turkish troops displaying American weapons during the military parade through the occupied area, that the U.S. has responded, "The presence of those U.S. origin weapons in northern Cyprus under command and control of the Turkish army does not raise question under the law of the United States."

Therefore, I'm wondering, how do you consider the status quo of those Turkish troops, their presence in Cyprus and if, to some extent, are giving the kind of help to end isolation of the Turkish Cypriots?

MR. ERELI: Our view on the question of troops in Cyprus is very clear. We believe the island should be demilitarized. We've long advocated and worked toward the demilitarization of the island. The Annan Plan provided for that and we believe that the Annan Plan, if adopted, would succeed in reaching that goal. So, you know, without speaking to -- without speaking to one side or the other, our view is the entire island should be demilitarized.

QUESTION: Could you please comment on the protest by the Cyprus Government to your Ambassador in Nicosia, since there was a strong reaction from the entire Cypriot political leadership and the Cypriot people regarding the previous answer about the Turkish troops?

MR. ERELI: Well, the previous question was a very specific one and the previous answer was a very specific one, and the question was the use of U.S. military equipment by Turkish forces, and that is a -- that is something that is governed by legal restrictions and the -- or governed by legal agreements and those agreements were followed. So it's not particularly controversial. It shouldn't be.

QUESTION: Any answer to my yesterday's pending question if Mr. Alex Rondos is working the U.S. Embassy in Athens and under which capacity?

MR. ERELI: I don't know why you would ask that. He's not an employee of the Embassy in any capacity.

QUESTION: I ask because he made a lot (inaudible) statements and somehow when he was working with the previous Greek Government was in charge as a general coordinator against terrorism, et cetera, et cetera, in the entire area, so to this extent I think I would like to know if there is a kind of cooperation between Alex Rondos and the Ambassador Tom Miller.

MR. ERELI: Mr. Rondos speaks for Mr. Rondos. We speak for American policy.

QUESTION: Yes, but the question is, is he working, yes or no?

MR. ERELI: I said no, he is not working nor has he ever worked.

Yes, Mr. Michel.

QUESTION: Does it have any relation between Secretary Powell's visit to Egypt tomorrow and President Assad visit to have met today President Mubarak for one hour? And is Secretary Powell planning to visit Syria and other countries in the region?

MR. ERELI: There are no plans for Secretary Powell to visit Syria that I've been made aware of. As far as the other visits on his stops on his visit, we've announced those as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. There certainly, from our part, is no connection between Secretary Powell's visit to Egypt and the travel of the Syrian president. Those are two separate and unconnected events as far as we're concerned.


QUESTION: On Cuba. Do you have any reaction on Castro's words yesterday regarding how President Bush has been -- reacts and towards Cuba that way because of his alcoholism past?


QUESTION: President Castro.

MR. ERELI: I think that's -- I had not seen that report or the comments that you made and I wouldn't want to dignify them with a response.

QUESTION: He is also saying that most of the accusations of sexual tourism in Cuba relates only -- just as an excuse to justify the strengthening of sanctions towards Cuba?

MR. ERELI: That's not true. I mean, our policy is, and our policy has been clear, that we are working with our friends and allies to help bring about a democratic Cuba; that the regime uses resources that it has access to to reinforce and continue its repression of the Cuban people.

The issue of prostitution in Cuba is something, I think, that is well documented. It was -- the original point of departure for this entire discussion was a 2002 report by a Washington-based NGO that said that Cuba has replaced Southeast Asia as one of the top sex tourism destinations. That's point one.

Point two, I would refer you to our own Trafficking in Persons Report, where we address this issue, but, you know, I don't think that -- you know, we're not looking for one issue or another issue to strengthen sanctions. Our point is, we've made it clear that it's in the interest of the Cuban people and in the interest of the hemisphere to help hasten transition to a democratic Cuba and that's what the policy of the United States is directed to.


QUESTION: On Iran. There has been a couple reports that Iran broke the seals on some centrifuges, as a possible step toward restarting its nuclear program. Do you know -- what does the United States know about that, and what does it say about Iran's commitment to the process with the European countries on?

MR. ERELI: I've seen those reports. I don't really have -- I'm not in a position to comment on them, other than to refer you to the IAEA, which is responsible for the issue. As far as Iran's commitment to cooperating with the IAEA, that's, I think, to put it kindly, remains an open question given its past failures to follow through on promises made to the Board of Governors.


QUESTION: CNN is reporting out of Baghdad that a couple of sources are telling one of our reporters there that, in fact, the Egyptians did pay hundreds of thousands to win the release of their number three diplomat in Baghdad. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR. ERELI: I couldn't -- I don't know that it's true or not. I'd have to refer you to the Egyptians. I think I've seen reports denying that, but again, it's something the Egyptians would have to talk to.

QUESTION: But do you know anything about the circumstances? The account is that he's a nice fellow and very religious and that's why they let him go. I mean, that's --

MR. ERELI: Let me say that we are pleased that Mr. Muhammad Qutb was released unharmed and is back at work. All our information is that the Egyptian Government remains steadfast in this manner -- in this matter, and certainly, Prime Minister Allawi has called on all nations who support Iraq to stand firm in the face of kidnappings and terrorist threats.

QUESTION: But you wouldn't celebrate his release if his release was brought about in a way that the U.S. does not support, right?

MR. ERELI: Well, as I said, you know, we've seen these reports, but I can't speak to their veracity.

QUESTION: You welcomed the release of the Philippines guy, even though the Philippine forces pulled out as a result. So I don't think that's true.

QUESTION: You say all our indications are that the Egyptian Government remains steadfast --

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- in this matter. What does that mean?

MR. ERELI: Do not make concessions to terrorists.

QUESTION: So, in other words, you have been -- you have --

MR. ERELI: Our information --

QUESTION: You are in a position to say something about it. You don't think the report is correct.

MR. ERELI: Our information is that the Egyptian Government did not make concessions, but if -- that's our information.


MR. ERELI: If you want to ask what the Egyptian Government did or did not do, I'd refer you to the Egyptian Government.

QUESTION: Well, where does your information come from? Presumably, from the Egyptians, right?

Our information is that the Egyptian Government did not make concessions. Can I read into that that your information -- am I correct in interpreting that as, our information is that the Egyptian Government did not pay a ransom to secure the release of their diplomat?

MR. ERELI: That's what I'm aware of.

QUESTION: Can you say that?

MR. ERELI: No, I'll just leave it where I -- I'll leave it at what I've said.


QUESTION: One clarification on Cyprus. Mr. Ereli, the Annan Plan does not support (inaudible) the demilitarization of Cyprus. To the opposite, he is saying the (inaudible) of the Turkish troops should remain in the island for unlimited period of time without any provision about their future. That actually was the main dispute based on which we have the referenda on April 24.

MR. ERELI: I think the Annan Plan dealt with the issue in a way that we felt resolved standoff and resolved tensions in a way that was in the long-term interests of all peoples of Cyprus.

QUESTION: One on Skopje. More than 20,000 people protested again yesterday in Skopje. The Ohrid agreement which favored Albanians and dividing FYROM according to the boundaries carried by the protestors. How do you (inaudible) that according to yesterday's answer that the U.S. Government fully supports such an agreement which basically is giving -- is going to destabilize the entire Balkans, giving to the Albanians the upper hand again with FYROM?

MR. ERELI: I don't agree that the Ohrid agreements are going to destabilize the entire Balkans.

QUESTION: Adam, can I go back to Egypt for a second?

As you mentioned, the Secretary did arrive in Egypt. Is this whole issue something that's going to -- that is likely to come up in his conversations there or is it something that you're treating as basically a done deal, a report that you think is not correct?

MR. ERELI: I wouldn't want to predict what may or may not come up. I have --

QUESTION: Do you know when you're talking about all your information, is that information that you've gotten from the Egyptians in Baghdad or in Cairo prior to the Secretary's arrival there?

MR. ERELI: It was the information that was available to me as of this morning.


QUESTION: So, prior to the Secretary's arrival?


QUESTION: On Hong Kong. Do you have anything on the Hong Kong Government agency's raid on eight newspaper?

MR. ERELI: The question deals with actions taken against seven Hong Kong newspapers. Our position would be to urge the Hong Kong -- urge that Hong Kong civil liberties, including its press freedoms, be protected as guaranteed by the basic law. We note that Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption is conducting an investigation into the stories or activities of these papers.

We would urge that this investigation be conducted in a lawful and appropriate manner. We would also note that the people of Hong Kong who have been engaged in a serious debate and discussion about this incident are following the actions of the independent commission closely and belief and support for freedom of the press is strongly rooted in Hong Kong.

(The briefing ended at 1:25 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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