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03 January 2005

State Department Noon Briefing, January 3

United Nations, Asia/tsunami efforts, detainees at Guantanamo facility, Armitage's meetings in Turkey/Damascus/Syria, Iraq, Palestinian Authority, Turkey, China/Taiwan, Croatia/elections

State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press January 3.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing Index

Monday, January 3, 2005

1:00 p.m. EST

Briefer:  Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman


-- UN Secretary General Annan's Term at United Nations


-- Welfare and Whereabouts of American Citizens in Region

-- American Citizens Killed/American Citizens Unaccounted For

-- U.S. Consular Officials in Region Assisting American Citizens

-- U.S. Government's Contribution to Tsunami Relief Efforts

-- Secretary Powell and Florida Governor Bush in Region

-- U.S. Ambassadors' Funds to Meet Immediate Needs


-- Detainees at Guantanamo Facility


-- Deputy Secretary Armitage's Meetings in Ankara, Turkey

-- Deputy Secretary Armitage's Discussions in Damascus, Syria


-- Iraqi Election/Prospects for Election to be Held on January 30

-- Prospects for Iraqis Living Out of Country to Vote in Election


-- Palestinian Leadership/Efforts to Combat Terrorism


-- Turkey's Role in Middle East


-- Reported Visit to Department Tomorrow by PRC Official Chen Yunlin


-- Election





 (1:00 p.m. EST)

MR. ERELI:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to our first briefing of 2005.  I hope it's a good one, as well as those for the rest of the year. 

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

MR. ERELI:  No, I have no announcements and would be happy to take your questions. 

QUESTION:  Do you have wishes?

MR. ERELI:  I have wishes of peace and prosperity and good health for all.  That's certainly what we will dedicate ourselves to. 

QUESTION:  Could you say whether the Administration has encouraged, spoken to Kofi Annan and encouraged him to stay on, and said basically that the Administration is pleased with his performance? 

MR. ERELI:  I'm not aware of any such conversations like that.  Obviously, the Secretary has been in touch in the last couple of days.  He spoke with -- he met with Secretary General Annan on Friday and spoke with him via conference call on Thursday, I believe.  The subject was dealing with the disaster in the Pacific region.  I'm not aware that there's been any discussion of further plans for Kofi Annan at the UN.  That's not a subject that I'm aware was brought up. 

QUESTION:  And wise old folks, most of them seem to be Democrats, gathered with him privately to tell him he's doing a terrific job and to encourage him to stay on the post.  There were no Administration officials in that gathering that you know of?

MR. ERELI:  Not that I know of. 


QUESTION:  Do you have an update on any numbers of Americans missing or dead in the tsunami?

MR. ERELI:  Since December 26th, in this crisis, the onset of this crisis, the State Department has received, either through its embassy or through the task force or through our call center, which you all know is 1-888-407-4747, about 20,000 inquiries.  These were basically inquiries about loved ones or acquaintances who people have believed may or may not be in the region, or inquires about areas affected and that sort of thing.

We have been able to satisfactorily respond to three quarters of those inquiries, or about 15,000.  That leaves us within the neighborhood of 5,000 inquiries that we have not been able to nail down.  And that's what we're actively working on, both here in the State Department, as well as in our consular sections in embassies, as well as with consular officers on the site of the disaster.

Now, there's not a one-to-one correlation between inquiries and individuals.  There is some duplication.  So I couldn't give you a precise number of individuals we're looking for.  You know, there's duplication because either, you know, some names -- some names are different or sometimes it's the same person but different names; sometimes there are different inquiries for the same person.  You might get an inquiry at the embassy, you might get an inquiry at the task force, you might get an inquiry at the call center; all those will be logged for separately and they might be the same person.

So what we're trying to do right now, in addition to basically track down all the people that have been inquired about, is also to go through the lists that we have, the list of inquiries that we have, and eliminate the duplications or to reconcile different inquiries that might be for the same person.  So I think it would be safe to say that the number is in the thousands, but to give you a specific statistic, I couldn't do that.

What I would say is, and what we very emphatically urge people to do is to call us.  If they've called us before asking about their loved ones and they've heard from them in the interim, please call the call center or call the task force and tell us you've been in touch with the person you called about because that will allow us to take one name off the rolls and to work the numbers down.

Similarly, we would urge people in the region, if you have access to a phone and you haven't contacted your family, please do so because they -- you may not be aware of it, but they may be calling about you.

And so I think through this way we'll be able to work our way down the list, eliminate -- you know, a large number of these inquiries.  Also what we're doing, obviously, is working with immigration officials in the countries affected to determine Americans who have entered the country and who have left the country so we can, again, eliminate some of the names on the list and -- or at least track them down that way.

And then, obviously, we are also working with local officials on the scene to help determine whether people who have been inquired about were there.  So it's really pretty painstaking and constant detective work on the part of consular officials to track down these 5,000 names.

QUESTION:  Just as a follow-up --

MR. ERELI:  I'm sorry, not these 5,000 names, these 5,000 inquiries. 

QUESTION:  The 5,000 inquiries.  When you say it's certainly in the thousands, are you referring to missing Americans?  Are you referring to --

MR. ERELI:  Individuals who have been inquired about.


QUESTION:  Secretary Powell said in a briefing on his plane that there were four to five thousand unaccounted for, not saying those are just inquires, but saying those are people we do not -- whose whereabouts we do not know. 

MR. ERELI:  Yeah, the Secretary said the number of private citizens, or citizens unaccounted for, still lingers around four to five thousand.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So you wouldn't quibble with that number?

MR. ERELI:  No, I wouldn't quibble.  I can't tell you it's, you know, 3,899 or 4,000-whatever, but I would be more comfortable being a little bit more general and just say there are thousands, because, you know, because the number -- the other things to point out is the number changes because we take -- as we take names off, sometimes new names come.  So it's a fluctuating number.  Right now, you know, it's in this area.  It may be a little bit different tomorrow and a week from now, you know, hopefully will be considerably down, especially as people call in.  But the other thing to point out is this is a fluctuating number.

QUESTION:  What can you tell us about the State Department employee who was on this list and the DOD employee who apparently still is?

MR. ERELI:  I think the Secretary spoke to that and said the State Department employee has been accounted for.  The DOD person is still missing.

QUESTION:  Where were they missing and --

MR. ERELI:  I don't know.

QUESTION:  You don't know.  And can you tell us if the State Department employee was found alive?

MR. ERELI:  Let me get back to you on that.  I believe so, but I'm -- I'll get back to you on it.

QUESTION:  When you say three quarters have been dealt with satisfactorily, I suppose you mean -- and there are many, many ways of dealing with them satisfactorily -- finding out there were in areas that weren't even touched.  But were any of those, that three quarters, that 15,000 figure, actually found to be missing, concluded to be really missing -- I mean, worrisomely missing? 

MR. ERELI:  There are individuals who we have not been able to account for and they would fall within the 5,000 inquiries.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible)

MR. ERELI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Well, how did you wrap up the 15?  Can you give us some -- in other words, are those cases where you got -- you found out the guy is okay, or he was in, you know, (inaudible) and it's --

MR. ERELI:  Yeah, there are a number -- I mean, there are a number of ways.  The easiest way is, let's say, somebody's relative is in the region and someone in their family from the States calls and says my son, my daughter, my brother, is in the region and we're concerned about him or her.  We haven't heard from him since this thing, since this crisis occurred; then that person checks in with our consulate there and says, "I'm fine, you know, my parents might be worried about me."

Okay, we can check that off as resolved.  In another case, will be able to determine that the person was never there, was never in the region.  Okay, that case resolved.  In another case, the family will come back to us and say, you know, I heard back from my relative, whatever.  So, anyway, there are a number of ways.

Yes, Adi.

QUESTION:  You mentioned the phrase "detective work."  Can you talk about whether the U.S. Government is sending out any forensic pathologists to the region, perhaps culling these officials from other agencies such as the FBI or local law enforcement as well?  And can you talk about anybody, just broadly speaking, who is going out there just to look for Americans?

MR. ERELI:  We have consular officials -- I don't -- Tom, do you have the numbers?

MR. CASEY:  Here you go.

MR. ERELI:  We have a number of consular officials out there in both -- as well as consular officials going out, we've got -- in Thailand, for example, we have 17 total employees; we have 10 in the field deployed in Krabi, in Kolok and Phuket, as well as TDY consular officers from Singapore, Tokyo, New Delhi and Vientiane, who are assisting in the effort.

So we've got -- what we're doing now really is, since we have a need for increased manpower, we're drawing on our consular experts in the region to come and provide temporary duty and assist those already in Thailand, already in Sri Lanka, already in Indonesia, to handle the increased workload.  As, I think, we need more people, we'll draw on other consular officials from basically a wider pool. 

I'm not aware of any forensic pathologists or that sort of thing.  Right now, we're focusing mostly on consular professionals who know how to deal with immigration officials, deal with local relief officials, deal with hospitals and deal with American citizens.  I mean, the other thing to remember is we still have a large number of American citizens who need assistance.  And that is a whole different realm of activity but a very important one and one that we're not neglecting.

QUESTION:  In terms of the inquiries, would it be fair to say that more of them are related to tourists who were in the region at the time of the tsunami or residents?  I assume it's the former rather than the latter because residents would be more likely to register with embassies and things like that.

MR. ERELI:  I couldn't give you that kind of breakdown.  Obviously, I think it deals with both.  There are numbers of -- in all cases, there are longtime residents who don't register with the embassy, who don't -- you know, who don't want to be -- have that connection.  Well, that's fine.  But so I think I couldn't be more specific on how the 5,000 actually breaks down, but it's safe to say that it includes both tourists as well as, I think, people who have been there for longer.

QUESTION:  How about a geographic breakdown? 

MR. ERELI:  Couldn't give that to you.  I'll see if maybe we can get maybe a little bit more detail on the 5,000.

Yes, Charlie.

QUESTION:  Perhaps -- and forgive me if this was brought up last week -- but what is the process for Americans who might have been there and lost their official paperwork and stuff, who say I want to go home, I have no money, you know, I can't prove who I am except to tell you who I am?

MR. ERELI:  I'll have to check, but we spoke to this last week.  For example, in Bangkok airport, we had -- we had a relief site where Americans without anything could go -- could get, if they needed new passports could -- we only issue passports from the embassy -- but could get a hundred dollars right away from the embassy, from a consular official, go to the American embassy, get a temporary passport issued, have their photograph taken, get a temporary passport issued, provisional obviously.

But those were -- there were measures in place to deal with Americans in those kinds of circumstances, and the same -- maybe not the same logistics -- but the same services were available in Colombo and Indonesia and India. 

Yes, sir.

QUESTION:  Change the subject?

MR. ERELI:  No, I don't think so. 


QUESTION:  On the same subject.  Secretary Powell, in Thailand this morning, said he doesn't think the United States Government needs to contribute more than the $350 million already pledged, and yet President Bush this morning has asked both his father and ex-President Bill Clinton to co-chair a nationwide fund drive.  Are we seeing a public relations disaster in the making here between what Secretary Powell said and what has gone on since?

MR. ERELI:  We're seeing a concerted commitment on behalf of the President and the leaders and people of the United States to help those who have suffered as a result of this disaster.  The President announced the appointment of President Clinton and President Bush to oversee and spearhead private giving.  The United States Government has already given 350 million.  As you know, that's part of over 2 billion in international aid.  That is a sign of significant international commitment to help those suffering from this.

I would not characterize Secretary Powell's comments the way you did.  We, obviously, are in this for the long haul.  This is a crisis that is going to take years of help to recover from.  We are currently at the level of 350 million.  We've always said we will do what is necessary to help the people in the region.  That is why Secretary Powell and Governor Bush are there, at the President's direction, to express our support and condolence to the governments and people of the countries affected, as well as to assess what more the United States can do over the long term to meet their needs.

So I would look at where we are now as providing the aid that is needed, the aid that can be absorbed at the moment, with an eye towards the future and the long term and being there for the people who need us.  And that is, I think, the message you should take away from the Secretary and Governor Bush's trip, as well as the announcement of Presidents Bush and Clinton spearheading private donations.

Yes, Adi.

QUESTION:  You mentioned the 350 million pledge and I know you can't talk too much in terms of specifics because, obviously, that money is going to be allocated over the course of several months and maybe years, depending on the reconstruction needs of the people in the area.  But would it be fair to say that all that is going to be money and not in-kind donations?

MR. ERELI:  I believe it's money that's going to be spent on supplies and programs and infrastructure.  I mean, one example would be something that Administrator Natsios announced today and -- when traveling with the Secretary and Governor Bush, as well as Assistant Administrator Kunder announced here in the briefing at the State Department, is work programs in the areas affected to generate economic activity, to act as a draw, to give the people a means of reestablishing their livelihoods.  And this is $10 million we're giving right away.  We would certainly expect that to expand in the areas affected.

So it's not all just -- how should I put it?  It's money that is spent on a variety of different aspects of immediate humanitarian assistance and relief as well as longer term recovery and rehabilitation.  And the Secretary -- as the Secretary pointed out, we have already started disbursing some infusions of cash, but it will also be disbursed over an extended period.

QUESTION:  If I could just ask a follow-up.  Right now, is it true that ambassadors in the various embassies can only give $100,000 right off the bat?  Is that true?

MR. ERELI:  The ambassadors' special fund is intended to provide short, immediate -- to meet immediate cash needs.  And that's -- it's 50- or $100,000 in disaster assistance monies that belongs to AID, and AID authorizes that money to be spent when an ambassador declares a disaster area.  And again, it's for the first 24-48 hours to deal with immediate needs, and then, you know, follow-on money is provided in the way that you saw it here, by AID, USAID, or the White House identifying the needs, working with Office of Management and Budget to find the funds available and program them as the law requires.

QUESTION:  Are there any -- is there a policy review, perhaps, to increase the ceiling that ambassadors can play with in terms of how much money they can give right off the bat, maybe to a million or something like that?

MR. ERELI:  Not that I'm aware of because, as I said, this is money that is spent right away to meet immediate needs.  And as we've learned -- I mean, as has, I think, been reiterated throughout the course of this crisis, throwing large sums of money in the first 24 and 48 hours is not always -- is not what's called for.  It's giving the money the people need right away to make the immediate responses.  And that's the way we've approached this, sort of methodically, systematically, rationally, and the $100,000 that the ambassadors have, I think, works well within that system.  So I'm not aware that there's any policy review of how this system functions.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION:  Is it okay to change the subject? 

MR. ERELI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Over the weekend, yesterday actually, a story came out that said that the State Department had requested or was working with CIA to transfer some detainees back -- either to home or third countries and keep them incarcerated there.  Could you speak to that, please?

MR. ERELI:  I really can't.  I'd refer you to Defense Department.  They are the ones with sort of operational control of the detainees.

As you know, we, in the past, when these detainees have been determined not to be a threat, we have worked on repatriation with countries concerned.  But as far as that specific story goes that you're referring to, I don't have any comment.  I'd refer you to DOD for comment.

QUESTION:  Is it incorrect that it was a State Department proposal?

MR. ERELI:  I don't have any comment. 


QUESTION:  Do you have anything about the Secretary Armitage visits and meetings in Ankara today?  What did they talk about -- new Cyprus initiative and northern Iraq, PKK and the security of Turkish drivers?

MR. ERELI:  I would refer you, actually, to Secretary Armitage's remarks following his meetings in -- his meeting with Foreign Minister Gul in Ankara.  He said in those remarks that he discussed a number of issues with his Turkish colleagues.  He met -- in addition to Foreign Minister Gul, he met with Parliament Speaker Bulent Arinc, and Chief of the Defense General Hilmi Ozkok.

In those meetings, Deputy Secretary Armitage talked about Iraq, briefed his Turkish colleagues on his recent visit there, also thanked Turkey for its wonderful efforts in Afghanistan and made the point that the good start that Afghanistan has gotten off to in terms of elections and democracy taking root there is thanks, in considerable part, to the efforts and contributions of Turkey.  He also discussed his visits to Damascus and Amman and he congratulated the Foreign Minister on the triumph of Turkish diplomacy on the question of the EU. 

QUESTION:  Why don't you tell us about his talks in Syria, if you have anything?  Remember, before he went, he was going to -- if raised, the question raised -- he was going to talk about how unhelpful Syria has been by giving haven to former Saddam Hussein people, relatives or something.  Did he do that?  Did the Syrians tell him that he's got the wrong names and addresses?  What happened?

MR. ERELI:  The Deputy Secretary, in Damascus, reviewed the full range of issues with the Government of Syria.  These include, obviously, what's going on in Iraq, both in terms of the elections as well as the insurgency and our concerns regarding Syria's position on that issue.  It also included the issue of terrorism, as well as Resolution 1559 and Lebanon.

On the issue of Syria and Iraq, the Deputy Secretary made the point that we have seen some improvement in foreign fighters -- or in Syria's acting to prevent its territory being used by foreign fighters to enter Iraq.  But the Deputy Secretary stressed the point that former regime elements, there's still a problem with former regime elements using Syria to help the insurgency and that it was very important to have that stopped.

QUESTION:  Anything about the response?  Did he say, "ah, go on", or what?

MR. ERELI:  Did he what?

QUESTION:  What was the Syrian response?

MR. ERELI:  I don't have anything for you on the Syrian response.


MR. ERELI:  Yes, sir.

QUESTION:  Just on this, Adam, do you know what exactly he meant by some improvements?  What kind of improvements have been seen in the --

MR. ERELI:  I think we've spoken to this earlier when we've talked about coordination between Syrian military and Iraq border -- or Syrian and Iraqi border officials on the western -- eastern border, excuse me -- eastern border of Syria, coordination in terms of control over the border, exchange of information, coordination of actions, that sort of things.  And so it has -- that is something we have noted and welcomed.  At the same time, the problem has not stopped.  And, in addition, you have the problem of former regime elements active in Syria. 

Yes, Tammy. 

QUESTION:  About the Iraq elections, are you aware of any delays that are under consideration for the elections?  The Iraqi Defense Minister has apparently just told some reporters that such a delay is possible if it would guarantee Sunni participation in the election. 

MR. ERELI:  Those reports have been knocking around for some time.  It is our understanding that the Independent Electoral Commission and the Iraqi Interim Government remain of the view that elections need to be held on January 30th, and we are certainly proceeding on that assumption.

QUESTION:  Well, do you think the elections should be held even if there are parts of the country that aren't safe for people to go to the polls?  Is it more important to have the election?

MR. ERELI:  It's a decision that the Iraqis are going to make, and to this point, they have said that they want to have them on January 30th.  And that's something that we're supporting. 

QUESTION:  Are you aware of State Department efforts to facilitate the ability of Iraqis based in the United States to vote in these elections?

MR. ERELI:  It's not just the United States.  The Independent Election Commission of Iraq is working with 14 countries to facilitate out-of-country voting for Iraqis that are out of Iraq and are eligible to vote in the election.  We are working with them on that effort.  We are doing what we can to help maximize participation in these elections.  And as I said before, we are one of 14 countries in that position. 

Yes, Adi.

QUESTION:  I read the TAL the other day to try to find out who exactly has the power to delay elections and I couldn't figure it out from that document.  Do you know who exactly has the power to delay elections?  Is it the IEC?  Is it the Interim Prime Minister Allawi?  Is it somebody else?  Do you know who exactly has the power to delay the elections?

MR. ERELI:  My understanding is that the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq has the exclusive mandate for the oversight, organization and conduct of the elections. 

QUESTION:  And they alone can decide, not Allawi or not anybody else?

MR. ERELI:  You know, I'm not going to speculate on -- I'm not going to -- I don't know the exact decision-making process.  This is something that the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq has responsibility for.  It is something clearly the interim government, Interim Iraqi Government has a stake in, and both of them have made it clear that January 30th is a date that they feel strongly about and that they are going to work to meet.

So if you ask me the specific modalities of decision-making on this, I can't give you an answer.  But I think that the important point is that it is clearly an issue that the IECI, the Independent Election Committee, has a strong role in, as does the Interim Iraqi Government.

Yes, Joel. 

QUESTION:  I wanted to sort of ask a question about the other election, which is this coming Sunday in the Palestinian territories.  And Secretary Powell, before he left on his trip, spoke on, I guess, Meet the Press, as well as Face the Nation, yesterday, the concern that Mr. Abbas is not maybe just campaigning but is cozying up to some of the terrorist groups and is not willing to clamp down on terrorism.  And what are also your feelings concerning a new Israeli unity government between Likud and Labor?

MR. ERELI:  Don't have any comment on the new Israeli government.  We have a relationship with Prime Minister Sharon and his government and we'll continue to work with the duly elected representatives of the Israeli people. 

As far as Prime Minister Abbas and cracking down on terror, there is no news here, really.  I mean, our position hasn't changed.  It's well known.  Getting control of terror groups operating in Palestinian territories against Israel is of critical and vital importance to progress on the roadmap.  It's been that way for the past two years -- some three years since the President annunciated his vision and the roadmap was -- the commitments of the roadmap were entered into or agreed to by the parties, and it remains just as pressing a need today. 

QUESTION:  The U.S. position is clear.  But the question is whether you're prepared to work with a Palestinian leader who doesn't arrange for a crackdown.  It sounds like you are.  You don't like it, if Mr. Powell is to be taken at face value --  

MR. ERELI:  What we are focusing on is an election that produces a leadership that is representative of the Palestinian people and will engage productively in moving forward in coming to peace with Israel.  That is what we want to see.  That is what we are going to work for.  I think that's what the international community is working for.  Implicit in that is the need to crack down on terror.

QUESTION:  But if they don't do it, you'll work with them anyhow, right?

MR. ERELI:  I think, you know, you're getting way ahead of things. 

QUESTION:  But if that happened, why wouldn't --

MR. ERELI:  The focus of our efforts is the emergence of a Palestinian leadership that can take the actions necessary to realize progress in the roadmap, progress towards the President's vision of two states and peaceful coexistence with Israel.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION:  Turkish Foreign Minister Gul is visiting Israel and Palestine.  What kind of role can Turkey play about Israel-Palestine dispute and peace process?

MR. ERELI:  Turkey can play, I think, a positive and constructive role in encouraging the abandonment of terror by groups under control of the Palestinian Authority -- or, I'm sorry, under the -- activities by terrorist groups operating in territories under the control of the Palestinian Authority, and Turkey can play a positive role in supporting efforts by the Quartet and others to help promote engagement between Israelis and Palestinians in ways that enhance the security of Israel and meet the needs and the aspirations of the Palestinian people. 

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION:  We learned a Chinese official, the Minister of Taiwan Affairs Office of China's State Council, will be visiting the State Department tomorrow to talk about China's anti-secession law.  Do you have anything on that?

MR. ERELI:  I do not. 

QUESTION:  Can you confirm his visit?

MR. ERELI:  I cannot.  I will endeavor to see what we can provide you on the record on that.

QUESTION:  Mr. Ku Chen-fu, Taiwan's chief negotiator with China, died of cancer yesterday.  Would the State Department consider sending condolence to his family through diplomatic channels?

MR. ERELI:  I wasn't aware of that event.  I'll, again, try to get a reaction for you on it.

Yes, George.

QUESTION:  Back on the question of Iraqi expatriates in the United States voting in the elections at the end of the month.  Are you aware of any State Department facilitation of this process in specific American cities where these Iraqis are located? 

MR. ERELI:  I don't know what the logistics are.  If your question is what are we -- I'll see if I can get you some more on what -- what specifically we're doing to help put these people in touch with -- and the modalities of voting, if we are. 

I'm sorry.  One more?  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Presidential elections were held yesterday in the Republic of Croatia.  Do you have any comment on that? 

MR. ERELI:  I do not. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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