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07 January 2005

State Department Noon Briefing, January 7

Asia tsunami/Consular Affairs, Secretary Powell's/Nairobi, status of State Department senior officials/resignations, Sudan, Israel/Palestinian Authority

State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press January 7.

Following is a transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Friday, January 7, 2005
12:38 p.m. EST

Briefer: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- Status of American Citizens Affected by Tsunami/Status of 2,100 Welfare and Whereabouts Inquiries
-- 17 American Citizens Killed/20 American Citizens Presumed Dead
-- U.S. Officials in Region Looking for American Citizens
-- Thai Government's Recovery Efforts/Reports of Mass Graves/Concerns by U.S. Family Members
-- International Aid and Assistance to Governments Affected by Tsunami
-- USAID Administrator to Represent U.S. at Geneva Meeting

-- Secretary Powell's Aircraft and Landing in Nairobi
-- Status of State Department Senior Officials/Resignations

-- Signing of the Comprehensive North-South Peace Accord in Nairobi, Kenya/ Secretary Powell to Attend the Signing/Secretary's Meetings in Nairobi
-- Situation in Darfur/UN Security Meeting on January 11 on Situation in Darfur
-- International Attention and Aid to Tsunami Victims versus Reported Lack of Concern for Situation in Darfur
-- Fighting Continuing in Darfur/African Union Monitors and Protection Troops

-- Security for Palestinian Elections



12:38 p.m. EST

MR. ERELI: Welcome to our Friday briefing. We'll begin with our regular update on the welfare and whereabouts inquiries of American citizens, victim of the tsunami disaster.

As of today, we have received a total of 28,000 welfare and whereabouts inquiries. We have successfully resolved 25,900 of them. There remain about 2,100 inquiries that we are working to resolve. This involves the efforts of hundreds of U.S. Government officials around the world, including our consular officials here in Washington and in the field, as well as our colleagues from other agencies, who are in a position to help us find information, track down information, respond to questions.

So it is a government-wide effort involving not just our consular officials, but really, people throughout the State Department, other agencies, Department of Defense, Center for Disease Control, other government representatives in the field. There are 17 American citizens that have been confirmed dead, and 20 Americans that are presumed dead.

With respect to a question we keep getting, if I may preempt it, there is, I think, consistent requests to provide some new kind of category of inquiries with greater specificity. There are really three categories of people we're looking at. There are the welfare and whereabouts increase, which are 21-hundred; there are the confirmed dead; and there are the presumed dead. Those are how we are classifying our approach to this issue.

Of the 21-hundred outstanding welfare and whereabouts inquiries, all are equally important to us. We are pursuing each with equal vigor, with equal determination and with equal priority, and we will continue to do, and we will resolve them and consider them resolved when we have verifiable facts and when we know everything that's knowable.


QUESTION: Can I ask a question?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: I assume, from what you said, there is no "grave concern" category?

MR. ERELI: No, there is none.


MR. ERELI: There are three categories: welfare and whereabouts inquiries; confirmed dead; and presumed dead.


QUESTION: Of the 21-hundred, is there a core group --


QUESTION: -- of special concern?



MR. ERELI: No, they are all of equal concern and all receiving equal attention.


QUESTION: So just to make clear, you're not going to, from today, tomorrow or the next day, or whenever, ever add a third category?

MR. ERELI: We are pursuing, as I said, each of these 2,100 welfare and whereabouts cases with the same attention to detail and the same commitment, and we will make our separation and classifications according to facts that we can confirm.


QUESTION: But again, just to be redundant, you're not -- again, we're not willing to say that these represent 21-hundred different cases, different people?

MR. ERELI: I will say these represent 2,100 different names. For each inquiry there is a name. Now, I cannot tell you that they represent 21-hundred separate individuals because there may be some individuals that are represented by several different names. That happens. It's easily understandable how you can have a person who is known by their maiden name or their married name, or how you might have different spellings of the same -- different variations of spelling on the same name that come as different entries.

So there are 21-hundred names, but I could not tell you that those 21-hundred names represent a certain number of individuals.

QUESTION: But you --

MR. ERELI: They do represent a certain number, but I couldn't tell you what that number is.

QUESTION: Right. But you did also tell us earlier that you thought that most of the duplication of names had been removed now.

MR. ERELI: We have worked to eliminate as much duplication as we can. I'm not saying there doesn't remain duplication. But as we find out more information, there is some duplication that is eliminated. So it's a constant process. But those that we can readily eliminate, those duplicates that we can readily eliminate, we have done so.

QUESTION: But it's easily conceivable, then, that we are looking at least 2,000 missing Americans?

MR. ERELI: We've been through this before. We are looking at -- we are looking to resolve 2,100 separate inquiries about the welfare and whereabouts of Americans. They may be -- but to say -- I would not classify those as missing. I would just classify those as inquiries we are trying to answer.


QUESTION: You said you have hundreds of officials in Washington and in the region looking for Americans. Do you have a more definitive number than that?

MR. ERELI: No, and it's sort of -- it would be very hard to come by, given the wide variety of people involved, and given the constant coming and going and addition of people in one place and reduction of people in another place. It is a rapidly moving picture.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Adam, some of the family members of people who are presumed to have died have expressed concern that in the last couple of days, the recovery efforts by the Thai Government have slowed dramatically. Is the U.S. concerned about this? Are you at all urging the Thais to, you know, keep up the search for those Americans? And are you at all concerned? There have been rumors that are out there that the Thai have had mass graves, or perhaps burning the bodies due to health concerns? Are you asking them to preserve bodies they find?

MR. ERELI: We understand the concerns of our fellow citizens. We are sensitive to their concerns, and we are working closely with the Thai Government in response to their concerns.

With respect to reports that the Thai Government are burying bodies in mass graves or burning, we have not -- we have inquired about that. We have not found that to be the case. To the contrary, the Thai Government is doing everything it can to preserve evidence that can help resolve cases.

With regard to making progress in getting the kind of information and taking the steps necessary to investigate the cases of the presumed dead, I would say we are seriously engaged with the Thai Government. There are, as you can imagine, given the scope of the disaster and the number of actors involved from different countries, from different agencies, there are a number of -- it is a complicated task. It is taking time. We are working to accelerate the process. We're doing everything we can, both on our end, but also in coordination and cooperation with the Thai Government, to help expedite these investigations.

But clearly, we hear and sympathize with the concerns expressed by American families.


QUESTION: Of the 17 killed, do you know how many of those bodies American families here in the United States actually have in possession?

MR. ERELI: I do not. And again, this is a topic that we are very sensitive to talking about given the suffering that these families, the family members of these victims are going through, and given our concern and consideration for their feelings. And therefore I think the handling and disposition of these cases is something that we're very reluctant to speak about publicly out of deference to members of the family.

QUESTION: In reference to the actual transportation of the bodies, is that the responsibility of the United States Government or is that the responsibility of the families themselves?

MR. ERELI: We work to facilitate repatriation.

QUESTION: But it is the responsibility of the families, right?

MR. ERELI: I believe so.

QUESTION: Adam, if I could just follow up on one of your earlier points that the recovery efforts, and the concerns that some families have expressed that they may have slowed in recent days. You say that you're working closely with the Thai Government. Can you allay any concerns of Americans who are here who are not in Thailand who have heard these reports, that it is not correct, or that the recovery effort is continuing full steam ahead, or can you clarify it for them?

MR. ERELI: Well, I think -- everybody involved in this effort is working flat-out to find out everything we can about what happened and to whom. As we've said from the very beginning, we have received 28,000 inquiries. We have reduced that to 2,100, and since December 26th. That's, I think, a little under two weeks. That represents a Herculean effort, frankly, and I think represents and demonstrates the kind of dedication and persistence and devotion to duty on behalf of hundreds of people around the world.

For those 21-hundred remaining, however, whether -- those 21-hundred inquiries remaining, and the people who made those inquiries, slightly under two weeks is an awfully long time, and we understand that. And that's why we're still going 24 hours a day. That's why we still have people in Thailand on the ground going to hotels, going to hospitals, talking to other embassies, talking to Thai authorities, working with the NGO colleagues to try to answer the questions that are out there.

And I wish I could tell you that it will be wrapped up in a week. I wish I would tell you it would be wrapped up in two weeks. All I can tell you is that we will not rest until we have the answers -- until we find out everything we can.

As far as the Thai Government is concerned, as far as the Sri Lankan Government is concerned, it is our experience that they share our sense of urgency, that they share our sense of shared tragedy, and that they are doing everything in their capacity to be responsive to our requests and to the concerns and feelings of the thousands of victims, both of their own citizens and abroad. But it's hard work, it's complicated work and it's going to take time.

QUESTION: Okay. So you do not believe that the intensity of the search has slacked off at all in Thailand?

MR. ERELI: No, in no way. In no way. The intensity and the urgency --

QUESTION: On the part of the Thai Government?

MR. ERELI: I think all parties involved in this have a common sense of urgency and intensity. Again, but there are complications and there are bottlenecks. Clearly, in an undertaking of this size, there are going to be bottlenecks. There are going to be factors and problems that slow things down. But that's a function of the nature of the task that's before us. It's not a reflection of a lack of will or a lack of commitment by us or by our partners.


QUESTION: On tsunami aid. I'm just wondering if the U.S. is concerned about misuse of aid money by corrupt governments or military in the region.

MR. ERELI: In all the discussions I've been involved with since the beginning of this crisis, that has -- I have not heard that concern expressed. Rather, what the focus has been is on working through established mechanisms, established practices, established procedures to identify needs, provide funding, procure goods, deliver goods and perform the kind of ongoing assessment that you need to transition to the next stages of assistance and recovery.

The problem of misuse of aid and corruption of aid, again, if it exists -- I'm not saying it's not there, but it certainly hasn't presented itself as a significant obstacle or a significant impediment to what we're all trying to do.

QUESTION: Powell yesterday said humanitarian need right now trumps any reservations that you may have about giving aid directly to some of the governments concerned. And considering the history of the records of countries such as Indonesia, I'm wondering if the U.S. is planning on putting into place or if you know of any kind of procedures that have been planned to kind of make sure the money that's going to the donors flows in a transparent --

MR. ERELI: Well, I think you're mixing apples and oranges here. The comment that Secretary Powell made was in response to a specific question about a specific form of assistance, and that was spare parts for C-130 aircraft to the Indonesian -- into the Indonesian Air Force. And the determination was -- and as I said earlier -- we are facilitating a commercial sale for those spare parts for a specific number of aircraft for a specific purpose, and Secretary Powell's remarks were made in that context, and that's point one.

Point two is, the humanitarian aid that's being delivered to the people in Banda Aceh or in the Government of Indonesia, or Sri Lanka or wherever, is -- I don't think there's any question of political misuse or going to causes that are somehow detrimental to the interests of the American people.


QUESTION: Adam, who will be representing the U.S. next week in Geneva?

MR. ERELI: Our Director of U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios.

QUESTION: Yes, he'll lead the delegation?


QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. ERELI: Anything else in the world that interests you?


MR. ERELI: Please.

QUESTION: Sudan and Kenya. First, do you know anything about the aborted landing of Secretary Powell's plane? Is there anything?

MR. ERELI: I checked before coming out here. Secretary Powell and his party landed safely moments ago in Nairobi. There was no aborted landing. There was some question about parking issues on the tarmac that were resolved without incident, and certainly without risk to the party.

QUESTION: Okay. On to more substantive issues, then. Darfur remains on everybody's mind, and this is one of the areas that worldwide NGOs are worried will -- is losing attention with the tsunami disaster. So you can you sort of wrap up -- how is Secretary Powell going to press on Darfur while he's congratulating the government on its north-south accord?

MR. ERELI: Well, let me assure you and your viewers that there is no letup in our efforts to both draw attention to the crisis in Darfur and to bring that crisis to a peaceful resolution. It is of the utmost importance, certainly to the United States Government, and I think our record of speaking out and acting on this crisis well before it had achieved the attention and efforts of the international community bear that out.

As you know, Secretary Powell is in Nairobi to attend the formal signing of the comprehensive north-south peace accord this Sunday. As I said yesterday, it will be an historic achievement that marks an end to two decades of civil war, which is Africa's longest-running civil war, in which millions of Sudanese have died.

But as you suggest, there are ongoing conflicts in Sudan, which demand our attention and demand our action. And in Nairobi, Secretary Powell will meet with Sudanese President Bashir and Vice President Taha, as well as Dr. John Garang. And one of the important issues that he will be discussing with them, in addition to the north-south peace agreement, is the need to end the crisis in Darfur immediately, and I think we will be pressing hard on that issue and looking to next steps in that regard.

We are working closely with the UN Secretary General's Special Representative and urging the Government of Sudan and the Darfur rebels to respect the ceasefire agreements that allow for -- that call for the parties to stop their attacks on one another, and that will create the conditions for the World Health Organization's scheduled national immunization campaign to take place in Darfur on January 10th and 12th.

I would also remind you that peace talks sponsored by the African Union are scheduled to resume in Abuja on December 21st.

QUESTION: December?

MR. ERELI: I'm sorry, January 21st. We expect the Security Council to meet on January 11th to discuss the latest report from the Secretary General's Special Representative Jan Pronk on the situation in Darfur, and in that context, we are hosting informal talks at our mission of the United Nations about the best ways the council can capitalize on the momentum provided by this north-south agreement to address the problem in Darfur.

So all of that, I think, indicates very clearly that, as we say in diplomatic speak, we remain seized of the matter. We are not neglecting this issue. We are not turning a blind eye to it. To the contrary, we are working to leverage the achievement of the north-south agreement to both not only bring pressure and bring focus and bring attention to the problem in Darfur, but to perhaps use some of the positive things coming out of the north-south agreement and the positive mechanisms and ways of dealing with problems, and apply them to Darfur and make progress on that issue as well.

QUESTION: What can you say about the fact that 70,000 people have died there, though, and there's been no such outpouring like there was in the -- I mean, obviously different and much more drastic?

MR. ERELI: Well, I take very strong issue with that. To say there's been no outpouring ignores very important --

QUESTION: Of world attention?

MR. ERELI: Yes, ignores very, very important decisions and actions by the United States, by the European Union, by the African Union and by the UN. I mean, it's kind of -- I think it's ridiculous to suggest there's been -- there's no outpouring. Look, there are over almost 1,000 African Union troops on an African Union mission to help minimize the violence in Darfur. The United States has given 300 million -- I believe, I'll have to check -- again, but over $300 million in aid to the people in Darfur to deal with -- to help them overcome the crisis and to deal with the problem of being displaced, to have food, to have shelter. The European Union has spent hundreds of million dollars in support of the African Union. We have devoted U.S. aircraft, U.S. military aircraft, to transport African Union troops. We have sponsored -- we have co-sponsored resolutions at the United Nations.

So there is -- there has been -- and this has been taking place over the course of over a year. So to say there's been no outpouring, to say there's been no action, is just -- is wrong and is misleading.

Now, yes, there are thousands dying. Yes, there are thousands dying. Yes, it is a tragedy. Yes, it is something we're working on. And, no, it hasn't ended. But that is not a reflection of a lack of concern. It's not a reflection of a lack of effort. It's not a reflection of a lack of assistance and a lack of aid to people in desperate need.

QUESTION: Adam, just a little counterpoint. The UN General Assembly refused even to consider a resolution criticizing the Sudanese Government for its role in the Darfur crisis. I think there is some evidence of a casual attitude toward this issue on the part of a lot of countries.

MR. ERELI: Okay.

QUESTION: All right. Number two, do you have anything specific over the last few days with respect to attacks, ceasefire violations and so forth?

MR. ERELI: No, I don't have anything specific. I know there have been a number of reports. There have been, clearly -- there has been, clearly, recent fighting between rebels and government officials -- or government forces. There was the downing of a Sudanese Government helicopter, I believe, two or three days ago.

So, as I said, there is a conflict that is continuing in Darfur. It is a conflict that we believe should have ended long ago, that we believe the Government of Sudan has responsibility to act to stop, and that the Government of Sudan has not done what it needs to do. We also believe that the rebels have violated terms of the ceasefire as well and that violations by both sides need to stop and need to be dealt with. We're dealing with them.

You can say that some countries aren't as serious as other countries. That's your judgment to make. I'm speaking for the United States. We are certainly committed and our actions -- I think our actions substantiate that. And for the record, I'll tell you that we've given $373 million in assistance, humanitarian assistance, in Darfur to help over 200,000 refugees who have been -- who have fled to Chad. And we will obviously provide more, as needed.

QUESTION: That's since '03, right?

MR. ERELI: That's since -- yes, since this crisis.

So anyway, it's something -- really, it's an issue that we feel very strongly about and I think you can tell and judge from the -- how strongly we feel about it by the tenor of my response to the questions.


QUESTION: In reference to the thousand or so AU forces on the ground, weren't there supposed to be around 3,000? Why only 33 percent or so on the ground? Do you know why, or is Khartoum not helping on this front? Do you expect this issue to be raised once again when the Secretary meets with senior Sudanese officials?

MR. ERELI: There are currently 1,097 African Union monitors and protection troops. We expect 400 more Nigerian troops to deploy this weekend. About 200 Senegalese troops will deploy soon. We would -- this is a -- really more of a logistics issue than anything else, not politics standing in the way, but logistics. I would also note that the United States, again in response to the charge that we haven't done enough, has spent $40 million in equipment and logistic support, not only to transport some of these troops, but also to help set up operating camps in Sudan.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: Are you saying, then, that the AU has the commitments for the 3,500 troops, and it's just a matter of getting them on the ground?

MR. ERELI: The AU -- I don't want to speak for the African Union. My understanding is the African Union has set for itself the target of over -- whatever the target was, 3,000, 35-hundred, that they are working towards that target. They have 1,000 -- about 1100 in the field now. They're working to bring that number up to around 15-hundred, 16-hundred. It is expected to rise steadily. But I could not tell you when they will reach their end -- their desired end state.

QUESTION: So they haven't told the U.S. when they hope to reach the desired level?

MR. ERELI: No, not that I'm aware of.


QUESTION: Will Powell meet with any of the Darfur rebels?


QUESTION: And why not, if the U.S. is pressuring them also to abide by the ceasefire?

MR. ERELI: The focus here is on the north-south agreement and the Government of Sudan.

QUESTION: And where exactly are these AU monitors and protection troops deployed? Are they in Darfur?


QUESTION: They're all outside of Khartoum?

MR. ERELI: Yes. I don't know if they're all outside, but the focus of their activity is Darfur, to monitor the ceasefire and to monitor the welfare of displaced persons and vulnerable populations.

QUESTION: And what is their mandate again? Beyond the monitoring?

MR. ERELI: What I just said, just what I said, to monitor the ceasefire and to monitor the welfare of displaced persons and vulnerable populations, and to investigate and document reported violations of the ceasefire and actions by either the government or the Jingaweit or the rebels?

QUESTION: Do you think it will come up again whether they should have a stronger mandate, whether they should be allowed to use force if needed?

MR. ERELI: I don't -- frankly, the effectiveness of their mandate is not something that's in question. I think everybody agrees that the AU is doing what it's supposed to be doing and is working effectively. The question is how can we -- you know, how can we help to get them out there in full force, as they have the intention of doing?

QUESTION: Change the subject to the Palestinian elections?

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. satisfied that there will be adequate security for the Palestinian elections on Sunday?

MR. ERELI: Obviously, it will be important for the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel to cooperate closely regarding both security and freedom of movement for both voters and candidates. For our part, we are -- we have been and continue to work closely with both parties in support of this kind of cooperation, in support of the successful administration of the elections.

We would also -- we also recognize the extent and, frankly, productiveness of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation during the period leading up to Sunday's elections, and we certainly would hope that what we've seen in this instance will lead to further steps towards cooperation and engagement.

So, in short, they've been working well together so far. It's important that they continue to work well together to have a successful election. And for our part, we'll judge that election by whether it -- whether and to what degree it produces a free, fair and credible result.

QUESTION: I just have a last question. There are reports saying that Under Secretary Bolton might resign or get a new job in the Administration. Do you have anything about his situation? Has he submitted a resignation on it?

MR. ERELI: I'm not aware that any resignation has been submitted.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you give us an update of who has formally resigned, I mean, among the assistant or under secretaries?

MR. ERELI: I can't give you a whole list. I don't have the list of those who have resigned. If you ask me about specific individuals, I can tell you whether I -- what I know.

QUESTION: Grossman?

MR. ERELI: Grossman has resigned, has submitted a letter of resignation, which we've --


MR. ERELI: Not -- no.

QUESTION: All right. Jones?

MR. ERELI: Ambassador Jones has submitted a letter of resignation.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: What about the other regional assistant secretaries?

MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: Maura Harty?


QUESTION: Did you mention Burns?

MR. ERELI: I did. I'm not -- I don't believe he has submitted a letter of resignation.

QUESTION: What about John Bolton?

MR. ERELI: He -- I'm not aware that he has submitted a letter of resignation.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)

(end transcript)

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

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