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24 January 2005

State Department Briefing, January 24

Iraq, Israel/Palestinians, Pakistan/Rewards for Justice Campaign, Colombia/Venezuela

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher briefed the press January 24.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Monday, January 24, 2005
12:55 p.m. EST

Briefer: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- Iraqi Elections and International Election Observers
-- Credibility of Iraqi Elections
-- Training of Iraqi Election Observers and Poll Workers
-- Election Outcome and Composition of Iraqi Government
-- Security for Elections
-- Al-Zarqawi's Audiotaped Threat Against Iraqi Elections
-- Out-of-Country Registration and Voting Process/Participation

-- Reported Israeli Seizure of Land in Jerusalem
-- US Position on Confiscation of Land/Barrier Construction
-- Assistant Secretary Burns Attends Quartet Envoys' Meeting in Brussels
-- Assistant Secretary Burns' Upcoming Travel to the Region
-- Israeli and Palestinian Cooperation on Security Issues

-- Rewards for Justice Campaign in Pakistan
-- Reward Amounts for Terrorists in Region Including Usama bin Laden
-- Effectiveness of Rewards Program

-- Reported U.S. Involvement in the Detention of a Colombian FARC Leader in Venezuela
-- U.S.-Colombian Bilateral/Counterterrorism Relations versus U.S.-Venezuela Bilateral/Counterterrorism Relations



12:55 p.m. EST

MR. ERELI: Greetings, everyone. Welcome to our first briefing of the week. I don't have any announcements to begin with, so let's start with your questions.

QUESTION: Adam, there was a report in The Washington Post over the weekend that for the Iraqi elections this Sunday there's going to be one foreign observer for the whole country. Can you confirm exactly what sort of foreign observation mechanisms are in place? Is that true? And if this is true, is this going to be a difficulty in assessing the credibility of the election?

MR. ERELI: I can't confirm to you the number of foreign observers at the Iraqi elections. That would be something for the Iraqis to do since they are running the elections. There are efforts underway to have foreign elections observers there. That would certainly, I think, provide an added dimension to the elections. But I also think it's important to point out that they will not determine, in and of themselves, the credibility or the legitimacy of these elections; to the contrary, that will be determined by the Iraqi people, how they participate and how they see these elections.

I think it's also important to point out that irrespective of the presence of foreigners in Iraq, there will be tens of thousands of Iraqi observers and polling workers and people working with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq to see that these elections are conducted according to the procedures laid out by the IECI and the UN, and that ultimately the validity of these elections will be determined by them, and not by outsiders. To the extent that there are international monitors, that is an important and welcome addition to what is being done fundamentally by Iraqis. But as far as the details go of how many international observers or where they're coming from and where they will be deployed, I'd have to refer you to the Iraqis.


QUESTION: Adam, in reference to domestic election observers, it's my understanding that the U.S. Government, and associated with some entities such as NDI, are supposed to train them, right? And --

MR. ERELI: They've already done so.

QUESTION: And so the training is complete, right? Is that -- as far as you know, the training for them, or is that --

MR. ERELI: I couldn't speak to where we are in the training process, if it's all been done or if there's still training going on. It's a big job. There are a lot of people involved and there need to be a lot of people on the ground, so I would doubt it's finished by now. But again, I don't have the latest on that. I think what Ambassador Negroponte said over the weekend, though, was instructive in that significant American funding has gone to support the training of poll workers, the training of observers to watch and look out for and document precisely the kinds of things that monitors are supposed to produce, and that this is an important and valuable and significant contribution of the United States and of the international community to producing credible, viable elections in Iraq.

QUESTION: Can I ask you something complex? There's an assurance, apparently, that if the Shiites predominate, and they are 60 percent of the population, the government will be a secular government and not a Shiite, not a religious government. Have you seen that? Have you such assurances? And if you do, how do you feel about it?

MR. ERELI: This is not something that is being given to the United States Government, so the question is not, have we received assurances. We've seen the same press reports you have, and at this point, to get into a speculation about who's going to win and, if they do win, what policies are they going to adopt, I think, is really premature.

Let's wait for the electoral process to take place. Let's see what it produces. And America's commitment is to work with those chosen by the people of Iraq to help strengthen and build and develop a stable, secure and democratic Iraq. This is, as we consistently point out, the beginning of a process, or actually not the beginning, but a milestone in the process. The process began, I think, with the TAL. This is -- the elections we are seeing next week are called for in the Transitional Administrative Law, but let's remember, they are going to perform -- the Transitional National Assembly will appoint a government; that government and the Transitional National Assembly will work to write a constitution; that constitution will be submitted to a referendum; and, on the basis of that constitution, there will be elections at the end of 2005.

So what comes out of Sunday's elections remains to be seen. One thing that you can be certain of, however, is that America will respect the vote of, and the will of, the Iraqi people as it is freely expressed in elections.

QUESTION: Well, let me pursue this, if I may, and then I'll try not to be tedious. But from where you're standing, you probably, certainly as State Department spokesman, for the longest time spoke with democratic -- what should I say -- democratic enthusiasm. Principles of democracy. You spoke in terms of you want to see everybody represented, you want to see all groups -- the Kurds, the Shiites, presumably even meaning the people who are not often mentioned, those small communities, the Shiites, the Sunnis -- they all should be part of this process; this is what democracy is about. Now, if you're telling me -- so when you respond and say, well, this is an Iraqi process, I mean, it isn't like you're Iceland or, you know, Zimbabwe. You know, you're in this process. You've had a whole lot to do with the process, and you've been encouraging democracy. So if you want to now say, how it falls, you know, it's up to them, whether it's a Shiite government or where they -- or some whole community is excluded, you know, it's a long process. If you want to say that, fine, I'll take it for what it's worth. But you, yourself, just used democracy as a goal, and so I'll rephrase my question. Will democracy have a better chance if Iraq is a secular government rather than a religious government? And please don't tell me about Turkey. (Laughter.)

MR. ERELI: I hesitate because defining democracy is a tricky business, and I wouldn't want to give you a formula about what a democratic Iraqi government would look like. I think if -- and we've been clear about this -- that what is provided for in the Transitional Administrative Law, what is provided for in UN Security Council resolutions, what the Iraqi Government itself has said it wants to produce, is a process that has our full endorsement, our full support. It is one we are working to help realize with the UN, with other countries from around the world who share a common goal in seeing a representative government in Iraq that lives in peace with its neighbors and that responds to the will and the desire of the Iraqi people.

That's what's going to happen and that's what we are all working to make happen on January 30th. What those elections produce, what policies, what the government pursues, what form the government takes, are something for Iraqis to decide based on the desires of the Iraqi people. The United States is committed to working with the new government of Iraq in order to help strengthen democratic institutions and the stability of the country and the security of the country and the future prosperity of the country in a way that will benefit the people of Iraq and the region as a whole.

QUESTION: Adam, if I could just follow up just on an earlier question, because there's something I'm just not -- I'm a little bit confused on.

You talk about that the credibility of the elections will be decided by the Iraqis, and not foreign observers.

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Now, we have a tradition of depending upon foreign observers, most dramatically in Ukraine, to make those decisions there where we manifestly did not trust the people inside the country; we trusted foreign observers. What is different here in this case there, and exactly who in Iraq is going to make that determination? The winners?

MR. ERELI: I can't be prescriptive. I really -- number one, I can't be prescriptive. Number two, I'm hesitant to -- every case is unique, so I'm hesitant to make those kinds of comparisons. Obviously, in the case -- obviously, we will be -- we and other countries will be watching closely what happens in Iraq. Obviously, we'll be talking to -- and we can, as we do now -- all participants in the political process.

As in the Ukraine, not to say that they're exactly alike, but as in the Ukraine, it was, first and foremost, Ukrainians who were crying foul. And it was Ukrainians who led the popular protests and the legal proceedings that resulted in what ultimately was widely recognized as a free and fair election. And that's what I mean by, first and foremost, it's the Iraqis. Obviously, international entities, regardless of whether they're -- you called -- they're observers on the ground, or other NGOs or foreign embassies, are going to be watching what's happening in Iraq very carefully and are going to be listening to what the Iraqi people say and how the Iraqi people react. But as I said before, it's, first and foremost, their elections and for them to accept the legitimacy of the elections. And that's what we'll be looking for in, I think, making our assessments about how things went.

QUESTION: Then you think Iraqi security is capable of policing -- to use the word in a, you know, democratic sense, I guess -- the Iraqi security is capable -- the U.S. is not part of this -- of making sure that there is no intimidation, making sure people vote the way they want to? This -- an Iraq -- the Iraqi security, who Condoleezza Rice last week said has had desertions and poor leadership, but you're going to, the State Department or the Administration, is content to put its chips on them to make sure there is a free and fair election, correct?

MR. ERELI: The multinational force, the forces in Iraq, have been, I think, focusing intently on the need to provide security to the greatest extent possible so that Iraqis who want to vote can vote throughout the country and that -- so that Iraqis who want to campaign can campaign and Iraqis who want to be involved in the political process can be involved in the political process. Clearly, the vast majority of Iraqi citizens want to vote and want to be part of this process. Nobody, from the beginning, has ever said that this is going to be a perfect election. We've always worked, I think, to manage expectations in this regard. We are well aware of a determined and extremist resistance that seeks to disrupt what most Iraqis want. It is our job, the job of the multinational force, working with the Iraqis, to help them realize their democratic aspirations and provide the conditions that allow for as free and fair and full an election as possible on January 30th.

Is it going to be perfect? No. Is everybody who wants to participate be able to participate? No. But I encourage you to look at this election in the historical context. There are plenty of examples of elections which, despite violence, are viewed as successful and having accomplished their purpose: elections in Peru; in Algeria; in Afghanistan. So this is something that is not going to be 100 percent neat and tidy. There are dedicated enemies to this. But we'll -- we and our Iraqi friends are confident that we'll make it work and we'll make it work in a way that, I think, satisfies the democratic desires of the people of Iraq.

One thing I would note in this regard is I would draw you to the -- draw to your attention the statement purportedly put out by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi over the weekend that said that those who participate in the democracy are following a false ideology and declaring war on those people. That clearly is in -- that clearly is -- has been repudiated and -- has been repudiated by the people of Iraq who, contrary to what these terrorists say, contrary to what these terrorists are trying to get people to believe, are sacrificing and showing the kind of courage to participate in a democracy, to participate in a process that they feel very strongly about. I think this shows more than anything else the bankruptcy of the ideas of those who would try to tell you that democracy is somehow either anti-Islamic or anti-Iraqi.


QUESTION: The registration process in neighboring countries is going very slowly, apparently, particularly in Sunni areas. Does this not suggest that there are factors other than intimidation at work, that perhaps some, indeed, are not wishing to participate because of their concern that the elections -- that Sunnis won't do well or that the elections might not be legitimate?

MR. ERELI: I can't speak to people's motivations about why they may or may not be participating. The polls show that the vast majority of Iraqis want to participate. It's not unanimous. There are some who, for one reason or another, are opting out of the process. That, to our view, is unfortunate because, if you want to have a voice, if you want to influence events in your country, then the best way to do that is to participate in the political process. By excluding yourself, or excluding those you represent, in the long run, you're not doing yourself or them any service. But it's for them to make that decision.

As you suggest, there have been some complications, I guess, in out-of-country voting. And for that reason, the International Organization of Migration, at the direction of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, has extended registration in all 74 registration countries in the -- registration centers in the 14 countries, for two additional days, through January 25th. That will not affect the actual polling, which take place from January 28th to January 30th. But as far as the rate of registration goes, I'd have to refer you to the IOM and IECI.

QUESTION: But the U.S. does favor participation by people living in other countries no less than inside Iraq?

MR. ERELI: Absolutely. Absolutely. Those -- this is an opportunity for those eligible to participate, and we encourage that participation.

Yes, (inaudible).

QUESTION: Ahmed Chalabi has asked today for establishing a Shia province in the south, similar to the Kurdish area in the north. What's your comment on that?

MR. ERELI: I don't have one. I don't have a comment. This is a -- the political future of Iraq is for Iraqis to decide. And this will obviously -- will be a discussion, animated discussion for the future Transitional National Assembly, and we leave it to them to debate their affairs of state.


QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. ERELI: Okay.

QUESTION: There are reports that Israel has been seizing land in Jerusalem. The land is owned by the Palestinians, but the land is basically inaccessible to the Palestinians because of the security wall. Does the United States feel that these seizures of land will hurt the overall peace process?

MR. ERELI: I've seen the press reports. I've seen the reports you're citing, but I don't really have any basis on which to judge their -- or assess -- we don't have any basis, at this point, to assess the facts. As a general principle, we have always made clear that with regard to the fence and its route and how it's constructed, that it is problematic to the extent that it confiscates Palestinian property or prejudges final borders or imposes hardship on the Palestinian people. And that, in this case, in response to your specific question, would continue to be the case.

I would note, in this context, that Assistant Secretary of State Bill Burns is in Brussels today, where he is attending a Quartet envoys' meeting, and that he will travel to the region tomorrow. He plans to stop in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. He will return later this week. The purpose of this visit is to help -- to work with all parties to seek to capitalize on the opportunity we have with a new Palestinian government to move forward on the roadmap. He will be meeting with all sides concerned, assessing the situation, and I think working particularly to -- on next steps to assist Palestinian efforts in dealing with security problems, next steps on the political process and the issue of economic reform, and he will be discussing with all sides what we can all do to help move the process forward.

QUESTION: Do you expect Assistant Secretary Burns to raise this issue of the land seizures during the Quartet meetings?

MR. ERELI: I think what -- I think, as I said, that he will be discussing with all side steps that are helpful and necessary in helping to move the process forward, but I don't want to prejudge his conversations at this point.

QUESTION: Next follow-up on that. Mahmoud Abbas has been getting some good marks, both from the Israeli Government as well as others, I think as well as from the United States, for what he has been doing so far. But a lot of the militant Palestinian groups are saying they're willing to go along temporarily, but they're looking for some sort of concessions, more concessions, from Israel, such as on the prisoner issue or other issues. At this point, would you be encouraging, or would Assistant Secretary of State Burns been encouraging, Israelis to engage more fully in this process and make more concessions?

MR. ERELI: You know, I really can't get into that level of detail, (a) because I don't know, and (b) because, even if I did know, it's not the kind of thing we discuss publicly. I think what we are looking for, first and foremost, from the Palestinians is concrete steps to get the security situation under control. We have seen some steps that Abu Mazen has already taken, and we find that encouraging. And, I think, getting to your question in a more general way, we are also pleased at the level of coordination that we are seeing between Israelis and Palestinians.

At the same time, it's not -- it's not for me to tell you or tell the public what concessions are required or are not required. Clearly, there's a lot of talk about ceasefire and some groups taking certain steps and other groups taking other steps. The important point here to keep in mind is that ceasefires, while welcome and important, are not an end in themselves, but are rather a first step towards reaching a larger goal which is outlined in the roadmap, is a complete end to violence and terror, and establishing the rule of law over all Palestinian territories. And establishing the rule of law, developing the kind of institutions, developing the kind of practices, developing the kind of capabilities to do that and developing the kind of mechanisms of cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis is the real question and the real focus of the efforts, not these sort of tactical discussions.

Yes, Elise.

QUESTION: New topic? Or does anybody have something else?

QUESTION: Same topic.

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: While you are describing Mahmoud Abbas' steps as encouraging, how would you describe the Israeli steps, by confiscating new lands, if it turns out to be proven, and it had been proven before? How would you describe that?

MR. ERELI: I think I spoke to that earlier, that we do not -- that we do see the confiscation of land, as a general matter, without responding to these or commenting on these specific reports, as a general matter, we find that the confiscation of Palestine land and the actions that prejudged final borders as problematic.


QUESTION: Adam, you mentioned that Assistant Secretary Burns will be returning later this week?

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is he going to be briefing either or both Secretary Powell or Dr. Rice?

MR. ERELI: I don't have anything to predict on that basis. I don't have anything to tell you on that score. I just don't know. I don't want to tell you what Assistant Secretary Burns will or won't do without having talked to him, and this is not something I've -- we've discussed.


QUESTION: New topic? Can you discuss -- I know this is -- you put the announcement out a while ago, but the new ads, the bin Laden reward ads that are -- campaign that's running in Pakistan, and reports that you're considering doubling the reward to 50 million?

MR. ERELI: The United States Embassy in Islamabad and the Rewards for Justice Program have launched a new ad campaign in Pakistan. The first ads appeared a leading Urdu daily on January 7th, and those ads featured photos and reward amounts for 14 terrorists who may be in the region, including Usama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and others. There will be additional advertisements running in other Pakistani newspapers and airing on Pakistani newspapers and airing on Pakistani radio and television stations in the next couple of weeks. And I'd expect radio ads with reward and contact information to run this week on Pakistani radio stations.

QUESTION: Do you have the name of the daily, the Urdu daily?

MR. ERELI: The Urdu Daily is -- I'll spell it for you since I don't want to do injustice to the pronunciation. The first word is T-e and the second word in J-a-n-g. Te Jang? Is that right?

With respect to the rewards, I would note that legislation signed in December 2005 authorized the Secretary of State to raise the reward offers under the Rewards for Justice Program up to 50 million. That was legislation authorizing us to raise it to that amount. There's no decision made at this time whether to do it. Obviously, as is always the case in the Rewards for Justice Program, the amount of the reward is something that we keep under regular and consistent review to assess whether it's appropriate, whether it needs adjusting or not. In this case, it's no different, but I don't have anything to announce for you.

QUESTION: Well, can I just follow up? I mean, I know you haven't made a decision, but there's been a $25 million reward for bin Laden for quite some time, and there don't seem to be any takers, if indeed, someone knows where he is. So do you think that as far as bin Laden is concerned -- I know that there have been some rewards given in Iraq, but as far as bin Laden and al-Qaida leaders are concerned, do you see these campaigns working?

MR. ERELI: There have been a number of important captures, both through the Rewards for Justice Program and also through the, I think, aggressive and skillful work of Pakistani and American and other counterterrorist officials and counterterrorist forces. The Rewards for Justice Program is a tool; it's a tool that has been useful in the past. I don't know if it's fair to say that, you know, the fact that not everybody has been turned over so far means that the program isn't working. These sort of things take time. And I think the -- how should I put it -- the trend line is clearly in our favor if you consider the fact that most of the al-Qaida leaders are either dead or in jail. There are several very important ones that remain on the run, but they are on the run. And they are because of -- I think because of the notoriety that comes with being on the Rewards for Justice Program, their activities are constrained in ways that they otherwise would not be. So the benchmark -- obviously, we want to see them in custody, we want to see them captured -- but the benchmark may not always be, are they in custody. I would encourage you to think in terms of what kind of constraint, what kind of difficulties, being -- having this rewards out for you and being so much in the public eye presents for those who would do us harm.

QUESTION: Another subject?

QUESTION: Change of subject.

MR. ERELI: Go ahead. No, for her. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment about allegations that the U.S. Government helped the Colombian Government plot the capture of a Colombian guerilla in Venezuela?

MR. ERELI: No, I don't. No.


QUESTION: Boy, isn't that what Dr. Rice was referring to last week when she talked about Venezuela and had so many kind words to say? Do you think --

MR. ERELI: No, Dr. Rice was --

QUESTION: Was she referring to these -- this arrest?

MR. ERELI: No, Dr. Rice was referring to --

QUESTION: Many things, including --

MR. ERELI: -- policies by the Venezuelan Government, not this specific case that we've been asked about.

QUESTION: Adam, could --

QUESTION: Adam, even 'is the United States going to be neutral or is going to favor Colombia?' Even that answer?

MR. ERELI: Let me see what I can get for you on that.

QUESTION: Okay, just following up on that, Adam, because you have President Chavez of Venezuela specifically pointed to the Americans as being responsible for this kidnapping of, I think, Rodrigo Granada, a FARC leader.

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: So you have that specific -- can we get a specific reaction to that?

MR. ERELI: On Rodrigo Granda, there are media reports that the recently-detained senior official of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was residing and operating freely in Venezuela prior to his arrest in Colombia. As you know, the FARC has been designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States. We have also seen press reports that the Government of Colombia has given the Venezuelan Government specific information about the presence in Venezuela of ten major Colombian terrorists and we'd expect the Venezuelan Government to carefully examine this information and to take all required and effective law enforcement actions against the terrorists.

QUESTION: So, in terms of what President Chavez is saying, the United States has, in a way, been behind the action against him? I mean --

MR. ERELI: Well, I mean, to the extent that we encourage the Government of Venezuela to act on information that there are terrorists resident on their territory and using their territory for terrorist activity, I guess you could say we're involved. But -- and, you know, to the extent that we help provide information and share information, yes. But that's what we're doing.

QUESTION: So given the Bush Administration always criticize Chavez, and given the U.S. Ambassador in Colombia said that he believes 100 percent Uribe, so that United States is going to take a neutral role or is favor Colombia?

MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. I don't understand the question. Can you rephrase it?

QUESTION: Okay. The U.S. Ambassador in Colombia said he believe 100 percent President Uribe about the Granda case. Okay? And the Bush Administration has always criticized Chavez. My question is: The United States going to be neutral or is favor Colombia?

MR. ERELI: Well, it's not a -- I'd have to object to your questions on a -- your question on a number of bases. One, I haven't seen the Ambassador's remarks. I don't know that he said he's 100 percent behind Uribe. I'm not going to speak to what the Ambassador said.

Two, to say we're always against Venezuela is, again, I think the kind of generalization that is - that is -- doesn't characterize the complexity and subtlety of our policy.

Third, as a general matter, it is important to us, it is important to the United States, that we be able to have effective, cooperative counterterrorist relationships with countries in the hemisphere and throughout the world. We are all engaged in a concerted war against those who use violence against innocents to advance their ideology or their political agenda. That's true about the FARC and it's true about others.

So it's important to us in dealing with foreign governments that when there is information that such individuals or such organizations have access to territory or resources that a government can intervene to stop, that those governments act in such a way. It's true with Colombia. It's true with Venezuela. Now, if you -- that's as a general proposition and that's how I would characterize our position with regard to the specific -- with regard to those two countries and it's characteristic of our position with other countries.

Now, with regard to the specific case, as I said in response to your question -- in response to a question from an earlier -- an earlier question from another colleague, it's -- we have seen press reports that the Government of Colombia has given to the Government of Venezuela information about ten other FARC members residing in Venezuela, and that it would -- it is our view that the Venezuelan Government should, as any government in such a position should, take this information seriously, examine it, and take the required and effective law enforcement action in response to it.

QUESTION: But you're making no judgment about whether they have, right? MR. ERELI: I don't have information at this point to make a judgment on whether they have.

QUESTION: Well, have -- (a) have you helped the Colombian Government with this information that they provided to the Venezuelans? And (b) do you think that Venezuela is simply not acting on information that these people are operating in the country, or do you think that they're directly providing aid to these rebels?

MR. ERELI: I couldn't say. I don't know that we've made that kind of determination. I think that certainly we're looking carefully at what the Venezuelan Government does or does not do in response to the information provided, and their actions in that regard will, I think, inform subsequent judgments and subsequent assessments.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Okay.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 p.m.)

(end transcript)

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

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