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08 February 2005

State Department Briefing, February 8

Asia/Department, Israel/Palestinians, Kenya, Togo, Saudi Arabia

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press February 8.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Tuesday, February 8, 2005
12:30 p.m. EST

Briefer:  Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- Tsunami Update/American Citizens Confirmed Dead/American Citizens Presumed Dead/Whereabouts Inquiries
-- US Tsunami Relief Efforts

-- Sharm el-Sheikh Summit
-- Secretary Rice's Meetings in the Region
-- Appointment of General Ward as Security Coordinator
-- Criticism of US Foreign Policy in the Middle East
-- US Assistance to the Palestinians

-- Resignation of Kenyan Anti-Corruption Official John Githongo
-- Suspension of US Support for Kenya's Anti-Corruption Activities

-- Situation in Togo Following Death of President Eyadema

-- Counterterrorism Regional Conference in Riyadh



12:30 p.m. EST

MR. ERELI:  I thought what I'd do today is just start off with a story that hasn't -- we haven't been talking about, but which there have been some important developments on.  And there was a lot of interest in this a few weeks ago, and I just wanted to bring you up to date.  And this is -- this deals with the status of our attempts to narrow down the number of inquiries about American citizens from the tsunami.  How quickly we forget.

Well, as you know, we received about 30,000 inquiries.  And throughout this process we've been, you know, saying we're systematically and resolutely whittling down the numbers.  Today, we are now at 18 whereabouts and welfare inquiries that remain.  The number of confirmed dead is 18, and the number of presumed dead is 15.  So I think I want to just point out these numbers to you as an indicator of, really, the outstanding dedication and persistence and hard work of American officials on behalf of the American public.

QUESTION:  What is the breakdown on the 18?  Is that two countries?

MR. ERELI:  Ten in Thailand, eight in Sri Lanka.

QUESTION:  And the -- well, presumed dead -- we don't know.

MR. ERELI:  And of the 15, 14 are in Thai -- 15 presumed dead, 14 in Thailand, 1 in Sri Lanka.

QUESTION:  I know it's hard to generalize about 15 human beings, but basically, would it be fair to say people who know them, wouldn't say they've just vanished, that --

MR. ERELI:  The criteria was -- or the way people got on that list was, you had very compelling evidence that they were at a certain location at the time of the crisis.  In some cases, they were eyewitnesses who said, saw the person one minute, didn't see them the next.  And so these are cases in which the preponderance of evidence leads us to make this classification.  It's obviously not something we do lightly.

QUESTION:  No.  Okay.  Thank you on that.  Could we ask -- is that it?

Could we try, even though we're thousands of miles away, to see if the State Department would like to react to developments in Sharm el-Sheikh?

MR. ERELI:  The United States, first of all, commends all the parties on the historic summit today in Sharm el-Sheikh.  We are extremely encouraged by the bold leadership that President Abbas, Prime Minister Sharon, President Mubarak and King Abdullah have demonstrated.  The cessation of violence and terrorism announced today is an important step on the way towards dismantling terrorist infrastructure, as called for in the roadmap.

As you know, the Secretary was meeting -- met with the parties over the last couple of days.  We've been working closely with them, encouraging them to take these kinds of steps.  We're very, I think, heartened by what has transpired today in Sharm el-Sheikh and we will continue to help the parties, as they move forward in realizing the President's vision and the people's aspirations of two states.

QUESTION:  You don't have to be cynical to look back and see how many ceasefires fell apart.  Is there more confidence here?  And if there is, is it based on --


QUESTION:  Yeah -- on the kind of leaders that are now in place, or?

MR. ERELI:  Well, let's be realistic.  A ceasefire is just that -- a ceasefire.  It can be broken.  We understand that.  I think the Secretary has been very clear that while we have seen positive steps so far, and we recognize those positive steps, and they do lead to -- they do lead to some cautious optimism, we need to be realistic.  There are still a lot of hurdles to overcome.  There are still a lot of hard decisions to be made, and there is still a lot of work to do.

And the appointment of General Wald as security coordinator, I think, underscores the recognition that while the steps so far we've seen are positive and encouraging, we need to -- and the parties recognize, they need to come up with a concrete security program and training and structural reform and political decisions that will create an environment where terrorists are not in a position to break a ceasefire, where the infrastructure of terror and the acceptance or belief in terror as a way to solve problems is not a feature of the landscape.

QUESTION:  Can I try one more?

MR. ERELI:  And so that -- you know, that is why you recognize a ceasefire for what it is:  a positive step, a marker of progress, but not a final destination.

QUESTION:  Can I ask you one last thing?  I call it the Wernher Von Braun approach.  You remember the Nazi scientists who were bought off, given nice homes in America.  Do you, does the Administration or the State Department favor trying to find a new opportunity, shall we say, for Hamas operatives and such to somehow take them -- with the hope that somehow this will take them out of the terror business?

MR. ERELI:  I don't want to, in any way, appear to endorse such parallels or connections.  Our position on Hamas is clear.  We regard it as a terrorist organization.  They have pursued terror as a means to achieve their political objectives.  That is unacceptable to us; and we would look toward any responsible participant in the political process to clearly and unequivocally foreswear the use of terror.

QUESTION:  Adam, if I may, if I can follow up.  You -- in your opening and prepared statement about this, you said that you regarded the ceasefires as an important step toward dismantling terrorist infrastructure.  And I wonder why you regard it as that? Because it doesn't seem as if Palestinian President Abbas has, in fact, taken any steps to dismantle terrorist infrastructure since he has taken office to me.

MR. ERELI:  Well, actually, what I said was, the cessation of violence and terrorism is an important step.  And -- it's rather obvious that while it is not, in and of itself, the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure, it is a necessary first step.  Before you can dismantle it, the terrorism has to stop.  You have to get -- I mean, it's important to have cooperation.  It's important to set a political marker, and President Abbas has done that in saying that he and his administration do not accept terror as a means for dealing with the problems with Israel.

That is a necessary first step towards moving against the terrorist infrastructure.  But it's not there yet.

QUESTION:  Why is it?  I mean, for a long time you guys used to say ceasefires are not good enough, and what you really need to do is to take on and undermine the capabilities of the --

MR. ERELI:  What we said was, ceasefires -- ceasefires are positive and welcome, but they are not, in and of themselves, sufficient to get at the root of the problem, which is the intent and capability of factions to use terror as a weapon.  So that's all I'm saying.  It's not the -- a ceasefire is not the end result.  It is a step along the way, an important step, a welcome step, a step that reflects commitment and courage and risk-taking, frankly, by everybody.  And so that's why I think we're speaking positively about it, but let's understand it for what it is, which is an interim measure that helps us get to but does not resolve the fundamental issue which is people using terror to achieve their objectives.

QUESTION:  One last question.  I mean, there are some people, notably, Israeli officials, who have made the argument that ceasefires just give the militant groups time to rebuild their capabilities.

MR. ERELI:  Right.  And that's why it's important that we move quickly, that we seize the opportunity, that we take advantage of the momentum and develop the kind of training program, institutional reform program, coordination mechanism that will allow the Palestinian Authority to move on and take advantage of Prime Minister Abbas' initiatives and continue what has begun.  But, yes, time is a factor, clearly.

QUESTION:  Is that the second step, training, security and --

MR. ERELI:  Well, those are elements of what, I think, future security cooperation and work in this area will include.


QUESTION:  If I could follow up on these questions.  The agreement in Sharm el-Sheikh came without the presence of either the United States or the United Nations, two members of the so-called Quartet.

MR. ERELI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Should we assume, or is it fair to say that today's announcement foreshadows a new approach in the way these two sides deal with their various problems?  In other words, should we see sort of a scaling down of U.S. influence, United Nations influence in the region so that these sides can settle their own problems?

MR. ERELI:  I don't think one comes at the expense of the other.  In other words, we all accept, I think, the notion that -- and we all endorse the notion that the countries of the region are in the best position to solve the conflicts that concern them immediately.  And so, to that extent, it's noteworthy and praiseworthy that Egypt has taken the initiative to convene the summit, to host its neighbors, and the presence of Jordan and the meeting between Abbas and Sharon took place are all signs, and welcome signs, that this dynamic is at work.

At the same time, just because they're doing that does not necessarily mean that somehow we're standing by decreasing our commitment or our support for these efforts.  To the contrary, I think if you look at what Secretary Rice has said, if you look at what the President has said, America is committed to helping the parties achieve peace and achieve two states.  Secretary Rice was very outspoken and articulate about that in Tel Aviv and in Ramallah over the past couple of days.

And, therefore, I don't think it's right to conclude that if the parties are doing things, we're somehow out of it.  We are involved in an important way to help support, help encourage, help sustain the parties' efforts to resolve the problem, but -- and we've always -- this is a fundamental principle of peacemaking -- we cannot be a substitute for the parties.  We cannot impose solutions.  We cannot, no matter how committed and desirous of  -- desirous we are for peace, if that desire, if that commitment isn't shared by the parties of the conflict, there's a limit to what can be done.

QUESTION:  If I could follow up.  James Woolsey, a former CIA director, was at George Washington University earlier today.  And one of his criticisms of U.S. foreign policy is that when it comes to the Middle East, essentially, he said, we buy their oil but we don't give them anything in return.  I'm paraphrasing, obviously.

Do you think that's a fair criticism of how the United States conducts foreign policy in that part of the world?

MR. ERELI:  No.  I think the Secretary announced a very generous aid package yesterday, which flies in the face of such assertions.  The United States is the leading donor to the Palestinian Authority and to the Palestinian people.

Last year we gave, all told, over $200 million.  This year -- that included assistance to UNRA that goes to the Palestinians.  Not including assistance to UNRA, next year we're going to be giving 300 -- the President's going to be asking Congress for $350 million.  That's a doubling of aid to the Palestinians, and $200 million of supplemental assistance that we'll be requesting.  And that's in addition to, in the next 90 days, $41 million in program assistance.  So I don't know how you can conclude that somehow we're asking and not giving.


QUESTION:  Are you planning to ask Syria to endorse this ceasefire agreement?

MR. ERELI:  We're planning to -- well, we have and will continue to make it clear to Syria that support for terrorist organizations that are actively working against peace between Israelis and Palestinians is unacceptable.

The Secretary reiterated that twice today -- once in an interview, at a press conference in Rome, and again in her speech.  So that is a clear and consistent position of the United States.


QUESTION:  Oh, I'm sorry.  It's just that something occurred to me on the disaster, the tsunami.  The operation continues, doesn't it?  I mean --

MR. ERELI:  Yes.  Oh, absolutely.  We have --

QUESTION:  Identifying and trying to find --

MR. ERELI:  We have, to date, spent $118 million of the $350 million pledged.  The White House announced yesterday the visit of Presidents Clinton and Bush to the region to help bring, to help further our efforts and international relief efforts to the affected areas.

We will be planning and providing for long-term reconstruction, so it is a very -- it remains a very intensive and, I think, wide-ranging effort on our part, to having dealt with the immediate consequences and immediate suffering caused by the tsunami, now to try to help bring these affected areas back to and better than they were before the crisis hit.

QUESTION:  Well, thank you.  I phrased the question poorly.  I meant the effort to find all missing Americans.

MR. ERELI:  They continue.

QUESTION:  There's still an operation in the --

MR. ERELI:  We will continue.  Oh, absolutely.  As Secretary Harty said, we will not stop until we know everything there is to know.  Everything -- I'm sorry -- we will not stop until we know everything we can know.


QUESTION:  Adam, returning to the earlier questions, following this truce agreement at Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptians and Jordanians are now putting back together their diplomatic activities with Israel.

Turkey, once before, offered to mediate, obviously Hosni Mubarak, and Egypt is attempting to do that now.  There's another component to this.  It's the mindset of the population; and of course, everybody seems to have a satellite dish.  And you've been, from this podium, both yourself and Richard have been outspoken against activities of Al Jazeera.  What can you do to influence that or to change that over time?

MR. ERELI:  The mindset of the people?

QUESTION:  No, of what the, maybe Al Jazeera and some of the other media-style companies are doing for incitement and violence and such?

MR. ERELI:  I think it is -- we have a wide-ranging effort to work with media throughout the world.  You mentioned some, but it's not unique to this case, to promote, I think, to promote universally recognized standards of journalistic integrity and responsibility.  It is relevant to the Palestinian conflict, but it's relevant to covering the news wherever you may be.

So I wouldn't look at that question in the specific context of the Palestine problem.  I would look at it in terms of an ongoing effort on behalf of the American Government connected to our belief in freedom of the press, connected to our concern for working with foreign counterparts to help raise standards.

As far as the mindset of people in the region go this has been, you know, we all recognize that generations raised on violence have a lot to overcome.  And that's why I think there is a lot of emphasis put on steps that can help restore trust and confidence between the two parties.  It starts with the leaders.  It's not limited to the leaders.

As you know, we've been very actively engaged for a very long time on working to stop incitement in Palestinian media; stop incitement by Palestinian officials or religious authorities against Israelis; and we've been working, also, on the Israeli side to help -- to encourage steps that ease the humanitarian burden on the Palestinian people.  All these are parts of efforts to address, as you say, the mindset of victimization.

QUESTION:  I have one small one.  As I'm sure you're aware, Ambassador Bellamy, in Nairobi, has announced that the United States is going to halt assistance to Kenya's anti-corruption agencies.  It may be that he said everything that you have to say about this, but I wondered if there was anything to add on this, and if you feel that maybe this kind of assistance, that it might actually end up being counterproductive to stop giving them money to --

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.  Well, let's begin at the beginning.  What set this off was the unexpected resignation of Mr. John Githongo, who is the Permanent Secretary in the Department of Governance and Ethics in the President's office in Kenya.  Mr. Githongo is known as Kenya's anti-corruption czar, and he was the point person in Kenya's anti-corruption efforts.  We see his departure as a severe setback, and it is our hope that the Government of Kenya will act quickly to ensure that his departure does not mean that anti-corruption efforts will falter.

It was in this context, I think, that Ambassador Bellamy announced that we would be suspending support for Kenyan Government anti-corruption activities.  And that was pending -- or we would be suspending it until a clearer picture emerged as to what the government's true intentions are.  And we believe, you know, given the fact that it's -- there is some question about where the government is going in the direction of anti-corruption that a suspension of our support for such activities is warranted.


QUESTION:  Just on --

QUESTION:  The same thing.  Did he leave for family reasons or was he forced out?

MR. ERELI:  I would say that the details about the -- we don't have a lot of details about the circumstances of his departure, and it's obviously something we'd be interested in learning more about.

QUESTION:  I think he pointedly gave no reason.

QUESTION:  Do you have anything new to say on the situation in Togo, or are you still waiting for the ECOWAS summit to take place before you show maybe a new --

MR. ERELI:  Well, as you know, we have strong concerns about the recent events in Togo.  I would note that the African Union Peace and Security Council yesterday issued a communiqué in which it condemned the manner through which de facto Togolese authorities organized the succession in Togo following the death of President Eyadema.

The United States fully endorses that communiqué, and we fully support all efforts by the African Union and the -- and ECOWAS to bring about a peaceful resolution of the situation in Togo that will lead to free and fair elections to select a new president.

And as we indicated yesterday, there will be a heads of state summit of the Economic Commission of West African States in Niamey tomorrow.  And we look forward to what that summit produces in the way of ideas for dealing with the problem in Togo.

QUESTION:  Is this summit being held in direct response to the events in Togo?

MR. ERELI:  I don't know.


QUESTION:  Adam, do you have any updates on the Riyadh counterterrorism conference?

MR. ERELI:  I don't.  Let me see if I can get you something.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you.

MR. ERELI:  Thank you.

(end transcript)

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