23 March 2005
State Department Briefing, March 23
Israel/Palestinians, Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Qatar, Middle East, Kyrgyzstan, China, North Korea, Sudan, Nigeria, Japan, Africa
State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press March 23.
Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:
U.S. Department of State
Briefer: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 23, 2005
1:15 p.m. EST
MR. ERELI: Thanks for that welcome. I don't have any announcements today so we can proceed directly to your questions.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about the meeting that Mr. Welch and Mr. Abrams had with Mr. Sharon?
MR. ERELI: I can give you a little bit on that. I don't have a lot of detail to share with you. Our Assistant Secretary David Welch and the Deputy National Security Advisor, Elliott Abrams, have met with a number of Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Sharon, Vice Premier Peres and Minister of Defense Mofaz. They are talking about a number of topics, including Gaza withdrawal, opportunities to end violence and make progress on the roadmap, and ongoing cooperation and dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian officials. They will also be meeting with Palestinian officials today and tomorrow.
In all their meetings, Ambassador Welch and Mr. Abrams are stressing the importance of both sides taking steps that reinforce efforts to make peace. With regard to the subject we talked about yesterday, the settlement activity, I can tell you that we're obviously raising the issue with both Israeli and Palestinian officials. I don't have any details for you on the discussions they've had. On the Israeli side they'll be raising the issue with -- and discussing the issue with the Palestinians, but I can tell you it is obviously the subject of discussions.
QUESTION: Including the settlement that we were talking about yesterday?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Do the settlements -- either they do or they don't violate the roadmap that was signed in 2003. It seems like a simple question and you can't give us an answer.
MR. ERELI: It's not.
QUESTION: It's not a simple question?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR. ERELI: Because, as I said yesterday, there are facts and details and, I think, further information that we need in order to give you a considered opinion on the subject.
QUESTION: Well, I know you said that you weren't going to discuss the details of the meeting, but can you tell us if they did get these answers at the meeting with Sharon?
MR. ERELI: I can tell you that the issue was raised, that I think there was a -- the issue was raised. They've talked about it with the Israelis. They're going to talk about it with the Palestinians. They're going to focus, as I said before, on the importance of both sides taking steps that reinforce peacemaking efforts, including in this area, and that I think the focus of what they're trying to do, the focus of what we're all trying to do, is to make sure that the parameters established by the roadmap are respected and that, as I said before, the actions of both sides, or the actions of each side, reinforces the efforts of the other side to make peace. And that's in the context of settlement activity, it's in the context of action to stop terror, it's in the context of cooperation to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Gaza withdrawal. It deals with all these aspects of the roadmap.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. believe that the Israelis are respecting all parameters of the roadmap?
MR. ERELI: I think I've just exhausted what I can tell you on this subject.
QUESTION: Anything for the upcoming meeting tomorrow between Secretary Condoleezza Rice and the Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis?
MR. ERELI: Well, we're certainly looking forward to the visit of Greek Foreign Minister Molyviatis. The Secretary will be meeting him tomorrow afternoon. It will be an opportunity to talk about bilateral ties, as well as regional and global issues, with a longtime NATO ally, a member of the European Union and current member of the Security Council.
QUESTION: Are there any problems between the two countries? What is the status of the relations?
MR. ERELI: The status of relations between Greece and the United States is excellent. As I said before, we are linked by a number of common bonds: our NATO relationship; the close cooperation we've had on transatlantic issues; and, obviously, the broad and deep exchanges that we've had between our two peoples. And so I think that our dialogue -- the dialogue that we'll have tomorrow, the relationship that we enjoy, befits the kind of shared history and shared interests that the two countries have.
QUESTION: And this agenda, they are going to discuss also the Cyprus issue and to which effect, (inaudible)?
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to predict for you which subjects will come up, which subjects won't come up. What I can tell you is that if the issue of Cyprus comes up, we would reiterate our longstanding policy, which you know very well, which is that we support a reunified Cyprus and a reunified Cyprus on the basis of Secretary General Annan's plan.
QUESTION: And what about -- the last one. What about the (inaudible) issue of the name of the Former Republic of Macedonia, FYROM?
MR. ERELI: Again, if the subject should come up, we would reiterate our longstanding policy that we have an interest, or that it is in all of our interests, that there be a solution found to the Macedonia name issue and it is currently being worked at the UN.
QUESTION: Can I switch to Syria and Lebanon? Yesterday, Secretary General Annan reported from his meeting with the President of Syria that Syria will withdraw all military forces and intelligence agents and that -- Annan said that he's sending his envoy back and hopes to emerge with a timetable in early April. Do you have any read on this? And have there been any discussions between State Department officials and the Secretary General since this conversation?
MR. ERELI: No, not -- there have not been any discussions that I'm aware of. Obviously, we've seen -- we've seen Secretary General's remarks. We haven't had a chance to speak to them about it. I think what they indicate, frankly, is that the United States, the United Nations, the international community, is of one view on this matter: that 1559 needs to be implemented; that Syria needs to get all of its troops and intelligence assets out of Lebanon; and that we will all be working together -- the United States, the United Nations and our regional allies -- to make that happen.
QUESTION: Does this satisfy the U.S. desire, requirement -- I'm not sure what the phrase is -- but for an explicit commitment by the Syrian leader?
MR. ERELI: Well, again -- again, I will resist -- we will resist, I think, attempts to portray this as U.S. demands on Syria. This is a question of a UN Security Council resolution, voted on or -- voted on by 15 members of the Security Council. It is a question of regional actors saying that Syria should get out of Lebanon. So the question is not: Does this satisfy UN -- U.S. demands? The question is, has Syria taken the steps to fulfill the requirements of a UN Security Council resolution.
According to some, they have said that they will take the steps. Okay. That's as -- that's good as far as it goes. But it ain't the whole -- it ain't the whole thing. They're still there. They're not out. 1559 calls for them to get out. That's what we want to see. That's what we're working with the UN to do. That's what we're working with our regional partners to do. And that will be -- that will continue to be the focus of our -- of our multilateral diplomacy.
QUESTION: Also on Syria. Can you update the status of the U.S. Ambassador to Syria? And are there any specific plans for her return and what would be the criteria for her return?
MR. ERELI: Our Ambassador to Syria, Ms. Margaret Scobey, is still in Washington. There are no immediate plans that I'm aware of for her return to Syria. And I think we'll be, obviously, evaluating the situation as it -- as it evolves in considering that return, but I don't have any specific benchmarks or criteria that we'll be -- that we'll be looking at.
QUESTION: Adam, do you have any reaction about the bomb that was targeted in a mall in Kaslik, Lebanon yesterday? And it was the second bomb in five days.
MR. ERELI: The United States strongly condemns the bombing yesterday at a shopping mall in the town of Kaslik. That bombing left three people dead. We offer our deepest condolences to the victims of this attack and to their families. And we hope for a speedy recovery to those who are -- who are injured.
Attacks such as these clearly are an attempt to exacerbate tensions and to weaken the voice of the Lebanese people, who have made their desire for freedom and sovereignty clearly known. We will continue to work with the international community to help bring about a Lebanon that is free of foreign forces, free of foreign intimidation, and a Lebanon where the people of that country can freely choose their leaders and those leaders can exercise the kind of sovereignty and authority over the country that will serve the interests of the Lebanese people and not -- and not anybody else.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the talks between the EU-3 and the Iranians in Paris today?
MR. ERELI: No, not really. Nothing specific. Obviously, the EU-3 are continuing their discussions with the Iranians. The objective is one that I think the international community strongly supports, the end of Iran's uranium enrichment program, which we have concerns are -- is a cover for nuclear weapons development. This is an ongoing effort but I can't speak to -- I can't speak to the outcome or substance of those discussions, which have just ended.
QUESTION: Could I ask about the bombing in Qatar over the weekend, on the 19th?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: Is there any information that the U.S. has either about the attack itself, who was responsible for it, arrests, and any steps that the U.S. may be taking to secure Americans there?
MR. ERELI: Sure. Let me first, on behalf of the United States, strongly condemn the bombing at the Doha Players Theatre in Qatar that took place this Saturday. That bombing left one person dead and at least 12 others injured. The United States offers its sympathies to the family of the British citizen killed in the attack and we wish a speedy recovery to the individuals injured in this explosion.
I would note that our Ambassador to Qatar, Chase Untermeyer, has expressed our condolences to the Emir. There is an investigation underway by the Qatari authorities. They have, I think, spoken a little bit to the progress of that investigation. I don't have much to add to it as far as who's responsible for it. Again, I'd refer you to the Qatari authorities for information.
I would note that the United States and Qatar have had close cooperation in the last several years in the area of counterterrorism efforts and coordination between security forces. In terms of this specific investigation, I'm not aware that there is direct American involvement. Obviously, we are available for whatever assistance or support may be needed, but I think the Qataris have this well in hand and we certainly look forward to enjoying the same kind of cooperation and support with them that we've had in the past in the area of counterterrorism cooperation.
QUESTION: And any steps being taken to secure Americans there -- further steps?
MR. ERELI: We issued a Warden message in the immediate aftermath of the incident. The American community, in coordination with the Embassy, is taking the kind of precautions you would expect in an incident of this kind but I wouldn't point to anything way out of kilter or different than normal.
QUESTION: What's your comment on the conclusion of the Arab summit?
MR. ERELI: Not really much to say, frankly. I would note that the final communiqué didn't -- does not appear to reaffirm support for the trend towards greater democratization and freedom in the Middle East. We think that was a missed opportunity.
I would note that, really, that it was 13 of the 22 heads of state were there, but I would say that the final communiqué did not have anything noteworthy one way or the other to comment on.
QUESTION: Adam, have there been any new communications between the United States and the authorities in Kyrgyzstan? There was reporting that the opposition has actually taken over certain towns on the southern part of the country and their new Interior Minister seems to be warning of the use of force to dislodge them. Reactions to that?
MR. ERELI: With regard to efforts from our side, I would note that Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns met yesterday with Kyrgyz President Akayev's foreign policy advisor, Mr. Alibek Dzhekshekulov, and in that meeting we urged the Kyrgyz Government to open a dialogue without preconditions with the opposition. Subsequent to that, our Ambassador in Kyrgyzstan, Ambassador Young, has been meeting with Kyrgyz officials to reinforce that message.
I would also note that President Akayev will receive tomorrow a envoy from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Mr. Alojz Peterle. He will be on a mission to facilitate dialogue between the government and opposition. We fully and strongly support that mission.
So the point here is that there really is a full court press on our part, and I think on the part of the international community, to promote a dialogue between the government and opposition, to send a very clear message that violence is not an acceptable means for resolving differences and that the dispute about the election, the conduct of the elections, the results of elections, that there is a way to resolve them and that way is through peaceful dialogue.
As far as the situation in Kyrgyzstan goes, there was a peaceful demonstration in Bishkek today, and the cities of Jalalabad and Osh, according to our reports, remain calm.
QUESTION: Chinese President Hu Jintao met with North Korea's Premier today and step up pressure on North Korea to return to six-party talks. Do you see any sign that China's persuasion is going to work?
MR. ERELI: As you know, I'm a little reluctant to read tea leaves about what may or may not work. There have been -- or we have seen reports about Premier Pak's visit to China. We have not had a chance to speak with the Chinese about this visit. I expect that we will have that opportunity. We certainly look forward to it. But I don't have any reaction to or information to share with you about what happened during that visit.
QUESTION: But are you happy to see China step up pressure on North Korea and, like, highlight the diplomatic --
MR. ERELI: Well, I don't know if I'd put it -- I'd put it that way. I think all of us who are participating in the six-party process have exerted very sustained efforts to bring North Korea back to talk. That goes for China, it goes for the United States, and it goes for our other partners in this process. We all share a common goal of wanting to get the talks back -- reconvene the talks as soon as possible and we've all been doing everything we can to make that happen. So this visit, I think, should be seen in that context. But there is still not agreement from North Korea to come back to talks. That's what we need to see.
QUESTION: And can you confirm that there's reports saying the U.S. has set out a deadline of late June for the six-party talks?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, that report is without foundation. We have not set -- we have never set any deadlines and we haven't changed that practice. Rather, we view North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons as a longstanding problem; it's one that we are seeking to resolve diplomatically through six-party talks and we are going to -- our focus is on making that process work.
QUESTION: Yeah. If the North Korea eventually does not come to the six-party table, does the United States have any powers to pressure to the North Korea?
MR. ERELI: Number one, it's a hypothetical. Number two, I will tell you what I told you yesterday, which is that the focus of our efforts, the focus of our diplomacy, the point of the Secretary's visit to the region, was to bring North Korea back to the talks and that's what we're trying to do. That's where our energies are focused.
QUESTION: Sorry for asking so many questions today, but Sudan. Do you have any update on the attack on the USAID official, her condition, as well as if it's believed to have been a random attack or if she was targeted?
MR. ERELI: Right, right. Our USAID employee, Mrs. Spivey-Estrada, is in Nairobi, where she is receiving medical treatment for her wounds. We are hoping to facilitate her onward travel for further treatment soon. I would note that the Government of Sudan has put out a statement condemning this attack, offering to provide whatever medical attention they can and providing support to the investigation -- or providing support to the AU investigation and taking actions on its part in response to this attack.
Specifically, they have dispatched security forces to the scene and offered a police officer to liaise with the African Union investigative team. There are reports that one suspect, as yet unidentified, has been detained. I don't have any details on that action. Currently, our Disaster Assistance Response Team is currently -- is temporarily convening in Khartoum to review security procedures. USAID remains committed to remaining in Sudan and working toward a peaceful resolution to the Darfur conflict.
I would simply add that I think all of the intention and efforts of the senior-most officials in AID and this government -- and the State Department -- are toward helping Ms. Spivey-Estrada and supporting the work of our people in the field who really confront danger every day, and this is a reminder of that.
QUESTION: What's the first name?
MR. ERELI: I don't have her first name.
On the details of whether this was targeted or not targeted, or random or not random, again, this is a -- this is the subject of the investigation. I would add a couple of details to the information I had yesterday. You had some questions that we didn't have the answers for. One question was: What was the markings on the vehicle? The vehicles on the side were marked with the USAID logo, which is a -- which is familiar to anybody in -- who has ever had to work with USAID.
There were four vehicles in the convoy: vehicle number one and four were operated by the International Rescue Committee, the IRC; vehicles two and three were USAID vehicles. In terms of notification, the route that they were traveling on between Nyala and Kass had been declared a "go road" by the UN Security Coordinator. The movement of the convoy and the DART team was in accordance with DART and embassy policy. That means that it had been planned since March 19th with the International Rescue Committee field coordinator who, in turn, had conferred with the UN security coordinator's area security coordinator in providing notification of the movement of the convoy.
And to add to that, as required by the Government of Sudan Humanitarian Action Committee, in Nyala, we provided -- documents were provided to the committee that listed the vehicles, their license plate numbers and the names of the occupants in the vehicles, and all these documents were stamped and approved by the committee.
QUESTION: On the Middle East. A special question. According to a (inaudible) from the Middle East, during a special session the Palestinian parliament passed a resolution urging the Palestinian Authority not to recognize the Greek Patriarchate (inaudible) and to work through legal means for the Arabization of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in the occupied Palestinian territories, which functions, as you will know, hundreds of years.
Therefore, I am wondering, what is your reaction on this (inaudible) issue in the framework of the religious freedom for which the U.S. Government is very concerned and supportive?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. I don't know anything about the measure that you're referring to so I'd want to get some facts before I offer you an opinion.
QUESTION: Can you take this question, because it's --
MR. ERELI: I will see if there's anything we have to say on it based on what happened.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: There are allegations by Muslim clerics in northern Nigeria that American provided measles vaccine are actually a part of a plot to sterilize Muslim men.
MR. ERELI: Crazy. Outlandish. Unfounded.
QUESTION: Is it wrong?
MR. ERELI: And very, very wrong.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you said the U.S. hasn't heard the definite decision of EU on China arms embargo.
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: I'm just wondering if you can give us an update on the current U.S. efforts to convince the Europeans not to lift the embargo. I guess there's delegation there?
MR. ERELI: There's not much new to add to -- to add to what I said yesterday -- to what we said yesterday on the subject. This is an issue under consideration by the European Union. We have made clear our views. There was a European Union Envoy who came to Washington to discuss this issue with U.S. officials last week, I believe, or the week before last. As a result of those meetings, or as a result of that visit, we agreed to have a more sustained dialogue with the EU on our views on the region and on China, not with -- not with a -- really, not with a point of discussing the embargo, per se, but with the view of getting a fuller, a better appreciation of what the issues and forces at play are. But again, there have been no new moves or steps or discussions to report to you since that -- since those -- since that visit.
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions about the status of Mr. Bobby Fischer.
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: There are some reports that Japanese Government has decided to send him to Iceland, not to the United States, and that he'll be leaving for Iceland maybe tomorrow, possibly tomorrow. And how do you respond to that and how would this issue affect the bilateral relations between United States and Japan?
MR. ERELI: Well, I don't want to -- I don't want to make any predictions on actions that may or may not take place. What I will tell you is that there are outstanding charges against Mr. Fischer that we believe he should -- should be addressed in the United States. And that is what, frankly, we are looking to happen.
QUESTION: On Kosovo, Adam? Anything on the Kosovo's parliament to approve the new Prime Minister, Mr. Kosumi?
MR. ERELI: No, I had not seen those reports. Don't have anything for you.
QUESTION: Did you see the story about the African Union intending to have a standing 15,000-troops peacekeeping force in place next year?
MR. ERELI: Where? In --
QUESTION: Well, somewhere in Africa -- (laughter).
MR. ERELI: You're not speaking about any specific, particular conflict or any particular --
QUESTION: It's a standing peacekeeping force ready for deployment anytime.
MR. ERELI: I had not seen that. Obviously, the African Union has been playing, I think, an important and welcome and necessary role in helping resolve the conflict in Sudan. There are currently 2,300 or so African Union monitors and peace -- and support personnel for the conflict in Darfur. We're looking at the UN to pass a resolution on a peacekeeping operation to implement the North-South Agreement. That's important, but as far as a proposal for a standing 15,000-man force, I'm not aware of that idea.
QUESTION: The U.S. sanctioned a few Chinese companies for proliferation to Iran and there is a report saying that the U.S. recently decided to extend the punishment on one of the companies, China North Industry, for half a year. Do you have anything?
MR. ERELI: Right. I think that's a garbled assessment of what we did. We sanctioned NORINCO for violations of -- for proliferation violations. We waived Chinese -- we waived sanctions on Chinese trading activities, issued a National Interest Waiver for those activities, but the sanctions on the company remain. And that was all put out in a Federal Register notice, I think, a few days ago.
QUESTION: And what's the reason for change the status?
MR. ERELI: Again, there is no change in status. It's an extension of existing waivers.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:47 p.m.)
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