29 March 2005
State Department Briefing, March 29
Indonesia, United Nations, Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, Israel/Palestinians, Lebanon
State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press March 29.
Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:
U.S. Department of State
Briefer: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
TUESDAY, MARCH 29, 2005
1:15 p.m. EST
MR. ERELI: Welcome. Thanks for being so patient. I don't have any announcements.
QUESTION: Tell us about -- a little bit about any assistance the U.S. is providing to earthquake-affected people and if you have a little bit -- is the other money all used up already?
MR. ERELI: No, the other money of the 350 million that was made available, I believe 125 million of it has been used, 53 million of it in the region that was -- Indonesia that was recently affected by the earthquake yesterday.
Let me begin by extending our condolences to the people and Government of Indonesia for the loss of life caused by this disaster. Based on the information we have been able to receive, the earthquake, which registered 8.7 on the Richter scale, primarily affected two islands off the coast of Indonesia, Nias and Simeulue. It did not create a tsunami, obviously.
Early estimates are of hundreds dead and as many as 80 percent of buildings damaged or destroyed on the two islands. An officer of the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia visited Nias today and reports widespread damage to buildings, roads and bridges. I would note that significant assistance from the United States is already moving to the area. Our Ambassador in Indonesia has provided $100,000 from the Ambassador's emergency fund. This money will go to CARE and Save the Children, who are in a position to respond to needs on both islands.
A member of -- one member of a USAID Foreign Disaster Assistance Team who was based in Banda Aceh is traveling today to Nias and Simeulue to conduct a preliminary assessment and, following that assessment, USAID will review future needs, future assistance.
I would note that organizations, other organizations aside from the United States, are involved in this effort. The United Nations is organizing a logistics coordination point near the islands to provide assistance and coordinate the logistics of providing assistance to those two places. The World Food Program has food and nonfood items prepositioned in warehouses along the west coast of Sumatra, as well as helicopter assets that can be made available if needed.
We are in touch with the Department of Defense to prepare for contingencies should they be needed and our Embassy officials continue to be in contact with hotels, police, government offices and hospitals throughout the region looking for information about possible missing, injured -- missing or injured or otherwise hurt Americans. To date, we have not received any information that any Americans have been killed or hurt or are missing as a result of this earthquake.
I would add that an Embassy consular officer will tour the area tomorrow to get any further information on American citizens and to provide assistance as needed.
QUESTION: Which area?
MR. ERELI: The islands.
QUESTION: At the outset --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) will get a boat? Or she will get a boat?
MR. ERELI: I don't know her precise itinerary but she's going to go to the affected area. I can't be more specific than that.
QUESTION: The 350 million was for Indonesia alone?
MR. ERELI: No, the 350 million --
QUESTION: -- was for the region?
MR. ERELI: -- was provided for the -- was provided for the affected areas of the earthquake and tsunami. I would also note that there was a 950 million supplemental request that is also for long-term assistance which is still before Congress. Yes.
QUESTION: All right. The 125 that's left is, again --
MR. ERELI: No, a hundred and --
QUESTION: -- twenty five million you said --
MR. ERELI: 127, I believe, million has already been -- of that 350 million -- I'll have to check and make sure, but I think that's the figure -- has been drawn down.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR. ERELI: Disbursed, spent.
QUESTION: All right. But it's not the biggest deal in the world to break these numbers down, but what does Indonesia still have in the bank, so to speak?
MR. ERELI: Well, the 350 million is not -- is for all the areas. Of that 127 million, I believe the figure was 52 or 53 million that went to help affected areas in Indonesia. And the way the money is disbursed is depending on where the needs are. It's not geographically predetermined.
QUESTION: So is there any money that Indonesia has left?
MR. ERELI: I don't understand the question. The 350 --
QUESTION: Already approved by Congress --
MR. ERELI: The 350 million is to assist with the previous earthquake and disaster program. I suppose it's possible that if there were determined to be need that we needed to respond in that area, that they could use some of that money for the 350 million, some of that 350 million money. I don't know that that will be the case. It's a theoretical possibility, yes.
QUESTION: I don't mean to quibble. But why is it -- I mean, an earthquake is an earthquake.
MR. ERELI: An earthquake is -- well, maybe they'd want to keep that 350 million for this disaster and have -- if there are additional resources needed, get additional resources. And there are different ways to handle these situations. I don't want to preclude one or another.
QUESTION: Just one thing to clear up. Can you explain what are the contingencies that you are in talks with the Pentagon about? I mean, are you discussing the possibility or making contingency planning for the possibility of American military deployments to help in rescue --
MR. ERELI: No, basically we're looking whether military assets may be needed, depending on assessments coming from teams. Those assets could be airlift, communications, logistical support, resources that the Defense Department might have, just sort of the catalog of possibilities given what the needs might be.
QUESTION: And just so I'm clear, don't you have to do an assessment to figure out if you might need that stuff? Would that be a separate assessment from the AID DART assessment or --
MR. ERELI: Well, the -- no, the first step in this process is obviously the DART member assessment and, based on what he sees, or she -- I don't know if it's a man or woman -- but based on what the Disaster Assistance Relief professional sees, we will determine what needs to be done, whether we need to send more people there, whether we need to -- to what extent we need to get the NGO community involved, to what extent there are existing assets that they can handle the situation and to what extent we might need to bring in additional assets and whether, should we need to bring in additional assets, the military is the quickest, easiest, most effective way to do that.
QUESTION: There are no military assets still there from --
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Do you know if there were military assets from any other country in the area, which is why maybe we didn't have to call on ours immediately?
MR. ERELI: I don't believe so. The only reason I'm hesitating is because there was Japanese support in Indonesia. I don't recall whether it was Japanese defense forces or others, so I'm not really certain about that. But based on the information we have and based on -- based on the information we have, I think we are relying for the moment on existing assets -- UN assets, NGO assets and other relief assets. Depending on the scale of the destruction and the needs of the local population, we are trying to identify other assets that we have that, should there be a need, could be deployed.
QUESTION: Adam, what's happening back here at State in terms of conference calls or interagency meetings and other things like that? Or is there a task force or not? Can you --
MR. ERELI: We haven't activated a task force. There's daily coordination between the different agencies involved here -- DOD, State, AID -- basically sharing of information, establishing of priorities, decision making about next steps.
QUESTION: Can we talk about the Volcker report?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: What is your reaction to the report and what appear to be its two central conclusions, that Secretary General Annan did not interfere in the awarding of a contract to Cotecna, which employed his son, but its criticism of Secretary General Annan for having failed to investigate that matter more thoroughly?
MR. ERELI: We have seen reports of the report. We have not had time to study and read the report ourselves so I will withhold comment about the content of the report until we've had an opportunity to look at it and to really give full consideration to its findings and its conclusions.
We obviously appreciate the work of the Independent Inquiry Committee. For our part, we fully cooperated with that committee and we think that the work it's doing is necessary and valuable, and we share its commitment to fully investigating the allegations of the mismanagement and corruption.
We've made it clear from the very beginning that we believe this is in the interest of all of us, both within the UN and the member-states, to get a full accounting of what happened, and a thorough investigation of the Oil-for-Food program is essential to UN accountability and transparency.
So that's really the spirit in which we will be examining the report, but at this point I'm really not in a position to comment to you or provide you judgments as to its findings.
QUESTION: Senator Coleman has revived his call for Secretary General Annan to resign and he essentially says the report vindicates his view expressed several months ago. Do you concur with his view or does Secretary General Annan still have the U.S. Government's full confidence?
MR. ERELI: We've made it clear that we support the United Nations and we support the Secretary General in his work. He has been cooperating with the Volcker investigation and we have every expectation that he will follow up on his findings and move forward on an ambitious agenda of reforming the UN so that these kinds of systemic weaknesses are addressed. As I said, for our part, we'll study Mr. Volcker's conclusions and base our assessments, our judgments, on what's in the report.
QUESTION: Can you tell -- what do you mean, "systemic weaknesses"?
MR. ERELI: Well, the fact that there are failings in the system that allowed these kinds of improprieties to occur.
QUESTION: No-fault failing, no-fault failings?
MR. ERELI: What does that mean?
QUESTION: It's the machinery, it's the bureaucracy. It isn't an individual trying to cut a deal for a relative, it's just the --
MR. ERELI: Again, the --
QUESTION: It's a cumbersome --
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to speak to the substance of the report.
QUESTION: It's a (inaudible) that has no human content?
MR. ERELI: I don't want to speak to the substance of the report.
QUESTION: If Mr. Annan has presided over a United Nations with systemic weaknesses, to use your phrase, why should he continue?
MR. ERELI: As I said before, Mr. Annan -- Secretary General Annan -- and the United States share a common commitment to working together to reform in the United Nations and we will support him in his efforts to do that.
QUESTION: Could I ask a bit more broadly on Oil-for-Food and some of the oil contracts that Iraq, under Saddam, had? Can you explain why the U.S. permitted what was, in effect, a violation of the embargo in Iraqi sales to Jordan and Turkey, I mean, specifically --
MR. ERELI: We've been over that, I think, pretty -- in pretty exhaustive detail and I would also note that our actions on that score are a matter of public record. We informed Congress of our determination that national interests justified a waiver of actions against Turkey and Jordan because of -- or on account of their -- based on their oil trading, or the trading of oil from Iraq, and that that national interest involved the support certainly that Turkey was providing in Operation Northern Watch and the critical support that Jordan provided U.S. foreign policy in a number of other areas.
So it was a considered judgment that, based on the value of those two countries' relationships to the United States on a whole host of issues of importance to the national interest, that a request for a waiver was called for.
QUESTION: But doesn't U.S. support for trade like that violate the underpinnings of the whole embargo and the Oil-for-Food program? I mean, here, the United States is critical of the way Oil-for-Food was managed, yet, at the same time, permits these other contracts to happen.
MR. ERELI: I would make two points. One, in the case of Jordan and Turkey, the arrangements were public, were the subject of agreements and were limited to what they were. In the case of the Oil-for-Food program, the irregularities that we saw were under the table, were at variance with the official stated obligations and responsibilities, and were concealed. So there's a big difference between the two.
Now obviously, you know, in the best of all possible worlds, you would have 100 percent containment, zero leakage, across the board, ironclad imposition of sanctions. That's the ideal world. That's certainly what we can all aspire to. But in the reality of the situation, it wasn't there and we had to deal with that reality.
QUESTION: And then, if I could just return to this question of the Volcker report today. Haven't U.S. officials been briefed on the report? I'm a little confused about --
MR. ERELI: Yes, U.S. officials have been -- some U.S. officials have been briefed on the report but we have not, until today, actually had possession of the report and been able to look at it and to read it. So I'd -- we'd prefer to do that before publicly commenting on it.
QUESTION: On contracts to Iraq?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the exposé in Newsweek Magazine about a company called Custer Battles that apparently -- it was involved in pilferages and they called Iraq a theft-free zone, the lawsuit and so on. They apparently took a lot of money from Iraq. They were painting forklifts and, you know, a whole -- there's a lawsuit and the lawsuit says that the U.S. Government is refusing to cooperate because it said the coalition provisional government at the time was not a U.S. entity, although that money came from U.S. taxpayers. Are you aware of that? And could you comment --
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware of the story and obviously I wouldn't want to comment on it, if I were, for a couple of reasons: (a) because it deals with the CPA and the State Department's not the CPA; and (b) because it's a -- if you're right, it's a matter of litigation, which again, I'm not going to talk about.
MR. ERELI: Sir.
QUESTION: I want to go back to the United Nations.
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Mr. Kofi Annan is presenting his report today about the mission of Mr. Fitzgerald in the Security Council.
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So I was wondering if there is any activities that you can, you know, tell us about that would take place today in that meeting.
MR. ERELI: The United States commends Mr. Fitzgerald for his work, for his investigation, for his report. We are obviously, I think, very concerned and very disturbed by what he found. And we strongly support his call for an international investigation into the circumstances behind former Prime Minister Hariri's assassination. We will be discussing those recommendations with our colleagues on the Security Council, looking to, I think, take action based on his recommendations. I think there is a strong consensus in the Security Council on the need for a full uncovering of the facts and a full accountability for those who were behind this dastardly act of murder.
QUESTION: To go back to the Volcker Report --
QUESTION: Can we stay on this issue?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you know how this commission or investigative team would be composed and --
MR. ERELI: Again, that would be --
QUESTION: And how would the U.S. participate in the --
MR. ERELI: That would be a subject for discussion on the Security Council -- the best way to move forward, the most practical ways to move forward on Mr. Fitzgerald's recommendation. I don't have details to share with you at this time.
QUESTION: By any chance, has the Secretary or Assistant Secretary Holmes or anybody been in touch with UN folks to convey the kind of, well, often fairly strong assurances you've given that the U.S. is happy to continue dealing with Kofi Annan?
MR. ERELI: We've been working this issue through our mission in the United Nations -- mission in New York and we've been in touch with the Secretary's staff on this issue and on the way forward.
QUESTION: Since the report --
MR. ERELI: I don't know since the --
QUESTION: Well, that would be --
MR. ERELI: I don't know since -- I don't know what contacts have taken place today?
QUESTION: I'll withdraw the question.
MR. ERELI: Yeah?
QUESTION: Are you aware of the letter that 59 former diplomats, both Democrats and Republicans, have sent to Richard Lugar suggesting that they reject the nomination of John Bolton as UN envoy to the United Nations -- U.S. envoy?
MR. ERELI: I'm aware of reports of the letter. I haven't seen the letter itself. Obviously, we in the State Department believe the President has nominated an outstanding individual to be our Permanent Representative to the United Nations and we hope that Congress will give him speedy consideration and we look forward to his eventually going to New York where he can, as someone who knows the organization well, who knows international affairs well, work to help reform the organization and help represent America's interests before the organization.
QUESTION: Adam, the Zimbabwe election is just around the corner on Thursday. It appears that they're being selective in media who will be allowed to cover the election. The organization that I'm affiliated with has been barred. I know the BBC, also Australian Broadcasting. Also a number of NGOs wishing to observe the election are being kept out. I wonder if you had a response.
MR. ERELI: There are numerous reasons for concern about how the elections are being conducted in Zimbabwe. Obviously, we believe these elections were -- parliamentary elections which are to take place on March 31st could be a turning point for Zimbabwe, were they to be free and fair. We would note with disappointment a couple of things when looking at what's going on in Zimbabwe during this campaign.
First of all, Zimbabwe hasn't invited civil society election monitors from neighboring countries. That's something to be regretted. They have not invited parliamentarians from the South African Development Community and this, to us, is inexplicable and worrying. As you point out, they have cracked down on independent and international media and denied them access to the election campaign. You mentioned the Voice of America, you mentioned the BBC. I would also note that Zimbabwe's main independent newspaper, The Daily News, remains closed. It's inexplicable that this would be done during a national election campaign.
I would also note that another independent weekly newspaper was closed just last month. Millions of Zimbabweans living outside the country have been barred from voting in the election. We would note that these people fled Zimbabwe to escape political reppression and that even outside the country they continue to be disenfranchised. So these are all reasons for concern, reasons for disappointment.
At the same time, I would say that we are encouraged by one development, which is that the campaign has been largely nonviolent and that the Movement for Democratic Change has been able to hold rallies in most parts of Zimbabwe. This is a significant change from elections in 2000 and 2002. But clearly, there are problems. Clearly, these problems need to be addressed. And clearly, failure to address them reflects poorly on the freedom, the transparency and the credibility of these elections.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I don't know whether you want to get into campaign rhetoric, but Mr. Mugabe, in the last couple of days, has said that a victory by the opposition MDC would not be tolerated and that anyone who would vote for it would be considered traitors. This has to raise some concern there that -- of the potential for encouraging violence. Do you have anything to say about that?
MR. ERELI: I would simply say that to date, the campaign has been relatively violence-free. This is something that should be -- this is something that is positive and we would certainly urge all parties in this process to continue their posture, their rhetoric, their actions that support an environment for an electoral campaign that is peaceful.
QUESTION: If I could follow up, you cited a number of things as inexplicable and yet it would seem that they are, in fact, all too explicable. And I wonder if you don't want to -- and you talked about, you know, failure to correct them. Do you really hold out a lot of hope that Mugabe's government's, 48 hours before an election, is actually going to correct these things?
The reason I ask it is that the European Union, in the form of Luxembourg's Deputy Foreign Minister speaking on behalf of the EU as a whole, boldly called the elections "phony" even though it's two days in advance. And I wonder why you're not willing to sort of call a spade a spade here, because after all the things you listed, it doesn't really appear as if anything is going to be free or fair or transparent here.
MR. ERELI: I noted areas where we are concerned. I noted practices that we find objectionable. The manipulation of the media, the lack of independent outside observers, the tilting of the playing field in favor of the government -- these are all -- I think these are all factors and considerations that will weigh into our assessment of the elections and the credibility of the results that they produce. But until those elections have been carried out, until we see what the results are, I don't want to prejudge the outcomes. But obviously we note with concern practices that are inconsistent with international standards and that's really the way to, I think, look at my remarks.
QUESTION: Adam, are there any outside observers at all? You told us who's not there. Is there anybody who is there?
MR. ERELI: I'm not absolutely sure. My information is that observers belonging to -- or observers from countries belonging to the South African Development Community, have been invited to monitor the vote. I'm not sure if they're actually going there to do that.
QUESTION: Well, you mentioned SADC earlier. I wasn't -- it wasn't clear though whether you were talking about South Africa or SADC. Now you're saying some SADC --
MR. ERELI: No, I mentioned civil society election monitors from neighboring countries, not SADC.
QUESTION: On Kyrgyzstan? Can I ask a question?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Akayev has offered to resign. The report is that the -- with a caveat that he be afforded -- whatever this means -- legal protection. Does the State Department have a view about whether he should be prosecuted, whether he should be allowed to resign and get --
MR. ERELI: Our view is that Kyrgyzstan's choice for its leaders should be made by the Kyrgyz people and that they are in the best position to determine who their political leaders are and to make those choices through existing Kyrgyz institutions and laws and that that's the process by which issues such as the one you raised should be determined.
QUESTION: Well, I wondered because you seemed to -- or the statement seems to favor a healing, a following of the rule of law as we go along, you don't want to go over the coup, you're not -- you never expressed any opinion whether this is the way to remove a leader by forcing them to resign. In that context, I would think that maybe you think there's no point in roiling the waters more with some sort of legal action against him. But you're not going to venture that?
MR. ERELI: Let's -- again, let's focus on the reality on the ground in Kyrgyzstan. What do we have? We have a prime minister who has been confirmed by the parliament, who has selected a cabinet that has been also approved by the parliament, who has reconfirmed his commitment to free and fair presidential elections. We have a parliamentary process in which we have a legislature that has authority according to the laws of the country. We have parliamentary elections and presidential elections that are set for the future. We have a process underway within the country to prepare for those elections so that there can be a government that fully reflects the will of the people of Kyrgyzstan.
We have an international community that is working hand-in-glove with the transitional authorities in Kyrgyzstan to help support this process, to help bring about a situation that is stable, that is consistent with the rule of law, that is reflective of the desires of the people of Kyrgyzstan. That's the process underway. That's what we're all working for. The OSCE Secretary General has been in Kyrgyzstan to work on that. He is now going to Moscow to help coordinate with the Russians. We have our Ambassador who is coordinating with both -- working with both the Bakiyev, the transitional government, and the OSCE. We have Kyrgyzstan's neighbors.
So we're all sort of going in the same direction, all with the same, I think, benchmarks in mind. And as issues come up such as the one you raised, they can be dealt with in that context and we think that will all lead to something that the Kyrgyz people find acceptable and find representative.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the three Romanian journalists kidnapped in Iraq yesterday? And also, there are reports saying that an American national could be -- was abducted with the three Romanian persons.
MR. ERELI: Right. I would tell you that we are in close touch with the Romanian authorities in Bucharest. We have a hostage working group, obviously, at the embassy and in Baghdad that is mobilizing in situations such as this. We obviously share the concern of the Romanian Government and the people of Romania for the journalists that were reported captured in Baghdad on Monday. I would say we are -- I can't -- I don't have any confirmation for you, but we are obviously looking into reports about an American being kidnapped. It's an issue that we're working.
QUESTION: You have no confirmation on that?
MR. ERELI: I can't confirm anything for you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) settlements?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: What is your latest position on the expansion of settlements versus facts on the ground and so on? There seemed to be some confusion in the last couple days.
MR. ERELI: Shouldn't be any confusion. It's pretty clear to me, maybe not you. I think there's -- we've made it very clear that U.S. policy is an end to settlement activity. We are working with both parties to help them fulfill their commitments under the roadmap. This includes in the area of settlement activity. We've also made it clear to both sides that neither should take actions that prejudge issues for final status negotiations, and that certainly applies to the issue of settlement activity.
QUESTION: Could you tell us, if you have any idea, on when is Mr. Abbas expected to come to Washington?
MR. ERELI: When who, Abbas?
QUESTION: Palestinian --
MR. ERELI: It's an issue that's being worked. I don't know that final dates have been set yet. But in any case, it would be an announcement to come out of the White House since it's a meeting with the President.
QUESTION: Do you have concerns that the Lebanese elections may be delayed in May because of the -- it looks like the Karami -- or Karami is going to resign again?
MR. ERELI: Well, there are persistent -- how should I put it -- reports that that may happen. Obviously, we think it's important that elections take place when they're supposed to take place, which is before the end of May. We don't see reason or justification for delaying them and I think it's the -- it's certainly our priority that the Lebanese people be given the opportunity to choose their own government free of foreign interference and free of intimidation within the parameters set by Lebanese law.
So even though there are those who say that elections may or should be delayed, we would, I think, take strong issue with those suggestions. And it is our intent to work with the Government of Lebanon and the international community, including the UN, to do everything possible to help the Lebanese have elections by the -- in the timeframe that is provided for. I would note that the Secretary General's special representative, Mr. Larsen, is going to Lebanon next week and that will be one of his top priorities, is helping prepare Lebanon for the elections that, frankly, the Lebanese people deserve.
MR. ERELI: Sorry?
QUESTION: Anything on the difficulty the Iraqi assembly is having in terms of getting down to business?
MR. ERELI: It's obviously a difficult process. It's their first freely elected government in, I think, the memory of anybody who is participating in this effort. So they are, frankly, working through the issues, working through the process. Our position is to -- obviously, we're not getting involved. This is -- these are Iraqi decisions and Iraqi institutions. We certainly look forward to working with the new government when it's constituted and hope that it will be soon.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:55 p.m.)
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