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13 April 2005

State Department Briefing, April 13

Lebanon, U.N., Iran, Syria, Japan/South Korea/China, Greece, Macedonia, Iraq

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher briefed the press April 13.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
2:15 p.m. EST

Briefer: Richard Boucher, Spokesman

-- Resignation of Prime Minister Karami/Secretary's Statement
-- Syrian Troop Withdrawal
-- Failure to Form a Government
-- Status of Elections

-- Adoption of Convention on Suppression of Nuclear Terrorism
-- Resolution on Sudan Before the Commission on Human Rights

-- U.S. Concerns About Iran's Nuclear Program
-- U.S. Pursuit of Peaceful Resolution to Crisis
-- European Talks
-- Need for Permanent Cessation to Enrichment Activity
-- Military and Intelligence Presence in Lebanon/UN Resolution 1559

-- Role in Region
-- Meetings with Turkish President in Damascus

-- Reported Japanese Announcement of Plans to Drill for Oil
-- Commitment to Six Party Talks
-- U.S. Relationship with South Korea

-- Meeting Between Under Secretary Burns and Minister Voulgarakis

-- UN Envoy Nimitz Plan/Name Issue

-- Video of American Citizen Hostage



2:15 p.m. EDT

MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I'd like to make one statement on behalf of Secretary Rice and we'll put it out -- a paper copy -- after I finish briefing. This is from the Secretary.

Today's resignation of Prime Minister Karami presents an opportunity to move forward in Lebanon. We urge that the will of the Lebanese people be respected, specifically that a new government be formed as quickly as possible, and that parliamentary elections be held by the end of May. Further delays are unnecessary.

The Lebanese people must be allowed to determine their own future, free of intimidation and all foreign interference. The Lebanese people deserve a government capable of leading them forward and ensuring their future security, stability and economic prosperity.

We expect the consultative process required to form a new cabinet will take place immediately and we look forward to the formation of a government and the holding of the election on time.

Okay. Questions about that?

QUESTION: Do you feel that this resignation will hasten the withdrawal of the Syrians, their intelligence forces and their military from Lebanon?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what effect it'll have on that. The important thing is the Syrians do continue their withdrawal and complete it immediately. All foreign interference, all foreign forces, military and security, need to be removed and removed right away.

QUESTION: Do you think this shows that there is a political crisis in Lebanon that might not be solved by the time when elections culminate?

MR. BOUCHER: It shows that Prime Minister Karami can't form a government is what it shows. We think Lebanese politicians need to get together. There'll be a consultation process to form a new cabinet. We think it is certainly possible for them to form a cabinet and have the election on time.

QUESTION: On Lebanon?


QUESTION: The former Lebanese Prime Minister, General Aoun exiled in France, he declared that he will be returning to Lebanon on May 7, which means after Syria completes their withdrawal. Do you see this as a positive gesture or a positive development or does the U.S. have any contacts with Aoun?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I hadn't seen the statement. I, frankly, don't have anything particular on it. I'll have to check and see if there's anything we need to say.


QUESTION: You said or the Secretary said that the further delay of the elections is unnecessary. Does that mean that you're concerned that the elections might not take place by the end of May?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we want to see the elections take place by the end of May, as they were planned. We want to see the -- first of all, the first condition for that to happen is for the Syrians to get out right away and to make sure that the Lebanese people can have a free and fair election. We want to see that happen. We want to see the elections on time.

And I think the point is that there's no reason to wait. They shouldn't use the inability of one person to form a cabinet to be an excuse to delay or to prevaricate. Matt always questions me when I use that word. An excuse to delay or to further slow down the effort to do what needs to be done.

Okay, sir.

QUESTION: On Syria-Turkey relations? Syria and Turkey relations?

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, we're going to finish with Lebanon first. I want to tell you about one more statement, too, though. Just -- I'm not going to read the whole thing but let me tell you about it.

The General Assembly today adopted unanimously the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. The United States welcomes the adoption of this convention. We think it will strengthen the international legal framework to combat terrorism, provide a legal basis for further international cooperation. And I would remind you that President Bush and President Putin called for early adoption of this convention in their February 24th Joint Statement on Nuclear Security Cooperation. So we're pleased to see that this has passed.

Okay. Now, I'll take questions on anything. Peter.

QUESTION: Okay. On Iran, Prime Minister Sharon of Israel has reported to have taken a very tough line, saying Israel -- Iran is near the point of no return on its nuclear, also expressing frustration with the slow pace of the European talks. (A) Does the United States share this opinion on both counts and; (b) does this give new urgency to what we need to do in terms of (inaudible) with Iran?

MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, we certainly share the concern of many in the international community about Iran's nuclear weapons development program. Frankly, there's no other explanation for their secret nuclear fuel cycle efforts and for their continuing failure to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency's ongoing investigations.

We want to make sure than Iran is not able to acquire the capability to develop nuclear weapons and to continue these covert programs that it has had for so many years. And that needs to be -- that's a goal that we have, that the IAEA has and that the international community shares very broadly. We certainly understand Israel -- other governments are concerned about nuclear developments in Iran and we talk to many governments about it.

The question of Iran's nuclear program, as White House has said, did come up in Crawford. I think we're all hoping, looking for a peaceful diplomatic solution to the issue. The United States has supported the European Union 3 effort. We believe that is the opportunity for Iran to resolve these issues, that is the opportunity to get an end to their covert activities and an end to the attempt to acquire the capability that could lead to a nuclear weapon.

We have -- I think our intelligence community has used in the past an estimate that said that Iran was not likely to acquire a nuclear weapon before the beginning of the next decade. That remains the case. But I don't think there's any dispute that Iran should not have the capabilities, the programs that have been used and that can be used as cover for nuclear weapons development.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that as well?


QUESTION: The point that it's still been about three weeks since the last negotiations between the EU and Iran, we haven't heard anything from any side on that except some bellicose statements from Iran and we have this worry from Ariel Sharon. Does the United States share some preoccupation here that the talks are not going as fast as they should be?

MR. BOUCHER: We have not tried to do an ongoing assessment of the European talks. They are conducting the negotiations. They are conducting the diplomacy. You would have to talk to them if you want to hear about whether they think it's going as it should or not.

What we have said, and what the United States view is, is that we very much think it's time for Iran to take the opportunity to comply with the requirements of the IAEA, to comply with the needs of the international community for satisfaction or reassurance that they're not going to develop a weapon. And the sooner they do that, the better.

QUESTION: If I may, if I can follow up on that. There's a report out of Vienna today saying that French President Chirac has been pushing other members of the EU-3 and, I'm told, even his own Foreign Ministry to consider allowing Iran to enrich uranium, to drop its previous objection to that. Are you aware of any effort on the part of Chirac to do that and is that idea, even if you don't know about Chirac's reported desire, remotely acceptable to you for the Iranians to retain any capacity to enrich uranium?

MR. BOUCHER: I have not seen that report. We don't -- I'm not going to speak for President Chirac or the Government of France. You'll have to ask them about what they are and are not -- what their position is or is not.

The position of the United States and, I think, many other members of the international community has been and continues to be that the suspension of enrichment activity needs to be made permanent, it needs to be turned into a permanent cessation. That's the only way that Iran is going to be able to satisfy the international community that they're not maintaining these capabilities, maintaining these programs that have been and can be used as cover for nuclear weapons developments.

QUESTION: So you would reject anybody suggesting that there not be a permanent cessation of --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if anybody has suggested that. I think the United States position is very clear.


QUESTION: The Presidents of Turkey and Syria are celebrating their countries' interests and various relations and historic relations in Damascus today. Is the United States hopeful that this meeting will help President Assad and President Sezer approach to bringing peace and security to the area?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that I'd put too much emphasis on one particular meeting. We certainly think that Syria needs to look at its role in the area, needs to look at its relationships with its neighbors, needs to look at what it's doing in terms of supporting or allowing people on its territory who support the insurgency in Iraq or allowing support for groups that are trying to blow up the peace process, to sabotage the attempts at peace in the Middle East. And Syria needs to change its behavior. However Syria understands that, however Syria gets that message, it's time for Syria to do that.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: Syria has been calling for help from the West, from the United States, from the world and sees Turkey as a possible bridge also for infusing the efforts, the peace efforts in the area. And you -- the United States officials have cited Turkey as a good bridge or interlocutor in these -- in this area. Do you support these efforts by Turkey to play a more active role?

MR. BOUCHER: Obviously, we think that anybody that's talking to Syria about how it could play a more harmonious role in the region is -- you know, it's the right message. The question is not the message. The question is how it's received and how it's acted on. And once again, to say that Syria needs help, well, what help do they need to cut off the flow of support for the insurgency? Do they need names? Do they need ideas of what's going on? We and the Iraqis have both given them that. Do they need financial information? We and the Iraqis have both given them that. What help do they need to kick out the people who have offices and activities in Lebanon that are for the Palestinian rejectionist groups, the violent groups that are trying to sabotage the hopes of the Palestinian people? What help do they need to get out of Lebanon? These are things that Syria ought to be doing and shouldn't be finding excuses for not doing them.

QUESTION: This is a follow-up to that. The U.S. Ambassador in Ankara, Mr. Edelman, I believe, has made some statements that seem to indicate that Turkey is not on board in fully pressing Syria to withdraw from Lebanon and is also expressing -- I don't know if it's (inaudible) but expressing some concern about a possible visit by President Sezer to Damasacus. Is the United States concerned that Turkey needs to get more on board in terms of Lebanon?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not quite sure what you're referring to, but I'll look at it if you've got it.



QUESTION: Can you say anything about the Iranian presence in Lebanon which, according to at least one report, this morning has diminished considerably of late?

MR. BOUCHER: Let me say what I can. First of all, we do know that Iran has had a military and intelligence presence in Lebanon for many years, including through elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. I'm afraid I can't get into a discussion of what we might know from sensitive sources about the size or the activities of that presence.

I would point out, though, that UN Security Council Resolution 1559 makes clear the international community's demand for the withdrawal of "all foreign forces" from Lebanon, and that would include Iranian forces. As the President said, the Lebanese people have a right to determine their own future, a right to choose their own parliament, free of intimidation, and that's what we're looking for.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Japan announced today it will allow drilling for oil in waters claimed by China and the tension over the disputes between the two country is escalating. Since the U.S. has strategic interest in the region, can you tell us how the U.S. perceive this dispute?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new on that. I think as far as the differences, we've addressed that before. I don't have anything particular on this issue.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: That's not the only instance of some discord among members of the six-party talks. There have been the ones over the two islands between China and South Korea. There have been the ones also over history books between China and Japan. And I wonder if --

MR. BOUCHER: You're talking about the islands between Japan and South Korea.

QUESTION: Japan and South Korea. Excuse me, excuse me. I wonder if you have discerned if any of these bilateral issues have in any way diminished, impeded, retarded cooperation in the six-party process among the other five.

MR. BOUCHER: The simple answer is no. And we've had some discussions of this with various parties, recognizing that they had disputes and differences over different things. But I remember when the Secretary was in Japan and South Korea, she -- and in China -- she said to her counterparts it's very important that we not let these things interfere. And there was a very quick and positive response everywhere saying, no, no, we all are very much in agreement when it comes to the issue of North Korea -- becomes a fundamental issue for all of us of stability in the region. And they all committed themselves to working closely, as closely as ever, on that issue and that's what we've seen.

QUESTION: So she was worried that it might become a problem, but it has not?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I wouldn't even go to the point of worried. I think it was just something they talked about in passing. But it's not -- it has not spilled over into the nuclear issue, which is a key and vital strategic security issue for all of us in terms of the region.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, anything to say about yesterday's meeting between the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and the Greek Minister of Public Order George Voulgarakis?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything to say right now. I'll have to get you something on it.

QUESTION: But may I go to Skopje for a moment and express my pain. Mr. Boucher, the Foreign Minster of FYROM Ilinka Mitreva made yesterday a mockery of international law. She rejected the U.S. proposal by Matthew Nimitz as "unacceptable," insisting that the name is the constitutional name, "Republic of Macedonia," recognized, as she said, by a bunch of countries, Member of the UN, including the United States.

How do you respond to her provocative statements since, actually, it's a slap to the U.S. and the UN involvement, saying above all it's "a joke," however, we are still available for negotiations?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think there's a couple of things to say. First, when you mentioned Mr. Nimitz, I think meant to refer to him as the UN Envoy -- United Nations. He's working on their behalf there. We have supported this effort by the UN. We have encouraged all the parties to work with him and seen the putting forward of the proposal as constructive. But beyond that, I don't think I have anything new.

QUESTION: From that point, anything to do because essentially that is a deadlock?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, we'll have to see how it turns out. We've encouraged the parties to work with Mr. Nimitz. We've encouraged people to work constructively with him and we've seen his role as a constructive one. And we've said we'll look forward to recognizing the result of discussions that can reach agreement on this issue.

QUESTION: One more. Mr. Boucher, how do you explain the fact that your government recognized a name created by the Communist former Yugoslavia under Josip Tito in the 1940s above the name your real name (inaudible) that time, "Republic of Vardaska," V-a-r-d-a-s-k-a, (inaudible) for a solution.

MR. BOUCHER: I explained our policy of recognition at the time that I announced it. I don't have anything more to say today. I don't know what we said at the time that Tito might have changed the name, but I do know what we said at the time when we decided the name under which we would recognize Macedonia.

QUESTION: Richard, there are statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin sort of indicating that he's playing with the idea of running for a third term after 2008, although, apparently, by the constitution he is bound to step down after that. One, are you aware of those comments? And two, does it present any concern?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- well, let's look at the statements. I thought I saw reports of the statements that actually went in the other direction. But I don't want to try to interpret Russian statements from here. You'll have to ask them what their intentions are.

QUESTION: I'll show you my statements if you'll show me yours. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Is there anything more you can say about the hostage, Mr. Ake, and what the U.S. Government is trying to do to secure his safety, whether you've been in touch with his family?

MR. BOUCHER: There's not a lot more. The Secretary, as you know, addressed it upstairs. The White House has addressed it as well. We have -- you know, we've seen the news broadcasts that report a video of American citizen Jeffrey Ake. He was taken hostage on Monday in Iraq. We have called for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Ake and other hostages in Iraq. Our Embassy in Baghdad continues to monitor this and other hostage situations. As the Secretary said, we are working very hard on the welfare and the fate of American citizens. We cooperate and coordinate with appropriate authorities in all these situations and we're doing so in this particular case.

But further than that, I really can't say much more than that. Consular officials in the Department have been in touch with Mr. Ake's family and we'll be working with them and working with all the appropriate parts of the U.S. Government and other authorities to see what we can do for his welfare.

QUESTION: The local papers have said and his company have said that he is providing kind of bottling and packaging for oil, cooking oil, and water for people in Iraq. Can you say anything about how important this has been to the reconstruction effort?

MR. BOUCHER: I can't, really. We're trying to, in all these cases, especially this case, be very careful about how much we say about the individual. We think that, in the long run, is better for their welfare and I'm afraid we're going to stick to that.

QUESTION: Richard, is it confirmed that it's Mr. Ake in the tape or is that not yet fully confirmed?

MR. BOUCHER: I guess it's not fully confirmed but it's believed to be Mr. Ake in the take -- in the tape, excuse me.


QUESTION: Are you aware of a resolution before the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva concerning a call on the Sudanese Government to accept ICC jurisdiction there?

MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check on that one. I'm not aware of that. Do you know who put it in?

QUESTION: No, but I hear that the U.S. is sending mixed signals about whether it's a good idea or a bad idea.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, you know, there was a resolution that went through the Security Council. We abstained on it and that's been our -- and I think we explained pretty much our view at that time.


QUESTION: South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun made a speech the other day that South Korea should be the balancer of the Northeastern Asia but the region -- well, the U.S. has been superpower and balancer. Does the U.S. agree with President Roh's view and help Korea to be the balancer of the Northeastern Asia?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that I want to try to interpret his speech. Again, I'm being asked about all these comments that people have made. I'm really not trying to explain other people's words here.

The United States and South Korea are allies. We have other allies in Asia and we think that those alliances are a fundamental part of the security picture for everybody in Asia. We and our allies continue to work together very, very closely and very, very cooperatively to make sure that the security picture in Asia stays stable and continues to contribute to the prosperity of the region.

Okay, thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)

(end transcript)

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

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