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28 April 2005

State Department Briefing, April 28

Togo, Germany, Iran, Bolton nomination, North Korea, South Korea, Italy, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel/Palestinians, China, Russia

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press April 28.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Thursday, April 28, 2005
1:00 p.m. EDT

Briefer:  Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- Reopening of Border Crossings
-- Call for Restoration of Telephone Service & Free Press
-- Efforts to Promote a National Reconciliation Government
-- Responsibility of Parties to Avoid Acts of Violence
-- Role of African Union in Togo and in the Region

-- Reports of Crane Shipment to Iran & Potential Proliferation Concerns

-- Iran's Enrichment Program/Status of European Union 3 Talks

-- Support for John Bolton's Nomination as U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations/Secretary Rice's Engagement in Process/Unsubstantiated Allegations Against Bolton

-- Efforts Regarding Six Party Talks/Ambassador Hill's Visit to Region

-- Possible Summit Between the United States and South Korea

-- Status of Report on the Joint Investigation into Shooting Incident

-- Democratically-Elected Transitional Government/Next Steps
-- Assassination of Transitional National Assembly Member

-- Importance of Free & Fair Elections that Reflect the Will of the Lebanese People/Technical Assistance & Monitors
-- Investigation into the Assassination of Former Prime Minister Hariri

-- U.S. Support of Palestinian Action Against Terror & Restoration of Security

-- Status of Possible Senior Level Dialogue with the United States

-- President Putin's Involvement in Middle East Peace Efforts



1:00 p.m. EDT

MR. ERELI:  Greetings, everyone.  Pleasure to be with you again today.  No announcements so we can start with your questions.

QUESTION:  Can we swing over to Togo and see if -- I know, this order and you always wanted make a picture broader, but what about, what's called the "secession" or whatever it is that has taken place.  Do you any view on that -- the State Department?

MR. ERELI:  We expressed our view on our approach to the situation in our statement yesterday.  Following up on that, I have a couple of comments to make. 

Number one, on a positive note, the government has reopened border crossings today.  That's a sign of progress, something that we welcome.  Also, it's important however, that telephone service be restored and private radio and press function freely. 

On the other side of the ledger, there have been calls for violent protests by the opposition.  This is something we strongly condemn.  We continue to urge all political leaders to publicly insist that their supporters act -- avoid acts of violence and we would certainly take this opportunity to underscore our determination to hold accountable any leader who incites violence or contributes to violence.

On the political front, we continue our efforts with ECOWAS and with the political actors in Togo to promote a government of national reconciliation.  We believe that this is the best path forward to heal the political divisions caused by the -- heal the political divisions in Togo and to move forward in a way that addresses the views expressed in those elections.

QUESTION:  Who is this political opposition, if it can be characterized, that you would have hold their fire and trust to other African states to --

MR. ERELI:  Well, the political opposition -- the number of parties in the political opposition in Togo, they're united behind one candidate -- but obviously it's a diverse group with different parties and different interests and different leaders.  That does not preclude coordination and it doesn't preclude dialogue with the government.  I mean, there is ample precedent for, both in Togo as well as in the region, for opposition groups coming together, working in a concerted way, in dialogue with the government to find a consensus position on governing and on acting on behalf of the people.

QUESTION:  And you think this is a government that there can be a dialogue with --

MR. ERELI:  Yeah, sure.


MR. ERELI:  Obviously, just to add to that, obviously it's not a one-way street.  I mean, it's not all up to the opposition to do everything (inaudible) have a dialogue with the government.  The government, the elected president of Togo, also has a responsibility to reach out, to listen to, to make an effort to accommodate calls for reconciliation and concerns of the opposition.  There are, I would say, responsibilities also and -- on both sides to act in a way that (a) avoids violence and; (b) moves in the direction of dialogue and reconciliation. 

QUESTION:  Well, hence, a related question.  Yesterday, when you were talking about the elections, you were just saying that they fell short of the aspirations of the United States and Togo's neighbors.  You listed -- serious questions were raised about the outcome there.  Unless I'm mistaken, ECOWAS took a different view, that they said although there wasn't irregularities, that basically, the elections were credible there.  How do you account for the discrepancy?

MR. ERELI:  I don't know that we would go that far, and I would really -- I think our language in the statement yesterday was fairly clear and was fairly explicit in the sense that there was a legitimate -- there were serious questions about the legitimacy of the results and the legitimacy of the process and, you know, that is our judgment based on what we saw.

QUESTION:  So you stand by that judgment, despite ECOWAS having a bit of a different judgment?

MR. ERELI:  I, frankly, have to admit I didn't see the ECOWAS statement, so without comparing and contrasting, I will reiterate for you that our view remains what it was in the statement yesterday.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up?

MR. ERELI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  You mentioned ECOWAS.  I'm curious what you think about the African Union.  Do you feel that they should play a greater role?

MR. ERELI:  Yeah, I should have included the African Union in among (inaudible) --

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) was intentional that you didn't mention them --

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  But do you see the need for the AU to play a greater role in --

MR. ERELI:  The African Union has been playing an important and increasingly prominent role in helping resolve disputes, whether they be political or armed conflict, in the continent.  We've seen it, certainly, in Sudan, where the African Union has really been a critical component in efforts to bring peace to that part of the world.  We've seen it in Liberia.  We've seen it in a number of other conflicts and political crises.  So certainly, in Togo, they've been playing an important and positive role. 

It was the AU chairman, President Obasanjo, who called the parties to Nigeria three days ago, I believe, in order to propose and promote this government of national reconciliation.  And they will continue to be an important player in this process as it unfolds, and we will work with them; we will work with ECOWAS in trying to accomplish what, I think, we share as a common goal and an agreed-upon way forward.

QUESTION:  Can we change the subject? 

MR. ERELI:  Okay.

QUESTION:  There was a report out of Berlin that a German crane is being shipped to Iran and specifically to an Iranian company that has been blacklisted and identified as a front for Iranian -- the Iranian military or military production.  Do you know about this ship?  Do you have any concerns about the shipment of the crane to this particular company?  Is the U.S. Government considering doing anything to prevent the crane from being delivered to the company?

MR. ERELI:  I don't have much I can tell you about this report, other than we're aware of the reports of this shipment.  We certainly take seriously any report about potential proliferation concerns.  Germany is a close partner in the proliferation security initiative.  We work well with Germany in the context of that effort, but I don't have anything on this specific report for you.

QUESTION:  So you don't -- you can't say whether or not you regard the delivery or possible delivery of this particular crane to the company, which I believe is Mizan Machine as a proliferation threat?

MR. ERELI:  I just don't have the facts, so I don't want to speak to this particular report and speak to the specifics of this particular report.  Obviously, when there are indications of incidents of proliferation concern, we take them seriously.  I think that certainly is the case here.  We follow it.  We try to find the facts.  But I don't have specifics on it that I can share with you.

QUESTION:  Can you try to -- perhaps you have tried and have been told you can't share them with us, but could you try to get the specifics on whether Mizan Machine, the company, is under U.S. law or U.S. regulations, barred from receiving a shipment like this?  And could you also try to check whether the U.S. Government, not just is aware of the report, but is actually tracking the ship itself?  The kind of thing that you would do, I think, through the PSI.

MR. ERELI:  I'll check.

QUESTION:  Adam, same subject.

MR. ERELI:  Same subject.

QUESTION:  Are the EU-3 talks with Iran a failure because the Iranian Government is saying after Friday, it expects to go ahead with enrichment?  And President Putin of Russia is on --

MR. ERELI:  Let's stop there.


MR. ERELI:  Thank you.  On the EU-3 talks, I haven't seen the statements from the Iranians that you referred to.  There seem to be a never -- a consistent stream of statements with various comment on how the talks are going, where the talks are going, what the talks are going to lead to. 

My answer to your question will be the same, which is that these are talks between the EU-3 and the Iranians.  I'll leave it to the EU-3 to comment on or characterize how those talks are going.  Our position is, and remains, that we and the Europeans see eye-to-eye on the need for Iran to end its enrichment program, to answer the concerns of the international community, that these talks provide an opportunity for Iran to end its international isolation, to respond positively to the concerns expressed by the IAEA and the international community, and that the choice is Iran's.  And you can judge from whatever the latest statement is, whether you think they're making -- what choice they're making.  I don't have any sort of assessment for you about that.

QUESTION:  A follow-up?

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Following this development with Iran, and I suppose it also impinges on other countries as well, would the United States like to see some type of resolution of the United Nations and other bodies which preclude, as we've just mentioned, commercial-type shipments following the A.Q. Kahn --

MR. ERELI:  Well, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.  We've made it clear from the very beginning that we think this is an issue that's appropriate for the UN to consider.  There will be an IAEA -- there will be a report from the Director General of the IAEA, the matter will be considered by the Board of Governors at its next meeting and I'll leave it at that.

QUESTION:  When is that meeting?

MR. ERELI:  I believe it's in June. 


QUESTION:  Change the topic?  John Bolton.  Could I, for the daily Bolton question, could I ask you about -- how confident is the Department that he's going to be approved at this point?  Have you gotten specific indications from any of the senators who had wavered?

MR. ERELI:  I don't have anything to share with you with respect to communications with Congress.  What I would say is that we in the Department continue to work actively on behalf of Mr. Bolton and on behalf of his nomination.  We believe we're making good progress.  We are working well and closely with the committee to provide them the information they're looking for, to answer their questions, and we -- I would say we are confident that those questions and concerns are being addressed and we look forward to a positive vote on his nomination.

QUESTION:  When you say you are making good progress, can you tell us what you're actively doing?

MR. ERELI:  Actively --

QUESTION:  Are you answering the senators or their staff people?

MR. ERELI:  Oh, sure.

QUESTION:  Uh-huh.

MR. ERELI:  Regularly. 

QUESTION:  Regularly.

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Is Secretary Rice in contact with wavering Republicans --

MR. ERELI:  Secretary Rice has been actively involved and actively working on behalf of this nomination, both -- and has spoken to it both publicly and is working privately as well.  I don't have specifics to share with you about her communications with specific members or the Hill.  Suffice it to say that as she is -- she is actively and enthusiastically engaged.

QUESTION:  Well, I mean, we know about her public statements.  Every day the White House, State Department roll out statements.  What we don't know is what is what is going on, what is she -- she and others doing behind the scenes. 

MR. ERELI:  Working to --

QUESTION:  And you say she's in --

MR. ERELI:  Working to address --

QUESTION:  Is she dealing with the committee?  Is she in touch with the committee, even if you don't want to say who on the committee?

MR. ERELI:  We are regularly in touch with the committee.  I don't have any specific facts to share with you about the Secretary's communications.  I just don't have them.


MR. ERELI:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Did Secretary Bolton meet improperly with foreign officials on his overseas trips?

MR. ERELI:  I've seen reports about such meetings.  Those reports are based on anonymous sources.  They are unsubstantiated.  I would note that the report that we did see on that did not include any State Department comment, which is unfortunate because we were asked about that, we were asked about those reports, and when we were asked we said on the record that -- our Ambassador to Israel said on the record that, "I know of no meetings that Under Secretary Bolton had that were not coordinated with me."  And our Director of our Press Office said that, you know, with respect to allegations that there were such meetings in Moscow, the spokesman -- the Press Officer Director said that Mr. Bolton's meetings in Moscow were appropriately cleared in the Department. 

So this is a case of an International Herald Tribune article that appeared making these allegations.  I would note that when we gave those quotes to the parent paper of the Herald Tribune they chose not to run the story.  So the parent paper asked for a comment.  We gave it.  Based on those comments, they didn't run the story.  Unfortunately, the Herald Tribune did run the story without State Department comments.  And this goes to a point that we've been making all along that there continue to be unsubstantiated allegations that get printed as fact that I think, you know, are not at -- don't help, don't help an informed debate on the subject.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up, please?

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Without reference to any specific reports, I wonder if you could just address the question directly for me, which is:  Did Secretary Bolton, at any time, conduct meetings with foreign officials on his overseas trips that were not cleared by the appropriate officials?

MR. ERELI:  Not that (a) I'm aware of; and when there have been reports about such meetings, we have checked on those reports and we have talked to the people involved, who have said no, there were not, that when there were meetings, suggestions of meetings that were done that weren't properly shared or understood, that they didn't take place.

Now, I'm not saying -- let's be clear.  I'm not saying that everybody in the entire State Department knew in advance of every meeting that John Bolton has, but I don't think that's the issue.  The issue is:  Was John Bolton working in synch, in coordination with the Department and with his colleagues in the Department, on matters dealing with U.S. policy?  And the answer is an emphatic yes. 


QUESTION:  Change of subject? 

QUESTION:  No, if I can keep on.

MR. ERELI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Just another dimension of the Bolton saga.  There are suggestions coming from the White House now that a vote for Bolton is a vote for reform of the UN and a vote against him is a vote for the status quo there.  Is it the position of the State Department that senators who are against the nomination of John Bolton are against UN reform?

MR. ERELI:  Again, I don't want to -- I don't want to be dragged into a political debate here.  I will reiterate for you the position that we've been holding all along, which is that reform of the UN is an important priority for the United States.  It is really at the top -- one of the foremost issues that the next -- that we're going to be dealing with next in the next several years in the UN, and that when you're choosing an ambassador to the UN you want somebody, the President wants somebody, the Secretary wants somebody, who can carry forth that agenda with energy and élan. 

And looking at this record, looking at his expertise, and looking at his personality, this is the right guy to do that and that's why we think he should be confirmed.  And it makes sense if you want to achieve UN reform and you want to do it in a way that supports U.S. policy and achieves U.S. interest, helps achieve U.S. interests around the world, and this is the guy you want doing it for you. 

QUESTION:  Just one thing just to follow up.  So I can understand that and the argument has been made, but the suggestion has been made that anybody who is voting against him is against UN reform.  Do you share that assessment? 

MR. ERELI:  To vote against John Bolton would be to reject a qualified nominee who will ably carry out the President's agenda and help accomplish important American objectives and defend American interests at the UN and, by extension, overseas.  And that's why we think it's important to vote in favor of this nomination, and that's why we think a vote against that nomination wouldn't help advance those interests.

QUESTION:  But still the senators are entitled to their vote.  I mean, the Senate is to advise and consent, not just to --

MR. ERELI:  Yes, and we have full respect for that role.

QUESTION:  Well, but --

MR. ERELI:  And explaining why we believe that this is a -- I'm trying to explain to you why we believe this is a strong nomination, why we believe that it should be supported, and those are the arguments I'm laying out.

QUESTION:  Okay, but senators --

MR. ERELI:  I'm not denying --

QUESTION:  But you're not suggesting that senators --

MR. ERELI:  I'm not denying anybody's -- I'm not challenging anybody's right to vote, the way they want to vote.  That's their prerogative.  That's their authority.  That's their constitutional duty.  So don't read --

QUESTION:  But you don't share the White House view that a vote --

MR. ERELI:  I share the White House view completely and fully. 


QUESTION:  But you think that, like, any Dem -- anybody on the committee that doesn't vote -- that doesn't vote for John Bolton is specifically saying I don't -- I'm not for UN reform? 

MR. ERELI:  I share the White House vote fully.  I -- we share the White House view fully.  We.  This is not about -- we share the White House view fully.  We respect and abide by the Congress's constitutional authority and prerogatives.  And we are going to argue and act and work on behalf of this nomination because he is the man -- he is the nominee -- John Bolton is the nominee the President wants, John Bolton is the nominee the Secretary wants and John Bolton is the best man for the job, and we'll work actively and successfully on behalf of the Administration and the American people.

QUESTION:  Adam, the issue really is -- back to the earlier business, though, that we were just talking about, could you once again -- because I think it might have gotten lost in our colloquy.  Could you once again explain what the position of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel is concerning Mr. Bolton's conduct of himself over in that country?

MR. ERELI:  The position of the Ambassador of Israel is that there were no meetings that Under Secretary Bolton -- excuse me, there were no meetings that the Ambassador is aware of that Under Secretary Bolton had that were not coordinated with him.

QUESTION:  Back to the Democrats.  If we had two or three pivotal reform recommendations from the administration, wouldn't it be rather simple -- we could canvass Democratic senators and Republican senators and find out if there really is disparity, if the Republicans all are for it and most of the Democrats or all of them are against it.  Because we don't know what your program is, so how can somebody say that voting against Bolton is voting against reform?  I don't follow it.

You're saying the Democrats don't -- the administration is saying the Democrats don't want to see changes at the United Nations.  That's the allegation here.

MR. ERELI:  Let me put it this way.

QUESTION:  We know you think John Bolton is the best guy to --

MR. ERELI:  Right.

QUESTION:  -- get it done.  But the Democrats are being accused of not being reform-minded at the UN and it's hard to deal with, if you won't say what are the issues that you find them lacking on.

MR. ERELI:  We think that John Bolton can help advance our interests in reforming the UN and that it would be best for the United States, best for the UN if he were confirmed.

QUESTION:  That I understand.

QUESTION:  Can I change the subject?

QUESTION:  Same subject.  The Secretary of the UN, Annan, in a tour of India today, came out with a statement saying that he expects this reform and which countries may be represented in the new Security Council should be brought to the UN prior to September and basically settled before then.  Now, irrespective of whether it's Mr. Bolton or others, what specifically in reform do you want to see happen at the UN?

MR. ERELI:  I don't have anything specific to share with you at this time. 


QUESTION:  On North Korea, the head of the DIA just said at a hearing recently that the U.S. believes North Korea does have the missile capacity to reach the United States and to arm that missile with a nuclear device.  Can you --

MR. ERELI:  I haven't seen that assessment.

QUESTION:  You haven't seen that assessment?

MR. ERELI:  No, uh-uh.

QUESTION:  Is Christopher Hill going forward in the region with any kind of new information about North Korea's capacity in an effort to, you know, rally the other partners in the region about a more stronger course of --

MR. ERELI:  The focus of Assistant Secretary Hill's visit to the region is twofold.  One, to meet with our important partners in the region, to talk about a wide range of bilateral and multilateral issues, one of which -- among the most prominent of which is the six-party talks and North Korea's nuclear program.

So the second issue, obviously, is the six-party talks.  In those discussions, he's going to be focusing on ways, ideas, strategies for bringing North Korea back to the talks, and that's really where he's going to be devoting the bulk of his attention and that's where most of the discussion is going to be directed.

Obviously, I think we all understand that this process can't go on forever, but for the moment, we are -- we remain dedicated to the proposition that six-party talks offer the best way forward, the best means of resolving this problem, that it's right to continue trying to get North Korea back to the talks and that's what we're going to try to accomplish.

QUESTION:  But you also don't have any illusions that North Korea isn't continuing to constitute a nuclear weapons program, isn't that correct?  I mean, the longer that this goes on, aren't you -- don't you kind of recognize that North Korea's going to continue to build up its weapon program?  And at some point, if you don't bring them back to the table, you won't have any leverage.  So --

MR. ERELI:  Obviously, you know, as the Secretary has made clear, I think as Ambassador Hill has made clear, this process can't go on forever and, you know, at some point, if it's determined that this -- that North Korea is not going to come -- has decided not to come back to the talks or that North Korea has walked away from, frankly, this opportunity, then we'll have to consider and talk about what we need to do in that event.  But at this point, I would say such speculation is premature.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But one more on this -- I mean, do you feel that you have a certain time -- I know you say you can't go on forever, but do you feel that there is a certain time constraint, given North Korea's continued building capacity?  I mean, are you kind of in a race against --

MR. ERELI:  There's no deadline that we're working against.  At the same time, obviously we're -- you know, we're cognizant of -- we are cognizant of the passage of time, but there's no deadline.

QUESTION:  Adam, I'm intrigued by your use of the phrase, "For the moment," which I don't think I've heard out of other senior State Department officials.  And it seems almost to imply as if your commitment to the proposition that six-party talks are the best way forward could evaporate in the blink of an eye.

MR. ERELI:  I wouldn't go that far.  The blink of an eye?

QUESTION:  Well, for the moment.  I mean, you're committed for the moment to this.

MR. ERELI:  That's just another way of saying that this process can't go on forever.  I would just -- I would look at that as alternative phrasing, as opposed to taking things in a new direction. 

Yeah.  North Korea -- anything more on North Korea?  South Korea, let's go to South Korea.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  South Korean Government yesterday announced that there would be a U.S.-ROK summit talk in the near future?

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  When and where would it happen and what would be the major issues to be discussed?

MR. ERELI:  Well, if it's a summit, it means it's between heads of state, so that's something the White House would have a comment on.  But I'm not aware that there is anything nailed down at this point. 


QUESTION:  Change of subject?

MR. ERELI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  You said before that you agree with everything the White House says.  In a way, my question is --

MR. ERELI:  Fully.

QUESTION:  What about the Pentagon?  Because today --


QUESTION:  You know that -- I'm talking about the reaction -- the very disappointed reaction in Italy about the partial results of the investigation into the killing of the secret service agent--

MR. ERELI:  Well, in this case -- go ahead.

QUESTION:  Berlusconi today said there are differences between the State Department and the Pentagon, and I need a statement from you on that.

MR. ERELI:  Okay.  In this case, as with the White House, we are in -- State and Pentagon are in full agreement, I think.  There has not been a report issued. The Pentagon has made that clear.  That report is being prepared and it is being prepared jointly with American and Italian authorities.  Obviously, the death of Mr. Calipari was a tragic event.  He is a national hero who died in his effort to rescue a fellow citizen from hostage-takers in Iraq.

President Bush and Prime Minister Berlusconi agreed that U.S. and Italian representatives would conduct a joint investigation.  That investigation is still underway and the report is not complete.  I think it's important to note that Italian representatives were in Baghdad; they took full part in the investigation, they had full access to all the information available.  And we continue to work very closely with the Government of Italy.  We are strong allies.  We are deeply committed to the shared values of freedom and democracy and the future prosperity and stability of Iraq, and we will continue to work together in pursuit of those objectives. 

QUESTION:  A follow-up.  He only said two sentences but he said that the Pentagon -- this is Berlusconi. 

MR. ERELI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  The head of government that's the ally.  

MR. ERELI:  I understand.  The Prime Minister.

QUESTION:  Okay.  "The Pentagon has certain positions and the American Administration would like that these positions were more flexible."

Second thing.  "The United States is our ally but they have internal problems with the Pentagon.  We continue to have contacts with the Administration," who in Italy is represented by the Ambassador --

MR. ERELI:  Yes, our able Ambassador. 

QUESTION:  Yes.  So I want a reaction to that.

MR. ERELI:  To which?


MR. ERELI:  It's a lot.

QUESTION:  It's the same thing, basically.  The two sentences --

MR. ERELI:  Well, let me put it this way  --

QUESTION:  -- say the same thing.

MR. ERELI:  Let me put it this way.  We are --

QUESTION:  Would --

MR. ERELI:  We are -- we as a government -- State Department, Pentagon, White House -- I think, value and respect the position of, and the views of, Italy in this matter.  And our common endeavor in the U.S. Government is to work cooperatively and as allies with Italy in dealing with this tragic incident.


QUESTION:  It goes to Iraq but it's sort of related to State Department and Pentagon views.  Ahmed Chalabi has been named the Acting Oil Minister of Iraq.  Do you think that's -- do you applaud that appointment, as I'm sure you will applaud the naming of the government?

MR. ERELI:  We congratulate Prime Minister Jafari and his Council of Ministers on the vote of confidence that they received today from Iraq's Transitional National Assembly.  This is a historic moment for Iraq.  It is the first time in a generation that they have a democratically elected government.  That government reflects the will of the Iraqi people and we accept it and will work with it and are respectful of it for that reason.  And it's not a question of individuals.  It's a question of a Council of Ministers that is the product of a genuine and real and heartfelt democratic process.  And that's the way we look at this government.  That's how we're going to work with it. 

And, frankly, our focus in looking forward, again, is not any one specific ministry or any one specific minister, but rather it's working with the Government of Iraq to help keep this process moving forward, writing a constitution, having a referendum on that constitution, and an election for a new government by December 2005.  That's an ambitious timetable and an ambitious agenda and one, I think, that will require a lot of focus and hard work by everybody and it's certainly a task to which we are committed to helping the Iraqi Government fulfill. 

QUESTION:  A follow-up on that?

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Are you concerned at all, though?  Chalabi and four other ministers are only acting ministers, including the defense minister.  Does that concern you? 

MR. ERELI:  Again, this is a process that the Iraqis are going to work their way through and deal with consistent with their processes.  So no, it's not a matter of concern.  It's something that, again, that we expect will be handled transparently and responsibly by them. 

On Iraq?

QUESTION:  No, on Lebanon.

MR. ERELI:  On Iraq? 

QUESTION:  Lebanon.

MR. ERELI:  Let's go with the Lebanese for Lebanon. 

QUESTION:  The Lebanese Government today confirmed the removal of the heads -- the chiefs of security and the public prosecutor, and appointed replacements for them.  How -- do you have any observation, any comment on this?

MR. ERELI:  Before we go on to Lebanon, I just remembered one thing I did want to point out with respect to Iraq, and that is to note today that a member of the Transition National Assembly, Ms. Lamiha Abid Khadouri, was viciously assassinated and this is an act of wanton violence and terror that we condemn in the strongest possible terms. 

Ms. Khadouri, like so many other brave Iraqis, risked her life to build a democratic country.  We are greatly saddened by her death.  We offer our most sincere condolences to her family, to her friends and her colleagues in the Transition National Assembly who are making great -- all making great sacrifices to build a strong and sovereign Iraqi democracy.  And we, on this occasion, rededicate ourselves to helping Iraq bring to justice those responsible for this vicious and senseless act.

On to Lebanon.  With respect to decisions about who fills specific positions in the Lebanese Government, that's something for the Lebanese Government -- those are decisions for the Lebanese Government to make.  That's their right and authority as a sovereign government.  We don't have any comment on it.  I think the way we view events in Lebanon is from the perspective of 1559 and elections, and what we are working with the Lebanese to help bring about are, as you well know, elections that are free of foreign interference and result in a government that reflects the will of the Lebanese people.

The Lebanese -- I believe the Lebanese parliament, in recent days, have set May 29th, June 5th, June 12th, and June 19th as the days for which -- on which elections will take place.  This is a positive step.  I think it indicates that the process is moving forward in Lebanon that, you know, now that Syrian forces -- military forces have gone, subject to UN verification, the political wheels are turning in Lebanon.  The steps are being taken to prepare for the elections. 

The next steps that we're looking for is Lebanon to accept UN technical assistance for these elections and we hope to receive a formal invitation to both governmental and non-governmental international elections observers to be part of this process.  And we'll continue working with the Lebanese, with the UN, with our international partners to help keep the process moving forward.

QUESTION:  But can't you consider this positive in the context of the (inaudible) report -- who considered this security chiefs as -- who discredited them after the assassination of Hariri?

MR. ERELI:  I'll put it this way.  For us, the important barometers of progress are a full investigation into the circumstances of Hariri's assassination.  The UN has provided for that.  That investigation has taken place.  Lebanon and Syria have both said that they're going to cooperate with that investigation and steps, actions that are cooperative are to be -- are to be expected, quite frankly. 

So you know, I'm not going to comment on individual moves.  What I will tell you is that we are looking for answers to hard questions.  Who killed Hariri and why, and how?  And that's what the UN is trying to find out and that's what the Government of Lebanon, the Government of Syria need to help them do.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas is quoted today as saying that anyone who violates the truce with Israel "must be hit with an iron fist," obviously referring to Palestinian militant groups.  Are you pleased to hear that rhetoric from him?

MR. ERELI:  Well, clearly, for us, determined Palestinian action against terror and to restore security has been a goal for some time.  Statements such as these by President Abbas, I think, support that goal and we are strongly supportive of his efforts and -- you know, they are to be encouraged and frankly, this is what we are working to help him do through the activities of General Ward, through our ongoing diplomacy in working with the Israelis and with the Egyptians and with the others in preparing for Gaza withdrawal.  So I would look at those comments in that way.

QUESTION:  Can you cite any example, since he took office as president, of his having taken -- used an iron first against Palestinian militant groups?

MR. ERELI:  President Abbas has deployed Palestinian security forces in a number of areas.  They have made a number of arrests.  I think they have shown a level of energy and activism that we certainly didn't see under Chairman Arafat.  And there have been, I think, institutional changes that are positive.  So certainly, there has been a change in attitude and a change in actions.  But nobody's complacent, and I think everybody understands that maintaining security and moving forward in addressing some of the areas that need work is a continuous effort and, again, I think that's why General Ward is there -- to help work with the Palestinians, to identify areas that need work, to come up with action plans, to follow through, to coordinate with others and to help keep the process moving forward.  It's a big job, it's complicated, it's complex and it's ongoing. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR. ERELI:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  Is Deputy Secretary Zoellick going to Southeast Asia next week?  Do you have information? 

MR. ERELI:  I don't have any travel to announce for you today.  We might have something for you later. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  And as for the U.S.-China senior level dialogue, which will be headed by Secretary Zoellick.

MR. ERELI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Any progress on that? 

MR. ERELI:  We are looking at dates with the Chinese and I think hoping to nail something down shortly. 

I'm sorry.  You have a question?

QUESTION:  Oh, yes.  With respect to -- with Lebanon, there -- with this current election, there are three facets on the Lebanese populous:  The Druze, Christians and Arabs.  Are you also talking to the Arab League, of the EU members of the Quartet? And also to what --

MR. ERELI:  Not -- we are not the UN -- the UN maybe -- I'd refer you to the UN. 

QUESTION:  And also with respect to all that going on today, President Putin is meeting with, or has met today with President Abbas.  Are you on the same page, as far as what you're saying?  I know yesterday --

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.  President -- as you know, Russia's a member of the Quartet.  And I think that we all have the same -- we all have the same goals and are in close coordination about how to achieve them as Quartet Members. 

Thank you.

(This briefing was concluded at 1:43 p.m.)

(end transcript)

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

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