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State Department Briefing, July 20

20 July 2005

Iraq, Saudi Arabia, China, Lebanon, Reported Transfer of Three Saudi Nationals from Guantanamo Detention Facility, Pakistan, Cyprus, Israel/Palestinians, Libya

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press July 20.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
1:05 p.m. EDT

Briefer:  Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- Members of Constitution Commission Killed
-- Safety and Security of Sunni Members of the Constitution Commission
-- International Commitment Regarding Future of Iraq
-- Drafting of Iraq's Constitution and Process

-- Resignation of Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar Bin Sultan
-- Saudi Announcement of Prince Turki al-Faisal as Next Ambassador
-- US-Saudi Relations
-- Secretary Rice's Contacts with Prince Bandar
-- US Embassy Issues Warden Message Regarding Possible Terrorist Threat

-- Pentagon's Report on China's Military Power

-- Formation of Lebanese Government
-- Policy Toward Hezbollah/Inclusion in Cabinet

-- Reported Transfer of Three Saudi Nationals from Guatanamo Detention Facility

-- US Watchlisting System PISCES and Terrorist Interdiction Program

-- Support for Annan Plan

-- Gaza Withdrawal/US Engagement with the Parties

-- Imprisonment of Bulgarian Nurses



1:05 p.m. EDT

MR. ERELI:  Hello, everybody.  Welcome to our briefing today and we can go right to your questions.

QUESTION:  On the assassinations - the two political assassinations in Iraq, reflections on them?  And particularly, it's a risky job, obviously.  Would you advise other Iraqis to keep plugging away in trying to do that kind of work?

MR. ERELI:  We spoke to this yesterday and I would, first of all, reiterate our strong condemnation of this terrorist act and our condolences to the families of the brave Iraqis who were sacrificed for a better and more democratic Iraq.  As we said yesterday, this is a sign that those who are determined to thwart the will of the Iraqi people, to prevent democracy from taking root in Iraq, and it's - what's also clear is that they're not going to succeed, because there is a - they are swimming against the tide.  There is a vast majority of Iraqis who want a better future, who want a democratic country, who are engaged and working on behalf of a peaceful, democratic Iraq.

Obviously, in the - since these incidents, there have been concerns expressed about the safety and security of the Sunni members of the constitutional commission.  I think those concerns are certainly understandable, but we all look forward to the work of the committee continuing and to - for the United States, for our part, supporting the determination and sacrifice of the many brave Iraqis not only on the committee, but throughout the government and country of Iraq as they forge a new country.

QUESTION:  Has there been much of a reaction in the Arab world and do you think it's sufficient -- there are Sunni Muslims in Iraq saying that it's terrible, but we got to keep ahead and keep going with this, we're going the right way.  Do you find this resonating among your friends in the Arab world?

MR. ERELI:  I would point to a number of events and statements of the past several weeks that show strong international support not just worldwide, but particularly in the Arab world.

And the two that I would draw your immediate attention to are the conference that was held in Brussels with the EU and the United States and Iraq where the -- where Prime Minister Jafaari and Foreign Minister Zebari presented Iraq's vision for its future and you had foreign ministers from 80 countries attending, which is a very strong and I think emphatic vote of confidence in Iraq and in its future.

And the other conference that just finished was the conference for the reconstruction and -- the reconstruction fund for Iraq, which took place in Amman, which is the fourth such conference.  It concluded today, I believe.  And this was an opportunity for Iraq's Minister of Planning Barham Salih and its other sort of key economic -- key members of its economic teams, Director of the Central Bank, Minister of Finance to present to the financial community their plan for the reconstruction of Iraq, their plan for the way forward and they did a fabulous job.  They said what their priorities were.  They lifted them in the medium term, in the short term.

They talked about integrating them with local governance.  They talked about integrating the donor effort with the budgetary process.  And I think those present at the conference came away with a very positive impression and a very -- and I think a renewed commitment that -- to Iraq -- to supporting Iraq and a faith that Iraq has a plan and is moving forward with that plan and that it's something worth supporting -- all of which I would integrate into your question regarding the political process, this is because this all part of a -- these are all component parts of a whole, which is an integrated strategy to defeating the insurgency and helping build an Iraq that is stable, free and prosperous.

Yes.  Sir.

QUESTION:  The related -- on the constitution -- it appears that the working draft that they have going there would be much more restrictive on women's rights than the previous setup that they had and basically adhering to Sharia, it would appear.  Is this something the United States is concerned about and been talking to the constitutional drafters and the Iraqi authorities about?

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.  I'm a little reluctant to actually jump into that question for the simple reason that I'm not certain that what we're responding to is accurate.  In other words, you'd say, "It would appear that the draft is."  Well, I'm not sure that that's the real draft.  I haven't seen what it is.  The Iraqis are still, you know, very much in the process of putting this thing together, so let's hold off on commenting on purported drafts until the Iraqis present officially to the people something for their consideration.  That hasn't happened yet.

Having said that, it's worth pointing out a couple of important ideas as we move forward in this -- or as the Iraqis move forward in this process.  Number one:  It's an Iraqi process.  It's their country.  It's their constitution, and it's up to them to determine the shape they want their country to take and how they want their country to be governed.

Number two:  They've got a good start on things - with the Transitional Administrative Law.  They've got a good start on things with an energetic and robust and inclusive Constitutional Committee.  And I think what you're seeing today in terms of Iraqi's public groups, citizens' groups getting out there and expressing their opinion about, you know, what's being reported to be a draft or whatever.  But that in itself is a sign that the Iraqi populous is involved and that there is a real democratic nature to this process, which is something that is positive and to be welcomed and to be praised.

QUESTION:  Is there any - is there a dialogue ongoing between the U.S. officials, the embassy, and these people?

MR. ERELI:  Which people, about what?

QUESTION:  The - well, I mean, the - do we reserve the right to give our two cents about the way things are going?  I mean, do we talk to them?

MR. ERELI:  It's - as I said before, it's an Iraqi constitution and it's Iraqis writing it and to the extent that Iraqis ask others their opinion, I think we're happy to provide advice and counsel, but it's on an if-asked basis and it's - you know, based - look, we've got experience at this thing, much older and much more distant memory, but to the extent that we can be helpful to them in their efforts and can provide constructive advice when it's welcome, we'll do it.  But that is not to suggest that this is anything but an Iraqi-led and an Iraqi-determined and an Iraqi-made process and a made-in-Iraq product.


QUESTION:  Change of subject.  Do you have any reaction on the announced retirement of Prince Bandar and also, I have questions on an embassy warden message in Saudi.

MR. ERELI:  Okay.  Let's go first to Ambassador Prince Bandar.  The White House, I think, will be putting out a statement expressing the President's fond feelings for Prince Bandar and the great service that he has provided to his country and to our country in over, I think, 20 years of service as Ambassador to the United States.  Certainly, we at the State Department are saddened by his departure.  He was a great friend and valued advisor, valued confidant of many Secretaries of State, as well as other State Department officials who have worked on behalf of this very important relationship.

We would - we also note that the King of Saudi Arabia has announced that it intends to nominate Prince Turki al-Faisal to succeed Prince Bandar as Ambassador to Washington.  We certainly welcome that announcement and look forward to receiving a request for - an official request for agrement in order to begin completing the process of the necessary formalities for that transition to take place.

QUESTION:  Adam, you don't have any concerns about Prince Turki.  He's got -- he was controversial -- he's been controversial in the past, including in just the stories that came up, as he was appointed to be ambassador to the UK about a close -- well, a relationship with some kind -- with Usama bin Laden.  He's admitted to meeting bin Laden something like five times.

MR. ERELI:  I think those issues have been dealt with and he is -- we expect that he will be the representative of the Government of Saudi Arabia and we look forward to working with him as representative of the Government of Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION:  And as far as Prince Bandar goes, any lingering, any rumblings of concern about the ultimate destination of charitable contributions by the ambassador and his wife?

MR. ERELI:  I don't have anything.  I don't have anything on that.

QUESTION:  So you -- has the U.S. Government concluded that none of this money ended up in the hands of people connected to the hijackers?

MR. ERELI:  As I recall, that's an issue that's being dealt with by agencies and authorities outside the State Department.  I haven't been keeping up with it.


QUESTION:  So it's still open?

MR. ERELI:  I haven't been keeping up with it, so I don't -- I can't give you an update on it.

QUESTION:  Well, you were saddened by his departure.  I wondered if you were still concerned about these reports, but you don't want to do that.

MR. ERELI:  No, I don't.


QUESTION:  Adam, can you talk about the embassy's warning?  The Warden message?

QUESTION:  One more question on Bandar.  Prince Bandar, as you noted, had a very close relationship with successive secretaries of state and presidents.  Do you think that the relationship will change -- not necessarily the relationship, but the kind of intimate contact between the two countries will change as a result of Prince Bandar no longer being here?

MR. ERELI:  Every ambassador is unique and the relationship with Saudi Arabia is unique.  And while it's safe to say there will never be another Prince Bandar, as ambassador -- no one can take the place of Prince Bandar as Ambassador to Washington.  Saudi Arabia is a close and valued partner of the United States.  Our strong relations with the leadership of Saudi Arabia are an important part of that relationship and an important element in how the two countries deal with each other.  And I think that the new ambassador will fit into that mold, fit into that pattern very well, and will be able to help us keep that relationship on the strong and positive path that we are right now.

QUESTION:  Well, despite the close relationship that you speak of between the two countries, don't you think in some ways the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia was kind of managed in a way, in large part, due to Prince Bandar and his personality and his close and personal relationships?

MR. ERELI:  As I said before, the relationship is the result of common interests, shared interests, common challenges, working together on a whole host of issues and that involves a lot of people.  It involves the senior leadership of the kingdom, the senior leadership of this government, of which the ambassador is a very important part.  And, you know, that relationship is going to continue to evolve and continue to grow and continue to develop with the new ambassador.  And I wouldn't expect the departure of Bandar or the arrival of Prince Turki to cause a blip in how we deal with each other.

QUESTION:  We've been talking about this relationship -- entrée.  He was accorded enormous entrée by succeeding administrations.  But do you happen, as a matter of fact, to know if the Secretary -- our current Secretary of State -- has met with him or talked to him one-on-one in the months she's been on the job?

MR. ERELI:  One-on-one I'm not -- I don't know.  I can check and see if I've got anything for you on that.

QUESTION:  All right.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Can we talk about the Warden message?

MR. ERELI:  We can talk about the Warden message.  Not much to say about that.  I think you've probably all have seen it.  Our Embassy in Riyadh advised American citizens living in the kingdom that we have indications of operational planning for a terrorist attack or attacks in the kingdom.  We noted that we have no specific information concerning the timing, targeting -- target -- or method of any possible attacks.  And we urge American citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness.

QUESTION:  What can people do, though, if you're saying we have these threats?  We don't know anything more about them, and you didn't downsize -- you didn't close the embassy early or anything like that, as far as I know.  How can this information really be used by people when it's so broad?

MR. ERELI:  Well, this isn't the first time (a) we've put this sort of information out; (b) in other information like travel warnings, we sort of give a little bit more detail; (c) I think many Americans that have been living in the kingdom have been through this drill before.  The steps that we urge people to take are:  be attentive to your surroundings; don't go out to commercial establishments unless you really need to; vary your times and routes.  These are fairly standard, well-known security precautions that when you live abroad, and especially you live in an environment where there's a high threat, hopefully become a matter of routine and common practice.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION:  China's Vice Foreign Minister on Wednesday calling the Charge' d'Affairs of U.S.  Embassy in China to protest the DOD report on China's military power.  How does the State Department prepare to respond diplomatically to China's dissatisfaction with DOD's report?

MR. ERELI:  Well, I would note a couple of things.  Number one:  That the report that you mention is prepared on a regular basis.  It's mandated by Congress.  It's a factual report concerning China's military buildup.  It's an important tool in providing information to make assessments on China and on the relationship.  So let's not make more of it than it is.  That's number one.

Number two:  I think the important point to stress here, and it's certainly one that we make known to our Chinese colleagues, is that -- as the Secretary said, "Our goal is to see China be a positive force in the international arena" -- and in international politics.  We have a complex relationship that can't be -- that isn't dominated by one issue or one area of issues.

So to say that, you know, this report is disproportionately important vis-à-vis other economic or security or regional political issues is, I think, to distort -- to distort it.  And, I would note again, what the President said yesterday, which is that we've got a complex relationship.  It deals with a number of interests and -- overlapping interests -- and that our goal is to deepen a candid, constructive and cooperative relationship.  And we would encourage everybody to look at this report in that light.

QUESTION:  Do you know if Secretary had the chance to review the report before it was released?

MR. ERELI:  The Secretary spoke to this when she was in Beijing and she said she -- without speaking to the specific report -- the issue of military capabilities and security was a topic that was discussed with the Chinese in Beijing.

QUESTION:  Can we look at Lebanon, for a bit?

MR. ERELI:  I'm sorry, if we're done with this.

QUESTION:  Yesterday you dwelled on Lebanon a little but things are becoming clearer.  Are you still extolling what you think is the removal of Syrian influence in Lebanon?

MR. ERELI:  I didn't extol the removal of --

QUESTION:  No, I said the administration has declared victory that Syrian troops have left Lebanon.  You've got a Prime Minister designate who wants to repair relations with Syria.  You have a Hezbollah person in the cabinet.  You have a Prime Minister saying that's quite natural, they're a part of the government.  You have prominent Maronites denied a place in the cabinet.  They are noted, of course, for not being very friendly with Syria.

So do you want to add anything to what you said yesterday, now that we know a little bit more about the political shape taking place in Lebanon?

MR. ERELI:  I don't know how much more we know.  It's -- well, the situation in Lebanon, let me put it this way --

QUESTION:  It's really border -- it's a Hezbollah person.  Is that good?

MR. ERELI:  Let me put it this way.  What we said yesterday about the Lebanese Government remains the case today, that they've got a new -- that the President and Prime Minister Designate have agreed on a list of cabinet members to present for a vote of confidence to parliament.  That is a good thing.  That is a positive move.  It is the result of historic elections that, for the first time, allowed the Lebanese people to express their will, free of foreign interference.  I think that's something we should recognize and that's something that we should see as a positive development.

Now, the task before the people of Lebanon and the task before the Government of Lebanon is to move forward in responding to what the voters expressed as their clear desire, which was reform and change and that's something that the new government's going to have to do.  That's something that we are prepared to work with the new government on.  There are also very important questions of implementing Resolution 1559, particularly with respect to ensuring that Lebanon really is free of foreign interference and that the government has extended its authority throughout the entire territory of Lebanon.

So these are things that are still out there.  These are very tough issues that are going to require determined commitment and hard work, but we're off to, I think, a positive and good start.

On the issue of Hezbollah in the cabinet, what I said yesterday remains the case today.  Our policy hasn't changed.  We, you know, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and we're not going to have contact with the organization or members of that organization.

QUESTION:  Are you concerned that a Hezbollah person will be in charge of water, one of the most sensitive issues in the Middle East, as you're trying to promote Israeli accommodations with its neighbors?  This is very sensitive, not only to Israel.  I would think it'd be sensitive to your efforts in the region.  So you say they're a terrorist organization, well, that's true; that's listed every year by the State Department.  They're getting a big role in the Lebanese Government.  Aren't there any qualms in NEA about this?

MR. ERELI:  We're going to -- we are committed to helping the Government of Lebanon respond to what the people of Lebanon have asked for through the elections.  It's going -- it's the case in disarming militias, it's the case in economic reform, it's the case in political reform, it's the case in developing good relations with its neighbors and it's the case in developing the country.  As far as how the appointment of this specific minister is going to affect that -- our ability to support that -- I think it's a little bit too soon to tell.  But obviously, we're going to be, you know, we're going to be having to operate within the constraints of our law.

QUESTION:  When it gets to Iraq, you're very interested in an all-inclusive government.  With that in mind, do you have any reflections on the fact that the Maronites are getting the short end in the formation of the new government?

MR. ERELI:  No, I really don't.


MR. ERELI:  Let's go to Nick.

QUESTION:  Still on this.  The Secretary and the President have talked about terrorists-turned-politicians when it comes to, perhaps, the Palestinian territories and hoping that, one, they have to deal with issues like schools and health care that perhaps they will change some of their thinking.  Do you hope that Hezbollah or at least some of its members will become mainstream politicians, once they join a government?

MR. ERELI:  We hope that any individual who has a history of supporting violence against innocents to advance a political agenda, will come to foreswear such tactics and participate in a -- and commit him or herself to participating through a peaceful political process and not engage in terrorism, whether it be in Lebanon or whether it be in the Palestinian Authority or whether it be elsewhere.


QUESTION:  Can you confirm whether three Saudi nationals were handed over or have now been handed over from Gitmo?  Do you have that?

MR. ERELI:  I can't -- I'm not in a position to confirm that right now.  I might have more on that later.


MR. ERELI:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Yesterday afternoon, the Under Secretary Nick Burns met with his Japanese counterpart on UN Security Council Reform.  I wonder if you have a readout or whatever you can tell us.

MR. ERELI:  I don't have a readout.  I'll see if I can get one for you.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

MR. ERELI:  Teri?

QUESTION:  I wanted to ask a question about the PISCES System in the Terrorist Interdiction Program, as you know.  Pakistan is one of the countries which has cooperated under this TIP program and I was just wondering if you could tell me whether, so far, State assesses that this has been a good investment in the war on terror.

MR. ERELI:  Well, first of all, let's talk about what PISCES is.  It's a program where we provide countries with assistance to develop watchlists that track -- help them track bad guys coming in or going out of their country.  We've done this through providing commercial, off-the-shelf hardware such as computers, cameras, passport scanners, as well as software that we've developed.  We've done this with countries like Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Yemen, Uganda, and Pakistan.

I would say that we believe that this is an important way for us to help strengthen the capabilities of countries in the common fight against terror.  To the extent that we have been able to give them capabilities that they didn't have before, it's an important step forward.  It is a tool; it is not the solution.  The first and most important thing is a will and a commitment to fight terror.  Once that's there, we can step in with a helping hand and this is one of those helping hands.  It has a, sort of, precise application and it's been useful and it's been helpful and we look forward to continuing it.

QUESTION:  Do you ever get any feedback from these countries on whether equipment that was implemented under the PISCES System actually helped in arrests, for example, in these latest arrests of the suspects in the London bombing?

MR. ERELI:  We certainly get feedback, you know, how it's working, where, you know, what we need to -- what more they need, how we can maybe work in a different area.  But in terms of linking it to specific arrests, nothing that I have -- nothing that I'm aware of.

QUESTION:  But you do feel it's -- from what State knows now, this has been effective, it has been a good investment?

MR. ERELI:  It's, yeah, it's an important program, because: (a) it gives countries capabilities they didn't have; (b) it helps strengthen coordination and cooperation.  And those are two critical components in fighting the war on terror.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

MR. ERELI:  Yes, sir.

QUESTION:  On Cyprus.  Today, Mr. Ereli, is the 31st anniversary of the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus, July 20th 1974.  Do you condemn it even today?

MR. ERELI:  Our focus, Mr. Lambros, is on working with all the parties to help resolve this issue and to help heal the division of this island and to bring peace to a land that has been troubled for far too long.  And that effort is focused on the Annan plan and we continue to work with all sides to try to get them to focus on the here and now.

On 2005 and what the ambitions of the people of the island are and how we can meet those ambitions and meet those dreams of a peaceful and unified future.  That's where our focus is.

QUESTION:  Is the --

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) 31-years of military occupation of another country.  You have views about --

MR. ERELI:  There needs to be -- our view is that this is a problem that has gone on for far too long, that there is a viable solution at hand, and that all parties should rededicate themselves to working together on the basis of that proposed solution to end this conflict.

QUESTION:  Mr. Ereli, since you told us yesterday that the Turkish action is not an invasion --

MR. ERELI:  I didn't -- I didn't say that.  I didn't say that.

QUESTION:  The U.S. Government.

MR. ERELI:  You're putting words in my mouth and what I said --

QUESTION:  No, you said --

MR. ERELI:  What I said yesterday was we've got a -- there's a plan on the table.  It's a good plan and the parties should negotiate on the basis of that plan.  That's what I said yesterday.

QUESTION:  Right.  One more.  Do you know why you invited the Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou to be here in the town this coming Monday?

MR. ERELI:  I don't know that we did.

QUESTION:  Can you take this question because it is an important --

MR. ERELI:  I'll see if I have anything on it.


QUESTION:  I think that's it.

MR. ERELI:  No, no, absolutely --

QUESTION:  On Israel.  Can you tell us, since obviously things are not going as smoothly in terms of the Gaza pullout as you might have hoped for.  How engaged does the United States want to be, sort of on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, in that engagement, not only with General Ward and Mr. Wolfensohn but, perhaps, Assistant Secretary Welch and others?

MR. ERELI:  Well, we've spoken to this.  I think what we've made clear is that this is an historic opportunity.  The withdrawal of Israel from Gaza and West Bank settlements is something that, I think, propels the Palestinian Authority to a position of responsibility and control that is new and important.  It serves as a catalyst for moving forward on the roadmap.  It presents a host of complex and interconnected challenges in terms of effectuating the withdrawal.

And we had been engaged with both parties in trying to meet those challenges.  How the withdrawal is completed, steps that are taken beyond engagement, how the Palestinian Authority can effectively exercise its responsibilities for the territory that will be under its control; this has been the work of General Ward, of Mr. Wolfensohn, of Assistant Secretary Welch, of Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams and, of course, of the Secretary and the President.

The Secretary spoke to this in remarks to the press yesterday.  She noted that, as we -- the closer we get to Gaza, to the actual withdrawal, time is very important.  She noted the parties themselves have been doing a lot of good work, that they have reached a number of agreements on the modalities of the withdrawal.  But she also noted that this is a complicated process and that in view of that, in view of the looming deadline that's coming up about withdrawal, you know, it's useful for her to go to the region to help the parties work together, and to remind people that, you know, to remind and help them nail down things before withdrawals begin so that when it does begin it can proceed and move effectively.

QUESTION:  So to sum up -- you do plan to continue to be engaged -- can we say deeply?  Can we say --

MR. ERELI:  I would say that -- make a couple -- two points.  We will work as hard as we can to make this happen and we've been doing that, we will continue to do that.  But it's also important to remember that it's ultimately up to the parties to get this done.


QUESTION:  On Turkey Mr. Ereli -- very important.  The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan answering to a speech written by Under Secretary Nicholas Burns and was read by Mr. Daniel Fried of the State Department the other day in a Turkish gathering here on the town, who opposes any Turkish military intervention in northern Iraq against PKK as you told us yesterday, stated today that Turkey will invade northern Iraq by land or air in order to find and arrest PKK.

MR. ERELI:  Who said that?

QUESTION:  Erdogan.  Who considers them responsible for the recent terrorism in southeast Turkey.  How do you respond?  This is the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan is in full disagreement with your policy.

MR. ERELI:  Well, I haven't seen Mr. -- I haven't seen those comments that you're talking about.  And I would simply say, as I said yesterday, that the United States and Turkey share -- have a common interest and share a common goal, which is preventing the PKK from engaging in terrorist activity.  We both consider them a terrorist organization. We are both active in moving against the PKK.  And I think we've got a good history of cooperation in that regard and we'll continue to work together, to consult closely and to act in our common interests.

QUESTION:  Are you going to allow him to go in after the --

MR. ERELI:  Again, this question came up yesterday.  I don't know that that's an issue that's necessarily on the table.  If it is a subject of discussion between military authorities, I'd refer you to the military authorities.

QUESTION:  Another subject?

MR. ERELI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  On HIV/AIDS.  July 27th in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, it will be the 10th international conference on HIV/AIDS with 6,000 families from one country (inaudible); and hundreds of reporters.  Any comment on that?

MR. ERELI:  Frankly, I'm not familiar with the gathering that you're describing.  I think that --

QUESTION:  It's the 10th anniversary yesterday.

MR. ERELI:  The simple comment that I would have is that when you're talking about AIDS, you need to remember that no country does more to help fight this terrible disease and this terrible threat to our common heritage than the United States in terms of funding, in terms of programs and I think in terms of putting, you know, political and moral weight behind the global effort to fight this scourge.

QUESTION:  A follow-up.  There Brazil will focus also on the five Bulgarian nurses and two Palestinian doctors, who allegedly infected 420 sick children in Libya using pills, as it was reported, extensively recently.  And I'm wondering what is the position of the U.S. Government keeping the (inaudible) Mr. Ereli that 98 of those children died already from the heavy medication?

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.  I think you, again, you should know our position from attending our briefings very regularly, but --


MR. ERELI:  For your benefit, I will repeat it, which is that obviously the death of anybody and especially young children in these circumstances is unfortunate.  At the same time, we have publicly called for the release of the Bulgarian nurses because --


MR. ERELI:  Because it's -- the grounds under which they're imprisoned are doubtful.  They do not -- were not given due process.  The evidence is not there.  And it is an issue that not only the United States but the European Union is actively engaged in with the Government of Libya.  We're all working together on behalf of these imprisoned -- wrongfully imprisoned nurses and we hope to use our influence to gain their release.

QUESTION:  But those nurses used pills, Mr. Ereli.

MR. ERELI:  Sir, that's -- I've said what I'm going to say.

QUESTION:  Excuse me.

MR. ERELI:  I've said what I'm going to say.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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