State Department Briefing, September 16
16 September 2005
Update on Hurricane Katrina Relief/Access to New Orleans Consulates for Representatives of Foreign Governments, Upcoming Special Briefing on Afghan elections by Ambassador Ron Neumann, Brown University Survey of Federal Websites, Armenia/Turkey, Syria/Iraq, North Korea, Greece, Venezuela, Iran, Israel/Palestinian Authority
State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press September 16.
Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Friday, September 16, 2005
12:57 p.m. EDT
Briefer: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
-- Update on Hurricane Katrina Relief/Access to New Orleans Consulates for Representatives of Foreign Governments
-- Upcoming Special Briefing on Afghan elections by Ambassador Ron Neumann
-- Brown University Survey of Federal Websites
-- House Congressional Resolutions 195 and 316/Armenian Genocide issue
-- Syrian Ambassador on U.S. accusations regarding Syria-Iraq Border Security
-- Iraqi Insurgents' Use of Syrian Territory
-- Six-Party Talks/Trilateral Discussion
-- Fifth Draft on Joint Statement of Principles
-- Reports of Satellite Images of North Korean Nuclear Activity
-- Consular Information Sheet on Greece
-- US Position/Remarks by Under Secretary Burns on Drug Issue
-- Iranians at UN Session/Iranian Talks with EU-3 on Nuclear Program
-- US Position on Separation Barrier
-- US Position on Subject of Land under Occupation
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2005
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
12:57 p.m. EDT
MR. ERELI: Let me begin with a couple of announcements. First of all, the United States continues to be deeply grateful for the generous outpouring of assistance from the international community in response to the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. As of today, we've received offers of cash, food, and technical assistance from 126 countries and 16 international organizations. That assistance is being distributed on the ground by the dedicated employees of the State Department and USAID. To date, USAID has received 40 foreign flights of commodities. They have transported or helped transport 86 truckloads of foreign donated commodities out of the Little Rock Air Force Base, totaling five million pounds to Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas. And a NATO airlift of supplies continues. As you know, it began on September 12th and it is flying at the rate of one cargo plane every other day from September 15th through September 23rd.
Finally, I would note that we are assisting representatives of foreign governments to have access to their consular facilities in New Orleans and to provide assistance to their foreign nationals in the area, both in terms of Louisiana and Mississippi where the disaster hit, as well as in areas where their nationals have been evacuated to. And this includes a visit yesterday by representatives of eight countries to their Consulates General in New Orleans to retrieve papers and to sort of assess the damage there. So just an update on our response and our appreciation to -- for the generosity of foreign countries who have helped us and continue to help us respond to this terrible disaster. Any questions on that?
QUESTION: What's the amount now that has been received by the United States Government?
MR. ERELI: The total amount?
MR. ERELI: I don't have that figure for you. I wanted to let you know that our Ambassador to Afghanistan, Mr. Ron Neumann, will brief the press on the elections in Afghanistan, by digital video conference from Kabul here at the State Department on Monday, September 19th at 10 o'clock, so those interested should contact our Press Office about the details on that. We look forward to that.
And finally, just a little bit of blowing our own horn, I would note that a team of researchers at Brown University did a survey of 1,600 state and federal websites and determined that the White House and the State Department had the best -- were the first and second best websites of the bunch. So congratulations to those in the White House and the State Department who have put together a great product. Hope you find it useful.
With that, I will take your questions.
QUESTION: Adam, just a follow-up on that. Best how?
QUESTION: Another subject? House International Relations committee yesterday adopted two resolutions regarding the Armenian genocide this year. And some people in Turkey suggest the U.S. administration didn't do much to prevent this outcome, other than a letter by the Assistant Secretary of State (inaudible) to the Chairman of the International Relations Committee. The resolutions are on the way to House floor. What is your position and are you going to try to prevent them to be adopted by the House floor?
MR. ERELI: Let's be clear, the United States policy on this issue hasn't changed. The president made clear what the administration's policy is in a statement on April 24th, where he said that the United States mourns the forced exile and annihilation of approximately 1.5 million Armenians in the closing years of the Ottoman Empire, as one of the great tragedies of human history. The United States actively encourages scholarly civil society and diplomatic discussion of the forced exile and killings of 1915 in order to help all parties come to terms with these horrific events.
The administration did not support the vote to pass House Resolution 195 and 316 and we, I think, continue to make our position clear on this. And so I wouldn't -- as far as the State Department and the Administration goes, our position remains what it has always been. And that is that this is not a matter that should be politicized; this is a matter that needs to be discussed seriously and honestly and in the spirit of analysis by those involved or those with a direct connection to it.
QUESTION: Some of the congressmen in the committee had changed their positions on this issue, citing that Turkish parliament's March 1st decision before the Iraqi war, for example, Congressman Tom Lantos --
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry, I just don't want to -- I'm not going to comment on positions that congressmen take or don't take. I'll leave it to them to speak to their positions, speak to their views. I can speak for the State Department. I think I've given you our view. I think that view has been communicated to members of Congress. There are no doubts about it, and that's pretty much what I have to say on the subject.
QUESTION: Syria has strongly rejected the escalation and accusation against Syria concerning its borders with Iraq. And the Syrian Ambassador said yesterday that it's an established fact that Syria has done everything possible within its means to secure her side of the borders. And he said that we invite Syria -- he as a representative of President Assad he said -- he repeated or again -- he said we invite United States Government and Iraqi authorities to immediately engage with Syria towards finding a solution to the situation in Iraq.
Now this seems to be pretty genuine and practical enough to replace rhetoric or statements made against Syria by some people. Is the United States going to take up Syria's renewed offer for joint cooperation on Iraqi borders by the United States and the Iraqi authorities?
MR. ERELI: Look, there's no -- innocent people are getting blown up in Iraq not because of rhetoric and not because of a lack of desire for engagement. Innocent people are getting blown up in Iraq because Syria is allowing its territory to be used by terrorists bent on sowing murder and mayhem in Iraq and they're not going to succeed. The international community is not going to let this continue to happen. Why? Because Syria, more and more, is being recognized as a destabilizing element in the region.
It's not just about Iraq. It's about Iraq, it's about Lebanon, it's about the Palestinian Authority because there's a connection between Syria and terrorism and murder and mayhem in each of these three different areas. In Lebanon, Syria continues to, I think, have a residual presence that doesn't contribute to the well-being and welfare of the Lebanese people or the sovereignty of Lebanon.
In Gaza and the West Bank, they continue to have association with terrorist elements that are bent on sabotaging the peace process and undermining the peaceful aspirations of the Palestinian people for and independent state and they are certainly out of step with the rest of the world on that.
And in Iraq, Syria continues to -- and it's not just us saying this, it's the Iraqis saying this, it's the international community saying this -- there continue to be clear, I think, and indisputable connections between Syria and Syrian territory and activities in Syria under the -- activities in Syria -- that the Syrian Government can do something about that are directly connected to the insurgency in Iraq.
So the question is not is the (inaudible) U.S. and Iraq willing to engage with Syria. This is something that we have been raising with Syria for years. Secretary Powell did it. Deputy Secretary Armitage did it. Assistant Secretary Burns did it. Secretary Rice has been very clear about it. Assistant Secretary Welch has been very clear about it. Deputy Secretary Zoellick in his trips to Iraq has been very clear about it.
There is no absence of engagement. What there's absence of is a willingness on the part of the Syrian Government to take actions that is within its capacity to take to prevent Syrian territory from being used by insurgents. And those insurgents have recruited from across the region and across the world to go into Iraq, to kill innocent Iraqis, and to prevent Iraq from being a democratic, stable and sovereign state.
Now, one has to ask the question: What's holding -- what's preventing the Syrian Government from doing that? I mean did Syria not care that young guys from Yemen or Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan or Iran come into Damascus Airport with a one-way ticket and no job and no place to stay and then find their way into Syria -- into Iraq where they strap bombs to themselves and blow themselves up and kill children in front of -- in a market, women and children from a market? I mean why does Syria continue to let that happen, unless there's a deliberate decision to do it?
There certainly seems to be an unwillingness to take actions to stop it. And that's not because we haven't engaged with them. And it's not because there's some sort of stopping at rhetoric on our part and not going into concrete action. It's because the Syrian Government, for one reason or another, has decided that they don't want to do it. And our point is, and the point of the Iraqis is, hey, you guys better make a choice because the choice you make, whether it's to do something or not to do something, has consequences and serious consequences.
QUESTION: That just seems like the - I appreciate your stating all these things, but Syria also on our side -- they're saying the authorities have took many diplomats and international observers to the borders, Syrian and Iraqi borders, they showed them how many hundreds of --
MR. ERELI: Well, I don't know what -- listen, I don't know what dog and pony show the Syrian authorities organize on their borders. But the fact of the matter is, there are insurgents -- the Iraqis have evidence of this, I think the MNF-I has evidence of it -- that there are insurgents who end up in Iraq and blow themselves up and kill people and that they couldn't have done it without Syria and Syrian territory playing a critical and necessary intermediary role.
QUESTION: Would you please tell the Arab audience why is the United States so reluctant in cooperating with Syria --
MR. ERELI: It's not a question of cooperation.
QUESTION: -- of monitoring.
MR. ERELI: It's not a question of cooperation with Syria on the border. It's a question of Syria exercising and Syrian security forces and Syrian political authority making a decision to act responsibly and control what goes on in their country. They haven't done that.
QUESTION: May I ask one more?
MR. ERELI: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: The United States has asked Mexico to monitor its border so that Mexicans wouldn't cross the borders. Why are you asking Syria to monitor the border on the two sides --
MR. ERELI: I'd say -- first of all, look, it's not just the border that we're talking about. You'll note I'm being very clear -- it's about Syrian territory as a whole. I talked about Damascus Airport. I didn't talk about the border with Iraq; that's a problem. Another problem, if not a bigger problem, is Syrian territory, that's number one.
Number two, and this will bring this discussion to an end because I think I've made the points I need to make. I just reject any kind of comparison between Syria and Iraq and the United States and Mexico.
QUESTION: What about from other countries like Turkey, Iran or Jordan?
MR. ERELI: I think that the -- based on what we've seen, based on what the Iraqis have seen, that there is a critical and disproportionate role that Syria has and that related to Syria and the insurgency that needs to be addressed with urgency.
QUESTION: Can we switch to North Korea?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: There's reports coming out of Beijing now that the sticking point of the light-water reactors, putting the talks at a stalemate. Are you still confident that progress will be made?
MR. ERELI: Rather than provide value judgments, I'd give you the facts. The facts are that we had discussions today with all the parties. These included a trilateral lunch with the South Koreans and the Japanese, as well as separate meetings with the Chinese and the North Koreans. There was also a heads of delegation meeting today. And at that heads of delegation meeting, the Chinese hosts presented a new, a fifth draft on a joint statement of principles. They asked all the delegations to consult with their capitals and return tomorrow with a response to the fifth draft. For our part, we are studying the draft. We will consult -- we are talking to Assistant Secretary Hill and his party. And we are considering our response and we'll be back at it tomorrow.
QUESTION: Can you -- a follow-up. Can you give us an idea of what that fifth draft says? How does it differ from the fourth draft?
MR. ERELI: No, I don't really want to comment on it.
QUESTION: Does it have anything to do with the water -- nuclear reactor?
MR. ERELI: Again, I'm not in a position to talk about the draft itself. I think what we're all working for is a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a firm commitment to act to achieve that goal. And hopefully we can all agree on a common text.
QUESTION: Would the United States be willing to accept the principle of a peaceful Korean water reactor in order to break the stalemate --
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to get into that. I think you know what our position is on that. We've been very clear about it.
QUESTION: Greetings, Mr. Ereli. In your consular information sheet -- the recent one about Greece. You are stating, once again, called Greece's open borders with the Western European neighbors allowing the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity and (inaudible) is presenting Greece as an area under terrorist threat on a permanent basis. I'm wondering why since Greece is not an open orchard?
MR. ERELI: Is not a what?
QUESTION: Orchard -- farm.
MR. ERELI: Orchard.
MR. ERELI: Well, I would just note that there's nothing new in that statement, that our previous assessments haven't changed and I wouldn't read anything positive or negative; it's simply a statement of what our assessment of the situation is and it is consistent with what we said in the past.
QUESTION: Since you are very sensitive of this issue, why you don't mention the positive things like the members of November 17 terrorist organization have been arrested and they're in prison. Greece had the most successful Olympic games from the security point of view, without any --
MR. ERELI: I think that kind of information is in other public documents, so it's not something that we don't acknowledge.
QUESTION: And the last one, and since this consular sheet was drafted by your former Ambassador to Greece, Tom Miller, who is working now under a new capacity as a philanthropist as the President of NGO in London -- Plan, P-L-A-N. And he's (inaudible). Why then the Department of State still circulating measurements in the same unfair document?
MR. ERELI: Well, I'm sorry, we update these consular information sheets as necessary as circumstances change. It's not related to a particular individual, rather it's an ongoing process of review and updating as circumstances require. I would look at it in that perspective and not tie it to one person or another.
QUESTION: So you don't have any -- you don't notice any change in the recent months?
MR. ERELI: When there's enough material to justify change, we'll change it.
QUESTION: So far, there is no change?
MR. ERELI: No. You'll have to look on the website and see the last time it was updated, but --
QUESTION: Adam, tonight Nightline is going to air a program, specifically an interview with Hugo Chavez. Of course, the whole controversy with CBN's Pat Robertson enters into this. What's the Administration policy, as well as --
MR. ERELI: On what?
QUESTION: On Venezuela currently. And also have you spoken to the OAS regarding his behavior and his leftward leaning toward Cuba?
MR. ERELI: Nothing new to report on that. I think you know what our position on Venezuela is. It's a country that we'd like to see cooperate in productive ways that benefit the hemisphere. Unfortunately, there are a number of issues where they just aren't doing that. And our policy is to try to promote cooperation where we can. Where we can't and where they're not cooperating or they're not acting in ways that serve the interests of the United States, their neighbors in the hemisphere, then to work to try to redress that.
Assistant Secretary Burns already spoke to the drug issue yesterday. We've spoken to the issue of regional security cooperation and others. So I think that's a fair statement of our policy. But, you know, unfortunately, I think a lot of this -- a lot of discussion is characterized by outlandish rhetoric as opposed to sincere desire to engage on the issues of substance.
QUESTION: So do you see this program tonight as --
MR. ERELI: I haven't seen -- it's hard to comment on a program that hasn't taken place.
MR. ERELI: And I will just state what our policy is and not what is bandied about on the airways.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. Can I just come back to North Korea for one second? Some satellite photos, images have come out that were taken about five days ago, suggesting that there's some activity going on at the Yongbyon facility in North Korea. Is the State Department aware of those photos and do you have any concerns that North Korea is continuing with their program while the six-party talks are going on?
MR. ERELI: Well, we've seen -- obviously, we're aware of the reports. I don't have a comment really for you on matters related to intelligence. Obviously, North Korea's continuing nuclear program is a concern. We're worried about it. There are four other parties at the six-party talks that are worried about it, which is why I think we've been working really hard for a really long time to see if we can't put an end to it.
QUESTION: At the UN session in New York, of course, the Iranians are there and aside from the EU-3, were there other countries concerned with what is occurring with Iran and their development of nuclear power?
MR. ERELI: Well, again, I think -- if you look at what Assistant Secretary Burns said -- I'm sorry, Under Secretary Burns, Nicholas Burns, said yesterday in his briefing to the press, as well as his briefing to the press the day before, I think we've been saying consistently for the last several days that we're hearing the same thing from everybody we talk to. That Iran's program is of concern. That nobody wants to see Iran get a nuclear weapon. That everybody thinks that Iran needs to resume negotiations with the EU-3, resuspend their ban on enrichment or their enrichment activity, their activity related to enrichment. And that there's, I think, a common view that this is the result that we all want to achieve.
So there is, I think based on our discussions, a commonly held view on that. And frankly, our diplomacy is geared to achieving that end. The EU-3 have -- are engaging with Iran to try to produce it; we're supporting them.
QUESTION: Do you see a strain in U.S.-Russian relations over this issue?
MR. ERELI: I do not. I do not.
Let's go to the lady here.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Rice did an interview with the New York Post and says that those who spread atomic weapons risked a potential freeze on their assets -- assets.
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Well, I'm just wondering given the situation at the six-party talk and also the recent Iranian President remarks about sharing nuclear technology with other countries, would that comment be directed to a certain country or it's --
MR. ERELI: Well, it's directed to any country engaged in proliferation of WMD and it's specifically referring to an executive order on -- that President Bush signed on June 28th that allows the United States to block or freeze assets of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction, as well as their supporters and prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with them.
So this is, you know, it's a statement of fact, it's a statement of U.S. policy that this is our response to those who seek to proliferate and I would look at it that way.
QUESTION: Concerning the separation -- the wall of separation in the Palestinian land. I read your statement yesterday concerning the U.S. policy that objects to acquisition of Palestinian lands to -- in order to build that wall. You stated that you -- that the United States would not agree to a wall that would be built on Palestinian land. The United States is vouching to implement international laws and the International Court has reinstated its objection to the building of the wall. The Arab TV screens we have seen in the last few days -- mothers crying because they are trying to get their daughters to elementary schools but they have to waste several hours before they can cross that wall -- that is separating families and -- well, kids from their schools.
Could you please tell me what is the United States trying to do to influence the implementation of this international law now that concerns the wall and that considers the wall illegal?
MR. ERELI: The United States has made clear its position that Israel has the right to defend itself. Israel has the right to take action to secure its border in response to attacks and infiltrations by those who commit suicide attacks against citizens, so we're not taking issue with that. We do make the point to Israel that, as they take these measures, including the wall, that they need to be mindful of a couple things: one, that the route of the wall doesn't take land that is the subject of negotiation and prejudge those negotiations.
And number two, that the humanitarian impact of their measures be taken into account. And it's precisely because the lives of Palestinian civilians and men, women and children are disrupted in many cases, that we make this point. And that we urge the Israelis to consider and take into account and be responsive to the needs of the Palestinians to move and to live like normal people in the territory that they occupy.
And so I think we're working hard to strike a balance there between legitimate defense needs and looking to a future where you've got to negotiate a solution, negotiate a settlement on land under occupation, and you've got -- you don't make innocent people pay for the crimes of terrorists.
QUESTION: Are you doing -- I mean are you -- is that on the agenda of the United States authority --
MR. ERELI: It's something that we engage with the Israelis fairly consistently on, yeah.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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