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State Department Briefing, November 18

18 November 2005

Iran, Iraq, Guantanamo, Venezuela, Syria

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press November 18.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Friday, November 18, 2005
12:40 p.m. EST

Briefer:  Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- US Concerned about Iran's Conversion of Uranium
-- U/S Burns to Discuss Iran with Partners ahead of IAEA Board of Governor's Meeting
-- US Reviewing ElBaradei Report/Issues Raised Troubling
-- Iran Ill-Advised to End Dialogue
-- Update on U/S Burns Meetings in London
-- Russians Working with EU3 for Proposals for Iran/Role in Process Helpful
-- International Findings show Documented Pattern of Deception, Evasion by Iran

-- State Department Employees in Iraq Working to Support Democracy, Peace
-- September Elections are Milestone in Democratic Development/Iraqis to Expand Institutions, Processes, Rule of Law
-- US to Support Iraqi Investigations of Secret Prisons

-- Cancellation of UN Rapporteur Visit
-- US Receptive to UN, ICRC Requests for Access to Facilities
-- Facilities Run Properly, According to US Laws

-- Chavez's Reaction to A/S Shannon's Testimony Before Congress

-- Sanctions Are Consequence of Syrian Actions



12:40 p.m. EST

MR. ERELI:  TGIF, everybody.  So first question on the last briefing of the week goes to --

QUESTION:  Iran being the issue.

MR. ERELI:  Iran.

QUESTION:  More conversion of uranium announced by the Iranian Government.  Anything to say about that?

MR. ERELI:  This is a subject we spoke to yesterday.  What we're seeing today, I think just repeats what the information we had yesterday.  In my comment on it, I would repeat what I said yesterday, which is that Iran's announcement that it is converting uranium is of concern to us.  It contravenes commitments made to the Europeans.  It contravenes Board of Governors resolutions.  The most recent one, which was in September -- which called on it to end all enrichment-related activity.  And it is the subject of discussions between Under Secretary Burns and our partners in the EU, Russia and others, ahead of the next Board of Governors meeting.


QUESTION:  I think the question of my colleague was about the fact that the IAEA was handed by Tehran documents --

MR. ERELI:  I think the question was about the --

QUESTION:  -- describing how to make explosive core of an atom bomb, so it's a new step.

MR. ERELI:  I think you're referring to the report that Director General ElBaradei released today about Iran's implementation of its safeguards obligations.  That is a report that we are reviewing.  I think that it -- I wouldn't at this point be in a position to comment on its specifics, but it's clear that what we see in the report is what we've seen in previous reports; that Iran continues with its conversion activities.  It continues to contravene its commitments under the Paris Agreement.  It continues to fail to respond to all the questions of the IAEA.  There are issues that are raised in the report that I think are certainly troubling.  We will study it.  We will, again, consult with our friends and we'll see what kind of consensus emerges.

QUESTION:  Your ambassador in Vienna said that this definitely opens new concerns about weaponization.

MR. ERELI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  You didn't go -- well, you were a little more obscure.

MR. ERELI:  He's seen the report.


MR. ERELI:  I haven't.

QUESTION:  Oh, you haven't seen the report back here?

MR. ERELI:  Uh-uh.

QUESTION:  Does this lead you to want to go back and question A.Q. Khan?  I mean, is that matter closed to the United States, because as you continue finding out more and more things that he did and you don't have access to him personally --

MR. ERELI:  I wouldn't make that connection.  What I think our -- obviously we continue to, I think, tie up the loose ends on the A.Q. Khan issue but we've, I think, pretty much gotten to the bottom of it, although obviously it's an issue that continues to be of interest to us.

With respect to Iran, however, it's clear that there were activities and connections with A.Q. Khan.  And what we need to see with regard to Iran, which is different than the A.Q. Khan investigation, is a complete and transparent accounting from Iran about its nuclear program which we haven't gotten and which I think has been the substance and import of these director general reports.  And yes there are suspicions, yes there are concerns as articulated by our ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna and that's why it's important, we think, that Iran be more forthcoming in responding to the IAEA and the questions that the IAEA has posed and the IAEA's request for access to facilities.  And to date, it hasn't been.

QUESTION:  Since your relationship with Pakistan is significantly better than your relationship Iran, why don't you try to go that route?

MR. ERELI:  I think that we've -- in our dealings with Pakistan, we are satisfied with the kind of cooperation and the kind of information sharing we've gotten, but there's another side to this and that side is the Iranian side, which has information, which is engaged in activities that only Iran can account for and that's why it's important that they be responsive to what the IAEA is asking of them.


QUESTION:  You spoke about consensus so I suppose you favor a consensus -- the consensus of the international community, which is to keep open dialogue with Iran?  What do you think you can do if Iran unilaterally decide to cut any dialogue?

MR. ERELI:  Well -- (laughter) -- that would -- that would be pretty bad for Iran.

QUESTION:  But what can you do?

MR. ERELI:  If Iran unilaterally decides to cut dialogue?  Well, I'll put it this way, I mean, if a nation wants to -- if a nation thinks that it's in their interest to tell the rest of the world to go take a leap, they can do that.  But that would certainly be unusual and ill advised.

QUESTION:  Adam, that's the first time I've ever heard you take on a hypothetical.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  If we asked you another one, would you answer it?  (Laughter.)

MR. ERELI:  Look, I think, the message to Iran from the United States, from the EU-3, from the Board of Governors is clear:  You've given the world cause for concern.  The international community doesn't like what it sees and it doesn't like the kind of behavior that you've been exhibiting over the last several years.  So you've got a chance to make things right with the world.  Take that chance as opposed to continuing to increase your own isolation and your own -- and your being at variance with the rest of the world.  It doesn't do you any good, it doesn't do your people any good, and it doesn't do the region any good.

And so in a sense, there is a way forward, a positive way forward for Iran.  It is represented by the process of negotiation that the EU-3 has initiated and that has our support and the support of others and that's where we're trying to take things.  But as we say in so many examples of international diplomacy, it takes two to tango.  And right now, on one side you've got the international community and the other side you've got Iran.  We're ready to go, but they so far have not yet proved themselves a willing partner.

QUESTION:  It sounds like the U.S. hasn't any cards to play, except shame.  They're not isolated.  They do terrific -- business with China, thank you, which is one reason China's likely to veto anything you try in the UN.  You have Iraqi politicians who think it's good to have good relations with Iran.  They're a neighbor.  Iran is -- you're not talking about North Korea.

MR. ERELI:  I think if you look at Iran's position in the international community, you'll see that it is subject of a number of restrictions, a number of sanctions, a number of -- a lack of participation in international affairs as a full and respected and accepted member and that that causes them no small amount of concern.

QUESTION:  Do you think?

MR. ERELI:  Yeah, I really do.

QUESTION:  So, you said, "it takes two to tango;" that the U.S. has no meaningful dialogue.

MR. ERELI:  I said the international community -- that Iran is not responding to the way forward presented to it by the international community.

QUESTION:  There are senators like Chuck Hagel who say that the U.S. should be having a dialogue with Iran.

MR. ERELI:  Don't see a useful point in that in this -- useful point to that at this time.

QUESTION:  Can you give us any update of what Nick Burns has been doing in London?

MR. ERELI:  I don't really have too much new to report to you on that.  He arrived there -- he left yesterday afternoon so he must have arrived there early this morning.  He's been in meetings, frankly, most of the day with his -- with the Russians, with the EU-3, with others, hearing from them their views on the latest developments on Iran's decision to resume conversion activities, what that means and how we should respond and what the EU-3's ideas are about moving forward in negotiations.

QUESTION:  Do the Chinese participate in this meeting?

MR. ERELI:  We are -- we do discuss this with the Chinese.  I don't know if they're specifically  -- if Nick has meetings on this specific trip.  But they are very much a part of our conversations.

QUESTION:  Did they talk about Bosnia, too?

MR. ERELI:  I'm not sure if the subject might come up but really the focus is Iran.

QUESTION:  Is there a --

QUESTION:  This has been asked before but is there a judgment here that Bosnia needs a constitution, one that's less, in fact, in which -- one of which there is no sectarian acknowledgement?

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

QUESTION:  What about the Russian idea on Iran?  That they would construct a separate facility and that then the -- some conversion could take place in Iran but the fuel cycle could not be completed there.

MR. ERELI:  I think our -- the National -- the President's National Security Advisor spoke to that just a little while ago and he said it's an interesting idea.  I think without sort of evaluating proposals, specific proposals and handicapping them and that sort of thing, what I would say is that the, as I said before, the EU-3 is trying to find a way forward with this.  The Russians are presenting ideas.  They're working, I think, productively with the EU-3.  We're supportive of that.

What we want to see, frankly, is assurances that Iran does not have the capability or technology to use the nuclear fuel cycle to develop nuclear weapons and that's the goal we're all working toward.  Russia certainly has shown in the past a concern about Iranian activity and an eagerness to take action to prevent diversion and use of nuclear fuel to develop nuclear weapons, as evidenced by the Bushehr take-back deal.  So they've played a helpful and important role in this and it certainly is our experience that they continue to do that.

QUESTION:  The Iranians rejected the Russian deal, didn't they?

MR. ERELI:  Frankly, I -- for the latest back and forth on the discussions between the Russians and the Iranians and the EU-3, I'd refer you to them.  Our view on all this is that what the EU-3 and Russians are doing is positive and useful and important and the Iranians should again resume negotiations with the EU-3 and suspend enrichment-related activity.

QUESTION:  Will there be a U.S. presence at the EU talks with Iran?


QUESTION:  I mean even a silent presence?

MR. ERELI:  Not that I'm aware of, no.

QUESTION:  The U.S. isn't going to sit in as an observer?

MR. ERELI:  No, no, it's an EU -- we're not a party to those negotiations.  We've made that very clear from the beginning.

QUESTION:  Well, you've got a vital interest in them, but all right.

QUESTION:  Security Council referral can you -- is this like where you see this going?

MR. ERELI:  It'll be a subject of discussion at the next Board of Governors.  I think that the last Board of Governors, you look at the resolution that said that they're in noncompliance with NPT obligations and that's a matter for future referral.  And how that plays out will obviously be a subject of discussion, but I wouldn't want to predict anything, one way or the other.

QUESTION:  Change of subject?

MR. ERELI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  The debate in town is becoming increasingly bitter about the Iraq war.  Right now, Senator Kerry is on the floor of the Senate sort of attacking the President and how they responded to what Congressman Murtha said yesterday.  I'm just wondering how all of this debate is affecting our war effort?

MR. ERELI:  I can speak for the State Department and on behalf of the many brave, dedicated and selfless officers of the State Department who are in Iraq as well as our relations with other countries.  And in both cases, both in terms of our personnel and our relations with other countries, it is full steam ahead in support of the Iraqi people and firm belief and commitment in the nobility and worthiness of our cause and our strength of purpose in seeing it through to the end.

QUESTION:  How do you feel about Congressman Murtha's observation that U.S. intervention -- he supported, originally, the war -- U.S. intervention has brought the various insurgent groups together?  They have a common cause to oppose U.S. occupation.

MR. ERELI:  I -- certainly, I don't want to be drawn into a debate with those who might have different views.  What I can tell you is what our policy is and our policy is that there is a vicious and unprincipled insurgency that does not represent the Iraqi people, that represents a nihilistic and evil vision of a, frankly, apocalyptic future, and that we are dedicated to supporting our Iraqi friends in eliminating this threat to the peaceful democratic future of a sovereign state.

QUESTION:  What about calls for troop withdrawal?  What effect did that have in --

MR. ERELI:  You're asking the wrong guy.

QUESTION:  Can we go to Guantanamo?

MR. ERELI:  Why not.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  No, not me.  Not me, please.  (Laughter.)  The UN rapporteur decided not to go to Guantanamo because U.S. didn't fulfill the minimum requirement.  Do you have any comment on that?

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MR. ERELI:  Pardon?

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MR. ERELI:  Well, the United States issued an invitation on October 27th to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Special Rapporteur on the Right of Freedom of Religion and the Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention -- to visit our -- the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.  That invitation was issued by the Department of Defense.

Frankly, we believe we've been very forthcoming in response to their request.  We have offered them the same access to this facility as we offer elected representatives of the American people.  Members of Congress have come to visit Guantanamo and they have -- and the special rapporteurs receive the same treatment as members of Congress.  Frankly, we think that's more than good enough and it's unfortunate if they don't think so.  But the fact of the matter is, we've been forthcoming, we've been helpful, we've been receptive to their request and the invitation still stands.  If they aren't satisfied, well, sorry.

QUESTION:  Sorry, just a follow up.  I mean, what is the problem?  I mean, you give access to members of the Red Cross but, you know, if it's going to avoid an unpleasant row like this, what's the harm in allowing these people to talk to some prisoners?

MR. ERELI:  The purpose is if -- how should I put it -- our purpose is to run a facility in a proper way and act, as according to our rules and our laws, as part of an international armed conflict, which is what we're engaged in and which is why Guantanamo exists.  So pursuant to those guidelines and those circumstances, the ICRC has a mandate to visit detainees.  Great.  ICRC comes, they visit the detainees when they want to, they talk to the detainees they want to, that's right and proper and that's how we operate Guantanamo.  We don't sort of entertain every request and accede to every request just to avoid a row.


QUESTION:  Has the Secretary been actively engaged in this debate over this so-called "exemption" to the torture legislation?  And is she on the same page with the Vice President and so forth?

MR. ERELI:  I think that -- as I've said before in response to that question, there is a statement of Administration policy on this issue that remains -- that statement of Administration policy remains current and valid and all members of the Administration sign onto it.

QUESTION:  But how about, just aside from that, you know, friendly interagency debating over the policy?  How did she weigh in on that, regardless of the fact that we know she supports the Administration's policy?

MR. ERELI:  You know, I'm not in the position -- I'm not in the position of characterizing interagency debates.  I would say that, you know, we all act in support of the policies of the President.

QUESTION:  Can you have any -- can you give us any update on U.S.-Bulgarian talks about the military bases in Bulgaria?

MR. ERELI:  Nothing new for you.

QUESTION:  What about Romania?

MR. ERELI:  Nothing new for you on that either.

QUESTION:  How is -- I thought -- it had been announced now that they have (inaudible) Romania?

MR. ERELI:  I'll check.  I had not seen that announcement.  I'll see if there's any --

QUESTION:  Will Ambassador Loftis stay in Bulgaria next week?

MR. ERELI:  I'll check and see if I've got anything for you on Ambassador Loftis's whereabouts.

QUESTION:  Can you talk a little bit about the Iraqi election, the Department in Baghdad, preparations, security -- how's that going --

MR. ERELI:  The December 15th elections?

QUESTION:  Yes, sir.  That one.

MR. ERELI:  I don't --

QUESTION:  Preview of how you see things shaping up?

MR. ERELI:  Well, if you -- it is another important milestone in the democratic development of Iraq.  It comes, obviously, in the wake of the successful referendum on the constitution and the successful elections for the Transitional National Assembly last January.  What -- frankly, every step along the way we've seen consistent progress, whether that's measured in terms of the number of Iraqis registered to vote, number of Iraqis voting, number of parties available, the sophistication of the political debate.  And so what you're seeing unfold in Iraq is frankly, what we were hoping for and predicting, lo, these many years ago, which is the Iraqi people showing themselves to be brave and courageous and fitting of a democratic pluralistic tradition.  And that's something, I think, to be admiring of and the elections in December are part of that evolution.  And you see coalitions forming, you see lists being drawn up, you see debates being conducted, all despite periodic explosions on television -- that you see on television -- all within a context of -- all within a context that allows that kind of civil interaction to take place.

So, short answer to the question, Iraq is moving forward, political development is taking place and Iraqis are showing themselves more and more responsible for their own affairs, which is well and good and the right direction to be moving in.

QUESTION:  And you're optimistic that this next election will also be a positive development and successful?

MR. ERELI:  I think there's every reason to believe that the Iraqis will build on and expand and further develop their institutions and their processes and the rule of law in these elections and in subsequent national affairs.


QUESTION:  Adam, the other day, we talked about the investigation into the Iraqi prisoners found in the ministry building --

MR. ERELI:  Right.

QUESTION:  -- and that it was going to be an Iraqi investigation.  And now, the Justice Department and the FBI have gotten involved.  What changed in the last couple of days for the U.S. to get involved in the investigation?

MR. ERELI:  Nothing really.  In fact, we said from the very beginning that, yes, this is an Iraqi investigation, but we will be supporting them and helping them, as they conduct that investigation.  So in that context, at the embassy in Baghdad, you have elements of the Department of Justice.  You have elements of the FBI.  You have in the MNFI military police, military investigators.  All of these assets are being made available to the Iraqis to support them as they conceive of and conduct the investigation and make their analysis and make their recommendations because, frankly, we bring a certain, I guess, expertise or knowledge base to the task that can be of use to them.  But at the same time remembering that this is their investigation under their auspices and under their authorities.

QUESTION:  Does it show that it's hard for them to operate, though, without American involvement in --

MR. ERELI:  No, what I think it shows is that -- is that the international community, whether -- is there to support Iraq, whether it be as they conduct -- as the Iraq Special Tribunal conducts its prosecution and trial of Saddam Hussein, whether it be whether they're rebuilding their energy infrastructure, whether it be where it's their -- whether it be in their reconstitution of security forces.  I mean, across the board you see the international community supporting Iraq with resources, with technical advice and with other forms of assistance.  That's the case in this investigation as it's the case with a lot of other activities.

QUESTION:  Regarding the detainees that they found there, had there been a large number of people reported missing?  I mean, 173 people can't just disappear without anybody knowing about it.  Had the MNF together with the Iraqi Government been worried that something like this was happening?

MR. ERELI:  I honestly don't know.  I'd refer you to the MNFI on that.  I think that what's clear is that when we received word or when we heard reports or had intelligence that there were problems, we acted on that.  And but as far as what other stuff was out there, I'd refer you to them.

QUESTION:  So you don't know whether, when you acted on it within the last week, you don't know if that was the first time that you'd heard that there may be such facilities?

MR. ERELI:  I don't know.  I don't know.

QUESTION:  Do you have any reaction to the comment of President Chavez saying that President Bush is a killer and a madman?

MR. ERELI:  It's not true.


QUESTION:  Adam, just on that point, I mean, how do you think you're going to get past this insult and name-calling?  I mean, you clearly see it's his responsibility, but what can you do?

MR. ERELI:  Well, we're not -- we're certainly not going to engage in that kind of activity.

QUESTION:  So he was responding, wasn't he, to --

MR. ERELI:  I don't know.

QUESTION:  -- to comments made by Tom Shannon?

MR. ERELI:  I don't know.  Tom Shannon was testifying to Congress and I wouldn't characterize Assistant Secretary Shannon's testimony as name-calling.  Assistant Secretary Shannon laid forth American policy, I think in a sober way, with an intention of protecting American interests and serving the mutual interests of us and our hemispheric neighbors.

QUESTION:  But he was -- sorry, he did say that the Venezuelan Government was a destabilizing influence and --

MR. ERELI:  That is a sober assessment.  That is not name-calling.  That's calling it like we -- that's calling it like we're seeing, like we see it.

QUESTION:  But then how do you think someone is going to react when you start saying that the government, democratically elected government, is destabilizing?

MR. ERELI:  I'll put it this way.  We're not going to hedge our judgments and hedge our statements on the basis of how somebody may or may not react.  We're going to call it like we see it, and that's what Assistant Secretary Shannon did.

QUESTION:  Will you check on whether there's anything you can say about Fidel Castro's health?

MR. ERELI:  I did and the answer to the question was, in response to that specific report, we don't comment on intelligence matters.

QUESTION:  Is it only an intelligence matter or can't there be other -- other sources of it besides intelligence?

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

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION:  You're being very formal.

MR. ERELI:  Andrea.

QUESTION:  Adam, I'd like to -- have you seen this ad that Iran took out, this full-page ad in The New York Times?

MR. ERELI:  I must have missed that one.

QUESTION:  You missed that one?

MR. ERELI:  If you go online, you don't see the ads.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Yeah, well, it's rather detailed.

MR. ERELI:  Small print.

QUESTION:  And in it they, you know, kind of lay out their side of the story as far as they're concerned in terms of Iran's alleged nuclear program or its alleged nuclear weapons program, and says that the -- all of this is based on misperception and outright lies.  I understand you haven't seen it, but they're still sticking to their guns that they do not have a nuclear weapons program and are putting the onus on the EU-3 and the West for the broken promises and, you know, raised expectations that happened in -- you know, over the last couple of years.

MR. ERELI:  Yeah, and the question is?  What do I think of an advertisement I haven't seen or charges that --

QUESTION:  No, I mean, but a lot of it -- you've heard these --

MR. ERELI:  Let me --

QUESTION:  You've heard these points before.

MR. ERELI:  Let's be clear.  I think that the international community's position with regard to Iran is based on a large body of evidence -- documents, findings by international organizations -- not on hearsay, not on unsubstantiated charges, but on a well-documented pattern of deception and -- deception and evasion by Iran documented in nine reports by the Director General, numerous Board of Governors resolutions, numerous reports by the IAEA inspectors.  And therefore this isn't just something that people are making up.  This is a very clear and well- documented pattern of deception and evasion and failure to comply with treaty obligations that Iran has demonstrated.

So you know, if you're -- if Iran -- as I said earlier, if Iran is really interested in addressing this question in a useful and productive way, it would be better to be forthcoming in negotiations with the EU-3 or in receiving and allowing access to IAEA inspectors and providing documents that the IAEA has requested.  It would be more useful to do that than to take out expensive advertisements in The New York Times.


QUESTION:  In regard to both Iran and Syria, there was a column someplace I read today about the hazards of going the sanctions route because if you get to that point, using Iraq as an example, while it seems like a noble idea to put sanctions on a country, sometimes the reality is far different from what your goal was and, you know, you may be enriching some government but while hurting the people.  How do you feel about this thing of ultimately using sanctions as a tool and how effective it is given the recent history of sanctions?

MR. ERELI:  Rather than get into a theoretical discussion of the utility of sanctions, let's keep the focus where it belongs, which is Iranian actions.  And the response of the international community is going to depend on and be determined by what Iran decides to do or not to do.  And sanctions are a hypothetical based on a certain course of Iranian action.  What we're saying, what I've been saying since the -- and the State Department has been saying consistently is; negotiate with the EU-3, provide the international community assurances that, and confidence that, you are not going to use a nuclear program to develop weapons and we don't have to worry about sanctions.  We don't even have to have a discussion about sanctions.  So that's the issue.  Let Iran -- Iran is in a position to decide its future and its -- and its future relationship with the international community by what it does and by the decisions it takes in response to a set of circumstances of its own making.

QUESTION:  What about Syrian sanctions?

MR. ERELI:  Syria's sanctions are again, first and foremost, taken in response to actions by the Government of Syria -- actions that support terror, give aid, comfort, resources, and material to groups that kill innocent civilians and sanctions are a consequence of Syrian actions that contravene the norms of civilized society.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:16 p.m.)

(end transcript)

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

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