State Department Briefing, December 8
08 December 2005
Geneva Convention/new red crescent emblem, Assistant Secretary Welch's visit to Near East, Iraq, Iran, Croatia, ASEAN Summit, China, Libya, Egypt, Europe, Africa, Venezuela, Greece, Belarus, Islamic Summit
State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press December 8.
Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Thursday, December 8, 2005
1:20 p.m. EST
Briefer: Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
-- Third Additional Protocol to Geneva Convention on New Symbol
-- Visit of Assistant Secretary Welch to Near East
-- Alleged Execution of U.S. hostage
-- Attack Near Kirkuk/Death of American Contractor
-- Extension of Japanese Military Deployment
-- Iranian President's Remarks on Israel/Iranian Record of Anti-Semitic Actions and Statements
-- Arrest of Ante Gotovina/Role of Croatian Government in Arrest/Significance of Arrest
-- Exclusion of United States from ASEAN Summit/Relations with ASEAN
-- U.S.-China Relationship/Statement and Briefing by Deputy Secretary Zoellick
-- Purpose of Visit by Assistant Secretary Welch
-- Satellite Jamming from Libya
-- Election Results/Muslim Brotherhood/Irregularities During Elections/Communications with Egyptian Government
-- Global War Against Terror
-- Sudan and Darfur/Ethiopia and Eritrea/Eritrean Request that UN Personnel depart Eritrea
-- CITGO Sale of Discounted Oil to Americans
-- Search for Leader of Terrorist Organization November 17th
-- Belarusian National Assembly Approves Amendment of Penal Code
-- Final Statement of Summit
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2005
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
1:20 p.m. EST
MR. ERELI: We'll be putting out a statement after the briefing, welcoming the adoption of the third additional protocol to the Geneva Convention. This was an agreement that was reached in Geneva -- I believe yesterday. It creates a new emblem, in addition to the Red Cross and Red Crescent and the creation of this new emblem will allow Israel's national society to become a member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement. This is a, I think, a historic and significant step toward making the movement -- or toward meeting the movement's goal of being truly universal. So we welcome that and we'll be putting out a statement.
Happy to answer questions about that or any other topic.
QUESTION: Adam, is there anything that you can tell us at all about these reports of the execution of the U.S. hostage?
MR. ERELI: I've seen those reports. We don't have confirmation of them. Obviously our hostage working group continues to be very much involved in this case, working with the Iraqis, but I can't confirm it for you.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Iranian President's suggestions or comments that the Holocaust did not occur, according to him, and also suggesting that Israel be moved to Europe -- attached to Europe?
MR. ERELI: These remarks are yet another data point in assessing the attitudes and policies of the Iranian regime. They come in the wake of previous remarks calling for the destruction of Israel, hostile and aggressive speeches to the United Nations. These latest remarks, which we've seen reports of, are clearly both appalling and reprehensible. They certainly don't inspire hope among any of us in the international community that the Government of Iran is prepared to engage as a responsible member of that community. And they are, again, you know, part of a -- what appears to be a consistent pattern of rhetoric that is both hostile and out of touch with values that the rest of us in the international community live by.
QUESTION: Can I follow-up? You've been talking a lot about -- not you, but you and Sean and these data points. It seems to be a new phrase in the last few months. Is there --
MR. ERELI: It's an Adam/Sean phrase or Sean/Adam phrase.
QUESTION: Okay. Is there a point in time, no pun intended, where you intend -- connecting these data points to paint a certain picture or something?
MR. ERELI: In diplomacy, you are constantly assessing the situation based on developments. Those -- call them what you want. Call them developments. Call them events. Call them data points. The issue here is actions, statements, policies by the Iranian Government that at any given point in time add up to a assessment of what they believe and where they're going. And we make our response and make our assessments and act in concert with our friends and partners in the international community accordingly.
But it's a -- as you can understand, following international affairs, it is a dynamic process and it's one that is evolving, changing, and we base our actions accordingly.
QUESTION: But I guess what I'm trying to get at is -- and I haven't heard you use this term with other issues or countries or anything like that. Are you collecting these data points in an effort to connect them in order to paint some kind of picture of the international community for action against Iran? I mean, are you trying to -- are you trying to collect enough data to do something with it?
MR. ERELI: Well, you could use the phrase with any -- in any situation, if you like, as we respond to questions throughout the briefing, I'll use the phrase. But with respect to Iran, as with other situations, we make our assessments based on actions, statements by the government and policies by the government. Those are all data points. Those all inform our own deliberations and our own decisions.
This statement, which is egregious and offensive, is a statement by the president of a country, a country that belongs to international organizations, has pledged to uphold international norms and needs to be judged by and held to those standards.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any information on reports that a U.S. hostage has been killed in Iraq?
MR. ERELI: I addressed that one earlier.
QUESTION: Oh, I'm sorry.
MR. ERELI: I can't confirm it for you.
QUESTION: Change of data point?
MR. ERELI: New data point.
QUESTION: New data point. The Croatian general Ante Gotovina was captured in the Canary Islands. One, do you have a reaction? And two, do you have any indications whether or not that Croatia participated in his arrest there, which would sort of score them some points since obviously the United States has been critical of Croatian actions in the past?
MR. ERELI: The United States welcomes the news that Ante Gotovina was arrested in the Canary Islands. I would note that Mr. Gotovina is a fugitive who has been indicted by the international -- or was a fugitive who has been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The United States congratulates Croatian, Spanish and Tribunal authorities for their efforts that led to his arrest.
I think I'd refer you to the Government of Croatia and the International Tribunal for information concerning the circumstances of that arrest. But as we've said, clearly, countries moving forward in meeting their commitments under Security Council resolutions and the -- to the ITCY, it's important they do that to become full and accepted members of the Euro-Atlantic community. This arrest is obviously a major step forward for Croatia on its road to eventual NATO membership and it was clearly therefore in the best interest of Croatia. And we see it as a key step toward reconciliation in the region.
QUESTION: Adam, just a follow-up. In other words, you see Croatia was a participant in this that fulfilled its obligations, that will score it points in this process?
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
MR. ERELI: Like I said, I refer you to the Government of Croatia and the ICTY and the Spanish authorities for details of the arrest. But in noting this development, we congratulate all of them.
Yes. Same issue? Same issue?
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) What does this do for the Serbs (inaudible) two people?
MR. ERELI: I think it's a clear reminder that there are other war crimes cases that remain outstanding and that need to be resolved completely. The United States has made it clear and we would use this occasion to reiterate the point that the Government of Serbia and Montenegro and the authorities, the Bosnian and Serb authorities need to take every action to fulfill their international obligations to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, particularly by apprehending and transferring to The Hague Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
QUESTION: Next week, it's the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur, which the U.S. has been excluded from. Are you disappointed at being excluded from this summit and what would you like the outcome to be at the summit?
MR. ERELI: The United States, as we discussed earlier this week, has strong and deep ties to the countries of the region, both bilaterally and multilaterally through regional organizations, APEC and ASEAN and others. And as demonstrated by the President and Secretary's recent visits to APEC, by the deputy's participation in the ASEAN ministerial, by the deputy's other trips to the region, I think, that commitment, that partnership is strong, is vibrant and is serving the interests of the United States and the countries of the region well.
If there are other fora, that they -- that the countries of the region feel are useful to them, that's great. We don't see that as coming at the expense of our engagement. And as far as the outcome or the proceedings of this gathering, I'd refer you to the parties participating.
QUESTION: So you don't feel excluded or left out?
MR. ERELI: I -- you know, it's up to the countries of the region to decide how they want to cooperate and engage with each other. The United States feels very much a part of the region. We -- in security terms, in economic terms, in political terms, are intimately linked to affairs in the region and I think that we all recognize a shared interest in meeting common goals. And there are just innumerable examples, innumerable examples, and I don't think this East Asia summit does anything to attenuate that partnership and cooperation.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
QUESTION: Hold up.
MR. ERELI: A follow-up?
QUESTION: Is there any possibility that the United States is seeking invitation from EAS for next year or in the future?
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware of any such -- I'm not aware that we would be seeking any such invitation.
QUESTION: And in the meeting between the Secretary Zoellick and the Chinese counterpart, is this issue -- has this issue been raised?
MR. ERELI: I'm not sure. But as I said yesterday, if it were to be raised, it would be raised in the context of a discussion of broader engagement between the United States and China and the region.
QUESTION: Do you have any information about David Welch's visit to the Middle East?
MR. ERELI: Assistant Secretary Welch is visiting the Middle East. He left yesterday, I believe, for Israel and the West Bank and North Africa. In Israel and the West Bank, he will obviously be following up on the Secretary's recent visit, working with both parties to help move forward on the agreement that they reached with the Secretary's active involvement on contacts between Gaza, Israel and the West Bank. He will also be traveling to countries in North Africa -- Tunisia, Algeria and Libya.
QUESTION: On Egypt. The results of the election are now in and the Muslim Brotherhood has --
QUESTION: Sorry. I just want to go back to Libya.
MR. ERELI: Please. Go ahead.
QUESTION: What is the goal in Libya and are you any closer to normalizing full relations?
MR. ERELI: The purpose of the visit to Libya is to continue to work with the Government of Libya on developing the bilateral relationship. Obviously, we've made significant and -- we've seen significant advances over the last couple of years. There remain a number of issues that we need to engage with them on. This is -- I think you'll note that we have now regular and sustained contacts with the Government of Libya for the purpose of moving the relationship forward and his visit comes in that context.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you talk about a recent jamming of frequencies that -- radio frequencies and satellite frequencies that seems to be coming from the Libyans and do you think that these actions would hamper your desire to or the swiftness with which you normalize relations?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I don't know if I'd make that linkage. It's been reported to us by Loral Space and Communications that it has encountered unexplained interference on one of its satellites and that that interference was traced to Libyan territory. We've asked the Government of Libya to identify the source of the interference and resolve the problem, and we'll be continuing to investigate it.
QUESTION: Egypt. The results of the elections are in now and the Muslim Brotherhood has won about a fifth of the seats in parliament. Previously, you hadn't been willing to comment on the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that the elections aren't over yet. Now they are, so can we have a comment? And specifically, the last time when the Secretary was in Egypt, she did not -- conspicuously did not meet with the Muslim Brotherhood or anybody there.
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: Now that they are becoming a very important political force in Egypt, are there plans for U.S. officials to do some sort of reach-out?
MR. ERELI: I don't want to speak to the final numeric results because I'll leave it to the Egyptians to speak to that. What I think is clear is that an unprecedented number of representatives not affiliated with the government party have been elected to Egypt's parliament, and this really is historic. Why? Because it represents a broadening of the representation, of representation of opposition and independent candidates in the Egyptian parliament and we think that that's going to have a substantial impact on political life in Egypt. And that's positive. That's a sign that pluralism and democracy has taken a step forward in Egypt.
I would note, however, that it's important to underscore that the process that led to this result remains flawed. There were numerous and widespread incidents of violence, harassment and intimidation, and that is of concern to us. You know, the latest images of violence between security forces and voters is disturbing. It's led to the death of eight people, including a 14-year-old boy. There are reports that Egyptian authorities closed or obstructed access to more than 20 voting stations in the latest round of elections. We've seen physical abuse of elections monitors and journalists and the harassment of opposition candidates and supporters.
So clearly there is cause for concern. It is something -- it is an issue that we have and will continue to raise with the Government of Egypt at the highest level in an effort to help the Government of Egypt and the institutions of Egypt fulfill the aspirations of the Egyptian people and meet the standards that they have set for themselves, standards for openness, transparency and respect for civil rights.
So I think that would be -- that's the best assessment I can give you of, at this point in time, of the three rounds of parliamentary elections that concluded yesterday.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? Since you managed -- my question was about the Muslim Brotherhood and you managed not to mention the words "Muslim Brotherhood" in your response. I was wondering if I can rephrase the question and refocus it and get a specific -- because this is an Islamic organization. They do have ties to violence in the past. The U.S. has shunned them. They are now a force in Egypt and I think it is just a matter of reality what is the United States going to do?
MR. ERELI: The fact is and the best person to answer this would be an Egyptian government official, but the fact is that as the Muslim Brotherhood is outlawed as a political party, pursuant to Egyptian law that outlaws any party based on religious affiliation, and those candidates that you refer to as Muslim Brothers are elected as independent candidates, not affiliated with a party.
QUESTION: Okay. So does that mean the U.S. will deal with them?
MR. ERELI: They're independent candidates. There's no injunction against --
QUESTION: Does that mean the U.S. will deal with them?
MR. ERELI: There's no injunction that I'm aware of that prevents -- that would prevent that.
QUESTION: Just to again refocus just one more time. Are there any plans or any possibility of the United States reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization, as a result of this?
MR. ERELI: The United States will respect Egyptian law.
QUESTION: Sean, another question on this. The U.S. communicated --
MR. ERELI: Whoa. He's the good-looking, smart one.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. It's the time zone difference.
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: I think I'm with the traveling party. Sorry about that. Adam, the U.S. communicated its concerns earlier in the week about the troubling aspects of the multi-round election Egypt. With the latest developments, have you communicated those concerns yet again?
MR. ERELI: Yes. We continue to communicate them both here and in Cairo. And it will be a continuing matter of engagement with the Government of Egypt.
QUESTION: Adam, earlier there --
MR. ERELI: Same topic?
QUESTION: No. Change of topic.
MR. ERELI: Change of topic? Ready to go? Okay.
QUESTION: Earlier today there was a demonstration here in front of the State Department concerning Darfur. Other areas in Africa -- the situation in Zimbabwe has worsened and also there may be an ongoing border war between the Ethiopians and the Eritreans. The Eritreans have asked the UN to leave. What is your -- understanding concerning some of these particular issues?
MR. ERELI: The situation in Darfur, obviously remains unstable. Violence continues to be a regular feature of the landscape unfortunately. The African Union is there doing an admirable job expanding its capabilities with the arrival of additional armored personnel carriers which should give them an important new capabilities. There is an ongoing negotiation process in Abuja which for the first time includes really all the parties that need to be there -- both from the rebel side as well as the government's side because the SPLM is represented as part of the unified Government of Sudan delegation and that's an important step forward. So they are engaged in negotiations to resolve -- to reach a political solution and that is really where in the long term, this problem is going to be solved.
On the subject of Eritrea, as you pointed out, Eritrea has informed the United Nations that it is asking elements of the UN mission there to leave within 10 days. We find these actions unacceptable and in contradiction to Eritrea's obligations under the UN charter and to U.S. -- Security Council Resolution 1640, which called on Eritrea to provide the UN mission with access support and protection.
I would note that the Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations briefed the Security Council yesterday. That the Security Council unanimously condemned the Eritrean decision and in a presidential statement demanded that Eritrea reverse the decision without preconditions. We will continue to consult with the Security Council on responding to this action by Eritrea.
QUESTION: A different issue. On Venezuela. Could you speak to the Administration's opinion of President Chavez's decision to sell discounted oil to -- for distribution to low-income Americans?
MR. ERELI: I would note that CITGO is providing discounted oil to low-income communities in the United States. CITGO is an American company. They're helping Americans in need. That is a good thing. That is as it should be. I would also note that in addition to corporate America taking an interest in needy citizens, the government is doing its part and it's important to point that out. In this quarter alone, the Department of Health and Human Services has already disbursed $1.3 billion to the states for home heating assistance to low-income Americans. And the President has asked for an additional $700 million for this purpose during this fiscal year.
So we're all doing what we can to help Americans hit by the high price of heating oil. First and foremost, the American Government but also American companies.
QUESTION: To pursue that a little bit more. Can you talk about whether or not the Administration objects to various politicians at local and state levels making their own deals for such discounted oil?
MR. ERELI: Local politicians do what local politicians do -- help their constituents.
QUESTION: And one last question if I might on President Chavez who you haven't mentioned directly -- CITGO is connected to the Venezuelan Government, to put it mildly. Do you see this -- how much of a political issue do you see it between the Bush Administration and --
MR. ERELI: We don't see this as a political issue. We don't see this as an issue that concerns the U.S. and Venezuela. We see this as an issue of an American company helping American people, which is -- which is good and right and proper. And we as a government are doing our part as well.
QUESTION: On November 17. Any progress on your efforts via your Embassy in Athens to locate the leader of November 17 terrorist organization?
MR. ERELI: No, I've said before our position on November 17. Without speaking to specific individuals, we think it's important that all of us that are threatened by terror do everything we can to act decisively against terrorist organizations.
QUESTION: But are you still looking for him --
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything more to say on it.
QUESTION: On China's Senior Dialogue, Deputy Secretary Zoellick uses the term "stakeholders" to define the current U.S. and China relationship. But when we translate the word "stakeholders" to Chinese, the concept is not very clear and now some Chinese are debating whether the word implies that U.S. and China are partners or something less than that.
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you help us better understand?
MR. ERELI: This is -- the relationship to the United States and China is much broader and more complex than a single term, and I would encourage you to look at the issue the way we do, which is as an engagement between two important powers and looking at ways to work together within a common framework, i.e., the international system that we've inherited, to maximize our mutual interests. That's point one.
Point two, I think Deputy Secretary Zoellick, I would expect, will be issuing a statement later today in which he elaborates on his discussions of the last two days.
And number three, will be providing you a background briefing later today in which we can more fully discuss not only what was talked about during the last two days of the dialogue but also any sort of etymological questions you might have.
QUESTION: Adam, there was an incident in Kirkuk last night, I believe, that may have resulted in some American casualties. Do you --
MR. ERELI: Right. At this point, there's not a lot I can tell you. There was an incident Wednesday night outside of Kirkuk in which an American contractor working for the U.S. Government was killed. We are investigating the incident -- the circumstances of the incident and when we have more information I'll endeavor to share it with you.
QUESTION: Were there were other casualties in the incident (inaudible)?
MR. ERELI: Looking into that.
QUESTION: And did it involve a police confrontation or something to that effect?
MR. ERELI: At this point in time, that's all I'm able to tell you. I'll see if we can't get you more later.
QUESTION: The upper house of the Belarus parliament has passed this controversial measure that would make it a crime to do anything "to discredit Belarus." This has already drawn a lot of fire from the United States, which has been threatening action, when it passed the lower house. What is your reaction now and is there a prospect of the U.S. reacting concretely to this?
MR. ERELI: Let me see if our experts have anything to say on it. I'll get you a considered answer after the briefing.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: To which extent does the final declaration of the Islamic Summit meet the USA's hopes concerning certain issues like terrorism and -- as well as their political reforms?
MR. ERELI: I haven't seen the final statement, so I'm not able to speak to it. I would note that obviously the Islamic Summit is an important and influential organization and we respect it and respect it's deliberations. I think you know very well our views on the issue of terror, on the issue of reform. Certainly, we are engaged in a common struggle along with the members of the Organization of Islamic Countries against terror and we recognize, as do the vast majority of members of the Organization of Islamic States that the call for reform and the desire for reform originates first and foremost with the citizens of their states.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Japanese Government's announcement to keep its troops in Iraq for another year?
MR. ERELI: The United States warmly welcomes Japan's decision to extend the deployment of its Self-Defense Forces in Iraq for another 12 months. Japan's Self-Defense Forces are making important contributions to reconstruction and humanitarian assistance for Iraq. The United States highly values Japan's leadership in reconstruction efforts in Iraq. We would note that they've pledged over $4.9 billion at the Madrid donor's conference and of that 1.4 billion has been disbursed. We think that these contributions, both economic and security, exemplify Japan's support for the Iraqi people and their sharing of the international community's commitment to a stable and successful Iraq in the future.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: One more question?
MR. ERELI: I think we're done.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:52 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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