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State Department Briefing, January 30

30 January 2006

Kuwait, Haiti, China/Taiwan, Iran, Venezuela, Palestinian Authority, Cyprus

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli briefed reporters January 30.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Monday, January 30, 2006
1:13 p.m. EST

Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- Appointment of Shayk Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al Saba as Amir

-- Release of Father Gerard Jean Juste

-- U.S. Policy Toward Taiwan/One China Policy
-- U.S. Opposition to Any Unilateral Change to the Status Quo

-- U.S. Concerns About Human Rights Situation
-- U.S. Engagement with India Regarding Iran's Nuclear Program

-- Importance of Supporting Democracy in Venezuela
-- U.S. Relationship with Venezuelan Military
-- Report on State Sponsors of Terrorism/Status of Classification
-- CITGO's Sale of Discounted Oil to Americans

-- U.S. Policy and Approach Toward Palestinian Authority
-- Secretary Rice's Engagement in Discussions Regarding Aid
-- Query Regarding Presidential Authority Over Security Elements
-- U.S. Review of Obligations to Caretaker Government
-- Direct Assistance to the Palestinian Authority

-- Turkish Proposal on Easing Port and Trade Restrictions



1:13 p.m. EST

MR. ERELI:  Welcome, everybody.  Pleasure to have you with us.  I've got three statements to start off with.  One we issued yesterday, but I wanted to draw your attention to it.  It's from the Secretary congratulating Shaykh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al Sabah who was approved yesterday by the -- Kuwait's parliament as the Amir of Kuwait.  The Secretary had the pleasure of meeting Shaykh Sabah in Washington this summer and we also make note of the Kuwaiti Government's commitment to the constitution during this transition process and their respect for the rule of law in managing the transition.

A second statement we put out today is also by the Secretary welcoming the news that Father Gerald Jean Juste has been released from prison in Haiti and is now in the United States.  We had long called for his humanitarian release from prison so that he could get medical treatment.  It was the subject of sustained efforts by many American officials and we applaud the humanitarian decision by the Interim Government of Haiti to allow Father Jean Juste to seek medical attention.

The final statement is just a reiteration of U.S. policy on Taiwan.  We are pointing out, once again, that our -- the U.S. policy towards Taiwan is governed by our "one China" policy, the Taiwan Relations Act and the three U.S.-China joint communiqués, and we urge both Beijing and Taipei to establish substantive cross-strait dialogue to the mutual benefit of both sides on the strait.

QUESTION:  Are you issuing this to celebrate China's New Years or is there a reason?

MR. ERELI:  No.  We're issuing this in the wake of some comments by President Chen in Taiwan that we don't want to be inflammatory or send the wrong signal, so we thought it useful to reiterate U.S. policy on the subject.

QUESTION:  What do you think of his move to abolish the unification panel that was set up?

MR. ERELI:  Well, as I said, there were some remarks made over the weekend that are just that, remarks.  As far as U.S. is concerned -- United States is concerned, our policy towards this issue hasn't changed.  We think it's important that both sides engage in dialogue and that there be -- and very importantly, I think it's -- I want to underscore this -- the United States opposes any unilateral change to the status quo by either side.



QUESTION:  On Taiwan, too.  The -- President Chen also mentioned that he would like to promote Taiwan's participation in the United Nations, especially in the name of Taiwan.  I'm just wondering what's the U.S. stand on that issue.

MR. ERELI:  I think if you look at the broad principles of our policy, you'll see that we don't -- we oppose, as I just said, any unilateral change to the status quo, and that would govern that issue as well.

QUESTION:  How about the United Nations participation?

MR. ERELI:  That's a unilateral change to the status quo.

QUESTION:  I see.  Well, were you caught by surprise this time?

MR. ERELI:  We certainly weren't expecting it and we weren't consulted about it.  So I'd say it was a surprise.

QUESTION:  So, were you mad at that?

MR. ERELI:  We think it's useful, as I said earlier, in the wake of the speech, to give a clear and unequivocal restatement of U.S. policy.

QUESTION:  Do you regard his -- you know, statement as a kind of -- you know, betrayal to his commitments that he had said again and again to the U.S.?

MR. ERELI:  We think it's important that both sides engage in substantive dialogue to the mutual benefit of the people on both sides of the strait.

QUESTION:  President Chen also called for drawing a draft for new constitution this year and having a referendum on the new constitution next year.  Do you have any comment on this --

MR. ERELI:  Not beyond what I've already said.  Other subjects?


MR. ERELI:  Barry?

QUESTION:  I'm sorry.  Go ahead.

MR. ERELI:  Barry Schweid, do you defer?


MR. ERELI:  You hit the jackpot.


QUESTION:  The Government of Iran arrested almost 700 bus riders in Tehran during the weekend now put in the prison.  The day after that, 2:00 a.m., the intelligence forces arrested many of their wives and children.  Some even have been abused by the security forces.  The drivers right now are in the -- under the strike.  Have you any comment on this matter?

MR. ERELI:  I hadn't heard that report.  It's certainly something we'll be looking into and I'll see if I can get you a comment later this afternoon.  Obviously, we have, as you know, longstanding and deep-seated concerns about human rights situation in Iran and the actions by the regime to suppress dissent and deprive the people of Iran of their political and civil rights.  As to the specific facts of this case, as I said, we'll have to look into it and see what we can give to you.

QUESTION:  Has India notified the United States it will not support referring Iran's nuclear behavior to the UN?

MR. ERELI:  Not that I'm aware of, but I think the Secretary spoke to this extensively in London.

QUESTION:  No, she didn't.  She talked to him of course -- with India, she spoke extensively about the issue --

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.  No.

QUESTION:  -- but she ducked on India, so I'm asking you --

MR. ERELI:  She said -- I think you need to look at the transcript.  India will decide, as a sovereign country and will make a decision -- its own decision on how it votes on this issue.  We have been engaged with them, I think, closely and in a productive way about our shared concerns over Iran's nuclear program.

QUESTION:  Okay.  With all due respect, that doesn't tell us whether or not India has notified the United States.

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

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION:  Could we move to Venezuela?  The Venezuelan authorities have accused military personnel stationed in Caracas -- at the American Embassy in Caracas of spying against Venezuela's military interests.  Do you have any comment on that?

MR. ERELI:  I don't.  No.  No, I don't.

QUESTION:  Well, can I rephrase my question then?

MR. ERELI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Do you believe that these accusations could affect the cooperation agreement between the United States and Venezuela that was supposed to be signed within the next day?

MR. ERELI:  I wouldn't want to speculate.  I think that we've -- we obviously, number one, think it's important in dealing with Venezuela to support democracy, support the civil and political rights of the Venezuelans and their opportunity to determine their own political future.  We've had over the years good relations with the Venezuelan military -- certainly hope that we can continue that.  But as for the specific case, I just don't have anything for you.


QUESTION:  On Venezuela, too.

MR. ERELI:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  On Friday, President Chavez accused the United States to classify Venezuela as a terrorist state.  Has been there any discussion in the Bush Administration to take this step and classify the Government of Venezuela?  And what would be the criteria that U.S. would use to determine whether Venezuela is or not a terrorist state?

MR. ERELI:  Well, we have, as you know, an annual -- well, it used to be; it's changed a bit.  But there is an annual report on state sponsors of terror and the criteria is outlined in those reports and as a matter of legislation.  So that's an objective criteria that I'd refer you to the public record on.  As far as reports that we're looking at Venezuela -- looking at applying those criteria -- we apply them to all countries but is there any particular effort underway with regard to Venezuela or any imminent change in our classification?  Not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Any reaction about -- in the spite of all these complaints between the two government, Venezuela Government is giving cheap oil through CITGO to poor communities in the United States?  Any comment, any knowledge of that?

MR. ERELI:  Well, I think we spoke to that several weeks ago and made the point that there are communities -- there are people around the United States suffering from hardship as a result of cold weather and high oil prices.  CITGO's an American company; CITGO's helping those -- some people.  We made -- and the last time we commented on this, I think, note that the U.S. Government and the Bush Administration, the Department of Energy, I believe, is providing assistance in the hundreds of millions of dollars to great numbers of Americans in need.  And it's something that:  (a) the government recognizes is important and (b) that far and beyond any private sector initiative, the U.S. Government is addressing.


QUESTION:  A question concerning, again, Hamas within the Palestinian Authority.  There were speeches over the weekend and, of course, in London where this conference is underway right now with the Quartet, has the Secretary evaluated any movement or moderation by Hamas?  Obviously you want no dealings with them and there's a bit of optimism perhaps that President Abbas will stay with a firm hand and run foreign policy.

MR. ERELI:  I don't want to speculate about the future.  I think the President -- Secretary have spoken to this issue today and over the past couple of days.  Our policy is clear with regard to Hamas as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and to what the principles are that will guide our policy and approach toward the Palestinian Authority.  Those policies, those principles, are based on a vision of two states living side by side in peace and security, and that's what's important and participants in the political process need to recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce violence, renounce terror and disarm.

QUESTION:  A follow-up, Adam.  There have been some talk that Iran and other countries, possibly Syria and others, would be putting vast amounts of both military weaponry and arms into Palestinian areas and tilting the whole dynamic there.  Do you see that as a problem and have you spoken to other governments concerning that?

MR. ERELI:  I'd say that's, at this point, in the realm of the speculative and I don't want to go there.


QUESTION:  Adam, the Europeans governments have -- the European Union has said that it will not cut off funding to the Hamas government if they make some verbal assurances about changing their policy on Israel's right to exist.  Is that less stringent than you would have hoped the response to --

MR. ERELI:  Well, I haven't seen those comments and I'd want to look at them carefully to see who said it and under what circumstances, et cetera, et cetera.  I'd simply say that the Secretary is engaged in discussions on this issue with the senior levels of those involved, and I think I'll just defer comment on those reports and other questions related to that to their comments later today.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Will you take a look, though, because I think it's official EU statements coming out, not just random diplomats.

MR. ERELI:  I will, definitely.

QUESTION:  But it seems with the U.S. -- I think you just said a few seconds ago, it takes more than a simple sentence renouncing tourism -- terrorism -- we always thought Arafat renounced tourism, by the way --  (Laughter) -- but the statement that Secretary of State George Shultz kept pushing on him until he finally said the magic words.  And remember the Herblock cartoon, maybe, the duck came down and you started to talk to him.  It isn't simply a statement you want, is it, from Hamas?  You want more than that.  You just mentioned about four things you want them to do.

MR. ERELI:  Yeah, we want -- I guess -- I don't want to -- I can't be clearer than the President and the Secretary and I think I'll just leave it at their words.

QUESTION:  But really, if it's a simple -- let me ask you a simple question.  Most Hamas do more than simply renounce terrorism.

MR. ERELI:  We've said renounce terrorism, accept Israel's right to exist, disarm as a militia, and renounce violence.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  On Cyprus, what is your position with the British plan for Cyprus?  The leader, the other day, by the Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul?

MR. ERELI:  The British plan or the Turkish proposal?

QUESTION:  That's what they say.  They --

MR. ERELI:  Well --

QUESTION:  British plan delivered by the Turks.  I cannot understand this.

MR. ERELI:  What we're aware of is a proposal announced by Turkish Foreign Minister Gul on January 24th that provided for easing of port and trade restrictions and we have publicly welcomed that proposal.  We think it's positive.  We think it's forward looking.  We think it's welcome in the context of a process in which the Annan plan wasn't accepted by one side and in which all the parties are looking for ways to engage on the basis of that plan, come up with some changes that might work, and see if we can't get the process going again.

So, in that context and in that spirit, this proposal was a positive one, a welcome one, and one that we hope will help break the deadlock and push the parties -- all parties to be flexible and creative.

QUESTION:  Do you support this plan which favors the petition of Cyprus and the president of the Turkish invasion occupation forces, since your government, in the UN Resolution, supports exactly the opposite?

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.  You know, I don't want to really get into a discussion of the details of this plan.  There are some positive elements in it.  What we think is that it represents a step that can help refocus the parties on engaging in a positive way on creative ideas to break the deadlock and to move forward.  But frankly, the details of the plan are up to the parties to discuss, not something that I have a comment on.

QUESTION:  Any comment on the refusal of Cyprus and Greece not to accept this catastrophic plan since your government is in favor, as you stated in writing last Thursday and you said a few moments ago?

MR. ERELI:  As I said, we think it's a proposal that merits consideration, that merits discussion and that can have a positive impact on negotiations over the Cyprus issue.

QUESTION:  Did Secretary Rice discuss the draft of the so-called Turkish plan with Javier Solana of the EU the other day here at the State Department prior to the (inaudible)?

MR. ERELI:  I'm not aware of that.

QUESTION:  When the first time your government was aware of the existence of this plan?

MR. ERELI:  I couldn't tell you.

QUESTION:  Can we go back a little bit?

MR. ERELI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  On the Palestinian situation.  Any plan that you know of -- I think it's worth checking every couple or three days -- to send that diplomatic team or any diplomatic team -- American, I mean -- out there?

MR. ERELI:  Let me check and see what the thinking is.

QUESTION:  And I truly am confused about the legalisms involved with what Abbas can retain.  I don't expect, you know, a whole dissertation here, but can he retain authority over security, as far as the U.S. is concerned?

MR. ERELI:  Again, I think I'd really have to refer you to the Palestinians on that one since it's their laws and regulations.  I don't want to interpret them from the podium.

QUESTION:  Well, the General is still out there, isn't he?

MR. ERELI:  General Dayton?


MR. ERELI:  He is in London.

QUESTION:  He's in London.

MR. ERELI:  For this meeting.  But he is continuing his work with the Palestinian Authority.  The president of the Palestinian Authority does retain authority over elements in the security forces.  Precisely which elements and precisely which authority, I'd refer you to the Palestinians for.


MR. ERELI:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Do you have any opinion on whether Israel should continue to transfer the monies that it does monthly to the Palestinians?  I think it's something like $50 million?

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.  I think everybody -- the Secretary has made clear that we've got a transitional period in which the Palestinian Authority is going to be -- the current government -- sorry, the transitional government is going to be running things for a while and that we need to review our obligations to the caretaker government prior to the formation of a new government.  And that I think is ongoing.

QUESTION:  And that would also include the money that the U.S. has already designated for the Palestinian aid programs?  I mean, the money that has already been designated, Sean said he would check to find out where it is in the pipeline.  Do you have any update on that?

MR. ERELI:  I don't.  I don't, not beyond saying that we are mindful of the needs of the caretaker government in reviewing obligations toward that government.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So as long as Abbas remains in power things are kind of on hold, but the money hasn't been frozen as long as he --

MR. ERELI:  Yeah, I'd leave it at how he said it.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) aid straight to the Palestinians, so far, right?

MR. ERELI:  There has been -- direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority requires special congressional waivers, so it's given on an exceptional basis for specific purposes.  And we have -- the Executive Branch has requested from Congress three waivers in the past:  two in fiscal 2005, one in fiscal year 2004.  But as of now, there's no direct assistance -- there's no new requests for direct assistance.

QUESTION:  You mean request by the President from the Executive --

MR. ERELI:  From the Executive Branch, yes. 

Thanks you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:34 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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