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State Department Briefing, March 15

15 March 2006

Palestinian Authority, India, Belarus, Lebanon, Kosovo

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press March 15.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
1:10 p.m. EST

Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- Concerns Regarding the Implications of a Hamas-Led Government
-- Review of Humanitarian Assistance to the Palestinians
-- Mandate of Special Envoy Wolfensohn/Possible Extension of Term
-- Upcoming Meeting of Quartet Envoys

-- U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative

-- Detention of Democracy Activists/Seizure of Independent Journalists
-- Belarusian Disregard for Its Commitments & International Standards
-- Strong & Committed Movement by Members of Civil Society

-- Report, Investigation and Briefing by Judge Brammertz on the Assassination of Former Prime Minister Hariri

-- Next Round of Talks/Focus on Cultural & Religious Sites & Minority Rights



1:10 p.m. EST

MR. ERELI: Hey, everyone. No statements to begin with, so let's get started with your questions.

QUESTION: This morning, Mr. Wolfensohn -- and we know who he is -- told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that it's going to take some time, as urgent as this task may be to find away to bypass a Hamas-lead government and help a lot of very unfortunately impoverished Palestinian people which brings to mind the U.S. has an ongoing assessment, review, call it what you will. I just wondered what -- how things are looking at this end, so far as coming to some conclusions about how to do it, projects to help and basically -- we know it's humanitarian, but is there anything on the U.S. assessment that you could provide?

MR. ERELI: Well, obviously, we and Special Envoy Wolfensohn had the same concerns, which is the implications of a Hamas-led government in the Palestinian Authority for the Palestinian people because we've got a very firm and core set of principles which is that we're not going to and this was reflected in Quartet statements and subsequent statements by the EU and others, that we're not going to support a government and members of the government who advocate terror and who don't recognize Israel. The implications of that for the Palestinian people are our foremost concern. So how do we reconcile the fact that we're not going to support Hamas and their government and that we're going to help the Palestinian people? It's something that Wolfensohn's looking at, it's something the Quartet is looking at. It's something that we're looking at with respect to U.S. funded programs and other forms of assistance.

I don't have an update for you, Barry, on where we are in that review. I think that Assistant Secretary Welch has spoken to it. I've spoken to it. We've made a lot of progress in assessing what kind of assistance would be humanitarian, what kind of assistance wouldn't be considered humanitarian. I think that we're going to be looking at ways that -- looking at possible scenarios of given a Hamas-lead government what we could do and what we couldn't do, bearing in mind the competing needs of helping the Palestinian people, while not supporting Hamas. It's a difficult balance, but one that we are certainly aware of and sensitive too.

And finally I think we need to underscore a point that gets lost in a lot of discussion on this issue, which is that a lot of responsibility for the situation rests with Hamas. And the elected leadership of the Palestinian people to make some fundamental decisions about how it wants to relate to the international community and how it wants to serve the interests of the Palestinian people. And we think it's important that they face up to those choices and those choices be made as clear as possible.

QUESTION: Just -- if I could ask a couple of minor points. He put -- not the minor points but you know, not general points -- specific points. He put a lot of emphasis on schools being -- a great need for schools. When he spoke of potential vehicles for assistance, he mentioned church groups, as well as UN, et cetera. Where is the State Department on this? Is that a potential vehicle and are you focusing at all on the need for school --

MR. ERELI: I think -- we're looking --

QUESTION: He spoke of a million Palestinian kids in the streets, you know --

MR. ERELI: Obviously, what we're looking at is, as I said earlier, ways that we can help the Palestinian people meet their humanitarian needs without, at the same time, supporting a terrorist organization. That covers the whole range of issues. It covers health, education, agriculture. And I think the -- you know, the important point here is we've got to maintain a clear dividing line between helping the Palestinian people and supporting a terrorist organization. And that's what's going to guide our funding decisions. But if you ask me on specific cases, I'm just not in a position to get into that level of detail.

QUESTION: Wolfensohn said that his -- the mandate for him and the backing for him was not clear enough. Can you tell us what the mandate is?

MR. ERELI: Well, I think that's been pretty well covered in the announcement of his position and in the discussion of his role previously. What I can tell you is that we certainly retain full confidence in Special Envoy Wolfensohn. We think he's doing a great job and we've requested, in consultation with our Quartet partners, that he extend his term until the end of April so that he can complete his work. His work is, you know, as we've said before, to look at ways the Quartet can meet the development and economic needs of the Palestinians.

Obviously there have been some changes on the ground since his appointment, the most important one being the imminent formation of a government led by a Foreign Terrorist Organization. That obviously has an impact on all of us bilaterally as well as multilaterally, and including the work of Special Envoy Wolfensohn. That said, as I answered the previous question, we all share the same broad goals, which is to make sure that whatever happens politically in the Palestinian territories that the people of Palestine or the people of those territories, the inhabitants of those territories, aren't neglected and that their suffering is minimized.

QUESTION: Did you say you would like to see him stay for just six weeks?

MR. ERELI: Extend his term until the end of April.

QUESTION: And beyond that, what?

QUESTION: And then what?

MR. ERELI: That's -- I don't think he's got a defined term, but I think we're looking at the end of April so that he can continue his work.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. Could you somehow rephrase that? You would like him to stay in the post --

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- until the end of April, that being the end of the term?

MR. ERELI: Let me check and see when his term is --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) term was three years. I don't know --

MR. ERELI: Yeah, let me check and see when his term ended, when his term is scheduled to end.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

MR. ERELI: The point here is we were asked what we think of Wolfensohn. We think he's doing a great job. We think it's important that he stay on and that he continue his work on behalf of the Palestinian people and that will continue at least until the end of April.

QUESTION: At least until the end of April?

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you know what happens -- may want, or if it's his job or not?

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

QUESTION: Okay. So when he says he doesn't have clear enough backing, there's an uncertainty; the United States doesn't know what -- if his role exists anymore.

MR. ERELI: No, no. First of all, it's not the United States. He's the envoy of the Quartet so these discussions are taking place in the context of the Quartet. So let's make it clear that this isn't an issue between Wolfensohn and the United States; it's a Quartet position that he's doing a good job and we'd like him to stay on at least until the end of April.

QUESTION: Adam, if and when he does go, will there be the intention, the definition intention, by the Quartet to replace him with somebody else to carry on the same function?

MR. ERELI: I can't -- you know, I can't speak to that. I really can't. I don't know what the status is on that.

QUESTION: Now, he says he needs something from the Quartet, which is when he talks about a clearer mandate or clearer backing, he said there's a problem: Because the Quartet's not fully defined how he can help the Palestinians with their aid because the review is still going on, he feels he's going to be left with too little time to provide some kind of alternative system. You know, previously it was through the -- there was lots of things through the Authority, through the government. You can't do that when Hamas is in power, so don't give him too much -- too little time to be able to sort this out. What are you doing? How soon are you going to get the review done?

MR. ERELI: I'm reluctant to be drawn into timelines. I think that we are all seized with the urgency of the issue. Special Envoy Wolfensohn, like the other members of the Quartet, recognizes the challenge facing us and recognizes the urgency of it. Two points.

One is we are moving quickly to be in a position to help the Palestinian people when a Hamas-led government comes into office and brings about a change in our assistance, in the way we provide assistance. I think that's something that we, the United States, are moving forward on expeditiously and something the Quartet is moving forward on expeditiously. I would note that there is going to be a meeting of the Quartet envoys later this week in which this issue is going to be addressed.

So, frankly, I understand -- we understand Special Envoy Wolfensohn's sense of urgency. We share it. And at the same time, it's important to underscore, as I did earlier, some of the fundamentals of the situation we're facing. And that is that a lot of this could be avoided and all of this could be avoided if the new government of the Palestinian Authority, as we expect it will be led by Hamas, makes the right decision and acts in a way that is supportive of what we all want to do for the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Could you elaborate a little on that Quartet meeting where these -- and this is to specifically look at --

MR. ERELI: It's to review the situation including assistance. I believe that David Welch will be meeting in Brussels later this week with --

QUESTION: But it's Wednesday already. Can't you say if it's Thursday or Friday?

MR. ERELI: I don't have the exact date.

QUESTION: And it's at the level of Welch is it?

MR. ERELI: Yeah.


MR. ERELI: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Royd with Voice of America's India Service.

MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. Are you done with this issue?

QUESTION: No, not really.

MR. ERELI: Okay.

QUESTION: Following Mr. Wolfensohn with General Dayton --

MR. ERELI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- spoke of having no contacts with Hamas, spoke of how Hamas's election vastly complicates any quotient dangers -- vastly complicates his job. Sort of suggested when Hamas moves in he might -- his operation might just peter out. Will you keep him there anyhow?

MR. ERELI: Let me see what I can get on my own on Dayton's future in the event of Hamas-led government.


MR. ERELI: Let me just see what I can get.

QUESTION: Okay. Adam, on that, can you also just take a question about what would happen if Wolfensohn leaves? Would he be replaced?

MR. ERELI: I'll take the question.

QUESTION: Take the question -- it's a four part -- five part --

QUESTION: Whatever.

QUESTION: -- Quartet decision.

MR. ERELI: India.

QUESTION: In the context of the Indian-U.S. nuclear -- civilian nuclear deal which as you know goes to the Congress tomorrow.

MR. ERELI: Sir, you okay?

QUESTION: It's about the arrangement of the --

MR. ERELI: Well, I'm sorry, that's a different -- we'll get back to you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: In the context of the Indian-U.S. civilian nuclear deal which goes to the Congress tomorrow, I guess.

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Russian offer to supply a nuclear core to one of the reactors which will soon undergo the IAEA guidelines.

MR. ERELI: Right.

QUESTION: Will it have any impact on the U.S. nuclear guidelines?

MR. ERELI: Well, I don't want to speculate on that. I think, you know, we've been clear that we recognize India's need for fuel. We're committed to the secure a regular supply of fuel through for the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The joint initiative and the legislation we'll be presenting tomorrow are designed to provide for the supply of fuel in that way, consistent with Indian commitments to undertake steps to bring it into compliance with IAEA safeguards. And that it's important that they do so as part of an effort to get nuclear fuel. And that frankly, it's all part of a broad and connected process.

QUESTION: Okay. On the Jericho prison, I understand that there was an agreement or an arrangement that the U.S. and Britain will sort of monitor that prison. What is the situation here from Washington on the raid by the --

MR. ERELI: Where were you yesterday?

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I wasn't here. I was --

MR. ERELI: Oh, no. We went on for about an hour and I would just refer you to the transcript.


QUESTION: On Cyprus.

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: Mr. Ereli, (inaudible) I got the announcement that the trade between the U.S. firms and it was in the north occupied area of Cyprus by Turkey does not violate a U.S., not despite the fact that this transaction is inconsistent with U.S. law section 620C of the Foreign Assistant Act. But I did not (inaudible) as far as that this mutual claim violating international law, and more specifically the International Monetary organization rules and the banks of (inaudible) resolution. Could you please look into that too?

MR. ERELI: Yes. I'll look into it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: On Belarus. I understand the situation is not getting any better, just in terms of dealing with the opposition. And indeed there was another incident involving an opposition for (inaudible) opposition force.

MR. ERELI: Right.

QUESTION: Can we have the U.S. reaction? Also as we get closer to this and we get a piling up of abuses, is there any prospect of any concrete action as opposed to just words?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. I think first of all, we've got to condemn what happened today. The authorities who have once again detained democracy activists this time, Mr. Anatol Lyabedzka, who was one of the top officials in the campaign of opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich. This is just the latest in a continuing series of detentions and sentences that are keeping opposition activists in custody, at least with the March 19th elections. It also comes in addition to seizure by the authorities of independent newspapers. All of these actions are clearly inconsistent with the Government of Belarus's claims that it intends to hold a free and fair election this Sunday and are also inconsistent with its commitments to the OSCE -- as a member of the OSCE.

What are we going to do about it? I think that is something that we will be consulting with our partners in the OSCE about, with our partners in Europe. It's a matter of grave concern for all of us, when a country acts in such flagrant disregard of its own commitments in international standards. And we'll continue to watch. We'll see how the elections unfold. As is customary in these sorts of processes, we'll get together, we'll consult and we'll look at ways that I think we can support true democracy, true respect for the rights of its citizens in Belarus.

QUESTION: If I can I just follow-up on that. With all due respect, I mean, we've now got six months, eight months, maybe a year that we've been saying exactly the same thing -- put a spotlight, condemn --

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: What incentive is there for Mr. Lukashenko to change his ways?

MR. ERELI: A government is answerable to its people and the incentive of any government is to treat its people decently according to its laws and according to international standards. That's a -- frankly, that's the way Europe works; Belarus is a part of Europe. The more they act in defiance of standards of Europe and in defiance of basic human rights, the less and less they'll be a part of Europe. I think the incentive to us is clear: the future of Belarus and the future of the Belarusian people lie in Euro-Atlantic integration. The actions the government has taken -- continues to take move Belarus in a different direction. That's unfortunate. It's something we all want -- it's a trend we all want to reverse. And I think it's something that requires concerted action over time.

You mentioned the time period of six to eight months, sometimes it takes a bit longer to get things moving in the right direction. But clearly there's a groundswell -- I don't know if I'd use the word groundswell -- clearly there is a strong and committed movement in Belarus and by brave members of the Belarusian civil society and political intellectual communities to act in ways that move Belarus in a direction consistent with the kind of standards and the kind of practices that I've been talking about.

We're going to continue to support them, continue to work with them so that they can prevail in their struggle, to make Belarus a truly democratic state that respects the rights of citizens.


QUESTION: What's the U.S. reaction to the report by Judge Brammertz on the killing of former Lebanon Prime Minister Hariri he presented to the UN yesterday?

MR. ERELI: Yeah, yeah. Well, obviously we support the work of investigator Brammertz. He's continuing the important and valuable work of his predecessor, Mr. Mehlis. The investigation goes on. He's moving forward systematically and fairly to get the facts. We'll look at his report. We'll discuss it in the Security Council next week. Actually, I'll just take that back -- tomorrow. He's briefing the Security Council tomorrow, so we look forward to that briefing tomorrow.

Obviously, Syria's record on cooperation with UN investigator is not great and we'll continue to expect Syria to comply with UN Security Council resolutions on the Hariri investigation, not just in words but also in deeds. And we will be applying that benchmark to our evaluation of the situation. We will also be, you know, discussing this looking not just at Resolution 1669 -- I'm sorry, 1664 which set up the Brammertz investigation, but also the broader situation in Lebanon as well and implementation of 1559.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: Any comment on the funeral of Slobodan Milosevic this coming Saturday in Belgrade, since he cooperated with the U.S. Government too to reach the Dayton agreement ten years ago?

MR. ERELI: No. I don't have any comment.

QUESTION: And the last one, any comment on the upcoming talks for Kosovo in Vienna March 20th?

MR. ERELI: Actually the next round of talks on Kosovo will be March 17th in Vienna. These will be conducted by UN Special Envoy Mr. Ahtisaari. This round and subsequent talks will be focusing on issues such as protection of cultural and religious sites and minority rights. I would say that we remain committed as always to working with Special Envoy Ahtisaari and the parties to achieve progress on these and related issues over the coming weeks and to reach a status settlement this year.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Changing the subject -- Iran.

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any news regarding the evolution of yesterday --

MR. ERELI: No. Nothing new on this.

QUESTION: Okay, another thing. Apparently two photographic journalists citizens of Sweden has been arrested today -- this morning in the local timing -- south of Iran. They accusing of taking the picture from the military and nuclear site.

MR. ERELI: Right.

QUESTION: Do you have anything about it?

MR. ERELI: I haven't seen those reports. I don't have the facts on it. I'll see if we've got anything.

QUESTION: Can you please see?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 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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