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State Department Briefing, March 30

30 March 2006

Russia, Iraq, Iran, Israel/Palestinians, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press March 30.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Thursday, March 30, 2006
12:45 p.m. EST

Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- Intelligence Reports Regarding Iraq/Discussion between Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Lavrov

-- Efforts to Help Iraq Develop a Stable & Successful Democracy
-- Formation of a Government of National Unity
-- Control over Iraq's Future/US-Iraq Bilateral Relationship
-- Release of Jill Carroll/Efforts of International Community

-- US Concerns Regarding Iran's Nuclear Program
-- UN Security Council Presidential Statement/Meetings in Berlin
-- Problems with the Regime's Policies & Actions
-- International Community United in Approach to Confronting Iran's Nuclear Program
-- Role of International Atomic Energy Agency

-- Quartet Statement/Consultations between Quartet Envoys and Principals
-- Support and Commitment to the Principles of the Roadmap

-- Status of Six-Party Talks

-- Concerns regarding the Return of Uzbek Refugees to Uzbekistan



12:45 p.m. EST

MR. ERELI:  Greetings, everyone.  Welcome to our briefing today.  We can go straight to your questions.

QUESTION:  I think Saul's got a terrific question.  Let him go.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Why don't we start with --

MR. ERELI:  Sports.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Russia.  You know, on the foreign ministry website they have responded to the Pentagon's paper about intelligence allegations regarding Iraq.  The foreign ministry says -- denies them and then goes on to say, "Whether you like it or not, behind this there could be seen a definite motive of distracting attention from the mounting real problems in Iraq."  So what do you say to that?

MR. ERELI:  I think we've spoken to it already.  I don't have much new to add.  The Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov a couple days ago.  We've asked for them to look into these reports.  I haven't seen the latest on the foreign ministry website.  We'll be obviously continuing to talk to the Russians about this.

As far as the situation in Iraq goes, I think the international community shares a common interest in helping Iraq to develop a stable and successful democracy.  It's certainly what the United Nations has endorsed.  It's what a broad of array of countries are engaged in:  the United States, Russia has been supportive of this -- and that's the approach we take with regard to all of our partners in supporting Iraq.

QUESTION:  Okay.  This seems to be the response that you've asked them to give.  You've said, look, here are the allegations, what do you say.  And so far, the Russian Government, as far as I can tell, had only said, "Okay, we'll look at it.  We'll give you an answer."  Have they communicated anything to the U.S. Government or it just what --

MR. ERELI:  Saul, I haven't seen the foreign ministry website -- statement on the foreign ministry website.  We'll do that after the briefing and if we've got more communications from the Russian Government on this, I'll let you know.

QUESTION:  Thank you.


MR. ERELI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  It appears that international community looking forward to the regime of Iran for other issues, such as supporting the terrorism, interfering to Iran and helping the Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Do you have any comment on that?

MR. ERELI:  When we speak about Iran, we speak about a number of concerns.  Obviously, their nuclear program is at the forefront of public debate right now, as evidenced by the presidential statement at the Security Council that was agreed on yesterday, as well as the meetings of the P-5 and Germany in Berlin today.  So that's a big concern, a big issue for all of us.  But that's not to ignore other problems with the regime's policies and the regime's actions, including the support for terror, whether it be Hezbollah or Palestinian rejectionist groups, or the continuing oppression of the rights of their own citizens.

And as the Secretary said on her way to Berlin, these would be subjects of conversation with the P-5 partners because, frankly, what we're trying to do is to act together in a way that helps the Iranian people realize their ambitions for a great country connected with the rest of the world as opposed to the decisions of a regime -- an unelected regime -- that push Iran in the opposite direction:  isolated and in confrontation with the international community.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION:  Mohamed ElBaradei says that Iran is not a threat in the near term and that any sanctions you might impose on them would be a bad idea, counterproductive.  What do you say to that?

MR. ERELI:  I think that the German Foreign Minister and Secretary of State Rice and the other foreign ministers were very eloquent on that score today in Berlin and I'd refer you to their comments.  They said, look, we've taken stock of where we are at the present time, and that is a united international community, a united Security Council, in its concern over Iran's nuclear program, in concern over its refusal to respond positively to the call by the Board of Governors to suspend its enrichment activity and to return to negotiations, and calling on Iran to do so and for the Director-General to report back to the IAEA and the Security Council in 30 days.

As the German Foreign Minister said, Iran has a choice between negotiation and confrontation and isolation.  And we, as the presidential statement says and as today's meeting in Berlin demonstrates, are united in our common approach to confronting Iran's program and, frankly, the danger that it represents for all of us.

QUESTION:  Well, what do you say directly to ElBaradei's comments?

MR. ERELI:  I think the presidential statement and the statement by the foreign ministers is a eloquent and comprehensive expression of where we are on the subject.


QUESTION:  The Washington Post quotes Mr. Lavrov as saying that any sanctions or use of force would not be supported.  So what kind of unity are we talking about and what kind of isolation are you hoping to give?

MR. ERELI:  The unity that we have is that the P-5, the other members of the Security Council, which is an important body for dealing with issues related to peace and security in the international community, has said Iran's nuclear program is a problem and Iran has for too long been rejecting and refusing to cooperate with the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and they need to change that kind of behavior.  So that is a powerful and important statement or expression of consensus, an expression of common purpose in confronting a repeated pattern of defiance and non-cooperation and confrontation.

Again, I think from our perspective the focus of all of this is Iranian behavior.  And if you're going to understand where we're coming from, it's important to look at what Iran is doing or failing to do and how we are all working together step by step in a diplomatic process to address Iran's failures, to address Iran's non-cooperation, as an international community within the context of or within the framework of international agreements and international organizations and international diplomacy, and we'll continue to do that.

And as Iran takes certain actions, we will respond in kind.  Whether that be in a positive direction by suspending enrichment or returning to negotiations or whether it be in a negative direction by continuing to enrich and continuing to resist the calls of the IAEA for transparency.  But again, as was said in Berlin, there is a serious confidence deficit, serious trust deficit, with respect to Iran by the international community.  And it's up to Iran to restore -- to take steps to address that deficit.  So far, everything they've done merely contributes to increased distrust and increased skepticism and doubts about Iranian intentions, and they've done nothing to allay those doubts.


QUESTION:  Another question, still on this.  How does the U.S. see the role of the IAEA continuing here?  That's one of the issues under discussion now in the P-5 +1.

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.  Again, the Secretary was very explicit about that in her comments on the way to Germany and the statement of the -- the presidential statement of the Security Council was very explicit about that.  And the purpose is -- of the statement and of our diplomacy, frankly, is to put the weight of the Security Council and the international community behind the IAEA in its efforts to get Iran to abide by its safeguards obligations and in support of diplomacy to address this problem.

QUESTION:  But if this were so clear, why would it still be an issue of contention and discussion amongst the P-5 members?

MR. ERELI:  It's not an issue of contention.

QUESTION:  You think everybody's satisfied?  You think all P-5 members are satisfied that they're on the same page with regard to role of the IAEA?

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.  That's why we had a presidential statement by consensus.

QUESTION:  You were previously speaking about progressive approach.  So what is the next step?  A resolution?

MR. ERELI:  The next step is we've got -- Iran has 30 days to --

QUESTION:  Yeah, so it's a consensus for 30 days.

MR. ERELI:  Right.  Yeah.

QUESTION:  It's very short.

MR. ERELI:  Let's see what Iran does.

QUESTION:  You keep on telling us that, you know, you're ratcheting up the pressure.

MR. ERELI:  The presidential statement by the Security Council is, I think, an important, as the Secretary said in her statement yesterday, an important diplomatic step.  The issue has been discussed, not in the technical body, but in a political body that is responsible for international peace and security.  It has been presented to that body, debated and they have put forward their view that Iranians' actions are of concern and that Iran needs to cooperate with the IAEA.  That is an important development in the diplomacy on this issue.


QUESTION:  Adam, what's the genesis of the new Quartet statement, like who met where and what are Welch and Abrams up to?

MR. ERELI:  Assistant Secretary Welch and Deputy National Security Advisor Abrams are in Israel I believe today.  They are meeting with Israeli officials.  The Quartet statement that we sent to all of you today is a result of consultations between the Quartet envoys and principals.  It was approved by all the principals and released in the name of the Quartet today.  We've put it out, I think, the UN has put it out.  It comes in the wake, obviously, of the  Hamas government taking office.  It -- the Quartet envoys reviewed the January 30th statement in which, as you'll recall, the Quartet called upon Hamas and any future Palestinian government to renounce violence, to accept -- to recognize Israel and to accept previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap.  It noted that Hamas has failed to do that.  And as a result, future assistance to the new government would be reviewed and there would inevitably be an effect on direct assistance.  The Quartet also importantly encouraged continued humanitarian assistance, so that the Palestinian people do not suffer and noted the importance of continued movement and access provisions.

QUESTION:  Now, who among the Palestinians are the two envoys going to meet?  I mean, Abbas, I would presume.

MR. ERELI:  I expect they'll meet Abbas at some point, yes.

QUESTION:  About Israel after the elections, the Prime Minister is in a strong position and he's advocating a policy of separation, unilateral separation from the Palestinians.  And the Secretary on the plane said that there were some interesting aspects in this policy.  Does it mean that U.S. renounced to the Quartet roadmap?

MR. ERELI:  Well, no.  I don't -- I wouldn't read the Secretary's comments that way at all.  First of all, it's important to go back to the Quartet statement where the Quartet reaffirms its support and commitment to the principles of the roadmap and its support for a negotiated settlement and the creation of two states that could lead to two states living side by side in peace and security.  That continues to be the policy of the United States and that continues to be the firm view of the Quartet.

To have a negotiated solution, you need two partners who recognize each other, who are willing to sit down and talk to each other and who renounce violence.  Right now, we've only got one.  We don't have two.  And the, frankly, the purpose of our diplomacy -- the United States and Quartet members -- is to try to bring the recalcitrant party around to accept the principle of negotiation, to renounce violence and to recognize the other partner sitting across the table from it.  Only by doing that can you live up to the obligations under the roadmap, which we continue to support, and can you achieve a Palestinian state that lives in peace and security with its neighbor.

QUESTION:  Yeah, but it's not the policy of Ehud Olmert to negotiate.

MR. ERELI:  I'm not going to speak for the Israeli Government.  I've seen nothing, however, that suggests a renunciation of the preference for a negotiated solution.


QUESTION:  Can I ask a question about Iraq?  The (inaudible) relationship between the Prime Minister of Iraq and the U.S. seems to be deteriorating.  He made some comments of warning the U.S. against interfering.  What's your reaction to those comments that he's made and has there been interference?

MR. ERELI:  We've spoken to this over the last several days.  I don't really have anything new to add.  The United States sees itself as a partner supportive of Iraq's development as a democratic and prosperous country, and our presence in Iraq, our actions in Iraq, are all designed to support that objective.  I should also add secure.  So we're working with all political parties in Iraq, the elected representatives of the Iraqi people, to help them in their efforts to form a government of national unity that can represent all Iraqis with a leadership that unifies Iraqis.  That's a role that I think they've welcomed, that we have very comfortable relations with the Iraqi leadership on and --

QUESTION:  Well, that's --

MR. ERELI:  I'm sorry, excuse me.  And finally, all of that is being done, frankly, with the understanding that it's Iraqis who are going to choose their leadership, it's Iraqis that are going to form their government.  It's not for outsiders to decide who Iraqis' leaders are going to be.

QUESTION:  So when he talks about -- when he says concern among the Iraq people that the democratic process is being threatened and then he specifically says the source of this is that some American figures have made statements that interfere with the results of the democratic process --

MR. ERELI:  Well, I don't think we've made any such statements.

QUESTION:  Well, he clearly believes that, though, doesn't he?  Why is he --

MR. ERELI:  I can't speak for him.  I can say from the United States Government's point of view, we are and we have been and we will continue to be, with the support and at the invitation of the Iraqi Government, work with them to help them as they move forward in their political development.

QUESTION:  But if the U.S. is choosing, even if you're not doing it on the record, if the U.S. is choosing to support some candidates over others, or at least to single one out for lack of support, then that's not unifying Iraq, is it?

MR. ERELI:  I don't know how I can make it any clearer.  The Iraqis -- the future of Iraq and the development of its political institutions is in the hands of Iraqis.  We are a friend of Iraq.  We are there to support them in that endeavor and to assist them in that process as we can.  That's the role we're playing.  We're doing that, I think, in a cooperative way, in a friendly way.  Our relations with the Iraqi political leadership and both at the national level and the local level is good and I think this partnership is for the benefit of both of us.


QUESTION:  If North Korea continue to refuse to come back to six-party talks, does the United States have any other plan to pressure to North Korea?

MR. ERELI:  That's an avenue of speculation that I'm just not prepared to go down.  We continue to make every effort to support a resumption of six-party talks as soon as possible.  That continues to be our goal and that continues to be our focus, and the six-party process, frankly, is the way that we've all decided is the most effective means of addressing the problem of a nuclear Korean Peninsula and how to achieve the goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on that?

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  The Treasury Department has designated a Swiss company for their ties to North Korea and WMD proliferation.  How will this affect the six-party talks resumption?

MR. ERELI:  Shouldn't affect it at all.


QUESTION:  Change of subject? Can you talk about what the U.S. Embassy, what U.S. officials did on the ground to help secure the release of Jill Carroll?  There have been comments that the Embassy was working tirelessly.  So if you could just tell us what --

MR. ERELI:  What does that mean?

QUESTION:  -- what they were -- yeah.  I mean, I'm sure that -- I'm not doubting that they were.

MR. ERELI:  Right.

QUESTION:  I'm just -- what are some specific things that were done?

MR. ERELI:  Let's, first of all, welcome and express relief and gratitude and, frankly, joy at the release of Jill Carroll.  She was a victim of terrorism and the act of terror that she suffered should be condemned.  She is safe and that is a good thing.  There were people in Iraq and all over the world, frankly, who worked tirelessly for the long period of her captivity to see this day; that includes our embassy.  It includes Iraqis, both inside and outside of government.  It includes the NGO community.  It includes the media.  And I think we've all done everything we can to persuade those who held Jill Carroll to release her and that their actions were wrong and unacceptable.

As you know, we have a hostage working group at the embassy that includes representatives of a variety of different agencies, as well as the military.  They work closely with the Iraqi Government, Iraqi security forces, reaching out into the Iraqi community to try to affect the release of hostages.  That's what we were doing in this case.

I don't have a lot of details for you, really because as you can -- number one, as you can appreciate, number one, this is a sensitive area.  Number two, I think a lot of the circumstances that led to her kidnapping are still under investigation, under examination.  I'd simply say that it was the result of a lot of people's efforts, both at the embassy and outside the embassy. And as Ambassador Khalilzad said, we recognize and thank our Iraqi partners and our Iraqi friends for their assistance in bringing about Ms. Carroll's release.

QUESTION:  And was there -- was there ever any direct contact between any U.S. officials and the group believed to have taken her?

MR. ERELI:  I'm not -- frankly, I'm not aware that there was.  But that's a level of detail that I just wouldn't -- I wouldn't necessarily be aware of and I don't know if we'd comment about.  But I think that our focus frankly was on working with the Iraqi Government and Iraqi -- the Iraqi Government and official Iraqis with them and having them help and use their contacts to bring about the release, as opposed to direct American contacts.

QUESTION:  Any idea what did cause them to release her today?

MR. ERELI:  No.  I really wouldn't want to speculate on it.  I think it's difficult to get in the minds of those who would commit, you know, acts like they have:  kidnapping an innocent journalist, threatening her with execution.  It's just horrific and we're very pleased and grateful that this day has come.


QUESTION:  According to -- it's another subject.  According to Human Rights Watch, Kazakhstan has literally returned to Uzbekistan nine Uzbek refugees.  Do you have any comment on that?

MR. ERELI:  This is an issue we've been discussing with the Government of Kazakhstan for some time.  I'm not aware that there have been new returns.  Since November, there were Uzbek refugees in Kazakhstan, some of whom demanded asylum that were, contrary to international agreements and international norms, returned to Uzbekistan.  We raised these issues with the Government of Kazakhstan, expressed our concerns, asked for them to investigate and look into what happened.  I'm not aware that we've ever gotten really full explanations of what happened and it disturbs us.  It is a matter of serious human rights concern and -- because clearly, if people are returned -- if refugees are returned against their will, that is contrary to international norms and practice.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 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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