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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for October 4

Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 4, 2004


- Trade with Iran

- IDF Operations in Gaza
- UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees(UNRWA)
- Accusations of Misuse of UNRWA Resources
- HAMAS and the Palestinian Authority
- U.S. Contributions to UNRWA

- U.S. Views of Iranian Support for HAMAS

- Yasir Hamdi
- Postponement of Reformers' Trial

- Allegations against Miguel Angel Rodriguez, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS)

- Muqtada al-Sadr Participation in Elections
- Status of Coalition Troops / Polish Troops
- Operations in Najaf and Samarra
- Border Agreements and Understandings with Syria
- Interim Government Negotiations in Fallujah
- Establishment of Government Authority

- Participation in Coalition
- Defense Minister's Comments Regarding Coalition Troops

- Elections in Abkhazia Region
- U.S. Views on Peaceful Resolution of Internal Disputes
- Territorial Integrity

- Secretary General's Report Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1559
- Withdrawal of Syrian Forces from Lebanon

- Results of Presidential Runoff Elections

- Deputy Secretary Armitage's Meeting with Nepalese

- Secretary Powell's Travel to Brazil / Additional Stops

- Washington Post Advertisement / China Policy


1:00 p.m. EDT

MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me start off by welcoming our guests from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who are interns from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who are here to see the briefing. I hope you enjoy the show.

Who would like to have the first question?

QUESTION: Could I ask you if the State Department has any feelings about Germany's trade with Iran? Germany sent a delegation to Iran and Mr. Bolton wrote an article that appears in a German newspaper. Very apprehensive, trade with Iran, and you can imagine why. Is there a State Department policy on this?

MR. ERELI: It's a rather broad question.

QUESTION: Well, broadly --

MR. ERELI: Obviously, sovereign nations are free to conduct trade as they see fit, so I don't have any comment on German-Iranian trade other than to remind you that the U.S. position on this subject is governed by sanctions currently in place with regard to the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act and different legal measures that come into play when certain thresholds are crossed.

But as a general matter, again, it's an issue for Germany and Iran to talk about, not necessarily that I have any comment on. I haven't read the article you're referring to, but I'm comfortable in supporting what Mr. Bolton has written, and I don't think there's a contradiction between that and what I said.

QUESTION: Sure. Well, can I just follow up?

QUESTION: How do you know if you haven't read it?

QUESTION: Can I follow up one more?

MR. ERELI: Because I'm sure that it's consistent with U.S. policy.

QUESTION: You are?

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.


QUESTION: Well, I mean, am I mistaken, but doesn't the State Department, the Administration, all administrations, give advice to other countries, rather sharp advice? For instance, you don't like to see people trading with Cuba, which I don't suppose poses the kind of menace you think Iran does, but you don't like Cuba. Any trade with Iran, isn't it likely to help the Iranians? And you know what they're -- they're pursuing a nuclear program that makes you very nervous. They support terrorism. Germany is supposed to be an ally. Mr. Bolton thinks it's not terrific.

MR. ERELI: I think our concerns -- and Mr. Bolton has spoken to these on numerous occasions. Our concerns, as we have expressed, were particularly related to proliferation and providing of Iran with goods that can be used to advance its nuclear -- what we consider to be a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

But until I see the article, I'm a little hesitant to engage in a detailed discussion of the points raised therein.

QUESTION: Even though you just said that you agreed with everything in it, not having read it?

MR. ERELI: I said that I'm sure that what the article -- that what Mr. Bolton wrote is consistent with U.S. policy.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject, please?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: Does the United States believe that Israel has followed its call to show only proportionate force in the operations ongoing now in Gaza?

MR. ERELI: The United States remains concerned about what's happening in the region. We continue to speak with all parties and urge them to exercise maximum restraint and avoid actions that escalate tension. We also are urging all sides to take every measure to avoid civilian casualties and we are urging the Israelis to minimize the humanitarian consequences of their actions.

At the same time, we would reiterate the right of -- Israel's right to defend itself, but without -- I'm not going to get into a mathematical discussion of -- at this point, of what's proportional and what's not proportional.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, you're urging both sides to show maximum restraint. Have they, in your view?

MR. ERELI: I think we regret the loss of civilian life. We are concerned when civilian life is -- when civilians are the victims of armed conflict. It is something that we speak out against. At the same time, we recognize that there are terrorist activities being conducted from Gaza and that Israel has a right to defend itself.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. At some point in there, I think you missed answering my question. You have called on both sides to show -- urged both sides to show maximum restraint. In your view, have they? Have both sides shown maximum restraint?

MR. ERELI: It is not a judgment I'm prepared to make and prepared to speak to.

QUESTION: When you said civilian casualties, you know, you regret, you mean the civilian casualties in the Israeli raids?

MR. ERELI: I think I was speaking of civilian casualties since I last spoke on Friday.

QUESTION: Yeah, right.

QUESTION: Just on this as well. There is a bit of a to-do brewing between Israel and the United Nations, UNRWA in particular, some footage that the Israelis -- from an Israeli drone that was put out, which they say shows members of Hamas using an UNRWA ambulance. I'm wondering if you have any comment on this situation. UNRWA has vehemently denied it and this fight is getting personal in nature with Israelis accusing the head of UNRWA of hating Israel. Do you have any comment on this?

MR. ERELI: The only comment I would have is that we, too, have seen those reports. I'm not in a position to validate them for you. Obviously, if resources of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees were misused in this way, it would be unacceptable.

QUESTION: And what is the consequence?

MR. ERELI: Well, I think it's -- at this point, we're talking about a hypothetical.

QUESTION: Have you talked to member -- people at UNRWA and expressed this view, and told them what might happen if --

MR. ERELI: I'm not sure what conversations we've had with UNRWA at this point.

QUESTION: Does the United States believe that Peter Hansen hates Israel, which is what Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations said?

MR. ERELI: That -- I'll leave it to the Ambassador of Israel to express his opinions. I don't have a -- I haven't seen Ambassador Hansen's remarks. We would certainly hope that --

QUESTION: Not his remarks, the Israeli --

MR. ERELI: Well, the remarks that the Israeli Ambassador supposedly is referring to when he makes his comments. We would -- so I don't really have -- I'm really not in a position to comment on what the Israeli Ambassador said.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, if it was determined that UNRWA equipment was being misused, and you found it to be unacceptable, would there be a consequence?

MR. ERELI: Well, like I said, at this point, it's a hypothetical, so let's see what the facts are.

QUESTION: Well, but is it something --

MR. ERELI: There are accusations --

QUESTION: Is that a --

MR. ERELI: There are accusations out there. I've said that were the UNRWA resources to be misused, it would unacceptable, and let's see if that is indeed the fact. If it does turn to be the -- if that does turn out to be the case, then we'd have to consider what actions we think are appropriate.

QUESTION: So there would, in fact --

MR. ERELI: I would say we'd have to consider.


QUESTION: Adam, for all intents and purposes, you label Hamas a terrorist group.

MR. ERELI: No, not for all intents and purposes. We do label Hamas --

QUESTION: Okay. Do you -- is Hamas superceding the Palestinian Authority, in your estimation, and is it getting encouragement from both Syria and Iran?

MR. ERELI: Well, obviously, support by outsiders for Hamas, we think, is well documented and a serious concern, and one that we raise consistently with Syria, with Iran and with the international community.

As far as the role of Hamas in the territories and within Palestinian society, we've also made it clear that we think it's incumbent upon the Palestinian Authority to act in a concerted way to stop terror, including by organizations like Hamas. That is what they have committed to do under the roadmap. That is where we think their focus should be and that's what we are working toward, in cooperation with the Egyptians and others, to get the Palestinians to take the kinds of actions that they need to take to prevent organizations like Hamas from conducting terrorist activity in the name of the Palestinian cause, which doesn't serve the Palestinian cause.

I'm sorry. Yes?

QUESTION: Actually, a follow on that. Did you just say that we raise this matter consistently with Iran?

MR. ERELI: I should say in -- we have raised this problem or position consistently when we speak of Iran's support for Hamas. No, we haven't raised it specifically directly with Iran, but we have raised it when we speak about Iran's support for terrorism. Important clarification.

QUESTION: Thank you. And I wanted to ask about Yasser Hamdi.

QUESTION: Oh, wait, wait, wait.


QUESTION: Can you just take this, unless you have it right there? What's the U.S. contribution to UNRWA? I presume that you're probably the largest donor to it, as you --

MR. ERELI: Well, I want to say 75 million, but let me check and give you the accurate figure.


QUESTION: On Hamdi, have plans been finalized to send him to Saudi Arabia?

MR. ERELI: At this point, I don't have anything new to add to what we said when we last discussed this. Discussions are still ongoing with the Saudis on modalities of repatriation and those -- they have not concluded.

QUESTION: Adam, those discussions are with the State Department here in Washington or with the Ambassador in Riyadh or -- who's involved?

MR. ERELI: Mostly through our Embassy in Riyadh.

QUESTION: Do you have anything about the allegations of wrongdoing directed at the new --

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Can we stay on -- I was going to ask about --

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I stay on Saudi just for a second?

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The trial of the Saudi reformers who were arrested when the Secretary was over or just before the Secretary was over there has been postponed. Do you have anything to say about that?

MR. ERELI: I don't. Would you like a comment? I can try and get one for you, if you'd like.

QUESTION: Well, it would be nice since you were quite outspoken about it back at the time that they were arrested, calling it a step backwards and all this kind of --

MR. ERELI: Let me see what we have to say about the postponement of the trial of the reformers.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: George.

QUESTION: There are allegations of wrongdoing directed at the new Secretary General of the OAS, Miguel Angel Rodriguez, who has been in office, I believe, 12 days. Anything?

MR. ERELI: We have seen the allegations against the OAS Secretary General in press reporting. This matter is currently before the legal authorities of Costa Rica and, for that reason, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Iraq. I just want see if you have any comments about reports that Muqtada al-Sadr is nominating himself for this coming election, considering he was a wanted man by the U.S., whether you think it's good news or bad news for you guys.

MR. ERELI: I've seen a variety of reports. One report is that he is nominating himself. Another report is that he is going to boycott the election. So it's -- take your pick. Our position would be that participation in the Iraqi political process is a matter for the Iraqi people to decide, and this is a process and a goal that we're certainly supporting, but who participates and in what manner is up to the Iraqi people to decide. And we'll work with the government and the UN to help create a peaceful, open, transparent, fair, credible process so that, whatever the results of whoever participates, the people can feel that they are their legitimate and fairly elected representatives.

QUESTION: It was of particular concern for you, considering that the American forces wanted him either arrested or dead. From that position, to being nominated in the election, I mean, do you think that a good thing for him to be involved in a political system or being on the outside?

MR. ERELI: I think this a matter for the Iraqi legal authorities and the Iraqi political authorities to determine how to handle.

QUESTION: What's your current understanding of the status of German troops in Iraq and the coalition?

MR. ERELI: German troops?

QUESTION: I mean Polish troops, sorry, sorry. German troops in the coalition -- really, that would be too easy.

MR. ERELI: They're welcome -- and Polish troops. Our understanding is that throughout our dealings with our coalition partners, our approach to the presence in Iraq has been that it will be -- decisions on the presence will be driven by the mission and not by the calendar. The mission is to provide a peaceful and secure basis for transfer of authority to a transitional government after elections in January and to a permanent and constitutionally elected government at the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006, and to help stand up Iraqi forces to take ever-increasing responsibility for security in that country.

Once that mission is accomplished, I think the presence of foreign troops can be -- can begin to be reduced, but that will be determined, again, when the mission is accomplished and not on the basis of a calendar date.


QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, but you just said -- you just outlined the mission in terms of calendar dates.

MR. ERELI: That's part of the mission, but the mission is -- part of the mission is to help Iraq -- the mission is to provide a stable, secure environment for transition to democracy and standing up of Iraqi forces to provide security for that country. Among the timeline there are some dates, but it's not the same as to say this -- the foreign presence will end on this date. The foreign presence will end when Iraq is secure and can provide for its own security and the need for foreign troops is no longer there. Whether that's, you know, be end of 2005 or before or a little bit after, it will be determined by when the mission is accomplished.

QUESTION: With the United States --

QUESTION: But when a Polish official -- go ahead, Barry.

QUESTION: With the United States taking a more active role, do you flip back now -- I mean, the Pentagon, somebody has flipped back -- with U.S. troops being more in the fight now, you try to depend on militia, who don't like you in the first place, and you found that ineffective so now U.S. troops are in the fight more directly. Doesn't that say something about how long U.S. troops will have to be there?

MR. ERELI: I'm not going to speculate on how long troops are going to be there. Troops are going to -- you know, troops are going to be there as long as it's necessary to provide the kind of -- to help our Iraqi friends provide the security environment to enable a democratic transition and to enable the Iraqis to develop the capability to provide for their own security. That is an endeavor that we are involved with, it's an endeavor that the Iraqis are increasingly taking responsibility for, and it's an endeavor that our partners in the multinational force are involved in.

QUESTION: They're taking -- they're increasingly taking responsibility? You can say that? The United States has had to be more directly involved in trying to put down the insurrection, if that's what it is, or the insurgency, because Iraqi forces aren't up to it and because the militia doesn't particularly like what you're trying to accomplish. So --

MR. ERELI: Yeah, I don't know if I'd --

QUESTION: I know for the pipe dream. The hope is that the Iraqis will take over, but I think we've seen evidence in the last few weeks that the United States is move busily involved in the fighting than it's been in a long time. So I don't know if that doesn't say something about Iraqi security capabilities.

MR. ERELI: I think I would take issue with your observations, number one, because we've got more and more Iraqis involved in the fight. The number of Iraqis trained, deployed, is increasing.

Number two, we've got very concrete evidence of the effectiveness of those forces, both in Najaf and in Samarra.

And number three, you're right, the insurgency is a challenge, but that's not because the Iraqis are less involved or because the Iraqis are less capable; it's because, as we get closer to elections, we think they're stepping up their level of activity.

So I wouldn't read it the way you read it. I would read it as the insurgency is stepping up but, at the same time, the number of Iraqis involved and the effectiveness of the Iraqis is growing; and for that reason, we can undertake the kind of joint operations that you saw in Najaf, that you saw in Samarra, and that you see throughout the country every day.

QUESTION: One of your problems has been cross-border from Syria, fighters coming in. Is it too early to ask whether the new assurances you received from Syria are being -- are, you know, are actually being put in place?

MR. ERELI: I think it's a little too early to give you a report card on performance in that area. There was a meeting last week between members of the American, Iraqi and Syrians in Syria. There were some good agreements or understandings ironed out over border security. I think the Iraqis and Syrians will be working to put those in place, and we've made it clear, pretty consistently, that these agreements are positive and welcome but, at the same time, their effectiveness will be assessed on the basis of what is done concretely on the ground. That will take some time. We're not there yet.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, my question was about Poland.

MR. ERELI: Right.

QUESTION: Polish troops. Unless I missed it somehow, your answer to my question five minutes ago didn't contain the world "Poland" or "Polish" or anything like it.

MR. ERELI: I said -- in our dealings with the Poles, we have consistently had a -- our decisions, joint decisions, have been mission-driven, not calendar-driven. That applied to our -- that statement applied to our -- to the Poles, as well.

QUESTION: Okay. So what do you make of these comments that are -- the comments from the President and from the Defense Minister? They are putting a calendar timeline on it, or it looks like they want to, at least, put a calendar time on it.

MR. ERELI: I saw reports from one interview by the Defense Minister that they -- that made this point. But all I can tell you is that in our dealings with the Polish Government, and this continues to be the case, that while there are dates, as you say, along the way, the decision on deployment is a mission-driven decision, not a calendar-driven decision.

QUESTION: No, of the comments by Kwasniewski.

MR. ERELI: I've not seen the comments you're referring to.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Adam, do you have anything to say about the Abkhazian elections, and where five -- all five candidates want to break away from the Georgian Republic?

MR. ERELI: As you know, the United States does not recognize Abkhazia as an independent state, so I don't really have any comment on these elections other than to say that our position is to support an international approach to a peaceful resolution of the Abkhaz conflict that respects Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and whatever leadership is in Abkhazia, we would hope that it returns to negotiations toward that end in the near future.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: The Georgian Government announced already that this election is legitimate and is supported by Moscow. So are you going to discuss this question with the Russian side?

MR. ERELI: I'm not -- I don't know that this will be a specific issue of discussion. Obviously, we are working closely with Russia and Georgia to -- and the OSCE -- to address ongoing issues of conflict in Georgia -- Abkhazia is certainly one of them -- and we will work together, I think, multilaterally to bring, as I said before, or in support of a negotiated settlement to this issue.

QUESTION: The Cambodian parliament has approved the Khmer Rouge tribunal legislation. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. ERELI: We'll have something for you after the briefing. It didn't get done before.

QUESTION: Did you have any chance to study the report by Kofi Annan upon -- regarding Resolution 1559? And when do you expect the Security Council to meet to discuss the report?

MR. ERELI: We have -- we received the Secretary General's report pursuant to Resolution 1559 on Friday. We appreciate the Secretary General's efforts to inform the Council on the implementation of this resolution by the governments of Syria and Lebanon.

As the Secretary General notes, the parties have not taken the steps necessary to implement Resolution 1559. Specifically, the report notes that Syria has not withdrawn its forces from Lebanon and that Lebanon has failed to disband and disarm all militias.

We will be reviewing the report. We are reviewing the report. We expect to discuss it with other Council members later this week. And what the response of the Council will be, I guess, will be a subject of that discussion.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: I'm sorry, yes. Yes.

QUESTION: I want to go back to Iraq, if you don't mind.

MR. ERELI: Okay.

QUESTION: The -- what do you think some reports saying basically that the Iraqi Government is negotiating with people in Fallujah now, trying to avoid a possible military strike similar to the one we've seen in Samarra in the last few days, considering the success of their military operation there? Do you think it's a different approach? It's a good thing to do to negotiate with people there?

MR. ERELI: Frankly, I don't know. I don't know what the Iraqi Government is doing with the leadership or leaders in Fallujah. Obviously, if, you know -- our approach is that if the use of force can be avoided and citizens of -- and government authority restored, that's a welcome thing.

We want to see what the Iraqi Government wants to see, which is a government authority established throughout the country and the ability of institutions of the state to function normally -- and processes of the state. If that goal can be reached without using force, all the better. But in cases such as Najaf, when there are independent groups that arrogate for themselves the right to run things and shoot and use violence against innocents, then the response is appropriate.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Indonesian election?

MR. ERELI: We note that the Indonesian Electoral Commission today announced the official results of the September 20th presidential runoff election. The Commission confirmed Mr. Yudhoyono and his vice presidential running mate, Jusuf Kalla, as the winners by a margin of 21 percentage points. We congratulate Indonesia on these historic elections, which set a strong example for the region and emerging democracies everywhere.

As Indonesia's close friend and partner, the United States congratulates President-elect Yudhoyono and looks forward to working with him and his government to support Indonesia's democratic process.

Yes, Joel.

QUESTION: Here at the State Department, Deputy Armitage -- Deputy Secretary Armitage is meeting with Nepalese today. Any outcome from those talks?

MR. ERELI: I'll endeavor to get you a readout.

QUESTION: Anything about a visit of the Japanese Foreign Minister this week?

MR. ERELI: Nothing to announce at this time.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Secretary's plans post-Brazil, travel plans?

MR. ERELI: I think the party will be making an announcement later today on next, additional stops.


QUESTION: There is a full-page ad in Washington Post today, signed by advisor to Taiwan President challenging U.S.-China policy. Do you have any comment on that? Will you rethink your China policy?

MR. ERELI: Our China policy remains the same. There is no cause for rethinking it.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Sharon plans to continue with the military offensive in Gaza. Any more comment on that?

MR. ERELI: Not more than I did at the beginning of the briefing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)



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