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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for November 17

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for November 17

Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 17, 2004

INDEX:

RUSSIA
- Reports of New Nuclear Missile / Nuclear Modernization Plans /
- Treaty Obligations
- Query on Reports that Yukos Offices have been Raided
- Russian Pace of Nuclear Weapon Downsizing/Reduction

IRAN
- Report that Iran has Moved Nuclear Equipment / National Council of
- Resistance of IRAN / IAEA Responsibility to Follow up on Reports

DEPARTMENT
- How Long Secretary Colin L. Powell will Continue as Secretary of State
- Confirmation Hearings for National Security Advisor Rice

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
- Palestinian Government Transition / Secretary of State Colin Powell's Visit to the Palestinian Territories to Meet with
- Palestinian Leadership / Refusal of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to take part in Elections

CYPRUS
- Query on the Possibility of Commercial Flights to and from Airport in Northern Cyprus

MACEDONIA
- Resignation of Prime Minister Hari Kostov


TRANSCRIPT:

12:10 p.m. EST

MR. ERELI: Greetings, everybody. I don't have any announcements to begin our briefing, so we'll go to the first question.

QUESTION: I think I remember the story from Russia; I meant to bring it with me. There's a report that Russia is developing or has intentions of developing a new missile. That's what I remember from the story that just moved out of Moscow from the Russian news agency. Has the -- is the State Department aware of it? Is it checking into it? It's mostly a Pentagon question, I guess.

MR. ERELI: We have -- we've seen the press reports of a speech that President Putin gave in which he talked about nuclear modernization plans and included mention of this specific missile.

I would refer you to the Russians for details about, you know, what specifically he was referring to and what, you know, what's involved.

As far as we're concerned, we have regular, ongoing consultations with the Russians pursuant to our agreements in the Moscow Treaty about weapons modernization programs and about our respective strategic force plans. Those consultations, I think, are very fruitful, they're consistent, and they give us a very good comfort level about what Russia is doing, and presumably vice versa, about what we're doing; so we do not perceive Russia's nuclear sustainment and modernization activities as threatening, and what they are doing is fully consistent with our mutual obligations under the Moscow Treaty.

QUESTION: All right, just to cover a couple of -- I'm pretty sure I know the answer, but just to be sure of it, there's no constraint on this, is there? I mean, they're not under any -- what I'm saying is, there's no legal prohibition on what they're reportedly doing.

MR. ERELI: Well, I would tell you this --

QUESTION: And we modernize, too, so what's --

MR. ERELI: I would tell you this. Our obligations, our mutual obligations in this area, are covered under the Moscow Treaty. Pursuant to that treaty, we have regular consultations, and based on those regular consultations, we are confident that Russia's plans are not threatening and are consistent with its obligations, and I think are indicative of a new strategic relationship between the United States and Russia that is focused on reducing threats and increasing confidence. That's where we are, and I would read these remarks in that context.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Yes.

QUESTION: Adam, this morning, also the Russians have invaded or raided the offices of Yukos. Are the Russians going backward, and is this in any way provocative?

MR. ERELI: I haven't seen the reports of the recent raids on Yukos so I couldn't comment on them or give you any interpretation of whether this is a departure or a new development in the case. Obviously, our position continues to be that the issue of Yukos, the disposition of the case, needs to be handled transparently and consistent with the rule of law. That's what the Russian Government is committed to. That's what we think is important to follow, both for the interests of democracy and the rule of law in Russia, but also in terms of investor confidence in Russia.

QUESTION: Can I go back for a moment?

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You know, in the old days, there were strict, very strict treaties with all sorts of provisions and all sorts of attachments. The latest agreement for mutual reductions is a rather informal page or two-page thing, and it's been a long time since I think anybody asked. Do you have a handle on whether the U.S. is pleased with the pace of the Russians reducing their nuclear arms?

MR. ERELI: As a general proposition, yeah, we think that Russian moves in this regard are positive and are, I think, indicative, as I said before, of a new strategic relationship with the United States and, equally importantly, a understanding of the new reality in the world, an understanding and appreciation for the changing threat environment that all of us face emerging from non-state actors, terrorist groups and a need to realign our joint efforts to combat those kinds of common threats, as opposed to the threats that are outdated from Cold War rivalries.

Yes, Elise.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: This Iranian opposition group, the National Councils of Resistance of Iran, claims the Iranian regime moved nuclear equipment to another undisclosed military location in the Lavizan district of Tehran, and that the Ministry of Defense is involved in this, in a new -- in an active nuclear weapons program. Do you -- have they contacted you, do you know anything about this?

MR. ERELI: This is a report from the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which I would remind everybody is an alias, we've designated as an alias, of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a Foreign Terrorist Organization. We do not have contact with NCRI or with the MEK. We are not in a position to evaluate the credibility of this report.

There have been reports, however, from -- similar reports in the past, however, which have proven to be -- which the IAEA has substantiated, which have proven to be true. Therefore, it is our hope that as the IAEA continues its investigation into Iran's nuclear program that it will take all credible information about Iran's nuclear activities into account, including these reports, and then investigate them seriously.

QUESTION: But, I mean, you don't have to have direct contact with the group to see the reports. Are you going to be investigating the claims that they're making?

MR. ERELI: Well, you asked were we in contact with the group.

QUESTION: Well, yeah -- no, I understand.

MR. ERELI: So it was in response to that I said we are not in contact. It is the responsibility of the IAEA to follow up on reports like this, to determine whether Iran is conducting covert nuclear activity. There have been reports like this in the past, and the IAEA has been able to, because of its activities, to substantiate them. So given, I think, that track record, we think it's important that when information like this does come to light that it be taken seriously and looked into.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: I know that they're a terrorist group and you're not in regular contact with them --

MR. ERELI: In contact at all.

QUESTION: Well, okay. Well, you know, if they have information that could provide useful to you, why not? I mean, you're certainly in contact with some of the state sponsors of terrorism.

MR. ERELI: We think, well, that's a different -- first of all, it's a different animal. Contact with states as sovereign entities is different than contact with organizations that sponsor terrorist activities and that are involved in terrorist attacks. That's number one. Number two, we believe that the appropriate means for dealing with reports such as these is through the established international mechanisms, which, in this case, is the IAEA.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I switch to North Korea for a minute?

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The New York Times had an article saying that pictures of Kim Jong-il are coming down all over Pyongyang and --

MR. ERELI: That what? Pictures? Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Of Kim Jong-il are coming down all over Pyongyang. And some analysts are saying it's just maintenance, they're cleaning it up. Other's are saying it's a coup d'etat. What's your reaction?

MR. ERELI: I'll leave it to the analysts. Don't have a reaction.

QUESTION: You mean they're right?

(Laughter.)

MR. ERELI: Pick which analyst you want to follow. I'm not endorsing one view or the other. I don't think we've got a considered view on this subject to share with you.

QUESTION: Are you aware of those reports?

MR. ERELI: I had not seen them.

QUESTION: This may not be the place, certainly, the Secretary isn't here and it just came to mind, and if you're not able to deal with this, okay. But the Secretary said that he'd be around a month, two, you know, basically, till the successor is named, confirmed and all that. It seems to be on a fast track. Hearings are trying to be arranged for December 6th, 7th or 8th. She may be all done getting approved even -- I think -- I don't know -- you know, before the inauguration.

Do you know -- you know where I'm heading here. Does the Secretary step down even if this term is incomplete?

MR. ERELI: They have said the Secretary serves at the pleasure of the President. He offered his resignation at the President's pleasure. He has indicated, the President has indicated, both have indicated that he will be staying on through to hand over the reins in an orderly way and once the new team is confirmed and comes on board. I don't want to speculate about how long that's going to take or when that will be, but you can rest assured that Secretary Powell will be hard at work till the day he walks out this door, and but when that day comes depends on a lot of different factors that are outside our control. We will be supportive of the transition. You know, we're all working to ensure that it's a strong-hand passing of the baton.

QUESTION: Can I follow up, though? At the same time, the Secretary did say he had a very busy agenda in December, which some of the events that he seems to be speaking of coincide with the scheduled hearings. Does he feel that that in any way undermines him as he's going off to do, you know, very high-level and very high-profile American diplomacy at the same time his replacement is being -- the confirmation hearings are taking place at the Senate on the very same day?

MR. ERELI: I really think you're making too much out of this, frankly. There's a very clear succession in train. Secretary Powell and his designated successor, National Security Advisor Rice, and all of us are working very, very closely and collegially together to make sure that that transition takes place effectively and efficiently, and the business of this nation and the carrying out of the President's policies will be done and will be carried out fully and effectively through this process. They've worked for many, many years together very, very closely and very, very well, and that's and that kind of partnership, that kind of cooperation, is going to continue through this process.

QUESTION: I'm not saying that. But it doesn't sound -- I mean, it doesn't sound like a partnership when one -- I mean, which is more important? Is it the confirmation hearings that are taking place in Washington on the same day that these type of, you know, high-level ministerial meetings are taking place?

MR. ERELI: I guess I don't understand. I mean, this is a process that is a normal constitutional process that takes place every time there's a change in administration. It's not as if the business of government grinds to a halt when confirmation hearings take place. The confirmation hearings are a normal part of the process and, at the same time, the business of government goes on and there are established ways to work together and to make sure that the needs of the American people are met.

Yes.

QUESTION: Is it possible at all that the handing-over process might happen before the inauguration, though?

MR. ERELI: Again, I don't want to speculate on timetables. The handover will take place once a new team is confirmed and ready to take office. When that will be, I'm not going to speculate. It'll be when everything that gets done -- needs to get done gets done.

QUESTION: Look, but it's -- a lot of it is in Congress' hands. There are recesses. There's Christmas, there's this and that. But if I hear you clearly, if it's all done before January 20th or 21st, 20th, the Secretary is prepared to leave.

MR. ERELI: I'm not making any predictions or commitments. I'm saying that -- what the Secretary has said, that he will stay on until a new team is ready to take over.

Yes.

QUESTION: Concerning his trip to both Israel and Sharm el-Sheikh to meet with both Israelis and Palestinians this coming week, it was announced that both Hamas and other terrorist-type organizations don't want to cooperate with prime -- with interim Palestinian Chairman Abbas. Is there anything that the State Department, meaning the federal government, might do with respect to that, as well as confrontational states such as Syria and Iran?

MR. ERELI: We're certainly not going to get involved in internal Palestinian political dynamics. As you know, the Secretary is meeting with the Palestinian leadership in the Occupied Territories, or the West Bank, I believe, on November 22nd. This will be an opportunity for us to discuss with them their plans for elections, their plans for moving forward in engaging with Israel, and how all of us can support the essential step of helping a new Palestinian leadership emerge, a leadership that is committed to democratic reforms, transparency, the rule of law and fighting terror, and will also be an opportunity for Secretary Powell to meet with the Israeli leadership and explore ways that we can support the Palestinian leadership and further our mutual goal of effecting an orderly withdrawal from Gaza and a effective exercise of control by the Palestinian Authority over territories that it -- that it is given responsibility for.

QUESTION: Will the meeting of the Palestinians be in Jericho, which is what they seem to be saying out there?

MR. ERELI: I don't have a specific locale for you on that.

QUESTION: But it's on the West Bank?

MR. ERELI: That's my presumption, but I wouldn't want to lock anybody in.

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MR. ERELI: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Considering both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad said they are not going to take part, should they reconsider and put ahead candidates, will the United States support them? If -- or would you rather see just people from within the PLO coming out with candidates?

MR. ERELI: As I said, we're not going to enter into a discussion of internal Palestinian politics. Our view on the activity of groups like -- activities of groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are clear. These are groups that advocate violence to achieve political ends and that are -- that use terror to attack innocent civilians.

We have been clear and consistent that as long as there are groups, there are Palestinian groups practicing terror, and that the Palestinian Authority fails to act effectively against these groups, then real peace is not possible.

QUESTION: Well, but you're not --

MR. ERELI: And so the question is, frankly, is, "are the Palestinians willing to live in peace with Israel, to accept democracy, debate and open but peaceful political process as the means to achieve their national aspirations, or are they -- do they remain committed to the use of terrorism as a tool of policy, as national policy, and as an acceptable means to achieve their ends?"

If you look at the last four years of intifada, it has been our consistent position, and I think it's been the position of many Palestinians, that the violence practiced by groups by Hamas and PIJ have not brought the Palestinians any closer to realizing their national aspirations and, to the contrary, have undermined the Palestinian cause, has set back the Palestinian cause and has hurt the Palestinians far more than it's brought any tangible benefit.

So what we all want to accomplish -- Secretary Powell, President Bush, the American Administration, and certainly the parties as they've committed to in the roadmap -- is a two-state solution where the Palestinians can live in peace with their neighbors. Activities like -- terrorist activities like Hamas and PIJ are diametrically opposed to that vision and cannot be tolerated.

Did you have a question, Elise?

QUESTION: No, that's okay.

MR. ERELI: Okay.

Yes.

QUESTION: Adam, is it conceivable that even though the Secretary wants to retire as Secretary of State, conceivable that he could be named as an envoy to the Middle East to keep on board with those negotiations once they begin?

MR. ERELI: Two points: one is the President has addressed this question about envoy to the Middle East last week, I believe; second, as far as Secretary Powell's future plans, that's something for Secretary Powell to address.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Sorry, one more.

QUESTION: On Cyprus. Any answer to my pending question regarding your efforts to allow U.S. commercial airlines, like American Airlines, to fly in the illegal airports of the Turkish occupied area of Cyprus, in cooperation with the Turkish airlines, and is using their Open Skies treaties in order to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot by the Turkish Army?

MR. ERELI: Did we put something out on that, Tom?

QUESTION: It's November 12th.

MR. CASEY: There are currently no plans for any commercial flights.

MR. ERELI: Okay. No plans for commercial flights.

QUESTION: And on FYROM. Prime Minister Hari Kostov of FYROM, who resigned Monday, and tomorrow the parliament will decide if his resignation is going to be accepted, (inaudible) criticized the Ohrid Agreement, which gives, as I told you many, many times, the upper hand to the Albanians, saying inter alia, "I had no real authority over the ethnic Albanian ministers in the coalition government." Needless to emphasize that the referendum on November 7 was a major victory for Kostov's government.

How do you respond to Mr. Kostov's criticism, since you were very supportive of the Ohrid Agreement?

MR. ERELI: I don't have any response to those remarks. There is a constitutional process in Macedonia to deal with this resignation. The government and people of Macedonia, we expect, will follow that process and we leave it to them to work out their political changes in a democratic and orderly way.

QUESTION: Thank you. (The briefing was concluded at 12:35 p.m.)

DPB#188

[End]

Released on November 17, 2004


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