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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for February 3

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for February 3 -- Transcript

Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 3, 2005


Death of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania

Suspension of Parliamentary Immunity of Cambodian Opposition Party
Members / Arrest of Cheam Channy

Case of Detained American Citizen Ahmed Abu Ali

Reports of Israeli Release of Palestinian Prisoners / Query on
Whether U.S. Played a Role
President's Request for $350 Million in Aid for Palestinians /
Types of Programs Aid would Fund

Status Uranium Enrichment Program / U.S. Discussions withEU /
Role of UN Security Council
Query on Whether U.S. Has Policy of Regime Change in Iran

Release of Volcker Report on Oil for Food Program / What U.S. hopes to see in Report
Concerns for Sales of Oil outside Oil for Food Program / Affect on
U.S. Sanctions Regime

Dismissal of Government / Declaration of State of Emergency

Nuclear Program / Status of Six Party Talks

Query on President's Comments in State of the Union Speech
regarding Spread of Liberty And Affect on Non-Democratic
Governments in Region / Future of U.S. Foreign Policy in Region


1:05 p.m. EST

MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to our briefing today. If I may, I'd like to begin with two statements that we are putting out today.

The first is a statement expressing our sadness and condolences to the family of Prime Minister ZurabZhvania of Georgia. The United States is deeply saddened by the tragic death of Prime Minister Zhvania today. Secretary Rice called President Saakashvili this morning to extend our condolences to him, to the family of Mr. Zhvania, and to all the people of Georgia on their loss. Prime Minister Zhvania was a catalyst for democratic change in Georgia. He was a dynamic leader and he was a friend of the United States.

Any questions on that? Yes.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. believe that his death was an accident?

MR. ERELI: The Georgians are investigating the incident; however, all the indications at this point are that it was exactly that, a tragic accident.

We also have a statement commenting on the suspension of parliamentary immunity of Cambodian opposition party members. The United States strongly condemns the Cambodian National Assembly, which -- or the action of the Cambodian National Assembly -- which, on February 3rd, decided to suspend the parliamentary immunity of three opposition parliamentarians, Mr. Sam Rainsy, Mr. Chea Poch and Mr. Cheam Channy.

The United States notes with concern the subsequent arrest of Mr. Channy. We see these actions coming at a time of growing intimidation of opposition voices in Cambodia, and the United States calls upon the political leadership of the Royal Government of Cambodia to allow all its citizens to peacefully express their political views without fear of retribution or intimidation.

If there are any questions on that, happy to answer them; if not, go on to whatever interests you.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say in the case of this U.S. citizen, Ahmed Abu Ali, who was detained in Saudi Arabia? There was a story in the press this morning saying that the U.S. is asking the Saudis either to indict him or to let him return to the U.S.

MR. ERELI: I really don't have anything to say. The issue is a law enforcement issue. It's something that is being -- I think, being handled, first and foremost, by the Department of Justice. I'd refer to them for any comment or information to share with you on -- that they might have on the case.

We have made it clear from the very beginning that our role in the State Department in this issue is to ensure that the gentleman's -- consular privileges -- and our consular duties for this gentleman are carried out as we would any American citizen, and that is what we have done. We have visited him regularly, we have provided him the proper level of consular attention and care, and we are working with our colleagues at the Department of Justice and the Government of Saudi Arabia to resolve the issue.

QUESTION: I'd like to follow up.

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: The Post story says that he's staged a demarche. Is that something that you, the State Department, would do?

MR. ERELI: Yes. I would say we have spoken -- we speak regularly to the Government of Saudi Arabia about this case. I would have to check and see what I have to tell you about recent meetings, but I would simply make the point that this is an issue that we have been engaged with the Saudis on for some time. So there's not -- there's nothing really, I would say, too noteworthy in the fact that if we did something over the weekend. I mean, we've done a lot of meetings with them.

QUESTION: Are you happy with their cooperation so far?



QUESTION: If I could change of subject. I wondered if you had any comment about reports that Israel plans to release 900 Palestinian prisoners in two phases over the next several months. My question is: Did the U.S. play any role in asking Israel to do this?

MR. ERELI: We have seen reports out of the Israeli cabinet about this decision. I don't have any confirmation beyond that, so we are dealing with the same reports that you are. Obviously, actions such as this are important and welcome, in that they help -- I think help sustain and maintain momentum in engagement between the parties. They help build confidence and trust between the parties.

So, in that sense, these kinds of actions are important, are noteworthy, and are, I think, to be commended when they occur.

As far as the United States' role goes, I think the best way to express it is, we are constantly advocating on behalf of both sides taking measures which can help, as I said before, sustain engagement actually, sustain momentum, deepen, broaden engagement and develop the kind of trust in one another that is favorable to handling the very complex problems and addressing the very difficult issues that they have to face between them. And this is the kind of thing that Secretary Rice will be working on when she goes out there.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that one, because I think the question was whether the U.S. had asked or put any pressure on the --

MR. ERELI: Put pressure, no.

QUESTION: Had made a request?

MR. ERELI: Asked as I said, I would answer it in a general way and I won't get into specifics of our discussions. I am not aware that we did, but as a general proposition, we are in our dealings with both parties, we are, I think, regularly encouraging them to go the extra mile in reaching out to the other side and both taking steps that respond to the goodwill and gestures and positive actions that their partners have demonstrated, as well as refraining from steps that can be seen as provocative or that can lead to violence.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: This is a new topic.

MR. ERELI: Same -- anybody? Okay.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. I was a minute late.

MR. ERELI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I'm not sure if you touched on this already. But can you talk about any discussions with the Saudis or an extradition request to receive this gentleman, Mr. Ahmed Ali?

MR. ERELI: It came up a little earlier.

QUESTION: Okay, sorry.

MR. ERELI: I deferred to Justice.



QUESTION: Well, wait a minute. You said you referred to Justice?

MR. ERELI: I deferred to.

QUESTION: But demarches are sent by the State Department.

MR. ERELI: Yes, and I --

QUESTION: Did you send a demarche --

MR. ERELI: I answered that as well.

QUESTION: Okay, sorry.

QUESTION: Have you complained has the U.S. complained to the EU about the violation of Iran's uranium enrichment program?

MR. ERELI: Complained, no. Iran's uranium enrichment program is a subject of regular discussion between us and the EU, and the rest of the IAEA, for that matter. Both the United States and the EU, and again, the IAEA, for that matter, believe that this is a problem and believe that it needs to be dealt with, and are working to act in a concerted way to ensure that what Iran is doing is consistent with its treaty obligations and its commitments and is not -- does not pose a threat to anybody.

We have, you know, the EU-3 has engaged in a dialogue with Iran about first suspending, with perhaps eventually ending, this program. That is a dialogue that they are having. We are -- we consult regularly with the EU-3 about it, but there's no -- hasn't been any cause for complaints that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: But Adam, do you know any positive response from the Iranians, or -- are they going ahead with this program, or they have stopped it at this particular time during these consultations?

MR. ERELI: Well, they have said they have temporarily suspended it and they reserve the right to start it again. We have also seen other activities that, I think, raise doubts about Iran's ultimate intentions -- activities like building plants to process uranium ore and that kind of thing, so I can't give you the latest on the back and forth between the Europeans and Iran, but what I can tell you is that, you know, from our point of view, Iran's failure to address the concerns of the international community about its uranium enrichment remains a problem.

They haven't, I think, acted in a way to substantially allay our concerns and for that reason we, the Europeans, and the IAEA, continue to make this a high-priority issue.

QUESTION: Any direct role played by the UN or the Security Council at this time? Or are you going in the -- to the UN or Security Council?

MR. ERELI: Well, we've discussed it numerous times before. Obviously, this is an issue thatif not, if not adequately addressed by the -- within the context of the IAEA, should be referred to the Security Council.

QUESTION: New topic.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: Just one minute? Yesterday, President Bush said during his State of the Union speech that to the Iranians, (inaudible) America stands with you is standing with you. Does that mean that the U.S. is pursuing a policy of regime change in Iran?

MR. ERELI: The U.S. --

QUESTION: Encouraging people to --

MR. ERELI: No, the United States has been very clear, its officials have been very clear that we do not have a policy of regime change towards Iran. The United States has also been very clear that we support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom, for the free expression of views, for their basic rights, including freedom of assembly, and that there is an unfortunate record by the government of acting against those freedoms, of jailing journalists, of preventing dissent. And that's something that we will speak out against, as the President made clear yesterday.


QUESTION: New topic. The Volcker report is to be made public this afternoon. Has the United has the committee shared a copy of the report with you? Have you had a chance to review it?

MR. ERELI: I don't think we have seen the full report. I think Mr. Volcker is presenting it to the Secretary General this morning and it will my understanding is it will be made available to the rest of us in the public this afternoon.

So, we certainly look forward to seeing it. We will study it carefully. I would remind you that the United States was at the forefront of supporting the creation of the Independent Inquiry Committee. We co-sponsored the resolution, which established it, Resolution 1538. And we have been very, I think, forthcoming and cooperative with the committee as it conducted its investigation.

We have gone through eight years of State Department documents and provided 1,400 pages of documents to the committee. We've made available numerous State Department officials who have had multiple interviews with the committee. And we have, as well, encouraged the Iraqis to be forthcoming and they, the Iraqi they have provided a lot of material to the committee.

So this is something that we have supported, it is something we have cooperated with, it is we believe firmly in the importance of a full and complete investigation that gets to the facts and that assigns responsibility for well, provides for an understanding of and accountability for the administration of this program.

QUESTION: Can you flesh out what you would like to see in this report in terms of: Are you looking for specific people to be named and how far up the chain of command? Are you looking for, kind of, management deficiencies that can be corrected? I mean, what specifically do you hope to gain from this?

MR. ERELI: What we are looking for is a report that in which the committee of inquiry says, "We've been able to do our job, we've looked at all the facts and this is what we found out." We're not prejudging it, we're not calling for a certain result before that result comes out. What we are looking for is a full, complete accounting of what happened with no holds barred. I think the important thing for us is to have a full understanding of the facts, to learn from the lessons of the past, and to, on that basis, make improvements in the future.

QUESTION: What is your concern here? Is your concern that specific agencies of the United Nations could have been corrupt in that -- a specific program in the oil such as the Oil-for-Food was corrupt, or are you upset, in part, that Saddam Hussein might have gained money from this? Because, I mean, if you can respond to the charge that Saddam Hussein really made most of his money from smuggling oil to Iraq's neighbors, which the U.S. knew about.

MR. ERELI: The concern in this investigation is that a program set up under the UN auspices for enforcing sanctions and for controlling the sale of oil and the use of those proceeds to buy humanitarian goods was abused and was not properly administered, to the detriment of the goals and purposes of the United Nations and the international community.

And so this committee, as well as committees of Congress, as well as the Department of Justice, are looking into how that could have happened, what are the causes for it, and certainly, when you're looking forward -- for future such efforts by the UN, how it can be prevented in the future. So, I think that summarizes the concerns and the issues that lay behind this investigation from our point of view.

As far as the issue of other sales of oil outside the Oil-for-Food program, that was an action, a practice that the UN noted, that the countries that were doing it were really quite up front about, that related to special sets of circumstances that the international community took note of and the United States took note of. And the point was, when dealing with them, the decision we took was, we are not going to -- even though we don't like it, even though we would prefer it's not happening, we are not going to withhold our foreign aid to these countries because of it, because there are larger national interests at stake, and that the decision was made to waive the prohibition on assistance to countries violating sanctions because there are broader national interests at stake, because the United States needs these countries -- for a whole variety of reasons -- needs the support of these countries. And for that reason, we are going to waive the prohibition on provision of assistance.

QUESTION: Well, just one more on this. I mean, what do you say to critics that say you undermine your own sanctions regime that you were trying to strengthen? And when you're setting up future sanctions regimes, I mean, there are going to be plenty of neighboring countries that might -- you might need their help for security issues.

MR. ERELI: Yes, I would say this. Every circumstance is different. In this case, Turkey, which is one of the countries we're talking about, was a vital partner in containing Iraq. They were host to operation Northern Watch, which basically allowed an autonomous region in the north, outside the control of Saddam Hussein; and I think we're seeing the benefits of that kind of autonomy in the north today when you have a region of Iraq that is very stable.

So, and with Jordan, Jordan is a key partner in any one of a number of endeavors. It is a key partner in trying to promote peace between Arabs and Israelis. It is a key partner in working for reform in the region. And it is a key partner in working with the region on a broad number of multilateral efforts.

So I think that you can argue, and in fact, this is the point we made in our notifications to Congress that we sent every year requesting these waivers, that these countries are critical to America's interests in the region. And for that reason, we need to preserve these relationships; we need to provide the kind of assistance that allows us to work on common endeavors like the containment of Iraq, like the promotion of peace and like the promotion of reform and change.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Did you do questions on the President's request for $350 million for the Palestinians?

MR. ERELI: I did not. But I can.

QUESTION: Please do.

MR. ERELI: What do you want to know?

QUESTION: Whatever details you can provide about how the 350 will be spent.

MR. ERELI: Okay. Let's start with the key point, which is that, as the President said, we have a moment of opportunity to help realize a vision of two states living side by side. We are determined to seize that moment and make the most of it.

One of the ways we are going to do that is to help the Palestinians build institutions that are dedicated to reform and that are dedicated -- and that are capable of helping the Palestinian people, particularly as they prepare for Israeli disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. The package of assistance that the President announced last night is designed to make an impact, both in the near term, as well as the longer term, on the lives of Palestinians and to support the Palestinian authority as it makes continued efforts towards reform.

Some of the specific things that it would go to fund include targeted projects for the public benefit in Gaza, expansion of education opportunities, developing the economic infrastructure of a Palestinian state, helping the Palestinian Authority to provide social services for the poor, and setting up facilities that improve the flow of people and goods between Israeli and Palestinian areas.

QUESTION: Would it also go to developing a Palestinian legal system?

MR. ERELI: That's one of the areas we are funding now. I expect we would continue I mean, we are going to continue funding that. I don't know if any of this new money is going to that, but that's certainly something that we're doing now.

QUESTION: So this is specifically going directly to the PA?

MR. ERELI: I can't speak to how the money is going to be disbursed. Right now, our assistance doesn't go directly to the PA. It goes through NGOs. That will certainly remain the case. Whether there's any direct assistance provided for by this money, I would simply say that no decisions have been made on that. It's a subject that will need to be the subject of consultations.

QUESTION: Is all of this new money?

MR. ERELI: Yes. I mean, it's money that will be I don't know what you mean by new money. It is money that will be requested in new budget requests, so it is not reprogramming of old money.


QUESTION: Is the Secretary also planning to somehow talk up the idea of retirement payments to Palestinian (inaudible)?

MR. ERELI: I don't know. I don't know. I've not heard that. But I don't know.

QUESTION: This is another subject.

MR. ERELI: Okay.

Same subject?

QUESTION: Yes, sir. (Inaudible)?

MR. ERELI: You will have to ask the White House how it breaks down in terms of what money is bundled up with what requests. I just can't speak to that. It is really a decision for the Office of Management and Budget to make.

QUESTION: Is there also a $200 million quantity frozen for the PA? Is that going to be addressed somehow?

MR. ERELI: I think if there's a $200 million -- there's a figure of 200 million that one hears being bandied about. My understanding is that it's part of -- that is a portion of the 350.


QUESTION: Adam, the U.S. is worried about the situation in Nepal, and, doesn't serve politicians and, including the prime minister, the past prime minister, Sher, under house arrest, and hundreds of other people are also under arrest. And the king has taken absolute monarchy, ending the 14-year-old democratically elected parliament and government now in Nepal. And the SARC, which is supposed to take place in Bangladesh has been cancelled because the Indian Prime Minister condemned the situation in Nepal, so what, you know --

MR. ERELI: Well, we've issued a statement on this --

QUESTION: The statement thus far is only, is only on the warning, Travel Warning to Nepal.

MR. ERELI: No. We issued a statement yesterday, I believe, on the dissolving of the government and the declaration of a state of emergency. We made it clear that these are actions which deeply trouble us. It is a serious step back from democracy. Today -- I'm not aware of the reports of arrest that you talk about, but we have seen the ban on media criticizing the state of emergency. We have seen the reported shutdown of some private newspapers and radio stations outside of Kathmandu.

This, as well as reports of arrests, only increase our concern for the future of democracy in Nepal. Our Ambassador, Ambassador Moriarty, today met with Nepal's foreign minister and reiterated with him privately our -- the position we have stated publicly. He made the point that we believe that Nepal's Government needs to restore and protect civil and human rights and promptly release the political and student leaders and human rights activists that have been detained under the state of emergency, and move toward the restoration of multi-party democratic institutions under a constitution monarchy.

We are also consulting with neighboring countries about conditions in Nepal. And we will continue to, I think, press for the kinds of actions that respect the rights of the people and mark a return to democratic practices in that country.

QUESTION: Also, Adam, just to follow up. This action by the king comes at the time of when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush spoke about the end of tyranny -- and of freedom and democracy around the globe.


QUESTION: So what message this can give to the U.S.?

MR. ERELI: The message that this gives to the U.S. is that the actions of the King of Nepal, I think, are contrary to the direction that the United States wants to see progressive countries moving in.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: On North Korea. During the speech, Mr. President Bush has referred convincing North Korea to abandon their nuclear program. But convincing by which way? By just seeking the peaceful and diplomatic solution, or does he mean the U.S. excluded sending the matter to -- a solution like sending the matter to the Council or the military action or the sanction?

MR. ERELI: Well, I don't think there's much of a need to amplify or expand on the President's remarks. The United States is committed to dealing with the problem of North Korea's nuclear program diplomatically and in coordination with the other countries in the region who share our concern and feel the same threat that we do. And that is why we have chosen to use the six-party process to deal with this problem and we remain eager and ready to return to the six-party process as soon as possible -- not just us, but all the other members of this process with the exception of North Korea.

We've got a proposal out on the table. It is a proposal that we think is a good one, provides a serious basis for discussion. And the important point here is that it is time to do just that, to get back around the table, discuss the proposal, and address the concerns of all of us who feel threatened by the North's nuclear program.

QUESTION: Is there any sign from North Korea to get back to the table?

MR. ERELI: Is there what?

QUESTION: Is there any sign from North Korea now from to get back to the table?

MR. ERELI: I'm not in a position to read tea leaves on the subject. Frankly, the sign that we're looking for is an agreement, a formal agreement to come back to talks. That's what you can take to the bank.

QUESTION: The President renewed his appeal for democracy throughout the world and he made special reference to the Middle East. Do you have anything on how this possibly can affect relations with friendly but undemocratic countries in that region?

MR. ERELI: I think the point to make here is that it is our belief, it is the belief of the President, it is the belief of the United States, simply put, that freedom makes us all safer. Freedom brings peace, freedom brings opportunity, freedom brings prosperity, and that we all have a common interest, therefore, in taking actions and pursuing policies that promote freedom and lead to the kinds of results that history has proven are stabilizing and rewarding.

We are engaged with all of our partners in the region in this common endeavor. The President spoke of an arc of freedom stretching from Morocco to Jordan to Bahrain citing those countries as examples. There are others. They're not the only ones. But citing those countries as examples of societies -- because it's not just the regimes, but it's all the country -- of societies that have understood this logic and that have, themselves, taken actions to expand the limits of freedoms, and to institutionalize freedoms within their own societies.

Everybody has a -- goes at this at a different pace. And I think the President also made the point that it is not our intention or desire to impose our form of government or to dictate to other countries how they are going to do this. Our objective is to nurture, to help build and help preserve what the President called a community of free and independent nations.

Frankly, we are engaged in this effort with all of our friends in the region. They are moving at different speeds. But I think the important thing to note in this regard is what we perceive as a -- I guess a fundamental groundswell of opinion and feeling in the region for reform, for opportunity and for a chance to improve their lives and improve the lives, the prospects for their future generations. This is what underlies the Alexandria Declaration. It's what underlies the Forum for the Future, the kind of cooperation, the kind of engagement we saw in Rabat earlier this year or late last year -- I'm bad with dates.

QUESTION: December.

MR. ERELI: December. Thank you. And what we'll see, again, in when the group meets when the group next meets, the forum next meets in Amman, I believe. So, it is a movement, it is a trend, a direction that we are moving in and that we will seek to engage and encourage each country individually based on its particular conditions.

QUESTION: Well, would you agree that Saudi Arabia remains an absolute theocratic monarchy?

MR. ERELI: I'm not going to get into academic classifications. I would agree with I would say two things. One, that Saudi Arabia is changing and it is changing because that is something that its people are demanding. And I would say, number two, that there are practices that we take note of, that we remark upon in our human rights report and in other reports that we hold up to an international and universal standard.

And we're going to continue doing that. We're not going to shy away from it, but doing one does not preclude supporting the other. And so, that's the way I would look at it.

Yes. I'm sorry. Sir.

QUESTION: Do you also I mean, taking note of what conditions President Bush is addressing in order to change the Middle East, but so many observers around the whole world are also putting lots of emphasis on the importance of bringing comprehensive peace to the Middle East, including the leaders of the Democratic Party in the Congress.

What is the United States willing -- as you can see, this foreign policy in the upcoming few years, is it going to take more seriously the interest of the people of that area also in bringing just peace and implementing international laws that Israel needs to observe also in order to make that peace and also prosperity in the area, democracy, freedom come along as a result of that peace?

MR. ERELI: Yes, I think the President spoke -- again -- the President spoke to that last night and reiterated his deep and abiding desire for peace in the Middle East. He said he's sending Secretary Rice out there, out to the region to help encourage that and to help put the weight of the United States Administration behind fulfilling that vision. And the bottom line is, we're doing this because this is the only way that the people of the region can aspire to a brighter, more secure, more prosperous future.

QUESTION: To make that policy of the United States in the area more successful, wouldn't you see that there is an importance, as other people around the world see, that there is an importance in having even-handed policy toward the people of the area, Israel and the Arabs, and not siding with one side or another.

MR. ERELI: We think we have very even-handed policies.


QUESTION: Adam, yes, but if Secretary Rice has spoken to anybody in Indian leadership on the tsunami, and also on other regional issues, and if there is any planning for her trip in the region?

MR. ERELI: I'm not aware of any calls on the tsunami, and nothing to report on possible travel.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:45 p.m.)


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