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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for March 10

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for March 10 -- Transcript

Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 10, 2005

INDEX:

LEBANON/SYRIA
Re-appointment of Omar Karami as Prime Minister
Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559
US View on Hezbollah / Hezbollah's Role in Political Process
Presence of Syrian Forces and Intelligence Agents in Lebanon
Measure for Syrian Disengagement from Lebanon

RUSSIA
Death of Chechen Leader Aslan Maskhadov

MEXICO
Secretary Rice's Travel to Mexico / Query Regarding Possible Topic of Discussion

NORTH KOREA
Travel by Ambassador Hill / Discussions & Meetings on Six-Party Talks

PAKISTAN
Secretary Rice's Travel to Pakistan
US Policy of Encouraging Movement Toward Democracy

DEPARTMENT
US Withdrawal from Optional Protocol of the Vienna Consular Convention
US Continued Commitment to Fulfill the Provisions of the Vienna Convention
International Criminal Court of Justice Judgments
US Recognition of International Institutions

CHINA/HONG KONG
Resignation of Chief Executive Tung & the Issue of His Successor

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
Activities of General Ward / US Efforts to Assist in Security Reform

IRAN
Material to Support a Nuclear Weapons Program

CHINA/TAIWAN
US View of Anti-Secession Legislation


TRANSCRIPT:

1:00 p.m. EST


MR. ERELI: Hello, everybody. Welcome to our briefing today. I don't have any announcements for you so we can go straight to your questions.

Anybody from front row? Ken.

QUESTION: Two on Lebanon. One is interest in your reaction on Omar Karami being reinstated and also the New York Times story today that the U.S. is grudgingly willing to go along with efforts to steer Hezbollah into the political process.

MR. ERELI: On the choice of Omar Karami or the re-appointment of Omar Karami as Prime Minister of Lebanon, our view is that the people of Lebanon are engaged in a historic and courageous endeavor, which is to take control of their country and decide their own future. And we, the United States, the international community, support them in that endeavor. The Government of Lebanon faces historic challenges in creating the conditions and putting in place the processes that meet the people's aspirations for freedom, for democracy and for change.

Prime Minister Karami said that when he resigned the first time that he was resigning because he couldn't be effective. If ever there were a time that Lebanon needed effective government, that time is now. In our view, the immediate challenge for the new Government of Lebanon and what I think the international community would be looking for is that it responds to the aspirations of the Lebanon people -- Lebanese people -- for freedom and for sovereignty untrammeled by foreign forces. Specifically, what this means is that 1559 needs to be implemented, all foreign forces need to withdraw from Lebanon and elections need to take place that are free from intimidation, free from coercion, and then allow the Lebanese people to fully express their views and freely choose their leaders.

With respect to Hezbollah, our views on Hezbollah haven't changed, I think, and are well known. I think the important to make here is -- the point I made when speaking about the new Government of Lebanon -- is that the people of Lebanon are looking for a new future for their country. Our focus is on helping them to fulfill that, helping them to realize that future, helping the to fulfill their aspirations, and help them to achieve a Lebanon that is free of outside forces and a Lebanon where there is a political environment that allows the people of that country to decide without foreign interference, without outside pressure, who their representatives should be. And that is a decision for the Lebanese people to make. It is not a decision for us to make. It is not a process in which outsiders should be interfering.

Yes.

QUESTION: 1559 calls for a lot of things. Where is your main focus at the moment? Is it on getting Syria to withdraw its troops or is it on eliminating what you call a terrorist organization?

MR. ERELI: 1559 calls for the full and immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, the extension of Lebanese Government sovereignty throughout the territory of Lebanon and the disarming of militias. The first step in this the withdrawal of foreign forces and the standing up of a sovereign, empowered Lebanese Government.

In order to have that, you got to have elections, which is what is being planned for May. So those are where our focus are for now: getting foreign troops out, creating a climate where the Lebanese people can be free to vote, can vote free of intimidation and coercion, and helping support a government of Lebanon that represents, that fully represents, the people and can fully exercise its authority and sovereignty.

QUESTION: Okay, that makes it sound like the Hezbollah issue is being kicked down the street and the focus is Syria -- troops out, get to elections.

MR. ERELI: It's not a question of kicking anything down the street. It's a question of, I would say, fulfilling -- seeing that 1559 is fulfilled and creating --

QUESTION: In a certain --

MR. ERELI: Helping create the conditions for a political environment in Lebanon that is free of violence, that is free of intimidation and that is responsive to the desires of the Lebanese people. And I think that applies to outside as well as internal actors.

Yes.

QUESTION: Under such a new environment, would you accept a political role for Hezbollah?

MR. ERELI: It's not for us to determine who has a political role in Lebanon from among the Lebanese. That's a decision for the Lebanese people to make.

QUESTION: But if Hezbollah takes part in the political process --

MR. ERELI: Well, they're in part of the political process now. They have members in parliament. They have members elected to parliament. So they're part of the political process.

Again, it's not for us to say who's part of the political process or who's not part of the political process. It's for us -- and when I say us, I mean the international community -- to say that process has to be a process that is governed by the Lebanese people and Lebanese institutions and that what form those institutions take, what form the processes take and how the results are dealt with are matters for the Lebanese people to decide without, again, intimidation, coercion, or outside pressure.

QUESTION: But U.S. would accept a terrorist organization in the political process of Lebanon?

MR. ERELI: As I said, our views about Hezbollah are well known. And I think our views are distinct from the internal Lebanese political dynamic.

Yes.

QUESTION: Adam, in the last number of days there's been a pro-Syrian type rally in Beirut. You had upwards to 500,000 and you had a firebrand cleric. Now there, of course, may be a religious significance, maybe not, but 40 percent of that population are Shiite, maybe the rest both Druze and Christian.

Is Iran and Syria working together undermining the ability to have a fair election?

MR. ERELI: Clearly the presence of Syrian forces and Syrian intelligence agents is incompatible with a fully fair election, untainted by outside interference. And that's the basis of 1559. That's why we keep repeating the need for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, as well as Syrian intelligence apparatuses. Because you cannot -- the Lebanese people cannot go to the polls without having to worry about people pressuring them to vote one way or another, or the Lebanese political life cannot carry on freely as long as there is this huge outside presence that weighs on the political life and the social life of the country. So yeah, I would say that Syria is -- and the continued presence of Syria -- is incompatible with the Lebanese people exercising their full political and sovereign rights and civil rights.

Yes.

QUESTION: So you do consider Hezbollah an outside presence if they've got a presence in the Lebanese parliament?

MR. ERELI: I didn't say -- I didn't -- I never characterized Hezbollah as an outside presence.

Yes.

QUESTION: I heard you, a few minutes ago, say that the new and former Prime Minister is not the best person to be holding the job at this --

MR. ERELI: I didn't say that either. I said --

QUESTION: Well, you said he was inefficient.

MR. ERELI: I said that in resigning earlier, he said that he was resigning because he could not be effective. And I said that if ever there were a time or a need for effective government in Lebanon, now is the time. And then I called -- we called upon him to rise to the challenge and work to fulfill the aspirations of the Lebanese people.

QUESTION: On the -- just one more on Hezbollah. Clearly, the first question was here in reference to the New York Times story. Would you characterize that story as correct or incorrect?

MR. ERELI: I would simply say there's no change in our policy.

Yes.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: On the continuing story of the killing of the Chechnya rebel leader, Mr. Maskhadov, at the last briefing on Tuesday, Mr. Boucher said the U.S. is waiting for the confirmation to come up with a comment. Now the story has been confirmed.

Does the U.S. see this event as a legitimate destruction of a terrorist of was it an illegal killing of a politician? And more generally, what are the U.S. views on the conflict in Chechnya and the possible future resolution of that conflict?

MR. ERELI: You know, I don't -- I'm not going to provide a judgment on this incident. It's really not something that we would choose to comment on. And I think given the history of this conflict, it would be just really speculative to get into kind of a guessing game of what this -- what Mr. Maskhadov's death is going to mean for the future of this troubled region. Certainly, our views on the conflict and our approach to the conflict haven't changed and this latest incident doesn't cause us to change.

QUESTION: And what's the continuing policy?

MR. ERELI: The continuing policy is that terrorism must be confronted and a political solution is necessary.

QUESTION: And a follow-up, if I may. Mr. Maskhadov's family has called on Western governments and the U.S. Government among them to press the Russian Federation Government to release his body for burial to relatives because the Russian counterterrorism law does not allow that. Will there be any action on --

MR. ERELI: I haven't seen -- I'm not aware of those representations so I really couldn't speak to them.

Yes.

QUESTION: Mexico?

MR. ERELI: Hm-mmm.

QUESTION: As you know, there have been enormous demonstrations of Mexican citizens defending the candidacy of Lopez Obrador for President. And according to a recent article by Bruce Ackerman, who is a Professor of Law at Yale, President Fox has appointed an Attorney General who is attempting to twist Mexican law in order to smear Lopez Obrador sufficiently so he's unable to run.

Now, since Secretary Rice -- she is in Mexico today?

MR. ERELI: She is.

QUESTION: Will she be raising --

MR. ERELI: I don't think so.

QUESTION: You don't think so?

MR. ERELI: This is Mexican -- domestic internal Mexican politics, which is not the subject of Secretary Rice's meetings.

QUESTION: But the Administration weighed in very heavily in Ukraine in defense of the Ukrainian people's right to --

MR. ERELI: I think the situations are not comparable at all.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: May I ask a couple questions on Ambassador Christopher Hill? Ambassador Hill had a meeting with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo, yesterday, Mr. Sasae. Do you have any details of that meeting?

MR. ERELI: Ambassador Hill had several meetings in Tokyo yesterday. He met with Foreign Minister Machimura, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hosoda and his six-party talks counterpart, Mr. Sasae. Beyond characterizing their discussions as looking at ways to move the six-party process forward, I really don't have a lot of detail to shed on the substance of what they talked about.

I would note that Ambassador Hill is now en route to Washington and where he'll have meetings tomorrow with China's Special Envoy, Ning Fukui, and other U.S. officials. Again, the purpose of that will be to, I think, share information, discuss what we've all been hearing from each other and see if we can't find a way to bring North Korea back to the talks at the earliest possible date. I mean, that's, frankly, what this is all about and that's what we're all working toward. I think it's a goal that we all share, continue to share, continue to believe is important and necessary. Certainly, have a sense of -- a sense that sooner is better and we want to make it happen, so what you're seeing is energy and sustained diplomacy to achieve that objective.

QUESTION: That's a lot of meetings for Ambassador Hill in a couple of days, but are we any closer in the last 24 hours to getting a date for the next meeting?

MR. ERELI: I couldn't say. I wouldn't want to say. I think that measuring it in terms of closer or not close, or far or not further, over time is just an exercise in imagination. We will be close when we're there and when we hear from North Korea that they're ready to come back to talks. Short of that, I think we still have -- we just have to work to push this ball up the hill, push this rock up the hill.

QUESTION: And one more quick one, Adam. Sorry, just a last one. Have you had any contact from the North Koreans through the New York channel?

MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: When the Secretary visits next week, will she urge Musharraf to give up his army post?

MR. ERELI: If the subject comes up, we would reiterate our longstanding policy, which is that movement toward democracy is to be encouraged, is to be welcomed, and that we want to help support Pakistan as it takes the steps to, I think, take the steps to answer the people's call.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: But when Musharraf -- what and when Musharraf decides, I think we believe that he is committed to moving in the right direction, he is taking -- he has taken and is taking steps to move in the right direction, and we will encourage him to continue in that vein.

QUESTION: Okay. A couple of things. You said, "if the subject comes up," meaning Secretary Rice isn't going over there to raise it.

MR. ERELI: Like I said, I can't predict for you what subjects are going to come up and what subjects are not going to come up.

QUESTION: But --

MR. ERELI: I could -- well, actually I could predict the global war on terror.

QUESTION: I'm asking if she's going to --

MR. ERELI: I don't know. I'm not going to preview those discussions.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, President Bush comes out and says we're going to make --

MR. ERELI: I will tell you --

QUESTION: -- democracy much more of a central issue in our bilateral relations, so this is the key democratic issue with Pakistan. One would assume she's going to raise it, but you're saying, well, we don't know or I'm not going to tell you.

MR. ERELI: I would not -- I will tell you what our policy is. I will tell you what -- when the subject comes up, what we -- what views we share with the Pakistani Government. I would not presume to tell you, at this point, knowing what I know, which is not everything, obviously, that the subject will come up and the Secretary will say this. I just --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: I just can't be that definitive.

QUESTION: All right. But when the subject comes up, the way you've enunciated it, it isn't directly urging Musharraf to give up his army post. It's couched in these general terms: our policy is, you know, movement toward democracy, we'll help support Pakistan take those steps, but it's not specific.

MR. ERELI: I think, you know, I think President Musharraf has spoken to this issue, has indicated the direction he's moving in and, frankly, the general direction is towards democratic change and shaping Pakistani institutions to reflect that tendency, including what uniforms he wear or doesn't -- he wears or doesn't wear.

QUESTION: You say he's indicated that he wants to go in the right direction, but he has also gone back on his own word. Doesn't he therefore need prodding from the United States?

MR. ERELI: I wouldn't put it that way.

Yes.

QUESTION: Adam, can you discuss a bit about the rational behind the Administration's decision to withdraw from the optional protocol through the Geneva Conventions which give the International Court of Justice and measure of jurisdiction in U.S. capital cases? There's already criticism that this is part of a continuing trend of unilateralism --

MR. ERELI: Right. Well, let me address that latter criticism first. I don't think anybody should conclude by our decision to withdraw from the optional protocol that we are any less committed to the international system or that we are in any way walking back from international commitments. To the contrary, we remain a party to the Vienna Convention, we remain committed to fulfilling its provisions and we stand by it.

Second of all, the International Court of Justice, pursuant to a dispute referred to it under the optional protocol, rendered a judgment in the Avena a case dealing with how state courts in the United States handles certain capital cases of foreign nationals' claim to consular access. That is a decision that -- the decision the ICJ handed down is a decision, frankly, that we don't agree with.

Yet, in recognition of the optional protocol and our international commitments, the President has determined that the United States will comply with the judgment of the International Court of Justice and that we will review -- our state courts will review -- the cases that ICJ responded to.

However, we would also note that when we signed up to the optional protocol, it is not anticipated that this -- that when you refer a case -- cases that would be referred to the ICJ and the ICJ would use the -- and the optional protocol would be used to review cases of domestic criminal law.

This is a development, frankly, that we had not anticipated in signing up to the optional protocol and that we, frankly -- we -- and I would note, you know, 70 percent of the countries that are signatories to the Vienna Convention also decided not to sign up to the optional protocol so it's not just the United States going against everybody else. I mean, we are in a sense joining an existing majority in not participating in the optional protocol and the reason is because we see the optional protocol being used by people or developing in -- going in directions that was not our intent in getting involved.

I mean, so the bottom line is we believe in the international system, we are a committed participants in the international system, as reflected by our continued commitment to the Vienna Convention and its provisions, as well as our decision to comply with the judgment. But at the same time, we see that in this specific case, and in the use of optional protocol, frankly, the way it's being interpreted, the way it's being used, go against the ideas -- the original ideas -- that we signed up for.

QUESTION: But protocol came in handy for the United States during the Iran hostage crisis. Then there's criticism that we're now cherry-picking the provisions that we like and don't like, that this might be short-sighted in the long-run.

MR. ERELI: Well, again, I don't think we're cherry-picking. I think that this is a really unexpected and unwelcome precedent where people who don't like decisions of our state courts can use an international court as a court of appeal. And that doesn't make any sense at all. And so what we're talking about is, we've got a system of justice that works in the United States and I don't think you should compare it to other countries, like Iran in 1979. We have a system of justice that works. We have a system of justice that provides people with due process and review of their cases. And it's not appropriate that there be some international court that comes in and can reverse decisions of our national courts.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: But why does the United States on the one hand decide to, you know, go along with this ruling to review these cases and then just days later decide to pull back?

MR. ERELI: Because, precisely because, we respect the international system, because we respect the authorities and the jurisdictions of international institutions when we sign up to those international -- when we sign up and submit ourselves to those jurisdictions. So it shows that, look, even though we don't like something, even though we think it's wrong, if we submitted ourselves to that jurisdiction freely and according to international obligations, then we will honor those international obligations. And that's why we are complying with the case.

But we're also saying in the future we're going to find other ways to resolve disputes that come under the Vienna Convention other than submitting them to the ICJ. We'll do something else. So we're still committed to the Vienna Convention. We're still committed to upholding its principles and fulfilling our obligations under that convention. What we are saying is when there are questions about that, we'll seek to resolve them in a venue other than the ICJ. Given that the ICJ is in this case, as well as the Lagrand case, establish a precedent of using this mechanism to affect our domestic legal system.

QUESTION: In the last number of days, the former Prime Minister of Kosovo has turned himself in to the World Court at The Hague. He's been charged with 37 counts of --

MR. ERELI: It's not the -- it's not the ICJ. It's the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia which is a separate court, a separate --

QUESTION: But nonetheless, isn't this sending somewhat mixed signals because in Rwanda they're having local justice courts bringing those to trial for the 800,00 deaths --

MR. ERELI: No, there's also -- the court in Rwanda is also set up under international auspices. So I would say there's no double standard here, there's no contradiction here; that we recognize the authority and jurisdiction and legitimacy of international courts duly established under the international system, and when countries submit themselves to the authority they should abide by their decisions. And our actions in this case are consistent with that approach.

QUESTION: Well, aren't you also looking for speed? In other words, if it's taken a decade or more for a particular case or set of cases to come to the court at The Hague -- let's -- an area or a region such as what's going on in Africa, in utter chaos, because some of these "dictators" such as Mugabe in Zimbabwe and others, and maybe Charles Taylor who had been in Liberia, look and say, well, it never came to court, not in my time of rule or dictatorship --

MR. ERELI: I don't know what you're getting at.

QUESTION: And it just adds to the turmoil.

MR. ERELI: I mean, I'm not sure what you're getting at. Obviously, we want to see -- we want to see justice for the victims of the horrendous crimes that were committed in Rwanda, the horrendous crimes that were committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a result of the conflicts there. We believe that the courts established to bring to justice and try and judge on those responsible for these acts need to be supported. We support them. We do everything we can to ensure that that process moves forward expeditiously and transparently. But, you know, beyond that, I don't think there's any sort -- anything new to say or any general comment.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR. ERELI: Hmm-mmm.

QUESTION: Mr. Tung in Hong Kong finally resigned.

MR. ERELI: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say on that, and perhaps the way that his successor might be chosen?

MR. ERELI: I won't speak to choice of a successor. That's for the people of Hong Kong and China to decide. What I would tell you is that, as far as the United States is concerned, we have had a close relationship with Hong Kong for many years and we worked constructively with Mr. Tung and the Hong Kong Government during his tenure as Chief Executive. We certainly wish him well in his future work, and whoever is chosen to replace him we will continue to strongly support the aspirations of the Hong Kong people for democracy through electoral reform and universal suffrage as provided for by the Basic Law and the framework of one country, two systems.

QUESTION: You said that his successor is a matter to be decided by the people of Hong Kong and China. You know that the people of Hong Kong don't have a voice in that.

MR. ERELI: Well, I would say that they're going to -- he will be a representative of the people of China, of Hong Kong. There will be Hong Kong institutions that play a role in the selection. So I think that what I said is perfectly consistent with that reality.

QUESTION: Well, those institutions have chosen -- the members of those institutions, they're chosen by Beijing.

MR. ERELI: Not entirely.

QUESTION: Well, there's the representation of some --

MR. ERELI: And I think that -- I think there's definitely a level of enfranchisement to support the contention that or the statement that the choice will -- that the people of Hong Kong will have a role in choosing his successor.

Yes.

QUESTION: Adam, can you bring us up to date on what Lt. Gen. Ward has been doing? Is he investigating what apparently are some reports, one is in a Palestinian report saying that there have been 452 times that the Israelis have violated the initial agreements at Sharm el-Sheikh, and yet the Palestinians mention no, obviously, none of their particular violations and it seems it's back and forth. Is he able and adequately able to investigate both sides of this before --

MR. ERELI: Well, I don't know if I would characterize that as what he's doing, frankly. General Ward arrived in the region yesterday. He is beginning discussions with the Palestinians today. He will be working closely with the new Palestinian Minister of the Interior, General Nasser Yousef. And his basic mission is going to be to enhance our capacity to support Palestinian security force reforms as well as to help the Palestinians move forward in those endeavors.

Obviously, he will be working to also facilitate security cooperation between the parties, between the Palestinians and the Israelis. But as to the specific details of what he's going to be getting into, I'm not in a position to say.

QUESTION: And a follow-up. You're talking about essentially democratic type initiatives to be done by the Palestinians and --

MR. ERELI: I'm talking about security reform.

QUESTION: Right. And they were holding a meeting in the West Bank and it was attacked by gunmen that shot up the place and actually destroyed furniture. Is what we -- meaning the United States -- are trying to do is to get some of these longstanding issues in agreement --

MR. ERELI: What we're trying to do is a couple of things: One is help the Palestinians consolidate their security forces into an effective body that reports to and is controlled by the Prime Minister; number two, to help the develop the capabilities to carry out their duties in providing security for the Palestinian people and in preventing terrorists who want to destroy the peace process from carrying out operations -- from carrying out operations; and finally, to help facilitate and support cooperation between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the context of, first in the context of the immediate term of the Israeli plan to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank, and certain settlements in the West Bank. I think that's enough on this topic.

Yes.

QUESTION: Could you comment on Pakistan's official admission that A.Q. Khan provided Iran with centrifuges?

MR. ERELI: Yeah, I've seen that report. I don't really have more of a comment just because I've just seen press reports. Obviously, we view with great concern any indication that Iran is involved in or desirous of obtaining material to support a nuclear weapons program. That remains a concern of ours, it remains a concern of the international community, and it's something we obviously follow very, very closely.

QUESTION: Did Pakistan inform the United States earlier about this?

MR. ERELI: I don't have anything to share with you on it.

QUESTION: If I could just go back to Lebanon for a moment. Is it the U.S. position that Karami's reinstatement is a sign of backtracking in terms of Syrian disengagement from Lebanon?

MR. ERELI: I would say that the measure of -- we believe that the measure of Syrian disengagement from Lebanon is the removal of its forces from Lebanon, and that really is the criteria by which we will judge that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Since you've just recently announced the Secretary's trip to Asia, can you characterize how any discussion of the anti-secession legislation will figure into her discussions with leaders?

MR. ERELI: Well, I think Richard spoke to this, or Ambassador Boucher spoke to this, on Tuesday and answered it much the same way I answered the question about will Secretary Rice raise this issue with the Pakistani President. And it is that I couldn't tell you it's going to come up. If it does come up, the Secretary will reiterate our position, which we've spoken to earlier, which is that we view the law as unhelpful and we support and encourage dialogue to resolve cross-straits tensions.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 p.m.)

DPB # 39

Released on March 10, 2005


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