State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for March 15
State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for March 15 -- Transcript
Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
March 15, 2005
International Religious Freedom Report Extension / Working with
Eritrea Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, and Vietnam / Range of Sanctions
Hezbollah and Terrorism / President's Remarks
Deputy Secretary Zoellick Meeting with Meronite Patriarch Sfeir
Demonstrations Near Embassy Beirut / Warden Message
Implementation of Resolution 1559
Acting Undersecretary Burns Meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Valinakis
Assassination Attempt Against Ibrahim Rugova
Commitment to a New Government
Further Strengthening U.S. Relationship
Hunt for Usama bin Laden
European Union Arms Delegation Meeting at State Department /
Opposition to Lifting Embargo / Ongoing Discussions with the Japanese
Need for Further Improvements in Electoral Process / Reports of Demonstrations
Support for the End to Settlement Activity / Dismantlement of Outposts
Secretary Rice Phone Call with Foreign Minister Lavrov / Istanbul
Commitments / Developments in Lebanon
12:50 p.m. EDT
MR. ERELI: Good afternoon everyone. I don't have any announcements to begin with, so we can start with your questions.
QUESTION: Today is the deadline for decisions made last September concerning countries listed as countries of concern with respect to religious freedom. Do you have anything to report?
MR. ERELI: Yes, we will be asking Congress for a little extra time to finalize the required actions under the International Religious Freedom Act. As you know, in September we designated Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam as countries of particular concern.
Since that time, we've been actively engaged with all three in working for improvements in religious -- in the respect for religious freedom in those countries. We made some important progress. I think we're close to -- we're close to arrangements that respond to issues raised in the report and we think that with a little bit more time we can take care of some of the issues that were of -- that were problematic for us.
So bearing that in mind, we expect decisions to be finalized and announced in the next few weeks, and for that reason, we've just asked for a little bit more time from Congress.
QUESTION: You're making progress with all three countries?
MR. ERELI: To varying degrees.
QUESTION: What is the -- what type of sanctions are possible under worst-case scenarios?
MR. ERELI: Well, I don't want to start hypothesizing on what may or may not be appropriate. As you know, the Act provides for a range of sanctions that we can take, depending on the severity of the country's performance. So a lot depends on, not only what kind of progress we make, but also -- you know, there is also a provision for National Interest Waiver.
There are other kinds of waivers, so let's look at -- and this is why we need a little bit more time -- look at what we're able to accomplish in the next -- in the near future, and based on that we'll decide from among the menu of possibilities provided for in the Act which ones are the appropriate. But I wouldn't want to get into worst-case scenarios.
QUESTION: All right. Can you say that Saudi Arabia is a more tolerant society than it was six months ago?
MR. ERELI: I would not -- based on what I know, I would not want to make that characterization. But as I said, we have made -- we have had good discussions with the Saudis. I think there's a real engagement on this issue, and I think based on that engagement and based on the kinds of discussions we've had, we think that a little bit more time can be helpful to all the parties concerned.
QUESTION: Adam, although it's religious freedom in all three countries, the issues aren't exactly the same in Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Eritrea.
MR. ERELI: True.
QUESTION: Can you try to explain to us what sort of discussions you're having with each of those three countries?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't really want to do that.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR. ERELI: Well, look, read the report. You know the issues -- the issues in each of the three countries are there for everybody to look at. As I said, we're at different stages, talking about different actions with each of the three, and I think our response with each of the three are going to be different. So there's not going to be a blanket action with respect to all three. It depends on the severity of the issue, what actions have been taken since the report came out in September and what we can, I think, demonstrate in terms of intent or commitment to take additional actions that will decide what actions we take -- what actions we take, what decisions we make with the additional time we're asking for.
QUESTION: So you're not really looking for a result or an outcome to be able to make a decision; you're just looking for intent and promise or?
MR. ERELI: And commitment. And commitment.
MR. ERELI: And in some cases actions have been taken. I don't want to minimize things that countries have done in the six months -- in some cases, in the six months since we've put out the report there have been some actions taken. So I don't want to minimize those and say, "Oh, it has nothing to do with that and it's all about things that they might do." It's taken together what they've done, what they agree to do and I think the level of seriousness with which we view the engagement.
QUESTION: Just one -- how much time are you asking for? How much more time?
MR. ERELI: A little extra time, I can't be more specific than that.
QUESTION: Weeks? Months? Can you say that?
MR. ERELI: Not a lot. No, I can't tell you. I can't give you a specific timeframe.
QUESTION: Can I ask about Hezbollah?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Earlier today, President Bush seemed to open the door a little bit to the idea that Hezbollah could prove that it is no longer a terrorist organization or a terrorist group.
MR. ERELI: When did he do -- when?
QUESTION: He was speaking with King Abdullah.
MR. ERELI: Earlier today?
QUESTION: Earlier today. Talking about how it's incumbent on Hezbollah to prove that they don't engage in acts of terrorism. Is this -- is the U.S. laying out a path here for Hezbollah to be seen as a political organization?
MR. ERELI: I saw wire reports of the President's remarks. I didn't see the whole remarks. As we said earlier, and I -- as the President, I believe, said our policy on Hezbollah hasn't changed. And I don't think there's anything that in his remarks that would lead -- that should lead people to conclude that his statement that our policy changed, hasn't changed isn't true.
I think it's the United States hope and desire, and I would daresay, goal that organizations that practice terror will in someday renounce that terror and practice peaceful means to achieve their goals or to advance their interests. That's as true for Hezbollah as it is any organization. So I would look at the remarks in those contexts as opposed to signaling some new direction for U.S. policy.
QUESTION: But he also noted past terrorist attacks by Hezbollah, using the word "past" as, does the U.S. not believe that Hezbollah is still engaged in terrorism now?
MR. ERELI: Like I said, and as we said last week as I will tell you this week, our policies and views on Hezbollah have not changed.
QUESTION: To follow on what Tammy was talking about, the President seemed to -- or didn't seem to -- he just laid out two actual things he would like to see Hezbollah do; therefore, perhaps the President wasn't being complete in listing all the things the United States would like to see Hezbollah do. And so, perhaps, I will ask you to be complete at this time.
MR. ERELI: I'm not going to complete the President's remarks. I'll let the President's remarks stand on their own and I will reiterate what I just told your colleague, that as far as I'm aware there's no change in our policy towards Hezbollah.
QUESTION: So, perhaps, it wouldn't pain you just to restate the policy toward Hezbollah and tell us what it is Hezbollah must do in order for that policy not to apply to it anymore.
MR. ERELI: No, that -- if you look at our annual report on patterns of terrorism, I think you will see in very vivid detail what our concerns for that organization are. I don't necessarily think that it's necessary to go into an exhaustive review of -- or a prescription of the way forward. As with any terrorist organization, what we're looking for is to get out of the terrorism game. But as I said, there's nothing new to add, no new chart to course on that -- no new course to chart on that today.
QUESTION: And can I just finally ask if what you want is for Hezbollah to get out of the terrorist game, whether you have seen so far any indications that it is doing that?
MR. ERELI: I would say we want all organizations that practice terrorism to get out of the terrorism game. That is -- it's not specific to one organization or another. It's characteristic of all of them. And again, I don't -- there are no new developments with respect to this particular organization that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the meeting this afternoon with the Deputy Secretary with the Cardinal Sfeir from Lebanon? Who will attend this meeting and what can you tell us about it?
MR. ERELI: This is an opportunity for -- well, Cardinal Sfeir is visiting Washington. He's meeting with a number of officials. It's an opportunity for us to hear from him about events in Lebanon, to underscore to him, or for him, our interest in seeing the people of Lebanon be free to and elect -- be free to elect a government that reflects their views, reflects their desires, reflects their hopes and aspirations without interference from other countries, without intimidation, without pressure from neighbors or from outside influences.
This is an important point that we reiterate publicly but it's also important to communicate privately and directly to all the elements of the Lebanese body politic so that there is a clear and consistent message. And that message is that the international community supports you, all members of the Lebanese society supports you in your efforts to determine your own future, to design your own political structures and to exercise your own rights without pressure and without the distorting influence of a foreign presence in your country.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the demonstration today close to the American Embassy in Beirut and the demonstrators ask the American Embassy if they were to leave Lebanon because the U.S. is backing the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon?
MR. ERELI: I don't have any specific comment on that, or any comment on that specific demonstration. As a general matter, I think what's heartening is to see is the people of Lebanon being free to demonstrate. Those demonstrations taking place without violence, which is extremely important that differences of views be tolerated and that force not be used by anybody against those who -- with whom they don't agree.
Obviously, our Ambassador in Lebanon as well as the entire diplomatic mission in Beirut is there to help -- I think is there to help assist the Lebanese people in, as I said before, realizing their national aspirations and I think working with the international community in supporting a Lebanon and a Lebanese Government that can exercise its sovereignty over the entire country.
That's a mission we share with our other foreign colleagues in Lebanon to make Lebanon free for the Lebanese and I think it's an endeavor that many would -- many in Lebanon with agree with and many would support.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Nick.
QUESTION: Adam, I may have missed but I don't recall seeing any announcements regarding the Embassy or Authorized Departures or anything like that. Do you consider the situation in Beirut at this time safe enough for your personnel there?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, we've not changed our security assessment. I think a Warden Message might have been put out a few days ago ahead of this planned demonstration just warning people, warning the people in the community that there was a demonstration in front of the Embassy, but in terms of changing our profile there, no, nothing that I'm aware of that's new or different.
QUESTION: Any readout of yesterday's meeting between the Deputy Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs, Yiannis Valinakis, and Under Secretary for Political Affairs, William Burns with the presence of Under Secretary (inaudible)?
QUESTION: Can we stay on Lebanon?
MR. ERELI: We'll get back to you.
QUESTION: If you have anything to say about your efforts to stop the Israeli warplanes infringing on the Lebanese borders and lands, you know, over the areas where the Hezbollah people and other Lebanese are living in there, it sure doesn't help the southern Lebanese people to feel secure when the Israeli fighters are all over the area on a daily basis almost. Are you doing anything to stop the Israelis?
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware of Israeli flights over southern Lebanon and obviously our call to everybody in the region is refrain from provocative acts, refrain from acts that lead to violence. That is a message that that we send clearly and consistently. But I think the focus of everybody should be on implementing 1559 and creating an environment in Lebanon where free elections can take place.
On the meeting between Ambassador Bill -- William Burns, Acting Under Secretary for Political Affairs, and the Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Valinakis, they met yesterday. They had a good discussion about UN negotiations on the Macedonian name issue and as well as other regional issues, and we thanked Greece for its contributions to the efforts in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Your reaction to the assassination attempt today against Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo, which has been condemned by all the Balkan countries, including Greece?
MR. ERELI: Well, and we will add our name to that list by strongly condemning this incident and reiterating that violence in any form will not be tolerated and can only hurt Kosovo's future. We believe that the perpetrator or perpetrators of this cowardly act must be apprehended and tried as soon as possible.
For details about the attack and what happened, I obviously refer you to local authorities and the UN Mission in Kosovo. We are encouraging the leadership of Kosovo not to let this incident derail their commitment to forming a new government and continuing to implement the standards, and we will continue to support them as they prepare for the comprehensive review later this year.
QUESTION: Do you have anything that today's UN War Tribunal of Carla del Ponte indictment against the former Minister of Interior of Skopje, Ljube Boskovski, and the police officer Johan Tarculovski, accused of crimes during the ethnic Albanian rebellion in FYROM?
MR. ERELI: No, I don't have anything on that.
Yes, sir -- I'm sorry. Yeah.
QUESTION: Is William Burns really the Acting Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs?
MR. ERELI: I'll check and make sure that that is technically the right title.
QUESTION: He is?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: In a few hours, Dr. Rice will be in India and followed by a trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan and other countries in her first trip as Secretary of State. U.S. is also warning India on the gas pipeline between India and Iran and also issue is also -- the issue of Kashmir is also there.
But as far as relations between India and Pakistan is concerned, they are booming and they are going as U.S. or India and Pakistan wanted and also General Musharraf is going to visit India to watch the games in India between Pakistan and India, I mean, relations are booming.
What I'm asking you really, is this issue of Kashmir and the gas pipeline between India and Iran will be among the topics with her meetings with the Prime Minister and Foreign Ministers of India?
MR. ERELI: First of all, this trip is an opportunity for us to further strengthen our already excellent relations with two important and growing regional powers. We have a -- I think with India -- we have a number of important issues to discuss, including focusing on how to maintain momentum in transforming our relationship to an even stronger, closer, more dynamic one. We will be looking to build on the successful next steps in this strategic partnership as well as talking about a number of bilateral issues such as the economic dialogue, military-to-military links, and regional security.
As far as the pipeline goes, I couldn't tell you if that specific issue is going to come up. I just don't know how the discussions will develop. But obviously it's something your colleagues will, I am sure, ask about tomorrow after their meetings.
QUESTION: Can I have one more on China, please?
MR. ERELI: Well, let's -- anything else on Pakistan?
QUESTION: The pipeline. Can I follow up on the pipeline?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Do you have concerns about the pipeline?
MR. ERELI: Let me see if I've got anything for you on that.
Still on Pakistan or India, the trip?
MR. ERELI: Well, kind of related, it's President Musharraf's interview with BBC, where he refers to having been near Usama bin Laden about eight to ten months ago. Do you have any information that they have passed along to you prior to this admission? And also, can you update us on the efforts the State Department has in regards to the capture of Usama bin Laden, Rewards for Justice program?
MR. ERELI: As far as President Musharraf's comments to BBC, I don't have anything to add or any light I can shed on those. As far as the hunt for Usama bin Laden, every part of the U.S. Government that can contribute to that is doing their part, doing what they can; obviously, that includes the State Department.
As you know, Bureau of Diplomatic Security has been conducting a public awareness campaign on the Rewards for Justice program on what rewards are out there, how it works, communicating to the local population through print and radio and other means. It is part of a sustained effort to bring terrorists to justice. No new developments to share with you on that score today other than to say it's something we work in -- work on day in and day out.
QUESTION: On China. Do you have any comments on the U.S. Import-Export Bank is giving -- are giving loans or guarantee of $5 billion to China's nuclear project plan? And also, chairman of the International Relations Committee, Mr. Henry Hyde, saying this is a very dangerous game that U.S. is playing because --
MR. ERELI: No, I don't know anything about it. Sorry.
QUESTION: But --
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Still on China.
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Arms embargo to China.
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: You said that you gave us a readout regarding with EU delegation in Washington D.C. It's a little bit too simple. Could you elaborate more? Whom are they going to see or so on?
MR. ERELI: We met yesterday at the State Department with the European Union delegation. The officials here meeting with them were Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Evans Revere, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Glen Davies and the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Political Military Affairs Greg Suchan.
I would characterize yesterday's meeting as a listening session. We were able to hear from the European's, their views, their approach to the issue. We made our position on the subject very clear, specifically, we said that we think ending the embargo is a bad idea because we believe it would send the wrong signal in terms of security and stability in the region. We let them know we're opposed to lifting the embargo and that would remain our position.
QUESTION: So what did they respond to your opinion?
MR. ERELI: I'll leave it to them to characterize their response. I don't want to speak for them.
QUESTION: On this issue then -- you know, this delegation is going to visit Japan after they leave this city, do you know?
MR. ERELI: I don't know their further travel.
QUESTION: Well, they are there.
MR. ERELI: Okay.
MR. ERELI: Anyway, I'm wondering if you have any idea or any plan to have like a joint session to discuss this issue -- U.S., Japan -- and like U.S., Japan, and the European Union and so on?
MR. ERELI: Well I'll put it this way. We will continue to work with our partners, the Europeans, with our close allies, the Japanese and others, on this issue. Obviously, it's not going to go away. Obviously, it is of, I think, concern to all of us. Obviously, we all have our own views of the issue. Our approach will be to try to really prevail on and build a consensus on what are the best steps, the most responsible steps to take, given the reality that prevails in the region. And that will be done through ongoing discussions with the Japanese, with the Europeans, and with others.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments on the dispute, you might say, diplomatic dispute between Korea and Japan now on the island of Tokdo, in Japanese name, Takeshima?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: This make really great tension between two countries.
MR. ERELI: No, I don't. I have nothing to say on that one.
QUESTION: Anything on the Kyrgyzstan elections?
QUESTION: Can I go just to China, back quickly --
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- and the embargo? Japan has not publicly said what it's position is on the embargo. They have not called on the Europeans not to do this, not to lift the embargo. Are you trying to get the Japanese to support your position and do you think that would be helpful --
MR. ERELI: No --
QUESTION: -- to balance the power in the region?
MR. ERELI: No, all I'm saying is that this is an issue that, to the extent that it is of concern to countries, we discuss our position and we make known our views. But I don't have -- I'm not suggesting to you any new diplomatic initiatives.
Kyrgyzstan. The final results aren't -- are not in yet but it certainly appears that there will be a solid pro-government majority in the parliament. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's preliminary assessment is that the second vote was marred by serious flaws. We share that assessment and believe there is a need for further improvements in the electoral process.
We also note that there have been reports of demonstrations in several parts of the country. We call upon the government in Kyrgyzstan to continue to respond to those demonstrations in a peaceful manner. We also believe that it is important for the Government of Kyrgyzstan to take steps to remedy the shortcomings detailed in the preliminary report and to investigate allegations of fraud and misconduct promptly and transparently.
QUESTION: There is a report today in Ha'aretz newspaper saying that the U.S. is having a disagreement with Israel regarding the identification of settlements in West Bank. Do you have any comment about this?
MR. ERELI: I had not seen that report. On the general subject of settlements, I think our view is well known both to the Israeli Government and to the Palestinians. We support an end to settlement activity. We call for the -- consistent with the roadmap -- call for a dismantlement of outposts that have been built. It is an issue with which we are engaged with the Israeli Government and something that we feel is an important roadmap commitment.
QUESTION: Adam, it appears that the Secretary had a telephone conversation with the Russian Foreign Minister. I was wondering if you had a readout or might want to post one later. The Russians have read out --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, there was a discussion with the Russian Foreign Minister. Most of that discussion dealt with developments in Russia meeting its Istanbul commitments and developments in Lebanon.
QUESTION: Who was this discussion with?
MR. ERELI: Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov.
MR. ERELI: Secretary Rice.
MR. ERELI: Today.
QUESTION: Why don't you leave that to the party?
MR. ERELI: Pardon?
QUESTION: Why don't you leave that to the party?
QUESTION: Is this on the ground, from the plane, or --
MR. ERELI: I'm not sure exactly where she was sitting, but probably the plane.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Istanbul commitments? Have --
MR. ERELI: No, just progress towards -- follow-up from discussions in Bratislava.
QUESTION: Is there any progress?
MR. ERELI: Yes. Well, yeah, things are -- I think things are moving forward.
QUESTION: Have they given you some sort of a timeline?
MR. ERELI: Don't have any details.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:22 p.m.)