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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for April 19

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for April 19 -- Transcript

Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 19, 2005

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT
Release of Terrorism Statistics/Patterns of Global Terrorism Report
Release of Country Reports of Terrorism / National
Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) / Public Understanding of Issue
Reports on Delay of Vote on Bolton Nomination
Selection of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI

EUROPEAN UNION
May 29 Vote on EU Constitution / US Position on Europe and EU

LEBANON/SYRIA
Prime Minister Mikati's Announcement of New Cabinet / Internal Security
UN Secretary General Report / Syrian Withdrawal

KUWAIT
Rights for Women / Voting in Elections / US Support

IRAN
Reports of Unrest in Khuzestan / Suppression of Minority Rights
US Call to Exercise Restraint

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
Travel Update of David Welch and Elliott Abrams
Meetings with Israelis and Palestinians / Issues to Discuss

KOSOVO/GREECE
Query on Secretary Rice's Meeting with International Crisis Group
Issue on Final Status of Kosovo / Comments of Under Secretary
Nicholas Burns / Greece's Involvement and Support
Contact Group / Consultation with Regional States


TRANSCRIPT:

1:30 p.m. EDT

MR. ERELI: Greetings, everyone.

QUESTION: Greetings.

MR. ERELI: Welcome to our briefing today. I don't have any announcements to begin with so we'll start with your questions.

QUESTION: Adam, if we could start where we started yesterday, which is to say on the matter of terrorism statistics and their release by the U.S. Government. Ambassador Boucher told us yesterday that the terrorism statistics that had previously been released in the State Department's Patterns of Global Terrorism Report would henceforth be released by the National Counterterrorism Center.

CIA spokespeople were quoted in the paper this morning and our stories yesterday, said no decisions have been made on releasing the data. What is the reality here? Is Ambassador Boucher correct in his statement of yesterday that NCTC will release these statistics?

MR. ERELI: The reality is that the State Department, NCTC and everybody involved with the reporting on terrorism is committed to the same thing, which is an informed public debate about this important issue. We, as Ambassador Boucher outlined yesterday, we have looked at how we deal with our analysis and reporting on terrorism in light of experiences of last year, in light of new legislation and in light of, frankly, the changing way the Government deals with monitoring, assessing and dealing with terrorism.

And on that basis, State will be doing its country reports on terrorism, which we will be reporting on later this month, I expect. I think that's the intention and that's certainly what we're looking for and there's a Congressional requirement to do that. And that the National Counterterrorism Threat Center -- National Counterterrorism Center, excuse me, will be doing the statistical analysis and that part of the information. That's their job, that's their responsibility and I'll leave it to them to tell you what they're going to do and how they're going to put forward the information and all that sort of stuff.

But what I will say is that the guiding principles, again, for all of us is, working with Congress and providing information in a way that allows for an informed public debate.

QUESTION: Will they or won't they publicly release those statistics?

MR. ERELI: I'm not going to speak for them.

QUESTION: Well, yesterday, from the same podium, Ambassador Boucher said that they would release the statistics.

MR. ERELI: I'll --

QUESTION: And it is not clear, given what the CIA spokespeople have said, on the record, that they will do so. In fact, the CIA spokespeople, more than one are quoted on the record as saying, no decisions have been taken. So the reason I'm asking you the question is that you're, you know, is that Ambassador Boucher discussed this yesterday and said yes, they will. And you know, is he wrong?

MR. ERELI: I don't have the answer --

QUESTION: You don't know?

MR. ERELI: Frankly, I don't have more to add to what was said yesterday, other than what I just told you today, which is that we're all working for an informed public debate. I'll let the NCTC speak for what it decides to do and when it decides to do it. And I'll stick to what State Department is doing and the State Department is putting out its country reports.

So I don't really, I mean, I'll put it this way, I don't want to get down in the weeds of the issue. I don't want to talk to you about how information is going to come out, when it's going to come out and what form it's going to come out, especially when we're not the ones putting out. But what I will tell you is a couple of things and I think that get to the points that you're addressing and that is that the public and Congress should know that all of us who are working on terrorism share their concern about the danger we face, share with them an understanding that we need to have as full awareness, full understanding of what the threat is out there -- excuse me -- full in understanding of the threat that's out there. And that we are going to -- all of us in government -- are going to do our part to contribute to that debate, to contribute to that understanding and to develop policies that protect the American people.

I mean, that's the bottom line and that's the important point and that's what I sort of feel comfortable assuring you of on behalf of the State Department and as a government employee. But if you ask me to get into, okay, who's going to do what and when and how and on what basis, etcetera, etcetera, that's just a level of detail that I'm not able to speak to and, you know, again, make commitments on behalf of others.

I think what it's safe to say and safe to assume and safe to write is that we're all going to work together, all agencies of the U.S. Government, to contribute to as full a public understanding of this important issue as possible.

QUESTION: Look, yesterday the State Department did publicly commit the National Counterterrorism Center to releasing these statistics.

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And it's a simple question. Do you believe that they will do so, as you said that you did yesterday?

MR. ERELI: I think they will decide. They will make a decision, you know -- they will make a decision and I'll leave it to them to speak to how and when and on what basis they're going to make their decision.

QUESTION: So you have no commitment from them that they will release these numbers?

MR. ERELI: I'm not making any commitment on behalf of anybody. And I think that our understanding is that they, like us, are committed to an informed public debate on this important issue. That's what my understanding is.

QUESTION: But not that they are --

MR. ERELI: I'm not making a commitment --

QUESTION: -- committed to releasing the statistics?

MR. ERELI: I'm not going to make a commitment for anybody.

QUESTION: But yesterday, the --

MR. ERELI: Like I said, Arshad, I don't have anything more to add to this.

QUESTION: You know, I understand that, but it's an important issue, I think, because it goes to the accuracy of the things that are said from that podium. That is an important asset. You should value it, okay.

MR. ERELI: I do value it and I stand by what -- I stand by what Ambassador Boucher said.

QUESTION: So you still expect them to release the information.

MR. ERELI: I stand by what Ambassador Boucher said and I think that I've tried to amplify it as fully as I can and get across to you the firm message that the State Department and the U.S. Government are committed to an informed public debate on this important issue. And I think that -- I think that answers the questions as best I can answer it.

QUESTION: But not perforce to the release of the statistics themselves?

MR. ERELI: I'm not going to go into more detail. I think that's -- I think that gives you a good basis to report that the U.S. Government and those responsible for reporting and analyzing this information are going to do their part to work with Congress and give the public the information they need to appreciate the situation.

Yes?

QUESTION: Can I change the topic?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: This is in relation to the May 29 -- (inaudible) the May 29 vote on the European Union Constitution in --

MR. ERELI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- in representing France.

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And opinion polls are consistently showing that the French would reject the constitution, which would basically push the European Union into crisis.

MR. ERELI: Right.

QUESTION: How do you see this?

MR. ERELI: I'd see this as a question for members of the European Union to discuss and debate and decide. And the U.S. position on Europe and the EU is clear, is that it's an important and valued partner, one that we work with closely on issues spanning the full range of global significance and that whatever is decided on this issue -- on this particular case, we will continue to count on a strong relationship with the EU in confronting common challenges.

QUESTION: A rejection of the constitution will also mean a cease to any --

MR. ERELI: Again, you're asking me to speculate on something that may or may not happen, so I just -- reluctant to do that.

QUESTION: Lebanon's Prime Minister said that he plans to immediately seek the removal of pro-Syrian security -- senior security officials in Lebanon. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. ERELI: First of all, we welcome the announcement by Prime Minister Mikati of a new cabinet. That cabinet will be submitted for parliamentary approval later this week.

For the United States, and I think our partners in the Security Council as well as in the region, the most important thing is, for us, is for this new government to move forward in conducting free and fair elections that are untainted by foreign interference before the end of May, and that is really what we're going to be working with the government to accomplish.

As far as the determination of who is head of internal security organs or other organs, that's a subject for the Lebanese Government to decide. Obviously, you know, we're going to look at things in light of the Hariri assassination, the Fitzgerald report, the Security Council resolution calling for an international investigation. And for us, the key issue there is that that investigation have the full cooperation and support of the Lebanese Government and that we get to the bottom of the facts. And whatever steps can contribute to that are important.

QUESTION: Do you not have a view in particular on whether pro-Syrian security chiefs ought to be removed?

MR. ERELI: Not on that specific question, no.

Yes, sir, in the back.

QUESTION: Do you have any date on when the UN Secretary General is going to present his report to the Security Council on Syria's withdrawal?

MR. ERELI: No, I don't have any update on that. I think we're looking at -- it's a matter of discussion with the Secretary General but I'm not aware that a specific -- and there is a specific date provided for and I'd leave it to the Secretary General to comment further on it.

QUESTION: I think the Secretary General himself said this morning that it was -- the report was going to be -- its publication will be postponed by maybe to --

MR. ERELI: I've seen that. I've seen suggestions that might happen. I wasn't aware that they'd actually made any decision. That's why I referred the matter to the Secretary General.

QUESTION: I think it's out in public and I wonder if that troubles you, whether you would actually want, you know, sort of a more timely report or if you look for some justification for postponing it.

MR. ERELI: I'll put it this way. We think it's important that the international community remain firm and united on the importance and the timeliness of full Syrian withdrawal -- withdrawal of all foreign forces, I should say -- from Lebanon and that whether the report is issued one week or the next week, the important point is that there needs to be a consistent and strong message from the international community that 1559 demands implementation.

Yes.

QUESTION: What is your reaction to last-minute attempts by Democrats to delay the vote on the nomination of John Bolton today?

MR. ERELI: I don't have a comment on those -- the efforts. Our only comment is that we believe that Mr. Bolton's nomination is a good one, he'll be a strong candidate and we hope for him to be in New York so he can begin the important work he has there.

Yes.

QUESTION: The Kuwaiti parliament has given initial backing to allowing women in Kuwait to vote and compete for office in municipal council elections for the first time. What's your comment on that?

MR. ERELI: The United States firmly supports the right of women everywhere to vote and to be full participants in the political life of their country and the social life of the country and the economic life of the country, and steps that move in that direction are to be welcomed and encouraged.

Yes.

QUESTION: Are you specifically welcoming this step, because that was a very --

MR. ERELI: Well, I don't know the details. I don't know the details of where things are in Kuwait in the legislative process. I mean, has it been decided to do it? Is it a motion that's been approved? So without speaking to the specifics of what's going on in Kuwait at this present time, I would say that the United States supports steps that move in this direction and urges any country, wherever it is, to enfranchise half of its population.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, sir, to continue on Mr. Bolton's nomination, I mean, do you guys have any second thoughts on nominating him in light of all the opposition that --

MR. ERELI: Absolutely not. We are just as enthusiastic and confident of the wisdom of our nomination today as we were when it was first announced.

QUESTION: Are you surprised at the level of opposition by some Democrats and others?

MR. ERELI: Look, this is democracy. There's the Congress. We welcome and respect Congress' constitutional role of advice and consent and that's the democracy we live in.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: There are reports in Iran that at least five people died over the last weekend in ethnic unrest in Khuzestan and I wonder if you have any comment on that.

MR. ERELI: Yeah, we have -- we are very concerned by reports in -- from Khuzestan in Iran of unrest in which several people have been killed and many more, perhaps even hundreds, have been arrested. In our view, this unrest and these arrests involve the denial of rights of minority groups in Iran. The group is an Arab group -- my understanding -- and that suppression of minority rights is obviously to be denounced. And it is not the first time that Iran has practiced this kind of human rights violations and I think it's reflected in our human rights report on Iran.

The United States calls upon the Iranian authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with this minority in Khuzestan and to respect the peaceful exercise by the Iranian people of their democratic rights.

QUESTION: Can I -- and if you don't know, I understand, but there seems to be -- Iran's a place where it's sometimes not easy to figure out what's going on and it's not, to me at least, perfectly clear just what has transpired here. You said that you urge them to respect their democratic rights. Do you know exactly what rights this minority group is being deprived or what rights may be under attack by the government?

MR. ERELI: I think, at a minimum, the right to freely assemble and peacefully demonstrate.

QUESTION: And do you know what was the origin of the demonstrations here?

MR. ERELI: I do not.

Sir.

QUESTION: Can you update us on Mr. Welch and Mr. Abrams' visit to the Middle East?

MR. ERELI: Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs David Welch and Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams are arriving in Tel Aviv today. They will be meeting tomorrow with both Israelis and Palestinians and they'll obviously have the opportunity to discuss the full range of issues. Obviously, I think, security cooperation, moving forward on the road map, coordination on Gaza withdrawal and, I think, full follow-up on that, as an opportunity to further the road map, will be among the prominent subjects for discussion.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: More? In the back.

QUESTION: On the Balkan. Mr. Ereli, Secretary Condoleezza Rice went yesterday with the members of the International Crisis Group, which last January, released an extensive report supporting the fact of the recognition of an independent Kosovo, in the context of greater Albania. I'm wondering, did they discuss this coalition issue pertaining to the security of the entire Balkans and how to prevent any Albanian aggressive movements against FYROM and the western Balkans in general during the summer.

MR. ERELI: You're talking about a meeting with the Secretary and the International Crisis Group yesterday?

QUESTION: Group -- yesterday, yes.

MR. ERELI: I'll have to check and see if I've got anything for you on that meeting. I'm --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: I'll have to check.

QUESTION: Okay. And news that Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns stated yesterday the first question that Secretary Rice received from the group was about the Balkans. And the question was: "Is the government -- the U.S. Government committed to finish the job that people like Mr. Holbrook, who is with us today, started as well in the '90s." And the answer was yes. Now, could you please give us an idea how -- what exactly you are trying to do in the western Balkans since Mr. Burns was so optimistic saying, "We hope to use 2005 as a year to make progress in Kosovo." But he did not clarify full independence, autonomy, partition, what?

MR. ERELI: Well, obviously, that issue for the final status of Kosovo is an issue to be resolved through negotiations and through -- we are not prejudging at this point. Our focus is on helping Kosovo to fulfill the standards that would -- that are necessary before that secondary issue is addressed. And so, obviously, through the contact group, through our partners in Europe, we are working to help Kosovo meet those standards and reach the level of political, social, economic development that will pave the way for consideration of those broader and more fundamental issues.

QUESTION: And the last one on the Balkans. Mr. Burns, with very optimistic language, praised the Kosovo Contact Group saying inter alia that a united European and American position ought to use 2005 as a year to make progress in Kosovo.

My question is why Greece is not a member of the Kosovo Contact Group, since it is the only country, which is in the heart of the upcoming crisis of the Balkans could play a very important role. And you call Greece, with the highest-level strategic partner in the area, et cetera, et cetera, without having any role, and I'm wondering why?

MR. ERELI: Well, the first point I would make is that the United States welcomes and values Greece's involvement and support for a constructive solution in Kosovo. They are an important member of Europe and they do have an important role to play.

Second point I would make is that, look, the Contact Group consists of six nations. It's been around since the mid-1990s. It has worked out for itself over this period of time a role and a procedure and a sort of modus operandi that works. And at the same time, they consult with -- they consult closely with the regional states, including Greece, and there's an opportunity for those states to have an input and to play an important role, as I suggested earlier.

And for that reason, we don't see that there's a need to expand the Contact Group and, quite frankly, that there's no contradiction between maintaining the current status of the Contact Group and at the same time having a role and a contribution for other countries to make in the common goal of a free and stable and independent Balkans.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction on the election of the new Pope?

MR. ERELI: The United States welcomes the announcement that the Sacred College of Cardinals has selected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to succeed John Paul as the new Holy Father of the Catholic Church and we look forward to working with His Holiness and the Holy See to build upon our already excellent bilateral relationship and to promote human dignity across the world.

QUESTION: One quick one, and if you don't have an answer I'd be grateful if you could take the question. Uzbek police say that they've arrested a journalist at an independent newspaper and charged him with anti-constitutional activity, which carries a punishment up to 20 years in prison. The man's name is Sobirdjon Yakubov and the International Community of Print Journalists has issued a statement about him. Do you have any opinion on his arrest and if not, could you look into it and see if you can get something for us?

MR. ERELI: I'm not aware of the case. I'll see what we can find out and see what we have to say on it for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: One more question on Cyprus. May I ask --

MR. ERELI: I don't have anything new on Cyprus to say, so let's save it for tomorrow.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR. ERELI: Thanks.

(This briefing concluded at 1:55 p.m.)

DPB # 66

Released on April 19, 2005

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