State Dept. Daily Press Briefing April 25, 2005
State Dept. Daily Press Briefing April 25, 2005
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
April 25, 2005
Formation of Coalition Government / Secretary Rice's Consultations
and Meetings / Massoud Barzani / Adil Abd Al-Mahdi
Status of Existing Timetable / US Position / Insurgency Issue
Romanian Forces / Hostages
Cooperation of International Community / Continued US Engagement
Assessment of Withdrawal of Military Forces and Intelligence Apparatus
Lebanese Sovereignty / Resolution 1559/ Support of Election Monitors
Disarming and Disbanding of Militias / Syrian-Lebanon Diplomatic Relations
Assistant Secretary Hill's Meetings in Seoul / Travel to Other Regions
Reports of Alleged Messages sent to China / US Diplomacy
Six-Party Talks Process / Diplomatic Engagement
Query on Shipment of Nuclear Materials
Secretary's Trip to Latin America
Termination of Bilateral Military Exchange Training Program
John Bolton's Nomination / Reports of Allegations Made by Foreign Secretary
Assessment of Election / Reports of Irregularities and Violence
Meetings Between African Union Chairman and ECOWAS
Agenda for Upcoming Meeting
Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
Iranian Policy Issues
Secretary Rice's Meeting with President Putin / Alleged Remarks
1:08 p.m. EDT
MR. ERELI: Welcome to our first briefing of the week, everybody. And I don't have anything to open up with, so we'll start with your questions.
QUESTION: On Iraq, about the reports that Secretary Rice and Vice President Cheney have been making -- have been having discussions with the Iraqis about accelerating the move to form a new government, can you just confirm for us the details about it? There's been some confusion whether or not she called Mr. Barzani or Mr. Talebani first.
And the other two questions I have is, two, does this reflect at this time a concern that the timetable will be upset for the rest of the procedures and also concern that's been expressed that security arrangements for trying to take on the insurgency are being hampered by the lack of a government?
MR. ERELI: Secretary of State Rice did speak with Kurdish Democratic Party Leader Massoud Barzani on Friday but I think it's -- and I'll tell you about the conversation, but I think let's -- it's important to take a step back and put this in perspective.
The Iraqis are in the process of putting together a coalition government as a result of the elections that took place in January and the Presidency Council that was formed about three weeks ago, this is the next step in the process. There are subsequent steps to the formation of a government. There is a -- frankly, a political scenario going forward to writing of a constitution and having elections by December of 2005.
So this is a process that the United States and, I think, the friends of Iraq have been following closely, working to support and helping the Iraqis, frankly, as they work their way through it, all the while respecting a fundamental principle, and that is that this is an Iraqi process that the choices of who runs Iraq, who serves in an Iraqi Government, are choices that Iraqis are going to make. So that's point one.
Point two. As I said, we've been in regular contact with them. I would note, as you well know, that Deputy Secretary Zoellick was in Iraq recently. He had a chance to meet with the Iraqi leadership. He had a chance to hear from them how they see this process moving forward, where they see it going and to listen about how things are working out and also to ask about, you know, where he, where they saw -- how they saw it playing out. So that was an important visit and important opportunity to hear from them just* to get an appreciation of the situation.
Vice President Abdul Al-Mahdi was in the United States, in Washington, last week. It was, I would say, a continuation of these kinds of consultations, these kinds of exchanges with senior officials in the White House and here at the State Department, again, to discuss with the Iraqi leadership, since he's the Vice President, the latest on developments to look ahead and see how things are playing out, what we in the international community can do to support Iraq, both in terms of the political developments but also let's remember there's the economic side of things and the security side of things, all of which are interrelated, all of which involve international support and, I think, concerted action.
And finally, in addition to the meetings with Al-Mahdi, the Secretary called Barzani and it was an opportunity to hear from him again about how things are going but also to make the point that, similar to what we've made in these other meetings, that we hope the process can move forward because Iraqis, like the rest of the world, are looking forward to a government taking power that can deal with the issues that Iraqis are facing and move on to the next steps in the process.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? Obviously, you hope the process can move forward but are you concerned and is the Secretary concerned that the lack of having a government in place and the delay in putting one in place is having a negative impact on the gains that you feel you've made since and that the Iraqis have made since all these political processes and the election?
MR. ERELI: All of us, but none more so than the Iraqis, I think, are eager for the process to move forward and to have a government that can deal with -- that can act on the challenges facing Iraq. We all understand that this is a complicated process, it's a new experience for the Iraqis, that there are a variety of interests and compromises that have to be negotiated and that that process is going to take some time. And so that's the way I would characterize the discussions.
QUESTION: Do you think that the political vacuum that there has been since January 30th, nearly three months now, in which you have, at best, a caretaker unelected government essentially running the country, has emboldened the insurgency?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I don't know if I'd -- if I'd necessarily look at it that way. I mean, political vacuum? There hasn't been a political vacuum. Unelected, undemocratic? I wouldn't say that either. In other words, you have --
QUESTION: I said unelected, which I think is inarguable.
MR. ERELI: Well, it is elected in the sense that you had elections in January -- you had elections on January 30th. It elected a Transitional National Assembly. That Transitional National Assembly has approved -- the elected representatives of the people of Iraq have approved a Presidency Council. Now, there is still the government to add, so that I would say the process is not complete. But to say that you have unelected -- you have no elected or no officials running Iraq that reflect the will of the people is a little bit -- not quite true, but --
QUESTION: Well, I didn't say that. But you don't have a government that has been, you know, that has been entirely chosen -- look, let's --
MR. ERELI: The process is not --
QUESTION: *The question here* is: Do you think that the fact that you don't have a fully constituted elected government running the country is emboldening the insurgency?
MR. ERELI: As I said before, we and the Iraqis agree that everybody would be well-served by having a government in place, not just on the security side of things but to deal with the whole range of challenges facing Iraq. And that is the goal to which the leadership of Iraq, the leadership that represents the people as determined by elections on January 30th, is working toward.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the timetable laid out for this year is not achievable or potentially not achievable based upon the slow progress thus far?
MR. ERELI: What we're hearing is that the timetable is still workable.
QUESTION: Hearing from the Iraqis?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And -- I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Did she make any other phone calls besides to Barzani and her meeting with Mahdi?
MR. ERELI: Not to Iraqi leaders. I believe there was another call to Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos. But not -- I don't believe it was this subject. I don't have a readout of that one.
QUESTION: Doesn't the Prime Minister -- excuse me -- face a May 7th deadline to form a government?
MR. ERELI: According to the TAL, the new Prime Minister does have 30 days to form a government.
QUESTION: So you've got about 12 days or so left?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't say we have. The Iraqis, according to this provision of the TAL, do.
QUESTION: Adam, it's a watershed moment. The Lebanese --
MR. ERELI: Anything more on Iraq?
QUESTION: Yeah, a quick one on this. Adam, just to be very clear, it seems -- I know we've been having this discussion for a couple of weeks, just about the timetable and concern about why the process is going slow. It seems that the reports we had and the meeting at the White House and the phone call to Barzani that the United States is expressing a bit more just concern that things have to get moving a bit faster than they are now. Would that be an accurate description?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't put it that way. The way I'd put is that the United States and the Iraqis want to see a government formed as soon as possible so that we can keep moving toward fulfillment of the political transition in Iraq.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: One more on Iraq, please?
MR. ERELI: Let's go to --
QUESTION: In her conversations, has the Secretary offered any advice on, well, here's how you might -- here's how you might do it, here's how --
MR. ERELI: No, no.
QUESTION: So she's --
MR. ERELI: Like I said, one of the fundamental principles here is the choices of Iraq's leadership are choices that Iraqis have to make.
QUESTION: So she's made no suggestions on how to --
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: There seems to be a growing pressure on Romania to pull out its 850 soldiers from Iraq. If not tomorrow, three journalists who are hostages to the insurgents are going to be killed. On the other hand, in Afghanistan, three soldiers were attacked yesterday; one died, two were wounded. What -- how would you command* these two events?
MR. ERELI: The first point I would make is that Romania has been a steadfast and courageous and valued ally in the war on terror and in the international effort to bring peace, stability and prosperity to these two troubled countries.
The second point I would make is that we greatly appreciate and commend Romania for its contributions and its sacrifices.
And the third point I would make is that Romania, like all countries involved in this noble undertaking, will have to determine what it does consistent with its national interests. At the same time, we have every expectation, every reason to believe, that Romania will continue to coordinate closely with us and with the multinational force as it moves forward in deciding how to continue to contribute to all of our efforts to help Iraq and to help Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Is there any chance to help the Romanian authorities to save the lives of the journalists who --
MR. ERELI: Well, we are working -- and whenever there are hostages taken in Iraq, our forces, who are part of the multinational force in Iraq, work with civilian authorities, Iraqi authorities and others to help contribute or to provide whatever assets or whatever assistance they can provide in helping to rescue innocent civilians. And this is certainly the case in this instance.
QUESTION: But, Adam, do you have the feel, at a certain point in time, Madame Secretary will have to step in maybe with a heavy hand? Because what's happening in Iraq forming this government is the group of Allawi, for example, is asking for four ministerial positions. Other groups are saying no. So, basically, you are facing a game of power sharing, which so far didn't give any result. Mr. Al-Mahdi, in Washington two days ago, was promised in the media, in two days you will have the announcement. Now it's the third day, I think; there's nothing.
At a certain point, don't you think that Washington has just to --
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: -- has to step in one way or another --
MR. ERELI: No. No, I don't.
QUESTION: -- to give a message that things have to move along?
MR. ERELI: No, I don't. I don't.
QUESTION: Even Mahdi says if there's no government, terrorism will continue and prosper.
MR. ERELI: This is not a question of Washington or any outside power telling the Iraqis who they should choose for their government. That is, as I said, a fundamental principle in our approach to this. And any such interference would backfire. First of all, it's against, I think, our principles. But second of all, from a practical point of view, it wouldn't work. I mean, for this government to be effective, to be credible, to be accepted by Iraqis, it has to be chosen by Iraqis.
So no, I don't accept your premise that at some point Washington is going to have to come in and just tell the Iraqis what to do. That's exactly the opposite of what we would do.
QUESTION: But when you've got a situation where there are a 135,000 American troops in Iraq, one would think that the Iraqis would want advice from the Americans on how to proceed forward in very difficult times. How can you just ignore the fact that there are that many troops on the ground and say this is an Iraqi issue for them to settle? It just --
MR. ERELI: I don't see it any inconsistency between saying Iraqis will form their government and decide the policies that their country follows and having a significant military presence there that is-- whose purpose is to support stability and security in the country that allows the government the space to operate and make those decisions. The two issues are complementary rather than competing.
QUESTION: I heard a report this morning on NPR that, overall*, are they bogged down now? Quoting a police -- one of the police -- the high-ranking police officials, it says he can't even get tags on the cars, which would make it a lot easier to stop bombers if he could do that, because he doesn't have any government. So it looked like some sort of emergency is happening.
MR. ERELI: I spoke to the point earlier in saying that, obviously, there are challenges that Iraqis face -- security challenges, economic reconstruction challenges, challenges of development of political institutions and processes. Nobody, I think, understands the challenges more than the Iraqis themselves. And that's why, again, in commenting on the situation, I continually make the point that we and the Iraqis are on the same page here, that we want -- we both want to see progress, we both understand the sense of urgency involved and we both want to, I think, move forward.
But I would just take a step back from the point that somehow everything's blocked and we're at a moment of crisis. No, let's keep it in perspective. You've had elections. You have a Transitional National Assembly. You have a Presidency Council. We're making progress on the security front. We're looking at ways, in an international coordination, that we can support Iraq, the international community can support Iraqi reconstruction. And there are intensive negotiations going on among the ethnic and political groups in Iraq with the goal of forming a government and they've -- and it's complicated and it's difficult, but they are certainly not stagnant or they're certainly not stagnant or dead in the water.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, all these things that you said, yes, they've had elections, they've worked on all these things, but they've also had the U.S. and other partners in this, you know, kind of pushing them along the whole way. I mean --
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the elections, no one knew if they were going to have the elections on time. All of those things. So and I mean --
MR. ERELI: No, you guys didn't know, but --
QUESTION: Well --
MR. ERELI: -- there was pretty -- a lot of confidence on -- from our end.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, to say that there weren't problems approaching the election, I mean, I think is --
MR. ERELI: Did I say there weren't problems?
QUESTION: Okay, well, there were a lot of Iraqis that were deny -- that thought that maybe elections shouldn't take place. In any -- in any case, I mean, the Iraqis have had to be pushed the whole way. And I understand that you relinquished sovereignty and allowed the Iraqis to have greater power to run their own government, but how do you walk the balance between letting them do that and helping them along in areas that they're obviously having problems with?
MR. ERELI: Let me put it this way. You know, from the very beginning and at every critical stage along the way there have been those who say, you know, the sky is falling and this whole thing is going to collapse. It was true when we were transferring sovereignty. It was true when they had elections. And at every point along the way, the Iraqis have proved the skeptics or the pessimists wrong. And I would urge the same sort of perspective at the present time.
To those crying, you know, political crisis, political vacuum, doomsday scenarios, let's just take a step back and remember what we're dealing with. We're dealing with a Prime Minister and Presidency Council that was appointed a few weeks ago that is working its way through a complicated political landscape where each group involved in the process believes it has vital interests at stake that it needs to defend and that, as a result, you've got tough negotiations, in terra incognita for these folks.
So what can we do? We can stand with them. We can offer them the benefit of our experience, having gone through not a few difficult political negotiations. And we can work with the international community to help ensure the kind of security cooperation and international diplomatic support and continued material support that helps them work their way through these issues.
QUESTION: The United States has been consistently saying that on the protracted negotiations on forming a government that it's democracy in action. The fact that -- is there anything that more than meets the eye that for the Secretary to make the telephone call, as initially you have been saying that you want to have a hands-off approach?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Like I -- I tried to -- the reason I gave you all that sort of background to the call was to make the point that we've been engaged -- we and the international community has been engaged -- in supporting and consulting and talking to the Iraqis as they work their way through the political process. That's the context in which to look at the call. There's nothing sort of surreptitious or behind-the-scenes in this. Rather, it is part of a continued engagement at senior levels of the U.S. Government to work with the Iraqis as they follow through on a political timetable.
QUESTION: You're saying Barzani, not Talebani?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: In what context is the Secretary of State reaching out to the leader of this political party?
MR. ERELI: As a key member of the Kurdish community.
QUESTION: What manner --
MR. ERELI: Not as -- and as, you know, the Kurdish leadership -- Barzani and Talebani -- are key players in the political negotiations going underway. And that was the context in which the call took place.
QUESTION: Was there a message that was being conveyed to this particular minority?
MR. ERELI: The message is what I said earlier: that we're following events closely; we want, you know, we want to hear from you how things are going; for us as well as for you, it's important for this to move forward.
QUESTION: Do you think the Kurds are holding this process up?
MR. ERELI: Nope. I didn't say that.
QUESTION: Then why did she reach out to only this particular leadership?
MR. ERELI: I would -- again, you have to look at it in the broader context of our engagement with the Iraqis. You've had Deputy Secretary Zoellick talk to senior party leadership. I think you've had calls from the White House talking to senior Iraqi leadership. The Secretary also met with the Vice President. Let's not forget that. This was a -- one part of a, I would say, broad and consistent pattern of engagement.
QUESTION: Can we go to Lebanon?
MR. ERELI: Iraq? Any --
QUESTION: Iraq. (Inaudible.)
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Adam, do you think we reached a certain stage or situation of crisis in Iraq where --
MR. ERELI: I just said we had not. No --
QUESTION: You don't you might need some local help, neighboring states? You know how the Middle East works. A lot of personal relations in politics can impact sometimes reality. Are we in that stage one day where maybe some help --
MR. ERELI: The Iraqis -- America's position is that it is up to Iraqis to work through their political negotiations. And what states like the United States and other friends of Iraq can do is provide them diplomatic support, can provide them the benefits of their experience, can provide them material and security support that gives them the space to work through these issues, but not to interfere and dictate or otherwise coerce Iraqis to make decisions about their political future.
On Iraq? Any more on Iraq? Lebanon.
QUESTION: Lebanon. There are reports that the Syrians have either withdrawn all their troops or on the verge of withdrawing all their military troops. What is your assessment and, in particular, what is your assessment on whether they have removed all of their intelligence operatives from Lebanon?
MR. ERELI: We don't have any final assessments to share with you at this time. It's clear that Syria has been withdrawing its military forces from Lebanon. This process is not complete. Moreover, in compliance with 1559, we would expect not only the withdrawal of all the military forces but the withdrawal of all intelligence assets that Syria has in Lebanon. As I said, as far as our understanding is, this process isn't complete, either the military forces or the intelligence assets.
The United Nations will be sending a team of officials to verify whether there has been full -- be sending to Lebanon this week a team to verify whether there has been full and complete withdrawal of all Syrian troops, military assets, as well as intelligence apparatus from Lebanon. We look forward to hearing from the UN team once it has examined the facts on the ground and come to a conclusion about whether the withdrawal is, in fact, of both intelligence and military is, in fact, complete.
QUESTION: Do you see a danger that the Syrian influence with was once very obvious may simply go underground and that they will find other means to maintain an intelligence apparatus, even if it isn't their own personnel?
MR. ERELI: Two points to make to that. One, obviously, we in the international community will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure that Syrian withdrawal is, in fact, full and complete.
Second of all, you know, the other part of 1559 is the exercise of Lebanese sovereignty over all of Lebanon's territory. That means that, again, it's Lebanese authorities, Lebanese Government, Lebanese citizens in control of Lebanese affairs. And that goes to the issue of intelligence. It goes to the issue of outside forces playing around in areas that are the purview of the Lebanese authorities. So it would be -- you know, it will be an issue that not only we're looking at, but I think as 1559 and the spirit of 1559 is implemented, the Lebanese Government will be dealing with as well.
QUESTION: A last one for me on this. Secretary Rice in, I think, early March in London at the Palestinian conference, alluded to the possibility of the international community providing help, I think, not just for the holding -- organizing of or holding of or monitoring of elections, but also possibly on the security front to help Lebanon if and when Syrian forces withdrew to help Lebanese forces maintain security and control over their own territory. Are there any discussions -- since you seem to be getting closer or at least some forces are leaving, are there new discussions about either of those, election help or security help?
MR. ERELI: Election help is something, I think, the UN is looking seriously at and we, too, are looking at ways that we could support, particularly in the form of monitors and other observers, Lebanese elections. As far as the security issue goes and assistance to the Lebanese armed forces or Lebanese -- other Lebanese security forces, I don't have anything that we're looking at that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: If this is a watershed moment and the Syrians do pull out from Lebanon entirely, the other problem is -- and we've spoken to it here before -- is the containment of militia offices in Damascus and maybe dismantling them as well as the possible problems with religious clerics. And overall, how is --
MR. ERELI: Which militias are you talking about in Damascus?
QUESTION: Hezbollah and other style offices (inaudible). And down the line, what is the prospects for Israel-Syrian relations and do you have any timetable for that?
MR. ERELI: First things first. Let's get Syrian withdrawal. Let's get Lebanese elections. Let's get a Government of Lebanon that is fully representative of what the Lebanese people want, as opposed to what outsiders have foisted on them.
Second, you know, down the road, we're going to move -- 1559 calls for a disarming and disbanding of militias. That's something that the Lebanese Government will be putting its mind to and, obviously, the international community will be supportive of consistent with 1559.
After Syrian withdrawal, Syria's withdrawal of foreign forces, clearly, I think, the people will be looking to see, as was raised in the previous question, will be looking to Syria to see what kind of role it plays in Lebanon. Obviously, one of the things that people are looking for is the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, establishment of embassies between the two countries that is indicative of normal relations between two sovereign states.
Syria has a history, not just in Lebanon but also with respect to developments in Israel and the Palestinian territories, of supporting groups that use -- terrorist groups that use violence against the peace process. There continue to be presence of these terrorist elements in Syria. We've called on Syria to end this relationship clearly and unequivocally. They haven't yet. And it obviously taints the prospects for peaceful dialogue.
QUESTION: South Korean Foreign Minister Ban met with the Deputy Secretary Christopher Hill --
MR. ERELI: Assistant Secretary.
QUESTION: Ah, yes, I'm sorry. Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill met him in Seoul yesterday. Do you have anything on that?
MR. ERELI: Assistant Secretary Hill met over the weekend in Seoul with President Roh and other senior South Korean officials. They discussed a number of issues, both bilateral and regional, and, obviously, one of the issues they talked about but not exclusively was how to move the six-party process forward. Assistant Secretary Hill will be going to China on April 26th and 27th and Japan on April 27th and 28th. He'll make a final stop in Seoul, April 29th, before returning to Washington.
QUESTION: I just think the Secretary Hill mentioned that United States has new options if North Korea does eventually does not come to the six-party talks.
MR. ERELI: I saw Secretary Hill's comments. I didn't read them that way. I think Secretary Hill reiterated our long -- Assistant Secretary Hill reiterated our longstanding policy that, number one, we are focused on -- we are focusing on diplomacy on restarting six-party talks, that that is our preferred way forward. But, obviously, if some -- at some undetermined time in the future it doesn't work, there are other options.
QUESTION: According to (inaudible) --
MR. ERELI: Are we -- same issue?
MR. ERELI: Okay. We'll go to him and then --
QUESTION: I mean, while you continue to say that the United States wants the talks to proceed, you have messages being sent to China that North Korea is trying to fire a -- test a nuclear device --
MR. ERELI: That wasn't a -- I don't -- you say that's a message. We've never said that's a message.
QUESTION: There was a report and you didn't deny the message that it was not sent.
MR. ERELI: There are lots of reports, but what we have said publicly and what I will reiterate is that we are in regular contact with China and our other partners in the six-party process in an effort to get North Korea to come back to the talks. They have so far refused to do so. We have seen over the last couple of weeks statements that -- from North Korea that are disturbing and we have been going in to our partners to discuss ways to deal with unhelpful comments, unhelpful steps, in ways that can return us to a peaceful engagement or a diplomatic engagement for peaceful solution to this issue.
QUESTION: But last week you mentioned that the United Nations Security Council is one of the options, if the talks fail.
MR. ERELI: The Secretary said that, yeah.
MR. ERELI: And that's -- that's nothing new there.
QUESTION: Right. And today there's a report in the New York Times which says that the Administration is debating whether to seek a UN resolution to basically quarantine North Korea. Do you deny that report?
MR. ERELI: I don't -- I can't speak to that specific report. But what I can tell you is this, that Ambassador Hill, Secretary Rice, other senior U.S. officials continue to base our diplomacy and our approach to this issue on the six-party process and on an effort to bring North Korea back to the table where we can discuss our proposal for dealing with North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. That is where our efforts are being -- that is where our efforts are being devoted.
Talk about other options presumes that we've given up or we've determined that, you know, our efforts to resume six-party talks aren't working or aren't going anywhere and we need to take a different tack. We've not reached that point.
QUESTION: Not necessarily. I mean, you could -- well, one, could you squarely address the question of whether or not, at senior levels of the U.S. Government, there is discussion of the possibility of seeking a UN resolution that would allow other nations to intercept shipments of possibly nuclear materials to and from North Korea?
MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: Not that you're aware of?
MR. ERELI: Not -- at senior levels, not that I'm aware of. I have not -- I don't know about other levels.
QUESTION: Adam, what about not necessarily interdiction but the general idea of taking the issue to the Security Council?
MR. ERELI: Not that I know about.
QUESTION: You're not losing patience with the North Koreans' unwillingness to come to the table?
MR. ERELI: Are we losing patience? I would say that we think that the stalemate has gone on for a long time, longer than any of us would have liked, and that we want talks to resume as soon as possible and we're trying to work with China and North Korea and -- China and South Korea and Japan and Russia to bring that about. But I would very vehemently take issue with the notion that somehow we're at the end of our rope on this.
QUESTION: I understand that. Obviously, your patience isn't indefinite and aren't you concerned that the longer this drags on, this just gives North Koreans a longer time to constitute?
MR. ERELI: That is -- sure, that's a concern. But at the same time, we think that the way to deal with it and the way to deal with this impasse is to focus on and to bring North Korea back to the table. We think that's achievable. And that's what we're working on.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on my question, because maybe I didn't phrase it as best I might? Are you aware of any discussion of this, the possibility of a UN resolution allowing other nations to intercept shipments, even at middle levels? I'm just trying to figure out if you really don't think --
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware of it. I'm not aware of it.
QUESTION: Okay. Second thing, the possibility of your looking at contingencies doesn't necessarily mean that you have given up on six-party talks, but an idea like this, if it were true, could be a way of ratcheting up the pressure on them --
MR. ERELI: Right, right.
QUESTION: -- to rejoin the six-party talks.
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: Are you talking about ways to increase the pressure so that they might come back to the table?
MR. ERELI: I think what we're talking about is, frankly, how we can work with our allies -- China, Japan, South Korea -- to persuade North Korea, to make it clear to North Korea, that they're only furthering their own isolation by staying away from the talks, by refusing to engage in a diplomatic solution to this impasse, and that escalatory rhetoric or other such steps are not helpful.
QUESTION: A follow-up question. The President and the Secretary have given security assurances to the Saudi -- to the North Koreans that we don't have any plan to attack. Now, an embargo is an act of war. Does that security --
MR. ERELI: Well, I'm not talking about --
QUESTION: -- assurance, does that cover --
MR. ERELI: -- I'm not talking about embargo.
QUESTION: I know, I know, I know. But I'm saying does that cover such action -- wars, embargoes or --
MR. ERELI: We've said we have no intention of attacking or invading North Korea.
QUESTION: Do you have hostile intent for North Korea?
MR. ERELI: Look, we want to get -- what we want is for North Korea to come back to the talks, to engage with North Korea in a way that deals with the threat posed by its nuclear weapons program and in ways that, I think, help ease North Korea's international isolation and provide for the needs of the Korean people. It's a very simple formula and a -- what we would think is an attractive prospect for North Korea and it's one that we've achieved a firm consensus on with our four other partners in the six-party process and it's one that we think we can persuade North Korea is in its interests.
QUESTION: Over the last month and a half, you've seen this World War II animosity between China and Japan come to the --
QUESTION: On North Korea?
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. North Korea, yeah. If this is North Korea, let's get to North Korea.
QUESTION: Has this particular dispute between them in any way jeopardized coming to the peace talks?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Would you say Ambassador Hill will bring this set of plans that could be described as ultimatum to the North Koreans that the last round approach* for the six-party talks?
MR. ERELI: You've just spun a scenario that doesn't correspond to any kind of reality that I'm aware of. Assistant Secretary Hill will be continuing discussions that we have had with the Chinese, the Japanese and the Koreans about how to get North Korea back to the talks. We're not talking about ultimatums; we're talking about, rather, a concerted diplomacy to restart a stalled process.
QUESTION: But Adam, can you --
MR. ERELI: A follow-up.
QUESTION: Then, do you know that the Chinese President is going to visit North Korea on the 2nd of May and --
MR. ERELI: I did not know that.
QUESTION: You didn't know. Well, that's might be a planned trip but -- so you don't know if Secretary Hill is bringing any American positions to the Chinese if they go visit North Korea, that this is --
MR. ERELI: I don't have any information like that to share with you.
QUESTION: Adam, are you saying that Assistant Secretary Hill will not be discussing with any partners U.S. ideas to go to Security Council?
MR. ERELI: No. She said are you going to tell them about an ultimatum. No ultimatum. And --
QUESTION: No ultimatum. What about --
MR. ERELI: Is --
QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary Hill going to feel out U.S. partners in the six-party process, specifically Japan?
MR. ERELI: I don't know -- I don't know that that is one of the objectives of his trip. In fact, the way I've been briefed on it, it's not. Now, if the subject comes up, obviously it'll be discussed, but it'll be discussed in terms that we've been talking about: as a possible step to take in the event that we decide that, for whatever reason, that this process isn't working.
But as I think we've been made clear, we're still committed to this process. We still think it's -- it has a chance of producing an outcome that's in everybody's interest. And that's what Chris Hill is going to talk about and try to advance.
QUESTION: Okay, you said, in the event that this process isn't working. What gives you any indication that the process is working?
MR. ERELI: The fact that everybody agrees that it's the best way to deal with the issue. The fact that the parties believe that there is an opportunity and a chance and a realistic prospect of getting North Korea to come back to the talks. And the consensus that such a return to talks is the best option out there.
QUESTION: But that's the last chance, right? I mean --
MR. ERELI: I didn't -- nobody said this is the last chance.
Let's go to somebody else who has a question. Yeah.
QUESTION: We know that Secretary Rice is going -- traveling this week to Latin America. We understand that. And yesterday, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela announced that he was ending the 35-year-old military training agreement between Venezuela and the U.S. What are you going to do with the nearly 100 Venezuelan military who are here in the U.S. studying under this agreement?
MR. ERELI: As you said, on April 16th, Venezuela terminated our participation in the U.S.-Venezuela bilateral military exchange program. They notified five U.S. officers that their assignments had concluded.
We, for our part, regret that the Venezuelan government has chosen to dismantle what historically has been a strong and friendly military relationship. I can't tell you specifically how this decision will play out in terms of when Venezuelan military officers currently in training in the United States have to come home. That will be something that, obviously, we'll need to discuss with the Venezuelan Government.
Again, we think it's unfortunate. We think that this relationship has benefited from these kinds of exchanges, these kinds of cooperation. We certainly think it's unjustified, given how this cooperation, we believe, has served both countries very well.
QUESTION: You haven't already talked to them about what will happen to the Venezuelan officers here?
MR. ERELI: If we have, I don't -- I don't know if we have and I don't know, if we have, what's been said. I'll endeavor to find out for you what the precise implications are of this decision on the Venezuelans in the United States.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: On the Bolton nomination --
MR. ERELI: Oh, the Bolton nomination.
QUESTION: Newsweek is reporting that Secretary Powell essentially had to go around Mr. Bolton on sensitive negotiations regarding Iran and Libya last year because Bolton's tough stance was alienating our allies, specifically the British. How much truth is there to these stories and, if there is any truth, how can Mr. Bolton be the right person for a job where you're continually having sensitive negotiations and need to, you know, have good relationships with our allies like Britain?
MR. ERELI: How much truth is there to these stories?
MR. ERELI: Well, apparently, not very much because the British Government has publicly said that the Foreign Secretary has no recollection of telling the United States who should be involved in this or any other issue. Those involved in those discussions in London don't have any recollection of the Foreign Secretary saying any such thing. So -- and in addition, I would say that the Foreign Secretary has -- when Under Secretary Bolton's nomination was announced, wrote to Under Secretary Bolton congratulating him on his nomination and saying that he looked forward to working with him.
So you know, I think what we're seeing, frankly, is a pattern that's emerging, and that is charges get made, many of them are either unsourced or based on distant and vague memories or really short on details. And then when you look at them closely, you find out that the facts don't add up or that they can't be substantiated. And this is, I think, another example of that.
QUESTION: So even though Senator Dodd said this weekend that the Administration should withdraw his nomination and you have Senator Specter who's saying that his -- Bolton's likelihood of getting confirmed is a toss-up, you're not considering throwing in the towel on this at all?
MR. ERELI: The President and Secretary continue to believe strongly and feel strongly that Under Secretary Bolton is the right man for the job at the United Nations. And we've answered the -- we believe we've answered the committee's concerns. We've answered everything that's thrown out at us. We have pledged to continue to work with the committee to address new questions that it might have, and that we believe once those questions are answered, it will be clear to everybody that John Bolton has what it takes to be an outstanding ambassador at the UN.
QUESTION: Quick one on Togo.
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry -- I'll need to finish with Mr. Bolton. Anything on Mr. Bolton?
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: A quick one on Togo. What is your assessment of the election? Did it seem to you at all to have been free, fair, untainted by fraud? There as you know, a lot of allegations of fraud and intimidation. And do you have -- have you made any efforts to try to help the Togolese authorities tamp down the violence there?
MR. ERELI: I don't have any definitive assessments for you at this point. What we can say a day after the elections is that, number one, there was a large turnout and that -- and that is encouraging; number two, there were reports of irregularities, including ballot stuffing as well as some control over the ballot boxes; and there were sporadic incidents of violence, although the situation in Togo now is calm.
We have -- we had our Embassy -- six Embassy teams observing the elections. There were also 150 observers from ECOWAS. These two groups are completing their assessments and we certainly look forward to them -- or to those assessments, to give us further clarity or substantiate the reports of irregularities.
The results are being tabulated and we await the results -- or we await announcement of those results. In the meantime, we are strongly urging the people of Togo and their political leaders to do everything in their power to ensure that their country remains calm and peaceful.
I would also note that African Union Chairman, President Obasanjo of Nigeria, together with ECOWAS officials, are meeting with Togolese opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio and ruling party presidential candidate Faure Gnassingbe in Abjua to encourage them to maintain calm as the results are tabulated.
So at this point, I think it's premature to give you any, sort of, definitive assessments, other than to note that everybody seems to be working toward what is a peaceful and representative outcome. And we will be following events closely over the next days as that process plays itself out.
QUESTION: You don't yet have, given the six U.S. Embassy teams and the ECOWAS monitors, you don't yet have a sufficient assessment to be able to say whether the election -- the reports are sufficiently bad that the election is already tainted? Or you just don't know?
MR. ERELI: It's a question of degree. Sufficiently, I guess, is the word I would key on. Sufficiently bad. There are irregularities, reports of irregularities. I can't say how widespread or egregious they were. Are they throughout the country? Are they in limited parts? Do they affect the results in a meaningful way? It's just too early to tell and I think, really, we'd all benefit from letting -- giving full consideration to all the evidence.
In the back, yeah.
QUESTION: I think -- and the visit from Secretary Rice on Wednesday to Colombia, are there any specific topics that can be highlighted; for example, the liberation of the three Americans kidnapped by FARC or others?
MR. ERELI: Well, that's obviously at the top of our priority list at all times. I think I spoke a little bit to the visit on Friday in our briefing. I don't want to get too far ahead of the party since they're on the way there. But obviously the Andean Free Trade Agreement, obviously our cooperation in the global war on terror, as well as coordination for regional security, discussing issues like civil society and future democratic development in Colombia and obviously Plan Colombia, will all be items on the agenda.
QUESTION: On Iran? Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani announced today that he plans to run for the presidency again this summer. What's your view regarding this issue?
MR. ERELI: Our view is that who runs for president of Iran is a matter for Iranians to decide. Our concern is not with who's the president of Iran or who runs for president, but rather what policies they follow. And for many, many years, Iran has been following policies that we believe are threatening to our interests, are threatening to the region and don't serve the cause of a brighter and stable and more prosperous future for the area.
QUESTION: Abu Mazen next week in Washington. Anything specific to announce about him? And also, do you have anything to announce about today's talks in Washington? Something to --
MR. ERELI: Today's talks in Washington?
QUESTION: About Mr. President and the Prince -- Crown --
MR. ERELI: In Crawford.
QUESTION: In Crawford, Texas, yeah.
MR. ERELI: No, I'll leave it to the White House to comment on both of those since they are visits between the President and foreign leaders.
QUESTION: Since the Secretary's trip to Moscow, there's a report from BBC --
MR. ERELI: The who's visit to Moscow?
QUESTION: Secretary Rice.
MR. ERELI: Oh, Secretary. Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: There's a report that President Putin's upset that the former Soviet Union no longer exists. And if he's taking that attitude, you've seen recently shipments by Russians with armament into Venezuela and elsewhere in Africa. Is what the Secretary told him, is it actually clear? Because there's a picture of them both, scowls on his face and, of course, the Secretary's not facing the camera.
MR. ERELI: I didn't see those pictures. But the Secretary spoke to her meeting with President Putin. I'd characterize it as a good meeting, a cordial meeting, one in which we were able to talk about all the issues of concern to us but, frankly, one that, I think, was characterized by an appreciation from both sides of the importance and centrality of the relationship to each of ours international diplomacy, number one.
Number two, remarks that President Putin made subsequent days after the Secretary's visit, I wouldn't connect those to the Secretary's visit. I mean, that's -- frankly, if you're commenting on the Secretary's visit and her meetings with Putin, they were excellent, they were cordial, they were productive and I think they laid a good basis for the President's upcoming trip.
QUESTION: I just have a quick question about China, the KMT visit to -- leader to the mainland. Has there been any U.S. role in forging this trip at all that --
MR. ERELI: That's between --
QUESTION: Between the two --
MR. ERELI: -- between China and Taiwanese.
QUESTION: And also, Doug Paal, your AIT, I guess, Director in Taipei met with Lien Chan before the visit. Can you release anything from the talks or --
MR. ERELI: Let me see if I've got anything for you on that meeting. I wasn't aware of it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:08 p.m.)
DPB # 70
Released on April 25, 2005