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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing June 17, 2005

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing June 17, 2005

Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
June 17, 2005

INDEX:

MISCELLANEOUS
Decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of
Governors to Establish a Committee on Safeguards and Verification

NORTH KOREA
Six Party Talks
Issue of Security Guarantees for North Korea
Li Gun's Visit to New York / U.S. Participation in Conference

NIGERIA
Closure of U.S. Consulate in Lagos / Status of Embassy in Abuja

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
Economic and Humanitarian Support for Palestinians

IRAN
Nuclear Program / Elections / Direction of Governance

MEXICO
Violence Along Border and in Nuevo Laredo

KYRGYZSTAN
Government Protests


TRANSCRIPT:

12:55 p.m. EDT

MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to our final briefing of the week. I'd like to begin with a statement we'll be putting out after the briefing welcoming the establishment -- or the decision by the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency to establish a Committee on Safeguards and Verification. The United States believes that this is a significant achievement. As you will recall, President Bush called for the establishment of this committee in his February 2004 speech to National Defense University.

The reason it's significant is because it will begin a process of strengthening the Agency's ability to monitor and enforce compliance with nuclear nonproliferation obligations. We think that's an important step and we look forward to working with the Board and the committee to help the IAEA develop all the tools that it needs to fulfill its mandates and to strengthen the international nonproliferation regime.

QUESTION: There seems to be a lack of enforcement powers. Does that disturb the Administration?

MR. ERELI: We are at the very early stages of this, Barry. There's a lot of work to do in terms of further defining the agenda and the powers and the processes of this committee. What we have now is a decision to establish it. There will be following steps to flesh out all these aspects of the committee's work. So no disappointment whatsoever; rather, I think enthusiasm and satisfaction that an agenda item that the President put before the international community a little over a year ago is being acted on by the IAEA.

QUESTION: So I take it the United States will not abandon its efforts to have enforcement provisions.

MR. ERELI: Enforcement provisions and actions to strengthen the international nonproliferation regime are important aspects of not only this committee but our overall approach to the issue.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On North Korea?

MR. ERELI: Absolutely.

QUESTION: I'm sure you've seen the reports citing South Korea's Unification Minister as quoting Kim Jong-il as saying that North Korea is willing to return to the negotiating table for six-party talks in July. Do you have any reason to believe that that's true, that they are, in fact, ready to return in July?

MR. ERELI: We've seen the reports. We certainly look forward to speaking to our friends and partners from South Korea to get a full readout of the Minister's meetings in North Korea. At this point, I would echo what the Secretary said yesterday in her remarks that, look, there's a lot bubbling out -- a lot of stuff bubbling out there. The important point to keep in mind is that until we have a date we don't have a date. And what we're looking for, the real issue for us is getting back to the talks; but more than that, engaging seriously and substantively on our proposal and on discussions to end the nuclear -- North Korea's nuclear program and address the threat that faces the Korean Peninsula.

So reports aside, the bottom line we're looking for, and I think that is important, is actually getting back to the talks and engaging substantively.

QUESTION: Tautology aside, have you had any contacts via the New York channel or have you had any -- and have you had any signals via China, which presumably would be the host of any such talks, to suggest that they are ready to come back?

MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of, no.

QUESTION: Are they negotiating about negotiating, and is that something you're going to engage in -- negotiate with them about terms for negotiating?

MR. ERELI: Well, we've made very clear that we don't accept any preconditions to coming back to talks. We've got a proposal out there. The proposal should be engaged seriously and substantively. The place to do that is at the table at the six-party talks, not outside the six-party talks, not by discussing terms of coming back to the six-party talks. The six-party talks is a process that we all believe in, that we all think is the way to solve this issue, so let's get back to the table.

QUESTION: Do you see this a bit -- an optimistic note, the fact that for the first time, July has been mentioned for the next talks and it's coming from North Korean leader to the South Korean Minister?

MR. ERELI: Again, these are based on reports. I don't want to engage in optimism or pessimism. Let's be realistic. Realism is a date, you're sitting at the table, you're talking seriously and substantively. That's our bottom line. That's what we're looking for.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Me?

MR. ERELI: Yes.

QUESTION: You called me a ma'am, Adam?

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: You forgot my name?

MR. ERELI: Oops.

QUESTION: You forgot my name?

MR. ERELI: Oops, sorry to be polite.

QUESTION: You're a mom.

QUESTION: That's right. (Laughter.)

MR. ERELI: She is a mom.

QUESTION: Okay. On a serious topic, can you talk about the closure of the consulate in Lagos and anything more we might know or you might be able to say about the threat that was apparently called in there yesterday?

MR. ERELI: There's really not much I have beyond what was included in the Warden message issued yesterday. On the basis of credible and specific threat information, the U.S. consulate in Lagos, Nigeria closed yesterday -- Thursday, June 16th -- to the public and it will be closed all day today. Our Embassy in Abuja is open. We are getting good cooperation from the Government of Nigeria and local police. We will be evaluating the security situation and deciding next steps on the basis of what we see, but I'm afraid I can't get into any detail with you about what the nature of the threat was, where it came from, what it was directed towards. I would simply say that it was specific and credible enough that we believed it was necessary and prudent to close the Consulate.

QUESTION: I know you're not speaking for other governments, but there were so many embassies closed. Could you at least say whether it was a specific threat against U.S. interests that closed it, to our mission?

MR. ERELI: No, I -- well, obviously, it was specific enough that we felt that our assets and personnel were in a situation that, in order to protect them, we needed to close the consulate.

QUESTION: And is it a short -- was it a short-term threat, as far as you know, or they'll reassess the security situation over the weekend and potentially they'll reopen on Monday?

MR. ERELI: It's potential that they could reopen on Monday, but it'll be based on an ongoing assessment of what the threat is, what measures have been taken and whether we think, on that basis, it's safe to reopen. We'll reopen when we think it's safe to reopen.

QUESTION: Can you say whether it was terrorist-related?

MR. ERELI: Yeah, it was.

QUESTION: Can I ask -- can you clarify one thing? There were some reports -- I gather erroneous, but it would be good to have this on the record -- saying that the U.S. Embassy in Abuja had closed. Was the Embassy -- was the U.S. Embassy in Abuja ever closed even briefly as a result of this threat?

MR. ERELI: I'll check to make absolutely sure. I don't think so. But just to be absolutely sure, I will check and see if, for any amount of time in the last 48 hours, the Embassy in Abuja has been closed.

QUESTION: Because of this? Yeah --

MR. ERELI: Because of -- in response to this threat.

QUESTION: If you could take that. I'm doing -- asking it so that we can stamp out those reports if they're wrong.

MR. ERELI: Right. I will check.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: You want to go to another subject?

QUESTION: Well, just one more on the Abuja -- on the Embassy. You said it's open. Is it open and fully staffed or is it open with reduced staffing or what's the --

MR. ERELI: It's fully open.

QUESTION: Fully open?

QUESTION: I thought it was minimal --

QUESTION: Yeah, I thought it was --

MR. ERELI: In Abuja?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. ERELI: All right. Let me check on that again.

QUESTION: I thought it was reduced.

MR. ERELI: You guys might be better informed than I. Not the first time.

QUESTION: Okay. Jumping to the Palestinians -- you want to talk about this still? Can we do the Palestinians?

MR. ERELI: No, let's go to -- let's finish the North Korea, sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah, Korea was the one, right.

The South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-Young reported to have delivered the message from South Korean President Roh to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il while he visited the Pyongyang yesterday and the message said South Korea will give a security and economic assurance to North Korea when and if North Korea give up nuclear program. Will the United States support that idea?

MR. ERELI: The United States has been very clear that in exchange for -- not in exchange for, but based on North Korean actions to end its nuclear -- once North Korea ends its nuclear program, or based on actions by North Korea to end its nuclear programs, we are prepared to offer security guarantees in coordination and in conjunction with the other parties in the six-party process. So there's nothing new there, frankly, and that is a longstanding and well-known policy by the United States.

QUESTION: While we're at it, it's getting close to July. Last July, the Administration decided how much food aid to give North Korea. Have you got a decision imminent or is there one on resuming food shipments?

MR. ERELI: Not that I'm aware of. I'll check and see if we have anything new to say on that subject.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: Yes.

QUESTION: Still on North Korea?

MR. ERELI: Still on North Korea.

QUESTION: Yes. North Korean gentleman, Mr. Li Gun, the Deputy Director General for North American division, is coming to New York City in order to attend some meeting. Also, the U.S. Government -- U.S. official are invited to that meeting. Are you going to dispatch anybody and do you have any bilateral meeting with Mr. Li Gun?

MR. ERELI: Number one, the North Korean government official, Mr. Li Gun -- or the North Korean Government has requested permission for Mr. Li Gun to come and attend a conference in New York. That permission has been granted, so we expect he will be here. I don't have the exact date for you. I can check and get it later.

As far as U.S. Government participation at this conference goes, I'm not aware that we have, at this point, determined whether and at what level we would be represented. I would certainly not expect -- this is not an opportunity or an occasion for bilateral meetings. Rather, were we to go, it would be an opportunity to participate in a conference. As you'll recall, we had a similar situation about a year ago and I would expect, if anything happened, it would be similar to that.

QUESTION: Also, the other day, Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill gave testimony in Capitol Hill. He said regarding with a deadline of six-party talks, deadline of six-party talks, he said he has some deadline in his mind. Do you know his idea?

MR. ERELI: No, I don't.

QUESTION: But we want to ask him. But, you know, he doesn't take our interview, so I'm asking to you.

MR. ERELI: Okay. And I'll give you the answer I gave you. I'm not aware that we have -- I'm not -- I don't know what deadline he might have been speaking about. I think as we've indicated, obviously this process can't go on forever but we remain committed to restarting talks. We think it's the right way forward and our diplomacy continues to be focused on achieving that objective, but as part of a broader and more substantive effort to talk seriously about the proposal and the issue of ending North Korea's nuclear program.

QUESTION: Can we try Palestinian aid? There's a report -- sounds as if you're pretty far along in the sense that mostly Mr. Wolfensohn, with a big bundle of cash for the Palestinians. You know the report I refer to. It may be ahead of itself, I understand. Can you delve into it a little bit? Are you -- is she getting ready, the Secretary, to bestow 3 million -- $3 billion on the Palestinians?

MR. ERELI: I don't think we have 3 billion to bestow. But the issue is that the Palestinians and Israelis are preparing for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the West Bank. This is a important and significant milestone or an opportunity to advance the roadmap, advance the peace process and ultimately advance the President's vision of two states. So we are working intensively with the Palestinians, with the Israelis, with the international community to help support this withdrawal and help support both sides -- maximize the opportunities presented by this withdrawal. That's one of the principal purposes of the Secretary's trip to the region, as she explained yesterday.

Part of that effort, obviously, is economic support for the Palestinians. We've, I think, taken the lead in that effort in terms of: number one, being the largest bilateral donor to the Palestinian Authority; number two, presenting a very generous and increased package of assistance to the Palestinians in this fiscal year, including a $200 million supplemental, as well as seeking larger amounts of assistance next year.

Also part of this effort is Mr. Wolfensohn's designation by the Quartet to look at ways to support the Palestinians and their economic and humanitarian needs. As part of that, he is obviously assessing what the international community can do to support the Palestinians. There are ideas that are being discussed. This is one that is being reported and I would characterize it as a subject for discussion. And that's where we are.

QUESTION: Well, I think that's pretty clear --

MR. ERELI: Okay.

QUESTION: There is no decision.

MR. ERELI: Right.

QUESTION: However, is there consideration -- just a few weeks ago, you came up with a bundle of money and decided to give it to the Palestinian Authority directly. Doesn't that take care of things for a couple of weeks at least or are you -- are you devising another multibillion dollar (inaudible)

MR. ERELI: As I said, this is -- look, this is -- economic support for the Palestinian Authority, helping the Palestinian Authority, number one, meet the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people; number two, develop the kind of infrastructure and capabilities to administer territory and institutions requires ongoing economic support, ongoing assistance, not only financial but also in terms of institution-building, in terms of setting up transparent processes, et cetera, et cetera. So don't look at it in terms of we gave them this much this week; how much are we going to give them next week. Look at it in terms of consistent engagement over time, both in terms of technical assistance, both in terms of political support, both -- and in terms of financial and economic assistance.

This is a process that we're involved in, that the Quartet is seized with, that the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meets on regularly to coordinate assistance, that, frankly, other Arab countries are very involved in. And it's an issue that we will have to, I think, frankly, intensify as the Palestinian Authority gets more responsibility, gets more -- or has more responsibilities to administer territory and provide services and assume more responsibilities that Israeli withdrawal will confer upon them.

QUESTION: So it's an ongoing aid program. There will be incremental improvements in it as you go on. They've got needs. This goes beyond just -- and this goes beyond, you know -- this is important. This talks about facilities.

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: Seaports.

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: Airports.

MR. ERELI: Sure. Sure.

QUESTION: This is expensive.

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: But so far as having come to even -- what's the word, I can't think of the word -- half-decisions, quasi-decisions on how much, that's not there yet?

MR. ERELI: I'd say it's very exploratory.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, it's just not clear to me. I mean, is the U.S. Government or is Mr. Wolfensohn, at the behest of the U.S. Government or at the behest of the Quartet, going around trying to stump up cash for the Palestinians or not?

MR. ERELI: For what Mr. Wolfensohn is doing, I'd ask Mr. Wolfensohn.

QUESTION: Well, you're a member of the Quartet --

MR. ERELI: As far as the --

QUESTION: The Quartet has empowered him so, you know.

MR. ERELI: As far as the U.S. Government is concerned, I think I made it very clear, we are the leading supporter of the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: No, I know all that. All that --

MR. ERELI: We will continue to be --

QUESTION: -- I'm trying to do is understand this --

MR. ERELI: We will continue to be the leading supporter of the Palestinian Authority. As we move forward in supporting Gaza withdrawal and supporting the Palestinian Authority, we will be discussing with the Quartet, with Mr. Wolfensohn, with the Ad Hoc Liaison Committees ways to do that that are responsive to the realities on the ground and the needs of the Palestinian Authority and how it fits into the peace process.

And that's as specific as I can be right now. Is there a well-developed proposal on the table there that we're pushing or that we're debating? No. There are ideas. There are discussion points. But that's where it is and that's what I use --

QUESTION: Well, do you think it might gel? The Secretary of State will be away less than a week, okay? And she -- you know, part of this report is that she will, on the trip, announce something. Will all this gel in time before she gets back so that she can say we're going to give, you know, $2.73 billion to the Palestinians?

MR. ERELI: I wouldn't want to predict that.

QUESTION: Are there any target figures being bandied about in the --

MR. ERELI: Well, there's one being bandied about that we're talking about, but I will stick to the numbers that we have put out there and that we will -- that we are continuing to put out there, which is, you know, 75 million this year in assistance to Palestinians, 200 million in supplemental assistance, looking to double that next year. And that's from the United States.

For the Quartet, for the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, for others, that's a subject of multilateral discussions and I'll leave it at that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Changing the subject? Iran, one day closer to elections. I know we talk about it every day, but today officials are saying that it doesn't matter who's elected; the Iranian nuclear policy will not be changing. The U.S. has been saying that it's prepared to wait until after the election to push harder again on the EU-3 front. Are you -- do you have any hopes that nuclear policy will change after this vote and the second round of it, if it's needed?

MR. ERELI: Time will tell. We certainly, regardless of the outcome of this election, will continue to pursue our policy in concert with our partners in the EU and in the IAEA of ensuring that Iran does not use a peaceful nuclear program to pursue development of nuclear weapons. That's our goal. That's the goal of the EU-3. That's the goal of, I think, the international community. And it is an objective which we are determined to pursue and determined to marshal every effort to achieve.

As the Secretary said yesterday, Iranian leaders have a choice to make. Will they continue to remain out of step with the international community, as evidenced in their continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons program, contrary to their international agreements and international treaties, their continued support of terrorism and trying to blow up a peace process which the region supports and which the world supports, their continued suppression of dissent and fundamental freedoms which, again, is contrary to the prevailing trend in the region and around the world?

So this is something that the Iranian -- that Iran's leaders will have to decide. The nuclear program is a big part of that, but it's part and parcel of a direction.

QUESTION: But do any of these candidates -- while you don't support one or the other, do you have any hope that any of these candidates offer a possibly more enlightened policy on these things?

MR. ERELI: I wouldn't want to speculate. It's certainly a direction that we will continue to encourage Iran to take, a direction of cooperation and peaceful participation in the affairs of the international community. So far, they haven't shown themselves willing to go that route, but we will certainly work with the EU-3 and with others to do what we can to move things in the right direction.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I change topics?

MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Nuevo Laredo. Our own Ambassador to Mexico said that the situation is rapidly degenerating on the U.S.-Mexican border. What has been communicated to the Mexican Government from United States officials about what to do about the increased violence and how are we contributing at all to cracking down on it?

MR. ERELI: We've made clear to the Government of Mexico our concern about violence on the border, violence that is the result of gang-related violence coming from competition for drugs and drug-related activity. We recognize -- the United States recognizes that this is an issue that requires close cooperation between our two governments and close coordination between our law enforcement and other agencies. In that spirit, I would tell you that we are in close communication with the -- close and regular communication with the Foreign Ministry of Mexico, with the Attorney General's Office of Mexico and with state and local officials to look at the situation on the ground, assess what our needs are and look at how we can work together to meet them.

The Government of Mexico, for its part, has taken specific steps to address this problem. I would note that they launched Operation Secure Mexico, which is a federal law enforcement initiative on their part to combat organized crime in communities along the border and other cities in Mexico. And with respect to Nuevo Laredo, which is an area of particularly violent activity, the Government of Mexico has dispatched a force of over 300 federal agents and a thousand military troops to take over the majority of police functions in that town.

So we've made it clear to the Mexican Government that we think this is a serious issue and a problem that we -- that affects both our countries. We are coordinating, we are cooperating and we are seeing action by the Mexican Government that's noteworthy and important. That said, this is a big challenge and we need to continue to stay on it. We need to continue to work together to prevent innocent citizens on both sides of the border from being victimized by crime.

QUESTION: Adam?

MR. ERELI: Yes.

QUESTION: On Kyrgyzstan, I don't know if you've seen the reports that more than a thousand Kyrgyz troops fired gas -- tear gas on Friday to drive protestors away from a government building and it's been described by the government as an attempt by Akayev supporters to bring down the current government. Do you have anything on that?

MR. ERELI: Our understanding is that about a hundred protestors who were supporting a presidential candidate, Urmat Baryktabasov, stormed a government administration building in Bishkek today when they learned that their candidate had been disqualified from running for office. Our information is that local police expelled the demonstrators and dispersed other demonstrators outside the building.

Number one, I would say we certainly do not condone seizures of the building by protestors. Number two, we would encourage the Government of Kygyzstan to address this issue consistent with the rule of law. Number three, as far as the issue of Mr. Baryktabasov's candidacy is concerned, there is a process under Kyrgyzstan's electoral code that deals with criteria for candidacy and appealing decisions by the Central Election Commission and we would encourage those processes to be respected as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)

DPB # 103

Released on June 17, 2005 ENDS


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