State Dept. Daily Press Briefing June 20, 2005
Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
June 20, 2005
Report of Foiled Assassination Attempt Against US Ambassador
Ambassador Khalilzad's Current Whereabouts
Security Provided to Ambassador Khalilzad
Reports of Taliban Regrouping in Afghanistan
Secretary Rice's Letter to Aung San Suu Kyi
Iranian Election Process and Outcome
Syria's Efforts to Secure Border with Iraq and Deal with
Supporters of Iraqi Insurgency in Syria
Reported UK Decision to Provide Equipment to Syria
Prospects for Secretary Rice to Meet with Syrian Foreign Minister in Brussels
Secretary Rice's Schedule and Possible Meetings in Brussels
Conclusion of 2005 Legislative Elections
US Position on Israeli Arms Sales to China
Vietnam Prime Minister's Visit to US
Vietnam Religious Freedom Agreement
Six-Party Talks Status
US Ambassador's Reported Golf Game with Member of Royal Family
US Policy Toward Nepal
Secretary Rice's Comments in Cairo Regarding Democracy in the Middle East
Secretary Rice's Comments in Cairo Speech Regarding Imprisoned
Petitioners in Saudi Arabia
Assistant Secretary Welch's Visit to Libya on June 14-15
Violence and Arms Smuggling on the US Border
Zimbabwe Government's Destruction of Informal Markets and
1:00 p.m. EDT
MR. ERELI: Greetings, everybody. Welcome to our briefing today. I don't have any announcements and I'm happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Could you tell us what the State Department knows about the report of an assassination attempt in Afghanistan?
MR. ERELI: We know that the Afghan police told us that they had foiled an assassination plot against the Ambassador and had detained a number of individuals who were plotting against or plotting to assassinate him. We cannot verify the facts as reported by the Afghans. We have a very close and cooperative relationship with the Afghan security forces. We appreciate and value their efforts and all that they do to protect American diplomats and others working in Afghanistan. We are in contact with them to find out and do what we can to get to the bottom of this.
I would say that Ambassador Khalilzad was in Laghman Province yesterday where he was reported to be the target of a plot. The visit went forward, he was able to, as part of his farewell activities on leaving Afghanistan, he was able to visit our provincial reconstruction team, he was able to take part in an event at a disarmament and demobilization program, and he also visited an alternative livelihood site, which is a very important program that we help run with the Afghans to provide employment and alternative livelihoods to people in rural areas as part of our effort to transition to a more prosperous and economically viable Afghanistan.
So the point is that reports of a plot, notwithstanding, and for details of that plot, you need to talk to the Afghans. But reports of that plot, notwithstanding, the Ambassador was able to go to the area in question, participate, underscore his support for programs designed to help Afghans and is now gone.
QUESTION: Do you have any -- well, yeah, that could suggest that you were relying on the Afghans. It could suggest that you don't have the security or early warning system, maybe that you need it, that you depend on the locals. No?
MR. ERELI: No, I would say -- look, a couple of points. One is in every country, you have to depend on the locals. You can't -- America cannot provide security for Americans at all times, in all places, in all countries. You got to have local support, you got to have local coordination, number one.
Number two, they're going to have access to information and intelligence that we don't have. That's the nature of the business. There are times that we get information that they don't have. So that's where the cooperation goes, that's where the communication comes in, and that's why you need good, close relationships, built on trust, built on a track record. We've got that with the Afghans and in this instance, they had information that they acted upon. We're working with them to follow up.
But the important point is our Ambassador and personnel are safe. We continue to be vigilant and take security precautions as necessary and do the business of the American people in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: I thought you said you were not in a position to confirm the facts. Do you have any doubts about the facts as they have been reported by the Afghan authorities?
MR. ERELI: I would say that there are a lot of details that we're still unclear about.
QUESTION: But you don't doubt -- do you doubt it, I mean?
MR. ERELI: No, I'm not in a position to doubt, no. I'd say they've said that there was a plot. I'm not casting doubts or aspersions or questions on that. But who, what, where and when are all details that we just don't have.
QUESTION: Adam, where is the Ambassador now?
MR. ERELI: The Ambassador is on his way to Iraq, I believe.
QUESTION: This is the transit taking -- to take charge?
MR. ERELI: To assume his duties, yes.
QUESTION: That's it.
QUESTION: So he has left Afghanistan?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: And the timing of his departure had nothing to do with this plot? Did he leave as scheduled or --
MR. ERELI: My understanding is he went to participate in the events yesterday in Laghman Province as scheduled. I can't speak to other scheduling decisions that he might have made and what factors went into those scheduling decisions.
QUESTION: Did he adjust his schedule at all in Laghman Province because of the threat?
MR. ERELI: I don't know. I know that he -- in Laghman Province he was able to do what he wanted to do.
QUESTION: Could you check on those two points: on one, whether his schedule or his routes or anything had to be changed because of this; and two, whether he left Afghanistan earlier than he otherwise had intended? Because if --
MR. ERELI: I will check, although with the reservation that in most cases we are very reluctant to comment on scheduling and movement decisions when dealing with security considerations because we want to preserve, you know, some measure of confidentiality for the safety of the people who are traveling.
QUESTION: Right. But, I mean, if he's already left the country, I mean, it doesn't, you know, I mean, if he left three days earlier, that's a material fact. That would be --
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: Important to know and if he's already gone, clearly, he doesn't pose a threat --
MR. ERELI: Right. I just ask for a little bit of indulgence because the --
QUESTION: Yeah, I understand.
MR. ERELI: As you can well appreciate, there often is hesitation and reluctance to give a lot of detail about those sort of things.
QUESTION: Adam, surely you must have a way or a scale to determine the veracity of information supplied by the Afghan police?
MR. ERELI: Yes, we do, and I expect we will. I would simply note that these reports are several hours old, so give us some time.
QUESTION: Generally, I mean, for this U.S. Ambassador of Afghanistan or the next one, isn't his detail -- his security determined by the Americans or by the Afghanis? I mean, that was -- or is it coordination between the two?
MR. ERELI: Both. His security is in the hands of or he has American personnel providing security for him, their host country assets providing security. And in order to be effective, there has to be close coordination and communication between the two. And in this case, there was.
QUESTION: There were reports, scattered reports, there have been recently that the Taliban is regrouping, that al-Qaida is in a new surge. Is this related in any way? Can you tell at this juncture?
MR. ERELI: No, I cannot.
QUESTION: Is this exactly --
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't want to make that connection because, as I said earlier, the facts in this case have yet to be fully determined to our satisfaction, number one.
Number two, there is, undeniably, Taliban activity and it is a fact that we are dealing with, that the Afghan Government and the Afghan armed forces are dealing with. There is really a continued full court press to confront the Taliban, to confront al-Qaida remnants, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. Nobody is under any illusion that there aren't dangerous people out there that are ill-intentioned and that need to be confronted and that's why I think we've got a comprehensive program focusing on security, but also focusing on economic development and political development in Afghanistan designed to squeeze the last remnants of a bankrupt movement.
QUESTION: I ask -- change of subject. In her letter to Aung San Suu Kyi on her 60th birthday, there is no mention of any specifics that you're telling the Burmese or Myanmar Government, the military junta, anything you'd like to say to --
MR. ERELI: It's pretty specific. It calls on them to release Aung San Suu Kyi, it calls on them to release four other political prisoners, it calls on them to engage in a real national dialogue. That's pretty specific.
QUESTION: Any call for elections or --
MR. ERELI: I think the statement speaks for itself, frankly.
QUESTION: A few other things coming on the plans for a partial recount of the first round of the Iranian President election.
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything specific to say about that aspect of the elections. What I would make clear is that the election process, as a whole, from selectively choosing candidates who could run by an unelected clerical elite, to the conduct of the voting and the results of the vote and next stages, strikes us as basically highly representative --
MR. ERELI: Unrepresentative. And certainly not responsive to what the Iranian people are looking for, which is more participation, not less; more freedoms, not less; and more democracy, not less. And that's the optic with which -- or through which we view these elections.
I would simply make the point that the Iraqi people deserve better -- I'm sorry, the Iranian people deserve better.
QUESTION: You don't -- I don't suppose you expect the Iranian authorities to cut themselves down by permitting democracy, do you? I mean, what is your hope based on? It's not a regime that particularly wants to turn to democracy. Why are you -- why are you so outraged that they're behaving according to character?
MR. ERELI: I will speak to the facts, and the facts are disturbing if one believes that the responsibility of government is to respond to the will and desires of the people. And what we are seeing in Iran goes in the opposite direction, like so much else happening in Iran, like its support for terrorism and like its desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction and like its equivocal position on links with al-Qaida.
So, you know, in that sense, the choices they're making in terms of democratic development are baffling but, unfortunately, consistent with choices they make in other areas that are contrary to trends we see in the rest of the world.
QUESTION: But if Rafsanjani is chosen next Friday, I mean, he's made a lot of statements that he really wants to reach out to the United States, he believes in market economies, he's one of the wealthiest men in Iran. His spokesman says that we want to establish good relations with Israel and so on. That does seem to me like positive statements for the U.S. Are you dismissing those?
MR. ERELI: I would say they are what they are, which is secondhand statements in an electoral campaign. I haven't seen them. You're referring to them. I would say the United States believes in actions rather than words. And if Iran's new leadership changes policies, as opposed to rhetoric, then that's one thing. But campaign slogans are another thing and I'm just not going to put that much credence in them until and unless the elected authorities in Iran make clear policy pronouncements and take clear action to change what we view as threatening policies.
QUESTION: Could we -- did you want to say something?
QUESTION: Could we take a look -- could you take a look at the Syrian situation, what has happened for Iraq -- British -- the British defense official says the Syrians are making progress -- there's progress and Syrian policing and there are reports that they want better night-fighting equipment like night goggles or whatever they're called. Do you see an upturn, a positive movement? Is there something you're going to do for them, like provide them with equipment like that?
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware of any consideration being given to that kind of assistance. The bottom line is that Syria, in the past, has taken some steps with regard to securing its border with Iran. We have spoken to that. At the same time, there is a lot more that they need to do not only on the border, because that's just one part of the problem, but probably more importantly, dealing with insurgent -- or elements within Syria that are supporting the insurgency.
So the border is a piece of the puzzle and they've done stuff, not enough, and they certainly haven't gone nearly far enough in dealing with supporters of the insurgency that are in Syria and that are working to help those in Iraq blow up Iraqis. And we view, we consider that to be inconsistent with Syria's statement that it supports Iraq and that it wants to act as a friendly neighbor to Iraq.
QUESTION: Do you care to say whether the United States thinks it would be wise of Britain to provide night vision equipment to Syria or is that a British decision?
MR. ERELI: Well, I'm not sure what the British have said. I know what the wire services are reporting, but having not received a direct readout from the British, I'm reluctant to respond to what others say they said. I think we view, based on our partnership with Britain in Iraq, we are knit-up a hundred percent on our coordination and our views on the need for everybody, including -- especially Iraq's neighbors to act decisively in supporting Iraq and combating the insurgency.
QUESTION: Same topic.
MR. ERELI: Same topic.
QUESTION: The Syrians announced that Farouk Shara the Foreign Minister will be in Brussels on Wednesday. Do you expect him to cross paths with the Secretary of State and in any way at all?
MR. ERELI: In any way? Yeah, I expect they'll cross paths in any way. But what specific way, I don't know.
QUESTION: You don't expect them to talk or exchange or --
MR. ERELI: You know, it's hard for me to say. They're making -- they're scheduling program decisions on the road. They know the latest. I'm not aware of what specific events are planned for Brussels, other than a very important and worthwhile intervention for you to listen to that the Secretary will give.
QUESTION: On a related thing, and I don't know how hard it would be for you to check this, but are there any plans or could you check if there are any plans for the Secretary to have bilats with any member of the so-called G-4 nations that are seeking permanent membership?
MR. ERELI: I'll check.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: In Brussels.
MR. ERELI: Yes. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Lebanese parliamentary elections outcome?
MR. ERELI: The United States congratulates the people and Government of Lebanon on the conclusion of the 2005 legislative elections. These elections represent an important step in the process of consolidating Lebanon's freedom and democracy. We particularly welcome the Government's open and full cooperation with the European Union election observers and the UN technical assistance teams. The United States looks forward to working with the new parliament and the new cabinet as they, with the help of the international community and the United States, pursue reforms in Lebanon's political and economic areas that the Lebanese people both desire and deserve.
QUESTION: Same topic?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you see this as a sign of losing Syrian influence in Lebanon and perhaps what they're saying about pulling out intelligence and troops is actually true?
MR. ERELI: The Lebanese -- the full rounds of Lebanese elections that took place are clearly a landmark in terms of being free of the kind of foreign interference that we've seen in Lebanon for the last 30 years, and that needs to be recognized and welcomed. That is not to say that Lebanon is completely free of foreign interference, as called for in Resolution 1559. As you know, there are still concerns or there remain concerns about a Syrian -- lingering Syrian intelligence presence in Lebanon as well as -- and for that reason, the United States, the Secretary General, the Security Council remain, as we say, seized with the matter and we'll continue to work to realize the full and complete implementation of those aspects of 1559.
QUESTION: This is on Israel.
MR. ERELI: Do we have anything on Lebanon? Any more on Lebanon? Okay.
QUESTION: This is on Israeli arms sales to China. Can you flesh out a little what the U.S. problem with an Israeli arms sale to China? I know the Secretary spoke about it in Israel. The Israeli Government says that, you know, the Americans can even review what sales would take place and wants America to be more involved in what sales would take place. I mean, is there some kind of agreement that can be reached with Israel where, if you were able to monitor what was being sold, you could work more closely with them on the certain --
MR. ERELI: I don't really have much to add to what the Secretary and others have already said on this subject. We've made it clear that Israeli arms sales to China are a matter of concern to us, that we have had differences on the issue. We are having discussions about how to resolve those differences. I'm not in a position to get into detail about where those discussions are going, but I would simply tell you that we look forward to resolving the differences and moving forward based on those discussions.
QUESTION: Some of the arms sales that are proposed are just kind of spare parts for planes that the Israelis sold to the Chinese a while ago. Do you see this specifically as a buildup of China's military capacity? Is that --
MR. ERELI: Without getting into any specific pieces of hardware, what I would tell you is that Israel's defense relationship with China raises, for the United States, serious security concerns and, in view of our security role in Asia, we believe it's important for our allies to take those concerns into account.
QUESTION: The Israelis say that this is, you know, purely an innocent commercial sale, that you don't see it as --
MR. ERELI: I would say that we're having discussions and we believe our concerns can be addressed in those discussions.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: I don't suppose you have something on the visit of the Vietnamese Prime Minister tomorrow, do you?
MR. ERELI: He'll be meeting with the President. I would defer to the White House to speak to it. I think that I would simply note that it certainly was a topic of discussion when the Deputy Secretary was in Vietnam, I think at the end of April, but I'll have to check the calendar, and it's an important visit. It's the first visit since -- by a Vietnamese head of government since -- well, ever. We are in the 10th year of relations between the United States and the Government of a unified Vietnam. Vietnam has -- our bilateral relationship, I think, has made some important strides in that period. We, as you know, reached an agreement on religious freedom and actions and commitments that the Vietnamese would take to address our concerns in this area.
Vietnam is looking to join the WTO and that's something that we think is important and are working with the Vietnamese and our other partners in WTO to support. And there is, obviously, the very important issue of MIAs and other post-conflict subjects, which continue to be an important aspect of the bilateral relationship. So there are really a number of areas where we'll be able to, I think, look back and take satisfaction in progress made and look ahead to future cooperation and enhancement of those relationships.
QUESTION: You never mentioned democracy. Do they deserve better, just as the Iranians do?
MR. ERELI: Do they -- excuse me?
QUESTION: Do they deserve better just as, you said, the Iranians do?
MR. ERELI: I think that the -- around the world, governments looking to their societies, it's important that they take stock of and heed the desires of their people for change. Yes.
QUESTION: Can you address the issue of Vietnam's compliance with the agreement they made? Have they made any progress or are they still a Country of Concern?
MR. ERELI: They are still a Country of Concern. I would refer you to the statement of May 5th, I think -- let me just find it -- yeah, May 5th, where Vietnam -- I mean, that statement noted a number of actions that Vietnam had taken and spoke of a number of commitments it made to follow through on those actions. I don't have an update for you in the, sort of, six weeks since that announcement. I would simply say that obviously we are going to be working with the Vietnamese closely to ensure that there is follow-through and we are hopeful that, based on the commitments, we can move to a better place on the issue.
QUESTION: Just two quick ones. One the Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi is quoted today as saying that he's optimistic North Korea will return to six country -- six-party talks. Have you had any contact with the North Koreans through the New York channel or otherwise suggesting that they are coming back?
MR. ERELI: This is like everyday asked if you've had a New York channel contact. I will check. I don't -- I haven't been told about any, but let me just check and make sure that we've got nothing new to report on that for you. Chris -- Ambassador Hill, as you know, was in South Korea last week and this weekend. He was able to meet with senior South Korean officials, made the point there that we view the effort by the Republic of Korea to pursue inter-Korean dialogue as positive. He will return to -- from Seoul today. And we expect that South Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Lee Tae-Sik will visit Washington this week.
As far as six-party talks go, the bottom line is we still don't -- still haven't heard from North Korea about a date for returning to six-party talks. And basically until we have a date, we don't have negotiations.
QUESTION: And have you heard from them beyond the readout that we got at the last six - the last New York channel meetings of their having said -- you guys said that basically, they would come back. You have heard of --
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware of any contacts.
QUESTION: Okay. And then a quick one on Nepal. The Washington Post had a story yesterday saying that the U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, Ambassador Moriarty, met with or-- I would say played golf with -- excuse me -- the Crown Prince of Nepal. I'm just wondering: a) if that is true, that he played golf with him and then; b) if that was meant as some kind of a signal that the fairly public U.S. criticism of the king's actions was perhaps somehow softening and that he saw fit to sort of socialize with the Crown Prince.
MR. ERELI: I'll check on the factual basis of the story, if he did indeed play golf. What I would say is whether he played golf or not, the message to the Government of Nepal is the same and that message can be delivered on a golf course, it can be delivered in an office, it can be delivered at a residence, it can be delivered at a dinner. And the Ambassador continually makes the point that the King's dismissal of the government on February 1st was a big step backward for democracy, that the leadership of Nepal needs to restore multiparty democracy and that there should be no question in Nepal or here about our government's commitment to democracy in that country.
QUESTION: If you do check on the facts of whether they golfed, can you also check on whether he made that point during that golf game? Because, if not, it does seem a little odd to socialize in that way when your criticism was open and public.
MR. ERELI: The Ambassador, in all his dealings with the Government of Nepal, makes these points and there is -- we leave no doubt or room for speculation about where the United States stands on them.
Let's go to the back. Yes, Teri.
QUESTION: Ma'am? (Laughter.) In Secretary Rice's comments in Cairo, she said something that has been said before but it getting new attention now, I think the first time that she has said it, and that is an acknowledgement that U.S. policies in the Middle East with regard to democratic development have not produced the desired results. You'll know the quote: "for 60 years, we," et cetera, et cetera, and she was asked about it in the question-and-answer session that we just got a transcript of, too.
Is there a particular reason why she would have brought that out in this speech? Is it because, if you're going to be talking to these governments, criticizing them on their records, that the United States needs to take some -- needs to also -- I don't know, be sort of self-critical?
MR. ERELI: Well, since the Secretary has answered most of these questions, there's very little that I think I can add. What we're -- the point we're making is that the choice between democracy and stability is a false choice. The only way you can really have stability -- the only way you can have real stability, true stability, long-lasting stability is by giving your citizens rights and promoting democratic choices and freedoms. That is a lesson that we have learned, the United States has learned, both in our own history and -- the history of our own country and our own democratic development and in our relations with other states.
And I think that that was the point that was being made.
QUESTION: Well, would you think this is a new effort by the United States to bring that out in public statements? It's not something you bring up all the time, but it's also not the first --
MR. ERELI: It is a message that we believe has real resonance at this moment in history and in that locale. Why? Because as the Secretary pointed out in her speech, there are momentous changes sweeping the region and you see elections in Lebanon, you see elections in -- successful elections in Iraq. You see successful elections in the Palestinian Authority. And you see people throughout the region aspiring and agitating for more in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt, in Jordan and throughout the region, in Iran as well.
And therefore, given her visit to the region, given what's happening in the region, given how we need to, you know, confront common challenges and confront common threats, this was an opportunity to lay out American policy on the subject.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject?
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: About a month ago, the Council of Foreign Relations released a report, which was chaired by Madeline Albright, that basically criticized the administration for not talking about the three petitioners in Saudi Arabia who were jailed and Rice mentioned them in her speech today. I'm wondering, is that the first time that Rice or any U.S. official has mentioned them at, you know, a high level --
MR. ERELI: That's a subject that we've raised with the Saudis. It has been a subject of strong U.S. views and the Secretary spoke about it -- spoke about those views publicly and that's entirely appropriate.
QUESTION: Has it been spoken about before today and was it in any way a response to that --
MR. ERELI: It was the United States making clear where it stood on the issue and that's what we do.
QUESTION: Adam, do you know if it was --
MR. ERELI: And if we do it, we do it not because people publish articles, but because it's the right thing to do.
QUESTION: Do you know if it was the first time?
MR. ERELI: I don't. Yeah.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary of State David Welch visited with a Libyan leadership Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi and so on and apparently levied some praise on the Qadhafi Government. Do you think that's a good sign, especially after a journalist disappeared and later (inaudible) murdered by the regime or do you know if the topic came up in --
MR. ERELI: You're referring to a statement we put out on Friday, I believe, of Assistant Secretary Welch's visit earlier in the week to Libya. And that statement, I think, was balanced and very comprehensive. It noted areas where we've been able to engage and move forward with the Libyan Government. It also underscored areas of continuing concern, including human rights. And Assistant Secretary Welch in his meetings with the Libyans made clear that their treatment of dissent and journalists and others is something that we remain very concerned by and will continue to follow closely.
QUESTION: Upset because the growing violence in the border, the Mexican Government is now asking the U.S. Government to cooperate more in stopping the flow for illegal weapons to Mexico. Can you tell us what the U.S. Government is doing to prevent that smuggling? I also heard there are some reports --
MR. ERELI: Not in any great detail. We spoke to this on Friday. We spoke about how the United States and Mexico are cooperating through law enforcement and diplomatically to address the problem of violence on the border. This involves not only our foreign ministries, but our Departments of Justice and our border police and obviously smuggling and illegal trafficking are a subject of our efforts, but I don't have any more detail than that for you.
QUESTION: Do you have any reports that the violence of these drug cartels have extended to Dallas, Texas, where some people have been killed?
MR. ERELI: I don't, but then again, that's primarily a law enforcement matter.
QUESTION: Adam, anything new from Hariri with Robert Mugabe? First it was arms, now he's going after businesses and he has a strange view for urban renewal. Is there anything --
MR. ERELI: We also -- we put a statement on that --
MR. ERELI: Yeah -- no, I was trying to think of what I want to call it -- tragedy, crime, horror -- that the Government of Zimbabwe is perpetrating on its people. We put out a statement Thursday or Friday on that -- fill in the blank: tragedy, crime, horror, or whatever you want to call it. But it really is obscene what's going on there, where the government destroys homes and businesses of Zimbabwe's poor in some perverse, misguided move to respond to political opposition or to respond to economic factors. It defies explanation. But it's clear that it's wrong and that it's objectionable and that it's condemnable, and that's why we put out our statement and that's why we call on the Government of Zimbabwe to stop it and to act in a responsible way to meet the needs of its citizens: economically, politically and socially.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:45 p.m.)
DPB # 104
Released on June 20, 2005