State Dept . Daily Press Briefing June 22, 2005
State Dept . Daily Press Briefing June 22, 2005
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
June 22, 2005
Upcoming Briefing with USAID Director Andrew Natsios and
Coordinator for Tsunami Relief Ambassador Doug Hartwick / Tsunami Update
US Donation to World Food Program of Agricultural Commodities /
Review of Need in North Korea / Issue of Access and Monitoring
Six-Party Talks Status / Comments from Communist Party Official
US Assessment of North Korea's Food Crisis / Focus of US Food Assistance
Status of Travel to North Korea by Secretary Rice
Status of Passport of Mukhtiar Mai / Contact with Senior Pakistani
Officials / Issue of Political Intimidation
Meeting Between Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas / Gaza
Withdrawal / Maximum Efforts to Fight Terror
Special Envoy Wolfensohn's Mission
Query on Targeted Assassinations
Government of Zimbabwe Patterns of Abuse
US Support of Fundamental Freedoms
Intervention of US Interest Section Baseball Game By Government
Query on Intelligence Assessment of Terrorist Training Grounds
Organized Press Tours of Bushehr Nuclear Facility
IAEA Access to Suspect Nuclear Facilities
1:20 p.m. EDT
MR. ERELI: Hello, everyone. We have a couple of announcements to start things off with today. The first one is that we'll be having a briefing for you tomorrow at 9:45 with Director of USAID Andrew Natsios and our Coordinator for Tsunami Relief Ambassador Doug Hartwick. As you know, next -- or this Sunday is the sixth anniversary of the tsunami disaster and we thought it was an appropriate time to update everybody on what the United States has done together with our partners in the international community to provide relief and reconstruction to the communities and countries devastated by this disaster.
QUESTION: Here in the briefing room?
MR. ERELI: Here in the briefing room, on camera, on the record.
The second announcement is to tell you that we will be putting out a statement after the briefing today announcing that the United States will be donating, in response to the World Food Program appeal, 50,000 metric tons of agricultural commodities for North Korea. And that will -- that is in response to the 2005 appeal. That is in addition to, as you know, 50,000 metric tons that we gave last year and 100,000 metric tons that we gave the year before.
QUESTION: What made you arrive at that decision?
MR. ERELI: Basically, a review of the need in North Korea, competing needs elsewhere and the humanitarian organizations' ability to have access to all vulnerable groups and monitor the assistance. Those are the three criteria. That's what we looked at in making the decision. It's obviously very important, the issue of access and monitoring. There has been some movement on that issue. I think as you'll see in the statement, there are still concerns. We continue to call for the maximum access, maximum freedom to monitor, so that we can be sure that the vulnerable populations are getting the assistance they need. But based on our assessment of the situation, we decided to go forward with the donation.
QUESTION: Does it have anything to do with U.S. efforts to get North Korea to six-party talks?
MR. ERELI: It's not linked to six-party talks. As you know, our decisions are made on humanitarian considerations solely.
QUESTION: So it is in no way, shape or form should be regarded as a political act or gesture?
MR. ERELI: It is a humanitarian act based on need and not based on political considerations and not linked to the six-party talks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to make sure that the people who need it get the food, rather than -- could you finish the thought? Who might be skimming off food? In other words, where is your concern? I know where you want it to go, but you're concerned that who gets it?
MR. ERELI: Our concern is that children who are malnourished who need the food get the food and we want to make sure that others who are not in similar -- others who are not in those conditions don't benefit from it when people who do need it aren't getting it.
QUESTION: I'm just trying to --
MR. ERELI: But I --
QUESTION: I don't want to push you where you don't want to go, but I'm just trying to find out if there is a suspicion that the Government of North Korea harvests this thing.
MR. ERELI: I would put it this way. Food is a scarce commodity. It has a -- and when it's a scare commodity it has a value, and there are those who seek to exploit that value for purposes -- for purposes for which the aid is not intended. And that's why monitoring is so important.
QUESTION: All right. We thank you. Talk among yourselves. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: See you, Barry.
QUESTION: In past years, there have been --
QUESTION: He can't top this one. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: In past years, there have been multiple tranches of aid. Would you say that there was a possibility that there will be more later?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't want to speculate, frankly. Our actions are taken in response to World Food Program appeals. As I mentioned, last year we provided a similar amount in response to the World Food Program's appeal. We will endeavor to be -- we will respond to the circumstances as they exist. Right now, this is the appeal that's out there and we are acting accordingly.
QUESTION: What can you say about the account of Gregg and Oberdorfer today that they were passed a message asking for direct talks with President Bush?
MR. ERELI: When? In 2002?
QUESTION: Yes, on the 2002 --
MR. ERELI: Don't have anything for you. Don't have anything for you on it. Frankly, I didn't look into it because our focus, frankly, is on getting six-party talks restarted and engaging substantively on it. And what was purported to have happened in that piece doesn't relate meaningfully to the situation we're dealing with now. The situation we're dealing with now is that there is a process underway, there is a proposal on the table, there is a way for North Korea to address its increasing international isolation and achieve an improvement in its relations with its neighbors and the rest of the international community; and that's to address the concerns of its nuclear program through the six-party process.
So, frankly, that's where we're -- that's what we're working on, that's what's behind our diplomacy and that's why suggestions of past actions aren't really relevant to the concerns of the present.
QUESTION: But you said, "purported." Are you casting doubt that this really happened?
MR. ERELI: I'm saying I can't -- I don't have confirmation of it for you.
QUESTION: Why would you not have checked into it?
MR. ERELI: For the reasons I just said.
QUESTION: You don't think it's relevant?
MR. ERELI: For -- yeah, exactly.
QUESTION: One more on the food aid?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: What's the U.S. assessment of the food situation in North Korea? World food price -- World Food Program says that there's such a food crisis that they could be headed toward the kind of crisis that they had in the 1990s. And they said a lot of it has to do with the kind of economic reforms that the North is instituting, which is resulting in less food, actually, for the people.
MR. ERELI: I'll put it this way -- the World Food Program has detailed the need. We have assessed that report -- their findings. We agree with the importance and the necessity of providing assistance and that's what -- that is one of the important criteria for making our decision. If you ask me for details of the food crisis in North Korea, I just can't give you more than that.
One more thing to add in response to Barry's question, who's no longer here, but for the record I think it's important to point out, and it's in the statement. The question was asked: What areas do you want the food to be focused on? What are the specific needs you're targeting and that you want to make sure are not diverted from?" Our -- the focus of our assistance is on health interventions for children and small-scale food security projects in North Korea. And that's where we're going to be working with NGOs and UN agencies to make sure the food gets to.
QUESTION: Even though you're saying this isn't linked to six-party talks on the U.S. -- in the U.S. motivation, do you nonetheless hope that the North will see this as yet one more sign that the U.S. is not pursuing an aggressive policy against the government and that it may, perhaps, soften them toward the idea of coming back to talks, since they have consistently said they worry that you're aggressive?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, our decision is not motivated by what the North Koreans may or may not think. Our decision is made on the basis of what the North Korean people need.
QUESTION: I noted that in my question to you. While you're not motivated by that, do you nonetheless hope that will be a result?
MR. ERELI: What we hope is that the North Koreans will come back to six-party talks because it's in their interest to come back to six-party talks.
QUESTION: Speaking of six-party talks --
MR. ERELI: Yes?
QUESTION: Anything from the New York channel?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Any -- have you heard from the Chinese or anybody else that the North Koreans --
MR. ERELI: Nothing new to report. There are obviously, as there are every day, statements by various -- from various places that, you know, there's an eagerness to come back to talks, there's a willingness to come back to talks, there's a possibility of coming back to talks. That's really all in the way of static and speculation. Until we have a concrete date, we don't have one.
Yes. Oh, are we done with North Korea? Because I've got another announcement, believe it or not.
MR. ERELI: Keep going.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about the meeting that Ambassador Burns had with the South Korean Vice Foreign Minister yesterday?
MR. ERELI: I don't have a readout of that. I'll see if I can get anything for you.
QUESTION: Do you know if he -- I mean, the Vice Foreign Minister have other meetings with State Department officials?
MR. ERELI: I'll have to check. I'm not -- I didn't check before coming out here. I'll have to look into it.
MR. ERELI: On North Korea? Okay, let me make one more point before we jump into your questions.
It was an issue we dealt with yesterday. I just wanted to give you an update and this is on the Mukhtiar Mai case. I wanted to let you know that we have been in contact with senior Pakistani officials, both here and in Islamabad, and that we have been informed by them that, consistent with Ms. Mukhtiar's wishes and at her request, the Government of Pakistan has her passport and that she is satisfied that she can have access to it whenever she wants.
Moreover, we received renewed assurances from the Pakistani authorities that she is free to travel whenever she so desires.
QUESTION: But did you reach out to her and -- to corroborate this?
MR. ERELI: I would say we reached out to the Government of Pakistan and concerned parties and that's as far as I really want to go on it.
QUESTION: Well, when you say that the government told you that they have her passport, have you confirmed that? Have you confirmed --
MR. ERELI: Have we seen it? Have we seen the passport?
QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no. But what I mean is, the government says that they asked her -- that she would like them to hold the passport. She -- are people that are -- people that are associated with her say that the government is holding the passport and won't give it back to her. So have you independently confirmed through parties close to her, or not a government party, that this is, in fact, the truth?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: You said the government told you she's comfortable --
MR. ERELI: And concerned parties.
MR. ERELI: Any more?
QUESTION: Do you believe that this could be an issue of intimidation, that she's just agreeing with the government because there's some political intimidation?
MR. ERELI: I would say we are sensitive to those concerns and we are doing -- we will continue to do everything that we can to ensure that her freedom, her welfare and her well-being are assured and looked after and protected.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any information about reports on secret contacts took place last week between a representative of Prime Minister Sharon and Syrian officials?
MR. ERELI: I don't have any such information.
MR. ERELI: Also on the Middle East, do you have any reaction to the meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas and whether you think that their inability to reach agreements on the Gaza withdrawal will affect the withdrawal itself and what you're trying to do in terms of working with the parties?
QUESTION: It was an important, I think, and welcome development that Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas met yesterday. And I think they had -- there were certain issues on which there was agreement, there were certain issues on which there was disagreement. That is, frankly, to be expected, given the nature of what they're trying to do.
What's noteworthy is that they had the contact, they are working together, they agreed to continue to work together to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Gaza withdrawal.
And I would simply draw your attention to what the Secretary said in Jerusalem on the 19th of June, laying out the three principles of disengagement that all three parties and Wolfensohn in the Quartet have agreed to. And we think that what happened yesterday and what is -- what we'd look forward to in the coming weeks is an important part of that agreement, that understanding.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. ERELI: No. Same subject.
QUESTION: Adam, much of the acrimony appears to be over what to do about terrorism. And yesterday, apparently, Prime Minister Qureia came under fire when he was in Nablus and Israel now says they want to go after again in targeted killings Islamic Jihad, for instance. If they can't get a handle on this terrorism, is this going to stymie the Gaza withdrawal or make things more complicated?
MR. ERELI: I don't think there's any disagreement on what to do with terror. I think everybody -- everybody feels the same way. President Abbas has been very outspoken about it. The Israelis certainly have and so have we. Everyone recognizes the need to take maximum efforts to fight terror. Everyone agrees that terror is unacceptable. And that is one aspect of the principles of disengagement that I was talking about earlier.
And so, again, the Israelis and Palestinians are working together on this. We've got Wolfensohn and Ward going out there shortly. So this is a process that's moving and I think we need to keep our focus on that.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: Part -- they say that there was a drug ring that's been financing Hezbollah broken up in Ecuador. Is one of the tasks that Mr. Wolfensohn has to accomplish is to also cut off those financial channels? And has he also talked --
MR. ERELI: That's not part of Wolfensohn's mission. Wolfensohn's mission is to support the Palestinian Authority as it prepares for Gaza withdrawal and following Gaza withdrawal.
The issue of Hezbollah that you raised obviously points to -- I don't have details of what happened, but it obviously points to Hezbollah's continuing association with terror and is a reminder, yet again, that we need to take concerted against organizations like that.
Yes. Do you have a question?
QUESTION: Yes. The Zimbabwe Government appears to have taken another step in its urban clearance program that you've criticized before. This time they seem to have banned the practice of urban agriculture. I wondered if you had any --
MR. ERELI: I hadn't seen that. I'll have to see what we -- if we have anything new to say on that particular development. Obviously, the Government of Zimbabwe has a fairly -- has a deplorable record of actions taken against the interests of and welfare of its citizens. And we spoke to them, the most recent one of those a few days ago, in talking about the destruction of people's homes and businesses for unacceptable reasons. We called on the Government of Zimbabwe to stop it. Unfortunately, we haven't seen -- I don't think we've seen them change their pattern of abuse.
QUESTION: Are you undertaking any particular diplomatic initiatives here? I just notice that The Washington Post editorialized this morning that this campaign sort of bears resemblance to some of things that Pol Pot did in Cambodia. And there may be estimates of several hundred thousand people left homeless.
MR. ERELI: Well, obviously, we've got -- we've taken bilateral measures in terms of sanctions and other restrictions, government to government. We work diplomatically to call attention to these outrages, to make -- to exert efforts to influence and cause the Government of Zimbabwe to change its policies, both internationally through the Commonwealth and through other organizations, and regionally through the South African group, SADC, and others.
It is a tough task when you've got a leadership that is so intent on continuing abusive policies. But it is an effort that, I think, we continue to exert and will not relent on.
QUESTION: Okay. That same commentary that I mentioned faulted the South African Government. They have a policy of quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe, which apparently isn't working. Have you been in contact with South Africa?
MR. ERELI: It's a subject that we are regularly engaged with the Government of South Africa on. I'll leave it to speak to its policies and explain what's behind them. But obviously, we are trying to encourage others to take actions, meaningful actions, that move Zimbabwe and the leadership of Zimbabwe in the right direction, but also say that we are very active in supporting fundamental freedoms in Zimbabwe and helping the people of Zimbabwe exercise their democratic rights in seeking to redress wrongs that they perceive in their own society.
QUESTION: Change of subject? Looking out for our friend Darla's interests in Havana, there's a story that the Cuban Government confiscated baseball equipment from a team that was preparing to play the U.S. Interests Section -- a team of kids. What does that tell you about our sports abilities down there? But can you comment on that? I mean, is the Interests Section complaining about this? Is this extraordinarily heavy-handed?
MR. ERELI: I'll give you the facts. The facts are that our Interests Section wanted to play a baseball game with a group of young people, some of whom were human rights activists and some of whom we'd helped out with baseball equipment and other contacts in the past. And this is a normal and a good thing, I think, to have interactions with locals, to help support democracy and human rights activists.
The Cuban Government didn't think so, however, and they acted to confiscate the equipment of the people who we wanted to play with, and then when we were going to play with them with our equipment, they intervened to prevent that as well. So I think --
QUESTION: How did they intervene?
MR. ERELI: I'll have to check and see how they prevented it.
QUESTION: Yeah, how could they stop them just from playing?
MR. ERELI: I'll have to check, but the game did not take place. They were not able -- do you know?
MR. CASEY: Yeah, by blocking access to the field, ensuring that (inaudible).
MR. ERELI: Blocking access to the field and ensuring the teams couldn't get there.
QUESTION: So they prevented the American diplomats as well as the Cuban citizens from getting to the field?
MR. ERELI: It was more preventing the Cuban citizens. But the point here is that you've got a positive and well-meaning engagement with the host population that causes the government to intervene and prevent. And it says a lot about, I think, the paranoia and insularity of the regime that it can't tolerate young kids playing baseball with Americans.
QUESTION: What can you do about it? I mean, do you just complain here and, I don't know, complain there? Is the head of the Interests Section saying anything?
MR. ERELI: We play ball, continue to try to -- we will continue to try to engage. We will continue to try to bring more democracy and openness and freedom to a country that knows very little of any of this. That's the whole -- you know, that's what we're all about with Cuba.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the Middle East? And I apologize if I -- I tried to listen to everything that went on while I was out of the room, but were you asked specifically about the report that Israel has resumed targeted assassinations of Palestinian militants?
MR. ERELI: I was. We dealt with it. I said -- I made the point that it is our conviction that there is agreement among all the parties on the need to make maximum efforts to fight terror. There is agreement on the principles of disengagement, which the Secretary worked with the parties when she was there, and that -- I spoke in terms of the important meeting that took place yesterday between Abbas and Sharon and said that our focus is going to be on working with the parties to support their engagement, to support their cooperation and to move forward, including in the fight against terror.
QUESTION: And does the U.S. Government continue to oppose targeted assassinations by the Israeli Government?
MR. ERELI: Our policy on that has not changed.
QUESTION: And have you conveyed the fact that your policy on that has not changed to the Israeli Government?
MR. ERELI: It's well known.
QUESTION: So you have not -- I know it's well known. I know it, you know it. I'm asking if you've conveyed it to them since this report.
MR. ERELI: I'm saying it's well known and we all have a common understanding of the way forward, and that was what was -- that was what was understood in the Secretary's trip.
QUESTION: Well, why shouldn't the Israelis conclude that targeted assassinations are acceptable and a good part of the way forward if you haven't repeated your policy to them?
MR. ERELI: I'm saying that there is a clear understanding, it's well known, and I think everybody is comfortable with that.
QUESTION: Including the people getting targeted? Do you think they're comfortable with that?
MR. ERELI: That's what I have to say.
QUESTION: Thank you -- oh wait, sorry, I do have an Iraq question. There is a -- I recognize you don't typically talk about intelligence assessments, but there is a new assessment that says that Iraq has surpassed Afghanistan as a training ground for terrorists, or reportedly says. Is that an assessment that the State Department would agree with?
MR. ERELI: I haven't seen that assessment. I don't know what you're referring to.
QUESTION: It's apparently an intelligence assessment. But setting aside the report, would the State Department concur with the idea that given the real-life urban combat situation going on in Iraq, that it has, in fact, surpassed Afghanistan?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't want to be comparative. What I would tell you is that Iraq is a central front in the war on terror and that's why it's so critical that we prevail there.
Yeah. Louie, sorry.
QUESTION: No worries. The Iranian Government has allowed Western media access to the Bushehr nuclear facility today, (inaudible) the interior facility, and the Iranian officials have told press that they reserve the right to process their fuel as is their right. Any reactions to the tour and to their statement?
MR. ERELI: To the tour -- I don't know about the tour. What I would tell you is that organized press tours of Iranian nuclear facilities are all good and well, but the real issue is providing full access to suspect facilities to the IAEA consistent with agreements and treaty obligations. That's what we look for. That's the issue in question. And that's where Iran's record is spotty and of concern to the international community.
QUESTION: Two real quick ones. Former Ambassador Donald Gregg and Don Oberdorfer --
MR. ERELI: Dealt with it.
QUESTION: Dealt with it? Excuse me. Excuse me. So --
MR. ERELI: It's okay.
QUESTION: So were you asked whether there are any plans for Secretary Rice to go to North Korea?
MR. ERELI: I was not and there are not.
QUESTION: There are none.
MR. ERELI: None that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: One other quick one. I know you were asked about sort of North Korea whether they'll come back. Were you specifically asked about the comments by Wang Jiarui, one of the top Chinese Communist Party officials suggesting that it is now -- that North Korea is now ready to come back, that he believes that it wants to resume the talks?
MR. ERELI: I was not asked about that specific comment, but I said generally we're seeing a number of reports out there from various sources. I would characterize this as one of those and that different opinions notwithstanding, until we have a date, we don't have negotiations. And we don't have a date.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)
DPB # 105
Released on June 22, 2005