State Dept. Daily Press Briefing February 22, 2006
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
February 22, 2006
U.S. Condemns Attack on Shiite Shrine / Iraqis must Unite Against
US Joins International Calls for Calm, Non-violence, Unity
U.S. Will Work with Iraq to Rebuild Shrine as Monument to
Tolerance, Understanding, Unity
Insurgents Seek to Divide Iraqis and Sow Dissent / U.S. Calls on
Iraqis to Unite
U.S. Condemns Reprisal Attacks
Iraq Has Made Progress in Overcoming Sectarianism Divisions of
Hussein Regime / Will Take Time
Under Secretary Hughes' Trip to Middle East / Has engaged Media
and Groups to Build Understanding, Exchange Views, Counter
Iranian Statement on Funding Hamas Government
U.S. Committed Negotiated Solution Leading to Palestinian State /
Iran, Syria Committed to Violence
U.S. Committed to Humanitarian Needs of Palestinian People
Abbas's Program Based on Peace with Israel, Palestinian Authority
as Reliable Partner, Roadmap Commitments
U.S. funding decisions based on U.S. laws / Hamas-led Government
Must Choose to Work as Terrorist Organization or Join
U.S. and Quartet Clear: Terror Not Acceptable Policy for Any
Growing International Consensus that Status Quo in Darfur
Untenable / Must move beyond AU Mandate to Create New Expanded
Force Supported by AU
Growing Momentum for International Involvement
Sudan Must Consider UN Force / In Sudan's Best Interest to Accept
CHINA / TAIWAN
U.S. Has made Clear longstanding policy on Cross-Straights Issues
U.S. Opposed to Unilateral Changes in Status Quo by Either Side
Dialogue Best way to Resolve Questions of Cross-Straights
Deputy Secretary Zoellick's Meeting with Vice Foreign Minister /
Discussed Economic Issues, Intellectual Property Rights, Market
Access, Six Party Talks, Iran, Human Rights, Taiwan
Former President Aristide's Possible Return Does Not Serve Useful
Trial of 80 Dissidents / U.S. Outspoken in Support of Democracy,
Respect for Civil, Political Rights of Ethiopian People
U.S. Has Condemned Violent Opposition Protests and Troubling
Actions by Government
Arrested Dissidents must be given basic rights, access to Council,
Those Not to be Charged With Crimes Should be Released
Ethiopia Must Respect Political and Human, and Civil Rights, Give
Access to Media UNITED ARAB EMERITES
Department Involvement in Committee on Foreign Investment in the
U.S. Relations with UAE as Strategic Ally and Partner are
Port Decisions Should Be Made as Commercial Decision Given to
National Security Concerns
UAE Has Contributed Forces to ISAF, Has Been Large Contributor to
Rehabilitation of Afghanistan
1:15 p.m. EST
MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to our briefing today. I don't have any statements to open up with so let's start with your questions.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to this attack on the Shiite shrine in Iraq and the president said -- the Iraqi president said that he was worried that this was going to slide into a civil war and that this is sort of a turning point.
MR. ERELI: I would refer you, first of all, to the statement put out by President Bush on this issue today, read about -- oh, I don't know -- half an hour ago by White House spokesman McClellan. I would also refer you to a statement put out by -- a joint statement by our Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and General Casey, Commander of forces there, denouncing the attack. I think those two statements state our views very clearly. This was a horrific act of terror against one of the holiest sites of Islam. I think it should sicken people of all faiths, whatever your faith, that a site so sacred can be attacked so wantonly and so savagely and it goes to the fundamental beliefs of people. It's just -- it's unspeakable.
And we have made very clear that our condemnation of this act, our sympathy for the Iraqi people and for the believers who see this as attack against them as well, and our underscoring the importance of finding in this tragedy some common cause, some reason for uniting, for uniting against the terrorists and the savage actions of a few that seek to divide the great majority of Iraqis who have come so far in trying to build a nation of peace, dialogue and understanding and that's really where our focus is. I would underscore and note in that regard statements by Foreign Secretary Straw of Great Britain, Secretary General Annan, President Talabani obviously, Prime Minister Jafari, statements by all the political leaders in Iraq calling for calm, calling for nonviolence, calling for unity and it's very much a message that we endorse and we support.
And I think another thing to point out is, again what the President said in his statement, that we would be working with the Iraqi people to help rebuild this shrine so that it will stand as a monument to tolerance and understanding and unity.
QUESTION: But do you see this as a setback for your efforts in Iraq?
MR. ERELI: The insurgents have for some time been seeking to divide Iraqis, to sow dissent and to sow sectarian strife and the great majority of Iraqis have been working to build a nation of compromise, of understanding, of dialogue. And we've seen that process play out over the course of debates on the -- in writing of the constitution, the referendum of their constitution, elections for a permanent government, the process of government formation. And throughout this process you have those seeking to divide Iraqis and this, I think is another example of that, a very dramatic and unprecedented example, frankly, but part of the same effort. And that's why it's so important that we all speak with one voice in rejecting it and rejecting what the enemies of Iraq and the enemies of the Iraqi people are trying to do.
QUESTION: Adam, to follow up on that, there's also obviously been several reports of reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques out of anger over this incident. What is your reaction to that?
MR. ERELI: Obviously we condemn them. And I checked before coming out here, there are reports of -- isolated reports of attacks against Sunni targets. Again, I think if you look at the statements by the political leaders of Iraq, they've all said the same thing, which is calling for nonviolence, calling for a period of mourning obviously, but calling for unity and calm in responding to these attacks. And that's something we will be actively promoting over the course of the next couple of days, as we have been, frankly, throughout the political process that has involved Iraq's development. I think we, on our part, are actively working with our partners in the region to speak out publicly to not only condemn the act but also to call on Iraqis to unite in opposition to what the insurgents and terrorists are trying to do.
So yes, we are, obviously, alert to the possibility of violence, but also I think very determined and energetic in acting to contain that threat.
QUESTION: If I can just follow up on that. This is not the first attack on a Shia target. Obviously, it's the most dramatic. You also have reports of death squads on the other side -- death squads. My question is this, are we right now in the midst of a civil war, an incipient civil war?
MR. ERELI: I think that's overstating the situation. Again, there are forces seeking to prevent democracy and obstruct the peaceful political and economic development of Iraq. That shouldn't be news to anybody. They seek to carry out the -- they seek to achieve their goals in a number of ways, but as I said before, promoting sectarian violence is -- and promoting sectarian violence is one of them. There's nothing new here and I think it serves as a reminder to all of us that there are some savaged and unprincipled elements out there that are going to stop at nothing, including attacking one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines, to promote the kind of unrest that the great majority of Iraqis have clearly demonstrated they don't want to see. I don't call that civil war. I call that attempts to undermine understanding an emergent compact among Iraqi society for a peaceful political future. And we don't think -- well, we are committed to preventing them from succeeding.
QUESTION: Adam, within the last number of hours, while she was in Cairo, Secretary Rice was interviewed by Egyptian Television. Well, one of the questions to her was excessive meddling has brought Shiites in Iraq to power. Now prior to her tour to the Middle East, media guru Karen Hughes was on the tour I guess a week and a half ago, were you satisfied with her particular tour and were the media bodies in those particular companies listening to Karen Hughes because she visited since Al Jazeera --
MR. ERELI: Under Secretary Hughes went to Qatar, the UAE and I believe she's now in -- well, she's now in Germany or on her way back. And she went to Qatar to participate in a conference on understanding and leadership and democratic development and bridging of differences between groups. And she had, I think, a very eloquent and important speech at that occasion. I'd refer you to our website where you can find a copy of it, where she stressed the importance of individual courage and sacrifice as an agent of change and positive change for societies and for countries seeking to help their citizens and to promote understanding and to promote human rights and a better life for their citizens.
She did have an opportunity obviously to engage with media and different groups in the region and that's within the context of our broader efforts which she is leading to build understanding, to exchange views and to, I think, attack some of myths about what the United States is about and what the United States is seeking and to try to establish a common understanding and -- of what our shared values are. So that's point one about Under Secretary Hughes.
Point two about the specific point of -- with regard to the Secretary and the Iraqi elections, she dismissed the question very skillfully, as is her habit, and she said, look, the results of the Iraqi elections were determined by Iraqis and what you see in these results is all the communities of Iraq equitably represented according to the will of the Iraqi people, and that's what democracy is all about.
QUESTION: So the elections in the Palestinian territories that produced a Hamas-led government, does that reflect the same sort of support, enthusiasm, represent the wishes of the Palestinian people? That's what elections are supposed to yield, I think.
MR. ERELI: Do you want to stick on Iraq?
QUESTION: I'd like to stick on Iraq for just one more question.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, two questions, actually. One is you say that we are not in a situation of civil war; you think I was overstating it there. My question is this, is that you had the Ambassador talking about sectarian conflict or tensions there. You have the fact that there's not -- I don't think there's one single unit in the army that's integrated ethnically or according to sectarian groups. They're all broken up into sort of mini-militias. Where is the evidence there that we're doing anything to bridge or to avoid a civil war?
And the second question is more factual. Where are we with the constitution that's supposed to be under deliberation, or the amendments to the constitution after the election?
MR. ERELI: I'll have to check on the latter. On the second question, I'll have to check and see what the specific timetable is. And there is a period of time after the elections or, actually, after the seating of the assembly for amendments or discussion about the constitution to be -- to take place and to be approved. But let me check and see what exactly that timetable is.
QUESTION: There's a clock running on --
MR. ERELI: Again, I'll have to check.
MR. ERELI: As far as your question about sectarianism, Ambassador Khalilzad and other U.S. officials, I think, have stated quite clearly that the policy of Saddam Hussein for 30 years was to divide and rule, and was to promote differences among ethnic and tribal groups and religious groups in Iraq. And so as you -- as Iraqis shake off the legacy of decades of manipulative dictatorship, they've got to overcome a lot of the divisions that were deliberately inculcated by the regime. And that's what -- they've made a lot of progress in that, I think as evidenced by their ability to put narrow self-interest aside, agree on significant power-sharing and federalist principles in their constitution, participate in elections, participate in the political process that not everybody bought into 100 percent but saw as the best way to address their grievances, and chart a way forward toward true national unity and a viable social compact that, frankly, hasn't existed for a long time in Iraq.
So as they move toward that, it's not fair, I think, in looking at it, to say, well, because they're not there yet and it's not, you know, it's not fully accomplished, then therefore there's a civil war going on. No, the way to look at it is you're trying to create a political culture and, as I said before, a social compact that is based on the principles and ideas that have been actively derided and suppressed for 30 years. That's going to take some time, whether it be in integrated military units, whether it be on certain constitutional provisions, whether it be in the rules of procedure in the assembly. It's going to take some time.
Progress needs to be measured not whether it's 100 percent done or zero percent done, but where they've come from where they were. And by that measure, I think there's significant progress and it would be erroneous to conclude, as some of those that you cited have, that there's a civil war going on. There are sectarian differences. Everybody acknowledges it. And I think what everybody acknowledges, including Prime Minister Jafari in his comments yesterday, was it is the goal of the Government of Iraq and the leadership of Iraq to overcome and minimize those sectarian differences so that the elected representatives of the people of Iraq can work for all the people of Iraq, as opposed to one specific community versus another specific community.
QUESTION: So the sectarian differences that are due to Saddam Hussein's rule, there's --
MR. ERELI: I said he exploited --
QUESTION: -- their differences --
MR. ERELI: I didn't say that.
QUESTION: -- the Shiites and the Sunnis always got along fine until Saddam Hussein came down the road and played on their differences?
MR. ERELI: No, I said he exploited that as a way to divide and rule, and that that exploitation has deepened and in many cases exacerbated divisions that -- in a way that has not served the Iraqi people well.
QUESTION: But the Bush Administration sees enough reason to expect the communities will get along with each other and build a democratic government and not fall into a civil war.
MR. ERELI: I think that is the vision of the leadership of Iraq and the vision of the great many Iraqis who have -- who risked their lives for a political process that they think is going to lead to a better future.
QUESTION: Well, the Ambassador didn't sound so optimistic the last time around. But I guess that's his statement. Could we turn to Hamas and can you verify does the U.S. have knowledge of Iran being willing to help finance a Hamas-led government?
MR. ERELI: Well, obviously, we've seen the statements by the Iranians to that effect. The views of the United States are clear and I think they're the views of the great majority of those in the international community that the only viable way to address the ambitions and hopes and dreams of the Palestinian people is through a negotiated solution that leads to a Palestinian state. That's what we're committed to, that's what the friends of the Palestinian people are committed to. There happen to be two countries that endorse an arms struggle against Israel, that refuse to recognize Israel and that believe that violence is the way to achieve the Palestinian national aspirations -- that's Iran and Syria. So I think that just tells you where those two countries lie on the international spectrum of support for the Palestinian people.
There -- on that score, as in many -- as on many of the other issues that we do with them, they're just on the wrong side of the issue. And if they continue to support violence and terror, then they're only going to succeed in further isolating them and themselves and I think undermining the aspirations of those who they pretend to support.
QUESTION: Syria held peace talks with Israel and as far as I know is prepared to hold unconditional talks with Israel. But if you want to couple them with Iran, I guess that's --
MR. ERELI: With regard to their support for Hamas and the agenda of Hamas.
QUESTION: But while we're at it, the question really was: Does the U.S. Government which considers Iran the biggest supporter of terrorism, well, and presumably tracks what it does, have you -- are you able at this early point to verify that Iran is offering financial assistance? We've all seen the reports that Iran is offering financial assistance to a Hamas-led government.
MR. ERELI: I don't have anything more than what we've seen in the press.
QUESTION: All right. And one other question, please. Does Abbas -- Mr. Abbas who you have great confidence in, is he in a position at this point to reject such assistance or is it simply not part of his portfolio anymore?
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware that -- let's make a couple points. Number one --
QUESTION: I mean, if he's interested in --
MR. ERELI: Number one, we are -- I think this is a critical point. We are committed -- the international community is committed to meeting the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. Number two, we are also committed to working to ensure that the interim government gets the resources that it needs. Number three, as far as further funding or support, you'll have to talk to -- you'll have to ask President Abbas what his position on that is. I think that what we're all in agreement on, frankly, is that -- and President Abbas was very clear on this in his speech to the Palestinian Legislative Council on this Saturday, was that there is a program that he has set forth, a political program that he has set forth for the Palestinian Authority and that is a program that is based on agreements that the Palestinians have signed with the Israelis. It is based on mutual recognition and it is based on the roadmap and commitments that the Palestinians have made. And that is what he called on the new government to endorse and to follow. And I think that -- I would expect that future decisions by President Abbas would be based on that political program which he outlined very explicitly and very eloquently on February 18th.
QUESTION: Well, contributions by Iran to a Hamas-led government on his watch would seem to contradict his stand, wouldn't it? But you don't -- you can't say -- the State Department doesn't know if he was in a position to block it, or in a position to --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I just -- you know, I don't know the answer to the question, Barry.
QUESTION: I mean, his opinion, of course, you've got to get it from him.
MR. ERELI: I think the view of the State Department is President Abbas has articulated a political program and a way forward for the Palestinian people that is based on peace with Israel and is based on establishing the Palestinian Authority as a reliable partner for peace. And to be a reliable partner in peace means, first and foremost, that you explicitly foreswear terror, that you recognize and accept the existence of your partner and that you honor commitments previously entered into. And that's what Abbas, President Abbas, has laid forth as the way forward. It's what the Quartet has laid forth as the way forward. It's what I think, as I said in answer to your earlier question, our partners in the region who we're talking to accept as the way forward. And that is what will guide our decisions and our actions in response to future events.
QUESTION: I don't think you've said -- maybe you have and I missed it -- whether Iranian assistance is in conflict with his stated aspirations, your aspirations --
MR. ERELI: I think Iran --
QUESTION: -- what you say is everybody's aspiration --
MR. ERELI: Iran's support --
QUESTION: -- except two countries in the world.
MR. ERELI: I'll put it this way. Iran's support --
MR. ERELI: -- of terror and Iran's support of violence as an acceptable way to achieve political aspirations is contrary to the policy and the statements of President Abbas. It's contrary to the policies and statements of the Quartet. It's, frankly, contrary to the actions of the civilized world.
QUESTION: Adam, you just said that the international community is basically -- there's consensus on standards of behavior they want to see from Hamas.
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay, fine. Do you also think the international community has the same consensus on the withholding of aid and withholding of customs duties from the Palestinians in a Hamas-led government?
MR. ERELI: I'm not -- I will speak for the United States. I'll speak for -- and I think the statements of the Quartet on that are clear, that the United States will make its funding decisions and its support decisions based on our laws and our policies. I think there is a strong consensus that Hamas faces a choice and that a Hamas-led government faces a choice. And that choice is either continue as a terrorist organization, in which case you can't be treated as reliable partners for peace, or join with the international community in recognizing Israel, rejecting terror and violence, and honoring commitments that form the basis for a negotiated settlement that meets the aspirations and needs of the Palestinian people and that all of our actions will be designed to bring about that kind of behavior, that kind of decision. You know, that's the best way I think I can answer the question.
QUESTION: The reason that I raise the question, first of all, because you make a statement on behalf of the international community about standards for Hamas, right?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Right? When we're talking about aid and we're talking about the customs there, you already have the United Nations envoy who was sharply critical of Israel for doing that. Russia says they want to continue aid. Egypt, by the way, criticized the freeze on the customs, a Mideast ally. Is it possible there that the United States is out of step with --
MR. ERELI: No, I don't think so. I really don't think so. I think you're focusing more on the trees than the forest in the sense that we have a commonly agreed upon strategic objective, and that strategic objective is creating a reliable partner for peace with the Israelis. And it's reflected in the Quartet statement. It's reflected in our discussions with the Egyptians. I think Foreign Minister Abu Gheit was very clear about that in his statements yesterday. It was certainly the case in our meetings with President Mubarak today. And I think, again, the Quartet has been very clear about it.
A Hamas-led government, or any government led in Palestinian, that sees terror as an option and an acceptable means for achieving the political and nationalist ambitions of the Palestinian people is unacceptable. There's no argument about that, except for Iran and Syria. And that we are going to work together to bring about a partner in the Palestinian Authority that can both fulfill the aspirations of the Palestinian people and meet the kind of behavior and principles that the rest of the international community abides by, which a terrorist organization does not.
QUESTION: But 50 million trees (inaudible) I was talking about.
MR. ERELI: Well, as I said, you know, we've been very clear with our partners and others that we're going to work to support, number one, the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people and, number two, the interim government.
QUESTION: On Sudan, Sudan's Foreign Minister --
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry.
MR. ERELI: Still on --
QUESTION: But President Abbas said that by stopping aid to the Palestinian Authority you are -- that Palestinian people are being punished for their free choice. And if no one sends the money to the Palestinian Authority, how are they going to pay for their employees and their people? There would be a financial vacuum there and whoever steps in, why shouldn't it be welcome?
MR. ERELI: Right. Two points to make. One is, again, the United States and the Quartet and the international community have made it clear that whoever governs in the Palestinian Authority, we are going to make sure that the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people are met because, as you say, it's not right to punish a population for political decisions they've made. We're not going to do it. We're clearly going to continue to provide the Palestinian people what they need for their humanitarian requirements.
At the same time, if you've got a government that is pursuing terror and that subscribes to terror as an acceptable policy, then it's, I think, fully understandable that governments are going to make decisions about assistance based on those policies. We do it with a lot of other countries around the world. I mean, we don't give money or assistance or foreign assistance to Syria because they are a state sponsor of terrorism. There are other organizations besides Hamas that we don't -- that are banned from getting support or any kind of assistance from the United States. So that's a political decision related to a political authority.
But we, I think, have been categorical in saying the Palestinian people and the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people are going to be met because we don't want to lose sight of what this is all about. This is all about helping the Palestinian people and we're committed to doing that.
QUESTION: Are you saying if Hamas forms the government and it's a Hamas government, this government, that PA, the Palestinian Authority then will be on the list of just like Syria?
MR. ERELI: What I'm saying is Hamas is a foreign terrorist organization and if -- again, the Palestinian Authority is not a state like Syria, so it's not a state sponsor. But if you've got a terrorist organization that's in a position to receive funds, then we've got to look at what our limitations are in providing funds to an entity that sponsors terror. We're not going to do it. Simple.
QUESTION: Sudan, yeah. Sudan's Foreign Minister said today that he did not want to have UN peacekeepers take over from the African Union or supplement the African Union force and that what he believed was needed was more funds. If the Sudanese do not want to have a -- do not want this mission to be rehatted, then where does that leave you in your bid of the UN to get a UN force in there to try and end the continuing genocide, as you call it, in Darfur?
MR. ERELI: Well, let's look at where we are in this process and see if we can't deal with the statements in a broader context. Basically, what you've seen over the last couple of weeks and even months is a growing international consensus that the status quo in Darfur is untenable and needs to be addressed. I think you have a widespread recognition that what the AU has done, the African Union has done to date is effective and important, but they've reached the full extent of what they can do in terms of stopping the large-scale violence and stabilizing the situation. And that now in order to effectively address the situation, we need to move beyond the original AU mandate into an expanded force with expanded capabilities of which the AU will be a significant and critical part. So there's a growing international consensus on that. You've seen it first and foremost by the Peace and Security Council of the AU, which endorsed in January the principle and the idea of rehatting the AU force as a UN force. You saw it again with statements by the Secretary General saying that this was something that needed to be done. There was a presidential statement at the Security Council on February 3rd, which approved a mission to begin contingency planning for this rehatting.
QUESTION: Yes, but if Sudan --
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. Let me just keep going because you've seen -- we've introduced -- begun circulating elements of a resolution for rehatting on February 13th and I'd expect consultations on those elements to begin on tomorrow, February 23rd.
And finally, the AU is, I think, going to be meeting to consider endorsing a UN force. So all of this points to growing momentum for UN involvement. This is something that Sudan is going to have to consider and have to weigh their choices. Do they seek to stand alone against a strong international consensus to address a problem within their own boarders that they haven't been able to contain and that threatens -- that represents a threat to international peace and security? Or do they, as they have done in the past, quite frankly, in accepting the AU mission, work cooperatively with the international community to help address a problem that is hurting them as much as others.
So again, I think that ultimately the choice is going to be the Government of Sudan's, but it is a choice that we expect as time moves forward they will see in their interest to make in accepting a UN force.
QUESTION: But if Sudan does not agree to a UN force, then there will be no point in sending a UN peacekeeping mission.
MR. ERELI: Again, I think that as events move forward there'll be, again, an ever growing momentum in favor of a UN force and that everybody will see it as in their interest to accept it.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, Adam, one of the possibilities, since the United States is and has been calling it genocide, is there a possibility of invoking that mechanism and actually taking action whether or not the Sudan Government approves of this particular combination or not?
MR. ERELI: I think we've had good conversations with the Secretary General, with the AU, with NATO and with others on the way forward here. We think that the elements of the resolution that we've introduced in the Security Council provide a good basis for going ahead under Chapter 7 and we're, I think -- we're hopeful that we'll be able to get something on that basis and that will be sufficient.
Anything more on this subject? Okay. Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that the State Department Taiwan Desk Officer (inaudible) was sent to Taipei last week to convey the U.S. message directly to President Chen on the --
MR. ERELI: No, I don't -- frankly, I don't have that level of detail of what our diplomatic contacts with officials in Taiwan has been. I can tell you that we have made clear to the -- to officials in Taiwan our longstanding policy regarding cross-Straits issues. You know what that policy is. We are opposed to unilateral changes in the status quo by either side and we believe that direct dialogue between Beijing and Taipei is the best way to address cross-Strait -- resolve questions in cross-Strait relations. This is a message, again, that we continue to deliver to the government of -- or to the officials in Taiwan. But I don't -- you know, I don't have details to share with you about who said what to whom and when. Frankly, it's not -- it's just not something that is that relevant.
QUESTION: And is --
MR. ERELI: Well, she's going to follow up.
QUESTION: Thank you. In spite of all of the communication between the U.S. and Taiwan, it doesn't seem that President Chen has been convinced by the U.S. not to take action would be considered, would be seen as unilateral change the status quo. Just yesterday when he met with some U.S. congressmen, he restated that the Unification Council is all but defunct and should be scrapped long ago. So does this mean it's a done deal? Are you still hoping that Chen may drop his plan? Or are you now thinking about how to respond to his decision?
MR. ERELI: Without getting into specifics on any one proposal or any one idea, we have and we continue to make clear to the authorities in Taipei that we oppose steps by either side that raise tensions or that alter the status quo, and that result -- that relates to ongoing issues as well as previous ones. But I don't have anything specific for you on this latest proposal or this latest idea because this is just a -- you know, I would say it's a debate that -- or it's a position that we reiterate very strenuously and consistently in private, as I'm doing it in public.
QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Zoellick met with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Yang yesterday. Did the subject come up in their meeting?
MR. ERELI: Well, they talked about a number of things. Obviously, they talked about preparations for the visit of Chinese President Hu next -- in April. They talked a lot about economic issues, particularly trade and currency concerns, as well as intellectual property rights and market access. They discussed regional issues such as the six-party talks and Iran. Issues of human rights were raised, particularly religious freedom, internet restrictions and, yeah, the issue of Taiwan was raised and the Deputy Secretary as well as Assistant Secretary Hill reiterated our longstanding positions on that issue in the context of that discussion.
QUESTION: What is your policy on the direct contact between U.S. officials and Taiwanese officials? Do you simply pretend they don't exist?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, why can't you acknowledge the meeting that supposedly took place recently?
MR. ERELI: Well, there are two meetings that are being discussed. One is between an NSC official and officials in Taiwan. I'd leave it to the NSC to talk about. I'm not going to talk about it. As far as this other official, I just don't know. I hadn't heard about it. I can't confirm it because I don't have the facts. But without reference to a specific visit or not or a specific meeting, I can articulate for you what our longstanding policy is and what we tell them whenever we have the opportunity to do so.
QUESTION: That's fine. Does Assistant Secretary Hill have occasional meetings with Taiwanese representatives?
MR. ERELI: Let me check.
QUESTION: There was a story out of Cuba that a boat registered in Florida was stopped by Cuban authorities with a man and woman aboard who were trying to smuggle -- I don't know what, smuggle something -- and the Cuban Government says it's contacted the United States on this issue. Have you heard anything about it?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Okay. Is that something that this building would deal with?
MR. ERELI: Not sure. Pretty sketchy on the facts there.
QUESTION: Yeah. I don't know either. Now the second issue, the newly elected Haitian President says that apparently Aristide can come back?
MR. ERELI: I hadn't heard that.
QUESTION: He says the constitution allows him to come and I wanted to know what the U.S. reaction would be if Aristide did want to come back.
MR. ERELI: I don't -- I don't have a comment on the Haitian constitution. I think the President of Haiti is much more qualified to talk about that than I am. I'm not aware that the Government of Haiti is eager or urging Aristide to come back. Our understanding is the Government of Haiti is looking forward, is not looking back. They've got a democracy to build and the future is not the past. Aristide is from the past. We're looking in the future.
QUESTION: Would you oppose his coming back? Would you be concerned?
MR. ERELI: If we were asked, I think we'd say it's probably not a good idea -- doesn't serve a useful purpose.
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is the United States ready soon to accept North Korean refugees who are sort of hiding out in China? This is under the 2004 North Korea Human Rights Act. I think there was a provision in there -- a line for refugees to come back. Apparently, Jay Lefkowitz has been discussing this so I wondered is the U.S. ready to accept?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Let me look into that and get you an answer.
MR. ERELI: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Mr. Lambros. Yes, Cyprus. On the yesterday's story by the Washington Times regarding Cyprus, the Deputy Assistant Secretary Matt Bryza stated on the record to the Greek Cypriot, reporter Michael (inaudible), "The U.S. is preparing to begin trade with northern Cyprus misleads the reader to expect some sort of new initiative or grand gesture when, in reality, we seem to continue working with the Europeans to get them to implement their commitments on the direct trade." Otherwise it's a distortion of the truth. Do you agree in order to (inaudible) unless if you have to say something additional to this effect?
MR. ERELI: Well, I haven't seen the quote. I obviously endorse whatever Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza says because he's a smart guy and he knows our policy and he's charged with carrying it out, which he does very effectively. The second thing I would say is that there is no change in U.S. policy regarding contacts with the northern part of Cyprus or recognition of entities in Cyprus. So we're working to expand contacts. We have trade with the northern part of Cyprus and that's fully consistent with existing policy and does not imply any change in our recognition policy.
QUESTION: Just one more. Since you told us yesterday, "We are seeking to take measures to ease the economic isolation of that part of the island." Could you please give us an idea how?
MR. ERELI: Oh, we've talked about that extensively.
QUESTION: No, no. I'm saying as far as using airports and the seaports.
MR. ERELI: Well, you know, again I don't have much to add to what was said on that probably about 18 months ago. And again, I'd just refer you to previous statements on that score. I just don't have the details for you right now.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) do you consider, since you are going to have direct trade --
MR. ERELI: We already have it.
MR. ERELI: There's nothing new there.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me just ask you, do you consider those ports, airports and seaports as illegal or legal?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: And what you're saying it's illegal?
MR. ERELI: It's not -- look, Mr. Lambros, it's a semantic question. The point here is that there are contacts and there should be contacts and there should be trade and movement of people and goods between the world and the northern part of Cyprus. And that's something that's important and good for the people of the northern part of Cyprus and that does not imply a change in the recognition of the status of that part of Cyprus or in a deviation from our support for the Annan plan and for a negotiated solution to this conflict on the basis of that plan. And really I think that kind of exhausts the issue.
QUESTION: But the last one. If it is not illegal, then why did your government impose (inaudible) embargo for three years from 1995 --
MR. ERELI: Different issue. Different.
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) occupation in Cyprus.
MR. ERELI: Different issue, please.
QUESTION: Yeah. Adam, we have a report that the U.S. Government has denied a visa to the right-hand man of the new Bolivian President Morales. Do you have anything on that?
MR. ERELI: I have not heard that. I'll see what I can get for you on that.
QUESTION: Adam, a group of more than 80 dissident figures in Ethiopia go on trial tomorrow, accused of some -- maybe some capital offenses. I wonder is this something, a trial, the United States will observe?
MR. ERELI: Oh, yeah. You can bet on it.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay. And Amnesty International says they should really all be released. Is that something you concur with?
MR. ERELI: Well, the United States, since the crackdown in November, I think has been very outspoken in its support for a democracy in Ethiopia, in its support for human rights and its support for the respect of the civil and political rights of the Ethiopian people. We've seen a number of developments which cause us concern. On the one hand, we've seen violent protests by the opposition which we've condemned in which we've said are wrong and shouldn't happen. On the other hand, we've seen actions by the government which are troubling and which we've called on the government to redress, particularly widespread arrests of students, violence against peaceful demonstrators, suppression of the rights of the free media, and specifically with regard to those arrests that we have said three things. One, if you're going to charge them, charge them and proceed to transparent application of justice. That includes giving them a right to counsel and access to lawyers and visits by their family.
Number two, if you're going to -- if you're not going to charge them, release them because there are a lot of people in jail without charge who have been there for a long time in difficult conditions. So if you're not going to charge them, release them.
And number three, respect the political rights and the human rights and civil rights of Ethiopians, particularly with regard to freedom of assembly, with regard to access to the media and with regard to freedom of the media.
So finally, with respect to the specific question about these 80, they fall into the first group. Okay, they've been charged. It's up to the Ethiopian justice to be applied. We call for the application of the rule of law fairly, transparently, with -- you know, with full consideration given to the needs and rights of those who are accused.
QUESTION: The State Department signed off on this port deal that there's a big dispute about. Who did the State Department consult with, which agencies, before signing off on it? Did you speak to various intelligence agencies before signing off on it? How does the procedure work?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, this is -- there's a really long and detailed answer to that which experts at the Department of Homeland Security have spoken to at length in briefings, which Mr. McClellan has spoken to today for probably --
QUESTION: I just wanted to know about the State Department.
MR. ERELI: -- over an hour and which I'll defer to him on because he's much more well read into it than I am.
The State Department participated as a member of this Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. All departments are called upon to bring to the table derogatory information that they may have that would bear on the decisions of the committee. I would say that the deliberations are confidential so there's basically not much I can share with you about what the specific deliberations were. But I think that obviously we have had, you know, whatever relations we have had with the UAE entities and the UAE would have been presented. And as the Secretary has made clear, our relations with the UAE, our experience with the UAE, both as a strategic ally and a partner in the war on terror and counterterrorism, has been excellent.
QUESTION: If I can just follow up on that. Just as another aspect of it, this thing has taken on such a proportion now, especially in the United States. Are you concerned that it's now becoming a public diplomacy issue in terms of people seeing us going through this angst here abroad and having --
MR. ERELI: Well, I haven't seen it take that turn yet.
QUESTION: Is there a fear that it might take that turn?
MR. ERELI: We would hope that the issue -- that this issue could be discussed on the merits of the case and that it's therefore a commercial decision with due consideration given to national security concerns.
QUESTION: When the Taliban was in power --
QUESTION: Can I ask --
QUESTION: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: This is the same issue. Only three countries recognized the Taliban -- that group, the UAE was one of them, didn't this give you pause about the nature of that government?
MR. ERELI: Again, I'm not aware if and in what context that issue came up during the CFIUS deliberations. I would point out that UAE does have and has contributed forces to ISAF in Afghanistan and has been a very large contributor to the rehabilitation of Afghanistan.
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: Who at State Department sits on this committee?
MR. ERELI: Let me get you the right answer on that one.
QUESTION: On human rights.
MR. ERELI: Do we have anything more on this?
QUESTION: On human rights, the last one.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: The well-known Turkish Cypriot reporter, Evren, E-v-r-e-n, Maner, M-a-n-e-r, of the Turkish daily AFRIKA, with capital letters, has been treated systematically by the Turkish occupation army authorities as a terrorist, a tactic which never stopped despite the involvement of the Turkish liberal leader Mehmet Ali Talat who asked those authorities not to do that against the writer. This unacceptable behavior provoked the paper to write in an editorial February 9th, "The arbitrary action by the commander of (inaudible) one more example that the Turkish army in northern in Cyprus does not give a damn even for the civilian administration." Could you please comment in the framework of the freedom of the press, from the human rights point of view, since your government is very concerned and sensitive globally to those reports?
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware of the case and the newspaper has the right to express its opinion. I don't have any basis on which to comment further on it.
QUESTION: As a news item, it's not an editorial, because he has been treated very badly.
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry, I just don't have anything on it for you.
QUESTION: Can you take the question?
MR. ERELI: No, I won't take the question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)