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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing February 23, 2006


Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 23, 2006

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT
Statement on the Murder of Al-Arabiyya Reporters in Iraq
Statement on the Detention and Harassment of Citizens in Belarus

IRAN
Talks on Russia's Uranium Enrichment Proposal / US Support
Broadening & Strengthening of International Consensus on Iran's
Nuclear Program

NORTH KOREA
Briefing on US Actions Taken in Response to Illicit Financial
Activities / Participants / Briefing to South Korean
Query Regarding Possible Request for Food Contributions
Discussions Regarding a Return to Six-Party Talks
US Consideration of North Korean Nationals for Resettlement

INDIA
Issuance of Visa to Professor Goverdhan Mehta / Process
Under Secretary Burns' Travel / Meetings / Advancement of US-India
Strategic Partnership

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Hearing on Port Transaction / State Department Representatives /
CFIUS Process

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
Funding of a Hamas Government / Query Regarding Possible
Incentives
Need for Negotiated Peace Between Israelis and Palestinians /
Consensus

IRAQ
Political Process, Security, Economic Rebuilding Moving Forward /
Challenges
US Involvement in Coordinated Response to Rebuild Golden Mosque
Using Political Process to Contribute to a Peaceful and Prosperous
Iraq


TRANSCRIPT:

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2006

(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

1:20 p.m. EST

MR. ERELI: Let me begin with two statements that we'll be putting out after the briefing. The first is to express our condolences and sympathy for the families of Al Arabiyya reporter Atwar Bahjat and camera man Adnan Abdullah and their sound man Khalid Muhsen, who were savagely killed in Iraq yesterday. This is a tragedy and a crime. We condemn it absolutely and we praise these brave journalists as well as the many other journalists who have died in the line of duty in Iraq at the hands of terrorists. We should recognize their sacrifice, recognize their dedication and recognize their commitment and let -- not let this act deter us from all of our efforts on behalf of the Iraqi people.

The second statement we'll be putting out is to condemn the Belarusian authorities for the most recent actions that they have taken to detain and harass citizens of that country for exercising their civil and political rights. On February 21st, Belarusian authorities detained the leader and deputy of the civil society group Partnership, they raided its offices and they seized documents and equipments. Actions like this call into question the commitment of the Government of Belarus to conduct upcoming elections freely and fairly and to fulfill their commitments to OSCE standards with regard to democracy and human rights. We call on the Government of Belarus to respect the rights of its citizens and to release those detained and to cease harassing members of political campaigns, civil society groups and NGOs who are seeking to promote democratic elections.

QUESTION: I'd say I'd like to ask you about Iran, the Foreign Minister traveling, I think, in Indonesia said, "We are ready to compromise." And he refers, apparently, to just a few outstanding items to wrap up an enrichment proposal made by Russia that the U.S. kind of supports. Do you want to address that? Do you see something to be optimistic about in dealing with Iran? Have the Russians told you that things are looking up?

MR. ERELI: Obviously, the talks are going on between the Russians and Iranians. I'd leave it to them to describe to you where they are in those discussions. We've made clear our view, which is we support the Russian proposal; it's within the context of the EU diplomacy aimed at getting Iran to re-suspend its enrichment activities and return to negotiations.

The bottom line for all of us is that Iran does not have a fuel cycle capability within Iran. Certainly don't appear to be there yet. There's nothing that Iran has said or done, I think, that gives us any reason to believe that they've made the choice to move in that direction. There are a lot of statements made by different Iranian officials every day that seem to contradict one another. I think all of this will be considered in deliberate fashion by the Board of Governors when they get a comprehensive report from the Director General on March 6th and then we'll look at it in the Security Council.

QUESTION: You say they're not there yet. You mean the whole thing, the whole business about stopping activity?

MR. ERELI: Right, right.

QUESTION: You don't mean the Russian proposal?

MR. ERELI: No, I mean the whole thing. Because we need to look at the Russian proposal within the context of, you know, what our broad objectives are.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, last night at CSIS, Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister, thought that the U.S. -- said he not just thought, he urged the United States to join the talks with the Europeans because they're stalemated now, sidelined with Iran. And Brzezinski, the other speaker, pretty much -- he didn't necessarily say sit down at the table, but joint action is required. Is the -- and Brzezinski used the Korean negotiations as an example that he thought was preferable to having the U.S. thunder and the Europeans' offer, and it just seems to -- they seem to conflict with each other.

Does the U.S. have any -- State Department have any views of whether the U.S. should -- would consider joining talks if they're ever resumed?

MR. ERELI: I think we're comfortable with the approach that we've got now, with close coordination with the EU-3, with the Russians, with the Chinese, with the Indians. I think you've seen over the course of the last several months a broadening and strengthening of the international consensus with regard to Iran's nuclear program and the threat that it poses, and that's a result of consistent and well-thought-out diplomacy on our part and we're comfortable with where we are.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: But you're not saying no?

MR. ERELI: I'm saying we are -- we're comfortable with where we are in the development and maintenance of an international consensus and approach to getting Iran to come into compliance with its international obligations and to provide real assurances to the international community that it's not developing a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: And the U.S. doesn't have to be at the table to further this goal?

MR. ERELI: No, no.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yes, reports about North Korean officials coming over to New York to meet U.S. officials in relation to counterfeiting?

MR. ERELI: As you know, we've had an offer on the table for some time to the North Koreans to come for a briefing on actions that we have taken in response to illicit financial activities. They have agreed to do that and, as a result, there will be technical experts meeting in New York on March 7th to get a briefing from Treasury officials about what steps we've taken, why we're taken them, the laws that pertain, and see if we can't clarify, maybe, some of the questions that North Korea has.

Participating in that -- in those discussions or that briefing will be Treasury Department officials. There will also be representatives from the State Department and the NSC. I think it's important to point out here that this is a briefing on actions taken with regard to illicit financial activities; it's not a discussion of the six-party talks. The forum for that is different and our position on that is well known to you all. We believe that those talks should resume as soon as possible.

QUESTION: It's on March what?

MR. ERELI: On March 7th.

QUESTION: March 7th. And in what way did North Korea -- I mean, did they say why they delayed in coming back to U.S? The offer has been there for about -- near two months.

MR. ERELI: It's been there for a while, yeah. But I can't tell you what's changed in their thinking.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you think their acceptance now is any sort of acknowledgement that they're doing this instead of, thus far, claim that they're not?

MR. ERELI: I don't want to speculate on North Korean motives or about what it might mean. We were pleased to offer the briefing to help clarify questions or address concerns and we certainly hope that it serves that purpose.

QUESTION: So why are they coming to talk about it if they say they're not doing it?

MR. ERELI: Again, you know, I can't speak for the North Korean Government.

QUESTION: On the food issue, I think you may have noticed that North Korea is asking or preparing to ask for food shipments, especially for older people, children. Are the U.S. -- and I don't know what to call it -- our potential donations are still on the shelf, right? So --

MR. ERELI: Yes. The United States, I think, has a strong record of responding to humanitarian needs in North Korea. When the World Food Program makes appeals, we evaluate those appeals on the basis of criteria, of criteria that you call know, what the assessed needs are, what the community needs elsewhere are, and our ability to ensure that the food that we provide is -- gets to who it's designed for. So we've got a good track record, I think, in responding to needs, while at the same time, getting assurances that those responses are being implemented as intended.

There are reports that the WFP and the North Koreans are, again, discussing this issue and possible needs. We'll wait to hear from the WFP and evaluate any possible request on the basis of our criteria.

QUESTION: So you're kind of open-minded and possibly might have another look at --

MR. ERELI: Based on --

QUESTION: -- guidelines.

MR. ERELI: Exactly.

QUESTION: Has there been a lot of contacts -- back on the six-party issue -- recent contacts between the Chinese and the North Koreans? For example, has there been diplomacy going on, perhaps leading up to this North Korean willingness to show up at these talks on Monday?

MR. ERELI: There have been consistent contacts among the various parties of the six-party talks on a return to the talks. As we said yesterday, it came up in discussions with the Vice Foreign Minister and the Deputy Secretary and the Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

As you know, the Assistant Secretary -- Assistant Secretary Hill was in Beijing a couple of weeks ago and met with officials there on this issue. So we've been talking to the different parties about returning to six-party talks. That's one area of activity. I wouldn't link it to this meeting in New York specifically. The meeting in New York, as I said before, was something that was an idea that's out on the table that we've been willing and available to pursue and that has materialized. But again, they're distinct.

QUESTION: Well, I know that, but --

MR. ERELI: You're asking, is the activity out of context. Yeah, all the time.

QUESTION: The North Koreans have made a big deal about these sanctions and there appears to have been a link between the imposition of the sanctions and --

MR. ERELI: They've made a link. We've clearly said there isn't one.

QUESTION: I know. I know, but they seem to have made a link between their willingness to go back to the talks and the imposition of the sanctions.

MR. ERELI: Right.

QUESTION: And so I'm trying to draw a link which you are not willing to do. Okay, I have no question. (Laughter.)

MR. ERELI: Thank you, George.

Yes.

QUESTION: But is it your hope that after these discussions early next month, that the six-party talks will resume and that the North Koreans will drop this -- what's the word -- restriction, I suppose, in the talks beginning?

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: And also if you could answer the question about the refugees that I asked you yesterday, if you have a number?

MR. ERELI: Yes. On the question of, do we hope the talks can resume; yeah, we hope the talks can resume. We hope the talks will resume tomorrow, even before this briefing takes place. And again, you know, our purpose of giving the briefing is to respond to issues and concerns that the North Koreans have raised with regard to our actions taken against Banco Delta Asia.

It's -- if they're making linkages, that's their business. We're not making linkages. We think talks -- we and the other parties, I should stress, think that talks should -- on denuclearizing in the Peninsula, should resume on their own merits, number one, and number two, very importantly, and this is something that's being lost in our discussion -- because that one was agreed -- that is what was agreed to in the meetings in September.

So, you know, let's not lose sight of the fact that there was a statement of principles that everybody agreed to and that statement of principles said our goal is the denuclearization of the Peninsula. And we all agree that we're going to get back to talks quickly. That hasn't happened and that's unfortunate and it shouldn't be delayed and this issue of actions the United States has taken based on its laws with respect to illicit financial activities has nothing to do with six-party talks.

On the --

QUESTION: Refugees.

MR. ERELI: Yeah, on the refugee issues, the procedures to consider a North Korea national for resettlement are the same as the procedures for considering nationals from any other country for resettlement. We are working both internally and with other organizations and governments to establish necessary modalities for doing that kind of processing.

QUESTION: So does that mean that it's going to probably start happening soon?

MR. ERELI: I don't -- I don't know how far along we are in that process.

QUESTION: Can I have just one last one on the counterfeiting talks? Some time ago, South Korea came out and said that it had also looked into this matter and it did not believe North Korea was counterfeiting. Have you reconciled with --

MR. ERELI: We had -- actually -- and this links us back to a question that George raised about diplomacy. We did have a Treasury team in South Korea a couple of weeks ago to brief them on this issue and our information and how we saw the problem, and I think that was a good opportunity to share information, to share assessments and to arrive at a good convergence of views.

QUESTION: So was that the end of it? South Korea was convinced that North Korea was --

MR. ERELI: Well, I won't speak for the South Korean Government. I think we left that visit comfortable that we understand one another.

QUESTION: Well, by deduction, if they didn't change your mind, then a convergence of views would mean you changed theirs?

MR. ERELI: I'd just say it was a good trip, a good exchange of views and we're working on this as partners.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you tell us who is participating for the meeting from the North Korean side?

MR. ERELI: Li Gun. That's my understanding, but obviously, it's up to the North Koreans to sort of confirm --

QUESTION: The U.S. side -- not Chris Hill.

MR. ERELI: No. Not Chris Hill. We'll have somebody from the Department, but not at that level.

QUESTION: And you don't want to name them for --

MR. ERELI: I don't think it's been decided.

QUESTION: Is the Treasury in the lead?

MR. ERELI: Treasury is going to be doing the briefing.

Yeah.

QUESTION: I know you've seen this -- the briefing, that it's sort of different with the six-party talks. But as Secretary Christopher Hill did in Beijing -- he took the opportunity to meet with the North Korean officials while they were visiting in China. I was wondering if, this time, is there any possibility that the U.S. official would --

MR. ERELI: I don't expect that to happen.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. ERELI: I'm sorry, go --

QUESTION: Could you describe what the U.S. thinking was, you know, with regard to the visa that was first denied and then issued to this esteemed Indian scientist that's created a bit of a rhubarb, I guess?

MR. ERELI: Well, just to get the facts straight, Professor Goverdhan Mehta, a prominent and distinguished Indian scientist, applied for a visa and that visa is being issued. It was -- there never was a refusal of a visa. There was information that was needed to process the visa application that we did not receive. Because Professor Mehta is engaged in the sciences and in the kind of research that he -- a specific kind of research, U.S. law requires us, in order to be able to issue a visa, to get some information about his activities and the purposes of his visit and all that sort of stuff. That took some time. And pending the receipt of that information, we weren't in a position, by law, to issue the visa. Once we got the information, we issued the visa.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Nick Burns in Delhi talking about (inaudible)?

QUESTION: Mr. Mehta clearly felt that his visa had been denied.

MR. ERELI: Well, it was not. There was never denial of a visa.

QUESTION: Well, if you -- if he's invited back to the consulate to get an answer and he's not given a visa, isn't that a denial of a visa?

MR. ERELI: No. It's -- he applied for a visa. We need this information. If we have the information, we can process the visa -- the request; if we don't have the information, we can't process it. So we've got it. We'll act on it when we get the information. A refusal is, you applied, we've looked at all the information, and we decided not to issue a visa, but that was never done.

QUESTION: But even in that case, you're allowed to reapply.

MR. ERELI: Yeah, sure. But in this case, there was no reapplication. There was an application. It was -- when we had all the information, the application was reviewed and the decision was made to issue the visa.

QUESTION: Well, what can you say about the perception in India, though, as David mentioned, that it seems to be quite a hot case there with other people who believe that he was initially denied?

MR. ERELI: That's why I think it's important to clarify the facts. The facts are: number one, there was never a denial; number two, there was an application, the application was reviewed, it was held up because we didn't get information we needed. Once we got that information, the visa was issued.

And I think it's also important to point out that that process, the requirement for information and the decision-making once that information is received, is based on U.S. law and it's not discretionary.

QUESTION: Adam, the Embassy issued some sort of a statement of regret, and I wonder what was the regret about?

MR. ERELI: Oh, I did not see the statement. I mean, obviously this is a prominent individual. We don't want to cause anybody inconvenience. We respect the dignity of all those who want to come to the United States and we try to treat people with that respect, regardless of who they are. But, obviously, in the case of a prominent citizen, it certainly is relevant.

So anyway, I think just to clarify it, look, this is a process that applies to everybody. We try to treat everybody fairly. We certainly think we did so in this case, frankly. And we look forward to him having a good trip to the United States. (Laughter.) Because the United States wants to be open and welcoming to all those who wish to come here and we've made every effort in this case to be open, to be welcoming and to deal with Professor Mehta in a respectful and cordial way.

QUESTION: I think you said yesterday the State Department is available to talk to people in Congress about the ports deal, the dispute over Doha -- I mean, Dubai.

MR. ERELI: Yes. In fact, there is a group going to the Hill today.

QUESTION: Oh, there is?

MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you give us some -- put a little flesh on that?

MR. ERELI: I believe Senator Warner is having a hearing today on the deal. There is going to be representatives from a number of government agencies going. Representatives from State Department will include our Under Secretary for Nonproliferation Robert Joseph, and our Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Tony Wayne.

QUESTION: Okay. Gosh, I'm not sure of my facts. I hesitate to ask this question, but the oversight of such deals -- there was a structure already. And if I read the Wall Street Journal correctly today, and maybe I didn't, Secretary Rice is on top of that hierarchy, no?

MR. ERELI: You're talking about the CFIUS process?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. ERELI: I don't think the Secretary -- I think it's probably the Treasury which chairs the process.

QUESTION: Kimmitt says it works just fine.

MR. ERELI: Yes, it does.

QUESTION: It does. So the --

MR. ERELI: I second that.

QUESTION: Well, did the Secretary actually participate in any discussion?

MR. ERELI: No. I don't believe so.

MR. CASEY: We posted a taken question on who represented the State Department --

QUESTION: Oh, I didn't know that. Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: Rice said in a transcript from the road that the process takes about three months. She said she went through the --

MR. ERELI: For questions on the process, the address really is the Treasury Department.

QUESTION: Okay. And this building felt no obligation to notify the higher-ups about the process, I take it, then?

MR. ERELI: The process, as far as my understanding, is it worked as it was intended to work.

Yes, Jonathan.

QUESTION: Sorry. Nick Burns in New Delhi.

MR. ERELI: Ah, yes.

QUESTION: I think he --

MR. ERELI: Under Secretary Burns.

QUESTION: -- but saying there's still 10 percent or something to be agreed. Is that 10 percent -- is that sort of the remaining deal, nuclear deal, outstanding issues, focusing on the separation?

MR. ERELI: Under Secretary Burns, as you said, is in India for discussions to advance the strategic partnership between our two countries. He's been meeting with Foreign Secretary Saran and other senior government leaders to discuss not only the partnership but obviously the President's visit and the implementation of initiatives agreed to in our joint statement of July 18th.

Obviously, a particular focus is on civil nuclear energy cooperation. I don't have a detailed readout to give you on his talks. He has made the point that we've made significant progress but in many negotiations at this level and of this complexity the last part of the road the most challenging. And so there's no progress, they're not there yet. Agreement is obviously important to us and we will do everything we can to facilitate an agreement. But as Nick said, not at any cost.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Adam, change of subject. Secretary Rice met in Egypt and then in Saudi Arabia in her talks and both countries say that they will finance Hamas government in Palestinian areas. Now, you mentioned a day ago that for humanitarian needs that's fine and good, and Iran obviously has come out and say they will finance maybe above and beyond, meaning they'll also finance the terrorism. Do you have any comments?

MR. ERELI: I think we've been over this ground pretty thoroughly on the Iran part of it. We talked about it yesterday extensively, as did the Secretary. On her meetings with the Egyptian and Saudi officials she's spoken to it extensively. I think that, frankly, there is a convergence of views and a strong consensus that what's needed is a negotiated peace between the Israelis and Palestinians and that that's what we all want to see, and that to have a negotiated peace Hamas needs to make a choice. And we're all going to work together to get them to make the right choice. And I think there's broad agreement on that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Change of subject? Iraq?

MR. ERELI: Wait.

QUESTION: In view of these views from the Islamic and Arab world and the call by the Iranians to give money to Hamas and also the Egyptian rejection on this, Arabic rejection --

MR. ERELI: I don't -- anyway, I'll -- go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: I'd dispute your characterization of others, but I'll let you ask your question.

QUESTION: Is U.S. willing to reconsider its position and maybe offer incentives to Hamas to do whatever is needed?

MR. ERELI: It's not a --

QUESTION: Instead of threatening.

MR. ERELI: It's not a question of incentives. This is not a bargaining session. One should not be provided incentives to recognize another country's right to exist and to stop blowing up innocent civilians. That's an accepted norm of civilized behavior.

QUESTION: And if they stop?

MR. ERELI: Hamas? Yeah. They've not renounced violence.

QUESTION: What about the old theory: Don't watch what we say, watch what we do?

MR. ERELI: Well, there's another theory -- there's another theory --

QUESTION: Brzezinski last night says you can't isolate them and watch what they do and don't go on what they've said.

MR. ERELI: There's another theory that says you can't push the pause button on terror.

QUESTION: Who said that? I heard that the other day.

MR. ERELI: That was one of our brighter lights in the State Department. Assistant Secretary David Welch said that.

QUESTION: Will you call on Israel to stop killing the leaders of Hamas maybe as a (inaudible)?

MR. ERELI: I think our policy on targeted assassinations is clear.

QUESTION: You are holding to the -- and Mr. Fischer agreed with your policy last night. You're holding to the three -- to the magic words? They have to say those three things? The three things are --

MR. ERELI: That's -- that was absolute. There's no -- I don't think there's any reason to question the firmness of that position.

QUESTION: And you think Egypt and Saudi Arabia are with you on this?

MR. ERELI: Oh, absolutely. Are Egypt and Saudi Arabia with us on the position that to have peace with Israel you need to be a reliable negotiating partner, you need to have a negotiated solution on the basis of accepted international agreements, that you cannot practice terror and violence? Yeah, absolutely.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they're not with you on --

QUESTION: On the financial.

MR. ERELI: You know, I think that -- I think that as the Secretary said, you know, modalities are one thing; strategy and goals are another thing; and the strategy and goals are clear. And, frankly, the issue is not what kind of -- you know, what kind of contacts you have, but the issue is what are you working to get Hamas to do. And we're all working to get Hamas to do the same thing.

QUESTION: On Iraq, unless there's anything else.

The sectarian violence seems to be increasing in Iraq and the talks to form the new government seem to be collapsing. The U.S. has put a lot of its stock in a new government being formed and everything moving along nicely and then the gradual sort of withdrawal of U.S. troops, the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops. Where does this new upsurge in violence put U.S. policy in Iraq and what are you planning to do? How are you planning to turn the corner here and help the Iraqi people to move away from that?

MR. ERELI: Well, the fundamentals are the same, frankly. What are those fundamentals? A political process that's moving forward. And that continues to be the case. You've got record turnout in the elections in December. You've got negotiations. You've got the results that were declared final maybe ten days ago. You've got negotiations to form a government based on national unity.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. ERELI: They've paused for a day. So what are you saying? That because they pause for a day or because they're not going today the way they were yesterday, that the whole system has collapsed? I mean, come on, let's not blow this out of proportion. It's not a straight line with the same amount of movement every single day. It is a path with twists and turns. We all know that and that's always been the case. So one should not conclude that because there is a pause one day that the whole political process is collapsing. That is just an exaggeration that is not substantiated by the facts.

The facts are that this is a broad-based constitutional dynamic that is going to move forward and that is going to have challenges and that is going to -- there are going to be deviations and, as I said, twists and turns. But it's going forward and I don't think that everything you've seen from the Iraqi leadership suggests that they are abandoning this process. That's point one on the political side.

Point two, on the security side, again, as I said yesterday, this bombing, the bombing of the Samarra mosques, is a reminder that there are those out there that are trying to derail the political process and sow sectarian strife in order to plunge Iraq into chaos and frustrate the democratic development of that country. They've been at it for a number of years. Although the bombing was unprecedented in its, I think, boldness and depravity because of the religious significance of the site, it was not new in its character, in a sense that you've got religious targets -- there have been religious targets that have been deliberately chosen in order to provoke the kind of chaos that would harm Iraqis.

And I think what you've seen is remarkable restraint, given the provocation of the bombing in the wake of this attack. You've seen it in, number one, statements by all of Iraq's political and religious leaders of all confessions saying this bombing was a crime and that even though all Iraqis are deeply offended by it, they should not practice violence and they should remain calm and they should work through the leaderships and the political process to address their grievances.

And number two, the reaction. Yes, there have been some incidents of violence.

QUESTION: A lot of incidents.

MR. ERELI: I would dispute that. There have been incidents of violence. There has not been the kind of widespread unrest that many people feared, and I think that is a result of the leadership, the vision, and the courage of Iraq's political and religious authorities.

And on the security side, I think you've seen a very vigorous response from Iraqi security forces: declaring a curfew, imposing the kind of limitations designed to -- restrictions designed to maintain calm. And this is an outgrowth of, I think, a longstanding policy on behalf of the Iraqis and the coalition to develop Iraqi capabilities, to develop Iraqi security forces so that they can be capable of dealing with situations like this that we know are going to happen.

So rather than see a collapse or a setback, I think in some ways, you can see an affirmation that the approach we've been taking has worked. You've got political leadership acting together on behalf of the common good and you've got security forces demonstrating a capability and a responsibility as a national entity that we've been working to develop and that has now been put to the test and I think is proving successful.

And finally, the third element of our policy which -- of our fundamental approach is the economic rebuilding of Iraq. That continues to move forward and this incident doesn't attenuate that in any respect.

QUESTION: The problem is that positive approach or positive statement you just made doesn't square very well -- obviously, we weren't there, we just read about it -- with what the Ambassador is saying. The Ambassador the other day spoke with great exasperation, almost threatening if they don't end the sectarian violence, maybe the United States can't -- the U.S. can't want, you know, a political outcome more than the Iraqi people themselves.

MR. ERELI: Yes, yes, yes.

QUESTION: Well, you think he's just the other side of the same coin?

MR. ERELI: No, I think that we're all saying the same thing.

QUESTION: You do?

MR. ERELI: Which is that the future of Iraq lies in national unity and which lies in a government and a leadership that puts national interests first, confessional or tribal interests second, and that if you have a government that -- whose loyalty is to one group or another group, then that doesn't serve the national interest.

And what we've seen in the response, I think, to this blatant attempt to exacerbate these sectarian differences is an affirmation of what Ambassador Khalilzad is saying and Ambassador -- and a validation of what all of us are saying, is that put your countrymen and the welfare of your countrymen first, not on the basis of whether they're Sunni or Shia, but rather on the basis of whether they are Iraqis and your fellow citizens and people who you have to live side by side with every day.

QUESTION: Adam, you said the economic rebuilding of Iraq was moving ahead well, but on the key indicators --

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- like electricity, water and oil, they're all below prewar levels.

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: I know that it's the capacity, as the Secretary pointed out --

MR. ERELI: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: The capacity for it to be better because you've improved, you know, electricity generating plants, et cetera. But on all those indicators, it's worse than before.

MR. ERELI: Yeah, and on other --

QUESTION: So how can you say that the economic sort of rebuilding is improving? Because it's really not.

MR. ERELI: Well, look, I'm not in a position to give you a full briefing on the economic picture in Iraq. Clearly, there are challenges and there remain challenges in terms of infrastructure and in terms of public services, and that is something that, frankly, we're working hard on and the Iraqis are working hard on and more needs to be done. There are a lot of other indicators that I think are very positive both in terms of, you know, new businesses starting, a stock market, entrepreneurship, private sector development.

So I can't give you a comprehensive picture of the economy, but what I can tell you -- and this is what I was trying -- the point I was trying to make earlier -- is that the fundamentals are there and you're -- and to those who would see in this bombing and the response a mortal challenge to the forward progress of Iraq, I would say you are not seeing the big picture and you're ignoring some very important positive indicators that come out of this terrible crime.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice did not challenge this description given -- I mean, she was before the Budget Committee last week. In only one category are things better than they were before the war. But she gave reasons, I mean things that she thought were reasons, and one is that people have made pledges of assistance, countries have, that they haven't come through with.

MR. ERELI: No.

QUESTION: It's been a long time since -- as far as I know, since anyone asked or since I saw anything on who are the deadbeats, Tom Lantos' (inaudible) description. Who are the deadbeats? The Secretary's just been in the Gulf region. There's rich folks down there. Can you give us an idea of how much in outstanding -- how many -- the amount of the pledges that haven't been fulfilled and whether, indeed, she pushed for that since she said it was a big issue? And did she make any headway? Because traditionally, you get big promises at these conferences and then the checks don't get written.

MR. ERELI: I'll see if I can get you an answer on it. On this trip, obviously, she's going to one Gulf country, the UAE. I think the UAE has been very forthcoming in assistance to Iraq. But as far as the comprehensive list on who's done what and where everybody is, I'll see what I can get for you.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR. ERELI: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. doing to help rebuild the mosque?

MR. ERELI: We're, first and foremost, working with Muslim authorities to see what they need, what we can help provide. And I think a lot of what we're doing is also trying to work with faith-based organizations to coordinate a response and to provide assistance in a meaningful and appropriate way. But what exactly that means will be is, I think, the outcome of consultations with faith-based groups.

Yes.

QUESTION: Adam, what is the Iraqi view, as well as our view, about the firebrand of religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr who caused all this trouble both in Fallujah and also in Najaf earlier? Apparently, he's looking for political power or say-so. How do you derail his violence and his --

MR. ERELI: You know, I don't want to speak to any one political group or tendency in Iraq. Our view is that if you want to contribute to a peaceful and prosperous future of Iraq, the way to do that is through the political process. Muqtada al-Sadr and his group has stood for election, has been elected to parliament. They're working within the political process and it's important that as they seek to advance their agenda, like all Iraqis, political parties and citizens, they work peacefully through that process and play by the same rules as everybody else.

QUESTION: Do you view that as a radical agenda?

MR. ERELI: I don't have a comment on their political program specifically.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)

DPB # 30

Released on February 23, 2006

ENDS


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