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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing March 16, 2006

Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 16, 2006


Iranian Role in Iraq / U.S. Discussions with Iran

UN Security Council Discussions / P5 Discussions and Goals
Iranian Offer to Talk to U.S. on Iran / Nuclear Issue / EU3

General Assembly Vote on Human Rights Council
UN Role in Sudan and Darfur


1:05 p.m. EST

MR. ERELI: Morning, everybody -- afternoon, rather. Welcome back to our second briefing of the day, happy to see you, and we'll go straight to your questions.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to add to what was just said about the proposed talks between Iran and the U.S. on Iraq?

MR. ERELI: I really don't. I think White House Spokesman McClellan has spoken to it. Under Secretary Burns has spoken to it. You know what our position and our policy is, that Ambassador Khalilzad is authorized to speak to Iranians on concerns we have about the activities in Iraq and that remains the case. We've seen comments by the Iranian official today and really, nothing's changed from our point of view.

QUESTION: Is it now clear -- does the Administration see the Iranian offer as one of dealing -- of talking exclusively about Iraq?

MR. ERELI: Well, that's our position and it's --

QUESTION: It's your position.

MR. ERELI: I am not going to speak for the Iranians. We've made it clear that Ambassador Khalilzad is authorized to speak about our concerns regarding Iranian activities in Iraq and to make those concerns known directly to the Iranians and that's what the scope of any discussion or any meeting would be.

QUESTION: Well, here's what puzzles me, all right? The President authorized Khalilzad to approach them in Baghdad to talk about Iraq. And he did and apparently, he didn't get very far. So, if they're now saying, "Let's do it," I don't understand why there isn't some -- and there must be some other issue in the way of preventing you guys from saying that --

MR. ERELI: Well, first of all, you know, all we have here is press reports as stated by Larijani, so let's take it for what it is. If there are -- you know, I'm not going to speculate on next steps or future steps as a result of these comments. I think our position remains what it has been. It's clear. Iran is doing things in Iraq that we don't think are helpful or supportive of Iraq. We -- Ambassador Khalilzad is authorized to raise those matters directly with the Iranians in Iraq. Obviously, it's between -- it's -- the Iraqis are going to be the ones to decide the future of their country and -- but to the extent that we can support them by pushing forward these concerns and raising them with the Iranians, we'll do it.

QUESTION: Last point. Has Khalilzad, do you know, been authorized a new -- to go in and see what it is they really, really are --

MR. ERELI: I don't have anything new to add to what is Khalilzad's standing instructions.


QUESTION: But -- I mean, in terms of -- you know, how does it work -- I mean, you heard the statement. Are you just waiting for the Iranians to come to you now? Are you just going to --

MR. ERELI: No. The modalities of it are taken care of in Baghdad.



MR. ERELI: Sure.

QUESTION: Unrelated version of this, Iran and the UN --

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: What do you expect to happen today or tomorrow when the --

MR. ERELI: Discussions --

QUESTION: -- Security Council formally take it up?

MR. ERELI: Well, the Security Council has -- well, the Security Council has been having discussions about a response to the report of the Director General to the Security Council. And those discussions continue in a variety of forms, both by the Security Council, in the P-5, in informal sessions among other members. So, I think that today, there'll be a continuing -- a continuation of discussions among the P-5.

As Under Secretary Burns said earlier today, we're working it. The international community is clearly concerned. It's clearly a matter before the UN. That is an important development. It signals that the matter has attained a political dimension that goes beyond just the IAEA and we'll coordinate our response in an effective way. That's going to -- that's obviously taken some time. That's to be expected, but it's important and necessary.

QUESTION: Is it --

QUESTION: The P-5 -- you said just the P-5 today? It's my understanding, there'll be -- the whole Security Council will meet informally.

MR. ERELI: Yeah, let me check on the exact details.

MR. CASEY: (Inaudible) they are both informal informals scheduled today, meeting with the entire --

MR. ERELI: Informal informals today.

MR. CASEY: -- (inaudible) in the Council (inaudible).

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: Adam, can you talk about U.S. Ambassador John Bolton's --

QUESTION: Are you going to talk about Iran?

QUESTION: No, no, change of subject.

MR. ERELI: Back on Iran?

QUESTION: I just wanted to verify -- you know, because sometimes things change. The goal remains a presidential statement.

MR. ERELI: The goal remains effective, meaningful, concerted, diplomatic action from the Security Council. I'll leave it at that.

QUESTION: It's a bit of a --

MR. ERELI: We're working -- there's a draft presidential statement out there that the British and French have put forward and that's the basis on which we're discussing.


MR. ERELI: I think the Secretary has said we're confident that at the end of this, there's going to come out -- there are -- going to be a meaningful statement.

QUESTION: Well, is the goal a meaningful statement or is the goal to get Iran to stop its nuclear --

MR. ERELI: Well, out of this -- obviously, out of this session or this stage, the goal is to have a coordinated and concerted action. The broader objective remains the same and -- you know, we view the current deliberations within the context of that broader approach, which is to get Iran to return to negotiations, get Iran to suspend, and ultimately, obtain objective guarantees that Iran is not using its nuclear industry to develop weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: Adam, change of subject. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton has been talking as of late about United Nations Human Rights reforms and --

MR. ERELI: We've all been talking about that.

QUESTION: Right. And also, a new council committee that's been set up. He was on Nightline last night, interviewed by Terry Moran. Do you have any readout on that? And why only the four countries that voted with us against those reform packages?

MR. ERELI: I don't really have a readout of an interview. I think it's self-explanatory. I think that you have, as a matter of public record, Ambassador Bolton's explanation of our position at the General Assembly yesterday and I think he laid out very clearly and very eloquently how we view the new Human Rights Council.

It certainly fell short of what we felt was -- what was required to make the UN body an effective defender and supporter of human rights. That is a key role of the United Nations which we are -- which the United States is committed to, which the United States believes in firmly, and we worked very hard with Secretary General Annan, UN General Assembly President Eliason to -- and other members of the General Assembly to come up with a proposal that met our objectives of credible criteria for membership. We appreciate the work of Eliason and the Secretary General. They worked well with us and, we think, made a good effort. Unfortunately, what came out was just -- didn't meet the standards that we felt were the minimum acceptable, so we voted "no" on that proposal.

Having said that, we reaffirmed our commitment to supporting human rights in the United Nations. We reaffirmed our commitment to working together with like-minded states to help strengthen the Human Rights Council, to see that it is up to the challenge of meeting the -- up to the challenge of meeting the problems posed by serial human rights violators in -- like in Burma and Zimbabwe and other places and we'll continue to do that.

QUESTION: Adam, as an example, yesterday, a Sudo -- S-u-d-o -- NGO offices at three locations were closed in western Darfur. And the human rights commissioner for the Khartoum Government said that they never got the mandate paperwork and the -- obviously, the executive director of Sudo says well, right, close our offices. This is a --

MR. ERELI: I don't know the specifics of this case. Obviously, the activity of human rights organizations and NGOs in Western Darfur is of paramount concern and interest to the United States, as well as to those who care about the welfare of the people of western Darfur, and we engage constantly with the Government of Sudan, with international organizations to ensure an effective and permissive operating environment for NGOs and for relief workers in that part of the country. Not always without difficulty, certainly, but it is a constant effort that we are exerting on their behalf.


QUESTION: Back to Iran. Nick was asked this question, but I thought I'd give it a try with you. (Laughter.)

MR. ERELI: I agree with what Nick said.

QUESTION: Well, I'm just wondering what you make of the timing of Iran's overture to the U.S. today, given the nuclear talks. Is there anything you can expand on, beyond what --

MR. ERELI: Yeah. It's always difficult to define motives of closed regimes and this case is no exception.

QUESTION: Well, -- but do you see this as, like, a pattern of Iran? Do you see that they're looking -- you've said in the past that when it says it wants to have negotiations on the nuclear issue, you said this is just smoke and mirrors, playing for time. Do you think that this overture, in terms of Iraq, is the part and parcel of this --

MR. ERELI: Well, the way we look at this statement, as well as other statements, is the important benchmark for us is actions, rather than rhetoric. And we've made clear, whether it be in the area of terrorism, whether it be in the area of nuclear proliferation, whether it be in the area of repressing the rights of citizens, or whether it be in the area of its actions in Iraq, we've made clear what our concerns are, what are the actions of the Government of Iran that we object to and that we find unhelpful and destabilizing and what we want to see them do.

So it's those -- it's concrete actions that they take in response to those concerns that we're going to judge Iran by, not necessarily calling for talks to address concerns. I mean, we've made very clear at -- on any number of occasions what our concerns are, what the problems are, what they need to do. And we look for actions, whether it be suspending enrichment activity and returning to talks, or whether it be working cooperatively with the Iraqis instead of stoking tensions there.

QUESTION: Every time the subject comes up, that's the answer, you want action. There was some rather well-versed people like Brzezinski, like the former Foreign Minister of Germany. They just don't understand why you can sit at the table with North Korea and you can't sit at the table --

MR. ERELI: Yeah. I think we've been able --

QUESTION: And every time that you're asked, not you only, the Administration is -- why aren't you talking to Iran to try to get -- allay this dangerous situation, you -- people, spokesman and other officials come back and say, "We're looking for action."

MR. ERELI: Well, we also -- we say more than that. I mean, we also say that the issue is not whether Iran talks to the United States, and we do not believe that that's the reason that Iran has unilaterally broken its pledge and broken its commitment to the EU-3. That's -- it's not -- they didn't do that because the United States wouldn't talk to them. They didn't break the seals on Natanz because they're not having talks with the United States. They didn't begin enrichment activity just because the United States won't talk to them. They're doing all this because they have a program and intentions and policies that are threatening to the international community and it's not talks with the United States at this point that's going to change that.

It's concerted international pressure and isolation which, we believe, is the most effective way to move them in the right direction and to get them to change policies and take actions that the international community calls for and that are consistent with their international obligations.

QUESTION: But the Europeans have said in the past that, you know, it's possible that Iran, while engaging in these talks, would see them more serious if the U.S. had some kind of buy-in into them and they might be more likely to come to a deal if the U.S. -- you know, because they're looking for certain things from the United States that they feel they might be able to get into this deal, like security guarantees, things like that. So, I mean, there's already been a kind of acknowledgement that U.S. involvement in those talks as a partner would actually help.

MR. ERELI: No. I don't know what you're talking about. I mean, the fact of the matter is that the EU-3 has a diplomatic process underway with Iran that we support and that Iran has thumbed their nose at. And there's been no suggestion that somehow, if the United States jumped into it, that that would produce the kind of breakthrough or the change in Iranian behavior that we're all looking for. Rather, what's been suggested is that we continue to stick together as a united international front in the face of continued Iranian defiance and intransigence.

Okay. Yes.

QUESTION: Adam, do you have any further explanation of Secretary Rice's comments concerning the -- asking China to explain their military buildup that's --

MR. ERELI: No, I don't have anymore to add to that.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:21 p.m.)

# # #

DPB # 44


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