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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing March 31, 2006


Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 31, 2006

INDEX:

IRAN
Earthquake / Secretary's Statement of Condolence / U.S. Offer of
Assistance
Report of Iranian Missile Test Demonstrates Active, Aggressive
Military Plan
No Contact From Iranians Regarding Acceptance of Earthquake Aid
UN Security Council, P5 Discussing Iran / Agree Iran's Behavior
Must Change
IAEA Role Important / Presidential Statement Backs IAEA

BAHRAIN
Statement of Condolences Following Ferry Accident / U.S. Navy
Assistance / American Citizen on Ferry Safe

CHINA
Reports of Concentration Camps and Illegal Organ Harvesting / U.S.
Urges Investigation / Reports Unconfirmed

DEPARTMENT
Visa Requirements Not Contradictory to Welcoming Visitors to U.S.

ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
Restriction of U.S. Officials' Contact with Some Palestinian
Officials / Contact with Abbas and His Offices May Continue
U.S. Will Not Have Contact with Hamas or Hamas-Led Ministry
Agenda of David Welch and Elliott Abrams Visit / Plan Quartet
Meeting in Amman
U.S. Working for Two States, Peace and Security / Process Based on
Shared Values, Fundamental Rights, Non-Violence
U.S. Contact Policy Constraining, but Result of Hamas's Decisions
PLO Representative in Washington does not Report to Foreign
Ministry

AFGHANISTAN
A/S Boucher's Kabul Visit Part of Regional Trip Through South and
Central Asia / Will Discuss Bilateral, Regional Issues

LIBERIA / SIERRA LEONE
U.S. Supports Transfer of Venue of Charles Taylor Court from
Sierra Leone to Hague / Provides more Secure, Stable Environment


TRANSCRIPT:

12:17 p.m. EST


MR. ERELI: Greetings, everyone. Welcome to our last briefing of the week. Let me begin with a couple of statements.

First, a statement from the Secretary regarding the earthquake in Iran; from the Secretary: "I wish to express my sincere condolences to all those who have lost loved ones in today's series of earthquakes that struck Luristan in Iran. Our thoughts and prayers are also with those who are injured and still missing. We wish to support efforts underway to help those suffering as a result of this tragedy. The United States is ready to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people in this time of need."

Second statement is from the Deputy Spokesman and it's on the Bahrain ferry accident. "The United States extends its condolences to the government and people of Bahrain and to the families of all the victims from yesterday's tragic ferry boat accident in Bahrain. The United States Navy has worked closely with the Bahraini Coast Guard in the search and rescue mission and we will continue to do all we can to help. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased and we hope that those injured will have a quick and full recovery."

And that's it for statements, so we can go to your questions.

QUESTION: Any attempt to reach out to the Iranians to tell them of your interest in offering humanitarian assistance?

MR. ERELI: Well, the statement from the Secretary is a pretty public offer of assistance. I expect there could be contacts. We have ways of communicating, should there be interest in taking us up on this offer.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The recent review of Sujiatun concentration camp.

QUESTION: Can we stay on this?

MR. ERELI: Let's stay on this, yeah.

QUESTION: Go ahead, Sylvie.

MR. ERELI: Sylvie?

QUESTION: The Iranians conducted a missile test and I wanted to know if you have any reaction.

MR. ERELI: I've seen -- we've seen, obviously, reports of the test. Don't have any technical details for you. I think it shows that -- demonstrates that Iran has a very active and aggressive military program underway. That includes both, as we've talked about before, efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, as well as delivery systems. I think Iran's military posture, military development effort is of concern to the international community, as evidenced by the kind of consensus you're seeing with regard to their nuclear program, as well as other nonproliferation concerns.

Teri.

QUESTION: Back to the earthquake. So this would -- I mean, I think you've basically answered my question. You haven't heard anything back on Secretary Rice's --

MR. ERELI: Right, not yet.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice made a statement?

MR. ERELI: Uh-uh.

QUESTION: And in --

MR. ERELI: But I would note, just to look at it in past experience, in the Bam earthquake, we were able to work with the Iranian authorities to get help to the people of Iran, so there is a precedent for providing assistance.

QUESTION: But can someone make a call, then? Someone -- yeah, you guys --

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- call directly to them, which you haven't done in this case?

MR. ERELI: Well, I'm just saying that if there's -- if there is interest, there's a way to provide assistance. There's been no contact at -- so far that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: But didn't we -- if you're using the previous case as a precedent, we initiated the call last time. Why aren't you doing that this time?

MR. ERELI: Well, there may be communications in the future. I think let's see where the interest and where the receptivity lies. We're making an offer, I think it's a heartfelt one, that goes out to the people of Iran.

QUESTION: It would just seem that you could follow up with a phone call if it was that serious.

MR. ERELI: Again, not every case is identical. I think the point I'm trying to make is that there are ways and there have been ways in the past to get assistance, should there be agreement to do so.

QUESTION: Okay. And on Bahrain, are there any Americans?

MR. ERELI: No, no Americans. My understanding is there was one American on the ferry, but that American is safe.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you know what the total U.S. Assistance was with Bam? Do you have that available?

MR. ERELI: I'll have to check. It was -- I believe in the -- I'll have to check. It was significant, but I don't have the exact amount.

QUESTION: And are we offering anything specific now? I don't know if the Secretary --

MR. ERELI: It would depend on needs. We haven't gotten to that level of specificity at this point.

Okay. Go to you, sorry.

QUESTION: Okay. I would like to switch the topic a little bit. About the recent revealed Sujiatun concentration camp where it is said thousands of Falun Gong practitioners were killed for their organs, what is the State Department's comment about that?

MR. ERELI: Well, obviously, any such reports are taken very seriously by us. We haven't been able to confirm them. We have contacted the Government of China about them. The Chinese have publicly denied the allegations. We've made the point that a further investigation would be helpful. We urge that it be done. So at this point, they are basically unconfirmed reports and we've raised them and we've urged a full investigation.

QUESTION: Did you suggest any international investigation or a third party --

MR. ERELI: No. We've raised it with the Chinese and urged them to investigate.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Given that Secretary Rice has talked about having a welcoming America and that she also supports reformers in the Middle East, I'm wondering why a second Palestinian official -- not official, but a Palestinian reformer was not able to get a visa to come here to speak?

MR. ERELI: Who are you talking about?

QUESTION: His name is Issam Abu Issa, he's a former chairman of the Palestinian Bank.

MR. ERELI: Right. I'm not familiar with the case. I'll look into it. I frankly, speaking in generalities without respect to the specific case, would take issue with the premise of your question. The fact is we -- America is welcoming -- America does want people to come visit here, does want to engage with our friends and critics abroad, and I think is open to that, whether it be doing it outside our borders or within our borders. That's not to say there aren't requirements by law that our consular officials are obligated to follow by Congressional requirements. So those are designed to protect the United States and to remain consistent with our laws and our national security requirements.

You can have both. You can be both open and safe. And asking visa applicants to go through certain procedures, as we've discussed in many different cases from this podium, is, I think, normal and acceptable and is fully consistent with our desire to be both open and engaging.

QUESTION: And is there any update on the Sourani case? I know he's gotten some sort of meetings with a consular official.

MR. ERELI: I don't have any update to share with you.

Yes.

QUESTION: Adam, a similar visa-style problem. On her trip to England, the Secretary, of course, has been up to Blackburn, but there's a story today that the Hallé Symphony Orchestra from Manchester, England has cancelled their tour here to the United States because it would literally bankrupt them and it would be 45,000 British pounds and it affects over 100 of their symphony orchestra players. Anything you can add to that?

MR. ERELI: I don't know anything about it.

Yes.

QUESTION: I have a question about Hamas. Earlier this week, there was a directive to embassy -- the consular officials in -- sorry, consular general officials, diplomats, but I wondered if the State Department -- Washington State Department has sent any cable out?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. We've advised our mission in Jerusalem, as well as other missions around the world that have dealings with the Palestinian Authority, that there should be no contact between U.S. government officials and PA officials who are the under the authority of the Prime Minister or any other minister in the Hamas-led government. This includes working-level contacts with ministry officials -- or, I'm sorry, this includes working-level officials in those ministries.

We've also told our people that they can have contact with Palestinian Authority President Abbas, officials in the Office of the President, as well as officials in agencies directly under the authority of the Palestinian Authority President. So those instructions have gone out and our officials are acting accordingly.

I would also mention, just as a matter of policy, any Hamas official in any other capacity we're not going to have contact with.

QUESTION: So this is -- this is anyone who was appointed by Hamas; it doesn't necessarily take into consideration whether they were Hamas before the (inaudible) government?

MR. ERELI: If they're working in a Hamas-led ministry, no matter what their affiliation is, we're not going to have contact with them. Now, if they're a -- for instance, a Fattah official who's not in a -- who's a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and is not in the government, we can have contact with them. But if they're in a Hamas-led ministry, which all of them are, we're not going to have contact with them.

QUESTION: Does that mean the Foreign Ministry?

MR. ERELI: Sure. Any more on this?

QUESTION: Is it the conclusion of the review you announced a few days ago?

MR. ERELI: Yes.

QUESTION: This is (inaudible) as a conclusion?

MR. ERELI: This is of the review of contact policy, yes; that Sean was talking about last -- it all runs together --

QUESTION: Wednesday.

MR. ERELI: Earlier.

QUESTION: So that was arrived at today?

MR. ERELI: That message went out yesterday.

QUESTION: The second one that we're talking about?

MR. ERELI: Yes. The one I just talked about.

QUESTION: I have a question about a New York Times --

MR. ERELI: I'm sorry -- we're going to go on this.

QUESTION: What are Welch and Abrams up to?

MR. ERELI: I can tell you what they're not up to. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: No, just kidding. David Welch and Elliott Abrams are in Israel today. They have -- the last two days, they've had meetings with a number of Israeli officials, including the Foreign Minister, Defense Minister and Prime Minister. They've also met with Saab Erekat. They'll be, I expect, meeting with Abu Mazen in the coming days, as well as having a Quartet envoy meeting in Amman this weekend.

They are, in their discussions, frankly, focusing on ways that we can work together to achieve our goals, which is a negotiated solution that creates two states living side by side in peace and security. That remains our -- that remains what we want to accomplish. We've got to deal with a new reality in trying to accomplish that and we're exploring ways that we can work together to achieve our goals. And failing a Hamas decision to renounce terror and accept Israel and to accept agreements previously entered into, how we can work to help the Palestinian people.

Yes.

QUESTION: Adam, on her tour, the Secretary -- it was a pre-planned stop in England and our colleague (inaudible) --

MR. ERELI: You want to stay on Hamas? You want to stay on the visit? Okay.

QUESTION: It is, it is. Anne Gearan has written an article -- some of these leaders have branded Secretary Rice a war criminal and a rights abuser.

MR. ERELI: Yeah, that's crazy.

QUESTION: How do you get this clarified to these so-called militants so that they will listen to what we're trying to convey to them?

MR. ERELI: It doesn't add up, but I'll say that the United States and the other members of the Quartet, as evidenced in their statement yesterday and their statement of January 30th, have, I think, made it clear where they stand on the issue of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

We're firmly in the corner of a negotiated settlement between the two countries and the creation of two viable, secure states that respond to the needs, both in terms of security as well as in terms of national aspirations. That process is based on shared values and fundamental rights: non-violence, peaceful settlement of differences, and respect for freedoms of speech, assembly and all the other fundamental freedoms.

That position, which the PA has, which President Abbas has, which the Quartet has, which the Israelis have, is not shared by Hamas, which continues to advocate a policy of terror. And that's just not the way forward, as I think the Palestinian presidency sees it, as a great majority -- a great part of the Palestinian population sees it, as the PA's neighbors see it, and as the United States and the Quartet sees it.

Yeah.

QUESTION: When Hamas won the election in such great numbers, Secretary Rice said she wanted to find out why the U.S. had -- did not have enough information to have predicted it. Do you think, without having any contact with the ministries and the vast majority of officials in the Palestinian territories, that you were going to have sufficient information to help work on policy, to understand where that government is going? I mean, your low-level contacts won't be there.

MR. ERELI: Well, obviously, it's a constraint, but it's one that is imposed upon us by the decisions of Hamas and we'll have to work within those constraints to try to bring about the outcome that the international community is so desirous of.

QUESTION: And can you lead us through the decision-making process between it being announced that you were going to come up with just, sort of, a reiteration of policy on contact with the Palestinians and 24 hours later, you're there? Was it just mostly wording?

MR. ERELI: I think we were always clear that either we have a consistent policy, which is no contact with members of foreign terrorist organizations and that that policy would continue, but we'd have to look at how it applies to the reality on the ground once Hamas takes office and once they assume responsibility for the organs of government. So matching the broad policy guidelines to the specific case before us, we came up with the instructions which I've just described. I don't see that as a departure from existing policy. It's, rather, applying it to the facts on the ground.

QUESTION: But how is that going to work in practice if you're only talking to the President's office?

MR. ERELI: I'm pretty -- I think it's pretty clear. I don't know how to make it -- how to spell it out for you any more than that.

QUESTION: Well, how is it going to work in practice?

MR. ERELI: It means that --

QUESTION: How are you going to talk about funding and -- when the President's office isn't the one that --

MR. ERELI: Well, we will work -- it's really clear. We will work with individuals and organizations that: a) are not affiliated with Hamas; b) are not part of the cabinet or ministries that come under the authority of Hamas. That leaves room to talk to a lot of people. Obviously, there are a lot of people we can't talk to now. But again, that's a constraint imposed upon us by, unfortunately, decisions of a government that continues to advocate terror.

QUESTION: Adam?

MR. ERELI: Yes.

QUESTION: What do you consider the PA representative in Washington and how do you feel --

MR. ERELI: He is a representative of the PLO. The Palestinian representative in Washington is a representative of the PLO. He does not, in our view, report to the Foreign Ministry. Actually, not in our view; according to the Palestinians, he does not report to the Foreign Ministry. He is the PLO -- head of the PLO representative office in Washington.

Yes.

QUESTION: Another subject? Richard Boucher is in Kabul this weekend. Do you have any detail?

MR. ERELI: Richard Boucher is on a multi-country, multi-day trip to the region. It's one of his initial outings as Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia. He will be visiting the embassies, looking at our programs, and focusing on how he, as Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asia, can move forward in fulfilling the Secretary and President's priorities for that region, both -- especially in Afghanistan, obviously, development of democratic institutions, economic development, drug eradication, coordination between -- very important coordination between the State Department and the military and NATO, in terms of stabilization programs, and in South and Central Asia, looking at the full range of our activities, democratization, economic reform and others.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Yes. Change of subject? The New York Times researcher Zhao Yan, is there any news coming from --

MR. ERELI: Let me see if I've got an update for you on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: I don't have anything right now.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Adam, the United States is onboard with the idea of moving the Charles Taylor trial?

MR. ERELI: Oh, absolutely. Well, it's something that the Special Court has requested. It's something that Liberia supports, that the Dutch have agreed. So now it's really a matter of working the -- I think, the legal issues at the UN. I would expect a resolution to be introduced at the Security Council soon to affect the transfer of the venue of the court -- not the jurisdiction or the court itself, but the venue of the court from Sierra Leone to The Hague. This is, frankly, in the interests of the court and the defendants and those connected with the trial. It provides a more, I think, secure and stable environment than Sierra Leone and it is a move that reinforces, I think, justice, transparency and fairness.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I return to an earlier subject? That's with the Iranians developing this locally-made missile to avoid radar and carrying a warhead. Apparently, the IAEA with Mr. ElBaradei has come out to say, "Well, we can take our time, don't pick on the Iranians." What are your thoughts concerning his particular statement?

MR. ERELI: This is a matter before the Security Council and it's a matter that they have discussed and that our partners in the P5 in Germany discussed yesterday. I think the important point to make on all this is that the international community is, as I said yesterday, united that Iran's behavior is unacceptable and needs to change and is working together to affect that. And the IAEA has an important role in that effort, related to Iran's nuclear programs and in Iran's nuclear safeguards agreements and that's good. The Presidential Statement reaffirmed that role and we -- the purpose of the Presidential Statement was to give the IAEA added force and backing in their efforts to bring about a change in Iranian behavior and we hope they'll do that.

QUESTION: Do you think the test lends urgency to your efforts? Do you expect --

MR. ERELI: Do what?

QUESTION: That missile test lends urgency to your efforts? Is it going to affect it at all?

MR. ERELI: It's -- as I said, it's a reminder of where Iran's intentions lie and I think -- but everybody had a pretty good sense of that beforehand, which is why we got a Presidential Statement by consensus.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:40 p.m.)

DPB #54

Released on March 31, 2006

ENDS


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