State Dept. Daily Press Briefing April 3, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
J. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
April 3, 2006
Bombings in Turkey
Harassment of Civil Society Activists in Tunisia
Secretary Rice to Testify Wednesday on U.S.-India Civil Nuclear
Intensive Briefing and Consultation Efforts with the Congress by
Brings Indian Civil Nuclear Facilities under IAEA Safeguards and
Allows Energy Sector to Develop / Consistent with Nonproliferation
Ship Visits by Iranian Naval Cadets into Indian Ports / Not
U.S. Policy Does Not Include Invasion
Reported Missile Test / Program of Development of Weapon Systems
International Community Has Called on Iran to Suspend
Enrichment-Related Activities / Iran Refuses Calls to Return to
U.S. Committed to a Diplomatic Solution
Iranian Government Appreciative of US Offer of Assistance
Following Earthquake / Assistance Not Needed At This Time
Potential Meeting Between Ambassador Khalilzad and Iranian
Officials in Baghdad to Convey U.S. Concerns About Iranian
Activities in Iraq
Need to Create National Unity Government to Address Sectarian
Iraqis to Decide Who Will Head Government
Government of Sudan's Refusal to Allow UN Under Secretary for
Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland to Visit Darfur and Khartoum /
U.S. Will Discuss With Friends to Ensure that People of Darfur Get
U.S. and Turkey Has Shared Interest in Confronting Terrorist
Groups, Including PKK
Nuclear Deal with Australia
1:10 p.m. EDT
MR. ERELI: Hello. Let me begin with two statements, if I may. The first one concerns bombings in Turkey over the weekend. The United States condemns bombings by the Kurdistan Workers Party that killed four people in Istanbul over the weekend. We also regret the loss of life as a result of violent protests by Kurdistan Workers Party sympathizers in southeast Turkey and Istanbul over the last week or so.
Turkey is a valued ally and close friend. We call on all parties to exercise restraint and we reiterate our strong condemnation of all terrorist groups, including the PKK. It's important to condemn this violence and stand against terrorists and their supporters.
The second statement is on the harassment of civil society activists in Tunisia. The United States is concerned about recent reports of harassment of activists in civil society organizations in Tunisia. In particular we're concerned about the situation of political activist Neila Chachour Hachicha and her family. She recently delivered remarks on Al Jazeera and at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington on freedom of the press and the need for democratic reform in Tunisia. Her family has been, we believe, unfairly targeted. Her husband was given a ten-month prison sentence for an eight-year-old real estate transaction. Her car was confiscated. Doctored photographs of a family member have been distributed, and she's been subject to long interrogation.
This comes in addition the ongoing imprisonment of the activist lawyer Mohamed Abbou and continued disruptions of civil society organizations, interference in civil society activities, and recent moves to limit the ability of legal opposition parties to express their views. We encourage the Government of Tunisia to take actions consistent with its declared intentions to engage in democratic reform.
That's it for statements.
QUESTION: May I?
MR. ERELI: Sure.
QUESTION: In the statement that you put out on Friday on this, there was an indication that the U.S. Government had actually spoken to Tunisia.
MR. ERELI: We have spoken to -- about this specific case?
QUESTION: About that case. And what did they say?
MR. ERELI: They took our concerns on board but I don't think there was much of a way in response. Let me see if there's more I can share with you on that.
QUESTION: And is it your feeling that things are getting worse there? Is this --
MR. ERELI: I'd say it's a mixed picture. I mean, it's important to note some steps they've taken, particularly improvements in the conditions of Tunisian prisoners, the recent release of over 1,600 prisoners, and some reduction in the restrictions placed on the Tunisian media. That's on the plus side. But on the negative side, there continue to be harass -- there continues to be harassment of civil society activists and organizations which run contrary to the Tunisian Government's professed policy of openness and tolerance for dissent.
QUESTION: And just one more thing. As you know, she spoke on Al Jazeera after she spoke publicly here in the United States as part of an AEI program. And I wondered, you know, what's your sense -- I mean, here's the United States trying to promote democracy in the Middle East, here she comes to an Arab reformers program in Washington, and then only then does she -- is she subject to harassment back in her own country. So what does that tell you about what Tunisia is saying about U.S. policy?
MR. ERELI: As we indicated in our statement, what we're concerned about is a pattern of activity by the Tunisian authorities against well-intentioned reformers and activists who work within the system peacefully to help improve human rights, advance the cause of democracy and political participation by the citizens of Tunisia. Ms. Hachicha is but the latest in a regular series of actions by the government that seem to -- that are contrary to peaceful democratic development, peaceful citizen involvement in the affairs of the country.
So we view it in the context of that as an overall pattern of activity that is of concern to us. And that's why I think in our statement we put it in that broader context. But clearly, you know, there's a cause and effect that is deeply disturbing: you come, you speak out, you speak out publicly and then you're subject to harassment. That needs to be called. They need to be called out on that, and that's why we're putting out the statement.
QUESTION: Were the 1,600 prisoners political prisoners?
MR. ERELI: I'll have to check to see what their status was.
QUESTION: I thought you might want to handicap a little bit how Congress will respond to your India nuclear policy. The Secretary is due tomorrow, isn't she?
MR. ERELI: I believe she's testifying on Wednesday on the India civ-nuke deal.
QUESTION: Is it Wednesday? Well, maybe we can do a little handicap from you, and ask you a couple of questions.
MR. ERELI: Well, rather than --
QUESTION: You can punt till her testimony.
MR. ERELI: Rather than handicap or speculate, I will tell you that this deal has been the subject, I think, of intensive briefing efforts on the part of the Administration, dating from the framework agreement in July. Under Secretary Burns, Under Secretary Joseph, Assistant Secretary Rademacher, Assistant Secretary Boucher, and other experts from the White House as well have been, I think, beating a well worn path to Capitol Hill over the last several months to explain this deal, to address concerns and, frankly, to build the level of consensus and understanding that we hope will see this bold and positive initiative through to fruition. The Secretary's testimony Wednesday is but the latest in, I think, a fairly intensive effort to work with the members of the Hill, respond to their questions, answer their concerns, and explain why this is a good deal that's in America's interests.
QUESTION: So you said answer their concerns. I mean, this intensive lobbying reflects, doesn't it, some uncertainty, some concern --
MR. ERELI: (Inaudible) intensive lobbying. This intensive program of briefing and consultations reflects, first and foremost, a recognition that Congress has an important and necessary role to play in this initiative. We want to ensure that all their questions are answered and that there is strong support for what the President sees as a major initiative in the area that is both good for nonproliferation and good for the region, good for our partner, and good for American commercial interests as well.
QUESTION: I think you just answered one of my two remaining questions. This contributes to slowing down proliferation. This doesn't --
MR. ERELI: Absolutely.
QUESTION: It doesn't encourage proliferation.
MR. ERELI: It brings --
QUESTION: -- because they come under inspection?
MR. ERELI: It brings Indian civilian facilities under IAEA safeguards, and negotiations or talks with the IAEA is a part of this deal.
QUESTION: One more quick one. How about the notion, tried out in one of the newspapers this morning, that behind this policy is an effort to build up India, albeit a democracy, to build up India as a counterweight to China?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I think that might have been overplayed a bit. The --
QUESTION: It's Monday morning. You've got to. (Laughter.)
MR. ERELI: I think the driving force behind this was to bring a nuclear program under international safeguards and to help develop -- to help India develop its energy sector in a way that was consistent with both nonproliferations concerns as well as contribute to international stability and international investment, and that's a good thing. That is the part of the deal that I would emphasize, rather than a sort of blocking or defensive move against other powers. It was really more how can we move India in the right direction and bring India into -- integrate India more fully into the international energy realm as opposed to sort of geo-strategic maneuvering.
QUESTION: Over the weekend, Venezuela started training civilians to carry and use arms in what's being called as -- a Civilian Territorial Guard that President Chavez is creating to guard against your invasion, or that's what he's saying. Do you have a reaction to that?
MR. ERELI: Not really. I hadn't seen the reports. And you know, our policy is not one of invasion so I think that spreading that kind of rhetoric isn't really helpful.
QUESTION: I wanted to talk about Iran and the torpedo tests over the weekend and today, which follow on the missile tests from last Friday. Can you react to that and do you think that this is showing off a significant new military capability or new military capabilities that Iran has?
MR. ERELI: It certainly is of concern. It is a further reminder of an aggressive program of development of weapons systems and -- development and deployment of weapons systems that many of us see as threatening, I think first and foremost those nations of the Gulf that are most immediately connected to or in most immediate proximity to Iran. The fact that in three days you've had the test of a missile as well as the reported test of a torpedo of new capabilities is -- demonstrates a weaponization program by Iran that does not -- that does nothing to reassure Iran's neighbors or the international community, and when coupled with its support for terror, its clandestine nuclear activity, its repeated failure to respond to the demands of the IAEA and now the Security Council, just goes to show why we're also worried about the policies and actions of the Iranian regime.
QUESTION: It also might go to show that there's a need to negotiate. Hans Blix, who isn't always in agreement with Washington, spoke in Oslo and he said, for one thing, they're five years away from turning out nuclear weapons. It gives you a lot of time to negotiate and that's what you ought to be doing. And he also expressed concern. He said he didn't think the U.S. was about to invade Iran, but he says there's a chance -- his words: The U.S. will use bombs or missiles against several sites in Iran and would increase this would accelerate terrorism.
How about his five -- I know you don't like to estimate -- engage in estimates, but five years is a long time to approach Iran with negotiations. Do you agree with that sort of scenario?
MR. ERELI: Well, you've thrown a lot of things out there.
MR. ERELI: I think that experts can differ about timelines, but what's clear is there is a concerted effort underway, but what's clear to us is there's a concerted effort underway by Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and any time is too soon, as far as we're concerned, which is why our diplomacy is guided by a sense of urgency. The fact of the matter is Iran has broken the seals on its enrichment technology, it is moving forward to develop an enrichment capability which would provide it fissile material for a nuclear weapon, which is a key and some might say critical stage in developing a nuclear weapon. So we've got to act, I think, quickly and unanimously in response to a very real and present danger, and that's why I think you've seen the IAEA speak so -- in such a united fashion in so many Board of Governors resolutions and why the UN Security Council is now -- has now taken up the issue and has in its presidential -- last presidential statement told Iran in no uncertain terms that it needs to suspend this activity and return to negotiations.
Now, you mention the issue about negotiations. Well, it's all well and good, but the fact of the matter is the EU-3 had negotiations with Iran. They walked away. They continue to refuse calls to return to negotiations. So one has to ask oneself: Is the problem the unwillingness of -- is the problem the fact that they're not -- we're not offering Iran enough or Iran isn't even taking what we're offering? I think the answer is the latter.
QUESTION: And the U.S. refuses to participate in the negotiations --
MR. ERELI: No, that's not --
QUESTION: -- even though it participates in similar negotiations with North Korea.
MR. ERELI: U.S. participation in negotiations is not for us or for our partners an issue. The fact of the matter is --
QUESTION: The Germans have said you ought to --
MR. ERELI: No, no, they haven't.
QUESTION: Oh yes, they have.
MR. ERELI: The EU-3 is, I think, comfortable with where things are in the sense that there is a process that has been put in place, and that process should be able to lead to the desired solution, which is objective guarantees that Iran is not using its nuclear program to develop nuclear weapons.
There is not the suggestion that the process is so flawed that the United States needs to jump into it. Rather, I think the issue -- and here again, I think it's very important -- let's put the onus where the onus should be. The reason we're at a standstill is not because the United States isn't in negotiations. The reason we're at a standstill is because Iran, with single-minded purpose, is thumbing its nose at the international community and rejecting the offers of the EU-3 and rejecting the proposals of Russia and moving with apparently great determination to an enrichment capability. So don't try to -- don't suggest that the way to solve this is for the UN -- the U.S. to jump into negotiations. The way to resolve it is to get Iran to cease and desist from its active refusal to be a responsible member of the international community.
QUESTION: I just said -- I just brought it up because there's intransigence, it seems to me, on both sides, not probably equivalent but there is some --
MR. ERELI: Certainly not equivalent --
QUESTION: No. But --
MR. ERELI: And I wouldn't call it intransigence. I would call it multilateral diplomacy with our international partners.
QUESTION: Oh, but a quick one on security assurances. Does security assurances go beyond assurances the U.S. has no intention of invading Iran? Does it go to the kind of things Hans Blix is talking about?
MR. ERELI: The United States has made clear, the Secretary made it clear as recently as yesterday, that we are committed to a diplomatic solution because we believe a diplomatic solution can work.
QUESTION: You know, you referred to Iran as a real and present danger, which sets off bells in my mind. And I wondered if you really meant to go that far, because real and present danger usually is a term that is only used when U.S. officials are looking towards some sort of military action.
MR. ERELI: I didn't mean to suggest that. What I meant to suggest is they are moving forward with an enrichment program that has the potential to give them a breakout capability, which is a -- reaching a stage that everyone would find alarming and threatening. And it's that determination and consistency on the part of Iran that we find so disturbing; that despite every offer and every opportunity to meet the concerns of the international community, they steadfastly refuse to do so and proceed forward in their enrichment program, which can lead to a nuclear weapon and which represents a danger for us.
QUESTION: And to join the two issues: Last week there was a report that the Indians had provided some sophisticated naval training to the Iranians. And it seemed to me a rather curious time for India, which the United States sees as its strategic partner going forward, is giving military advice to a country we're --
MR. ERELI: I think those reports were overwritten. We looked into those and our understanding is that there were two ship visits -- or there were ship visits by two ships with naval cadets from Iran into Indian ports. They were not training programs. They were ship visits with naval cadets. That's a much more limited type of event and doesn't suggest Indian training or Indian contribution to Iranian military capabilities.
QUESTION: You're confident?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: But the timing is still sort of awkward, don't you think, at best? I mean, you're trying to get this deal through Congress and India goes off and --
MR. ERELI: Yeah, there are Iranian naval ships that visit a number of countries with whom we have good and close relations. I don't think that one undercuts the other. I don't think that visits by two Indian naval ships should call into question India's (a) firm commitment to nonproliferation; (b) strong record as a responsible international actor and (c) let's remember, who voted to refer India on the Board of Governors to the -- report India's -- sorry, who voted to report Iran's safeguards agreement violations to the UN Security Council? India. So India has a very responsible record in this regard that I don't think should be doubted.
QUESTION: Adam, another country years ago was developing nuclear capabilities. That was South Africa. And President Abbas has visited Nelson Mandela. And Nelson Mandela, obviously at the time he was Prime Minister of South Africa, initiated a program to have peaceful relations with Israel as well as with the Palestinian Authority. Now because they disarmed, would that be a model with the South Africans talking to the Iranians --
MR. ERELI: No, I think that the way to deal with the Iranians is as I described at length to your colleague.
QUESTION: On Iran?
QUESTION: Sorry. Are you --
QUESTION: Yes, yes.
MR. ERELI: He who speaks loudest gets --
QUESTION: Just on the -- is there any update at all on the direct talks with Iran over Iraq?
MR. ERELI: No, no.
QUESTION: None at all?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Can I segue then to --
MR. ERELI: And again, direct talks makes it sound as if we're negotiating the fate of Iraq. The fact is what these would be, were they to take place, would be Zal [Zalmay] Khalilzad meeting with Iranian officials in Baghdad to convey our concerns about Iranian activities in Iraq. That is, I think, the way to characterize any such potential meeting, the way we did with -- the way Zal did when he was Ambassador in Afghanistan, the way our Ambassador Afghanistan can do, should the need arise, rather than talks because that implies that somehow we are negotiating the future of Iraq, which isn't the case at all.
QUESTION: And can I just segue into Iraq?
QUESTION: No? Okay. Iran?
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Friday, you -- well, Burns called the Ambassador and offered U.S. aid for the earthquake.
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: Did you receive any answer?
MR. ERELI: We did. On Saturday, Ambassador Zarif called Under Secretary Burns. He said -- he read a reply from the Iranian Government, said that they were very appreciative of the offer of assistance and the condolences, but that they did not need the assistance at this time.
QUESTION: But they accepted one assistance from Japan. They requested it, apparently.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. They said they did not need our offer of assistance at this time.
MR. ERELI: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: Back to Iran? The second torpedo.
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Iran has tested a sonar-evading missile yesterday, with hundred meters speed per second. And official Iranian media agency controlled by the regime says that the maneuvers were too slow -- sorry, to show Iran's defensive capabilities. My question is: Is it technically feasible to detect and counter a missile with that speed?
MR. ERELI: I'd ask a defense expert on that, not little old me who knows very little about that sort of stuff.
QUESTION: Can I just follow on that though?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: But along those lines, is the Administration actively trying to ascertain whether Iran does have significant new capabilities or if these really don't expand their arsenal that much?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Well, obviously, we follow Iran's weapons development and deployment very closely -- not only us, but a variety of other nations that have a presence in the Persian Gulf or the Arabian Sea. And it's important to remember that this is, number one, a vital international waterway and, number two, that there are a number of nations that have -- that contribute to multinational forces in the area.
So as I said in response to the earlier question, this reported missile test, or torpedo test, is something that I think we all look at with concern. And we all have a stake in, frankly, a responsible and peaceful Iran, which is why the policies of the present government across the board are so alarming to so many of us.
QUESTION: Regardless of what the actual technical span may be of this missile?
MR. ERELI: Well, I'm not a -- again, I'm not in a position to give you technical details on this latest test. But clearly, it comes in the context of an ongoing and aggressive weapons development program by Iran, whether it be in surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, warhead development, or sea-launch missiles.
MR. ERELI: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: On Sudan. The Sudanese Government has barred today the UN Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland from visiting Darfur. And the same time, the government refused to extend the mandate of a nongovernmental organization, which heads the main refugee camp in Darfur. Do you have any reaction on that?
MR. ERELI: I've seen statements by both the United Nations spokesman and the African Mission -- AU mission in Sudan -- reacting to the Government of Sudan's refusal to allow the Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland to visit Darfur and Khartoum.
We are in contact with or we will be in contact with the UN and with our Embassy and others in Sudan. We view these developments as disturbing -- deeply disturbing, and we view them with serious concern. The fact of the matter is innocent people continue to die in Darfur as a result of violence and as a result of disease and malnourishment that is a consequence of the violence. So there is a crying humanitarian need to address in Darfur, and that's why it's so hard to understand why a government would refuse to allow a senior UN official responsible for providing relief to a region to help its own citizens.
This certainly sends the wrong signal about where the Government of Sudan stands on the issue of humanitarian relief and cooperation with the international community to address the problem of Darfur. It's something we will be discussing with our friends to see what we can do to ensure that the people of Darfur get the assistance they need.
QUESTION: "Our friends," not including the Government of Sudan, , I presume?
MR. ERELI: Well, obviously the Government of Sudan is going to have to play a role since they control access to their territory --
QUESTION: Are they our friends?
MR. ERELI: -- but it certainly would seem to us that if your citizens are dying, you'd want to take steps to help alleviate their suffering.
QUESTION: Well, but how urgently are you addressing this? I mean, Egeland's sitting there trying to get in right now.
MR. ERELI: It's urgent.
QUESTION: Can you update us on calls that may have been made on this?
MR. ERELI: Since I just heard about this report about two hours before coming out here, I don't have any update for calls on . . . you.
QUESTION: But somebody is, you presume?
MR. ERELI: I think that if you look at the intensity with which our senior officials from the President on down have been involved in the situation in Darfur, from promoting peace talks and facilitating peace talks in Abuja to leading the way on international diplomacy to get an African Union mission there to enforce the ceasefire, to leading discussions to getting -- to re-hatting an AU -- the AMIS Mission to a UN force, to pressing the Government of Sudan to let foreign troops in, which they have since there's an AU force there, I think that we've got a very strong and positive record in terms of pushing this issue internationally and with the Government of Sudan.
Have we solved the problem? Have we gotten everything -- gotten the situation to where we want it to be? No. There continues to be violence. There continues to be suffering. There continue to be obstacles erected. But it is something that the senior leadership of this Administration works on every single day and today will be no exception.
QUESTION: Adam, in Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Jack Straw's mission to Baghdad they're talking to settle or to spur the new government of Iraq, obviously, to settle out their political differences. But is there also a contingent that you might be aware of to work with community groups and religious groups at this time to batten down this sectarian violence that's occurring?
MR. ERELI: As the Secretary and Foreign Secretary Straw noted, our message to the government of -- our message to the Iraqi political leadership is let's hurry up and form a government because there's a political vacuum that is necessary to seal in order to address the sectarian violence. Having said that, Iraq's political leadership has, to date, done an admirable job of working with local and community leaders and religious leaders to speak out against sectarianism, to call for calm and to appeal to Iraqis' sense of nation as opposed to sense of community in a bid to restrain the violence. So they are doing their part, but clearly a functioning national unity government that can actively go after those responsible for the violence and those trying to foment the violence would serve all of our interests.
You had a question back here, Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: Sir, can I stay on Iraq?
QUESTION: Mr. Ereli, on Turkey.
MR. ERELI: All right, let's follow up on Iraq and then we'll go to you.
QUESTION: Bearing in mind that one of the stumbling blocks seems to be Prime Minister Jafari, isn't it time to just jettison support for him and just -- because clearly no progress is being made because he refuses to stand down?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, that's a question best put to the Iraqis. It's their government; they'll decide who they want to head it. It's somebody who, under the terms of the constitution, needs to have the support of two-thirds of the assembly, so they've got to find somebody that can -- around which they can unite. They haven't done that yet, because they still -- obviously, because they still don't have a government, and that's what they're trying to do. So who's going to finally be the person to do that? That's something the Iraqis are going to decide.
QUESTION: Mr. Ereli, since according to a series of reports, those bombings activities you mentioned in Turkey earlier are connected with the effort to overthrow the Turkish Government's popular Prime Minister Recep Erdogan in the name of terrorism and they are appointing exactly General Yasar Buyukanit as the dictator-to-be. I'm wondering if you are concerned as the United States about the political stability in Turkey since it's a strong ally, and remain committed, and to the preservation of democracy.
MR. ERELI: Our concern is that a terrorist group is responsible for setting off bombings which kill innocent Turks and that they are inciting violence in different parts of the country in ways that -- in ways that are contrary to Turkish law and to Turkish interests, and we think it's important that that kind of activity stop.
QUESTION: You mentioned that the Kurdish PKKs are responsible for those activities. Last week, however, your General Pace told the Turkish officials in Ankara that the U.S. Government is not in a position to fight PKK because it's a difficult target. Therefore, I'm wondering are you concerned with the Turkish Government to really make those (inaudible) activities and to which extent you are cooperating to this effect?
MR. ERELI: I didn't see General Pace's remarks. I -- your characterization of them strikes me as taking them a bit out of context. The fact is that we and Turkey have a shared interest in confronting terrorist groups of all stripes and including the PKK. We work together in the areas under our control or in areas where we are and where we have influence. We work against the PKK. We work to confront them. So does Turkey. I think we have a shared goal and a shared interest in confronting them and preventing them from sowing the kind of violence and disorder that we see in Turkey right now.
QUESTION: And the last follow-up to this issue. Since the dictator, the Turkish General Yasar Buyukanit is the only person who organized illegally against the constitution of Turkey special paramilitary groups in order to fight PKK activity in southeast of the country, I'm wondering if you are concerned about this, since these illegal groups undermine democracy in Turkey --
MR. ERELI: I don't know anything about that.
QUESTION: China and Australia signed today a nuclear agreement, an agreement obviously U.S. didn't support. Do you have any comment?
MR. ERELI: Well, it's not a question of U.S. supporting or not supporting. This is a deal between Australia and China. I would note that it's subject to an agreement on safeguards, which addresses the issue of how the fuel will be used. I would also note that China is a member of the NPT. So this is an agreement that I think meets every reasonable standard and that's how we see it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)
DPB # 55
Released on April 3, 2006