State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for October 25
Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
October 25, 2004
- Death of Edward J. Seitz
- Query on who will Lead Investigation into Edward Seitz's Death
- Security of State Department Employees in Iraq
- Missing Explosives / Timeline / Procedures / Circumstances
- Query on When State Department Notified Other Agencies About Missing Explosives
- Negotiations in Nigeria on Darfur / Humanitarian and Security Protocol
- Comment on Presidential Election Results / Electoral Process
- U.S. View of Election Campaigning / Election Benchmarks
- Comment on Elections / Results / Kosovo Serbs
- Deputy Secretary Armitage's Meeting With Deputy President of Iraq
- U.S. View of Macedonia as Coalition Partner / Comment on Murder of Three Macedonian Citizens in Iraq
- Sharon's Plan to Withdraw from Gaza and Settlements in West Bank
- U.S. Policy on Taiwan Status
- U.S. Policy Towards International Criminal Tribunal
- Trials of Those Accused in Connection with Violent Demonstrations in October
1:25 p.m. EDT
MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everyone. I'd like to begin today's briefing with a word of sorrow and condolence and grief for the loss of our regional security officer and diplomatic security agent Ed Seitz. As you know, the Secretary put out a statement yesterday on the death of Ed in Baghdad yesterday. I just wanted to take this opportunity to add the feelings of all of Ed's colleagues in the Department of State.
For us, it's a tragic loss. There are many who are bravely sacrificing in Iraq. Ed was one of our own. We take this loss very personally. Assistant Secretary Taylor and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Morton of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security are at Dover Air Force Base today to meet -- to greet the body of Ed, on its arrival in the United States. They, along with a number of other diplomatic security agents, will be processing that; and then we have three diplomatic security agents in Detroit with the family of Ed Seitz to help support them and assist them in this difficult time.
So our thoughts and feelings go out to Ed and are with all our brave colleagues who continue to serve in Baghdad in support of a free Iraq and in support of a better future for the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: The Foreign Service Union, which has campaigned in the past -- I don't know to what extent -- they say there has been some progress for better security. They say security is not good enough for American diplomats in Iraq and that it should be improved. Does the State Department have a response to that?
MR. ERELI: From the State Department, the security and safety of our brave and loyal employees is our utmost concern and top priority. We spare no effort to provide them the security they need, to ensure that they're working in as safe an environment as possible, with the recognition that this is dangerous business.
We are on the front lines of freedom with our military colleagues, and as well as the civilian contractors. We're all in this together. We're all working for a common goal and a common cause, and we're all trying to -- and we're all doing everything we can to ensure that our colleagues come back safely. But to suggest that somehow we're laying down on the job on security, I think is unfair.
QUESTION: I don't think they're suggesting you're laying down, which goes to motives and bad attitude and all of that. They're not saying that. They're saying you ought to improve security for American diplomats over there, and that you have made some headway, and much more is needed. Do you agree that much more needed? You say it's our highest priority, your highest priority, but is something being done to make security even more effective?
MR. ERELI: Security is a constant -- is an issue that we look at constantly, and we are always examining what the protective measures in place are, analyzing what the weak points are, looking for ways to tighten things up, both in terms of procedures, in terms of access, in terms of personal activities that individuals can do, equipment. I mean, it's something that, not only in Baghdad but really around the world, we look at all the time. And in fact, that's one of the things that regional security officers such as Ed Seitz do. That's one of their primary missions, which is to analyze threats, look at the vulnerabilities of our facility and people and respond to those threats to protect the people.
That's what our people are doing all over the world, our regional security officers are doing all over the world. It's certainly the case in Baghdad where I think everybody's aware of the heightened threat environment. It's something that is under active review and active countermeasures every single day.
QUESTION: Yeah, still on this. I see that you've posted on the website the Secretary's comments from a couple of hours ago, a few hours ago. But Mr. Seitz died more than 30 hours ago and there's nothing about him on the website. Are you planning to post something on it?
MR. ERELI: I think we've put the Secretary's statement out. The Secretary spoke about it in his interview with Mike Chinoy. We have information available for those of you who are -- who would like to know more about Ed Seitz. Whether we put it out in the form of a public announcement, I don't know that we've decided that's the appropriate thing to do.
QUESTION: Are the Iraqis going to be leading the investigation into Mr. Seitz's death, or is this going to be a joint effort with American authorities?
MR. ERELI: The circumstances of death, again, not something that I'm in a position to go into now, but it clearly is something that both the Iraqis and us and, I think, MNFI will be involved in.
QUESTION: When -- if we could switch topics -- when was the U.S. Government informed of the missing explosives in Iraq at Al-Qaqaa, if that is how it is pronounced?
MR. ERELI: The timeline is that the Iraqi Interim Government told the International Atomic Energy Agency on October 10th that approximately 350 tons of high explosives were missing at the facility.
The International Atomic Energy Agency informed the U.S. Government about this on October 15th, in the form of a letter to our mission in Vienna, I believe. Upon receiving this letter, the U.S. Government, through the Pentagon, ordered the multinational force in Iraq and the Iraq Survey Group to look into the matter and investigate what was alleged to be missing and the possible circumstances for it going missing.
So, at the current time, the circumstances of this, of where these explosives are and what happened to them, is something that is under investigation by MNFI, by the Iraq Survey Group, pursuant to being notified by the Interim Iraqi Government.
QUESTION: So you're essentially --
QUESTION: The U.S. knew about it? Is IAEA telling you October 15th?
QUESTION: October 7th?
MR. ERELI: That's --
QUESTION: October 15th, you're right.
MR. ERELI: October 15th.
QUESTION: The Iraqi Interim Government, your fellow -- your comrades, didn't feel they ought to tell the U.S. Government about this?
MR. ERELI: That's when we became aware. And this is the proper reporting procedures because, remember, the explosives were under IAEA seal, so they were accountable to the IAEA. So it's -- I mean, it's the appropriate procedure when you find something under IAEA seal missing to inform the IAEA. And that is the first that we knew that this material under IAEA seal was not where it was supposed to be.
QUESTION: You state that the material was under IAEA seal, but following the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Saddam Hussein government, you do accept the proposition that it was the responsibility of the U.S. Government as the occupying power in Iraq, as defined by the United Nations, to secure such weaponry?
MR. ERELI: We, from the very beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, did everything we could to secure arms caches throughout the country. But given the number of arms and the number of caches and the extent of militarization of Iraq, it was impossible to provide a hundred percent security for a hundred percent of the sites, quite frankly. We did, in the period immediately during -- during and immediately after Operation Iraqi Freedom spent time at the -- in the area around where this facility is.
And I would remind you that this is a huge complex where these 350 tons were found, and coalition forces did search 32 of the -- 32 bunkers and 87 other buildings at the facilities. They were looking for weapons of mass destruction at the time. There was some looting reported. Some explosive material at the time was discovered, although none of it carried IAEA seals and this discovery was reported to coalition forces for removal of the material.
Again, just to put things in perspective, and this is something that is included in the Duelfer report, as of mid-September 2004, coalition forces had reviewed and cleared a total of 10,033 caches, weapons caches throughout Iraq, destroying a total of 243,000 tons of munitions. There are an additional 162,898 tons of munitions that are consolidated at secure locations and awaiting destruction.
So, to summarize, we are aware of the facility. We inspected the facility or looked at the facility pretty thoroughly immediately after Iraqi Freedom. We did not find any explosives under seal. We did find some explosives that were consolidated. We did not find any WMD. We first learned about this particular -- the absence of these particular explosives on October 15th and we are actively engaged in trying to determine the circumstances for their disappearance.
QUESTION: So you have no idea whether any of the allegedly missing explosives were, in fact, even there immediately after the U.S. invasion?
MR. ERELI: That is an open question.
Yes, I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Adam, sorry. One last thing, just to go back to my original question. Even though, as you describe it, there were arms caches all around the country. It's not like these -- I mean, this was a site that was known to you, known to the IAEA, obviously. As a general proposition, does the U.S. Government believe that it was its -- it was, indeed, its responsibility to secure such known sites with conventional weaponry?
MR. ERELI: The priority -- and again, I would really refer you to the military for this because it's -- we're getting into operations and military planning. But clearly, the securing and disposal of the most dangerous elements of Saddam Hussein's arsenal was a top priority. Where this site fit on the priority list, I couldn't tell you, but it is fair to assume that securing Saddam Hussein's most lethal weapons and the most lethal parts of his arsenal, identifying and securing and disposing of them was a top priority.
QUESTION: Just -- the reason I didn't use the qualifier "most lethal" in the way that you did, because the ones that you thought were the most lethal you haven't found any of, was just that if you had a known site, it just seems to me hard to imagine why you can't say, yeah, we thought that if there were large known sites of conventional weaponry, we ought to secure them. I mean, I don't know why you can't just say that.
MR. ERELI: Because these sites, as I said, were, I think -- first of all, we tried to secure this site. This was an important site. We inspected it. We looked through it for the most dangerous kinds of weapons. And, as I said before, we reported what we found. But, again, to say where coalition forces went, what was on the priority list, and what actions they took, I think those kinds of specific questions are best addressed to DOD.
QUESTION: One more thing. You again used a qualifier, "most dangerous kinds of weapons." When you went through there, were you looking for conventional weaponry? I know you found --
MR. ERELI: We were looking for WMD.
QUESTION: And so, but I don't understand why the location of and securing of conventional weaponry would not have been a high priority for you. I'm not talking about the most lethal. I'm talking about conventional weaponry that can be used to blow up U.S. soldiers, Iraqi civilians, and so forth.
MR. ERELI: It was a priority. It was a priority. There was a lot of weapons, and we were doing -- we were doing what we could to secure them and to prevent the most dangerous weapons from falling into the wrong hands. This is, as I would -- again, putting it in perspective -- this is 350 tons from a total of over almost 400,000 tons that has - is unaccounted for.* It's important, it's significant, but let's put it in the proper perspective.
QUESTION: Adam, the mission in Vienna reports to the State Department. Do you know when the State Department notified other agencies in Washington about this?
MR. ERELI: Immediately.
QUESTION: Can you briefly state about the five-day delay between when the IAEA was told by the Iraqi Interim Government and when they got around to telling you?
MR. ERELI: No, not -- I mean, that's not -- I don't think there is anything untoward in that.
QUESTION: Just for the heck of it, when you say coalition forces, which, you know, is obviously technically true, do you happen to know if this was -- if these were U.S. forces?
MR. ERELI: I don't know that.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, it's usually by -- and of course, it would be -- the answer might lie in where or what zone.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, this facility is near Baghdad. So I'm, you know, I'm --
QUESTION: So it could point to the Americans?
MR. ERELI: I would -- I'm tempted to say "I presume," but I don't want to presume since --
QUESTION: All right.
MR. ERELI: Since I don't know.
QUESTION: I've got a question concerning Darfur and the negotiations concerning that in Nigeria. Apparently, the Sudanese Government has met with the rebels today to try and break this deadlock. And suddenly, over the last month or so, they have been on a hiatus, and there have been complaints by the rebel negotiators that they were spread and left stranded. And that's why they couldn't get to the meetings over a month ago, and hence, that's why the postponement.
Now, apparently, Mr. Solana was in Khartoum and met with Foreign Minister Ismail, and the rebel Hussein of the SLA insists on a wide security agreement before signing the humanitarian agreement. And of course, UN Jan Pronk is also working with the refugees, as well as the Khartoum Government. Do you see any headway?
MR. ERELI: Yes, we do see headway. As you suggest, or as you stated, the Darfur peace talks which are sponsored by the African Union, resumed today in Abuja, Nigeria. They had been adjourned on September 17th. When they were adjourned, the parties had agreed to a humanitarian protocol but had not yet signed it. We expect that the first order of business will be to sign that humanitarian protocol and as well to finalize and sign a security protocol. That's what the parties are there for. They made progress in their last round of negotiations. Now we look to them to cement that progress and to move on to the additional issues, such as the security protocol, which need to be done.
I would also note that we have a senior observer from the African Affairs Bureau attending the talks. The EU, for their part, has announced a pledge of $100 million to help support the enlarged African Union mission, which should be arriving in Sudan shortly. As you'll recall, that's the 3500-member observer and protection force that the Security Council called for and the African Union endorsed last week. We commend the European Union for this pledge. We also commend Australia, Canada, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom for their assistance in launching the expanded African Union mission quickly.
QUESTION: Can you give us the U.S. observer's name?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, his name is Bruce Ehrnman.
MR. ERELI: E-h-r-n-m-a-n.
MR. ERELI: N-m-a-n.
QUESTION: Different topic? The President of Tunisia yesterday --
QUESTION: No, are you still on this subject?
QUESTION: No, something different.
QUESTION: On this subject, the government has demanded the rebels disarm as the first order of business. Does that make sense? Doesn't make sense to them.
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I'm not going to negotiate -- or I'm not going to conduct the peace negotiations or the -- from here. This is something that -- the proper form for these kinds of discussions and hashing out of differences is in Abuja between the parties with the help of the African Union and the support of all of us who want to see an end to this conflict. These will be issues that, I think, form the basis for discussions on the security protocol. I will leave it to them to sort of hash it out.
QUESTION: Yeah. So, there was a presidential election yesterday in Tunisia. President Ben Ali was reelected with 94.48 percent of the vote, slightly less than last time.
MR. ERELI: I have 94.49.
QUESTION: I have 94.48.
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: Last time, five years ago, it was 99.4 -- 44.
MR. ERELI: Okay. My guidance says 94.49.
QUESTION: So it's slightly less than the previous time. Do you have any comments on this election, which is qualified as credible by the Arab League?
MR. ERELI: Right. We would note, as that the results indicate that President Ben Ali was elected to a fourth term with 94.9 percent of the vote. There are questions about the degree to which these elections were fully contested. We would note that the capacity of non-incumbents to compete meaningfully in elections is an important indicator of the strength of democratic institutions in any country.
Tunisia has successfully opened up opportunities over the years in economic reform and education and women's rights. They have been very progressive and have shown real farsightedness. Our concern is that Tunisia meet the same standards for opportunities in political participation. This was something that Tunisia spoke to and supported in the Tunis -- the Arab League's Tunis Declaration in May. And with Tunisia's strong achievements in these other areas, we certainly look to greater political forms than we've seen in the past.
I would note that we very much appreciate Tunisia's longstanding friendship. We look forward to continued bilateral cooperation to advance economic reform and cooperation in the global war on terror, and we will continue to press for political reform and respect for human rights.
QUESTION: So are you questioning the process, as opposed to the results, or are you questioning both?
MR. ERELI: I would simply say that our concern was that opportunities for political participation in this process were not everything that we'd hoped for, or that the standards that we've set out for indicate.
QUESTION: Could you elaborate on that? I mean, was it a question of media access, for example?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, media access, opportunities for the opposition to engage, to speak out, to mount campaigns. And this was, I would note, was a subject of ongoing discussion and dialogue with the Government of Tunisia. So --
QUESTION: Didn't the Secretary himself raise it last December when he was in Tunis?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
QUESTION: Wasn't he disappointed that they didn't seem to do much to permit the opposition to conduct these discussions?
MR. ERELI: I'd characterize it the way I characterized it, which is that we're concerned that Tunisia has fallen short of its own potential.
QUESTION: In the political sphere?
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Adam, I have, actually, a couple of election questions. There are continued complaints in Ukraine that the opposition candidate and his supporters -- repression against them. There's also a published account of rather massive Russian financial intervention in the Ukrainian campaign. And I was wondering if you had anything on that or would take it.
MR. ERELI: I really don't have much beyond what we've said before is the benchmarks that we're looking for. We, as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, are following the campaign closely. We'll be watching the elections on the 31st very carefully as an indicator of just how far Ukraine, its government and institutions, have come in meeting international standards and their own commitments.
There are, as you suggest, reports that raise concerns. We take them seriously. We look at them. I don't have anything specific on the ones that you mentioned, other than to say that our people on the ground are certainly keeping a close eye on how the campaign is proceeding.
QUESTION: Another election-oriented one. They had elections in Kosovo and -- over the weekend -- and Serbian voters either completely stayed away or, in some cases, were reportedly prevented from going to polls. Any reaction to that?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. Let's start from, I think, the positive note, and that is that the authorities in Kosovo organized a generally free and fair election, and we congratulate them for that. And we also congratulate all those who did turn out to vote and we also note that the NATO-led Kosovo force and UN civilian police played an important role in safeguarding the conduct of the vote.
We do regret that some politicians discouraged people from voting. We are deeply disappointed that many Kosovo Serbs chose not to vote. It is our view that those -- that that decision is self-defeating. Taking part in Kosovo's institutions is the best way for all communities in Kosovo to advance their legitimate interests.
For our part, we will continue to work with Kosovo's elected leaders on issues important to Kosovo's future, including progress on building a multiethnic future for Kosovo.
With this election having taken place, the important thing now is for a new government to be formed quickly in order to maintain momentum on standards implementation and for dealing with the key issues such as decentralization, which are squarely on the agenda.
Our commitment, the commitment of the United States, is to a stable, secure and multiethnic Kosovo. We will continue to work with all parties as they endeavor to meet internationally endorsed democratic standards.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to report on the Vice President, is it, of Iraq meeting with Mr. Armitage this morning?
MR. ERELI: Deputy Secretary Armitage met this morning with the Deputy President of Iraq, Rowsch Shaways. They discussed a number of items: the necessity for elections to be held in January and for those elections to be all-inclusive; they talked about the development of Iraq's security forces and the importance of moving deliberately and steadily towards developing that capability; and they discussed the role of the United Nations in Iraq's upcoming elections and the importance of them playing an important role.
QUESTION: Macedonia is withdrawing its contractors from Iraq following the kidnapping and apparent execution of three Macedonians accused of spying for the U.S. Do you have a comment?
MR. ERELI: I'm not aware of the decisions taken with regard to Macedonian nationals in Iraq. I would say that the United States considers Macedonia a steadfast partner in the global war on terror and a valued partner in Iraq. We appreciate the resolve and courage of the Macedonian Government and the Macedonian people at this especially difficult time. We strongly condemn the murder of three Macedonian citizens in Iraq and we extend our deepest sympathies to their families, friends and colleagues.
As with other such tragedies, we condemn the kidnapping of innocent civilians. We remain in contact with the Government of Macedonia and will assist them in every way, and we will continue to work closely with the Interim Iraqi Government and others to discover the whereabouts of these victims.
QUESTION: Change of topic. There is a two-day parliamentary debate in Israel and Prime Minister Sharon has said that this disengagement plan does not come in place of negotiations, necessary in a period in which negotiations are not possible, and he says, all is open when terror, this murderous terror, stops.
I thought there were negotiations all the while, maybe not at a higher level. But where do you think the breakdown has been? And of course, Prime Minister Sharon wants to unilaterally withdraw settlers from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.
MR. ERELI: I don't really have much new to add to this beyond what we've said in the past, which is that we believe that Prime Minister Sharon's withdrawal plan -- plan to withdraw from Gaza and settlements in the West Bank provides an opportunity to move forward on the roadmap.
We are engaged with both the Israelis and the Palestinians in ways to seize this opportunity, take advantage of it, and respond to the new reality that it will represent. Ultimately, moving beyond what happens with Gaza and with this particular move in Gaza and the West Bank, a negotiated solution is the only way to come to a final settlement of this conflict.
Right now, our focus is on moving forward with the withdrawal plan and helping the Palestinians and the Israelis come to terms with the new circumstances that it represents.
QUESTION: Yes, Secretary Powell, in interviews in Beijing, has said things on Cross-Strait relations that have never been said before by the U.S. Government, such as Taiwan does not enjoy the sovereignty of a nation, and also comments to the fact that we need to find ways to start cross-strait dialogue so that someday we may have the movement towards a peaceful reunification.
Does this indicate any policy change? I know your policy remains the same, but, you know, policy is described in words. When words change, so does the policy, doesn't it?
MR. ERELI: The policy has not changed. (Laughter.) We can lead with that. I think the Secretary is very clear that the United States is committed, remains firmly committed to its One China policy, based on the three communiqués and our responsibilities under the Taiwan Relations Act. He also made it clear that we opposed unilateral actions by either side, that we do not support Taiwanese independence, and that the way to resolve this issue is through peaceful dialogue.
As far as Taiwanese sovereignty goes, again, there was -- I don't think there was any new ground broken on that. The words the Secretary used accurately reflect our longstanding policy on Taiwan status. And so, frankly, I think we are today where we were yesterday.
QUESTION: Can I follow up please? When you say, you know, the United States does not want to prejudge the outcome of any outcome between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits, and when the Secretary uses words like reunification, is there a contradiction there? Why does the Secretary use such word as reunification?
MR. ERELI: I don't think you should read that any prejudging or hinting or departure from our longstanding position. That, as I said, the policy has not changed. One element of our policy has been to favor a peaceful resolution of the Cross-Straits issue through dialogue and through a resolution that is acceptable to both sides.
There are a whole wealth of possibilities there. We are not prejudging those possibilities. We are simply emphasizing that it has to be done through dialogue, and I think the Secretary is very outspoken and very emphatic about encouraging an intensification of that dialogue. And that's where we think the focus ought to be.
QUESTION: While the policy has not changed, but it seems to me that there is something. Is there anything changed in the attitude in that when -- that the Secretary has to say something like this, that Taiwan is not an independent nation and does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation, which he or the United States has never said before this, that what's the urge to make it so explicit, you know, change?
MR. ERELI: I don't know that the United States has never said it before. It's a pretty, I think, objective statement of fact. It's not a question of interpretation. It's, I think, a statement of fact. And again, I think you need to put it in context, look at that statement in the context of the questioning and the answers, which dealt with the issue of Taiwanese status as an independent country. So it didn't just come out of the blue.
QUESTION: Adam, I still have a couple more. There was a published report over the weekend that the United States is pushing the Tribunal Chief Carla del Ponte on Yugoslavia to wrap up her prosecutions, to either turn them back to the local government there, presumably Serbia, or to just, you know, shelve a number of prosecutions. And this actually was reported to be a big shift in U.S. policy, and I'm wondering what you have to say about that.
MR. ERELI: I saw reports of the report, I should say. But like with the previous -- as with the previous question, there is no change in our policy. The United States strongly supports the efforts of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and its efforts to bring to justice those who have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law.
We continue to provide financial and diplomatic support to the International Criminal Tribunal and we continue to act aggressively to -- in urging the authorities in Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia to do their part to fulfill their legal obligations and cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal.
QUESTION: I just -- I'm sorry, Adam. I have one more.
Several opposition politicians in Azerbaijan have apparently been given prison sentences in connection with allegedly fulminating anti-government clashes last year. And if you don't have it, maybe you could post something on it?
MR. ERELI: We have been following closely the trials of all those accused in connection with the violent demonstrations in October of 2003. As you suggest, these were the last seven, I think, to be tried.
We are disappointed that the conduct of these trials failed to reflect commitments that the Azerbaijan Government has made to safeguard rights to fair, independent and impartial judicial proceedings. In our assessment, the trial clearly failed to meet those standards and we strongly urge Azerbaijan to take steps necessary to ensure that the rule of law is upheld.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. One more.
QUESTION: To follow up on Taiwan issue. The former AIT chairman, Mr. David Dean, recently proposed an idea that the United States -- for the United States to take a more active role in urging the dialogue and that he proposed that United States should broker a five-year, short-term agreement between Taiwan and China without them talking to each other, that that's for the United States to go between, in which Taiwan would promise not to seek formal independence and in exchange for China's promise not to attack Taiwan. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. ERELI: I don't. I don't.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)
# # #
* CLARIFICATION: 350 tons are unaccounted for. 400,000 toms of munitions have been destroyed or secured.
DPB # 174