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Briefing on Ongoing Diplomatic Activities at UN

Briefing on Ongoing Diplomatic Activities at the UN

Foreign Press Center Briefing on Ongoing Diplomatic Activities at the UN and Other Current U.S. Foreign Policy Issues

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
Foreign Press Center
New York City
September 15, 2005

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to be with all of you. I thought what I would do is talk a little bit about what the Secretary of State did today and then also about the upcoming election in Afghanistan. I'll be happy to take your questions. And then when we've exhausted that subject, by about 5:20 or so, we'll then talk about the drug certification announcement that is being made today at the White House and at the State Department, if that's agreeable to all of you.

And I'll just be very brief. The Secretary had another good day here at the United Nations. She met, as all of you know, with President Yushchenko earlier this morning, President Yushchenko of Ukraine, and expressed to him our very strong support for Ukrainian democracy and to the continuation of excellent relations between our two countries.

She also had this afternoon a series of meetings. The first with the Prime Minister of India, Prime Minister Singh, where they reviewed the new strategic partnership between the U.S. and India, the steps that we need to take to implement the agreements that we made on July 18th and also reviewed the situation with the Iranian Government and the nuclear question and talked about our hope for continued improvement in India's relations with Pakistan.

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She next met with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. It was the first time they had the opportunity to meet, talked about the good relations between our two countries, the recent rise in extremist activity and violent activity in Bangladesh itself. And Secretary Rice put forward our view, and that is that we are a good friend of Bangladesh, we will help them through this difficult period and we hope that the wave of attacks can subside and that the government can take firm action against them, and we also hope that the democratic process will continue and as the Bangladeshi people approach their next election that there can be, obviously, a free and fair election.

She then met with the President of Ecuador, President Palacio, had a very good meeting with him about the challenges that Ecuador faces given the recent turbulent events in the country of several months ago and the fact that Ecuador is also facing elections in the future.

So it was a busy afternoon and I think running through all these meetings in the conversations the Secretary has had, and certainly those that I have had here in the meetings that I've been in, is the very great desire to see United Nations reform continue. We felt that the summit document that's going to be formally agreed to tomorrow, and all of you have seen, was a very good first step in trying to strengthen the United Nations and make it a more effective institution.

But we believe that more needs to be done, particularly in management and budget reform, in filling out the requirements for membership and the functioning of a new human rights council and in agreeing on a comprehensive convention on terrorism. Those would be the three initiatives that were left unfinished by this week's summit meeting and that require good work ahead.

And finally, let me say that as all of you know, on September 18th there will be parliamentary elections in Afghanistan. The United States and our allies are fully supporting those elections. There are 20,000 American troops in the country. There are about 12,000 NATO European troops in the country and both NATO and the American coalition forces are providing security along with the Afghan National Army forces for the elections themselves. You have seen over the last couple of weeks some violence by the Taliban and al-Qaida, acts of intimidation, trying to convince people not to register to vote or to vote. We obviously believe that those actions are going to fail. These elections will be held. We believe they will be held on a democratic basis and they'll provide a parliament for the first time in a very long time for the Afghan people. And it's another very important step in the quest of President Karzai and the Afghan people to establish a fully functioning democracy.

The United Nations has been very much involved in supporting the administration of the elections. The United States is the largest single donor to the United Nations effort. We're providing $40 million in funds of the $161 million that the United Nations have asked for. There are 12 million people who have registered to vote. There are 5,800 candidates. There are 28,000 polling stations. And there will be roughly 6-7,000 observers at these elections. It's an important event and with the full support of the United States and certainly of the United Nations.

With that, I'll be happy to take any questions you might have. Barry.

QUESTION: The meeting with Ukraine. There's a lot of turmoil. There's some question whether our guy is on a democratic course. The skirmishing and all was kind of dismissed by the State Department early on as the way things are, democracy evolving, there are ups and downs in the process. Do you still not fault the president, the leader of the Orange Revolution, for what is going on? Do you not see corruption? You generally know what I'm asking. How do we -- what do we make of him?

And the second thing, of course, is India, or the public appeal by the Secretary Friday for their support for a unified message on Iran nuclear. Did she reiterate that appeal even if she did not mention sanctions immediately at hand, and what was their response?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: On the first question, Barry, we continue to believe very much that the Ukrainian Government is heading in the right direction. It's a democratically elected government. It's a reformist government. President Yushchenko and his associates have said time and again to the United States and to their other friends that they intend to maintain a reform course in the country. It's a very important country for all the world and we wish to see the democratic revolution succeed.

What you have seen in Ukraine is what you have seen in many other countries that are trying to make this transition from an authoritarian order to a democratic order. It's not surprising to see this kind of turbulence inside a government. And it really isn't for us to comment on that. It's the Ukrainians, I think, to comment themselves.

The job that we have is to be a good friend to Ukraine, to support the reforms, to encourage private investment, to encourage a reform of their economy, to encourage Ukraine to work with us on the priority political and security issues that are so important to the future of the world. And so the meeting today was a good meeting and we don't seek to cast judgment against Ukraine. What you've seen over the last few weeks you've also seen in lots of different democratic governments in many regions of the world. Not entirely unusual.

On your second question, Secretary Rice had an excellent meeting with the Indian Prime Minister. The Indian Foreign Minister was there and a number of their associates. She made the point that we very much believe in the new strategic between the U.S. and India and there was a discussion about both of us implementing the July 18th agreement on the civil nuclear question and the other questions.

In addition to that, the Secretary raised the issue of Iran and said that it was a great desire, a strong desire of the United States to see India join with us and with the European countries, with China and Russia, to seek to join together to convince Iran to shut off its nuclear activities, the conversion of uranium at Isfahan, and to come back to the talks with the European Union. Iran broke those talks unilaterally. They ruptured them. And so the Secretary made the point that none of us want to see Iran acquire nuclear weapons capability and we do want to see a peaceful and diplomatic solution to this problem.

We were gratified to hear once again from the Indian Government that India does not wish Iran to become a nuclear weapons state, and India believes it has spoken clearly about this in public statements that various Indian officials have made over the last several days.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think that might be -- I think it wouldn't be appropriate for me to answer that question. You'll have to ask the Indian Government that question. I said what I wanted to say and I described what we heard and we were gratified by what we heard. But our expectation is, and Secretary Rice spoke of this yesterday, our expectation now is that there's going to be a major effort made by a number of governments in Europe, in Asia, in our hemisphere, to combine together to convince the Iranian Government that it doesn't have a single country supporting it in its unilateral rupture of the Paris Agreement; that it is acting in such a way that is producing concern and doubt in the international community about what the intentions of the Iranian Government are; that it ought to be much more transparent and the Iranian Government ought to open itself up to international oversight so that all of us can be assured that Iran is not going to produce a nuclear weapon or seek a nuclear weapons capability.

And that is -- this has been one of the most prominent issues that's been discussed on the margins of the UN summit and I think there will be quite a lot of discussion in days and indeed the weeks ahead.


QUESTION: Can you update us -- I'm sorry, Teri Schultz with Fox News. Can you update us on what you are hearing from your European counterparts regarding their attempts to engage Ahmadi-Nejad here at the summit? And could you clarify whether you see a difference between your statement that India does not want Iran to become a nuclear weapons state and whether India does support Iran's desire to have civilian nuclear power?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we have not heard from the European Union, as of today at least, on its activities but I think we'll be hearing from them in the next hour or two. And we have had very close contact with them in the past several days and so we've given very strong support to the EU-3 and to the EU in general that the negotiations that they wish to have on Iran should be -- should continue, or should be resumed -- should resume. Excuse me. And that's up to the Iranians now. The ball is in their court. The Iranians are the ones that broke off this agreement. The Europeans clearly have signaled a desire to continue talks and we hope the Iranians will choose that path.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I don't want to -- I can't -- I'm not the spokesman for the Indian Government. But I can tell you that the Indian Government has made it clear to us that they do not wish Iran -- that it does not wish Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. That's for sure.

QUESTION: Kristen Matthews (ph) from Danish Broadcasting. Some time ago, Ambassador Bolton tried to take out any references to the MDG from the outcome document. Yesterday, President Bush commits himself to the MDG. How do we interpret that?

And one -- another question. I heard the U.S. mentioned among the spoiler states. Could I have a comment on that, please?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I'm not sure I understand your second question.

QUESTION: A group of countries were mentioned as spoiler states by media, by some of the delegations in the negotiations about the outcome document.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: First, let me just say that the summit document has been agreed to by the heads of government and that will be formalized tomorrow. It's quite a good document. It is a step forward for the imperative of reform of the United Nations. We hope it will make the UN stronger and more effective.

Second, we've received a lot of positive comments from governments all around the world, and both Secretary Rice and I have heard that throughout our talks today about President Bush's statement yesterday about his proposal on trade, about his proposal on agricultural subsidies -- which is quite far-reaching, about his clear statement in support of development in the poorest countries in the world, the fact that we, the United States, is one of the largest conveyers of development assistance all over the world, and about our clear and unequivocal support for the Millennium Development Goals.

Two weeks ago, Ambassador Bolton told all the assembled countries that the United States does agree to the Millennium Development Goals. He put down language, compromise language that would narrow the divide. We do not subscribe, for instance, to the goal of 0.7 percent of a country's GDP but we decided that in a negotiation among 191 countries that point of view ought to be represented, as well as our point of view, which is much more holistic, we think, and comprehensive about the Monterrey Consensus.

So what you have as a result was a big tent agreement where the views of countries all over the world were represented, and that is the best way to negotiate among 191 countries. So Ambassador Bolton was the one who put down the key compromise on Millennium Development Goals and he said two weeks ago that the United States would support these unequivocally, and of course our President said that yesterday.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Did you have a reaction from the EU on the subsidies?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I don't believe we've seen a reaction yet today. We look forward to one. It's a very important proposal.

MS. NISBET: If you wouldn't mind us going to Washington for one question.


MS. NISBET: Washington, go ahead.

QUESTION: Good evening. Can you hear me?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes, I can. Thank you.

QUESTION: Good evening, Mr. Secretary. Dmitri Kirsanov (ph) with Russian News Agency TASS here. Sir, I have sort of softball question. Can you give us an update on U.S.-Russian bilateral? I'm hesitant to ask you to dive into specifics because you probably would refer to me the White House, but you know, just a broad picture. Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thanks for that softball question. What I can say is that the relationship between the United States and Russia is fundamentally important to both countries. President Bush is looking forward to welcoming President Putin to the White House tomorrow morning. Secretary Rice is going to be leaving New York to return to Washington to attend those meetings. And we'll also have a series of U.S.-Russian meetings here at the UN throughout the weekend with Deputy Foreign Minister Kislyak. Sergei Kislyak is going to be here for a meeting of the U.S.-Russia Counterterrorism Working Group, which I head for the American side.

But by far the most important of these encounters will be the meeting with President Bush and President Putin and we remain united in that relationship by a number of common initiatives that we've undertaken together and common points of view, and we also have issues on which we disagree. And that's the reality of our current relationship and it's a very important one.

Thank you for your question.

QUESTION: Are you backing down from your initial sort of threat to refer Iran to the Security Council and was that because of pressure from the Europeans because there were not going to be enough votes for that to happen? Did they ask you to lower the rhetoric on Iran?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, you know, it's our view that there is a very strong wave of international opinion that wishes to see Iran return -- to stop their nuclear activity, stop the uranium conversion and return to talks. And it's certainly our view that there is a majority in the IAEA in support of that.

As Secretary Rice said yesterday, the important thing is that there be a major international effort made by the leading countries of the world to convince Iran to return to these talks and there are a number of discussions underway this week. The EU-3 are in the lead because, after all, it was the EU-3 that had the negotiating process underway with Iran. It was not the United States. We supported those negotiations but weren't part of them.

And so it's our view that what is less important is perhaps some of the minor tactics of how we achieve the end results. What is more important is that we get to that end result and it be a positive one, and that would be that Iran would cease and desist the uranium conversion process at Isfahan, first; second, that Iran would agree to return to the talks with the Europeans. And we'll have to see what the Iranians decide to do, but we are convinced that there will be increasing pressure on the Iranian Government over the period of the next week or two or three to come to that decision. And that's what Secretary Rice said in her remarks to the Fox Television Network yesterday and that remains our position today, of course.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We'll have to wait and see. You know, I believe that those talks are underway as I came over here so I'm not in a position to comment on them. But we're looking forward to, obviously, learning about them, as you are.

QUESTION: Robert McMann (ph) of Radio Free Europe. On Afghanistan, you mentioned the coalition and U.S. forces now deployed. Is the U.S. satisfied with the Pakistani deployment on the border there, which Afghanistan has been very concerned about some of the infiltration ahead of the elections?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, both President Bush and Secretary Rice met with President Musharraf this week here at the UN and we expressed, the United States expressed, our strong appreciation for the efforts of the Government of Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan has made extraordinary efforts to try to secure the border. It's a difficult thing to do. It's a mountainous border. It's a very long one. It's not easy to do that. But there is very good cooperation among Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States military forces in the region to coordinate our actions along the border. And as you know, the great bulk of the 20,000 American troops are active on the eastern border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

We appreciate our relationship with Pakistan. It's a country of enormous importance to us. We understand the challenges it faces and we believe that, obviously, efforts made by the Pakistan Government to strengthen the border are going to help Afghanistan, help with the elections and help in the period beyond the elections.

MS. NISBET: We only have time for one more question but this is, obviously, up to the Under Secretary.

QUESTION: You say that there is a strong wave of international opinion that wants Iran to stop reprocessing and return to the talks. It's my understanding that President Hu demurred in his summit with President Bush in offering to refer to the Security Council. The Foreign Minister -- Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov today at the UN said he would be against referral. You came out very strongly in describing the Indian position that Iran does not want nuclear weapons but you were less certain of their position on referral. How do you square those realities that there's a strong wave of opinion for them to return yet no enthusiasm among three critical countries that you need?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: As Secretary Rice said yesterday, there is strategic agreement, I think among every country with which we have spoken this week, that there should not be an effort by the Iranian Government to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. There is agreement that Iran has not been transparent. There is agreement that the best way for Iran to move forward with the international community is to be more transparent, to be more open about what its intentions are and to submit itself or to return to the negotiations it had previously committed with the European Union. I don't find -- in all the discussions we've had with all the countries you mentioned, I don't find any disagreement on all those issues.

But as Secretary Rice said yesterday, there may be -- there is -- a difference with some of these countries over tactics. Tactics are less important in this case than the strategy. And so we are convinced that Iran is going to find itself in an increasingly isolated state and that it would behoove the Iranians to listen to what people are saying. We have not heard a single country this week defend the Iranian Government for having ruptured unilaterally the negotiation with the European 3. Not a single country has defended them. Nor do we expect any country to come forward to defend them.

So what is less important is when meetings are held. What is more important is that we have a process that is designed to convince the Iranians to return to the talks. The IAEA has its responsibilities. We expect there to be an IAEA meeting. We expect there to be a lot of discussion about the Iranians and we expect ultimately the Iranians to listen to the will of the countries that are on the IAEA Board of Governors and to return to the talks. That is a prediction that I would make about where this is going to end up.

Thank you very much.

Released on September 16, 2005


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