State Dept. Daily Press Briefing October 13, 2005
Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
October 13, 2005
Update on U.S. disaster relief / helicopters / food and supplies
Assistance to Guatemala / Role of Southern Command
Assistance to El Salvador
Election Results / Statement by U.S. Observer Mission
Macedonia Name Issue / Role of United Nations
Fighting in Nalchik
Preparations for Referendum Increase Numbers of Polling
Facilities, Poll Workers, Registered Voters, International Monitors
Numbers of Attacks
Letter of Zawahiri to Zarqawi
Violence in Southern Thailand / Foreign Involvement / Thai
Requests for U.S. Assistance TAIWAN
Visit of Former President Lee Teng-hui BULGARIA / LIBYA
Bulgarian Medical Personnel detained in Libya
12:50 p.m. EDT
MR. ERELI: Greetings everyone. Let me begin with an update on assistance to the people of Pakistan and Central America who are suffering from natural disasters.
In Pakistan we currently have ten U.S. military helicopters supporting relief operations. These helicopters have now flown over 74 sorties and have delivered 61,400 pounds of supplies to the disaster area and they have evacuated hundreds of casualties from the affected areas to Islamabad. U.S. military cargo aircraft have delivered to Pakistan about 220 tons of relief supplies, that was through yesterday. And we expect that an additional 130 tons will be delivered today. This assistance includes tents, food, water, medicine, blankets, plastic sheeting, cargo handling equipment and forklifts.
On the way to Pakistan, is an additional four helicopters, which should arrive tomorrow, and we expect that an additional 25 to 30 helicopters will arrive within the next few days. So that's on the military side of things, quite significant -- 350 tons of supplies delivered, 74 sorties and 14 helicopters will be there by tomorrow and -- for a total of up to about over 40 in the next few days.
On the relief side, USAID expects to deliver medical supplies by tomorrow, sufficient to treat 100,000 people for three months. Our DART team, as you know, is fully staffed and out there doing their assessments, so that's on Pakistan.
On Central America, we're continuing to support relief operations and meet assistance needs in Guatemala and El Salvador and Costa Rica. In Guatemala, the USAID has dispersed funds and commodities worth $309,000; these include fuel, helicopters -- money for fuel, helicopter rental, blankets, plastic sheeting and hygiene kits. Our office -- USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has made $200,000 -- or has provided a $200,000 contribution to the Pan American Health Organization to meet flood-related medical needs, particularly contamination of water supplies. And the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has transferred $1.2 million to our Embassy in Guatemala to be made available to NGOs as emergency grants working there.
I would also note that Southern Command has established a forward operating base in Quetzaltenango, which has been extremely useful in coordinating the airlift of relief supplies throughout Guatemala. The Inter-American Development Bank has announced the approval of a $200,000 grant to Guatemala to help victims of Hurricane Stan, and that grant will be administered by CARE.
In El Salvador, we completed delivery yesterday of $100,000 contribution in non-food aid. The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance will provide an additional $100,000 to the Pan American Health Organization and the Inter-American Development Bank has approved $200,000 to help victims of Hurricane Stan in El Salvador.
That's an update just to give you the latest on continuing efforts both in Pakistan and Central America to meet the needs of the people there. These will be long-term efforts. A lot of people are covering what's going on today but it's important to remember that these are efforts by Americans that will continue for some time.
And that's it for announcements. Open to your questions.
QUESTION: Liberia, which had its elections this week and there has been some concern there that the results are a bit slow to be coming through. I was wondering if you had any reaction to the --
MR. ERELI: Yes. I would note that the Presidential Observer Mission, led by our Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer put out a statement on their findings yesterday, I believe, in Monrovia. I'll endeavor to get you that if you don't have it already. Their findings were very positive. The Liberians turned out to vote in large numbers. The voting was peaceful. It was well organized. It was well monitored. It was well administered. This was, in short, a major step forward in the democratic development of Liberia. And I think is a positive sign for the future of Liberia that these elections could be organized -- or were organized in the way they were, conducted in the way they were and those participating in them followed both the principles and the spirit of democracy.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any of these reports that there's some concern about the slowness of the returns coming?
MR. ERELI: No. I hadn't seen those reports and frankly they run contrary to everything that we've been hearing from our people on the ground.
MR. ERELI: About the generally efficient and well run conduct of these elections.
QUESTION: Your people on the ground made specific reference to the speed of the vote count.
MR. ERELI: No, but there's -- no, because the vote -- they issued their statement right after the vote yesterday so -- but there's nothing that -- there's nothing that I've seen that would call into question their assessment on the general effectiveness of the institutions and those responsible in Liberia for managing this process.
QUESTION: On FYROM. Mr. Spokesman, the last Greek newspaper, Vima, V-I-M-A, reported today that the Nimetz proposal is a treason by the U.S. against the territorial integration of Greece and in another story, is holding totally responsible for this policy the Under Secretary Nicholas Burns. Any comment on that?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, I would encourage those interested in this issue to understand the basic principle that the issue of Macedonia's name is an issue that is being worked by the UN, not by the United States. So if you're trying to analyze what's going on and where things are going, don't look to the United States to make your assessment; look to what the UN is doing and look to what both parties are saying and how they're responding to UN proposals. But this is a UN process. It's an issue for discussion between the two parties and that is an appropriate way to handle the issue and we support the process for that reason. So don't say it's the United States because it's not and don't say that the United States is somehow involved in this process because it's not, other than expressing support for what the UN and the role that the UN is playing.
QUESTION: But Mr. Ereli, the U.S. is very much involved to finding a solution to the Balkans problems, including this one. That's why --
MR. ERELI: And our involvement is to support the UN.
QUESTION: Since Mr. Nimitz proposed that the so-called, "The Republic of Macedonia should remain and Greece must change its name on Greek Macedonia." May we have your comment? Do you agree in the framework of the U.S. policy vis-à-vis to this problem?
MR. ERELI: Look, what we believe is that if the parties want to solve this problem, the way to solve this problem is to work with Mr. Nimitz and work with each other to find a mutually acceptable solution.
QUESTION: Any response to the Greek protest about the existence or non-existence ethnic minorities in Greece I asked you yesterday?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Adam, do you have anything on this violent upheaval in Southern Russia, apparently -- possibly Chechnya related?
MR. ERELI: Obviously, we're aware of the reports of fighting between Russian authorities and militants near -- in the town of Nalcik near Chechnya. We're following developments and events closely. Obviously, we condemn attacks against innocent civilians. We express our sympathy with those wounded and the families of those killed. I can't speak to the facts and the circumstances about what's going on because it's an ongoing -- obviously, it's an ongoing event. But I think you know and everybody knows our position on where we stand on terrorist actions that target innocent civilians and civilian populations. There can be no justification for them.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on preparations for the referendum this weekend in Iraq? And how important is the smooth running of this referendum in terms of U.S. policy in Iraq and in terms of there being the view that things are progressing further in Iraq towards it?
MR. ERELI: Well, frankly, looking at the situation, our assessment is things are going very well. First of all, yesterday you had a very significant, a very important development and that development was that Iraqi political factions and Iraqi communities settled their differences through dialogue and joined together to announce as a collective: vote "yes" for this referendum. So that's a sign that democracy, dialogue, and compromise is working in Iraq and that past differences can be solved through a political process that everybody buys into.
Looking ahead, I think there are additional signs that faith and confidence in the process is not only taking root but being strengthened and reinforced in Iraq. Let me give you a couple of examples. In the elections in January, there were 5,700 polling places. In this referendum, there are going to be almost 6,000. So we're expanding people's access to voting we, those who support Iraq and, but more importantly, the Iraqis themselves. Secondly, in January there were 108,000 poll workers. This election there'll be 171,000. So again, the system is growing stronger, is being reinforced, is being institutionalized in important ways. Last -- in this election, there will be 500 international monitors watching the voting and events after the voting.
Finally, there are 1.3 million more voters registered now than there were in January. In January there were about 14.3 million. Now they are 15.6 million registered voters. Again, another important sign that democracy is growing, is strengthening in Iraq. So looking ahead to the referendum, I think the signs are positive, are good, that there will be broad participation, that the results will reflect the views and the will of the Iraqi people and that there will be a firm basis for moving forward on the next step, which is an election -- a nationwide election on December 15th. And the infrastructure of democracy is growing, is strong, based on the progress that's been made from January to now and into the future.
QUESTION: You mentioned all these positive things, but the reality on the ground is that attacks have been increasing, so --
MR. ERELI: I don't know that that's true. Frankly, I don't know that it's true. In fact, you know, there are some indications that attacks, insurgent attacks against the political process may be decreasing. It's not at all clear that they're increasing. So I think, quite frankly, those who are trying -- to us, the message is clear and the indications are positive that not only are Iraqis embracing this process and embracing democracy and that it's a process that is flourishing, but that those -- the corollary to that is that those who are trying to disrupt the process and they've been trying to do it for a long time and they haven't been succeeding for a long time, are finding themselves less and less effective and swimming more and more against the tide in Iraq. And I think that as the trend line in favor of democracy improves, so does that spell a negative development and negative trend line for those opposed to democracy.
QUESTION: Adam, can you give us some support for this assertion that the violence might be decreasing, over what time span and what evidence do you have?
MR. ERELI: Like I said, you know, depending on how you look at it and again, I don't -- maybe I shouldn't -- since I don't have numbers readily available to me, you know, I don't want to be too categorical about this. But, I have heard -- discussed indications that when compared against previous election periods, the targeting and attacks against participants and elements connected to the election is not as high as it had been in the past.
QUESTION: Previous election period being --
MR. ERELI: January.
QUESTION: -- elections in January?
MR. ERELI: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: Really? Is there a way to get any backup of that?
MR. ERELI: I'll see if I can.
QUESTION: So, when you say you've heard discussions, but where have you heard those?
MR. ERELI: Within, you know, within those following these events from U.S. officials.
QUESTION: So it followed.
MR. ERELI: U.S. officials following these events.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) what really matters is the trend line over the past couple of --
MR. ERELI: Let me also make another point here. Since I think the numbers don't tell the whole story. And if you focus solely on numbers of attacks, those don't tell the whole story. The broader point here is that -- and this is what I would stress is that -- there are always going to be attacks or there probably will be attacks for some time to come because we've got a determined core of extremists who obviously will stop at nothing.
So I don't think anyone is under any illusion that the attacks were about to end or that we're turning an important corner -- I don't want to suggest that. What I want to suggest is that the fact that Iraqis are making important and difficult compromises, that they are sidling up to a process that some had previously rejected, and the fact that the institutionalization of democracy is proceeding forward in very quantifiable ways, demonstrates to you that regardless of the attacks, whether they be 50 per month or 30 per month or whatever, that this process is moving forward and it's -- and the Iraqis are determined to make it a success and to defy those who will use violence to frustrate them.
QUESTION: But you seem to be moving away from your assertion five minutes ago that attacks are decreasing. I'm a bit confused here.
MR. ERELI: No. Look --
QUESTION: Are they up or down or sideways or -- where are they?
MR. ERELI: I will tell you that -- well, actually, what I'll do is just get away from the whole discussion in numbers because I don't have numbers to share with you.
QUESTION: Adam, just one more note on this. When attacks were -- seemed to be increasing recently, U.S. officials kept saying, "Well, we told you there would be an increase in attacks before the elections" --
MR. ERELI: That's why, frankly, this, you know, having discussed it more than is probably useful, I will conclude -- try to conclude the discussion by telling you that the number of attacks, in our view, is not the measure of the success or the strength of democracy in Iraq. The measure of success and strength of democracy in Iraq is the number of people voting, people participating in the political system, the viability of that system and the acceptance of that system as the way to move the country forward. And that the fact that all this stuff is going on should put the lie to those who suggest that somehow the insurgency is making inroads or progress in frustrating the will or perverting the will of the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: Another question. Can you say anything about al-Qaida accusations that the translation published yesterday by the U.S. is inaccurate? Have you heard that?
MR. ERELI: I have heard it and, well, a couple of points: one is, you know, they've got every reason to say that because this document shows the true face of its intellectually and morally bankrupt outlook on events in the region. Second of all, it's authentic. It's been published in Arabic papers, I would note. And third, it is very consistent, if you look at the content, it's very consistent with what al-Qaida has said at different times in the past.
So, you know, I guess, finally, who are you going to believe? You're going to believe terrorists who blow up kids or are you going to believe us? I think we're more credible than al-Qaida.
QUESTION: Mr. Ereli, I followed very carefully everything you told us a few minutes ago about non-U.S. involvement on the so-called Macedonian issue. But, according to a document in my possession, in the country handbook of DOD under the title "Map of Macedonian Occupation" used by U.S. military corps intelligence activity, recently revised from FYROM to the so-called "Macedonia" after your recognition of November 4, '04, there is a full diplomatic underline, full diplomatic description against the territorial integrity of Northern Greece, misleading the U.S. soldiers in the Balkans. I'm wondering if the Department of State drafted this page.
MR. ERELI: That's a -- I don't know the document you're talking about, but -- so I can't comment on it and my previous statements stand with regard to Macedonia and the name of Macedonia. It's a -- resolving that issue is a UN-led process that we support.
QUESTION: But can you take this question?
MR. ERELI: No, I cannot.
MR. ERELI: Because it relates to a different agency. I'd refer you to a different agency.
QUESTION: But I was told that it -- this part was drafted by the Department of State. It's government --
MR. ERELI: I don't know.
QUESTION: -- and I don't want to read the whole thing because you're going to interrupt me.
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: One more question. Any readout about Under Secretary Nicholas Burns' trip to the Balkans? He is --
MR. ERELI: Let me see if I can get you something on that.
QUESTION: Adam, there's been a lot of violence on the Southern Thai islands there and there's been a sort of a question whether or not this is a domestic or this is fueled by, I think, as a Thai top general says, some Libyans coming in and fueling an Islamic insurgency. What's the U.S. view? And is the U.S. prepared to render any assistance or get involved in any way in this?
MR. ERELI: We haven't been asked for any assistance. I think, Prime Minister Thaksin has been very forthcoming and activist on this issue in addressing it as an internal Thai issue. I'd not seen this general's comments. Based on what we've seen and in our discussions with the Thais, what our understanding is, is that there are separatists or people claiming to be separatists in southern Thailand who commit basically senseless acts of violence. It's an issue of concern for all of us who want to see calm in Thailand and are concerned for Thailand and who work with Thailand as friends of that country. I can't tell you who's behind these attacks. There are various claims made. I'm not in a position to assess their credibility. We have seen no evidence of foreign terrorist involvement in them, however, and that's our assessment.
QUESTION: And is there any plan at all to get involved in any talks or anything in any way in this?
MR. ERELI: It's not an issue, frankly, that has come up. As I said before, the Thais are aware of and dealing with this issue and addressing -- trying to address the concerns and the needs of their population. I think the Prime Minister has established a National Reconciliation Commission, which is headed by the former Prime Minister, Mr. Panyarachun, who's a respected figure in Thailand. And he has tasked them with providing policy recommendations for the government.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR. ERELI: Yes, Teri.
QUESTION: In Kazakhstan, where the Secretary has had her press conference with Prime Minister Nazerbayev -- or President Nazerbayev, he calls Kazakhstan basically --
MR. ERELI: Through the -- Mr. Nazerbayev.
QUESTION: Yeah, Nazerbayev calls Kazakhstan a model of democracy. And the State Department has had many criticisms of the Kazakh political process and the repression of opposition. Do you think -- I mean, do you stand by --
MR. ERELI: I stand by --
QUESTION: Do you believe their --
MR. ERELI: Look, I'm not going to -- I think the Secretary and Nazerbayev spoke together. I'll -- I don't have --
QUESTION: But they only got one question from the other side.
MR. ERELI: Well, then --
QUESTION: And it wasn't too extensive.
MR. ERELI: I'm not a substitute for them. Sorry.
QUESTION: No, but they didn't get to ask him any questions, so that's why --
MR. ERELI: Well, again, I'm not here to take follow-up questions to a Secretary's press conference with a foreign leader.
QUESTION: Well, let's just talk about historically then. The State Department has been critical of --
MR. ERELI: Right. And I think, again, we've been very clear about our assessment of events and in Kazakhstan, Secretary has spoken to it. I really don't have much more to add.
QUESTION: Chinese Government made it clear yesterday that they are strongly opposed to the external leader Mr. Lee Teng-hui visit to U.S. And can you describe again U.S. position?
MR. ERELI: Who's visit to the U.S.?
QUESTION: Mr. Lee Teng-hui? Mr. Lee, external person.
MR. ERELI: Yeah. We've said that this is a visit by a private citizen and that's what we consider it.
QUESTION: On another issue. (Inaudible) on HIV. In a letter October 10th, Bulgarian officials have asked the UN's World Health Organization to help secure the release of five nurses from Bulgaria, who are awaiting execution in Libya after having been convicted of infecting 426 children with HIV. The five nurses, along with the Palestinian doctor, were convicted, as you know, in 2004. Any comment, since according to a lot of reports, they did this dirty job using pills for the first time to spread this deadly disease.
MR. ERELI: Well, those are false and salacious reports. We believe that the people in Libya who have been sentenced did not receive due process, did not receive a fair trial, are being unfairly blamed for a tragedy, which was the deaths of children, I believe. But the medics should be released. We have made this clear to the Government of Libya. The EU, I think, has made it clear to the Government of Libya and we look to the Libya Government or Libya to do the right thing in this case.
QUESTION: But did you have evidence that they scientifically that they didn't do that?
MR. ERELI: As I said before, we believe these charges are baseless.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:20 p.m.)