State Dept. Daily Press Briefing October 14, 2005
Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
October 14, 2005
Travel of Karen Hughes to Southeast Asia
Detention of Ambassador
SUDAN / DARFUR
Response to ongoing violence / relief efforts / Abuja peace talks
/ U.N. Resolution / incidents of banditry against aid convoys
Donated MREs impounded by Department of Agriculture / efforts to
redistribute MREs to communities that need them / timeline of
events / MREs from other countries
Deportation of North Korean defectors
Visit of Governor Bill Richardson to Pyongyang / State support of
visit / other USG officials
Statement of Under Secretary Nicholas Burns
Referendum on Iraqi Constitution / update on voting process
Expulsion of missionaries
Invitation by Secretary Rice to Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat
1:00 p.m. EST
MR. ERELI: Hope you enjoyed the speech.
QUESTION: Who's speech?
MR. ERELI: Oh, I guess you didn't enjoy it. (Laughter.) Anyway, let's go straight to your questions, since I have no announcements.
QUESTION: Well, let me just follow up on the speech and ask -- she announced that she's going to Indonesia and Malaysia.
MR. ERELI: Right.
QUESTION: But she didn't give any details. Was there anything you could tell us?
MR. ERELI: We'll be putting out a notice later today that gives you some of the particulars -- dates and that sort of thing. Again, Under Secretary Hughes spoke to the purposes and objectives of her trip in general terms, continuing her efforts to reach out and participate in a dialogue with countries and peoples who are important to the United States, who we need to have a good understanding with about, you know, how we have shared ideals and how we can work together to achieve them. I think it builds on her experience on the last trip and I think it's part of a continuing effort to get out there and see what the reality is in the field as far as perceptions in the United States are and what we can do to build lasting bridges of understanding with people and countries that are very important to us.
QUESTION: She also alluded to a trip to Latin America, but she was much less precise about it. Do you have any details about that?
MR. ERELI: No, I don't not.
QUESTION: Yeah. Following the incident involving the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, I wonder whether you have anything further on possible sanctions against Zimbabwe which were being discussed in terms of denying access to the United States to President Mugabe and his immediate family and also members of his cabinet and their immediate families.
MR. ERELI: Let me begin with the incident in question and then go to the broader issue of targeted sanctions. The incident in question which you referred to was a case in which our Ambassador to Zimbabwe was detained for about 90 minutes by military security personnel in Zimbabwe. He had inadvertently wandered into a portal marked "Military Area" that was in the middle of the National Botanical Garden in Harare. He was released after 90 minutes. The Chief of Protocol of Zimbabwe telephoned our Ambassador later to express his profound apology for the incident. He explained that the soldiers on duty did not understand their responsibilities. And the next day an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also contacted Ambassador Dell and conveyed a similar apology.
So for our purposes, this incident is closed. As far as the broader issue of steps we're looking at with regard to Zimbabwe, obviously unrelated to this incident, as you know we have targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe. That is in response to the Zimbabwean policies which I think are fundamentally at odds with international standards and the interest of the Zimbabwean people and regional interests. These are sanctions which we continue to look at which are constantly under examination and review, given actions by the Zimbabwean Government and decisions by the Zimbabwean leadership, but I don't have any particular announcements for you at this point regarding new sanctions.
QUESTION: There were people who were apologizing in the Zimbabwe Government for happened to the Ambassador. But weren't there other Zimbabwean officials who were taking issue and suggesting that he behaved improperly?
MR. ERELI: Yes. There were two apologies from the Zimbabwean Government, first. And then there was later a note of protest from the foreign ministry which called attention to the incident in the media. As I said, we felt the case was closed after receiving the first apologies, then they chose to make immediate issue out of it. And the fact of the matter is they apologized and we consider it closed.
QUESTION: I guess (inaudible) have prevailed after the apology position?
MR. ERELI: You can look at it that way, I guess.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up. Do you accept the notion that he walked into an unclearly marked military are in the middle of a botanical garden or do you think there's something else behind that?
MR. ERELI: I think -- you ask me do I believe what I said? I said it's an inadvertently marked area and that he walked into it. It's a poorly marked area. It's in the middle of a botanical garden. That's what happened. You asked me do I believe that?
QUESTION: I mean, that was what they said, I'm saying.
MR. ERELI: No, that's what I'm saying.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay, then you believe him.
QUESTION: Well, wasn't one of the issues, though, that it was close to the residence of President Mugabe and that's why they jumped up and down?
MR. ERELI: The Government said that these security personnel made a mistake.
QUESTION: Also on Africa, Adam, like a broken record, the violence continues in Darfur and the United Nations. Our staff are being removed for their safety. And also NGOs can't function and are being threatened. What's next?
MR. ERELI: Let's -- I mean, let's be accurate in our assessments of what's going on. There are some measures being taken by NGOs and UN personnel in light of the security situation. I would say those are of limited scope and impact. What do I mean by that? In certain areas there are incidents and violence. In this particular case we're talking about an area around el-Geneinain Western Darfur, which has seen some violence recently. And in response to that violence, some non-essential personnel are being moved for their protection. Operations are not stopping. Humanitarian aid is continuing to be delivered, although adjustments are being made given the circumstances. Those adjustments are, as I said, temporary and limited. Clearly, that's not to say that the violence isn't a problem and doesn't have an impact. But I think you need to be measured and accurate in the way you report that impact.
So to say that the UN is leaving and NGOs are shutting down is misleading. There are measures being taken to -- in response to specific incidents in specific areas to adjust security posture for a limited period of time, that's number one.
Number two, as to the broader issue of the violence goes on and what's being done to solve it, I think everybody who's involved in Darfur and Sudan, more broadly, is disturbed by recent developments and is working to, I think, get things back on track, both in terms of -- not essentially get things back on track, but basically to keep the process moving in the right direction. What do I mean by that? Implementing the CPA, particularly getting a monitoring and implementing mechanisms provided for in the CPA setup, moving forward on the political process in Abuja, getting the Government of Sudan to take certain steps that would have a salutary effect on the impact on the situation in Darfur, particularly to facilitate the delivery of 25 armored personnel carriers that are hung up in customs in Sudanese cities so that the AU can more effectively carry out its mission.
As I mentioned earlier, sending out a number of special envoys or senior personnel from the United States from the State Department to Sudan, and clearly Assistant Secretary Frazer and Special Representative Roger Winter. And I would note yesterday's important action in the Security Council, where the Security Council President issued a statement, which expressed the Council's grave concern about reports of an upsurge of violence in Darfur, expresses deep concern about the humanitarian impact of this violence, reminded the international community that there's been no visible effort by the Government of Sudan to disarm the militia, noted also that the rebels are failing to abide by their commitments, expressed the unequivocal support for the African Union.
And I think this is important point to make here is that based on its very commendable and important performance up to this point. The AU has won for itself and earned for itself an extremely valuable role in affecting in a positive way the situation in Darfur, these recent events not withstanding. So the presidential statement expressed unequivocal support for the AU and its mission there. And then finally it urged the AU to share the results of its investigations and to the most recent attacks with the Security Council and raise the issue of a possible referral to the Sanctions Committee.
So I think -- again, to summarize, we've got an inherently unstable situation in Darfur and there's nothing new in that. And that situation is inherently unstable when you have active rebel groups in an area together with armed militias who are not being stopped by the government. And you're going to have incidences of violence as long as that fundamental equation isn't changed or that equation isn't changed in a fundamental way. And that's where we think that by actively pursuing an implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and continuing to push forward in Abuja and by bringing all the players in the Government of National Unity into the game in a meaningful way, then we can have an impact on it.
QUESTION: Adam, two days ago, when I asked you about the upsurge in violence, you didn't have any such strong words to say. Well, you said you're not even -- you weren't even sure that you had seen that there was an upsurge and that there were UN teams that were being kept from delivering --
MR. ERELI: No, you -- I've been -- we've been very clear and I'm taken aback that there might be some confusion on your part. I've been very clear about what the incidents were last weekend regarding both taking of hostages and the attack on Nigerian peacekeepers. Those are the only recent events that we have facts on that I can speak to with confidence about. You were asking -- I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Could you --
MR. ERELI: Let me just finish. You were asking about some unspecified reports and some unspecified area about some unspecified activity the other day that I don't have anything to substantiate that. You also asked about reports that the UN was shutting down. All information that I'm sharing with you today, based on the questions that you asked the other day was, as I started this off was, there are limited steps that are being taken in some areas in response to violence that has been going on. But, you know, I think it's all very specific and part of an overall assessment of what the situation is.
QUESTION: I didn't just give random examples. There were just -- violence was blocking some aid shipments, I didn't say that they were shutting down. But also you said that you didn't -- you hadn't heard of any increased attacks on IDP camps, refugee areas. Is that now something that you --
MR. ERELI: I have not received any reports of -- that new attacks, other than those that have already taken place, on IDP camps.
Yeah, I will say this, just in the interest of full disclosure and clarity; there are incidents of banditry going on all the time. So, you know, there are convoys that are sometimes attacked. Aid convoys, other convoys, there are attacks on herds and this falls basically into the basket of banditry where you have populations that are hungry and deprived and poor and they sometimes use violence to get food or get supplies. That is not -- and that's kind of what I'd call fairly consistent background noise in any area that is impoverished like Darfur.
But there's another type of incident, which is political violence connected with and ongoing conflict between the rebel movements and governments. So, you know, when we're talking about violence in Darfur, you need to be aware of those distinctions. Now, obviously for the humanitarian -- for the innocent civilian population in this area, those are distinctions that are sometimes lost because they're displaced from their homes and they suffer from the violence. But when you're talking about coordinating a broad-based diplomatic effort, working with different parties to resolve a conflict, these are distinctions that are worth noting.
QUESTION: Change the subject? There's a report in The Post today that there's a whole shipment of British MREs that's sort of languishing in a warehouse because of fears of mad cow and I think the State Department is supposed to be making some efforts to dispatch them. Can you describe to where?
MR. ERELI: Well, let me -- again, in the interest of clarity, see if I can't make some points to help you look at this issue.
First of all, fears of -- it's not an issue of fear of mad cow. It's an application of U.S. law. There are legal requirements that dictate how we treat this material. So we are bound by U.S. law governing British beef imports. And so that's point one.
There's sort of an objective criteria here that we have a statutory obligation to follow. Now, in the wake of Katrina, there was a worldwide appeal for assistance, based on a request from the *Foreign Emergency Management Agency, which we sent out. As you know, the response was overwhelming and very moving for the United States.
_______________ *Federal Emergency Management Agency
Among the offers of aid were MREs from a number of countries, including Britain. The State Department's role was to coordinate the reception and handling of the foreign aid, which we did. We received these MREs, some of them based on needs that were communicated to us by FEMA, were distributed to people in need.
Others, because of U.S. legal restrictions, were not distributed; they remain in a warehouse, and we would certainly hope that other countries in need or other needy populations would be able to make use of them. And we certainly invite any countries that see a need to contact us. Meanwhile we will do what we can to see if we can't find deserving recipients of this stuff.
QUESTION: But not recipients in this country?
MR. ERELI: I mean there's no need in this country. I mean, let me put it this way, the need for MREs, as a result of Hurricane Katrina, was met in the first few days. And unfortunately, supply exceeded demand in this regard. And now we have an access of supply that we're going to try to dispose of in a responsible way, giving it to people who need it. But again, there are legal restrictions as to our ability to distribute it in the United States.
QUESTION: Can I have one?
MR. ERELI: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: First of all, it was after the first couple of days, if I remember correctly, that you were still putting out the call that we need -- the thing that we really right now is MREs. And when the British kind of made this pledge, there were other pledges that you didn't accept because you said, oh, we don't really need this. This isn't in line with, you know, the need right now. Didn't somebody, when they made this pledge, look into the fact that we were going to have -- that you were going to have to -- in accordance with U.S. law, you know, and U.S. law governing beef imports, have to inspect or something like that? I mean, where was the coordination before the MREs were delivered?
And number two, have you been -- have you, as the State Department, been contacting other countries, Pakistan for instance, to see if --
MR. ERELI: I don't think Pakistan's an option because of the contents of -- the dietary restrictions.
MR. ERELI: As far as the timing, we didn't --
QUESTION: Well, have you been contacting other -- have you -- I know you --
MR. ERELI: We are working to -- we were really doing two things. One is we were soliciting others to contact us if they feel that they have a need for this. And we are certainly on -- for our part, looking to dispose of these MREs that are offered in the spirit of friendship and charity. We are looking to dispose of them in the same way.
As far as the timing goes, what I can provide for you is the following calendar. We received from FEMA on September 3rd a list of sort of desired items. That included a number of things: tarps, blankets and emergency food supplies, particularly MREs. There were a total of 500,000 that we requested on September 3rd. We sent out a notice, a cable, to all our embassies abroad alerting them of this need and asking that they go in and make this request. Countries responded. And as I said before, you know, we're touched and heartened that there are so many friends of the United States that would respond in that way.
On September 4th, the next day, we accepted the offer of MREs from the United Kingdom and on September 5th the MREs started arriving at the collection point in Little Rock where most of the -- where the flights from abroad were -- where they arrived. It was on September -- then we began distributing them. It was on September 6th that we learned from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that they would need to inspect them because of the legal requirements that are enforced. And that's when we halted the shipments, so I guess one day after they started arriving. The USDA inspectors arrived in Arkansas on September 7th and that's when they actually stopped shipping the things.
QUESTION: Well, but didn't the British say, okay, we have MREs, this is what they are. I mean, nobody asked?
MR. ERELI: I can't tell you that. I don't know.
QUESTION: So you didn't know that these were going to have beef in them and that you would need to inspect them until they arrived?
MR. ERELI: We did not foresee that when we received the offer that we would have this complication.
QUESTION: How many MREs are involved? How many have been impounded or whatever it is?
MR. ERELI: My understanding is it's in the area of about 300,000.
QUESTION: So how many were distributed in total?
MR. ERELI: About 130,000.
QUESTION: This is the British MREs?
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: And how many MREs did you get in total? You asked for 500,000. Did you get more than that and did you distribute 500,000? This is 300,000 over or --
MR. ERELI: Let me see if I can get you a total number -- a number for the total MREs that we received, worldwide. Is that what you're asking me?
QUESTION: Yeah. And that 300,000, are they all beef because usually there's a selection in MREs? Are they all beef?
MR. ERELI: The ones that are in the warehouse are the ones that are subject to the U.S. legal restrictions.
QUESTION: And they're all beef or you're not sure?
MR. ERELI: I'm not 100 percent sure but I believe they are. But they're in the warehouse because either they're subject to restrictions or we don't need them anymore.
QUESTION: Could you ask some food banks if they want them? I mean, seriously, there are people who are hearing this who probably can't imagine that you're saying there's food sitting in a warehouse that isn't needed in the United States.
MR. ERELI: That is -- the distribution of which the United States is restricted by U.S. law. It's an important -- you have to remember that.
QUESTION: No, but when you're saying they're just not needed that's --
MR. ERELI: These are the ones -- the ones we're talking about are those which come under U.S. legal restrictions.
QUESTION: Those MREs, would you then perhaps ship them down to -- you mentioned El Salvador, you mentioned Guatemala and Honduras.
MR. ERELI: I didn't mention those countries.
QUESTION: A day ago -- would be their storm that hit --
MR. ERELI: Like I said, we are looking -- as I said, we are looking to dispose of these or to use these MREs in the same spirit of charity and goodwill that they were provided to us.
QUESTION: But, Adam, how long should that process take? You're saying people should contact you, I mean, that's days. These people -- we know that there are people who are having very hard times in Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico.
MR. ERELI: Right. And if they need them and they want them, they're available to them.
QUESTION: Just to be very clear about something you said on September 7th, the USDA inspectors arrived, did they then make a --
MR. ERELI: September 6th.
QUESTION: You said on September 17th --
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry, no, no, no. September 6th, we were informed by USDA --
QUESTION: USDA had to --
MR. ERELI: September 7th, they were dispatched --
QUESTION: Right. Okay.
MR. ERELI: To Arkansas to inspect the MREs.
QUESTION: Now, my question is -- have they made a determination that these particular MREs cannot be distributed?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
MR. ERELI: Yes. That's why they were last.
QUESTION: That's the 300,000?
MR. ERELI: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is there any other country that sent you MREs that you're having the same issue?
MR. ERELI: Thirty-three thousand MREs from Germany, Russia, Spain and France also have not been distributed because of legal restrictions.
QUESTION: Thirty-three thousand (inaudible) 300,000?
MR. ERELI: 330,000.
QUESTION: Right. Three hundred that you mentioned --
MR. ERELI: Three hundred and thirty thousand UK MREs.
QUESTION: What three hundred?
MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. Three hundred and thirty UK MREs.
MR. ERELI: And thirty-three thousand MREs taken together: Germany, Russia, Spain and France.
QUESTION: And one more.
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So that's 363,000 in total?
MR. ERELI: Total.
QUESTION: Have any of these countries said, "Ship them back to us and let us just do what we wish with them?"
MR. ERELI: Say it again?
QUESTION: Have any of these countries said, "Could you ship them back to us and we will do disburse them as needed?"
MR. ERELI: No. They have said these are -- these were gifts from us, use them as you see fit.
QUESTION: Adam, you're -- the State Department, as you said, was coordinating, accepting the offer, handling the offer and delivering the offer. Whose responsibility would it be when the offer was made to check if this -- if they would have to go through these legal requirements? Is this -- when you let FEMA know? Is this a FEMA or USDA kind of role, that they should have said, "Please go back and check exactly what is in this MRE?"
MR. ERELI: Yeah. You know, as you can see by the timeline and this was being done, you know, very quickly to meet an immediate need. And as you can also see in the disposition of the MREs, the need was met very quickly. Obviously, I guess, there were regulatory restrictions that many of us were not aware of at the early stages of this process.
QUESTION: A follow-up? Adam, is this somewhat of a tit-for-tat because --
MR. ERELI: No, it's not.
QUESTION: No? About a year and a half ago --
MR. ERELI: No tit-for-tat.
QUESTION: Now, a year and a half ago in Africa, they would want to receive genetic modified foods.
MR. ERELI: No, no tit-for-tat.
MR. ERELI: This is -- that is a specious connection.
QUESTION: Factual thing. Is there a concern about that there's an expiration on these things that's going to render them useless in x-number of days or whatever?
MR. ERELI: Is there a concern? I think we obviously want to find needy populations and get them these supplies as soon as possible because if you need it, you need it now. So we're eager to resolve this soon. I don't know what the expiration date is.
QUESTION: And will the U.S. fund shipping them to the needy country, as they were shipped to us?
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't predict how it would work, but I think obviously we would, if there's a country in need and people in need, we would act to respond, again, to that need as other countries responded to ours.
QUESTION: Do you know if there have been any requests so far for any of them?
MR. ERELI: I do not believe there have. That's why they're still there.
QUESTION: Right. When did you put out notice to other countries that they could have these if they wanted them?
MR. ERELI: I'll check.
QUESTION: Are you targeting any specific countries or you just put a note out to all ambassadors, needy populations, let us know?
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: There was a note put out to all embassies?
MR. ERELI: I'll check. I think so. I think so.
QUESTION: These have been sitting there for a month. Did you do it a month ago?
MR. ERELI: I'll check.
QUESTION: Could you take the question and get back to us on it?
MR. ERELI: That's what "I'll check" means.
QUESTION: Well, it doesn't always mean we get an answer.
MR. ERELI: If there's an answer, I'll give you an answer.
QUESTION: Different subject?
MR. ERELI: Different subject? Yes.
QUESTION: A couple of days ago there was North Korean defectors at Korean boarding school in China. The Chinese Government has deported North Korean defectors by force to North Korea. It's a clear violation of human rights. What will be the response in the United States Government?
MR. ERELI: You know, this is a -- I'm not familiar with the circumstances of this particular case, I don't know the details of what's involved, so I hesitate to make a comment on it.
QUESTION: On North Korea, there's reports this morning that Governor Richardson will be going over there. Can you talk about any role the State Department had in that and what capacity he's going over there?
MR. ERELI: The Government of North Korea extended an invitation to Governor Richardson to visit North Korea. He is not traveling as an official representative of the United States and he is not carrying a message on behalf of the Government of the United States.
He consulted with us about his visit. We briefed him on our policy and our dealings and state of play with North Korea. We expect that, you know, he would go and he'll come back and brief us, and we look forward to that. But as I said, he is not traveling as a representative of the U.S. Government and he's not carrying any message for us.
QUESTION: When you say that he briefed you on his trip, did he --
MR. ERELI: No --
QUESTION: Consult you. Consult you. Excuse me. Did he consult you before he accepted the offer and say, "What do you think of this? Obviously, I wouldn't be going as a U.S. representative, but would this kind of damage what you have gone on right now?"
MR. ERELI: I wouldn't put it that way, but yeah, he -- before he decided to go, he solicited our views, and so it was a very sort of, I would say, collegial and consultative planning for this.
QUESTION: Would you say this is a different way of approaching the problem, sending someone in a non-official capacity?
MR. ERELI: No, no. I mean, there are regular -- periodic, I would put it -- visitors, non-official visitors, to North Korea, so this is not a unique visit in that regard. And it's -- you know, it's a regular, ongoing part of international exchanges and international affairs that you have non-official visitors to countries at various times.
QUESTION: I saw a group of Korea experts leaving the building about 45 minutes ago. (Laughter.) Seriously.
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: Selig Harrison, Tom Hubbard.
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you know what that was all about?
MR. ERELI: Not that specific group. But, you know, clearly, as the State Department in carrying out our diplomacy on North Korea, solicits and values the insights and ideas of a wide variety of people.
QUESTION: Adam. Just to follow up on Governor Richardson. I mean, he's not just any person there because he is somebody associated with the previous administration and the previous approach to North Korea. Right? Is there any worry that his presence in North Korea might undermine what is this Administration's --
MR. ERELI: That's not a concern, frankly. I think, as a result of our discussions with Governor Richardson, I think we both have -- we both share our -- share an interest in seeing North Korea make the right decision with regards to ending its nuclear program and choosing a path of reintegration with the international community.
MR. ERELI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Governor Richardson had been the department head for the U.S. Department of Energy and also obviously at the United Nations. So wouldn't he be an official --
MR. ERELI: No, he wouldn't. He's Governor of New Mexico.
QUESTION: No, I understand that now, but --
MR. ERELI: He's a former official, but he's not a current official.
QUESTION: Right. Wouldn't be an excellent person to bridge that gap with the North Koreans?
MR. ERELI: We've got -- there's no need to bridge any gap. We've got an official engagement with North Korea through the six-party process and that's working just fine.
QUESTION: Last day before the referendum in Iraq.
MR. ERELI: Anything more? Sorry. On North Korea?
QUESTION: The report also said that --
MR. ERELI: Who? A report?
QUESTION: The report from the five (inaudible), including special flight. Is there anything special? I mean, you said it's not as U.S. official and all those things, but I don't think any international exchange program get a special flight.
MR. ERELI: Right. He -- the Administration is providing the Governor an Air Force plane for his courtesy and convenience. And that is because he is a former Cabinet official.
QUESTION: He had good hunting with the North Korean.
MR. ERELI: Pardon?
QUESTION: He had a good hunting with the North Korean delegation in UN when he was --
MR. ERELI: Okay.
QUESTION: Working in United Nations.
QUESTION: Richard didn't get a plane (inaudible) --
MR. ERELI: He wasn't a former Cabinet official.
QUESTION: Not a Cabinet official, that's true.
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: Did he meet with the TAL specifically or was it other officials?
MR. ERELI: I believe so but I'll check to just to make sure.
QUESTION: Mr. Ereli, on FYROM. Under Secretary Nicholas Burns stated to a reporter from FYROM today after the unacceptable Nimetz's proposal against the territorial integrity of northern Greece, "It will be shameful for Greece to block Macedonia not to become a member of the Euro-Atlantic institution, mainly EU and NATO," for which Greek Government requested today and characterized his statements as unfortunate. Any comment?
MR. ERELI: I stand by Ambassador Burns' statements.
QUESTION: May we have the full statement of Mr. Burns on the record?
MR. ERELI: I'll see what transcripts we have available.
QUESTION: Any response to the Greek protest of the non-existent ethnic minorities in Greece as it was said by Felice Gaer, September 28th. The question of mine pending now for four days.
MR. ERELI: No, you've asked me if we had comment and every day I said, no, we don't have a comment.
QUESTION: Any response to the Greek protest? The Greek Government protests --
MR. ERELI: No. I think Ambassador Burns responded to it previously.
MR. ERELI: Last Friday.
QUESTION: To the Greek protests?
MR. ERELI: I believe so.
QUESTION: No, he did not.
QUESTION: Why does it matter?
MR. ERELI: Anyway, I'm sorry. I just --
QUESTION: Can you take this question?
MR. ERELI: I will --
QUESTION: I would ask what is your response?
MR. ERELI: No.
QUESTION: Anything on Iraq day before the referendum, your last assessment of how things are going to go, what you expect? And also Vice President Cheney said today in an interview that the U.S. hopes the constitution passes. And up till now, you guys have pretty much just being saying you hope for good participation and nobody to boycott and things like that. Is it the U.S. view that you hope the constitution passes?
MR. ERELI: Let me give you an update on the referendum. Voting has begun, actually. Eleven thousand Iraqis in detention, not convicted of crimes but in detention, have begun -- and in hospitals -- have begun voting. So the process is underway. As you know, yesterday we spoke to some of the positive signs we've seen in the preparations for the elections -- preparations for the referendum, including numbers of polling stations and numbers of voters registered.
This will, obviously, be a decision whether to accept or reject the constitution that Iraqis will make. And our view is that this is a -- what's important is that their decision be based on as full a participation as possible and as everybody's vote being given equal weight in being considered and tabulated fully.
I haven't seen the Vice President's remarks so I can't speak to them. Again, I don't know what he said and in what context he said it.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) just ask him, does it matter to the United States whether the constitution is accepted or rejected?
MR. ERELI: That's a decision for the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: And you have no view?
MR. ERELI: It's a decision for the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: Adam, a Sanford, Florida group called New Tribe Missions --
MR. ERELI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- has had some of their evangelistic ministries kicked out of Venezuela and Hugo Chavez has decided that this is imperialist infiltration. And he's saying he's running a socialistic revolution. Are you going to bring this to the OAS or to the United Nations?
MR. ERELI: Well, I won't to speak to actions that may or may not be taken. What I will say is that, obviously, we've seen these statements and seen reports that this group was being expelled from Venezuela. I don't know that any official notification has been given or any steps have yet been taken. Obviously, we view any step, including this one, that imposes restrictions on civil society with concern. It's not the first time that nonprofit groups that are trying to help society and operate as civil society in Venezuela have been targeted and we view these actions with concern.
I'm sorry we've got Cyprus.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary Condoleezza Rice extended an invitation to the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat to visit officials of the United States, something which protested -- excuse me, something which perceived by the Cyprus Government today as a move towards two separate entities? How do you comment on that?
MR. ERELI: Yeah. They shouldn't see it that way. We regularly meet with Turkish Cypriots. Secretary Powell met with Mr. Talat before. This is part of our effort to talk to and help support a settlement of this issue.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)
DPB # 176
Released on October 14, 2005