21 March 2005

State Department Briefing, March 21

United Nations, Jordan/Iraq, North Korea, Nicaragua, Iran, Israel/Palestinians, India, Japan

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli briefed the press March 21.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Monday, March 21, 2005
12:50 p.m. EST

Briefer:  Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

-- UN Secretary General Annan's Report on UN Reform
-- Query on Need for Reform in UN Human Rights Commission
-- U.S. Position on a Possible Resolution on the Use of Force

-- Jordanian and Iraqi Relations

-- Status of Six-Party Talks
-- Query on Alternatives to the Six-Party Talks and Possible Deadline
-- Accomplishments of Secretary Rice's Visit to East Asia


-- Elimination of MANPADS/Differences within Nicaraguan Government/Suspension of U.S. Security Assistance

-- Nuclear Program/ Need for Iranian Assurances/EU Negotiation Efforts

-- Comment on Reports of Israeli Plans for Settlement Growth in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority Funding Terrorist Activity/Roadmap

-- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's Visit
-- Denial of Visa for National Chief Minister of Gujarat State Modi/Bilateral Relations with U.S.

-- Ban on U.S. Beef Exports


MONDAY, MARCH 21, 2005

12:50 p.m. EDT

MR. ERELI:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to a new week at the State Department.  Let's start off with a question from our wires.

QUESTION:  What do you have to say about the proposed reforms by Kofi Annan?

MR. ERELI:  We certainly welcome the Secretary General's reports.  We will be examining it carefully.  It outlines an ambitious agenda for addressing a range of security and development issues as well as proposed reforms of the UN, and we very much appreciate the serious effort that Secretary General's report represents.

I think it's important to point out that the United States has long been a proponent of UN reform.  We are committed to building a more effective and efficient UN.  That's really one reason why President Bush selected Under Secretary John Bolton to be our representative there.  He and all of us are looking forward to him getting to New York and being able to act on and consult with the UN on these many recommendations.

I think that for now what we'll be focusing on is assessing the report, engaging with other member states and UN officials in the months ahead and hoping to act on a way -- act on this report in a way that improves the organization.

QUESTION:  But you do agree that reform is needed in the UN Human Rights Commission, which is one of the recommendations of Kofi Annan?  I mean, I know you, you're studying the report, but could you outline your concerns about the Commission?

MR. ERELI:  What I'll say on just a broad subject of human rights is that the report provides a -- I think, a positive emphasis on the importance of promoting freedom and respect for human rights.  Obviously, the question of the Human Rights Commission has been something that we've been concerned with for some time.  We appreciate, I think, again, the focus that the report gives to the overall question of human rights and obviously we'll be looking at its recommendations in light of past experiences.


QUESTION:  Can you say anything at all about the proposal for some sort of Security Council resolution on the use of force and preemptive action, just general feeling that the U.S. has?

MR. ERELI:  Our general feeling on the subject of a resolution is that, frankly, we're skeptical that any kind of resolution on the use of force would be helpful.  Certainly, we'd want to discuss it further with others.  The Secretary General's report makes it clear that states don't need to wait until they're actually attacked in order to use force and self-defense.  This is a fundamental element of the charter, and in our view, that's -- the charter deals with the issue sufficiently.

QUESTION:  Well, can I follow up?  Are you reluctant to sign on to such a resolution because you think it'll tie U.S. hands if it needs to take preemptive action?

MR. ERELI:  Well, I'm not --

QUESTION:  It will govern the use of --

MR. ERELI:  First of all, the resolution hasn't been introduced, so it wouldn't be -- I wouldn't want to comment on -- through speculation or theoretical possibilities of what such a resolution would entail.  As a general matter, what I would tell you is that it's -- that the charter and the Secretary General have made clear that anticipatory self-defense is something that is part of the UN system, is accepted by the UN system, and therefore further actions in terms of a resolution, I think, would have to be looked at carefully to see what they added and what positive contribution they could make.

And that's why we're skeptical.  That's why we would want to be able to look at it carefully.


QUESTION:  A new topic?

MR. ERELI:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Do you think Jordan is doing enough on its border with Iraq, in terms of security?

MR. ERELI:  The Government of Jordan has made clear that -- in both, I think, its words and actions, that it supports and acts in support of stability and security in Iraq.  And I think there is a -- as you referred to, there is a diplomatic dispute between Iraq and Jordan.  I'm certainly not in a position to go into the details of that dispute.  I'd leave that to the governments of Iraq and Jordan to talk about.  We would certainly hope and work to encourage good, cordial, strong relations between those two countries and help support that.


QUESTION:  Yeah.  Secretary Rice said something today about the U.S. looking to other options in case North Korea doesn't come back to the six-party talks?

MR. ERELI:  Are we done with Iraq?


QUESTION:  Could you say something about what those options might be, what's actually available?

MR. ERELI:  I won't really add to what the Secretary said in her press conference in Beijing today.  I think it's clear from her visit to China, as well as the overall trip, that getting back to six-party talks is a top priority for us.  It was a subject that was at or near the top of the agenda in all her discussions.

I think we've come away from this trip with a reinforced conviction that Japan, South Korea, China, the places that she visited, all believe that six-party talks are the way to resolve this problem, that this is a problem that we need to -- that needs to be addressed and that the next steps need to be Korea returning to talks and that all the parties, and especially China, will be moving with determination to bring about a North Korea return to the talks.

And that's, frankly, where the emphasis is, that's where our focus is, and that's kind of what I would leave for you to consider today.

QUESTION:  Just a follow-up.

MR. ERELI:  Yes, in the back.

QUESTION:  Just a follow-up.  Yes, I understand what you said now, but somehow, the Secretary mentioned the possibility of take -- to take another option.  Well, what is another option, war?

MR. ERELI:  Again, I don't want to go down the road of possible eventualities in this.  Because, frankly, (a) it's speculative, (b) I don't have those answers, (c) it doesn't help, frankly -- I think, doesn't cast any new light on where we are now, which is a determined effort to bring North Korea back to the table.

Remember, this isn't -- this is fundamentally about a choice that North Korea has to make, whether to take this offer or whether to take this proposal, go down the path of engagement with its neighbors and the international community and be able to address some of the very real problems that it has -- that have been caused by its flouting of international agreements and its persistent pursuit of nuclear weapons and public statements about its nuclear weapons.

So that's really where we are.  Where we may be in the indefinite, or where we may be in a period in the future that is not yet been defined, I'm not in a position to talk about.

QUESTION:  In other words, how about the deadline?  I asked you this question a long, long ago, but you --

MR. ERELI:  Right.

QUESTION:  -- you said, you didn't have any deadline on this issue.

MR. ERELI:  I still don't.

QUESTION:  Still, you don't --

MR. ERELI:  I still don't have a deadline.  It's as soon as -- we would like to see something as soon as possible.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  But, I mean, what is the benchmark at which point you decide that this isn't working?  Is it that all five parties have to come to an agreement, or do you have to be absolutely sure that North Korea does not want to come back to the table?  I mean, at what point, regardless of the timeframe, do you say, you know, an alternative course might be necessary?

MR. ERELI:  I don't know that those are questions for which there are answers right now.

QUESTION:  So it's basically open-ended?  There's no benchmarks to determine what's --

MR. ERELI:  Well, it's not open-ended.  The Secretary said this can't go on forever, but at the same time, where we are right now is focusing on the present, focusing on what we can accomplish now and not giving up on that tactic and that strategy.


QUESTION:  Do you have reasons for optimism about the prospect of North Korea returning to these talks?

MR. ERELI:  I wouldn't express it in terms of optimism or pessimism.  I would say determination and unanimity of views with our other six-party partners on the importance and necessity of that happening.

QUESTION:  Well, let me remove the offending characterizations from the question and ask if you have reason to believe the North Koreans will be returning to these talks anytime soon?

MR. ERELI:  We'll believe it when we see it.

QUESTION:  That's not what I asked.  I didn't ask if you would believe it when you saw it.  I asked if you had any reason to believe that will occur anytime soon.

MR. ERELI:  I think, in our discussions with the South Koreans and the Japanese and the Chinese, we are assured and we believe that our partners in the six-party talks are all committed to this, to doing everything possible to get North Korea to come back to talks and that's where we will be devoting our energies.  The choice is North Korea's.

QUESTION:  I didn't ask if you were convinced about the efforts of all partners.  I asked if you have any indication that North Korea will return to -- any reason to believe that North Korea will return to these talks anytime soon.

MR. ERELI:  We have reason to believe that that's what they should do and that's what we are committed to doing.  I can't divine for you North Korean intentions.  That's just beyond my capability.

QUESTION:  Again, I didn't ask you to define their intentions.  I asked if you have any indication they're going to return to it soon.  If you are absent any such indication --

MR. ERELI:  I can't --

QUESTION:  -- you are free to reply, "No, I don't have any such indication."

MR. ERELI:  I can't answer the question better than I already have.

QUESTION:  Adam, just to follow, this issue has been going forever and you say it will not go forever.  Don't you think North Koreans want -- or are -- has been blacking the -- blackmailing the United States on this issue and it will -- that they will never come forward and say yes?  So where do we stand in the future how this will be done if they say no?

MR. ERELI:  Well, it, (a) hasn't been going on forever, it's been going on for a number of years, maybe less than two years, I think; (b) it's not about North Korea and the United States, it's about North Korea and its neighbors in the region, as well as the United States, and it's about a threat that North Korea poses to the region and the international community; and finally, I wouldn't say it's blackmailing, I would say rather, it's North Korea working itself further and further into a corner and far from gaining an advantage by its confrontational attitude, finding itself more and more isolated than it was before.

QUESTION:  But Adam, all the neighbors are on one side but except China and North Korea and --

MR. ERELI:  That's not true.  Whoa, whoa, whoa.  All the neighbors -- China --

QUESTION:  It's supported --

MR. ERELI:  -- China, Russia, South Korea, Japan, and the United States are all of one mind and that is that North Korea's nuclear program is a threat, it needs to be ended and that we can all achieve that objective through six-party talks.


QUESTION:  What exactly has changed after Secretary Rice's trip with regards to six-party talks?  These are the same positions that were outlined before.

MR. ERELI:  Right.  So I wouldn't suggest to you that anything fundamental has changed.  What has been accomplished through this visit is, again, a reinforcement of a common purpose and a common undertaking and discussion about what more we can do to accomplish a shared objective.  This is a kind of process that, I think, benefits from high-level involvement and coordination at senior levels of government because it is a difficult situation and a serious threat that, again, benefits from this kind of attention, benefits from this kind of consistent and concerted diplomacy.


QUESTION:  Adam, by contrast, is the -- perhaps, the EU is sending the wrong message in that they might want to drop the arms embargo against China as well as the related matters over Taiwan, so, in other words, the North Koreans look at that?

MR. ERELI:  No, I don't think -- I wouldn't confuse the two issues.  The view of China and the view of the United States are unanimous on this, on the North Korea issue.  There's not a difference of opinion on it and it's not affected or attenuated, I think, by the other events that you cite.

Yes, George.

QUESTION:  On the story about a suspension of some military assistance to Nicaragua, please.

MR. ERELI:  The United States and Nicaragua are both focused on eliminating the threat posed by Man Portable Air Defense Systems or MANPADS that are currently in the Nicaraguan -- currently in the possession of the Nicaraguan Government.  President Bolanos made commitments to President Bush, Secretary Powell, about moving forward on those by elimination of those stocks.

We have achieved -- we did achieve some progress in that.  There are now some differences in the Nicaraguan Government about destruction of further stocks, and in light of those differences, I think, we are -- some of our security assistance will sort of be put on hold until that can be -- until the differences can be resolved and the MANPADS -- or elimination of the MANPADS proceed forward.

We're talking about, a total of about $2 million, mostly dealing with IMET and FMF -- and FMS assistance.  I would point out that this is a small part of an overall assistance program that drove us close to $46 million and that very -- other very important parts of our bilateral engagement on development and economic issues continue -- discussions, for example, on the Millennium Challenge Account and Nicaragua's participation in that very important issue, as well as CAFTA discussions.

So I think it's important to put this important, albeit, limited issue in the broader context.

QUESTION:  Hasn't the Nicaraguan Congress tied President Bolanos' hands by forbidding him to go ahead with the destruction of missiles without any permission?

MR. ERELI:  Right.  And that's what I was referring to when I said, look, there are differences within Nicaragua and we're hopeful those differences will be able to be worked out and destruction of the MANPADS can move forward.

QUESTION:  Well, leading the charge against destruction of the missiles are the Sandinistas.  Do you have anything to say about that?

MR. ERELI:  I don't have comment on one party or another party.  I would simply say that the government has -- government to government, we have agreed that destruction of these stocks is in our mutual interest and in the interest of regional security.  They pose a threat and we look forward to having the destruction get back on track.


QUESTION:  Is there any official response to Secretary General Annan's proposal for UN reform?

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.  Maybe you weren't in.  That was the first question of the briefing.

QUESTION:  I'm sorry.  That was the very first.  Okay, my apologies.

MR. ERELI:  Yeah, yeah.  That's okay.


QUESTION:  On Iran, speaking earlier today in Paris, the IAEA Chief Mohamed ElBaradei suggested that the U.S. would have to get on board with security assurances for the Iranians in order for them to give up their programs, not merely the Europeans.  Does --

MR. ERELI:  I saw press reports of the Secretary -- or the Director General's comments.  I haven't seen the comments themselves, so I'm a little reluctant to comment on reports of comments.  The general point I would make is that the world is focused on Iran's nuclear program and the world is looking for assurances and -- from Iran that this program is not a cover for developing nuclear weapons.

There are a lot of outstanding issues, a lot of outstanding questions that Iran hasn't answered, a lot of information that they haven't provided so that our concerns are well-founded.  The European Union is engaged with Iran on a process of trying to work towards the end of its enrichment program.  This is a process where the EU and us share a common objective and a common appreciation for the approach and we will -- we have and will continue to work with them to support their efforts.

I think the issue is not what the U.S. will or won't do.  We've been over this ground before.  The issue is what actions will Iran take or won't Iran take to meet the concerns of the international community, to answer the questions that have been posed to it and to bring itself into line with accepted international practice.

So, again, the choice -- the issue is not steps by the United States to get Iran to do what it needs to do.  The issue is Iran making clear to the international community, to us, to the EU-3 and to the IAEA, for that matter, that it is not using its nuclear -- peaceful nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons; certainly, the IAEA is active in this.  They're the ones -- one of the ones leading the process in trying to get Iran to answer those questions and that's where we think the focus needs to be.


QUESTION:  A change of subject.  There are reports that Israel has confirmed that 3500 new homes are going to be built east of Jerusalem -- that's settlement growth -- and has long sparked the controversy saying that there were hidden funds that were paying for this, coming way back to -- going back to 1999.  And it's, I guess, similar that there have been hidden funds from the Palestinian Authority that partly paid for -- or some of the terrorist activity from the West Bank and Gaza strip.

You've long called for a cessation of settlement growth and also for dismantling of the terrorism-type infrastructure.  Where does this all stand now?

MR. ERELI:  I'll reiterate those calls.  The roadmap calls for an end to settlement activity and action against terrorist infrastructure.  Those are important commitments that both sides have made and that we look forward to both sides following through on.  Besides that, I don't have any comment on new reports or reports of new settlement activity.  Obviously, it's something we'll be looking into, something we're regularly engaged with the Government of Israel on.  But I don't have anything specific for you on those reports.

MR. ERELI:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  A new -- another subject.  According to the press reports, a lot -- I mean, including an Indian Globe article, Dr. Rice had a good visit to India.  But another reports are saying that she left the visa controversy behind.  Dr. Modi's visa, a lot had been said and written about it, but my question is only two part:  one, if the decision was taken at the highest level with the Secretary Rice or from the Embassy level; and two, Government of India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had requested a review, so where do you stand on these things?

MR. ERELI:  Two points.  One is, Secretary Rice did have an excellent visit to India.  There were -- Secretary Rice and the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister were able to talk about all aspects of what is a strengthening relationship between the United States and India and we look forward to taking that relationship to an even greater strategic partnership.  And that is, I think, the overall impression one would take away from the visit.

The issue of this visa, frankly, I think, should be separated entirely from the broader issue of U.S.-India relations.  Why?  Because it's a specific case dealing with a specific visit.  It has nothing to do with bilateral relationships -- relations.  It has nothing to do with our close partnership and good friendship with India.  It is a technical matter related to a visa application.

For reasons I outlined last week, the visa that Chief Minister applied for was not given because the purposes of his visit did not coincide with the type of visa that he was requesting and also an existing visa was revoked because under the terms of our law the person in question did not qualify for a visa, given his involvement in -- or not his involvement -- given the findings of Indian commissions in investigating actions or lack of actions by state institutions and religious conflict in Gujarat state.  So that's with regard to the visit and the decision.

With regard to the appeal, our Ambassador in India, Ambassador Mulford, put out a statement today noting that the Ministry of External Affairs had requested that the Department of State review the decision, and upon review of the State Department, reaffirmed the original decision.  This was done at the -- well, I'll have to check -- I think it was done probably at the working level.

QUESTION:  I just have a quick one more, please.  Are you going to -- with what you said bilateral relations are important than this situation with the visa controversy separate from that, what message do you think you have for the Indian-American community here, at largely over 500,000 from his state in the United States, and who are mostly businessmen or hotel and motel owners.  They are protesting here.  And what -- my views are really that every country, including U.S., has right to deny visa or whom they want to issue in several countries is U.S. right.

MR. ERELI:  Well, let me just be very clear.  This decision was -- one should not make more of this decision than it is.  It's a decision based on the application -- based on the interpretation of law with respect to a specific request for a visa.  It is not a reflection of our views of the Government of Gujarat or the people of Gujarat or a reflection of our bilateral relations.

To the contrary, what I will tell you is that we are deeply appreciative of the role that the both the BJP and the Vajpayee Government have played in opening the way for positive transformation of U.S.-Indian relations.  And I would also the great respect the United States has for the many successful Gujaratis who live and work in the United States and the thousands who are issued visas to the United States each month.

QUESTION:  Adam, you exceed your question.  Normally, you don't discuss individual visa applications.  You have made an exception in this one.  Why is that?

MR. ERELI:  Not really.  In certain cases, you can give the reasons for denial of the visa, in which we've done in this one.

QUESTION:  I think it's an exception.

MR. ERELI:  I have asked that question.  I asked that specific question and my information is that in certain cases when visas are refused you can speak to the reasons for those refusals in terms of the law.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR. ERELI:  We have one question in the back.


QUESTION:  Thanks.  On Japan.  Secretary Rice, in Japan, described that beef issue -- beef trade issue is going to affect the good relationship between the United States and Japan.  How do you see the possibility this issue is going to be a conflict we experienced in 1980s?

MR. ERELI:  What I'll tell you is that the issue of beef exports, U.S. beef exports to Japan, is an important one for the United States.  We are concerned that the ban on beef exports has dragged on for so long.  Secretary Rice made the point to her Japanese hosts that we have -- we believe we have answered the questions and addressed the concerns of the Japanese Government on this issue and we think it needs to be resolved and the time has passed for it to be resolved and that, again, it is an issue that we take very, very seriously and we don't want it to persist any longer.  And that's really where I would leave it.

QUESTION:  How do you think the possibility of invoking Section 301?

MR. ERELI:  I won't get into possible steps that might be taken.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:20 p.m.)

(end transcript)

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