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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Press Relations Office > Daily Press Briefings > 2004 > Press Briefing Transcripts > August
Daily Press Briefing
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
August 17, 2004

INDEX:

VENEZUELA

Statement on Referendum Process/Acknowledgement of Preliminary Results
Transparent Audit to Address Concerns and Irregularities/Process of National Reconciliation
August 16 Statement by Group of Friends of Venezuela
US-Venezuela Bilateral Relationship

DEPARTMENT

Leave Status/Travel of Ambassador Boucher
Status of Tom Weston with the Department of State
Secretary Powell Phone Call with Foreign Minister Lavrov

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

Issuance of Tenders/Deployment of Technical Team
Israel's Commitments Under Roadmap

JAPAN

Letter from Bobby Fischer to Secretary Powell
Process for Renunciation of Citizenship
Prosecution of Crimes and Repayment of Financial Obligations

IRAN

Upcoming Report by IAEA Secretary General/Board of Governors September Meeting
Conditions for Referral to UN Security Council
Efforts to Bring Iran into Compliance with Its Commitments

GREECE

Efforts by Ambassador Miller in Support of Greece and Olympic Games

RUSSIA

Secretary Powell and FM Lavrov Discussions on South Ossetia and Yukos


TRANSCRIPT:

1:00 p.m. EDT

MR. ERELI: Good afternoon, everybody. I apologize for the delay. Hope --

QUESTION: Do you care to explain?

MR. ERELI: Care to explain? Had to brush my hair. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I'll tell you my theory afterwards.

MR. ERELI: Putting theories aside, what I wanted to start off by saying is that we will be putting a statement out after the briefing on the referendum process in Venezuela. In our statement, we will join the Group of Friends of Venezuela in acknowledging the preliminary results of the referendum, and noting that they show that President Chavez received the support of the majority of voters.

This is an important end to Venezuela's political crisis. As you will note, we put out a statement last week in which the Secretary – in which Secretary Powell noted that if these elections were conducted freely, fairly and transparently, it could be an important step towards a peaceful, electoral, democratic and constitutional solution to this crisis. We believe that now it is -- with this referendum having been taken, and the preliminary results being endorsed by a variety of groups, that now it is up to the Venezuelan people and Government to move forward.

We certainly congratulate the people of Venezuela on how they have managed this. There are, obviously, still some concerns about some voting issues, but we call on international observers to help conduct a transparent audit that will address those remaining concerns as part of a process of national reconciliation.

QUESTION: But you still can't bring yourself to congratulate Chavez. You're only congratulating the people of Venezuela.

MR. ERELI: This is a -- the people of Venezuela have spoken. This is about resolving a political crisis, an issue that divided the people of Venezuela. The people of Venezuela have spoken, and for our part, we're prepared to move on.

QUESTION: Yeah, but, you know, normally when someone wins an election, you offer that person congratulations and say you're prepared to work with them.

MR. ERELI: It's not an election.

QUESTION: Well, it's -- came pretty close to it, don’t you think? Wait a second. So you're not -- you're not going to congratulate Chavez on his victory.

MR. ERELI: I'll wait to put out a statement.

QUESTION: And what are you going to -- and about the opposition? Should the opposition just drop their complaints now?

MR. ERELI: No, we're saying that the -- there are concerns that have been expressed. There are issues related to irregularities that are charged, and we believe it's important to address those concerns in a transparent way. We call on the National Electoral Council to allow a transparent audit, and make the point that this is important to -- dealing with these concerns and resolving them is important to national reconciliation.

QUESTION: The United States has been slower than others to acknowledge the results. But, in contrast, in -- during the coup against Chavez in 2002, the United States was the quickest to blame it on his policies. What do you say to the criticism that the U.S. policy toward Venezuela is not guided by a love of democracy, but rather by a distaste for Chavez.

MR. ERELI: I'd say that's not a well-founded charge. First of all, we put forward yesterday, as part of the Group of Friends, a statement in which we commented on the preliminary results of the elections. So whether we do it individually or whether we do it as the Group of Friends, we were pretty up front pretty early on. So I wouldn't accept the charge of being late or dilly-dallying.

As far as, you know, this being about us versus any individual, that's not the issue. The issue is: the Venezuelan people dealing with a domestic political problem that they had, and we've been very consistent throughout that process; that there is a constitutional way to deal with it, there is -- in order for the process to work its way out, it has to be done transparently, it has to be done peacefully, it has to be done in a way that gives people the right to express their opinions and follows the constitution.

Those were the markers that not only us, but the international community, the Friends of Venezuela put down, so it's -- people want to make it a U.S. versus this person or U.S. versus that person issue, and it's not. I mean, that may be the way you want to write it, but it's not the way we've been approaching it.

QUESTION: So if it's not a personal issue, how's -- how are relations with Venezuela going to be now that you know who the -- who is the head of the government?

MR. ERELI: Well, I would say this: We've traditionally had a close relationship with Venezuela. And our relationship with Venezuela is based on a number of things: first of all, a commitment to democracy and shared values; and second, on close economic ties.

As we move forward in our relationship with Venezuela, we think it's important to remember these fundamentals: that strengthen -- that democracy and human rights is important that mutually beneficial economic and energy policies is important to both of us, and that we have a shared stake in hemispheric security, and cooperation in that area is necessary.

So those are the, those are the -- as I said, the principles, the basis on which we would, we would expect to move forward.

Yes.

QUESTION: Chavez was elected in 1988, and in 2000 a national board confirmed his position in the presidency, and now he has won a referendum. What do the United States now think of Chavez's democratic credentials?

MR. ERELI: As I said, this is not about an individual's democratic credentials or not. It's about a country and a body politic dealing with a problem that they had, a constitutional and political challenge. It is one that has been going on for a number of years. The United States, as well as the other countries in the hemisphere, the other Friends of Venezuela, have made it clear what they thought the principles were that were important to be respected as Venezuela, as the people of Venezuela work their way through this process.

QUESTION: That's right --

MR. ERELI: And what we're saying today is that those principles, in our view, in the view of the Friends of Venezuela, have largely been followed and the results are there for everybody to see: a peaceful referendum that was conducted transparently and that resulted in people expressing their will. Now it's time to respect that will and move on.

QUESTION: But, and my question is very specific, why -- and it's a (inaudible) electional -- sorry -- it's electoral process, where the people decide for who and to what. So is the United States accepting this credential, democratic, for Chavez, or it's rejecting that? That's my specific question.

MR. ERELI: This was not -- this was a referendum. It's a referendum on a specific question. So the people were voting on a specific question, and as I said before, we think that the results are -- the preliminary results show that a majority of the voters voted "no" to the question posed in the referendum. So that's the result, as far as -- the preliminary result, as far as the Government of Venezuela has said, as far as the international observers have said. And obviously, the final, final results have yet to be announced, but based on these preliminary results, we think that the issue is settled.

Yes.

QUESTION: But why has it taken 24 hours after former President Carter and the OAS came out and said that the results were -- the preliminary results were authentic, they were legitimate? Regardless of what you did in the Group of Friends --

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the United States itself, what took you -- what took -- why was the 24-hour delay?

MR. ERELI: I wouldn't call it a 24-hour delay. I would say --

QUESTION: Why did it take you 24 hours after everybody else?

MR. ERELI: Well, first of all, I haven't done a count of everybody. I wouldn't --

QUESTION: Well --

MR. ERELI: I don't know if I'd accept that everybody else has pronounced on this. But let me put it this way. First of all, we worked with the Friends of Venezuela to put out a statement last night, so that, I think is an important indication of where things were.

Second of all, you know, opening of business, we started working on this and midday we're putting it out. That doesn't strike me as tardy or lackluster.

QUESTION: What's your interest in having an audit of the vote and the allegations of fraud? You say, on the one hand, that there is an important end to the political crisis, but you want that audit so that the opposition can have closure, or because you actually think there is some substance to the allegations?

MR. ERELI: It's important that -- for people to accept -- in order for people to accept the results as credible and final that, if they have concerns, that those concerns be addressed in a transparent way. And so we think it's an important part of the process that, if you've got problems with certain aspects of the voting or certain specific incidents, incidences of concern, that they be -- that they be addressed by auditors, by experts, so that, if there were irregularities, those irregularities can be documented and so that people don't persist in or can't persist in saying -- counting -- casting doubt over the results in a way that undermines the process of national reconciliation.

QUESTION: And back to the issue of the Group of Friends. You say you weren't counting, but within the Group of Friends, individually, Spain, Brazil and as well, you know, a heavyweight diplomat, Argentina, they had all come out and acknowledged the results. And this goes back to the question. Was it that the other members of the Group of Friends were asking you to sign on to the acknowledgement of the results and that that's why you were doing it?

MR. ERELI: Well, I would say, you know, our endorsement of the Friends, as a member of the Group of Friends, our endorsement is implicit in the Group of Friends statement that was put out yesterday. In addition to that, we are now going to put out our own statement today.

So, again, I just have to say I don't see that the charge has much merit.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: On Cyprus, Ambassador Richard Boucher, the chief spokesman of the State Department, arrived incognito in Cyprus. Do you know if he is on a political -- (laughter). That's -- this is true.

MR. ERELI: But if he was incognito, how do you know it was him? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no, he -- it was reported very extensively.

MR. ERELI: Ah.

QUESTION: And do you know if he is on a political or a personal mission, whatever?

MR. ERELI: Ambassador Boucher is on leave. Without talking about his whereabouts, I can assure you that everything he's doing on leave is personal and not political.

QUESTION: Do you know if Mr. Boucher landed in a legal or illegal airport in the Republic of Cyprus -- (laughter) -- since you are -- you view your policy to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, including the aviation, as you told us the other day specifically?

MR. ERELI: I don't know. Whatever Mr. Boucher is doing, it is personal and legal -- (laughter) -- as opposed to political and illegal.

QUESTION: One more question. Could you please confirm for the record that Professor Tom Weston has been quit as DOS Coordinator for Cyprus finally?

MR. ERELI: I'll have to look and check.

MR. CASEY: We actually put out something on that. We've addressed that question.

QUESTION: Mr. Casey has --

MR. ERELI: Okay. I think, if you'll check the -- if you check the website, we've put out a statement on this.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. ERELI: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Change subjects. The Israeli Government invited construction bids for 1,000 new homes in the West Bank. An Israeli official said that it's within the guidelines of the government and the agreements with the Americans. What's your comment on that?

MR. ERELI: Our comment is that we are studying the details regarding the tenders that have been issued by the Government of Israel. Our concern is to determine whether these tenders are consistent with the Government of Israel's previously -- previous commitments on settlements.

As you well know, National Security Council officials were in Israel recently, discussing with Israelis those commitments. I think we made it clear that we expect Israel to fulfill pledges it made to President Bush on the question of settlement outposts and settlement activity, and obviously, this is a subject of continuing discussion with the Government of Israel.

QUESTION: Adam, it seems pretty clear this is not consistent with the Government of Israel's previous statements. Why is it -- you know, it's pretty -- it seems fairly -- there seems to be a fairly obvious case to be made that this is a violation of their roadmap commitments. Why is it that you can't say that?

MR. ERELI: Because I'm not in a position now to say that any specific action is a violation of commitments. I'm just not -- we're not there yet.

QUESTION: Well, hold on. The commitment -- well, the roadmap says, "freeze all settlement activities." Okay? And that is what it says, right?

MR. ERELI: Freeze settlement activity, including natural growth.

QUESTION: Okay. This is a tender for 1,000 new houses in the West Bank. How is that -- I mean, it's -- it seems absurd that that's not a violation, or that there is anything to study here.

MR. ERELI: Right. I would say we've got to look at where these tenders are, what previous discussions were, what these tenders are for, what specific commitments were made, and then based on those discussions, I would perhaps be more comfortable telling you more.

I would also note that there is a technical team that's going out to Israel, to work with Israel, to study, you know, some of these specific questions.

QUESTION: Adam, I'm sorry, that just -- that does not fly. The commitment that the Israelis made was "freeze all settlement activity." So isn't this -- this is not freezing all settlement activity; in fact, this is the exact opposite of that.

MR. ERELI: Yeah, I can't go further than that, Matt. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Adam, you're saying you're studying where these new homes would be. Why would that make any difference that the roadmap says there cannot be in the occupied areas new settlement activity?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. Well, let me just leave it where I left it. What I told you is, frankly, what I'm comfortable saying and I don't want to, really, from the podium, at this time, to get into a discussion with you of the specifics of these tenders because, frankly, I don't have the exact specifics of the tenders; and pronounce to you, at this time, whether or not we think it is a violation of commitments.

What I would say to you is: (a) we've made clear to Israel what we think it's committed to; (b) our view is there should be in no doubt about what our views are; (c) that we continue to have discussions with the Government of Israel on this issue; and finally, at this point, I'm not going to tell you that this -- that these tenders do or do not violate those commitments.

QUESTION: Adam, the Israeli --

QUESTION: Within this general attitude, could you explain under what circumstances the building 1,000 new houses could be considered not --

MR. ERELI: No.

QUESTION: -- a broken settlement?

MR. ERELI: No. No, I could not do that.

QUESTION: So even in general you can't address this?

MR. ERELI: No.

QUESTION: How the -- how it would be possible to build these houses and not be in violation?

MR. ERELI: No. I cannot do that.

QUESTION: Because there aren't any.

QUESTION: Can you talk more about the technical team that's going out or the State Department -- if they are?

MR. ERELI: They are, they are from the State -- some of them are from the State Department. I'm not sure that all of them are from the State Department.

They'll be going in the coming weeks. I don't have an exact date for you.

QUESTION: Well, where would the others be from?

MR. ERELI: I don't know that there are from other agencies. I know that some are from the State Department. I don't know that -- that those people from the State Department comprise the entire group. If they -- and if they don't comprise the entire group, I'm not sure if they're -- where the others would be from.

QUESTION: Don't you think it's a bit unrealistic to say that the Israeli Government should be -- have no doubt about what your position is on their commitments when your unable to say -- when your unable to take, I mean -- unable to say right now that this is inconsistent with their commitments? If you're trying to parse the phrase in the roadmap that says "no new settlement activity," or, "a halt to settlement activity," you can't do that. It's black and white. It says it right there.

MR. ERELI: Yeah.

QUESTION: I realize -- I appreciate that you're on a -- kind of a tight rein on what you can say and what you can't say here, and you don't want to go beyond it, but it needs to be pointed out, I think, for the record, that you guys are very wishy-washy on this right now.

MR. ERELI: I would point out a couple things. Number one, not everything we say to the Israelis is on the record. So we have discussions with the Israelis. As I said, we've had discussions most recently with our Ambassador and the senior National Security Council officials about our concerns in this area. We continue to have discussions with the Israelis about our concerns in this area.

Obviously, this issue -- these tenders, as well as previous tenders at Maaleh Adumim, are subjects of those discussions and we've been very clear with the Israelis about what our views and what our understandings were -- are.

Now, just because I'm not going to -- I'm not in a position to speak to those from the podium right now doesn't mean that it's not something we've talked to the Israelis about.

But second of all, I think what's also important is that, you know, we're -- it's important to look at this as part of a bigger picture. We are working on these issues, both with the Israelis and the Palestinians, with a goal in mind, and that goal is to help promote Palestinians and Israelis finding ways to disengage and to promote their own national aspirations. So this is part of a -- I urge you to look at this as part of a larger process, and that's the way we're engaging with the Israelis on it, and that's the way we're engaging with the Palestinians.

QUESTION: Well, when you say that not all your conversations with the Israelis are on the record, are you suggesting -- because it sure sounds like it -- that in a closed-door meeting someplace someone is saying, "Okay, well, we realize that you signed up for this halt on all settlement activity, but -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge -- you can add a few here and there and we won't say anything"?

MR. ERELI: No, I don't mean to suggest that at all.

QUESTION: Well, it certainly sounds like it.

QUESTION: Given that, to most people, there isn't a gray area here and this is -- this does contradict the formal agreement you have, can you explain what understandings the Housing -- the Israeli Housing Minister thinks he has with Washington that he thinks that -- he said publicly these new settlement activity adheres to understandings he has with Washington?

MR. ERELI: No, I can't speak for the Israeli Housing Minister.

QUESTION: Well, perhaps you can speak for the United States. What understandings do you have with Israel regarding this? It sounds precisely what I just said, that behind the scenes you guys are saying, "Well, you know, we're not really going to hold you to it."

MR. ERELI: No. We are, I think, very clear both publicly and with the Israelis --

QUESTION: Well, not today you're not.

MR. ERELI: Let me be clear, if there's any misunderstanding or lack of clarity. We are clear with the public and with the Israelis that they have made a commitment to freeze settlement activity, including natural growth, and that is the position -- that is the commitment they have made, that is what we are working with the Israelis to follow through on, both publicly and privately.

QUESTION: Well, if that's the case, then how can you not see this as just a giant slap in the face from Sharon?

MR. ERELI: That's as much as I can do for you. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Adam, how much money does the United States give Israel every year? It's 3 -- it's a little over $3 billion. You're saying that you have zero influence now?

MR. ERELI: No, I'm not saying we have zero influence. I'm saying that we are working with the Israelis to see that they fulfill their commitments that they've made.

QUESTION: Well, that would mean, then, does not that necessarily mean that you're telling them, "Stop, take back these tender offers"?

MR. ERELI: I'm not going to get into the details of what we're discussing.

Yes.

QUESTION: New subject. Adam, what can you tell us about a letter that Bobby Fischer reportedly faxed to Secretary Powell, either through the U.S. Embassy or otherwise, requesting an expedited processing so that he can renounce his citizenship?

MR. ERELI: I've heard about the letter. I haven't seen it, actually. I think we've talked a little bit about this subject previously. As you know, there is a process for the renunciation of citizenship. Also, as you know, we have a -- we don't have a Privacy Act Waiver for Mr. Fischer so there's a limit to what I can say about his case. But I would just note that, as I said before, there is a process for renunciation of citizenship. That process depends on, in some cases, where you are and what your status is. But, you know, without going into the specific details in this case, I would just say that, again, there's a process and that it's -- Mr. Fischer probalby knows what it is.

QUESTION: If Mr. Fischer does renounce his citizenship, isn't he still, by law, required to face any charges that the U.S. may have, which the U.S. does have pending against him?

MR. ERELI: Yeah. Again, without referring to any specific case, I would note that renunciation does not allow a person to escape possible prosecution for crimes that they may have committed in the United States or repayment of financial obligations.

QUESTION: Change the subject to Iran. When does the United States want to report Iran to the Security Council for its nuclear programs?

MR. ERELI: I think you're getting a little bit ahead of things. There is a report from the Secretary General -- or the Director General of the IAEA that's due at the end of this month, I think, on Iran's fulfillment of obligations and actions taken with regard to its treaty obligations, and there is a Board of Governors meeting of the IAEA scheduled in September, and that will be the place where I think the members will discuss this Director General's report, and -- as well as what actions they want to take on the basis of it.

So, again, that's the sort of process, and I'm not going to, at this point, prejudge for you where it's going to end up.

QUESTION: So, apart from the process, what's the U.S. policy or position? Does it want Iran to be referred to the Security Council?

MR. ERELI: The U.S. position is that the IAEA regulations or IAEA rules call for referral to the Security Council if -- under certain conditions, and those conditions include failure to abide by the regulations, violation of treaty commitments, engaging in activity that contravenes those treaties and IAEA regulations. So if it's determined that Iran is -- falls into that category, then it would be appropriate to refer to the Security Council.

QUESTION: So there's no specific U.S. policy; it's just whatever the IAEA --

MR. ERELI: Well, the U.S. has its views on the subject. As you know, we've been saying for a long time that -- and I think we've been slowly building a growing consensus, that Iran is engaged in a clandestine nuclear weapons program, that this program is a matter of concern to the international community, as is Iran's repeated attempts at concealment and deception, and that we are working, I think, cooperatively with the IAEA and other members to try to, I guess, bring to light Iranian activities, try to bring Iran into compliance with commitments it has made, and failure to do -- and should we fail in doing that, then -- and Iran is -- and it's determined that Iran is in violation, then refer it to the Security Council.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: On Greece. Another ambassador now. According to Detroit News, your Ambassador to Greece, Tom Miller, described himself as a U.S. coordinator on anti-terror in Athens for a bunch of U.S. security experts -- FBI, CIA, ATF, Navy SEALs and Special Forces -- and that he has a personal stake in the war of terror, talking extensively about November 17 terrorist organization, et cetera, et cetera.

How do you explain the fact that despite that the Olympic Games started, Ambassador Tom Miller is the only U.S. official who has insisted over and over to give lectures about terrorism and security in Greece? Even President Bush, in his long radio message for the Olympic Games last Saturday, to his credit, did not mention even one time the words "terror" or "security" in Athens.

Why Mr. Miller is doing that? Is there any motivation?

MR. ERELI: I didn't see the remarks that you were speaking of so I'm not going to comment on them. I would simply say that Ambassador Miller is doing an outstanding job in supporting Greece and the United States in helping to put on a great Olympics and to accommodate a very, very successful American delegation there.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. ERELI: I'm sorry. Tammy.

QUESTION: Actually, one question on Yukos. Could you tell us about Secretary Powell's conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and whether the -- Russia's handling of the Yukos case is having any impact on the oil markets, if that was discussed?

MR. ERELI: Secretary Powell talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday. They talked about Georgia, as well as Yukos. On the subject of Georgia, they reviewed developments there. We’re both, as you know, working with the parties to promote dialogue and a peaceful resolution of the issue, issues in South Ossetia.

On Yukos, again, the Secretary did note to Foreign Minister Lavrov that we're following it carefully and that developments in the case are -- have an impact on investment and it's important that the rule of law and due process be preserved.

QUESTION: Did they discuss the politicization of the case, any of those concerns?

MR. ERELI: No, not directly. That issue didn't come up.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)

DPB # 136


Released on August 17, 2004

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