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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 > Press Releases (Other) > 2005 > November
Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 9, 2005


Briefing to Preview Secretary Rice's Middle East Travel

Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman

David Welch, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs

Liz Cheney, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs
and Coordinator for Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiatives

(2:10 p.m. EST)

MR. ERELI: Welcome, everybody. By popular demand, we have eminent leadership of the Near Eastern Bureau

QUESTION: Actually, more by instruction. (Laughter.)

MR. ERELI: In response to your desires, which we are here to serve, the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs and Principal Deputy Assistant for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch and Liz Cheney are here to brief you on the Secretary's upcoming travel to the Middle East.

Thank you, David. Thank you, Liz.

Please.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Hi. The Secretary of State's traveling, leaving here tomorrow and arriving in Bahrain on Friday. And I'd like to say a few words just to frame the trip for you and you can ask me about this or anything else you wish.

She's going to Bahrain to inaugurate the BMENA session of the Forum for the Future. There she'll have, in addition to the meetings at the forum itself, a limited opportunity to do some bilateral business with some of the participants. I'll come back to the substance of this in just a moment.

She'll be in Bahrain until, let's see, late Saturday afternoon and then we go to Jeddah. In Jeddah, the purpose of the stop there is to meet with the Saudis bilaterally to inaugurate -- the first inaugural session of the U.S.-Saudi Strategic Dialogue. That will be the evening of Saturday, the 12th and continuing in the formal session through the morning of the next day, Sunday. Meet with King Abdallah there -- thereafter. And then in the afternoon, travel from the Kingdom to our next destination -- Jerusalem -- Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, the Secretary will that evening -- Sunday evening -- address a conference of The Brookings Institution, Saban Forum. On the podium will be the Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, and the Secretary of State. Each will give a speech. On Monday, we have bilateral business with the Israelis and then the Palestinians and we come back to participate in the memorial services for the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Then the Secretary of State that afternoon leaves our consular district and heads elsewhere for travel to Asia.

What do we want to do in these various engagements? I mean, if you see from this schedule there really are three different kinds of activities in a sense. There is the new, what we're trying to build in the Forum for the Future, where in the last year there has been tremendous momentum in broadening the circle and deepening the interest in reform as a topic of one -- a topic that the United States would initiate the conversation on. Now, you have a quite different audience and participation, we are all engaged in this. So this is an example of transformational diplomacy in action.

In Saudi Arabia, where we move for perhaps a more traditional bilateral vehicle, the Strategic Dialogue, this is something that was agreed at the level of the President and the then Crown Prince -- Crown Prince Abdallah at the time -- in their meeting at Crawford, Texas in April of this year where it was decided that as part of the effort to rejuvenate and elevate the U.S.-Saudi bilateral relationship, we would have a strategic dialogue at the ministerial level twice a year -- one session in Saudi Arabia and one in the United States. The joint committee for this purpose will be headed by Prince Saud Faysal on the Saudi side and the Secretary of State on our side. If you're interested, I can describe to you some of the issues we expect to discuss there.

Then we move on. I'll just save it for the Q&A, if we might. Then we move on to Jerusalem.
Of course, many people are showing up for the Brookings event and the memorial for ex-Prime Minister Rabin. It's been ten years since his murder and ten years of quite dramatic change in the environment between Israelis and Palestinians and their neighbors and especially in the last year. So look closely for what the Secretary has to say in her speech because I think she will address some of these changes that we have seen in the area.

And then we will try and take a step forward in the discussions with the Israelis and Palestinians about the issues that are in front of them. Those range from where we are, now that the Israelis have disengaged from Gaza and what the next steps are to address the problems in that respect, as well as how to get on the roadmap with convincing actions by the Palestinians to address security principally. Then looking ahead also to the Palestinian elections that'll be held in January and what that means for the political process that they have underway.

I would point out that this is -- the fact that we're undertaking this part of the visit and with that kind of bilateral content between Israelis and Palestinians is another indication of the priority this has in our foreign policy overall. The Secretary has traveled several times to the region for this purpose and this means in consecutive months we will have had Prime Minister Sharon here in New York in September meeting with the President and Secretary of State there, President Mahmoud Abbas here in October for the same. Now, she's back out in the area again.

So without interim, I'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary, it's been two months since the Gaza withdrawal and there still doesn't seem to be any real movement towards getting back on the roadmap. Are you a bit disappointed on just the lack of progress in that area, that there still seem to be the same tensions?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, first, the Gaza pullout was accomplished mid-September, ending 38 years of occupation in Gaza. And I would expect that there would be difficulties still that are there to address, issues such as the crossings between Gaza and Israel, the Rafah international opening for Gaza, movement between Gaza and the West Bank, security within Gaza itself because it's a big law and order issue for the Palestinian Authority. More importantly, how the international community also works to marshal support for the Palestinian people in the aftermath of disengagement. Wolfensohn is back out in the area right now as we speak and he's working on that agenda.

We do believe that there has been progress made. I'm not saying these are easy things to do; some of them are quite tough. I mean, for example, let's take the administration of the Rafah crossing for example. This is -- for a very long period of time, nearly four decades, Israel has controlled egress in and out of the Palestinian territories by Palestinians. Now, this crossing will be in the hands of the Palestinian Authority on one side and Egypt on the other to run. And it will offer how that might be done in a manner that reinforces confidence and provides for security for all parties.

The Egyptians have concerns in that regard, by the way, as do the Palestinians. It's not just the Israelis, but the Israelis have an important security concern for how this is administered. And we want to see a Gaza that is more open, more free, more prosperous. This is the object of our work.

I do believe progress has been made but it's not completely wrapped up yet. I'm hoping that in the next few days it will be. The Secretary will work on these issues herself, if need be. And again, as I said, I'm hopeful that there will be progress, but I don't exactly have a report yet from Jim Wolfensohn or where he's gotten in his conversations over the last couple of days.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Since you opened the door to other questions, I'd like to ask you about Ahmad Chalabi.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Yeah.

QUESTION: There are some Democrats and even some Republicans who are questioning aloud why someone like Ahmad Chalabi, who is alleged to have passed on sensitive intelligence to Iran and there's an active FBI investigation underway into that, and somebody who may have passed on deliberately or not, faulty intelligence on the war in Iraq, on WMD, why somebody like him should be met by the Secretary of State and other principals within this Administration?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, he's an official in the Iraqi Government. He has a portfolio and we work with him and his ministry, his colleagues, every single day. So we have issues of bilateral concern to discuss with him. In terms of the questions you refer to with respect to any law enforcement interest or that sort of thing, I'll just take a pass on that. That's for someone else to address, not I.

Mr. Chalabi has responsibilities in the oil area and there are some serious concerns we have over subsidies for fuel, security for oil facilities, these are all matters that we think it's entirely appropriate to discuss with him.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question about the Middle East and the roadmap. I mean, where are you with the roadmap? Are you just focusing mostly on getting Gaza right or are you looking at the other thorny issues? Are you looking at the question of Jerusalem? I think there's some impatience on the Palestinians’ part that things aren't progressing.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I would agree with you there is an impatience that things are not progressing. And some of that impatience is certainly felt in the Palestinian community. Law and order, for example, is not simply a security issue for Israel, it's also a concern for the average Palestinian.

If you look at the roadmap, it's performance-based and separated into three phases. The final status issues, such as Jerusalem, don't come until there's later political-level discussion. First phase of the roadmap deals with a number of issues, principally security performance. This is where we are now in terms of addressing security performance. There are continued problems. This is -- while there is a commitment on the part of the Palestinian Authority to pursuing negotiation on the platform of peace and calling for an end to violence and terror, that's their intention and their capabilities are quite a bit different.

The performance on the ground has been, at best, uneven. There's a lot of work to do in that area. As you know, we have a security coordinating mission that's devoted to this. General Ward heads it. He will be transitioning out of that job shortly and we expect that we'll put another person of stature in there to replace him. President Bush, when he addressed this question in the Rose Garden the other day when President Mahmoud Abbas was here, talked about an enhanced mission for that team.

We think getting security right is absolutely fundamental. Without that, it's hard to conceive that you move even within the first phase, let alone to subsequent phases. And the whole idea of the roadmap is to make it performance-driven and have accountability for each side's obligations.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up? But you asked -- you talked about the elections coming up. I was wondering if the U.S. had clarified its position on Hamas in --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Oh, we have a clear position on Hamas. I don't -- if my colleagues from this podium haven't been clear about it, let me be clear. Hamas is a terrorist organization. The United States does not have any relationship with Hamas. We are barred by law from doing so.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on performance basis? Inasmuch as the first phase of the roadmap calls for the security issues, there is also Israeli obligations which I'm afraid you did not mention, like even removing the outposts, which again, one major promise Mr. Sharon handed to Mr. Bush several times, I think more than a year ago or is nothing being done and we hear nothing from your Administration except statements that we call upon Israel not to carry out any unilateral decisions, which they never respect.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, I would disagree with you, I guess. I do believe that our friends listen to our statements. I do believe they take them with more respect than you suggest. Our views on this are clear. There is a roadmap obligation for Israel with respect to settlement activity and we expect them to abide by that. This is something that we discuss with them all the time. They are -- I don't have any doubt in my mind that they understand what our position is.

With respect to the illegal outposts, that's comprised in this discussion. It remains there and the Israeli Government, we believe, is obliged to deal with that matter and we hold them to that expectation.

QUESTION: When do you hold them to it? It's been five years since the Bush Administration has been in office and this is basically what I've been hearing for five years.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, you know, look, all I can say is you have to watch the activity on the ground --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: No, I don't believe that -- first of all, you have to be very careful about the facts here. Settlement activity embraces a lot of different kinds of things in the minds of some and they understand our position. We expect that they will deal with this matter. There have been inquiries into the illegal outposts issue by the Israeli Government itself and I believe there are some recommendations have been made in the Israeli political system for how to deal with that, and we expect that they will address those.

QUESTION: All I'm saying is when? That's the one question we're trying to get answered. I mean, you keep saying you expect them to address it. If we've heard that for five years, why should we think that you mean anything since you still won't say when? I mean, like say something like within a year or within -- by the end of the term.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, that would postpone something that might be useful tomorrow.

QUESTION: So you don't have any parameters that you'd like to share on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: We would like them to do it, with respect to the illegal outposts, just as soon as they can.

QUESTION: Along those lines, the religious report yesterday came up with another problem with the fence that hasn't been mentioned before and people are being kept away from being able to pray and whatever. Is there any change in position on that fence? Is the United States going to let it continue to the end or what's going on?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, I mean, there's two questions here. One is on having appropriate access to holy sites. I mean, I think our views on that is, you know, people ought to have the right to make their observances however they wish to make them. Of course, there's always a security concern about an unrestricted access and we would like to see that those security restraints are imposed in an appropriate way that do not inhibit people's exercise of their religious beliefs.

Second, with respect to what you call the fence what I would prefer to call the barrier, there are two points I'd make. I think you've heard this before. One is there's the issue of Israel's right to protect itself. We think they have that right and so we're not -- the concept of a barrier as one means to exercise that right is not something that we call into question. Second, the course of that barrier is an issue or could be an issue. And there we have discussed with the Israelis from time to time and we continue this conversation, our concern that the course of the barrier have -- that it not be a political course, that it having the minimal impact possible on the lives of people in the area where it's built.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Sir, just before you came out here, there were some explosions in Amman. Do you have -- at a hotel.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did you hear about those? Did you have any time to check on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Yeah. I saw them on the scroll of Jazeera right before we came down and then Adam was briefed as we came in here. I'm sorry I have no further information for you. You know, had we had enough time I could have checked, but to be honest with you, I was in a little bit of a rush to get here.

Charlie.

QUESTION: David, a couple of things. One, in your meetings with the Palestinians, I don't believe you mentioned where they would be. Can you tell us where -- will it be in Ramallah or will she go to Gaza or --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: There are no surprises on this trip, Charlie.

QUESTION: No surprises, okay. And secondly, you alluded to her remarks at the Saban Forum. Can you amplify what she might be --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: No. I'd rather not. In all honesty, I haven't taken a look at the drafts since we've sat down with speechwriters to discuss it. We worked over some ideas with the Secretary and, you know, this is an event that comes at a unique time. It comes at a very important moment in the region. There's been an awful lot of change in this last year, the first year of the second term. There are significant events coming up also, ranging from the elections in the Palestinian Territories to the Iraqi election mid-December. I just think when you take a look at the region, there's an enormous amount going on.

Second, it comes at a time for a memorial for Yitzhak Rabin, too. And I think, you know, by sending a high-level delegation for that event, the United States recognizes the historic contribution this gentleman made to his nation's security in history.

Third, as I tried to indicate, the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a huge important part of our foreign policy agenda. And this Secretary has devoted an enormous amount of time to that and this visit includes more work in that area.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) I know no surprises about Gaza, but what does that mean? Where is she going to meet Mr. Abbas*?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, she'll meet him in his office.

QUESTION: In Ramallah.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: You know, I don't normally like to talk about my boss's schedule in that regard. But there are no surprises in terms of where that meeting will occur.

Steve.

QUESTION: I didn't want to change the subject if people want to stay on the Palestinians. I'd like to ask about the democracy in broader Middle East.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Sure.

QUESTION: I wonder if you and Ms. Cheney could --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I'm happy to allow Liz to answer a bunch of questions on this. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, not hard questions. I just wonder if you could give us your best assessment of how much progress there really has been made in democracy and address the criticism of so many reformers that there hasn't been much, particularly in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

And the second part of the question is why are you setting up this fund? There have been funds all along, both here and in Europe, what's the point?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Okay. Let me answer this with a couple of points and, if you don't mind, ask Liz to say some things because we do want to get out some thoughts about what we'd like to accomplish in Bahrain. I wasn't asked at all about that.

First, it's very important that people see that this critical element of our approach to this region and internationally the promotion of democracy, a campaign for change and reform that is broadly-based, especially in this region, is a central element in our overall approach. That's number one.

Number two, I take your point and I guess you're setting up the argument here about what has happened. I think there's been enormous change in a very short amount of time in this region, in particular, on this issue. Now, it's going to happen in different places -- in different ways in different places. You mentioned some and you didn't mention others.

Let me just take two that you did not mention: Iraq and Lebanon. In Iraq, well, actually you didn't mention three: the Palestinian territories. But I think you might agree with me, Steve, actually if you look at what's happened in democratization -- and by that I mean, just the basic concept of allowing the people -- people to speak their minds and exercise their own political will by themselves, a lot has happened in Iraq, in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon.

In Egypt, there's been a constitutional change to allow for a system of electing a president. Egypt just started today its parliamentary elections and those will continue over the next weeks. From my experience there, I would say there's a completely different atmosphere politically about what is going on. And I think, you know, one thing that we're noticing now that we've gone through nine months or so of this term, is that this conversation is not -- it's not between us and "them" anymore. It's among all of us and it's much more broadly based than it has been for a long time.

Now, this does not mean it doesn't occur -- it occurs in the same uniform, homogeneous way in each place. It doesn't. There are going to be a lot of differences between these places and you mentioned some. The political and social cultures are quite a bit different. Saudi Arabia is quite a bit different than Egypt and certainly than Lebanon. And that doesn't mean the conversation isn't occurring also with them.

And I would expect that as we refresh our own bilateral dialogue with the Saudis in a forum like this Strategic Dialogue that we're inaugurating, this will be one of the topics of conversation as well -- how that's happening in the Kingdom.

Liz, do you want to say a few things, allow me to sit down for a second?

MS. CHENEY: I want to answer the questions to you about why a fund. But also, you know, I think -- I was struck the last time I was in Egypt by the comments of the director of an American NGO there who was commenting on the presidential elections and talking about the progress that had been made, the clear flaws that there were. But he said to me, you know, at the end of the day the spell has been broken. And that strikes me as true across the region that for many years people believed that they couldn't express their views, that they were not able to have a stake in sort of forming their own future and in deciding their own destiny, and in many ways we're seeing that that veil of fear is lifting. It's not gone. You know, we've seen just yesterday the arrest of Mr. Labwani in Syria as he returned to Damascus from a visit to the United States. So there very clearly still are governments that are employing tyrannical and police state tactics. But I think that we're seeing, as David said, something very real happening across the region in terms of progress towards opening up societies, opening up political systems and economic systems.

In terms of the two entities that we're launching at the Forum for the Future, one is the Fund for the Future that you mentioned, the other is the Foundation. The Foundation will support democratic political reforms, civil society development, free and independent media, and it's meant very much to be an entity that's separate from any one government, that has the support of a number of governments both in the region, in Europe, obviously the United States. It will have a board of directors that has no government officials on it and be a completely private sector civil society board of directors made up of individuals from the region, from Europe and from the U.S. It'll have a chairperson from the region.

The same will be true of the Fund. There'll be no government officials on the board of the Fund either. We think the Fund is important. Just for some basic facts, we're putting in 50 million, the Egyptians will put in 20 million and the Moroccans will put in 20 million and the Danes are putting in a million. And the Fund will support small and medium size enterprises across the region.

Now, it is modeled after the Polish-American Enterprise Fund and what we hope is that it will be as success as the Polish-American Enterprise Fund was. What you find across the region today is, particularly in the oil-producing nations, there is a lot of capital but the capital doesn't flow to the people who will create the jobs. It's very difficult for somebody to walk into a bank and get a loan if they don't have connections, if they're not a member of the right family, you know, if they don't have the collateral that you need to put up the loan.

So looking at the establishment of basically a venture capital fund that can operate along the lines of these enterprise funds with a board of directors that will hopefully be a very prominent board of directors so that we can see some of the same things that we've seen, particularly in Poland, but also in Hungary, in the former Soviet Union as well, where the boards are able to work with the governments in the region and talk to them about economic reforms that are needed to improve the investment climate so that investments can be made. So hopefully it has a reform benefit to it in addition to the actual equity stakes that the Fund will be taking in small and medium size businesses.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, the Foundation will support political reform and the Fund supports economic reform; is that it?

MS. CHENEY: Exactly.

QUESTION: And what is the Fund -- you mentioned some figures of what's going into the economic part of it. What's going into the political part of it?

MS. CHENEY: We're putting in 35 million into the Foundation to begin with and we've got $9 million that's been contributed by other countries. We've also got commitments for contributions from countries beyond those $9 million and we anticipate that you'll see some finalizing of those figures over the coming days. But -- so the Foundation will start roughly at approximately $45 million.

Andrea.

QUESTION: How do you decide who gets the money?

MS. CHENEY: That will be the job of the board of directors. In the case of the Foundation, you'll have a board of directors and then you'll have a management entity, and one of the first tasks of the board will be to put in place a charter that lays out the kinds of programs that will be funded and supported.

With respect to the Fund, you know, it's a bit of a different set of decision-making because that will have to do with, you know, which businesses have business plans that can be supported.

The interesting thing about the Fund is that it can build on some of the activities that were started at Sea Island a year ago, where the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank are providing technical assistance to businesses to develop business plans but not actually capital to fund those.

MR. ERELI: We've got time for just one or two more.

QUESTION: If I can just clarify that. Who will be on the board of directors and how will they be selected and how will these companies be vetted?

MS. CHENEY: What we'll be doing with respect to the Foundation -- and I think it's very important to talk about the two separately. With respect to the Foundation, we'll be having a meeting of all of the countries that have agreed to contribute funds, probably in January, somewhere in the region, to talk through how we will divide up the seats on the board, you know, how the decisions will be made about who's on the board. So you'll have a process in place. We haven't selected the board yet and we think it's very important that we do that in partnership with people from the region, in partnership with other European countries that have contributed funds as well.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. CHENEY: Some of it is.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Europeans and whoever?

MS. CHENEY: Absolutely. And both entities will have chairpeople from the region.

QUESTION: Yeah, I understand that this money is coming actually -- the U.S. contribution is coming from the MEPI funding, I believe. That has a base of $300 million, I think, allocated by Congress. Can you give us just an overview of how much of that $300 million overall has been spent on how many projects?

MS. CHENEY: I can come back to you with a direct -- specific number of projects. I don't know the exact number of projects, but let me come back to you with those figures.

The $300 million includes the money that's been appropriated for this year, which has not, obviously, gone out the door yet but the majority of the money that's been appropriated from 2002 through 2004 actually has been allocated for projects. I think our figure is like over 150 projects across the region, but let me come back to you with a specific figure so we don't get that wrong.

QUESTION: (inaudible) -- because I think at a briefing a day or two ago, you mentioned that the MEPI -- the funds that are now in MEPI would go in both cases in the -- to both the fund and the foundation?

MS. CHENEY: Right. The money -- the allocations for both those over a two-year period so you'll have '05 and '06 in MEPI money going to fund both the $50 million and the $35 million.

MR. ERELI: We just have time for one more.

QUESTION: I have a question on Saudi Arabia. Mr. Welch said that he will tell us the subjects of discussion in Saudi Arabia.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: We expect to cover our security relationship, including military issues, counterterrorism, reform, education exchanges, consular matters, energy and economics. I think that's the list of it.

MS. CHENEY: You said reform.

QUESTION: What about religious freedom?

MS. CHENEY: Yes. Religious freedom and trafficking in persons.

QUESTION: Will (inaudible) report on this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I'm sorry, what did you ask?

QUESTION: What kind of religious freedom do you expect in Saudi Arabia?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, we will cover all our concerns --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) 180 days. That's what the delay was before, supposedly.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I'm sorry, you know --

QUESTION: I read yesterday that the Secretary said that there was 180 days that she expected something to happen when she -- by the time she gets there.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: And she's getting there now and has anything happened?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: And she will discuss this. I mean, you asked her -- or what are we going to cover. I gave you a broad sense of the issues concerned and, you know, within each one of those, there will be questions that we would have and we might raise with the Saudi side.

But more broadly speaking, let me just say something about what's intended here. We want a -- Saudi Arabia is a key friend of the United States. We have important interests with each other and they with us. We need a forum in which we can have an honest and full conversation about the range of things that concern both of our countries, whether it's a question of religious freedom, whether it's a question of energy security, whether it's counterterrorism -- all those things have to be looked at thoroughly.

When the King -- the now King, then Crown Prince -- saw President Bush in Crawford in the Spring, they took a look at the relationship and they said, look, we'd like to take this a step further. We need to restore a sense that we have a full, mature, and deep dialogue on all these questions between our two countries and that's what we're inaugurating here. The Saudi side may well bring issues to the table that might be difficult for us, too. But that's the nature of a mature conversation between two important countries and that's what we expect.

MR. ERELI: Last question.

QUESTION: One more question? Are you concerned at all -- you know, a few of us here were on the Karen Hughes trip to the Middle East, we went to Saudi Arabia. And this Washington Post story last week about CIA secret prisons has been a dominant topic in this room for the past week or so. Are you concerned at all about what reaction you might get from those you're meeting with in the Middle East about that story?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Look, first of all, I don't want to address, you know, the question directly with respect to secret prisons. It's not my brief.

QUESTION: Right. But the story is already out there.

QUESTION: It's nobody’s brief. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, right.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, the question what are our bilateral discussions with other countries in the region of my responsibility is my brief and, as I said, people can raise whatever is on their minds. When it comes to these issues, when I have spoken to counterparts in the Middle East, I do so from a strong sense of confidence that, one, our values and laws are respected by Americans. Our standards of behavior, I believe, are important to us as a country, as a people and it is in our national interest to observe those. Second, you know, we have a -- we need to defend ourselves. We have security concerns, too. And that is an entirely appropriate thing for our nation to do. It's the one single obligation I, as a Foreign Service Officer trained from day one I entered this business. Protection of American citizens is, by law, my job.

MR. ERELI: Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Thank you all very much

2005/1068


Released on November 9, 2005

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