Ambassador Rice: Good morning everyone.
I just want to say a few words about the briefing that we received today from Undersecretary-General Le Roy about the electoral process in Sudan. He gave a very comprehensive and detailed summary of the circumstances on the ground, much of which we find quite disturbing.
He underscored and reinforced what have been our longstanding concerns about serious government restrictions on political freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of association, the opportunity for all political actors to campaign without impediment, harassment of the media, limitations on access to polling stations for many of the people of Sudan, in particular in Darfur as we have highlighted in the past, large segments of the population, particularly the internally displaced population will not have the opportunity to participate in this polling process. And indeed, the decision by the European Union to withdraw its observers, announced yesterday, from Darfur underscores just how insecure and problematic the electoral process is in that portion of the country, as well as elsewhere.
We are going to remain focused on this. We had seen these elections as many did, as meant to be an important milestone in the implementation of the CPA. Unfortunately, the trends on the ground are very disturbing, and we will and we are judging these elections on the basis of whether they provide an opportunity for the people of Sudan to fully and adequately express their political will, and whether they meet international standards and regrettably, the trends in this regard are not encouraging.
Reporter: Ambassador, on a day which President Obama and President Medvedev signed the new START Treaty and begin negotiations on an Iran sanctions resolution in New York, what is your degree of concern that this process in New York is almost certainly be still going on when the NPT Review Conference begins? And what kind of impact do you think that might have on the success or lack of thereof, of progress at this review conference?
Ambassador Rice: Well Bill, let me first begin by saying that today was truly a historic day. The signing of a follow-on START Treaty was a huge milestone in our efforts to move closer to the goal that the President has annunciated of a world without nuclear weapons. It was a great day for U.S.-Russia cooperation and collaboration and that partnership is strong and we think that the developments today in Prague lay a very strong foundation and one that we aim to build on for a successful NPT Review Conference.
That is our aim. We think that events next week in Washington as well will lend impetus to that and we’re committed to working with others to ensure that the review conference is as productive as possible.
With respect to Iran, this is a process, as you know, negotiations have started previously in capitals and indeed here they are intensifying, and I’m not prepared to predict when they will conclude or not – we’re working to get this done swiftly within a matter of weeks in the spring, as the President has said and whether that’s sooner or during or after I don’t think that necessarily means to impact on the NPT Review Conference. We’re committed to working with others to ensure to greatest extent possible that that very important event is a success.
Reporter: Scott Gration has said that he thought the elections would be as free and fair as possible, can you explain, I guess, what that means, whether that is being kind of retracted in light of what you said? Do you think that the UN, both UNAMID and UNMIS should be more, they said very little about as these events are taking place at least publically, what is their role for trying to secure a free and fair election without incident?
Ambassador Rice: Well I think, as we heard from Undersecretary-General Le Roy, UNMIS is playing an important role in trying to support both logistically and from a security point-of-view, preparations for the elections. The primary responsibility, however, for the conduct of these elections lies with the government and the national electoral commission and indeed the parties themselves. So, UNMIS is playing a supporting role.
With respect to the characterization of the elections, I think as we heard from Undersecretary-General Le Roy this morning, and as we have said repeatedly at this mike and various other places, the trends are not encouraging. There have been some significant impediments on the ground, restrictions on civil liberties, harassment of the media, reduction in the number of polling places, insecurity, an inability, of many of the people, particularly in Darfur, to be able to register and participate. So, we have overtime expressed our concerns, those concerns are mounting as the election approaches, and we are certainly underscoring the importance of steps being taken immediately to try to mitigate, to the greatest extent possible, in the time that remains, these very serious infringements on free political activity.
Reporter: Should there be a delay?
Ambassador Rice: I think our view has been that if a very brief delay were decided to be necessary, and we thought that a brief delay would enable the process to be more credible, we would be prepared to entertain that. That’s obviously up to the authorities themselves, but the larger picture is that much is awry in this process, and that is a real concern.
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