State Department Daily Briefing
24, 2003 0950PST
Briefer: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Mr. Boucher: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can mention one thing off the top, we have a statement for you on the situation in Zimbabwe. There has been unprecedented violence carried out by the Zimbabwe Government against domestic opponents. We are strongly condemning this, calling on the Zimbabwe Government to end its campaign of violent repression. We've got a complete statement on that, wanted to make you aware of that situation there.
And with that, I would be glad to take your questions about this or other things. Mr. Schweid.
Question: Well, clearing up some diplomatic traffic with the Tomahawks that landed on Iranian territory, and then there was a Syrian bus in Iraq carrying civilians that was hit, could you bring us up to date on what the U.S. may have said to these two governments?
Mr. Boucher: Well, the first thing is don't reach any conclusions at this point about what the missiles were that may have landed in Iranian territory. Our understanding from our conversations with Iranians is that they don't know yet what these were.
We did receive a message from Iran through the Swiss channel last week on Friday. We passed a message to the Iranians through the Swiss channel acknowledging their message, saying we would look into the situation. We have also made clear that we take Iranian territorial integrity and sovereignty very seriously.
We sent a second message today that confirms we are still looking into the matter.
Question: Might that not be the third message, by the way? I think there was one Friday night and one Saturday.
Mr. Boucher: My understanding is it was one on Friday and then one today.
Question: Okay. Well, but -- okay.
Mr. Boucher: Anyway, we sent another message today to tell them we're still working on it, but our understanding is they, too, do not yet know from whatever evidence they have as to what origin these missiles might have been.
Question: And we had one more from the Arab League, et cetera.
Question: Well, Barry, you didn't even get an answer to your second question.
Mr. Boucher: Don't point that out to him. I was ready to go on.
Question: Yes, the Syrian bus.
Mr. Boucher: I'd rather talk about the Arab League. I don't think I have anything for you on the questions. I've seen the reports about a Syrian bus, but you would have to check with the Pentagon on that. Obviously, we do everything we can to minimize civilian casualties and deeply regret any that occur, but you would have to check with the Pentagon for any specifics on the incidents that have been reported.
Question: Syria hasn't been in touch?
Mr. Boucher: Not that I'm aware of.
Question: They just issued a statement saying that they -- the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has -- their Ambassador has presented a formal protest.
Mr. Boucher: I'll double-check and see if they've done that in the last few minutes, perhaps.
Question: Before Barry moves on to his third and prescient question, I am sure, can I ask about Iran? I just want to make sure. You said our understanding from our conversations with the Iranians -- and by that you're talking about the channel --
Mr. Boucher: The indirect conversations. Yes, that's right. And what we've seen in public in terms of their statements, but also what we've heard in the Swiss channel.
Question: Well, when I said diplomatic traffic, if I can just expand it one more step and ask about being in touch with Arab League countries, and what's your message, what's your wish, desire, et cetera?
Mr. Boucher: Well, we have stayed in close consultations with our friends in the Arab world regarding the military conflict in Iraq and the efforts to achieve Iraqi disarmament. It is our hope that the Arab League discussions will be constructive, that they will focus on how the Arab world can help the Iraqi people to create the conditions for a rapid transition to representative self-government. We continue to consult with our friends in the Arab world about how they can best assist our efforts, and those of the Iraqi people, as they pave the way for a brighter future under a democratic regime.
Yesterday, the Secretary spoke by phone to Egyptian Foreign Minister Maher and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal regarding the conflict in Iraq and ways that the Arab world can assist this effort and serve the interest of the Iraqi people.
Question: Richard, did the Secretary ask either or both of the foreign ministers to use their influence, not only within the Arab League, but also within Baghdad, to try to encourage the surrender among Iraqi Republican Guards, and others, and Saddam Hussein as well?
Mr. Boucher: No, not in those terms. We have made clear, I think, both publicly and, obviously, in our conversations, that the end of this regime, the disarmament of Iraq, is going to happen; and so we have encouraged people in the Arab world and other parts of the world to look forward to how they can the help the Iraqi people get through this and get back on their feet. But, no, we didn't ask them to be a channel or a conduit for discussions.
Question: A draft coming out of this ministerial Arab League meeting, apparently, drops language which called on the members not to help the United States, the allied forces, in any way.
Mr. Boucher: Every time there is one of these meetings, there are about 15 different drafts that circulate. Some of them, at various moments, even contradict each other. I think we will wait and see how their discussions go. We will keep in touch with the members of the Arab League, and we will see what they come out with.
Question: Do you have any follow up to the three Iraqi diplomats that you PNG'd, and who were supposed to be out of the country by Friday night, last Friday night?
Mr. Boucher: And the answer is that they left on Saturday.
Question: Do you know how they left?
Mr. Boucher: They boarded a plane to depart the United States, three officials of the Iraqi Interests Section. The operations of the Iraqi Interests Section in Washington are now officially suspended until further notice.
Following up on another question, we were asked on Friday how do we ensure that property is safeguarded. We will be working with Iraq's former protecting power, that is, the Embassy of Algeria, to ensure that Iraqi property and assets are safeguarded until an appropriate Iraqi representative representing the true voice for the Iraqi people can officially reopen the Iraqi mission in Washington.
Question: And on that same -- well, similar subject, I presume that you are heartened by the growing number of countries who are heeding your call to expel or close down Iraqi missions. Do you have any kind of -- on Friday, you mentioned two countries which had said -- do you have -- is there a count?
Mr. Boucher: I don't have a count for you. I think you have to remember there are two efforts going on. One has been going on longer than the other. The first was the requests that we made to foreign governments to expel Iraqi intelligence representatives who we thought represented a threat to the U.S. missions in those countries, and that process has proceeded, we think, quite well. I don't think I'm able to list every one, but there are certain countries that have themselves publicized what they have done in that regard.
The second is to go out to countries where Iraq is represented, some -- I forget what it is -- it's over 60, maybe more than that -- to say it's time to suspend the operations of the Iraqi missions. That began much more recently. There have been a few places that have, I think, started to do that, but we don't have any particular count yet.
Question: Do you know if you guys have followed up on your initial conversations in these very -- I mean, 60-odd capitals? Have people gone back in again to reinforce or --
Mr. Boucher: We've had our embassies follow up on these things, so the embassies are working on it in local circumstances.
Question: Has there been a difference in the way countries have responded to your first request about the intelligence operatives to the current request? Because you've characterized one as --
Mr. Boucher: Well, one has been going on for a little longer. I think that's the only question I would raise. And one has some more direct connection to security issues, which is a cause for governments to act. So no, I can't characterize them yet. We don't have enough responses yet.
Question: Has there been any change with the Iraqi diplomats at the UN in New York?
Mr. Boucher: Nothing new that I have, no.
Question: Can you bring us up to date on --
Question: You said -- sorry.
Mr. Boucher: Terri.
Question: If they heed your second call, the first one is irrelevant. I mean, if they close the missions --
Mr. Boucher: No, not exactly because, remember, the goal was to suspend the operations of the mission, but we asked for the departure of the senior representative at the mission, but not necessarily the departure of the other people who were working there; whereas, some of these other people working there might be covered by the first demarche where we were looking for them to actually expel Iraqi intelligence officers.
Question: So I misunderstood. I thought you were asking everyone who was accredited diplomatically from their current Iraqi regime would have their diplomatic status pulled.
Mr. Boucher: Yeah, but that doesn't mean expulsion. They might have other grounds for remaining temporarily. But we thought the senior representatives should be asked to leave.
Question: Can you bring us up to date on your contacts with the Turkish Government on the possibility of Turkish troops entering Northern Iraq?
Mr. Boucher: First of all, let me remind you what the President said over the weekend. He said yesterday we expect Turkish troops not to enter Iraq. We oppose military actions that are not fully coordinated with the coalition. We remain opposed to unilateral action by any party in Northern Iraq. That's a position that we've also made clear to Kurdish groups.
Ambassador Pearson and Presidential Special Envoy Zal Khalilzad, who is in Ankara today, are continuing their discussions with the Turkish Government on their concerns regarding refugees and terrorism in a manner that keeps the border situation as calm as possible.
We believe strongly the current circumstances do not warrant any intervention by Turkish forces and we expect all parties involved to be responsive to our concerns. I think you've seen some of the press reports. I would also cite what Lord Robertson said today at NATO -- or no, I guess he -- I'm not exactly sure when he said it -- in the last few days at NATO. It has two dates.
Mr. Boucher: It was Saturday? He said he had received from Mr. Gul assurances to NATO that the media reports have been incorrect and that no forces have entered Iraq. So I think that is a factual update on the situation.
Question: You have assurances they haven't actually entered Iraq, but do you yet have an assurance that they will not enter Iraq?
Mr. Boucher: As I said, we have made clear what our position is, and we are coordinating in our discussions. We are talking to the Turkish Government in Ankara.
Question: But do you know, or you have an idea?
Mr. Boucher: I would say the Turks understand our concerns and understand the situation clearly.
Question: Richard, to follow up, can you answer a question I asked I guess on Friday where -- are you -- are these discussions about possibly allowing Turkish military forces into Northern Iraq?
Mr. Boucher: These discussions are about how to deal with the situation in Northern Iraq, how to prevent refugee flows, how to prevent terrorism, how to ensure the humanitarian needs of people in Northern Iraq are taken care of so that the situation won't arise where there might be perceived any need for Turkish forces to go in.
Question: Did you see the interview in the Post yesterday?
Mr. Boucher: Yes.
Question: You know what my question is? Erdogan said it was --
Mr. Boucher: I saw it, didn't read it.
Question: Erdogan said it was his understanding, based on conversations with the Secretary, that the U.S. had no objection to some Turkish troops entering.
Mr. Boucher: We have never agreed to any Turkish presence in the north. It was not fully coordinated with the coalition.
Question: Sir, just to get this straight, you are having conversations with the Turks to see to it that they are comfortable without not sending military forces into Northern Iraq.
Is that sort of how it happens?
Mr. Boucher: Yes, without the double negative, yes.
Mr. Boucher: Yes.
Question: Richard, there are two issues here: One is whether or not the Turks would enter unilaterally without coordinating with the coalition. It sounds as if you are saying that is one thing that is being discussed, that you are saying you wouldn't want them entering unilaterally; and then there is the other matter of whether or not the Turks would be allowed under any condition to enter.
Is the U.S. saying that it is the second, that it is under any condition that you would prefer they not come in, or are you trying to figure out a happy medium?
Mr. Boucher: Let me try to make this clear. First of all, the Turkish Government itself is saying Turkish forces have not entered into Northern Iraq. No Turkish incursion. They have said that. They have told NATO that. That is what we understand.
Second of all, we have talked -- the Turks are quite clear on our view that no uncoordinated military action should occur by any party in Northern Iraq.
Third of all, we are in discussions with them to try to make sure that -- excuse me -- to try to make sure that the situation in Northern Iraq is handled in such a way that the need doesn't arise for Turkish forces to be there for either in a coordinated or an uncoordinated fashion, so that under any conditions they wouldn't feel the need to go there.
Question: The Turkish Ambassador last week said that their feeling is that, despite the best intentions that the coalition might have to try to prevent a humanitarian crisis and to try to also control potential terrorists attacks, that they believe that this is not something that the coalition can handle on its own and, therefore, for that reason, want to have their own troops there.
Is this not something --
Mr. Boucher: As I said, we are talking to the Turkish Government. We are, frankly, in touch with the groups in Northern Iraq as well to try to ensure the situation remains calm, to try to ensure that people are taken care of inside Iraq, to try to ensure that terrorism doesn't arise in whatever turmoil or new circumstances might emerge up there, so that the conditions don't occur under which Turkey might perceive the need to put forces there. That discussion is ongoing. We have had those discussions in Ankara, and we will continue to keep those matters in mind as we talk to the Turkish government.
Question: But when push comes to shove, the U.S. can't prevent Turkey from coming in.
Mr. Boucher: That is what I would call a hypothetical or theoretical question at this point. We are in touch. We are working with the Turkish Government. They are working with us. I don't think the kind of situation you are forecasting is arising, certainly not at this point.
Question: You don't rule out circumstances where, in a coordinated way, you might work with the Turkish?
Mr. Boucher: This is the ultimate of hypotheticals. I can tell what we are doing. I am telling you what we are working with them on. But how we decide -- how we can ensure that those circumstances don't arise, we'll see. And I can't deal with every eventuality quite yet.
Question: Are you saying that the Turks are incorrect, or at least the Turkish Foreign Minister is incorrect, when he says that a deal has been struck for the Turks to -- under coordination of the coalition to put troops in a narrow, very narrow, band across the top for humanitarian reasons?
Does that agreement exist or not?
Mr. Boucher: No, there is no agreement.
Question: Can you just say, can you elaborate on rather, what conditions that you are seeing? What assurances you are giving that the conditions do not occur under which the Turks would feel the need to put in their troops in Northern Iraq, like what kind of assurances?
Mr. Boucher: As I said, these discussions are still ongoing. But I just described a few moments ago, I think, the kind of things that we are discussing to make sure that terrorism doesn't arise, and whatever circumstances might occur in the north, whether it is turmoil, whatever, to make sure that the humanitarian needs of the people in the north are taken care of, those kind of things.
Question: But can you be any more specific than just any terrorism might arise? Are you showing them, you know, photographs of the decimated Ansar al-Islam camp, or something like that?
Mr. Boucher: No, I can't get any more specific than that.
Question: Different subject.
Question: No, wait. I was just going to add more on Iraq?
Mr. Boucher: Sure.
Question: I just want to know, and this will be a very brief answer. Does State or USAID have anything to do with this Humanitarian Aid Office that has been set up today in Salahuddin?
Mr. Boucher: I don't know. I have to check.
Question: Or Salahuddin? Sorry.
Mr. Boucher: I don't know, have to check.
Question: But in the discussions right now, is a coordinated effort, even a small one, viable?
Mr. Boucher: I was asked that question 14 times. The goal is to make sure that neither a coordinated nor an uncoordinated military incursion by Turkey is required because conditions will be such that it is just not necessary.
Question: I would like to move to Russian sales of sensitive military equipment to Iraq. Could you tell us what new you might have today, and whether the Secretary has been in touch with Ivanov lately on this question?
Mr. Boucher: Do you mean like in the last half hour?
Mr. Boucher: Yes.
Question: Yes, he has.
Mr. Boucher: It is probably 45 minutes now. Let me get to that. First, the overall situation, we are very concerned about reports that Russian firms are selling militarily sensitive equipment to Iraq. Such equipment in the hands of the Iraqi military may pose a direct threat to U.S. and coalition armed forces.
We do regard this as a very serious matter. We have thus raised this issue with the Russian Government a number of times, going back almost a year I think, including at senior levels, but particularly over the last two weeks.
The response so far has not been satisfactory. We hope that the responsible Russian agencies will take our concerns seriously. It is a matter we have raised with the Russian Embassy here, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow through the Russian Embassy -- excuse me. It has been raised in defense channels, and the Secretary spoke today to Foreign Minister Ivanov about a number of subjects, including this one.
Question: When you say not satisfactory, Richard, does that mean the U.S. says flat out that the Russian denial is not truthful? They deny this, so is it unsatisfactory because they haven't presented enough information, or their denial itself is not to be believed?
Mr. Boucher: Let me just say a couple of things: One is what we are looking for. This is activity being carried out by firms, by entities in Russia, and we are looking for oversight by the Russian Government and interdiction, as well as information on what might have happened in the past.
We are raising a number of items with the Russians. I think I would have to say their responses are some different on different items, but we don't think that we have the kind of oversight and interdiction that we've been asking for, nor any information on what might have occurred in the past.
Question: You've known about these for a year and were becoming increasingly concerned. Can you tell us when Secretary Powell first brought it up personally with Foreign Minister Ivanov? And also, can you confirm any of the reports that the Russian Government must have known about these because there are documents in which end users needed to be verified and also even more, I would say, scandalous reports that humanitarian aid flights were used to help ferry in some of this equipment?
Mr. Boucher: I don't have any particular information on those reports or what we know and how we know about these things. I'll have to check on when the Secretary first raised it with Foreign Minister Ivanov. I didn't have time to look back. But he's raised it in the past with Foreign Minister Ivanov, as well as today.
Question: As a follow-up, can you comment on reports that some of the shipments have gone to Baghdad directly and others have gone through Syria? And if that's true, have you raised it with the Syrians?
Mr. Boucher: No, I can't comment on specifically what we might know about these shipments.
Question: Is it your position, as you were saying repeatedly in the last two weeks -- is there stuff still coming in, or was it until very recently (inaudible)?
Mr. Boucher: Again, I can't give you any more information on what we know about these particular items or shipments.
Question: Earlier you mentioned the presence of Russian technicians in Iraq, did you? What information do you have on that and -- did you mention that?
Mr. Boucher: Again, I can't comment in particular on what we might know about these particular items or shipments or technicians associated with them.
Question: Why is -- what do you --
Mr. Boucher: It's just a matter of how we know things. We can't tell you everything we know because of the way we acquire the information.
Question: Okay, a technical question. Does the Russian Government have to at least see, high levels of the Russian Government have to see the agreements for any equipment, any militarily sensitive equipment in which the end user has to be identified before the shipment is made? Is that something that high levels of the Russian Government would see in regular cases, or is that simply kept at a commercial level?
Mr. Boucher: Well, first of all, it's a question you need to ask the Russian Government. It's about their export control system and how it works.
I would point out that any military items are prohibited from sale to Iraq by the UN sanctions and should be not only prohibited by the government but, if sold, reported to the UN Sanctions Committee. So there are a lot of aspects to this that one would expect the Russian Government to be exercising oversight of.
Question: Can you say what the response of the Russian Government has been? I mean, have they become increasingly concerned about this?
Mr. Boucher: No, I can't speak for them.
Question: On Basra --
Question: Can we stay on this?
Mr. Boucher: Okay, we're going to finish here.
Question: I just wondered if I can attack this a different way. Can you say that if among your concerns, the concerns that you've expressed to the Russians about this, is the possibility that there may be, may be, some Russian presence, not official presence, in Iraq now?
Mr. Boucher: No, I couldn't talk about that any more than I have other aspects of --
Question: You couldn't say --
Mr. Boucher: I couldn't talk about any particular aspects of this.
Question: Has the Secretary raised the possibility of American bilateral sanctions against the Russian Government or these entities? Could you go over the appropriate --
Mr. Boucher: I don't know if we've gone through the possible legal ramifications or not, frankly.
Question: In your view, is it doubly egregious that they're not going through the Sanctions Committee on these transfers?
Mr. Boucher: Our view is that we are concerned about these items getting to Iraq. We are concerned that these items have gotten to Iraq in ways that could be potentially harmful to U.S. and coalition armed forces. The presence of advanced equipment in Iraq represents a threat to the forces that are now trying to deal with the Iraqi regime's refusal to disarm. They're trying to deal with the oppression and murderous activities of the Iraqi regime. So the fact that our forces now have to deal with these things that never should have been sold in the first place is a matter of great concern to us.
Question: Can I follow up?
Mr. Boucher: Yeah.
Question: The only reason I raise that is because you negotiated these lists with the Russians for a year or so. I mean --
Mr. Boucher: The lack of oversight would apply both to whatever prevention the Russians should have instituted to prevent these sales to begin with, and, second of all, the questions of how they would appear to violate the UN regime.
Question: If I'm correct, I think I just heard you say that these goods have the potential, or could be potentially harmful to U.S. and coalition forces. You're not saying at this time they have been?
Mr. Boucher: I would say such equipment in the hands of the Iraqi military may pose a direct threat to U.S. and coalition armed forces. That's what I said at the beginning.
Question: Has the United States had to raise a similar point with any other country that might have been providing materiel to Iraq in recent times?
Mr. Boucher: That's kind of too broad a question for me to answer. I don't know what the answer is, frankly.
Question: Well, you guys would give a yes for Ukraine, certainly.
Mr. Boucher: Is it similar? I don't know. You know, we did do the whole thing, as your colleague points out, with the Ukrainians about what we knew to be approval for the sale of Kolchuga radar systems to Iraq, but we never actually confirmed that those items went to Iraq.
Question: Since you do tell us when Russia is exporting items to Iran and sanctions are in place, I mean, you don't necessarily tell exactly what technology. But why can you tell us that Russia is shipping something to Iran, but not confirm now that you know the Russian Government is shipping things to Iraq?
And also, why wouldn't the sanctions be enforced?
Mr. Boucher: First of all, I said Russian firms are selling militarily sensitive equipment to Iraq, okay. So I am confirming that Russian firms are doing that. I have expressed the concern of the U.S. Government. I have expressed our view that the Russian Government should be exercising oversight over these things. As far as what the implications are for U.S. law and potential sanctions, that is something I will have to deal with at a future point.
Question: Is this something that came up, that the Russian -- I mean the U.S. Government, having known about this for at least a year, do you think that this played into the Russian position on UN resolutions?
I mean is there -- would they have been hesitant to have us go to war because it would be perfectly obvious that --
Mr. Boucher: Because we would find these things?
Question: Yeah, sure.
Mr. Boucher: I don't know. That is purely speculative. I couldn't say that.
Question: Is there a time frame for the last time the Iraqis were given these items?
Mr. Boucher: Again, I am not in a position at this point to tell you about items or shipments.
Question: Richard, can you tell us why you have only come out about this now, if this is something that has been going on for a year? You say, in the last couple of weeks -- obviously, hostilities just broke out in the last week. But why is this not something that you would have come out more publicly with sooner?
Mr. Boucher: I think, first of all, without out getting into the details, we don't always know as much in the beginning of these efforts as we do at later stages. So we do get more information as we look at these situations.
Second of all, that, obviously, the issue became more acute recently when we started to realize that there might be Russian -- the equipment sold by the Russian firms that was in Iraq, and we might have to deal with it. And it became more pressing for us to, not only get Russian control, but get information about what was done.
And third of all, I think we are always hoping that these things can be solved through the diplomatic effort that we have made, and that we will get a responsive answer from the Russian Government that they will exercise control, provide us with information. There always comes a point at which we decide that is not happening, and it may be necessary to acknowledge these differences in public.
Question: So the negotiations over the second UN resolution did not factor into this decision to hold off on going public?
Mr. Boucher: No.
Question: Richard, can you say if you have gotten any information from either the Russian Government, or any -- either any of these firms?
Mr. Boucher: No, I can't say if I have gotten any information.
Question: Are you worried about reports of French sales to Iraq?
Mr. Boucher: I think we are worried about any reports we see of sales to Iraq of, particularly, of military equipment. But any equipment sales would violate UN restrictions on the sell of military of equipment. But I don't have anything as specific on the French, or any other sales, as I do on the Russians.
Question: I know you don't want to talk about the timing of the Russian sales, or anything like this, but we are at a war to end the regime in Iraq. I mean, can you say whether there are currently shipments going on right now, either from Russia or other countries, that would resupply the enemy?
Mr. Boucher: No, I can't say one way or the other. I will have to check on that. Okay?
Question: Can I just make one thing clear? There is no evidence that I understand -- if I understand correctly, there is no evidence that the Russian Government itself was involved in this. These are sins are omission, lack of oversight, rather than sins of commission, yes?
Mr. Boucher: I don't think I could quite go that far either. Your colleague asked the --
Mr. Boucher: Obverse, right; the other side of the coin. But I think one has to say governments need to exercise oversight over any military sales to prohibited areas. The failure to do so under ongoing circumstances of sales of sensitive items, one has to wonder. But I don't know for sure one way or the other.
Question: One has to wonder what whether there was --
Mr. Boucher: Why they failed to exercise that oversight.
Question: Yesterday, Aziz al-Taee, who is the Chairman of Iraqi-American Council, lambasted the regime in Baghdad, under Saddam Hussein, and also Al-Jazeera. And under the circumstances with the POWs and their treatment, what is Secretary Powell's response to all of that?
Mr. Boucher: You are talking about the Iraqi treatment of American POWs. I think it is a matter that we have made quite clear, that this is unacceptable. There is a violation of the Geneva Conventions; and the treatment of American POWs is something that is very, very important to us. There are some 2,000 Iraqis that are in American custody. We are treating them humanely, we are giving them food, water, shelter, taking care of them. We have already begun our discussions with the Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross, about providing access.
So we take our responsibilities very seriously, and we would call upon the Iraqis to do so, as well. It is outrageous that the Iraqis are violating these conventions, and really putting these people in further danger.
Question: What about this particular television network? Is the Secretary --
Mr. Boucher: I think we have made clear over the weekend in our public statements, and in our efforts in our statements in the region that we don't think that any television network should be putting these pictures on TV. This was done by the Iraqi Government on Iraqi TV, and we don't think anybody should be using these pictures because they do constitute a violation of the Geneva Convention to create these kind of pictures.
Question: Richard, as you were starting the briefing, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that he believed that the UN weapons inspection regime had only been suspended, and that it was the view of the Security Council that UNMOVIC would continue operations after hostilities and when they were able to get back on the ground.
Does the State Department have a view of that?
Mr. Boucher: We went through that, again, I think, with you last Friday. I don't have anything new on that since then.
Question: I mean it is now that the Security Council has -- or, at least, according to the Secretary General's belief, that this has got to continue.
Mr. Boucher: I don't think the Security Council has taken a firm view on how this continues. But I don't think the Security Council either -- or, on the other hand, the Security Council didn't end the program.
Mr. Boucher: As you know, the program has existed ever since 1284. How the Council may decide to use the inspectors in the future I guess is an open question.
Question: On the POWs, a couple of things.
Have you made any diplomatic demarche on this question of the Geneva Conventions?
And, secondly, a lot of people have said you seem to have a double standard on this. We have seen a lot of pictures of Iraqi POWs lined up.
Mr. Boucher: There are --
Question: -- on television, and without anybody ever complaining about it. And how do you answer that?
Mr. Boucher: Well, let me answer a number of things that you have raised. First of all, I am not quite sure what you mean by diplomatic demarche. We don't have relations with the Iraqi Government, and the Polish -- the Interests Section that used to represent us in Iraq is no longer there. But I think we have been quite clear on our views on this, and there should be no secret to the Iraqi officials what their responsibilities are under the Geneva Conventions.
Let me cite for you exactly what it says in the Geneva Conventions. It says, "POWs must be treated humanely at all times, and must be protected from torture and other acts of violence, intimidation, and being subject to insults and public curiosity."
You have a situation here where Iraq government television, a government agency, is subjecting these people to intense scrutiny, if not interrogation, on camera in Iraq. These are not incidental pictures that some network may have taken as people were turning themselves over to U.S. forces. This is a government attempt to use these prisoners for propaganda purposes, and they have done so. And we think that easily constitutes being subject to insults and public curiosity.
In fact, I note that a spokeman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva says "They shouldn't be subject to public exposure. It's quite clear. It's in contradiction of the Geneva Conventions. It's a violation." So I would take that view to be fairly definitive.
Question: Do you not think that public curiosity covers the case of Iraqi POWs being shown on television?
Mr. Boucher: Again, it is a question of whether they are identified as individuals; whether the individuals are held up as objects of public curiosity. The fact that the Government of Iraq produced these films for propaganda purposes and then spread them around, is quite clear to us, and I would point out, quite clear to the Red Cross, a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Question: Are you saying that you don't take a position on -- do you think that television stations should show pictures of Iraqi POWs being lined up in --
Mr. Boucher: We certainly don't think that television stations should hold them up with the kind of scrutiny that you saw on Iraqi T.V. The fact that people incidentally get pictures in the desert of somebody turning themselves in may or may not be excusable. But, certainly, it is not excusable for a government to go out of its way to film, to shove cameras and microphones in people's faces, to interrogate them on camera, and then to try to use these pictures for propaganda purposes.
Question: Richard, there was one specific picture of one specific Iraqi being frisked by the military, which was taken, we were told, by a military cameraman, whether he was British or American.
Was that an error in retrospect?
Mr. Boucher: I don't have a comment on every single picture that might have appeared. But I think this is a particularly egregious incident that we saw on Iraqi T.V., a particularly, gruesome set of photographs and clearly intended for propaganda purposes; and, therefore, making them a matter of public curiosity. And, again, I say we believe that very strongly, and so does the Red Cross in Geneva.
Question: Richard, you know, getting back to John's first question, do you know -- I realize not -- there are no channels for you to speak directly with the Iraqis. But do you know, did you go to the ICRC in Geneva and say, "Could you bring this up specifically with your contacts in Baghdad?" Do you know if that has been done?
Mr. Boucher: No, I don't know if that has been done. I don't know if we specifically asked them to raise it.
Question: And do you know if this building has taken any precautions with, or taken any steps with the Pentagon to prevent Geneva Conventions violations by embedded journalists in the field right now?
Mr. Boucher: I think you'd have to check with the Pentagon in terms of what they are -- what kind of advice they are giving to American journalists who might be in the field.
Question: But has this building, which is in charge of --
Mr. Boucher: I am not going to describe any interactions we might have with the Pentagon. I think it's --
Question: Okay. Well --
Mr. Boucher: What the Pentagon is telling journalists is a question you can ask at the Pentagon.
Question: Well, this building is the building that deals with the Geneva Conventions, isn't it?
Mr. Boucher: The Pentagon deals with Geneva Conventions as well. They make it an important part of their training. They make it an important part of their doctrine. They make it an important part of all their activities, so that the U.S. military respects the Geneva Conventions.
Question: Okay. And then, the last one is, do you have any recourse, at all, if people don't do what you want them to do?
Mr. Boucher: That gets into a lot of bigger issues. The answer is yes, but I don't think I am prepared at this time to describe everything.
You might say that the end of the status of these people as prisoners of an Iraqi regime that will soon no longer exist is probably the ultimate recourse.
Question: No, I am talking about against people, the televisions stations, or whoever, that might -- I mean other than appealing to their -- appealing to their goodwill.
Mr. Boucher: No, in terms -- the crime for which there is recourse that people who violate the Geneva Conventions can be held accountable under the Geneva Conventions. So the crime itself is the making of this kind of propaganda film, is the subjecting the prisoners to public curiosity and insults. As far as the media, I mean, our strong belief is the media should not allow itself to be used in this manner and should not in any way contribute to the furtherance of this activity.
Question: Does the State Department oppose showing pictures of POWs from the coalition forces, or whether from the Iraqi forces?
Mr. Boucher: We certainly oppose any pictures that would subject the individuals to public scrutiny, to public curiosity, to insult, or exploitation. And, as you know, we have tried to operate under very careful guidelines in other areas where the Pentagon does not provide pictures where an individual could be identified, for example. So we think that there -- we do oppose any of this, any activity like this that could be a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Question: Richard, do you the have anything on the situation around Basra? Some relief groups are saying it is already quite dire including the water supply.
And is the DART team sort of frozen in place because it's a combat zone? Are they feeling -- is there anything they can do at this point?
Mr. Boucher: Let me see what I can get you on Basra. Well, maybe I don't have anything more specific on Basra.
There are various reports about the situation around Basra. I think there is on the Red Cross website their report of what they see in Basra. And they describe the failure of the water supply system, but then said that they had already been able to get 40 percent of the water supply back up and running. I believe they continue to work on that, and expect to be able to put a lot more of it back up and running very soon. So that is important.
As far as other aspects of the humanitarian situation there, I don't think we are in a position to deal with it yet. As you know, U.S. forces have prepared to deal with the humanitarian situation. The President talked over the weekend about massive humanitarian efforts that can begin as soon as security is established, and there are efforts underway, for example, like with mine clearing around the ports of Um Qasr, which, as soon as they are done will permit us to bring in, start bringing in humanitarian relief supplies. But, once again, the Iraqis have created a situation by the mining of these ports which makes it very difficult for us to get in the humanitarian assistance as quickly as we would like.
Question: Richard, today, Russian President Putin warned the U.S. and coalition forces of a humanitarian catastrophe.
How concerned is the administration that the longer it takes you to get the humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people, the more vulnerable you are, the more open you are to criticism that the U.S. is not, in fact, delivering on its promise?
Mr. Boucher: Well, let me make clear first of all as a general matter, the Iraqi people have suffered. They have suffered terribly under the regime of Saddam Hussein. They have suffered from torture. They have suffered from rape, and murder, and a variety of oppression. They have suffered from having their money, their assets, their oil revenues taken and being spent on weapons of mass destruction.
Again and again throughout the years, you know, there has been money in the Oil-for-Food program that the regime has never even programmed for use. Again and again there have been situations where there are funds set aside for education, or for health, or for other needs of the Iraqi people where they didn't even spend the amount that they were programming, and it was approved by the UN.
So this is a situation that has been accumulating over the years because of the neglect of the Iraqi people by the regime. So we are aware of that situation. Now, as far as we know, based on our best information, there is not a what you would call humanitarian crisis in Iraq at this time. We have not yet seen any significant flows of people, for example, internally displaced people.
We have seen some smaller numbers of third country nationals who are leaving the country. But there doesn't appear to be a humanitarian crisis. But in order to maintain a certain stability after U.S. forces gor in, we have done a lot of planning for the humanitarian needs. The first element, of course, is that the military will be able to deliver humanitarian daily rations very shortly after they secure the situation.
Then once the situation is secured, we can move into other governments and non-governmental organizations, the civilian authorities, the disaster assistance teams which we have deployed to the region, starting to bring in all the supplies that we have prepositioned in the region including food, medical kits, blankets, and shelter supplies. We are moving very large quantities of food, in particular, into the region.
I think World Food Program has 130,000 tons stockpiled in the region already. As I told you on Friday, we have also bought another 610,000 metric tons of food that will be moved out to the region. And then the Disaster Assistance Response Teams will go in and start planning for ongoing humanitarian efforts and reconstruction.
The other thing we are doing is to get the Oil-for-Food program adjusted, and make sure it continues as we go forward. That is something we have been discussing at the United Nations. There are goods under the Oil-for-Food program that are in transit, or in purchase, that are continuing. We just want to make sure that the Secretary General has the authority to continue that program as soon as we can get the feeding centers and the whole program up and running again in a new Iraq.
Question: Do you think that the Russian President's comments were unwarranted?
Mr. Boucher: I think everybody is right to be concerned about the possibility of the humanitarian situation getting worse in Iraq. Obviously, war affects civilians in any number of ways. But the United States is making every possible effort, not only to avoid hurting civilians, in the first place. And you have seen the precision of the U.S. bombing. You have seen the precision of our military activity, as it is directed against command and control mechanisms of the government.
So every effort is being made to avoid hurting civilians. Every possible planning is being done so that we can get in there and start helping the people of Iraq, as soon as possible, and then turning this work over to other organizations who can get on with the ongoing, and then long-term efforts.
Question: Richard, you seem to be blaming the Iraqis for any humanitarian problems that might exist, in particular, by mining these harbors. Isn't that -- they are being invaded. And isn't that -- isn't mining a harbor something of legitimate self-defense?
That's quite aside from the humanitarian aspect of what it might -- the problems that it might cause you, as the invading power.
Mr. Boucher: I suppose so. But the point is that any delays in delivery are caused by the fact that these areas are still mined.
Mr. Boucher: And that we have to remove the mines before we can get the humanitarian ships in. Now whether the Iraqis did that to impede our forces, or to impede humanitarian deliveries, I would grant that your supposition is probably correct.
Mr. Boucher: But the fact is that there is no delay on our part in moving humanitarian supplies in, or to get them in as soon as we can secure area and remove the mines.
Question: In working with Iraqi opposition groups now, do they have a political role in the near future?
Mr. Boucher: We have been working all along with Iraqi opposition groups, as they have organized themselves, as we have here in the United States dealt with a series of conferences on the future of Iraq, where in fact Iraqi experts from around the world have gotten together to start looking at how to organize various aspects of government down to the infrastructure, or economic systems as well. And then there has been a political effort that we have worked all along, that resulted in a meeting inside Iraq not too long ago.
So we have been working very consistently with the outside, the opposition from Iraq. But we have also made clear that we think the future of Iraq needs to be determined by Iraqis, both inside and outside Iraq. As we put together the plans, and the look at how we can be involved, how we can help the Iraqis get their country back, which is end and what this is about, that Iraqis from inside Iraq and outside Iraq can work together; and that we can use whatever resources are available from the international community; that we can work with the United Nations, have the United Nations take some role in this process; so that as we move from the immediate military authority to civilian authority, and then do the transition to Iraqi authority, other countries, the United Nations, other organizations can be involved in that process of letting Iraqis from inside and outside the country determine their own future.
Part of that is to establish in that process an Iraqi interim authority that would involve Iraqis from inside and outside, and starting to take up responsibility for their own country.
Question: Who decides who would be part of this interim authority?
Mr. Boucher: That's an issue that is still being looked at. I mean this whole process of planning is ongoing. Some of it will depend on how events turn out. So we will be looking at what mechanisms can be used, and who wants to be involved, who can involved in that process. As I said, we are also looking at what the appropriate United Nations role is in that process.
Question: I wanted to ask you about that. There were reports in the British press over the weekend that U.S. companies are going to run Iraq's hospitals and schools.
Mr. Boucher: I suspect that is another exaggerated set of reports based on the contracts that we are putting out. You can see on the USAID website a whole list of the contracts that we are looking at for the reconstruction of facilities and infrastructure, and things like the health system, the education system in Iraq, where we are putting up U.S. money for U.S. firms, U.S. contractors to be able to go in and start helping Iraqis rebuild their country after these years of degradation, and whatever damage might occur in the conflict.
Those contracts are being let, but they are not exclusive contracts. They go to a limited selection of bidders because they were handled on an expedited basis under federal contracting rules. But many of these companies are multinational to begin with. Many of them will have subcontractors from around the world to do various aspects of this business, and it doesn't limit the nationality of the subcontractors or people who can be involved in implementing these contracts.
Question: In this process of transition, is there any point, do you envision that the UN would run Iraq and not the U.S.?
Mr. Boucher: As I said, we are still discussing with others what the appropriate UN role might be. That is something that would be probably determined later.
Question: Have any other contracts been awarded other than the one that you talked about?
Mr. Boucher: I think the ports and the airport contracts have been awarded, or due today, and there may be some others very shortly.
Question: So this week you would expect to have -- what were there five or seven? I can't remember what.
Mr. Boucher: I don't have the full details for you. I'd expect contracts to be awarded, some of them very soon.
We will work our way over.
Question: I just want to make sure. You just said the role -- you are discussing the role of the UN. But you still, the U.S. still wants Kofi Annan to run the Oil-for-Food program but provide the immediate humanitarian relief through Iraq's oil profits, is that right?
Mr. Boucher: I think there are a variety of things that the United Nations can do, and should be doing in the post-conflict situation. The first is to set up as soon as possible the Secretary General's authority in the Oil-for-Food program.
The second is to get the UN agencies on the ground who can help take care of the Iraqi people with whatever assistance they provide in very specialized agencies.
The third is to identify what the appropriate United Nations' role is in this process of transition to Iraqi authority and Iraqi rule.
Question: Just a follow-up. Can you give us a time frame of when you would like to just sort out the technical problems with the Oil-for-Food program?
Mr. Boucher: Well, the Oil-for-Food program was discussed fairly extensively over the weekend at the United Nations. And there is another meeting, or more meetings today to go over it, to try to work out a text. I think we have seen some progress being made. Exactly when the resolution will be ready, I don't know. We have heard from the Secretary General, and many of the elements of the resolution, changes being made to the resolution track with his ideas.
So exactly when, I don't know, but it should be very soon.
Question: Just one more follow-up. But does the lack of a clear, lack of these changes to the Oil-for-Food Program, is that in any way affecting in your mind the immediate humanitarian relief that the U.S. and the international community would provide?
Mr. Boucher: No, it's not.
Question: It's not?
Mr. Boucher: It's not. Question: Is there disagreement between the United States and the Secretary General about the duration of his authority, how long it should last?
Mr. Boucher: Not that I know of. I think most of what we are doing in the resolution is what he asked for in his letter.
Question: So we wouldn't mind if it was a permanent authority, in effect?
Mr. Boucher: Again, I don't have a position on every single detail of the resolution. I am not even sure that's addressed. But I am not aware of any particular disagreements, one way or the other, with what the Secretary General suggested.
Question: Richard, I know we talked about this on Friday, but Prime Minister Blair said that his government is working towards two resolutions of the UN: one concerning all the food and humanitarian issues; the other one to give the UN some kind of role in administering. And he has used that word.
Later, you said that day that you didn't think that there was a need for a second -- I'm sorry -- same term from the -- but a separate resolution about administering Iraq an UN role in that.
Mr. Boucher: No, I don't think I said that. I think we have said all along, we were working most immediately on the Oil-for-Food resolution because that needs to be adjusted to make sure it still works. I mean the program has not been suspended. The Oil-for-Food program remains in effect through June; but it needs to be adjusted with the authority the Secretary General established so he can administer the program.
But then beyond that, we are also discussing with other members of the Council how to go forward with whatever other resolutions might be needed on these other different aspects of reconstruction, rehabilitation, the involvement of the United Nations in the transitional period. And part of the process, what some kind of UN role, as you just said, as you quote the British as saying, in the transition process to giving Iraqis control of their country.
Question: You were asked whether you think there should be specific UN mandate giving the United States and Britain, as the invading powers, to administer Iraq. And you said, "I don't think there is a need for that."
Mr. Boucher: I am not sure that's necessary. Yeah, I would give you the same answer today. That's not any -- that's different than what we were just talking about, yeah.
One more. Sir.
Question: Richard, over the weekend, there is talk again, and also part of last week, for exile for Saddam Hussein to Western Africa.
Under the circumstances, would that be out of consideration, off the table?
Mr. Boucher: I know there are all kinds of rumors about that, but I think we are quite a bit beyond that point now.
Question: North Korea: they are very upset about these exercises involving U.S. and South Korea, and I believe they have called off some talks with the South Koreans.
Mr. Boucher: They did. They called off some bilateral talks with the South Koreans.
We have always supported North/South dialogue. We think it is important to resolve the bilateral issues. And it is a good channel to make clear to the North Koreans that they must end their nuclear arms program. So we find the North cancellation of the talks scheduled for later this week regrettable.
Question: Last week, Richard, after the coup in the Central African Republic, you guys said you are considering your coup-related sanctions. I'm wondering if you have made a decision on whether those should go in effect? And if you have decided, and if you are going to impose the sanctions, what are they?
Mr. Boucher: At this point, no particular news on that regard.
But I would say that we have urged the authorities to take steps towards national reconciliation that would lead to a democratic government taking office. We call on Mr. Bozize and Mr. Goumbe to put forward their plans for such a process, and to identify, in particular, the steps they plan to take to stabilize the Central African Republic and to return to democratic governments. So we will be watching very carefully how that process unfolds.
Question: Any decision yet on whether you are going to go for the China resolution in Geneva?
Mr. Boucher: Nothing new on that, no.
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