State Department Briefing
Briefer: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Mr. Boucher: If we can now, let's do the -- lets go to the news of the day if we can. I thought I would just run through a number of the things that we're doing around here and get the basic elements out on the table and then we can go to questions. So let me hit three or four things off the top: first, the Secretary went over to the White House yesterday afternoon for the meeting that was held in the Oval Office, stayed there until about 7:15 as the President was making his decisions and then he came back here and began to make to make his phone calls.
Overnight and -- good -- he made phone calls. Some of them he got through beforehand, some of them he didn't. I'm not going to try to differentiate between who got calls before and those who calls after or this morning, but say, since last night, he's talked to Foreign Secretary Straw, Prime Minister Howard, Prime Minister Sharon, King Abdullah in Jordan, former Minister Tang and now state counselor Tang in China, Spanish Foreign Minister Palacio.
The Deputy Secretary also talked to the governments of Japan and the Philippines in channels that we had set up in advance to provide such information. And the Secretary, I'm sure, will continue to keep in touch with his counterparts during the course of the day.
The Secretary also called Congressmen -- people and, Congressmen and Senators. He talked to Senator Lugar, Senator Biden, Congressman Hyde and Congressman Lantos on the Foreign Affairs International Relations Committees for the Senate and the House.
Mr. Boucher: And then, well, as you know, his testimony this morning was rescheduled. They Secretary came in this morning a little bit early, about 6:30, had his normal early-morning contact discussions with Secretary Rumsfeld and Dr. Rice and received all the normal intelligence in other briefings for the day. And that's about where I will stop on that subject.
Can I just run, let me just run through a few basics on different things and then you can come back to any one you want at any time you want. Second, I'd like to note that the Turkish parliament has approved our request for overflight permission. We welcome Turkey's support. We think this shows a desire of Turkey to support coalition efforts and we welcome that effort.
Third is, I'd like to mention the subject of protection and warnings. Obviously, whenever we get into a situation like this, one of our chief concerns is the protection of American citizens overseas trying to either give them advice or do what we can for those who might get into difficulty, so we've issued two public announcements overnight.
One is the Worldwide Caution that tells Americans who might be traveling overseas or have an intention to travel overseas that there is an increased potential for anti-American violence, including terrorist actions against U.S. citizens, as a result, as a reaction to our military action in Iraq.
And the second is one that's focused a little more on the Middle East and North Africa to alert Americans to an increased potential for anti-American violence in this area. We think people need to be especially cautious in terms of following good security procedures. And then you all know there are specific advisories and warnings available on the web for specific destinations and locations around the world.
Our embassies, we have today temporarily closed a couple, about 14 posts, embassies and consulates in about 14 countries, short-term basis. This is an ongoing thing. Chiefs of mission, our ambassadors overseas, based on their local security situation, can decide at any moment to close a post to the general public, but in all these cases they make arrangements to provide emergency services to American citizens.
So when we close a place, it's closed, might be closed to general walk-in access or to the general public, but there are phone numbers and other ways to -- for American citizens to get help if they need it, and those things are always made available locally, frequently on the Internet, and always phone numbers and things like that. So if people are in a place where the embassy might be closed to the general public, the answer is still give them a phone call and find out if they want you to come in or make other arrangements for us to be able to take care of people.
The final --
Question: -- and is it 15 countries?
Mr. Boucher: It's in 14 countries. Some of these places have a number of facilities. The posts in Israel, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are closed to the public today. Buenos Aires, Australia, Canberra and all the consulates, Kenya, Damascus, Almaty, posts in France mostly close to the public. The embassy in Paris is doing emergency visas only and reduced services.
In Nigeria, Abuja and Lagos, Lagos is close to the general public. Abuja is running with reduced operations. In South Africa, Johannesburg is close to the public. Then Oslo, Indonesia, Surabaya, closed to the public.
The posts in Turkey are open, but reduced services. In Pakistan, the posts are closed to the public. Sao Paolo, Brazil is doing emergency visas only and reduced services. So, in some ways or in others, some may not be entirely closed. But in places like that where Americans are located, there will be emergency services available and I guess the basic advice is call us before you come in to see us in places like that.
Spokesman meant to say 14 posts.
Question: Richard, is a very safe --
Mr. Boucher: No. But at any moment there are people, there are posts that are opening and closing based on the local conditions and so I don't, that's not a definitive list and it may not be, it may not even be accurate at this precise moment. It was accurate about an hour ago.
Question: (Inaudible) there are Warden messages.
Mr. Boucher: There are Warden messages in a lot of places. As I said, it comes and goes. It changes. This was the list as of, I don't know, about 12:00 -- 11:00 this morning. So it does change.
Question: But generally speaking, this is for security reasons --
Mr. Boucher: Local security reasons, the possibility of demonstrations or existing demonstrations that may not threaten the post, itself, but may threaten Americans who might be coming and going or people who might be waiting outside.
Some places there might be threat conditions that they want to make sure they are protected against. Some places they may be doing security changes in conjunction with local authorities. So there's a variety of reasons and that's why it does -- it does come and go and it floats based on local decision. But once again, in all cases they make provisions for emergency services for Americans.
Question: As you go case-by-case, isn't it possible an embassy is closed because it is not quite up to the security specs of another embassy? In other words, not so much the situation in the country, -- but you have varying degrees of preparedness.
Mr. Boucher: They may, in all cases like this, we instruct embassies to review their vulnerabilities and they may decide, you know, that the wall out back isn't strong enough or something, and close to the public until they can repair it, or they may be discussing with local officials how to close down a street, and until they've decided -- made the arrangements to do that or put up the barriers, they may stay closed to the general public.
So it is sometimes just a question of reviewing their security situation and opening when they feel like they have the proper arrangements in place.
Question: Richard, how many of these places are closed because there might be a -- because there's a threat condition?
Mr. Boucher: I don't think I can -- I don't have that information. I'm not sure I could go into that information --
Question: Because I think the reason people are asking about Macedonia is because there has been a report of a specific threat, retaliatory relate -- well, related to the onset of hostilities.
Mr. Boucher: I will check on the questions of Macedonia.
Question: As well as in Indonesia?
Mr. Boucher: As well as Indonesia. Well, as I said, Surabaya is closed to the general public, but as of the 11 o'clock this morning list, they weren't on it. But I'll check on Macedonia and Indonesia.
Question: And Saudi Arabia?
Mr. Boucher: And Saudi. All right. Can I do one more thing? I wanted to run through, kind of maybe to put in some perspective, some of the things we said yesterday about humanitarian assistance planning for Iraq. This is another major effort that's been underway here and that continues. And, frankly, over the last several months, we've taken unprecedented steps throughout the U.S. Government to limit humanitarian consequences of a conflict with Iraq and to provide relief as soon as possible to the Iraqi people.
We've assembled and trained the largest-ever humanitarian response team and today more than half of our 60-member Disaster Assistance Team is already in the region.
We are also prepositioning stockpiles of emergency supplies and commodities, including medical kits, blankets and shelter material -- the largest such relief stockpiles we've ever had.
And we're communicating and coordinating with U.S. and international humanitarian organizations and funding their preparatory efforts because they will ultimately be the deliverers of the assistance.
We have also prepositioned about $16 million, provided about $16 million to organizations like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees so that they can preposition supplies, and we understand the World Food Program has also either prepositioned or has on standby contract food for people in Iraq who might need it.
We have also contributed $60 million to internal and nongovernmental organizations for relief. That's international, I think, and nongovernmental organizations for relief preparations. Of that amount, the following funds have been spent: $2 million to UNICEF for emergency health kits; $40 million to the World Food Program for food and logistics measures, as well as extensive contingency planning; $1 million to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for nongovernmental organization and donor coordination; support to nongovernmental organizations including 900,000 for a consortium to conduct chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training for other nongovernmental organizations; $100,000 to InterAction to fund an NGO observer to the humanitarian operations center in Kuwait; and $15.6 million to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and International Organization of Migration for prepositioning of relief commodities and other preparatory efforts. That was what I mentioned before. We also have another $41 million on its way to these kind of relief operations.
We also want to ensure that the most needy and vulnerable people have food available. That's why we have provided funding to the World Food Program to feed 900,000 displaced persons for up to ten weeks and we're in the process of buying and shipping 110,000 metric tons of food, including beans, oil, rice and wheat flour for Iraq's most vulnerable populations.
This food, when it's shipped and gets there will feed 2 million Iraqis for three months. We're continuing to work on these efforts to obtain and ship food supplies and to try to make sure that there is a continuing flow for what's needed in the weeks and months ahead.
I think we've also talked here and I will repeat what I said yesterday, we're working to resume the oil-for-food program as quickly as possible in a post-conflict period. We recognize the centrality of these rations to most Iraqis. The numbers say that something like 90 percent of the Iraqi people receive something through this program and 60 percent of them, Iraqis, are totally dependent on these food rations. Others get some of their food supply through the markets. So this is very important to us. We have been discussing with others at the United Nations or the Security Council how to reconstitute and reauthorize this program in the new environment that will exist. The Security Council has now heard from the Secretary General about how he might take the role in this program that Security Council was looking for. You'll remember the statement from the Azores when the President and the two prime ministers said, "We look to the Secretary General to take an important role." So that seems to be coming together at the United Nations.
I can't tell you exactly how soon the resolution might move but we're looking to move that resolution at the Security Council as soon as possible in conjunction with the others, the other members.
Okay. I will stop, sort of my opening updates there and go on to questions.
Question: On the last thing, will that have any impact on French and other countries' business in Iraq? And are you about -- do you have some changes in the list of, I hate the phrase, coalition of the willing? Are there some additions or subtractions or whatever?
Mr. Boucher: On the question of French commercial interests on Iraq and whether they will sell things to the oil-for-food program, I don't know if they have or have not. You know, this program has bought food, has bought medicine has bought, I think, civilian supplies for the Iraqi people and so whether France has sold to this program in the past or would in the future, I just don't know.
As far as the coalition goes, the coalition for disarmament of Iraq, the numbers, as the President said more that 35 countries have publicly declared their support. That's true. I'm not going to try to give a daily update or create a bar graph of totals. When we have a sort of another solid list, we'll give it out to you, but it's more than 35. It's still growing. Everyday we hear from new countries who are interested in being listed. Some of those are new, some of those are changes from the unlisted -- I think before I told there were at least 45 countries that we felt were cooperating and supporting this effort. It's easily above 50 now, but we'll give you a new list as soon as we -- it looks fairly safe.
Question: Richard, on that, all you need is to give us two or three names to complete the 35, because we had 33 yesterday.
Mr. Boucher: More than 35.
Question: Okay. What are the others?
Question: And will they actually back up the President with the names of -- I'm not suggesting you're wrong. I just --
Mr. Boucher: I'm not -- I don't, again, I, this is something that's been changing. It's hard for me everyday to try to put out a new list or put our three or four more. Some of these things are still being checked. The cables come in at different times. I just don't feel comfortable knocking out two or three names today and two or three tomorrow. We'll give you a list as soon as we can.
Question: So there aren't --
Question: Well, then, (inaudible).
Mr. Boucher: Because there are. Because we read the wires and we look at what other countries say in public and we see themselves declare -- we see them declare themselves. They are in touch with the other governments. They get in touch directly with us. We want to provide you with the best possible information, but if you have any doubts, I suspect that if you read Reuters Wire Service, for example, you could probably find 35 countries that had already declared in public.
Question: Can you go back to the Secretary's conversation with Prime Minister Sharon? Did he at all discuss the possibility of Israeli retaliation? Did he at all discuss even Israeli comments on the record regarding the war and the fragility of the, I guess the unwilling to be named Arab alliance supporting the --
Mr. Boucher: I'm not going to go into any particular phone call, and particularly I'm not going to go into what somebody else in the phone call might have said. I would note that I have seen statement this morning by the Israeli Foreign Minister about the military conflict and their attitude towards it, so leave it at that.
Question: Richard, on the Turkish parliament, they also -- did someone want to stay on Sharon?
Question: Did the Secretary tell him anything about the $1 billion aid package which the Israelis say has been approved now?
Mr. Boucher: The same answer. I'm not going to get into the details of a particular phone call, but as you know, as you say, the request has been made by the Israelis. The status today is the same as yesterday. We're looking at it, we're considering it, we don't have any new decisions on that.
Mr. Boucher: Let's, Elise was --
Question: On the same subject?
Mr. Boucher: Sir.
Question: Yeah, if I say it's not about a phone call, maybe you can answer a question put this way. Is the U.S. position that Israel has a right to -- and Scuds have been fired in Kuwait now, at Americans. So presumably, Iraq is prepared to fire the Scuds it has left, I suppose.
Is it the U.S. position that Israel has a right to defend itself and/or is it the U.S. preference that Israel keep a low profile and not endanger that fragile coalition Jonathan was referring to?
Mr. Boucher: I don't have anything new to say on that subject so I'm afraid I'm not going to adopt either one of your choices.
Mr. Boucher: Okay. Elise.
Question: On the Turkish parliament, there are some reports that they are discussing sending Turkish troops to the northern Iraq border. Can you discuss what you've told the Turkish Government, if there's an understanding that they are not to send troops?
Mr. Boucher: The, I think the first thing to say is, as I've said before, we welcome the vote that gives permission for overflights. The second thing to say is we do continue our discussion with the Turkish Government about all these issues and the third is, we have made clear that we oppose any military actions that are not under coalition control. We remain opposed to unilateral action by Turkey or by any party in northern Iraq. And finally, just say we have been discussing with the Turkish Government ways to keep tensions in Iraq's northern border region at the lowest possible level.
We expect the Turkish Government as well as the Iraqi parties to be responsive to our concerns. The President's Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad has just been there, has been meeting with Turkish representatives as well as representatives of eight opposition groups. He has made clear that what our objectives are for the future of Iraq and they've issued, together, a statement that has a common position on our view of the future of Iraq, particularly the territorial integrity of Iraq and representative government that includes all the people of Iraq. And he has been working with them on a mechanism by which Iraqis, Turks and Americans can deal with issues as they arise.
Question: Richard, I don't know if you can answer this because the State Department did play a role in putting together the opposition groups that are in northern Iraq now. They have released a statement this morning saying that they plan to be in Baghdad before U.S. troops. Is this something that the State Department in any way was aware of and do you have and comment?
Mr. Boucher: It sounds like a question involving military operations and not something I would be able to answer.
Question: Well, I mean it's also a diplomatic question because you've been very involved in the future of Iraq .
Mr. Boucher: Yeah, but anything that urges military operations, whether it has a diplomatic aspect or not, I'm not going to get into.
Question: Well, hold on a second. Did you not repeatedly say from this podium during the war in Afghanistan that you didn't want the northern alliance to go into Kabul before -- I think you did.
Mr. Boucher: I didn't.
Question: I think you did.
Question: You didn't?
Mr. Boucher: I will, I think the current conflict is taking the place in Iraq. What I may have said or not said during the conflict in Afghanistan is a different situation. And this particular conflict at this particular moment, I'm not going to say anything that verges on military operations.
Question: Yeah, but didn't you just say that you opposed any military action that are not under coalition control?
Mr. Boucher: Well, it's not a military action because it's purely a diplomatic subsequently because it hasn't happened.
Mr. Boucher: I'm not, I don't want to go around on this too many times. The question of --
Question: Well, I just don't understand why you're, why that answer doesn't apply to Eli's question.
Mr. Boucher: Because the question of who's going to reach Baghdad first involves when our troops may or may not reach Baghdad. And I'm not getting into that. Let's put it bluntly. We can do this for an hour if you want to. I'm not saying anything about when our troops may or may not reach Baghdad or if they are headed in that direction.
Question: I don't think that was the question.
Mr. Boucher: Well, that was the question. Any comment on a group that says they are going to get to Baghdad before U.S. troops. Right? That was the question.
Mr. Boucher: So I'm not, I'm not saying anything about any group that wants to be there before after or between us because that would involve talking about us.
Question: But you said said earlier.
Mr. Boucher: Terri.
Question: That you opposed any military action not under coalition control. I just don't understand why that answer does not apply to Eli's question. I'm sorry if I'm being obtuse, I just --
Mr. Boucher: Terri.
Question: It would help if you answered that question. You said, you just said about Turkey that you don't want any forces going in --
Mr. Boucher: That's what he just said.
Question: Well, I know, but you didn't answer the question.
Mr. Boucher: I'm not in a position to talk about whether some group is going to be in Baghdad before us. I'm sorry.
Question: Okay, but do you -- but without speaking about them directly going to Baghdad, do you oppose opposition liberation forces entering the country that aren't under Coalition control?
Mr. Boucher: As we oppose any uncoordinated military actions by any groups or countries in the area.
Question: Okay. I have a couple of questions arising from Marc Grossman's briefing he gave at Foreign Press Center. When asked this, he said he confirmed the answer to my question yesterday of whether was last NATO country which has been asked for overflight rights to grant them. We're you ever --
Mr. Boucher: What's the answer?
Question: Yes, he said turkey is the last NATO country to be asked.
Mr. Boucher: Well then, he must be right. I didn't have a chance to check with him. Actually you were talking to him, so he must be right. He knows these things.
Question: All right. And the other thing he said that was interesting was that the U.S. hopes that a new Iraqi Government will recognize Israel. Is that something that's been part of the agenda with the Iraqi opposition?
Mr. Boucher: I would have to look back at the transcript. I think it was a series of questions and answers, if I'm correct. I don't think I have anything more to say on it. We've looked for a new Iraqi Government that would be able to represent the people of Iraq and would be able to represent them both domestically and internationally and obviously, our policy on recognition of Israel applies anywhere now and in the future.
Question: Which is that they should --
Mr. Boucher: Charlie.
Question: Two more somewhat loose ends on the Turkish question. One is, just to nail down, there's not money that was exchanged by the U.S. for the overflight rights?
Mr. Boucher: No.
Question: You didn't expect it?
Mr. Boucher: No. Overflight right is normally granted without need for any financial assistance.
Question: And secondly, Zaymay Khalilzad and Brian Crocker and the delegations still there? Or do they -- I'm a little confused whether they are still there and having meetings.
Mr. Boucher: I have to check, too.
Mr. Boucher: Their meetings ended yesterday, right? Yeah. Whether they are still in the region or not, I don't know.
Question: One quick one back to the coalition of the willing. Is there any deadline for getting into the coalition of the willing? (Laugher.)
Mr. Boucher: I think, it's actually, it's actually a very important question because it comes up when you start doing comparisons or you start writing stories about what people are doing and not doing and how some people may not be deploying military units.
The first thing is, militarily, this is a different conflict than before. It has different objectives, it's a different environment, obviously weapons of mass destruction is a great concern. And to some extent, military forces around the world are structured somewhat differently than before, so it may be very important to have a contribution that's small in numbers but specialized in abilities like some of the nuclear, biological and chemical units that we're getting that we're able to send to the different locations where they might be needed where we might not, or somebody else might not have enough to cover all those places; and some of that stuff you need rapid response.
There are other sort of specialized units that are very important to have. So even small contributions are also necessary. The second thing is, I think, as you've seen from what we've done on the humanitarian planning and the UN resolution planning and the governance issues and all this stuff that we're not just planning this as a military conflict. We're planning, we're trying to look at the whole situation that is going to arise because of this action. We're trying to plan the conflict; we're trying to protect against terrorism; we're trying to take care of the Iraqi people and we're trying to plan for helping the Iraqis get back on their own feet and control their own country and so at any stage in this conflict, you may have contributions from different countries.
It's not necessarily of less value to have a contribution to rebuilding Iraq than it is to have a contribution militarily while the conflict's going on. The whole thing needs to be taken care of by the international community and we welcome those who have said, we're happy to contribute to rebuilding water supply or we may, you know, have police or some other role in the stability of Iraq after the conflict's over. That is part of the whole package that we have to plan for and we welcome those kind of contributions as well.
Question: Richard, can you talk about the legality aspects? The Ambassador of Iraq has today filed a letter to Secretary General Annan and also there've been reports about different lawyers groups in this country questioning the legality on the Iraqi side in terms of putting military people among civilians and in this way increasing the potential of human shields.
Mr. Boucher: We think quite clearly that putting civilians, intentionally taking civilians and putting them in harm's way or trying to shield an army by putting civilians around them is clearly a crime that needs to be dealt with, that that's quite clearly in the international conventions, not permitted.
On the question of the legal basis, funny you should ask, our legal advisor, the State Department's legal advisor, just this morning spoke on this subject. I'm not sure how many people were there, but if you let me I will go through what he said on the topic.
Question: We need a text, by the way. I hope.
Mr. Boucher: I tore out the last two pages of his text --
Question: We're legally obligated to get our own --
Mr. Boucher: I think we'll, I will put it on the record by reading it. This is what our legal advisor, Will Taft said and you either quote him or quote me because we agree on this one.
He gave a stirring speech about consular access issues and we invite you to look at the entire text on that. But then he ends up by saying, "Finally, let me say a few words about the legal basis for our actions in Iraq. First, it goes without saying that the President's authority to use force under U.S. law is clear. Under the Constitution he has not simply the authority to, but the responsibility to use force to protect our national security.
Congress has confirmed in two separate resolutions in 1991 and again last fall that the President has the authority to use our armed forces in the specific case of Iraq. Under international law, the basis for the use of force is equally strong. There is clear authorization from the Security Council to use force and to disarm Iraq. The President referred to this authority in his speech to the American people on Monday night. The source of this authority is UN Security Council Resolution 678, which was the authorization to use force for the Gulf War in January, 1991.
In April of that year, the Council imposed a series of conditions on Iraq, including, most importantly, extensive disarmament obligations as a condition of the ceasefire declared under UN Security Council Resolution 687. Iraq has materially breached these disarmament obligations and force may again be used under UN Security Council Resolution 678 to compel Iraqi compliance.
Historical practice is also clear that a material breach by Iraq of the conditions of the ceasefire provides a basis for the use of force. This was established as early as 1992. The United States, the United Kingdom and France have all used force against Iraq on a number of occasions over the past 12 years. Just last November in Resolution 1441, the Council unanimously decided that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligation. Resolution 1441 then gave Iraq a final opportunity to comply, but stated specifically that violations of the obligations, including the obligations to cooperate fully under 1441 would constitute further material breach.
Iraq has clearly committed such violations and accordingly, the authority to use force to address Iraq's material breaches is clear.
This basis in international law for the use of force in Iraq today is clear. The Attorney General of the United Kingdom has considered the issue and reached the same conclusion that we have. The President may also, of course, always use force under an international law in self-defense."
So that's the passage.
Question: Is there any -- apropos of the attempt at a second resolution, do you happen to know if the legal office thought it would be helpful for legal purposes? Or if all that authority exists already, why did you all bother with a second resolution? Except, I suppose, there are political reasons to attract other, no, I mean attract other countries to make them feel more comfortable. But what was the legal need for that second resolution?
Mr. Boucher: There wasn't any.
Question: All right.
Mr. Boucher: We've said that all along. We've said it was politically desirable but not legally necessary. I think I said that about 52 times from this podium.
Question: All right. Do you think he thinks a declaration of war under the Constitution is desirable, too?
Mr. Boucher: I think that's a question I would have to leave to the White House lawyers.
Mr. Boucher: Yeah. Okay. Eli.
Question: On the legal question, two quick things. Are there any plans, assuming you find mobile biological weapons labs or anything like that to then in a kind of post-mortem give, hand over this evidence to UNMOVIC? To the UN in any way? Is there any, I mean what is the status now of the weapons inspections and would they be doing a final report if you found this stuff?
Mr. Boucher: I think those are interesting questions but not ones that we can answer at this moment.
Mr. Boucher: Obviously the UN inspectors are no longer in Iraq, having taken the prudent and appropriate precaution to depart. The question of whether they will become necessary, useful or have a future role for international inspections, I think it's just too early too tell at this point. But I would say that when we find the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq I'm sure we'll want to make it known that those exist in order to reassure the international community that they can be destroyed safely.
Question: Well, just to follow up. What is the State Department view of the UN Weapons Inspection regime at this point? Is it still an active body in your view?
Mr. Boucher: At this point they are not in Iraq and they are not inspecting. I think that's our view. Questions about what their future role might or might not be, it's just too early.
Question: Well, the future role aside, if they existed when they weren't in Iraq prior to 1441 --
Mr. Boucher: Well, they existed prior to when they went into Iraq under 1284 and I suppose they exist and are being paid after they, since they've left Iraq. But what particular role they might have for us is a little too early to say. It depends on a lot of things and the work that has to be done. I don't want to, you know, slight them or reject any future roles --
Question: I understand.
Mr. Boucher: It's just a little too early to start answering the question.
Question: Richard, on the self-defense question, you say the President can always use force in self-defense. Is there any indications that Iraq was planning any specific terrorist attack against the U.S. that it would have to use preemptive, self-defense force?
Mr. Boucher: Again, I think the grounding that I gave you draws extensively on the UN resolutions, the UN Resolutions 678, 687 and 1441; plus the fact that the President always has the right under international law to protect the United States is an observation that is true.
Question: Is that just an observation that he's allowed to do that, or that he -- that's part of the reason that he undertook the action in this case?
Mr. Boucher: That's a very legitimate justification, but it's not one that I've expanded on at this point. Let's put it that way.
Question: Richard, I believe under the UN Charter, if you use force you're supposed to then report it to the Security Council and hand it over to the Security Council. Are there any plans to do that?
Mr. Boucher: No news on that right at this moment.
Question: But you are still in compliance with that aspect of the Charter, are you?
Mr. Boucher: We're always in compliance with the UN Charter.
Question: Richard, the Chinese put out a version of the Secretary's conversation with Mr. Tang. Mr. Tang told him that the war should stop and that it was a mistake, I believe. Also, the Russians, Germans and French have made statements today saying that the war is a big mistake and should stop. How did the Secretary answer Mr. Tang and what do you say to all these others who've said these things today?
Mr. Boucher: We repeat the comments that many, many others have made about how that this is a necessity. It's with regret that we have to take this course. It's a regret that Saddam Hussein did not take advantage of his opportunities to solve this peacefully, but that it is necessary to disarm Iraq of these dangerous weapons that threaten the entire international community. And I think if you look at the international commentary, you'll see statements on both sides.
Question: There were clashes today in Cairo between police and thousands of angry people in the streets of Cairo opposing war on Iraq. How are you going to convince them, those angry people, that war is the right thing?
Mr. Boucher: I don't -- some people you never convince. I would say that we think the facts are clear that Iraq has had these weapons of mass destruction, has failed to comply with the United Nations resolution and constitutes a threat and a danger to us all. We also think that the facts are quite clear with regards to brutality and the oppression of the Iraqi regime, and we would expect those facts, all these facts to become even more clear as time goes on.
Question: Can you say whether or not at this point you're asking other governments to break diplomatic ties with Saddam Hussein's regime?
Mr. Boucher: Let me tell you about it and phrase it slightly differently.
Through our diplomatic missions overseas, the United States has made a formal request to those countries in which the Iraqis have a diplomatic presence to suspend Iraq's diplomatic presence in country on a temporary basis. We've also asked them to take steps to assure the prompt departure of the leading representatives of Saddam Hussein's regime.
We've made this request because Saddam Hussein's refusal to comply with 12 years of United Nations Security Council resolutions to disarm and has left the international community with no option but to disarm him forcefully. For this reason, the United States has commenced military action that will permanently disarm Iraq and bring freedom to the Iraqi people.
Our expectation is that once an interim Iraqi authority is in place it will name interim replacement representatives and diplomatic missions that can reopen and truly represent the interests of the Iraqi people rather than represent a corrupt and ruthless regime.
We have also requested that these countries take every possible step to respect and protect Iraqi diplomatic property and prevent the destruction of mission records and to assure that in country bank accounts belonging to the Iraqi Government are frozen. Such a move will be critical to ensuring that any embezzlement of funds or damage to assets that rightfully belong to the Iraqi people does not occur.
We are also looking at the possibility of third countries providing basic consular services for Iraqi nationals in these countries to minimize any impact on average Iraqi citizens. We deeply appreciate the assistance these countries can provide in this regard. We'll be following up closely with regard to this request. I would refer you to the countries, themselves, in which Iraq has a diplomatic presence for any comment on their response to the request.
Question: Do you know how many countries have (inaudible)?
Mr. Boucher: No. I don't. I'm sorry. I should have brought it, but I forgot.
Question: A few or --
Mr. Boucher: I don't have the number. I will have to get it for you. It's, I think as you know we've already taken some action with regard to some of the Iraqi diplomats at the UN -- or some of the accredited people.
Question: Wait a second. Are you going to ask for Al-Dohry to leave? I mean it's your city, you know?
Mr. Boucher: I don't have anything new on that at this point.
Question: It's a mission, I mean --
Mr. Boucher: I'm not going to draw parallels in that case. There are special obligations that pertain to the UN. At this point I don't have any news on that for you.
Question: Are you also asking the handful, I don't even think it's that many -- two or three -- Iraqi diplomats in Washington to be kicked out here on the Interests Section of the offices of the Iraqi Embassy?
Mr. Boucher: In the Interests Section? I'm sorry. I will have to double-check on that one, too. Sorry.
Question: But wait, one more question. You said you are looking at asking countries to provide consular services or you've asked?
Mr. Boucher: These arrangements can be made in different ways in different places. There may be a third country in one place that would provide services to Iraqi citizens. There may be somebody somewhere else. There may be one country that would agree to do this in a number of places, so we've been in touch with countries about these kinds of arrangements, but again, nothing definitive or worldwide that I can tell you at this point.
Question: Richard, where do you expect these ambassadors to go? You certainly don't expect them to return to Baghdad under the current circumstances. I mean where would they be allowed to go -- be expelled to?
Mr. Boucher: I frankly don't know. If they were interested in returning to Iraq, I'm sure there are border crossings available but I'm not going to -- you know, I'm not going to pretend. We just think they need to be kicked out of the countries that they are in. The leading representatives need to depart and not be able to exercise any official functions or be able to pretend to continue to represent a country that doesn't have, in our view, a responsible government.
Yeah. Well, let's slow -- one at a time.
Question: So basically, you're asking these countries not to recognize the regime of Saddam Hussein even though some of them have diplomatic relations with Iraq and have sent envoys in the past and --
Mr. Boucher: We're asking them to suspend Iraq's diplomatic presence in their country because we think that the defiance of UN resolutions, the ruthless nature of the regime, have come to a point where people should no longer want to have their representatives there.
Question: Yeah, could I go back to the status again of the diplomats? I'm kind of confused by what you said. Is there an asylum offer? I mean are you offering to Iraqi diplomats if they see the light and want to join Operation Freedom, will they get asylum here or are they --
Mr. Boucher: I'm not making any particular offer. Obviously people who believe that by returning to their own country they would face political persecution are able to apply for asylum in whatever country they might be in or wherever they might end up, but I'm not making such an offer at this point.
Our view has been that you need to suspend the operation of so-called Iraqi embassies around the world. Countries should ask the leading representative of that embassy to depart. And as far as the other embassy personnel, they would no longer have any diplomatic or accredited status.
Question: Are there legal precedents for such actions?
Mr. Boucher: I would have to go back and look. I would have to check. I think there were. There were nations that took these kind of steps with regard to Taliban representatives at the beginning of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan.
Question: But if I could follow up.
Mr. Boucher: Let's, we had some other questions around the room. If we can we'll come back to some of these.
The lady in the back.
Question: Yeah. I was asking about the response of the countries that you've asked them to --
Mr. Boucher: Too early to say and in the end, you'll have to ask them.
Question: Is this de-recognition? You've got a whole legal thing here.
Mr. Boucher: It's, at this point I can't address it in detailed legal manner. It's suspending the presence of Iraqi diplomatic representation. That's the best that I could say.
Question: But you know. We all know. You know.
Mr. Boucher: No. You know, as well, that when people use the word recognize with us, we tend to say, oh no, recognition -- we recognize states, not governments. We work with governments. What we're saying here is don't work with this government.
Question: Correct. You're saying don't work with the government? Because recognition of a government doesn't necessarily mean you approve of it.
Mr. Boucher: The recognition of government is not a legal term. The legal term is recognition of the state. We go through this every time we have recognition issues.
Question: All right. I know. Well, this is really --
Mr. Boucher: So that's why recognition/de-recognition are not the right terms. The terms are, you know, suspend your relationship with these people who've claimed to represent Iraq.
Question: Is that what this is?
Mr. Boucher: The term -- yeah.
Question: You made this request to every country all around the world or just --
Mr. Boucher: We made this request to countries where Iraq has diplomatic or -- diplomatic establishments.
Question: And when did you make the request?
Mr. Boucher: Overnight.
Question: Okay. But don't you think that that's -- when you say overnight, does that mean that the military action had begun by the time you made this request? Otherwise it would seem a bit premature.
Mr. Boucher: I think, the answer is yes. Phil's nodding his head. He looked at the date/time group on the cable.
Question: Sorry. It was after?
Mr. Boucher: It was after the military action had begun. Yeah.
Question: Okay. And you were a little not, well, I don't want to say evasive, but maybe you do --
Mr. Boucher: I was imprecise on something?
Question: No, no, no. About the UN. I was told this morning that you would be looking to ask the UN through the General Assembly or otherwise to get the current delegation, Iraqi delegation to have -- to make them no longer the legitimate representatives of Iraq at the UN. Is that not correct?
Mr. Boucher: I do not have any news on the UN and I'm not -- don't have a course of action to recommend to you at this point, to describe to you at this point.
Question: Well, would you expect that that would be such a --
Mr. Boucher: I wouldn't expect anything until I'm told we have a decision.
Question: Well, no, no, no. You know, Richard, when a conflict happens like this, in the past, is it not -- does one not expect a new government or authority to take over that country's seat at the United Nations, i.e. Afghanistan?
Mr. Boucher: Certainly when there is a new governmental authority in Iraq, we would certainly expect a representative government, a Iraqi interim authority to represent Iraq internationally, including at the United Nations. How that transition process works at the United Nations may be a little different than in bilateral embassies and I don't have an answer for you at this point.
Question: All right, Richard, another follow-up on this question, but wouldn't you need for the UN to suspend their recognition briefly of the current regime in Iraq in order to have a smooth transition of the UN oil-for-food program because clearly that program now works that the people in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein's regime request the food and medicine for the oil profits. You are asking for these things so wouldn't, in fact, this request be part and parcel in some ways of the reforms that you're seeking now at the UN for the human, oil-for-food program.
Mr. Boucher: No.
Question: It would not. So you feel that you --
Mr. Boucher: The --
Question: Yeah. I'm sorry.
Mr. Boucher: The President and two prime ministers who met in the Azores, if you look carefully at what they said, they said that they would recommend, they would hope that the Secretary General could be given the authority for making those recommendations, for dispensing those funds, essentially. And so what we have talked to other members of the Council about is not how to withdraw that authority, but how to give it to the Secretary General. Obviously we don't think that Iraqi officials should be able to exercise that authority. Certainly they haven't exercised it well on behalf of the Iraqi people. And we think the Secretary General can do a better job under present and future circumstances.
So he has now written a letter to the Security Council describing how he could exercise those functions and then now we have to put forward a resolution that would give him that authority to administer this program, to set the priorities, make the purchases and carry out the other aspects of the program.
Question: Okay. And if he did this, this wouldn't have any bearing on the question of representation at the UN?
Mr. Boucher: Well, it would be one less thing we would be doing with the Iraqi regime.
Mr. Boucher: Yeah.
Question: How did you notify, how did you make this request. And secondly, what's the status of the Iraqi Interests Section in the Algerian embassy? Is anyone there? You know, I know that they have an ambassador --
Mr. Boucher: I was asked that question 15 minutes ago, 10 minutes ago. I'm sorry.
Question: Oh, I'm sorry. I must have just been visiting another planet at that moment. I'm sorry.
Mr. Boucher: Hang on. I'm on another planet. The first half of your question -- oh, how did we make the request? We sent a telegram to our embassies overseas and asked them to approach governments in these countries.
Question: Is that the sort of thing that's done ambassador to -- or I mean, how does the protocol for that --
Mr. Boucher: I don't know which -- in most cases, the embassy decides who's in charge of this in the host-government and they decide who's the most appropriate person to make the request. Frequently ambassadors will do it because of the importance that we attach to it.
Question: Richard, how does this differ, if at all from breaking diplomatic relations in the conventional sense? It doesn't seem to at all, really.
Mr. Boucher: It's a different term.
Question: Why? What's the difference?
Mr. Boucher: Because the legal aspects, I guess, are different.
Sunni. Sorry, I skipped Betsy. I will go back.
Question: I'm sorry. When you mentioned the part about the financial assets, are you then asking these governments to freeze the assets of all of these overseas embassies and in their countries? The property at the embassies and all of their assets?
Mr. Boucher: Yeah. We want them to ensure that the property and the assets can be frozen so that people who are there now can't steal them.
Question: On the question of frozen assets, the U.S. froze assets, Iraq's assets in this country a long time ago. Do you know, can you say approximately how much they are now worth and whether that money or sale of property or whatever would be used in Iraq for a new government, to help a new government?
Mr. Boucher: I really don't have anything more on this than what I said yesterday and I don't have the amounts for you at this point.
Question: Is it just that you don't know what the answer is to what these people should do who are getting expelled from the country or that you can't tell us? Is it really that nobody thought through what -- because it's really that the countries --
Mr. Boucher: It's really that the United States is not in charge of planning travel for Iraqi diplomats. That's really the answer.
Question: But you're going to get questions from these host countries, well, what are we supposed to do with them.
Mr. Boucher: Where should they go?
Mr. Boucher: And I guess, to put it bluntly, that's their problem.
Question: Whose? The (inaudible) government?
Mr. Boucher: The people who are leaving.
Question: Yeah. The Iraqis' problem.
Question: Richard, (inaudible) to countries that don't file this request.
Mr. Boucher: I don't have anything on that at this point. We'll see how it works out.
Question: Did you think about going to the UN with this?
Mr. Boucher: This is not a question of the United Nations. It's a question of bilateral relations. As you know, we've raised the question of security for our embassies in terms of Iraqi intelligence officers, and that's been a separate effort. But in terms of the relationships that people have bilaterally with this current Iraqi regime, we feel the time has come for other governments to suspend those relationships and we have made that clear to them.
Question: Richard, is it your position that Iraq does not possess a legitimate government or that it does possess a government and you just don't like it?
Mr. Boucher: We feel that this government has failed in so many ways that it's time for others to recognize that by not allowing their representatives to continue to pretend to represent the Iraqi people.
Question: Does that mean it's illegitimate or just that you don't like it?
Mr. Boucher: I don't -- I'm not quite sure what the distinction is there, frankly, and I'm not sure if one has legal implications or not so I will just stick with the language I used.
Question: Richard, by telling us that you have not yet or you don't know the exact status of the Interests Section here, you are asking other governments around the world to do something that you haven't yet done. Isn't that correct?
Mr. Boucher: I will double-check. No. I'm saying this is what we're asking other governments around the world and it was my own personal failure not to check on the Interests section which I will try to rectify as soon as I can.
Question: Richard, I'm just going to ask, even so, if people agree with you to do what you ask them you're going to have a bunch of empty Iraqi embassies around the world or at least in some countries.
Mr. Boucher: Yeah.
Question: And your, one of your, the other desire in this other than you don't want these governments to have relations, now, with Iraq is that you want to have these places open for an interim authority so that they can take it over, correct?
Mr. Boucher: Yeah. We want to -- we think the property, the assets of these establishments should be protected so that when an Iraqi interim authority has a chance to come in accredit people or send people they will have buildings and assets to work with.
Question: Okay. And is any of this related at all to the confidence expressed by the President and the Defense Secretary that you will prevail in this --
Mr. Boucher: And the Secretary of State repeatedly --
Question: And yourself. How much of that is at work here? I mean considering you could have done this several days ago --
Mr. Boucher: I guess I would say that we consider that this is the right thing to do we think that it's time to do it because we will prevail.
Question: Yeah, (inaudible) providing services for the Iraqi people, a third providing services for the Iraqi people. What kind of services and do you have, is there a country in mind or?
Mr. Boucher: No. We went through the country question earlier. We don't -- we're exploring with other governments, talking to the people where these missions are located, some places that may be local arrangements, some places that may be another country that's willing to help out Iraqis. I think we're talking about basic consular services here, taking care of their needs, looking after their welfare, for Iraqi citizens overseas.
Question: Just, I don't know if you can answer this, but is it possible that these ambassadors who you're asking countries to expel could then, because, I mean, they wouldn't necessarily be in the definition of the top-top leadership, could they return or the Iraqi foreign service would then, as it exists now, staff these embassies, and what kind of timeline are you looking at?
Mr. Boucher: For the most senior representatives, we would expect, I guess one would anticipate in the normal course of business that a new Iraqi Government would not accredit the same representative as before. There may be many people in sort of the bureaucratic level of these embassies that might just go back to work. But we think those are decisions for the Iraqi people to make when they have an interim authority that can make those decisions.
Question: So if you're a low-level guy in the Iraqi Embassy in, say, Algiers or Beijing, you still want these low-level people, you want the political officer to leave the country, even though you could see them going back to work?
Mr. Boucher: No, I drew a distinction before, I think, among the highest leading representatives whom we wanted to ensure the prompt departure and the others who we just think that their presence should be suspended, meaning that they should not be performing diplomatic functions. So what they do in the interim, what they do in the interim, where they go, I suppose would be their choice. And ultimately, whether they come back to those kind of jobs would be the choice of the future Iraqi authority.
Question: -- there are extremely grave issues at stake right now with this new war, but it seems like you've a whole corps of Iraqi diplomats who could conceivably work in these embassies again and they can't get any money because you're asking these governments to -- do you have any -- do you have any plan for just what happens to these people?
Mr. Boucher: I don't think that's a responsibility of the United States.
Question: It's not the responsibility of the United States.
Question: These diplomats, would you be interested in perhaps them defecting or providing information to you, rather than be sent back to their country?
Mr. Boucher: I'm not making any general offers. Each individual might decide what he wants to do.
Question: If I could follow up on the issue of the Iraq --
Mr. Boucher: But I think I can add we are always happy to have people provide us with useful information.
Question: The issue of the Iraqi "intelligence officers" that you asked countries to expel, there are some reports that you threatened to send them back to Iraq if they didn't cooperate. Can you respond to those charges?
Mr. Boucher: I don't have anything on that, no.
Question: Can I change the subject?
Mr. Boucher: With glee.
Question: Yeah, very quickly. Do you have anything more on the -- your outrage from yesterday on Cuba?
Mr. Boucher: On Cuba? Just that, unfortunately, the Cuban Government continues to make the situation worse.
Question: How so?
Mr. Boucher: They have again stepped up their pressure on democracy and human rights activists. At least 55 and perhaps as many as 70 Cubans have been arrested for seeking their fundamental rights. We believe that there are three times as many people detained today as there were at the same time yesterday.
This is now the most egregious act of political repression in Cuba in the last decade. Among those detained include Martha Beatriz Roque, Rene Gomez Manzano, and Felix Bonne. These three leaders of the Cuban opposition were conducting a peaceful fast protesting the detention of another dissident when their event was broken up by state security.
Among the dozens of Cubans arrested include other leaders of the opposition movement, including members of the Christian Liberation Movement which spearheaded the Varela Project under the leadership of Oswaldo Paya and many independent journalists.
These arrests and continued repression of Cubans who are seeking freedom and democratic change in Cuba are outrageous. We repeat our call to the Cuban Government to release them immediately and to the international community to join us in demanding their release.
Question: Any commenting on the hijacking (inaudible) yesterday?
Mr. Boucher: I will check very carefully and tell you it's not necessarily State Department's job. It's being handled by the law enforcement authorities and I would refer you to them for comment. I think the FBI is the best place to go.
Now, we have discussed this with the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, both last night and this morning, and we will remain in contact with them.
Question: Yeah, I'm sorry to be (inaudible) about this, but you will not offer these Iraqi diplomats asylum in exchange for information, but you're always happy to have people provide you with information?
Mr. Boucher: No, I didn't say that. I said I'm not making any wholesale offers of asylum, but everybody is free to apply wherever they might be.
Question: I see. And would exchange of information be a condition? Would that be a condition for political asylum?
Mr. Boucher: I'm not going to put -- the standards for asylum are well known.
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