State Department Noon Briefing, October 30, 2003
October 30, 2003
U.S. Department of State
Briefer: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2003
1:00 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't really have any new announcements, but just wanted to call people's attention to the Media Note we put out this morning about the Secretary's speech in Texas, College Station, Texas, on November 5th, at a conference on U.S.-China relations. So, he'll do that on the way back from Central America.
For those of you who are traveling with us, we'll explain to you later some of the complicated travel arrangements involved. But I think you'll see next Monday, the Secretary will leave for Panama for the 100th anniversary of Panamanian independence. He'll go on that day to Nicaragua, and then on to Honduras, and finish up with a speech in Texas on Wednesday, and then come back to Washington.
QUESTION: There a quite a few very senior former officials, U.S. and Chinese, who are going to be at this conference, including the former President Bush, Qian Qichen, who --
MR. BOUCHER: Qian Qichen, Dr. Kissinger, and a couple --
QUESTION: Yes, Baker, Scowcroft. Do you know if the Secretary's going to hang around there to have a talk with these people?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think he'll hang around. I'm sure he'll see them during the course of the conference. No, I mean, he's expected to sort of give his speech and, shortly thereafter, return to Washington. It's not an extended set of bilaterals or monolaterals with Americans. I'm sure he'll see these people during the course of the conference and have interesting discussions.
Okay. Questions on this or anything else?
QUESTION: Well, the UN now is, temporarily, at least, removing the folks who remained in Iraq. We know about the Secretary calling Annan the other day. Is this bad news?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the first thing to say about some of these drawdowns is it's understandable. As I've said over the past few days, and really, as the Secretary has talked to people, whether it's the ICRC head or Secretary General Annan, there's a balance that needs to be struck. People have a responsibility for their employees. They want to know it's safe and secure, and that they're able to operate and carry out their operations.
At the same time, we realize how important their work is. The Secretary makes these kind of judgments all the time with regard to American personnel that are overseas, so he understands very clearly and when he talks to people, the kind of difficult decisions that they are facing.
It is our understanding the UN is withdrawing temporarily its international staff from Baghdad. They'll have consultations with the UN headquarters about the future of operations, in particular the security arrangements out there. But they've not ordered, at least from the reports we've seen, an evacuation or relocation of UN staff. UN staff remain elsewhere in Iraq, as do the UN national employees in various parts of the country, including Baghdad. So there are Iraqi employees that are operating in certain parts of the country, and in other parts of the country there's Iraqi employees and international staff still operating.
Obviously, they have to look at their security arrangements, and they've been looking at that since August, since the bombing. We support their efforts to maintain security for the employees, and we also hope and want them to be able to carry out their very important mission.
Same applies to the International Committee of the Red Cross. We talked about that yesterday. We understand their need to strike a balance, looked again at their statements, that they have made clear that they remain committed to maintaining their operations in Iraq. They have, I think, hundreds of Iraqi employees who are also there to carry out the job. So they're looking at their operations and looking at how they can continue working in Iraq. And obviously, individuals have been given, now, the choice of whether they stay or they leave.
QUESTION: I saw there was a statement today, I think from the French Foreign Minister, supporting, you know, the presence of efforts in Iraq. But I still wonder maybe -- I hope this isn't considered cynical -- but the UN didn't like what the U.S. was doing in Iraq in the first place, and we all remember what Chris Patten said in Spain, you can't help Europe -- you can't expect Europeans who didn't approve of the war to kick in with a bunch of taxpayer-supported contribution.
Is any of this retrenchment, do you think, a reflection of some remaining hostility to U.S. actions in Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say no. A theory like that is directly contrary to exactly what the people themselves are saying and saying in public. The Red Cross is saying, "We want to be in Iraq. We want to be there carrying out our operations." The United Nations is saying, "We want to be in Iraq. We want to be there carrying out our operations." The UN Security Council unanimously, including some of the countries you've just mentioned, voted for a resolution that asked the Secretary General and the UN to be involved, as circumstances permit. "As circumstances permit" was language put in there specifically because the Secretary General had talked to the Council, had talked to us about the difficulties with security that his personnel might face in carrying out some of the expanded tasks that people were talking about. And we and other said, "Okay, well, you do as much as you can along the lines of all the tasks that you've identified and the kinds of things we want you to be involved in, as circumstances permit." And that's the way it was reached in the UN resolution.
So every indication from the UN, from the Red Cross, from the Security Council, is that these people want to be involved and will be involved, as much as they can, taking into account security needs of their personnel.
QUESTION: Richard, you've gotten two things on the withdrawal. One, are you disappointed that they're doing -- that they're drawing down, despite the Secretary's appeals, or do you think that his contacts with the Secretary General and with Mr. Kellenberger actually mitigated what could have been a complete withdrawal?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't exactly make that judgment, because I don't know that they were really considering a complete withdrawal. But "appeals" may be the wrong word to use, the way the Secretary talked to them. He talked to them about the decisions and the difficult decision to be made, and expressed clearly his desires -- he expressed to you in public -- that they would do whatever they could to maintain their operations there.
But he understands there is a balance here. It's the same kind of balance, as I said, that he has to reach with regard to his own personnel, and he understands that they have to make a difficult decision.
QUESTION: Well, I'm just trying to figure out what the -- what the U.S. reaction is. I mean, you don't want us to be disappointed obviously?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Are you resigned to it, that this is a -- you know, this is something --
MR. BOUCHER: I guess the U.S. reaction, you know -- emotionally?
MR. BOUCHER: The U.S. reaction is what I just said. The U.S. reaction is that we wish people could have full operations there, but we understand that they need to take into account the security needs, and we look forward to them returning to full strength and full operations, as soon as they can do that.
QUESTION: Okay. And the second thing on this, as you noted in your preamble, and as I pointed out yesterday, the Secretary, in fact, makes the similar decisions all the time regarding U.S. staff. And I'm just wondering, there is a very big recruitment campaign going on amongst the Foreign Service and the USAID right now to get people to go to Iraq and to Afghanistan.
Is there any thought of change? Are you still encouraging people -- U.S. diplomats and USAID workers -- to go there?
MR. BOUCHER: Absolutely, we're still sending people out every day. They're volunteers, I guess I'd say. We look for people who want to volunteer, who want to go, and we make it possible for them to go, as soon as Baghdad needs them.
QUESTION: Richard, on this, was the U.S. Government informed of the UN's decision to withdraw international staff from Baghdad prior to its becoming public?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. Certainly, it's been a matter that we have discussed and kept in touch with on the UN. But whether the U.S. Government was sort of specifically notified in advance, I'd have to check around; it could have been in Baghdad, it could have been in New York, it could have been down here.
QUESTION: Would you mind?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if I come up with anything.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) was blindsided.
MR. BOUCHER: "Blindsided" is definitely a wrong word because we've always known they were thinking about this. We'd always known that they had this issue to wrestle with, and that they would be making judgments incrementally as we go along, to move more in, pull more out.
So, I don't think it came as a complete surprise, but whether they specifically notified of this particular decision, I don't know.
QUESTION: Could you -- when you find that out, could you also find out if the United States tried to dissuade them, at this juncture?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't think that's the real question. We've discussed these issues with them, as the Secretary has discussed them with the Secretary General. We understand there are difficult decisions to make. But, ultimately, the people who are most responsible for the security of their personnel are their supervisors, and we understand that.
QUESTION: All I'm asking is if you're saying you will -- if you're saying that you will go back and find out if we were notified or informed.
MR. BOUCHER: We don't say, "Don't do it." We say, "We understand how difficult this is, you know. Let's talk about the different factors that you're considering." But, ultimately, we recognize it's a decision for the people responsible to make.
QUESTION: But is there no -- and this isn't meant to sound nasty or horrible. There aren't any consequences for groups that decide to pull out, are there? You know, I realize this is going to sound crass, and maybe it's totally out of the loop.
MR. BOUCHER: That's crass and totally unwarranted.
MR. BOUCHER: The problem is you're looking at it from the wrong side.
QUESTION: Richard, we have jobs to do, and this is --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I do -- I do, but --
QUESTION: And these are question that, even if you're going to deny them and say that they're -- agree with me that they're crass --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not criticizing you, I'm criticizing the thought. The idea is crass and unwarranted. The idea flips things around. It goes back to what we talked about in the beginning. The fact is, we accept that these organizations want to be in Iraq and want to operate there. We want them to operate there.
And so, it is with reluctance that they're not able to be there. As soon as the security situation improves, or they feel that their particular kind of operations can be done successfully, we expect that they will want to come back. So, it's not a matter of punishment, it's a matter about what can we do with them to help them get back in and carry out these operations that are very important.
I would point out there are still very many NGOs operating in Iraq, whether it's in northern Iraq or in the south or different parts, including Baghdad, and they do very important work. There are UN agencies doing very important work still in Iraq, and we welcome that, and we'll work with all of them to make sure the Iraqi people get the help that they need.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the additional resources the U.S. might have offered some of these groups to stay, and whether it was enough to -- you know, I'm trying to follow on what Matt was asking before -- was that enough --
QUESTION: That was crass, though.
QUESTION: Well, was it enough to get them to keep some people on the ground, or was it not enough that they --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't that we did that, that we offered additional resources. Some of these programs may be ones that we support and some not. As far as security goes, anything that would be said about security would have to be said on the ground by the people who do it. I can't do that from here.
QUESTION: But, I mean, when -- just to follow up -- when the Secretary did speak with the Red Cross and the UN, I mean, is what the U -- is U.S. offers of helping to provide extra security part of these discussions, in terms of whether they would stay or go?
MR. BOUCHER: Only in a general sense that he said to many people that he's talked to at the UN that we want to make sure that we're working closely together on security for their people, that we take to heart the needs of their people out there, and that we'll do whatever we can, and that they should be working closely with our people on the ground. But the specifics of barriers and guards and, you know, delta barriers, and things like that, that has to be done by security officials on the ground.
QUESTION: Does the State Department have a better idea of who was culpable for the horrific attack against the International Red Cross the other day?
MR. BOUCHER: Not at this point. This is something that's being followed up in Baghdad by the Iraqi police, coalition authorities, so I don't have any new information on that.
QUESTION: The reason why I ask is because John Bolton, in an interview with BBC Four Radio -- I believe the program was called The Today Show, or something like that -- said, or it implied that perhaps international terrorists and perhaps even al-Qaida might have played some sort of role.
MR. BOUCHER: I think that's a possibility that's been raised by others, including the President and the Secretary, that we have the remnants of the old regime, we have terrorists operating in Iraq. But exactly who did this, and in specific terms, I don't think we're at a point to be able to identify that yet.
QUESTION: Can we switch to North Korea?
QUESTION: No, wait. Can we stay on Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: Tammy.
QUESTION: Could I ask, as Ambassador Bremer's been in town this week and there have been a number of discussions about, I guess, the future in Iraq, there's apparently this idea again of possibly recognizing an Iraqi interim government prior to elections. What would the State Department's view on that be now that it's an interagency?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we don't display our views about things that are discussed interagency. We don't discuss the positions that we take in the interagency process. We never do. And I would just say that I think you've known our views on that before. We think that the seven-step plan that Ambassador Bremer has put forward is the way to go. It's the way to get to full sovereignty, full control of Iraq and their sovereignty under a constitutionally-based, elected government. That process is underway. We want to move as quickly as possible down that process.
The Iraqis are now starting, themselves, to discuss their own arrangements for getting a constitution, so Ambassador Bremer's people are working with them in Baghdad to do that. I have not heard any new statements or announcements regarding interim recognition questions.
QUESTION: Richard, despite your protestations over the past couple of days from the podium about the situation with the Turkish troops for Iraq, it does seem as though the Turks now -- the President says that he thinks it's a "case closed" or "done deal" -- I can't remember what he said -- that they're not going to go, that you -- and that you guys, or the CPA, have essentially given up in trying to convince the Governing Council to accept Turkish troops.
Is that the case?
MR. BOUCHER: Factually, I mean, I don't -- is that the case? I don't know what he said. But in terms of where we stand on this, it's something we continue to work. We continue to discuss it with the Turkish Government, the prime minister and other ministers. We continue to discuss it with Iraqis, including Iraqis on the Governing Council.
Don't have any news on it, but it's something that's still being worked.
QUESTION: Okay. But say -- then, can you say, though, that it hasn't been -- that it is not -- Turkish troops in Iraq has not -- the idea of it has not been ruled out now?
MR. BOUCHER: Not been withdrawn or ruled out.
MR. BOUCHER: We have appreciated the offer and we're looking at how we can take advantage of it.
QUESTION: And some -- and just on Turkey, as well. Some in the Turkish press seem to have taken issue with the fact that you're declining to comment on Ambassador Bremer's comments about the Ottoman colonial days. Do you care to just take that up today?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, Ambassador Bremer can explain himself or speak for himself on this question if he wants to. The transcript shows that he was not comparing a Turkish military presences in Iraq to a colonial force. We have not changed our position. As Mr. Bremer stated, "We firmly believe that Turkey can make an important contribution to stability in Iraq. We remain hopeful that an agreement to this end that is satisfactory to all parties can be reached." That's where we are.
QUESTION: Richard, I --
QUESTION: On Turkey?
QUESTION: No, no. This is not on --
MR. BOUCHER: Turkey.
QUESTION: Could you just tell us -- I mean, we've discussed before, on occasion, what the sticking points are at that moment, whether it's location in the country -- could you give us a status of where the talks are now since they've gone on so long? Where --
MR. BOUCHER: Not really. It's a question of there's a lot of people that need to be -- that we need to work with that need to accept this idea. Obviously, there are those on the Governing Council who have reservations about the idea of neighboring forces, foreign forces, sometimes, in particular, Turkish forces, being in Iraq. So we're talking it through with them. Part of it as the overall idea, and part of it is the specific arrangements. So all those issues are being discussed with people in Iraq, but as well as with the Turks.
QUESTION: But has there been progress at all, then, in the months that you've talked about it?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't have any real news on it. It's just something we continue to work.
QUESTION: But you don't have to have news to say we're moving forward. Well, I guess that would be news at this point. But, I mean -- (laughter) --
MR. BOUCHER: We're working it. That's where I am.
Okay. Are you changing the topic, because we had a North Korea --
QUESTION: No, this is Iraq.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, Iraq.
QUESTION: Richard, two questions concerning Iraq. One is, in her confirmation hearings, Ambassador Margaret Tutwiler is saying that the ordinary Iraqi individual isn't necessarily getting the message or hearing the message, and she's saying that the State Department would soon have 24 new public diplomacy officials, in her confirmation hearing for Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy. Could you talk to what she expects to do in that post?
And secondly, there's a report from the Center for Public Integrity that's critical -- they're composed of both journalists and researchers, its director is Charles Lewis -- and he seems to be at odds with -- at odds with J. Edward Fox, the Assistant Director for USAID, critical of the report. Have you examined that at all, or heard about that?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, we have. Let me try to deal with both, if I can find them.
First, on the issue of the average citizen in Iraq, I think one of the things that struck us when we went to Iraq, and I'm sure it struck Ambassador Tutwiler -- I think she was there as well in the early stages -- was the proliferation of satellite dishes. It's a wonderful thing. Iraqis whose sources of information were extremely limited, now getting, I don't know, dozens, maybe the usual hundreds of channels, but are getting open access to information. At the same time, we recognize that, kind of, having our message across is hard to do, because we don't necessarily get that much air time from some of these satellite channels, or our views are occasionally misreported -- maybe more than occasionally in some places.
So we have been looking to see what we can do to support broadcasting in Iraq, particularly to support it in ways that get to -- all throughout the country, whether by satellite or by the local network. And I think if you look at Ambassador Tutwiler's statement in her hearing, one of the points that she emphasized, based on her experience as Ambassador to Morocco, was that we need to get beyond, sort of, traditionally, the foreign policy elites or others, political elites in countries, and really get out to the public with our message. And she will be coming in looking at ways to do that, looking at ways to build longer term relationships through exchanges and other programs that get us out, perhaps broader and deeper, in terms of local population in countries that are important to us.
As far as the Center for Public Integrity Report --
QUESTION: Do you have anything on those 24 new public diplomacy officers?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything more than she had, and that's we're sending 24 public diplomacy officers into Iraq to help us get the message out. Okay.
QUESTION: People already on the ground? Or adding those people?
QUESTION: They're additive, right?
MR. BOUCHER: They're people who are already public diplomacy employees at the State Department who are being sent out there as part of our --
QUESTION: We know there are people out there already. This is not --
MR. BOUCHER: There are people out there already, but there is another 24 officers due to go in, or on their way in, I guess we'd say.
QUESTION: So they've been chosen? They've been recruited?
QUESTION: They're volunteers, aren't they?
QUESTION: Or is that a number and you're trying to get 24 people to go?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I know some of them have been. I assume that all 24 have been identified. I don't know all 24. I'll have to check and see if we've identified all 24.
QUESTION: If one was one of the 24, one would be aware that one was one of the 24?
MR. BOUCHER: If one was one of the 24, one would not only be aware, one would be excited and happy to go, because one would be a volunteer working on some of the most important issues that we have in our world right now.
On the Center for Public Integrity report, I'm sure that USAID Press Office can give you an abundance of information on this, but let me just go through the basics, so that you understand it. There was a report this morning regarding government transparency put out by the Center for Public Integrity. When we receive the whole report, we'll go through it in detail and look at it seriously. At the same time, it's important to remember that U.S. Agency for International Development, as a federal agency, follows very carefully the federal procurement regulations.
The bidding in Iraq was a competitive process. It was fully in accord with the regulations. The contract, for example, that Bechtel was awarded for capital construction had ten firms invited to bid. Seven firms actually submitted bids. Bechtel got the contract because they had the highest technical merit scores and the lowest cost, after an aggressive review by the career civil servants who handle this procurement matter.
And that's the way these things are set up, that there is a careful and objective bidding process. The Inspector General at the U.S. Agency for International Development was asked to review all the Iraq contracts by Administrator Andrew Natsios in April, and that report came back and said all the contracts were awarded in compliance with the federal regulations. So this question of transparency, the question of following open procedures, competitive procedures, is very, very important to us, and we have done that in Iraq and we will continue to do that in Iraq.
I would also point out that there is an abundance of information on the Internet and has been for many months. All the requests for proposals go up on the USAID website. We've been doing that for six months, and continue to put out a lot of information on these contracts to make sure people do understand that they were competitive, they were based on an objective evaluation of the bids, and they were completely consistent with federal regulations.
QUESTION: What the report is suggesting is that senior administration officials, like the Vice President of the United States, companies they were associated with are being -- are benefiting from this. I don't suppose you could -- that could be denied, but maybe the question is, how about: Isn't it unseemly for firms that have strong ties to top Administration officials to keep collecting all this lucre?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, the reason that these companies get the contracts has nothing to do with who may have worked there before. Those people in senior positions have no influence over the decision.
The decisions are made by career procurement officials. There's a separation, a wall, between them and political level questions when they're doing the contracts. And the contracts are evaluated for technical merit, as well as for lowest cost. And as I cited the example of Bechtel -- I'm sure it's true in the other cases -- that's how people get these contracts, how big firms get these contracts, or any firms get these contracts.
Second of all, is the converse true? Is it firms who can do the job, firms with major international presence with the capability of building schools, roads, hospitals for the Iraqis, dredging ports, doing all the work that needs to be done, that those firms should somehow be excluded from the opportunity to bid because somebody in the Administration has once worked for them?
I don't think that would make sense either. The only way to do it is to follow carefully the regulations and make sure that the transparency that's required is there so that there are no political factors considered.
QUESTION: It's just one constant circle. It's Halliburton and what -- now I've forgotten, you just mentioned it --
MR. BOUCHER: Bechtel.
QUESTION: Bechtel. It's the same firm. They produce --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the fact is some of these firms are capable.
QUESTION: They produce -- from there come the Secretaries of Defense and State and the Vice President. And then they go back and they work for the same companies. And it's one cycle. And there's an appearance of -- of I don't know what -- an appearance of favoritism.
And of course they have the experience, they've gotten the contracts in the past, the same contracts and the same companies that get all these lucrative contracts have gained experience from the contract and then, being experienced companies, they get the new contracts. It's like a cycle.
But, you know, if AID, we were told -- I've been asking about this for weeks -- we were told last week in Madrid, I think, that AID is required to give the major con -- I forget what it's called -- the primary contract, to an American firm. Now, if that's set in the law, I guess there's no opening there. But wouldn't you imagine if there was competition with non-American firms that maybe it -- there would not be this appearance, and also maybe some money would be saved for the taxpayer?
MR. BOUCHER: You mean like the Egyptian consortium that's handling some of the cell phone contracts, the Kuwaiti consortium that's handling cell phone contracts. You mean like that?
QUESTION: No, the big --
MR. BOUCHER: You mean like the facts as they really exist? The big contracts do go to American suppliers, but they have thousands and thousands of subcontractors. On one of these Bechtel contracts, I remember there were 140 subcontractors, 102 of whom were Iraqi firms. So that's another goal of this is to get the employment, to get the Iraqis involved in the business.
I think an objective look at this situation, not a, "Oh my God, it keeps happening again and again," sort of look, but an objective look at the facts of the matter, at the competitive process, at the contractors, the subcontractors, the firms who are allowed to bid -- an objective look at the process shows you that it is an open process, it is transparent, and it's done as fairly as the government requires. It's done fairly in order to get the right people to do the work that needs to be done to rebuild Iraq.
QUESTION: Well, actually, I wanted to change the subject, but Arshad --
MR. BOUCHER: Arshad gets first shot at North Korea.
QUESTION: Richard, one, if you could give us your general reaction to their agreement in principle to possibly open another round of six-way talks; and then two, in the statement that they had on KCNA, they said that they were willing to take part in future talks if they provide a process of putting into practice the proposal for a package solution based on the principle of simultaneous actions. And I'd like you to address that, because the senior Administration official who briefed us here after the last round of talks was very, very careful to talk about a series of actions, but not to talk about simultaneous actions. And I wonder if they're insisting on simultaneity, if that's somehow acceptable to you.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, let's start off by saying that we've seen these various statements that have come out about the resumption of six-party talks. We would obviously welcome an early resumption of the talks. The discussions that the Chinese leadership, the Chinese leader Wu Bangguo had in North Korea, does look like a step in the right direction because we now have the North Koreans saying that they're interested in resuming talks.
We will look forward to hearing from the Chinese about the visit. We look forward to having an opportunity to discuss with them the -- and the other participants in the talks -- whatever developments there were during this visit, whatever attitudes the North Koreans might be taking right now.
I would say we do not yet have a detailed -- that kind of detailed or full report from the Chinese, so I hesitate to start doing an analysis, but I would just point out, simultaneity is not a word that we have used. That may be the way they described the proposals they made at an earlier round of talks. We have also got ideas and put proposals on the table, and we'll be talking from our proposals. And if they want to come and talk from theirs, that's fine.
QUESTION: And a follow-up on this, the North Korean defector who's in town this week this morning said on the Hill that he did not believe the North Korea regime could be trusted to keep any promises. Am I correct in assuming that the fact that you are willing to engage in negotiations with them means that you do not share his view and you believe that they could be trusted?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't say that's correct. I would say that we have sought the verifiable and irreversible end to North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, because that's the only way that our people, indeed, all the people who are concerned about this, especially the people of the region, can have the confidence that this threat is being eliminated.
QUESTION: Richard, have you had a chance to look into the question you were asked yesterday about this report that the North Koreans might be willing to accept -- or are willing to accept a letter --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I promised to look into that. I said, you can go ask the North Koreans if you want to know what their position is.
QUESTION: I don't remember saying that you had promised to look into it.
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, okay. Have I had a chance to look into it?
QUESTION: Have you had a chance or have you looked into it?
MR. BOUCHER: I guess I had a chance, but I didn't avail myself of the chance because I wasn't motivated properly.
QUESTION: Are you, are you -- does that imply that the State Department is uninterested in this kind of a thing?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I'm sure the State Department probably knows everything about it, but this particular person is not going to be speaking about it, so I haven't spent time on it.
QUESTION: But could I -- no, could I follow that up?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's let Elise ask a question.
QUESTION: Is it on the same subject?
QUESTION: Yes. Go ahead, please.
QUESTION: She's deferring.
QUESTION: Good. (Laughter.) Maybe we can get an answer. Is there a decision within the Administration what written form this assurance will take? We went through this with the arms control agreement, and now it's with the Korean thing. What you offered North Korea, you aren't offering them what they asked for, a legal document, but you're willing to put something on paper. Is there -- has that been refined, to any extent?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
MR. BOUCHER: It hasn't been refined at this stage. We've made clear that we don't think a full non-aggression treaty is the right formula for this; we don't do that sort of thing, and there are other ways to provide any understandings on security they might want. The President made clear that could be in writing. And we're looking at various models and precedents, but I don't have a formula for you at this point.
QUESTION: And on the defector, do you have anything of substance to add to the couple of sentences that were put out at the end of the day yesterday?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Did he provide anything useful? Did he help you in any way to prepare for further talks or for addressing Pyongyang?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can quite characterize it that way. Obviously, we think it's useful and interesting to talk to somebody with extensive experience in the North Korean regime. The Deputy Secretary is meeting with him this afternoon. We had the meetings that we put out yesterday. So it's an opportunity for us to talk to somebody with direct experience in North Korea.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: If I could -- if I might, this point. You did have the chance to talk to him yesterday, so is there anything that he said that would make you think twice about your current course in terms of engaging the North Koreans? Was there anything he said that was -- that made you think that the situation with North Korea is more serious than it is?
And also, on the talks, the word from North Korea through the Chinese, is it your understanding at this point that a next round is a fait accompli and you're just hearing from the North Koreans about what they would be willing to talk about at these talks, or you just want to hear more from the Chinese before you know --
MR. BOUCHER: One, on what we heard from Mr. Huang, I really think that these are discussions that we need to have in private. I'll let him describe his views, but we find it very interesting and useful to talk to somebody with firsthand experience. Obviously, it helps our thinking, and I'll leave it at that. As far as the fait accompli, I don't think we have a fait accompli until the fact has been accomplished, until the talks actually take place, so we'll just have to see. We don't have a full briefing from the Chinese yet. We just have the initial reports that have been put out.
We have to, for the moment, leave it in the hands of the Chinese and say I'm sure they'll be in touch with us, and when they've been able to put it together, I'm sure they'll make the appropriate announcements.
QUESTION: What is your understanding, if any, of this report from South Korea that it got a tip-off from the United States about a ship that may be carrying al-Qaida members?
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen that one.
QUESTION: Yeah, a cargo ship entering one of its ports could be carrying members of al-Qaida, and they say they got a tip from the United States.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to see if there's anything to say about that.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the -- well, still, return to the subject of pullbacks and withdrawals of personnel. Ambassador Wolf hasn't been in the Middle East since the end of September, and I understand that some of his staff are also on home leave are not -- are not -- have no immediate plans to return. But at the same time, I understand that more reductions in his team -- in terms of numbers of people and also finances, his budget is being cut for the roadmap monitoring group.
Is this an admission that the roadmap is on its last legs and that you don't think that it's worthwhile to have a team there? There's nothing to monitor?
MR. BOUCHER: No. We remain committed to the roadmap. We expect both Israelis and Palestinians to stick to the commitments that they have made to the President and the commitments they have made in regard to the roadmap. As you know, we're currently in a situation where we're looking for an empowered Palestinian prime minister who can take serious and credible measures to confront terror and violence. Until that occurs, as the Secretary has stated, it's hard to make progress towards the President's vision.
In this period, Ambassador Wolf's come back for consultations, some of his staff have come back for consultations, and done -- I think some is consultations, some may be leave, but -- so there's been some adjustment in our staff. The staff, over time, has gone up and down depending on the need at that particular moment, and so we've done that at this moment as well. But we're very capable of rapidly returning to full staffing once the circumstances permit and once we have the opportunity to move forward in a bigger way.
QUESTION: Can you just talk about the reduction in money that's --
MR. BOUCHER: I think the adjustments that are made, particularly towards the end of the fiscal year, allocating money and sort of parallel the amount of work that's going on. So I don't have any specific numbers for you, but yeah, there are adjustments in people and resources depending on the current workload.
QUESTION: But you can confirm that the budget has been reduced since --
MR. BOUCHER: I'd have to look at the budget figures to be able to say that.
QUESTION: Okay, I mean, we're almost to the end of the first month of the new fiscal year, so has there been a -- has there been a --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'll have to check. We have a number of factors. Was there old money that was still available or maybe taken back? Was there new money made available? And plus, I think we're still under a continuing resolution so people don't get a full allocation at the beginning of the fiscal year anyway. So I hesitate to walk in to the depths of State Department budgeting, but I will for you.
QUESTION: On Russia --
QUESTION: Can we stay on this? Sorry.
QUESTION: We have today a long, long litany of complaints by the Palestinians -- I'm sure others are carrying the same story -- that indeed, American officials are shuffling back and they don't seem to be as engaged. And, of course, the story carries the obvious caveat -- until there's an end to terror, you can't really move ahead. But these people are supposed to be working on security -- that's -- among other things, but that was a key issue.
Has that work essentially been put on hold until there's some evidence that the Palestinians want to really do something about security? Is that also -- as well as the roadmap, is that on somewhat of a shelf right now? Because that was one of his main jobs.
MR. BOUCHER: There are people. Our representatives are still there. We have a Consul General in Jerusalem, we have an Ambassador in Tel Aviv. They and their Embassy staffs, their Consul General staffs, are very active working with the parties. The specifics, or the John Wolf monitoring mission, has gone up and down depending on the kind of progress we are making or not making on the roadmap, and that's -- we're in a period where they've been adjusted a little bit and people are using the opportunity for consultations, and some of them a bit of time off.
But the fact is, the United States remains very engaged on the ground. Our Ambassador, our Consul General and others out there working with the parties. The work that we can do with them on a day-to-day basis on security has continued. The work that we can do with them, in terms of maintaining the commitment and whatever progress can be made on the roadmap has continued. But the bigger picture is also applicable here. We have said we can't expect to make a lot of progress and have a lot of work for these particular people to do until we have a Palestinian prime minister who is fully committed and starts taking steps against violence.
QUESTION: This conference -- the conference in Geneva that I had mentioned about two weeks ago, is possibly scheduled to take place November 4th. And they -- Israelis have about 160,000 signatures, and Palestinians about 60,000, and it's with unofficials, people that have been in prior governments. Are you going to take part in any way in that conference?
MR. BOUCHER: Is this the so-called "Geneva Plan?"
MR. BOUCHER: No, we've, I think, commented on that before. I don't have anything more to say on it now, sorry.
QUESTION: Okay. On Russia?
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, sorry. No, that's right.
QUESTION: Oh, can we change the subject?
MR. BOUCHER: The same or different?
MR. BOUCHER: Different. Okay. We'll go Teri, and then Steve.
QUESTION: What are your concerns about the continuing effects from Mikhail Khodorkovsky's arrest? Now, the -- one of the President's top advisors, Mr. Voloshin, appears to be quitting. The economy minister says that it's effecting the entire national economy.
Do you think the rule of law is being followed here? What are the U.S. concerns, and what are some of the contacts that you -- the governments are making on it?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'd say, first of all, this is something we've followed closely. We are concerned about the rule of law, about maintaining the freedom of -- the basic freedom of Russians, and the basic fairness of the Russian judicial system. So, it's something that our Embassy in Moscow has been working on. They've been following things closely, talking to people in the government and regular -- in society, as well.
As far as what the fallout and effects might be, economic or political, I think I'd have to leave that for the Russians to deal with and explain. But, certainly, we've been watching closely on the issue of freedoms for Russians.
QUESTION: And what's the initial conclusions?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, there are many who say this is a case of selective prosecution. And so, we'll have to see how that debate and discussion, how the facts bear that out or not.
QUESTION: And any conversations?
MR. BOUCHER: The Embassy in Moscow conversations. I don't know all the details of them, but they're following it.
QUESTION: Has the (inaudible) followed up with any -- in any recent phone calls?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think he's had -- he hasn't encountered any of his -- his Russian counterparts since the trial began or the arrests began.
QUESTION: A follow-up on this. Today, the Russian Government has frozen a 44 percent stake in YUKOS that is controlled by Mr. Khodorkovsky and his allies. And I wonder if you want to address that, particularly in light of your comments the other day, and you felt that the prosecution itself could undermine confidence in Russia's markets. And here they have -- they're particularly -- they're sort of taking away somebody's property rights, as it were --
MR. BOUCHER: No, we're aware of that. We're aware of that move. It's one of the matters that we are following, but I don't have a particular comment on that specific step.
QUESTION: Do you have anything -- can you elaborate --
QUESTION: Can I have one more on this? I'm sorry. Do you think though -- this is -- I mean, you have expressed concern -- the Secretary has personally expressed concern about -- about crackdown on free media. I mean, is this part of -- all part of the same cycle that President Putin is -- is not living up to his -- to claims that he is going to allow freedom in this country?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we're at the point yet of making that kind of sweeping judgment. We've reported regularly on human rights issues in Russia. We have always supported progress in Russia towards more freedom, more economic freedom, and political freedom, as well. We have always supported the movement towards the rule of law and steps against corruption, as well.
So, it's a matter of ongoing cooperation and discussion between our governments. Certainly, the direction we would like to see Russia go is quite clear, and we'll continue to advocate that.
QUESTION: But is it going in that direction?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any sweeping judgments, at this point. We report on it every year in our Human Rights Report.
QUESTION: Anybody else?
Can you elaborate on Mr. Negroponte's suggestion the other day that we should -- that the UN Information Center in Washington should be closed to save money?
MR. BOUCHER: "Elaborate" is a big word. How about "repeat"?
Yes, the United States has been a continuous and strong advocate for reform at the United Nations. We believe that a leaner budget focused on agreed priorities, which reduces redundancy, is essential to help the UN focus on its vital mandates.
As part of an ongoing reform initiative to reorganize the 60 UN information centers worldwide, Ambassador Negroponte suggested on Tuesday, in the UN General Assembly 5th Committee, to close the UN Information Center in Washington for the purpose of saving money. The closure would save an estimated $1 million over two years.
The proposal was one of several cost-saving ideas put forth by the United States to help streamline the UN's proposed budget for 2004 and 2005. We welcome other cost-saving suggestions from member-states. While we welcome the UN's ongoing engagement with Congress, the UN Information Center office closure makes fiscal sense.
We do not see a compelling need to maintain this office when the UN already counts an excellent communication system, including the Internet, and UN headquarters are located nearby in New York. Already, the European Union and the UN Department of Public Information have consolidated more than a dozen UN European information centers into one office located in Brussels.
At this point, there have been no formal discussions of our proposal in the UN, and any decision on closure would be made by the UN General Assembly in consultation with member-states.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? A million dollars over two years. Is that a million dollars to the UN or a million dollars to the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it's a million dollars to the United Nations.
QUESTION: So the United States, we are talking about roughly $220,000 over two years. So we save $110,000 this year. That's give or take.
MR. BOUCHER: One of many ideas, one of a number of ideas that we've put forward and others have put forward. It's the sum total of these ideas that can amount to anything significant.
QUESTION: I'm just trying to focus. You know, you put this forward as a fiscal measure, as something to save money. But that's the kind of money we're talking about, generally.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Well, we're talking about saving the UN a million bucks. That's real money.
QUESTION: Right, but the UN hasn't proposed this. The United States has proposed this.
MR. BOUCHER: We're talking about ways the UN can save itself a million bucks, and we think this is one of the good proposals. You add in a number of other proposals and, you know, we're not quite to the Everett Dirksen level, but pretty soon you're talking real money.
QUESTION: Well, Dirksen -- not yet, we're not. But, now when you talk about the functions being -- I don't think you said redundant, but the implication was that because the UN is there, is in New York already. The UN being in New York, I mean, one of the major functions of the UN Information Center is to communicate with Congress. And that's not so easy from New York.
I mean, there are functions that the UN Information Center provides here that the UN cannot provide out of New York, including dealing with Congress, and including dealing with public inquiries. Is it your contention that those are not needed?
MR. BOUCHER: I think those are needed. But those are, in many cases, things that can be done either through the Internet site that they have -- I mean, think about yourselves, thing about what I do when I'm looking for information from the UN, I go on the Web --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, maybe you do. But I think most of us find that there's an abundance of information, they have a very good set of websites.
QUESTION: Do you do (inaudible)? I'm sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: The other aspect of this is they are in New York. I know when the Secretary General comes down to Washington he frequently comes down and sees members of Congress. I know that other UN officials do that as well, so we think it's possible to run this kind of operation and provide information to the public and to the Congress to run this from New York without having to have the office in Washington.
QUESTION: Just one more. Did you (inaudible) the Congress on this?
MR. BOUCHER: Don't know.
QUESTION: Richard, with the same question, same issue, wouldn't that same thinking apply to some of their other offices? In other words, if you're just concentrating on what's in Washington because, after all, this is the American Government saying this, well, couldn't the UN cut some of these -- the same Internet argument? Couldn't this be done elsewhere and multiply the savings?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. That's why I mentioned that a dozen offices in Europe have been consolidated into one, in Brussels.
MR. BOUCHER: Here, we're talking about consolidating two into one in New York.
QUESTION: That's not a million dollars. It's multiples of millions.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that's what I said. There's other proposals to save money.
QUESTION: Well, what is the multiple?
QUESTION: Richard, how much are you proposing, the total, and what --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what the sum total is, yet, of the proposals that we've made and that others are making.
QUESTION: And, so, so does that -- does it flow from that that you don't know what else you would like to see the UN shut down?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I mean --
QUESTION: I mean, you don't have (inaudible) --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have the full list with me, and I don't know whether this idea of consolidating in Brussels -- I think that was a European idea, but certainly it's the right kind of thing. It's very consistent with what we've proposed. So there are others thinking along these lines, as well.
QUESTION: One of the (inaudible) of the UN Information Center, I think provides here is helps Americans with looking for jobs in the UN system; that's something, I think, this Administration has pushed for.
The State Department, I believe, has cut -- how much resources has the State Department, is the State Department devoting to this now compared to what it was before?
MR. BOUCHER: Devoting to what?
QUESTION: Helping Americans look for jobs within the UN system?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'd have to look in our budgets to find out.
Okay, Elise had something.
QUESTION: New topic. There was a reward for justice, reward for $25 million for Mr. Zarqawi put on the State Department Rewards for Justice website last night. Can you discuss why this was done at this time? $25 million is one of the biggest rewards that the program has right now.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check on it and find out for you. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: You can't authenticate there is such a reward? Apart from the explanation?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I, well --
QUESTION: I've been trying all morning to find out if the reward has been posted, and I can't find anybody in the State Department who knows.
MR. BOUCHER: I guess --
MR. BOUCHER: I guess it's on the Web. I haven't had a chance to look, myself.
QUESTION: Colombia. May I go to Colombia?
QUESTION: When was the one for the bombing in Gaza put up? Do you know? That one's on there, too.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'd have to check.
QUESTION: They're not dated as to when they're posted, so it's --
MR. BOUCHER: You can find out on the Web if you want, but I'll tell you later.
QUESTION: No, it doesn't say on the Web. I've looked.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Ma'am.
QUESTION: May I change --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- subject to Colombia?
Now that the United States has resumed drug surveillance flights over Colombia, Colombia's new air force commander says he will order suspected drug flights shut down if they ignore warnings to land. Is this in line with the new, U.S. anti-drug policy?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see his statement, but I think it's clear that we and Colombia have agreed on a very careful set of procedures that would need to be followed before any such action was taken. And that's something that's been carefully worked out between us and the Colombian Government, Colombian military. So I think we go forward with this confident that those procedures will be followed if it ever comes to that kind of eventuality.
QUESTION: Richard, twice in this month, the Department, once in an official testimony up on the Hill and then, just on Monday, with the release of the bi-annual report on Burma, the Department has acknowledged that the sanctions that were put in place in August have -- that there's evidence that those sanctions have had an effect, an effect on the garment industry there and have driven 30 to 40,000 young women into the sex trade.
I'm wondering how that squares, or whether that's consistent with the President's speech at the UN in which he talked about how sex trafficking has to be -- is one of the world's greatest scourges and has to be eliminated?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd have to look again at how exactly we put it in those reports. Certainly, we think the sanctions against Burma were the right thing to do. We did that knowing that it would have an effect on the garment industry in Burma, knowing that that effect was necessary because of the kind of pressure we needed to bring against the regime, but that there were people who worked in those industries and who would, if the factories closed down, would lose their jobs.
Certainly nobody has encouraged them to go into the sex industry, and there are a whole variety of other programs to try to make that end that kind of trade.
QUESTION: Is it unfortunate?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it's unfortunate whenever somebody loses a job or whenever somebody loses a job and feels they have to go into the sex trade.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. You don't see any inconsistency between the -- between your opposition to sex trafficking and the sex trade and the fact that here is a policy that is directly contributing to that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think directly is too strong a word. I mean, --
QUESTION: Well, no -- that's what you said. That's what the Department said on Monday and what Matt Daly testified to earlier in (inaudible).
QUESTION: In his prepared statement is quite explicit.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I know, it's quite clear that the sanctions have resulted in closing of factories; factories have resulted in the loss of jobs, many times for young women who work there, and that we do believe that some of those young women have gone into the sex trade. It's just a little less than direct.
QUESTION: Could I ask you a simple question?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, is it -- is this fact causing you to reconsider that policy?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid not. It's certainly regrettable when that sort of thing happens, but we do think the sanctions against Burma were the right thing to do, and the only way that in the long run we can make life better for all Burmese.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? When Secretary Powell came in to the Office, he said that he was going to take a comprehensive review of all sanctions and see if there are better-targeted ways of doing sanctions on any particular country. Has there been any review of sanctions in that way, and in Burma, in particular, to see if there are other, more pointed sanctions you could put on a regime without hurting the people?
MR. BOUCHER: I think if you look at the three or four years -- three or more years this Administration's been in, the Secretary has been very judicious and careful about the use of sanctions. With regard to Burma, for several years, we applied very targeted sanctions on the travel or the assets of members of the regime, and we did expand that targeting over the course of time. But as the regime, in fact, has not responded to that, but in fact went in the wrong direction in a very severe way earlier this year, we felt it was necessary to up the ante, but each of these steps has been very carefully considered, because we are aware of the impact on economics, we are aware of the impact on people's lives.
QUESTION: Richard, Under Secretary Burns, during his visit to Algiers and (inaudible) talked about the need for discussions between Algeria and Morocco, in order to find a political solution to the (inaudible) problem. What are the reactions you have got so far with (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd leave it to other countries to react. I think Ambassador Burns was out there to try to encourage people and it was a successful visit in that regard.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: We're got one or two more.
QUESTION: Oh, I'm so sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: That's okay.
QUESTION: I just -- two quick follow up on the North Korean issue, regarding a six-party (inaudible) this simultaneous issue. You say (inaudible) United States (inaudible) six-party talk in Beijing. So the United States position on the transfer of the simultaneous issues are still the same as the --
MR. BOUCHER: We've talked about a series of steps that would have to be taken in order to achieve a verifiable and irreversible end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program. In that context, the President has said that as part of that series of steps we might be willing to take to put some security guarantees in writing. But that essentially remains our position.
MR. BOUCHER: Last one?
QUESTION: Yes. There have been reports from Liberia saying that, I guess, between (inaudible) and (inaudible), both cities appear to be somewhat stable between Monrovia and Buchanan --
MR. BOUCHER: Buchanan.
QUESTION: -- but the rural areas are still, I guess, looting, raping, and people are forced to feed hungry rebels. Is ECOWAS the UN sufficient in their planning and/or deployment to control that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that answer is -- the simple answer is yes, that they have been expanding their deployment so we're now at a moment when the UN is taking over the operation, expanding its presence.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)
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