State Department Noon Briefing, November 10, 2003
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
SOUTH KOREA/CHINA/JAPAN/NORTH KOREA
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2003
12:50 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Hello, everyone. I don't have any statements or announcements, so let's go right to questions. Sir.
QUESTION: Can you update on the Saudi situation? You know, the usual questions. Apparently, Americans are not being advised to leave the Embassy. What's up, you know?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, let me make clear we condemn in the strongest terms the horrible terrorist bombings at the complex in Riyadh on November 8th. Our deepest condolences go out to the victims and their families of all nationalities. We hope for a rapid recovery of the injured.
All American citizens affected by this bombing who were known to the Embassy are safe and accounted for. Some Americans were treated for minor injuries at local hospitals and released after the attack. Among the residents of the Al-Muhaya complex were 13 American citizens from five different families who were registered with the U.S. Embassy's consular section. The Embassy is also aware that members of three other families who lived at the complex may be citizens of the United States, so we're following up on that to see how they are.
The American Embassy in Riyadh immediately issued a Warden Message and contacted the American community. The Embassy is currently doing everything it can to keep American citizens informed and to urge that Americans follow appropriate security measures at this time.
The U.S. Embassy and our two consulates in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be closed to the public for at least the remainder of this week.
The Secretary talked to Foreign Minister Saud after the bombing on Saturday. He expressed our condolences and they pledged continued cooperation.
Yesterday, I think you know from the White House, President Bush called Crown Prince Abdullah and vowed to stand with Saudi Arabia in the war against terrorism.
Deputy Secretary Armitage had very positive meetings in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Abdullah and also committed ourselves to continue cooperation with the Saudi Government against terrorism. The Deputy Secretary said we will be fully participating partners, if that is the desire of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. So that's what we've been doing.
We're working closely with Saudi officials regarding this particular attack. I would refer you to the Saudi Government for any further details on the investigation or for any official numbers.
In terms of travel warning and advice, I think you know we've had for some time various travel warnings for Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Peninsula and other parts of the world. There was a Public Announcement on Middle East and North Africa that was issued by the Department last Thursday that warned, again, of the continuing threat of anti-American violence, including credible information that terrorist groups might be planning actions against U.S. interests in the Middle East. Our Embassy in Saudi Arabia has issued several Warden Messages in the past few days. I think Thursday and again on Friday there were new announcements that we talked about, in fact, in the briefing room here as well.
That said, the information about the possibility of an imminent attack that we shared with you was not specific enough to know where it would be, who might be attacked. The attack, once again, shows that we are all targets, that al-Qaida, presumably, or whoever is responsible for this attack, is not just going after Westerners or foreigners; they're going after Arabs as well, they've going after everybody, including the Saudi Government, everybody who is trying to organize society and move in a positive direction.
QUESTION: Your reference to the Armitage offer, I was going to ask that sort of question. This provides a polite way of putting the question. I mean, without implying anything about Saudi intentions, is Saudi Arabia up to this job of countering terrorism? And what could the United States do? Saudi is special, you know, for strategic and other reasons. What can the U.S. do to make Saudi Arabia more secure?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, it's important to note that particularly since the May bombing Saudi Arabia has taken a lot of steps. They've lost lives of their policemen. They've been very aggressive in raids, going after al-Qaida cells, going after terrorist operatives who have been using the territory of the Kingdom for evil attacks.
The United States has worked very closely with Saudi Arabia in that process. We've helped them increase security at compounds. We've helped them increase security generally in the Kingdom. And we've worked very closely with them not only in the law enforcement and military aspects, but also on the financial side, sharing more information back and forth on the intelligence side, as well as in law enforcement and military areas.
So there's a lot that's going on already. At the same time, whenever there's an attack like this, one always has to come to the conclusion there is more we could be doing. There is always more we could be doing, until we prevent attacks like this, and that has to be our primary concern now. What more can we do in terms of our assets, our support and our cooperation with the Saudi Government? I think it's first to note the excellent cooperation, the excellent effort that's been made by the Saudi Government, particularly since the May attacks, and just to say that we'll find ways to further that cooperation and that effort.
QUESTION: And that is the point of the Armitage offer? In other words, it wasn't detailed? You didn't say, "We're going to send these experts or do that thing"?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any details at this point. The discussion that he had with Crown Prince Abdullah, they did spend quite a bit of their time, apparently, discussing counterterrorism and counterterrorism cooperation, the threats that existed in the Kingdom, and the efforts that they are making, that we are making, to counter them. What specifics that might lead to I don't quite know yet, but we will continue to work in every way possible with Saudi Arabia to try to prevent these kinds of attacks.
QUESTION: Richard, do you think that the lack of democracy in Saudi Arabia, which the President referred to last week, has helped to create an environment where this kind of violence takes place?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think anybody is to blame for terrorist actions except for the terrorists themselves. As the President has pointed out many times, they're not just attacking democracies, they're attacking civilization itself. And if you've listened to any of these al-Qaida messages, the Usama bin Laden messages or other things, they heap just about everybody into their list of folks that they want to attack. And, unfortunately, they've set off bombs around the world not just at U.S. targets, but I think they're associated with the attack in Bali, they're associated with attacks in democracies and non-democracies alike. So I don't think one can draw any conclusion about the state of democracy. That doesn't seem to motivate these people at all.
QUESTION: Well, let me put it another way. Do you think that the kind of reforms that the President advocated would reduce the likelihood of this kind of violence?
MR. BOUCHER: We always think that democracy and economic freedom create more stable societies for the long term and help societies prevent their territory, their society, their public, their population, from being used for evil ends like this. But as we've seen, since there are attacks in democracies, having a democracy doesn't necessarily fully protect you either.
QUESTION: Richard, a couple brief things on timing. One, do you have any reason to believe that these attacks are being timed to coincide with visits of senior State Department officials to Saudi Arabia, considering that the last ones were on the eve of the Secretary's visit?
MR. BOUCHER: Right before the Secretary --
QUESTION: Is there any reason to think that that --
MR. BOUCHER: I have not seen any information like that. I'll double-check and see if any of our analysts make that kind of connection, but I haven't seen that at this point.
QUESTION: Okay, and then another timing question. Senator Roberts on TV yesterday said that the intelligence committee was given -- was told about imminent threats. He was speaking yesterday and he said " a week ago." Well, presumably they weren't told on a Sunday, but maybe on a Monday or Tuesday. Do you know why you waited until -- or the Embassy waited until Friday, or you waited until Thursday, to put out the warnings? Or is -- are these different things?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it may be different threats. We have made clear that this attack is not the only possibility, that there are always other dangers in this region. The fact that Saturday's attack occurred in the manner in which it occurred does not preclude other threat information from becoming true or other possibilities out there. So the general Travel Warning that we have, it says there is credible information about the prospect of attacks. That's a continuing threat and that's something we need to be worried about.
So I think we do make information public very quickly after we get it, as soon as we know it's of sufficient import to be disclosed and that we find a way to do that. The information that the Embassy and we put out, on Friday I guess it was, that the planning for terrorist actions appeared to have moved from a planning to an operational stage, I think was probably the most important in that regard.
MR. BOUCHER: And that was done quickly, as far as I know.
QUESTION: And on the last one. Immediately after the bombing, the Embassy confined diplomats to the diplomatic corridor and suggested that they stay home. Just a couple hours ago, the Embassy lifted that restriction --
MR. BOUCHER: That's right.
QUESTION: -- so that they can now go wherever they want to on travel. Do you know why that decision was made, if you're still keeping the Embassy closed?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, closed to the public doesn't mean closed completely, that people do go in to work. We have a lot of people, obviously, working on the bombing and the security situation, counterterrorism cooperation, the consular officers all working on seeing what they can do to take care of American citizens who may be affected by this or who may have concerns after this bombing. It just means we don't have the doors open for the walk-in applicants, meetings, stuff like that.
QUESTION: So --
MR. BOUCHER: In terms of going around town, you're right, the Warden Message that they issued today says that Embassy personnel and their dependents are no longer restricted to the diplomatic corridor, may move about Riyadh to conduct official and personal business.
I haven't checked specifically. I would say it's prudent -- the first reaction after an attack like this is to try to make sure that people don't get affected by after-shocks, you might say, by follow-up actions. Once some particular period of time has passed and you feel like there won't be a predictable and immediate follow-up, that this is not part of a series of attacks to happen immediately, then we let people a little more loosely go about their business.
But as I said, there's any number of threats that people need to be concerned about that there are credible threats that continue against a variety of places, and all the information in our Travel Warning remains valid.
QUESTION: Does that mean you've made a judgment that there won't be any immediate follow-up attacks after this?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, in the first 24 hours or so there wasn't, so that's about as much of a judgment as I can tell you.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up to Barry's question. In your answer, you said al-Qaida or (inaudible) may be responsible. Does that mean you are not sure about who's responsible?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I leave it to the investigators, in the end, to say who's responsible. We have said it bears the -- it looks like al-Qaida, smells like al-Qaida, it has all the earmarks of al-Qaida. But until the investigators reach that as a conclusion, I just put a little bit of -- let them come up with a final answer, not me.
QUESTION: So are you saying you have some evidence that points towards al-Qaida, that there are some telltale signs? In terms of the process, the kind of attack, what specifically leads you to believe that it was al-Qaida? Is it because the manner in which the attack was carried out?
And what does this say about the fact that whoever committed these attacks went after a compound that primarily housed Arabs? Is that -- is it your sense that they did that because American compounds and Western compounds had their security beefed up after May 12th? Is that why you think they're shifting their focus?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer to both your questions is -- well, no the answer to the second question is don't know for sure. It is clear that they have no compunction about going after anybody. They go after Muslims, they go after Arabs, they go after Westerners, they go after Americans, they go after Saudis. These people are attacking everybody. They're against everyone. We've seen that in their statements. We've seen that in the broadcast statements that Usama bin Laden makes. We see that in their actions in terms of the kinds of bombings that have occurred around the world, whether it's, you know, Morocco, Tunisia, Bali, New York.
In terms of the first question, what makes me think it was al-Qaida? First of all, because the Deputy Secretary said it made him think it was al-Qaida and he knows more than I do. But more seriously on that, I think it's the kind of bombing, the kind of target, the manner, in which it occurred, that has led a variety of people to the conclusion it's probably al-Qaida. I think I've seen Saudi officials saying the same thing as well.
QUESTION: In Khartoum, the Embassy has now been shut for -- it says at least a week due to threats. Can you say whether those threats are at least of the same nature as those you were receiving in Saudi Arabia, make you think that they're related?
MR. BOUCHER: I have not seen at least a week in Khartoum. What I've seen is they're closed today and they're closed tomorrow for Veterans Day. So I'd have to double-check.
QUESTION: I think it says something about the rest of the week --
QUESTION: In the Warden Message.
QUESTION: Yeah, the Warden -- in a Warden Message.
MR. BOUCHER: All right. I don't have that handy and I don't have any specifics on the information on Khartoum. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Well, you say the Embassy put out a Warden Message on November 1st talking about hardline elements of -- in Khartoum, Islamist elements in Khartoum who are opposed to the U.S. participation in the peace process and suggesting that there might be some kind of retribution for that and telling people, you know, to lay low and do all the usual things.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if that's connected or not. I'm sorry, I just don't have that information.
QUESTION: Do you know, in the case of Khartoum, Richard, whether there's any sense that any plan for an attack has gone to operational? I mean, these are completely different, unrelated things?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't have any details for you on the threats to Khartoum.
QUESTION: Can I switch topics?
QUESTION: No, no, wait. I've got another one -- not on Khartoum, but on Warden Messages.
In Bahrain last week, the British Government put out a warning saying that there were possible imminent threats there in Bahrain. Yesterday, your Embassy in Bahrain said it knew of no credible information about threats. Is there a disconnect going on here?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'll have to check.
QUESTION: Can you -- sort of a two-part question. Can you comment on that reshuffle that's expected to be finalized Wednesday in the Palestinian Authority, particularly the fact that Yasser Arafat would appear to be retaining control over the security forces yet again?
And in relation to that, could you comment on -- could you just sort of give us an update on the status of any U.S. funds or training to the Palestinian Authority in light of the fact it looks like Arafat's continuing to hang on to power?
MR. BOUCHER: The first thing to say is we've seen the announcement, obviously, of the new list of cabinet names. The cabinet, we understand, is due to be confirmed by the legislature sometime this week, maybe in the next couple days.
At this point, what we're hearing, what we're seeing, are the names, the individuals involved. What we have to see, and what we have said to them directly and in public, we need to see is the commitment and the resources to move against terrorism. That's the issue, remains the issue, and that will be the issue by which the new cabinet, any new cabinet, needs to be tested, on performance. Are they going to take action? Are they going to have the commitment? Are they going to take action? And do they have the control over resources that they can take that action?
So we will judge the Palestinian government on that basis as they take office and as they start to do things. The new cabinet, as we've said before, needs to make clear that it's opposed in all its forms to terrorism, demand that all acts of terrorism cease and take immediate steps to disarm and dismantle the capacity of the terrorist organizations. That's the criteria by which we shall judge them.
QUESTION: But, I mean, you're not going to, say, explicitly criticize the fact that Arafat would appear to be resuming control and the President a year and a half ago, June 24 of 2002, said he'd like the Palestinians to, you know, to choose new leadership.
MR. BOUCHER: I think the leaders, the people that are being put into place, have a challenge. They have a challenge to the meet the expectations of the Palestinian people to move forward on the roadmap and on the peace process and they have a challenge to meet the expectations of the international community to take action against terrorism. Both of those things amount to the same requirement because the only way to move forward on peace is to act against terrorism.
It's not who they know or who they knew or how closely they may be associated with Arafat that's going to matter in the end. If their association with Arafat of the kind of structures that are being put in place prevent them from taking action, or whether they themselves don't have the commitment for taking action, the only criteria is performance, and so that's how we will judge them.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up one more? I just want to pin this down. It's the command structure of this new cabinet is of not -- is -- you're waiting to essentially see whether security officers who would be -- or security ministers who would be reporting to Arafat would crack down on terror? So it's almost -- I mean, it sounds like, in some ways, you're edging close to kind of giving Arafat a chance again to prove he's committed to fighting terrorism.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not giving Arafat anything. Our policy on Arafat hasn't changed at all.
MR. BOUCHER: We think he's a failed leader. We think his involvement in things has always made them fail. His involvement and interference in the last cabinet made it fail. Unfortunately, any cabinet that takes office under those similar circumstances, obviously, a lot of people have raised doubts about it. But in the end, it's what they do. In the end, it's the performance. In the end, it's whether they act against terrorism that will make the difference or not. Whatever the structures involved, it's action that will be the sole criteria.
QUESTION: Richard, you're making basically the same point, but in the past you have said very specifically that the Prime Minister should have control of all security forces. Are you still saying -- are you prepared to say the same today or are you dropping that?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm prepared to say the same thing today, that to get effective action against terrorism we think the Prime Minister needs to have control of all security forces.
QUESTION: Okay. But you are prepared to --
MR. BOUCHER: But the criteria is effective action against terrorism. We'll see what they do.
QUESTION: But you are prepared to judge them on their performance under the proposed arrangements? As far as I can see, that's what you seem to be saying for the last few minutes.
MR. BOUCHER: We're going to -- we've always said we're going to judge people on performance. We've always said what we think is necessary to achieve that performance. It's the commitment, the power and the resources -- I just said that again -- to act against terrorism. So --
QUESTION: So I haven't got all this straight. So you -- let's get this straight. So if the performance -- if you're satisfied with the -- you will -- will you deal with this government -- will you start dealing with this government now under the proposed arrangements?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it's a question quite yet of dealing with this government. It's a question of whether this government is going to have the commitment, the power and the resources to act against terrorism. That's what we're looking for and what's what we'll judge.
QUESTION: Well, Richard, if you said that this -- that previous governments under Arafat have not had the resources, commitment or ability to move against terrorism, and this government once again is under, directly or indirectly, under the leadership of Arafat --
MR. BOUCHER: You're essentially asking me one question, which is: Is this structure fatally flawed?
QUESTION: Well, is it?
QUESTION: Very good.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, now we've got the question. Let's try to get the answer.
QUESTION: Now, what would you have said yesterday -- I mean, two weeks ago? If Arafat's involved, you didn't --
QUESTION: Let him answer the question.
QUESTION: Go ahead, answer the question.
MR. BOUCHER: I think I'll answer the question today since you didn't ask me two weeks ago, and I had to ask you the question. Let me answer my own question.
The question comes up given the structures that we've seen, given some of the personnel that we've seen: Is this government fatally flawed? And the answer is: The question doesn't have an answer yet because the only answer to "is it or isn't it" is what they do. I won't quote Deng Xiaoping on the matter, but the point that has to be made is that whatever the structure, whether it's good or bad, the only criteria that matters is dismantling the terrorist groups. To do that, a government needs to have the commitment, the power and the resources to dismantle the groups.
So with any government, as we did with the last one, we have set our expectations, we made clear what's necessary to move forward on the roadmap. If they do these things, we will be able to move forward. If they don't, we shouldn't expect any progress.
QUESTION: So if they move against terrorists, the U.S. Government, despite everything it said about Yasser Arafat, is prepared to deal with the government, or a quasi-government, in which Yasser Arafat is the major force?
MR. BOUCHER: Barry --
QUESTION: If he turns over a new leaf, you're ready to deal with him?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not ready to deal with Yasser Arafat. We don't think it's possible for him to change his spots or turn over a new leaf.
QUESTION: Well, how could he --
MR. BOUCHER: Barry, look, you've asked this question consistently every time a Palestinian name has come up.
MR. BOUCHER: Doesn't he know Yasser Arafat and isn't he therefore tainted? The answer, I suppose, for all of them is yes. A lot of people know Yasser Arafat and have worked for him before. Does it make a difference? If they act against terrorism, no. If they don't act against terrorism, no. The only criteria is whether they act against terrorism or not.
QUESTION: The question isn't, "Does he know Yasser Arafat?" The question is, "Does Yasser Arafat control the guys with guns in Palestinian territory?" And he does under this new government, and you're saying you think if they get terrorists it's okay.
MR. BOUCHER: The only question is whether this government has the commitment, the power and the resources to act against terrorism. That's what I've said. It's what I said 17 times from the get-go today. And that doesn't say it doesn't matter if Yasser Arafat controls the guns. That says it matters if the government controls the guns effectively and takes action.
QUESTION: Are there any plans you could tell us about of contact with this new arrangement that --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, at this point, they haven't formally been voted, so in terms of some formal sort of government contact, we wouldn't have that until they've been voted. But we've been keeping in touch with people in this government all along. We've been working with Ahmed Qureia. Our Consul General has met with him a number of times as this process continued. So the Palestinians are quite clear on our views.
QUESTION: 60 Minutes reported last night they'd done quite a long investigation into Yasser Arafat's financial situation and how much he controls the money, and one of the things they asserted is that he is -- he still transfers $100,000 a month out of Palestinian money to his wife in Paris and that something like 800 million has been siphoned out by him personally.
Since the U.S. Government has made the decision that the PA is transparent enough to give money directly to them now, what does this -- what do these findings say about that? And does the U.S. Government have any different figures on how much Arafat may be able to take out personally?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any numbers for you. I think whatever we know on those subjects would be a matter that we couldn't really talk about.
What I will say is that the history of financial improprieties in the Palestinian Authority, I think, is well known and longstanding, and, in fact, has been a major concern of ours. You note that over the last 18 months or so we have made a big issue of financial accountability, fiscal accountability in the Palestinian areas. We have worked with new financial authorities, including a new Palestinian Minister of Finance, to provide more and more and more accountability in the Palestinian budget and accounting systems. All the donors have insisted on that. The European Union's had an important part of that as well.
So they have put in place much more careful, much more transparent accounting systems to prevent the kind of abuse that has occurred in the past. The question comes down then to do they have control of all the money. They have expanded their control of donors funds to make sure that money that we or others might give are properly accounted for. Tax revenues that have been remitted by the Israeli authorities, those are accounted to, I think, to people's satisfaction. They've accounted better for salaries, and one of the reasons we made it a big deal -- I don't know if you recorded it or not -- about the direct payment of salaries for civil servants in the Palestinian territories because that makes it more difficult for folks to siphon money off.
So there have been a lot of steps to sort of expand this field of financial accountability. At the same time, I think the financial systems that have been established are still in their infancy. Not all Palestinian officials have fully cooperated with this effort. So we have urged and we continue to urge that the sphere of accountability be further widened and bring in all the finance of the Palestinian Authority.
QUESTION: But could $100,00 a month have escaped the U.S. notice when it decided to give money directly to the PA? That's a lot of money.
MR. BOUCHER: That's a lot of money. But I can't do the accounting for you from here. I think the Palestinian Finance Ministry and the Palestinian Authority will have to account for their funding.
QUESTION: Well, he was interviewed, and he said it was happening.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, there you go.
QUESTION: Right, but still, the U.S. made its own decision on whether to give the money directly to the PA.
MR. BOUCHER: What?
QUESTION: The U.S. made its own decision on whether to give the money directly to the PA, and it would seem then that you either overlooked, you know, money of that magnitude being transferred out or --
MR. BOUCHER: The primary concern of donors has always been that their own money be properly accounted for. Right? I sort of described to you the ever widening circle, the foreign donors demanding that kind of accountability, all of us demanding the same kind of accountability for the tax revenues that were turned over to make sure those weren't going to support terrorism, the Palestinians themselves demanding more accountability over their finances -- salary payments and things like that. So as I said, there's been a widening sphere of this. Does it encompass all of Palestinian finance? That's still an issue and that's an issue the Palestinians are going to have to resolve.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied U.S. money is not -- is being accounted for properly?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have made sure that U.S. money is accounted for properly.
QUESTION: As far as I understand, the Israeli Defense Minister Shalom, of course, is visiting Washington, maybe has arrived since he left Tel Aviv last night, and he is scheduled to meet with Secretary Powell. Can you confirm that and tell us what they are going to talk about?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything yet on a specific meeting. I'll have to check and get that for you when I can.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on last week, I think it was Friday, the Secretary's letter to the private negotiators, which, by the way, was released by Yosi Beilin's office? Have they responded back? Have you heard from the Israeli Government about the Secretary's letter? Has there been any activity on that level -- front?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any further activity on that, no.
QUESTION: New topic? Senator Biden, over the weekend, wrote an editorial calling for Iraq to be brought into the fold of NATO and that Iraq should become a NATO mission because the U.S. needs more troop, needs more help. Are there -- what does the Administration think of this possibility, and are there any discussions with NATO about possibly turning this into a NATO mission under the leadership of General Abizaid?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any discussion that's gone that far in terms of what NATO can do. But remember, we have been talking to NATO for many months now about what NATO could do to help in terms of the operation. A lot of it is backfill, a lot of it was things that Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz put on the table almost a year ago, it seems now, and Secretary Powell worked on in February. So we're still in touch with NATO allies about how we can help each other given the resource strains that are out there because of the extent of deployment we have in Iraq or the deployments that we and others as NATO have in Afghanistan or some of the continuing NATO operations in Bosnia. So it's sort of the adjustment and backfill of resources has been an ongoing and important topic, and that helps support the effort that we make in Iraq. I'm not aware of any specific discussion of NATO taking over a specific role in Iraq.
QUESTION: Okay, I have one more on Iraq. A story over the weekend quoting unnamed U.S. officials, but about displeasure by this Administration with the Iraqi Governing Council, saying they've spent too much time on their own political -- domestic political disputes and not enough -- have not done enough work to really get the reconstruction and the constitution writing on hand.
MR. BOUCHER: I really don't have anything that would echo that or talk about it in those terms. That's not the U.S. Government view. The U.S. Government view is the Iraqi Governing Council is a representative body. We work with them on all aspects of Iraq's reconstruction. That work is done in Baghdad. They already have a significant number of accomplishments under their belt in terms of, I'd say first and foremost, appointing the ministers who are getting Iraqi systems, Iraqi education, Iraqi medical/healthcare, Iraqi transportation, Iraqi police up and running. There's already considerable progress in those areas, thanks in part to the ministers that they've appointed.
They keep saying that they can meet the deadline of December 15th that they were invited by the Security Council to provide a timetable and a plan for drawing up a constitution. That does remain a very important effort and we look forward to their meeting that deadline. But we continue to work with the Governing Council on all these matters, including how to get going on the constitutional process and to report to the Council by the 15th.
QUESTION: Actually, the Foreign Minister said -- I'm not sure if it was in a statement or if he gave an interview in the last day or two -- that the Council might have some problems reading -- reaching --
MR. BOUCHER: Actually, he said we can make the deadline, although we may be affected by the security situation. So he hasn't said he's not going to make deadline, is the only point I'm making. We're trying to work with them and make sure they do.
QUESTION: Charles Taylor. The reward. I realize that you're in -- this is not your initiative, but are you -- do you endorse the concept of a $2 million reward for Charles Taylor, and are you -- are you willing to pay it if somebody provide -- you know, gets him, whatever they --
MR. BOUCHER: As in any moment between legislation and implementation, we're sort of in that hiatus, the -- any time there is legislation -- we have legislation in the supplemental, provisions that provide -- I think it's up to $2 million reward for a wanted fugitive from Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal. That's widely understood that means Mr. Taylor. Having the money available, we then need to talk about how to operationalize that and how to make it a feature of the Rewards for Justice Program or whatever other program or mechanism there is to handle this. So we're in the process of working that stuff out now. I don't have any --
QUESTION: Do you --
MR. BOUCHER: I think it was congressional initiative, if I remember correctly.
QUESTION: Do you intend to operationalize it or you -- you're planning to ignore it?
MR. BOUCHER: The discussions are going on now about how to do that.
QUESTION: But so does the --
MR. BOUCHER: How to make use of this money.
QUESTION: So does the reward stand or not? I mean, does the reward exist?
MR. BOUCHER: What?
QUESTION: Is the reward enforced, on offer?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if the answer is yes or no, frankly, because I think we have to take certain steps before I can tell you today that if Mr. Taylor was provided to justice that somehow that would kick in the reward. I mean, the issue with most of these rewards is finding out where somebody is. We know where Mr. Taylor is.
MR. BOUCHER: And we know he's wanted. So at this point the issue of how to handle this money and what to do with it and whether we -- how to operate it is still being decided.
QUESTION: Do you mean to say that the --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm telling you that we don't have an answer today to these questions because they're important questions that need to be looked at.
QUESTION: Is your -- yeah, do you think it's a good idea, as my colleagues asked?
MR. BOUCHER: Do we think it's a good idea?
QUESTION: Yeah, the reward.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if, again, that's a question that I can answer. The question of is it a good idea means are you going to do it in exactly that fashion, what are you going to do with it, because you have to have more than a single idea to make this active.
QUESTION: Okay, but it is it your understanding that the State Department needs to --
MR. BOUCHER: My understanding is we did not oppose this provision in the legislation.
QUESTION: Okay. Did someone from this Department get in touch with the Nigerians to tell them about this, which seems to have run counter to at least their understanding of their asylum or exile agreement with Mr. Taylor.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: So have you -- can you confirm that -- the Nigerians say that they've complained about this. Have you gotten word from the Nigerians that they're --
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't know. I'll try to find out.
QUESTION: Richard, is it your understanding that the State Department essentially has the right to decide whether this offer stands or whether it lapses or --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. As I told you, these are all very important questions that I can't answer them until we've figured out what the answers are. I can't answer them until we've decided what to do, and I can't give you those answers now.
QUESTION: Well, you knew what the answers were before when you signed off, and decided not to oppose --
MR. BOUCHER: All that's being reported is that this is in legislation. How we move to make it effective as a reward to achieve an end that we all share, which is for criminals to be brought to justice, those are the issues being looked at right now. So you're asking me a thousand questions that we're asking ourselves. Once we figure them out, we'll tell you the answers.
QUESTION: Well, it is possible, then, that this might not ever come to a reward and that you might use it to, say, give the tribunal in Sierra Leone some cash?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't speculate until I'd read the legislation and had people study it carefully and decide what's the best way to --
QUESTION: You're saying people have not read the legislation --
MR. BOUCHER: People have --
QUESTION: -- or studied it?
MR. BOUCHER: Matt, people have read the legislation. They have studied it. They have not decided yet what to do about it. And how we handle this is something that I'm sure we'll be reporting to you on in coming days as we make those decisions. But I'm not going to answer you how are you going to do this and what are you going to do with it, and would you do this, would you do that, would you give it somebody's uncle or somebody's brother, until we know the answers to the questions. I can't answer questions that don't have answers yet. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Well, it just seems that this was gone about in a little bit of a haphazard way. One, you don't know if the Nigerians, who are quite upset about this, were informed about it. Two, you don't know how the money is going to be spent.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I apologize for all my failings, but I'm not in a position today to answer questions that we have not answered ourselves.
QUESTION: I mean, this is taxpayer money that we're talking about here, is it not?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure it is.
QUESTION: Would you advise --
MR. BOUCHER: And we'll tell the taxpayers as soon as we figure it out. We'll tell you so you can tell the taxpayers as soon as we figure it out. But I can't give you answers to things that don't have answers yet.
QUESTION: Richard, would you advise people to --
MR. BOUCHER: I would advise people to chill out a little bit --
QUESTION: -- to wait a while before they start ---
QUESTION: -- before they start claiming rewards and expecting any --
MR. BOUCHER: I would advise people to chill out a little bit and let us get you the answers on these things.
QUESTION: Including people who might want to make a claim?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm speaking specifically to people in this room. I'll talk to the rest of the world once we have the answers. Thank you.
QUESTION: Richard, over the weekend, a Hezbollah-Israeli swap of prisoners might take place. Is that wise? And on his tour, what was -- is Deputy Secretary Armitage in any way working with either the Saudis or the Egyptians to intercede with the Syrians?
MR. BOUCHER: We have not been involved in this in any way. This was Israel and Hezbollah have been pursuing a prisoner exchange, an Israeli and Lebanese prisoner exchange, through non-U.S. channels. According to reports we've seen, they've reached an agreement.
We have raised our concerns about these prisoners. We've always cared about the prisoners. We've raised these concerns at the highest levels. We'll continue to press on those issues. If you'll remember during some of the Secretary's visits to Israel, he has, in fact, met with the families of people that were being held by Hezbollah.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout on the Secretary's meeting with the Vietnamese Defense Minister?
MR. BOUCHER: Not yet. I'll get you one later.
QUESTION: I'm chilled out.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
QUESTION: I wanted to go back on the Palestinian security one, one more time. The question is how do you -- I would assume you feel the Saudis are committed to stopping terrorism and yet they had the May incident and now they had the most recent incident, and they've had a lot of time to even be more prepared to combat terrorism, presumably. And the thing that I always find hard to understand is that assuming the Palestinian Authority was able to get its act together in a way that seemed to be an improvement, they were making an effort, so forth, and then some suicide bombing occurs again, is the U.S. and Israeli intelligence so sound that they always can link every suicide bombing directly to the approval or benign neglect of Arafat?
In other words, what I'm getting at is how do you know that maybe at some point there isn't a commitment and that these people that are committing these acts are doing them independently? Yet I would assume the Saudis are probably trying their best, and yet they just experienced one. So I have a problem figuring this out. Could you enlighten me?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think you have a problem figuring this out because we haven't seen that situation yet. Would that that were the problem before us. If the Palestinian Government, if the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Prime Minister, were committed to fight terrorism, if they had control of all the necessary resources that could be marshaled on their side, and if they were taking the actions that they could taken, then we could argue examine the case of acts that might occur and whether they could have been prevented or whether there was some neglect or other malfeasance that led to their occurrence.
But first and foremost, they need to have the commitment, they need to have control of the resources, and they need to have action to take the actions that they can take, small and large, to begin the process of dismantling the terrorist groups. Once we see that kind of thing occurring (a) we'll be able to work with them, we'll be looking forward to working with them to help their capacity to help them carry out further action; and (b) we'll be able to judge whether acts that occur in some form or another could have been prevented.
Do you have more? Sir.
QUESTION: Yes. What is you reaction to the Japanese election over the weekend?
MR. BOUCHER: Japanese election over the weekend?
MR. BOUCHER: The returns in so far indicate the governing coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party won enough seats to remain in office. Thus, we look forward to continuing to work with Prime Minister Koizumi, who is a proven friend of the United Nations -- of the United States, and the United Nations, for that matter.
QUESTION: I realize it's the statement over the weekend. I mean, today do we have an update on that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think there's any update. I'm not sure the final returns are in yet. That's the issue.
QUESTION: What can you say about the Guatemalan election?
QUESTION: Do you want to stay on elections?
MR. BOUCHER: Do I want to stay on elections? We're getting --
MR. BOUCHER: First, we congratulate the Guatemalan people for conducting elections in a peaceful, democratic manner. Sixty percent of the electorate voted. As you noted, preliminary results indicate that Oscar Berger and Alvaro Colom are the first -- the top two candidates and that former dictator Rios Montt remains at least in third place.
Those figures, however, reflect predominantly urban voters. The percentages could change as the rural vote is tallied.
Under the Guatemalan system, the two leading candidates will conduct a run-off on December 28th. The decision over who will be the next leader of Guatemala, of course, is up to the Guatemalan people. We look forward to working with either Mr. Berger or Mr. Colom to strengthen U.S.-Guatemala relations. We look forward to moving forward in many areas of mutual interest between our two countries.
QUESTION: I'm sure your enthusiasm is well under control, as Armitage likes to say, but the Iranians have told the Russians that they will sign the additional protocol and -- that's pretty well controlled.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, it's pretty well controlled because they've said any number of times that they will sign the additional protocol now. I think they've said it publicly. They've told various visitors to Tehran that they would do that, three foreign ministers from Europe. They've told Dr. ElBaradei, I think, and now they've told the Russians. So good, but I think we're looking forward to seeing some action on these things now that they've talked about them.
QUESTION: You don't want to just see them sign the protocol; you want to see them end the enrichment of all uranium?
MR. BOUCHER: We want to see them take all the actions that were specified in the Board of Directors resolution, which is why I went to some pain, I think, on Friday to repeat in some explicit detail the number of different actions that were required, because that's the standard by which the Board needs to judge.
We look forward to the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency presenting a full, complete, comprehensive report. We understand from reporting from Vienna that that may happen by the end of the day today, or at least tomorrow morning. We'll look at his report for all the details of Iran's actions, particularly its history of the programs that it's been conducting, as well as anything they might have done to rectify that.
But ultimately, in the end, the Board will have to judge when it meets on November 20th about what to do next and whether Iran has complied.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the visit of the UN envoy to Burma and his meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we don't really have any details beyond what Mr. Pinheiro has already reported. He said that Aung San Suu Kyi would not accept any special privileges until the other political prisoners arrested on May 30th were freed. We agree that these prisoners should be freed. We, again, urge the junta to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and to allow them the freedom to participate fully in the restoration of democracy in Burma.
It's also important to note that Mr. Pinheiro has said that the human rights situation in Burma has deteriorated significantly since May 30th, and that, sadly, is something we have to agree with.
QUESTION: And the last one. North Korea. Assistant Secretary Kelly traveling to the region next week?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. He told you that already, so he's going to --
QUESTION: I wonder if you have any more --
MR. BOUCHER: -- Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo for meetings. Obviously, he'll discuss the North Korea situation and presumably an upcoming round of talks, which all parties have agreed to. But at this point, no, I don't have the exact itinerary for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)
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