State Department Noon Briefing, December 1, 2003
U.S. Department of State
12:45 p.m. EST
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
MONDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2003
12:45 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let me start off, if I can, with saying a few words about World AIDS Day. I know you've seen the Secretary's statement on the website, probably, and various other activities that we are engaged in, but I think it is important to note that today is a day that we use to highlight the successes and to remind ourselves of the remaining challenges in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.
The United States is proud to be at the forefront of confronting the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. On January 23rd of this year, the President announced a historic five-year, $15 billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that virtually triples the U.S. Government commitment to international AIDS assistance. The President's Emergency Plan will prevent 7 million HIV infections, provide anti-retroviral drugs to 2 million people living with HIV/AIDS, and provide care for 10 million people affected by HIV/AIDS, including children orphaned by the disease.
We are pleased to see that the Congress is moving forward on the funding for this initiative, and it looks like that can be secured soon.
In his World AIDS Day message, you've seen, I think, Secretary Powell has said, "In the worldwide fight against AIDS, every nation, large or small, developed or developing, must be a leader, and in the fight against AIDS all countries have a strong and committed ally in the United States of America."
There are activities around the world carried about by U.S. Embassies on this day and they are meeting with local people involved who are fighting the disease or taking care of the people who have it. In addition, Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Randall Tobias is commemorating World AIDS Day in Zambia along with Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson. They and an international delegation are visiting several African countries this week.
So, with that statement, I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: I have a question on that.
MR. BOUCHER: On that? Other things? Okay, let's start with --
QUESTION: Can I ask you about the Iraq transition? As you know, there was a Shiite complaint -- it seems to have been tempered a little bit -- and it dealt, of course, with their demand for a direct election.
Can you get into that a little bit? I understand someone out there, some U.S. official, said, you know, the plan is going ahead, thank you very much. But can you discuss whether you have a problem here and whether you're adjusting to comply with the complaints from the Shiites?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer is no, there's not a problem here, that this is a process that we will go through with the Iraqis, and the Governing Council with the Iraqi people themselves. The plan of November 15th, the agreement that we and the Governing Council reached, remains in place. Part of that agreement is to choose initially a transitional assembly that can take over responsibility, but another part of that agreement, as you see, is to -- let me get out the exact words -- to have a convention -- the permanent constitution -- to prepare a permanent constitution. The permanent constitution will be prepared by constitutional convention directly elected by the Iraqi people, and those direct elections for the constitutional convention will take place down the road as we head towards having a permanent constitution and another election to constitute all the parts of government.
So there are different pieces to this, but fair, free and direct elections are definitely a part of this in order to choose the people who will write Iraq's constitution. As we go through this process, whether it is transitional assembly or the constitutional convention, we will be working with the Iraqis on the Governing Council and the general public in different ways to make sure that all the details get put in place and that this process works out smoothly.
QUESTION: So you're saying it is representative democracy, but do you have a mechanical problem with the Shiite sentiment being what it is?
MR. BOUCHER: I think --
QUESTION: Do you think it will --
MR. BOUCHER: Our view is that we are working with these people, we will continue to work with these people. Ambassador Bremer meets with them all the time and will continue to meet with them as we go forward in the process, the two processes, I have to say, of choosing through a transparent, elective process the transitional assembly, and also choosing through direct elections the people who will write the constitution.
QUESTION: Can you tell us, please, what is your position on what is known now as the "Geneva Accord," or document, which was signed a few hours ago, in the light of the advice by the Israeli Defense Minister Shaoul Mofaz to your Administration not to support it?
MR. BOUCHER: Our position, I think, has been stated before and stated fairly clearly that we have welcomed efforts such as these, such as that embodied by the drafters of this Geneva plan to introduce issues, discuss issues and consider issues that have to be dealt with down the road. But we've also made clear that our policy of support for the roadmap, moving forward on the roadmap as the way to get to those eventual discussions of these bigger issues in a more formal sense, that remains clear, as well, that we think the roadmap is the way to make progress down the road of the roadmap, to abuse the metaphor, where we get to the point where these big issues have to be discussed. We think it's worthwhile that people are already considering them, discussing and debating them, in Israeli and Palestinian society.
Both sides, as we go through the roadmap, though, have to get involved. They have to take out -- carry out their responsibilities and obligations. And I would remind people that our view is, to start moving down that road, we need an end to the violence. The Palestinian Government needs to confront terror and violence and needs to end it.
QUESTION: This goes beyond this question, though. They have a blueprint. They have a formula. And the formula does not match up precisely with the roadmap. The roadmap speaks of a process with state at the end, but leaves considerable unsaid to be determined in negotiations. These unofficial folks have a whole plan that involves all sorts of things, like Israel giving up part of Jerusalem, for instance.
So when the Secretary of State encourages the process, and what you say today, you seem to be supportive of the fact that these issues are being aired, but do you have a position on their provisions? Do they match up? Is that what you'd like to see happen in the Middle East?
MR. BOUCHER: Ultimately, how these big issues are decided by Israelis and Palestinians is not going to be decided by the United States, nor is it going to be decided by track two or unofficial discussions. It's going to be decided in direct talks between the governments. And to get to that point, we need to stop the terror, we need to move through the process of the roadmap.
But the Secretary, in his letter to these -- to the people involved in this project and the other one as well, said, "Projects such as yours are important in helping to sustain an atmosphere of hope in which Israelis and Palestinians can discuss mutually acceptable resolutions to the difficult issues that confront them." We get to those issues down the road of the roadmap.
But at this point, it's not for us to start saying, "Well, they've found the right solution on refugees," or they -- you know, "They did this wrong in Jerusalem." Eventually, those issues are going to have to be negotiated by the two governments, and those will be the final outcomes.
QUESTION: This comes along with complaints about the Bush Administration's approach. You know, this isn't -- what's the word? -- this isn't just an innocent event. This is an attempt to -- well, I'm not into mind-reading -- but this is an attempt to write a formula. And you don't think this -- this bears on the roadmap? You don't think it impinges on your own foreign policy?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as you know, first of all, there have always been these track two discussions. And, at present, I know of two different groups that have been engaged in them and have come up with blueprints, frameworks, ideas, plans, different --
QUESTION: A peace agreement?
MR. BOUCHER: -- of different ways. Israelis and Palestinians need to explore these issues. Eventually, Israelis and Palestinians need to officially negotiate these issues. At this point, to make progress toward that point where we can have the official negotiation of these issues, we need to end the violence. We need to move down the steps of the roadmap. That's our position.
QUESTION: Richard, the Israelis launched a raid in Ramallah killing four Palestinians including a six-year-old boy. Do you have any comment on that, and how it bears on the roadmap?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have any linkage at this point.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment, period, point blank, on the issue, and particularly the killing of a child?
MR. BOUCHER: We always regret to see children that are harmed in these actions. But I think I don't know enough about it to try to characterize it otherwise. We've also said that Israel needs to be able to take steps to ensure its security.
QUESTION: Did -- was Mr. Burns told today that Israel plans to dismantle six to ten outposts, and do you have a response to that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if he was specifically told that or not. We have always made clear that the sides -- both sides have obligations. As the President has said, said most recently, I think, in London, Israel should freeze settlement construction, dismantle unauthorized outposts, and end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and not prejudice the final negotiations with the placement of walls and fences.
So we've seen various reports about the Israelis intending to take some steps along those lines, whether it be practical steps to improve daily life or the dismantlement of outposts and, perhaps, settlements. But at this point, you'd have to get the details from the Israelis about what it is they actually intend to do.
QUESTION: On the issues of peace talks, the Syrian President Assad, in an interview published in The New York Times this morning, expresses a desire for the resumption of peace talks with Israel. Do you support that idea?
MR. BOUCHER: I think you have to look a little bit at the history of the issue. Obviously, we'll look at the interview and we'll look at what he says. The Secretary has traveled to Syria twice, I think, maybe more, in this Administration. I remember two particular discussions where he discussed with President Assad our willingness, our hope, to make progress on all tracks of the peace process. The reply was generally that they were looking to see progress on the Palestinian track before reengaging on the Syrian track.
So I don't know if that remains their consideration or not. That's what they have told us. We remain willing to help the parties make progress when the parties are willing to engage with each other to make real progress on any of these tracks, on any of these areas, including this one.
And I would say as well, though, that we find it hard to understand how Syria can talk peace at a time when Syria continues to support groups that are violently opposed to the peace process, that are violently opposed to the Palestinian government and the building of a Palestinian state.
QUESTION: That was going to be my follow-up, which is to say, is Syria meeting some of the U.S. demands, like closing down the offices of some of those groups, a necessary condition for the United States to exert itself to try to resume or help along the Syrian-Israeli peace talks?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've always made clear that we're willing to help if the parties are willing to reengage seriously with each other. But, obviously, one of the things we take into account in looking at how the parties, each of the parties is going to react to the other, is to look at whether parties are really trying to achieve peace in other ways, as well.
QUESTION: Richard, you seem to be saying, this is, as some people have speculated, is just posturing by the Syrians, trying to get the heat off them.
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say that. You did.
QUESTION: What do you think their motives are, then, in this?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't fathom anyone's motives.
QUESTION: Are you going to have talks with this week? There is some Syrian official around I hear who's going to be at the Press Club later in the week.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I don't know if we have somebody --
QUESTION: No, just --
MR. BOUCHER: We certainly talk to the Syrians all the time. We keep in touch with the Syrians. They know we're willing to help when they and the Israelis are ready to reengage seriously on this track.
QUESTION: But there's nothing special to follow up here?
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I know of yet.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the Geneva initiative, just one?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: I understand that the initiators of this initiative, Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo are in town this week. Do you have any plans to meet with them? At what level?
MR. BOUCHER: I think both groups of -- that are working on these so-called plans, Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, and then Ami Ayalon and --
MR. BOUCHER: Sorry, excuse me -- are going to be in town over the course of the next couple of weeks. We would expect Administration officials to meet with them. I don't have anything firmed up yet. It's certainly people from the Near East Bureau and officials involved in the peace process would meet with them.
The Secretary, as I think you know, in his letter to the group said, "I'll be interested in hearing how it goes," in terms of the meetings that they were having at the -- in terms of the Yossi Beilin and Abu Rabbo initiative. So we'll see if that could involve the Secretary. It might.
QUESTION: May I change the subject to Venezuela referendum?
MR. BOUCHER: Please.
QUESTION: President Chavez has accused opposition of massive fraud. He says that there are many complaints about irregularities committed during the four day of signatures for collection. Also, Venezuela's vice president temporarily closed the border with Colombia because of fraud. He made that to prevent people to sign using fake I.D. What do you think about this accusation?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any way of directly evaluating them myself from here. We think, overall, that the process is a positive step of Venezuelans being allowed to exercise their constitutional right. It's a positive step in terms of advancing towards a May 29th agreement between the government and the opposition, in which they pledged to achieve a constitutional, democratic, peaceful and electoral solution to the political impasse.
We've urged all parties to allow this process to unfold in an orderly, peaceful and transparent manner. The government and the opposition, in February of 2003, pledged to refrain from violence and intimidation, to allow the exercise of free speech, and to tolerate political differences. So that's what we would expect of both the government and the opposition, as this process unfolds.
QUESTION: Back to Iraq. Over the weekend, two Japanese diplomats were killed in Iraq. And also, there are some concerns from the Japanese ruling parties about the securities and the sending of Japanese self-defense troops to Iraq. Is there any -- do you have any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: The first, I think, is to say that Secretary Powell spoke with Japanese Foreign Minister Kawaguchi yesterday. He expressed our condolences and our heartfelt sympathies to the families of two Japanese diplomats, the Japanese people and the Government of Japan.
The two Japanese diplomats who were killed in this heinous attack, Mr. Katsuhiko Oku and Mr. Masamori Inoue, had been working very closely with the Coalition Authority in Iraq since April. They were superb representatives of their country and its diplomatic service. They had made a tremendous contribution to Iraq's reconstruction and will be greatly missed by their many friends in the Coalition Authority in the United States.
I think I'd note in this regard, we also saw two Koreans killed yesterday, and earlier this weekend, Spaniards, a group of Spaniards, who were killed there.
I think what's notable is that all the countries involved have restated their commitment to stay the course, restated their understanding of the bigger purpose that is being served by their involvement in Iraq, and recommitted themselves to the very goals that these people have been working for. And that is to help the Iraqi people establish themselves and democracy and stability for the future.
QUESTION: Al-Qaida is not -- by all accounts, by several accounts from there, there is no al-Qaida fingerprint here. Could it be that your problem isn't al-Qaida, that your problem is Fedayeen?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't remember we ever said al-Qaida was responsible for this.
QUESTION: Well, maybe not in this building, but there is a strong --
MR. BOUCHER: Maybe not in other buildings either, Barry.
QUESTION: No, the Administration has been beating on al-Qaida as the cause of all the -- a lot of the troubles there.
MR. BOUCHER: No, that's not true.
MR. BOUCHER: That's not true here. It's not true in any other building in this town that I know of.
QUESTION: Can you -- forget my preface.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: Can you evaluate --
MR. BOUCHER: Let's all forget his preface.
QUESTION: What is your -- what is your -- what is the State Department's analysis now? Who's causing the problem? Is it criminals released from jail, which Bremer has referred to? Is it Saddam Hussein leftovers, as Bremer has referred to it? Is it al-Qaida, as Bremer has referred to it? He said three main sources of attack.
MR. BOUCHER: I think we all have explained it in those terms. You can -- the criminals released from jail is a problem that we think the Iraqi police are dealing with. The main source of these attacks against the foreign presence -- not just the foreign presence, the foreign presence and the new governmental authorities -- are people who are upset at being displaced, people who used to have power and privilege, who don't anymore, who resent that, and who are trying to attack those who are taking over and trying to bring a better future for Iraq that doesn't involve the old regime and the practices of the old regime and the privileges of the old regime.
They are joined in Iraq by what you might call the itinerant terrorists, the people who tend to show up in different places, wherever there is trouble to be caused. And I think General Myers, if I remember correctly, has put that number at 1,000 or so, maybe 2,000.
And in addition in Iraq, we knew that there were some terrorists, many associated with al-Qaida, who were already operating out of Iraq, who had their existence, their lives, facilitated by the old regime -- the people of Ansar al-Islam associated with al-Qaida, as well as some al-Qaida operatives who had been involved in the murder of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan.
So those people are, presumably, still around. The majority of the attacks, the majority of the people who are active against the new elements of a different future for Iraq, are probably local remnants, but they are tied in with some of these other people now.
QUESTION: I think you've addressed this before, but I wonder if you could comment on the repetition of the pattern that the coalition -- it's the coalition that is now -- or that other partners in the coalition that are increasingly the target, both military and civilian elements of the coalition, and whether -- there's increasing evidence that this is a tactic of the enemy in Iraq trying to break apart the coalition and give -- make some countries have second thoughts, maybe even domestic -- in their domestic politics, if not in their governments.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure I'm quite prepared to draw that conclusion yet just because I, myself, haven't looked at the overall numbers. I mean, sadly, attacks against U.S. forces continue, even though they're down. Attacks against elements of Iraqi statehood, a future for Iraq, have continued. Attacks on police stations, deputy mayors, local authorities -- people like that, who are trying to build a new Iraq -- have continued as well.
And now, since several months ago, when you had the attack on the Jordanian Embassy, there have been attacks, perhaps more attacks against some of the foreigners who are more and more involved in helping rebuild Iraq.
It seems to fit this pattern where anyone -- foreign, domestic, American, European, Asian, whatever -- anyone who is involved in trying to create a different future for Iraq that doesn't involve these old elements is becoming the target of attack. And together we need to stop these attacks, together with the Iraqis, who, themselves, are building up their own forces: You have Iraqi police on the streets, you have civil defense, you have border patrol. I think as of this weekend we have 500-some Iraqi police trainees that are at the facility in Jordan now that's starting up and will be training Iraqi policemen at a very high rate for the foreseeable future. So there's the Iraqi element of this, and then, obviously, there's the coalition element of this, which the military is speaking to again today because they've been subject to attack, but also carried out some counterattacks.
QUESTION: In the same context, can you tell us anything more about Secretary Powell's conversations with Kofi Annan about the appointment of a special representative that could also speed UN participation in the process?
MR. BOUCHER: They've been discussing the appointment of a special representative, as I think others have as well, with the Secretary General. In terms of the kind of operation the UN can undertake to support the transition process, to support the rebuilding process in Iraq, that process, that role, can be based in Iraq, but also there are elements that could be done in nearby places, there are elements that could be done back at headquarters. And so the Secretary and the Secretary General have been discussing how we can help support and facilitate that role, whether it's in Iraq or elsewhere.
The Secretary General was down -- stopped in a week ago, Saturday, at the Secretary's house and they had -- they had, I think, it was lunch together and they had a couple of hours together to talk about all these things, including the process of transition in Iraq as well as the meeting that's going to be held today, now, in New York, where the Secretary General has gathered together neighbors and Perm 5 and others who he thinks can be helpful to his role as he considers how they can get more involved in Iraq.
So these are all things that we've been discussing with the Secretary General, and the United States trying to be supportive of the United Nations taking on its proper role, its expanded role in Iraq, as circumstances permit, which is what the resolution said.
QUESTION: Can you discern any reduction in the enthusiasm of your allies in Iraq for their commitments there? I mean over the last several weeks, the attacks on the Italians and then the more recent ones over the past three or four days, or none whatsoever in your private talks with them?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say none whatsoever. What we detected was a strong commitment, the same kind of commitment you've seen in public, to the broader goals, to the bigger goals, and to the mission, the mission of bringing democracy and stability to Iraq.
The Secretary has talked over the weekend, as I said, to Japanese and South Korean Foreign Ministers. He's also talked with the Spanish Foreign Minister over the weekend. Every time one of these things happens, he tends to reach out and talk to the other party. And there is a very solid understanding of why we're there, of the important goals for which these people gave their lives, and the importance of continuing with those efforts.
QUESTION: But to what extent are these attacks affecting the U.S. and other countries' efforts to get the UN back involved?
MR. BOUCHER: I think in some ways, you have to ask the UN. They're going to have to tailor their mission to their view of the security circumstances. That's what the United Nations resolution said, and that's obviously what the Secretary General is doing. How the UN decides to structure its mission, how many people they want in Iraq, how many in neighboring places, how many doing things that can be done outside, that will be the kinds of things the Secretary General will have to decide as he moves forward on the mission, and we are trying to work with them so that we can be as flexible and helpful as we can to the United Nations playing the kind of expanded role that was called for in the previous UN resolutions.
QUESTION: In the Secretary's phone conversation, do you have a -- is the U.S. going to provide some details, like to, for the security in the -- in Iraq for, you know, like Japan, you know, South Korea? Did they talk about this?
MR. BOUCHER: That doesn't really come up in the Secretary's conversations except to the extent that he says, you know, we'll do whatever we can to help you and your people get through these difficulties and also operate in a secure environment. Most of that kind of security cooperation and coordination takes place on the ground with the Coalition Authority out there.
QUESTION: Do you have any (inaudible) for the possible effects of this incident to the Japanese Government's decision to send the troops?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the Japanese Government has said already that they're still committed to sending troops.
QUESTION: Will it (inaudible) delay, or --
MR. BOUCHER: I expect the Japanese Government will do what it says.
George, do you have one?
QUESTION: No, no questions.
QUESTION: May I take you back to Geneva and Syria? Regarding Geneva, was there any U.S. official representative at the signing ceremony, and what level and what's the name?
MR. BOUCHER: What level, what's her name?
QUESTION: Or her name, at least?
QUESTION: In the interview with The New York Times, President Assad mentioned a few times in his answers that there is a misunderstanding from U.S. side. The message is not clear or the communication means are not enough. It seems that there is something missing. Do you have anything to say about it, a misunderstanding?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there's something missing, and that's action on the issues that are of importance. We have, I think, been quite clear in public, as well as in private, that when it comes to action against terrorism, that we have appreciated some of the things Syria has done with al-Qaida, but there are other things that we felt Syria needed to do in terms of its relations with Iraq.
There were other things, particularly, that we felt Syria needed to do to stop the activities of violent groups who were opposed to the peace process, the very people who were trying to set off bombs against Israel and against the Palestinian Government. People trying to sabotage the peace process are still active in Syria. And we've said all along quite clearly, in public and in private, that those people, those operations, those activities, need to be shut down. It wasn't just a matter of closing a door and saying the office is closed, but that people shouldn't be allowed to operate in that fashion from Syria.
So I'm afraid we've been quite clear all along. We've had a series of discussions with the Secretary of State. Ambassador Burns has been out there several times. Our Embassy keeps in regular touch with the Syrian Government. So we have a lot of ways of discussing these things, but we haven't seen the kind of progress, the kind of action, that we would like.
Let's see. Down here. Ma'am.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) related?
MR. BOUCHER: Everything's related. Sir.
QUESTION: Just following up on the --
MR. BOUCHER: What was the subject, by the way?
QUESTION: Following up on my colleague there concerning Syria, President Assad, in the same interview, has asserted one time after another, and in the past several months, that Syria did stop any supporting of any crossing of any group into Iraq, especially recently, that they have tried everything they can to stop those crossing.
Also, he had talked about -- he indicated that Syria-United States relations would have been much better had it not been for the Israeli lobby in the United States, or some bias by some American Administration's extreme bias toward Israel; otherwise, there are so many meeting points between the two countries.
Now, there seems to be something missing here that you insist from this podium, and other officials, maybe, that Syria has -- is still trying to support terrorist groups or the groups that cross Iraq. What -- I mean, what is the meaning of this?
MR. BOUCHER: The meaning of this is that U.S.-Syrian relations are based on the facts. They're not based on the some lobbying group or political bias or perception, or certainly on the interest of any other state. The interest of the United States, particularly with regard to Iraq, may indeed be similar to the interests that we believe Syria should have.
We believe Syria has a strong interest in a stable and peaceful Iraq as one of its neighbors, an open Iraq that Syria can trade with. We believe Syria has an interest in peace in the region, including between the Israelis and Palestinians. And therefore, it continues to confound us and to be a problem for us when we find that Syria has not taken all the actions that it could with regard to ending the flow of people and money and other goods that are harmful to reconstruction in Iraq. It confounds us and is a problem for us when we see that Syria has not stopped the activities across the board of these various groups like Hezbollah and Hamas that continue to conduct activities in and through Syrian territory.
So it's on those facts that we'll base the future of the U.S.-Syria relationship. We are obviously interested in working with Syria on questions of stability in the region, with Iraq, questions of making progress on the peace process, including the second track, but it has to be based on the facts. And the facts are the way we say them today, and I think we've looked at it quite closely. We've communicated with the Syrian Government, but unfortunately, that's where we are today.
QUESTION: Can you comment, Richard, on the report about the U.S. and Saudi officials saying that the Saudis have decided to withhold a billion dollar in loan aid package for Iraqi reconstruction, because of security concerns and so forth?
MR. BOUCHER: The World Bank, I think, is working with all the people who pledged in Geneva to help realize the contributions, to make sure they come through the way they were planned. The Saudi Government did pledge $1 billion -- I think it was half assistance loans, and half trade credits -- in Geneva, and I think the World Bank and others will be working with them to make sure that comes about the way it was promised. I don't have any other statements on that, to believe that they're pulling forward or pulling back. I think the coordination among the various donors is ongoing and it's an effort to make sure that the pledges are implemented.
QUESTION: Is anyone in this Department speaking to them?
MR. BOUCHER: We talk to the Saudis all the time. We also participate in the various groups that have been -- they were instrumental in bringing forward -- bringing this forward to the donors conference in Iraq, and then moving on from there to continue the process to make sure the pledges are realized.
QUESTION: But that's a significant sum, is it not? I mean, you would have some major concerns?
MR. BOUCHER: It's a significant sum, but it's one that we still count on. I think the World Bank still counts it.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR. BOUCHER: Now, that was a change of topic, so we'll go back to your change of topic.
QUESTION: Gao Zhan, the Chinese human rights activist and scholar, who the U.S. spent significant political capital trying to get released from detention in China, of course has now admitted to exporting sensitive technology to China. I'm wondering, first of all, how concerned you are about any -- about the effects of that technology transfer, but also how concerned you are about the fact that this person, who you had invested so much political capital in, turned out to be, essentially, working against the U.S.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can give you any general comments on that at this point. The technology itself, that has to be dealt with in terms of the charges, and you'll have to check with Justice Department as far as what they're prepared to say about that, and the damaging effects of selling that technology.
In terms of the overall situation, I think you remember, was her imprisonment, was the way her U.S. citizen child was being treated, and, you know, the fact that she subsequently was charged in the United States doesn't necessarily mean that the U.S. citizen child should have been treated that way, or the family should have been treated that way in China.
QUESTION: Was there suspicion at the time that any of this was going on?
MR. BOUCHER: You'd have to ask the law enforcement agencies about that.
QUESTION: Have you been in contact with the Chinese about this at all?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard of that. I'd have to check and see.
QUESTION: Same region?
MR. BOUCHER: Same region.
QUESTION: Any details scheduled for Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's coming next Monday?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Okay, second. Any further comments on Taiwan's referendum passed last week, especially President Chen's latest proposal to hold a referendum, the events of a referendum in March 2004 on probably national identity issue?
MR. BOUCHER: I would address it the same way I have previously, to say that we oppose any attempt by either side to unilaterally change the status quo in the Taiwan Straits. We also urge both sides to refrain from actions or statements that increase tensions or make dialogue more difficult to achieve.
Therefore, we would be opposed to any referenda that would change Taiwan's status or move towards independence. The United States has always held, and again reiterates, that cross-Strait dialogue is essential to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait area.
President Chen pledged in his inaugural address in the year 2000 not to declare independence, not to change the name of Taiwan's Government, and not to add the "state-to-state" theory to the constitution, and not to promote a referendum to change the status quo on independence or unification.
We appreciate President Chen's pledge in 2000, and his subsequent reaffirmations of it, and we take it very seriously.
QUESTION: Richard, about the Istanbul terror attack, after the attack, European Football Federation, UEFA, they decided to take the several championship game from the Turkey to another country. And the Turkish -- even the Turkish officials giving the same assurance about their security on the subject. And as a leader of the fighting with the -- against the terrorism, and do you think this kind of action is supporting to terrorism or, do you know, is it giving (inaudible) to terrorists?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't be able to characterize it. It's not a decision for us to make as to whether any particular event is held in Turkey or any other place. Our view is that we recognize the dangers that have existed in Turkey. We have our own advisories on travel to Turkey. But we also are working very closely with Turkey to try to eliminate those dangers and try to end terrorism in Turkey.
QUESTION: Turkish Justice Minister Mr. Cicek and the Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Ziyal, is coming tonight to town, and they scheduled to meeting with the Marc Grossman tomorrow. Is it very interesting, you know, the Justice Minister is meeting with the State Department officials. What would be the agenda?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it's --
MR. BOUCHER: It's very interesting that we're meeting with him. I appreciate that. We -- I remember correctly, last year's delegation to the Economic Partnership Commission also included the Justice Minister or a member -- somebody from justice, but that may be wrong. But in any case, it's normal. We meet with Justice and Home Affairs ministers from all over the world. Certainly the fight against terrorism is a prime topic. And given what's recently occurred in Istanbul, having a chance to check in and talk directly to the Turkish Ministry of Justice -- Minister of Justice -- is important to us.
The basic reason for the trip, though, is the U.S.-Turkey Economic Partnership Commission will be held at the Department tomorrow, Tuesday, December 2nd. Principal meetings are between Under Secretary for Economic, Business and Commercial Affairs Alan Larson and Under Secretary Ziyal of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. They chair the meeting.
Several government agencies from both sides will be there, and there will be a press event to review this -- the work of the Economic Partnership Commission at 3:30 p.m. in Room 2208 tomorrow. We'll have a notice to that effect out.
QUESTION: New York Times yesterday reported that the Turkish General, by mistake, deployed Turkish military forces in big cities without prior knowledge of Erdogan government, experiencing fear for a kind of a coup d'etat. Are you concerned about political stability and democracy in Turkey?
MR. BOUCHER: I had not seen that, and I would not draw any conclusions from it at this point.
QUESTION: You didn't see this before? It was a big story, Mr. Boucher, yesterday.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'm sorry. It was a big story -- confirmed by The New York Times to be a big story.
QUESTION: Can you take -- but can you take this question, because --
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if we have anything to say on it. But no, we're not concerned about stability in Turkey.
QUESTION: And also, your Cyprus Coordinator, Ambassador Tom Weston, is going to deliver a major speech, as he says, tomorrow at Johns Hopkins University here in Washington. Do you know what it's all about on the Cyprus issue?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we'll wait. Let's let him give it.
QUESTION: A number of French diplomats around the world are on strike today, and, apparently because of budget cuts that affect their pay and other conditions of work. I wonder if you have any comment, if you feel solidarity with them, or, perhaps, given the history of American-French relations this last year, if you feel like maybe the world's a little better off if they're taking the day off?
MR. BOUCHER: It's very tempting, but I'll leave the commentary to commentators on that.
Okay, we've got a couple in the middle. Sir.
QUESTION: I just want to ask you the present status of the preparatory consultation with the six-party talk before your departure. Can you say anything on that?
MR. BOUCHER: The present status is that we continue to meet with our friends and those involved in the talks. Assistant Secretary Kelly will have meetings this afternoon with Madame Fu Ying from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, his counterpart. And let me get the details as well. Yes. And she will also see Deputy Secretary Armitage this afternoon.
So those discussions continue with people involved in the process. We'll continue to have our discussions with the Japanese and South Koreans as well, as we look to see when North Korea agrees to a new round of talks. We're still looking for early discussions that can deal with a peaceful end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program and issues related to the second round.
QUESTION: Can you predict the -- oh, sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: We've expressed our willingness to have talks November, and then December. At this point, we'll just see what happens, in terms of the North Korean willingness to sit down and conduct this diplomatic dialogue.
QUESTION: The North Koreans are again in one of the state-controlled papers talking about simultaneous actions. I assume that's still a nonstarter for you guys.
MR. BOUCHER: As we've mentioned before, that's not a word that we've used. We've made clear that we are prepared to join other parties in six-party talks and providing security assurances to North Korea in the context of its complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of the nuclear weapons program.
The President made that clear in his comments in Bangkok, and we've made that very clear subsequently. So we still look forward to an early convening of talks, and that's where these issues need to be decided.
Okay. You had a follow-up?
QUESTION: A follow-up on just the consultation process. Sir, during their absence, can you predict any three-party, I mean a TCOG, informal, or whatever? Can you predict --
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't predict. I don't know of anything firmly scheduled at this point, but we do always keep in touch with our Japanese and South Korean counterparts. I wouldn't be surprised if we kept talking to them, one way or the other.
QUESTION: I have a question about Guantanamo Bay. There was a Canadian released. His name is Abdul Rahman Khadr. He was released some time ago, sent to Afghanistan, made his way back to Canada late last night. My broader question is, though, if the U.S. Government considers it appropriate to hold people there without charge, and then simply release them.
MR. BOUCHER: I think for the particular circumstances, you'll have to check with the Pentagon and the Defense Department. They handle the matters involving Guantanamo Bay and the releases, including many releases -- I think 80-some releases -- that have occurred already.
In terms of holding people there, we've made, I think, very clear all along that we believe it's necessary to hold some people as an enemy combatants -- I'm sorry -- we do believe it's necessary to hold some people there as enemy combatants there in Guantanamo because of their presence in areas of fighting, that that is consistent with the Geneva Conventions, and that we're holding them in a humane manner that is consistent with the Geneva Conventions.
We also have an ongoing process of looking at these cases, looking at the people and deciding when it is that they can be released, when they might no longer pose a danger, and that process is underway. And as I mentioned, I think some 80 people have been released thus far.
QUESTION: Richard, just a follow-up. Do you still think that it's morally acceptable to detain people as young as 13 year old in Guantanamo?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, for specific cases, the Pentagon will have to describe that. But the -- the basis -- the basis in international law and legitimacy of taking people off the battlefield who are engaged in some way with the combat that's going on is well-established.
QUESTION: But there are so many people in the world condemned, including famous judges in Britain and the ICRC and so many humanitarian organizations.
MR. BOUCHER: I know it's been controversial. There have been statements on both -- there have been statements on both sides of this. We are working with other governments to try to find a satisfactory manner of resolving cases that they're interested in.
We're in discussions with the British Government. The British Government has certainly been to see us, and been down there to visit and look at the conditions, and look at the situation involved with their nationals, as many other governments have been involved.
We were able to reach agreement with the Australians on some matters that they were concerned about, and we're in discussion with the British and other governments as well.
QUESTION: A bit on Iraq, if I may. The letter from Talabani that outlined the transition to self-government in Iraq still is at the Security Council. Does the United States consider that letter to be the compliance with the request from the Security Council to report back by December 15th?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that was being looked at in the Security Council itself. I'm not sure if the Security Council as a whole has taken the decision on that. But our view is certainly that it did outline the kind of things that the -- that the Security Council wanted to know about and wanted to have a report on by the 15th of December. It is the plan and the timetable for coming to a permanent government based on a constitution.
QUESTION: So the -- the short answer would be yes?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the short answer is yes, but leaving ourselves a little wiggle room, so we can discuss it with others and see if the typeface is correct, and things like that.
QUESTION: A few odds and ends. Did you -- any response to Syria's sending to Turkey 22 people who had crossed the border, seemingly implicated in the bombings?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have any response on that.
QUESTION: China's release of three internet journalists?
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing on that today, either.
QUESTION: Human Rights Watch sent the Secretary a letter late last week urging him to take up some specific human rights matters when he goes to Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Does he intend to do that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think part of the Secretary's agenda in North Africa is to do what we can to encourage the process of opening up, encourage a process of democratization, which is underway in each of these places in different ways, in a positive sense, through our Middle East Partnership Initiative, and the efforts that we already have underway on the ground with journalists or politicians or other civil groups that are forming, but also in terms of encouraging specific action on human rights where that's appropriate. So some of these things will be on our agenda, I'm sure.
(The briefing ended at 1:40 p.m.)
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