State Department Noon Briefing, December 22, 2003
|Monday December 22, 2003
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
MONDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2003
12:30 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Why don't we begin? I'll say good afternoon. I don't have any statements or announcements. I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: One threat or dissipated threat at a time -- Libya. We know quite enough about their willingness to even have spot-checks of their nuclear facilities. Is the Administration comfortable that a good look will be had if their chemical programs would seem to be the biggest concern?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, in getting us to the point that we arrived at on Friday where Libya was able to make disclosures and announcements and then our President was able to say that welcome this and we're going to follow up on it, we had obtained a considerable amount of information and, indeed, had some experts go take a look at a variety of facilities in Libya, not just nuclear ones, but others related to the weapons of mass destruction.
So we have already seen some information, some disclosures. On the chemical side, I think the Libyans themselves have started to make clear that they will participate in the Chemical Weapons Convention and that there are international the organizations to follow up on that, the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), which stands for the --
QUESTION: It's a relatively new group.
MR. BOUCHER: We'll put a footnote on the briefing to get the abbreviation right. Anyway, they're the people who follow up on chemical weapons issues and they can be helpful, and, I'm sure, a variety of other ways will be found to make sure that whatever disclosures Libya makes that there is follow-up to identify the full extent of those programs, make sure everything's been disclosed; and second of all, to destroy any materials that might need to be destroyed.
QUESTION: Not picking at it, but I mean, the American inspections were part of an international group. Were Americans on that as Americans?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, I would not call them inspections. I would call them, you know, information-gathering activities to try to determine the scope of what Libya would be announcing, try to determine the scope of what would have to be done to destroy and eliminate programs for weapons of mass destruction that Libya itself was, at that time, saying that they wanted to eliminate.
QUESTION: Turning the coin upside down, or inside out, or something. There were all sorts of notions, for instance, a travel ban being lifted that was floated even earlier. They're on the terror list. Do you anticipate, or are you aware of anything the U.S. might be ready to do in the way of gestures to what, apparently, is a change of heart in Libya?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure we'll be following up on all these various other elements that, as the President made clear on Friday, Libya appears to be in the process of trying to rejoin the community of nations, and that's a process that we would certainly welcome. It involves many elements. It involves certain elements of U.S. policy that we will be willing to look at at the appropriate time.
But each of these things is based on particular issues, particular aspects of Libyan behavior that we may have to look at. In terms of the UC US passports, obviously the question is the safety and security of American citizens who might be considering travel there. To the extent that Libya is taking these steps to ease tensions and to lower the tensions that might exist for Americans; that may contribute to a review of the passport ban. We renewed it recently, but said it could be renewed -- reviewed and changed at any time. So as Libya takes steps, as circumstances change, we are certainly willing to change these various aspects of U.S. policy.
Terrorism is a different issue that has to do with, I'd say, largely the residual contacts and support that they might have had for terrorist groups. So each of those issues would be looked at on their merits, but we're willing to look at them as the circumstances change.
QUESTION: And one last one, please. Passports are also used by businesspeople, as well as tourists and people who are interested in Libya may know people there, et cetera. Do you see -- does State Department foresee some new opportunities, some new freedom for American companies to go there, or are there a lot of formalities still to get done?
MR. BOUCHER: There are a number of elements that need to be looked at. There's two or three different kinds of economic sanctions and restrictions that we have on Libya. Each of those would have to be looked at because each has a slightly different basis. But as I said, as Libya's policies change, Libya's behavior changes, Libya's circumstances change, we'll be willing to look at those things; and at some point we may be in a position to make some changes.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Adi.
QUESTION: Richard, how concerned are you that you have three different kinds of weapons here: You've got the nuclear, you've got the chemical, in terms of the inspection agencies, right? The IAEA, and then you have this Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
MR. BOUCHER: There you go. You got it.
QUESTION: And then you have another agency for biological weapons. Biological Weapons Agency, the BWC, I think its acronym; it doesn't have the legal mandate to actually go in and engage in inspections. How concerned are you about that?
I mean, in terms of -- it seems like the hard part is beginning now, all right? You know, they have acknowledged this, but implementing this is a different story. This biological weapons organization doesn't have the legal right to actually go in. I mean, what -- where -- what's the United States' position on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the answer is that that doesn't make it impossible to destroy biological weapons programs research facilities, or whatever there is that needs to be eliminated. We have done that kind of activity on an international scale in the past with experts whether there was an international mechanism or not -- I'm thinking of some of the chemical weapons things that were done before the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was established.
So I think we'll work with the international community and with the Libyans to devise the appropriate mechanism or program. In cases where there are existing international capabilities and resources, there is no point in duplicating that. There are international that can be used. But if there is not an international capability, I'm sure that we, and other, who have been working on this and are interested in this, can devise the appropriate mechanisms to take care of it.
Libya also announced -- there is a fourth area that's missiles -- Libya also announced that they would be eliminating portions of their missile program that exceeded the international limits. And so that's another area that we would have to work with others to make sure that step was taken effectively.
QUESTION: As you know, the negotiation has been going on for a while with Britain, as well, with the MI-5, as well as with Americans. One of the dates was given about nine months back probably. Were you surprised by the time of the announcement that it was announced just in the weekend? And were you informed that this is going to be at this time, and most likely that it's going to coincide with the Lockerbie anniversary?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the timing of the announcement was because this is when the pieces came together. We had been working with the Libyans about what was going to be said and when it could be said. I think the developments that led us to this point, the conversations and then the visits that American officials and UK officials had to Libya, and then the discussions that have been going on this month with the Libyans to determine the appropriate announcement and timing of the announcement came together on Friday, with the Libyans making their own public statement first, so that the world could first hear and see from the Libyans what their intentions were.
It's just the way it happened. I don't think they or anybody else timed it to be close to the Lockerbie anniversary, but it's certainly important for all of us to remember that the steadfastness of the international community and particularly the families involved in Lockerbie, in terms of maintaining a set of standards that Libya had to meet for an ending to the UN sanctions, maintaining the level of standards that Libya has to meet for an end to the U.S. sanctions, and maintaining a set of standards that Libya has to meet to rejoin the community of international communities. But that has been an important part of eventually getting to this point.
QUESTION: Richard, did the Libyans express any concern to you about what giving its weapons, giving up its weapons might pose -- it might become vulnerable and become more vulnerable to a threat and ask for any protection or guarantees of security if they were willing to do this?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not in a position to speak for the Libyans on matters like that, but I think if you look at the Libyans' announcement, they have made this statement on their own about what their intentions are.
We have made clear, in many of these cases around the world, and it applies to Libya as well, that countries are, in fact, safer and better off, if they eliminate these programs for weapons of mass destruction that they can ensure their security without these programs, and that they can obtain the prosperity and stability that nations aspire to.
QUESTION: To the extent that Americans are going there, are they looking for sources of technology, and are they finding any? I mean, the Libyans obviously, while denying such a program were actively engaged in a program, and they got help.
MR. BOUCHER: Which they've now admitted.
QUESTION: Right, and they got a -- exactly. And they got help from outside. Is the U.S. trying to, and have they picked up any fingerprints?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I'd be able to comment on that. That would be a matter of intelligence and follow up on the information that might have been obtained during the course of visits to Libya. I just can't go into that now.
QUESTION: But you can't say that's a matter of inquiry?
MR. BOUCHER: I -- no.
MR. BOUCHER: Adi.
QUESTION: The U.S. clearly had strong intelligence and/or evidence that the Libyans were up to no good on this front. How, how important of a role did the PSI have in obtaining this information?
MR. BOUCHER: The United States, for many years, has followed closely developments in Libya with regard to weapons of mass destruction. I think if you look back at the reports that the United States publishes every six months or so, you'll see a lot of information on Libya and its programs for weapons of mass destruction. You'll see Congressional testimony and other places where, for many years the United States has made clear its concerns about Libya's programs for weapons of mass destruction. And indeed, that information is being shown to be very accurate, very correct and very thorough.
So I think that's a credit to our intelligence agencies and to the -- as well as the coordination we have with other governments who also follow such developments. The Proliferation Security Initiative is a more recent development, but certainly the coordination that we have with other governments on matters of weapons of mass destruction is an additional important element, an additional ability for us to work with other governments to ensure that countries are not able to pursue these programs.
QUESTION: Why you want negotiation just limited to the U.S. the British and the Libyans? Was it your choice or was it the Libyans who asked that no other country or international organization would be involved?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think that's -- I don't know whose exact choice it was, but I think the understanding is that they first approached the UK, the British, about talking to the British and the Americans. So that's how it was pursued so that we had a clear idea about what the Libyans were prepared to do.
Now is the appropriate point for the entire international community to go in and to be able to verify to the satisfaction of all the members of the International Atomic Energy Agency, for example, or to verify to the satisfaction of the international community that Libya is, indeed, getting rid of these programs that have been a concern to a great many nations, including the United States.
QUESTION: Richard, this morning Egyptian Foreign Minister Maher was attacked in East Jerusalem and actually rescued by Israelis, taken to the hospital. Also, is there any -- right after the first of the year, any effort to get any peace talks underway, because I don't know what your reaction is to former Secretary of State Kissinger's editorial today in The Washington Post? And also, the Arab moderate countries have just conducted a two-day summit. The countries are trying, as you wanted them to, to stamp out terrorism. Do you have any comments, concerning that?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, if I can remember all those things, I'll talk about as many as I can.
First, on the incident with Foreign Minister Maher, let me tell you what we've heard from our people in Jerusalem and Israel, as well as our contacts in Cairo. But I caution you again; this seems to be a fast-breaking story. As usual, the initial reports prove somewhat exaggerated. Things are sort of settling down, but I think we're all still looking for a clearer picture of exactly what happened on the Temple Mount.
We understand he had gone to the Al Aqsa Mosque to pray. There was a group of a crowd that rushed towards him. There was some kind of scuffle. The security guards -- the Palestinian security guards who were there helped protect him. He was not injured. He was not even touched, apparently, by the crowd, but he was moved out by his security guards, and reports are that he was short of breath when he got out.
He was not taken to the hospital. He went to an ambulance where he was looked at briefly by medics and then proceeded to the airport where he was returning to Cairo on the plane that he was originally scheduled to take.
Certainly we're concerned about the situation, concerned about his health. The Secretary has placed a phone call to him, which, I think when he gets to Cairo, he may be in a position to take, just to wish him well and talk about his mission to Israel, which is a very important part of the overall engagement that we have and that others have to try to get some progress and some movement on the roadmap and towards a better situation for both Israelis and Palestinians, alike.
We've, as you know, we've been coordinating closely with the Egyptian Government as they have tried to move things in that direction. We had a visit by the Egyptian Intelligence Chief about ten days ago when he saw the Secretary. So we've been working closely with the Egyptians.
We've also been keeping in close touch with the parties in Israel, as well as the Palestinians, to try to identify steps that the parties can take to improve the conditions of daily life for, especially for Palestinians, identify particularly the steps that the Palestinians need to take to end the violence and terror, and to eliminate the terrorist capabilities of people, groups in the Palestinian areas so that we can indeed make some real progress down along the roadmap. That remains, in our view, the way forward, and that's what we continue to push for.
QUESTION: Do you know who menaced him, if that's the word?
MR. BOUCHER: No, a crowd of people at the mosque of Palestinians.
QUESTION: They're identified as Palestinians. I don't know they're with a religion.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think -- I think they're -- only Muslims are allowed into that area.
QUESTION: That's the next question.
MR. BOUCHER: I think that's the presumption.
QUESTION: Was he taking an unnecessary risk, in the U.S.'s judgment?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't say that at all. He was going somewhere to carry out a religious obligation and should be free to do that.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the Worldwide Caution and the terror alert?
MR. BOUCHER: Yep.
QUESTION: Are there specific foreign countries that the U.S. is more concerned about? And are there any additional steps being taken to protect Americans overseas other than the Worldwide Caution?
MR. BOUCHER: We have been concerned and need to be concerned worldwide because of the nature of the group we're dealing with. Al-Qaida has worldwide capabilities, and if we get information on one place or the other, it doesn't mean there's not some threat elsewhere.
I think we also know that al-Qaida is -- often follows up earlier attacks, hits the same place more than once. So that leads to some concern about the Arabian Gulf, about Turkey -- places like that, as well as the homeland, and Homeland Security has put out its disclosures.
We have advised all our embassies overseas of the upgrade of the threat level from yellow to orange. We did that yesterday. We issued the Worldwide Caution that I think you're all aware of that does note the attacks that have occurred recently in the Middle East, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in Europe, in Istanbul, Turkey.
We have reminded American citizens that they may be the targets of terrorist actions, asked them to maintain a high level of vigilance, to remain alert and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. We have continued to monitor security conditions overseas, and as always, we'll disseminate information should there be more specific and credible information about the possible threats.
All of our embassies and our consulates overseas are open for business as usual. However, they remain at a heightened state of alert. And in most of these cases, they are coordinating with the local American community. Many posts have formal committees established with the Americans who are resident in the country. They all have Warden networks, and so they all do disseminate this information to Americans overseas, and coordinate and work with Americans locally to try to make sure that facilities that Americans -- that Americans live, work at or otherwise frequent can be identified and can be protected, if it's possible.
QUESTION: Can I ask what -- you to describe what you mean by a heightened state of alert at embassies?
MR. BOUCHER: It's basically making sure we're following all the proper and the best security procedures, that all the checks are being done, that maybe additional checks are being done, that traffic is being rerouted where possible. A whole variety of steps can be taken to make sure that every procedure is followed precisely, but also that additional steps are being taken, whatever additional steps can be devised locally, to ensure that the particular situation of our facilities, and as I say, other facilities that Americans might frequent. We're doing -- looking at what we can do for all those places.
QUESTION: Have you asked very host country for additional security, or just in areas where you thought --
MR. BOUCHER: I couldn't say every because there may be places where we didn't come up with any additional steps. But certainly all embassies are meeting and looking at these things and contacting their local governments, as appropriate, to make sure that any steps that might involve the local government are being taken as well.
QUESTION: Have neighboring countries like Canada and Mexico also followed suit in elevating threat levels?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know, frankly.
QUESTION: Or, have you asked them to, especially on the Canadian and Mexican borders?
MR. BOUCHER: We certainly coordinate closely with Canadian -- with Canada and Mexico. We share this information. Governor Ridge has extensive contacts with his counterparts, so I think Homeland Security will have to probably answer that question for you.
QUESTION: The Pakistan-Iran connection -- can you let us know what the State Department may have done about this, and any inquiries, any judgments -- your ally in that part of the world?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I mean, we all, I think, have noted that the November 10th report by the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran's nuclear program received assistance from several external sources, but it did not empha -- it did not identify those sources. The work being done by the International Atomic Energy Agency to look into these matters is continuing.
We'd certainly welcome Pakistan's investigation and its debriefing of individuals who may have valuable information to convey. It's a further indication of the priority that President Musharraf has placed on ensuring that Pakistan's sensitive assets don't fall into the wrong hands.
I would remind you of what we said before on Pakistan, the Secretary said in October of 2002, that he had had very specific conversations with President Musharraf of Pakistan where he assured us that Pakistan was not participating in any kind of activity of that nature. And I checked this morning, and I would say that assurance -- we continue to accept that assurance.
QUESTION: I have a question, but it's related to this Pakistani-Iranian alleged connection. Musharraf can't even send his troops into certain parts of his own country in order to hunt down al-Qaida members. Now you have this possibility of a connection between some people associated with the Pakistani Government in some form or another, and Iran. Do you think he has control over his country and his government?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't accept, I think, all the premises. I think Musharraf, President Musharraf has made clear that he is sending troops to tribal areas and other parts of his country where, for some time, a central government did not have a presence; and that he's, in fact, extended the reach of the central government and made clear that the effort that they make on security will be carried out throughout Pakistan.
He has also assured us that he does have control of all the services. And the fact that they are following up and looking into these things in the manner that they themselves have talked about does indicate that he's prepared to, to do that when necessary.
QUESTION: Has Secretary Powell spoken with President Musharraf in recent days? I know he's been out, but specifically to talk about these renewed allegations of Pakistani help for Iran?
MR. BOUCHER: Not in recent days, no.
QUESTION: And so, when you say that you believe the assurances that Pakistan was not, at that point, participating -- stand --, I remember Secretary Powell said he also didn't want to look to the past. He was, he wanted to look forward with this relationship. But are you going to have to go back with Pakistan and have more conversations about what they might have done that they had not admitted to Secretary Powell in those specific conversations?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we ever said that we had not had conversations with Pakistan about the past. We just said that we weren't going to try to speak, ourselves, to what Pakistan might or might not have done in the past. But in October of 2002, we were able to say that President Musharraf had made those assurances to us, and we continue to value those assurances today.
QUESTION: I think he said that, as of that point, they were not doing it.
MR. BOUCHER: That's what he said.
QUESTION: And then, presumably, until now?
MR. BOUCHER: That's what he said.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we got a dozen people behind you, Barry.
QUESTION: Okay, sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: Let's go carefully back here.
QUESTION: Richard, following this announcement or speculation about these Pakistani scientists giving proliferation secrets to Iran. Last week, General Musharraf was nearly assassinated and they blew out a bridge. And these are, perhaps, extremists from Afghanistan or ex-Taliban. Are we asked by Musharraf to give further cooperation and help, in other words, allowing our American troops maybe over the border to --?
MR. BOUCHER: You'd have to check with the military, if there was any new military development. We have cooperated very closely with Pakistan against terrorism. We continue to cooperate today. But I don't really have anything new to say on the nature of that cooperation.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary or any high level official had any conversations with the Israeli Government, Sharon, or high level, since his speech Thursday to try to determine when he's actually going to do some of the things that he, I think, said he was going to do?
MR. BOUCHER: The United States Government has certainly kept in touch with the Israeli Government. We've our embassy out there keeps in close touch with Sharon's office, Prime Minister Sharon's office and other Israeli politicians. The Secretary has not, at this point, spoken with Prime Minister Sharon since the Prime Minister's speech, but he may do so.
QUESTION: Others? Any lower level conversation to try to assess when action may occur?
MR. BOUCHER: That -- our embassy is following up on the speech, and has been reporting back to us on their various contacts in the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Can you report any progress?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to speak for the Israelis on the matter of when these steps may or may not occur.
Yes, go ahead. Sir?
QUESTION: Ambassador Reich went on the air last week and said that there was a lot of concern about hundreds, if not thousands of Cubans of military age getting into Venezuela -- and he said that Venezuela may very well become the most serious problem in the hemisphere.
Now, there has been -- today, President Chavez wined and dined Castro, who arrived secretly in Caracas over the weekend. Meanwhile, the embassy, here, of Venezuela has denounced Mr. Reich for his interference in Venezuelan domestic affairs. Is there concern about this situation?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sorry. But I'm -- it's all very interesting things, but I have not been following it, so I'll have to look into it and see.
Okay. In the back.
QUESTION: Following the statement of one country on each side, the President, yesterday, gave a new interpretation to a nowadays cross-strait relation, which is two sides, three countries, which means PRC and Mongolia on one side, and Taiwan on the other. Any comments on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new. The United States' position on One China policy, our adherence to the Three Communiqués, and our support for the Taiwan Relations Act is very well known. The President has been quite clear on the policy. We have always opposed any unilateral moves by either side to try to resolve the situation and have tried to make clear that we think that peaceful dialogue is necessary and that the parties should be taking steps in that direction.
QUESTION: Taiwan's opposition leaders say same thing, shows that he's very similar to the Taiwan's ruling party. Are you worried about such a change?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to do political commentary. I'll tell you what the U.S. policy is. I think we've expressed it quite clearly. What other people say is up to them, but our policy has been very, very clear.
Yes. Okay. No, we've got two more.
QUESTION: Yes. You deducted 2-point-some-billion from the $9 billion -- I'm sorry. You've deducted some $270 million from the $9 billion loan.
MR. BOUCHER: From the $3 billion for this year, yes.
QUESTION: Well, from the $3 billion now, but there's a total of $9 -- guarantees. The response of the Prime Minister was to say, "I'm going to complete the fence anyway." The effective amount, according to Tom Simon last night, was $4 million of interest lost as a result of your deduction. Do you have any plans to take any more effective action?
MR. BOUCHER: We have made clear that this policy of the United States applies throughout the life of the loan. It will apply in future years. It applies throughout the line -- life of the loan guarantees. It will apply in future years to future loan guarantees based on the evaluation that we make of the expenditures that Israel is undertaking in ways that are not compatible with the law. So this is a continuing process. It's not a one-shot deal, and will be affected by the amount that Israel is spending on these matters.
QUESTION: The $4 million effective deduction for --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if that's accurate or not. I haven't tried to do the calculations.
QUESTION: Well, whatever it is, it's very small. The interest --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't necessarily agree with that either.
QUESTION: The interest loss is what he's talking about. That represents about 2 kilometers of the 700-kilometer fence.
MR. BOUCHER: I appreciate, you know --
MR. BOUCHER: I'll quote Mark Twain in a minute, if you keep citing numbers, but --
QUESTION: But there's no plan for you to do anything else on this?
MR. BOUCHER: I have told you, we do plan on doing more on this. We have continued to make clear our views. We have continued to make clear that these deductions are part of U.S. policy. They will apply to future amounts in future years, depending on how much Israel expends on activities that are not compatible with the purposes of the act.
QUESTION: The head of the Iraqi Government Council, Abdullah Aziz al-Hakim, has visited with the Syrian President Bashar Assad, yesterday. And several other Iraqi teams also visited with the high officials, and their President of the Council, Mr. Hakim, had said after meeting with President Bashar Assad that there were -- they came to so many agreements that they were going to sign concerning the security issues and other bilateral issues between the two countries, amongst them, the arrest of criminals or suspects who committed crimes in Iraq that have to be handed to the Iraqi officials.
Can you see in those meetings and these positive statements coming out of the meeting as a contributing factor to alleviate your concerns, previous concerns, toward these issues?
MR. BOUCHER: We -- I don't have any specific confirmation of those agreements or understandings that might have been reached. We have encouraged Syria and other neighbors to cooperate with Iraq, with the Iraqi Governing Council. We have encouraged them to take steps that provide peace and stability for the people of Iraq, to prevent terrorists from crossing borders; that find Iraqi assets and other things. And, certainly, we'd welcome any, any progress with regard to those specific areas. We're looking for specific steps, and if Syria is taking those steps, that would be welcome.
QUESTION: There are reports saying that Saddam captured by the Iraqi Kurds and handed to the U.S. forces. Is there any reality in this? And secondly --
MR. BOUCHER: You'd have to check with the U.S. military, but that's -- no, that's not what we've seen and reported, I think. Yes.
QUESTION: Well, the Iraqi Kurdish groups reportedly suggesting to have an ethnic-based federation in the north of Iraq. Do you support such an ethnic-based federation?
MR. BOUCHER: We support the Iraqis, for the first time in their history, at least in their recent history, being able to work out their form of government, being able to work out their future, and that's a process that's starting already. And we look forward to the Iraqis discussing this, debating this and deciding this, because it's their future we're talking about.
Okay, that's it, I think.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)
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