State Department Noon Briefing, January 28, 2004
|Wednesday January 28,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28, 2004
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Good to see all of you back here. All right. Well, it's been five minutes. Okay. Good afternoon, everybody. It's a pleasure to be back here and I don't have any statements today. I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: We've seen the Israelis make the raid in Gaza and there has been more violence there, more deaths. Do you have any reaction?
MR. BOUCHER: I would certainly say that it remains important to us to end the violence. We continue to work for both sides to carry out their obligations under the roadmap. We've had people out there on a regular basis working on these issues and we have now Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield and Ambassador John Wolf in Jerusalem meeting now with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, consultations devoted to ending the violence, getting the roadmap process back on track.
They'll talk about mostly, I think, at this point, security and monitoring kind of issues, to try to make the things really happen on the ground.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Satterfield had discussions in Brussels on the 26th, two days ago, with his European troika counterparts. Now they're meeting with Israelis and Palestinians. Once again, we'd say both sides have obligations and responsibilities under the roadmap. For the Palestinians, this means concrete steps to confront terror and violence as well as progress on reform. For Israel, it means sustained efforts to improve the humanitarian situation, fulfill their other commitments.
QUESTION: Richard, a related question. The Israelis are going through a prisoner swap through Germany -- very uneven, with roughly 436 prisoners that they're going to swap for one businessman and apparently, perhaps, three detainees who may or may not be dead.
And also, Hamas has spoken over the weekend, saying that they would go for a ten-year truce. Is this some of the aspects that both Ambassador Satterfield and John Wolf are going to work on?
MR. BOUCHER: On the first part of it, the prisoner swap with Hezbollah, that really was done in non-U.S. channels. As you know, the Germans, I think, have made the announcement. So no, it's not an issue that they're going to be dealing with when they're out there.
On the second question of ceasefires, we've always made clear and I'm sure they will continue to make clear to the Palestinians that end to violence and groups ending violence is important, but that ceasefires are only a step along the way of ending the capability to carry out violence and that needs to be eliminated as well. And that's where much of the emphasis is, to take real steps that can result in a more permanent end to violence than some declaration of a ceasefire would.
QUESTION: Just out of curiosity, are the Satterfield/Wolf meetings as high as with the prime ministers or is it a lower level?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a list of who they're seeing, so I'm not sure it's the prime ministers on each side.
QUESTION: Different country?
MR. BOUCHER: Please. Many different countries.
QUESTION: All right. There are reports out of Lagos, Nigeria, saying that the North Koreans are proposing the Nigerian Government to buy or to acquire advanced missile technology. Are you aware of these reports and are you concerned?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we've seen those press reports. We've also seen reports that the Government of Nigeria has turned down the offer to acquire missiles from North Korea.
Obviously, this issue of regional stability and military acquisition is something that we do care about, something that, a regular part of our dialogue with Nigeria. It's the right step. We'd welcome a decision to turn down any such offers from North Korea. We want to stop North Korea's missile activities, and we've gone to many countries to try to encourage them not to buy. So that would be the right decision, if that's, indeed, the decision they've made.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure our Embassy will be in touch with them, but we just don't have anything more at this point than what we've seen in the press.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Burma. The Burmese Government --
QUESTION: Can we stay on North Korea just a moment?
MR. BOUCHER: If that's what we were on, yeah.
QUESTION: The South Korean -- the new Foreign Minister has said that talks on the -- the six-party talks will likely resume next month. Do you share that optimism?
MR. BOUCHER: I know others have made predictions, but we haven't provided any dates or predictions at this point. There's nothing set.
QUESTION: And you still can't?
MR. BOUCHER: There's nothing set at this point. No.
QUESTION: The Burmese Government has accused the U.S. of trying to destabilize it by way of persuading the UN to impose sanctions. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: The comment that was made really raises a number of issues. The first is the question of stability in Burma. For there to be stability in Burma, there need to be substantive discussions among the government, the democratic opposition, the ethic minorities, that lead to national reconciliation and restoration of democracy. The lack of that dialogue, the lack of progress in the direction of real democracy, is the reason for any instability there.
It is the responsibility of the government to allow such substantive discussion and the first step toward that end will be the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other prisoners.
Our policy towards Burma, the second aspect that's raised, including sanctions, is designed to encourage that kind of dialogue and that kind of progress towards real democracy that can lead to stability and prosperity for the people of Burma, as well as greater respect for human rights.
The third issue that's raised is the economic situation. The economic situation in Burma is the result of the military junta's mismanagement of the Burmese economy. The reason the economy is poor there is not because of a lack of capability of Burmese people or Burmese national resources; it's because of the way the government manages the economy. And that's where the focus needs to stay.
QUESTION: Today, the Canadian Government announced it will conduct an inquiry into the deportation of Mr. Arar, who was the Syrian-Canadian who was deported to Syria by U.S. authorities and was tortured there. To which extent is the U.S. going to cooperate with that investigation?
And also, do you think that the U.S. Government is willing to acknowledge it made a mistake in deporting Mr. Arar at this point?
MR. BOUCHER: The United States, I think, has made clear that we acted responsibly in the matter. The President has also made clear, when he met with Prime Minister Martin, that this would be a matter where we would cooperate and consult closely on in the future with the Canadian Government.
I think we have also made clear that we will cooperate and work with the Canadian Government if there are inquiries or other things that they want to address to us.
So we saw the announcement on the Canadian side. I don't think there's really anything new to say from our side.
QUESTION: Why was he deported to Syria instead of Canada? Has that ever been determined?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, that's been determined and discussed, but I would leave the agencies -- the Immigration Service -- to do it.
QUESTION: It's been discussed, yeah, but usually you are deported to the country of your citizenship.
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, we've talked about this so many times, I really don't want to open it up again today just for the fun of it. Look back at the record of what we and the Department of Human Services *(See Editor's Note below) has said.
QUESTION: Can I follow up with a question on the NATO meeting with the Deputy Under Secretary? Is this an indication that the United States is turning too more multilateral forums for trying to end the violence in Palestine-Israel?
MR. BOUCHER: The -- what? What NATO meeting with what Deputy Under Secretary? We don't have any Deputy Under Secretaries.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, I must --
MR. BOUCHER: Are you talking about Satterfield's meetings with the European Union?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the meetings that the European Union troika, which is the European Union, not NATO, had with our Deputy Assistant Secretary were on the subject of the Middle East because the European Union is one of our Quartet partners on the Middle East.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. I misunderstood your statement at the beginning, but I thought you said that there --
MR. BOUCHER: All right, we got there in the end.
QUESTION: In NATO. Yeah.
MR. BOUCHER: And that's the answer.
QUESTION: Prime Minister -- the Turkish Prime Minister Mr. Erdogan talked about his serious talk and desire from the Syrian President Assad that has been expressed to him about involve -- getting Turkey involved in peace negotiations between Syria and Israel. I wonder, how does the United States Government -- how is America taken of this kind of role for Turkey to play a peace role, a peacemaker in the area?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, it's not for the United States to specify roles that others should or should not play in the peace process. We've seen, I think, if you look at the history of negotiations, various parties have played different roles at different times. The United States certainly has been willing to offer our assistance and played a central role throughout this process.
The consultations now with the Turkish Prime Minister are going on at the White House, so I don't have any update on how the Turkish perspective on these issues might be discussed today. But it would be up for --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the Secretary will be talking tomorrow with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister Gul. The Middle East frequently comes up in their conversations. I think all I can tell you is, you know our position on comprehensive peace and being open to helping with others' channels, but ultimately it's for the parties if they decide they want somebody to help them out or not.
QUESTION: New subject?
QUESTION: Erdogan still?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: That was close enough.
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: One of the other things the Turks are asking -- one of the other things they're asking is about U.S. help in assuring that there doesn't become ethnic fragmentation in Iraq. What is the status of the U.S. talks with the Kurds? Where does it stand right now? Usually you guys just say you want -- you support the territorial integrity of Iraq. Is that still the standard answer on the Kurds?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we do.
QUESTION: But on -- more specific --
MR. BOUCHER: But I don't know what you mean, what's the status of our talks with the Kurds.
QUESTION: Well, there are --
MR. BOUCHER: The Kurdish leaders are participants in the Iraqi Governing Council.
MR. BOUCHER: They and their other Iraqi counterparts and leaders have decided on a plan that moves towards full, representative government for the Iraqi people within a single Iraqi entity and nation. That's the plan. That's the plan the Kurds and others have signed onto, and that's what we're talking to the Kurds, to the other groups in Iraq, about how to implement that.
QUESTION: But there are so many questions within that about the status of Kurds --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, and they're part of that dialogue and discussion. But it's a dialogue principally among Iraqis that we also, because of our presence, are part of as well.
QUESTION: And that's what I'm asking. That's why I'm asking you.
MR. BOUCHER: What's the status?
MR. BOUCHER: It's ongoing.
QUESTION: Especially on Kirkuk, for example, there have been some violent incidents where hospitals were sort of attacked by --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I don't know that there's anything -- there's no particular new development in terms of the status of the Kurds. The Kurds are -- the Kurdish leaders, the Kurdish members of the government, the Kurdish people inside Iraq, are all participants in this process. And as the process moves forward, they're part of the discussions.
QUESTION: Richard, you've had the cooperation of Pakistan recently with nuclear weapons searches and detentions of their scientists. You've also had help with respect to Libya and Iran. But the scientists are objecting to the detentions and they're held within Islamabad, and yet religious fanatics are calling them national heroes.
There is a conference scheduled the 16th through the 18th to settle the Kashmiri dispute. Is the Musharraf government more forthcoming and helpful to iron out these differences and --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that the two are related, either in Pakistani minds or certainly not in ours. We've welcomed the investigations the Pakistani Government is conducting. We think they've shown how high a priority it is for the Musharraf government to make sure that Pakistan is not cooperating in any way or that Pakistani sensitive nuclear assets don't fall into the wrong hands. So that's something we've been welcoming.
The discussions that I think you're referring to between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, again, Kashmir, other issues, all the issues, that kind of dialogue is something we've always supported and encouraged as well.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) stories that Indian scientists sold the secrets. Are you convinced that this was out of eyesight of Musharraf?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that we've seen a very firm commitment from President Musharraf on making sure that their assets and expertise doesn't fall into the wrong hands, and we now see them conducting an investigation. So I can't draw any conclusions yet, but that's the kind of commitment that we've seen.
QUESTION: On Libya, do you have any follow-up to the arrival yesterday of the plane from Libya carrying nuclear materials, and what's the status of the U.S. diplomats or other officials who are there?
MR. BOUCHER: On Libya, I'll review a little bit, I think, some of the material that was made available yesterday by the White House, but just to kind of put it all into context.
As you know, we have been following through on Libya's December 19th announcement that it would eliminate all elements of its nuclear, chemical weapons programs and controlled classes of missiles. Libya requested assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom. We have also been working with the International Atomic Energy Agency on this and we have been engaged in a mission to facilitate Libyan achievements of those goals that Libya announced.
Cooperation from Libya has been excellent. We had the small team of biological, chemical, nuclear and missile experts that began working with senior Libyan officials to accomplish the elimination of Libya's nuclear and chemical weapons programs, and we want to do this as quickly as possible.
The transport plane that arrived in Tennessee yesterday contained thousands and thousands of pounds of sensitive materials related to Libya's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capabilities. These materials included sensitive documentation, centrifuge parts and uranium hexafluoride, which is used as a feedstock to produce uranium.
Also included were ballistic missile guidance sets for the longer-range missiles that Libya has agreed to eliminate. And I think many of you know there was a plane last week that brought out the most sensitive documentation associated with Libya's nuclear weapons program. I'd note as well that the destruction of chemical munitions in Libya has already begun on the ground.
We still have some people from the United States, the United Kingdom, on the ground in Libya. They'll end their first, this initial set of visits or this initial visit later this week and then we will continue to work with Libya to help it dismantle its program the way it's decided to do so, and in that we have the cooperation of the United Kingdom and the International Atomic Energy Agency experts.
QUESTION: Your people have said that the U.S. is willing to review relations as Libya complies with its -- its commitments. It seemed like they were off to a flying start. And is there anything you can say about that matter?
And beyond that, the 90-day term outlined in November, with respect to use of passports or non-use of passports in Libya, I think it's up next month. I know that this is not a rigid deadline, but is there anything you can say about that?
MR. BOUCHER: Really just to note what you've said before. The President was the one on December 19th, when he made the announcement, who said that as Libya takes these essential steps and demonstrates its seriousness, the good faith will be returned. And we do indeed look at other areas; will indeed look at other areas as Libya proceeds to take steps in those areas and the areas of importance to us.
So that's, I would say, an ongoing matter of the agenda before us as we see this kind of cooperation from Libya and Libya's cooperation has been excellent.
In terms of the 90-day review of the use of U.S. passports for Libya, as you noted, I think that's got about another month to go. We did issue the instruction, issue the restriction with a statement saying that we would look at it every 90 days and all I can tell you at this point, because we're not there yet, is we will do so.
QUESTION: Do you have any basic or rough timetable at this point for the disarmament process, since so much of it seems to be underway now?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. There is, obviously, a great importance attached to the significant amount of material that's already been removed that we can help with the elimination of. But as we go through this process, it's, I think, a little too soon to estimate how much there is to deal with, all told, and how long that might take.
QUESTION: Saudi Arabia?
MR. BOUCHER: We certainly think the Libyans made clear they want to do it as quickly as possible and we certainly do too.
Sorry. Saudi Arabia?
QUESTION: Saudi Arabia. Al-Jazeera is reporting today that a number of Saudi nationals affiliated with the Saudi Embassy in Washington have had their U.S. visas canceled. Is it something you can confirm?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't confirm it at this point. I'll see if there's anything I can say for you.
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, can you confirm the report on Under Secretary Bolton, he's going to go to Moscow this week?
MR. BOUCHER: He left yesterday.
QUESTION: And what's the purpose? Pushing Russian to join the (inaudible) PSI?
MR. BOUCHER: It's, I think, consultations on a variety of nonproliferation issues --
QUESTION: What about --
MR. BOUCHER: Including Proliferation Security Initiative.
Does anybody remember how long he's there for? Just for the day? I can't remember. It's one or two days.
MR. CASEY: (Off mike.) I thought it was just for two days
QUESTION: Okay. And also, State Department to send anybody to China on this issue, floating the China to join the PSI?
MR. BOUCHER: You know, we've had consultations with the Chinese from time to time. I can't remember when Under Secretary Bolton was last there, but it wasn't too long ago.
QUESTION: Also on Russia?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: As I understand it, a senior Russian official in Moscow today said that the Secretary in his meetings on Monday raised the issues mentioned in the Izvestiya commentary to Foreign Minister Ivanov and did not raise them in the meeting with President Putin.
Is there anything you can say about that? Would it be unusual for the Secretary not to raise them in a meeting with the President?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, the issues regarding progress in democracy in Russia were certainly discussed openly and fairly widely during the course of the Secretary's visit. He has made clear that we have strategic cooperation with Russia in any number of areas; we want to further that cooperation in all these areas, whether it's arms control issues or bilateral relations or economic relations or cooperation on regional conflicts, but also that progress towards solidifying democracy in Russia is also a strategic issue for us, where we want to be -- try to see the progress that the Russians are making as well. And so it has been, will be a subject of discussion in -- on an ongoing basis with Russia.
He certainly had hours, many more hours of discussion with Foreign Minister Ivanov, so I suspect he had time to get into things in more detail with the Foreign Minister. But if I remember correctly, it came up at his press conference after the meeting with President Putin as well.
QUESTION: Richard, I have questions about Iraq. As of late, there's a development where the United States might be going to destroy some of Saddam Hussein's homes in the Tikrit area. And isn't that going to --
MR. BOUCHER: That's really on-the-ground military and coalition things, and I'm not going to --
QUESTION: But isn't that going to lead to more incitement and the troubles --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to make judgments from here on what the folks out there have to do or are doing.
QUESTION: On France. The French Government said yesterday that it has got assurances from a U.S. Government official about the French companies will be able to take part in the second round of bids for Iraqi reconstruction contracts.
MR. BOUCHER: I have seen reports that like and I think the White House answered that yesterday. I'd just have to refer you back to what we've said before, that the circumstances can change with regard to the contracting list. There is, I guess, a second round coming up. We'll just have to wait till the time arrives to see where we stand at that point with eligibility.
QUESTION: Still on France.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The French President yesterday suggested that the EU embargo on -- the EU ban on arms sales to China should be lifted.
MR. BOUCHER: That has been a discussion with our EU colleagues, including the French. We've had some, I'd say, senior level discussions with the French and other EU colleagues, other friends in the European Union, about lifting restrictions on arms sales to China.
Certainly for the United States, our statutes and regulations prohibit sales of defense items to China. We believe that others should maintain their current arms embargoes as well. We believe that the U.S. and European prohibitions on arms sales are complementary, were imposed for the same reasons, specifically serious human rights abuses, and that those reasons remain valid today.
QUESTION: Still on France, in the past couple of days there are about 20 Falun Gong practitioners were detained in Paris just because they were identified as Falun Gong practitioners. Some of them wear yellow sweaters and some blue scarf with Falun Dafa word on it.
And do you have any information on it, and how many U.S. citizens were among those who were detained?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I don't have any information on that. Sorry.
QUESTION: Would you please check and get back to me?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if there are any U.S. citizens involved where we might have to get involved.
QUESTION: Richard, also with China, they appear to be detaining 54 what they call "dissidents" for expressing their Internet -- or their political opinions using the Internet. And Amnesty International has criticized this.
Are you working in the human rights area with China? Is this one of the --
MR. BOUCHER: We have certainly worked on all these issues, including freedom of expression, whether it's personally or some other way. Internet cases have been of significance to us in the past. We have felt that freedom of expression is essential for a healthy and productive modern society and have always advocated for it in China.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)
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