State Department Noon Briefing, February 10, 2004
|Tuesday February 10,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements so I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Well, might we start off with Pakistan? You made some references yesterday to the U.S. having talked to Pakistan about its concerns. I wonder if we could get back into that, because the story out of Pakistan is that not until October -- I assume that's when Mr. Armitage spoke to them -- did the U.S. present any, you know, reasonable evidence, any hard evidence to back up its concern.
So could you say, could you elaborate a little bit on what you were saying yesterday?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. The problem is, I'm not in a position to go into what we said to the Pakistan Government at different moments, because that gets into what we knew at different times about activity that was going on.
What I would say is that we have had longstanding concerns about proliferation that could come from Pakistan. We've discussed non-proliferation issues with Pakistan repeatedly over a long period of time and it's been an issue of concern to us and to President Musharraf as well.
We have talked to them about the potential for onward proliferation from Pakistan. We have talked to them at different moments about different issues that might have arisen that we might have learned about. So it's not a single moment of information. It's rather an ongoing dialogue that covered both the general concerns that we had about possibilities, and then from time to time, pieces of information that related to different aspects of things that we might have encountered or known were going on.
QUESTION: From what you say, it sounds like it didn't begin last October.
MR. BOUCHER: Certainly, our non-proliferation dialogue with Pakistan goes back much farther than that. Once again, I'd say that Pakistan has taken this matter seriously over time and particularly with regard to the current investigation and what they're doing to make sure that Pakistan is not a source of proliferation. We welcome that progress and will continue to work with Pakistan as Pakistan investigates and also works itself with the international community.
QUESTION: Last thing, if I may. Is there concern that the Khan black market extended beyond the three countries to other countries, that other countries were provided with technology?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, their investigation is still ongoing. I believe they shared some information with the international community, with the International Atomic Energy Agency, but I'm not in a position to describe the results of their investigation until they're -- obviously, they're the ones to do that when it's appropriate.
QUESTION: Richard, just to follow over, to clarify, because I'm not sure I heard you correctly, did you just say, in answer to the previous question, that Pakistan is taking this seriously and has over time, or not? The --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. We've seen, I think, a series of commitments from Pakistan. I refer especially to the ones in October of 2002, when President Musharraf made clear that he did not want Pakistan to be a source of proliferation activity, and then steps such as the current investigation that he has taken to make sure that didn't occur.
QUESTION: Libya. The Libyan Foreign Minister in London today has said that Libyans will go to America to work in the Libyan Interests Section. Can you tell us what the status of the Libyan Interests Section is, and if you share the view that Libyans will be coming over to work at it?
MR. BOUCHER: That was a possibility that was discussed in London in the discussions we had with the Libyans last weekend. I think if you see in the statement that was issued afterwards by Assistant Secretary Burns, and we have copies of that in the Press Office, that the possibility of assigning diplomats to each other's capitals to facilitate this ongoing work was indeed discussed there.
There is no real news on the side of Libya sending people to Washington at this point. We'll see how that develops. We do have people in Tripoli now. We have one officer there temporarily. But I think for the first time now in a long time, we've got an American officer who's been assigned to Tripoli and who was accredited under their protecting power, Belgium. Belgium has maintained an Interests Section for us in Tripoli since 1980, and for the first time during that period, we now have an American working as part of that Interests Section.
U.S. diplomats in Tripoli are there to facilitate the efforts of the U.S. experts on weapons of mass destruction who are assisting Libya in its efforts to eliminate all elements of the nuclear weapons and missile programs. We do expect now to have U.S. diplomats in Tripoli on a regular and ongoing basis as that work proceeds.
As the President said in December when he announced the decision to help Libya destroy its weapons of mass destruction, as the Libyan Government takes these essential steps and demonstrates its seriousness, its good faith will be returned. That's what we're seeing now in terms of stationing people and starting to work together and facilitate the work, and also keep in touch with each other.
QUESTION: Any easing of restrictions?
MR. BOUCHER: Sorry?
QUESTION: Economic restrictions? I say -- things seem to be going the way you'd like them to go. Are you prepared yet to do something about lifting --
MR. BOUCHER: We're looking at various things. And I think, again, if you look at the statement that was issued in London, you'll see that those possibilities of travel, easing travel restrictions or looking at transactions and economic restrictions, those things are being looked at as possibilities. There are no decisions or announcements to make at this stage.
QUESTION: The Foreign Minister made reference to a Libyan Interests Section in Washington, as if it's a reality. I looked on the Diplomatic List and there's no reference to a Libyan Interests Section. Do you know of one?
MR. BOUCHER: Frankly, I'd have to check. I didn't check on what they have.
QUESTION: And the reason I ask about the Libyan statement was issued on Friday, the statement that the Embassy in London was that it was a possibility that Libyans might come to Washington. But now the Libyan Foreign Minister is asserting that they will come, so I wanted to know, has there been a change.
MR. BOUCHER: There is nothing -- no development on that yet, but it's a possibility. I would expect it will happen as part of the ongoing process. We have, as I said, now -- we're going to have people in Tripoli on a regular and ongoing basis, and I expect that sooner or later, probably sooner, the Libyans will have diplomats in Washington.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about what this diplomat in Tripoli, the U.S. diplomat, has the power to do at this point, as the functioning Interests Section? Does the diplomat -- I mean, if there are some private -- well, I guess there aren't any private Americans, but American officials working there. Are there any services that this person would be authorized to provide?
MR. BOUCHER: Our diplomat is there to facilitate the work of our experts who go for the weapons of mass destruction programs for the destruction of', elimination of Libya's weapons of mass destruction program, and generally to keep in contact with the Libyan Government as this whole process progresses.
We have had a -- there is a Belgian Foreign Service National in the Belgium Embassy who has handled emergency services for Americans, for example, in Libya, things like that. Those things would continue to be handled the way they were by the Belgian staff.
We don't issue visas in Tripoli so that -- that question won't -- doesn't arise at this point.
QUESTION: Passport emergencies for one of those Americans, something like that?
MR. BOUCHER: The Belgian --
QUESTION: The Belgians would?
MR. BOUCHER: The Belgian Foreign Service National would handle that for us, the way they have over time.
QUESTION: So this person really isn't a functioning Interests Section at this point, then?
MR. BOUCHER: The person is not a consular section. The person is there to handle the other work that the Interests Section needs to do, and that's facilitating these travel, these meetings, these programs that we have ongoing with Libya.
QUESTION: Are you expecting any -- I know you said yesterday that no exchange of foreign ministers or anything like that. But are you expecting any high-level visits from Libya anytime soon?
MR. BOUCHER: There's nothing particularly that's planned at this point that I know of.
QUESTION: But you're in the -- can you say if you're in the process of discussing such things?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I wouldn't say that. I'm not aware that that's under discussion at this moment.
QUESTION: Haiti, we'll probably hear more later in the day. But --
QUESTION: Sorry. Not done on Libya.
MR. BOUCHER: Libya. Please. Teri.
QUESTION: What about the status of the Libyan -- of our embassy in Libya?
MR. BOUCHER: Our American diplomats who have been in Tripoli have gone by to look at the embassy. I'm not actually sure that they have gone inside. The -- you know, the property that we have in Tripoli has been looked after by the Belgians for these years. It was attacked by a mob in 1979. And so it's not in good shape, both from time and from that event.
We have not yet had a chance to get somebody in there and do a professional assessment of the property and the building, structural engineers and people like that. So I can't really say on whether it's usable for a future embassy or not.
QUESTION: A Libyan diplomat has also been to Washington to look at their facilities. Is that right?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure. I'd have to check on that.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Haiti. Of some 42 people dead, by latest count -- do you -- it's, obviously, a tough situation. Are you expecting some surge of Haitian refugees? Where -- what is the U.S. doing about all this at this point?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't know whether there will be a surge in refugees or not. Certainly, we'll watch that situation closely and try to handle that with the interest of safety of the people involved. But I think you all know our policy on refugees from Haiti, that we don't want to open up the gates or invite people. That's not the solution to Haiti's problems. There is -- violence in Haiti has been terrible recently.
We condemn the violence from all the groups and all the sides that have been perpetrating it. This kind of violence only leads to more violence and retribution and instability for the nation as a whole. There has been all together too much violence in Haiti's history. At this point, we are pushing very hard for an end to violence, for all the parties to take steps to calm the situation and end the violence and to try to see political progress.
The opposition has maintained a stance of peaceful demonstrations and pushing for peaceful democratic change. They've worked with the CARICOM representatives to try to reach agreement. We're encouraging all parties including them and the government to work through that process and to accept the efforts of CARICOM to help reach a political solution.
There needs to be a political solution and that's only going to be gained by dialogue, negotiations and compromise. It's also going to involve some rather thorough going reforms in the way that the government is run out there, the way that Haiti is governed. But in the end, we think that's a solution to calming the situation and ending the climate of violence that has grown up over the past few years and which is seen so horribly in these most recent events.
As far as the situation itself, we understand from press accounts that police have reasserted control over the Port of Saint-Marc. We believe that the city of Gona´ves remains under the control of the armed gangs that seized it on February 5th. The government's attempt to retake Gona´ves over the weekend was repulsed. Perhaps as many as 15 police officers were killed.
There have been attempts to take over government buildings in a dozen or more towns in other parts of Haiti, according to the press, but we haven't been able to confirm that. But we still have no reports of injuries to American citizens. The embassy has issued a Warden Message yesterday to warn Americans about the heightened security risks.
As far as diplomatic efforts, we've been in close touch with other governments. The Secretary spoke this morning with Canadian Foreign Minister Graham about the situation in Haiti. We've been in touch diplomatically with other governments about the situation of Haiti.
This morning, the new Haitian Ambassador presented his credentials to the Secretary, so he came by, and the Secretary used that opportunity to press the Ambassador, and through him the Haitian Government, to accept the efforts of CARICOM and to seek a political solution to the troubles in Haiti.
We think it's vital that the government take steps to end the climate of violence that's been created by these gangs and to reach a political settlement to Haiti's troubles.
QUESTION: To the extent that there are no talks, which side is -- which side is refusing to go to the bargaining table, so to speak?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there are certainly questions about whether the government has accepted the CARICOM proposals, but we think both sides need to focus on reaching a political settlement and maintaining a peaceful dialogue to reach a negotiated solution. So we're trying to get that message to everybody.
QUESTION: Richard, are you suggesting that the people who have taken over these towns are not bona fide opposition, political opposition?
MR. BOUCHER: The political opposition has not been associated directly with these gangs. The origin appears to be in other groups and sometimes groups that in the past were supported by people associated with the government. So the opposition needs to maintain a peaceful stance, needs to continue to disassociate itself from these gangs and the violence, and to continue to seek a peaceful and negotiated solution.
The gangs themselves have, you know, many origins and different members, but I think this whole climate of violence that's been created over time in Haiti has contributed to this kind of outburst that we're seeing now.
QUESTION: Richard, do you have a dollar figure on how much the U.S. has put into Haiti in the last ten years?
MR. BOUCHER: Don't have it handy. I'd have to look for it.
QUESTION: Would you take the question and get that, please?
MR. BOUCHER: Have to look for it. Yeah.
QUESTION: And more substantively, can you talk about whether the Administration is happy, unhappy -- whatever word you want -- with President Aristide?
MR. BOUCHER: Our goal has been to make clear to President Aristide that he needs to take the opportunity to make peace, take the opportunity to reach a political settlement. That was made very, very clear during the meetings that the President and the Secretary had with him as part of the CARICOM group when they met in Monterrey earlier this year. Both the President and the Secretary were very explicit that it's time to take the opportunity and reach a political settlement.
We have continued to convey that message to President Aristide that that's the best thing for his country and that's the best thing for democracy in Haiti as well.
QUESTION: Do you have a position on whether he should stay in office?
MR. BOUCHER: Other than to say that we recognize that reaching a political settlement will require some fairly thorough changes in the way Haiti is governed and how the security situation is maintained. The actual sort of formulas and mechanisms for that would have to be worked out, we hope, through peaceful negotiation using the efforts of CARICOM as a basis.
QUESTION: Is there any diplomacy in relation to China's ban on U.S. poultry that you want to tell us about?
MR. BOUCHER: The bans on poultry we've seen have been announced in different parts of the world, particularly in Asia. We follow this through our Department of Agriculture. They are certainly handling the outbreak here. And we keep in touch with Agriculture with foreign governments to try to get them information.
But I think for more information, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service could probably provide that.
QUESTION: Your reaction to the vote in France today regarding head scarves?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd refer you back to what the Secretary said before on the subject. Clearly, it's a subject that they need to deal with that has a lot to do with their own situation inside France. So I'll just refer you back to what he said. I don't have anything new to say today.
QUESTION: Richard, remember that in December the official in charge of religious freedom here in this building, John Hanford, said that this law was a source of concern for the U.S. So is it still a source of concern or just an internal matter for France to deal with?
MR. BOUCHER: Obviously it's something that we're going to pay attention to because of our fundamental belief in religious freedom and the rights of individuals to practice their religion. But how France implements those sort of basic principles, I think, in the end, has to be something the French have to debate and discuss and decide within their own political system.
QUESTION: Is this an issue that was discussed with Foreign Minister de Villepin and the Secretary this week?
QUESTION: I think he said it didn't come up.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it came up, pretty --
QUESTION: It didn't?
QUESTION: I think he said --
MR. BOUCHER: -- pretty sure it didn't.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Still on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Teri, Barry? Barry, Teri?
QUESTION: On Zarqawi, do you have anything to announce on possibly upping the reward money for --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything to announce at this moment, no.
QUESTION: Just a shot in the dark. Ireland's Ahern has decide -- has opined that Israel's security barrier violates international law. I know there are parts of the project you don't like. And I think Israel is saying they're going to change things, and the court is going to rule, blah, blah, blah. But is there -- is there a judgment here that Israel is violating international law?
MR. BOUCHER: I would return to the sort of, the practical aspects -- the aspects of this barrier that we have raised before. Our concern about is the route. Our concern is that it tries to prejudice the outcome of a negotiated settlement regarding territory. Our concern is that it very specific -- in specific ways, it makes life for many Palestinians very difficult and makes it more difficult to advance towards a solution. So we have raised all those concerns. We have seen these reports in Israel, that they are looking at the question of the routing and of the -- of the barrier. And that's something that we have continued to maintain contact with the Israelis on. And we'll just have to see what they decide to do.
But we do recognize Israel has a right to take measures for its own security. But we have raised these fairly serious concerns and any number of times it's at high levels with the Israeli Government. We'll see to what extent they accommodate that. The U.S. -- as far as a matter of law in the legal cases, I think you know the position we took at the UN, and then at the International Court of Justice, when the effort was made to make it a matter of referral, and then legal opinion from the court.
QUESTION: On the routing, as you know -- well, as we all know, Israel is very aware of the U.S.'s position. But as they explore changing the project, is the U.S. involved in that directly or just saying, "Hey, do it a way that doesn't do this and that", and it's in your hands?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I guess I would say that, both in our public statements and in our private discussions with the Israelis, we've been very explicit in making clear that routing that takes it beyond the Green Line, prejudges borders, confiscates Palestinian property and imposes hardships on the Palestinian people -- I think you'll look back at statements that Dr. Rice has made; she was pretty explicit about that and I think the Secretary has been as well.
So there, I think, it's quite clear that the Israelis understand, know what our concerns are, know what our objections are to various parts of this routing and we'll see to what extent they are taking those into account or making changes.
QUESTION: General topic. The Palestinians now say that they are putting, I think, four suspects on trial for the killing of three U.S. officials last fall. But the U.S. doesn't seem to be happy with that. What are the complaints now that the Palestinians believe that they're sort of acceding to some of your demands?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we're, frankly, deeply concerned about the trial and the way it's been organized and conducted. They've convened a military trial of individuals alleged to have been involved in the October murder of three American security personnel in Gaza. We don't believe that the proceedings that are now underway represent the genuine resolution and application of justice that we seek. We think there needs to be a thorough and genuine investigation which definitively resolves these killings and that brings to justice those who are responsible. We think nothing short of that is really acceptable.
QUESTION: But what are you worried about? Are you worried these aren't the guys, or just that you don't have access to the proceedings?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we're worried about the closed nature of the trials. But more than that, we're worried that they have not conducted a full, thorough and genuine investigation, that they've not necessarily found all the people who may have been involved, and that putting these people on trial in this setting doesn't really resolve the matter. It doesn't settle the issue of who killed the Americans and whether they are being punished.
QUESTION: Are you worried about the way the case is building, which seems to be that they were going after -- whoever did this was -- were going after Israeli tanks, and that somehow collaterally Americans were killed? I thought the American view is that you have evidence that they intended to go after the convoy.
MR. BOUCHER: Certainly, it's hard to mistake an American convoy for an Israeli tank. The point, I think, is that even the allegations that I've seen come out were not that these people were directly responsible or that somehow it happened by accident in connection with planting bombs. We think that it's much more serious than that, it requires a much more serious and thorough investigation, and they need to find the people who were really responsible for killing the Americans and that we need a thorough investigation. We need a genuine trial with genuine justice in this matter.
QUESTION: What is the basis on which we say there has been no thorough investigation? Have they shared any details of the investigation with us that we find ourselves unimpressed with?
MR. BOUCHER: I think they have talked to us from time to time about what they were doing. We've also seen a lot of these published reports about what was going on, what these people had been involved in. We just have not seen -- I guess is the way I'd put it -- we have not seen the kind of genuine and thorough investigation conducted in this matter the way we would expect it to be.
QUESTION: Are you worried that this is not -- just not a good start, but that they might put away these four people and then act like this is it, and you're concerned that that's not it? Or do you think --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, what -- that's why we make the point that, you know, whatever these people were up to in that area with bombs, we don't think this resolves the matter, we don't think that this trial will result in bringing to justice the people who are really responsible, and that it doesn't settle the issue.
QUESTION: You don't suspect there's going to be a revolving door here again? You know, put somebody in -- lock someone up for a couple of days and then quietly let him go?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know about that. But certainly, a real trial, open trial and clear punishment would be what we would expect in this matter.
QUESTION: So to clarify, is it that the United States thinks these four people were not involved and the wrong people have been caught, or is it that they think those are four of a whole group of people who were involved and there's only four?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure we're in a position to make a final judgment on that matter. It appears, however, that if these four people were, indeed, involved in some way in bomb-making in this area, that they have not investigated to the point and brought out, brought to light the facts to the point where everyone would be satisfied that they, in fact, have found the real culprits in this and that they are -- if these individuals were involved to the extent, only to the extent that's been reported, then there must be others who were more directly involved in the killing of the Americans.
QUESTION: Is there any sign the Palestinians have listened to this and are going to make any changes, or do they seem like the trial is already getting sufficiently underway, that this is what they're going to do?
MR. BOUCHER: You'll have to ask them. Don't know.
QUESTION: To what extent have U.S. officials or security services been involved with helping the Palestinians investigate this, if any?
MR. BOUCHER: It's been a Palestinian investigation to the extent it's been conducted. Obviously, we are interested in information we might develop about this. But I'm not aware that there's been any kind of joint investigation, for example.
QUESTION: While your statements are very appreciated in the Middle East about the illegality of building the wall on Palestinian lands, the people in the Middle East are not seeing equal influential leverage that the United States is using with Israel that would equal the statements that you are giving from the podium. I mean, there is not enough action -- that's what is, you know, the talk has been the last 24 hours in the Arab media, that why the United States say -- while it is expressing its objection to the building of the wall on Palestinian lands, it is not using its leverage with the Israelis good enough to stop this. I mean, this has been going on for many, many months, but no change in the attitude of the Israelis.
MR. BOUCHER: I mean, I guess every day we can stand here and sort of argue about the commentary that's being made, but I would point out to people who might say that or might write that in the newspaper that this has been an issue that the United States has raised repeatedly for months, that the President of the United States has raised it, that Dr. Rice has raised it. We have had direct discussions with Israeli delegations. Our Embassy has had many direct discussions with Israeli officials about the wall, about the fence -- whatever we call it -- the barrier, and the route and what it was doing to Palestinians.
We've got deeply involved in this issue at very, very senior levels, and that we are seeing, at least in the press, we're seeing some signs that the Israelis are indeed reconsidering the route. Whether they will resolve the problem to our satisfaction or to the satisfaction of the Palestinians whose lives are disrupted by this, I can't really predict and I'm not sure I would predict that. But at least it appears that they are taking into account these objections and issues that we have raised repeatedly over time and that we are starting to see on their part announcements that the route will indeed be changed.
So I think we're having some effect on the situation, is the way I'd put it. That's what --
QUESTION: Is the --
MR. BOUCHER: That's what we're actually seeing now is that these many months of discussing this issue seem to be producing some change in the situation. How far it will go, we'll see.
QUESTION: Lastly, reducing, sir, statements that seem to be a tactic to slowing down -- in order to slow down objections, your objections or --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'd --
QUESTION: -- world opinion objections.
MR. BOUCHER: Let's -- we have not dropped our objections, and I restated them again today and we have restated them repeatedly in private. So whether the Israelis come through on some of these statements that they have made, I suppose time will tell.
QUESTION: Anything to say on Rybkin in Russia?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Rybkin? (Inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: Or is it Rybkin, Jr., that we're dealing with here?
QUESTION: It's a very serious matter.
MR. BOUCHER: It's a very serious matter. I don't really -- we've been following the day's wire reports. We don't really have any independent information to confirm, although everybody is reporting now that he was in Kiev and he didn't know that he was missing. So we'll, I think, leave it to him and them to report what the situation is.
QUESTION: Sorry, just one more on Sudan.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on a planned trip by the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs?
MR. BOUCHER: Our Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Charles Snyder is on his way out to Sudan now, where he'll be meeting with all the parties and discussing particularly the resumption of talks that's due to take place on the 17th. He'll also, I am sure, discuss a wide range of issues with the government.
I would also point out that we have also people in the region -- Ambassador Ranneberger, who heads the Sudan Program Group is also en route to Khartoum and Darfur, along with the USAID Assistant Administrator Winter. They are talking to the Sudanese Government, pressing the Sudanese Government on the situation in Darfur and pushing for a humanitarian ceasefire, access for assistance, so that we can try to help the people who have been displaced and harmed with the fighting in Darfur.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.)
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