State Department Noon Briefing, February 17, 2004
|Tuesday February 17,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2004
12:45 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements or announcements, so I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thank you. Could we pick up on Iraq, get into it a little more deeply? The Secretary referred to wanting to hear from Brahimi. Do you know when that might be? There are stories out of the UN now that they expect to, you know, have something to say by the end of the week. Is he getting any -- has he talked to Annan?
But basically, what I'm going at, if very slowly here, is whether it's the UN that is now in control of what's going to happen in Iraq, or it's the U.S. And if it's the U.S., how can it proceed if the Governing Council is beginning to -- what's the word? -- reject the very plan it agreed to in November?
So, I mean, to me, it looks a little chaotic, but maybe I've read an exciting news story. I don't know.
MR. BOUCHER: I think you're the victim of reading exciting news stories, Barry.
Some of the things you talk about may or may not come to pass. But the point is, as the Secretary has said, as he said again today, we're looking to hear from the United Nations. We have always said that we think UN views on these matters are important. We think -- we go back to having put the words "unique expertise" into the last Security Council resolution because we think the UN does bring to bear a particular UN expertise, including Mr. Brahimi's expertise. So we look forward to seeing what he had to say.
Now, he went out and talked to a variety of Iraqis, people in the Governing Council, other members of Iraqi society, people in the Coalition Authority as well, about how to reconcile these various goals that we all share: the goal of transferring sovereignty to the Iraqi people at an early date; the goal of having a full, free and fair election for the Iraqi people to choose their government and their leaders; the goal of having a new Iraqi constitution.
The November 15th plan is a plan that we put together to accomplish those goals, but we always said we think the UN can bring us ideas, refinements, modifications, whatever, to help make that plan more implemental -- more -- easier to implement, and to try to help accomplish those goals.
So we are at the point now we are waiting to hear, looking forward to hearing, from the United Nations on the talks that they had. I don't know where physically Mr. Brahimi is right now, but I understand his first obligation is to report to the Secretary General. So we would expect to hear from the Secretary General when he has formulated his ideas, and I think that's what he said in New York.
So before we jump to conclusions about what he's going to report and what comes after and how it's going to be modified and what this is going to be, how that's going to be, let's give him a chance to formulate his ideas, talk to the Secretary General, and we and other members of the Security Council, I expect, will be hearing from him.
As far as whether the Secretary has been in touch with the Secretary General, indeed he had, but I'd have to say most of their recent conversations were about Cyprus, and the subject of Iraq came up merely in terms of we look forward to hearing.
QUESTION: Have you heard from, or have our people there, Mr. Bremer, whatever, heard from the Governing Council that they -- that several -- heard from several of them that they no longer think the caucus plan is feasible?
MR. BOUCHER: I think they're aware that there are a variety of views in the Governing Council. But as the Secretary said today, I think the Governing Council is also looking forward to hearing what the UN has to report.
We've taken this step by step. We've laid it out for you in advance that the UN was going to go out there, was going to talk to a lot of people, was going to come back, and we looked forward to hearing what they had to say. So before we even prejudice their conclusions and outcomes, let's see what they have to say.
QUESTION: You're not getting any interim reports from him?
MR. BOUCHER: As Mr. Brahimi said, he felt his first obligation was to report to the Secretary General.
QUESTION: Can we go to Haiti?
MR. BOUCHER: On this?
QUESTION: Richard, there's a report that Paul Bremer says no to an Islamic government after July 30th, and -- or June 30th, rather. Is that --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have the exact -- I don't know about that. I think those are -- that was a report about a particular piece of legislation that might be considered.
Certainly, in respect to the transitional administrative law, that process is underway and it's under discussion in Iraq, in fact, with the Governing Council. But what kind of law they should produce to govern this process of transition, obviously it will be affected by the views of the United Nations about how this process can work.
But no, that's kind of things that are taking place on the ground, so I don't -- I'm not in a position to speculate on what might emerge and what Ambassador Bremer's views might be of that.
QUESTION: Can I go back to -- before we switch to Haiti? Could we do the drill very briefly? It's almost necessary. You're holding to July 1, are you?
MR. BOUCHER: We want to make the transition on July 1, yes.
QUESTION: Are you holding to the plan, as of the moment?
MR. BOUCHER: We still -- as -- to quote the Secretary, we still believe June 30th is the appropriate time to have a transition to an interim government of the people of Iraq.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, we believe the November 15th outline and the June 30th date are important. And how exactly we get there, we've said we're willing to hear refinements, modifications, discussion of the caucuses idea. But we think the basic structure is something important for us to try to meet.
Okay. Are we on this or we change the topic?
QUESTION: Change topic.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Let's do Haiti first, then. He had first dibs.
QUESTION: The Secretary talked about people going from the United States, the OAS and international organizations to try and see how they can deal with the humanitarian crisis in Haiti. What are the people from the United States? Are these officials, private groups? What?
MR. BOUCHER: We have a USAID disaster assistance team down in Haiti. The United Nations, I think the UN Development Program, has people down there now. There are some OAS people down there. So there have been a variety of people interested in the humanitarian situation, who are in Haiti, looking at what the international community can do.
We're -- have particular concerns about the humanitarian situation and the distribution of medicine, food and fuel. In fact, we believe there are sufficient quantities of food on the -- in the country. The challenge is ensuring their delivery to the people who need them. So there, we have experts down looking at that situation right now.
QUESTION: Are they making plans to try to improve distribution or to send U.S. teams to do that?
MR. BOUCHER: They will look at the situation and come up with plans on how to take care of the needy, but don't have any specifics on how that can be done right now.
QUESTION: Do you know how many? Just the last question on --
MR. BOUCHER: Don't know exactly how many, I'm afraid.
Yeah. On this?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Has the United States been in communication with France about its -- the possibility of France's sending peacekeeping forces? And what has the substance of that communication been, if so?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we're certainly in touch with France. The Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister de Villepin this morning about Haiti. As you know, they have discussed -- they discussed the situation in Haiti at their lunch in New York, a week ago, Friday.
A week ago, Friday, right? Yeah.
And so they are continuing to keep in close touch on this. If you remember, when the Secretary came out with Foreign Minister Graham and the CARICOM group last Friday, they mentioned the interest of the Francophonie, the French-speaking countries, had in this situation in Haiti, and how we welcome that interest and would keep working with them.
I think Foreign Minister de Villepin is meeting with Foreign Minister Gadio of Senegal today, and they expect to discuss this some more.
So as we continue to work the issue, we're trying to keep in close touch with the French and French-speaking nations. We think it's important for everybody -- France, European Union members, other governments -- to engage leadership of Haiti on both political and humanitarian issues. So we've welcomed France's role, effort to play a constructive role in this crisis.
France has been a member of the "Friends of Haiti" group, which includes 14 countries including the United States. France also has a permanent observer at the OAS, so they've been involved from that side of things, too.
QUESTION: Richard, just organizationally, you mentioned a USAID team, the UN team and an OAS team. Are they coor -- how are they coordinating? Who's in charge? Are they all under one or are they doing their own thing?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure they are coordinate. We always do in these sorts of situations. I'm not sure that one is in charge of the others. I'd have to check on that.
QUESTION: The UNHCR is warning of a massive exodus, potential massive exodus from Haiti. And I guess they're talking to both American officials and also Cuban authorities. What provisions, if any, is the U.S. making to deal with that, to cope with that --
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've been monitoring the situation closely. We certainly watch very carefully what's going on in Haiti itself and in the region. The most important provision is try to be peace and calm to the situation in Haiti and to try to give people the sustenance, the humanitarian -- meet their humanitarian needs in their own country so they don't feel pressured to leave.
But we've also, I think, had other provisions out there to make sure that we can intercept people who might try to leave, make sure that we don't have a repeat of the situation before when people left in boats and died at sea.
QUESTION: So the intention would still be to repatriate, and not to bring people, for example, to Guantanamo?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particulars on the arrangements, but the goal is to keep people safe and prevent them from facing tragedy on the high seas.
QUESTION: What is the U.S. understanding of the French proposal in Haiti? Did it come as a bit of a surprise when they seemed to be suggesting that they would send troops and their (inaudible) -- Secretary Powell seems to be resisting that idea.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure the French have actually made a formal proposal to anybody. The French have talked about, as we have, as we did with CARICOM and others on Friday, is providing some sort of security presence, if that would be helpful in achieving the goals of the CARICOM plan. But as far as we understand it, they're firmly behind the CARICOM plan and we're all looking for how we can help implement it.
QUESTION: Did they discuss it with the Secretary?
MR. BOUCHER: CARICOM, yeah.
QUESTION: No, security. The French putting --
MR. BOUCHER: They discussed the security situation. He didn't make any kind of formal offer to send people or anything like that.
QUESTION: So we -- it would be going to far to be saying the Secretary endorsed, the Secretary agreed? They discussed, but it --
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't even say they discussed. They have discussed the situation in Haiti.
QUESTION: Yeah, I gotcha.
MR. BOUCHER: They discussed the need for everybody to implement the CARICOM plan. They discussed the need for the government, for Mr. Aristide, in particular -- President Aristide in particular -- to live up to his commitments to the CARICOM plan. And they discussed the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Haiti and our common desire to see progress towards a political solution and a resolution of the conflict there in order to calm down the situation.
We're all very concerned about the deterioration in the security situation, but at this moment, I don't think anybody's put forward a plan to intervene.
QUESTION: So you're -- so the -- so just to be clear, you're concerned about the deterioration of the situation but there's no steps that anybody can take on the outside, the international community, to stop the violence? I mean, you want to, the police, you want this augmented police presence once the violence is already stopped?
MR. BOUCHER: The discussion of an augmented police presence was in order to keep calm and order. There are things the parties need to do to help restore calm and order. The first is to move towards political resolution. The second is to take a responsibility vis-à-vis the policing. And all the parties, the government and the opposition, are trying to calm the situation with the people who have turned to violence.
QUESTION: Richard, if I could follow up.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Secretary said earlier that the U.S. and the rest of its partners are committed to working towards a solution that doesn't involve removing Aristide by force. As opposition to Aristide in the country continues to grow, is it the position of the U.S. that perhaps Aristide should step down to eliminate some of these --
MR. BOUCHER: That's not our position. We have said what President Aristide needs to do is to comply with the CARICOM proposals, is to implement fully the commitments that he's already made with regard to the CARICOM proposals, to take his constitutional responsibility and authority seriously in terms of being President for all Haitians and for ending any support for violent acts by groups that seek to divide Haiti.
The opposition has a responsibility as well to implement their commitments, their responsibilities under those proposals.
QUESTION: If I could follow up, one more on the -- Mr. de Villepin. Did the Secretary call him because he was trying to clarify his earlier remarks, which were a little opaque?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary called him because, a week ago Friday, they promised to keep in touch on Haiti and that they wanted to keep discussing the issue because they've both been concerned about the situation in Haiti. I don't think there was any particular reference to specific remarks.
QUESTION: In terms of keeping in touch, has any U.S. official spoken with President Aristide in the last two weeks?
MR. BOUCHER: It's an arbitrary period of time.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, it is. So if you want to redefine it, that's fine. But, I mean -- I tried last week to find out and --
MR. BOUCHER: I think Ambassador Foley talked to President Aristide at the end of January, but he's -- certainly, Ambassador Foley and his Emassy have kept in close touch with the Haitian Government at all levels. They have been certainly in touch with the Foreign Ministry, with people in other parts of the government who are important. I think there is no question but that President Aristide understands clearly our views and the views of the international community on these matters.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) question on South Asia.
MR. BOUCHER: No. We're going to finish with Haiti first. George.
QUESTION: Were you asked about refugees?
MR. BOUCHER: Sort of indirectly sideways, and I answered it in the same fashion.
QUESTION: The UN agency for refugees, High Commissioner for Refugees --
MR. BOUCHER: That's the question that I was asked, yeah.
QUESTION: All right. They say they've been in touch with this building --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, we've certainly been in touch with people. We're concerned about a possible outflow. But we're monitoring that situation closely. And as I said, the solution is to calm things down in Haiti and make sure people get what they need to stay there.
QUESTION: But Richard, last week the Secretary said that while you were concerned about it and you were watching it, it didn't look as if a mass exodus was in the making. Is that still --
MR. BOUCHER: That's still the situation today. Yep.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) from your tone that there's no evidence of a boat-building frenzy in Haiti? That was asked?
MR. BOUCHER: That's what she just said.
QUESTION: I didn't hear her mention the word "boats."
MR. BOUCHER: She didn't mention boats, but preparations for a mass (inaudible). No, there's no -- at this point, there's no signs of that. But we do follow this very closely and make sure that we're prepared, should something happen.
QUESTION: I'm not sure I understand the idea of the augmented police force. Has -- who would that be comprised of, if it happened?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, it would have to be comprised of a number of nations, probably. I think the Canadians have been fairly explicit in saying they might contribute to such a force. I'm not sure any others have, although the French have talked about being willing to help with security in some fashion.
So the -- I think the goal would be to have some, not necessarily a large number, of foreign police go down and try to help keep order, help the police live up to their professional responsibilities, whether it's through training or some sort of presence down there with them.
But at this point, it really is sort of a slightly later stage of the game trying to get the parties to meet their commitments, meet their responsibilities and calm the situation; and then I think there would be a variety of countries that would be willing to assist by helping the police maintain order.
QUESTION: Richard, can you verify something the Secretary said in response to Saul's question, which was whether there was any consideration of U.S. police or forces? The first word out of the Secretary's mouth was "no." It wasn't clear to me whether he was actually ruling out that specific idea of U.S. police going.
MR. BOUCHER: The question was, "Is the United States considering sending its own police or other forces to quell the violence?"
MR. BOUCHER: "To quell the violence." The Secretary's answer was, "No."
QUESTION: So it's possible that they might go, as part of a later stage?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't want to speculate at this point. But he was asked whether its -- our own police or other forces would go to quell the violence, and his answer was no, and then he went on to explain that we had a discussion about sending police to sustain a political settlement, not to go in and put down the current violence.
QUESTION: Then you don't want to say whether it's possible that American forces might go, as part of that second --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to speculate at this point.. I think it's a little too early for us to be able to answer that question in one way or the other.
Yeah. Okay. Sir.
QUESTION: South Asia?
QUESTION: Following up on the discussion on Haiti --
MR. BOUCHER: One more.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- is there an increased presence of coast guards? Are we increasing the number of Coast Guard boats?
MR. BOUCHER: I think you'd have to check with the Coast Guard and see what they can confirm on that.
QUESTION: Starting with Nepal. Richard, tens of thousands of people are still demonstrating against the King in Nepal, and they're not still ready to accept him as their leader or king. What do you think the U.S. is in touch with the Government of Nepal, or what's happening, how this situation will continue along?
MR. BOUCHER: Our Embassy certainly monitors this situation very carefully, and has been monitoring both from a political point of view and how it might affect Americans. And so we have a travel -- I think we have travel advice out. I can't remember exactly the nature of it.
And as far as where the situation will lead, I wouldn't speculate at this point.
QUESTION: And on Sri Lanka, I understand there was some kind of delegation here from Sri Lanka, and also they're having now some elections. And what role U.S. is playing, as far as the peace process and the elections in Sri Lanka?
MR. BOUCHER: We're having a meeting today that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage invited representatives of three other co-chairs of the Tokyo Donors Conference to the other co-chairs of the European Union, Japan and Norway. They're coming to Washington to join us in reviewing the status of the peace process to end the 20 years of conflict in Sri Lanka, and also to look at the impact of donor assistance that we've provided to that country. So it's a meeting of the donors, the co-chairs of the donors conference, who are coming today to Washington.
QUESTION: On Pakistan, the story of nuclear technology transfer still on the front pages all over the globe, including in Pakistan. What one story in Pakistan is saying that A.Q. Khan had told the newspaper -- newspapers there that General Musharraf and the military government knew all about his activities. And also, at the same time, General Musharraf had said that Secretary Powell knew for the last three years, but they never gave any proofs or evidence.
How -- when the Secretary knew about this transfer of technology, or did he never knew really?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I can't really go too far into that because the transfer of nuclear technologies around the world is something that we follow very, very closely using our intelligence. And so what we knew and when we knew it, I can't really go into, because that would indicate how we -- the kind of intelligence that we've been able to collect on the matter.
I would say that we have been certainly concerned about activities, possible leakage of Pakistan's nuclear secrets. As you know, we've had an ongoing dialogue with Pakistan, underscoring the importance for Pakistan of safeguarding its nuclear materials and technologies, to make sure they remain under the tight control of their national command authority. We have been in regular touch with the Pakistani Government for a long time about the need to make sure there wasn't any proliferating activity.
And you'll remember, almost a year and a half -- a little more than a year and a half ago, in October of 2002, when the Secretary had a series of discussions with President Musharraf about proliferation and some of the things that might have been going on then with regard to other proliferating activities, where he was able to say at that time that President Musharraf had made a commitment not to allow Pakistan to become involved in proliferating activities. We have repeated and said we value that commitment and we've had an ongoing dialogue with the Pakistani Government since even before then, but especially since then, to assist the Pakistani Government, making sure that it was upholding that commitment that the Pakistani President had made.
So it's in that context that we've had various discussions of nonproliferation over time with the Government of Pakistan, including some discussions of the activities of Mr. A.Q. Khan.
QUESTION: But the commitment and the pledge was never kept. They broke it. They didn't --
MR. BOUCHER: I -- we have said that we think the investigation that is going on now indicates, in fact, how seriously they take that commitment, and how the Government of Pakistan is going to try to ensure that it is not engaged in any proliferating behavior and ensure that nobody in Pakistan is doing that.
QUESTION: Richard, one more --
QUESTION: There were some reports over the weekend that some of the designs, which you've already traced to Libya from the Pakistanis, originated in China and that this network, this Pakistani network, resold them. Do you have anything on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't. I wouldn't be able to go into that question of nuclear designs.
QUESTION: One more on Pakistan?
MR. BOUCHER: Yep.
QUESTION: Can you, Richard, clarify that Secretary of State is supposed to visit Pakistan sometime during this month? And also, at the same time, he had asked the Pakistanis to provide, just like Libyans did to the U.S., where and how much they had and where they sold and how much they knew, and also, at the same time, Musharraf's involvement that he must come out with, truthfully, what he pledged to him in 2002?
MR. BOUCHER: The first question was about --
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, visit. I knew there was one up there that I forgot. Now I've forgotten the third one, but it's just too many pieces of information for my brain to hold.
The Secretary looks forward to visiting Pakistan sometime, but there's no plan or no date set. So just no way to promise that at any particular point now, but he certainly looks forward to traveling to that region again and to visiting Pakistan again.
As far as sharing of information, the Secretary himself has told you, I think, in various moments, including outside the Department but also during his testimony, that we look forward to hearing from the Pakistani Government about the facts as they have developed them during the course of their investigation. That's important to us, for all of us in the international community, to be able to track down this network and see where it leads and make sure we can follow up and root out the network wherever it exists.
So that's important. I think we've welcomed the fact that Pakistan has had some conversations already with the International Atomic Energy Agency and we look forward to continuing to hear from Pakistan about these matters as it's developing through its investigation.
QUESTION: And one more Pakistan -- sorry. What are the views, the Secretary's views, as far as sanctions against Pakistan are concerned, because of these -- now the reports are coming that they -- it has gone beyond Secretary's even thinking that internationally it has been transport in many, many countries? And I read the reports are coming.
MR. BOUCHER: I would not speculate on that at this point. I think first we need to see what happened and what the actions of the Pakistani Government would be, and I couldn't speculate at this moment.
MR. BOUCHER: Why don't we do something else for a while? There's a patient gentleman back there.
QUESTION: A little bit of Middle East, which is not like (inaudible). I just have two questions, actually, first about the reported visit by the delegation to Israel, Mr. Burns, Elliott Abrams and Steven Hadley. I mean, I just wonder if you have a confirmation of that visit in schedule?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs William J. Burns, along with Elliott Abrams and Mr. Steven Hadley of the National Security Council, will depart tonight for Jerusalem for consultations with Israelis and Palestinians on ways to move forward towards the realization of the President's June 24th vision.
The Secretary said in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "What we have to do is get started down phase one of that roadmap, and that begins with ending terror. Once you end terror and get the parties moving forward, then there are all sorts of ideas for phase two and phase three to bring into being a Palestinian state with interim features associated with it, and then ultimately to get to a final Palestinian state living side by side with Israel."
So they will be discussing that general process of how to get going on the roadmap, how to get movement, particularly how to end the violence and terror, and for all the parties to live up to their obligations under the roadmap.
I'm sure they'll also be hearing from the Israelis about the announcements that the Israelis have made concerning Gaza, concerning withdrawing settlements. They'll be listening to what the Israelis have to say, asking questions such as those the Secretary pointed out in testimony last week, to try to understand better what the Israelis have in mind.
QUESTION: Richard, some people have been saying that going to Israel right now and discussing the Gaza proposals by Sharon means some sort of giving up the roadmap, which has been approved by the President. So --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that's why I took pains to start out by reciting for you the importance of the roadmap because the goal is to make real progress, real progress on the ground that makes Israelis safer, that gives Palestinians back their normal lives, and that reduces some of the hardship that both communities have suffered.
And so it's very important to us to keep moving, to keep the focus on making progress on the roadmap. That requires an end to violence and terror. There will certainly be a lot of pressure on the Palestinians, a lot of effort to get the Palestinians to live up to their commitments in that regard. But we're -- they're also going to make clear that by adopting the roadmap and supporting the roadmap, as the Israelis have done, as the Palestinians have done, both sides have taken on obligations and we want to see them both move forward.
QUESTION: Pulling back from Gaza settlements and implementation of the roadmap, do you see it this way? Pulling out from Gaza is not stated in the roadmap steps. It's like more steps from both sides going at the same time. There's nothing about particularly starting with Gaza.
MR. BOUCHER: No. But I don't think anybody's going to object if Israel takes, you know, steps like that to reduce tensions.
Certainly it -- withdrawal of settlements from Gaza would, indeed, reduce the friction between the two communities, give the Palestinians more control over an area that is theirs, and help move the process forward. So we want to understand those announcements and statements better, but we also want to see parties living up to their various obligations in addition.
Under the roadmap there is an obligation undertaken on the Israeli side to end settlement activity. The commitments the Israeli Government has made publicly and to the President at Aqaba were to dismantle the outposts and take other steps to curb settlement activity, so we're still looking for them to carry out those obligations, as well.
QUESTION: How concerned are you that Hamas could increase its presence inside Gaza if these -- if this evacuation does, indeed, take place?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't want to speculate at this point, but it gets to the fundamental question of the importance of the Palestinian Authority taking responsibility for security in those areas whether the Israelis are there or not.
The key to this situation, as we've said, is for the Palestinians to move to end violence and terror. That requires a government that has control of the security apparatus and is really ready to take some responsibility as a government. You can't build a state without a government that has control of its own resources.
And so if we're all moving towards the achievement of a Palestinian state that can live in peace and side by side with Israel, that state has to someday start living up to its responsibilities as the institutions of a future state.
QUESTION: Yes. Do they have any plans to go elsewhere in the region, to meet with Palestinian officials, or --
MR. BOUCHER: They will be seeing Israelis and Palestinians, but I don't have an exact itinerary for them at this moment.
QUESTION: Whom? I mean, the Palestinians -- do you know who?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, no. I don't have any particular itinerary --
QUESTION: Just officials?
MR. BOUCHER: There's -- I don't know who, exactly, they'll be meeting with. I can think of one gentleman they won't be meeting with, though, if that's the question.
QUESTION: Have you gotten any assurances from the Israelis, or are you looking for any, that this kind of withdrawal would be coordinated so that, you know, the Palestinians should or would take any extra steps to secure Gaza once the Israeli forces are gone?
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, let's not jump too far down the road to something that hasn't been done. It's important to remember that both sides have obligations and that the roadmap itself is a coordinated process, and there needs to be some focus on that and some focus on moving down that road, moving together on the kinds of steps that can improve the situation for Israelis and Palestinians, alike.
The Israelis, when they've talked about their ideas on Gaza, have stressed, as I think I saw the Israeli Ambassador do the other day in public, and as Deputy Prime Minister Olmert did here, they have stressed that this would be part of eventually reaching a negotiated solution, that they maintain their commitment to the roadmap; they've felt that a step like this could ease progress on the roadmap and on the whole process of negotiation, and therefore they thought it fell within that context.
QUESTION: When is Sharon coming here?
MR. BOUCHER: Don't have anything on that. That'd be a White House announcement, anyway, if that were to happen.
Okay, let's see. We had --
QUESTION: On India. Richard --
MR. BOUCHER: Back up? Let's, let's come back, okay?
QUESTION: That's okay.
QUESTION: Richard, there's an announcement out of Germany that in a meeting that Foreign Minister Qureia has had with the Germans that he's very close to resigning. And is part of your team going to Israel and, I guess, Palestinian areas also to maybe dissuade the Foreign Minister --
MR. BOUCHER: We're not going out there to play Palestinian politics. We certainly want to talk to the Palestinians, hear what's going on, hear what this government is doing and what it can accomplish, particularly in the area of security and ending violence. But as far as possible, you know, political changes on the Palestinian side -- no, I wouldn't want to speculate on that. That's for them to decide.
QUESTION: There are also reports that he's very much dismayed on the financial areas and has had arguments with Chairman Arafat.
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, I'd leave that to the Palestinians to explain.
QUESTION: Richard, now India has a new U.S. Ambassador after his letter and confirmation and all that. And India is also going to have early elections. So what sort of a role Ambassador will play and are carry -- and what message he's carrying --
MR. BOUCHER: In the elections? No.
QUESTION: No, no, no. Not in the elections. But what I'm saying is now, since he is the newly appointed Ambassador to India, what kind of message he's carrying from the Secretary? As far as India-U.S. relations are concerned, what role he's going to play now because of -- he doesn't have much experience in foreign policy and international relations?
MR. BOUCHER: He's got a lot of international experience. I've seen him in a variety of places overseas. I can assure you that he understands the international scene quite as well as anybody does.
The -- I don't know of any particular message that he's carrying on behalf of the Secretary, but he certainly knows clearly of the importance that the Secretary attaches to the U.S.-India relationship.
The Secretary has worked very long and hard to help make progress in our relationships with India as well as in our relationship with Pakistan. We have developed a series of approaches to our relationship with India that I think have led to any number of new projects in areas where we're now working together, be it on regional issues, on economics or on science and technology issues, where several years ago we had not much to speak of.
So he comes, he brings that knowledge of the importance the Secretary attaches to it. I think, also, at this juncture, the effort that the United States has made to be supportive of the steps that India and Pakistan are starting to take with each other -- the dialogue that they have started now, with a comprehensive dialogue in Islamabad between their Foreign Secretaries. So we've been very supportive of that.
If you remember where we were a couple of years back, when everybody looked at the region and said, "This place is falling into the horrors of nuclear holocaust," to look at where we are now through the efforts of the two -- the leaders of the two nations, but also, I think, through the supportive role that the United States has tried to play in encouraging this kind of progress and bringing it out of the depths of those -- you know, the springtime into a new springtime now to look at the possibilities of cooperation.
QUESTION: Are you going to use his corporate experience? Because now a big issue is transfer of jobs from the United States to India. It's a big issue now in the media, CNN and all. And are there any kind of discussions about this problem?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm -- again, I think I'll leave it to the Ambassador to get his feet on the ground now and see what he wants to say about these issues of economic cooperation between the U.S. and India. Okay?
QUESTION: I have something on proliferation. Do you have anything more after Secretary Bolton's visit to Beijing about the PSI effort that China disagreed to join?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the first thing to note is that Under Secretary Bolton had some good discussions with China on nonproliferation, on the Proliferation Security Initiative and on a number of regional questions, including North Korea, Iran and Libya. He was there on Monday as part of the ongoing U.S.-China security dialogue, and he had meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui.
We think China shares our concerns about weapons of mass destruction and their delivery means. China understands the need for action. China also shares the nonproliferation principles and objectives of the countries that are participating in the Proliferation Security Initiative.
Under Secretary Bolton and Vice Foreign Minister Zhang agreed to continue the U.S. and China's dialogue on the Proliferation Security Initiative. And Under Secretary Bolton indicated that we stand ready to enhance our cooperation on measures against proliferation in general.
The Under Secretary is now in Tokyo, where he'll have two days of meetings and return to Washington on Friday.
QUESTION: You raised some legal questions about PSI. Is that an issue? Or what is the importance? Why should China join this? Why can't you convince them?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think, first of all, in a broad sense, it's important for China to be taking steps to end proliferation generally. China has certain technologies that we all know of, and we welcome the steps that China has taken in the past five years or so to make sure that they would only -- for example, in 1997, they decided only to provide nuclear assistance to facilities that are under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. In 2000, they decided not to assist any country in any way with nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
So we've had an ongoing dialogue with China about how they can tighten their export controls, tighten their systems of controls to make sure that Chinese companies or individuals don't get involved in that kind of trade.
So, generally, I think we have seen progress by China. We're always encouraging more progress by China in meeting international proliferation standards and goals. And, therefore, we found China very interested in the Proliferation Security Initiative.
Certainly, there are legal issues involved. The participants themselves have discussed these legal issues and believe that we have a strong legal basis for the actions that we intend to take. But as other countries get interested, and they're interested in the dialogue with us about the initiative, certainly we would expect them to explore these issues as well.
QUESTION: One thing.
MR. BOUCHER: One last thing.
QUESTION: On Korea.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Next week's meeting. China sort of left the meeting open on the duration of it. Why is that? Does that mean if you don't go along with the North Koreans very well and you just leave within one day or something?
MR. BOUCHER: (Laughter.) Well, I suppose you could look at it half full or half empty; you know, if things go swimmingly, we might stay forever. But I wouldn't speculate one way or the other.
I think the point is to try to make real progress in Beijing. We have made clear that the United States looks to see a verifiable and irreversible end to North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, and that we're willing to discuss multilateral security assurances in that context.
Assistant Secretary Jim Kelly gave a speech Friday night -- we have copies on the website -- where he outlined the issues that are involved for us. He went through, I think, in some detail, the positions of the United States and the considerations of the United States, as we go into these talks. So we're looking forward to the next round.
He and his delegation will be stopping in Seoul on the way out. They'll meet on February 23rd with their South Korean and Japanese counterparts, the Japanese and South Korean delegations to the six-party talks. This will be an informal trilateral consultation in advance of the talks in Beijing, and then we look forward to the talks opening in Beijing on February 25th.
George, you had one, too?
QUESTION: Well, you stopped just short of saying it's legal problems that are inhibiting China from joining the PSI. Did you mean so?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to try to characterize the Chinese attitude towards proliferation security. They're certainly interested. They've certainly been interested in maintaining a dialogue with us on this particular aspect, as well as on other nonproliferation issues. But where exactly they -- what exactly they think about Proliferation Security Initiative, about the prospect of their joining or not joining, I'd leave to the Chinese to explain.
Yeah. We've got a whole bunch. Sir.
QUESTION: Different topic, on Tunisia. The Tunisian President is visiting, and he met with Secretary Powell, is meeting tomorrow with President Bush. To what extent of the Tunisian much criticized record on human rights and freedom of the press is being discussed in these talks?
MR. BOUCHER: Issues of human rights and freedom are always discussed in our meetings with foreign leaders. We have been strong advocates for systems that are open, that provide opportunity to their own -- to people, and that respect the rule of law and basic human rights.
The Secretary had a good meeting this morning with the Tunisian President. He talked about it a little bit, as he came out. We can get you the transcript of what he said. But I think he made clear, and we always make clear, there are some things that the Tunisian Government has done to open up its society and to allow more opportunity -- to respect the rights of women, for example -- to provide more economic opportunity to its people.
We certainly welcome those things. But we also push and encourage for more freedom and openness when it comes to the political process or the activities involving certain journalists.
We've had a dialogue with Tunisia on the subject of human rights conducted by our Assistant Secretary for Human Rights Lorne Craner, and I would expect those kind of discussions of specific issues to continue.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary press him today on that, on human rights?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary raised the issues involved with human rights and said it was important to deal with these issues as Tunisia tried to make progress in its own society, as well as its relations in the world. We have a very good and strong relationship with Tunisia that goes back 200 years. So we're very proud of that relationship and of the extensive cooperation.
But that also means, in that context, we look to further the cooperation, and part of that means seeing the kind of progress in Tunisia on human rights and rule of law issues that can allow for further cooperation with foreign governments.
QUESTION: To follow up on Tunisia, I mean, don't you think that receiving President Ben Ali basically put into question the whole President Bush's rhetoric about democracy in the Middle East? Because he's a leader not known for being democratic at all. He's been there winning 99 percent all the time. There are no freedom of press in Tunisia. Dissidents are being imprisoned.
So what kind of message you're sending to the Arab world by receiving someone like Ben Ali?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the message when we meet with any foreign leader is that we can have a certain relationship with the United States. There are obviously things we might have in common and things we do have in common with countries like Tunisia and many others in the world that may not be fully democratic.
At the same time, part of our agenda with these leaders, part of the overall agenda of friendship, of cooperation, strategic agenda, is to press them for progress on areas of humans rights and rule of law. We think that those things are fundamental to achieving progress in the modern world. They are certainly fundamental to the kind of existence and support that they can expect from the United States.
And so we don't hesitate during the course of visits like these to raise these issues and make clear how important they are to our overall relationship.
QUESTION: Are you making any future U.S. economic assistance to Tunisia, on improvement of their record human rights, freedom of expression, religious freedom, so on and so forth?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think it's clear from the standards of the Millennium Challenge Account, for example, that to qualify for that -- I'm not sure where Tunisia is right now as far as the income levels go, but certainly to qualify for that over the years when the pool is expanded of eligible countries, that countries need to meet certain basic standards of rule of law and respect for human rights.
So there are parts of our assistance programs that are clearly affected by that. At the same time, I think even beyond assistance, the kind of relationship that people can expect with other governments, with other countries, the willingness of investors to invest, the kinds of interaction you expect between the two societies are always affected by rule of law considerations, anti-corruption considerations, openness of the information environment.
The Secretary, from the beginning of this Administration, has made clear to everyone that, whether you're talking about it from purely a rights standpoint or a business standpoint, having rule of law and openness, freedom, creativity and opportunity are fundamental to achieving success in the modern economy.
QUESTION: Just a final one. I mean, the -- Tunisia is hosting the regional office of the U.S. Middle East Partnership Initiative. I mean, how far is that a contradiction with Tunisia's record as a repressive police state?
MR. BOUCHER: Not at all. We think that there are programs in all the countries of North Africa, indeed in the whole region, where our support can be helpful, where the United States can support reformers in civil society throughout this region, including in Tunisia. And so having the office right there means we'll be -- I wouldn't want to discourage any of the other nations where we don't have an office, but it certainly means we'll be quite aware of the situation and see if there are people involved in the process of reform and change that we can support and help.
Okay, let's go to the back.
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, last Friday, you closed your General Consulate in Thessaloniki, Greece. May we know the reasons and if it's still closed and for how long?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check on that and get back to you. I don't --
QUESTION: And also, last week, your Ambassador to Greece, Tom Miller, testified before the House Foreign Relations Committee, under the Chairmanship of Congressman Henry Hyde, about the security of the Olympic Games in Athens. May we know the context of his testimony?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't understand what you mean by the context. I mean -- the testimony is on the public record. You can see everything he said.
QUESTION: No, there's no public record (inaudible) what he said, and nobody is talking about it. They say --
MR. BOUCHER: Was it open testimony?
QUESTION: I don't know, to be honest with you.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. I guess I'm not certain myself. I assume from your question it was.
QUESTION: Can you check his --
MR. BOUCHER: If there's something to say on it, I'll be glad to help you. But I think, first of all, if he testified in front of Congress, you ought to look for the Congressional Record and the other documents that report on what was said up there.
QUESTION: And also, according to a report of February 4th, by the well-known institute, Stratfor, Stratfor, of course, in Texas, "Al-Qaida now is moving to northern Greece via Albania and Macedonia to the city of Thessaloniki and then to Athens targeting the Olympic Games this summer," something that has been verified to me by the spokesman person of Stratfor, Mrs. Meredith Friedman.
Do you have such information?
MR. BOUCHER: I have not heard of this before, so you might call the person you're quoting and find out what they have to say to you.
QUESTION: This weekend, Baptist missionaries were among those who were killed in Iraq. And I'm just wondering, what's the Administration's position on evangelical aid workers in Iraq? Do we support them? Do we -- do they have to get -- anyway, what's our position on them?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there's -- first of all, there's not much I can say about this particular situation. We do have consular officers in Iraq who try to take care of American citizens who might end up there. We have a very strong Travel Warning that tells people not to go to Iraq, that it still remains a dangerous place, and that's our position on travel by any Americans except for those that might be engaged in official duties or in support of the effort that's underway now.
QUESTION: I have one. Can you say anything about a man from the Philippines who was denied a visa to be an organ donor for one of his relatives?
MR. BOUCHER: Haven't heard about the situation. Not sure it's anything I can talk about.
QUESTION: Are you concerned of any backsliding on the part of Iran on its commitments to the IAEA?
MR. BOUCHER: We, I think, have made clear -- and when did we talk about this? Thursday, I think, in the briefing here.
MR. ERELI: Friday.
MR. BOUCHER: Friday? Okay. It's very important that Iran meet its commitments. We have seen a lot of things said, a few things done, and we think that the requirements that the Board of Governors specified need to be met, the commitments and promises that Iran has made to the European foreign ministers and others need to be fulfilled, and we have not seen that yet. But we will look at the situation when we hear from the Director General of the agency and discuss these matters further with the Board of Governor's members in early March.
We've just got one more here.
QUESTION: Richard, are you troubled by the attitudes in Russia by the -- in the run-up to the elections with the, maybe, harassment, the recent jailings by opposition potential candidates, and also the media, TV and such?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd refer you back to the op-ed piece the Secretary wrote in Izvestia a couple weeks ago that gives our full position.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)
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