State Department Noon Briefing, February 24, 2004
|Tuesday February 24,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 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. I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Iraq and see if there's a difference here on who makes preparations for the election that you want to have, the Iraqis want to have, the UN wants to have? By the U.S.'s view of it, how -- who is to make the arrangements for the elections? The interim government?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I guess I'm not quite sure who the possibilities are. It seems to me the only possibility is the Iraqi responsible authorities, which at this point is the Iraq Governing Council.
Now, as there is an interim government created, they would be responsible. Now, they're going to get a lot of help from the international community. That we know. They're going to get help from the United States -- excuse me -- and support. They're going to get help and assistance from the United Nations, which just went out there and came back and pledged a continuing commitment.
So, but ultimately, in terms of setting up the electoral council and passing the laws and doing the preparations, there's a lot the international community can do, but the responsibility for that process would have to rest with the Iraqis themselves.
QUESTION: The timing seems, at least in my head, to be a lesser problem now. But the Secretary has spoken maybe late this year, maybe next year. The original idea was next year. Does the U.S. have a strong recommendation now on the timing?
MR. BOUCHER: Our view, and it's embodied in the November 15th decisions, is that this should be done as soon as possible: first the transfer of authority to an interim Iraqi government June 30th, and then moving on to a full election process. I think we had estimated that would take until early 2005. The UN estimates it can happen eight months after certain things are in place in terms of electoral commission, laws, things like that.
Now, depending on how quickly those things get done, it's possible that, as the UN says, this could be done a little sooner. But the basic structure is one that we have supported, and we would certainly all be interested in going forward with elections and going forward with elections as soon as that can be organized in a fair and open manner.
QUESTION: Does that cover, in a sense, the U.S.'s reflections on Mr. Annan's announcement, or is there something to add to that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, you know, there's a lot of details in there. We're certainly studying the plan and we'll continue to discuss it with the United Nations, but also to hear from the Iraqis on those things. As we've always said, it's up to the -- ultimately up to the Iraqi people, and I think the report states that itself.
The conclusions, as I said, are ones that we can -- that we agree with. We had reached some of the same conclusions ourselves, that we couldn't have elections by June 30th but that it remained important to all of us to do the transfer of power, the transfer of authority, at that point. And so we need to now have not only a review of the specific recommendations the UN has put forward, but what the UN called the more focused dialogue to really look at that mechanism for transfer to -- of authority to an interim government.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: No more questions? We can go? No, Saul.
QUESTION: Can we change to Libya?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: Libya's Prime Minister today denied that Libya was guilty for the Lockerbie bombing, saying that they had admitted to it only to buy peace. So does this change the way the United States views Libya and what had been warming relations? The announcement on passports, is that going to be delayed?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any announcements to make at this moment on passports or other sorts of things.
I would make clear that we've seen these statements by the Prime Minister. We would expect a retraction from the Libyan Government.
We, and the United Nations, demanded that Libya formally accept responsibility for the actions of its officials in the Pan Am 103 bombing. Libya did so in a letter that had no ambiguity to the United Nations Security Council on August 15th, 2003.
This current statement is impossible to reconcile with that earlier written statement, which was said to be authoritative. So we would expect the Libyans to explain the matter --
QUESTION: So yesterday you --
MR. BOUCHER: -- and to retract this current statement.
QUESTION: Yesterday you said that today you would have an announcement. Has this --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I didn't. I said if I had something to announce today, I would announce it today. If I have something to announce today, I'll announce it today. If I have something to announce later, I'll announce it later.
QUESTION: But can you say -- can you say whether it's the Administration's understanding that the Prime Minister's statement does not reflect the view of the Libyan Government?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it's the responsibility of the Libyan Government to create that understanding. It's the responsibility of the Libyan Government to retract statements that contradict what they have officially and authoritatively told the United Nations in writing and on which basis the United Nations Security Council acted.
They said unequivocally in their letter of August 15th of 2003 that Libya accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials. That's a statement that we believe was necessary and remains important, and it will be for the Libyan Government to try to explain comments by its Prime Minister or, more importantly, to retract them, since they contradict what Libya has said officially in statements.
QUESTION: Here comes one of those hypothetical questions that spokesmen love. Because of this, because of what he said, is there any reason for the Administration to reconsider whatever it was preparing to do?
MR. BOUCHER: This is certainly a factor that we would need to take into account as we decide how to proceed. The fact that Libya satisfied the UN requirements, including the acceptance of responsibility, as well as the arrangements that they made with the families, was an important step in the process of lifting the UN sanctions.
The fact that Libya has pledged to abandon its programs for weapons of mass destruction remains an important fact and certainly something that is benefiting both Libya and the rest of the world as Libya goes through that process. And that process is continuing. There are teams on the ground now that are -- excuse me. There are teams on the ground now that are working with the Libyans to continue this process of dismantlement.
So I think this is a statement that needs to be retracted. We need to understand that the Libyan position is the one they stated authoritatively to the United Nations in writing, for all the other steps to continue apace.
QUESTION: So would it be accurate to say that the process of the review has been stalled? Or was the review completed by today, as it was scheduled to be, and you're just not announcing the results yet?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not able to characterize it at this point. When we have something to say, we'll say it.
QUESTION: Can you say the review is not complete, since you wanted --
MR. BOUCHER: When we have something to announce, we'll announce it. Sorry.
QUESTION: Does it follow --
QUESTION: Can I ask you a very technical question?
QUESTION: Does it follow --
MR. BOUCHER: Charlie asked a question first.
QUESTION: Does it follow that your diplomat posted in Libya now has taken the message that you've just delivered to the Libyans formally in a normal diplomatic way? Or is this the -- is this the message?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we have been in touch with the Libyans directly throughout the day since we first heard of these remarks.
QUESTION: A technical question. The 90-day window, reopening opportunity, is that at risk here?
MR. BOUCHER: No, because it's a -- it's a decision that could be made really at any moment, 90 days or no 90 days.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. BOUCHER: It's a -- it was a commitment that we made when we announced the one-year resumption that we would review it every 90 days. But, frankly, the decision could be made any --
MR. BOUCHER: 92 or 87. Whenever. Whenever we think it's the appropriate decision.
QUESTION: What good is a retraction, really? If this is what they think, and he's being honest, to retract it is just a band-aid for it.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I guess the question is "they." Is this what they think or this what he thinks, or what? The Libyan Government needs to clarify its position authoritatively.
QUESTION: Well, is the Libyan Government really such a democracy that officials are allowed to go out and state their personal opinions?
MR. BOUCHER: I never expressed that.
QUESTION: Richard, this is not the first time Libyan officials have said this --
MR. BOUCHER: And that's why -- no, that's true. And that -- this is a point maybe I should have made, that throughout this process we have seen various statements from Libyan Government officials about this matter. And that's why it was important and why we did demand that Libya clarify its position in writing, and why it is important they did that and presented a letter to the UN Security Council. If that is the position of the Libyan Government, we would expect them to say that.
Sorry, I preempted the end of your question to make the point.
QUESTION: No, I mean, I was just going to say that because this isn't the first time that they said this, I mean, it doesn't seem to be just the kind of musings of one. There have been several officials that have said this over the --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, it's not the first time they've said the -- I mean, they've said the opposite many times as well.
MR. BOUCHER: So the question is what's their real view, and that's why we think this kind of statement needs to be retracted and that the kinds of statements that are made to the United Nations need to be reiterated as Libyan policy.
QUESTION: But just because they retract it doesn't mean that it's not true, just because they retract the statement.
MR. BOUCHER: I guess it's a question of, you know, what do you give weight to. And if you give weight to a statement by an individual or a letter, you know, a statement to the Security Council, you know, is something an individual says to the BBC somehow more authoritative then a letter that they wrote to the Security Council? You're saying yes, obviously.
QUESTION: I don't --
MR. BOUCHER: Maybe because the news media was involved. (Laughter.) But we in the Security Council tend to think that people need to stand by their statements and to say the truth to the Security Council, and therefore we think it's important that Libya does make clear that that's their authoritative view, the one that they presented to the Security Council.
QUESTION: Would it be acceptable that this man remain in office, if he's going out and saying these things? Would that be -- would you communicate --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not deciding on Libyan officials. It's not our job to do that.
QUESTION: Two quick questions.
When you spoke directly to the Libyans, did you tell them you want a clarification? Did you give them a deadline for their clarification? Did you say we want an answer in the immediate future?
MR. BOUCHER: We gave them -- we basically conveyed the message that I've conveyed today, that it's important for Libya to retract these statements and to make clear what their policy is as soon as possible.
QUESTION: And related to that question is the ongoing Pan Am 103 investigation. Obviously, you know that some of the Pan Am 103 families still, to this day, believe that Tripoli is not as forthcoming as they -- as they should be, in their eyes.
Is that still your sense, as well?
MR. BOUCHER: Our view remains that the investigation is open and that it is the responsibility of all the parties to cooperate with that investigation, wherever it might lead.
QUESTION: Do you believe they are cooperating?
MR. BOUCHER: I think when we made the decision in the Security Council, we felt that they had done -- met those requirements. If there are other requirements that investigators might have or that the investigation might produce, we would expect them and others to meet those requirements as well.
QUESTION: Change of subject? Can we switch to Haiti?
MR. BOUCHER: Yep.
QUESTION: Can you give us an update on where negotiations stand,
where the opposition stands, whether the Secretary has made any other
phone calls? I don't know, probably after those, and other follow-ups
you'll have answers to?
Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary was on the phone, on the speakerphone, with 20 leaders of the opposition. He encouraged them to take a very serious look at the plan that had been presented, to consider it very carefully. He made clear that this was the best opportunity for the opposition, the democratic opposition, to play a meaningful role in peaceful, democratic and constitutional settlements of the problems in Haiti, and that that settlement would have the full backing of the international community.
We have continued to stay in touch with the opposition leaders. Our Ambassador in Haiti, Ambassador Foley, as well as our Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, have stayed in touch with the opposition figures, as well as the government, and will stay in touch with them throughout the day.
I think the important point that we're making is the one we've made before, that this is the way to end the political difficulties of Haiti's and end the turmoil in a peaceful manner, that all the parties who are pledged to a peaceful resolution of these issues need to get on board with this plan.
The Secretary said yesterday to the opposition figures that they could take another 24 hours to consider this plan carefully, but that it was very important for them to get on board because this was the way forward.
So, during the course of the day, we'll continue to make that point and discuss this with them.
I'd say, on another track, the Secretary has been keeping in touch with foreign ministers who are most concerned about the question. Yesterday, late yesterday afternoon, he talked to Foreign Minister Knight of Jamaica, who is head of the CARICOM group; he spoke with Foreign Minister Graham of Canada; and this morning he spoke with Foreign Minister Villepin of France.
They all remain committed to pushing the opposition and the government to accept and then to implement fully these measures that have been proposed, and that would include the willingness of outside parties, as we all know, to provide police forces, to help with security, once there is political agreement.
QUESTION: Is that phone call you referred to Haiti the late afternoon call or the early -- earlier phone call which you referred to at the briefing yesterday?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Yesterday, I referred to the phone call to Mr. Apaid. Yesterday, afternoon it was to a group of 20. It was a separate phone call yesterday afternoon.
QUESTION: Was there discussion -- when Powell spoke with de Villepin this morning, was there discussion of -- there are some reports out of France that the French Government is inviting opposition and Haitian Government officials to France to discuss this this week?
MR. BOUCHER: That wasn't discussed, so you'd have to go to the French Government for clarification of what that -- what that is.
QUESTION: In the Secretary's conversation with Foreign Minister Knight, did the issue of refugees from Haiti come up?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if the issue specifically came up in that conversation. As you know, we have all been concerned about the situation of possible refugees. It's something that we have been following closely.
As far as the situation, I'd say that, at this point, we've not seen anything to indicate and do not expect any mass migration.
Our policy towards, with respect to boat migrants is clear: They'll be returned to the country they departed, absent convincing evidence of a credible fear of persecution. Our goal is to encourage legal, safe and orderly migration, not illegal and unsafe migration. I think others in the region know that's our policy as well.
QUESTION: So you don't see mass migration. But have you seen any uptick in the number of refugees leaving Haiti?
MR. BOUCHER: I think -- not that I'm aware of, is the short answer. You might check with Coast Guard and immigration as to whether they keep statistics on that fine a basis. But at this point, we're not seeing any indications, nor any examples of any mass migration, any new strong movement in that direction.
QUESTION: When the Secretary said they could have 24 more hours, did it appear at that time that that would be what they needed to come to a conclusion on their decision? Or, I mean, is there a chance that something like a conference in France could take place before they give an answer? Is the U.S. willing to wait beyond five o'clock today, and what happens then, if not?
MR. BOUCHER: Our view is that the parties need to step up to their responsibility, that this is the way forward for the government and for the opposition. The plan that's been presented would create an independent prime minister and government that could run the country, create responsible police forces; it would create a fair opportunity for all the parties in Haiti to participate in a peaceful, democratic and constitutional process in Haiti; and that the parties need to seize this opportunity.
So we're giving them a time. We're also telling them it's time to decide.
QUESTION: You mean to seize the opportunity by five o'clock today?
MR. BOUCHER: They need to seize the opportunity today to --
MR. BOUCHER: -- decide and come forward with this plan.
QUESTION: Or what?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we'll have to see what happens after that, if they don't. But at this point, there's a lot of effort being put into trying to move this process forward and trying to get all the parties on board, and then trying to move forward with the implementation of a plan that we think can bring peace to Haiti.
QUESTION: And do you know whether they gave him any indication that they thought they would be close, that they were close enough that they could come up with that answer today?
MR. BOUCHER: I think they're still discussing it. I think you've seen some indications from some of them that they were close to saying no. So we'll just have to see where they come out.
QUESTION: Richard, I'm not sure if you saw or heard about Senator Graham's floor statement on Haiti, but basically he said that U.S. and these diplomatic efforts aren't working and the lack of, kind of, U.S. getting seriously involved, you know, he called it "U.S. indifference" and he said this is a national security threat to the United States and if the U.S. doesn't take some precipitous action to stop the violence, it's going to cause a lot more problems for the U.S. down the line, really urging a kind of deeper U.S. involvement.
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see that particular statement. I know there have been statements like that, for example, in newspaper editorials. All I can say is, look at what we are doing. Look at how involved the United States has been with Friends of Haiti, with OAS and other ways all along. Look at the people we've had down there as part of the OAS mission. Look at the effort that we've made over time. Look at the effort that we're making now.
The United States held a meeting last Friday with people from the region, with the Canadians. The President met with his group of CARICOM nations in Monterrey. The Secretary has been very active on the telephone in conversations with foreign ministers. Our Ambassador has been very active. I think the United States is at the forefront of this effort to try to get agreement by the parties to move forward and implement a plan that can create -- end the political division, but also try to help calm the situation in terms of the violence.
QUESTION: At what point do you kind of -- at what point have you exhausted all diplomatic means? I mean, you've been trying to get the opposition to, you know, talk -- kind of take this plan, talk with the government, find some political agreement. They don't seem to be willing to do that. So at what point is it a fruitless endeavor?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know at what point it's a fruitless endeavor. It's certainly an endeavor the United States has pursued over a long time to try to get some progress here, and pursuing intensely at this moment, that this opportunity needs to be taken.
I'm certainly not about to declare everything fruitless when we still don't have a definitive answer from the opposition. So let's at least give them a chance to look at this and decide and hear back from them before we have to declare it a failure and talk about some alternative.
This is the way to go forward. This is the way that meets, we think, the needs of both the government and the democratic -- the peaceful opposition. It allows for meaningful participation in the political process, in a political process that can go forward with a great deal of independence under the constitution. And therefore, we think it's necessary for the parties to agree to it and move forward with the implementation.
QUESTION: Did the party, the opposition parties, ask for anything in addition to what's being presented in the plan?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I'm not in a position to speak for them. I think they've raised some concerns. There are certainly discussions going on about issues related to the plan. But at this point, we think there's enough there to decide and we'll continue to talk to them and work with them.
QUESTION: But without asking you to speak for them, I'm just asking you to relate what they said to the Secretary about any desires for anything extra --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know how I could relate what they said without speaking for them. I mean, I'm not putting their words in my mouth.
QUESTION: Relate what you heard.
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, relate what we heard. We heard what they said. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: For example, the Secretary has a conversation with a foreign minister and you give us a readout. You would say, "He said this, they said this."
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not trying to relate what everybody said. There were 20 people listening on this phone call. They said a lot of things.
We're having continuing discussions with the opposition. We're certainly aware of some of their concerns. We're trying to take into account some of their concerns.
But the basic outlines of the plan, the basic need to go forward along the lines that we indicated, is something we're pressing very hard on. And it's not for me to try to explain their positions from here or relate what they said.
QUESTION: Do you anticipate any more calls by Secretary Powell today to members of the opposition?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure he'll keep in touch with a variety of people. Whether he actually talks to members of the opposition or not, I don't know.
QUESTION: Do you -- I mean, just to follow up on the idea of what you were talking to the opposition about, do you see any kind of room for negotiation with the opposition, or is it -- are they maintaining Aristide goes or that's it? And do you see a groundswell in the country for this at this point? I mean, are Aristide's supporters only these armed rebels?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Generally, no to all the propositions you put forward. The -- in the country, I don't think it's possible to gauge a groundswell of political support for a plan at a moment when there's such turmoil. I'm not sure that the pollsters are out these days.
QUESTION: No, I mean, is there potential for Aristide --
MR. BOUCHER: Second of all, is there a groundswell other than these rebels? These rebels are opposed, generally opposed to Aristide. Some of them are groups that he had previously supported and were aligned with him but who have now turned on him. So the rebels are against Aristide, in general, throughout the country.
QUESTION: No, I'm sorry, I meant the ones that are kind of -- these, like, pro-Aristide rebels that are battling them. I mean, is there any support in the country left for Aristide?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think there's any way to gauge political opinion at this point. There has been, obviously, a longstanding political crisis and there are a lot of divergent views on the politics of the situation.
The point is to try to separate the politics from the violence, and to try to move the political part of this forward in a way that we think can meet the needs both of the government and the opposition forces to have a meaningful role in government, but one that's carefully defined by the constitution and carefully defined by this plan; and that, with the guarantees of the outside powers, that we can be confident, the parties can be confident, will be implemented.
That -- to move that political process forward -- helps us solve a longstanding political problem and helps to create the conditions under which we and the government can further end the violence and keep it from recurring.
Let's go to the back.
QUESTION: Yes (inaudible).
QUESTION: Can we stay on Haiti?
MR. BOUCHER: Haiti a little bit? Okay.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. Government tried to make any contacts with the rebels?
MR. BOUCHER: Not aware. You mean the armed groups, the gangs in the various cities? Not aware of any contacts that have been made or attempted at this point.
QUESTION: And does the United States have any indication that Port-au-Prince would be defended more resolutely than we've seen in other towns where resistance to --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not able to make a judgment on that.
QUESTION: The other side of the island that forms an island -- (laughter) -- there seems to be an upsurge in the number of people who are taking to the seas to try to flee the Dominican Republic. I was wondering if you had anything for us on that.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not aware of anything particular there.
QUESTION: Yes, Miguel Nazar Haro Seraro, who used to be the chief spy in Mexico, was arrested last week on charges of killing and torturing critics during the "Dirty War," '70s and '80s. And there's a lot of declassified documents that indicate that he was a CIA asset during the time he was committing the alleged crimes. I wonder if you have a reaction.
MR. BOUCHER: I would not be in a position to discuss that from here. There are documents that are available in public, but I'm not in a position to discuss intelligence matters from here.
I would say generally that we have applauded President Fox's commitment to human rights. We have applauded the commitment to clearing up the historical cases that have been a problem in the past and to generally creating a new climate of openness in Mexico. We see this matter in that regard. But as far as details of intelligence matters, I can't discuss them from here.
QUESTION: Malaysia. With the -- this is about smuggling (inaudible) -- and the Malaysian involvement in nuclear smuggling and so forth. Does the Administration have any reaction to Malaysia's apparent reluctance to strengthen its export controls or is the Administration doing anything to convince Malaysia to strengthen their export controls?
MR. BOUCHER: I think as I laid out last week, that we have had an ongoing discussion with the Malaysian Government about strengthening export controls. This is something that has been pursued over time, will continue to be pursued. We think these examples of what individuals or firms in Malaysia were able to do emphasize one again the importance for all governments of having solid export controls, and we'll continue to pursue that with the Malaysian Government.
QUESTION: Great. Nothing more specific?
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing to say on their part, what they will or won't do. But it's a matter of importance to us and we'll continue to press them on it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 p.m.)
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