State Department Briefing, February 25, 2004
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I'd just like to mention at the beginning the assistance we're providing to the people of Morocco who have just suffered from a very difficult earthquake. Our Embassy and our aid mission in Morocco are following events there closely. They have people up in the affected area who have been looking at the needs of the victims. They have been coordinating very closely with the Moroccan Government.
We have supplemented our Embassy resources and capabilities with some disaster-assistance experts who have gone out from Washington and we have provided, the Ambassador has provided, $50,000 that he's authorized to send over to the Red Crescent Society for assistance. And today we'll have the first arrival of some supplies from the United States that have been organized coming out of our warehouses in Italy and other places. I think the first airplane full of blankets is going to get there within a couple hours.
So we are trying to do everything we can to help in this situation, obviously working very closely in responding to the needs of the Moroccan people, as expressed in our discussions with the government.
Once again, we offer our condolences to the victims of the tragedy and pledge our full support and cooperation with the Moroccan Government as they try to help the people affected.
So we put out a little statement on that this morning. We'll keep you updated on events as they unfold.
With that opening, I'd be glad to take your questions about this or other topics.
QUESTION: The Haitian opposition says Aristide must go. And you say? What's the feeling here about that demand?
MR. BOUCHER: This is he says, she says? The feeling here is that democracy is important in Haiti, that constitutional processes are important to Haiti. You'll remember how throughout the years in the early '90s, the United States stood up for the democratic process in Haiti and we think it's important that all parties respect that.
The plan that was developed by CARICOM we think offers an opportunity and still offers an opportunity for all the parties in the government and the opposition to resolve political troubles peacefully. We are working with the parties in Haiti. We'll keep working and keep in touch with the parties.
In our contacts with the opposition, while they have expressed certainly their view of the need for President Aristide's departure, they have also expressed a strong desire to continue the dialogue with us, and we welcome that and we will continue the dialogue with them.
The Secretary has continued to be involved with them. The Secretary spoke yesterday evening with Mr. Apaid, one of the opposition members. He has kept in touch with foreign ministers. He spoke with Foreign Minister de Villepin both yesterday and again this morning, talked to Foreign Minister Graham yesterday and again this morning, talked to Foreign Minister Knight of Jamaica yesterday evening. And so we have kept in close touch with the CARICOM nations, with the French, with the Canadians, with all the international partners who are trying to work this.
In his phone calls with Foreign Minister de Villepin of France, he expressed support for the proposal the French have for trying to get some representatives to Paris later this week. Once again, we would hope the representatives of the parties would look at it as an opportunity to try to move forward and settle the political issues in a political manner that's consistent with Haiti's constitution.
QUESTION: Now the President --
MR. BOUCHER: George.
QUESTION: The President talked about the need for an international security force in the context of a political solution. Are there discussions on that anywhere that you're aware of?
MR. BOUCHER: There are discussions on that. We've been talking with the other partners about how we could organize such a force, such an international security assistance, if there is agreement to settle the political crisis. That agreement would provide the framework under which international security assistance would be possible.
Certainly the U.S. and our international partners look forward to supporting a police presence in Haiti that will help resolve some of the turmoil, if there is a political framework for doing that.
QUESTION: Richard, I recognize that you're trying to find a political solution to this. But at what point does the situation on the ground overtake your efforts to find a political solution? I mean, the rebels are advancing towards Port-au-Prince, so even though efforts are still ongoing to reach this political solution, you know, what happens if -- they say that they're going to reach any day. And, I mean, even if these talks in Paris are still going on, it doesn't look like the political solution will come to a conclusion before they reach the capital.
MR. BOUCHER: I mean, first of all, I don't know that you're accurate in describing what's going on on the ground, but I'd really like to leave it to people down there. There is certainly turmoil, certainly a very fluid situation down there. But predictions about what's going to happen any day now are probably not accurate because it seems to be evolving constantly and changing constantly.
But even in the circumstances that the violence would continue, it's necessary to find a political solution. The violence in itself doesn't solve the political problems, it doesn't resolve the constitutional issues, the issues of how to organize Haiti's government and police forces under its constitution. So the political effort is needed, and it's needed not only to calm the violence but to provide a framework for security as we go forward.
Certainly, we think that our efforts to provide a political solution have an effect, can have an effect, in calming the violence. We think this is an opportunity that all the parties should take advantage of, including the peaceful, the democratic opposition. And that will remain something that we will keep working with them.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. willing to participate in the talks in Paris or is it just something for the French and the Haitian parties?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure we've been invited. Certainly, we would be willing to send an appropriate representative if we're invited. But my impression is the French are still organizing this, so let's -- I think they need to get it together and then figure out who else can be there. But we'll be following it, certainly, keeping in touch with the French, and if they want us to have a presence, we'd be glad to send an appropriate presence.
QUESTION: What's the argument against sending in a peacekeeping force into Haiti without a political agreement?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think that the issue is peacekeeping. If there's no peace to keep, you can't keep the peace. I mean, it's -- the issue is that you need a political framework for the deployment of security assistance, the deployment of police to help calm the situation. Just sending in police in and of itself doesn't resolve the issues, and that the violence is certainly regrettable; it's made life even more difficult for Haitians who've had enough troubles to begin with.
But in order to resolve these issues, you need to solve the political issues that underlie some of this violence as well as deal with the manifestation of violence itself. And that's why a political framework is needed.
QUESTION: Would the U.S. participate in an international security assistance force?
MR. BOUCHER: The U.S. would support, along with our other partners, the deployment of international police. Exactly how we would support that, I can't tell you at this point.
QUESTION: Hi. I'd like to ask you this question. Yesterday you said that Iranians deserve a government that responds to their aspirations --
MR. BOUCHER: Can -- okay, we'll go to Iran, but let's finish with Haiti first, okay?
MR. BOUCHER: So you get first dibs on change of subject.
QUESTION: So it's unpalatable to send in a force to quell the violence before you have a political settlement. It's also unpalatable, you've been saying, to -- for Aristide to get kicked out; maybe that leaves the option Aristide himself quitting. Is this something that the United States would now encourage?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to speculate in any way, shape or form on future options.
QUESTION: Have you asked Aristide to consider quitting?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to speculate in any way, shape or form on future options.
QUESTION: Sorry, I'm asking have you already asked in the negotiations?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to speculate on outcomes at this point. We're working the issue. We're talking to people. We're trying to achieve a political resolution. We still think the CARICOM plan is the way to go forward and that we'll continue to talk to people about how that can be achieved.
We had meetings today at the UN. There was a meeting -- I think it was closed-session -- but a good discussion there with our partners at the UN. The UN will have an open session tomorrow, which we look forward to, and we'll work with others to prepare appropriate action up there and support. The goal is to try to make clear the need for a political solution and the opportunity presented by the CARICOM plan. That remains what we're working on.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have a draft --
QUESTION: So talking --
MR. BOUCHER: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have a draft? Will it come to a -- a resolution?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if it will come to a resolution or a statement. We're certainly talking to the others up there. As you would expect, the Caribbean countries, including the Jamaicans, are very interested in the UN action, and so we're talking to others about what the UN can do in the form of some kind of statement or possibly resolution. But at this point it hasn't crystallized yet.
QUESTION: Sir, do you see the door still open for getting the opposition to come in on a diplomatic solution?
MR. BOUCHER: We're still working it and they still have the opportunity. And they have said to us that while they don't accept the proposal that's been made because of their desire to see Aristide depart, that they do want to maintain a dialogue with us. And what I'm trying to make clear here is we want to continue that dialogue, we are continuing that dialogue, with all the parties in Haiti to try to reach a political outcome.
QUESTION: Is it your sense that they're speaking with one voice in the opposition?
MR. BOUCHER: I think in terms of the dialogue that we've had with the democratic opposition, there's, if not one voice, very similar views. And our Ambassador down there, I'm sure, can explain this to us all better about how the different people line up. But essentially they came out in a press conference and spoke with one voice and I think we're hearing similar views in our discussions with them.
As you know, one of the problems is that the peaceful, democratic opposition -- well, one of the good things, that they have not become involved with the people perpetrating the violence. One of the bad things is that there are people perpetrating the violence who are not subject to any control whatsoever from the opposition.
QUESTION: In reference -- I know this is a daily question. In reference to any new indications of refugee movements outside of their country?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm just trying to check if we -- I don't think we asked the question today. But if there was some new moment, I think I would have been informed. So at this point, I'm not aware of anything that would indicate refugee flows are starting up.
QUESTION: You have probably just answered it, but to just to make sure, we've gotten reports that there were two boats stopped today by the Coast Guard, one with a hundred people on it. You don't have that report?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have that report. Let me check into it and see --
MR. BOUCHER: -- our assessment. There are, as you know, from time to time, refugees that come out of this area and have been, although the numbers have been way down, and what we're concerned about is some sudden increase.
QUESTION: On Libya.
MR. BOUCHER: No, change of topic is Iran first.
QUESTION: One more? Oh, okay.
MR. BOUCHER: So we've got to finish with Haiti.
QUESTION: Although there isn't a kind of direct correlation or affiliation between the rebels and the opposition groups, in the Secretary's discussion with the opposition groups, do you get the sense that they're taking advantage of the fact -- of the violence on the ground, and the fact that the rebels are taking over the country, that they have a strengthened position for Aristide to step down?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I could make a judgment like that or an observation like that. The groups, I think, have fairly consistently held that they are not part of this violence, that they don't support this violence. And the Secretary and the Assistant Secretary Noriega and our Ambassador down there have made consistently clear to them how important it is that they disassociate themselves, they dissociate themselves from any contagion by these armed thugs that are running around Haiti.
QUESTION: On the security force that you're in discussions about, is that something you want the UN backing for?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, not decided yet what we'll do at the UN. I think, between the OAS presence already, which involves some security personnel, the CARICOM plan, which would involve this, that there is certainly plenty of support for the idea of providing a -- and some international security presence and assistance, once there is a political framework for that assistance.
QUESTION: In reference -- I realize the French are taking lead on this, in terms of inviting both sides to France. But in your conversations with the opposition, have they indicated a willingness to travel to France later on this week?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if they will or they won't. Don't think we have any particular indication of that. We support this as a worthwhile effort. I would point out that there are many opportunities for the opposition to take advantage of what's being offered and to work with us.
We are in direct discussions ourselves in Haiti, as well as -- from Assistant Secretary Noriega, as well as from the Secretary himself. We've been in direct discussions with the government at senior levels and with the opposition leaders. So there is no lack of contact, there is no lack of direct contact between the United States and these people, and we've been working with them pretty intensely over the last several days, as the Secretary's phone calls, Assistant Secretary Noriega's phone calls, the activities of our Ambassador, all demonstrate.
So we see the French opportunity as sort of just another chance for them to come to the right conclusions.
QUESTION: Richard, in terms of the discussions you're having at the UN and in other places, is it -- is there also under discussion bringing in outside intermediaries such as former President Carter, or Senator DeWine, others who have shown an interest in Haiti in the past? Is that at all on the table and are you in discussions?
MR. BOUCHER: I really can't speculate on mechanisms might be used to help resolve it. I'm not aware that anybody like that has been proposed or named. I think, you know, as I said, we're in very direct and frequent contact with the players themselves in Haiti, and that seems to be a worthwhile channel to pursue. Certainly, as I said, even the opposition, in their failure to accept the plan right now, have said they want to keep the dialogue going with us and we certainly want to do that and will do that with them.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary speak to Reverend Al Sharpton about his pending trip?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: What's our message to President Aristide, who has requested an international force?
MR. BOUCHER: What is our message?
QUESTION: Yeah. What are we telling him? Are we in touch with him?
MR. BOUCHER: As I think I've said to you here, our basic message to the government, and we're in touch with a variety of people in the government, not sure if physically they've been able to meet directly with Aristide recently, but we're certainly in touch with people in the government and he knows our views.
Our view is what I've expressed to you here today, that we're willing to support -- interested and want to support an international security presence and international security assistance if there is a political framework to provide that under.
QUESTION: Richard, in the buildup to this crisis, over -- maybe two, three years hence, has there been any dialogue with the Aristide government and/or opposition? Now, they've -- opposition has been --
MR. BOUCHER: It's -- there's a long history of this, and there's an active history of it.
QUESTION: Right. But opposition is saying that poverty programs, business development, all this has not gone into place. I guess the World Bank, too, has tried to get some programs implemented. Is it a question that you regard Aristide as a fair government leader, nothing like, for instance, Charles Taylor or --
MR. BOUCHER: I -- we don't --
QUESTION: I know it's apples and oranges.
MR. BOUCHER: How can I say? We've been strong supporters of development in Haiti. Our aid budget this year is about $55 million. There's been -- was it $800-some million over the last 10-15 years?
A PARTICIPANT: $850 million since FY '95.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, since 1995, so $850 million the United States put down there trying to help the people of the Haiti, and we work with a variety of organizations to do that and try to make sure the people benefit from our programs, and they are very carefully monitored to make sure that that's how they're directed.
The -- in terms of the political process, we've been working with the Friends of Haiti, with the OAS and other countries, to try to get a political process directly together. We have been talking directly with the government. We have been keeping in touch with the opposition all along, trying to push them to accept a political outcome. We're still doing that now.
But the plan on the table from the CARICOM group was something that we talked about, they talked about, with the President in Monterrey in January. It is something that we have supported and have worked with very closely with them in making this new push since January to try to get that kind of agreement that we've been working for for quite a while.
QUESTION: One more? Are there steps that Aristide can take right now to kind of calm the violence himself? Originally, you had talked about him using the police in a more effective way, but it seems a lot of the police are kind of abandoning their posts. I mean, in lieu -- while you still work towards a political agreement, is there anything that the Haitian Government can do right now?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer to your first question is yes. And the answer to the follow-up of what exactly do you have in mind is, let me check.
The situation is such where the government has a role to play in terms of making clear that its responsibility will be exercised fairly. The independence of the government, prime minister, that's embodied in the CARICOM plan is certainly something that needs to be shown, demonstrated to the Haitian people.
So there are a variety of steps to show the Haitian people that they will get a fair government, fair security situation, that the kind of abuse of mob tactics that's occurred in the past won't recur -- reoccur. All these things would certainly help to calm the situation, and all the actors, all the parties, need to stand clearly against violence and those who can do so should take steps to try to end the violence.
QUESTION: Could you conceivably go ahead with the CARICOM agreement without the opposition?
MR. BOUCHER: Same answer that I gave to his conceivably speculation or even have you conceived of. I'm not going to speculate on one or the other course of action at this point.
QUESTION: The question doesn't call for speculation. What's the report today on the situation of Americans getting to the airport or trying to get out? Are more trying to get out? Are the roads open? Are people able to get out if they want to?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I thought I had it here somewhere. The understanding that we have is that -- oh, there we go. The Embassy is closed today due to gang activity. Our Embassy officers are certainly working the situation closely and carefully, but the Embassy is not open to the public because of the gang activity and the roadblocks that exist in parts of the city.
We are monitoring the humanitarian situation. We are available to deal with any American citizen emergencies that might arise.
So I think we've all seen from the reporting that the situation in the city of Port-au-Prince has become difficult. There are roadblocks. There is some gang violence. Some sporadic shooting, I think, has been described. And so it's not as easy as it might have been in previous days to move around and to accomplish things, which I expect would include getting to the airport.
QUESTION: Obviously, Aristide is calling for an end to the violence, but have you heard enough of a strong statement from the opposition groups kind of calling for an end to the violence, saying that this is not the way to solve Haiti's problems?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I think we've seen statements. I can't characterize them for you at this point. We think it's important for all the parties to continue to make clear that they do not support the violence, that they are against it, and they believe everybody should channel their energies into finding a peaceful political solution.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) yesterday. Has the United States had any contacts with the armed gangs?
MR. BOUCHER: None that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: Can we switch subjects?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. The lady back there was going to switch to Iran.
QUESTION: Okay. President Bush released a statement yesterday condemning the Iranian regime's behavior on the recent elections, and you said in your briefing yesterday that Iranians deserve a government that responds to their aspiration.
My question is: How is the United States planning to help the Iranian people achieve this?
MR. BOUCHER: Given the situation in Iran, it's hard to define precisely how we can do that. Certainly, the United States wants to stand on the side of the people who want more representative government, who want the opportunity to express themselves, who want a fair judicial system in Iran.
We have continued to make clear that that's what we support. We have worked with other governments to try to provide international support. We have talked frequently to governments that do have more direct relationships with Iran to encourage them to make the human rights situation one of the issues, unfortunately one of many, or one of several very prominent issues that need to be raised with Iran by the international community in any sort of interaction that they have.
But at this stage we don't have any direct opportunity to work with people inside Iran or to have direct discussions with the government about how to make progress in these areas.
QUESTION: A follow-up question. Would the fact that the new parliament will be ruled by the conservatives affect the U.S. approach toward Iran? Will it be more cautious, suspicious or critical of the regime?
MR. BOUCHER: We have, I think, made very clear that our relationship, or lack thereof, with Iran depends on the actions of Iran in a number of very specific areas that are very important to us: whether or not they comply with their commitments to the IAEA, their commitments under the additional protocol in ending, eliminating nuclear enrichment programs; whether or not they end their support for violent groups that engage in terrorism, whether or not they end their support for violent groups that oppose the peace process and that are trying to oppose Palestinian aspirations to create a state; what their actions are on al-Qaida people and other terrorists who might be present in Iran who they have yet to turn over to appropriate jurisdictions; and what action do they take to improve the human rights situation and provide more openness in Iran.
So while we follow political developments in Iran and certainly watched the recent election closely, and we're very interested in sort of the overall progress of democracy in Iran, our policy has to be dictated by whether Iran takes actions on any of those -- on those issues of importance to us, and whether we see any opportunity through dialogue to engage Iran productively on those issues.
QUESTION: Have you received the retraction --
QUESTION: Are we still on Iran? Sorry. Just a quick one.
What's the U.S. reaction to the Iranians signing a new energy deal -- it's the second in a week -- on natural gas. They've signed it with France's Total and Malaysia's Petronas.
MR. BOUCHER: I wasn't aware of that particular deal, but the policy that we enunciated vis-à-vis the Japanese deal is a general policy that applies everywhere. We do not encourage investment in Iran's petroleum sector. We have laws that affect our attitude towards these investments and we will have to look at those laws appropriately.
But as far as this specific deal, all I can tell you is the general policy applies and that we just don't think it's wise to be investing in Iran's petroleum sector at this point when Iranian behavior has still not changed in so many of these areas.
QUESTION: That's a perfect lead-in. American oil companies are waiting eagerly for a change in U.S. policy to Libya. There are opportunities there for them, of course.
The Secretary told some --
MR. BOUCHER: As I'm sure ordinary American travelers are as well.
QUESTION: Well, maybe people that like to travel to exotic places. But I'll bet there's a bigger interest from -- in Amerada Hess.
In any event, the Secretary told Arab media -- I don't know the organization -- yesterday that he thought it would take a day or so to -- for Libya to correct what he called "a bit of a disconnect."
Have you heard anything correcting their disconnect?
MR. BOUCHER: The broadcaster was Al Hurra, the new broadcaster in the Middle East.
QUESTION: I don't know what it is.
MR. BOUCHER: We'll give you a tour of the facilities.
QUESTION: It's an American television -- ?
MR. BOUCHER: It's a broadcaster to the Middle East supported by the U.S. Government and located in Virginia.
QUESTION: Thank you. That helps.
MR. BOUCHER: The --
QUESTION: Radio or TV?
MR. BOUCHER: Television.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. BOUCHER: It's a new TV network.
MR. BOUCHER: They're up and running --
MR. BOUCHER: -- broadcasting solid and good information, as well fascinating interviews, too.
QUESTION: And getting interviews, too. Better than us.
MR. BOUCHER: The -- I guess the Libyans have just issued a statement which was just handed to me. I'm not going to try to analyze it on the spot from here. I'd just point out that it exists, that we will be looking at it. We'll see if it constitutes the kind of clarification that I think the Secretary said was necessary and which I've said yesterday was necessary, so that we can understand that the Libyan Government's views, as expressed directly and in writing to the Security Council, are, in fact, the views of the Libyan Government and not anything else that might have been said by officials.
QUESTION: I don't know. But I don't know that anybody could do the mind-reading. I don't know how you can figure that out.
The Minister yesterday described -- he didn't use the word "cynical," but it was clearly a cynical statement. He said --
MR. BOUCHER: The Prime Minister.
QUESTION: The Prime Minister, yes. And he said the purpose was -- that Libya's purpose was to, you know, to get -- to please western interests, to get sanctions relaxed or removed. And the payment of 2.7 billion probably could be easily overcome if American oil companies get busy in Libya.
So he was describing -- how do you know that that really isn't Libya's policy, instead of -- I know you're pleased with their nuclear announcements -- but how do you know what their real policy is on the Pan Am bombing?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think first we have to look at Libyan actions with regard to nuclear materials and other things that have not just been promised but have indeed been brought out of Libya, where Libya is getting rid of these things. It's in our interest to see them eliminated, so we're helping Libya eliminate them.
MR. BOUCHER: On the specific issue of terrorism, again, we'll be looking very carefully at Libyan actions against terrorism to see whether, at some point in this process, they have taken the concrete steps to distance themselves and reject any association with terrorism that would be necessary for them to end the sanctions that are on them for that reason.
So it's really the facts that matter, as much or more than any statements that are made, whether they're made here, there, to the BBC or to the UN Security Council.
At the same time, Libya's position, accepting the responsibility of the actions of their officials in the Pan Am bombing was one of the criteria for lifting of the UN sanctions. It was an important criteria to us. We demanded that it not be some vague statement in some interview, but rather it be a written assurance to the Security Council.
And so we want to know that that previous commitment by the Government of Libya, that the government is still standing by that. And so we're looking for Libya to clarify its policy. We're looking for Libya to say so in an official manner that makes clear, beyond the various statements that we have seen --
MR. BOUCHER: -- that makes clear what its policy is. And that has to come out in some official way. I take it they've issued something in the name of their foreign ministry and we'll look at it and see if it sufficiently clarifies that matter.
QUESTION: Might you distribute that after the briefing?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to see --
QUESTION: It's a Libyan statement.
MR. BOUCHER: It's a Libyan statement. It's from their news. I just want to make sure it's the authoritative -- that we know --
QUESTION: Yeah, can't call up their Embassy or (inaudible) --
MR. BOUCHER: -- it's not just notes or something, but it's really what they've issued.
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) to us, but it's all right.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. That's it.
QUESTION: About the Cyprus meetings. In the Greek side is the meeting, they stopped using the delay tactics, and also they announced that they are buying the arms. Do you have any comment on the -- how they affect this ongoing meeting on the subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's -- let me try to give you our picture of what's going on.
MR. BOUCHER: Substitute it for yours, if we can.
First of all, we do understand today's meeting in the UN with the two leaders was postponed until tomorrow. That was the only session that's been postponed. There are various technical committees that form part of the talks that met today as scheduled.
We understand the Turkish side submitted a document yesterday and the Greek Cypriot side need time to examine it, so that's a normal part of the negotiating process.
We continue to urge the parties to engage substantively and rapidly. As we have said before, there's no time to lose in pursuing a settlement in time for a reunited island to join the EU on May 1st. But as I said, talks are proceeding. One session was postponed until tomorrow. We want both sides to show up and to work constructively to try to make progress.
QUESTION: What do you say about the arming?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new on arms, so I'll have to look into that for you.
QUESTION: And also, the Government of Swiss is sending to some three diplomatic people to help some kind of Swiss systems -- the federal counting system, to, you know, put under this negotiation. Do you have any idea?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know about that. I think some of the details from the negotiation need to be handled on the island anyway. Certainly the international community as a whole has been very supportive of trying to reach an agreement, and I'm sure any nation with expertise or abilities or influence will probably try to help out if they can.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the six-party talks and on the bilateral pull-aside, or however you want to describe the meeting that Mr. Kelly had with the North Koreans?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the first thing I would say is that Mr. Kelly's statement to the Opening Plenary is public. We have a copy of it for you, so -- I think you've all got that, but anybody that is listening out there that might need one can get it from us. I understand it's also on our U.S. Embassy Beijing website, so either contact us or look on the web at the Embassy Beijing site.
As far as what's happened, the delegation that's headed by our Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly met with Chinese, Japanese, Russian and North and South Korean delegations today in Beijing. That was the first plenary of the six-party talks.
We found the session to be useful with all the delegations stating their positions in opening presentations. As I said, Assistant Secretary Kelly's remarks there are available.
Following the plenary meeting, the delegations had opportunities for exchanges. The U.S. did speak directly with members of other delegations, including with the North Korean side. This is a normal part of multilateral talks where the parties meet to discuss how to make progress in the talks, and so that's an ongoing -- that was a meeting that was held on the side as we start this six-party process to try to reach agreement in that process for how to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue peacefully.
QUESTION: Can you say whether that meeting -- the little side meeting, which is normal -- had any substance to it, or was it just a handshake and "I'm glad to see you here?"
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a readout of that, but I think the purpose of side meetings at talks like this is to try to discuss the elements of the bigger discussion and try to look for what the parties that are talking on the side can do to make progress in those discussions in the more formal sessions, in the bigger talks, that need to try to come to some conclusion.
QUESTION: Can we turn to some visitors today seeing the Secretary, Kyrgyzstan first, I heard the Minister this morning speak of --
QUESTION: Is this still on North Korea?
MR. BOUCHER: Adi. North Korea.
QUESTION: North Korea? More? Sorry.
QUESTION: How long will these talks last? Do you expect them to last through Friday, for example, or --
MR. BOUCHER: It's really -- I don't know. That's the best answer to this. I'm not sure it's specified, and I'm not sure how long they will last, so we'll just -- I think the answer is going to be, we'll have to see. I'll see if they started out with any initial time period, but you know, we'll see how it evolves. If there's utility in having more discussions, they'll have more discussions. If there's not, then they'll conclude.
QUESTION: The Kyrgyzstan Foreign Minister who sees the Secretary later today spoke this morning of the two menaces, as he put it: drugs and radical fundamentalism; and an appeal for help, and of course, stated his friendship with the United States. Is there something the U.S. can do?
He affirms, as the Georgian does, you know, they're trying to have a democratic society, but they've got problems that are hard for them to handle.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, there are a lot of things that we are doing with Kyrgyzstan. We have been working very closely with the Government of Kyrgyzstan against terrorism, against narcotics trafficking in Central Asia, against trafficking of persons. And so that remains one of the important issues, several of the important issues on the Secretary's agenda today with Kyrgyzstan talking about how we can further our cooperation in those areas.
We'll also be discussing the human rights situation, particularly the democratic parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in 2005 in the Kyrgyz Republic. Human rights is always on our agenda with Kyrgyzstan, and at this moment a particular focus is the 2005 elections to make sure they meet international standards.
We've had a variety of projects with Kyrgyzstan on drugs where we've worked to try to prevent drug trafficking. We have a passport security project underway that helps improve border security. We've got -- we're working with the UN as they put together a new drug control agency in Bishkek that's -- where we've got $6.3 million of U.S. funding that's going in to helping them set up a facility to work on drug control in that country.
We've had a senior law enforcement advisor, or we will have a senior law enforcement advisor that will go out to Bishkek by the end of this fiscal year to work more directly with them and to help target assistance in law enforcement, counternarcotics and legal reform.
In the area of democracy assistance, I'd say that the fiscal year 2003 is approximately 14.2 million, including money for exchanges, training and technical assistance to civil society, rule of law, independent media, political party development. So we're active with grants to nongovernmental organizations supporting democracy there.
If you want to know more about the human rights situation, you can talk to the briefer who will come later and talk about the Human Rights Reports.
QUESTION: Well, without getting into depth, he does speak of -- he mentions the group that's been around for 50 years that has more than 3,000 adherents in this country, and it's a sponsor -- it's pushing for a worldwide caliphate of Sharia law. I mean, you think democracy is the answer to (inaudible) --
MR. BOUCHER: Who are we talking about there?
QUESTION: Talking about Kyrgyzstan.
MR. BOUCHER: The IMU?
QUESTION: No, it's called the Hizb ut-Tahrir, I believe.
MR. BOUCHER: Again, we've been working in a variety of ways with the government against terrorism to improve border security generally, to improve their ability to control their territory and fight terrorism. We recognize the threats that they face, but we also recognize that the most stable way, the most long-term way, to fight terrorism is to create the hope of democracy and the reality of democracy that gives people in the nation a say in their own affairs and lets them participate peacefully and politically in the affairs of the nation. And that tends to withdraw the support for the extremist elements, but the extremist elements do need to be fought.
QUESTION: The Georgian, if I can ask you about him. He made quite a presentation last night: democracy, commitment, et cetera. Very energetic, very reform-minded. But if you look around in editorial columns and stories from there, there is concern -- I tried him on it, he tried to answer -- but there is concern about the way the media is treated and the way arrests are made, even if the arrests are justified.
Is there a concern here that his government is a little heavy-handed in the way it knocks on the door in the middle of the night and hauls people away? And there have been demonstrations in the main avenue about television, suppression of television, now because he says (inaudible).
MR. BOUCHER: The human rights situation in Georgia, as elsewhere, is obviously something that we want to follow closely. It's a brand new government. The Secretary went out for the inauguration last month. That was a celebration of democratic elections, of a constitutional process of change that brought a new leadership in with strong commitments to further the cause of democracy to fight corruption, finds ways to develop the nation.
As they go about that, there are probably -- there are, indeed, a great many of things that they're going to have to look at and take care of in Georgia. We will follow their progress, support their progress and try to ensure that they keep making progress in the areas that they need to address.
So it's obviously part of our agenda. But we have a new government with a new commitment to dealing in those areas, and we look forward to trying to see what they can accomplish and to what we can support -- what we can work with them on.
QUESTION: If we can go back to North Korea, I'm wondering has the HEU program been (inaudible) on the first day talk? And also, is the U.S. troubled by North Korea latest statement released right before the talks which denied the HEU program again?
MR. BOUCHER: You know, we've seen these denials before. We've also seen their frank admission in our discussions with them that they had an enrichment program, an HEU enrichment program. We also see more and more information coming out in the international arena from people that might have been involved in some way with that program.
So as, I think, we've made very, very clear, denuclearization means we need to eliminate all the nuclear programs, all the enrichment programs, all the weapons programs, and that will be a position that we have to -- those are the issues we have to deal with at the talks.
As far as whether that specific program was discussed in this particular session, I just can't do that briefing from here. I'm not going to try to give you a daily readout of what came up and what didn't. I'm trying to let the people in Beijing handle that as they go through the talks and see where we can get to with this round.
QUESTION: Yes. About Iraqi-Kurdish groups, they claim that the oil in their area is belongs to Kurds. They don't want to share the other part of the country. And also, they said that they don't want to give the permission to the Iraqi army, the new Iraqi army, enter and duty in there area. And they prepared some kind of, this kind of amendment, and they presented this amendment to bar that regime in -- right now, interim regime right now. Do you share their (inaudible) about the --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not a running political commentary on what Kurds may or may not be saying. I would note that there is a process of discussion going on in Iraq, that Iraqis and the Governing Council and elsewhere are discussing arrangements that could be made for a federal system in Iraq, and for the way that different groups in areas relate to each other. That's a very complicated discussion that needs to be held.
There are indeed a wide variety of views on it. I think you've seen some announcements that progress, and then some agreements, have been made. Some of that is being addressed in the context of the transitional assembly, or the transitional law that's being discussed this very week in Iraq. Some of that will be settled, some of it will not. Some of it's going to have to be an ongoing part of the dialogue between Kurds from throughout the country as they move towards a constitution.
So as these issues are discussed and debated, and they need to be discussed and debated inside Iraq, I really need to say they're for the Iraqis to figure out. A great many issues like this will come up. It's for the Iraqis to figure out in the context of controlling and deciding their own destiny. And I'm not going to try to do commentary from here.
QUESTION: Also, you promised the Turkish Government to disband the PKK terrorist organization in northern Iraq. Almost a year, you are waiting. I don't know, what are you waiting?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we've been waiting. I think we've actually been working actively to control and eliminate the activities of terrorists in northern Iraq. We've had very close cooperation with the Turkish Government on this, except for a couple of incidents that I think you're familiar with. But the United States has been actively working in that area to try to eliminate terrorism and prevent terrorism that might be directed against us, against Iraqis or against Turkey.
QUESTION: Yes, Mr. Boucher, according to yesterday's USA Today, "U.S. authorities have expressed deep concern about the unchecked access to Greece from neighboring Albania and Macedonia." And an American law enforcement official said he believed, "if al-Qaida is thinking about Athens Olympic Games, they might already be in the country." Any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not going to comment on U.S. authorities, because I don't know who they are. I certainly have not expressed anything to that effect. We have worked closely and will continue to work with the Government of Greece to make sure the security for the Olympics is as good as possible.
QUESTION: In yesterday's editorial of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, with the title, "Problems of Democracy: The Year of Voting Dangerously," in (inaudible) writing, "Greece also has potentially troublesome elections," and openly supporting the election of (inaudible) government --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sorry. I can just stop you right here because I'm not going to be a commentator on what newspapers write in their editorials. I didn't happen to read the Pittsburgh Post Gazette yesterday. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: But (inaudible) in this point. Do you believe that democracy in Greece is in trouble today under the present election?
MR. BOUCHER: We believe there is democracy in Greece, and we're happy to see it prosper.
QUESTION: Your --
MR. BOUCHER: We have some more questions here.
QUESTION: Yes, your Ambassador to Greece --
MR. BOUCHER: There are other people who want to ask questions, is what I was saying.
QUESTION: But, sir, I raised two questions (inaudible) --
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, keep going.
QUESTION: Your Ambassador to Greece, Tom Miller, February 4th, testified before the Foreign Relations Committee about the security of the Olympic Games in Athens this summer. Ambassador Miller, however, briefed the members on the upcoming election in Greece March 7th, taking sides and making predictions, interfering in the internal affair of Greece.
I am wondering if the Secretary Powell is aware about his full testimony to this effect. I mean his involvement in the Greek politics.
MR. BOUCHER: Are you trying to talk about something that happened in closed session? I'm not aware our Ambassador testified in that manner, nor to that effect.
QUESTION: Excuse me?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware that our Ambassador had any public remarks to that effect.
QUESTION: The Syrian Foreign Minister yesterday and the President of Syria, during a visit by Norwegian Foreign Minister, they welcomed the Western initiatives for the Middle East; but, however, they expressed -- they and King of Saudi Arabia, President of Egypt, in their meeting in Saudi Arabia -- they expressed the opinion that those American and Western initiatives for the Middle East would not have chance to succeed unless Israel ends its occupation to the Arab lands.
On the other hand, we heard here in Washington from the 80-years-old political icon of Israel, Mr. Shimon Peres, his conclusion that Israel must end its occupation of Arab lands, that 10 percent occupation -- occupation of 10 percent of Arab land would guarantee 100 percent of continuation of the struggle there.
I wonder if you heard -- if you had any chance to hear similar statements by Israelis from your envoys to the Middle East who came recently back from there.
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't do with what we heard here, trying to make me put words in other people's mouths in terms of what came to our ears.
We had a good discussion yesterday, the Secretary did, with Mr. Peres. I think we talked about that to some extent at the briefing.
A PARTICIPANT: Monday.
MR. BOUCHER: Monday. Sorry. Monday. How time flies.
The Secretary had a good discussion with him. We talked about it at the briefing. We'll keep in touch with a variety of people in Israel. Our Embassy meets with a variety of people. We hear lots of different views. We know there's democracy; there's a lot of different views being expressed in Israel. We hear from anybody who has an interest in the situation. We're all interested in making progress.
As far as the Middle East initiatives, whether it's the Partnership Initiative that we have, the Barcelona arrangements and some of the activities the Europeans have, or the Greater Middle East Initiative that's being discussed right now, I'd refer you to the comments the Secretary made when he talked to Al Hurra yesterday -- it's in the transcript that we've released -- where he makes quite clear, as we have made clear all along, there are voices for reform that are being raised in this region right now. There are people who are trying to organize new judicial systems, organize elections, governments and local groups, civic groups, that are trying to move forward on reform.
We want to support them. We're not imposing something from outside. We are not trying to divert attention from the Middle East peace issues, but we're trying to work with people in the region who want to make progress. And that's going to be what we're going to try to do, even as we work hard and continue to work hard to try to make progress between Israelis and Palestinians.
QUESTION: But the opinion that the Arabs expressed that what the Middle East is in need first, before any initiative to be implemented, is peace, the end of the struggle.
MR. BOUCHER: We couldn't agree more that the Middle East needs peace. But the people of the Middle East also need opportunity. They need education. They need a chance to prosper. They need free market systems that give them the opportunity to be creative. They need freedom to be able to express themselves, to gather information, to be able to control their destinies. They need all these things, including peace. And where the United States can be engaged in helping them on all those things, we will -- whether it's peace, democracy, freedom, economics or simple job opportunities.
QUESTION: Richard, the World Court hearings are concluding. Any assessment of them? And also --
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: -- this morning, the Sharon -- I don't know whether it's army or bank auditors have raided a Ramallah bank looking for, I guess, the corruption that you've said that the Palestinian administration has had. Any comments concerning that?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. There was -- there are reports of, I think, the Israeli Defense Forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets -- these are press reports -- as they went into the branches of three banks in Ramallah.
We learned of these actions after they were initiated by Israeli authorities. The Israelis have told us they were seeking to confiscate funds that were destined for terrorist organizations.
We certainly recognize the need to cut off funding for terror organizations, and we've always called for Palestinian leaders to take immediate, credible steps to end terror and violence.
According to both Palestinians and Israelis, the operation was not coordinated in any way by Palestinian financial authorities who are responsible for the supervision of Palestinian banks. We have in the past, and continue to urge the Israeli Government to work closely with the Palestinian financial authorities to address the issues of transparency and of making sure that money doesn't reach any terrorist groups through these banks.
The actions -- some of these actions that were taken risk destabilizing the Palestinian banking sector, and so we'd prefer to see Israeli coordination with Palestinian financial authorities in order to stem the flow of funds to terrorist groups.
QUESTION: Well, can I follow up?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: When they do something like this and they say that they're, you know, seeking to confiscate funds, do you follow up and ask them for evidence of how they, of how they came to this? Or if they just say that they're confiscating funds, then you just think that they obviously have a --
MR. BOUCHER: The whole issue of financial accountability, of transparency, has been one that the United States has worked on for more than a year, and one where considerable progress has been made, where sufficient progress was made so the Israelis were comfortable turning over tax revenues, for example. And we have seen a very productive relationship between the United States and the Israelis and the Palestinians introducing -- in introducing more financial accounting mechanisms, more transparency. And that's been a positive thing, both for the Israelis, but especially for Palestinians, who see where their money goes and who see that it's being handled appropriately for the people who live in these territories.
So we think that's been a very positive place, and that's the kind of progress we want to see continue. We are certainly in touch with the Israeli authorities when they do these kinds of steps, but we're in touch with them over the bigger issues as well, and how to continue to make progress on the issues. And we do follow up on specifics to make sure that we understand what information they might have and that we know that they can and will look at all possible ways of dealing with it, short of taking actions such as this.
QUESTION: What does it mean when you say, "We're in touch when they take these kinds of steps"?
MR. BOUCHER: That our Embassy in Tel Aviv has spoken with Israeli officials about these raids and what lay behind them.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, when you said that some of these actions that were taken risked destabilizing the Palestinian banks, the actions of this latest raid or just in general?
MR. BOUCHER: Actions of this type, including this raid, yeah.
Okay. Are we done, almost?
QUESTION: As we speak, Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky is in Afghanistan attending meetings -- especially it's about the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, but also she's scheduled to be meeting with other officials talking about counternarcotics and an initiative that is providing jobs for women and other groups through environmental projects.
Are these projects are being over -- under --- worked with the State -- U.S. -- through the Women's Ministry or other ministry?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know the details of all the projects.
QUESTION: Is it targeted to women's --
MR. BOUCHER: There are any number of projects that are targeted to women, but obviously there's a lot of money going into the overall development of Afghanistan, as a whole. The benefits that we've seen in opening up the education sector, where girls were denied the opportunity, have fallen to a great extent -- have been available to a great extent -- to the girls who can now go to school.
So a lot of the more general development projects that we're involved in, whether it's education, health, job training, opportunities for work in ministries and elsewhere -- these have been of direct benefit to the women of Afghanistan who can now play a role that they were not allowed to play in previous governments.
But Under Secretary Dobriansky is out there participating in the conference, but as you say, also looking at the overall situation as regards Afghan women and some of these broader issues where we need to continue to make progress, and I'm sure she'll come back and -- with ideas about how we can continue to make progress in those areas.
QUESTION: So, basically, this initiative is not exclusively for the women?
MR. BOUCHER: Some are and some aren't. That's about as simple way of reviewing the answer I gave ,you that some of these initiatives are specifically directed against women and may, indeed, be going through the ministry. I don't how many.
MR. BOUCHER: But you have to remember that a lot of broader projects have a very direct impact on the women of Afghanistan, as well, a very positive impact for the women and girls of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: And can you say, sir, a little bit about the immediate initiatives taken, or will be taken through the Afghan Government and with collaboration with the Italian and Japanese Government on counternarcotics?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything immediately on that now. I'll see if I can get you something, or if it's perhaps being done out there.
MR. BOUCHER: Saul.
QUESTION: Venezuela. Late last night, the National Electoral Council ruled that -- by putting aside a lot of the signatures for the referendum, saying there is some suspicion about similar handwriting, and obviously that would -- could delay the decision on a referendum.
The opposition says the Council is biased. The opposition says it means the referendum is not going to go ahead. What's your reaction?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as you say, late last night, Venezuela's National Electoral Council voted three-to-two to further scrutinize hundreds of thousands of recall petition signatures. We share the concerns that have been expressed all along by the OAS and the Carter Center. They issued a statement on February 24th that we agree with.
We underscore the need for a timely process that facilitates participation and respects the constitutional rights of the Venezuelan citizens who signed the various recall petitions.
We, again, call on all parties to reach a constitutional, peaceful, democratic and electoral solution to the present impasse, as called for in the OAS Permanent Council Resolution 833.
QUESTION: So, with the concerns that you've brought, once the Council comes to its eventual decision about whether there should be a referendum, is that something that you will accept?
MR. BOUCHER: We have always maintained that the rights of the Venezuelan citizens who have been signing these petitions need to be respected, and that the constitutional processes need to be observed. So that's what we have always supported. And if that's what happens, we'll obviously support it.
You've got one more. Sorry.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. The Swedish Foreign Minister said that she discussed with the U.S. officials -- she asked them to develop a free market policy for the region of the Mediterranean region and to encourage also a dialogue for the United States and to encourage dialogue between the European and Middle Eastern countries. That's the way it has been put.
Could you elaborate please on that? And what was the reaction of the Administration to her suggestion?
MR. BOUCHER: It was a mutual discussion. I can't remember exactly how it transpired in the meeting that the Secretary had with the Swedish Foreign Minister, but they did discuss sort of the Greater Middle East Initiative, the ideas that are around about what we can all do to promote free markets, democracy, rule of law, civil society, education, whatever kind of change people in the region are looking for, and certainly, part of that is the free market process.
The United States has programs in place that we want to continue and -- continue to use, whether it's trade and investment framework agreements or free trade agreements and the greater -- the idea of even a greater zone of free trade in the Middle East.
So we've -- we talked about opportunity. We talked about trade. We talked about the American programs, the European Union's programs through the Barcelona process to promote free market opportunity in the Middle East. And they agreed that this was a very important part of our interaction with countries in this region, and we're going to look for ways to continue to promote and expand that.
QUESTION: Any practical steps were suggested or --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think we looked at what we're doing now, and then, as part of this broader initiative, as we talked to countries in the region, which the Secretary has also been doing in his meetings with people from the region, we and our partners will try to develop more programs that can meet their needs.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 p.m.)
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