State Department Noon Briefing, April 15, 2004


Thursday April 15, 2004

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Thursday, April 15, 2004

BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman


-- Assassination of Iranian Diplomat
-- Iranian Role in Iraq
-- al-Sadr Situation
-- Iran Mediating Italian Hostage Release
-- U.S. Knowledge of Delegation

-- Japanese Hostages
-- American Hostages
-- Reaction to Brahimi's Comments / Structure of Interim Government
-- Presence of Coalition Forces / Security
-- Nuclear Capability / Rotterdam / Dutch Government / IAEA Specialists
-- New bin Laden Tape / Al-Qaida Involvement
-- Request for Turkish Troops
-- Additional American Troops

-- Referendum / Settlement
-- Karamanlis-Sener Comments
-- U.S. Aid
-- Annan Plan
-- Northern Republic of Cyprus
-- Lifting of Embargo
-- Secretary Powell Phone Calls to Anastasiades and Clerides

-- Armitage Travel
-- Secretary Powell Conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister

-- U.S. Policy on Settlements / Withdraw from Gaza
-- Senator Biden Comments
-- Secretary Powell Phone Calls with Mubarak, Qureia, Annan, King Abdullah and Maher
-- U.S. Involvement / Withdrawal / Gaza
-- Middle East Initiative / Negotiations/ Right of Return
-- Right of Return
-- Additional Letters / White House Statement
-- Consultations / Eliot Abrams / A/S Burns
-- Presidential Statement
-- Discussion of Next Steps
-- Visit of Palestinian Foreign Minister
-- Chairman Arafat
-- UN Security Council Resolutions 242 / 338 / Land Expansion

-- Warden Message / Security Problems

-- New View of Reality / Negotiations
-- Vote on UN Resolution

-- Secretary's Meeting with OAS Secretary General Candidate

-- First Round of Presidential Elections

-- President Musharraf Stepping Down

-- Vote on UN Resolution



1:38 p.m. EDT

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements so I'd be glad to take your questions.

QUESTION: Well, a lot of us are interested, of course, in what happened with the assassination of the Iranian diplomat. I could ask, to begin with, what the U.S. knows about this, but, you know, the U.S. interest is whether this is related in any way to Iran's attempt to intervene and restore some order?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have much information on the reports of the assassination of an Iranian diplomat in Baghdad. The Coalition Authority and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Iraqi security authorities are looking into the incident and trying to find out what they can about what occurred.

So I would say it's probably premature to draw any conclusions about whether it reflects anything about the role that Iran has played one way or the other in Iraq.

QUESTION: But can I ask you, apart from that, about Iran's role? There were reports that there was substantial discourse, conversation, through Switzerland on the U.S. welcoming Iran's intervention, that it wasn't just spontaneous, there was a lot of back and forth on that. Is that correct?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to be able to get into particular messages. I think I said yesterday that over time, we have had a variety of channels, means, to get -- sorry, a variety of messages to the Iranians through the channels that we have for communicating with them, to the effect that it's important that they play a constructive role, not a destructive role in their activities and their relationships in Iraq. We think it's important that all the neighbors have a positive role in this situation and do what they can to help stabilize the situation and build an Iraq that can be a good neighbor to all of them. So that's a message we've consistently passed to the Iranians and one that we continue to pass to them.


QUESTION: Is it your impression that up until today, Iran had been playing a constructive and positive role?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we've commented in a variety of ways on, I think, different things that Iran or Iranians had done in Iraq. I would say we have seen some things that are positive. We've also been concerned about some negative influences. So it's been a matter that we've kept under advisement. And one of the reasons why we've continued to find ways to deliver this message is because it's an important one to stress and it's important to make sure that all of their activities are constructive and not destructive.

QUESTION: Specifically on the al-Sadr situation, was Iran playing a constructive and positive role?

MR. BOUCHER: On the al-Sadr situation, I think, first of all, our view -- and this has been communicated to the Iranians as well -- is that it's not appropriate for them to try to mediate, in some way. It is appropriate for them to try to work with the authorities in Baghdad, to try to work with the Iraqis, who are in leadership roles, as we have and others have, to try to help stabilize this situation and bring whatever influence to bear that they can. It would help stabilize the situation peacefully and allow the extension of governmental authority.

QUESTION: The Greek Government today announced its formal position on the Cyprus referendum.

QUESTION: Wait. Iran.

MR. BOUCHER: Finish with Iranians and Iraq, first? Okay.

QUESTION: Why would the U.S. consider it not appropriate for them to mediate if they can play a -- if they can do it in a constructive way?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think the issue of trying to mediate directly and get involved with some negotiator in a crisis where we think that there is a simple and straightforward solution, and that is for the -- Mr. al-Sadr and the people of Najaf to be allowed to live in peace, but for him to face Iraqi justice, for government buildings, property and authority to be restored, and for militias to be disbanded.

All those things have already been decided by the Iraqis in the transitional law, in the arrangements that they have made, and in the justice system that they have set up. And so it's not really a matter of mediating or negotiating those things. There is a clear solution to this crisis -- and to the difficulties that have been created by Mr. al-Sadr, and that's one that we intend to see through, as the U.S. military and the coalition have made clear.

QUESTION: There are reports though that the Iranians are trying to mediate the release of the three surviving Italian hostages. And I wanted to ask you what the United States thinks about that. And while I'm on the subject, if there is any reaction to the murder of the one hostage, and what the United States is doing to try to help obtain the release of the other three.

MR. BOUCHER: First, on the issue of whether the Iranians are somehow mediating the release of the other three Italian hostages, I don't know if that's true or not. I'm not able really to confirm it or, therefore, to comment on it in any way.

As far as the taking of other hostages, the taking of hostages is always a matter of great concern to us. We have worked with other governments to try to do everything we can to identify who's holding people, where they might be, what can be done to free them, and to work very closely, as regards the welfare of people who might be taken hostage or otherwise be put at risk by dangerous people operating in Iraq.

As far as the murder of a hostage, it's despicable, it's a cowardly act, and it has no rationale or political purpose. And I find it hard to imagine that anybody would think that that is a legitimate or even rational means of whatever political pressure or influence or whatever their intentions might be.

QUESTION: What can let us know about the Japanese? If you don't like the word negotiations, pick your own word, but the Japanese had negotiations to secure the release of their three hostages. Was the U.S. part of it? Did the Japanese check? Did the U.S. -- do you approve of whatever you know?

MR. BOUCHER: (Laughter.) Do we approve of what we know? We have been in touch with the Japanese throughout this crisis. I would repeat what we've just said before. We're very, very pleased that the Japanese hostages have been released -- three of the Japanese have been released. We're always happy to see people released and able to go back to their loved ones.

We have also made clear, I think, in all these hostage situations that it's important for all of us to raise our determination against those who would commit acts of terror or take innocent people hostage. And indeed, that has been the reaction of Prime Minister Korizumi, Prime Minister Berlusconi, Prime Minister Blair, President Bush and others. And I think we're finding in all these situations that we are together in trying to act against hostage-takers and act against terrorists.

As far as what may or may not have been negotiated, I'm not aware one way or the other that there was any particular negotiation. There certainly were attempts by Japan and others to make contacts to secure this release, and we were, to the extent we could, helping out in that matter.

QUESTION: Back to the Iranian delegation. If the United States doesn't think it's appropriate for them to be mediating, did the United States know beforehand that the delegation was going to Iraq? And if so, did it do anything to try and dissuade the delegation from going?

MR. BOUCHER: I think -- I've seen a lot of press reports that describe this delegation as going to mediate in Najaf. In fact, what we know about this delegation is that there was a delegation sent by the Iranians to Baghdad that -- and they went there, they wanted to meet with the British with the Coalition Authority, with the -- specifically, they asked for a meeting with the British people who were there. And they did have that meeting and, in fact, an American sat in on that meeting, one of our people at the Coalition Authority. We used the occasion to pass the message that I described to you before, that we always do, that it's important for Iranian policy to be constructive and not destructive, and to pass the message that we didn't think it was appropriate for them to try to mediate in the situation in Najaf.

But our understanding of this delegation that the Iranians were sending was that it was a group that was coming to Baghdad to talk to people there about the situation, including people at the coalition.

QUESTION: So when the message was delivered, that you don't think it was appropriate for them to go to Najaf, did they respond negatively?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particular Iranians' response to that. But, as I said, I've seen press reports that describe these people as intending to mediate, but frankly, that's never been our understanding of that particular group of people. I'm not sure if we have two groups mixed up or whether there's just some other purpose being attached to a group that we had not heard was part of their purpose.

QUESTION: Well, then, I'm a little confused. It was my understanding that the United States, when informed of this visit, did not object to it.

MR. BOUCHER: The visit to Baghdad, yeah.



QUESTION: So we didn't --

MR. BOUCHER: That, in fact, we said --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) come for a blessing, so you said, fine, come on in? Not directly to them, but --

MR. BOUCHER: The Iranians proposed it, asked to come, asked to meet at the coalition. The British said yes to that. We didn't object to that; in fact, we sat it on the meeting with the British and used it as the opportunity to pass our message.


QUESTION: Richard, we were talking before about hostages, Japanese hostages, Italian hostages. Can you give us an update on American hostages?

MR. BOUCHER: I really don't have any new information today on the situation with American hostages or the bodies that were found.

Okay. You had a Cyprus question. Can we do that? No, we've still got more on Iraq. Nadia.

QUESTION: The U.S. position regarding Sadr, said he wanted to be killed or captured?

MR. BOUCHER: Regarding what?

QUESTION: Sadr, Muqtada Sadr. Is it still the official position they would want him dead or arrested?

MR. BOUCHER: Our view has been and continues to be that he is under charges from the Iraqi justice and that he needs to face those charges.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --


QUESTION: It's different from the official view by the military that they were saying, basically, they wanted to kill him or arrest him. To be arrested and trial is different from being captured and -- or killed.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, to be arrested, I suppose one can surrender voluntarily, and if you don't, you run the risk of getting killed.


QUESTION: Following up Brahimi's statement yesterday and the CPA's positive response to it, does the United States endorse what Brahimi said, and is it your understanding that the United Nations would be the one to choose the interim government in Iraq, the post-June 30th government?

MR. BOUCHER: I think the first thing to say is that Ambassador Brahimi himself said this is a work in progress, that these are his tentative ideas, that he will continue to discuss them with the Secretary General, with members of -- with the Security Council in New York, and more work to be done in Baghdad when he goes back.

So I think the first point to make is maybe it's a little early to say "endorse." We certainly welcome the recommendations that he's made on structuring an interim government. We commend the work that he has done in Iraq, the work that he and his team have done in Iraq, as well as the work that's being done by the election team that the United Nations has there, headed by Carina Perelli. We think their contributions to the Iraqi people, to the process, are the key to ensuring that there's a government elected through transparent, democratic elections, as we've all hoped for, towards the end of this year or early next year.

So there have been a number of elements that I talked about yesterday, that CPA and elsewhere have talked about, in terms of what Ambassador Brahimi announced that we find to be positive and welcome. He expressed a determination and the feasibility of doing the transfer of sovereignty on the June 30th deadline. That's a very important step in Iraq's path to sovereignty and we hope the UN will continue to play a leading role. And we'll continue to work with him and support him as this process proceeds.

As far as sort of who chooses, I think what Ambassador Brahimi has described and what he has begun to set up and will continue to work on is a process of consultations with the Iraqis so that the individuals who will run the Iraqi government really emerge from Iraqis and from the discussions that he has and that others have with Iraqis themselves, and that it's not intended to be a blind choice from afar. It's intended as something that's been -- that's intended, as he described it, to be something very firmly based on extensive consultations that he has had and will continue to have with Iraqis.

We have similar contacts. I'm sure many of us will contribute to the process. But it's really based on the views and opinions and suggestions of people in Iraq about how to form and structure that government that can operate.

And then he has also talked about this much broader consultative national conference that can be held, probably not till after June 30th, but that can further bring forward views, people, ideas, discussion and advice for the Iraqi interim government as it proceeds during this, what we hope will be a relatively short period between the transfer and the elections.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up. Do you have any doubt that whatever interim government emerges in Iraq will invite the coalition military to remain?

MR. BOUCHER: I think I've heard many voices say that it will continue to be necessary to have coalition forces there to maintain security, provide security, indeed expand security for Iraqis, help get to the point where we can have elections. I think that's recognized by just about everybody, whether it's Iraqis or foreigners or others or UN people.

And so I have no doubt. I think if you look at Ambassador Brahimi's press conference, he stated it as a given that that needs to be the situation.


QUESTION: What's your reaction to the story today in The Washington Post about Iraq having greater nuclear capabilities and having shipped something through Rotterdam? I didn't bring the story with me so I don't have --

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, the story is that some things have shown up in Rotterdam. One was that, as the Dutch Government, in fact, reported last December, that some yellowcake had shown up.


MR. BOUCHER: And the second was that some missiles had shown up that were originally reported to be al-Samoud IIs, which was one of the longer-range missiles under UN -- UNMOVIC control. Our information is, in fact, that the engines that showed up were SA-2s, which are shorter-range missiles, missile engines, engines for missiles that were shorter-range, and that Iraq had approval to have.

We're still looking into these matters. We are in touch with the Dutch authorities about it, about the reports of missile engines being found at scrap yards. We do take very seriously the allegations of exported materiel from Iraq.

One of our key priorities is, in fact, to help Iraq develop an effective export and border control system to prevent the spread of weapons-related items technology materiel. So we're working closely with Iraq and with Iraq's neighbors, including Jordan and Turkey, and other like-minded regional partners to strengthen the controls at the borders.

We had a U.S. delegation that visited Rotterdam earlier this year to discuss the installation of radiation detection equipment under -- what's -- the Department of Energy is actually -- a Department of Energy initiative on mega ports. And at that point, since that came after the reports that the Dutch had made of yellowcake, so that yellowcake issue was discussed with the Dutch, and at that time, but the missile report hadn't come out yet, so that wasn't discussed then.

QUESTION: And what was the reaction on the yellowcake story? Is that solid?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it's a matter really for the Dutch Government to talk more about, if they can. It was, I guess, a small quantity that was found, relatively small quantity. I don't know exactly how much, but the Dutch would have to give you details. The issue, I think, was to try to identify at that time what was discovered and where it might have originated. I don't have any more definition of that. I'm not certain. I can't say for sure it did come from Iraq.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on this issue. So is there any necessity to bring the IAEA specialists back to Iraq for securing the (inaudible) facility?

MR. BOUCHER: As you know, shortly after the war, we did have international specialists come to look at the material that was under safeguard, and to ensure that it was properly protected, or to find out its status and ensure that it remained under proper protection.

I'm not sure if that's happened again. I'd just have to double check and see. But whether that happened again or whether that, in fact, was necessary once we finally had a situation where we could look at the material that was under IAEA safeguard, it was important to ascertain how much of that might have been looted and where it was and what had happened to it.


QUESTION: Still on Iraq.

MR. BOUCHER: We're still on Iraq, sorry.


QUESTION: Back to Brahimi. Obviously, you say the things that you welcome and are positive in his plans. Can I just be clear? Do you endorse the idea of having the assembly in July select their legislative council? One will have it before the --

MR. BOUCHER: That's not what he proposed.

QUESTION: So the -- if that's not what he -- what my understanding is that after June 30th, there would be a kind of loya jirga, according to his proposals, but would then produce a larger legislative body.

MR. BOUCHER: No, that's not what he proposed. I -- read Brahimi's press conference. I can't endorse something that he didn't propose. I can't endorse what he did propose quite yet. I can say we welcome what he did. We basically endorse the work that he's doing. It's not quite at the point of a full proposal yet because he wants to develop it further. But if you look at his press conference, you'll find he talked about identifying an interim government by June 30th that can take power and then having a national dialogue in a consultative and advisory role after that.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. is now completely dependent on the UN and Lakhdar Brahimi to come with this plan before June 30th?


QUESTION: And if he does not come with this plan, are you willing to --

MR. BOUCHER: He will.

QUESTION: -- hand over power to the current Iraqi Governing Council?

MR. BOUCHER: That's not the plan.

QUESTION: Yeah, but how can you say that he might come? I mean, when it suits you, sometimes you're optimistic. When it doesn't, then we can't predict the future.

MR. BOUCHER: I can't predict the future any better than you can --

QUESTION: Exactly. So I'm just saying if he doesn't --

MR. BOUCHER: -- but I'm not going to answer a question that's based on your prediction of the future. I'll stick, for the moment, with my prediction of the future, which is that Lakhdar Brahimi says he can do this by June 30th. We believe he can.

Second of all, that all the various ideas that had been discussed did not involve turning over power to the Governing Council. In fact, the opposite has been the case. It's been clear from the transitional law that the Governing Council, the CPA would all go out of business or be transformed as we formed a new interim administration, although the Governing Council people obviously have a role and had a role under any of those ideas that were put out.

And I forget what the third premise was, but that was wrong, too.

QUESTION: It doesn't matter. Just clarify this again. I mean, apart from the UN plan, do you have any alternatives?

MR. BOUCHER: There have been a number of ideas discussed and explored by members of the Governing Council, by people in Iraq. What Ambassador Brahimi is doing is taking all those various ideas and views and kind of distilling them into a feasible plan to create the interim government, to stand -- to have an interim government that can assume and exercise power for Iraq.

I mean, let's remember that -- the point here is that on July 1st Iraqis are going to be running their country again without the oversight and supervision of the Coalition Authority. They'll have the support, advice, expertise, financial support, security assistance and everything else from the international community that they have now, but they'll be in charge.

And so what Ambassador Brahimi is focusing on is how to create an Iraqi government that has legitimacy, that has popular support, that has support from the different groups in Iraq, and that can effectually -- effectively function as a government for Iraq.

He says he can do that. He has started to lay out his ideas. He says he can do that by June 30th, in fact, quite a bit before June 30th. And we believe he can.

QUESTION: Richard, about Iraq --

MR. BOUCHER: Adi. Not yet.

QUESTION: Thank you. The bin Laden audiotape, purportedly to be from bin Laden, I think. What is your sense of this tape? He's trying to involve himself in the mess again in Iraq, or what he qualifies as that. What's your sense of this tape?

MR. BOUCHER: First of all, I think other agencies have done the appropriate technical analysis and it does look like it's bin Laden's voice on the tape.

Our reaction would be the same as we've said about the hostage-takings, that it's not time to submit to blackmail, that this attempt to drive a wedge among the nations of the West, among the nations who are standing against terror, should only lead us to strengthen our determination, as, in fact, events have shown in recent days.

The leaders of many nations have even stood up strongly. In Italy, you not only had Prime Minister Berlusconi, but you had the former communists saying they're not going to submit to this kind of blackmail. The Japanese Government has spoken out, the UK Government, the U.S. Government -- many governments have spoken out clearly to say that these kind of indiscriminate threats, these attempts to find a logical rationale for an ideology of murder not only are falling on deaf ears but, in fact, just increase our determination to succeed in the fight against terror.

Al-Qaida has been associated with attacks in any number of countries that have attacked Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, just about everybody, every religion, people of every religion on the planet, people in countries that were part of the coalition, not part of the coalition, people in Arab countries, fellow Arabs in some places, members of government, non-members, civilians in places like Madrid, people just trying to go to work. So these indiscriminate nature of the murder and the terror conducted by al-Qaida and its associates, I think, gives a lie to any claims of political purpose.

QUESTION: Richard, I just wanted to see if you want to rephrase what you said at the very top of that, which is, if I'm right, you said, "It's not time to submit to blackmail." Do you want to rephrase that at all? You're suggesting that there may come a time.

MR. BOUCHER: It's never time to submit to blackmail.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER: And certainly not --

QUESTION: You just did. (Laughter.)

MR. BOUCHER: -- by terrorists. I wasn't accusing your colleague of anything similar.

Okay, we're going to finish off with Iraq.

QUESTION: One last one. Did you ask -- did you request any troops from Turkey for the Iraq lately?

MR. BOUCHER: Lately? Have you -- I don't know. We usually don't announce our requests anyway, so I'm afraid I don't have anything for you on that.


QUESTION: I have a quick question. The Secretary of Defense just announced that they will send more troops to Iraq.

MR. BOUCHER: No, he didn't.

QUESTION: Well, he's about -- I guess --

MR. BOUCHER: He may do it in 28 minutes, but he hasn't done it yet. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay, I stand corrected.

The Secretary of Defense will announce sending more troops to Iraq. Could you tell us if that decision is taken by the President's national security group calling the Secretary of State, and having been the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whether he had a special input into this thing?

MR. BOUCHER: No, we don't tell about what goes on at high-level meetings or if significant decisions like this are made. The deployment of U.S. troops is almost always a presidential decision and I think if you look at the President's statements the other night, he said that he was prepared to approve and endorse the recommendations that the military people might be making. And I'll just leave it at what he has said and what Secretary Rumsfeld might say if there is such a decision.

Okay. We're still on Iraq, right?

QUESTION: Sir, one clarification, please, on the Iranian mission. I don't understand. You said it was never your understanding that they were there to mediate over Najaf. And yet, you took the opportunity of your meeting with the Iranian delegation to say it was not appropriate for them to mediate in Najaf. So where were you getting the idea from that they were there to --

MR. BOUCHER: From you guys.

QUESTION: So you're reacting to press reports about that?

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I mean, it was widely reported.

QUESTION: Well, it wasn't as widely reported. It was the foreign minister of the country that said --

MR. BOUCHER: Was it the foreign minister that actually said it?

QUESTION: I mean --

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I don't remember whether -- why it was -- what the reports were based on, but it was widely discussed and reported that they were intending to mediate. But I think that's just basically a subset of the basic message that we have delivered and continue to deliver, that it's important for all the neighbors, including Iran, to play a constructive role and not a destructive one.


QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on that, Richard. Do you think when the -- if the United States passes a message that it would like Iran to be helpful in the situation in Iraq, that it's reasonable to expect the Iranian Foreign Minister to get the impression the United States wants Iran to mediate?

MR. BOUCHER: You guys seem to be able to tell the difference between the two messages, so -- I don't know why anybody would draw that conclusion.

QUESTION: Well, the --

QUESTION: A different subject?



QUESTION: Well, the conclusion is drawn because yesterday, the impression left was that, while you guys weren't -- you didn't invite them, you certainly didn't oppose whatever they were going to do, and --

MR. BOUCHER: I'm confirming that for you today.

QUESTION: Yeah, and that you would like it, if whatever Iran was doing -- obviously, now minus any mediation -- that you would welcome any move that they could do to -- or anything they could do to stabilize the situation or not to destabilize the situation.

MR. BOUCHER: And I'm confirming that today without --

QUESTION: Yeah, well -- but today it's aborted.

MR. BOUCHER: And you noted yesterday --

MR. BOUCHER: Today you're telling them not to do something.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, no. We're telling them -- I started off saying -- I've said it five times, that it's important for them to play a constructive role and not a destructive one. As for the specific issue of should they be mediating in Najaf, no, we don't think that's appropriate. But that's not the only way that Iran may play -- might play a constructive role.

I mentioned other ways that Iran could play a constructive role, by supporting political progress in Iraq, by supporting the extension and the assertion of governmental authority in places like Najaf, and by making clear their support for the government institutions that are developing in Iraq. So to say that they need to play a constructive role, doesn't mean that they have to mediate a particular situation.


QUESTION: Change the subject?

MR. BOUCHER: No, this guy's going to do it first, but not quite yet.


QUESTION: Richard, apparently there has been a report of a convoy of wholesale weapons smuggling into Iraq, and it is with --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any reports. I don't know about that.

QUESTION: They apparently masked a Red Crescent-type, ambulance-type convoy filled with weapons. Have you spoken to Syria and other --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I had not heard about this at all, so you'd probably have to check first for the facts with the folks in Baghdad.

Yeah. Okay. We're going to change the subject here. Is that okay?

QUESTION: Just on Iraq.

MR. BOUCHER: One more, okay.

QUESTION: One quick one, sorry. On the Japanese hostages' release, a group called the Muslim Clerics Association has been credited for their release. Did the United States contact this association at all, and any time?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know, frankly. We were certainly in touch with the Japanese. We were -- they had contacts with groups, people in Iraq, who thought they could help get the hostages released. I guess we heard from some of them, too. We always coordinated closely with the Japanese Government. Whether this specific group was or was not involved, we just don't know.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: On Cyprus, the Greek Government today announced its official position on the referendum on the 24th, and the whole Greek leadership did the same thing, they took official positions. Do you have any reaction to that position? Because it seems that the Prime Minister is not clear, like you said. There are positive things; we think it's positive, but it's up to the Cypriot people. It's not a clear, very clear position.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, let me say a couple of things. I think overall there is a clear international support for a positive outcome in the referenda, and for a full and timely implementation of the settlement thereafter. I would make also clear that we don't think that a postponement of the referenda is possible.

Greek Prime Minister Karamanlis supported the UN settlement in his statement today. We welcome that.

He said that in the EU context the plan has more positives than negatives. And I think we have also said that everybody had to make compromises to get a deal but that the plan has distinct benefits and identifiable benefits to Greek-Cypriots, to Turkish-Cypriots, to the countries of the region, and to the EU. That's an opportunity for a unified Cyprus to become a member.

So, of course, in any negotiations there is, for any particular negotiator, there have been compromises and good things, bad things, good things and compromises. But I think we welcome the fact that the Greek Government has stood up and said that they support this plan, has stood up and said that there are more positives than negatives.

We'd also note a statement by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Sener today that goes -- he says it goes without saying that Turkey would fully honor its commitments under the settlement. We have made the point that we and others, including members of the Security Council, are very committed to ensuring full implementation of the agreement if it's approved in the referenda by the voters.

I'd note also there's clear support among Turkish-Cypriots. The pro-solution rally yesterday drew nearly 30,000 Turkish-Cypriots. There's a poll today that showed roughly 60 percent support for the UN settlement in the north. And we think Greek-Cypriot voters should look at the situation and consider, as we say, the positives, the benefits, the implementation of this, and we hope they will vote for this as well.

The implementation issue is very important to us. It's especially important, I think, to the Greek-Cypriot voters as well. And Cypriots of all -- from both sides should know that we are completely committed to supporting the full and timely implementation of the UN plan and assuring that all parties fulfill their commitments in all areas, including in security matters.

If I can add one thing, since we've been talking about this all week -- on behalf of the United States, in Brussels today at the pre-donors conference, AID Administrator Natsios made a pledge of $400 million. The conference has been hosted by the European Commission. Our pledge depends, obviously, on a settlement and will require approval by our Congress, where, as the Administrator noted himself, there has always been strong support for a Cyprus settlement.

The conference, we think, clearly demonstrated that the international community will make available the resources to support a settlement. We note the European Commission today announced that a final donors conference will occur in early autumn if the referenda are successful.

We are also pleased that at the conference today the IMF representatives reported that both sides will benefit from the agreement and that the plan is fiscally sound. That's been another issue on the minds of Cypriot voters.

QUESTION: One follow-up.


QUESTION: We know your position and all these positions you describe right now, but, for example, in Greece, all sides point out the positives and the negatives of the Annan plan, and, for example, opposition leader Mr. Papandreou took a clear position and said yes. In the case of the government, despite the fact that they point out that there are more positives, they didn't actually take a position. They said it's up to the Greek-Cypriots and the people in Cyprus to decide.

So do you have any reaction on that? Are you considering --

MR. BOUCHER: I think -- my understanding is that the Prime Minister supported the UN settlement in his statement.

QUESTION: Okay. He didn't call for a yes on the referendum, clearly.

MR. BOUCHER: Now, I -- if you have a problem with the way he phrased it, I guess you've got to raise it with him. I'm not -- I'm not going to try to nitpick on that. If he expressed support for the settlement, then that certainly expresses support for people who vote yes on the settlement.

QUESTION: The settlement -- because the statement is clear that he expressed support on the settlement of the Cyprus problem in general. As far as the referendum and the Annan plan, said there are more positives --

MR. BOUCHER: All I can tell you is we view this as a positive statement and we view it as a welcomed statement and we view it as an endorsement of the agreement that has been reached. We put him among the many leaders who have expressed international support for this agreement and who are looking for a yes vote on the referendum -- on the referenda, in the two sides.

And -- and that the Greek Government, like us, recognizes there have been compromises to get there, but that, on balance, it's important for all the Cypriots that they vote yes and that they be able to take advantage of the real benefits of this agreement.

QUESTION: Yes. In the case of the referendum, Greek side says no and the Turkish side yes. Are you ready to recognize the Northern (inaudible) Republic of the Cyprus?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not in a position to make predictions at this point. We'll certainly take into account the results of the referenda. We would not leave the Turkish-Cypriots out in the cold, but I think it's premature to speculate on what we might do if that were to occur.

QUESTION: In the same scenario, do you planning to lift the embargo which implement in the Turkish side?

MR. BOUCHER: As I've said, we wouldn't leave the Turkish-Cypriots out in the cold, but it's too early to say exactly what the details might be.

QUESTION: But isn't that fair -- the people wrote for what would be happening aftermath of the referendum?

MR. BOUCHER: Again, I appreciate all the suggestions of what we might do, but in terms of at this moment, I don't think it's time to speculate on the details. But I think I have made clear that we would certainly take the results into account, that we do appreciate all the work that particularly the Turkish Government has done to get us here, and that we wouldn't want to see the Turkish-Cypriots penalized further if they voted in support of the referendum.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) increasingly evident --

MR. BOUCHER: Are we on Cyprus still? Okay. We'll --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. BOUCHER: We'll get there.

QUESTION: It's become increasingly evident over the past couple weeks that the problem with this referendum, or the referenda, is the south is trying to get enough support. So let me try and take another stab at this question and then ask something about the money that you donated.

Given the fact that the Secretary has been putting most of his time -- most of the energy that he is putting into this has been directed at current and former Greek-Cypriot leaders, politicians and others -- are you not -- I'm not -- how are you not disappointed with the rather lukewarm endorsement that the Greek -- that the Greek Government offered? Do you think, or are you hopeful, that their endorsement, as qualified as it was, will be enough to sway the people in the south?

MR. BOUCHER: I think, in the end, the Cypriots themselves, the Greek-Cypriot voters and Turkish-Cypriot voters are going to have to consider what's in it for them. We think there are distinct benefits to each community: the return of some 120,000 Greek-Cypriots to their homes in the north, the departure of most of the Turkish troops, the ability to enter as a unified -- enter the EU as a unified island. These are distinct benefits. Those are, in the end, the things that will sway the voters.

We view the statement by the Greek Government as a positive statement that supports the settlement, the arrangement, the agreement that was reached, and to the extent that that can help, that's welcomed.

But in the end, I think the voters are going to focus on the benefits and we think that everybody who speaks out and identifies those benefits probably helps the understanding of what they're voting on.

QUESTION: On the issue of recognizing the northern part, when you say you don't want to leave the Turkish-Cypriots out in the cold, does that mean you're not ruling out that you could recognize that part and that would be a change of policy?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not speculating at this point on what we might change or what we might do.

QUESTION: Richard, (inaudible), I take it, will come in the form of a request to the Congress for '05?

MR. BOUCHER: That was his question. Three-quarters of the $400 million package would be new money that we would seek from our Congress in future budget requests, thus requiring congressional approval. One-quarter of it, that's about $100 million, is reprogramming of money that's already appropriated. So we would have some initial funds, we would be requesting more from the Congress. Once again, I would point out the Congress has consistently supported efforts to support -- efforts in Cyprus and has been consistently supportive of a Cyprus settlement. So we would expect that our Congress would want to provide this money.

QUESTION: Of course, that was before the -- a lot of things that have put a strain on the treasury.

MR. BOUCHER: That's partly our problem in finding it within the budget ceilings that we all have. But the fact that we make the pledge means that we would intend to find it, find the money and make the proposal and work hard to get the congressional support. And I'm pretty confident that we can do that. Otherwise, we wouldn't have gone ahead and made the pledge.

Are we still on this?

QUESTION: And any more phone calls by Secretary Powell on Cyprus?

MR. BOUCHER: I frankly can't remember where we left off.

QUESTION: You left off -- he called --

MR. BOUCHER: Did we go through all the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot leaders? I think we got to --

QUESTION: Mr. Anastasiades --

MR. BOUCHER: -- yesterday Mr. Anastasiades and former President Clerides yesterday morning. No more Cyprus phone calls since that moment.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask on Armitage, please?


QUESTION: Yeah, will he be visiting Turkey, as a neighbor of Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: I -- we're not giving too much of the specific itinerary at this point, so I'm really not able to identify specific countries. He will be visiting some of the neighbors, not all of the neighbors. So I'll leave it at that.

QUESTION: There are a few --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. BOUCHER: No. That's the one I would answer.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) would be restricted (inaudible)?

MR. BOUCHER: We're just playing geographic tag here. Unfortunately, I'm not, I think, in a position to give out too much information on the trip. As you know, when people travel to this region, we're always careful about the itinerary, and if I start, you know, pointing north, south, east or west and ruling out too many places, we get too close to identifying countries and dates and places.

So if we can, we'll let the man travel. I'm sure when he gets to places, he'll tell you he's there. But for the moment, I don't want to give too much itinerary information in advance.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Secretary?

MR. BOUCHER: Are we still on Cyprus?

QUESTION: No, no, no the Secretary, about the Secretary -- did Secretary Powell call the Turkish Foreign Minister for -- apologize for -- he mis -- described Turkey as a moderate Islam republic? Did it happen any --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that's ever come up in his conversations with the Turkish Foreign Minister and I would differ with your characterization. I think --

QUESTION: How do you know that Turkey is a moderate Islam republic or secular democratic country?

MR. BOUCHER: Turkey is a secular democratic country, which has a republican form of government, which is moderate in its policies -- (laughter) -- and which has an Islamic population, largely Islamic population. So I agree with everything. Is there any doubt, let me agree with everything.

QUESTION: It was the message -- Powell --

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Where are we going to go? We've been waiting -- way in the back.

QUESTION: Richard, yesterday, when --

MR. BOUCHER: Let's come back, if we can.

QUESTION: During a background briefing at the White House held by three high Administration officials, I asked to explain the contradictions between the President's new initiative, allowing settlements on the West Bank and calling for the Palestinians to dispense with a right of return, and 242 and 338, and so on. (Inaudible).

Could you tell us, really, if there has been a departure from the U.S. position, longstanding position that the settlements are an obstacle to peace? Has there been a marked departure yesterday in the President's statement?

And I will have a follow-up on that.

MR. BOUCHER: No, there is no change in U.S. policy on settlements. The United States has -- (laughter) -- look, the United States has supported the roadmap. Yesterday's discussions always talked about the roadmap. As you know, the roadmap itself talks about a freeze on settlement activity. The United States has always felt that settlements were indeed one of the difficulties that had to be resolved in a final -- in a negotiation, when it came to territory, which is a final status issue.

Those positions have remained true. And, in fact, what was significant about what we did yesterday, was to focus on the prospect that, for the first time, in fact, Israel will evacuate settlements. And that is a prospect that has been sought for many years by Palestinians and Arab negotiators.

It's a part of the process of resolving issues in order to achieve the President's vision of two states living side by side, and the very real prospect that Israel would withdraw from the settlements in Gaza and withdraw military from Gaza is where we think the focus should be. And that's the settlement policy that did change.

It changed with Prime Minister Sharon's statements, and with the effort that the United States is making and has made to make those statements a reality. And we think the focus right now ought to be on making a reality of the prospect of Israeli withdrawal from settlements and withdrawal from Gaza.

I mean, that's where the United States' focus is right now. And we will work with the Israelis. We will work with others. We will work with the Palestinians to make this a reality and make it really happen. So for the first time, Israel will, in fact, withdraw from some settlements because we've always recognized that settlements were one of the principal difficulties in a negotiation. And we think the prospect of Israeli withdrawal from settlements in Gaza and some in the West Bank is, in fact, the most -- the clearest step forward, in that regard, that was part of yesterday's discussion.

QUESTION: Richard, a follow-up on that -- the briefer also said that this had to be viewed by the Palestinians as a down payment on a state. I mean, he used this term. Is that how you see it? And where is that state going to be? Do you have any kind of figures, percentage-wise? Is it 97 percent, 94 percent? What is that?

MR. BOUCHER: Numbers like that have been negotiated in the past. But we've always recognized that the territorial settlement is part of the final status discussion, and that there are a lot of different realities that need to be taken into account, as we said yesterday, but that those issues fundamentally need to be negotiated by the parties in a final status negotiation.

We would hope to get there. We think that the prospect of evacuating settlements from -- settlers from Gaza and evacuating Israeli military from Gaza further helps, in fact, moves us closer to the prospect where those issues can be negotiated fully and finally in a permanent settlement. But it doesn't do that, and that negotiation still needs to be held down the road.

QUESTION: Last point.


QUESTION: I have just come from a speech that Senator Joseph Biden gave. And he said that the President, doing what he did, he made an already tenuous endeavor that Deputy Secretary Armitage is about to embark upon, exceedingly far more difficult by this announcement. Do you feel that way?



QUESTION: The Secretary spoke with the Palestinian Prime Minister yesterday, as I understand it, yesterday afternoon. I'm interested in his reaction, although its already been written about in the press, and also the reaction from others in the Arab world, who --

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. The Secretary generally continued his calls on the Middle East and other issues yesterday. He did talk to Egyptian President Mubarak. He talked to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Qureia; he talked to the Secretary General Kofi Annan again; he talked to King of Jordan Abdullah; and this morning, he talked to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Maher.

So I think you've seen the reaction that many people have had. There is a great deal of concern about some of the things that were said. I would say the Secretary, in his conversations, has put the focus where we think it belongs, on the: How can we make a reality of the prospect of Israeli withdrawal from settlements, withdrawal from Gaza and some of the settlements on the West Bank? How can we make that happen in a way that brings more security to the people of the region, that lets the Palestinians really take advantage of the opportunity by establishing authority and keeping the peace and ending terror in those areas? How can we, or what can we all do to support the prospect that the Palestinians would have firm authority and control in Gaza and without Israeli settlers there?

And so that's where we'll keep the focus, as we try to move forward. We realize, we understand the concerns that have been expressed about some of the things that were said, about right of return and about population centers. Those have always been a part of previous negotiations. We know the positions that the parties have taken in the past on those issues, and they will eventually again be part of the negotiation.

But I think our focus is on trying to move this process forward towards a very real prospect of Israel leaving Gaza in that manner. And that's what we want to talk to others about and work with others about, and we'll continue to make that the focus of our discussions.

QUESTION: Were any of these conversations before -- before the Sharon-Bush press conference? And had you had conversations that this was likely to be the outcome of the Sharon meeting, so that they would have some -- I don't know about warning -- but --

MR. BOUCHER: I think you've seen over the last couple of days, the Secretary talked to a large number of foreign ministers on Tuesday, I guess --

QUESTION: So people weren't surprised by it, you don't think.

MR. BOUCHER: -- and others on Wednesday. He gave them a heads up that we were going to be issuing various statements, that we were going to address some of these issues. So I don't know that people had the exact language. There certainly had been a ton-and-a-half of reporting in the Israeli press about what they were seeking, what they were looking for.

The Secretary, in all his conversations, made clear, look carefully at what we've actually done, what we issued, and what we said yesterday because it is important to rely on that material of what we said, what the Israelis said, what the President said yesterday, about the importance of moving forward, the importance of the roadmap, the importance of negotiations, and the importance of taking advantage of the Israeli steps and making it contribute to achieving the vision of two states that can live side by side.


QUESTION: Richard, leaving aside for the moment the fact that under this plan, the Israelis will evacuate from land that was the Palestinians', should be, arguably, by most people, the Palestinians' now, and would have been under most previous plans the Palestinians' in the future -- so leaving aside that, what exactly do they get out of this other than the fact that they've now been told they no longer have the possibility of a right of -- of the right of return and they -- that there will be -- that the United States has decided ahead of final status negotiations that there will be some Israeli presence in the West Bank?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- leaving aside everything, what else is there? You can't quite do it that way. You've got to focus on the fact, I think, that there have been many plans, many discussions, many negotiations that the United States has very much been a part with, that we have worked with the Palestinians in many negotiating fora where all these issues were discussed.

We have a very real prospect that something that Palestinians have always looked for, and that's the departure of Israeli settlers from territory that they believe and many others -- what UN resolutions have said should be Palestinian, that that could actually occur.

There's a difference between saying, well, you know, it's always been a part of the plan that Israel would withdraw from these areas. The big difference between saying, well, that's always been part of the negotiation and saying, look, it actually has a prospect of happening, that there's a reality on the ground that can be created by the Palestinians and by the Israelis through Israeli withdrawal, for the Palestinian -- through the Palestinians standing up governmental authority and taking care of keeping the peace in those areas, that's a reality that they have a chance to achieve, not a negotiating position that has to be negotiated more.

QUESTION: Yeah. But the point is, Richard, that every previous attempt at peace had always come down to the fact that Gaza was going to be the Palestinians', and previous Israeli governments had agreed to that, too. So, you know -- that would be something that they might (inaudible).

MR. BOUCHER: The difference was saying eventually it might be and saying it can be now, can be soon. Making it happen.

QUESTION: Okay. And so -- and so is the United States then, when this happens, are you -- I don't remember the last time a senior U.S. official was in Gaza. I don't think you've had too many people go out there.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, unfortunately, we haven't had people go down there since our people were killed there.

QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. Since then. So you'll be, obviously, going to be helping out? I mean, the infrastructure down there is totally shattered. The Israelis have destroyed pretty much all of it. Do you have plans to go in there when it's returned to the Palestinians so that it doesn't become a huge slum?

MR. BOUCHER: Obviously, the actions -- whether people actually -- how people travel in and out of Gaza down the road when it's -- when the Palestinians are running it will depend, in great part, on the security situation. But if you look at what the President said yesterday and what we've said in our letters, there is a firm commitment from the United States, and, indeed, from the entire international community, to help build the political institutions, the economics, the economic opportunities and the economic institutions, the social institutions, the security services that are necessary for the Palestinians to make a successful Gaza.

QUESTION: Okay, last one.

MR. BOUCHER: And to use it as -- and not to stop there, but rather to use that as a catalyst to move forward towards a final negotiation of a Palestinian state.

QUESTION: The final -- last one. You've put a lot of emphasis on this kind of PR campaign in the Arab and Muslim world to try and convince the -- to try and convince them that you are an honest broker and that you're not anti-Muslim. And yet, this plan comes out, this concept comes out yesterday in which, for the first time, the President of the United States says that there can be, that there must be, in fact, that it would be unrealistic to assume that Israel didn't remain in parts of the West Bank, that Palestinians who were driven off their land or fled their land in '48 and '49 would not be allowed to come back and reclaim them.

At the same time, this morning, you were the only country at the UN Commission on Human Rights to vote against a resolution sponsored by the European Union that called for an independent Palestine and a freeze on settlements, and you were one of only a handful, I think 15, to vote against a resolution condemning Israel for human rights abuses in the occupied territories.

How exactly does that square with your campaign to convince all -- and I might add that Beth Jones said --

MR. BOUCHER: "The indictment further alleges."

QUESTION: Beth Jones said last week that the Secretary was -- you know, was going to go to Berlin for a conference on anti-Semitism later this month. Now, no one would argue that going to a conference on anti-Semitism -- on preventing or fighting anti-Semitism is a bad thing, but aren't you concerned at all that your message of peace, love and understanding to the people of the Arab and Muslim world is going to get trampled by this?

MR. BOUCHER: If I was to take the obverse of all the positions that you outlined that we have taken; if we were to support unreal solutions for the Middle East, solutions that have no relation to reality; if we were to vote for resolutions that we felt are unbalanced at the Human Rights Commission; if we were to oppose conferences on anti-Semitism, which is still a problem in the world today; would that somehow help the United States achieve its policy goals in the world? Would that make the Middle East more peaceful? Would that help Palestinians build a state?

The fact is, the United States is willing to do the real work with the parties, the real work on the ground, the real work with the neighbors, to help the Palestinians build a Palestinian state.

When the U.S. President, for the first time, announced that the United States supported the creation of a state called Palestine that can live side by side with a Jewish state of Israel, when he said that that could even occur before final status negotiations began, did people complain that we were somehow taking a position that prejudiced the outcome? No, they said that we were accepting the reality that that was going to be part of the outcome.

When previous presidents of the United States, previous negotiators from the Palestinian and Israeli sides have sat down to talk about land swaps, have talked about -- have sat down to talk about allowing some of these population centers to remain because they were a reality that had to be taken into account, how is that different than saying let's deal with reality now?

When previous negotiators, Palestinian and Israeli, sat down and said that the right of the return is a disputed issue and it can't be exercised fully, how is that different than what we are recognizing now?

The fact is, we believe that a negotiation that is going to succeed, a Palestinian state that is going to succeed, both are going to have to be based on certain realities. One of those realities that we can create is an Israeli evacuation, for the first time ever, of settlements, an Israeli departure from Gaza, an Israeli evacuation of some of the settlements on the West Bank.

We think that that reality is worth working for and we intend to continue moving forward in that direction.

QUESTION: So the answer to my question, though, is no, you don't think that anything that you've been doing over the past year and a half, or this Administration has done in terms of the Middle East situation, that (inaudible) has hurt your campaign to try and convince people in the Arab and Muslim world that you are not -- that you remain an honest broker and that you are not --

MR. BOUCHER: The simplest answer to your question is this is not a PR campaign, that the United States takes positions on these issues in order to advance our national interest, in order to try to achieve real peace for Palestinians and Israelis alike in this region, and that we will continue to do that and we will continue to explain to the world why our policies are the best way to move forward towards those goals.

QUESTION: Just I wanted to clarify, this population center -- I never heard of this word till yesterday. Is this a cuter word for settlements?

MR. BOUCHER: It's a description of the reality that we see on the ground. I don't --

QUESTION: What is the reality on the ground?

MR. BOUCHER: That there are centers of population in the West Bank that need to be taken into account.

QUESTION: Now, yesterday -- that's not my question. Yesterday was --

MR. BOUCHER: It was a question, but you get another one.

QUESTION: Sharon was -- not yesterday. Sharon, before he came here yesterday, he was talking to settlers in Ma'ale Adumin. He told them basically that he's leaving the settlements in Gaza because he wants to keep the largest settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And whatever motives that Sharon talked to evacuate from Gaza -- I'm not going to ask you to comment on his moves -- but I'm asking you about these settlements.

The largest four settlements in the West Bank -- like Ariel, like Kiryat Arbal, like Ma'ali Adumin and Gush Etzion -- these four that house more than 100,000 settlers in the West Bank -- do you see it as -- these settlements as the new realities that the President talked about and should be left to the final status to be negotiated, or is it the U.S. position that all settlements in the West Bank are illegal and therefore should be evacuated, full stop?

MR. BOUCHER: The United States has not specified which population centers or settlements need to be taken into account, what the land swaps ought to be, how they might be done. We had not done that in previous negotiations that involved those items. If you look at what we said yesterday, we didn't identify any particular settlements or population centers.

So we know the Israeli Government position on this. We certainly know what Prime Minister Sharon has said. We know that the Palestinians have a different position. And many of those details and specifics need to be dealt with as they discuss final status. This is not the end of any negotiation. We are not setting down the outcome of any negotiation. We're just saying a negotiation needs to be held and a negotiation needs to be realistic, needs to accept some of the realities that are present.

QUESTION: But the U.S. position seems to be tilted toward Israel position, which is there is new realities. There are settlements there, while the Palestinians are saying, no, they are illegal. You are saying, basically, leave them till the final status up to the parties to negotiate.

MR. BOUCHER: We've always said that final status issues are up to the parties to negotiate. We said that yesterday again. We've said that as -- even over times we've taken positions on different issues that involve final status, I said, you know, that we took that position even as we announced our support for the creation of a Palestinian state.

QUESTION: Sure. But then you --

MR. BOUCHER: So as we've taken positions on some of these final status issues, as we've pointed out certain aspects of them that need to be considered, we have never said that that was the final answer. We said -- always said -- as we said yesterday -- that the final answer comes through direct negotiations between the parties.

QUESTION: Okay, just one more thing, please.


QUESTION: Just one more thing about the right of return.


QUESTION: The right of return is vetted by UN Resolution 194, and yesterday the United States, or the President rather, said yesterday, basically, that he believes that refugees should be settled in Palestine proper when there is a state, and not in Israel. I mean, does the U.S. has that power of overriding a UN decision and to decide publicly that this is the position that we wanted to take, and without leaving it, even for the final status. How can this decision not jeopardize or influence the final status negotiation?

MR. BOUCHER: Perhaps it does influence the final status negotiations. But as I said, the final status is to be determined through negotiation between the parties. We have, over time, as I said, taken various positions on issues involved in final status negotiations, but that has not, in any way, preempted the ability of the parties to sit down and negotiate them and deal with many issues.

All we've said, as we said yesterday, is there needs to be a certain amount of realism in going into this and understanding what can happen and what the likely outcomes might be to that negotiation.

When negotiators have sat down before, whether it's formal negotiations or the Geneva Plan or elsewhere, this issue about right of return has always been one of the principal issues, and it's always been influenced by the realities of the situation and we think it will need to be in the future when the parties themselves have direct negotiations. The creation of a Palestinian state or a Palestinian homeland gives Palestinians a place to go, and one would think they would want to go there.

QUESTION: Maybe a technical question. Is there some sort of a hold up on an additional statement that was to be issued -- I mean, that terrible word "addendum" -- there were letters that were released from each leader yesterday. And evidently, you don't seem to -- it doesn't seem to register. I mean, the Israelis were supposed to say some additional things about outposts and such, and it hasn't come out --

MR. BOUCHER: I've got seven pages of White House statement. I've got three pages of Israeli statement, an Israeli letter. I've got two pages of a U.S. letter. We're up above 10 now.

QUESTION: That's okay.

MR. BOUCHER: And plus, 13 pages of officials speaking on background. So I think there was quite a bit put out and said yesterday. I certainly saw everything I expected to see.

QUESTION: I think the Sharon letter said they're sending something under separate cover -- with more details.

QUESTION: Yeah. There was supposed to have been an additional item, and he left, and it hasn't come out. Well, and also Powell saw him today. I wondered if there was any discussion of that. Do we know -- is there a hang up?

MR. BOUCHER: No, there is no particular hang up that I'm aware of. There was certainly no discussion today of any hang up in some document. Looking at the letter now, what did he say was going to be forthcoming?

QUESTION: He says, "We'll send you under separate cover more details."

MR. BOUCHER: And we do have more details.

QUESTION: And what the Israelis have said -- some of the things that would be in it.

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. I don't know if we've done that or not. I think there was some discussion that more details might be available in a week or two. So maybe that's what they were referring to.

QUESTION: One other thing. Somehow the idea has gotten around that the Palestinians were informed by the U.S. that no major decisions would be taken until, you know, they're heard from. And indeed, Shaath was, maybe still is coming here to see the Secretary and to see Ms. Rice, Dr. Rice.

Is there any -- would it be unfair to say that the Administration slighted the Palestinians and acted before hearing all they might have to say on the subject, of return of settlements, statehood?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it would be unfair to say that. We've had an ongoing dialogue with the Palestinians; that in many years, we've talked. They understand the situation with regard to those issues. We've heard their views many times. The Secretary consulted with Palestinian Foreign Minister by phone before the announcements yesterday.

Every time our delegations -- or just about every time our delegations have gone back and forth in working on this, these papers and these plans, they have, indeed, met with senior Palestinian leaders in the region during those trips when the team has gone out, when Deputy National Security Advisor Hadley and Senior Director --

QUESTION: Eliot Abrams.

MR. BOUCHER: -- Eliot Abrams and Assistant Secretary Burns went out.

QUESTION: Yesterday --

MR. BOUCHER: I know a number of times they met with Palestinians.

QUESTION: You said consulted before the announcement yes -- did he speak to him yesterday? Is that what you meant?

MR. BOUCHER: I went through the phone calls 10 minutes ago.


MR. BOUCHER: Maybe you weren't here, but I think I've gone through that.

QUESTION: Well, did you make -- Richard, did you make him aware of the President's statement beforehand? Because this is really -- this is the truth, the truth because -- and I spoke with them this morning, and they said that they didn't know about it.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think anybody had the final version of the statement until it was issued, if that's what you're asking. On the other hand, we did give a lot of people a heads up that we were going to be moving forward on the withdrawal from Gaza, and that we were going to be making some positions known on the other issues.

QUESTION: Richard, in terms of the Secretary's meeting this morning, the breakfast meeting, were there any details discussed of next steps, or is everything on hold until after May 2nd, in the Likud vote?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think everything is on hold. There was a -- I would describe it as a slightly general discussion, but a discussion of next steps, a discussion of how to move forward in making the plan a reality, in working with neighbors and others to support the Palestinians' ability to control the territory and to end terrorism -- of working with neighbors and others on some of the issues that will be involved in terms of the property, the security, the economy of withdrawal from Gaza and some West Bank settlements.

And so we're very much in the context that I've been giving to you, that our focus now is on how to move forward and make this a reality that works for all the parties, and that brings us closer towards achievement of the President's vision of two states.

QUESTION: But just to be specific -- no specifics on a team will go out next week or team will come in next week?

MR. BOUCHER: Not at -- not at this point. But we have had discussions with others, they will have discussions with others, and we'll continue our discussions through embassies and envoys and other things like that.


QUESTION: Richard --

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Barry, you had another one?

QUESTION: I just wanted to confirm that the visit of the Palestinian Foreign Minister is still on.

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, it's still on for next week. Yeah.


QUESTION: Richard --

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Can we go back a little bit more? Adi.

QUESTION: Change of subject?


MR. BOUCHER: No, not yet. Joel.

QUESTION: Richard, what can you do, or has anything been said about the -- both the influence and negativity of Chairman Arafat? Apparently, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is agreeing with him and there seems to be a split with the moderates and --

MR. BOUCHER: Oh, that's much too tempting, but I won't comment on it. I think we've made clear all along our view of Mr. Arafat, of his failures in the past, his failures to achieve what the Palestinians want, which is to create an apparatus that can control terror and build a state. We hope that other leadership will emerge in the Palestinian community that has the capability, as well as the determination, to create the institutions of a state that can take over in these areas, that can create peace in these areas, and that can negotiate the final status issues with the Israelis.


QUESTION: Staying on the Middle East?


QUESTION: The State Department is in the process of issuing a warning for non-essential staff in Saudi Arabia to leave, as it was reported?

MR. BOUCHER: We are concerned about the security situation in Saudi Arabia. As you know, recently the Saudi Government has had some firefights with dangerous elements. And I'll leave it at that, leave them to provide any details. And there have been reports of security -- potential security problems there. We take these reports very seriously, so we're currently reviewing what we might want to do as far as our personnel in Saudi Arabia, but I don't have anything to announce at this moment.

QUESTION: Are you likely to announce it later today?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything to announce at this moment. We'll just have to see. If there is a decision on this, we'll tell you when it happens.


QUESTION: Richard, in his phone conversations last night and today on the Middle East, did the Secretary explain why the United States felt it necessary at this point to state a new view of the realities on the ground?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't -- I'll differ with the "new view" idea. As I explained, there's a lot of precedent for some of these positions. There's a lot of precedent in the negotiations themselves and the positions the parties have talked about in the negotiations themselves for some of these positions that we enunciated.

The United States felt it was important to move forward, felt it was important to look at some of these issues and what they meant in the context of Israeli withdrawal from settlements for the first time, in the context of the prospect of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and some settlements in the West Bank, and that some of those issues did arise in our discussions with the Israeli Government and we expressed our views.

QUESTION: The United States, in the past, used to consider the principle of acquisition of other nations' land by force as illegal. The U.S. has cited this reason during the Gulf War to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and that was the reason why many Arabs, Arab countries, joined the coalition at that time.

Citing the reason as new reality yesterday on the Palestinian territories as good reasons to -- for the Palestinians to give up their land is a very dangerous precedent and it is stirring lots of anger in the Arab world. How can you explain? How can you react to this objection to this -- or to any change of this principle -- acquisition of land by force?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we understand some of the arguments being made, some of the concerns that are being expressed. And, indeed, we've discussed those with other governments. I'm sure we'll continue to discuss them with other governments.

Our view is that, as the President said in his statement, 242, 338 are still important. We need to achieve a Palestinian state in that context; that the current situation is not some theoretical discussion, it's an attempt to really make some serious progress on one of the most important issues that has been very important to the Palestinians throughout the negotiations, that has been very important to people who have tried to help with these negotiations. And that's what do you do about the settlements that are on land that needs to be evacuated?

Prime Minister Sharon has said he's willing to make a very bold decision, and that's to start that withdrawal of settlers from land that's been occupied, from territory that needs to be evacuated, as part of a settlement.

We think it's important to take advantage of that opportunity, and even more than that, we think it's important to make it work, for all the parties to make it work as part of real progress towards a final settlement, real progress towards the achievement of a Palestinian state. And that's where the positions that we took, we think, were appropriate and necessary. That's where we think we really have the prospect of moving this forward in a real way. It's not the United States that has violated some international principle. These things have always -- as I've said, these kind of ideas have always been part of the discussions of the real negotiations by the parties when they sat down together, by the parties when they came up with plans.

But what we have the prospect now of doing is making -- turning some of this into reality and making something happen for the first time, and we think it's worth taking advantage of the willingness of Prime Minister Sharon to do that.

QUESTION: Citing new realities on territories, don't you see, at least in the area there, people who care about their lands? They see a dangerous precedent to cite that reason as a good reason for Israel to accomplish its dream of greater Israel in the area and expand and take more lands in there. I mean --

MR. BOUCHER: But let's -- I mean, part of this is people need to look at what we actually said and did. People need to examine the situation a little more objectively. We're not violating some principle, nor are we laying down some new principle.

The reality of the situation is not that it's going to lead to an expansion of settlement activity or an expansion of taking new lands or of squatting somewhere for longer than you can in order to make it yours. The reality of this situation is, if it's handled right, and we think it can be and we're going to make sure it is handled right, if it's handled right, it will lead to the withdrawal of Israelis from lands that they have occupied; it will lead to the withdrawal of settlers from settlements that have been such a problem for the Palestinians; it will lead to the acquisition and control of territory by Palestinians, giving them places to live; it will lead to the prospects of the Palestinians being able to move into places that they haven't been able to be before.

So rather than establishing some precedent of expansion, it's, in fact, moving towards that eventual goal of withdrawal from occupied territories that everybody has shared in negotiation.

QUESTION: To follow up on this point, Richard, are the new realities -- are they quantifiable? I mean, like 100,000, 50,000, 10,000? Because, you know, that precedent could also work in the Golan Heights, for instance. Is it --

MR. BOUCHER: Well, that kind of gets to the question that I was asked earlier. Are we talking about four settlements, all the settlements in the West Bank? What's the deal? We haven't tried to specify, nor -- well, we haven't tried to specify in these documents how much of the population needs to be taken into account, nor how it needs to be taken into account.

We know what the Israeli position is. We've heard from Palestinians as well. We know what's happened in previous negotiations. So I think all that fills into the picture, but it really comes together when there is a final status negotiation. The fact that by that time Israel will be withdrawing or will have withdrawn from the settlements in Gaza and from some settlements on the West Bank, I think can only move the negotiation towards an easier resolution of these issues that we recognize will arise with regard to territory and settlements, and that have to be negotiated.


QUESTION: Richard, (inaudible) what to do with the settlements in Gaza. I mean, there are houses, there are hospitals, there are schools, there is everything. What's going to happen after the settlers move?

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, that's been part of the discussion. There is no final answer to it yet, but certainly, that's been part of the discussion. And that's, as I said today, as we start to focus on what happens in these areas, how to make this successful, how you manage the economy, the property, the Palestinian institutions, the security institutions that need to be built up, all those issues are what we really ought to be working on. And that's what we do want to work on.

But I don't have final answers for you yet, nor do the Israelis, I think, have final answers yet on how the property should be transferred and how it should be allocated, and things like that.

QUESTION: Is it likely to be transferred rather than destroyed, as Israel has done in the past?

MR. BOUCHER: I think the assumption that everybody is making is the Palestinians will end up living in those areas.

QUESTION: Richard, are you -- on this area. Are you trying to suggest that no matter what was said yesterday by the President in his letter or in his statements that the right of return is still something that's subject to negotiation, final status negotiations, as is West Bank settlements?

MR. BOUCHER: We know that the parties will come in with positions on these issues. The United States has expressed its view, including that it would be unrealistic to expect refugees to return to Israel proper, but they should return to a Palestinian state. But the subject is still one of negotiation.

There are many aspects to this involving compensation and, you know, families or other things that might arise that might be put on the table that have to be negotiated. We think for that negotiation to succeed in settling these issues that some of the expectations have to be realistic and we've expressed our view of that.

QUESTION: And you don't think that the position taken yesterday by the United States, in any way, hurts the Palestinian negotiating position?

MR. BOUCHER: I would say that, perhaps, it has some influence over what people might expect in a negotiation. But I would also point out that it's based on the positions that the parties have taken in previous discussions of these issues; that it's been one of the things that people have tried to address in the past, and it's always headed in this direction. We expressed our view that that's -- that's a matter of reality.

QUESTION: Well, no, no. But it's always -- that's the Israeli position, that it has always headed in that direction.

MR. BOUCHER: No, the Is -- I'm not going to try to explain all the --

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I don't remember the Palestinians ever taking a position at Camp David, or even at the last Camp David, or any time before, the Palestinians saying that, okay, we're going to completely give up on our -- on the right of return before we go to final status.

MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not aware that they have done that either. But the issue of how many people went back to where, and that people would -- I don't want to try to characterize. There have been too many negotiations to say, this is the Palestinian view. They'll have to express it.

And, no, I have not -- I am not saying that they have abandoned the right of return as one of their negotiating positions. What I'm saying is that there -- in discussions in the past, the issue of people returning to Israel proper versus a Palestinian state has always been an issue; that there has always been an emphasis and a recognition in those discussions that the primary or place for people to go back to would be Palestinian areas. We're stating our view that it's unrealistic to expect people to go back to Israel.

QUESTION: So they haven't abandoned it, but you have?

MR. BOUCHER: We've expressed our view of how these things can realistically be settled.

QUESTION: Right. And it -- never mind, it's just pointless.

MR. BOUCHER: It's not a position that we had that we abandoned.

QUESTION: No, it's a position that we never had --

MR. BOUCHER: It's a view that we've taken about how an issue might be settled.

QUESTION: Well, it's a view that you had informally.

MR. BOUCHER: And it's based on the realities of what has happened in previous administrations.

QUESTION: And yet, at the same time, you still think that you're an honest broker and you haven't slighted the Palestinians or hurt their negotiating position in the final status talks at all?

MR. BOUCHER: As I've said, over the years, the United States has taken a number of positions on final status issues and how they might realistically be solved. We took that kind of position on the Palestinian state. We've taken that position, the territorial issues --

QUESTION: On the fact that there should be one?


QUESTION: Yeah, okay. Well, I'm not sure that anyone ever was --

MR. BOUCHER: I go back to the way you phrased it before. It's always been assumed that would be one of the outcomes, but -- and that's what others have said, maybe you have said today about some of these other issues on right of return, on refugees, on settlements. But the United States has taken positions on some of these things, and said the way to solve this in the end is going to be by X or based on X principle.

We've taken positions that said that the territorial settlement needs to be based on '67 borders or '49 armistice; those are essentially the same. So, you know, over the years, the United States has often taken positions on issues involved in the final status negotiations, understanding that the parties still have the right to negotiate, and the parties still have to decide the final determination through negotiation.

QUESTION: The Secretary's meeting with a candidate-to-be, the Secretary General of the OAS, is the meeting in itself an endorsement by the United States of that candidacy?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, and the Secretary, I'm sure, will express our opinion of that candidacy when he comes out.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER: We've got a few more.

QUESTION: They Secretary (inaudible) --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what to do. I'm here at your mercy. So you guys negotiate amongst yourself, and tell me when I can leave.

Do you have a question?

QUESTION: Do you have any more updates on the working groups for North Korea talks?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: One more. Macedonia held presidential elections yesterday. The outcome seems pretty clear. Any comments from this stage?

MR. BOUCHER: We congratulate Macedonia on a well organized first round of presidential elections; that the elections were organized with such -- within such a short time after the tragic death of President Trajkovski is also noteworthy. We'd note the OSCE's preliminary assessment that the elections were largely consistent with international standards for democratic elections. We have no reports of serious irregularities.

We look forward to continued constructive campaigning and democratic competition in the second round of elections on April 28th, and we encourage all of Macedonia's registered voters to exercise their civil rights by going to the polls.


QUESTION: Do you have any position on the President's reaction to President Musharraf's suggestion that he might not step down as Chief of the Army? And was this a topic of conversation in his phone call with Secretary Powell yesterday?

MR. BOUCHER: Not right now, and I'll have to check.

QUESTION: And one more. On the Cuba resolution in the UN this morning, do you have anything to say about that, or about the Israel, the two Middle East resolutions?

MR. BOUCHER: On the Cuba resolution, the Commission adopted a resolution on Cuba by a vote of 22 in favor -- that included the United States -- 21 against, and 10 abstentions. The Commission met its responsibility to scrutinize Cuba's failure to observe previous resolutions, as well as its failure to comply with international human rights standards. The resolution was sponsored by Honduras. We are pleased to see that so many new democracies in Latin America took the lead on this issue and supported them.

This sends a strong message to courageous Cubans who struggle daily to defend their human rights, fundamental freedoms, as well as to the repressive Castro regime that the international community is attentive to the deterioration of the human rights situation in Cuba. Latin American democracies once again demonstrated their global leadership on human rights issues. This was a stronger resolution than last year's text, and it reflected the deteriorating human rights situation in Cuba.

As I think you know, the Secretary, the President, U.S. diplomats around the world were very engaged in lobbying for this outcome and pointing out the significant problems in the human rights situation in Cuba. And we're glad that those efforts were successful in leading to a positive vote.

QUESTION: And the Middle East?

MR. BOUCHER: And on the Israel resolutions that we referred to before, the Commission on Human Rights today did adopt several resolutions directed against Israel. The United States called for a roll call vote, and then we voted against all four. Generally, the resolutions, we find, are unbalanced. They ignore the context of Israel's actions in response to Palestinian terrorist attacks, as well as the responsibilities of other parties in the conflict.

We feel that one-sided and inflammatory resolutions focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict are not helpful, and, in fact, may be harmful to efforts to end the violence and move towards President Bush's vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.


(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)


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