State Department Noon Briefing, June 16
|Wednesday June 16,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 16, 2004
12:45 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I'd like to take a moment to tell you something you already know. The Secretary of State will be traveling with the President to the U.S.-EU Summit in Ireland June 26th and the NATO Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 28 and 29. He'll go -- leave with the President and stay through the entire period of the President's attendance at those events, looking forward in participating in them with the President. And following that, he'll go on to Jakarta, Indonesia for the ASEAN Regional Foreign Ministerial and the ASEAN post-ministerial meetings, where he'll have discussions of regional and transnational issues of concern, of mutual concern with our friends in Asia, Southeast Asia.
QUESTION: No additional stops?
MR. BOUCHER: No additional stops at this point.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay?
QUESTION: Can you say anything about --
QUESTION: Could you give us -- could you give an end date?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the ASEAN meetings end on the 2nd, so he'd start heading home at that point.
QUESTION: So he leaves with the President and returns on his own after the meetings end on the 2nd.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you give an update on the hostage situation?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we have any more detail on the situation of Mr. Johnson at this point. I do want to say, our hearts go out to him and his family. We've remained in very close touch with his family, both in the United States and in Saudi Arabia through our embassy there.
Saudi Arabian authorities have the lead in the investigation. They can certainly count on the United States to give them any assistance they might need in doing that. But our goal is to try to help secure his release and a safe return to his loved ones as soon as possible.
I know many of you have seen the videotape. I think there are still people in the U.S. Government looking at that to determine authenticity and I will just leave it at that for the moment.
QUESTION: There has been a statement or guidance from this building that the U.S. will use every appropriate means to help bring him back. What exactly does that mean and what are you ruling out?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to speculate on that at this point. Obviously, we'll support the Saudis as they take the lead in this matter. So whatever elements we can bring to bear to support their efforts we would do so.
QUESTION: But at this point there is no independent U.S. efforts, are there?
MR. BOUCHER: We -- the Saudis have the lead on this and we work with them, yeah.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. provided any assistance to the Saudis?
MR. BOUCHER: We have people and resources on the ground in Saudi Arabia. They have been in close touch with our Saudi counterparts on this matter.
QUESTION: Since the videotape?
MR. BOUCHER: All along, every day including today, yeah.
QUESTION: The United --
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up more precisely on that if you can be more precise. The question was, since the videotaping you saw all along, does that mean there are resources and people on the ground all the time there or have any additional resources and people been sent in?
MR. BOUCHER: That means there are resources and people on the ground all the time there. I don't know if any particular resource has been sent in to bolster our efforts in this particular case.
There is one other thing I would note, and that is, more generally, we are working with the American community in Saudi Arabia, those who have chosen to remain, first of all to make clear the Travel Warning that we do have and our advice that American citizens are strongly urged to depart. Our Embassy has released a Warden Message to the U.S. community in Saudi Arabia talking about the attacks and, again, reiterating our recommendation and recommending certain steps that individuals can take to better protect their security.
I'd say as well that we have what's known as the Overseas Security Advisory Council that operates both with the Department and internationally, but also in countries where our security people meet with security people and responsible officials, responsible people from corporations and organizations, educational institutions, NGOs and others who have people overseas.
The Country Council in Saudi Arabia met June 13th in Riyadh, and they talked, shared information there about the security situation. And our Deputy Regional Security Officer briefed them on the security situation and they talked about what companies and organizations can do to better protect their people.
And then we've also been in touch, from Washington, on the security side, with people at companies that have a presence in Saudi Arabia, also to talk to them about what they can do, about what the situation is, and keep them informed of what people can do to protect themselves.
QUESTION: Given that the Bush Administration has vowed not to yield any ground in its war on terror, isn't it a contradiction that the Travel Advisories actually urge people to leave?
MR. BOUCHER: The -- no -- simplest answer, no.
QUESTION: On the one hand, we don't give any ground, and on the other, we're going to leave. We want Americans to leave an area. Why is that not a contradiction?
MR. BOUCHER: Because it's not. Because on the one hand, we have to fight terrorists everywhere where they are; on the other hand, we do have to give our best advice to U.S. citizens. The fact that we give our best advice to U.S. citizens about how to protect themselves and how to -- whether they -- we think they should or should not be in a given location has absolutely no bearing, whatsoever, in the fight against terrorism. We can pursue the fight against terrorism through military, diplomatic and other means, whether or not those individuals are in-country.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject? Can you explain a little bit more about this idea that Ambassador Bremer seems to have raised about transferring legal custody but not physical custody of Saddam?
MR. BOUCHER: No. At this moment, we have discussions underway. Ambassador Bremer and others have been talking with the new Iraqi government about the question of custody and detainees and trial for Saddam. And as those discussions are still underway, I can't really expand any more on the possibilities of how they might come out.
QUESTION: Was he speaking out of turn?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: So it is a possibility.
MR. BOUCHER: There are several possibilities of how things can be managed.
QUESTION: Okay, well, let's talk specifically about this one, since it seems to be the one that --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to focus on any particular possibility or idea at this point. These things are under discussion and --
QUESTION: So you can't --
MR. BOUCHER: -- we'll expand on the results more once they are the results.
QUESTION: You can't describe what this would entail, this one possibility.
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, I'm not here to try to describe things that are being discussed in Baghdad. They have ample resources and opportunity to do that. Second of all, these are -- there are various ideas that are under discussion. I'm not in a position yet to amplify on any particular one of them.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) meeting at the press conference this morning with some American diplomats and members of the military personnel, asking for a change in the foreign policy and defense policy of the U.S. My question to you is, Ambassador Davidou is still a member of Foreign Service, active member of Foreign Service?
MR. BOUCHER: I assume he's retired.
MR. CASEY: (Inaudible) retired.
MR. BOUCHER: (Inaudible) retired.
QUESTION: Yes, he has retired. Do you have any reaction to those? I mean, what's going on with the --
MR. BOUCHER: Just what I said the other day, that people who leave the Foreign Service are free to take whatever political positions they want to. This is a group of people who have taken a stand, made a statement. They're free to do so.
As far as the facts of this Administration's fight against terrorism with diplomatic, military, intelligence and law enforcement needs, or the facts of our support for AIDS funding, for free trade, for development of all kinds, I think this Administration has a record that it's happy to stand on.
QUESTION: And I have another question.
QUESTION: Hold on, can I just ask -- this Administration has a record that it's happy to stand on? Would you care to personalize that?
MR. BOUCHER: The President, the Secretary and myself, those who speak for this Administration --
QUESTION: Okay. Okay, I just want to make sure that you --
MR. BOUCHER: -- are happy to explain the record of achievement of the last several years.
QUESTION: And on Mexico. President Fox called yesterday to the U.S. Government to stop the rates on Mexican immigrants in the U.S. And I understand, the Embassy of Mexico has sent a dramatic note to the State Department today --
MR. BOUCHER: To stop what?
QUESTION: The rate of illegal immigrants.
MR. BOUCHER: Into the United States.
QUESTION: In the United States, is what he called it yesterday.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I'm sorry, I didn't see the statement. I'm not specifically clear on what we're being asked about. We'll have to look it up and see if there's anything to say.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay? Sir.
QUESTION: Can I come back to the letter?
MR. BOUCHER: You can come back to whatever you want.
QUESTION: Are you going to respond to it in any way?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I just did.
QUESTION: But are you going to respond to them?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I just did. They had a press conference, issued a public statement. I just made a public statement and let that be it. It's not a long letter. I mean, it doesn't require a 20-page response. We'll look at it, but it's a pretty short document; it stakes out a position. That's within their rights, within their freedom, within, probably -- well, it's a free country. They can do that if they want, just like any other citizen.
QUESTION: You don't attach any extra significance to it because they actually have many years behind them in either the State Department or the military services?
MR. BOUCHER: They do have many years behind them.
QUESTION: And it doesn't give any added significance to their remarks?
MR. BOUCHER: People of all stripes and experience in this country stand up and make statements and take positions. I don't think I need to single out those that are taken by former diplomats or former generals.
QUESTION: I'll just follow-up with that. Would you say that this Administration has forsaken diplomacy for military means? Is that something that you can address?
MR. BOUCHER: It's not true. It's not true. We had -- we went to the United Nations on Iraq. We went to the United Nations on terrorism on 9/11. We've had four unanimous UN resolutions since the end of the war. The fight against terrorism is diplomatic, law enforcement, legal, intelligence-driven; it's cooperation and diplomacy around the world. The President has just gotten back from hosting the G-8 Summit and he is off the NATO Summit and the U.S.-EU Summit. It's just not true.
QUESTION: But it seems very strange that, for example, in the case of Ambassador Davidou, he was a member of this Administration serving in Mexico. And after he left, there is something that, in his mind that said, "Oh, this is wrong." So what is going on with these diplomats, I mean --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. They held a press conference; anybody ask him that? Or not. Maybe not. But I can't explain people. They are free to take whatever position they want. They have taken a position that's very interesting. That's about all there is to say.
QUESTION: New subject. Either yesterday shortly after the briefing or today I think the Israelis began bulldozing around areas to put the barrier. When you talked about this yesterday, you said that you've made it clear that the fence is problematic as --
MR. BOUCHER: To the extent that it takes territory and prejudices the outcome, et cetera.
QUESTION: Have you taken -- have you now taken a position or have you been taking a position that this does in fact prejudge -- that this move around this settlement does --
MR. BOUCHER: We have certainly regularly discussed the issue with the Israelis, but I don't think we have taken a public position on a specific bulldozer -- bulldozing at a particular location.
QUESTION: Well, maybe not, but it seems --
MR. BOUCHER: Let me see if we've got anything to say about the particular land-clearing or whatever might have occurred there.
QUESTION: Okay, so you don't know if there's been any -- yesterday you said that the U.S. diplomats in Tel Aviv, I guess, had been in touch with Israelis regarding the ports, that this was going to --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- that this may be done. But since then or since actual bulldozers have shown up and started to clear stuff, you don't know if there has been anything --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if we have taken a position on that specific activity. I will have to check and see.
QUESTION: The foreign ministers of the Islamic countries that are meeting in Turkey, yesterday they have issued -- agreed on a statement that would make the neighboring countries of Iraq, would commit them to help Iraq stabilize and help the new government. That's on one hand. I need to see what your comment. Do you see that as a hopeful sign?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have an extensive comment other than to say that's good, that we do look for an Iraq that can take its place among the neighbors, can take its place in the world, to take its place in the Islamic world as a free and open society, a stable society, that can cooperate with its neighbors and others in the world. And we appreciate the support of its neighbors in trying to help the Iraqis achieve that goal.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, on the other hand, the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, he made use of the occasion and the upcoming occasion of meeting of the NATO also to make a very strong statement concerning the Israeli behavior against the Palestinians. And he affirmed his position that he expressed even here during their meeting of the eight, that as a friend of Israel, that Turkey calls on Israel to stop the practicing of demolishing houses, of killing Palestinians and called on Israel for its own sake and well-being to come back and make peace, a genuine attempt for peace. Turkey, as a NATO ally, has been making this statement. What is your comment?
MR. BOUCHER: I really don't have any comment. Many NATO allies have made statements about their views in the Middle East process. On each of those issues, the United States' position has been clear. Our position with the Quartet has been clear and I'll just stand on that. As far as positions of others, you'll have to ask others.
QUESTION: He expressed what seems to be contradicting point of view from what you have talked about, what you have said concerning --
MR. BOUCHER: I -- nothing that you have said -- I mean, I did not see the statement so I'm not going to try to analyze.
QUESTION: Concerning the anti-Semitic, that the Israeli behavior is actual instigating anti-Semitic --
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not going to try to comment on somebody else's statements about something else when our positions on the Israeli-Palestinian issues are very, very clear and have been repeatedly stated.
Many people in NATO take positions every day on Middle East issues and I don't think I can comment on every one.
QUESTION: Yeah, I'm just wondering -- I saw the TQ last night on Mullah Krekar. I'm just wondering if there's been any contact with the Norwegians since the charges were dropped.
MR. BOUCHER: Don't know. Have to check.
QUESTION: -- the terror report update coming?
MR. BOUCHER: Soon. We think we're getting close to nailing down the numbers, and therefore, preparing for you the appropriate explanations and briefings.
QUESTION: Tomorrow? Friday?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll see.
QUESTION: Paul Wolfowitz is in Iraq today.
MR. BOUCHER: That's true.
QUESTION: And he is going to deal with security issues and political issues. Do you have any comment on the political issues?
MR. BOUCHER: (Laughter.) Well, it sounds like you've read the same statement that I've got here.
QUESTION: Not yet.
MR. BOUCHER: But, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz met today with Prime Minister Allawi, Defense Minister Shalan, and Interior Minister al-Nakib, along with the U.K. Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Defense Tebbitt. They talked about the strategy of the Iraqi government to deal with issues of security, the economy, and the political process. These talks are the beginning of a new relationship and there was a constructive and positive atmosphere.
That's the statement that was put out in Baghdad by the traveling party there. So I'll just stand on that and any further explanation will come from them. As they do note, it's the beginning of discussion. There are a lot of issues to be discussed. We've touched on some of them here, but in terms of the security relationship as we go forward and the transition is part of that discussion.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Jesus has one more.
QUESTION: On Colombia. The Government of Colombia has called Mexico to mediate the peace talks with the rebels. I wonder if you have any comment about it or how you see the participation of Mexico with that?
MR. BOUCHER: I wasn't aware of the participation of Mexico. That's something, I think, we would leave between Colombia and Mexico. But I think we've made clear we welcome the recent declaration by the Government of Colombia on formal peace talks. We've consistently supported the Government of Colombia's position that it would enter into a peace process with any of the illegal armed groups that are willing to declare a ceasefire. We have no intention of participating in talks ourselves between the Government and any of these groups. But we have supported the Government in trying to get a credible process to end the violence in Colombia.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:08 p.m.)
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