State Department Noon Briefing, July 22, 2003
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
TUESDAY, JULY 22, 2003
12:45 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements or announcements, so I'd be glad to take your questions. And we'll begin with Mr. Schweid.
QUESTION: Thank you. Could we start with Liberia?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Still no decision on sending in peacekeepers. Relief agencies, relief -- private relief groups are saying the situation is horrible. Without peacekeeping, they can't help these desperate people. The consultations in Dakar, for instance, what is under consideration? What is holding up the U.S. decision could you say?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, let's -- let me get to that. Let me make a couple of points to begin with, since you made a couple of points to begin with.
The United States is working very hard with West Africans and others to try to get the parties to implement the ceasefire that they have agreed to, and to reach further agreements that they have agreed to, in terms of pursuing the Accra process in Ghana, where they all agreed to a ceasefire, and they all agreed to make the agreement permanent, comprehensive. That is the way forward. That is the peace process that we and the West Africans have worked very hard on. We continue to push that very hard.
The present responsibility for the fighting is the responsibility of those who are doing the fighting, and we have made very clear that the so-called LURD, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, has continued to shell downtown Monrovia. We strongly condemn the rebel group for doing that, for endangering the civilian population, and, indeed, as you say, making it difficult, if not impossible for aid workers.
We have seen some statements by the rebel officials, but what we want to see is the cessation of all violence and a return to a ceasefire. We have called on the group's chairman, Sekou Conneh, to immediately halt the offensive, and he and other leaders of his group are personally responsible for the group's actions and they need to act in keeping with their commitments to the ceasefire if they want to be trusted to participate in the future of Liberia.
We have made clear that President Taylor should go, and he should go coincident with a deployment of peacekeepers. We are working with other states in the region on the deployment of peacekeepers. We are consulting today in Dakar, Senegal, with the community of -- Economic Community of West African States regarding their plans to promptly deploy a peacekeeping force to Liberia. We are working with them on what they can do, when they can do it, what we can do to support them in that regard.
I think the other thing that we're doing, we're reminding leaders of Guinea and neighboring states of their obligations under international law to control their borders and prevent the flow of weapons and combatants to Liberia. We have called on them to insist that all Liberian factions seek a peaceful agreement as a basis for building a new Liberia.
So this is an ongoing situation, one that has raised very serious concerns with the United States and others, and we're bringing pressure on the parties to stop the fighting and abide by the ceasefire. We're talking to neighboring states about cutting off supplies and weapons. We're working with the West Africans on the deployments -- and our intention, we remain committed to supporting them to help bring peace to the people of Liberia.
QUESTION: Another volatile area is a ceasefire is a necessary, but only one step in carrying out a U.S. policy. You want a ceasefire, and then you want to work from there to do something. Monrovia is the last hold out of Taylor. If Taylor won't leave, how do you -- how do the rebels get him out? You want him out. They are pushing with guns to win this war.
If there is a ceasefire, they don't win, you'll have status quo. And then what does the U.S. do?
QUESTION: We're on the offensive.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: And you say stop fighting.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, they have agreed -- well, Barry, Barry, go back to basics. I mean, let's go back to basics.
QUESTION: But Taylor agreed to leave, too.
MR. BOUCHER: Go back to basics. Taylor has agreed to leave, right?
MR. BOUCHER: They -- parties, the government, the LURD, the other rebels have agreed in Accra that there should be a ceasefire and there should be a comprehensive arrangement that would involve a political transition that Taylor would not be part of.
How do we reestablish peace and order for the people of Liberia?
We get the parties to abide by those agreements because those agreements provide not only for an end to the fighting that has plagued the people of Liberia now for many months and years, but also provide for the political outcome that they need, which is the chance for Liberians to decide their own government, not have one group occupy the capital or another group occupy the capital.
So what we have made clear today is that outside parties need to do all they can to help, whether it's the ECOWAS in getting their peacekeepers in, neighboring states cutting off the flow of weapons and supplies, or governments like the United States pressuring the groups to adopt a ceasefire.
But what's most important is for the Liberian parties to this conflict to stop the fighting and abide by their agreements, and that's where the emphasis is.
QUESTION: Got you.
QUESTION: Richard, could you tell us more about your contacts with the LURD? Where -- who has been in touch with them? Is it direct and where --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if we have had any direct contacts with them. I think we have made clear to -- in our public statements, we've made clear in our statements, in our contacts with other governments who may have contacts with the rebel groups that they -- we believe them to be responsible for this fighting; that, indeed, Sekou Conneh, the chairman of LURD, needs to immediately halt the offensive and that it's vital that the group abide by its commitments to a ceasefire and a political transition.
QUESTION: There were some reports that Charles -- from Charles Taylor's camp that now his supporters are urging him to stay inside the country. Have you heard anything with your contacts to this?
And if Charles Taylor does renege on his commitment to leave the country, how will that affect U.S. decision whether to go in or not?
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, I am not aware that -- maybe there are people that are inviting him to go back on his agreements, but we think it's an important part of the picture. He's agreed internationally in the talks in Ghana that there will be a political transition that he would not be part of.
He has made very clear commitments that he would depart Liberia and we would expect him to do so, and we expect to hold him to that commitment.
QUESTION: What's the full extent of the U.S. willingness to, perhaps, take part in some way to support the ECOWAS peacekeeping mission?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, I can't tell you the full extent. We have said we -- our intention is to support the ECOWAS effort, whether that involves logistics, transport, communications, troops, coordination and other things will be decisions that the President has to made when it's -- when they are ready to make those decisions, but at this point, those decisions on U.S. military support have not been made.
QUESTION: Richard, do you think ECOWAS can deploy forces without a ceasefire? And if not, doesn't that mean that the rebels, essentially, hold the initiative in the sense that they can thwart any attempts to deploy external forces?
MR. BOUCHER: I think you'll have to ask the West Africans what sort of conditions they would believe they could go in under. Certainly, the premise of the Accra agreements and of the deployments that are being contemplated is that the parties would stop the fighting and abide by their commitments.
It's hard to keep the peace if there's no peace to keep, but we will have to see how events evolve. There is a lot of effort being put in by us and others to get the parties to abide by their commitments to a ceasefire and we'll continue to push in that direction because that's what the parties have agreed to, and that's the direction that we need in order to rectify the situation, reestablish some order for the people of Liberia.
QUESTION: Richard, when you said you can't get into the support that the U.S. is willing to give the ECOWAS peacekeepers --
MR. BOUCHER: I said I can't describe the full extent.
QUESTION: Can't describe the full extent. Is that because there are still decisions that need to be made by the U.S. Government or is it because you just don't want to reveal what you have already decided to do?
MR. BOUCHER: I said I can't describe the full extent because those are decisions that have yet to be made.
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: I will stand by that answer I gave three minutes ago.
QUESTION: Richard, does the delay in deciding or committing what the U.S. should do, is it because you're waiting for the situation to calm down in Monrovia or is it that you're waiting for your assessment team or are you -- is the delay because the Africans have not said to you exactly what they need and that's -- is that causing your delay in making a decision?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I guess I don't really accept the word "delay." There are a lot of pieces of this that have to come together and let's remember the goal. Whether it's the political effort that we're making, the effort of the West Africans, the possible U.S. role including possible military roles in all this, the goal is to implement a ceasefire and a political transition as the parties have agreed to. That remains the goal. That remains an effort that is underway in a variety of ways -- diplomatically with the parties' neighboring states, through the West Africans, as well as whatever decisions the U.S. might make.
So these are all part of a picture of carrying out that basic plan that was agreed to in Accra of ceasefire, and then political transition. So all these efforts are underway, they are not being delayed.
Now, have we gotten to the more robust aspects of this?
Not yet, because there are pieces that have to come together in terms of assessments and West African readiness to deploy and U.S., you know, identification of the areas of support they might need. But the effort is already underway to get that carried out to what efforts we have going on now politically are committed to the same goals and are underway.
QUESTION: Is there any more you can flesh out in terms of efforts to implement a ceasefire and political transition, some of the challenges that you're facing right now?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the challenge, the current challenge is the renewal of fighting, and the renewal of fighting by the rebel groups, shelling of Monrovia that's a humanitarian disaster and, you know, puts in jeopardy the commitments that they have made. So that's where the current effort is focused is to get the rebels to stop the fighting and to hold them responsible for continuation of the fighting.
QUESTION: What happens after Charles Taylor leaves? Have we got a scenario for who is going to run the country and how it would be administered?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, there was a basic document agreed to already by the parties in Accra, and the goal is to implement that. Now, there are further discussions going on and that continue, that need to continue, need to be concluded on making that a comprehensive and more detailed document on how the political transition to work -- should work.
But that is our goal, to get in there and implement this basic framework that they have agreed to.
QUESTION: Richard, under these circumstances, won't it -- are you waiting for other word from Charles Taylor?
It's not just he, it's the whole infrastructure he's put in place the last maybe decade or more; corruption, his cronies, whatever, and is it acceptable?
I know that Nigeria said that they would possibly offer him sanctuary. Is it preferable he go to a different continent?
There have been many despots throughout Africa before that have gone to --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that I have any continents available at this moment for him. We have said the decision on Nigeria is for him and the Nigerians to make.
QUESTION: But is that preferable?
MR. BOUCHER: That we'll leave it -- we'll leave it at that for the moment. As far as I know, that's the only option that's out there.
And in terms of further decisions to be made, what we need is a decision from all the parties to the fighting to stop the fighting, and then we will -- as we go forward we'll have the decisions from the ECOWAS on deployments, from the U.S. on support. This is a process that is underway mostly politically now, but that we'll keep moving forward in order to try to stabilize the situation and get back on track towards the agreement and the implementation of a political transition.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: There are reports today out of Iraq that the two sons of Saddam might be dead. Your thoughts on these reports, and if they are dead, the significance of those two deaths in terms of the overall reconstruction plans in Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: My thoughts on these reports, I don't know. We'll have to see if they prove true. We'll have to hear from the people at the Pentagon, I think, before you hear anything from me as to what they can tell you about the military operation. And since I don't know if they are dead, I think it's maybe a little early to speculate on the cosmic importance of the event. We'll just have to see if it's true or not, and then we'll start pontificating.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MR. BOUCHER: Still on Iraq.
QUESTION: Yesterday, the Secretary of State did a talk conversation, a phone conversation with the Indian Foreign Minister, and after that the Indian Government is saying that the U.S. is considering to present a new draft resolution about Iraq at the Security Council. That's what the Indian Government is saying.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- as you know, we have discussed this issue of UN mandate. It's been discussed among Council members now for -- you know, not formerly in the Council, but the Secretary has had discussions with the Secretary General. It's been -- he has had discussions with other Foreign Ministers.
It's a topic of discussion up in New York between various members of the Council as to whether there needs -- could be a stronger, some different UN mandate that would encourage even more than 1483, which already encourages people to help stabilize the situation in Iraq.
I think last week it, as we looked at it, it was fairly clear that members wanted to hear a little more about the situation in Iraq. And they are hearing that today from Sergio De Mello, the UN representative, who is talking about the events in Iraq, the efforts -- the Governing Council, the efforts that he is making, the United Nations has been making in this situation.
So, perhaps, with that additional understanding of the situation, Council members may wish to discuss this more. But I don't think there is anything quite going to the point yet of whether somebody -- us or somebody else might put forward a resolution. It's a matter of discussion, and we'll see where the discussion leads.
QUESTION: Can you go on to North Korea or some more Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we'd be glad to.
QUESTION: North Korea, okay. All right. Well, a couple of things. Some months ago, as I am sure you recall, several senior officials including Mr. Armitage, said that the United States was willing to consider some kind of written document including security assurances.
Does that still stand, and is that an active proposal in your contacts with the Chinese last week?
MR. BOUCHER: That still stands, and the President has made clear that we are -- have no intention of invading North Korea. That remains our policy. The President said it quite clearly a number of times.
What was -- the second half of your phrasing was unusual? Is that an active part of our discussion with the Chinese last week?
MR. BOUCHER: I guess, in that case, I'd have to say no, it's not. Certainly, the issue is how to get North Korea to stop violating the norms of international behavior, as well as all its previous agreements. The issue is how to get North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons on a peninsula that everybody wants to see denuclearized. The issue is how to get North Korea to agree to multilateral discussions, so that all those who have an interest in this situation have a chance to participate in the discussions to end this affront to the international community.
We have consistently pursued a peaceful diplomatic approach. And so what we have been discussing with the Chinese and others is how to carry that peaceful and diplomatic approach forward -- have been working closely with China, Japan, South Korea and others, and the goal is to secure the complete, verifiable and irreversible elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
Does it remain U.S. policy that we have no intention of invading North Korea? Yes.
QUESTION: But what still stands, that it might be put in writing?
MR. BOUCHER: What we have previously said on this subject, but we were not sitting down with the Chinese to talk about how we could put this down in writing. We were sitting down with the Chinese and the others to talk about how we can get these talks started, so we can get rid of this nuclear weapons program.
QUESTION: But Chinese apart, you know, the issue has been real alive now in a front page article.
MR. BOUCHER: The Chinese what?
QUESTION: I said China -- what you're talking -- it's clear what you are saying about talking to the Chinese about non-aggression, commitment, promise, pledge, putting -- but the question is --
MR. BOUCHER: We're not --
QUESTION: Chinese apart, talks with the Chinese apart --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is it a matter of active consideration within the administration that you craft a piece of paper that tells the North Koreans what you have been saying repeatedly, that you have no intention of attacking them?
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing has changed on that point, but nothing has become more active on that point.
QUESTION: I've got you.
MR. BOUCHER: The issue now is not whether the United States provides a piece of paper. The issue is whether North Korea stops developing nuclear weapons. And that's where the focus has to be, and that's where the focus is.
QUESTION: But they have indicated they want a piece of paper. It could be, you know, a way to smooth the way toward where you want to go.
MR. BOUCHER: Again, the issue is not to have different news stories on different days. The issue is to actually see if the North Koreans are willing to sit down with the international community and respond to the concerns that are being expressed.
If North Korea wants something or wants to do something, then it's time for them to sit down in the multilateral discussions that we have proposed.
QUESTION: Richard, what about reports that the U.S. is willing to consider -- well, you haven't ruled it out, but is amiable to a third -- another round of third party talks if the North Koreans will agree that Japan and South Korea can be added to the next round?
MR. BOUCHER: I would just leave it where we left it on Friday after our discussions with the Chinese. We think it's time to move -- for others to join these talks. We think it's time to have a larger group present at the talks. I know there is speculation on what kind of formula might be used to, you know, cross the divide or bridge the gap or, you know, get some kind of agreement to get there.
Our goal is to have five party talks, at least, to include the Japanese and the South Koreans.
QUESTION: But if a way to get to your goal is to have another third party round --
MR. BOUCHER: It's speculative at this point.
QUESTION: Richard, on addressing that, (inaudible) the White House today said quite clearly that you were discussing with the Chinese the possibility of a three-way talk leading to a five-way talk. What -- yes?
MR. BOUCHER: Maybe I didn't read it carefully, but I am not quite there yet. We haven't ruled anything like that out. It's -- I suppose there is all kinds of possibilities, but I am not in a position to get into any particular detail at this point.
QUESTION: Was this -- can you say, was this an idea that Mr. Dai brought with him from Pyongyang or is it something that --
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not ready to go into any particular detail at this point on that.
QUESTION: Any updates on the case of Charles Lee since Friday?
MR. BOUCHER: Since Friday. Well, what we know, I think we told you on Friday that when he talked to our consular officer on the 16th, he made clear his intention to go on a hunger strike. We understand he was force-fed on July 17th, and that he resumed eating normally on July 18th.
We have inquired, our consul general in Shanghai has inquired as to the methods employed in force-feeding and we are awaiting a response from Chinese authorities.
QUESTION: (Inaudible). I'm sorry.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. Did the Chinese -- did the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai was able to call Charles after the force-feeding?
MR. BOUCHER: The -- no, the last conversation would have been the 16th.
QUESTION: So he --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. So we haven't talked to him since the force-feeding, no.
QUESTION: So they just heard from the prison that he resumed normal eating?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is this the place to ask if the British have asked for a role for British lawyers in prosecutions in the Guantanamo tribunal?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the place to ask for what the British have asked is the British.
QUESTION: Of course.
MR. BOUCHER: What I can tell you is we have been talking very closely with the British Government about the legal issues involved with regard to the prisoners in Guantanamo. You saw the statement from the White House last Friday about it. The British Attorney General was in town yesterday and has been talking to a lot of people around town about the situation there and how the legal issues can be handled.
We are also having discussions today with the Australian legal experts on a number of legal topics including the Australians that are detained in Guantanamo. So we are actively considering all these legal issues and trying to work with the other governments involved to make sure that their concerns are satisfied.
QUESTION: New subject. Are you having talks with any -- or willing to have talks with any country who has these issues or is it just specific members of the coalition that are involved in Guantanamo?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that others have asked. I assume that with different countries there may or may not be different legal issues. But I'm sure we'll talk to anybody that wants to talk to us about them.
QUESTION: With respect to these Guantanamo prisoners, in most instances aren't those prisoners not native-born to, for instance, England or Australia, they are --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. And, frankly, the way we handle American citizens is it doesn't matter. I'm not sure if it matters to others or not, but we don't make that distinction.
QUESTION: Is it a case that our military trials would be considered more stringent than theirs? Is that --
MR. BOUCHER: You'll have to ask them what their concerns are.
QUESTION: To turn to Liberia for a moment, the Secretary has been on the phone, I think, every day for five days now with Mr. Annan?
MR. BOUCHER: Yep, including this morning.
QUESTION: It's very hard to just say that and not be expected to say a little more. Five days of telephone talks, the word consulting gets very old when we write it.
MR. BOUCHER: The issue are all the issues that we've discussed here. As they discuss -- I mean, let's -- this is a fast moving situation, so every day they have to deal with trying to keep the overall effort going to get the deployment of West African peacekeepers, work out what kind of support the United States can provide to that, but also to look at the days -- at the situation as events unfold and how can we bring pressure on the parties, how can we talk to the neighboring states, how can we get a role for the United Nations and for the peacekeepers involved to really try to stabilize the situation.
So what they have been working on primarily is how to secure the deployment of the West African peacekeepers and what kind of support the United States can and should offer to that effort.
QUESTION: Richard, there were some pretty awful pictures out of Monrovia last night of bodies of Liberians that had been stacked up in front of the U.S. Embassy. And was -- has the embassy been able to help in their removal and burial? They are not still there?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I will have to check.
Yeah. Have we got one last -- one or two last ones?
QUESTION: Today there is thousands of people gather in front of the Capitol to have a people's tribunal of Chinese former President Jiang Zemin because of his genocide in the persecution of Falun Gong. I'm just wondering, do you think the State Department can do -- can be of any further help to help end this persecution?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have made clear our position on freedom of expression in China and freedom of religion in China. We will continue to push those points as we always have.
We've got one more down here.
QUESTION: Yeah, one last question.
MR. BOUCHER: Sir.
QUESTION: Back to Iraq. Has any new information emerged linking the regime of Saddam Hussein with al-Qaida?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new for you at this moment. I think it's quite clear that the regime was a supporter of terrorism, has long been on our State Supporters for Terrorism list and had no compunction about cooperating with terrorists.
The Secretary laid out the facts on February 5th in his presentation about how Iraq had provided safe haven or facilitated or allowed the actions of terrorists and we stand by that presentation.
QUESTION: Which reminds me -- the -- it may not be Saudi (inaudible) arresting al-Qaida folks. It wasn't clear to the State Department yesterday, you know, enough so that a statement could be made. Do you know, has --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything further on it today. We'll see if there is anything.
QUESTION: All right. Okay.
MR. BOUCHER: Terri.
QUESTION: One question. In Beijing, the Iraqi ambassador, former Iraqi ambassador, I guess, have you heard about this, that he's holed up in the embassy and he's --
MR. BOUCHER: I've seen wire stories.
QUESTION: -- and he's got guns and he won't let anybody in. But he's under orders from Bremer's people to come back to Iraq. What can you actually do to enforce an order to come back to Iraq there? Are you talking to Beijing about it? I mean, how involved is the United States in this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know how involved the United States is. I think, certainly, decisions on who represents Iraq abroad are for the Iraqis to make in conjunction with the Coalition Provisional Authority.
The Governing Council has authority to start looking at decisions -- at things like that -- and they should decide who representatives Iraq overseas, and then host countries take action accordingly whether to accredit people or not accredit people. So I don't know the situation on the ground would be something for the United States to get involved in.
QUESTION: Oh, but obviously the provisional authority believes it can tell him to come back.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think the situation on the ground would be something for the United States to get involved in.
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