State Department Briefing, December 12, 2003
|Friday December 12, 2003
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
The United States welcomes the convening of Afghanistan's historic first constitutional convention or Loya Jirga, which will begin on December 14th. We're pleased to see that 500 delegates representing a cross-section of Afghan society will join the debate to chart the future political course of Afghanistan.
While challenges remain, Afghanistan is passing a major milestone in its transition to a constitutional representative government that respects its traditions and protects the welfare of its citizens.
In keeping with the spirit of democracy, we expect a vigorous debate about -- among the Loya Jirga delegates -- over the constitution, as they take up questions of faith and human rights, the structure of government and the balance between central authority and local control.
Afghanistan has made remarkable strides in the last two years, since the transitional government was established. The credit goes to the strong leadership of President Karzai and his team, the resilience of the Afghan people, and the assistance of the United States and the international community.
There is much to build on. There is much that remains to be done. For that reason, the United States has approved an additional $1.7 billion in assistance to the Afghan people. This will bring the total U.S. contribution to reconstruction and humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan to something on the order of $3 billion.
As President Bush has made clear, the United States will remain steadfast in its support for the new Afghanistan.
I'll be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: I have a question on that. (Inaudible) is saying that the preparations for Loya Jirga had been marred by vote buying and intimidation. And they say that some of the delegates have been offered bribes to do various things, and said they had been threatened and strong-armed. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything specific on that, no.
QUESTION: How about on the delay?
MR. BOUCHER: We checked twice, and it's not being delayed. It's always been expected for the 14th, and it's like it's happening on the 14th.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR. BOUCHER: I've seen a variety -- every time I see one of those reports, I call my folks, and they call Afghanistan, and the folks I have talked to, it's not being delayed.
QUESTION: Maybe you should call Afghanistan yourself, avoid the middleman, get the straight story.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll leave that to you.
QUESTION: Okay. So as far as you know --
MR. BOUCHER: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: -- no delay, as far as you know?
MR. BOUCHER: No, when we checked again this morning, the Constitutional Loya Jirga or Grand Council has not been delayed.
QUESTION: Could you give us readout on the meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister this morning? And in that connection, as I understand it, the Israeli media is saying that the Secretary told Foreign Minister Shalom that the United States opposes any unilateral steps by Israel.
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen those reports.
QUESTION: It's Israeli radio.
MR. BOUCHER: It's Israeli radio? That's interesting. It's interesting because that's not what he said in the meeting. I mean, he didn't say that in the meeting.
We have always, however, said that we don't think either party should -- can find peace unilaterally, it has to be negotiated. But the issue didn't really come up in those terms in the meeting.
As far as the meeting itself, let me talk about what did come up at the meeting. Secretary Powell and Israeli Foreign Minister Shalom discussed a broad array of issues in our bilateral relationship. They talked about political, economic and security issues, and of course, the pursuit of Middle East peace.
They focused on efforts that we're all making to try to get some movement, to try to get started again on the roadmap. The Secretary made very clear that the roadmap was the way forward and that, and this is a view that Foreign Minister Shalom shares, we need to get moving down that road.
They talked about the prospect of meetings between the Prime Minister of Israel, Prime Minister Sharon, and the Palestinian Prime Minister, Prime Minister Qureia. Obviously, we've encouraged that prospect and the two parties -- two sides are talking to each other about that.
As I think you know from Foreign Minister Shalom, he has just met with the Egyptians while he was in Europe. And, of course, we just had Mr. Omar Suleiman here, so we talked about how we both work with regional parties, basically trying to look forward and trying to get the process started, recognizing on all our parts that the process starts with an end to the violence and terror, and movement by both sides to carry out their obligations and responsibilities under the roadmap.
We also discussed some ideas that are around that are being discussed in Israel about steps that they can take to ease the plight of the Palestinians, make life better for the ordinary Palestinians. And, of course, that is something the United States has always pressed for and always encourages.
QUESTION: Is that within -- in the discussion of the steps that they can take, which Foreign Minister Shalom called as -- I think he said a positive agenda. Are these -- these are steps that Israel will do itself, and I guess this goes back to George's question about the unilateralness. You're not against Israel taking -- I mean, you've always wanted them to ease the conditions of the Palestinians, so --
MR. BOUCHER: We have always been in favor of people taking positive steps that help the environment.
QUESTION: Even if they're unilateral?
MR. BOUCHER: Even if they're unilat -- I mean, yes.
QUESTION: It's just negative unilateral steps that you're --
MR. BOUCHER: No, we're -- yes, we're against negative steps; generally, I think that applies most places in the world.
MR. BOUCHER: But I wouldn't draw the distinction quite that way. I would say that we have always been in favor of the two sides taking steps, indeed, encouraging the sides to take steps, to move the process forward along the direction of the roadmap, along the direction of a negotiated settlement. We have always been against unilateral steps that define the settlement or prejudice the outcome or try to impose a settlement.
QUESTION: Okay. And in terms of the meeting between -- potential meeting between Sharon and Abu Alaa, the Foreign Minister said he hoped it could be very soon. Is that your impression as well?
And also, he mentioned something about Prime Minister Sharon giving a speech next week in which he would lay out some of these unilateral steps -- some other unilateral steps that might be taken. Is also your understanding that that's going to happen?
MR. BOUCHER: It's out understanding that's going to happen because the Foreign Minister of Israel says that's what's going to happen. We trust him, we believe him on that.
QUESTION: Yeah, but that was discussed --
MR. BOUCHER: We don't know the contents of the speech, if that's --
QUESTION: Okay, so he didn't lay out what the Prime Minister was going to say?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we didn't discuss the contents of the Prime Minister's speech next week. In terms of when the meeting's going to happen, I'll leave that to the sides. So they're still working on it, still discussing things. I'll leave it up to them to try to make the (inaudible).
QUESTION: Muhammad ElBaradei, in an interview published today, says that he believes Israel has nuclear weapons and that they should give them up to encourage a nuclear-free Middle East. What's the U.S. position on that?
MR. BOUCHER: The U.S. position has been that we have always encouraged universal adherence to the Nonproliferation Treaty. We have always encouraged universal adherence to the Nonproliferation Treaty.
QUESTION: Is that something ever discussed with Israel? Should they --
MR. BOUCHER: We always encourage universal adherence to the Nonproliferation Treaty.
QUESTION: Richard, I don't know whether they're trying to -- with respect to these (inaudible) negotiations, Vice Deputy -- Vice Premier Olmert, who has been saying critically, in respect to what we've just been talking about, this unilateral moves, it's like they are looking at hypotheticals, saying that if there is no peace, this will be done. I know you don't yourself like hypotheticals.
Is the reason that you're talking to some of these "private individuals," or you have in the last several months, mean bring them here to Washington, while they're here, and discuss with Secretary Powell to try and move that playing field a little more toward the center, as I mentioned yesterday, or a little more so that there's a openness to -- around this bottleneck?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I wouldn't -- I wouldn't see it in quite so political terms. It's not trying to move the political spectrum one way or the other. It's trying to achieve real progress on peace. The Secretary pointed out in the meeting that the roadmap is what the two sides have agreed to. It's what the two sides are committed to. It's what we're committed to, trying to help them implement and it's the way forward.
It's the -- in addition to the only document that's really endorsed by the parties, it's an objective statement of what it's going to take to get to a Palestinian state until a Palestinian state can live peacefully, side by side with Israel. So we tried to lay out the steps to get there, and we think those are the steps that need to be followed. When you do get there in the negotiation process, there are some of these big issues that have to be addressed, and so we've listened to ideas from people who are thinking, exploring and discussing some of these issues that eventually have to be addressed.
But to get to that point where the governments can address those issues officially, the parties need to carry out their obligations on the roadmap, which starts with an end to violence, includes a freeze on settlement activity and the other steps that are designed to move us to the point where those big issues can be addressed.
QUESTION: A follow-up. Yesterday, when you said that the Secretary has addressed various think tanks, are you also listening to the types of discussions those particular think tanks have had and weigh those in the type of policies that you're attempting to enact in these discussions?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I mean, sure. We, I mean, the Bureau as well, the Near East Bureau is in touch with #a lot of, a lot of different kinds of thinking on the issues, but also we work closely with the parties because we're a little less into the theory and much more into how do we actually make something happen. And that's what the Secretary and the Foreign Minister discussed today.
QUESTION: Change of topic?
QUESTION: No, we -- I just have this one, quickly, on the positive agenda that the Foreign Minister talked about and we said, said, referred back to some things that he had raised at the donors conference in Rome in terms of increasing the number of work permits and some infrastructure projects, things like that.
I'm wondering if those go -- if those items on that agenda go far enough for the United States, considering Mr. Satterfield's comments, rather harsh comments, yesterday in Rome about how Israel --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, now that you mention it, let me answer your question first, and then I'll read you the three and a half page document from Mr. Satterfield.
QUESTION: No, no, no. You don't have to read it.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I will. Don't worry.
QUESTION: The whole thing?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll be glad to. It's not a problem. I'm ready.
The steps, the kind of steps that the Israelis have been talking about and that we discussed today: Creating employment, work permits, opportunities to trade -- certainly anything that is done to help the Palestinians achieve a more normal life and to have opportunity is good.
For our part, the United States has also emphasized things like removing some of the security obstacles that may not be necessary for security, some of the roadblocks that may not be necessary for security, and encouraged other steps that the Israelis could take to ease the hardships of Palestinian life. That's something we've spoken about frequently.
You'll remember, it featured in the President's speech in London as well -- maybe not in those specific terms, but he described to us today some of the steps that they were -- some of the things that they were thinking about, willing to do, and the Secretary General expressed support for the general proposition of easing the hardships of Palestinian life.
Others have -- Americans have had more detailed discussions with the Israelis about some of these other steps that the Israelis can be taking as well.
QUESTION: Okay, but on the side.
MR. BOUCHER: But the official comments, since you asked me to read the whole thing.
QUESTION: I thought I specifically asked you not to read it.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, but I wasn't listening.
MR. BOUCHER: The comments are recorded in some of the media -- they -- Mr. Satterfield made in Rome, appear on page, I guess it's page three. And, as far as I saw them reported, were reported out of context. So I want to go over this document. I will spare you guys the trouble of reading two and a half pages, single spaced, from the podium, which I offered to do yesterday, but you also declined.
But I do want to make it clear that the presentation that Mr. Satterfield gave was a balanced presentation that addressed the issue of Palestinian reform. And the comments that he made about both sides were comments about the process of Palestinian reform because that's what the meeting was about.
It wasn't some sweeping observation on Israel's willingness to proceed towards peace. And he made clear in his statement, in the second paragraph -- you don't even have to go all the way to the end -- to get his basic view of the situation. He starts out saying, "I will be blunt. The reform process is at a near standstill. While it's true that the since the first meeting of this body nearly a year and a half ago significant progress has been made, unfortunately nearly all of that was before August, four months ago."
And then, at the end of that paragraph, he says, "And the fundamental responsibility for moving further down this path rests first with the Palestinian Authority and second with Israel." And I think that perspective was absolutely lost in the reporting that I saw.
He then went through a page and a half of what we look to the Palestinians to do. So we now look to Prime Minister Qureia to press on. We have welcomed his personal commitment, welcomed the new budget law, welcomed the consolidation of the Palestinian finances, and then talked at some length about the so-called to-do list of further efforts towards Palestinian reform, and how the Palestinian Authority was now working with the donor community on transparency and assistance.
Then, when he got to the end, he said, "We understand fully that external factors have a very real bearing on the implementation of the PA's reform agenda. In particular, the Israeli Government has done too little for far too long to translate its repeatedly stated commitment to facilitate Palestinian reform into a reality."
And, at that point, he goes down the questions of work permits and other things that the Israeli Government can and should do without compromising its legitimate security interests.
That is the context for remarks that (inaudible), and anybody who intends to quote from the statement I think should give an accurate reflection of what Mr. Satterfield said and what he meant. And all you have to do is read his remarks and you'll see.
QUESTION: Is there more than one report that did this?
MR. BOUCHER: I saw one. I'm told there might be others. So I didn't single anybody out. I haven't done the thorough search.
QUESTION: Okay. So this was -- that long spiel was about one --
MR. BOUCHER: No, the long spiel was about anybody who wants to report on the remarks. Just tell the --
QUESTION: Have you seen any reports on this that actually got it correct?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I didn't. But, as I said --
QUESTION: I'll e-mail you mine.
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't done a thorough search.
QUESTION: Richard, there are reports that China is still making an effort to hold the six-party talks within the year by presenting a revised or an amended version of the recent U.S.-Japan-South Korea joint draft to North Korea, the U.S., Japan, as well as South Korea. I wonder if you had any comments regarding the amended draft from the Chinese, and how likely could the six-way talks be held within the year.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any more inclination today to get into the exact back-and-forth about how we're working this with the other parties to the talks. We're certainly in very close touch with the Chinese. We are consulting with other parties who participate in order to look to arranging talks whenever they can be arranged.
As far as the likelihood, I can't handicap the chances of North Korean agreement, of North Korean commitment to come to the talks, of North Korean commitment to come to the talks without preconditions, as we have said, we are ready to do. So I just can't predict if the talks can take place now or if it will be pushed off. But if they're not held this month, we'll look to schedule something as soon as possible in the new year.
MR. BOUCHER: That would be for the Chinese to say if they wanted to. We're working the issues diplomatically with our counterparts and colleagues, in very close touch with the Chinese.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that one? According to, again, some reports, the Chinese amendment does include a clause where both the United States and North Koreans state their intentions, where North Korea abandons its nukes and the U.S. gives a security assurance to the North Koreans. If such a clause was in that amendment, can the U.S. accept such an agreement?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to comment on something that I haven't commented on. The President very clearly stated our policy in Bangkok, and I think you'll see quite clearly in the President's remarks there, and the other statements that we've made subsequently that we're willing to approach this negotiation in a positive way.
We are willing to approach this negotiation in an attempt to get an agreement, to get an understanding that will result in the complete, verifiable and irreversible elimination of North Korea's nuclear program, and we are, in that context, willing to provide a multilateral security assurance. So that has been a publicly stated position of the President of the United States.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Sir.
QUESTION: Japan, yes. The Japanese Government said that the (inaudible) of the next round of talks will be held within this year -- years (inaudible) whether United States accepts the Chinese draft or not.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to comment on every comment by anonymous officials in one government or the other. I think we have made clear here that we've been prepared to go to talks. We've been prepared to go to talks without precondition. We've said for some months, in fact, that we were ready to go back to another round of discussions of six-party talks. And at this point, we'll have to see what the North Koreans do, have to see what the Chinese can put together.
Sir. Oh, Teri.
QUESTION: Not North Korea.
QUESTION: North Korea. Can I do -- ?
QUESTION: Yes, you may.
QUESTION: You said before you are ready to go Beijing without precondition, and now (inaudible) is maintaining and set preconditions. So maybe before, say, (inaudible) precondition, you are not ready to go to Beijing. That's --
MR. BOUCHER: No, (inaudible) precondition. We're not going to set the condition that they would rather have preconditions. We just want them to show up. The point is we're ready for talks. We're working with the Chinese to try to help those talks happen. The Chinese are working hard trying to make those talks happen and make them be productive, and we'll see what happens. We'll see what the North Koreans are willing to do.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Teri, change the subject.
QUESTION: Yeah. On the Iraq contracts story, there are increasing suggestions that they Administration may be, in fact, willing to consider Iraqi debt restructuring in connection with the -- getting on the inclusive list of countries who are allowed to get prime contracts. Is that something that -- you had denied there's a link before. Is there some kind of change in the thinking on this? And would restructuring of Iraq's debts be considered enough of a contribution to the war in Iraq that that could be something that qualifies countries?
MR. BOUCHER: I really -- I think all I can say is we've tried to address that as we can. We've said that we recognize that this list is not immutable. This list is certainly one that we would encourage others to join, to participate in the coalition, to make contributions to the future of Iraq in many different ways.
We've not tried to list a set of ways or individual steps that would qualify that, but we have said, certainly, as circumstances change, the list might change as well. That's about as far as we can go now because it's not defined any further on that point.
QUESTION: But you have denied that there is a link between contracts and debt restructuring.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I haven't denied there's a link. I just have failed to specify any particular element as being sufficient to get on the list.
QUESTION: Well, you've said that --
MR. BOUCHER: It was the way you said the second time that, you know, are -- if people forgive the debt, we'll put them on the list. I can't say that. We've not identified --
QUESTION: Well, not solely, but --
MR. BOUCHER: -- a specific factor as saying, if you do that, you get on it. We've just said as circumstances change, we'll consider (inaudible) on the list.
QUESTION: But is that among the set of possible qualifiers, other than sending troops?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we've -- I can't really define for you the set of possible qualifiers. Certainly, the President made clear that the most important thing is people who have risked their lives, and that people who have been part of the war or the security apparatus and the aftermath are on the list. That's predominantly what it is. Whether there are other criteria that would qualify, I can't start specifying what (inaudible).
QUESTION: But is this evolving, then? I mean, is --
MR. BOUCHER: We'll consider how the circumstances change. Normally, one country is not going to do this, but not, you know, they're going to have a (inaudible) contribution, and we'll -- as those contributions change, the circumstances of the list might change as well.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) follow-up on the Baker trip. Are any State Department officials accompanying him? Is this literally a solo mission, or is there staff, some kind of senior staff with him?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what the whole list of staff is, but certainly, our embassies will be supporting him and working with him and we've talked quite extensively with Secretary Baker before (inaudible).
QUESTION: But nobody from here?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if they're sending anybody from here. I'll have to check on that. But we're certainly offering him every possible support. This mission is important to us. We're very supportive of Secretary Baker's mission. Our embassies and our experts will be supporting him in every way we can.
QUESTION: Yeah, can you elaborate or explain the rather dire Warden Message from the embassy in Bogotá about Americans being targeted for terrorists threats in Cartagena, and general imminent threats in Bogotá itself?
MR. BOUCHER: Do we have any information on that that we're able to share? I don't think so. All I can do is say that, yes, there is a Warden Message in -- from our embassy in Bogotá about the situation in Cartagena, but I'm afraid I'm not in a position to go any farther on that.
QUESTION: Do you want to welcome the accession of a new Prime Minister in Canada?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd love to. Let me to read David Satterfield's whole statement on the subject? Let me --
MR. BOUCHER: That was a joke. That was -- I shouldn't make jokes like that. I'm sorry.
The President called Prime Minister Chretien December 11th to congratulate him on his service to Canada and to wish him the best. We now extend our best wishes to Canada's new government and to Prime Minister Paul Martin. Canada is a close friend and ally, trading partner.
We have an extraordinary relationship with Canada, and with the Canadian people, and we expect to work with any government selected through that country's established procedures. We look forward to establishing very quickly the kind of solid working relationships with the members of the new government we've always enjoyed with our friends in Canada, and we'll try to make this relationship continue to grow.
QUESTION: In your guidance on Canada, with respect to eligibility for Iraqi contracts, is it the same today as it was yesterday?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I can't remember if this is a White House appointment or not, so forgive me if it is.
MR. BOUCHER: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: The Canadian Prime Minister.
MR. BOUCHER: No. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: As much as you would like it to be, you know that I might -- you know that I'm about to ask about --
MR. BOUCHER: Are you going to ask about Northern Ireland?
MR. BOUCHER: I've seen the wire story, and we are going to stay very engaged in the issues and whether or not we're going to continue to work, make a significant U.S. contribution.
We've done that with -- using State Department resources, as well as Ambassador Haass' special role. But until something changes with that role or someone new might come along, it will be announced by the White House. That's about all I can say.
QUESTION: So, Haas is still -- at the moment, at least, Haass is still the guy.
MR. BOUCHER: At the moment, at least.
QUESTION: All right. And so, in that case, since he still has a connection to the Administration, I'm wondering if you'd like to tell us what he exactly meant by saying Pakistan is a threat to the entire world at conference in India?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid that on matters of Pakistan, he's not a member of the Department.
QUESTION: Okay. So you --
MR. BOUCHER: And so anything regarding Pakistan, he'll have to explain. If you have something on Northern Ireland that he said that you'd like me to explain, I'd be glad to.
QUESTION: A new question. Russia announced today, its Foreign Minister announced today that it would now welcome international help in, it says, stabilizing Chechnya, not necessarily mediating Chechnya or anything like that, and the European Commission has announced new money for war refugees. Has there been any discussion with the United States about this, and is the U.S. looking into anything more it can do for Chechnya?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I hadn't seen it. I'll check on it for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Ma'am.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) in Brussels, the EU leaders summing up their summit say that, you know, a solution to Cyprus problem would make easy for Turkey to win the bid for the membership. Do you share this view? Do you agree with this?
MR. BOUCHER: We've always encouraged Turkey's membership in the EU. We've always encouraged a solution to the Cyprus problem. I suppose it's merely an objective observation that a solution to the Cyprus problem would help a lot of things in the region, including Turkey's membership to the EU, but I'm not trying to lay down conditionality here. We think that both things are good and both things should be pursued.
QUESTION: And on Cyprus --
QUESTION: In other words, you're still not a member of the EU.
MR. BOUCHER: We're still not a member of the EU, but we do have some opinions from time to time.
QUESTION: On EU. Do you have any -- (inaudible) EU defense mechanism that was announced today?
MR. BOUCHER: We've looked fairly thoroughly the documents that are coming out of Brussels. We've also talked over, as you know, a long period of time with European friends and allies about the issue of European defense and security. As you know, the United States has always placed the great importance on the preeminence of NATO in matters of transatlantic security.
We've also long support European defense capabilities and the development of European security and defense policy that's based on improved European capabilities and transparency and cooperation between NATO and the European Union. So it's in that light that we've -- we're looking at the decisions that are coming out of Brussels.
MR. BOUCHER: We do note, in the presidency document describing this matter, that they say that NATO is the forum for discussion and the natural choice for an operation involving European and American allies. We note that they endorsed the Berlin-plus arrangements. We note that they propose that a small-use cell should be established at SHAPE and they say that there should be full transparency between the EU and NATO; and then they also deal with the question of if, after NATO or the Berlin-plus arrangements or a single European nation national command decide not to conduct an operation, they talk about how they would stand up, at that point, a capacity to plan and run the operation. They say explicitly this would not be a standing headquarters.
So we're looking at all that, but we'll also look at how they implement these arrangements. I would say that we've noted all these things at this point and we have full confidence that our European allies will carry out these arrangements, and they can develop this initiative in a way that does protect NATO's role as the premier European security organization, and that reinforces transparency and close cooperation between NATO and the European Union.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Richard --
MR. BOUCHER: We have one more.
QUESTION: I'm just wondering what you can tell us your thoughts are on the upcoming anniversary, I believe, tomorrow, of a singularly momentous event in the annals of U.S. foreign policy about a half century ago or so.
QUESTION: A little more than a half-century ago.
MR. BOUCHER: No, nothing important happened.
QUESTION: Happy Birthday.
MR. BOUCHER: Appreciate it.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)
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