State Department Noon Briefing, January 29, 2004
|Thursday January 29,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
THURSDAY, JANUARY 29, 2004
MR. BOUCHER: For those of you who are here, welcome. I don't have any statements or announcements today. I'll be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Yeah, I realize the Secretary talked about this downstairs earlier, but he didn't get into whether the bombing in Jerusalem this morning has had any impact on - about - Wolf and Satterfield and their discussions.
MR. BOUCHER: I think the answer is it has certainly focused, again, all our attention on the need for the Palestinians to stop the violence, to take concrete steps that end the violence. Obviously, much of their discussions already has been focused on that issue. Ambassador Wolf has had meetings with senior Israeli officials as well as senior Palestinian officials, along with David Satterfield and representatives from the NSC who were with him.
There was a trilateral meeting that was planned for today that's been canceled in -- I guess it was in Jerusalem. The first one had been when David Satterfield met with donors and Palestinians on December 15th, then there was a meeting in -- I guess that was after a meeting in Rome. So it's, you know, regrettable, but I think it's -- everybody understands that when a horrible action happens like this, everybody really needs to bear down and redouble the effort to stop the violence.
The Secretary called Foreign Minister Shalom this morning to express our sympathy and talk about the situation. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Bill Burns spoke with the Israeli Ambassador here in Washington today along the same lines.
Ambassador Wolf is scheduled to depart Jerusalem later today, and then Ambassador Satterfield remains in the region for the moment.
QUESTION: The trilateral meeting was with -- you've mentioned donors. I'm lost. Was this Israel, Palestinian and U.S.?
MR. BOUCHER: It's sort of donors, Israelis and Palestinians. U.S. participation is as one of the major donors.
QUESTION: So that's U.S., EU --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have the whole list. We may have put it out last time. There's been an ad hoc liaison committee that's worked on this before as well.
QUESTION: But they're donors for the Palestinians?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Any phone calls to the Palestinian side from Secretary Powell?
MR. BOUCHER: Not at this point, no.
QUESTION: But does he -- is he planning on making any?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'll have to see.
QUESTION: And where does Satterfield go, or does he stay in Israel?
MR. BOUCHER: He remains in the region. I don't have his full schedule at this point.
QUESTION: Do the --
QUESTION: But wait. Do you expect him to go to other countries or do you expect him to stay there?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: Richard, there were reports from Jerusalem that a meeting between Satterfield and Wolf and Prime Minister Sharon and Foreign Minister Shalom was canceled. That would be a bilateral meeting. But was that -- was there such a meeting? Was that canceled?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I didn't see any cancellation of such a meeting. I don't think such a meeting has occurred. I don't think they met with Prime Minister Sharon during the course of the last day or so when they've been having meetings. They've been having very senior meetings on the Israeli side, including with prominent members of Sharon's -- Prime Minister Sharon's office.
So they have thoroughly discussed many -- all of these issues, not only with the Israeli side, but obviously the Palestinian side as well.
QUESTION: But you don't know if there was one scheduled today that was cancelled because of the bombing?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if there was one scheduled that might have been cancelled for today.
QUESTION: Could you be a little more specific? You had, as it turns out, two senior people in the region when this happened.
Could you tell us what they did immediately after -- one is coming home already -- what they did after the bombing? How did -- what action did they take, if any?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think the actions that the United States Government took are the ones that I outlined for you. The Secretary has called the Foreign Minister of Israel, on behalf of the United States and the people of the United States, to express our condolences, renew our commitment to the fight against terror, and renew our commitment to pressing the Palestinian side, especially, to take steps to end the terror.
Mr. Burns called the Israeli Ambassador to do the same thing, on behalf of the United States, to the Israeli people. You know, the subject of Palestinian security steps, Palestinians taking hold of their security situation, establishing this kind of security situation that puts them in real authority in their areas, and therefore builds the institutions of a state. I mean, that's been -- the discussion has been focused on that anyway, that our senior officials have had, because we have seen that as the essential step to get movement on the roadmap.
QUESTION: But Satterfield and --
MR. BOUCHER: Ambassador Wolf.
QUESTION: John Stern Wolf had no further -- no discussions with Israelis or Palestinians after the bomb went off?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know for sure. I don't know what discussions they might have had since the bomb went off.
QUESTION: Richard --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Adi.
QUESTION: Since Abu Alaa took office a few months ago, has the U.S. seen any progress whatsoever in your calls towards the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terror groups?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I'm in a position right now to make an assessment. Certainly, the United States has continued to press both in general ways, but also in specific ways, for steps that will end the activities of the terrorist groups and end the terrorism.
QUESTION: Except, Richard, in the Israeli version of the Shalom-Powell phone call -- sorry -- the Israeli -- well, what the Foreign Ministry is saying is that Shalom told the Secretary that this was -- the bombing was proof that the Palestinians weren't doing enough and needed to do more.
And presumably, from what the Secretary said downstairs and what you've said now, you totally agree with that and are -- and that perhaps this was also -- am I correct in thinking this was also the same kind of conversation that Ambassador -- Assistant Secretary Burns had with the Israeli Ambassador.
Is that correct?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, but it --
MR. BOUCHER: But it's been quite clear from what we've said all along.
QUESTION: Right. So why is it that you're telling the Israelis this? Why hasn't anyone gone in and, since the bombing, talked to the Palestinians to again -- you know, you're basically preaching to the choir when you're lamenting with Israel --
MR. BOUCHER: We're not preaching. We're trying to deal with the situation.
QUESTION: Well, it was an express -- a turn of phrase.
MR. BOUCHER: I know it was. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: But you're talking to people that completely agree with you. What value is there in telling the Israelis that you agree with them that the Palestinians need to do more when -- and not telling the Palestinians the same thing, even though you've been saying it for weeks and weeks?
MR. BOUCHER: My turn?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, that's exactly what we are telling the Palestinians. That's exactly what Ambassador Wolf and Ambassador Satterfield have been telling the Palestinians. That's exactly what our representatives, our Consul General in Jerusalem, have been telling the Palestinians. That's exactly what we will keep telling the Palestinians. And that's what we've been telling you and will continue to tell the world.
QUESTION: But you're not aware if anyone said this directly to the Palestinians today, except for in these public fora since the bombing?
MR. BOUCHER: In the last few hours, no, I don't have a rundown of every conversation or the conversations we may have had in the region since the bombing.
QUESTION: The Secretary, in a radio interview about a week ago, one of the several he did, said that Qureia specifically had not done enough. You were asked, you know, for an assessment. The Secretary's assessment was that he hadn't done enough to stop the violence. So wouldn't that evaluation be underlined today with what happened?
MR. BOUCHER: If that's what the Secretary said, then I'm sure it would.
QUESTION: He also said Israel hadn't compromised. Are you still looking for Israel to compromise with these people in the face of what's going on?
MR. BOUCHER: We're looking for both sides to carry out their responsibilities and obligations. That's been quite clear. We've been looking for more action from the new Palestinian Government. We hadn't seen it yet.
And we'll continue to press for it. We continue to think that the main issue is to secure progress by ending the violence. That continues to remain the focus of our efforts, what we're pushing for.
QUESTION: Yeah, and the Israeli end of the roadmap has obligations, too.
MR. BOUCHER: Has obligations as well.
QUESTION: So would this be an appropriate time for Israel to remove outposts, to freeze settlement activity, to make lives easier?
MR. BOUCHER: It's always a --
QUESTION: To stop building a fence? Is this things that you would still expect Israel to do in light of what happened?
MR. BOUCHER: We always expect Israel to live up to its commitments and obligations.
QUESTION: You don't think they're subject to revision when Israel is hammered like this, do you?
MR. BOUCHER: We have always tried to make progress. The point of making progress is that, first and foremost, the Palestinians have to take steps to end terror.
QUESTION: There was a killing today of ten Israelis in Jerusalem. Yesterday was the killing of eight Palestinians in Gaza. We did not hear you condemning the killing of the Palestinians in the same strongest term that you used today in the White House.
Do you think that the killing by suicide bomber is atrocious, and the killing by an Israeli tank or an Apache helicopter is acceptable somehow?
MR. BOUCHER: We regret every death that occurs and we take steps, we try to take steps, to stop -- to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians so that everybody in the region can have a normal life without the fear of violence or death.
At the same time, we make -- we don't consider that setting off a bomb and killing a bus full of innocent people is in any way contributing to the aspirations of the Palestinian people or in any way contributing to security for the Palestinian people. It's a horrible act of terrorism and violence and deserves to be condemned by everybody, and I think has been condemned by the Palestinian side as well.
QUESTION: I'm just not asking for an opinion. I'm just asking you for a statement that equally balanced between two sides.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I've given you --
QUESTION: Do you explain that the killing yesterday was the same as --
MR. BOUCHER: I've given you the position of the United States Government.
MR. BOUCHER: We don't draw equivalence between different acts.
QUESTION: So you condemn strongly the killing of the people in Gaza yesterday, the same as today?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going --
QUESTION: Or as strongly? Can I quote you on using the word "strongly" for the Palestinian equally the same?
MR. BOUCHER: No, because I haven't said that.
QUESTION: So you don't want to use the word "strongly"?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Look, I didn't -- you're saying things that I didn't say. I said --
QUESTION: Okay, tell me what you said.
MR. BOUCHER: I have said we don't draw equivalence between acts that may be carried out in self-defense, may be carried out on the part of security, may be carried out in order to end terrorism, may be as a legitimate part of defense. We have always said Israel has a right to defend itself. If there are actions involving terrorist groups, if there are terrorist groups that are attacking or about to attack Israel, we think Israel has a right to defend itself.
MR. BOUCHER: That is different than setting off a bomb in a bus full off people, and I told you at the beginning of this conversation I am not drawing any equivalence between those actions.
QUESTION: Sir, you just mentioned that you don't see in the Palestinian action that it is helping their aspirations. Do you see the Israeli actions of destroying homes and killing Palestinians helping their aspiration for more security?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not here to get into a debate and draw comparisons between different actions. We have stated objectively what we think the steps are that parties need to take. Obviously, an end to the violence on both sides, an end to the killing, an end to the deaths on both side, would help both parties achieve peace.
We think that the way to achieve that is for the Palestinians to take serious steps to end the activities of terrorist groups that have perpetuated this violence again and again, and disrupted not only the lives of innocent people but disrupted any progress that we have tried to make for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
QUESTION: Can we move a bit north to Syria --
QUESTION: No, no, wait wait.
QUESTION: -- which is part of the situation?
QUESTION: Yeah, no, but I just want to go back to maybe make this a little easier.
Had you had a briefing yesterday, had there been a briefing here yesterday, or maybe there was --
MR. BOUCHER: There was.
QUESTION: There was? Okay. And were you asked about the deaths of the Palestinians in Gaza?
MR. BOUCHER: I think no.
QUESTION: Okay. Well --
MR. BOUCHER: Was I?
QUESTION: And did you have a -- have any -- what was your reaction to that, the specific incident?
MR. BOUCHER: Our reaction to incidents like that has been that Israel has a legitimate need to -- right to defend itself, but needs to always consider the consequences of any actions it decides to undertake.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, is --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think either of those clauses would apply to somebody setting off a bomb in a bus today, so that's why I draw no equivalence.
QUESTION: The Secretary had some remarks about Syria today -- critical. More than a month ago, again, in one of those radio interviews or an interview someplace, he credited Syria with, you know, beginning to take positive steps to make sure that there isn't -- fighters weren't getting back and crossing the border to and from Iraq, and he also called on Syria releasing Iraqi funds being held in Syrian banks.
If this is -- I don't know if this is the occasion to ask for something as specific as that. But on either front, has their been any progress? Can you update us on either of those things? He spoke of this as being part of the importance of having a good relationship.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. No, and the Secretary named a number of other issues today, where we see much less progress.
QUESTION: Oh, of course. Yeah, yeah.
MR. BOUCHER: The issues that the Secretary laid out for the Syrian Government when he went there last summer, including the whole set of relationships with Iraq, Syria's support for terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, various other issues that have been a problem for us, those issues remain on our agenda and we want to deal with them with Syria.
We have seen some limited steps in certain areas, including with regard to the border with Iraq or the return of some of the funds. But I don't think in these areas, even there one can say that the progress has been as much as we would have liked. And in some of the very important areas, such as support for terrorist groups and the continuing operation of terrorist groups, we have seen much less progress.
So while we've acknowledged, I think, in the past, the limited progress that we have seen in some areas, we have made very, very clear there is much more that Syria should look at and should do, in order to bring its behavior into conformity with the standards that we expect of all nations.
QUESTION: And then one more serious note, which you're alluding to now. Syria's Acting Ambassador, a week or two ago, spoke of the offices of what he wouldn't, of course, call "terror groups," probably calls them "militant groups," as some news organizations do. He said that they have maintained their offices in Damascus, but they don't hatch any plots there; they're there for informational purposes.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think that's -- first of all, that's a contradiction by other information that's available. And second of all, I don't think you can draw a distinction between a propaganda office and an office that supports the goals of violent groups. If you're supporting the goals of violent groups and taking actions that you think will lead to more support for those goals, then you're supporting violence.
QUESTION: Richard, as a follow-on to this discussion and to the question I raised several weeks ago, I asked whether you had any information about a report that a plane from Syria that took humanitarian goods to Iran to deliver humani -- relief for the earthquake came back full of arms. And I don't remember whether you said you didn't have any information or would look into it or neither or those, but another answer.
MR. BOUCHER: I think we said that wasn't a question we'd be able to answer because it would have to relate to what we knew from intelligence.
QUESTION: To weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Yesterday, David Kay said that in his judgment it appears that the U.S. intelligence, or actually, everybody's intelligence was wrong, and that he was wrong about -- in his belief about stockpiles of weapons.
Given that the Secretary, in his speech to the UN, relied heavily, entirely on this intelligence, is he still confident in the information that he presented?
MR. BOUCHER: As you pointed out, the Secretary's presentation last year involved a lot of U.S. intelligence, a lot of information that was prepared and checked very carefully by the experts in our intelligence agencies. The conclusions that were in that presentation were very similar to many of the things that have been said over years by UN inspectors who had looked at this, by intelligence agencies in other countries, by reports presented by other countries and by other administrations, previous administrations.
Some of the fundamental issues that he laid out -- that Iraq had the every intention of developing weapons of mass destruction and had programs to try to carry that out, that Iraq had failed to account for significant quantities and stocks of materials that it either had made or could have made, based on its past, based on what the UN had found out about its past behavior, that Iraq had ties to terrorist groups; it could facilitate the opportunities for those groups to create violence, and that Iraq would have every intention of developing weapons of mass destruction -- those things not only were true then, fundamentally, but are even further confirmed by what we're finding out after the war.
And the fact is it was quite clear from the Secretary's presentation, from the information available then, as before, and from the information after the war that Iraq was failing to comply with the UN resolutions, that Iraq was failing to meet the demands of the international community to come clean, and that Iraq was trying to maintain a dangerous capability.
To what extent it was able to maintain those stocks, to what extent it was able to maintain that capability, is something we won't know fully until the Iraq survey group is allowed to complete its work.
QUESTION: Is there a possibility that some of the intelligence that he presented was wrong about existing stockpiles?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think one can draw conclusions, at this point. Certainly some of the elements we know are subject to debate, disagreement. But until we know what the real, full extent of the program was, it's hard, and you don't have anything to compare what we -- what the intelligence was at the time to what the final answers are.
QUESTION: Has the Syrian peace initiative been part of the talks today with the Turkish authorities?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. I think, to some extent, the Secretary addressed this outside. Certainly, the -- in his discussions with Foreign Minister Gul, Foreign Minister Gul briefed us on his contacts with the Syrian Government, and as I think he's mentioned, he mentioned in public, as the Syrian interest in not only perhaps improving its relationship with us and others, but also in seeing some progress along the peace track.
The Secretary has made clear, as I did before, that there are things that Syria has to do to improve its relationship with the rest of the world, but that we remain committed, certainly, to a comprehensive peace that can involve Syria, and would like to see progress there as well. But I think that's about as deep as one can go at this point.
QUESTION: I have a quick question on Libya. There are reports coming out primarily from Qadhafi's son that the U.S. is offering to compensate Libya monetarily for some of its nuclear material. And he's made other reports before that have not turned out to be true. I'm just wondering if you've seen these latest reports and if there is anything to them.
MR. BOUCHER: No, we're not compensating nations for dismantling illicit nuclear weapons programs, and we're confident Libya understands that.
QUESTION: Could we -- well, will there be compen -- maybe the question isn't compensation. For instance, the Iranian material is being -- apparently being treated the way previous shipments from other places have been, being converted to be used for nuclear reactors. Is there any U.S. obligation to compensate Libya for this?
I mean, it was used for bad purposes. But as we -- as the U.S. gets the material and applies it to other use, do you happen to know if Libya is due any compensation, if that's the word, payment?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, we don't compensate countries for illicit programs, and Libya understands that.
QUESTION: Well, you mean this Administration doesn't compensate, or do you mean the United States, in general, because I think there are a lot of people that would say that you compensated the North Koreans after the Agreed Framework was signed by agreeing to pay for these two light water reactors?
Whether you want to call that compensation or not, it's certainly something they got in exchange.
MR. BOUCHER: I speak of the policy of this Administration.
QUESTION: Of this Administration.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't accept your characterization of previous policies, but that's a debate you can have with others. Okay.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to the WMD question for one second?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: Up on the Hill yesterday -- now I forget -- Mr. Kay did -- said at one point that we were all wrong, almost everyone was wrong on the stockpile question. Does the State Department accept that characterization?
MR. BOUCHER: As the Secretary said, we'll have to see.
QUESTION: So you don't? At this point, you don't?
MR. BOUCHER: I think you can't make the final judgment on these things until you know, until the Iraq survey group finishes its work, tells us, okay, "This is what they had at this point. This is what they had at that point."
The question that was before the war, the question for the last 12 years, was not whether Libya had weapons of mass destruction -- excuse me -- Libya, too -- but whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Everybody knew they had them because in a horrible and graphic fashion in 1988, they demonstrated that at Halabja, and they had used gas in the war against the Iranians. And by the early '90s, with the UN efforts, their nuclear and biological programs were well-known, as well, from the UN side.
So the question towards the end of the 1990s became, has -- do these stockpiles exist? Do these stocks exist? Do these programs exist? What's happened to them?
And after the Clinton Administration decided they needed to bomb, and that the inspectors' work wasn't going anywhere and they had to be pulled out, the question was even greater. So we entered the period with the last resolutions and saying the fundamental question is: What happened to the weapons of mass destruction and programs that Libya -- that Iraq had?
So that's what was incumbent upon Iraq, was to explain that. In some ways, we're still asking the same question, but this time we're going to find out for ourselves. What happened to the stocks it had? What happened to the programs it had? The Iraq survey group is the place to answer that because they are now going through a lot of information and data and people in a very, we hope, thorough and methodical fashion. And we look to them to come up with that kind of baseline, and then we can compare the information we had at different points against that.
QUESTION: So the bottom line is then on that statement by Mr. Kay, you believe that statement that he made to be premature?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. And sometimes -- he has done a lot of testifying, and sometimes when he has said it, you know, I -- it's been couched, in terms of I believe that in the end it will be found out that, you know. We don't do that kind of predicting. We'll deal with the facts when the facts are known.
QUESTION: Downstairs, the Secretary said that he was going to speak with Secretary General Annan today. Has that phone call taken place, and do you have any readout?
MR. BOUCHER: Not quite yet, no.
QUESTION: In the meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister, did the Secretary (inaudible) in agreement with the Turkish position regarding the Kurds in the north; they are basically now allowed to have an autonomous region?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary, himself, and the Foreign Minister have sort of explained that outside. We certainly, we and the Turks, agreed fully, and I think all the neighbors do, that Iraq's territorial integrity needs to be maintained, that Iraq needs to operate as a single state, that the natural resources of Iraq need to be owned by the Iraqi people, and therefore be in the hands or the -- be the responsibility of the central government.
So I think we all, as we approach the issue of the future political structure of Iraq, as Iraqis approach the future political structure of Iraq, there are going to be a great many of issues that they're going to have to decide, in terms of the structure of their government and how they choose their leaders, and things like that.
But I think we're all proceeding, the neighbors and the Iraqis, from this basic view that what Iraq needs to be is a single state at peace with its neighbors and with a democratic government.
QUESTION: Do you not see a system like, similar to a federal kind of arrangement?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Ultimately, that encompasses a lot of very fundamental issues for the Iraqis that they're going to have to figure out about how they structure their government.
QUESTION: How about the way, the way Turkish autonomy is structured?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, that --
QUESTION: Is that something the U.S. has an opinion on, will express an opinion on, what the Kurds call "Arabization" of their area, Kirkuk, particularly. They say the people who are brought in, you know, innocent people, that the aim was to, not necessarily erase, but limit Kurdish identity. Is this something that's up to a democratic Iraq to deal with, or is the U.S. part of some effort to reverse what was done to Kurdish autonomy?
MR. BOUCHER: The effects of Saddam's policies, unfortunately, are felt throughout Iraq in many different ways, and a lot of what we're reconstructing in Iraq are degradation of 30-35 years economically, in terms of the infrastructure, but also in terms of the political life of a nation. So there's a lot of complicated questions like this that have to be resolved.
Fundamentally, they have to be resolved with -- by the Iraqi themselves as they structure their new government. Obviously, the United States is part of that in terms of our position in Iraq and our expertise in some of these areas where we can help, we can offer ideas, we can work with the Iraqis.
We have also encouraged the United Nations to play a role because we think the United Nations has unique expertise in so many of these questions of constitutional and political issues.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yesterday you responded to a question on North Korea and Nigerian missile deal. I was just wondering, have you confirmed or is it your understanding that the Nigerians have rejected North Koreans' offer?
MR. BOUCHER: We haven't quite yet had a chance to sit down and talk to the Nigerian Government about this. We will be talking to them, as I think I said yesterday, but we haven't, as far as I know, had a chance to sit down and talk to them yet.
I did note yesterday were some statements where they said they were not interested. That's obviously the right decision. When we talk to them, we'll make that very clear.
QUESTION: Richard, is the fact that you don't have -- currently have an ambassador in Nigeria the reason for a delay in speaking with them about an issue that you're obviously profoundly concerned about?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Okay. So why haven't you had a chance --
MR. BOUCHER: We have an Embassy and good representation in Nigeria.
QUESTION: So, okay, why haven't you had the chance to sit down with them, then?
MR. BOUCHER: We're talking 24 hours from now -- 24 hours ago this issue started breaking, right? So we haven't done it yet.
QUESTION: Richard, where's the confusion? If they're telling -- telling the U.S. they're not going to take the deal, but they're telling the wire agencies they are?
MR. BOUCHER: No, they haven't --
QUESTION: They haven't told you directly?
MR. BOUCHER: We haven't had a chance to sit down and talk to them directly yet.
QUESTION: And they haven't conveyed it to you in any other way?
MR. BOUCHER: We've seen statements quoted in the wires where they said that they're not interested.
MR. BOUCHER: I think I saw a spokesman for the Vice President of Nigeria saying that.
QUESTION: And you've seen the ones that say they are interested?
MR. BOUCHER: But there are others now that say other things, so it's all the more important that we do what we said we'd do yesterday and sit down with them and talk this one through.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Matt.
QUESTION: The mission in Afghanistan, particularly in Kabul, has taken a turn for the worse, it looks like. I see your embassy is telling Americans to stay off the streets, and if they were in Afghanistan not to -- to delay any plans to travel to Kabul.
I'm just wondering, are you at all concerned that the Taliban has now, aside from attacking people out in the countryside, has now rebuilt a base in Kabul, and this could hamper efforts for the constitution -- for the elections?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me look into that. That's -- we're certainly aware of the bombing that occurred and concerned about the violence that occurs in Afghanistan. A lot of the steps we're taking in that nation are devoted to protecting the people of Afghanistan from that kind of violence.
But I'm not prepared at this point to make sweeping judgments about the way the Taliban may or may not be operating at this point.
QUESTION: And over the past two or three days, I believe, your embassies in Mauritania and Oman have put out notices talking about threats, terrorist threats, in Oman specifically, against military -- Western military interests.
I'm wondering if there's any -- there have been very brief and terse statements that tend to raise more questions than they answer to Americans who are in these places. Can you be at all more specific about what the threat is that you are seeing in these places?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'll check and see if there's more we can say. I think in the Oman statement we made clear it was against American military, Western military activities and interests and properties and things like that. So that, at least for much of the community, defines the most potentially dangerous locations and items.
I'm not sure if I can be more specific than that, is what I'm saying.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, you are aware that last month the Embassy put out a warning about moving around in Muscat after the stabbing -- the shooting death of -- the shooting death of one European and the wounding of another, and then there was an American, who was apparently unrelated to terrorism, found dead at the end of the month.
So the threat here is not -- there's no correlation between -- between these things?
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I know of. As you say, we put these things out from time to time. That doesn't mean that they're all related.
QUESTION: Oh, I know.
MR. BOUCHER: But we do have -- these things are done locally for the advice of people who may be in country and may need more detailed information. But we have Consular Information Sheets that point out that there are various kinds of threats in different places, whether it be terrorism, crime or other instability.
QUESTION: And Mauritania?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any information on Mauritania at this point.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Richard --
MR. BOUCHER: We've got one more in the back.
QUESTION: Did you talk yesterday about the Saudi diplomat?
MR. BOUCHER: Did I talk yesterday about the Saudi diplomats?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Well, today's story, basically there are 16 Saudi diplomats that the United States has asked for their deportation. Do you have any information about that and what evidence were issued against them and why they were asked to leave?
MR. BOUCHER: There are 16 Saudi nationals who had been accredited as diplomats to the Saudi Embassy here, and in looking at this issue periodically, as we do with various embassies, we were able to determine that they were not, in fact, working as diplomats in the Saudi Embassy, but rather, were teaching in Northern Virginia, and therefore were not entitled to diplomatic status. Since they were on diplomatic visas, and so we had to tell them your visa status is no longer valid. We gave them till February 22nd to clean up their affairs and leave the country.
We have done this before with diplomats of various nationalities when it came to our attention, one way or the other, that they were not, in fact, here working as diplomats.
QUESTION: This is not related to security issues?
MR. BOUCHER: It's relating to their status and what their activities were that they were not performing diplomatic functions.
QUESTION: Richard, they weren't PNG'd or anything like that, right? So this means that -- can they apply for a regular visa? Is there some -- now are they tainted with this and will no longer be eligible?
MR. BOUCHER: Certainly it will be noted. In the future, what they can apply for in terms of adjustment of status here would depend on Department of Homeland Security. Were they to leave and then reapply to come to the United States, I think we'd just have to take all this into account.
QUESTION: Well, do they have to leave, or can they reapply --
MR. BOUCHER: That would depend on Homeland Security.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)
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