State Department Noon Briefing, April 19, 2004
|Monday April 19,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
DEPARTMENT/MIDDLE EAST REGION
MONDAY, APRIL 19, 2004
12:40 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.
QUESTION: Well, the Spanish decision, is this a big loss? And, you know, we were long ago told talks going on to get other countries to contribute. Do you see additional contributions down the road?
MR. BOUCHER: As I think we've mentioned before, I am not sure the discussions of additional contributions will reach fruition at this particular time. Many of the countries we're talking to have been - are countries that were interested in seeing UN resolutions, interested in seeing the Iraqi government take over sovereignty. And so, while we do think there is prospects of those kind of contributions materializing, that probably won't happen until a little bit down the road, once countries see the nature of the handover and the nature of the resolution that will accompany it.
But that discussion has continued with various countries including the general discussion of how they can provide assistance, support -- economic, political and military support -- to the situation in Iraq and to the reconstruction there.
We have also seen from a number of countries who are participating militarily already, a very strong confirmation of their intention to remain. They, like the United States, remain steadfast in Iraq. We've seen statements, I think, from the British, from the South Koreans, from the Japanese, from the Portuguese, quite a number of countries have restated their commitment.
So while we recognize that there may be countries like Spain that make their decisions, and these are individual decisions, there are many others that have already reconfirmed their intention to stay.
The Spanish announcement, the Spanish withdrawal was not unexpected. We've been talking about it -- they've been talking about it for quite awhile now. It was a campaign promise, something that they said they were going to carry through on, and it didn't look like the kind of UN resolution that was possible was the kind of UN resolution that they had said might lead them to stay.
I think we were surprised a little bit by the abruptness of the announcement. We regret that they made such an abrupt announcement of their decisions to withdraw. As you know, the President talked to Prime Minister Zapatero today. And certainly, we hope that the Government of Spain will withdraw its troops in a coordinated fashion, in an orderly manner that permits the close coordination with other coalition forces so that there is not any deficit of any kind on the ground.
I would say as well, though, that we recognize that Spain is committed to fighting the war on terrorism. We represent -- we recognize the many commitments that Spain has made in fighting the war on terrorism and we look forward to continuing to work with Spain and coordinate with Spain on the fight against terrorism.
QUESTION: A couple of quickies. I don't know if it's just a figure of speech or you're suggesting something. There may be other countries. Do you see other countries or is it just philosophically possible?
MR. BOUCHER: It's both. It's philosophically possible. I think you've seen some of the reports. Honduras is making such a decision as well. We'll probably talk to them during the course of the day. That may be confirmed. But there are other countries that might think of it given the changing circumstances in Iraq.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. The new Foreign Minister is coming here. Do you have a plan (inaudible) Secretary?
MR. BOUCHER: Foreign Minister Moratinos will come to Washington, as scheduled, on Wednesday, April 21st. I would note that he called the Secretary yesterday morning before the public announcement to tell the Secretary the cabinet had made this decision on withdrawal. And as I said, we look forward to talking with Spain about how we can coordinate in the war against terrorism, and we'll look forward to talking very directly with the Foreign Minister about all these situations.
QUESTION: Richard, you said that the kind of UN resolution you're looking at is not the -- would not satisfy the Spanish. How do you know that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I have to -- in part, that's an assumption because they didn't wait for a UN resolution to materialize.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, aren't you a little bit -- I mean, in fact, it wasn't a campaign promise for them to pull out immediately or, you know, within less than 24 hours of taking office. It was -- their campaign promise was to pull out if there was no UN resolution after --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- or in the lead-up to the handover. So you're not more than surprised? I mean, it would seem to me that they violated their campaign -- their own campaign promise.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that's a question for them, not for us.
QUESTION: Right. But also, had they made a commitment to you that if -- that if it was going to happen, if they were going to be withdrawn, it wouldn't be until -- it wouldn't be until there was a lack of a UN resolution?
MR. BOUCHER: No, first of all, it's not a question of a commitment to us. It's a question of the commitments they've made publicly that they've explained. They had explained to us before, when the Secretary met with Prime Minister Zapatero when he was designated, and that was a brief meeting, but he explained his policy in those times as according to his campaign pledges, that they would be pulling out at the end of their term unless there was a UN resolution that gave the UN control before that.
That was the way it was explained, and that's why I say we regret the abrupt announcement, the abrupt nature of the announcement. But it was not unexpected that Spain might withdraw its forces.
QUESTION: And then on Honduras, what leads you to believe now, today -- I mean, last Friday they said that their troops would stay until July.
MR. BOUCHER: I think there have been a number of statements by Honduras in the last few days that we'll look for clarification today.
QUESTION: The others from Central America, from Nicaragua and El Salvador, are they solid, so far as you know?
MR. BOUCHER: Not aware of any change, but I'd have to check.
QUESTION: Has the United States received any assurances from Spain that the withdrawal won't be -- will be orderly and will be coordinated?
MR. BOUCHER: We've discussed the issue initially with the Spanish. I'm not quite sure if they're in a position to give assurances quite yet on how the withdrawal will take place.
QUESTION: Some of the comments coming from Honduras -- you know, more privately, but saying that the decision by Spain kind of gave them the, you know, leg up that they needed to finally come out and, you know, say they're going to withdraw the troops.
So are you afraid that other coalition countries are going to follow suit? And can you say what kind of signal this sends to Iraqis right now that some of these countries are deciding to pull out?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the main signal that's being sent right now is that the United States is standing fast, the British are standing fast, the Japanese are standing fast, the Koreans are standing fast, the Portuguese are standing fast, the Polish are standing fast, and I think if I had had time to look at the news reports, I would have found a few more.
So I don't think it sends any significant signal to Iraqis, and Iraqis that feel it's time to challenge the coalition will not find any change in the coalition's military capabilities. I know that's for sure. So I think the main message being sent right now is that many of us are standing fast, many of us are standing strong in order to help the Iraqis build a kind of nation that they want.
And I think I would add to that that there are many Iraqi military forces, security forces now that are also standing fast. And you remember, we saw -- when was it, a week or so ago? -- when a couple of units of the Iraqi civil defense force that didn't want to go into Fallujah, and yet there were others, many policemen, many security services around Iraq that are actually standing strong and trying to bring peace to their country.
QUESTION: Poland today, in response to Spain's actions, says that they won't change anything. They will not pull out, but neither do they plan to extend their mission there. Is that something that's still under discussion with Poland? Do you feel that that's a decision they've made finally, or is that still something the U.S. hopes to change their mind on?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that there has been a final discussion of that. I'm not up to speed on those details. That gets involved then with the question of NATO, and NATO is considering, and we continue that discussion with NATO partners about how NATO might serve in Iraq.
QUESTION: Do you consider that standing fast, even if they're just going to the end of the mission that they initially committed to?
MR. BOUCHER: That's what they're committed to. And, once again, individual countries have to make their own decisions. But we have seen a lot of nations in recent days, maybe not necessarily since the Spanish announcement, but a number of countries in recent days restate their commitment.
QUESTION: Where are you today on the UN resolution? Is there a draft of any kind? Are there discussions that tells us --
MR. BOUCHER: There is nothing particularly new. There are sort of preliminary discussions -- thinking is about as much as I would claim to at this point -- thinking going on about the further UN resolution.
QUESTION: Yeah. I'm a little curious as to how you can say that you don't think this sends any significant message, the Spanish withdrawal. Are you saying that they were an insignificant presence there?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm saying that they pulled out a month-and-a-half before they were due; that many nations are there; that the military capability will be maintained. I think that briefing in Baghdad this morning made that clear.
And so I don't think it's any significant real change in the situation on the ground. Individual nations will be making, are making, will make their decisions about when to deploy, how long to stay, and what kind of commitments they can make, and what kind of commitments they can meet.
QUESTION: Right, all that is fine. I can understand how you can say that. But this is a country that for the last two years, 18 months, was your vaunted partner --
MR. BOUCHER: We all know that the party that was elected was intending to change this policy. So it's not a surprise.
MR. BOUCHER: One shouldn't run around with one's hands in the air today just because they did something they said they were going to do.
QUESTION: Yeah. But no. I understand that, except they didn't exactly do what they said they were going to do.
MR. BOUCHER: Didn't exactly do what they said they were going to do, but they did something they were expected to do.
QUESTION: And the Iraqi people, who have welcomed you into Iraq, the coalition, and with the promise of getting rid of Saddam Hussein were -- the coalition was -- at the UN at least -- was four countries, and Spain was one of them. So I'm just not sure how you get to -- it doesn't send a significant message when one of your first allies and strongest allies, and regardless of the government in power, has all of a sudden jumped out early.
MR. BOUCHER: I think I've answered that question two or three times. People understand there is democracy in the world. People understand that governments make their decisions based on how they campaign, what they think their mandate is, and the leaders that a country has. And so I don't -- as I said, it was not unexpected.
QUESTION: Well, if it wasn't unexpected, but, you know, as you said, there were some countries that are -- have been carefully considering whether they want to stay, are you worried that Spain's decision to kind of do this abruptly is going to make other countries sway in one direction or the other what they should do?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll have to see, as I think I addressed that right from the beginning saying other countries will make their own decisions; maybe some others that decide to do this. Honduras was cited as affected by the decisions of Spain.
But I would say there are also a number of countries that have restated their commitment. So some people react differently to these kind of announcements that one country says that they're leaving. There may be others that say, well, not me. That may sway people in the other direction as well. We can do the can some time later. It's not the day to do the count.
QUESTION: Can I shift to the Woodward book?
MR. BOUCHER: Much as you want, I won't, but go ahead.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary cooperate with the book?
MR. BOUCHER: I really don't have anything to say on this book.
QUESTION: Why not? I mean, it does seem to be public record when he conducts interviews, for example. This, I presume --
MR. BOUCHER: In most cases, it is, and not all cases. I think some of you have had interviews with the Secretary that haven't gone on the public record. Let's just say that we assume that everybody in town had something to do with this book. That's a safe -- everybody that -- including senior officials at the State Department.
QUESTION: No, if you assume everybody in town (inaudible), that you're saying that he cooperated?
MR. BOUCHER: Including senior officials at the State Department.
QUESTION: Well, on -- not necessarily on the book, but the idea that Secretary Powell, when the President told Secretary Powell that he had decided to go to war, that Secretary Powell -- you know, you've seen the quote, "You break it, you've bought it." But that Secretary Powell, can you say whether he tried to lay out for the President that the consequences could be negative if it wasn't planned properly?
MR. BOUCHER: I really don't have anything to say on the book or specific events and sentences that are relayed in the book. Sorry.
QUESTION: Well, Richard, do you have any complaints about what the book says? Is there anything in there that --
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't had a chance to read the whole book.
QUESTION: Well, in terms of the highlights that have been put out there, which you are well aware of, because everyone in town, including senior officials at the State Department had something to do with it. And as, I'm sure, have read all the news accounts of it, is there anything in the news accounts --
MR. BOUCHER: It's not a logical conclusion, but I'm not going to dispute it for the moment. Look, I can't get into --
QUESTION: Is there anything in the news accounts that you find to be fundamentally factually wrong?
MR. BOUCHER: Dr. Rice has already said on some of the shows yesterday, there were things in this book and in the news accounts of this book that were wrong. Okay? I stand with her. We stand with her and the accuracy of what she says, as far as within the administration.
But as far as sort of trying to go through this book and say, "Well, you know, on page 53, that's not exactly right, and page 97, that's not exactly right, but, you know, every page in between, I don't dispute," I'm not going to do that.
QUESTION: Is the stuff about the Secretary basically right?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to do that.
QUESTION: Well, was it wrong that the allegation that the Saudi Ambassador knew more before the -- knew about the war before?
MR. BOUCHER: I think Dr. Rice has already said that's wrong.
QUESTION: Richard, let me kind of come at it from a slightly --
MR. BOUCHER: Go ahead. I will stay at the same angle I am.
QUESTION: According to published accounts, the Secretary was never asked for his opinion on whether it was right or wrong to go to war against Iraq. Given the magnitude of such a decision, wouldn't the Secretary have felt it right to volunteer his opinion, even if it wasn't sought?
MR. BOUCHER: And where might those published accounts be?
QUESTION: I'm on -- now there's the Woodward book.
MR. BOUCHER: Oh. Well, I'm not going to comment on the Woodward book. I will say that before the war, during the war and after the war, the Secretary of State has said publicly this is the right thing to do, this was the right thing to do, and he has given ample public explanation of his views on why it was the right thing to do.
All right. Let's go to the back. Nadia.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on the Saudi --
MR. BOUCHER: Those views have been stated very recently and consistently.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on the Saudi things, the part that he was talking about, lowering the oil prices before the election, the Saudis just issued a statement now saying that was not true; in fact, the visit of Prince Bandar is a routine visit and it's in cooperation with lowering the prices in general.
But are you likely to issue something similar since they went public talking about it? Would a statement --
MR. BOUCHER: I think the White House has already addressed that at the gaggle. If not, I think we'd leave it to the White House because it involves a number of agencies in the United States, as well as domestic energy policy. But I think they've already addressed that over at the White House.
QUESTION: Richard, is it safe to assume that when the Secretary of State made his presentation on February 5, 2002, he already knew that the decision to go to war was taken?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, 2003.
QUESTION: 2003. I'm sorry. 2003.
MR. BOUCHER: That's asking me to confirm something that's alleged in a published book that I'm not commenting on. I don't think it's safe to make any assumptions like that, but I can't give you any further explanation of why that's not the case.
QUESTION: Richard, on Friday, I asked you if you were aware if Mr. Powell ever referred to Mr. Feith's office at the Pentagon as a "Gestapo office." Your answer then was you didn't believe so. Have you had a chance to talk to the Secretary --
MR. BOUCHER: My answer on Friday was I'd never heard him refer to Mr. Feith's office that way, and I can say today that since Friday I have not heard him refer to it that way either.
QUESTION: Can I ask a related question? And that is just what's your understanding of what happened in Kosovo over the weekend, and did Iraq have anything to do with that?
QUESTION: Can I finish up the one --
QUESTION: That's related?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, oh, I understand.
QUESTION: Well, the reports are -- the reports are that the Jordanians were upset because -- I'm sorry. Do I need to explain this whole thing to --
QUESTION: Can I finish one thing on the book? And then we can move on to Kosovo --
QUESTION: -- which I'm also interested in.
I asked you if the Secretary's views on the war had changed. You said they had been stated recently. I'd be grateful if you would just close the loop and say, no, in fact, his positions on the --
MR. BOUCHER: No, his position has not changed, as he said very recently. As he has said consistently, it was the right thing to do for a lot of reasons. And I'm sure anybody that asks him that this week will find he's of the same point of view.
Okay. Now, what happened over the weekend in Kosovo. Let me run through it and then we can get any questions about motivation and politics.
On April 17th, a Jordanian police officer fired on a convoy of international correctional officers in Mitrovica in northern Kosovo. The officers were with the International Civilian Police under the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo. Two Americans were killed and 11 wounded. An Austrian officer who was serving as a driver of one of the vehicles was also wounded.
The Jordanian police officer was killed in the gunfight. The wounded are receiving care at Camp Bondsteel, the U.S. Army Base on Kosovo. Three people are scheduled for medical evacuation today. The remains of the two officers who were killed are also at Camp Bondsteel. Next of kin have been notified.
We express our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in this incident. We hope for a speedy recovery of those wounded.
In terms of the motivation, I think for the moment I'd have to say the UN administration there has initiated an investigation into the incident. It's not appropriate for us to speculate at this point about motivations for the attack while that investigation is underway.
I would point out one more thing relating to this, is there are four other Jordanians who may have some information relevant to the attack or its motives, and the UN headquarters in New York waived the immunity for those individuals. So they will be part of the investigation, cooperating with it.
QUESTION: Have you -- has there been anyone in touch with Jordanian officials about this from here?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't --
QUESTION: The King is in country.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I don't know. King Abdullah, I've been told, has expressed his personal sorrow and his concern over the incident. I don't know what discussions we've had at this point with the Government of Jordan.
QUESTION: You said three people are scheduled to be medivac'ed. Did you mean three Americans or?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know because there's 11 wounded, including -- plus -- an Austrian officer.
QUESTION: Eleven Americans wounded?
MR. BOUCHER: Eleven Americans wounded and an Austrian officer; which of those 12 are being medivaced, I don't know.
QUESTION: Right, okay.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: Is there an inclination to believe that the Jordanian was a member of a terrorist cell there?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know of any inclination one way or the other at this point. It's being investigated.
QUESTION: Will that lead to the reduction of the Jordanian participation in the force or anything like this?
MR. BOUCHER: You're drawing conclusions from something that can't even be ascertained at this point.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq? A little closer? I understand the Deputy Secretary, on his mystery tour of the region, was in Amman over the weekend and perhaps --
MR. BOUCHER: And Baghdad.
QUESTION: Perhaps. Yes. Well, I didn't know if you wanted to say that, so I was going to say a neighboring --
MR. BOUCHER: I thought I would before you --
QUESTION: And he's now in Bahrain, according to --
MR. BOUCHER: Exactly. Deputy Secretary Armitage is traveling in the region and he visited Iraq and Kuwait over the weekend for consultations with Iraqi and Kuwaiti leaders. In Kuwait, the Deputy Secretary met with Prime Minister Sheikh Al-Sabah, Foreign Minister Dr. Mohamed Al-Sabah. In Iraq, he met with Ambassador Bremer and representatives of the Governing Council. In both stops, we find his meetings were constructive and cordial.
He is now in Manama, Bahrain for meetings with King Hamad Al Khalifa, the Prime Minister and other leaders. He will make additional stops in the Gulf region.
The focus of the Deputy Secretary's visit is to promote regional and international support for the transition to a sovereign, democratic government in Iraq. He is also engaging in discussions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation and efforts to support homegrown reform to expand political, economic and educational opportunity throughout the Near East region.
QUESTION: In fact, was he not in Jordan?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I don't have that on the list of countries visited. Do you know for sure that he wasn't in Jordan?
MR. ERELI: I thought he was.
MR. BOUCHER: We'll have to double-check on that one for you and get you that. Hopefully, we can do that quickly for you.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on whether and whom and when there will be named a new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq? Any time soon?
MR. BOUCHER: That wouldn't be something for us to announce here. That's a White House announcement.
QUESTION: Oh, well. Worth a try. Do you know when the White House plans to announce it?
MR. BOUCHER: Charlie -- that would be for the White House to say when they plan to announce it.
QUESTION: Can we just back up to the Armitage trip?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just out of curiosity and for the record, did he hear any encouraging words for U.S. policy in the Israeli-Palestinian front in his stops so far?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any rundown of his meetings at this point. I would say that generally on this issue we have, I think, explained last week, our desire was to sit down and talk to people about moving forward, about how to make withdrawal from Gaza contribute to overall progress on the roadmap and towards the President's vision, that we have been engaging Arab leaders and Arab governments in those discussions.
We've had a variety of contacts through embassies, through the Deputy Secretary, some of the Secretary's phone calls last week and continuing phone calls. So -- and finally, our people on the ground, our Embassy in Israel and our Consul General in Jerusalem have been in contact with Israelis and Palestinians about how to make this work in a positive way and make the withdrawal from Gaza be the first realization of Israeli withdrawal from settlements in many years.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Can you say whether the Israeli targeted killing of Mr. Rantisi will complicate those efforts to get support? Have you heard anything from the region yet? There's been a lot of --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, certainly, it's a matter of discussion in all our contacts. It's a matter that many governments have taken strong positions on. We have expressed our grave concern about regional stability at this time. We strongly urge the Israeli Government to consider the consequences of their actions.
We also recognize Israel's right to defend itself and we recognize that Hamas is a terrorist organization and Mr. Rantisi was the leader of a terrorist organization. So people need to understand all these things. But we do -- yes, it has come up in discussions that we're having these days with Arab governments in particular, and it's a matter of discussion.
QUESTION: I mean, does either the action by Israel -- last time with the killing of Sheikh Yassin, you said that you were deeply troubled. But does this action deeply trouble you, or the timing of it?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I said we were deeply -- we were gravely concerned about regional peace and security in the wake of this action. So that applies to both, I guess I'd say.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate a little bit on the reasons for grave concern about regional stability? That's fairly strong language for this Department.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know there's much more I can explain beyond what I have already. There has been a reaction in the region. There have been a lot of threats made by some of the militant groups. It's become a subject of discussion. We certainly don't want the reaction to disrupt the real opportunity for progress created by the Gaza pullout.
We certainly don't want it to disrupt what we think is the opportunity to talk to countries in the region about moving forward and about how to make a real contribution to achievements of the President's vision.
QUESTION: Was the threat to stability confined to the Israeli-Palestinian region and conflict, or did it extend beyond that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'm coming -- I'll go back to the White House statement that says the United States is gravely concerned for regional peace and stability. I think that's a little broader than just that local area.
QUESTION: Is it correct that you are not deeply troubled about the death, about the killing of Mr. -- Dr. Rantisi? And if you're not, why were you deeply troubled by Sheikh Yassin's killing? Is it a question of how much influence you think these people have?
I mean, presumably, if the Israelis made good on the threats, dubious threats that were out there to kill Arafat, you would come out and condemn it since he seems to be the only person -- the only Palestinian leader that you're firmly opposed to Israel targeting. Why different language for Rantisi than Yassin?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not quite sure what the difference between deeply troubled and gravely concerned is. I'll have to check with my experts on that one. I wouldn't draw too fine a --
QUESTION: Well, deeply troubled referred specifically to the killing of Sheikh Yassin and deep -- and you're troubled --
MR. BOUCHER: Gravely concerned about the consequences --
QUESTION: I mean gravely concerned refers to --
MR. BOUCHER: -- about regional peace and stability.
I'm not going to try to draw any large distinction between the two. In this case, we point a little more towards the effects, and I think last time, if you'll remember, the briefings we did here we talked specifically about the consequences. And that's virtually the same thing.
QUESTION: Well, shortly before Dr. Rantisi was killed, the Palestinians announced that they would be postponing indefinitely Nabil Shaath's visit to the United States. Do you know anything about this?
MR. BOUCHER: I just know that the visit has been postponed, but I really leave it to them to provide any explanation.
QUESTION: Has a date been set? It's been postponed to a date certain?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Or it's just been --
MR. BOUCHER: No new date's been set.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to Prime Minister Sharon's boasting that he's virtually destroyed Palestinian dreams for a state in the West Bank? And I have a follow-up.
MR. BOUCHER: I think we talked about that last week, that we remain committed to the President's vision. In fact, the Israeli Government has stated that it's committed to the President's vision. Prime Minister Sharon stated that in meetings with us last week, in the statements he made, in the letters that he wrote, in the letters that he signed. So, as far as we know, that is Israeli Government policy.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up. Do you feel that maybe Prime Minister Sharon was emboldened by the support that he received from President Bush to go ahead and carry on with the targeted killing or the assassination of Dr. Rantisi?
MR. BOUCHER: I would not speculate on that. As usual, I would tell you the United States was not asked for nor did we provide any advance approval of this action.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? But, I mean, last week, the United States gave Israel a kind of pretty strong endorsement of the plan, really wanted to try and make some momentum to go ahead with this. And now you're saying you're concerned about stability in the wake of this action.
So do you feel that -- are you kind of disappointed by Israel's decision to do this now? I mean, do you feel that this is a slap in the face to the kind of firm endorsement that you gave them last week?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to really go beyond what I've said already. I think we've discussed this in considerable length. As the White House statement said, that we strongly urged Israel to consider carefully the consequences of the -- of its actions. We urged all parties to maintain maximum restraint at this time.
That's especially true at a moment when there is hope that an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza will bring new opportunity for progress towards peace. All the parties should focus on the positive, concrete steps needed now to make Gaza withdrawal successful. That's where we think the focus should be and that's what we'll be trying to do in terms of our discussions with people.
Nadia, in the back.
QUESTION: If the U.S. believes that Hamas is a terrorist organization and Israel has a right to defend itself, isn't now Sharon saying that whoever is going to be the new leader of Hamas, since they have not even named him, that he will be also assassinated and targeted?
Does the U.S. share Israel's view that all political and military leadership of Hamas can be dealt with militarily through targeted assassination?
MR. BOUCHER: That's a much broader question that gets into this issue of thinking about the consequences of actions, and that sort of question involves a lot of considerations and we strongly have urged Israel to consider all these factors.
QUESTION: They named -- they named (inaudible) as the next target, the Israelis, yesterday. Would you counsel the Israelis not to go ahead and assassinate?
MR. BOUCHER: All I have to say is what we've said before, that Israel does have a right to defend itself, but we strongly urge Israel to think about the consequences of its actions, particularly at a time when we're trying to move forward to make the Gaza withdrawal a success.
QUESTION: Just to go to that particular point, Richard, if I may.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: You are, presumably, relying on Hamas to play if not a constructive role, if and when the Israelis withdraw from Gaza, at least to not play a destructive role during that period when the Palestinians -- or if they, in fact, do regain control. How does this help your cause of getting, you know, a sustainable, reliable --
MR. BOUCHER: I think it's a wrong presumption that you're making. The United States has and continues -- has considered and continues to consider Hamas a terrorist organization. We continue to believe that the way to make this progress possible, the way to make the Gaza withdrawal a success for all the parties, is for the Palestinian Authority to take authority, to take authority in Gaza, but also take authority now in ending terrorism. And if the activities of terrorists and terrorist groups are brought to an end, that is the best thing we can do to try to start -- to try to get more progress and to make the withdrawal from Gaza successful.
QUESTION: Well, why then are you gravely concerned? I don't get it then. Why are you gravely concerned for peace and stability if killing Hamas leaders is not really a problem in terms of the withdrawal from Gaza?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say that, either. I said there had been a reaction to the killing. It's become a subject of, certainly of discussion. It's become a topic of more threats. Absent Palestinian action of the kind that we've been looking for, we recognize that Israel does have a right to defend itself. I guess it always does. I don't want to make any conditions on it. But absent the kind of Palestinian action that we've been looking for, that this event could have consequences for peace and stability that have raised concerns.
At the same time, if you look at the overall effort to achieve progress, there are a number of things that are required: one is for all parties to exercise restraint; two is for the Palestinians to take responsibility in the security area, as we have been calling on them to do; and three is to try to move forward with all the parties to make the Gaza withdrawal successful. That requires positive effort and effort that we are trying to undertake in cooperation with other parties.
QUESTION: I don't understand your answer to Arshad's question about the -- hoping that Hamas, once the withdrawal takes place, the action which you say is so welcome, finally action not words, that you're not hoping that they would play a constructive rather than destructive role. So your saying that you consider them now and have always considered them to be terrorists doesn't seem to be -- I mean, you used to consider the PLO a terrorist organization. You used to consider a lot of groups terrorist organizations which you no longer do.
MR. BOUCHER: We especially consider groups that are actively blowing up people to be terrorist organizations. Hamas, unfortunately, qualifies as such.
QUESTION: Yeah, but --
MR. BOUCHER: We're not counting on Hamas to do something in terms of the Gaza withdrawal. We're looking for people to put Hamas out of business. That has been true and will be true, and we, I think, can make clear, have made clear, that the Gaza pullout is going to go more smoothly and be more successful if Hamas is not around at all.
QUESTION: Yeah, but, Richard, though --
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: Wait a second. Last week's announcements by the President was couched in the fact that it is only realistic to assume certain things. You are being unrealistic, I think -- it's arguable that you are being unrealistic -- if you assume that Hamas, which runs all these charity organizations and is responsible for, you know, a lot of the services that are -- the limited services that are available in Gaza, is simply going to fade away and not -- and not be a factor.
MR. BOUCHER: We have believed and continue to believe that if the Palestinian government would step up to the plate in terms of the organization of the security services, the commitment and determination of its government to do something about terrorism, the use of the kind of international support that it has and could have available to provide social services, that the Palestinian government could shut down, over time, could shut down Hamas and could provide the kind of social services that a population looks for.
QUESTION: But when you say that you're looking for people to put Hamas out of business, if the Palestinians aren't able or willing to do that, then what's wrong with the Israelis putting them out of business?
MR. BOUCHER: It's a much more complicated question than just assassinating a leader here and there. The idea of putting them out of business, the idea of putting them out of business really does require somebody else to take authority in these areas. And for the withdrawal from Gaza to go smoothly, somebody needs to step up to the plate and take authority, and that needs to be the Palestinians.
Let's go to the back.
QUESTION: Since the U.S. demand the reform in the Middle East, in particular in the Palestinian Authority, and they want an election if it happens or doesn't happen within a year, Hamas stands up as a political organization and you know they have -- they enjoy very wide support among the Palestinians, will you still -- how would you deal with that? Would you still --
MR. BOUCHER: That's very speculative. That's speculative on if, if and if, and I can't deal with a triple.
QUESTION: I'm talking about Hamas does not -- Hamas does not -- you're saying they're the one who blow up people. Hamas still declare itself as a political organization.
MR. BOUCHER: That's a wildly speculative thing. They have continued to engage in terrorism. We have never been able to draw a distinction between political activities, charitable activities and terrorist activities for an organization like this where the funding, the people and everybody seem to be involved in everything.
Yeah. Let's go to the back.
QUESTION: Change hemispheres for a moment?
MR. BOUCHER: Not for the moment.
QUESTION: Let me understand you correctly. It is a Department position that targeted assassination falls under Israel defending itself, correct?
MR. BOUCHER: Our view of targeted assassinations has not changed.
QUESTION: Right. But you keep saying every time that you're asked this question, you keep saying, Israel has the right to defend itself. So are we to draw the conclusion --
MR. BOUCHER: There is much more to the answer. There is much more to the answer than that.
QUESTION: Could you elaborate?
MR. BOUCHER: As we have repeatedly made clear, Israel has the right to defend itself from terrorist attacks. Hamas is a terrorist organization that attacks civilians and that claimed responsibility for the suicide attack today that killed one and injured other Israeli guards at the Erez crossing. That was said on the 17th, on Saturday.
Today, referred to, "The United States is gravely concerned for regional peace and stability. The United States strongly urges Israel to consider carefully the consequences of its actions, and we again urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint at this time. This is especially true at the moment when there is hope that an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza will bring a new opportunity for progress towards peace. All parties should focus on the positive, concrete steps needed now to make Gaza withdrawal successful."
So our basic policy on targeted killings is the same as it's been, and it applies in this specific way to this specific action.
QUESTION: A quick one on the Armitage trip. Will he be going to Qatar? And if he does, will he be raising complaints about Al-Jazeera's coverage of Iraq that has come out of the Pentagon?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, I have to say that we're not going to be able to give out the stops in advance on the Deputy Secretary's trips, for security reasons. So we've -- not able to answer your question about Qatar and what he might talk about if he went there. But he will visit other countries in the Gulf.
QUESTION: This one gets back to Hamas. Has the Secretary spoken to any Israeli or Palestinian officials expressing U.S. concern?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Richard, is there any progress towards getting and convening a Quartet meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: There has been continuing discussion of location and date for that, but nothing firm at this point.
MR. BOUCHER: Soon, yes.
QUESTION: But at the Secretary level or below?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, there is regular meetings at the envoy level.
MR. BOUCHER: There may be another one of those very soon, but I don't know of anything particular scheduled in that regard either. But we have been talking with other members of the Quartet, the Secretary has, about convening a meeting at his level. He discussed it last week with the Secretary General, with the EU Envoy, the EU High Representative Solana, and with the Russian Foreign Minister.
They were looking at the possibility of doing it in Berlin during the conference coming up, but not everybody can make it at that time. So they've been looking for another opportunity to do it soon.
QUESTION: No longer will be the case though? That was the segue.
MR. BOUCHER: He is continuing to discuss it with the parties. So I think they're narrowing down another date. If you have something else to suggest, we're glad to take it on board.
QUESTION: Well, I was --
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: Can we change subject?
MR. BOUCHER: He is going to change subject in the back.
QUESTION: Last one on --
MR. BOUCHER: Last one, okay.
QUESTION: If he go ahead with the plan withdrawing from Gaza, do you have a date as when completion is supposed to be by? Do you have it on file?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a date that they're completed by, and that would be for them to say.
QUESTION: Senator Nelson of Florida has been to Caracas, and he came back and said that the government down there is conducting itself in such a way that it should be considered hostile to the United States, and he listed a series of things that they have been doing.
Now you must be aware of his opinion, and my question really goes to the Inter-American or to the democratic charter. There have been various sources asking for that charter to be applied including the Government of Colombia -- or the Senate of the Government of Colombia. Do you have any comment on all of this?
MR. BOUCHER: As far as the comments of Senator Nelson and the list of the particulars he may have put out, I really didn't see that. I don't have any comment on that.
As far as the democratic charter goes, I think we have made very clear our view all along that we stand for democracy in Colombia, that we and other members of the OAS have tried to support Colombian -- Venezuelan democracy -- excuse me -- that we have stood for democracy in Venezuela, no matter where it was under attack from, and that we have called for the government to respect the constitution.
We have called for the people with grievances to make them peacefully and in accordance with the constitution, and we think that the procedures in the constitution need to be followed. That is where we have put our emphasis, that was where the friends have put their emphasis, and that is where the OAS has put its emphasis, in accordance with the democracy charter.
QUESTION: Is it still possible for the government to do that?
MR. BOUCHER: We do believe it's still possible. There are, in fact, procedures that are specified and procedures that are being discussed, and that we would hope that they would be followed.
QUESTION: Stay on the subject.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: I have two very brief ones on this, what, WHA. Have you and the Justice Department finished your review of the World Court ruling on the Mexican execution cases?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think so, but I'll double check just to make sure.
QUESTION: All right. And have you decided yet how you are going to follow up on the assault of the Cuban -- the Cuban delegate assault in Geneva on the NGO?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's see if I have anything on that. I'm not sure. No, just on the resolutions. Nothing new on that. I'll have to check.
QUESTION: Okay. You don't know if -- would it possible to find out if you formally protested to the Cubans, either in Havana or here?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. And I think we were left, sort of, Friday with the question of pressing charges or what might happen in Geneva. But I think, if I remember correctly, the Cuban delegation was asserting that this person was a member of the communication, and therefore -- of the delegation, and therefore might be entitled to some kind of immunity.
QUESTION: Going to a totally different hemisphere. Do you have any comment on the visit of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il to Beijing, one?
And, two, we're now getting closer to the end of April. A couple of weeks ago, you said, ideally, the working group sessions would be held by the end of the month. Any progress on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think there is any new news on the holding of working group sessions. Who knows whether something will come out of a North Korean visit to Beijing or not.
I'd just say, as far as the general issues go - their discussions with North Korean leaders - that I think China does know our position well. We've recently had a visit by Vice President Cheney to China. We have stayed in close touch with the Chinese throughout the six-party process, and they're quite clear, I think, on the understandings that -- on the desire of the United States to make real progress in those negotiations towards complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear programs.
QUESTION: Did you hear back from them on this visit?
MR. BOUCHER: We, in the past, we have heard when there has been a visit from North Korean leadership. They have told us, particularly, when the discussion may involve something as important to us as the six-party talks. So we'll just have to see.
QUESTION: On Burma, a senior NLD official says that they expect Aung San Suu Kyi to be released within the next day or two. Do you have any reason to believe that that's the case? And do you want to say anything else about other NLD members who may remain incarcerated?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the simple answer on that is we'll just have to see. We did note and welcome the reopening of the National League for Democracy's headquarters in Rangoon. However, we do remain concerned that senior National League for Democracy leaders, Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo remain under house arrest. Burmese officials have refused our request to see them.
We are also concerned about the continued detention of hundreds of others imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political beliefs. We reiterate our call for their immediate and unconditional release.
QUESTION: Sorry. Is there more?
MR. BOUCHER: The political opposition and ethnic groups must be involved substantially in any progress -- process leading to reform. Any such process must allow the free exchange of views. Some of these things are being --
MR. BOUCHER: -- rumored in the context of a dialogue on democracy.
QUESTION: You said Burmese officials have refused your request to see them. Those are recent requests, since maybe in the last couple of days?
MR. BOUCHER: I think those are continuing --
QUESTION: Standing requests?
MR. BOUCHER: Standing and continuing requests. They get reiterated very frequently. I'm not sure how frequently, when the last time might have been.
QUESTION: I have just two follow-up of the North Korean issue.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Was the U.S. informed of this trip, I mean, Kim Jong-Il's trip to Beijing, in advance by Chinese authority?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'm -- we're in a funny position on that. So the Chinese, I believe, have not confirmed a visit by Kim Jong-Il to Beijing. But I would say that we heard from the Chinese about the reports of a visit of Kim Jong-Il to Beijing.
QUESTION: So, one more. Vice Premier of --
MR. BOUCHER: They did not tell us in advance of the reports that he had arrived.
QUESTION: And one more. The Vice Premier Wu Yi, she's going to be here, I think, Wednesday or later this week.
MR. BOUCHER: Vice Premier of?
QUESTION: Of China, China.
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, Wu Yi?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Wu Yi, is that right?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, Vice Premier Wu Yi, Madame Wu Yi.
QUESTION: Yeah. She's going to be here. Her trip has something to do with the Kim Jong-Il trip to Beijing?
MR. BOUCHER: I think her trip was planned for a long time. In fact, if I remember correctly, it was planned and then rescheduled. But we certainly look forward to seeing her. We look forward to talking to her about a great many subjects including those that are most specifically of concern to her, and the Secretary looks forward to meeting her later this week.
QUESTION: When you most specifically of concern to her, do you mean to suggest that it's mostly about trade that she's here to talk, or?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure any leader at that level has a broad agenda, and we can discuss a lot of things. But also she has a particular brief for economic trade matters, I believe.
QUESTION: You have 48 hours before your Sudan Peace Act certification was supposed to be in. Do you see any sign that an agreement is nigh?
MR. BOUCHER: The peace talks are continuing. The leaders, we understand, that Vice President Taha returned to Khartoum for consultations over the weekend, but was returning to the talks today. And I think Mr. Garang had some outside consultations as well. They're still searching for a compromise on the issue of Sharia law in the capital.
The parties have asked the mediator, General Sumbeiywo to play a more active role in helping to bridge the differences. We strongly support that. And we, of course, urge them to work closely with the mediators, and we hope that process can succeed.
QUESTION: Have you renewed your threat of possible sanctions again on both sides?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we've made clear to both sides that we're prepared to call it the way we see it in the report that we have to give to Congress. And Congress has asked us for an indication of who is cooperating and who is supporting the effort, and not -- and who's not, where the problems lie.
QUESTION: And then the other Sudan question, Darfur?
MR. BOUCHER: Would be Darfur. On Darfur, again, continuing reports of violence, but we're really not in a position to confirm those. We are working with the African Union. We have several representatives from the Department of Defense and the Department of State at the talks that are being held today in Addis with the United Nations and the international community to discuss technical details of how the monitoring operation can work, and how it will be funded.
So we're participating in those talks, and we look forward to deployment of a monitoring -- ceasefire monitoring -- ceasefire monitors as early as possible. So we look for everybody to cooperate with the African Union in their mission of establishing a ceasefire commission.
QUESTION: I've got one more.
MR. BOUCHER: You've got one more.
QUESTION: Further south.
MR. BOUCHER: Just a minute.
QUESTION: South African elections, do you have anything to say about that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't.
QUESTION: On the Tony Blair visit, British sources say that Tony Blair kept appealing to the President to the last minute not to endorse the Sharon plan. And how do you interpret the fact that he stopped really short of endorsing Mr. Bush's acceptance of the settlement on the West Bank as realities on the ground?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see any reports like that. But it doesn't make sense because Sharon was here on Wednesday and Blair was here on Friday.
QUESTION: But they were communicating beforehand.
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, they communicate all the time.
QUESTION: Right. I mean, it is Tony Blair.
MR. BOUCHER: No, you'd have to ask the White House whether they had exchanges like that.
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