State Department Noon Briefing, May 12
|Wednesday May 12,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
12:30 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I'd just like to highlight one even that I think some of you were able to attend. We signed today with Panama an agreement in support of the Proliferation Security Initiative. It's a ship boarding agreement similar to the one we signed with Liberia on February 11th.
It builds on very successful existing maritime law enforcement assistance arrangement that we have with Panama and it provides, in this case, reciprocal authority to board sea vessels suspected of carrying illicit shipments of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems or related materials.
The agreement was signed for the United States by Under Secretary John Bolton and for Panama by His Excellency Arnulfo Escalona, the Minister of Government and Justice of Panama.
Panama is the world's largest ship registry. This agreement sends a strong signal to proliferators that the United States and Panama will not allow the use of their vessels for the transfer to a transfer of items of proliferation concern.
The signing of this agreement is another important step forward on operationalizing the Proliferation Security Initiative and strengthening the mechanisms that the international community has at its disposal to deal with suspected cargos involving weapons of mass destruction.
I'd point out that when you take the shipping registry of Panama, the shipping registry of Liberia, and the ships that are registered in the Proliferation Security Initiative countries, this brings to -- we're getting close to about 50 percent of the world's shipping that will be covered by these consensual boarding agreements; and, therefore, the tool is available and expanding. And we'll, of course, continue to pursue these sorts of agreements with other governments as well.
QUESTION: It's been a while since we had a tally. Do you happen to know how many countries are partners under the President's initiative?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think the actual core group has changed at this point. There are a lot of governments that we're working with one way or the other.
QUESTION: Just about? I --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, that there are issues of people who might join. I'm not sure that's all been resolved. If it has, I'll give you an updated list; otherwise, I haven't heard anything new.
QUESTION: Which of the other major shipping registry countries are you looking to sign deals with?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, basically, we're looking to sign deals with other countries kind of in the order of their prominence in world shipping, and so we're looking at the next ones on the list. I don't want to put out a list at this point. We're talking to several governments at this point, though.
QUESTION: Can I just ask a kind of a technical question? And I missed the event upstairs, so maybe this was answered. But this applies only to Panamanian-flagged vessels? So if I was a ship, or if I was -- well, not if I was a ship. (Laughter.) If there was a ship that --
MR. BOUCHER: Where would your water line be, yeah? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: If there was a ship --
QUESTION: It would be a barge and you know it.
QUESTION: -- that happened to be flagged, that was registered in a non-PSI country or a non-Panamanian or non-Liberian country going through the canal, does this apply to them?
MR. BOUCHER: No, this applies to ships registered in Panama. The other one applied to ships registered in Liberia. And that's why we want to go through the other major shipping registries and sign agreements with others.
QUESTION: So, if it's not --
MR. BOUCHER: Different -- the -- one of the things the Proliferation Security Initiative has done is to look at the legal aspects of stopping, inspecting, dealing with cargos that might be located in territorial waters or on the high seas, so it would be a different set of rules that would apply. I don't really have the straight answer on what would apply to a ship going through the Panama Canal.
QUESTION: But, Richard --
MR. BOUCHER: Matt's still finishing his question.
QUESTION: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah, well, I was going to ask. No, I won't.
MR. BOUCHER: Does that pretty much deal with it?
QUESTION: Well, I think you won't be able to answer it, so I'll ask later and maybe the question can be, can be taken.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: If there's -- but this agreement only applies to the U.S. and Panama. I mean, other PSIs, other PSI countries aren't covered by the agreement with Panama, are they?
MR. BOUCHER: No. But this establishes a basis for them to conclude agreements with other governments and other countries.
They can -- so we have laid out, between the U.S. and Panama, a set of reciprocal procedures for U.S. ships and Panamanian ships. And Panama can also sign similar agreements with other governments, presumably, with very similar type of arrangements.
QUESTION: Did you ask Panama to become a member of PSI?
MR. BOUCHER: That's not necessarily, that's not necessary in this case. The case is to have agreed procedures with Panama in advance, so if there comes anywhere in the world a situation where we think a Panamanian-registered ship is carrying proliferating materials, that we're then able to go through these procedures with Panama relatively easily and quickly, and whoever is involved might -- could do the boarding.
QUESTION: So I just want to try and clarify. This is does not necessarily apply to all traffic through the canal. It applies only to, this specific agreement, applies only to Panamanian or U.S.-flagged ships or PSI.
MR. BOUCHER: This particular agreement applies to Panamanian and U.S.-flagged ships. Other agreements apply to U.S. and Liberian ship -- flagships, and then among PSI-countries, they have an understanding on procedures as well. That brings us to about 50 percent of world shipping.
Yeah. Saul. Yeah.
QUESTION: Change the subject, on Sudan? Can you give us an update on how your help is going to get the peace agreement in the south?
MR. BOUCHER: The parties are still in Naivasha. The drafting committee is working on a framework agreement. There are a few issues remaining for Vice President Taha and Chairman Garang to resolve in the drafting process. Both parties continue to be optimistic and they indicate that they expect to sign an agreement within the coming days. Our team is on the way to Sudan -- to Kenya. I'm not -- Assistant Secretary Snyder, I don't think we know --
QUESTION: On his way.
MR. BOUCHER: Still on his way, hasn't quite arrived yet, so we'll be there shortly. We also have diplomats in the area trying to work with them and just see where we come to in the next few days.
QUESTION: So they had indicated that they've resolved all the issues. But in the drafting of the actual agreement, some issues have --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I think -- well, yes, but I think it's a normal -- it's sort of a -- it's the way these things work. You reach agreement in principle, based on the discussions and understanding. When it comes to actually putting it all on paper, sometimes there's further things to be worked out. So that process is underway. And they still say they expect it to conclude within days. So we'll see.
QUESTION: Is it your hope, when Assistant Secretary Snyder gets there, in any way during the assistance in the drafting of the agreement that you are going to give them, are you -- how big a deal are you going to make out of Darfur with Vice President Taha?
MR. BOUCHER: We have --
QUESTION: Or are you just setting kind of aside --
MR. BOUCHER: No --
QUESTION: Well, not setting aside, but focusing mainly on getting these two parties to agree, and then, as soon as they finish it, then going after them on Darfur?
MR. BOUCHER: No, Darfur is a major issue of concern to us. It's an issue that we've raised repeatedly whenever we've had a chance to talk to the Sudanese Government. I'm sure the opportunity of talking to Vice President Taha that Assistant Secretary Snyder will take up the opportunity, will talk about Darfur as well. Obviously, they're there to try to get an agreement on north-south issues, but Darfur remains a continuing concern.
When the Secretary spoke to Vice President Taha and Mr. Garang last weekend, last week or so, when he talked to Vice President Taha, it was not just on the reaching an agreement, but rather it was also on the situation of Darfur, which is a major humanitarian concern for us.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you tell us, Richard, what kind of traffic you've been getting from other countries regarding the decapitation of Mr. Berg from Pennsylvania? And is that --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that we've gotten any particular traffic on this.
QUESTION: No reaction from other countries? No --
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't had a chance to check the public statements, but I've seen a few public statements by other countries who are just as shocked and horrified by this, the barbarism of this act, as anyone. But, no, I don't -- it's not necessarily a diplomatic matter that we would be polling other countries on.
QUESTION: You might just refer me to the CPA on this, but there seems to be a big discrepancy between what the CPA is saying about the conditions of Mr. Berg's detainment and detention, and what his family believes to be the case. I know the CPA has said that he was never in U.S. custody. But could you say what the difference is, if he's within Iraqi police custody, which is in the same building as the CPA?
MR. BOUCHER: I think to the extent that those questions came up, they've already been answered out there. I don't have anything to add.
QUESTION: That might be it.
MR. BOUCHER: Tammy.
QUESTION: Sorry. Do you have any readout at all of the North Korea working group today?
MR. BOUCHER: Just that they had a meeting. They worked in a group. (Laughter.)
The U.S. delegation, led by Special Envoy Joe DeTrani, met with the Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and North and South Korean delegations today in Beijing at the first section -- session of the six-party working group. The parties exchanged views on how to address the problem posed by North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The U.S. objective remains the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons.
MR. BOUCHER: Meetings will -- are expected to meet again tomorrow and expected to continue tomorrow.
QUESTION: I've got two very brief ones.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Venezuela. Do you have anything more to add to what WHA was saying yesterday about the warehouse raid?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I think we all had the same thing on that.
QUESTION: Okay. And can you preview at all the Secretary and Deputy Secretary's meeting with the Sri Lankan? And, in particular, whether you're concerned at all about the flagging peace efforts with the Tamil Tigers?
MR. BOUCHER: Certainly the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary will discuss the state of the peace process in Sri Lanka with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister today. They'll also discuss Sri Lanka's selection as a Millennium Challenge Account country and other bilateral issues.
We do strongly support the peace process in Sri Lanka. We're encouraged that the ceasefire continues to hold. Both sides have stated that they want to reopen formal negotiations as soon as possible. And there is, in fact, a request from the President of Sri Lanka to Norway to resume active efforts. And that's a request that we welcome. So we'll see what we can do to get it going.
QUESTION: I've got another one.
MR. BOUCHER: Quite a few others back there.
Elise, then Steve.
QUESTION: Can we go back to North Korea for a minute? Did Mr. DeTrani have a private meeting with the North Koreans within the six-party format?
MR. BOUCHER: No, not at this point. We meet from time to time with other delegations, may meet during the course of the talks with the North Koreans in the context of the six-party framework, but not at this point.
QUESTION: And then, do you have any comment on the North's offer to the South to hold high-level military talks, to kind of -- about the nuclear issue?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if we have anything.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Brazil's action against a New York Times reporter?
MR. BOUCHER: The -- first, I'd point out that we do have good relations with President Lula and his government. Obviously, the article in the New York Times does not represent the views of the U.S. Government. But I would say, the Government of Brazil's decision to cancel the visa of the New York Times journalist who wrote the article in question is not in keeping with Brazil's strong commitment to freedom of the press.
QUESTION: So it's an aberration?
QUESTION: Basically, a press-free country?
MR. BOUCHER: I said my words. I'm not going to try to characterize it further.
QUESTION: Well, I'm curious as -- can I -- can we stay on this? I'm just curious as to your characterization about having good relations with Brazil. Did you mean to say you had good relations with the country or just with the President? Because the last I checked, I mean, did you, have you resolved that fingerprinting thing?
MR. BOUCHER: I said with President Lula and his government. There are a great many things we have in common.
MR. BOUCHER: We work together, with it very well.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not exactly sure where they stand on fingerprinting. I'd have to check on that.
QUESTION: Okay. But you're still standing with that you have good relations with them?
MR. BOUCHER: We have good relations with them. We're working together, particularly, right now, on Haiti, something we've worked very closely with as we go from the transition from the multinational force to a peacekeeping force.
QUESTION: Same question as I raised yesterday on China's intention to introduce reunification law? Do you have anything to say today?
MR. BOUCHER: We're certainly aware of the discussion. We've seen the statements and the reports that they might want to use legislation to promote reunification with Taiwan. At this point, we've not seen any legislation in particular. I would remind people our policy remains that the issues between Taiwan and the mainland need to be settled through peaceful dialogue. We have a One China policy and we encourage resolution through peaceful dialogue.
QUESTION: And would you view this a step in the right direction, since the U.S. support One China policy, or you think it also challenge the status quo defined by the U.S.?
MR. BOUCHER: There is nothing to talk about at this point because I don't think we've seen any particular legislation. Obviously, it will depend on what they say.
QUESTION: I'm sorry if you've answered this already. But do you have a readout or a comment on what the Arab League did? The Foreign Minister was in Cairo with reference to -- commitment to democracy in the Middle East and other issues?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that we've seen any formal statements from them at this stage. They're obviously preparing for the Arab League Summit, which is to take place, I think they announced, on the 22nd. We have -- we look forward to further discussions with Arab foreign ministers.
We do understand that they stated a strong commitment to democracy, a strong commitment to economic reform and more open societies, each to pursue that in their own way. We recognize the change that's going on in the Arab world in this direction and we're looking for ways to support it
And so we're still working, continue to work on the President's Greater Middle East Initiative. We'll have further opportunities to discuss this with the G-8 on Friday and look at how we can support the efforts at reform that are being made in the Middle East and in different countries of the Middle East.
And then, when the Secretary goes to Jordan, it'll be a chance for him to meet with Arab leaders and sort of have the two processes touch together and make sure that we understand where they're headed and they understand what we think we might do to support them.
Well, we've got one more, I guess.
QUESTION: Can I have a question on Taiwan, also? The -- Mr. Chen confirmed the new cabinet of Taiwan, including officials on foreign affairs and defense affairs, do you have any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: And can you announce the delegation to the May 20th speech?
MR. BOUCHER: Not today.
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