State Department Briefing


Tuesday  May 06, 2003

U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing Index Tuesday, May 6, 2003 12:55 p.m. EDT BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman BURMA -- Status of National Reconciliation / Treatment of Political Prisoners RUSSIA/IRAN -- Russian Deputy Foreign Minister's Comments on Iran's Nuclear Program IRAQ -- Money and other Assets Stolen from Central Bank in Baghdad by Regime -- Stabilization Forces in Iraq / Participation / UN Resolution -- Status of UN Resolution on Iraq -- Iraqi Nuclear Scientists Concerns about Security ITALY -- Secretary Powell's Meeting with Italian Defense Minister Martino POLAND -- Secretary Powell's Meeting with Polish Foreign Minister BELARUS/IRAQ -- Reported Military Aid Given to Iraq by Belarus FRANCE -- Allegations France Provided Passports to Escaping Iraqi Officials COUNTERTERRORISM -- Assessment of Threat by Al-Qaida to the United States TURKEY -- Under Secretary Grossman's Meeting with the Turkish Minister of Defense MIDDLE EAST -- Secretary Powell's Upcoming Travel to Region -- Secretary Burn's Travel to the Region / Meetings ZIMBABWE -- Mugabe Meeting with the Presidents of South Africa, Nigeria and Malawi SOUTH ASIA -- Deputy Secretary Armitage's Travel to South Asia U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING TUESDAY, MAY 6, 2003 (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) 12:55 p.m. EDT MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We will be issuing a statement on the situation in Burma, since this is one year since Nobel Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was released from a lengthy period of house arrest. Unfortunately, the regime has made little progress towards national reconciliation since then. The rulers of Burma have continued to oppress people, harassed Aung San Suu Kyi on her travels, and limited her party's activities. We call on the regime to take its own declaration seriously and move towards the resumption of multi-party democracy. I have a more complete statement on that available for you after the briefing. QUESTION: Can I ask you a question about that? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. QUESTION: Yesterday, you were somewhat conciliatory toward the Burmese, saying that you welcomed their release of dissidents, particularly this one doctor, and said that -- is there some reason -- is that included in the statement? MR. BOUCHER: I think we said that despite that release, there were many more who deserved to be released as well. Said that yesterday. You will see we say that in the statement here, too: "While we welcome the recent release of Dr. Salai Tan Than, approximately twenty other political prisoners, more than a thousand prisoners, remain behind bars under terrible conditions, with many in bad health." So, you know, when they do something good, we will say so, but it doesn't change the overall picture. Barry. QUESTION: Can I ask you about the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister? After the Bolton talks, saying he's not convinced, there's no evidence that Iran is bent on a nuclear weapons program, I guess the Secretary is next to try. But is there any hope of persuading Russia? MR. BOUCHER: I think there is a lot of information available on Iran's nuclear program. There are statements the Iranians have made themselves, information that the International Atomic Energy Agency has collected during the course of their visits. And I think it is important for people to look straight at that information to face up to what it says; and it says that Iran, despite the economics, despite their protests, despite their claims, Iran is developing a full-scope nuclear program that it would not behoove anybody to cooperate with. And so we will keep making the case. We will keep making the point with the information that is available, and I would say increasingly available, that Iran's nuclear ambitions are much bigger than many had hoped. QUESTION: Well, he says there's some ambiguities, but basically they don't -- the Russians don't buy the argument. And I guess there's no gray area there where it's just a matter of semantics, is there? MR. BOUCHER: It is not a matter of semantics. It is a matter of the facts of what Iran is doing, and we will continue to put those facts before Russia and others in the international community to deal with this situation. QUESTION: And is there a disagreement on North Korea, how to approach North Korea, as well? MR. BOUCHER: Not that I've heard, but we'll have to see. QUESTION: Thank you. MR. BOUCHER: Teri. QUESTION: So, if this is so obvious to the United States and you say it's out there for anyone to read, how do you explain the Russians not being willing to accept your argument? MR. BOUCHER: I would leave it to the Russians to explain the Russians. QUESTION: Well, what does this mean about the U.S.-Russian relationship, then? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think this is purely a matter of the U.S.-Russia relationship. It is a matter we have pursued frequently over a long period of time. Under Secretary Bolton has been on a number of trips to Moscow, and during every trip, whether it is working on G-8 nonproliferation concerns or it is working on arms control treaties or whatever, he has always taken the opportunity to raise and to press the Russians on this. We have had continuing discussions in the International Atomic Energy Agency, and, indeed, I would say -- Barry was referring to the Secretary as the next step -- this may or may not, probably will, come up during the Secretary's visit. But there is also active discussions underway in the IAEA based on the -- because of the work that they did in their visit in February. So I would hope that the international community will become increasingly aware of the dangers of Iran's nuclear programs. QUESTION: But isn't that just the point, that you bring it up over and over and over again, and they are still saying that they don't necessarily swallow it? MR. BOUCHER: Well, that is part of the point. The other part of the point is there is more and more information available, and it is time for people to wake up and smell the coffee, and we will keep suggesting they do that. Yes, sir. QUESTION: Regarding the reports today that a large amount of money, over a billion or so, was taken from the Central Bank in Baghdad, any idea where that money might have gone? There were reports that perhaps -- and theories -- that it might have gone into Syria somehow with these large vans. Any idea where they -- where this amount of money might have gone? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any specifics on that at this point. I would say that, you know, we do know from Treasury Department officials in Baghdad that approximately $1 billion was taken from the Iraqi Central Bank by Saddam Hussein and his family just prior to the start of combat operations. At this point, I don't have any more details for you here. We are working to hunt down the assets that were stolen by the regime of Saddam Hussein. We will actively follow up on all of the leads. All of these assets are the property of the Iraqi people and should be returned to them. So we will continue to encourage other governments to take appropriate measures. If they show up, any of these assets show up anywhere, to track down, to freeze the ill-gotten gains of Saddam Hussein and his family. Treasury has several advisors in the country, in Iraq, to try to help look into these issues and work with the Iraqis as they get their financial system back up and running. But at this point, we don't know where that specific cash might have ended up. QUESTION: Was this brought up with Assad when the Secretary visited him? MR. BOUCHER: I am not sure this item specifically came up. Let me check and see if I can get anything on that. QUESTION: You said you heard -- learned from Treasury. Is that Iraqi Treasury officials or U.S. Treasury officials? MR. BOUCHER: U.S. Treasury officials, who are in Baghdad working with Iraqis and the Central Bank and elsewhere. QUESTION: And so their information about this came from their Iraqi counterparts, who said that Saddam's family came in and wheeled out wheelbarrows full of cash? MR. BOUCHER: That's our understanding, yes. QUESTION: Do you have any other -- MR. BOUCHER: I think -- well, you know that U.S. forces -- the number I was given was about $600 million they found in currency at Saddam's palaces. And there is $100 million in U.S. currency and 90 million Euros that were located in an armored vehicle last month. Don't know exactly where they came from, whether it was from the Central Bank or not, but that's an awful lot of cash they found already. QUESTION: Two questions. If you could tell us what was said today in the meeting between the Secretary and the Italian Foreign Minister. And then a second question that could be related, might not be, is a status report on -- the creation of the stabilization zones in Iraq. MR. BOUCHER: On the meeting with the Italian Defense Minister, it was today -- not a lot for it. The Secretary thanked Defense Minister Martino for Italy's participation in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, as well as in the humanitarian efforts and the reconstruction efforts in Iraq. They discussed issues like U.S.-European cooperation and NATO as well. As far as the status of stabilization forces in Iraq, I think for any sort of military aspects and configurations of that, I'd leave it to the Pentagon to describe that. As you know, we have been in touch with a number of countries. Things are starting to come together. There have, in fact, been some meetings with the countries who might be interested in participating. The Secretary discussed with the Polish Foreign Minister this morning the willingness of the Polish Government to consider a role in the stabilization forces, a prominent role in the stabilization forces. Secretary Rumsfeld has had meetings with the Polish Defense Minister as well. So a lot of this is starting to come together now, but I am not sure if we are ready to describe the final configuration. QUESTION: (Inaudible) the question, or do you know? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. QUESTION: The Polish Minister came out and he said pretty much what you have said. I mean, they volunteered. MR. BOUCHER: Good. Yes, he did. That's why I am saying it. QUESTION: I don't mean the Italians have to say the same thing. But, apparently, you didn't hear anything that strong from the Italian Defense Minister, so far as reconstruction and stabilization? MR. BOUCHER: I am not in a position to talk in any more specifics about the meeting with the Italian Defense Minister, and I don't want to speak for the Italian Government. I know the Polish Government itself has spoken in public about their willingness to take, in fact, a leading role in some aspects of the stabilization forces. That is something we welcome, something we talked to them about and worked with them on to try to see how it will all -- try to make it all come together in a way that meets the needs of the people of Iraq for security and stability in their lives. QUESTION: Richard, two things the Polish Foreign Minister said was that, one, that Poland would like to see a UN resolution giving the stabilization force a mandate. Now, I know you're going to refer everything military to the Pentagon, but if it goes to the UN, presumably it's going to be you guys up there trying to get one, if that's what you go decide to do. So what's the current thinking on that? And also, is there any -- is the United States uninterested in countries such as Germany or other anti-war nations taking part in a stabilization force? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we have said we are uninterested in anybody at this point. We are interested in finding out who wants to participate and then putting back -- putting together the best possible configuration so that we can all meet this goal of helping the people of Iraq with their future stability, of helping the people of Iraq achieve more normal lives. As far as the UN mandate or the UN approval for this, you have heard, I think, from President Bush, Prime Minister Blair and the Portuguese Foreign Minister and Portuguese Prime Minister in the Azores that they were looking for a UN resolution that would endorse the post-conflict arrangements, and, indeed, that was -- post-conflict administration -- and that was repeated in Belfast. That is something that we have been looking for. I talked to you yesterday about a resolution that would cover all the main areas that needed to be covered in the United Nations. Work on that is still underway. We are still discussing language with others. That resolution, generally, would remove the sanctions burden on the Iraqi people, would encourage the international community to help rebuild Iraq, and it would get the United Nations more involved in Iraq's reconstruction. So within that framework, I think many of these things would be supported. Whether they need to be specifically or not is for people to return to work out in language. But the overall goal is to do all these things that can help the Iraqi people return to a normal life. QUESTION: So your idea, though, is that a separate resolution just for a force is not particularly needed, but -- and that, in fact, it specifically doesn't really even have to be mentioned in a larger UN resolution covering all aspects of reconstruction? MR. BOUCHER: There are a number of interlinked areas that would be handled in the larger resolution. That is about as far as I can go for the moment without specifying what specific language may or may not be in it. QUESTION: Yeah, well I guess I was a little bit confused. You don't see the -- according to the polls, what you're looking at -- and others -- what you're looking at is the splitting up into four, you know, four zones. You don't think that that's the kind of thing that needs to be laid out specifically in a UN resolution? MR. BOUCHER: It doesn't necessarily need to be, no. QUESTION: On the first part of Matt's question, the Polish Minister, on the side, continued and spoke specifically of wishing Germany were part of this. That isn't clear to me if he meant reconstruction, stabilization or both, but he specified he would like to see Germany in it. Is any country disqualified because of its stand during the war? MR. BOUCHER: I was asked that five minutes ago. I don't have a new answer. I will stick with what I said to Matt when he asked the question. QUESTION: Yeah, but he happened to mention Germany. MR. BOUCHER: Matt asked the question five minutes ago. I answered it. Thank you. QUESTION: Okay, I missed it. MR. BOUCHER: Joel. QUESTION: Richard, there are reports concerning Belarus, they may have give military aid to Saddam prior and during the war. And also there are news headlines in our Washington Times newspaper saying that the French aided the Iraqis in fleeing. Some -- they gave passports to some of the Iraqis so they could flee into France or go elsewhere. Do you have any comments concerning that? MR. BOUCHER: I don't, particularly. I think each of the nations involved will have to account for their past behavior, what they may or may not have done. You will have to ask them for information on that. I don't have the information here to corroborate those reports. QUESTION: Secretary Powell said he'd be looking into it, though. MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure we will. QUESTION: Has he had a chance to do that? MR. BOUCHER: Not in the last hour. QUESTION: Per chance, when you say -- MR. BOUCHER: No. I don't have any information for you one way or the other on those reports. Nothing that I have would corroborate them. But that's just where we are today. QUESTION: Does that mean that you have nothing in your book there to corroborate it or there's nothing at all -- MR. BOUCHER: On the story of the French passports, I would say at this point we are not able to corroborate the report. QUESTION: Or dismiss it? QUESTION: It is probably foolish to pursue this, but this -- French passport issue was or was not a subject that Secretary Powell brought up in Damascus or that Ambassador Kattouf has brought up? MR. BOUCHER: I don't believe we heard anything about this issue until today. QUESTION: Okay. QUESTION: Richard, when you say you don't have anything to corroborate it, do you have anything that would indicate it's not true? Either, I mean, can you just -- you wouldn't dismiss it at this point, either? MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, the French Government has spoken about this, I believe will speak again, and says it's not true. We have nothing that would lead us to doubt that at this point. QUESTION: I'm a little bit curious, though, about where you say each of the nations involved are going to have to look at their -- what they did in the past, and they are going to have to account for the actions that they did or did not do. Exactly why does a country have to account for something it didn't do? Or is that -- I'm curious because this is obvious -- this is something that your colleague, Mr. Fleischer, at the White House said as well -- that the French are going to have to account for whatever they did or didn't do. Now, are you suggesting that didn't -- their decision not to participate in the war -- that's what you mean? Or are you talking specifically about this passport issue? And if they didn't do it, they are still going to have to account for why they -- MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not talking specifically about this issue about accounting for why they didn't do, no. I am making a general comment that in some places people might have done things or in some cases they may not have stopped things from happening and there's -- but in any case, I'm not giving you -- I'm not putting out any information or trying to corroborate these reports because I don't have any information that would corroborate these specific reports. Sir. QUESTION: Can you clarify something we talked about yesterday about the resolutions of the UN? You spoke about a principal resolution and then a number of auxiliary ones. Other officials have talked about an omnibus resolution. Is that the -- what you call a principal resolution? Or is there a difference between the omnibus and the principal resolution? MR. BOUCHER: I think we changed the word omnibus because of the vehicular implications of it. It's not a Christmas tree. It is an attempt to deal with the interlinked issues -- the interlinked issues of removing the burdens on the Iraqi people; providing for more international involvement to help them; providing for greater -- get the United Nations more involved in Iraq's reconstruction; and do things like get a United Nations coordinator to coordinate UN activities there and participate in a lot of the different aspects of what's going on. So it is a series of linked issues that would be done in a principal or an omnibus resolution. Same thing. QUESTION: Can I also ask, some Council members are differentiating between civilian sanctions and the arms embargo and other sanctions that might be there. In those negotiations that you're going to have with the Council members, are you going to also make that difference between civilian sanctions -- MR. BOUCHER: We have said before that we would expect normal restrictions on international arms trade or nuclear trade or missile trade or whatever would apply to Iraq, as they do to other countries. Whether there is any special mention, need for a special mention of this or special arrangements for Iraq, I don't know at this point. I think I would just say that the basic goal is to remove any burden that sanctions might make on the Iraqi people, to remove anything that prevents them from becoming normal citizens who are allowed to engage in trade and rebuild their country, importing what they need to do that. Sir. QUESTION: There is an article in today's paper about the threat that al-Qaida presents the United States now, post -- post-conflict. The article quoted Cofer Black as saying that officials are pretty confident that they don't have the ability to sort of strike as viciously as they did on 9/11. What is the State Department's thoughts on -- MR. BOUCHER: I assume my thoughts are the same as Cofer Black's. I don't have anything additional to say. He's our -- he's in charge of counterterrorism, and I'd stick with what he said. QUESTION: But do you still believe it's possible that they could mount a large-scale attack along the scales of 9/11? MR. BOUCHER: It is always possible that they might do something. That is why we have to be vigilant. That is why we have to be careful at home and abroad. But, as far as a general assessment, I will leave it to our experts to give that. QUESTION: On Iraqi issue, could you comment on any progress about the appointment of Mr. Bremer as a civil administration? MR. BOUCHER: No. (Laughter.) QUESTION: Anything on the meeting between the Turkish Minister of Defense and the Under Secretary, Mr. Grossman, today here at the State Department? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. I will have to get you something on that. QUESTION: Do you know if he's going to be received also by Colin Powell? MR. BOUCHER: I am not aware of any meeting on the schedule at this point. QUESTION: Is there anything different, or anything more to report, about the trip the Secretary is going to make, particularly with regard to the Middle East stops? Or is it all the same, or are there any other stops that -- MR. BOUCHER: No, no other stops. I can sort of give you dates, if you want them. QUESTION: Sure. MR. BOUCHER: Dates and places. We expect to be in Israel the 10th and the 11th, expect to be in Egypt on the 12th, expect to be in Jordan and Saudi Arabia on the 13th, be in Moscow on the 14th, on to Bulgaria on the 15th, and in Germany on the 16th. Those are the days that we are having meetings. I will give you the overnights as we get closer to the trip. QUESTION: (Inaudible.) MR. BOUCHER: Not on this one. QUESTION: And back on the 16th? MR. BOUCHER: Home on the 16th is the plan. QUESTION: But in terms of the -- the mission itself, pretty much it's all the same? MR. BOUCHER: All the same. QUESTION: And Assistant Secretary Burns is back now, or is he -- MR. BOUCHER: Burns is on his way back. I can fill you in on what he's been up to. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs William J. Burns was in the region preparing for the Secretary's upcoming trip. Over the past two days, he met separately with Ariel Sharon, with Abu Mazen, as well as with other Israelis and Palestinians regarding a range of issues, with his focus being on how best to move forward on ending the violence and terror and resuming a political process leading to the two-state goal that was outlined by President Bush. He will return to Washington, D.C., tonight. QUESTION: Okay, and just one more thing on the trip. In Moscow -- is the Indian meeting confirmed yet? MR. BOUCHER: I can't confirm any specific meetings yet in any particular place. QUESTION: Really? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. QUESTION: So he is going to get all the way to Israel and he won't see Sharon? That's not confirmed yet? MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say he wasn't going to see anybody. He may see everybody. I will confirm he's going to see everybody, but I won't give you their names yet because the meetings aren't pinned down. QUESTION: Back to Iraq. Some Iraqi nuclear scientists have told some of our colleagues in Iraq that they are concerned about retribution both from Baath party officials and from Shia extremists if they were to help the U.S. uncover Iraq's past weapons program. What, if anything, is being done to try to reassure these scientists that they can come forward? And do you have any concerns about any of these scientists leaving the country? MR. BOUCHER: I think those are really questions that need to be addressed at the Pentagon and the people who are in Iraq. I'm not in control of their security at this point. QUESTION: Richard, do you have anything on the FARC attacks last night on several prominent Colombians? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't right now. I will have to see about getting you something later. Sir. QUESTION: Well, along the lines of handling other topics, yesterday in Zimbabwe, the presidents of South Africa, Nigeria and Malawi met with President Mugabe. It doesn't appear that this meeting accomplished very much. Do you have anything to say about that? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have a particular comment on that visit. We have always made clear that we think it's time for a real -- for an end to the difficulties that President Mugabe has caused for his own people, an end to the human rights violations, but I don't have anything more to say on that particular visit. Sir. QUESTION: Richard, what comments do you have concerning India and Pakistan? Apparently, they've settled these long squabbles and they are opening borders and -- MR. BOUCHER: Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. I mean, certainly there's a lot of good things going on and we welcome that, we've encouraged that, we're working with them on that. But there's certainly more things to do and more things that we'll be talking to them about. Deputy Secretary Armitage is on his way out to South Asia. He left yesterday. He will be back on the 11th. He visits Islamabad, then Kabul, and then New Delhi. He's been in London for meetings with British officials and with the Indian National Security Advisor, Brajesh Mishra, who is traveling in Europe and will be in the States when Mr. Armitage is in South Asia. In South Asia, he will have discussions with senior officials in each country. He will meet with embassy staff and will continue to express our strong interest in strong relationships with the South Asian countries and do what we can to promote peace and stability in the region. Nicholas. QUESTION: Quickly. One thing. Do you know, Richard, if you've sent Prime Minister Blair a present for his birthday? The American Government, I mean? MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure many, many people have sent him good wishes. I'm not sure if anybody sent him a present. You might check with the White House. (The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)


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