State Department Noon Briefing, June 14
|Monday June 14,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
MONDAY, JUNE 14, 2004
12:50 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: Do you have anything to say about the continuing targeting of Americans by militants in Saudi Arabia?
MR. BOUCHER: First, let me make clear that with regard to the American citizen who's been reported missing since the evening of the 12th, we have been in close touch with Mr. Johnson's family through our Embassy in Saudi Arabia. Our U.S. Ambassador, James Oberwetter, spoke by telephone with the gentleman's son today. We are in close touch with Saudi authorities investigating the apparent kidnapping. Ambassador Oberwetter has been assured by the Saudi authorities that they are doing everything possible to resolve this kidnapping -- this case.
As regards the American community as a whole, we have reiterated our advice to them through a Warden Message that the Embassy sent out yesterday to Americans living in Saudi Arabia. It encourages Americans living there to practice good personal security procedures, first and foremost; to report anything unusual to the Saudi police; and reminds them that the current Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia urges U.S. citizens to depart and for visitors to defer travel.
We work very closely with the Saudi Government to fight terrorism. We work very closely with the Saudi Government to protect Americans who might be in Saudi Arabia. And we will do everything possible to support them in their efforts to fight terrorism and to secure the release of the American who may be missing.
QUESTION: You keep saying "reported missing," "may be missing," "may have been kidnapped." Do you actually have some doubt that he's missing and that he's --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have any doubt. It's just --
QUESTION: Well, then, he is missing?
MR. BOUCHER: He is missing.
MR. BOUCHER: He is reportedly kidnapped. That is the circumstance that we are dealing with and we need to -- that's the way we're treating it and the way the Saudis are treating it. There's no question in our mind that that's --
QUESTION: That he has been kidnapped?
MR. BOUCHER: That's what -- well, that that appears to be what's happened. We don't have final confirmation of whose custody he's in until we find him and release him.
QUESTION: To your knowledge, has it been confirmed that some of the documents and the pictures that were on the internet over the weekend were his and did come from his person?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if it has. The Saudis are in charge of the investigation and we'll support them as best we can, but it's up to them to look at things like that and to make determinations.
QUESTION: And you haven't heard from them?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, as part of the investigation, I wouldn't be able to disclose it anyway.
QUESTION: Are you -- you're saying that you are urging Americans to exercise caution in travel and movement and so on, and be sensible. You are not asking them to leave, though?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we have asked them to leave. We have strongly urged them to depart ever since April 15th. Now, obviously, some of them have not done so, and we do try to provide those who make the decision to remain with our best advice on how they can remain as safely as possible if they do decide to stay despite our best advice.
QUESTION: Do you have any figures on the number of Americans that work in Saudi Arabia?
MR. BOUCHER: We wouldn't be able to give those out, I'm afraid. In this kind of situation, we feel that giving out numbers just identifies how many potential targets there might be.
QUESTION: But if they do heed your advice and depart, wouldn't that undermine the whole economic infrastructure and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we, first and foremost, have a responsibility to Americans, and we need to give them our best advice on how to handle any particular situation overseas. We've done that here. We've been very forthright and upfront about that in urging Americans to depart.
As far as the maintenance and continued flow of oil in the economy in Saudi Arabia, that is something I think the Saudis will have to describe what provisions they can make and how they can operate those facilities. But I'll leave that to them.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the American reported to have been killed in Iraq today, I believe in Karbala?
MR. BOUCHER: I do not have any details or confirmation. There was a car bombing today in Baghdad, as we all know. We certainly condemn the bombing. The Iraqi government has stood up, and Prime Minister Allawi stood up very quickly, to make clear that his government was opposed to the bombings and called on Iraqis to restrain those who might be trying to damage their future, damage their infrastructure. The Iraqi police will have to investigate this, but I'm not in a position at this point to confirm the identities of the people who might have been in the vehicles.
QUESTION: Or the nationalities?
MR. BOUCHER: Or the nationalities.
QUESTION: Have you heard anything, speaking of suicide bombers, about Iran actually hosting a meeting where they talked about suicide bombing and helped to train people to do something like that? It's being reported by the FARS News Agency.
MR. BOUCHER: I've just heard about the report, and I haven't had a chance to look into it. So, no, I'm sorry. I don't have anything on it. I'll see if I can --
MR. BOUCHER: -- we know anything about it.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are we on Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: Wherever you want to go.
QUESTION: Could you explain to us why the United States Government is asking the Iraqi government to grant immunity to private contractors?
MR. BOUCHER: The question of the status of various people who are working in Iraq is something that will need to be discussed and dealt with with the new government. That's something that the United States will be discussing with the new government in Iraq. I don't have any information for you at this point as those discussions proceed about what sort of status might be accorded to different people who are working there.
QUESTION: Richard, can you tell us a little bit about the legal status of the prisoners in Iraq after the transfer? I see that the Red Cross has called for a release as soon as the transfer occurs of all the prisoners being held.
MR. BOUCHER: There are some things that are clear already, then there's some that still remain to be discussed and worked out. The criminal prisoners in Iraq will all be turned over -- I think most of them already have been turned over -- to Iraqi custody, and they will be in the hands of Iraqis and the Iraqi judicial system, which is set up to deal with cases of that kind.
Second of all, that they -- as far as the people in U.S. custody, I think you're seeing a large number of releases, hundreds and hundreds released now every week for the last several weeks. And that process will continue so that people that are in U.S. custody that we don't feel are continuing security threats, those people -- release as many of those people as we can before we get to June -- really release those people as soon as we feel we can, not waiting for the end of June.
And then the final issue of some people in U.S. custody who may continue to be security threats, that does remain an issue that has to be worked out with the incoming government. That will be discussed with them.
QUESTION: I've got a question on the terror probe study.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just want to understand how the State Department didn't realize that the info from the CIA about the global terror report was so wrong.
MR. BOUCHER: The numbers are put together by the Terrorist Threat Information Center, which is an interagency group. It's headed by the Central Intelligence Agency and a number of different agencies work there, and these are the authorities on terrorism issues. So we -- they are the ones who put the numbers forth to us.
Now, I think part of your question is why didn't we see these numbers and say, "Hey, that can't be right." I don't know what the answer is to that and, frankly, that is one of the things the Secretary wants to try to get to the bottom of as well. How did we get these numbers and how come the numbers are wrong and how come we didn't question them around here? But I think that's a question that doesn't have an answer yet, and we recognize that there are two elements to coming out with the wrong numbers, as we did.
QUESTION: On the --
QUESTION: Richard --
MR. BOUCHER: Slow down. David.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense, Richard, of -- I gather you've said that a revised report is going to be put out.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: What form will that take and when will it come out?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't quite decided yet. The Secretary certainly made clear to everybody involved he wants it as soon as possible, but we have promised that as soon as we can have that we'll put out new numbers and whatever new analysis is necessary for that. Whether we put out a whole revised report or some other way of doing it hasn't quite been decided yet, but I think we want to make it a clear part of the record and a clear statement of what the numbers are, the correct numbers are, and what the analysis should be.
QUESTION: He's certainly made clear how displeased he is at what happened here. Given how embarrassing it was and how wrong it was, is there a process looking into whether people's careers should be affected by having contributed to this mistake?
MR. BOUCHER: What we first need to do is to get the right numbers, determine what was missing and how the things went wrong in the last set of numbers, and I think appropriate conclusions will be drawn based on what we find out.
QUESTION: If I understood the Secretary correctly, I think he told ABC yesterday that there was going to be a meeting today involving various agencies to look at this. Has that meeting taken place? What's it looking at? Where's it meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: It hasn't taken place yet. He'll be meeting later this afternoon -- I think it's 2:15 or something like that -- with the head of the Terrorist Threat Information Center, Mr. Brennan, who is coming over, I think, with some of his people, and then some of the people in the building. And the purpose is, as he explained over the weekend, to try to get to the bottom of the errors, figure out how quickly we can get the correct information available and out to the public, and make whatever determinations are necessary to correct this mess.
QUESTION: Can you --
QUESTION: The entire name, his first name?
MR. BOUCHER: John. Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you tell us whether INR is involved or was involved in looking at the data when it came in, or did the data just come straight from the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and go straight to the Counterterrorism Coordinator's Office?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure to what extent INR is involved. It does go straight from them to the Counterterrorism -- to our Counterterrorism Coordinator's Office. But whether INR is involved out there or back here after it gets here, I don't know.
QUESTION: Could you check on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see, but this may be something we explain when we try to explain more fully how the errors occurred.
QUESTION: Richard, if I understand, you don't exactly know what the errors were?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have -- we have two -- we have indications that there are two major sources for the numbers being wrong, one being that they did not count the last, essentially the last two months almost of the year. For some reason they cut off the counting at November 10th. And second of all, that --
QUESTION: November 10th or 11th?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, something around there.
QUESTION: I just want to help you get this right. It's --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I do want to get this right -- around November 10th or 11th. Let me rephrase that. I appreciate that.
Second of all, it appears that the classification of significant and non-significant incidents, and the counting of non-significant incidents was done differently this year than it had been in previous years and that incidents that didn't necessarily cause death or casualties were not counted this year, whereas they had been in the past.
QUESTION: Do you know -- can you give me --
MR. BOUCHER: There may be other reasons. There may be more detailed explanations of why some of these things happened.
QUESTION: Is there a specific example you can point to at the moment of one of these?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'd just point out that that in November and December there were several very significant and terrible attacks that occurred resulting in large numbers of casualties, including the bombings in Turkey that apparently were not counted.
QUESTION: Okay, and -- but to the best of your knowledge, there is no -- none of the errors revolved around the definition that you used for terrorist attacks --
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: -- and accounting, perhaps, attacks against U.S. military personnel?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Apparently not. Let me put it that way. We won't be able to say for sure until we really have gotten to the bottom of it and made every possible determination.
QUESTION: Did I understand you correctly to say that one of the errors, you think, was a failure to count terrorist attacks that did not result in death or casualties?
MR. BOUCHER: That's right.
MR. BOUCHER: Again, these are preliminary indications. There may be more things that went wrong. There may be more details on how those things went wrong or exactly how they were done that we'll get to as we pursue this further.
QUESTION: Richard, you said the focus now is to get the numbers right and to look at -- find out how things went wrong, to get to the bottom of how things went wrong. Who's in charge of that review? And are people who were actually involved in putting the report together now reviewing their own work?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd really have to say the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary are the two that are pursuing this. So, in many ways, they're in charge of getting to the bottom of it and making sure the numbers come back right. The people involved in doing that, the people that know the most about it, are people who have been involved in the beginning. But, hopefully, they can be -- they can go back and get this -- get this right.
QUESTION: Is there any thought of involving yet -- has there been any thought of involving the Inspector Generals Office on this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that they need to be involved at this stage. Obviously, if they think it's appropriate, they can get involved. But in terms of getting the numbers right, the people who have the data need to go back to the data, count it again, count it carefully, and count it properly. That's the Terrorist Threat Information Center.
The people in this building who understand that process, who worked on it in previous years, need to be involved to try to make sure that we do get it right and to look into it in more detail than we had last time.
QUESTION: Is this the first time the Center has been involved in this way?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, they were just created in May of last year. So they were a transformation of a previous, similar organization, but the Terrorist Threat Information Center was created last year.
QUESTION: Who provided numbers before, do you know?
MR. BOUCHER: Essentially done in the intelligence agencies, I think. I'll have to check on that and get you a definitive identification of which group it was.
QUESTION: It wasn't done by the -- embassies didn't contribute to it? Can you say, for example, if, when the report came out, which -- say that your folks in Turkey said, hold on a second? Do you know if they raised a flag?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't know that it was apparent to them or others that that particular attack had not been counted at that point.
QUESTION: Who first raised the flag? Do you know? I mean, it wasn't Mr. Waxman, because you've said you had heard of it last week --
MR. BOUCHER: Frankly, it was people on the outside who follow this and who have read the report carefully, as we hope people will; and some of our friends, including former colleagues on the outside, who called up and said, "Hey, this can't be right, can it?" And at that point, apparently our counterterrorism folks are looking at it again and said we'd better look at these numbers again.
QUESTION: People on the outside and former colleagues -- former colleagues is clear enough, former officials (inaudible) academics or journalists or --
MR. BOUCHER: I think there were a number of people, may have been some of everything.
Yeah. Okay. Teri.
QUESTION: Do you know why the system of counting was changed? You keep saying that they counted things differently this year. It wasn't because the TTIC was doing it, was it? I mean, what changed in the way you count things that would affect this?
MR. BOUCHER: I think actually the same definitions were used. This may be a level of detail we can't get to at this stage. Certainly, the same definitions and categories as before were used. It was the way that things were included or not included that was different.
QUESTION: Based on --
MR. BOUCHER: That's what we -- I don't quite know yet what.
QUESTION: Richard, could you clarify again on the revised version? Will it include what has been omitted, you know, after, let's say, November 12th, including the Istanbul bombing, for instance?
MR. BOUCHER: It will include, as it should, the full year's statistics on terrorist attacks in a way that can directly be compared to previous years; that is, it not only follows the same definition, but follows a similar interpretation of what's included and what's not, so that the numbers can be compared.
And as I said on Friday, it will be up sharply in terms of the number of incidents. And I think I said on Friday it would be up sharply in terms of casualties and people killed. I'm not absolutely certain. That's the indications that we have, but I'm not absolutely certain because I've gone back and looked at the numbers. But it will be certainly up sharply from the numbers that we put out in terms of casualties. To what extent it's an increase on previous years, I think we'll have to wait for the final numbers to come out.
QUESTION: Richard, this building puts out a monumental number of reports every year. You're putting one out this afternoon. What can you do to assure people that reports that you do put out like this, particularly when they are relying on information that comes from outside this agency that hasn't been properly vetted, that these reports are actually accurate on human rights, trafficking, religious freedom? I mean, the litany of --
MR. BOUCHER: And it goes on and on. Trafficking in Persons this afternoon, counternarcotics efforts, things like that. You know, it goes back to basics. You've got to check. You've got to double-check. You've got to ask questions.
QUESTION: Yeah. But aren't you concerned about it, that the accuracy or that the credibility of your other -- I mean, this is not the first time in the past 18 months that this building seems to be saying it's been let down extremely -- you know, in a very bad way.
MR. BOUCHER: You know, it's not the first time over the years we've had mistakes come into our products. I mean, hopefully, by being upfront about it and correcting them as quickly as possible, we can -- we can at least show that we are committed to giving out the best numbers and reports and information as we can.
There is a large, thick report on terrorism that has a lot of information in it that's very solid and there are statistical summaries that are wrong. So we need to do our job to make sure we don't just get a large amount of narrative right, but we get the statistics and everything right in every report.
That's a product of, as I said, of people checking things very carefully and asking all of the questions that you all will ask whenever we come out with a report, and hopefully asking those questions before we put it --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that others, that people did ask. Some, not necessarily every individual among us, certainly not me, included, but that once it did go public it was subject to review by peers and others who did start scratching their heads and saying, "Is this right" when comparing it to other things.
QUESTION: Are you undergoing any kind of a review of past Patterns of Global Terrorism reports, or any other reports, to make sure that errors haven't crept in? Or do you feel like you stand by the product in all of your other reports?
MR. BOUCHER: We are not aware of any problems or errors in previous reports. I'm saying it that way, at this stage, because if we do discover or identify something in the process of looking into this report that has implications for others' reports, I would certainly say we would be prepared to go back and look at previous years' numbers, if that -- there was something generically wrong or different about the process that we hadn't understood before.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. BOUCHER: On this topic or another one?
QUESTION: Well, one last one on this topic.
QUESTION: This topic.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Let's go to Joel on this topic.
QUESTION: With respect to terrorism, have you -- Kofi Annan has said that he is calling on Muslim governments to put some type of communiqué together to deal with this, and he also wants, I guess, the street and clerics to be mindful of this. Do you think that the media fallout from all of these inaccuracies of these reports are going to just inflame the situation, especially coming up in Iraq to the change of --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think -- I mean, I suppose we'll have to see. I don't think numbers and statistics inflame the situation. The fact that there are killings and bombs in so many countries, including Arab and Muslim countries, the continuing danger of terrorism attacks, not just on the United States, but on people in Bali, people in Morocco, people in Tunisia, people in Iraq, people in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, those people in those countries know that there are terrorists who threaten their societies, that everybody at this moment needs to band together and do what we can together to fight this threat of terrorism.
And what we did say in our report and in our presentations was that we have, indeed, made -- seen a lot of cooperation internationally against terrorism, but there is tremendous danger still there that needs to be -- we need to join together and fight against.
QUESTION: A follow-up, please?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Both in Pakistan and in Jordan, they have arrested suspected militants, largely connected with both bombings and assassinations and such. Do you think that we're beginning to win this or send a message that this won't be tolerated, this terrorism --
MR. BOUCHER: I think, as I think I've said now and what we said before, there is indeed a great deal of international cooperation against terrorism. There are a great number of nations, societies and governments who are fighting terrorism, and fighting it not only domestically but also together. That is a good thing, but it's going to take perseverance and determination to beat the terrorists.
Okay. George had one?
QUESTION: Yeah, on the report. Is it possible that the Center did not provide its analysis to the State Department in a timely manner? Was the information provided too close to the deadline and there wasn't proper vetting?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I don't know.
QUESTION: I realize you're not usually in the habit of briefing on internal U.S. Government meetings, but can you at least tell us, once the Secretary has -- can you confirm once that the meeting has, in fact, taken place?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I should be able to do that.
Okay. Change the subject? Sir.
QUESTION: Yes. Last week, we had this major hemispheric conference in Quito and there's practically been no coverage of it in the national press here. And as far as I know, the only reference that you made to it is regarding the credibility of the -- ensuring the credibility of the process. And you said it was your -- it was the opinion of the Department that this sentiment was evident at the Quito conference. Can you give any evidence of that? Any -- was there any resolution passed to that effect? Gaviria has promised to make a full report on the process in Venezuela. He didn't do it.
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, we certainly made an awful lot of references to the conference when we were down there. The Secretary himself appeared on television to talk about it. He appeared on various Spanish language stations as well, including CNN Español. So this was a very important meeting to us. It was very important for the Secretary of State to go there. And he left the celebrations in Normandy and traveled all the way down to Quito in order to be in Quito for a period of 12 hours or so, 12, 15 hours, in order to attend this very important meeting.
During the course of our discussions, Venezuela was indeed a topic with many ministers. I'll have to check and see where the conference came out on the subject of Venezuela, whether there was further discussion, but even during our time there and our discussions with Secretary General Gaviria and the Secretary's discussions with other foreign ministers, it was clear that there was, first of all, concern about the situation in Venezuela. The Secretary, in his remarks, which I think we've made public, which I think we released, made clear that we were pleased that the Government had accepted the results of the raparo process and that all parties were committed to going forward in a constitutional manner. That, I think, was what we heard from other delegations as well.
And finally, the other delegations that we talked to and the Secretary General look for the continuing involvement of the OAS and the continuing involvement of the Carter Center to try to help as the process goes forward to make sure it goes forward in an open, democratic and constitutional manner.
QUESTION: Was there any thought of applying the Democratic Charter, in the case of Venezuela?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the Democratic Charter itself says that we will all work with each other to support democracy in the hemisphere. And that is indeed what we have been doing, whether it is the OAS doing it directly in terms of their efforts with both the Government and the opposition to keep this on a democratic path, or those of us that have encouraged and supported the involvement of people like the Carter Center, or the activities of the Friends of Venezuela, where we've been very active in talking with other governments and other governments have been themselves active in Venezuela to try to support democracy.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, President Karzai has been saying that he would welcome Taliban members in the country's political life. Is that the view you share, and do you make any parallels with having members of the Baath Party in Iraq be part of the process there?
MR. BOUCHER: It didn't really come up in the Secretary's meeting with him this morning. We'll see if it comes up during the course of the White House discussions. But this has, I think, been some time now that the government has announced that they are maintaining a firm policy against allowing leadership of the Taliban back into positions of authority. Indeed, many of them need to face capture and justice, but that there are some people who may have been associated with the Taliban who they feel were not significantly participating in those activities or involved in any crimes, which it will be up to the government to determine through its appropriate procedures whether they have some place in government or society at this stage.
It was a -- the Secretary had a very good meeting with President Karzai this morning. They talked about the remarkable progress that is being made in Afghanistan. President Karzai was able to give us the news that he got -- that he just got from Afghanistan: They've registered 3.8 million voters, which we felt was really quite significant at this stage; 35 percent of the registrants are women, which is also quite significant. So that was good news to get. And we talked about the process of reconstruction, the process of building institutions.
I think the way he explained it in general is that they have been able to extend government services throughout the nation and provide things such as the new road, provide schools for 5 million kids, provide clinics and provide for the extension of government authority throughout the nation, and now they were in a significant period of building institutions, especially through elections, but also through further building of government institutions. And that was something that we pledged to continue to help with, especially in the area of training police and military for the area of security, and working together on threats like narcotics production and the continuing threat of terrorism.
So I think the summary is it's what we see together with the Afghan Government: remarkable progress being made across the board in Afghanistan, but still a lot of work to do. We're pledged to stay the course and deal with them together.
QUESTION: Richard, 3.8 million voters registered so far. That's only about a third of the universe, right? I mean, hadn't you guys estimated that there are 10 or 11 voting-age people?
MR. BOUCHER: There are various estimates of the number of voting-age people and no one quite knows how many of them will register. I think in all nations you find that the total registered is the total -- is less than the total eligible. But this is a pretty significant figure at this stage to have reached 3.8 million and the feeling is that they will continue along those lines. And it's, as well, noting that 35 percent of them are women, given Afghanistan's history, and especially its recent history, that's a fairly significant percentage.
QUESTION: Do you or the UN have a minimum number that you think need to be registered for it to be a legitimate and credible election?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if the UN does. I think our view is that they should make every effort to register as many people as possible. But I have not heard a specific target figure, no. Just as many people as possible. This is felt to be very good progress towards doing that.
QUESTION: Change of subject to Iran?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. decided not to recommend Iran be referred to the Security Council over its lack of full cooperation with the IAEA? And can you say anything about the draft that's circulating there now and if the U.S. supports it?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think, first of all, you've heard from us for some time now that our -- we felt that Iran needed to be subject to continued scrutiny by the international community, including at this upcoming Board of Governors meeting; that the facts on Iran need to be continuing to come out; and that Iran needs to be held by the international community to meet its commitments and its promises, as well as its requirements under the International Atomic Energy Agency.
So we have -- we've welcomed the report that the Director General has put forward. The Board of Governors meeting convened today, and Iran will, of course, be one of the most important agenda items.
In his opening remark, the Director General noted that it has been almost two years since Iran's undeclared nuclear program came to light, that a number of issues remain open regarding Iran's nuclear program, and he said that it's essential that we try to bring these issues to closure within the next few months.
Foreign Minister Kharazi's statements that Iran will not accept additional restrictions on its nuclear program are, unfortunately, nothing new and make clear that Iran is pressing ahead in its program to produce fissile material.
Iran has consistently resisted following through on the steps necessary to provide renewed assurances that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful. In the Director General's most recent report on Iran's program, there's further evidence that Iran's troubling lack of cooperation with the IAEA continues. In his opening remarks today, the Director General noted that Iran's suspension of enrichment-related and reprocessing activities is not yet comprehensive, due to the continuing production of centrifuge components.
The Director General was also firm in characterizing Iran's continuing lack of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He noted that Iran's pattern of engagement with the IAEA has been less than satisfactory, and said that after a year of difficulties encountered by the inspectors, Iran needs to be proactive and fully transparent.
Our view is that the IAEA has documented already 18 years of clandestine nuclear activities in Iran. Tehran has repeatedly failed to declare significant troubling aspects of its nuclear program, it's interfered with and suspended inspections, and it's failed to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in resolving outstanding issues related to its program.
So it's clear that the agency's investigation and verification work in Iran must continue for the foreseeable future. The U.S. believes the Board of Governors this week must adopt a strong resolution that calls on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA and to resolve all the outstanding issues regarding its nuclear program. So we, once again, urge Iran's full cooperation with the agency and call on Iran to make good on its repeated pledges of cooperation.
QUESTION: After all that, why would you decide not to --
MR. BOUCHER: Because we think that agency has continued to find out things about the program, to conduct valuable investigations, to continue to bring facts to light and to continue to keep the pressure on Iran to comply. So we think that that kind of scrutiny needs to continue.
QUESTION: Why would the scrutiny necessarily end if it were referred to the Security Council? You think the --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it would necessarily end. It's just, at this point, we think that's the appropriate step; as long as the process at the International Atomic Energy Agency is moving ahead, as long as they're continuing to bring information to light and find out new things, that we think that's the appropriate way to proceed at this moment.
QUESTION: Richard, on this, I'm just wondering what you make of the Russian position, or at least the position of President Putin that he took last week at the G-8, after having signed on to the G-8 statement on proliferation, which talked about both Iran and North Korea and trouble, problems and concerns about that. He said before leaving that, for the moment, they saw no reason to halt their cooperation, that Iran had done -- that there was nothing that they saw to make -- to give them pause about their program with Iran, so I'm just wondering what you make of that position, given what's happened in the interim now with the IAEA.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think that's really a question you can direct to the Russian Government, that the facts are clear in the Director General's reports and his statements, and as to how that might affect the Russian program, or what exactly the status of the Russian program is is really something the Russian Government has to account for.
QUESTION: I was under the impression that you guys were -- have been asking the Russians, or pleading with them for some time now, to stop it's -- their cooperation because, precisely for the reasons that --
MR. BOUCHER: We talk to the Russians very frequently about this. Our view is the one I stated. As far as their view, you'd have to ask them.
Yeah. Sir. Let's go over there.
QUESTION: I'd like to talk about North Korea for a second.
MR. BOUCHER: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout on Assistant Secretary Kelly's meeting with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea? And I have a follow-up.
MR. BOUCHER: See, I keep thinking that implies my answer's going to be inadequate in some way.
Do you have another question?
QUESTION: No. After that one.
MR. BOUCHER: You can ask your second question after I answer the first one.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Yesterday, on Sunday, June 13th, Assistant Secretary Kelly and an interagency delegation met in separate bilateral meetings with their South Korean and Japanese counterparts.
The South Korean delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Lee, and the Japanese delegation was led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for Asian Affairs, Mr. Yabunaka. This morning, the Japanese and the Republic of Korea delegations met bilaterally, and then there was a plenary meeting of all three parties.
Our objective in these talks is to coordinate our positions on the next session of the six-party working group and plenary, which may take place during the week of June 21st. We do understand that China is consulting with North Korea to confirm that timing, and we would look to see an announcement soon.
Do you have another question?
QUESTION: Yes. You just mentioned that it's going to be -- the next round is going to be during the week of the 21st. We got reports that it's going to happen on the 23rd. Can you confirm that?
MR. BOUCHER: We're looking at both a working group session and a plenary session. And as far as confirming the dates, certainly the United States is ready to go to working group and plenary sessions during the week of June 21st; but as far as confirming the dates, it will be up to the Chinese to make whatever announcement they can.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Sir.
QUESTION: There is a letter coming out, either tomorrow or the next day, from a group of military and former diplomatic officials condemning Bush Administration foreign policy as making worse our national security position. Are you aware of that statement coming out? And what would be your thoughts?
MR. BOUCHER: We've seen the press reports. I can't have thoughts on the specific contents or arguments until we actually see the letter. And as you said, it's not expected to come out until Wednesday. So, at this point, other than saying we're aware of it, we'll look at it when it comes out and see if there are any ideas we want to deal with at that point.
QUESTION: How unusual is that sort of a statement to come out from these folks, who have some pretty impressive titles?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I have seen such statements in the past. I have seen such statements from former officials. They're free to say what they want when they're no longer in government. So we expect people to have views and express their views.
QUESTION: Right. So are you suggesting that they're not free to say what they want when they are in government?
MR. BOUCHER: They are free to support the policy in any way they can when we're in government.
QUESTION: Stay on North Korea and Taiwan?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: Last Friday, the Secretary also met with Chinese Foreign Minister Li. And do you have more details of their conversation?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary and the Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing met last Friday for about 50 minutes. They talked principally about bilateral relations, Taiwan and North Korea.
I would say on North Korea, both the Secretary and the Foreign Minister reaffirmed their shared concerns about nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. The Secretary did raise the recent comments by a Chinese official, and Foreign Minister Li promised to look into those comments.
QUESTION: Did he disavow the comments?
MR. BOUCHER: He promised to look into them.
QUESTION: So can I go right from this?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have you found any convergence on the issue of, you know, I mean, a difference on the HEU issue, still large gap was existing?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I would not -- I would not say there is a large gap. We have made clear in the past that North Korea had a uranium enrichment program; that they acknowledged that to us; that they have, despite subsequent denials, indirectly acknowledged it since then; and that further information that's come out about the A.Q. Khan network has, in fact, demonstrated the truth of what we have said about their uranium enrichment.
What individual nations have in terms of their own information on this, I'd leave to individual nations to account for and to describe. We did see these comments by a Chinese official last week that we took exception to, and the Secretary raised the issue, and Foreign Minister Li promised he would look into it and see what the Chinese Government could say about what they knew.
QUESTION: Just -- can you say anything about, on this issue, on the -- today's discussion to say, you know, confirm the HEU case among the -- even inside your alliance? South Koreans showed sometimes a skeptical view on that, so --
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I think -- we think the facts have been clear all along about uranium enrichment in North Korea. And as we said, right from the start, the North Koreans acknowledged that they had such a program and we immediately briefed other nations about the exact nature of their statements during the original visit out there.
QUESTION: Do you mean to for us to take from your statement that the United States and China share concerns about nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula, that you do not disagree on the point of the HEU, the alleged HEU program?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm saying that all -- the United States and China, the United States and Japan and South Korea have all expressed our view that the Korean Peninsula needs to be free of nuclear weapons, and that any developments that would go in that direction needs to be dealt with in those talks in a comprehensive, verifiable and irreversible manner.
QUESTION: But that is not to say that they believe that --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not trying to speak for them, but we do think the facts have been clear on uranium enrichment.
QUESTION: Richard, the Zimbabwe Government, late last week, shut down a newspaper that had been critical of it on a technicality of the press law. And I was wondering if you had any reaction.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. We condemn the closure by the Zimbabwe Government of the Tribune Newspaper. The action is the latest in a series of assaults on press freedom and on access to independent information in Zimbabwe. It follows the government's attempts to tighten controls on the internet use, last year's forced closure of The Independent Daily News and the ongoing intimidation, harassment and prosecution of independent journalists.
In this regard as well, we note with dismay that the government, last week, began its prosecution of the directors of Daily News' parent company under repressive media control laws.
The Media and Information Commission is mandated to enhance the Zimbabwean people's access to information; however, it seems clearly intent on using the countries draconian media legislation as a political tool to silence voices that are raising legitimate concerns about the Zimbabwean Government's corruption, human rights violations, economic mismanagement and abuse of democratic institutions and the rule of law.
QUESTION: On Zimbabwe, Richard.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the government spending a lot of money to buy Chinese fighter planes?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't at this point.
QUESTION: And how about their announcement last week that they -- the government's announcement that it intends to nationalize all arable land? Did you have anything on that last week?
MR. BOUCHER: I thought we spoke on that, didn't we?
QUESTION: Yeah, well, I asked --
QUESTION: We had something.
MR. BOUCHER: We had something. We'll -- we were ready to speak on it --
QUESTION: I got something down at Savannah, but I want to know --
MR. BOUCHER: We'll get you something on that. Yeah.
Okay, where are we? Joel. We'll work our way back.
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on the Darfur region in western Sudan?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. I think, as you know, the situation in Darfur remains to be of critical concern to the United States and, indeed, to the international community. It is one of the highest priorities for this Administration, and we're deeply concerned that despite assurances from the Government of Sudan that they are providing humanitarian access, that there is, in fact, still considerable blockages to getting aid to the people in need.
The Government of Sudan continues to deny release of vehicles needed by humanitarian relief agencies. There are also, in some cases -- they have also, in some cases, denied release of the radio equipment needed for workers to securely deploy to remote areas to deliver aid. In addition, the Government has delayed food shipments from Port Sudan, potentially to the point of making food that comes from there useless.
Security officials in Darfur continue to harass or delay humanitarian workers seeking to administer to the needy. And these delays continue, despite the improvements following new visa and permit policies.
I'd also note that in recent days, there's been an upsurge in attacks on transport routes used for delivering relief, and one incident of rebels holding NGO workers for two days.
The United States calls on the Government of Sudan to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance, including immediate release of all vehicles and equipment and of all food shipments bound for Darfur. We also call on the parties -- that is, the government, the Sudan Liberation Army Movement, and the Justice and Equality Movement -- to cooperate with the United Nations and the humanitarian agencies to avoid all interference with the work and to adhere completely to the ceasefire agreement. We particularly call on the government to stop the attacks by government-supported militias.
As far as the situation on the ground goes, we have seven members of a U.S. Disaster Assistance Response Team in Darfur. They're working on health, nutrition, water, sanitation, food and logistical assessments. And they're also monitoring the programs that are currently underway. The U.S. has arranged for 14 airlifts of food and supplies so far and we expect the 15th to arrive on June 19th, carrying more non-food items.
Some supplies are arriving by road. The insecurity on the roads within Darfur is a major problem. Drivers have been stopped and shot at. Due to insecurity and driver reluctance to drive on the roads, trucking prices are three to four times higher in Darfur than prior to the conflict. The government requires all private transportation contractors to be Sudanese, and this limits overall trucking capacity and the ability to move goods via ground transport.
Non-food items are being distributed by nongovernmental organizations. Our implementing partner for the U.S. Agency for International Development is CARE, and they are assisting in the distribution of items brought in by the U.S. airlifts. The World Food Program is overseeing the distribution of food through local and international nongovernmental organizations.
Let me note as well that there was a UN resolution adopted on June 10th that says very clearly, on behalf of the Security Council, that they want to see the violence end, that they call on the parties to use their influence to bring an immediate halt to the fighting in the Darfur region. We have -- in the Security Council, we've welcomed the African Union efforts and called on the international community to provide constant engagement, including extensive funding for peace in Sudan and for assisting people in this region. And I'd note as well, there was a G-8 statement on Darfur.
So we've been working a lot on this issue. The Secretary spoke yesterday with the Secretary General about the situation in Darfur and it's been a matter that they have continued to both work on as much as they can.
QUESTION: Anything new on the investigation with the Libyan -- alleged Libyan plot to assassinate the Saudi Crown Prince?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: If proven true, how will that impact the progress that is going on with the rapprochement?
MR. BOUCHER: We dealt with such speculative questions last week. I don't have anything to add at this point. There's no new news on that.
QUESTION: There's a Powell meeting with King Hussein -- King Abdullah today. And what's the focus of the issues between the two?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, the Secretary is meeting this afternoon with King Abdullah of Jordan. Obviously, we welcome his visit to Washington, look forward to a good discussion with him. At this point, I think they'll probably focus on the issues that have always brought them together and where we've cooperated; that is, the fight against terrorism, our efforts to support peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and, obviously, the situation in Iraq as a new Iraqi government prepares to assume sovereignty for that nation.
QUESTION: Did you have any reaction at all to the first round of the Serbian presidential election?
MR. BOUCHER: Just to say that it went peacefully. And we won't have much more to say until they have their runoff.
QUESTION: And can you read out the Armenia meeting today with the Secretary?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary met this morning with the Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian. They discussed progress towards the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The next round of meetings between the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia will take place on June 21st.
They also discussed the possibilities for improving relations between Turkey and Armenia, Armenia's prospects -- and Armenia's prospects for receiving funds under the Millennium Challenge Account. The two, the Secretary and the Foreign Minister, last met in Tbilisi, Georgia, in January, at the inauguration of Georgian President Saakashvili.
We also understand that Foreign Minister Oskanian, in his meeting today with Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Beth Jones, is to go into some of these issues in more detail.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:45 p.m.)
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