State Department Noon Briefing, July 23, 2003
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
WEDNESDAY, JULY 23, 2003
12:50 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I'll be glad to take your questions. Mr. Schweid.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Blair's travels in Asia have given rise to reports that talks on North Korea may be imminent. It isn't really be written in a hard way, but there are suggestions that something is brewing -- the statements, the ground he's covered, his consultations. Can you address that, possibly? Is something about to break on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if I could predict that something is about to break on it. Certainly, we have been working very hard on the issue. We have expressed our willingness to engage in a diplomatic course to try to resolve the issue. We have expressed our willingness to engage in multilateral talks. We have expressed our strong desire to see those talks expanded to five parties, if not more. And we have made that clear in our discussions with the Chinese, who are trying -- who themselves are working very hard to get the talks restarted.
So Prime Minister Blair has been in Asia. He has met with a number of the parties that are involved in this situation, expressing his own very strong interest in seeing this situation resolved like we want it to be, in a way that results in the verifiable and irreversible end to North Korea's nuclear programs.
We certainly hope that all this effort on our part, on the Chinese part, on the part of the British and others, will, in fact, lead to multilateral talks that can result in a denuclearized peninsula. And we'll have to see how the North Koreans react.
QUESTION: Same subject. We had a conversation with Foreign Minister Li today, who said -- who gave the impression, should I say, that China really wanted -- thought that it was best to resume the talks on the Beijing format and didn't seem particularly urgent, pressed on expanding them. How do you feel about that?
MR. BOUCHER: We feel it's important to expand them. And I think if I read the same wire story in the wire services you did, I think Minister Li himself talked about its possibility of expanding to five, six, seven and eight, whatever, said he understood that.
But I also know he said he wanted to see talks recommence as soon as possible on the Beijing format, so the Chinese are working. They're working hard with us. They're working with the North Koreans as well, and we'll see if they can bring together renewed multilateral talks.
QUESTION: Well, perhaps, I can try it another way, then. How important is it that you have a prior commitment that the talks will expand before you resume talks on the Beijing format?
MR. BOUCHER: It's important to us that the talks be productive. It's important to us that the talks be serious. It's important to us that the talks have a prospect of leading to an outcome that everybody wants, which is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
That's what's important to us, and that's why we have strongly pressed for the inclusion of others who can contribute to that goal, who can make a significant contribution like the Japanese and South Koreans, as well as possibly others who do have something to contribute.
So what we're trying to do is get this, not just to talk, but to get the talks started in a way that will lead to something. And the more of the important players who participate, the more likely it is we can get somewhere.
QUESTION: Same subject, more on the same subject?
MR. BOUCHER: There are others as well.
QUESTION: It's just that if the North Koreans don't want to talk with these countries, right now any, and if -- don't you think it would be more productive to talk to them than to not talk to them?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's see. You're saying "if." Let's see if the Chinese can bring this together in some manner, but in a way that results in multilateral talks and includes these other countries. We think the logic is strong, not only from our point of view but also from the North Korean point of view.
If you look back at the history of what North Korea is losing out on, if you look back at the history of what's happened in the last year or so since North Korea has gone -- or since we've been talking about this, since we've known that North Korea was headed down this path, you will see that they have really lost out on a lot of benefits from Japan and South Korea, as well as the rest of the international community.
So it's in North Korea's interest to get those benefits back. It's in North Korea's interest to have them there. So we would hope they would understand that logic. We would hope they would listen to the Chinese and others and agree to multilateral talks that include all the players who can help them make a difference.
MR. BOUCHER: George.
QUESTION: Over that same period, it seems to me they probably have made a lot of progress in their development of nuclear weapons over this nine-month period. Won't we be at a crisis stage in this issue at some point in the not too distant future?
MR. BOUCHER: The point of North Korea's continuing its developments in the nuclear area, I think, is that they have continued these developments almost whatever was going on in the world.
I mean, as you know, the history of this is they've been cheating on this relationship right from the start, even during the honeymoon period that they were developing the highly enriched uranium facility to try to process and enrich uranium using other methods -- even after they capped Yongbyon, even after they were signing agreements with everybody.
So the fact that they have continued to pursue this path even when we had talks in Beijing in April does not bode well, but it also means that you can't blame their pursuing this path on the lack of talks. The fact is they're doing this and they're responsible for it. The point of talks is to say -- make clear that they are responsible for this and that they need to change the behavior.
QUESTION: There are also reports from diplomatic sources in East Asia that the North Koreans are thinking of declaring themselves a nuclear power, which I assume is another way of saying withdrawal from the NPT. Have you heard this through any of your contacts with the parties?
MR. BOUCHER: I've just seen press reports on that. I don't -- it's purely speculative at this point. Withdrawal from the NPT is something they declared already. So I don't know what the speculation is actually supposed to mean, so it's -- no, I don't have anything concrete on that. I have not seen anything concrete internally or externally.
QUESTION: New subject, on Liberia?
MR. BOUCHER: We've got one more on this.
QUESTION: The Washington Times -- very interesting interview --
MR. BOUCHER: You want --
MR. BOUCHER: He needs to quote the Washington Times, so if you would pause for a moment. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Anyway, it was very good story, and he, Mr. Secretary, said something about the nuclear facility in North Korea and he talked about the Pyongyang facility. I have no idea what this Pyongyang facility means. Do you have any idea? It's a kind of new information?
MR. BOUCHER: He said Yongbyon. I was at the interview. We maybe got the transcript wrong, one of us. I'll have to double-check. I remember him distinctly saying Yongbyon.
QUESTION: So this is not a separate facility?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll correct the transcript.
QUESTION: Okay. Also, one more question regarding this transcript. He is talking about the highly enriched uranium facility and he said -- sounds like he said he detected the facility. That means United States found the final location of such facilities? If my recollection is correct, these are still mystery. We can't locate the facility, where it is.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't remember if he actually said -- referred to the location of that facility. I'd have to look that one up as well. Let me double-check on that. We certainly know that they were engaged in a program to enrich uranium using these other methods to produce HEU at some kind of facility. Whether we actually identified the location of the facility or not, I'd have to check.
All right, change of subject here. Nicholas.
QUESTION: Yes, there has been a decision now to send Nigerian troops to Liberia. And yesterday the Secretary said that today he will have a better idea after the meeting in Senegal. So where does that lead to now, the decision to send 1,300 Nigerian troops?
MR. BOUCHER: This is still something that we're working very actively within the administration, as well as with the West Africans. As you note, there was a meeting yesterday in Dakar, Senegal, where the West Africans and representatives of the United States and others, including people from the State Department and the Defense Department.
The West Africans will have another meeting tomorrow in Freetown, Sierra Leone, with the commander of the ECOWAS forces, the Nigerian who is going to command the vanguard of the ECOWAS forces, which will be two Nigerian battalions. The United States will be there. The UN will be there as well, which is important for coordination, in terms of what's going on in West Africa. So there will be a military meeting tomorrow.
Diplomatically, we have continued to press directly with the rebels the need for them to immediately halt the fighting. We have said yesterday that the leader of the rebel group, Mr. Sekou Conneh, needs to immediately halt the offensive. Things are somewhat quieter in Monrovia today. There are small arms fire and the mortars are fairly distant, but we have continued to press directly with him the need for him to stop the offensive and to return to a ceasefire.
There is some kind of ceasefire, more or less agreed, not clear if it's being completely implemented at this point. So we're working with the West Africans. We're pressuring the parties to stop the fighting. We have reminded neighboring countries not to allow supplies and support to go in, and we're working, I think very actively, with the Africans on the planning for their deployment and for how we can support them.
QUESTION: Effectively, you're saying, aren't you, that it will require more than one African country contributing peacekeeping forces before the U.S. is prepared to find a role in the operation?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Well, the decision on the U.S. peacekeepers was contingent on the West Africans making a move. Now, Nigeria has made a move.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, the vanguard of the West African forces, as they're calling it, is two Nigerian battalions.
MR. BOUCHER: Nigerian. So we are meeting with them tomorrow in Sierra Leone --
MR. BOUCHER: -- as well as with the other ECOWAS commanders and the UN, to get together how we can support the ECOWAS deployment, meaning the vanguard and the rest of it. And we'll be talking to them tomorrow about what we might do to support their efforts.
QUESTION: Richard, the Secretary also has talked about identifying what that West African force might need from the United States, in terms of equipment and other things. Anything on this today?
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing particular on this today. But, yes, that's part of the discussion we had in Dakar. I'm sure that will be part of the discussion tomorrow.
QUESTION: Richard, I may have missed this. This could have come out in the last several weeks. But when you said the U.S. is speaking directly to the rebel leader, who is it that's sitting down with him?
MR. BOUCHER: We talk to them a number of ways. Our ambassador in Guinea, people at our Embassy in Conakry, Guinea, have a direct contract with the group, including the leader when he is there. There have been phone calls occasionally from Assistant Secretary Kansteiner to members of various parties that are fighting in Liberia, and as well as we have direct contact at Accra, where the talks are still going on, and we've continued to encourage those discussions to move from the preliminary phase, the ceasefire that they agreed to, to the comprehensive settlement that they agreed to put together. So yes, there are contacts with all these groups, the government as well as the rebel groups, in various ways at various places.
QUESTION: Are you reading into this, if I could catch an earlier point, are you reading into the quiet that has descended onto Monrovia today to suggest that perhaps there's been some progress that's been made in these talks?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't jump to that conclusion. There are often a variety of reasons why people stop fighting; sometimes it's running out of ammunition, sometimes it's military, sometimes it's because they do heed the admonitions of diplomats. I wouldn't be able to say at this point.
QUESTION: Just to be clear, so to follow up on Barry's question, now that the Nigerians are going in, the U.S. will consider that as ECOWAS making the first move that you've been asking, making the deployment that you've been waiting for?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. They are very much part of the ECOWAS process and we are looking at how we support that whole process, including this.
QUESTION: So, Richard, won't tomorrow's meeting in Sierra Leone -- in Freetown lead to --
MR. BOUCHER: Why don't we just ask outright: "So the President's going to decide tomorrow on U.S. troops, right?" And the answer is "I don't know". Not necessarily. There are things, as this process unfolds, the President will decide at the appropriate time exactly how the U.S. will support this, whether it's equipment, supplies, logistics, communication or troops.
QUESTION: So that meeting is important?
MR. BOUCHER: It's important that the West Africans are moving forward to try to help Liberia. It's important that they have narrowed down their military plan to the extent that they can have a specific meeting on a specific set of troops that are ready to go in. It's important that we, the United Nations and others are there to coordinate with them and help support them. And that's an important part of the process of stabilizing the situation.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the situation at the embassy? Are people still -- how many people are there, do you know? Are people allowed to come and go as they choose or are they pretty much holed down in the embassy? And are there any more discussions about a possible evacuation of the people in the embassy, or moving them at least?
MR. BOUCHER: The embassy is staffed by a very small number of people. We don't give out the exact number for security reasons, but there have been successive departures, authorized and ordered departures that have reduced them to a small number of people who are needed there to handle security, administration, but also the diplomacy of the situation to keep working the situation, try to get the ceasefire to hold, try to keep the parties on track. We have in the last two days augmented the security force there with some additional Marines sent down by European Command, and so that's been augmented by the Marines that have arrived, I think, over the last two or three days. So they have beefed up security at the embassy compound.
As you know, we own other properties, including the -- what's it called? The Greystone compound down the road, which have been given over to -- where we've allowed displaced people and refugees to go to try to find some shelter and some safety. It hasn't been perfect. There have been mortars in those areas as well. But some of the other embassy properties have been let open for people to come into and try to find some safety.
QUESTION: What about an evacuation? Have there been any more discussions?
MR. BOUCHER: It's always one of the issues. It's something we keep in mind. We always have contingency plans and we continue to review that situation to see if it's necessary. But we've made a considerable effort to keep our people there, to keep them safe there, to deploy additional forces to keep them safe there and -- because we think they're needed there for the diplomacy, we think they're needed there to try to bring peace to the situation, we think they're needed there on the ground to work the humanitarian issues and support any -- whatever steps we decide to take to support the West African deployments.
QUESTION: In Iran, the Iranian authorities acknowledged today that they are holding senior members of the al-Qaida network and say that they expected to deport with or to extradite some of them. Do you have any confirmation on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any new news on that. We have said all along we believe that there were senior members of al-Qaida that were operating from Iran. We believe that there were people who had taken refuge in Iran. We even said that some of the people in Iran were in contact or involved in some way with the attacks in Saudi Arabia in May. So it comes as no surprise to us that these people are saying that the Iranian Government is now quoted as saying they are there.
What is important is action, and we have made clear all along that the Iranian Government needs to deport these people either to jurisdictions where they are wanted for crimes or to their home countries. We have made clear the Iranian Government needs to cooperate with the Saudi investigation of the May attacks, and we would expect to see that kind of action from the Government of Iran with regard to any al-Qaida people who might be present there.
QUESTION: Have you had any contact with the Iranian Foreign Minister, either direct or --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'd have to check and see if there have been any messages passed on this. We have certainly, over this particular statement, I doubt it since it's just happened. On the general issue of al-Qaida, yes, certainly we've had numerous contacts of various kinds in the past.
QUESTION: Does the State Department believe that Iran is harboring these al-Qaida operatives? As you know, there is a difference between harboring and just having them in custody, as they say that they have.
MR. BOUCHER: I think I'm not quite in a position to define it, whether the question of exactly what their status is in Iran is something for the Iranians to account for. As far as I know, they've made references like this before. They've said things on one side or another. At some points, they said there's nobody here. At other points, they said there are people here, we have them in custody. At other points, they've said there are people here, we have some of them in custody. So it's not always clear what the status is based on what they say. What is important is that they not be allowed to operate in any way there and, in fact, that they be expelled to the appropriate jurisdictions.
QUESTION: Another subject. Mr. Abbas is coming in tonight. The Israeli Foreign Minister is here today, Mr. Sharon Sunday night. The Palestinian information office out there was floating, which you've heard many times before -- we have -- particularly from reporters, that Abbas needs something serious from the Israelis to maintain his standing, his popularity.
Is that a theorem that the Bush Administration subscribes to, that Israel has to make a very big gesture now for the sake of keeping this Prime Minister in business?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the point that we have made is that both sides have obligations, both sides have responsibility. And as we start these meetings today with the Israeli Foreign Minister, we'll talk about a number of issues. But in terms of the roadmap, in terms of the way forward, we'll be talking to both sides about their obligations and responsibilities. Prime Minister Abbas is meeting with the President on Friday. Prime Minister Sharon will meet next Tuesday.
So, over the next few days, we'll have a chance to discuss here in Washington, as we discuss on the ground, how to make further progress. We're urging the Palestinian side to carry through on its commitments, to take steps to end terror and violence. We're discussing with the Israeli side their commitments on various things like the elimination of unauthorized outposts, as well as all the other obligations that both parties have under the roadmap to move forward.
The prisoner issue is one we have been discussing with both sides since Aqaba, and so we're also looking for movement on that. We're working with both of them to meet their obligations and commitments, to carry through on their pledges and to continue the forward movement that we have seen in recent weeks.
QUESTION: In the extensive, very long and very good interview that The Washington Times had with the Secretary today, he was, you know, upbeat on the situation and he specifically spoke of Israel -- I don't want to use the word "forthcoming," but he put in a positive way what Israel has done on these outposts and what Israel has done so far as releasing prisoners.
I'm not saying he has to cover everything in one interview, but there was no -- there was no suggestion there, even Israelis, opponents of the government, have called it a charade that only a few outposts have been broken up. And, of course, the Palestinians are saying you've got to release many more prisoners.
So is Israel keeping pace pretty much with its commitment, or would you like -- even though the Secretary didn't say it, is it the feeling in the administration that Israel should do more about those outposts and more about the prisoners?
MR. BOUCHER: I think if you look at -- if I remember the interview correctly -- read that one, you read -- he did an interview this morning with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, which when their -- you know, when they have had a chance to air it, we'll also release that transcript.
MR. BOUCHER: The point, I think, is that we're pleased that there have been things happening already. We're pleased that the Palestinians have taken security responsibility in Gaza and Bethlehem. We're pleased that the government of Prime Minister Abbas has moved forward on a number of fronts. We're pleased that the Israelis have been able to pull out of some of these areas. We're pleased that there has been some action against outposts. So we have indeed created some steps, created some concrete momentum, and really done some things for both sides, done some things that make Palestinian life a bit easier in some areas, done some things that make Israelis a little safer, as they go about their daily business.
And that's good, but it doesn't stop there. Both parties continue to have obligations. There are more things that people need to do. We don't want to fall backwards. We want to keep moving forward and there are further steps in the roadmap that the parties have to take with regard to security, with regard to ending violence, particularly on the Palestinian side, with regard to things like settlements on the Israeli side, with regard to taking more security responsibility, to cooperate together.
And then there are other issues -- prisoners is not in the roadmap, but we know it's important to both sides -- that can also make life better for people that are there. So we'll continue to work these issues. Even through we have seen a lot of progress, seen a certain sense of momentum established since Aqaba, since Sharm el-Sheikh, it's important to keep moving, and to keep moving with concrete steps that can make a difference for Israelis, make a difference for Palestinians in their lives.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, Richard. Technically, you're correct that prisoners are not in the roadmap. But aren't they in Tenet -- or is it Mitchell -- and isn't Tenet incorporated in the roadmap?
MR. BOUCHER: Without doing the theology on this one, because I have forgotten, I no longer recall the sacred text on this. But I would say that we know prisoners is an important issue to both sides. It was discussed -- the President discussed it with Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Abbas at -- in Aqaba, and we have continued to follow up with both parties on that. So it is something that we look forward to continued progress on, and we'll continue to work with the parties.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: You said yesterday you were having discussions with the Australians regarding some other detainees at Guantanamo. Any sort of thing you can add to what the outcome of these discussions were at this point?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a lot of detail on those discussions at this point because they are interagency. They are principally with the Pentagon, with Pentagon lawyers. Same with the British discussions. The British Attorney General was here on Monday. We've had similar discussions with the Australians. I think the understandings that have been reached with the British apply to those cases. We're all talking separately about the Australian cases, but I think there is also the understanding we won't move forward on the Australian cases until -- until we have finished our discussions and resolved some of these legal issues with the Australians.
QUESTION: Richard, on this --
MR. BOUCHER: On that subject?
QUESTION: Yes. Is it your understanding that these assurances apply to all detainees at Guantanamo Bay? And, if not, how do you explain the fact that allied countries, which happen to be white and Anglo Saxons, seem to be getting special treatment on this?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'd point out the countries are white and Anglo Saxon. The countries are diverse and formed of many people of many races, including British people, who might be detained in Guantanamo. I am not quite sure that those are indeed white and Anglo Saxon detainees, but they are British. So I don't think the implication of some racial divide here is appropriate.
Second of all, these cases are discussed on a specific case-by-case basis. I think the Pentagon will describe to you the kind of assurances we've been able to make in these particular cases and we are discussing other particular cases with other governments.
QUESTION: Well, can I just follow up, then? What's the logic behind discussing these on a case-by-case basis and why can't you establish general principles for dealing with all these people?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there have been general principles -- general principles of military justice, general principles of due process that do apply -- and the Pentagon has talked about those. In terms of the disposition of an individual case, that needs to be done on an individual basis. You can't have collective justice.
QUESTION: Yes, my name is Nayyir Zaliyah. I represent The Daily Jang in Pakistan.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: And as we all know that last month when President Musharraf was here, President Bush announced a $3 billion aid package. And it is facing some hurdles in the Congress. Something has been passed in the House attaching three conditionalities and then something is afoot in the Senate. And on Monday, the Government of Pakistan reacted to these efforts to attach strings. The spokesman said that they are surprised and they regret these efforts.
So what efforts the administration that was in Islamabad?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, in Islamabad? Okay.
QUESTION: Yes. No, no. Not here. I misspoke.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, sorry. I thought we were talking about Mr. Bush.
QUESTION: No. I don't expect U.S. Government to be so forthcoming here.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I won't -- continue your question and I promise not to disappoint you.
QUESTION: That one was (inaudible). And I wouldn't be asking the questions if that statement had been made.
MR. BOUCHER: All right.
QUESTION: What efforts the administration is making, if any, to ensure the passage of this aid package without conditionalities?
MR. BOUCHER: The simple answer is, I don't have that information. I'm going to have to check for you. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. Will you kindly -- yes.
MR. BOUCHER: Certainly we have supported the administration's request, we have supported the overall package. Some of this legislation is currently being debated, I think, today on the Hill. It's in front of the House today, if I'm correct, and so we're working this actively to try to ensure passage of the administration's request.
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