State Department Briefing, October 28, 2003
October 28, 2003
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I know we've listened attentively to all the briefings by State Department officials, by the President, himself. But if you have any other questions left, I'd be glad to take them and try to answer them for you.
QUESTION: Well, this is the kind of question that is awkward to put the spokesman for the State Department on the spot.
But the President of the United States has just said that Iran and Syria are working with the United States to keep foreign fighters out of Iraq. I didn't have the impression that you're getting a lot of help from Iran and Syria. I can't imagine you would be of cross purposes. But could you elaborate on it a bit and give us some examples of how Syria is helping the U.S.?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, I looked up the quote from the President. And that's not --
QUESTION: I tried to check again.
MR. BOUCHER: -- that's not what he said. He said, we're working closely to make sure they understand or to make -- to keep them from letting people across.
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have, in some ways, discussed this issue yesterday and other days, that we have made our views very, very clear, in our public statements, through third parties, and, in the case of Syria, through direct diplomatic contact to neighbors, particularly, Iran and Syria, about the need to prevent people from coming in from neighboring countries, and that that has been an issue that we have raised repeatedly.
At times, we have seen a little bit of action. But, frankly, we've also made clear that both, in the case of Syria and of Iran, they need to do more. And that remains our view. So, yes, we are indeed making our views known to these countries, and expecting them to work to keep people from coming into Iraq.
QUESTION: That's what working with them means, admonishing them not to --
MR. BOUCHER: If you want an explanation of the White House -- of the President's exact words, you'd have to go to the White House.
QUESTION: No, but your words --
MR. BOUCHER: I think what the President -- you know, what I read the President said is consistent with what we've been describing here over a number of days, and those are the facts.
QUESTION: I read it as a positive statement, as if you're getting cooperation from them. And I think your impression of what this effort is, is to admonish them, and to point out to them that we really don't want -- we want your help to keep foreign fighters from getting into Iraq. If that's working closely with them, okay.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Well, I'd look at what the President said, and I think you all know what the facts are here.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Richard, there have been a succession of reports about oil swap arrangements between Iraq and Iran, and the possible export of Iraqi crude through Iran. And there's some indication that the CPA is sympathetic and supportive of these arrangements. Is there an Administration position on the -- on these arrangements?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't believe there is any arrangement at this point with Iran. There are, as you know, electricity supplies from some neighboring countries. There's a power plant in Turkey that's begun providing a billion kilowatts of power to Iraq a month, in exchange for shipments of Iraqi oil. There's no such arrangement with Iran at this point.
As far as whether the Iraqi government or Governing Council or the Coalition Authority are considering that kind of thing or would consider that kind of thing, I think you need to ask them.
QUESTION: But you have -- have you --
MR. BOUCHER: I am not --
QUESTION: Have you prepared -- I mean, is there --
MR. BOUCHER: I am told there is no such arrangement, no such swap arrangement with Iran at present. And as you know, we have a lot of concerns about Iranian behavior that would lead us to be concerned. There would be issues that would have to be examined with regard to any such arrangement with Iran.
QUESTION: So you would be concerned about such arrangements?
MR. BOUCHER: There are issues that would have to be examined with regard to such an arrangement with Iran. At present, there is no such arrangement.
QUESTION: What about with Syria?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, check with the coalition. There may be some limited purchases from Syria at this point.
QUESTION: Richard --
QUESTION: You have no problems with those, just Iran?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, it largely is a question for the coalition authorities and the Iraqi Governing Council to answer.
QUESTION: This may have been addressed up on the Hill by Deputy Secretary Armitage, but since I was watching the Secretary give his fine, inspirational speech, I may have missed it, if he did say it.
Do you have any reaction to the Iranian rejection of your quite categoric demand yesterday, yours and the Secretary's, that they turn over these al-Qaida who they have in custody?
MR. BOUCHER: You know, to perpetuate the reaction to the statement that we reacted to, I don't know it will do us much good. The point is that this remains an issue with Iran, the issue of the al-Qaida people that they say they've had in detention, but they haven't apparently provided them. I think what I read in the story was not just their reaction to our reaction to their statement.
But, in fact, they were confirming that they had people in custody and they didn't intend to provide information or turn them over to third parties who might be investigating crimes that these al-Qaida leaders might have been involved in, so the point remains. It's one we have made repeatedly.
We remain deeply concerned about these kind of objectionable and damaging policies that Iran has pursued with regard to supporting terrorism, as well as some of the other areas, and we remain particularly concerned by the presence of senior al-Qaida figures in Iran.
QUESTION: May I follow up on that?
QUESTION: Do you know --
QUESTION: About 20 hours ago, the Secretary was asked -- so it's not too long ago -- about this list. And he said we're seeking clarification, suggesting that, you know, we want to see who's on it and who should be on it, and who may be their senior people they're not putting on it.
Can you bring us up to date further on it? Is there a better understanding now of who Iraq -- excuse me -- who Iran admits to having?
MR. BOUCHER: No, that's an area that still requires clarification, and, obviously, we'll look at the information that Iran has provided and see what we can get out of that. But in the wire stories we were talking about, there appears to be Iranians now confirming that there are others that are not on this list that they do have in custody, the kind of senior al-Qaida figures that we've talked about for some time.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Teri.
QUESTION: On Armitage and Iran. Secretary Armitage also said that the U.S. should not have been signing a ceasefire with the MEK. Is it the State Department's understanding that there actually was a ceasefire signed with the MEK in the field? He said -- he said his understanding was that this was done by a soldier tactically, who had an immediate problem, an immediate concern.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: Is that just -- not careful language?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd have to check with him whether that was an issue, a statement in the question or something we know ourselves. But, again, military action in the field like that, the military might be able to provide more information than I could.
QUESTION: Right, and the second on that. He said that it was his understanding that the MEK members have not been disarmed of their sidearms. Is that something -- I mean, the State Department has had some public concerns about this --
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, I -- my personal view on this is that we should believe whatever the Deputy Secretary says. I'm not in a position to provide that information or supplement it.
QUESTION: Well, are these still questions that the State Department are pressing the Pentagon for answers?
MR. BOUCHER: These are obviously still questions that we're interested in and come up in discussion with other agencies, yeah.
QUESTION: There are some reports in Arab press about Algerian fundamentalists offering al-Qaida members bases and logistic help to regroup and train in the Sahara region, specifically the region that borders Mali, Niger, and Mauritania. Are you aware of that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particular information on that, no.
QUESTION: Richard, going back to Iran and --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and Deputy Secretary Armitage. He also said that you were prepared to resume your contacts with Iran and a certain -- if you thought it was in your interest, regardless of this dispute over al-Qaida members, and so on. Do you think it might be useful, in fact, to resume those contacts to sort out this -- this question of al-Qaida members in Iran and the lists and extradition, and so on?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'll stick with what the Deputy Secretary said. It was remarkably similar to what I said to you yesterday when we got the same kind of question, that we have had contacts on that subject in the past, and it might be useful at some point to have contacts on subjects like that if it should be in our interests in the future.
I did point out yesterday, and I think the Deputy Secretary probably mentioned this on the Hill, as well, that we're coming up on a deadline of October 31st, when the International Atomic Energy Agency asked Iran to comply with certain terms and conditions regarding their nuclear program. And while they have made promises in that direction, and positive statements in that direction, it's important that they -- that they do that, and that, in terms of proximity, the proximate task is to comply with the IAEA requirements.
QUESTION: Richard, yesterday after you said that, during the briefing, that security in Iraq was -- agencies working in Iraq had to make their own choices about security. The Secretary came out and gave a somewhat, well, somewhat different answer, saying that you had -- maybe not different, but he -- he said that you did hope that the ICRC and other groups like that would not -- would find it appropriate to stay in Iraq and not to withdraw, because if they did withdraw, then that would be, you know, that would be a victory for the terrorists.
I'm wondering if there have been any what I might -- repeat my question from yesterday, if there have been any contacts with the ICRC or others about this?
MR. BOUCHER: Yesterday afternoon -- the evening, almost, I think -- the Secretary did talk to Secretary General Kofi Annan about a number of things, including this sort of issue of humanitarian agencies that work in Iraq and the losses that were suffered yesterday, including the losses by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
This morning the Secretary called Mr. Kellenberger, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, talked to him about it. And as you say, the Secretary said he understood the need to protect employees and take into account the security situation, but also said we would encourage people to stay there and do the important work that they have been doing.
QUESTION: That was what the, the substance --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- or the basic idea of what his conversation with the -- with Kellenberger was?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: And do you have any response from --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, at this point, they are considering what they -- how they're going to operate in Iraq. I'll put it that way. It'll be up for them to describe what they decide to do.
QUESTION: Okay, did the --
QUESTION: Well, there's two parts to this. One would be, your advice to them is to consult with, you know, military and others there on how to protect yourself better, and also secondly -- well, firstly, I guess -- please stay, you're doing important work.
Have they responded -- have they said -- did he say something, the Secretary, about, "Yes, we're going to -- we're going to have some -- we're going to have a better look, another look at security and maybe it'll make it possible for us to stay," or was he noncommittal on that?
MR. BOUCHER: As I mentioned just a moment ago to your colleague, they are looking at this. The ICRC is looking at this. They will make their decisions and I'm sure they'll tell you all what they intend to do.
QUESTION: What I was asking is whether they're looking at security arrangements, because I thought you were saying they are looking on -- at whether they will stay. Are they looking at both?
MR. BOUCHER: The question of whether they would stay, as you correctly point out, breaks down into several sub-questions.
MR. BOUCHER: Do they want to be there? I think it's safe to say, "Yes, they want to be there." We want to see humanitarian --
MR. BOUCHER: -- nongovernmental organizations be able to operate in Iraq. We think they provide a very important service to the Iraqi people and a lot of help to the Iraqi people. I think those organizations, based on statements I've seen, the conversations we have with them, they very much want to be there as well. There's no question that they think their work is important and we do, too.
The second question is what about the security arrangements.
MR. BOUCHER: That requires a fairly detailed analysis for each organization of what they're doing and how they can operate, how they can do their work in a safe and secure environment. So they are looking at these questions, I'm sure, in the Red Cross, and they'll have to make their decisions accordingly.
QUESTION: Now when you refer to the -- I'm sorry, Matt. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I'm just trying to -- the Secretary, yesterday, talked about how you would look at ways in which to perhaps enhance the security of these organizations not with direct protection because they are reluctant to have -- to be associated with the coalition, per se. But was this explored at all in the conversation with Mr. Kellenberger, what --
MR. BOUCHER: No, they didn't --
QUESTION: They didn't get into the specifics?
MR. BOUCHER: They didn't discuss any kind of specific security arrangements. Obviously, we have made clear -- I'm trying to remember if the Secretary did it specifically in the conversation, but I -- I'd say more generally, let me just put it that way, we have made clear, the Secretary has made clear that we do intend to do everything we can to provide as secure an environment as possible in Iraq.
There are still dangers there, but we do -- we're taking every day, more and more steps to provide a secure environment through coalition forces, through training and working with the Iraqi police, as well as through some of the other factors the Secretary has mentioned, like the political process, the reconstruction process, which will provide more stability, generally, for Iraq.
So we are working hard to create an environment where all these organizations can operate in safety.
QUESTION: May I go back to the conversation with Annan?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: After all, it's the UN that scaled back before the Red Cross even began to talk about it. Did he, the Secretary, ask Annan to reverse that, to go back in force?
In other words, you talked about relief organizations, well, the UN itself hustled out of Iraq when the headquarters were hit, and I wondered how the Secretary feels about that. Should they go back?
MR. BOUCHER: The UN Resolution 1511 encourages the United Nations to be very involved in Iraq, as circumstances permit, meaning, that we and other members of the Security Council have encouraged the Secretary General to be as involved as possible, given the circumstances. And he will -- as we move forward, I'm sure the UN will find how they can expand their role and move forward in safety for their employees.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. BOUCHER: One more Iraq.
QUESTION: This weekend, this Mr. Bremer, he speak at the ABC this week. His words about the Turkish soldiers is a very strong reaction from the Turkey. And the Turkish foreign minister said that U.S. asked to Turkey for the Turkish forces, and all of the sudden, they throw the ball to Iraqi Council, and which they appointed.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sorry, are you quoting Bremer?
QUESTION: No, I'm quoting for the Turkish foreign minister. And Turkey said, after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iraq, then after we can have a dialogue with the Iraqi Council. Well, what's your reaction? Because you are the authority, they said that, in the Iraq.
MR. BOUCHER: I do believe that Turkish Government has met with Iraqi -- members of the Iraqi Governing Council; that they have met with the foreign minister appointed by the Iraqi Governing Council. We do think it's important for them to have a dialogue with the Iraqis. There are many issues involved, not just deployment of Turkish troops, but the whole question of relationships with their neighbors; that it's important for Iraq to explore in this fashion through having their own direct contacts.
QUESTION: How do you react for Mr. Bremer's description the Turkish forces, as colonial, Ottoman colonial forces?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see the Bremer appearance. I'm not going to try to quote him or comment on it.
MR. BOUCHER: Gene.
Oh, you were going to change the subject first, that's right.
MR. BOUCHER: Iraq?
QUESTION: Yeah. I heard a rumor that the Department is considering a further forgiveness conference, since the $200 billion owed by Iraq is becoming a real drag on investment, and this is particularly for Russia, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Is there any such rumor --
MR. BOUCHER: There are mechanisms to look at debt restructuring, and we've discussed this several times. Debt restructuring normally ends up going to the Paris Club and a discussion in the Paris Club. And so, that whole question of debt restructuring is certainly being looked at by all the nations concerned and could end up in that forum.
The question of Iraq's outstanding debt is one that arises and rises, particularly now, after we've secured the funding for Iraq's reconstruction, at least identified where most of it will come from.
QUESTION: Is there any --
MR. BOUCHER: The question of debt restructuring does pop out high on the agenda, so it's being looked at now. We're in touch with other governments. As you know, the G7 has already got a moratorium on Iraqi debt repayment. So, there's a bit of time to work with. But we think it's important to work this problem, and we will be working it with other governments involved.
QUESTION: But no Paris Conference is being planned at this point?
MR. BOUCHER: Not at this point, but the Paris Club is where these things get done, so it could end up there eventually.
QUESTION: One follow-up on a little different subject but very close, and that is, what has -- what can you tell us about the wall at this point, because --
MR. BOUCHER: That sounds like kind of a change of subject, unless the wall goes all the way to Iraq now. (Laughter.) I don't think so, no.
Jonathan, you were going to change.
QUESTION: Western Sahara. Have you -- do you have any reason to believe that any breakthrough is imminent in the negotiations, and perhaps you could brief us on Secretary Burns' visit to North Africa, which seems to have touched on the subject?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't brief you on the Burns trip yet. I don't think he's quite back yet, so I haven't had a chance to get a readout from him. Our basic view, I think, remains the same, that we support the efforts of the Secretary General and his personal envoy, Mr. James Baker, and their peace plan for self-determination for the people of the Western Sahara.
We believe the Baker plan provides a fair basis on which to move forward towards resolving this dispute, and we've urged the parties in neighboring states to seize the opportunity presented by the plan, and cooperate closely and actively with the Secretary General and his personal envoy to move the process forward. So, that's where we stand going into these meetings --
QUESTION: But that's where you stood several years ago.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, remarkable consistency. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Has anything changed in the last few days you're aware of?
MR. BOUCHER: That's the question of what happened in the Burns trip, and I don't have any -- I don't have any readout for you.
QUESTION: Speaking of peace processes, was there -- is there any concern, on your part, that the Sudanese parties may be slipping back from the commitment that they made to the Secretary? I'm just curious as to why this piece in the L.A. Times today -- was it -- was it intended to inform the American people, or was it -- or are you trying to push them to keep them to stay on their commitment?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it was -- it was intended to inform the American people, first of all, who may have missed some of the fine reporting that the people traveling with us on the trip did on the subject. But, yeah, it was intended to inform the American people, and also, I think, to get a little more broader circulation in the world, since there are tie-ins to newspapers around the world.
QUESTION: Right. But you don't have a specific -- you don't have any specific reason to suggest that there is --
MR. BOUCHER: No, it was not out of fear. It was out of a sense of accomplishment.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Tammy.
QUESTION: Afghanistan. Over the weekend, there were two people who were referred to by some government officials yesterday as State Department security contractors, I believe, who were killed in an operation with Afghan forces along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Were they, in fact, State Department contractors, and do you have any details?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any details for you. I think the CIA will be making a statement on this subject.
QUESTION: If that's it, can I ask you if you've seen the Greek newspaper report about a Greek -- about State Department worried, at least, about Greece's capacity to handle the Olympics and respond to terrorism, should that awful thing happen? They're quoting from what they say is the report, but I wondered if their report is accurate, if the report, indeed, has been acquired by them.
MR. BOUCHER: I think there is a report like this just about every day in some Greek newspaper. So I'll tell you what we think about it, and the way we say it every time.
QUESTION: Not again.
MR. BOUCHER: The summary is that the Greeks, in our judgment, have the will and the resources to hold a secure and successful Olympics; we have every confidence that they will.
The Greek Government's planning and preparations for Olympic security are well underway. Greece is working with several countries, including the United States, to ensure the full safety of the Olympic Games. Almost a year in advance of the event, the Greeks are assessing their situation, identifying needs and devoting resources to achieving a secure and successful Olympics. Exercises to highlight any potential problems were undertaken with a view to solve all these issues by the day the games open, August 13th of next year.
The United States has offered expertise and resources of several of our agencies to Greece in order to ensure Olympic security. Ambassador Cofer Black, the U.S. Coordinator for Counterterrorism, visited Greece in September to discuss ways to enhance Olympic security. The United States is providing equipment, policy workshops and security training to that end. Our two governments frequently discuss Olympic security cooperation, including when the Secretary met with Foreign Minister Papandreou on September 17th.
QUESTION: Security is the overall subject, of course. But this -- in this occasion, the newspaper is focused on what it says is U.S. concern that the Greeks are capable of handling casualties that would result. So when you say there are various exercises, is that one of them?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there are various aspects of this that are being tested. I don't -- you'd have to check with the Greek Government which exercises they're holding at any given time. But our feeling is that this far in advance, one year in advance, is a good time for exercises to identify deficiencies or areas that need to be worked on, so that by the time we get to the games everything can be the way it should be.
QUESTION: Richard, what you just said there was strikingly similar, if not word for word, verbatim, from the answer that you gave to a similar report in The Washington Post about three weeks ago, or so. Would that be correct, word for word?
MR. BOUCHER: No, it was not word for word. Because, at that time, I said Ambassador Cofer Black was in Greece at that moment -- (laughter) -- working with them. And now, I said he has been to Greece in September, so it's been updated considerably.
QUESTION: But is that the only change that you're aware?
MR. BOUCHER: It's, as I told your colleague, these stories appear all the time. We've looked at this again and again and again, and we always come out where we are; that the preparations are well under way, we're working closely with them, we have every confidence that working in this fashion, we can get to a safe and secure Olympics.
QUESTION: In keeping with Matt's acute discovery, I wonder if I could refine the question, and ask if it's not possible here, could we be told later on if there is special attention or is there discern -- has the U.S. discerned the need for special attention to evacuating casualties because that seems to be the point this paper is on, on this occasion?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I -- I don't really think it's good for our part to stand here and focus on exercises or areas that are identified thousands of miles away. This is in the hands of the Greek Government and I'm sure they are focusing on any number of areas. But I don't see what purpose it would serve to try to single out this one today and another one tomorrow. There are a number of areas that they should be looking at, and, apparently, from this report, they probably are looking at.
QUESTION: Switching gears, Colombia. There's a report of a deal to release some terrorists, since there are several groupings of terrorists being held in Colombia -- hostages. Is there -- are there any Americans involved? Do you have any information on any deals to release any hostages?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me double check on that. I think I saw some press reports relating to hostages held by other groups, not the FARC, not the Americans who are held with the FARC. But let me check and see what I've got.
QUESTION: On Argentina and Cuba. Richard, since the Government of Argentina has established diplomatic relations with Cuba, they also forgive two-thirds of the debt of Cuba to Argentina. I wonder if you guys have any reaction, taking the fact that you are calling close friends, as Argentina used to be of you, in the case of Cuba, to pressure Fidel Castro, and they are doing the opposite?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't --
QUESTION: Argentina decides to --
MR. BOUCHER: Argentina has relations with Cuba. With people who have relations with Cuba, we always encourage them to pressure, to encourage more democracy, more openness, more freedom in Cuba. The fact that they've had some kind of debt arrangement doesn't necessarily change that.
QUESTION: But given the fact that before that decision, Argentina hasn't any relations, diplomatic relations with Cuba, and since they reestablished the first step to change the relation with Cuba was to forgive two-thirds of the -- what Cuba owes Argentina. So, it's a change of position.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if we've had any comment on it. I don't -- I'm not aware that we have, but I'll check.
QUESTION: Well, especially given the fact that you've been very concerned about Argentina's financial situation over the last however many months --
MR. BOUCHER: We have. We have been. We have continued to work with them to help them in their -- in their crisis.
QUESTION: So, is that something that they should be doing? Would that, you know, further deteriorate their own economy at a time that you're helping them?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't quite understand the relationship there between having diplomatic relations and having --
QUESTION: Well, the relationship being here you're trying to help Argentina with its own economy, and it's forgiving two-thirds of the debt of Cuba. I mean, isn't that money that you'd like to see them using --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know how much money we're talking about and whether there's real debt involved, real dollars involved, real hard currency involved or some nominal amount on paper and a private arrangement thing. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it's not very significant in economic terms.
QUESTION: Richard, turning to China, you're expecting their help with the talks with North Korea. And last week, I mentioned some possible humanitarian-type instances and violations. And they have arrested and detained a lawyer who's been working for a redeveloper and sentenced him to three years in jail, and saying that he's -- the lawyer, meaning, has disclosed State secrets to people abroad. Do you have any --
MR. BOUCHER: You'll have to give us the name later, and I'll check on the case and see if it's come to our attention.
QUESTION: On the wall, can we turn --
MR. BOUCHER: Ah, yes.
QUESTION: Yeah, two things. Sharon has continued the wall, and he's also now said eight more settlements that should have been eliminated are going to be given electricity instead. Is the United States doing anything with Sharon regarding house demolitions like the 2500 in the apartment house, some of whom, I understand, were American citizens who lost their homes in Gaza? And the wall is continuing and electricity is going to the settlements. Isn't this all a very negative factor for the United States and the Middle East, as a whole, in the peace process?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, first, remember the President addressed this an hour or so ago. And I think the President made clear that our position on settlements hasn't changed, and, indeed, our position on the way forward hasn't changed either; that it is important, remains vital, that the Palestinians form a government that can take control of the security situation, has the resources and the commitment to control the security situation.
At the same time, the President, I think, made clear again our opposition to settlement activity, and the need to move forward with both parties committed to the roadmap, both parties moving forward in ways that further that process and not in ways that would detract from it.
So I think those are views that we've made clear in public, but we've also made them clear in private in our discussions with these very specific aspects when it comes to talking to the Israelis about things going on out there.
QUESTION: Richard, these -- you've made clear your opposition to settlement activity, but providing electricity to these, like, what you've been calling illegal outposts, is in direct violation of the roadmap. I mean, do you consider this just part of general settlement activity, or is this something more in direct violation of what you're trying to do?
MR. BOUCHER: The -- I think what I said yesterday was that Prime Minister Sharon is committed to dismantling the outposts.
QUESTION: Well, he is obviously not, wouldn't you say?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, Prime Minister Sharon is committed to dismantling the outposts. That was a public commitment; that was a very clear commitment that he made. And we expect him to stick to that commitment, and that's the point that we have made in our contacts with the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Arafat is said to be asking Qureia to stay on; it's been a temporary lease, and he wants to extend it. Is that something the U.S. Government thinks is a good idea?
MR. BOUCHER: You can't really weigh one way or the other until you see what he does. The question is forming a government that is committed and has the resources to act against terror, to dismantle the groups that have been carrying out the terrorist activity. So our stance remains as before. It's vitally important that the Palestinians have a government, and have a government that can move forward on the roadmap, and have a government that has the capability, the control over the security services to carry out those tasks.
QUESTION: Did you get an answer to the question yesterday about the Syrian television program and whether you guys have done the same thing that you did somewhat unsuccessfully with the Egyptians last year?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, yes, I did. And, as I must say, there's good news and bad news.
QUESTION: Good news and bad news?
MR. BOUCHER: Our embassy in Damascus is monitoring Ramadan telecasts in Syria. We've been informed that Syrian channels are not and do not intend to broadcast this program called "Al-Shatat", the Diaspora, which is a Ramadan mini-series about the evolution of the creation of the state of Israel. The program is not listed on the published schedule for Syrian television channels. However, we understand that Hizbollah's domestic and satellite TV station, Al-Manar, is going to air the series starting tonight.
I'll make clear, once again, we're strongly opposed to any and all displays of anti-Semitism and view programming that includes scenes recognizing the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is an anti-Semitic forgery, we view those programs as unacceptable. Such programs do not contribute to the climate of mutual understanding and tolerance that the Middle East so desperately needs.
QUESTION: Well, I would assume your leverage with Hizbollah is somewhat limited.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, it is -- it is a matter of considerable discussion and unfortunately, has been a regular matter of discussion every year at this time --
MR. BOUCHER: -- with governments, and so we are in touch with governments in the region about this issue.
QUESTION: Right. But there's no, but there's no -- as I recall there was -- I mean, some poor soul at the embassy in Damascus got into a bit of trouble over accidentally meeting with someone from Hizbollah T -- I think it was Hizbollah Television. I mean, I --
MR. BOUCHER: I said we've been in touch with governments.
QUESTION: Right. I know. But is there any --
MR. BOUCHER: Relevant governments.
QUESTION: There is no thought, then, of direct intervention with -- I guess that's kind of a stupid question, so --
MR. BOUCHER: What sort of direct intervention are you proposing?
QUESTION: Well, I don't know.
MR. BOUCHER: The -- as I said, we've been in touch with relevant governments.
QUESTION: Does that mean you've been in touch with the Lebanese and the Syrians?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, Lebanese, Syrians.
QUESTION: Do you happen to know where Hizbollah TV, the far-reaching Hizbollah Television is seen?
MR. BOUCHER: I -- because it's on satellite, it's probably seen fairly broadly.
QUESTION: So it could be seen in Syria?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: So it's the same thing?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: You -- and --
QUESTION: You don't suppose Syria just (inaudible) with Hizbollah to do its job, or designates Hizbollah to do other jobs, do you?
MR. BOUCHER: I have no idea.
QUESTION: Richard, in a broader question, you would, as part as -- because this television station is part of a group that you say is a terrorist organization, I don't believe you'd want the whole thing shut down, just, in general, whether they showed this program or not, is that correct?
MR. BOUCHER: Our view has been that Hizbollah is a terrorist organization and should be shut down period. Yeah.
QUESTION: Including this -- including their television?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if we've ever particularly gone after their television operation, but there have been other matters of more concern to us, but we've said we think groups that support terrorism should be put out of the business.
QUESTION: Richard, excuse my ignorance on this, but what exactly is your objection to this program?
MR. BOUCHER: It attempts to legitimize an anti-Semitic forgery.
QUESTION: Oh, okay -- anti-Semitic forgery.
QUESTION: Can we go back to this weekend, Mr. Bremer's work, does it reflect the Administration's view?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure it does. I just didn't see what it said.
QUESTION: Can I ask you though, this anti-Semitism issue? Yesterday, Senate passed amendment for kind of a suspension of the military aid to Malaysia unless they change the, you know, #observance about the religious freedom or whatever. Can you say anything on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, we've made clear that we have stated publicly our view on the offensive remarks that Prime Minister Mahathir made. We've made that view clear in public, as well as in private, with the Malaysian Governments during the President's recent trip to Asia. So, we definitely share the concern that underlies the Senate language. At this point, however, we believe the incoming Malaysian administration should be judged on its own actions and its own views.
QUESTION: So, that means you do not support the idea?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we should leave the opportunity for the new administration to take a different stance.
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. Go ahead, Barry.
QUESTION: No, I was going to say thank you, but --
MR. BOUCHER: Go ahead, Barry.
QUESTION: He said, "Go ahead."
QUESTION: And see what I can catch on TV.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing ended at 1:27 p.m.)
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