State Department Noon Briefing, November 7, 2003
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2003
1:00 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here again. I can hardly explain my excitement, but I'll do that and allow -- be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Good, because there are at least four areas I want to explore with you, but taking them one at a time --
MR. BOUCHER: Let's do them one at a time. Okay.
QUESTION: Charles Taylor. Have you posted a reward for him? And tell us what else you could about it.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know anything new about Charles Taylor.
MR. BOUCHER: Do you think we have?
QUESTION: Well, there is s some reference, but without his name, in some documents, but if you don't know anything --
MR. BOUCHER: There's some references without his name in some document.
QUESTION: And if you don't have anything --
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check on some documents and see if there's some reference to that question.
QUESTION: I mean, don't -- I realize my question is not -- is imprecise, but if there was a reward posted --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know, Barry. I'll be --
QUESTION: -- we assume you'd know about it.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I wouldn't assume that I'd know about it, but I'll check for you.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. BOUCHER: Happy to check for you.
QUESTION: All right. Let's move on then. Give me another shot. The Anatolia News Agency now is saying -- we've been hearing this day after day -- that there will be no Turkish troops going to Iraq. Can we finally get the U.S. Government to say, "That's true," or is it still an ongoing issue?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer is, both. Let me give you the rundown.
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Gul last night. They discussed the situation with regard to the deployment of Turkish troops to Iraq. As you know, this is something we've been working with both the Turkish Government as well as the Iraqi authorities; and particularly, the members of the Governing Council.
After they reviewed the situation, Foreign Minister Gul told the Secretary that the Turkish Government was going to reconsider its offer to send troops to Iraq. I have to say the Secretary thanked Foreign Minister Gul for the positive response that they'd given to the U.S. request for such a contribution. He thanked the people and government and parliament of Turkey for their offer to contribute. And they agreed together that they would work together on the reconstruction of Iraq. But for the moment, this deployment of troops is not going forward.
QUESTION: Is this -- does this -- does the Secretary or people with him suspect that this might have an impact on other countries, and generally, is he disappointed?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, obviously, we would have preferred if this all worked out very nicely to everybody's satisfaction, but let's remember that the goal is stability in Iraq; and that the -- there is recognition, I think, on all our parts, the United States' side, Turkish, as well as the Iraqis' that maybe this deployment at this time would not -- would not add to that goal in the way that we had hoped that it would.
And given those sensitivities that I think are more particular to this specific case, we felt that that was not -- that it was better, and we appreciated the Turks saying they would reconsider their officer at this time. So we're still in touch with others who might consider deploying. We'll see if any of the same sensitivities arrive with -- arise with regard to others. But I think we've gone through this particular case in some detail with all of the parties and found that this is probably the best outcome for the moment.
QUESTION: Indeed, the impression here is that it's the sensitivity, it's not the danger, it's not the growing loss of life. It's the particular situation of Turkish troops going into Iraq.
MR. BOUCHER: I would say that, yes.
Yes. Another one?
QUESTION: Do you think that the fact that the Turks will not, at least for the moment, be sending any troops will make it harder for you to main -- for the U.S. Government to maintain stability in Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think so. The -- obviously, there are major components already there from the United States, but also from many other coalition members. And so there is already an international deployment to Iraq; different forces in different places. We are still talking to other governments, other -- some other potential contributors about possible deployments.
And then, as you know, there is a major effort underway to accelerate the deployment, accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces of various kinds. And I think the Pentagon has been accounting for the very large numbers of people who are -- Iraqis who are now helping provide for their own security. And as you all know, we've been gearing up programs such as the Jordan -- program in Jordan to train policemen on an accelerated basis.
QUESTION: Do you wish, in retrospect, that you had secured the Iraq Governing Council's approval prior to seeking the Turks, the Turkish troops?
MR. BOUCHER: It's a chicken and egg problem. What's the point of getting authority, if you don't have a contribution? What's the point of getting -- we work these things together. That's the way it worked. And we do appreciate the effort that the Turks put into not only making the offer, but getting it through their parliament.
QUESTION: Go ahead and --
QUESTION: Did Secretary Powell -- sorry.
QUESTION: Still on Turkey?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any new lists for you. I think South Koreans have been in public on it. As you know, the subject has come up with various other governments. We're still in touch.
QUESTION: Did Secretary Powell tell Turkish Foreign Minister Gul that U.S. does not request Turkish troops for now anymore? I mean, how did it work?
MR. BOUCHER: It was a -- they compared the situation with each other. They discussed the situation. They -- it was a conversation between them about the issues involved, about the situation right now, about the sensitivities involved. The Secretary said that, given the situation, maybe, given the sensitivities involved, maybe it's not the time. And Foreign Minister Gul agreed and said that after reviewing the situation as they did, that Turkey would -- Turkey would reconsider its offer.
QUESTION: Do you rule out the Turkish troops option completely?
MR. BOUCHER: Not forever. Things may change. Circumstances may permit this at some point. But for the moment it appears it's not going forward.
QUESTION: Change of subject? Downstairs, Vice Foreign Minister Wang said that preparations have started now on arranging the six-party talks, and Assistant Secretary Kelly said you'd be explaining that.
QUESTION: So go right ahead.
MR. BOUCHER: He did, did he?
QUESTION: He did.
MR. BOUCHER: All right. We had -- the Secretary had fairly extensive discussions this morning with Vice Foreign Minister Wang. I think the discussions lasted 45 minutes or so, so the -- that's one of the reasons why I'm a little later than usual -- if anybody noticed.
The -- so the Secretary had fairly extensive discussions today with Vice Foreign Minister Wang about North Korea and about six-party talks. Vice Foreign Minister Wang was in North Korea with Chinese leaders recently and talked about where we stand after those discussions.
The -- I would say that, having discussed this fairly extensively with Vice Foreign Minister Wang, the Secretary is encouraged at the prospect of new talks, encouraged at the possibilities of pursuing this route to reach a peaceful resolution of the problems created by North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
We are optimistic now that another round can be held, and the Chinese are indeed working on putting that together as a result of their discussions in North Korea and also as a result of the discussions we had with them here.
Vice Foreign Minister Wang met extensively with Assistant Secretary Kelly; he's met with the Secretary; I think he sees our Director of Policy Planning today, Mitchell Reiss, and is also having meetings at the Pentagon. So he will have a full discussion with us here in the United States. We are working with the parties that participate in these talks, including, obviously, the Chinese on how to proceed and what the next round might be able to address.
We discussed with the Chinese today, how to make progress at another round of talks in a way that brings -- how to make progress in the talks towards the goal of ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, which have caused so much difficulty and consternation. And in that context, we talked about the President's statement in Bangkok and the willingness of the United States to provide security assurances in a multilateral setting, but also in writing.
QUESTION: But the public statements by North Korea have been pretty belligerent again with regard to the KEDO equipment, and so on; yet, you're saying that we're optimistic now. You make it -- you make it sound like there is definitely something that happened in these meetings with Mr. Wang that made it -- that made you definitely more optimistic.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, he brought us the readout of their discussions with North Korea. And as you know, the Chinese reported while they were in North Korea that the North Koreans had agreed to come back to talks. And so, having discussed the prospect with the Chinese, we feel confident, as they do, that another round can be put together.
QUESTION: And there was some kind of go ahead given by Powell that wasn't -- wasn't there before, that, yes, after -- after hearing this go forward? Because he came out and said, "I only want to make this one point, and that is that we have now started on this six-party talk."
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. The Chinese have been, obviously, working on putting together the next round of six-party talks. They've had the willingness of the United States to pursue this route for some time now. I think you remember during Jim Kelley's visit, last visit to the region -- maybe it wasn't even the last one -- he said in Tokyo, we'd be ready to go at a fairly early time.
So having had, for a long time, United States willingness to go back to six party talks, it appears that during their resent visit they got the willingness of the North Koreans to go back to talks; and now the Chinese are trying to put together another round.
QUESTION: Richard, apart from the North Korean willingness, are there any other elements in this equation that make you confident that another round can be put together? What exactly has changed other than that? Are there any other elements that are falling into place?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't -- no -- I wouldn't describe any particular breakthroughs on substance. We're discussing how to address the substance of a matter which is an end to North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, and in that context how the United States might provide, how the United States and other countries involved -- that's the multilateral group involved -- could provide other with security assurances.
But the point is to get to another round to do that, the parties have to be willing to go there. And the United States has been willing to go, and now it appears the North Koreans are willing to go. All I expressed encouragement and optimism about the actual convening of another round of talks, not yet at the point where I'd predict anything about what we could accomplish at those talks.
QUESTION: The document on -- which contains multilateral security assurances, are you close to drafting such a thing? Is that --
MR. BOUCHER: We did not discuss this in any specific terms today. We have made clear in public our willingness to provide, in a multilateral setting, those kinds of assurances with the others. And so we're working on that, but, no, we're not at the position to unveil anything at this point.
QUESTION: No, I understand. But is it -- is it your intention to actually prepare something in written form, in advance of the next round?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure we'll be well prepared in advantage of the next round.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR. BOUCHER: George?
QUESTION: Is the level of the talks going to remain the same, as far as you know?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't say for absolutely sure until the Chinese put it all together, but we have -- that would be our expectation.
QUESTION: At one point, the Chinese -- the North Koreans were believed to want to know what this security assurance would say before they would agree to another round of six-party talks. When the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister went there, did he share with the North Koreans not exactly the wording, as you're still developing it, but the outline of what a security assurance would say in order for them to sign onto it?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, that's a question for the Chinese. To what extent that was discussed in their discussions, I don't know. Second of all, I'd point out, the President's been public about his attitude, his -- kind of thing that he would be willing -- that he has said and would be willing to say. So I think we've been, in general terms, quite up front about what we're willing to do in such a written document.
QUESTION: Syria, if I can change the subject.
MR. BOUCHER: Sorry. Change of subject? No, one in the back?
QUESTION: North Korea. The talk about the security assurances that you said happening between Chinese Vice Minister and Secretary Powell, is that in the context of the simultaneity which the DPRK has required all along the way?
MR. BOUCHER: Simultaneity is sort of one of the buzzwords, and we're not using it, we don't use it. We've said before that we recognized that these security assurances would be given along with -- in the context of reaching the goal of ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. How that process would be coordinated would be something that would have to be worked out.
But it's not really a question so much of these little buzzwords. It's a question of trying to sit down again and look at the substance of ending the North Korean nuclear weapons program and giving them -- allowing them to have from the international community the kind of assurance that makes them feel comfortable as they go through that process.
QUESTION: And Minister Wang is going to meet whom in the Pentagon today?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it's Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, but you'd have to check with him or with the Pentagon.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes?
QUESTION: Change of subject.
MR. BOUCHER: Change of subject. Somebody had first dibs. Sir?
QUESTION: President Bush said yesterday that dictators in Iraq and Syria promised the restoration of national honor, but they left only ruin and oppression and misery. Is that an elevation of the pressure on Syria, and what is the goal for it? And is the relationship between the United States and Syria deteriorated to the point of no returnable?
MR. BOUCHER: The question of whether this increases pressure on Syria or not, I'll leave that to the political commentators. The President's observations -- he talked about in quite specific terms, many countries in the Middle East, many of the democracies, many of the countries moving towards democracies, many of the countries that have made promises in this regard. And so he was quite specific, but I would say frankly, all these are observations of fact. They're true things, and the President talked about them.
So as far as the U.S. relationship with Syria, we are still talking to the Syrians. We're still trying to work with the Syrians in the areas where we can. But we have made quite clear that there's a long list of things where we feel that Syrian attitudes, Syrians' behavior, and Syrian actions have been insufficient to contribute to a kind of stability in the region that we are looking for.
QUESTION: What's required of them to improve that?
MR. BOUCHER: As -- all the things we've discussed here. We're looking for action against infiltration into Iraq; we're looking for action on Iraqi assets and other issues like that; we're looking for action to stop the people who oppose the Palestinian cause by the use of violence; stop the people who oppose the cause of peace through the use of violence. So there's a large number of issues that we've raised with them and, at this point, we feel like the action has been insufficient.
QUESTION: Yes, on this speech -- towards the end of the speech, he talked about a new strategy for freedom, which is quite a grand idea. Could you fill us in on, on, you know, what the substance of this? I mean, what does this strategy mean in practice? How is it -- where's the -- how do you implement it since, presumably, the State Department will be asked to do so?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say a couple things on this. I think you already have seen from the President a number of initiatives such as the Millennium Challenge Account, which changed the way our aid program is distributed or at least adds an additional amount of money that -- to offer incentives to people who are moving in the right direction in terms of freedom and the rule of law.
You have seen from the President and the Secretary initiatives such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative. It's already hard at work helping develop the -- you know, some places it's constitutional frameworks; in some places it's civil society programs; in other places it's a new educational curriculum, both in the political areas and the economic areas where they're out trying to support bank lending to small and medium enterprises so that the freedom in the economy can be, can be promoted.
So there are a lot of areas like that where the United States has already had put in place, the President's already put in place programs to support freedom and to support a policy of change based on freedom.
QUESTION: But there isn't a new strategy. That sounds like the same old strategy you've been talking about the last year or so.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'd say these are all examples of the kind of strategy that we've been following and that they form a basis or a part of further strategic -- further developments of strategy to promote freedom around the world, but especially including in the Middle East.
QUESTION: Okay, but does this mean that in --
MR. BOUCHER: What's the new strategy? The simple answer, I guess, is the new strategy is what the President laid out in his speech yesterday.
QUESTION: Well, he didn't say -- there was no substance to his talk. So I was wondering about the substance.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, you're asking what's the substance of what the President laid out in his speech? The substance of the new strategy laid out in the speech is: A lot of these actions that we have been taking and that we will build on and do more.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I -- perhaps I can put it this way, then. Does this new strategy mean that the United States will give greater weight to the level of democracy in any particular country in assessing its relationship with that country than in the past?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to try to define it any differently than the President did yesterday. I can -- I can imagine a whole host of questions: Does it mean this, that or the other? It means what the President said yesterday and I don't want to try to change his words at this moment.
QUESTION: Let me rephrase the question. Will there be penalties for countries, and isn't that what Armitage's trip is about?
MR. BOUCHER: What?
QUESTION: That's it. That's my question. Will there be penalties for countries resisting the appeal for democratization, and isn't that something Mr. Armitage is going to talk to some of these countries about?
MR. BOUCHER: This is -- democracy is not -- it's not a -- how can I say? It's not an examination or a test being put forward by the United States so we can score people and issue, you know, gold stars or demerits. Democracy, as the President explained yesterday, is a fundamental aspect of freedom; it's a fundamental aspect of stability; and it's a fundamental aspect of progress.
And in the Middle East, as in the rest of the world, there are many, many people who want to make progress along these lines. There were already -- I think the President said -- probably half the people in the Muslim world, half the Muslims in the world live in democracies already, and we see signs in many other areas, including some of those countries considered the most resistant to change. The people are already starting to make moves and consider this kind of change because they want this kind of change, because they want this kind of future in these countries.
The Arab Human Development Report explains it also in great detail, that this movement towards freedom is what's essential to unleash the potential and the capabilities of people in the Arab world.
So it's not a question of grading or examination or scoring or gold stars or, you know, pieces of -- lumps of coal. It's a matter of talking in strategic terms, as the President did yesterday, about how to move forward, how these countries can move forward to the kind of goals that their people aspire to: the opportunity to make progress; the opportunity for economic prosperity; the opportunity to participate in their own societies in a greater fashion.
QUESTION: That's the visionary aspect of it, which is very clear. And I wasn't asking about gold stars. I mean, to take the extreme example of the country that brutalizes its people doesn't get much from the United States, anything at all. I mean, you know, we just don't help them. The question is whether countries, sort of in that middle area -- that don't foster democracy, resist democracy -- whether they can expect any punitive treatment from the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: I think in some cases those laws and circumstances already exist. But the biggest point, I think, that's made by the President's speech is that they lose out on the future. They lose the opportunities of the future. And it does affect our relationship in terms of the amount of cooperation we can expect. Because, obviously, areas -- countries and places that are moving towards freedom, that have more open economic systems, that participate more fully in the international trading system, we have bigger, larger and deeper relationships with.
MR. BOUCHER: Let's get somebody beyond the front row.
Okay. I've got a copy of the speech.
QUESTION: But, Richard, you talk about not scoring, giving gold stars and everything, but, in fact, the President did, in fact, give stars to some people, and give black marks to others. And one of the points raised by many of the commentators was simply this: Why are you casting doubt on the legitimacy of the Iranian Government when it is, by all accounts, one of the most democratic in the region?
MR. BOUCHER: We have reported, I think, rather extensively on the situation in Iran, including moves towards democracy, including the elections that have been held there, but also including some of the repression that continues to exist there. So, you can look at our human rights report, I think, for a very extensive rundown of the situation in Iran. That's something we have talked about from time-to-time, and our view continues to be that the voices of the people who want more democracy, more freedom should be listened to.
QUESTION: Okay. But, Richard, you haven't answered the question. The President said specifically that he wanted to break away from the practices of the past, which was to link relations to national security interests, or whatever, and yet you're doing exactly the same thing here. Why are you criticizing Iran and praising Saudi Arabia when everybody knows that Iran is much freer than Saudi Arabia? What has changed?
MR. BOUCHER: Because --
QUESTION: It's just the same -- what -- how do you explain this obvious contradiction?
MR. BOUCHER: Because as you understand, because you cover the broad aspects of foreign affairs, that elections are not the sole criterion of truth. The fact is that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, as the IAEA is now trying to deal with; that Iran is harboring terrorists, as we and other countries, who have been attacked by terrorists and al-Qaida, are trying to deal with; that Iran is supporting terrorists who are opposed to the peace process, as we, the Palestinians and others, who are trying to bring peace to the Middle East are trying to deal with; and that Iran is very repressive in their own society, as many Iranian citizens are trying to deal with it so.
QUESTION: What does (inaudible) have to do with democracy?
MR. BOUCHER: You asked me why we don't -- you know, we don't have a better relationship with Iran, or why we don't praise Iran across the board --
QUESTION: No, no, I didn't say that. I said why are you criticizing the state of democracy?
MR. BOUCHER: And the answer is because we have some real problems with Iranian policy.
QUESTION: No, I didn't say that. I said why --
MR. BOUCHER: And we have some real problems with the way Iran treats its own citizens.
QUESTION: No, I didn't say that. The question was: Why are you criticizing the state of democracy in Iran, while praising that in Saudi Arabia? That's the question.
MR. BOUCHER: I think, as we have noted, that there are voices in Iran that are looking for more democracy and we're on their side.
QUESTION: Can I stick to the Middle East, although I know this is a front row question? Could you verify that the Secretary of State has written the sponsors of this run for -- call it whatever you will -- unofficial, unauthorized Palestinian-Israeli discussion-negotiation effort to come up with a peace formula? Number one, will you verify it? And number two; what does this say about your commitment to your roadmap? And number three, what does it say about your relationship with Mr. Sharon since there's no way in the world you could -- one could square what these guys would have the Middle East look like with what Mr. Sharon would have the Middle East look like?
MR. BOUCHER: What's the question again?
QUESTION: Did the Secretary --
MR. BOUCHER: Did he write a letter?
QUESTION: Did the Secretary --
MR. BOUCHER: Did he -- did he write a -- let's do them one at a time. Did he write a letter? Yes.
QUESTION: What did he say?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Slow down.
QUESTION: Saying or what?
MR. BOUCHER: Saying -- okay. What did the letter say? Let's start -- go back. The Secretary received a letter last month from Yosi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo concerning their Geneva peace plan. The Secretary sent a response on -- well, it went out from here on November 4th, which was about three days ago. In that response, he stressed appreciation for projects such as these; expressed appreciation for their efforts to sustain an atmosphere of hope. He also in that letter reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the roadmap as the way forward.
The United States, I think as we've said before, is encouraged whenever there's dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, or encouraged whenever Israelis and Palestinians sit down to address some of these very difficult issues. At the same time, we believe very firmly that the way forward is the roadmap, and an essential component of making any progress on any aspect of this is for the Palestinians to act against terror. And that's the juncture that we're at right now.
QUESTION: And all along, the whole time this has been going on, every time anybody asked about these, it was dismissed as not, you know, it's private citizens having private talks. All right. I mean, that's -- that happens to be a fact and there's no point in going over that again, but it is a question whether you find what they're saying and talking about consistent with the roadmap. There are people who do think it's consistent; the roadmap would lead to something like this.
But what about -- I've got to call it an end around Ariel Sharon? Is that the impression you want to encourage, that you're looking for alternatives to the Prime Minister of Israel? I mean, there's no government in -- the Palestinians have no formal government at this stage, so I have to ask about the Palestinians, but also about Palestinian leaders and Israeli leaders. Are you doing a runaround?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: How not? I mean, you're encouraging -- Yosi Beilin is about as far removed --
MR. BOUCHER: (Inaudible.)
MR. BOUCHER: My turn?
QUESTION: Sure it's your turn. I'll be interested how you're going to work this one out.
MR. BOUCHER: Is it my turn?
QUESTION: Yes, it's your turn.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you. First and foremost, this is not some kind of end run around Prime Minister of Israel or any other leaders in the region. The point is the roadmap itself says eventually we're going to have to deal with these issues that have always been called "final status issues."
As you know, at Camp David with President Clinton, there was considerable discussion of them. But this Administration has made clear that given the changes and the violence and other things happening in the region that it wasn't time to go jumping and try to -- try to resolve those issues. We had to get through the roadmap. We had to get there by a process that's defined in the roadmap, and we had to get there by ending the violence. And that's the position that we have had. That's the point that we've been trying to work towards.
Eventually, these issues are going to have to be dealt with officially by the leaderships involved. I have said today and the Secretary has said in his letter that projects such as this, dialogues such as this, are important to help sustain an atmosphere of hope, to try to indicate that maybe these issues can be dealt with, but they don't resolve the issues, and these issues won't be resolved until the governments, the leaders involved get to the point where they can, then, sit down and settle them officially.
So we're not endorsing a particular formula for Jerusalem or refugees or the other issues that are being dealt with. But as I have said here today, and I think before, we've been encouraged that Israelis and Palestinians are talking to each other. We've been encouraged that Israelis and Palestinians are trying to start addressing these important issues.
QUESTION: Could you release the letter?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to see.
Yes? Okay, sir.
QUESTION: On the Middle East still.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes?
QUESTION: Have you had, or has the Secretary or anyone had any reaction from the named countries, the Arab world, on the Bush, "Democracy in the Arab world," speech, I'll call it? Have you had any phone calls, good or bad, incoming, outgoing? Can you give us any sort of assessment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I don't know of any phone calls at the Secretary's letter -- level about the speech. I haven't really done a survey of what our embassies might have heard. So far, I've seen some press reporting on some fairly positive reactions in the region among people who are looking for change.
QUESTION: Can you update us on Mr. Armitage's trip so far?
MR. BOUCHER: He's traveling in the region. That's about as far as I can do. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia says that it is closing tomorrow because it has received information of imminent threats. Can you expand on that at all?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the answer is no, as far as expanding on it, but I can repeat to you what they have said.
MR. BOUCHER: The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh issued a Warden Message to the American community in Saudi Arabia on November 7th -- that would be today. The message alerts Americans in Saudi Arabia that the Embassy continues to receive credible information that terrorists in Saudi Arabia have moved from the planning to the operational phase of planned attacks in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Embassy strongly urges all American citizens in Saudi Arabia to be especially vigilant when they are in any area perceived to be American or Western. In light of the seriousness of this existing threat, the Embassy in Riyadh and the U.S. Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran will close on Saturday, November 8th, in order to review their security posture.
QUESTION: Richard, a couple of other countries have been very explicit about these warnings, the UK and Australia, and I -- Australia even downsized the Embassy or gave -- allowed voluntary departure. Are those being considered --
MR. BOUCHER: I think the first thing we would look for is for the Embassy to get back to us with their analysis of the security situation, their analysis of their ability to deal with the situation there, and to protect our people who are out there, as well as look at the security situation involving other Americans. So they will -- they will have a meeting. As I said, they're going to be closed on Saturday in order to get together and review those, all those issues.
QUESTION: Will they be closed until further notice or just Saturday?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. We'll have to see what they decide Saturday.
QUESTION: Another Warden Message, this one from the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, a foreboding one regarding journalists, a possible kidnapping plot involving remnants of the Taliban. Anything you can add to what's out there? And what -- what does this say about the stability of the region of that country, in that these journalists can be kidnapped like that, if possible?
MR. BOUCHER: All right, first, the facts. The Embassy in Kabul issued a Warden Message on November 7th, again, today, to the American community warning that Taliban forces are actively searching for American journalists to take hostage for use as leverage for the release of Taliban that under United States' control.
The American journalists in Afghanistan are urged to take immediate steps to increase their security posture in light of these threats. We have also warned, in a Travel Warning on July 28th that travel in all areas of Afghanistan, including the capital Kabul, can be unsafe due to military operations and other things.
As far as what this means about Afghanistan, I think you're all quite aware of the security situation in Afghanistan, that the government is making enormous progress, but there's still parts of the country and areas where security incidents do occur, and including some that occur from time to time in Kabul. So it's not completely safe -- in fact, we've said it's generally, you know, unsafe in many areas, because of the variety of threats.
We continue to work, NATO continues to work, and the government continues to work to get rid of these Taliban remnants and to get rid of the -- to make the security situation even better as many aspects of life in Afghanistan have been gradually improving: as projects get done; as people get trained; as ministries get set up and operating.
In terms of what this means specifically for the general security situation, this is a much more specific thing related to journalists. We all know that journalists often go to places where other Americans don't go. They often go to places where, in fact, there's news to be reported. Some of those include dangerous areas. And when we have this kind of special circumstance where it looks like the Taliban are actively searching for journalists, journalists need to keep that in mind as they go about their activities.
QUESTION: Richard, can I go back to Mr. Armitage's trip to Iraq? There are reports spreading around that this might be the prelude to a larger State Department role in the management of Iraq. Is that -- is anything in there?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't describe the trip specifically that way. Certainly the State Department has been sending more and more people out to help as part of the Coalition Provisional Authority; to help in terms of the work that is being done with the Iraq authorities, as ministries get going, as government gets going in various parts of Iraq. There's a lot of liaison being done. There's a lot of activity involved as the Iraqis build up their responsibility, you get maybe a little less direction administration, maybe a little more liaison type of work that mainly State Department people are being sent out to do.
So we are certainly building to a larger and larger State Department presence out there. I think we've said that we think that in the long run, we'll probably end up having more State Department people in Iraq than anywhere in the world. But at this point, we're not there yet.
QUESTION: Could we go back to this area very quickly? Just a few days ago, there was a travel notice, a warning, or whatever, but the embassy closing is a new element today. Does that mean the degree of concern has risen, or is it sort of a delay -- you know, an action the Ambassador decided on, and the situation is basically as perilous as it was before?
MR. BOUCHER: Hard for me to answer that without getting into, sort of, specific information where it's -- when it's received. The situation has been dangerous, perilous, for Americans in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, the evidence of that was in the May bombing. But we've been working with the Saudi Government to try to bring to account the people involved in actions like that and to stop any further actions. The process is not complete yet, so it remains -- there remains a degree of danger there that in addition to the general warning applied specifically to these particular days where we think that they have moved from planning to operational aspects of an attack, and therefore we felt it prudent, at this particular moment, to warn Americans and to close our operations for a review.
QUESTION: Guatemala. As you know, there's a Presidential election there on Sunday. One of the candidates is accused of genocide for actions 20 years ago. It's been a violent campaign. About two-dozen of the opponents of this candidate have been killed. And does the U.S. have any observations on that election?
MR. BOUCHER: First, to say that we have, I think, consistently made clear that we support free, fair and transparent, and constitutional elections in Guatemala. We hope to be able to work with and have a friendly normal relationship with whomever is the next President of Guatemala.
But we've also made clear fairly consistently that, in light of Mr. Rios Mont's background, it would be difficult for the United States to have the kind of relationship with Guatemala that we would ideally prefer, if he were in charge.
QUESTION: Anything on the way the campaign has been conducted?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particular comment at this point. I think we'll just have to see how it unfolds.
Okay. I'll start going to the back a little bit.
QUESTION: This week Secretary Powell, when he gave a speech to the Texas forum regarding North Korea, he said, the U.S. would like North Korea to end the nuclear program promptly, irreversibly, and verifiably.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes?
QUESTION: The U.S. is always talking about completely and, you know, irreversibly, and verifiably. So is any change in your policy?
MR. BOUCHER: No. We have always made clear. I think we have used -- you know, you can't string too many adjectives together at one time. So, of the five or six that we use, we generally choose any three at a given moment, so.
QUESTION: Could you repeat these?
MR. BOUCHER: We've used promptly, completely, verifiably, irreversibly, and immediately at the beginning. So no, there's -- there's no change as to which basket we choose on one day, it doesn't negate the ones we chose another day.
Sir? Ma'am. Sorry.
QUESTION: On the Middle East. Some Palestinians in the occupied territories are raising the question that the President's speech missed a main element in order to get independence. The President spoke only about the only road to independence for the Palestinians is democracy, so they are questioning which comes first, to end the occupation or democracy, and I don't know what.
MR. BOUCHER: I guess I don't quite understand why they're questioning. We have always said the road to a Palestinian state is by creating institutions of a state, by having a government that can eventually support the independence. The roadmap defines that process, how to get there, and gives everybody a clear idea about how to move in that direction.
But the issues right now is whether the Palestinians will have a Prime Minister, not only in name, but someone who is in empowered to take action against terrorism, someone who is empowered to control all the tools of state control, of the security services. As the former Prime Minister said, "There needs to be one authority and one gun."
And so, Palestinian democracy shouldn't have to compete for authority with armed groups, with groups that are not only armed, but violently opposed to the whole process. And that's one of the issues we're dealing with now. Our goal is to help Palestinian democracy grow, assert its authority and become the institutions of a future Palestinian state.
QUESTION: But the end of the occupation is not really a question?
MR. BOUCHER: It's part and parcel of ending -- of achieving a Palestinian state. It's all defined in the roadmap about how we should get there and how we can get to a Palestinian state.
QUESTION: Is your inability to disclose Mr. Armitage's whereabouts directly linked to this security alert, the Warden Message coming out in Riyadh? And will it deter his ability to -- the security situation -- will it deter his ability to actually visit Riyadh and maybe -- well, go ahead.
MR. BOUCHER: No. And no.
MR. BOUCHER: No and no. We're just sensitive sometimes. We have been all along about his exact whereabouts on any given day. We put out, I think, a statement about his travel. As far as I know, he's pursuing that travel to all the places that were listed -- but a little bit careful, always have been, in terms of his travel, not to define his exact whereabouts on a given day until it's the proper moment to do so.
QUESTION: In today's Washington Post, former Deputy Minister of Polish Government, Mr. Radek Sikorski wrote that U.S. may lose the support of Eastern and Central European countries if the citizens of these countries feel that it doesn't pay to be an American friend. It's the problem of visa process in these countries -- American visa process; is the problem of the pressure to write off the debt of Iraq, which is owed to these countries, and keeping on the sidelines, the companies from these countries on the sidelines of reconstruction in Iraq. Would you like to comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the most important thing to recognize is that, particularly when it comes to Iraq, many of the things the United States is doing -- many of the things the United States is doing in cooperation with other governments, including the Polish Government, are not only in our interests, they're in the interests of the people of those countries themselves.
They have an interest in a stable and a free and an open Iraq, being open to the future, open to cooperation with other governments in the future, and that the whole process is one that fundamentally meets the needs of many nations around the world. And that's why we already have so many nations around the world who are involved with it. The United Nations has encouraged countries to be involved and we're happy to say that many have done so.
So the question is not so much the direct rewards, the immediate rewards, the immediate contracts, the immediate rewards from the United States. The question is whether this project as a whole is fundamentally in the interests of all of us. And the answer, I think, is yes, because we've seen many countries answer that already with a strong yes, including the Polish Government in terms of their commitments, because it is fundamentally in their interests as well as ours.
QUESTION: But there is the problem of public support, which is weak, even in Poland. Two-thirds are opposed this.
MR. BOUCHER: There is, you know, there is opposition. There's -- sometimes the opposition is based on views about the war initially. Sometimes it's based on not quite understanding why it's important to put citizens, military people in harm's way. We think in the long run, the truth of the matter is this is in all our interests. We're glad the governments recognize that and we think that the publics will, as well, over time.
MR. BOUCHER: We've got David here. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Strays. Apparently some protesters in Georgia protesting the conduct of the election were attacked. Any reaction to the violent turn to that?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me see if we have something specifically on that.
I don't have anything specifically on that. We've, of course, continued to follow the post-election developments in Georgia, watching as the process of tabulation and reporting of the vote goes forward, we think that a fair and accurate, timely tabulation of the votes is a very essential element of the process, and we have had serious concerns about the delays involved in providing a full and accurate vote count, so we've expressed our concerns publicly about some of these issues already, and we continue to follow them very, very carefully.
We think the Election Commission needs to do everything possible to correct election-day errors now and during the tabulation of votes by throwing out egregious cases of fraud. They need to dispel rather than fuel concerns that people have about the aftermath of these elections.
QUESTION: Just one more. Iran appears to be foregoing production of a long-range missile. Did you -- any reaction to that?
MR. BOUCHER: The Shahab 4. We have repeatedly expressed our concerns about Iranian behavior, including its development of weapons of mass destruction and missile capabilities. We have seen these reports. They are a reiteration of previous assertions that it will not embark on the production of the Shahab 4 missile.
This had been said before by the ministry. It remains unclear what tangible effect this will have on Iranian missile development. But we'll just have to see whether it becomes a positive development or not in terms of what the Iranians actually do.
(The briefing ended at 1:50 p.m.)
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