State Department Noon Briefing, November 24, 2003
U.S Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
ALGERIA, TUNISIA, MOROCCO
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2003
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be back with you. If I can, let me start off by telling you about the Secretary's next trip -- get back from one and announce the next.
The Secretary will travel to Europe and North Africa beginning on December 1st, 2003. He'll travel first to Maastricht, the Netherlands, to participate in the annual ministerial meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
He'll then travel on to Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco to confer with leaders in these countries on such issues as the war on terror, situation in Iraq, President's roadmap for the Middle East, and promotion of political and economic reform through the President's Middle East Partnership Initiative, as well as some of the bilateral issues we have with these countries.
The Secretary will conclude his trip in Brussels, Belgium, where he will attend the semi-annual NATO ministerial.
So I'd be glad to take your questions on this or other topics.
QUESTION: I wondered before he sets out, if you could say a few words about the level of cooperation the U.S. is getting on countering terrorism -- all accounts it's pretty good from those three --
MR. BOUCHER: From those three countries? Obviously, we're doing different things with different countries. But I think if you look at the -- yeah -- but generally, I'd say the cooperation has been excellent in this region of the world.
Obviously, countries like Morocco and Tunisia with the Djerba bombing, have been hit directly by some of those same international terrorists, but Algeria's has had its problems over the years as well. And so we've tried to work with all of the countries in the region to do what we can to support their efforts against terrorism through training, through law enforcement, through information exchange. And so I think it's safe to say that the cooperation in this region has been very good.
QUESTION: Let me try to co-op, possibly. There's a joint training program with Algerian officers. Might that be replicated for the other two?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have the full list yet of what we're doing in each of the different countries, so we may be doing similar or different -- slightly different things, but I think we do do training in each of these places.
QUESTION: Did you just look at the north African countries in chronological order of visit?
MR. BOUCHER: I think so, but schedules change a little bit every now and then, so I can't promise.
QUESTION: You said Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, it's -- anybody who has seen a previous schedule, it may not have been that way. It may be that, at this moment; it may not be that by the time I finish briefing. (Laughter.) So don't put too much trust in the chronological nature of this thing. We've been working on the schedule and I think continue to work on the schedule to get all the pieces to fit. But this -- we do intend to go to all three countries.
QUESTION: Could you elaborate on, kind of a report card on those three north African countries in terms of the Peace's initiative on democracy, and how that relates to this visit?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't. The goal of the trip is not report card. The goal of the trip is to work together on things of mutual interest, and that's to work together against terrorism, to work together on the reforms that each of these countries is undertaking, particularly democratic reforms. We've seen a lot of movement in Morocco especially and have commended that in the past. So we'll be working with each of these countries as they move forward on their own plans and their own timetables.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Please.
QUESTION: Georgia. We have Georgia on our minds. (Laughter.) Your two statements over the weekend, the second statement sounded almost exuberant, although you did pay due respect to Shevardnadze, who both Schultz and Baker feted with great elaboration.
But would the U.S. be honestly described as being totally benign in this situation except, of course, to argue for free and fair elections? Is there a U.S. hand here that will surface some day soon in a book?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, I think it's the first time I've ever been accused of exuberance, so I want to thank you for that.
QUESTION: Maybe I'm over exuberant.
MR. BOUCHER: You were probably (inaudible), I'm sure. But the question of the U.S. role, we certainly stayed in very close touch with President Shevardnadze. We -- the Secretary was in touch on Saturday and again on Sunday with President Shevardnadze, but we did not tell him what to do. We encouraged him to make decisions that would be -- lead Georgia forward in a peaceful manner within the constitution of Georgia, and I think that's what we said in our statements.
We didn't -- the Secretary didn't say, didn't discuss resignation with him in the conversations, but I think we made clear in our Sunday statement that we do think he -- he made some hard decisions, but he made some good decisions for the people of Georgia --
QUESTION: Let me ask one quick follow-up.
MR. BOUCHER: -- and for moving forward in Georgia. So we kept in touch with him, kept in touch with other foreign ministers. On Saturday, the Secretary also spoke with Foreign Minister Ivanov, who was down there, who went down to Georgia. And he spoke with the Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who is the head of the OSCE now, chairman of the OSCE.
QUESTION: The Ivanov -- how does it -- when was the Ivanov conversation? Was it before Ivanov was there?
MR. BOUCHER: It was as he arrived in Georgia, I think.
QUESTION: As he arrived. Okay, you said -- you know, I think you said you wanted a peaceful situation or something.
MR. BOUCHER: Peaceful, constitutional resolution. Peaceful and constitutional resolution to the crisis.
QUESTION: So I guess I'll ask this, and then I'll pass on. Could there have been there kind of an outcome if Shevardnadze had dug his heels in?
MR. BOUCHER: Speculation on what might have been doesn't get us anywhere. I don't know. That's the simple answer to that, and I don't think anybody does.
QUESTION: Just for the record, can I, kind of, put that question another way? Did you ask Shevardnadze to resign on Saturday?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we didn't discuss resignation with him in our conversations, either the Secretary's or the Ambassador's.
QUESTION: Change of subject. Richard, you spoke in --
MR. BOUCHER: No, one more on this.
QUESTION: Just on the same subject. Did the Secretary mention the possibility for him to go to Georgia anytime soon?
MR. BOUCHER: It came up in a general sense, not any time soon. It came up in a sense of the Secretary reiterating his often expressed desire to visit Georgia at some point, but there are no plans for the Secretary to travel to Tbilisi. Just to round off the end of this, after the resignation of President Shevardnadze was announced, the Secretary did talk to the interim President Nino Burjanadze and to the former, at that point, former President Shevardnadze yesterday.
And I would say as well, our Ambassador's been in very close conversations with all the political leaders in Georgia, and we continue to discuss ways that we can help them move forward, that we can help them have new elections and that we can work with the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe in helping Georgia move forward on this new course that they have decided.
QUESTION: Richard, change of subject. The Iraqi Governing Council has -- either is scheduling to raid or has raided the Al-Arabiyya studios in Baghdad and have issued a statement saying that they blame them for incitement to murder. And they've also raided similar offices of a Middle East entertainment organization, a subset of Middle East Broadcasting, owned by Saudi King Fahd's brother-in-law. And yet again, Reporters Without Borders group has criticized this whole Governing Council and saying that it's a violation of freedom of the press. What are your thoughts and attitudes concerning all this?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think, first of all, you have to look carefully at what the Governing Council has put out. I don't think the raiding the offices or other things are quite specified in the material that they have put out. They've been quite clear on this issue. They've been trying to work with the news media who are represented in Baghdad, but also try to avoid a situation where these media are used as a channel for incitement, for inflammatory statements and for statements and actions that harm the security of people who live and work in Baghdad, including the Iraqi citizens themselves.
And so I think you'll see from the Governing Council's perspective, they've tried to work with Al-Arabiyya and other broadcasters. But at this point, they felt that they needed to stop the activity there for the moment, and they'll be dealing with that as they need to. So I'd really leave that in their hands.
QUESTION: You -- do you agree with their assessment? Because, I mean, one of the things about promoting democracy in a country that the U.S. has always promoted a free press. So is there something about the conduct of Al-Arabiyya that you also find is incitement, that isn't necessarily just acting in terms of freedom of the press?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, we agree with their assessment, basically. But they're the ones on the ground that have to make the judgments and have to try to work out the situation. As you know, there's dozens of international broadcasters that are broadcasting from Iraq and into Iraq, and I think hundreds of local newspapers and other outlets. So there is a lot of new media in Baghdad, new media, much of -- some of which is sort of finding their -- finding their -- their guidelines and their standards and how they want to operate there.
Al-Arabiyya has been around for a while, but it's a new situation, I think, and people need to focus a little bit. We all hold to the view that you don't yell, "Fire," in a crowded theater. So there's some of that judgment that has -- judgment that has to be made, even while we encourage freedom of the press, and that's what the Governing Council is trying to do now.
QUESTION: Now they've agreed to stop broadcasting in Iraq. Is that something you really want?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, this is a matter for the Governing Council and Al-Arabiyya to deal with and try to work out. I really can't go insert myself from here.
QUESTION: You know, Rumsfeld put himself in this situation last week. He called these two outlets violently anti-coalition, and, you know, it's kind of a mixed story. The Secretary --
MR. BOUCHER: We've had our comments to make as well on the inflammatory nature of many of their broadcasts.
QUESTION: I think that Secretary Powell used Al-Jazeera, if that's the right word. He did go on Al-Jazeera as a way to get his message across to, you know, part of their world.
MR. BOUCHER: We've been on Al-Jazeera. We've been on Al-Arabiyya. We've been on other outlets at various times.
QUESTION: I can't sort it out.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, it's not all one way or the other, but some of the broadcasting from Baghdad, in particular, has caused the Governing Council to feel that this is inflammatory, that this is decidedly unhelpful and dangerous to the security situation, and that they had to deal with it. And so that's what they're doing out there.
QUESTION: This is their decision and not the U.S.'s, yes?
MR. BOUCHER: It's their decision out there, yeah.
QUESTION: Richard, as the guardians of these kind of freedoms, from the U.S. point of view, could you provide us with --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we ever appointed ourselves guardians, Jonathan.
QUESTION: Yes, you publish the -- you do the annual reports and so on. Could you provide us with -- with evidence of this incitement? Because it seems it's rather too easy just to go around saying they're inciting, let's put them off.
MR. BOUCHER: I think if you look on the coalition website you will find an extensive discussion and decisions on this, and you can find it all there. It's already there, available to the general public, including yourself.
QUESTION: So you agree with their assessment that they've been causing incitement, yet Deputy Secretary Armitage did an interview with Al-Arabiyya -- I'm not sure if it was Thursday or Friday. But will U.S. officials continue to appear on this network?
MR. BOUCHER: It depends. At times we may, at times we may not. It's a judgment we make depending on what we think the best outlet is for a particular time and particular message. I think it's the activities of the bureau in Baghdad that were of greatest concern to the Governing Council, and the kind of information, the sort of information that was coming to them and that they were retransmitting.
Right there, ma'am.
QUESTION: Yes, Rosanna Rodriguez from Venpres.
QUESTION: Are you changing the subject?
QUESTION: Yes, changing subject. Mr. Boucher, I would like to --
MR. BOUCHER: Now, see he wants to stay on the same one. He wants to beat a dead -- I mean, continue on this topic.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- or it's kicking up. So for the time being at least, American officials in Baghdad won't appear on those programs?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, if they're not broadcasting out of Baghdad, then it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to go down to their office and do an interview with them, so --
QUESTION: Well, Bremer's here as often as he's there it seems, though.
MR. BOUCHER: -- I'm not aware of any particular plans one way or the other. You'll have to ask Baghdad what their intentions are. But if the operate -- if the office is not operating in Baghdad, yes, I doubt if anybody will be doing any interviews with them if they're not operating.
Yeah. Okay. Ma'am.
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, I would like to hear your opinion about the collection process of signatures in Venezuela as a first step to the referendum. And also, what do you think about the behavior of the Venezuelan people during this signing campaign?
MR. BOUCHER: Our view of this process has been consistent, I think. We've said we believe it's a constitutionally available means that needs to be exercised in a peaceful manner, that the government needs to respect the exercise of that right that the Venezuelan people have and allow the process to move forward. So we've been following it closely, but at this point our view is that it needs to be able to move forward in a peaceful manner.
QUESTION: Ask about Iran and the IAEA. What -- at this point, what hopes do you have of a resolution actually being agreed upon later this week?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have fairly good hopes that a resolution can be agreed upon by all the members, including a resolution that we can support. The United States has been working with other governments involved, including the so-called EU 3.
The Secretary, over the weekend, spoke with the director general of the IAEA, Dr. ElBaradei. He also spoke with his French, British and German counterparts on Sunday. And our Ambassador in Vienna at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ambassador Brill, has continued to work with the EU 3, as well as other governments who are concerned about the situation in Iran.
So we're, I think, encouraged by the way those discussions have been going and we're trying to work with others to work out a resolution that everybody can support.
QUESTION: Is the issue (inaudible) still the trigger clause?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can focus on any particular issue at this point. What we want to do in a resolution is to, I think, first of all, take into account Iran's past failures and breaches as the Secretary -- as the director general of the IAEA reported and identify the steps that Iran can take and needs to take to satisfy the international community that those won't recur, and then talk about how that process needs to unfold.
So I think everybody is pretty much in agreement that that's the purpose of the resolution, and so we're trying to work out with others language of a resolution that accomplishes that.
QUESTION: Richard, have you given up the -- given up expectations that a resolution would find Iran in current noncompliance, and would refer Iran to the Security Council? Is that --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, Iran's failure to comply with UN -- with the International Atomic Energy Agency requirements is a fact, and that fact needs to be the basis for whatever the Board should decide to do next. But how the Board decides to deal with the situation or what they decide to do next is currently a matter of discussion. Referral to the UN always remains an option for the Board, if they should decide to do that at some point.
QUESTION: And what do you think of the latest European draft resolution?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as I said, we've been working with others to try to come up with it, try to work on it -- out a text with them that everybody could support. It's not just us. There are many others involved, including other nations who take Iran's failures of the past very seriously, and they have been working in Vienna as well.
Okay. One more.
QUESTION: To what extent do you see the division between the United States and Europe as a disagreement over the meaning of the word "evidence?" It seems that there was -- Dr. ElBaradei has --
MR. BOUCHER: I think we discussed that a little bit on Friday, if you look at the briefing that Deputy Spokesman Mr. Ereli did. That became an issue briefly on Friday, but it's not really a big issue at all in terms of the ongoing conversations.
The point is to -- the Secretary Director General, excuse me, reported fairly extensively on the agency's contacts with Iran, on what the agency found in Iran and what Iran has been up to for many, many years. And that was a very valuable report and that report has to form the basis for what the Board decides to do.
QUESTION: There's a piece in The New York Times today about the Hezbollah in Iran, and intimating that Iran has been actively, kind of, curtailing the activities of Hezbollah in Iraq, stopping them from making any attacks against U.S. forces or anything like that. Can you say anything about your understanding of this?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I think that the piece itself was sourced almost entirely to intelligence officials, and there's nothing I would be able to say about what we know or don't know about Hezbollah's activities in Iraq.
QUESTION: Yes. Back on Iraq. Do you have any details on this incident in Mosul with the two soldiers and the reaction to that?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me see what I've got. There was a car accident in Mosul on Sunday -- is that what -- that killed two civilian U.S. citizens. The Department and the U.S. consular office in Baghdad have -- ready to provide all possible assistance to the families.
I can't release further information on these citizens at this point, but these are two American civilian contractors and it looks like it was a car accident, but in which they died.
QUESTION: Is there another --
MR. BOUCHER: More on Iraq?
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any response to President Chirac, who said again in -- well, again, I'm not sure again -- but who said today that your timetable for political process in Iraq was inadequate and too slow?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd go back to what the Secretary said before, what we've said before. We think it's a realistic timetable put down by the Iraqi people themselves, worked out with the Governing Council and we need to rely on them, in part, to decide what they can do.
We have worked out with them a process that will give the Iraqis a firm basis for a future government, as well as a firm basis for representative government as they go forward. And you can't just -- as the Secretary said, you can't just dump all the responsibility on somebody because they're there. You have to just work with them to make sure they can shoulder the responsibility and expand their responsibility, and that they have the legitimacy and the support to carry out those functions.
QUESTION: If I could go back to Iran and Iraq, in general. I mean, towards the end of the major combat operations, there were a lot of warnings to Iran in terms of making trouble inside Iraq, that Iraq was meddling in the affairs. Is it still your belief that Iran is doing that? Have they been more coop -- not necessarily direct channels, but has Iran been more or less cooperative as this process has --
MR. BOUCHER: We've talked about that from time to time. I don't have any new updates for you today. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Sir, the Kurdish forces in the northern Iraq, they arrested the three Turkomen for, according to them, they have a connection with the Kirkuk suicide bomb attack. Do you have anything on this?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have anything on that.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the parliamentary elections held yesterday in the Republic of Croatia?
MR. BOUCHER: In Croatia? Fairly brief. The OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has found the vote to be generally in line with international standards. So we congratulate the Croatian people for conducting an election that respected international organizations are able to endorse.
QUESTION: Media in Asia, especially Japan and South Korea, are saying that dates have now been basically agreed upon for the next round of six-party talks, and that it's December 17th through the 19th. Can you say anything about that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that the second or third set of dates I've seen out of media in Asia, but no dates have been decided at this point. We continue to be in touch with the Chinese and with other parties. Obviously, Assistant Secretary Kelly was out there last week consulting. We hope the next round would take place in December, but there are no dates decided at this point.
QUESTION: And can you preview his meeting with Mr. Losyukov?
MR. BOUCHER: Assistant Secretary Kelly meets with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Losyukov in Washington today. They'll discuss North Korea and other issues.
QUESTION: Also on Mr. Losyukov?
MR. BOUCHER: Sir.
QUESTION: Have you decided if Mr. Kelly -- Losyukov is going to meet any other person from this building?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, he'll be meeting with Christina Rocca as well to talk about South Asian matters, and he'll meet with our Acting Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research Tom Fingar.
QUESTION: Yes. Do you have anything new on the security assurance to North Korea? Because from this, negotiations between the U.S. and China, Japan, South Korea, and basically are working on the security assurance to North Korea. Is any -- something new there?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
MR. BOUCHER: We continue to discuss the issues coming up in the next round with our partners -- with the other governments involved. As you've said, Assistant Secretary Kelly has been talking with the Japanese, the South Koreans, the Chinese, and now we've got the Russian visitor today. So we are continuing to work on those issues, but I don't have any more definition for you at this point.
QUESTION: On Taiwan?
QUESTION: No, no.
MR. BOUCHER: Same subject. George.
QUESTION: Adam raised the possibility of asking Kelly if he would like to give a backgrounder to us sometime early this week. I just want to remind you of that.
MR. BOUCHER: You can remind me of that. I'll find out if he would like to do that.
QUESTION: Richard, on that other traveling Assistant Secretary, William Burns. Is he off on --
MR. BOUCHER: Can we -- before we go to Mr. Burns, let's let the lady back there ask her question.
QUESTION: Okay, on Taiwan.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Randy Schriver, last week, reiterate the China -- U.S.-China policy very clearly.
MR. BOUCHER: Good for him.
QUESTION: But yesterday, Premier Wen still, you know, interview -- call on the U.S. to deter any movement of Taiwan toward Taiwan new institution -- constitution and referendum. And he also said that China will pay any price to safeguard the unity of the motherland.
Do you think that U.S. current policy is sufficient enough to maintain the stability of the region, or, we say, to prevent danger of the war?
And also, do you have any detailed plan for Premier Wen's trip to D.C. next month?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any news on Premier Wen's trip. As far as our policy, I'd leave it to what Randy Schriver said. I think the policy that we've outlined is one that leads to stability, is one that we have respected and continue to respect in all its aspects, and therefore I don't think it needs any further elaboration at this point.
QUESTION: Mr. Burns -- is he -- I've lost -- lose track of his trips, but is he about to take another one?
MR. BOUCHER: He's here today.
QUESTION: That's good.
MR. BOUCHER: I mean, let me check and see when he has upcoming travel that we can talk about.
QUESTION: He's supposed to be in the region next week. I wondered if you know --
MR. BOUCHER: So I've heard as well, but let me see when it is and when we can announce it.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Jonathan.
QUESTION: Yeah, a couple of things. First of all, the Chinese company CMEC and their contract for power station equipment in Iraq, is this -- would this contract have been covered by the sanctions that you announced on CMEC? And, if so, how did this one slip through the net?
MR. BOUCHER: My understanding is this is an Oil-for-Food contract -- at least that's the way it was written up, and therefore not a U.S. Government contract.
QUESTION: So it was not covered by -- by your sanctions, in other words?
MR. BOUCHER: That's -- my understanding is it's an Oil-for-Food contract, not a U.S. Government contract.
QUESTION: Okay. And another one is: Why did you decide to extend for one year the ban on the use of U.S. passports in Libya, when, by all objective accounts, there was no danger, or no significant danger to American citizens in Libya?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I wouldn't -- I wouldn't use the word "all" there because our accounts are that there are concerns about the safety of American citizens in the country that continue. We have had this restriction on the use of U.S. passports to travel to, in or through Libya in place since 1981.
Given the current security environment in the region, particularly after September 11th, we believe it's appropriate to keep this restriction in place at the moment.
QUESTION: And what is the significance of the three-month review, which is not -- is not usually included in these travel bans?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Libya's fulfillment of its UN requirements for Pan Am 103 was a change in the status quo and may be a potentially positive indicator of an improved security situation for American citizens who might wish to travel to Libya. So in that, we're closely monitoring developments in Libya and have decided that reviewing the restriction every three months allows us to take into account whatever developments there might be.
Okay. One more.
QUESTION: Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister is coming to town next week. Do you have any schedule, his schedule?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. You'd have to get that from the Turkish Government.
QUESTION: Richard, any newer developments from Myanmar with Aung San Suu Kyi? They have released four or five detainees, and are we working further to solve that crisis?
MR. BOUCHER: There have been some lifting of restrictions on five National League for Democracy Central Committee -- Central Executive Committee members. We hope the recent release of the five officials will be followed immediately by the unconditional freeing of all other political prisoners.
People still in detention include three National League for Democracy leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, herself, who remains under house arrest. The senior National League for Democracy official U Tin Oo is imprisoned in central Burma, and other National League for Democracy members have been detained in connection with a May 30th attack on their convoy and have not yet been released.
As we note, as well, hundreds of others have been incarcerated since before May 30th for peaceful expression of their political beliefs. Once again, we'd state that the full expression and participation of representatives of the democratic opposition and ethnic minorities is essential to national reconciliation in Burma.
QUESTION: Thank you
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)
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