State Department Noon Briefing, December 9, 2003
|Tuesday December 9, 2003
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2003
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Well, here we all are. Again. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements or announcements, so I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Would the State Department like to say something about North Korea's offer, apparent counter-proposal, you know, would freeze its nuclear projects in return for energy aid and being removed from Washington's list of countries that sponsor terrorism? The White House has had something to say but I thought you might want to add to it.
MR. BOUCHER: I think you all saw the statements at the White House today and the point that the President made in his own discussion of this issue this morning, that our goal has been a complete, verifiable and irreversible end to North Korea's nuclear program, not some exchange for a freeze. The important aspect of that is that we seek to do that through peaceful diplomatic discussions and that for the United States' part, we're ready to go back to another round of six-party talks to try to achieve that goal.
But we have also repeatedly stated we are not going to reward North Korea for its violations of its international commitments, nor are we going to provide rewards to achieve their compliance with obligations they've already taken on and subsequently violated. We are not setting preconditions for another round of six-party talks, nor is any other of the six parties, except, apparently, North Korea. We are prepared to return to the talks at the earliest possible date.
As the President made clear, our objective is complete, verifiable and irreversible elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. In that context, we have also said that we are willing to document multilateral security assurances for North Korea.
Discussion of these matters can take place in the talks themselves. We call on North Korea to drop its preconditions to the talks and to join the other parties as soon as possible.
QUESTION: On the verification point, you might not want to go into this kind of detail before there are talks, but to know an agreement is verifiable, would that be sufficient for a security assurance, or would a security assurance depend on the actual beginning of verification?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not in a position at this point to describe to you neither the kind of ideas that we may have, nor how this is going to turn out. The point that we are making, and we have made, is that we look forward to going to these talks. The basic structure of what needs to be done is clear to us. That's the complete, verifiable and irreversible end to their programs in exchange for security assurances, that we are willing to discuss that in the talks themselves, and that the rest of these matters are subject to those discussions.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject?
QUESTION: Well, can I stay on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: Especially I want to ask your view on the -- they use the word freeze again. I mean, they show some indication before to this mantra about the, you know, they use the old wording again. How do you think about this?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, they use a lot of different words. We've read through the statements and you see a lot of bits and pieces of this, that and the other. I think the important issue at this stage is whether North Korea is going to return to talks, return to talks without preconditions, and sit down and work on this process with a coordinated series of steps that would end -- that would lead to the verifiable elimination of their nuclear program, and in return provide North Korea with the security guarantees, security assurances it's been looking for.
QUESTION: So, Mr. Boucher, your view of -- in terms of the schedule, so still do you think it is possible for (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: All I can say is we're ready to go at the earliest date, whatever date the Chinese could pick for us. So we'll just have to see if North Korea is ready to go without preconditions, too.
QUESTION: You say you told North Korea to drop preconditions. What are those preconditions?
MR. BOUCHER: I think if you look at their statement today, you'll see a whole -- whole host of things that they would demand or like or want or otherwise try to achieve in advance of talks. That's not the -- the attitude that we have taken. That's not the attitude that we think they should take.
We have accepted the basic framework that the Chinese and others have proposed. We've accepted the consensus that China reported at the last meeting, that there should be a nuclear-free peninsula. And we've also made clear, as the President has made clear, that we're willing to offer security assurances.
So we've accepted the basic framework and structure for these talks, but it's not time for one side, such as the North Koreans, to start making long lists of things that they might demand in advance of the talks.
QUESTION: What is your reaction to Japanese decision to send in self-defense troops to Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: We warmly welcome the announcement that was made today and we congratulate Prime Minister Koizumi and his government on this important step. In his remarks announcing the decision, the Prime Minister offered very compelling reasons for Japan and other countries to enhance their commitment to their -- to the Iraqi people, and to help in building a free and independent Iraq.
We wholeheartedly agree with the Prime Minister's judgment, that the greater threat to Iraq's stability comes if the international community turns away from the reconstruction effort, and not from the broader contribution that Japan and others need to make and are making to Iraq's future.
This latest commitment comes on top of Japan's generous pledge in Madrid at the reconstruction conference, where they pledged $5 billion over four years. Japan will now play an increasingly important role in assisting the Iraqis directly in several different ways.
The timing, composition and specific missions of any troop contribution remain for the Japanese Government to decide. I'm sure they will be discussing that with the Coalition Authority and with CENTCOM. Any deployment would be welcome and a valuable addition to the coalition effort.
QUESTION: Change subjects?
MR. BOUCHER: No?
QUESTION: Do you have an updated list of how many countries are contributing on the security side and on the reconstruction side in Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have an updated list with me. I'll see if we have one somewhere.
QUESTION: Okay. Taiwan today says it wants to go ahead with a vote despite the opposition expressed at the highest levels of the U.S. Government now, by the President, to a referendum. What do you -- how do you react to that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the first question would be whether they expressed that after the President made quite clear his views on the matter.
QUESTION: Well, hasn't the President sent a secret letter to the president -- no longer a secret letter?
MR. BOUCHER: That would be something -- I've seen those reports. That would be something for the White House to discuss.
QUESTION: Well, it would seem that they knew what the President thought before he said it today.
MR. BOUCHER: They probably did. But I think the point is the President has expressed himself quite clearly. That is the position of the U.S. Government on this, and we'll stick with it.
QUESTION: And you don't think that Taiwan -- or you suspect that Taiwan may no longer say it wants to go ahead with the referendum after these latest comments?
MR. BOUCHER: No. We will see what they decide to say after these latest comments.
QUESTION: But you seem to think things will change?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Then why can't you respond to their comments that were made after the President --
MR. BOUCHER: Because whether they changed or not, we don't know yet. So let's wait for them to say something, and then if we have something to say in response -- let's not respond until the response is -- until we know what we're responding to one way or the other.
QUESTION: As a matter of basic principle, why shouldn't another country or entity, like Taiwan, be able to hold whatever kind of a referendum it wishes to?
MR. BOUCHER: Our view on this has been consistent and quite clear, that we, obviously we believe in democracy. We've been strong supporters of the democracy that's developed in Taiwan and the way Taiwan has conducted itself as a democracy.
At the same time, there are certain fundamentals to the policy that we believe lead to stability in the region, in the Taiwan Straits, and for that reason we've also made clear we don't support independence and we oppose unilateral moves by either side. And moves that could lead in the direction of changing the status quo unilaterally are something we oppose, as the President made clear this morning.
QUESTION: So, in this particular instance, it would be fair to say that you are willing to sacrifice your general support for democracy in the interest of stability in the region?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- no, I don't think it would be fair to say that. I think it's quite clear that our support for democracy doesn't mean that sponsoring a referendum on any subject in particular around the world at any given moment is necessarily a wise or -- a wise course or one that might lead to stability and benefits to the people who are being invited to vote.
QUESTION: How do you oppose independence? With words? Or do you do other things to oppose? That's -- part of this equation is getting a new emphasis. That you don't support independence is old hat, as far as I know, but saying assertively that the U.S. will oppose independence --
MR. BOUCHER: That's not what I said. That's not what the President said.
QUESTION: No, that's the policy.
MR. BOUCHER: That's not what the President said. That's not what I have said.
QUESTION: Oh, then I misunderstand. I'm sorry. You're trying to squelch a referendum, but beyond that I thought the U.S. is now opposing independence. I don't know how you do that.
MR. BOUCHER: I'd invite you to look carefully at what the President said this morning, what I said yesterday, what I said on December 1st on a previous occasion. It's remarkably consistent.
MR. BOUCHER: Sir.
QUESTION: Yes, sir, on Taiwan. I just want to ascertain your principle. So it's a word, the strategic ambiguity, you know, principles here.
MR. BOUCHER: I never used that word, either.
QUESTION: So is that the --
MR. BOUCHER: The answer on Taiwan is there is a whole lot of commentary out there, but I would tend to encourage people to look at exactly what the President said this morning. That's very clear, and it's very much our policy.
QUESTION: So you are still maintaining the principle of -- you know, the notion of the strategic ambiguity still?
MR. BOUCHER: I never talked about strategic ambiguity in all my time at this podium. It's never been my notion; it's been somebody else's notion. So if you could find out whose it is, go ask them if it's still theirs. That's all I can tell you. We've been, I think, fairly clear in enunciating a One-China policy.
I've been fairly clear in talking about how we wanted to support and expand our relationship with the people in Taiwan. But we've also been quite clear that we felt that the -- neither party, neither side should try to change the status quo. That has been consistent since the beginning of this Administration, since the beginning of President Chun's Administration, throughout this -- throughout this period of time.
QUESTION: Richard, why shouldn't one regard your opposition to this particular referendum as a clear decision to give a preference to stability over democracy, or rather, the expression of democratic rule through a referendum. It seems to me very obvious that that's -- that's the case, and I'd be happy to hear your explanation why.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think -- you know, I mean, frankly, we face this in other situations as well, none of which come immediately to mind, but it rings a bell somewhere.
QUESTION: Yeah, come up with one. Come up with one.
MR. BOUCHER: Because I think that the point is that -- just holding a referendum on something doesn't suddenly make it an act of democracy. It's still a political action. It's still a political indication. It's still an attempt to move the bubble in one direction or the other, and if one wants to move in a particular direction that we think is unhelpful, and whether you want to do that by holding a referendum or enunciating a policy, or making a speech or whatever, we could still say that we're not -- we're not in favor of that sort of course of action.
QUESTION: But why not then say that you're not in favor of moving toward -- moves towards independence, but go right ahead, by all means, hold a referendum, that's -- that's your right as -- you know, as free people in a free world?
MR. BOUCHER: Because we believe that these -- as the President said this morning, that actions and words that lead in the direction of a change in the current status quo are not helpful and we oppose them.
QUESTION: Well, the situation has changed since this policy was first enunciated. But Taiwan has moved to being a democracy, unless the Administration wants to dispute that.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I said it five, ten minutes ago.
QUESTION: Yeah. Sure. All right. So there's a -- there's an evolution there, as there is in every part of the world, and for the Administration to keep saying we've taken this line all along, and it's still our position doesn't seem to reflect the fact that there is a -- not an emerging -- an emerged democracy in -- and there aren't too many of them around the world. And it's just -- I just --
MR. BOUCHER: Barry, I'd point out Taiwan's been a democracy since the beginning of this of Administration --
QUESTION: That's right.
MR. BOUCHER: -- and since before the beginning of President Chun's Administration.
QUESTION: That's true.
MR. BOUCHER: So for me to say that we've been clear on our policy from the beginning of this Administration doesn't --
MR. BOUCHER: -- doesn't involve a major change of circumstance in the last four years with regards to democracy in Taiwan.
QUESTION: No, I understand. I'll let it drop. But I mean the One-China thing precedes this Administration.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. But --
QUESTION: That's my point.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, it goes back to 1972. But still --
QUESTION: Well, when there was no democracy in Taiwan. All right.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: It kind of sounds like what you're saying is referendums are fine except when they may annoy the Chinese and destabilize a particular region.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not saying that either. I really reject all these characterizations. I think I tried to explain, and I will try to explain again, that if we oppose a particular move, move in the direction of unilateral change of the status quo, it doesn't matter whether that move's being made by speeches, or statements, or actions, or declarations or referendum. If it's clearly an attempt to move things in that direction, we remain opposed to it, as the President said this morning.
QUESTION: So, are you basically saying, Richard, that you only support the independence of Taiwan if China agrees that that's okay?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Didn't say that, either.
QUESTION: A different subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Please.
QUESTION: It's --
QUESTION: She asked a question. I gave her an answer. What more do you want?
QUESTION: Can you go one step further?
MR. BOUCHER: No, let's --
QUESTION: No, let's stick to China. One step further. Is Taiwan, in the U.S. view, a renegade province of China?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Any other questions with simple answers?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Smart.
QUESTION: Go on.
MR. BOUCHER: Let's go on.
QUESTION: On Russia, do you have any reaction or information regarding the suicide attack that happened this morning in Moscow?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I doubt if I have any information that's in addition to yours. It's been reported as a car bomb in downtown Moscow in front of the National Hotel. We resolutely condemn this latest terrorist attack that killed and injured people in front of the National Hotel in Moscow. We extend our condolences to the victims of today's attack and to the family members. There are no American citizens who are known to have been killed or injured in the attack. We reiterate once more our condemnation of those who engage in terrorism. No cause, no circumstances can justify such actions.
QUESTION: Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Sharon is quoted as having suggested that he may uproot and close some settlements that are across the Green Line. Do you think this is a good idea, and has this possibility been evoked in your conversations with the Israelis?
MR. BOUCHER: On the basic issue, I think our position is well-known and it's clear in the roadmap that Israel needs to freeze settlement activity, including so-called national -- natural growth, and certainly we look to the Government of Israel to take steps that are consistent with that. Exactly what Prime Minister Sharon intends to do or has in mind at this point is not completely clear. Our embassy does have discussions with the Israeli Government and obviously keeps in touch with them as regards their plans.
The President, as you'll remember, has talked about eliminating the outposts, freezing settlement activity and taking other actions that are conducive and help support a settlement. We would certainly welcome Israel's taking steps in that direction.
QUESTION: This -- this is different from closing outposts, stopping settlement activity --
MR. BOUCHER: I know. There have been some hints of --
QUESTION: This -- removing them is -- I know that he hasn't said this out in public, but he -- the legislators who heard him speak in the session seem to be pretty consistent.
MR. BOUCHER: But because of the nature of the reports, if somebody heard him say something that they thought was this, I think it behooves us to wait until the Israeli Government expresses itself clearly on the matter.
QUESTION: Do you think that closing settlements is something that is conducive towards helping toward peace?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the -- certainly, the issue is freezing settlement activity, closing the outposts, and dealing with the problem of settlements as it needs to be dealt with in the roadmap down the road. That's where I would stop for the moment until we know more precisely what it is the Israeli Government might be prepared to do, and at what point they might be prepared to do it.
QUESTION: The roadmap does not call for the remove -- for the dismantling of settlements, and nor did you say that.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I didn't.
QUESTION: And the question is, whether it would be productive to Israel to go beyond the roadmap and actually roll up settlements?
MR. BOUCHER: It's always productive to do things that help the peace process. But I don't want to start dictating from here some interpretation of remarks that I think none of us have actually seen.
QUESTION: We have a lot of people around the world doing that these days. Can I ask you about --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we tend not to do it.
QUESTION: Well, you give them a hearing, then. Can I ask you about Moldova? Did you -- have you noticed, has State Department noticed the report that dozens of rockets, outfitted so-called "dirty bombs" appear to be missing in Moldova in a breakaway region? Is that something State Department can credit at all?
MR. BOUCHER: No, it's not -- it's not something that we can substantiate. We've done some looking into it. At this point, we don't have information that would substantiate those reports. We can't confirm the existence of this material or the reported movements, but we'll continue to look into these reports and see if we can track down any of the pieces that were there.
I would point out that we work in Moldova under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. We've been negotiating also a program of assistance to the Government of Ukraine to strengthen its ability to interdict traffic in weapons of mass destruction along the Ukraine-Moldova border. There are plans to strengthen that program, to strengthen the Government of Ukraine's ability to interdict illicit traffic, also through the Ukraine's Black Sea ports.
And I'd also mention the Department of Energy is constructing a secure radioactive source storage facility in Moldova. This facility will store and secure unused medical and industrial radioactive sources. Department of Energy has other projects to consolidate and secure other commonly used radioactive sources in place.
So these particular reports we can't substantiate, but in general, as regards the problem, we are doing work both to interdict any kind of movement of this type but also to gather the materials in a secure and safe storage place.
QUESTION: In Iraq, the IGC has decided unanimously to expel the Mujahedin-e Khalq, which sounds a little strange considering that these people are supposedly under U.S. guard. Is this something that was take -- a decision that was taken in connection with the CPA, and what does this mean for the camps that the MEK is now held in?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I just saw the wires. We clearly have always said and consider the Mujahedin-e Khalq a terrorist group. They have been subject to cantonment or restriction by the U.S. military to make sure that they can no longer carry out their activities. But for the exact status on the ground, I'd have to leave you to the military.
QUESTION: But this is not a military decision; this is a decision with the ICG?
MR. BOUCHER: IGC, yeah. No, for their exact status, the military out there is going to have to do it. And whether they talked to the Coalition Authority, I'm afraid that's -- Baghdad's got to answer that.
QUESTION: You mean for their status in regard to this announcement by the IGC?
MR. BOUCHER: For where they are today, you'd have to ask the military.
QUESTION: Right. I'm not asking that. I'm asking --
MR. BOUCHER: And for what the IGC is going to do and whether they consulted with the coalition, again, that's -- people in Baghdad have to answer that.
QUESTION: It would seem to be a bit complicated, wouldn't it, if the IGC --
MR. BOUCHER: It would seem that there are different people to talk to, yes.
QUESTION: On Iraq, do you have something to say on tonight's performance by Iraqi National Symphony that's sponsored by State Department?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we put out a lot of material for you on the events. We certainly welcome this. It's a sign that Iraq is, in many, many different ways, coming to take its place in the world, that these musicians have come to represent Iraq and to show Iraq's cultural abilities and to show that Iraq stands with other nations now as a peaceful participant in world events and world culture. We certainly welcome them, we look forward to hearing them, and are glad that they are able to make the trip and not only entertain Americans here but also go back to Baghdad and be part of the cultural life of a new Iraq.
QUESTION: On Sudan, the Secretary was optimistic about a settlement before the end of the year, and, of course, he talked to the parties in October. He's been in touch with them in the last ten days. Is there, at the moment, direct U.S. -- whatever -- intervention, mediation? You know, how are you keeping up with the day-to-day that makes you now so optimistic?
MR. BOUCHER: We have continued to be very active diplomatically in supporting the peace talks in Sudan. We have our people in Khartoum, also in Kenya, at the peace talks, who have been working with both of the parties, all the parties, who are out there. We sent last week one of our senior diplomats, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Africa, Charles Snyder, out to the region. He went out to work with the parties just last week. The Secretary's been in touch, as you say, by phone, I think a week ago.
And so we will continue to work with the parties. The latest reports I saw were that they were starting to meet with each other again and to have direct discussions. But the United States remains very, very active working with the parties and with General Sumbeiywo, the Kenyan intermediary for -- who works on behalf of the IGAD.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)
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