State Department Briefing, February 9, 2004
|Monday February 9,
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. You've seen the Secretary twice, but I thought I'd come out and see if there's anything more I can help you with.
If I can, at the beginning, I'd like to make one statement about Haiti and the violence that's been going on down there that's concerned us greatly. The United States strongly condemns the latest wave of violence in Haiti. We deeply deplore the loss of life that occurred during the attacks in Gonaives, St. Marc and other cities.
We call on the Government of Haiti to respect the rights, especially human rights, of all citizens and residents of Haiti, and we call on Haitians to respect the law.
The problems of Haiti will not be solved by violence and retribution. Only through dialogue, negotiation, compromise can Haiti find a solution to its problems.
The United States fully supports the efforts of CARICOM and of the Organization of American States, through its Special Mission to Haiti, to promote a peaceful and democratic resolution of the current crisis that can be supported by all the Haitian people.
And with that, I would be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Well, the situation is still bad. Is the State Department doing anything further on getting American officials out of there? You had this plan where they could come out if they chose to, and dependents as well.
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, there's no change in the situation as regards American officials there. We do understand no Americans have been injured in the recent violence. At least, we don't have any reports of that. The Embassy remains open and in touch with the American community.
The situation in Port-Au-Prince itself appears to have calmed a little bit today, but we still consider the situation there very fluid there in Port-Au-Prince and around the country, so have advisories that encourage travelers to be very careful.
QUESTION: Is anybody interfering with American officials trying to get a close view, if they do -- I'm sure they must -- of the street situation in the country?
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I know of.
QUESTION: Richard --
QUESTION: You said that the U.S. supports CARICOM and OAS efforts. Is there anything specifically that either Secretary Powell or any other senior officials are doing, trying to reach out, talk to Aristide or anything like that right now?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as you know, when we were in Monterrey, the President himself and the Secretary both met with the CARICOM group, including President Aristide, and made very clear at that time to President Aristide how important his role was in bringing the violence under control and entering into a dialogue with the opposition groups, using whatever auspices were available, through CARICOM, through the bishops, through OAS.
The United States has stayed involved and stayed in touch since then to try to encourage that progress; and indeed, we have seen some commitments made to the CARICOM group and we have offered them our full support. We are also active within the OAS context and in the Friends of Haiti.
But there has not been a direct contact from here about the violence. Our Embassy down there is working very hard to do what they can to encourage dialogue and try to help the situation calm down.
QUESTION: One more follow-up, Richard. What -- how much concern is there on the part of State Department officials about the armed gangs which President Aristide has and intends to use?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that's where there's -- it's gotten to be a very complicated situation regarding violence. So you have over the weekend some 6 to 15 people who were killed in the city of Gonaives. There was also fighting between pro- and anti-Aristide gangs in the city of St. Marc, 2 people reportedly killed there.
The Government has responded with a combination of police and pro-Aristide gangs. The pro-Aristide gangs reportedly erected flaming tire barricades in several cities. So there are different groups. There are different private groups, or, you know, nongovernmental -- how do I call them? -- bands of violent actors, thugs, on both sides, who have been involved in violence, as well as the government reaction that we think has often sometimes contributed to the violence.
So it's a very complicated situation. That's why everybody needs to exercise more restraint and calm the situation down and try to move forward in a political way.
QUESTION: If I understood you correctly, you suggested that this was basically being dealt with at the embassy level. And I wonder why you haven't made more of an effort from Washington to try to get the two sides to talk.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I mean, when you have the President and the Secretary of State intervening personally, a month and a half, two months ago, to try to encourage positive movement in the situation, that's pretty substantial. That doesn't mean you have to call every time there is an outbreak of violence in Haiti. Unfortunately, that may not be the solution, but we have been very active in support of this through the OAS.
The Secretary has talked to people from the region about it frequently, and our Embassy is operating down there with a full force of and support of the President and the Secretary because they have been strong supporters of the CARICOM effort and of making sure the United States continues to play an important role.
QUESTION: As you pointed out, that was a month and a half or two months ago. And do you think that if you took a more sort of forward-leaning stance now, it would be an effectual --
MR. BOUCHER: I, frankly, don't think we could stop this violence by making three phone calls over the weekend. It's a bit more complicated than that. And the United States will continue to play a very strong diplomatic role along with others, but it's not as simple as the question of who picks up the phone. We pick up the phone in Washington; that doesn't mean the gangs stop beating each other in Haiti, unfortunately.
QUESTION: Could we you go back to Pakistan? The Secretary's remarks suggest, because he's asking, insisting that they pull out whatever remains of that, remove whatever remains of that operation run by Khan, is he saying that it isn't stamped out yet? And didn't people like the Deputy Secretary of State alert the Pakistani Government to this? I can't somehow square their denials all along, as long ago as a couple of weeks ago by their Ambassador here, that there was any evidence of anything wrong with U.S. awareness.
And so it's sort of a two-part, fuzzy question. What else is going -- what else -- I mean, the reporters going to Malaysia, they see --
MR. BOUCHER: I think it's a three-part fuzzy question, but let me try to take it on.
QUESTION: They see the centrifuge production going on that Pakistan says is over. I mean, aren't you getting lied to a lot by Pakistan?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think the point, Barry, is that the President of Pakistan, President Musharraf, has indeed stopped the activity that was going on. The Pakistani Government, both through the President and the Foreign Ministry statements, has made clear that they're going to find out everything they can and share that information with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The President of Pakistan has made clear that the pardon is conditional that there be no activity from this particular individual, and that they are continuing to investigate the others who might have been involved in this activity so that they do get to the bottom of it.
So we welcome those statements, we welcome the progress they've made, and we look forward to their continuing and finishing the investigation and sharing the results with the appropriate international organizations.
The Deputy Secretary, as you alluded to, has indeed talked to the Government of Pakistan at various levels about nonproliferation issues. We've made the point, he's made the point, as we all have, that we look to Pakistan to take action on proliferation. We've seen Pakistan do that. And that's what we're following now and what we're trying to support.
QUESTION: When he talked to various levels, did he reach the high level of the President, whose word you seem to take?
MR. BOUCHER: He's talked -- when he's traveled out there, he's talked to President Musharraf. He's met with various others in the Pakistani Government. He keeps -- I know his involvement was specifically alluded to in some of the things that appeared over the weekend.
But the subject of nonproliferation in Pakistan has been one that he has worked on since the beginning of the Administration and discussed in various terms many times with the Pakistani Government.
It's always been important to us that Pakistan take action against possible proliferation. And we've seen the commitments and we've seen action now.
QUESTION: Can you confirm specifically that Deputy Secretary Armitage, in his October visit, shared with President Musharraf this accumulation of CIA evidence about Abdul Qadeer Khan?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Did he speak specifically about this individual, not just about various nonproliferation activities?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not in a position to get into exactly the contents of the discussion.
QUESTION: Can you say whether that came up?
MR. BOUCHER: I can say that the subject of nonproliferation came up.
QUESTION: Richard, did you have -- two questions, really. Did you have reason, when you have talked to Pakistan, whether it's Mr. Armitage or anyone else, about Mr. Khan and those type of activities, did you get the impression that this was the first time that the government knew, like, that they were surprised and enlightened by this information, or that it was a problem that they knew about and either were trying to get a hold on or --
MR. BOUCHER: I can't confirm the contents of our side of that discussion --
QUESTION: Well, I'm not saying --
MR. BOUCHER: I can't describe their reaction. I'm not trying to describe in detail what they think about what we said to them, if I can't say what we said to them.
QUESTION: Well, Mr. Tenet, George Tenet, said last week in his speech that the United States --
MR. BOUCHER: That we knew a great deal about this --
MR. BOUCHER: -- and we have shared that information with other governments. But I'm not going to try to describe the -- another government's reaction to something we said.
QUESTION: What do you hope to learn from this investigation in terms of the depth of the sales, and things like that? Are you -- are you just trying to find the people that were involved in the sales, or do you think that this will clue you in as to activity that's gone on around the world that you hope that you can stop?
MR. BOUCHER: Everything. The point of conducting a thorough investigation, and then sharing that information with the appropriate international bodies, as the Secretary has said Pakistan should and as the Pakistanis have said they would, is that we can all learn about those involved in this operation throughout the world. We can learn where it went to and what capabilities they might have acquired through it. But even more than that, we can make sure it stops.
QUESTION: When Secretary Powell was asked about the amnesty -- or I'm sorry -- about the phone call to Musharraf, he said that they did discuss the amnesty, and he and Musharraf pointed out to Secretary Powell that it was a conditional amnesty, which suggests that perhaps Secretary Powell raised concerns about the amnesty. Did he do that?
MR. BOUCHER: I would leave it the way the Secretary said. They talked about it. President Musharraf pointed out it was conditional, as the Foreign Ministry has subsequently also said.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that specifically, on the amnesty?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, go.
QUESTION: Last week, when he announced the amnesty, he certainly didn't say it was conditional. That's something that came up in the phone call, and then the Foreign Ministry said today. So is that a change in Musharraf's position on the amnesty? Because he didn't say that when he announced the pardon.
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't followed every single statement the Pakistani Government has made. I don't think it was said in that particular one. But I think that has been, to some extent, the understanding all along was that this pardon, or whatever, was being given so that -- provided they did not participate in any sort of activities like this in the future. But I'd leave it to them. That was the understanding, basic understanding, I think we all had.
QUESTION: Richard, we understand that you think it's appropriate for the investigation to be internal at this stage, but is there any kind of mechanism that you think you or the IAEA should be involved in, in terms of verification or even supervising the dismantlement of the network?
MR. BOUCHER: As we've said before, we think it's the responsibility of the Government of Pakistan to do that and to share the information with the appropriate international bodies. Whether there are, you know, assistance or other programs the IAEA might have, I just don't know.
QUESTION: In hunting down al-Qaida, would it be useful if the United States were able to have its troops operate or its -- whatever -- the troops, searchers, whatever -- operate on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan? If I was concentrating on television, and I don't always, I think I heard Musharraf say it isn't necessary. I think he told NBC that over the weekend.
It sounds like your partner in countering terrorism is operating a limited partnership; a conditional partnership, perhaps.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't exactly -- Barry, it's an elegant question, but it's the same question we always get and it's the same answer that we always give you, that there is indeed cooperation on both sides of the border. There is indeed cooperation on both sides of the border. There's tripartite cooperation between the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan in the border areas to try to make sure that we all do our part in tracking down the remnants of al-Qaida and the Taliban that may be in those areas, and making sure that they are rooted out, that the government authority is established in those areas where, for a long time, there was not much authority, and that we take care of the problem together.
And that's the way we've been approaching it, we've seen some successes in that regard, and that's the way we'll continue to work it with the Government of Pakistan and the Government of Afghanistan, for that matter.
QUESTION: You see, I apologize for not remembering exactly the question, but I think the question that NBC asked is whether he would permit U.S. troops to operate on the Pakistan side of the border, and he said it wasn't necessary. You can cooperate without having American troops there.
MR. BOUCHER: The goal is not to have U.S. troops here, there or everywhere. The goal is to stop the terrorism and is to get rid of the remnants that are there. And the United States, along with Pakistan and Afghanistan, have worked very closely together to do that, and we will continue to do that in a way that meets the needs of all the parties to wipe out the remnants of al-Qaida and Taliban who might have taken refuge in those areas.
QUESTION: Richard, last week the -- I believe the Information Minister of Pakistan was in town and I think a senior Pakistani official seemed to suggest, which is different from that person, by the way, seemed to suggest that there has been an agreement between the United States and Pakistan that American troops will not cross over into the Pakistani territory, of the Pakistani side of the border.
Has there been any official agreement between the two countries that there won't be such --
MR. BOUCHER: If there is some military understanding, I guess you'd have to ask over at the Pentagon, if that's what you're alluding to. But as I said, once again, the goal is to end this activity, and we think the best way to do that is through cooperation between the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Has there been any indication that any of the former Soviet republics or Russian republics are entering into this, such as the Ukraine and/or --
MR. BOUCHER: Are what?
QUESTION: Such as the Ukraine or --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, but what are they supposedly doing?
QUESTION: Entering into this black market, black --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. As you know, most of those countries got rid of their nuclear weapons and the nuclear facilities in the 1990s. That was a major step forward for nonproliferation. And we also worked with them to help them achieve those goals that they set for themselves.
So whether there are, you know, remnants, scientists that might have been involved in this network, I don't know at this point. I think that'll depend on finding the whole network and getting the information out.
The United States has had programs to try to make sure these people don't enter into an illicit trade in nuclear technology.
QUESTION: Sorry, on Pakistan still.
MR. BOUCHER: On Pakistan.
QUESTION: Yeah, regarding a loose nuke case and the -- some report weekend United States providing some aid to a Pakistan authority to secure their nukes. And can you say, can you confirm this story, first?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: And do you have any --
MR. BOUCHER: The -- what we have had with Pakistan is some discussions about safety of nuclear materials. But we are prevented by law and the Nonproliferation Treaty, for that matter, from getting involved in the safety of nuclear weapons, questions involving nuclear weapons.
QUESTION: So no financial aid to Pakistan on this issue, specifically?
MR. BOUCHER: No. We've had discussions with them about safety of nuclear materials and technology, of course, just being another example of why it's important to safeguard all that expertise and materials.
QUESTION: Russia -- the missing Russian presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin, if you have any response from Moscow and what you're hearing?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have any new real information on that. The -- our Embassy in Moscow is following the situation. I think there are a lot of rumors going around town. But at this point, I haven't seen any definitive information coming out of the Russian side. The Russians are investigating, as you know.
QUESTION: I know that the Secretary already spoke a little bit about it, but can you give us more details about this "road plan" for supporting reforms and democracy in the Middle East that Washington Post is mentioning today?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that there are, in fact, more details that can be provided at this point because it's a set of ideas that are being discussed, and they need to be discussed with people in the region, as the Secretary did today with the Bahraini Foreign Minister. And I think his comments were quite an apt description of what we would like to be able to do: look in the region where there are people seeking reform, there are people trying to establish the rule of law, change their economies and things like that; and then to see what programs and capabilities from the outside can be used to support that.
So the Secretary has been discussing this concept with other foreign ministers. He spoke about it with the French Foreign Minister on Friday. He just spoke about it at lunch with the Dutch Foreign Minister, because we all know the European Union has a great -- a certain amount of experience in terms of its programs for the Mediterranean and Barcelona process and things like that. NATO has experience that might be applied in terms of its relations with a variety of states.
So I think as we approach the G-8, the U.S.-EU and the NATO meetings, we'll look first and foremost at what the people in the region are trying to do and what they want to do, be talking to them first and foremost, and then trying to see to what extent those other organizations, those other groups that we participate in, can lend support to the voices in the region who are pushing for reform, pushing for democracy, trying to establish the rule of law.
And indeed, many [of them] had programs with us. It may be, for example, the free trade agreements and the trade and investment framework agreements that we're pursuing or the Middle East Partnership Initiative. With the EU, it may be other things. With NATO, it may be other things. What we'd like to do is sort of work in a concerted fashion to support the voices of reform in the region.
QUESTION: Do you think -- just to follow up, do you think that the comparison with the Helsinki Accords in this case is relevant?
MR. BOUCHER: It's not one that, frankly, that we -- that we tend to use that much. I suppose there is probably some relationship, if it's understood in the proper context. The more important thing is that there are people in the region who are holding elections. There are people in the region who are establishing new judicial frameworks.
Bahrain last year held a seminar on judicial reform where I think there were 18 countries from the region who participated, and we were able to send Justice O'Connor out to help participate in that and talk about judicial reform in the region.
When we were in Morocco, remember, we talked about the family law that Morocco is spearheading and moving forward in.
So there are a number of things -- elections, judicial reforms, democratic reforms, civil society growing up, a number of things are actually going on in the region. The goal is to see how we can support those.
Helsinki, sadly, other than perhaps solidarity, the effort in the region was not there, and now we do have an effort in this region to reform and move forward, and we want to be able to support that.
QUESTION: A lot of leaders in the region say that, you know, I know you're talking about the free trade and investment and things like that. But when you -- all of these reforms, these social/democratic/rule of law, really go hand-in-hand with the lack of opportunity, jobs and development in the region.
So when you talk about this initiative, I mean, how much of it will be helping these countries develop economically so that they have strong, you know, societies that feel that they have opportunity and are going to support these reforms?
MR. BOUCHER: That's a key part of it. Different countries may manifest itself in different ways. You see this with the Middle East Partnership Initiative or with the Europeans' Barcelona process. The U.S. Free Trade Agreement, for example, with Jordan has led to enormous growth of exports, and therefore enormous job growth for the Jordanians, and really been a very positive thing for the Jordanian economy.
We look to see those kind of benefits elsewhere, as well, from expanding trade with us, with Europe, with the region -- within the region as well. So there is a lot of economics to this. There is a lot of education, training people on the skills so that they can be active and part of modern economies. There is a lot of creating economic opportunity. In some places, it may be a desire to join the World Trade Organization, other places it may be a desire for trade investment framework agreements or free trade agreements.
QUESTION: Are all the countries of the region going to be included in this initiative, or it targets certain countries that are having better relations maybe with the United States or -- has it been coordinated?
MR. BOUCHER: Some of that stuff hasn't all been decided. I think the general premise is that we are supporting those in the region who themselves are looking for reform; that we can coordinate our assistance programs, our technical programs, our trade opportunities, our investment opportunities, our, you know, even some of our security programs and support, in support of countries that are trying to undertake sometimes difficult paths to reform.
So, to some extent, it requires the countries themselves to decide that they want to change their economies, change their societies; adopt, as the Bahraini Crown Prince described the rule of law, democracy, free trade, free market economics. And to the extent that people are trying to go down that path, we think we ought to be there to help them.
QUESTION: If any of those countries are very interested in reforming their economy and the areas you're talking about, sir, what about if you, the United States, has some differences on other political matters? Would that stand between your initiative and their pursuing or cooperating with your initiative?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we'll have to see how all this manifests itself in the end. As I said, this is a series of ideas that are being explored with the people in the region, with other organizations who are involved in the region, and it will develop over time. It's not -- I'm not yet at the point to be able to promise specific programs under specific circumstances.
The goal is to support reform in the region and to use the various tools and organizations we have available to do that. Beyond that, all I can tell you is it's -- all these various aspects are being explored.
QUESTION: On Cyprus. As you know, both sides have some concerns, some of them common concerns, and before the weekend, there were high-level, top-level phone calls between Ankara and Washington. I was wondering if the U.S. has put in some effort, and what was it? And who is representing the U.S. in Europe apart from Tom Weston? Anybody else joining him, high-level?
MR. BOUCHER: What's the matter with Tom Weston? He's our guy.
QUESTION: No, I mean other people.
MR. BOUCHER: He's our man.
QUESTION: Are there other people?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure. He's got his team. But he'll be attending the meetings as an observer. He won't be a participant and he'll be meeting with the parties in New York. But that's where you need to start: with the basics. The parties are coming to New York. They've accepted the Secretary General's invitation, we understand. Meetings will begin tomorrow under the auspices of the Secretary General.
First, they'll be talking about procedures and the next steps in the process. We hope that leads to agreement to following the basis of the Secretary General's plans to move forward. We're glad the parties are attending. We urge them to negotiate seriously.
As you noted, the Secretary did talk to Foreign Minister Gul on Friday about the upcoming talks. He's talked to his other interlocutors, the Secretary General on Friday and again in a phone call yesterday, about Cyprus and about how we can all support the Secretary General's efforts.
It's been, obviously, a subject of discussion also with the French Foreign Minister on Friday and the Netherlands Foreign Minister today, because we recognize the important role the Europeans and the European Union have to play. And as the President, I think, promised, that we would be doing what we can, everything we can, to support the efforts with our diplomacy and with Secretary Powell's personal involvement in trying to support the effort the Secretary General is making right now.
QUESTION: On Libya, following Assistant Secretary Burns' meetings last week in London, the Libyan Foreign Minister visiting Britain now, I'm wondering if there are any plans for something like that. A visit to the United States, any other moves on establishing a diplomatic presence in Libya?
MR. BOUCHER: I think --
QUESTION: There was a statement.
MR. BOUCHER: There was a statement. I think everybody has it now. If you don't have it, let us get to you -- get it to you.
The meetings in London were positive. We thought they were positive and thorough discussions of a number of issues. We've noted the excellent progress that's been made by Libya towards its -- on its decision to eliminate weapons of mass destruction and missile programs. We've made clear our willingness to assist. We also reiterated the importance of continued Libyan adherence to commitments on terrorism that it made in context with Pan Am 103 obligations.
This progress has opened the door to better and different relations with the United States. We have seen congressional delegations go recently. They have discussed other ways to increase contacts. If you look at the whole statement, they also discussed the possibility of making some other changes as Libya moves forward on the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, talked about a possible -- the possibility of lifting the ban on the use of U.S. passports, of facilitating certain kinds of transactions in Libya by Americans.
There's nothing to announce at this point on an interest section, but as we've said, that we do send U.S. personnel in to facilitate the work that's being done, particularly by the teams. And I would say that's becoming a pretty regular thing, that they're sort of there on a regular basis now and will be in the future.
But as far as sort of establishing -- how did we phrase it? -- assigning a small number of personnel to each other's capitals, that's something that there is the possibility of. But I don't have any new announcements on that.
QUESTION: And the Foreign Minister -- have you discussed the Libyan Foreign Minister coming here?
MR. BOUCHER: That was not among the list of things that we put out in terms of possibilities at this point.
QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary Burns traveling this week back to the Middle East?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything on his travel right now.
QUESTION: Richard, on that subject. You may not have an answer, but I wonder if you've looked into the status of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, which I think has been uninhabited for --
MR. BOUCHER: You mean sort of physical condition of it?
QUESTION: Yeah, and there was a riot there in December of '80 or so, and --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, just --
QUESTION: Maybe it was '79. Anyway, and I don't -- I don't know that anybody has been there since then. In fact, I would be surprised if --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if any of our people who have been there recently, have, you know, gone by to take a peek. But I'll see if we have anything new on that.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we'll have to see. Not only is there time, but facilities in that age were designed a little differently than what we might need at this moment.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you about a July 2003 Library of Congress report, details of which have just recently come to light, that, in 1999, Islamic terrorist groups operating under the tri-border region in South America were targeting Jewish -- Jewish targets in South America and Ottawa, Canada for attack.
Do you know of this? Is this a credible report?
MR. BOUCHER: I really don't know. I haven't focused on that particular issue recently. I'll try to get you something, if we can.
QUESTION: What about in that same report, sir, if I could just follow up? In that same report, there was a suggestion that there was a Hezbollah senior agent that was funneling funds through accounts in Chile, Canada and the U.S., in order to fund terrorist activity in the Middle East.
MR. BOUCHER: Again, that's something I'd have to look at. It is a subject that we've covered in our Patterns of Global Terrorism reports, which you can get from the press office, you can find on the web, and that tri-border area is one that we have in the past put a lot of focus on. Whether those particular details are things that we were able to confirm or not, I just don't know. I'd have to have somebody go check.
QUESTION: Two quick ones, one on western Sudan. The Sudanese Government has declared a one-month amnesty to the people they were fighting in western Sudan. Do you think that's a good thing?
And, secondly, they refused an invitation to go to Geneva for sort of informal peace talks with the rebels. Did you have a position on whether they should have done that?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check on the position of peace talks and other things. The situation in Darfur region has been one of concern to us. We've been active, both on the humanitarian side, but also in talking to the government and others about what can be done to calm the situation. In fact, the Dutch Government has been involved, and so that was -- the situation in Darfur was one of discussion today at lunch with the Dutch Foreign Minister.
QUESTION: One other quick one. Senator Schumer has written a letter that he has also made public to Secretary Powell suggesting that the State Department was considering relaxing visa processes and requirements for Saudi citizens seeking non-immigrant visas to the United States. Are you considering doing that or --
MR. BOUCHER: The standards that apply are applied worldwide. It's a matter of law that people have to meet the security standards and security checks that are done are done worldwide. The emphasis that we have put on doing more and more interviews is being done worldwide. I think we're at a hundred percent or close to a hundred percent interviews in Saudi Arabia with very few exceptions.
That effort to beef up the security of our visa process has been and continues to be one of the highest priorities of the Secretary and the State Department. If we can do that efficiently, more efficiently, we'll look at ways to do that. But security is the -- is the main goal right now, and we're not relaxing standards for anybody.
Okay, in the back.
QUESTION: On Venezuela.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: During his Sunday speech, President Chavez accused the U.S. Government of financing organizations that are funneling millions of dollars to support a recall -- the recall referendum seeking President Chavez's removal from office. What is the reaction to these accusations from the U.S. Government?
MR. BOUCHER: The reaction is just the facts. I'm afraid every weekend or every couple days we seem to come in with a set of these charges. And I'm happy to refute them. They're false. I think there's been some harping on this in Venezuela by certain circles, including the government and the government's leaders.
But what we're doing is we're supporting democracy as we do in many, many places around the hemisphere and around the world. Our funding goes to groups that promote democracy and strengthen civil society in Venezuela. We do this openly through the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, two nongovernmental organizations that are expert in doing this work around the world on a nonpartisan basis, without any favoritism, to support the institutions and the structures of democracy.
They train poll watchers, who are essential to monitoring of elections. They strengthen political party organization around the world. The programs organized by these two groups are open to all of Venezuela's political parties, including those that support President Chavez. Members of pro-government and opposition parties have, indeed, participated in the programs in the past.
We continue to support constitutional, peaceful, democratic and electoral solutions to the political impasse in Venezuela. The programs of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute are entirely consistent with those goals.
QUESTION: Okay. To new subject.
China's Deputy Foreign Minister said to Wall Street Journal that it is necessary for the United States to give a further public statement to show your opposition to Taiwan's referendum in order to prevent Beijing from taking a possible military action.
Does United States Government receive this message or pressure from Beijing regarding this issue?
MR. BOUCHER: I did not see the statement, so I don't know if we've heard it privately. But I think between the Secretary, the President and Mr. Armitage, we've been fairly outspoken on the subject recently.
QUESTION: Have you got any reaction or feedback about the meeting between the UN Special Envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi and the Iraqi National Council and this emerging conflict between them regarding the transition of power, two different positions coming up now?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I mean, first of all, no, you'd have to get any readouts of those meetings from the United Nations or the Governing Council themselves. And second of all, remember the United Nations team is out there to try to look at the situation, provide their expertise and see what they can do to reach some understandings with everybody.
So I wouldn't describe what they're doing as an emerging conflict. I think they're going out there to try to work things out so that we can --
QUESTION: Sorry, not between the UN and the Iraqis, but within the Iraqi National Council itself?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, there's going to be political debate, and part of what the UN and we and all of us are working on is to be able to get the structure so that that political debate can be channeled in a way that reflects the desires and reaches an outcome that's for the benefit of the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: Yes, Senator Lugar's staff member, Mr. Luse, spoke at Heritage Foundation this morning, and he mentioned seven points that their office is paying attention to this year in Asia. One of those seven points was growing relationship between North Korea and Burma, and he mentioned that North Korea may be providing technology to Burma's nuclear reactor construction and also may be providing scud missiles to Burma.
My question is: What is the view of State Department on this issue? And if you have been asked by the Congress to make a report on this issue, when will it come out?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that we have been asked to make a report. I'd have to check on that. And second of all, I don't think I'm in a position to confirm any such ties or activity.
I would say that, as you know, our policies about North Korea's proliferation are very clear and very strong, and any attempt by Burma to acquire nuclear missile or other technologies from North Korea, or by North Korea to provide it or to sell it, would be completely contrary to the kind of evolution we want to see in that region.
QUESTION: Richard, within the last month, you've had a dust-up of sorts with Brazil on their fingerprinting American citizens. And they went, I think, detained briefly an American Airlines pilot, but this has just occurred again over the weekend with a substantial fine of over $17,000 by a tourist. Are the Brazilians getting overbearing or are we just being impolite? And are you going to --
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see the weekend thing. I don't know when it happened. The Secretary talked to the Brazilian Foreign Minister on Saturday about a number of issues, and this issue of visa processing or immigration processing came up.
Once again, you know, our goal is not to decide on behalf of the Brazilians what they can or cannot do, that's for them to decide, but to ask that it be done smoothly and with the least amount of inconvenience to travelers, as we think we have done in the system that we designed, which takes, you know, 15 - 20 seconds to put your fingers on the line and go through the process.
QUESTION: You said when this first came up that it took nine hours, something like that. Is it better nowadays?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd have to check. I think there's still a fair degree of inconvenience involved.
QUESTION: With this particular tourist, who is apparently back in New Jersey now, who was detained and it's --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know the particular circumstances of the case.
QUESTION: It's -- is it insolence on our part --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know the particular circumstances of the case or what this individual may have done or not done. What's important to us, I mean, is that countries, you know, try to do whatever their procedures are in a smooth manner that doesn't impede travel, that doesn't harm their own desire to attract tourism and business and educational exchanges and all the other benefits that we see in travel back and forth.
QUESTION: On visas. Senators Schumer has a press release out saying that the U.S. in Saudi Arabia is asking the --
MR. BOUCHER: I think we did that question while you were out.
QUESTION: Did you -- oh, thank you. And I've got one more. Iraq -- are they back in business at the Embassy -- of course, the new Iraqis -- reestablishing, you know, a formal presence here?
MR. BOUCHER: Don't know.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)
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