State Department Briefing, February 23, 2004

 

Monday February 23, 2004

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2004
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
1:45 p.m. EST

BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman

Index

IRAN
Recent Elections Not to International Standards
U.S.-Iranian Relations
Iran's Lack of Compliance with IAEA Requirements
Accusations of Iran and Syria Sending Forces into Iraq

SYRIA
Accusations of Iran and Syria Sending Forces into Iraq
Initiative to Open New Dialogue with Israel

LIBYA
Review of Travel Restrictions

HAITI
Agreement To Expedite Implementation of CARICOM Plan
Statement of Guarantors
Situation on the Ground/Military Team/Anti-Terrorism Team
Potential Police Provided by International Community
Ordered Departure/Status of Embassy
Contact with Rebel Groups

DEPARTMENT
Powell, Noriega, Foley Phone Calls on Haiti
Secretary Powell's Phone Conversations

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
Read-Out of Burns, Hadley, Abrams Trip
Secretary's Meeting with Shimon Peres
Weekend Bombing/World Court Hearings

IRAQ
UN Report on Political Transition
Role of the UN

SERBIA/MONTENEGRO
U.S. Relations with New Serbian Government
Need to Cooperate with The Hague Tribunal

NORTH KOREA
Six Party Talks Beginning on Wednesday

 


MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements. There's a lot going on, so let's go on with your questions.

QUESTION: Before we get to Haiti, perhaps, could you -- do you have any reflections (inaudible) on the returns in Iran? Is reform something to be spoken of now in the past tense?

MR. BOUCHER: Our view is that the pressure for reform in Iran, the pressure for democracy in Iran, is going to continue, notwithstanding the setback that's represented by the elections. I think we made clear our concerns about an election that was shaping up to be deeply flawed in the run-up to the elections, and it turned out that way. It was not an electoral process that met international standards, and I think you've seen other members of the international community say that.

But we do continue to believe the Iranian people deserve a government that responds to their aspirations, and we believe that that desire on the part of the Iranian people will continue to be expressed in a variety of ways.

QUESTION: How does this election affect your relations with the Iranian Government?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that there's much you can say on that. Our concerns about the situation in Iran certainly have been stated clearly many times. We have concerns about support for terrorism, about Iran's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, generally the lack of respect for human rights and the presence of al-Qaida people and other issues.

We have said before that we are willing to engage Iran on specific issues of mutual concern in an appropriate manner, if we decide it's in our interest to do so. But at this point, I think this election goes on the list of human rights topics and other things that we've been concerned about in Iran, and we would look forward to some opportunity to deal with some of those issues.

Obviously, the first one on the agenda, the one that's coming up, is not just an issue with the United States, it's an issue with the international community, and that's Iran's compliance, or lack of compliance with the requests and requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors.

QUESTION: Let me try to pick up on that. Friday I asked -- you weren't here. The Secretary, acting with fairly -- what should I say? Well, I won't characterize it, but he said Iran hasn't come forward as we hoped they would. I mean, there are people who think that Iran has lied to the International Atomic -- they're a little harder on Iran than the Secretary. He wanted more from them, but he didn't condemn them in his interview with someone or other as, you know, as actually lying and misleading the IAEA.

What is the view here?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I haven't seen anybody here say they've lied --

QUESTION: I know.

MR. BOUCHER: -- that I don't think anybody has said that the information that they provided wasn't more or less correct. What we've said is it was not complete.

Remember, the IAEA asked for a correct, complete and final picture of Iran's past and present program. So they have, indeed, indulged in -- they have talked about some -- divulged some parts of that program. But they still have a long way to go, and we -- it's not clear to us at this point that Iran has made a strategic decision to abandon its efforts at nuclear weapons production.

Indeed, disclosures of Iran's actual situation are continuing. The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman yesterday acknowledged that Iran did buy many of its nuclear components on the black market. That tends to reaffirm our belief that Iran was not fully transparent in its October declaration to the IAEA.

So the Secretary's remarks in terms of they haven't been fully forthcoming is a reiteration of this; that they have not fully disclosed their program, as they were requested to do by the IAEA.

QUESTION: Well, the Secretary across the river, Mr. Rumsfeld, is again accusing Iran and Syria of sending forces into Iraq. I don't think we've heard that from any other part of the government. Does the State Department -- I don't want to -- you know, have one check against the other, but does the State Department share that view?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what information we have, Barry. We don't have direct monitoring of on-the-ground intelligence of who's in Iraq and who's operating in Iraq the way the military and the intelligence agencies do.

Obviously, we look at all that material, but I would say that Secretary Rumsfeld is much more directly, much more -- closer to the source of the information than we might be.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER: Ma'am.

QUESTION: Change of subject? Still Iran?

MR. BOUCHER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Libya. There was some reports today in the Arabic press regarding some declaration that the U.S. is going to lift the travel restriction on U.S. citizens to Libya and they about to give some medical aids. Is this true? Can you confirm that?

MR. BOUCHER: I can't confirm anything for you at this moment. I think it's widely known that we have said that we would review our travel ban, our ban on the use of U.S. passports for Libya. We talked about doing that every three months, and that would be by tomorrow, by February 24th. So we will complete that review and make any appropriate announcements at an appropriate time.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) say anything tomorrow?

MR. BOUCHER: If I say something tomorrow, I'll say it tomorrow, not today.

QUESTION: On that, Richard, what other, what other sanctions might be in that first tranche that's being reviewed other than the passport travel --

MR. BOUCHER: If I say something tomorrow, I'll say it tomorrow, not today.

QUESTION: Well, you had said that you're -- I mean, your first consideration is the passport --

MR. BOUCHER: I think if you look back -- if you look back at the statement that Assistant Secretary Burns issued last time when he was in London, you'll see that we were looking at a number of areas. Which of those areas we're able to move forward in at this point, I'll have to leave as a mystery for tomorrow.

QUESTION: Richard, can you bring us up to date on Haiti, what's new, and what's new at the Embassy and with U.S. diplomats and Americans down there? What's the latest?

MR. BOUCHER: Over the weekend, our Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega represented the United States as part of a high-level delegation that went to Haiti that included representatives of Canada, the Organization of American States, the Caribbean community, Bahamas, France and the European Union.

The delegation met with President Aristide on the morning of Saturday, February 21st, and with leaders of the political opposition that afternoon. The delegation presented an agreement to both sides to expedite the implementation of the CARICOM formulated -- CARICOM plan that was formulated in Kingston on January 31st.

President Aristide agreed to the proposals. Opposition leaders are now considering the plan. We've been in touch with them throughout the weekend and throughout the day, and we expect an answer from them today.

Assistant Secretary Noriega has been in touch with them today. The Secretary called one of the opposition leaders -- Saturday or yesterday? -- Saturday -- (laughter) -- and, yeah, Saturday afternoon, and, of course, Ambassador Foley has been in close touch with both the government and the opposition leaders, as they try to work towards acceptance of that plan that can peacefully resolve, we think, the difficulties and the turmoil in Haiti.

The nations represented in this delegation are drafting a statement of guarantors that would take effect upon acceptance of the proposals by the parties. Under that statement, delegation members would commit to monitoring compliance and to serve as guarantors of the plan.

As far as the situation on the ground, I really don't pretend that I can keep up with press reports because it is fluid, it is evolving. But we are, in addition to our diplomatic activity, we're trying to make sure that we are prepared to provide security for U.S. facilities there.

So, in response to a request from Ambassador Foley, the U.S. Southern Command sent a small military team to the region to provide the Ambassador and the Embassy staff with an enhanced capability to monitor the current situation in Haiti. That small group is already there. There is also a fleet anti-terrorism security team that leaves today to conduct security operations and to secure U.S. facilities in Port-au-Prince.

For more details on those military movements, I'd refer you to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: And U.S. citizens, in general, do you see them leaving in greater numbers than they have been?

MR. BOUCHER: Again, that's something where I think the press reports move a little bit faster than I could report to you here, but I think we've all seen reports throughout the weekend of people leaving.

Yeah. Teri.

QUESTION: And when the President accepted the plan, did -- does the -- is the team also asking him to start taking action? I mean, when he says "accept," does he also say "and I will take the first step," or he just says, "Yeah, I'm fine with it"? I mean, what are they expecting to see besides just acceptance?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, we're expecting to see the implementation of it, and that involves various appointments and various changes in the way the government's run and the appointment of a new prime minister that would be chosen by a process that involves consultation with the international community and the eminent persons that are drawn from different sectors of Haitian society. So that is a process that will unfold.

We are looking to the opposition to give us a response on their participation in this plan, but we're also providing to both the government and opposition, as a signal of our determination to see this implemented, the statement of guarantors so that they can understand that we will be involved every step of the way in making sure that people do what they promise.

QUESTION: Would the President's acceptance stand even if the opposition doesn't? I mean, are there still things he can do?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to speculate at this point as to where we might end up at the end of the day or sometime tomorrow. So we'll keep working this. We'll keep pushing for forward movement.

I think we have made very, very clear that it's time for people to stand up against violence. It's time for people to stand up against a political -- stand up in favor of a political solution to the troubles there. And we've called on both the government and the opposition to do that by accepting this plan and then by implementing it.

QUESTION: Didn't they turn it down on Saturday? They said nothing's acceptable --

MR. BOUCHER: They asked for more time to look at it.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, they also said nothing's acceptable short of Aristide's resignation.

MR. BOUCHER: I know they've said things. The question is what's their, you know, what's their final answer.

QUESTION: Do you have anything new on boat-building or refugee activity?

MR. BOUCHER: No new signs of that, no.

QUESTION: Do members of the opposition that you're speaking to include representatives of the rebels actually on the streets? And if not, how much influence does this opposition have over those rebels who are actually armed and in the street?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, that's certainly an open question. They claim to have no relationships, as you know.

QUESTION: So how much -- how effective would it be even if they agree to it?

MR. BOUCHER: Our view is that if you move Haiti in the direction of peace, if you can move towards a peaceful settlement of these differences, that there will be a stronger support among the population for maintaining the process, for maintaining a new government that's chosen a new prime minister and government that are chosen by this process, and that that will have a calming effect on the violence, and that that is, indeed the first -- one of the first steps to try to calm the situation and create an atmosphere where order can be maintained.

In addition, we've said -- and others have said -- that, under those circumstances, there are international police who could go down and help the Haitian police establish themselves and maintain order against the threat of violence. So that's a part of an unfolding process that could go forward.

QUESTION: So if the opposition agrees to this deal, that would open the door for the international police force to go in?

MR. BOUCHER: We have said that in -- that to open the door, I guess the question is what are you talking about, people walking through the door. We have said that with the agreement to implement this plan, the international community would be prepared to provide police.

Exactly at what moment they might go down, I couldn't predict at this point.

Elise.

QUESTION: There are some reports -- I know you said you don't want to get ahead of news reports, but can you confirm that the Embassy is closed? And that also, I know you ordered the departure of the non-essential diplomats, but apparently there was still a significant number of diplomats in the country. So how does the security situation affect them being able to do their jobs, or are you having them stay at home for the time being?

MR. BOUCHER: As of this morning, we're not planning on closing the Embassy. Obviously, we're monitoring the situation on a daily basis and we'll have to make our decisions as we go along. But I'm not aware that we've -- they've made that decision. They would do that locally if they had to.

The -- they may be closed to the public. They may not have, you know, like, public visa services or things like that or public events. But I -- just because of the turmoil, I'd have to check on that aspect of it. But certainly in terms of maintaining the Embassy presence, maintaining our ability to work with people in the government, maintaining our ability to follow and help out with the humanitarian situation, that kind of work will keep going forward.

We're sending down a three-person humanitarian team today, for example, to work down there.

The second part of your question, I can't quite remember.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, just, how is the security situation kind of affecting the ability of diplomats to move around, do their jobs?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, it -- obviously, it's difficult to move around the country. I think in terms of Port-Au-Prince and the kind of meetings and discussions that we need to have with the government or the opposition, that that is still not, not affected in a big way. And of course, there's always telephone and other means of communications.

Some of the communications with the opposition are down there. Some are being done from here by Assistant Secretary Noriega over the phone.

Yeah. (Inaudible).

QUESTION: Has there been any contact between the U.S. or its friends in the region with the rebel groups?

MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not aware that the rebel groups has any particular, organized nature to them, so they're not part of the opposition that we've been able to deal with. I don't think there's been any contact at all that I know of.

Yeah, sir.

QUESTION: Is the new military team that has gone down there, is that a precursor to evacuating the Embassy, getting all the staff out? And are those military -- is that enough of a contingent to be able to evacuate?

MR. BOUCHER: It's not -- no, it's not an indication one way or the other as to whether it might come to that. That would depend on the level of violence.

The first -- the small team that I referred to -- is down there to assist the Embassy in monitoring the situation and make sure that we do know what's going on in terms of fighting and violence and forces that are involved, the gangs that are involved on different sides.

The second team, the fleet security team going down, is there to maintain security, not to pull people out; although, if it came to that, I suppose they would be part of that. But I think we did similar things recently in Liberia and elsewhere where we've had trouble to try to maintain the security of the U.S. facilities.

Charlie.

QUESTION: Richard, to follow up on the guarantors. You mentioned sending guarantors down. When would that be, and would they include Americans? And are you talking about civilians or military?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I didn't say guarantors as people. I said these nations that are involved would become guarantors to make sure that we would monitor compliance and serve as guarantors to make sure the parties carried out their commitments. We would give a pledge to each party involved in this agreement, that we would make sure everyone would keep their commitments.

How that would physically manifest itself, I don't really have any details at this point. It would really a monitoring function and a diplomatic function to make sure people kept to their promises.

QUESTION: And if and when international police do go in at some point, would that include American -- or is American police part of that plan?

MR. BOUCHER: Can't speculate at this point. We'll have to see when that happens.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. George.

QUESTION: Richard, you mentioned international community joining with eminent Haitians to select the Prime Minister. Is this written into the agreement that was presented on Saturday? And could you be more precise about what you mean by international community?

MR. BOUCHER: I think at this point, no, I won't go into detail. I think we'll look at acceptance, keep trying to work on acceptance and our assurances that this plan will be implemented.

It does involve appointments from the government, the opposition and the international community to make sure that we have a team, a body that can help form -- designate the new government, new prime minister, and move on from there.

So the goal is to guarantee an independent government that can proceed to reform and strengthen the national police and take other action that's set out in the plan, including preparing for eventual elections.

So that's where we are. I'll leave the plan with the parties for the moment, rather than lay it all out in public.

Yeah. Sir.

QUESTION: A question about Israel. What about --

MR. BOUCHER: Are we ready to change? We're still with Haiti for a while, I guess.

QUESTION: Richard, with respect to what's happened through this crisis, what's been the response of nearby to the east of the island in the Dominican Republic? And also, do you in any shape or form have to send any type of warnings to Cuba, to Fidel Castro throughout that crisis?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware that Cuba has said anything or threatened anything one way or the other. As far as the situation in Dominican Republic, I'd leave it to reporters to report on that instead of me.

Sir.

QUESTION: What size is this fleet security team? Is it like a marine corps battalion landing team?

MR. BOUCHER: No, it's about 50-some people.

QUESTION: About 50. And when is it expected to arrive?

MR. BOUCHER: Today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you tell us who the Secretary -- which member of the opposition the Secretary called?

MR. BOUCHER: He talked to Mr. Andre Apaid, A-P-A-I-D.

QUESTION: And when the proposal involves elections, I just want to be clear, is that elections of a new President or are we talking about parliamentary elections?

MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not going to get into details of the plan at this point.

QUESTION: So it's not ruling out that there could be new elections for the President?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not ruling it in. I'm not trying to lead you to any conclusion. I've just -- if I start with that aspect of the plan, then I'll find myself out trying to explain the whole thing --

QUESTION: Good.

MR. BOUCHER: -- and frankly I don't know it well enough to do that because I wasn't going to do it today. Let the opposition and the government consider it, and then we'll hear from them and then lay it out for you once it's agreed or not.

QUESTION: Could you read us -- give us the name again of the member, the opposition member that Mr. Powell spoke with?

MR. BOUCHER: Andre Apaid. A-P-A-I-D.

QUESTION: A-P-A-I-D. Sorry.

MR. BOUCHER: Referred to variously as Andy or Andre. I'm not sure which one the Secretary called him.

Okay. Change subject to Israel.

QUESTION: About Israel.

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Could you tell us about the result of Mr. Burns' visit to Israel last week?

MR. BOUCHER: Last week, they had a variety of meetings in Israel, the U.S. delegation did. The delegation was the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs William J. Burns, Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley, and Senior Director for Near East and African Affairs Elliott Abrams.

They met with Prime Minister Sharon, with his Chief of Staff, Mr. Weissglas; with Amos Yaron, Ministry of Defense Director General; and Yossi Kupperwasser, the Defense Military Chief.

Mr. Burns also took the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister's Qureia's Chief of Staff, Hassan Abu Libda, on the Palestinian side to discuss Palestinian security responsibilities and the state of reform efforts.

MR. BOUCHER: At this point, I really don't have a whole lot of detail. We heard a lot of information from the Israelis. We will be considering all that information, and we will continue our discussions with them as well, as we look at the situation there and some of the ideas that are being put forward at this point.

QUESTION: Did you get any sense about the settlements, that the reason for --

MR. BOUCHER: Once again, we heard a lot of information from the Israelis, but I'm not going to try to speak on their behalf about what they might do.

QUESTION: When will you be likely to know the outcome of the discussion?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure there is a particular outcome at this moment. If there was, I'd tell you. The point is that these are discussions with the Israeli Government that will continue. But I'd leave it to the Israeli Government to talk about their ideas, to the extent that they wish to.

QUESTION: So do you support now Prime Minister Sharon's plan to withdraw from the settlements?

MR. BOUCHER: If there was a particular outcome, I would tell you. At this point, the discussions will continue with the Israeli Government on the issues.

Okay. Teri.

QUESTION: Iraq and Kofi Annan's new report, report that he released today. One of his first recommendations is that an electoral commission be set up. Has he -- is this something the U.S. has already been consulting with him on? And how do you see that taking shape, if, indeed, the U.S. agrees that that is an important first step?

MR. BOUCHER: The report of the Secretary General does, indeed, recommend the early establishment of an electoral commission, and that's a point that we think is very important. We're studying the findings of the report, which, I think, was released publicly today. We certainly appreciate the work that the Secretary General and Mr. Brahimi have put into preparing this report, and we look forward to discussing it with Iraqis, as well.

One of the things that the report notes that we've noted here before is that the coalition, the Iraqi Governing Council, the UN and the Iraqi people all support the transfer of sovereignty by June 30th, as well as direct national elections at a later date.

So we will look at how the UN approaches those issues and try to discuss those with the UN and the Iraqi Governing Council and others in Iraq to find the best mechanisms for doing that.

We welcome the UN's commitment to be actively engaged in helping Iraq's political transition. The report notes the UN's willingness to offer assistance to the Iraqis on both the transition and the electoral process. And so that's something that we'll be working with them on, as well.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) report make you think that there will be more refinements to your plan? That's what you've always been calling it.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, the report looks at several of the things that we've proposed: How do you make the transition on June 30th? And said they want to keep the basic structure of transition on June 30th, to the exercise of sovereignty by an Iraqi government, and then elections afterwards that would constitute the -- sort of the full transfer. And then it talks about the mechanisms that might be used to do that.

So it keeps the structure. It looks at the mechanisms. We have noted that the mechanism that we came up with, the caucuses, was going to have to be looked at and so we'll look at that. At this point, I think the UN in its report just recommends that a mechanism for transferring sovereignty be the subject of a more focused dialogue. So that's something that we'll have to conduct with them and with the Iraqis, to come up with a new mechanism to accomplish that goal that we all share.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Since this election is going to be held for a while, do you think it's the most likely scenario for the time being that you will go ahead with enlarging the current Iraqi national council?

MR. BOUCHER: I know there are a number of different proposals for this so-called mechanism the UN's talking about, but I'm not going to pick one at this point. We're going to have to have that --

QUESTION: So the most likely closest to what --

MR. BOUCHER: No, I wouldn't say anything's the most likely, not until we've really had that, what the UN calls more focused dialogue, to try to figure out what the best way to do this is.

Okay. Elise.

QUESTION: After the transfer of sovereignty and throughout this whole political process, you've called for a kind of critical or a major role from the UN. After the transfer of sovereignty, do you see the UN taking over a dominant role? Not in terms of over the Iraqis, but, you know, obviously the U.S. wouldn't be the occupying power anymore. So do you see the kind of U.S. taking over the function?

MR. BOUCHER: No, the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis is so the Iraqis can take over the dominant role. It's not the UN, it's not the United Nations, it's not the international community. The whole goal of this process it to give Iraqis control of their own country --

QUESTION: Okay, but right now --

MR. BOUCHER: -- and when we transfer sovereignty, that's what they're going to do, not substitute the United Nations for us.

QUESTION: I understand that. But right now, the U.S. primarily is working with the Iraqis on the political transition. What I'm trying to determine is, after the occupation ends, who is going to be the primary partner in shepherding these Iraqis towards elections?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that there has to be a primary partner. We may all be involved in that process in different ways. So we'll just have to see how that works out.

QUESTION: This caretaker government, as I think some UN officials are referring to it, is it your understanding that it would have the authority, the power to engage in, sign bilateral deals with other countries as it -- as needed in reference to Iraqi debt, in reference to the Paris Club?

MR. BOUCHER: I can't speculate on that at this point. If the UN says that that process has to be the subject of further discussion, I can't give you the answers at this point.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the UN, or Mr. Annan's estimation that elections could be held as early as eight months from now if everything were to start kicking into gear, or do you feel that's overly optimistic?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that we can evaluate their evaluation. I don't think they said eight months from now. Their starting point was worded a little bit differently. I don't remember the exact words myself.

But certainly, we look for the United Nations to play a vital role because we value their expertise. We think they do have a lot of expertise in this matter, and as we look at that situation, I'm sure we'll be interested, all interested in having a full election as soon as possible.

So what exactly that means in terms of exact timing, I can't tell you at this point. The eight months, as I remember it in the UN's report, was not exactly from now. So you can't just add it to February.

QUESTION: I have a question about Serbia and Montenegro, if you are done with Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Here we go.

QUESTION: So the new government is to be formed within a week. Prime Minister-designate Vojislav Kostunica said this weekend, said that cooperation with The Hague Tribunal will not be a priority of his government; that is, he does not plan to extradite four generals that are required, despite the demands from Washington.

Has there been any comment or reaction in the Administration? How can this affect relations with Serbia?

MR. BOUCHER: I would start by saying we want to see Serbia succeed and we want to see Serbia integrate in the Euro-Atlantic structures and be part a Europe that's whole, free and at peace.

The government has a great many tasks in front of it, great many things it needs to do for Serbia and Montenegro: accelerating political and economic reforms; building solid relations with the Southeastern European region; and further integrating itself in Europe and abiding by European norms. That includes cooperation with the Tribunal.

So our relations with the new Serbian Government will depend on the actions that it takes, and that includes cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. We think that is part of the overall agenda that Serbia needs to have at this moment and we look to the government to carry that out.

Yeah.

QUESTION: North Korea.

MR. BOUCHER: Please.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that the U.S. now is considering the three-stage plan proposed by the South Korea?

MR. BOUCHER: I can't confirm any particular proposals. We've certainly had discussions with the South Koreans in Seoul when Secretary -- Assistant Secretary Kelly met with the Korean Deputy Foreign Minister and the Japanese Director General in Seoul in advance of the talks. He's now in Beijing.

So the talks will begin on Wednesday. Our goals remain the same. The Secretary said on Friday the United States was approaching these talks without any intention of invading North Korea, with no hostile intent, with a willingness to deal with some of the issues on the table.

And I think the United States has made clear, through the Secretary, Mr. Kelly and others, that we approach these talks in an attempt to get a positive outcome, and that's movement towards the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

As for the discussions in the talks themselves, we will certainly be pushing for that end and we'll move forward ideas in the talks to try to achieve that. We're also willing to listen to what North Korea has to say and we'll see what happens.

QUESTION: The Secretary exchanged phone calls with Chinese Foreign Minister Li over the weekend. Can you tell us the subjects of their conversation?

MR. BOUCHER: He spoke to the Chinese Foreign Minister this morning, and they discussed questions involving Taiwan and, of course, upcoming North Korea talks.

QUESTION: Did he make any other calls, Richard, now that we're on it? Please?

MR. BOUCHER: Which stick 'em is that? It's not the one in my pocket.

He spoke yesterday with the Secretary General and he spoke yesterday with French Foreign Minister Villepin.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. And when they find the little stick 'em, I'll tell you if that's all.

Okay.

QUESTION: Can you tell me what the next steps are in the Iraq discussions? I'm not quite sure what happens now. Kofi Annan has presented his report. Now what?

MR. BOUCHER: Now, first of all, we study the report and we are studying the report.

Second of all, we continue our discussions with the United Nations and with Iraqis about how to achieve some of these goals. Specifically, we have to focus on the mechanisms to get to a transfer of sovereignty for June 30th. Those activities will proceed.

We also, as you know --the Iraqi Governing Council, as you know, is working on the transitional administrative law, so that's work that's also proceeding in Baghdad.

QUESTION: And then?

MR. BOUCHER: And then when we reach some conclusions after our discussions with everybody, then we'll have something more to say about what the mechanism will be and how we'll achieve the transfer of sovereignty on June 30th.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that the transfer is pretty soon?

MR. BOUCHER: Soon.

QUESTION: Can we go back to North Korea?

MR. BOUCHER: Sure.

QUESTION: On Friday in his interview, the Secretary said that he would like to see working groups, and he also talked about regularizing contact. Can you just explain that a bit more for us? Is it that he wants to see every six months a round of talks agreed to?

And then on the working groups, are they technical groups that would be not negotiators?

MR. BOUCHER: I really have to leave it for the negotiators in the discussions to define that further. I don't want to get ahead of the talks. We'll see what can come out of them.

But the Secretary said before and reiterated on Friday, that we weren't just looking to go to a set of talks with an exchange of positions; I'll read my cards, you read yours. We're looking for a set of talks that could produce a way forward in terms of getting the verifiable and irreversible end to North Korea's nuclear programs.

We think working groups, people to have technical discussions and follow-up discussions of various types could be an important part of that. If we are moving in that direction, obviously verification is a subject that needs to be discussed and needs a sufficient amount of detail that one would want to have follow-up discussions for.

But how that might or might not occur, and might or might not be structured, we'll just have to see what emerges from the talks.

Sir.

QUESTION: Is Secretary Powell meeting with Mr. Shimon Peres, and does the United States see any useful role for Mr. Peres at this stage?

MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary met with Mr. Shimon Peres this morning. They had a good and thorough discussion of the situation. As you know, the Assistant Secretary has met with him frequently from time to time. They've known each for a long time. We meet with Israelis from all political parties and of all various points of view. So it's just a chance to talk to somebody and get a feel for the situation, the way he sees it, as we continue to deal with the government and analyze the steps that the government is considering taking.

QUESTION: What's your view of -- at this juncture, of the bombing yesterday aboard the bus, as well as bringing all this to the World Court at The Hague today?

MR. BOUCHER: Our view of The Hague proceedings has not changed since the last time you asked me about it, Thursday, or the time I spoke about it before that.

In terms of the bombing over the weekend, we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. It's a horrific act of terrorism that occurred that killed at least eight innocent Israeli civilians and injured 50 others.

I once again remind people there's no excuse for violence and terrorist acts. Our condolence goes out to the victims of the vicious attack, their families and the Israeli people.

Palestinian leaders need to take immediate and credible steps to end terror and violence. We think the time for excuses is long past. We need to see actions that send a clear message that terror will not be tolerated.

QUESTION: There was a new initiative made by the United Nations and apparently the French, trying to open a direct dialogue between Syria and Israel. And do you welcome such mediation and were you informed of this plan and the details?

MR. BOUCHER: I personally don't know anything about it. I'll have to check on it and see.

Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:22 p.m.)

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