State Department Briefing, March 2, 2004
|Tuesday March 2,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
UNMOVIC / David Kay Report
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I hope everybody paid close attention to the speech; hope y'all agree it was a major foreign policy address.
QUESTION: It was too downbeat.
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: It was.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, for us Asian hands.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) after that speech.
MR. BOUCHER: It covered comprehensively part of the world, and I'll try to cover the rest of the world.
If I can, I'd like to start off by talking about the situation in Darfur, in western Sudan. We've had grave concerns about the deepening humanitarian crisis in Darfur region of western Sudan. There is a lack of civil order, refusal of local, as well as national authorities to permit unrestricted access for humanitarian workers. Thieves have put as many as 1 million people at imminent risk of live and livelihood.
Particularly threatening are the actions of government-supported militias, who continue to attack and burn undefended villages.
The United States and others in the world community have asked the parties to establish a ceasefire. The United States has also offered to facilitate negotiations aimed specifically at resolving procedures to implement humanitarian assistance programs in the region. We stand by that offer. The Government of Sudan has not yet responded to that offer.
For that reason, we call on the Government of Sudan and the opposition leaders to do several things: First, to ensure the safety and the unhindered movement of humanitarian workers and commodities into the areas that are affected by the conflict; second to immediately enter into negotiations about a ceasefire; third to facilitate the rapid and free movement of representatives of the parties to the site of the negotiations; and finally, to act decisively and transparently to disarm and bring under responsible authority all the irregular forces and militias.
QUESTION: Can you give us a more specific, if you can, idea of how your strong appeal -- and actually, it's an action plan -- is resonating among the usual suspects, among the Europeans and the UN? It strikes me when something awful happens in Sudan, the world turns its head.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't think that's quite true here.
QUESTION: Well, it's an exaggeration.
MR. BOUCHER: No, it's true sometimes. As I understand it, a lot of the diplomacy has been done in close coordination with other governments, including European governments. These kind of ideas have been presented to the Government of Sudan more than once, and not just by us.
We have certainly been out there in a variety of ways. Our people who have been at the Naivasha peace talks have met with government representatives about this issue. We've just had our Acting Assistant Secretary Charles Snyder, who has been in Naivasha through the end of last week, and now Ambassador Ranneberger is there. They are taking up the issue of Darfur frequently.
I think you've seen some of the UN agencies get involved and to try to see if they can't help provide the food that people need in this area.
We have supported contributions; for example, 7.4 million that we've given to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees recently, to try to help out with the situation there, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the World Food Program. So a number of different contributions, all totaling about 7.4 million.
In addition, we provided in 2003 about $3 million in emergency aid, but we haven't, at this point, been able to get as much into this region as we wanted to because efforts have been halted because of the fighting.
So there is a broad effort, of which we're playing an important part. The diplomacy and the relief have been not only U.S. efforts but international efforts. But they require the cooperation of the government and of the opposition to allow access, to stop the fighting and reach a ceasefire.
QUESTION: While they were here a week ago, they had a rally right outside the building here. Were they able to meet with your representatives of the Africa type working groups?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know who exactly that was, who had the rally, so I don't know if they had any meetings. I'll try to check and see if we know, but I don't.
QUESTION: Richard, has this impacted or taken the steam out of the negotiations for the broader north-south civil war?
MR. BOUCHER: No, it hasn't. The negotiations on the broader issue of peace in Sudan north-south have been continuing at Naivasha. As I said, we've just had some senior representatives out there working with the Kenyans trying to pursue that effort.
We continue to work hard on that. Haven't met the coined deadlines that we had hoped, but they are down to some final issues. And we've tried to be very helpful and continue the bigger process of peace.
Naturally it's distracting and difficult to have this kind of fighting and particularly humanitarian crisis arising at the same time. But we have to be able to work on both and we have to be able to pursue peace throughout the Sudan since there are so many lives that are desperately at stake here.
QUESTION: You said there was an offer made. Who made the offer? Was Snyder involved with that or did that come directly from State Department inquiries?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if it was originally made by Snyder. I'd have to check, what exact moment we made the proposal to facilitate negotiations. I'm sure that Acting Assistant Secretary Snyder has reiterated it during the course of his discussions, and other US representatives have. But I'll have to check back and see when we first made that offer.
QUESTION: The situation in Darfur has been really bad for a while, probably six months. Why do you have to wait until the situation completely gets out of hand and deteriorate, to offer the Sudanese --
MR. BOUCHER: We're not. We're not waiting. This is something we have been working on for many months now. I know we've had AID officials who have gone out. We've had diplomatic representatives, senior diplomats, who have gone to Khartoum to talk about this and press for humanitarian access.
We have, in the past, gotten promises of humanitarian access. Sudanese President Bashir announced on February 9th that his government would cease military operations and open humanitarian aid corridors, but the results of that pledge seem to have been limited for the moment. Relief material is being delivered in an on-again/off-again type manner.
So we've made clear that we think they need to abide by their commitments. This is not the first time. We've had our refugee officials -- Gene Dewey from PRM, Population, Refugees and Migration Bureau has been out there.
So we have been working and coordinating with other governments for many months now trying to present offers, press for proposals, get sometimes these pledges, and then see that they're followed up on. So this has been an ongoing concern that we've been working on.
Okay. We're going to change?
QUESTION: Well, have you got a statement on Iraq, or should we ask?
MR. BOUCHER: You can ask. Finish up with Darfur.
QUESTION: Does that also include the spillover of refugees in Chad right now?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, that's, this situation is causing a spillover into Chad. Some of our officials who have gone out to look at this actually went to the Chad area on refugees to see what was going on, to see how the people were coming out and what we could do for them.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we will let Barry do it first.
QUESTION: Well, first I was going to ask about Iraq, and we have Haiti questions. But Iraq, yes, the violence, anything? Any observations? Implications?
MR. BOUCHER: As you know, there have been extensive briefings already in Baghdad and statements by the Governing Council, so I really don't want to add my voice to this. These were some horrible attacks on innocent people who were engaged in a pilgrimage. They were worshipers in Karbala, in Baghdad. We strongly and absolutely condemn these senseless killings. We offer our sympathy to the victims and all their families.
There is no justification for these kind of attacks. They demonstrate, once more, that the people who do this sort of thing, the terrorists, are enemies of all civilized nations. They're capable of committing any kind of crime in pursuit of their goals of disruption and bringing down attempts by decent people to create a better life for themselves and their children.
We commend the Iraqi Governing Council's call for national unity in the face of terrorism, and we will continue to work closely and responsibly with them to establish security for all Iraqis.
QUESTION: An assistant of Sistani, al-Safi al-Musawi, just said now that they accused the coalition forces of not doing enough, indirectly accusing the Americans for allowing this attack to happen because they did not protect the borders.
Do you think this is a valid criticism?
MR. BOUCHER: We have pointed out that there is obviously more work that needs to be done for security. I don't know that any particular part of this process deserves blame, but we certainly all deserve -- all need to do more and more, as we can. We have pointed out there are now more Iraqis involved in security than there are coalition members, the border forces, the police, the civil defense forces, a lot of these people numbering now, I think, in the hundreds of thousands are Iraqi.
So we will continue that process. None of us are going to be satisfied until we can ensure the safety and normal life of Iraqis. But unfortunately there are these groups within Iraq who have turned violent either to protect what they used to have or to try to disrupt the situation or to try to create friction between different Iraqis within their society.
This is a challenge to us all. And it's a challenge that all of us need to rise to meet.
QUESTION: Richard, does this effect at all the planning and the timetable for bringing Iraqi police into a more visible position in (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: The process of training Iraqi police, of their taking their responsibility is one that, as far as I know, will continue uninterrupted and smoothly. The training that we're doing in Jordan and elsewhere is a regular process. It's one where -- I can't remember the number -- what's this -- 3,000 a month that we turn out? -- trained Iraqi policemen at the rate of about 3,000 a month.
And so it's very important to us that we continue that, and that we help the Iraqis themselves build up their capability to maintain order in their society.
QUESTION: I have a quick follow-up. Are you making any kind of a pledge to the Iraqi people that the United States will try to ensure that stability returns to Iraq before the -- before U.S. forces ultimately leave?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the President has really made a commitment that we will stay as long as is necessary to ensure that the Iraqis can have a stable and safe democratic society, but that we'll not stay any longer than that.
We obviously need to work out the arrangements as the government -- as Iraqi government takes on sovereignty and as Iraq goes through its political transition. But I think we've made the basic commitment already.
QUESTION: UNMOVIC is complaining that not only did the U.S. not give it a copy of David Kay's report, but that the U.S. also never asked for any information from UNMOVIC as it went in on the Iraq Survey Group - if that's what it's called - went in looking for the weapons. What do you say to that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't really have any response to that. The David Kay report was a public -- I mean that was an unclassified public version that everybody had. So -- and I seem to remember UNMOVIC people commenting on it at the time. So I'd be surprised to find that they haven't got that. I don't know. Maybe they're talking about something else.
QUESTION: No, they're saying --
MR. BOUCHER: But at the same time, I'd really leave it to the Iraq Survey Group to talk about how they proceeded, what information they had, what information they felt they needed. And Mr. Kay was head of that. You can certainly ask him how they started off. If you want to know how the work's going, Mr. Duelfer, I'm sure, will answer questions at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: Would the State Department not have any role in sharing that information if UNMOVIC asked for it?
MR. BOUCHER: We might or might not depending on whether they asked us or they asked the inspectors directly themselves or other contacts they have.
QUESTION: And you don't know how that --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think, it's not necessarily our -- we're not necessarily a middleman here. We could be, but we're not necessarily. So they may have obtained material and had discussions that didn't involve us.
Okay, he's going to change the subject.
QUESTION: Let's do Iraq.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, go.
QUESTION: Do you here anything about some PKK cleric leaders captured in Northern Iraq? What is the current situation in Northern Iraq about the PKK captivitees?
MR. BOUCHER: As far as specific people captured, I think I'd have to leave it to our authorities in Northern Iraq. But as you know, we've been working closely with the Turkish government keeping in close liaison contact with them. But as far as any captures, I think that has to be done by military authorities and others in the North.
As far as the general situation, it remains that we're determined to prevent any terrorism from Northern Iraq. We're consulting and coordinating very closely with our Turkish friends and allies. And we are working to try to ensure that Iraq doesn't become a base for terrorism. Any concerns that they have they can raise with us. And any efforts that we're making, we can always discuss with them.
QUESTION: Could I presume that after June 30th, you're likely to expand the current Iraqi National Council? And what will happen to the CPA? Will it cease to exist after that?
MR. BOUCHER: After the transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government, then yes, the Coalition Authority will cease to exist as an entity. U.S. presence will be translated into a U.S. embassy to represent the United States and Iraq. It will be a very large embassy. It will be an embassy that has a lot of components, advice and support and assistance and liaison. But the Iraqi government will be in charge, and therefore there is no need for the Coalition Authority anymore.
As far as the question of the interim assembly, the interim governing arrangement for June 30th, I know there's been a lot of speculation, continues to be a lot of speculation about how that might be worked out, whether it's the expanded council or some of the other ideas that have been floating around. But at this point there is really no - there are no decisions on how that Iraqi interim government should be constituted on July 1.
There continue to be discussions in Iraq of all these various options of discussions among the Iraqis, with the Coalition Authority, with the United Nations, which has played a very important role by sending Ambassador Brahimi out to the region. And we remain in close touch with the UN, as I'm sure the Iraqis do as well.
So the Iraqis will have to have, first, the leading role in deciding what kind of government they want to form for June 30th. But they'll have a lot of assistance from the United States and from the United Nations as they make their decisions and move forward.
QUESTION: There is only four months left. Do you think they will come with something further before that?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
Okay. Let's start in the back.
QUESTION: In the Greater Middle East Initiative, I was just wondering how Under Secretary Grossman's trip was going. And I was wondering if you had any response to some of the Arab foreign representatives discussing the initiative and expressing some of their reservations?
MR. BOUCHER: Are you talking about new statements? I think there were a couple of statements last week that the Secretary, in fact, was asked about, whether some people had said, some of the ministers, I think the Saudi and Egyptian Ministers had said that they didn't want anything imposed. And the Secretary made absolutely clear we're not intending to impose.
In fact, we've been consulting very closely with them to try to identify the efforts that were formed, the efforts at opening up civil society, the efforts of democracy, rule of law, that are ongoing in this region, and many are indeed underway; and then to look at how our programs, European programs and others could support those efforts and support their own efforts in the region to reform their societies and to modernize their economies.
So Under Secretary Grossman's trip comes after trips by Under Secretary Larson; discussions the Secretary has had with many of the foreign ministers who have come through town from the Arab world -- the Moroccan Foreign Minister, the Tunisian Foreign Minister, and others; discussions that Assistant Secretary Burns has had in the region as well as here.
I don't have a full rundown of all of Under Secretary Grossman's meetings at this point, but he reports back he's had very good discussions. He's been listening to a lot of views, getting briefed on a lot of efforts that are underway.
These are very broad consultations. We are not just talking. But, in fact, we're probably more listening at this point to hear, as I said, what efforts countries in the region have underway, what efforts they have planned, where they would like to go, what kind of support they might need or want or expect from us.
He's had the opportunity to meet in -- to meet with the Egyptian, Jordanian Foreign Ministers and Moroccan Foreign Minister, and he's currently in Bahrain.
QUESTION: Did he go to Riyadh?
QUESTION: I thought that was off of his list.
MR. BOUCHER: It's not on the list at this point, no.
QUESTION: Is it because Larson was just there?
MR. BOUCHER: I think so. Larson was just there. They've overlapped a little bit, but we've also tried to cover a wide number of places.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Haiti?
MR. BOUCHER: You're going to Haiti? Are we going to keep on the Middle East for a while?
QUESTION: Several foreign ministers also expressed the opinion that they were -- they are still in need for peace in the Middle East before they look seriously into any initiatives from the outside. And some of them have suggested in the last few days that they might address to the United Nations the peace -- the Arab peace initiative of Beirut to be adopted in there. Would you support such a move by the Arab Summit?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I mean, the Arab Summit will decide what they want to --
QUESTION: What's going to take place.
MR. BOUCHER: They're going to decide what they want to do when they get to -- Tunis, it is, right?
MR. BOUCHER: Later this month. So I don't want to try to pretend like I'm telling them what to do. They'll do what they want.
What I would like to say, though, is we have supported the Arab initiative when it was conceived. We felt that it was an important development. It still has relevance. We've continued to have discussions with Arab nations about it. I'm sure we'll be discussing it further with them as we approach the summit, since it does appear to be a topic on their agenda. But whether or not it's time to try to get it to the UN or not, I don't know.
As far as the general proposition, I think we have made clear that we think that progress within societies, progress in the peace process are mutually reinforcing. They both need to go forward.
We need to try to help Palestinians and Israelis find peace on the basis of two states, two democratic states that can live side by side. We need to help other people in the Arab world find opportunity, find hope and find more opportunity for their children and their families in the future by reforming their societies and opening up their economies.
QUESTION: Richard, do you have anything about the result of the six-party talks?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't really. Let me just do this quickly, and then we'll go back to the Middle East.
I don't really have anything new to say on six-party talks. The Secretary just did, about an hour ago in his speech, talk about the six-party talks and where we stand. So that's about as fresh as you can get on the subject.
QUESTION: Well, he didn't address the South Korean's assertions that they want more independent policy -- not necessarily on Korean -- not necessarily on nuclear, but asserting -- you didn't see it out of Seoul?
MR. BOUCHER: No, and I don't know -- are you talking about an official South Korean statement or something that some official or think tanker said?
QUESTION: Not a think tanker. But I don't know if it's an official statement or an official speaking.
MR. BOUCHER: We've got the South Korean Foreign Minister in town now. He just met with the President. I'll have to see what sort of briefings were doing over there and when he meets with the Secretary, I'd be glad to tell you if any ideas like that come up. But I don't know that there is something official coming out of Seoul or not.
Okay. We're still on the Middle East?
QUESTION: Yes, please. The Israeli Government figures show that building in the settlements last year rose. Does that mean --- does it show Israel is not keeping to its commitment to freeze the settlements as in the roadmap?
MR. BOUCHER: As you know, we've always said there needs to be an end to settlement activity in the roadmap, an end to settlement activity including natural growth, as it's called.
We do expect the Israeli Government to keep its commitment to President Bush to dismantle all the unauthorized settlement outposts and to take further steps towards an end to settlement activity.
We are in ongoing discussions with both sides on how to move forward on the roadmap. We're talking to the Israelis about settlements as well as other issues. And we continue to make the point that the Palestinians need to move against terror if we are to get progress on all these different aspects of the roadmap.
QUESTION: Try Haiti now, please?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: Well, the rebels are beginning to assert themselves. What's his name, Guy Philippe? -- I don't know -- says he'll take care of defense. Thank you very much. Then there's another fellow who told the AP he'll take care of a lot of other things. How is the -- is this a transfer of power that the U.S. finds kind of irregular or -- what --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all --
QUESTION: Well, in for a dime, in there for a dollar, you know.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I know what you're saying. But first of all, that is not the transfer of power. I know there are people out there making statements about what they're going to do. That's not the transfer of power. The rebels do not have a role in the political process. All illegal and armed groups should lay down their arms.
We are helping the Haitian police to reassert their control. The rebels need to disband and go back to their homes. Now I want to be quite clear that that's our position.
The United States Marines and French forces began to -- have begun to restore order. Last night was fairly quiet, since they have arrived. We expect further improvements in security as additional international military forces continue to deploy under UN Security Council Resolution 1529 in the coming days.
Now outside the capital the situation is still largely unchanged. Our intent is to try to stabilize Port-au-Prince before we move on to the countryside. But I think overall we can say that violent incidents are decreasing. There is more order. The Haitian police in many places have started to play a role again, and there is a political process underway that constitutes the transfer of power.
Consistent with Haiti's constitution, we're working with the interim President Boniface Alexandre to implement the Caribbean Community action plan to form a new government.
Ambassador Foley is in touch with members of the Haitian Government and the opposition and other members of the international community to assist in standing up the Tripartite Council, to name a council of eminent persons, and then name the prime minister and a new government.
The Tripartite Council will be composed of three individuals representing the Haitian Government, the opposition and the international community. The international community representative will be the United Nations Development Program Representative Adamo Guindo. We are waiting now for nominations from Prime Minister Neptune and from the opposition, and we expect those nominations soon.
The Council then names its seven to nine-member Council of Eminent Persons, and that Council of Eminent Persons, consulting with the international community, would nominate a prime minister. The interim president would then appoint that prime minister.
So all this process is underway. We are moving forward under the guidelines of the CARICOM plan as soon as we can. There is a orderly and constitutional political process underway in Haiti. That process needs to be respected by all Haitians. But we're glad to see the violence is decreasing. But the rebels have no role to play in this process, and they need to lay down their arms and go home.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. -- the U.S. and French forces, is that part of their job to disarm these folks?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd go to the Pentagon for the exact sort of instructions. They're there to help stabilize the situation for a variety of reasons: for a new government to be formed; for repatriations to be able to occur, should that be necessary; for the protection of foreigners and others who might be there. Whether that leads them to deciding it's time to disarm various groups or individuals, I leave that to the people deciding on the military mission.
QUESTION: I believe one of the promises made to Mr. Aristide before he left was that his property would be protected, and there are reports that overnight his home, his private home in one of the suburbs was completely overrun and wiped out by the rebels. And is that --
MR. BOUCHER: I saw the reports. I haven't really gotten to the bottom of it yet to find out what the situation is. Obviously, when we promise, we promise to do what we can, but we can't give an absolute guarantee of protection for specific properties.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea whether that was --
MR. BOUCHER: But I'll have to check and see.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Adi.
QUESTION: There have been a number of allegations made against Aristide by Haitians and by this Administration facilitating thugs, armed thugs to go against Haitian people, for example. Is it the position of the United States Government that perhaps Aristide should tran -- should stand before a court of law to face these allegations, international or Haitian?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any charges against him at this moment.
QUESTION: But do you believe that he should?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not a court. I'm not a prosecutor. We all know the political history of Haiti is such that during President Aristide's time, he created a lot of division within the society -- the polarization grew, the violence grew. There were many armed gangs that were directly associated with him and his rule. That further increased the polarization of some of the groups. Some of the rebel groups actually started out as pro-Aristide groups who then became disaffected and turned on him.
So, one way or the other, a lot of the violence did come out of the fact, the way he ran the country. So obviously, he bears a certain responsibility for that. But how this political situation evolved is something I'll leave now to others to write the history of. But whether it involves a criminal situation or not, I'll leave that to the courts.
QUESTION: Do you believe he should face justice?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd leave any questions of justice to the courts.
QUESTION: Richard, can you bring us up to date on the Secretary's phone calls since yesterday. And specifically, has he talked to any members of the Congressional Black Caucus?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think he has. I'd have to double-check and see if he got those calls. I didn't check on U.S. persons he might have talked to.
He's talked to Secretary General Annan about the situation in Haiti. And that's about the only one I have to report for you at this time.
Okay. No, I was going to say, let's go to Tammy, and then Teri.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. still involved in efforts to try to find a final refuge for Aristide?
MR. BOUCHER: I suppose we might if were asked. But at this point I think he has a temporary place to stay and probably has the means to make some of the contacts himself where he should feel it, when he decides to do that.
So I don't know that there is anything specific going on at this moment. He has obviously a temporary place to stay in the Central African Republic. The government there -- you know, we've been pleased to see that they're taking him in. They're willing to make sure he can live there until he decides it's time to move on somewhere else.
QUESTION: Can you say whether members of the opposition met with Ambassador Foley yesterday? And do you -- there were reports that they did.
And can you say how it's going -- whether it's going to be difficult and how you're going to accomplish setting up this council without any input from the rebels?
They very much feel that they should be a part of discussions on a new government.
MR. BOUCHER: Well --
QUESTION: And may not be supportive or not.
MR. BOUCHER: There is -- as you know, there is a democratic opposition in Haiti.
MR. BOUCHER: We've been working with them. We intend to work with them. Ambassador Foley has been talking to them. Whether they actually had a sit-down meeting, I don't know. But our embassy does keep in close touch with members of civil society including opposition groups as well as the government in Haiti.
But I think we've made very, very clear that given the history of the conflict, given the activities that they've undertaken, we do not feel the rebels -- so-called rebel groups, the people we're describing as gangs and thugs -- have any role in this political process. They need to lay down their arms and go home.
QUESTION: Well, Richard, what if some of the members of the oppositions -- when they were -- and also these rebels, when they were going into Port-au-Prince, they certainly seemed to receive some positive reinforcement. So would you leave it up to the Haitians to decide whether if these rebels were to lay down their arms, whether they would be welcomed into a government?
And also people such as this Mr. Duvalier, Papa Doc Duvalier says he's willing to come back to the country and perhaps be part of the process. Is it up to the Haitians to decide?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it's been asked. I'm not going to speculate. The -- we all know that these various individuals involved in this armed violence, many of them have a very unsavory history, to say the least.
We do not believe that those people are welcome in the political process. We do not believe that anybody in the government or in the political opposition that has been working so hard for so long to have a role in government, that any of those people are actually inviting rebel groups into the government.
They maintained their distance during the uprising. They were not associated with the violence directly. And I think it's important to remember that there's a distinction here between the groups that have, in civil society, who have sought to play a role in the government, in the political process, in a political negotiation at times, and the groups that perpetrated violence so widely and broadly against the Haitian people in recent weeks.
QUESTION: On Venezuela.
QUESTION: Could we do one more, one more on Haiti?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. We're going to stay on Haiti for awhile.
MR. BOUCHER: Haiti?
QUESTION: Yeah. About related with Haiti and -- sorry -- related with Haiti, but on Venezuela too.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Let's do Haiti first, and then we'll do Venezuela.
QUESTION: It's related with Haiti.
MR. BOUCHER: Make a sidestep here. Okay, go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Let's try to answer the question.
QUESTION: Do you think Venezuelans should worry that United States will pressure for a change in the presidency in Venezuela as in Haiti?
MR. BOUCHER: There is no precedent. There is no policy involved here. We dealt with the situation in Haiti that was many years coming. It was unique. We hold to the democratic charter. We hold to the need to follow constitutional processes in all countries in the hemisphere.
Our policy positions on Venezuela have been very clearly dictated by the democratic charter, by the desire to support the Venezuelan Constitution, the desire to support the rights of Venezuelans under their constitution to have freedom of expression, to have a free media, to be able to petition for redress of their grievances. So that is very firmly a policy.
We think in Haiti is a situation that did follow the Haitian Constitution. President Aristide resigned and left the country voluntarily, and we helped that happen because he felt it was in the best interest of Haitians. He felt it was the best way to save lives in Haiti. And that was a decision he made for his own country, for his own self at a particular moment.
Okay. We're still on Haiti?
QUESTION: Yes. Some people today are calling for a Congressional investigation into the procedure by which Aristide left, whether he was in fact escorted by U.S. military, et cetera. Have you heard anything from anybody on Congress calling about such an investigation, or are you willing to cooperate?
MR. BOUCHER: We always are willing to answer questions from our Congress. I don't know that there have been any. I haven't seen any particular calls for investigation or hearings. Maybe there have been. I'll have to check and see if we have any particular -- any formal requests for hearings.
We've been very up front. We've been very open, I think, about the circumstances that led to President Aristide's departure. The conversations that we had with him over Saturday night until Sunday morning when he left were about his own security, were about the safety of himself, his family and the people of Haiti.
As he expressed it to us, to our Ambassador and DCM, his primary concern in making this decision was over the safety of people in the Haitian capital. What's the best thing he could do to prevent further bloodshed and loss of life? And that was the way he put the decision to us. He wrote his letter of resignation himself.
And I don't really think there needs to be a whole lot of debate or discussion of this. The facts are certainly very clear to us. They're certainly very clear to the people in Haiti who received his letter of resignation. I understand Prime Minister Neptune may have read it to the people of Haiti over the radio. So I think those circumstances are quite clear, frankly.
Okay, in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah. Regardless of the way that he departed, it's still clear that the U.S. Government had a shift in -- a week ago or a week before his resignation, a week before his departure, you know, there was a high-level delegation that went and put forward a plan that would have kept him in power, and the whole CARICOM agreement that would have had him share power; and then something happened, it seemed, in recent days that caused the Bush Administration to feel, as well as the French and the Canadians, perhaps, that this was not going to work.
Was it that the opposition basically was given the veto right over this plan, the fact that the opposition didn't sign on that caused that plan to die, or was it something else that changed the mind?
I mean, I know that -- is it true that on Saturday morning there was a meeting convened with Powell and Rice and others on Haiti Saturday morning, and a decision was taken at that time?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Let's try to unravel the threads from the beginning. First of all, I'd note that this subject has been discussed fairly extensively by the Secretary and that he described, I think, yesterday at the press conference -- we can get you the transcript -- how the -- okay.
That's right. You asked a question. That was somebody else. Anyway, you were there.
The United States, I think, made every effort to try to find a peaceful solution that accommodated the needs and the interests of all the Haitian parties. It was any number of factors, I think, that brought President Aristide to his final decision on Saturday night. The United States made clear that we would have preferred to have the government and the opposition agree early on to the CARICOM plan, and, indeed, President Aristide did agree to that plan.
But we were also quite aware that over the years, and particularly the -- well, over the recent history of Haiti that President Aristide had played a divisive role and had been a sponsor of much violence, and that it might be very difficult to reach -- for the other people in Haiti to reach agreement with him. So we made, I think, some fairly extensive efforts to try to get that plan to work in Haiti.
After it didn't work, as the Secretary I think said yesterday, it became clear that the presence of President Aristide constituted an impediment to getting a political solution. And when he finally decided it was time to go for the sake of himself and his family, but also, as I said, the discussions we had with him he was most concerned about further loss of life among the Haitian people, you know, it was a step that has obviously facilitated what's come after, and that is the ability to really move forward in Haiti, not only in a constitutional fashion but also in bringing broader segments of civil society into the government and moving forward towards a broadly -- a more broadly acceptable government.
QUESTION: I mean, it's just interesting to hear him characterized as an impediment when he was the only one that agreed to the plan that you put forth. But beyond that, you keep mentioning the CARICOM plan, and right now, today, I understand that CARICOM heads are meeting right now in Kingston to try to figure out if they're going to be a part of the international efforts in Haiti. And some of them are very worried because of these statements by rebel leaders that they're head of the military and blah, blah, blah.
And I'm just wondering, what is your message to the CARICOM people? Are you still trying to have them play a key role in this, in the new Haiti? Or, you know, are they now no longer -- is CARICOM now no longer really that important?
MR. BOUCHER: No, our message is, in fact, quite the opposite. We think the CARICOM nations have an important role to play as we go forward. The plan that they put forward, and, indeed, we think is -- and parties in Haiti think -- is a workable document. It's a workable plan to go forward and create a government along the lines of the one that they described that would be more independent and more broadly representative of the Haitian people that would be able to perhaps govern less divisively than the previous government did.
Second of all, I think I've made abundantly clear today the rebels, the people who are in the armed gangs, the thugs, the remnants of old armies and old death squads, have no role in the present political process, as far as we're concerned.
We intend to go forward with the parties as they were before under the CARICOM, with the exception of the departure of President Aristide; that is, that people on the government side and people on the opposition side, working with the international community can look to Haitians who are eminent, who have respect throughout society, to help set up an independent government that can govern fairly.
QUESTION: One more on Haiti?
MR. BOUCHER: One more on Haiti.
QUESTION: This Guy Philippe also threatened to arrest President -- Prime Minister Neptune, and I'm wondering if the U.S. Government, the French or those forces protecting current members of the Haitian Government, will you prevent any kind of moves against him?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know exactly on the status of protection of particular individuals. But certainly, one of our goals in going down there is to prevent further violence, to end the violence, to reestablish the control of the Haitian Government and the Haitian police. And we will take appropriate steps to see that that gets done.
QUESTION: Can you help us understand the process of the Eminent Council? Is there any --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I kind of went through the whole thing, the three people and the eminent people and the government and I realize it gets confusing.
QUESTION: On the timeline?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the expectation is to move as quickly as we can through this process. This was the process described in the CARICOM plan, and that we expect to be able to move forward soon when the opposition and the prime minister name their representatives to this Tripartite Council, and then they can get on with the work of choosing eminent persons and choosing a government.
QUESTION: And when you said the eminent persons are going to work with the -- consult with the international community to select or to install a government, does that mean the international community has a veto over their nomination of prime minister?
MR. BOUCHER: It's in consultations with the international community. I think I'll leave that phrase where it is right now and not try to expand on it.
QUESTION: Does the representative on the Tripartite Council represent the whole international community, or does this -- do these have to go back to individual capitals, these kind of consultations?
MR. BOUCHER: I think this is the international community representative who plays a role on behalf of all of us. Whether he consults, in terms of his role and what's going on with individual nations, I'll leave it up to the people on the ground and to him. In practice, as to either way, it's not a big problem.
We've worked very closely with other governments on the ground. You know the kind of cooperation that has been established going into this with the French, with the Canadians, with the CARICOM nations, indeed, even though at some points -- well, at this present juncture they're thinking more carefully about their views.
But I think we've had very good international cooperation. And I expect that will be able to continue.
QUESTION: Richard, within the last hour or two there have been demonstrations outside the White House asking that some of these rebels be immediately arrested and put on trial and such.
What has to be done in Haiti to expedite this transition government? And is the new Supreme Court, I guess interim leader, sufficiently qualified? And does he have the resources to --
MR. BOUCHER: Really, this is a process that I've just described in great length. That's what has to be done. The President was sworn in. The interim President is there in a somewhat circumscribed role, constitutional role, obviously, a very eminent and well-qualified individual. But the goal is to move to a government, prime minister and a cabinet that can be independent and that can represent fairly the interests of all Haitians.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: We had two. She was first, I think.
QUESTION: Me? No -- yes.
MR. BOUCHER: Do you have another one?
QUESTION: Yes, another one.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Well, we'll start -- you were next. That's right.
QUESTION: Okay. Mr. Boucher, returning to these concerns of the Venezuelan Government on what the US role might be in the political crisis. President Chavez warns the U.S. might cut the oil supply if this -- the role of the U.S. persists. Do you want -- do you -- are you going to fix some position on that? By the other hand --
MR. BOUCHER: We don't -- do you mean stop buying Venezuelan oil? Is that what you're suggesting?
QUESTION: No, no. President Chavez said he's not going to sell oil to the United States, to cut the oil supply.
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, I see.
QUESTION: Sorry -- to cut the oil supply to the United States.
MR. BOUCHER: To us?
QUESTION: Yes. Are you going to take some position on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if we would take a particular position on that. Let's go to the heart of the matter though. These are distractions from what's going in Venezuela. In Venezuela, we think the voices of the people need to be listened to. We think that all those people who signed petitions that their rights need to be respected.
We understand today that the Electoral Commission will announce preliminary results on the signature verification process. We've seen reports that they'll announce rules for an appeals process that would address disputed signatures.
We've been urging the council to develop rules to administer the appeals process, which are timely, fair and transparent. It's the same position that the OAS is taking. It's the same position the Carter Center has taken. And we think that is very important to have an inclusive process that respects the constitutional right of the people who sign petitions.
We have reiterated in support of the work -- reiterated our support for the work of the OAS and the Carter Centers, and we think that they have an important role in this process and should be listened to.
QUESTION: What is the United States' reaction to the violent protest in Venezuela by the opposition demanding a recall vote?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, in terms of the violence that occurred, obviously, there is deep sadness at the violence, at the loss of life and the injuries that occurred, particularly over the past weekend's demonstrations.
We have strongly urged both the government and the opposition to honor their February 2003 nonviolence pledges. They promised to refrain from violence and intimidation, to allow the exercise of free speech and to tolerate political differences.
So we've called on the Venezuelan government to exercise restraint during peaceful demonstrations, and also said the government has a special responsibility to see that order and peace are maintained and that the Venezuelan people's rights are respected.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: I guess we've got one or two down here.
QUESTION: On Cyprus. Yesterday, Secretary Powell said, you know, they discussed the Cyprus issue and they're working together for a unified Cyprus to be a member of EU. And Grossman will be in Ankara tomorrow, and then he's going to Brussels. And whereas, in Cyprus the Greeks Cypriots are refusing any proposals by the Turkish sides, and Denktash said they are not willing to see us as equal partners. How do you relate all this?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, not the same as you.
QUESTION: I'm not. I'm not (inaudible).
MR. BOUCHER: That sounded like an evaluation right there.
MR. BOUCHER: These discussions in Cyprus are very important to us, and we are actively working to support the efforts of the Secretary General. So it should be no surprise that we -- the Secretary's been personally involved, as the President promised he would.
The Secretary did feel like the discussion with the Europeans yesterday was an important part of the coordination effort that we've underway with them. We certainly believe that everyone should work hard to see that a united Cyprus can join the European Union on May 1st.
We're also very active on the island. Our representatives there have been meeting with both sides and trying to encourage them to cooperate and work with the Secretary General.
So we continue to follow this closely. We continue to work it in a variety of ways at a variety of levels.
I think I talked recently about travel by our Special Representative Ambassador Weston. And so we'll continue to work very hard to support the Secretary General' efforts and try to help the Cypriot parties reach agreement in time to join the EU together.
QUESTION: Will Grossman in Brussels bring up the Cyprus issue? Is this on his agenda?
MR. BOUCHER: I would expect he would. He'll be talking about a great number of things in Brussels. The agenda is, I think, first, to coordinate with the Europeans, having heard from people in the region about the Greater Middle East process that he went down to listen to people about, to talk to people about in the region. So he takes that knowledge to Brussels to be able to compare notes a little bit more with the Europeans.
But there are also other things that he's discussed along the way, like the peace process or like Cyprus that we'll also want to compare notes with the Europeans on.
Okay. One last one on this.
QUESTION: Richard, China is giving a warning to the United States concerning Martin Lee, a Hong Kong activist who is supposed to come to the United States on a visit. Any comment?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I'd simply point out the facts, which is that the U.S. Congress frequently holds hearings on issues that are of national and international importance. They have invited people from many different backgrounds and professions to express their views. We believe these hearings, and everybody should understand, these hearings are a critical and very routine part of the democratic process in the United States.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's hearing on Hong Kong will provide an opportunity for a candid discussion about the important decisions that the people and the authorities in Hong Kong, as well as central authorities in Beijing, will be making regarding Hong Kong's future.
As far as the situation in Hong Kong itself, I'd point specifically to the remarks the Secretary made this morning about the need for democracy in Hong Kong.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:05 p.m.)
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