State Department Noon Briefing, April 12, 2004

 

Monday April 12, 2004

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Monday, April 12, 2004
1:30 p.m. EST

BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman

CYPRUS/GREECE/TURKEY
-- U.S. Support of Comprehensive Cyprus Settlement
-- Political Developments in Greece and U.S. Reaction
-- Secretary Powell's Contact with Foreign Ministers From Greek and Turkey

IRAQ
-- Status on Efforts to Secure Release of Hostages
-- Unilateral Cessation of Fighting and Al-Sadr's Militia
-- Reports of Iraqi Governing Council Contact with Insurgents
-- U.S. Humanitarian Concerns of Hostages
-- Moving Forward with Iraqi Sovereignty
-- Friends of NATO Discussions on Iraq
-- Status on the Reports of Missing American Civilians
-- Registration of American Civilians in Baghdad / Warden System
-- Query on Defense Department Tracking of U.S. Civilian Contractors
-- Query on Al-Jazeera / Al-Arabiya Broadcast Responsibilities

SUDAN
-- U.S. Assessment of Ceasefire in Darfur
-- USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team
-- Secretary Powell's Talks with Vice President Taha / Mr. Garang

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
-- Endorsement of U.S. Roadmap
-- Update on Arab States Support of Roadmap
-- Greater Middle East Reform / President Bush Talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

CHINA/TAIWAN
-- Vice President Cheney's Travel to China
-- Taiwan Relations Act

AUSTRALIA
-- U.S.-Australia Relations

DEPARTMENT
-- Secretary Powell's Weekend Phone Calls


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

MONDAY, APRIL 12, 2004
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

1:30 p.m. EDT

MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I'd like to say a few words about Cyprus and then go on to your questions about that or other issues.

The United States reiterates its firm support for the comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem that the UN Secretary General presented to the parties on March 31st in Switzerland.

The plan was the culmination of talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots as well as Greece and Turkey. It is the only plan. It is the final plan. There's been speculation among Cypriots that there could be some other alternative to this plan. In our view, there are not options other than the Secretary General's March 31st plan, so the vote turns out to be this settlement or no settlement.

The settlement represents a compromise between the parties in which no party got everything it sought, but which offered clear gains for both sides. Cypriots now have an historic decision before them. On April 24th, they have the opportunity to support the settlement plan. In our view, the only way to assure the long-term security that Cypriots deserve is through this settlement plan.

This plan would lead to the withdrawal of a large number of Turkish troops on the island; lead to UN-supervised transfer of territory back the Greek Cypriots; and restitution or compensation of property to its former owners.

Over 120,000 Greek Cypriots would be able to return to their former home. The Turkish Cypriots would also benefit in clear ways, including by being able to join the European Union on May 1st at the same time as the Greek Cypriots and by being able to decide the vast majority of issues that affect them by themselves.

The alternative is clear. Without the agreement, none of the above will happen. We hope the political leaders and the Cypriot people will take fully into account the serious historical and irreversible consequences of losing this opportunity to reach a settlement. The United States stands ready to do all it can, including making a substantial pledge of financial support at the April 14th pre-donors conference in Brussels, by pressing others to contribute generously to Cyprus' future and by backing the necessary actions in the UN Security Council to assure that the appropriate security structures are in place to protect the interests of all of Cyprus' citizens.

And with that, I'd be glad to take your questions.

QUESTION: What happened to the proposition that if there's anything still in contest, Annan was to make the judgment?

MR. BOUCHER: That's what he did.

QUESTION: Yeah, but, I mean, is that still the way remaining differences -- are both sides prepared --

MR. BOUCHER: No, that's what the Secretary General did on March 31st that provided a conclusive plan to be presented to the referendum. But the two sides had significantly narrowed the gaps, had actually come very close to agreement, by all reports. But there were still some elements and the Secretary General, therefore, put forward a final version using his power, his authority given by the parties, to fill in the blanks.

QUESTION: Right. All right.

QUESTION: You said that this was a final settlement. Does that mean that the U.S. Government will not make any efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem if they reject this? That's the way you're talking, that you just -- you're throwing in the towel if --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we see any alternative to this plan. There's no Plan B waiting in the works. There's no separate diplomatic course waiting in the works. The goal is to have this plan accepted because there is nothing else. There is either this settlement or no settlement, and that's why it's time to accept this settlement.

QUESTION: There's either this settlement or no settlement -- ever? You know, your language is awfully -- I mean, it is, it's a threat, but you're not -- what's the -- you know, what -- are you just saying that if either side says no to this that you're going to walk away?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it's time to make those kinds of threats.

QUESTION: Well, I think you just did.

MR. BOUCHER: We can't say never and ever. This is what is there. This is the first time the people of Cyprus have had a chance to vote, themselves, on a settlement. This is the only one that's being -- that's on offer. There's no Plan B. There's no alternative diplomatic course. There's no promise that, you know, if this gets voted down, we'll go back the next day and try again. I think everybody's estimates is that there's not a lot of prospects for reaching any other deal other than this deal.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you -- well, you said, "it's the only, it's the final plan. In our view there are no options." And then you come back and say, "Well, we can't say never and ever." So what exactly is it that at least -- Mr. Papadopoulos has said that, you know, don't -- has told his community, at least for his part, that, in fact, don't listen to this kind of -- these kind of dire warnings coming from the UN and the U.S. and the EU and others because no one really is going to truly walk away. And you seem to be suggesting -- suggesting that, in fact, you're not going to walk away.

MR. BOUCHER: There's nothing planned after the vote. The vote is either successful, in which case the assistance, support and efforts of the international community are all going to be there to help the Cypriots implement it, or the vote is unsuccessful, in which case there is no alternative at this point.

QUESTION: I have two issues, if I might. Do you have any specific reaction -- your position is clear, but do you have any reaction to the surprise move by AKEL, the biggest part in Cyprus, to ask for a postponement and any way for opening of negotiations, again, on the Secretary General's plan?

And my second one is, in Greece, the political leadership, George Papandreou, the opposition leader, took a clear position for "yes," but seems that the prime minister and the government don't want to take a position, which, according to some people, prove to be unhelpful in the process. And do you have any reaction to that, also?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any political reaction to the political developments on the island or in Greece. I would just say that we are, I think, first of all, making clear our view and the view of the international community that our strong support is there for the parties.

This agreement was reached by the efforts of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Greek and Turkish Governments and the Secretary General, using the authority that they had given to him, so this, in terms of what you are saying about some people looking for more negotiation, this was the process that was agreed to by the parties; this was the process used by the Secretary General. We don't think there is anything -- any other way to reach agreement. This is the deal that's been worked out.

In terms of support, we urge everybody to support the plan. As you know, the Secretary was in touch with the Turkish and Greek Foreign Ministers last week. We're continuing to be in touch with other governments: Greece, Turkey, but also governments in Europe and elsewhere, and in very close touch with the Secretary General in order to build maximum support for this whole agreement.

QUESTION: Any phone calls from the Secretary today?

MR. BOUCHER: Not today, no.

QUESTION: Or any phone calls to Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders?

MR. BOUCHER: Any phone calls by anybody? I'm sure our Embassy --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. BOUCHER: No, not at this point.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: Iraq? Okay.

QUESTION: Yes, General Mark Kimmitt gave a press conference in Baghdad and he said that U.S. casualties were 76 dead or something like -- soldiers. But he also said there are 700 Iraqi casualties. And he said although they don't know whether figures are combatant versus civilians, there's no way to know.

Hospital sources from Fallujah say that 600 civilians were killed, 65 children under the age of five, 165 children under the age of 15. Do you have any figures on that?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. Those numbers -- any numbers like that -- would have to come out of Iraq. That's where things were happening. Certainly, any casualties are regrettable. We don't -- you know, we have looked for an end to the fighting. We've tried to take steps to end the fighting. But the fighting that erupted, including the attacks on Americans that led to this recent round, you know, the U.S. Government, the U.S. military, had to respond to.

Elise.

QUESTION: Can you talk about efforts to secure the release of all these hostages that are in Iraq, whether it be American or Japanese or --

MR. BOUCHER: I can't really talk about it any more than the -- I think our military people did today. General Abizaid, General Sanchez, I believe, talked about it during the course of the day. And the -- I can't remember if it's being called a ceasefire or not, but the ceasefire that's been put in place -- they are in touch, then, with the Governing Council. There's been an end to hostilities for a moment to -- in order to allow the delivery of humanitarian goods.

That's right. It was called a freeze to offensive operations in order to allow some discussions to occur, some humanitarian assistance to be provided by the Iraqi government to get into the city of Fallujah, to help noncombatants. And there is a unilateral ceasefire in coordination with the Governing Council members. There are discussions going on in Iraq to try to resolve this situation in and around Fallujah being led by Governing Council members. The coalition and the military forces of the coalition are in touch with the Governing Council on the ground to try to help that process work.

QUESTION: I'm a little confused. Who all's been released?

MR. BOUCHER: There have been reports of release of hostages. That's another situation. I guess that's more what you asked about than the resolving the situation in Fallujah.

But on the questions on the hostages, there have been reports that some of the foreign nationals have been released. I think General Sanchez has talked about the, or General Abizaid has talked about the Americans that are missing.

We are in touch with other governments about nationals who may be missing. We are in touch with the Japanese Government, the German Government, I'm sure others, as well, about their nationals who might be missing.

The State Department is in touch with the families of Americans who have been reported missing in Iraq, and our Consular Officer in Baghdad is doing everything that we can to try to ascertain the welfare and whereabouts of Americans in Iraq.

QUESTION: What is the call for help? Has the German Government asked the U.S. Government to help find and repatriate the bodies of two German soldiers who died last week?

MR. BOUCHER: At this point, all I would say is we're in touch with the German Government about their nationals who have been reported missing in Iraq.

QUESTION: Richard, I don't understand. The ceasefire's unilateral? See, I understood initially the opportunity to bury dead, to get some humanitarian assistance going. I don't know where the U.S. is headed on this. Last week, the Secretary said that Al-Sadr's strength had grown; we have to smash militias like that before they get even stronger.

Armitage said this was inevitable, that we'd have to come to grips with the militias. Is the Adm-- I mean, I guess it's a touchy issue and I don't want to go where we shouldn't go, but has the Administration now reversed itself and decided if it can get a lasting ceasefire it doesn't have to go ahead and smash these people? If you're not fighting, how are you going to get rid of them?

MR. BOUCHER: First of all, let's --

QUESTION: Isn't there a contradiction here?

MR. BOUCHER: You're using terms that I didn't use.

The point, I think, is that we are trying to calm the situation. The transitional law and other statements in Iraq, including statements by U.S. officials, made clear that the power of the militias need to be broken; that militias cannot be allowed to coexist with a legitimate government; and that, in particular, the militia that was organized by al-Sadr needs to be destroyed. And that remains one of the goals that we and the Iraqis all have to have in setting up a government.

At the same time, that doesn't necessarily have to take place through immediate military action. I'll leave it to the military to decide how to accomplish those objectives.

QUESTION: Richard, follow-up on --

MR. BOUCHER: Hang on. Slow down.

Teri.

QUESTION: The Supreme Council of the Islamic Resistance of Iran says that they are acting as intermediaries for the American side with the insurgents, but I believe that's been denied by people in Baghdad, by American people in Baghdad. Do you know anything about this and if it's true? They've said it numerous times now.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know exactly which Governing Council members are involved in this. I just don't.

QUESTION: But are you using -- are you negotiating with the insurgents directly or is the IGC doing it?

MR. BOUCHER: My understanding, and this is just repeating what our people in the field have said, because the best information has got to come from the field -- that's where it's being done -- they are describing it as a situation where we are in touch with the Governing Council. The Governing Council members are in touch with people in Fallujah to try to arrange an end to the hostilities there.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Follow-up on the Council. Abdel, Mohsen Hamid, a former head of the Iraqi Governing Council, accused the Americans of listening to Chalabi's advice on going after Sadr, that it was really ill advised. Is that true? Could you shed some light on that?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to respond to everything that's said about this guy and that guy and this guy accusing that guy, you know, of doing something with so and so. The point, I think, on Al-Sadr is that there was a direct challenge to U.S. forces by this group. Second of all, as I mentioned earlier, Iraqi transitional law says that the militias need to be disbanded. And third of all, it was an Iraqi court, I think, that has indicted him or charged him with the murder. So on none of those counts does the U.S. listening to somebody's advice really play a big role.

QUESTION: There have been some comments by the Secretary, by the President over the last week or so about how Iraqi forces might have not, you know, been able to control the situation.
But on the political level, do you think there's been a strong enough showing, not only by the Governing Council but other moderate Shiite leaders such as Sistani about, you know, Sadr needing to stand down and, you know, have the Iraqis put enough of a public face on trying to calm the situation?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't really have a way of commenting on that because I'm not aware of how much media attention there is to this inside Iraq; how much those voices may be speaking and not reported; how much attention they may be getting on media inside Iraq. I just don't know.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, certainly you're getting reports on the ground about statements being made by leaders --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a comprehensive list of reports like that. I'm sorry.

Yes.

QUESTION: Have the U.S. correlation be asked by the Chinese Government to help the seven Chinese hostage?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of anything particular with the Chinese Government at this point, but we are in touch with other governments, so I just don't know about Chinese.

QUESTION: Is it maybe a different level of assistance to help hostages, let's say, from Japan, which is in the correlation, compared to, like, China, which is not in --

MR. BOUCHER: I think we have humanitarian concerns about anybody that might be taken hostage in Iraq. And to the extent we can, we do what we can. We try to stay in touch with other governments. But I think it just depends on the particular circumstances of the individuals -- whether there's anything we can do or whether other governments have things they want us to do.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to --

MR. BOUCHER: Let's move around a little bit.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On the hostage case and so -- I just want to clarify. So you have no -- any kind of authoritative number how many people detained since last week and how many people released, or by this weekend, do you have any numbers or statements?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. I think there's no confirmation at this point of the overall number of detentions, nor of these reports this morning that some of them were being released. So I just don't have any new confirmations of those.

QUESTION: And also a follow-up on the, just the Japanese case from yesterday and the -- some name was [inaudible]. The guy is the head or the leader for the Defense of the Right of the Iraq people. And he said that, within 24 hours that they're going to kill hostage, they got the message from the group. And have you heard the name of this group and this individual before?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to report on talks with other countries about additional peacekeeping forces? We've had a weekend. I wonder. Has the Secretary been engaged? We were told on background last week that, that conversation was going on with about a dozen prospective DOHA contributors. Are they --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I don't expect that to be something you can report on after a weekend. I think the discussions, you know, we're generally in touch with other governments. We have been in touch with other governments, mostly in the context of contributions that might be made with a new UN resolution, for example.

As the political developments move forward, as we move forward to Iraqi sovereignty, there are some governments that might want to consider the situation and consider that what they could do to support the new government or support the United Nations in an expanded role, other things like that. So we're generally in touch with other governments along those lines, but at this point there's nothing to report and probably won't be anything specific to report from other governments until we move down the road a ways.

QUESTION: And the NATO proposition? Senator Leahy, for instance, suggesting the Secretary go back and lean on NATO a little bit to get other countries in. You're -- it's basically waiting on the UN, isn't it -- not waiting, but I mean --

MR. BOUCHER: No, it's not waiting. It is working with allies and friends in NATO to continue the discussion, continue the -- I can't exactly go to the stage of planning, but to continue discussing how the UN -- how NATO might play a role in Iraq, what kind of rule of law NATO might play.

As you know, the Secretary has had this on his agenda every time he's gone to NATO since -- since more than a year ago now, including in his most recent trip when it was a prominent subject of discussion that continues to be on our agenda with NATO and continues to be something we will develop with them there.

But as in some of these other discussions, the political factors of moving forward to a sovereign Iraqi government; of moving forward towards a -- probably a new UN resolution come into play, some allies and friends consider these things.

QUESTION: Richard, I just want to try to clear something up on the American missing or detained. Is it your understanding that there are seven civilian U.S. citizens who are now either being held or are missing?

MR. BOUCHER: I would say that's the number that the U.S. military has used this morning. I don't have any independent number other than that. They talked about seven employees of Kellogg, Brown & Root. I don't know for sure if that's the total sum of missing American -- civilian Americans at this point, but I think that's the number they know to be missing at this point.

QUESTION: In this -- is there any difference in the way that the State Department goes about dealing with families of -- or these people who are contractors and employed directly by CPA in terms of the -- is there any difference between the way you treat them or deal with their families, and that that you would of someone who wasn't involved in a, a non-CPA civilian?

MR. BOUCHER: No. If there's an American missing, we try to be in touch with the families, try to offer to help in any way we can.

QUESTION: And so you're in touch with -- the State Department is in touch with seven families?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know exactly how many families we're in touch with. We are generally getting in touch with the families of those who have been reported missing. And we're trying also, through our registrations of Americans in Baghdad, our Consular Officer in Baghdad is reaching out to the various Warden systems and other networks that we have to try to ascertain the welfare and whereabouts of all the Americans we know about in Iraq.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that these people were registered in the Warden system?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if these particular seven who have been reported missing were registered or not.

QUESTION: Okay. Does the State Department advise people who are working as contractors, in whatever capacity, for the CPA or various -- to register, civilians?

MR. BOUCHER: We advise every American civilian who is in Iraq to register with our Consular Officer so that we can not only look for them if they go missing, but also keep them up to date on the kind of information that we put out on threats or advisories.

QUESTION: What's your understanding of the reason why, on Friday, that when the -- when the Consular Officer in Baghdad did an initial check and the initial reports came back from the companies that they had, in fact, no information about anyone missing. And it looks like today, there's seven. Can you explain how that happened?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't. That's not a question for the Consular Officer or for me, that's a question for the companies on what information they had at different points.

QUESTION: Well, no, no, it goes to the point of whether these people actually did register, did follow the advice and register with the Embassy -- or the Consul, sorry.

MR. BOUCHER: No, it doesn't. If people are registered with us, we may have a direct contact number or phone number, email address. In any case, the Warden system relies on various nexus and clusters of Americans, be it a company or a division within a company or some other group that's organizing their activities.

So through those -- that Warden system, we'll get to people who didn't necessarily register with us who were part of those groups.

QUESTION: Do you know if an effort -- do you know if there's been an effort made to go out and make sure that all these contracting companies have, indeed, given you -- or given the Consul the list, the list of their U.S. citizen employees?

MR. BOUCHER: I think -- again, we -- people register with us as individuals. In addition, through their various organizations and employers, we have a Warden network that we think gets to as many Americans as we can in that country. And if we call a company, and then they might be responsible for calling 20 people on their list and it cascades out.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any company that has refused or that has not taken -- that has refused the suggestion to register its employees, particularly these contract -- contract employees who are --

MR. BOUCHER: It's not a company to register its employees. It's employees, individuals, who can register directly with us so that they receive materials directly from us with a degree of certainty that's greater than if they rely on the network established through their company.

Charlie.

QUESTION: I just want to follow-up on this line of questioning, Matt, and it's certainly a technical point, but last week when we were checking out some of these reports about American hostages, I was told that U.S. civilians who are contractors or sub-contractors in the military side of things -- actually, it's the Defense Department that takes the lead in talking to the families and in keeping track of them, not the State Department, even though it didn't preclude registering with the Warden system. But I just wonder, is that, in fact, the case?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if the military is separately in touch with the families of contractors. I do know that we have been in touch with families of Americans who are reported missing in Iraq.

QUESTION: Did you say how many?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I didn't say how many.

QUESTION: This is not a hostage, but still on Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay? Do you believe, or does the State Department believe that Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya should be shut down because of the content of the programming? That's something that's being bandied about in Baghdad now.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new to say on that at this point. We expect all broadcasters to be responsible. But as far as the content of their broadcasts and how that's viewed, I don't have anything new to say on it.

QUESTION: But the CPA has the power to do that if they wish, apparently, from that newspaper?

MR. BOUCHER: I think they do have the authority within Iraq to control who's there and who's operating in Iraq, yeah.

QUESTION: Could we go to Sudan?

MR. BOUCHER: We have another one on Iraq, in back?

QUESTION: Palestinian question.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Let's go to Sudan first.

QUESTION: What's your assessment of the ceasefire in Darfur? Is it holding? And do you have anything to substantiate comments by a rebel commander who says that the Sudanese Government launched attacks on two villages just before the hostilities were supposed to stop?

MR. BOUCHER: I think -- well, this is based on the statement that we put out, last Friday it was, on the agreement of the parties to a ceasefire in Darfur that was supposed to be implemented over the course of 72 hours.

At this point, we have not seen a significant change on the ground in Darfur following that agreement. Early reporting indicates some diminution in the fighting following the ceasefire going into effect, but we do still have reports that the government-supported Arab militias are attacking parts of western and southern Darfur.

There are also reports of continuing aerial bombardments, such as at Anka, A-n-k-a, northwest of Khartoum this morning. In addition, we understand that the militias remain in the vicinity of the Internally Displaced Persons camps, occupying land that they had claimed from Africans, and effectively preventing Internally Displaced Persons from returning to their homes.

According to the again, the African Union is going to convene the first meeting to set up an international monitoring committee within the next few days. We're encouraging the African Union to hold the meeting as soon as possible. From April 18th to 21st, a 10-member United Nations delegation led by the Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs will visit the three regions of Darfur to assess the humanitarian situation.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is also putting together a Disaster Assistance Response Team for Sudan to coordinate the U.S. humanitarian response to Darfur. That team leader -- the team leader of that response team will be in Darfur tomorrow to look at the situation and help define more precisely what's needed.

So that's kind of where we stand: Continuing to look for parties to abide by the ceasefire; moving forward on humanitarian assistance; moving forward with the African Union to establish the monitoring which will tell us more exactly whether the ceasefire is being broken, and if so, by whom.

QUESTION: Do you know of anything harder than continuing to look for the parties to observe the agreement, given that you have reports that the fighting is still going on and the government-supported militias are still in the region of the Internally Displaced Camps and occupying land that isn't theirs?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I mean, certainly we're opposed to those kind of actions. We expect the parties to abide by the ceasefire. I think the situation is such that we have these reports, but we're not yet at a point where we're able to confirm them definitively and therefore able to make more definitive judgments about who's responsible for breaking ceasefires.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Okay.

QUESTION: There's a lots of talks about the United States getting ready to possibly offer Mr. Sharon, when he visits with President Bush, a letter of assurance. Knowing that Mr. Sharon is coming to the United States with 14, at least, reservations about the roadmap of President Bush, can I say -- I cannot resist but to ask this question. In your opening statement, you expressed adamant stand behind the Secretary General Annan Plan. Can I say, or can we -- is it fair for us to say that the United States will support its own plan -- roadmap -- and be as adamant about offering -- about implementing this plan, as it is, she is -- or the United States is adamant about implementing other plans? It's --

MR. BOUCHER: I can't compare all the different plans that are out there and various roadmaps and ways forward and documents of different crises in the world. I would say the roadmap has been endorsed by the United States, by the President, by the Quartet, by the Israeli Government, by the Palestinians, by the neighbors, by the Arabs.

Everyone sees that as the way forward. We continue to believe it's the very important way forward, and that's where we're trying to get progress. It is the way of implementing the President's vision of two states living side by side, and we continue to look for every opportunity to make progress down that road. How that will occur during the course of this week with all the meetings the President is having is something I really have to leave to the President and the White House.

QUESTION: A follow-up to it?

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.

QUESTION: But we know that Sharon -- Mr. Sharon has many reservations about the plan. He did not really accept it as it was offered to Israel.

MR. BOUCHER: I think you're referring to remarks that were made some time ago. I don't really have anything further on that. You say he's bringing 14 reservations. I don't know that he is. But I certainly do know that the Sharon government has heartily endorsed the roadmap in recent weeks and months.

QUESTION: Israeli Government reports say that Mr. Sharon will ask for some assurances for evacuating the settlements from Gaza. Have you any idea what these assurances will be? What are they and --

MR. BOUCHER: I know there's a ton and a half of reports about he will do this, he will do that. Let's wait until he gets here and see what he does, and then we'll react at that point.

QUESTION: It's from the Israeli Government.

MR. BOUCHER: That's great, but I've seen as many Israeli Government sources on these subjects as I have American Government sources, and not all of them are correct all the time.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Will these assurances involve, let's say, settlement in the West Bank?

MR. BOUCHER: Don't ask me any more. I don't know. We'll see what he brings, we'll see what he asks for, and we'll see how we respond once he gets here. Okay?

QUESTION: Richard, do you have anything to say about the current situation, the unrest in the central highlands of Vietnam?

MR. BOUCHER: Not at this moment, but I'll check on it for you.

QUESTION: This meeting today with Hosny Mubarak is just one of several meetings over the last -- over the next week and a half in terms of the Middle East. Can you kind of say how they all fit together in terms of what you're trying to do with getting Arabs on board for this Sharon disengagement plan?

MR. BOUCHER: I think I'd put it this way, that the meetings that we're having this week and next week involve a consistent effort by the President and by the United States to look for ways forward, for ways to move forward in the Middle East to try to achieve the President's vision of two states that can live side by side. The President has made this commitment. He has enlisted the help of others, including the Arab states in the region, to try to achieve that vision. And he has enlisted their support of the roadmap, which is the way to get there. So the President continues to work to achieve that vision that he himself enunciated.

Second of all, it represents the willingness on the part of the President to listen to various parties who have an important role in this region -- people who can bring different things to the table, help out in various ways to establish the kind of Palestinian government that can take authority, that can take action against the violence in the region as well.

And third of all, it represents the President's commitment to look for every opportunity to move forward. And we've said that the statements by Prime Minister Sharon about withdrawal of settlements from Gaza can represent an opportunity to move forward along the lines of the President's vision and the roadmap, and that we would like -- we are going to talk to them in that vein.

So I think you see the commitment by the President to achieving progress and the commitment by the President to look for every opportunity to move forward.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Mubarak, just a little bit. Do you think that fast-moving events in Iraq will eclipse the President's effort in regard to reforms and the Greater Middle East and so on, and during his talks with Mubarak?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. The President just appeared in public with Mubarak to give a press conference. If you look at the opening statements, certainly all these things get their due attention -- peace in the Middle East, democracy, the fight against terrorism, Iraq. All these were important topics of their discussion and probably will be in our other discussions as we move forward.

Yeah. Okay, Ma'am.

QUESTION: On the eve of the Vice President Cheney's visit to China, Beijing urged United States to not to harm the bilateral ties by committing to the Taiwan Relations Act, which apparently is in response to your press statement last Friday on TRA. Any comments on that?

MR. BOUCHER: No. We did state our position on the Taiwan Relations Act and it hasn't changed since Friday.

QUESTION: And another question on Taiwan, please?

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.

QUESTION: After Therese Shaheen, the head of AIT, resigned, following that, you know, the Foreign Minister in Taiwan resigned and then the head of TAIPO, CJ Chen resigned. Do you know any reasons as you're understanding caused the whole democratic --

MR. BOUCHER: Not that I know of.

QUESTION: And any comment on the new Foreign Minister in Taiwan, which is a pro-independence activist?

MR. BOUCHER: No, not at this point.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Some comments made out of this building last week seem to have ignited a little bit of a stir in Australia about -- with some people there saying that the United States has interfered or put itself into the middle of the Australian -- of internal Australian politics ahead of the election. I'm wondering if you have anything to say about that.

You have no idea what I'm talking about? It was on the front page of every single newspaper in Australia.

MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I took a vacation last week but I didn't go as far as Australia. So I wasn't reading the Australian papers last week.

Let me just say this about the U.S. and Australia. We have an alliance with Australia that is very deep, that is very long and is very important to both of our nations. It's based on values, it's based on principles and it's based on the reality of shared action around the world and it's a partnership of equals.

The successive governments in the United States and Australia have reaffirmed this partnership and made it the bedrock of our relationship with Australia. We have always respected Australia's right to make its own decisions and take its own views. But again and again, we've found ourselves together with shared values and shared actions around the world.

So we've been grateful for the Australian people, being able to work with them in that fashion, currently, in things like the war against terrorism, and we think that our alliance has served the cause of peace around the world.

QUESTION: Okay, well, that sounds like exactly the same statement that caused all this problems, with the exception of the one line that says that comments to the contrary of that are, I think it was ill-informed --

MR. BOUCHER: I would say the characterizations to the contrary are neither well informed nor well based, if that's what you want to hear.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. So basically you just repeated the -- I have one more. On the subject of the Secretary's phone calls. It's not quite correct that he hasn't made any phone calls, has he? Unless the Russians are lying. Did he not speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov?

MR. BOUCHER: Who said he hadn't made any phone calls?

QUESTION: I thought you said that he hasn't --

QUESTION: On Cyprus --

QUESTION: I'm sorry.

MR. BOUCHER: I was asked if he'd called the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders. I said no, not at this point.

QUESTION: Okay, I'm sorry. I thought there was another one, a little broader. Can you tell us what the --

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, he's talked over the weekend. He's been in touch with Secretary General Annan a couple of times over the weekend. He was in touch with Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia on Sunday, and on Saturday, he also talked to Sudanese Vice President Taha and Chairman Garang of the SPLM.

QUESTION: On that subject, what's your understanding? Are they still as close as ever?

MR. BOUCHER: They are intensively engaged to try to resolve the outstanding issues, but they have not reach an agreement yet. We are making clear both sides need to take the final, very difficult political decisions necessary to bring this whole process to a successful conclusion. There can be no agreement without difficult compromises and we urge the parties to seek real and workable solutions to their requirements.

As I noted, the Secretary has been in touch with the parties, Vice President Taha of Sudan and Mr. Garang. We are reiterating to the parties our firm view that the time has come to conclude the negotiations.

QUESTION: Yeah, but last week you said you wanted them -- you thought it was -- last week the statements was, "by the end of the week," meaning -- even this Administration can't go as far as to say that -- but today, that Monday is still the end of last week.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think that --

QUESTION: Are you disappointed at all that now they've met --

MR. BOUCHER: First of all, by the end of last week, over the weekend, our last observer left Lake Naivasha because we think that everything is on the table, it's time for the parties to reach a conclusion and decide. Second of all, we've also made clear that the Sudan Peace Act determination is due on April 21st, and that requires us to make a -- to make clear which party or both is or are responsible for failure to achieve agreement. And that determination, obviously, will affect how we deal with the parties in the future.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)

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