State Department Noon Briefing, April 22, 2004
|Thursday April 22,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
THURSDAY, APRIL 22, 2004
12:30 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here, and I don't have any statements or announcements, so I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Have you seen the story about the possible easing of rules to permit the rehiring of Baathists?
MR. BOUCHER: Have I seen the story? Yes.
QUESTION: What do you have to say about it?
MR. BOUCHER: I think -- let me say, first of all, that this issue is being addressed, as well, in Baghdad, where the work goes on to try to bring Iraqis from all points of view, from the various communities, into the government, into the political process, but we've made clear, also, that the Baathist ideology, the Baath Party criminals have no place in this process and need, in fact, to face justice.
So De-Baathification policies are directed, first and foremost, at the highest-level members, who are responsible for the atrocities that were committed by the Baath Party leadership against the Iraqi people. The process, however, is also intended to be one of reconciliation. The idea is that punitive action doesn't need to be taken against people who have clean records and who are in jobs where membership in the party was a job requirement.
We are working to try to develop and equitable solution to address the widely divergent activities of former Baathist Party members. This is work being done by the Governing Council and the Coalition Authority.
The policy, I think, has been set forth by the Governing Council already. The implementation of that policy is being looked at and is being revised in order to ensure that the original intent of the policy is better met. As I said, that work is going on in Baghdad.
The goal is to balance the need for expertise and experience that some Iraqis have with the need for justice. And that's something that we're looking at and we're working to address it. It's being worked on by the Coalition in Baghdad, by the Governing Council in Baghdad, and I think they will have more to say on this as they come to more conclusions about how to revise the implementation of the policy.
QUESTION: Very specific -- this very specifically makes reference to the hiring of 11,000 teachers who were dismissed a year ago.
MR. BOUCHER: I think those are the kind of people that are being looked at: professionals, people who were in government positions but who did not commit crimes and whose participation in the party was merely a requirement for -- to get their jobs, and where they didn't have significant participation in the party, in the activities of the party, and particularly in the crimes of the party.
But how exactly a particular category of people will be affected, and
how exactly the policy can be revised to make sure it works smoothly for
these people and for Iraq -- for the future of Iraq --
QUESTION: Can I ask about North Korea, if there is any information you have on the train collision and accident? Nothing?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we don't. We're following the reports of a train accident in North Korea. We've seen some reports of a very large number of casualties from that; that, indeed, would be very sad, and obviously, we'd express our sympathy to whoever was hurt and how many people might be hurt. We don't know.
QUESTION: Is there any assistance the U.S. can offer in this situation?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if there's anything particular that we might offer. We've always been willing to help the people of North Korea with humanitarian needs, but I'm not aware -- I don't think we know enough about the situation yet to know whether there is any assistance that we have that might be necessary.
QUESTION: Is help in this situation particularly difficult because of the nature of our relations or a lack thereof?
MR. BOUCHER: We've never really had any impediment on our side to helping humanitarian needs in North Korea. But, again, not knowing what the situation is, I really don't know -- can't speculate if there is anything here that we might have some particular ability to help with.
QUESTION: Recognizing that you don't really have many details yet, is there any reason to believe this was something other than an accident?
MR. BOUCHER: We really don't have anything other than the press reporting and the speculation is all over the place. I just don't have anything to say.
QUESTION: Not specifically on this, but the Chinese -- Madame Wu was here this morning. I'm wondering if -- sorry?
QUESTION: Could we stay on North Korea, on the accident?
QUESTION: This is about North Korea. You want to talk about the accident?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Let's see, the accident, I assume, the question was about Kim Jong-Il and the Chinese (inaudible).
QUESTION: Yeah, it was actually. And can you just tell us before Teri asks her question; do you have anything else to say about the accident? It sounded like you --
MR. BOUCHER: No, but I'm happy to take all of her questions, or anyone else's.
QUESTION: No, that's very nice. Thank you. No, I just want to -- earlier, the Secretary said he was aware that Kim Jong-il was not injured, which is pretty obvious from the wire reports, but can you tell us how you learned that? I mean, have you at least had confirmed from other leaders that Kim Jong-il was not anywhere near there?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that we've had it from any other source, but I think that's one point that has appeared in all the reporting on the event.
QUESTION: Okay. All right, Matt.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Okay. We met with Madame Wu Yi this morning. Do you want a general rundown of what we talked about or do you want to focus specifically on --
QUESTION: Well, a rundown would be nice, but North Korea in particular.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. First, in general, just to say that Secretary Powell met with Vice President Wu Yi today. Their discussion focused on economic and trade issues. They stressed the importance of building on progress made at the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade that was held yesterday.
They also talked about how to further enhance the economic trade relationship, and we discussed some of the issues that are of particular importance to us in terms of access to the Chinese market.
The Secretary also made clear in the conversation we remain committed to the "One China" policy, the three Communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act, and that we're opposed to unilateral efforts by either side to change the status quo with regard to Taiwan.
He did note during the course of the discussions our appreciation for the effort the Chinese have made in the six-party talks and the -- our appreciation for what the Chinese have done to help organize those talks and try to move things forward.
The discussion with Vice Premier Wu Yi was more an economic and trade discussion. The Secretary also spoke this morning, however, with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Li, who happened to be visiting Moscow. They talked a bit about some of the UN business, the Cyprus resolution in particular, but they also talked about Kim Jong-il's visit to Beijing and where we stood on North Korea.
We have been briefed by the Chinese in Beijing on the visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to Beijing. We understand from those briefings that he said he was still committed to the six-party process and to the understandings that have been reached there. So there's nothing more specific that we have at this point. We would say it is, indeed, time to make that support real by scheduling the follow-up working groups and then the next round of talks, and we remain ready to do that at an early date.
QUESTION: But there's no sign that the working group meeting, which you wanted by, you know, next week basically is --
MR. BOUCHER: There's nothing specific on that at this point. It's obviously better to have the restatement of a commitment to follow those understandings and agreements that have been reached in the six-party talks. But as I said, time would make it real by having North Korea agree to the talks. We're ready at an early date. We have made clear we -- the Japanese, South Koreans all made clear -- at our meetings that we were ready to go this month.
Obviously, it doesn't look like that's going to happen in that short period of time, but we remain ready to go at an early date and would hope that the North Koreans would agree to do that as early in the next month as possible.
QUESTION: Can I just follow one -- Richard, earlier this month A.Q. Khan admitted that he went to North Korea and he had seen some of the nuclear weapons and all that. Where do we stand as far as this -- his stories and nuclear transport technology to North Korea now?
MR. BOUCHER: As far as North Korean's nuclear weapons programs, I think we have made clear, not only from our information, but now, backed up by the information that's coming out of Pakistan in their investigations, that North Korea has had nuclear programs.
We have made clear in the past our view that North Korea had nuclear weapons, had developed nuclear weapons from some of those programs. We have made clear that despite North Korean denials, that we remain very firm in our understanding that North Korea had nuclear enrichment capabilities and, indeed, the information coming out of A.Q. Khan indicates that he did transfer nuclear enrichment technology and equipment to North Korea.
So I think any questions about North Korea's nuclear programs, the fact of North Korea's nuclear programs, the fact of North Korea's trying to develop two different streams of weapons material and the fact of North Korea trying to build bombs, those questions have been put to rest. And that's why I think there is more, as we saw at the last round, more commitment from the international community in achieving what needs to be achieved, and that's complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear programs.
QUESTION: When the U.S. meets with Chinese officials in Beijing and -- so what reaction do you get from them? How do they feel about this -- North Korea's nuclear program?
MR. BOUCHER: They don't like it. Simply put, we've been talking to them. We've been talking to the other parties through the talks. At the end of the last round, we made quite clear we felt that five of the participants in the talks understood quite clearly -- had shared the goal of the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program, that that was the point of the talk, that was the point of the follow up, as far as all of us were concerned.
Okay. Let's --
QUESTION: So in a way, we're just supporting North Korea?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I just said the opposite. You'll have to ask the Chi -- you can ask the Chinese what their position is. I'm sure they would explain it much better than I would.
QUESTION: So just for (inaudible). So do you have any concern -- I mean, the Chinese side also saying -- using the same wording as North Korea. Their final goal is nuclear weapon-free. So do you find any -- I mean, do you find any discrepancy of the opinion between U.S. side and the Chinese side?
MR. BOUCHER: The idea that the Korean Peninsula needs to be free of nuclear weapons necessarily involves an end to the programs intended to develop nuclear weapons.
Our view would certainly be that that goal, which has been stated before in the talks by the various parties, has a necessary implementation or implication that can only be met by the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
QUESTION: The reports that have been coming out of Beijing about the visit are quite positive. They talk about how flexible he said he was, how willing he was to resolve this. Is that the sense you got from the Chinese in that briefing that you got?
MR. BOUCHER: That's certainly the Chinese statements that they have made in public and the way they briefed the visit in private, as well. The point that we would make is that it's time to turn that -- those reports and that support for the six-party process into a reality by North Korea agreeing to talks; agreeing to talks that can result in the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of its programs.
QUESTION: Yeah. I just kind of want to move on, although it does --
QUESTION: You referred to North Korean comments on process, as referred to you by the Chinese -- or related to you by the Chinese, they support the six-party process, and I think you said something about support for working groups, but you still haven't addressed the question in substance.
And you're saying the Chinese were pleased with what came out of the meeting. What came out it that was pleasing, besides the reaffirmation of the six-party process?
MR. BOUCHER: I really need to leave that to the Chinese to try to brief on the visit. As you know, the North Koreans have avoided any real commitments, and I'm not sure they've made any new ones.
QUESTION: Do you have any misgivings about asking us to ask the Chinese about this when they didn't even admit the visit was going on until three days after it was over with?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, but then they -- when the visit was over, they immediately issued about five pages of press statements on the subject, so they've been quite willing to talk about it since the departure.
QUESTION: So we'll get the straight dope from the Chinese?
MR. BOUCHER: I think you'll get their best impressions or their best reactions to what they heard directly, since we weren't in the room with Kim Jong-il when he was in Beijing. I find it hard to report on events that we did not attend.
Okay. Somebody else? You were going to change the subject?
QUESTION: Same subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Same subject. Go.
QUESTION: Richard, on the other "axis of evil," they --
QUESTION: That's not the same topic.
MR. BOUCHER: No, that's going far afield. That's -- we'll get back to that later.
QUESTION: All right. You mentioned that the Secretary talked to Foreign Minister Li, who happened to be in Moscow, and you mentioned the word "Cyprus" too. I'm wondering, did he call to talk to Lavrov, and Lavrov just put the phone over to Foreign Minister Li so they could talk?
And if he did call to talk to Lavrov --
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: -- what did he say about the Russian -- you know, Russia's veto yesterday, proving that you're not the only country that wields the veto in the Security Council?
MR. BOUCHER: Flash? Headline?
MR. BOUCHER: Five members have veto?
QUESTION: Well, using it.
MR. BOUCHER: I think that story was written in 1949, so let's go on.
The next step that -- let me make the points, talk about the Cyprus resolution.
The Secretary has talked to several of his counterparts at the United Nations before the vote yesterday. We felt it was very important for the UN Security Council to go on record to make very clear that we were -- that the Council itself was going to support the full implementation of the agreement; that the Council itself was going to support the Secretary General; and that the Council itself would take action to establish the settlement commission, the arms embargo and the other things that are specifically called for in the agreement that was worked out.
So the Secretary did have contacts with a number of his counterparts in the Security Council, as well as the Secretary General.
He talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday, before the vote, about it. He had, I think, placed a call or looked to place a call to Foreign Minister Li as the vote was developing. The call went through this morning. They talked a little bit about that, as well as the other subjects that I mentioned.
The point I'd like to make about the vote is the point that I think Ambassador Cunningham made yesterday. Obviously, we regret that one member of the Security Council was not prepared to support the Secretary General's request to pass the resolution before the referenda in order to provide assurances to Greek Cypriots that the security structures provided for in the settlement would be in place before the vote on April 24th. Fourteen members of the Council, however, took a very different view and felt it was appropriate to directly support the Secretary General and the agreement that he had worked out.
It is very clear, however, that if the settlement is approved by all Cypriots in the referendum on Saturday, there would be very rapid action in the Security Council to establish the UN Settlement Implementation Commission in Cyprus and the arms embargo.
We think this vote does demonstrate the obvious and strong support of the international community for implementing all aspects of the UN settlement, which provides for the return of over 120,000 Greek Cypriot refugees to their former homes. It provides a comprehensive property compensation and restitution system, and provides for the withdrawal of almost all Turkish troops from the island. So we think the vote is there to do this. We had hoped to get it before; but for the veto, we would have had that.
But I think also if you look at how the Russians explain their veto, it's procedural. It really had to do with the question of voting before the referendum. And there is a very strong commitment by the Council to implement this agreement if the Cypriots vote "yes."
The Secretary General also, I think, issued a message today and has spoken about this. We fully support his thoughts and his comments in this message. The Council and the Secretary General, we think, are united on this issue. He said the vision of the UN plan is simple: reunification and reconciliation in safety and security in the European Union. And that's what we all support.
QUESTION: Did Foreign Minister Lavrov tell the Secretary that they were going to veto it? And if he did, why did you go ahead with a -- why did you go ahead with a vote? Did you feel it was just important to get a 14 to 1?
MR. BOUCHER: It was clear that there was very, very substantial support in the Council and the Russians did tell us in advance that they would veto for procedural reasons. And we felt that the message could still be clear, despite the Russian veto, the regrettable veto by the Russians. But we think the message still is clear that the Council is prepared to stand up and support the full implementation of this agreement and that's what people need to see.
QUESTION: Your speculation was that getting a 14 to 1 vote, it was better than not having a vote at all?
MR. BOUCHER: Getting the 14 to 1 vote was better than not having a vote at all. Getting the 14 to 1 when the 1 is understood to be procedural and makes clear that it will pass, it's still on the table and it will pass if there's a positive vote on the referendum. And therefore, it does signal to the Cypriots that we're all behind this and we'll all work in the Council as well as individually to make sure that's fully -- that the agreements are all fully implemented.
QUESTION: On the issue of the veto by Russia, I want to point out to you some recent events. First of all, as you probably know, the Foreign Minister of Cyprus, Mr. Iacovou, was in Moscow last week for discussions. And also today, the biggest party in Cyprus, AKEL, with traditional ties to Moscow, announced his -- its decision to support the "no" on Saturday. So the "no" on the Greek Cypriot side is a foregone conclusion.
Do you have any reaction to these events, because according to some reports, all of these dots point to the veto by Russia, even if it's procedural?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can wrap up everything in one big ball. There are different positions taken by different people. If you want to know the Russian position, I think they've stated it in relation to the UN. If you want to know the Russian position on the vote, you'll have to ask the Russians directly.
The importance, I think, of this vote, of the agreement, it's really not something one should underestimate. This is a historic opportunity. This is the first time the people of Cyprus have had before them a plan that would solve the problem that they've been grappling with their whole lives.
It's the first time they have before them solutions to problems of people who have been unable to return to their homes in the north. It's the first time they've had before them a substantial withdrawal of troops. It's the first time they've have before them a common future together, of the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots together on the island in being able to move to the EU.
So we think that there are a lot of positions, some of these are related to the traditional positions the different parties have taken, and in some cases, parties have changed position.
But it's important that people now have a chance to look at this for themselves, to look at this and say, "What does this mean for me, for my life, for my children's lives, and how this can be better?" And that, we think, is a little different than just looking at the positions that are taken by politicians, or that even might be taken by foreign governments.
Nonetheless, I'd say, we are somewhat -- we were rather concerned by reports that, in fact, the people on the island are not getting the full range of views, that they're not getting all the information about the plan because Cyprus Broadcasting's Board of Directors has been limiting press coverage, has been limiting coverage of all foreigners' statements on the UN settlements and on Saturday's referendum.
And so there are a lot of facts and a lot of pieces of information that may not be getting through, and that really calls into the question the operation of the free media on Cyprus and the ability of the Cypriot voters to have full and accurate information, because ultimately, it's their choice. They need to know all the views. They need to know about the plan. They need to be able to analyze it in all its aspects.
QUESTION: Richard, on that point, the Secretary has been -- he's been having relatively good success in getting on the airwaves of Greek and British television. But the -- as you mentioned, the Europeans haven't had that same success. I'm wondering if you -- if you have anything to say about the fact that they refused to allow this EU official --
MR. BOUCHER: Verheugen, I think, has not been shown on -- I mean, the problem is Cyprus Broadcasting. We have done interviews with a number of different outlets who do broadcast in Greece and in Greek Cypriot areas, and so many of the statements that we, and others, have made have gotten through, whether they -- the European statements were made to those outlets, or perhaps, to others that haven't gotten through, that may be the difference.
But you have here a state broadcaster who is refusing to put out information to the people on what the different views are and what the different analysis is of the vote that they're about to take on a truly historically important question.
QUESTION: Have you any U.S. statements that have been -- or attempts by you, by the United States, to get on to this state broadcaster and talk that have you been turned down?
MR. BOUCHER: No. We have directed our efforts in places where we felt we could be seen.
QUESTION: New subject?
QUESTION: A new vote on the Annan Plan, do you expect further negotiation after May 1st, 2004?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: No negotiations?
MR. BOUCHER: Everything has been negotiated. Everything that could be worked out has been worked out.
QUESTION: Because, otherwise, May1st is the end of the story, correct?
MR. BOUCHER: There's no plan B; there's no option to go back to the table; there's no thought of, "Oh, well, let's try again." It's all been worked out. It's been worked out in greater detail than ever before. It's been worked out with specific achievements for each side. It's been worked out in a balance that meets the needs of both sides. It's been worked out in a way that the people of each side can look at it and say, "This gets me a better life. This gets me what I want."
So the idea that you could suddenly go back to the table and say, "Let's go through every single issue one more time," and come up differently, I think that's just not realistic. And, no, there is nothing planned and nothing expected of that sort.
QUESTION: So what do you expect, then, after May 1st?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, if we're -- if things go well, if people make the right decision, after May 1st a united Cyprus -- Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots -- can go into the European Union together.
QUESTION: And if the answer is no?
MR. BOUCHER: If the answer is no, we'll just have to see.
QUESTION: Does that mean the division is permanent?
QUESTION: And if the vote is "yes" from both sections of the island, I'm wondering, and who will be in charge for the entire island on April 25th -- which authority until the formation of the Greek-Turkish Cypriot government?
MR. BOUCHER: I really can't answer that question for you. I haven't had time to go through the 9,000 pages of the agreement, so that's the sort of question that, indeed, has been worked out, and those things will be handled according to the plan.
QUESTION: There's no such a provision, that's why I'm asking you since you are involved.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'm not going to be able to add to it now, then.
QUESTION: So your feeling is the division is, for all intents and purposes, permanent if they vote "no?" There's no plan B. There's -- or, and if that's the case, are you prepared to support open-endedly, you know, to infinity, a UN mission there?
MR. BOUCHER: Our goal is not to speculate on what might come if people vote "no." Our goal is to try to encourage people to look at this carefully, to look at the benefits for themselves, to look at the benefits for their community and their futures, and to vote "yes." There will be plenty of time afterwards to talk about what happens if that doesn't happen.
QUESTION: Well, I must say that I can understand why you don't want to speculate about a "no" vote, but I really hope that you're not -- it's not true that there is no plan B and that you're -- that you don't -- you're not making some kind of preparations for a potential "no" vote because I think that might be more disastrous than -- the way you're presenting it.
QUESTION: Change of subject? (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: That was not a question, was it?
QUESTION: No. Well, I mean, are -- you're not going to answer it, so it's --
QUESTION: On Sudan, what's your take on the status of talks now that the top negotiators have left? What are you expectations for them returning?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there are expectations that they will return. As I think we've been reporting on this for some days now, the leaders on each side left a couple days ago, I think it was. But the parties are still engaged in intensive talks at Naivasha on the final remaining issues. In fact, progress is being made -- far too slowly, in our view, but there is a reasonable chance that they can reach an accord in the near future.
We have continued to work out there. Our senior U.S. observer in Naivasha is in constant contact with the parties and with the main mediator, General Sumbeiywo. We are sharing ideas with the parties in an effort to move the negotiations forward. They have asked General Sumbeiywo to take a more direct role in helping to bridge the differences between the two sides, and we are strongly supporting that. So the effort continues.
QUESTION: How much does the absence of the top negotiators impact on this pace, the lack of quick progress?
MR. BOUCHER: The recent history of these talks has been that there have been periods when the top negotiators were there and periods when they were off consulting, and perhaps checking ideas or developing ideas with -- for their constituencies, so the top negotiators haven't been there the entire time. So we recognize that's a necessary part of negotiation.
I'd have to say that while progress is often made when they are there, and that's usually a condition for wrapping anything up, the overall somewhat glacial pace of this negotiation over the past few months that we've noted in our report applies to times when they were there and times when they weren't there. So I don't conclude that one or the other moves faster.
QUESTION: Just -- sorry, sir. When you say there are expectations for them to return, do you know when?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have exact dates on that, but there are expectations -- they are expected to come back as progress is made and as issues can be dealt with.
QUESTION: Yeah, could we return to Cyprus for just one question?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: You've brought the UN into Iraq, and the remarkably successful negotiations in Cyprus were UN negotiations, primarily backed by the United States, of course. Is there any chance that you're -- any conceptual thinking is being done in the Department of State concerning the bringing of the UN into the Israel-Palestine dispute, which has some of the same factors as in Cyprus?
MR. BOUCHER: The UN is involved in the Middle East. They're a mem -- part of the Quartet. They're involved with refugees. They're involved in assistance programs. They're involved in a number of ways already. And certainly, the UN Security Council is involved, going back to the earliest points with the resolutions that the council has passed.
At the same time, to actually sort of get on the ground, or get to Switzerland or get to Naivasha and be a mediator, you need parties that are willing to negotiate. And that's where some of the problems now have been -- that we don't think there's been a credible partner on the Palestinian side and that they need to establish themselves; they need to take control of their situation; they need to fight terrorism, they need to sit down with the ability to make deals and keep to them.
The -- so you need the two parties to be there in a credible way, and you also need somebody that's acceptable to both parties to play an intermediary role. As you point out, in some cases, the United Nations has taken that on. In other cases, it hasn't been the United Nations. In the case of the Middle East, it's consistently been the United States with a variety of others helping in different ways, but it's consistently been the United States because we've been a party that both of the -- the parties to the dispute have trusted. And we've played that role over time; we'll continue to play that role as we can.
QUESTION: Follow-up question. Follow up, please.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The greenline was established by UN negotiations, roads under U.S. sponsorship, Ralph Bunch. Has there been any reaction at the UN or among UN members concerning the President's abandonment of the greenline as the line between the two?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think the President abandoned anything. I think we use the reference to the '49 armistice line, but it's the same thing.
QUESTION: Yeah. But you said that that wasn't relevant any longer.
MR. BOUCHER: No. We did not.
QUESTION: Follow-up on your previous answer. Now how does that auger with the fact that the Palestinians were completely left out of this latest round of negotiations or talks or discussions that they had that resulted in the President's endorsement of the Sharon plan? And then I have a follow-up to that.
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, the Palestinians were not completely left out.
The teams that have been talking to the Israelis about this pullout from Gaza have been talking to the Palestinians as well; have been consulting with friends and interested parties in the Arab world as well; have been consulting with the Europeans as well; as has the Secretary. The Secretary has talked to the Palestinians frequently. He's talked to the Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath -- yesterday, was it? Yesterday.
And we will keep in touch with them. We need to keep in touch with them, and I think what we have said, what the President said during the visit is that we need -- this is an opportunity. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, it does involve the Palestinians. It's an opportunity for them to establish control, to take control, to fight terrorism and establish the basics of government in a responsible fashion. And certainly we and others look forward to talking to them and working with them to make this withdrawal a reality.
QUESTION: Could you tell us anything about the content of that conversation? Did they discuss when Shaath is coming to Washington to talk about this?
MR. BOUCHER: In a general sense, yes. I don't think we have dates at this point. Yeah. But we certainly look forward to a visit.
QUESTION: Richard. On --
MR. BOUCHER: Same topic?
QUESTION: No. South Asia.
MR. BOUCHER: I'd guess this gentleman may have something similar to ask.
QUESTION: Lakhdar Brahimi had said last night, he complained that policies of Israel against the Palestinians and the support that Mr. Sharon received in Washington during his visit, these factors are complicating his efforts in Iraq as a UN representative, in the role -- in his mission in there.
What is your reaction to this? He is -- I mean, he's really adamant about expressing those opinions last night.
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see the specific comments, so I don't -- I don't really have any specific comment on that. I'd merely point out that Ambassador Brahimi is there for the United Nations. He certainly has our support in the effort that he is making in Iraq in trying to help find the way forward and reconcile the parties, bring the parties into the political process in Iraq. But he's there on behalf of the United Nations. He's not a U.S. official, representative or envoy, or say, anything like that.
QUESTION: I understand that. But that -- doesn't that, in your opinion, also go side by side with what President Mubarak and other U.S. allies have been expressing -- that kind of anger or protest against the recent positions that supported -- or are supporting Sharon's policies toward the Palestinians and in Palestine?
MR. BOUCHER: The specific remarks, whether they go side by side with what others have said, I don't -- I can't -- I don't know, because I haven't seen those specific remarks. Let me make one general observation, though, in what you say, is that the United States has made very clear our desire to move forward in all of these areas.
We need to move forward on the Israeli-Palestinian process. We need to move forward in bringing democratic and stable government to Iraq. We need to move forward on the overall process of reform and progress in the Middle East, and indeed, we are moving forward in all of these areas.
With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian issues, we think we have a real opportunity here to secure the withdrawal of Israeli forces and the withdrawal of settlers for the first time in decades from real territory, real settlements, both in Gaza and some on the West Bank; and that that is a goal that's worth working for, that's a goal that requires a lot of concrete effort and work. We're prepared to do that to move forward.
On the other issues, as well, in terms of our commitment to Iraq, our commitment to the political transition in Iraq, we are moving forward to a more democratic and more stable Iraq for the Iraqi citizens and as a member of the region.
And on Middle East reform, we're looking closely at what the Arabs are considering. We're working closely with governments in the region who have reform plans. We're working to support the efforts of people in the region. So all these things are an important part of how we move forward.
As the Secretary said the other day, we recognize that people can be upset by positions we've taken or things we've said that are not in -- aligned with their views. But at the same time, I think, as people recognize that the United States is pressing forward on the issues of importance to people in the region, that we'll get some -- a better respect for that.
QUESTION: I want to clear something up. There seems to be some confusion about actually the reasoning behind King Abdullah's cancellation or postponement of his meetings. The initial Jordanian statement said that it was being done so they could clarify your position. And then the next day, the White House, this building, and even the Jordanian Foreign Minister said, "No, no, no. There was no problem and it was an internal decision."
But then today up on the Hill, Under Secretary Grossman said, in fact, the King did postpone it because he was -- to show his displeasure with your policies. I realize you're going to tell me to go ask the Jordanians about why the King did this, but what is -- can you tell me what your understanding is, finally, about why -- what the explanation was that was given to you guys?
MR. BOUCHER: We -- the direct explanation that we got was from the Jordanian Foreign Minister yesterday, and that was the explanation that he conveyed to all of you at the entrance yesterday.
QUESTION: So Under Secretary Grossman is wrong?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen exactly what he said. I don't know.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Sharon gave a speech, I understood, on Tuesday, that is really totally contradictory to the Administration's explanation of what they endorsed him with. He said that, "I got everything. I'm going to expand the settlements." In fact, he issued a directive in that regard. He says, "We have, in essence, a green light to go after the -- you know -- the terrorists, and so on."
So are you concerned about that? Are you going to ask for an explanation to that speech? Are you aware of that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've seen reports of the speech, certainly. The explanation of what we've said, what we endorsed, the positions we've held, the tie to the roadmap, the President's vision and the opportunity here are all contained in the abundant explanations and documents that we issued.
We gave you copies of our letter, the Israeli letter, which is a formal statement of the Israeli position, and especially, you've seen the words directly from the President of the United States, in his own mouth. So anybody who wants to know what our position is, anybody who wants to understand the positions the United States has actually taken, as opposed to what is being said about the positions we have taken, can find our positions in those documents.
QUESTION: What he says should be interpreted as just for political domestic consumption?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't know how to interpret it. There have been a great deal -- many people in the region, in the press and the commentators on TV, leaders from various countries who have said the United States took this position or that position. So I'm not trying to correct or comment on what an individual leader or person might have said about what our position is. I'm just telling you that anybody that does want to know our position can find it in great accuracy and great abundance in the materials that we've issued.
QUESTION: Richard --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Okay. Hang on.
QUESTION: On the --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I think you had dibs.
QUESTION: Richard, the situation in Nepal is going, getting out of control, and Maoists are also after the King, and so are thousands of Nepalese. And recently, U.S. Ambassador to Nepal had warned the Maoists, and he said that if you don't stop or lay down your arms and we will do that. Can you comment on the remarks in Nepal on the Maoist situation or the situation in Nepal?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd have to get you something on that. I don't have anything up to date now.
QUESTION: How about oil, oil situation in Nepal? They are after the king or the Nepalese --
MR. BOUCHER: There are other people in this building who follow it very closely. I'm just not up to speed myself. I'll have to get you something.
QUESTION: How about another question in Afghanistan? U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan also had been speaking at recent occasions in Kabul and also here in Washington. He said he had warned the Pakistanis that if you don't take care of this cross-border terrorism from Pakistan to Afghanistan, then we will. So what he meant by that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I didn't see those particular remarks so I don't have any real comment.
QUESTION: The New York Time.
QUESTION: You were (inaudible) at the time from the podium. Not by you.
MR. BOUCHER: Does it talk about that? Oh, I stand by what my colleague said if --
QUESTION: A long time ago.
MR. BOUCHER: A long time ago? Oh. Those? Yeah. Those words.
QUESTION: Yes, but his remarks are still going on.
MR. BOUCHER: I thought you were saying something new. No, I don't have anything new to say on that. Okay.
QUESTION: How about on India, one on the same subject? (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: You all can go to lunch. We'll be here for a while. You come back and --
QUESTION: It's quick on India.
The outgoing Ambassador of India to the U.S., Mr. Mansingh, he overall had calm views about the U.S. Administration's and India's relationship, really. He had (inaudible) in oral, but also, at the same time he said that the recent type of certain policy to India and Pakistan where he broke, or he called it that breach of trust between the U.S. and India by not telling the Indian authorities that he was going to give a special non-ally status to Pakistan, and he and he said that this may help future strategic partnership or relations between U.S. and India. You have any comments on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any comment on that. I think that was well explained at the time. We have always made clear our relations with India and relations with Pakistan: Both need to move forward; that we're very committed to moving forward with each of these relationships and that we did so through the Secretary's visit. We do so every day by the work we do together, and that the strategic partnership between India and the United States is a very important one to us and we continue to work very hard with the Indians in moving that forward.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Sir.
QUESTION: Could you shed some lights on Mr. Armitage meetings in the Arab countries, please?
MR. BOUCHER: I think this is the one day that I can't. I didn't get an update.
QUESTION: He's back.
MR. BOUCHER: He's back. I'll have to get you something on that.
QUESTION: Can I ask specifically about Armitage? And this has to do with Iraq and again, it has to do with something that Under Secretary Grossman said up on the Hill. He told the Senator Foreign Relations Committee that Armitage was in Baghdad on Tuesday. Now I recall you very clearly from the podium saying that Armitage was in Baghdad over the weekend. What's going, you know, is he wrong? When was the Deputy Secretary in Baghdad looking over the new embassy grounds and things like that?
MR. BOUCHER: The Deputy Secretary was in Baghdad on Sunday. We all confirm that.
QUESTION: Okay. And you're sure about that?
MR. BOUCHER: It's what I told you at the time. Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. So you were correct and Mr. Grossman was incorrect. Okay. Can I --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what Mr. Grossman said. I just know when the Deputy Secretary was in Baghdad.
QUESTION: Well, but you can ask him. He definitely told --
MR. BOUCHER: Mr. Grossman has had, I think, already 12 hours or so of testimony this week on the same subject.
QUESTION: Yes. Okay. Now I just wanted to make sure --
MR. BOUCHER: He's doing it again today.
QUESTION: Yes, I know.
MR. BOUCHER: So I haven't had a chance to go over every remark.
QUESTION: And also, in his testimony, he was faced by a rather truculent Senator Biden, who really went -- kind of went after him.
I'm wondering that, given your, the Administration's decision to go for realistic approaches and a realistic vision in the Middle East, specifically, with the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, if you're ready to go with a realistic vision of what's happening in Iraq right now. Specifically, I'm wondering whether you can comment on Biden's comments that the rest of the Coalition, including the Brits, is really just a blip in the security situation -- that a coalition is a coalition is a coalition, and this isn't one. He compared it to him starting a baseball game and playing center field with eight little leaguers.
What do you have to say about that?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd -- well, I'd say I'm sure that Under Secretary Grossman responded accurately and eloquently to the state of the Coalition, so I'm not going to try to --
QUESTION: In fact he didn't, so that's why I'm wanting to know.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, in that case, I'll have to look at what, exactly, it was that Senator Biden said and see if we have anything to say on it.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: No, we've got more.
QUESTION: You've been threatened by the Government of Iran, saying --
MR. BOUCHER: Me?
QUESTION: Well, the United States.
MR. BOUCHER: Oh. Okay.
QUESTION: Saying that if we interject our forces anywhere near Najaf and elsewhere in the south that they're going to just create havoc. What -- in this regard, is this just plain incitement or is this real --
MR. BOUCHER: I have no idea why Iran says things, and I'm not going to try to explain them.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Iraq, I wanted to ask if -- Ambassador Negroponte is the designated nominee for that position. Is he being daily briefed on what's going on? How will -- could you give us an idea of what is he doing now? What will he be doing between now and June 30th?
MR. BOUCHER: He's preparing for confirmation for seeking the advice and consent of the Senate. He's involved in, obviously, in briefings and discussions. And I'd point that, as Ambassador to the United Nations, he's been extremely involved in every aspect of our Iraq policy already.
QUESTION: Richard, on the embassy. Another thing Mr. Grossman said up on the Hill today was that media reports about this embassy being -- having 3,000 personnel were totally wrong, and he said that, in fact, it'll be about half that number -- 1,000 Americans, 700 Iraqi nationals.
MR. BOUCHER: I think that's what he said yesterday, and the day before as well.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. So, all right, where did this 3,000 number originally come from? I believe it came from here.
MR. BOUCHER: From here?
QUESTION: Yeah, from --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think so.
QUESTION: So 1,700 is the --
MR. BOUCHER: Some of your colleagues think it did.
QUESTION: Not from there, but from there. (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: You mean from someone in this building?
QUESTION: From someone in this building, yeah.
MR. BOUCHER: From some unnamed person in this building?
QUESTION: Well, a person who spoke on condition that he not be -- (laughter). So anyway, the number of --
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, but I don't know if --
QUESTION: I just want to make sure that the -- the person discussing this --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if estimates were revised or if the original estimate was wrong, but as we approach the date, as we identify the specific positions, the specific functions of an embassy, I think one can safely assume that the estimates will become more and more refined, particularly as the recruiting is well underway for many of the jobs. And, indeed, for the State Department jobs we have an abundance of bidders on those positions.
QUESTION: Okay. So that is -- 1,700 is -- I'm not -- I just want to make sure that 1,700 is the --
MR. BOUCHER: Any estimate made closer to the date of transfer, of actual standing up the embassy, is going to be more accurate than one made before.
QUESTION: Okay. Another thing that he said was that every day the Department, the Secretary, is asked for a chart of what needs to be done in terms of, you know, preparing for the handover on the 30th. He said this is unclassified and it's available on the State Department Internet -- intranet.
Can we see that, too?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'll have to check.
QUESTION: Okay. I've got another one. I've got two more. I got two more, two totally separate things.
MR. BOUCHER: You had another question? I should have spent my morning watching Marc Grossman on TV.
QUESTION: No, they don't have -- not to do with Grossman at all.
Middle East. The Greater Middle East Initiative. Do you see -- I assume you have some kind words for Bahrain, or maybe not, for appointing a female cabinet minister? Do you have anything to say about that?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if there's anything to say about that.
QUESTION: All right. And my last question is: In Geneva today, earlier today, the Cubans withdrew their resolution that was going to condemn the United States for human rights abuses of the prisoners at Guantanamo. And when they withdrew it, they said the reason they were withdrawing it was that the United States and its allies were preparing a no-action motion to prevent this -- to prevent the resolution from being debated, and that they gave up because they realized they weren't -- now, I'm wondering, in light of your past criticism of countries using no-action motions to prevent debates, specifically last week when you went after China and Zimbabwe on this score, why is it not a double standard for you guys to try and -- to use the threat of a -- or to even move to consider using a no-action motion to stifle debate or to stop debate on something that another country, for whatever reason, feels needs to be talked about?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, there was a debate. Many countries felt it was sufficient, and I think we were looking at an end to that debate. But it was not the no-action motion that other people have used to stifle all discussion, period.
The bottom line is that Cuba was forced to withdraw its resolution because they didn't have support. We think the Cuban resolution was a diversion, an attempt to discredit the Commission, which has just condemned Cuba for its domestic human rights practices; and it was therefore purely political move on their part, and not any serious attempt to address a human rights situation.
I would point out that the situation in Guantanamo is under careful scrutiny. The United States has made very clear our commitment to treating people there in a humanitarian fashion consistent with the international Geneva Convention requirements for prisoners of war; that there is, indeed, a domestic judicial process that reviews the situation of the prisoners down there, and that case was -- there was a case argued just this week in front of the Supreme Court.
And I'd point out that the Red Cross has visited as well. In fact, the only prison in Cuba that the Red Cross has visited is the one in Guantanamo.
So I'd just leave it at that.
QUESTION: All right. So you didn't -- you weren't looking at using a no-action motion to stop this before they withdrew it?
MR. BOUCHER: We weren't using the no-action motions that others have used, no. There was a --
QUESTION: You weren't -- I know that you didn't --
MR. BOUCHER: -- a discussion of how to cut off debate --
QUESTION: There was a discussion. So you -- at one point, you --
MR. BOUCHER: -- how to end the debate, once sufficient debate had been held.
QUESTION: And the no -- and you were ready to go to a no-action motion, if necessary?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Two different -- it's -- procedurally it's different.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)
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