State Department Noon Briefing, April 30, 2004
|Friday April 30,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
FRIDAY, APRIL 30, 2004
12:40 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be with you today. I don't have any statements or announcements, so I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Just in case there is something to tell us. Is there any further news on the detainees, the Secretary having referred to the French, for instance, French prisoners or detainees, possibly being released soon?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any new releases to report to you. We have been working very intensively with the French. It's been moving forward. But I don't think we're quite at the point yet of people getting on airplanes and going to France, but we're close.
QUESTION: In reference to the French, I don't know if it was the (inaudible), specifically, he meant especially French.
MR. BOUCHER: It's mainly the ones that we're working on right now. I think we're in contact with other governments as well, as you know, over time we've released to the custody or the appropriate procedures in other governments, a number of different people of various nationalities. We're well over a hundred now in terms of the number of people released, so, either released or else transferred to other people's custody, so that process is well underway and we're talking quite a few governments I think. I don't have a list of them today.
QUESTION: Last question, if I may. He also made the point that, you know, there were people they very much want to hold to. Do you know, any sense of how many we're talking about?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a, sort of, residual number of how many people we think are so dangerous that they --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah -- they can't be released again, at this point, out into the world. So I don't --
MR. BOUCHER: And I think we've explained before, we sort of see people in three categories: the first that whose danger has passed and information has been provided, and we find them unlikely to return to doing terrorism or hook up with terrorist groups, those people are being released, many, many, have been, dozens; the second category is people who we think still require monitoring, surveillance and appropriate handling, but who could be transferred to other people's custody; and then you have a residual corps of potentially non-cooperative people, who are continuing to be dangerous that we think need to be taken off the battlefield as we fight the war on terrorism.
QUESTION: I haven't seen these comments, but maybe they're in there. Did he give a number of --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think so. I think the questioner might have, but I don't remember the Secretary having done that.
QUESTION: Can we change to Fallujah? I realize that it, you know, it depends on the commanders on the ground and the Pentagon, but the Secretary has been talking about looking for a peaceful solution in Fallujah, and yesterday, in his final press conference did mention giving some level on control to the Iraqis.
It's -- we're getting sort of confusing reports from on the ground. What's the State Department's assessment of what the tactic is or what you're trying to do?
MR. BOUCHER: The State Department assessment is that I can read you what General Kimmitt said in Baghdad -- (laughter) -- because it really is something that our people on the ground have been handling and taking care of -- the people in Baghdad, that the generals, the military working a specific situation around Fallujah.
The general point, I think, is one that we have made and will continue to make, that we are looking for, if possible, a peaceful way of resolving these issues, but that it is absolutely important and necessary that we establish governmental authority and control in Fallujah; that we not allow it to remain a safe haven for foreign fighters and people opposed to democracy and progress in Iraq; and that we have to get the security situation under control.
Now, whether we do that ourselves, we do that in cooperation with the Iraqis, who want to see their country established on a solid basis of security, or whether we find a peaceful way of doing it through tribal leaders and local leaders, it's going to have to happen. It's going to have to be brought under control, and that remains our commitment, that we're trying every possible means of negotiation, discussion and involving of Iraqis in order to prevent conflict, if we can.
QUESTION: Yeah. On Iraq, but not Fallujah, necessarily. The transition and plans for the transition and looking ahead to the Secretary's trip to New York next week: One, there was a report this morning that, basically, suggested that there was a short list of one person to be the new, to be the interim prime minister, or at least a person at the top of a list of candidates.
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, there is no decision on this. We know that Ambassador Brahimi is going to go back to Iraq. He's going to continue his consultations with Iraqis. The eventual choice needs to emerge from that process of consultations. So we'll work closely with him. We'll talk to him. Obviously, our folks in Baghdad will also --
QUESTION: Sorry -- him, meaning Brahimi?
MR. BOUCHER: Brahimi. We've been talking to him as he's been in the States in New York. The Secretary called him on the phone the other day. Our people in Baghdad will be comparing notes and working with him as he goes back, as they did last time. But the point is that he is working a process of widespread consultations with the Iraqis, and we believe that from that process can emerge the names of people who will be entrusted with the interim responsibility to govern.
QUESTION: Okay. Is it correct that the Planning Minister has been in town this week?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. The Planning Minister was in town last week, yeah.
QUESTION: Last week?
MR. BOUCHER: Last week.
QUESTION: Not this week?
MR. BOUCHER: This week, sorry. Sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: The Planning Minister was in town before the trip.
QUESTION: Right. Okay and --
MR. BOUCHER: Wait, slow down.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. And next week when the Secretary goes up for the Quartet meeting, recognizing that it's mainly going to be about other Middle East issues, but would he expect to be -- I don't know if Brahimi's going to be there in New York at the time -- but does he have any Iraq-related items on the agenda?
MR. BOUCHER: Only to the extent that he may meet with some of the other foreign ministers separately, in which case, they may end up talking about Iraq. I'm not -- I don't have a full schedule yet. But if you're asking, I'm not aware that Ambassador Brahimi will be in New York at that time.
QUESTION: You're talking about Lavrov --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, but maybe Solana's. I don't --
QUESTION: But no one outside the Quartet.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of other people outside the Quartet. So what other meetings he has on the outside, those could indeed involve Iraq, the Secretary General. I'm sure if he meets with him they may want to talk about Iraq and other issues. So -- but not -- he doesn't have an Iraq agenda. I'm not aware that Ambassador Brahimi's in town, in fact.
QUESTION: It's been suggested that the Planning Minister Mehdi al-Hafedh, that Mehdi al-Hafedh has been designated as the person --
MR. BOUCHER: Nobody's been designated. There's no decision, certainly, on our part and there's no decision on Ambassador Brahimi's part. As I just described, the names of the people who are going to be trusted by the Iraqis to run their government for an interim period, we think need to emerge from this broad process of consultations that Ambassador Brahimi's conducting.
QUESTION: It also says that in addition to the appointment, or lack of appointment, of Hafedh, Dr. Hafedh, there is an annex, the Secretary said, that would make it illegal for the majority of the Shiites, and so on, to change any laws, or the basic law that was passed in March, between now and the election. Could you shed some light on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. That seems to be a very confused interpretation of what is already known, and that that is the annex of the transitional law that was left open by the Governing Council when they debated and passed the transitional law, and that that annex is to be filled out with the specifics of the arrangements that Ambassador Brahimi's working on.
QUESTION: So it's your understanding that the annex referred to -- there's no second annex, and the annex referred to in his story --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of anything else.
QUESTION: -- is the same annex that you talked about from the podium a couple of days ago. Is that right?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm getting a version of the questions that sounds like that there's a misinterpretation of the same thing. But I can't then explain somebody's story.
QUESTION: But the annex that you're referring to now is the one that you spoke about earlier this week?
MR. BOUCHER: The annex I'm referring to now is the one we've all known about and have talked about many times, including the last few days.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. BOUCHER: Sir.
QUESTION: Ambassador Brahimi yesterday in a interview to Al-Jazeera said that he hoped an interim government would be in place by May. Is that the kind of timeline you're looking at?
MR. BOUCHER: Absolutely. We're looking forward to him completing his work as soon as he can, but doing it, as I said, in a thorough manner of consultations. We would hope that he would be able to move this process along quickly. We'll see.
QUESTION: May or later on?
MR. BOUCHER: He's always said May, and we've always supported that. When he was in Baghdad last time he came back and said he thought he could do it during the course of the month of May.
QUESTION: And you think it's doable?
MR. BOUCHER: We think it's doable to come out with those choices.
Did you say designated or identified, or did you say in place? I mean, I'm not -- I'm not predicting the transfer of power --
QUESTION: Oh, oh.
MR. BOUCHER: -- will move from June 30th to May. I'm predicting that, as Ambassador Brahimi said, he says he could do his work in terms of coming up with the names and the slots and the structure by the end of May and that we can all be able to -- we certainly support that and look forward to him finishing the process that he has underway.
The actual sort of moment of transfer, I don't -- I can't predict any new date for that. We'll just have to see.
QUESTION: And as the transition goes forward to the elections, has the United States asked France to help with the security that the UN will need as it plays a bigger role?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there was a lot of speculation during the Secretary's trip about that; and you can look at the various answers he gave at different press conferences along the way in responses to questions like that from --
QUESTION: He changed his answers?
QUESTION: I don't remember.
MR. BOUCHER: Did you -- didn't you ask about --
QUESTION: I didn't ask that.
MR. BOUCHER: Maybe it was the European roundtable, but in any case --
QUESTION: Yeah, the -- it was because of his comment when he said he hoped --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. You know, the answer is there is a need for security for the United Nations, particularly as they expand their operations and prepare for elections. We recognize the responsibility that we and the Iraqi forces will have as we go to transition and then beyond in maintaining security, but we've also welcomed -- the present coalition has also welcomed additional contributions. The Secretary said several times over the weekend he doesn't expect any new dramatic pool of NATO members or dramatic pool of forces to be available from France or other places.
QUESTION: Right, the coalition.
MR. BOUCHER: But it is -- certainly any assistance that countries want to provide would be welcome, and I'm sure we would welcome it and the UN would welcome it as well.
QUESTION: All right. But if it's France or Germany or countries that didn't support the war in the first place, that would be striking. So you're speaking generically. But is the Secretary actively --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm speaking generically. And the Secretary nor I have claimed that we're expecting something particular, but if they want to do it then certainly we'll welcome it.
QUESTION: Well, has he sounded out, made tentative calls or tentative overtures?
MR. BOUCHER: As I think you all know, a month or so ago, we started going out to other countries, a large number of countries, and said the UN is going to expand its operations and as we go forward, we'll need protection. Might you be interested in participating?
I don't think that process has quite come together at this point. But at this point, countries that want to help -- protection for the UN, particularly as we head into elections, particularly given the new situation that will occur by June 30th of a sovereign Iraqi government. We'll see how that coalesces as the time approaches.
QUESTION: Was France one of the countries that was approached in --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't remember the whole list, but there were quite a few countries that we did say this to.
QUESTION: I think you said then, though, France.
MR. BOUCHER: Did we say that at the time?
QUESTION: You said France at the time?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I'm pretty sure it was. I just don't know the specific.
QUESTION: How about Germany then?
MR. BOUCHER: There were a lot of countries. I don't have the whole list with me.
QUESTION: On Brahimi.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: This, you know, fight or bickering between Brahimi and Chalabi that is spinning out of control, how is that likely to impact his job?
And then I have a follow-up on this.
MR. BOUCHER: I have no idea what you're talking about and I'm not going to speculate.
MR. BOUCHER: Thanks.
QUESTION: Okay. Now the --
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, finish off.
QUESTION: No, no, that's okay. I just wanted to follow up.
MR. BOUCHER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: You know, the roar or the storm over what Brahimi said about Israel being poisonous, and so on, do you think that has simmered down and put to rest?
MR. BOUCHER: We've addressed it any number of times. I don't have anything new to say today. And as far as political commentary on what's hot and what's not, we'll leave that to you.
QUESTION: A different subject.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: We're going to stay on Iraq. Go.
QUESTION: About the photos. Obviously, you know, the President has expressed his disgust and I'm sure there's a lot of discussion discussed in Washington. But what are you doing to help Arab governments see that this is, you know, the exception that breaks the rule? And how is it affecting your public diplomacy?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've been quite up front on this. And not only the President addressed it today, I think the military has gone out and addressed this very forthrightly and said, "We take these charges very, very seriously, so seriously, in fact, that we're proceeding with court marshal. We have court marshal proceedings against the people in question. These practices don't reflect the professionalism of the U.S. military or the actions or policies of the Coalition Authority. They are as abhorrent to us as they are to others and if we can prove the charges, people will be prosecuted."
So it's, I think, we've been open and up front that we don't allow countenance in any way, abuse of prisoners that are in U.S. hands, and if we find out about it, it's a crime that deserves prosecution.
Now our military's been very, very clear on that. They have also been clear that it's a very small number of people that were involved. In fact, it's relatively small, compared to the whole number of prisoners involved. We've released hundreds and hundreds of prisoners. We're very sorry this happened to these people and we'll do everything in our power to make sure it doesn't happen again.
QUESTION: Richard, recognizing that this is a Pentagon deal, at least the court's marshal, if we can prove these charges? I mean, it would seem to me that the photos speak for themselves. Is there something --
MR. BOUCHER: The court marshal proceeding is a court where charges are proven and then the person is court marshaled, is my understanding. It's merely a description of how the process works.
QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that your credibility -- that the credibility of the United States when officials, from the President on down, come out and say, we've gotten rid of rape rooms, we've gotten rid of all this, we've gotten rid of tortures, that your credibility really has taken a huge hit here?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's start with something that we ourselves revealed these situations and these charges several months ago. The U.S. military has been quite up front, quite open about these matters. It has been very, very clear all along, from our statements, from things we've done that there is absolutely no policy, systematic abuse, political motivation or anything else that would liken these kind of abuses and aberrations to the consistent practices of the old regime.
QUESTION: So you're not concerned about --
MR. BOUCHER: So I think it's important to remember the distinction, and certainly whenever we're asked we'll make the distinction. But this is quite a different situation, so far as the responsibilities of government.
QUESTION: So you're not concerned?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not too concerned. I think people can see the distinction and we'll continue to explain it.
QUESTION: Okay, but you're refusing to even consider the idea that your credibility might be hurt? I mean, that just strikes me as being unrealistic.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm -- you obviously have the idea and I've just considered it for five minutes of answers on it. So I'm not refusing to consider the idea. I'm dealing with the question and saying we're going to answer it straightforward. But there is a very clear distinction that we think is fairly easily made when we're asked these questions, to draw between the systematic abuses for political reasons of the old regime and the occasional abhorrent conduct of a few individuals that is exposed by our government in the present circumstances.
QUESTION: So but yet -- all right. So then you are concerned? You're concerned for your credibility, yes or no?
MR. BOUCHER: We're answering your questions. We'll answer anybody's questions. That doesn't mean we're concerned or unconcerned. That means we're happy, we're dealing with this in a straightforward, up front and open manner. We're not hiding anything.
I'm not answering your questions because I'm overly concerned about the issue or I'm unconcerned about the issue. I'm answering your questions because you're asking them. Anybody else asks, we'll be glad to answer theirs as well.
QUESTION: You have vehicles for getting messages to the Arab populace at large. Are you using them in any way? What you're saying about how the U.S. revealed itself, that it's an aberration, that it could be court -- court's marshal. Is this something that you're just telling us or is it you're disseminating this?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, there's more than the people in this room that listen to these briefings.
QUESTION: That's what I meant.
MR. BOUCHER: There are more than the people in this room that watched General Kimmitt's discussion of this --
MR. BOUCHER: -- on TV. There are more --
QUESTION: But you have broadcast services and --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure Al-Hurra and other broadcasters have been covering this. I'm sure that VOA has been covering this. I'm sure that, as all responsible news agencies have, that they've been covering it. And so we've tried to be, as I said, up front and open, honest about this situation, and to deal with it -- to answer the questions whenever they're asked to make sure people have a chance to understand what this is and what this isn't.
QUESTION: On the public diplomacy angle, is -- are the State Department's efforts going to be harmed at all by the departure of Ambassador Tutwiler? Could you talk about that a little bit?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, I think it's important to remember that Ambassador Tutwiler has served her government diligently and honestly for the -- almost the entire Administration, whether it was helping with the transition or her posting as Ambassador to Morocco and then her job as Under Secretary for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy.
It was a very difficult decision for her to decide to leave, but she's going to one of the most important and great institutions of America in a big job, and it was a job that she felt she should accept.
The question of sort of where are we in our public diplomacy strategy, I think, is important to address at this point because Ambassador Tutwiler's tenure here, while shortened a little bit, has been, I think, significant in terms of what's she's got organized and what she's got rolling and what she's done is to focus on some very particular programs that several of us are responsible for carrying out for her.
So she's initiated and reorganized the book program. If you'll remember, that was one of the things the Djerejian Report commented on, the importance of doing that, so she's got that organized and rolling.
She's organized a micro-scholarship program so that we can get back to teaching English even more broadly around the world by supporting kids to go learn English and get started in understanding the world.
She's supported the expansion of journalist tours so that we can bring foreign journalists to the United States, show them around, let them report on the United States. She's expanded university linkages, *not including video linkages. And she's basically focused the attention of all these mechanisms that the State Department has on younger audiences, on what you might call mainstream audiences and populations overseas, particularly in the Arab Muslim world.
So having, I think, established these programs, helped to organize this programs, and in fact, using money that's been available to, or funded these programs, it now falls to me and my counterparts in the Bureau of International Information Programs and Educational and Cultural Exchanges to carry through on them. She's -- we've got the programs organized, we've got them funded, and we'll be carrying through to accomplish them.
QUESTION: And Pat Harrison's going to be filling in, or is she actually going to be named to the post?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it's filling in, right? We'll confirm that. Acting Under Secretary, yeah.
QUESTION: Do you plan to fill it permanently before --
MR. BOUCHER: That would be a White House question. They're the ones who nominate people for that job.
QUESTION: Different subject?
MR. BOUCHER: No, same.
QUESTION: On the issue of public diplomacy, in retrospect, do you think that fight with Al-Jazeera was a good idea, considering that now, you know, the viewership jumped tremendously. I mean, there is a lot of people in the Arab world that are putting lists together, writers, artists, and so on, supporting Al-Jazeera and looking at it as being victimized, like the U.S. Government has taken a page from the Arab governments, trying to pressure it, and so on. Was that a good idea? I mean, the concern of public opinion.
MR. BOUCHER: It's always a good idea to point out the truth, and I would hope that anybody who is watching Al-Jazeera understands the problem, and that what they're seeing may not always be the truth.
QUESTION: Okay. On the court marshal issue -- I'm sorry -- on the court marshal issue --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- is that likely to go up the chain of command, or is that likely to stay at the level of the guard and the private?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. You'll have to ask the --
QUESTION: Because, you know, the general is being reprimanded or moved to another post. Is that --
MR. BOUCHER: You'll have to ask the military who's facing charges and who's not.
Okay. Sir? Change of subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Jazeera?
QUESTION: Yeah. Have you noticed any change in their coverage of what
you perceived as being inflammatory coverage?
QUESTION: And what's your reaction to the Qatari Minister saying that they're going to set some kind of commission to review their --
MR. BOUCHER: We'll have to see.
QUESTION: You'll have to see.
MR. BOUCHER: We'll have to see. Our problem is that false things have been reported, so we'll be -- we'll be watching, and periodically, we'll be checking to make sure that -- to see whether or not false things are no longer reported.
QUESTION: Is the Middle East part of the talks of the Canadian Prime Minister in Washington today? And does the Administration see a role for Canada to play in bringing comprehensive peace to the area, since Canada has been showing more balanced views and understanding of the aspirations and culture of the area that is closer to the Europeans than it is to the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: It may be closer to the Europeans than the United States, but it may not necessarily be more balanced. But let me -- I think, really, the talks are going on at the White House. All I can tell you is the Canadians are very interested in the Middle East. We talk to them all the time.
The Secretary, in every meeting that he as with Foreign Minister Graham that I can ever remember, they have talked about the Middle East. We understand their interest and we do consult with them regularly. So I would not be surprised at all if that were being discussed at the White House today, but I'm not going to pretend to have any special insights or news on that matter.
QUESTION: On the Middle East, Richard.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Likud referendum on the disengagement plan is Sunday. And just as the last time a peace plan went up for a referendum, not in Israel, but the one in Cyprus, the polls don't look too good for Likud -- for the voters to approve this.
Does this referendum, whichever way it goes, have any impact? Will it have any impact on the U.S. support for the plan or on your efforts to get the roadmap back on track?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try and speculate on what this may or may not do. I think our policy has been clear and consistent. It's been very well stated by the President. We'll just stick with that and see what the --
QUESTION: Yeah. But does it refer to you?
MR. BOUCHER: -- Likud members decide.
QUESTION: Does it matter to you at all whether Likud votes up or down?
MR. BOUCHER: I stand by the answer the Secretary gave yesterday when asked similar questions and that's where we'll leave it --
QUESTION: I'm sorry. I wasn't on the trip, Richard.
MR. BOUCHER: And that's -- well, we've put out transcripts, but I'll repeat it for you anyway.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: And that's that we'll leave it in the hands of Likud members to make up their minds.
QUESTION: Yeah, but so, you don't see this as having any effect?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to take a position on one way or another.
QUESTION: Well, it's not a speculative question, Richard. I'm just asking if you think that, whichever way it goes, will it affect your efforts?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not trying to take a position one way or the other on this vote, and so I'm not going to comment on it.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about the Syrian --
QUESTION: Well, you -- but hold on a second.
QUESTION: Why is this different than -- why is this different than taking a position on the other referendum? I mean --
MR. BOUCHER: In the case of the Annan plan for Cyprus, the United States has been involved for three decades in trying to come to this outcome.
QUESTION: In the Middle East, as well?
MR. BOUCHER: We have consistently promoted and supported the Annan plan. Mr. Sharon's proposals, the United States has taken a position on, but we are not in the same position of developing or sponsoring them.
QUESTION: All right. Well, Richard, the United States has been involved for 30 years in the Middle East as well.
MR. BOUCHER: And if there is a peace plan for comprehensive peace in the Middle East, I'd be glad to give you our view.
QUESTION: So because this is not a comprehensive plan, you're not going to -- you don't have --
MR. BOUCHER: The origins of this withdrawal plan are different. Prime Minister Sharon has asked his Likud Party membership what to say about his plan. We'll leave it to them to decide.
QUESTION: The roadmap is not a comprehensive plan?
MR. BOUCHER: This is not a vote on the roadmap.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Syria?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: There's a large article. There's a U.S. -- an anonymous U.S. official is the core of the article and there was no transcript on his remarks, so let me ask you. On a specific, has Assad failed to deliver on the U.S. request that he has his banks return to Iraqis the money that Syria was holding?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd have to look for an update on that. There have been frequent talks between the United States and Syria on that. There has been some money returned. I'm not sure if that's covered the full extent of the funds that we believed were in Syrian banks.
QUESTION: Are you in a position to deal with any of these specifics?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't know who it might have been or what.
QUESTION: Well, then I won't torture you through it. It gives a mixed picture.
MR. BOUCHER: There are any number of matters that we have raised with the Syrian Government about Iraq, about support for terrorism, about weapons of mass destruction and other things, we have been looking for progress from Syria on many fronts. We've seen in some areas some limited progress, but we, I think we've made consistently clear it hasn't been enough to indicate that they've really taken into account the new situation in the region or shown a real desire to change their relationships.
QUESTION: It's an interesting situation. Should it be feasible, it would be nice to have an official, I think, bring us up to date by briefing.
MR. BOUCHER: We periodically run down sort of where Syria stands on these various things.
QUESTION: That's fine.
MR. BOUCHER: We've done that, I think, in front of Congress fairly frequently. I've done it here from time to time.
QUESTION: Yeah, right.
MR. BOUCHER: We're just not in a position to do that right today.
MR. BOUCHER: Sir.
QUESTION: Yes. Do you have anything to say with -- on the -- Assistant Secretary Kelly's meeting with Mr. Armitage?
QUESTION: No, wait a minute.
QUESTION: Can we stay on the Middle East?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: I need to go back to the referendum.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, let's --
QUESTION: I'm sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: That's okay. Let's let him do it first.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about the meeting that took place at the American Embassy in London today with the Quartet, I mean, any news?
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) We've got a question on it.
MR. BOUCHER: We've got a question about that?
QUESTION: Well, I don't want to --
MR. BOUCHER: All right. I've got an answer on that.
MR. BOUCHER: Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Bill Burns met in London with his Quartet counterparts today. Attending were the European Union's Mark Otte, United Nations' envoy Terje Rood-Larsen and Russia's Alexander Kalugin. This is part of our ongoing multilateral discussions in preparation for the ministerial-level Quartet meeting that will be held in New York on May 4th in New York City.
The Quartet envoys discussed the situation in the region, recent Israeli proposals regarding withdrawal from Gaza and ways to advance the President's two-state vision. They also discussed ways that we and the parties can ease the Palestinian humanitarian situation, felt the discussions were very constructive, and then Ambassador Burns will be back over the weekend and have a chance to brief the Secretary as he prepares for the Quartet ministerial meetings on Tuesday in New York.
QUESTION: When you said, "we and the parties," is there some notion of the U.S. directly doing something? Because you habitually ask Israel to ease restrictions, et cetera. Is that what you have in mind?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, what I've said is to ease the humanitarian situation faced by the Palestinians, that's done in a variety of ways.
MR. BOUCHER: Partly, Israel -- we've looked to Israel to remove roadblocks, allow freer access; make provisions so students, people can get to work, students can get to school and people can get to hospitals. That has been a continuing and ongoing effort. Others of us might be helping ease the humanitarian plight of the Palestinians, for example, by the $88 million that we're providing to the UN Relief and Works Fund this year.
So there are variety of ways that different people are doing this. If you're talking about the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians, there's different things different people do.
QUESTION: That doesn't sound like a new U.S. program; then, of course, the follow-up question --
MR. BOUCHER: It's a continuing item on our agenda and one that we would expect to discuss and continue discussing with other members of the Quartet.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Richard, on the referendum --
QUESTION: Can you --
MR. BOUCHER: Let's slow down.
QUESTION: Am I correct in my understanding, which is this, is this: you support, as the President said, you support the disengagement plan but you take no position on the referendum?
MR. BOUCHER: We have stated our position on the disengagement plan. We have stated very clearly we believe it does present an opportunity to move forward on the roadmap, but prevents an opportunity to move forward towards the two-state vision the President has outlined.
But as far as giving advice to Likud Party members or speculating on what if they vote this way or that way, we're just not trying to affect the outcome in that way. We're just trying to say they're going to have to look at all these factors, including what we've said and what others have said, and the members will make up their mind.
QUESTION: So this is not the best plan?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say that either.
QUESTION: Well, all right.
MR. BOUCHER: I have said we stand by everything we said before that.
QUESTION: I don't understand how the two positions are consistent with -- I don't understand how the two positions are consistent. You obviously support it. You've just said you do. Don't you think it would be a good thing if the Likud came out and supported it as well?
MR. BOUCHER: At some point you have to respect the right of voters in this matter to vote on something that's within their party that's come up, proposal by the party leader to the party members, and they're going to make up their own minds.
QUESTION: So it might be different if this was a nationwide referendum that was accepted as being legally binding?
MR. BOUCHER: If it was different it might be different. There's no way I can speculate on what if was like this, what if it was like that. It is what it is. We're not going to try to get involved in internal Likud Party decisions and politics.
QUESTION: And so it doesn't matter to you, then, one way or the other which way it goes?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I didn't say that either.
MR. BOUCHER: I very clearly stated what --
QUESTION: Can you understand my frustration here? I don't --
MR. BOUCHER: I can understand your frustration that you continually try to put words in my mouth and I continually refuse to allow you to do so.
QUESTION: No. (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: I recognize that can be, at times, a frustrating process. But I don't think your constant and frequent invitations for me to get involved in a, in a Likud Party vote are ever going to seek -- are ever going to be satisfied.
QUESTION: Well, maybe they won't. But the next time you take a position on it --
MR. BOUCHER: I just don't want to get involved in a Likud Party vote. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: The next time you don't take a position on it or do take a position on something, believe me, I will remind you.
MR. BOUCHER: We may take a position -- we may take a position on something different.
QUESTION: I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, Richard. I'm just trying to get a straight answer, and since you can't give me one, that's fine.
MR. BOUCHER: I've tried to give you consistently a straight answer that we're not going to get involved in the internal vote within the Likud Party on this matter. We've stated our policy position on the matter, on the withdrawal. It's quite clearly out there for everybody to read, including people in this or other parties. But as far as us getting involved in internal Likud Party politics, we, with great respect for those who would like us to take a part in this, respectfully decline.
QUESTION: On Cyprus.
QUESTION: Are there going to be (inaudible) Washington?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if there is a date, frankly. I'll check and see.
QUESTION: Give a little, little, sort of, stories about the Europeans. You're not going to take this as a test of credibility and it's not intended as such -- but in the run up to the vote, there's no Plan B. This is it. This is all there is. If you want a solution, here it is. We have no hidden agenda. We have no hidden plan.
Now the Europeans are floating notions that they're ready to negotiate, to work out some new negotiations for Cyprus. They haven't -- it hasn't -- they haven't been -- these haven't been substantive reports, but are suggestive the European Union is looking around for some way to revisit this, I suppose, with some modified plan. Is the U.S. aware of this? Has the U.S. thought of this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any -- I have not seen anything like that from the Europeans.
QUESTION: EU, I mean.
MR. BOUCHER: You'll have to check with them if they have something, if they have some kind of ideas that they might put forward. But certainly, we've made clear for our part we are not planning a new negotiation. We didn't have an alternate plan. We didn't have an alternate solution to some of the questions that have been raised. We felt this was the deal that can be worked out that has been worked out by the parties.
QUESTION: On Cyprus.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, we've got some people in the back, including this gentleman, who is changing things.
QUESTION: Yes, my question was if you have anything to say on the -- Assistant Secretary Kelly's meeting this morning?
QUESTION: We were on Cyprus.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, but he was trying to change the subject before. We'll come back to Cyprus in a minute.
MR. BOUCHER: Sir.
QUESTION: So Assistant Secretary Kelly's meeting this morning with Mr. Abe, that's the General Secretary of the ruling party of Japan.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. First of all, I would point out, the Deputy Secretary will meet with Mr. Abe this afternoon. They're likely to discuss North Korea, Iraq and other topics; and then the Deputy Secretary will also host a dinner this evening for Mr. Abe and Mr. Fuyushiba. That's the head of the new Komeito party, a member of the new Komeito party, who is visiting as well.
This morning, both Secretaries General, along with two other members of the Japanese Diet, met with Assistant Secretary James Kelly. They had an open and friendly exchange of views on the situation in North Korea, including the next steps in the six-party talks. Both sides were in agreement that the six-party process is the key to moving forward and resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.
They also discussed the situation in Iraq. Assistant Secretary Kelly expressed his appreciation for and noted the importance of Japan's commitment to Iraq, including the important role the self-defense forces are playing in Iraq's reconstruction. Okay?
QUESTION: Just one more. Mr. Abe is emphasizing that Japan should revise the constitution, namely, to recognize formally the position of military and right of collective defense. I just want to know once more, what is U.S.'s position on this?
MR. BOUCHER: I think our position on revisions to the Japanese constitution has always been that that's a matter for the Japanese people to decide.
Yeah. Okay. We're staying on this, or --
QUESTION: On North Korea.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: I wasn't here yesterday. Did you go over the working group issue and North Korea's demands for a reward?
MR. BOUCHER: I think Adam covered all that in the briefing yesterday.
QUESTION: Not the reward.
MR. BOUCHER: Not the reward.
QUESTION: Nothing new.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. First of all, the basics, as you know, is Chinese and others have now announced that there will be working group meetings. We look forward to that. Our delegation will be headed by Special Envoy Mr. Joseph DeTrani. As far as the, I think, repetition of North Korea's previous statements that it needs some reward, we have always made clear for our part there can be no reward for things -- for behavior that North Korea has already forsworn and said -- we're not going to pay for -- to get them not to do things they shouldn't have been doing in the first place.
That's about as clearly as I can state it. Other countries have taken positions that as we make progress in these talks, there may be some opportunity for them to renew programs that they've had before, and I think we've made clear we haven't necessarily objected to that. But we're -- we don't think it's good practice for any of us to start paying for North Korea to stop doing things it shouldn't have been doing all along.
Okay, we're going back to Cyprus?
QUESTION: Yes, please.
QUESTION: Can you make any comment on the additional deployment of Patriot missiles to South Korea?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't do that. That would be a military matter.
QUESTION: Yeah, are you in a position now to confirm what everyone apparently in the northern -- every Turkish Cypriot knows, that Mr. Talat is coming to meet Secretary Powell next week?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll try to do it very soon after the briefing for you. I forgot to check on it.
QUESTION: You do expect him to come? Or you just don't want to answer the question at all?
MR. BOUCHER: We have seen many reports that he is traveling to the United States, and I'll have to check and see if there's a meeting.
QUESTION: How hard is the United States pushing to lift the trade embargo on the northern part?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer is pretty much, we are where we've been. We're reviewing our policy, the full range of our policies. We've been following closely and keeping in touch with the European Union as they have announced some of their actions. We would expect to take steps that are similar and consistent with the actions that our European colleagues are taking.
And I think, obviously, one of the areas that we do want to look at is how do we want to ameliorate the economic condition of the Turkish Cypriots. But beyond that, I don't think I can specify. We're still looking at possible steps and reviewing the situation.
QUESTION: Is the mechanism that you would use some kind of new resolution at the UN?
MR. BOUCHER: Not necessarily. I think some of the situations may involve -- that are not -- many of these end up being fairly complicated legal questions and where action needs to be taken, once we decide what we want to do, we'll take the appropriate action. Some of it may be internal to the U.S. Government but some may involve other countries and international bodies.
QUESTION: And as you deal with the other countries, have you noticed any problems getting this done with Russia? Are they trying to block lifting --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we're necessarily at the stage yet of having identified steps where that might involve or require coordination with other governments.
QUESTION: Do you have a statement or any comments to say about tomorrow's expansion of the EU?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me just say briefly that the United States has always been a strong supporter of the European Union and of the expansion and enlargement of the EU. We view this overall process as being an important transformation for many of the countries that have joined, are joining tomorrow. They've brought standards of laws and economic practice as well as democracy and rule of law up to a level that's very positive, in terms of their joining the European Union.
Along with the expansion of NATO, these two great institutions are moving forward to expand the community of freedom. And that's very important to us as well. So we would certainly welcome it.
I'd say once again, there's no contradiction between being a member of the EU and a strong member of the transatlantic community. The recent expansion of both NATO and the European Union are testimony to that and we look forward to working with them as partners, not only in NATO, but all the partners now who participate in the European Union.
QUESTION: The situation in Georgia is heating up. It would appear the military exercises by the government surrounding Ajara, and apparently there's been some civil unrest in Ajara itself. Anything on that subject?
MR. BOUCHER: We're certainly following the situation closely. We have discussed it many times and keep in close touch with the Georgian Government. The Secretary just met last week -- this week -- with representatives of the Georgian Government. The Prime Minister was here. So we're following the situation closely. We certainly don't think that Mr. Abashidze or others should provoke this into any kind of military situation, and that's about where I'll stop at the moment.
QUESTION: I have a historical question on Israel. Sorry. But U.S. policy at one time was that settlements in the West Bank were illegal under international law, under the Geneva Conventions. When did that change? When did that policy change and what is it now? What is the current position on the legality of those settlements?
MR. BOUCHER: That -- first of all, on historical questions on Israel and U.S. policy, I'd really -- I'm going to have to leave somebody else to do the research on that. I don't have it all in my head.
QUESTION: I've tried to get an answer for this for like a week.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't know that we're the ones to answer it is the problem. Certainly, United States policy statements on the record over many years are fully out in the public domain and on the Internet and elsewhere. Somebody else is going to have to do the research as far as exactly when we said this and when we said that.
I remember some of it just because of my personal experience, but, and by no means, have I done a comprehensive historical study of this.
QUESTION: What is the current --
MR. BOUCHER: So I'm not sure we're the ones. Our policy on settlements has been frequently stated in this Administration in recent years. We understand the importance of settlements, and to both sides, as they look at the negotiating process, they come into being a final-status issue that has to be resolved.
But we've taken a very clear stand since the beginning of this Administration and the Mitchell Committee recommendations that we look for an end to all settlement activity, including natural growth.
QUESTION: Wait, hold on, hold on. So are they illegal under international law according to --
MR. BOUCHER: This Administration has not taken an issue on the legality of them. We've taken a position that emphasizes the need to end settlement activity in order to make progress towards a two-state solution and the need to deal with the question of settlements in the final-status negotiations.
QUESTION: So it's fair to say, it's accurate to say that both before and after Sharon's visit, the United States officially did not take a position on the legality under the Geneva Conventions of those settlements?
MR. BOUCHER: That's right.
QUESTION: Richard, on a related topic, have you guys done any assessment of the impact of your statement on the settlements over the past three years since the Mitchell Report that really hold it back, that stop it by five percent, ten percent? Do you have anything on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Do I have any assessment on what?
QUESTION: On the impact of your statement. You said that, you know, that your statements are very clear on the settlement issues.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: And we have the Mitchell Report, then we have Anthony Zinni, we had a lot of things over the past three years.
Did your statements impact the spread and the growth of settlements? Do you have any way to measure that?
MR. BOUCHER: Settlements has been a very important topic to us. We have followed the developments as regards settlements. We have certainly studied very carefully the financing of settlements in regard to the deductions that we make from loan guarantees. We have certainly watched carefully any activity involving settlements. I don't know that we've tried to correlate the question of our statements with the -- with settlement activity. I'm not quite sure that's a necessary requirement, but certainly we've made our position very clear on settlements.
And we have followed the matter very, very closely. And we have raised it in any number of negotiations and discussions with the Israeli Government as these things have come up -- whether it's new plans being announced or issues that we need to discuss with them as we did before Prime Minister Sharon's visit. And at that time, we, again, took some positions on the issues of settlements.
QUESTION: I've got a couple of unrest questions that are -- two that are unrelated: one about Thailand and one Nigeria. I'll start with Thailand.
Did -- have you formed a better opinion of what happened over the last couple days in the south of Thailand? And are you concerned at all that the military may have overreacted or used some kind of excessive force?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, I'd say we are following the situation down there. We continue to receive reports about the situation in southern Thailand and the attacks that occurred on April 28th. The Thai authorities are investigating the situation down there, including these questions of how the government responded to the attacks and what exactly happened. We're quite aware that the attackers were armed and they killed five members of the Thai security forces during the attack.
So they -- it's, first of all, I think I'm going to have to say, given the violence that's occurred down in this region, that it's appropriate for the Thai authorities to increase their security posture. We hope that peace and security will be restored, and we hope that those responsible for the recent violence are brought to justice. And we'll continue to follow this situation as the Thai authorities investigate both the attacks and the response.
QUESTION: Okay. And then on Nigeria, there was --
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
QUESTION: Oh. Yep.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The UN Human Rights Commission has called for an investigation into it, saying there was too much violence used against protestors. Is that something you're going to back?
MR. BOUCHER: In Thailand?
MR. BOUCHER: I wasn't aware of that. I'll have to check on that.
QUESTION: Yeah. Nigeria has a flame-up -- a flare-up in (inaudible). I don't know if you have anything on that. But semi-related to that is, there are some reports out of Lagos and Abuja that you are -- that the United States is extremely displeased with the slow-pace or non -- or lack of any pace in the move to find and arrest the killers of two Americans down in the delta region, the oil workers. Do you know if there's been some kind of formal complaint or a demarche made to the Nigerians?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I don't know. I'll have to check on both those situations for you.
QUESTION: All right. And my last -- oh, someone else can go.
MR. BOUCHER: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: I've got one more, and this is a follow-up to the George Gedda honorary question yesterday on Equatorial Guinea.
When Adam gave us a preview yesterday of the meeting, he said that Deputy Secretary Armitage would be talking about the elections and human rights would be -- the foreign minister -- you don't have anything on this, do you?
MR. BOUCHER: Adam assured me that I wouldn't have to deal with it today, so --
QUESTION: Well, can you take this question then? Because the elections -- these municipal and legislative elections which were held earlier this month, the preliminary results were supposed to be released yesterday when it was going on. As you know, there was a lot of concern ahead of these elections.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: And I'm just -- as of -- the results were supposed to -- the preliminary results were supposed to be released yesterday. There's been nothing since then. And I'm just wondering what exactly it was that the Deputy Secretary talked to the Foreign Minister about in terms of the elections.
MR. BOUCHER: In terms of the elections in Guinea and the results? I'll get that -- I'll check for you and see if we can get anything.
QUESTION: And also in terms of the -- the -- whether you have an opinion on the extradition of these alleged coup plotters in Zimbabwe there, who apparently face the death penalty in E.G.
MR. BOUCHER: Extradition to?
QUESTION: Equatorial Guinea.
MR. BOUCHER: Oh.
QUESTION: There was a --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I'll check and see if it's -- if that's an issue.
QUESTION: There was an extradition treaty signed within the last week ex post facto.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. I'll check on it for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing ended at 1:35 p.m.)
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