State Department Noon Briefing, May 27
|Thursday May 27,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2004
12:45 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I'd like to say a few words about Venezuela before we begin, but with a preface that these are not my words, these are the words of the Secretary of State. We'll get you his statement in writing after the briefing.
But we want to make clear the Venezuelan people have reached a defining moment for their democracy. Beginning on May 28th, more than one million citizens will have the opportunity to reconfirm their signatures on petitions calling for a referendum on the tenure of President Hugo Chavez. The process will help Venezuelans resolve their differences and, we hope, build a stronger, better future for their nation.
The Secretary, in his statement, urges the Venezuelan Government to honor the wishes of its people by supporting a fair and credible process that produces prompt results in an atmosphere free from fear or intimidation. He also calls on the Venezuelans to reject violence, as incompatible with the exercise of democracy.
The presence of the Organization of American States and the Carter Center observation missions will promote greater transparency and credibility for the process. The United States supports a peaceful, democratic, constitutional and electoral solution to Venezuela's political impasse, as called for in the Organization of American States Resolution 833, and the May 29th agreement between the Government of Venezuela and the democratic opposition.
The recent statement by the Friends of the Secretary General of the OAS for Venezuela calls also for such a democratic solution. We will continue working with the international community to help the people of Venezuela achieve their democratic aspirations.
And with that, I'd be glad to take your questions about this or whatever else.
QUESTION: So the Friends group still exists? Does the U.S. have a representative on that -- on that group?
MR. BOUCHER: The U.S. participates in the Friends group, at various levels, and it still exists. And we work with them, as we work with the OAS, more generally.
QUESTION: Could you name the person who is the friend?
MR. BOUCHER: We're all friends of Venezuela. I think in this -- in terms of this group -- I'm trying to remember the meetings. I don't know what the last meeting was, and what level it was. Certainly, the Secretary, himself, has talked about Venezuela frequently with other members of the Friends group. It's a regular subject of discussion with the Brazilian Foreign Minister, for example. Ambassador Noriega has participated in meetings, as well as some of his deputies.
QUESTION: You're comment on, calling on -- calling for the rejection of violence was addressed at Venezuelans, correct? Not just to the government, but to all sides?
MR. BOUCHER: That's right. That's right. It's important for all sides to remember to reject violence on this occasion. There's a process that has been set up. We hope it can be followed peacefully by all sides.
QUESTION: Richard, you talked about -- they can -- there will be re -- they have a chance to reconfirm their --
MR. BOUCHER: Their signatures on petitions.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. So you would expect that if this vote, if it's free and fair and without violence, that they will reconfirm their -- that the result will be that -- will be what you expect from their previous demonstrations --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we'll see. I mean, this is a process that has come up because so many of the signatures on the previous petitions were questions. And so they set up a process whereby people can go down and say, "Yes, indeed, that was my signature." Now, assuming that was their signature, they'll be able to go down and reconfirm it.
Other questions, other subjects?
QUESTION: The situation with UN resolution at the Security Council, your consultations and where it is at, at this point, please.
MR. BOUCHER: We had some more consultations in New York yesterday with other members of the Security Council. We found that discussion constructive. We felt it was a good discussion. There is an experts level meeting this afternoon to start going over technical details of the text.
I would point out, as Ambassador Negroponte did, that we feel we put down a very solid resolution in terms of conveying the exercise of sovereignty back to the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi people, and we look forward to moving forward at the appropriate time, as soon as possible, with this resolution.
QUESTION: Richard, one of the suggestions in the Chinese non-paper, the mysterious Chinese non-paper, which you guys don't seem to have seen but that everyone else has, is for the multinational force to have a definite -- that their mandate -- a definite end to their mandate in January of 2005.
What is your feeling about that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first, on the Chinese non-paper that's been so much talked about, let me point out that they did not distribute a non-paper or any proposals of amendments at the consultations yesterday. There had been some Chinese ideas circulated earlier, but those were actually kind of put down before we even presented the resolution.
QUESTION: Put down and then killed, or put down and --
MR. BOUCHER: No, put --
QUESTION: Put forward.
MR. BOUCHER: Put forward by the Chinese. Put down on paper and presented or handed out to some people before we presented the resolution. So we've been talking to Chinese colleagues about their ideas on a resolution. Certainly, we've said we welcome ideas. We've answered a lot of questions about our resolution.
One of the questions we have, I think, answered is the question of the mandate. The mandate that we envisage for the multinational force is certainly not an open-ended mandate, and it's one that, in our resolution, will be subject to review after one year. Resolution 1511 already provides for an end to the mandate at the conclusion of the political process, and the Security Council could, of course, act to do so earlier. But it's not -- it's not open-ended in that fashion.
I think also one doesn't -- one is not able to predict that the security situation will resolve -- will be resolved on a precise timetable, particularly a timetable that might be set in New York, and therefore one has to understand that the multinational force's job will be done when the Iraqis are able to live in peace and security.
QUESTION: So the distilled answer is you do not support -- you would not support a firm, detailed end for the mandate?
MR. BOUCHER: We think the prospect for an end of the mandate is pretty much -- adequately addressed by 1511, and by the one-year review and the options available for other review or termination, if the Security Council decides. But we don't think it's properly addressed by throwing some specific date in the resolution.
QUESTION: And are -- do you think that you have managed to convince others of your position?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll have to see. I mean, various people have had different ideas about this, and we'll just have to see how the discussion evolves. But we have answered the question, I think, many times.
QUESTION: Not on the resolution, but on Iraq.
QUESTION: Actually, the resolution. Go ahead.
MR. BOUCHER: Let's stay on the resolution a while. Okay.
QUESTION: If I could just go back to the Chinese non-paper. While it wasn't handed out in the consultations yesterday, was it, in fact, a subject of discussion, the ideas -- ideas contained within it?
MR. BOUCHER: I assume that every delegation discussed their ideas. And since the paper that we got on Monday from the Chinese included their ideas, I assume they discussed them, as well, yesterday.
QUESTION: Which would suggest that they weren't satisfied by the draft text?
MR. BOUCHER: No, the Chinese, they -- the Chinese, when -- I don't want to go into speaking for other governments, but I would say there were a number of governments who had formulated ideas about what should be in the resolution, who recognized, when we passed out the resolution on Monday, that, indeed, right away, they noted that many of their ideas had been taken into account in our text because we did have considerable discussion in advance of the ideas that people had.
QUESTION: When you talk about Resolution 1511 having the kind of basis for some of these things, I mean, I understand when you were talking about previous resolutions on Iraq, with the Oil-for-Food and things like that that carried forward, but don't you think a lot has happened between the time that you passed 1511 and now that would make some of the things that you put in that resolution if not -- kind of obsolete, but certainly need revisiting?
MR. BOUCHER: Those that need to be revisited or changed can be revisited and changed by the Council in passing this current resolution. This current resolution certainly updates a number of things from 1483 and 1511 and the other resolutions on Iraq that were passed unanimously by the Council. But that doesn't mean that everything in those things needs to be revisited and we don't think this, for the reasons that I explained, we don't think this is an area that needs to be revisited other than the provisions that we put in for regular review at the discretion of the Council and the sovereign Iraqi government.
QUESTION: But, I mean, you've been working with this government for a year now, and, you know, that government was created after 1511, so I mean, some of the things that -- your discussions with the Iraqis about ending the mandate, things like that, I mean, taking into consideration everything that you've learned and everything that you've dealt with the Iraqis over the past year, how can you say that you have sufficient basis under 1511 when the situation that's going on now really doesn't --
MR. BOUCHER: I would say precisely that, taking into account the situation that we've experienced over the last year, that that demonstrates more than amply for us, and I'm sure for many others, why one can't set an arbitrary date for the end of the mandate for the multinational forces. There may be security situations that arise that need to be dealt with, as they have over the last year, and we will deal with those certainly as quickly as we can and in close partnership with Iraqi forces, but the end of the mandate for the multinational force should be when the Iraqis themselves are in a position to ensure the security of their government.
QUESTION: Just one more on this. Some other countries have said that it's important to have an end to the mandate because it shows -- not only does it show the Iraqis that there is some light at the end of the tunnel, but it also kind of not only gives them an incentive, but also kind of puts their feet to the fire to get their act together for the next year in that all previous man -- all previous UN forces of other conflicts, such as Western Sahara, which has had an end to a mandate for 20 -- for, you know, decades, but keeps being revised every time that there's a mandate that ends. So I mean, I guess --
MR. BOUCHER: I guess you're saying that's a great model?
QUESTION: No, I'm not saying it's a great -- I'm not saying it's a great model, but --
MR. BOUCHER: All right. Let's stick to a bit of reality here instead of just theoretical mandates. The Iraqi people and government want to take over control for their country, and, themselves, want to be the ones who ensure security for their nation. I don't think anybody can have any doubt about that. They're not going to do it better, quicker or more thoroughly because there's a date in a UN resolution.
Second of all, the United States forces are not trying to stay in Iraq. We're trying to ensure security for the Iraqis and then leave. That's -- we've made it clear that -- that clear all along. Anybody who looks at the actual facts of the situation and the behavior of the United States will understand that quite clearly. So it's not a matter of forcing us to leave at some arbitrary date. It's a matter of when we accomplish our task, when the Iraqis accomplish their task of being able to handle security for their nation. We will both be very glad to end the mandate.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. When you say --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm almost there. Sorry.
QUESTION: When you say that we will leave once the security situation is secured in Iraq, do you mean there will not be any military bases for the United States Army in Iraq after that stage is secured, you know, after Iraq is secure?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've made that clear, but you should check with the Pentagon. I think they've said that already.
QUESTION: Richard, are you concerned that two of the members, France, for instance, saying it's insufficient and China's floating amendments to the resolution --
MR. BOUCHER: China is not floating amendments to the resolution. I've made that clear to you, I think.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, you know, changing the language. But if they, you know --
MR. BOUCHER: No, they haven't suggested changes to the language. I don't think anybody has --
QUESTION: Are you concerned that if you reach an impasse on this situation that there might be a veto, considering that France --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think any of these countries have threatened vetoes. We certainly welcome ideas and suggestions from other nations, but I just have to point out as a fact that we haven't had specific proposals at this point. We've had very good discussions, constructive discussions, of the issues and concerns of other nations. We've answered a lot of questions about the text we put forward. But nobody has threatened a veto at this point.
QUESTION: Did the French explain what do they mean by "insufficient"?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. Actually, I wouldn't be able to speak for the French, anyway.
QUESTION: Iraq still? Done with the resolution?
What is it -- what does it say that Mr. Shahristani, who was one of the forerunners for a high position in the new cabinet, doesn't want to take the job? Is that -- is that indicating that he believes that it's -- I don't know -- not anything he'd like to do?
MR. BOUCHER: I believe Mr. Shahristani gave a press conference today and I'm not in a position to talk about Mr. Shahristani. I'm not his spokesman. We have not --
QUESTION: I'm not asking you to speak for him. What does it -- what does it show?
MR. BOUCHER: We have not decided. We have -- Mr. Brahimi has not put forward any candidates for any of these jobs. I know there has been a lot of speculation about Mr. Shahristani, not confirmed by the U.S. Government, and it is not for us to talk about him or to try to draw conclusions from anything that he, as an individual, may or may not prefer.
So I don't really think it's my position to try to interpret these events that are the result of a person speaking -- knocking down some speculation that was out there.
QUESTION: Do you still expect Brahimi to submit the names of 26 ministers, two vice presidents, a premier and a president by the end of this week or the end of this month?
MR. BOUCHER: As we all know, as the President noted, as the UN has noted many times, it has been Mr. Brahimi's intention to present names, to present a package by the end of the month, or the end of the week or the end of the month, and all we know is that that has been his intention. Exactly when he will be able to do that, we'll have to leave to him.
QUESTION: He's not keeping you updated on the --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, he's keeping us regularly updated, but it -- to the extent he wants to discuss that in public, we'll leave it to him to discuss it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Sir.
QUESTION: Iran. Iran's President today suggested that Iran may resume uranium enrichment and halt the IAEA snap inspections of its nuclear sites, if the IAEA does not recognize its cooperation at its next board meeting. I think this is a revived sort of threat. I think they have said things like this in the past.
MR. BOUCHER: I think they have said things like that before. We've seen these remarks. We don't think it's appropriate to try to intimidate the Atomic Energy Agency or its board into overlooking the many failures of Iran to meet its nonproliferation commitments.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has documented 18 years of clandestine nuclear activity in Iran. Tehran has repeatedly failed to declare significant and troubling aspects of its nuclear program. It's interfered with and suspended inspections. It's failed to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in resolving outstanding issues related to the program. And Iran has made clear, as shown by those remarks, that Iran doesn't somehow feel bound by its pledge, its own pledge, to suspend all enrichment-related activity.
So we expect to see the Director General's next report on Iran in the next few days. We'll continue to urge complete disclosure and complete cooperation by Iran with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and we call on Iran to make good on its repeated pledges to cooperate with the agency.
QUESTION: There's been a series of what you regard as failures on Iran's part that you just described. Do you plan, finally, to ask the board to refer the matter to the United Nations, and possible sanctions?
MR. BOUCHER: Let us see what the Director General reports, and we'll see what the appropriate course might be at the next meeting.
QUESTION: I just want to make clear. You think -- you believe the comments today were an attempt to intimidate the BOG?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say that they appear to be that way. We don't think that's an appropriate action vis-à-vis the International Atomic Energy Agency.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's work our way back then.
QUESTION: It's on Turkey. The U.S. Government has put forward some requests to the Turkish Government. And some of the requests involved are not consistent with the existing Defense Cooperation Agreement. Can you give us a sense of what these requests are? Does this reflect the policy change?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- are you talking about requests in the area of defense?
QUESTION: Yeah, Defense Cooperation Agreement.
MR. BOUCHER: I think you'd have to check at the Pentagon. I don't have anything specific on that.
QUESTION: But the agreement, Defense Cooperation Agreement, has nothing to do with the policy?
MR. BOUCHER: Obviously, it's an important part of our relationship and our policy towards Turkey. I'm not here to account, though, for specific requests of defense cooperation.
QUESTION: Yeah, on China. The Organization of American States yesterday formally accepted China as a permanent observer. As the leading member, does the U.S., or do you have comments or expectations on --
MR. BOUCHER: We joined the consensus on that. The PRC's application was approved by consensus by the OAS Permanent Council on May 26th for China to join as an observer. At the same time, we noted our strong support for the OAS to find a way that provides for Taiwan to participate in the OAS. We pointed out that precedents do exist for non-state organizations to participate in some fashion.
So they agreed to place on the agenda of the next Permanent Council meeting the request of Taiwan for OAS permanent observer status, and we would look forward to a good discussion of Taiwan's efforts to find a way to contribute in a positive and constructive way to the work of the OAS.
QUESTION: Something else on China?
QUESTION: Well, wait. Just on that. What non-state -- other than groups or organizations, is there any precedent for a non-state to have observer status? I mean, I presume the EU is an observer in the OAS.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know the specific list. I'm sure that's available from the OAS.
QUESTION: All right. And on Taiwan's membership in international organizations, is there anything new or anything stronger about your position regarding the WHO?
MR. BOUCHER: Our position has been the same for a number of years now. It's been repeatedly stated.
Our view has been that Taiwan should be able to participate in international organizations that don't require statehood for membership, and that's -- that's where we have supported Taiwan's ability to work on World Health or with the OAS, things like that.
QUESTION: Has China raised that specific issue, i.e. U.S. support for Taiwan to have observer status at the WHO, as a factor in determining its vote on the UN ICC resolution?
MR. BOUCHER: That's a question you'd have to ask the Chinese, if they link the two or explicitly link the two.
QUESTION: You're parties to those conversations, I mean, and it's a resolution that you want passed, and you've postponed it for a little while, and I'm wondering if you can tell us now whether that's a factor in its -- in the fact that it doesn't --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to speak on another government's position. I'm -- I -- if another government wants to explicitly link two things, it's up to them to say it, not for me.
QUESTION: So you don't -- you're not speaking about your -- that doesn't make any sense to me. You've just spoken about how you oppose the Chinese position that Taiwan should not be a member of -- in any way of the WHO.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I have just spoken about how the United States supports the idea that Taiwan should be allowed observer status at the World Health Organization. I've just talked about U.S. policy.
MR. BOUCHER: I have not tried to explain what the Chinese position is on that.
QUESTION: Well, is -- will U.S. policy be opposed to what Arshad just talked about?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not --
QUESTION: I'm sure the U.S. would never opposed my policy.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to oppose Arshad's policy, but I'm not going to --
QUESTION: Would you oppose an attempt to --
MR. BOUCHER: No, come on. We're getting way off into the speculative, "have you heard" questions. The question here of U.S. policy, if there is something another government puts forward as its policy, I may be able to give you the United States reaction to that. I am not aware that China has put forward that policy.
QUESTION: Okay, one other China-related question. Chinese police have begun placing prominent dissidents under house arrest to prevent them from publicly commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
We have interviewed a number of such dissidents, who say that there are, in some cases, half a dozen police outside their houses; they won't let them go out. We've talked to them on the phone, and they've explained that they believe this is so that they can't commemorate Tiananmen Square, and then their phone lines get cut off in the middle of the calls.
What do you think about this?
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't had a chance to check on those specific reports, but I think our position on freedom of expression has been consistent and clear.
QUESTION: Do you know if we've raised this with the Chinese?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I don't know if it's come up recently. I know it's come up in the past.
QUESTION: But you don't want to say anything stronger about -- if you haven't gotten a chance to look into it, I understand that, although I think it was drawn to people's attention. But I wonder if just saying that your views on freedom of expression are -- remain the same is sort of a strong first (inaudible).
MR. BOUCHER: I think I said I had not seen those specific reports, and I'll be glad to look into it for you. So, in the last two minutes, that's all anyone can do.
QUESTION: One more on Taiwan. Have you gotten a formal protest about the Taiwanese Vice President's travel?
MR. BOUCHER: They've raised the issue. I'd leave it to them to characterize how they consider their remarks.
QUESTION: But they have raised it directly with you and not just --
MR. BOUCHER: They've raised it directly with the U.S., yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: We've got one more in the back. Sir?
QUESTION: I have several more, but on Iraq -- may I go back on Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: Go ahead. Please.
QUESTION: Could you tell us anything on the status of the negotiations between the Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, and the American forces?
MR. BOUCHER: The negotiations were not involving U.S. forces. The negotiations were with a Shiite group in Iraq, and the -- just a second -- and the spokesman can't find his papers.
So we didn't -- we didn't participate in these discussions. We certainly hope that Muqtada al-Sadr will live up to the commitments that he has made in his letter that he presented to the other Shia in Iraq. If he lives up to his commitments, the coalition will play its part.
We think that successful implementation would permit the people of Najaf to resume their normal lives and permit the safe resumption of pilgrimages to the Shrine of the Imam `Ali and reduce the danger to that shrine by the parties who have sought to inflame the population.
I think our briefers in Baghdad have made clear that as soon as the Iraqi security forces have been able to reestablish responsibility for public order, the coalition forces will reposition to their bases outside Najaf. Until that time, the coalition forces will suspend offensive operations, but they'll continue to provide security by carrying out patrols.
We are collaborating with the Ministries of Interior and Defense as they move urgently to provide additional Iraqi security forces from other cities and to recruit, train, and deploy additional personnel to bolster the capabilities of the limited police and civil defense forces that are currently available there.
QUESTION: Two more quick ones.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: Brazil's Defense Minister said yesterday that Brazil plans to start up sort of a Airbridge denial-type program using entirely its own resources to try to shoot down suspected drug flights. Has the United States had any talks with Brazil about this? And do you think it's a good idea, given the difficulties that you had in Peru, and given how long it took to get a program back up and running in Colombia?
MR. BOUCHER: We are aware of these reports. I think it's actually a previous law being implemented.
QUESTION: That's right.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. The general subject of denial of airspace to drug smugglers has been a topic of discussion with the Brazilian Government in the past, including the rules that we have governing Airbridge denial programs and our ability to cooperate with them. I don't have any precise outcome at this point, but it has been a discussion in the past.
QUESTION: Can you say if you think it's a good idea for them to resume such a program or to restart it?
MR. BOUCHER: We have not opposed such programs under the proper conditions. In fact, in terms of our cooperation with others, we have found them to be sometimes a very useful tool in stopping drug trafficking. But, as you know, our cooperation with such programs depends on U.S. law that has to be carefully implemented.
QUESTION: But they're not asking for your cooperation, correct? I mean, that's my understanding.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check and see if there is any interface there with this.
QUESTION: Then, last one. There is a Human Rights Watch report that says that -- that -- recounts allegations of mistreatment and torture of two men who were transported from Sweden to Egypt, according to U.S. -- according to Human Rights Watch on a U.S. Government-leased aircraft.
Its says the men were tortured upon arrival in Egypt and mistreated on the plane in various ways. And I want to know, is it -- I'm happy to give you the names of the men, Ahmed Hussein Agiza, and Muhammad Suleiman Ibrahim El-Zari. Do you know if the U.S. Government leased such a plane to transport these two men?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you -- could you check on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if there is anything we have to say on that.
We've got one more?
QUESTION: Well, yeah, on the Middle East.
MR. BOUCHER: Please.
QUESTION: Today, Prime Minister Sharon submitted a revised version of his plan to the cabinet that calls for a phased-out withdrawal from the settlements in Gaza, and it also calls for the destruction of these settlements. (A) Have you received a copy of the plan; and (b) would you advise the Israelis against destroying the settlements once vacated?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, on the first point, no, we haven't had any new briefings from the Israeli Government or received new copies of a proposal from the Israeli Government on withdrawal from Gaza. We've certainly seen the speculation in the press, but, at this point, I wouldn't be able to characterize our view.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)
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