State Department Noon Briefing, June 17
|Thursday June 17,
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
THURSDAY, JUNE 17, 2004
12:30 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements. So I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Anything on the situation (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there have been really no new developments in that matter. We are in very close touch with Mr. Johnson's family, both in the United States and in Saudi Arabia. As you know, Saudi authorities have the lead in the investigation and in trying to locate Mr. Johnson and free him. We have told them they can count on the United States for whatever assistance they need and our people in Saudi Arabia are working with them.
So, at this point, I don't think there are any new developments. It remains our very, very strong view that Mr. Johnson should be released immediately and unconditionally, and we will work with the Saudi authorities to try to help them.
QUESTION: You can't say anything on whether or not an FBI team has been sent?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't say anything specifically on that. You can check with the FBI, if you want to know, but we do have a variety of people on the ground out there, who can work with the Saudis and assist them, as appropriate.
QUESTION: Can you talk about any efforts, additional efforts, that the U.S. Government is making to either protect American facilities there or Americans? Is there anything more going on? I know you talked about OSAC yesterday.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I think I did -- I did talk yesterday about this. The -- a lot of our efforts is in terms of coordination with American companies. And so, the Overseas Advisory Council meetings that we've had in Saudi Arabia and the contacts that we have here between our security people and security people for companies are an essential part of trying to make sure that the Americans who do decide to stay in Saudi Arabia, despite our advice that people leave, that those people are as safe as possible.
We also work very closely with the Saudi authorities, and the companies and people who are in Iraq benefit from protection from the Saudi Government and from the efforts that they make to try to protect compounds and facilities and make everybody safer.
QUESTION: So no additional hardening, no -- anything you can talk about?
MR. BOUCHER: We wouldn't talk about specific steps, and those steps are, in these cases, largely in the hands of the Saudi authorities or the private companies anyway.
QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia, there's a protest outside the C Street entrance to the State Department of about four dozen people. They say, or their spokesman says, that they're protesting the detention in Saudi Arabia of an American-born man, of an American citizen, born in Texas, 23 years old, Ahmad Abu Ali, is how he's described. They say he's been detained for a year at the request of the U.S. Government and no charges have been brought.
I realize you may not have had much time to find out about this. But do you know anything about this man and what efforts the State Department may have made to --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I mean, first, we do know about the man and his situation. He is in detention in Saudi Arabia, has been since June of 2003. We have stayed in touch with his family. We have stayed in touch with Saudi officials regarding his case. Regular visits have taken place from U.S. Consular officials in Riyadh to go visit him when he -- in detention.
Beyond that, I can't really say much because he has not given us permission under the Privacy Act to talk about him.
QUESTION: Can you say whether he is there at the request of the U.S. Government?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't say anything about his legal circumstances.
QUESTION: Can you say whether you would like him to be released?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not in a position to say anything more about him. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Since Consular officers or officials have visited him, is there any substance to suspicions that some have raised that he's been tortured or mistreated?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not able to talk about his circumstances. He has not given us permission to release any details about his condition, and so I'm not able to do that. I can tell you, as a general matter, that we do visit our citizens in detention overseas to look after their welfare and to look at their treatment. We do not, in any way, countenance or approve of any form of mistreatment or torture, and we would lodge a complaint with any government where we thought torture had occurred.
QUESTION: Can you say if such a complaint has been lodged?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not sure.
QUESTION: You are not sure if you can say or you are not sure if we did?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure if I can say.
QUESTION: Could you check into -- I mean, I'm perplexed why you -- could you whether you can say whether a complaint has been lodged? And could you also check whether you can say whether you would like him to be released, which are not --
MR. BOUCHER: No complaint has been lodged. I will go -- take the leap and go ahead and say it: no complaint has been lodged of torture.
QUESTION: And whether you want him to be released?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I am limited in how far I can in talking about it.
QUESTION: So can we conclude from that that no abuse has occurred?
MR. BOUCHER: You can conclude from that that no complaint has been lodged.
QUESTION: You said that if there was abuse, the policy is to lodge a complaint?
MR. BOUCHER: If there were abuse, we would have lodged a complaint.
QUESTION: No complaint has been lodged thus far?
MR. BOUCHER: No complaint has been lodged.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: According to the regular sources, you are planning to replace your ambassador to Greece, Tom Miller, prior to the Olympic Games with a new one to be Charlie Ries who yesterday testified before the Senate Committee on International Relations. We're wondering why.
MR. BOUCHER: There is a nominee for an ambassador to Greece. I think Ambassador Miller has also announced that he has plans at the end of the year to go into the private sector. I don't have the exact timing of the handover but I am sure that it will be smooth; it will be responsible.
QUESTION: He is leaving --
MR. BOUCHER: He is not leaving before the Olympic Games.
QUESTION: He will be there for the Olympic Games?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I understand he is not leaving before the Olympic Games.
QUESTION: And on Cyprus. What is your reaction to the Cypriot President Tasos Papadopoulos letter to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, by which he described his report on Cyprus as inaccurate, untrue and biased favoring the Turkey Cypriot?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any detailed reaction other than to say we have commented before, and we will say it again, we thought it was a good report. We thought the Secretary General's efforts were very good this spring, and we think it is a very good report to the Security Council.
QUESTION: And it was reported that your Special Coordinator Tom Weston will pay an official visit to the (inaudible) state representative here in Washington for the first time since the Turkish invasion and occupation. And I was wondering why, if you can comment.
MR. BOUCHER: We meet with Turkish Cypriots in Washington from time to time and this is one of those meetings.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Mr. Johnson? This morning in a couple of interviews his family, his son said, "I'm asking the United States and the Saudi Government to just make this happen."
With a lack of, kind of, information and leads on the case, I mean, what can the U.S. do to help this family and try and find this guy? I mean, what are the options available to you?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not in a position to go through what the options are. Obviously, there are a variety of options available to Saudi authorities, who have the lead here, to try to locate him, free him, crack down on the network, do various other things.
The -- as far as the United States goes, we have expertise, resources, assets that we can use to support that effort, and we are in touch and working closely with Saudi authorities because we are concerned, very concerned about the welfare of Mr. Johnson, and we want to make sure that we do everything we can to locate him, free him, and make sure that those who might have taken him are punished.
QUESTION: I know you touched upon this a little before, but do you advocate meeting any of the demands that these hostage --
MR. BOUCHER: We -- I think the Saudi Government has already said that their policy is not to negotiate with terrorists. The United States also has a policy of not making any concessions to kidnappers or terrorists, and those policies are, I think, well thought out for a long period of time because if we start making concessions and offering benefits for kidnappings, it will only lead to more.
QUESTION: Yesterday, after you kind of reiterated your request -- or not your request, your advice that Americans leave the country -- some Saudi officials are saying that this send the wrong message to the terrorists because that's exactly what they're looking for. They are looking for Americans and westerners to leave the country, and if you advocate Americans leaving for their safety, then this is actually giving them what they want and actually raises their incentive to --
MR. BOUCHER: I think we really dealt with that question yesterday. I don't have anything new to say today.
QUESTION: Back to Cyprus again. How do you explain the phenomenon that most recently your government increased the duration of visas issued to the Turkish Cypriots to two years, and the U.S. citizens, wherever they live, could go direct to their own destination to stay, using tourist passport?
MR. BOUCHER: These are steps that we announced, I think the visa extension was announced at the end of May by our Ambassador in Cyprus, and we have discussed the other permission for people to travel in and out using tourist passports, as well. These are steps that we have said we would take, steps to ease the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, and these steps certainly ease their isolation.
QUESTION: Do you think that those steps are easing the isolation or moving to the conflict?
MR. BOUCHER: Are moving to what?
QUESTION: The conflict.
MR. BOUCHER: Why would travel create conflict?
QUESTION: Conflict between --
MR. BOUCHER: Travel, we think, eases people's isolation, makes it easier for them to interact with the world, and particularly with Europe, and they can continue to pursue their goals of being part of Europe.
QUESTION: But as you know, the Cyprus Republic is functioning and those citizens, they have the right to go through the Republic of Cyprus whenever they want to go, but if you are going (inaudible).
MR. BOUCHER: Well, now, this is another way they can travel. So there is more freedom to travel and more opportunity to travel. That's good.
QUESTION: And, lastly, it was reported that the Chief Police from the Republic, Tassos Panayiotou, confirmed June 13, that in full cooperation with the U.S. security officials, the Cypriot Government arrest a Pakistani senior member of the al-Qaida of Usama bin Laden, who has been expelled from among those nations.
Since he was arrested and was expelled, with cooperation with U.S. Government, could you please release his full name, his picture, the country of destination, for the reason of protection?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I don't know anything about that. I'm sorry. I don't have anything --
QUESTION: Can you take this question because --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if it's -- I think it's a law enforcement matter. I'd leave it to the law enforcement authorities to discuss it.
QUESTION: Which authority specifically?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, you say that Cyprus, the chief of police has already discussed it. I would --
QUESTION: But he said that in full cooperation with the U.S. authorities.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I'm --
QUESTION: So I'm coming to you.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I don't have anything on it.
QUESTION: Can you take the question --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if I can get you anything on it. I'll see if I can.
QUESTION: A couple of quick ones.
Do you have -- as you, I'm sure are aware, the IAEA today said that it had wrongly accused Iran of failing to disclose certain information about its potential nuclear weapons-related technology imports, do you have any comment on the fact that they apparently inaccurately said that Iran hadn't disclosed (inaudible). Do you feel this, in any way, your case or belief that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program and has failed to come clean on that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, in fact, oddly enough, it only points out more how hollow Iran's denials and statements have been because what the IEA said is, in their report, they said that Iran had not told them about the magnets, but they then found out later that they had heard about it in -- I guess there was -- Iran produced a tape recording of an Iranian private citizen telling an IAEA inspector orally in January that he did import P2 magnets.
So the Director General of the IAEA has correctly and responsibly revised one part of one sentence of the June 1st report. But we would note that up until May, the official position of the Iranian Government was that it had not imported P2 centrifuge parts and the Director General's report also indicates not until May that Iran acknowledged, for the first time, details about seeking to procure 4000 magnets with specifications suitable for P2 use.
So even though you had an Iranian telling the inspector in January that they had tried to buy magnets, that they had bought P2 magnets, the official position of the Iranian Government, the denials of the Iranian Government continued all the way through May. So, once again, we're faced with a situation of finding that Iran has, in this case, not only denied what the inspectors knew, but denied that what an Iranian had told the inspectors.
We have, you know, repeated indications where in February that they also wrote to the IAEA that only P2 drawings had been received in 1994, without any components of the P2 centrifuge. Again, the Iranians, apparently, already prior to that date, told the IAEA that they had imported these magnets for the P2s.
So we're, once again, left in the situation where we find that Iran has spent months and months and months denying things that were known, months and months trying to pretend that it was not doing things that finally became known and then it finally admitted it. We think it is important that scrutiny of the IAEA continue on Iran, and we are working with other governments at the IAEA to produce a resolution for the board that will say that, that will continue that process.
The negotiations on a text in Vienna have continued. We are working with the Europeans who have produced drafts of the text. The board has, I think, recessed now for the day until tomorrow. A resolution text has now been tabled, I understand, on Thursday, and we expect that the board would act on it tomorrow.
QUESTION: Did it call for the matter being referred to the UN Security Council?
MR. BOUCHER: I think now that it has been tabled, you'll see the text in Vienna. It calls for Iran to meet its commitments, for Iran to fully disclose the information that it has promised and to stop making excuses or denying things that are true, and it calls on Iran to meet its commitments to others and its requirements under board resolutions.
QUESTION: But does it look like they're going to (inaudible) and just drag this thing out as long as possible and then withdraw from the MPT?
MR. BOUCHER: You would have to ask the Iranians.
QUESTION: What does the draft say in terms of a time line? Is there a specific date as to which --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a copy with me today. I'm sorry. It was just tabled this morning our time, this evening in Vienna. I am sure whatever text is available is available out there.
QUESTION: But it does not seek a referral to the Security Council, correct?
MR. BOUCHER: We have not been seeking referral at this moment to the Security Council. We have been pressing for a resolution that's strong that asks Iran to meet its own commitments, that asks Iran to disclose what it has promised to disclose, that asks Iran to meet the requirements that have been put forward by its membership in the IAEA and put forward by the Board of Governors of the IAEA.
QUESTION: And the resolution doesn't call for it either?
MR. BOUCHER: And that's what the resolution does.
QUESTION: Well, Richard, why aren't you calling for referral to the Security Council? I mean we've been down this road several times before and --
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I think we explained. We talked about this a couple of days ago, again. The United States has felt that it's important for the IAEA to continue its pressure on Iran, to continue its investigation, its inspections, to continue finding things out about this program.
And as they have continued to do that including in recent days, including by this revelation that we had in recent days. We think it's appropriate for the board to continue the activity that's going on now.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the facility that the Iranians destroyed, Lavizan Shian?
MR. BOUCHER: The - once again, just let me start by referring to the report that Dr. ElBaradei presented to the board. That report shows that Iran does have a track record of trying to hide clandestine nuclear activities, since for many years, including a practice of trying to remove equipment and sanitize buildings.
It's deplorable, but not surprising, that Iran's deception has gone to the extent of bulldozing entire sites to prevent the IAEA from discovering evidence of its nuclear weapons program.
I can't give you any independent information, but commercial satellite photography shows the complete dismantling and the razing of a facility at Lavizan Shian. And that's a site that was previously disclosed as a possible Iranian weapons of mass destruction related site.
This raises serious concerns and fits a pattern, as I've said, that we've seen from Iran of trying to cover up on its activities, including by trying to sanitize locations which the IAEA should be allowed to visit and inspect.
QUESTION: Sir, do you care to give us your reading of the statement of the Foreign Minister of the Organization of Islamic Countries after its conclusion last night?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I don't have anything to say on the statement. I'll see if we've had a chance to look at it and analyze it, have any comment.
QUESTION: Another question, please. Many American officials repeat saying that the American military presence will continue in Iraq as long as it is needed for the security and stability of the country. Is that supposedly going to be in conjunction and in consultation with the Iraqi government in the future, or it's going to be an American decision only?
MR. BOUCHER: Absolutely, it's done with partnership with the Iraqis. It's done in consultation with the Iraqis. We have made clear that we will be there as long as they think they need us to help provide security for the country. The Iraqi Government that's taking charge, is already taking charge of many areas, has made clear that they believe that the presence of coalition forces is necessary for them to help get the kind of security and stability they want for their people and that they need to develop their country.
And, so, as we go forward on this, we will be in close consultation and partnership with them to try to determine how we can support them, how we can help them provide security for their people and how long that's necessary.
QUESTION: On this issue?
MR. BOUCHER: On that? Yeah.
QUESTION: The U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan today said that in his opinion Iraq is still too dangerous for the United Nations' ambassador to return to this country. Do you share this assessment?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I didn't see the exact context of his remarks. Certainly, we have seen the United Nations play an active role in past months and they have a continuing role on the elections and on the political transition process. We would hope that they would be able to continue to do that.
We understand the Secretary General's responsibilities for the security of his people and we do consult with him and work with him on that. We would hope that they would find it safer and safer in order to be able to go back and expand their activities; but how they do that and when they do that and to what extent they can do that at any given moment is really a decision that he has to make.
QUESTION: Further question on Annan. I believe he, today, said that he was not in favor of the idea of renewing a resolution that would provide exemption from ICC jurisdiction over U.S. Government officials abroad. What's your comment on that? And how are you doing in your efforts to get a new resolution? And are you seeking that? Are you making any commitments to time limit any such future requests, in other words, that this might be the last time you'd ask for such a resolution?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the Secretary General has actually spoken on this issue before. That's the same view he has expressed before in public, and even to the Council directly, so we know what his views are on the ICC resolution.
The Council has, two years ago, provided for such a resolution and in that resolution talked about its renewal. We think it's a technical rollover that should be done and it should be renewed the way the Council said it would. And so, we'll -- we're still talking about the governments in New York and discussing this with them.
QUESTION: There is no time -- you're not making any -- you're not suggesting that this might be the last time you'd ask for such a rollover?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, we/'re looking for a technical rollover. That's what we've been discussing with others in New York now, how to proceed.
QUESTION: But you are not making any limitations on it?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not trying to change anything at this moment. I'm saying we're talking with others about how to proceed -- how, when, any changes, whatever, leave that to later, but we have got to talk about this with other governments, and that's what we're doing.
MR. BOUCHER: All right, a couple more.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Algerian terrorist suspect who is believed to be in the custody of the Chadian rebel group?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, if I can find it. The reports are that a Chadian armed opposition group, the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad, is holding Saifi Ammari, also known as Abdel Razzak al-Para, leader of the Algerian terrorist group, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat.
The Algerian group is a designated foreign terrorist organization. Al-Para is wanted for terrorism and criminal activity, including the kidnapping of European tourists in Algeria, and the death of one of them last year. Al-Para and his accomplices should be turned over to the Algerian authorities with no further delay in order to face the charges against him.
QUESTION: Which authorities? In Chad or Algeria?
MR. BOUCHER: Algeria, Algerian authorities.
QUESTION: I've got one more, if I may?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. And the gentleman back there has got one, too.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any reaction from the Chinese Government to Secretary Powell's complaint that China has drawn suspicion on the existence of (inaudible) program in North Korea? Powell has raised the issue the other day and the Chinese Foreign Minister said he would look into it.
MR. BOUCHER: He said he'd look into it. You'll have to check with the Chinese on where they are. I am not aware of any new statements by the Chinese on that.
QUESTION: Israel today invited bids for the project for digging a moat along the border with Egypt and Gaza. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know about it. I don't have any comment at this point.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing ended at 12:55 p.m.)
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