State Department Briefing

 

Wednesday  May 14, 2003

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Daily Press Briefing (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) Wednesday, May 14, 2003 2:45 p.m. EDT BRIEFER: Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman INDEX RUSSIA Secretary Powell's Travel to Russia / Meetings SAUDI ARABIA American Citizens Killed and Wounded in Terrorist Bombings FBI Team En Route to Saudi Arabia Assessment of Level of Cooperation with Saudi Arabia US-Saudi Relationship Saudi Efforts to Counter Threats/US Request for Additional Security CUBA Reaction from Cuban Government Regarding Expulsions PAKISTAN Deputy Secretary Armitage's Meeting with Foreign Minister Kasuri IRAQ Weapons of Mass Destruction and Role for Inspectors Consultations on UN Security Council Resolution on Iraq BELGIUM Lawsuit Filed in Belgian Court Against General Tommy Franks MIDDLE EAST Remarks Reportedly Made by Assistant Secretary William Burns CAMBODIA UN General Assembly Approval for Khmer Rouge Tribunal Demining Efforts in Cambodia / Public Service Messages Using Warner Bros. Characters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck NORTH KOREA Reported North Korean Fighter Plane Firing Laser at US Troops SOUTH KOREA Deputy Secretary Armitage's Meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister DEPARTMENT "Look-Alike" for Deputy Secretary Armitage MR. REEKER: Well, good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. Welcome to our guest visiting the briefing room this afternoon. I ought to brief this late every day, then we will have fewer questions. I have no particular announcements. Secretary Powell, as you're probably aware, is in Moscow this evening. He is having dinner with Foreign Minister Ivanov after a series of meetings there today, including meeting with President Putin and with the Foreign Minister. And of course we welcome the passage of the Treaty of Moscow -- the ratification of that by the Russian Duma this afternoon. So without any particular announcements to make, I would be happy to take your questions. Mr. Lee, if you would like to begin. QUESTION: Yeah, Phil, do you have any update on the casualty toll or anything like that on the Saudi bombing? MR. REEKER: Yeah, let's take a look at that. In Riyadh, our consular officials continue to work closely with Saudi officials and, of course, with U.S. victims. We can confirm that eight American citizens lost their lives in the horrible attacks in Riyadh yesterday. In addition, 17 U.S. citizens are hospitalized as a result of injuries sustained in the bombings. At least one of those is in critical condition. There was a large number, an unknown number of other U.S. citizens who have sustained injuries that did not require hospitalization. Obviously, our deepest sympathies go out to the families of the victims, friends and families who lost loved ones in this horrific attack. We hope for a speedy recovery of those injured. We have taken steps to notify the families of those killed, and our consular officials are offering all possible assistance to families and survivors. In response to some of your questions earlier is our concern for privacy; we are not going to be releasing names or details of the victims or the injured in those attacks. But we do continue to work closely with Saudi officials regarding the attack. The interagency team we discussed yesterday, including officials from the FBI will be arriving soon in Saudi Arabia to assist with the investigation there. The Saudi Government obviously would be able to give you further details on the investigation and any official numbers of the overall total and other nationalities, citizens of other countries who were victims of these horrible attacks. QUESTION: I just -- very briefly -- yesterday, Northrop-Grumman said that -- when the toll was seven they said, they confirmed that these seven all worked for their subsidiary, Vinnell. Do you know if this additional death was also a Vinnell? MR. REEKER: I don't believe so. QUESTION: Was not? MR. REEKER: No. QUESTION: Okay. MR. REEKER: Betsy. QUESTION: How would you assess the level of cooperation so far with the Saudi Government? I mean, the planeload of people, the interagency team, they are not going to have any trouble getting in are they? MR. REEKER: No. I think the interagency team is in Germany on their way to Saudi Arabia. They've got a plane -- a U.S. Government aircraft. I saw some reports that there was some delay in that. I think the delay involves the fact that there's a necessary crew rest when they didn't meet their window for arriving in Saudi Arabia earlier. They are overnighting in Germany while the crew rests and they will go in -- I believe they'll arrive there sometime tomorrow afternoon. Our cooperation in this investigation and in responding to this horrible attack yesterday has been very good. Overall, as Dr. Rice just said to your colleagues at the Foreign Press Center, we have very good cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the war on terrorism. We can always do better, and we're going to be looking to do better to investigate this particular attack, to find out all we can about it and use that knowledge to improve cooperatively our efforts in the battle against terrorists around the world. So that effort will continue and we'll continue, obviously, working with the Saudi Government. QUESTION: Do you see this incident changing the U.S.-Saudi relationship any? I mean there was September 11th; there have been so many Saudis who have been involved in these incidents around the world and I -- MR. REEKER: Well, I think the Saudis, themselves, have spoken about how this incident clearly illustrates that the terrorists have declared war on Saudi Arabia, as well. Saudi citizens were killed in these attacks and other terrorist attacks, of course, have taken the lives of Saudis, so these are murderers, the people that perpetrate these types of attacks -- plain and simple, this is criminality at its worst, and we're all going to have to work together and I think Crown Prince Abdallah gave a very poignant speech last night. The Foreign Minister Saud has also discussed the fact that these were attacks on Saudi Arabia and they are going to be working -- continuing to work -- very closely with us and this involves all of the different tools in the war against terrorism: the financing, where we've made substantial progress since September 11th in rounding up finances of terrorist groups, seizing assets, cutting off flows of cash that finance these types of attacks; law enforcement cooperation -- not only in investigating, but in preventing and in arresting and bringing to justice terrorists is a very important aspect of this; and intelligence-sharing, of course, has been an important aspect of this with the Saudis and with so many others around the world. Terri. QUESTION: There were -- there are differing reports about whether the U.S. asked Saudi for more protection for American citizens in these buildings, I believe, specifically, and in general. And -- but the Saudis say that that was never requested of them and they suggested that journalists ask the Ambassador to confirm that. Could you clarify that? MR. REEKER: That actually doesn't reflect what I saw from Saudi officials. QUESTION: Oh. MR. REEKER: In fact, as we have discussed and as Ambassador Jordan said in a number of interviews this morning, we had been sharing information about these attacks. We had been sharing information about these attacks. You are aware of our Travel Warning that was issued on May 1st. You are aware of the efforts that the Saudis took. They discovered a cache of explosives. We discussed that yesterday. The extreme efforts -- QUESTION: Right, but as far as protecting Americans, specifically. MR. REEKER: Okay, let me just finish. The extreme efforts that were being undertaken by many players in this, as the Ambassador said, we did request additional security for sites. And as the Saudi Foreign Minister has said, there were clearly some shortcomings in this. What we have to do is learn from this tragic event what additional steps could be taken, how we can take those steps perhaps faster, and how we can continue this effort to wipe out these terrorists so we don't face these types of attacks. And I think that's what we'll be focusing on, working with Saudi Arabia, not only to investigate this particular attack, bring to justice those responsible, but to learn from the attack, as well, about how we can do better in terms of protecting people but also in preventing and wiping out this scourge. QUESTION: But in terms of the Saudi cooperation, can you say that at the time of those requests, did the Saudis actually reject them, or did they just try to take some measures that weren't -- that weren't sufficient? MR. REEKER: I am not aware of the specific sequence of communications and how those -- those requests could be reviewed and implemented. I just couldn't get into that. QUESTION: But were they rejected? MR. REEKER: I am not aware of anybody rejecting any particular requests. I'd just refer you to the remarks that the Saudis have made on the record, the comments of Foreign Minister Saud, the comments of Crown Prince Abdallah last night, and what Ambassador Jordan said. And I would point out that he indicated that he believes the Crown Prince and Prince Saud are sincere in their statements that executing plans to provide additional security is something we need to work on. We can always look to quicker responses on certain things, but we have to work together on this. And I think the Saudis have shown they are trying to be a true partner in this. And as Ambassador Jordan pointed out and the Saudis have also said, they realize that this war has been declared on Saudi Arabia as well as Westerners. The people that perpetrate these actions are murderers. They kill innocent civilians regardless of their nationality, regardless of their religion, regardless of who they are, they kill them in their sleep in cowardly acts of murder. And that's what we are all going to work together to prevent and end in coming days as we continue to fight the war on terrorism, which as President Bush has said, is our number one priority. Yes, sir. QUESTION: Phil, what was the timeframe of these requests for extra security? MR. REEKER: I couldn't possibly tell you. QUESTION: Days, months ago? MR. REEKER: I think you were aware of the fact that we issued a Travel Warning reflecting information that we had on May the 1st. We have been working very closely with the Saudis because of that information. You are aware of the steps that Saudis were taking quite publicly over a number of days in their hunt for individuals, in their seizing of the cache of explosives, so those are the types of efforts that were being undertaken, and as we can see, because of this type of tragedy that we saw on the ground, the horrific attacks that took place, more has to be done. We have to keep learning from this. We have to keep figuring out additional ways to prevent these, to counter them, to protect individuals, and most importantly, to end the scourge of terrorism, as I said. Matt. QUESTION: New subject? MR. REEKER: Anything else on -- Okay, please. QUESTION: I am just wondering if you have heard back from the Cubans yet about your expulsion order? MR. REEKER: No, I haven't heard anything new on that subject. Yeah. QUESTION: New topic? What is the Pakistani Foreign Minister -- was this a previously scheduled trip, or is this a follow-up to Deputy Secretary Armitage's trip, and what is the agenda? MR. REEKER: I suppose it probably counts as both in that it was scheduled and is scheduled. The Deputy Secretary is scheduled to meet with the Pakistani Foreign Minister this afternoon. In terms of the other part of your question, it does indeed follow up Deputy Secretary Armitage's own trip to Islamabad, part of his travel in South Asia last week. I believe the Pakistani Foreign Minister also will be meeting with Vice President Cheney with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and some other U.S. officials. They are going to discuss, of course, our bilateral relationship, and as I indicated, and as you indicated, Mr. Armitage's visit to the region and following up on that, as well as the UN Security Council's session. As you know, we are focused now on the passage of the resolution that we have introduced, and Pakistan, as a member of the Security Council, has an important role to play in that; also look at the UN Security Council's session on Pacific settlement of disputes and progress and positive steps with India, Iraq reconstruction, cooperation on lifting sanctions under the resolution, as I indicated, so a lot of topics to be discussed there. Yes, Adi. QUESTION: A new topic? MR. REEKER: Sure. QUESTION: Regarding the IAEA, they have a renewed interest obviously in getting into Iraq and inspecting some of these facilities. There have obviously been reports now that some looters may be suffering some sort of radiation sickness. Why is the administration not allowing these officials who are, they claim, experts in radiation sickness, et cetera, et cetera, to get into Iraq and, (a) look at the facilities to see what kind of condition they are in, and also to deal with the Iraqis who may have inadvertently caused themselves great harm by looting? MR. REEKER: I am not aware of those specific reports or the facts that you raise, so I can't corroborate them. We have talked before about our efforts, the coalition's efforts, in terms of seeking out the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that effort continues. And, you know, any potential role for -- for other inspectors is something that would still be looked at, but right now the coalition has an effort underway in that regard. I think our focus is very much on the resolution that is before the Security Council. There were consultations on that resolution today. I think they have ended now in New York. And we are encouraging the Security Council to pass that resolution, which, of course, is important to the well being of all Iraqis. QUESTION: But why not allow officials from that agency, the watchdog group, get into -- MR. REEKER: I just don't -- I just don't know the facts of what you are referring to. I am just not aware of that. QUESTION: But, okay, putting aside the looter situation. Why not allow -- MR. REEKER: I am not aware of what you are referring to, of who has been or not been allowed. You might want to check with the coalition, with Central Command. QUESTION: But the IAEA -- but the IAEA says that they have not been allowed into -- MR. REEKER: Yeah, I haven't seen the IAEA statements. And I think the place to ask is Central Command or others who may know something about that. Terri. QUESTION: Another of these war crimes complaints that are handled in Belgium has been lodged -- this time against Tommy Franks. Has the State Department taken this up with the Government of Belgium on this latest case? MR. REEKER: Well, the lawsuit that was lodged is ludicrous. The charges deserve contempt, and frankly, no comment. We have been through this before. We certainly expect that the Belgian Government will take the necessary action to dismiss the lawsuit under its laws. As we have also said before, the Belgian Government needs to be diligent in taking steps to prevent abuse of its legal system for political ends. And so I think -- QUESTION: Is there a chance that the U.S. would consider not wanting to hold international organization meetings in Belgium if it doesn't stop this? MR. REEKER: I have heard no reference to that. Matt. QUESTION: There have been a couple of reports, the most recent of which was today in a column in The Washington Times, accusing Assistant Secretary Burns of making some derogatory remarks about Christians and conservative Republicans in a speech. Do you have anything to say about that? MR. REEKER: As our Consulate General in Jerusalem has already said, these reports are simply untrue. It's simply untrue that Assistant Secretary of State William Burns made any statements about the groups mentioned, as you noted, in a Jerusalem Post article and then copied in a column in one of D.C.'s newspapers today. Our Consulate in Jerusalem had been in touch with the Jerusalem Post and made quite clear to them that Assistant Secretary Burns, in meetings he held last week, did not disparage any group, and he talked about the President's commitment to move ahead toward the President's vision for peace in the Middle East. And Assistant Secretary Burns explained the President's determination to seize the current moment of opportunity in the region and work toward the vision of peace, as he outlined last year, and using the roadmap as a framework for that action. And that is exactly what -- QUESTION: Yeah, but he did, in fact, speak to this group? He just didn't say what he is alleged to have said? MR. REEKER: There was -- he had a meeting with a group called the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Coalition. That took place, indeed, last week when he was in the region. Groups like that that we often meet with, and that was where he took the opportunity to express his view that there would be strong support for President Bush's support,# and obviously that is what we are focused on. -- Spokesman meant to say: "...support for President Bush's policy..." Yes, Adi. QUESTION: What can you say about an interagency team going to over to Saudi now? The FBI. Who else is going? What other agencies? MR. REEKER: It's an interagency team. QUESTION: But anybody else from -- MR. REEKER: I'll let other agencies speak for themselves. The FBI is, indeed, part of that team, and the State Department, of course, plays a role with that. We already have people on the ground on that, indeed. Matt. QUESTION: Yesterday, Phil, up at the UN, the General Assembly approved the trial mechanism for trying the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. You guys have disassociated yourself from the approval of this in the ESOC, I think, at the lower level. What did you -- do you have any comment on the passage of -- MR. REEKER: I will have to check. I didn't find anything on that specifically. I think our Mission at the UN would probably be able to give you the best comment and your correspondent there could check. QUESTION: Also on Cambodia. I noted with interest your announcement this morning that Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were going to be joining the anti-landmine crusade in Cambodia. Do you have anything more you can say about that development? MR. REEKER: Well, I should admit that we also tried to get Elmer Fudd to do briefings, and unfortunately he wasn't available so you're stuck with me. But we are very pleased that Warner Bros. has been willing to work with us and let these rather famous animated characters be part of our campaign to teach people about the dangers of landmines. And as the notice we put out suggests, our Bureau of Political Military Affairs, which works on the humanitarian de-mining and part of our Humanitarian Mine Action Initiative is going to deliver these public service messages using Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny to particularly help young people in Cambodia to understand the dangers. And this is a good test for using this medium, combining the animated figures with some real local footage, and so I think this is a good opportunity and we will see if we can expand the initiative perhaps to other places where landmines cause so much trouble. And we will continue to see if Elmer or any other particular character might be able to come and support this briefing process. Sir. QUESTION: Regarding North Korea, we have asked -- we asked you yesterday about the Washington Times report about the North Korean fighter plane fired the laser beam against the United States helicopter in March. Could you say anything on that? MR. REEKER: No, I couldn't say anything yesterday and I suggested that you might want to ask the Defense Department. QUESTION: And also, can I ask your yesterday's meeting about yesterday's meeting between the Mr. Armitage and South Korean Foreign Minister? MR. REEKER: I don't have any particular readouts on that. As we talked about at the briefing yesterday, it was a meeting as a precursor to the President's meeting with President Roh, and the White House will be discussing that. The President will be appearing this evening with the South Korean President in the Rose Garden over at the White House. So I'll leave the discussion to them. Yes. QUESTION: Phil, presumably, you were at Deputy Secretary's Armitage's morning staff meeting this morning? MR. REEKER: I was. QUESTION: You were? Did he have any reaction to being compared to Uncle Fester in today's Washington Post? MR. REEKER: In fact, Matt, I showed those pictures that were in The Washington Post that had Deputy Secretary Armitage next to Uncle Fester, and the Deputy Secretary indicated to me that he couldn't tell them apart, either. So we're quite proud of that. And I would like to add, though, that when it comes to the smack down that my money is on Uncle Armitage, and that's where we'll be placing our bets. So we're quite pleased to see that The Washington Post is so focused on the important doings here at the State Department. Anything else? (No response.) MR. REEKER: All right.

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