State Department Noon Briefing, May 20, 2003

 

Tuesday  May 20, 2003

U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing Index Tuesday, May 20, 2003 12:35 p.m. EDT BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS -- Status of Secretary Powell's Work on New UN Resolutions -- Situation Update - Israel/Palestinians -- Abbas Reaction to Roadmap/Palestinian Steps Taken UNITED NATIONS -- Preparations for Vote on New United Nations Resolution -- Secretary Powell's Talks with Other Foreign Ministers -- Text Changes in New UN Resolution -- United Nation Security Council/G-8 Governments -- Oil for Food Account Text in New UN Resolution -- IAEA Inspectors/Tuwaitha Nuclear Facility in Iraq SAUDI ARABIA -- Embassy/Consulate Closings and Terrorist Threats -- Status of Security Measures -- Overseas Security Advisory Council -- Comment on al-Qaida Terrorist Threats ZIMBABWE -- Update on Meeting with Zimbabwean Archbishop CUBA -- Cuban Policy Review PHILIPPINES -- Signing of Science and Technology and Law Enforcement Agreements -- Other Agreements Signed U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2003 (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) 12:35 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: Is there anything new to supplement the President's call to Abbas? Has the Secretary been in any personal activity of late? And I wonder -- well, let me do one thing at a time. Let me just ask that. MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary has been very active personally, but he has also worked on a lot of policy issues, I'd say primarily on the new UN resolutions. So no, he hasn't been making phone calls on the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Our Embassy in Tel Aviv, our Consulate General in Jerusalem, have been very active in working with the parties to try and encourage them in the direction that we spoke about yesterday. As you know, the President has made several phone calls this morning, and we continue to urge the Palestinians to take swift action against terrorism and against terrorist infrastructure, and urge both parties to look at practical steps they can take to advance down the roadmap. QUESTION: I'm wondering, you know, this -- Abbas accepted the roadmap and there are obligations, and I wondered if the State Department had anything to say about his record. For instance, illegal weapons are supposed to be collected. There's supposed to be an end to violence against Israel. Has Abbas, in any way, complied with any of the requirements under the roadmap he accepted? MR. BOUCHER: His very existence, as you know, is an element from the roadmap, that the roadmap called on the Palestinians to substantially reform their institutions, to appoint an empowered authority, to draft a new constitution, to allow the legislature to take responsibility for governance, to create more financial transparency. So there are any number of steps that have been taken that are part of the roadmap. The point, though, I think, is to try to create a certain momentum down the roadmap. We all know we can't do that without an end to the violence. And so we look to the new authorities on the Palestinian side to actually start taking the steps against violence that they themselves have promised, that they themselves have pledged, that they themselves have committed to for their own purposes, because they want to establish a single authority in the Palestinian areas. QUESTION: Well, I think that implicitly says he hasn't taken the steps. MR. BOUCHER: No, it implicitly says he's taken a lot of steps. QUESTION: I mean -- MR. BOUCHER: Barry, I'm not here to give scorecards every day. I'm here to try to say that there are things that need to be done and people need to do them. You're asking me, "Have the Palestinians taken any steps that are in the roadmap?" And the answer is, "Yes, they've taken actually quite a few." QUESTION: Right. And the ones you cite are not -- are apart from the ones I'm asking about, which is collecting illegal weapons. MR. BOUCHER: If you want to make a test for somebody, give it to somebody else. Don't give it to me. QUESTION: I don't want to make a test for you. You have a roadmap you've presented to the parties, and you test them all the time. You ask them to do more. You know, you -- MR. BOUCHER: And we'll continue to do so until we get down the list. We have always been quite frank and quite clear in pointing out what needs to be done by both parties. Both parties have responsibilities and obligations, and we are constantly urging both parties to take steps that we think are needed to advance the process. QUESTION: Last thing. We are getting questions about -- you made some reference, as a positive development, that the Palestinians had approved a first draft of a constitution. Is there anything more on that? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new on that. They have been drafting and working on a constitution. And, in fact, a draft of the constitution was given to the Secretary when he was in Jericho. I think we noted that then. QUESTION: Okay. MR. BOUCHER: Arshad. QUESTION: Can you go over the calls the Secretary has made, particularly on the UN resolution? MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary has been working at the UN resolution today. As you know, we presented a new text yesterday, which has now been put in blue, which is the step you take in preparing for a vote, that we would expect to have soon. He has been in touch with other foreign ministers, other members of the Security Council today, and probably will continue to be in touch with people throughout the day and as we move towards a vote in the near future. He has talked to Foreign Minister Ivanov of Russia twice already today. He has talked to President Musharraf of Pakistan. He has talked to Foreign Minister de Villepin of France. He has talked to Foreign Minister Palacio of Spain. He talked to Foreign Minister Fischer of Germany. The text that we presented -- and I would -- the text that we presented in many ways tries to address a number of the issues that we had heard raised by other governments, and we think that this is a fair and objective text that now addresses many of those issues. Specifically, the new text changes things like the responsibilities, the designation of a special representative, rather than just a coordinator, gives a six-month timeframe for winding down the Oil-for-Food program. It talks about a collaborative UN role in the political process, provides for a monitoring function for the international board that advises the development fund to -- in order to increase transparency. It says that the role of UNMOVIC will be addressed down the road. So a number of things that are dealt with there. It also provides in the area of debt -- this is an issue that many members have raised -- provides for either multilateral or bilateral mechanisms to seek a solution for the problems of debt, including the use of the Paris Club, as appropriate. So the changes that we have been making to the resolution, we think, go in the direction of many things we have been hearing from other governments. We think they have and will have substantial support, and that the resolution still achieves its essential purposes, which is to lift the sanctions on the Iraqi people, define a vital role that the United Nations can play in the recovery, provide a mechanism for the sales of Iraqi oil so that whole process can get going and so that money can be used in a transparent manner for the Iraqi people. So that's essentially where we stand right now. QUESTION: Can I follow up? Can you generally summarize the gist of what he is saying to the Foreign Ministers that he has called? And, two, do you see any danger that France may abstain, impugning or making -- you know, not giving you the strong for vote that you obviously want? MR. BOUCHER: Well, whether France wants to vote for a resolution that helps the Iraqi people or not is ultimately a question that France will have to answer for itself. But I think we have tried to be in touch with other members. We have made clear that we thought we needed a resolution to lift the sanctions, we needed a resolution to help the Iraqi people, and we were going to work and hope for a resolution that everybody could support, or as many members as possible could support. The gist of what the Secretary is telling members is that we have made changes that go in the direction of many of the issues that these various members had raised, that we thought we had a good resolution now that could form the basis of consensus or broad support within the Council, and then looking to make sure that people's concerns have been taken care of, and asking them to vote in favor of the resolution. QUESTION: Richard, I notice that -- well, presumably, the Brits are in agreement with you on this, and that might explain why he didn't call his very good friend, Mr. Straw. But do you also think you have the Chinese on board, or is the Secretary planning on calling the Chinese counterpart later in the day? MR. BOUCHER: There will be a lot of phone calls. I don't have a full list of those that might be expected later, but I expect other phone calls. Remember as well, we are coordinating very closely with other delegations in New York, particularly the cosponsors, the UK and Spain. There will be a closed door discussion among ambassadors in New York this afternoon at 3:30, so that will be a chance for further discussion of this resolution. And, frankly, why Foreign Secretary Straw doesn't appear on the list, I haven't had time to check. Sometimes they just dial each other's numbers and the rest of us don't really hear about it. So I can't say he didn't talk to Foreign Secretary Straw. It's fairly likely that he did at some point. QUESTION: Can I try a quick follow-up? Last week, in an optimistic moment, the Secretary spoke of hoping for 15-0. MR. BOUCHER: Try and get 15. QUESTION: Is it possible to get 15? MR. BOUCHER: It's always possible to get 15, and we're still working on it. QUESTION: Do you think he'll call China? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know who he'll call. We'll see. Nick. QUESTION: So is this now the text, and is the strategy to get at least nine votes for this version, or are you going to -- are you willing to negotiate even further and try to get more than nine? MR. BOUCHER: I think we would say at this point, when somebody presents a resolution to the Council and puts it in blue, as they say up in New York, that means we think this is the text that should be voted, that the text is substantially and significantly complete. Whether -- you know, we'll just have to see if there is some last-minute intervention that would cause us to change that, but at this point we think this is substantially complete, and a fair and balanced text that does meet the concerns that we have heard. Terri. QUESTION: I'd like to change the subject. MR. BOUCHER: Okay, we've got two more. QUESTION: Are you hoping that you can get this wrapped up and voted on before the Secretary heads off to Paris tomorrow night? MR. BOUCHER: I think we're hoping to get a vote very soon, but I can't give you a precise timetable at this moment. QUESTION: But not today? MR. BOUCHER: Not today. QUESTION: Have you had the sense from your G-8 partners that they'd like to get this dealt with by Wednesday so that they don't have to keep dealing with it? MR. BOUCHER: First of all, the G-8 meeting has any number of subjects to talk about that are very important. There's a broad agenda for the G-8 and therefore it's not going to end up dwelling on this particular resolution, although if the resolution is not voted yet, I'm sure it will be a subject of some discussion. But no, this has been worked, I think, quite extensively in New York. I think the other members of the Security Council have been working with us in New York. And in terms of the overlap, the members of the Security Council who are also G-8 members, we've heard from many of them about their desire to see a strong resolution voted early on. You saw that when we were in Russia we made significant -- the Secretary made significant progress in his discussions with President Putin, Foreign Minister Ivanov. When we were in Germany, he made additional progress in narrowing the issues with Chancellor Schroeder and Foreign Minister Fischer. So we've been working very hard with G-8 governments to achieve a resolution that we all would hope would get substantial support in New York at an early date. Eli. QUESTION: Two questions. The two major Kurdish parties have said that they believe that there is money in the Oil-for-Food account that is owed them in terms of escrow, and I was wondering if this resolution would address any of those concerns. And I have another question on the resolution as well. MR. BOUCHER: Well, the question of money in the Oil-for-Food accounts is dealt with fairly extensive in the resolution. In brief, it says that those accounts, that that program, will be phased out over a period of six months; that the Secretary General, in coordination with the authority and the Iraqi interim administration, would identify contracts containing priority civilian goods among the more than $10 billion in contracts that are approved and funded. Contracts that are deemed to be of questionable utility would be deferred for action by a future Iraqi government. It would also require immediate transfer of $1 billion in unencumbered funds to the Development Fund for Iraq for use in urgent relief and reconstruction. So it would result in an immediate transfer to the Development Fund for Iraq so that that money could be used for the Iraqi people. As far as the rest of the contracts and who thinks they're owed what, that would be prioritized by the Secretary General in terms of the actual contracts and delivery schedules, and then any future decisions have to be made by an Iraqi government. QUESTION: Does the U.S. have an opinion, now that the country is -- now that Saddam's regime is gone, on whether UN funds should go to the sort of sovereign authority that was in Northern Iraq that the U.S. supported before? Does it -- or, I mean -- MR. BOUCHER: Any questions about how that money is going to be spent will have to be addressed and answered by the Secretary General, so I wouldn't want to try to allocate money from the podium here. QUESTION: Can I follow up on something else on this resolution? MR. BOUCHER: Sure. QUESTION: Last week, the Pentagon passed out an organization chart explaining sort of where the UN's political role is, and it was off to the side and it would be reporting to Ambassador Bremer, who would then report to Secretary Rumsfeld. Is there anything in these new changes that would change that? MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see an organization chart. But rather than some dotted or straight lines on some piece of paper from somewhere around here, I would invite you to read the resolution extensively. It defines in nine or ten different points exactly what the role of the Special Representative of the Secretary General would be, and that indeed is one that we think is important and a vital role, just as the President asked for. Now, change the subject, Terri? QUESTION: Yeah. Can we talk about Saudi Arabia and the closing of the Embassy and consulates there? And, I mean, I know you usually can't say much about what "imminent threats" means, but does this indicate that the Saudis have not increased the level of security around U.S. and Western installations sufficiently for comfort? MR. BOUCHER: I would not put it that way. There is credible information that further terrorist attacks are being planned against unspecified targets in Saudi Arabia. Our Embassy in Riyadh has issued a Warden Message today to American citizens, American employers there. We have decided that the Embassy and the Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran will close tomorrow, May 21st. Although no decision has been made as to when they reopen, it will not be prior to Sunday because Thursday/Friday is a normal weekend, Saturday they're taking the Memorial Day Holiday, and so by closing tomorrow they give themselves, I think, a five-day stretch for which security -- whatever security precautions are appropriate and whatever law enforcement or other actions is appropriate can be taken. They are operating, as you know, on ordered departure status anyway, so family members and non-emergency personnel are departing the country. Those who remain have their movements restricted to essential travel only. Mission children are not going to school. The Embassy and Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran plan to continue to provide a full range of consular services to the American community and the public. And I remind you, there is a travel warning issued May 13th that advises Americans of increased security concerns and the potential for further terrorist attacks. As far as the nature of the information, I am not in a position to go into it in any detail. I think you know about the discovery of the arms cache and the cell and the fact that some of the bombers have been found, maybe not all of them. There is an investigation underway, and there is always information indicating possible additional attacks. And it's prudent in many cases like this to close down some facilities in order to take proper security precautions. QUESTION: But if conversations have been continuing with the Saudi Government since the attacks last week, if they were doing all they could, if they were doing enough, would you have had to take this measure? MR. BOUCHER: We have long said for all of our embassies around the world, they may have to close from time to time because of security needs. We think we have been doing everything possible in getting all possible cooperation of governments around the world; nonetheless, things come along, and that it is often prudent to close temporarily while you make sure you have taken all of the appropriate security precautions. So I wouldn't take this step as some kind of criticism of the steps the Saudis have taken. I'd say the cooperation is ongoing. We have had solid cooperation from the Saudis, particularly with the investigation and since the very unfortunate bombing, and I think real determination on both of our parts to do everything possible. But the fact is we have a lot of people out there who are -- it's difficult to make the protection perfect. Yes, Elise. QUESTION: Yeah, to follow up on that, on the larger issue of the threats out there against American interests, you put out the travel warnings on East Asia and Malaysia. Beyond putting out a travel warning and letting Americans know what kind of security precautions they can take, are there additional measures being taken to protect Americans outside of diplomatic facilities, such as asking host governments to increase, like you did at the Saudi compounds, increase security where Americans frequent? MR. BOUCHER: There are any number of measures that we take in a particular location, as well as worldwide. You know we have the Overseas Security Advisory Committees -- Commissions -- Council. QUESTION: No, Council. MR. BOUCHER: The Overseas Security Advisory Council, where we use to coordinate with major American employers who employ people overseas. Our security officers in every post work with the schools. They work with churches. They work with major American concentrations of any kind. They also talk to host governments, where a part of their concern, part of the embassy's concern, is always protection of facilities that are either predominantly American or identified as American, or, you know, things like an American club, or, you know, a football field where people play every Saturday. So, but part of the brief of our embassies and our American regional security officers, as well as our consular officers, is to try to see that we provide any advice and support we can to the local American community as regards security, that we provide continual flow of information to them, and also that we work with local governments to provide whatever support and security they can provide. But, again, the bottom line is there is a lot of people out there, our people as well as private Americans, and it's hard to give everybody perfect protections. It's something we strive towards, but we never think we achieve. QUESTION: Can I ask you a technical question, having been there and seeing what seems to be great security at the Embassy itself? You're closed for business. But aren't Embassy personnel who remain as safe in the Embassy as they might in any place else? In other words, do they stay there for security? MR. BOUCHER: They don't -- QUESTION: Do you know what I mean? The days -- the day we were there, for instance, there seemed to -- they all seemed to be at the Embassy, as -- not only for business, but as the safest possible place to be? MR. BOUCHER: Well, I mean, first -- no, no, they -- I don't think people just hole up in the Embassy to be safe. There is -- they were there because they were working. QUESTION: There were things to do, of course. MR. BOUCHER: Because they were Americans to take care of, there were security problems to deal with, there were investigations to get underway, and there were visitors, including a press contingent, to take care of. QUESTION: Right. MR. BOUCHER: It depends on place to place. In many places, it's the -- the Embassy itself is a symbol that may be subject to some attack, and therefore you don't want to concentrate your people there; that people as individuals may be safer at different locations around. But those kind of calls are made locally depending on the current -- on the situation, the kind of threat information they have. QUESTION: In Saudi Arabia, do you have any reason to believe that these threats are specifically linked to al-Qaida? And also, have you seen in the last few days an increase in civilians and private citizens who are leaving? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any numbers on the civilians and private citizens that are leaving, but I think we all have seen sort of press reports to that effect. As far as al-Qaida goes, I think we certainly know that al-Qaida is one of the threats, is maybe the most significant type of threat that we think exists in Saudi Arabia. I don't think the investigation has reached a final conclusion. But, certainly, we have all felt that the bombings that occurred bear the hallmarks of al-Qaida, and that the continuing threat from al-Qaida was one that we had to take seriously. QUESTION: Richard, are there any efforts to review security at other nations in the region as a result of what has happened in Saudi Arabia? MR. BOUCHER: I didn't -- I have to say I didn't see a cable. But, generally, in this kind of circumstance that we will alert embassies in a much broader area to get together their emergency action committees, to review their security postures, to look at the threats. All of the available information will be looked at again, see if other locations might be indicated to see if the threat is specific to that place or more broadly regional. Many of these threats, for example, the threat from al-Qaida, is a more broadly regional, if not worldwide threat, and one has to look at other potential locations around the world. QUESTION: As of now, do you expect any other embassy closures in the region? MR. BOUCHER: There are always embassy closures here and there. I don't know of any specifically in this region at this point, but I can't rule it out. They make a lot of these decisions locally, and then tell us about it and we tell you about it some time after they occur. The Warden Message went out from the Embassy in Saudi Arabia to alert local American citizens. And that's generally one of the first steps embassies do take. Sir. QUESTION: Can I change the topic? QUESTION: Oh, one more. I'm sorry. You're ready? MR. BOUCHER: One more. QUESTION: A Saudi official is being quoted today on the wires as saying that they are up to 50 hardcore Muslims who are prepared to carry out more Saudi -- I mean, more suicide bombing attacks. Do you have anything on that? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have anything specific on that. But I would note that there are, you know, as we have said, there are credible threats of possible further attacks. And that's why we have taken this step with regard to our embassies. Okay, let's go. QUESTION: Dr. ElBaradei, once again, for a third time, I think, stated that IAEA inspectors should get back into Iraq to look at the Tuwaitha nuclear facility, and look at some of the looters. What is the justification? What is the reason for the administration -- why are they not allowing these inspectors into Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: Once again, meaning today, or is this what we talked about yesterday? QUESTION: He said it yesterday. Yesterday. MR. BOUCHER: I think we talked about it yesterday. He, in that case, I think, was talking about the materials under safeguard at Tuwaitha facility, the areas where the IEA has had a responsibility and continues to have a responsibility. I don't have anything new on that right now, so I think I'll just stick with what I said yesterday on it. QUESTION: Has there been any progress? Has there been any conversations between the administration and the agency? MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, we are in touch with the International Atomic Energy Agency. We know their responsibilities. But, as I said, I don't have anything new on that now. Sir. QUESTION: Has it happened already, the meeting with the Zimbabwean Archbishop? And if it has, could we get a little bit of a readout? And if it hasn't, could you give us one when it does happen? Or is that not even happening today? It was totally wrong? It happened last week or something? MR. BOUCHER: It is supposed to begin in about 15 minutes. QUESTION: Oh, okay. Can we get -- is it possible to get -- I'd just like to know if -- what exactly -- what the reason is that -- that he -- MR. BOUCHER: The meeting is to thank the Archbishop for his principled stance in favor of human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. The Secretary will also seek the Archbishop's views on Zimbabwe's worsening humanitarian and human rights situations. And I'll leave the rest of it for the readout. QUESTION: Okay, which I'm sure will be completely thorough (inaudible). On Zimbabwe, you guys had protested quite strongly about your inability to get in touch with Mr. Meldrum before he was being -- or as he was being deported from the country. And in the past, your complaints to the Zimbabwean Foreign Ministry on breach of diplomatic practice have gone unanswered. Is this the case in this situation, or have you gotten any kind of satisfactory response? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'll have to check. Howard. QUESTION: Richard, can you update us on the Cuba policy review, and is anything going to happen out of the President's meeting this afternoon with the Cuban dissidents? MR. BOUCHER: I'd say I can't say yes, I can't say no. I can't get ahead of the White House and can't denigrate the President's event. So you'll have to check at the White House, as far as what's going to happen this afternoon with the President's meeting with Cuban dissidents. QUESTION: But don't you guys deal with the Cuban policy review? MR. BOUCHER: We absolutely do, and we have been looking at various policy options. But no, I don't have any predictions of new announcements at this point. QUESTION: How about this? Does the Secretary plan to attend that meeting before he goes to Blair House for the signing ceremony? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know at this point. QUESTION: Okay. MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Can't tell. QUESTION: And can you tell us once they are done, do you know if they are going to be in some kind of fact sheet or anything about these five extremely significant treaties that are being signed this afternoon, or can you tell us about them now? MR. BOUCHER: I'll be glad to tell you about the treaties that are being signed this afternoon with the Philippines because they are significant. There are two, I think, principal treaties. The Secretary will sign with Foreign Minister -- Foreign Secretary Ople. One will be on science and technology cooperation. The second will be on law enforcement cooperation. The objective of the Science and Technology Cooperation Treaty is to provide -- or agreement, is to provide opportunities to exchange ideas, information skills and techniques, and to collaborate on scientific and technological endeavors of mutual interest. The law enforcement agreement provides -- or allows the United States to provide technical assistance and training to enhance Philippine law enforcement capabilities and support institutional development of the criminal justice system to take effective action against terrorists, drug trafficking and other major criminal activity. Now AID Administrator Natsios will also sign an agreement with Foreign Secretary Ople on cooperation regarding Mindanao. With the signing of this agreement, the United States Government will signal its intents to complete the process of decommissioning and reintegrating into society former combatants of the Moro National Liberation Front. The Front signed a peace treaty with the Government of the Philippines, and the United States has assisted the Philippine Government in helping these combatants make the transition back into civilian life. There will be, I think, other agreements signed by Treasury -- the Department of Treasury and the Department of Agriculture. I don't have the details on those with me here. Thank you. (The briefing was concluded at 1:15 p.m.)

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