State Department Noon Briefing, September 9, 2003
September 9, 2003
U.S. Department of State
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2003
12:45 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements. I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Well, the old story about another bombing and expected reaction. And also could you say something about the would-be prime minister's insistence that Israel and the siege of Arafat? Is there something that you think can be worked out to accommodate a new Palestinian leader and at the same time maintain pressure to end terrorism?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me try to address two things. First of all, we certainly condemn in the strongest possible terms the horrific act of terrorism today, a bombing near a bus stop -- at a bus stop near an Israeli army base near Tel Aviv. We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of the attack, their families and to the Israeli people. This underscores the urgency with which the Palestinian Authority needs to take immediate and effective steps to dismantle and disarm the terrorist capabilities of organizations that take innocent lives in order to prevent the peace process from going forward.
That, I think, begins the answer to your second question, as well.
MR. BOUCHER: That the imperative on the Palestinian side of getting a handle on their security situation, getting a handle ending the activities of groups that have supported terrorism, remains as strong as before. And the only way that any Palestinian prime minister is going to be able to move forward on the roadmap, move forward to create institutions in a Palestinian state, is if the prime minister gets control of the security situation. He needs to have the commitment, the authority, and the resources to do that.
That's the key question. Obviously, we would be working with both sides, to try to move forward on the roadmap. But the question of control of security services, and control of the security situation is the one that's, I think, up front in all our minds.
As far as Mr. Arafat, we have no brief from Mr. Arafat. So nothing particular to say about what he says.
QUESTION: I forgot who Feltman had spoke to. I think he spoke to Qurei.
MR. BOUCHER: Feltman met with Qurei yesterday. Our acting Consul General, Jeff Feltman, as well as Ambassador John Wolf, have been in touch with a wide variety of Israeli and Palestinian officials. They have been encouraging both sides to recommit themselves to finding a way forward on the roadmap and the President's vision of two states.
I think I mentioned yesterday Secretary Powell had spoken to Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath.
QUESTION: Yes, you did.
MR. BOUCHER: And so we continue to work these issues and to try to make clear where we think the issues are and the path to make real progress on what the Palestinians want, but also on a better life for both Israelis and Palestinians.
QUESTION: Calls to (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: All yesterday -- he's talked to Jack Straw this morning, I think that's the only one I can think of.
QUESTION: No Middle East calls.
MR. BOUCHER: No Middle East calls this morning. And I think yesterday after the briefing he talked to the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Zebari, who was in Cairo, and who is now seated at an Arab League meeting.
QUESTION: Richard, given that the State Department seems to be very interested in results, and the results being the Palestinians need to get a handle on the security side, why wouldn't that call also go out to Arafat, who, given that there's a power struggle over security services? Since he controls a lot of the (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: No, the call has gone out to Arafat. The Secretary said it two weeks ago or so. Certainly this point has been made many times in public. We have not bothered to talk to Mr. Arafat because our previous efforts to work directly with him didn't produce anything.
So he certainly knows our position and we certainly think it's incumbent upon him to allow the transfer of authority for all the security services so that the Palestinian prime minister can really exercise the control to build the institutions of the Palestinian state and give Palestinians the kind of security that they need.
QUESTION: Richard, you haven't quite answered the question about Abu Ala'a's requests for steps that he thinks need to be taken before he takes on this job. Do you want him to take on this job? And are you willing to help him by meeting some of the requests that he's made of you and your Israeli allies?
MR. BOUCHER: We're not trying to pick the Palestinian prime minister. That's a job for the Palestinians and particularly the Palestinian legislative council to decide on who their prime minister is going to be.
What we have made clear is that we look forward to working with the Palestinian prime minister particularly if he is empowered, if he has control of the resources to deal with the security situation and make real progress on the roadmap. As we work with a new Palestinian prime minister, we'll work with both sides to try to make progress on the roadmap.
So it's not a matter of meeting one person's demands or another or helping somebody become prime minister. That's for the Palestinians to decide.
No more questions? Joel?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) in a Sunday interview, President Mubarek is critical of both the United States and Israel saying we, meaning the United States, shouldn't shun Arafat. Is that warranted?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we're very familiar with President Mubarek's views, wide held views in the Arab world. We have made clear we have a different view. We've made clear the reason for our view, and made clear that in our dealings in the past that we didn't produce any progress.
We think that the efforts that have been made by a new Palestinian leadership, in terms of the structures and the prime minister and the government that have been there for some time, have proven that there is a different way to make progress. And that having a responsible Palestinian government which is run on an open and transparent basis is the way for Palestinians to find that they can travel more, that they can take control of their cities, and that they can get to their jobs and their house and their hospitals and their universities again. So, you know, we would hope that lesson would be clear.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) events of the last three or four months in the experience former prime minister Abbas give you any reason to reconsider the position on dealing with Arafat? He is, it would seem, the king maker here. He selects the new prime minister, although I realize it has to get ratified by the Palestinian legislature. He holds a veto, it would seem, because he can simply refuse to hand over control of the security services to the new Palestinian prime minister who may, therefore, not be empowered.
Does this suggest that you should maybe give a second thought to dealing with him however reprehensible you found his past behavior because he's the guy that seems to control the troops?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Very clear.
MR. BOUCHER: Teri?
QUESTION: Why not?
MR. BOUCHER: For the reasons we've explained ever since the President's speech of June 24th of last year.
QUESTION: Richard, in most countries, in most places you deal with the people who are not only chosen by the people but actually hold power. Why is this case so different?
MR. BOUCHER: For the reasons we've explained ever since the President's speech of June 24th of last year. Nothing in that regard has changed. It's a failed leadership.
QUESTION: I'm changing the subject, so I don't know if you --
QUESTION: One second. Can we flip the question in saying that don't you think that you kind of already are just dealing with Arafat once removed by dealing with prime ministers that he selects and, you know, can empower?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: No? Okay. (Laughter.) You like that word today, don't you.
QUESTION: He doesn't need any confirmation about a qualitative meeting in the coming days?
QUESTION: Okay. Hey, that's my question.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, Teri has a change of -- Teri gets first change of subject, sir.
QUESTION: Don't you see any contradiction between refusal to deal with Arafat, and on the other hand, accepting to deal with an Arafat appointee?
MR. BOUCHER: That's the same question I was just asked. The question is, who -- is not the individual. The question is, is there a prime minister who has the commitment, the authority and the resources to move forward on the roadmap. That's the only way we're going to make progress, okay?
We made some progress when Prime Minister Abbas was in office in his government. Certainly, the Palestinian people made a lot of progress, in terms of the transparency that are institutions, their ability to run their own affairs in Gaza again, the turnover of Bethlehem, as I said, the ability of ordinary people to get to hospitals and universities and jobs and have a better life. It wasn't throughout the whole area.
But we need to make progress along those lines. Progress now depends on getting control of the security situation. We want to see a Palestinian Prime Minister who can do that.
So it's not so much a question of who's the prime minister, or even how he was chosen provided it's done by the legislature. The legislature ultimately decides. It's a question of whether the person is empowered to move forward on the roadmap, because that's the only way the Palestinians are going to be able to create the institutions of a Palestinian state.
QUESTION: But it seems that Mr. Arafat is empowered to move to do whatever he wants. So why the hell don't you don't you deal with him? It doesn't make any sense at all. I mean, you keep saying, we need somebody who is empowered, but you're ignoring the very person who is empowered. What's the logic behind that?
MR. BOUCHER: Empowered to move forward on the roadmap. Look back at June 24th. The whole explanation then, and since then -- Jonathan, you're familiar with this, you know it.
QUESTION: Yeah, but seems that you've got yourself into an ideological dead end because of something the President said.
MR. BOUCHER: No, it's not. There's no problem. It's not an ideological dead end. There's no problem. We were making progress without dealing with Arafat. When we were dealing with Arafat, we weren't making progress. That is the objective fact. And that is the objective fact the President talked about on June 24th of last year, that we had a failed leadership that wasn't leading us anywhere. That's been tried. Been there, done that. Road don't lead nowhere. Now we're trying to move down a road that does lead somewhere with people who can move down that road. And that's what we need to work with.
QUESTION: This is the last time, but, if you, if it's not the personality and it is the authority that the prime minister has, then what haven't you conditioned your working with this person on them getting the authority?
MR. BOUCHER: As always, the extent to which we can achieve progress depends on the authority. We're not trying to choose the leader. We'll talk to the leader. The extent to which we can make progress depends on the authority.
QUESTION: But Richard, that's not what I asked. I mean, you want a leader that's capable of dealing with the security situation. Arafat has appointed a leader that has not given any sign yet that he's willing to turn over security services, but you've said that you're willing to work with this person he's appointed, even though they don't have the power that --
MR. BOUCHER: Whoever it is, we'll find out what authority they have as they move forward and try to use it. But Prime Minister Abbas didn't have full authority over the security services. We pointed out many times we thought that was a deficiency and that we had come to a point where he really needed it, and he wasn't given it. We still think those facts exist. But whoever the new Prime Minister is, we'll see how they exercise the authority they have and how they can move forward.
QUESTION: If you consider Arafat an obstacle to peace, (inaudible) reached an agreement with Sharon to remove him from the --
MR. BOUCHER: Our position on that hasn't changed, and the Secretary explained it again on Sunday.
QUESTION: I just want to ask if you know when they're going to announce when the Secretary's traveling this weekend on --
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary will be traveling to Geneva for meetings on Saturday with the permanent five members of the Security Council and the Secretary General. The Secretary General wanted to get the group together for an informal discussion of Iraq. And those meetings will be on Saturday in Geneva.
QUESTION: Just over and back?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, the plan is to have a quartet during the General Assembly time period. Haven't seen any change to that.
QUESTION: Are these talks going to be followed by a formal meeting of the quartet from in the Middle East tour?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point the plan is for the quartet to get together during the General Assembly period, and I haven't seen anything to change that at this point.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: I know it's Kofi Annan's party, but are you able to say a few words about what you hope to come out of this from the U.S. standpoint?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it's a chance for the Perm 5 to get together and compare their ideas about how to move forward with Iraq, talk a little about the resolution, perhaps other things, in terms of the work the United Nations can do in Iraq, the vital role that they can play.
But above all, it's a chance to talk about how the Iraqi people are taking control of their lives, taking control of their sovereignty. They're running their services, they're building their security forces, they are delivering their mail, they are taking control of their resources, and to look at how that process can be continued and accelerated with the help of coalition of the United Nations and the United Nations. That's what our resolution's about, that's what I would expect a discussion to be about, because we all share that goal of having, turning over to the Iraqis, as quickly as can be done and it's already underway, the control, exercise of their own sovereignty. And I expect a discussion will be how that can continue to be done with the help of the international community.
QUESTION: So that's the adapt and adjust opportunity, the Secretary offering to adapt and adjust U.S. position to take into the accounts of others? Is that --
MR. BOUCHER: No, no, that's much more having to do with the resolution itself.
QUESTION: Yes. That's what I meant. Yes.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'm sure the resolution will be discussed. I don't expect changes in text to be negotiated there, but the discussion I think should focus on how we can all support the Iraqis as they take over exercise of their sovereignty.
QUESTION: Richard, why was it necessary, or why do you feel it's useful to do that face to face when the Secretary's been talking to these people all along?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, he talks to people on the phone, he talks to people face to face. The Secretary General felt it was good at this juncture, particularly with the General Assembly coming up and the Iraqi resolution on the table, to have a discussion with the Perm 5 and see if we can align the ideas a little more, get together, not only in person but get together conceptually on how to support the Iraqis.
QUESTION: And what do you think about the timing of -- he has come out now, I guess yesterday, and said that he thinks the Security Council should be expanded to 21? What's the U.S. view on that? It's been talked about many times.
MR. BOUCHER: It's been talked about for some time, and there are a number of ideas out there. We've taken positions in the past to welcome that kind of discussion. It is something that's being widely discussed as we approach the General Assembly again. I don't have any new positions on that at this point, but I would expect it to sort of -- UN Security Council reform to be a topic of discussion this year at the General Assembly. We'll just have to see where it goes.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on France's now explicit and public threat to veto Lockerbie sanctions if a vote is held immediately?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there are still discussions going on in New York on this. I haven't -- we don't have late word of it that there was I think meetings going on even as we were starting to speak. So we will have to see where that leads, whether it leads to a vote, whether it leads to a veto. I mean frankly, as I think we pointed out in the past, the French reported to the Council in 1999 that they'd reached agreement for the UTA families. They urged then and have urged subsequently for the lifting of these sanctions. And we would find it inexplicable and surprising for the French to veto a resolution that tries to provide some sense of compensation for families of another tragedy. But let's see what they decide to do in the end.
QUESTION: Was this a topic of conversation between Secretary and Foreign Minister Straw this morning? And are you doing anything to try to persuade the French to let a vote go forward (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: It has been a frequent topic of discussion with Foreign Minister Straw as well as with Foreign Minister De Villepin. I would say that, as you know, the idea was that this vote might happen some time ago. There were technical factors over the transfer of money, but also the French were looking for some time to try to work things. And we have every sympathy with the families of other tragedies, whether it's UTA or La Belle Disco. But the fact is the French wanted some time, got some time, and here we are now facing a veto threat which we find rather astonishing.
QUESTION: Did it come up this morning?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know specifically when it came up with Straw. My guess is it did, but I don't know the details.
QUESTION: That was it.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Joel?
QUESTION: This morning there is more fighting in far suburbs of Monrovia and Liberia in the village of Kakata. Is there any chance that the United States will then bring some of the Marines back on shore?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that's really an issue at this point. The ECOMIL troops, the West African troops have been restoring security in Monrovia, non-governmental organizations and UN agencies are operating there again. The shipments of humanitarian supplies, food and fuel, are coming back in again. And I believe now there is some move on their behalf -- that they are starting to move into other areas.
There are humanitarian efforts underway again, although a small scale in a number of other cities including Buchanan. So I think it's part of the process of extending the operational forces of extending the operation of the humanitarian groups so that the people of Liberia can be taken care of.
There was a decision by the government to withdraw troops from the main road connecting Monrovia with the Northeast interior and that's a decision that we applaud, because it allows the peacekeepers to move up into that area. And that's what's going on. But we do remain concerned about continued violence and are calling on all the parties to refrain from any violent actions.
QUESTION: I think this has been fairly extensively covered in Vienna. But can you confirm that the United States is agreeing to give Iran until the end of October to come into compliance with IAEA requirements on nuclear programs?
MR. BOUCHER: What we said, I think I described this a bit yesterday, and the discussion is going on or has gone on today -- the beginning of the discussion -- on Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency Board.
We are in very close touch with a number of governments about this. We've been expressing our strong concerns about Iran's nuclear program. I think I described yesterday the number of issues, questions that had been laid out by the Secretary General of IAEA, and we do believe that the resolution needs to call on Iran to satisfy those requirements.
We continue to push for the strongest possible resolution. But I think as far as more details of the text, I'll wait until we've had the discussions there and been able to pass it.
QUESTION: Since our briefing yesterday, the Arab League did decide to allow the Iraqi representative to take the seat there. Any reaction to that?
MR. BOUCHER: We welcome the move by the Arab League to involve the Iraqi Governing Council in future Arab League proceedings. This demonstrates the growing acceptance of the Governing Council as representatives of the Iraqi people as Iraq moves forward to take over its own future and its own affairs.
There is also, we think, a growing acknowledgement that the Iraqi people, through the Governing Council and the ministers they've appointed, are taking more and more responsibility for their own resources for services to citizens, like mail and electricity and water, for their own security in the form of police as well as armies, border patrols, for their foreign relations with the foreign minister now in Cairo meeting with the Arab League and meeting with others. The Secretary spoke to him, as I said, yesterday. And also the Iraqi's taking more and more responsibility for their political future in the form of the Governing Council and now the preparations underway for a constitutional body that would lead to a constitution and elections.
So as part of a process, we welcome this growing acknowledgement that the Iraqis are taking this responsibility and exercising their responsibility as other nations do.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Sir?
QUESTION: You said that the Secretary has spoken yesterday to the Iraqi foreign minister. Did the Iraqi foreign minister state then that he didn't want Turkish troops in Iraq come up? Did they talk about some kind of a working something out as you suggested? Do you think he'll be able to do --
MR. BOUCHER: That didn't come up specifically in this conversation. As I think I've always said, we need to see -- we do expect things will be worked out at the appropriate -- can be worked out at the appropriate time. We need to see a little more what's on the table, you know, what we're talking about.
So that didn't specifically come up. They more talked about -- they focused on, first, the Secretary's congratulations. It's the first time they've talked since he'd gotten the position. But then, second of all, the situation with the Arab League and with the conference and how it was going.
QUESTION: In reference to trilateral talks on North Korea. A statement sent out yesterday indicated that it was possible that a new round of trilateral talks could take place.
MR. BOUCHER: Six-party, right?
QUESTION: You said trilateral in a statement. Japan --
QUESTION: She's referring to yesterday when (inaudible) --
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, you're talking about Japan, South Korea and the United States. Okay, sorry, I thought we were going back to Beijing. Is it a TCOG, an informal TCOG, or just to chat?
MR. BOUCHER: I think once we schedule it, we'll tell you what it is. It's not more defined than that when I explored it yesterday.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) very, very modest, you know, peaceful demonstration by North Korea yesterday on the 55th year anniversary of the founding country (inaudible). It is a good thing for North Korea?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try and interpret North Korean behavior. We saw the same parade you did.
QUESTION: Can you comment, if not on behavior then on their statements that Army Chief of Staff -- I don't know his exact title -- said that the DPRK will continue to increase its nuclear deterrent force as a means for just self-defense in order to defend the sovereignty of the country as the United States has not yet shown its will to drop its hostile policy. Any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I have tried to refrain from commenting on every statement made by North Korea, as we're trying to interpret them every day. As we know, it's contradictory sometimes with other things that they've said recently. I think the key element in there is whether or not they're going to sit down and solve this diplomatically and peacefully as we believe can be done through the talks that the Chinese have helped organize. And in so doing, will they verifiably and irreversibly end these nuclear programs that have caused so much turmoil in the region, and that have disrupted so much North Korea's effort to become part of the international community.
Let me go to some to some of the folks in back who've been waiting.
QUESTION: Do you expect to follow the same timetable that you have been following for the roadmap for Palestinian statehood by 2005, or do you expect with Mr. Abbas' resignation that that would be delayed?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, nothing has changed in terms of the roadmap and the desire to proceed down that road. How much time each of these steps takes, obviously, affects the ultimate outcome, but I think our focus is on making, moving as quickly as possible down the road that's described there, and try to see what progress can be made in the future.
QUESTION: Do you happen to have any readout of what the Secretary (inaudible)
MR. BOUCHER: No, it's a closed session with Congress. So we won't have a readout. Promise.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on an ongoing plan to seek an aid package for Turkey on the Hill? How big that might be? How large?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'll check on it, see if we have anything in the works.
QUESTION: Can you talk about the decision not to enact the passport restrictions on a number of countries, and also whether you're getting responses back from those countries that they will indeed try to enact machine-readable passports within the next year or two to avoid the restrictions?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, it's a decision that has not yet been made. And the Secretary's not yet made a final decision on whether to grant the postponement to any country's passport holders. But we are considering postponing until October 26th, 2004, the requirement that each Visa Waiver Program traveler must present a machine-readable passport at the U.S. Port of Entry to be admitted to the country without a visa. The Secretary's authority to postpone the effective date for a visa waiver, country's citizens, is contained in the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which legislated the same requirement, that visa waiver travelers have these machine-readable passports.
Visa Waiver Program countries are being asked to send a Diplomatic Note to the Department of State acknowledging that the waiver will be granted only once, and that it would expire on October 26th, 2004. Any country requesting this postponement must also certify that it's making progress towards ensuring that machine-readable passports are available to its nationals, and that it has taken appropriate measures to protect against misuse of non-machine-readable passports. We're also consulting with the Department of Homeland Security before making this decision on one-time waivers.
Citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries are permitted to enter the United States for general business or tourist purposes for a maximum of 90 days without needing a visa. There are 27 countries currently in this program; we can get you a list later. Footnote, Belgium won't be eligible to receive this waiver. That requirement was -- there's been a requirement since May 15, 2003, that Belgian nationals present machine-readable passports. That was stipulated after our review of the continued eligibility of Belgian nationals to participate in the Visa Waiver Program. That was done in February of this year, 2003.
QUESTION: So why are you asking these countries to give you responses if you haven't even decided that you're going to --
MR. BOUCHER: Because in order to make the decision, in order to exercise the waiver, we want to know that they're prepared to do those things. And once we have that information, the Secretary will be in a position to make a final decision on whether to grant the waivers.
QUESTION: Any idea -- what kind of response you've gotten yet?
MR. BOUCHER: No, not yet. We'll have to collect it together and get it to the Secretary when it comes in.
QUESTION: Just in reference to the President's call for international contribution to the efforts in Iraq. My questions are two-fold. Can you confirm any reports of travel plans of President Bush going to Japan on or around the 17th of October before visiting with the Philippines?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't do Presidential travel. You'll have to ask that one at the White House.
QUESTION: And if so, is this meeting in Tokyo to discuss what Japan ought to contribute to that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't do Presidential travel. You'll have to ask at the White House, sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
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