U.S. State Dept. Press Briefing Tuesday, June 6
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Announcement – Sierra Leone – Terrorism – Russia – Iran – Iraq – Peru – Middle East Peace Process – Serbia/Montenegro – Fiji - Mexico
Daily Press Briefing Index Tuesday, June 6, 2000
Briefer: Philip Reeker, Acting Spokesman
ANNOUNCEMENT 1 Notice on Opening Ceremony of the Digital Mapping Exposition
SIERRA LEONE 1 Senator Gregg on Release of Funds for UN Operations in Sierra Leone 1-2 Foday Sankoh and Role in Peace Process 2 British Proposal to Ban Diamond Trade 3 Status of the Lome Peace Agreement 4 US Consideration of Requests for Logistical Support to UN and Regional Troops
TERRORISM 4-6 National Commission on Terrorism Report 4-5 Report's Recommendation for Sanctions on Greece and Pakistan
RUSSIA 6 President Putin's Proposal on Anti-Missile Shield
IRAN / IRAQ 6-7,11 Iran's Reopening of Waterways/Potential for Iraqi Smuggling
IRAN 7,15 Reported Iranian Defector
PERU 7-8 OAS Meeting in Windsor / Resolution by OAS General Assembly on Peru
MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 8 Secretary's Travel in the Region/Meetings with Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat 8-9 Chairman Arafat Acceptance of President Clinton's Invitation/Expected June 14 in Washington
SERBIA / MONTENEGRO 9-10 Serbia Claims US Diplomats Behind Zugic Assassination
FIJI 10-11 Update on Situation in Fiji
MEXICO 11-12 Reported Bounty Offered by Mexican Advocacy Group for Killing of US Border Patrol Agents
DEPARTMENT 12-15 Ambassadorial Appointments and Security Issues
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING DPB #54 TUESDAY, JUNE 6, 2000, 2:00 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. REEKER: Just one notice. I think you all received in paper a notice regarding the opening ceremony for the Digital Mapping Exposition. That ceremony will take place Thursday, June 8th, at 11 o'clock in our Exhibit Hall here in the Department. I encourage you all to attend that.
With that simple notice out of the way and my usual caveat that there are traveling parties -- or, in this case, the Secretary remains traveling in the Middle East -- and I would obviously defer to her on those issues, Mr. Gedda, I'd be happy to take your question.
QUESTION: Senator Gregg has released $50 million of funds for UN operations in Sierra Leone. He says the reason he did it is because the US has changed its policy toward Foday Sankoh and his group. Do you have any comment?
MR. REEKER: Yes. First of all, I saw those statements and we do want to welcome very much Senator Gregg's statement on the floor of the Senate made just a short time ago and welcome this positive development. We look forward to the removal of the remaining holds, and particularly for this one. This will allow us to help invigorate the UN process there in Sierra Leone, which we've discussed at great length over the days.
I think in regards to Foday Sankoh, we discussed yesterday the fact that the Lome Peace Agreement had offered Sankoh a window of opportunity to participate politically in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of his country and to help bring peace to all the people of Sierra Leone. He completely wasted that opportunity and, as Senator Gregg noted, as Ambassador Holbrooke and the Secretary have noted, the United States does not believe that Foday Sankoh should play any role whatsoever in the future political process in Sierra Leone.
Through our contacts with the Sierra Leone Government, the regional states, and at the United Nations, the US is seeking to help reinforce, as I noted, the UN force in Sierra Leone, to restore the cease-fire there and return to the implementation of a credible peace process. That's what we're going to be working towards, and again we very much welcome Senator Gregg's comments and these developments. The Secretary and Ambassador Holbrooke have worked very closely with the Senator to move this ahead.
QUESTION: So you're suggesting there was no shift in position on the Administration's part?
MR. REEKER: I think I've said for quite a while here that Foday Sankoh had squandered an opportunity that was presented by the Lome Accords, which were signed by his Revoluntionary United Front, by the Government of Sierra Leone as a method, as a peace process to resolve the crisis in Sierra Leone. He had an opportunity; that opportunity is squandered; he is now in the custody of the Sierra Leone government.
The US believes very much, as I've said before, that there must be both peace and justice in Sierra Leone, and that means that there should be accountability. We will support the people and Government of Sierra Leone in their efforts to bring Sankoh to justice. I said that yesterday, and I noted that any crimes committed by the Revolutionary United Front since the Lome Peace Agreement was signed last July are not covered by the domestic amnesty, and we are very much in consultation with the government of Sierra Leone, with the regional states at the UN, and with other countries in the international community, United Kingdom for example, to review the possible steps to bring the perpetrators of any crime to justice.
QUESTION: Is the US going to get behind the British proposal to ban all diamond trade except those certified by the government?
MR. REEKER: We have consistently supported international efforts to ban trafficking in what we call "conflict diamonds" from Africa. In fact, I think we recently put out a fact sheet regarding US efforts in that direction -- yes, May 23rd -- and I would refer you to that for a lot of detail. We have worked very closely with Congress, with the United Nations, with the diamond industry, and the British on ways to eliminate illegal diamond sales from Sierra Leone, and other countries on the continent.
We're going to need to review, of course, the British proposal that I've read the reports on today, but we're very much prepared to support any effective measure to reduce the diamond smuggling that fuels the arms trafficking and brings so much suffering and tragedy to countries like Sierra Leone.
QUESTION: Phil, has President Kabbah or anyone inside Sierra Leone gone on the record saying that they would not and could not ever see Foday Sankoh as a part other the government again?
MR. REEKER: I don't have an exact readout of their governmental statements. I think I've told you very much what our position is. We've discussed that over the days and the weeks here. As the Senator stated on the floor of the Senate today, he's been in contact with Ambassador Holbrooke and Secretary Albright, and I think we've made that quite clear.
QUESTION: The reason I ask is, if I remember correctly, you've been saying for the last couple of weeks that the US didn't feel it was its position to tell the people of Sierra Leone whether or not Foday Sankoh could be a part of the government; it was up for them to decide. I'm just wondering why it is that the US is making a pronouncement on Mr. Sankoh's future role.
MR. REEKER: I think it was very clear, and it's been reflected certainly in Freetown, that the opportunity Sankoh had to try to participate constructively through the Lome framework that was worked out by the parties there in Sierra Leone as a solution to the tragedy there, that he failed miserably in that, and he is now in custody. The determination of his fate is something that will be dealt with by the Sierra Leone Government, and I think our statements stand very much for that.
We continue to talk with the UN, with the British, and of course others in the international community and certainly in the region about further steps to strengthen the UN mission and the peace process in Sierra Leone.
QUESTION: What's the status of the Lome Peace Accord?
MR. REEKER: I think we're continuing to talk. We expect the UN Security Council to take up the question in the course of discussion on the Secretary General's fourth regular report on Sierra Leone, which was issued a couple of weeks ago on May 22nd. I don't think any decisions have been made or taken in terms of a change in the current mandate, but that's what will be looked at and discussed at the United Nations. And that's what we continue to be very much involved in talking to the groups that I mentioned, particularly the democratically elected government of Sierra Leone, the countries in the region who have been actively involved, and others in the international community through the UN rubric.
QUESTION: But what is the US position on the Lome Accord? Do you feel it's still valid?
MR. REEKER: We are working to have an invigorated peace process. That accord is something that was signed less than a year ago to bring peace to a terrible situation. It was an attempt to move ahead after a cease-fire had been reached to bring the people of Sierra Leone the peace and the opportunity they have, what they deserve to have -- hope to rebuild their lives. That's what we want to see. That's the framework we want to work with -- again, as I said -- working with the Government of Sierra Leone, invigorating a UN mission, which is very much a part of that process, and working with others in the international community to see that we can do that.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, but would peace have to take place under the framework or within the framework of the Lome peace accord?
MR. REEKER: I think the Lome accord provided a very good structure for that. Decisions on changing or reworking aspects of that will be made in the context of decisions made by the Sierra Leone Government, in working in the United Nations, and with the regional actors playing a very important role in supporting that. And that's what we just have to let evolve over time.
QUESTION: And on Sierra Leone still, a lot was said about the US providing logistical support to this invigorated UN mission, or in the process of invigorating it. Where are we on that?
MR. REEKER: I think what I just said. We're discussing very much with the United Nations, with regional countries. No decisions have been made. The President made available $20 million -- we discussed that some time ago -- to support that where we can offer assistance through logistics, lift, but right now there are no decisions final. We're still studying what steps will be taken to invigorate the UN force there. As I said, the General Assembly is expected to take this up -- or the Security Council -- I'm sorry -- is going to take up this question in the course of their discussions.
QUESTION: Does that mean none of that money has been spent yet? It hasn't been decided where that money will be used?
MR. REEKER: I would have to refer you to the Defense Department to see specifics on that particular money, but I don't think any decisions have been made. We're very pleased, as I noted, that the hold has been lifted on the peacekeeping funding. That's vitally important so that we can make our contribution to the UN peacekeeping mission which is so crucial for Sierra Leone and allows us to use our funding with a multiplier effect internationally to invigorate that mission.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments on the National Commission on Terrorism has issued a report and recommending that there should be sanctions against Pakistan and Greece? And also this Department is in touch with the Pakistani and those governments?
MR. REEKER: Obviously, you weren't here yesterday because we went through that at great length, so I would refer you to the transcript of yesterday's briefing, which we would be happy to provide for you.
QUESTION: The report was issued today.
MR. REEKER: The report was issued yesterday, Monday. It was given to Congress. We can try to help you get a copy, if that would help. We're looking at that report. I think we participated as much as we could to help that Commission in terms of supporting their six-month review of US counter-terrorism policy and facilitated their work. Under Secretary Pickering, Ambassador Sheehan and others met many times with that commission.
So the report deserves careful study, and we're not going to have any particular responses immediately to it, or to any specific recommendations; however, I also yesterday referred people to the Secretary, who spoke to it Sunday. Secretary Albright spoke from Moscow, saying that the Administration is not considering sanctions against Greece or Pakistan.
QUESTION: And nor anybody in touch with the Pakistani authorities from this building?
MR. REEKER: I think we've had regular contact with Pakistan authorities --
QUESTION: No, on this report.
MR. REEKER: Under Secretary Pickering was recently in Pakistan, and we discuss these issues regularly.
QUESTION: On the same subject, have you received any reaction from Greece on that report since yesterday?
MR. REEKER: I'm not aware of any formal reaction from the Greek Government. I spoke to great length about our concerns about terrorism involving Greece and the work we're doing there to facilitate attention to that, and the history of some of the problems in terms of attacks against American businesses, American individuals, five embassy employees who had been assassinated in Athens since 1975, and serious concerns that we've had for over two decades about terrorist attacks against American interests in Greece.
But we're working very closely with the Greeks on that subject. Ambassador Burns has a very effective working relationship with the Minister of Public Order, and with the Greek police, and that's where we're going to concentrate our efforts, on quiet cooperation with the Greek Government, to address and counter these terrorism issues.
QUESTION: You did not speak at length, however, about your contacts with the Pakistanis on this report, and I am wondering if the fact of a military government being there makes it more difficult for you to have talks with the government and to have some effect on the government, trying to accomplish what you want to accomplish.
MR. REEKER: Our discussions with Pakistan on terrorism issues have been ongoing for many, many years, and I think we discussed just last week Under Secretary Pickering's recent visit there to discuss issues -- broad issues related to South Asia, but also specifically on terrorism issues.
In terms of this specific report, which let me remind you is not a State Department or US Government report -- it's a report of an independent commission -- I'm not aware of specific talks that we've had on that. The report stands for itself. We think it's a very important document that we'll be looking at closely, but we also have our annual report on terrorism, which was released just a few weeks ago, and which addresses issues concerning Pakistan as well.
QUESTION: But does the government there complicate your efforts to accomplish your anti-terrorism goals with Pakistan?
MR. REEKER: I think we continue to have a vigorous discussion with Pakistan, both in Islamabad, through our embassy there, and visits by high level officials, and here in Washington through their embassy here. And that's what we will continue to work at, because our goal is to solve the terrorism problem in all of its aspects around the world and countries where we need to work to improve the situation regarding terrorism.
QUESTION: Just a coincidence, just a follow-up, the coincidence last week Usama Bin Laden, the greatest terrorist on this earth today, and wanted by the US and $5 million or more reward. He had changed, as I said last week also, his bodyguards replaced from Saudi to --
MR. REEKER: You raised that last week, and I think I told you then I have no information about that.
QUESTION: With Pakistani militants, it's coincident with the report.
MR. REEKER: I'm not aware of the reports that you're referring to.
QUESTION: Another region?
MR. REEKER: Switching regions, okay.
QUESTION: What is your position on the proposal from the Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday in Rome, who said that Europe should set up it's own anti-missile shield, with participation from NATO and the United States?
MR. REEKER: Let me refer you again over to the White House where the traveling party has just returned late last night. I believe Mr. Lockhart was briefing today, for reactions and readouts of the trip. As I did yesterday, I just need to defer to them in terms of that.
I do know that Defense Secretary Cohen is expected to travel to Moscow as a follow-up. I'm sure we'll be discussing those issues and reviewing those with Russian counterparts when he's there. And I refer you to the Department of Defense; it might be addressing that as well.
QUESTION: If I can move on to another country, Iran. I wondered what you had to say about -- I know the Defense Department has already spoken about this, but I wondered what the implications might be for relations in general with Iran given that there's been this surge of ships, suggesting they've been exporting.
MR. REEKER: You're correct that my colleagues at the Defense Department were addressing that. I've spoken to them about it. We are aware that vessels are again departing the Shatt al-Arab River which runs between Iraq and Iran, but we are not sure exactly what the Iranian role is.
As I think is no surprise here, Iraq has long used Iranian territorial waters to smuggle illegal gasoil which funds, among other things, terrorist activity directed against Iran. So it's in the interest of all the states in the region to do what they can to prevent this illegal smuggling activity. That smuggling, of course, is contrary to UN Security Council resolutions which enforce that. So we would consider any renewed Iranian support for Iraqi gasoil smuggling a negative development, which is certainly not in the interests of any of the states in the Gulf region.
QUESTION: I have read what you said yesterday about the Iranian defector, and I'm just wondering if you have anything new to add.
MR. REEKER: I have nothing new to add to that.
QUESTION: Do you have any response to the National Council of Resistance of Iran which said this morning in some very detailed allegations against named individuals who they say were involved in the Lockerbie bombing?
MR. REEKER: I haven't seen their reports. I have nothing to add on that situation.
QUESTION: Five days ago, you were saying (inaudible) as vigorous a response as possible to -- by the OAS to the alleged election fraud in Peru. And the OAS took action yesterday, which seemed to be kind of tame.
MR. REEKER: In fact, George, I'd refer you to the statement issued by our delegation yesterday in Windsor. As indicated in that statement, we very much welcome what was in fact a strong consensus of approval for the resolution by the OAS General Assembly. We believe that the mission that will now be led by the OAS Secretary General and the Canadian Foreign Minister, Mr. Axworthy, is a very important and timely response to the developments in Peru. In fact, we're very pleased that through the regional structure of the OAS, the hemisphere has demonstrated its commitment to democracy by adopting a resolution that, as I said, had extremely strong consensus and that, in fact, Peru accepted this resolution and the mission which will travel immediately to Peru.
So we are calling upon Peru to fulfill its commitments. It was reiterated yesterday -- those commitments. And they need to strengthen democratic institutions there. This is a long-standing pledge in Peru, going back to the remarks that President Fujimori made at the OAS back in 1992. And we'll be watching very closely, as Under Secretary Pickering said, along with others in the region how the Government of Peru will meet its commitments under the OAS resolution.
QUESTION: The impression certainly was left that you wanted more than a mission to Peru in the background comments that some of us heard last week. This looks like a carbon copy of what happened in 1989 with Noriega.
MR. REEKER: I think right how this is a very appropriate next step. As we said last week, we were going to take this one step at a time and try to follow the appropriate steps. We wanted to consult with our partners in the region. That's what we've done, first on Wednesday at a special session, and then took it up at the ministerial level. At the General Assembly meeting in Windsor there was a resolution that was passed with very strong consensus, and now we look forward to a successful mission. We're prepared to assist that mission in any way we can.
As we've said all along, and I think everyone has made very clear -- and Ambassador Pickering reiterated last night -- we reserve the right, as always, to draw our own conclusion and to take our own actions, as appropriate, in response to the degree of progress actually made by the government of Peru. But what remains now is to see that this mission can go with two very fine diplomats to Peru and do exactly what the resolution called for: to explore with the Government of Peru and other sectors in the political community options and recommendations. And then we will consider those at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: Did you already cover the Middle East peace? I walked in late. I'm just curious because --
MR. REEKER: Are we done with Peru? Okay. Middle East peace is really, as I indicated, with the traveling party.
QUESTION: But those of us who are traveling to this building every day in a dedicated attempt to still monitor from here what's going on with the traveling party, can you just give me any information?
MR. REEKER: From the reports you've seen and the reports I've had from the party during their meetings with Secretary Albright, Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat reiterated their commitment to working to narrow gaps and reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on permanent status.
I think the important news, which the Secretary announced this morning, was that Chairman Arafat has accepted the President's invitation to a meeting. We expect him here in Washington June 14th. That would be next Wednesday. And we understand that negotiations will resume early next week in the Washington region, again trying to move forward to narrow gaps on reaching the agreement.
But for, really, any more details I'd want to refer you out to the party.
QUESTION: I'm not looking for details. I'm must looking for an explanation of what it meant by this summit that is being touted.
MR. REEKER: If, by that, you mean what we said for a long time, that the President is prepared to host a summit with the leaders if there is a proper basis for such a meeting, the Secretary has noted that again that we need to make sure the conditions are right for such a meeting. So there's nothing to announce in that direction.
What has developed today was the fact that Chairman Arafat accepted the President's invitation and will be coming to Washington next week and that negotiations in the region, the Washington region, will resume sometime next week as well.
QUESTION: So Arafat's acceptance is the only new thing? Because we already knew he was coming. I mean, it was already something that --
MR. REEKER: The President had extended an invitation to him, and the Secretary announced this morning that he has accepted that invitation and will be coming on the 14th. So if you're looking for more detail from the talks and then from tomorrow when the Secretary will visit Egypt on her way home, I'd refer you to the traveling party.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, there is no plan -- this same ongoing discussion of a possible summit? There is just suggestions from the wire reports coming out of the area that there is something new to the summit in terms of --
MR. REEKER: I think the position on the summit in so much as the President has said for a long time that he would -- he is prepared to host a summit with the leaders if the basis for such a meeting is proper and that the conditions are right for that meeting. So that remains to be seen.
QUESTION: I was just going to ask, do you presume them to be Bolling-style again?
MR. REEKER: I don't have any indication of exactly how those talks will work. There may be something more you can get from the party on that.
QUESTION: New subject. The Yugoslav Government today, there were some officials that held a press conference accusing the CIA of involvement in the death of President Djukanovic's security advisor. And they apparently put forward -- in fact, they e-mailed to all kinds of people -- what they say are audio intercepts. And they have a couple of US diplomats that they name.
And I'm just wondering if -- first of all, what's the State Department's response to this?
MR. REEKER: Let me just say that these claims are absurd, completely false, and I'll remind you that the same spokesman who is making these claims is the Serbian official who says that Serbia is now a greater nation than it was ten years ago, which I think gives you a certain amount of indication of the type of statements he can make. Suggestions from him that Milosevic is a constitutional leader or that there's no corruption in the Serbian Government are right up there with the false statements and the absurdities that he's made again today.
QUESTION: They named two US diplomats, and I'll just read the names to you. And I don't know if you're able to confirm whether or not, in fact, they even work at these embassies. But one is Shaun Byrnes, who they say is in --
MR. REEKER: I've seen the reports, Andrea. I've seen the same things that they've sent.
QUESTION: Okay, and Gabriel Escobar.
MR. REEKER: We have a number of US Government officials who maintain regular contact with the highest levels of the Montenegrin government. Their role is to work with that government, and with NGOs to advance Montenegrin democratic evolution. And we work very vigorously in the region, as you know, to promote democracy, support democratic development in line with our policy, and the integration into Euro-Atlantic mainstream of the countries of the region.
So we have regular contacts with individuals in the region that are working and pushing for democratic change, and will continue to do so.
QUESTION: But can you tell us whether or not Shaun Byrnes and Gabriel Escobar are assigned to those --
MR. REEKER: I don't have readouts of who's assigned where to missions in the region. As you know, I spent a lot of time in the region myself, and all of us that worked in that region, and continue to work in that region are very much dedicated to working with democratic forces and trying to help the people of that region reach the legitimate aspirations that they have: to have a democratic structure, and join the Euro-Atlantic mainstream.
QUESTION: Could you at least find out whether or not these individuals work at those embassies, if they are posted overseas?
MR. REEKER: I'd be happy to talk to you afterwards and look into it but, again, these charges are absurd in the extreme, absolutely false, and typical of the type of statement that we see coming out of individuals like the person that issued those statements.
QUESTION: New subject.
MR. REEKER: Yes.
QUESTION: Any update on Fiji after the Department issued a travel warning for Americans in the region?
MR. REEKER: We've talked about Fiji fairly regularly over the period, but we didn't cover it yesterday. I don't have anything particularly new to report, because developments there I don't think are particularly new. We remain very concerned about the situation. The hostage situation is truly intolerable, and remains unresolved, despite some of the earlier reports that agreements might have been reached to end that.
We repeat our calls for immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages involved in the situation there, and a return to constitutional government. We, as you know, strongly oppose overthrow of democratically elected governments by force. As you noted, we do have a travel warning for Fiji, which was put out again on the 2nd of June, which urges citizens to defer any non-essential travel to Fiji because of the continued uncertainty and instability in that country.
QUESTION: If anybody is in touch from here, or from the US Embassy with the military leader, directly or indirectly, about these sanctions or ending the hostage crisis?
MR. REEKER: Well as you know, our Ambassador remains in Fiji with a small staff. He has met with a number of prominent persons in Fiji, including Ratu Mara, who was the president, with the Secretary of the Great Council of Chiefs, with the former Prime Minister Rabuka, and with the head of the armed forces to express, as I've done from here, our concern about the situation, and our call for a release of those hostages, and for a return to constitutional rule.
He's urged all of them to assist in securing the immediate and, as I said, unconditional release of all persons being held hostage. He has not met with George Speight, or with any of the other hostage-takers.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Iran for a minute? You said that it would be a very negative development if there was an upsurge in these shipments. Would you go as far as to say that the United States would consider reversing its lifting of the sanctions against the those -- the carpets --
MR. REEKER: I think it would be premature to characterize anything beyond what I said already, which was that we would consider any renewed Iranian support for Iraqi gasoil smuggling as a negative development. It's really in the interests of all the states of the Gulf region, including Iran, to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions. And, of course, the Maritime Interdiction Force will continue to monitor, inspect and interdict as appropriate in the Gulf.
QUESTION: On Mexico, I'm wondering if the State Department has any response to the fact that a Mexican citizens group, let's see if I have the name, the Citizens Defense Committee, has placed a bounty of $10,000 on US Border Patrol Agents?
MR. REEKER: We are aware of the media reports that Carlos Ibarra Perez, who heads a local advocacy group in Reynosa, Mexico, has offered a $10,000 bounty to anyone who kills a US Border Patrol Agent. We take such threats extremely seriously, and we certainly welcome the Mexican Embassy's recent statements to the press, condemning this outrageous statement and offer as an irresponsible and an intolerable provocation.
We understand that US law enforcement agencies are looking into the matter. We are very much committed to working with the Mexican authorities to promote border safety, and I think that was talked about a great deal at our recent conference here in the State Department. This matter may be raised as part of a broader discussion of border issues at a meeting of the Lower Rio Grande Border Liaison Mechanism which is scheduled for June 9th.
QUESTION: Okay, has anyone here at the Department spoken with anyone either at the Mexican Embassy here, or in our US Embassy over in Mexico?
MR. REEKER: I don't have specific readouts on talks. We have discussions everyday with our Mexican colleagues here in Washington, and certainly in Mexico City, and obviously we have a continuous dialogue with our own embassy in Mexico City, but I can't give you a readout of specific things. However, I did note -- and we all noted -- the strong statements that were recently issued by the Mexican Embassy on this very issue, and we welcome those statements and stand firmly with our Mexican colleges on those statements.
QUESTION: Perhaps to balance out Senator Gregg coming around on the peacekeeping funds, other senators are determined to raise the issue of ambassador nominations of people who have security violations on their personnel records, with some senators on the Foreign Relations committee saying they're going to hold up these nominations. You know they've been held up before for other reasons, but I think perhaps security violations may be -- it's the first time that these have come up in these hearings.
How seriously does the State Department view this, both from the point of getting their ambassador nominees through, and from the fact that people who do have security violations on their record are being promoted?
MR. REEKER: As you know, because we've discussed it at great length, and the Secretary herself has spoken to it at a variety of platforms, she is firmly committed to supporting the very highest standards of security awareness and practices in the Department, and at our missions overseas. In terms of ambassadorial nominees and the nomination process, prior to recommending any career officers for chief of mission or ambassadorial appointments, the Department reviews a range of factors in determining a candidate's suitability, and that includes checks with the Office of Security, personnel files obviously, with the Inspector General, with the Legal Advisor, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Office.
Candidates undergo a rigorous, full field security investigation, and financial disclosure review, and the majority, I think, of security violations are incidents that were received by some of the career nominees who are currently awaiting Senate confirmation, occurred many years ago. These are often senior officers who have been in the Foreign Service for lengthy careers.
Officers certainly receive security warnings, counseling, briefings by Diplomatic Security when there are issues of concern. We take this very seriously, and as you know, we're undertaking a number of measures to further enhance security in the Department, and at our posts overseas, and in fact as the Secretary announced, she has specifically directed the incoming Director General of the Foreign Service to weigh security factors in all personnel decisions and nominations and promotions.
I think one of the important things to look at in terms of context for this is the term "violation," which we all in the Foreign Service use as a sort of catch-all word, and can be mis-used to categorize every type of security incident. Our program on security incidents, which results in these violations, in fact reflects I think the seriousness with which we take security here in the Department, and at all of our missions overseas, and is a program which demonstrates the strong backups that we have to monitor classified and sensitive information, and to maintain a program that provides for strong security of all the material and information we use overseas.
So security violations can occur when classified information is not properly safeguarded, or could lead to possible compromise overseas or domestically. We have security infractions which may occur when materials are not properly safeguarded, but have not led to a possible compromise of material.
I can't go in to specific nominees or information that I don't have, and this often relates to personnel files, and Privacy Act information, but I can reiterate what the Secretary has said many times, and we've discussed here is that she and all of us take security extremely seriously, and are firmly committed to supporting the highest standards of security, here and abroad at our missions. It's ultimately important, and we are taking a number of steps, a number of measures which we've discussed to further enhance security here in the Department and abroad, and we'll continue to monitor this very closely.
QUESTION: One of these people apparently has 22 violations. How could somebody with 22 violations continue to be promoted?
MR. REEKER: I can't continue on the specifics of the situation. All I can say is to put in context for you violations, as we call them, in terms of infractions that have been noted through the process of backups, which monitor the materials that we have overseas, the cable traffic, the documents which we read as part of our business overseas.
I can't get into the specifics. I don't have the specifics. I've only seen the reports of them. But what I can say is that we take this very, very seriously. As the Secretary said, this is to be weighed as a factor in terms of promotions, in terms of nominations, and there is a process in terms of recommending career Foreign Service officers for chief of mission or ambassadorial jobs, which is a very vigorous review of files, of security issues, of financial disclosure, and really the full career of these officials. And that's the process we continue to follow, continue to support, and that will continue to be a very vigorous process.
QUESTION: Can you give us an illustrative example of the type of infractions, without naming names?
MR. REEKER: I can't, because I haven't seen it.
QUESTION: Why haven't the people upstairs -- why haven't the people upstairs provided you with that? I mean, it's a legitimate question.
MR. REEKER: I can give you examples from being a Foreign Service officer and serving overseas. We have Marines and security officials within an embassy, for instance, just as we have in the building, who go through offices, after hours, locked offices, to look for any potential document that's been overlooked, that's been left in an in-box, something that may be marked confidential in a corner, and needs to be retrieved and held until it can be clarified that the document is secure.
That's the kind of rigorous process that we have, in terms of our security incident program. Everyone is very aware of it. There's extensive training in terms of using safes, locking up disk drives inside secure buildings, both here at the Department and at our embassies overseas. But I just can't delve into the specifics of what these infractions may entail because I'm not privy to that information, but I hope I've been able to provide you at least a glimpse.
QUESTION: But even in general, if somebody has a record of 22 violations, and these are all written citations on their record, it doesn't give the impression that the Secretary is holding individuals accountable; as she said, you're a failure if you're a -- if you don't hold up security.
MR. REEKER: Again, I think, Terri, I tried to make very clear that it's impossible to make any specific declarations about anybody's particular record, based on some very vague information. The Secretary takes this very seriously. She has raised this; she has talked about it publicly before a town meeting. There are high standards of security that have been part of employees' careers for many, many years, and I just can't go into specifics of these cases. It's impossible to know exactly what's being referred to here, and what that mentions.
QUESTION: I don't think we need to know that to discuss that anybody with 22 violations of any kind --
MR. REEKER: Terri, I don't know what those 22 violations mean, and I don't have information to that effect. What I'm telling you is what the standards are, how seriously the Department and the Secretary as the head of this Department takes security, and how seriously we take the nomination process for making recommendations for chief of mission or ambassadorial appointments.
QUESTION: I'm not sure if, in fact, you would have the information to be able to tell us, but does the Department at all take issue with the characterization of some of the infractions as being serious ones?
MR. REEKER: I just don't know anything -- all I've seen are reports raised by a letter, and we take any reports about security seriously. We look into them. I'm unable to go into any detail. I don't have any detail because these obviously are things that involve personnel records, privacy considerations.
But what I can tell you is the seriousness with which we view security, at all levels, and try to give you some context for the security incident program, the various layers of backup we have in the building and abroad, to guarantee that materials and documents are safeguarded, that information that may be critical at a variety of levels of classification is handled properly, and according to vigorous regulations.
QUESTION: Which departments are currently looking into this right now?
MR. REEKER: I guess I don't -- we look into it all the time. Security is a nonstop thing.
QUESTION: No, no, no, these allegations, the ones that were made about the ambassadorial appointees, about the nominees. Who is looking into --
MR. REEKER: I think that would be an issue that would have to be dealt with by those involved in the nominating process and in the legislative process, in terms of nominations before the Senate. Obviously, personnel and Diplomatic Security are involved in those. I think I indicated at the beginning of this line of questioning that there's a range of factors that is used in determining a candidate's suitability for nominations to chief of mission jobs, and that includes checks with the Office of Security, as well as other offices.
QUESTION: Just to follow --
MR. REEKER: Anything more on this?
QUESTION: Do you see any corruption at overseas US missions, as far as especially in the south, South Asia?
MR. REEKER: You raised this question with my colleague about two weeks ago, and he answered it extremely fully, and I don't have anything to add to that.
QUESTION: Back to Iran, sorry. Do you have any information about a second Iranian official having defected to join the other one?
MR. REEKER: I do not. Other issues? Matt's not here, so we didn't touch on many things. Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:45 P.M.)