Daily Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Daily Press Briefing Index Monday, February 12, 2001
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
RUSSIA (pp.1) Reported change in reaction to National Missile Defense (pp.1,2) Meeting with Ivanov (pp.14) Ted Turner / Media Most
GERMANY (pp.1,2) Meeting with Fischer (pp.14) Reparations by IBM
SYRIA (pp. 3,4) Iraqi Flights to Syria (pp.3) Relationship with US (pp.3,4-5) Pipeline with Iraq (pp.6) Issues with President Assad
MIDDLE EAST (pp.3-4) Secretary's Travel: Agenda / Itinerary (pp. 8) US Concerns in the Region (pp.15) Terrorists' Meeting in Beirut
ISRAEL (pp.5) Visit by Israeli Delegation
INDIA (pp.6) Farewell Call by Ambassador Chandra to Secretary Powell
COLOMBIA (pp.7) Agenda for Foreign Minister and Secretary Powell (pp.7) President Pastrana and FARC peace discussions
DROC (pp.8-9,13) Kagame's Refusal to Attend Summit in Lusaka
JAPAN (pp.9-11) Contacts regarding Sinking of Trawler in Hawaii
CHILE (pp.12) Sale of F-16's
MEXICO (pp.13) Drug Certification (pp.19-20) Rebels in Chiapas
GUINEA (pp.13-14) Safe Corridor for Refugees
NORTH KOREA (pp.14) Missile Proliferation / Missile Defense
NATIONAL MISSILE DEFENSE (pp.15) US Discussions
AFGHANISTAN (pp.15-16) Closing of Taliban UN Office in New York
LEBANON (pp.16) Possible Secretary Visit/Bilateral Relationship/Human Right Report
IRAN (pp.17) Explosions in Tehran
CUBA (pp.17) Released American
NIGERIA (pp.18) New Tariffs
IRAQ (pp.18) Sanctions
UKRAINE (pp.18-19) Disappearance of Journalist
GREECE/TURKEY (pp.20) Bilateral Relationship
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB # 22
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2001 1:35 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements or announcements. I would be glad to take your questions.
Q: Mr. Fischer, the German Foreign Minister thinks that the Russians might after all be willing to go along with a US National Missile Defense. Has the US detected any flexibility on Russia's part on it?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure we've heard anything new at this stage. I wouldn't expect to. The Secretary may meet with Foreign Minister Ivanov in the near future. He will see Foreign Minister Fischer next week, so we'll be able to hear from him about his contacts in Moscow to see what he heard. And as the Secretary has made quite clear, we do believe that it's in all our interests, of the United States as well our friends and allies and countries like Russia and China, for defense to become part of the strategic concept, that in the end it will make everybody safer.
Q: You don't technically mean next week. Don't you mean the week after? Is this the Brussels meeting or is it a separate meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, he'll be seeing Foreign Minister Fischer here next week.
Q: Oh, here. Okay.
Q: On the Ivanov, if you had to give us a probability of that meeting happening, what would it be, and where might it be? There seems to be some confusion about whether it would be in Kuwait or in Brussels if it did happen.
MR. BOUCHER: Or somewhere else. No, I can't give you a proba -- I can't even say the word, much less give you one. (Laughter.) No, I'm not going to start placing bets.
Q: How about -- I mean, it is his intent -- they are trying to set something up?
MR. BOUCHER: They're trying to set up a meeting. We're looking to see if it can be done during the upcoming trip. And as soon as it's scheduled and pinned down, we'll tell you about it if it can be put together.
Q: On Fischer's meeting here, what day is it?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't remember exactly. The 20th, I think.
Q: The Syrians -- Iraq is starting regular commercial flights into Syria from 19 years. Can you comment on that? And also while you're on Syria, why did Mr. Powell add Syria to his itinerary? What are the US-Syrian interests at this point?
MR. BOUCHER: On the question of Iraqi flights to Syria or vice versa, let us double check on that and see what's actually going on. I think that was the Iraqis reporting it, and they've announced things like that several times in the past when they haven't turned out to be precisely true. So let us look at that one a little more and figure out what's going on.
In terms of going to Syria, obviously Syria is an important country in the Middle East. As the Secretary discussed, he wants to take a regional approach to many of the issues in the region, and he thought it was useful to go to Damascus at this time to talk about all the issues of the region, including the peace process and Iraq.
Q: On Syria, does the United States consider Syria an ally in the region? And does Secretary Powell -- will he be bringing up the question of the pipeline with Iraq for oil?
MR. BOUCHER: No, and yes.
Q: No and yes --
MR. BOUCHER: No, we don't consider them an ally, and I would expect the issue of pipelines to Iraq to come up.
Q: We keep hearing this line about broad regional context. Can you perhaps elaborate to us what exactly you mean by this?
MR. BOUCHER: Isn't that the same question you asked me Friday, so I can give the same answer I gave on Friday?
Q: Did I? Well, the Secretary used it again over the weekend, but again didn't throw any extra light on it. It's just puzzling some of us.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't see why it should. As I said on Friday, I think if you look at the pattern of what the Secretary has been doing in terms of his meetings, his phone calls to the region, his contacts and the plans for his trip, that he is looking at the many issues that affect people in the region in a regional context, understanding that if it comes to the question of whether Iraq is threatening its neighbors and threatening the people of the region, it's obvious you need to talk to the people of the region who would be threatened. And that's part of the circumstances of this trip. We want to discuss things with them and work with them as we develop the policy, and therefore he is looking to talk to the people of the region.
He has had meetings, I think, here with the Jordanian Foreign Minister, the Tunisian Foreign Minister last Friday. It was quite clear in our discussions with those gentlemen and others that these issues do play throughout the region. They affect each other and we need to take a regional approach that emphasizes not only our interest in the peace process or in making sure that Iraq can't threaten people but their interests in these things as well. And that these be based upon very solid bilateral relationships that we can develop with the countries in the region.
Q: I don't think you gave a sequence of his stops, and I wonder if you could. I am particularly interested -- and I am sure others are too -- where Damascus fits in, because there will be a question whether he hears from the Syrians and goes to Israel with it or hears from the Israelis and goes to Syria with it. Unless you anticipate -- which I can't believe would happen in three-and-a-half days, some double stops?
MR. BOUCHER: As you know, we have in the past often announced trips two or three days before they took place and been able at that time to give you all the details. In this case, we are trying to get the word out sooner of where and approximately when he will be traveling, and I'm afraid I can't give you the full itinerary at this point. The people that are in charge of fitting the schedules together are still fitting the schedules together.
Q: Let me ask you a something a little related, I think. I'm having a little problem juxtaposing the, on the one hand, concept let's-give- Mr.-Sharon-time-to-form-a-government, of looking at it regionally, et cetera, and going now to both Syria, to see the Palestinians, to see the Israelis. I suppose the two aren't necessarily in conflict, but it sounds like you're not giving Sharon all that much time. It sounds like you're gathering information and maybe getting started down the peace track that I thought would take a little -- seemed to be a little more in the distance.
Is there anything wrong with that notion, that you're pushing it a little bit?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd say what's wrong with the notion is that I don't think the Secretary is going out there on any of these issues to present people with a US plan or a US formula for things. He is going there to talk to people, to listen, to hear from them how they propose to deal with each other, how we might be helpful, and to understand things.
Obviously if the Government of Israel has been formed and they have reached decisions with their coalition partners or whoever on particular proposals, we would talk about that. But even in the circumstance that the government is not fully formed, the Secretary talked about meeting with Mr. Sharon, seeing Prime Minister Barak and others, and hearing from them on the state of play and their aspirations at this point.
So I don't see any contradiction to that. That's something you want to do all along, and we would not want to form ideas without talking to the Israeli Government.
Q: All right, one more shot and then I'll drop it, unless you want to keep it up.
MR. BOUCHER: Not particularly. I'll drop it now if -- (laughter) --
Q: You brought up "plan." I never used -- you know, "plan" would be the ultimate. "Plan" is something no administration, until Bill Clinton, has ever admitted that it presents its friends and adversaries, or its friends and near-friends in the region, with plans. I didn't ask about plans. And you spoke about listening, but you also spoke about aspirations. All these words mean things. There is something short of plans. There is going over there to each place and saying, hey, come on, guys, it's time to resume the peace process.
So let me ask you the question simply, does this trip involve in any way an attempt by the Secretary to revive the peace process either between Israel and Syria, Israel and Palestinians, or both? Without presenting a plan, I mean.
MR. BOUCHER: Barry, obviously we wouldn't be going to these countries, these particular places, talking to the interlocutors, particularly the Israelis and Palestinians, if we didn't have some hope that they would be able to negotiate with each other and reach peace. So is this part of that overall process? Obviously it is. But is he going out to tell them what to do? No.
Q: No, we'll never do that.
Q: Please don't say that this is a hypothetical question because I don't think it is. But in Syria -- well, actually, I know it is -- in Syria, are flights, direct flights, commercial flights, regularly scheduled flights between Iraq and Syria, something that the United States would frown on?
MR. BOUCHER: Flights would have to be notified to the Sanctions Committee. And, again, not knowing the facts of the matter, flights -- all flights are supposed to be appropriately notified and inspected.
Q: Right. And going back to when we were on the same or similar issue under the last administration, was there ever an answer about whether notifying could include just the publication of a flight schedule? Was there ever an answer to that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we answered that fairly clearly that the UN would expect to be told more than that, specifically to the Sanctions Committee.
Q: On the pipeline, this has come up many times, have your endeavors to determine whether oil is flowing along that pipeline made any progress?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new on that, no.
Q: I mean, how hard have you tried? It seems extraordinary that it's now been three months since these reports surfaced. Do you mean that you really haven't been able to, for example, examine the oil which Syria is selling and determine its origin, which I believe can easily be done?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that has been the allegation. The allegations, the reports that we read in the press and elsewhere, are that somehow that the imports of oil from Iraq are substituting for domestic consumption and that Syria is, in fact, exporting larger quantities of Syrian oil because of it. So it's not so simple as to say, oh, you know, let's go dip our dipper in the barrel and go test it.
We are certainly looking at the numbers. We are certainly --
Q: Are you looking at local petrol pumps? I don't know.
MR. BOUCHER: I am sure they haven't put them right in their cars. The point is, we have pursued this with the Syrian Government. We and other United Nations members are looking at this. We are certainly discussing it with other members of the UN Sanctions Committee, and our Embassy will follow up and we continue our analysis of the situation. But I don't have any definitive word on it for you now.
Q: Have they responded to your last request -- three weeks ago?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not aware that we've heard anything new.
Q: Do you have anything on the visit this week by the Israeli delegation and whether the Secretary plans to meet them and when? Can you sort of give a sense of what the purpose -- if so, what the purpose of that meeting is?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the team -- the purpose of their meetings, the team is to come here and talk to people on this side, to talk to Washington officials. They will see a number of Administration officials. At this point, I really don't have any details for you on their schedule. We understand they arrive tomorrow. The Secretary will probably see them, but the schedule is not set yet so I don't have details on when and how.
Q: I'm curious, how far is he going to press President Bashar Assad on terrorism, state support for terrorism, and coordination with Iran on terrorist acts in relation to the peace process?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not prepared in any of these stops to start giving you lists of specific issues that he intends to raise, much less a prioritization or a how-hard sort of feel. So let us get closer to the actual event to give you some idea of what we might want to raise at that time.
Q: What can you say about the meeting between the Ambassador of India and the Secretary?
MR. BOUCHER: And the Secretary?
Q: And also, can you elaborate on Indo-American relations in general in this context?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, let me do the meeting and we'll do one or two others, then we can come back to Syria if you want to.
Secretary Powell met this morning for about half an hour with Indian Ambassador Naresh Chandra. Ambassador Chandra is ending his assignment in Washington after serving here for almost five years. The Secretary and Ambassador Chandra discussed the current situation in South Asia, as well as some bilateral issues of concern. They noted the recent progress in US-Indian relations and expressed their hopes that this progress will continue.
They did discuss the possibility of a meeting between the Secretary and Foreign Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh in the near future. Nothing is set up at this point. And they also talked about the recent earthquake in Gujarat and the status of the relief efforts for the victims of that disaster. That's what they covered.
Q: Did they talk at all about -- apparently, there was a lot of reports in the Indian press today about former President Clinton wanting to insert himself into some kind of peace role with Pakistan over Kashmir. Did that happen to get raised?
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't heard about it, so it wasn't one of the questions I asked the Secretary about the meeting. So let me double check. I don't think that came up. I didn't hear anything about that.
Q: Okay. And when you talked about the meeting, possible meeting between Singh and the Secretary, is this something also like the Ivanov thing that you're trying to do on this visit? It's not something that you're envisaging on this upcoming trip, is it?
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I know of. When we have something, we'll tell you, but I don't think that's the plan.
Q: One more on that. Did they discuss the sanctions issue?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't have the full details of the discussion so I think I'll just leave it to the issues that I raised.
Q: On Colombia, the Secretary is going to meet the Foreign Minister of Colombia tomorrow, and I wonder if you can give us the United States position or comments about the peace negotiations last week in Colombia, and what will the new subject of this meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: Sorry. What the --
Q: What will be the subject of the meeting tomorrow?
MR. BOUCHER: The subject of the meeting? Well, I'm sure the meeting tomorrow will look at our whole relationship with Colombia. Obviously it's a very important relationship to us. The Secretary has expressed his support for Plan Colombia and our interest in what President Pastrana is doing. Clearly his discussions with the FARC will be an important topic, the overall counter-narcotics effort, the overall progress of Plan Colombia, including the many social and economic aspects of that are of considerable interest to us, and I'm sure there will be other issues in the bilateral relationship that will come up.
In terms of the talks that President Pastrana and the FARC commander had, they did announce a 13-point agreement to resume the peace discussions that the FARC had unilaterally suspended. We certainly applaud President Pastrana's tireless and personal efforts to move this process forward. Our sincerest hope is that his efforts and the desire of the Colombian people for peace will be realized with long overdue agreements by the FARC, or with the FARC.
Certainly there is now procedural basis on which to build such agreements that could lead to a lasting peace. Now is the time for the FARC to demonstrate its willingness to advance towards peace.
Q: Can we go back to India? Was there any discussion about missile defense? I have in mind Senator Biden's warning last week that if the US goes ahead, the Chinese will get more active, and India will respond to that by getting more active in nuclear weaponry.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I will have to double check on that. I'm sorry, I didn't get that.
Q: Back to Syria. There has been -- there is a report that cited a US intelligence source that called the Shebba Farms area at the Israeli- Lebanon border the flash point of the region, that that's where something could happen if there would be some sort of fighting. Can you comment on that in some way? You know, how seriously does the United States take the Syria-Lebanon-Israeli triangle up there?
MR. BOUCHER: Clearly, that has been an area that we have worked on with the parties, that we have talked to the parties about, an area of concern and a potential area for violence that we have been worried about. But I'm afraid in the Middle East there are a number of areas like that. So we have gone to parties in the region many times and have reiterated recently in the Secretary's phone calls and the contacts we have had through our embassies, the need for restraint and for everybody to take all the steps they can in all these areas to prevent violence, and this is one of them.
Q: I just wanted to follow up on that. Bashar, the new leader -- is there any evidence -- he is talked about as being a new man and interested in technology and the West. Is there any indication that he has changed the foreign policies of his father in any way, shape or form?
MR. BOUCHER: I leave that kind of analysis to enterprising reporters. I am not prepared to do that on individual leaders.
Q: The Secretary has evinced a certain interest in the DR Congo, and took some time out of his very busy schedule to meet with both President Kabila and Paul Kagame. I am wondering if, on the basis of that, if he or this building has anything in particular to say about President Kagame's refusal to attend this peace summit, or the summit in Lusaka?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as you noted, the Secretary has been involved in the questions of the Congo and has continued to be kept up to date, largely through the Africa Bureau. He hasn't personally talked to President Kagame or Kabila since he met with them.
But I would say that we are disappointed with President Kagame's refusal to attend this important summit. We believe that now is the time for all the parties to participate and promote the Lusaka peace process. We would urge President Kagame to reconsider his decision and not miss this important opportunity for moving the peace process forward.
Peace cannot be achieved in the Congo without a dialogue among all interested countries and groups, so we would hope that they would be able to continue with that. Now, we do understand that President Kagame said he would attend the summit if it were held elsewhere, and there are efforts under way to see the summit rescheduled, so we will see how those turn out.
Q: His objection, saying that the Zambians had allowed troops -- you don't think that that is a valid objection? Or maybe I missed it.
MR. BOUCHER: He cited two specific incidents, which he sees as the bar to participation. But I think our view is that it is important to participate and we would urge him to do so, and we hope it can be rescheduled.
Q: You don't care where it takes place? I mean, it could be Lusaka or it could be somewhere else?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, yes, we're not --
Q: In terms of venue, you don't have --
MR. BOUCHER: We think the summit should take place, and we hope it does.
Q: Other than by speaking now, have you told President Kagame of your -- has there been any contact?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we have had any direct contact with him. I am sure our Embassy is in touch with the government.
Q: Can you tell us what is going on diplomatically since the accident off the coast of Hawaii with the Japanese fishermen?
MR. BOUCHER: We have had a large number of contacts with the Japanese. The Secretary has clearly been in touch. The CINCPAC has been working closely with the Japanese consulate and the Japanese officials who are out there on the scene, and our Ambassador to Japan has had a number of meetings on the subject, including he traveled to Osaka yesterday to meet with the families before they flew off to the United States.
The Secretary conveyed our deep regret and our apology to Foreign Minister Kono early on Saturday morning. Secretary Rumsfeld spoke with his counterpart Saturday. When Secretary Powell talked to Foreign Minister Kono, he was able to convey the President's regrets as well.
As the Secretary said in his interviews over the weekend, we don't have the details on everything that happened, but we're doing everything we can to help the families and to give them all the information that we do have at this point.
The Secretary continues to monitor the situation. He spoke to Ambassador Foley several times over the weekend, including yesterday afternoon, and he and Secretary Rumsfeld have kept the President informed because the President continues to follow the situation.
Ambassador Foley traveled to Osaka on Sunday to see the families off on their way to Hawaii, and he and other Embassy officials have been in close contact with the Japanese Government. The US Government has paid for the families' travel and accommodation for them to come to Hawaii, and the search-and-rescue operation remains under way.
Q: Is there anything else you can tell us on the investigation?
MR. BOUCHER: No, there's not much more I can say at this point. The Department of Defense will have to handle that.
Q: The incident in Hawaii (inaudible) Foreign Minister (inaudible) incident --
MR. BOUCHER: I think neither the one nor the other. I think the President had been looking forward to seeing Prime Minister Mori. That process was under way. I understand they were looking for a fairly early date anyway. So you have to check with the White House to see where that stands.
Q: Can you give us a more general sense of the US-Japanese relations in light of the sub accident, the email incident? Would you say they're strained, or how would you describe it?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say that US-Japanese relations are very solid. They are based on very strong mutual interests, ties of alliance that go back many years, common interests in the region. I think the Secretary described it as sort of the key element in terms of how we approach the broader region. And certainly we believe that those relations are very strong and have their own basis. Certainly there are regrettable incidents like this that happen from time to time. This one is a terrible tragedy for many Japanese families. We can certainly understand that. But that doesn't detract from the overall positive nature of the US-Japan relationship and the importance, I think for both of us, of pursuing that relationship.
Q: Can you say if anyone from the consular department has gone to Hawaii to assist the families while they're in --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure if our consular officials have, but the Japanese consulate in Hawaii has been working on this. And I think Japan has sent some officials on their team to join in helping the families in Hawaii and working with our military command out there to make sure that we do take care of them, as well as develop all possible information and keep communicating on an issue like this that's so much of a concern to both of us.
Q: (Inaudible) that submarine actually didn't rescue them after the sinking. Also, anything on that responsibility American side?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I think those are things that will all have to be looked at in the course of the investigation, so you'll have to check with the Defense Department on those.
Q: About the strain on the relationship, there's a lot of reports coming out of Japan that there is a new strain on the relationship. Is the Secretary at all concerned about the possibility of a new strain on the relationship, and is there any consideration that he may go to the region to talk with officials?
MR. BOUCHER: You've used the word 17 times which I specifically rejected 12 seconds ago. So we don't see it that way. I just have to tell you that we think our relationship with Japan is very, very solid. We'll keep working, communicating, and understanding the concerns that our Japanese friends and allies have on this issue, and we'll keep working with them. There is no new plans to travel at this point.
Q: I think you were a little bit unfair. I don't think he used the word "strain" 17 times, and it wasn't 12 seconds before then.
MR. BOUCHER: All right, it was four times and seven seconds.
Q: Look, it's just a simple fact that this building has, in the past week now, twice apologized to the Japanese Government for what are regrettable incidents in one case, and an accident in this latest case. And don't you think that says something, particularly because President Bush when he came in said he wanted to kind of revamp and strengthen the, you know, put a new focus on US-Japan ties.
Are you not at all disappointed or upset that you have had events, over which I know you have no control, have forced you to issue two public apologies in the last week to a government that you want to, you know, that you want to improve relations with?
MR. BOUCHER: I mean, I just have to say that one week does not change a trend of history. The fact is, these things have occurred from time to time. They are deeply regrettable and horribly tragic. But the trends in the long term in the overall relationship are very solid, are very positive, and will be improving.
Q: But you do allow or accept the idea that this, in fact, has not been a good week. It has been a bad week for US-Japan --
MR. BOUCHER: That's neither here nor there. It's been a horrible week for the families involved, and I think that's where our concerns are.
Q: Last week, a group of senators sent a letter to President Bush expressing their concern about this sale of F-16s to Chile. I know you will probably tell me it's a White House question, but the White House told me to ask the State Department.
What would be the reaction of this Administration to the letter? And it is the policy of this country to go ahead with the sale of this kind of equipment to South American countries, taking the fact that Brazil has been expressing concerns about this policy, and Argentina promised publicly don't buy planes like the F-16 right now.
MR. BOUCHER: This is, I think, the same question we answered last week. So, if I can remember correctly --
Q: A letter from senators.
MR. BOUCHER: This was a letter from senators that said we ought to sell them used airplanes instead or something like that, right?
Q: Yes, but is it not a concern to create an arms race in --
MR. BOUCHER: Again, the same answer I gave the last time you asked the question. This was a process the Chilean Government went through very carefully. There was a competition in terms of a number of high- performance aircraft that they looked at, and other suppliers besides the United States.
We think that a responsible, democratic government looked at this very carefully, made its decision. We welcome that decision. We certainly want to cooperate with Chile in providing for its legitimate defensive needs. And as I said at the time and will say again, we are not looking to fuel any kind of arms race and we are very careful about how we do these things in terms of replacing aging aircraft so that we don't introduce new levels of capabilities, and you can see that specifically in the question of the AMRAAM missiles that we are not going to ship to the region unless somebody else ships a similar missile. So I do think that's a question that has been dealt with a number of times. I don't have anything new on it.
Q: There is a lot of reports saying that it is the military in Chile who is trying to buy this equipment, not the government of President Lagos. Have you looked about this situation?
MR. BOUCHER: We communicate directly with the Government of Chile. Our Embassy down there is in touch, I am sure, with all aspects of the government. And if this was not a request from the government of Chile, then we wouldn't be talking about it.
Q: Let me ask another question the White House doesn't want to answer and sent me to the State Department. There is a proposal by senators trying to postpone in a period of two years this drug certification to Mexico, and we are coming close to the announcement of the certification process.
Do you think it is going to be a good deal for the United States, trying to work with Mexico in a different approach to combat narco- trafficking? The President's folks has been telling publicly that he is against unilateral sanctions like the United States used to improve the war against narco-trafficking.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new to say on that. We've said before that we know the Government of Mexico is interested in the certification process. We know that people on the Hill are, as well. I don't have a new position from us at this point on it.
Q: I have a quick follow-up on the Congo story. Did the Secretary discuss with Kagame and Kabila specifically their attending the summit when they were here?
MR. BOUCHER: As far as I remember, at the moment that they were here, there wasn't any particular plan for the summit. So I don't think that came up in those terms.
Clearly, the Secretary encouraged both of them to participate in the Lusaka peace process and make that process work, including getting together, but I don't think there was a particular summit proposed at that moment.
Q: Can I follow up on the same continent? Rudd Lubbers has said that he's thinking about asking for humanitarian military support for refugees in Guinea. How would the United States respond to such a call?
MR. BOUCHER: Humanitarian military support?
Q: Yeah. Well, he's talking about -- he was asked if he would be looking for military support, and he said, yes, for humanitarian purposes.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that we've seen that proposal. What we've seen is the talk about a safe corridor for refugees. And certainly we would urge everybody involved there to respect, first of all, international humanitarian principles and therefore allow the safe passage of all noncombatants -- Sierra Leonian, Liberian and Guinean -- to secure areas where they can get assistance.
Second of all, we do agree that urgent action is needed. The High Commissioner for Refugees said that there are 180,000 refugees, 70,000 Guineans, that are trapped in a small area of southeastern Guinea. We have already contributed $3.5 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to support emergency action.
We don't have the details yet on the safe corridor proposal. We will continue to work with the Government of Guinea and the regional leaders and to support the efforts of the humanitarian agencies led by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide both emergency relief as we have and to encourage everyone to ensure the safety of refugees, the affected populations, and humanitarian workers.
Q: What about if there were a call for logistical support? Would the United States be willing to --
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, you're sort of taking a step beyond what you asked before. We certainly understand the humanitarian situation there. We have been supporting it, we will continue to support it. And the idea of safe corridors makes sense in terms of everybody should respect the right of refugees to safety. But in terms of any specific military proposal, I'm not aware of that yet.
Q: Richard, when you announced this latest tranche of aid -- I guess it was last week or something in a statement -- you were fairly laudatory toward the Guinean Government about their hosting of all these refugees and about the efforts that they've made. Is there anything that you've seen in this current problem to make you change your laudatory comments about Conakry's position?
MR. BOUCHER: We have continued to work with them and will continue to work with them, so I'm not aware of any change. What is changed is that there is a very critical situation because of the fighting along the border.
Q: Right. But it is the Guinean Government, in some cases, at least in cases that I know of, that is preventing not only refugee flows but also the distribution of aid, including, I would imagine, aid that you just announced.
MR. BOUCHER: I will get you an update, if there is any update, on the cooperation of the Guinean Government, but as far as I know we continue to work with them and recognize the urgency of the situation there.
Q: Richard, will the State Department submit to the US courts a letter in the IBM case saying that the German reparations fund is the sole remedy for such claims?
MR. BOUCHER: I wasn't aware that the IBM case had to do with German reparations.
MR. BOUCHER: So maybe I haven't read this the same way you have, but I didn't ask the question because it didn't strike me as relevant. But I will ask the question and we'll find out for both of us if it's relevant.
Q: IBM is being sued by concentration camp inmates.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I know that. But the German reparation settlement relates to the German reparations; the Austrian one relates to the Austrian reparations. I'm not sure which category this might fall into.
Q: A new subject. Last week, the official voice of Pyongyang in North Korea blasted the United States National Missile Defense proposal, saying it would create a situation where we would see some sort of nuclear holocaust.
Are we still pursuing negotiations with North Korea regarding their missile proliferation? The two seem linked.
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary, I think several times, has expressed his interest in building on the work that has been done in the past and looking at this issue, being very aware of what was done in the last part of the last administration. So in terms of intentions to continue to pursue diplomacy to achieve nonproliferation goals with North Korea, I think that is clearly there. In terms of how we are going to pursue it and how we are going to discuss it, I think we don't have anything new at this stage.
Q: If I can follow up, has there been any official contact between this administration and the North Koreans, and has anyone addressed their concerns over missile defense?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I mentioned a week ago, we have continued to have sort of ongoing contact through the New York channel, but no new departures on the missile defense issue.
Q: Are American diplomats or other officials giving special help to Ted Turner vis-à-vis Russian media acquisitions, potential thereof? You know, embassies help American business people but is there any special wrinkle here?
MR. BOUCHER: No, nothing special. The only wrinkle is that we know what's going on with Media Most. We're very concerned about it. We have expressed our concerns many times. We believe that maintaining an independent media in Russia is very important for the future of Russia and for the state of Russian democracy. We've made that point again and again.
Certainly one of the options that they have is to hook up with a foreign firm, and we know an American firm may be interested. So we'll leave that for them to pursue on a business level. But in overall terms, with the United States first of all supporting freedom of the press and, second of all, supporting the interests of US companies, there's nothing unusual here.
Q: On missile defense, when the Secretary meets with Mr. Fischer next week and others in Brussels and pushes this issue, can you tell us what type of missile defense he is talking about? The President spoke of a robust shield and Secretary Rumsfeld, beginning in Munich, started talking more of a limited scheme, as if he was almost endorsing or picking up on the Clinton plan. Is there any sort of tilt back in that direction?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we are at the stage of being able to specify to you any particular technology or plan. That issue will be looked at, particularly by the Department of Defense, as we go forward, and so it will be up to them to look at the issue and determine how best to go forward.
Our goal at this point in these discussions is to make clear that the Administration does firmly believe that defense has to be part of our broader strategic concept and that we do want to proceed with all aspects of strategic issues, meaning we want to proceed in looking at offensive weapons, diplomatic opportunities, nonproliferation efforts, as well as defense.
Q: It sounds as though like you are sort of, in that context, asking for a blank check from the Europeans and maybe even the Russians, saying, well, we're going to have some defense. I can't tell you what, but please trust us.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I wouldn't put it that way. I would say that it sounds like exactly what's happening, and that is we are talking to our friends and allies as we go forward. We will be consulting with them along the way at every stage. And at later stages, when we may be able to talk more about technology, I am sure we will still be talking to them then. But at this stage, as we go forward, we want to make sure we establish a good dialogue and close consultations with our allies.
Q: I have a couple of terrorism-related questions. First of all, do you know anything about this kind of convention of terrorists in Beirut where militant groups from Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Syria and Iran denounced the United States involvement in the peace process and kind of called for increased coordination against the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't heard about it. I bet we weren't asked to attend. (Laughter.) I will look into it and see if we know anything.
Q: And then also, do you have -- last week, you ordered the Taliban to close its offices in the United States. Did you give them a deadline for a time that it absolutely has to be closed? And there are calls from the UN. Apparently, the UN representative on Afghanistan, the envoy on Afghanistan, is coming to this building tomorrow to make the case that the office should not be closed.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that that -- I don't know about that specific meeting so I wouldn't want to predict what he is going to say. But in terms of the timing and the actual sort of operational details of closing the office here, that will be in the hands of the Treasury Department as they issue their regulations and instructions to the gentleman involved concerning the office. So I guess I don't have anything on either of those points for you.
Q: Is the United States willing to consider an argument by the United Nations Secretariat that perhaps it might not be in the best interests of dealing with the Taliban to have the offices closed?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think that we have found that we have ways of dealing and talking with the Taliban when we need to, irrespective of the status of this office. This office is being closed, quite clearly, pursuant to Resolution 1333 that says these offices need to be closed. That is a UN Security Council resolution, and we intend to follow it.
We've also seen reports that the Taliban might want the UN to close its office in Afghanistan. And we think, frankly, that the two are just in no way comparable, that that's a mistake, that the office provides a lot of important humanitarian support and other contacts with the Afghan, with the Taliban, and therefore that it should be left open and is in no way comparable to the other office that they have here. The office in New York is not a diplomatic office and it's not a UN representation, so under the terms of the UN resolutions we have to close it.
Q: Is the Secretary at all considering visiting Lebanon-- partly for our long-term interests there-- and also because there are three Israeli soldiers that were captured at Shebba Farms. Would the United States involve itself at all in such a thing?
The second question is, there is an Israeli newspaper report, from a very good newspaper, that says the Department of State, in preparation for the issuance of its human rights report, probably while the Secretary is in the area, has queried the Government of Israel as to its responsibility for assassinations of various Fatah officials.
MR. BOUCHER: Let me see if I can keep my fingers straight on this one. In terms of visiting Lebanon, I don't think I can entertain questions on is he planning to go here, is he planning to go there. I can just tell you it's not part of the itinerary for this trip.
In terms of our interests and desire to talk to the Lebanese Government about things, obviously we have an important relationship there and we have a lot of interest in many things in the region, including Israeli captives and the situation on the border. And so we do want to keep in touch and we talk all the time to the Lebanese Government.
The third question in terms of the preparation of the Human Rights Report, at this point, I really don't have anything I can say. In the normal process of preparing these reports, we do occasionally query governments as to information that we have heard about that we might consider including. But often, that process has to go through to the end.
Q: Could you take the question as to whether we did query the Israeli --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't, really. That's the kind of exchange that is normal, routine, part of this process and not something we would highlight in relation to any particular subject or any particular government.
Q: Do you have any comment on the latest explosions in Tehran and does this kind of activity reflect the status of the Mujahedin office in Washington, which remains to this day, despite their status?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particular comment on the latest explosions there and I will check on the status here.
Q: This morning in Cairo, there seemed to be the raising of an issue about perhaps having some kind of a conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the Madrid conference, brought up between Chairman Arafat and the Spanish Foreign Minister, I believe, or Prime Minister. Is that something that the US would be interested in, seeing if perhaps the peace efforts could get righted at some kind of a commemorative thing for the original Madrid conference?
MR. BOUCHER: I will have to check on that and see if there is any particular discussion of it with us. I know in past meetings with the Spanish, there have been sort of inquiries, general discussion about what one should do, but I don't know that there is any specific plan at this point.
Q: Can you expand on or just put on the record, taking question, about the Cuban guy, American Cuban guy who was released? I know it was a taken question but --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that's on the record. But we are very happy to know that Mr. Abreu was finally home with his family.
Q: Yes, thank you. And can you expand on that?
MR. BOUCHER: We are very --
Q: Very, very happy?
MR. BOUCHER: Very, very happy to know that he is back.
Q: Did the US Government have anything to do with it?
MR. BOUCHER: We have consistently urged the Cuban Government to release political prisoners and people that they have had in jail. So I think it stands to reason that we are glad to see him out.
Q: But did you intervene?
MR. BOUCHER: I will check and see what we did in this specific case.
Q: And then my last question, at least, is on Nigeria. Apparently your Embassy in Abuja -- is it in Abuja or Lagos? Well, wherever your Embassy is in Nigeria, they put out this statement saying that they did not think that the imposition of new tariffs by the government was a good idea and that it was opposed to the idea of free market economy type things. And I am just wondering if there is a concern in this building that the Nigerian Government is backsliding on the commitments it made to the previous Secretary and to the previous US Administration that was in favor of these kinds of things?
MR. BOUCHER: I will have to check.
Q: Richard, just for the record, after Mr. Powell, Secretary Powell had strong statements about Iraq, the Iraq mission to the UN last Friday -- maybe someone noticed -- put out a long diatribe -- is that an impartial word? -- accusing the US and Britain of blocking hundreds and hundreds of contracts for humanitarian supplies, just tying them all up in red tape, keeping all sorts of especially children's -- serums for children. That seemed a new wrinkle in a long-going back and forth.
Do you want to, for the record, deal with that?
MR. BOUCHER: I would have to look at all the particulars of any kind of diatribe that they might have released. But I am not really surprised because the fault lies clearly on the Iraqi side that they have, first of all, as we have pointed out many times, there is no embargo on food and medicine. So those kind of supplies shouldn't have any kind of problem at all.
And second of all, we know from the statistics of what they have applied for contracts for and for the last half of last year, those six months, they only tried to spend I think it was 33 percent of the money available for health and 29 percent on education. But it's less than a third in those categories. So they are not signing contracts or presenting contracts for those areas - and that's the problem in getting those things in there. The Iraqi government is not trying to spend the abundant funds that are available to it.
Q: Moving to another subject, President Kuchma seems to be under more pressure than ever. President Putin has gone to visit him in an apparent attempt to give him some support. Does the United States have any message of support for him at this difficult time and do you have any ongoing comments about the ongoing political crisis there?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have always expressed our concern about the case involving Mr. Gongadze, his disappearance. He was the journalist who disappeared last September. We have always urged an open investigation of the circumstances and urged the government to deal seriously with this case. We have expressed our interest at the highest levels of the Ukrainian Government repeatedly. I think the European Union also had something to say on this and, like them, we have stressed with the Ukrainian Government that a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation must be carried out and that the Ukrainian public must be kept fully informed about the progress of the case.
Frankly, we are troubled by the lack of progress to date in the investigation. We think that independent media such as those that Mr. Gongadze represented are one of the essential elements of any democratic society, and journalists must be able to do their job without fear of harassment, intimidation or retribution.
Q: Has Mr. Kuchma been contacted or has any senior person in this building had any contact with the Ukrainians since he came into office?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware that the Secretary has. No, not Secretary Powell. But certainly our Embassy is out there, ably representing us.
Q: Does this Administration consider Colombia, Indonesia, Ukraine and Nigeria to be the key countries for the promotion of democracy and open markets?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard this Secretary of State come out with such a list. But, obviously, they are all countries that, one way or the other, he has expressed his interest in.
Q: Towards the end of Secretary Albright's time, you clearly stated that you stopped using the word "rogue states," and instead you replaced it with "states of concern." Does it still remain to be your position, or you've dumped it?
MR. BOUCHER: These are great examples of the kind of question that we could spend all afternoon answering if we felt like it. But, frankly, I don't feel like it and I don't see why we should come up here to recite mantras every day.
We will tell you what the policy of this Administration is. We will explain the policy of this Administration. We will tell you where we are going. But I am not here to recite mantras or not recite mantras.
I guess we've got two more.
Q: I mean, the Zapatistas' leaders are trying to make a march from Chiapas to Mexico City, trying to meet people from the different branches of the Government of Mexico. In the past, the policy of the United States has been trying to motivate their government to improve the dialogue with the rebels. Do you think it is a good idea or what is your opinion about it? You probably will say it's an internal matter, but I haven't read reports from the United States on the record about the situation in Chiapas.
My question is, why the United States have changed the policy to be so quiet about the issue on Chiapas in Mexico?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have always been quiet on the issue. We haven't had a whole lot to say. I don't have anything new to say today.
Obviously, it is an issue that we are interested in. We will hear from the Government of Mexico on what they're doing. But it is an internal matter and we leave it to them.
Q: Do you think we will have the march to improve the dialogue --
MR. BOUCHER: That is not for me to say.
Q: The Parliament of Greece, they accepted a new law which they claim the Turks killed hundreds of thousands of Greeks in Anatolia. And after Turkey forgave the Greek Government keeping the killer of the 30,000 people, the terrorist Abdullah Ocalan. Do you think is it a good relationship? Is it a friendly relation which the United States promotes?
MR. BOUCHER: I am going to leave it to them to characterize their relationship. I will leave it at that. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:25 p.m.)