Is China helping Iraq build a missile system
Is China helping Iraq build a missile defence system?
Reported Chinese Cooperation with Iraqis
Press Briefing U.S. dept of State
Wednesday February 21, 2001
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Q: On Iraq, what can you say about widespread reports that there were
Chinese in Iraq helping to build an optical fiber system that
apparently was the precipitous for the attack?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I would say two things. I think the
made clear that the attacks were due to the fact that the Iraqis have
been increasingly and repeatedly conducting -- attempting artillery
missile attacks on coalition aircraft since December 2000, and that our
strikes were in reaction to that. They were in an effort, as we always
do, to protect our aircraft and our airmen in this case.
In terms of the question of Chinese
cooperation with Iraq or Chinese
activities with Iraq, we have raised with China our specific concerns
about reports of fiber optic cables and telecommunications projects in
Iraq. We have these reports about work that was going on, reported to
be going on, outside of the sanctions regime, and we have raised these
with the Chinese, including during an early January trip by David
Welch, our Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs,
who went to Beijing and raised them there.
We have told the Chinese that we insist on
full implementation of all
relevant UN resolutions. Enforcing the sanctions regime and minimizing
Saddam's threat is a vital interest of ours and one which we share with
the other people in the region and the Perm 5. We have committed a lot
of effort to that over the past decade, and we'll continue to raise it.
I think we told
you when Secretary Powell met with the Permanent 5
ambassadors in New York he stressed the importance of the integrity of
the sanctions, of upholding the integrity of sanctions and how
important it was for the Perm 5 to do that. And so we have raised
these specific reports with the Chinese, and we would expect a
Q: Well, are you saying -- by saying that,
are you saying that the
Chinese were there? And, if so, were the Chinese breaking the
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not saying the Chinese were there.
Q: You don't know if they were there?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not saying the
Chinese were there. I am saying that
-- well, we have reports of Chinese in Iraq working on optical fiber
and telecommunications projects, and we raised those reports with the
Chinese as a matter of compliance with the UN resolutions, and we
stressed again to the Chinese how important maintaining the integrity
of those sanctions is.
Q: You said they were outside the sanctions.
MR. BOUCHER: That's what I said.
Q: So if the reports are
correct, they are a violation of the
sanctions? You're checking a report.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, we're checking the
reports. We've asked the
Chinese about these reports, and we expect a response from them. The
reports are that this activity is --
Q: But it's illegal under the sanctions regime, isn't it, if true?
MR. BOUCHER: The
reports we have say that this is outside the
sanctions. I mean --
Q: Richard, can you say something about what
kind of reports you're
talking about? Are you talking about news reports, which you often
deride as notoriously unreliable until you've actually checked them
out, or are you talking about intelligence reports, which we deride as
notoriously unreliable unless we can confirm them? (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: I would talk about various reports.
Q: Well, but can you --
MR. BOUCHER: Various kinds of reports.
Q: Are they credible reports?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't go farther than that.
Q: I mean, you can't say credible?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't go farther than that.
Q: Richard, do you know whether the UN
Sanctions Committee ever
authorized any payment to the Chinese, or a Chinese company or the
Chinese Government, in return for these telecommunications -- work on
this telecommunication project?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if
the Sanctions Committee has ever
authorized any work on telecommunications projects, but I do know that
the reports that we have and the reports that we raised were about
activities that were not approved by the UN Sanctions Committee.
Can we let somebody else ask a question?
Q: Okay, a few questions. These reports -- you
said that you've
raised them with the Chinese. Does the US believe that these reports
are credible? Do you believe that there is -- is there any doubt in
your mind that the Chinese have been helping the Iraqis with their
fiber optic cables?
MR. BOUCHER: I am constrained in
what I can say about these reports
and concerns that we have about this because I'm not in a position to
describe them to you in any specificity or detail, as you have found
out through your series of questions. We have various kinds of reports
on these subjects, and I am not in a position to describe them to you.
So I think
all I can say on that is we don't raise these things lightly
with other governments. We raise information that we have good reason
to believe is true, and we ask governments to explain and respond to
those. And in this case, we have done this with the Chinese.
Q: Okay then, to
follow up, yesterday, I believe, the Chinese
Government did respond and denied the fact that they have been helping
the Iraqis. Are you looking for a response beyond that?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say we are still awaiting a
detailed response to
the reports that we raised.
Q: Okay. And then finally, do you think --
MR. BOUCHER: And
actually, the Secretary made that point this morning
to the Chinese Ambassador, who was in to present his credentials. And
it was a normal presentation, discussion of the general relationship,
but the Secretary took the opportunity also to raise our concerns about
Chinese workers in Iraq, and in the context of compliance with the UN
Security Council resolutions. And he mentioned the approach that we
had made in January to raise these specific concerns and said we were
looking for a response.
Q: Finally, do you have any reason to
believe that the Iraqis are
helped -- or excuse me, the Chinese are helping the Iraqis elsewhere in
a manner that would be outside the sanctions?
MR. BOUCHER: That's a
pretty broad question that I don't think I can
answer at this point.
Q: How is it broad? I'm just saying, are the --
MR. BOUCHER: Are they doing -- are the Chinese doing
anything else in
Iraq that is not covered by the Sanctions Committee? That is a very
broad question, I'm sorry.
Q: Well, why -- I don't understand --
MR. BOUCHER: I just don't have the answer for you right now.
Q: Are you saying that you don't have the answer
because it doesn't --
you haven't looked at that, or because you don't want to share it?
MR. BOUCHER: Because I
haven't done the comprehensive search on that.
I may be able to, but I'm not sure I can.
Q: Didn't Defense
officials say, though, that we planned the timing of
the air strikes to avoid hitting Chinese workers?
I don't know. There were anonymous officials quoted in
the newspaper. Would you like to identify your sources?
Q: I don't have -- no, I read the same reports.
But I think they
cited Defense officials saying that.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, in that case, you can go ask the
if you happen to know who they are; I don't.
Q: I don't. But why would Defense officials have
apparently confirmed, or using these reports to time air strikes if the
BOUCHER: I think you are asking me questions I can't answer
I really don't think I could talk about the sources that reporters
have. That's up to reporters, if they should wish.
Q: Richard, one other on this. With the
understanding that you have
of these reports and the presumption that some aspect of them are true,
these projects, were they understood to be projects to reconstruct --
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say that some aspects aren't
true. I just said
what we had raised -- what we knew and what we had raised.
Q: Are these projects purported to be
ones to reconstruct the Iraqi
telephone system and communication system, and considered to be dual-
use, that the Iraqis may -- or are also using it for military purposes?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I can't go into any more
detail with you about the
kind of reports we have. But working on telecommunications and fiber
optics projects is because you are constructing a communications system
or reconstructing a communications system. Obviously whatever the
intended recipient of that communication system, having those better
communications in the country, obviously it contributes to their
ability to pass information. I think I have to leave it at that. That
is sort of the obvious, but I can't go beyond the obvious on that.
Q: When you first spoke about this, you
used the qualifier, "reports
of Chinese workers," and then later you said -- and I believe I'm
quoting you directly -- that "Secretary Powell raised concerns about
Chinese workers in Iraq," in effect dropping the qualifier. Which way
do you prefer it?
MR. BOUCHER: I
don't pretty much care. (Laughter.)