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US State Dept Noon Briefing, March 5, 2001

US State Dept Noon Briefing, March 5, 2001

Transcript: State Department Noon Briefing, March 5, 2001

Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq, Hanssen case, Jordan, Kosovo/Macedonia, North Korea, Mideast, South Korea, Afghanistan, Africa


State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher briefed.

Following is the State Department transcript:

(begin transcript)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Daily Press Briefing Index Monday, March 5, 2001

BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman

SAUDI ARABIA -- Deaths at the Hajj

RUSSIA -- Allegations of Tunnel under Russian Embassy in Washington, DC

IRAQ -- Sanctions Policy/Weapons of Mass Destruction/Inspectors -- U.S. Cooperation with Iraqi National Congress/Extension of U.S. Grant -- Syrian Support for U.S. Policy

DEPARTMENT -- FBI Investigation of Robert Hanssen/Department Investigation of Computer Systems

JORDAN -- Customs Inspections of Cargo Bound for Ira

qFORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA -- Violence by Extremists/NATO-led Forces/U.S. Discussions with Greece on Situation

NORTH KOREA -- Visit by North Korean Economic Delegation -- Reported Welcome for Non-American Visitors

MIDDLE EAST -- Secretary Powell's Contacts with Officials/Assistant Secretary Ned Walker's Visit to Region

SOUTH KOREA -- Reported High-Level Defector/Senate Testimony

AFGHANISTAN -- Taliban Threat to Destroy Statues/International Pressure to Stop Destruction -- Humanitarian Situation and U.S. Funds/Sanctions

AFRICA -- Generic HIV/AIDS drugs

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

MONDAY, MARCH 5, 2001 -- 12:40 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to start off and say a few words about the tragedy that occurred during the Hajj today. I want to express our deepest condolences on behalf of the Secretary and the Department regarding the horrible tragedy which occurred earlier today in Saudi Arabia at one of the Hajj sites. Our hearts and our prayers go out to the victims and their families at this solemn time.

We also want to commend the Saudi authorities for reacting swiftly to prevent a greater tragedy. The Saudi Government has devoted considerable resources towards ensuring a safe experience for the millions of Hajj pilgrims who visit every year, and their excellent management of this solemn event every year is noteworthy.

With that, I would be glad to take your questions on this or other topics.

QUESTION: Richard, can you say anything about stories over the weekend concerning the tunnel constructed adjacent to the Russian Embassy? And along with that, any response to the statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry this morning?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, in terms of any tunnel or lack of tunnel, obviously all this purports to relate to intelligence activities and I wouldn't be able to comment one way or the other. I would be able to confirm to you that the Russian Foreign Ministry called in our Charge in Moscow today in connection with stories on this subject that had appeared in the press, and all our Charge said was he would report their concerns back to Washington.

I think that is about all I can do on that subject, but you can keep trying if you want.

Q: Regarding Iraq sanctions, is it -- regarding the efforts to get inspectors into Iraq, has the State Department and the Bush Administration agreed to sort of put that on the back burner? Is that a back burner issue now, giving way to other things?

MR. BOUCHER: No.

Q: Inspectors -- okay.

MR. BOUCHER: No, and I think -- I know there was a newspaper that made much of a certain statement by Vice President Cheney over the weekend. But he said clearly what we have said before: we would like to see the inspectors back, but we are not going to hinge our entire policy on whether the inspectors go back or not. You look at what Secretary Powell said last week during his trip, and then when he got to the European Union, he made quite clear that Iraq, at the end of the day, will have to decide whether to let the inspectors back in. If they don't come back in, then the conditions set by the United Nations will not be met, and he will have to remain trapped in his box.

So it remains our policy to seek full Iraqi fulfillment of the UN resolutions, for the Iraqis to let the inspectors back. But we are going to have a policy that can effectively, we hope, control the flow of weapons and materials to acquire them into Iraq so that Iraq can't acquire these weapons of mass destruction or the materials to make them. And that policy is going to be set by the international community.

We are working with governments in the region. We are working with our allies to design a set of effective controls that control what we need to, which is weapons and the equipment to make them, and that don't affect the Iraqi people. That has been the discussion that we have had with our allies. We are going to put in place that kind of policy, and it is going to remain in place on our own decision until Iraq brings itself into compliance.

If Iraq at some point wants to claim it is clean, wants to claim it doesn't have programs or weapons of mass destruction, well, then it is up to them to invite the inspectors back in. It is up to them to show us and to demonstrate to us. If they don't, we are going to keep the regime in place the way we design it and the way we want it.

Q: Wasn't the point of the sanctions to put pressure on the Iraqi regime so that they would allow the inspectors in? What are the mechanisms, the new policies considering pressuring the Iraqis to allow these inspectors in?

MR. BOUCHER: The point of the sanctions is to keep Iraq from threatening the people of the region, from threatening its neighbors and having the wherewithal to rebuild its military, and especially to develop the capability in the area of weapons of mass destruction. That's the point of the sanctions. That has been the point of the sanctions from the start. Okay?

In doing that, we want to do it in a way that is smart, that does that and doesn't have an effect on the Iraqi people, because we are against the threat posed by the Iraqi regime, not against the Iraqi people. So we will design a regimen, a series of controls that do that.

What is the incentive for Iraq to get out of that? The controls -- they are going to have to control weapons, they are going to have to control funds, and they are going to have to control smuggling if they are going to be effective. That should be sufficient incentive for Iraq to want to get out from under those controls. But they are not going to get out until they can demonstrate to the rest of us that they have stopped pursuing these programs, and obviously the only way they could demonstrate that would be to have inspectors come back in and prove it.

Q: Could I go back to Hanssen for a minute? What can you tell us about sort of the damage estimate that is going on here at the State Department? I mean, after all, he had an office here on the second floor, I believe, and was the Bureau's liaison.

MR. BOUCHER: I can't tell you anything at this point. The investigation does continue. We have been looking -- conducting a review of all our computer systems because when he was here he did have some access to State Department computer systems in the course of his duties. That review is ongoing. It will be completed as quickly as possible, but I can't give you a precise date on that.

As far as the overall investigation or any findings of damage, that will be the result of the investigation once it is finished, and it is ongoing now.

Q: Is the investigation into the State Department's computer system, related to Mr. Hanssen, being done by State or is it being done by the FBI, or is it in conjunction with?

MR. BOUCHER: We are conducting the review of our computer systems. The Department is. Obviously any information developed by the FBI in the course of their investigation would be germane to that, and obviously they will be interested in knowing if we find anything in our computers. I'm sure that part of their investigation will be looking at places he might have had access to see if he did anything, but that matter is up to them. I think the best way to describe this is we are conducting an investigation -- looking at our own computer systems, but in conjunction with the FBI looking at Mr. Hanssen's activities.

Q: Can you say whether you can be very specific in your computer search as to where he might have been? Can you say whether you leave footprints in the system when you have access to various parts of it?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think I can go into that level of detail. Those are obviously things that will be looked at in the course of the investigation about what he might have had access to and where he might have been in those systems.

Q: Could you say, please, when this government expects to get back to the Russians on the question of the tunnel -- their request for information today?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that we promised to get back to them, and I don't know when we will. Our Charge told the Russians he would report their concerns back to Washington. I'm not sure we will have anything more to say on the subject, but if we do I will tell you.

Q: Do you know whether it's too early yet or whether it's possible to yet rule out that Mr. Hanssen had access to the rooms where we had problems earlier with the bugging or with the computer missing?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it would be pure speculation for anybody to try to make a determination one way or the other on that. Obviously those things will be looked at in the course of the investigation, but I don't have any information at this point.

Q: I thought you could tell by swiping machines whether certain people had been in that area or not, and it shouldn't take -- it shouldn't be --

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not about to give you any piece of information that might be looked at in the middle of the investigation. We are still in the middle of the investigation. Whether we know or not, I can't tell you.

Q: Can we get back to Iraq? I'm still a little confused on this point. Is there much you can do to change the sanctions regime without the cooperation of the Iraqi regime?

MR. BOUCHER: We can certainly decide -- the international community can decide what it sells, what it allows across borders, the kinds of inspection regimes, where it is going to deposit its money, and such things. And that is what we are working with other governments to do to make sure that we have an effective control on weapons and the means to acquire them, including the money and the smuggling, so that we can determine what we want to do with regard to Iraq.

Now, if Iraq wants to change that, if Iraq wants to get out of the box, they are going to have to invite the inspectors in and comply with the UN resolutions.

Q: Okay, but one of the aims of your review of policy is to undermine the Iraqi argument that the sanctions are hurting the Iraqi civilians. How are you going to achieve that objective if the Iraqis refuse to let the inspections in, and therefore the whole thing gets held up?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that "the whole thing", as you describe it, is dependent on the Iraqis allowing the inspectors in. That is what Vice President Cheney said over the weekend. That is what Secretary Powell has said. "The whole thing," meaning what we decide to do, what we decide to sell, where we decide to put the money, how we inspect cargo -- those are all things that we and the frontline states and the other members of the coalition can put together, can decide, independent of what Iraq decides to do.

The pressure remains on Iraq to let the inspectors in. If they want to try to show that they are clean, if they want to try to show that they are not doing these things, the pressure remains on them. We can also decide what we want to sell and what we don't want to sell. If we decide that certain civilian goods don't matter in terms of weapons programs, then we would be willing to sell those more freely or more smoothly than we have in the past. And that will, in and of itself, make clear that we are not trying to withhold things from -- civilian goods from the Iraqi civilian population.

Q: There were some calls on Capitol Hill Thursday for assisting these opposition groups with weapons, with training, and with possibly installing them into portions of Iraq which are not under Saddam Hussein's control.

Can you discuss any of these ideas?

MR. BOUCHER: Not really. We have, as you know, cooperated with the Iraq National Congress, which is an opposition group. We have cooperated within the framework of a memorandum we signed with them last September that talks about information activities, public activities, collecting information, disseminating information. We have studied, at the request of Congress, the possibilities of them distributing humanitarian goods inside Iraq, and that is a study that has gone forward, and that is something we are discussing with them.

As far as other activities, I guess the only thing I can say at this point is that aspect of our Iraq policy is something we will have to look at, that is being looked at, and as far as any new departures from that existing basis with the Iraqi opposition, that would be something to be looked in the future.

Q: The Jordanians were having Lloyd's inspect cargos bound for Iraq that were landed in Aqaba. And then there was a report that the Jordanians had canceled this arrangement with Lloyd's.

Can you tell me, is there any inspection of cargos landing at Aqaba that go to Iraq? Is anyone inspecting these cargos at this point?

MR. BOUCHER: My understanding is the Jordanian customs service is handling the inspections now, and we have worked with them over time to try to help them make sure they have an effective and complete inspection.

Q: On the INC, after the talks about two weeks ago now, I guess, did you come to an agreement on the extra 29 million? And if not, what is the next step in the negotiations on this?

MR. BOUCHER: I'll double-check. As of Friday, we were still in discussions with them on the additional money and the additional grant and how that would be handled. They also decided --

Q: Friday meaning last Friday, or the Friday before?

MR. BOUCHER: Last Friday.

Q: They stayed on right through? I don't know.

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure how we are in touch with them, but we remain in touch with them. They have people in the area.

At first we had talked about whether we would renew -- at first they had not asked to renew the existing grant for 4 million, but then they changed their mind and decided we should do that. So we did last week extend the existing grant for 4 million, and we are still talking to them about the next grant, which would be the 29.

Q: Anything on rapid developments in (inaudible), which in the last few days has been attacked by armed Albanians?

MR. BOUCHER: As I think you know, we have been working with NATO, with the Kosovo forces and with the Macedonian Government to try to bring peace to the area. There were three Macedonian soldiers killed near the village of Tanusevci on the border with Kosovo on Sunday. We express our condolences, first of all, to the families of the soldiers.

There has been firing that has continued today between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian extremists. We strongly condemn the acts of violence by extremists who are seeking to undermine the stability of Macedonia, Kosovo and the region. The United States supports the Macedonian Government's measured response to these criminal acts and will continue to watch the situation very carefully.

The NATO-led Kosovo forces have increased their patrols along the Kosovo-Macedonian border. The Kosovo forces are addressing the serious situation. In meetings yesterday and today, the Kosovo forces commander met with the Macedonian Government officials. They signed a declaration of intent to intensify cooperation along the Kosovo-Macedonia border. Our Ambassador to Macedonia, Mike Einik, and NATO Ambassadors in Macedonia met yesterday with the Macedonian President and the Minister of Defense.

The Macedonian Government has asked the United Nations Security Council to discuss the situation on the border. The United Nations is closed today because of the weather, but we expect the Security Council will take up the issue later this week. So there is a great deal that is going on: we are working through NATO; NATO is working in the Kosovo forces; NATO is working with the Macedonian Government; and we are working directly with the Macedonian Government to try to bring peace to this region.

Q: Do you consider the Albanian extremists or terrorists?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we have described people in this region who are using violence as extremists, and that is where I will stay for the moment.

Q: Any communication between your government and the Albanian rebels?

MR. BOUCHER: And the Albanian rebels?

Q: Yes.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, now you've introduced a new term.

Q: Those extremists. Whatever they are.

MR. BOUCHER: The Albanian extremists? Not that I'm aware of. I would have to double-check if there is.

Q: Do you guarantee as the US Government the security and territorial integrity of (inaudible)?

MR. BOUCHER: That is the kind of big, sweeping question that I'm not prepared to answer at this point. We obviously want to work with them to bring peace and tranquility to this region. I will see if there is any other commitment, though.

Q: Any comment on the Bulgarian proposal to send troops in (inaudible)?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have any comment on that. We haven't had a chance to talk to either the Bulgarian Government or the Macedonian Government about it yet.

Q: And the last one. Any communication with the Greek Government for the situation?

MR. BOUCHER: We talk to the Greek Government all the time about this situation. The Secretary, when he met with Foreign Minister Papandreou at NATO about a week ago tomorrow, discussed the situation in Macedonia. As you know, we talked about it with other members of NATO and made some decisions out there at the time.

Whether we have had subsequent discussions -- I don't know whether we have had discussions through our Embassy. I don't think he, himself, has talked to the Greek Foreign Minister. I know the Secretary has talked to the Macedonian Foreign Minister once or twice in the last week -- the Macedonian President once or twice in the last week. And we probably - I will double-check on the Greek Government. I'm assuming we have remained in touch with the Greek Government at NATO as well as in Athens.

Q: Do you anything on last Friday's contact with North Korean delegation here?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. I'm trying to think of which delegation. That's the economic delegation that came?

Q: Yes, economic delegation.

MR. BOUCHER: I'll double-check and see if we have anything on that. I don't have anything today for you.

Q: Richard, in terms of the Secretary's contacts, is there anything new in the Middle East? Has he been in touch with Israelis, Palestinians, anyone else he saw in the region over there -- both the Iraq policy and the violence in the region over the weekend?

MR. BOUCHER: Not that I know of. I will double-check. I'm not aware of anything at this point. Obviously we have continued to work through our Ambassadors in the region. Ned Walker has been out visiting a number of places in the region. And so we have continued to work these issues, especially through our embassies.

Q: Back to North Korea. Have you seen these the reports that the International Travel Company of North Korea is welcoming all visitors except Americans?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I haven't.

Q: It's true. "Everybody is welcome except you." He pointed at Americans and said, "You guys aren't welcome yet." You haven't seen it?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I haven't.

Q: On the same thing, is North Korea now a rogue state again?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not here to play semantics. I don't know.

Q: No, but -- okay, but do rogue states now exist?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. Simple answer. Profound question, profound answer. We will get to them someday.

Q: Are you in contact at all with the South Korean Government to help work, I guess, with this high-level defector, who would like to testify at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

MR. BOUCHER: That is a profound question with a not-profound answer. I don't know. We wouldn't talk about it if we were.

Q: It's about the Taliban, how do you deal with the Taliban's destruction of statues of Buddhism so far. And if you didn't do anything about that, do you have any plan in the future?

MR. BOUCHER: We have raised our strong concerns in any number of ways. We have raised them directly with the Taliban through their representatives in Islamabad. Many other governments, including Pakistan and Iran, have also weighed in with the Taliban to try to halt the planned destruction.

According to some press reports, the destruction of statues has already begun, but we are not able to confirm whether that is the case. We note that a large number of countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Russia, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Italy, Sri Lanka and Thailand, have voiced their strong concern over the Taliban decision. Afghanistan's ancient statues are an important part of the world's cultural legacy and the cultural heritage of Afghanistan.

According to press reports, the Islamic Education Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is a branch of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, has urged the Taliban to refrain from demolishing the statues and monuments in Afghanistan which constitute, in their words, "a universal human heritage."

The United States also joins the United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and other governments in urging a halt to the destruction by the Taliban of a significant aspect of Afghans' cultural heritage.

I would note also that while we are concerned about statues, we have also been very concerned about the deepening plight of the Afghan people. They are facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, for which the Taliban are largely responsible. In the face of the humanitarian crisis and the growing death toll, the United States has donated, and will continue to donate, emergency humanitarian relief to the Afghan people. For the past two years, the United States has been the world's largest single donor of humanitarian aid to the Afghans.

Q: How is the Taliban responsible for the humanitarian crisis? I mean, my understanding is that it is caused by natural conditions in large part.

MR. BOUCHER: Their fighting -- their policies, the fighting, the conduct of the government, have a lot to do with the suffering of the people.

Q: (Inaudible) with the Taliban? I mean, it seems like they already have several sanctions or new sanctions passed just a few months ago. You're not mentioning any new sort of threats or things that we can do if they proceed.

MR. BOUCHER: There are a number of sanctions already internationally through the United Nations and a lot of restrictions on US interaction from the United States. But what you have here is the international community really expressing very, very strongly the will, including a lot of governments of Moslem states, including the Islamic Conference, and international organizations, and we hope that this weight of world opinion will be taken seriously by the Taliban.

Q: How much support are you giving for the refugee -- for the displaced people around Herat, and the whole --

MR. BOUCHER: I have to double-check on specific numbers on that.

Q: But have you announced some new funds for this?

MR. BOUCHER: We have announced funds periodically and relatively recently, and I have to double-check on when the last tranche was. But we have been a major and significant donor for humanitarian relief and will continue to do that. We don't do it through the government; we do it through other organizations.

Q: Do you have anything on these American and British naval ships in the Indian economic -- solely economic zone? Apparently the Indian Government is asking why these ships are in the --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know about it. I have to check.

Q: Thanks.

Q: This is question that I posed several times here, and I never got an answer. Perhaps you have one, since it has become topical again.

Do you know whether the Administration has asked for a review of the decision last May on generic AIDS drugs for Africa?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we have given you an answer before, and that is that we haven't changed the policy on that. And we have not changed it at this point, either.

Q: Okay, that's not quite the question. The question is, is it under review?

MR. BOUCHER: Is it under review? That is something I'll have to check on. But at this point, there is no change in policy.

Q: One last question? It's on Iraq again. Shortly after we were told by Secretary Powell that he had had a positive response in Syria to his proposals, the Syrian Information Minister gave an interview in which he said that Syria rejected these ideas.

MR. BOUCHER: The President of Syria told us that he supported these ideas, that he wanted to work with us in going in that direction. So I suppose you can ask this one at the Syrian Information Ministry instead.

Q: Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.)

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

ENDS

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