State Dept. Daily Press Briefing August 28, 2001
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Daily Press Briefing Index Tuesday, August 28, 2001
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY 1-8 Contact with International Community on Peace Efforts / Security Issues/Targeted Killings / Recent Developments / US Engagement
SYRIA 2 PFLP Spokesman's Plea for Strikes Against US Interests / Talks Regarding Israeli-Lebanon Border
EUROPE 8-9 Assistant Secretary Beth Jones' Visit / Caspian Sea Pipeline Project
UNITED NATIONS 9-10 World Conference Against Racism in South Africa 10-13 General Assembly Special Session on Children
MACEDONIA 13-14 NATO Troops for Operation Essential Harvest / Disarmament Process
BELARUS 14-16 Political Situation Regarding Elections / Actions Against Independent Media Outlets
AFGHANISTAN 16-17 Consular Access to Detained Aid Workers
CHINA 17 Reported Increase in Missiles
PAPAU NEW GUINEA 17 US Support for Peace Agreement
NORTH KOREA 17-18 Dialogue Through New York Channel
PERU / COLOMBIA 18 Secretary Powell's Visit
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB # 124
TUESDAY, AUGUST 28, 2001 12:50 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements, so I would be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: The Belgian Foreign Minister, his country being the lead --
MR. BOUCHER: The European presidency, yes.
QUESTION: -- of the EU says that he is interested in some sort of joint initiative involving the EU, the United States and Russia to revitalize the peace effort between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and he said phone calls on this subject were to take place this afternoon. It's already evening in Belgian, Belgian-time. So maybe those calls already have taken place.
Do you have anything for us on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I would just say the Secretary has consistently been talking with a number of leaders about the situation in the Middle East. He has talked frequently with Kofi Annan; he has talked frequently with Joschka Fischer, the Foreign Minister of Germany; he has talked to Foreign Minister Michel of Belgium in the EU presidency capacity over the last several weeks. I think he talked yesterday to the Italian Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Ruggiero, who is heading out to the region, we understand. And I think he was going to talk to the Foreign Minister of Belgium again today. But I am not -- I don't think that call has actually taken place at this point.
I think the issue here is what can the international community do. And for us, and I think for many others, the role of the international community is to consistently point the way towards implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations. And there has been very strong international support for implementation of those recommendations in all their aspects. And that is what we continue to look to do. That is what we continue to urge, and that is what others continue to urge on the parties as well.
QUESTION: Given the anger in the Palestinian and Arab world over the use of American weapons in some recent attacks, does the United States believe that there is an increased threat to American interests or personnel overseas, and have any actions been taken, or will they be taken, to tighten up protections around US embassies or US personnel overseas?
MR. BOUCHER: As you know, we not only maintain a high level of security in our embassies, but we also maintain public advisories on travel and on dangers. We have existing Travel Advisories, Travel Warnings on the dangers of traveling in the Middle East. At this point, we stand on those. I am not aware of any new additions coming out. But if you look at them, you will find they are already pretty strong.
QUESTION: Related to that, yesterday, the PFLP said they (inaudible) said while they threatened attacks on Israeli and American interests, I'm wondering if you have -- and they said this in a news conference in Damascus -- I am wondering if there has been any contact between this building, or people attached to this building, maybe in Damascus, with Syrian authorities about them hosting such an --
MR. BOUCHER: There have been discussions over a long time about their hosting such people, but with regard to these specific statements, there have been contacts as well in recent days -- well, overnight -- with the Syrian Government.
We do take seriously the spokesman for the PFLP's plea for strikes against US interests. We are calling on the Syrian Government to exercise restraint over groups that it allows on Syrian territory. We are raising the spokesman's remarks with the Syrian Government, noting that we hold the Syrian Government responsible for the safety and security of Americans in Syria.
We do welcome President Asad's recent reiteration of Syria's support for a just and comprehensive peace. We think such a position conveys on him certain responsibilities to exercise restraint where he has influence to prevent any further escalatory violence. A just and comprehensive peace based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and the Madrid principles of Land-for-Peace cannot be obtained by military means, only through renewed negotiations. So we are raising this with the Syrian Government through our Embassy in Damascus.
QUESTION: And one more on Syria. On Friday and again today, senior Israeli officials have said that they have asked the United States to pass a message on to President Asad about developments with Hezbollah and near the Lebanese-Syrian border. Do you know, was that raised in these latest conversations that you were just mentioning, or at any other point?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I am going to be able to go into any specific message or discussion in that regard, but I would just say that consistently the United States has raised our concerns about the Israeli-Lebanon border, about the situation there. We have called on all the parties who have influence in that area to exercise it, to make sure that violence in that place does not escalate. The Secretary has done this in his discussions with the Syrians. We have done this through our embassy and elsewhere.
QUESTION: Yes, just on the US arms. Can you -- I'm sure this has come up many times, but I don't recall what exactly your position is. Have you brought up with Israeli officials the use of US weapons in these targeted killings, as you call them?
MR. BOUCHER: We have made clear our opposition to targeted killings. It's not a question of the weapons so much as it is a question of the event. Obviously, they are aware and we are aware of the restrictions on the use of American weaponry. Obviously they are aware of that.
But I think our opposition to this is not, you can kill them with somebody else's weapons.
QUESTION: Yes, sure. Let me put it this way then. Have you discussed with Israeli officials the use of American-supplied weapons in trying to suppress the intifada?
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, I have to say that the Israelis are quite aware of the restrictions on the use of American weapons, but the discussions that we have with them -- well, I'm just going to leave it at that.
QUESTION: Well, so -- but that means that you are not going to say whether they have come up in recent discussions with senior Israeli officials who happen to be in town?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: They have not? This has not --
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to say.
QUESTION: You're not going to say whether --
MR. BOUCHER: But the focus of our discussions with the Israelis is not weapons; the focus of our discussions with the Israelis is on calming the situation and ending the violence. That remains the subject of discussion, how to stop this terrorism and how to stop the threats, how to stop the retaliations and how to stop the violence.
QUESTION: Okay, can we move on to Beit Jala? Do you have anything to say about the reoccupation of Beit Jala, and what is your understanding about the time frame for this? Is this -- would you be very concerned if the Israelis stayed there indefinitely?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me do this in the context of the overall situation. I think we made quite clear yesterday we think the parties know what they have to do to deescalate the situation, to break the pattern of violence that has erupted. With regard to the situation in Gilo and Beit Jala, let me be clear. The Palestinians need to stop the shootings and attacks against Israelis in Gilo and elsewhere. The Palestinian Authority must exercise its authority if it is serious about ending the current crisis and moving to the implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations.
The Israelis need to understand that incursions like this will not solve the security problems; they only make matters worse. As a consequence, we believe the Israelis should withdraw their forces from this area.
We are troubled by reports that Israel has posted troops next to an orphanage that is affiliated with the Lutheran Church in Beit Jala. We want both sides to avoid any action that would jeopardize the safety of the children, and both sides need to avoid actions that continue to exacerbate the situation on the ground and that make it more difficult to find a way out of the current crisis.
QUESTION: Back to the targeted killings and the use of US weapons in Israel. Are they breaking any (inaudible) our supplying the weapons and planes to them, the Israelis?
MR. BOUCHER: The question of US weapons is a complicated one, legally, that we have discussed before. Under the Arms Export Control Act, recipients of defense articles and services agree to use them solely for specified purposes, including internal security and legitimate self-defense. The Act contains provisions on reporting to Congress in the event of substantial violations of those agreements. No decisions have been made that such a report would be required in the current circumstances.
We continue to monitor whether US weaponry is used according to the terms of the transfer. We would take appropriate steps to make sure it is.
QUESTION: And what steps would those be?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we would follow our legal obligations.
QUESTION: Richard --
MR. BOUCHER: I would add one thing to this discussion that does relate to weaponry. We have made clear that we think the use of heavy weaponry, particularly in urban areas, is dangerous and risks civilian casualties, and so we have opposed that in terms of the kind of weaponry used.
QUESTION: If there is no report required, does that mean that the United States believes that the use of the F-16s and the missiles and helicopters is legitimate self-defense?
MR. BOUCHER: It means that we have not made any determinations or decisions that the provisions of the law might have been violated.
QUESTION: In June, in an interview, Secretary Powell said that -- it was a couple of weeks after the first F-16s being used -- and he said that it would be good if the United States did not see the use of these F-16s any more in this manner.
Now that we are seeing it much more regularly, why aren't we hearing anything like this in public that it would be better if they didn't use them?
MR. BOUCHER: I just reiterated, thinking of that, that we do think that the use of heavy weaponry in populated areas runs a high risk of civilian casualties, and we have been opposed to it.
QUESTION: Going back to Beit Jala, I assume that people in Israel have talked to -- US officials have talked to Israeli Government officials. And has there been any indication that the Israelis plan to pull out of Beit Jala anytime soon, or have we expressed our concern that they are still there?
MR. BOUCHER: We have expressed our view that they should withdraw. As for what the Israeli intentions are at this moment, you'll have to get that from them.
QUESTION: When you said earlier on the weaponry about the substantial violations, was that language from the law or is that language from -- just interpretive from the State Department of what the law actually says?
MR. BOUCHER: I assume that that is what the law says, but I would have to look it up. It's not in quotes in my guidance. I'm pretty sure that's the language. We follow the law.
QUESTION: There have been some reports in the American press that the State Department's position is slightly nuanced from -- different from the Bush position. I'm not sure you've gone over this today.
MR. BOUCHER: I told you yesterday it wasn't true, so I could tell you again today.
QUESTION: It's still not true?
MR. BOUCHER: It's still not true today. We work very closely with the White House on these subjects. What we say is worked out with them. We and the White House are of consistent mind that the Mitchell Committee Report and recommendations are the way to go forward. The President has said that, the Secretary of State has said that, other members of the international community have said that. And we have all urged the parties to take the necessary steps to make that possible.
QUESTION: Well, I recently spoke with a spokesman for the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who expressed the view that the United States should have -- its view should be closer to that of Israel, that when there is daylight between the US and the Israeli views, that it increases the violence in the area.
Could you respond to that?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I will speak for the United States, I will express the United States' view on things. Israeli is a close friend and ally, and we have many interests in common. In some cases our views are the same; in some cases they are not.
QUESTION: And one other question. On the policy in the Middle East, are other Arab governments, whether it be Egypt or Saudi Arabia, bringing pressure on the United States, or complaining diplomatically or urging the United States to change its policies?
MR. BOUCHER: I think you have seen statements from various governments in the region, various parties in the region all the time. We had close consultations with a number of governments in the region. The Egyptian Government sent a delegation last week. We have close and ongoing discussions with them. There are many people that are interested in this process. There are many people who believe that a way has to be found to end the violence.
I think not just the Europeans who we talk to, but other members of the international community, many of the people in the Arab world as well, agree that implementing the Mitchell recommendations is the way to end the violence, ease the restrictions, and get back to peace talks based on 242 and 338. That has been a very consistent theme from the members of the international community.
What people are looking for is how to get that process started. And what we have urged the parties to do consistently is to take the steps to get that process started, and I think you have seen others in the region do that as well.
So, yes, we discuss with other governments in the region, as well as friends around the world, how to get this process started. We exchange views on those issues, and all of us keep in touch with the parties as well.
QUESTION: What you said the other day was quite strong, urging the withdrawal. Does the United States intend to reinforce the strength of this message either by contacting the Israelis at the high level, or having some high-level official make this appeal in public? Apart from of course yourself. (Laughter.) Minimize your seniority, but is it possible that --
MR. BOUCHER: I think, first and foremost, our discussions with the parties are what matter. And we make this view known directly to the parties, normally before we actually say it in public. And this is the view that we will be expressing directly to the parties.
QUESTION: At what level?
MR. BOUCHER: Whatever level we happen to be meeting with them; I don't know what the meetings are that might be taking place, but I will check.
QUESTION: So you are ruling out the possibility that the Secretary might decide to call Prime Minister Sharon, for example? Or Foreign Minister Peres?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not ruling anything particularly in or out.
QUESTION: You don't know of any intention to --
MR. BOUCHER: We communicate -- whether it is through the spokesman for the State Department, or whether it is through the Ambassador of the United States or others, we communicate the view of the United States of America, not of any particular individual. This is the view of the United States of America.
QUESTION: On the safety of Americans in the region, with the call by the Palestinian faction for targeting American interests, and then after the targeting of a building yesterday by Israelis that had American citizens in it, as it turned out, was there any direct contact with Israeli officials on that point, that there was a building with Americans in it?
And how might -- the US position has been characterized by some as less than fully engaged recently, and with targeting of American citizens, how might that alter the way the US approaches the conflict?
MR. BOUCHER: I hesitate to go back through the last several months of our discussions here, but I will. First of all, the United States has been consistently involved and engaged in trying to end this conflict, in trying to find a way forward that ends the violence. From the beginning of this Administration, the Secretary has been involved, our representatives in the region have been involved, our representatives responsible for the area -- the bureau and assistant secretaries -- have been involved in trying to seek this way forward.
Early in the Administration, the Secretary laid out a path, a path of ending the violence, easing the restrictions, and getting on with peace talks. We supported the work of the Mitchell Committee, which gave us a mechanism for doing that. We supported the work that George Tenet did out there with the parties to establish the concrete steps that they could take to get that process started.
That is the way forward. We have consistently said that. We can urge the parties, we can talk to other members of the international community, we can talk to moderate Arab states, we can talk to everybody who has an interest in seeing that path taken. But the parties themselves have to start down that road, and the parties themselves have to take the steps necessary to get there.
And so we have been quite clear with the parties directly and in our public statements on the steps the parties need to take. The Palestinians need to take steps to curb the violence, to curb the attacks, to curb the shootings and to curb the terrorism. The Israelis need to act with restraint. The President said that again on Friday. And this has been the clear and consistent message from us and the message that we have delivered in private, the message that we have delivered in public.
So I think the United States has been very involved. Our representatives in the region, our diplomatic representatives, meet daily with senior leaders, other members of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government and continue to talk to them in very specific terms about what they can do to head down that path towards peace. And that is consistently what we have worked on and we will consistently work on that.
In terms of the safety of American citizens in the region, let me just say we have had Travel Warnings out for American citizens that discuss the possible dangers in the region. We maintain those warnings, update those warnings, with the security situation as necessary.
QUESTION: Given this long period of intense engagement that you purport to have done, wouldn't you say that US policy -- given the fact that the whole nation, the whole problem in the Middle East is escalating -- that US policy has been a failure?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say that for the last 50 years, on almost every day, you can write, "The US Fails to Get Peace in the Middle East." There have been days when peace moved forward, and we are looking to make more of them.
QUESTION: I have a very easy one. You didn't mention in the list of phone calls the Secretary has made or was going to make Mr. Solana, who I understand is also going out to the region. Do you know if he is planning to speak to him?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't know Solana was planning to travel so -
QUESTION: This came out of the Belgian Foreign Ministry.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll check. If he does, I am sure it is likely that they will talk. They talk frequently about Macedonia, the Middle East, any number of subjects. I am sure they will keep in touch if Mr. Solana is traveling.
QUESTION: If there's more you can say later on on the contact with the Belgians and the possibility of a US-Russian-EU initiative, could you get back to us?
MR. BOUCHER: I will be glad to, if there is anything I can say on that subject.
QUESTION: Could you please update us on the trip of Assistant Secretary Elizabeth Jones to the Caucasus? I especially wonder how was the meeting in Baku.
MR. BOUCHER: I know I have the itinerary. Let me see if I have anything on the meetings themselves. Assistant Secretary Beth Jones of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs is in Yerevan, Armenia today. She is meeting with Armenian and with embassy officials. She previously visited Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Georgia. She will travel to Vienna before returning September 4th.
I'm afraid I don't have a rundown of her meetings at this point.
QUESTION: Richard, one more on the region. New York Times, I believe it was the Sunday edition, published a story on how World Bank intervenes in Georgia's deal on fees for Caspian gas pipelines, and the paper quoted the letter of World Bank official to President Shevardnadze expressing that the failure to heed the advice of experts of World Bank on the deal and negotiate higher tariffs will call into question future support to Georgia from institutions such as World Bank.
I know that the US side has always firmly supported the (inaudible) gas project. I wonder what are your comments on the idea that the World Bank has become too involved into countries' decisions.
MR. BOUCHER: Let me check on the situation with regard to the financing of the project and see what we can say about the World Bank in that regard.
QUESTION: The wires are saying that Beth Jones said that the US would come to the aid of Azerbaijan if there were a problem along the border with Iran. Can you elaborate on that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I hadn't seen that in a wire and I didn't have a chance to check. I'll check on it for you. Be glad to.
QUESTION: Is there anything new on US representation at the racism conference?
MR. BOUCHER: No, there is nothing new. We are continuing to work on that, continuing to talk to people about the issues and the language that we find offensive. It's a concern to us, but we haven't decided on the nature and extent of our delegation, if any.
QUESTION: Has anybody actually gone to Durbin, because it seems that people are already sort of gathering there.
MR. BOUCHER: I think some of the congressional people are going out there. There may be some logistical support types, people who handle delegations, who have gone out there. But in terms of any kind of official representation at this point, no. I mean, we have people on the ground in Durbin who could or could not, depending on the outcome, serve.
MR. BOUCHER: Serve.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry. I mean, Durbin is a place you can surf.
QUESTION: You have talked about what you don't want to come out of the conferences. Is there anything positive that could come out of this conference?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have said all along that we are looking for a conference that can look at racism and xenophobia and other forms of discrimination in the world -- could look at how to overcome them, look at how to get beyond these things, basically a forward-looking conference that can talk about these problems, and acknowledge some of their history, acknowledge their history. But also look at how you overcome these practices and how you overcome these effects.
There is, we think, a potentially useful role for this conference, and that is why all along the Secretary and the Administration have looked forward to attending, if the conference would go in that direction. The problem has been that it has been sidetracked by these other debates, by this other language, and would, we think, not serve a forward-looking purpose if that kind of stuff stays in.
MR. BOUCHER: Children. The UN General Assembly Special Session on Children takes place in New York from September 19th to the 21st. At this point, it looks like there will be about 75 heads or chiefs of state in attendance. There will be intergovernmental organizations, over 2,400 nongovernmental organizations. The conference will look at emerging issues such as HIV/AIDS, children's participation in armed conflict, set a global agenda for the coming decade in the areas of children's health, basic education and protection.
Formal and informal consultations concerning the outcome document are ongoing. An interagency delegation is in New York from August 27th to 31st, right now, for the final stage of those discussions on the document. We do believe that the outcome document can be an inspiring and focused document, which renews political will and sets specific and achievable goals. We look forward to attending this conference at a high level. We are making the preparations now; we are working on the document, on the language, and we are working on finalizing our delegation.
QUESTION: So you look forward to attending the session at a high level? Is that conditional on anything at all?
MR. BOUCHER: We are just finishing the preparations to do that.
QUESTION: Well, the United States --
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't make it conditional.
QUESTION: The Administration does have some problems with some of the language, does it not?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you explain what those are?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we have concerns about how certain issues are handled in the document, as we do in any document, as we prepare for UN sessions. We try to work so it coincides with our views and our policy, and we will continue to do that. Some of these things in how the Convention on the Rights of the Child is handled, for example, is one that we look at. We obviously look at the language that has to do with family planning and reproductive health services very closely.
So there are things like that we look at in the document that we want to make sure turn out right. But as I said, at this point, we are working on the conference, we are working on the document, we are preparing our delegation, and we expect to be there at a high level.
QUESTION: When you say "high level," does that mean Cabinet level, as was being discussed earlier?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. The simplest way to answer the question. That is what we expect and hope to be represented at a high level, including Cabinet level.
QUESTION: Do you expect that person to come from this building, or from -- (laughter) -- other buildings?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't. It's just not pinned down at this point. The individual or individuals involved, we haven't pinned everything down yet, so I am not in a position to announce it at this point.
QUESTION: Can you say who else is in this interagency group that is up there now? Besides State Department people?
MR. BOUCHER: That might give it away.
QUESTION: I'm trying.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if I can.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: You mentioned something about looking at family planning issues as a problem. Is the United States opposed to any language that would guarantee as part of the rights of the child the rights of the parents to space their children?
MR. BOUCHER: With that regard, what we have looked at is to have language that does not support or advance the idea of abortion. So we are not against family planning language, for example. But we are not interested in advancing the use of abortion.
QUESTION: Could you go into more detail on the -- your reservations about the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, we are not opposed to any references to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United States has signed this document but we have not ratified it. We do believe that the Convention serves as a useful framework for many countries, but in the United States it poses certain particular legal and constitutional questions for the United States.
The forward strides that we have made in terms of taking care of children and providing a basis for that are based on local, state and federal legal frameworks. So what we are looking for -- we don't think that the Convention or discussions of these abstract rights should be looked at as the only way of meeting the needs of children. So we are not opposed to mentioning it; we just don't think it needs to be the only way to provide for the needs of children.
QUESTION: If the language is not resolved, could that threaten -- I realize you're going to say this is a hypothetical question -- but is the level of US participation --
MR. BOUCHER: Is the level or nature of our participation, if any, under discussion?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I've said that.
QUESTION: Right. No, you haven't.
MR. BOUCHER: I have not said that about this conference. I would look at this as a more normal preparation for a UN conference where we are getting together work on the language, we are getting together work on the delegation, we are pinning things down as we approach the time of the conference itself. We are looking forward to our attendance. We are looking forward to resolving these issues in a satisfactory manner, and we have every expectation that we can work them out and that we can be there and that we will be there at a high level.
QUESTION: Does this, in some sense, represent a sort of change of heart after all the bad publicity you've gotten from the racism conference?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we've been working this one in this manner for months now.
QUESTION: So how did it come about that there was widespread speculation that you might even go as far as not attending this session?
MR. BOUCHER: You're asking me why do people write things in newspapers? As long as I have been in this job, I don't know.
QUESTION: Because the totality of these things that are under discussion -- no? Let me put it this way. Did you --
MR. BOUCHER: We've been working on this and we've been working on being represented at this conference at a high level, including the Cabinet level, for weeks and months now.
QUESTION: Okay. Did you ever consider attending at a lower level, or even not participating in this session?
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I've heard of.
QUESTION: One of your press officers was actually quoted on the record as saying the level is under consideration.
MR. BOUCHER: I think probably quoted as saying that there are still preparatory meetings and we will decide on our participation later. That's the way it always is until we decide.
QUESTION: I just want to go back one more time to this family planning issue. Is one of the issues that the United States is worried about the idea of providing children -- well, let's say between the age of 13 and 16 -- with condoms or with the means of birth control?
MR. BOUCHER: I have no idea if that is anywhere involved in this document or this conference. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Macedonia? Can you talk about Macedonian mission?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure. You want to know what's going on?
QUESTION: Yes, and if NATO is satisfied with the mission.
MR. BOUCHER: I would say we are now into the second day of weapons collection in Tetevo by NATO. We consider that the process is going well. The process is a credible effort to create a peaceful climate for necessary democratic changes, and we understand that the Macedonian parliament will take up debate on August 31st on the constitutional amendments that are documented in the framework agreement.
That debate will take place for several days, and parliament will take the first of three votes early next week. So we are looking forward to a constructive debate and to rapid parliamentary approval.
QUESTION: Has the number of weapons -- is it still a dispute about the number?
MR. BOUCHER: We have, I think, identified -- NATO has made the assessment. NATO has identified the numbers and the types of the weapons that need to be collected in order to demilitarize the situation, in order to have credible disarmament. There has clearly been some disparity between NATO's assessment and the views of some in the Macedonian Government, but we think that as the process moves forward it will establish its credibility and show that it's a necessary and useful step in that regard.
QUESTION: There are no doubts about the credibility of the weapons that ethnic Albanians are giving to NATO?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't, at this point, have any assessment of the types of weapons that they have turned in. We are still only on the second day, so we will leave it to NATO to do that later.
QUESTION: There will be some judgment in the end?
MR. BOUCHER: I am sure NATO is looking to make this a serious and credible process. They have designed it that way, they have made the assessment that way, and I am sure they will be continuing attention to making it so.
QUESTION: The Peruvian congress has charged former President Fujimori with responsibility for a couple of massacres by army death squads. In the interests of accountability, would you think it would be a good idea if he was returned to Peru for trial?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we have taken a position on that. I'll have to see if we need to.
QUESTION: You were asked yesterday about the Norwegian ship. Have you decided to take a position on that, or no?
MR. BOUCHER: No, not that I know of. There's international standards and procedures to be followed. That is normally how these things are handled.
QUESTION: Do you take a -- well, I won't ask you if you take a position. Do you have anything to say about your old friend, President Lukashenko, who is up for reelection in two weeks time and the conditions of the campaign, or lack of campaign, in Belarus?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, without adopting any of the characterizations in your question, let me update you on the situation in Belarus.
We have been very troubled by the situation that is developing in Belarus during the run-up to the September 9th presidential election. Although the connection between the disappearance of leading pro- democracy politicians over the last two years and government-run death squads has yet to be proven, we do take these charges seriously. We expect full, independent and public investigations.
There have been other actions by the Lukashenko regime that lead us to question whether Belarus will be able to conduct a fair and free election. The independent media have been a frequent target of harassment. Last week, for example, Belarusian authorities sealed the offices of the Magic Printing House, the main printing source for the independent media in Belarus. On August 17th, an independent newspaper had 400,000 copies of a special edition on opposition candidates confiscated by authorities.
Then on Saturday, August 25th, the Belarusian KGB arrested an American trade union expert. The individual was working with independent trade unions on non-partisan activities related to the elections. He was interrogated for several hours, he was denied access to an attorney, and then he was eventually deported to Poland.
The incidents are just a few examples of how the Lukashenko regime regularly obstructs and impedes the electoral process. Such acts can only serve to undermine the international community's confidence that the Belarusian authorities are committed to holding a free and fair presidential election.
We think that they need to take certain steps to try to ensure that the election can be free and fair; first of all, to ensure access by all parties to state-run media on an equitable basis; second, to allow meaningful participation by all parties in electoral commissions at the national and local levels; third, to end the harassment of nongovernmental organizations engaged in election-related civic education; and, fourth, to allow effective election monitoring at all polling places by domestic and international observers for the full five days of polling and during the vote counting.
QUESTION: That's quite a litany of abuses that you've just stated. Do you still think it's possible?
MR. BOUCHER: And I would say I think we put out a couple statements in the last few weeks as well that pointed to other specific problems out there.
QUESTION: Right. So, but I mean, I'm surprised that you still think it's possible for there to be a free and fair election with only two weeks left.
MR. BOUCHER: If they were to carry out all these steps, that would certainly improve the situation and bring it closer to the standard that we would expect. But there has been a lot already done that makes it difficult to have any confidence that it could be free and fair, but we'll see.
QUESTION: Has he turned down international monitors?
MR. BOUCHER: There has been a group of OSCE monitors, or people who have gone in to observe the election, or at least they have been invited to observe the election, but he has denied visas to two of those observers. So it is, I think, unclear. There certainly hasn't been an open attitude towards international monitoring.
QUESTION: With respect to the government elections, what are we doing in concern with the trial of Charles Perriello -- is it? -- who is the director of the American Council for the Collaboration and Education in Language Study, or ACCELS? And was this anything to do with the election, meaning why he was perhaps arrested on charges of marijuana and drug smuggling?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not familiar with that specific case. I'll have to look into it.
QUESTION: The trial is supposed to be today.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to look into it.
QUESTION: Change of subject? Afghanistan. Our diplomats have been allowed to see the detainees for a second time, and I wanted to know if you know anything more about how long their visas are -- how long they are expecting to stay this time.
MR. BOUCHER: My information as of this morning was that they had not had another visit, but I will have to double-check that. Maybe somewhere in the intervening hours it actually happened.
QUESTION: Maybe they've agreed that they --
MR. BOUCHER: The Taliban officials have indicated to us that further visits with the detainees will be allowed, but there has not yet been another one. As we said yesterday, we and the families and the other consuls were able to meet with the detained foreign workers in Kabul. They appeared to be in good health and relatively good spirits.
Today our consular officials met with officials from the Taliban Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the legal process that is applicable to these cases. The details of the cases remain unclear. So we remain in Kabul for the time being. That's all I can say at that point on timing.
QUESTION: There is a report in The Washington Times today about increased missiles off of Taiwan.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Afghanistan for one more?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll stay on Afghanistan for a moment.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about a meeting in Islamabad between a US delegation and Taliban officials? The report I saw wasn't clear about who the US delegation was, but I'm wondering if you had anything new.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have anything new. We do keep in touch with the Taliban in Islamabad. That is where we have worked out -- you know, gotten the visas, worked out getting in to Kabul for consular access to these detainees. So I imagine we have continuing discussions in Islamabad, but I am not aware of any particular meeting or discussion we had.
QUESTION: There is a report in The Washington Times that China has increased the number of missiles to over 300 opposite Taiwan, and there are comments even by US officials expressing concern at this.
QUESTION: Which paper was it?
QUESTION: It was The Washington Times.
MR. BOUCHER: He wants me to say I didn't read the report. (Laughter.) I think obviously, as with these kinds of reports in the past, we are not able to discuss any of the details of the information that we might know or we might have. But I would point out what the Secretary said when he was in China, what other US officials have frequently said, that China's deployments obviously have an effect in how we see the balance and stability of the situation there.
QUESTION: Did you get an answer on Papua New Guinea?
MR. BOUCHER: Papua New Guinea we applaud.
QUESTION: You applaud?
MR. BOUCHER: We applaud.
QUESTION: Excellent. Thank you. Just like you said yesterday, you like peace.
MR. BOUCHER: We like peace. We'll give you a little more than that, I think, just to applaud in the right formal tone of voice.
The United States applauds the action taken by Papua New Guinea and Bougainville in reaching a peaceful resolution to this longstanding conflict. We look forward to the signature of the document and then the implementation of the agreement.
QUESTION: On North Korea, has there been anything about talks being scheduled, further talks being scheduled?
MR. BOUCHER: There is nothing new on that in terms of new discussions. We do keep in touch with them through the New York channel, have regular contact with them through that channel, but there is nothing new in terms of scheduling the kind of dialogue and serious conversation that the President said he was looking for.
QUESTION: I have a question about -- I understand yesterday you mentioned that the Secretary would be attending an OAS meeting in Peru. I am wondering what -- the focus is democracy, but aside from that broad issue, is there particular issues that the US wants to bring up that have the Secretary attending?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say, first of all, the Secretary is looking forward to the visit to South America. He is going to Peru and then to Colombia. Clearly in our bilateral discussions, our relationships down there, the state of the region, the Andean Regional Initiative and the situation with our common and joint counter-narcotics efforts will of course be important to us.
In terms of the OAS, we have been working with the OAS countries since the Summit of the Americas to advance the cause of democracy in the hemisphere, as well as free trade in the hemisphere. Those will be the principal issues of discussion. We have been working since Quebec on the democracy charter, and we will see if that can be brought together for the meeting in Peru.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 P.M.)