State Dept. Daily Press Briefing August 29, 2001
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Daily Press Briefing Index Wednesday, August 29, 2001
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY 1-7 Beit Jala Situation / Secretary's call to Chairman Arafat / PFLP Spokesman's Plea for Strikes Against US Interests / Recent Developments / UN Role
BANGLADESH 8 Elections / U.S. Observers
SRI LANKA 8 U.S. mediation of conflict
UNITED NATIONS 8-15 World Conference Against Racism in South Africa
IRAQ 15-16 Gulf War Detainees
MACEDONIA 16 NATO Operation Essential Harvest / Disarmament Process
AUSTRALIA 16,20 Stranded Ship
AFGHANISTAN 16-17 Consular Access to Detained Aid Workers
BELARUS 17-20 Secretary Powell's Message on the tenth anniversary of the Newly Independent States / Political Situation Regarding Elections / Actions Against Independent Media Outlets
NAGORNO-KARABAKH 20 Elections
CASPIAN 20 Gas Pipeline
SUDAN 21 Sanctions
TAIWAN 21 Visit of Foreign Minister
PERU / COLOMBIA 22 Fujimori / Peruvian indictment
VENEZUELA 22 Meeting between Deputy Secretary and Foreign Minister
PAKISTAN 22-23 IMF loans / Usama bin Laden ties
FRANCE 23 Foreign Minister Vedrine's Comments
CHINA 23 Reported Increased Military Threat
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB # 125
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 29, 2001 12:45 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: Could you add anything to this now breaking story that is on the Palestinians? They seem to have some agreement, a truce agreement, but it seems to apply only to that town, Beit Jala. Is that something you know more than the accounts we have?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I know more, nor can I actually confirm some of the accounts that have been out in the press. I would just say that what we do know is that they have been engaged in fairly intensive discussions with the objective of stopping the shooting and leading to a withdrawal of Israeli troops from Beit Jala.
We certainly encourage those discussions. We further hope that that can lead to closer security cooperation between the two parties, which, as we have always said, is a key element in ending the violence.
QUESTION: There was a notion -- maybe it's still out there, maybe this is evidence of it -- of sort of a rolling cease-fire, a gathering of an end to hostilities. I haven't been here the last few days, but I wonder, does State see that as a promising -- are you hopeful this can lead to bigger things?
MR. BOUCHER: I think of it a couple ways. We support any steps to end the violence. That is good, one, for it's own sake so that people stop being harmed and killed, and second of all to get us on the path of implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations. So we would support any steps that can move forward in stopping the violence and going down that path.
At the same time, we do reiterate that the Mitchell Committee recommendations and that path is the path to get from the violence to an easing of the situation for the people who live there, and then back to a path of negotiations, and that ultimately is where we have to be. Stopping the violence is a way of getting there.
QUESTION: It seems that the Belgian Foreign Minister did speak to the Secretary yesterday, eventually. Can you give us a readout on their conversation? Did Mr. Powell respond to his suggestion of a joint initiative of some kind?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary did talk to the Belgian Foreign Minister yesterday. The Belgian Foreign Minister did mention the talks and discussions he is having with others. I would say fundamentally what the call was about was the situation in the Middle East. And then the Secretary and he discussed how to work in close coordination with the United Nations, with the European Union, with Russia, with Norway and other interested parties to help move the parties to the implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations. So that remains the focus of our efforts, and we think of the efforts of the European Union as well.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary toss into the pot any American suggestions to reach that end?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, I don't think there was any particular concrete suggestion from the Belgian Foreign Minister in that regard. That is the direction that they talked about. The Secretary made clear to him that we would continue to work toward this goal, that we were looking to use every opportunity to continue our discussions with the parties to urge them to go in this direction.
The Secretary spoke today to Chairman Arafat, this morning, and they discussed the situation. Particularly with regard to Beit Jala, the Secretary noted that we had been pressing for Israeli withdrawal from there, and they talked about the news. But again, sort of urging Chairman Arafat to help get back on track with the security cooperation that we think is so important to ending the violence and getting on to the Mitchell Committee recommendations, urging Chairman Arafat to do everything he can to stop the violence, to tone down the rhetoric as we move forward, and as we move forward to upcoming events like the UN General Assembly session, the UN General Assembly, when a lot of people will be talking about this, too.
QUESTION: Richard, it's kind of noticeable that the only cases where the Israelis tried to permanently reoccupy parts of Palestinian areas, the US has seemed to really put its foot down. Is this something of a red line for you? I know you've criticized other Israeli actions, but is there something particularly objectionable you find about that when they talk about staying in Palestinian areas indefinitely, as they did here?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've seen incursions before, and I think we have criticized them in the same terms. Yes, there is a fundamental issue here, and that is trying to reverse agreements and understandings that have been made in the past. What we are trying to do now is to implement the agreements and understandings that we have now. So we do object to incursions on that basis.
But I would have to say that the Israelis, while there have been different things said on different people's parts when these incursions have taken place, I think we have taken a view that they certainly should not be permanent, and that none of them have been so far. And that is what the Israelis often say as well.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary talked today to Sharon or have you had communication through the Ambassador?
MR. BOUCHER: We have had communications through our representatives on the ground and always do on a sort of constant basis with people, with leaders on both sides. The Secretary has not at this point talked to Prime Minister Sharon.
QUESTION: Does he plan to?
MR. BOUCHER: He might, yes.
QUESTION: Could I get back to the question before that? Could we be more specific about what a violation of an agreement would be? Do you mean it's a violation for Israel to reoccupy permanently territory that they have given the Palestinians control over, or do you mean that it is a violation for Israel to go back into that territory to try to restore order? What makes it a violation: holding on to it or even stepping your toe into it?
MR. BOUCHER: (a) I don't think I used the word "violation." And second of all, I am not here to try to define or report violations of things like that. I think we have made our policy position clear in the past. I reiterated that today, but I don't have any expansion to make or any judicial judgments to make.
QUESTION: Well, let me, please, because the text will show what you said. I seem to recall you just said you don't want the parties to reverse understandings. What do you understand the understanding to be -- that Israel can't go in to restore order, or Israel shan't go in to take permanent repossession?
MR. BOUCHER: The understandings are in a higher and long history of agreements in the Middle East, and I stand by those agreements which have been signed and ratified by the governments.
QUESTION: Richard, you are implicitly criticizing Israel as flaunting or flouting an agreement, and I don't know what it is you are accusing them -- what it is you think they -- how they have misbehaved -- by going in or by holding on?
MR. BOUCHER: Barry, look, I didn't start this. I was asked a specific question. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And you answered it.
MR. BOUCHER: I was asked a specific question about why we always object when there is a sign that an incursion is taking place that it might become permanent. Okay?
QUESTION: All right.
MR. BOUCHER: I was giving a response to that question. That is what I -- I am not trying to define an entire universe of potential violations of previous agreements.
QUESTION: I'm talking about things on the ground. But you said permanent, so I will take that as permanent.
MR. BOUCHER: That was the question. That is the context that I answered.
QUESTION: You think -- you see incursions as -- you say there is a fundamental issue here. Because you see a fundamental issue here, does that mean that your response and the message you've sent to the Israelis is different than it would be otherwise? I mean, is there something --
MR. BOUCHER: No, no.
QUESTION: Did you do something yesterday to persuade the Israelis to withdraw which you haven't done --
MR. BOUCHER: Jonathan, can we stop for a moment? Here is the question that was asked. The question that was asked was, in permanent incursions and taking over territory, why do we object to that? I answered that question. Here is not what's going on in the Middle East. Here is Washington. Here is this briefing room. Here is that particular question. That is the only thing we talked about in that context.
I don't want to be construed as somehow saying that the Beit Jala situation was an attempt to reverse previous agreements. I didn't say that. I was asked why we object to the incursions that might be permanent, and I said so.
QUESTION: The Secretary spoke to Chairman Arafat. Who called who?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary called the Chairman.
QUESTION: And why did he call the Chairman?
MR. BOUCHER: To talk to him about the situation in the Middle East.
QUESTION: Was there something more specific we can -- is there a reason why he called today?
MR. BOUCHER: He keeps in touch periodically. He talks to him from time to time, wanted to talk about the particular situation today and to urge him once again to get back on track with the security cooperation and to urge him once again to take steps to stop the violence.
QUESTION: Richard, can we draw any conclusions by the fact that he's spoken to one side and not the other?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Do you know if the call happened before Arafat spoke to Peres? And if it did, did the Secretary tell Arafat that perhaps it might be a good idea to speak to the Israeli Foreign Minister?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know when Arafat talked to Peres. This was about 10:30, 11 o'clock our time, so I don't know.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, if you don't know, do you know if the Secretary --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know -- sorry -- when Arafat talked to Peres.
QUESTION: Right. But then do you know if the Secretary said, "Perhaps it would be a good idea for you, Mr. Arafat, to talk to an Israeli senior official"?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if he encouraged a particular phone call. I do know that he strongly encouraged the idea of security cooperation, a return of cooperation between the two sides to improve the security situation.
QUESTION: Has this Administration warned Israel in the past, in recent days, about the use of US weapons against the Palestinians and that you might have to notify Congress about specific violations and laws governing such usage?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't really have anything new to say than what we discussed yesterday on that subject.
QUESTION: So you're saying that no one has warmed Israel about --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm saying I don't have anything new to say than what was said yesterday on the subject.
QUESTION: Now, what you said yesterday, though, was that there was an understanding, that the Israelis understood and they knew about this letter.
MR. BOUCHER: What I said yesterday was the Israelis are quite clear and understand what our laws are, that the subject does come up from time to time -- I don't know if it has come up recently, frankly -- and that we do monitor the situation but that we have not made any decisions or determinations about reporting to Congress under our law.
QUESTION: It has come up from time to time in your discussions with Israelis, you mean?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. I said that yesterday.
QUESTION: Did Arafat bring it up that they're hammering us with American weapons and you ought to make them stop? Does he say something like that?
MR. BOUCHER: You can ask Mr. Arafat if he --
QUESTION: No, no, come on. You gave us somewhat of an account of the Arafat --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I'm obligated to give you everything that Arafat says. That's not my job as the spokesman. You can ask Chairman Arafat what his views are.
QUESTION: No, but our job is to try to discern as much as we can from this important conversation, so we're asking if Arafat made a point of use of American equipment.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
MR. BOUCHER: And I don't think I'm obligated to speak on his behalf.
QUESTION: I didn't say you were obligated.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: Richard, but on the arms and your talks and discussions with the Israelis, I mean, it is relatively important to know whether this is a subject that has been raised in talks with Israeli officials in recent days, and I am sure you appreciate why it is. And there has been over the past couple of days several senior Israeli officials in town meeting with senior US officials, so I mean it is --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if it has come up in recent days, as I said. I am sure, first of all, the Israelis are very familiar with our law, and it comes up in every weapons transfer contract; it comes up in every discussion of the conditions for transfer of our arms. So it is something that has been around for a long time that they are very familiar with. How often it comes up in sort of policy-level discussions I don't think I could say, but I will look into it and see if we have something.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary discuss with Mr. Arafat the threats against American interests raised by -- issued by some Palestinians in Damascus?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: On that, Mr. Taher has now apparently clarified what his remarks that he made on Monday, saying that he meant only economic interests, and talking about a boycott. Is the US satisfied with that explanation?
MR. BOUCHER: We don't think threats are justified, and as I said yesterday, we would urge the Syrian Government to make sure the people who are located on their territory are not threatening us.
QUESTION: Richard, I'm sorry to go back to this again, but you said it came up from time to time. Can you at least tell us whether it has come up since last September, in fact, during this Intifada period?
MR. BOUCHER: The question of the conditions for the transfer of American weaponry? I'm sure it has. What I just don't know is to be able to tell you at what level. I mean, every weapons contract that we would sign with the Israelis would have these clauses in them because it is the standard condition that has always been around. So every discussion that might ensue, or signing, would have this in it.
QUESTION: Are there any efforts to, in effect, through other governments to quell incitement, I guess, to riot? For instance, Carlos the Jackal has spoken from his prison cell in Paris, calling on support for this uprising and also against the United States. Are you talking to NGOs and other type groups?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know about the specific statement. I would say that I think there is an effort in the international community to try to do what we can to quell the violence, quell the incitement, especially by working with the parties. And there are a number of people in the international community that are trying to do that. Various foreign ministers visit from time to time. People are on the phone in contact. They see visitors like Chairman Arafat or the Israeli Prime Minister, and I think there is generally -- there is coordination among members of the international community to try to get the parties to take the steps necessary to stop the violence.
QUESTION: Can I ask a question on the Middle East? Don't you think it has been told even to Chairman Arafat that, in order to have peace in the Middle East, the terrorist activities must stop first? How much the US or Secretary is putting this pressure on Arafat or on the Palestinians that terrorist activities must stop before any real peace can come in the Middle East?
MR. BOUCHER: Stopping the violence has been a consistent and constant refrain from us. We have looked at various specific and practical ways of doing that. We have negotiated with the parties. We have worked with the parties. We have helped them host meetings with each other to try to do that. And the Secretary has made the points himself in his meetings and his trips to the Middle East.
QUESTION: What is the UN role, I mean, in this, really in the Middle East conflict? We don't hear much?
MR. BOUCHER: The UN role? We coordinate closely, obviously, with Kofi Annan. He has been out there. He has done some excellent work out there in various regards. And that Secretary General Annan has often been very instrumental in the situation in the region. At the same time, as you know, we haven't encouraged any Security Council resolutions or other sort of steps like that.
QUESTION: Richard, this is Arshad with The Daily Inqilab, Bangladesh. The upcoming election in Bangladesh set for October 1st. Richard, on the question of US observers, sending them to oversee the election, what is your comment and what is -- the Bangladesh Government has assured the US Administration of their security while conducting the overseeing of the polls.
QUESTION: I will have to check specifically on whether there are any US observers going out for that. I would say that the caretaker government that was established in mid-July is responsible for conducting free and fair elections and that caretaker governments that were organized for the past two elections in '91 and '96 succeeded in carrying out elections that were generally recognized as free and fair. So we think that they deserve the support and encouragement of the international community as they administer what we all hope will again be free and fair elections with results that can be accepted by all the parties.
As far as security for international observers, it is the government's responsibility to decide what specific steps to take in that regard. Obviously we look for them to create a safe environment for the elections and for the observers.
QUESTION: Sri Lanka told US Ambassador Ashley Wills that they do not need US mediation in the conflict going on. So what is your reaction?
MR. BOUCHER: I wasn't aware of the report. I think we have commented on our willingness, if asked, to be available to help out. There are others that are working with them on the situation. At one point, I think we did say that our Ambassador had been asked to pass a message but, if I remember, at the time when we discussed it, I was asked if that constituted mediation and I said I wouldn't go that far.
QUESTION: My impression is that the message passed didn't have to do with the Tamil problem but rather with the internal political --
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, that's true. Actually, it was a political party sort of message, a government-and-opposition sort of thing.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the US participation or non- participation in the racism conference which is roughly 36 hours away?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: You're leaving it a little late. Will anybody be sent from Washington, because I just don't see how the guy can make it in time -- or the delegation?
MR. BOUCHER: The extent and nature of our participation is still to be determined. We are sending some people out to be on the ground because that is where all the parties are gathering. Secretary General Annan is out there. Mary Robinson, the head of the UNHCR, is out there. And the delegations are out there. So we are sending some people out. I think they leave tonight in order to be there in time for the participants who are there.
And they will be out there to work to eliminate the language that the President wants us to eliminate, to try to work to eliminate the offensive language. And how that process goes will determine the extent and nature of our participation in the conference.
QUESTION: You're sending people and you're not participating, so explain it to me.
MR. BOUCHER: We will have representatives on the scene, and I suppose they will have to have some sort of accreditation badges to work the hallways; but, as I said, the extent and nature of our participation we have not finally decided.
QUESTION: What level these people are, anyway?
MR. BOUCHER: We are sending a deputy assistant secretary from our Bureau of International Organizations.
QUESTION: Do you want to say his name?
MR. BOUCHER: Michael Southwick, and a small team of people with him.
QUESTION: Do you know how many?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't.
QUESTION: Is it not true, Richard, that if Southwick and his team do succeed in getting the language removed that he -- that Southwick -- will become the US rep at the conference?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it is premature to say exactly what would happen but, as the President said, we need first and foremost to work for the elimination of that language. As we succeed in doing that, we hope -- if we do -- then we will decide the extent and nature of our participation. But practically speaking, he is going to be the guy on the ground.
QUESTION: Right, okay. So he will.
QUESTION: You needn't actually decide till the very end of the conference whether you'll participate; is that right?
MR. BOUCHER: To some extent, once we have people out there working this -- no, I would say we decide at some point, depending on how we do in terms of eliminating the language. It doesn't necessarily mean he'll stay till the end.
QUESTION: But it could be after the beginning of the conference when he --
MR. BOUCHER: It could be after the beginning but before the end. There are a variety of possibilities. The goal is to get rid of this language that the President told us to get rid of. And to the extent that we can do that, then we will make other decisions on the actual participation.
QUESTION: Not the level of participation, but whether you are going to sign the conference documents or things like that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I said the extent and nature of our participation remain to be determined because it resides first and foremost on our ability to get rid of the offensive language.
QUESTION: Is the offensive language only about Israel or is it also about the history of slavery and compensation?
MR. BOUCHER: I am sure there are many other issues with the document, but the ones that preclude our full participation in the conference are the ones about Israel.
QUESTION: Richard, have you at least decided, when the plenary session begins, there will be somebody sitting in a seat marked United States?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: No? So these people -- let's just get this straight. So these people might be working in the sort of committees and so on, but they might not really represent the United States in the conference?
MR. BOUCHER: There are, I am sure, a whole variety of possibilities. But as I said, we haven't yet decided on the extent and the nature of our participation in this conference.
QUESTION: Do you think the discussion is going to get any more or less cooperation from the people you are trying to cooperate with in terms of --
MR. BOUCHER: We are going to be out there trying to work with them, trying to get rid of the offensive language.
I don't want to try to cut this too fine. We have decided we need people on the scene to work on this. The President told us to get rid of this language. We are going out there to do that. The extent to which we can do that will determine the extent to which we participate in the rest of the conference.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you a question about the UN resolution regarding the Gulf War detainees in Iraq? Excuse me.
MR. BOUCHER: Do we want to finish with the World Conference, first? Okay, let's finish with this topic. We will go back to you.
QUESTION: What I'm trying to get at is, can you say that it is likely or not likely that you will be -- if you do decide to participate, that you will be represented at a level higher than Deputy Assistant Secretary of State?
MR. BOUCHER: One, I have never done "likely" or "not likely" questions; number two, I have never done "if" questions; and number three, it is not a question I can answer at this point because it is just not decided.
QUESTION: Is it still under consideration to send someone at a higher, at an Under Secretary level or Assistant Secretary level?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, we have said the Secretary of State is not going, and we haven't decided who and how and when -- the extent and nature of our participation. That's the truth, that's the facts, and there is no more decisions than that at this point.
QUESTION: Richard, hasn't there been an effort all along to get rid of this language?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: So Southwick is simply supplementing what has already been going on?
MR. BOUCHER: He is continuing an effort that he and others have been making.
QUESTION: And there have been people on the ground wherever -- where, Johannesburg or Durbin, or where is it?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we have had people -- I mean, Lorne Craner, our Assistant Secretary for Democracy and Human Rights, went to the preparatory meetings. Southwick was part of that group. They went out to the preparatory meeting in Geneva to try to eliminate this language.
But if you go back to the beginning of this, we have always said -- the Secretary has said to many people in private -- that this kind of offensive language on Israel would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the US to participate.
And so we have worked very hard on this all along, and we felt that at this point, as the conference is about to begin, with all the players in Durban, South Africa, that it was necessary for us to have representatives out there to do what the President asked us to do, and that is to work to eliminate this language. If we can do that, then we can decide, make the further decisions on how we participate in the conference.
QUESTION: Do you know if there even is observer status available at this meeting, that if you are not participating, you are asking these people to go and just have talks on the sidelines. I mean, do you even know if that's built into the whole conference -- that possibility?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we know about various possibilities. We just haven't decided on any at this point.
QUESTION: Well, but people have asked this in different ways. Are you still saying we are not participating, even though those people are there? If they were observers, you could say we are observing, but if they are not going to register as observers, we are participating.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as I said, they are going to have to be accredited to the conference so we may have people with delegation badges. We might have people with accreditation sort of running around in order to be able to do this work. Their job is to go out, work to eliminate the language; then to what extent and how we participate in the rest of the work of the conference will depend on how we succeed in doing what the President told us we had to do first.
QUESTION: Have you had any reaction from the conference organizers yet, from Mary Robinson or from Kofi Annan, on this decision?
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I know of.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary's decision been made harder by the President's tough language on Friday in which he said that there would be a flat-out total boycott if the language wasn't removed? Has that made his decision harder?
MR. BOUCHER: No. As I mentioned to you five minutes ago, what the President said on Friday is what the Secretary has been saying to people for months now.
QUESTION: Richard, Reverend Jesse Jackson and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan asked Secretary Powell to attend at the highest level, and they are still again calling on the Administration to send the highest level. If the Secretary Powell has spoken with the General Secretary, if they have spoken?
MR. BOUCHER: They haven't spoken today. They have spoken four or five times in the last three or four days.
QUESTION: So did the Secretary ask the same thing, to remove the language?
MR. BOUCHER: We have discussed this, I think over several days now, and he has been working -- the Secretary has been talking to various people, and our representatives have been in touch with various people to continue to reiterate that we want to see this language removed. And as we know, there are various people who would like to do that, as well that are trying to do that, but it is the conference participants that have to do it.
QUESTION: So what was the reaction from the Secretary General?
QUESTION: I just asked that.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a reaction from the Secretary General.
QUESTION: When was the decision made that these people would be going? Was it between our briefing yesterday and now?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you say that it was made this morning, or this morning Durban time?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't. That requires math.
QUESTION: Well, was it made today or was it made late yesterday?
MR. BOUCHER: I guess it was made late yesterday.
QUESTION: Our time or Durban's?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what time it is anywhere. Please.
QUESTION: At a conference-related event yesterday, South African President Mbeki called upon other nations to pay reparations to deal with the effects of slavery. Does the State Department have a response to that, or has that put a damper on the US consideration of participation?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see the particular statement by President Mbeki, but I think we have had a view that is very consistent on the issue of reparations, and that's that we don't think that should be part of the conference.
QUESTION: Richard, one more, please. Don't you think it would have been better for the United States being in the conference in South Africa, and then they could have protested there or whatever they wanted to say on the language or whatever they didn't like? Don't you think it was better there at the conference?
MR. BOUCHER: We appreciate the advice, but we're going to have people on the ground working this issue for us, the way the President specified and the way the Secretary specified all along; that is, we are going to have people out there working to eliminate this offensive language.
QUESTION: Richard, you probably don't have an answer today, but if you could just take it please and look into it -- whether or not there is any precedent for this type of non-participation in an international conference?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to exactly say "non-participation." It is sort of "to be determined participation," really. To decide, we will decide based on how these people do on eliminating the language to what extent we should.
QUESTION: Richard, if you can see if we have done this before.
MR. BOUCHER: The previous conferences on racism that the UN held -- one was during the Carter Administration, one was during the Reagan Administration -- and as far as I know, the United States did not participate at all in those.
QUESTION: We didn't send anyone out or any kind of observer --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we had people on the scene at that point.
QUESTION: Okay. So then is it fair to say that the decision as to whether or not in fact the US is boycotting this cannot be determined until after the conference is over?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I wouldn't say that.
QUESTION: Well, what is the -- how would you make the determination as to whether or not the US is boycotting it?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say that we will decide the extent and nature of our participation, and once we do, then you will know what we are doing.
QUESTION: But Richard, once you fill out an accreditation application and you get a badge, you are participating. I mean, isn't that obvious? I don't understand.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that it is obvious. There are a lot of things involved in this conference. There is a working groups, there is language discussions, there's speeches, there's other issues. But this is, for us, the first and foremost issue that we want to work on and have to work on. To what extent and how we do any of the rest of the conference depends on how we do on this.
QUESTION: Richard, I don't think you answered Jonathan's question about whether anybody would be sitting in the chair marked United States.
MR. BOUCHER: And that's because it's not a question I can answer at this point. That's the extent and nature of our participation.
QUESTION: Well, would it be fair to call this hedging maneuver that you are doing right now "non-participatory participation"?
QUESTION: So the US (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there is considerably simpler ways of describing it that I have already used. We are going to have people on the ground working the issues that we care about, and how they do on those issues will determine how much we participate in this conference.
QUESTION: But you are saying that they are actually going to be on the ground doing this stuff before the conference begins on Friday? They should be getting there?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Be able to be working --
MR. BOUCHER: They will get there before Friday, but they will be there as the conference begins. I mean, the purpose is to talk to the people at the conference because it's the participants in the conference who can change the language.
QUESTION: Where is Mr. Southwick now?
MR. BOUCHER: He is in New York.
QUESTION: He is in New York? And he is on his way? He is leaving today?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: How will we tell the difference between participating and non-participating?
MR. BOUCHER: We will tell you. We will tell you what we are doing. We will tell you the facts of the matter. And what I am telling you are the facts of the matter today. As the facts evolve, we will tell you those facts, too. We always like to do that.
QUESTION: Regarding the Gulf War detainees in Iraq, I got a fax from Kuwait saying that there's some renewed efforts by the Iraqi Government to minimize or remove or lower the priority of the discussion of the UN resolution on this issue. And I'm just wondering if you can respond to what the United States can do to counter that, and anything you can tell us on this longstanding issue?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know of any new developments in this regard. And I will check to see if there has been something new. But I would just tell you that this is a subject that has been of great and continuing concern to the United States, and one that we continue to work actively in cooperation with the Kuwaiti Government.
QUESTION: Has there been any recent discussions that you are aware of of the issue on your side?
MR. BOUCHER: I personally just don't -- I haven't heard anything new on it. I will double-check if there is anything new to say.
QUESTION: Any update on NATO mission in Skopje?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's see what is going on there. Yes. NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson is in Skopje today. He is meeting with government officials and the Task Force Harvest commanders. Ambassador Pardew has returned to Skopje today. He will work with the European Union envoy François Leotard to assist the Macedonian Government and party leaders in moving forward to implement the framework agreement they signed August 13th. As you know, the parliamentary debate, I think begins, we think, on August 31st on implementing the constitutional aspects of the framework.
As far as weapons collection goes, on the third day they collected a significant number of weapons. The total over the last three days already exceeds one-third of the assessed amount. We think this is a good start. NATO weapons collection will continue, and we expect the insurgents to comply with their commitment to fully disband and disarm. That's where we are.
QUESTION: Would you say that the significant number of weapons collected were actually being used, or are these just old ratty weapons? Would you call them significant in quality or just significant in quantity?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I will leave it to NATO to describe the actual weapons themselves, since they have them in their hands. We believe that this was intended to be a very credible effort. It is a credible effort. It is a serious effort by NATO to demilitarize the situation out there. NATO is making a very important contribution to this and will continue to do so.
QUESTION: On the ship off Australia, Norwegian ship off Australia, I know it has protested to various international bodies about Australia's action in turning it away. Does the US have a view on this?
MR. BOUCHER: I was asked the other day to take one, and I haven't taken one yet. But I will be glad to double-check for you and see if we have either gotten a protest or been inspired to say something.
QUESTION: So you have nothing to say?
MR. BOUCHER: I have nothing new.
QUESTION: There's been lots of (inaudible) amnesty spoken about --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I know. There's a lot of debate about this.
QUESTION: New subject? In Afghanistan, apparently the diplomats waiting there, instead of talking about the detainees, were briefed on the sanctions and their effect by the Taliban. Do you know whether --
MR. BOUCHER: Who says that -- the Taliban?
QUESTION: Reuters actually says that.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I appreciate that. Are they the responsible parties?
QUESTION: So I guess you don't know yet whether they are using this as leverage for keeping the detainees, if they are connecting the issues at all that the UN and/or the US would have to repeal their sanctions in order to get these people out?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know anything about what the Taliban is saying in this regard at this point. For us, it is an issue of the welfare of individuals, Americans and others; for us, it is an issue of consular access; and for us, it is an issue of humanitarian concern for the people involved. We do have people on the ground. Our consular officials are there. The Australian and German consular officials are there. The relatives are in Kabul and their visas permit a stay of two weeks. They will continue to seek access to the detainees.
At this point we do not have news of another visit, but obviously we will be seeking them. And they haven't had any particular meetings with Taliban officials today, and we have at this point no further information about a trial.
QUESTION: This lecture was apparently today, but you didn't hear about it yet?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard about it yet.
QUESTION: Richard, today the Belarusan --
QUESTION: Can we stay on Taliban just for one moment?
QUESTION: Are you prepared to say that there won't be any -- there will be no tradeoffs between the US and the Taliban for access or the release of the citizens?
MR. BOUCHER: We don't see these issues linked in any manner whatsoever.
QUESTION: So even if the Taliban were to --
MR. BOUCHER: That's an "even if" question that I don't answer, but I can tell you specifically we don't see this in any way linked to the UN sanctions that have their own importance, their own purpose.
QUESTION: The Belarusan Foreign Minister today accused the United States of gross interference in the Belarusan internal affairs, and I guess that's not surprising given your comments yesterday.
But what was kind of surprising to me was that he wasn't referring to your comments yesterday; in fact, he was referring to comments made by Secretary Powell, who on Saturday sent an open message to the people of Belarus on the occasion of their tenth anniversary. I couldn't find any reference to this until I finally found it on the Minsk Embassy's website, which I don't think is probably one of the --
Anyway, in his statement that the Secretary released on Saturday he makes accusations that some might think are even stronger than the ones that you made yesterday, saying the government has constantly violated human rights and harassed civil society.
My question is, were you guys trying to keep this secret? I mean, I realize it was a Saturday, but I mean there was no mention of this anywhere.
QUESTION: There are a number of messages from the Secretary to the Newly Independent States, the now ten-year-old Newly Independent States, as these anniversaries come up over the next few months of their tenth anniversary of independence. And they were written as letters or sometimes opinion pieces to be placed in local media, and so they will come out as the media -- as they are placed and they get printed, so we have some respect for the rights of the people we give them to to print them. I didn't know that this one had been released already. Maybe it wasn't printed in Belarus because of the situation there and therefore our Embassy had to put it on the website instead of placing it in a newspaper.
QUESTION: Exactly. But there wasn't -- you weren't trying to intentionally not say anything?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we weren't trying to hide it. But you should know that as there are anniversaries, tenth anniversaries of the independence of many of these countries, you will see messages appear locally from the Secretary of State congratulating the people of these countries, and where they have achieved significant advances in terms of democracy, he will congratulate them on that as well. That may not be the case everywhere.
But I think you have seen us issue two or three statements in recent weeks about the situation with regard to the election in Belarus. We have made obviously more general observations in the past, as the Secretary does in his piece here about the situation with regard to human rights and freedom in Belarus, which has been and continues to be of great concern to us.
If I remember this correctly, this was sort of more general observations whereas not specifically tied to the elections but it's the entire background.
QUESTION: It's a pretty (inaudible) thing --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, look at our Human Rights Report.
QUESTION: Well, I agree, but just as one newspaper noted today in terms of the Middle East that -- well, implied that you were not a senior department official. And if that view is -- or senior administration official. If that view is widely held, then maybe the Belarusans would have responded even more or less positively.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I would like to think that that view is not widely held and that it may be an individual particular and peculiar view, rather than one that is widely held. But in any case, I am out here as the spokesman for the United States of America. I don't pretend to be anything else.
QUESTION: Could such messages be circulated to us in the future? And this one would have been of interest even --
MR. BOUCHER: Let me check. As you know, generally when we have offered something for publication we respect the right of the publication to put it out first. But as a piece might appear in an Armenian newspaper, we might be able to get you copy. So let me see if we can figure out the schedule of these things and release them to you as they become public.
QUESTION: Well, particularly this message to Belarus where that country -- where it is most likely not going to be printed in the local paper, so if there is a message to the Taliban or someone like that. (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think they are among the Newly Independent States that we need to congratulate this month.
QUESTION: You're going to give these states sort of marks out of ten as they come up for their tenth birthday?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, we think it's an important occasion for all of them and for us to see that these countries have been independent for ten years and to see, in most places, some really tremendous achievements in regard to what they have done.
QUESTION: Richard, does the US believe that it is possible for there to be free and fair elections next month, and do you know if there are going to be any international observers on the ground?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have said very clearly that there are a number of things that have happened and continue to happen in Belarus that cause us to have great doubts about whether the elections can be free and fair. We do think that there are steps the government can take and should take to make more of an effort in that regard, that could put it back on the road to trying to be free and fair.
There were finally some invitations issued to OSCE representatives to be there, but then the government denied several of the visas. So I don't know for sure whether there will be international observers actually on the ground, and of course there is always a question of what they will be allowed to do. And in most other places, in other countries in the region, as well as other European nations, the OSCE has played a very important role if it's allowed to do its work. And in many cases, countries have in fact welcomed the OSCE to help them with elections.
QUESTION: Richard, I've got one more on elections, the same part of the world. The unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic intends to hold local self-government elections on September 5th, and the Council of Europe has already reacted on that, urging them to refrain from illegitimate elections and not to undermine efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
Has the US, as the co-chair of the Minsk Group, something to say on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I will have to check on that.
QUESTION: And one more question remaining from yesterday. Any comments on the World Bank official's letter to President Shevardnadze urging them to negotiate higher tariffs on Caspian gas pipeline?
MR. BOUCHER: Did we -- I thought we tried to get you something, but let me see what I've got on that.
I think at this point, Georgia and Azerbaijan are negotiating terms for the intergovernmental agreement that allows construction of a gas pipeline through Georgia to Turkey. We think that until the basic agreements are completed, it is probably premature to talk about the financing and the development of the pipeline. We do support development of the pipeline, a commercially viable basis, as part of a broader energy policy which fits with the national energy policy that we have, that we released this spring. We believe it is in the interests of all the parties in the region to reach a mutually beneficial agreement as soon as possible.
The World Bank, of which Georgia and Azerbaijan are both members, has an important role in helping the countries of this region achieve economic growth and reduce poverty. But we will refer you to the World Bank for any specific comments about its role in this situation.
QUESTION: On the Australian ship, how closely is the State Department following the situation? Because Australian troops have now boarded the freighter.
MR. BOUCHER: We are following the situation. We haven't thus far uttered any particular comment, but given the groundswell of interest, I will go back and see if we want to.
QUESTION: Another thing the Taliban said (inaudible) the sanctions for all those people on the boat wouldn't have left if the UN wouldn't have sanctions on Afghanistan?
MR. BOUCHER: I think one should remember quite clearly what is going on in Afghanistan. The sanctions on Afghanistan have to do with official or diplomatic representation and activities by the Taliban. They don't have much to do with the lives of the Afghan people. And in fact, Western donors, and particularly the United States, which has spent more than $100 million a year in providing assistance -- that Western donors and particularly the United States are very involved in trying to ease the lives of the Afghan people.
QUESTION: A question on Sudan. Has the United States decided what position to take when the extension of the UN sanctions against Sudan comes up next month?
MR. BOUCHER: No. We haven't decided yet at this point.
QUESTION: Richard, can you elaborate at all? I mean, is there --
MR. BOUCHER: It comes up next month, and we haven't taken a position yet.
QUESTION: Richard, I believe you were asked the other day about a visit by the Taiwanese Foreign Minister to Boston. And I think that was the first you had heard of it or something -- did you get any guidance -
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I did check into it, and I think we got back to the specific reporter involved. I guess we should have put something up if it was of more general interest.
Visits at this level have occurred in the past from time to time. The Taiwan Foreign Minister is coming, and he is not going to be in Washington. He will be attending various activities in other cities. So there won't be any meetings here or official meetings, meetings with US officials. But he comes from time to time and carries out activities in the United States. It is not part of the policy that was referred to, frankly.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the US being used as a transit stop applies only at the highest level?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that is for transits. There is a difference between transits and visits, and there is a difference in level. So the phrase, "comfort, safety and convenience of the traveler" applies to transits by officials at higher levels than this.
QUESTION: Has there been any selection made between John Klink and Alan Kreczko, I believe, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration? There seems to be a --
MR. BOUCHER: I have nothing to say on that. Any information on personnel and appointments comes out of the White House.
QUESTION: Have there been any official requests by the Peruvian Government to the United States to cooperate in investigations of killings of 25 people that are involved -- the former President of Peru? Do you know there has been any formal request?
MR. BOUCHER: I will check on that and see if there is any judicial inquiry or something.
QUESTION: Is there anything -- do you have anything to say about what happened at the meeting yesterday between Deputy Secretary Armitage and the Venezuelan Foreign Minister?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Other than it was a pleasant, cordial --
QUESTION: Candid, frank --
QUESTION: Exchange of views and matters of bilateral interest.
MR. BOUCHER: No. (Laughter.) No, that's not what it was. It was a - - the Deputy Secretary met yesterday at the State Department with the Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Mr. Davila. They talked about the evolving nature of the US-Venezuelan relationship. They agreed on the need to maintain contacts and try to advance a sincere and frank dialogue.
I would say the Deputy Secretary also expressed appreciation for the positive role that Venezuela has played in preparing the democratic charter that is being prepared for the OAS meeting in Peru.
QUESTION: Positive role?
MR. BOUCHER: Constructive and positive, yes.
QUESTION: Really? Because, you know, at the last --
MR. BOUCHER: I know, the last reports several months ago were to the contrary, but we have worked with them, cooperated with them, and they have been constructive in trying to get this thing done.
QUESTION: Richard, the Foreign Minister of Venezuela, after the meeting, told us that he presented to the Under Secretary a proposal by President Chavez to invest in the US $3 billion for the refinery of oil -- Venezuelan oil in the United States. That was a request by this government, and it was -- positioned itself --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I just -- I don't know anything about that particular issue.
QUESTION: Richard, Pakistan's General Musharraf has ordered to arrest terrorists operating out of Pakistan and a number of organizations who have connections with Usama bin Laden. Now, my question is, this is coming at this time, at the time of their seeking IMF loans. But can you make sure that the United States press Pakistan that the continued arrests of these terrorists organizations who are having connections with Usama bin Laden on a regular basis, permanent basis?
MR. BOUCHER: Jonathan tells me I can say yes to that. I would say yes to that. We are always working with Pakistan to curb terrorism and to cooperate and do everything we each can to stop terrorism.
QUESTION: Richard, you spent a great deal of time since the Administration changed standing up here and saying -- denying every one of -- all sorts of comments and understandings of this Administration's foreign policy as unilateralist, and it seems to have met with limited success. And the reason that I say that is because yesterday, the Foreign Minister of your oldest ally, France, got up in a speech and criticized America's new unilateralism, and saying it was making it more difficult for countries who want to do good, like France, around the world -- do their jobs.
Do you have any response to Foreign Minister Vedrine's comments?
MR. BOUCHER: It is very tempting, but no. (Laughter.)
I think our record speaks for itself over the centuries, as well as the last few years and weeks and months.
QUESTION: One more on China? Two weeks ago, Deputy Defense Secretary, Mr. Wolfowitz, told me at a Pentagon news conference that there will be a future threat from China, and today, Bill's article in The Washington Times is also speaking of the same thing.
What do you think the future military threat from China to the United States, and being a super- power?
MR. BOUCHER: That is a big question, perhaps one that is best answered at the Pentagon. I think the Secretary has had some observations to make before, but I would just reiterate what he has said and what the President has said, and it is that we look forward to having a constructive relationship with China, one where we can work on issues of common concern.
QUESTION: Richard, I have one very, extremely brief one. Do you know something about a very senior Russian Foreign Ministry official here, a Korea specialist, having talks in the building?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. There is a Russian Korea specialist who is in town for, I think, on a private trip related to some conferences, and that he stopped in to talk to our experts on the subject as well.
It is a Russian Foreign Ministry official named Gyorgy Tolaraya. He is in Washington on a privately sponsored conference. The conference is called, "North Korea and the World Economy." Yesterday he met with our Special Envoy for negotiations with the North Koreans, Jack Pritchard, and with some other State Department officials. They talked informally about the issues that are related to the Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: Not to extend this any further, but just -- I think Secretary Powell went even further on China when he was in Beijing. Didn't he say that the US does not view China as a threat?
MR. BOUCHER: I think he did, in fact. But I wasn't prepared to recite everything the Secretary said during the course of his two days in Beijing.
QUESTION: Well, that was the important statement. That was a pretty - - I mean, that would seem to --
MR. BOUCHER: I would be glad to recite everything the Secretary said in Beijing tomorrow, as long as I get a chance to study.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)