State Dept. Daily Press Briefing October 5, 2001
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Daily Press Briefing Index Friday, October 5, 2001
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
TERRORISM 1 List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations 1-3, 7 Information on Financial Controls and Banking Systems 3-4 Adding Organizations to the Foreign Terrorist List 4-6 Process for Issuing Visas 7-8 International Cooperation to Fight Terrorism 10 Japanese Red Army and DPRK Designation as State Sponsor of Terrorism 10-11 Taliban Designation as Terrorist Organization or State Sponsor of Terrorism
IRAN 8-9 Mujahedin-e Khalq Designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization
PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY 9 Adding Palestinian Groups to the Foreign Terrorist List 9-10 Actions Against HAMAS and Palestinian Islamic Jihad 23-24 Palestinian Authority Harboring Terrorist Organizations
UNITED NATIONS 11-14 Support for Syrian Seat on the UN Security Council
RUSSIA 14-15 US Intervention on Georgia-Russia Border Issues
BANGLADESH 14-15 Elections
ISRAEL 15 Comments on Prime Minister Sharon's Remarks 15-19 Secretary Powell's Conversations with Middle East Leaders 19-21 US-Israeli Cooperation Against Terrorist Organizations
AFGHANISTAN 24-25 Former US Support for Taliban Regime
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB # 140
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2001, 1:45 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can at the top, just to note that I think you all have copies of the statement that we have made on the Secretary's re-designation of foreign terrorist organizations. This was the two-year anniversary of the designation of some groups and, therefore, as a matter of the expiration, as a matter of law, he had to re-designate these groups. He re-designated 25 groups; there are three others on the list, so there are a total of 28 groups now on our list of foreign terrorist organizations.
For groups on this list, the law prohibits any persons in the United States, makes it illegal for persons in the United States to provide any kind of financial or material support, makes people in these organizations ineligible for visas and takes other steps with regard to financial institutions. So this is one of our ways of continuing the fight against terrorism, continuing to impose restrictions on these organizations and members of these organizations, insofar as they might wish to use the United States as a place to move money or people.
QUESTION: Can you just clarify on the record that the fact that this list is unrelated to the list that the White House and the Treasury put out last week? I mean, it's not completely unrelated, but it's a different list?
MR. BOUCHER: It is a different list. It is not completely unrelated. There are several executive orders and lists that have to do with terrorism. This is a certification process that we do every two years to identify foreign terrorist organizations. It has certain legal implications, financial implications. There is also an executive order, a 1995 executive order 19247, I think it is -- it may be 12947 - - of January 1995 that lists organizations that have been trying to harm and interrupt the Middle East peace process at that time. So that executive order had certain implications for specific organizations, some of which are also on this list. And then we had another executive order about a week ago, 10 days ago, from the President where he specifically listed the entities of al-Qaida and associated with al- Qaida, in order to make them subject to very specific controls, in the financial area particularly.
QUESTION: Could you say how successful you believe that this list has been? I mean, you have to depend on Treasury to freeze funds, to find the accounts, and to freeze funds. How successful do you think follow- up has been?
MR. BOUCHER: We think there is very good follow-up. Treasury works, obviously, with the US financial and banking system to prevent in every way they can any specific financial transactions, banking transfers associated with these groups. Obviously, we know that some of the operations of terrorists are done through fronts and some done through individuals and so it's in some ways very hard to track down every one. But with regard to the specific purpose of these laws and the ability to stop transactions involving these groups, I think we are fairly confident we can do that.
QUESTION: Richard, is there any way to quantify how successful you think you've been? Do you have any idea of bank accounts or amounts of money?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. I don't think I can do that. Treasury might have had, but the major importance of these steps is it prevents these people from using the US banking system. It prevents these organizations from transferring money. So it's money not taken that -- it prevents the facilities to be available to them of the world's largest financial centers.
QUESTION: Richard, the Secretary mentioned two groups with close ties to al-Qaida; I'm sure there are others. Could you mention them?
MR. BOUCHER: There are others. Al-Qaida is on this list, as well as on some of these other lists as well. In fact, all the other lists of organizations that are subject to various financial controls. There are other bin Laden-affiliated groups that are on this list, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Gama'a al-Islamiyya, the Algerian Armed Islamic Group, the Harakut ul-Mujahidin, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the Abu Sayyaf Group. All those organizations have ties to or receive financial support from bin Laden. And you'll find many of these associated groups on other lists as well.
QUESTION: I understand that one of the new features of the Executive Order last week, with the list of 27 individuals and organizations, was that it imposed, or could impose, sanctions against banks which failed to comply. Is this something -- a practice you intend to expand to cover other groups on the FTO list?
MR. BOUCHER: This list that we put out under this law has to do with the provisions of this particular law that requires this list. We did say, when the President put out the Executive Order, that we would expect to add others to the list as time went on, but that first and foremost, we wanted to get at the al-Qaida organization and all its associated groups. We said that when we put that out.
QUESTION: Is it correct to say that it wasn't an exhaustive list and you can add any more at any time? Or has it have done by the end of the year?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we add from time to time. I think, this year the Secretary of State has added the Real IRA to this list, and the AUC in Colombia. Secretary Albright added several groups from time to time. So we always keep careful watch on groups that are active around the world, and as we see groups that meet the criteria, we will add them to the list.
QUESTION: Just one more on this. Based on the criteria, it says -- on the criteria (inaudible) the criteria based on what you designate, the organization's activities must threaten the security of US nationals, or national security, and national defense, et cetera. Does it mean that those which threaten democracy; for instance, the group that blew up -- tried to blow up -- the Kashmir Assembly building --
MR. BOUCHER: This is a legal standard that is in our law that we use for the purposes of this law. Obviously --
QUESTION: But then also (inaudible) threaten the United States, it threatens only the Sri Lankan government, the Liberation Tigers --
MR. BOUCHER: Again, this is a criteria in our law that applies to the United States and to the actions in the United States that we can carry out. Clearly, we have a broad view of the national security interests of the United States. But it would be measured --because of the law, anything would be measured against these particular criteria that are in our law.
QUESTION: When the Foreign Minister of India was here, he met with Secretary Colin Powell, and he made a plea and gave a list of, India's list that these groups must be or should be added on the list. So where do we stand on that? What was the reaction from the Secretary to the Foreign Minister?
MR. BOUCHER: These groups have been raised. We have certainly heard questions, and I think the Secretary was quite clear that the attack on the legislature in Srinagar was a horrible attack, expressed strong, heart-felt condolences to the Indian people who suffered in that attack. And we viewed it also as an attack on democracy.
The group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, is also listed in our Patterns of Global Terrorism Report as an other group, and so this is a group that we do keep under active review and it is a group that we have been looking at carefully to see if it meets the criteria for designation.
QUESTION: As we go against Usama bin Laden and the Taliban, this group based in Pakistan is a close ally of Usama bin Laden and Taliban. They have claimed the responsibility. So where do we stand, since they are close to Usama and --
MR. BOUCHER: I think I just told you where we stand with them, and I will leave it at that for the moment.
QUESTION: I am sure this is going to come up later as well, but Prime Minister Sharon said that the US should consider HAMAS and Hizballah as terrorist groups and, of course, they have been on the list for years. What was the implication that the US took from that? Did he just not know that? I mean, why is he -- did he not understand that they already are --
MR. BOUCHER: I think you can ask the Israeli Government the questions about why they said what they said. HAMAS, Hizballah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and a variety of other groups have been designated as foreign terrorist organizations for years. They are subject to these restrictions in the United States and, furthermore, they are designated by that executive order of January 1995 that was specifically directed at groups like that to a number of more specific financial controls.
QUESTION: al-Qaida was -- has been on the list, am I correct?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: And it says here that representatives or certain members can be denied visas or excluded from the United States. And yet all of the people who hijacked these planes received visas into the United States. Can we conclude then that this law is -- that this rule is basically a piece of paper that is not being properly enforced?
MR. BOUCHER: No, that would be a very incorrect conclusion.
QUESTION: Would you like stronger enforcement of some of these rules?
MR. BOUCHER: Would you like to hear a longer answer?
MR. BOUCHER: Everyone who gets a US visa is checked against the database that we have of people who are ineligible. Anyone who has been identified as having an association with a terrorist group will not qualify for a visa and will not get a visa. It is actually physically impossible, given the equipment that we have put out, for anyone to issue a visa unless the name has cleared the database check.
We therefore rely on these databases for the best possible information. If we don't have information when somebody applies, then we don't get a hit when we check the name against the database.
So the issue that we are looking at most closely right now is how to make sure that the best possible information gets into our databases, so that when we check at the visa issuance post, or when the immigration service checks when the person arrives at the border, they know; they have the best possible information for the US Government.
We are working with the Congress and with our other agencies in the Executive Branch to better identify the threats to our country. We have asked the Congress now to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to make it easier to deny visas to aliens who support terrorism. Legislation has also been introduced to give us access to the FBI's National Crime Information Center database.
We have also implemented, at several posts, photo recognition technology. So we are also looking to identify people who might not be using their real names. And we hope to find a technology that can help us do that.
We have also been working with the Immigration and Naturalization Service before September 11th as well to give the immigration service access to our electronic visa records, so that all the information we might get at an embassy is shared with the border examiner when the person comes in to the United States. And that program is continuing; that program is going to be expanded.
And I would note as well, we are also working very closely with other countries, particularly the friendly countries and neighbors, on ways to cooperate, ways to coordinate even better on immigration issues.
So while we do have a system that prevents issuance to anyone who is on our lists, we're trying to improve the lists, we're trying to improve the recognition of people, we're trying to use technology better, and we're trying to make sure that all the information we have in the US Government is better shared so that we can do a better job in the future.
QUESTION: The people that attacked on September 11th were kind of sleepers. They are people that have been in this country for many, many years, or even a year or more, and there's reports in the press today that there's an expectation of further attacks, that basically there are people in the United States right now who are prepared to launch further attacks.
What are you doing, what is the State Department doing to identify these people, and make sure that further attacks do not take place?
MR. BOUCHER: As I have said, anyone that we can identify, that we can get into our name list, we can prevent from coming into the United States, because he won't get a visa and he won't get an INS name check at the border. Beyond that, as you know, and you will hear, I'm sure, the domestic agencies will tell you what they are able to do about people who might have gotten here already.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? If you've started to try to improve the list, or the way that you track these folks when you issue these types of visas, why does the State Department continue to issue temporary visas since September 11th, with what seems to be an admission is an inadequate system, at least for tracking all the information about these folks?
MR. BOUCHER: I would not say it's an inadequate system. It's a system that is as good as we've got now, and we can make it better. But any time we have information that somebody might be associated with a terrorist organization, we can stop them from getting a visa, and INS can stop them from getting into the country.
QUESTION: But why was -- I mean, if you're trying to improve the list and your capabilities for tracking these folks when you issue the visas, and you're trying to make them better, then why wouldn't you at least temporarily freeze the issuances of these visas while you were trying to beef up the system?
MR. BOUCHER: There are millions of people who travel to the United States safely, who are friendly, who bring -- come to the United States for purposes of tourism or business. They spend billions of dollars in our economy. We can't close the United States off to the world. We have to protect the United States from travelers who might want to do us harm. And that's what we and the law enforcement agencies, working with the Congress, are trying to do.
QUESTION: Richard, along those same lines, do you guys have any indication that any of these groups that are on -- that you have re- designated today -- actually have any assets in the United States, or that they intend to try and raise money here? Or is this simply a preventative measure?
MR. BOUCHER: It may be that when these organizations were first designated, that we were able at that moment to catch any assets they might have had here. In many cases, I doubt if it is very much money. But the purpose of having these laws in place and doing the re- designation is to keep them from using the facilities of the US banking system. And wherever we can identify a transaction, or wherever one of these groups would want to undertake a transaction, were they to try to wire money in a way that might pass through the financial centers of New York, the banks would have the authority to stop it. Mostly, it is a preventive step that keeps them from using the facilities of the US system.
QUESTION: Can I ask two questions? Are you imposing a new cap on the number of people who can get into this country, like a new number of visas? Are you reducing that number?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: And the second is, do you have a focus on certain countries that you pay more attention?
MR. BOUCHER: We have one standard that applies around the world in all countries, one Immigration and Nationality Act that constitutes the requirements for consular officers. They apply this act fairly in all countries. Clearly, different countries have different circumstances, different levels of development, different individual circumstances. But the Immigration and Nationality Act gives the guidance to the consular officer to talk to an individual and to find out whether under that act they qualify for entry into the United States or not.
QUESTION: This is different. Obviously, this is different from the list that the President sent out. Is it illegal if countries do not freeze the assets of the groups, other countries do not freeze the assets of the groups on this list? I mean, I know everything --
MR. BOUCHER: I was asked that question from before and I think I said this list has certain legal bases and it is used to carry out a certain law that has the restrictions on using financial centers, getting visas, getting material support from the United States. The executive order that the President issued about al-Qaida a week or 10 days ago did have one additional provision that said that we could block accounts or block cooperation with foreign banks who might be allowing these groups to operate. That is a list that, at present, is targeted at al-Qaida because the President said begin with al-Qaida. In the 12 days since the attacks, we have put together the first list of that.
But we said at the time, as I think when Jonathan asked a similar question, I think I said, we said at the time that we would be expanding it over time to others. There are also specific financial provisions of the executive order in January of 1995. So if you really want to do the complete legal analysis, you have to factor that in as well.
QUESTION: How much more attention is this list now getting from other countries? I don't know if before other countries have lobbied to have maybe their terrorist organizations placed on your list? And especially with the new counter-terrorism coalition around the world, they are probably looking to sign on to something like this to put more pressure on their own organizations. And at the same time, I think we've heard that Britain started this list last year. Do you know of any other countries that, in the new push against terrorism, may be starting a list like that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't really know. I haven't had time to do that exhaustive a check. I will see if we have any particular list of people with lists.
We do cooperate, though, in many, many ways with other governments and countries. We have specific bilateral activities against terrorism with individual governments who are concerned about terrorist activities in their countries. We do training, we do exchanges, we do seminars, we have had a series of exchanges and meetings with the Central Asians, for example, who face threat from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is associated with al-Qaida.
Furthermore, we have excellent cooperation, for example, among the Group of 7 nations, who have worked very hard against terrorism, and the finance ministers will meet tomorrow and look again at what more specific steps they can take against the financing of terrorism.
So there is --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) since September 11th? To any (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: Certainly, a lot of this cooperation has been more active and increased since September 11th. We have discussed, for example, the European Union, about two weeks ago, I think, right after the bombing, made a series of decisions that justice and interior ministers made about how they, as an organization, could do more against terrorism.
We certainly cooperate and coordinate with them. Because, like us, they are democracies, and like us, they want to do this in a way that is not only effective, but which protects the basic rights and freedoms of their citizens.
QUESTION: Richard, representatives of the Iranian resistance have expressed mystification that a group that is fighting a country designated one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism could itself be designated a terrorist organization. And the suggestion has been raised that this group is being put on the list as a concession to Iran in the midst of all of the diplomatic goings-on having to do with international terrorism. Any comment on those complaints?
MR. BOUCHER: You're talking about the Mujahedin-e Khalq?
QUESTION: Yes, the MEK.
MR. BOUCHER: This organization has a history that is full of terrorist acts, of anti-Western activity, including support for the 1979 takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran. The fact that the group targets Iran or Iranian citizens doesn't alter the terrorist nature of its activities. We can't condone terrorism, even if it's directed against a government with which we have differences, and which itself supports terrorism. More importantly, the group is heavily supported by the Iraqi regime and Saddam Hussein, an enemy of the United States that provides the group with bases, training and material support.
There was an Appeals Court decision on this. The Appeals Court upheld the designation, but it ordered that the Secretary of State give the group the opportunity to submit materials in support of its view that it should not have been re-designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The group has submitted these materials; we have considered them carefully; and we have gone ahead with this re- designation.
QUESTION: And I understand from the Mujahedin people, who have an office in downtown Washington, that no measures have been taken against them whatsoever, even since September the 11th. Why not, since you're supposedly launching a campaign against terrorism?
MR. BOUCHER: As a group that is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, they would be subject to all the controls and restrictions that I described under the law.
QUESTION: But they're not?
QUESTION: Two years ago, they were told that they had to close -- or the implication was made that the NCR, the National Council of Resistance, which you have identified as an alias of the MEK, has to close its office, which is five or seven miles away.
MR. BOUCHER: I will double check on that and see if that's something that we have control over. But I will check.
QUESTION: -- the group that -- it was like in Los Angeles a few months ago, that they were arrested?
MR. BOUCHER: There were certainly people arrested in Los Angeles not too long ago associated with this group. That's true.
QUESTION: Richard, did you give any thought to placing the Fatah Tanzim on this list?
MR. BOUCHER: We do look at Palestinian groups. First of all, we report on them separately in what is called the PLO Compliance Act reports that we put out. So those are available as well, our view of some of those organizations. And we obviously keep groups, Palestinian groups, under review.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) not placed on the list?
MR. BOUCHER: We keep lots of groups under close watch to see what the activities are and whether they constitute sufficient grounds to meet the legal standard for designation.
QUESTION: Do you know if the Palestinian Authority has taken action as urged in this statement to choke off financing to HAMAS or to Palestinian Islamic Jihad?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have left other parties to describe what steps they might have taken in regard to specific organizations, particularly the terrorist organizations. So I think I have to leave it to them to talk about what they have done.
QUESTION: I don't want to belabor the point, but I do sort of want to understand what it is that you all are doing, perhaps, to make the FTO designation more effective, knowing as we have learned in the last few weeks that members of al-Qaida have really flown back and forth in many instances from the United States to countries in Europe and elsewhere. And knowing that it has also come out that some of the members have used ATM machines to get money, literally just before the attack, I mean, clearly they must have had a bank account or something like that.
So what measures are you all reviewing right now to try to put a little more teeth in this?
MR. BOUCHER: As I have said before, we have done a number of measures involving visa processing and immigration processing, that we and other government agencies will be cooperating on. The most important thing, though, is to get the information. And you see an enormous effort under way to collect financial information, to share information with other governments, to identify people, to roll up organizations, roll up networks, share information on the individuals who might be involved. Because the most important thing is identifying who might be associated with these organizations so that we can look for them, get them, stop them, prevent them from getting visas, et cetera.
QUESTION: Richard, on that, can you say or can you find out how many people may have been added to the watch lists since you began the counter-terrorism cooperation, the sharing intelligence with people? I mean, obviously not specifics, but how big is this list now and how big was it on the 10th?
MR. BOUCHER: I will see if I can do that for you; I don't have that information handy.
QUESTION: So we get an idea of the quantitative impact --
MR. BOUCHER: We may not have had that influx of information quite yet. There are people making arrests, there are people finding information around the world. And we will see -- I will see, and check if I can see if the surge of information is happening.
QUESTION: Richard, I just want to sort out one thing. The Japanese Red Army is being cut off. Does this -- what effect if any does this have on the status of North Korea as a state sponsor?
MR. BOUCHER: It doesn't change the status of North Korea. The status of any country on the list of state sponsors is a separate matter. It is the lack of continuing terrorist activity by the Japanese Red Army that meant that we didn't re-designate them. We didn't have information that fits that criteria of acts over the last two years.
The 1970 hijacking that was carried out by five JRA faction terrorists remains a criminal act, it remains an issue that must be addressed. And their continued presence in North Korea constitutes a safe haven from judicial accountability. This would be a key consideration on US law regarding the designation of state sponsors of terrorists.
QUESTION: On that note, I don't know whether you would label it as a foreign terrorist organization or a state sponsor of terrorism, but you have said repeatedly that the Taliban is harboring terrorists. So the fact that you don't recognize the Taliban as a government, but it is -- what would you -- are you considering labeling the Taliban as a foreign terrorist --
MR. BOUCHER: I believe the President did what was necessary to take action against the assets of the Taliban in the executive order 10 days ago.
QUESTION: Right, but your designation of the Taliban --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what the precise legal definition would be. But I would tell you that they are already subject to the controls of the President's executive order a week ago Monday.
QUESTION: Are you in listing the Taliban or not listing the Taliban, you are kind of hamstrung by the fact that you don't recognize them as a government, correct?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think the fact that the President already listed them and took action 10 days ago means we're not hamstrung.
QUESTION: No, I am talking about the State Department and the State Department's list. You can't take -- is it correct, you cannot take sanctions against something -- against a power that you don't recognize as legitimate?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I wouldn't say that. As the other questioner pointed out, I suppose we have the option of designating the Taliban as an organization, if we believe that appropriate under this list. There are different legal criteria. But the fact is, that the President has already taken action that no financial transactions or assets of the Taliban would be allowed to flow.
QUESTION: Would you mind going to another subject?
MR. BOUCHER: There seems to be a chorus in favor of that.
QUESTION: One more quick. Going back to the visa and finances? Some of these groups or people maybe enter the United States as priests or performers or artists. And also, they are raising funds here, and sending back home or supporting these groups, and they may not be crossing the US banking or Treasury laws, because their finances or monies under the US law may be in small amounts.
So what would you do in dealing with these groups in the future? I mean, how would you control them?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, it doesn't matter what category of visa you're applying for, if it's a business visa, a performance visa, fiancé visa or whatever. If your name doesn't clear the list, you're not going to get a visa. If your name doesn't clear the list, the INS is not going to let you across the border.
Second of all, as far as any material contribution to these groups, any donations to this group, any fundraising by these groups would be prohibited under this law.
We had some changes of subject.
QUESTION: It looks like there's a campaign on the Hill under way to persuade you to do what you can to stop Syria getting on the Security Council. What are you going to do in response to this campaign, and is there indeed anything that you can do at this stage?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said yesterday, as a matter of longstanding policy, we --
QUESTION: I'm not asking you if you didn't vote; I'm asking what you're going to do to try and prevent the Syrians getting on the Security Council.
MR. BOUCHER: Doesn't that amount to the same thing?
QUESTION: No. No, not at all. You can twist some arms, or something.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't understand the question, Jonathan. I really don't.
QUESTION: Congressmen and women on the Hill are asking you to do --
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, that part I understood. What's the question?
QUESTION: The question is, what are you going to do?
MR. BOUCHER: What are we going to do? We are going to do what we need to do, what we can do in the Security Council, and we are not going to disclose the vote. So we are not in a position to disclose our votes.
There are a variety of factors that need to be taken into account. Obviously, the question of the contributions of potential members to international peace and security including actions on international terrorism, compliance with Security Council resolutions, these are all key factors. We also evaluate candidates by whether or not they have the support of the regional group. Because, as you know, in the UN, a vote takes place in the General Assembly and generally candidates that are uncontested within their regional group get voted in.
So we will look at this situation and we will do what we think is appropriate. But we don't disclose, either in advance or afterwards, how we have voted.
QUESTION: The question isn't how you are going to vote. The question is, are you going to lobby other people to try and prevent --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a particular answer to that question.
As you know, last year with Sudan, Sudan's candidacy was contested within its regional group and, second of all, Sudan was subject to UN sanctions.
QUESTION: Wait, it was contested within its regional group because you pushed and pushed and pushed for Mauritius. It wasn't going to be Mauritius until you guys launched this campaign to get --
MR. BOUCHER: It was contested within its regional group.
QUESTION: Okay. And this year, you decided that there should be no -- no one should contest against Syria in their regional group when this is decided --
MR. BOUCHER: We don't belong to the regional group that Syria belongs to.
QUESTION: Yeah, well, you don't belong to the African regional group either.
MR. BOUCHER: Matt, I will go back --
QUESTION: I don't get it. I just don't get it --
MR. BOUCHER: I would suggest then you go back and you read about a year of history last year, to know that in fact the candidacy of Sudan was not agreed within their regional group, it was a subject of dispute at the OAU summit. There were some reports after that that it had been agreed but in fact we later learned it was not. We discussed this extensively when we went to the UN last fall. And that was the circumstance. But that's all history.
QUESTION: You can look at this then as a foregone conclusion that Sudan --
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say that either. I said we are not going to disclose one way or the other how we are going to handle this.
QUESTION: How long have you known that Syria had the unanimous support from the Asia bloc? You've known this for how long?
MR. BOUCHER: I frankly don't know when they got the support of the Asia bloc. We would more or less know it when the group decides.
QUESTION: Richard, earlier this year, a named official -- Assistant Secretary Walker -- said that Syria is not a suitable candidate for the Security Council seat because it was in violation -- if it was in violation of UN sanctions against Iraq, as it continues to -- appears to continue to be. Do you think that Syria is a suitable candidate for membership in the Security Council?
MR. BOUCHER: That is basically a rephrasing of the question, "What are you going to do on Monday?" and I am just not able to answer that.
QUESTION: No, it's not. Well, no, it's a completely different question.
QUESTION: I mean, you can vote for Syria or not vote at all because you --
MR. BOUCHER: If we thought they were unsuitable, could we vote for them?
QUESTION: You could abstain --
MR. BOUCHER: I suppose that's true. I don't have any new judgments on that. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: So the stated position has not changed?
MR. BOUCHER: I have no new judgments on that question.
QUESTION: So even though Assistant Secretary Walker has now left the administration, that remains -- his comments remain valid?
MR. BOUCHER: I have no new judgment on the question. You are asking me --
QUESTION: Is the old judgment what Secretary Walker said back in February?
MR. BOUCHER: As Jonathan read it -- I would, first of all, want to look up the quote. Second of all, as he read it, it is if they are in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, I don't have any new judgment on that question, and I am not sure he made one back then.
QUESTION: Georgian President Shevardnadze is visiting again in Washington.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: How important is this visit in the context of handling the international terrorism? If it is important, why it is important?
MR. BOUCHER: It is a very important visit. Obviously, we have very close relationships with Georgia. The Secretary met with President Shevardnadze at Blair House just now for about 45 minutes. They had a very good discussion. They discussed the situation in the region. They talked about the situation that Georgia faces at home, including problems that Georgia has had with terrorism, with Abkhazia and elsewhere. And they discussed, in fact, President Shevardnadze's desire to reach a political settlement of the political issues there.
They also talked quite a bit about Chechnya and the need for a political settlement in Chechnya. But also the need to do everything that we can and they can to control any activities of terrorists in the region.
QUESTION: Does that extend to President Shevardnadze's apparent offering to act as an intermediary in Chechnya? Is that something that you would like to see?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that is anything we would have a particular comment on. Obviously, we welcomed the steps that the Russians have taken in terms of offering discussions. We have welcomed Mr. Maskhadov's reaction and interest in that, and we certainly hope that that track proceeds.
QUESTION: With or without the participation --
MR. BOUCHER: As far as whether they would like to have some assistance from President Shevardnadze. That would be for the parties.
QUESTION: One of the things that the Russians were looking for was for the US to use its influence with Georgia in order to close the border, so as not to allow Chechen rebels to go through to Russia. Did the US ask the President to do that, to seal off his border?
MR. BOUCHER: We have had, for many years, some cooperation with Georgia in the area of border security, and we indeed did talk about continuing that cooperation.
QUESTION: Did you ask him to seal off the border?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll stop with that.
QUESTION: Another subject? Bangladesh. The former prime minister, or outgoing, is still saying that elections are rigged, and she does not agree that the electional results. And also, the new government, which is going to take place, is kind of pro-extremists. And now they're already protest -- anti-US protests in Bangladesh, and they are saying that they will fight for bin Laden. So do we have any comments on the new government, and their views really, and --
MR. BOUCHER: I think the only thing, really, to say is that the election was well carried out. The caretaker Government, we think, did a very good job preparing this election. The election was widely recognized by foreign observers and domestic groups as free and fair. We accept those results. We think the parties in Bangladesh should accept those results, in that judgment, and that Bangladesh does need stability and democracy. And we look forward to working with the new government in that manner.
QUESTION: New subject? Can we talk about the reaction of the US Government to the comments made by Mr. Sharon about appeasement? Ari Fleischer already talked about it. I wondered if this building --
MR. BOUCHER: That's my answer. Ari Fleischer already talked about it.
QUESTION: The Secretary made the call, rather than President Bush, so obviously we have -- this building has a role in it, a very primary role in it. So can you give us a readout on the call? Was it polite and friendly?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary, as you know, has kept in very close touch with the parties in the Middle East. Yesterday, he spoke with Prime Minister Sharon, with Foreign Minister Peres, with Chairman Arafat. This morning, he has already spoken once with Prime Minister Sharon, and they may speak again. They did discuss the comments made by Prime Minister Sharon. I believe Ari Fleischer reacted on behalf of the White House and the US Government to those comments.
In addition, the Secretary and he discussed the need to continue working to quell the violence, the need to stop provocative acts that might occur, and the need to continue to work with both sides on security cooperation. Indeed, that's what we are trying to do. The Secretary also had a conversation with Chairman Arafat, and our representatives in the field, Ambassador Kurtzer, Consul General Schlicher, have also been in touch with the parties to make sure that we do everything we can.
I would say that, at this point, the parties know what they have to do if they are serous about ending the violence. We've been deeply troubled by the events of the past few days. We certainly deeply regret the loss of life on both sides. The Palestinians have failed to do everything they can to prevent the violence against Israelis, and we think the Israeli response, including the incursions into Palestinian territory has been provocative. If both sides are serious, they know what they have to do.
The Palestinian Authority must immediately take sustained and effective steps to preempt violence, to end shooting attacks, to arrest those responsible for planning and conducting acts of violence and terror. Failure to do so makes any effort to restore calm impossible.
On the Israeli side, we think they need to refrain from provocative acts that can only escalate tensions and undermine efforts to bring about a lasting halt to violence. Specifically, they must halt incursions by Israeli defense forces into Palestinian controlled areas. They must halt targeted killings and the demolition of Palestinian homes.
In addition, we would hope both sides would continue their security cooperation. Security meetings are critical to restoring calm. Both sides must engage to the fullest possible extent in coordination on security issues if we are to ensure a lasting halt to the violence and terror.
This is what we have been working on through our representatives; this is what we have been working on with the Secretary.
QUESTION: (Inaudible)? Today, here --
MR. BOUCHER: We have had a series of conversations with the Israeli Government about the need to take these steps, to refrain from actions that are provocative. As well as, we have had a series of conversations with the Palestinian side to see them to get to take steps to prevent the violence.
QUESTION: But did they assess the Sharon comments?
MR. BOUCHER: We have continued these discussions. The Secretary, in his conversation, has discussed the comments that Prime Minister Sharon made yesterday. But he has also concentrated on the need to take steps to end the violence in some cases, or to refrain from steps that provoke violence.
QUESTION: Ari said that Israel has no better friend than the United States. But he didn't counter that by saying that the United States has no better friend than Israel. Right now, do you consider this, these remarks by Sharon, in a way that Israel is not being friendly to the United States at a time that it needs international support?
MR. BOUCHER: The White House spokesman has already addressed this issue, and I will leave it at what he said.
QUESTION: You said the Israelis should stop incursions. Do you think that they should withdrawal their forces from the two hillside neighborhoods in Hebron immediately?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not sure I have an up-to-date situation on the status of those forces. But, certainly, whenever we have talked about incursions in the past, if we thought they were still there, we would have called on them to withdraw.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the Israelis may not take you very seriously when you talk about targeted killings, considering this government is now reconsidering withdrawing the 1977 executive order that would prohibit American operatives from assassinating foreign leaders?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think the two things are comparable.
QUESTION: How do you not think the two things are comparable? The Israelis say they have a terrorism problem and they need to take certain actions to combat the terrorism problem. The President has said, we have a war on terrorism, and has said that there are a number of things which he is not going to talk about which have been reported that he is going to do to take action against the terrorists. I mean, I don't see why there is not a similarity there.
MR. BOUCHER: There may be a similarity, but that doesn't mean the two situations are comparable or require the same response. The Secretary and the President have said we would consider all of the options, we would look at this executive order. But, first of all, no decision has been made and, second of all, I don't think it compares to any particular situation in this region.
QUESTION: Does the statement, the fairly long statement you went through just now, fairly represent what Secretary Powell discussed with the Prime Minister? And, secondly, is it at all appropriate to describe what's going on now as a rift between the United States and Israel? And, thirdly, is it a rather convenient time for a rift, given the efforts the United States is making to bring Muslim countries into the fold in the war on terrorism?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, no, no. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What thought is being given to having a special envoy?
MR. BOUCHER: Remains something that the Secretary has spoken about before. If there should be discussions, negotiations, some circumstance where that was appropriate and helpful, that would be something that he would consider. At the same time, we have worked very hard with the parties and continue to work the parties on trying to end the violence and get on with the implementation of the Mitchell Plan. Whether that becomes appropriate at some point remains to be -- we will decide and announce at the appropriate time if it does become necessary.
QUESTION: Richard, on the phone call, did the President ask the Secretary to make this call? Or did he -- was he going to make it anyway? How much did they discuss, the comments that the Prime Minister made? And what exactly did the Secretary tell the Prime Minister --
MR. BOUCHER: What exactly did the Secretary tell the Prime Minister is not something that we normally do. I am not able to give you a transcript of the Secretary's conversations with foreign leaders.
QUESTION: I am not asking for that level of specificity.
MR. BOUCHER: "Exactly" is fairly specific. But, go on.
QUESTION: More specific than "they discussed the Prime Minister's comments," which says nothing.
MR. BOUCHER: It says they discussed it. I would go back to the characterization the White House gave of our reaction.
QUESTION: So it was exactly the message that was delivered publicly?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not giving the Secretary's exact words.
QUESTION: What did -- how much of the conversation was focused on those comments and how much was on the steps --
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary has talked to Prime Minister Sharon every day or so. He talked to him last night, talked to him this morning. So both of these elements were part of those conversations. I don't know if I can tell you percentages.
QUESTION: But when he talked to him last night, was it before or after Sharon had made these remarks? In other words, is there one phone call --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't exactly know.
QUESTION: But you seemed to mention it somewhere in -- okay, go ahead.
MR. BOUCHER: The phone call this morning had to do with both the steps to end the violence and the need -- both the need for efforts on both parties to end the violence as well as the comments that Sharon made.
QUESTION: So you don't --
MR. BOUCHER: -- as well as the calm --
QUESTION: So you don't know if the last night phone call was --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't remember if it was before or after the phone call.
QUESTION: And in one of your explanations, you seem to imply that the Secretary had also spoken this morning to Chairman Arafat? Is that --
MR. BOUCHER: He spoke yesterday to Chairman Arafat and Foreign Minister Peres.
QUESTION: But not -- okay, no Arafat call today.
MR. BOUCHER: Not today at this point, no. Almost every day he has talked to him.
QUESTION: The President the other day spoke of you having a vision for the Middle East, and he gave one element of it. Can you tell us, where do we stand on the kind of other elements in this vision, which you have? I mean, how much progress are you making in sort of turning this vision into a package, a measure -- a package, a program, a plan? And what's the thinking on whether it would be wise to lay this out to the parties?
MR. BOUCHER: You're coming close to asking me when can I announce the speech, and the answer is, I don't have anything like that to announce at this point.
QUESTION: No, I know it's not --
MR. BOUCHER: Certainly this Administration has worked very consistently from the beginning on a view of the Middle East that we needed to end the violence, ease the restrictions that existed on people's daily lives, and get back to negotiations that could lead to a political settlement. That overall paradigm, I'd say, has been the substance of what we worked on ever since. And now those negotiations also need to lead somewhere, and as we get -- as we start to look down that road, I'm sure we will want to describe, to the extent we can, how we would see that process unfolding. But I don't think we can overlook the fact that the issue right now is the violence, that the violence has come back again, that the issue is really stopping the violence. We're still at the very beginning of that road.
QUESTION: So you do -- there is a vision down the end -- at the end of the tunnel, if I can mix my metaphors?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I wouldn't want to do that, though.
MR. BOUCHER: There is clearly a view that has often been expressed by the parties of what kinds of outcomes they would find acceptable, what kind of outcomes they would foresee. But the task at hand is to stop the violence and to get on with the process that can lead us back to those negotiations.
QUESTION: The one thing that Sharon also said was that Israelis were going to have to depend on themselves for security. Is this building concerned that the Israelis might just go full bore into the Palestinian areas and just do a massive attack?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say that we have made clear again today our view that the Israelis should refrain from acts that would be provocative, from these kind of incursions, from targeted killings and other actions that can only inflame the situation.
QUESTION: Was the Department reassured by the comments that came out earlier today from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, following Mr. Sharon's remarks?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check and see if we have a comment on the comments on the comments.
QUESTION: Okay. And one other thing. If it's not a rift, then how do you -- how would you characterize the very public, unusually public, exchange of comments between the White House and the Israeli Government?
MR. BOUCHER: I would characterize them as an exchange of comments, the way you did. Clearly, everything that Ari Fleischer said this morning needs to be taken together. But I think he described our position very well, and I wouldn't presume to be able to add to that.
QUESTION: Were you surprised by Mr. Sharon's comments?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, our reaction has been given, and we'll stick with that.
QUESTION: The Israelis appear to be concerned that in the United States, in reacting to the terrorist act in the United States, is overlooking Israel's problems with terrorism in Israel. Can the United States say whether or not after the terrorist attack response is made - - I mean, after the response is made to terrorism, that al-Qaida is dealt with, that Israel's concern about terrorism from HAMAS and Islamic Jihad, will be a concern of the United States Government?
MR. BOUCHER: The President has made clear that groups that engage in terrorism with a global reach will be the subject of our campaign, as we go down this road. He has made quite clear that our effort is to end all terrorism of global reach, and not just put this one organization out of business.
But I would also submit that we have worked with Israel very closely and constructively over the years in trying to deal with the problems that Israel faces against terrorism. Our efforts on the Middle East peace process, our effort to help them find a political solution to political problems is indeed just such an effort to reduce the terrorism and to get a hold of terrorism. The extensive efforts that we have made with Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to try to get them to preempt this violence and stop it is also a part of our efforts to make life safer for Israelis as well as Palestinians, and we very much sympathize with the problems they have with terrorism.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, do you consider HAMAS and Islamic Jihad to be groups with -- what are they called, "global reach"? Is that what it says?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. There's not a particularly Executive Order-type list of groups with global reach, but they are clearly on our list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
QUESTION: Have you come any closer to defining that very key phrase, groups with global reach? Which --
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, I would leave it with what the President said.
QUESTION: Well, right, that's what he said. So it's basically an amorphous kind of things, a bunch of things that are out there.
MR. BOUCHER: No, it's basically a statement by the President, and --
QUESTION: But which have no definition at the moment, other than al- Qaida.
MR. BOUCHER: It's not like the -- today, we designated 28 organizations as having -- as being Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
MR. BOUCHER: There's a precise law, there's a standard that requires that we do that. The phrase "global reach" is not a legal phrase; it's a description of the kinds of organizations that we want to go after. The President said first we'd begin with al-Qaida. We're going to do that. And then we will define such things further in the future.
QUESTION: But what about -- but when you say "global reach," does that mean that --
MR. BOUCHER: When the President says global reach.
QUESTION: When the President says "global reach," does that mean groups that are global in the sense that they are able to touch the United States? What about local groups that may not -- that may commit terrorist acts within their own country, but really don't threaten the United States? I mean, aren't they considered terrorists as well? And shouldn't they be gone after in this new international war against terrorism?
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, we have designated certain organizations as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. I think we have discussed this subject for the last two weeks here, and I think we have made clear that these -- some of these organizations that you might think were local in fact have various ties. The example of people suspected of being with the IRA showing up with the FARC in Colombia is one that we have cited before as an example that there are many activities between these groups, and you need to put terrorism out of business. And that's the goal.
So as we go down this road, as we first get the people who carried out these horrible acts in New York and Washington, we do intend to continue this campaign, and the President has made quite clear our determination to continue this campaign and take it to other groups in other areas so that we can get rid of terrorism.
But as far as sort of laying out the entire map, I don't think we're just able to do that right now.
QUESTION: Would you say that the US Government is being as tough on various Arab governments and other groups and organizations that have been -- that Israel views as threatening? That we are being as tough today, post-September 11th, as we were before?
MR. BOUCHER: That's kind of a -- it requires a whole set of judgments. What I would say is that the President and the Secretary have made quite clear that we expect all governments to make a choice. In some ways, we have been even clearer with governments since September 11th, that there is no way one can pick and choose among terrorists, there is no way one can allow activities, one can allow groups, one can allow transcripts or financing of terrorist groups, and that we expect governments in the world to step up and to make the decision. Are they for terrorism, or are they for civilization? And we have been very, very clear about that with all the governments that we talk to.
QUESTION: I ask that because of Betsy's comment, that Sharon had said that the Israelis have to rely on themselves, I guess the sense within Israel being that now that the United States has its own serious problem with terrorism, that it is not devoting as much energy and attention and political pressure to the governments that it used to, that are of concern to Israel.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if that's the only interpretation of those remarks, but I wouldn't want to try to interpret Prime Minister Sharon's remarks.
QUESTION: Is there a criteria that you would have at the State Department for individuals versus groups? Because the groups can change names or not -- if there is some type of terrorist attack, they can then deny it's their particular group that caused it, yet the attack did take place.
MR. BOUCHER: If you look at the Federal Register notice, for example, that's on the Internet today, that's connected with these groups, these Foreign Terrorist Organizations, you'll see that associated groups -- and I'm not sure if they're individuals or not -- but to the extent we can, the Treasury Department in its listings, will identify aliases, associated groups, individuals, and things like that.
QUESTION: Richard, an easy one for you. What's your response to the Taliban offer to put bin Laden on --
QUESTION: I'm sorry. Today, you reiterated the call from this building that's been going on for six months or more, calling on Arafat to arrest the terrorists. There are reports, which have not been entirely confirmed by this building, that he actually let many of these folks who were in jail out of jail. Islamic Jihad and HAMAS, two organizations on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list, have offices that are open in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas.
So given all that, is Arafat and is the Palestinian Authority harborers of terrorism, which according to the President, at least, would mean that they were not on the right side in the war on terrorism?
MR. BOUCHER: I will go back to what we said before. We have reported extensively on the situation in the Palestinian areas, with regard to the Palestinian Authority, in our various reports on terrorism. We have reported in the PLO Compliance Act, and I would just refer you to those.
QUESTION: But I understand -- we're at a point now where people are lining up for a coalition against terrorism, and one of the most important categories is harboring terrorists. I mean, it seems that -- I mean, I'm just wondering, if he's not a harborer of terrorism, could you explain how Arafat is not a harborer of terrorism?
MR. BOUCHER: You're asking to make all kinds of grandiose statements and judgments here. We've reported in very much detail and very specifically on these kind of questions, on the activities and the relationships between different groups, and I would really refer you to all that extensive material.
QUESTION: Yes. Can we have a -- a very easy one for you -- the Taliban offered to put bin Laden on trial --
MR. BOUCHER: He keeps giving me easy ones.
QUESTION: -- yes, you've had too many hard ones today -- if it receives solid evidence. What's your reaction?
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen the statement, but is there news in that? Is that not the same thing they have said several times before, and that we have found --
QUESTION: They're saying they're going to put him on trial now.
QUESTION: Put him on trial, yes.
MR. BOUCHER: That's not what the UN resolution requires. The UN resolution already requires them to deliver him to a place where he can be brought to justice. So I think it's quite clear that whatever they are proposing in this statement is not what the UN resolution requires.
QUESTION: And that place is the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: The President said that should be the United States.
QUESTION: Okay, but that's not in the UN resolution. Right.
MR. BOUCHER: No, it's not. But the President said it should be the United States.
QUESTION: Can I ask you, for a long time, ever since '96, people have been saying that the United States implicitly or explicitly, through the Saudis and the Pakistanis, wanted or helped the Taliban get into power because they -- because you saw it as a stabilizing force, and there was a lot of pressure from a certain oil company.
What do you -- yes, who wanted to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, and they were very specific -- I mean, I won't name any names, but there are specific allegations about specific individuals that were employed by this Department at the time, assisting the Taliban. What do you say to that?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not familiar with those reports or that history. If there's a matter for US policy at this point, I'd be glad to look into it. But I'm not sure I can have any commentary on those things.
QUESTION: You can't deny that you -- you can't deny that --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know nothin'. I can't, sir, confirm it, I can't deny it. I can't deal with it. (Laughter.)
If there's something that involves US policy, I'd be happy to try to speak to it at a later date when I have a chance to inform myself.
QUESTION: You're not aware of any US effort to allow the Taliban -- to put the Taliban in place.
MR. BOUCHER: I have never seen these reports. I have never had a chance to look into it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)
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