State Dept. Daily Press Briefing October 23, 2001
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Daily Press Briefing Index Tuesday, October 23, 2001
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
NORTHERN IRELAND 1-2 IRA Statement Regarding Decommission of Its Weapons 2 Ambassador Haass's Roles and Meetings
MIDDLE EAST 1-2,8 Secretary Powell's Meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Peres 1-3,6,7,9-10 Incursions into Palestinian-Controlled Areas by Israeli Forces 2-4,5-6,7-9,18 Call for Arrests in Palestinian Authority / Chairman Arafat's Authority 3 Secretary Powell's Calls to Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat 4,8 Violence in the Middle East and Coalition Against Terrorism 7 US Actions Against Terrorism Versus Israeli Actions
AFGHANISTAN 10 Pakistan's Position on a Post-Taliban Afghanistan 10 Role of Former King and Formation of a Post-Taliban Government 11-12 Department Officials' Discussions with Countries' Ambassadors on the Future of Afghanistan 12 Discussions on Composition of a Peacekeeping Force 14 Actions Against Terrorism and Holy Month of Ramadan 15 Status of Detained Aid Workers 17 Reported Visit by Taliban Military Commander to Pakistan
UZBEKISTAN 12-14 US-Uzbekistan Cooperative Agreement on Elimination of Biological Weapons
IRAQ 14-15,16 Status of Renewal of UN Sanctions Against Iraq and Russian Position
CHINA 16 Trial of American Citizen Fong Fuming
HOMELAND SECURITY 16 Source of Anthrax /Overseas or Domestic
EGYPT 17 Suspicious White Powder Incident at US Embassy
SOUTH ASIA 17 Under Secretary Larson's Travel
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING DPB #150
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2001 1:10 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any formal statements or announcements. I would be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Well, there is a story just beginning to move on the wires that the Irish Republican Army has said it is planning to hand in its weapons. Can you, the State Department, verify that? And I suppose you would welcome that development?
MR. BOUCHER: We are looking for the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning to verify that the actions have occurred. We have read the statement that the Irish Republican Army made. We look for the commission to confirm that they have implemented the scheme and will look forward to that.
As we said yesterday in the statement that Mr. Reeker issued, the step to place arms beyond use would constitute a very historic breakthrough in the peace process, so we are looking for the judgment of General de Chastelain on that.
QUESTION: I don't want to be picky, but your statement implies that you want to know that the whole process is over. You also want to know that it began, don't you? I mean --
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, the commission will tell us whether the statement that we have seen is being implemented.
MR. BOUCHER: So we look for the commission to make a judgment on that point. But certainly we have said that if this process does occur, this would be a major breakthrough.
QUESTION: Does that mean that Sinn Fein and the IRA are effectively off the hook for their involvement in Colombia?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that anybody is off the hook for involvement in Colombia. I think certainly there are a number of things that people have to do, not only in Northern Ireland to make the peace process move forward, but more broadly we are looking for groups and organizations to end involvement with terrorism throughout the world.
At this point, I don't think I have any more specifics on the involvement in Colombia. But we would not expect anybody to be supporting terrorism around the world.
QUESTION: Richard, your point man -- for lack of a better word -- on Northern Ireland, Ambassador Haass, has an awfully full plate at the moment, it seemed. Can you give us an idea of how much time he is spending on Northern Ireland and how much time he is spending on the Afghanistan issue?
MR. BOUCHER: He is spending a lot of time on both. And as well as policy planning more generally.
I guess I could just say he spends as much as he needs to, to make sure that we are involved in these matters, that we are working them, that we are moving them forward. He is meeting with the Sinn Fein representative this afternoon. So we will see what comes out of those talks. But he has also continued to work on the Afghanistan count, as well as planning policy.
QUESTION: Can I switch topics? Could you clarify -- today, right before the briefing, Foreign Minister Peres told reporters that Secretary Powell did not necessarily use the term "immediately" when he was asking about the withdrawal of the Israeli troops in terms of the latest incursion. And he also said that the Secretary expressed an understanding that as soon as the Palestinians did what they needed to do, his words, that the Israelis may withdraw the troops.
Could you sort of clarify your take on what Powell's message was?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to try to clarify my take on your take on what Peres said. So if I can, I'll just say the Secretary in the meeting discussed the situation, made quite clear that we expect the Israelis to withdraw from the Palestinian areas. Foreign Minister Peres did note that the Israeli Government, that Prime Minister Sharon has said he wants to withdraw as soon as possible, or immediately -- I can't remember what term he used -- and the Secretary emphasized the importance of that.
The Secretary also emphasized, as I think Mr. Reeker did yesterday at this briefing, our concern about some of the actions of the army, and the deaths of civilians that have been associated with the Israeli incursions. So on both those accounts, the Secretary made clear that we had expectations of the Israelis.
I would say, at the same time, he also made clear, as we have made clear directly in our discussions with Chairman Arafat, that we look to Chairman Arafat to act immediately, to arrest all those responsible for the assassination of Minister Ze'evi, as well as move decisively against any of those who are planning or conducting acts of terror. The Palestinian decree outlawing such groups, such activities, is a positive step, but as we have always said, actions are required, not words.
So we look to the Palestinian Authority to do all in its power to halt violence and to bring to justice those terrorists whose actions are actually betraying Palestinian interests.
QUESTION: He didn't include the word "immediately"; Mr. Reeker did yesterday. And if you don't include it, then there really isn't that big a distinction between what Peres says Israel would like to do and what Mr. Powell would like Israel to do.
MR. BOUCHER: We think the idea should be of withdrawing immediately. It is clear that its presence there contributes to an escalation in violence, and should be withdrawn immediately.
QUESTION: All right, then what tool is there to accomplish your and Israel's aim of having arrests made of terrorists, particularly in the assassination of the tourism minister?
MR. BOUCHER: The tool is for Chairman Arafat to do what he has to do, and we have been quite clear in that. The Secretary has been quite clear in his phone calls in that. We have been quite clear in our meetings with him in the region, and we have been quite clear in conjunction with other members of the international community in making absolutely clear to Arafat that there is no question, there is no choice. He needs to arrest the people responsible for this, he needs to make sure that those planning or conducting acts of terror are also arrested as well.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary speak to him recently?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm trying to think of the last time.
QUESTION: And to Sharon, while we're at it?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me go back. Yes, the answer is, recently, yes; and it was, the most recent phone calls were on Sunday. He talked to Prime Minister Sharon, Chairman Arafat, as well as others in the region.
QUESTION: Can I just clarify -- I just want to make sure I understand. Secretary Powell today stressed that the IDF should be withdrawn, regardless of Arafat's actions, that the -- because Peres was making a link. He was saying that the IDF would withdraw, and that Powell understood -- and that the Secretary understood this, that once they took the appropriate steps, they would withdraw. And you're saying, and you're reiterating now that they should just withdraw, and that was the message that Powell carried?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Richard, I just want to clarify one point. In terms of the withdrawal -- in terms of the arrests, does the United States believe, as Prime Minister Sharon has said, that after the arrests are made, that the suspects should be turned over to the Israelis?
MR. BOUCHER: We have made very clear our concern about the situation. We have certainly made absolutely clear we think Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority need to move immediately to find them, to arrest them, to bring them to justice, all those who are responsible for this act, as well as to continue arrests of other known terrorists. That kind of action needs to be taken.
As for the issue of the legal discussion, I don't think I want to be drawn into a legal discussion at this point. The important thing is for Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to act now to halt those activities and to arrest those responsible.
QUESTION: Richard, what makes you sure you are not asking an impossible task of the Palestinians? Do you have some reason to believe that the people that assassinated this minister are in -- in a jurisdiction that the Palestinian Authority has control over?
MR. BOUCHER: We have no reason to believe they are not.
QUESTION: But you know for a fact that if Arafat gave an order to arrest these people, that they could be arrested by the Palestinian Authority?
MR. BOUCHER: No, that's -- you are asking me to identify the whereabouts of individuals that I don't know I can identify their whereabouts.
QUESTION: I am asking you if you are convinced that what you are asking of the Palestinians is not impossible, is possible?
MR. BOUCHER: We are convinced that what we are asking of the Palestinians is not impossible, yes.
QUESTION: Because you think that these people who did this are in various --
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to start talking about various locations.
QUESTION: Well, Richard, what if they are in Egypt or something? How is Arafat going to --
MR. BOUCHER: We have no indication that they are anywhere in Africa. I mean, we have no indication they are anywhere in Europe. Every indication is that they are in the Palestinian areas, right?
QUESTION: I don't know. I'm --
MR. BOUCHER: So let's not start speculating and letting people off the hook. As far as everybody knows, the people who did this are in the Palestinian areas and deserve to be arrested right away. If somebody has another excuse, then let them come forward. I haven't seen any statement by anyone that indicates they are not there.
QUESTION: Could I follow that up, please, just for a second?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's let Betsy follow up first.
QUESTION: How concerned are you that if this situation continues to spiral out of control that this will harm the President's efforts in this war on terrorism?
MR. BOUCHER: Our concern at this moment is that if this continues to spiral out of control, it will harm the President's efforts to achieve a return to the peace negotiations and to the Mitchell process in the Middle East. As the Secretary explained, I think, during his briefing on the airplane, and also as they discussed this morning with Foreign Minister Peres, I think we had all seen about a week ago the prospect that we were beginning to move into the period of calm and the implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations, which is what will give the region the hope that is offered by eventual peace negotiations. And we very much wanted to pursue that course. That is something we have been working on for a very long time, and it remains our goal, it remains our interest to try to pursue that course.
So the main concern right now is that the violence, the assassination, and the failure thus far to stop those who might be conducting to arrest those who might have done this, threaten to disrupt the return to negotiation. That applies to the incursions as well. That's the way the Secretary explained some of his concerns over the weekend.
QUESTION: But one of the problems that this government faces in the region is the perception that the US is siding unduly with the Israelis in this crisis and that the Palestinians are suffering and Arab governments are fighting this perception in their street. And how serious do you all think this perception is among other Arab countries?
MR. BOUCHER: The discussions that we have with other Arab countries -- in some ways, the questions we get from the Arab press are, are we being serious about the Middle East, are we really trying to end the violence, are we really trying to create conditions where Palestinians can live better, are we really trying to offer a path back to negotiations. So I think the answer to that is, definitely, yes. And by our actions in this matter, by our contacts in this matter, by our consistent statements in this matter, we demonstrate to those who care that, in fact, we remain as heavily involved in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians as ever. And we remain very much engaged in the process of seeking peace.
QUESTION: I thought Matt was going down a different road, so let me go down the road with you. I thought he was asking -- and let me ask -- does the US Government think Arafat can make those arrests and still survive politically? He's got to have a reason for not making the arrests. If you assume good will, then there has to be another explanation. Won't he run into trouble with the more radical elements if he acts against terrorists? I mean, you don't think you are putting him in an impossible position?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I mean, let's remember, those who operate against the authority of the Palestinian Authority, against the authority of Chairman Arafat, are also acting against the authority of the Palestinian people, against the aspirations of the Palestinian people. These terrorists, assassins, people who Chairman Arafat has outlawed undermine the authority of the Palestinian Authority. Both sides, we think, have to think about where they want to go, and they have to confront terror in a decisive manner, and this applies particularly at this moment to Chairman Arafat.
At the same time, we have said that we think the Israeli incursions need to be reversed because they also inflame the situation.
QUESTION: Richard, let me follow up on Barry and Matt's question, because I thought they were going in a different direction altogether as well. (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: I think you're all going in different directions, so let's just take them one at a time.
QUESTION: Does the State Department think that Arafat has the physical capability, given the Israeli bombing attacks over the summer of Palestinian Authority police stations and other institutions that were used for law enforcement, to make the arrests in that sense? Does he actually have the infrastructure to -- on the broader question of terrorism, not just find these people who were responsible for the assassination -- in general, is he able to live up to his commitments?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Not only able, but must.
QUESTION: Richard, the incursions, is there anything that you see in these particular incursions that you would describe as unprecedented, whether it is the scale, the scope, the amount of territory, the level of violence that particularly concerns you more than you have been concerned in the past other incursions?
MR. BOUCHER: We have always been concerned about incursions into Area A, into the Palestinian controlled areas, because these are serious acts. And we think there needs to be respect for the Palestinian areas, for the areas that are under their control.
There is, in the incursions that have occurred recently, a significant escalation in tension and violence that occurs because of these. They also have been the situation where we think the IDF actions have killed numerous Palestinian civilians over the weekend and we have said that we deeply regret and deplore those actions as well that have accompanied these incursions.
So the incursions need to be reversed. Israel needs to ensure that its armed forces exercise restraint. And that, along with Palestinian arrests, is the only way to get us back to that, hopeful signs that we saw about a week ago, before the assassination.
QUESTION: Richard, how do you reconcile the US Government's attitude toward terrorism, and in this case, Usama bin Laden and those involved with September 11th, against what you are asking Israel to do in response to an assassination of one of its cabinet members? You speak of bringing people to justice for Israel, but the United States isn't talking about bringing people to justice; we're talking about launching a war against terrorism. How do you reconcile the difference between what the United States is doing against terrorism, and what Israel -- you're asking Israel to do?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it's a question of reconciling them. These are two different situations and two different things. Israel faces a situation where its interests would be best served by reducing tensions in the region, getting back to a political path of discussing political issues. That is what we have attempted to do. Both Israelis and Palestinians need to live in an atmosphere in which they can negotiate their differences peacefully, and the United States has been the major sponsor of the peace process.
The situation with regard to al-Qaida is totally different. These are people that want to turn back the clock on civilization, that want to destroy Americans, that want to kill Americans, that want to kill Arab regimes, that want to kill people throughout the Middle East, just for the sake of killing them. We think terrorism needs to be brought under control, and that what we are doing in Afghanistan is not comparable to some other situation, where there is a political opportunity to negotiate differences.
QUESTION: So if Usama bin Laden demands on Al Jazeera that US forces be removed from Saudi Arabia, and that Israel stop occupying Palestinian territory, you do not regard that as a political demand?
MR. BOUCHER: Those are not political demands. Those are pretexts for killing people. That is all he has shown a desire to do for the last eight or ten years, is to kill people. That's not a political negotiation.
QUESTION: Richard, did the Secretary personally approve the language used yesterday by Mr. Reeker after consultation with Dr. Rice?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. What's the answer? Do we want to answer? No, it's not. (Laughter.) Okay.
QUESTION: Richard, can I ask something about the incursions? You say that the incursions inflame the situation, but you don't say that they undermine the authority of the Palestinian Authority, like you do say that the people not obeying Arafat's orders. Do the incursions also undermine the PA's authority?
MR. BOUCHER: I suppose so, yes. But I am not quite sure why we are answering such a question. The issue with the incursions -- I mean, all along, there has been the violation of Palestinian-controlled areas, and we think the Palestinians need to take authority and control their areas. So having somebody else do it obviously undermines their authority.
QUESTION: Right, well, no, the reason why I'm asking the question is because one of the reasons -- perhaps one of the reasons why people are reluctant to obey Chairman Arafat and the dictates of the Palestinian Authority is because they see that is virtually powerless against the Israeli Army. That's the reason I asked the question.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think there is any excuse for not arresting the terrorists, and the people who did this action.
QUESTION: In his discussions with Shimon Peres, did Secretary Powell also talk about the war on terrorism in general, and did he tell Shimon Peres that the problems in the Middle East were making it more difficult for the United States to wage that war?
MR. BOUCHER: He basically updated the Israeli Foreign Minister on where we stood with our actions against terrorism. He described his visits to India, Pakistan, China, the talks we had with President Putin, the talks we had with President Jiang about cooperation against terrorism, and just sort of updated him on where we stood.
QUESTION: Did he make any linkage at all in the discussion?
MR. BOUCHER: No, he didn't.
QUESTION: He did not?
MR. BOUCHER: No, he didn't.
QUESTION: Conversely, have there been any talks with either the PA or other Arab governments? Is there an element that want to specifically disrupt possible peace negotiations with the PA and the Israelis, and they are doing this deliberately? And are you talking to other governments with respect to that?
And thirdly, is there any plans or any, if you would, lists of not necessarily demands, but contingencies if a certain set of circumstances were to break down as what has happened now, written in text or just with points of understanding with the PA?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's start out with the easy ones. Yes, there is clearly a group of people who want to try to disrupt the peace process, and yes, we truly believe we need to organize against them, and that that is certainly one of the reasons why people who carry out these acts need to be arrested, and people who might be planning and conducting such attacks need to be arrested as well.
As far as sort of contingencies for breakdown of the Palestinian Authority, I think the concept is a little too vague, to think that there's written contingencies for stuff like that.
QUESTION: Richard, does this building feel that since September 11th, Yasser Arafat has undergone something of a personal change, and whereas he used to at least tolerate considerable acts of violence and occasionally terror, now he no longer does? Or is the jury still out on that issue?
MR. BOUCHER: I think since September 11th, we have called them the way we saw them. When he has done certain things, when he has issued statements, when he has carried out actions, we have applauded, the President has applauded when he has done good things that we felt were positive. There has been a lot of serious action undertaken in the last few weeks, and one of the reasons why we think it is so important for him to continue to take actions after the assassination, to continue to take actions to arrest people is that there was progress being made for the first time in a long time, and that he had contributed to it. And we want to see that sustained.
QUESTION: Although it was very hard to hear, I believe that Minister Peres had said that there was no contradiction between the American policy as far as the withdrawal from the -- the IDF withdrawal from the Palestinian Territories and the Israeli policy. And yet you were just saying that there should be an immediate withdrawal. And as Eli pointed out, Mr. Peres was saying that there is a link.
Is there a misunderstanding of something in the meeting, or are these two different takes on the same thing?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't compare and contrast because I didn't hear what Foreign Minister Peres said.
QUESTION: It doesn't matter whether you heard what he said or not, we all heard what he said and --
MR. BOUCHER: Good for you. Then you can do the compare and contrast instead of me. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, you wanted -- but he did say --
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to confirm your analysis without having the same elements that you have.
QUESTION: He said that there was an understanding -- that the Americans understood the Israeli policy and that there wasn't a contradiction between the two of them. And then he said that Powell -- that the Secretary understood that once the Palestinians had taken the steps that Israel has demanded, he said the Secretary understood then that the Israelis would withdraw.
Now what you just said that the Secretary said to Peres was that you want an immediate withdrawal, whether or not the Palestinians turn over these people or not. You have de-linked them, in effect, by saying, yes, we want the Israelis to withdraw but at the same time we want the Palestinians to turn those people over, not one contingent on another.
Is Mr. Peres misinformed on this point?
MR. BOUCHER: I find that a very interesting analysis. But, as I just pointed out before you began your analysis --
QUESTION: Richard, that's not an analysis; it's a statement of fact.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I appreciate the statements of fact. Until I have a chance myself to see the facts, as in the transcript of what Foreign Minister Peres said just seconds before I came out here to brief, I am not going to undertake the same kind of analysis that you just did. I've said that five times. And if you ask me again, I'm going to say it again.
QUESTION: Without doing the analysis, could you characterize, did Secretary Powell say the words, we want to see an immediate, unconditional withdrawal from the Palestinian territories, or did he say, it would be very conducive --
MR. BOUCHER: He didn't say either one of those things. I think it was Foreign Minister Peres who first said, you know, we want to get out of there immediately or as soon as possible, some words like that. The immediacy was part of the discussion from the very beginning. And our position has been, as Phil stated it yesterday, that they should withdraw immediately. That remains our position.
QUESTION: Can we move on to something else, like there's a war in Afghanistan? (Laughter.) There are reports -- I don't know that it's Musharraf's position -- but AP and Reuters has reports of him telling I think Lebanon television or something that his position, he would like to see Kabul as a neutral capital.
As you look at postwar Afghanistan, and talks are underway, and thinking certainly is underway, is that an idea that has either come to you from Pakistan or one the US finds has any merit?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen this interview. I don't know what the word "neutrality" means in that case. If it means not favoring a particular faction, then certainly we have said Afghanistan needs a broad-based government, that all the parties in Afghanistan, all the tribes, all the various interests in Afghanistan can feel comfortable with, all the legitimate groups in Afghanistan can feel comfortable with. If he was talking about international neutrality, I suppose that is a different concept as well.
QUESTION: On this, I have mentioned on the plane about Solana saying that he hoped that the King would lead the negotiations into a new government. Have you had a chance to check on that yet and clarify whether this is any contradiction with US policy, whether the US and the EU see this differently?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I haven't.
QUESTION: Would you?
MR. BOUCHER: I will.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you think -- are you satisfied with the pace of this broad-based coalition building? Or would you like to see it moved up a little bit quickly? Do you think they are moving quickly enough?
MR. BOUCHER: Who?
QUESTION: The King and his --
MR. BOUCHER: There are a lot of people moving. The point, I think, at this point is to organize these various efforts. There is work going on around the King. I think there are groups meeting in Pakistan and Turkey and elsewhere, as well as in Europe. The consultations we had last week between our point man on Afghanistan, Ambassador Richard Haass, and the UN's point man on Afghanistan, Mr. Brahimi, those are very important. And the meetings that Mr. Brahimi had in Washington last week with members of the administration, those are important too, in sort of focusing this work, bringing it together and trying to see how we can help the Afghans proceed with what they have to do. And they have to do the work of forming the government.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what is going to happen in this building, what meetings are going to be held, what talks, on the issue of both a post-Taliban government and the post-Taliban force that goes in?
MR. BOUCHER: The first thing that is happening is our regional bureaus, the assistant secretaries for the different regions are meeting with ambassadors from various countries in Washington. There will be a series of groups meeting today to update them on the overall situation and discuss in general terms the various issues of the military action, the international coalition action, the legal, financial and other actions, the humanitarian action, and the discussion of the future of Afghanistan, the future kind of government, the reconstruction of Afghanistan. So there is general discussion going on with any number of nations right now during the course of the day.
Next steps, I guess I will have to check. I didn't really catch up beyond today.
QUESTION: Richard, on that, do you know what countries are being invited -- what countries' ambassadors are being -- is it in the region?
MR. BOUCHER: It is virtually the whole world. Each regional secretary will meet with the countries of their regions.
QUESTION: So it doesn't matter, even the South Americans and the Africans, those ambassadors are being called?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Can I ask, have you guys gotten any further on your thinking about the composition of this peacekeeping force? The Secretary put out three kind of options that were on the table, willing nations assemblage, the UN blue helmets, and the all-Afghan --
MR. BOUCHER: Afghan parties.
QUESTION: Have you guys gotten any closer to --
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing further on that right now, no.
QUESTION: So you -- but you are still now, the US is still eying favorably the assemblage of willing nations?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to pick one. The Secretary said he hadn't picked among the options the other day.
QUESTION: He said he hadn't picked, but he had more negative things to say about one of the options than positive -- than to say about the others.
MR. BOUCHER: I would say that we are looking at the various options. We are discussing them with others who are interested. And if this coalesces, we will tell you about it.
QUESTION: Can you go into this agreement with Uzbekistan on controlling anthrax and other biochemical potential dangers? And a little -- with whom else and -- the Soviets spread this stuff all over the place, when they ran the whole area.
MR. BOUCHER: As you know, we have a number of programs spread throughout the former Soviet Union in several countries that are funded with what are called the Nunn-Lugar funds, right?
MR. BOUCHER: The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. And we assist with dismantlement of facilities throughout the former Soviet Union. We are committed to working with Uzbekistan as well as other governments in the region to secure facilities, to destroy residual pathogens in a safe and secure manner if we find any. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency has the lead in carrying out those programs. So you can probably get more information from them.
Yesterday, we signed an implementing agreement with Uzbekistan to further our cooperation with the Government of Uzbekistan on projects to demilitarize biological weapons associated facilities in Uzbekistan and prevent the proliferation of related technologies.
Vozrozhdeniye Island in the Aral Sea is the location of one of the largest former Soviet biological weapons testing facilities and the Aral Sea has been gradually disappearing, leaving a land bridge connecting the mainland to the island. We have been cooperating closely with the Uzbek Government since 1997 on a host of projects related to the dismantlement of the former Soviet Union's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons legacy.
So this is a continuation of those kinds of programs, to implement further activity in that area.
QUESTION: Can you give us more details, who signed it where, and what exactly -- since you've already been --
MR. BOUCHER: I will have to go back and get those for you.
QUESTION: Since you've already been carrying this out -- what -- doing these kinds of things, what is implemented --
MR. BOUCHER: Our ambassador signed it out there.
QUESTION: What's an implementing agreement, if you've already been implementing these programs? What is added to the --
MR. BOUCHER: It adds further programs to the ones that have been done in the past.
QUESTION: Specifically for this, is this almost non-island now?
MR. BOUCHER: That's right.
QUESTION: Is that one of the reasons, because the disappearance of the water, that makes it more -- the access to it easier, that this is being done now, or is this just purely --
MR. BOUCHER: I think it's the other way around. It's important to clean up facilities everywhere, but particularly somewhere that was a little more isolated in the past.
QUESTION: The priority comes up to --
MR. BOUCHER: The priority raises when it gets attached.
QUESTION: And this didn't have anything to do with the agreement that was signed -- the other -- the agreement from last October 7th? This is completely separate?
MR. BOUCHER: It's a separate agreement, it's a separate program. It's just another example of how we have been cooperating with Uzbekistan in many ways.
QUESTION: And last thing, it's run by the Pentagon, right?
MR. BOUCHER: It's run by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which is --
QUESTION: Which is -- where is that?
MR. BOUCHER: -- lodged over at the Pentagon, I'm pretty sure.
QUESTION: Richard, the decision had been made by this Administration in the current budget to cut back some of these programs, certainly in the nuclear area, and I'm not clear on whether that extended into these areas or not, in the biochemical areas. Can you say whether the decision has been made to cut back from these programs, and whether that continues?
MR. BOUCHER: Certainly, many of these programs are valuable, many of these programs were found by this Administration after review to be very valuable. And so we are proceeding with these programs, as we are proceeding with this particular one here.
I will look and see what we have done to the overall budget levels, though.
QUESTION: What is the State Department's message to Muslim countries concerned about the US bombing during the holy month of Ramadan?
MR. BOUCHER: The message is that we are making every effort to pursue this action in a way that prevents casualties to civilians, that prevents disruption of civilian life. And as the Secretary said over the weekend, that we are quite aware that the holy month of Ramadan is coming up.
Certainly, we think it is well past time for the Taliban to end this, and to turn over Usama bin Laden and his leadership and dismantle the caps. They can do that at any time they want to. We are quite aware that Ramadan is coming up, and we will consider the fact that it is coming if we approach that time and the Taliban has not yet turned over bin Laden and his leadership.
QUESTION: After your latest high-level contacts with the Russians, how do you intend to handle the renewal of the UN sanctions when they come up in just a matter of a week-and-a-half or so? Two weeks.
QUESTION: Iraq sanctions. December 1st, I think.
MR. BOUCHER: Six weeks.
QUESTION: Is it? I thought it was November the 3rd --
QUESTION: November 30th.
MR. BOUCHER: It was five months from July.
QUESTION: Six plus --
MR. BOUCHER: All right. We will recalculate. In any case, the answer is going to be the same. We are going to keep working on it.
QUESTION: You are? Okay.
MR. BOUCHER: We have discussed this with the Russians, we will keep discussing it with the Russians. We have had expert talks. We have had some more contacts. The Secretary raises it when he talks with Foreign Minister Ivanov, and we will keep working on it with the Russians, because four of the Perm Five have agreed on the need to go forward in this route. And fortunately, Iraq is still trying to oppose the sale of civilian goods to the Iraqi people. But we don't think that is any good reason for anybody to side with them on that, and so we want to continue to work this out with other governments.
QUESTION: So can I just have a follow-up? You seem to be implying that nothing really changed as a result of your latest high-level contacts on that; is that correct?
MR. BOUCHER: It is not time to sort of judge our efforts at this point. As you know, these things happen much closer to the deadline.
QUESTION: New subject? Americans overseas. Have we gotten any update on our two women in Kabul, or at least in Afghanistan? When we were there, I don't know if we got any updated information on them.
And also, when we were in China, did our side raise the case of Fong Fuming, whose trial, I believe, started again yesterday? Or he went to trial yesterday?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything on the detainees in Kabul at this point.
QUESTION: You don't have anything?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll check.
QUESTION: You did --
MR. BOUCHER: Did you go over that yesterday?
QUESTION: Oh, sorry. I'll check, thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: As far as the case of Mr. Fong, we understand there will be a hearing so that the court can review information that has been provided by his defense lawyers. At this point we have no additional information on the timing of the hearing.
We have urged the Chinese Government consistently to resolve this case as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Including our last talks with them?
MR. BOUCHER: Certainly including our human rights talks that we had with them recently. I would have to double check with members of the party to see if it came up during the course of our time in Shanghai as well.
QUESTION: Back to Iraq. Did Bush bring Iraq and the resolution up with Putin?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. You will have to check with the White House on that.
QUESTION: This question was asked yesterday, but I would like to ask it again today.
MR. BOUCHER: Was it answered yesterday?
QUESTION: It was. If there was any evidence that any of this anthrax, which is in this country now, and causing so many problems, came from an overseas source?
MR. REEKER: I stand by the answer.
MR. BOUCHER: I stand by the answer that he gave yesterday. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Which was?
MR. REEKER: That we have never --
MR. BOUCHER: We have never made that link.
QUESTION: "We" as in, in this building, or in the administration?
MR. BOUCHER: There's nothing changed since yesterday. Let me double check on it.
MR. REEKER: (Inaudible.)
MR. BOUCHER: All right. It's yesterday's answer. There's nothing new on it today.
QUESTION: There was an evacuation at the US Embassy in Cairo, after a substance was found. Has that -- what has that turned out to be, and have there been any other threats?
MR. BOUCHER: They have checked it out. They have tested it. It's cleaning powder. And they go back to work tomorrow morning in that building.
QUESTION: And no other incidents at other US posts?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, there have been dozens of places where we have had suspicious packages or powders found, or things like that. We have taken appropriate precautions. In some cases, we have closed down buildings. We have always taken appropriate precautions, sent things out to testing. But at this point, I am not aware that anything has come back to be anthrax in any definitive manner at this point.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Afghanistan for a minute? The Pakistanis entertained a Taliban military commander last week, a guy named Haqqani. He spent some time in Islamabad, and even gave interviews to local press. Do we find it odd that a military commander of the Taliban would be in Pakistan at this time, and are we concerned that the Pakistanis perhaps have a different agenda than we do?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we found that in our discussions in Pakistan, we have quite the same agenda. Pakistan and the United States are both working very closely together in the struggle against terrorism. So I wouldn't put any kind of interpretation on this reported visit. I'm not even sure I have seen it confirmed.
QUESTION: He was there; he gave an interview to a newspaper.
MR. BOUCHER: All right. I don't know what he was there for, I don't know why he was there. Maybe we have always encouraged Taliban people to come across and to abandon the Taliban. Maybe he was there for that, although I don't think that's what the press reports said.
Anyway, I will leave it to them to explain whatever discussions they might have had. But I don't think there's any question that we and the Pakistanis are pursuing the same goals, that we are working very closely together.
QUESTION: Has Under Secretary Larson finished his mission to South Asia?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, he has, and he is on his way back.
QUESTION: And so he finished today?
MR. BOUCHER: I think he is flying today.
QUESTION: I missed the beginning part. I'm not sure whether you explained -- let me do this very quickly -- what the US position is on whether the Palestinians should hand those guys over to the Israeli side?
MR. BOUCHER: Been there, done that. (Laughter.)
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)
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