State Dept. Daily Press Briefing October 30, 2001
Daily Press Briefing Index Tuesday, October 30, 2001
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
CONSULAR 1-2 Revoking non-immigrant visas of four Colombian citizens and additions to terrorist watch list 2-4 Discussion on the Visa Waiver Program 11 Process of admitting refugees into the United States
DEPARTMENT 4, 7-9 General update on facilities, services, and personnel effected by anthrax 9-10 Testing Employees for anthrax 12 World wide alert / status of post security and operations 13 Remarks on a press statement by Ambassador to Greece Miller
AFGHANISTAN 4-6 General update on operations, humanitarian aid and cooperation with other Countries 6-7 Law Enforcement efforts against Usama bin Laden and al- Qaida. 6 British cooperation in law Enforcement efforts
ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY 11-12 Situation update and demolition of houses in East Jerusalem 12 Discussion of Trilateral Security meeting
SYRIA 13 Diplomatic contacts with the government of Syria
GUINEA 13 Changes to constitution and U.S. aid
IRAN 13 Khamenei's comments on diplomatic relations with the U.S.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING DPB #153
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2001, 12:37 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I'll tell you about a couple things.
First of all, we're revoking visas -- non-immigrant visas for four Colombian citizens who have collaborated with or supported financially the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. We are also adding to our Lookout System the name of 45 individuals with links to the AUC, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, to ensure that those individuals are denied US visas.
As we develop additional information on individuals who belong to or collude with the AUC, we will proceed to revoke visas and add names to our watch list. So we have a statement for you on that. As you know, on September 10th, the Secretary designated the AUC as a foreign terrorist organization. And these steps are pursuant to that basis.
QUESTION: Does that statement (inaudible)? Or can you describe who these people are a little bit more?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure I can. It doesn't have names, but I will check and see.
QUESTION: How about if -- are they in the country now, do you know?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'll have to check on that, too.
QUESTION: Can you tell us that the actual effect of this is not known?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, it means that those people, if they're in the country, they can't -- if they're in the country, they'd be subject to expulsion, and if they're not in the country, their visa is no longer valid for entry. So if they show up at a border post with a visa, the Immigration Service will know that it's a canceled visa as soon as they enter the number or the information. And they'll find out the person does not have a valid visa, and they won't be allowed to enter.
If any of the other 45 go to a US embassy overseas and apply for a visa, then the information that's in the watch list would be available to the consular officers at the time that they looked at the application.
QUESTION: But that doesn't involve finding them? I'm sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Is there a similar list from the past, of FARC members who were --
MR. BOUCHER: There are lists for -- there are many names on our watch list from all the terrorist organizations. It's an ongoing process.
QUESTION: So this is just to follow up September the 10th?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, this is to follow up September 10th, but it's an ongoing process of making sure that anybody that we know, who we know is a terrorist is added -- or has terrorist connections -- is added to our watch list, and any outstanding visas for such people are declared invalid.
QUESTION: Is there any way to know how many people are inside the country with these visas that are now revoked? I mean, we know that they've entered the country with reckless --
MR. BOUCHER: The INS would be checking on that, as soon as people go. I think this is a common watch list, and they check on the people who might be in the country if they are.
QUESTION: But if they're already in the country, they're not hunted down and kicked out? They're just -- if they try to apply for another one, or when they leave, they're not welcome back, or that kind of thing?
MR. BOUCHER: If they have any encounters with law enforcement, of course, this fact comes up. But as the President announced yesterday, we are undertaking an expanded effort to make sure that we know where people are and that people can't stay illegally, and that people attend universities that they are supposed to be attending and things like that.
QUESTION: On a related matter, is the diversity visa program going ahead as originally planned, or are you making any modifications to that?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any change. I'll check on it. But those are, as you know, immigrant visas. They are done by lottery, but every applicant has to meet all the qualifications of an immigrant visa, including all the name checks.
QUESTION: Can I ask another related question about visas?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. I've got something else to talk about, too, when we have a chance.
QUESTION: Is it visas?
MR. BOUCHER: No, it's not visas. But you can ask an unrelated question.
QUESTION: Is it anthrax?
MR. BOUCHER: There's nothing new on anthrax. I'll tell you that, too, after I get a chance to say what I want to say.
QUESTION: I can wait.
MR. BOUCHER: Go ahead. Visas. Let's finish with visas and then go on.
QUESTION: Okay, it's just, I understand that the Department, as well as the Justice Department, are going to be reviewing the eligibility of six countries that are on the Visa Waiver Program. Can you --
MR. BOUCHER: Let me describe that to you. I think I'll have a piece of paper to put out later in the day that might give you a little more background on it.
But when Congress established the Visa Waiver Program, when they made it permanent in October of 2000, they required that every country on the list be reviewed at least once every five years. There are 29 countries on the list, so that divides up to six countries per year, if we do it on an annual basis, and so we are initiating the first round of these reviews.
This is intended to be a regular thing. We will do six countries every year. The six countries for this year are going to be Argentina, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Uruguay. As you know, this Visa Waiver Program lets people come in for business or pleasure without a visa if they intend to stay for 90 days or less. But everybody who enters has to meet all the qualifications and, again, their names are always checked against available information for ineligibilities.
We had been planning on doing this review prior to September 11th. It is a routine event that will go on every year and be conducted, as I said, six countries per year.
QUESTION: And so how were these decided, that it was going to be these six in the first round? I realize it was made -- you were going to do it before the 11th, but how did you pick these six? Because to the best I can tell, it it's not alphabetical and it isn't by when they came into the program. I was also told by someone that it wasn't random, either.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, they were chosen. (Laughter.) I'll get back to you on that. I didn't get the answer to that.
QUESTION: Are you at all concerned that by picking -- by choosing three countries who happen to be NATO allies of yours that there might be some repercussions --
MR. BOUCHER: Most of the countries on the Visa Waiver Program are NATO allies. I would say about two-thirds of the countries in the Visa Waiver Program, maybe half, are NATO allies. So any given sample of countries will have somewhere between one-third and two-thirds of NATO allies.
QUESTION: Yes, but the other ones weren't chosen. And if you can't tell me why or if you can't say way, you know, the other countries weren't chosen --
MR. BOUCHER: Hold on. If half of the group are NATO allies -- half of the 29 approximately, probably a little more -- are NATO allies, so one would expect half of any representative sample for review to be NATO allies. So you should be asking how come only 33 percent of these are NATO allies, when in fact of the larger group you probably have a much higher percentage.
QUESTION: No, it is just there is some thought or at least that people are saying these countries were chosen for a reason and that you are a little bit concerned about passport issuance in the six countries --
MR. BOUCHER: Again, that is a question you asked before. I will try to answer it for you if it's any more -- rather than just taking a random selection of countries that are on the Visa Waiver Program. I don't think there is anything more than that, but I'll check.
QUESTION: If you're not accepting, and the passport agency here in Washington is not accepting any mail, what happens to people who need a passport if their mail is stuck in this system? And along with that, are the State Department facilities like the Kentucky Center still accepting mail? I don't know if that's covered by the State Department stopping mail coming in and out. Because it's the place where this visa lottery is handled, and they get millions of --
MR. BOUCHER: I'll double check on visa lottery mail and passport office mail.
QUESTION: And, along with that, can we have an update on the anthrax situation?
MR. BOUCHER: I just wanted to give you, first of all -- let me do a general update. I wanted to give you -- there's a lot of sort of new numbers on where we are in cooperation with other governments. And I wanted to give those to you. And then I'll promise, at the end of it, I'll give you the anthrax update, too, although there's not much on that front.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) what happens to --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know yet what mail is -- I mean, what we've done -- we've told you we're closing all the mail rooms in this building and outlying annexes. But I think only one of those is a passport office. I'd have to check on passport offices in other cities.
QUESTION: Right, but that one could be a very -- I mean, there could be a significant backlog of people who --
MR. BOUCHER: I'll check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. On the overall effort, as the military operations continue, I want to make the point that the US and our friends and allies are moving forward on all fronts. Today, we have reached the total of one million meals dropped in Afghanistan. The humanitarian aid effort has been a very important part of our efforts, and the Pentagon, as you know, has been providing meals by airdrop into Afghanistan.
We have led the world response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan over the years. We have supplied more than 80 percent of all the food aid, and the President has announced the $320 million, and we've started spending that money on assistance for Afghan people. We have gotten enough food into Afghanistan at this point to feed two million people for the next month. We're also shipping in food -- the World Food Program is, and their partners -- to build up the stocks. Now, that's still short of the number of people we would like to be able to feed. But it's an effort that is ongoing, and has been somewhat successful.
As you know, yesterday the President met with the leaders of 35 African nations about how they can use the African Growth and Opportunity Act to pursue development on a market basis. And we will continue our work with other governments to try to support their economic development as we continue with this effort.
Overall, we've got, I think, a broad campaign that's going on with a lot of support from a lot of governments. Citizens from 80 countries, as you know, died on September 11th. We have had 150 countries join the effort to disrupt terrorist assets. We've got about 80 countries that have blocked terrorist assets already. We've got more than 50 countries that granted landing and over-flight rights that are vital to our military operations.
In addition the arrests and detentions in the United States, there are hundreds of terrorists and suspected supporters of terrorists who have been arrested and detained in over 40 countries overseas. More than 100 countries have offered increased information sharing and intelligence support, and we appreciate that.
Once again, let me make clear that our target is the al-Qaida network, and those who harbor them. It's not Muslims, not Arabs, and not the Afghan people certainly. We are working with many others to help establish a broad-based government and to rebuild Afghanistan, and especially our Special Envoy, Richard Haass, is working closely with the UN Secretary General's Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is currently on a trip in the region.
So that's the broader update of where things stand, and some of the new totals.
QUESTION: The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said today that the evidence now available to his government is a flood of evidence. Well, Britain may be in a special status, because its the US's closest, most reliable ally, but still, could you provide any notion of the evidence that since the attack, since the Secretary identified bin Laden as the prime suspect -- that was weeks and weeks ago -- is the US providing more evidence now to allies, more evidence to Muslim governments, and anything you could in any way indicate what kind of evidence there is, relating, of course, bin Laden to the attacks?
MR. BOUCHER: As we have said, there are intelligence and information sharing activities going on with many, many governments, and so there is accumulating a very large mounting body of evidence. And I think Prime Minister Blair referred to that in his excellent speech on that topic and many other topics as well.
The law enforcement activity you have going on, as I said -- arrests in over 40 countries -- is also providing a lot of information on the al- Qaida network. But remember, al-Qaida had operations in many countries around the world and it is going to take a very determined effort to go after this. As we see each cell or activity stopped, we may find out about new ones that need to be stopped as well.
So I would say there is a certain momentum building up in this area. But I can't claim that we are finished with what is going to be a long- term effort.
In terms of evidence, I think now that you have Usama bin Laden and his partisans appearing in public and virtually claiming responsibility, admitting that they did this terrible attack on September 11th, I guess there is not quite so much pressure to produce more evidence if they want to admit their own responsibility. But it is certainly quite clear to all of us in terms of the intelligence and law enforcement activities that every day we get more and more information that demonstrates the al-Qaida responsibility for this action.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, on the 80 nations that have frozen bank accounts, have you asked nations to freeze assets that are related only to al-Qaida, or are you asking them to freeze assets more generally to other terrorist organizations?
MR. BOUCHER: We have, I think, specifically encouraged countries to go after al-Qaida the way we have. But we have also encouraged countries to implement the United Nations resolution on the financing of terrorism, United Nations Security Council resolution, to sign the UN convention on the suppression of financing for terrorism, and you will look for example at the APEC decisions and recommendations that came out of those meetings in Shanghai, that all the governments were pledging and encouraging each other to do that. So there is a broader effort to stop the financing for terrorism as well.
QUESTION: I don't know how detailed you can get but, among these 80 countries, can you -- I mean, can you say how many of those countries are blocking more than just al-Qaida terrorist assets?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can do that at this point. I don't have that kind of chart. We've left it for each country to describe what they're doing. But certainly you have the pledges of the APEC countries, you have the pledges of other groups. And certainly everyone considers themselves bound by the UN Security Council resolutions and should implement them to block assets that are used to finance terrorism.
Anthrax. There is not a whole lot of update. We continue to get responses back from the sampling that was done. We got another 33 back and those are all negative. Out of I think more than 100 that we have gotten back so far, the three positives from yesterday are the only ones that have come up positive.
Tests in the State Annex 3, the Diplomatic Security Building on Virginia Avenue -- which I know where it is today -- those came up negative as well, as well as tests out at the Foreign Service Institute.
QUESTION: Thirty-three all in the building, or 33 including annexes?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the 71 that I talked about yesterday, in addition to the air filter samples, were really in this building. And so they are 33 from annexes that have come back. Yes. There are still some pending.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have the number that were done in air filters, so the 155 included air filters. I have at least 29 samples that are still pending.
QUESTION: But you could have two samples at one site --
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, we did. The three yesterday were from two locations.
QUESTION: These are samples?
MR. BOUCHER: These are samples. Yes. And as we know, we saw yesterday and the further negative results we've gotten today demonstrate that you can have within the same room or within the same location several samples, only one of which might turn up positive.
Oh, the other thing to say is that our patient, our contractor, is still in stable condition.
QUESTION: Of the two samples I guess found in one site -- or there are two sites in this building that have trace levels of anthrax, according to the testing. Are one of those mail rooms the same place where there was a scare earlier this month, which had the benign powder? Can you kind of go into that?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. One of those mail rooms was in fact the place where the powder was found earlier this month, but that was October 10th, I believe.
MR. BOUCHER: And, well, I think that's before the anthrax started showing up in our mail system. And that substance was tested by the FBI. It was found negative at the time. So we don't see any relationship between that event and the later finding of anthrax at that location.
QUESTION: Was that the congressional correspondence?
MR. BOUCHER: No. That was the mail room on the sixth floor.
QUESTION: Do you happen to know if the Secretary of State will be going to any of the World Series games? It's a serious question. The President is going. I just wanted to know.
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't asked him, but I haven't heard of it. It hasn't been discussed in his scheduling meeting.
QUESTION: Well, it has special significance, now, in New York, of course. That's why I wondered.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll double check, Barry. Let's go back to Elise's questions.
QUESTION: There have been a lot of people in the building that have expressed concern that you weren't saying where the mail rooms were that the powder was found -- that anthrax was tested positive, and that they felt as if they don't know whether they'd be at risk, because they don't know which mail rooms -- even if they didn't work, per se, in those mail rooms, that they were worried that they could be -- are you prepared to say where the mail rooms are, in addition to the sixth floor?
MR. BOUCHER: Are you talking about people in the press room, or actual people who work here?
QUESTION: No, I'm not talking about people in the press room. I'm talking about the hundreds of people that are lined up to be tested.
MR. BOUCHER: I mean, I have to say, I think employees who work in the mail system know where the mail rooms where. And they know that all the mail rooms are sealed, all the central mail rooms are sealed. They are all in one stack on the same hallway in the same corridor on every floor. I don't think there's too much question about people knowing where the mail rooms are, frankly.
QUESTION: Which floors were they on is the question?
MR. BOUCHER: Which floors were they on? You mean where the anthrax samples were found?
QUESTION: Where it tested positive?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me double check if I want to share that, if we can share that with you. I don't think it does us any particular good to focus on particular locations, frankly.
QUESTION: Richard, I'm sorry, what difference does it make if the questions are coming from the press room or from the rest of the building? I mean, the last time I checked, the press room is in this building. Are there any mail rooms on the first floor where that room is?
MR. BOUCHER: There is one right around the corner from you.
QUESTION: That's nice. Did that one test positive?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Okay. Was that so difficult to say?
MR. BOUCHER: The ones that tested positive are on the sixth floor and the second floor.
QUESTION: The sixth floor and the second?
MR. BOUCHER: And the second floor, yes. But as I said, all those rooms have been closed off, even the ones that did not test positive. All those rooms have been closed off, all the air handling systems have been checked. There's nobody going into those places. There's nothing coming out of those places. We have checked to make sure that no anthrax spores are coming out of those places.
So I think there's no risk of further contamination from those areas.
QUESTION: Do you feel that the CDC has overreacted in this case? Because, I mean, there are quite a few people in the building that think that you're not being as --
MR. BOUCHER: I can't deal with this "quite a few people in the building", because I don't really think we're taking a scientific --
QUESTION: Okay, these are the hundreds of people that are being lined up to be tested. I'm not saying that hundreds of people have --
MR. BOUCHER: There's not hundreds of people lined up to be tested. There's people who can walk into our medical offices anytime they want to, and talk to trained personnel about what their concerns might be and how they might be treated.
So until you tell me you've taken a real decent representative sample of the building, I can't deal with this.
QUESTION: Richard, when I walked in this building, there were about 80 people lined up to be tested. Several of them said that they thought that the State Department was taking a laissez-faire approach to this, that yes, the mail rooms were closed, but that they don't feel that they were properly notified that you -- I know you're giving a briefing today at 1:30, but that's at least 24 hours after you announced that anthrax was found in the building.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll go back to what I said before.
QUESTION: Maybe we can suspend (inaudible) with the normally closed- open forum looming, a few minutes away. Do you have anything further? Maybe we --
MR. BOUCHER: I think I ought to try to answer the question.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, I thought you were going to get her an answer ultimately. I didn't know you were going to try to do it now.
MR. BOUCHER: I will. I'm here to answer your questions, okay? Elise, let me try to answer the question.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, I misunderstood.
MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, we've kept our employees informed. We've issued a stack that tall of notices to our employees about what was going on. We've kept them informed through staff meetings throughout the building. We've taken special care with the employees who handle the mail, making sure that we've treated employees not only in places where anthrax spores have shown up, but where anthrax spores might show up to second, third levels from places where we knew it was.
When we knew it was at SA-32 out there, we started treating employees that were two or three steps removed from that location. In terms of the processing of the mail, we have gone forward to test this building extensively. We decided, after the first spores were found, that we wouldn't just clean up the places the spores were found, but we would clean up all our mail rooms in all the buildings in Washington, as well as all our embassies overseas.
I think we are staying far ahead of this and doing everything possible for our employees. And any employees who have concerns or comments to make, I'm sure we would be glad to hear them this afternoon at the town meeting.
QUESTION: Richard, apparently, there are about 20,000 refugees that have been cleared to come into the United States that have been delayed, or a moratorium put on their entrance. Can you tell us why and how long?
MR. BOUCHER: There is a procedure that gets followed every year at the beginning of the fiscal year, at the beginning of October, to authorize the refugee entries for the next year, and I think that is completed now. I will have to double check and see. But there are consultations that we do with Congress and bureaucratic paper that has to move on it, and I just don't know if that has been done yet.
QUESTION: So they will be allowed in soon?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we will be able to begin the processing soon. I will double check and get you something more precise.
QUESTION: A couple of foreign ones. The demolition of houses in East Jerusalem, do you have anything on that? And the general state of the Israeli withdrawal which is -- hasn't been quite immediate.
MR. BOUCHER: As we said yesterday, we think the beginning of the withdrawal from Bethlehem and Beit Jala was a positive step and we continue to urge the Israelis to complete the process of withdrawal. The trilateral security meeting was held yesterday, and we hope that the results of that meeting will continue the process and lead to the full withdrawal that we have been looking for.
Once again, we continue to call on Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to immediately find and bring to justice those responsible for the act of terror in the killing of the minister and for other violence that has occurred.
As for the demolitions go, we are troubled by reports that Israel has demolished several Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. These demolitions are highly provocative, they undermine confidence and trust between the parties and can only make it much more difficult to restore calm and move forward with implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations. There must be a halt to the demolition and destruction of Palestinian homes and property and incursions into Palestinian territory.
QUESTION: Can you just say, you haven't confirmed this yourself, then? You're just saying "the reports"?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have exact information on that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to the Israeli Government there?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, we have been talking to the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Any high level contacts? I mean, above the level of Dan Kurtzer and Schlicher?
MR. BOUCHER: They are pretty high level, but you mean has the Secretary made any phone call? No, he hasn't.
QUESTION: Is the State Department still opposed to UN peacekeepers for the situation in Israel?
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing new on that.
QUESTION: Didn't we have a trilateral security meeting two nights ago?
MR. BOUCHER: Last night.
QUESTION: Could you give us an update on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Just that it occurred, and we hope it leads to a completion of the withdrawal.
QUESTION: Did all the necessary parties show up?
MR. BOUCHER: The parties showed up, yes.
QUESTION: Do you know when the next one (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. I think they have been taking place about every week, if I remember the last one.
QUESTION: Can you just speak in general, just for a minute, about how the new alert yesterday affects overseas operations, what it means?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have checked; we are not issuing a new travel advisory. We already have fairly significant warnings out there for Americans who are traveling overseas or who are living overseas about the need to exercise caution and be careful. So those remain in place. And, obviously, yesterday's announcement here reminds us that those threats are always there as well as here.
In terms of operations overseas, again, our posts are at very high states of alert, doing everything possible to maintain good security, and I suppose again the fact that there are threats at home, that there are broader threats from the al-Qaida organization is -- you know, it's just a reminder of the need to exercise that vigilance.
QUESTION: Can you say anything about the new (inaudible) report today about contacts between the CIA and the Syrian Mahabarat?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Can you say anything about any US contacts with Syria in terms of the coalition against terror?
MR. BOUCHER: We have had diplomatic contacts with the Syrian Government. We have maintained contact with the Syrian Government, and we look for them to contribute in any way possible to the efforts against terrorism.
QUESTION: What can you tell us about the letters that the Secretary sent to the Government of Guinea, threatening to cut off aid if they changed the constitution?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd tell you I'll have to go check on it.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei's call against any sort of support for United States? And I believe he is threatening to get rid of any officials who speak out in favor of warming US ties?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm afraid I didn't see that. I'll see if we have anything later.
QUESTION: Yes, Mr. Boucher, did you have a chance to read the statement of your Ambassador to Greece Tom Miller --
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I did. And he didn't say what you said he said. (Laughter.)
Are you asking about a new one that maybe he didn't say what you said he said?
QUESTION: No, no, the same statement. But you were not in a position yesterday to comment, since there is a different view between the Ambassador and the Secretary of State.
MR. BOUCHER: I read the statement. He didn't say what you said; he said exactly what Secretary Rumsfeld has said. And there is absolutely no difference between him, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State. You seem to be the only one who's got it wrong.
QUESTION: The Secretary of State, it isn't his opinion that they should have to strike during the Ramadan?
MR. BOUCHER: That's not what our Ambassador said. Read what our Ambassador said, and that is what our position is.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 1:15 P.M.)
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