State Dept. Daily Press Briefing November 21, 2001
Daily Press Briefing Index Wednesday, November 21, 2001 12:30 P.M.
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
AFGHANISTAN 1-2 Whereabouts of Ambassador Jim Dobbins 1-2 Haass' Meetings in the Region 2 Participants in UN Talks in Berlin 2 King Zahir Shah Participation 2-3 Role of Women 3 People in Kunduz 3 Funding of Schools by the British 3-4 Deputy Secretary Armitage's Role in the Reconstruction Meetings 4 Reconstruction In General 6 Refugees who have returned 6 Ramadan Fast Menu for the Airdrops 7-8 Reconstruction Costs for the United States
SAUDI ARABIA 5-6 Role in Reconstruction of Afghanistan
JAPAN 5-6 Role in Reconstruction of Afghanistan
IRAN 5-6 Role in Reconstruction of Afghanistan
PAKISTAN 7 Refugees Returning to Afghanistan 12-13 Ambassador Chamberlain Fasting for Ramadan 13-14 Taliban Consulate
ANTHRAX 8-9 Leahy Letter Theory
MEXICO 9 New Migration Agreement
ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS 9-10 Secretary Powell's Speech on the Middle East and Current Talks 10-12 Trip to the Region of General Zinni and Assistant Secretary Burns 10 Secretary Powell's Telephone Call to Prime Minister Sharon
FRANCE 14-15 Ambassador Leach's Qualification
CHINA 15-16 Falun Gong and American Citizens Arrested
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2001 (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
12:30 P.M. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements, and my only announcement is I hope everybody has a good Thanksgiving.
QUESTION: What is Jim Dobbins up to these days?
MR. BOUCHER: Ambassador Dobbins, as you know, has been out in the region meeting with Afghan leaders and local governments. He was in Tashkent in Uzbekistan, had meetings there with the government, and had meetings with the Foreign Minister for the Northern Alliance. Then he passed through Bagram air base near Kabul, in Afghanistan, had meetings with the entire leadership of the Northern Alliance. And for the last day or so, he has been in Pakistan, and has had meetings there with Pakistani officials and with the leaders of various Afghan groups.
He is returning to the United States today, and then we expect him to go to Berlin for the meeting of the Afghan parties that will meet there, I guess gathering over the weekend and meeting on Monday.
So that's where we stand with that effort. We're fully supporting the United Nations effort. We are in close touch with Mr. Brahimi at the United Nations, and we are working very closely with him as we engage in this overall effort to try to encourage the Afghan factions, the Afghan parties to come up with a broad-based government for their country.
QUESTION: Will he be the only senior US representative at the Berlin meeting, or is Ambassador Haass --
MR. BOUCHER: I think Ambassador Haass will go out as well, but they may not go together one way. I think Dobbins will go at the beginning. I don't have Ambassador Haass' travel plans precisely at this point.
QUESTION: Richard, can you give some idea of how this will be structured? Will the US be in the room when these meetings are going on? Will they meet sort of on the edges, with --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know yet. I just don't know. That will be decided by the UN. Clearly, the effort that we are all making is for the Afghan parties to come together, for the Afghan parties to work together, for the Afghan parties to come to some agreement on interim political arrangements, to make some progress down that road, and to work out among themselves the kind of process they want to set up a long-term, broad-based government.
Clearly, what they call the "loya jirga," the grand gathering, would be part of that at some point. Clearly, the Afghan parties want to move the action back to Kabul as soon as they get the basic understanding of how they're going.
So given that effort with them, what we have done is to talk to everybody involved, as many parties and factions and leaders as we can, encourage them to attend, encourage them to work seriously, encourage them to come up with what is clearly going to be a broad-based formula for political arrangements. And in fact, that's what we're hearing back from them in our meetings, and in the meetings that Ambassador Dobbins has had, in the meetings, frankly, that Mr. Brahimi had with the parties.
Whether it's Northern Alliance, the Pashtun leaders, the former King, the various groups in Europe, everybody seems to be committed at this point to coming up with a formula for a broad-based government.
QUESTION: A number of the people -- well, at least the King -- the former King, and the Northern Alliance have said that they plan on having at least one or two women in their delegations that go to Berlin. Given the First Lady, the President and the First Lady's and the Secretary's comments over the past couple of days about the importance of --
MR. BOUCHER: Me, too.
QUESTION: -- and of course you.
MR. BOUCHER: That's right.
QUESTION: -- your comments about the importance of women being in the -- having positions in this government, is this -- do you regard this as a good sign that they are planning --
MR. BOUCHER: I think we would regard that as a good sign. We have made this part of our diplomacy, to encourage people, the Afghans who meet on the political process, to understand that the broad-based government means that women have to be involved in the political process. At the reconstruction meeting that we had yesterday, I think we and the others who came made the point to see that women need to be involved in the process of rebuilding and reconstruction in Afghanistan.
One of the things that I think we note with great pleasure, at this point, is to see that in the areas from the north and Kabul, where the Taliban are no longer in control, not only is life returning to normal and children are flying kites, but the women of Afghanistan who were in many cases teachers and doctors and aid workers are coming out, returning to work, providing those services, helping their own population. And that's, I think, a very important development, not only for them personally, but for the nation as a whole.
QUESTION: Richard, what is the US position on the fate of people in Kunduz? And if they want to surrender, do you think some mechanism should be found to enable them to surrender?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particular statement on that. I think that's something that the Pentagon would have to comment on, if they thought it appropriate. That involves military operations.
QUESTION: But is US diplomacy involved in this in any way?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, it's involving military operations. I'll leave it to the Pentagon.
QUESTION: There is a story today in a British newspaper that says that Britain funded some illegal schools that operated outside of Kabul, that they helped fund schools where women taught girls quietly, surreptitiously, and the girls would go to these places every day for schooling. Are you aware of the US doing any of this kind of clandestine funding of --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know, actually. I've seen press reporting on such schools, and certainly, in the refugee camps, we've supported educational activities, particularly those that are focused on women and girls. But whether we actually funded clandestine schools inside Afghanistan, I'll have to check and see.
QUESTION: On the conference yesterday, Mrs. Ogata spoke, and she is meeting with Deputy Secretary Armitage today. Is that what will --
MR. BOUCHER: That's right.
QUESTION: Why is that? Is that just a follow-up to yesterday's --
MR. BOUCHER: A follow-up, continue working on the subject. The Secretary actually went down and dropped in on the meeting, so she met with the Secretary and with Deputy Secretary Armitage to follow up and continue our discussions with our co-chairs of this process. And also, we do expect Japan to be part of the steering committee. So they talked about how to move this overall process forward.
QUESTION: Okay, so were they talking about this meeting that is supposed to happen, whatever, in the second week of December, or whatever -- or is that --
MR. BOUCHER: I think I let our officials yesterday go through the schedule of meetings that's coming up.
QUESTION: I know, but is that what --
MR. BOUCHER: They were talking about how to move the overall process forward, I think. I'm not sure they concentrated on a particular --
QUESTION: Okay. And the other thing is that I'm a little confused by this report in a rather large newspaper this morning about the attendants agreeing to spend billions of dollars to reconstruct Afghanistan. Did they actually agree to spend any money at this meeting? I thought that it was specifically not a pledging or a donors conference?
MR. BOUCHER: No, it wasn't a pledging or a donors conference, but I think it was quite clear from the commitment that people made to the overall process, the commitment that they made to help Afghanistan in its reconstruction, that a multi-year process involving a lot of money is going to be involved. But how much money and who's going to contribute, we don't know yet.
QUESTION: Well, did the figure 10 billion, which was mentioned in the story, and which is significantly higher than what the UN has kind of - - or what UN officials have -- and have not said --
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard. Everybody that I have talked to who has studied this to any degree says that it is very hard -- we're not at a point where we can even start doing estimates of the amount that will be required. I know various people have thrown around numbers, you know, it cost this amount in Bosnia, that amount in Cambodia, or other places --
MR. BOUCHER: Mozambique. But each situation needs to be defined. They need to look at what we can do and get this process moving forward.
There are, I think, useful things to say about what we think can happen. The participants will start looking at specific needs and specific projects. The World Bank, in particular, and the UN agencies will look to define more deeply the needs. And there's a meeting of experts at the World Bank and other agencies are hosting in Islamabad in about a week.
Then the participants will start to identify the projects and this process will help the coordination between them. Obviously, we will be talking to Afghans and the Afghans, as they form whatever government or political arrangement they have, we want to make this reconstruction effort also a broad process that involves all elements of society, including women.
As a result of the meeting, we expect not only that there will be a steering group formed with Japan, the European Union, Saudi Arabia and the United States, but that also there would be an implementation group formed to help coordinate the activities on the ground in Afghanistan, and to help coordinate to some extent the humanitarian effort and how the humanitarian effort can lead to these broader things.
As they look at this work, there is going to be an emphasis -- as we move from relief to recovery to reconstruction, there is going to be an emphasis on quick impact work, projects that can produce results within the first 100 days, for example, that can be community based, that can create employment. So the priority areas for things like that right in the beginning are going to be agricultural development, including things like substituting crops instead of drugs, demining, community development, education, health care and civil and social service development.
So that's where we're heading on this. Those are the kinds of things we want to do as a result of yesterday's meeting. And the more detailed planning process and then the implementation process will move forward fairly quickly.
QUESTION: Will the implementation process come also from the same group that constitutes the steering group, or will that be a UN function, the people on the ground there? How is that envisioned?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not sure how that will be coordinated. I think that gets much more to the people on the ground and therefore your development banks, your implementing agencies have to work on that a little more.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I said that the emphasis in the beginning will be on projects that can produce results in their first hundred days. So if we start a project today, can we show something to the farmers? Can we have people employed? Can we have a new school up and running in a hundred days? Those are the kind of quick impact projects we are going to be looking for in the beginning.
QUESTION: You're going to love this question. Has the countdown begun?
MR. BOUCHER: No, you've got this wrong.
QUESTION: I withdraw the question.
MR. BOUCHER: This is not saying that within a hundred days we will have these projects. We will have projects that produce results in 100 days. So on day 1 of the project, then we will start counting to make sure that by day 100 of that project, we have started to show real results for the people who need these services.
QUESTION: Most of Afghanistan is on fast these days. And as far as the US food drops in Afghanistan is concerned, have you changed their menu according to the Ramadan or fast? And who decides what they will eat?
MR. BOUCHER: The meals that are dropped, the wheat that's taken in, the bread that we provide is all acceptable by Muslim dietary standards. So there is no question of doing that.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on the reconstruction, can you give us an idea of how much -- what percentage of the overall cost the United States wants to shoulder in this effort?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't at this point. Clearly, the United States has been a major donor. We have contributed to the humanitarian offer, to the humanitarian effort, I guess 40 or 50 percent, depending on the numbers. The President's offer of $320 million for this year was more than half of what the United Nations had called for in terms of the $580 million they thought was necessary. But then there were so generous offers from others that we're probably a little under 50 percent on the amounts pledged this year for the humanitarian effort.
Nonetheless, we've been the largest single donor for the Afghan people over the last 22 years, and I would expect that to continue. So something of a significant quantity.
QUESTION: Richard, on the 100 days -- and maybe you're the wrong person to ask this, maybe I need to ask AID or someone like that -- but is three and a third months really quick hitting?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: It is?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: By what standard?
MR. BOUCHER: By I think any international project standards, yes. Those are fairly significant results and fairly quick for people.
QUESTION: Richard, what was the thinking behind including Saudi Arabia on the steering group, given its close association with the Taliban in the past, and also its close links with Afghanistan generally? I mean, you've excluded other neighbors of Afghanistan.
MR. BOUCHER: We haven't excluded anybody, first of all. There's going to be a large group of international donors. This process, I'm sure, will gather momentum, will gather people who want to contribute and want to make the effort. Saudi Arabia clearly can play a leading role in the Arab world in encouraging other Arab donors, in helping work with all of us to make sure that the money that is given goes to good use. And I think it's important to have a number of different people on the steering group. But there's nobody excluded; in fact, everybody intends to be included. And we will work with the banks, we will work with the future conferences, we will work with the conference in Japan to make sure that everybody who has a contribution to make will be there.
QUESTION: Were there any (inaudible) about the inclusion of --
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I know of.
QUESTION: Are the Saudis on board with the US and other international demands for women to play a key part in all this?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard any questioning of that.
QUESTION: Richard, has there been any overture made to Iran, maybe for them to join -- not the steering committee, but the general group? Obviously, I guess they'd be somewhat limited in attending meetings in the United States.
MR. BOUCHER: There will be meetings in Europe. The big meeting in Japan in mid or late January will take place. Iran has always been part of the humanitarian effort. Certainly, we're aware that a large number of refugees have sought refuge from Afghanistan in Iran. In fact, now we have reports that a few of those are starting to go back, some 12,000, I think, that have returned to Afghanistan from Iran since the beginning of November.
So Iran clearly has a role, and we'll just see how they play that. But what's the important thing here is an international effort that can really support the reconstruction of Afghanistan as a broad-based society that includes all their people. It's not intended to carve it up into fiefdoms, principalities or spheres of influence.
QUESTION: Do you have any estimate on the number who have returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we actually have a good number on that. The number returning from Iran is believed to be about 12,000. We don't have such numbers from Pakistan yet.
QUESTION: Does that represent the first trend to sort of reverse emigration flow that we've seen since --
MR. BOUCHER: I think so. Yes, it's the start of people being able to go back to their homes. Clearly we'll get more information for you, perhaps later this week, on better numbers and particularly concern about making sure that those people are taken care of when they get back home.
But as many of us know, that the weather is getting colder, the snows are closing the passes, so there may be some people that want to get back fairly early in this process. But it is a sign that there are areas of Afghanistan now to which people are able to return, and not fear the oppression of the Taliban.
QUESTION: Can you just comment on whether you see this as a significant development? And if you could say why you think this might be occurring at this point now?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think you can call it a significant flow at this point. We will look in more detail to see what the trend is. But clearly, it's a sign. It's a sign that people want to go home, it's a sign that people want to get back to their lives, and it's a sign that parts of Afghanistan are hospitable again to people who had to leave because of tremendous oppression.
And the fact that we're able now to increase the humanitarian support for people inside Afghanistan is probably one of the reasons why they're able to go back. Second, there may be people trying to get ahead of the weather. But third, I think the overall change in the north and in the Kabul area of the political situation means that people feel that they are able to return.
QUESTION: Any new mail (inaudible) anthrax State Department?
MR. BOUCHER: Anything new? That's a big question. As I think many of you reported, and we've seen in the newspapers, the Postal Service is now working on the theory that the Leahy letter, the letter to Senator Leahy, was misread by the mail sorting machinery and was sent to our Sterling, Virginia facility, where it was processed, sent back to the Brentwood facility, and finally delivered to Capitol Hill.
That sort of pattern is still being confirmed. I can't say for sure that's what happened. But that's at least the working theory that people are looking at. And the FBI and the Postal Service will confirm that to all of us when they know for sure.
If this Leahy letter is proven to have gone through the Sterling, Virginia facility, its presence in that facility could very well explain the case of inhalation anthrax and the presence of anthrax spores that were found in some of our pouches and our mail rooms.
Nonetheless, I would say we still intend to check the mail that we have stopped and sealed. The first batch of that mail is going to the FBI today, and they will go through and do the checks for us. And we'll begin checking the mail that is sealed in the Sterling, Virginia facility early next week.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Mexico and the US migration talks? Did US officials inform Mexican officials yesterday that the US is going to put off any type of new migration agreement?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we did a readout of that yesterday, and frankly, that's about all I have for you. I'm sorry, I can't give you that --
QUESTION: There's a report in AP that says that they were told that those -- that any type of migration agreement would be deferred.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't want to differ with the AP, but let me check on it and see if it's true. Okay?
QUESTION: Richard, do you have any sense of -- going back to the anthrax and mail -- of how much mail it is that has to be gone through? How much was stopped in the system?
MR. BOUCHER: In the end, you're going to have hundreds of bags. Whether that's a large amount for the people that have to process and go through it, I don't know. We'll just have to see. I think the initial shipment was some 50 bags of mail that we were going to send over to the FBI, and we took basically mail that was addressed to the Secretary that got special handling anyway, figuring that if there was an anthrax letter, that might be the most likely place.
So that's the initial bag batch of 50 or so bags of mail that we're going to send over to the FBI to look at.
QUESTION: Do you know if this was treated before its being sent over, or is it being sent over --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that that's been treated at this point.
QUESTION: There have been a couple of incidents in the last couple of days. For example, the decision to build permanent housing in Hebron by the Israeli Government. And also, there has been another incursion this morning. Do you have any comment on these incidents, which flies in the face of the Secretary's speech on Monday?
MR. BOUCHER: There are no "flies" in the Secretary's face, of his speech. Let's be reasonable about this.
First, I don't think we thought the speech was going to immediately wave a magic wand and stop the violence. The point is to get out there and get to work with the parties to help the parties come to arrangements for a cease-fire, to help the parties come to arrangements to stop the violence, and to look to the parties to take the steps that they have to do.
We have made quite clear our views on various activities the Israelis have carried out, and made clear that we think that they need to cease actions that undermine the situation, including things like continued settlement activity. The Israeli withdrawal from a number of cities in Palestinian areas were positive steps, and we think it's very important they act now to complete that withdrawal.
On the Palestinian side, we have looked for sustained and credible actions to confront terror and violence, and we think those are necessary, and we will be out there soon working directly with the parties to try to help them agree on instituting a real cease-fire and stopping the violence.
Assistant Secretary Burns and General Zinni today met at the White House with the President and the Secretary, and discussed their travel to the region and their goals. They will leave on Sunday, November 25th. Our Senior Advisor in the Near East Bureau, Aaron Miller, will accompany Assistant Secretary Burns and General Zinni to the region. So they will be out there this weekend working with the parties.
QUESTION: Maybe a little early, but the Palestinian Authority said that as long as Prime Minister Sharon continues to insist on the seven days, then your initiative is doomed. Is that seven days something that these emissaries are going to be looking at?
MR. BOUCHER: The point is to look at how to stop the violence, how to achieve a real cease-fire, how to get the parties to agree on the conditions to move to further steps, and how to help them move down that road that leads back to negotiation and to dealing with the very important issues that they have before them. So that's what Burns and Zinni will be out there trying to do.
The Secretary did speak to Prime Minister Sharon this morning on the telephone. They talked, it was a good conversation. They talked about the situation. Prime Minister Sharon said he looked forward to the arrival of our team. He was willing to work with them. He is willing to work with whatever committee is established on the Palestinian side, and that he was committed to this process to achieve a cease-fire and to get down the road towards resuming negotiations.
QUESTION: Well, I was just going to -- this is very technical -- did you give Aaron Miller a title just then?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I called him a Senior Advisor in the Near East Bureau.
QUESTION: Are there any new consequences for the Israelis at this point, considering that they continue the kind of behavior you said decreases stability in the region and is against the wishes of -- I mean, are you coming -- are they -- I guess what I'm asking is, will Burns and Zinni be carrying any more stronger language? To give us what's going to change, because you've sent people out there before.
MR. BOUCHER: Ambassador Burns, General Zinni will be out there. They will be working with the parties to make quite clear our views. We have made quite clear our views on what the parties need to do further to stop the violence, get back to this process. As the Secretary said on the airplane, I think you'll see what pushing and prodding is once General Zinni gets out there, and I'm sure he will fulfill his mandate.
QUESTION: Can you just -- well, what is pushing and prodding?
MR. BOUCHER: It's what we can do. It's an effort by the United States to get the parties to come to agreement to stop the violence and get on with peace talks.
QUESTION: The same thing. In the phone call this morning with Prime Minister Sharon, did the Secretary raise the more recent incursion, and also did he talk about settlements, the building in Hebron?
MR. BOUCHER: They talked mostly about the trip, the upcoming meetings that would be had working with the Palestinians' commission. He did, I guess, talk generally about the need for parties to start taking steps that would reduce the violence. I leave it at that for the moment.
QUESTION: This meeting at the White House with the two envoys, the Secretary and the President, is that something we are going to get from the White House? Or basically what were they getting? Were they getting their marching orders, so to speak? I mean, were they being told -- were they discussing what the President wants, what the President and the Secretary want to see them do out there?
MR. BOUCHER: They were hearing from the President what he wants them to do.
QUESTION: And that is?
MR. BOUCHER: Go out there and --
QUESTION: You know, in a little bit more specificity? Okay. Where are they going, who are they talking to first? Do you know that?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I don't think there is any schedule for their meetings at this point.
QUESTION: And are they only -- are they going to be -- obviously, Assistant Secretary Burns --
MR. BOUCHER: Let's remember, they're going out there. This is going to be the first visit. General Zinni is going to be on the ground for a while. They're both going to be there. First, they have to get to know the players, make sure they understand what everybody can do, wants to do, will do, and then start to move this process forward. So don't start looking for instant results in this --
QUESTION: I'm not trying to, but --
MR. BOUCHER: Their job is to get on the ground and work with the parties, help the parties move forward, help the parties come to the understandings that create a real cease-fire. That's the first goal and that's the way to start moving down this process.
QUESTION: Surely, they already know the players, don't they?
MR. BOUCHER: To some extent. I mean, Ambassador Burns does probably better than General Zinni. But General Zinni knows the region very, very well. And they are going to have counterparts in the Israeli and Palestinian side that they are going to have to establish their working relationship with.
QUESTION: But what I was trying to get at, are they going places other than Israel and the Palestinian territories? I mean, do you expect to see both of them or one of them go to Jordan, Syria, Egypt?
MR. BOUCHER: Quite possibly, Ambassador Burns will make some other stops in the region.
QUESTION: Okay. But General Zinni is basically going to stay in Israel and the --
MR. BOUCHER: He is going to be there working with the parties to try to get the process moving.
QUESTION: Richard, can you tell us what they're taking in the way of staff? Will it be a fairly big operation?
MR. BOUCHER: Aaron Miller is going with them. They have a senior advisor.
QUESTION: Any military or CIA?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if there are any more going with them. Certainly, all the resources of our embassies and consulates in the region are there to support them.
QUESTION: Richard, do you have any comments that the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, may be the first non-Muslim US Ambassador who had a fast on -- for Ramadan fast, and if she needed any permission from here or if she had any conversation in this building?
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't heard the story. I don't know --
QUESTION: In the Washington Times today.
MR. BOUCHER: It's very interesting. I haven't done a survey of all our ambassadors in various countries. I do know that our ambassadors around the world are having Iftaar dinners for their local Muslim communities in many of the places where they are, and what individual ambassadors decide to do as far as having lunch and eating during the daytime, I'll leave to them.
QUESTION: Yeah, because President Bush also invited 50 or more Muslim ambassadors. But the President was not on fast.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think it is to join them in their celebration.
QUESTION: And another question on the same region. Pakistan is the only country in the world still having the Afghan embassy -- Taliban embassy and an ambassador in Islamabad. And now at the one hand US is fighting war against Taliban in Afghanistan. On the other hand, your most trusted ally is having the ambassador from the Taliban. So that means India Globe's story last week tells that Pakistan was helping the United States by day, helping the US, and by night the Taliban.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to comment on stories like that. Let me tell you the facts, if you want to ask a question about what do we think about the diplomatic presence, the presence of the Taliban.
As you know, we have said before that, first of all, we welcome the closing of consulates in Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta, that Pakistan ordered the Taliban consulate offices closed. They had lowered, I think, the representation of the diplomatic office in Islamabad and, while we still had two American detainees and other foreigners detained in Afghanistan, we felt it was useful for that office to be there, to be open to offer a possibility of communication on the subject of our detainees, should that be necessary.
Given the developments of the past week, the fact that the detainees are out, at this point, we don't really see any particular reason for that so-called embassy to stay open, and we have been in touch and we will keep talking with the Pakistan Government about that. The decision in the end is for them to make, and we will leave it to them.
QUESTION: So you have suggested to them that they might close this now, that you have decided that it is no longer in your interest to have the embassy open?
MR. BOUCHER: We have said that, for our part, we don't see any particular reason for it to stay open.
QUESTION: Because the detainees are no longer there?
MR. BOUCHER: Because the detainees are no longer there. We have said to them previously we saw a reason for it.
QUESTION: On a related -- going the other way, what about anyone going in to check out what's left of the embassy in Kabul.
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing new on that at this point.
QUESTION: Are you actually saying to the Pakistanis, we would like it if you closed it down?
MR. BOUCHER: As I have said, it is a decision for them to make. It will be in their hands. We have certainly discussed this with them. But, as I said, we have said we don't at this point see any particular reason for it to stay open.
QUESTION: And on that, you are also talking about you think there is no reason for Pakistan to retain any kind of diplomatic relations with the Taliban? Not just a building, but in general?
MR. BOUCHER: I would have to look at exactly what they call the relationship that they have had. Certainly, Pakistan has clearly broken with the Taliban. Pakistan has clearly made its views known on the Taliban, and Pakistan has supported the effort against the Taliban. So I don't think there is much question anymore about any quality relationship there.
QUESTION: Well, I guess the question is, is closing the embassy the same thing as severing diplomatic ties?
MR. BOUCHER: Breaking relations? Not always. It depends.
QUESTION: So are you going --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. What I don't know is whether they actually have diplomatic ties or whether they just allow a so-called diplomatic office to operate. It gets rather technical on it, but I would have to check before I could give you a definitive answer.
QUESTION: Richard, do you have anything against Mr. Zaeef when he eventually loses his diplomatic immunity? Or is he just free to go home?
MR. BOUCHER: Don't know.
QUESTION: Wait, I've got one more question on the ambassador. And this only comes because I was reading the paper rather carefully this morning.
Is it correct that your ambassador to France doesn't speak French?
MR. BOUCHER: When I talk to him, I talk to him in English, so I don't know. I'll have to check.
QUESTION: Is it correct that ambassadors do go to language training before they're sent to --
MR. BOUCHER: Many of them do, if they have the time. It's not a requirement for the job, after all. Remember, they represent the United States and that's what's most important.
QUESTION: Yes, but isn't it most helpful when the actual ambassador, when he goes into meetings, is able to speak with people in their native language?
MR. BOUCHER: Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. I think many of us sometimes in diplomatic meetings, even when we speak the language, we prefer to make the points quite clear in English.
QUESTION: Well, I guess maybe the question is, does the State Department prefer it when nominees to ambassadorial positions have language skills that will be relevant to where they are being posted?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, the President makes those nominations and decides on the --
QUESTION: Exactly. That's why I am asking if the State Department has an opinion about whether --
MR. BOUCHER: We have an opinion that whatever the President decides is good with us. (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, there are many, many qualifications to be an ambassador and I suppose knowing the language could be one of them. But there are many things that different ambassadors bring to the job, whether it's career experience or whether it's outside experience, whether it's contacts, whether it's language. And the President decides who he wants to nominate based on a whole multiple, long list of factors.
QUESTION: Richard, the demonstrators in Beijing, some of them American I believe, what's the latest on them?
MR. BOUCHER: What's the story on them?
QUESTION: Have you had access to them? Are they being expelled?
MR. BOUCHER: The Chinese Government has notified us that the six Americans who were detained yesterday for taking part in a Falun Gong demonstration were expelled from China on November 21st. Chinese authorities further noted that all 35 citizens of western countries who had been detained for the November 20th demonstration were released and expelled. We're aware of reports that the detainees were struck by police, but we have not been able to confirm these accounts.
We were not able to speak to any of those detained prior to their departure, so we can't at this point comment on their treatment while in custody. We don't take any position on the beliefs or the practices of Falun Gong, but we have raised with China on many occasions our concerns over the detentions of persons peacefully exercising internationally recognized rights to freedom of assembly, belief and conscience and we will continue to do that.
QUESTION: Do you know where they went to?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 1:07 p.m.)