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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing December 11, 2001

Daily Press Briefing Index
Tuesday, December 11, 2001
1:10 P.M. EST

BRIEFER: Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman

ANNOUNCEMENTS
1-2 Baltic Partnership Commission

AFGHANISTAN
2, 7-8 International Security Force
7-8 US Embassy in Kabul and Amb. Dobbins
9 Afghan Control of POWs

MIDDLE EAST
10-11 Gen. Zinni and a trilateral meeting
11 Amb. Burns in the Maghreb, Syria and Lebanon
12-13 European Union Envoy

VIETNAM
13 Armitage meeting with Vietnamese Deputy PM

VENEZUELA
13-14 General Strike/President Chavez/Carta Democratica

IRAQ
14-16 Iraq-Turkey Border

MACEDONIA
16-17 Report of the International Crisis Group

CZECH REPUBLIC
17 Release of an Uzbek Opposition Leader

TRADE
18 Fast Track

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #173

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2001
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

1:10 p.m. EST


MR. REEKER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome back to the State Department. I'm pleased to be here to brief you this afternoon, and I'm very pleased that Ambassador Boucher will be here tomorrow to brief you -- (laughter) -- with the return of Secretary Powell, who is at this time en route from London, expected to return to Washington about 7:00 p.m. this evening.

QUESTION: But you're not suggesting that you've had a bad time up here for the last --

MR. REEKER: It has been fantastic, Matt. As it always is.

QUESTION: All good things have to end.

MR. REEKER: That's right. Exactly. Let me just note one statement. I think we have put it out in paper already, further to what we discussed, some of us, yesterday. That is the Baltic Partnership Commission, which met yesterday and today here in Washington, noting that the foreign ministers from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania met with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage here at the State Department yesterday, along with other State Department officials, in the framework of the Fourth Annual Baltic Partnership Commission. That Commission was established in 1998 by the US Baltic Charter, and it aims to advance the integration of the Baltic nations into transatlantic and European structures.

Deputy Secretary Armitage expressed appreciation for Baltic assistance, including the quick adoption of financial controls and security measures in the war against terrorism. The participants noted plans to hold remembrance events today, on the three-month anniversary of the September 11th attacks against the United States, and pledged to continue work to eliminate the scourge of terrorism.

The Deputy Secretary also reaffirmed our commitment to President Bush's vision of a new round of NATO enlargement at the 2002 Prague NATO Summit. And the Deputy Secretary welcomed the steps taken by the Baltic States to fulfill their own NATO membership action plans, and encouraged the spirit of solidarity expressed by NATO aspirants through the Vilnius Ten process.

So we will let you get that statement on paper to follow up with.

QUESTION: Do you have -- can you expand on the NATO discussion? Did Deputy Secretary Armitage talk to them about what the recent meeting that Secretary Powell was at in Brussels, and talks with the Russians about NATO expansion?

MR. REEKER: I really don't know, Matt, whether they got into that kind of detail at all. I would suspect they reviewed that. It was a broad- based discussion. NATO is one of the subjects that, of course, the Baltic countries are very interested in. And, as I indicated, the Deputy Secretary reaffirmed our commitment, as President Bush has described, to another round of expansion, and that would begin with the 2002 Prague Summit. And clearly we will be able to keep in touch with the Baltic States and other friends and allies on the discussions the Secretary had, and any developments that move forward from there.

Any other questions on that subject?

QUESTION: Afghanistan. The Secretary has been talking about a peacekeeping force, and you may or may not be prepared to talk about it. But there are a lot of unanswered questions, as Tony Blair suggested. Can you fill in any of the blanks?

MR. REEKER: I am not quite sure which blanks it is you would be wanting me to fill in, but I think we are --

QUESTION: Have you got some filler material that we --

MR. REEKER: We are all aware of the fact that the Afghan parties stated, in the Bonn agreement, which they the Afghans came to, through very solid negotiations under the UN rubric. In that agreement they requested an international security force. We have been working with our coalition partners. We have been working with the UN, and others, to help assemble one. I think the scope, the participation, the timing of the force are all still things that are being discussed. I think the Secretary indicated that there is a vigorous discussion at the UN in terms of getting a UN resolution in place as quickly as possible. And then the roles of individual countries could be worked out within that framework.

The Secretary this morning announced, or noted, our pleasure that the United Kingdom has indicated its willingness to step forward. He and Prime Minister Blair discussed that in their meetings in London this morning, and also publicly at their press availability. I think the Secretary reiterated what we said before about this force, that it may have a humanitarian mission, it might have a security mission. That mission in all of its details is still being structured and, obviously, there will need to be coordination with the US mission that continues in Afghanistan, that is, the US forces under the command of General Franks, who have their own clear, defined combat mission. And that is to continue to seek out al-Qaida, Taliban, to take them out and also to bring Usama bin Laden to justice.

So the international security force that we envision is coming with an entirely different mission. We certainly recognize the need for that force to go to Afghanistan with a strong and clear mandate from the United Nations Security Council, as Secretary Powell indicated today, in a coalition of the willing, and we will continue to try to bring you the details of that as they emerge here, in New York and in other places.

QUESTION: Are you worried -- is the United States worried -- that should the United Kingdom lead this security force, that it would divert attention from the current task at hand, which is to round up the rest of the Taliban and al-Qaida members?

MR. REEKER: I don't think that is a worry at all. I think if you look at what Secretary Powell and Prime Minister Blair discussed publicly at their press availability in London, it reflects of course what we've been discussing privately with the United Kingdom, with the other allies in the coalition, with those at the UN. We are talking about two distinct missions here, as I indicated. And as Secretary Powell described, we have a US force under the command of General Franks, which has a specific combat mission. And that, of course, remains our priority in terms of the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. The Department of Defense, the President and others have all addressed that. And while we have had some great progress in that, as the Defense Department has indicated it is far from over, and we are determined to maintain that campaign as long as it takes. And Prime Minister Blair reflected that in his comments as well, the importance that the British, our allies in this war against terrorism, place in that as well, as the other countries that have joined us in that.

So, again, the international security force is a different type of mission. We are working on that along with others in the international community and expect that we get a UN resolution in place as quickly as possible on that.

QUESTION: A couple of questions on this. General Fahim said this morning that he didn't think that more than 1,000 troops would be needed for the security force. How does that fit in with current thinking among the United States and its allies? Do you think that sounds sufficient?

MR. REEKER: I just don't have anything to add for you on that. Those are the types of discussions, as the Secretary indicated, the details that need to be worked out, close coordination between and among all the various players in this. That is the type of thing that is being discussed at the United Nations, as they work to get a resolution in place. It's the type of thing the Secretary discussed just today in London, and earlier in Paris, and I'm sure yesterday as well, with the Germans in his visit in Berlin.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Elise's question, too? It sounds fairly clear, from what people have been saying here, that you envisage the deployment of this security force, while US military operations continue.

Do you see any danger that the security force might in fact be implicated in your offensive operations, and therefore liable to attack by the same people who you are attacking now? Is this not -- I mean, this is pretty unconventional?

MR. REEKER: I don't think I understand the premise of your question.

QUESTION: No, I mean, is this -- well, let's put it this way, do you envisage the deployment of this security force at the same time as US military operations are continuing in Afghanistan?

MR. REEKER: I think I just answered that, and I think Secretary Powell talked about that at great length in his comments today.

QUESTION: Okay, in the minds of your opponents in this conflict, how are you going to separate the two?

MR. REEKER: The international security force envisioned --

QUESTION: Yes, and the US --

MR. REEKER: -- and being discussed at the United Nations now I think is distinct and quite separate from the Taliban, the al-Qaida terrorist network that are the targets of our military force.

QUESTION: No, I said in the minds of your opponents, how are you going to separate between your combat forces and this security force? I mean, the security force --

MR. REEKER: I am not going to try to crawl into the minds of Usama bin Laden, the Taliban or the others involved in al-Qaida and terrorism, Jonathan. I think the fact that our combat mission under the command of General Franks will remain in Afghanistan, carrying out that mission as long as it takes, that has been made quite clear by the President, echoed by Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, that will happen.

At the same time, we are looking at the international security force that was asked for by the Afghans, that is being discussed at the United Nations, that was discussed at great length in a number of stops and a number of public appearances by the Secretary with allied officials today and yesterday. They are different forces. There needs to be coordination obviously between them, and that is one of the factors that is being discussed, as the specifics of the mission for the international security force in a coalition of the willing is being discussed.

So all of those issues are things that definitely need to be worked out.

QUESTION: But Phil, can I follow up, please? Don't they overlap in some way? Because while the United States is clearly going after the Taliban and al-Qaida, part of this international security force, I mean, most likely is going to be keeping the security of Afghanistan against warring factions in the country, which could include some Taliban hangovers.

So how do they not overlap?

MR. REEKER: I don't think I said they didn't. I said they are distinct forces, and I think you just need to read the Secretary's remarks, and we can make sure we get you the transcript of that. Clearly, if two forces are there in Afghanistan at the same time, there needs to be coordination. They have different missions. And I think I reviewed what those different missions are, and this is one of the factors, in terms of specifying, defining the mission for the international security force that we need to continue working on. And that is what people are quite seized with today, this moment, as we speak.

And so that mission is still being structured for the international security force. And as the Secretary said, we recognize the need for that. A strong and clear mandate from the UN Security Council is something that is important. We need to get that in place as quickly as possible. And in a coalition of the willing, we would expect that international force to go in just as soon as everything is in place.

QUESTION: Basically, the bottom line is, you don't have anything else to say more than what you said when you first answered the question the first time.

MR. REEKER: The first time. Right.

QUESTION: And even if you did -- (laughter) --

MR. REEKER: Probably --

QUESTION: And even if you did, you're not going to tell us now. So it's pretty pointless to keep asking about this, isn't it?

MR. REEKER: I leave that up to you, to you and your colleagues.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything -- even if you just answer no -- can you tell us anything about contacts between the United States and any of those Muslim countries which were mentioned earlier in this process as possible candidates for contributing troops to this --

MR. REEKER: I don't have anything on specific contacts. But there's a number of countries, as you know, have indicated their willingness to be part of a coalition of the willing, as part of the international security force. And I really think the UN is the main point, place you would want to be looking right now for that discussion on that.

QUESTION: Can I just follow?

QUESTION: It wasn't that long ago, when you were talking about an international force, that you said it was -- that the US Government's position appeared to be that it was too early to discuss it. What has changed now? Is it simply because you have taken the cities that --

MR. REEKER: I am not quite sure when you are citing those particular quotations. Time does move on. It is certainly something that has been discussed. We have been discussing it here, and we have been discussing it in the circles that really matter, for some time now, in terms of working on the development of this force. I think the most important thing that happened is the developments that took place in Bonn, in terms of the agreement reached by Afghans to establish a roadmap, a plan for an interim authority that will take power on the 22nd of December as envisioned by that, and stated in the UN Security Council resolution.

And so, under the Bonn agreement, the Afghan parties requested an international security force. It was something, as you know, that had already been discussed. And those discussions continue. We are working along with others and at the UN and with the Afghan groups, of course, to look at the structure for that, how that mission will be structured. There is a lot of detail that needs to go into that, and we will try to bring you the news as soon as there is some.

QUESTION: About Afghanistan, can you tell us anything about the first day of the opening of the US embassy, or what information --

MR. REEKER: We still don't know when that day will be.

QUESTION: But everybody went in yesterday. What --

MR. REEKER: Not everybody went in yesterday.

QUESTION: I mean, people went in --

MR. REEKER: In fact, a survey team went in, as we discussed -- I discussed with a number of you yesterday. There is a team of about 10 administrative and security personnel who remain in Kabul today determining the capacity of our existing facilities there to support the diplomatic presence that we've said we want to establish. They are operating out of the US Embassy Chancery compound which, as you can imagine after a number of years, has sustained a lot of damage. There are issues about infrastructure that need to be dealt with in terms of electricity and running water to be able to support a diplomatic presence there.

But I think, as Ambassador Dobbins made clear to you last week and the Secretary has certainly stated on numerous occasions, we do expect to establish a full-time diplomatic presence there soon. I just can't give you a specific date or time, but we will keep you posted on that, as the team is able to survey what needs to be done and take those steps to create the infrastructure that will be able to support --

QUESTION: Did they find anything surprising? Did they find it in worse shape than they even thought, or better shape?

MR. REEKER: I don't have any particular readouts. I spoke yesterday with the head of our team that's there, Kathleen Austin-Ferguson, who said they were just working hard to examine the status of things, working of course with our local Afghan Foreign Service National employees who are really heroic in the efforts that they have undertaken over a period of many, many years, into decades, in terms of supporting the US mission there, even after US citizen presence had to leave Afghanistan, given the situation there. And a number of those employees, of course, are part of our team still, so they are working there with our survey team on the ground to help prepare things for that, and we will look to moving in a more official diplomatic presence under Ambassador Dobbins just as soon as we can.

QUESTION: Do you have a count on how many unexploded ordnances this team may have found so far?

MR. REEKER: No, I don't have anything like that.

QUESTION: The US mission and the UN forces will be in Afghanistan before December 22nd, I understand?

MR. REEKER: I don't think I am able to give you any specific dates. I know that that's something that everybody is quite aware of, that the interim authority will take power beginning December the 22nd, and obviously we would like to have our presence established by then. We will have to see what the reality is on the ground in terms of the infrastructure to support that diplomatic presence.

QUESTION: But do we know any timetable, how long the UN or international forces will be in Afghanistan? If they are discussing that as part of their discussion?

MR. REEKER: No, as I said, the mission of an international security force is something that is still being structured, is still being discussed. And so obviously I wouldn't be able to give you a particular time frame for it, as they discuss what the specifics of that mission will be.

QUESTION: When do you expect Dobbins to go back?

MR. REEKER: I just indicated that I have no way of knowing exactly when he will go in. We would like to get that presence established as soon as possible, but our survey team is on the ground there now, trying to determine what actions are necessary and to take those actions to create the infrastructure that can support a full-time US diplomatic presence there in Kabul. And as soon as we know that, we will let you know and we will let Ambassador Dobbins know as well.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. REEKER: I don't have a specific time. I think part of it depends on what they are finding and how things go in terms of getting things up and running.

QUESTION: Is this a State Department team?

MR. REEKER: Yes.

QUESTION: Or an interagency team?

MR. REEKER: It is a State Department team.

QUESTION: Is Ms. Ferguson going to brief us when she gets back?

MR. REEKER: I don't know that she would be coming back here. But I will certainly look into it, George, if you would like.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the statement made by the Secretary today, Mr. Powell, in London, that the war is not going to go beyond Afghanistan?

MR. REEKER: It is an interesting citation that you made over at the Pentagon as well, and I saw you there, Lambros. And I don't know where you got it. You are obviously not --

QUESTION: It is a Reuters dispatch --

MR. REEKER: You are obviously not reading the same transcripts of the Secretary's remarks that I am. But I will just be happy to point out the transcripts to you. I will note that the Secretary talked, when asked the question that many of you ask quite frequently, about next steps. The Secretary of State made quite clear that President Bush has made no decision as to what actions we should take in the next phase of our campaign against terrorism, nor has he received any recommendations as to what the next step should be.

And so, as the President himself and the Secretary have made quite clear, we are dedicated to our campaign against terrorism, and we are taking on terrorism with a global reach. But there are no next steps to be announced at this point. We are still very much focused on the first step, phase one, in Afghanistan, which is taking out the Taliban regime which has supported the al-Qaida terrorist network and Usama bin Laden, who perpetrated the attacks against us, some three months ago, that we commemorated today.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MR. REEKER: Anybody else on Afghanistan?

QUESTION: A quick question. Have you decided yet whether or not it would participate in a peacekeeping force, and with concern about keeping missions separate as much as possible, a part of the deliberation about whether or not to participate?

MR. REEKER: I think the Secretary and others have made quite clear that there was no expectation of US troop presence in the international security force. And as the Secretary noted in a number of his press conferences during his trip, we have been very pleased to see the response from many in the international community to forming a coalition of the willing under the auspices of a UN Security Council resolution, which is what we are working on right now.

At the same time, our forces continue to have a specific mission under the command of General Franks, and I think I covered as fully as possible the fact that those are two distinct missions. But obviously, because they will be operating in some ways in the same theater, they will need to coordinate and have good contacts, and all of that is going into the discussions as they look at the structure of the mission for the international security force.

QUESTION: With respect to the winding down of the -- at least the shooting war with the cities being taken back by anti-Taliban forces, with respect to the Taliban that are under arrest, there are some countries calling for extradition for their particular citizens back to their homelands, and also, with Taliban forces perhaps slipping into Pakistan, and even in the north and Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and such, is there any formal working agreements with these particular governments so that these -- whether detainees or people under arrest are brought to justice, meaning in American courts, or world (inaudible) -- or what is the particular policy right now?

MR. REEKER: I think, as far as I can go in terms of the facts that I am aware of on the ground, and certainly you may suggest that the shooting has slowed down, I think we are still very focused on the military component of our campaign, and the Defense Department can help you with the details on that.

But to date, all captured Taliban are in the hands of Afghan groups, Afghan leaders like Hamid Karzai -- I wrote that down here, Matt, except one -- like Mr. Karzai, have said, have indicated that the Taliban leadership will face justice for crimes they have committed against the Afghan people. And I think we will be discussing these individuals with the Afghans, with the interim authority as it takes power later this month.

I think we have been quite clear about wanting to bring to justice Usama bin Laden and the leaders of the Taliban that perpetrated and supported the attacks on our country, and we will take appropriate action at that time on a case-by-case basis. And so I just don't really have anything further to add on that now, but we will certainly be looking at that carefully and working with the Afghans.

QUESTION: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson --

MR. REEKER: Is this tied to Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Yes, following up on his question. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson demanded that people from Sinkiang province who are detained by United States forces should be handed over to China. Could you kindly tell me how many were detained from that province? And if you say, no, if you reject that demand, what is the rationale for that?

MR. REEKER: I am not aware of the comments. I don't know on what facts those comments were made, if that's the way they were portrayed. Those are obviously questions for the Defense Department. But to my understanding, all captured Taliban are in the hands of other Afghan groups. So you may want to try your question at the Defense Department and see if they have any information for you, but I don't have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on the reports that the reason non- Afghan Taliban or Pakistani Talibans in Afghanistan, they are surrendering on the advice of Pakistan's ISI, Interagency State Intelligence agency, that this is not the time to fight against the United States because --

MR. REEKER: I don't have any information on that. I hadn't heard those reports.

QUESTION: But Secretary Rumsfeld agreed last week. He said that some forces are there, non-Taliban and if we let them go loose, they might form a group in the future and somewhere, sometime will fight the United States.

MR. REEKER: I don't think anybody has suggested such a thing.

QUESTION: Can we move on to something besides Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Wait a minute. Do you think that the US mission there now and the multinational peacekeeping force will be separate and distinct?

MR. REEKER: I refer you to my previous remarks.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- photon lasers and Kevlar vests?

MR. REEKER: I would refer you to the Defense Department. They might know something about those things.

QUESTION: Retired General Zinni, did he have meetings today? How is the quixotic quest for peace?

MR. REEKER: Yes. General Zinni remained there in the region, attended a trilateral security meeting that took place today, that's Tuesday. This, of course, follows on to the security meeting that was convened on Sunday. So, clearly, General Zinni is still there in the region, still working with the parties. The parties exchanged ideas which are being reviewed by the other party and we reiterate again, as the Secretary has so often, that both sides need to take advantage of this opportunity to meet and discuss directly ways to cooperate to end the violence and progress towards achievement of a durable cease-fire which, of course, is the mandate that General Zinni is carrying out in trying to work with the sides on this subject.

QUESTION: Did Zinni offer any US ideas or proposals, and if so, could you share them with us in detail?

MR. REEKER: I am not aware of the specifics of those talks. And, even if I were, I am sure the answer would be no, Eli.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Burns is flitting about the region these days as well, going to Syria. I think he is in North Africa or was in North Africa, at least. Can you fill us in on what exactly he is doing? And also, does he have any plans to go hook up with General Zinni?

MR. REEKER: Let's talk about Assistant Secretary Burns. He is visiting the Maghreb region, stopping in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria and Lebanon. In fact, he has already been to Algeria. He was there Sunday and Monday, and met there with President Bouteflika. Yesterday, he visited Tunisia for meetings with President Ben Ali and Foreign Minister Ben Yahia. And today, he is Morocco for meetings with Foreign Minister Benaissa and His Majesty King Mohammed VI.

He is going to continue on to Damascus, Syria, on Thursday. And he will have meetings there with Foreign Minister Shara and perhaps other meetings as well, and expects to also visit Lebanon and then return home. There is -- at this point, I am not aware of a plan to leave the Maghreb, as it were, and hook up with Zinni.

QUESTION: You expect then -- oh?

MR. REEKER: I was just going to note, since I gave you a bit of a rundown on where and when, that he is discussing our broad range of bilateral and regional interests in the region, including the campaign against terrorism and our efforts, of course, to end violence and restore political dialogue between Israelis and the Palestinians.

QUESTION: I take it by your comment on the Damascus stop that you still expect Mr. al-Shara to be the Foreign Minister of Syria by the time that Mr. Burns --

MR. REEKER: I couldn't know. I mean, appointments are made as these things develop.

QUESTION: But you seem to -- you said that he will be meeting with Foreign Minister Shara. So you think he is going to keep the job --

MR. REEKER: That was certainly the plan when he went on his trip and we will keep you posted as to the meetings he has and the individuals he has them with.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the Syrian Cabinet shakeup?

MR. REEKER: It sounds like an internal matter to me.

QUESTION: Are you short-handed these days at the NEA bureau, sending the NATO ambassador on a trip to the Maghreb countries?

MR. REEKER: The Assistant Secretary for Near East --

QUESTION: Burns? Oh, I thought you --

MR. REEKER: Let me, for the record, state quite clearly that Assistant Secretary Burns is still the Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs. He is still an ambassador as well. But there is often confusion between our two Ambassadors Burns, Ambassador Burns at NATO and Ambassador Burns here in charge of the NEA --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. REEKER: Have you heard back from the EU envoys in the Middle East about their own efforts? They have meetings today with --

MR. REEKER: I am not aware of anything. I know the press reports indicated the EU was having some meetings in the Middle East. As you know, we have worked very closely with friends and allies, the European Union of course being a key part of the Oslo Process, along also with the Russians, with non-EU members like Norway. And so we continue to be in touch on that.

In the Secretary's meetings with the European leaders just the last day-and-a-half in Berlin, Paris, London and, of course, previously in Moscow, I am sure the Middle East was a subject that they touched on because of the interest of all those parties --

QUESTION: On that specific point, didn't General Zinni meet with Mr. Solana this morning?

MR. REEKER: I don't know. I would have to check for you and see. I don't have a full rundown on General Zinni's schedule.

QUESTION: Just let me go back to that security cooperation meeting. We heard that at the Sunday meeting that they were told to go away and come up with some ideas. And you said that they reviewed ideas. Are these the new ideas that they came --

MR. REEKER: I just don't have any specifics on that.

QUESTION: Do you know whether they set a date for the next meeting?

MR. REEKER: I don't. I think we would like them to take advantage of this structure, this forum. That is why General Zinni is there. There is an opportunity to meet directly with General Zinni, participate and discuss ways to cooperate on ending the violence. And that is what we want to see go forward. I don't have a timetable for a next meeting, but clearly both sides understand that this does provide them with a forum in which to deal with these issues because both sides need to look at what they can do to get the violence down and to move to a cease-fire and then, obviously, get back to discussions that can lead them into the Mitchell Committee recommendations and ultimately negotiations.

QUESTION: This morning, Deputy Secretary Armitage met with the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister or Foreign Minister?

MR. REEKER: Deputy Prime Minister, I believe.

QUESTION: Can you enlighten us as to how that meeting went?

MR. REEKER: Sure. They had a constructive meeting this morning; that is, the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister was here with Deputy Secretary Armitage. They discussed counterterrorism cooperation, they discussed prisoner of war, missing in action accounting, human rights, and of course the bilateral trade agreement between the United States and Vietnam. All of those are issues that are regularly on our bilateral agenda, and the Deputy Prime Minister is leading this high-level delegation here in Washington. I believe they are also in New York and San Francisco.

QUESTION: On the human rights element, do you know if the Deputy Secretary raised any specific case -- not specific to person but specific to groups that may be being persecuted; i.e., certain religions?

MR. REEKER: I don't have any specifics on what was discussed, other than that human rights was part of the dialogue today, as it usually is, and as was reflected in our annual human rights report. But I don't have a specific readout for you on the meeting.

QUESTION: Did he discuss the Vietnamese concerns about Agent Orange and maybe coming to some sort of accounting on that?

MR. REEKER: I don't know. I think I've given you all I have on that meeting.

QUESTION: Venezuela was shut down by a general strike yesterday, which was very effective, and President Chavez did not respond with moderation, offers of moderation. He got angry instead and has threatened to pass laws gagging the press and other things. The country seems very polarized. And the importance of that country to the United States, what is your impression?

MR. REEKER: I think we had noted earlier that there had been a call for a general work stoppage and that indeed took place yesterday, Monday, December 10th, as planned. The Federation of Chambers of Commerce had called for the work stoppage to protest the recent enactment by President Chavez of several laws, and the Venezuelan Confederation of Workers supported the work stoppage.

I think this is clearly an internal, domestic matter to Venezuela. It is not particularly appropriate for the US to comment on this. It is part of a larger democratic dialogue taking place in the country. And we will continue, through our embassy, to observe closely developments in Venezuela.

We issued, as I think I made clear earlier last week, we issued a public announcement for Venezuela to inform US citizens of the work stoppage in terms of our standard consular information program to alert travelers and those US citizens residing in Venezuela to issues they may want to consider in terms of making their own travel or security plans.

QUESTION: Is this something that you might consult with other American republics about?

MR. REEKER: I don't know. I think we consult with lots of other countries in this hemisphere and others about regional and lots of issues. But certainly the specifics of the situation are a domestic issue for Venezuela and we will continue to watch developments there and keep you posted if we have anything else to say.

QUESTION: But violations of democracy are considered an inter-American concern, according to the Carta Democratica. Will that possibly apply to this situation as it worsens?

MR. REEKER: I couldn't tell you at this point. I think I have given you about all I can on the Venezuela situation, and we will keep watching it, as I am sure you will, too.

QUESTION: Will this building have anything to say about what is going on in Argentina and US policy -- how the US sees the IMF?

MR. REEKER: I think I would refer you to the Treasury Department on that one, Matt.

QUESTION: So the answer is, no? This building doesn't have --

MR. REEKER: I don't have anything further on that. We have certainly supported efforts by the Argentine government to deal with these issues, but Treasury might have a little more in terms of the IMF angle in this.

QUESTION: I don't know whether you have anything on this either. The mission to northern Iraq, to Kurdistan, do you have anything to add on that? Would it be fair to assume that, even though no decision has been taken on stage two, would it be fair to assume that Mr. Crocker will at least be discussing possible scenarios for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein?

MR. REEKER: No, without giving any specific bent to the trip, this is part of a longstanding series of consultations by US officials with Iraqi Kurdish leaders. We have met recently in Washington between senior US officials and Iraqi Kurdish officials. And the last visit to Northern Iraq was in February. I think we felt it was time to go again and Ambassador Crocker has traveled there.

For those of you that weren't here, since we didn't brief yesterday, I will just run through the details of what Jonathan and I are discussing here. A delegation, a US delegation led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ryan Crocker is currently in Northern Iraq. And during the course of his visit, Ambassador Crocker is going to be in the main cities in the north, where he is meeting with representatives of the Kurdish Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Assyrian Democratic Party, the Iraqi Turkmen Front and other opposition groups.

The main purpose of the visit is to demonstrate continued US engagement with the Iraqi opposition, to consult with key players on issues in Northern Iraq, to provide for direct discussions on the status of Iraqi/Kurd reconciliation, and to evaluate the implementation of the UN's Oil For Food Program in Northern Iraq. So those are the four main themes of the discussion. In terms of the mediation efforts, as I discussed with some of you yesterday, both the patriotic union of Kurdistan, the leader of that, Mr. Talibani, and the Kurdistan Democratic party leader, Mr. Barzani, have asked the Department of State to try to play a mediating role on disputes between those two parties. And this delegation, led by Mr. Crocker in those discussions, is making the first step in that mediation process.

QUESTION: Since this is probably going to come up on the Kurdish side, what is the State Department position on the activities between Iraq and Turkey to build a second border gate between their countries. It has been a concern from the Kurds. They bring it up often when they talk about it with you all.

MR. REEKER: Let me check on the specifics of that. I don't know about --

QUESTION: Yes, if you could. I just need to get something. Just what the US --

MR. REEKER: I will be happy to look into that, see if we have a position on that.

QUESTION: And I don't want to be picky, but I thought that there was at least one level of envoys that were sent in June and July to the region?

MR. REEKER: Perhaps to the region. My information is that --

QUESTION: But I mean, to the North of Iraq.

MR. REEKER: My information is that our last visit to northern Iraq was in February, but I would be happy to check the memories of my colleagues from that particular bureau, if you would like.

QUESTION: Do you know or have anything on the new deal -- electricity deal between India and Iraq?

MR. REEKER: I don't. I would be happy to look into that as well.

QUESTION: North Korea and the United States will have a security conference in India on December 19th. Can you confirm that?

MR. REEKER: I am afraid I had never heard that. So I would be happy to look into it. If you would be so kind as to give my colleagues the citation you are referencing, we can try to look into that. I had not heard that news.

QUESTION: A question on Macedonia?

MR. REEKER: Please.

QUESTION: In the report of the International Crisis Group published Monday, it is stated that peace in Macedonia will remain fragile if this country is not recognized under its constitutional name. And the group proposes few solutions for the dispute over the name between Macedonia and Greece, and one of them is acknowledgement of the name as Republica Macedonia, which is the Macedonian way of saying it, Macedonian language --

MR. REEKER: I remember that, yes.

QUESTION: And how do you see this initiative?

MR. REEKER: As you know, the United Nations has a special negotiator appointed to work on the issue, and we continue to support that process and agree that it would be a useful thing to work out under the mandate of that special negotiator.

Since we are mentioning Macedonia, I did want to point out that over the weekend -- I think many of you saw -- there was a church outside of Tetovo that was badly damaged, as well as more recently the burning of a mosque near Bitola. And I want to be quite clear, as I was earlier this year when similar things took place, that we condemn all acts of destruction of cultural and religious sites. I think there should be a full government investigation of these incidents, and I believe the Macedonian Government has indicated that they are going to be looking into that.

It is also important that we take the opportunity again to stress that we urge the Macedonian political leaders to reach agreement on the Macedonian self-government -- local government, local self-government law, and pass that in the parliament as called for under their political agreement from some months ago, the August 13th framework agreement. That law remains a precondition, of course, for holding the donors' conference that is also specified in the framework agreement, and we really think it is in Macedonia's best interests to move ahead on that law, and then we can move ahead to the important donors' conference.

QUESTION: If I -- just a second -- do you consider or do you support the initiative, the group's initiative --

MR. REEKER: Which group?

QUESTION: The International Crisis Group.

MR. REEKER: The International Crisis Group is an important nongovernmental actor that monitors issues like this from their home base in Brussels. And we certainly would support efforts by all of those in that sector.

Our support is for the UN special negotiator, who has been appointed to work on that issue and continues to provide an opportunity to use the good offices of the United Nations to help resolve the issue.

QUESTION: The official name that you are using until the agreement will be reached is?

MR. REEKER: It remains the name by which we recognized the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

QUESTION: Can you repeat for the record --

MR. REEKER: I just did.

QUESTION: A Czech court made a decision about Uzbekistan opposition leader (inaudible). And he is free now. Do you have anything about that?

MR. REEKER: I don't. I hadn't seen the latest on that. I know it was an issue we were following. I think the Norwegians had an interest in it as well. But I don't have anything new on it from here.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on an aid shipment by some international groups that is being held up by contractors in Ukraine?

MR. REEKER: No.

QUESTION: Apparently the United States and the Ukraine are working --

MR. REEKER: I am happy to have somebody look into it for you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- the Fast Track bill?

MR. REEKER: Yes, we discussed that at great length last week.

QUESTION: Are you doing anything to push it through the Senate? It's stalled.

MR. REEKER: We certainly work very closely with the Senate committee on that. We think it is an important thing that should be addressed as quickly as possible and will benefit everybody involved.

QUESTION: How do you work with the committee?

MR. REEKER: We have a Legislative Affairs Bureau that works very closely with congressional committees and with the White House as the Administration moves forward on that process.

QUESTION: Do you think they can get it out this year at all?

MR. REEKER: I don't have anything further for you on that.

(The briefing concluded at 1:55 p.m.)

###


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