State Dept. Daily Press Briefing December 14
Daily Press Briefing Index December 14, 2001 1:00 P.M. EST
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
MIDDLE EAST 1-2,5-6,8,9 General Zinni and Assistant Secretary Burns in the Region / Meetings 2 Secretary Powell's Calls to Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Sharon 3-5 Rewards for Justice Website 6-8 Chairman Arafat's Leadership/Role 6 Prospects for Implementation of the Mitchell Plan
AFGHANISTAN 8-9 Human Rights in Afghanistan 9-10,11 Ambassador Dobbins' Travel and Meetings 10-11 Logistical Preparations for Diplomatic Presence
WAR AGAINST TERRORISM 11-13 Release and Distribution of Bin Laden Tape / International Reaction 12 Implications of the Capture or Killing of Bin Laden
ARMS CONTROL 14-15 China's Reaction to US Decision to Withdraw from the ABM Treaty
INDIA 15 Terrorist Attack on the Indian Parliament
BANGLADESH 15-16 US Reaction to the Election
DEPARTMENT 16-17 Update on Anthrax Testing and Results
MACEDONIA 17-18 Ambassador Holmes' Visit to Skopje / Meetings
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2001 (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
1:00 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements or announcements. I would be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Perhaps you can update us on General Zinni's plans and whether he intends to stay in the Middle East in general for a long time, indefinitely?
MR. BOUCHER: In general, for a long time? Let me take it from three points of view.
First of all, the mission continues. We remain engaged in the Middle East, we remain prepared to help the parties reach a cease-fire, and we remain very active in encouraging Chairman Arafat to take the steps that are necessary to stop the violence. We believe very strongly he must lead now. He has to use all necessary means and with absolutely no further delay to arrest those responsible for planning and carrying out terrorist attacks, to destroy the formal and informal structures that perpetuate terrorism, and we look to see the results. We think the violence must stop now.
As far as General Zinni's whereabouts today, he is in the region. He is with Assistant Secretary Burns in Amman. They are meeting with King Abdullah and other senior Jordanian officials there in Jordan. They will move on to Cairo for consultations with President Mubarak as well.
As far as his onward travel beyond that, I don't have anything for you at this moment. Considering whether he might come back for discussion with us here or I suppose some time at Christmastime, but that hasn't been decided. The issue for us to remain engaged and to keep working this as best we can.
QUESTION: Can you say when it was decided that he would go to Jordan and Egypt and why that was felt to be the next move, appropriate next move?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't tell you when. I think it was in the last few days. But the why, I think, is quite clear. And that is we have always felt it is important that Arabs and others who are interested in the peace process, Arabs, Europeans, the Russians and others, continue to deliver the message that now is the time for action and now is the time for results and that is the message that we believe everybody should be giving to Chairman Arafat. And so we do that through various kinds of consultations and this is one opportunity for Assistant Secretary Burns and General Zinni to join up together and to have some serious discussions with key players like Jordan and Egypt.
QUESTION: One more and I'll drop it. Was there some concern on your part that these two countries, which are the only two Arab countries to have formal -- to formally recognize Israel, that they weren't --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I would put it in the other direction. We have always welcomed the role that they have played. We think that their involvement has been important and useful and helpful in this process. We continue to think it is and therefore we think it is useful for us to consult with them and talk to them quite closely as we try to move this forward.
QUESTION: I guess what I am trying to get at, are you asking them to come out and tell Arafat that they too think he needs to do more --
MR. BOUCHER: We are encouraging them as we encourage all governments to make clear to Chairman Arafat that the burden is on him to lead, that it is time for him to take serious steps to stop the violence.
QUESTION: Richard, is Cairo and Amman the only two Arab world stops? Or might he go elsewhere?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, I think those are the only two stops that are planned. As you know, Assistant Secretary Burns has been a number of places in North Africa in the last week or so.
QUESTION: On the same thing, before we leave it, what is the last time the Secretary has talked to Chairman Arafat, and the same, I guess, for Prime Minister Sharon?
MR. BOUCHER: He talked to both of them on Wednesday. And let me double-check and make sure that he hasn't talked to them since then. But I think Wednesday was the last time he talked to Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat.
QUESTION: With respect to what has gone on in the Middle East the last week, there are other groups, such as Hizballah, and they are starting to cause trouble. Does the same criteria enter in with -- as what they did with Hamas, with what you expect may occur with Hizballah? In other words, write them off and start to pull back on financial type of --
MR. BOUCHER: We don't have any relationship with those groups. They are on the terrorist list.
QUESTION: Well, I know you don't, but are they --
MR. BOUCHER: And we expect Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to take a leadership role in stopping all the groups that are conducting terrorist attacks. It is not only named ones; they need to take effective steps to end the violence. That requires arrest, that requires closing down the formal groups, the informal networks, the facilities and infrastructure that support terrorism.
QUESTION: Could you talk more about the expansion of Rewards for Justice?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure. I would love to. We went through a careful interagency review, and we have decided to post on our Rewards for Justice website rewards for information that leads to the arrest or conviction of individuals responsible for certain acts of terrorism against US citizens in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, or rewards for the prevention of such acts.
Though any person who provides information leading to the arrest or conviction of an individual for an international act against US persons or property may be eligible for a reward, we had not previously made the decision to explicitly advertise on the website rewards for these specific acts of terrorism.
A decision on whether or not to undertake a more aggressive advertising campaign on the website for these cases has always been based on an assessment of the likely impact on efforts to bring the terrorists to justice, on US interests in the region, and on whether these steps can be helpful in solving the cases.
It is now our belief that these criteria can be best satisfied by advertising specific rewards for information regarding these incidents.
QUESTION: But didn't that go up, Richard? Yesterday or today?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it's actually up yet. We have taken the first step by contacting families, and next of kin, seeking their consent to use the names of the victims. Once we have that permission from the families, we will proceed to put it -- the information on the website.
QUESTION: To follow up on that. A particular question on it. Is this a change in US policy in that you are now acknowledging that terrorist strikes against Americans in Israel who by and large are settlers are terrorist attacks and therefore that has implications for the US being seen to be siding with the Israeli view of the settler question?
MR. BOUCHER: The short answer is, no. Would you like the long answer, too?
QUESTION: Yes, I would like the long answer.
MR. BOUCHER: The long answer is that we have, I think, made clear on a number of occasions in the last year during the violence that there were Americans killed in some of these acts of terror or some of the horrible bombings killed Americans, hurt Americans. I think -- I can't remember if it was the Sbarro or the Dolphinarium, but there were several Americans killed in some of those big bombings. So we are concerned about Americans that are killed in acts of terror. We don't think any questions about their status or their activities justifies the killing of innocent people. So, no, it is not a change in policy.
QUESTION: On this issue, just two quick ones. Could you explain how the US law enforcement side of this is going to work, considering that we are now asking Arafat to handle through the Palestinian Authority, been asking him to handle the arrest of any terrorist including, I'm assuming, these folks? And, second of all, does this in any way signal that we don't think that Arafat is willing or capable in any way of taking care of this problem himself? Because it says, any information leading to the arrest of these individuals. So I'm assuming the US is going to arrest these individuals when it's --
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't make that assumption. It depends where they are.
MR. BOUCHER: And it may not be the US who arrests them. If we get information that can lead somebody else to arrest them, we work with law enforcement agencies all over the world. So I think you are just making assumptions about this that just don't really pertain, frankly.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, my understanding of the issue before is one of the big sticking points as to why this wasn't done before was because it may undercut Arafat's authority to take care of these arrests in the manner in which he sees fit --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that's wrong, too.
QUESTION: That's wrong, too? I just want to make sure I understand the jurisdictional question.
MR. BOUCHER: It is not a jurisdictional question. There just isn't any jurisdictional question. The issue in these cases has always been if you call us up and tell us about something we had no idea, on some small island in the South Pacific somebody was going to try to bomb an American, with or without any advertising our part, we can pay you a reward if you give us information that helps us with local authorities or whoever prevent a terrorist act against an American or find somebody who carried out a terrorist act.
In all these cases all around the world of terrorist acts that may harm Americans or may threaten to harm Americans, we choose to advertise certain ones. We choose to advertise the ones where we think we can make progress in the investigation by advertising for information. We choose to advertise ones where we may even have some assistance in publicizing or making people more aware and therefore more careful about their security.
I said efforts to bring the terrorists to justice, US interests in the region, whether the steps can be helpful in solving the cases. So it is really a question of at what point in the investigations, at what point in the patterns of terrorism that we decide it's appropriate to go out and start being more specific. We're looking for terrorists anywhere that might try to harm Americans. And in particular, you might be more sensitive, you might be aware of this series of events, that series of events, and that series of events. And so we advertise certain ones at different times.
QUESTION: Is there not an implicit diplomatic message that is sent, vis-à-vis the careful balance you try to tread between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: One more crack at the apple and I'll drop it. You guys get a tip on the Rewards for Justice Program, there is a terrorist that is involved in the '96 bus bombing who is living in Nablus you want to go over here, it turns out to be right. What happens? Do you hand that over to Arafat and say, you've got to arrest this guy?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it depends, frankly, on the exact situation. I don't know how that works in a particular circumstance. But certainly there are a variety of ways to handle it.
QUESTION: Is one of those variety of ways the US going into Nablus and arresting the guy?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we have arresting authority in Nablus.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Zinni just for one second? There was the - - out of the region there was some indication that Zinni was going to go back to Jerusalem and then also for meetings with the Israelis and the Palestinians on Sunday. And what you just said, I think, unless I misheard you, was that his onward travel after Cairo hadn't been determined.
Does that mean that there may not be -- he may not go back --
MR. BOUCHER: It doesn't. It means he may, he may not. We just haven't decided at this point.
QUESTION: There is no decision one way or another, then?
MR. BOUCHER: The expectation is that his job to do is in the region, is in Jerusalem and meeting with the parties. So I think that is the operative assumption. But as far as specifically, we don't have a specific decision on what happens.
Where he goes after Cairo, that's a couple of days from now. We will keep you posted.
QUESTION: Did he take everything with him?
MR. BOUCHER: Did he check out? I don't know. I don't think so.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what it is that you think Arafat can do now to be the leader that you say you want him to be? And is he the leader still, as far as you are concerned?
MR. BOUCHER: As the Secretary said, as Mr. Armitage has said, and various others, he is the elected head of the Palestinian Authority. And that is why we expect him to exercise leadership. We expect him to take actions that demonstrate leadership of his community and of his administration.
And as I said before, we are looking to him, to do certain specific things: arrest those responsible for planning and carrying out terrorist attacks, destroy the formal and the informal infrastructures that perpetuate terrorism. We are looking for results. We are looking for an end to the violence.
QUESTION: And you obviously think that General Zinni can get the Egyptians to say something to him that you haven't said already? Otherwise he wouldn't be there.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I would say it is something they haven't said already, because I think they and others have made quite clear that they are also looking for the Palestinians to take steps to stop the violence, because they agree that that is an essential part of moving forward towards implementation of the Mitchell Plan and the peace process.
QUESTION: Richard, is it possible to move forward toward the implementation of the Mitchell Plan if the Israelis will not have any dealings with Arafat? Are they going to have to change that in order to get anywhere?
MR. BOUCHER: I think first and foremost the emphasis is on stopping the violence. And that is what we want to see. At this point, we look for action by Chairman Arafat. That is where we are right now. To go farther down that road in answering some of these questions, I don't think it's possible right now.
QUESTION: This meeting that happened yesterday with retired General Zinni and Ariel Sharon, and with Ambassador Kurtzer, in that meeting, did they ask Sharon to have some ties left with Arafat?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to get into the specifics of any of these particular meetings. We never have, and I don't intend to start now. We know the attitude that the Sharon Government has taken, that Prime Minister Sharon has taken.
As I said, the emphasis right now is on seeing that Chairman Arafat take a strategic stand against terrorism. That is what we are looking for. We are looking for an end to coexistence with organizations like Hamas or Islamic Jihad. We are looking for an end to acquiescence in their activities. And that will continue to be what we try to do.
We will continue to work with the Israeli and the Palestinian leadership ourselves, and obviously we will look for opportunities to put in place a cease-fire and get on with the implementation of the Mitchell Report.
But at this point, the emphasis is on seeing the Palestinian Authority take the steps they have to take.
QUESTION: Have you gotten some indication or some expression from Sharon or any other Israelis that they would be prepared to "re- relevantize" Arafat if some of these steps are taken?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that is a question for them to answer, and they would probably tell you it is hypothetical at this point.
QUESTION: Right, but are you hopeful that that is what will happen?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to be hopeful, hypothetical or anything else. I am going to say, the issue right now is for Arafat, for Chairman Arafat to lead, to take these steps, to show that he has made the strategic decision, and we will keep working with the parties as he starts to do that, if he does, to try to move forward from there.
QUESTION: Richard, you can perhaps see it from Arafat's standpoint if he has just been told by the other party in this that he is not relevant. What incentive is there for him to take those steps because he has just been told that they don't want to deal with him?
MR. BOUCHER: He has acknowledged this, as we have said, that these are attacks on him and his authority as much as anything else. That if he is going to be head of the Palestinian Authority, he needs to exercise authority for the Palestinian community, and he needs to end the violence that undermines his administration as much as it undermines any chance of moving forward for peace.
So we think these steps are in his interest, that he should be taking them anyway. And I guess that is one of the reasons why we are looking for him to do this in addition to enabling us to get back towards the implementation of these steps towards peace.
QUESTION: Part of the US diplomatic effort then, to state it more broadly, is to try and persuade the Israelis not to break off from talks with Arafat and his group and to stop him being the man with whom they talk peace in the future?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say at this stage, the US effort is directed at looking to Chairman Arafat to take the steps. We are in touch with both sides, we will remain in touch with both sides. We obviously want to make sure that both of them are prepared to move forward towards a cease-fire, that both of them are prepared to move forward into implementation of the Mitchell report, return to negotiations. As the Secretary said the other day, that is what Prime Minister Sharon has said he wants, that is what Chairman Arafat has said he wants. And we remain engaged, we remain ready to help them go down that path, but quite clearly the first steps are for the Palestinian side to take effective steps to stop the violence.
QUESTION: What is the US understanding of what the Israelis mean when they say that Arafat is not relevant?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't explain. I am not a spokesman for the Israeli Government. I am not going to be third hand. You are asking me for sort of third-hand interpretations of something. I think you are better off asking them directly some of these questions.
QUESTION: But part of it is what you might -- I mean, how far is that from completely shelving any prospect of future talks to --
MR. BOUCHER: You can go ahead and ask them directly. I am not going to try to interpret what we might have heard that they might have said.
QUESTION: Can you at least tell, have the Israelis explained to you? Yes or no, do you understand -- without saying what your understanding is, but do you understand what the Israelis have done with Arafat?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to get a little bit pregnant on that question. Let me just say -- (laughter). If I say, "yes," then the next question is, well, what do you understand. The point is, we have discussed these things with the Israeli Government. We obviously discussed the current situation with the Israeli Government. I am not going to claim a perfect understanding. Ask them to explain if you had these questions about what their policy means.
QUESTION: The decision to send Zinni to Cairo and Amman, was that made after the meeting yesterday with Sharon, or did you already go over this?
MR. BOUCHER: We already went over this, and I couldn't tell you for sure.
QUESTION: With regard to Afghanistan, human rights --
MR. BOUCHER: You want to go on to Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Do I need to -- just a quick question. Human rights groups --
MR. BOUCHER: No question is quick.
QUESTION: Okay. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have urged the United States and other nations involved in the negotiations to rebuild a new temporary or interim government for Afghanistan to make human rights issues an important part of the rebuilding of the nation, with of course the consultation of the Afghanistan population.
Has Secretary Powell or the Bush Administration considered those issues, and would they plan to make that a part of the US efforts to assist in this endeavor?
MR. BOUCHER: Human rights has been very much a part of this endeavor. After the horrible excesses of the Taliban and some of the others who have been in Afghanistan, I think Afghans themselves understand this to be a critical issue. The Bonn Agreement that the Afghan parties reached commits the interim administration to establish an independent human rights commission. That commission's duties will include monitoring, investigating violations and developing institutions to protect human rights. And this remains an important goal of the United States.
So as we work with a new administration, we will be looking to them to implement these provisions that they have agreed to, and to protect human rights.
QUESTION: Quite quickly. First, is Assistant Secretary Burns coming back here after Cairo? And secondly, do you have anything on that meeting today on the US-Israeli security cooperation?
MR. BOUCHER: I will have to double check on Burns' itinerary to see if he comes straight back from Cairo, or if he has any other stops. And the meeting today with the Israelis, let me get you something on that.
Deputy Secretary Armitage is meeting today with Israeli Minister without portfolio Daniel Meridor, and with other senior Israeli officials. They are discussing our strategic and our defense relationship with Israel. This meeting takes place in the context of our longstanding and close security relationship with Israel. It reflects the Administration's desire to consult closely with the Government of Israel on issues of mutual concern in the defense and security area. We hold these meetings from time to time. The last one was on August 27th.
QUESTION: Back to Afghanistan. Ambassador Dobbins is apparently in London, meeting with different allies and groups interested in helping to form the interim security force. Can you tell us how those talks are going? If we have gotten any results yet?
MR. BOUCHER: I think you just stole everything I had to tell you on it. Ambassador Dobbins is in London today for meetings with British officials. (Laughter.) He will be traveling to the region tomorrow. And no, I don't have an update yet of his discussions.
MR. BOUCHER: To the region. To the South Asian, Central Asian kind of region. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Is he carrying a brand-new flag?
MR. BOUCHER: No, no. We're going to use the old one. No, the old flag from our Embassy in Kabul.
The State Department team is still inside Afghanistan at our embassy. We are continuing the logistical preparations to reestablish our diplomatic presence soon. We expect to be able to do that in the next few days. And, as we've told you, Ambassador Dobbins will head in for that purpose, probably over the weekend.
QUESTION: I don't want to get bogged down on what some might think is trivial --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, it was important to us.
QUESTION: Is he going to be carrying the old flag in with him?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if he is actually carrying it or not, frankly.
QUESTION: When you say "diplomatic presence," do you mean physically the building? Or do you have any update for us on how recognition of the new government is going to go?
MR. BOUCHER: Initially, we are going to be there as a liaison office with the interim government. So, no, I don't have any more formal discussion of it than that. At this point, diplomatic presence means people. And people like me -- well, people who are assigned over there and willing to take the job, as opposed to people like me. (Laughter.)
But, no, to have diplomats out there who can work with the interim government, who can support them and who can help in this process which we are getting established and creating a broad-based government for Afghanistan so it can be a stable country and society.
QUESTION: Back to Terri's original part of the question, the meeting in London, can you tell us who else is taking part? Is the UN taking part? Are the US military parties taking part?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't at this point. I think it is a British meeting and they will have to talk about that.
QUESTION: Just to go back to Ambassador Dobbins' plans, are you saying that he is going to be now moving to Kabul over the weekend to take residence and officially open the liaison office?
MR. BOUCHER: That is the intention -- to establish our diplomatic presence, is the way --
QUESTION: Will he be staying there for how long?
MR. BOUCHER: As long as General Zinni is in the Middle East. (Laughter.)
No, he will be establishing our diplomatic presence there, running our diplomatic presence there and maintaining ties with the interim government.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) diplomatic presence there (inaudible) one of the largest AID missions in the world. And my guess is that the liaison office status will be relatively brief and move to full embassy quickly, right?
MR. BOUCHER: As soon as I can work out the process of accreditation, I will get you information on that. But, yes, I have to find out some stuff from the lawyers on how that process works from here on in. But certainly, we intend to have a presence. We don't necessarily need to run the entire aid program from Afghanistan. We've run it for many years from outside of Afghanistan and I'm sure people inside the country will have a role to play. So we will decide on staffing levels and functions and things like that.
But I think it is important for the United States to be there, for us to be able to work with the interim government as they get themselves established, as they make their presence felt throughout the country, and as they take charge of the affairs of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Richard, can you say if the tape, the bin Laden tape that was released yesterday, whether that has been sent out to embassies in the region and how the US -- what sort of feedback you've gotten from - -
MR. BOUCHER: I think the tape that was released yesterday either has been or is being -- I'm not quite sure of the transmission times -- sent out to our embassies. We are also providing today to the Arabic media an Arabic language version with Arabic transcript of the tape so that people can watch it, people who speak Arabic can watch it in the original language with the subtitles and the sound in Arabic. So that's being provided to the Arabic media. That too will go out through our embassy satellite system to embassies around the world to make available to broadcasters and others who might want to see it.
As far as reaction goes, I think we have seen quite a bit of reaction around the world. I have seen a very strong statement from Saudi Arabia talking about the tape displays the cruel and inhuman face of a murderous criminal. It rejects and condemns the attitudes and actions that are represented there, hoping the perpetrators of this horrific crime be brought to justice. A lot of different reactions, a strong statement from Turkey. For a Muslim to accuse another of being an infidel is the greatest of crimes against our religion and the greatest of sins, one of the clerics said, a lot of reaction in Turkey I think is quite strong. Not the words of a normal person.
The United Arab Emirates has talked about the tape leaving no room for doubt about Usama bin Laden's role. So I have seen, just combing through the wires this morning, quite a bit of reaction. We realize there is some reporting out there about people who don't want to believe what they're seeing, but I guess we would say, just let them watch it.
QUESTION: Why did you feel it was necessary to put those subtitles on there, since it's in Arabic?
MR. BOUCHER: The sound is pretty bad. And I think it is easier for people to follow it if it's there. I think there has been praise for the quality of the transcription and the translation. Certainly of the English translation, I have seen a number of Arab scholars or scholars of the language talk about how good the translation was. So I think there is not much question of that. It is just easier to follow with the Arabic on the bottom.
QUESTION: Richard, just for clarification, the reaction you read us, like the UAE's, that leaves no room for doubt, you are getting off wire reports, or are you getting that official, through official channels transmitted by embassies?
MR. BOUCHER: Some of it we have gotten through official channels. Some of it we have gotten off wire reports. I think anybody that did a scan would probably find the same sorts of things.
QUESTION: What about the -- have you heard any governments or government-run newspapers or media saying they still don't believe it?
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I saw in my search this morning. But I don't claim to have checked everything everywhere.
QUESTION: Richard, following up on the questions about the bin Laden tape, are there discussions going on with American allies in the Muslim and Arab worlds on the likely implications of the capture or killing of bin Laden? Which could be approaching rather fast.
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, I don't think we are predicting it. I think if you look at what the President has said, what Secretary Rumsfeld has said, what Secretary Powell has said, they are all being very careful about predicting when this might happen. Certainly the Taliban is no longer in control of Afghanistan, but the actual capture of individuals is something that is very hard to predict.
That then, I think, leads to a situation where I am not aware of any particular instructed sort of formal discussion with other governments, although I am sure it is a topic of discussion with a variety of governments, since it is a topic in the air.
QUESTION: Richard, what is the reaction now, after the state reaction from Pakistan? Because before, Pakistan was asking the proof from the United States until they support the US coalition in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. And what -- until they got a billion dollar (inaudible), they never ask any proof, so where do they stand now?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, if you want a reaction from Pakistan, you best go and ask the Pakistani Government about it.
QUESTION: Generally, you are -- with Afghanistan, you are trying to stabilize a new government. And we often talk in such terms as "sticks and carrots." Also, it could pertain as well to the Middle East.
Are you looking to implement something like your Rewards for Justice, with a twist? To have, let's say, town hall meetings, community and NGO-style meetings? And even something, which we had a Seeds for Peace group here some months ago, whereby instead of a government-to- government level, it would be more within a community-type level, to simmer down some of the concerns --
MR. BOUCHER: You are talking about in Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Afghanistan and the Middle East.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure if that is a question or a suggestion. But either way, thank you.
QUESTION: Well, it's a little bit of both.
QUESTION: I think we all understand that the area of exchanges is an important part of long-term work that we do around the world, and our funding of exchanges, our ability to take Americans out to teach or bring foreigners here to school, or on trips, visits. Just sort of generating a better basis for understanding has been a very important part of what we have done.
As we look at the situation in the region, in South Asia or Central Asia or in the Arab world, and specifically the situation in Afghanistan, I think we do look to reinvigorate the exchange programs to have more sort of visits and discussion back and forth, have more ability for people to understand the United States and what we are all about. And that that remains an important factor in our long-term goals in those regions.
QUESTION: Richard, realizing that you like to give reactions when the reactions are pretty good -- the reactions of other governments -- but refuse to give reactions when they are bad, what has been the reaction particularly from China --
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say that. (Laughter)
QUESTION: Well, you know, you were very happy to tell us what the UAE says about the bin Laden tape, but what Israel says about explaining its relationship with Arafat now, no, no, no, that's off limits.
Anyway, the question is, in the first day of the nearly post-ABM era, what do you make of the reaction that you've gotten from other countries on that and particularly China? We heard what you had to say about Russia yesterday, or what the Secretary had to say.
MR. BOUCHER: Let me try to characterize it in this way. First, we have looked at the reactions around the world to the decision the president made about the ABM treaty. We certainly think in some places there is more understanding than others, we might say. We have been in touch with the Chinese. As you know, the Secretary talked to the Chinese ambassador, the Chinese Foreign Minister. The President talked to the Chinese President. So we tried to make sure that China was informed. And we have made sure all along that China will be consulted. You remember the Secretary in his conversations with the Chinese Foreign Minister discussed the situation on missile defense a number of times, including the fairly lengthy lunch in August when we were out there with the Chinese Foreign Minister.
We have made quite clear that missile defense is not against China's strategic deterrent; it is a system that would go after irresponsible rogue states that might threaten the United States. We have consulted regularly with China and will continue to do so. We will be discussing this with China in the coming week. We've got US officials going out to Beijing to do that, to follow up on the President's announcement. And, as we've indicated, that's part of our overall effort.
We don't believe our deployment of a limited national missile defense should lead Beijing to expand its buildup of strategic nuclear forces. So I have seen some commentary for the Chinese. I think they describe their reaction as similar to the Russian one. And as you know, we have felt that the Russian one was -- while we understand, we know that they disagree, they did indicate that they wanted to continue working on strategic issues, continue working on strategic framework. And I would say for the Chinese part, we look to them to continue discussions with us on strategic issues as well.
QUESTION: You said that you didn't think Beijing should regard this as a reason to build up its own missile stock. But in the past, people, US officials, I think even on the record occasionally, have said that - -
MR. BOUCHER: To expand its buildup. They are engaged in a substantial effort to modernize their strategic nuclear forces. We don't think that our limited missile defense would in any way negate that force or threaten that force. And therefore, we don't see any reason for them to expand that buildup beyond what might be already planned.
QUESTION: Could you say who was going to China and when to explain that to the Chinese?
MR. BOUCHER: I will double check and try to get that for you next week, try to get exact dates for you. Next week I will try to get exact dates for you.
QUESTION: Well, next week or this week?
MR. BOUCHER: Next week. In the coming week. Yes.
QUESTION: Do you expect that this will be one series of meetings, or the beginning of a prolonged and formal negotiation with the Chinese over missiles?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, it can't be the beginning, because it has been something that we have been doing all along. It is not a formal negotiation with the Chinese on missiles. It's not the same, say, as the kind of discussions we will have with the Russians about offensive cuts and bringing forward provisions of arms control.
Our discussions with the Chinese have been ongoing consultations and discussions about strategic issues, about our missile defense plans, seeking to gain their understanding, seeking to make sure that they knew what we were thinking, where we were going, and to hear back their views from them. So that is a process that has been ongoing that we will continue.
QUESTION: Richard, mostly people, when they die, usually they remember God or they repent for their mistakes. But the man who died in front of the parliament, he was praising Pakistan in a salute to Pakistan. Now, my question is that even Mr. Walker, who is still in US custody, he admitted that he fought in Kashmir, and he was trained in Pakistan. Like him, many others went from Pakistan into Kashmir. So do you have any reaction to what is going on and what the US is doing for the future? That such events don't (inaudible) violence in India, and if the US is warning Pakistan? Like Indians living in Pakistan, and behind all these violence and attacks on India.
MR. BOUCHER: I think let me start with the end of your question, and try to see if I can find something to respond to there.
The Indian Government, as we understand, is still investigating the situation. So first and foremost, we think that they will try to figure out, to find out who was responsible for these horrible acts, and take appropriate action on that. That is what we look to them to do. I think it would be premature for us to start reacting in any other way until they have done that.
We have offered them assistance. At this point they haven't taken us up on it. Frankly, they have a lot of forensic and law enforcement capability. They may not need it. But we will be in continuing contact with the Indian Government on this as they proceed to try to find out who did it.
QUESTION: On Bangladesh? Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is in town here in Washington. Yesterday she was speaking at NDA and she said that the election was rigged. And the government of new Prime Minister, which is formed with the fundamentalists, is a threat to democracy in Bangladesh, and also a threat to peace. And she also said that there is encouragement from the present government, anti-minority, violence and also and including on Hindus.
So do you agree with her comments? Or what the US reaction is?
MR. BOUCHER: We have expressed our reaction to the election. We have expressed our support for what we saw as a free and fair election. We don't have any change in that at this point.
QUESTION: Richard, can you bring us up to date on anthrax in the State Department, and whether or not there has been talk about the situation in Austria, and whether or not there are any other things out there we haven't heard about yet?
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing new that we know of, other than the situation in Austria. And there, I think we have said Austrian officials have told us that they found trace anthrax spores in a mailbag that arrived at our mission in Vienna in late October. It was sent out for testing. Long before these results came back, the embassy had decontaminated the mail room, and the employees involved in mail room activities have been taking antibiotics.
So we have taken appropriate precautions. We have, I think, sealed up and sent back to the States the bags in question so that they can be completely tested. There is no danger in terms of our mission personnel or our people in Austria.
QUESTION: Number of bags in question?
MR. BOUCHER: They tested 10 bags. There were 10 pouches, and all those have been sealed and returned. Only one of the pouches tested in any way positive. They found traces of anthrax. The traces were small. They required several tests in order to ascertain the presence.
So that is what we know at this point from the Austrians.
QUESTION: So would that go through the Sterling facility, do we know? Or not?
MR. BOUCHER: All our pouch bags have some connection with the Sterling facility. That is where all our pouch mail is handled.
QUESTION: I was just trying to get the time. Was Sterling closed by the time these bags went out, or is this still --
MR. BOUCHER: No, they got to Austria in late October, or in October. So they would have passed through Sterling, presumably -- well, I won't make presumptions -- but they would have passed through Sterling, and they would have gotten there before Sterling was closed, or before the whole pouch system was closed down.
QUESTION: How much of the mail has now tested? Can you -- do you have any guess whether they are almost finished?
MR. BOUCHER: I will have to go back and see. How much of that frozen mail is tested, I will have to check on that.
QUESTION: Richard, maybe I missed this, but have you guys finally determined that it was in fact the letter to Senator Leahy that was the culprit?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't believe there is a final determination, even a preliminary one of that kind. That was an assumption that was being made as one of the possibilities. But until we have tested mail, until the FBI comes back to us on some of these other things, I don't think we will know.
QUESTION: On another subject? According to the Macedonian media, the Macedonian Prime Minister today met with US Special Envoy for the Balkans, Ambassador James Holmes. And would you be able to confirm this? And also, was Ambassador Holmes, a former US Ambassador to Latvia, officially appointed by the President? And because there are also reports that this is just his orientation visit to Macedonia.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, yes, no, yes. (Laughter.) Ambassador Holmes, the State Department official who works with the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. He is working with the issues of Southeastern Europe. He is conducting an orientation trip to the region, from Skopje. He is in Skopje now. He will travel to Brussels with consultations with NATO and European Union officials.
As you know, Ambassador Einik remains our chief of mission in Skopje, although he has announced his retirement at the end of the month. So as far as any formal appointments of anybody by the White House, I would leave that to the White House.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. The Macedonian President has pardoned an additional 11 people bringing to 44 the number of the ethnic Albanian insurgents released. And also, yesterday, ethnically mixed police units reentered several villages previously controlled by the members of the National Liberation Army. Those two issues are part of the peace agreement signed in August.
And just, how do you see this problem ?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, those two issues are part of the peace agreement. We certainly welcome any of these steps forward. We are watching the situation carefully.
The reentry process, indeed, is moving forward in areas near Skopje -- Gostivar, Kumanovo, and Tetevo. Several towns near Tetevo remain inaccessible due to heavy snowfall, and reentry into some of those villages in that area has been postponed in order to work through some concerns of the local population. But certainly we welcome any of these advances that are being made in carrying out these agreements.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:45 p.m. EST.)
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