State Dept. Daily Press Briefing February 20, 2002
Daily Press Briefing Index Wednesday, February 20, 2002 1:02 p.m. EST
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman ANNOUNCEMENT 1-8,19 Statement: U.S. Policy on American Hostages 8 Statement: U.S. Contribution to UN High Commissioner for Refugees
GEORGIA / RUSSIA 8-9 Foreign Fighters in Pankisi Gorge / Russian Role RUSSIA 9-10 Possible Nuclear and Missile Sales to Iran
ITALY 10-11 Possible Threats to American Embassy / Arrests ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS 11-14 U.S. Approach to Peace / Recent Violence 11-12 Amb. Haass Trip
IRAN 14-15 Internal Political Situation
CHINA 15-16 President Bush's Trip / Falun Gong / Human Rights
COLOMBIA 16-17 FARC Kidnapping
YUGOSLAVIA/MACEDONIA 17 Border Agreement
ARGENTINA 17-19 Visa Waiver Program
AFGHANISTAN 18,20 Death of Tourism Minister
ZIMBABWE 20 Possible U.S. Sanctions
IRAQ 20-21 Letter to UN re Iraqi National Congress
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2002 (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
1:02 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. What a crowd. A couple of things off the top, if I can.
First of all, I'm afraid that because of the press of other business, I won't be able to do this tomorrow. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Nor Friday?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll take a poll on Friday. But no, I was planning to be back on Friday, but I can't do it tomorrow because of some other things that are going on and the lack of a Deputy.
QUESTION: Like what?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to tell you. Internal matters.
All right, on the news front, we'll be putting out a statement shortly on international terrorism and hostage taking, a statement of policy on the US Government's position vis-à-vis American hostages that are overseas, and the fact that we'll use every appropriate resource to gain their safe return, but we will not make concessions to groups that hold individuals or groups of Americans, whether officials or private citizens. It is US Government policy to deny hostage takers the benefits of ransom, prisoner releases, policy changes or other acts of concession. That policy has been under review for some months. The review has been completed. You all will recognize very minor adjustments in some of the wording of how we state the policy, but we felt it was useful after the end of that review and some discussion, articles and questions to put out a clear statement of our policy on American hostages.
As you know, there are a number of Americans being held in various parts of the world. We have the Burnhams in the Philippines, we have Mr. Pearl in Pakistan. There are others who are involved in criminal hostage taking or ransom hostage taking, and we think it's important for the United States Government to have a clear statement of policy out on that.
QUESTION: Richard, was this to dissuade groups seeking the release of hostages from paying ransom?
MR. BOUCHER: It's an attempt to dissuade people who might consider taking hostages from doing so in some vain hope that they might gain a benefit thereby, an attempt to make absolutely clear to anyone that's considering kidnapping an American, whether for political or private motives, from kidnapping or grabbing an American because we don't want there to be any benefit to be derived from doing that. So the overall policy is an attempt to discourage people from kidnapping Americans.
QUESTION: How is it different from before? Presumably you didn't want that before, either.
MR. BOUCHER: No, it's the same goal. It's a restatement of pretty much the same policy, as I said, with some minor wording adjustments. You'll see there are some additional details in it that you will see in the longer statement.
QUESTION: Was the policy debate sparked in any way, or intensified in any way, by the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't say the debate was intensified. It was a process of working out a policy. Certainly Mr. Pearl's fate remains of great concern to us; he's very much on our minds. We continue to look for his safe and rapid return; we continue to cooperate very closely with the Pakistani authorities, who themselves are making every possible effort. So it reminds us all of the importance of this issue, and the need for there to be clear statements of policy on it.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, if I could follow up, could you just explain when the US government began re-discussing, at least, the policy with regards to hostage taking and kidnapping?
MR. BOUCHER: Frankly, I asked that question of some of the experts this morning. They couldn't quite remember. It's been going on for months, the review of the policy on hostage taking, to make sure we had a clear statement that we could make on it.
QUESTION: Richard, since we're unlikely to get copies of the old policy as well, it would be really useful for us if you could spell out those additional details which do make it different.
MR. BOUCHER: I would assume that you can find a copy of the old policy in your archives.
QUESTION: You may not be able to answer this if you can't answer when it was begun, but why was it begun? Was there something wrong with it?
MR. BOUCHER: It was begun, either at the beginning of this administration or even at the end of the last one, in order to make sure that we had a full and complete statement. I think the difference between what we had before is that this goes into some additional detail, in terms of being able to provide the information on the various options and steps that the United States government will take. And that's really that the effort is to emphasize in this policy -- not just that we won't make concessions, we won't make deals, we won't provide the benefits of any deals to hostage takers -- but to emphasize that the United States government will look at every hostage situation, will look at every kidnapping of an American carefully, and that we will try to react with every appropriate resource to get the American back.
QUESTION: Well, wasn't that the old policy?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it was stated as clearly in the old policy. I think that's the way I would describe any changes.
QUESTION: There was no one running around suggesting that the US Government might start paying ransom, sort of giving in to demands of hostage takers, was there?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think there was. And quite clearly, as I said, the old policy stated quite clearly no concessions, no deals, as we are saying now. What may be a little bit different now is to say that we will look at every kidnapping and every hostage taking to consider what the US Government can do to gain the safe return of the individual, whether it's an official American or a private American.
QUESTION: I'll stop after this one, but weren't you doing that anyway before?
MR. BOUCHER: I would not say that we examined every case to the extent to which it would be examined now.
QUESTION: Which cases would be different? Civilians, non-officials who are kidnapped?
MR. BOUCHER: Every official case certainly invoked immediately the resources of the US Government, the FBI, the agencies, CIA, et cetera, et cetera. Some of the non-official cases, some of the private citizens' cases might not have gotten the same attention in the past as they will get now.
QUESTION: Is this review now going to be with a view toward possibly involving other agencies of the government to an extent that they weren't before, such as DOD? There have been reports that the US would now consider whether some form of military action would be necessitated by these cases. Is that a difference we would see now?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that that's a major difference in that we would always, where the US Government looked at a situation, we would indeed look at all the possible ways of dealing with it. And I don't want to imply in any way that military action is in any way a first or a preferred way. But I think the commitment that is made here in terms of the United States Government looking at every case, looking at what we can do, and looking at what appropriate means we have to deal with it can involve, yes, any means that we have available.
QUESTION: It sounds like a combination of principle and experience. Is this entirely a product of State Department minds? Or --
MR. BOUCHER: No, this was an interagency review that was done, that was done between all the different agencies.
QUESTION: Between all the what?
MR. BOUCHER: All the different agencies that get involved in this.
QUESTION: Like the CIA, for instance?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure I know a comprehensive list. Obviously Department of Justice, the FBI, the CIA, the Pentagon, the White House, certainly, the NSC people were all involved, whether there were -- probably Treasury people, beyond that, others.
QUESTION: Could you -- the statement doesn't get into it, but maybe it will -- can you get into a little bit, apart from principle, which I hope and suspect drives this statement, that experience also shows that it doesn't work to negotiate with terrorists?
MR. BOUCHER: That has always been our view, that paying ransom, allowing the terrorist to acquire benefits from hostage taking only encourages further hostage taking, and therefore it's important to make sure that the terrorists, that the hostage takers, whether they're doing it for criminal reasons, financial reasons, or political statements, that they don't receive any particular benefit from this; otherwise it encourages further hostage taking.
QUESTION: I have two questions on this. The first is one, there was - - if I recall correctly, there was a nuance in The New York Times story about this the other day, which suggested that whereas you continue not to agree to pay ransoms or to encourage payment of ransoms, that there was a nuance in this new policy which says that if a private party or company chooses to pay ransom, that now the US Government will not withhold its cooperation from them in the payment of that ransom. Can you address that issue at all?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can address it in quite that detail. Certainly we cooperate, we work with private entities, with groups, with companies involved. But we strongly urge American companies and private citizens not to accede to hostage taker demands. And so, this is, I think, a very strong view based on experience as well as principle.
QUESTION: Okay. And the second question is, if there is now this series of tests that you're going to apply in these cases, can you explain in the case of the hostages that have been held in the Philippines for so long, how has their case failed these tests such that there doesn't appear to be any US intervention in their case?
MR. BOUCHER: I think if you look for US intervention in terms of direct US military or law enforcement intervention, that may not be the appropriate response to any particular situation, particularly when you do have local capabilities among law enforcement agencies, Philippine military, Philippine law enforcement officials.
At the same time, if there are things that we can do to support them, if there are things we can do with -- you know, maybe training, maybe resources, maybe advice, maybe contact, coordination -- we do that in all cases. We have people out in Pakistan that are working with the Pakistani authorities in the matter of Mr. Pearl, even though it is a Pakistani investigation that we all give considerable credit to for its quality and the diligence that's involved.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about other governments often do negotiate, the US doesn't, or -- well, there have been some --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I have anything particular about other governments. But as you will see from the statement and from our conversation here, this is a policy that we put out because we think it's firmly based on principle. Second of all, it's based on the experience that we've had. And whoever it is, whether it's companies or individuals or governments, we believe that allowing hostage takers to benefit from kidnapping, from hostage taking, only encourages further hostage taking.
QUESTION: Why has the administration decided to give the same level of scrutiny to non-official kidnapping cases as it has to official kidnapping cases?
MR. BOUCHER: Because these cases matter to us as Americans, as individuals, as we've seen with some of the present ones. Second of all, they impact our foreign policy and our relationships. And third of all, I would say that they affect the -- how can I say? -- they encourage the groups themselves to go on, from one crime to another to another, if they keep getting away with it.
QUESTION: And this wasn't an assessment that had been made earlier with the previous policy?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it was an assessment that was made generally. I think it's stated more clearly here.
QUESTION: Richard, why was this done now? What prompted it? Was there a case in particular, or a --
MR. BOUCHER: No, it's really the coming to fruition of months of work in the interagency policy community to look carefully at this policy and see what we could do, as well as the fact that there is a great deal of speculation, because there are Americans being held, as well as the fact that there are stories in newspapers and elsewhere, and that we wanted to put out our own version of the policy.
QUESTION: Just one thing on this. Why should the Indians not look at this as a jab at them? They were, after all, the country that released several people in response to the hijacking two years ago, and those people now may be involved in the current case, one of the current cases.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- again, it's not directed at any particular nation, it's not directed at any particular individuals. It's directed at the people who may consider taking hostages to make clear that they cannot accrue any benefits by doing that.
QUESTION: Okay, so countries like India or Libya, which has had a lot of dealings in terms of ransom, and the Philippines, shouldn't look at this as some kind of a jab from the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: It's not about them.
QUESTION: Richard, surely the people who investigated this reviewed instances in which ransom was indeed paid to hostage takers in exchange for the release of the hostages. It would be nice to have some examples of ransom being paid, and the hostage takers being encouraged to do more of the same. Is there any evidence of this? And I ask this question with low expectations, would it be possible to get a list of instances in which this happened?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that one could in fact in reality say that because X amount of ransom was paid for the release of Mr. X that therefore Mr. Y was taken. But certainly, if you look at the situations that have occurred earlier in Lebanon, the situation in the Philippines with repeated hostage taking, and frankly the situations in other parts of the world where there are criminal gangs that take hostages, I think it's widely perceived, at least clearly perceived on our part, that allowing the hostage takers to benefit from hostage taking only encourages further activity.
QUESTION: You said that this is an attempt to discourage people from doing this, or groups from doing this. How are you going to get the word to these people or groups? How are you going to advertise this policy?
MR. BOUCHER: If you're asking, is there sort of a Rewards for Justice type campaign, I don't think we're involved in that way. The fact that we have a clear policy that's stated, that can be repeated, that can be conveyed to local media by embassies overseas and in other ways gets the word out that this is US Government policy and that anybody that is interested in the subject of taking hostages we would hope would become aware of it.
QUESTION: Richard, (inaudible) cases that the US Government has formally designated as hostages and not just detainees? Because, for example, with Heather Mercer and these people in Afghanistan, you never called them hostages, you called them detainees, yet their situation didn't seem to differ much from some hostage taking. So would it also apply to detainees?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, it would apply to anybody who is trying to detain an American or hold an American for some political gain. In the case of Dana Curry and Heather Mercer, it was not really clear sometimes why the Taliban was holding them. But in any case where somebody holds an American, they should know they're not going to get a political or a financial advantage because of it.
QUESTION: But what are the (inaudible) -- Dana and Heather, even though we didn't know exactly what they were demanding?
MR. BOUCHER: We never, nor would we have considered, would we consider, giving the Taliban or anybody else any benefit from holding American citizens hostage.
QUESTION: So that would have been reviewed on the same case-by-case basis as the Burnham case in the Philippines?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as you know, we worked pretty intensely on that matter to try to secure their release, and we're very happy they got out.
QUESTION: Richard, you must mean that non-state actors who are detaining Americans, yeah? Or at least governments that you don't recognize? Are you talking about if, you know, some Falun Gong person, an American, is detained in China on charges that you think are spurious, that you're going to be contemplating all options, including military options, to get them out?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I didn't say that.
QUESTION: Well, I think you just said, "all Americans detained" --
MR. BOUCHER: No, Matt, I did not say that in any way, shape, or form, and I am not going to entertain the proposition at this point. I did not say that.
QUESTION: All right. Well, when is it that --
MR. BOUCHER: "All appropriate means" doesn't mean we send in the troops. And you have to understand that. And at the State Department, I hope you would.
QUESTION: Yes. I do. But what I'm trying to figure out is, you are distinguishing between governments that you recognize arresting or detaining people --
MR. BOUCHER: What I'm saying, Matt, very simply, is if somebody holds an American -- either a group, a criminal gang, a government that we don't recognize, or for that matter even a government -- that they're not going to get any benefit out of it, and that we're going to look to do everything we can to get them out. And if we find that we can do something to help get them out -- it may be demarches, it may be pounding on a Foreign Ministry door, it may be working with law enforcement authorities -- but we're going to look and see what we can do to get Americans who are being held out of detention.
It's a fairly simple proposition. You're not going to get any benefit by grabbing Americans, and we're going to do everything we can to try to get you out, whoever you are.
QUESTION: Just, maybe you could explain how a policy -- given, when there is a kidnapping or a hostage taking, it's usually a crisis, and I would imagine that US officials have a number of options. How does this policy inform that decision-making process? Will people be consulting a piece of paper saying, we can't do this because it's not in the policy? Or are they going to be looking at all kinds of things?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, it's not necessarily a crisis. One of the unfortunate phenomenon in the world these days is that people do get picked up, held for ransom by criminal gangs or political groups who are trying to make money out of it. And we want to be clear that whether it's a crisis or not, that Americans that are taken in such circumstances are not sources of income.
Remember, we've had situations in Ecuador not too long ago -- maybe it was longer ago -- as well as in the Philippines, in Pakistan and elsewhere, where Americans have been taken hostage. And so it's important, I think, to have that policy.
Second of all, do people look it up? No, people who work on this know it. They developed it. But they have reached some understandings in advance of future crisis, to know what assets they have, what abilities they have, what policies they have. So presumably they can deal with them better, and not have to make it up as they go along.
QUESTION: Does this change in any way the way the administration will handle the Pearl case now?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MR. BOUCHER: I have another short announcement to make. I don't think it will be quite as exciting to you, but I did want you all to know that we have provided our initial contribution of $125 million to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for the 2002 annual program. This contribution will allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide protection and assistance to the 21 million refugees and other persons under its care for the year 2002, as this year begins.
We'll give you in the written statement the breakdown by continent or by area of the amounts that are involved. There's a substantial allocation for Africa. Other priority areas include Afghan refugees and continuing return home of refugees in the Balkans. It's important on Afghan refugees to remember there's another $20 million in addition to the $12 million listed here that's been given already for this year.
QUESTION: Pankisi Gorge. There have been reports suggesting that the United States and Russia might do something there. I'm guessing that you'll have something to say about helping the Georgians. What is your policy on this?
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen reports that the US and Russia might do something there. This has been an area of concern for a long time, as you know. If you look back at our Patterns of Global Terrorism for the year 2000, which was released about a year ago, we talk in there about international Mujahedin that were seeking to use Georgia as a conduit to Chechnya. Georgian officials have also confirmed that there are foreign fighters that have been present within Georgia.
So this is something we have worked with Georgian officials on. The Secretary and President Shevardnadze met, and this was one of the major topics of their discussion I think last October, early October, when they met. And it's something we work on with Georgian officials on the best way to deal with the problem. We have in the past worked a lot with Georgians on border security issues and tried to give them assistance in beefing up their ability to control the borders in this area. We have supported them with anti-terrorism training and cooperation, and we will continue to do that and we will continue to support the Georgian Government's efforts to take appropriate action.
QUESTION: Can you give a response to reports that you might cooperate with the Russians in solving the terrorism problem in the Pankisi Gorge?
MR. BOUCHER: Our goal in all this, and what we have discussed with the Georgians and frankly what we have always told the Russians is that we felt that this situation was best dealt with through cooperation, through cooperation with the United States and Georgia, so that Georgia would have better control over the area, better control over the borders. And that's been our approach, that continues to be our approach.
QUESTION: Different subject?
QUESTION: There's Yuri Koptev, who is Russia's Space and Aviation Chief is his title, says that the United States, even after this last visit by Bolton, says that there still has been no evidence given to them that they're transferring technology and equipment to Iran. Can you answer that? He says there has been more than a dozen complaints, no evidence. Is that something you can say has been provided to them?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say that over the many years that we have worked on this, that we and the Russians themselves have developed information of activities that supported the programs that Iran has. And, in fact, at some points the Russians have even taken action to punish and prevent such activities. So it's important to remember that it's been an ongoing issue that we have worked with the Russians on for many years. It remains a subject of serious concern to us. Russian assistance to Iran's nuclear and missile programs and the possible sales of destabilizing advanced conventional weapons have been a subject that we have discussed. As you know, the subject of selling conventional weapons has been indeed something that the Iranians and Russians have both talked about publicly.
Under Secretary Bolton said in Moscow it's of paramount importance to prevent the spread of nuclear and missile technology, as well as advanced conventional weapons to countries like Iran, and that is a subject that we will continue to discuss with the Russian Government, and one that we'll continue to press.
QUESTION: But can I follow up on that? Didn't Assistant Secretary Wolf raise this issue in his last meetings in Moscow with the Russians, particularly with regards to ballistic missile proliferation?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if he concentrated on missiles, but yes, the discussions that we have here, in Moscow, at the Secretary's level, at Under Secretary Bolton's level, Assistant Secretary Wolf's level involve a number of topics, but Iran is always on the agenda.
QUESTION: Was this guy just out of the (inaudible), you think? Or --
MR. BOUCHER: Don't know.
QUESTION: Different subject. Can we go to Rome and any possible threats to the American Embassy and the arrests of four Moroccans, I believe, there by the Italian police?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. In the present circumstance, there's not a whole lot I can say. We have been working with Italian authorities. We will continue to work with them as they investigate those who have been arrested. Any information on what they have done, what was being planned, I'm afraid, has to come from the Italians, when they think it's appropriate in their investigation.
I would say that we commend the Government of Italy for the police work that resulted in these arrests. Because of their ongoing commitment to countering the terrorist threat, Italian authorities have repeatedly thwarted planned terrorist attacks against American and other targets inside Italy.
The latest incident shows the continuing danger posed by terrorists, and the need to remain at a high level of vigilance, and we will do that. The US Embassy in Rome is open for business. We're carefully reviewing security measures and taking all appropriate precautions. At this point, we don't see an immediate threat to the embassy or embassy employees.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, can you talk -- you said the Italian authorities have "repeatedly thwarted" various attempts. Can you put any kind of a finer number on that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think I can, especially when I think back to various reports where they've been reported to have thwarted attempts in the past, and I was not able to confirm them. But as a general proposition, I certainly am able to commend them and confirm that they have done this on various occasions, and we appreciate the vigilance that they've shown, the diligence that they've shown.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) but I've read some reports with various Italian officials saying, giving their version of what they thwarted. And apparently, these individuals were believed to have been wanting to put some poison into the water system, that would have also affected the US Embassy. Do you have any details about that?
MR. BOUCHER: No. That's the kind of detail -- I've seen various press reports citing various kinds of sources and officials. And I think the Italians need to decide when they can put out what information, and we'll leave that to them.
QUESTION: Can you tell us whether or not you believe that these individuals who were detained had any links to al-Qaida?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't tell you.
QUESTION: Aside from the substance that was found (inaudible) that a map (inaudible) American embassies, were there any threats?
MR. BOUCHER: That again is the kind of detail that would be under investigation, that I'm not in a position to provide.
QUESTION: Are you sure that they are potential terrorists?
MR. BOUCHER: That again is the kind of detail about the investigation that I'm not in a position to provide. And I'll answer that question every time you ask me about a map, a capsule, a substance, a map, a threat, whatever else.
QUESTION: Richard, why are you in a position to confirm that there was a threat on the embassy this time, and you haven't been in the past?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, on occasion in the past we have. Not always.
QUESTION: Well, so can you give us one example, then, of an Italian police coup, a victory over terrorists that is before this time?
MR. BOUCHER: I should certainly have no problem doing that if my memory were better than it is, but there are some.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the tensions and the violence in the Middle East is in its highest levels now. Are we going to see a sort of diplomatic movement from the side of the US to help Israel and Palestine to stop this violence? And the other question, the latest Israel response was the closest Israel has come to harm Arafat. Would you consider that will harm the peace process?
MR. BOUCHER: I would repeat what I have said before, that we're very deeply troubled about the escalating violence in the region. The violence continues. We have made very, very clear that we think that Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority need to take strong, resolute, and irreversible action right now to halt the violence and terror, and that Palestinian security performance remains the essential first step to an improvement in the security situation.
We do fully understand and support the need for Israel to take steps to ensure its self-defense. But we also believe that both sides need to keep in mind the importance of substantive ongoing security cooperation as the best means of advancing the process. And they need to avoid actions that make this objective harder to obtain.
We do continue to work with both sides in as balanced a way as possible to get back to a process that can lead to a cease-fire, that can lead to negotiations that are based on UN Security Council resolutions 242, 338, and the principle of land-for-peace. And we continue to remain in touch with the parties to try and pursue that course.
QUESTION: Richard, what is Mr. Haass doing in the region? What is the purpose of his trip?
MR. BOUCHER: He's out for policy planning talks and consultations in a number of countries. And I don't think I brought the list with me, but I can get that for you later.
QUESTION: Is he doing any sort of peace negotiations right now?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Are you thinking of sending General Zinni?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, no decision, no news on that.
QUESTION: And you've been using this phrase for a couple of weeks now, "in as balanced a way as possible." It's just a rather strange phrase. I mean, why can't you just say "in a balanced way"? What are the limits on the balance that the United States can take in this?
MR. BOUCHER: There are no limits on our balance.
QUESTION: Richard, you continue to say you're very deeply -- well, you didn't continue; you said you're "very deeply troubled." The violence over the last 24 hours has been the worst that -- have you guys resigned yourselves to the fact that you're not going to be able to do anything except issue statements like this from the podium? Which, you know, frankly, to the people in the region, since you say them every day and they don't really change that much, I'm not sure exactly how much oomph people think these statements have behind them.
MR. BOUCHER: Matt, let's not fool ourselves. Neither we at this podium nor you writing the stories about us believe that people who want to blow themselves up and take people with them or people who want to go explode mortars or shoot off rockets or assassinate a crowd at a bus station are going to be deterred from those actions by the statements we make. What is important for us is to see the parties take action that can effectively stop the violence. We have made absolutely clear the purpose of our statements, the purpose of our diplomacy, the purpose of our contacts is to get the parties who are able to stop the violence, who are able to stop the production and importation of guns and mortars, who are able to stop the groups who seek to carry out violence, is to get those people to act, because that's the kind of action that is necessary to stop the violence.
So the statements are not directed at the suicide bombers; they are directed at the people who can stop them, and that's where we do concentrate not only our public efforts, but our private efforts as well.
QUESTION: Well, let me put it this way, aren't you discouraged by the fact that your repeated statements about this appear to have produced very little; in fact, in effect, the situation has gotten worse?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we're discouraged that the violence continues. We are concerned that people who need to take the action, including especially Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, have not yet taken adequate action to stop the violence, that people continue to suffer, Palestinians continue to suffer, Israelis continue to suffer; that Israelis and Palestinians continue to have to live with insecurity, with restrictions on their lives, with difficulties in their lives.
But in terms of being committed to the effort, we remain committed to the effort, because that's what we're trying to do, is trying to reach a point where we can achieve a cease-fire, people can go back and have more normal lives, and we can have some prospect for both sides of achieving what they want to achieve through negotiation.
QUESTION: Do you think that the land, air and sea-based retaliation yesterday from the Israelis was within its legitimate actions for taking care of its security needs?
MR. BOUCHER: We have always said that military actions in densely populated civilian areas in particular, and attacks on or near the Palestinian Authority administrative and security facilities can work against the overriding objective of reducing violence and returning to negotiations. And so that's always been our view, and that's the way we view this sort of action.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Can we go around to somebody else and get out of the front row for a while?
QUESTION: It's the same subject, as a follow-up.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure it's the same subject as well. But surprise me, if you want.
QUESTION: No surprises. Are you going to do anything to assure that Arafat is able to attend the Arab League Summit Meeting, and especially that maybe some initiative, like the Saudi initiative, is going to be discussed, and the presence of Arafat will lend force to such discussions? Are you going to help him lift this -- get out of the siege and attend the summit?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything particular on that at this point, no.
QUESTION: You talk about balance, but then you went on and on about Palestinians doing this and that. Can we just get this straight --
MR. BOUCHER: Let me -- Jonathan, if it requires -- if the balance question requires any clarification, the reason it does say "as balanced a way as possible" is because we're dealing with an objective situation. We have made clear that balance is not saying something about him and something about him every day. Balance is in fact focusing objectively on the situation.
And we have made quite clear that the performance of the Palestinians on security issues right now is what we consider the primary and the effective first step to improving the situation for all of us.
QUESTION: Okay. But that was not my question. My question was that in the past when the Israelis have taken some of these actions -- such as using F-16s and making incursions into Palestinian territory -- you have called for restraint or you have said these are counterproductive or excessive. Do you have anything today along those lines?
MR. BOUCHER: I just said something a couple minutes ago, that actions in densely populated areas, and actions directly against Palestinian Authority administrative and security facilities that are in these areas, that those work against the overall objective of reducing the violence and achieving security. That's what I said today.
QUESTION: On Iran, given all the attention to the INC lately after the "axis" speech and so on, can you tell me if the US has anyone they're working with in the same manner in Iranian opposition outside the country? Have there been any contacts with anyone other than the M-e-K that's an FTO by State Department standards?
MR. BOUCHER: It sounds like a direct question about things that we don't talk about. I'm not sure --
QUESTION: No, no. You talk about the INC. Is there any kind of equivalent --
MR. BOUCHER: Is there any similar group of opposition people?
QUESTION: Well, it wouldn't be as big, or I wouldn't have to ask.
MR. BOUCHER: Frankly, I don't know. That's the simple answer. I don't know, and I don't know if there's anything we can talk about. So I'll check.
QUESTION: But it is correct, isn't it, that the only major opposition group outside of -- Iranian opposition group outside of Iran is one that this building has classified a terrorist organization; is that correct?
MR. BOUCHER: The one that instantly springs to mind? Yes.
MR. BOUCHER: But I mean, we always argue against cookie-cutter application of policy or analysis. And clearly, in the case of Iran and Iraq, the situations are different. The issue in Iran is how much the forces that are supporting democracy, that are supporting reform, can hold sway, and that unfortunately, the degree of openness and democratization that Iran has achieved, even while they continue to pursue a lot of other policies that we are opposed to and consider evil -- but the degree of democratization that they have achieved, there's nothing like that within Iraq. And there is no political outlet within Iraq for anybody who has views even slightly different from those of Saddam Hussein's.
QUESTION: Would you say that the forces inside the country, are you still encouraged? I mean, we haven't had any upswing since you lifted sanctions on pistachios, I think.
MR. BOUCHER: Carpets and pistachios, if I remember.
MR. BOUCHER: They -- you know, again, we have -- caviar? Caviar, carpets, and pistachios. That was a long time ago, though.
This is a situation we talk about. We follow it closely. We obviously watch it. We know that there are substantial numbers of people inside Iran that are looking for more democracy, that are looking for reform, that are looking for Iran to take a peaceful place in the world. And certainly, you know, we would hope that they will succeed.
QUESTION: I have a couple China questions -- slightly different, but both China. The President is going to China shortly. You have said that he will discuss human rights while he's there. Can you say whether individual cases, and specifically that of the 67-year-old American who has been held for two years, Phong Suming is going to be brought up with Chinese leaders?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to brief on behalf of the party. I think we'll have to leave it to them. Those who are going with the President to China, I'm sure, will be glad to tell your colleagues what he intends to raise when he's there.
QUESTION: But he will be representing cases like this?
MR. BOUCHER: We always discuss human rights when we go to China. But beyond that, I'll leave it to the party to brief on the party's business.
QUESTION: Can you say what was discussed at the meeting yesterday with State Department officials and members of the Falun Gong who were expelled from China?
MR. BOUCHER: We discussed with them the treatment that they received while they were in detention. The 37 American citizens who were detained in Beijing last week have all been deported. Some of them met with Department of State representatives yesterday. The discussion, as I said, was about their treatment in detention.
I would note as well that we have submitted a formal protest to Chinese officials regarding our concerns about prompt consular access and allegations of mistreatment of US citizens by Chinese police, and that's an issue that we will continue to follow up.
QUESTION: How is that going to be done?
MR. BOUCHER: Through our embassy.
QUESTION: Do you have details on the absence of consular access? Did they get any access at all?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't believe it occurred at all yet during the -- but I'm not exactly sure how long the people were in detention, I have to say.
QUESTION: The allegations of mistreatment of the (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, we have raised our concerns about these issues in the form of protest to the Chinese.
QUESTION: When was that?
MR. BOUCHER: Today.
QUESTION: Today? In Beijing?
MR. BOUCHER: In Beijing. Our Embassy there.
QUESTION: Okay, can I just ask, and was this protest couched in the terms of your new policy on US detainees abroad?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) what level of -- is it consular people, or --
MR. BOUCHER: It was our embassy; I don't know that I have the exact --
QUESTION: The meeting yesterday.
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, the meeting here? It was representatives from different Bureaus -- Consular Affairs; Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; and East Asia and Pacific Affairs. It was office directors and experts who work on these subjects.
QUESTION: And Richard, did any of these detainees have any visible signs of mistreatment? Or were they immediately identified, immediately witnessed, so to speak?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that it's for us to try to report on their exact physical condition. But as you know, and they had publicly alleged mistreatment, and we protested with the Chinese.
QUESTION: I have two questions. The first one is, the FARC kidnapped this morning on a plane some passengers (inaudible) that they kill at least five passengers, and one of them is a congressmen, a Colombian congressman. I wanted to know, what is your opinion about these new acts of terror by the FARC?
And my second question is, are you willing to clarify something -- (inaudible) said that the USA Government sent drugs to Colombia to try to (inaudible) or to (inaudible) some US and civilian citizens who has been kidnapped by the FARC or by the ELN?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't jump to any particular conclusion about any hypothetical circumstances. Don't start speculating about everything that could happen if something happens. That's not what we're doing today in terms of announcing this policy. We're trying to say clearly that we will look at every case, we will figure out what the best, most appropriate reaction is, and we will make clear in advance and at the time the hostage takers won't get any benefit from taking Americans hostage.
As far as the airplane goes, we do have information from our Embassy in Bogotá. They tell us first of all that no American citizens were apparently passengers on that flight, but we also note Colombian authorities have said that the evidence points to the likely involvement of the FARC in this hijacking. I'm afraid there's little further needed to remind us that the FARC has been designated and why the FARC has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.
We have noted many times in recent months that the FARC has failed to respond in good faith to President Pastrana's previous efforts, and we call on them once again to end their attacks on civilians; stop hijackings, kidnappings and murders; give up their involvement in the illegal drug trade; and commit themselves to a peace process. Regrettably they have not done so, despite President Pastrana's efforts.
QUESTION: What is your position about the agreement, border agreement between Macedonia and Yugoslavia after the commander of American troops in Kosovo said it's not valid? And also, the United Nations mission in Kosovo said they don't recognize this agreement. So do you agree with that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, my guess is I agree with them, but I don't know about the circumstances, so let me get you something later if I can. I don't have anything now.
QUESTION: And the visa waiver review. I believe that today they -- you announced -- I don't know, is it State or Justice, that Argentina, that the visa waiver would be waived? (Inaudible.) I'd like to know, since Italy is under review, if you made any decisions on any of the other countries?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me try to clarify some of the pieces here. The Justice Department has announced that we have terminated Argentina's participation in the visa waiver program. Argentina was one of the countries that was under review. As you know, we do regular now reviews of half a dozen countries -- maybe it's five countries every year. Those reports are in fact still being compiled and recommendations being written on those. There's no particular timelines on those. The other five are Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Uruguay.
The situation in Argentina was not based on this review. The situation was based on provisions of a law that require us, allow us to react in emergency situations. As you know, the circumstances in Argentina are such that with the economic developments there, that becomes a significant factor in our decision as to whether to allow participation in the visa waiver program, because ultimately it's based on the presumption that people from a particular country or area would not have any particular reason to want to stay. And when their circumstances change so dramatically back home, particularly in economic ways, one has to reexamine some of those presumptions of the program. Should Argentina in the future again meet the provisions of the visa waiver program, then of course we would consider participation once again.
So this was announced by the Attorney General. It becomes effective Thursday, February 21st. It is a decision based on emergency provisions of the visa waiver law that's made in consultation with the Secretary of State. We are doing everything we can to facilitate all legitimate travel by Argentine citizens. Removal of the program is not intended to be punitive against them, or against Argentina. We have taken significant steps to staff up our embassy in Buenos Aires to be able to handle the workload. Our Consul General for Mexico City is down there working in the consular section for the transition. We sent six other consular officers, along with four Foreign Service National employees from a number of posts in the region to Buenos Aires on a temporary basis until we can get additional permanent staff to Buenos Aires. And on a permanent basis, we'll add 13 positions to Buenos Aires' consular section -- six Foreign Service Officers and seven Foreign Service National employees -- to be filled as soon as we can, so that we can take care of the needs of Argentines to travel to the United States.
QUESTION: Richard, what can you tell us about the mixed messages that are coming out of the Afghan interim government as to what in fact happened to the tourism minister? I don't know if you heard that Foreign Minister Abdullah is contradicting Hamid Karzai's explanation and saying in fact that the tourism minister was in fact murdered by a mob that was trying to go the Hajj?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I have any particular clarification of those comments. They are continuing their investigation of the killing last week. Members of the government are working on bringing the perpetrators of the crime to justice. There have, I think, been some people arrested. But at this point I can't clarify for you exactly what the motives or the circumstances were.
QUESTION: Is the US conducting its own investigation? Or is this being left to --
MR. BOUCHER: It's in the hands of the Afghan authorities, and they'll have to handle it.
QUESTION: Is it your experience that a lot of Argentines have been overstaying the 90-day limit?
MR. BOUCHER: I think you'd have to ask Justice that question, because the overstay question becomes a matter that Immigration tracks, to the extent they can. But as I said, there are provisions, emergency provisions in the visa waiver law, and I think the action that needs to be taken is being taken now in order to prevent that kind of circumstance from arising on a more frequent basis.
QUESTION: Following up on Andrea's question --
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: It's a related one. Can you tell us anything about the new questions which have been added to the visa application forms, the standard visa application forms? Or is this something for the INS?
MR. BOUCHER: I can tell you we've been doing it now for some time. I think the forms have been out in public, and probably available on web sites. I'm not sure if there's anything in addition to add.
QUESTION: This is the questions about, do you have experience in making nuclear bombs or something.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, it's a longer, it's a supplemental questionnaire that we've been using for a couple months now.
QUESTION: Is it a couple months?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: I was a little bit surprised to hear you say that this is not -- you don't intend this to be -- this isn't a punitive action against Argentines or Argentina. What is it exactly?
MR. BOUCHER: It's a reflection of the change in circumstances.
QUESTION: You do accept, though, that that's going to be something of a hard sell down in Argentina? I mean, they're not going to look at this as a reflection of the change. They're going to look at it --
MR. BOUCHER: I think anybody who looks at the objective facts of the situation, whether it's in Argentina or here, or in this very room, would understand that the circumstances of Argentina have changed quite considerably in the last month or two, and that the issues that any individual might face with regard to wanting to stay in the United States or leaving, or his eligibility for a visa waiver, that those issues have changed quite a bit as well.
QUESTION: On the subject of your new policy on kidnapping and -- what I understand from you is that it is not binding to private sector companies, for example. While you encourage them not to pay ransom, but it's not binding to them. Am I correct in my understanding?
MR. BOUCHER: We don't try to give people green lights for doing something that we don't think is a good idea, so I'm not going to try to do that here.
QUESTION: No, no, all I'm trying to say is countries, for example, like Yemen, where Westerners were kidnapped for profit by tribesmen -- I mean, in this case, if your policy is not binding companies, they might not be encouraged to kidnap an official, but they might -- somebody, an engineer who is working for an American company --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that's why our policy is not to encourage anybody - - in fact, to discourage anybody -- from allowing hostage takers to achieve any benefit.
QUESTION: But you don't stop companies by law not to pay ransoms. How are you going to discourage these people from kidnapping?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd have to check and see what the law says on this. I'm not sure it's within our powers to stop them that way.
QUESTION: Back to Andrea's question. Chairman Karzai also said over the weekend that the Saudis had arrested two suspects in the, what he says was an assassination, and he would like them back in Afghanistan for questioning. Has the US -- do you have any opinion on that? I know that Secretary Powell -- but have you formally asked the Saudis about this at all?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that it's come up in our discussions with the Saudis. I would expect it would be a matter that would be handled between the Afghan Interim Authority and the Saudi Government.
QUESTION: On Zimbabwe, has your -- has movement towards sanctions moved --
MR. BOUCHER: Movement has moved, but I don't have anything. Movement has moved, but I don't have anything to announce yet.
QUESTION: It's moving closer?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: You can't say in what way?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we're not there yet. We haven't imposed travel restrictions quite yet.
QUESTION: But you're going to?
MR. BOUCHER: We still intend to go forward. We haven't made the final decisions as to precisely which officials would be covered.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, do you have any response to the letter that the Iraqis gave to the UN Security Council, I believe, claiming that the US sponsors terrorism through the Iraqi National Congress in their country?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, I hadn't had the pleasure of reading that, and therefore I don't have the pleasure of responding. Maybe our folks at the UN will get the chance. But no, I don't have anything on that.
QUESTION: As far as you know, the INC --
MR. BOUCHER: That is not our view.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:58 p.m. EST.)