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State Dept. Press Briefing for February 21, 2002

State Dept. Press Briefing for February 21, 2002


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman

For Immediate Release February 21, 2002

REMARKS TO THE PRESS BY RICHARD BOUCHER, SPOKESMAN

February 21, 2002 Washington, D.C.

EDITOR'S NOTE

This informal, on-the-record, press briefing took place in lieu of the regular daily press briefing. No index or audio of this briefing is available.

MR. BOUCHER: This is a collective response to questions that I have gotten throughout the morning and that the Press Office is getting, and the three topics we have gotten them on have been the Middle East, Zimbabwe and Colombia. So let me take them in --

QUESTION: Reverse order.

MR. BOUCHER: Zimbabwe, there's nothing new at this moment. We will be looking to see if there is any more to say about targeted sanctions later in the day, but at this precise moment we don't have anything new for you on that.

On Colombia, we are following the situation down there very closely. We are in touch with our Embassy, we are in touch with the Government, and we may have

more to say later about Colombia and the situation there.

On the Middle East, we're a little faster.

QUESTION: We're waiting for Sharon to speak in 20 minutes, and we'll have something to say later?

MR. BOUCHER: No, we actually have something to say now that I will say to you in response to your questions now.

We are deeply concerned about the ongoing violence between the Israelis and Palestinians. We have seen a sharp deterioration in the last 48 hours with casualties, including innocent civilians killed and wounded on both sides.

The Palestinian Authority bears a critical responsibility for halting the terror through immediate and decisive action. In this regard, the arrest by Palestinian security forces of three individuals involved in the assassination of Minister Ze'evi is a positive step, but we have made clear that more must be done.

Israel's right to defend itself is clear. At the same time, attacks by Israeli forces that result in death and injury to civilians, or attacks on the Palestinian security forces that Israel and we are calling on to take action

against terror, do not contribute to calming the situation or to improving security for Israelis.

At this critical moment, we urge both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to consider their actions and the consequences very carefully. We strongly recommend that both sides do their utmost to avoid escalation and restore genuine security cooperation and consultations. We will continue to help them with this process through our established channels.

So that's what we have at this moment on the three topics.

QUESTION: Has the Israeli Prime Minister or his office been in touch either

with the State Department or with Mr. Powell on the road, because apparently a very momentous decision is about to be announced.

MR. BOUCHER: I am not aware of any phone calls like that. Of course, our Embassy out there is in touch with him all the time, as they are here. So we are in close touch with the Israeli Government all the time, but I'm not aware of any special communication on this --

QUESTION: What do you think of this proposal for the UN Security Council to

meet in (inaudible)?

MR. BOUCHER: The Council members have been consulting and discussing this situation, but at this point I don't know that there will be a meeting or not.

QUESTION: But you're in favor of meeting, or no?

MR. BOUCHER: We have always felt that the focus needs to remain on the efforts of the parties in the region, and particularly at this moment on the efforts of Mr. Arafat to stop the violence. But we have always been willing to discuss

things with others in New York, and we are consulting them.

QUESTION: This letter that Arafat delivered or sent to the Secretary ten days ago now, something like that, was positive and we were looking for him to take action based on what he had said in those letters. Have you seen follow-up action since then?

MR. BOUCHER: That was the letter about the Karine A affair.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR. BOUCHER: I'd have to check and see if there has been further action since then or not. I don't know. But I did say that the steps, in terms of the people who killed Minister Ze'evi, that those were positive steps -- those arrests that he has made in the regard.

QUESTION: We were looking for some specific actions that he had mentioned in this letter, which you didn't really outline to us, but --

MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check and see if we have any follow-up on that.

QUESTION: Richard, on those three arrests that, the way you phrased it is "arrested for killing" and not "accused of killing." But you already said those are the three who killed him.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to pretend to have adjudicated the question, but they are the people who are thought to be responsible for the killing.

QUESTION: Thought to be responsible.

QUESTION: That's my question.

MR. BOUCHER: Hang on. "The arrest of the three individuals involved in the

assassination." So we accept the premise that they are involved in the assassination.

QUESTION: Richard, can I ask you about the numbers on Colombia? We have pretty good figures on military personnel, but there aren't any on State Department. Do you happen to know how many of those kinds of Americans are down there in

Colombia?

MR. BOUCHER: How many official Americans?

QUESTION: Well, State Department. Yeah, official Americans, not --

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't happen to know.

QUESTION: Richard, has the Secretary made any phone calls to anyone in the region in the last 24 or 48 hours?

QUESTION: In the Middle East?

QUESTION: In the Middle East. I'm sorry.

MR. BOUCHER: No, he's talked to a couple Europeans, talked to Solana about the Middle East. In a conversation with Cem yesterday they talked about the Middle East a bit.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. In his conversation with --

MR. BOUCHER: Foreign Minister Cem of Turkey. They talked about the Middle East. That was yesterday. So he has talked to others about the Middle East, but, no, I don't think he has made any particular calls to the region.

QUESTION: Has he talked to General Zinni?

MR. BOUCHER: No, not that I know of.

QUESTION: Richard Haass is there. Richard Haass is --

MR. BOUCHER: Haass is traveling through the region on policy planning sort of issues.

QUESTION: Is he (inaudible) --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we have dates and places yet.

QUESTION: He's in Israel today, as far as I know.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know exactly where he is.

QUESTION: Well, why -- he doesn't appear to be doing anything, so to speak, in --

MR. BOUCHER: You don't either, Jonathan -- at times. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. BOUCHER: No, this is an important part of what he does. He goes out, he listens, he learns, he talks. We consult with people, we look forward, we try to work on issues. But I would separate a bit that process of policy that our policy planning person engages in, including when he discusses the Middle East. I would separate that from the kind of negotiating that others might do or the kind of day-to-day liaison work that our embassies do.

QUESTION: So he's not doing day-to-day negotiations?

MR. BOUCHER: He's not doing day-to-day negotiations.

QUESTION: What are -- do you know which are his countries, besides Israel?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think -- do I have the list in here somewhere? Hang on. I may have a little more than I thought I did.

He left on the 16th; he will return on the 23rd. He is going to Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories to consult in talks on a wide range of issues, including US foreign policy, regional security, the current and future phases of the war on terrorism and the prospects of peace negotiations.

QUESTION: Do you happen to know if he'll talk to Arafat?

MR. BOUCHER: No, he's not got any meetings planned with Arafat.

QUESTION: Why not?

QUESTION: Richard, why is it that the Secretary or the Administration in general does not feel that a phone call is of necessity now?

MR. BOUCHER: We have so many different ways of keeping in touch with the people out there. We have representatives who represent the Secretary and the President, and who work all day long with the governments that they are accredited to, or with people like the Palestinian Authority. We also make phone calls from time to time. Any given day doesn't require a phone call; it requires a concerted effort by the United States to be helpful, but in the end it requires an effort by the parties to stop the violence. And it is quite clear -- we have made quite clear repeatedly in public and in private -- what we think they need to do.

QUESTION: Richard, so Haass will be going to the Palestinian territories and not meeting Arafat?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: Who will he be talking to?

MR. BOUCHER: Others. Others.

QUESTION: Is that because you can't reach him? Because the Israelis have --

MR. BOUCHER: No.

QUESTION: -- danger in the area?

MR. BOUCHER: Not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: When did you plan the trip?

MR. BOUCHER: A couple weeks ago.

QUESTION: Richard, can we talk a little bit about this Afghanistan situation and The New York Times article of a CIA report? Can you confirm that the CIA --

MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't confirm a New York Times article about a CIA report.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you confirm that the CIA has warned that the warlord situation is critical?

MR. BOUCHER: No.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that the State Department is in favor of expanding the international force?

MR. BOUCHER: No. Secretary Rumsfeld discussed this quite extensively at a briefing that he just did, and I would just identify with Secretary Rumsfeld's comments. I don't think we have anything else to say.

QUESTION: Richard, there has been another incident in Sudan, where the government forces --

MR. BOUCHER: We are about to give you a statement on Sudan that will condemn the government for -- I can't remember if the word is "condemn" -- that will

condemn the government for the attacks on civilians, on civilian aid workers, and it will say that we think the government needs to explain what's going on. On the one hand, the government is talking about reaching peace in these regions, and on the other hand, they are bombing civilian aid workers, and we find it hard to continue the peace efforts until this gets an adequate explanation.

So that will be out to you soon.

QUESTION: The peace effort is still alive?

QUESTION: So, wait. You don't want us to use what you just said?

MR. BOUCHER: No, you can use what I just said. But you'll find -- okay, I'll read it to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER: The pattern of senseless and brutal attacks by the Government of Sudan against innocent civilians continues. On February 20th, a government helicopter attacked a World Food Program feeding operation in the village of

Bieh in Upper Nile Province. The helicopter fired six to eight rockets, killing 17 people and wounding many others.

These attacks raise serious questions about the Sudanese Government's commitment to peace and the lives of its people. We have demanded from the Sudanese Government a full and complete explanation of what happened. In addition, we have asked for an explanation of how one part of the government can negotiate with the United States an agreement to end attacks against civilians, while another part of the government is deliberately targeting civilians.

Until we receive a full and complete response from the Government of Sudan, the United States is suspending all discussions with Khartoum about the peace process.

QUESTION: How is that punishment to the Government of Sudan, if they're the

ones that (inaudible)?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't know that it is -- first of all, I think the government wants to be accepted as a potential partner for a peace process.

Second of all, I think it is more a reflection on what's the point, what are we really talking about, and who are we really talking with if, on the one hand, we are talking to the government about stopping these kinds of attacks, and, on the other hand, others seem to be going ahead and directly firing on World Food Program people.

QUESTION: Richard, was there any particular meeting or session of talks scheduled in your talks with the government on the peace process that's now being suspended? I mean, is there -- or is that just --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that I had anything particular that was scheduled at this point. Not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: Richard, what was the date of the Kansteiner or the (inaudible)?

MR. BOUCHER: The last round was -- we can look it up for you. It was a couple of weeks ago.

QUESTION: It was last month.

QUESTION: This doesn't affect the humanitarian food shipments to the north?

MR. BOUCHER: Humanitarian assistance will continue because it is not a government question; it's a question of helping needy people.

QUESTION: Richard, suspending the process? Is that the last part?

MR. BOUCHER: Suspending all discussions with Khartoum about the peace process.

QUESTION: There wasn't much going on anyway, waiting for the report?

QUESTION: Well, at the lower levels.

QUESTION: The lower levels.

MR. BOUCHER: Senator Danforth will be writing his report to the President shortly. Obviously he will be reflecting these latest actions in his report. >From the very beginning, he has been asked to evaluate and judge the commitment of the parties to peace. The attacks raise serious questions about the Government of Sudan's commitment to peace, and it is imperative that the Government of Sudan gives us a response.

QUESTION: Well, he did say in November he would walk away from this, unless

there was fast progress. It seems to me that, based on his own definition, his peace process is all over.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, as we said, we don't see how we can pursue it if these kinds of attacks are going to continue, but we want a full explanation. And then I'm sure Danforth will decide how he wants to proceed, if at all.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you, on Colombia again and I know you're coming out with a statement, but just for my own purposes, I would like to know whether the events are going to have any immediate impact on the US funding to Colombia?

MR. BOUCHER: That's not a question I can answer at this point.

QUESTION: The hijacking and the kidnapping yesterday seem to have just iced the situation with Pastrana. If you haven't got an overarching statement, do you want to say something about --

MR. BOUCHER: I said something yesterday about the hijacking.

QUESTION: I didn't know. Sorry.

MR. BOUCHER: And obviously that's the basis for considering what he did, and that's one of the big factors that --

QUESTION: In general, though, you're backing Pastrana's decision to --

MR. BOUCHER: We've always expressed our support for Pastrana and his decisions on how to move forward.

QUESTION: So, and that -- that will be reflected in the statement that comes out?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to predict how the statement will be --

QUESTION: Well, you just did. "We've always supported Pastrana." That's on the record, yes?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, it's on the record.

QUESTION: That's good.

MR. BOUCHER: That's not the same as saying that that's what we're going to say in the statement.

QUESTION: But you do support his decision to cut off the talks and to go -- to launch this offensive --

MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not going to try to make the statement now. I said we have always supported Pastrana and his decisions. We have always said that these were decisions for him to make. We have always supported the Government of Colombia, and we will issue a statement today about the events of today.

QUESTION: Richard, Romero said in a statement in The Washington Post that he wants the United States to help in the anti-terrorism, to help fight the FARC. The official policy has been that we're not there to fight the FARC, we're there to fight drugs. Does this mark -- is this a shift in US policy?

MR. BOUCHER: Romero? You mean former Romero?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. BOUCHER: He's no longer in a position to shift US policy. We'll tell you what US policy is in the statement today. As much as we have great respect and admiration for him, he is no longer the Assistant Secretary and so we'll let the people who are currently in charge describe US policy later to you today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

# # #


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