State Dept. Daily Press Briefing February 26, 2002
State Dept. Daily Press Briefing February 26, 2002
Daily Press Briefing Index Tuesday, February 26, 2002 12:30 p.m. EST
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
PAKISTAN 1-4 Discussions with Pakistan Regarding Suspects in Daniel Pearl Murder 1-5 Formal Extradition vs Rendition of Individuals from Other Countries
ITALY 5-7 Discovery of Hole in Tunnel Near US Embassy
THAILAND 7 Possible Barring of Certain Journalists
VENEZUELA 7-8 Criticism of President Chavez by Venezuelan Military Officer
NORTH KOREA 8 Dialogue with North Korea
RUSSIA 8 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Chechen Language Broadcasts
COLOMBIA 9 US Support to Government of Colombia
ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY 9 Intentions to Convene Another Security Meeting 9,10-12 President Bush's Call to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah 9-10 Secretary's Calls Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and EU Solana
YUGOSLAVIA 13 Remains of Three American Citizens Killed in Eastern Serbia
BOTSWANA 13-14 Secretary's Meeting with President of Botswana
ZIMBABWE 14 Charges Against Opposition Leaders
MADAGASCAR 14-15 Situation Update / Prospects for Runoff Election
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2002 (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
12:30 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements or announcements, so I would be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Well, I think there's two subjects, but let me start with probably the newsiest. Pakistan, the Ambassador met with President Musharraf. It wasn't the first meeting, by any account. I guess the technical word is "rendition", to try to arrange the rendition of the turnover, handover, of the suspect. How are those talks going? Will it require more talks? Are they cooperating? Et cetera.
MR. BOUCHER: Let me try to give you a feel for the whole picture here. Indeed, we have an extradition treaty with Pakistan, but there are other ways for the United States to seek the rendition of individuals from other countries. So that always has to be one of the subjects of discussion. But let me bring you up to date on where we stand.
As we made clear yesterday, that we want to see Ahmed Omar Sheikh brought to justice. We want to see him in US custody for the crimes that he has committed against Americans. The Pakistanis also have charges against him for crimes that he has committed in Pakistan. So we're discussing with the Government of Pakistan how to proceed to ensure that justice is served in this matter.
As you noted, our Ambassador spoke with President Musharraf this morning, Pakistan time. The Secretary also received a phone call from President Musharraf, and they talked this morning, Washington time. At this point, we will continue our discussions with the Pakistani Government. The Pakistanis are examining our request, and we will continue these discussions to make sure the common desire on both sides to see that justice is served is in fact brought to fruition.
QUESTION: If I can follow up briefly, was the Secretary's conversation after the Ambassador called on Musharraf? Yes?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: All right. And then secondly --
MR. BOUCHER: After he had received a report from our Ambassador on her discussions this morning.
QUESTION: Okay. Your description of they wanting to process him, and the US wanting to, has the connotation that it's mostly a matter of arranging things, as if the inference here is that it's just a matter of deciding how this tangle, this legal tangle, is sorted out; that there isn't any question, really, that he will be handed over.
Is that going too far?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that we'll have to see how all this proceeds. In any case, almost all cases where you have a crime against Americans overseas, you end up with American charges, charges in the other country where the crime might have occurred, and so we get into discussions with the governments to figure out what is the best way to proceed and where the best place is to pursue justice and how to achieve that end.
We have made clear from our point of view that we believe he has committed crimes against Americans and that we want to see him in our custody so that we can pursue justice.
QUESTION: I've got a couple things, and I hope this doesn't get too detailed and bore everyone to death, but I'm confused about a couple things.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm ready.
QUESTION: You are ready on this one? Okay.
MR. BOUCHER: You want to know about the extradition treaty?
QUESTION: First, I want to why this extradition treaty is still okay, if the United States -- presumably, the United States doesn't believe itself bound by any treaties that Britain signed between it and France pre-1776 unless, of course, you have made your own arrangements on that.
MR. BOUCHER: Exactly. Remember that point.
QUESTION: Also, over at the White House just a few minutes ago, your colleague Mr. Fleischer said that this was akin to if an American -- or if a Pakistani or someone had been arrested in the States, they would want him but we would want him as well. It's my understanding -- and is it not your understanding -- that Mr. Sheikh is actually a British national. Does that play any role in the discussions that are going on?
And then, going back to the rendition versus extradition, what are you looking for? Are you looking to invoke the extradition treaty, or are you trying to do it another way, do it the other way?
MR. BOUCHER: We are looking to see him brought to justice, we are looking to see him punished for crimes he may have committed against Americans, and we're looking to see him in our custody. How that process will take place and when it takes place vis-à-vis the charges that the Pakistanis may have against him, those are the matters for discussion. But just since you want to know why we have an extradition treaty, I'll be glad to tell you.
In 1931 -- don't worry, it's short; it's not the real, full, legal history of this -- in 1931, the United States signed an extradition treaty with the United Kingdom. That treaty entered into force in 1942 for the part of the United Kingdom, as it was then, that is now the independent country of Pakistan. In 1952, after its independence from the United Kingdom, the Government of Pakistan accepted the obligations of the US-UK extradition treaty, and the treaty remains in force now between the United States and Pakistan.
And as I noted before, apart from formal extradition, there are of course other ways for the United States to seek the rendition of individuals from other countries. And so --
QUESTION: Everything is up in the air -- it's all -- everything is being considered?
MR. BOUCHER: We are discussing the various options. What we have made clear is we want to see this man in US custody, and then we have to balance that off with the others who might want him as well. As far as the British citizenship angle, I don't think I can actually confirm he's a British citizen, but the discussions that we have had have all been in the context of the US and Pakistan. I don't know what British law might be regarding actions of its citizens overseas, and things like that. So I don't --
QUESTION: Well, does it matter if this person is a third-party national? I mean, in general -- or maybe, let's just say, the general idea --
MR. BOUCHER: Nationality doesn't have much to do with it, as far as we're concerned. The fact is that we want him for crimes committed against Americans. That's the chief angle from our point of view. It's not the nationality.
QUESTION: Is that the only stumbling block? Not the only, but one of the major ones, that Pakistan wants to try him as well? Because they weren't saying that about any of these al-Qaida fighters that they did let the US take custody of. If this were linked to the war on terror, would it be easier for the US to bring him over here?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it's the linkage to the war on terror. The fact is that, as you're aware, we have evidence, and the Pakistanis have been investigating the kidnapping of Danny Pearl, and they have found this individual and believe this individual to be involved in that. So there are crimes committed on Pakistani soil that they may want to hold him accountable for. It's not a question of al-Qaida fighters from Pakistan.
QUESTION: And that wasn't the case with those fighters? And so that's why they didn't hold up any of those people?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure what we're talking about with "those fighters", but in some cases, governments work out arrangements, depending on the severity of the crime, the severity of the charges, that what they decide is the best way to proceed. But our interest is in seeing these individuals, this individual brought to justice. And we're discussing with the Pakistanis, under the various provisions and procedures, how to do that.
QUESTION: Another question. Did Ambassador Chamberlain make any progress this morning? Because the US has been asking for this guy to be handed over since November, so it doesn't seem to make much sense that she goes and raises it for a third or a fifth time.
MR. BOUCHER: Ambassador Chamberlain discussed it this morning, the Secretary discussed it this morning with President Musharraf. As I said, the Pakistanis are examining our request, and we'll try to bring this subject, the discussions to a conclusion.
QUESTION: Can I ask what your reservation is for extraditing him? Especially considering that the three other suspects are actually seeking extradition, because they think they'll get a better trial here.
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't heard that angle on it.
QUESTION: Well, they are.
MR. BOUCHER: But what our reservations are? First of all, we never actually specifically say whether we've asked for somebody's extradition. So there may be a point on this where I can't say one way or the other. And I won't start today.
But there are, as I said, a number of legal issues involved, the question of the different charges and different places, the question of how and when a transfer might take place and under what basis. Those are issues that we need to discuss.
QUESTION: Richard, are discussions -- if not specific requests, are discussions under way, either with the Secretary or with the Ambassador for others as well to be sent to the United States? Or are we just talking about one individual?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not at this point able to specify any others, other than to mention that we always want to see anyone who commits a crime against Americans brought to justice. And that's not limited by any particular number.
QUESTION: That's quite broad. Can we narrow it just to in the context of the discussions of the one individual we've been talking about, are there other individuals in the current case that are being discussed?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't narrow it.
QUESTION: Well, can I ask you this, to follow up Charlie's question, maybe the legal department would know, but is there a process for an "and all others" type of request in a rendition? In other words, you ask for a specific person, and all others who may have been involved in crime A? An open request?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: Well, but let me ask you this. When you say you can't say whether you've requested extradition, it isn't extradition anyhow; it's rendition. But can you say whether you'd like them to produce other folks besides this London School of Economics graduate?
MR. BOUCHER: We want to see all involved in crimes against Americans brought to justice. I just have to stop at that.
QUESTION: If I could ask one more question. I want to make sure I've got this right. Is it not a fact that extradition is just one form of rendition? Isn't rendition a much broader tem?
MR. BOUCHER: I would have to go to the thesaurus. I've heard them used differently, but they may, in fact, be one a subset of the other. But if you want to, we can get away from legal stuff and go back to the fine, clear terms that Ari and I used yesterday was, "We want to get our hands on this guy."
QUESTION: I know that renditions have been done before without extradition treaties.
MR. BOUCHER: There have been extraditions from Pakistan under the treaty, as well.
QUESTION: Yes, but there have also been renditions from places like Nigeria, where you didn't have -- and Pakistan as well -- but with countries that you didn't have extradition treaties with. Is there any legal agreement that the United States has to have with a country to do a non-extradition rendition, or can you just do it with the consent of both governments?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to see if I can answer that question in a proper legal manner.
QUESTION: Can I just clear one thing up? There seems to be some confusion about the past cases where Pakistan has sent you suspects. Was Ramsi Yousef and the guy who fired at the CIA headquarters, whose name I've forgotten, were they sent here under the extradition treaty, or were they just sent?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't get into any particular cases. As I said, we don't necessarily comment on specific legal actions. Those cases though, however, have been brought to trial, and I assume there are abundant court records that anybody that's interested in those histories can spend their days and nights reading. - QUESTION: On another subject. It's only the first day, I guess, of the investigation into the tunneling, the hole near the Embassy. The Embassy spokesman said something bland about, you know, we're cooperating with Italian authorities. Can you be less bland?
MR. BOUCHER: That's what I said yesterday. Are you accusing me of being bland, too?
QUESTION: Oh, no. But Ian Kelly --
MR. BOUCHER: Let me bring you up to date on where we stand with this hole in the tunnel in Rome. I think I have to say a cautionary note for everybody that reports that link the hole in the tunnel to possible terrorist attacks against the Embassy are very speculative, very premature at this point. Italian authorities continue to work very closely with the Embassy in this investigation. We really do want to caution everybody to refrain from drawing any conclusions until the investigation is completed.
Our Embassy security staff inspected the tunnel this morning. They found nothing significant. Two Diplomatic Security Service special agents went to Rome last week to augment security at the Embassy and to assist in the investigation of the alleged plot to attack the Embassy. They, too, participated along with the Embassy Rome security staff and the engineers in the inspection of the hole in the tunnel. So we are actively looking at this. We have taken a look at it this morning. We have not drawn any conclusions at this point. I caution you again, conclusions are speculative, but we'll keep working with the Italian Government on this to see if we can get to the bottom of the situation.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate a bit? And you said the inspectors found nothing significant. So what did they find that -- what --
MR. BOUCHER: They found a hole in a tunnel.
QUESTION: A new hole? I mean, could they establish whether it was freshly dug?
MR. BOUCHER: Was it dated? I don't know. I would say that they found nothing that would lead them to believe at this point that the hole was connected to a terrorist plot.
QUESTION: Richard, you're cautioning us, but you know, we're not making these stories up. They are coming from, albeit sometimes unnamed people, but they are coming from Italian authorities. Are you saying that they've gotten a little overexcited about this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I would say that. I think the Italian (inaudible) closely with us.
QUESTION: Well, who are you directing that -- I mean, you know, the news reports that are coming out of Rome, that suggest ties to this, aren't being made up out of thin air. People are --
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't impugn anybody's news report.
QUESTION: I'm not saying --
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't impugn any Italian authorities. I merely stated the obvious, once again, that we're in an early stage of looking at this, and we shouldn't speculate. Just because you can connect the dots doesn't mean there's a picture. And I'll say it again.
QUESTION: If you can connect the dots, there often is something there. I mean, you're saying that the dots can be connected? (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: I can connect any dots you want, Matt. That doesn't mean there's a picture there.
QUESTION: Not so fast. I have a question about Thailand. I wondered, since they've now --
QUESTION: Just one more on the tunnel. I'm sorry, I apologize. Can you give us any descriptive word to talk about the size of the hole in the tunnel? Would it be large enough for a person to go through, for instance?
MR. BOUCHER: How big is the person? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: A small person. A small adult.
MR. BOUCHER: No. My size, no.
QUESTION: A small person?
MR. BOUCHER: A lot smaller. I don't want to try to get into describing it bigger than a breadbox. But it's not a major hole of that proportion that somebody of my girth would be able to fit through, since we're doing this with regard to specific individuals.
QUESTION: I have a question about Thailand. I wondered if you had something more to say about the journalist, given that since you spoke yesterday two of them have had their visas revoked.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that I have anything new. No, I don't have anything new at this point on that. I noted we had raised it yesterday with the Thai Prime Minister from our Ambassador. I don't have anything new to report, though, at this point. - QUESTION: Richard, another Venezuelan military --
QUESTION: Wait, can I stay on Thailand for one second? In fact, there has been a subtle shift on the position of the Thais on this. They are now suggesting that if the Far East and Economic Review apologizes for the story that they wrote, that this would all go away. Does the United States think that that might be a good way to deal with this?
MR. BOUCHER: I would leave such matters between the Far East and Economic Review and the Thai Government.
QUESTION: Another Venezuelan military officer has come out against President Chavez. Are you saying the same thing as last week, or are you escalating?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll say the same thing as last week. I'll say it again and again. We believe that all parties should respect democratic institutions. Those who may want change, political change, need to pursue it democratically and constitutionally. That's part of the democracies charter that we have signed and joined in with others in the hemisphere. And, frankly, that applies to whatever direction the attacks on democracy might be coming from. And we have, I think, made no secret about our concerns about some of the things that President Chavez has done, against the opposition, against the free press, which we also consider to be detrimental to democracy.
But the important thing is that democracy and the democratic institutions be respected.
QUESTION: Do you have any plans to send a special envoy to North Korea to tackle the problem?
MR. BOUCHER: We have offered to have talks with the North Koreans any time, any place on our agenda and whatever agenda they want to bring to the table. But at this point they haven't taken us up on the offer, so there's no such travel planned.
QUESTION: Richard, can we go back to Venezuela?
MR. BOUCHER: Can we go back to Venezuela for a moment?
QUESTION: Very quick. You seem to be saying that you wouldn't lose any -- that the United States wouldn't lose any sleep if Chavez was booted out, as long as it took place -- as long as it happens --
MR. BOUCHER: Did I say anything like that?
QUESTION: As long as it happened democratically. I mean, you're certainly not offering him any words of support in the face of, you know, a growing number of very senior military officials calling for him to resign. You don't care at all for Mr. Chavez --
MR. BOUCHER: We have made clear that what matters to us is democracy and democratic institutions. Constitutional change is required. Whenever it happens, as long as whatever changes happen are constitutional, we generally don't get involved in choosing other governments' leaders.
QUESTION: Can I ask about the Radio Liberty broadcasts in Chechen, since it's only two days to the deadline? Are you any closer to articulating exactly what your policy is on this? I mean, are you going to let them go ahead, because they seem --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new on that since what we said about articulating our policy yesterday.
QUESTION: No, but you didn't really tell us what your position was exactly.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I did. All right. I really don't have anything new at this point. As you said, we're a couple of days away from the original deadline.
QUESTION: Colombia? Will the United States send more troops to help Colombia in its struggle with the FARC rebels?
MR. BOUCHER: As I have made clear before, we intend to support the Government of Colombia within the parameters of our law. We have found some things that we can do for them in terms of information sharing, intelligence sharing, expediting the shipment of spare parts that they purchased and ordered. And I'm sure we'll be looking for other things we can do to support Colombia within the context of our law. I wouldn't want to speculate on anything beyond that.
QUESTION: On the Middle East, apparently the security meeting has been rescheduled for this afternoon. Can you talk about that, and also give us any new assessment you might have of the situation on the ground there?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me come to the security meeting at the end to put it in the context. The recent upsurge in violence has truly been troubling to us, including several shooting incidents over the weekend and yesterday. We continue to call on Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to undertake maximum efforts to confront violence and terror.
At this critical time, it's also important that the Israeli Government take steps that both facilitate Palestinian efforts on security and help promote a more positive environment on the ground. We do note that both sides have announced their intention to convene another security meeting today, and in fact I believe that meeting should be going on now.
The continuation of security cooperation by Israeli and Palestinian officials, including through bilateral and trilateral security discussions, is a positive step, and it's very important to us that both sides continue to take that substantive cooperation.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary had any more contacts in the Middle East since the weekend, and specifically on the Saudi proposal? Any new thoughts on it? It seems to be taking on a life of its own.
MR. BOUCHER: I thought he expressed his thoughts, and I think you'll know from Ari Fleischer's briefing that the President spoke with Crown Prince Abdullah this morning, and the President conveyed our desire to work closely with the King of Saudi Arabia in pursuit of Middle East peace, and praised the Crown Prince's ideas regarding full Arab-Israeli normalization once a comprehensive peace agreement can be achieved.
The Secretary yesterday spoke with European High Representative Solana. A lot of that was about the Middle East. He spoke with Prime Minister Sharon again yesterday afternoon. So he has continued to be involved in this.
QUESTION: He spoke to Solana before or after he spoke to Pique? That was yesterday, wasn't it?
MR. BOUCHER: After. After he spoke to Pique, because he spoke to Pique before the briefing and --
QUESTION: And considering that both Mr. Solana and Mr. Pique were quite vocal in their enunciation of the EU position that Israel lift all of the travel restrictions that it has on Chairman Arafat, did the Secretary do as you did, which is refuse to discuss that?
MR. BOUCHER: Here I am being measured and insulted.
QUESTION: I'm not insulting you. I'm just saying you didn't want to talk about it yesterday.
MR. BOUCHER: I talked about it quite extensively yesterday. We said quite clearly we think the focus needs to be on ways to reduce the violence, ways the parties can work together to restore calm. We talked about the maximum effort by the Palestinian Authority. That's where we think the focus should be.
QUESTION: Okay. So the Europeans haven't managed to sway you on this position?
MR. BOUCHER: We haven't changed our position on that overnight, no.
QUESTION: You seem to have a new version of the Saudi proposal. I didn't quite catch the wording, though. But you seemed to say -- could you go over what your --
MR. BOUCHER: I am citing for you what Ari Fleischer said: "The President praised the Crown Prince's ideas regarding full Arab-Israeli normalization once a comprehensive peace agreement can be achieved."
QUESTION: Okay. But so it's your understanding that that is the proposal now, because the Saudi proposal is actually, you know, full normalization after Israeli withdrawal to the '67 borders, which is not quite the same thing as a comprehensive peace agreement.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I want to split hairs or try to define any more somebody else's ideas and proposals, but we think that, as we've said before, that it's a significant and positive step that an Arab state would put forward a vision of normalization with Israel in the context of a negotiated settlement.
QUESTION: Richard, but this is incredibly important. You can't just ignore it. I mean, you're saying that the Saudi plan only comes into effect after a comprehensive settlement? Does that include -- is it still the US position that a comprehensive settlement includes Syria and Lebanon? Or are you only talking about a comprehensive settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
MR. BOUCHER: I think what we mean is a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians that covers all these areas, including issues of borders, issues of refugees, Jerusalem -- those kinds of things.
QUESTION: And not Syria?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not in a position to define -- I mean, you're asking me, does the Saudi proposal include peace with Syria. The Saudi proposal, as you noted, in most of its iterations talks merely about the question of borders; full normalization, in their view, full withdrawal.
We have noted before the question of borders is one to be negotiated between the parties as part of an overall peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, and that there are a number of difficult issues that need to be addressed in that regard. I'm not throwing Syria into it at this point, but our position on Syria has not changed. The door remains open to any negotiations or discussions on that track as well.
QUESTION: Well, wait a second, though. I mean, are you saying then that your impression of the Saudi proposal is that it can only come into effect after Tenet is agreed to, after Mitchell is agreed to, and after an Israeli-Palestinian permanent peace settlement is reached?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's go back about 20 steps to what we've been saying consistently for the last five or six days.
QUESTION: Well, I'm just trying to figure out what you're meaning by "comprehensive settlement"?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't accept your characterization. We have made clear since the beginning of this discussion of the Saudi proposals, which they have described to various American reporters but also put out in their own news agency, and you can read in those various sources the various things the Saudis themselves have said.
What they put out was a vision of full normalization of relations with Israel in the Middle East as part of a negotiated settlement. They also put out what they felt the critical element of that settlement was.
We, for our part, have welcomed the fact that they've put forward this vision, noted that some of these issues remain subject to negotiation, and reiterated consistently that to get to that political negotiation you do need to stop the violence, you do need to implement Tenet and Mitchell recommendations. That is what we've always said, and this is consistent with that. But the fact that they have put forward this vision, we think is important.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, that still doesn't answer the question of what you mean when you say "comprehensive settlement". Are you just talking about the Israelis and the Palestinians, or are you talking about the Syrians as well, or, you know, Iran?
MR. BOUCHER: About five minutes ago I said I wasn't throwing the Syrians into that.
QUESTION: Okay. So that doesn't matter, then?
MR. BOUCHER: But then you started saying, "So you don't care about the Syrian situation."
QUESTION: No, no, no. I'm not saying --
MR. BOUCHER: I'd have to say, "No, we care about the Syrians." Okay?
QUESTION: This is an important point. Can we just get this straight?
MR. BOUCHER: So let's just get it all straight.
QUESTION: I mean, for 30 years, the words "comprehensive peace" has been used in the Middle East to include all Israel's neighbors. You're now using it --
MR. BOUCHER: I regret that I --
QUESTION: Is this deliberate, or is this just an oversight?
MR. BOUCHER: This is comprehensive with a small "c". It was used by the White House. I am not trying to ascribe any particular change in policy or grandiose implications to the use of a word that has a meaning in English that means all the elements. And what we're talking about is that clearly the Saudis' idea was put forward in the context of reaching agreement on all the elements that need to be discussed between Israelis and Palestinians.
QUESTION: So the inference that some people may have gotten from Mr. Fleischer's comments about comprehensive peace should not be taken to be a change, correct?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware that anybody got those inferences. You just did.
QUESTION: I think a lot of people did.
MR. BOUCHER: In any case, the bottom line on this is it's a Saudi idea and the Saudis have explained it. Rather than look at what we might characterize about it, you can go ahead and look at what they've said.
QUESTION: Richard, why do you all think the Saudis have done this now? Do you think it's a measure of their frustration with the situation in the region? Do you think it's an effort to raise their own profile? I mean, this has been going on for a long time. Why now?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I'm paid not to speculate, and I don't think it's my job to speculate on somebody else's motives.
QUESTION: I'm not asking you to speculate. To analyze.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not going to try to explain. I think we have always felt the Saudis were interested in the process, in not giving up on a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. We think it's important that they put forward this vision. It's consistent with our own. The fact that people are interested in seeing peace shouldn't be a matter that one has to explain, analyze or speculate on; I think it's just a good thing that they've done it.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the remains of three American brothers who were killed in the Kosovo war, and just now their remains have been identified and turned over to the US Embassy in Belgrade? And also, can you explain whether this is a case where the US would actively try to find out who has killed them, or is this a different situation?
MR. BOUCHER: The remains of three Americans that have been identified by an FBI forensics team as Ylli, Agron and Mehmet Bytyqi were found in a mass grave in eastern Serbia. The bodies are being transferred to Pristina en route to the United States today. An investigation is under way to identify the perpetrators of these murders committed during the Milosevic regime. We certainly regret the tragic loss of life of these Americans overseas, and we express our sincere sympathy to the Bytyqi family and we're working very closely with them on the return of the remains.
We appreciate also the cooperation that we have received from the democratic authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia throughout this process in uncovering the mass grave, exhuming the bodies, and working with the FBI forensics team to identify the remains. We encourage the Yugoslav and Serbian authorities to fulfill their commitments regarding the investigation and look forward to continuing to work with them on these matters of mutual concern.
QUESTION: Is that something that will be pursued until the killers are found? Isn't it -- I mean, it's difficult in a situation that was a wide-scale conflict to figure out who killed these three people out of thousands.
MR. BOUCHER: Difficult, but an investigation is under way, and we certainly intend to pursue it. And I think we have heard from the governments involved that they intend to pursue it with us as well.
QUESTION: Can I ask a related question on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: Has this administration taken a position -- if it has, and it was a while ago, and I've forgotten about it, I'm sorry -- on Milosevic's apparent intent to call as witnesses at his trial at The Hague former administration officials, or officials from the former administration, the last administration?
MR. BOUCHER: I will see if we have anything we can say on that.
QUESTION: Richard, can we have a readout on the Secretary's meeting with the President of Botswana?
MR. BOUCHER: Only the briefest of readouts, since I wasn't able to attend the meeting. I can't find it, anyway. How about there? Yes, this is the Secretary's meeting today with President Mogae of Botswana. They discussed principally HIV/AIDS which, as you know, is a very serious matter and concern of Botswana.
Second, they discussed the issue of conflict diamonds, where we have worked with Botswana on these issues in the region. They also discussed other regional issues, including the situation in Zimbabwe and Angola, and the opportunities created by the African Growth and Opportunity Act and how Botswana can best take advantage of those opportunities.
QUESTION: On Zimbabwe, President Mugabe this morning -- and I'm keeping in mind your comments about Venezuela and how you don't want to affect the outcome of any election -- President Mugabe this morning complained bitterly. He said that the United States -- that he, Mugabe, didn't interfere with the last presidential election, the elections in Florida, and that the United States is doing exactly that in his country now.
I presume that you don't agree with these comments, but I'd like you to express them --
QUESTION: I hadn't seen those comments, but whoever would make comments like that, I don't think we would agree with them. We have made very clear that the issue here, as elsewhere, is the question of democratic institutions; the question of the free press; the question of the rights of the opposition to campaign openly without intimidation, without being subjected to the kind of violence, and now the kind of charges, that are being leveled against them.
Mr. Tsvangirai was issued a warning and caution notice yesterday, indicating he may be charged with treason, although he has not been arrested. Today, two more senior members of the opposition were apparently notified that they could face similar charges.
We are aware of no convincing evidence that there is any basis to these allegations. We have yet to see any specifics attached to the actual charges. So, once again, this appears to be another blatant example of President Mugabe's increasingly authoritarian rule and his government's apparent determination to discredit, intimidate and repress the opposition in the approach to the presidential election.
QUESTION: Are you intending to say you're aware of no evidence -- I mean, that's the same language you used yesterday, but just about the one, the leader. You also are aware of no convincing evidence on the other two?
MR. BOUCHER: That's right.
QUESTION: Nearby, Madagascar. The crisis seems to have got worse now that the opposition candidate has formed his own little parallel government. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: The best solution, in our view, to the crisis is for both sides to accept the High Constitutional Court's decision to hold a runoff election on March 24th. However, should both sides agree, we would support a referendum set up to allow the people of Madagascar a chance to vote in a free, transparent and democratic election to determine their next president. An agreement of that type could be set up with the help of the Organization of African Unity.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.) (####)