State Dept. Daily Press Briefing March 1, 2002
Daily Press Briefing Richard Boucher, Spokesman Washington, DC March 1, 2002
NARCOTICS CONTROL 1-2 Timing of International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Release
HUMAN RIGHTS 1-2 Timing of Human Rights Report Release
SAUDI ARABIA 2 George Tenet's Trip to Saudi Arabia 2-3 A/S Burns' Trip to Saudi Arabia 3 Possible Charities with Links to al-Qaida 3-5 Saudi Proposal/ Level of Support in the Arab World for the Saudi Initiative
ZIMBABWE 4 Upcoming Presidential Election/ Detention of Opposition Leader
ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS 4 Hezbollah Guerrillas Firing Anti-aircraft over Northern Israel 7-8 Israeli Incursions in Palestinian Refugee Camps
LIBYA 5 A/S Burns' Meeting with Pan Am 103 Families/ Court Verdict
PAKISTAN 5 Sending Omar Saeed Sheik to the United States 7 Pakistanis Handing Over Foreign Fighters
SUDAN 6 Sudanese Statement About Deaths of Civilians
GEORGIA 6 Early Release of Mr. Makharadze
CUBA 6 Cubans in Mexican Embassy in Havana
DEPARTMENT 7-8 Liz Cheney Appointment/ Secretary Powell's Telephone Calls
12:50 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. I would be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: When are you going to issue the drug report?
MR. BOUCHER: Anytime now. We're hoping to still do it for you today; we're not sure of the timing. There are still some bureaucratic pieces that have to be finished and signed, and we'll get it out to you as soon as that's done.
QUESTION: Well, you're not going to do it after close of business, are you?
MR. BOUCHER: No. We'll make sure that doesn't happen. Right?
MR. REEKER: We'll set a time.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think so. No, it hasn't.
QUESTION: You wouldn't do the drug report and the Human Rights Report on the same day, Richard? Monday?
MR. BOUCHER: Just say all these things, and I will reflect them in our planning. I appreciate these issues being raised. We'll look to get the drug report out. Of course, in past years, I think the drug report and certifications sort of came out on the same day. We've already done the briefing on the conclusions and the issues. But obviously we're glad that people take such an interest in our narcotics report, and want to understand better the situation around the world, and we'll try to make it available in a timely and useful fashion.
QUESTION: Is the Human Rights Report supposed to be on Monday? Is that the plan now?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. We're pretty much scheduled for Monday on the Human Rights Report.
QUESTION: Can you explain, Richard, what the delay has been, since it's been -- supposed to have been Tuesday of this week?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. These things go through an editing process. They go back and forth. Things get cleaned up, copies get made, comments get made, and there's just a series of what I would call minor editing questions that have been dealt with during the course of this week, and then we've had to put it into final, get it ready for release and transmittal.
QUESTION: No controversy over particular countries?
MR. BOUCHER: The whole editing process involves lines or so in a couple countries, different countries. But no, no particularly -- nothing specifically -- how could I say -- nothing of major policy importance.
QUESTION: So which countries --
MR. BOUCHER: The things that you're most interested in have already been written.
QUESTION: I'm praying nobody has asked this already. It's not that the cocaine figures in Colombia, then, are slowing it?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: It's not?
MR. BOUCHER: No. It's the bureaucratic process of getting things signed off on and letters ready and stuff like that.
QUESTION: Any progress with George Tenet's trip to Saudi Arabia?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's see. Did you ask me about Bill Burns' trip to Saudi Arabia?
QUESTION: No, George Tenet's.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, then I don't have anything to say, and I would refer you to the appropriate agency, which won't comment on it.
QUESTION: What about Bill Burns?
MR. BOUCHER: Funny you should ask. (Laughter.)
Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns returned today from his trip to Saudi Arabia -- I think that means the wee hours of this morning -- where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to discuss a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, including the Crown Prince's recent remarks. They had good and useful discussions on all the whole range of subjects that I discussed yesterday. Did I say "they"? I meant to say "he". And including the recent Saudi proposals, ideas.
It was a good discussion of those things, and we'll keep in close touch with our Saudi friends on these issues.
QUESTION: On this issue, have you made any progress in working out arrangements with the Saudi authorities on investigating possible charities that may have had links to al-Qaida? I know that they've been cooperative, and you've said this many times, but is this moving forward at this point? Did he raise this issue?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that that was a major issue, because it's an area where we have cooperated successfully with the Saudi Government. We have been in touch with them, and our financial experts are in touch with each other. We try to work together on these things.
QUESTION: Did you decide any next moves on moving forward with specifically the Saudi ideas?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it's a question of deciding on next steps, because it's not a peace plan or a specific proposal to end the violence; it's an Arab state vision of normalization in the context of a negotiated peace. It serves as a promise of better life for all the region should the parties find a way to end violence and once again resume their negotiations. But the next steps, as we have always said, mean maximum efforts by the Palestinian Authority to confront violence and terror and steps by the Israeli Government to facilitate Palestinian efforts on security and help promote a more positive environment on the ground. Those are the next steps that we're working on that we're looking for.
QUESTION: Yes, but behind the Saudi proposal is that the parties should pick up on it. Now, does the US want them to? And has the US asked them to, asked the Israelis, the Palestinians, Syria, Lebanon and whoever --
MR. BOUCHER: We have said we found these ideas significant, we found them positive; we found it important, not only for what they were, but for the fact that they were made, for the fact that they pointed, for all of us -- and particularly given the support they've gotten in the Arab world -- that they pointed to a negotiated peace and a way of resolving the fundamental issues peacefully.
I don't want to detract from the importance of the proposal, or the ideas, but we do need to remember that the next steps are to stop the violence and get on, start moving down that road of -- I used the phrase before -- this is about what's down the road, but we've still got to go down the road, and going down the road requires an end to the violence.
So in terms of the Saudi ideas, we are talking to various people about it. It's an important part of the picture at this point, but the key on next steps remains stopping the violence and implementing the steps that Tenet and Mitchell had recommended in the past.
QUESTION: The Secretary said that in the coming weeks he would be seeking more clarification, more details in the proposal. Did the Crown Prince flesh out what his thinking on this vision was? Was he specific about what kind of settlement he saw?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to try to speak for him, so I'll just say they had a good discussion of the ideas and the situation, and how we go forward.
QUESTION: Well, would you say he gave a better understanding of where the Saudis are at at this point? Than you did when you read about it in The New York Times?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, because we value the kind of face-to-face discussions that Assistant Secretary Burns had. We value speaking directly with the Crown Prince about these things, not only in telephone calls, but with representatives who can go out and talk to him directly. That's why it was worth making the trip all the way out there and back. But that's about as far as I think I can go.
QUESTION: Is there any response in Zimbabwe to Mugabe's call -- I guess it applies to the US as well; he has told Great Britain to go to hell - - to stabilize and finally get to some elections?
MR. BOUCHER: We have made very clear our view that -- about the situation in Zimbabwe. On Wednesday, the opposition leader was detained for about 30 minutes. He was questioned, not charged. The allegations and charges seem to be flying around. No evidence has been presented, offered. We're not aware of any evidence that there's anything there, and we just see this as part of a campaign to intimidate and repress the opposition in advance of the elections. We have expressed our concerns. We'll continue to express our concerns.
QUESTION: Can I draw you back to the Middle East? I think we can make a quick shift. The Israeli Ambassador is complaining about Hezbollah guerrillas firing anti-aircraft into -- over northern Israel. The debris -- the ammunition comes with a fuse that disintegrates it, but the debris falls on northern Israeli villages. This has been going on all year, on and off, and he says that the State Department has promised to take it up with Hezbollah's backers, meaning Syria and Lebanon.
I'm tempted to ask you if Syria and Lebanon should do more, using the construction we use for Arafat. Should they do more to restrain Hezbollah terrorists -- or militia, as we --
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if I have anything on that.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense, after this trip to Saudi Arabia, what the level of support in the Arab world is for the Saudi initiative?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if it's so much related to the fact that we had a visit to Saudi Arabia, but we have seen a variety of voices in the Arab world endorse publicly this vision. We've seen things from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and I am sure there are others as well. So there has been a fairly strong show of support in the Arab world for this basic concept that there would be normalization with Israel in the context of a negotiated peace. Again, that's important. It's positive. And we have to find a way to get down that road so we can start moving on the negotiation.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about the Lockerbie families? I understand they're having meetings here today. And I have a follow-up question, too.
MR. BOUCHER: And what?
QUESTION: I have a follow-up after that.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Maybe I'll answer all the questions off the top.
At their request, Assistant Secretary Burns will meet with the families of the Pan Am 103 victims to discuss US efforts to secure Libya's compliance with the requirements set by the United Nations Security Council. As we have said before, there has been no change in US policy. The US-United Kingdom dialogue with Libya does not represent a new initiative or some kind of shift in relations. Our focus remains on securing Libya's full compliance with its United Nations Security Council obligations regarding the Lockerbie bombing.
QUESTION: Are you aware of remarks that were made by a Libyan official in Paris yesterday in which he compared Libya's situation and the civil suit to that of OJ Simpson, where they have to pay even though they're not guilty? And do you have any response?
MR. BOUCHER: The response is that there has been a court verdict by a Scottish court meeting in the Netherlands. It is to be respected. The court is considering the appeal. The court will render its verdict when it feels it appropriate. But there has been a verdict that convicted Libyan intelligence agents of this crime.
QUESTION: Richard, there's a wire story that says that, I believe, someone from the Interior Ministry in Pakistan has said that Pakistan will indeed extradite or send to this country, render -- whatever the correct term is -- Omar Saeed Sheikh to this country to be tried.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any new news on that. We remain in contact with the Pakistani officials on the subject. I realize there were a series of different comments in the press by various people that they might do this, they will do this, they could do that. But until we hear something officially, I don't have anything more.
QUESTION: Are there still areas that need clarification?
MR. BOUCHER: We remain in contact with them. I don't know that we've heard a definitive answer from them at this point on our request.
QUESTION: Did you see the Sudanese statement about how dismayed they were by the deaths of civilians last week, and how they compare that to the innocent loss of life in Afghanistan as a result of US bombing? Have you seen that statement?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we just saw the statement. At this point, we're reviewing it. We'll see what we hear from the Sudanese Government, but I don't have a reaction for you.
QUESTION: Could I ask you about Georgia and the early release of Mr. Makharadze?
MR. BOUCHER: Am I allowed to say no? (Laughter.) Yes, you may ask, and I may answer.
Mr. Makharadze was released from prison on Wednesday in Tblisi. He served nearly four and a half years of a minimum five-year sentence that we had asked the Georgians to enforce. Remember, this was a very tragic case. We once again extend our deepest sympathies to the victims and their families.
This whole area involving prisoner transfer and sentence length is a responsibility of the Justice Department, so I have to refer you to them for any other questions.
QUESTION: Have you any further comment on the Cubans in the Mexican Embassy in Havana?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point I think I'd say that now that they have been returned to Cuban authorities, we believe they must be treated justly, transparently, without reprisals, and in accordance with international humanitarian standards. In this regard, the Cuban Government must treat the 21 in full accord with the humanitarian practice. And I'm sure we, the Mexican Government, the international community will monitor closely to make sure the Cubans handle this in a manner that is consistent with Mexico's commitments to human rights observance, as well as our own.
QUESTION: The Mexican Foreign Minister spoke about radical elements in Miami presenting his words in a wrong way. He didn't mention, but he probably referred to Radio Marti, which is a government station. Is it creating any problems?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't think that was the Mexican; it was the Cubans that said it was Radio Marti. Radio Marti is a professional media outlet. They reported the story accurately, the way other media outlets in Miami did. We welcome the Mexican Foreign Ministry's statement February 27th that repeated Foreign Secretary Castaneda's remark that Mexico's Embassy remains open to all Cuban citizens, including dissidents. We would hope that all embassies in Havana would be able to maintain and expand relations with dissidents and with other independent voices in Cuba.
The problem is not that embassies are willing to talk to Cubans; the problem is that the Cuban Government is not willing to let Cubans talk to embassies.
QUESTION: Do you have anything about reports that the Pakistanis have handed over numerous al-Qaida or foreign fighters that they have captured over to the Americans, and that some of them, at least five, have been American citizens?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen any reports like that, but we wouldn't have anything on that here anyway. I assume it would be the Pentagon, if you're talking about the kind of detentions we're doing.
QUESTION: You have nothing on the fact that American citizens were found fighting with --
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't. I don't, but I wouldn't.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the Middle East one second? There have been new Israeli incursions in the Palestinian refugee camps today. Do you have any reaction to that?
And also, a related issue. Can you confirm that the State Department is considering to hire Mrs. Elizabeth Cheney as Deputy to Assistant Secretary Williams Burns?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. First, on the situation in the refugee camps, the United States remains concerned about the situation on the ground, particularly in Jenin and the Balata refugee camps. We are in touch with the Israeli Government to urge that utmost restraint be exercised in order to avoid harm to the civilian population. We believe it's extremely important that every possible effort be made to avoid harm to civilians.
We respect the Israeli right to self-defense, and we continue to call on Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to undertake maximum efforts to confront violence and terror. It is 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 strongly encourage the parties to continue their security contacts that they've conducted in recent days. We understand they are planning a security meeting again for the weekend.
On the Cheney appointment or hiring -- appointment, Elizabeth Cheney will join the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in coming weeks as the Deputy Assistant Secretary handling the regional economic portfolio. We are delighted to have Ms. Cheney join our team. She brings a very strong legal and economic background to her new position, having previously served with both the private and government sectors, including with USAID and the Department of State. She has worked extensively on economic matters in the Middle East, and we are very glad to have her with us.
I had the opportunity to talk to Secretary Powell about this this morning. He says he has known her for some time. She's a very highly skilled individual. She brings talents to us and experience to us that will be very important, and he and we are glad to have her on board. Assistant Secretary Burns feels the same way.
QUESTION: Do you want to respond to reports that this position was created exclusively for Elizabeth Cheney?
MR. BOUCHER: It wasn't. That's wrong.
QUESTION: Were other --
MR. BOUCHER: It's a position that's been around for a while. It's been vacant since over a year now, but it's one of the positions we've been looking to fill for the new administration. It's not a new job.
QUESTION: Have you had any -- did you get a response to your communication with the Israeli Government by the Embassy yesterday about the incursions into camps?
MR. BOUCHER: I know they've talked to the Israeli Government. I don't want to try to characterize the Israeli response.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary talked to anyone in the Middle East today?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Does he plan to, are you aware of?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any phone calls set up at this point.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m. EST.)