State Dept. Daily Press Briefing March 5, 2002
Daily Press Briefing Index Tuesday, March 5, 2002 12:10 p.m. EST
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
CHINA 1 China's Approval for a Defense Budget Increase
SUDAN 1 Reported Emerging U.S./Sudan Agreement on Civilian Protection 2 U.S. Decision to Suspend Peace Talks with Sudan
DEPARTMENT 2 Secretary's Meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch
MACEDONIA 2 Killing in Macedonia/Plot to Take over Foreign Embassies
SWITZERLAND 2 Switzerland Joining the UN
AFGHANISTAN 3 Article on Hekmatyar's Return to Afghanistan
GUANTANAMO 3 Countries Whose Citizens are Held in Guantanamo
ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS 3-4 Violence in the Middle East 3, 4 General Zinni's Travel Plans 4-5 U.S. Reaction to PM Sharon's Comment on Palestinian Casualties 5 The Saudi Proposal for Mideast Peace 5-6 President Mubarak's Role in the Middle East Peace Process
NORTH KOREA 6 CIA's Report on Ballistic Missiles/North Korea Missiles Program
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, MARCH 5, 2002 (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
12:10 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any announcements or statements, so I would be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Did you notice that China has approved a defense budget increase of 17.5 percent?
MR. BOUCHER: What we have seen is press reports ,various reports, that say China intends to announce an increase in its military budget by 17 percent. As you all know, China has a program of military modernization. We monitor that program closely, particularly with regard to its impact on regional peace and stability. I would say that we always encourage greater transparency regarding China's military budget and its military-related policy priorities. We think that serves the interest of peace and security in the region as well.
QUESTION: Richard, are reports of an agreement at least emerging between the United States and Sudan about the protection of civilians? Can you comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think "emerging" is probably the right way to put it. Let me tell you exactly where we are now. The Sudanese Government has indicated that it will agree to a verification mechanism that will monitor and prevent attacks against civilians. The Sudan People's Liberation Movement and Army has not yet formally agreed to this point.
Although we consider this as a start to getting back to the peace discussions, obtaining a signature on an agreement is not our primary objective in the exercise. We want the parties to honestly commit themselves to stop attacking innocent civilians. So once we have this commitment, the implementation of an on-the-ground international mechanism to verify the situation will allow the international community to determine if the parties are doing what they said they would do to protect the lives of innocent civilians.
Sadly, the history of Sudan is strewn with agreements and commitments that have never been implemented. The only way to break this vicious cycle is for the parties to the conflict to live up to their word and for international monitors to confirm compliance on the ground. So that's what we're seeking to do once we have the commitments formally made, is to put in place an international verification mechanism with the parties so that we can make sure the commitments are adhered to.
QUESTION: Can you just walk through on this how it would affect the decision about two weeks ago from the State Department to suspend talks on the peace process with Sudan after the bombing in Bieh?
MR. BOUCHER: We said at that time that we needed to have an explanation of what happened. We have indeed gotten such an explanation. In fact, we've heard an explanation, we've gotten an apology for it, we got a letter from the Foreign Minister on February 28th that acknowledged the tragedy at Bieh, and indicated a number of concrete steps the government intended to take to ensure that there was no repeat of such attacks, including moving the approval process for all military flights to the Khartoum military command.
So, having gotten that explanation, we wanted to move on and make sure that we could do what we could to investigate things like this and prevent them from happening again. And that's what we're working on now.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout of the meeting between the Secretary and the Ecumenical Patriarch?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a precise readout. Would you like to step up and do one off the top of your head, or should we promise something later? We'll promise something for you later. We'll give it to you later.
QUESTION: What do you make of the killing of five Arabs and two ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, reportedly involved in a plot for taking foreign embassies, including the United States Embassy? Can you comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have much to say at this point on that. I think the whole matter is being investigated and looked into by the Macedonian authorities. We don't have a lot of information at this point. We do not have any information that there was a specific threat to US facilities.
QUESTION: The Swiss voted last Sunday in favor of their country joining the UN. Do you have any comments? I'm sure that is something you are welcoming.
MR. BOUCHER: Absolutely. Warmly welcome. We want to say we warmly welcome the decision of the Swiss voters to join the United Nations. We think the Swiss entry will help strengthen the United Nations, and we'll support the process of approving Swiss entry at both the Security Council and the General Assembly levels when that comes up there.
Switzerland has long been a champion of the values upon which the United Nations was founded, as well as a practical contributor to United Nations activities. As we know, Switzerland hosts UN offices in Geneva and is already a member of several of the UN specialized agencies. So we look forward to working with Switzerland as a full member of the United Nations.
QUESTION: The Washington Times has a story today that says that the warlord Hekmatyar has returned to Afghanistan, quoting officials at the Afghan Embassy in Washington. Do you have any comment on this?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have anything for you on it. Sorry.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on countries that might be visiting citizens of theirs that are being held in Guantanamo?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a list handy. We have been able to arrange visits by various countries to Guantanamo. I would have to go back.. It's an ongoing process. Countries come to us, we try to make the arrangements. So I'd have to go back and get a list of people who have done that and try to get that for you.
QUESTION: Do you have anything -- do you have any words on the violence in the last 24 hours in the Middle East?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Let me review that. We are deeply troubled by the escalating violence in the Middle East. We have urged both sides to do all they can to bring it to an immediate end. Secretary Powell spoke with Prime Minister Sharon this morning about the situation, and about what needs to be done to end the violence and get to a cease-fire.
Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority must act now to confront those responsible for terror and violence. Terrorist attacks such as those that have occurred over the past three days can only harm the interests of the Palestinian people, and progress towards a future of peace and security.
We respect Israel's right to self-defense. At the same time, it is imperative that Israeli defense forces exercise the utmost restraint and discipline to avoid further harm to civilians. In this context, Israeli military actions in densely populated civilian areas and attacks on or near Palestinian Authority administrative and security facilities clearly work against the overriding objective of reducing the violence and returning to negotiations.
We also note the bombing of a Palestinian school this morning by an extremist group that left eight Palestinian schoolchildren injured. We strongly condemn all such terrorist acts, including this targeting of innocent Palestinian children.
At this time, we call upon both sides to consider the consequences of their actions. Both sides have an obligation to halt the ongoing tragedy, to avoid escalation, to desist from provocation and incitement, and to cease immediately attacks that harm civilians. Their focus must remain on establishing an enduring cease-fire through implementation as quickly as possible of the Tenet security work plan and the Mitchell Committee recommendations, and thereby a resumption of the political process.
QUESTION: I'm assuming that there's no news on General Zinni's travel plans? And can you --
MR. BOUCHER: No. He will go back when it's appropriate and useful.
QUESTION: Can you explain to us why this is not the best time for him to go, given that Secretary Powell, when he was appointed, said he was exactly the right kind of man to bang heads together? I don't know if he used the phrase "bang heads together," but he used something like --
MR. BOUCHER: He used something like that, yes.
QUESTION: So why not now?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the point is that we don't send envoys just to have somebody out there. We send envoys out when there's something useful that can be done, and that requires a certain willingness of the parties to take the steps that are necessary to stop the violence. We have been looking to Chairman Arafat to take steps to stop the violence, to take steps to dismantle the groups that perpetrate the violence. And until we start seeing the possibility, or start seeing those kinds of steps, until we start seeing that, we wouldn't necessarily send an envoy out. The Secretary and General Zinni and the others that work this will make the appropriate decisions when they think it's useful and appropriate.
The United States remains involved in all kinds of ways -- at the Secretary's level, through our contacts, the President today is talking to President Mubarak, our contacts with others in the region, our direct contacts with the parties through our representatives in the region. And we're working very hard with the parties to try to end the violence, obtain a cease-fire, implement as quickly as possible the Tenet and Mitchell recommendations, establish a basis of security cooperation so that they can prevent these kind of incidents before they happen.
QUESTION: Yesterday one of the horrible terrorist strikes was claimed by a group called the Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades, which has come up before. Is there any further consideration at the State Department being given right now to putting this group on the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, considering this is not the first time that they have claimed responsibility for an act that has harmed civilians and killed civilians?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new on that today.
QUESTION: Can you take it as a question?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if we can get you something, yes.
QUESTION: I'd like to ask you about some comments made by Ariel Sharon in the press yesterday that you might have seen, where he says that the plan is to get the maximum amount of casualties on the Palestinian side; only until the Palestinians are battered will we be able to have talks. Have you seen these comments?
And when Secretary Powell spoke to Ariel Sharon, did he say that perhaps the indiscriminate retaliatory attacks that are hurting civilians are only escalating the cycle of violence?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to be in a position to go through particular comments or discussions that the Secretary has with the parties. As you know, he is in very frequent touch with them. We have tried to avoid doing a he-said/he-said sort of readout of all these conversations because they need to be able to talk to each other. And that's what they did today.
With respect to the comments, again, we have tried not to react to every single statement that both parties have made. Our view is quite clear: both parties have an obligation to consider the consequences of their actions; both parties have an obligation to take steps that can get us away from escalation, that can stop the violence, that can help avoid harm to civilians. And that's what we make clear to the parties.
QUESTION: If I could follow up, without speaking then directly to the comments made, do you think that appropriate bargaining, that appropriate political tactic in order to get the talks back on track is to try and maximize the amount of casualties?
MR. BOUCHER: We think, as I have said to you already today, that it's imperative that both of the parties look to what they can do to stop the sources of violence; on the Palestinian side to stop the groups that carry out violence; on the Israeli side, to exercise the utmost restraint and discipline.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Sharon also said that he thinks that Crown Prince Abdullah should come to Jerusalem or should maybe potentially go to Cairo to meet with him face to face to talk about the Saudi proposal. Does the State Department have a position on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I've heard, no. Not that we've taken. It would be up to them to decide whether or not to meet.
QUESTION: If we could follow up on the targeted killings, I mean, I know that you've said in the past that the United States is against targeted killings, but as Israel has announced its intention to continue these targeted killings, and given the amount of civilian casualties in result of that, I mean, how hard is the administration pressing the Israelis to stop the practice?
MR. BOUCHER: We have been quite clear about our view on targeted killings. We have been very deeply concerned about them. We have made clear that we strongly oppose the Israeli policy of targeted killings. The events on Monday that left six civilians dead I think demonstrate quite clearly why it's important to oppose this practice and the potential effects that we deeply regret. We strongly deplore the killing of civilians by both sides. That has been a longstanding view, and we have made that view clear.
QUESTION: Within hours, there has also been more suicide attacks, another so-called night club in the Tel Aviv area. Is there any -- in the talks with Hosni Mubarak, is he trying to ascertain what -- perhaps what trial balloons he may use at the meetings in Beirut at the end of the month? And is there any specific plan to maybe bring them in more forcefully to settle these issues?
MR. BOUCHER: The Egyptians have played a very active role through their contacts with both the parties there. They, like we, have worked with both sides to try to move to an end to violence, a cease-fire, and a return to political negotiations. We have welcomed the Egyptian role and we have worked closely with the Egyptians in that. During the visit of President Mubarak to Washington yesterday, the Secretary had discussions with him, as well as with Foreign Minister Maher, about how to keep moving in that direction. You've heard a little bit from the Secretary. And then President Mubarak will be at the White House today discussing that further.
So, yes, we are talking to the Egyptians about how to achieve those goals. We are, in that context, looking at the upcoming Arab League summit. But clearly the imperative right now is to do what we can with the parties to get the violence to stop. This has been a terrible few days of violence for both sides, Israelis and Palestinians suffering, dying. They shouldn't have to live this way. We want this situation to improve, not only for the sake of getting the peace talks back on track, but for the sake of the people who have to live under these conditions.
QUESTION: With President Mubarak here in Washington, are there any plans for anyone in the US Government to bring up with his party or him the claims made in the CIA's latest report on ballistic missiles that they're cooperating with a charter member of the axis of evil, North Korea, on their ballistic missiles program?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see what I can get you on that.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:30 p.m. EST.)
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