State Dept. Daily Press Briefing March 8, 2002
Daily Press Briefing Index Friday, March 8, 2002 12:50 p.m. EST
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
DEPARTMENT 1 Registration for the Foreign Service Exam 14-16 Eviction of individual from home of the former Iranian Ambassador
MACEDONIA 1-2 Amnesty Law
ISREAL/PALESTINIANS 3-4,6,8,17 Gen. Zinni's travels / plan 4-6,8-9 Implementation of the Tenet Plan 7 Secretary Powell's statements about the situation 10 Karine A incident 11 President Bush's Statements 16 Saudi proposal
CUBA 12 Status of the Lopez family in Cuba
IRAQ/UN 12-13 Kofi Annan's meeting with Iraqi official
EUROPEAN UNION 13 GPS Galileo System
MYANMAR 17 Former Dictator Ne Win
ZIMBABWE 18-19 Elections
MADAGASCAR 19 Situation Update
CHINA 20 Visit of Taiwanese Foreign Minister
GEORGIA 20 Al-Qaida connection
PAKISTAN 21 Deportations 21 Visit of Education Minister
RUSSIA 22 Importing American poultry, exporting steel U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, MARCH 8, 2002 (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
12:50 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I'd like to talk about a couple things off the top and then I'd be glad to take your questions.
First, the registration deadline for the April Foreign Service Exam expires on Monday night, March 11th. The exam is April 13th. People can register on the web at www.careers.state.gov. We need people with all kinds of skills and all kinds of people, and we're hoping to get more sign-ups this time even than we did last fall when we gave it and had a very successful process of getting people to sign up and then actually show up for the exam and take it and pass, and we're in that process of bringing people in.
So that's www.careers.state.gov, and no one is too old. So all of you are invited to get on-line.
QUESTION: Does that mean Charlie can still sign up?
MR. BOUCHER: That means Charlie can still sign up.
QUESTION: Can I make a filing break so we can go do that, get in?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, sure. Go right ahead. Or, even better than that, you could just all walk off on me and we'll all go to lunch. (Laughter.)
Okay. I do want to off the top tell you a little bit about Macedonia, because Macedonia's political leadership has passed March 7th an amnesty law. We commend them on this act. It's an important milestone in the fulfillment of the Ohrid agreements and a key ingredient for peace and reconciliation in Macedonia. Together with our ongoing efforts to restore regular multiethnic police presence throughout the former conflict areas, the amnesty law reflects the positive progress being made towards the full implementation of the framework agreement. It's essential to support an advance peace in the spirit of the framework agreement and reject forcefully any that advocate a recourse to violence.
We look forward to the March 12th International Donors Conference for Macedonia, and to making a significant contribution to international efforts to help Macedonia fully implement the framework agreement.
QUESTION: Richard, is that it?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. That's it for statements and announcements, so we'll go for questions.
QUESTION: Well, before Barry changes the subject to the Middle East, can I just ask a question on Macedonia?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: What was the story with this report in yesterday's Washington Post about the arrests of -- this building, you guys have rather vigorously denied that --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we said that the reports were completely untrue. Is that the same?
QUESTION: Well, that's a vigorous denial, I think. Isn't it?
MR. BOUCHER: I suppose you might see if there's more from the Macedonian side, but there were reports in both the US in the Macedonian press, which had said the Macedonian Government had turned over to US custody some suspected terrorists that they wanted to deport. Those reports were completely untrue. They have not turned over any suspects to us, nor have we taken custody of any suspects in Macedonia, nor have we transported them to Guantanamo Bay, as these reports said.
So I don't know what was behind these reports coming out, but they just weren't true.
QUESTION: Okay, well, are you aware of any terrorist suspects that you'd like to get your hands on?
MR. BOUCHER: We haven't asked for any suspects from Macedonia.
QUESTION: On the donors conference, I assume the United States is taking part in this.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. We look forward to making a significant contribution.
QUESTION: Significant? You can't be any more precise than that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't.
QUESTION: Where is it?
QUESTION: Yes, where is it indeed?
MR. BOUCHER: Trick question. Don't know. Phil, Brussels? Somewhere in Europe.
QUESTION: But would you -- presumably you have earmarked some money for Macedonia in the 2002 and the 2003 budget.
MR. BOUCHER: I would have to look at the budget numbers there, but, as you know, frequently when it comes time to actually make a contribution, there's not only earmarked funds or specific -- it's not earmarked -- but specifically designated funds for that country, but there are also regional programs or global programs that support agriculture, child health or something else that we can apply to those needs within a specific place.
QUESTION: Only hours after the Secretary was telling Congress that things have to calm down before political moves --
MR. BOUCHER: He didn't say that.
QUESTION: He didn't?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Well, the White House did.
QUESTION: For weeks, months, the administration has taken the view that there are a lot of plans out there, a lot of proposals, a lot of good ideas, but really the violence has to be brought down in order to have any reasonable chance of success. And then it was announced by the President that he's sending Zinni with a roadmap for peace, as well as, of course, an attempt to calm the fighting, cool off the fighting, to the region.
Is this, one, a change of mind? Pressure? Arabs, Europeans? The situation is so awful you've got to try something? What brought about this, what I think is a turnabout?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, I think the President explained it quite well yesterday. Sending General Zinni back to the region is an expression of our concern, about our commitment, and about our desire to see the immediate implementation of the Tenet security work plan. We have always focused on how to reduce the violence. We have always focused on the need for the parties to take steps to reduce the violence, and that has at no time been more crucial and important than it is now. The really horrific violence that we've seen in the last few days has caused deep concern, and the President said yesterday that sending General Zinni back is an expression of our concern about the violence and of our commitment to trying to do what we can to stop it.
QUESTION: But he hadn't gone back last week or the week before. There's been violence for weeks and weeks. So I just wonder if it's an expression of concern, but also despair, that something has got to be tried.
MR. BOUCHER: I would say it is concern and commitment. That's where it is. We have always focused on steps to reduce the violence. We want to see immediate implementation of the Tenet security work plan. Those are the steps that the parties can take to reduce the violence. We want to offer them the opportunity at this moment, when there is so much tragic loss of life, to get into those steps, to move forward with steps that can be effective in reducing the violence. And that is what General Zinni will go out to do.
As you know, both the Israelis and Palestinians have welcomed his visit, said they look forward to working with him next week when he goes out there. And we hope that his visit will be the occasion for them to take these serious steps to stop the violence.
QUESTION: In his kit bag are the same things that were there the last two times, right? I mean, Tenet and Mitchell. Same equipment?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, it's looking for immediate implementation, as the Secretary said the other day, jump into the Tenet work plan and take those steps which can hopefully have the effect of reducing violence so that we can go to Mitchell, to the Mitchell recommendations, further solidify some kind of cease-fire, and get back to confidence-building and talks.
QUESTION: Can you talk about reports that one of the US goals is to persuade the Israelis to drop their desire for a seven-day cooling-off period, or should I say their demand for a seven-day cooling-off period? Is that specifically one of the things that Zinni is first going to try to accomplish?
MR. BOUCHER: Zinni's goal is to get the parties to implement the Tenet security work plan steps immediately, to get them to take the steps. Even before he gets there, we would hope that they would take the steps necessary to stop the violence and to reduce the escalation, the provocation. Various things are going on that perpetuate this violence, so the goal is to reduce the violence, but also to get into immediate implementation of the Tenet security steps.
QUESTION: But would that be one of the first things he'll ask for specifically?
MR. BOUCHER: He will ask for implementation of the Tenet security work plan.
QUESTION: But doesn't that include the cooling-off period?
MR. BOUCHER: He will ask for implementation of the Tenet security work plan.
QUESTION: Does the Tenet plan -- in fact, more than seven days --
MR. BOUCHER: We ourselves have not released the Tenet plan, but I think some of you might be familiar with it since it's on the Internet. (Laughter.) Not to confirm that that version may or may not be accurate, but you have a general idea what might be in it.
QUESTION: It's much longer than seven days, too.
MR. BOUCHER: The Tenet plan, the Tenet security steps worked out, as the President said, by George Tenet last year, are, as he said, a way to get an end to the violence, to reduce the violence, to take real steps that can stop this tragic loss of life.
QUESTION: One last one. Let me try the approach, cooling off this way.
MR. BOUCHER: We'll do a private briefing for each member as he --
QUESTION: Well, you don't -- you know, obviously the government is uncomfortable, this government is, talking about the specifics --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not uncomfortable.
QUESTION: -- of the Tenet plan.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll talk about it more.
QUESTION: No, the specifics of the Tenet plan. It's a deep, dark secret to everybody. But how about the principle? Is it the current view of Secretary of State Powell that before the recommendations of the Mitchell Commission can get implemented, there should be an extensive cooling-off period?
MR. BOUCHER: But that's never been our particular view. We have always said that clearly the Mitchell Plan, right at the beginning, looks for an end to violence. That's why the Tenet security work plan was worked out, because it offers specific steps the parties can take to end the violence.
Now, there are other things they can do. There are other things that we think they should be doing. We have been quite clear on those. When you have suicide bombers continuing, groups that continue to send riflemen to shoot at innocent civilians or gunmen to spray a schoolyard full of bullets -- those groups need to be stopped. That sort of action needs to be stopped.
We have also said that it's important for the Israelis to think hard about their policies, think through the consequences of things like going into heavily populated areas with heavy military force, because those consequences can be tragic as well. And in the end, is either side getting what it wants, which is security and a normal and better life for its people? That's the issue that the Secretary raised in his testimony the other day, and in order to get beyond that, we think we can send General Zinni back. It offers them an opportunity to return to a path of achieving their security needs by cooperating with each other.
QUESTION: Richard, we're getting a little confused. Can we go back a bit? When you say you want immediate implementation of the Tenet work plan, could you spell out what -- apart from stopping shooting, what steps do they need to carry out immediately for this implementation to take place?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't do that without giving you the steps in the Tenet work plan, and for one reason or another we have not done that in public in the past, and I'm not in a position to do that today. But the parties certainly discussed this, negotiated it, agreed to it, understand that those steps in the Tenet work plan can help reduce the violence, can help cement any reductions that they would make effective on their own, and can bring us to the point where we can implement the Mitchell Committee recommendations.
QUESTION: And when will General Zinni leave? What are his plans at the moment?
MR. BOUCHER: Sometime next week.
QUESTION: Just can you be more specific than that?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: That's pretty vague.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Very briefly, he's not going alone, is he?
MR. BOUCHER: He'll have his usual staff with him, which I think at this point is one person. But anyway --
QUESTION: Okay. Can I just also ask, do you have anything specifically to say about the recent deluge of violence?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I'll go through it.
We, as you know, as I've said I think continue to be very --
QUESTION: Well, I mean, in the last 12 hours or so.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll deal with some of that, yes. We continue to be very deeply troubled by the escalating violence in the Middle East, and we continue to urge both sides to do all they can to bring it to an immediate end.
As the President said yesterday, Chairman Arafat must do more to bring down the level of violence. The past week we have seen a continuing wave of terrorism -- suicide bombings killing dozens, including small children; shooting attacks on civilians; rocket attacks on urban areas. These heinous acts of terrorism can only harm the interests of the Palestinian people and their ability to progress towards a future of peace and security. And we continue to look to Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to do everything possible to bring this violence and terror to an end.
We have also made clear that Prime Minister Sharon has to take a hard look at his policies to see whether they will work. Declaring war against the Palestinians and attempting to solve the problem through military action doesn't lead us anywhere. Right now, both sides should think through the consequences of the policies they are following. Both parties need to take a hard look at what they are doing now and take the necessary steps so that they can implement the Tenet work plan immediately as a first step towards full implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations and a resumption of the political process.
We are also deeply troubled by reports of vigilante action by Israeli settlers against the Palestinian village of Huwera south of Nablus. The Israeli Government must do all it can to halt attacks against innocent civilians and ensure that incidents like this are not repeated.
For progress to be made, both sides must consider the consequences of their actions. Both sides have an obligation to halt the ongoing tragedy, avoid escalation, desist from provocation and incitement, and cease immediately actions that harm civilians. That is our focus as we seek to end the senseless violence and bloodshed, restore hope to Israelis and Palestinians and the region as a whole.
QUESTION: Richard, you just repeated, I believe, almost word for word, what the Secretary said on Wednesday, which he kind of stepped back a bit from yesterday. And I'm speaking specifically --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think he stepped back from it yesterday, but --
QUESTION: Well, it wasn't as harsh yesterday as it was on Wednesday, and I'm talking specifically about the comments about Prime Minister Sharon. There is a school of thought that thinks that Sharon, in his latest comments about escalating the Israeli retaliation, has kind of gone over a line, is becoming Kurtz-like in operating without restraint. And I am just wondering if the United States believes that Sharon's measures or his methods have become unsound.
MR. BOUCHER: We have, I think, made clear through the Secretary's comments and the other comments we've made, first, that we do understand Israel's need to defend itself. As the President said yesterday, we understand that Israel has been the subject of violence and terror; Israeli citizens have been the victims of this violence and terror, and that they therefore feel a need to defend themselves, and they have a right to do so. But, at the same time, made quite clear that we don't think that these particular actions that are being taken by the Israeli Government in many of these cases, whether it's targeted killings or the use of heavy military force in densely populated areas, we don't think that those kind of steps actually contribute to better security, to achievement of their goals. And we have always urged them not to carry out such steps. We have made clear that actions like targeted killings need to be halted now, and always urged them to follow a path where security can be achieved for both sides through their cooperation. And that is one of the reasons why we're sending General Zinni out there, is to offer that opportunity to them.
QUESTION: Can I just ask on that -- I mean, are the methods that Israel is using right now sound or unsound, according to you?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to buy one of your words one way or the other. I'm giving our position. That's it.
QUESTION: I'm not asking you to buy it.
MR. BOUCHER: You are only offering me two choices. I don't want either one, thank you.
QUESTION: Is Zinni going to be working with the Vice President while he's in the region?
MR. BOUCHER: To the extent they overlap, yes. But as the Vice President said yesterday, he'll be discussing Zinni's efforts during his visits to I think it's 12 countries in 10 days. He will be talking about other things as well, about regional issues and bilateral issues as well. General Zinni will be on the ground working with the parties, trying to seek the implementation of the Tenet Plan.
QUESTION: Richard, I don't mean this in a flip way, but the last time General Zinni went, the violence got worse rather than improved. What makes you think that this time he's going to be able to make it work? And is it something -- Barry mentioned this roadmap -- is he carrying a letter with him from the President? Is there something that you think that General Zinni is bringing with him beyond his presence that will do the trick?
And also, can you tell us how long he'll be there?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer to the second part, how long he'll be there, is no, I can't tell you at this point.
If you remember, the last time Zinni went out, he had achieved some progress in terms of trilateral security cooperation. And then there was the Karine A affair; we found that boat full of arms. And he left, I think, according to plan, but he left saying that here we are trying to make progress on stopping the violence, and yet there's this importation of arms that implies an escalation.
That certainly was the issue back then. But it was clear that there was some progress being made in terms of trilateral security cooperation. So I think again he's going out this time as a chance to offer them the opportunity. What makes us think that they will take this? As the President said, there's no assurances. But we have to offer that hope, we have to offer that possibility, and it is a method that the parties have, at times in the past, either used or been willing to use to reduce the violence. And given what the Secretary said, that the tactics, the methods, that they seem to be using now of more violence are not working; they are not getting what they want out of that. We're looking to them to take this opportunity to implement the Tenet steps and to achieve security through cooperation.
QUESTION: Do you know if he's going to be carrying a letter or anything from the President?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: Just quickly. "Roadmap" is the President's -- and I thought we clarified, maybe I misunderstood, just now that the roadmap is the familiar roadmap.
MR. BOUCHER: There is a roadmap to peace. The Tenet security work plan can bring the parties together to reduce the violence, improve the security situation, serve as a first step towards implementation of the Mitchell Committee Report and the resumption of a political process. That's the roadmap.
QUESTION: Quick question. Is he going to make the familiar stops in Egypt, Jordan, et cetera?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: Speaking of security talks, what do you think specifically about the killing of a high-level Palestinian security chief in Gaza last night?
MR. BOUCHER: As we have made clear, we are very strongly opposed to targeted killings. That remains our position. And --
QUESTION: Can you say anything specifically about this man (inaudible) that he was --
MR. BOUCHER: About that? I think there have been, frankly, a number of incidents. We had the incident on -- what was it -- earlier this week, on Monday, I think, where in an attempt to -- apparently an attempted targeted killing that kills six civilians instead, and we're very concerned about that sort of thing.
So we have strongly opposed Israel's policy of targeted killings, which has indeed led to the death of many innocent civilians. Continued targeting by the Israeli military of Palestinian administrative and security facilities clearly works against the overriding objective of reducing violence and returning to negotiations. Such actions should be halted now. It's also imperative that the Israeli Defense Force exercise the utmost restraint and discipline to avoid further harm to civilians.
In addition, I'd have to say that we're very concerned about repeated Israeli Defense Force actions, whether they are deliberate or not, against humanitarian workers -- Red Cross, Red Crescent officials, ambulances, hospitals, individuals attempting to transit checkpoints for urgent humanitarian reasons. Israel needs to ensure that maximum care is taken to prevent harm to humanitarian workers, and that procedures are put in place that allow safe and secure passage for humanitarian purposes through Israeli checkpoints and other barriers to Palestinian movement.
Above all, and as we've said repeatedly, civilians should not be targeted, and every precaution must be taken to prevent civilian casualties in these military actions.
QUESTION: The Middle East. Is part of Zinni's mission to get Sharon to release Arafat from virtual house arrest, and to allow him to attend the Arab League meeting in Beirut later this month?
MR. BOUCHER: I have to say at this point the focus is on reducing the violence. And as Secretary Powell has said to Prime Minister Sharon, to Chairman Arafat, to other regional leaders, the important thing is for both sides to find a way to work together to restore calm, especially in light of the terrible escalation that we've seen. That means maximum efforts and focus by the Palestinian Authority to confront the violence and terror, as well as steps by the Israeli Government to facilitate Palestinian efforts on security and help promote a more positive environment on the ground.
So what we're really focused on now is getting the parties to take positive steps that can sustain their efforts and create an environment where it's possible to move forward towards peace talks.
QUESTION: Richard, some time ago, the Secretary had asked for a full explanation on the Karine A from Chairman Arafat. He got a letter. And General Zinni had said before he would come back the Palestinians had to meet certain security concerns. Are both of those things either answered or now out of date and don't apply?
MR. BOUCHER: I think if you look back at the Secretary's testimony, or maybe it was a TV appearance, but I think the Secretary did say recently that we've gotten some explanation of this, and we've seen some steps on the Karine A, as well as on the overall violence, the murders of Minister Ze'evi and things like that.
Without trying to account for every single bit of those possible steps, I think I wouldn't go back to that as the explanation of why Zinni is going now; I would go back to what the President said yesterday, which is our concern about the violence, our commitment to doing what we can, and our hope that the parties will take this opportunity to achieve peace through cooperation.
QUESTION: The Secretary said -- and I think I heard him right -- that in the letter, the Palestinian -- Arafat acknowledged Palestinian Authority responsibility. He did not acknowledge his own involvement, if he was involved. Now, if that's still the case, then you are just going to go along without Arafat saying I had anything to do with that; is this correct?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't --
QUESTION: Zinni's mission aside, I'm just saying, on that issue --
MR. BOUCHER: No, no. First of all, we never said that he had to take personal and individual responsibility. Second of all, we told you what he said, which was that as leader of the Palestinian Authority, he took responsibility for this matter, and would make sure it wouldn't reoccur.
And third of all, as I just mentioned when I mentioned this, which may have been a mistake, but we're barking up the wrong tree. That's not where you're going to find the careful accounting of this statement, and then check that box, check that box to the violence; the Karine A is not the principal reason for Zinni to go back right now. The principal reason is as the President explained it to you yesterday.
QUESTION: All right, let me try something else. There's some fine tuning, or not so fine tuning going on, but that's diplomacy. It always changing, almost imperceptibly. The President yesterday, and you today -- these aren't the exact words -- strongly indicated that Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, is focused entirely on security, and he ought to have a vision of peace.
Now, he is -- the Prime Minister of Israel and the White House expressed his support for a Palestinian state; he's also spoken of withdrawal, but probably not to the extent that the Near East Bureau would like Israel to pull back. So are you administration folks now saying that Sharon is not interested in peace; he's interested only in security? Or are you -- or what are you saying, because the President did that yesterday, and you just did it in that statement you made to us?
MR. BOUCHER: Barry, can I just answer your question with a simple no.
QUESTION: Sure. No what?
MR. BOUCHER: The President didn't do that.
QUESTION: Yes, he did.
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't do that. We have not said that, and I don't want to explain why we said it when we haven't said it. So that's the answer to the question.
QUESTION: The President said yesterday that his good friend Ariel -- he hopes his good friend Ariel Sharon will look beyond security to a vision of peace. And you just said in your statement that Israel is focused on security, and you expressed the hope that Israel would broaden its focus to include peacemaking.
MR. BOUCHER: Barry, I didn't say that. I'll invite you to read the transcript.
QUESTION: That is what you said.
MR. BOUCHER: I said our goal is for both parties to focus on what they can do to end the violence, create an environment where we can get back to the political negotiations by implementing the Tenet plan and getting through the Mitchell recommendations. That's the whole thing, and that's the roadmap. You asked me what it was; that's what I said.
QUESTION: That's not what you said.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject, please?
MR. BOUCHER: Good. We'll come back to one more.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on --
MR. BOUCHER: She's got one more on the Middle East. Do you want to do that now?
Okay, let's change the subject for a while, and then we'll do another 20 minutes on the Middle East. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on a family of American Cuban emigres who went to visit relatives in Cuba and have not been allowed to come back, the Lopez family, from New Jersey?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I know about them, but I'll look into it. I hadn't heard about it.
QUESTION: Kofi Annan met with -- I think it was the Iraqi Foreign Minister -- yesterday. The talks were described as productive, and there's talk of more meetings next month. I just want your evaluation of what happened yesterday.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, what happened yesterday is once again the Iraqis refused to step up to the plate and indicate that they would comply fully with the UN Security Council resolutions. We have not seen any indication at this point, even after this meeting, that Iraq is prepared to comply with Security Council resolutions. As in the past, the Iraqi representatives raised a number of issues aimed at preventing and delaying focus on their core obligations, which include cooperating fully and unconditionally with weapons inspectors.
So simply put, what happened was the Iraqis came, but they failed to indicate that they would comply.
QUESTION: Do you think inspections are a good idea? Do you think that would solve the problem?
MR. BOUCHER: We have always felt that inspections were a good idea. But there is no guarantee that they would solve the problem. We have seen repeated over the years Iraqi attempts to hide things from inspectors, and we have repeatedly seen the inspectors either make it more difficult for the Iraqis to pursue programs or actually to expose some of the things they were trying to hide.
So there is certainly a value in the inspectors, but there is no particular guarantee that they can find everything if the Iraqis are still trying to pursue covert weapons programs.
QUESTION: Richard, do you know if there was any communication between this building and Secretary General Annan after the meetings yesterday?
MR. BOUCHER: We've been -- after the meetings yesterday? I can't remember. The Secretary did talk to --
QUESTION: Well, I'm sure there has been at the UN. I'm talking about here.
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary did talk to the Secretary General yesterday, but I can't remember the timing of the meetings versus the phone calls. I think yesterday was after the Iraqi meeting. But I think the principal subject was the Middle East and Zinni going back.
QUESTION: You have been -- the UN has told you -- you're basing what you've just said on the reports that you've gotten back from the UN?
MR. BOUCHER: The reports that we've gotten back from the UN, I think there's a more complete briefing of the Security Council today. It may have taken place already. But we have had reports both from our mission and from various contacts of what transpired. And you know the Iraqi -- excuse me, the United Nations spokesman has been out himself to describe the meeting, and we can base it on what a spokesman says because we always trust that.
QUESTION: I'd like to change the subject to the GPS Galileo system story. I don't know if you've seen the comments by a European Union spokesman who seemed to take great exception to some of the things that you said in your informational fact sheet about GPS that was put out yesterday, for reasons I could not quite discover. But he has basically said you should mind your own business and that it's up to Europe to decide whether there is any need for Galileo, not up to the United States.
Do you have any response?
MR. BOUCHER: I can read you the three-page fact sheet, if you want.
QUESTION: Please don't.
MR. BOUCHER: Better 20 minutes of that than -- I haven't seen those comments. I don't think I want to get in for a back and forth. But we are talking to the European Union about how to make the systems interoperable, and one would think that the users of such systems might benefit from that and that that would be a worthwhile endeavor.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? As I understand it, your negotiator on this is not planning to go back to talks anytime soon. Is that because you are hoping it's just going to go away because the Europeans will keep squabbling interminably? Or is that a strategy?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, there are issues for the Europeans to resolve. The European Commission and European member-states do have some issues that they need to resolve, and we talked about some of them in our fact sheet. But I'll check on our negotiator and why precisely he may not have anything scheduled, if he doesn't.
QUESTION: Can you explain actually why you decided to -- I mean, for all I can figure -- out of the blue just come out and bash the Europeans on this for -- you know, it doesn't seem like there was any particular movement on this other than a meeting later in the month. Why did you -- why was the timing what it was?
MR. BOUCHER: Because of the obvious interest on the part of the press? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: In fact, I don't think this subject has been raised once in any briefing that I've been to the last --
MR. BOUCHER: Matt, let me -- well, it obviously struck some people as an item of interest since --
QUESTION: Today, after you put the thing out. But, I mean, why did you put it out in the first place?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll be glad to see if there is a further timing explanation on this one.
QUESTION: Could you tell us what information you have about the apparent eviction of someone from the former Iranian Ambassador's house?
MR. BOUCHER: Ms. Schofield, Ruth Schofield, is being evicted from the former Iranian Ambassador's residence in Washington because of nonpayment of rent. She has leased the residence of the former Iranian Ambassador to the United States since 1995. She has not paid rent regularly in more than four years and owes the US Government more than $750,000.
She has repeatedly refused our request to leave the property and declined to pay the back rent. As a result, the State Department took appropriate legal action in Federal District Court for the District of Columbia to have Ms. Schofield evicted from that property, and she is being evicted today by the US Marshals pursuant to a court order. We are also pursuing appropriate legal means to collect the back rent.
We have pursued every opportunity to work out an arrangement for her to pay the back rent. On April 22nd, 1998 she signed a memorandum of agreement with the Department to that effect. She never paid, so in February of 1999 we filed a lawsuit. November of 2001, the judge ruled in the United States' favor, ordered her to vacate the property and pay rent. Didn't do so. February 27th, the judge ordered the US Marshal Service to enforce his November judgment.
QUESTION: What does one pay for a month to rent the --
MR. BOUCHER: This place was based on market rent for comparable properties, and it was $15,000 a month.
QUESTION: Can I then ask another question about it?
MR. BOUCHER: It's part of -- our Office of Foreign Missions administers this property, as well as several others that we've taken custody of. And part of the reason for leasing it is to recover some of the costs to the taxpayers that would otherwise fall on the taxpayers for upkeep and maintaining the property because we're required under Vienna Conventions to respect and protect the premises of missions that are owned by other governments.
QUESTION: Where is it? Is it in north --
QUESTION: 3003 Massachusetts.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Teri. Is that correct?
MR. BOUCHER: 3003 Mass Ave.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Richard, what is the status of a building like that? I mean, is it US property, given that we don't have diplomatic relations with Iran? And is she just a private individual? She calls it the Prince of Peace Embassy.
MR. BOUCHER: You'd have to find out from her about her status and whether she is a group or an individual. The status of the mission is that I guess it remains owned by the Government of Iran, even if we don't recognize or have diplomatic relations with such a government at this point. But since we've taken custody of the property, our Office of Foreign Missions administers it. And they lease out, actually, four additional Iranian residence properties in the Washington, D.C. area. They lease out Iranian consulate properties in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Texas, and there are a few other properties that we have custody of but which we don't lease out.
QUESTION: Do you keep the Iranians informed of the status of these properties?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know specifically. I have to assume so.
QUESTION: They have no rights to this property or the money or anything, as far as you know?
MR. BOUCHER: No immediate ability or right to take it over. It's in our custody because of diplomatic reasons.
QUESTION: Richard, are the monies from the rental of these properties tied up? Are they available to be paid to victims of terrorism if found so by a court?
MR. BOUCHER: They are available to be used for the upkeep of the property. There was a court judgment that said that diplomatic property can't be used to pay court judgments, and that was in the case of Mr. Flatow. So the Flatows actually received a payment from the US Treasury, so that's how that was handled.
QUESTION: In addition to the $750,000 in back rent, how much has been spent on legal bills pursuing this woman?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I don't know. We've had to do this in court, just like any other landlord would, I suppose.
QUESTION: Are there properties by other countries which you all administer in the same vein?
MR. BOUCHER: We have taken custody -- we had custody of the Iraqi Ambassador's residence. We've had custody of the Embassy of Afghanistan and four Afghan residence properties in the Washington, D.C. area. And as you know, it's a great pleasure for us to be able to return those to an Afghan government that represents more broadly the society.
QUESTION: Has Ms. Schofield actually offered you an explanation for why she didn't pay this money for so long? I mean, it's an awful lot of money, and $15,000 a month is a lot of money for one person, so did you ever try to find out whether she could really afford it?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as we've said, we've negotiated repeatedly with her. She's had a lawyer involved. The agreement in April of 1998 was negotiated with her attorney, and at that time she agreed to pay back the rent that was owed. She agreed to pay it during May of 1998 or to vacate the premises, and she never paid that money.
QUESTION: And she never offered an explanation, though?
MR. BOUCHER: I assume that during the course of these discussions she offered some explanation, but she did make the commitment in a document negotiated by her lawyer to do that.
QUESTION: Have you found a new lessee, or do I still have time to get my application in? (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: I think we do background checks, though, on people. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Obviously not very good background checks.
QUESTION: May I go back to the Middle East?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: If the Arab League endorses the Saudi proposal, would that put pressure on Israel to bargain for peace?
MR. BOUCHER: That's a question that starts with "if" and I don't think I want to get ahead of ourselves here. We have made clear that we felt that the ideas that were offered by Crown Prince Abdullah were significant, they were positive. They do offer an Arab vision of a normal relationship with Israel in the context of a negotiated settlement, and we think that's very positive, particularly at this time when the violence has been escalating.
So we have welcomed those ideas. We have welcomed, in turn, the further support that these ideas have gotten in the Arab world, and Vice President Cheney indicated yesterday that he would be discussing that further during the course of his trip.
We have made clear through the President's statement last fall and the Secretary's speech in Louisville that it is important to keep the vision of peace, to talk about what can be achieved by the parties through peaceful negotiations. But we have also made clear that you have to go down the road to get there, and you have to start that by ending the violence. And that's where the focus is right now.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. I just wanted to change the subject to Myanmar for a second, actually. AP has been carrying a story that the former dictator Ne Win's son-in-law and two grandsons have been arrested and his house has been barricaded. Does the State Department have any information or comment on this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I hadn't seen that myself. I'll have to check into it.
QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any information if Ne Win is alive?
MR. BOUCHER: Don't know.
QUESTION: The President suggested that the coinciding of the Vice President's visit and Zinni's will have a positive impact. Do you have any more details on how -- you mentioned that their visits might overlap. Do you know exactly when?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't because I can't give you the specific travel schedule for General Zinni at this point. One thing that is clear is we want to do everything we can at this moment to help stop the violence, implement the Tenet security work plan, and get back on a track to build confidence and return to negotiations, so the Vice President will be talking about this during his visit and General Zinni will be working it on the ground.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary speak with Chairman Arafat this morning, or anyone else?
MR. BOUCHER: He talked with Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat this morning. As they have said in public, they both welcome General Zinni's mission. They both look forward to working with him.
QUESTION: Was General Zinni aware yesterday before the announcement that he was going to be dispatched back? Has there been any contact?
MR. BOUCHER: I forgot to check on it, but I assume so.
QUESTION: Prior to the meeting in Beirut with the Arab League, is the reason for this meeting with both -- or this travel with General Zinni and Vice President Cheney to speak to the area regional governments and the Arab states, and even Saudi Arabia, prior to that meeting so that when they're there they can ask for a change of behavior, both on the part of the Israelis and by the PA with specific steps? In other words, this is a precursor to the Tenet plan that they're asking to be reviewed at Beirut?
MR. BOUCHER: No. The Vice President will be discussing Crown Prince Abdullah's ideas. I'm sure he'll be discussing them in the context of the upcoming Arab League meetings, but I wouldn't describe it the way you did.
QUESTION: I have an "if" question. If you were to be asked about the Zimbabwe election process starting tomorrow, what would you say? (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: I would say, "Is that a question?"
QUESTION: Yes. What do you have on Zimbabwe?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, well, if you ask it that way I'd be glad to tell you everything you want to know -- maybe.
With the presidential election in Zimbabwe taking place this weekend, the Government of Zimbabwe continues its blatant campaign of violence, intimidation and manipulation of the electoral process in an effort to win the poll.
On March 5th, President Mugabe enacted controversial changes to an electoral law which, only a week ago, had been rejected by the country's supreme court. The law gives the government greater control over the electoral process. Combined with the continued use of violence and intimidation, it is clear that the government intends to "win" the election by any means.
There are many examples of this. Ruling party youth militias, sometimes with the aid or the acquiescence of police, operate freely throughout the country intimidating and insulting opposition supporters. In urban areas, the source of much opposition support, the government has reduced the number of polling stations by as much as half in some locations. Meanwhile, there has been in increase in the number of polling stations in rural areas, traditionally centers of support for the ruling party.
Final voters rolls have not yet been released, and the total number of ballot papers printed has not been made public. The government has been slow to accredit domestic election monitors, and under the terms of the controversial amended electoral law, will, for the first time, use civil servants only to monitor the voting and counting. In past elections, nongovernmental organizations have done this, and that is an important safeguard for the integrity of vote-counting that has been removed.
The independent press has been barred from distributing its papers in many rural areas, leaving a large segment of the population without access to any information other than that provided by government media sources. Distributors and vendors of independent papers in urban areas are frequently subject to threats or attacks of violence.
Military personnel have reportedly been forced to vote in front of commanding officers and also forced to use numbered ballots with their names printed on the return envelopes.
The bottom line on this is that this pervasive and profound campaign of violence, intimidation and electoral manipulations makes it very difficult for there to be an untainted election.
QUESTION: So, after all of that litany of horrors, you still think that there's a chance that this is going to be free and fair?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't quite want to hold it out that way, but we have seen various elections around the world where governments tried to skew the results quite severely through dramatic and horrible, violent tactics, and yet the voters turned out and expressed their will. So I don't want to in any way say the results are prejudged, but one has to say it's very difficult for this not to be tainted.
QUESTION: But you're still holding out hope that somehow the voters can overcome this?
MR. BOUCHER: "Hope" may be a little too strong. There is that possibility, I would say.
QUESTION: If Matt were to lead his story with -- (laughter). You left open the possibility of a free and fair election --
MR. BOUCHER: No, not of a free and fair election. I left open the possibility that the voters might -- despite all these tactics, the voters might be able to turn out and express their wishes.
QUESTION: Can I move off the coast there a little bit? Do you have anything to say about the situation in Madagascar, where neither side seems to be listening to your advice?
MR. BOUCHER: Mr. Marc Ravalomanana has appointed a cabinet. His supporters have taken control of cabinet ministry buildings in the capital. We understand the defense ministry is now one of the buildings controlled by Ravalomanana supporters. We urge all elements of the Malagasy military to continue to exercise restraint and prevent outbreaks of violence.
Our Ambassador, Wanda Nesbitt, is in touch with both President Didier Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana. We continue to urge them to find a peaceful, transparent and democratic solution to the election crisis. We are encouraged that the Organization of African Unity is renewing its efforts to facilitate agreement on a peaceful and democratic way forward. We once again strongly urge both sides to work with the OAU.
QUESTION: It's a different subject, real quick. I may have missed something, but is there any kind of ongoing communication between this administration and the Government of India with regards to -- there's the threat of the temple building beginning on March 15th on the site of the old destroyed mosque, and the fact that that is the root of the violence that has killed hundreds in the past week -- is there any communication between our government and --
MR. BOUCHER: We have been very concerned about the violence. We have been following it closely -- our Embassy out there. He is in touch with the Indians on it. But I think it's mostly looking to them to see what kind of steps they're taking.
QUESTION: Richard, the Chinese say that they hauled your Ambassador in to complain, to protest to him about your giving a visa to the defense minister of Taiwan. Is that correct?
MR. BOUCHER: Hauled in to complain? I'm not sure that's the way we would describe it.
QUESTION: Well, maybe not hauled in. The nuance is probably summoned.
MR. BOUCHER: They have, I think, made clear their views on this trip, as they normally do.
QUESTION: To Ambassador Randt? And what can you say about why the decision was made to grant this visa?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know specifically that they did to Ambassador Randt. I don't have the channels they used Frequently they do it both in Beijing and in Washington, so I don't know if it was one or the other or both this time. But they have made known their views. We have made clear, in turn, that Minister Tang will make a private visit to the United States to participate in the US-Taiwan Business Council's conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, next week. That's a visit that is consistent with our policies, and from time to time we have people like this, even at the ministerial level, from Taiwan come and visit.
QUESTION: I understand Assistant Secretary Kelly will be attending this meeting.
MR. BOUCHER: He will. Assistant Secretary Kelly, and I believe Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz will also be there.
QUESTION: And I don't expect you to speak for Wolfowitz, but does Assistant Secretary Kelly have any plans to meet separately with Minister Tang?
MR. BOUCHER: We never really get into specific meetings that might be held with individuals on private visits like this, but I would say that from time to time we meet with Taiwan representatives.
QUESTION: So it would not be -- you wouldn't rule it out?
MR. BOUCHER: It would be consistent with what had been done before to have a meeting, if we decide to do so.
QUESTION: I'm not sure if you have anything on this, but are you at all concerned by Georgia's comments that it might -- that there is al-Qaida in Abkhazia, that people are taking this as an indication they might start fighting there?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen those comments. I don't have anything particular to say.
QUESTION: Could you take the question?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if there's anything to say on it, yes.
QUESTION: The Post had a story this morning about Pakistan and deportations of Pakistanis back to their homeland.
MR. BOUCHER: That would be something you could check with the Immigration Service and the Justice Department on.
QUESTION: Richard, are you aware of any representations from the British Government to you through the State Department about this execution that is scheduled for next week in Georgia, in the State of Georgia?
MR. BOUCHER: I have not heard about that. It is something I would have to look at.
QUESTION: Okay, and I have one more.
MR. BOUCHER: He does, too.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: The Secretary is meeting with the education minister of Pakistan this afternoon. It's kind of an unusual choice. What's behind that?
MR. BOUCHER: What's behind that, I think, is, first of all, our overall close cooperation with the Government of Pakistan on many different topics and subjects. Second of all is our desire to support the changes and reforms that President Musharraf has announced in terms of his moving Pakistan towards a more modern and moderate course where education plays a very key role on this.
As you know, a lot of US aid money that's going to Pakistan will be used to help with the education system, so it's a chance for the Secretary to be brought up to date by the experts on their plans and their programs in the education area.
QUESTION: Madrassas, the madrassas in Pakistan, has been a big concern. Can one assume that this issue will come up?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I guess you can assume it will. The government's plans for their education system are the important topic. President Musharraf, in his speech on January 12th, addressed madrassas also in that context.
QUESTION: Recently, apparently the Putin government in Russia is screaming about the change of steel tariffs, and also is refusing to have our poultry products imported. Any concerns there?
MR. BOUCHER: Absolutely. We have actually been working on chickens quite a bit this week. And it is a serious topic. It's one that we have dealt with. The Secretary has discussed it with Foreign Minister Ivanov, among all the other things going on. Today he talked to Foreign Minister Ivanov about the Middle East, but they also talked about the chicken problem, because we've been very disappointed by Russia's precipitous ban on US poultry exports. Russia's ban on US poultry will severely hurt American producers, and limit choice and increase costs for Russian consumers.
We were asked by Russian officials to provide detailed technical information on our poultry sanitary requirements. We did so. We are ready to hold consultations with them. We are very concerned that the ban is not based on legitimate safety considerations. Our food safety and health standards are some of the highest in the world.
Food safety is a top concern for the US Government, and all foods processed in the United States must conform to strict safety standards. Under international trading rules, to which Russia plans to accede, any actions taken against imports on the basis of food safety must be scientifically justified. So we have given them a lot of information on our food safety programs. We have offered to meet with them and explain that information with experts, and we are trying to arrange now for them to go out. But we really think that this is not an action that has been justified scientifically.
As far as steel, as you know, this decision has affected a number of countries, including Russia. It has been discussed bilaterally with the Russians, as well as in multilateral talks at the OECD on reducing excess capacity and government intervention in the steel market. Based on last year's figures, the remedies that we imposed would require additional tariffs on about $140 million worth of Russian steel exports. Russia's total exports to the US last year were more than 6.5 billion. That's all products, not just steel.
Under the tariff rate quota established for slab steel, Russia will continue to be able to ship slab, its single largest steel export, at recent levels to the United States free from additional tariffs.
QUESTION: Maybe I missed it in that long explanation, but you seem to be couching this in -- the chicken -- the poultry business, at least, as it's only being a loss to Russian consumers.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I said it will severely hurt American producers, as well as limit choice and increase costs for Russian consumers.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:45 p.m. EST.)
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