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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing May 24, 2002

Daily Press Briefing
Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 24, 2002

INDEX:
ANNOUNCEMENTS

1 Memorial Day Moment of Remembrance
1-2 Secretary of State’s trip to Barbados

WHALING

2-4 US reaction to IWC decision

INDIA AND PAKISTAN

4-5 Secretary Powell’s/US Actions
5-6 Pakistani Missile Tests

IRAN

6 Possible Missile Test

NORTH KOREA

6-10 North Korean Defectors/Request for Asylum in US

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

10 Palestinian NGOs refusing US Aid

AFRICA

10 Attack on Somali Interior Minister’s House

CYPRUS

10-11 Cyprus’ accession to the European Union

VENEZUELA

12 Richard Haas’ Visit/US Relations with Venezuela

COLOMBIA

12-13 This Weekend’s Election


TRANSCRIPT:

MR. REEKER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome back to the State Department. I apologize for the delay. Somewhere along the line, I thought I said 1:30, not 1 o'clock, so here I am. It gave me a chance to go out and look for white shoes. Since it is Memorial Day Weekend coming up, we can get started for the long weekend. And yes, Matt, you can wear your white shoes after Monday.

I would like to note at the top -- and we'll release a notice on this -- that on Memorial Day, that is Monday, the US Department of State and its employees will be joined by the American Battle Monuments Commission in taking a moment to remember and honor America's fallen heroes. That is on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27th, at 3:00 p.m.

State Department employees in the United States and abroad, and visitors at overseas American cemeteries, are asked to observe a one-minute moment of reflection in an act of national unity designed to encourage Americans to reflect upon those who made the ultimate sacrifice. And that includes more than 209 State Department employees who have died in the line of duty since the 1780s, the most recent of course being Barbara Green who, along with her daughter, was killed in a church explosion in Pakistan.

A moment of remembrance will also be observed overseas at American cemeteries in Paris, France; Cambridge, England; Waregem, Belgium; Florence, Italy; Luxembourg City, Luxembourg; Panama City, Panama; Manila in the Philippines; Mexico City, Mexico; and Carthage, Tunisia. Many of these overseas cemeteries will conduct a rose-laying tribute where two children, one American and one from the host country, are asked to place a rose on a designated site in the cemetery. So we hope that everyone around the country and around the world will join us in commemorating that moment.

One other item of business. We will post this notice after the briefing that the Secretary of State Colin Powell will travel to the Annual General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Bridgetown, Barbados. That assembly will be held June 2nd to 4th. The Secretary expects to depart Washington on Sunday, June 2nd, and return later on Monday, June 3rd.

The OAS foreign ministers will use this meeting as an opportunity to continue the hemisphere's efforts to strengthen democracy, combat terrorism, expand free trade, develop a security architecture for the hemisphere, and follow up on the initiatives of the Quebec City summit held last year. The ministers are going to address topics including a multidimensional approach to hemispheric security, a follow-up on the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and the OAS and its involvement with democracy and trade. So we will post that and notify news organizations in terms of travel arrangements to accompany the Secretary.

Secretary Powell of course remains with the President in Moscow this evening there, along with Spokesman Ambassador Boucher, so I am here in his stead and will be happy to take your questions. We can start with Matt, who is wearing a white shirt in honor of Memorial Day.

QUESTION: Well, actually, I always wear a white shirt. The Japanese did not take your suggestion yesterday on the whale -- aboriginal whale issue -- and it looks like the Inuits are not going to be able to hunt or -- maybe they will anyway, but at least not under the IWC rubric. Your man in Japan at the meeting said it was the most "unjust, unkind and unfair" decision that the IWC has ever taken.

MR. REEKER: In its 56-year history.

QUESTION: Exactly. What are the ramifications of this? Does Japan get -- how do you show your displeasure? I presume you are displeased.

MR. REEKER: Well, let's obviously go back and look at what happened, just to update those that haven't followed it as closely as Matt has. The meeting of the International Whaling Commission has ended today in Shimonoseki, Japan. The Commission did renew three quotas, one for gray whales taken by Russian natives, and Makah, the Makah tribe in Washington State; another quota for Fin and Minke whales taken by Greenlanders; and a third quota for humpback whales taken in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

However, as Matt has noted, there was a second vote on the US-Russian proposal to renew the quota of Bowhead whales to be taken by Alaska and Russian natives. The vote was 32 for and 11 against, falling one vote short of the necessary three-quarters to renew that quota.

The Japanese delegation, as we said yesterday, had made it clear they blocked the Bowhead quota because the Commission would not agree to a commercial quota for Minke whales off the coast of Japan. So we're very disappointed in Japan's approach. Roland Schmitten from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who is the head of the US delegation at the conference, was quoted, as Matt pointed out, as saying that this was a most "unjust, unkind and unfair vote." Alaska natives have a long tradition of hunting Bowhead whales to satisfy subsistence and cultural needs. The Commission set the first Bowhead quota in the late 1970s and has granted every quota request since then until this year.

So we'd like to see the Commission's decision reconsidered internationally or inter-sessionally, now that the meeting has ended. The International Whaling Commission could hold a special meeting to reconsider the quota. It also has procedures, I understand, whereby they could conduct a postal ballot. So we'll be looking into options there to try to see that this quota be approved as it has been for so many years.

QUESTION: May I change the subject?

QUESTION: No.

MR. REEKER: No.

QUESTION: Well, so previously, when you and the Japanese have disagreed on whales, there have been some kind of minor punitive steps taken. I remember one that you decided not to attend a UN conference or some kind of conference --

MR. REEKER: I think that usually had to do with Japanese hunting whales.

QUESTION: Yes, exactly. But does this -- does their stance at this meeting draw any repercussions for --

MR. REEKER: At this point we are looking at it. What we want to do is see that the quota be renewed. That is our ultimate goal here. We are not looking at --

QUESTION: And one last thing on this. I noticed that one of the countries that voted against this was the island nation of Palau, and I remember that earlier this week -- I think it was earlier this week -- Deputy Secretary Armitage met with an official from Palau --

MR. REEKER: The Vice President of Palau.

QUESTION: Yes, exactly. What -- was there any lobbying going on there?

MR. REEKER: I don't believe the subject came up in their discussion at all.

QUESTION: Even though the -- you said -- as you said, it fell one vote short, so perhaps --

MR. REEKER: I'm not aware -- you'll recall this was a second vote. I'm not aware that voting at the International Whaling Commission conference was a subject of the discussion between Deputy Secretary Armitage and the Vice President of Palau.

QUESTION: Is the United States fully committed to staying with the IWC rules on the aboriginal whaling quotas? Or might you consider, as you have on some other subjects, opting out of this international framework?

MR. REEKER: I don't know that I quite understand your question. I think the quota has not been renewed. We are going to try to seek to get it renewed. That is exactly what I said, and that is what we will be aiming towards.

QUESTION: Yes, I understand that. But might you consider -- if you fail to get it renewed, might you -- might you consider allowing these Alaskan Inuits to go ahead anyway?

MR. REEKER: I think what we need to do is work to get the quota reinstated. That is what we're focused on. I can't speculate on all kinds of hypotheticals of what one might or might not do, according to your suppositions.

QUESTION: Secretary Powell has already spoken on India and Pakistan, said he has made some phone calls. Could you bring us up to date on that? And also, any reaction to Pakistan planning to do some missile tests in the near future?

MR. REEKER: Let's start with that. I think you did see, certainly on the wires, and I think some of the White House transcripts or coverage may have mentioned some comments Secretary Powell made. In that vein, we continue to have strong concerns, as Secretary Powell said, about the potential for conflict between India and Pakistan, and about the danger of that conflict spiraling out of control.

We remain very deeply engaged with the Indians and the Pakistanis and others in the international community to try to reduce tensions, avoid an outbreak of fighting, and get the parties back into an atmosphere where they can pursue the absolutely vital dialogue which is necessary.

As the Secretary indicated, he has made a number of phone calls. He spoke this morning with Indian Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh. I mentioned yesterday he had spoken twice with President Musharraf of Pakistan, as well as several phone calls with the British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Straw. Other senior State Department officials and other administration officials have remained in close touch with their counterparts in South Asia and in other capitals around the world.

We are coordinating our activities very closely with the international community. I think we discussed yesterday the fact that EU Commissioner Patten is now in the region. British Foreign Secretary Straw is going to be there May 28th and 29th. Deputy Secretary Armitage, as I told you yesterday, will leave Washington for South Asia on June 4th. He will have meetings in Pakistan and India the 6th and 7th of June.

So we have continued our liaison with the British and with other foreign governments on this because we are all very concerned about the potential for conflict there, and we are all delivering the same message to the Indians and the Pakistanis on the need to reduce those tensions and try to create a more conducive atmosphere for dialogue. It's very vital that all involved do their utmost to exercise restraint, to lower the rhetoric, reduce the violence.

As I said yesterday, we understand Indian frustrations and anger over continued terrorist actions. We share the common goal of seeing terrorist actions stopped. And we reiterate however as our central point, rather than being the solution, any military action in this crisis would create even greater problems and must not be an option in this situation. So as I said, we believe it's important for India and Pakistan to resume a productive dialogue over the issues that divide them, and that includes Kashmir, because only through dialogue will their differences be resolved.


Let me just remind you of what we've said yesterday and continue to reiterate the important component of this process being an end to infiltration into Kashmir, and we have called upon Pakistan to do all it can to achieve this objective.

In this context, as I noted yesterday, President Musharraf has made recent statements again that Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used by terrorists for attacks anywhere. These positive statements need to be linked with concrete actions. And so we will continue to work on this very, very closely, as I described.


Now, you had a second question regarding --

QUESTION: The missile tests. How does that factor into --

MR. REEKER: The missile tests, yes. We are disappointed by the Government of Pakistan's announced decision to flight-test missiles at this time. The current tensions in the region that we were just discussing only reinforce the need for India and Pakistan to take steps to prevent a costly and destabilizing arms race. And we think such an arms race would be a threat to regional and international security.

I will remind you that the Secretary said back in January, following India's missile test, that we hope India and Pakistan will both begin to start going down the escalation ladder. And so we continue to urge both sides to take steps to restrain their missile programs and their nuclear weapons programs, including that there be no operational deployment of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, begin a dialogue again on confidence-building measures that could reduce the likelihood that any such weapons ever be used.

So we are disappointed in this. The Pakistanis notified us of this within the last week. I think they did a public notification to airmen and mariners in the past couple of days as well.

QUESTION: So are the US officials still trying to convince Pakistan not to go forward with this?

MR. REEKER: I think they are fully aware of our position. We have made quite clear that we think, given the current situation, the focus should be on steps to reduce tensions in the region; to, as I said, create an atmosphere where they can pursue the necessary dialogue to deal with the issues that divide the two countries in a peaceful manner.

QUESTION: We only heard about this today, but it may be that you heard about this earlier. Do you know whether the Secretary brought this up in his conversations yesterday with President Musharraf in --

MR. REEKER: I don't. I don't know the specifics of that. I know that there should be no question that the Pakistanis understand our position on this. We have reiterated this, as I said, noting what the Secretary said in January, following an Indian missile test. He referred to both India and Pakistan, hoping that they would begin to start down the, as he called it, "escalation ladder." So we have been quite clear on that for some time.

I think there was a public notice to airmen and mariners in the past day or so that I saw, and as I said, the Pakistanis notified us sometime within this last week.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. Have you made your position known to them directly since you received notice this week?

MR. REEKER: Yes. Certainly we have continued to make that position well known, including what we are doing right here and now from this podium.

QUESTION: Do you have anything in particular on the new firing, artillery exchanges now for the first time, going to the Siachen Glacier?

MR. REEKER: I don't. I don't think I had seen that. Clearly, as we have discussed all week, we have been concerned about the increase in firing across the line of control. It has become quite heavy. This is why we have these strong concerns, why we have found the situation quite worrisome, why we are so engaged with both sides and with everyone in the international community to press for a reduction in this violence and in the tension that is between the two countries. It is a dangerous situation, and we will continue to remain very much engaged to try to get that tension down and create an atmosphere for dialogue.

QUESTION: Anything to throw in on Iran's testing of -- its apparently successfully testing of a Shahab?

MR. REEKER: I don't think I saw that. I'm sorry. I can check for you. Did we see? I don't have anything on that. No, I wasn't aware of that.

QUESTION: On the North Korean defectors, an organization --

MR. REEKER: I'm sorry, could you start over?

QUESTION: On the North Korea defectors, an organization called Defense Forum Foundation said they sent a letter to Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky --

MR. REEKER: Thank you for bringing that up. That was on my list actually to bring it up myself, and I do appreciate that.

You will recall that we discussed this at my briefing two days ago, the issue of the North Korean defectors who had gone to South Korea. Subsequent to the questions I got and follow-up questions yesterday, I checked into this a little further and found when we followed up that a letter from this organization Defense Forum Foundation was found here at the Department.

The letter conveyed an e-mail message in English purporting to be from the five North Koreans who tried to enter the Japanese consulate in Shenyang. The message stated that the family sought asylum in the United States. And unfortunately, the letter was not transmitted to relevant offices in the Department that were handling this matter. That includes my office. And the Department -- and I personally, since I responded to those questions on Wednesday -- regret the error made in that.

As you know, we are very pleased ultimately in the outcome of the situation, that is, that the five North Koreans were permitted to travel to the Republic of Korea from China. And of course we have made clear during this time, as we have for many years, our view to the Chinese that the five should not have been returned to North Korea, and we urged that the case be resolved in a humanitarian manner. And it indeed was, so we are pleased about that.

QUESTION: Where did this letter go to, then? Where was it? Who received it?

MR. REEKER: I believe it was sent to the Office of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs.

QUESTION: And what did that office do with it?

MR. REEKER: Obviously they didn't transmit it to the offices that were actually handling this matter.

QUESTION: Which would be which office?

MR. REEKER: The East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau, primarily.

QUESTION: Do you know when that letter was received?

MR. REEKER: I believe it was on the -- it was a faxed letter on the 8th of May. I think the organization has put out the letter, which is why I knew to go looking for it, and in fact discovered that we had found this letter.

QUESTION: When was it found? Only yesterday?

MR. REEKER: Once the organization made public their letter, we looked into it and tried to trace it back and found --

QUESTION: When was it dated?

MR. REEKER: I probably have a copy somewhere. May 8th, which I think was the day that the individuals sought -- it was simultaneous to their seeking --

QUESTION: -- the letter between the 8th and the 23rd?

MR. REEKER: Obviously some people knew about it -- the people that got the letter -- but they didn't transmit it to the offices that were dealing with that. It's a letter that includes an e-mail -- a translation into English of what purports to be a message from five North Koreans who, as you know, tried to enter the Japanese consulate in Shenyang.

QUESTION: -- China, is your understanding?

MR. REEKER: No, the letter to us was sent from an organization here in Falls Church, Virginia.

QUESTION: On behalf of the five people who, at that stage, were still in China?

MR. REEKER: It included what purports to be a translation of a message from these five North Koreans who, on that same date, had attempted to enter the Japanese consulate in Shenyang.

QUESTION: Is the United States going to consider a request for asylum from these -- is this a formal request that they made in this letter?

MR. REEKER: No, I don't think this could be considered a formal request for asylum. I would have to look into that. The people have gone to South Korea, where of course they are safe, and we are very pleased about that.

QUESTION: But I believe that they had said, or at least told the media in Asia, that they were concerned -- they feared North Korean agents if they were resettled in South Korea, and they wished to go to the United States.

MR. REEKER: We have no reason to believe that this most recent group of five North Koreans to travel from China to South Korea faces danger there in the Republic of Korea. You could certainly talk to the government there in Seoul for any further details on that. And I guess the other thing -- it would obviously be up to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to determine whether any individuals qualify as refugees to resettlement in a third country. So you might check with them as well.

QUESTION: So your understanding is it's not a formal request for asylum, and do you consider the matter now closed now that they're in South Korea and apparently happy?

MR. REEKER: I think so. I mean, all I am telling you is exactly what we got. It was a letter from -- a faxed letter from an organization that purported to have a translation of an e-mail forwarded on from these five North Koreans who were, on that same day, attempting to enter the Japanese consulate in Shenyang.

QUESTION: Phil, despite the apparently -- the happy ending, and this would seem to be a bit distressing for -- that a letter of this importance would get lost in the system. Where, for the record, just where should these -- should things like this be sent, if they're to be seen by the right people in this building? Just the bureau that deals with that region?

MR. REEKER: I guess I would need to check. I mean, these were five individuals who were at the Japanese consulate. I would have to look into it further, Matt. I don't know that we have instructions for such a thing.

QUESTION: Well, okay, but what this suggests is -- but this suggests that it's possible that these people could have ended up in the States if they wanted to, if you guys had not misplaced this letter.

MR. REEKER: I mean, I guess it is hypothetical. I can't say what would have happened in the event that more people had been aware of the letter. I mean, we would have followed the standard procedure. Anyway, our focus has been the safe passage of these people. That's what we -- the message we certainly transmitted to the Chinese at all levels, here and in Beijing during that time, as we discussed, our view that they should not be returned to North Korea and it should be resolved in a humanitarian manner. And we think that is what has happened.

QUESTION: Has anyone been reprimanded for not acting on this letter when it -- and not passing it on?

MR. REEKER: I couldn't say. I don't think -- it was an error. We certainly regret it. I certainly regret it because the information I was given was obviously not fully correct, and it was because of your questions that I went back, and once this letter was raised, to track it down. So I do regret that, definitely.

QUESTION: Do you know -- do you have anything on a certain Pastor Joseph Choi being detained in China for allegedly trying to get a couple of -- well, 14 North Korean orphans out of the country?

MR. REEKER: I have certainly see press reports that have suggested that, and what I can tell you is that we are aware of the detention of an American citizen in Northeast China, to whom we had consular access last week. But because of the Privacy Act and the failure to have a waiver for that act, we are precluded from providing any further details, including confirming any names.

QUESTION: Back to the North Korean refugees. Yesterday, some congressman proposed idea that with the cooperation of US, South Korea and China, they say some asylum centers should be set up in China. Are you thinking about taking some actions on that?

MR. REEKER: I would have to look into that. I hadn't seen the details of anything being proposed by Members of Congress. Certainly we would have to look into that. In terms of our policy on asylum for North Koreans in China, we have consistently conveyed to the Chinese Government, as I said, our belief that North Koreans should not be returned to North Korea to face prosecution, and we have noted as well that China is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, and expect that they will adhere to international obligations under the agreement.

And so that has been our consistent position and policy, and what we have said to the Chinese in our discussions there. In terms of any new initiatives or ideas, I just don't have anything. I haven't had a chance to look into those.

QUESTION: Different subject? Do you have anything on a report that 84 Palestinian NGOs are refusing aid from the US Government, saying that there is too much support of Israel and that they don't want to take the money now?

MR. REEKER: I don't have anything on that.

QUESTION: Apparently the US Consulate in Jerusalem is already talking on it. Could you check for us, please?

MR. REEKER: Sure. I would be happy to look into it. As you know, we have expressed our concern about the situation of the Palestinian people, the dire situation that they are in. And that's one of the tracks of our strategy that we are working on for the Middle East, is to work on economic development and urgently needed reconstruction assistance and aid to help the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: -- back here about their refusing it?

MR. REEKER: I have not. And obviously that's a decision that NGO organizations will have to make. They are exactly by definition nongovernmental organizations. We work with a number of nongovernmental organizations with the UN, as do others in the international community. But I would have to check. I would be happy to look into it and see if we would have anything to say on it.

QUESTION: I know you are looking for stability in Africa, but do you have any comments on the looting or burning of the Somalia Interior Minister's house by 20 people that attacked it? And are you working with the Somali --

MR. REEKER: I'm afraid I don't. I mean, looting and burning is a bad thing. (Laughter.) We deplore looting and burning. We don't have a diplomatic representation in Somalia, so it is very difficult for me to get information and details on that. But generally, I think your characterization of looting and burning we think is a bad thing.

QUESTION: In the light of Mr. Papandreou's talk today with Mr. Armitage, does the United States have a position, and what is it, on the linkage between a solution in Cyprus and entry to the European Union?

MR. REEKER: I think it is the same position that we have described, lo these many years, many times. While the US is not a member obviously of the European Union, we support the accession of Cyprus to the EU. We believe that the accession process in fact can be an incentive to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue. As you know, we very much support the UN Secretary General's efforts to achieve a comprehensive settlement, and the conclusions of the 1999 European Council of Helsinki toward that end. Our focus is very much on achieving a settlement prior to the EU 's decision on Cypriot accession, and we certainly actively support the UN in its efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement on the Cyprus issue.


And so we, I think last week, spoke about our support for the UN Secretary General's travel there and his visit to Cyprus, and we certainly stand ready to continue assisting the Secretary General and his special advisor in this very vital effort to reach a comprehensive settlement on the Cyprus issue.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I just follow up, because it doesn't quite answer the question? You say that the focus clearly is on a solution prior to accession, but do you object to accession before a solution?

MR. REEKER: Again, I think that's a hypothetical question. Our focus is on supporting the UN in whatever way we can to find a solution before that actually becomes a question. And we think -- again, we are not a member of the European Union obviously, but we have said many times before we think the accession process can be an incentive to finding this comprehensive settlement. And so we support the accession of Cyprus to the European Union.

QUESTION: As a unified -- you probably just went through this --

MR. REEKER: Yes.

QUESTION: But you know what? The problem is that I don't see any hypotheticalness in this at all because the Greek Foreign Minister said specifically that it didn't matter whether they were -- whether it was unified or not.

MR. REEKER: He can speak for himself.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR. REEKER: I told you what our policy is, Matt --

QUESTION: I don't want to ask you about the Greek Foreign Minister. I want to ask you if you agree with the Greek position.

MR. REEKER: No, I have told you what our position is, or maybe you missed it since you ran out of the room. But I told Jonathan, and it is the same position we have had for, lo these many months and years, in terms of that. We have expressed it many, many times over and over again, and I will let you read the transcript to hear it again this time.

Venezuela.

QUESTION: Well, Ambassador Richard Haass is in Venezuela to speak with President Chavez about US political changes to Venezuela, or not the political changes from Venezuela to the US.

And my second question is, former President Carmona is trying to obtain asylum with the Colombian Government. Do you have any comments about this?

MR. REEKER: On the second question, I don't. I am not really aware of the details, other than what I have seen in the press. I don't think it involves the United States in any way.

In terms of your first question, our Policy Planning Staff Director, that is Ambassador Richard Haass, is traveling in Venezuela. He is there since the 22nd through the 24th, so I think he is actually coming back today. He has been meeting with a broad cross-section of Venezuelans, including government officials, members of the opposition and the private sector, civil society leaders, to underscore the importance we place on trying to maintain a constructive relationship with Venezuela. We have a long history of a strong relationship with Venezuela, and our interest is in promoting and strengthening Venezuela's democratic institutions.

We have welcomed President Chavez's calls for a national reflection and dialogue to achieve national reconciliation. This is a message that Ambassador Haass is taking with him, and we certainly continue to urge all Venezuelans to accept the Organization of American States' offer of assistance and engage in full and genuine dialogue to make the process of reconciliation a success. And so this is one way in which we can help participate in that and strengthen our relationship.

QUESTION: But there is no -- any chance to change the relationships between both countries?

MR. REEKER: No, I think we --

QUESTION: In any way?

MR. REEKER: I think we have a strong history of relations with Venezuela, and we want to see Venezuela continue to strengthen its democratic institutions. In the context of the OAS Democracy Charter, I have just mentioned that Secretary Powell will be -- plans to attend the meeting of the OAS at the ministerial level in Bridgetown, Barbados in early June. And certainly talking about the Democracy Charter for the Americas is one aspect of that meeting, and is something we stress very much in Venezuela as well.

QUESTION: Same region? Do you have any thoughts on the election this weekend in Colombia?

MR. REEKER: There is an election this weekend in Colombia. As you are aware, national elections for the office of president are being held in Colombia this Sunday, that is the 26th of May. As you probably know, under Colombian law, if a candidate wins a majority of votes in this election, that candidate will win the presidency. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, there would then be a runoff election between the two leading candidates. That runoff I guess would be scheduled for June 16th.

Colombia has a long and proud tradition of democratic institutions in that country. The people of Colombia, we think, should be congratulated for their courage as they carry out these elections on Sunday in the face of threats posed by anti-democratic forces, like the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the National Liberation Army, and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, all groups that we have designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. And these terrorist groups, as you know, have engaged in numerous acts of violence and destruction intended to disrupt the elections on Sunday and undermine the democratic process, and really otherwise terrorize Colombians.

So we continue to call upon these illegal armed groups to respect the democratic rights of their fellow citizens in Colombia. And we note the positive contribution being made also in this country by the Organization of American States. They have an election observer mission there. That is an important contribution for a free and fair process.

As far as our Embassy, officials will be observing the voting on Sunday, visiting polling sites and following activities throughout the country. We don't have any official role in carrying out or certifying the elections. And as I said, OAS is providing an election observer mission. I believe it has about 50 people in that mission.

QUESTION: And will the result, whatever it is, of the election have any effect on US policy to Colombia?

MR. REEKER: I think our priorities in Colombia are well known and are widely shared by Colombians. That is, that we support the country's embattled democracy; we support combating narco-trafficking, strengthening their democratic institutions, human rights; and certainly, promoting a sustained economic development in Colombia. And we are going to continue to pursue these goals in partnership with the new Colombian administration as we have every expectation of continued excellent cooperation, as we have had with the administration of President Pastrana.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. REEKER: Thanks.


[End]

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