State Dept. Daily Press Briefing June 24
Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
June 24, 2002
1 Reoccupation of the West Bank
1 Expulsion of Suicide Bombers Families
6 Palestinian Authority s Steps to Stop Violence
6 US Position on Targeted Killings
6 Sheikh Yassin s House Arrest
7 Implementing President s Bush s Policy
9 Press Freedom Issues
9 Payments to Suicide Bombers
2-5 President Musharraf's Commitment Re: Infiltration
Line of Control
2,12-13 Secretary Powell's Call to President Musharraf
11 Reduction of Tensions
3-4 Al-Qaida Tape
4 Reported July 4th Threats in Rome, Italy
5 Pursuit of Al-Qaida Remnants
7-8 Earthquake in Iran / US Offer of Assistance
9 Reports of US-Russia Tracking Down Missing
10-11 Formation of New Cabinet
11-12 North Korean Refugees Leave China for South Korea
12-13 Government-Backed Land Seizures
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements or announcements, so I would be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Any new observations on Israel's drive on the West Bank, and their action also in Gaza? Is it still the same formula: self-defense, but be aware of the consequences?
MR. BOUCHER: Exactly. Israel has a right to defend itself, but everybody needs to think about the consequences of their actions. That would be our only comment.
QUESTION: So what's the President going to say, and when is he going to say it?
MR. BOUCHER: He's going to say what he wants and he's going to say it when he wants.
QUESTION: Is the state of the discussions within the administration still basically the way it was last week, or have things been --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any new characterizations at this point. As I said, the President said -- I think said again this morning -- he'll speak when he wants to, and we'll just have to see when that is.
QUESTION: But last week you indicated, I believe, that -- you repeated what the White House had said, that the President has --
MR. BOUCHER: The President's advisors are certainly still in touch with each other. I'm not aware of any particular meetings that are behind held today.
QUESTION: There's been various proposals going around for the expulsion of the families of suicide bombers. Does the United States have any views about this proposal?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think we've taken a position on that. I'll see if there's anything we want to say later, but at this point I think it's just one of those things being discussed that we haven't had a comment on.
QUESTION: Will you comment on the interview by President Musharraf to (inaudible) in The Washington Post and Newsweek in which he denies that he ever told the State Department that the cross-border terrorism will stop permanently; all that he said was that there's no movement across the line of control; and secondly, that they did not even discuss the issue of terrorist training camps.
From here, US stated and also others have stated that there was a categorical assurance by the president that the cross-border terrorism will stop permanently. Can you confirm that?
MR. BOUCHER: I can indeed. And rather than try to comment on an interview, let me review the situation and tell you what we know and when we heard it.
Deputy Secretary Armitage was given assurances by President Musharraf on June 6th that ending of infiltration across the line of control would be permanent. These assurances were also given to the Secretary of State, to the President of the United States, in their conversations, as well as repeatedly to our representatives, our Chargé and Ambassador, in Islamabad.
In fact, we've seen positive results from that commitment, and we've also seen significant positive steps by India since then. We continue to believe that Pakistani actions on the camps are important follow-up steps to keep this process moving forward. The United States will continue to work with both sides to reduce tensions and to facilitate a dialogue on the underlying issues.
President Musharraf reiterated his commitment to the Secretary in a telephone call yesterday, and again in meetings with our Chargé in Islamabad. So it's a commitment that's been made very clear, and President Musharraf has made very clear to us that he stands by it.
QUESTION: You get this phone call due to these reports came out, or it was scheduled before, or something else?
MR. BOUCHER: I guess I would describe it as a chance to compare notes on the present situation, and obviously this interview and the reaction it was causing in various quarters was one of the topics that they discussed.
QUESTION: Did you say who called whom?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary called President Musharraf.
QUESTION: I think you mentioned something about follow-up steps on training camps. Have you seen any signs of any action on that front to date?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything particular that I'm able to describe for you. But I would say first and foremost we have seen a positive result from the commitment that President Musharraf has made, in fact the significant decline that we saw in infiltration across the line of control.
QUESTION: Last month there was a story in India Globe and I asked you a question on June 6th that infiltration was only for one month, that's what the terrorists were told, and they told the Indian authorities in Kashmir. And now the stories coming through today and (inaudible), and you told me that on June 6th that no, it is permanent and it's a promise --
MR. BOUCHER: And I told you that again today.
QUESTION: No, but what I'm saying is really what are you doing? What the US will do now, because he's not following? And we have been saying this all along, that he will not follow you.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, the United States has heard this commitment quite clearly from President Musharraf. We have seen him carry it out, and he has reiterated it to us. So we have no reason to disbelieve him. I know you may -- you may not believe anything he says, but frankly he has made quite clear what his commitment is, and he has carried it out. And so from that point of view, we think the facts rather show that he is standing by his commitment and taking action.
There are other actions he needs to take. There are other actions that both sides need to take to reduce the tensions and keep moving towards a dialogue on these underlying issues.
QUESTION: What is the US assessment of this new tape that surfaced of bin Laden?
MR. BOUCHER: No final assessment at this point. I would just point out that even as reported, the tape itself does not really demonstrate one way or the other whether bin Laden is alive or not, but merely asserts in the voice of a person that he may be or is still alive.
Clearly, the threat from al-Qaida as an organization continues. We have done an awful lot to dismantle the organization, to arrest their people, to roll up finances. But we have also, I think, made absolutely clear that there is continuing threat from this organization and from the pieces of this organization as we go forward. And that is why, as the President said, we are in this for the long haul.
QUESTION: Are you -- I mean, is the State Department independently assessing the tape, or is it something that's just in the hands of DoD?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we'll certainly want to make our assessment based on what we can learn and find out about it.
QUESTION: It's too early to say whether, for example, the claim about the Tunisia bombing holds any water?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, too early. Not anything I'm able to comment on at this point.
QUESTION: Has there been any contact between the US Government and either the Government of Qatar or the al-Jazeera network about: (a) airing the tape, and (b) apparently there's a tape that will be aired or a message from bin Laden on July 4th? I know this came up in the beginning of the post-9/11 war on terrorism.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I would have to check. It has, as you say, been an ongoing subject of discussion with al-Jazeera and the Government of --
QUESTION: I mean, does the State Department have a position about airing tapes from al-Qaida to this very powerful and popular news -- through this powerful Arabic news service?
MR. BOUCHER: We have taken a position in the past on specific tapes, but as far as whether we've contacted them on this one I'll have to find out.
QUESTION: Extremely briefly back on India-Pakistan. Have you told the -- do you know if the people -- US diplomats have gone to the Indians and said, "Listen, this interview is not -- what was said in this interview doesn't accord with our understanding or what we're seeing on the ground"?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not quite sure if we've done that yet. I'll have to check and see when we do it, because previously we did. Secretary Armitage and others did pass those assurances on to make sure the Indians understood that we'd heard them. And obviously we're continuing to work with both sides on reducing tensions. So I just don't know if yesterday's phone call or what our Ambassador heard today has been passed on.
QUESTION: Back on to the tape and to al-Qaida threats. Your Embassy in Rome seems to have taken quite some interest in a story that was in La Republica, an Italian newspaper, that talked about a July 4th threat, possible July 4th threat, in Italy itself. Now, there have been numerous -- well, not numerous, but there have been several warnings previously about possible threats in Italy. I'm wondering if you're aware of this or if you're aware that there is a threat.
MR. BOUCHER: The answer is no, I'm not aware of this. I'll have to check into it for you and see if there's anything to say.
QUESTION: Yesterday Senator Shelby said that Usama bin Laden may be in Pakistan. Now, this is also stories have appeared in a number of newspapers in the past, The Washington Times and also India Globe did a story now. Do you have any comments on the Senator's assessment?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: I mean, where he is? Do you know if Secretary is or US is pursuing hard to find him really?
MR. BOUCHER: We are pursuing all the remnants of al-Qaida, wherever they are. We are working with governments around the world to do that. And I am sure that any government in the region is on the lookout and will do whatever is necessary to capture this man.
QUESTION: Except in Pakistan?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say that.
QUESTION: But you are not trying --
MR. BOUCHER: I said any government in the region would --
QUESTION: I don't see the --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not going to get into debate over what Pakistan is or is not doing. We have made quite clear our point of view that Pakistan is doing an awful lot and doing everything they can to try to bring an end to the kind of terrorism and violence we've seen to the region, to try to bring an end to the al-Qaida organization and the grievous harm it has perpetrated on people of the region.
QUESTION: Did you see the column this morning by Robert Novak suggesting that President-elect Uribe may be appointing a suspected drug trafficker to a senior national security position?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I didn't see the column. I'll have to check and see if we know anything from President-elect Uribe. But has he announced anything? Perhaps we would leave it to him to make his decision first.
QUESTION: Is there any news on Secretary Powell's visit to the region? Is there a visit planned in the next few weeks?
MR. BOUCHER: No, no travel plans to announce.
QUESTION: Does the State Department have a position on yesterday's missile attacks in Gaza on suspected Hamas individuals?
QUESTION: We did this.
QUESTION: Oh, we did this already?
QUESTION: No, we didn't.
QUESTION: Well, in a way.
QUESTION: No, we didn't.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, yeah, in a way.
QUESTION: Any new formulation?
QUESTION: Any new formulation?
MR. BOUCHER: "Any new formulation?" was Barry's question. My answer was no.
QUESTION: I asked Jonathan when I came in. What?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: So are we -- well --
MR. BOUCHER: Our view of the violence that is occurring, first of all -- I mean, we're very troubled by the continuation of the violence. We have been doing everything we can to work with the parties, made quite clear President Arafat's responsibility, Chairman Arafat's responsibility to contain the violence, take steps against the infrastructure and to consistently denounce the violence.
As far as particular actions by the Israeli Government, we have made clear that we do recognize Israel has a right to defend itself. They need to think about the consequences. With regard to targeted killings per se, I'd say we have expressed our view on that in the past, and it hasn't changed.
QUESTION: You're still opposed to targeted killings?
MR. BOUCHER: We have the same position we have had in the past, yes.
QUESTION: Well, I don't want to make -- I don't want to belabor it, but how can you oppose targeted killings and then recognize Israel's right to defend itself, I mean, without just -- without coming out now and saying you're opposed to targeted killing?
MR. BOUCHER: We have had views -- if you look back over the past, we have always made clear that Israel needs to defend itself, but that we have had comments at various times on various ways that they have done that.
QUESTION: Well, the Palestinian Authority put Sheikh Yassin, the leader of the -- the spiritual leader of Hamas under house arrest, and they have tried to take some steps to stop the violence, and there is some in-fighting right now between the Palestinians in Gaza. What's your view on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, certainly we think that steps to stop the violence are necessary, including steps against Hamas and the infrastructure of Hamas. I think in this particular case we have seen house arrests before, which over not too long a period of time was relaxed and sort of faded away. So we think there need to be serious and sustained actions against the terrorists and their infrastructure, and the groups that perpetrate terrorism.
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, it's a repeat of something we've seen before, and didn't stick last time.
QUESTION: So you don't think it's a credible move on the part of the authorities?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say in and of itself it doesn't mark that much progress. It needs to be part of an overall effort to get at the infrastructure of violence, and that needs to be serious and sustained.
QUESTION: Two questions. There's a lot of material in the Israeli press suggesting that we are approaching a black hole in terms of Middle East happenings. Is the Department prepared to send out, or preparing to send out, some wide receivers for the President's Hail Mary football that he was expected to -- are you --
MR. BOUCHER: Before we start defining the metaphors for what the President wants to say, let's let him say it first, and then you can describe the play.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Are you preparing -- is it the Department preparing to implement the President's policy?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, we're prepared to implement whatever the President decides we should do, and we look forward to implementing it on his behalf. Second of all, our representatives in the region remain very, very active with the parties, and we keep in touch with the parties in a whole variety of ways. So the United States is clearly involved and will remain involved, and when the President decides to speak we look forward to carrying out whatever he says.
QUESTION: It's actually kind of in the region. Over the weekend, the President made a kind of generic offer of aid to Iran for the earthquake, and the Iranians this morning said that they didn't outright reject any aid; they said that they'd be open to it. Do you know if the Iranians have made any request for assistance from the United States? And if not, what is it exactly? Can you define, refine what the President was offering?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I'll try to define it a little better, give you some more detail, now that we're two days into it. First, let me make clear we offer our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the tragic earthquake in Iran that left hundreds of people dead or injured. As President Bush said in the statement on Saturday, human suffering knows no political boundaries, and we stand ready to assist the people of Iran as needed and as desired.
We extended an offer of assistance to the Iranian Government through the Swiss, who are our protecting power in Iran. We understand that Iran has turned down offers of international assistance until it can better identify specific needs, and there's a team from the United Nations actually out there working on an assessment now.
We are also exploring ways in which we can assist with a humanitarian relief effort through contributions to relief organizations. Those organizations would then provide the humanitarian assistance directly to the Iranian people. But I don't have anything particular to announce right now.
QUESTION: Do you know what it is that you actually offered to them through the Swiss?
MR. BOUCHER: We offered things like food, water purification equipment, temporary housing. We said we had things like that that could be made available.
QUESTION: I realize this is hypothetical, but if they decided to accept it, what's the transfer mechanism? Does it go through the UN or does it go through the Swiss? How does it --
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, we would -- I don't know that there is one specified at this point. A lot would depend on the Government of Iran and how they decided to handle the disaster. And I am sure there would be sufficient mechanisms to get the stuff out there if they wanted it.
QUESTION: And this isn't meant to be --
MR. BOUCHER: But at this point, let me make clear they have said thanks for the offer. We know they have said this to others as well. Thanks for the offer, not right now, we'll get back to you if we need it.
QUESTION: They actually have communicated that back to you through the same --
MR. BOUCHER: Yes --
MR. BOUCHER: I m not sure of that. I don't know if -- no, I can't say yes to that. I have to double-check and see if we've gotten that specific reply back to us.
QUESTION: Okay. This isn't meant to be crass, but do you have a -- is there a dollar figure attached to the amount of assistance that you guys offered?
MR. BOUCHER: Not right now, no.
QUESTION: Is temporary housing tents, just really quickly?
MR. BOUCHER: I assume it may be other than tents, and that's why we use a generic term. I'd have to see.
QUESTION: There are reports in the regions that something called YesTV, which is kind of the Israeli equivalent of Verizon, wants to shut down CNN's and BBC's operations in Israel because they feel it's too biased towards the Palestinians and that they would let Fox send the news instead. If they place some kind of restrictions on any -- let's get away from the specific companies involved, but if the Israeli authorities place restrictions on any of the well known news media broadcasting in the area, wouldn't that be restriction of freedom of press and of concern therefore for the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've talked about this about a week ago. Maybe you're asking again today because the correspondents are not sitting right next to each other. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I'm sorry, maybe I'm a little late with the news.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything to say on that except for we believe everybody is great, and the more information the better, and the more choice there is the better. And I'll just leave it at that.
QUESTION: I have a question on the Middle East. Over the weekend, the Israelis are talking of taking the families of suicide bombers and deporting them. And I think about four months ago we spoke about -- I believe it was Iraq and possibly Iran paying those families after a suicide had occurred, a bomber in other words, a fairly sizeable amount of money. And how would you regard this? Would this be just the Israelis pulling the rug out from these -- so that the adults would --
MR. BOUCHER: I think you're dealing with two separate issues. The first one I was asked about earlier and gave whatever comment we could at that point. As far as paying money, paying bounties or payments to suicide bombers, we have always made clear our opposition to that and have taken a lot of steps with parties in the region to see that kind of payment is not made.
QUESTION: Would that be so that the families could talk to their teens so that this may not occur, talk them out of it?
MR. BOUCHER: I think any responsible parent would do that, but I can't say that we can make that a goal of US policy.
QUESTION: New subject. Do you have anything on this new plan for the US and Russia to jointly try to track down missing radioactive material?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't.
QUESTION: I guess not.
MR. BOUCHER: I guess not.
QUESTION: Could you look into it? It sounds very interesting. They're trying to get hold of any material that could be used for dirty bombs before the bad guys get it.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll look into it for you and see.
QUESTION: Can I have another question then?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: All right. What do you think about the new Afghan cabinet so far? There are no women in the cabinet. Sima Samar has not been reappointed to her position. And if I'm not mistaken, keeping women in leadership roles was part of the Bonn agreement.
MR. BOUCHER: We are certainly in touch with the Afghans, but I do want to make clear we don't decide on their government. They need to do that themselves. This is an Afghan --
QUESTION: You don't decide on this government. You had a lot to do with the end of the last government.
MR. BOUCHER: We had a lot to do with the end of the last one. But the goal of all of that -- (laughter) -- no, I don't want to make it an occasion for laughter. We did have a lot to do with the end of the last regime in charge in Afghanistan. We are very proud of the fact they're not running Afghans' lives any more, and we're very proud of the fact that they're not colluding with foreign terrorists any more, and we've very proud of the fact that we created the conditions under which Afghans themselves can decide. And that has been our goal all along. And so Afghans themselves are deciding and Afghans themselves are putting together a political process, a transitional process and a process that responds to the needs of the Afghan people.
So the Afghan Transitional Authority has our full support. We look forward to working with these people as it continues to rebuild Afghan political institutions. We continue to believe that women need to play an important role in rebuilding Afghanistan. We remain confident that President Karzai shares that view. And we continue to keep in touch with the prominent women, civic leaders and others, who are working in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Weren't there repercussions though from the Bonn agreement though for international aid should women not be well represented at high levels?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of -- I don't remember anything specific in the Bonn agreement, but I'd have to check.
QUESTION: Does the Bonn agreement apply to this government, or the interim government --
MR. BOUCHER: The Bonn agreement described the whole process by which Afghans would have an interim government, would go through a Loya Jirga, as they now have, to choose a government and move on towards elections in another 18 months or so from now. So that's a process that's working out quite well and we want to see it continue.
QUESTION: One more, if I can go back on India and Pakistan. Astrologically in India, war should or may break within two weeks, between now and July 3rd. And my question is that assessment so far from these high-level visits from the United States are not working, and the astrologers are still saying unless the US presses --
MR. BOUCHER: Are you saying "astrologers"?
MR. BOUCHER: I thought so, but I just wanted to make sure. I'm not --
QUESTION: But they are saying also that unless the US presses hard on Pakistan to stop terrorism into India --
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: So what I'm saying is really if these high-level visits have not worked so far, what tactics or what message the US is going to use now?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'm not reading the charts on this. (Laughter.) I'm watching the news. And the news is you guys are reporting to me, as well as my own people, that tensions have been reduced. You are reporting that infiltration across the line of control is down significantly. The Indian Government has said that. You are reporting to me that India has taken a number of steps to reciprocate and to reduce tensions. You are reporting to me that both sides have said they want to avoid war and are taking steps to do so. So maybe I ought to read a different section of the newspaper.
QUESTION: But Richard, Prime Minister Vajpayee said no, it has not stopped.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I realize there's a lot of statements from both sides. What I'm trying to say is there are facts on the ground, there's commitments by the parties, there's actual steps the parties have been taking. By no means would any of us stand up here and say the danger is completely over and don't worry, but I think we have made quite clear that things are going in the right direction, and we look to the parties to continue carrying out their commitments. And we have told the parties we are going to stay involved, we are going to try to help you facilitate continued steps and facilitate a dialogue.
QUESTION: Last (inaudible), China allows North Korean refugees to leave China for North Korea. It was reported that 30 -- 26 refugees arrived at South Korea. Before that decision that China had allowed 38 refugee asylum-seekers to leave their country. So do you think the Chinese Government is changing the policy towards the North Korean refugees?
MR. BOUCHER: You would have to ask the Chinese Government if they want to say if they've changed their policy. What we would say, I think first, is just that we are pleased the Chinese Government has resolved these cases in a manner -- in a humanitarian manner. The actual resolution was done by the parties directly involved -- the South Korean, the Canadian and the Chinese governments. But we're pleased that it has been resolved in a humanitarian manner.
QUESTION: Richard, do you have anything to say on the report today about the North Korean Government saying that a new war -- it's become a problem in the future, in response to President Bush's doctrine of preemptive action against the hostile states? Do you have any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen that statement, so I don't have anything for you right now.
QUESTION: Richard, is it your understanding that the Chinese have rescinded their request that they made to all the embassies to turn over any North Koreans that may be in their embassies? Or maybe not generally, but do you know, have they rescinded the request that they made to the US on this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if they have done that, and since it was a general circular, you'd have to ask the Chinese.
QUESTION: Flipping back to the Mideast, has -- the President has deferred --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new to say from this --
QUESTION: No, I just wondered if --
MR. BOUCHER: -- if that's what you're going to ask me.
QUESTION: -- this has extended the time people could get in last-minute bits of advice, and I wondered if you've received anything from various parties or, you know, interested bystanders. I saw Ambassador Welch had some things to say in Cairo. And has the Secretary been in touch with any Mideast players in the last few days that you want to tell us about?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any update on phone calls today. I'll try to get that for you later. As far as the weekend goes, the principal phone call was to President Musharraf. No, I don't have any others with the Mideast over the weekend.
QUESTION: There's been a development in the Zimbabwean farmers -- white farmers, commercial farmers dispute, and they've been told to stop working their land and given a deadline. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think just the general comment. We've seen ongoing land seizures in Zimbabwe, and we think the Government of Zimbabwe's land policy, including the chaotic and the often violent seizure of privately-owned farms, has greatly compounded the country's worsening social, economic and political crisis. Government-backed land seizures have resulted in numerous deaths and serious human rights abuses. It has also greatly exacerbated the food crisis in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa much more broadly.
We continue to support rational, sustainable and equitable land reform in Zimbabwe. Very sadly, that's not what's happening.
QUESTION: You say that's not what's happening. Are you referring specifically to this latest measure?
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen the latest measure, but I think it would apply to this latest measure as well, the way you describe it.
QUESTION: Can we correctly assume that the phone call by the Secretary was the result of reading the Newsweek-Washington Post article?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it would be correct to assume that that was one of the elements. The Secretary does talk to President Musharraf from time to time about the situation. This was one of those phone calls where they talked about the whole situation. But yes, the interview was one of the things they discussed because the article itself had raised some questions. And President Musharraf, as I said, made quite clear to us that he had made clear commitments, he knew it, and he was going to stand by them.
QUESTION: Richard, I don't know whether you had maybe an answer in the earlier week, but in the resignation from Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar. It will make any difference between what's going on between India and Pakistan?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any conclusions like that to draw. I don't think we tried to do that. It was a matter for the government in Pakistan to decide.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Thank you.
Released on June 24, 2002