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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for July 30

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for July 30 -- Transcript

Daily Press Briefing
Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
July 30, 2002

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT
1 Secretary Powell s Travel
3-5 Public Diplomacy

AFGHANISTAN
1-2 Alleged Bombing/Security Concerns
2-3 UN Report

RUSSIA
5-8 Cooperation with Iran

CONGO/RWANDA
8-9 Peace Deal

VENEZUELA
9 Office of Transition Initiatives


TRANSCRIPT:


MR. REEKER: Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry for the delay. We had a false-alarm fire alarm in the building, so I know some of us had to evacuate. But we are back and I have no other announcements other than to note, remind you, that Secretary Powell and his party are at this time in Brunei, hopefully getting some much deserved rest, part of the Secretary's trip in East Asia. Tomorrow he'll be attending meetings of the ASEAN Regional Forum as well as other bilateral meetings, and I'm sure you'll be getting news updates from your colleagues who are traveling with him.

So with that, if Mr. Schweid wants to kick it off, I'm happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: I'm tempted to say something about your weight in gold, but all right, here we go.

There's an apparent attempt, or there was an apparent attempt, at the Embassy in Islamabad. I'm afraid we're sorely lacking in facts --

MR. REEKER: In Islamabad?

QUESTION: I thought it was in Islamabad. No, it's Kabul. I'm sorry. See, I told you we don't have the facts.

MR. REEKER: Let me note that for the record: Mr. Schweid of the Associated Press said they don't have the facts. Let me try to come in with the facts that we know. There are some conflicting reports out of Kabul about alleged bomb attacks. We've seen some press reports to that effect coming out of Kabul. It's not clear who or what may have been the target of these alleged bomb plots, but obviously we do remain concerned about the continuing volatility and political security situation in Afghanistan as the transitional government there continues to confront the legacy of over two decades of war, natural disaster, instability. And as you know, we are very much involved with the rest of the international community in an important reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, and the President has made quite clear our commitment to that effort.

Because of the continuing uncertain security conditions in Kabul, the United States is providing personal security for President Karzai until Afghans can be trained to fully take over that role. I think the Pentagon has done some briefing on that.

We continue to support the efforts of President Karzai and the transitional government to restore peace throughout the country. This of course includes helping the Afghans train and establish national police security forces, and the US has been very committed to training an Afghan national army, which of course is a long-term solution to Afghanistan's security problems.

So I think that's about as much as we have on those reports.

QUESTION: Just one little fact more. Do you have anything on who the would-be bomber was? Intelligence there is being quoted as saying he was an al-Qaida.

MR. REEKER: As I said, Barry, we've seen these press reports citing various Afghan sources on alleged bomb plots in Kabul, but it's not at all clear who, whom or what may have been involved there. I just don't have any other details on it.

Anything else on that? Charlie.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Has Washington been in touch with the Embassy enough to be able to tell us that everybody's safe and you're not evacuating anybody from --

MR. REEKER: I don't have any reports to that effect. And as I said in our conversations and our contacts, we don't have any other details on these reports that are coming over some of the news wires.

Carol.

QUESTION: This UN report on the incident in Afghanistan -- the UN apparently is not releasing it to the public and has given it to the United States. Are you willing to make that public?

MR. REEKER: I think that's probably because there was no UN report. As the UN themselves indicated at their noon briefing yesterday. They had some sort of preliminary document prepared by the UN Mission in Afghanistan with figures. I think their statement that they put out talked about something they were doing in terms of responding to humanitarian needs and they had an internal UN document regarding aspects of that, and so I don't have anything more for you on the UN's efforts. What we have talked about is the government of Afghanistan and the Defense Department are carrying out in-depth investigations of the bombing July 1st in Uruzgan Province in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Well, whether you call it a report or whatever, I mean, you acknowledge that there is a document. And apparently the UN was critical of the United States and suggested that the United States had underreported the scope of the damage, the death toll, and had covered up evidence. What do you have to say about those kinds of --

MR. REEKER: I'd just have to refer you to the Defense Department where they're conducting a very in-depth review and they've been briefing on that regularly. I think Secretary Rumsfeld is out a little later this afternoon. If they have anything to add at this point and the Government of Afghanistan has been participating in that as well, and then refer you to what the UN said about what their document, which of course taken out of context can be completely misconstrued.

Anything else on that? Afghanistan? Anything else at all? Barry.

QUESTION: Well, this might take a little of your time, but are you able to describe for us how public diplomacy at the State Department would correlate or be folded into or exist on its own, or whatever, with the new White House office? I don't quite understand if it will be subsumed, or what.

MR. REEKER: No, as I think my colleague Mr. Fleischer briefed over at the White House earlier today, the White House does intend to set up an Office of Global Communications. As you'll recall -- I think you may have covered this, Barry -- in the early days after September 11th we established what we called the Coalition Information Centers that the White House helped to coordinate US Government messages, working also with some of our other allies in the war on terrorism, part of the coalition that is utilizing so many tools in fighting terrorism, but also focusing on the need for important information on specific aspects of the war on terrorism, but on our public diplomacy more broadly. And I spoke yesterday a bit about our efforts in that direction.

And as Mr. Fleischer said, this is directly related to the President's comments that he's made about the need for America to get the message out to other countries, and we certainly believe at the State Department as well of the importance of having White House input and coordination in this effort. I think there is clearly a White House role in what is a global effort at communication to talk about American society, American culture, American policies, put that in the proper context, to respond to some of the misperceptions about our country and our policies that are clearly evident out there.

And so as Ari Fleischer indicated, this office will work very closely with Public Diplomacy, that is, the offices and bureaus in this Department that are dedicated to these efforts, and that involves all of our public diplomacy personnel overseas, a very highly-trained cadre of Foreign Service Officers who have worked, in many cases, in this field for many, many years, who were responsible for much of the very important public diplomacy work we had that brought about the end of the Cold War, certainly contributed to that. And as we said yesterday, we have been reexamining how we can do this work on a broader, deeper basis, with a younger audience in mind, to meet the challenges that exist today.

And so the White House office, which is still evolving, and I think they'll put out a statement in due course on any details on that, would simply be a coordinating mechanism to work on this, and we welcome that very much.

QUESTION: The White House will not be taking control of this --

MR. REEKER: No, I think if you go back and look at Mr. Fleischer's comments, the White House will help coordinate, working closely with the offices that are involved in public diplomacy; that is, we have a Bureau of Public Affairs, we have a Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, we have Under Secretary Beers overseeing all of these efforts, as well as the International Information Programs Office which coordinates an awful lot of these efforts and works directly with our geographic bureaus and all of the people on the ground at our embassies who carry this stuff out and also coordinates with other parts of the US Government, including the international broadcasting efforts which have been a very important part of our public diplomacy over the decades.

Terri.

QUESTION: But isn't it the State Department's job and your -- departments like Public Diplomacy to put out the coordinated administration view? I mean, why would you need more coordination since the State Department conceivably isn't putting out its own views; it is putting out the White House views.

MR. REEKER: But it's very important, I think, to have the direct input of the White House, as we found with the --

QUESTION: And there wasn't before?

MR. REEKER: As we found with the Coalition Information Center, having a unified spot where we can go to and coordinate those messages, along with the White House Communications Office, along with DOD, other parts of the government.

I wouldn't see this as an entirely new initiative. It's something we've been talking about in fact for some time. I don't think it's particularly news today. You know, a number of interviews that went into the news reports in fact were conducted some time ago. These are efforts that are ongoing that we're very much involved in, we've briefed on, Secretary Powell has talked about, in terms of getting America's message in a coherent, targeted and effective manner. And that needs all of the resources of the government in carrying that out.

QUESTION: So this is not a redundant effort, then. Was there a lack of coordination previously?

MR. REEKER: I don't think anybody suggested there was a lack of coordination. I think you're trying to chase something up here, Terri, that just doesn't exist.

QUESTION: I'm not trying to chase up anything.

MR. REEKER: An office that, as Mr. Fleischer said, in the White House that will coordinate the US global message in an official way, utilizing all of the personnel and resources that we have in a variety of departments around, we think is the way to go. And we're still developing how we can do that as part of this overall effort that we've talked about on many occasions, and certainly over the last couple of days, in trying to make our public diplomacy efforts, our broader public affairs efforts, meet the challenges that exist now because there are new challenges every day, different parts of the world that need to be focused on.

Anything else on that subject? Dmitri.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. REEKER: All yours.

QUESTION: Thank you. What's the US administration opinion, or rather, reaction on the new Russian plan of cooperation with Iran? The Washington Post today reported citing unnamed senior US administration official in Moscow that the White House was "infuriated" by this. Any update from the Under Secretary Bolton, who is in Moscow right now?

And as an auxiliary question to this, if I may, could you please confirm the report by The Washington Post, as well, in yesterday's issue that there is a low-level talk in this administration about the possibility of preemptive strike on Bushehr construction site.

MR. REEKER: Let's start at the beginning of that because as you indicated, and I think we talked about it somewhat yesterday, but perhaps not right here at the podium. I don't know if any questions came up. We do have talks going on in Moscow where Energy Secretary Abraham and Under Secretary of State John Bolton are participating with a number of other US officials, interagency representatives with their Russian counterparts. These are talks that are a follow-up to what was discussed and ordered by the two Presidents, by President Bush and President Putin, following their summit meetings in Moscow and then in Kananaskis recently to have continuing dialogue to focus on nonproliferation issues and concerns.

The press reports that you cite and some that were earlier, that Russia's considering assisting in construction of additional reactors in Iran we find disturbing. We've talked about our concerns of this for some time and we've consistently urged Russia to cease all nuclear cooperation with Iran, including the assistance to the reactor at Bushehr. We certainly think that these actions would be in Russia's best interest in terms of their own security concerns. Contributing to Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions would be counterproductive, I think, to Russia's broader strategic interests. And we have made quite clear publicly, and in our diplomatic conversations, our concerns and the need to recognize the implications of supporting Iran's efforts in this.

And so as I said, these officials are in Moscow this week conveying our views and seeking further information from senior Russian officials. And this is all in line with what our Presidents have discussed, with what President Bush and Secretary Powell have made clear in terms of our concerns about Iran seeking nuclear weapons. You know, it's interesting to note that given its vast energy resources that Iran has that, you know, we've therefore been concerned at their interest in a civil nuclear power program and our concerns are that this is an effort to support Iran's nuclear weapons programs and designing to develop an indigenous nuclear capability. So we're having this high-level diplomatic conversation this week to express our concerns on that, and our approach has been very much at the diplomatic level to continue reviewing this with Russia.

QUESTION: The preemptive strike thing?

MR. REEKER: I think, again, our focus is on a diplomatic discussion with Russia right now and that's where we'll leave it. I don't have any particular readouts yet from Under Secretary Bolton or his party. But as the week goes on, I'm sure we'll have readouts both from Moscow and perhaps from here.

Carol.

QUESTION: Your words today are slightly more an expression of concern than the White House Spokesman's were yesterday and I wondered why it took, you know, 24 hours for this administration to kind of gin up its concern?

MR. REEKER: I think, in fact, these words were ones I had yesterday, too. Nobody asked and I don't believe there was a briefing at the White House yesterday. Our concerns are the ones that we've expressed for some time. They haven't changed and it's something we're engaged with, with the Russians on. It's been talked about at Presidential summits, so it's been something that we've raised at all levels and we'll continue to have this dialogue which the two Presidents agreed to in order to make clear our reasons for being concerned and to demonstrate to Russia why we think their support for these nuclear efforts is not in Russia's best interests nor in the best interests of region or any aspects of global security in this rubric of our nonproliferation talks.

QUESTION: On the question of preemption, the President has been rather outspoken in articulating this new doctrine. And the story in the Post did suggest that there is a debate going on between Washington and Israel on a possible military action against Bushehr. Now you said the focus right now is on diplomacy, but you know, to what extent is this debate going on?

MR. REEKER: Again, I wouldn't want to try to speculate on a bunch of unnamed sources in various press reports. We've all been through that many times before.

QUESTION: Well, I'm not asking you to speculate. I'm asking you to say what actually is happening.

MR. REEKER: What I've told you is what actually is happening, and that is a diplomatic dialogue that's been raised at all levels for some time. It's ongoing in Moscow as we speak perhaps, with senior officials over there continuing this dialogue with their Russian counterparts. It's something that's of interest to us, something of concern to us and something we'll continue to remain very seized with.

QUESTION: But when you were asked about it, you said, you used the word "now." That's what's --

MR. REEKER: I missed the reference.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. When the question about a preemptive strike came, you described this diplomacy and said that's what we're doing now. An inference is possible that that is the current thing --

MR. REEKER: Well, it's possible, Barry, but don't infer it.

QUESTION: -- but maybe there are, you know, contingencies, you know, if this doesn't work. Did you mean to suggest it's --

MR. REEKER: No, I didn't mean to suggest. I was asked a question about what we're doing, and now, as we speak, I believe talks are ongoing in Moscow. So that's the use of the word "now."

QUESTION: But we would allow preemptive action against Bushehr?

MR. REEKER: Again, I think it's just a totally hypothetical, speculative thing that people are pulling out with a bunch of, or perhaps only one, unnamed source or something. Carol, I just don't have any suggestion on that. I've talked to you about what our concerns are in terms of support for Iranian nuclear programs, why we have those concerns. We talked to the Russians about that. We have been and will continue to do so.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Some observers have suggested that the announcement by Russia last Friday, I think it was, on expanding nuclear cooperation with Iran was -- is a bit of a kind of a double game of "bargaining chip" to maybe exert more concessions from the US. Is there any way in which the kind of -- that your fairly moderate reaction to this is not "taking the bait," so to speak?

MR. REEKER: I'll let you guys gauge our reaction or not and do your own analysis. I've made quite clear to you, as we have over a period of many months, years in fact, our concerns about this issue. It's come up in every high-level discussion with our Russian interlocutors and we'll continue to raise this, as we are in the talks that are going on now that of course, as I said, have been long-planned taking place in Moscow.

QUESTION: This has been going on for years, but this administration has been enthused by this new relationship. Also, I guess, was President Clinton. But I can only think of two possible explanations. One is that this relationship between Iran and Russia isn't considered that ominous by the United States or that the United States feels through good relations it can get Russia to change its behavior. But Russia hasn't changed its behavior. This is serious. Isn't this a serious impediment to this new relationship?

MR. REEKER: I think, Barry, I can't really add anything more to what I've already said. It's an issue of concern to us, we're bringing it up, we've brought it up at the highest levels. And the President's agreed that the way to proceed with this was to have an ongoing dialogue on nonproliferation issues, and that's what's taking place right now. So I don't think there's anything more I can add to what I've already said. This is what diplomacy is about and it's important to us, and obviously Russia is engaged because they're participating with us in those talks that are taking place in Moscow.

QUESTION: I think you said yesterday that the Secretary had talked to Ivanov?

MR. REEKER: It was last week and we reported to you at the time when he spoke to him.

QUESTION: Was this one of the subjects?

MR. REEKER: I couldn't tell you.

QUESTION: Did you check on any other phone calls?

MR. REEKER: I don't have reports of any other phone calls, anything you might be able to get from the field, but I don't have anything else on Secretarial phone calls. (Cell phone rings.) But there's one now. Maybe it's the Secretary. (Laughter.)

Anything else? Yes. Steve.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the peace deal signed between the DRC and Rwanda?

MR. REEKER: Yes. In fact, that was fairly recent news. We watched that signing ceremony and we welcome the agreement that was signed today, July 30th, by Congolese President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Pretoria, South Africa. We believe that this agreement is an important step forward in resolving the longstanding conflict in the Congo. We appreciate the United Nations' assistance in bringing about this agreement and we greatly appreciate President Mbeki's efforts at facilitating this agreement. Two officials from the United States Embassy in Pretoria were present at the signing ceremony as invited members of the diplomatic corps in South Africa, and we will continue to be actively engaged with all the parties to the conflict and to continue encouraging implementation of the agreement to help bring about a lasting peace in the Congo.

QUESTION: Kagame asked the international community to support, you know, the signatories to the deal, to help them carry out what they've got to do within quite short deadlines. Does the US have any plans to finance this stuff or provide logistical support? And do you have any view on the tight nature of the deadlines that are included in this peace deal, for instance, like, I don't know, it's 90 days for them to go after the Hutus.

MR. REEKER: I don't think I could get into the specifics -- those details of the agreement -- other than to say that we welcome the agreement and to stress, as I did, that we will continue to be actively engaged with all the parties to the conflict in order to encourage implementation of the agreement and do what we can to help bring about a lasting peace in the Congo, working with others in the international community, including the South Africans, including the United Nations at that effort, but I just don't have anymore details to offer at this point.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: The Chavez government refused any activity of the OTI in Venezuela. Do you have any reaction, any comment on that?

MR. REEKER: I'm afraid I hadn't seen those particular reports. The OTI that your colleague is referencing is the Office of Transition Initiatives of the US Agency for International Development that has set aside some money and a couple of people working out of our Embassy in Caracas to help with some of these initiatives that we supported around the world to support civil society, and in the case of Venezuela, to support the dialogue that we've long talked about as being important to efforts there to deal with problems in their democracy and to search for reconciliation.

We think that's very important, along with the efforts of the Organization of American States and other international organizations that have worked there, and that's what we've encouraged and that's the goal of our offers and efforts to nongovernmental groups that are involved in helping to develop civil society to work through these types of issues.

Thanks.

[End]


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