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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for September 24

Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 24, 2002

INDEX:

CONSULAR
1-4,15 Visa Security Reviews and Visas Condor Program

COTE D'IVOIRE
4-7 Update on Situation / US Consul in Contact with American
Citizens

RUSSIA/GEORGIA
7 Situation in Pankisi Gorge

UKRAINE
7-10 US Policy Review

ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
10-12 UN Security Council Resolution
12 US Contacts with Israelis and Palestinians

INDIA
13 Attack on Hindu Temple in State of Gujarat

SOUTH ASIA
13-14 Travel to the Region by Assistant Secretary Rocca

BANGLADESH
14 Human Rights Situation in Bangladesh

GERMANY
14-15 US-German Relations

JORDAN
15-16,17 Secretary Powell's Meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister

IRAQ
16-18 US Consultations with UN Security Council Members on
Resolution

DEPARTMENT
18,19 Secretary Powell's Calls to Foreign Ministers

SPAIN/MOROCCO
18-19 Island Issue /US in Consultations with Both Sides

CHINA/TAIWAN
19 US Visit by Taiwan's First Lady

CHINA
19-20 Deputy Secretary Armitage's Meeting with PRC Official

NEPAL
20 Violence by Maoist Rebels


TRANSCRIPT:

1:05 p.m. EDT


MR. BOUCHER: If I can, I would like to start off by telling you a little bit about visa issuance and what we've done to make sure that we can have visas and security at the same time. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the State Department has been engaged with other US Government agencies in an extensive and ongoing review of visa issuing procedures as they relate to the security of our borders and our nation.

As a result, some visa applicants have been subject to additional background and security checks worldwide. These checks are coordinated with US law enforcement and the security community. Applicants were informed when they applied that the applications were subject to delay. As a result of now improved inter-agency and automated procedures, the Department of State, last week, was able to send authorization to our consular posts worldwide to issue visas to more than 10,000 visa applicants following mandatory security reviews.

Many foreign students, businesspeople and other travelers whose visa applicants have been subject to the security procedure known as "Visas Condor" will now see speedier visa adjudications.

"Visas Condor" is a program under which posts abroad submit names of visa applicants subject to further analysis by appropriate US Government agencies. In the future, these security reviews are expected to take less than a month from the time of the visa application.

The primary responsibility of consular officers is to carry out US law and to ensure that applicants to whom they issue visas will not pose a threat to the safety and security of the United States. This must take precedence over other considerations in adjudicating visa applications. There is no automatic entitlement to a US visa. All visas are subject to the requirements of US Visa and Immigration law. We will do everything possible to meet the needs of prospective travelers to the United States consistent with our security responsibilities, however individuals need to build in ample time for their planned travel in order to make sure they are not inconvenienced.

QUESTION: Are the 10,000, just to be sure, the 10,000 that had been slowed down?

MR. BOUCHER: That was a backlog that had built up while we employed sort of procedures that required some manual checks, non-automated checks. And we've now been able to automate the system and improve the procedures, so we can do all the same necessary security checks but have it go more quickly. So we're able to release -- done the checks on these 10,000 that were backed up and we're able to promise a more efficient system from now on.

QUESTION: I'll try to hold myself to one or two very quickly. You were holding up visas on the basis of where people came from. I mean, there was profiling going on.

MR. BOUCHER: There's no single criteria, but there is a combination of criteria based on the assessment of intelligence and law enforcement agencies of who are the people that we need to pay more attention to.

QUESTION: We need law enforcement agencies to say pay more attention to dark-skinned people or pay more attention to people who come from Lebanon?

MR. BOUCHER: As I said, there's no single profile or single criteria. There is a combination of criteria that lead us to do these checks.

QUESTION: All right, last question. You credited -- your statement credited better equipment, whatever. Is any of this in response to complaints by civil libertarians that the State Department was engaged in profiling?

MR. BOUCHER: As I said, that really hasn't been the issue. The issue has been the sheer delay. We've had foreign governments talk to us about students who had been in the United States who went home for the summer and couldn't get back. The Secretary heard about this from a number of people in New York. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council raised it with him, and others as well. American businesses have raised issues like this about people that they wanted to see arrive. Some American schools and universities have raised these issues.

When we first instituted this system of more extensive checks, we didn't have all the information on our automated database, we didn't have all the connections, and therefore we established a procedure where we had to go and do separate checks in a number of places. Now we're able to do this more expeditiously and clear out the vast majority of applicants with a check through our system because we know we've got all the information there.

QUESTION: Just to give us an idea of what this 10,000 means, how many visas would you normally process in a week or a year or whatever? And how far back do some of these -- does this backlog stretch?

MR. BOUCHER: The backlog may go back to the middle of the summer. Some of these people would have applied in late July or so, mid to late July at the earliest, and then people who applied subsequent to that. I don't have the numbers on the top of my head of how many nonimmigrant visas we issue a year, but there's an awful lot. This is a very small portion.

QUESTION: It doesn't sound like it's much of a backlog because if you're getting -- I mean, if you're issuing 10,000 a week --

MR. BOUCHER: No, but this is a subcategory of the total issuances. These are people on whom we do the "Visas Condor" checks, which is a subcategory of the total pool of applicants.

QUESTION: Okay. Are most of these from those countries that were designated, or whatever the term is, that were on the sort of list of countries of special interest?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we ever released a list of countries of special interest.

QUESTION: Well, can you give us --

QUESTION: -- where is the list?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we've ever released a list of countries of special interest.

Matt had a question.

QUESTION: Yes. Well, actually, you know what? Why doesn't everyone else go ahead. Go ahead, Eli.

QUESTION: No, that's all right.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea how many countries, though, these people are from, these 10,000?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not in a position to go into that.

QUESTION: You're not in a position to say how many? I'm not asking what the countries are.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I'm in a position to do that. I'll check and see if I am.

QUESTION: Then, how many outstanding visa applications are there right now that you would consider backlogged? So, in other words, how much of the backlog does this 10,000 clear away?

MR. BOUCHER: This clears out the backlog. There are always visas being applied for any being processed, so at any given moment, given that it may take a couple weeks to perform the checks even under the expedited procedure, we'll have a number of visas in this process. But at this point, we think we can promise a more normal processing time, a more reliable processing time, and the ability to get back to people within a couple weeks.

QUESTION: Well, okay, so how do people know if this is going to be good for them if you won't say what the countries are that are involved in --

MR. BOUCHER: We tell the applicants when they apply. When they apply, we tell the applicants that we're doing additional checks and then we're able to give them some estimate of when we might be able to issue their visa.

QUESTION: Then the new things were instituted when? In October of last year? When was it that this began?

MR. BOUCHER: The checks began more -- it about a year ago, right? I can't remember. Late last year.

QUESTION: Late September?

MR. BOUCHER: But the way that we did the checks was changed somewhat over the course of time, and by July we started holding up issuances until we had been able to clear all the databases, until the name had cleared all the databases. Now we're able to go back and do that more efficiently. So we have the added protection of these tighter procedures, but we have a more efficient process again.

QUESTION: I'm not sure that I understand how it will work now. It'll work faster, but there will still be a special eye, a special lookout in certain situations, but your date is such that that won't delay things much; is that the point?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, pretty much. We are looking at individuals --

QUESTION: As you have.

MR. BOUCHER: -- as we have, and that rather than holding them for an amount of time that would cause delays, we're able to do these checks more efficiently, and that results in a slightly more predictable but still somewhat delayed processing time. You don't get the visa the next day.

MR. BOUCHER: I'd be glad to take questions about this or other issues.

QUESTION: Other issues?

MR. BOUCHER: If there are any.

QUESTION: Ivory Coast. Let me ask about that.

MR. BOUCHER: Ivory Coast. We remain gravely concerned about fighting in Bouake near the International Christian Academy. Our US Consul in the Ivory Coast has been in frequent contact with the American citizens who are there. We understand that their anxiety levels are understandably high in the compound, but we also know that all students and staff are reported safe.

We have established a number for individuals who have concerns or information about Americans in the Ivory Coast. That number is 888-407-4747. French troops, as you know, are in the Ivory Coast. We are coordinating very closely with French authorities, and I think you've seen from the Pentagon statements that the US European Command is moving assets into the area, pre-positioning them to be prepared for all contingencies. And Defense would have to give you any more detail on that, as appropriate. That's where we are.

QUESTION: Did the Ambassador ask for extra protection there? You said yesterday they were safe.

MR. BOUCHER: The concern is about the safety of these American citizens. There's fighting going on now in the area near where this school is located. That's what our concern is. That's what their concern is, for the people there. So we asked the European Command, our European Command, to move some troops into the area to be available to provide for the safety of American citizens should that prove necessary.

Elise.

QUESTION: Does the State Department make the determination whether Americans should be evacuated, and are you seriously considering that?

MR. BOUCHER: At this point we're not planning an evacuation of official or non-official Americans, but we do have these concerns about the safety of American citizens who are in parts of the country or located in areas where there appears to be fighting. I'd say once again we call on the rebels to lay down their arms and pursue a peaceful settlement. We think the government and the rebels need to do all in their power to avoid further bloodshed, and we condemn the threat to stability in Cote d'Ivoire that's posed by the rebel elements of the security forces.

QUESTION: When was the request made to the Central Command -- European Command?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know exactly when. Sorry.

QUESTION: Okay. Is this only for Bouake? Are you not -- you're no longer worried about Abidjan, or is it for the entire country? What's their mandate?

MR. BOUCHER: Their mandate is to be available as necessary to take action if -- that can help ensure the safety of American citizens. I don't have anything beyond that. The French troops are in Abidjan. They're looking especially at the areas of Korhogo and Bouake, where the dangers appear to be greatest.

QUESTION: You guys have your own team there, yes, that kind of specializes in --

MR. BOUCHER: Define the --

QUESTION: The State Department has its own kind of consular emergency team on the ground there, correct?

MR. BOUCHER: I have to check and see.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Did you have a chance to get a read-out of the meeting with the Jordanian?

MR. BOUCHER: She gets to change first.

QUESTION: Richard, are these Marines, or what sort of troops?

MR. BOUCHER: You'll have to check with the Pentagon on the kind of --

QUESTION: Are you making efforts in any neighboring countries to put Americans there if they have to be taken out?

MR. BOUCHER: As I said, we're not looking at an evacuation from the country now, but we are concerned about Americans located in specific areas, particularly these people at the school. We're keeping in close touch with them and our goal is to ensure the safety of American citizens in country.

QUESTION: Yeah, but, I mean, yesterday you were saying they were all safe, and here we are 24 hours later and there's American troops going in. I mean, the next step would be to take them out, correct?

MR. BOUCHER: Not necessarily. We'll have to see what happens. Our view is, first of all, that the government and the rebels should look for ways to stop the fighting, and particularly that the rebels should look for ways to lay down their arms and solve this peacefully. But we are concerned about the safety of Americans. We're working closely with the French, who also have troops in country, to look at the safety of French and third country nationals. So we're working closely with them and we'll continue to coordinate with others to try to ensure the safety of Americans. That's what we're looking at now.

QUESTION: Are you just working on the safety of Americans or are US diplomats in the region or in this building try to help resolve this --

MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure we're in touch with the government on this. I don't know of any further efforts in that, though.

QUESTION: Two extremely brief ones. One, did this come up with the Dutch Foreign Minister the other day, considering that there are some Dutch students in the school?

MR. BOUCHER: Not that I'm aware of, no.

QUESTION: Okay. And the last thing is, was this -- the request -- was the reason that you guys made the request to the European Command because of the Ivoirian Government troops going in to Bouake and starting -- or is it -- did it have anything to do with the reports that the Embassy found credible enough to pass on to other people that the rebels in the city were releasing convicts from prisons and giving them weapons, as well as giving weapons to youths?

MR. BOUCHER: I can't give you a specific list of reasons for their request. I think as the situation has grown more difficult in a variety of ways and, as I said, as the fighting has begun in areas very close to where these Americans are located, we've become more and more concerned about the safety of the American citizens and want to make sure we do everything possible to ensure their safety. This is one of the steps that we can take, including other things as well, like working with the French, who already have troops in the country.

QUESTION: Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov said that they had evidence that officials of the Georgian Government were colluding with the terrorists in Georgia, and we've been training Georgian military to fight against the terrorists. So the question is: Is our training ineffective or are the Georgians being duplicitous and taking our training and using it in collusion with the terrorists? That's, of course, assuming that the evidence that he gave to the administration is --

MR. BOUCHER: There are a whole lot of assumptions in there. I think this was explained fairly well by the Secretary on Friday. Right? He responded to the question, so I would just refer you back to that answer.

QUESTION: Well, what he said was that you guys were going to look at what the -- the evidence that Foreign Minister Ivanov had given you. Have you had a chance to do that?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any particular assessment at this point, but I do know that we think that the way to deal with the situation is the way that we have been, and that's to increase the ability of the Georgians themselves to deal with the problem. And they have -- we have indeed done training and they have indeed sent troops to the area to try to deal with the problem of the terrorists who go in and out of the Pankisi Gorge.

Terri.

QUESTION: Can you talk a bit about the report on Ukraine providing Iraq with some sensitive equipment? And I believe there might have even been guidance on this yesterday afternoon.

MR. BOUCHER: The reports of the sale of an early warning system from Ukraine to Iraq have been around for some time. What is new is that we've recently concluded an analysis of a July 2000 recording that was provided by the former Ukrainian presidential bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko. On one of the tapes, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is heard approving the clandestine sale of "Kolchuga" early warning systems to Iraq, and we believe this recording to be authentic.

This recording's authentication has led us to reexamine our policy towards Ukraine, in particular towards President Kuchma. We've initiated a temporary pause in new obligations of Freedom Support Act assistance that goes to the central government of Ukraine while we carry out this review.

The pause doesn't affect the bulk of our assistance to Ukraine, which goes to the private sector, including nongovernmental organizations and local and regional government bodies. Programs to support activities like small business, land titling and exchanges will continue. Our military-to-military and nonproliferation assistance would likewise be unaffected. But what we're doing is we're having a pause in programs that are with the central government authorities. These programs had a budget of approximately $54 million in fiscal year 2002 and they represent about 35 percent of our total Freedom Support Act assistance to Ukraine. Programs that are funded under this budget have included work with the Ukrainian Government on reforms in fiscal and commercial law, pensions and government regulations.

We remain committed now more than ever to help Ukraine undertake needed political and economic reforms and draw closer to the rest of Europe. Our ongoing policy review reflects our serious concern that illicit transfers to Iraq were approved by President Kuchma, as well as our determination to discourage further transfers by Ukraine or by any other country that violates UN sanctions on Iraq.

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) about these for at least a year, I think, if not even longer than that. I remember last summer it was an issue. Was the US already leaning toward believing these stories or did it really take the tape to convince you that Kuchma had personally done this?

MR. BOUCHER: I think there were a variety of stories around. There wasn't necessarily evidence or confirmation of any kind, and it was the examination of these tapes that led to that confirmation and therefore the policy conclusions that we're drawing.

QUESTION: The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has denied this but denied it in a very interesting way, saying that there's no way that there could ever be any sales or delivery of such items to Iraq under their guidelines. Is there any evidence that this radar system was ever delivered, actually delivered to Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: We're not certain that it was, that these systems are in Iraq. On the other hand, there are some indications that suggest it may be there, and we're continuing to assess those.

QUESTION: One other thing. I realize that although you date back to the last administration, I'm not sure you date back as far as July -- were you? I don't remember. Anyway, apparently one of the reasons that you guys are so upset about this is because this tape recording is from just very close to a time that former President Clinton was in Kiev and met with President Kuchma.

And I'm wondering if you remember back then, or if there is any institutional memory of whether this kind of thing -- sales, high-tech sales to Iraq -- was discussed at those meetings or at that meeting, and whether or not President Kuchma assured former President Clinton that he wasn't going to be -- that Ukraine wasn't going to be doing that kind of thing.

MR. BOUCHER: Frankly, I don't remember for sure. The issue of sales to Iraq and respect for UN sanctions was indeed a frequent -- has been for a long time -- a frequent subject of discussion with the Ukraine Government at the highest levels because we're all aware that Ukraine has manufacturers and equipment that Iraq has sought to procure in the past because it was compatible with their previous stocks of military equipment. So it's been an ongoing issue that we've discussed frequently with the Ukraine Government to try to ensure that they protected against sales and made sure that no sales were made, despite Iraq's attempts to procure military equipment.

Whether a specific sale like this came up during the visit of President Clinton, I think I'd have to leave to the record that's already out there. I'm sure there were extensive White House briefings during that trip and you can probably find out from there how this issue was addressed.

QUESTION: Can you tell us whether there was any direct, once you've come to this conclusion, direct contacts either with our Ambassador or with Secretary Powell to the Foreign Ministry, and what maybe the message was? How could you? Something like that?

MR. BOUCHER: There have been direct contacts between our Ambassador and the authorities in Kiev, and we have told them quite bluntly what we have concluded and what we were doing with our programs.

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Is there some reason that you're particularly upset about -- had you received official assurances from Kuchma that this sale had not happened and that -- or that he had not approved it?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'd have to look back at the record on that one, too. I don't particularly remember that.

I would say that any leader approving the sale to Iraq of this sophisticated detection system in violation of UN Security Council resolutions is a very serious matter, and that's a matter that we would take seriously no matter who it is. But it is a very serious matter to have a national leader approving a sale in violation of UN resolutions.

QUESTION: Are you planning to take action against Ukraine at the United Nations for violation of the Security Council resolutions?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. We'll have to see. I don't know.

QUESTION: Richard, is there anything they can do now to, you know, to get out of this, to get their money restored? And since they've already approved it and possibly delivered it, or appear to have done, what can they do to --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't really have anything further to say on it at this moment. Certainly providing the full information on the situation and what may or may not have been delivered would be helpful, but I don't have a list of required things that I'd like to see them do at this point.

QUESTION: Just one more extremely briefly. You said that this has caused you to review your policy towards President Kuchma himself. Does this mean that he could possibly join that growing list of world leaders that you're not too thrilled about having in power?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know of any particular list like that, Matt. We call 'em the way we see 'em when we see 'em.

QUESTION: Right, exactly. But, I mean, is there -- but is there something that you could take action against him personally, kind of like the sanctions that you've imposed on President Mugabe and his --

MR. BOUCHER: As I said, we're reviewing the situation in terms of our relations with him, and we will decide accordingly and tell you when it's time.

Okay. Same thing?

QUESTION: -- tapes involving President Kuchma? Did you just verify the authenticity of this one, or did you --

MR. BOUCHER: That's right. We really looked at this particular tape because of the issues involved. I don't have any broader --

QUESTION: Nothing on like the --

MR. BOUCHER: Nothing broader on the tapes.

QUESTION: The Middle East?

MR. BOUCHER: The Middle East? We're going to shift to the Middle East. Okay.

QUESTION: -- brought a resolution that got through the Security Council, which the US didn't stop, although it could have with a veto; simply abstained, obviously knowing that means it would be approved by such countries as Syria. Why did the United States allow this to go through? What was your thinking? That it reflected your criticism of Ariel Sharon, or what?

MR. BOUCHER: It reflected the direction we wanted to go in, but it didn't go far enough. It didn't provide the clarity and the context that we thought were required. We ourselves tabled a draft resolution late Monday afternoon. Our draft was much more explicit on terrorism, those who perpetuate it, the need to combat it, strong support for the Quartet and the political process that we have underway on the ground. We felt it was important to specify that groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade were killing civilians, obstructing the Quartet's efforts and Palestinian reform process prospects. So we abstained on this resolution because we didn't think it went far enough in identifying and condemning those groups.

QUESTION: Yeah, but that sounds like a pretty strong series of objections, so my question really is why didn't you kill it and try to get a resolution more to your liking?

MR. BOUCHER: As I said, we proposed a resolution ourselves when this draft finally came forward at, whenever it was, 2 or 3 a.m. We felt it was flawed but that we could abstain.

QUESTION: So, in other words, you were looking for a resolution that you could support, rather than looking to defeat another resolution?

MR. BOUCHER: We had, in fact, proposed a resolution; that we could support our own resolution, yes.

QUESTION: Well, you also didn't -- but, you know, you didn't oppose this one, so --

MR. BOUCHER: We abstained on this because the text was modified. It didn't go far enough in the direction we thought it should.

QUESTION: Richard, I'm sure you've seen the Israeli reaction. Essentially, they are saying that they won't comply with the withdrawal requirements in the resolution until the Palestinians do things which may take some time to be sure that they are doing them. What do you think of this Israeli response?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to get into a whole back-and-forth. I think you know that we have been proceeding along the lines that the President laid out in his June 24 speech and that we have been working with the Quartet and the Israelis and Palestinians and others to accomplish those goals: real reform and transformation on the Palestinian side and reciprocal steps on the Israeli side so that they will withdraw back to the areas of September 2000.

Those goals remain. Those attempts remain. Those efforts to build clean Palestinian security institutions, to stop terrorism through cooperation, all those things remain as important and we'll continue to pursue them.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up? You're not really answering the question. This is a UN Security Council resolution, even if you abstained on it, and therefore it has the authority of the UN Security Council behind it. Are you not even asking for immediate withdrawal, as the resolution does?

MR. BOUCHER: The resolution --

QUESTION: It does say immediate withdrawal. Read it. And it does say -- there's the word "immediate" in there.

MR. BOUCHER: No, it says "demands that Israel immediately cease measures in and around Ramallah, demands also the withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces." Those are both things that we're working very intensely on.

QUESTION: So you are calling for that, are you?

MR. BOUCHER: We are -- as I said, we've asked the Israelis to refrain from further action and we continue to work with both parties to try to resolve the situation. I will just leave it at that for the moment.

QUESTION: Was this an occasion -- was this conveyed by the Secretary to the Prime Minister, as Saturday night he, you know, made the US request? In other words, did the Secretary get back on the telephone and say, Mr. Sharon, the UN feels this way ?

MR. BOUCHER: No, he hasn't telephoned Prime Minister Sharon again, but our Ambassador has been in touch with Prime Minister Sharon and his office. We're in constant touch with them as well as with the Palestinians to see what we can do.

QUESTION: Richard, how are you going answer for the double standard on this? I mean --

MR. BOUCHER: I think the evidence that the United States working with the parties, working with the Quartet to implement UN resolutions on Israeli-Palestinian issues, is quite clear. We've been very active. We remain very active.

QUESTION: Well, I'm a little confused by your answer to Jonathan's earlier question. You do want the Israelis to comply with this resolution, don't you?

MR. BOUCHER: We do want the Israelis to comply with this resolution. We continue to work on issues such as withdrawal, and we've urged them to refrain from further action in and around Ramallah. Those are things that we had, in fact, in our draft resolution of things that we want people to do.

We also want for the Palestinians to take their responsibilities and to stop the violence, to stop the terrorist groups and their ability to conduct actions that only kill innocent civilians and undermine the peace process.

QUESTION: Richard, if you remember, Jamie Rubin used to stand here where you are standing now.

MR. BOUCHER: I remember that, yes.

QUESTION: He --

MR. BOUCHER: No, actually he didn't. He was down there. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The other briefing room. He was the host of a documentary on Thursday and that documentary was one-sided against the Hindus. And Hindus in this country and in India are very angry. But what the question is that within days of his documentary, now there was violence. A Hindu temple in Gujarat under attack and scores of innocent people, worshippers, were killed this morning.

And my question is that if Secretary of State, since he has been meeting with Indian officials here this week and also in the UN, how far India now can go for restrain and not to act against terrorism?

MR. BOUCHER: I think that's four different things. As for Jamie Rubin, I will let Jamie speak for himself if there's a question in there for him.

As far as the violence at the temple, it's something we're aware of, that we've been following. We don't really have much more information beyond what's being reported in the media. According to press reports, a group of armed men attacked a Hindu temple in the city -- in the capital of the Gujarat state. Latest reports say that 23 people are dead, many more injured. Other reports claim the attackers may be holding as many as 150 people hostage inside the temple and that Indian police have cordoned off the area.

We are shocked by this horrific attack. We condemn the senseless violence. We've seen no claim at this point of any responsibility. And, of course, we send our condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and the Government of India.

I would note that we do keep in close with the Indian Government. The Secretary spoke this morning with the Indian Foreign Minister Sinha, but I don't believe this came up in the phone call. I haven't been able to report it.

QUESTION: -- there's a little close personal contact going on as well from Washington. Is this a stealth visit to India by Assistant Secretary Rocca? Is there some reason that you feel that you should keep it a secret?

MR. BOUCHER: You haven't asked. Are you asking me about Assistant Secretary Rocca's --

QUESTION: Well, she'd obviously be there, and there was this bad attack. Maybe she doesn't know about it.

MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure she knows about it. She's on the scene. She's at a South Asia Chiefs of Mission conference in New Delhi. We've known about it, talked about it. Maybe you hadn't asked about it, but certainly --

QUESTION: -- out of Delhi, but, okay, so she's not there specifically for --

MR. BOUCHER: She's out there for the South Asia Chiefs of Mission Conference in Delhi. She'll also be in India and Pakistan, continue our senior level dialogue in both countries. She'll then travel to Brussels for consultations with NATO and the EU, just in case she pops up there and you think -- and you want to know about it in advance.

Okay. Can we go --

QUESTION: On the same area, please?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: A question on human rights. While in New York at the United Nations, I met hundreds of demonstrators and protestors. They were protesting that -- and calling on the Secretary of State and the State Department to act on the question of human rights in Bangladesh because still against Hindus there are crimes of lootings and also rapes, murders. It's still continuing in Bangladesh against minorities and Hindus. So what steps -- we had this question several months ago also. Same question several months ago also.

MR. BOUCHER: And I don't know what you're asking me to say. It's been a subject of continuing interest and concern on our part. We talk about human rights in Bangladesh in our Human Rights Report every year. It's something that our embassy works on and our embassy follows.

QUESTION: My question is really direct and straightforward that you have here several Bangladeshi ministers, including the Foreign Minister and all that. If this subject of crimes against minorities ever came up with the Secretary of State and the officials from Bangladesh?

MR. BOUCHER: I would refer you back to the record of the readouts that we've done on those individual meetings to see what came up.

Okay. In the back.

QUESTION: Yes. I have a two-part question on Germany. Yesterday, Secretary Rumsfeld referred to US-German relations as poisoned, and I was wondering if you could comment on what the US administration sort of expects from Germany now.

And the second part of my question is that the German press is reporting that Fischer is hoping to meet with Powell here in DC before the end of September. And can you confirm that or do you have any comment on that?

MR. BOUCHER: I think the phrase "poisoned" was used last week by the White House in reference to the remarks that the Justice Minister made. The White House has discussed -- I think Ari Fleischer just did again today at his briefing -- the situation regarding our relations with Germany and the issues that arose and that need to be addressed. So I will leave it to that.

As far as meetings with Foreign Minister Fischer, we don't have any scheduled at this moment, but I talked yesterday about his phone call to the Secretary.

Betsy.

QUESTION: I want to go back to Iraq -- I mean, I'm sorry, back to visas for a minute. I know, I know. That was a long time ago.

MR. BOUCHER: It's not a problem.

QUESTION: Can you say whether the institution of this new system has meant that you are refusing more visas than you were before September 11?

MR. BOUCHER: We are looking much more closely at applications. We're requiring more information. We are doing more extensive checks. I would -- I don't have the numbers yet to compare one year to another on refusals, but certainly the number of checks, the number of interviews, the amount of information we require of applicants has gone up considerably.

Some of those additional procedures resulted in lengthy delays for the issuance of visas. We've now been able to resolve some of those delays, but we still do these very extensive checks on applicants.

QUESTION: The German Ambassador to the United States is going to be going home very shortly for consultations in Berlin. Any plans for Ambassador Coates to come back here?

MR. BOUCHER: I haven't checked. I don't know anything in particular. I will check.

QUESTION: I don't know if the Jordanian Foreign Minister's meeting concluded by the time you were coming down here. So is there a point in asking about that meeting?

MR. BOUCHER: Sure.

QUESTION: All right. Well, he had a lot to say last night. It took him about a half an hour to go through a checklist, but I wonder if he said the same critical things to the Secretary that he said at the Council on Foreign Relations last night; for instance, move ahead with the Arab peace plan, it isn't your business if Arafat is in charge, you're trying to fit the Middle East to your concept, you're trying to inject democracy, which can't be injected with a syringe.

MR. BOUCHER: All very interesting, Barry, but I'm not going to try to --

QUESTION: What was the meeting about?

MR. BOUCHER: I will tell you what the meeting was about, but I'm not in the position of speaking for the Jordanian Foreign Minister. He does quite well on his own. The meeting was about two major issues: one was the Middle East peace process; the other was Iraq.

On the Middle East peace process, the Secretary and Jordanian Foreign Minister discussed the situation right now in Ramallah, the UN resolution that was passed, looking for steps and ways that we can try to help resolve this situation; and second of all, they talked about the overall progress that we hope to make down the road that the President outlined on June 24th and the need to stick to that. The Quartet statement and the work the Quartet was doing and how the Quartet would pursue that work, I guess, was the main topic on the more general things.

Second of all, on the issue of Iraq, the Jordanians were pleased that the President had taken the issue to the United Nations. And the Secretary discussed the need for the United Nations to deal effectively with the issue and to really take the issue on, the need for the United Nations to tell Iraq how to comply with the disarmament provisions of its resolutions and how to comply with the other resolutions.

QUESTION: Did he at least say, Don't attack Iraq? He said that would be his first order of business.

MR. BOUCHER: As I said, we discussed Iraq and we discussed the need for the UN to deal with the issue. I will leave it at that.

QUESTION: And did he question --

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not speaking for the Jordanian Foreign Minister. I'm not going to pass out a bunch of quotes that he may or may not have said. It's not my job to talk for him. If you want to ask the Jordanian Foreign Minister what he said to the Secretary, feel free to ask the Jordanian Foreign Minister.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary agree with the Jordanian Foreign Minister that the pace of Mideast peacemaking should be picked up, that the Arab peace plan should proceed irrespective of whether Yasser Arafat is in charge or not?

MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary and the Jordanian Foreign Minister, as I just said, discussed how to continue to pursue our efforts, how to keep working on the issues that are outlined in the President's speech, how to continue working along the lines of the Quartet statement, and those remain important both to Secretary and to the Jordanians. In terms of the Arab League peace plan, that was also addressed just last week in the -- last week? -- in the Quartet statement and that remains an important part of our -- how can I say -- of the framework of pursing these goals.

QUESTION: Richard, one of your complaints last week was that the Iraqis had not offered unfettered access to any site in Iraq, but only unconditional return. They've now made that step. Do you -- would you -- do you welcome that step?

MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen every word that the -- I guess it was the Lieutenant General or somebody that gone on today. Just the other day, they were rejecting any possibility, any new UN resolution. So you kind of have the Iraqis, you know, one day here and one day there. And I think it just reiterates, makes the point once again, how important it is for the Council, for the Security Council to define what it is that Iraq has to do, to define what "without conditions," what "unrestricted," and "unfettered" will mean, and then for Iraq to comply.

If Iraq were really interested in complying, really interested in disarmament, they would have started to admit their program, started to admit to the information that that British have put out in their dossier or even the information that the inspectors reported two years ago in public.

QUESTION: Richard, in the meeting with the Jordanian Foreign Minister, did you discuss at all the possibility of using Jordan as a base of operations for any attacks on Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: As I said, they discussed UN action on Iraq and the need for the UN to deal with the issue. I will leave it at that.

QUESTION: But you can't say yes or no to that question?

MR. BOUCHER: I will leave it at that.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: How goes it in Europe right now with your efforts on the resolution? Are you still hoping to get -- maybe something has happened in the last couple of hours and I haven't noticed, but --

MR. BOUCHER: If something's happened in the last hour or two, then I don't know about it either.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. BOUCHER: We are --

QUESTION: Close? I mean, people were talking about, you know, having a draft as early as today, right?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we've ever tried to predict when our consultations with other members of the Council would be progressed to the point where a draft could be presented by us or anybody else. We are continuing our fairly close and intensive discussions with other Council members about the language of a resolution. That work, as I said, is important to us because we think the Council needs to specify the requirements. It needs to make clear that inspectors and other requirements go with the full backing of the UN Security Council and that that's where their mandate comes from.

So we continue to look for a resolution that will identify the Iraqi violations, identify clearly what Iraq has to do to repair them and the consequences of not doing that. So that's what we are working on pretty intensely right now in New York. No exact predictions of timing when this will come about.

QUESTION: Richard, would you say at this point that you're still consulting with the British on what needs to get in the resolution, or is the administration itself debating on what you think you should introduce in your resolution, whether it should be focused on inspectors and disarmament, or should it also include all the other aspects of the President's speech, such as prisoners of war, reparations, et cetera?

MR. BOUCHER: We're in discussion with a number of governments, members of the Security -- other members of the Security Council about this. You know the Secretary had extensive discussions with the Russians last week. We've been in touch with the French and others. So we're talking with a number of governments and Security Council members about language, about elements of a resolution, where different things go and how they can be handled. Some of those issues have not been decided at this point.

QUESTION: Two things. If you could run down the Secretary's calls since yesterday when you did it. And then also, is the administration at this point on the same page in terms of what needs to get on the resolution or are you still going through and interagency process on that? Or is it just with other governments in terms of what --

MR. BOUCHER: I would say we're working with other governments to achieve the goals the President outlined in his speech. Obviously, we work with other agencies in order to do this; together the US government decides what kind of language we want to propose and how we can work with the concerns and ideas that other governments present.

In terms of phone calls, I told you about his call with the Indian Foreign Minister this morning. Yesterday afternoon, he talked to Spanish Foreign Minister Anna Palacio and he talked to Mexican Foreign Minister Castaneda.

QUESTION: What is your reaction to the breakdown of the Secretary's coup between the Spanish and the Moroccans over the Parsley Islands?

MR. BOUCHER: We remain in close consultations with both sides, both Spanish and the Moroccans, on the island issue. We're urging them to adhere to the understanding that they reached earlier this year. Both sides assure us that they remain committed to maintaining the status quo prior to July 2002. We continue to follow this issue closely, and we'll work with both sides to ensure a constructive resolution.

QUESTION: And is that what the Secretary was speaking with Foreign Minister Palacio about or was that one of the things that he was discussing?

MR. BOUCHER: I think that yes, that was his topic.

QUESTION: And has he had any contact with the Moroccan?

MR. BOUCHER: Not directly on the phone. I'm sure our Embassy out there is in touch with the Moroccans.

QUESTION: Richard, you didn t tell us much about his conversation with the Indian Foreign Minister. What was all that about?

MR. BOUCHER: They discussed the situation in Kashmir with the elections and the situation along the line of control. Principally those issue.

QUESTION: That was initiated by the Secretary or by Mr. Sinha?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm sorry, Jonathan. I don't remember.

QUESTION: Can I stay in South Asia very briefly? The Embassy in Colombo announced that Frank Taylor is going to be going out there. I don't know when he's going to be moving on to his new job, but he is apparently still Counter-terrorism Coordinator, right?

MR. BOUCHER: He still is, yes.

QUESTION: Right. So is he going to be talking about possibly removing the Tamil Tigers from the terrorism list? Is that one of the things that he's out there for?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything on his visit. I'm not aware of any steps in that direction at this point.

QUESTION: Of removing them?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes.

We have a couple more in back.

QUESTION: Is the State Department meeting with Taiwan's First Lady during her visit to Washington this week?

MR. BOUCHER: The answer is I don't know. I will have to check.

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Armitage is meeting with the high rank -- Assistant Foreign Minister of China today?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, Mr. Zhou Wenzhong.

QUESTION: Did the Chinese request that meeting to complain about this visit by the Taiwanese First Lady?

MR. BOUCHER: This is one of a series of visits and discussions we're having with the Chinese, including meetings we had in New York with Foreign Minister Tang in preparation for President Jiang's October visit to the United States. So Deputy Secretary Armitage had talks about the visit when he was is Beijing in late August.

The Secretary met with Foreign Minister Tang and now the Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister for North American and Oceanic Affairs, Mr. Zhou Wenzhong is visiting Washington. He's being hosted by our Assistant Secretary Jim Kelley for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He arrived yesterday and will depart on the 26th. Today there are meetings with State Department officials, including Deputy Secretary Armitage and Assistant Secretary Kelley and then he'll have a number of other meetings with US Government officials and on Capital Hill later in the week.

QUESTION: And the main topic is the visit --

MR. BOUCHER: Is the visit of President Jiang.

We've got one or two more.

QUESTION: There's been a school bombing in Nepal with Maoists and 15 people, or children maybe, have been killed. But the Nepalese Government was here some months ago, and is there worry that this rebel insurgence will maybe link up with the Islamic militants as well?

MR. BOUCHER: We've been dealing with this problem, working with the Government of Nepal for some time now. There has been a bomb explosion in the Kathmandu area. It was at a school in a residential district of the capital. There are no reports of injuries at this point and Maoist rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack.

As we've said before, we think the Maoists need to lay down their arms immediately, stop their brutal and senseless attacks against civilians, and engage in peaceful pursuit of their aims within the democratic framework of Nepal's constitution.

We reiterate our support for the Government of Nepal to safeguard citizens within the framework of the constitution. I would note that our current public announcement from Nepal alerts Americans that the conflict continues. It advises Americans residing in or contemplating travel to Nepal to exercise caution and urges Americans in Nepal who may be considering travel outside the Kathmandu Valley to contact the US Embassy in Kathmandu.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.) [End]

Released on September 24, 2002


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