State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for January 24
Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
January 24, 2003
STATEMENT 1 Assets Blocked of Two Designated Terrorists
IRAQ 1,3-6 Inspectors Report / Iraq Cooperation 4 Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction Hidden in Syria? 4-5 Foreign Secretary Straw and Secretary Powell s Discussions about with the Security Council 7-8 Iraq is Failing to Disarm Peacefully
RUSSIA 2 Russia Set Against Security Council
TURKEY 3-4 U.S. Reaction to Istanbul s Comments on Ira
q NORTH KOREA 6-7 U.S. Supports Talks Between North and South Korea
SWITZERLAND 7 Secretary Powell s Speech in Davos 8 Richard Haass Comments in Davos
DEPARTMENT 8 Reaction to Secretary Rumsfeld s Comments
AFRICA 8-9 Article 98 Agreement / Secretary Powell s Meeting with President Guelleh of Djibouti
BRAZIL 9-10 Secretary Powell s Meeting with Foreign Minister Amorim
PAKISTAN 10-11 Ambassador Powell s Remarks
COLOMBIA 11-12 Update on the Two Missing Journalists / Stopping Terrorist Groups
CHINA 12 Tibetan Death Sentence / Bombings
YUGOSLAVIA 12-13 Pierre Prosper s Urges Cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal
COTE D IVOIRE 13-14 Peace Agreement Signed in Paris
CONSULAR AFFAIRS 14 Visa Processing Backlog Affects Businesses
ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS 14 U.S. Position on Elections
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, at the top I would like to mention that the United States has designated and blocked the assets of two individuals linked to the terrorist organization Jemaa Islamiyah under our Executive Orders. The two are Nurjaman Riduan Ismuddin -- commonly known as Hambali -- and Mohamad Iqbal Abdurrahman -- commonly known as Abu Jibril. Both have close ties to al-Qaida and I will give you much more information in writing after this about these individuals as well as the legal authorities that were used to block their assets.
QUESTION: Do you know if they have assets in this country?
MR. BOUCHER: I do not think I have that information.
QUESTION: Is this (inaudible) that produces the Joint Treasury-State list?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes -- and then we have also asked the UN Sanctions Committee to add these individuals to his list.
Okay. I would be glad to take questions on this or anything else.
QUESTION: I guess you could say we will wait and see, but reports are coming out of Vienna that the when the inspectors come in they are going to say fairly decent things about Iraq's cooperation.
The spokesman for the IAEA says they're going to give them a B. I guess that's better than a Gentleman's C. But I wondered if you wanted to pounce on that or?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to pounce on that. We will wait and see. We have told you all along what we are going to and we are doing it. We are going to wait for the inspectors' report. We are going to examine the facts as they present them as well as things that we know and past patterns of Iraqi behavior.
We will then, in consultation with other members of the Security Council and members of the international community, discuss what the next step should be. What the inspectors report on Monday we will know soon enough.
QUESTION: Well, I'm sure people are going to want to go back to Iraq, but I'm thinking a little bit more along the IAEA lines in terms of action expected on North Korea.
You guys seemed to be under the impression that the Russians were ready to go along with sending the --
MR. BOUCHER: I do not think I ever said anything on behalf of the Russians on that.
QUESTION: No, no. You didn't. But Under Secretary Bolton did in referring to the Chinese. And he also mentioned --
MR. BOUCHER: I do not think he said anything about the Russians -- from what I read.
QUESTION: Oh. Well, maybe you didn't read the question that he was asked, because he answered (inaudible) anyway, the point is is that the Russians' strategy --
MR. BOUCHER: I thought the answer was he did not see -- I mean, I heard him say he did not see any particular problem with China.
MR. BOUCHER: I do not remember him making a comment on Russia, but in any case, we will see.
QUESTION: In any case, the Russians have come out against taking this to the Security Council and now have apparently proposed instead, a new international grouping along the lines of what the Japanese were apparently proposing a couple days, which would be the P5 plus the Japanese, South Koreans and now apparently the Russians will say the Australians can be in it as well. What do you have to say about those two items?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me talk about it two ways. First, the situation in Vienna; the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors has not scheduled a time for a meeting. Consultations about a meeting continue, both in Vienna and with capitals.
The -- we believe -- we know that the statute of the agency requires them to report to the Security Council any noncompliance with their safeguards agreement and we would expect them to do that. We do expect that they will meet in the near future. This is a serious matter and we think the Security Council needs to take up the issue because it's a matter involving international peace and security.
So we are continuing to work on this in Vienna. I have not seen this particular Russian statement, but we have been working and talking to them and will continue to do so and try to make this process unfold.
As far as any particular groupings of ways to talk or deal with the situation, as you know, we have been in closed consultations with other members of the Perm 5, with the Japanese, the Koreans, the Australians, among others, and we will continue to talk to them. Whether some group is formed or not, I think it is premature to say at this point.
QUESTION: Richard, isn't there a meeting scheduled for February 3rd? I thought they (inaudible) announced this morning.
MR. BOUCHER: I think that it is one of the -- there are various dates that have been discussed. I was told that it is not definite yet.
QUESTION: Not a big question, but by any chance will the Secretary get an advance report from the inspectors or will the -- or Ambassador Negroponte or somebody, or will you all learn about their report together on Monday, do you think?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it is neither one nor the other. We do not expect, necessarily, to get an advance report of the inspectors. I think, on the other hand, the inspectors do talk over their thoughts, conclusions, observations with a variety of members of the Council, including us.
So as I think I have said before, we have a fair idea for how things are going. Frankly, they have been pretty public. Dr. Blix, yesterday, was talking about mixed results. You see in the papers today they are talking about the Iraqi refusal to let them see scientists -- a number of things like that that they have cited which we assume will be in their report if that is the way they see things.
QUESTION: Richard, there's a report today actually coming from the IAEA that Mr. El Baradei is scheduled to give a favorable report about --
MR. BOUCHER: That was the first question ten minutes ago and I will stick to the answer I gave back then.
QUESTION: Oh, I'm sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: My thoughts have not changed since then.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) what is the US administration's reaction to the declaration of Istanbul's comment on Iraq yesterday?
MR. BOUCHER: We welcome the call by the participants at this meeting in strong and unequivocal terms for Baghdad to comply fully with the UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and for Baghdad to disarm immediately. I think the declaration shows that Turkey and the other countries of the region recognize the real threat the Iraq poses to them and to the world.
We, too, would like to see a peaceful solution. We would like to see Iraqi compliance. Saddam Hussein must disarm in compliance with UN resolutions, but if he is not willing to do so, we and other nations will disarm him by force.
QUESTION: Richard, there was a published report this morning that Secretary Powell and Foreign Secretary Straw yesterday discussed giving the inspectors more time to work in exchange for assurances from other allies that inspections won't drag on indefinitely. Is there any truth to that?
MR. BOUCHER: There is no proposal like that that was discussed or that is being, you know, deliberated on or seriously considered at this point. We -- I began the briefing by saying we are actually doing what we told you we would do and that is assess the information, look at the inspectors' report and then we we would be consulting more fully with members of the Council and other friends and allies about what the next step should be. There is no proposal that is been put to us like that at this point.
QUESTION: An unrelated question. There are rumors, quite possibly spurious, that the United States may have found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction being hidden in Syria. This is the story that, I think, rose up about a month or so ago and then got denied very quickly but by the Syrians. Can you knock that down? Do you have any comment on that at all?
MR. BOUCHER: I have not had a chance to look into it myself, so no, I do not know. I remember those stories sort of coming up and falling away. I did not realize they were back.
QUESTION: Richard, can I just back up one second to the report you've knocked down? You said no proposal has been put to us like that, meaning an extension for a couple of weeks. Is that a possible talking point or not even there yet?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to speculate on what the members of the Council may come up with or decide in terms of our discussions. Where we are at this point is that we are looking forward to hearing from the inspectors on Monday. We are looking forward to conversations and consultations with other members of the Council. The Secretary will certainly talk to his foreign minister counterparts -- he mentioned that the heads of government, he assumes, will also want to discuss the situation at that point. We will discuss at that point what the appropriate next steps are. The issue is whether or not Iraq is complying. While we all have seen the patterns emerge, the report of the inspectors is the key -- the key element in that regard.
QUESTION: In your initial answer to the question, you said, " there is no proposal like that that was discussed or is seriously being considered at this point." Is it both? Or is it -- it was not discussed at all? Is that what you're saying? Or is it just not being seriously considered? Was it discussed and thrown out as a -- not a serious idea? I'm sorry, I'm just want a -- you know, you guys go very carefully and --
MR. BOUCHER: If you stop for a moment, I will answer, too. I believe I have said that it is not being deliberated or seriously considered. I think that was the wording that was used, but anyway, the -- no, there is no proposal like that on the table. It has not been on the table and off the table. There is just not a proposal like that at this point that we are engaged on.
I suppose there are ideas flying out there. Have we released the transcript of the interview the Secretary did yesterday? Oh, tomorrow morning. But, a question like this came up from a reporter in one of the Secretary's interviews yesterday in a transcript that we will put out tomorrow.
QUESTION: Senator Lugar came out of the briefing yesterday and said the inspections will continue. This is a briefing given by Secretary Powell and Secretary Rumsfeld. I wonder, I suppose we could try to ask him, which I am trying to do, but how would he get that idea if the administration is not willing to continue inspections?
MR. BOUCHER: This was a closed briefing for members of the Senate.
QUESTION: True. But this is (inaudible). I'm not asking about classified --
MR. BOUCHER: I do not know if he is making a prediction. From the way you sounded, it did not sound like he was quoting anybody but himself and you can ask him.
QUESTION: Again, and I know you're not able to say what is going to come up Monday, but can you at least say whether what you are going to get on Monday will be helpful to your effort to win over skeptics or harmful to it? Or do you have a any way of guessing that?
MR. BOUCHER: We have always said all along that the report the inspectors will provide on Monday is an important part of the picture. And that is what made this important. It is the first formal report.
The inspectors have been, I think, fairly public in their statements, their conclusions. They have made public presentations and presentations to the Council, as well. We know what we see emerging, which is the patterns of deceit and deception that Iraq has followed in the past. We will look in the report, we will have a lot of questions about what Iraq is doing. When -- let me cite a couple of examples. I probably cannot find them.
I mean, when you look at this report, you know, you have to remember that Iraq has been under certain Security Council requirements from, well, 12 years, but also from the passage of 1441. Are they fulfilling those requirements?
Dr. Blix, Dr. El Baradei went to Baghdad, put it to them, asked for active cooperation, came out with some promises, but it is clear that the obligations under 1441 as well as Baghdad's promises are not being met and that Iraq continues to defy the obligations and its own acceptance of those obligations.
Why have there not been any interviews with Iraqi scientists without the presence of minders? Why are the aerial reconnaissance vehicles not flown? Why are documents being kept in private homes? Where are the mustard gas shells, the chemical munitions, these kinds of things? Why has Iraq tested missiles whose range is beyond that allowed? Many, many things that have not been accounted for, many of these questions have been put by the inspectors to the Iraqis, and we'll see if the Iraqis have given them the answers.
QUESTION: There are reports from Iraq this morning that say that the demands of the UN and of the United States to interview these scientists can't be met. Now, I don't know whether that's just speculation or fact, but you would think they'd warm to the fact that the recent going -- or all this buildup in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and Turkey would be to go -- to disarm the Iraqi Government.
MR. BOUCHER: You would think that the Iraqis would be smarter than their behavior indicates, but unfortunately, we have not seen an understanding on the part of the regime that these are real requirements and that this is very serious business.
QUESTION: Yeah, and also by contrast, it appears the South Koreans and the North Koreans, they are starting to talk amongst together without the need for the United States to push them. Do you see progress in that?
MR. BOUCHER: We have always supported the talks between North Korea and South Korea. It has been a longstanding policy of the United States to support such discussions. South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung's special envoy Lim Dong-Won and other South Korean officials now visit Pyongyang from January 27th to meet with North Korean officials.
They will discuss the North Korean nuclear program and bilateral issues, as well. We very much support these South Korean efforts. We think these dialogues serve as important channels to resolve issues of bilateral concern and to call upon North Korea to quickly and visibly respond to the international community's demands for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
As we have said before, North Korea must verifiably and visibly dismantle their nuclear weapons programs and come into compliance with their obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
QUESTION: Could you give us a sense to how important do you think that the Secretary's speech in Davos on Sunday? Does he mention not only on Iraq, but North Korea?
MR. BOUCHER: He will talk about a number of issues that are important in the world. I would expect him to talk about North Korea as well as Iraq. It is very, very important.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Betsy?
QUESTION: Has the Secretary had any phone calls yesterday or yesterday afternoon or today with any of our allies in Europe that are not convinced of the, you know, of the need to take care of Iraq one way or the other?
MR. BOUCHER: I do not think I would describe any of our allies in Europe as not convinced of the need to -- for Iraq to disarm. The question is how we accomplish that goal and what the next step is now.
The Secretary has talked on the phone with Foreign Minister Papandreou of Greece. Not -- subjects like this -- this kind of discussion was not part of it. The goal is to listen to the inspectors, talk to our friends and allies and decide on next steps. And that's what we've said were going to do and that's what we are going to do.
The idea that people are not convinced of the need for military action, well the President has not decided yet that we need military action. Are people going to listen to the inspectors? Are they going to base their judgments on the facts? We certainly hope so. But we are following that course that we have laid out before.
QUESTION: Are you -- are you really concerned that they are not endorsing your path of action that you seem to be pushing for?
MR. BOUCHER: We have not decided. The President has not decided that we must move to military action. We have made quite clear that if Iraq does not disarm peacefully that military action will be required.
We have made quite clear that Iraq is failing to disarm peacefully. But at this point, what exactly the next step should be after we hear from the inspectors is something we will listen to the inspectors, talk to the allies and then decide.
QUESTION: Along those lines, Richard, I presume you've seen what your ambassador in Germany told German television about Secretary Rumsfeld's remarks about Old Europe the other day?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Oh. Well, that's too bad.
MR. BOUCHER: It is.
QUESTION: He basically said he wasn't a diplomat and it was a mistake and that he thinks that it will be corrected. I'm wondering if you share that opinion?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I was asked yesterday a number of times, you know, how many times we have apologized, we have sent instructions out, et cetera, and the answer is no. That is the answer I gave yesterday. I checked again with people and we are not getting demarched. We've -- obviously there's a lot of public commentary. That is fine. As the Secretary pointed out yesterday, as I pointed out yesterday, the European nations that we are talking about are among some of our oldest allies, among our best friends, our best allies that we work with in every way every day. That's the facts and that's the way things are.
QUESTION: There's a wire story that says that Richard Haass at Davos said that the US has not -- agreed that the US has not been able to convince our allies that a military road is the way to resolve this.
MR. BOUCHER: The wire story that I saw about what Richard Haass says was what I was, I think, quoting when I answered your question, which was very similar.
He said the President has not decided, that we are going to look at the inspectors' report, talk to our friends and allies and then decide on the next steps; that we had not convinced people of the need for military action, in part, because we have not decided, but that as we proceeded down this path, we would look at all the information. I think I can say we would obviously make more information available as we came to conclusions.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Please.
QUESTION: One more on Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: One more on more Iraq? Sir, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, it's on Iraq and Djibouti. We're just wondering how much that that was the subject of the -- Iraq was the subject of a conversation that the Secretary had with the President of Djibouti.
MR. BOUCHER: It was not the specific subject of the conversation. The conversation was more, I guess I would say, about the relations between the United States and Djibouti, as well as regional issues. The Secretary met with President Guelleh of Djibouti today at 11:00. They talked about cooperation of the war on terrorism, international and regional issues, economic development and a few other issues, including Iraq, I think, came up.
We have excellent relations now with Djibouti. We are close partners in the fight against terrorism. We work together to promote regional peace and security, share common interests in advancing economic development growth in the Horn of Africa.
They also specifically discussed situations in Somalia and Sudan and looked at the efforts that are being made in those two situations to try to resolve things peacefully. The President of Djibouti thanked us for our involvement and engagement in the efforts to resolve the situation of Sudan and talked about his view of the situation now in Somalia.
QUESTION: Djibouti had an Article 98?
MR. BOUCHER: That is right. At the conclusion of the meeting, Djibouti and the United States signed an Article 98 Agreement.
QUESTION: Which brings it to how many now? Twenty?
MR. BOUCHER: Eighteen.
QUESTION: Oh, man.
MR. BOUCHER: Not yet. Ask me in a year.
QUESTION: Okay, I wanted to ask about the talks with the Brazilian Foreign Minister and are they -- the two going together to the OAS as friends and support both the Ford* and the Carter Proposals?
MR. BOUCHER: Both going to the OAS as friends of each other, friends of the Secretary General and friends of the Carter Proposals. We had a good meeting this morning with the new Brazilian Foreign Minister.
Let me see what else I should tell you about it. The Secretary's very pleased to meet for the first time the Brazilian Foreign Minister Amorim. Our relations with Brazil are built on shared values and mutual respect. We consider Brazil a key friend and a partner.
The Secretary and the Foreign Minister reiterated the governments' commitments to holding a bilateral summit, as President Bush and President Lula agreed at their December 10th meeting. They also discussed the situation in Venezuela and ways in which Brazil and the United States can work together to support the OAS Secretary General to facilitate a peaceful, constitutional, democratic, and electoral solution. We look forward to continue our constructive relationship with Brazil.
QUESTION: In Pakistan, apparently Ambassador Powell has been called into the Foreign Ministry as officials are objecting to remarks she made about Pakistani militants in Kashmir.
MR. BOUCHER: I do not know if she was called into the Foreign Ministry, but --
QUESTION: They said she was sent in, but --
MR. BOUCHER: She made some remarks that I was told were rather misquoted. She made remarks in a speech in Karachi where she echoed the remarks of President Musharraf in January last year, when he said that Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used for any terrorist activity anywhere in the world. That has been a pledge that we have taken seriously and something we have continued to work with Pakistan on.
QUESTION: So has he (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: As we said, since the assurances in May, we have seen a lot of steps on the part of the Pakistani Government. But there is always more work that we -- that they are doing and that we need to do with them.
QUESTION: So she did not say that Pakistan should stop infiltration?
MR. BOUCHER: On the subject of infiltration, as you know, we said infiltration has gone down and come back up somewhat. My understanding is she said yes, that President Musharraf has made assurances that it will stop, and that is something that we work with him on. We do believe infiltration should stop completely and that is an issue that we do continue to work on with the government of Pakistan.
QUESTION: I think what the Pakistanis took offense at was that some implication in what she said that they had not stopped and that they needed to stop. Are you saying that she did not say that?
MR. BOUCHER: What we have said -- and what she said and what President Musharraf has said -- all of us -- is that this is important to accomplish and that it is an ongoing process of working on it.
QUESTION: Do you expect this to be a topic of conversation when the Secretary meets with the Pakistani Foreign Minister next week?
MR. BOUCHER: I do not think it is any major conversation, no.
QUESTION: So you haven't heard anything from capital to capital? As far as you know, it's just been going on in Islamabad?
MR. BOUCHER: That is my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: So you're not worried about their calls to expel her?
MR. BOUCHER: I would have to check and see if it came up in the Secretary's phone call with the Foreign Minister the other day.
QUESTION: You're not worried about these calls to expel her, that they will elicit that?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I think this is a matter where she and President Musharraf have a clear understanding of our work together and what needs to be done and, as I said, she is really echoing remarks that he has already made.
QUESTION: Same region?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes?
QUESTION: I have information from Columbia that some US officials are participating in negotiations to the delivery of the two US journalists. Could you confirm that and also if the US State Department, say, is supporting these negotiations with paramilitary groups after that?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me update you on the situation about the two missing journalists that, as you know, the ELN, the National Liberation Army, has announced that it took those two persons hostage. One is identified as an American citizen photographer and the other is a British citizen journalist.
We are greatly concerned about their welfare. We are urging their immediate release. I cannot talk anymore about the individuals -- but just say that we are working with Columbian authorities and others regarding the case and I have to leave it at that for the moment.
QUESTION: Anything on the others?
MR. BOUCHER: The other three have been released. The three that were picked up -- taken hostage by the AUC have been released. We are working with the Government of Colombia. Our Embassy officials in Bogotá are working with the Government of Colombia to ensure their safe return to the United States. We have been in contact with the families, but also I don't have a Privacy Act Waiver to talk anymore about their own particular situations.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes?
QUESTION: But they are supporting negotiations with paramilitary groups?
MR. BOUCHER: We said, I think the Secretary said when he was down in Colombia, when President Uribe had just gotten a letter and was considering his response that we thought it was up to the Government of Colombia to decide what to do.
It was important to stop the activities of these groups, to stop the terrorism that comes from various groups of different political persuasions. So we have supported the Colombian Government's decisions in that regard -- of whatever they think they need to do.
Yes -- in there? Yes?
QUESTION: (Inaudible). The Chinese Government arrested ten Tibetans and handed a death sentence down to one in connection with a series of bombings before Lorne Craner's recent round of human rights talks in China. Apparently the US Embassy in Beijing issued a statement yesterday. I was wondering if you could read the statement or give us your statement?
MR. BOUCHER: I am afraid I do not have it with me. I think we made clear our concern about those cases, but I would have to get you something more specific later.
Yes? We have questions in the back. Barry?
QUESTION: There was a report that the United States is offering authorities in Belgrade certain incentives if Radko Mladic is arrested, say, before the end of March. Can you say anything about that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, because I cannot find it. Help me, Lynn. There it is. Region, Prosper Travel. Pierre Prosper. That is why it is under "P" for "Prosper."
Alright, our Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Pierre Prosper visited Yugoslavia and Bosnia this week. He is urging stepped up cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia. He did not offer Belgrade any kind of deal. We have always said that Radko Mladic and the remaining two of the so-called Vukovar Three indictees, as well as other indicted war criminals must go to the Hague.
It is our view that it is unlikely that our Congress would terminate the certification requirement for Yugoslavia until the particular indictees are transferred to the Hague. If these persons are transferred to the tribunal, obviously it would be evidence of cooperation and enhance our relationship.
It is our policy, also, that we want to see the states of the region accept their responsibility to prosecute the lower level war crimes cases. So those are the matters that he discussed while he was out there.
QUESTION: Anything to say about the agreement reached in Paris on Ivory Coast?
MR. BOUCHER: We are very pleased to see that the Ivoirian parties signed a peace agreement yesterday in Paris. Also, we are pleased to see the balance of the military troops from the member-states of the Economic Community of West African States are going to be deployed to Côte d'Ivoire over the next week.
We recognize the effort that everybody made to reach this agreement. We also note the hard work of implementing it remains, and we call on the parties to implement this agreement in good faith. We understand that President Gbagbo met today with President Chirac. We do not have reports yet about the meeting, but we think that President Gbagbo's Prime Minister signed the agreement and has publicly praised it, so we look to him and the government to implement it.
We call again on all sides of Côte d'Ivoire to respect the ceasefire and carry out their commitments under the terms of the agreement.
QUESTION: Okay, I have one more on President Chirac's efforts. Do you have anything to say about his invitation to President Mugabe to attend a Franco-European Summit that appears to violate, if not the letter, but the spirit of the travel ban that the EU has imposed? Especially considering you've done the same thing?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I mean, from our point of view, we would say that we think it is regrettable that they would invite President Mugabe to travel to Paris in February.
We understand that a waiver of the European Union travel ban requires agreement among the members of the European Union. We would urge France and other EU countries to apply sanctions against Zimbabwe in a consistent and effective manner. We note that in recent weeks the Government of Zimbabwe has increased political intimidation and repression against prominent members of the opposition.
In January alone, four members of the parliament, the Mayor of Harrari and several other opposition supporters have been arrested on spurious charges, or in some cases, subject to torture while in custody. We will continue to look at additional steps that we might take.
One or two more?
QUESTION: Yeah, a trade -- a trade organization representing major US companies, Boeing and Caterpillar is holding a briefing today. They're complaining about visa processing. They say the back load of about 25,000 visa applications is really hurting their business, their ability to get people into the country. Anything you can say about that?
MR. BOUCHER: I do not have anything new to say today. We are certainly aware of the concerns of US business, US universities, exchange programs, various others, as well as foreign travelers about the fact that visa processing now takes more time.
Our first responsibility and I think the President's first responsibility, is keep this country safe. We needed to have added additional security requirements. We have added additional processes so that we can check names against -- I think, what is now one of the most sophisticated databases in the world so that we can make sure the right people get in and are safe with us and the wrong people do not get in.
That is a process that we will try to make as efficient as possible. I think we have, in fact, improved it in recent months. We have found ways to do this more efficiently, but the fundamental that we need to do additional security checks now that we did not do as extensively, that we were not able to check as extensively before September 11th, that fact remains. We will do what we can to make it efficient -- we have do it -- we have to make sure security is respected.
QUESTION: Richard, next Tuesday, the 28th of January, are the elections in Israel. What are you telling the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority and various groups, terrorist groups and such, in -- as a run-up to those elections?
MR. BOUCHER: I do not think it is anything particular in the run-up to the elections. We are not involved in the elections nor in taking sides. We always tell all the parties to do everything they can to restrain the violence and to prevent casualties, especially among civilians.