State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for January 29
Daily Press Briefing Richard Boucher, Spokesman Washington, DC January 29, 2003
MEXICO 1-4 Closure of Consulate in Nuevo Laredo / Visa Fraud Investigation
IRAQ 4,7-8 Secretary Powell s Consultations on Iraq 5-6,9 Secretary Powell s February 5th Presentation to UN Security Council / Possible Ministerial / Iraqi Attendance 5-7,12 Disclosure of US Intelligence Information on Weapons Programs 7 Need for Second Resolution on Iraq 8 Possible Exile for Saddam Hussein 8-9 Iraq Chairing the Disarmament Council in Geneva
IRAQ/RUSSIA 4 Russian Position on Iraq 7 Secretary Powell Communication with FM Ivanov
RUSSIA 12 American Woman Expelled from Moscow
SAUDI ARABIA 4-5 Possible Meeting with Secretary Powell
CANADA 4-5 Upcoming Bilateral with Canadian Foreign Minister
NORTH KOREA 10 Secretary Powell to Address World Affairs Council 10 Discussions with Pakistan Regarding Nuclear Program
PAKISTAN 10 Bilateral with FM Kasuri
CUBA 10-11 United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur Appointed
GUATEMALA 11 Proposed International Commission of Human Rights Monitors
ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS 13 Election of Ariel Sharon / Influence on Peace Process
ITALY 13 Agreement to Allow U.S. Military To Use Bases
CHINA 13 U.S. Citizen Held in Custody for Falun Gong Practice 14 Arrest of Australian Citizen
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to see you all. If I can, I would like to start off with a short announcement, and we'll give you a longer version in the Press Office after the briefing along with, I think, some other statements and announcements that we have ready.
But the one I thought I should tell you about is that we have closed the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico in order to conduct a thorough investigation and comprehensive examination of consulate visa operations.
The Diplomatic Security Service, in coordination with the Department of Justice and with the close cooperation of our Bureau of Consular Affairs, is investigating allegations that a number of individuals received visas illegally from this consulate.
We care very much about maintaining the integrity of the visa process, and in order to protect the integrity of the visa and visa issuance process, we've temporarily closed the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo. We expect the consulate to reopen in a few days, but we won't resume visa operations until we're completely satisfied that all visas are being issued in full accordance with the law.
QUESTION: As I understand it, Richard, there haven't been any arrests made. Is that correct?
MR. BOUCHER: It's a matter that's still under investigation, and I'm not able to give you any further information on that at this point.
QUESTION: Can you say if the people who are suspected of wrongdoing are actually Foreign Service Officers, if they're Foreign Service Nationals or if they're some other hybrid of embassy or consulate employee?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I can't say.
QUESTION: Then can you tell us just how many of each there are -- how many Foreign Service Officers are there at this consulate?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I didn't say it was one, the other or a hybrid of the two. I'm just not able to say who's under investigation.
QUESTION: Well, can you just give us an idea of the composition of this? I assume there are not a whole lot of the U.S. Foreign Service Officers stationed in Nuevo Laredo.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know exactly how many there are. But I wouldn't want to put everybody under suspicion, anyway. I'm not going to get into who's under investigation, who the allegations are against. We're following up on allegations we heard in -- last year, in 2002, and we'll pursue those, but I don't have anything further about the particulars of the investigation.
QUESTION: And the people who allegedly got these illegal visas were Mexicans?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, that's something that will have to be looked at. All the people that we know about so far who got these allegedly illegal visas have been put on lookout lists for all the law enforcement agencies.
QUESTION: Do you have any --
MR. BOUCHER: No. I can't give you a number at this point, too. That's part of the investigation.
QUESTION: Who did you say is doing the investigation?
MR. BOUCHER: Diplomatic Security Service and I'm sure, working with the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: Often you can tell how many of these people have entered the U.S. on these visas like you could with the DOHA. Is it too early to say?
MR. BOUCHER: I just think it's too early at this stage in terms of the investigation to know how many visas might have been issued and then to start accounting for them. But as soon as the investigators find out about any particular visa of questionable issuance, they immediately put that name on the lists for the law enforcement agencies to watch out for.
QUESTION: Can you say how sophisticated your system was at that post? I mean, the one in Mexico City is very up to date with the latest technology. Was this a consulate that had not yet received that system?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, basically, all of our posts in Mexico are very high-volume visa posts; and therefore, they have always been among the first to receive new technology, so I don't know exactly, you know, how close it is, but they would have, pretty much, the best kind of technology that we use.
QUESTION: Well, can you say approximately how many visas are issued there a year or a month?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I was asked that. Oh, a year or a month? No, I can't at this point. I might be able to get that for you, but I don't want anybody to assume that we think that any particular number of those is possibly illegal. It's normally -- in any visa post, particularly a high volume one, when you have a visa fraud situation, it's a very small number compared to the overall total. But we don't want anybody to get any visas without meeting all the appropriate requirements.
Let's see. Arshad, you had one still?
QUESTION: It was -- Betsy just asked it.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Charlie.
QUESTION: Is there a way you can tell us how this investigation came to be? I mean, was this a tip from someone inside or a tip from someone outside?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I wouldn't be able to say that except that we did get allegations of visa fraud last year, and we've been investigating and following up on those and that has led currently to the closure of this consulate until we can fully explore the matter and make sure that any visa that's issued down there is issued with the strictest of safeguards.
QUESTION: You can't say who the (inaudible) these visas were?
MR. BOUCHER: No. That would automatically be part of the investigation, wouldn't it?
QUESTION: Would you say if this was one of the main things that this consulate did? I mean, it seems a pretty drastic situation to close the entire consulate.
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, it's one of the main things that any of our consulates or posts in Mexico do. They are all high-volume visa posts. Again, I don't have the exact numbers on Nuevo Laredo, but -- it's not the only thing that they do -- but it is one of the most significant things. And in terms of public operations, it's probably the most public of any of the operations of the embassy, or the consulate there.
QUESTION: Richard, were they visitor visas or longer term visas?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't say. That would be a matter under investigation.
QUESTION: In the week until the Secretary makes his presentation, will he be talking to foreign ministers? Can you give us -- it's a week, and I wonder if you can give some idea of his activities on Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: You'll see, I think, a whole variety of different kinds of consultations. He just met and had lunch with the Pakistani Foreign Minister. Pakistan, as you know, is now on the Security Council. He spoke yesterday to Foreign Secretary Straw. He spoke today by telephone with Foreign Minister Ivanov, including talking about next week's meeting in New York.
I expect you'll see a whole variety of contacts with other governments at a variety of levels. The White House has mentioned that the President will be consulting with other leaders. The Secretary will be discussing this with other foreign ministers, and of course, our mission in New York, Ambassador Negroponte is already very active up there. They had a meeting today in the Security Council to follow up on the presentations that Dr. Blix and Dr. El Baradei did on Monday.
QUESTION: When you mentioned even how Russia has been zigzagging, statements have been made that seem to appear they were, you know, willing to cooperate with the United States, and today, later statements suggest otherwise.
I know you don't want to represent their position, but could you give me some notion of how he came out that conversation? Did he feel there is cooperation, at least understanding?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to try to characterize the Russian position or offer a touchy-feely explanation of where the Russians might be.
We have worked very well with the Russians in any number of matters recently. We will do this briefing for the Council, including for the Russians, and we'll be consulting with them as well as other Council members on what the next steps might be.
QUESTION: Richard, you don't want to mention anyone other than the new Senators or the Canadian Foreign Minister who might be in this building tomorrow to see Secretary Powell?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, you cut me off before I could, but --
QUESTION: Well, I understand that the Saudis were --
MR. BOUCHER: No, this is a matter of continuing consultation. I'm sure the Secretary will be meeting with a number of foreign leaders, but the Canadian Foreign Minister is coming tomorrow. I don't have any others to mention right at this moment, but I'll keep you updated if there are others that we can talk about.
QUESTION: Would you expect that maybe you might be making at least one more announcement along that line today?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll have to see.
QUESTION: All right. Can I ask one on next week?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: It is your expectation, then, that this meeting -- that the Secretary's presentation to the Council will be public, correct?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. We've been talking with the other members of the Council about a public meeting -- a public presentation by the Secretary -- and I'm not sure if, you know, all the announcements are done and the things pinned down, but I think that certainly the Germans and the chair and other members of the Council see it that way, too.
QUESTION: Can you get into -- I know this -- is the kinds of issues that you're going to consider when you make some of this intelligence available?
For example, I mean, would certain intelligence compromise sources and methods at a sensitive time when you're trying to get people in the Iraqi military maybe to join the US side? I mean, just what are the considerations building up for this presentation?
MR. BOUCHER: It's impossible to describe the considerations without describing the particular considerations of, to cite an example, of somebody or something or some method that we may not want to disclose. It's hard to talk about this without talking about it, I guess, is my problem.
I'd have to say generally that the issue is always a balance between being able to acquire further information and being able to put out and make public the information you have. That balance is reached on the basis of a variety of considerations.
The goal is to put as much out as possible without losing your access to future information, so we'll be doing that balance; but I think, at this moment, everybody understands that people in the Security Council, people in the world, people in America want to understand as we do the situation.
We want to provide, we have said, every possible support for the inspectors, and we have been doing that, but we also, I think, see this briefing as a way of providing support for the conclusions that the inspectors are reaching.
Why did the inspectors say yesterday that there's no genuine acceptance even at this date by the Iraqis? Why did the inspectors say yesterday that they are concerned about some of the criticisms and denunciations and activities of the Iraqis? Why did the inspectors say that they have information that contradicts various Iraqi assertions? Why did the inspectors say that Iraq has hidden very, very dangerous weapons?
And so we see our information as being information that can help fill in the blanks, help people understand. And to the maximum extent, we will provide that sort of information to the Council and to the public.
Betsy. And then we'll come back.
QUESTION: Can you say what Negroponte did today? Did he offer more information than the U.S. had given before? Was -- did he -- has he reported back as to what the response was to --
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't gotten a full report from the Council. I think today's meeting was following on the presentation that Dr. Blix and Dr. El Baradei did on Monday. Various members of the Council, including Ambassador Negroponte, have asked a series of questions about the kind of responses, the kind of information, the kind of attitude that they've seen on the part of the Iraqis. So I think today was a chance for the Council to talk with the inspectors and to understand in more detail their report and their conclusions and their observations.
Terri. I guess I promised you. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Are you calling for it to be a ministerial or are you just calling for it to be a meeting of the Security Council at ambassadorial level or whatever they choose?
MR. BOUCHER: We're encouraging other ministers to be there for the Secretary to have this opportunity to talk directly with his counterparts. I think I've seen a public statement from the French Foreign Minister already --
QUESTION: And the Germans, too.
MR. BOUCHER: -- that he intends to be there. I imagine any number of these ministers will be there. He mentioned it today to the Pakistani Foreign Minister, but given the fact that he's here right now, it is not clear whether he'll be able to come to the meeting next week.
QUESTION: Has the administration yet reached a consensus on what information it will declassify to present on Wednesday? Or is that still a work in progress?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there is an understanding about the information that we would like to present. Whether it's all be declassified at this moment I don't really know for sure.
QUESTION: Do you have a sense of whether it will be a visual presentation or do you think it's just going to be a textual thing with the inspectors yesterday -- on Monday, with their story. Is that figured out (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't be able to go into that at this point not knowing if it s been declassified.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) black and white. Did the Secretary speak -- when he spoke to Foreign Minister Ivanov yesterday -- mention this? Or was he not saying anything, waiting until the President announced it?
MR. BOUCHER: He talked to Foreign Minister Ivanov today and they did --
QUESTION: Oh, today, okay.
MR. BOUCHER: -- and I think I mentioned before, they did talk about next week's meeting in New York.
QUESTION: And Ivanov said he would be there?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that would be for the Russians to decide and to say.
QUESTION: Can you say whether a decision has been made on a second resolution?
MR. BOUCHER: No. We have said very clearly that we were going to listen to the inspectors, we were going to consult with others. I've filled you in on the Secretary's consultations going on, and the President is obviously going to see Prime Minister Berlusconi and Prime Minister Blair in the next two days.
He'll be making phone calls. The Secretary will be making phone calls. The Secretary will be doing the briefing and then we will look, based on that, at what we think the next steps ought to be and discuss that with other members of the Council. That's the kind of decision that would be made as we go through this process.
QUESTION: Is one being discussed? Is it sort of in the works, or drafted?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't give it any particular status at this point. We are talking with others about the facts of the matter. We're moving, I think, patiently and methodically through a process that involves looking clearly at the facts, facing reality and deciding how to deal with it, along with our partners.
And that process is one that we'll work through in the next seven days or so. And maybe as we near the end of that process, we'll have more to say about which way we want to go in terms of next steps, but at this point, it really is a question of doing what we said we were going to do.
QUESTION: Can you say whether the United States has had any conversations with other governments about promoting an exile place for Saddam Hussein and his family?
MR. BOUCHER: It's one of those ideas that are floating out there. As far as I'm aware, it has not come up in any detailed or specific terms.
I think we've been quite up front when asked by governments, or when asked by the press that we think that's certainly an option that Saddam Hussein ought to take, that he and his family and top henchmen should take advantage of any opportunity like that that's offered to them; but I don't think any of us have seen a serious possibility or have been approached with any serious discussion of that yet.
QUESTION: Can you talk about how the U.S. feels about Iraq being maybe third in line, I guess, fourth -- third -- to take over the Disarmament Council in Geneva?
MR. BOUCHER: The Council on Disarmament in Geneva, the presidency rotates alphabetically. There is no election. There is no decision by the council. It just rotates in alphabetical order, and under that scheme, Iraq is scheduled to assume the presidency from May 27th to June 22nd.
Iraq has, for more than 12 years, defied numerous UN Security Council resolutions demanding its disarmament, and remains under Article 7 sanctions.
Under these conditions, the United States believes it's unacceptable for Iraq to assume the presidency of the international community's main multilateral disarmament negotiating forum.
QUESTION: Fred Eckhardt, Kofi Annan's spokesman, said in New York today that it has no political significance that Iraq would be leading this organization, even for such a short time. Obviously, the US disagrees?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see his exact quotes, and it may be true it has no political significance, in that nobody voted for them. It's alphabetical order, but I guess we'd just say, "it ain't fittin'."
QUESTION: And you are pursuing a way to rearrange the alphabet, or the order in which -- you know, what are you going to do about this?
MR. BOUCHER: We're considering our options.
QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, what are your options?
MR. BOUCHER: We're considering them.
QUESTION: Yeah, but it seems to me, or it seems to most everyone, Richard, that if -- you know, it's kind of set in stone that this goes alphabetically, so I mean, short of revising the alphabet or kicking them out of the conference, you don't seem to have any options.
MR. BOUCHER: We're looking at our options.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the meeting next week, for one reason, one second, very short?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: You said that you're encouraging the other foreign ministers of the Security Council to be there. Would you encourage the Iraqi Foreign Minister, or even the Iraqi Ambassador to attend?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think the Iraqis are members of the Security Council, are they?
QUESTION: No, but you said it was public. Are they -- are you -- would you encourage even the Iraqi Ambassador to show up to see the Secretary's --
MR. BOUCHER: We are encouraging other foreign ministers of the Security Council to come. The Iraqis already know what they're hiding. They don't need to benefit from our briefing.
QUESTION: Do you care?
MR. BOUCHER: The question has not been addressed that I know of. If it becomes a reality, then you can ask it then.
QUESTION: Well, would you object if the Iraqis --
MR. BOUCHER: You're dealing with three different hypotheticals. I've declined the first two. I've got to decline the third.
QUESTION: Richard, with respect to the other "axis of evil", North Korea, there's a Council -- World Affairs Council meeting here in Washington tomorrow at three locations, and Members of the Senate, the World Bank and other institutions, including an anchor of Nightline, are to take part. The Secretary is supposed to address that group tomorrow.
Will he be talking in any way about North Korea specifically and the problems associated with winding down that --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. We'll have to see what he talks about. I haven't seen any draft remarks. Frequently with groups like that, he just talks to them.
George had a question. Yes.
QUESTION: First of all, did you sit in on the meeting with the Pakistani Foreign Minister?
MR. BOUCHER: Much of it, yes.
QUESTION: Did the question of Pakistan's past relationship with North Korea in terms of nuclear technology arise?
MR. BOUCHER: As you know, we haven't really talked from this podium about questions of past relationships. I would say that the Secretary did take the opportunity, among the many things that we discussed with the Pakistani Foreign Minister, to talk about proliferation issues.
QUESTION: Another event going on in Geneva and a UN commission that you have no control over, the Human Rights Commission, they've -- it seems that they've done something that you like now, or at least Human Rights has, in appointing a new Human Rights Rapporteur for Cuba. Do you have anything to say about that?
MR. BOUCHER: I do, as a matter of fact. The United States welcomes yesterday's announcement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello that he had appointed French jurist Christine Chanet as his personal representative for Cuba.
We urge the Cuban Government to adhere to the will of the UN Commission for Human Rights and cooperate with the implementation of Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2002/18, which calls on the High Commission to send a personal representative to the island.
The United States also encourages the Cuban Government to allow her to travel as soon as possible and to cooperate with her investigation of the human rights situation.
QUESTION: -- a UN Human Rights representative to go to the island?
MR. BOUCHER: I suspect you would know that better than I do, so I would have to look it up and you probably know. You want to tell us?
QUESTION: I think not.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll look it up and confirm George's knowledge of the matter.
QUESTION: Staying in Latin America, I'm wondering whether the U.S. has any statement on this proposal to create an international commission in Guatemala on a variety of harassment issues, of human rights monitors and jurists?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. We do welcome the call by the Ombudsman in Guatemala, the Human Rights Ombudsman, for an international investigation into the existence of clandestine and parallel forces in Guatemala. Persistent allegations indicate such groups may represent a serious challenge to democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
We consider this to be an important step, an important opportunity to fulfill the 1996 peace accord commitments to disband such groups. We urge the Government of Guatemala to move quickly to seek formal United Nations and Organization of American States support for such a commission.
We are studying the Human Rights Ombudsman's initiative to determine in what manner the United States could assist.
At present, until the Commission's mandate is more fully defined, we wouldn't be able to say in more detail how we might be able to assist.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? Do you have any indication of how many incidents of harassment have been? And secondly, if they don't take action, would this, by any means, harm U.S. free trade negotiations in Central America as a whole?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I'd want to draw broader implications of hypotheticals. The fact is they have called for the creation of this commission. That's a good thing. We support it and we think it should go forward.
As far as the number of issues that the Commission will have to look at, I think I'd leave that to them.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on an American woman who was expelled from Moscow?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: No? Okay (inaudible).
MR. BOUCHER: Ring any bells? No. I'll look into it and see. Don't know of anything.
QUESTION: I just have another question on the evidence thing. Upstairs, the Secretary said that some of the evidence will be new, some of it will be stuff we know, some of it will be stuff we've given to the inspectors and some of it will be new. Does that mean stuff that you haven't given to the inspectors that they would also be hearing it for the first time when you present it in New York?
MR. BOUCHER: In many ways, the information that we're going to be presenting is similar to the information we've given to the inspectors. But obviously, with the inspectors, they need more detailed, more actionable, sometimes more technical information in order to do their work.
To some extent, for the public, there are different aspects. In terms of Iraqi deception, denial, hiding things, there is a considerable amount of overlap. So it's just a little different. There may be some information that's a bit different. For example, we may brief in public a little more on the connections that Iraq has with terrorist groups. That may not be something of particular and direct concern to the inspectors; whereas, we might brief the inspectors a little more on some of the technical matters, some of the questions of specific locations and how they might access them to prevent the Iraqis from hiding things. We wouldn't necessarily have to do that in a public briefing.
So it's a little bit different, although with considerable overlap.
QUESTION: So they won't be hearing they might need, they might have needed to --
MR. BOUCHER: I doubt if they would hear anything in our public briefing that they would say, "Gosh, I wish they had told us that."
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've been making sure that they have all the information, as somebody said, they get the full Technicolor briefing on matters that they have to work on.
MR. BOUCHER: Sir.
QUESTION: Richard, yesterday the Israelis elected Ariel Sharon once again as Prime Minister. Without the Labor Party, is it going to be more difficult to settle the peace prospects in the Middle East?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that's really a question of Israeli politics, and I'll leave all such questions of Israeli politics to the Israeli parties and the coalition-forming and all that to be handled out there.
I think they briefed at the White House and mentioned that the President called Prime Minister Sharon and congratulated him on the electoral victory. Certainly, Israel has a vibrant tradition of democracy and yesterday's elections are an example of that, and we look forward to the formation of a government and a chance to sit down with the new government and work on issues of peace and how to achieve the President's vision of June 24th.
QUESTION: Just to follow on that, the Secretary hasn't called Prime Minister -- Foreign Minister Netanyahu, has he?
MR. BOUCHER: No, not at this point.
QUESTION: Can you comment about the --
MR. BOUCHER: I do have to go in a minute, if you all will be kind and --
QUESTION: -- an announcement from Rome this morning that they have agreed to let the United States use the bases in Italy for an attack on Iraq.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have any comment on that. Those kind of statements -- if any government wants to make them, we're certainly happy to see them do that, but we really leave it to them to decide what to say and when.
One more in the back.
QUESTION: Sir, I have two questions, actually.
MR. BOUCHER: All right. We have two more in the back.
QUESTION: Okay. One is a U.S. citizen Charles Lee who is held in custody in China because he practiced Falun Gong on January 22nd. And when U.S. Consulate (sic) from Shanghai visited him yesterday, she said that her responsibility is to make sure that he gets the same legal assistance as a Chinese citizen. Do you think the U.S. Government can to more than that to gain release of this U.S. citizen just because he practiced Falun Gong?
The second question is Australian citizen Nancy Chang was also held in custody recently and sources say that before she was arrested she thought that she was tailed or something. She went to -- she went into the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu to -- for her protection, but she was told to leave. And once she stepped on the street, she was arrested. I just want to confirm, is that true?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer on any specific cases I don't know, and I'll check into it, but I'm not sure I'm in a position to talk about specific cases because individuals have privacy rights that I'm not allowed to talk about their affairs unless they authorize me to.
What I would say in general is any American that gets incarcerated, we provide consular services, we try to take care of them, try to make sure of their welfare, that they're treated fairly and that they're treated as fairly as possible under whatever legal system exists.
But, in addition, in other cases we do make clear to the Chinese Government our view that people should not be arrested or persecuted for practice of their belief or freedom of expression, and that is something we do regularly. So I think some of these cases may fall into that category.
Thank you. [End]
Released on January 29, 2003