State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for February 10
Daily Press Briefing Richard Boucher, Spokesman Washington, DC February 10, 2003
IRAQ 1-7 Need for Compliance and Disarmament 1 Reactions by Foreign Ministers to Secretary Powell s Presentation to the UN Security Council 3 Need for Government Reforms / Humanitarian Programs 5 Evidence Shared with UN Weapon s Inspectors 5-6 Status of Second Resolution Consultations 13 Saddam Hussein s Use of Chemical Weapons 14 Act of Terror Against Kurdish General Shawki Haji Mushir
NATO 2-3, 8 Responsibility of the Alliance / Article 4 Consultations
NORTH KOREA 8-9 Status of Secretary Powell s Trip to the Region
ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS 9 Quartet Roadmap
VENEZUELA 9 Dialogue with Secretary General Gaviria
QATAR 10 Support Efforts in the War on Terrorism
DEPARTMENT 10 Travel Warnings Issued
IRAN 11-12 International Atomic Energy Agency s Investigation of Iran s Uranium Enrichment Program 12-13 Assistance During Military Action in Afghanistan
COLOMBIA 14 Secretary Powell s Call to Foreign Minister Barco Expressing Condolences for the Club Nogal Bombing / Ongoing Investigation
CHINA 16 Arrest of Charles Lee 17-18 Sentencing of Wang Bingzhang
CUBA 16-17 Cuban Border Guard Officials Arrival in Key West
INDIA/PAKISTAN 18 Ongoing Tensions / Push for Positive Dialogue
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements or announcements. I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Well, there have been some moves by Iraq and I wonder what the reaction to them are. First, they permitted -- they say they will permit reconnaissance flights, the kind of overflights that the Secretary wanted them to permit. Second, they say they'll pass a law banning weapons of mass destruction. And third, the monitors have reported an increase in cooperation.
How does the administration feel about all this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that Iraq has actually allowed any flights. The point, I think, is to judge Iraq by the basis -- on the basis of the resolution, not to judge them against other standards of progress or a change of heart. The goal was for Iraq to comply immediately, fully and completely, provide active cooperation with the inspectors.
I remind you of what members of the Security Council said last week after Secretary Powell's presentation. Foreign Minister de Villepin said the Iraqi authorities must also provide the inspectors with answers to the new elements presented by Colin Powell. Between now and the inspectors' next report on February 14th, Iraq will have to provide new elements. We also had Foreign Minister Ivanov said Baghdad must give the inspectors answers to the questions that we heard in the presentation given by the U.S. Secretary of State. We had Foreign Minister Fischer say Iraq has to answer the elements which were provided today by Colin Powell to the Security Council, and on and on and on.
The issue is really: Is Iraq providing answers, dealing with the facts of the matter? Is Iraq providing complete and open cooperation? What we saw over the weekend was a repetition of a few promises from a couple weeks ago that were not fulfilled, and we'll have to see what the inspectors report to the Council on Friday.
QUESTION: So the administration will not even credit this as a step in the right direction; is that correct?
MR. BOUCHER: The resolution didn't say -- didn't ask Iraq to make steps. The resolution asked Iraq for full, immediate and active cooperation. We know what that looks like. We've seen it elsewhere. The Iraqis didn't come forth with the 3,500 scientists on the previous UN list. They didn't come forth with the biological weapons laboratories. They didn't come forth with many other things that we have specified, that we have talked about, that the Secretary pointed out in his presentation last week, and that these ministers said Iraq needs to answer for.
So I think we've seen the press reporting from over the weekend. We look forward to hearing directly from the inspectors. But I haven't seen anything that's worth getting excited about.
QUESTION: Richard, your Ambassador to NATO says that there is now a crisis of confidence in the Alliance because of what happened with the French, Germans and Belgians blocking the preparations to assist Turkey. Does the Department share Ambassador Burns' conviction?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the question now is what will NATO members do with the request for consultations under Article 4 of the NATO treaty. We're certainly disappointed that some allies took the decision to block prudent military planning, which is what had been requested, to protect Turkey in the event of a possible military action with Iraq.
We think it's essential that NATO allies face up to their fundamental responsibilities that are at the core of the Alliance, which is to protect each other in case of danger or hostilities. The vast majority of the allies, 16 out of 19 countries, were prepared to do this prudent military planning. NATO has yet to achieve consensus on this point but discussions are continuing, and we believe that it will be possible for NATO to achieve consensus and respond to the legitimate defense needs to protect Turkey, and we would call on all allies to do so.
QUESTION: So the answer to my question is?
MR. BOUCHER: Is what I said. I expressed our view --
QUESTION: The question I had was, do you share -- do you believe there's a crisis of confidence now, and --
MR. BOUCHER: And the answer to your question was the first sentence I said. That will depend on what allies do under Article 4 consultations.
QUESTION: So if the -- if the three allies reject it, are you meaning to say that would be a crisis?
MR. BOUCHER: Ask me tomorrow, if that's what happens.
QUESTION: Yes. Last week, the Secretary made some remarks about reshaping the region to enhance U.S. interests. I wondered if you could expand on what, exactly, he meant by that -- what he's thinking of.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can expand on that any more at this point. The Secretary did talk at some length and he's expressed the view that if the problems of Iraq are dealt with, if the problems that Iraq causes in the region are dealt with, then to have a peaceful Iraq with a more representative government, with a more open economy that's able to trade with its neighbors, that's able to live in harmony without threatening its people and its neighbors, that that could have, ultimately, a beneficial effect on the region. But I don't think I can go beyond that at this point.
QUESTION: Where do the U.S. interests come into this and why do you think it should be reshaped -- U.S. interests rather than --
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't -- I didn't say it was being reshaped for U.S. interests. I said it was being reshaped, period. And that that could have a benefit for U.S. interests.
QUESTION: I need to go back to NATO for a second. You guys have warned, repeatedly warned the UN and the UN Security Council that they risk becoming irrelevant if they do not act on Iraq. Do you find the same situation now with -- is NATO poised on the brink of irrelevancy if, after tomorrow, it is not able to reach a consensus?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to speculate. I'm not going to throw around big words. The fact is, an ally has asked us for consultations under Article 4 of the Treaty, and we think that it is not only necessary, but possible, for the Alliance to reach consensus on doing that.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, just one last one on this. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said earlier today, after --during his appearance with Prime Minister Howard, that the U.S. was prepared to go outside of NATO to find a way to accommodate Turkey's defense needs. Is this something the State Department agrees with?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that's speculative at this point. Certainly, we intend to help Turkey with its defense needs, and perhaps others do, as well.
QUESTION: He said that that's what they would do. He explicitly said that there were ways to do this bilaterally. It's not -- I don't see why it's --
MR. BOUCHER: And there will be ways to do this bilaterally. Whatever NATO decides to do, we will be involved bilaterally with the Turks. Whether NATO decides to do this planning and have these consultations or not, we will be involved bilaterally with the Turks.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary been in touch in the last 48 hours with any European foreign ministers to discuss, for example, the proposal to increase the number of inspectors and UN forces?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I mean, first of all, there's no such proposal. And second of all, the Secretary's been in touch with Foreign Minister Straw. He's been in touch over the weekend with -- or, I guess, today, with High Representative Solana. So he has been in touch with -- I don't know what to say -- European foreign policy representatives. But as far as the reports of a proposal, I think first we have to say there is no proposal. There's a report in a German magazine and a few comments by other people.
Second of all, the question that arises is: What are these ideas intended to address? Now, there had been, as we know, some discussion at the UN last week by the French Foreign Minister about different ideas about what one can do. I also note that UNMOVIC head, Hans -- Dr. Blix has said the principal problem is not the number of inspectors but, rather, the active cooperation of the Iraqi side.
And again, the problem being the active cooperation of the Iraqi side, the facts being what the Secretary presented to the Council -- that Iraq is moving materials, hiding weapons, and designing programs to be inspected and yet not to be found.
One has to question whether any of the ideas that have been floated, at least, would have any relevance in that circumstance; whether providing more inspectors, which Dr. Blix says he doesn't need, would actually find things that Iraq is hiding; whether providing some sort of military presence to open doors would actually solve the problem. The problem is not opening the doors. The problem is that there's nothing behind them. The Iraqis have removed things.
So, he said it in a wire service, which I believe -- I will get for you -- but, so the issues are: Are we addressing the questions that the Secretary put to the Council? Are we solving the problems that really exist? And the problem that really exists, as Dr. Blix has said many times, as we have said many times, is the problem of Iraqi cooperation. Iraq is not disarming peacefully. Iraq is actively taking steps to prevent its disarmament, and unless the Council can deal with that question, the Council will not have solved the problem.
QUESTION: Senator Levin suggested over the weekend that all the U.S. evidence, the actual evidence, had not been turned over to the inspectors, but I think that goes against what I've heard and even what Dr. Blix, himself, has said.
Can you confirm how much of the actionable evidence was turned over to the inspectors by the time Secretary Powell made his presentation?
MR. BOUCHER: The -- it's hard to define for you "actionable evidence" in terms of the Secretary's presentation. The Secretary's presentation was not a presentation designed to put forward actionable evidence. We have given the inspectors information on specific sites that they might want to inspect -- a lot of information about those sites and how they might want to go in, and how they could inspect them and what they could look for, what they might find there.
I think we've given them information by now on more than 60 different sites in Iraq. Only a few sites were covered in the Secretary's briefings.
QUESTION: Right. I didn't say that he had --
MR. BOUCHER: So the evidence that we have provided the inspectors with is evidence that they can use to conduct inspections, that they can use to find out what Iraq's been up to. To that extent, to the extent there was any information like that in the Secretary's presentation, it had all been shared with the inspectors.
QUESTION: Okay. I just said by that time, but everything that you think they've been able to use up to now has been handed over?
MR. BOUCHER: It's an ongoing process. As they get interested in something, we tell them more about what they might find here or there as they start talking about going to a site, or we might suggest a site. So it's an ongoing process. At this point we've shared an abundance of information, of very, very good information that's designed to help the inspectors do their job. And that's involved more than 60 different sites in Iraq at this point.
QUESTION: And one more on that. How much of that information have you seen put into use already by the inspectors?
MR. BOUCHER: That wouldn't be something I would be able to account for, because it would start indicating a little more to the Iraqis about what we know about different places. So I can't give you any number on that.
QUESTION: But are you satisfied that they are using it successfully?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we're satisfied that our information is useful to them, that it is being used, and that we'll continue to provide them with information.
Okay. Let's -- can we go somewhere beyond the first row for a little while?
QUESTION: Richard, would you care to say that it would be unwise for any member of the Security Council to put forward any proposal for expanding the number of inspectors, putting in blue helmets, things of that nature?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I've already said we don't quite see the point of those proposals because as Dr. Blix has said, that's not the problem. The problem is active cooperation by Iraq. Any ideas or proposals that are put forward need to address that problem.
QUESTION: Richard, over the weekend Secretary Powell indicated that perhaps as soon as this weekend there could be a second resolution that might be introduced. Can you tell us what the status of that is and whether this -- if you've even decided whether this would be a joint resolution or something, perhaps, that another country might put forward?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer to the first question is can I give you the status is really no because the answer to the second question is no as well -- that we are consulting with a variety of other governments about how to proceed to next steps in the Security Council, but it was not decided at this point the details of the resolution, who might put it forward, when it might happen.
QUESTION: Richard, what would be the determining factors for this?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the Secretary said earlier he wanted to see what happened over this weekend but also whether determining factors is really our consultations with other governments. We're talking to people, listening to them, and we'll see what emerges from those discussions.
QUESTION: Richard, regarding those proposals. You said that these proposals didn't exist or a proposal didn't exist. Is that -- do you mean that the United States has not received any kind of notification of any such proposal or do you have assurances that from the alleged initiators that they --
MR. BOUCHER: No. We -- all I'm saying is we have not received any proposal at this point. You have to check with them as far as whether they are going to have one or not.
QUESTION: Just back to the second resolution for a second, so you're saying that when the Secretary said that work had begun on what he strongly hinted was a second resolution, you -- he didn't mean to say that people were actually sitting down and writing one up yet. Is that?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I don't think I said that either. Work involves consultations, discussions of language, discussions of timing --
MR. BOUCHER: Discussions of proposals, so I can't say that nobody's put pen to paper, but the fact is we're still in a consultation period on this and these decisions about who's going to propose it and when and contents and that sort of thing have not been made --
QUESTION: Right. Well, is it fair to say now, though, that work on drafting has begun, even if it's not necessarily the actual drafting, but work on it?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I'd be in a position to say that.
QUESTION: Can you give a little idea of your goal here? Is it least common denominator? Because, by contrast, the President's approach and the Secretary's approach is very hard line, that the U.S. will move alone or with a few friends if it has to, so I'm wondering if you're trying this time -- I know you want unity, but are you willing to, as I say, reach for the lowest common denominator here or will you stick to the hard line that you have taken and that you're taking rhetorically all these days?
MR. BOUCHER: There is obviously a balance in terms of the United Nations in terms of what you can achieve. The goal is to achieve what the President laid out for you last Thursday, where he said we will welcome and support a new resolution that would -- I can't remember exactly -- which demonstrates that the Security Council stands behind its earlier declarations, behind its earlier resolution. So we would welcome and support a resolution in this case that can gain the widest possible acceptance and make clear that Iraq must be disarmed. And that is what the earlier Resolution 1441 said.
QUESTION: Also, you haven't characterized various overtures, if that's the word, from Iraq. The Secretary, in that same speech or presentation, suggested the world should be alert to last-minute trickery, last-minute -- I forgot his word, but suggesting a little cat-and-mouse game, a little give by Iraq that really won't mean all that much. Is that the season we're in now?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we probably are in the season of, you know, tactical retreats by Iraq. But the question that has to be asked: Do they amount to active cooperation? Do they amount to the answers that so many foreign ministers asked for at last Wednesday's Security Council meeting? And, frankly, I haven't seen too much in that regard.
QUESTION: I'm not sure if you have guidance on this, but over the weekend, I believe, the GCC indicated that they were going to send troops to Kuwait, part of this peninsula shield that's been in existence since the late '80s. Do you find any -- first of all, if you could comment on that, the fact that the GCC would be willing to send troops to protect Kuwait at the same time that you have problems within NATO to send AWACS and Patriot missiles to Turkey.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have any particular comment. I'm not familiar enough with the GCC rules and how they operate. I do know that this is a process we're working through in NATO and we still remain hopeful that all allies would want to support and protect one of our allies.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the -- you don't have anything?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Can I go back to that second resolution? Until --
MR. BOUCHER: One might call it the 18th resolution, since there have been so many before.
QUESTION: Right, yeah. Usually it's the new resolution. Right.
Until Wednesday last week, it appeared that you had taken a very passive approach, and you're saying that you don't need one, but if someone comes up with it, you may think of supporting it. Now, apparently, you're much more active, consulting with the other members, to produce such a resolution.
What prompted that change from passive to active?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we've always said we were consulting with others about next steps, about what the next steps should be. On Thursday, the President indicated that we would welcome and support a new resolution. We had always said one was desirable. The President indicated we would welcome and support a resolution that accomplishes our goals, making clear that the Council is going to stand up for its previous resolutions. So that's what we're talking to other governments about. It's a little more specific than what we had said before because the President decided we should go forward and get one.
QUESTION: Yes, I will return back to NATO business. The last time when the Turkey tried to join the European Union, these three countries -- Germany, France and Belgium -- they stopped or they blocked this attempt for the Turkey. Do you think it's a coincidence or do you think they are sending message to -- not to Ankara, to the Washington, D.C.?
MR. BOUCHER: You'll have to ask them that.
QUESTION: How do you evaluate this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't do political commentary from here.
QUESTION: Secretary Powell is coming to South Korea to attend the inauguration of President Roh Moon-hyun on February 25th. Would you confirm on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Would I what?
QUESTION: Secretary Powell --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I heard that part. What did you -- what was the question?
QUESTION: Could you confirm?
MR. BOUCHER: Can I confirm that?
MR. BOUCHER: I can tell you that he has talked about going and it is -- he has expressed his intention to go, but we haven't come to the point where we could announce any trip or really confirm the actual -- the plans.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the -- sorry.
QUESTION: There was a report today (inaudible) informed the Palestinian Authority that they will -- they want to postpone presenting the roadmap till after solving the Iraqi crisis. Is that anything true to this? Any truth to this?
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen that report. I hadn't been able to check that out. We've always said, and the Secretary has said again in testimony last week, that it is our intention to move forward on the roadmap, that it is the President's intention to play a more active role in pursuit of the vision that he laid out on June 24th in terms of seeking implementation of the steps in the roadmap. We always understood that that would have to wait for elections and the formation of the government, but it is certainly our intention to move forward on this and the Secretary expressed it only a few days ago.
Okay, let's keep -- finish with the back, and then we'll come forward. Ma'am.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Well, Mr. Gaviria, OAS Secretary Gaviria, was here for the weekend. I just want know, he made any report concerning the talks on Venezuela (inaudible)? There will be another meeting of the Friends of Venezuela in Venezuela or in any other place?
And President Chavez -- this is another issue, threatened again the media, the Venezuelan media. I just want to know your reaction.
And the last one, President Lucio Gutierrez of Ecuador, he has a meeting with Mr. Powell today. Did he spoke with Mr. Powell on Venezuela?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, the answer is I don't know, because it's still going on. They're having lunch right now. And so I can't answer about the Ecuadorian President.
As far as the threats issued by President Chavez, we would say that we think that threats issued by either side are not helpful in creating an atmosphere to serious dialogue. We continue to call on the parties to engage seriously with Secretary General Gaviria.
The talks, the dialogue led by the Organization of American States, is resuming today and we encourage both sides to work with Secretary General Gaviria to find a peaceful, constitutional, democratic and electoral solution to the political impasse.
As far as the next meeting of the Friends group, I don't know, actually. I'd have to check and see if there's anything scheduled at this point.
QUESTION: A somewhat related, somewhat different issue. In the war on terrorism, one of your allies, Qatar, came under some questioning last week in media reports about whether or not they were giving full cooperation or whether or not some members of the government and royal family might be harboring terrorists perhaps, or are not lending full support.
Do you have any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think first of all, we take all reports seriously and so we do look into them. We regularly discuss them with our friends in the region. These allegations about Qatar are not new. We have never seen any credible information to corroborate them.
Qatar is a close friend and partner in the region with whom we consult closely and regularly on a broad array of bilateral and regional issues. Qatari support in the campaign against international terrorism and terrorism financing has been outstanding and we continue to coordinate closely on our efforts.
QUESTION: Richard, Friday night, the Department issued five pieces of paper, essentially, warning Americans against travel to five countries in the area* -- the Gulf area and the Middle East. Could you tell us at this point how many people have, if you have some notion, an estimate of how many people have heeded the warning and come home? I mean, either government or family members or private individuals?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we can give you that kind of numbers, Barry. We're always hesitant about providing specific numbers on how many people are at our posts or how many people have left or the raw materials for someone to do the math. So we don't try to provide that information on how many people might have taken advantage of authorized departure.
There are, you know, if you count, not only embassy people but there are a lot of private Americans in this region, probably several hundred thousand in the places that have been affected by these new warnings that are addressed in there. And we think it was a prudent measure to authorize departure for some of our personnel in these places.
We now have authorized departure for eight locations in the region: Amman, Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sanaa and Tel Aviv. So that's the total with one, two, three, four, five, six, I think, last week.
QUESTION: Richard, might there be some more?
MR. BOUCHER: There always -- there may be some more. Yeah, there may be some more. This has left, and individual embassies, knowing about the worldwide advisory, knowing about the overall threat conditions that have been, you know, that we've talked about in public, individual embassies look at their local situation and normally come back and make these requests, so we're up to eight now, in the near east region and there may be more who make the request for authorized departure for their non-essential staff and for dependents.
QUESTION: What do you think about Iran's uranium enrichment program, which seems --
QUESTION: Before you get to that because I'm sure you don't have an answer to this but maybe you could look into it --
MR. BOUCHER: Maybe I will make one up.
QUESTION: Do you know, is there an average of, you know, how much this actually costs you guys when you do an authorized departure? I know you don't --
MR. BOUCHER: I would have to check, but we don't, frankly, we don't put that kind of price on the safety of our people, so I would be glad to tell you --
QUESTION: I'm just -- that was not the intent of the question. I was just wondering --
MR. BOUCHER: -- it's basically a plane ticket home and then money to support themselves for as long as they stay here.
QUESTION: While we're at it, is it literally a ticket home or a ticket out of the area? They can leave and go someplace else --
MR. BOUCHER: There can be individual circumstances if somebody's, you know, family happens to be in Europe or their kid happens to be in school in England, there can be individual adjustments, but normally it's a ticket home.
QUESTION: The Iranian uranium enrichment program. It's kind of hard to say that.
MR. BOUCHER: That's good. I wonder if I could say that. I won't try.
We continue to have very grave concerns that Iran is using its supposedly peaceful nuclear program, including construction of the reactor at Bushehr as a pretext for advancing a nuclear weapons program.
Iran's admission that it's been mining uranium when Russia has agreed to provide all the uranium fuel for the lifetime of the Bushehr raises serious questions about Iran's supposedly peaceful nuclear program.
Iran's ambitious and costly pursuit of a complete nuclear fuel cycle only makes sense if it's in support of a nuclear weapons program. President Khatami's admission of Iranian uranium mining comes only two weeks before the February 25th visit to Iran of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Director General, Dr. ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency experts.
We look forward to Dr. ElBaradei's report at the appropriate time. We urge Iran to make good on its claim of transparency by accepting and fully implementing the International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguard strengthening additional protocol. We expect the International Atomic Energy Agency will vigorously investigate Iran's nuclear program, particularly in light of the two previously secret nuclear-related facilities that came to light recently, only through the press disclosure by an Iranian -- anti-Iranian group.
Some of the press today suggested that President Khatami has claimed that Iran will reprocess spent fuel, presumably from the Bushehr reactor. If accurate, that would directly contradict Iran's agreement with Russia to return all of the spent fuel to Russia. That would cause us further concern as it would lay bare Iran's ambitious desire to develop the capability to produce weapons-useable fissile material under its own control.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? I didn't quite understand why you should care whether they get this stuff from Russia or whether they would mine it. Presumably, if they mine it they save themselves money which might be the motivation. Do you have any reason, any other, any reason to doubt that --
MR. BOUCHER: Because mining is not necessarily cheaper and it puts a goodly part of the nuclear fuel cycle outside of the control of whoever's providing the reactor and the fuel. The agreement as we understood it, as we heard it from others had been that Russia would provide the fuel and take it back after it was used in the reactor. If you have Iran pursuing a complete nuclear fuel cycle, that would only make sense in the context of a weapons program.
QUESTION: What are you going to do about it?
MR. BOUCHER: This is something that we'll continue to look to other governments to cooperate with to prevent Iran from going in this direction. It's a matter that we hope the Iranians will cooperate with Dr. ElBaradei and his team when they go to Iran next week, and we look forward to seeing his report and we'll continue to work with other governments on this matter. Andrea.
QUESTION: On that same subject. Can you confirm a report from over the weekend that in recent weeks U.S. officials met with Iranian officials to discuss their active neutrality in the event of war?
MR. BOUCHER: I think about all I can say is what we've said before, that we have had talks with Iran on matters of mutual interest, most particularly in the context of the discussions on Afghanistan. As you all know, we've had contacts over the last few years with Iran on the subject of Afghanistan. So we've had -- we've taken opportunities to discuss items with Iran that are of concern to us, to discuss matters that are in our interest, but I won't be able to -- at this point, I can't confirm any specific meetings. I'll have to double-check on that.
QUESTION: Well, leave the meetings out. Maybe you can come closer to disclosing what it is, if anything, you've asked, or is being asked of Iran so far as helping in any rescue efforts. You know the account we're talking about.
MR. BOUCHER: I know the account you're talking about. In fact, some of the things that were in that account were similar to things that Iran did and offered when the United States took military action in Afghanistan. But I wouldn't be in a position at this point to confirm any specifics with you.
MR. BOUCHER: Charlie.
QUESTION: Richard, on a different subject, about a week to maybe ten days ago now, in an op-ed piece in The New York Times, an author, a former CIA analyst, I believe, Stephen Pelletier, made a point in terms of the charge the administration has often leveled against Saddam Hussein that it was the Iraqis who gassed their own people at Halabja. He claims it was the Iranians.
Can you tell us if you're certain, and on what basis --
MR. BOUCHER: We find the charge absurd, actually. There are Kurdish victims of this crime. The international human rights groups, organizations devoted to pursuing war crimes, are all in agreement that this despicable act was perpetrated by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. To insist otherwise defies all the facts.
The facts of the case are quite clear. On March 16th, 1988, the Iraqi military conducted an aerial bombardment of Halabja with mustard and other poison gases that killed roughly 5,000 civilians and injured another 10,000. Nearly 15 years later, the people of Halabja must endure the lingering effects of this horrible massacre, including a very high incidence of neurological disorders, birth defects, miscarriages, serious disease and cancer.
As you know, this was not an isolated incident in terms of Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons. It was part of a systematic campaign ordered by Saddam Hussein and led by his lieutenant, the infamous "Chemical Ali" Hassan al-Majid, against Iraqi Kurdish civilians. Iraqi international observers estimate that Iraqi forces killed 50,000 to 100,000 people during the year-long 1988 campaign known as "Anfal,", which means "the spoils." And the omission of that information from the author's piece, I think, was, frankly, misleading.
QUESTION: Richard, back to Northern Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: Northern Iraq.
QUESTION: Last Friday, they claimed that some of the al-Qaida and the Baghdad agent, they work together, they killed one of the Northern Iraqi Kurdish prominent Kurdish leader. Do you have any reaction on this subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me see what I've got on that assassination here.
I don't think I can extend the facts any for you. I can say that we've worked closely with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan for many years. We condemn this act of terror against senior Kurdish military commander General Shawki Haji Mushir. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and his colleagues in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
The Secretary and others of us have made clear our grave concern about Ansar al-Islam's activities and their connections to the al-Qaida terrorist network. We'll continue to work with our friends in the region to ensure that this network is dismantled.
QUESTION: Several Iraqi Kurdish groups, they claim that the Baghdad -- some of the Baghdad Saddam's agent also worked with these groups. I mean, do you confirm about the subject?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that I could say anything in particular about this specific killing. In terms of the links between Iraqi intelligence and Ansar al-Islam, the Secretary discussed that in his UN presentation last week.
Okay, let's go to the back and head forward again.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. On Colombia, it there any reaction from the State Department about the terrorist act on Friday in Bogota?
MR. BOUCHER: Did the White House put out a statement? Yeah, let me start out by noting the White House did put out a statement on the subject.
The Secretary called Foreign Minister Barco on Saturday to express our condolences and our sympathies. At this point, let me tell you where we are. First, make clear that we strongly condemn the Club Nogal bombing that killed at least 34 people, including young children, and injured more than 150. We stand with the Colombian Government and the people in rejecting such brutal acts of terror.
Through our Embassy in Bogota, we will provide whatever assistance we can to Colombian authorities so that they can bring the perpetrators to justice. A six-member team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrived in Bogota February 8th and is working closely with Colombian authorities on the crime scene investigation.
The bombing of the club is believed to be part of an urban terrorism campaign by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the FARC. Further attacks of this kind, unfortunately, are still likely.
We do understand that no American citizens were killed or injured in the attack. The United States Embassy in Bogota has been urging U.S. citizens to depart -- I'm sorry, has been urging U.S. citizens in Colombia, especially those in major cities, to remain vigilant against the possibility of terrorist attack. I got it wrong. Sorry.
QUESTION: President Uribe has requested the attention of the U.S. Government and President Bush to help the Colombian Government to fight terrorism because this is supported by narco-traffickers. How far is the U.S. Government willing go at this point when there is such a many attacks like this in Colombia in the urban areas lately?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as you know, we're very close to the Colombian Government in terms of working against this two-headed threat of narco-trafficking and terrorism. The Secretary was down there a little more than a month ago now, in December, working with the Colombian Government, talking about how we could support. You've seen money in our previous budgets, including authorization to use that money more openly against terrorism.
We've got money in the new budgets coming up to make sure that we do support Colombia in this fight and we'll be looking for all the various ways that we can find to support Colombia as it fights both terrorism and narco-trafficking since they are so incredibly linked down there.
QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up on this?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: It's not a mystery that FARC or terrorist organizations in Colombia have been working with other terrorist organizations in the world as the IRA or ETA in Spain, or they have been receiving some kind of support. Experts already are pointing to the fact that this attack was something very planned and probably had aid from outside. Are you, do you think this scenario is possible or something indicates that this is possible?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to speculate at this point. Colombian authorities are investigating. We have sent experts down there to assist in that investigation. We'll have to see what the investigation produces.
QUESTION: Richard, the Chinese court --
MR. BOUCHER: We were going to keep going from the back to the front, now.
QUESTION: This is on the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA. Officials there are claiming they've received nothing so far this year from the United States and that if it doesn't get some money soon it's going to have to stop food distribution in March.
Can you say why the U.S. hasn't provided any money recently to UNRWA and whether there are any frustrations with the agency that are --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that we haven't. Let me double-check. We normally put out statements when we provide that. I would have to double-check on when the last one was, but I will check for you on the financing.
QUESTION: Could you, say, speak to your general satisfaction or lack thereof for the agency? I know that there were some --
MR. BOUCHER: I will look it up for you and then I will get it for you. Okay?
MR. BOUCHER: You in the back. The lady in the back. Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: Okay, the United States citizen who was arrested in China, he has been in custody for 20 days until now and we got a lots of inquiry from the Chinese community as well as (inaudible). What is the update that State Department have?
MR. BOUCHER: I guess the question is who are you talking about. I will have to look it up for you.
QUESTION: Charles Lee.
MR. BOUCHER: I will have to look it up for you and get you something on that.
QUESTION: Is the State Department close to designating some Chechen rebel groups as terrorist organizations or has it reached a decision?
MR. BOUCHER: We've said we've been looking at some Chechen groups, but I don't have anything to announce for you at this point.
QUESTION: Richard, do you have anything on the Cubans' Coast Guard that came ashore and the return of their boat?
MR. BOUCHER: Fishermen.
QUESTION: Coast Guard.
MR. BOUCHER: The Coast Guard. Yes, I do. Right?
There was one group described as fishermen, but this is the group -- this might be the same group, but anyway. This is four Cuban border guard officials arrived in Key West on the morning on February 7th in what we understand is a border guard vessel. The four were apprehended by Key West police officials. They are now in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol. They were interviewed by the appropriate U.S. authorities on arrival.
The boat is still in the custody of the U.S. Government.*
QUESTION: Well, there's a wire story that said it had been released.
QUESTION: There are several wire stories that said it had been released.
MR. BOUCHER: All right. Well, then you'll have -- I will have to double-check on that. I'm told it's still ours -- that we still have it in our custody. I will double-check.
QUESTION: Can I quickly go back to Iran? I don't know if you've seen this morning, but the IEA spokesman Melissa Fleming said this morning that they were actually notified of Iran's intent for that program back in September. Were you aware of this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I will have to check.
QUESTION: The Chinese court has given a life sentence to Wang Bingzhang. I'm wondering one, if you have any comment on that outcome in this case and two, if you think there's any reason to believe that anti-terrorism charges were brought against him because of his pro-democracy activities.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, our understanding is that he was charged with espionage and terrorism, that he was convicted today to life in prison. This is Mr. Wang Bingzhang, a legal, permanent resident of the United States, and this is a case that we've followed closely.
Our embassy in Beijing and Consulate General in Guangzhou have again registered our deep concerns over lack of due process and China's refusal to admit observers to the proceedings.
We note that many questions about Mr. Wang's case remain unanswered such as those involving the apparent detention by China of Mr. Wang for a six-month period, during which Chinese authorities denied knowing his whereabouts.
Many observers find this denial unconvincing and have raised concerns about Mr. Wang's treatment during that period.
______________ *Update to Spokeman s response: The Government of the United States returned the vessel to the Cuban Border Guard on February 9, 2003.
We also note with deep concern that Mr. Wang's trial was conducted in secret raising questions about the nature of the evidence against him and the lack of due process. And we are particularly concerned by the charge of terrorism in this case, given the apparent lack of evidence and of due process. We've made it clear to China on numerous occasions and at very senior levels that the war on terrorism must not be misused to repress legitimate political grievances or dissent.
QUESTION: Anything on the latest burp in tensions between India and Pakistan?
MR. BOUCHER: India and Pakistan, like all countries, have a sovereign right to determine which diplomats of other states might be accredited to them. However, tensions between India and Pakistan remain high. We continue to believe that both countries should restrain rhetoric and actions that heighten those tensions.
The only way the differences between India and Pakistan can be resolved is through dialogue. The United States and others in the international community will continue to encourage dialogue and confidence building.
QUESTION: And the expulsion of diplomats, then, is one of these things that you think is an action or rhetoric that --
MR. BOUCHER: That raises tension, and we think that those kind of actions should be restrained.
Thank you. [End]
Released on February 10, 2003