State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for April 23
State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for April 23, 2003
Daily Press Briefing Richard Boucher, Spokesman Washington, DC April 23, 2003
ANNOUNCEMENTS 1 Secretary Powell s Upcoming Address to U.S. Asia Pacific Council Symposium
PALESTINE 1-5 Palestinian Prime Minister Designate Abu Mazen s Cabinet List 1-6 Status of Roadmap 3-4 Secretary Powell s Travel Plans to the Region
FRANCE 6-10 Secretary Powell s Talk with French Foreign Minister Villepin
SOUTH ASIA 11-12 Deputy Secretary Armitage Travel to the Region
IRAQ 10-11 Discussions on Lifting Sanctions 10-11 Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction 12 Status of Iraqi Diplomatic Missions Abroad 13-14 Iranian Border Crossings into Iraq 14 Efforts to Find Missing ITN Journalist 14-15 General Garner s Efforts to Promote Iraqi Dialogue
CYPRUS 13 Green Line Crossings / United Nations Good Offices Mission
COLOMBIA / VENEZUELA 16-17 Efforts to Combat Threats by Terrorist Groups
MEXICO 17-18 Status of Diplomatic Dialogue with Mexico
KOREA/CHINA/JAPAN 18-21 Update on Talks in Beijing
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, just at the top, a brief note. I'm not sure if this is a reminder or an announcement, but there will be a piece of paper shortly.
Secretary Powell will be giving an address tomorrow to the U.S. Asia Pacific Council Symposium during a conference that they're having. The conference is 8: 00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Secretary Powell's remarks are expected to begin about 10: 15. It's open for press coverage at the Capital Hilton Hotel, and we'll give you the details on that.
QUESTION: Can you move the microphone up and speak into it?
MR. BOUCHER: Move the microphone up, speak into it.
Okay, that's it. Questions?
QUESTION: Oh, the obvious. Would you care to elate over the agreement reached between Arafat and Abu Mazen, not one of us? It seems to be they've reached an accord and you were push -- the State Department wanted one.
MR. BOUCHER: That's what the wires say.
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. The wires are usually right.
MR. BOUCHER: We welcome the announcement that Palestinian Prime Minister Designate Abu Mazen has formed a cabinet list for submission to the Palestinian Legislative Council. We look forward to speedy confirmation by the Palestinian Legislative Council. The United States also looks forward to working with Abu Mazen and with the Israelis as they begin the hard work of ending the violence and returning to a political process that can achieve the President's vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
As we've said before, upon confirmation of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, we look forward to releasing to the parties the roadmap which offers a way to achieve that vision.
QUESTION: Richard, the Palestinians are saying they want it released now, immediately, even though the legislature hasn't yet voted. So, but --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know who said that. The President has said from the start immediately on confirmation.
QUESTION: Right, okay. Well, my question is, though, how soon, literally -- and I realize -- and I don't want to get into the weeds here, but this is something that we're interested in -- you know, how soon after they do it are you -- is it going to be released, and how, actually, is it going to be released? With great fanfare and trumpets and bugles, or is it just going to be kind of like slipped under the door or something?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check on the trumpets. I think bugles, yes. I'm not sure about the trumpets yet.
But seriously, the President said immediately on confirmation we would release it to the parties. As you know, it's sort of circulating out there in the public domain. I'm sure we'll find a way to make it public, as appropriate.
But the point is, I think, is to start sitting down with the parties, start talking about how to achieve this vision, how to use these steps, how they can start working with each other to carry out these steps and move the process forward to get some real results.
So we are looking at what kind of steps and publicity. I don't have any answers for you at this moment. I am sure there will be, obviously, a lot of interest that we'll try to satisfy. The point, though, is that very soon we would hope the Palestinian Legislative Council will be in a position to vote on this cabinet. As soon as they do, we'll be moving forward then to sit down with the parties, start talking about how to implement the roadmap that's released to the parties, and we'll do the appropriate publicity for that.
QUESTION: And one other thing on this. There's some Palestinians who are saying that someone from the Department -- they don't say who -- actually broke with the longstanding tradition, or tradition of not talking to Chairman Arafat himself, and called him.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, that's a false report. There were three or four just totally inaccurate reports in the press out there about what we had done or what we had said. And that was one of them.
QUESTION: Okay. So there was no contact with Arafat?
MR. BOUCHER: No, no. There was not.
QUESTION: Can I ask a couple of quick follow-ups? First, does the roadmap stand now as it stood months ago? I ask because, you remember, Israelis were here, they had suggestions, modifications -- whatever they are called -- they were being looked at. Maybe the Palestinians offered some, too. So have there been any changes even -- you know, even small changes? And what would you say about what today's action means so far as the Palestinian leadership?
MR. BOUCHER: On the roadmap itself, the roadmap is the roadmap of December when the Quartet last got together, looked at it and decided that these were the series of steps that needed to be carried through in order to achieve the vision of two states.
The parties, we know, have had comments and may have things to say about it. We've heard from them because they are generally familiar with it. And we would expect them to have comments upon its release, as we sit down and start discussing it. What we look forward to discussing with them is how to implement the roadmap, how, especially, they can start getting together and carrying through on these steps and actually moving forward to achieve this vision where the Israelis can live in peace, the Palestinians can live in peace, people can have better lives.
And so the document itself is what it was in December. We expect to hear comments. We expect to talk to people about how it can be implemented.
QUESTION: Okay. And on the bit about leadership, does this look like the kind of turn -- a positive turn?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, the bit of leadership? Well, the President, last June made quite clear what we thought the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians, needed new leadership, needed leadership that was capable of taking care of the problems of security, the problems of finance, the problems of economy, the problems of education, the things that needed to be done for Palestinian lives, but also the things that needed to be done to create a basis for a Palestinian state for achieving that vision. And this is certainly confirmation of this cabinet, will certainly be an important step in that direction. And I think that's why we see it as an opportunity to move forward on the roadmap on our efforts to work with the new leadership there, to work with the Israeli Government, and try to help achieve a better situation for both Israelis and Palestinians.
QUESTION: For the record, what can you say about any travel plans after the roadmap's published by the Secretary and other officials?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary will travel. I confidently predict that he will travel. But, no, I don't have any particular details. As he said, he expects to travel to the Middle East; he expects to stop in Damascus. You all are aware of that. I don't have anything particular to announce at this point.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything particular to announce at this point.
QUESTION: What, in the administration's view, should Arafat's role be at this point? I saw at least one wire report where he says he is going to maintain control of the negotiations with Israel in the future. That, obviously, isn't what you had in mind
MR. BOUCHER: Our view is that it's important to create new institutions and new leadership. That's what the President said last June. And we have, throughout this process, maintained that the prime minister needs to have control over the cabinet, he and his government need to be able to carry out the steps that are required to produce security for Palestinians, to get control and stop the violence, to produce a transparent financial system to, as I said, carry out all of the responsibilities of government.
And in that regard, we think the empowerment of the Prime Minister -- is the word we have used -- and his cabinet is a crucial element in all of this. And that's something that we will obviously pay attention to, and we will work with them and expect them to be able to carry out the functions of a cabinet and to be able to make commitments and meet those commitments.
QUESTION: Richard, when the Secretary goes to the region, does he have any plans to sit down with both parties together, or will he just meet separately with them?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't give you the schedule of meetings on a trip that hasn't been scheduled. We will just have to see what happens.
QUESTION: I'm just asking in general, not about scheduling, just generally.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: Will there be a meeting with those --
MR. BOUCHER: It's too early to describe any particular meetings on any particular trip that I can't describe at this point.
QUESTION: Since this is, in effect, I guess considered a minor regime change, are there any stipulations with that roadmap, or are they subject to change on the types of and the emphasis of the various cabinet type members that Chairman Arafat or Abu Mazen would put into place?
MR. BOUCHER: The roadmap is not based on particular individuals. It's based on the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians, the need for Israelis to be able to live lives of peace and security, the need for Palestinians to be able to feel security, the need to end what we've described as the humiliation of daily life for Palestinians, in many cases, for them to find opportunity, for Israelis to find peaceful lives again. So it's the kind of steps that both the parties can start taking to produce that situation, to end the violence, first and foremost, and then to get on with the path of building towards a Palestinian state over time. It's not based on individual personalities, but the key to having a cabinet is that we hope to have now a leadership that's capable of carrying out these responsibilities and fulfilling these commitments. And that's the important thing.
QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up? From your or the U.S.'s analysis of this cabinet that Abbas wants, does it reflect an improved security situation? The hang-up, apparently, was over who was to be the new security chief. Do you feel that that post, or even other posts, now will be filled in a way that promises more security?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, I don't think the cabinet has been announced and confirmed. Second of all, I don't think it's for us to start commenting on individual personalities involved in this process. What we've stressed all along is, as I've done before, is the need for the prime minister and his cabinet to have control over all the basic, all the important functions, all the important things that need to be done. Security is one of the most important things that needs to be done. And so having people who are in a position to establish security, to start working with the Israelis to make security happen for Israelis and Palestinians, and to start making things happen in terms of their own interaction, that's a key element.
QUESTION: Richard, the Defense Secretary, and I believe the National Security Advisor, are having lunch with the Secretary right now, is that correct?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. It's one of their regular lunches that they have every week. The Secretary is hosting this week. Every week or so depending on scheduling.
QUESTION: Well, I'm not suggesting there's anything unusual about it, but just that right now there's quite a bit going on. What do you expect the main points of the conversation to touch on?
MR. BOUCHER: As with all these meetings, or their phone calls when they talk virtually every day on the phone together, they talk about whatever they feel like at that time, and that's the agenda today.
QUESTION: Whatever they feel like?
MR. BOUCHER: Whatever they want to talk about.
QUESTION: Literally? That's what the agenda is?
MR. BOUCHER: They talk about whatever they want to talk about.
QUESTION: Okay. Well --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to start trying to brief on these meetings in any way. I'm not even going to come close to pretending to.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then perhaps you should ask the guests to arrive by some secret way so that we don't see them coming into the building.
MR. BOUCHER: We're happy for you to see that they're coming into the building.
QUESTION: Well, then you can ask -- you're going to get asked questions about it.
MR. BOUCHER: No, that's fine. And I've confirmed that they're here, but that's as far as I can go.
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on the Secretary's contact with his French colleague?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary spoke this morning with Foreign Minister Villepin. Foreign Minister Villepin, I think, is traveling in Amman, in the Middle East. They talked about a number of subjects that are current and issues between the -- that we share with the French or want to talk about with the French, talk about UN resolutions, Iraq, some of the upcoming things on NATO and the European security relationships, Middle East peace, the Palestinian situation --
QUESTION: Okay. So --
MR. BOUCHER: A conversation that was, I think, reflective of the current relationship we have with France, which is one where we are allies. We want to cooperate and work together where we can, where it's in our interests, but also we have had some fairly strong disagreements lately and we need to also think about how to deal with this and what the implications might be in terms of the kind of cooperation we can have on these issues. So there is definitely a desire to work together where we can.
QUESTION: Am I correct in thinking that after the Secretary's interview yesterday in which he, with a single word, said that the French would face consequences, that the Foreign Minister called the Secretary first to ask for some clarification about what he meant by that?
MR. BOUCHER: The Foreign Minister called the Secretary. You can ask him why he called the Secretary. I'm not going to pretend to describe the reasons for the call. There were issues to discuss, including the discussion that we had yesterday in New York about resolutions, UN resolutions, and lifting of sanctions, in our view, or suspension, in French view, and how to follow on on that and try to work out a position that allowed the UN Security Council to be effective in this matter.
So there were issues that they wanted to discuss. To what extent the Secretary's "Yes," in answer to a question affected it, was a motivation, I don't know. I would say that there have been -- they kind of laughed about some of the exaggerated press reporting of what "yes" means. I think some of the papers have described "yes" as war -- (laughter) --
QUESTION: Well, there are three letters.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I know, 3-letter words, I guess. But one should understand that there can be consequences without war.
QUESTION: Listen, can I please barge in and ask about sanctions in this respect? Yesterday, you seemed to be, and I think it's reasonable, making the distinction between suspending sanctions, which the French said they wanted to do, and lifting them entirely, which the U.S. wanted to do.
Subsequently, it was reported on one large, certain, radio network that there was agreement, that they agreed. Of course, their pieces are about seven seconds long, so there was no second sentence. But is suspension -- is there a language problem here? Are the French where the U.S. is so far as ending sanctions or do they literally mean suspension, which we know doesn't necessarily mean eliminating?
QUESTION: I don't read all the stories, but there was even a wire service story that reported the French as lifting sanctions.
QUESTION: Well, but I wonder if it isn't wrong.
MR. BOUCHER: But, I can't remember which wire it was, so I won't point any fingers. But --
QUESTION: Maybe they got it from CBS.
MR. BOUCHER: But let's -- as we understand it, and I think as the French understand it as well, the United States believes that there is no longer any basis for sanctions. Sanctions should be lifted. The President said that. They should be ended. And we need to get together and talk about how to do that.
At the same time, the French have said suspend it, presumably to be either reinstated or lifted under some future conditions. That's a different view.
It is, as I said yesterday, a move, in our view, in the right direction. It's the recognition that there is a changed situation. We think that changed situation justifies -- in fact, dictates -- that we should lift all the sanctions and not in any way inconvenience the Iraqi people as they try to establish normal relationships and status in the world.
We did say one of the questions we have to deal with as we go forward here is how to make sure that the food still reaches the Iraqi people because so many of them have been dependent on the Oil-for-Food program, so we'll have to discuss that program. And there are a few things like that need to be worked out, but the fundamental issue of lifting the sanctions, as soon as we can work those things out, is something the United States believes strongly about because the conditions are changed.
The fact that the French are recognizing that conditions have changed and starting to move toward, at least, suspension is welcome. There is more work to be done to arrive at a common view in the Security Council, and the Secretary and French Foreign Minister discussed that a little bit today.
QUESTION: I just want to go back to that "yes." Well, the Secretary didn't say no . He said yes.
MR. BOUCHER: That is correct. I can confirm that.
QUESTION: Yes. Right. So perhaps you could tell us, what are these consequences, if there are consequences, which there apparently are? What are they?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the Secretary said, "Yes."
SECRETARY POWELL: He didn't try to describe them at great length, nor will I. I guess the point I would make is that having had disagreements like this in our relationship doesn't change the fact that we're allies, doesn't change the fact that on a daily basis we cooperate in many, many fields, whether it's antiterrorism or finance or sometimes trade policy, various things that we're doing together even around the world.
At the same time, there's obviously an effect on the relationship, on how we look at things, how we evaluate things, and how we look at things we might want to do in going forward, so there are consequences for those things. We will have to take into account the disagreements, have to see to what extent the new cooperation in other areas puts them in the past, but also have to understand that we did have these disagreements, understand that they were serious and difficult, and that that has consequences for the future.
And that's about as far as I can go at this point because it will depend on the issues as we face them in the future, but certainly France fundamentally remains an ally and we look forward to cooperating wherever we find it in our interest to do so.
QUESTION: Okay, are the consequences wholly psychological and atmospheric? Or are there also practical consequences?
MR. BOUCHER: I think in terms of a major event like this, we were partners with some, others were more neutral and some were opposed. That may dictate how certain -- you know, that may influence how we make decisions in the future about things like that. So it's more than philosophical. It potentially -- it will affect how some decisions are made in the future, but I can't predict at this point how they will be.
QUESTION: Okay. Now there was -- as I am sure you have seen -- there was speculation and more about proposals to put more emphasis on the Defense Planning Committee.
MR. BOUCHER: Talked about that a little bit yesterday.
QUESTION: Well, did they talk already about it yesterday. But did it come up in the conversation?
MR. BOUCHER: No, they didn't get to that, any levels like that. They weren't talking about specific elements in the conversation.
QUESTION: Or other consultation fora?
MR. BOUCHER: No, they weren't talking about specific elements.
QUESTION: How about, you know, the economic side of this? The Secretary told several of us, I guess, during -- well, during the war certainly -- that, you know, it would be -- it would be quite natural if the Iraqis themselves remembered who was with them, and who was against them, meaning the anti-Saddam.
MR. BOUCHER: I think he said in testimony that they would probably glance at the list of people who helped them get here.
QUESTION: Well, why do I have the impression that the French are feeling some pain about contracts not going their way? Is this part of the consequences department; that it's possible that French firms won't get the kind of lucrative deals they had with Saddam Hussein?
MR. BOUCHER: Your colleague asked about a couple of specific areas, and asked me to predict that the consequence will be seen there. You are asking me about another area, asking me to predict the consequences would be seen. I can't get in the business of predicting that we'll see them here or we'll see them there. But, certainly, the Iraqis will make those decisions on what they want to do and how they want to sell and contract and run their own economy. And how they make those decisions, I'll leave others to predict.
QUESTION: Richard, am I correct in thinking that the reason that you can't get into specifics about what the consequences are is because they really haven't decided yet, and that it will be kind of on a -- what the consequences will be will only reveal themselves once there is a situation in which they are --
MR. BOUCHER: As issues are addressed in the future, I'd say, yes.
QUESTION: But, okay. So but can you say generally that -- that the consequences will involve your attempts, U.S. attempts to limit French, to water down French influence in whatever decisions --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I wouldn't describe it that way. The goal is to address issues as allies, to address issues together, to cooperate where we can, where we find it in our interest to do so, how we approach some of these issues, how they approach some of these issues. But how we approach some of these issues, how we make decisions on going forward or cooperation will obviously be affected by the pattern of cooperation of the past, or the lack of cooperation on certain issues in the past. So I am just basically saying I am not in the prediction business. But you'll see it probably over time, as we address the various issues before us.
QUESTION: But we will see it? There will be some physical manifestation of it, and not just --
MR. BOUCHER: To quote the Secretary, "Yes."
QUESTION: A different subject.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Steve, same.
QUESTION: The French position that they want UN inspectors to be involved in inspecting the weapons that are found or destroyed, and the U.S. disagrees with that. But how much flexibility can you say there would be on both sides to reach an agreement on lifting the sanctions in return for some role for the inspectors down the road?
MR. BOUCHER: The U.S. position on lifting the sanctions is based on what's already happened. It's based on a new reality, a new situation, and a new opportunity for the people of Iraq. It's not for the world community to negotiate the future of the people of Iraq based this or that proposal in New York. It's for the world community to support Iraq, to help Iraq, to help the Iraqi people get up and running, get back to running their own affairs and having a normal relationship with the world.
So we are not making proposals of that sort. There are certain things that need to be done in order to help the people of Iraq, and we'll keep making those proposals and trying to get the world community to do that. Certainly, the coalition is there helping the people of Iraq, a lot of nongovernmental organizations that are there, the UN is there. So there are a lot of people involved already. To what extent the Security Council can do these things, this really ought to be based on the interest of the people in Iraq, not on some horse trading among members in New York between resolutions.
QUESTION: Well, unless I am wrong, correct me if I am, but some members of the coalition favor some kind of role for the UN inspectors.
MR. BOUCHER: The issue -- okay, let's take -- what I just said is let's divide the two things you raised.
MR. BOUCHER: We have talked about lifting the sanctions, why that's necessary, why it's justified, and why it's a reflection of the new reality. On the issue of UN inspectors or other international inspectors, there was a discussion yesterday with Dr. Blix and the inspectors at the UN. I'm trying to see if I actually have a quote here. But I think the inspectors themselves acknowledged that at this stage that it was not time for civilian inspectors to try to go back into Iraq.
We have said that, first and foremost, the coalition forces have a responsibility for searching out, identifying, securing weapons of mass destruction; and for carrying forward that work in the current environment, finding the people, finding the weapons, and getting that work going. Whether, at some point, there is a role for UN inspection agencies -- and the shape and the scope of that role would be possibly looked at down the road, depending on how this initial stage of identification and securing and work by the coalition forces works out.
QUESTION: Just forgive me. You seem to dismiss the whole idea of, as you said, horse trading on the wording of resolutions. I mean, isn't that something that is a fairly normal activity?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we call it diplomacy and not horse trading. But it is a fairly normal activity in order to address each issue in the appropriate and best possible fashion. We have certainly not put something on the table that crosses lifting of sanctions with a future role for the inspectors. I mean, we are just not doing that kind of linkage. If it comes down to what's the best way to address the lifting of the sanctions, yes, we know we are going to have to go to the UN and talk to others about their views. You already know some of the people who are expressing their views. So that's an issue that we have to work out, and that does involve a certain amount of diplomacy.
QUESTION: Richard, and in addition to his musings on the psychiatric health of former Congressman Gingrich, Deputy Secretary Armitage seems to be --
MR. BOUCHER: We call him Dr. Deputy Secretary Armitage.
QUESTION: Dr. Armitage, yes, seems to be planning a trip to South Asia, according to the Pakistanis at least. Can you confirm that he is going on the 8th and 9th to Delhi and Islamabad?
MR. BOUCHER: What I can tell you is that Deputy Secretary Armitage is planning on traveling May 5th to 11th to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Preparations are underway. Some appointments and exact itineraries are still to be determined. As you know, we have a strong and continuing interest in our relationships with South Asian countries and in promoting peace and stability in the region. Deputy Secretary Armitage will travel to further those goals.
QUESTION: Is there any reason why he is not going to Sri Lanka, which he seems to be -- is it just because he has been in --
MR. BOUCHER: It's a big region and he has been here and there on various trips. This particular trip, he is going to be able to go to these three places.
QUESTION: Okay. And can you give us a -- well, obviously, India and Pakistan are somewhat separate from -- the situation between those two are somewhat separate than Afghanistan. Can you go into any more detail about what he plans to do at the two different stops?
MR. BOUCHER: Certainly, each of these individual stops is important for the relationships, the work that's ongoing with those individual governments -- Afghanistan, strong U.S. support for the government, for the political process, and the reconstruction process and the Deputy Secretary has a chance to push that forward by his visit.
India and Pakistan, each of which represents for us an important relationship, there are plenty of bilateral issues, how to further the progress in those relationships; and then there is also the relationship between India and Pakistan looking for more steps that can be taken to ease the tensions, stop the infiltration, ease the tensions, look towards a dialogue between the two.
So without getting more specific, at this point, we'll see where we are when he actually goes. But there is always ways to further that process that I am sure he will want to discuss.
QUESTION: In Afghanistan, is he going to show up with a bag of asphalt or something?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that that's necessary, frankly, since they are already going 120 kilometers down the road. But I don't have any specifics, at this point, on what he may or may not have to work on there.
Okay, Nick. Go to the back.
QUESTION: Richard, yesterday, I asked about Iraqi embassies that might be still operating in different countries. Did you have anything today on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's see. It's all sometimes a mystery to me on what I'm going to find. Well, some Iraqi missions have closed, while some remain open. We have reminded all countries of their Vienna Convention responsibilities to protect Iraqi diplomatic property and respect its inviolability.
So I think, obviously, it's difficult to do a full counting in this situation. Some places, the ambassadors or diplomats themselves may have decided it was time to skip town. Other places, the governments may have taken some action. So we are in touch with other governments, reminding everybody of their responsibility to safeguard the property for the Iraqi people, but I can't give you the count on the status yet.
Okay, I was going to head towards the back.
QUESTION: Do you have anything new on Cyprus? As of today, some Turkish Cypriots began to cross the border, cross the other side of the island after Mr. Denktash's decision to let free these crossings and the Greek side has signed the EU membership agreement.
MR. BOUCHER: On the crossings, the reports I saw indicated that people had, indeed, been going both ways across the green line and that's a good thing. We strongly support the principle of freedom of movement and we welcome genuine measures that have the potential to increase contact and understanding between the two communities, and thus, improve the atmosphere in which to create a just and durable settlement.
We note that numerous crossings of the green line took place today by Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. We look forward to learning more about the measures and procedures for the implementation of these crossings.
The United States remains strongly committed to seeking a just and durable settlement to the Cyprus problem in the context of the UN Good Offices mission. We welcome any measures that contribute to that outcome. We believe the way to a comprehensive settlement that's called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1475 is for the sides to resume talks under the auspices of the UN Good Offices mission and on the basis of the Secretary General's just and comprehensive peace plan.
QUESTION: Richard, several weeks ago, or maybe it was a month ago, Secretary Powell was asked by the wife of an ITN journalist whether --
MR. BOUCHER: Mrs. Nehrak?
QUESTION: Yes, whether he had any information about it, whether it was friendly fire, and the Secretary said at the time that he was looking into that. Do you have anything?
MR. BOUCHER: He has, indeed, looked into that. I think subsequently he's written her at least one letter. He's instructed our people in NATO to be in touch with her. But more than that, he keeps asking and keeps instructing people here to follow up on this.
We've been working with the Pentagon and with CENTCOM to find out what we can about the disappearance of her husband. It's certainly a difficult and confusing situation. We have been able to do some checks here and there on some of the bits of information that came out, but really haven't turned up anything very detailed at this point, so we're keeping in touch with her. The Secretary's got us all pursuing this to find out whatever we can and to make sure that we are trying to satisfy her desire to know what happened to her husband.
QUESTION: Richard, can you say whether this government has been in touch with Iran about Iranians who are coming across the border into Iraq, seemingly to cause trouble?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer is, I don't know. I don't think so. I think the way I have to put it is we've generally been in touch with people in the region, and certainly we've been in touch with people who talk to people in the region, meaning friends of ours, people we talk to who have contacts with the Iranian Government and others, to make clear that outside parties need to keep from any interference, keep from any particular interference with different groups, and need to do whatever they can to prevent Iraqis from escaping, Iraqi regime officials from escaping, or otherwise affecting the situation for the worse.
There are a lot of groups involved now in Iraq. The flowering of Iraqi politics on such a rather quick basis is really something to behold in some ways. You have groups from outside that are coming in that are setting up operations, meeting with followers, trying to make contacts among local people. You have groups of local people who have been coming forward. You've got local officials, people who can do things and run things, coming forward and getting organized -- town council in Umm Qasr, the people that are helping to work with the coalition with the British forces in Basra.
And you also have this phenomenon of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi pilgrims now making a pilgrimage they haven't been able to make for 20 years. And all that becomes possible because of the new situation that's been created by the coalition forces, the new atmosphere of freedom that we've been able to create that leads to this emergence of politicking in Iraq, which is a good thing, as well as the ability of Iraqis to celebrate their religious liberty for the first time in two decades.
So we're following all this very closely. As you know, General Garner is out there with his team now to help promote dialogue among Iraqis, among all these different groups that have an interest in the future of Iraq. They had a meeting in Nasiriyah. The next meeting that was looked at for Saturday looks like it will now be Monday because of weather conditions and logistical factors, but they'll have another meeting Monday in Baghdad as part of a series of meetings for Iraqis to get together and start discussing their own future, start discussing how to form an Iraqi interim authority to really take charge of their own future.
QUESTION: Richard, on that -- you know, Iraq and Iran are neighbors and they've had long, close contacts for many, many centuries, especially the Shiites.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, some of them not so pleasant.
QUESTION: Well. It's a messy business. But when you say outside interference, can you be a bit more precise about that? Because, you know, it's really going to be very difficult to distinguish between different forms of outside influence and so on, given the fluidity, cultural and religious fluidity. Can you say exactly what it is you object to --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that I can give you a precise list of things that people shouldn't be doing. Certainly, we have made very clear that the introduction of armed forces or armed groups from outside of Iraq, the harboring of individuals who may go back and, you know, might find safe haven or go back and forth across the border, these were things that were not only inappropriate, but sometimes dangerous, and that shouldn't be allowed at all.
There are Iraqis who have been outside the country who are going back because they are Iraqis. And as you say, yes, there are intellectual and other influences and contacts and social contacts, certainly, from all these places -- and that's not what we object to. But to start inserting organized, outside political forces or military forces is something that we don't think is appropriate in this situation.
QUESTION: Okay, can I just follow up? You, presumably, are referring to the SCIRI's militia force here or including that in your --
MR. BOUCHER: Any kind of organized, outside military force.
QUESTION: But SCIRI was part of the INC at one stage and still is loosely affiliated with it. The Pentagon seems to have taken in its own militia force, the FIF. Why would you object to -- why do you have this double standard on SCIRI bringing in its own armed force, which is just as authentically Iraqi as the FIF, as well as the --
MR. BOUCHER: The Iraqi freedom fighters were with coalition forces, working with coalition forces on the goal of creating a free Iraq. The security situation in Iraq is still a difficult one, it's still a potentially dangerous one, and we don't need other people running around with guns. That's a simple way to put it.
QUESTION: But Richard, can I just follow up on that? Your critics are -- especially inside Iraq are going to say, "What makes the United States think that it can have a political influence by holding these political meetings and saying that --
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard that said at all inside Iraq.
QUESTION: I think, I think it's fairly --
MR. BOUCHER: The United States has encouraged a broadly -- broad participation -- different groups, different regions, different people. We'll continue to do that in this series of meetings. And I think anybody who has any doubts on that can just look at the facts of the broad participation in these meetings and that will continue.
QUESTION: Richard, there is a point to be made now about introduction of outside forces when, in fact, regardless of whether they were cooperating with the --
MR. BOUCHER: We introduced some outside forces. We recognize that.
QUESTION: Yes. So can you say that it's particularly Iranian-backed outside forces that you don't want?
MR. BOUCHER: No. We have held the same position in the north of Iraq, the east, the south and the west of Iraq that -- and terrorist groups -- the same thing applies. Coalition forces are in there to do a job that had to be done: changing a regime that was developing weapons of mass destruction; identifying and finding those weapons of mass destruction; and making sure that Iraq would no longer threaten its own people and its neighbors in the way it has for so many years in the past.
For coalition forces to achieve that goal and provide security and safety for ordinary Iraqis, it's necessary, I would say obvious, you can't have armed groups running around under any pretext. And we have worked cooperatively with some, and militarily against others, to make sure that there weren't people doing that.
QUESTION: You might want to tell the Pentagon about that because they have got about 250,000 armed guys running around. And they are not --
MR. BOUCHER: Any other armed groups that are not ours or working with us.
QUESTION: Back to the Western Hemisphere for a moment. Things have gotten so hot on the Colombian-Venezuelan border that the presidents have agreed to meet today in Venezuela. But before the arrival of the Colombian President, Chavez charged that there were outside powers trying to divide the two countries, and that one of his main generals, Lopez Trujillo, who is the head of the National Defense Council, has charged the United States with direct participation and promotion of the events of last April.
Now, he has been answered by the press attaché of the American Embassy. But I wonder, are you going to let this other situation go by without comment? I know that there has been an effort to get a regional --
MR. BOUCHER: You are going to end up talking more than I am, but go right ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I get so little opportunity to talk --
MR. BOUCHER: I know.
QUESTION: -- with that crowd up in front.
MR. BOUCHER: First of all -- and the second issue, as you say, has already been addressed. On the first issue, the question of Colombia and Venezuela, I think we have actually expressed ourselves many, many times on this, and the need to end any form of support for terrorism, the need to make sure that their relations reflect that, and the need to them -- for them to work cooperatively together.
So we are very supportive of whatever they can do, whatever President Uribe can do, working with the Venezuelans to end the threat to Venezuelans by the FARC or other groups -- threat to Colombia by the FARC or other groups.
QUESTION: Is the effort that was made to get a regional focus on this problem -- I think it started in Bogotá a few months ago. Has there been any follow-up?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll go back and see if there is anything new on that.
QUESTION: Just about your disagreements with France and the Security Council in regards to Iraq will have consequences for future decisions when it comes to the bilateral relations. Mexico did not back the Iraqi invasion. And will there be the same sort of policy towards Mexico?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want people to go wildly speculating, as apparently some of the press did after the Secretary said yes yesterday. So I am not even inclined to say yes.
QUESTION: But you are not saying no?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have relationships with countries and people that are based on the ability to cooperate or the inability to cooperate on various issues. In all of these relationships, you know, we have very close cooperation with many nations, including our neighbors and our allies, and we want that to continue. We want to promote that and foster that. How things work out in the future will, to a great extent, depend on whether the events of the past have any implications for the future, and whether they have any effect on how we view issues that come up in the future.
That's about all I can say. It's kind of philosophical, but it's just common sense that, you know, what happened happened. It did not happen, it happened, and we had different views. And as we go into the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, we'll have to take that into account. That's all we're saying.
QUESTION: And just to follow up, if I may. On NAFTA, it's going to be 10 years since NAFTA was launched by the United States, Mexico, and Canada. I'd like to know -- this a very difficult question -- but your opinion of the results of NAFTA for 10 years, and if the United States, at this point, will be willing to change any sort of part of the agreement.
MR. BOUCHER: NAFTA is great.
QUESTION: I mean --
MR. BOUCHER: And you can check. You can get all of the statistics from the Trade Representatives Office and Commerce, and I'm sure my Economic Bureau can provide you with abundant evidence of the improvements that NAFTA has led to, in terms of our lives, the lives of Canadians and Mexicans, and the kind of economic benefits it has brought to North America. There is no question about that in our minds.
And, as you see, in many other parts of the world now, we are working to expand the network of free trade agreements. But we are also working to deepen and improve NAFTA itself. And whereas, you know from the meetings the President has had -- going back to the meeting in Quebec -- of hemispheric free trade and his meetings with President Fox, we are always looking for ways that we can improve and deepen NAFTA. Nothing specific at this moment, but as a general proposition, it's good and we can make it better.
QUESTION: President Fox announced a meeting between the representatives of the there governments for June to modify the agreement. Do you know anything about that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know about that. I'll have to check.
QUESTION: Can I go back to that? I just want to clarify something you didn't refute from the first question, and that is about the consequences of Mexico. The reason that France may face and will face these things is not simply because of UN Security Council opposition, correct? France also --
MR. BOUCHER: The disagreements with France were much more acute. France didn't just disagree with our policy; they actively lobbied against it. There were a variety of elements involved that made the disagreements with France perhaps more acute certainly than others who just didn't vote for us.
QUESTION: Including in NATO, of which Mexico is not a member of the last time I checked?
MR. BOUCHER: There were the issues in NATO over coming to the support and defense of an ally, Turkey, and we had to do that, as we have I think pointed out before, as some of your colleagues have pointed out, in the DPC rather than in an act because there were questions.
Okay. Let's start the rest. Ma'am.
QUESTION: Have you heard anything on whether progress is being made with North Korea and China at all?
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing really new. They had meetings on today, Wednesday, in Beijing. This is a chance, an initial set of meetings, as we said. I am looking to record progress, or, frankly, or provide any particular schedule. We'll take enough time, give people a chance to lay out their views for us to explain our positions on these issues, for the Chinese to explain theirs, for the North Koreans to explain theirs. That's what we're looking for out of this. No particular other news at this point.
There are a few others. Ma'am.
QUESTION: Can you characterize the general atmosphere or the interaction so far among the three participants? Is like friendly, productive, or --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think I am going to do that. I think you know our views all I think there is to report at this point is the -- what's going on out there. The delegation -- Assistant Secretary Kelly and his delegation had talks with China, and North Korea in Beijing today. In the morning Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted the U.S. delegation for breakfast. Multilateral talks began later in the morning and went into late afternoon, with all three sides participating and presenting their views. Assistant Secretary Kelly and his delegation also briefed South Korean and Japanese diplomats in Beijing on today's meetings.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) was the three-way meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have the exact times. It began later in the morning, went into late afternoon.
QUESTION: What role would the U.S. like to see China play in Beijing's three-way talks?
MR. BOUCHER: China has stated their role. The Chinese role is as a full participant in the talks. That's what we're looking for them to do.
QUESTION: And would you say China and the U.S. are full and equal partners in working to resolve the concerns about North Korea's tensions?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say everybody at the table is full and equal. This is a chance for everybody to put forward their own views, and that's what we expect from China. That's what we're doing ourselves.
Go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: Are they going to talk about the next round of talk within this three-day meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: Don't know. And I don't know exactly, you know, how many meetings will be held.
QUESTION: Richard, last time you went on this (inaudible) quite a while later that there had been a huge surprise in the meeting. Any surprises this time? (Laughter.) Any new nuclear program?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to try to brief on the substance or characterize the talks, or characterize issues that may or may not have come up. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Richard, do you expect them to have another -- another session tomorrow?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes -- well --
MR. BOUCHER: It's 1 a.m. in Beijing, so it's late today.
QUESTION: Right, today.
MR. BOUCHER: But, anyway.
MR. BOUCHER: On Thursday? I don't know. I don't have his schedule at this point. As I said, it's a chance -- they're going to need to take enough time for the sides to lay out their views, and we'll see how long that takes.
QUESTION: There has been a senior Russian diplomat, whose last name begins with L, but I can't remember the whole thing. He's a Deputy or a Vice Deputy Foreign Minister.
MR. BOUCHER: Luchekov?
QUESTION: Yes, I think so. Predicted something catastrophic may happen very soon in North Korea. Do you have any idea what this guy is talking about?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. You can ask him. He is their Vice Foreign Minister or Deputy Foreign Minister -- I can't remember which -- who has been working on North Korea. He's the one who traveled out there. We've talked to him before -- if it's the one who begins with L that I am thinking of.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Japanese diplomats until (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there was a meeting with Japanese diplomats and South Korean diplomats in Beijing already.
QUESTION: Can you tell us more?
MR. BOUCHER: No, they met to talk about today's discussions.
QUESTION: So it was after the --
MR. BOUCHER: After the meetings that we had -- after the multilateral meetings. [End]
Released on April 23,