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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for May 27

Daily Press Briefing Richard Boucher, Spokesman Washington, DC May 27, 2003

INDEX:

CHINA 1, 16 Dialogue with Dalai Lama on Tibet

DEPARTMENT 1-2 President s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Signing Ceremony

CANADA 2-3 Efforts to Fight SARS Outbreaks 13 Canadian Legislation Decriminalizing Marijuana

IRAN 3-4, 9 Cooperative Dialogue with Iranians 4-5 Discussion on Nuclear Weapons Programs 4-7 Alleged al-Qaida Presence in Iran 5-6 Calls for More Democratic System 8-9 Efforts to Combat Terrorism

RUSSIA 7-8 U.S. Proposal to End Nuclear Cooperation with Iran

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS 10-12 Status of Road Map Dialogue 11-12 Plans for Quartet Meetings

VENEZUELA 13-14 Referendum Agreement 13-14 U.S.-Venezuela Relations

GUATEMALA 14 Presidential Electoral Process

NORTH KOREA 15 Push for Multilateral Talks to End Nuclear Program

FRANCE 15-16 Visa Status of French Journalists / Letter from Reporters Without Borders

KENYA 16 Reports of Kenyan Finance Minister Meeting with Assistant Secretary Kansteiner

TRANSCRIPT:

MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I would like to start off and talk about two things. One is the question involving Tibet and the other is the signing of the AIDS bill this afternoon at the State Department.

We were pleased to learn that Mr. Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's Special Envoy, and his delegation were received by Chinese officials on May 25th in Shanghai. We understand this is a follow-on trip to a September 2002 visit when the two sides renewed contact. And we look forward to hearing more at the conclusion of the talks.

The President and the Secretary have continued to discuss with Chinese leaders the need for substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives to resolve longstanding differences. The Administration will follow this development with great interest and we hope this trip will bring both sides closer to engaging in dialogue.

Second, on the signing of the AIDS bill, I think you all have the basic notices on this. Let me just say a few things about it. The law that the President will sign today is the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2003. The ceremony will be held in the Dean Acheson room here at the State Department.

The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is the largest single up-front commitment in history for an international public health initiative involving a specific disease. The $15 billion proposed by the President and authorized in the legislation almost triples the current U.S. Government spending on fighting HIV/AIDS internationally.

The Act authorizes $3 billion a year for five years to fund international HIV/ AIDS programs, including the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/ AIDS, TB and Malaria, with up to $1 billion in 2004. The Act, when funded, will significantly improve the lives of millions. It is intended to provide treatment to 2 million people affected by HIV, prevent 7 million new HIV infections, and provide care and support for 10 million people living with HIV/ AIDS, including children who have orphaned by the disease.

The legislation calls for the creation of a new position at the State Department -- the Coordinator of the United States Government Activities to Combat AIDS Globally. The position -- the person will be appointed by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and will report directly to the Secretary of State. The Coordinator will be responsible for coordination and oversight of all resources and activities of the U.S. Government in the fight against HIV/ AIDS.

In addition to the 14 countries that are targeted by the President's Emergency Plan, the United States will continue its other programs to fight HIV/AIDS throughout the world. The United States has bilateral activities to combat HIV/ AIDS in more than 50 countries around the world.

The United States Government is firmly committed to working together with its partners in the fight against HIV/AIDS around the world. The President's signing of the law signals to the rest of the world that action by all countries is needed in the war against AIDS, and the signing will allow the United States to begin delivering life-threatening -- life-saving drug treatments when the appropriations process is completed.

So that's the information on what's being done today, and I think there will be more information at the event.

I'm glad to take questions on this or other topics.

QUESTION: Do you expect someone to be named to that position today?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure. No, I wouldn't expect anybody to be named today, that I know of.

QUESTION: And does the Administration have any reason to believe that it will get all the money that it's seeking through the appropriations committees?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, this money has now been authorized.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: I'm wondering if you have guarantees from the appropriators you're actually going to get the money.

MR. BOUCHER: I, frankly, don't know. I'm not sure how they've worked this one in the Congress, so I'd have to check on that for you.

QUESTION: What about SARS, the other (inaudible). It's moving faster than HIV, as we see right now in Canada.

MR. BOUCHER: The question of SARS, I think, is one that the United States Government has been heavily involved in. The Centers for Disease Control have been working with governments and health officials around the world to get on top of that disease and to do everything we can to combat it. So it's not -- I guess no disease is a lesser priority, but everything is handled appropriately. The Centers for Disease Control can tell you more about what we're doing in that regard.

QUESTION: Richard, with respect to these typical diseases that people are dying from in Africa, such as sleeping sickness, TB and others, there's a group, Doctors Without Borders, that just testified in the House of Representatives Rayburn Building that the pharmaceutical companies are not coming out with sufficient quantities of typical drugs that can deal with that. Is there any legislation or any other type of jaw-boning that can be done to these -- with these pharmaceutical groups?

MR. BOUCHER: This Administration has worked a lot on the question of making drugs available, especially in Africa and places, poor countries where the drugs might not be available, both for AIDS in terms of anti-retrovirals, anti -- drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission. And we continue to work on those things. We try to make sure the highest quality drugs, medications, are available, including the drugs to treat opportunistic infections at the lowest possible price. And all medications that can be assured of quality can be selected for that program and we have worked with other governments in terms of the international rules governing those -- the sale and the production of drugs in emergency situations to make sure that that was not an impediment.

QUESTION: Can we move on to Iran, perhaps? The Secretary said this morning that contacts with Iran will continue. Was he referring to the direct, face-to-face meetings in Geneva?

MR. BOUCHER: He was referring to a variety of ways that we have to communicate our views with Iran when we find it necessary and appropriate, and that will continue. I'm not going to get into any particular channel or any particular way at this point.

QUESTION: Can you -- so you can't say whether the Geneva channel is open or closed?

MR. BOUCHER: I can't say whether any particular means of communicating will be used again and at what point it might be used again, but we have a variety of ways to make clear our views to Iran and we will continue to use all the ones that are appropriate.

QUESTION: Can you say when the last time one of these variety of ways was used to get in touch with the Iranians?

MR. BOUCHER: They're used all the time.

QUESTION: So every day?

MR. BOUCHER: Every day may be kind of an exaggeration, but when there's something important, like the need for Iran to live up to the international responsibilities that all countries have under Resolution 1373 to fight terrorism, to prevent safe haven, when there are messages and information like that that we want to make sure Iran understands, we find a variety of ways, and that goes on. For example, we have ways of passing messages, but we also have friends, Europeans and others, who might share the same views who might be passing messages as well.

George.

QUESTION: The National Council of Resistance in Iran held a news conference this morning and they said they came across two previously undisclosed facilities for production of -- uranium enrichment facilities, and they also said they have made known their information to the proper authorities in the U.S. Government.

Do you know anything about this?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know anything specifically about that. I would have to check and see if we have any particular information of our own that could confirm it. I have made clear that one of our longstanding concerns about Iran has been the nuclear programs, has been what we consider to be nuclear weapons programs, and that that information that's come out in recent months about the full scope, nuclear fuel cycle that Iran was putting together, raises those concerns and I think puts those concerns more clearly in front of the international community. So we continue to pursue the effort. We look for a full and complete report from the International Atomic Energy Agency Director, Director ElBaradei, when the IAEA Board is expected to take this up in mid-June.

Elise.

QUESTION: Could you discuss -- last week, you alluded to the fact that you -- the Administration alluded to the fact that al-Qaida members could be in Iran, could be transiting through the country. Could you tell us where you think that that stands? Do you think that Iran is providing safe haven to these al-Qaida members? They have said that have detained some of them. Could you flesh out a little bit what your understanding of what this is --

MR. BOUCHER: I can't flesh it out. We have not received any particular information on what Iran may or may not have done. I have noted their public statements that say that they have detained some people, that they say they don't know who they are yet. I have noted public statements that say -- that note that in the past they have even expelled people to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan at times. But at this point, we don't have any particular information on Iran, what they've done or what they might do, so I can't really clarify it for you.

QUESTION: Are you -- can I follow up, Richard?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you talking about direct information that they've shared with you? Or you don't have any information that perhaps they might have passed along to other members of -- that met up the Geneva process last week?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have -- we have not acquired any particular information at this point on what their -- what they might be doing with regard to the presence of al-Qaida people there.

QUESTION: I have two things. On Elise's point, when you say you have not received particular information, you're not referring to the vast amount of information that you have from intelligence or other sorts of things; you're just talking about from the Iranians?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I mean transmitted information of some kind.

QUESTION: The Secretary also said that the Iran policy had not changed. Not to be flip, but it's very hard to discern what the American Iran policy is given the various statements coming from different buildings in Washington.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it should be that difficult. I'll read you the White House statement from July 12th, 2002, which I just happen to have with me. Let me just read you the first paragraph.

"We have seen throughout history the power of one simple idea: when given a choice, people will choose freedom. As we witnessed over the past few days -- this is in relation to the demonstrations that were being held -- the people of Iran want the same freedoms, human rights and opportunities as people around the world. The government should listen to their hopes.

So, first and foremost, I think, is the basic policy of siding with the Iranian people and their call for the Iranian Government to -- for democratic reform, for more openness for its society, for modernization of the society with the rest of the world.

Second of all, I think it has always been the longstanding positions that we have expressed here and the White House and elsewhere that we have expressed our concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons programs, we have expressed concerns about Iran's support for terrorism, particularly groups like Hezbollah, but also questions now of whether or not al-Qaida members are in Iran and what Iran should be doing about it.

We have also expressed our concern about their opposition to the Middle East peace process and Iran's poor human rights record. Those essentially four things -- terrorism, nuclear developments, Middle East -- opposition to the peace process -- and poor human rights record -- have been standard issues that we have sought to raise with Iran in a variety of ways.

QUESTION: Well, just one and I'll stop on this. But when you say -- when you talk about the July 12th statement, two things related to that. Is the U.S. Government planning to give support to the July 9th general strike that's being planned in Iran?

And maybe you could clear up, if you're supporting people who want a democratic referendum in the country, is that the same as supporting a change in regime in Tehran?

MR. BOUCHER: There are people in Iran who are calling for a more democratic system, including demonstrators. We are expressing our sentiments. We are expressing our views, our policies that we side with them in terms of wanting more democracy and more openness. That's, I think, a clear policy of the United States we've always held. I don't know that I can take it any steps beyond that, but that's clearly what the policy is.

Jon.

QUESTION: Is it your position on -- that there are al-Qaida members in Iran? You seem unclear about it.

MR. BOUCHER: It is our -- yes, we have said that there are al-Qaida members in Iran and that Iran needs to deal with them in accordance with their international responsibilities that all countries have under Resolution 1373. Resolution 1373 requires all countries to deny safe haven to those who plan, support or commit terrorist acts and to affirmatively take steps to prevent the commission of terrorist acts by providing early warning to other states by exchange of information.

QUESTION: Is it your position that the Iranian Government is knowingly harboring them, or that it's just a leaky border that hasn't --

MR. BOUCHER: I have not been able to talk about that any further at this point in terms of what we might know or think about how they are -- where they are. The Iranian Government now says they have some of these people in custody, so certainly the resolution would apply to the country as a whole, and particularly to people that they might have in custody. The issue is not -- I mean, you have to do these things under the UN resolution. Countries have to take charge of this area, have to make sure that their territory is not being used as safe haven, make sure their territory is not being used to plan terrorist attacks. That's the requirement of the resolution. Barry.

QUESTION: Can I ask about a fine point? If I heard the Secretary right, he said, just before he said we don't approve of their reported terrorist activities, when you speak of Iran and terrorist activities, it's support for terrorism --

MR. BOUCHER: "We do not approve of their support for terrorist activities."

QUESTION: It's support?

QUESTION: It's not "reported," it's "support."

QUESTION: Oh, support. I thought he said -- it's support.

MR. BOUCHER: That's what he said.

QUESTION: No one is accusing Iran of being directly in the terrorism business, but sponsoring it, supporting it?

MR. BOUCHER: Support takes a variety of forms. You can see in Patterns of Global Terrorism the extent to which Iran has been involved in supporting terrorism in a variety of ways.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Richard, maybe I missed this, but did you -- did you ever say whether you gave the Iranians a list of specific names of people you thought might be in Iran?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I didn't.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: And do you have any comment --

MR. BOUCHER: That's not a question I can answer. Sorry.

QUESTION: Did there -- do you have any comment on the Russian statement that they intend to continue cooperating with Iran on the Bushehr reactor?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any specific comment on the Russian statement. I think they put forward some proposals on how they might be willing to do that. Whether Iran is or is not willing to do that, would obviously might be an indicator of their intentions.

But our view has been that Iran's clandestine nuclear weapons program is such that Russia and other members should join the Nuclear Supplier Group in ending all nuclear cooperation with Iran. Secretary Powell and President Putin discussed this issue in Moscow on May 14th. As you know, we have had an ongoing series of exchanges with the Russian Government on that issue. We all have a mutual interest in assuring that Iran abide by its Nonproliferation Treaty obligations not to develop nuclear weapons, and we share concerns about grave risks to the region and to our security interests posed by a nuclear weapons-capable Iran. So we are working together with Russia in that regard and we look for any positive movement in this direction. But our view remains that it is important for everybody to end nuclear cooperation with Iran.

QUESTION: It sounds like you're disappointed that the Russians should be effectively saying --

MR. BOUCHER: No, I will let the Russians explain their own statement. We will see if the Iranians agree to whatever it is the Russians have proposed. But our view and our dialogue continues as we look forward to the report that we expect to get from the IAEA in June.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up? Are you seeing positive elements in what the Russians said?

MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not going to try to dissect for you the Russian statement. They'll have to analyze it on their own.

QUESTION: Last week when the Russian Defense Minister was here, at the conclusion of his talks a senior Russian official -- he couldn't -- was asked not to speak in name -- spoke of the light water reactor as being extremely comparable to the light water reactor in North Korea that the U.S. was willing to help supply, that it was no more -- well, not putting words into his mouth. He said it's the same situation, implying that it's a civilian use reactor.

Does the U.S. dispute that what they're doing with the reactor itself isn't really contributing to their nuclear program, weapons program?

MR. BOUCHER: The position that we have always held is that Iran was engaged in a much broader program, that they were using the nuclear reactor as cover for acquisitions, for expertise, for exchanges, for a much broader program. And now it's becoming increasingly clear that that broader program that we had always talked about, in fact, exists. It's a full nuclear fuel cycle program. There is a no reason for a country like Iran, which flares off more gas in a year than it would ever get from these nuclear programs, no reason for a country like Iran to have those programs. It just doesn't make sense for anything other than nuclear weapons, and therefore we think it is not appropriate for -- not in anybody's interest to be helping Iran with its nuclear programs.

QUESTION: Richard, since the ceasefire deal and then the disarmament deal with the People's Mujahedin in Iraq, have you guys started to take steps to remove them from the list of terrorist organizations?

MR. BOUCHER: Why?

QUESTION: Well, I'm just curious as to why, once again, you know, the sister, this group, the National Council of Resistance, has been allowed to hold a press conference on U.S. soil when it's deemed a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

MR. BOUCHER: Once again, I have to refer you to the Justice Department for questions about their status.

QUESTION: Is the State Department at all upset that its -- that the Secretary's judgment on this group seems to be being flouted by the Justice Department? Are they --

MR. BOUCHER: I refer you to the Justice Department, which has the final decision on their status in the United States.

QUESTION: How is this different from when the PFLP holds a press conference to talk about stuff in Damascus?

MR. BOUCHER: Again, I refer you to the Department of Justice for questions about their status in the United States.

QUESTION: Well, I'm sorry. Well, can you explain, then, you know, what the -- how the State Department views this designation? Is this a designation that the Department takes seriously, that this group is a Foreign Terrorist Organization?

MR. BOUCHER: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. And then you don't take a position on them giving press conferences down the street from the White House?

MR. BOUCHER: The question of the ties, the relationships and the status in the United States is something the Justice Department has to account for. I think I've told you about 12 times I'm not going to answer the question. You can keep asking it again and again, if you want.

QUESTION: Well, I'm going to bring it up every time they have a press conference.

MR. BOUCHER: It's not anywhere I'm going to go.

QUESTION: Can we switch subjects?

QUESTION: No.

MR. BOUCHER: I'd love to. Elise.

QUESTION: There has been a lot of talk in the last couple of days, maybe some of it overblown, about whether there is a Principals Meeting or Senior Officials Meeting on Iran to discuss any kind of who-next steps on policy. Would it be -- without talk -- well, if you could talk about whether there is a meeting or if a meeting's coming up. But if not, would it be accurate to say that you're reviewing all your policy options in -- perhaps to take a new policy direction on Iran, or coming to some kind of policy review on Iran?

MR. BOUCHER: Great story. Not true. No, it would be inaccurate to say that. It would be accurate to say what the Secretary of State told you this morning: "Our policies with respect to Iran have not changed." That's what would be accurate.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, they haven't changed yet, but are they in the process of --

MR. BOUCHER: No, don't -- I'm sorry, our policies toward Iran have not changed. We're not in the process of changing them. We're always looking at how we operate under those policies. But as the Secretary has said, we have ways of communicating, we have ways of contacting them, and we would expect to do so again.

QUESTION: I know your Mideast policy, but I wonder if it's spring a leak. There's been a postponement in the next meeting between the Palestinian and Israeli Prime Ministers, apparently without a new date set, and there are mixed accounts already. One account, which happens to be the Israeli account, is that the Palestinians said Mr. Mazen has to confer with Mr. Arafat before he could go ahead, and that makes relevant the remark that a senior official said Friday, I believe, that Arafat is trying to undercut the process.

Having said all that, is there anything you'd like to say about the delay? You may know -- you probably know more than I do whether it's a real delay or just a technical delay, and what does it mean to your process.

MR. BOUCHER: I am told that whatever delay there is is for technical reasons. It's up to the two parties to set the time of their meetings. As you know, we have strongly supported the meeting that they held on May 17th, which I believe, if I remember correctly, took place after two or three postponements.

QUESTION: Exactly, yes.

MR. BOUCHER: And exactly more or less the same situation we're in today, with dates that hadn't been set and nobody knew and then suddenly, then it happened. And that meeting was one of the outgrowths of the Secretary's trip, if we go back not to the whole history but very recently, things that the Secretary was working on during a visit out there were, number one, two parties meeting. That is now happening. And we certainly continue to work with both sides to build upon those contacts of May 17th and to encourage them to continue those meetings.

The second was the question of acceptance of the roadmap and implementation of the roadmap, and that is something that we are now seeing accepted by both sides and implementation beginning.

And the third was practical steps, practical steps so that the parties can make life easier for each other, life easier for Israelis and Palestinians, and that is something we continue to work on.

QUESTION: Do you want to step into the semantic thicket of occupation?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Because the Israelis are now saying -- and I'm not saying that I understand this, I'm just saying they're saying he wasn't saying -- the Prime Minister -- that the West Bank is occupied, he was speaking of Palestinian people living under occupation. Don't ask me to explain that. But is this something --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't speak Hebrew. Maybe you can --

QUESTION: No, I don't either. But can you tell me --

MR. BOUCHER: -- explain it that way.

QUESTION: Whatever you make out that he said, what do you think of it?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't make out anything in what he said. I'm not going to pretend to analyze the words. I'll just say the United States has always called it occupied territory. We have -- look at our Human Rights Reports for umpteen years and you'll find that's always the designation.

QUESTION: Richard, on that, just as a general principle, though, are you not -- are you -- how do you feel about the fact that he has come around to what is -- has been your view, that the Palestinians do live under occupation --

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to define what it is that the Israelis have said because the Israelis are --

QUESTION: No, I'm not asking you to (inaudible) in a thicket --

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, you are, because I can't say -- I can't welcome a statement unless I know what the statement is. The Israelis have now said three things about the statement. So, on the other hand, let's be frank about this. Prime Minister Sharon and other Israeli governments have always said that whatever the status, that they don't want to stay in the Palestinian areas, they don't want to have responsibility for these towns for the long-term future, they want to find a way that they can withdraw from these areas, they want to find a way that the Palestinians can take charge of their own affairs, the Palestinians can be responsible for security coming from those areas. And that's what we're trying to do. That's what we're trying to do working with the Palestinians, working with the Israelis, so that the Palestinians take responsibility for security in those areas so the Israelis will withdraw. And you've seen that stated in the President's vision. You've seen it implemented in a plan on how to do that is in the roadmap. And you've seen that been an object of U.S. diplomacy. So whatever you call it, I think it's quite clear that one of our goals is to make it possible for the Israelis to pull out of these areas so that they are no longer in charge of an area the Palestinians are in, and the Palestinians can take charge of those areas so that the Israelis are no longer subject to attacks that might emanate from those places.

QUESTION: Richard, this morning, the Secretary's good friend, Foreign Minister Papandreou, in Crete, said that the European Union would like to see a Quartet meeting sometime around whenever the White House decides it wants to have, if it wants to have, the Mideast summit or summits. Without getting into whether that will -- those will happen or not, are you aware of any plans in the works for a Quartet meeting sometime next week or early June?

MR. BOUCHER: We have kept in touch with the Quartet. I'm not aware of any specific plans for a Quartet meeting sometime around whenever.

QUESTION: In the first week of June, which is exactly what I said? You know, next week? The first week of June?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not aware of any specific plans for a Quartet meeting at this point. If something happens, we'll tell you.

QUESTION: At any level? Because there have been reports of an envoy meeting.

MR. BOUCHER: I'll check and see if there's envoy level meetings or anything planned. We've been through our Quartet representatives, Assistant Secretary Burns primarily, we've been in touch throughout this process with other members of the Quartet.

Sir.

QUESTION: Do you think any regional summit in the Middle East will help -- with the presence of the Americans -- will help the roadmap or the peace process or whatever?

MR. BOUCHER: The President has made clear that he would like to see Prime Minister Sharon, Prime Minister Abbas and other regional leaders in order to advance the roadmap, in order to advance the process of achieving his vision of two states that can live side by side in peace. So we definitely think that such meetings are important and helpful to the process. But in terms of exactly where, when and where, how a meeting might be arranged, I don't have anything for you on that. You'd have to check with the White House.

Charlie.

QUESTION: Richard, you talked about the Israelis and Palestinians making moves. One of the other tenets of policy has been for the friendly Arab states to make news. Have you seen any positive help from that direction?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we've seen a lot of help from that direction in --

QUESTION: Since the Secretary's trip?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: And those would be -- those steps?

MR. BOUCHER: Again, you have to put all this in some context, that the Arab leaders came forth with a plan that was adopted, endorsed in Beirut at the Arab League. They have worked with the Palestinians on constitutional and political issues. Several of them have worked with the Palestinians on security issues. They continue to be involved in those issues, security issues and political issues, helping the Palestinians establish themselves and get a new leadership, get a new set of institutions. And that work has continued.

Let's go to the back.

QUESTION: Canada is introducing legislation on decriminalizing marijuana for personal use. And David Murray in the Office of National Drug Control Policy said that there would be some retaliation or some consequences. And I just want to know what those consequences or retaliation may be.

MR. BOUCHER: I'd leave it to him to explain his statement further, if he wants to. I don't have anything for you on that right now.

QUESTION: Well, there is, you know, the issue of U.S.-Canada relations and your Department deals with that. So how it may --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have an immediate reaction on how this might affect U.S.-Canada relations. I'm sorry.

Ma'am.

QUESTION: Okay, another subject, yes. Mr. Gaviria is in Caracas to support the sign of an agreement between the opposition leaders of Venezuela and the government. I just want to know the importance of the U.S. -- of the -- that your government is giving to the sign of an agreement which reproduced rights of the Venezuelan constitution. What is the big deal in that?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, we think it is important that they have taken this step. We certainly welcome the agreement that the Government of Venezuela and the opposition reached this last Friday, May 23rd, to set the framework for a referendum on the tenure of President Chavez and other elected officials. I think it does reflect hard work and a commitment of Venezuelan negotiators, as well as their international supporters and the Secretary General of the OAS.

We look forward to both sides signing the accord. We will continue working with our partners to facilitate a peaceful, constitutional, democratic and electoral solution to Venezuela's political impasse.

We note that the agreement recognizes the important role the international community can still play in providing technical observation and monitoring assistance for any future electoral process.

So it is important in that the parties have agreed to implement the provisions of the Venezuelan constitution that are discussed there, and we think that is a political and constitutional way to move forward and resolve some of the tension here.

QUESTION: Richard --

QUESTION: Excuse me. To follow up, is Venezuela in any way to be worried on the current relationship between both countries, between the United States and Venezuela, needs to be worrying?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we have taken this issue by issue. We have spoken pretty loudly about some of the events in Venezuela, particularly a crackdown on freedom of the press, a crackdown on political and electoral freedoms that have taken place. And we have looked very strongly to this process led by Secretary General Gaviria of the Organization of American States to try to reestablish a sense of political balance in that country and to establish the basic rights of Venezuelan citizens. So we think this is important in that regard and I think this is a way of getting away from the tensions and the problems that have existed in the relationship with the United States.

George.

QUESTION: The ruling party in Guatemala nominated a fellow by the name of Efrain Rios Montt as its presidential candidate for elections in November. This fellow was a former president who has been accused of genocide during his first period in office, '82- '83. Do you have any comment on his nomination?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, first, that we support free, fair, transparent and constitutional elections in Guatemala. Guatemala faces many critical issues at this point.

We would hope to be able to work with and have a normal, friendly relationship with whoever is the next president of Guatemala. Realistically, in light of Mr. Rios Montt's background, it would be difficult to have the kind of relationship that we would prefer.

We understand that Guatemala's Constitutional Court has decided on two occasions to bar Mr. Rios Montt from holding Guatemala's presidency due to a constitutional prohibition denying eligibility for that office to individuals who have taken power through extra-constitutional means.

We'll see what happens.

QUESTION: Richard, early last week, your Embassy in Brussels took receipt of a lawsuit that was referred to them by the Belgian Government against General Franks. Presumably, you've now had enough time to read through it and see whether this has any merit to pass on to prosecutors here. Have you?

MR. BOUCHER: Don't know. I'll have to check. We have one or two more back there. Sir.

QUESTION: Thank you. North Korea. They issued a statement by Foreign Ministry State Spokesman -- I think it's the Sunday -- they say that they agreed to hold multilateral talks, maybe including South Korea and Japan, only after bilateral talks with the United States. Could we ask your response to this statement, first?

MR. BOUCHER: I think the Secretary spoke to it this morning and stressed the need for multilateral talks, indeed expanded multilateral talks, that would involve other governments, as we have proposed. North Korea's nuclear weapons program is a global concern. It's a threat to the peace and stability of Northeast Asia and to the global nonproliferation regime.

We have made it clear that we are prepared to talk to North Korea about its nuclear weapons program in a multilateral format. Given North Korea's history of noncompliance with bilateral agreements, only in such a multilateral process, where all key concerned parties are engaged, can a lasting solution be found to the problem posed by North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

QUESTION: This type of statement is a good symptom of changing attitude, or, you know, business as usual, just another tactics of old games they play?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not able to analyze North Korean statements for you. I don't know.

QUESTION: Richard, generally speaking, is there any movement on arranging another round of multilateral talks of the kind that took place in Beijing?

MR. BOUCHER: At this point, I don't have any decisions for you. As we've said, we wanted to take our time, analyze what was said in Beijing, analyze what's going on on the ground, also talk to the Japanese and South Korean leaders, which the President was able to do last week. So, at this point, I don't have anything new for you.

QUESTION: Richard, can you say, do you know whether the Secretary has received a letter from the OSCE complaining about the treatment of some French journalists who were handcuffed and expelled from the U.S. in Los Angeles earlier this month? Or is that something that gets thrown over to the Justice Department and --

MR. BOUCHER: No. A letter from the OSCE -- I remember the letter. I don't remember if it was the OSCE, actually. It was from the Reporters Without Borders, wasn't it?

QUESTION: No, this is the OSCE, which is a quasi-government --

MR. BOUCHER: We have received a letter from the Reporters Without Borders. I don't know if we have gotten one from the OSCE. Certainly, we're aware of the situation involving the French journalists. We are looking into what happened. It appears that they did not have the appropriate visa status that all journalists are supposed to have when they enter the United States, the I-Visa. The information on that is readily available through our Embassy and the websites. But ultimately the determination on entry is made by the Department of Homeland Security, formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

QUESTION: Well, I'm not sure what happened -- it sounds as if you already know what happened.

MR. BOUCHER: We know a lot of what happened, but we're still looking into the final elements of that.

QUESTION: All right. And just my last one is there are some reports in Kenya that the Kenyan Finance Minister met here on Thursday with Assistant Secretary Kansteiner and that during that meeting he said that the Kenyan economy was suffering badly, his tourism industry is suffering badly from the U.S. warnings -- terrorism warnings for East Africa and specifically for Kenya, and the authorized departure program, and asked, according to these reports, asked the U.S. to pay damages to compensate for this. And according to these reports, Assistant Secretary Kansteiner said, "We'll consider it."

Is that correct?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I haven't heard anything about that. I'll have to look into it.

We had someone in the back that had one more question. There's one more guy. Sir.

QUESTION: Maybe this a different question. This regarding Tibet. You said you welcome the visit of Lodi Gyari and his entourage. This morning, Chinese spokesman said that this is a private visit. Do you really think that it's a private visit?

And the second question is what do the United States expect from this visit?

MR. BOUCHER: I will leave it to the parties, the people involved themselves, to define the visit. I think what we look to is for the parties to find an ability to talk to each other and for them to talk about having a real dialogue. So, at this point, it's nothing too formal but it's a chance for them to start making contacts with each other and see what might develop.

QUESTION: Do you think this is a private visit?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to try to describe it one way or the other, myself. Okay? Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)

[End]

Released on May 27, 2003

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