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Colin L. Powell Press Briefing in Phnom Penh

Press Briefing

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
June 18, 2003

SECRETARY POWELL: Good evening, everyone. I would like to begin by expressing my special thanks to the Royal Cambodian Government for hosting these meetings, and for so ably leading the ASEAN Regional Forum this past year. President Bush sees ASEAN as a major instrument for stability and cohesion in Southeast Asia.

The ASEAN meetings every summer are a premier event bringing the leaders of the region and their partners outside the region together for a wide range of discussions, such as we ve had over the past 24 hours. So that means I always make a special effort to attend because of the region s importance to the United States and to the rest of the world.

The United States is a strong supporter of regional integration and free trade as the best means to help close the development gap within ASEAN. In our discussions, we acknowledge the importance of continued reform as a means of attracting trade and investment, and we reviewed the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative announced by President Bush last October. This initiative is aimed at rewarding liberalization by offering prospects for free trade agreements to ASEAN governments that are committed to openness and reform. We also focused on a number of security issues, particularly our work against terrorism. We approved two action-oriented statements on the counterterrorism aspects of maritime security and border security.

Our government supports and encourages ARF efforts to convince member states to increasingly specific and concrete steps against the scourge of terrorism. Indeed, ASEAN nations, and in particular our hosts in Cambodia, have recently taken some strong and positive steps against terrorists operating in the region.

We also discussed a number of transnational challenges. I pointed out that HIV/ AIDS already has been more destructive than any weapon of mass destruction, any army and any conflict, but still is not generally perceived to be a security threat. That must change. I spoke about the need for ARF and ASEAN to step up to the problem and to help forge a constant, concerted, comprehensive and sustained effort across the region against HIV/AIDS. I will meet tomorrow with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong.

(Inaudible), as governor of Cambodia has done everything possible to ensure that the upcoming elections here in Cambodia meet international standards, particularly when it comes to equal access to the media. The Cambodian people deserve a government with legitimacy that free and fair elections will bring, and I m pleased that the United States is providing eight and a half million dollars in election assistance to Cambodia.

We ll also discuss the establishment of a credible Khmer Rouge tribunal, which we hope will help bring justice to those who are responsible for the atrocities. This will be a tough job, but we will work with Cambodia, the United Nations, and others once the elections are over, and we will do everything we can to help the tribunal achieve international standards.

In our meetings today we also discussed the situation on the Korean peninsula. ARF members made it abundantly clear that we all need to work together to see a nuclear weapons-free Korean peninsula. ASEAN s help in keeping pressure on North Korea is absolutely necessary to achieve a diplomatic solution that leaves the peninsula, the region, and the world safer.

Members also expressed their clear concerns about the crackdown in Burma, against Aung San Suu Kyi, and her party. She is being held in an unknown location, and she is incommunicado, except for a brief meeting that she had with UN Special Envoy Razali. Her supporters are under detention as well, and party offices have been shut down. Just a year ago, we hoped for rapid progress towards national reconciliation in Burma, and today we find that Burma has taken a large step in the opposite direction.

To be effective, the international community must stand together. The brutal rulers of Burma need to understand that the only acceptable way forward is to release Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters, and to resume dialogue with her and with her party. I was pleased that so many ASEAN and ARF members spoke out strongly on this issue.

It has been a very successful series of meetings, and there will be more meetings in the morning with the PMC, a collection of nations coming together to continue these discussions. And now I ll be pleased to take your questions.

QUESTION: George Gedda, of AP. Tomorrow, Mr. Secretary, you ll be in Jordan, tomorrow night. Very little is known about your activities, could you tell us who you plan to see, where you plan to go, and what your goals are?

SECRETARY POWELL: I ll be in Jordan tomorrow night after stopping in Bangladesh for a few hours, and one of the reasons for going to Jordan is to participate over the weekend in the World Economic Forum activities. We ll be talking about economic development issues related to the Middle East and to the world in general, and in the course of the World Economic Forum discussions, I ll have an opportunity to meet with a number of world leaders who ll be attending the forum, President Karzai of Afghanistan will be there. There will also be a meeting of the Quartet this coming Sunday afternoon, and I ll have a chance to discuss the Middle East situation, and our plans with respect to the roadmap, at that Quartet meeting with Foreign Minster Ivanov, with the European Union presidency representative, Foreign Minister Papandreou of Greece, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will also be there.

I have left time in my schedule for a trip into the region, into Jerusalem and perhaps elsewhere in the territories, but I haven t finalized my itinerary with respect to that part of my trip yet.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, could you be more specific about what criteria the US will use to determine whether the upcoming elections here in Cambodia are free and fair? I m particularly interested in your concerns about media coverage.

SECRETARY POWELL: As I have said in my statement, and I discussed in the course of the ARF meeting and I will discuss with government leaders tomorrow, we believe the media should be free to cover the election, to say whatever ever they wish about the respective candidates and parties. I m a strong believer in the value of the media, in holding elected and appointed officials to account, to the wishes of the people, and I believe that for a democracy to survive, there must be open, free, uninhibited, occasionally annoying media.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what are the main sticking points in the talks about Israel handing over security control of northern Gaza to the Palestinians, and do you think Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas actually has the capacity to not merely to enforce security there, but also to dismantle some of the militant groups active there?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think he has the capacity to do that which he has expressed a willingness to do, and that s to take over security responsibilities and certainly a part of the Gaza strip. I think what s happening now is they re working out the modalities of that takeover. Both sides have to be satisfied that they can do it. Israel will not withdraw or turn it over completely to the Palestinians unless they are confident that the Palestinians have the capacity to do what they say they re going to do.

I think that as we continue down the roadmap, we work very hard with our partners in the region and our partners in the European Union and elsewhere to add to the capacity of the Palestinian Authority so that they can increase their reach in Gaza and ultimately to the West Bank communities as well. As they increase their capacity, I think they can do more than just perhaps seek a cease-fire with some of the militant groups, those who ve sponsored terrorist activities, but can begin the process of removing their capacity to undertake such terrorist activities. But this will be a long-range effort and this is the time to begin.

The window of opportunity was opened at the Aqaba meetings some ten days or so ago, and we were concerned the first few days afterwards with the increase in terrorist activities and the responses that it brought from Israel. But I hope that now both sides realize, and I m encouraged that both sides seem to realize, that they cannot allow this immediate wave of terrorism to stand in the way of progress down the roadmap. There is no alternative. We have to keep moving, we have to find a way forward and I m pleased that both sides remain committed to the obligations that they undertook in Aqaba, that are explicit in the roadmap, and are trying to move forward.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary State of America, when will you resume assistance for Cambodia? Can you say unless the free and fair election in this country?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have some limited assistance programs now. We have a $20 million program for child assistance activities, we have a program I mentioned with respect to supporting the election, eight and a half million dollars, and there s another two and a half million dollars we are using for demining efforts in Cambodia. And we hope that as we move forward after this election period and continue our discussion with Cambodian leaders, there might be opportunities to do more. I hope that they do have the kind of election that I ve spoken about, and I do hope that after the elections there will be more opportunities for us to pursue dialog and potentially other programs with Kingdom of Cambodia.

QUESTION: Tom Intire with CNN. You ve apparently spent a great deal of time talking to the ARF about North Korea. At about the same time North Korea, through its statement to the media, admitted for the first time that they do possess nuclear weapons but continue to push the line that multi-party talks they re not interested in, only with the United States. You call on ASEAN to continue to put pressure to maintain a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. Did you get any assurances back from ASEAN in you request?

SECRETARY POWELL: You say today they announced for the first time? They ve been saying it quite frequently and they even said to us that they told us ten years ago that they had nuclear weapons but we didn t hear them correctly at that time. So they have been making this claim for some time, and for some time we have said that we attribute that capability to them, that they might have one or two nuclear weapons. We know that they had reprocessed enough material for that, and that they probably also had the wherewithal to build such weapons, so we attributed that capability to them.

There was a consistent view in the discussion today, every nation talked to this, that we cannot tolerate in Asia nuclear weapons in the Korean peninsula. There was a consistent view that North Korea therefore had to find a way to abandon its program. And there was a consistent view that it affected North Korea s neighbors just as much as it attracted US interest and, therefore, should be dealt with in a multilateral way. I enforced the US position that we believe that all of North Korea s neighbors have an interest in this. It is not a US-North Korea issue alone, and we must not let North Korea try to isolate itself from the wishes and will and the equities of its own neighbors. And there was strong support for that position as well. I think if you look at the Chairman s statement you will see that reflected.

QUESTION: If the elections here in Cambodia are not judged to be free and fair, what would the US be willing to do?

SECRETARY POWELL: I m sorry, I didn t hear the question.

QUESTION: If the elections in Cambodia are not judged to be free and fair what would your position be?

SECRETARY POWELL: We would be very disappointed with that kind of a result. I think the international community would be disappointed, and of course the people of Cambodia should be disappointed. But I would not prejudge now what our actions might be based on a hypothetical outcome. Let s hope instead for free, fair, open elections where we see the clash of idea, the clash of political personalities in a peaceful way, no violence in the election, and an aggressive media helping the people of Cambodia understand what their political leaders are saying to them. That should be our desire and hope and that s the outcome we expect.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what has to happen before you decide whether or not a trip to Jerusalem and perhaps Ramallah would be useful? What are the factors in your thinking on whether to go?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I expect to go. I just don t have an itinerary for you yet or any details, but I have programmed time in my calendar to do so, and I can tell you with some confidence that over the next 24 hours I will be able to tell you more with respect to the details of the trip.

QUESTION: Well, then, if I could rephrase that. Can you shed a little more light on the kinds of things that you want to accomplish when you go?

SECRETARY POWELL: I want to talk with my team there, with my Ambassador, Ambassador Wolf who s there now, as well as with our Consul General and to get a first-hand update on the discussions that have been taking place over the last several days. And then when I go there I hope to speak to both leaders in the Palestinian Authority and leaders in Israel as well, depending on availability of folks, to see how we are coming along with respect to the security arrangement that we were discussing concerning Gaza, and to make sure that we continue putting energy and momentum into the roadmap as well as into the commitments made by parties at Aqaba. [End]

Released on June 18, 2003

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