State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for Dec.8
State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for Dec.8 -- Transcript
Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
December 8, 2003
NORTH KOREA 1 Status of Six-Party Talks 1-2,4 Call for Dismantling of Nuclear Weapons Program 2-3, 5 Efforts of China, Russia, and Others to Negotiate
GREECE 5-6 Guilty Verdicts in November 17 Terrorist Group Case
SAUDI ARABIA 6-7 Warden Message Issued 8 Terrorist Training Tape 8 Sentencing of Saudi Protestors 8-9,10 Visa Revocation of Cleric Jaafar Idris and Islamic Institute Funding
IRAQ 9 Reports of Weapons of Mass Destruction 12 Appointment of James Baker 12-13 International Efforts to Restructure Debt 13-14 Status of Pledges by Donors At Madrid Conference 14 Reports of Contractors Suspending Operations
TURKEY/CYPRUS 10 Turkish Cypriot Elections
TURKEY/EUROPE/NATO 10 Under Secretary Grossman Travel and Global Posture Review
RUSSIA 10-11 Elections
ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS 11-12 United Nations Action on Building of Barrier 18-19 Geneva Accords and Roadmap
CHINA 14-15 Institute for International Religious Freedom Trip 15-16 American Vessel Detained 16-17 Visit of Chinese Premier and One China Policy
EGYPT 16 Failure of Cairo Talks
JORDAN/IRAN 17 Mediation Offer by King Abdullah 17-18 Iranian Terrorist Groups
JAPAN 18 Troop Contributions in Ira
q DEPARTMENT 19-20 James Brown Appointment as Secretary of Soul/Foreign Minister of Funk
DPB # 169 1:00 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be back with you. I don't have any statements or announcements today, so I would be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: North Korea. Are you still hopeful that it may be possible to hold six-party talks this month?
MR. BOUCHER: It may be possible to hold six-party talks this month. We'll have to see. We are certainly ready to attend talks without any preconditions. We have been working with our partners in this process, particularly with the Japanese and Koreans, who we had consultations with last week, and the Chinese, who we're in close touch with as well, to try to prepare for another round of six-party talks, including preparing a draft document that might be used at those talks.
But until we hear back, until we find out from the Chinese if they have been able to arrange anything, we won't know exactly when that might take place. At this point, there's nothing set. Whether they can still put it together for this month, or whether it might have to be pushed into early next year, we'll just have to see.
QUESTION: Does your draft document include a reference to North Korea returning to the NPT?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to be able to describe the document in any detail to you at this point other than to say it deals with the process whereby North Korea would completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear weapons programs, and whereby the six parties could provide security assurances to North Korea as they did that.
Not all elements of that process would necessarily be defined at this point. What role particular organizations or inspectors might have down the road, some of that will be set down the road.
QUESTION: Does it include those three words, "verifiably, completely, irreversibly?"
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not going to write the text for you here or lay out three words out of however many there are in the text. That has been our position. That's the position we still hold to.
QUESTION: Richard, I know, but did you use the words? I mean, is it fair to say you're --
MR. BOUCHER: I did. That's always been our position, and it remains our position.
QUESTION: Right. Mr. Bolton said it the other day. Could -- are you on the same subject, Matt?
QUESTION: Yeah. Are you?
MR. BOUCHER: Please. Go ahead. Please.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Yeah, I have --
QUESTION: Yeah. Are you hopeful, or is there any indication that you might hear back from the Chinese today -- you know, what, with the Premier here today or tomorrow? Or is it -- or do you really not have any idea when they might get -- when they might hear back from the North Koreans on whether this is acceptable?
MR. BOUCHER: I expect we'll be able to -- we'll discuss the issue of North Korea with the Chinese. It's been a matter of great importance to us and to them. Whether they'll have any news today, tomorrow, or coming days or when, is impossible to predict at this point.
QUESTION: Well, okay. So you have -- they haven't given you any indication that something -- that they made, that a response from Pyongyang is imminent or?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I would predict that myself, given the past history of these things. It often takes a little bit of time.
QUESTION: Well, okay. But I'm not asking for your opinion. I'm asking if the Chinese have led you to believe, in any way, that this is close?
MR. BOUCHER: I have no reason to believe that we're expecting a reply immediately, but we'll just have to see. The Chinese are working this one, and when they have something to tell us, I'm sure they will.
QUESTION: But do you know if they have transmitted it yet?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to get into the details of who's transmitted what. We have to be able to conduct some of our diplomacy without giving a minute-by-minute account.
QUESTION: I don't know where the Russians fit in this. But is there was an agreement now procedurally among the Chinese, the U.S., South Korea and Japan that the round should end with a declaration, whatever it says?
MR. BOUCHER: We are working with them to get a document that could be used for the next round. It could be used as a statement for the next round. That is what we see; that appears what the Chinese have been working with all the parties on. We think that would be a good thing. Whether there is agreement with all the parties yet, I don't know.
QUESTION: That was your -- the U.S. position on the first round, too, and it didn't happen. The story today, perhaps -- and this is the point because I thought the U.S. -- correct me if I'm wrong -- but the U.S., South Korea and Japan are virtually -- are close, very close. I mean, their ideas are very, are very coordinated. It's China -- it's China that -- it's not an argument -- but China had a different procedural way to go. Is that true?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, China -- no, I wouldn't' -- I wouldn't describe it that way. We've been working with -- closely with the Chinese, as well. Obviously, we've had intensive consultations repeatedly throughout this process with the Japanese and the South Koreans, our closest allies in the neighborhood.
We've also been working very closely with the Chinese, and the Chinese are trying to fulfill two roles, and have played -- we think, done a very good job of playing those two roles, first of all, as sort of the organizer trying to get the talks organized; and, second of all, supporting, naturally, Chinese interests, China's own interests in a denuclearized Peninsula. So China has its two cents worth to put in on its own, as well as a role in helping put this together. And China, I think, has been playing that role very actively and very well.
QUESTION: Denuclearized Peninsula is the Chinese position, is it? The U.S. --
MR. BOUCHER: It's the position that I think the Chinese put out that was a consensus from the last talks.
QUESTION: But is it the U.S. position, or does the U.S. want more than that, dismantling the whole program, or is there a difference?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- if you want a denuclearized Peninsula, you've got to dismantle the whole program, right?
QUESTION: Well, you've got to get rid of blueprints, too, and some -- all right.
MR. BOUCHER: We want to see the program completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantled. If, somehow, that goes farther than a denuclearized Peninsula, I guess that's our position, but I fail to see too much of a difference.
QUESTION: Are we communicating with the Russians on this at all? I mean, I don't hear about consultations with Russia.
MR. BOUCHER: We've been in touch with the Russians from time to time. If I remember correctly, it was about two weeks ago, I think, when they had a Vice Foreign Minister here. Right? Mr. Losyukov. November? November 24th. There you go. So we've been keeping in close touch with the Russians; just in the last few days it's been mostly others.
Okay. Mr. Ota.
QUESTION: Maybe you don't want to go into it either, but the two major newspaper, American newspaper, use the same wording, the "coordinate." Can you elaborate on that or could you give us any --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't elaborate on any particular words. I think I've used the word myself from here before, if I remember correctly.
QUESTION: Can you explain if the U.S. is willing to go to these talks simply with an assurance that you would be willing to then, later, I mean, working on a document that would say you are willing to work on security guarantees for North Korea later?
I think we've talked about whether you're working on a document that would lay out the security guarantees, but from what the White House said earlier today, it sounded like you were working on a document that would tell North Korea you are then willing to work on the security guarantees.
Can you explain that?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't go into too much details about what it might say in the document. I certainly support and agree with what the White House said in describing the document, that the document would outline our readiness to prepare a statement on multilateral security assurances as we emphasize the importance of North Korea committing to the complete and verifiable -- I would add irreversible as well -- elimination of their nuclear program.
QUESTION: As opposed to outlining those assurances themselves?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I can't program every step of the way of what would -- we would hope be a coordinated series of steps. But the intention is to go to the next round of talks and begin addressing these issues, to begin addressing these issues in a way that's appropriate for the beginning of the process.
QUESTION: I don't know if you already said this, but when you say that you want a document to go into the next round of talks, is this document going to be showed to the North Koreans in advance, that it's something that they'd be willing to work with?
MR. BOUCHER: It would be a draft statement for the talks. You'd have to ask the Chinese when and how they might show it to the North Koreans. But we would expect to get commitments from them in terms of the talks, in terms of the documents that might be issued, so we would assume that it would be shown there.
QUESTION: So, I mean, to what extent is this whole thing scripted? I mean, you know what you're willing to go into in advance with your document, and the Koreans pretty much know what you're going to say in the document, so why do you need to have talks, then? Can you just sign -- have a signing ceremony?
MR. BOUCHER: You know, strangely enough, if you were to prepare a meeting, you cannot only accomplish what you prepared, but there's a certain amount of back-and-forth, there may be a certain amount of discussion, there may be a certain amount of additional discussion and negotiation about how some of these things might work. So we actually do find it useful to sit down and talk to people, and we would look forward to six-party talks based on any understandings that can be reached in advance about draft statements.
QUESTION: On Greece, on the trial of November 17th, the courts came up with a verdict, convicted the responsible people. Do you have a statement on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. We welcome the guilty verdicts that were issued today in the case of the November 17 terrorist organization. We hope that this helps bring closure to the families of the victims of November 17 terrorist acts. We'll reserve further comment until after the sentencing. We understand the sentencing phase of the trial would occur within the next week.
Okay, sir. We'll have one here, one there. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you expect any -- in any case, the U.S. to request, after the sentencing part of the court an extradition from the people responsible for the killing of the five Americans?
MR. BOUCHER: What was the first part of it? That we would request --
QUESTION: After the, after the sentencing, do you --
MR. BOUCHER: After the sentencing, that we might request extradition, I don't have anything on that at this stage. I think in the end, you'll have to check with Justice, as far as if there are any pending charges or a request for extradition.
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, since the court decision is final, 15 guilty, 4 not guilty, therefore, do you consider that the November 17 case closed or still open?
MR. BOUCHER: That's really a question for Greek law enforcement. Do you mean, have they got everybody who was associated with November 17?
That's really a question for Greek law enforcement. This particular case appears to be nearing its end. Whether there are further rights to appeal or anything like that in the judicial process, I don't know. So it's really not question the United States can answer. It's a matter of Greek law enforcement and Greek justice.
QUESTION: No, no, no, because there are so many Americans who are being killed by this terrorist organization. And many, many times in this room, it was said that this also a political issue. Right now, we have a decision. They have decided, guilty, not guilty. The question is, it's open or is not open, from your side?
MR. BOUCHER: No, it's not -- it's not question that we can answer from our side. Are there other November 17 people still at large?
I really think, first and foremost, that the Greek judicial and law enforcement authorities who are determined and who have shown their determination to pursue November 17, they have to answer whether they still have a case open or not.
QUESTION: You said earlier that the U.S. reserve the right to comment as far as for extradition. But how do you comment on the statement by the Greek Minister of Justice, Philippos Petsalnikos, that there's no question of (inaudible) extradition to the United States in this particular case?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't comment at all at this point. Okay?
QUESTION: Can I switch to Saudi Arabia?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Great. Over the weekend, there was a Warden's Message issued which further restricts the movement of U.S. diplomats in Saudi Arabia and their family members. Was this based upon new threat information received? Was -- it was unclear what caused this to be issued?
MR. BOUCHER: The issuance of guidance for our diplomats, and, consequently the public statements that we make in accordance with that has been based upon the accumulation of evidence and information of possible attacks in Saudi Arabia.
As you know, earlier last week there was guidance to them to avoid certain compounds. Later in the week, the embassy, as it reviewed its security procedures decided that it was more appropriate, or better to ask people not to go off our compound except for essential business. So it was based on, essentially, the same kind of information of accretion of information on possible attacks.
QUESTION: It wasn't a new threat, for example, to --
MR. BOUCHER: It was sort of a continuation of the same threat.
QUESTION: You also, you might mention the new Travel Warning that you put out from Washington.
MR. BOUCHER: I did mention that whenever we put out new advice, we tend to put out new information. We put out a new Travel Warning last week followed by Warden Messages.
QUESTION: It was the other way around.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The other -- okay.
QUESTION: Another -- I --
MR. BOUCHER: Are we changing subjects, or what?
QUESTION: Well, I think we're still on Saudi.
MR. BOUCHER: Go ahead, Barry.
QUESTION: No, I think -- does anybody have Saudi?
QUESTION: Yeah, I have --
QUESTION: I have one too.
QUESTION: Two Saudis.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Go. Have fun.
QUESTION: What about this new bin Laden tape that -- actually an al-Qaida tape, training tape, of U.S. -- of al-Qaida trainees in a cell in Saudi Arabia? Did that have anything to do with the, with the --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything on a new al-Qaida tape, but I wouldn't be able to be specific about the kind of information that we base these warnings on.
QUESTION: Well, you can't say that, in part, prompted you to --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not able to be at all specific about the kind of information that we acquire and base these warnings on.
QUESTION: Well, it was a public tape. I mean, it was on TV, it was on several TV networks.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not at all able to be specific about what we base our warnings on.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Saudi court today, or I think maybe Sunday, sentencing 36 citizens who were protesting, as part of the Movement for Islamic Reform in October, to 55 days in prison?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't.
QUESTION: Can you get a?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if there's anything we need to say on it.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, Teri.
QUESTION: It also came out over the weekend that the State Department had revoked the visa of a Saudi cleric. Can you talk about --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, we revoked the visa --
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) a couple of weeks ago?
MR. BOUCHER: -- of Mr. Jaafar Idris. People who are admitted to the United States and permitted to remain here on an A2 visa status are permitted to remain provided that they satisfy certain criteria.
In this case, as a condition of residence in the United States, Mr. Idris was required to perform duties directly related to and in support of the Saudi Embassy. Subsequent to his acceptance by the Office of Protocol, it was learned that he no longer was performing such duties on a full-time basis at the embassy and therefore he no longer qualified for that visa status.
QUESTION: So you would consider it a pretty, a pretty cut and dried case, not because he was engaging in activities that were, perhaps, of a brand of Islam that's not particularly --
MR. BOUCHER: It's not related to the brand of Islam, it's related -- if somebody comes in to perform functions for an embassy and then they subsequently stop performing those functions, they are no longer entitled to any diplomatic or official status in relation to the embassy.
QUESTION: Did the Saudi Embassy inform you that he was no longer working there?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if we found it out by ourselves or if they informed us.
QUESTION: Just to be clear, you said on a full-time basis. Did he stop entirely or was he still doing a little something for them, just not enough to justify that visa status?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if it was entirely or it was not enough, but it was not enough.
QUESTION: And did they protest that at all, or they were --
MR. BOUCHER: You'd have to ask the Saudis what their opinion is of this.
QUESTION: It probably caught everybody's attention Sunday, the story in the London Telegraph, an Iraqi who apparently had information about weapons of mass destruction to be launched within 30 minutes to 40 -- 30 to 45 minutes. Do you know the story I mean -- perhaps not. It was very exciting yesterday morning. There wasn't a word of it around today, but I thought I'd check anyhow and see if State has any --
MR. BOUCHER: London Telegraph, an Iraqi where?
QUESTION: Saying that the Iraqi army was equipped with weapons of mass destruction that were to be launched within a very short time span, but they just refused to launch them in the war.
MR. BOUCHER: Interesting, but no, I don't have anything on it.
QUESTION: Going back to Saudi.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: Without -- not only about this individual where you revoked his visa, but do you have anything on the Saudis' decision to stop funding the Islamic Institute for which he worked?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Under Secretary Grossman is visiting Turkey. What's his agenda? Do you have anything about that?
And on the election in northern Cyprus next Sunday, what is U.S. position on Turkish Cypriot elections?
MR. BOUCHER: On Turkish Cypriot elections, I don't have a particular position to announce today. Let me see if there's anything we do want to say on it. Obviously, we want the Turkish Cypriots to be able to vote and decide on their leadership.
As far as the question of the Grossman trip, this is a trip that's being made by Under Secretary Grossman of the State Department and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. They're visiting several European countries between December 8th and 12th. Today, they were together at NATO and now they're going to break up, split up, and go to different places, each of them. Under Secretary Grossman will go to Turkey, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. Under Secretary Feith will do another set of countries around Europe.
Consultations are on the Global Posture Review that the President announced on November 25th about how to organize and modernize the stationing of U.S. forces around the world, and so they will be talking to other governments starting, first and foremost, obviously, at NATO with our NATO allies as a group about how we can modernize our force posture. The consultations will hear reactions from other governments, thoughts from other governments. We're taking those into account as we evaluate the options and eventually make the final decisions.
QUESTION: Richard, turning to Russia, do you have any reaction to the vote in Russia and the concerns raised by some of the international organizations and the OSCE about the fairness of the elections?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, I think our comment has to be preliminary because the results themselves are preliminary. The early indications certainly are the pro-Kremlin parties won a large majority in the new Duma. We would certainly hope that the newly elected Duma will press ahead on democratic and economic reform and continue to support the U.S.-Russia partnership.
As far as the concerns that have been raised by the OSCE, we certainly share those concerns that the election process may have failed to meet many OSCE standards. It's clear to us that the administrative -- that administrative resources were widely used to assist pro-Kremlin parties. I think they talked about and we share their concerns about things like state media systematically reporting favorably on pro-Kremlin parties and reporting negatively on opponents.
As far as specific practices on election days, I'd leave that to the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. There were U.S. personnel who participated as observers at this election, but they participated as part of those teams that were fielded by the OSCE.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. conveyed its concerns directly to the Putin government?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the answer is we -- many of these things were concerns before the election. Certainly, we've been in touch with the Russian Government about the conduct of the elections. But I repeat once again, I don't really have an overall assessment for you at this point. There are some concerns that have been raised over time, particularly with regard to how the state media acted in the run-up to the election.
QUESTION: This is a new subject. Yeah? There's a move afoot in the UN, the General Assembly, to refer the Israeli wall/fence/barrier, whatever you want to call it, to the World Court. In the past, you guys have been not supportive of similar resolutions that would do this kind of thing, but I'm wondering if your position on this is any different given the fact that you find you have problems yourself with the -- with this wall.
MR. BOUCHER: I think the resolution has now been voted at the UN. I'm told the vote came out 90 in favor, 8 against and 74 abstaining, and that, obviously, the United States voted against this. I also believe that Ambassador Cunningham in New York has made a statement.
But to try to answer your question quickly, we definitely have a known point of view on the fence and we have opposed activities by either party that prejudge final status negotiations, and that also create additional hardship for daily life for the Palestinian people. The President has spoken clearly on that several times.
At the same time, we don't think that the General Assembly decision like this can contribute to a negotiated settlement. We think that the resolution can undermine, rather then encourage, direct negotiations between the parties. It doesn't contribute to the shared goal of implementing the roadmap, so we voted against the resolution. We think the roadmap itself already outlines the obligations and responsibilities of the parties and that resolution of the issues needs to be through a negotiated settlement.
QUESTION: Well, I just don't understand. What's wrong with other people expressing their -- you have expressed your view of it. What's wrong with asking -- what's wrong with asking an international mediator or --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, it's not just an expression of views. It's asking for a court decision, and that's inconsistent with the approach of a negotiated settlement. It can end up delaying a solution if it takes a long time. And in any case, referring the decision to the court, tends to politicize the court in a way that we don't think is helpful to the role of the court in advancing global security.
QUESTION: So you don't think that the court should be allowed to make any kind of judgment on it at all, or should be asked to?
MR. BOUCHER: We don't think that, in referring this matter to the court, helps in any way to get a solution.
QUESTION: Has Secretary Powell been in touch with Mr. James Baker? Are they going to talk? Is there any conferring to do about Mr. Baker's job?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if he has. I'd have to double check with him and see. I didn't get a chance to ask him.
QUESTION: All right. One of the accounts --
MR. BOUCHER: They certainly have talked from time to time --
MR. BOUCHER: -- throughout his tenure as Secretary of State, and so I don't know when they might meet as Mr. Baker begins this new assignment.
QUESTION: I wonder how much of what Mr. Baker is going to do is the kind of stuff that usually is done by a Secretary of State. One of the news accounts immediately suggested, as that newspaper often does, that there's some conflict developing with the -- not personal conflict, but job conflict.
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, I can assure you there's no conflict. Certainly, the issues of debt do come up from time to time in the Secretary's discussions with other governments. And we've, I think, briefed you at various moments about that, including when we were out in Madrid, about how the discussions, the fact that we were having discussions with other governments about the need to restructure Iraq's debt, and we think that need is quite clear.
But somebody needs to work on it with more intensity and more full-time and more directly than the Secretary himself would be able to do. So I think, you know, maybe a variety of Cabinet members who have an interest in Iraqi debt, including Secretary of State. But we all welcome the fact that Secretary Baker has agreed to take this one on and be able to work on it as diligently and intensively as the subject merits.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have some -- is the U.S. unhappy or is it just withholding judgment on the pace of the pledges, the grants, being executed?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we're not. Indeed, the process has been moving forward and we think it's well under way and will continue to move forward. Let me try to bring you up to date on where we stand on all that pledging.
We expect that all the pledges, all the contributions that were promised at the Madrid donors conference will be delivered expeditiously to assist the Iraqi people. The World Bank's tally of pledges from the Madrid Conference, which was posted on the World Bank's website last week is essentially the same as the pledge statements that were made at Madrid.
Many of the larger donors opted to list their pledges on the World Bank's chart as a lump sum rather than by year, but they're proceeding with plans for rapid disbursement of much of the assistance in 2004, including $1.5 billion in grants from Japan. It would be premature at this point to expect significant amounts of this assistance to have already been delivered. International donors are still in the process of planning into greater detail how their money will be spent.
We expect that the UN and the World Bank international trust fund facility for Iraq, which may help donors implement their assistance, will be operational in January as expected. And again, we expect that all the contributions promised at the Madrid donors conference will be delivered expeditiously.
QUESTION: That chart, that World Bank, call it a chart if you will, which I've looked at, isn't that essentially the -- what should I say -- doesn't it represent what was said in Madrid? It's not a --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. That's what I said, that it's essentially very close to what was in Madrid and that some of the money is lump-sum, some -- but much of that may be paid, indeed, this year anyway because that's the intention of the donors as we understand it, and donors are organizing their pledges to get the money delivered through various means.
QUESTION: One last question. Was there any significant misunderstanding or lack of understanding at Madrid as to whether country X or country Y intended its contribution to be, let's say, a grant or credit? There's been that suggestion in print.
MR. BOUCHER: No. I think the World Bank, again, the World Bank was in charge of the tally in Madrid, and what they've put out on the public website after looking into it more is essentially what they tallied on the spot in Madrid. So there's no significant change in that tally.
QUESTION: Richard, speaking of the World Bank, do you have anything more to say to -- about these rumors than what you said in the e-mail to The Washington Post?
MR. BOUCHER: No, other than that they -- other than The Washington Post story, the Secretary hasn't heard anything about this.
QUESTION: Richard, back to Iraq for a second. South Korean contractors appear to be pulling out due to the security situation. Did the Department have any talks or communication with the South Korean Government to try and forestall that move?
MR. BOUCHER: I think -- the first thing is check with the company and maybe with our Coalition Provisional Authority people on the exact status. It's not clear to me from what I have heard reported that they are, in fact, pulling out, or if they're somehow altering or suspending their work in that area.
The second thing is some have reported this as a pullout of contractors. Contractors are still working in Iraq. Much of the reconstruction work continues apace in various parts of the country. There's something like 17,000 projects, individual projects that have been completed since the end of the war. That works out to more or less 100 a day. So the pace of reconstruction has continued and there is a lot of work still being done by various contractors, by government people and by NGOs. So I wouldn t read too much into it, even if it turns out these particular companies have either pulled some people out or altered their pace of work.
QUESTION: China. Do you have anything on the Institute for International Religious Freedom canceling a trip to China because the Chinese wouldn't let them hold meetings in Hong Kong?
MR. BOUCHER: I believe they have put out a statement.
QUESTION: Not as of 11:30, but --
MR. BOUCHER: I think by 12:30 they have, or at least by 1:00 they did.
QUESTION: I was here.
MR. BOUCHER: So echoing, I think, what they said in their statement -- at least the one that I saw -- I would agree with them that we're all very disappointed that unacceptable conditions imposed by the Chinese Government have caused the Commission to postpone its planned travel to China.
This is the second time this year that the Commission has been forced to postpone or cancel a planned visit because of conditions raised by Beijing on the Commission's activities in Hong Kong. China has several times stated its willingness to host the group and we call on the Chinese Government to move forward with hosting arrangements that are acceptable to both sides.
QUESTION: Have you communicated this -- has the State Department communicated all of the Chinese Government on this?
MR. BOUCHER: We have been in touch over time with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing and with the Chinese Ambassador in Washington about our concerns.
QUESTION: But have you been -- have you been in touch about this particular episode?
MR. BOUCHER: About this particular trip, yes, and about the conditions that were being attached, yes.
QUESTION: Yeah -- I mean, about their refusal to let them meet in Hong Kong?
MR. BOUCHER: About the conditions that were being attached to this trip, yes. Yeah.
QUESTION: And what did you say to them?
MR. BOUCHER: We said we were very concerned about such conditions, it was important for the Commission to be able to do their work.
QUESTION: Richard, is this something that could rise to the level of being -- of a conversation with the Premier?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. It's been an ongoing matter of discussion with the Chinese Government and certainly our interest in human rights and having an exchange on human rights may come up, but not necessarily -- I'm not sure whether this particular trip would come up or not.
QUESTION: How big a concern is religious freedom in China?
MR. BOUCHER: You could see it in our religious freedom reports. There have been significant concerns that we've raised in the past and continue to hold.
MR. BOUCHER: George.
QUESTION: Also on China, there are reports that an American vessel is being detained at a Chinese port after colliding a week ago in a fog, apparently in Chinese territorial waters. Do you have anything on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything on that. I'll have to look into it for you.
QUESTION: Do you have an assessment, Richard, about the failure of the Cairo talks with Abu Alaa, the Palestinian Foreign Minister, and an assessment, too, of the Beilin-Rabbo television interviews yesterday?
And also, Hamas is saying that suicide bombings will continue.
MR. BOUCHER: On an assessment of the Cairo talks, no, I don't have an assessment. I've seen various reports about what they are doing, may do, or might not do at this point, so I think it's too -- I can't draw any conclusions.
We have always said that a ceasefire might be welcomed because it might end the loss of life, but there needs to be a more comprehensive cessation of violence, and any kind of ceasefire is not an end in itself, but merely a step along the way towards a comprehensive end to the violence. So we've been following events out there, trying to see what they would start doing. But at this point, as I said, there appear to be differing reports.
Yeah. Okay. We'll work our way back.
QUESTION: Well, you can start in the back if you want.
MR. BOUCHER: Start in the back? Way in the back.
QUESTION: Okay back to the Chinese Premier Wen's visit to the States?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: This is the first visit of the Chinese new leaders, and it seems like he has received a much higher level welcome than the last Premier. In terms of U.S.-China relation, do you think it's a good sign?
Second, in addition to North Korea, Taiwan issues is also a priority of the meeting with Secretary Powell tonight, and also the President Bush tomorrow. How will you talk with this issue with Mr. Wen tonight and tomorrow?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, I'd point out that President Bush has already had a chance to meet with President Hu in Bangkok, so it's not our first exposure to the new leaders. And I believe that President Hu came before he was in office, right?
QUESTION: But that's not -- before --
MR. BOUCHER: Do I have that right? It was before..
MR. BOUCHER: But still, we've met him in China, we've met him before here, and other places, so it's not the first exposure to the new leadership.
In terms of Premier Wen's visit, I'd have to check the protocol on how we handled previous visits, but we have made very clear that we believe our relations with China are excellent. We've found many areas of cooperation with China and we'd look to encourage and expand those areas of cooperation.
I'm sure the issue of Taiwan will come up. The Chinese are quite clear on our position. They understand what we've said before and we'll be happy to make very clear once again our One China policy.
QUESTION: Some reports were talking about a mediation role for King Abdallah of Jordan between the United States and Iran. Do you have anything to shed a light on this, if it is confirmed?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll give you the rundown on where things are or are not, more are not.
First, with King Abdallah, in his visit to Washington last week, we talked about a full range of regional and bilateral issues including Iran's continued threat to regional stability. I think we've done a fair amount of reading out of those discussions.
With regard to the question that was discussed in the article about the presence of al-Qaida members inside Iran, we've stated many times that we believe Iran should turn over all suspected al-Qaida operatives in the U.S. to the United States or to the -- I'm sorry -- all suspected al-Qaida operatives to the United States or to countries of origin or third countries for further interrogation and trial.
It's essential that other countries have direct access to information these people may have about past and future al-Qaida plans. We acknowledge that Iran has, in the years past, turned over some al-Qaida to third countries. However, we're not aware of any progress with regard to al-Qaida currently in detention, whom we suspect includes top al-Qaida leadership. We continue to follow up with the United Nations and others in the international community regarding the issue of handovers.
The United States is not engaged in discussions regarding a swap with Mujahedin-e Khalq members held by U.S. forces in Iraq in return for al-Qaida members held in Iran. The U.S. is questioning Mujahedin-e Khalq members that are held by U.S. forces in order to determine whether any further legal proceedings are merited.
QUESTION: This comes up a lot, and maybe it's not the right time, but when you say that you suspect that al-Qaida leaders are in Iran, do you think that those al-Qaida leaders are in Iran because they're in cahoots with the Iranian Government or they just happen to be in this big country called Iran and the Iranians are trying to catch them just as much as any other country, like al-Qaida people in Germany?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the al-Qaida people in Iran -- Iran at one point said they "had them in custody," I think, was the phrase they used, but they never really defined what that meant, so it goes a little bit beyond the possibility that people are just living there. If they had them in custody, they need to account for them, they need to turn them over to third countries where they might be wanted.
QUESTION: Richard, Japanese Government is going to make a decision tomorrow regarding the sending of Japanese Self-Defense Forces to Iraq. And is anything like you would say or comment on this thing? Like what's your expectation or what's your reaction?
MR. BOUCHER: No. We -- our -- can't react before it happens, but the decisions, the specific decisions about deployments are for the Japanese Government to make. We've certainly welcomed Japan's willingness to offer troop contribution to go work in Iraq and we continue to welcome that offer.
QUESTION: Yes, would you answer the question or take it, the unique part about the Geneva accords is that they were put to a plebiscite by Israelis and Palestinians, to the extent, under the occupation, the Palestinians can react to them. We're getting those results now. Is it possible that the Quartet might put the road plan to a similar plebiscite among Israelis and Palestinians?
MR. BOUCHER: I have not heard any discussion like that and I'm not sure what it would add. Remember --
MR. BOUCHER: No. I don't think there's anything to add to the issue by such speculation. The roadmap has been accepted by the governments, the duly elected governments of both Israelis and Palestinians. It is the way forward objectively. It's also the way forward that the sides have endorsed through their elected representatives.
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, the yesterday's British newspaper, Sunday Herald, of London reported that five Israelis were seen filming the attack into the twin towers September 11th, 2001, and have been arrested by the U.S. authority. Could you please confirm this arrest, and may we have your comment on this unusual story?
MR. BOUCHER: I've never seen that story. I don't have any comment. I've never seen it in any --
QUESTION: Could you take the question, because the British --
MR. BOUCHER: No, it's not a matter for me. If you want to find out if somebody's been arrested in the United States, you'll have to ask the law enforcement people.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) December 13, 19 -- was 2001, he said I am aware that some Israeli citizens have been detained and they have been in touch with Israeli Government as to the fact that they have been detained and making sure that they have rights to (inaudible) here to the United States. So that's why I ask you.
MR. BOUCHER: The status of any people who may or may not be in a detention is a matter for American judicial and law enforcement officials, and I'll leave it to them. I'll leave it to our law enforcement people to talk about it if they wish, if there's anything to talk about at all.
QUESTION: Yeah, Richard, I wanted to ask you about this very unusual personnel change the Secretary made over the weekend, appointing James Brown to be the Secretary of Soul and the Foreign Minister of Funk.
What is the -- what's the job -- what's the job description for that? Is it a paid position and does he get office space in this building?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that -- I don't know that that has all been decided. If we do assign any office space or write out the position description, you'll be the first to get it.
QUESTION: So does he report directly to the Secretary?
MR. BOUCHER: Absolutely.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)
Released on December 8, 2003