State Dept. Daily Press Briefing May 11, 2004
Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
May 11, 2004
Trial of Saddam Hussein
Discussions on New UN Resolution
Brahimi Consultations/June 30 Transfer of Sovereignty
U.S. Actions to Address Prisoner Abuse Issue
Consultations with the ICRC
Secretary’s Meetings with ICRC President Kellenberger
Arab Human Development Report
Greater Middle East Initiative
Promoting Economic Opportunity, Democracy, Rule of Law, Justice
Diplomatic Discussions with Syria
Hezbollah and Hamas
Arab Reaction to Syria Accountability Act
DiTrani’s Bilateral Meetings
Goals of Discussions in Advance of Six-Party Talks
Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif
Darfur / DART Team / Visas
12:30 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. You've all just talked to the Secretary, so I'm glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: In the hour since we talked to him, have you or the State Department been able confirm the handover for trial of Saddam Hussein by June 30?
MR. BOUCHER: I've checked with some of our experts on the issue, and our position remains as it has been, that we would turn him over at the appropriate time in the appropriate manner.
But, as far as I can tell, no decision has been made at this point. And when --
QUESTION: I asked --
MR. BOUCHER: I have no indication of when that decision might be made.
QUESTION: Do you mean by this a specific date or a specific timeframe, or both?
MR. BOUCHER: Both. When it will be appropriate to hand him -- turn him over to Iraqi authorities has not been decided at this point.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, sir.
QUESTION: A kind of semi-grammatical question: The Secretary, outside, spoke with Foreign Minister Fischer, spoke of needing new UN resolutions, plural. Is that -- was that just a kind of slip of the tongue or are you looking at more than one?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, we're sort of collecting ideas. We've talked about a resolution, but I think there are those who might think of doing this in stages, so we're listening to ideas. So I guess it was -- I don't think it indicated -- it certainly has not indicated that we've adopted a multiple-resolution approach. We're still looking at what goes in a resolution.
QUESTION: Well, when you talk about others have said multi-stage, you mean other countries might have suggested it?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are the Germans one country that has?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to specify which country might have which ideas. We're collecting ideas from a variety of countries. The Secretary has been talking to coalition members, friends, members of the Security Council, et cetera, and we'll have further discussions since, I think, four out of the G-8 are on the Security Council, and several are also in Iraq with troops. So there will be a chance for further discussions of the UN resolution process with the G-8 on Friday.
QUESTION: Could -- could you try to, maybe, help us out here? What would be the point of having multiple resolutions, if there were to be --
MR. BOUCHER: As I've said, we're looking at what needs to be done in terms of the elements that need to be passed in a resolution. I'm not trying to explain somebody else's idea that there may be a need for more than one resolution. At this point, we have not either written the single resolution nor adopted another approach.
QUESTION: Any ballpark estimate on when you're going to have a draft of at least the initial resolution ready?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it will be important to talk with a number of countries and governments about the resolution, about how the UN goes forward in this case. As I think I said yesterday, we're also looking for Ambassador Brahimi and the Secretary General to put forward a bit more definitive plans on how they can go forward to the interim government so that the Council has the opportunity to endorse those plans and that government, their transition process, and we do want to continue talking to others.
So, I mean, I certainly know that in the next week or so, there will be more consultations with other governments, including the G-8, probably talk to some of our friends in the Arab world over the weekend. That is likely to come up. But I can't tell you when we might have a draft that we can start sharing with others.
QUESTION: Richard, you talked yesterday about how that whole process of the resolution and other things that you are trying to do in Iraq are being influenced by the prison pictures. But can you tell us, are you doing anything specifically in terms of diplomacy to cushion the effect of those pictures, or the image, the problems that the United States is having, not only in negotiating a potential resolution, but also working with the Governing Council and other people in Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: It basically boils down to two things: one is to make foreign publics, foreign governments, aware of the position, the strong stand that the President, the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and military commanders have taken against this kind of abuse; their determination to make sure that any criminal abuse that has occurred is punished; their determination to make sure that any problems are fixed, as the Secretary said, if necessary, in a systemic way.
So that's the first part, and that information on what the President's saying, the Secretary, the Secretary of Defense and all that have been saying is something that we use our embassies to disseminate. We've made it all available to them, made sure they had up-to-the-minute news on that subject and were able to go out and make those points in public and make them with their interlocutors in other governments.
The second part of it, I think, is to make clear that we need all to proceed on the bigger agenda that we have. The United States has had a larger agenda for the Middle East. If you go back, in fact, to the Secretary's first testimony during his term of office, you'll see that he talked about the many things that we could do in our relationships with the Middle East.
And so I think our embassies are also making clear our determination to move forward on the roadmap, on the peace process, as reflected in the Quartet statements and the President's statements recently.
Second of all, we're going to keep our promise as far as the handover goes, working with the UN and making sure that the -- there's an Iraqi Government that can exercise sovereignty for the Iraqi people by June 30th.
And third of all, moving forward to support indigenous efforts in the Arab world, the Muslim world, for reform, for democracy and more freedom, economic opportunity. And we think the meetings that the Arab League have been having at the foreign minister level and then that they will have at the summit level demonstrate that there is an effort underway in the Arab world, and we will continue to look for opportunities and ways to support that.
So it's really two sides: one, getting the word out on how serious we are about the abuses; and, number two, getting the word out on how we intend to move forward on the opportunities that present itself to all -- present themselves to all of us.
QUESTION: Do you think so far that you’ve been relatively successful in persuading other people that you are serious? I mean, are there -- do you sense there are people who are now less likely to want to be friends with the United States in Iraq or outside Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: As the Secretary has said, it's very disruptive, it's very graphic. We're all sickened by some of the pictures that we've seen. We're all horrified by some of the accounts that we've seen. And I think we understand that people watching TV or reading newspapers around the world are -- have the same reactions. And, therefore, you know, to say that we're satisfied that the message is getting through, well, it's hard to get any message through that shock and that kind of reaction.
At the same time, I think we do find our partners are looking to move forward. Our partners are looking to accomplish some of the things that we've set out to accomplish together. You heard that from the Secretary's discussion with the German Foreign Minister today. I'm sure that's true in the various embassies around the world as we work with partners in the Middle East on the many policy issues before us. The President and King Abdullah had very constructive meetings this week.
So there is always this strong reaction that we all have, but I think people who know us, who have talked to us, who understand us, know that we're also going to deal with those problems in the appropriate manner, and that are, therefore -- they are, therefore, working with us on the things that we need to move forward on.
QUESTION: Opposition leaders in Italy are pressing Berlusconi to tell President Bush, when he comes next week, that they will pull out of the coalition unless Rumsfeld is fired. Have you heard anything like that from Italian leaders, that they're concerned they may have to bow to opposition (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I'm aware of. You'd have to ask the Italian leaders what their position is.
QUESTION: Richard, there are some, I believe, 40 different nations, including some of our allies, who have detainees at Guantanamo. Have you been hearing from any of those governments in the wake of the Abu Ghraib situation about renewed concerns or renewed questions about the treatment of their citizens at our other detention facilities?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know of people who have specifically raised Guantanamo in relation to what's being reported in Iraq. I do know that governments have had concerns about their nationals at Guantanamo, about the length of detention, and that, we, in fact, we've been working with other governments to release detainees to their custody, or to release them, period. And we've released, I think, the last number I saw was 146, maybe more than that now, are people from Guantanamo.
So we have been working throughout this period with other governments to talk to them about returning detainees to their home countries, people that we felt still needed to be kept in custody or still needed to be watched or still might have certain intelligence value, but where we didn't feel, at this point, it was necessary for us to keep them in custody anymore. So those conversations have been ongoing with a number of governments.
QUESTION: But no new concerns that you're aware of about the treatment of their citizens?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't done a comprehensive search in our cable traffic or other places for it. So I just have not see something like that that I could report to you.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up. The French Justice Minister is in town for a G-8 ministerial meeting. And he said this morning that he thought that some or all of the seven French citizens who are detained at Guantanamo could be released within weeks. I know the Secretary talked about this last week. But do you have any reason to believe that that timeline is right, that it's --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new on the timeline, so I can't -- I can't confirm that. But we have had a series of discussions with the French Government and we're both looking to work this out as soon as we can. So I have no reason to doubt him, but I don't have confirmation.
QUESTION: And do you know if the key thing there, as it has been, I think, in some of your other negotiations, is over the surveillance or monitoring, or, as you guys put it, appropriate treatment of the people released? Is that the --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what the issues may be at this point. Different people have different systems of justice, and we need to sort of mesh our concerns in the same -- in the appropriate manner for each government involved, and each detainee, frankly.
QUESTION: Richard, the Secretary mentioned outside that he had seen Mr. Kellenberger twice last year, once in January, and the other meeting he didn't give a date for, but I think it may have been May. During this, the May meeting, did Mr. Kellenberger raise serious concerns about America -- about detainees, and can you tell us what the Secretary did with that information?
MR. BOUCHER: There are a couple things we need to keep in mind. First of all, the way the ICRC operates is that they give the information directly to the people in the field who can do something about it, the people in the field who are responsible for facilities or commands. And so the information that was discussed or passed to us in the Secretary's meetings or in other conversations and contacts we had with the ICRC was, I think, always, or at least almost always, information that had already been conveyed directly to the commands.
Second of all, as they do inspections, they raise specific issues in specific places, so the information that's raised with us is always, or at least almost always, much more general than the kind of information that they would pass on directly to the people responsible for detention facilities.
The Secretary met with Mr. Kellenberger January 25th in Davos, 2003; May 27th here, 2003; and then again, January 15th, 2004. They also spoke on the phone a couple times at the end of October, early November, where, at that time, the issue was over ICRC having to pull out of Iraq because of violence there.
In the meetings that the Secretary had with Mr. Kellenberger and that we -- other meetings that we had with the ICRC, they did raise general concerns about the situation of detainees in Afghanistan, occasionally Guantanamo, and, over time, mentioned to us that they had concerns about Iraq as well. And as I think I explained over the past few days, our responsibility, our goal at that point, was to make sure that these concerns had been raised directly with the people who could do something about them and, second of all, were being taken seriously. So we always discussed them with interagency colleagues at whatever level was appropriate.
I'd also point out that when Mr. Kellenberger came to town, he had meetings not only with us, but the NSC and then more directly with the Pentagon, since, in the end, that's where the specific changes can be made if they decide to take the recommendations. And I believe in many cases, at least some cases, they did take the recommendations of the Red Cross and they implemented them.
QUESTION: Did he come to you because he felt that -- because he felt the word wasn't getting through?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I don't think so. I think he wanted to make sure he covered all bases and wanted to make sure that we understood the concerns and that -- but I'd say, over time, we generally heard that the Red Cross had a good dialogue with American forces and other departments. That doesn't mean that all the recommendations were implemented, and certainly we know from some of the things that occurred late last year at this prison that they were not.
QUESTION: Well, Mark wants to follow-up, but then I wanted to ask you a question.
MR. BOUCHER: Mark wants a follow-up, and then Barry wants a question. Okay.
QUESTION: The Secretary said in his NPR interview yesterday that this has been a disaster for us. Do you think or does he think that he underestimated the dimensions of the problem before it became public with the pictures?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: It's hard to deal with the word "concerns," but that's maybe all you -- the best you can do or all you can do. I mean, did Red Cross people see, specifically, the kind of behavior that became public? Or had they heard things? Were they gener-- see, what brings me to the question is --
MR. BOUCHER: I guess what I have to say to you is, first of all, in terms of the meetings that we've had, most of the times those were raised in more general ways and some of the -- some of the issues were specified.
I know Red Cross reports are confidential and they don't like us talking about what's in them. But if one were, for example, to read a Red Cross report on the Internet, one might --
QUESTION: Which is all right, I guess.
MR. BOUCHER: One might see -- oh, I wouldn't do that, that wouldn't be appropriate.
QUESTION: Of course.
MR. BOUCHER: But if you did, you might see that, in fact, they did observe specific things that they were -- that were of concern to them.
QUESTION: All right. The reason -- what brings this to mind is when you bracket all three places, they're concerned about this, they're concerned about that -- I mean the Red Cross, at least since World War II -- World War II they didn't show a great amount of concern, by the way.
But their concern over the last many decades, they're concerned, generally, aren't they, when people are being detained? They're concerned that they're not treated properly. I'm trying to get at, did they really raise, you know, the red flag --
MR. BOUCHER: They raised specific issues in different -- different issues, different places. Our understanding from their reporting is that they raised specific issues at different places of detention, different kinds of detention issues that occurred, and I think you see that from what information is available on their reports.
MR. BOUCHER: But in terms of us, yes, they talked about different situations in different places. They were -- you know, they talked about Afghanistan one way, about Iraq a different way, about Guantanamo a different way, and at different times. And the Iraq picture didn't -- you know, was what came later. So, you know, these various concerns were raised and we talked about them with other agencies, as appropriate.
QUESTION: Richard, can I -- just to get to the timing involved in it -- when the Secretary last met personally face-to-face with Mr. Kellenberger, it was January --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- which was a month before the Red Cross report which -- in question was released, at least if one is to judge by what one can see on the Internet.
Did Mr. Kellenberger, at that time, specifically raise questions or concerns about the situation in Abu Ghraib? And if he did, what did he say? And if he didn't, what was the main focus of that meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm -- I'm really constrained. I'm not trying to stand up here and report for the Red Cross, talk about what the Red Cross raised, particularly when they, themselves, have said that they don't intend to do that for themselves.
What's, I think, key to understanding the situation is that the federal report and the things that they were telling us were things that had been raised over the course of time directly with the people at the commands. They talked about having raised issues with coalition forces. They were having meetings here as well as the NSC and the Pentagon, and the Pentagon was where they were addressing some of the more specific concerns.
So, at that point, they were basically telling us that we have various concerns with people about the situation of detentions in Iraq.
QUESTION: That's fine, but there was a report this morning in The Wall Street Journal that says that that did happen. And it quotes a secondhand quote from an official in Germany, an ICRC official, telling a German newspaper that, in fact, Mr. Kellenberger did bring this up.
MR. BOUCHER: Where?
QUESTION: At this June -- at this January 15th meeting.
MR. BOUCHER: With the Secretary?
MR. BOUCHER: Or with others?
QUESTION: No, with the Secretary. With Secretary Powell.
MR. BOUCHER: I have not read, again, the specifics of that meeting. But it was not -- I don't quite know how to express this, because I -- let me go back and check the actual record of the meeting. The general pattern has been that they would tell us: We have serious concerns and some specific concerns about what we've been seeing in X places, and that we have raised those directly with the people involved, the people responsible for those places. And that, as far as my recollection goes, that the January meeting was along those lines.
QUESTION: All right. Well, whether or not he did or did not specifically raise this, is it correct that the Secretary was aware of it at the time, was aware of these problems, the initial complaint apparently having been put forward on -- two days earlier?
MR. BOUCHER: A day or two before?
QUESTION: On June -- January 13th.
MR. BOUCHER: I think everybody in the Administration was aware of it. It had been a matter of -- when was the public announcement? Was it -- it might have -- the public announcement might have been the next day, if I remember correctly, the 16th, that they were starting an investigation. But whatever day the public announcement was, it was right around that time.
QUESTION: Well, I'll drop it after this one. But that same day, January 15th, you were asked in this briefing room what you expected the topics to be when the Secretary and Mr. Kellenberger met, which was going -- the meeting was going to be about 20 minutes afterwards, after when you were speaking. And you said -- they had mentioned themselves what topics were going to be -- and you said that you thought from what you had read, that those topics would be Iraq and Guantanamo.
And two days -- or three days before -- before the Red Cross had, indeed, given a press conference in which they talked about how Guantanamo was going to be the big issue. And the day after the January 15th meeting, the Red Cross issued a statement about Kellenberger's meeting here, in which he said that the Red Cross was concerned that the U.S. was not addressing its concerns about Guantanamo, specifically. That statement, that press release, doesn't mention the word Iraq in it once. It mentions two places, physically: Guantanamo and Afghanistan.
To the best of your recollection, or can you go back and look and find out, please, if, you know, if Abu Ghraib or if specific places in Iraq came up at that meeting? Because they do not appear, at least publicly, what they were willing to say publicly, it doesn't appear that they were.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to pretend to explain their press releases, but --
QUESTION: I'm not asking you to, but if it's complete.
MR. BOUCHER: I will check for you as to whether we discussed with them in January specific concerns about Abu Ghraib and Iraq. But, again, I need to remind you that Mr. Kellenberger was coming here after the Red Cross had raised specific concerns about detentions in Iraq with people in Iraq who could do something about them, and that he was coming here to see people in Washington, including a number of us -- State Department, White House, Pentagon -- and was addressing more specific things, I think, to the Pentagon.
QUESTION: When you say -- and the Secretary says that he raised -- he raised this with other members of the Administration, knowing that the Red Cross had also talked about some of their concerns with them. And he continued to raise these concerns. Was there a feeling on his part that the message wasn't getting through and that he needed to continue raising it? Or was this just kind of a reminder because he felt, you know, he might as well just bring it up? I mean, was there a feeling on his part that it was incumbent upon him to beat the drum a little harder to raise the urgency of the issue?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't try to characterize it one way or the other. I'd say that there were continuing concerns that were raised with us by the ICRC. We knew from reporting from Iraq, from our people in Iraq, from Ambassador Bremer and the coalition people, that there were continuing concerns inside Iraq about detentions, not necessarily specific abuses, although there were some stories there about that, but there were also these more general concerns about people being detained and how they were processed, how they were -- the families were notified, things like that. And that led, indeed, to an interagency discussion that led to action and the announcements that Ambassador Bremer made at the end of April.
So detainees were an issue. The whole issue of how do we handle people in Guantanamo, how do we set up these mechanisms for releasing, reviewing, transferring, and all that, that was a high-level issue, an ongoing issue, over the course of the last year because, as we did more and more releases, as we set up these mechanisms. So detainees was an issue on the agenda, and the Secretary regularly discussed it with cabinet colleagues, and the State Department worked with other agencies to try to resolve these problems as they arose. And as the Red Cross raised different problems, we always tried to ensure that people who could resolve them were looking at them and looking at them seriously.
QUESTION: On the issue of prison abuse, in general, there is an Egyptian-Islamic website allegedly affiliated with al-Qaida that is showing a video of Iraqis claiming that they're beheading an American citizen in revenge for the prison abuse. Do you know anything about that? Have you seen these reports?
MR. BOUCHER: I have not seen those reports. I don't know anything about that.
MR. BOUCHER: Charlie.
QUESTION: Richard, when you talk about Mr. Kellenberger coming here, you make reference time after time to briefing State and other agencies here. Can you say -- and then just a minute ago you talked about the White House and the Pentagon as well as State.
Did Mr. Kellenberger also brief the CIA?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: You don't know or you can't --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'm not aware that he did, but I don't know for sure that he didn't.
Yeah, okay. Mark.
QUESTION: At any point, did the Secretary raise concerns or object to interrogation practices being followed in Iraq or in Afghanistan?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know to what extent they arose at these meetings. I can't answer that question. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: I'd like to change the subject.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on Mark's question? (Inaudible) meetings. Did he raise it with Secretary Rumsfeld or other members of the U.S. Government?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary and his colleagues
in the cabinet have frequent and numerous discussions that
we leave to them to talk about amongst themselves. We don't
regularly report to you on them, and we don't regularly keep
that kind of detailed record on it, so I'm just -- I don't
I don't think I'm in a position to find out, frankly. They've discussed many aspects of the detainee issue because these aspects arose over time. To what extent they had occasion to talk about interrogation techniques, I just don't know.
QUESTION: Could you talk about how you would hope the G-8 ministerial Friday will advance the Greater Middle East Initiative insofar as that seems to hinge so much on internal Arab leaders' reforms, and just sort of tell us how you would like to see that happen?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've seen a number of things in the Arab world: the two Arab Human Development reports; there was a meeting in Sanaa that produced a declaration; there was a conference in Alexandria; and now we've had the Arab foreign ministers meeting over the last few days, and we expect an Arab League Summit. I guess they've said it's the 22nd.
So there is a great deal of discussion in the Arab world and, indeed, we've talked to many partners and friends in the Arab world about their process of reform, about their aspirations for more open societies, more economic opportunity, more democracy, rule of law, justice.
Those are all things that we support, and so we have been talking within the G-8 about how best we can support them and trying to come up with specific programs that we could use, that they could use, to support the reforms that they want to make, the direction that they want to go.
And so we'll be talking about that further with the G-8 colleagues on Friday as this develops, and then, as I think I mentioned yesterday, they'll have an opportunity then, when the Secretary goes to Jordan, to talk to Arab foreign ministers or Arab economic officials and to kind of bring together again the G-8 and Arab processes so that we know that -- better understand the direction that they, themselves, are heading in and better understand the kind of programs or tools that we might have that can support them.
So that's where we'll be with the G-8. This process will continue through the Arab League Summit, obviously, and then through the actual G-8 meeting among leaders.
QUESTION: When you talk about -- you used the phrase, "Arab governments," but you mean governments. You specifically are trying to encourage existing governments not to go out of business and establish a democratic system where there isn't one, but the government itself, which has not been democratic, to change its ways and liberalize.
There's been a great debate about this in think tanks, you know, whether the Administration is asking for liberalization, which is what I think you're asking for, or democratization. Because the theory a lot of think-tankers have is you can't democratize a government that, itself, is not democratic, nor inclined to be democratic.
Is that too --
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: I mean, you expect an autocratic government to institute --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I generally catch the drift.
QUESTION: You know what I'm trying to say?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me try to explain. The ferment that I talked about, the various conferences and meetings, some of it is government; some of it is decisions by governments to have elections; some of it's decisions by governments to institute better rule of law; some of it's things like the changes in the family law that have been introduced in Morocco; some of it's changes like the elections that have been held in various countries in the Gulf.
So there are a great many things that manifest themselves in -- that manifest themselves in different ways in the Arab world, and part of it is that there is a process of change with governments, but also in societies.
And we would expect, through our programs, to support, you know, civil society programs, to support, you know, journalist training. I don't know. (inaudible) things that we can do that support not just government efforts at reform, which are very important --
MR. BOUCHER: -- but that also expect -- support the greater openness in society that many of these people are looking for.
And so it's not, for us, a simple one or the other. It's that together, in tandem, governments, societies, populations, thinkers, even people in think tanks, can take advantage of the opportunities that are presented by democracy, by economic opportunity and by reform generally.
QUESTION: Richard, just very quickly on the meetings in Jordan. I see that Foreign Minister Maher said today that he expected to see the Secretary separately. Do you have any better idea of who else he might be seeing?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't. I don't yet have a list of people that we'll be having meetings with, but I would expect we'll see a number of them. I just don't know how many.
QUESTION: On Syria. I don't want to get in front of the White House. But it seems that the announcement should be coming later today. Can you just say about, when the sanctions are announced -- you said they were forthcoming -- do you think that the imposition of sanctions on Syria would limit any cooperation that you've had with the Syrians on al-Qaida or the border with Iraq? I mean, are you afraid this will further alienate the Syrians?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer is: When we decide and announce what we've decided, we'll have to see. What I think we have made clear for a long time, going back over a year -- I think with the Secretary's trip, last trip to Syria, which would have been in the springtime of last year -- the Secretary made very clear that we were in a changed situation in the world with a changed situation in the region; policies of supporting terrorism, developing weapons of mass destruction and destabilizing regions that were looking for peace were not going to be successful; and that we looked for Syria to understand the new situation and to change some of the practices and policies that it had had, specifically in terms of ending support for terrorist groups and organizations, abandoning programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, contributing to stabilization in Iraq and withdrawing its troops from Lebanon, pursuing a real process of support for the peace process, not only Israeli-Palestinian, but also for opportunities of a comprehensive peace. All of those things.
In some of those areas, we saw some action, but it was -- I think we made clear all along that we didn't feel like there was a serious and comprehensive response. We've never felt that Syria has adapted itself to the new realities. And, as a consequence, we had said all along that our relationship would suffer, and we saw that when Congress proposed legislation, the President decided he should sign it and now implement it -- or -- and now may implement it.
And so that's the juncture that we have come to. We would still hope that Syria would look at the situation, look at the region around it, stop supporting terrorist groups and adapt its policies to be a stable and harmonious member of that region. That is something we'll continue to pursue.
QUESTION: Richard, you and the Secretary always refer to that meeting last year in May. I mean, that was a year ago. And can you saying anything about the efforts that -- I mean, you obviously just didn't give that warning and let it (inaudible). Can you talk anything about the follow-up efforts to try and get Syria to do anything?
MR. BOUCHER: We had numerous conversations with Syria at different levels. Assistant Secretary Burns was out there several times. I think, if you remember, when our new Ambassador went out in January, the Secretary made a point of saying that she was going to raise all of these issues again, look for progress on these issues again.
And so, not only in the regular and frequent follow-up of our Embassy, but also envoys and meetings, and messages from the Secretary from time to time, we have made very clear that it was important that Syria understand its situation, look around its region and start taking action on things like support for violent groups that oppose the peace process, support for terrorism, more action on some of the Iraqi questions. Many of these things still needed to be done.
QUESTION: The Foreign Minister of Syria has answered those accusations concerning the -- Syria's supporting terrorism and he called them unfounded accusations. And many Syrian officials have counted so many facts of cooperation between Syria and the United States along the Iraqi borders.
And concerning the accusation that Syria has supported Hezbollah, Hezbollah has just won the vast, vast majority of municipal elections in Lebanon as a political party in there so that cannot be excluded from the result of Lebanon.
Also, the Syrian President has met European leaders from Queen Elizabeth to Juan Carlos, King of Spain, the President of Greece, the President of Brazil. I mean so many people, presidents around the world. And they say also that the United States is driven by the Israeli lobby in Washington in order to put all these stumbling, you know, point in the road of better relations between the two countries.
MR. BOUCHER: Do we have a question somewhere?
QUESTION: Yes. What do you -- what is your take on all this?
MR. BOUCHER: We have met directly with the Syrians, with the Syrian leaders, with the Syrian President as well. We've always been willing to talk to Syria about these things. We've had teams go out and work on some of the specifics.
But when it comes to groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, and some of the groups that are allowed, that are still present in Damascus, you can't just call them political parties and have done with it.
These groups are engaged in a violent attempt to block the peace process, to block Palestinian aspirations and to kill innocent people. And to, you know, run for an election here or there doesn't change the essential nature of the groups.
So I'm afraid we don't think you can play games with terrorism. You can't talk your way out of it or around it. There are terrorists in this world, Hezbollah and Hamas are among them, and no country should be supporting them.
QUESTION: A follow-up, please?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: How do you feel about the denunciation of the Arab foreign ministers now of this Syria Accountability Act? They're seeing this as coming from pro-Israeli people in the Congress that has pursued -- that they have pursued this very vigorously, in order to impose on Syria. This denunciation is coming a few days before the visit of Secretary Powell with those ministers.
MR. BOUCHER: The -- certainly, there are people in Congress who have proposed acts like this before and have proposed legislation like this before. I would say that in previous years, as the Secretary pointed out last May when he was in Syria, in previous years, the Administration had felt that they had enough grounds to oppose such legislation, to point to the possibility of positive progress in our relationship with Syria.
But the Secretary made clear last May that, as things were going at that point, that we would not be in a position to do that. We didn't have enough to say, we didn't have concrete actions to go with, we didn't have any real indication that Syria was changing its policies; and, therefore, as time went on, we not only didn't oppose the legislation, but we felt it was appropriate to sign it.
So it's not a question of who originated this act. I think it's a matter of how policies evolved so that we felt that we had nothing to go on in terms of opposing the legislation, and then we saw that there was -- time was passing and no action was being taken on the issues that were of direct concern to us, that we, that the Secretary, the Ambassador and others raised directly with the Syrian Government. And that's why we feel it's important to implement this legislation.
QUESTION: Have Arab Governments been briefed along the lines of what you're saying, how the U.S. came to this decision?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'm still not getting ahead of any decision or announcing any decision. I want to make absolutely clear, as I discuss this, that I'm not discussing any decision on this.
MR. BOUCHER: But -- so I don't, since we're not prepared to announce anything, I don't think we've been in a position to brief governments quite yet.
QUESTION: Moving on?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I'm just wondering if there's any light you can shed on Mr. DiTrani's bilaterals --
QUESTION: -- and trilateral.
QUESTION: And -- yes, and non-TCOG, TCOG --
MR. BOUCHER: Don't put all the news in the question.
MR. BOUCHER: I won't be left with an answer if you --
QUESTION: Sorry. Mr. DiTrani, you can give us his first name and exactly who he met. I won't (inaudible).
MR. BOUCHER: A U.S. delegation headed by Special Envoy Joe DiTrani held bilateral meetings today with South Korea, Japan and China, in advance of the working group meeting. The delegation expected to meet this evening with the Russians. That meeting is probably over by now, but haven't heard back yet.
The U.S., South Korea and Japan also held a trilateral meeting today in Beijing to consult on issues related to the working group, and the first session of the working group convenes tomorrow, Wednesday, May 12th.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Yeah.
QUESTION: If the U.S. is meeting bilaterally with all these countries, and it's a five -- and it's like six-party talks -- I understand the issue is about North Korea, but why did -- why did the U.S., South Korea and Japan feel the need to continue to meet trilaterally, without the Russians or the Chinese? I mean, isn't this about all five parties working with North Korea? I mean --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, if you want to ask that, why not ask at the same time, why do we meet bilaterally with South Korea and Japan when we also meet them trilaterally together?
QUESTION: That's a good question.
MR. BOUCHER: That's a good question, too. (Laughter.) And let me answer both of them right now in the same way.
They're different meetings with different purposes. Different countries may come at this in different ways. Some countries have different plans or programs with regard to North Korea. We've made clear all along to the North Koreans that there were a variety of opportunities that they were missing in the world, but those opportunities are different from different countries.
So China's relations with North Korea, in terms of how they relate now and what they may or may not do in the future, are of a different nature than, say, Japan's or South Korea's or Russia's. And so, as we talk with other governments about how they -- what their interests are and how they intend to proceed, we have a little opportunity to meet them individually and talk about these in more specific terms than we do when we all get together collectively.
Nonetheless, the format for pursuing these talks, for trying to achieve progress with North Korea, is a group context of six parties, and we all bring to the table what we know and what were our individual interests.
Sort of make sense? It's like -- no, I won't say anything. I was going to find a cooking analogy, but I don't think I will.
QUESTION: Oh, can I just (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: So with trilateral meeting among your country and the South Korean and Japanese, you get any consensus about the North Korean side is still proposing its own talk about the freeze and the compensation? What's the common attitude toward this proposal?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've expressed that in previous meetings. I'm not aware of anything different. But given that we're sort of operating in the context of a discussion, a working group discussion that will be held in Beijing, I think we need to sort of let that unfold in Beijing without my trying to brief individually here.
Yeah, okay. You were going to change? A follow-up on that? Sure.
QUESTION: In the bilateral with the Chinese, did they indicate in any way what the North Koreans may be willing to give?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not in a position to brief on the North Korean position, nor on what the Chinese position is on the North Korean position, on what it may be.
QUESTION: Is there still a possibility of a U.S.-North Korean bilat?
MR. BOUCHER: I would expect that, as is present in any multilateral negotiation, that individual delegations meet. We might meet with the North Koreans --
QUESTION: This is exactly --
MR. BOUCHER: -- in that context.
QUESTION: And that's what you said yesterday, right?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Still hasn't changed.
QUESTION: The other thing on what's going on in Gaza --
MR. BOUCHER: Can she change the subject first? She was going to change to China, I think.
QUESTION: Yeah. The Vice Minister of China's State Development and Reform Commission, Mr. Zhu, is meeting Under Secretary Larson today. Do you have any information on that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. I'll have to see if I can get you something after the meeting.
QUESTION: Okay. And the other thing is, China's Premier, Wen Jiabao, said yesterday he would consider introducing a reunification law to prevent Taiwan from edging toward independence. Since, I mean, the U.S. supports "One China policy," would it view this as a positive development?
MR. BOUCHER: What law are we talking about? Something in National People's Congress, or --
QUESTION: Reunification law. He said that the --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of the proposal. I don't know that we have taken a position, nor that we would.
QUESTION: Anything to say about Gaza, the reports from there?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we're all very concerned, shocked by the reports we've seen out of Gaza. The Secretary phoned the Israeli Foreign Minister this morning to express our sympathies and condolences for the very difficult situation faced by Israeli forces there today. And I think I'd just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Richard, I didn't get to bring this to the attention of your colleagues this morning. But Chiquita brands, an American company, yesterday, announced that it's cooperating with the Justice Department, which is investigating allegations that its Colombian subsidiary paid protection money to groups designated by the State Department as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Have you got anything on that?
MR. BOUCHER: This is a law enforcement issue and we would refer you to the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Barry’s question on Gaza. There is a report coming out of Israel that in the conversation the Secretary had with Foreign Minister Shalom, the Foreign Minister is quoted as telling Secretary Powell that Israel is "dealing with animals." Can you confirm whether or not that was said?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't.
QUESTION: Richard, a opposition leader, meaning the ex-Prime Minister's brother, has returned to Pakistan. His name is Shahbaz Sharif, and he was immediately deported. If he's coming from London, do other governments have any particular jurisdiction, and/or have you spoken to those governments? Because, obviously, he's an opposition leader and there's been trouble both in Karachi and further north in Afghanistan and such.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know this -- the simple answer to your question is no, we're not in any way directly involved in this. We're following reports. We've seen the press reports. We've heard from the Government of Pakistan about it. I guess our understanding was that he was put on a plane to Jeddah, but I'll leave other people to report on where exactly he's headed.
So no, other than the fact that we've -- were aware of these events, I really don't have anything to say about them.
Ken. Sorry, one more.
QUESTION: Sir, quickly, can you update the status of the team in Sudan?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. You're talking about the Darfur team or the team that -- also, I would note that our Acting Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Charles Snyder is traveling to Naivasha, Kenya today. He's heading out there and I think some representatives of other governments are heading out there, too, to try to help them achieve -- help the parties achieve what they tell us they have achieved, which is reached agreement and getting ready to sign. But we'll see.
As far as the situation in Darfur, as you know, we've had four airlifts in. We still see a need for nonfood items in Darfur. In fact, we think it's increasing.
We estimate that there are close to 1.1 million people who have been displaced in Darfur. Relief operations continue to be obstructed by both security on the ground and by the Government of Sudan, which is limiting the availability of visas and travel permits.
The onset of the rainy season in the next few weeks will make delivery of aid continually more complicated as roads become impassable over the coming months.
At this point, we have received visas for 12 out of 27 members of our Disaster Assistance Teams. There are six members of the team in Khartoum now awaiting permits to travel to Darfur. Once they have received permits to travel, they'll still require travel permits to go beyond the three capitals of Darfur states in order to visit camps and villages.
So this is a difficult process and one that's been made more difficult by the government's reluctance to issue these permits, and we have been pushing very hard on the government to make clear that it's imperative that they issue these permits quickly.
QUESTION: How long have they been waiting for (inaudible)? They're now in Khartoum, right?
MR. BOUCHER: They're now in Khartoum. I don't know exactly how many days. I'd have to work back from when they got the visas.
QUESTION: Can you take that for us?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. I'll have to see. I'm looking to see -- don't have exactly that, yeah.
QUESTION: Richard, on Naivasha?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: It sounds an awful like -- an awful like -- lot like people are preparing for some kind of ceremony from your comments. Are you --
MR. BOUCHER: No. I wouldn't say that. That they have indicated to us that they've reached agreements and that they expected to sign a deal, but we have not seen that happen in actuality yet and we are going out to try to help them reach that kind of speedy conclusion that they've been talking about.
QUESTION: Well, what do you mean, going out to help them? I mean, are you going out to bash heads together, to say, "Listen, you're going to sign this deal"? I mean, you don't believe that they --
MR. BOUCHER: We call it help.
QUESTION: Right. Yeah, I understand that. But sometimes, you know, tough love is one thing.
You say they've indicated to you that they're ready to sign a deal. Are you saying that they've indicated this to us in the past and so we don't -- we're not really sure we believe them; is that what you're saying?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I wouldn't quite go that far because I think it is, for the first time, that they've indicated to us that they think they've resolved the issues and they're writing them down and expecting to sign soon, but we're also helping them achieve that goal that they have talked about themselves.
QUESTION: Richard, just back quick on Darfur. When you said "nonfood items," do you mean medicine, tents, shelter?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, shelter -- you know, what we sent in the last -- the four airplanes that we got in over the last few days was 1,400 rolls of plastic sheeting, 3,000 -- 37,500 blankets and 600 Jerry cans. So things like that that are needed.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)