State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for August 31
Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
August 31, 2004
- Secretary Powell Travel to Panama/Celebration of Presidential
- Terrorist Bombings
- Hezbollah and Hamas as Terrorist Organizations
- Reports of Bombing
- Following Developments in Plane Crash Investigations
- Possible UNSC Resolution on Syrian Involvement in Constitutional
- Syrian Pressure to Oppose Security Council Action
- Departure of Foreign Troops in Lebanon
- Assistant Secretary Burns Travel/Syria
- Exporting of Oil
- Murder of Nepali Hostages
- Re-opening of Consulate in Jeddah
- Calling off of Military Exercises
- Possible Visit of Secretary Powell to China
- Secretary Powell's Meeting with Chung Dong-young
- Assistant Secretary Newman's Talks with Officials
- UN Security Council Resolution 1556
- Kidnapping of Relief Workers
- Curbing of Jingaweit Militias
- Discussions of a No-Fly Zone
12:40 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Only one thing I wanted to mention at the top of the briefing, a reminder the Secretary is traveling tomorrow to Panama for the inauguration of the new President in Panama. He'll have a few other meetings down there. There will be no formal State Department briefing here tomorrow, but the Press Office will have answers available to the main questions of the day, should you wish to contact them during the course of the day.
And with that, I'd be glad to take your questions for today.
QUESTION: Well, on that?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, on that. Could you tell us more about what he's going to do down there, who he's going to see? Is the status of the canal itself an issue that he will raise?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary's main purpose in going down is to celebrate the inauguration of the new President in Panama. He'll have meetings with the Panamanians, with some of the other leaders who are down there at the time. I'm not quite sure I'm ready to put out the whole schedule and list of bilaterals yet, but there will be three or four bilaterals in addition to meeting with the Panamanians.
QUESTION: Would you expect him to see the Taiwanese President, and was that a subject that was raised by Foreign Minister Li in their phone call?
MR. BOUCHER: No, and no.
QUESTION: You don't expect him to see the Taiwanese President at all? Because the last time he was in Panama, he did see him.
MR. BOUCHER: They'll both be at the same event. There is no meeting planned.
QUESTION: Do you expect him to see President Chavez?
MR. BOUCHER: They'll both be at the same event. There is no meeting planned.
QUESTION: Chavez is not going.
MR. BOUCHER: Then, in that case, they won't be at the same event and there is no meeting planned. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Is there a chance that you might be able to tell us, give us, you know, who he does expect to see, at least more than just informally across -- or sitting in the same podium by the end of today, just a --
MR. BOUCHER: Is there a chance? Yes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Is that chance other than zero?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, yeah, the chance is much higher than zero. (Laughter.) I just want to double-check before I do that.
QUESTION: You're pretty certain --
MR. BOUCHER: Make sure it's all pinned down.
QUESTION: And you're pretty certain that the press of business, which kept him from Athens, won't interfere in this --
MR. BOUCHER: This is an event that I think we're pretty certain the Secretary will be able to do.
QUESTION: Can we move on to the bombings in Israel?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: I understand Secretary Powell has called Foreign Minister Shalom?
MR. BOUCHER: Just a few minutes ago.
QUESTION: Oh, well, I'm up.
MR. BOUCHER: Let me first make clear we condemn the horrible terrorist attacks in Israel in the strongest terms. Our deepest condolences go to the families and the loved ones of the victims. The Secretary called Foreign Minister Shalom a little while ago to express our condolences and our condemnation of these terrorist attacks.
We also wish to express our wishes for a speedy recovery to those injured in these attacks. We've been in contact with Israeli officials to convey our condolences and our support against terrorism.
There can be no excuse for violence and terrorist attacks that the Israeli people have been forced to endure. Palestinian leaders must take immediate credible steps to end terror and violence. The time for excuses is long past. We need to see actions that send a clear message that terrorism will not be tolerated.
Attacks as these not only kill innocent civilians, but they undermine the aspirations and the hopes of the Palestinian people as well.
QUESTION: Does he have any plans to call Palestinian officials, to call Qureia?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of anything at this point.
QUESTION: I assume you've seen the the condemnation from the Palestinian Authority.
MR. BOUCHER: I've --
QUESTION: Does that just not do it?
MR. BOUCHER: As I think we've said, it's not a question of words, it's a question of actions, actions that send a clear message that terror will not be tolerated.
QUESTION: Israeli official has accused one more time Hezbollah as behind training Palestinian suiciders? Do you have any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we view Hezbollah as a terrorist group. I don't know if they were specifically involved in this act. That will be something for the Israeli investigators to determine.
QUESTION: Have you also seen reports that Hamas -- I don't know if it's been accepted, but has at least offered to register Palestinians for the upcoming expected elections? Would that be something that you think that would be acceptable?
MR. BOUCHER: I have not seen those reports. Once again, I'd say that Hamas -- we see Hamas as a terrorist organization. We say terrorist organizations need to be put out of business.
QUESTION: Change subjects. Have you -- and this, I think,
just came out
-- but have you seen Interfax reports about bombings in Moscow? Do you know anything about that?
MR. BOUCHER: We've seen the reports of bombings in Moscow just recently; obviously, we're very concerned about the situation. We've also been following the reporting on the plane crashes that occurred over the weekend* in Russia. And so, I think, as you know, we've always been willing to help the Russians or consult with them in these matters and that offer remains open, but, at this point, the Russians are investigating.
QUESTION: You're not trying to draw a link in either of those two things?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not. I'm just saying there have been a series of terrorist incidents in Russia, plane crashes, and now, apparently, bombings -- what was it? -- at a subway stop, or something.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you want to call that a terrorist incident?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know the details yet, but I'm certainly following developments and watching all these developments.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the Middle East just for a second? How are your discussions with the French and others in New York going on the -- on possible UN action?
MR. BOUCHER: On the issue of Lebanon?
QUESTION: Of Lebanon and Syria.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, we've -- we have had discussions with various Security Council members on a possible resolution related to Lebanese sovereignty. We'd point out the UN Security Council has repeatedly affirmed its respect for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence. We feel that Syrian pressure to modify the Lebanese constitution to permit President Lahud to remain in office an additional three years is an affront to Lebanon sovereignty and political independence.
The upcoming presidential election is a decision for the Lebanese people alone to organize and carry out consistent with their established constitution. So, at this point, we are discussing what elements a possible resolution might contain.
QUESTION: And do you -- are they -- did this just begin? There was some discussion about it here yesterday. Is this -- you're in the early stages of this, would you say, or is it advanced to a point where you're looking at actual language?
MR. BOUCHER: We are looking at actual language. We've been talking with some of the other governments about language for a few days now.
QUESTION: Okay. And, I mean, can you give us an idea of what
it might say? I mean, would it just be a statement in
support of Lebanese sovereignty or
MR. BOUCHER: I think beyond what I've said already, I think I'll leave it at that until we have language that we can put forward.
QUESTION: And can you say who else, besides the French, you're talking to? Or, if you can't, at least a broad -- a number? I mean --
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, we've talked to a fairly large, significant number of Security Council members. I'm not sure if it's everyone, but we've checked with a number of them.
QUESTION: When do you expect the Security Council will vote on this resolution on --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know at this point.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on whether Secretary Burns will travel to Syria?
MR. BOUCHER: Secretary Burns will travel. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: To the beach?
MR. BOUCHER: No, he's planning on -- he's -- Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs William J. Burns is planning to travel to the Middle East in September to discuss a wide range of issues. He expects to make a number of stops. The travel plans are not yet finalized, so I'm really not in a position to provide an itinerary yet.
QUESTION: Would you anticipate Syria would be a possible stop?
MR. BOUCHER: I would anticipate Damascus would be one of the stops, yeah.
MR. BOUCHER: We'll have to see.
QUESTION: Just back on the resolution issue. Does it make any difference to you that the Lebanese Government, which is obviously under Syrian pressure or -- is opposed to any kind of a UN action on this specific issue? Does that factor in at all?
MR. BOUCHER: Obviously, we want to consider the position of the Lebanese Government, but we want to hear -- we want to consider a position the Lebanese take without outside influence, without undue outside influence, and I don't think it's clear what that position is. There's been a lot of discussion and criticism inside Lebanon of the kind of pressure that's being applied and the kind of decisions that are being made.
QUESTION: Richard, with respect to this Lebanese, they're now saying that they're calling this a French-U.S. blackmail. Now, when you bring this to the Security Council, are you pushing the Syrians to both pull their troops as well as maybe bring down Hezbollah and other groups at the same time?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, we'll call it a resolution rather than a blackmail. Second of all, the UN Security Council, in many resolutions, has called for the departure of all foreign forces from Lebanon and that remains a position that we have consistently supported and urged.
QUESTION: On Iraq. I understand Ambassador Negroponte attended a meeting today with some of al-Sadr's people?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything on that. You'd have to check with the Embassy.
MR. BOUCHER: If there was such a meeting, I don't know.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on questions about whether Iraqi oil is being exported or not? There seems to be differing reports that it's been blocked and that some ships are making it out.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't. I may be able to get something for you later. I talked about this a little bit with the Embassy in Baghdad this morning and they're looking into the matter because there is, in fact, oil flowing, and at what levels we'll have to ascertain and try to get you more information.
QUESTION: The consulate in Jeddah has reopened?
MR. BOUCHER: The consulate in Jeddah has reopened. I'm not sure there is much more to say than that. It's open for business. All Americans are accounted for and we're working with local authorities on the investigation.
QUESTION: Beirut has complained to the UN Security Council, saying the United Nations has no right to interfere in its internal politics. Do you have any comment?
MR. BOUCHER: The UN Security Council takes positions on matters affecting international peace and security, and the issue of Lebanon, the issue of Lebanon's sovereignty and territorial integrity, has been the subject many times of resolutions because we believe it's an important one to the Security Council and one that does affect international peace and security. So I think anything that would be looked at at this point would be entirely consistent with the previous positions that members of the Security Council itself has taken on Lebanon.
MR. BOUCHER: Sir. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Iraq video, the Nepali hostages who were beheaded, or one of them at least was?
MR. BOUCHER: Obviously, a situation that raises a lot of concern about the welfare of the hostages. We've certainly seen the reports, including reports of the video that 12 Nepalese hostages were murdered.
First, we condemn these barbaric acts in the strongest possible terms. Second, we offer our condolences and sympathies to the families of people who were killed, apparently were killed. We are in touch with the Lebanese -- with the Nepalese Government, and have been in touch with them since the video appeared.
And I think I'll just add that we continue to work with Iraqi security forces, United States and multinational forces, to try to coordinate efforts to secure the release of all the hostages, people that have been taken hostage in Iraq.
QUESTION: Taiwan has canceled plans to hold annual war games after China also called off some military exercises. Do you have anything to say about that? And did the United States ask either country, either China or Taiwan, to not hold these exercises?
MR. BOUCHER: We have consistently encouraged both sides to take steps to resolve differences, to engage in dialogue and to take steps to reduce tensions. And so we welcome and encourage all these steps that are being taken by Taiwan and the People's Republic of China to reduce tensions.
This is an annual exercise that the Taiwan military conducts. For further information on that, you'd have to check with the Taiwan authorities.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on Secretary Powell's possible visit to China, and perhaps discussion with Chinese leaders on Taiwan?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary has talked with the Foreign Minister several times about the possibility of a visit to China. There's nothing set at this point, nothing to say, really, at this point.
In terms of Taiwan, it's a subject he discusses frequently. It came up in a phone call over the weekend when they talked about North Korea and the situation with regards to further rounds of six-party talks. The subject of Taiwan also came up.
QUESTION: Mr. Powell will meet South Korean President (inaudible) Mr. Chung Dong-young today. So will he give -- make any suggestion for the breakthrough of the next six-way talk?
MR. BOUCHER: I think they'll want to discuss -- they'll want to coordinate on approaches to North Korea, discuss a variety of other issues of common concern. I'm sure they'll want to discuss the timing of the next round of six-party talks. As you know, we, the South Koreans and the other participants in the process agreed in principle to hold a session before the end of September. We look forward to convening a working group meeting at the earliest possible date. I understand that desire is still shared by both the United States and South Korea, as well as other allies, and we hope the North Koreans will go along.
QUESTION: Richard, the United States is being criticized by the WTO, and it also includes the EU, over dumping-type sanctions that they want to impose. Do you have any comments concerning this?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure what the specific cases are you're talking about. You'd probably have to check with the Trade Representative's office about that.
QUESTION: Anything back from Assistant Secretary Newman on her talks with Khartoum officials?
MR. BOUCHER: She, as you know, is traveling in the region, is having meetings today with senior Government of Sudan officials, returns to Washington tomorrow evening. She did visit the displaced person's camp in Darfur yesterday.
I don't have a full rundown of the leaders that she's met with. She was going to meet with a variety of senior officials, including it was anticipated she'd meet with Vice President Taha.
There, the focus is on Darfur, following up on the Secretary's visit, and particularly on the specific actions that the Sudanese Government agreed to take at that time, in their discussions both with the Secretary and the Secretary General of the United Nations.
She'll be pressing the Government of Sudan on the need to comply with UN Security Council resolutions, particularly 1556, and the upcoming review that the Council will make of whether further measures are required.
Note as well that she'll want to discuss, she'll be discussing, is discussing the north-south process, as well.
QUESTION: Anything further with the international relief workers, which appear to have been kidnapped in Sudan?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, we're very concerned. At this point, we're very concerned about reports of eight missing Sudanese aid workers from international humanitarian agencies, reportedly the World Food Program and Sudanese Red Crescent Society, and I think today we've seen some further reports of possible missing aid workers.
I can't speculate at this point on the circumstances of their disappearance, but obviously we're very concerned about the matter. We're following it closely and see if there's anything we can do to help.
QUESTION: Could you take the question, and perhaps get back to us with an answer by the end of the day, about who she did actually meet and whether she actually met Vice President Taha?
MR. BOUCHER: I will.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if we can get that. As of -- I made a phone call right before briefing time, and we just didn't have the reporting yet.
QUESTION: Richard, I don't know if it would be her or, you know, anybody else that's been in the region -- Assistant Secretary -- Deputy Assistant Secretary Snyder. Have there been any meetings with members of the Jingaweit or any non-Sudanese, non-governmental Sudanese that have links to the Jingaweit? Are there any talks going on?
MR. BOUCHER: The, I think, simple answer is I don't know because the question is so broad. There is no formal dialogue between us and the Jingaweit. We see the Jingaweit as a problem. Jingaweit militias are a matter that the government needs to impose its authority over, needs to curb their activities, needs, in fact, to arrest the leadership of, and that's been our consistent point of view. Whether we have talked to people that have contacts or influence with the Jingaweit, I just don't know.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) know about Connie Newman (inaudible).
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I wouldn't expect her to have any meetings of that sort.
QUESTION: No, but people who have influence over the --
MR. BOUCHER: She's asking did anybody meet with anybody who has contact or influence with the Jingaweit. That's a pretty broad question that I'm not sure I can really answer.
QUESTION: Richard, is there any plan to ask the UN and against Khartoum to institute what I guess commonly was over Iraq for many years, a no-fly zone, because there have been reports they have used helicopters and other small planes for these bombings?
MR. BOUCHER: There have been reports that government aircraft continue to be used and those are a matter of great concern to us and those are reports that we're looking into. The continuing reports of attacks by government forces and Jingaweit militias, at this point, are very disturbing and are a matter that needs to be focused on when the Security Council meets to decide on what further measures to take.
What exactly, what specific steps might be included in a resolution will be a matter that we'll have to see what our Assistant Secretary reports when she comes back or as she returns. We'll see what the UN reports, Jan Pronk's report -- UN report on the situation is expected very soon. And Special Envoy Jan Pronk will brief the Council on the 2nd and, at that point, we'll look at these situations together with other members of the Security Council and decide what are the next appropriate steps.
QUESTION: So this goes to the OSCE observers who are coming here for the election. I'm just wondering if you guys are aware of complaints from conservatives that it looks like this team is going to be led by Congressman Hastings, who is the president of the OSCE Parliamentary Committee, and he's made some comments on the Hill and elsewhere about he does not -- he thinks that the whole process, especially in Florida, his state, is in question. The votes --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if those have been raised with us or not, so I don't know.
QUESTION: Well, do you have any -- does -- can you find out if it -- maybe you can't. But if there is a process by which one could, a country could ask for different -- a different team or if this is all up to the OSCE?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if we have anything on it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
(The briefing ended at 1:05 p.m.)
* Tuesday, August 24