State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for September 15
Daily Press Briefing Richard Boucher, Spokesman Washington, DC September 15, 2004
- Saudi Arabia and the International Religious Freedom Report /
- Sanctions / Considering Appropriate Measures / North Korea / Trade
- Sanctions / Capitol Hill Hearings
- Comment by EU's Chris Patten Regarding Foreign Policy
- Query Regarding Money for Suicide Bombers
- UN Resolution / Consultations in Vienna / Nuclear Activities /
- IAEA / Under Secretary Bolton / Secretary Calls to Britain, France
- and Germany
- Presence of U.S. Troops / Secretary's Comments
- UN Resolution / Receptive to U.S. Changes / Draft Achieves
- Fundamental Objectives / Khartoum and Resolution 1556 / Expanded
- African Union / Continuing Discussions in Nigeria / Expected
- Recess / Humanitarian Access
- Possible Transferring of Chemical Weapons from Syria
- General Musharraf's Military & Political Status / Support of
- U.S. Support for Government and President Putin / Fight Against
- Terrorism / U.S. Embassy Contact with Government
- Possible Congressional Bill to be Introduced / Congressmen Lantos
- and Cox
- American Citizens Sentenced / Decision by Afghanistan Court / In
- Accordance with Afghan Law
- Powell Meeting with Weisglass / How to Proceed Further on Roadmap
- / Sharon Comments on Roadmap / U.S. Commitment to the Roadmap /
- End of Terrorism and Violence / Ongoing Discussion Between
- Quartet Meeting / Moving Forward on the Roadmap
- Technical Experts to the Region / Settlements / U.S. Freeze Policy
- on Settlements
- Ambassador Retired / Special Envoy Office / Work of American
- Diplomats / Monitoring of Progress
1:05 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any announcements or statements for you today, so I'd be glad to take your questions. I'm sorry I'm late.
QUESTION: Since you've had at least two hours to figure out -- figure this out, could you tell us about next steps concerning Saudi Arabia now that the report is out?
MR. BOUCHER: I think Ambassador Hanford addressed that.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: About what?
QUESTION: In general --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, he said the next step is to consider the next steps.
QUESTION: What's the range of next steps?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to go into that. There is a law. You all know the law. I'm not going to start speculating at this point on what might happen next. We will be following along, considering the appropriate measures as required.
QUESTION: Can you talk about some of the sanctions that have been enacted in the past against countries who have been put on this 90-day, on this 90-day period?
MR. BOUCHER: In the past, some countries -- for some countries it's resulted in some sanctions. In those cases that I'm familiar with though, they were the same as -- they were confirmation of existing sanctions rather than new measures.
QUESTION: In what -- what kind of sanctions?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, it depends, varies country to country. We briefed on that in the past.
QUESTION: Like aid, aid money? I mean, that kind of thing?
MR. BOUCHER: It's varied country to country. In some places we haven't, you know, had any trade. North Korea was, I think, the same.
MR. BOUCHER: Or at least is within the scope of the existing sanctions.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary plan to go up to Capitol Hill and, you know, have a private meeting with the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees to brief them on this report? And is this --
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard of anything like that. That's not necessarily something that would be normal. I -- I'll check. And have you -- do you think there is --
QUESTION: I'm just, I'm asking you. I don't make his schedule.
MR. BOUCHER: You're just speculating, is there anything going on like that? Not that I've heard of. I'll check and see if there's anything additional. This is normal practice when we release a report, to inform the Hill. I'm sure the Hill's already got it and has been informed, and then we tell you guys.
QUESTION: Has there been any reaction from the Saudi Government to the State Department?
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I know of -- don't know.
QUESTION: Change of subject.
QUESTION: Well, but just to tie that one up.
MR. BOUCHER: I mean, I'm happy to be here for you, but we did 45 minutes or a half hour briefing this morning on this subject. I'm not quite sure what the --
QUESTION: Just to tie this up, how were the Saudis informed?
MR. BOUCHER: I, frankly, don't know. I'll have to check. They were informed the other day. I'm not sure how.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: A popular subject.
MR. BOUCHER: He had dibs on first change.
QUESTION: Mr. Patten in Strasbourg has made some remarks about U.S. foreign policy, very critical of --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think he mentioned us. According to Reuters, he didn't mention the United States.
QUESTION: Chris Patten?
QUESTION: You're talking about Bush? He mentions Bush. And is the only thing you've seen on it the Reuters report?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that's the only thing I have seen on it. There has been, I think, a lot of reporting on Chris Patten's exit remarks, and yesterday it was all about things he had said about Europeans and European predilections. Today, it's things that are associated somehow with the United States of America. I don't think I'm going to get into any particular response to this. I think Governor Patten is being true to form, and I think you know our positions on some of the issues that he has raised.
QUESTION: Can you say what you mean by being true to form?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the U.S. deciding to freeze the accounts of Saudi charity organization called Al-Haramain, Islamic foundation?
MR. BOUCHER: Is that --
QUESTION: Old story.
QUESTION: Way old.
MR. BOUCHER: That's an old one I think. Is there something new?
QUESTION: There is a reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry, so maybe that's a reaction to something.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'll have to check. I don't know all of the organizations, but they're probably -- I think they're already on the list. You might check the Treasury website, but I'll check our guys, too.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Who do we have?
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. BOUCHER: Start over there.
QUESTION: There is a German magazine or newspaper called Die Welt. They issued a report saying that Syria supplied the Sudanese with chemical weapons and these chemical weapons were actually used in the south last May, and that dozens were killed. Do you have anything on that? Do you have information on that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we don't have anything on that.
MR. BOUCHER: No, we don't have anything like that.
MR. BOUCHER: I think if that was true, we probably would have seen it.
QUESTION: Okay, along the same lines on --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yesterday, the Israeli Foreign Minister, speaking to a conference in Herzliya on terrorism, accused Iran of replacing Saddam and giving money to suicide bombers -- the families. Do you know anything about that?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I had not seen that reported. And as far as the substance of that, I think Iran has made public statements about suicide bombers before. I can't remember where the money was, but those are things you can check with the Iranians on, if they do those things.
QUESTION: He was very specific. He was saying that --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, you can ask him or you can ask the Iranians but, I'm sorry, I'm just not -- I don't know everything that's going on out there.
QUESTION: Back on Sudan. I was asked to ask about something the Secretary said in his Georgetown speech last Friday. He supposedly mentioned the presence of U.S. -- some U.S. troops in Sudan. Do you know what that's about?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, there's a small number of American troops -- it's either two or four -- who have been working all along with the African Union military observer mission. The United States has been a very strong supporter. We've been there. When the Secretary was out there, some of them were on site when we met with the African Union General Okonkwo. And of course, we've not only supported them by having our personnel coordinate and help them with logistics, but we've also put, I think it's 6.8 million so far, but in his testimony the other day the Secretary added -- said we have another 20.5 million to support the African Union expanded deployment.
So the United States military through its coordination, and government through our finance, and I think U.S. contractors are supporting the African Union effort in Sudan.
QUESTION: I was going to Iran.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on what's happening in Vienna? And would the U.S. accept a resolution that did not contain a trigger?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it's appropriate for us to speculate from here as to the final outcome. We are -- we have made clear what our view is. The Secretary has made clear that we have pushed the view that this needs to be referred to the Security Council, and that we would see whether there's a consensus. That process is still underway. We're -- how far we will get to, whether we can get it or not, still don't know. But there are consultations going on among Board members in Vienna. We're trying to seek agreement on a text that addresses the Board's concerns about Iran's nuclear activities. The Board, we think, is united in the view that Iran must cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency, must come clean about its program, and suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.
The Board has called on Iran repeatedly to take those steps since last year. We remain deeply concerned that Iran continues to defy the Board's requests. So those consultations are ongoing, and, at this point, I can't predict exactly where they'll come out.
QUESTION: Yesterday, in an interview, Secretary Powell said that there had been some progress. Can you describe specifically what the progress has been?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Again, the process is underway. We think -- I think Under Secretary Bolton, when he was in Geneva last Friday, and as I said Friday, acknowledged there have been tactical differences between the Europeans and us about how to proceed. We have been making efforts to close those gaps, and thought we were making some progress on that. But whether -- I can't -- it's an ongoing thing. I can't try to define it precisely at this moment.
QUESTION: Has Secretary Powell yet begun to make phone calls trying to reach consensus on the text, or is it too early for him to be pushing on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, he's been talking for a couple weeks already, really. Remember, there was one day when he called all three of the major European --
MR. BOUCHER: -- British, French, German.
QUESTION: But since then --
MR. BOUCHER: It's been a subject of discussion with other foreign ministers. I don't -- I wouldn't say he's made a new round of calls on the subject, but it has been something that's come up in his discussions with other foreign ministers.
QUESTION: Who has he talked to this week? I don't think we've gotten his calls.
MR. BOUCHER: No one specifically on this subject in the last few days.
QUESTION: Other subjects? Can you just give us a random list of calls?
MR. BOUCHER: A random list of calls?
QUESTION: Yeah. Let's say the last two days.
MR. BOUCHER: He's talked to Kofi Annan. He talked to Kofi Annan a couple times yesterday, the Secretary General. I think we said he talked to the Korean Foreign Minister on Monday. That's a random list.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on Pakistani President Musharraf's decision to stay on as president in January -- I mean, as military leader in January and as president?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything on that right now. We've seen the announcement. We'll look at it carefully. As you know, we've always supported movement and progress towards democracy in Pakistan. It's been our fundamental view. What we want to say about this specific step, I'll have to consider and we'll get back to you.
QUESTION: Do you think that such a move would be a step in the right direction toward democracy, though?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to look at the step and consider it and get back to you.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Secretary Powell yesterday expressed concern on the recent actions by President Putin with regard to the abolition of elections for regional governors and independent members of parliament. And two days earlier, and he called them all back on democracy, and two days earlier, President Bush said at the Russian Embassy that he admires Vladimir Putin.
Could you please clarify what the United States position is towards the Putin Government and his adherence or non-adherence to democracy?
MR. BOUCHER: Our position has been expressed different over time, I think, on many different occasions. As you say, the President expressed his support for Mr. Putin and for the Russian Government in their fight against terrorism. The Secretary has said that as well. The Secretary said that, I think, when he was at the Russian Embassy, when he and the Deputy went over to sign the condolence book.
There is no question of our support for the Russian Government as it fights terrorism. There is no question that we believe that the kind of people who took over the school and killed so many children need to be fought and that we need to cooperate and we will cooperate with Russia and the Russian Government to do that.
The announcements about some of the steps do raise some concerns. I think both we, and the White House, said that clearly yesterday. And those are just concerns that we will be discussing with the Russian Government. The Secretary specifically said, I think, he looked forward to -- he was going to talk about it with Foreign Minister Lavrov next week. Our Embassy in Moscow has had contacts and discussions with the Russian Government. It's a subject of discussion out there as well.
So I don't think there is any difference between this. Our support for Russia and Russian democracy, and Russia in the fight against terrorism, are all part of the policy and have been expressed frequently by both the President and the Secretary.
QUESTION: Is there any case, in your view, for an initiative by Congressman Lantos and Congressman Cox for Russia's exclusion from the G-8? That was --
MR. BOUCHER: Is there a new bill or is that -- there was something like that last year, I think, that we proposed.
QUESTION: In May of this year. Yeah.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I'm not sure that's going anywhere. I don't think there's anything new on that.
QUESTION: Richard, what are your reactions to the final verdict in the trial in Kabul, Afghanistan with three Americans?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's see what we have on that. Well, there were three U.S. citizens sentenced: two of them sentenced to ten years in jail; the third got an eight-year sentence. Our consular officials from the U.S. Embassy have attended the trial and the sentencing. Note that the Afghan Government held the trial in accordance with Afghan law; the decision was handed down by an Afghan court after a full trial had been conducted. But that's about as much as I can say. We don't have a Privacy Act Waiver to say anything more.
QUESTION: But the process was acceptable to the U.S., fair and transparent, as far as --
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, it was conducted in accordance with Afghan law. That's the rules that apply in that situation.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, sir.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Can you say anything about the results of the meeting the Secretary had yesterday with the Israeli Government Chief of Staff? Also, the Prime Minister Mr. Sharon is quoted today in an Israeli paper saying that Israel has no intention to stick with the U.S.-backed roadmap. Do you have any comments on this?
MR. BOUCHER: The discussion yesterday between the Secretary and the Israeli Chief of Staff, Mr. Weisglass, was a good discussion. It was a thorough discussion of the issues before us, including the opportunity to make progress on the roadmap and the President's vision of two states. The opportunity as presented by the Gaza disengagement plan and how to proceed forward with that. They also discussed issues involving settlements and the separation barrier.
As far as the comments by Prime Minister Sharon, at this point, we've seen various reports. I'm not sure there's a clear transcript. I know that the reporting focused on the roadmap question, but I'd have to say at this point, it's not exactly clear to us what he did say about the roadmap.
But for our part, I'd say that we do remain committed to the roadmap as the means to realize the President's vision of two states living side by side in peace and security. That was part of the discussion when the President and Prime Minister Sharon met in April, and in fact, in the President's letter to Prime Minister Sharon. He said the U.S. remains committed to the vision and to its implementation, as described in the roadmap.
Israel, as well, has repeatedly assured us that they remain committed to the President's vision and the roadmap. In our view, Gaza disengagement offers a real opportunity to make progress in the quest for peace, and an opportunity to return to a political process. An Israeli disengagement, done properly and with the appropriate support from the international community, has the potential to move both the parties closer to the realization of the President's vision.
We are looking, as we've said before, for practical steps from both sides, under the roadmap and under the process that can -- that we want to move forward with, and made very, very clear that on the Palestinian side, that means actions need to be taken to end terror and violence. On the Israeli side, the Israelis have expressed their commitment to the dismantling of outposts, and progress towards a settlement freeze, and that's part of the roadmap as well.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: You didn't ask for clarification from Mr. Sharon on his directions to his cabinet members not to talk about roadmap, that it is no longer on the table? I mean, he said that to the cabinet a week ago.
MR. BOUCHER: We keep in touch with the Israeli Government. As I said, the Israelis have repeatedly assured us that they remain committed to the vision and the roadmap. We have constant discussions with the Israeli Government about their position.
QUESTION: Did he explain as to why he would say that to his cabinet members?
MR. BOUCHER: I think these reports just appeared this morning. I haven't seen any further explanation from him.
QUESTION: Any sense of what the Secretary wants to accomplish, if and when he meets Quartet envoys next week on this?
MR. BOUCHER: We have had some discussion, obviously, at upper levels with the various parties from the Quartet. The Secretary has been talking a bit with Secretary General Annan about the Quartet meeting next week. I think the major point is to follow on their previous discussions, to look at how to move forward, look at how to work with the Gaza disengagement proposal as an opportunity, and what we can do with all of the parties to try to move forward on the roadmap.
QUESTION: Richard, what is the status of the U.S. team that went out to the Palestinian territories to look at some of the Israeli settlements out there and whether or not they have come up with a more accurate refinement of the definition of natural growth?
MR. BOUCHER: We -- let me double check. We were going to send some technical experts out, and I don't know exactly if they have come and gone or not gone yet. As far as the general issue, that remains a matter of discussion with the Israelis, the questions of settlements and Israeli Government policy towards settlements, and that's a matter that we have continued to discuss, including at the discussions yesterday.
QUESTION: But have you clarified to them the U.S. policy on natural growth?
MR. BOUCHER: I think U.S. policy has been made clear. It's in the roadmap. It's elsewhere. So it's a matter of, to a great extent, hearing from them about Israeli plans and policy and seeing whether that coincides.
QUESTION: So it remains that natural growth is not acceptable as --
MR. BOUCHER: Our view remains the same on settlement activity and the need for a freeze, and we continue to pursue those discussions with the Israelis.
QUESTION: On the same topic, Richard, could you update us on the status of the Office of Envoy, Ambassador Wolf? What's happened with that?
MR. BOUCHER: Ambassador Wolf has retired.
QUESTION: So that office no longer --
MR. BOUCHER: We have able American diplomats who are always working on the Israeli-Palestinian issues in our Near East Bureau, in our Embassy, in our Consulate General, and that was a particular assignment for a particular time when we felt that there was the ability to monitor progress. Absent progress, then monitors are not in the same position.
QUESTION: The status of special envoy is no longer there?
MR. BOUCHER: That particular office and that function is no longer there. We have people who are working these issues all the time and when any further appointment is needed, I'm sure we'll make it.
QUESTION: Back to Sudan, sir, I didn't get it earlier. How was the reaction to your revised resolution at the UN? And also, do you have any concern about the fact that peace talks between the rebels and the government are taking a three-week break, but it's not exactly clear if it's an acrimonious break or sort of a just a rest.
MR. BOUCHER: Let me -- okay, let's do them separately.
On the question of the Sudan resolution, we did circulate a revised draft resolution yesterday. It incorporates suggestions from our Council partners and from the African Union. Members met late yesterday and will reconvene again this afternoon -- experts, at the experts level.
I think most delegations were generally receptive to our changes and that they note they think the result was an improved text. We did try to accommodate the concerns of others while keeping intact our core priorities. We may get more feedback today once delegations have had a chance to check with their capitals and then come back to us.
Just to make clear, the draft, we think, achieves the fundamental objectives, as the Secretary said, of speaking with a clear voice on what Khartoum needs to do and give its backing to the African Union's leadership role. It supports an expanded and pro-African -- proactive African Union presence. We added language that highlights the African Union's central role and the importance of international support for those efforts, as some have requested, and that was in response also to an appeal by President Obasanjo.
Second, it makes clear what Khartoum needs to do to comply with this resolution and Resolution 1556. As with 1556, sanctions remain an option should Khartoum fail to follow through.
We have noted add -- we have added language that does take note of the steps that Khartoum has taken, particularly on humanitarian relief, as some have requested, and we welcome their willingness to facilitate an expanded African Union mission, a willingness that they expressed in a September 9th letter to the UN Security Council.
At the same time, it underscores the Sudanese Government's responsibility to protect its population and stop violence and atrocities. It also recognizes more explicitly the responsibility of rebel groups to cease all violence and cooperate with humanitarian relief and monitoring efforts.
That's the jumping-off point, I think, to try to answer your second question.
There have been continuing discussions in Nigeria that the Nigerians have conducted with the rebels and the government. We have been part of that. We have had people out there supporting those discussions.
There was a recess expected about late last week. I think now it looks like it's being taken. The Nigerians kept the discussions going over the weekend. We've been working with them on that.
They have emphasized, as we have emphasized, it's very important for the rebels and the government to continue working to try to reach agreement. The focus so far has been on humanitarian access questions and they need to focus as well on security.
So we think these discussions are a very important part of moving forward. They are certainly specifically called for in the UN resolution that exists now and in the one that we've tabled. So we will continue to work with the parties to try to ensure they continue.
This break is described as a recess and I am sure that we, and the Nigerians, will keep in touch with the parties, as others will as well, to make sure that they remain focused on the importance of reaching a political solution.
QUESTION: Richard, can I get a clarification on an earlier question?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: What did you mean when you said, in response to the question about the German magazine that was reporting that the Syrians had supplied chemical and biological weapons to Sudanese fighters who were using it, who had apparently reportedly used it on -- in Darfur? Are you saying that you have not seen the report or you're dismissing the report?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm saying I've never seen anything like that in our reporting and the African Union reporting and the other reports on what's happened in Darfur. I didn't have a chance to check with every agency of the U.S. Government to say we know for sure it's not true, but I have nothing at all that would lead us to believe it might have occurred that way.
QUESTION: Okay. Is it something that it's fair to say, then, that the U.S. is looking into this?
MR. BOUCHER: If you ask me to, I suppose I will. I wouldn't -- I don't know if anybody is looking into it at this point or not, whether anybody is seriously concerned.
I think the -- in general, we'd probably have to look into anything. But as I said, something like transfer and use of chemical weapons would have set off alarm bells if we had known about it.
QUESTION: Could you take the question?
MR. BOUCHER: If you ask so, I will.
QUESTION: Richard, there are reports, too, concerning this that there's an Arab news site called ILAF and, apparently, the bodies were taken back to Khartoum -- this was in June -- to examine to see how effective these chemical weapons were.
And also with regard to torture this morning, there are reports elsewhere in Iraq, from Mosul, that there's another indication that there were more torture going on and the same thing as in the earlier prison --
MR. BOUCHER: I think there was something yesterday about Abu Ghraib and saying there -- the Pentagon has multiple investigations of the conduct of what happened to people in detention. I would really have to refer this over to them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)
DPB # 151
Released on September 15, 2004