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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for October 19

Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 19, 2004

INDEX:

IRAQ
- Iraqi Government Efforts to Combat Insurgents and Stop Terrorism
- CARE Director Margaret Hassan Kidnapped

LEBANON/SYRIA
- UN Security Council Resolution 1559
- Security Council Presidential Statement Calling for Continuous Scrutiny
- U.S. Dialogue with the Government of Syria
- Syria Accountability Act

RUSSIA
- Khodorovsky / Yukos
- U.S. Concerns About Impact on Investment Climate
- U.S. Concerns About Human Rights and Judicial Practices
- U.S. Concerns About Sell-off of Gas Company

DEPARTMENT
- U.S. Efforts to Expedite Visa Processing

BURMA
- Statement on EU Sanctions
- Arrest of Prime Minister
- Lieutenant General Sowin Named Prime Minister
- Aung San Suu Kyi / Political Prisoners / National League

BELARUS
- American Citizen Ilya Mafter Arrested


TRANSCRIPT:

12:45 p.m. EDT


MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements or announcements today, so I'd be glad to take your questions.

George.

QUESTION: Did you see the remarks of Kofi Annan in London? He seems concerned that the U.S. campaign against the insurgency in Iraq could wind up alienating the Iraqi public.

MR. BOUCHER: I did not see any new comments.

I think we're clearly on the record, both the Iraqi Government and the coalition forces are clearly on the record as saying that this problem of terrorism in Iraq needs to be brought under control, that the vast majority of Iraqi citizens are looking for a safer life and a better life. And the people that are setting off bombs and killing Iraqis who are just trying to serve their country are trying to drag Iraq back into a horrible past. And we can't allow them to do that, so I think stopping the insurgency is actually a contribution to a better life for all Iraqis.

Yeah. Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, up in New York, earlier today the Security Council put out a -- is it a president's statement or?

MR. BOUCHER: A president's statement, yeah, on Lebanon and Syria.

QUESTION: Yeah. And I'm just wondering, you know, yesterday I asked you about the Kerry campaign's accusing the Administration of pursuing toothless UN resolutions on Darfur. And it seems to some people as though, forgetting about Sudan and Darfur for a second but, the toothless idea, you guys truly want and think that Syria should withdraw from Lebanon and that both those two countries should work to meet that end. And I'm just wondering without any stick here in either the first resolution or in this statement, I mean, do you think that you're going about this the right way?

MR. BOUCHER: There are any number of things that go into the achievement of policy goals, of which UN resolutions are one. It's nice to talk about tooth, and it's nice to talk about sticks and all that sort of stuff, but you have to get a resolution passed. You have to get agreement. The fact that there is now, for the first time, a unanimous statement by the Council that says this is an issue that's going to be of continuing importance and concern to the Council and that they're going to have -- they're gong to require reporting on it every six months, that in itself represents a step forward in terms of the kind of scrutiny that Syria's attitude towards Lebanon and presence in Lebanon will get.

The goals of Resolution 1559 have not been met. That's very clear to all of us. The Council's statement was unanimous and urges all the parties to implement fully the provisions, and that include that Syria cease its interference, disarm the militias and withdraw its forces from Lebanon.

So those are matters that are going to be of continuing importance and concern and scrutiny by the Council and will be reported on periodically. It's a step forward. Does that mean that Syria is going to withdraw tomorrow? I doubt it. But it's steps in the Security Council, only one of many steps that we can take, to try to encourage and push for that policy.

QUESTION: So it's a step forward, and I presume that's because it was unanimous, unlike the Resolution 1559, which passed by the bare minimum, right? That's what, so now that --

MR. BOUCHER: It's a step forward in that it's unanimous and in that it creates a continuing report on the implementation of 1559. So it tells Syria and others that their behavior and their presence is going to be a subject of continuing importance and scrutiny.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I'd like to bring you back, then, to the comments that you made after 1559 passed, and you were asked if you thought that the vote -- of the margin that it passed, the bare minimum, somehow dampened or made the resolution less serious or made it easier for the Syrians and the Lebanese to kind of push it aside and say, "Well, not everyone was onboard, in fact, a lot of people weren't." And you vehemently denied that and said that --

MR. BOUCHER: I said a resolution that passes the Security Council is a Security Council resolution and it has the same requirements.

QUESTION: Right. So I was wondering why this is a step forward? I mean that resolution, as I recall --

MR. BOUCHER: There were two reasons that I just told you.

QUESTION: But all resolutions do and that 1559 did that, too, which said the Council will remain seized of the matter. That's the -- you know, your usual UN speak, which seems to me exactly what the President's statement --

MR. BOUCHER: Three times I have told you what the answer is. It's unanimous and it requires a continuous scrutiny in reporting every six months. Those things we think are positive. They're a step forward. It goes beyond the Council being seized with the matter and establishes a mechanism for follow-up by the Council and we intend to use that mechanism. But this is not the only way that the United States carries out its diplomacy, and this is not the be all and end all to judge whether or not Syria is going to get out of Lebanon. There are a lot of factors involved. We do think it's an important matter and one that we'll continue to pursue in various ways. This is what the Council would pass at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. So in those various ways, are you prepared to talk about anything the United States might be thinking about doing or --

MR. BOUCHER: Well, we've put our concerns --

QUESTION: No, not in a multi-, in a bilateral fashion.

MR. BOUCHER: We put our concerns and our views of the situation directly to the Syrians and in our discussions and dialogue with the Syrian Government. And we continue to pursue that with people in the region as well.

QUESTION: Richard, do you consider this, like a, one step in the Council moving towards imposing more dramatic action, or is this, do you think this is going to go on? I mean, are you looking for the Council to step up its involvement, take further action?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, that will depend on the Council and depend on what Syria decides to do in response to these -- to the resolution and to the continued interest of the Council. I can't predict, at this point.

QUESTION: Wouldn't you say that this is all the Council would pass at this point? Were you looking for something more dramatic, perhaps some action by the Council?

MR. BOUCHER: Again, we were looking for continued concern and scrutiny by the Council, and that's what we got. You saw it in our draft resolution. You saw it in the discussions we had before that of presidential statements. We were able to work this out so it's a unanimous statement by the Council. We think that bears some importance and it's a step forward.

QUESTION: So there is no concern that this was in a form of a new resolution?

MR. BOUCHER: No, in fact, the statement that speaks with one voice from the Council, where the Council comes together in support of Resolution 1559, we think itself constitutes a strong action for the Council, a strong statement by the Council.

QUESTION: There has been some reporting in the region that the United States is considering additional -- more than what's in the Syrian Accountability Act -- additional measures, or perhaps even implementing more of the things that were -- the things that were not done that are contained in that, as a way to boost pressure on Damascus to meet these requirements that have been set down. Is that, in fact, the case?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new on further steps under Syrian Accountability Act or otherwise at this point. Let me remind you that the United States has taken steps in the past. We have pursued this matter of Syria's activity in Lebanon through the Security Council and also bilaterally, and made it a matter of importance in discussions with others in the region.

But we have also pursued a variety of other measure -- of issues with the Syrians that we think are important to take up. The Secretary discussed all these with the Syrian Foreign Minister in New York, as Bill Burns had gone through them before in his visit to Damascus. And through our Embassy, and in other ways we continue to pursue all these issues because we do think it's important to make progress.

In some areas, we had seen some steps or some promises by Syria. But there are many issues that we have to take up and we'll continue to be looking for progress on all these issues.

QUESTION: Could I ask you something else?

MR. BOUCHER: Sure.

QUESTION: Ready for something else? One of the defense lawyers for Khodorkovsky is here and is seeing people at State and seeing people elsewhere and seeing think-tankers and all. His message -- he has a multiple message, but one seems to be that, you know, things aren't -- the outlook for human rights in Russia under Putin is not very bright.

Do you have some -- I know he just was here this morning, but does the State Department have something, some new view of what is going on? Yukos is, you know, is really -- call it an auction, but it really isn't an auction. And Khodorkovsky is still in jail and, you know, what's the state of affairs in Russia for people who don't agree with Mr. Putin?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, the state of affairs in Russia, I think, would be described in a variety of ways. If you look at the transcript of the Secretary's interview with USA Today, which I think is out now, you'll see he addressed the issue there -- if I'm not confusing it with another interview, but I think he addressed it there.

But second of all, yes, we are having meetings with people who are interested or part of the Khodorkovsky case. This is a matter of continuing interest and concern from the United States. It's a matter that we do think affects not only the view of Russia's human rights climate and judicial climate, but is also affecting the climate of investment in Russia, and therefore has implications for Russians not only on their, sort of the way their society is run, but also on their economy. And we think those are important factors that need to be taken into account and should be taken into account by the Russian Government as they proceed in this matter.

We have been concerned about the possible sell-off of the gas company that's associated with Yukos, and that's a matter we've been following as well, again, from the point of view of judicial procedures in Russia and the state of affairs with that, but also the implications for the business climate in Russia as well.

QUESTION: Well, what are your concerns about the sell-off of the gas company? I don't know if I've heard --

MR. BOUCHER: The reports are it's going to be sold at less than fair market value.

QUESTION: A regular auction is the argument. And so far as the prosecution, well, I don't --

QUESTION: Wait, hold on. And so what do care how much it gets sold for? Is there some U.S. interest?

MR. BOUCHER: The reason we care, Matt, is because that a sale at less than fair market value constitutes, first of all, a form of -- one has to assume there is a matter, some element of coercion or forced sale involved; and second of all, that if sales are not made in the open market at fair market value, one has to assume there's an element of favoritism as well, and that affects people's view of the business climate.

QUESTION: Kind of like closed bidding for contracts?

MR. BOUCHER: No, not at all.

QUESTION: So you have something -- you have --

MR. BOUCHER: We have an interest in all these matters and we follow them closely and we continue to have our concerns that we've had before.

QUESTION: But you believe that there's an element of coercion going on in the sale of this?

MR. BOUCHER: All I can tell you is we are concerned that there are reports of sales at less than fair market value. You asked me why that potentially might be a concern. I explained it to you. I'm not -- at this point, I can't confirm that that is, in fact, going to take place.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about the way Khodorkovsky has been treated?

MR. BOUCHER: We have had concerns all along about the situation and those continue, and that's why we've followed all these matters very closely and kept in touch with people.

Yeah. Okay, sir.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. BOUCHER: Yep.

QUESTION: When the Secretary spoke to the USA Today Editorial Board, he was asked about what the U.S. can do to try and win, restore respect within the Muslim world in a post-9/11 world. One of the things he pointed out was that we're speeding up the whole visa process, student visas, tourist visas, business visas; it's getting a lot better.

On what is he basing that statement? Because that's not the impression I get.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'd look at the facts rather than the impression.

We have cleared out hundreds and hundreds of backlogged visa cases in the last month or two, cases that were backlogged in Moscow, cases that were backlogged at our Embassy in Beijing. I can try to get you the actual numbers of those. But there have been large categories of cases that are now handled more expeditiously and thousands of people who are waiting to come to the United States who have been cleared now and who are able to travel. So that's what he's basing it on.

QUESTION: Does that apply to -- because I thought he was answering the question about the Muslim world. You mentioned Russia but you didn't mention --

MR. BOUCHER: Well, those are the two specifics where the numbers were very large, but overall, there are any number of categories where the things have been smoothed out and made easier. It's not -- you know, it's not a one-hour visa process. It's a process that still requires security checks and where we do go through the appropriate security checks in every case because our first priority is to make sure that all the proper checks are done. But we can make that process go more smoothly and we have made that process go more smoothly.

QUESTION: Can you -- if you're going to check that, can you also find out what the denial and approval rate was on those? I mean, because if you cleared them out simply by stamping a "no" on every application, that's not much of a --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we're going to be able to pull out denial rates, but these are -- when I say cleared out, I mean issued. We've issued visas in many of these -- in almost all these backlogged cases.

Yeah. Okay, sir.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the EU announcement that sanctions against Burma and anything on the dismissal and arrest of the Prime Minister?

MR. BOUCHER: We put out a statement on Burma, right, on the EU sanctions on Burma? We put it out yesterday or the day before. I can't remember. Yesterday. So we'll get you a copy of that.

As far as the reports of the arrest of the Prime Minister in Burma, we are following closely the reports of his dismissal. We'd note that over the past month a number of senior Burmese Government officers have been removed from their positions, including the Foreign Minister and his Deputy. According to Burma in Government Press statement on October 19th, Lieutenant General Soe Win is Burma's new Prime Minister.

I would point out that we continue to call on Burma to engage in meaningful dialogue leading to genuine national reconciliation. We call on them to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and to allow the National League for Democracy to open its offices and participate in the political process.

The events that we're watching don't point in the direction of allowing freedom of exercise of political and human rights, and therefore we're just following them.

QUESTION: Do you have any assessment of the Khin Nyunt years as Prime Minister and the direction that his leadership took the country?

MR. BOUCHER: I would say that our assessment has been given day by day, year after year, as we've seen the continued imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi, as we've seen the continued lack of respect for human rights and lack of openness towards political participation. That has been how we've characterized events over the last several years and that, unfortunately, continues despite whatever it is that's going on in Rangoon these days.

Yeah.

QUESTION: In Belarus, there has been the arrest of an American citizen. Reports say that he was working for the UN. And you guys obviously criticized Belarus for its elections and detention of a journalist.

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about this?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know about that particular case. I'll have to look at it.

Yeah. Please.

QUESTION: I know she's a British-Iraqi citizen, but I was wondering if you could say anything about what the U.S. is doing to help the release of the CARE worker in Baghdad.

MR. BOUCHER: Let me go back a sec. There was an American citizen arrested on October 15th. Is that what you're talking about, or somebody that was arrested today?

QUESTION: It's just come to light today.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. There's a --

QUESTION: -- a computer operator --

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. A U.S. citizen --

QUESTION: Open Society.

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, Open Society Institute? Oh, okay, I got him -- sorry. I thought you were talking about something else.

This is a gentleman named Ilya Mafter. He was arrested in Minsk on October 15th. We have visited him. We visited -- a consular official visited him on October 16th and we've offered him all possible assistance. That's as far as I can go, at this point, because we don't have a Privacy Act Waiver to release further information to the public.

QUESTION: Within the context of the system, around the elections and the detention of the journalist, do you suspect that this is an unfair arrest?

MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not -- I'm just not able to go into it. I'm sorry. He was -- I just can't go into it any farther. I'm sorry.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Who can?

QUESTION: Could we --

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. We were talking about Baghdad, about the reports of the head of CARE.

We have seen the reports and we're keeping in touch with Iraqi authorities and the British Government about the situation of Ms. Hassan. This is Ms. Margaret Hassan. We certainly share the concerns that they have and share the concerns that her family and her friends have about her welfare. We will continue to work closely with others, including the Iraqi authorities and the British to try to secure her safe release.

That's all we know at the moment.

QUESTION: Well, you understand that she has been, in fact, abducted?

MR. BOUCHER: We have a variety of reports that indicate she has been abducted.

QUESTION: And you don't feel the need to say that you condemn this or you think it's a bad thing? You just say we will work to secure her release? Is there some indication that perhaps she wasn't abducted by insurgents -- that maybe she was -- I don't know -- arrested?

MR. BOUCHER: No, don't speculate. We condemn all hostage taking. We absolutely don't in any way countenance hostage taking. I'm not trying to imply anything different here. We're just careful as initial reports come out to try to stay a little bit behind the curve to see if everything pans out.

QUESTION: Wait. I have got one more.

In this interview, which has been talked about a couple -- you had with USA Today, the Secretary was going on about a litany of, you know, foreign policy successes, including some of the ones that are perhaps less well-publicized. And he, at one point, asked if they would like to talk about whaling. And I guess the readers of USA Today don't care too much about that, but I do. So I'd like to know what was the Secretary going to say about U.S. foreign policy success in the area of whaling?

MR. BOUCHER: I'll get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Are you spouting off?

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: You don't know?

MR. BOUCHER: I'll get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

DPB#170

[End]


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