State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for November 8
Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
November 8, 2004
- Statement on Arctic Council's Commitment to Combat Climate Change
- Secretary Powell's Participation at the Bi-National Commission with Mexico
- Deputy Secretary Armitage's Visit to Near East Asia and South Asia
- Violence and Demonstrations Over the Weekend/United States Travel Warning
- American Government Worker Casualty
- U.S. Efforts to Protect American Civilians, Maintain Security, and Procure a Political Solution
- Security Council/U.S. Condemnations of Ivorian Attack Against French Forces
- U.S. Commitment to Two-State Vision/Roadmap
- Greek Reaction to U.S. Recognition of the Constitutional Name of Republic of Macedonia
- Secretary Powell's Travel Plans to Greece
- Failure of the Skopje Referendum
- Affirmation of International Standards, Ohrid Framework Agreement, and Euro-Atlantic Integration
- U.S. Recognition of Macedonia's Constitutional Name/Support for the Ohrid Agreement
- U.S. Support for the Referendum's Outcome
- Deputy Secretary Armitage's Visit/Condolences for Sheikh Zayed
- EU-3 Meeting in Iran/Iran's Need to Fully Comply with the
- Requirements of the IAEA
- Iran's Potential Referral to the United Nations Security Council
- Iranian Nuclear Program/Dangerous Behaviors
- Iraqi Government's Diplomatic and Military Efforts to Handle
- Insurgence/Fallujah Operations
- Civilian Concerns/Iraqi Decree of a State of Emergency/Coalition
- Attempts to Minimize Casualties
- Timeframe for January Elections
- Closed Borders with Syria and Jordan/Impact of Decree on Iraq's Neighbors
- Relationship with the United Nations
- Timeframe/Attendance for Sharm el-Sheikh Meeting
- Bi-National Commission Meeting's Emphasis on Cooperative Stability and Progress
12:40 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Just one statement I'd like to refer to, we'll have for you, I think, any moment now, if it's not out already, a statement on the Arctic Council and the issue of climate change, just to kind of bring you up to date on exactly what is going on.
I know there have been a lot stories and press conferences and things about it, but we're moving forward on that front with our partners in New York. The Council, and, of course, the Administration, remains committed to technically-sound and market-driven approach to combating climate change and in fact as $5.8 billion in this year's budget to support that approach. So we'll have a statement for you on that.
And this afternoon, the Secretary of State will be off to Mexico for very important meetings, along with his cabinet colleagues for the Bi-National Commission between the U.S. and Mexico.
And with that, I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: I realize what's going on in Iraq is essentially military operation, but I thought I'd try to see the political side of this, what we could get from this. Is there a feeling here that there is some risks, there is some necessary, I suppose, risk with losing already not so strong Sunni support by going into Fallujah full blast? Has the Secretary done anything that you want to tell us about on the diplomatic front to try to explain to other governments what we're doing?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary has been active with other foreign ministers, as have others in the Department, in terms of messages about the operations that are commencing in Fallujah. As you know, I think from the statements the Iraqi Government has made, the Iraqi Government is determined to deal with the situation of lawlessness that existed in Fallujah and a few other towns. They have done this successfully now in Najaf, Samarra, Talafar, and other areas, and they will continue to do it so that all the Iraqi people can live under the rule of the Iraqi Government and not subject to this kind of a persecution that they have had at the hands of terrorists and insurgents.
Bringing these cities back into the Iraqi nation is important for their future and for the future of the people who live there. We agree with them on that. The Iraqi Government has made every effort to find political solutions, to find people they can talk to, who can get out -- get rid of the insurgents and reestablish government control and military operations are undertaken only as a last resort.
The Secretary is in contact with other governments, consulting with them about the operations that are unfolding, making the points that I just made. This morning he's already phoned Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz of Poland, Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit of Egypt, Foreign Minister Gul of Turkey, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal, Jordanian Foreign Minister Al-Mulki, and he will make a couple more phone calls this afternoon to other friends and concerned parties in the area.
QUESTION: Touching on the civilian situation, although most of the people have left, people or civilians often --
MR. BOUCHER: I think there is -- yes. The simple answer is yes. There is obvious concern about the civilians in Fallujah. For that reason, the government has, first of all, for days now, encouraged people to leave and many of them have taken the opportunity to get out of town, get away from the fighting.
Second of all, I think if you read the government's decree on the state of emergency today, they made clear, the first thing is people should stay inside and out of the way of the fighting and try to use those emergency measures not just to make it -- to carry forward the government's security plan, but also to keep civilians out of harm's way.
And third of all, as you know, U.S. forces, coalition forces, and, I'm sure, Iraqi forces will make every possible provision to avoid civilian casualties. All that being said, we know this is an entrenched group of people that they have to deal with, entrenched foreign fighters who have shown complete disregard for human rights and human life, in terms of their attacks, and therefore this kind of urban warfare, we all know, can lead to casualties. We just hope that we can -- everything we have done to minimize civilian casualties is effective.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. share the view of Mr. Solana, that the security situation in Iraq is so bad that the elections cannot be held in January?
MR. BOUCHER: Our view remains the view of the Iraqi Government, that the determination is very strong to bring the elections about on time -- I think you've seen that in Prime Minister Allawi's statements -- that bringing cities back under the control of the central government is, indeed, a step forward in providing every Iraqi with the opportunity to participate in the political process and to participate in the election in January.
So we think that this is, in fact, an essential step to getting to a successful election in January in which all Iraqi can participate. And as far as what the security situation will be in January, obviously, we hope these operations are successful, and therefore, that the security situation will be better by then.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up? You mentioned that the Secretary spoke with Prince Saud of Saudi Arabia. Do you have any more details on that phone conversation?
MR. BOUCHER: Just the phone calls. I don't have individual details on individual calls. The phone calls are similar to what I was saying that we found it, the Iraqi Government has found it necessary to use -- to proceed in the direction -- to proceed in the use of military force in Fallujah, that they made every attempt to find negotiated solutions, and that the operations are commencing. And I think that's pretty much what the Iraqi Government's been saying as well; and then to discuss the situation with friends and partners who are concerned about it.
QUESTION: Right, friends and partners, indeed. These foreign ministers, can they all be listed in the "yes" column, that they support what is --
MR. BOUCHER: You'll have to ask the individuals what they -- what their view is of the operation.
QUESTION: Well, then I'm going to ask the question this way. There's a question of -- I'm going to go off on another track. But there was kind of an ambiguous statement put out by the Saudi ambassador here -- not on the main thing, but on the side issue. Is the Secretary calling friends and allies alone, or is he -- is it more of a broad-beamed consultation?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, he's calling countries that are obviously concerned about this situation. Part of the Iraqi Government decree is to close Iraq's borders with Syria and Jordan at least. I'm not sure about Turkey. But anyway, he's calling neighbors and coalition partners, a variety of countries, but you know, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are all neighbors of Iraq, will be affected by the situation there. Egypt has played an important role and is playing an important role in hosting the upcoming meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh. Poland and some of the others will be coalition partners.
QUESTION: Allegedly, Prime Minister Allawi made some disparaging remarks against Kofi Annan and the UN. Do you find that might compromise the elections, considering that everybody's looking for a role for the UN?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what you're referring to. Certainly, we and the Iraqi Government have differed with the Secretary General over his views of possibility of fighting in Fallujah, and I think I made that clear last week, and I think our views are similar to those of the Iraqi Government in that regard.
At the same time, we've been very supportive and working very closely with the United Nations when it comes to having as much deployment by the United Nations as possible to help prepare for the election. The Iraqis are carrying the ball forward on the elections and have already done a lot -- they need -- and can benefit from the support of the United Nations. So we have been working with the United Nations on how they could add more people to help with elections and how they could have the security necessary to do their job. I think both we and the Iraqi Government have been very, very supportive on that.
QUESTION: It's been reported that a hospital out to the west has been captured by coalition troops, but a second hospital has been totally demolished, whether it be by shelling and/or by the insurgents themselves. If this affects the full downtown center of Fallujah, are there any plans to maybe rebuild it or to have the --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to do a battle assessment on an hourly basis. I don't think anybody in the U.S. Government is going to do that. But if it is done, the Pentagon will try to explain particular details of the fighting that's going on around that area, various places.
I would say that we have made very clear to the citizens of these cities that have been affected by the insurgent violence that once the cities are back in government control, that there is assistance immediately forthcoming to help the residents of these cities gain employment, find jobs, and get to work on cleaning up their city, rebuilding schools, hospitals, essential roads, things like that. That has happened in Najaf, that has happened in Samarra, and that certainly will happen in Fallujah once it's back under government control.
QUESTION: On the issue of the civilians -- I'm sorry, just to follow up --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The people that have left in the city, are they being camped or housed, or who's taking care of them? Do you have anything -- I mean, is there is anything?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I think you'd have to look for reports on the ground, whether they've gone to -- many of these cases, people go to stay with relatives in other places but I don't know specifically where they've gone.
QUESTION: No special provisions were made?
MR. BOUCHER: I just don't know.
MR. BOUCHER: You'd have to check with people on the ground.
Saul, you had something?
QUESTION: Well, a change to Iran if that's possible.
MR. BOUCHER: Change to Iran? No, we've got one more on this.
QUESTION: Yes, you refer to the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting as still on. What's the timeframe of -- or what kind of activities are done from now until that time because it's like so close to these operations?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, there are going to be military operations in Iraq as long as we're dealing with the insurgency, so you can't anticipate having meetings when military operations have ceased. It might take some time. So we do think it's an important meeting. The Iraqis and the Egyptians have put this together. We think it's a very useful meeting. We look forward -- the Secretary looks forward to going. It'll be at the end of the month. I think they've announced the date, right?
The 22nd, 23rd, right, of November? And at this point the Secretary plans on being there.
QUESTION: It was decided if Iran and Syria are going to attend or not or not yet?
MR. BOUCHER: I think Egypt and Iraq are inviting all the neighbors, yeah.
Yeah. Okay. Change of subject.
QUESTION: Thanks. The Europeans say that they are close to a deal with Iran and they've obviously been in pretty constant touch with the United States. Is there anything in the agreement that makes you less skeptical than you have been in the past that the Iranians will actually stick to it? Is this not just some kind of tactic to get past the IAEA Board meeting and then go back to their old habits?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think at this point the answer is, we'll have to see. The Europeans have, indeed, stayed in touch with us and we've stayed in touch with them. At this point, I think I've seen a statement from the Iranian side that they have an agreement, but I haven't seen such a statement from the European side. So I think they still remain in contact. They certainly -- the Europeans -- have been in contact with us. We've gotten some information on where they stand with the Iranians, but not a complete readout on the terms that might be under discussion at this precise point.
What I do think is true is that we and the Europeans continue to agree on the fundamentals that the -- Iran needs to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency; it needs to meet its nonproliferation obligations; and it needs to suspend fully and immediately all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.
The question of where they stand, where Iran stands when we get to the Board meeting, is the important one. Will Iran have complied at that point with the requirements of the IAEA Board? Will the IAEA be in a position to verify that or to say that they are engaging in the verification of that kind of promise and activity?
And that's where ultimately we shall see not only if Iran and the Europeans are able to reach agreement on how Iran can comply with the Board's requirements, but whether the IAEA was able to verify that and whether the IAEA is able to report that to the Board. So we'll be watching the whole thing as it unfolds. I'm sure we'll be hearing more from the Europeans in coming days. But at this point it's not -- I don't think we'll be in a position to try to offer some kind of judgment, because ultimately it's what Iran does that matters, not just what they might agree to.
QUESTION: And what it does has to be verified by the IAEA?
MR. BOUCHER: Has to be full compliance, and that has to be full compliance in a manner that the IAEA can verify.
QUESTION: Did you notice the remarks of the Chinese Foreign Minister Li in which he said that he doesn't think that this matter should be referred to the UN Security Council?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't notice those particular remarks. I think that has been a position the Chinese Government has taken. I think what matters for all of us, ultimately, is where do we stand when we get to the Board meeting: Is there an agreement and is it being implemented?
QUESTION: New subject?
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that the United States sent the European negotiators a letter saying -- reminding them that if the deal -- if there's no deal struck, then they're expected to help have Iran referred to the Security Council?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can get into any particular exchange, but we've had a variety of exchanges with Europeans in writing and orally through various channels and discussions with them about this. And I think -- as I said, I think we do agree on the fundamentals: Iran needs to comply fully, and if Iran doesn't comply fully then the Board's going to have to consider what action to take. And as you know, the United States has always felt that should be referral to the UN Security Council. We felt that was warranted even last year.
QUESTION: Yes, on Ivory Coast. I see that you issued a Travel Warning yesterday for the U.S. citizens living in this country or planning to -- considering to go there. Do you have any update about the situation of the U.S. nationals in this country and about your -- the U.S. Embassy staff?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, we have -- I think, well, you've referred to the Travel Warning. That's where we cover this situation, or the advice that we give to U.S. citizens. At this point, you know, we've basically encouraged people to stay home. And that's what we're doing with our people.
Now, there was one American who was killed in the government -- in the air strikes by government aircraft on Saturday. We have offered his family our deepest condolences. This is Mr. Robert Carsky, C-a-r-s-k-y. He was an agronomist working in Cote D'Ivoire for the West African Rice Development Association. We've been in touch with his family and we're offering them all possible assistance. And that's about as far as I can go on that one, but we are working with his family about bringing him home.
The situation today is relatively calm but tense after large demonstrations and violence over the weekend. Our ambassador, Ambassador Hooks, has spoken several times to President Gbagbo, making clear that President Gbagbo needs to stop all military activities, control street violence and speak publicly on the need for his supporters to remain peaceful and law-abiding.
On Saturday, Secretary Powell also spoke to President Gbagbo and spoke as well to French Foreign Minister Barnier about the situation in the Ivory Coast. We have remained in very close consultation with the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and French authorities. Our efforts remain focused on the immediate security situation and the safeguarding of American citizens as well as on finding a long-term political solution to Cote D'Ivoire's political situation.
We are working at the United Nations with other governments on what further action can be taken up there. I think you all saw that the Security Council issued a press statement, Presidential Statement over the weekend condemning the attack against French forces and demanding the immediate cessation of military activity by all Ivorian parties. So that's pretty much where we stand at this moment.
QUESTION: What do you think of the French decision over the weekend to destroy the Ivorian Air Force?
MR. BOUCHER: We have condemned the attack on the Ivorian military bombing that broke the ceasefire, led to the very tragic and unfortunate deaths of French troops. We think that the response by the French was an action that was necessary to protect their people from further attack and violence.
I would note, as well, in the United Nations Security Council statement, the Security Council expressed its full support for the action undertaken by French forces and the UN operations in Cote d'Ivoire.
So, you know, we thought it was necessary to prevent further attacks and violence by these airplanes.
QUESTION: Given the calls and the ambassador's contacts, have you seen any movement from the President in response to your requests?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that remains a somewhat open question. As I said, the situation is calm but tense. There are meetings going on right now in Ivory Coast between the various parties and the military authorities, and we hope that all the parties will do everything they can to calm the situation.
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, anything on the referendum with Skopje?
MR. BOUCHER: We note that the referendum on November 7th in Macedonia failed by a wide margin, with only about one-quarter of eligible voters supporting it. We congratulate the voters and the people of Macedonia for ensuring a referendum that's consistent with international standards. The vote reaffirms the strong desire of Macedonians to press on with Euro-Atlantic integration. It's a clear endorsement of the Ohrid Framework Agreement and testifies to the will of the people to overcome the challenges of its implementation.
We call on all parties to respect the outcome and to continue the work through the democratic process to finalize the framework agreement and to ensure Macedonia's continued and steadied progress towards NATO and EU membership.
By recognizing Macedonia's constitutional name last week, we underscore the United States' commitment to a permanent, multiethnic and democratic Macedonia within its existing borders. We believe this message was heard and contributed to the courageous choice that the Macedonian people made to continue on the course of the framework agreement. And that is something that we will continue to support because we believe it brings stability for all the people in the region.
QUESTION: Otherwise, the U.S. Government is supporting the creation of 16 political self-ruled entities by the Albanian peoples in Skopje?
MR. BOUCHER: The United States support the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which brought peace to the region, peace to the people of Macedonia. A significant portion of that agreement is decentralization and various kinds of authority at local level.
But as far as the details of that agreement, you'll have to talk to the Macedonians. Our view is that this was a positive step, and it's a step whose implementation we have supported.
QUESTION: Since you once again praise that recognition of Skopje as "Macedonia," how do you explain to Senator Paul Sarbanes' statement, who said, "is a significant and counterproductive departure from the longstanding U.S. policy"?
MR. BOUCHER: We work very closely with Senator Sarbanes. We did talk to him as we were taking this step, I think, before we announced it. And we understand his very strong views on the subject. Nonetheless, we think this was the right step to take, for all the reasons that we've explained.
QUESTION: Other words, he was warned in advanced that you were planning to do this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know how much in advance. It was around the time that we made the decision to go forward.
QUESTION: Can you clarify for us or can you take this question, because it's very important, whatever you are saying.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think it's that important. We certainly keep in close touch with him and we notified members of Congress either the night before or the day of the decision. I'm not sure when we connected with Senator Sarbanes personally. But we do understand his strong views about this situation in this region, and we appreciate those views. But as I said, we went forward and made the decision on our own for the reasons that we explained.
QUESTION: Ambassador Tom Miller (inaudible) international fora, according to Associated Press, the U.S. Embassy in Athens, who warned Americans in Greece to exercise caution and heighten their level of security following your recognition of FYROM November 4th as Macedonia in order to -- put in quote, unquote -- "Macedonia," please, in order to prevent any anti-Americanism. Do you know he has been advised to do that by Department of State, or if he acted by himself?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I'd have to go back and check on that particular -- was that a Warden Message that you're referring to? I don't know if we -- how we worked that with him?
QUESTION: But can you take this question?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if there's anything to say. Usually it's a combination.
QUESTION: And also, Mr. Boucher, the National Public Radio dispatched a story talking about Secretary of State Colin Powell, "He is described by Wil Hylton in Gentleman's Quarterly Magazine as 'exhausted, frustrated, and bitter.' He is said to resent the refusal of the White House to let him represent the United States at the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Athens."
May we know if that is true in order to forget the previous stories that Mr. Powell postponed his trip to Athens due to the so-called anti-Americanism in Greece for which specifically Ambassador Tom Miller is very sensitive, because 15,000 -- 1,500 Greeks in the (inaudible) of his arrival called an anti-war demonstration in Athens against the war in Iraq?
You said similar stories to Mr. --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I know what you're saying. I'm trying to decide -- well, I'm gonna. That's a pile of crap and it was a pile of crap. We said so when the original story came out. We explained the reasons why the State Department -- why the Secretary didn't go to Greece. I wouldn't start connecting all the dots that you've ever heard about the Secretary, particularly when so many of them are so unfounded.
QUESTION: But I hate to make (inaudible) this characterization because you are the only one who told Mr. Hitchens to write a similar story in the Foreign Policy --
MR. BOUCHER: No, actually, we tried to talk to Mr. Hitchens, but after we finally got a hold of him he didn't really take much from us. So I'm afraid that story falls in the same category.
QUESTION: And so why -- and so since Ambassador Miller (inaudible) the 1,500 anti-Americans because they're against the war, so what is the -- what is your position? This particular issue is very important because we have to understand --
MR. BOUCHER: I think we explained at the time the reasons that the Secretary was not able to attend the closing ceremonies. I'll stick with that.
QUESTION: Do you know when the last time the Secretary of State visited Greece?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't.
QUESTION: Do you know why --
MR. BOUCHER: You probably do.
QUESTION: No, no, I want you to say it on the record. Do you know --
MR. BOUCHER: It's on our website. I'll stand by whatever is on our website.
QUESTION: No, no, no, the last question. Do you know why U.S. cabinet members most recently avoided to visit Greece? Is there any reason to do that? Is it a matter of change of policy?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think you can say that. We had a lot of back and forth and support around the time of the Olympics. We've had various high-level visitors in Greece. The Secretary has met frequently with his Greek counterparts. He talks frequently with his Greek counterpart, the Greek Foreign Minister. He's tried several times, looked at possibilities several times in scheduling a visit there, and for one reason or another, it hasn't worked out. But it's something he'd still like to do at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: But why he never visit the Greece, that's the point. I know that he's talking a lot, I know that you are making lot of statements, et cetera, but they're going around Albania, Skopje --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we've gone around Greece. I think we've tried several times to get there, the Secretary has, for a variety of reasons, these trips didn't work out. He still looks forward to doing it some time.
QUESTION: Do you think when he is going to visit next --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particular date in mind, no.
QUESTION: Back to Macedonia. So now that you look back at the result, you had made a calculation that it was worth annoying Greece in order to have an impact on the referendum. Was it worth it? Or was the margin so wide that your influence didn't actually matter, that the Macedonians would have rejected it anyway?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, credit for this goes to the people of Macedonia, who we think made a wise and courageous decision on how to handle this matter at a referendum level and to stick with the framework agreement even though it involves a lot of change for their society.
Second of all, to the extent that we contributed to it, we're glad we did. To the extent that we contributed to that outcome, I don't think we'll ever be able to measure how much our decision contributed or not. There were probably many factors involved, and, as I said, credit really goes to the choices that the voters, the people of Macedonia made. But I think we thought it was the right decision for a variety of reasons, including the ability to demonstrate very clearly that the United States was in favor of a stable and peaceful and multiethnic society in Macedonia. And we think this -- that's a message that goes beyond the referendum as well.
QUESTION: Thank you. A few questions on Mexico, please.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: What are you -- can you characterize the negotiations between the U.S. and Mexico on immigration during this Bi-National Commission meeting? Are you expecting any major breakthrough between negotiations or only an assessment of where things are?
And secondly, President Fox said on Friday during the summit in Rio that several Latin American leader ask him, and he had said that to become some kind of a bridge between the U.S. and the region to make those regions come together. Are you expecting any -- some impact, if any, from this what kind of role that Mexico can play in that sense?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see any particular remarks by President Fox, so I don't know how, exactly, he phrased it. Certainly we have worked very carefully and closely with Mexico on a variety of issues affecting the region, whether it's the situation, for example, in Bolivia that I remember, Venezuela, other things that have happened in the region, we have always kept in very close touch with our Mexican counterparts and worked with them very closely.
So part of what we'll do in Mexico in our discussions, particularly with the foreign minister, is to kind of go through some of the things happening in the region and see how the U.S. and Mexico can both contribute to stability and progress in this region.
As far as the state of play on migration, the President has made a proposal, as you know, to the U.S. Congress. He remains committed to that proposal and we look forward to going down to Mexico -- the Secretary does look forward to going down to Mexico to discuss this with his Mexican counterpart and other U.S. cabinet members -- Secretary Ridge, I'm sure, will be discussing it with their counterparts -- to talk about how we, working with the U.S. Congress, can move forward on this kind of program that the President has proposed.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: What President Fox said at the Rio Summit last week was that he offered other Latin American leaders to be a pointman and an advocate in their name with the United States, especially on the subject of migration. So my follow-up question would be, how does the United States feel, you know, dealing with one country who speaks on behalf of other countries?
MR. BOUCHER: I think you may be -- even from what you quoted President Fox in saying, it sounds like your question kind of implies something beyond what he said. So I don't want to try to deal with it in that fashion, based on what I've heard from you.
It is an important issue for us. It's an important issue for other countries in the region. Mexico knows as well as we do that the proposal the President made is not just for Mexicans, but we also all know that Mexicans are the vast bulk of the people who live and work and contribute to American society in this fashion.
And so we certainly know that we have to deal with Mexico on these matters, that they principally involve Mexicans in the United States or the U.S. and Mexico, and I'm sure that President Fox's reassurance that he keeps the interests and the attention that other nations give to this in mind is probably welcomed by all of us. But we will also deal directly with other nations that might be affected by U.S. legislation in this matter.
QUESTION: In what way are you discussing it with other Latin American nations? They said there hasn't been much mention about talking with Salvador, Nicaragua --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as I said, we'll keep in touch with other countries on this even though we may be, first and foremost, dealing with Mexico on it, because Mexicans are first and foremost affected. I don't have any precise plan at this point for how we'll talk with everybody or different countries at different times. But all I know is we are going to talk to Mexico tomorrow about it.
Yeah. We've got one or two more in the back. Sir.
QUESTION: Have you ever -- do you have any readout of Deputy Secretary Armitage visit to Iraq, or later be joined by Burns, Williams Burns to --
MR. BOUCHER: The Deputy Secretary has now visited the United Arab Emirates where he expressed our condolences on the passing of Sheikh Zayed. They also have taken the opportunity to visit there to discuss Iraq, Iran, Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, counterterrorism, and the issue of modernization and reform in the region.
In Iraq, the Deputy Secretary met with senior Iraqi officials about the security situation and about getting to elections in January. After the Iraq stop, they went on to Kuwait and Bahrain, again, discussions of all these regional issues.
The Deputy Secretary has now gone on to South Asia. He's in Pakistan now. Assistant Secretary Burns has gone on to London, having some meetings there with the British, and Assistant Secretary Burns will be back in Washington tomorrow.
Let's -- yeah.
QUESTION: Why the Department of State drastically reduce the personnel in the U.S. *General Consulate in (inaudible), leaving almost alone (inaudible). Is there any reason to do that?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check and see if we have.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Armitage?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: So that can you now tell us more about the rest of his schedule in South Asia?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm afraid we're still going to follow the practice of telling you where he is when he gets there but not before.
QUESTION: The South Korean Deputy Director of NSC, Mr. Lee Jong-seok, made a very unusual visit to Washington, D.C. Who will he meet and what suggestion with U.S. make for him in dealing with North Korea?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'd have to check and see. I don't know anything.
QUESTION: On the Middle East real quick. Richard, in light of Prime Minister Blair's statement on the urgency of reigniting the peace process, do you feel that there's an added or accelerated effort of communication between the State Department and the White House on this issue? Has there been any added urgency to -- in light of the whole situation?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to describe any particular internal discussions, but we're certainly in touch with the -- working very closely with the White House all the time. We all agree it's important for the United States to take every opportunity to move forward. We've done this repeatedly in this Administration, whether it was Sharm el-Sheikh in Aqaba, where the President was personally involved, or in April when we looked at the Israeli disengagement plan and said, this represents an opportunity. I don't know what kind of transition at this point the Palestinians might be going through, whatever happens to Mr. Arafat, whether he recovers or not.
But we'll certainly continue to look for ways that we can move forward on Middle East peace. It remains important to the Palestinians and Israelis alike that they have a way to live side-by-side in peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.
And as far as discussions with the British, we are certainly having close contact and discussions with the British on this issue and those will continue as well.
QUESTION: Richard, with respect to Chairman Arafat, there's speculation about hidden bank accounts. Have you spoken to the Swiss and/or the Palestinians themselves? And also, there's speculation that Chairman Arafat is dying of AIDS. And --
MR. BOUCHER: I know all this stuff. There's a lot of speculation. I don't deal with speculation here. It's not for us to speculate on these things.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:20 p.m.)