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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for Dec. 15

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for Dec. 15

Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 15, 2004

INDEX:

NORTH KOREA
- Query on Status of Six Party Talks
- Query on Japan's Efforts Resolve Abductees Issue and Possibility
- of Sanctions / Affect on Six Party Talks?

CUBA
- Christmas/Holiday Decorations at Interests Section / Threats from Cuban Regime
- Query on Whether U.S. is Combining a Political Message with
- Holiday Season / Whether Customary to put up Decorations at embassies and Posts

IRAQ
- Voter Registration Process / Voter List / Progress on Setting up Elections
- Commitment to Avoid Interference in Iraq's Affairs by Iran/
- Alleged Interference by Iran
- Query on Alleged Interference in Iraq's Affairs by Syria

RUSSIA
- Reaction to Yukos Filing for Bankruptcy in Houston

TURKEY
- Position on Armenian Question of Genocide / Affect on Turkey's Admission to EU

VENEZUELA
- Chavez Government Efforts to Strengthen Ties to Cuba
- Chavez Expansion of Supreme Court

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
- Query on U.S. Position on Israeli/Palestinian Issue and
- Possibility of Holding an International Summit
- Abu Mazen Comments Regarding Intifada

UNITED NATIONS
- Annan Visit to Washington / Meeting with Secretary of State Colin
- Powell and Dr. Rice / Topics to be Discussed


TRANSCRIPT:

12:50 p.m. EST


MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements. I'd be glad to take your questions.

QUESTION: I'm just checking the temperature. In the last 24 or 36 hours or whatever, has the State Department heard anything new about the six-party talks which, as when last we talked about, North Korea simply was refusing to come to the table? Any --

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of anything new. There were a couple of statements by the North Koreans over the weekend. They made statements [inaudible] Japanese, but I'm not aware of any news.

QUESTION: I meant, you know, actually, literally, the last day or so. The Ambassador to South Korea is back and I believe he's meeting with Mr. Bolton, probably has already.

MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure he will. I don't know specifically if he's back, but --

QUESTION: [Inaudible] but, no, it just made me wonder whether there are new messages from South Korea.

MR. BOUCHER: We have talked very frequently with the Japanese, the South Koreans, and the Chinese. Our Special Envoy Joe DeTrani was out there late last week and we've had very frequent contact with them. They've had people in Washington. So it's an active consultation process but no, I'm not aware of anything new.

Let's go on. George.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the demands by the Cuban Government that the U.S. take down some of its Christmas decorations?

MR. BOUCHER: Christmas tree lights?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I'll try to explain to some of you what's going on. Our, I think, Chief of Mission in Cuba, Jim Cason, has explained this a bit to the press in Havana. The Cuban Foreign Minister has twice in four days demanded that holiday decorations placed on the grounds of our Interests Section in Havana be removed. They have threatened retaliation against the Interests Section if we don't do that.

The Interests Section has put up decorations like this, Christmas tree lights, for years and we do not plan on taking down our holiday decorations until the holidays are over. One of our displays is a simple sign with the number 75. This is a reference to the 75 prisoners of conscience that the Castro regime jailed in 2003; it shows our solidarity with Cubans who struggle for democracy and freedom, and we think it's appropriate at the holiday season to remember these people, these people who are missing because of political repression.

We would note also that last week the secret police of Cuba tried to intimidate children of the 75 who were invited to a holiday party at Mr. Cason's residence. Apparently, the Cuban Government now thinks that Christmas tree lights and parties for children are somehow threatening its regime.

That's the situation and we'll see what happens.

QUESTION: Doesn't that mean that you've combined Christmas with a political message? And secondly, do you have -- does the -- I don't know, does the U.S. Government customarily have Christmas or seasonal decorations, particularly in non-Christian countries like Saudi Arabia?

MR. BOUCHER: We have seasonal decorations all over the world, at embassies and different persons' -- people's residences. It depends on the officers and the people there, what kind of decorations they feel like putting up.

QUESTION: But you are using -- I don't want to put words in your mouth, but it seems to me that's a political message combined with a --

MR. BOUCHER: Well, it's a remembrance at a season of peace that there are people who don't have peace at this season.

Tammy.

QUESTION: Since 75 is not a traditional holiday decoration it appears to be provocative. Is it intended to be provocative?

MR. BOUCHER: Putting up Christmas tree lights is provocative?

QUESTION: No, no, the --

MR. BOUCHER: Putting up a number of 75 on Christmas tree lights at your own residence is provocative? I really find that a little hard to explain that way.

QUESTION: Well, but the number 75 clearly isn't a traditional holiday decoration and it --

MR. BOUCHER: No, it's not. But I think, you know, as I said, it's up to people who put up their Christmas tree lights what kind of theme of the season they want to set. And to put up an entirely festive atmosphere when these people are still being held in jail under repressive conditions doesn't necessarily seem the right thing to do either. So it's a combination of remembering people who deserve better and who deserve peace at this season, as well as celebrating the holiday season.

QUESTION: In terms of the Cuban Government asking you to take it down, are there any laws governing what the host country can and can't ask the U.S. or any other embassy or facility to do on their own property?

MR. BOUCHER: What the U.S. can?

QUESTION: No, I mean -- I mean, when you accept to be in a host country, I mean, do they have any rights or any -- is it according to their laws?

MR. BOUCHER: To tell us whether there is something written in law that they can -- does the Vienna Convention cover Christmas tree lights, is that sort of the question?

QUESTION: Well, yes, actually. Does it govern what you can do, what you can and can't do with your property?

MR. BOUCHER: Frankly, I don't know. I don't know. But we've had this for a number of years, and the Cuban Government hasn't found occasion to object to our Christmas tree lights. They are obviously objecting this year on an exceptional basis and not on the basis of some international standard or law.

QUESTION: Is this the first year that you've done some kind of political message in your holiday decorations?

MR. BOUCHER: Don't know. Imagine so.

Sir.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject to Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: Sure.

QUESTION: There's an editorial in the Washington Times today; it's saying that only about 60- to 70,000 people are registered to vote out of a country of 25 million people. I'm just wondering, what's the U.S. trying to do to accelerate the voter registration process so that the elections are free and representative [inaudible]?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what the basis is for a number like that. I'll get you the number, but the voter list started with something like 13 million, based on the food distribution lists that were had before, and that those were being verified by people in almost all the provinces of Iraq. So I don't know exactly how they worded the 60,000 number, but it's way more than that in terms of the numbers of people on the list, and probably way more than that in terms of the number on those lists who have been verified.

QUESTION: Well, they're basing their figure on the food-rationing lists, so that's why I just wondering.

MR. BOUCHER: All right. Let us check for you on what the number might be. You can also check with the Iraqi Election Commission. I think it is noteworthy -- this is the last day for political parties and lists and individuals to register for the elections. And indeed, we've seen a lot of registrations. We've seen some 240 parties and individuals register their election lists, their desire to participate and be elected.

In these elections, we've seen people of all ethnic groups. We've seen people of all religious factions and groups. We've seen people from all over Iraq. We've seen people from different parties get together and politic with each other about forming lists and where they should be on lists.

We've seen a lot of political jockeying in Iraq, and who knows? That may continue until the lists close tonight or even afterwards. But there's a broad cross-section of people who have registered to participate in this election through these lists, and, as I said, there are some 240 parties and individuals who are participating who have already registered.

The Electoral Commission of Iraq, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, is working hard to prepare free, fair and transparent elections where -- in which all Iraqis can participate. There are thousands of Iraqis already working for the Electoral Commission. They've already said they welcome independent international election observers and have issued public invitations to national and international election monitors such as the Arab League, the Islamic Conference, the Organization of African Unity, the Organization of American States, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

And we have certainly indicated, as I think the Secretary did last week in Europe, that we would welcome all these organizations, and especially the OSCE, to help monitor the elections.

The U.S. is also providing substantial support for the Iraqi election effort. We've already provided more than $40 million to the Independent Electoral Commission to help conduct the elections. Japan has provided $40 million. The European Union is providing $38 million for the election efforts. So we're pleased to see the financial support.

And finally, I would note that the security environment for the Iraqi election is being improved and there are plenty of plans by the multinational forces to build up and to try to maintain a secure environment for these elections.

Teri.

QUESTION: Today, a briefing at the Pentagon by LTGEN Lance Smith said Iran is basically doing the same thing on the other side: providing insurgents with money, people and weapons trying to -- trying to disrupt the elections. Is that -- he said that this is -- has been found by electronic, high-level intercepts. Is that something the State Department is seeing, as well, through its means available in --?

MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't talk about electronic, high-level intercepts.

QUESTION: I said through the State Department's own methods.

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. We are indeed seeing a variety of efforts by Iran to support groups or otherwise get involved in the internal affairs of Iraq. I think it's been well documented by the Iraqi Government. We've talked about it as well. We have urged the Iranian Government to live up to its publicly stated policy of supporting the sovereignty, the independence, the territorial integrity, and the national unity of Iraq.

Iran made a commitment to combat the flow of terrorists and support for terrorists across the Iranian border and to avoid any kind of interference in Iran's -- in Iraq's internal affairs. That commitment was reiterated at the November 23rd Regional Conference on Iraq that was held at Sharm el-Sheikh. We think it's in the interests of all, including Iraq's neighbors, for people to respect the political transition and stabilization process and to help us succeed in Iraq, and we will continue to state very clearly our view that Iran needs to live up to those standards.

QUESTION: Is there any sense that this activity by Iran is increasing or is this -- has it remained somewhat level over the last couple of months?

MR. BOUCHER: I think you'd have to check with people closer to the ground. I can't give you a sense of that. This kind of activity, as you know, we've seen on and off in various ways throughout the period post-war in Iraq and we've called repeatedly on Iran to stop it. The Iraqis themselves have called on Iran to stop it. And we will continue to push for that and to do whatever is appropriate to keep this kind of interference from affecting the course of events in Iraq.

QUESTION: Do you have anything new to add to the sketchy details -- because it's just fairly recently -- an explosion at a mosque in Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. We're following that, but I don't have any more information.

Tammy.

QUESTION: Can you be more specific on what the interference by Iran is?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can at this point. I've said a little bit about it in general terms already. But, no, I would suggest that if you look at the various statements by the Government of Iraq, I think they've been -- they've detailed some of their specific concerns.

QUESTION: And the U.S. shares those same concerns?

MR. BOUCHER: I can't document every single one of those for you. But, yes, we share the kinds of concerns that they have.

Sir.

QUESTION: What about the Syrian interferences? The Defense Minister of Iraq is accusing both that the insurgents are elements of former -- of intelligence people from Iran and Syria and former intelligence of the Saddam regime.

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, as you know, we've raised our concerns many times about the situation with regard to Syria. We've raised them directly with the Syrian Government through the various trips and meetings we've had by Assistant Secretary Burns, by the interagency teams, by the -- in the Secretary's meeting with the Syrian Foreign Minister at Sharm el-Sheikh as well.

We have called on Syria to take more action to keep people and support from flowing across its borders. We've called on Syria to prevent its territory from being used by Baathists or former people associated with the regime to support the insurgency and we've called on them to return money and other assets that belong to the Iraqi people. They've had their -- they've had discussions with the Iraqi Government as well on this. We're very supportive of the Iraqi Government's effort.

At this point, I'd have to say that we've seen some action by the Syrian Government on the use of its -- on the border areas. But we've also continued to press the Syrian Government to stop the use of Syrian territory as a base, as an assembly point for jihadists, money and resources, as well as a base for opposition elements. This is a matter of serious concern to us that we have raised and continue to raise with the Syrian Government.

Sir.

QUESTION: Can I go back to North Korea for a moment?

MR. BOUCHER: Yep.

QUESTION: I'm kind of confused, and from your podium you've mentioned many times that the United States supports Japan's efforts to impose sanctions -- I'm sorry, support Japan's efforts to get its abductees back from North Korea.

MR. BOUCHER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But yesterday you mentioned from that podium also that this Administration doesn't take a position on whether or not the United States supports Japan imposing those sanctions onto North Korea. What would cause the United States to take a position? What is it that you're looking for? Is it because it's still speculative or --

MR. BOUCHER: Well, you're asking me what -- first of all, let the Japanese Government decide what it wants to do. If I remember correctly, the Japanese Diet passed a Sense of the Diet Resolution or something like that recommending sanctions. The Japanese Government has not made any statement or decision or even shown any inclination to do that, and therefore let's not sort of speculate three days down the road, if it all, that that is a course of action the Japanese Government is going to follow.

We talked here -- Secretary Armitage talked -- about some of the factors involved in analyzing whether sanctions are appropriate. What's the fundamental to all this, though, is the Japanese Government, the Japanese Diet, the United States Government all believe that North Korea needs to solve the abductee issue. What are the appropriate methods and means to pursue that issue is a decision for the Japanese Government to make, but we are very supportive of their efforts. We have always raised it in our -- when we have occasion to do that, and I'm sure we'll continue to support their efforts, whatever the efforts are that they decide to pursue.

QUESTION: A follow-up. More and more, slapping economic sanctions on North Korea is becoming a very popular topic in Japan, and so are you waiting on Japan to take action, then, if Japan does --

MR. BOUCHER: No, I wouldn't say that. I'd say we're continuing to -- Japan is taking action to try to resolve the abductee issue. Whatever they decide on sanctions, they're going to continue to pursue that issue in various ways and we'll continue to support their efforts.

QUESTION: One more, if I may. Sorry.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay.

QUESTION: You don't think these efforts by Japan are hampering the six-party talks at all? You don't think that --

MR. BOUCHER: We have always felt that this issue needs to be resolved. It's part of the issue of North Korea's relations with its neighborhood and relations with the world. The six-party talks directed at solving the nuclear issue are also. That's a fundamental issue, perhaps the fundamental issue for all of us, in how North Korea relates to its neighborhood, but it's not the only issue. Eliminating the nuclear threat in North Korea is only part of the issue about how North Korea relates to the people in the neighborhood. Abductees are another one of those issues.

QUESTION: But is the primary issue of the six-party talks and, I mean, in the past, when you're engaged in other processes with a bunch of countries, you have said whether you think, you know, countries should or shouldn't take actions that, you know, could affect negotiations. And do you think that slapping sanctions on North Korea at a time when you're engaged with Japan and North Korea on this six-party process, which you've said from the podium is the most primary and urgent issue, that it would affect it?

MR. BOUCHER: Once again, I'd go back to what I just said. You know, the Diet has made a recommendation -- I'm not even sure it's the whole Diet. But anyway, it will be up to the Japanese Government to decide how they want to pursue this issue, and we've been very supportive of their efforts. I'm sure we'll continue to be.

Yeah. Joel.

QUESTION: Yukos filed for bankruptcy. I'm wondering if the government, the U.S. Government has any intention to get involved in the case or has any reaction at all to it.

MR. BOUCHER: In terms of reaction, I think I'd just have to say that Yukos management has a right to pursue any legal remedies it determines are in the best interests of the company, its shareholders. I'd refer you to the court in Houston and the Yukos legal team for any further comment on the specifics of the filing.

I think we've expressed our concerns about the Yukos case and about its implications for the Russian economy and for Russia's reputation as a place to do business, and we've made that clear in public and in private with the Russian Government, as well.

Okay. Christophe.

QUESTION: On a different subject? In Turkey.

MR. BOUCHER: Please.

QUESTION: As you know, there will be a summit, a European summit tomorrow, on the question of opening negotiations with Ankara in view of its accession to the European Union. And part of the debate in Europe is whether or not what Turkey committed against the Armenians one century ago can be called a genocide, or it was just a tragedy, or massacres. What's your position on this question of genocide, on the genocide?

MR. BOUCHER: I mean, first of all, our position on the Armenia question is, I think, pretty well known. You'll see it on our website and a very -- a number of statements. We've acknowledged the terrible tragedy that befell the Armenian community in Anatolia in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. We've been encouraging scholarly and civil society diplomatic discussions about those events, and we've encouraged economic and political dialogue between Armenia and Turkey on the subject.

I think the President issues a statement almost every year. The reference I'd give you for this sort of formal policy is the April 24th, 2003, statement that President Bush put out.

I would note we're following events in regard to the European Union and Turkey very closely. This has been a matter of some interest to us. The Secretary spoke this morning with Foreign Minister Gul, just to kind of check in and see where things are. I think Foreign Minister Gul is already in Brussels working with the European Union there. And we'll continue to keep in touch with Turkish leaders on this subject.

QUESTION: So do you think that this question of genocide should be -- or shouldn't be a precondition for Turkey to join the EU, as some EU members (inaudible)?

MR. BOUCHER: As the Secretary said about four times last week, all of these matters are matters for the Europeans to decide. We believe that Turkey has gone a long way in meeting the requirements of membership and the requests that were asked of Turkey, and it will be for the Europeans to make that judgment themselves.

QUESTION: Richard?

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Back on Cuba. Venezuela seems to be drifting closer to Cuba. They have signed an economic integration agreement and Venezuela also is adopting internal measures, which probably more resemble Cuba's internal measures than any other country in the hemisphere. Do you have any comment?

MR. BOUCHER: I would just say that we are troubled that a country with a democratic tradition like Venezuela would want to strengthen its ties to the only undemocratic regime and closed economy in the hemisphere. Any attempt to emulate a Cuban model at a time of increasingly -- increasing global expansion, regional integration and opportunity for individuals would be a step backward for the people of Venezuela.

Paul.

QUESTION: Also on Venezuela. Chavez apparently is expanding the court. I'm wondering if you have reaction to that.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think that the simple answer is we see this as packing the court. It was passed when the National Assembly delegates who represent the democratic opposition boycotted a special session that was convened by the pro-Chavez deputy to try to make these additional appointments to the court. We note Human Rights Watch and others have criticized it.

We think the action with regard to the court calls into question the principle of judicial independence and how it's being respected in Venezuela and calls into question Venezuela's commitment to full democratic institutions. We share the concerns that have been expressed by Human Rights Watch and by Venezuela's opposition. We think separation of powers is an intrinsic part of democracy that is respected throughout Latin America and throughout the international community. Unfortunately, in Venezuela, we're witnessing increasing difficulties on the part of the judicial authorities to deliver impartial justice.

Sir.

QUESTION: Yeah. Richard, I'm Peter [inaudible]. I'm the new Matt Lee. When we have a minute, I'll present myself more formally.

MR. BOUCHER: Welcome.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER: But there will be another Matt Lee, I'm sure. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. There will never be another Matt Lee.

MR. BOUCHER: You can be the new AFP correspondent. Welcome.

QUESTION: French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier is visiting and will be speaking to the Secretary and then Condoleezza Rice. He came out in an interview earlier this week making a very strong call for a very quick international summit on the Middle East, also to accelerate the final stages of negotiations. I was wondering if you could tell us exactly where is the United States on these two issues right now.

MR. BOUCHER: The United States has made clear we want to move forward as quickly as possible with regard to the Middle East. The first effort that we're making is to help facilitate the Palestinian elections. As the President has said, democratic elections, a democratically elected leader for the Palestinians, is an important element in moving forward and establishing the institutions of a Palestinian state, the institutions that can, indeed, control the violence and move forward as a negotiating partner. So we're very involved on the ground, in some great detail, with the parties.

Our view towards an international conference has been discussed many times. You'll see the President discussed it most recently with Tony Blair, when he came over. And we certainly think that could be an element of moving forward at a time and in a way that would be useful.

Our emphasis right now, though, is on the work on the ground, getting through the Palestinian election and trying to see what we can put together in terms of real progress between the parties.

QUESTION: When the President spoke with Prime Minister Blair, it seemed he wasn't all that eager to have an immediate international conference. Has anything changed to --?

MR. BOUCHER: I think the first-and-foremost goal that we have is to try to help the Palestinians, and we are helping them in very concrete ways and working very closely with them and the Israelis as they try to work out the logistics, for example.

The first goal is to try to help them with that election; see an elected Palestinian leader emerge, who can carry them forward; and then, to work very closely with them and the Israelis and see what can be done.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Sir.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

QUESTION: Are you heartened by the comments by Abu Mazen yesterday -- I think it was yesterday or the day -- before that the Palestinian uprising was, perhaps, not the wisest course for them?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think we've often expressed the view that the Intifada, the violence, has gained nothing for the Palestinians; indeed it --

QUESTION: But he hasn't.

MR. BOUCHER: -- has made life worse. There have been Palestinians who've expressed that view, as well. We think it's an important fact to remember and to recognize, and that the way to achieve a Palestinian state that they desire, that we desire, that others in the international community are trying to help with, is to work peacefully through a negotiation and to control the violence and establish the kind of authority that can create a state. So I'd say we welcome that sort of recognition on the Palestinian side, wherever it comes from.

We've also, as you know, discussed with them, with Israelis and Palestinians, the issue of incitement, the issue of lowering the tone, lowering the rhetoric, lowering the heat in terms of the kinds of things that one community says about the other. That was a topic of discussion when the Secretary was in Jerusalem not too long ago, and I think we're starting to see some action on that front as well.

Yeah.

Okay. No. We had North Korea.

QUESTION: Last week, head of the IAEA, Mr. ElBaradei, said that now he's certain that DPRK has reprocessed all of the 8,000 spent fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium, which [inaudible] six additional nuclear bomb. Does U.S. share that same concern in the same gravity? And if so, why you are not so eager to update that -- your assessment?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we'll look at all the developments on North Korea at the appropriate time. I'm not aware of any new assessment at this moment, so I really don't have anything new to say for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: One more.

MR. BOUCHER: One more. Teri.

QUESTION: Kofi Annan will now be here tomorrow --

MR. BOUCHER: That's right.

QUESTION: -- meeting with the Secretary.

MR. BOUCHER: That's right.

QUESTION: Who called the meeting and what would you expect to be the top issues of discussion?

MR. BOUCHER: Our understanding, and I think the UN has explained this, is that Secretary General Annan is coming down to Washington for a speech. He's addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and during the course of his visit he'll have meetings, a meeting tomorrow with the Secretary of State. I understand he'll be meeting tomorrow with Dr. Rice, as well.

We see this as an opportunity to discuss with the Secretary General the many important issues that we're working together with him on, including the situation in Iraq, getting to Iraqi elections, the UN role in helping get to the Iraqi elections. We've got upcoming Palestinian elections. We've got continuing efforts in the Sudan, both with regard to the north-south talks as well as the very tragic situation in Darfur, where the United States and the United Nations are cooperating very closely.

It's a chance to talk about Haiti. The Secretary was just in Haiti and one of the topics that they discussed -- that he discussed extensively down there -- was the issue of national dialogue and political reconciliation, and we look forward to the Secretary General's visit to Haiti in January to see how he can further that process of national dialogue.

So it's an opportunity of the Secretary General coming down to make a speech for us to work very closely with him on some of the most important issues we have together.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)

DPB #206

ENDS

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