State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for Dec. 20
State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for Dec. 20 -- Transcript
Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
December 20, 2004
- Statement on Intensified Violence in Darfur
- African Union and UN Efforts to Enforce Ceasefire
- Prospects for December 31st North-South Peace Agreement
- Informal Talks in Abuja
- Auction of Yukos and Role of Baikal Finance Group
- Foreign Business Investment and Erosion of Confidence
- Radio Liberty Reporter Yuri Bagrov
- Status of U.S.-Russia Bilateral Relations
- Reports that Indian Officials Criticize Nuclear Program
- Status of U.S.-India Bilateral Relations
- Head of E-bay Subsidiary Avinash Bajaj Detained
- Status of U.S. Embassy and Consulates
- British Efforts to Broker Peace
- Reports on Situation at Rafah Refugee Camp
- Securing Fair and Impartial Runoff Election
- Prospects for Integration into Euro-Atlantic Alliances
- U.S. Visa Cancelled for Member of Syrian Parliament
- U.S. Pressure Mounting to Halt Support for Iraqi Insurgency
- Status of Iraqi Baathists and Others Taking Refuge in Syria
- Status of Assets of Former Iraqi Regime in Syrian Banks
- Options to Induce Syrian Compliance
- Democratic Transition to National Elections in 2007
- Discussions With President Musharraf on Transition
- Encouraging the Process of Democracy in Pakistan
- Efforts to Promote Democracy and Status of Aung San Suu Kyi
- Support for Annan UN Plan to Resolve Divisions
- Distribution of Nevirapine for HIV/AIDS
- Meeting Between Secretary Powell and UN Secretary-General Annan
12:55 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for waiting for me. I'm sorry I'm a bit late. Monday always seems to be more difficult than other days. I have one statement I'd like to make at the beginning. We'll give you a written version of this. It's about the situation in Darfur, which has been of great concern to us.
The United States is greatly concerned by the intensified violence that has been taking place in Darfur in recent days. The operations that were carried out by the government and related activity by the Jingaweit militias have caused untold suffering, displacing tens of thousands of people.
At the same time, we want to emphasize that the Darfur rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement must also respect the ceasefire agreement and the terms of the humanitarian and security protocols that have been signed in Abuja.
Fighting between the Government of Sudan, Sudan Liberation's Movement and Army and Justice and Equality Movement has affected United Nations and other humanitarian relief agencies' operations in south Darfur. We urge both sides in the strongest terms to cooperate fully with international humanitarian efforts.
The United States and the international community, including the United Nations, speak with one voice on the crisis in Darfur. We want to particularly underscore the staunch support of the United States for the efforts of the African Union in Darfur. We strongly support the statement that was issued by the chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, Alpha Konare, condemning the large-scale violations of the ceasefire that have been committed by all of the parties.
We will continue to support the accelerated deployment of African Union mission and the exercise of their expanded mandate. We also welcome and support the African Union's continued leadership in brokering negotiations between the Government of Sudan and the Darfur rebel groups and we see this as vital to ending the conflict.
That's on Darfur. Questions?
QUESTION: On Darfur.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you see equal fault there?
MR. BOUCHER: We have seen violations and problems by both sides. Both sides have been violating the ceasefire. What we saw -- there were a lot of reports over the weekend that the government was acting in a more forceful manner. I think they were even some reports of airplanes. And then there were reports that that calmed down and they pulled back a bit.
Frankly, the situation is pretty unclear. We're trying to confirm whether the situation calmed a little bit. But what we really need -- both sides are violating the ceasefire. Both sides need to pull back and respect the ceasefire.
QUESTION: Do you think this is just a carryover of strong emotions or -- because what kind of stock can you put in what these people say in peace efforts if they can just breakout into fighting every other week --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that's where you have to move beyond the ceasefire. You have to, first of all, get people to respect the ceasefire, but you also have to move beyond the ceasefire. You have to get a real settlement among the groups that are fighting in Darfur, including the government and the rebel groups, and then find ways to make that stick and not just rely on a ceasefire, which has been shown to be fragile.
QUESTION: Today the AU said that it's suspending monitoring flights because one of its helicopters got fired on. Are you aware of that?
MR. BOUCHER: We're certainly aware of that report. I don't know that -- I wasn't aware they had suspended their monitoring flights. But we're working very closely with the AU. We've stayed very closely in touch with them at high levels. And that's one of the reasons why we're calling on all the parties to stop the violence and allow the AU to complete their -- continue and complete their mission.
QUESTION: And if you feel that that's what they need to do to keep their -- to keep their people safe, that you would support that?
MR. BOUCHER: We'd support the choices the AU thinks it has to make, but we also support their efforts with our efforts to try to get the parties to stop those sorts of activities so that the AU can fully carry out its functions.
QUESTION: The fact, Richard, that both sides are violating the ceasefire, does that make it more difficult for you to put pressure in the UN and other places on the Sudanese Government? And where are we in terms of, perhaps, another UN resolution at some point?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure we will follow up in the UN with all the parties at the UN, with what all the people at the UN can do in terms of their pressure on the parties, their pressure on the government. As was noted with regard to this incident reported with the AU, the government has airplanes, helicopters and other heavy weapons that are interfering and that can -- have been used in the past. And so there's a particular responsibility that falls on the government. We have not in any way avoided that. And I think we will continue to encourage everybody to use all the pressure they can on both the parties. But we recognize the government bears a particular responsibility for some of this fighting.
The efforts that we've made at the UN, with the UN, the government in Khartoum, the efforts that we have made independently ourselves -- we've been in close touch with the African Union, close touch with the UN, close touch at senior levels with the government in Khartoum; the Secretary talked to Vice President Taha last Wednesday about reaching a north-south agreement and about stilling the kind of violence that we saw happening in Darfur, so that kind of effort and pressure will continue from the United States, and I'm sure from others.
QUESTION: So I take it that the Secretary hasn't spoken to anybody over the weekend?
MR. BOUCHER: Not on this, no.
QUESTION: Richard, would you clarify something that you just said?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did you say that they were attacked by airplanes?
MR. BOUCHER: There were reports of the government using aircraft.
QUESTION: But surely the United States must know. I mean, they have all this equipment and so on, whether there was aerial --
MR. BOUCHER: We will find out.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we have confirmation of the exact nature of some of the attacks over the weekend. But more important, there are some reports that they might have calmed and pulled back, or at least refrained from certain kinds of threatened violence, and that's something that is disputed now. We're not able to say exactly where the situation, whether it's still going forward or slowing down. So our efforts are going to continue until we know for sure that people have gone back and started to respect the ceasefire.
QUESTION: Richard, just one thing on this. It had seemed that for many weeks you were, at least in public, placing a little more onus on the rebels than on the government, and there were suggestions from some senior administration officials that the, who directly deal on Darfur, that the government was sort of reacting to actions by the rebels, that the rebels were sort of seen as precipitating a reaction.
Do you have clarity in the latest attacks as to who you think may have kicked things off?
MR. BOUCHER: I think if you look at what we've seen and what we said for the last two weeks or so, it's been quite clear there -- violence started by both sides, initiated by either side, that there was no -- that both sides were to blame for some of the things that were happening. I've realized it's gone through periods when, you know, things were quiet and the rebels started some attacks, or things were quiet and the Jingaweit and the government started the attacks again like they did in August, early September. In the recent two weeks, we've seen both sides violating the ceasefire. We've tried to make clear both in our public statements, but as well as our diplomatic efforts that both sides needed to stop it and get back and reach some firm agreements on political settlement.
QUESTION: Could you say, or be more specific about how humanitarian relief efforts have been affected? And also, there's been talk of a year-end agreement on the north-south conflict that's closing in quickly, about 11 days away now. What are the prospects for that?
MR. BOUCHER: The prospects for agreement in the north-south context are still there. We would like to be optimistic. Both sides have made commitments. When the Secretary spoke with Vice President Taha last week, he made very clear it was time to decide some of these issues. We know that many of them have been on the table for a while, and we've felt that with an effort by both parties, they could reach agreement. So that's where we stand.
We, I think, do think that the discussions in Kenya have continued to be constructive and they have accelerated. So I would say we're hopeful and optimistic that they can reach agreement if they make some of those big decisions -- some of those final decisions -- to reach a comprehensive peace by the end of the year.
That would certainly help with the overall -- some of the other problems that Sudan has, including Darfur, and we hope that they will -- north-south talks will proceed to meet that self-imposed deadline of December 31st.
The -- I can't remember the first part of the question.
QUESTION: Humanitarian relief.
MR. BOUCHER: Humanitarian relief, how it was affected. I think the -- yeah, it's been mostly in south Darfur. We reported on some of it last week, and I think Jan Pronk, the UN Special Representative, reported on it last week, so I don't have the details with me, but we can probably find you the material on that.
Yeah. Okay, Nicholas.
QUESTION: Do you have any direct channel of communication with the rebels in Darfur that you can relate the message that you have today?
MR. BOUCHER: The parties are at Abuja, and they've been meeting at Abuja, although only informally, because the rebels have refused to talk directly to the government or talk in formal sessions with the government while the military offensives have gone on. So we have people there at Abuja and we do have ways of talking directly to the various groups, yes.
QUESTION: And just one quick on Sudan again. Do you know whether the Embassy, here, of Sudan has solved its banking problem?
MR. BOUCHER: I believe they have, and I think we confirmed that. Didn't we?
A PARTICIPANT: Weeks ago.
MR. BOUCHER: We put out some information? Anyway, they have. I think we answered that a couple of weeks ago.
It's okay. It's not something I expected people to pay great notice to at the time.
QUESTION: Russia. As you, I'm sure, are aware, the main --
MR. BOUCHER: Moving on? Okay.
QUESTION: -- auction of Yukos --
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: -- was sold over the weekend. Back in October, you had said, when talking about potential asset sales, that you wanted to make sure that anything that was sold was sold at a fair market value, and that it was done with transparency so that there would not be suspicions of favoritism. Do you feel like that is what happened here, and do you have any idea, since nobody else seems to know who or what Baikal Finance Group is, the company that seems to have won the bidding?
MR. BOUCHER: I have seen a lot of -- we have seen a lot of different stories, some of them rather amusing, about who Baikal Finance Group is. But no, we don't have any further information than others seem to have developed. We have very little information on the company. It seems to be recently created and then submitted its bid application on December 16th.
I think we have made clear all along our attitude towards the sale of Yukos, the tax penalties. We've looked for a solution to the Yukos issue that might enforce tax laws but avoid outcomes that harm investors, creditors and employees; and we don't believe the auction was a step in that direction. Conduct of the case has raised serious concerns at the lack of transparency and independence of Russia's investment and tax laws and the courts. We think the case has eroded Russia's reputation as a place to do business and eroded confidence in Russia's legal and judicial institutions.
QUESTION: Would you say that specifically of this particular asset sale -- that it has eroded confidence in Russia, as a place to do business and in its tax laws, courts, et cetera?
MR. BOUCHER: It adds to the erosion that had already occurred. But I think we have seen reaction at earlier stages, even, from business community, from major, potential investors, based on some of the earlier events; and this only adds to that.
QUESTION: And how are you raising this? I know you have raised the Yukos case with the Russians for many, many months now, and I think even at the highest level. but are you raising the latest sale with them?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that we've -- whether it was raised this morning in Moscow, but I'm sure this is a subject of repeated -- will be a subject of repeated discussion at our Embassy and in other meetings with the Russians. But remember, it's also a major issue to the business community and has come up again and again in Russia's own attempts to attract capital for development and to develop its oil resources in an efficient and profitable manner.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about something else?
QUESTION: Also on Russia.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Yuri Bagrov, a reporter for Radio Liberty, being -- having his passport -- his Russian passport taken away, effectively limiting his travel and his ability to report from places like Chechnya?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check and see.
QUESTION: Yeah, it's been going on -- I mean he's been persecuted for a while.
MR. BOUCHER: I know. He's had problems on and off on things like this.
QUESTION: Yeah, now that --
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't know of some -- new stage.
QUESTION: -- now that they've ruled.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: If you could check on it, thanks.
MR. BOUCHER: All right. We'll be there in a sec, Paul.
QUESTION: On India?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Okay.
Are you on Yukos, too?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: I just wondered -- there was this talk about possibly one way of coming out of this was to seize or somehow attach products coming from the new Yukos Company coming to the U.S. or other countries. Is that something that the U.S. would consider doing at all?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that's a decision for the U.S. Government. That may be a decision involved in court proceedings, but I think our view has been that it's necessary to be quite clear about the potential effects of this kind of activity, the way it does erode confidence in the business climate as well as the judicial system; and we use every opportunity to point that out.
QUESTION: Richard, what leverage do you have when the President was clear this morning that anything that happens in Russia internally will not affect their relationship with the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that's exactly what the President said. I would go back to what the President did say, and he talked about the various aspects of relationship, areas where we cooperate very well, as well as areas where we have concerns, and this is one area where I think he said he had expressed his concerns. So it's important, I think, to remember we have a very vast and complicated relationship with Russia and we'll continue to work on all aspects of it.
MR. BOUCHER: He was going to do something else.
QUESTION: Richard, how do Secretary feel about when the Indian Foreign Minister, Mr. Natwar Singh criticizes India by saying that India made a big mistake by having nuclear weapons and nuclear program of the past government of Mr. Vajpayee?
MR. BOUCHER: The Indian Foreign Minister talks about India --
QUESTION: On its nuclear program.
MR. BOUCHER: I think -- I hadn't seen the remarks. I don't think that's something we'd want to jump into.
QUESTION: He made a statement in South Korea on his visit and he said India made a mistake by becoming a nuclear power.
MR. BOUCHER: That's very interesting. I'm sure we'll want to look up the remarks and pay attention to them, but other than that, I doubt if we'll have much comment.
QUESTION: Certainly if we -- if you can give little, small reflections as we enter in 2005 how the India-U.S. relations were or will be in the future.
MR. BOUCHER: Better and better. That's little and small.
QUESTION: I have a question.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Hang on.
QUESTION: The head of India's e-bay, I guess, wing -- I don't know what you call it -- is, has been arrested --
MR. BOUCHER: Subsidiary.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: And apparently, the Indian Government called Dr. Rice to get involved. And she has, in fact, made phone calls on this case. Is that, sort of, did they call you guys, too? Or --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think first of all, as far as Dr. Rice, you'd have to check with the White House. I don't know --
QUESTION: You don't know if she's been making calls on this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if she's personally made phone calls on this. I do know this situation is one of concern at the highest levels of the U.S. Government. The Secretary has been following it closely. He was actually asking about it at this morning's staff meeting. It's a matter that we have been following. It's -- Mr. Bajaj is an American citizen. Mr. Avinash Bajaj, he was detained on December 17th. He's been accused of violating Sections 292, 294 of the Indian Penal Code, Section 67 of the Information Technology Act of 2000. He has retained an attorney. He has been visited by a U.S. Consular Officer from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. On December 18th, our consular officer also attended a hearing held today regarding the filing of an appeal. And the appeal hearing gets continued tomorrow, on December 21st.
Our consular officials will continue to provide him with consular services and monitor any developments. But it is a matter that we're paying quite a bit of attention to.
QUESTION: Is it appropriate for other officials not in the State Department to be involved in the case?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure any involvement would have been well coordinated with the State Department. I'll just leave it at that.
QUESTION: So since you don't know anything about whether there was contact, does that mean there wasn't?
MR. BOUCHER: Well-coordinated with others in the State Department besides me.
QUESTION: Oh, other than you. Okay.
MR. BOUCHER: But it wouldn't be for me to answer for them, anyway.
QUESTION: I'm just trying to get a handle on what --
QUESTION: Are you doing India still?
QUESTION: India. One more, quickly. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: No, no. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Richard, as far as U.S. Consulates and Embassy in India is concerned, because they were closed a little while ago, how do you put this as far as security problems now or on threats?
MR. BOUCHER: It's the same as we've always said around the world, that our embassies and consulates will remain open for business except where there is information where they find it difficult, and they may from time to time close to review their security posture. We've seen this happen around the world. We've seen it happen in India. Sometimes it's brief and every effort is made to reopen again in a safe and secure manner for ourselves, for our employees, and for the applicants and people who come to see us.
QUESTION: Mr. Blair, the prime minister --
MR. BOUCHER: Said's been patient, but go ahead.
QUESTION: This week, he's going to the Middle East to try to promote -- I'm not sure what he's trying to promote -- some sort of a conference without the U.S. and without Israel, as far as I can understand. Can you clarify whether you think the Blair initiative can do much good? And the U.S. is not part of this. It's not the peace conference that's been promoted by the Europeans for some time, and I saw what the Secretary said this week, maybe in the future -- makes sense.
But what's going on here so far as the U.S. is concerned?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, there are a lot of us that want to take advantage of every opportunity to move forward on Middle East peace. The President made that clear again today at his press conference. Prime Minister Blair and the President have worked particularly closely in coordinating their efforts and trying to move forward, and we support the British initiative and the British effort to move forward on Middle East peace and we're working together with them on that.
As far as talk of a conference, I refer you back to the President and Prime Minister Blair when Prime Minister Blair last visited. They both addressed that. The Secretary, as you noted, has addressed it since then. There's really no news that I know of on the conference. I know the British have been working to try to prepare it and try to get ready for it. But as far as any questions about who will attend and exactly what it will do, I think we'll leave that to the British.
We have all put a lot of effort and are continuing to put a lot of effort into helping the Palestinians have a fair and credible election so that they can have a leadership that can carry out the reform and take up the responsibilities of moving forward.
QUESTION: Would the U.S. participate in a conference set up by Mr. Blair with only the Palestinians and not the Israelis?
MR. BOUCHER: I expect that we will be associated with this, but how, exactly, it's going to materialize and what it's going to be, I really think you have to let the British answer.
Sir. Oh, Said was waiting longer than anybody. We'll go there.
QUESTION: It's okay. On the same topic, I just wanted to ask you, this past weekend, Richard, the Israelis went into the Rafah refugee camp and they made maybe 500 families homeless. When people came back, everything was completely demolished.
Aren't you alarmed by the level of cruelty? The Israelis go, and they don't even allow people to take their clothes, so, you know, when they come back and --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything on this particular event. I think we have expressed ourselves in the past about our concerns, about the humanitarian implications of many Israeli actions, particularly the demolishing of homes, and I'll just stand on what we said before.
QUESTION: Richard, I'd like to go to Ukraine.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The runoff there this weekend -- is coming this weekend. Given what happened last time, what are your expectations that might happen on Sunday? Or how much of a danger there is of having again fraudulent elections? And also, do you see this as a criteria or a test for Ukraine's admission or integration further into Europe?
MR. BOUCHER: The process that Ukraine has gone to and the lessons that they have learned and the changes that they have made, are designed, I think, or will help ensure that we have a more open and credible result this time.
As I think you know, there are thousands and thousands of Ukrainian observers who will be present as part of this election. There are many foreign observers as well. And we've seen a lot of people get together and talk about organizing that: The CSE -- the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will be heavily involved. The Secretary supported it when he was at that meeting and I think just about every other country that attended that meeting talked about the importance of observers.
But one has to remember, first and foremost, it's the local process that can ensure a free and a fair election, and there has been substantial reform undertaken by the Rada. There's a new forum to the election commission that has to guarantee the process, and there will be a lot more observers and a different kind of attention, I think, given to some of these matters.
So we certainly hope that with all those things in place and the new attitude being expressed in Ukraine, as well as the new attention that's being focused by the whole world on Ukraine, that this round can truly reflect what the Ukrainian people want and that the results will reflect what the Ukrainian people decide.
As far as the long-term progress of Ukraine towards the Euro-Atlantic community, obviously having a free and stable democracy is a major step in that direction. But exactly how that will proceed afterwards, let's wait and see the results and see how they proceed in terms of having the runoff, having a new government and what their new government wants to do.
QUESTION: A member of the Syrian parliament -- his name is Mohammed Habash; he's from the Islamic moderate wing of the Islamist and the Syrian Parliament. He was on trip to the United States a couple of weeks ago, and he was -- his visa was canceled. He was returned back on the same plane. Now we know that the stream of Congressmen to Syria never stops. And they are usually welcomed and received very warmly in Syria. Do you have any -- I know that the Homeland Security Department has explained the matter as technical, almost matter. Do you have anything to add to the political dimension or implication of this act?
MR. BOUCHER: I really don't because I do not believe there is any political dimension of this. The State Department -- as best I can tell, and I did some checking this morning -- was not in any way involved or contacted about this matter. It is something that was done and decided by the Department of Homeland Security. I'd leave it to them to speak to it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Okay.
QUESTION: Richard, a follow-up on Syria.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: You know, the President today said that there is nothing off the table vis-à-vis Syria. Is the situation that bad with Syria? Would you say this is really the lowest point between the United States and Syria in recent --
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, the President didn't say this is the lowest point.
QUESTION: He didn't say that, but he said nothing is off the table.
MR. BOUCHER: You're asking me to say that.
The President said what we have said before and what I will say again. The President said, "We spent some time talking about whether or not there are former Saddam loyalists in Syria, who, for example, are funneling money to the insurgents. My attitude, if there is a question that they're there, we ought to be working with the Syrian Government to prevent them," meaning the loyalists, "from either sending money or support of any kind. We've sent messages to the Syrians in the past and we will continue to do so. We have tools at our disposal -- a variety of tools -- ranging from diplomatic tools to economic ones."
And then on the page I didn't photocopy, he says, all options are still on the table, or something like that.
I think he defines pretty well how we have been proceeding and intend to proceed. We'll continue to use diplomatic and economic tools. We'll continue to pressure the Syrian Government to do whatever they can to stop the flow, to identify the individuals who might be there, and to stop any flow of money or resources to -- from people in Syria or people who have taken refuge in Syria -- to the insurgency in Iraq.
QUESTION: Did you submit a list -- or did the U.S. Government submit a list of people that you may bump back into Iraq, or turned over, or extradited?
MR. BOUCHER: We have talked to the Syrians in specific terms about how we understand this flow to occur -- the Baathists or other people who might have taken refuge there and who might be supporting it.
QUESTION: Did you give them specific -- I'm sorry -- did you give them specific individuals and where you believe these individuals are?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to be able to go into the details of our information, but we've given them specific information about how we believe these flows to be occurring and the people who might be there supporting it.
QUESTION: On the same issue, you know, a few months back, there was an allegation that $3 billion were held in Syrian banks and the U.S. Government -- the Syrians said it was about 300 million. The U.S. Government concurred and said it was about 300 million. So what is it? I mean, what is -- what kind of money are we talking about that may have been in Syrian banks?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, this is a different question, first of all. This is not the question we just took up.
MR. BOUCHER: The question of assets, Iraqi Government assets that had been in Syrian banks and deserve to be returned to the Iraqi people through the Iraqi Government, has been explored many times with the Syrians. We've had some detailed discussions, in fact, by financial officials who have gone over and worked with the Syrians. I believe there are still some questions involving that money and the return of that money to the Iraqi Government but much progress had been made.
And I'll try to get you an update. I don't think we ever were able to come out with a final figure as to how much we believed was there. But we'll be looking at that and make sure that everything, once we identify the money that's there, that it is returned to the Iraqi Government.
QUESTION: General Musharraf in Pakistan --
QUESTION: Excuse me, sir. Could we stick with Syria for just one --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- one last question. When the President was talking about having tools at our disposal, or particularly economic sanctions, do you know if he's talking about anything beyond further implementation of the Syria Accountability Act? And do you know if there is any serious consideration being given to taking additional steps beyond those that you've already taken under the Syria Accountability Act against Damascus?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we have, as you note, have taken some steps under the Syrian Accountability Act and there are other tools in that law at our disposal. As the President also noted, he has all options, so economic ones within that and outside that.
As far as whether we take further steps within the Act, that's something we're always looking at, but I don't have anything new at this point.
QUESTION: Okay. General Musharraf said a couple of days ago in a radio interview that he would not be stepping down as head of the armed forces in Pakistan, although he promised at some point to do that. Can you react to that, please?
MR. BOUCHER: The United States has believed, and expressed its belief for a long time that it's in Pakistan's interest to continue its transition towards a fully functioning and stable democracy.
We do expect to see continuing progress towards this goal, which is central to Pakistan's becoming a modern and moderate nation. As democracy involves more than elections, we hope to see Pakistan strengthen its institutions, particularly its judiciary and its parliament. We intend to continue to support the electoral process, which is currently scheduled to culminate in national elections in 2007. We would like to see an election that meets international standards and includes the full participation of all political parties. So that's the goal that we'll continue to work towards.
QUESTION: But is General Musharraf's statement -- is that consistent with that and have you had any contact with him about it?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, the issue of progress towards democracy has certainly been discussed a number of times with President Musharraf. The Secretary discussed it during President Musharraf's last visit here and also heard an explanation of the actions of parliament, and then, as he himself was considering what to do about his status in the military, so we heard about that from him.
I think our view has been and will be that we continue to encourage all possible progress towards democracy in Pakistan, and that's what we have done and will keep doing.
QUESTION: So you don't have a direct reaction to what he said a couple of days ago?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll continue to promote democracy in a variety of ways.
QUESTION: I think a year ago you said that it would be a good thing if he did, indeed, give up his military role. Is it a bad thing that he's not going to do that?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, we'll continue to promote progress towards democracy in a variety of ways.
QUESTION: A second one, if I may. If -- can you address what people might reasonably surmise to be a sort of double standard on Pakistan that the fact that its leader breaks his word -- doesn't do something that you previously said you would regard as a good thing, doesn't seem to elicit any criticism or even any sort of reserves on your part, sort of means that because Pakistan is a great ally in the war on terror that you sort of soft-pedal other issues, like its leader keeping his word and giving up military power?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think in any way we've ever soft-pedaled our support for democracy in Pakistan. I think we have consistently supported it in our public statements, in our private discussions with the Pakistani leaders, including directly with President Musharraf. We've supported the progress that has taken place. I've just focused again on the need to continue to make progress towards the elections in 2007. So I don't think there's any compromise in our support for democracy in Pakistan.
QUESTION: Well, is this move consistent with a move toward democracy, then? Is that -- and you're considering that this --
MR. BOUCHER: This move -- this is lack of move, not move.
QUESTION: Sorry. Musharraf announcing his -- that he's not moving, I should say.
MR. BOUCHER: That we are continuing -- we are continuing our efforts to support democracy in Pakistan.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary ask him to reconsider or tell him this was a bad idea?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the last time they met was right after the parliament had said that it was all right for him to do this. And the Secretary asked about the question and received an explanation by President Musharraf as far as pros and cons and the issues involved. But the President made clear and the Secretary made clear in that conversation, as he has in other moments and as our diplomats do all the time, that it was important for Pakistan to maintain progress towards democracy and we would continue to support that.
QUESTION: But, Richard, you've also been concerned about the stability of the country and the stability of the government. And his main argument is that he needs to do this to maintain stability in the country. Do you buy that argument at all? Do you think it's important? Do you think keeping him in this position would mean -- would go a long way towards maintaining stability?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to analyze this particular step, or lack of step as we discussed it. There are different factors involved. We've heard about them from the Pakistanis and heard about them from President Musharraf. I think what is important is the long-term horizon and the ability to continue to move towards that horizon. We have seen Pakistan move in the right direction. We'll continue to encourage that progress.
QUESTION: Richard, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was saying that she was hoping different statement from the U.S. that there will be a full-fledged democracy in Pakistan and he will step down as army chief, but now different statements?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid she -- we write our own statements. I'll just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can I have another question on a different -- on Burma, please?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: I see a statement from you about this Miss Aung Sun Suu Kyi. It's been a long time now, and do you support democracy or military rule in Burma, because she has been in and out of jails and house arrests and other -- when she will be out, number one?
Number two, when will you really press hard Burmese military government to have free and fair elections once and forever?
MR. BOUCHER: Now, and continuing. Look up Burma on our website. You'll find a stack of statements and actions by the U.S. Government to support democracy in Burma. Aung Sun Suu Kyi has now been detained for going on a year and a half, since the May 2003 incidents. We've consistently supported her release, the release of all those from her party who have been incarcerated, all those from other parties who have been incarcerated. We've made clear that talk of a national dialogue and movement towards democracy is empty talk, unless it's accompanied by real movement and real discussion with the people who embody democracy in Burma.
QUESTION: But, Richard, only statement but not real action, I mean.
MR. BOUCHER: The U.S. has taken sanctions. The U.S. has taken action with regard to its assistance programs. We've taken diplomatic action. I just -- I can't review the last 10 years of U.S.-Burma history with you right now. But I think if you look -- a simple word search on our website -- will give you abundant material and probably keep you occupied for a few years -- (laughter) -- reviewing this. But it's -- our record is solid, credible, clear and consistent.
QUESTION: Has there recently been any consideration of breaking diplomatic relations with -- full diplomatic relations with Burma, since you have a full embassy there?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware that's been raised, no.
QUESTION: About Cyprus. Cyprus was one of the first issue in EU Summit on Friday. Does United States have any plan to help for solving Cyprus problem? And how do you think about some European countries pressures to Turkey recognizing Greek Cyprus?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid we talked about that on Friday. So I'd have you look back at the briefing that I did on Friday already. As far as having a plan to solve the Cyprus problem, there is a plan, there has been a plan, the Annan Plan: We supported it. The Turkish Cypriots voted in favor. The Greek Cypriots voted against. We would like to see the parties resolve their differences on that basis, but at this point, that's kind of where we stand.
Yeah. Okay, Arshad.
QUESTION: Richard, on Friday, in the last question, you were asked about some comments by the African National Congress about a particular drug that has been distributed in South Africa.
MR. BOUCHER: Nevirapine, yeah.
QUESTION: Exactly. You said you would see -- and I know that NIH has actually -- has released a lengthy statement about this. You said you would see if you had anything additional to say about it. Do you?
MR. CASEY: We did not.
MR. BOUCHER: We did not? Do we have the NIH statement?
MR. CASEY: We checked the release of the time and statements; we were referred to statements by nongovernmental officials, NGOs criticizing drug companies.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Well, I'll look. I doubt if the State Department will add anything. It's largely a medical question, and I think our medical people are best placed to address that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: One on UN too, quick.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is Secretary satisfied with Mr. Kofi Annan, who met with him at the State Department?
MR. BOUCHER: I'd refer you back to the press conference they did together.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing ended at 1:39 p.m.)