State Dept Daily Press Briefing for January 13
Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
January 13, 2005
Black Hawk Helicopter Crash / U.S. Assistance in Investigation
U.S. Cooperation on Relief Efforts in Tsunami Affected Areas
Reported Indonesian Deadline for Foreign Troop Presence GAM Ceasefire Statement
Statements by Indonesian Vice President
U.S. Cooperation with NGOs / Reported Christian Orphanage
Number of American Citizen Fatalities from Tsunami / Inquiries
Reported U.S. Awareness of Violations of Oil-for-Food Program
Oil-for-Food Program Investigation / U.S. Cooperation
Potential Voting Extension / Election Being Run by Iraqis Continuing Violence
Human Rights Watch Report
U.S. at Forefront of the Promotion of Human Rights / Annual Report
International Improvement in Human Rights / Afghanistan / Ukraine
Abu Ghraib Scandal / U.S. Prosecutions Against Perpetrators
U.S. Noteworthy Record on Human Rights
Sentencing of 15 Saudi Demonstrators
Secretary's Meeting with Defense Minister Ivanov
Potential Russian Sales of Missile Equipment to Syria
SOUTH AFRICA/UNITED KINGDOM
Mark Thatcher's Visa Status
Nobel Peace Prize Winner Ebadi Summoned to Revolutionary Court
President's Commitment to Playing an Active Role in the Middle East
Former Secretary Baker's Proposals
China's Interruption of South Korean Legislators' News Conference
(12:35 p.m. EST)
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements for you right now. Be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: What can you say about the helicopter crash in Colombia?
MR. BOUCHER: I will tell you what I can about it. I would also refer you to the Colombian authorities since they are the ones, obviously, who operate and are responsible for the aircraft. There was a crash at 1:00 a.m., Thursday morning, today, near Tumaco, Colombia, of a Colombian Army helicopter, a Blackhawk helicopter, that was conducting counternarcotics mission at night. There is a Colombian search and rescue team in the area of the crash and they are investigating. There were 19 Colombian nationals onboard. At this point, we don't have any further details of the status of those people.
According to initial reports, the crash may have been the result of bad weather, including heavy cloud cover that affected their visibility, but, obviously, that remains to be determined. And we have coordinated with the Colombians and we will be sending an accident investigation team, including an FAA, Federal Aviation Administration, accident investigator down there to work with Colombian Army representatives to look into the causes of the crash.
The Blackhawk is one of 16 that were purchased by the United States to support Plan Colombia: 14 are dedicated to the Colombian Army; 2 are used by the Colombian National Police. So this is one of those helicopters that is dedicated to the use of the Colombian Army in counternarcotics operations.
QUESTION: You're sure there were no Americans onboard?
MR. BOUCHER: All my information is 19 Colombian nationals were onboard.
QUESTION: Do you know whether they were looking for labs or coca fields?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know the exact mission.
QUESTION: Changing the subject? Any update from the Indonesians on whether they're going to order out foreign troops and if they've communicated that to the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: We have talked through all these different issues. I know there have been a lot of statements, a lot of reports about this, that and the other. We've talked through all these issues with the Indonesians. The first thing I think we have to say is we're working very, very closely with the Indonesian Government and the Indonesian military on aid operations. Our goals are the same. We want to deliver relief supplies and rebuilding supplies to people wherever they are and wherever they need it. And U.S. aid organizations, U.S. helicopters and international relief organizations played a very important role in that. That's recognized by both the United States and Indonesia.
We did talk to the Indonesian Government about this report that they might be setting some sort of deadline on the presence of -- or the activities of foreign forces there, and the Ambassador talked to the Indonesian Vice President, I think, who was quoted as saying it, the Vice President has told our Ambassador that Indonesia is not imposing any time limit. Three months was an estimate of how long the Government of Indonesia will need for the assistance of -- will need the assistance of foreign military troops in Aceh.
At the moment, we all recognize that U.S. forces and other foreign forces provide an essential capability, and that's to get relief supplies to the people who actually need it, to go that last mile, quarter mile, or sometimes many miles, to deliver supplies to the people who need it. And that effort is being coordinated very closely with the Indonesians.
So the relief effort will go on for a long time. The Indonesian statement about three months, they tell us, was intended as an estimate about how long the military part of the operation might be necessary. We have no desire to extend any military operations. We're looking to see how roads can be opened, civilian operations can be brought up to speed, and that the delivery of aid supplies can be done through civilian operations. But, for the moment, it appears that military helicopters are the best way to get food to people who need it.
QUESTION: What about -- did you bring up aid workers' complaints that they've been told they have to be escorted by Indonesian -- Indonesian military?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, we have talked to a lot of aid workers and, frankly, they are not complaining -- the ones that we're talking to. We find that the relief operations continue. The organizations are continuing their very vital and effective role of getting food and supplies to people who need them.
Second of all, we understand in some cases they go out with escorts, some cases they don't. We leave it to the people on the ground to determine what the appropriate security measures are for any given operation.
I would also note that the GAM, the Aceh rebels, have issued a statement of ceasefire, saying that they will not harm or trouble any relief workers and also declared a ceasefire. So we would expect them to live by that as well.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea how come there were so many mixed reports yesterday? People in Indonesia were reporting that they'd heard these --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I know. There were direct quotes and there were statements. I think there were just a lot of different statements made, some of which may have been over-interpreted. But, at the same time, I think we have looked into these things. We are confident that the cooperation continues on relief operations with Indonesia, including the military field, that we are all committed to this goal of getting food and relief supplies to people who need them and that Indonesian activity, foreign activity, American military activity, relief agency activity has not been impeded in any way or restricted in any way in Indonesia. We are still out there very actively getting food and supplies to the people who need them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Nicholas.
QUESTION: Richard, as far as you know, as far as the Embassy in Jakarta knows, should the Indonesian Government have concerns about the Aceh province of the rebels? Are those escorts justified? And all of the precautions they are taking are those really necessary at this time?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that I can give you an updated security estimate. We know that there have been problems and fighting in the past. We do note the statement by the rebels that they will observe the ceasefire and we hope they would do that so that any concerns or recent experience would be lowered.
But, at this point, I'm sure people will take the appropriate precautions but ensure that they complete the mission, whether it's the military mission or the civilian mission or the NGO mission, and that is to get food and supplies to people who need it.
Okay, let's go back here and we'll work up. Saul.
QUESTION: We'll change the subject --
MR. BOUCHER: Change of subject?
QUESTION: On the same subject.
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Richard, could you explain why the U.S. feels it is so important, despite obvious concerns that the Indonesians have about the foreign military presence there, if they're saying, look, we don't need any more help, we'll be able to handle this on our own, why the U.S. believes it needs to tell the Indonesians that you need to stay?
MR. BOUCHER: They're not saying that.
QUESTION: Yeah, they are. I mean, you know, I spoke to --
MR. BOUCHER: No, they're not.
QUESTION: Richard, the Vice President was very clear in his statement yesterday, the Indonesians --
MR. BOUCHER: I just spent five minutes explaining our discussions with the Vice President.
QUESTION: I understand that. I was listening to you.
MR. BOUCHER: But the Indonesians are not saying we don't need the help, go home.
QUESTION: They are.
MR. BOUCHER: No, they're not.
QUESTION: Yeah, Richard --
MR. BOUCHER: They are not saying it to us. We are talking to them directly. We are talking to them every day on the ground in the operations.
QUESTION: But they're making public statements. They're making --
MR. BOUCHER: They're not saying it to us. They're not saying to anybody involved in this relief operation, "That's fine. Go home." When they do, when they can take care of it, that's fine, we'll go home.
QUESTION: So when the Indonesian Vice President says -- or, excuse me, the Foreign Minister says, we will be able to handle this as of March 26th, foreign military and aid groups can leave, how do you interpret that?
MR. BOUCHER: That is not what he said to us when we asked him about it. We asked him about his public remarks and he gave us an explanation that I've just passed on to you. That's what he says.
QUESTION: So you're saying that they are not giving the U.S. an explicit --
MR. BOUCHER: No one is asking us to go home.
QUESTION: But if they did, you would?
MR. BOUCHER: If they did, we would. Pretty simple. We're going to stay there as long as we are needed to help out. And that's a matter that the Indonesian Government's in charge of. We've made that clear all along.
QUESTION: Richard, does the State Department monitor the NGOs who work in the affected areas? And your comment on the Washington Post report that 300 orphans going to be raised in Christian homes?
MR. BOUCHER: As far as monitor the NGOs, I wouldn't exactly call it monitor. We are working with them constantly every day. So we and they share operations together, we work together; we are part and parcel the same effort. So I think we pretty much -- we do know what's going on with them. We work with them, hear from them every day. If they're encountering difficulties or restrictions, they tell us and we try to solve problems for them, as the Secretary did when he was out there, as our Embassy does every day, as our aid workers do every day. So, as I said, at this point, they're not encountering restrictions.
As far as this report of people, children being taken to orphanages in Jakarta, I think the simple answer is we have seen such reports, but I --
STAFF: (Inaudible) one.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you. I am getting there. We have seen these reports, but at this point, we really don't have any information, so we will have to look into it. But also, you'll have to, I think, contact the Government of Indonesia for details on that.
QUESTION: But do you agree that certain NGOs who are delivering aid should have their religious agenda to be implemented, alongside giving aid to people?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to take the report at face value because I don't know that it's true. I would say that we, in all these crises, there's sort of an international standard for finding children, reuniting them with the parents, for the kind of effort that needs to be put into finding family, either parents or sometimes extended family, and that that kind of international practice, international standards is very important to us, and that's what we would expect everybody to follow in these circumstances.
QUESTION: Could we have an update on the number of American deaths and inquiries?
MR. BOUCHER: The number of Americans missing remains -- or the number of American deaths remains the same, as the 18 Americans that we know to be dead, 17 Americans that we presume to be dead, and the number of Americans' whereabouts cases that we are still looking into is somewhere back here -- everything's sort of disorganized today. Somebody tell me -- 462? 456. Of the 30,000 calls we have received, we've got 456 whereabouts inquiries that remain.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR. BOUCHER: Just keep going. Now, we were going to go up here. You were going to change, right?
QUESTION: There is an investigative report out of London, which says that the United States ignored warnings that Iraq and Jordan were involved in some smuggling oil scam, outside the scope of the Oil-for-Food program. It says that traders who were involved in legal sales said, look, these illegal sales are meaning we're getting our supplies late. So they passed that on to the United States, according to the report. Is it true? Was the United States made aware of these allegations?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there are a few things that are important to remember. We will look into the details of the Financial Times story that's out today. We were aware of reports of loadings of oil at Khor al-Amaya, as was reported at the time, in February of 2003, and our mission at the United [Nations] informed us immediately when they got these reports from the UN. The Department then passed its information to the Maritime Interdiction Force for investigation. I'll remind you that the United States did a great deal during this period to enforce Security Council sanctions against Iraq. The Maritime Interdiction Force, supported by some 20 nations, boarded and inspected over 15,000 vessels during the time of sanctions, and diverted over 1,000 of them.
So as far as the specific loading, what went on in the field, we are still looking into it. But I remind you, we had a very active program passing information and then taking real action on the high seas to stop this kind of oil export.
QUESTION: And given the possibility that Jordan, while it was involving an ally at the time, what level of contact did you have with the government about it?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that at this point.
QUESTION: Is this something that you are having to cooperate with the various investigations on the Oil-for-Food program now?
MR. BOUCHER: We are cooperating fully with the investigations on the Oil-for-Food program. We expect them to be complete and objective and to bring all the necessary facts to light. So we have been, as you know, providing documents. They've been talking to people, have been working with Congress, working with Paul Volcker, and we look forward to complete and objective reporting from them.
QUESTION: And has that cooperation involved anything to do with this -- these type of loadings and --
MR. BOUCHER: I would leave it to them to describe their report and what they want to get to. We're just cooperating in any way possible -- (cross talk)
QUESTION: (Inaudible) are handing over, if you've been asked about things like that.
MR. BOUCHER: Not at this point, no.
QUESTION: Well, you told us the other day or the other week about all the sorts of documents that you are handing over regarding Oil-for-Food.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: The scope hasn't --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it is for us to describe specific items that they may or may not be looking into. We will look for their report and look to them to give us the comprehensive picture of what they think happened and what they think should have happened.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Please.
QUESTION: The executive director of Human Rights Watch, during the release of their annual report today, he criticized the State Department for its efforts to monitor human rights around the world. Well, he -- I should say he gave a mixed assessment of the State Department's efforts.
On the one hand, he praised the Department for issuing its Annual Country Reports and said that he felt they were improving as time went by. On the other hand, he said that the Department has not done enough to actually push for improved human rights around the world, based on these reports' findings. What do you say to that criticism?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, this seems to be an annual exercise where they say these things and we respond, and I'm glad to go through it with you again.
Second of all, the United States is at the forefront of the defense and promotion of human rights around the world. We have taken the Human Rights Report and turned it into, I think, the most comprehensive and most authoritative report on the human rights situation in countries around the world. It is an honest, objective and forthright report and is the standard for people who are evaluating a human rights situation overseas.
Second of all, we have initiated any number of programs to promote human rights, to promote democracy, to promote change and modernization around the world, to support civil society, to support journalist training, to support civic groups and NGO groups around the world. And I think those are a major part of our assistance programs. We have specific programs targeted at different areas that are very active.
Third of all, we have made human rights an integral part of our policy in terms of the various pressures and diplomatic efforts that can be applied to places where we think there are problems with human rights. We have been very active in countries, many of whom we are working with closely on against terrorism, but in some cases, like Uzbekistan, withholding funding, even though we have this cooperation on terrorism, because of our concerns about the human rights situation. That exists in other places as well.
And finally, I would say that we have seen in many ways some real progress in the human rights situation over the course of 2004. Afghanistan made an unprecedented stride by having its elections, presidential elections, and they're now moving towards parliamentary elections in 2005. The recent events in the Ukraine, where the United States did stand up to be counted, where Secretary Powell spoke out, among the first, another demonstration of the progress that's made on human rights by the people themselves but with the support of the United States.
There have been setbacks and we recognize that and we will keep working in places like Darfur and elsewhere.
QUESTION: One of those setbacks mentioned by the group was the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, and the group said that, as a result of the incidents that took place at the prison, the U.S.'s credibility on human rights has been severely weakened. Do you agree with that assessment?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there are two aspects to Abu Ghraib. One is the terrible things that went on and the second is the way we deal with them. The United States has made clear, and we are making clear through the prosecutions that are taking place, through the reports that we ourselves have issued, through the information that we ourselves have put out and through the policy statements that the President, the Secretary and others have made, that we don't condone torture of prisoners, we don't condone abuse of prisoners, and that where we find it, we will expose it and we will punish it, even if it takes place at U.S. hand.
Yes, okay. Nadia.
QUESTION: As long as we're talking about human rights, I'm wondering if you raised the issue of the detention of 15 Saudis because they demonstrated in a reform sort of -- some kind of a reform demonstration and they've been ordered for public lashings, including a woman.
MR. BOUCHER: We have seen the reports of sentencing and I'm sure we will be discussing it with the Saudis. We, around the world, have upheld the right of people to assemble peacefully and to express their views. We report on this extensively and the situation in Saudi Arabia in our Human Rights Report and it is a regular part of our dialogue with the Saudis. At this point, I don't think we've -- these reports are just coming out. I don't think we have raised it, but I'm sure we will be raising these situations with the Saudis.
QUESTION: Richard, that happened on Monday. Today is Thursday. You haven't had time in those three days or three and a half days to raise this with the Saudis?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check. I'm not sure when the information came out about the sentencing. But I'm sure we will raise it.
QUESTION: On Sudan. Human Rights Watch, the executive director also said that the U.S. Government is less and less able to push for justice abroad because it's unwilling to see justice done at home. And he said that regarding the scandal, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the reports pointed out that senior Administration officials have sought to blame the scandal on the young soldiers they sent to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of accepting responsibility. How do you respond?
MR. BOUCHER: You know, that is kind of getting into the old domestic political game about the standards. I think the Administration has been very clear, the President has been very clear, the documents released by the Administration have been very clear: We do not condone torture or abuse of prisoners. The actions of the Administration have been quite clear in prosecuting this and investigating it and bringing it to light. And I'll just stand with that. As far as the rest of the political debate, I'll let others carry that on.
QUESTION: Richard, also, Kenneth Roth said that Darfur is making a mockery of --
MR. BOUCHER: I appreciate his having a press conference. Maybe I should have gone. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What I did want to ask --
MR. BOUCHER: Since we seem to be sort of in an indirect commentary here.
QUESTION: What I do want to ask, do you view that document that they just released about two hours ago as being a moderate-type publication or --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to characterize it. I have not tried to review the Human Rights Watch Report yet. As you point out, it just came out two hours ago. They certainly are an important organization that often provides very useful information about the human rights situation around the world, but I would submit to you that our reports and our actions are really quite noteworthy and quite authoritative when it comes to human rights, and I stand on our record rather than trying to comment or accuse or characterize somebody else's reporting.
QUESTION: Richard, actually, I would like to just pick up on the Abu Ghraib matter. What kind of evidence is there that the U.S. is going to seek some kind of accountability farther up the chain of command for the activities that took place at Abu Ghraib?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not predicting any particular prosecutions. That's not my job, nor is it something that one should do at a press conference. The military justice system is dealing very seriously with this and will undertake whatever appropriate accountability or prosecutions are in this case -- are appropriate in this case.
QUESTION: I want to -- the voting in Iraq, I want to come back to something you didn't really deal with the other day, maybe yesterday, of the notion advanced, the idea advanced by people like James Dobbins, that considering the problems at some polling places January 30th that voting be extended beyond then. I noticed that the White House Press Secretary mentioned that, gave it very brief mention yesterday. Is that being seriously considered by the Administration as a recommendation --
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't notice that he mentioned that. I don't think it's anything --
QUESTION: Well, I wasn't there, but I saw it this morning.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I wasn't there either, but there are transcripts of these things, which I'll be glad to read.
MR. BOUCHER: Maybe everybody should. But the point I would make is that this election is being run by the Iraqi Election Commission. It's being run by the Iraqi Election Commission under the Transitional Administrative Law. The law provides for an election on January 30th. The Election Commission is working for an election on January 30th. They have not discussed extended polling or anything like that, and I don't think it's anything that we have raised either.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) today of Ayatollah Sistani's aide in Baghdad. Do you see it as a sign of further deterioration in the security situation, and its implication on the election and the scenario of a civil war again?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know how to characterize it, other than part of the continuing violence that has occurred, that there are enemies of progress in Iraq. There are people that are trying to drag Iraq back to the past. There are people, as we've seen with some of the Zarqawi documents we've recovered who are trying to drag Iraq into civil war. And there are many, at the same time, many, many Iraqis who are standing up, trying to move forward, and trying to establish a new Iraq that controls its own future and destiny in a democratic manner. And those are the people that we're working with, those are the people we're supporting, and it's very regrettable to see this violence, but we're glad to see there continue to be a lot of Iraqis that are committed to move forward, and not allowing the horrors of this insurgency to drag them into a horrible past.
QUESTION: Do you have any extra details about the talks with the Defense -- Russian Defense Minister, Mr. Ivanov, yesterday in the State Department?
MR. BOUCHER: It was good. It was a thorough, wide discussion of U.S.-Russia relations, how we can cooperate, how we can move forward, various interests we have in common, and the kind of progress that we've been making throughout this Administration, frankly, with Russia, and the desire to continue that progress when the two presidents meet in Europe.
QUESTION: Some circles of the Middle East are talking today about your strong statement yesterday objecting to the Russian military equipment sales in the area while Israel enjoys a priority and brags about its domination from (inaudible) to Pakistan militarily. How can you convince the Arab world that you're neutral in your policy in the Middle East?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, don't mischaracterize what I said yesterday, and I would invite -- I mean, you're saying other people are writing about it that way. I would not write about it that way. We have had a consistent policy for many years. We have a law on the books. Those are very clear. I would note that the Russian Defense Minister, according to reports, said they are not selling missiles to Syria. I think he said that yesterday, according to one wire report. We did have a general discussion of nonproliferation with him, including the need to avoid any proliferation towards Syria, the need to be careful with regard to sales to countries like that.
But at this point, the Russians have said publicly that they're not selling missiles to Syria, so I think we'll just leave it at that for the moment.
QUESTION: But, can I --
QUESTION: Did the Syrian sales come up in any of the meetings Ivanov had?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if they came up in any of the meetings that Ivanov had. In terms of the meeting with the Secretary, it was a general discussion of the nonproliferation issues, including those involving Syria.
QUESTION: Including those involving Syria.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: But not a specific deal?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the Russians say there is no specific deal, so how do you talk about a specific deal?
QUESTION: But the Israeli -- I understand, I was there, and I heard what they said. The Israelis are all exercised and it's been going on for two days now. So the reports may have come, may have been noticed at the State Department and I would think maybe the Secretary sought clarification. But if he just dealt with the problem generally, I understand.
MR. BOUCHER: Again, there is no -- the Russians say there's no specific deal to talk about, so we didn't talk about a specific deal. We talked about the issues involved and policies involved.
QUESTION: But did the Russians say that to the Secretary?
MR. BOUCHER: The Russians said that in public subsequently, I think.
QUESTION: Afterwards, yes.
MR. BOUCHER: Was a discussion of the policy and the issues involved with the Secretary.
QUESTION: Richard, following a deal that Mark Thatcher worked out in Cape Town with the court there, following the mercenary flights last year, he now wants to come to the United States and move here. Is that within bounds or how do you view that?
MR. BOUCHER: The simple answer is, I don't know. It all depends case-by-case. We'd have to see what he was applying for and what his eligibility was.
QUESTION: In Iran, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Ebadi has said that she's been summoned to appear before the Revolutionary Court, and if not, she'll be arrested. She's got three days to do so. Is this anything that concerns you? Or is it sort of just in the --
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check and see if somebody is working on it, if there's anything to say about it.
MR. BOUCHER: Sir.
QUESTION: The Washington Times yesterday published a statement by President Bush alluding to a relation between his foreign policy and a book written by an extremist Russian Israeli figure in Mr. Sharon's government, a supporter of building greater Israel on Arab lands. Does the State Department feel it appropriate to affirm it is a U.S. approach to -- the neutrality of the U.S. approach to Middle East issue?
MR. BOUCHER: The State Department supports the President. The President's been very clear about a commitment to playing an active role in the Middle East, trying to achieve progress between Israelis and Palestinians, trying to achieve progress on a comprehensive peace. We feel the United States does have an important role to play and will play an important role in the future.
QUESTION: Can I follow up and ask if anybody noticed formerSecretary Baker's specific proposals in the speech at Rice Tuesday night, and if so, he had some specific suggestions for the Administration. I wondered if there's some response to that or view of it?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I, myself, didn't see that speech. I'm sure people do pay attention when an authoritative figure like that speaks on the issues and we are, obviously, interested in his point of view. But I have not been in the habit of trying to comment on every speech made by every person who's knowledgeable about this area, even someone as knowledgeable as Secretary Baker.
Yes. Can we? No? One more? Two more?
QUESTION: Do you have any comment about the reports of the Chinese security agents interrupting a news conference by the South Korean --
MR. BOUCHER: I would say we are concerned about these reports that Chinese agents might have disrupted a news conference by South Korean legislators in Beijing. We have consistently urged the Chinese to allow people to express themselves, whether it's a press conference or through freedom of assembly or freedom of speech, and whether it's foreigners or Chinese.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
Released on January 13, 2005