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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for January 26

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for January 26 -- Transcript

Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 26, 2005

INDEX:

IRAQ
Elections / Status of Voting Materials / Election Results
Collection / Polling Places

VENEZUELA/COLOMBIA
Query on What the U.S. is Doing to Enlist the Help of Other
Hemispheric Partners to Resolve Dispute
Issue of No Support for Terrorism
Query on Whether Colombia Should Have Tried to Extradite FARC Members Captured in Venezuela

DEPARTMENT
Final Confirmation Process for Dr. Rice
Query on Whether Dr. Rice Plans to Travel To Middle East Soon after Becoming Secretary of State
Travel Update for Assistant Secretary Burns

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
U.S. View of Peace Process
Query on Whether U.S. Will Provide Additional Aid to Palestinian Authority
U.S. View of Israeli Decision to Hand Over Security to Palestinian Authority in Several West Bank Cities
U.S. View of Turn Over of Assets in Gaza and West Bank

UKRAINE
Reports of Anti-Semitic Member of U.S. Delegation to Inauguration

IRAQ
Query on How Many American Citizen Hostages

TSUNAMI
Status of Missing American Citizens / Remaining Inquiries

AFRICA
On Going Conflict in Region and U.S. Diplomatic Efforts

SUDAN
Status of African Union Troops and Monitors

GEORGIA
Query for U.S. View on Proposals to Deal with Issue of South Ossetia


TRANSCRIPT:

12:30 p.m. EST

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As I promised you yesterday, I am going to take these opportunities to tell you a little more about the Iraqi elections, since that seems to be what everyone is looking at this week as we head into the weekend.

And today I am able to tell you that all election materials arrived at the Iraqi regional warehouses as of yesterday, January 25th. And I know the Iraqi Election Commission has been doing regular updates in Baghdad as well, and so they can get you more information on that. The plan is to put these materials in place at the polling stations throughout the country by January 29th.

These election materials were brought in on 130 flights that came into Iraq. That was IL-76 cargo planes at about 15 per day and five flights of the AN-225, the world's largest cargo plane.

QUESTION: The number again, please?

MR. BOUCHER: 130 flights that brought in materials.

There are 60 million individual ballot sheets that have been brought into the country and almost 90,000 ballot boxes that have been delivered throughout Iraq. And I'm told almost 90,000 ballot box lids have been delivered to Iraq as well.

These materials will be used at polling stations throughout the country for the elections on Sunday, and after they close there's very specific organization and instructions on how to bring them together in a safe way, count them and report to them. The reporting goes to a tally center in -- Baghdad, Adam?

MR. ERELI: Yes.

MR. BOUCHER: -- where there are about 200 Iraqis who will be in charge there, be hired and trained to work at the center, including managing, translating, compiling the database, things like that. And they will put together the final tally of the results. And they have some 40, I think, international experts that are assisting those 200 Iraqis who will be collecting the results from around the country.

Anyway, that's today's update on the Iraqi election. The election materials are all in the warehouses and will be distributed to the polling places by Saturday.

With that, George, I'd be glad to take questions about this or anything else.

QUESTION: Who's got an Iraq question?

QUESTION: On that subject --

MR. BOUCHER: Sure.

QUESTION: What about the polling places themselves? Have they been made public yet in Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we'd have to check with the Election Commission. Many of them, I'm sure, have and have been identified as such. Unfortunately, we've seen some reports of explosions and attacks on polling places, so the polling places themselves are identified. Whether every last one has been identified yet, I don't know.

George.

QUESTION: In light of the Panamanian delegation here, I'm going to ask a Latin America question.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, thank you. They will be honored, I am sure.

QUESTION: What is the State Department doing to enlist the cooperation of other hemispheric countries in the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela about the fact that a FARC leader was given a safe haven in Venezuela?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, we've talked to other countries in the hemisphere about the situation specifically with regard to Venezuela and then -- or with regard to Venezuela and specifically with regard to the situation between Venezuela and Colombia. We have asked our hemispheric partners to urge Venezuela to adopt a more conciliatory and constructive position and to end any relationship it might have with the Armed Forces of Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC, and Colombia's other terrorist organization.

We have, indeed, shared our thoughts with countries like Brazil and we appreciate Brazil's efforts to constructively engage both President Chavez and President Uribe in efforts to withdraw -- to resolve this dispute.

We have also highlighted our support for Peru's efforts as Andean Community president to help resolve the dispute. Other countries' efforts are, as I said, worthwhile and important as well. We think everybody in the hemisphere should be concerned about this, should encourage Venezuela to adopt a non-confrontational approach, encourage them to ensure that there is no support whatsoever coming from Venezuela for terrorist groups that are operating in Colombia, and thereby to have a basis for working out their differences with Colombia in an amicable fashion.

QUESTION: You alluded to a list the other day that Colombia handed to Venezuela concerning terrorists --

MR. BOUCHER: I think I talked about reports of a list. I'm not sure I was able to confirm it.

QUESTION: All right. Well, can you advance the ball at all today?

MR. BOUCHER: Don't think so.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: So, as you discuss with your partners in the hemisphere, it seems that all of the emphasis is on talking to Venezuela about Venezuela adopting a different approach, or is there any sort of work that can be done with the Colombians, I mean, over the Venezuelan --

MR. BOUCHER: Well, as I said, the Brazilians are talking to both the Colombians and the Venezuelans. The Andean president, the Peruvians, are talking to both countries as well. So certainly anybody in the hemisphere that is trying to encourage a peaceful solution to these problems needs to talk to both sides. But I think in terms of the issues at stake here and the principles at stake here, no support for any terrorists has got to be one of the paramount issues to resolve the dispute.

QUESTION: And while that one's paramount, one of the complaints from Venezuela is that there was some kind of abuse of its sovereignty because of the alleged bribing of its own officials. Are people talking to Colombia about that?

MR. BOUCHER: I think people are talking to Colombia and Venezuela about all aspects of the dispute.

QUESTION: Do you have any view as to whether Colombia, perhaps, should have tried to extradite one or more of these people, or do you think they handled it properly?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any view on specifics because I think the specifics are not completely clear. We certainly don't think that FARC members should be allowed to roam around other places and other countries in the neighborhood with seeming impunity.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. BOUCHER: New topic. Let's go.

QUESTION: Now that Dr. Rice has been confirmed, what do you see as the next few hours? What happens as far as her coming to the State Department, and what kind of plans are there?

MR. BOUCHER: This is a normal congressional process that, after the Senate votes, they have to send paperwork to the White House and then attestations have to be done and she eventually has to be sworn in.

We're not handling that process for her although we're assisting her with all our different people, but I think that essentially takes place at the White House so I'm going to have to leave them to describe any timing or details on it.

QUESTION: There have been reports that she'll be sworn in this evening and that she'll make her appearance tomorrow morning here. Can you --

MR. BOUCHER: That's the expectation that everybody has, but I can't confirm it yet.

QUESTION: Okay. That's what you're seeing, though?

MR. BOUCHER: That's what everybody expects, but one has to make sure that all the proper formalities are followed because she's not Secretary of State until she is actually sworn in.

QUESTION: Is that a public ceremony, then? Or is that something that --

MR. BOUCHER: Again, the White House would make the arrangements.

QUESTION: Here at the State Department?

MR. BOUCHER: The White House would make the arrangements wherever they feel like it.

We may be able to talk more about this as things develop, but right now I don't have any details to offer.

Yeah. Saul.

QUESTION: We hear in the region that Mr. Bolton is going to the Persian Gulf. Did you have any details on where he's going, who he's going with, or what this is about?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. I have to check on it.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, he was --

QUESTION: I think it's Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE --

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. He was here this morning, but I'll check on it. I didn't know he was traveling.

QUESTION: More on Rice?

MR. BOUCHER: Elise.

QUESTION: Sorry.

QUESTION: There were some reports a little bit earlier that Dr. Rice would be -- her -- one of her first roles as Secretary of State would be taking a trip to Europe and the Middle East to try and jump-start the peace process. Can you say anything about that?

MR. BOUCHER: When she becomes Secretary of State, as it now looks like she will very shortly, then we might start talking about her travel. But I wouldn't talk about any travel by a prospective Secretary of State, no matter how close she is to becoming it.

QUESTION: Can you give us more information about Dr. Rice's talks with Foreign Minister Fischer yesterday of Germany?

MR. BOUCHER: No. Those meetings were held at the National -- at the NSC, and any briefings on those meetings would be from the NSC spokesman.

QUESTION: Do you have any kind of -- anything you want to say about Assistant Secretary Burns' travel?

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, got one of mine. I'm happy to deal with it, to talk to it.

QUESTION: Does that mean Mr. Bolton isn't one of yours?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm sorry. Mr. Bolton is one of mine, but I'm uninformed on it. So there's three categories: They are not my person; my person, but I don't know; and this happens to be the third category, which is my person and I know something about what he's up to.

I think I mentioned yesterday that Assistant Secretary Burns was in Frankfurt on Monday and then Cairo yesterday. He had meetings this morning in Cairo with President Mubarak, talking about the situation in Iraq, talking about how we can work together to pursue Israeli-Palestinian peace, our appreciation for the efforts that Egypt is making in that regard -- in regard to all these matters, frankly, both Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian peace and regional developments; also, talking about cooperation in the war on terrorism and other issues where we work together with the Egyptians.

He moved on, then, to Jerusalem. He's had meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials. I think today he met with Finance Minister Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority. He met with Deputy Prime Minister Peres and -- Olmert is Deputy Prime Minister, is that right? Yeah, exactly.

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. And Mr. Olmert, the prominent Israeli official -- anyway, he had meetings with those figures today in Jerusalem and he'll be meeting further tomorrow with both Israelis and Palestinians.

We have -- I think we said yesterday that we see a real opportunity here for progress. It's a promising moment for progress on peace. We've been encouraged by the steps that President Mahmoud Abbas has taken in terms of trying to control the security situation. We have been encouraged at the willingness of the Israelis to respond.

We will continue to work with and support all the parties in terms of moving forward. We're always looking at tangible ways that we can help in terms of supporting them, and we'll continue to look at that and develop our involvement as they themselves develop their involvement.

There are direct discussions going on between the two parties, apparently, again, that we have said is a very good thing. We have always encouraged them to work together and noted that they've worked together quite constructively in the last month or so leading up to the elections and then even since the elections.

So it's a promising moment, and Assistant Secretary Burns is out there to help develop the momentum as best we can, and the United States will stay closely involved with this process.

Yeah.

QUESTION: If I could follow up, does that momentum, as you say, does that include any pledges of additional U.S. funds for the Palestinian Authority?

MR. BOUCHER: Nothing right now. As you know, I think we've provided money and promised money leading into the election, and I'm sure we'll look at how we can support efforts being made now in very tangible ways. But it's a little too early to say exactly what those ways might be and how much accelerated or additional assistance might be available.

Joel.

QUESTION: Richard, it was announced earlier today that Israel will turn over several West Bank cities to the Palestinians for their security control themselves. And to what degree did Ambassador Burns have any need to do any arm-twisting, and was this worked out by the Palestinians and Israelis themselves?

MR. BOUCHER: I think, certainly, this is the kind of move that we would encourage, that -- but that the Israelis and Palestinians need to work out together. So I don't have any way of assessing how much this came up in the meetings or how much our role might have been, but these are important decisions for both sides -- taking responsibility for security on the Palestinian side, turning over responsibility on the Israeli side -- and we've certainly encouraged them to look at how they can do that.

Elise.

QUESTION: Can you talk about reports in Israel that USAID is negotiating the repurchase of several agricultural plants belonging to Jewish settlements in the -- in Gaza, that will be, you know, not -- that will be, I guess, abandoned during the --

MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't. I had not heard about that. I'll have to see if there's anything.

QUESTION: Well, can you talk in general about whether the U.S. is going to -- I know you've been talking to the Israelis about whether to kind of just abandon some of the settlements and infrastructure, or whether to demolish them. Could you talk about where things stand on that?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, that -- the question of the withdrawal from Gaza and how it's handled has been looked at, as you say, by the United States, as well as the parties and the international community now, for some time. There have been studies done. I think the World Bank has helped pull people together to look at this. So I don't have an update right now, but it certainly has been a question that we've looked at; and as we move towards the moment of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and some of the West Bank settlements, we'll look to have mechanisms in place for the turnover of assets, and to ensure that they're appropriately used.

David.

QUESTION: Richard, one of the Ukrainian American community leaders who accompanied the Secretary to the inauguration was identified in the press as having been associated with some anti-Semitic editorials in a ethnic press. Is that something you're aware of or looking into?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm certainly aware of the press reports on this and some of the citations that were made, but in terms of how the gentleman came to be on the delegation, I think that's really a White House question. It was a White House delegation that did accompany us, with the exception, I think, of Paula Dobriansky, who was on -- part of the delegation. They didn't attend the Secretary's meetings, nor did they sit with him at the big public events or spend any appreciable amount of time with him. So I think this question of how somebody was chosen really is a White House question that they'll have to explain to people.

QUESTION: Richard, yesterday a question was raised about Mr. Hallums, the hostage in Iraq, and the tape. Do you have any update on him or any other Americans either being held hostage or missing in Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: On Mr. Hallums, I don't have any further update on that. As far as how many Americans are held hostage in Iraq, it's hard to define precise numbers because there are people who are unaccounted for, we don't know their exact status, we don't know if they're held hostage, missing, want to be missing, or perhaps dead.

We know of three Americans who are held hostage in Iraq, and then there's a handful of others that are unaccounted for. We do have, in each of these cases, whatever the exact status of the person, we have people in Consular Affairs, Counterterrorism Affairs and at our Embassy in Baghdad who are full-time looking into the welfare and the whereabouts of the Americans who are missing in Iraq. We work very closely with the families, we work very closely with employers, and we do keep in touch and pursue any information pertaining to the welfare and whereabouts of Americans or any opportunity to seek their release.

QUESTION: Can you be any more specific about how many others has --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I don't think I want to try to break it down because the math doesn't really add up because there's questions about exactly what status people might be in. So there are three we know are being held hostage, and there's a handful more who are unaccounted for, some of whom might be in a hostage situation.

QUESTION: Are there any Privacy Act waivers? Are there any --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think so, not for most of these people.

QUESTION: How about in the tsunami region? Have we accounted for all Americans in that area? Do you have numbers?

MR. BOUCHER: The numbers continue to go down of those that we are accounting for, and we keep identifying more and more Americans whose whereabouts were unknown. The number of confirmed dead remains at 18, the number of presumed dead remains at 16, and we are certainly working very closely with the family members of all those families.

We received over 30,000 calls during the course of the crisis and we now have 114 whereabouts inquiries that remain, so this number continues to go down every day. Our Consular Affairs people, as well as our consular officers in the field, are working diligently to stay in touch with families, follow up all possible leads, look at immigration records, look at all of the other records, survey various populations to try to find people. And, indeed, they continue to find people who were very far away from the tsunami and who just hadn't been heard from or hadn't checked in.

QUESTION: These are the 114 who you still haven't accounted for?

MR. BOUCHER: These are individuals that we've been looking to account for that we haven't found yet, but their whereabouts is unknown. We've had -- those of you who have followed this know that we were at 4,000 or something a couple of weeks ago, and there's only 114 of those cases that remain. And as I said, we continue to find people who were very, very far from the scene, and that may be the case with most, if not all, of the remainder.

Joel.

QUESTION: Since I had asked a question, I guess about two-and-a-quarter weeks ago to Secretary Powell concerning Africa, the situation there is worsened. It's partly tribal-type rivalries; it's also a lot of inflow of small arms. And it's not just in Darfur, but areas such as the Congo and what will be the fast track, especially with the AU. There's been cooperation with the Kenyans, with the Nigerians and -- to work diplomatically, but is there going to be a concerted effort to work with the individual countries, especially with Dr. Rice coming on board, to put an immediate end to situations that have gone far too long?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. The United States -- the problem of conflict in Africa has been something we've worked on since day one of Secretary Powell's tenure.

If you remember, some of the earliest meetings he had were with President Kabila of Congo and with the other people who were involved in the situation in Congo. And indeed, we've had the Great Lakes initiative. We've had our Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary working to achieve progress between -- in eastern Congo. We've been very concerned about the situation of Burundi and Uganda and that whole area out there.

We've been heavily involved in Liberia, facilitating the arrival of foreign troops and ensuring a transition to a transformed and more peaceful situation. We've been involved in Cote D'Ivoire, with the problems there. And as you point out, we've been very, very involved in supporting the African Union effort in Darfur.

And the Secretary was just, two weeks ago, in Kenya signing one successful effort conducted by the Africans with the support of the United States and others to bring peace to the north-south conflict in Sudan that had gone on for decades. And so we'll continue our efforts in Africa to help to resolve conflicts. This has been a very active area for American diplomacy and I'm sure it will continue to be.

Yeah.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on the question of Africa. Do you have a better sense of when the African Union expects to have all 3,500 troops on the ground in Darfur? Is there --

MR. BOUCHER: They were shooting -- trying to get them all there by the end of the month. Let me see if I have a --

MR. ERELI: End of February.

MR. BOUCHER: End of February, now?

MR. ERELI: February.

MR. BOUCHER: End of February they're looking at. We -- our update as of yesterday -- somewhere in here -- there were 195 Senegalese troops that are on their way that would add to 1,464 monitors and protection troops that are already there in terms of the AU. As you know, the United States has provided more than $40 million in equipments and logistic support for these deployments.

We're looking for full deployment of all 3,320 monitors as soon as possible, and I don't have, other than the expectation it will be in the month of February now, I do not have a precise date when they can complete that. But we're working with them to continue the deployments as fast as possible. We think it's important that --

QUESTION: Is it a matter of logistics, that the logistics have taken longer than expected? Or, I mean, how would you characterize what the --

MR. BOUCHER: I think the answer is simply yes; but whether it's the logistics of getting the troops together and ready in the home country or the logistics of their arrival in Darfur, I don't know. We've had a lot of people and money and contracts on the ground in terms of making it ready for them to get there. We have had a series of transport aircraft available from the United States and then other countries to transport troops that were ready to go, but there's also a training and equipment factor where the troops have to be ready to deploy.

So we continue to move that process along as quickly as we all can. We think the African Union monitors have been effective, in some cases, in calling attention to the problems that have existed, in some cases dampening the violence. But we know that terrible violent attacks still continue. This past week or so, we've seen some really vicious attacks by Arab militias and government troops on certain villages and then retaliatory attacks, similar attacks, on other villages by rebel forces. And that kind of violence and violations of the ceasefire by both sides has to end. We still think the African Union forces are the best way to stop it, so we continue to work hard with them on their deployments.

David's got one more, and one in the back.

QUESTION: This might be an internal matter, I guess, but the President of Georgia has unveiled a political proposal for the future of South Ossetia. Is that something that you might have a comment on?

MR. BOUCHER: That is something that we've been interested in. We certainly welcome efforts to deal with the issues of South Ossetia and the other regions in a peaceful manner, as part of Georgia. And so we welcome the idea that he's put forward some proposals, and I'm sure we'll talk -- keep in touch with the situation, learn more about them as he proceeds.

Yeah.

QUESTION: I know that you had a statement on the death of Zhao Ziyang. I'm just wondering, do you have anything about the way Beijing treated his funeral? You may see the report that people who wanted to go to his place and send condolence were taken away by the police. Do you have anything on that?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything specifically on that. Certainly, we've expressed our views, I think quite clearly, on Zhao Ziyang and his place in history. And I don't think I'll go beyond that for the moment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:03 p.m. EST)

DPB#14

ENDS

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