State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for March 31
State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for March 31 --Transcript
Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
March 31, 2005
Status of UN Security Council Negotiations on Resolution / U.S.
Position on International Criminal Court / U.S. Support for Accountability
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's Involvement in Negotiation Process
U.S. Contact/Coordination with Russians on Situation / OSCE
Efforts to Try to Bring a Stable Transition
Query on U.S. Position to Whether Opposition should Provide
Security Guarantees to Askar Akayev
French Draft Resolution that Calls for Independent International
Investigation into Hariri's Death / Fitzgerald Report
International Community's Support for Resolution 1559 and Full, Fair, Free Elections
Parliamentary Elections / Conduct of the Voting
U.S. Concern for Developments within Venezuela /
Venezuela's Destabilizing Role in Region
Expulsion of International Foundation of Election Systems, the
National Democratic Institute, and the International Republican Institute
U.S. Reaction to Knesset Vote to Finalize Disengagement from Gaza
General Ward's Activities / Efforts to Help Palestinians Achieve Internal Security
Readout of Meeting Between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and
Israeli Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz
U.S. Response to North Korean Demands / Six Party Talks
Report by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the
United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction
U.S. Policies on Global Warming
12:40 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you, good to see you all. All right. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements, but I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: On Sudan, could you tell us about the negotiations in New York? And number two, could you explain any shift you may have adopted with respect to the International Criminal Court and Darfur prosecution?
MR. BOUCHER: First -- two points to make. First, negotiations in New York are ongoing. We're in touch not only with other governments in New York but we've also been in touch with them in capitals as well. Second of all, that there's no shift in the U.S. position on the International Criminal Court nor, frankly, on the issue of accountability for Darfur. We think -- we firmly support accountability and we've been major proponents all along, as you know, of an accountability resolution so that those who have perpetrated the atrocities in Darfur are held accountable and brought to justice. We want an end to impunity in Sudan.
We are in ongoing discussions with our counterparts on the Security Council on the appropriate mechanism to ensure accountability. We, at one point, put forward our own resolution and now we're seriously considering the French resolution. We have offered some suggestions now to the French text. These suggestions recognize our concerns with respect to the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction, as the Security Council has done in the past, and we are now discussing these suggestions with the other members of the Council.
Our goal in this negotiations is to achieve a resolution that holds to account the people who have perpetrated atrocities in Darfur, and yet in a way that's consistent with U.S. policy on the International Criminal Court.
QUESTION: Is it accurate to describe the suggestions that you've put forward as threefold: one, the Liberia language, the language the was adopted for the Liberia resolution in 2003 to apply to Sudan; two, a seven-year opt-out for the United States from prosecutions for war crimes anywhere in the world that the treaty accords to parties to the treaty but not, of course, to people who are not parties, like the U.S. Government; and, three, language that would bar the U.S. Government from having to do anything to cooperate with the ICC in a way that would contravene existing U.S. laws, like the American Servicemembers' Protection Act?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to go into specifics. This is an evolving situation. It's an ongoing discussion. It would probably be inaccurate to try to characterize those -- any specific points at any specific moment. We're working with other members of the Council. I think there's a meeting of the Council scheduled for 5 p.m. today and we'll continued our discussions with them as we approach that meeting.
QUESTION: Did you put forward new suggestions even this morning?
MR. BOUCHER: We have continued to discuss this all along with others on the Council. Yeah.
QUESTION: Why should one not conclude -- you say that you wish to put an end to impunity in Sudan. The position, at least as described by American officials, is that you're willing to allow the ICC to have jurisdiction for the atrocities allegedly committed in Darfur only if you can secure sufficient protections to ensure that U.S. citizens would not be subject to the ICC's jurisdiction. Why shouldn't one conclude that you want to put an end to impunity, but protecting U.S. citizens from the probably unlikely event of an ICC prosecution is a higher virtue to you than prosecuting atrocities under the ICC?
MR. BOUCHER: You shouldn't conclude that because it would be wrong.
QUESTION: Well, why? Explain --
MR. BOUCHER: The United States has held very strongly for accountability in Darfur. We continue to do that. That's why we are, in fact, engaged in these discussions, is to achieve accountability in Darfur in a manner that recognizes our concerns, as the Council has done in the past. It's just wrong to think that that's somehow a different priority. These two things can be achieved together and that's what we're going to do.
QUESTION: But you're not going to sign on to ICC jurisdiction unless you can protect your own people?
MR. BOUCHER: We're going to sign on to a resolution that does both: accountability and that protects our people from concerns we've had about the Court's jurisdiction.
QUESTION: So there's no possibility of a veto; you're definitely going to find a way to do this today?
MR. BOUCHER: We're trying to find a way to do that. We have put forward suggestions that accomplish that. It'll be a matter for other countries to decide whether they can do both of those things.
QUESTION: If you can't get the protections, will you veto this resolution?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll look at the resolution when it comes to a vote and decide how to vote.
QUESTION: Do you expect that vote to happen in the 5 o'clock session today or is there a chance it will be delayed again?
MR. BOUCHER: Who knows? We're dealing with ongoing discussions and negotiations. That's when it's currently scheduled. We'll see what happens.
QUESTION: And can you talk about Secretary Rice's involvement in this, talking with her French counterpart?
MR. BOUCHER: She has been involved in a number of ways. She's kept in touch with her French and British counterparts on the issue. She talked to Foreign Minister Barnier yesterday, talked to Foreign Minister Straw this morning. In addition, our Under Secretary for Political Affairs has been in touch with his counterparts. So we've been working this, as I said, both from Washington -- from -- in New York as well as with people in capitals from Washington.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: One last one?
QUESTION: One last one. Do you get any sense from all your conversations that there is much receptivity on the part of the other members to your position?
MR. BOUCHER: The whole issue of accountability for Sudan and the issue of the ICC has been a subject that we have discussed with other members of the Council now for some time. Secretary Rice discussed it during her first trip to Europe, for example, and it's come up in all -- not all, but many subsequent conversations with the Europeans at different levels. So I think there is understanding of the U.S. position with regard to the Court. There is certainly understanding that the U.S. stands for accountability for crimes and that the United States has tried to put forward its own suggestions on how this could be achieved. We're still working on language. We'll see whether that can be done in a resolution or not.
QUESTION: On Kyrgyzstan, I wanted to know if the United States and Russia somehow cooperate or coordinate their reactions, you know, in trying to help stabilize situation in this country. And secondly, Askar Akayev reiterated in the interview with BBC yesterday that he still considers himself president of Kyrgyzstan and is ready to stop, to cease power, to give power to new authorities if he receives, first of all, some kind of personal guarantees, safety guarantees. Do you think those demands of his are reasonable or what do you think about those?
MR. BOUCHER: A couple things. A couple things to say on that. First on the first part of your question as far as U.S.-Russian contact, we certainly have been in touch with the Russians both in Moscow and in Washington. The Russian Ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Ushakov, met this week with Under Secretary Burns -- with the Secretary and with Under Secretary Burns to talk about the situation in Kyrgyzstan and we emphasized our desire to coordinate with the Russians.
We've also had contacts between our Ambassador in Moscow and Deputy Foreign Minister Kislyak last Friday. So we're trying to keep close contact with the Russians on the situation in Kyrgyzstan as it evolves.
We have also been very much in touch with the CSCE* representatives, and Chairman-in-Office Dmitry Rupel arrived in Bishkek March 31st. He has been having meetings with Acting President Bakiyev along with opposition leader Felix Kulov and others. He has hosted a meeting with the Foreign Minister -- visiting Georgian and Ukraine Foreign Ministers and the Russian Duma envoy, Mr. Kokoshin, as well as Ambassador Young and other OSCE ambassadors, so he is coordinating on the ground there with other people. We very much support the efforts of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to provide technical assistance to upcoming elections that can be free and fair, and that's where our emphasis is. Our Ambassador has also been having meetings. Today he met with Supreme Court Chairman Osmonov and former security coordinator and opposition figure Felix Kulov. So we've been in touch there directly with the various people on the ground.
As far as how the situation evolves, I think I'd stick with what I've said before, that we're supporting very much the efforts of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office and the OSCE generally to try to bring a stable transition there.
QUESTION: But do you think the opposition should provide those security guarantees to Akayev?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to get into those kinds of demands and those kind of details. That has to be worked out within the Kyrgyz legal framework. But I would say very much, you know, trying to work with others, trying to coordinate with others and help the Kyrgyz people get what they deserve, which is a right to choose their own government in a free and fair manner.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you update us on the UN -- U.S.-France draft resolution regarding the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and establishing of an international investigation committee?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Where does that stand? There is a Security Council meeting this -- Security Council experts meeting this afternoon to talk about the French draft resolution that calls for an international investigation into former Prime Minister Hariri's death. As we've said before, we commend Mr. Fitzgerald for the report that he did on the situation there and we fully endorse his call for an independent investigation -- an independent international investigation. The Lebanese people want and deserve to know what happened in this assassination. We also believe the Government of Lebanon needs to be committed to a transparent, credible, international inquiry into the facts and needs to provide all cooperation and assistance to an international inquiry. So that's what we're looking for in a resolution. We'll be working with the French and other members of the Council to try to achieve that.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Lebanon, too. The Lebanese opposition accused the outgoing pro-Syrian government of working to sabotage the holding of elections due by the end of May to retain control on parliament. What's your reaction on that and how the U.S. can help the Lebanese people to have the elections in time?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think the whole international community, including the UN envoy Mr. Larsen, has been very supportive of Resolution 1559 that seeks the full and immediate withdrawal from Lebanon of all foreign forces. That's a very important step towards having the elections on time. Second of all, the whole international community has been very supportive in moving forward to full, fair and free elections as soon as possible. We'll continue to do that.
QUESTION: Richard, do you have any reflection on how election day went in Zimbabwe?
MR. BOUCHER: Preliminary reflections, I think, both to describe how they went but also to remind people that this has been a playing field that was heavily tilted to begin with. We did have, apparently, a very calm and orderly process in today's parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe. Turnout appeared to be high, especially in urban areas. There were a few reports of ruling party harassment of voters, but so far those appear to be fairly isolated incidents.
The main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, had observers in virtually all polling stations, observers from the Independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network were also present in many polling stations. We have diplomatic observer teams throughout the country that are -- who are reporting back to the U.S. Embassy in Harare. We sent out -- along with the Europeans, we jointly manned 25 different teams of two people each who went out to polling places throughout the country. So that's what we're hearing back.
There are early signs that indicated that few would-be voters could not vote because of harassment, long lines or bureaucratic obstacles, and obviously, those are things that need to be looked into.
This is preliminary information on the conduct of the voting itself. I'd stress that election results are not expected until tomorrow evening, Zimbabwe time. And I'd also stress that today's balloting took place on a playing field that was heavily tilted in favor of the government. They had a near monopoly of electronic media and they closed down the independent newspaper throughout the whole campaign. Millions of Zimbabweans who have been forced into exile were not permitted to vote from outside the country. Many of the ruling party candidates distributed government-owned food to draw voters to their rallies. And I think generally we'd say that the campaigning took place in an atmosphere of intimidation. So we've looked at all those factors. We'll continue to look at all those factors as we try to analyze the conduct and then the outcome of the election.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: There was a report that journalists from a British newspaper were arrested on charges of covering the election without being accredited to do so. Do you have any comment on their case?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know about that particular case. I'd have to look into that.
Let's continue in the back. Sir.
QUESTION: Venezuela, or do you want --
MR. BOUCHER: Venezuela.
QUESTION: There's been -- the United States has registered its dismay that Venezuela has bought 100,000 rifles for an army that has 32,000 people. The President has spoken with Kirchner regarding what he can do on Chavez's unwillingness to be a part of -- on Chavez's actions, undemocratic actions, and so forth. What exactly would the United States like Argentina to do with regard -- with this situation?
MR. BOUCHER: I would, I think, just say generally that the United States has been concerned about the developments in Venezuela and of Venezuela in terms of its neighbors. We have looked carefully at developments inside Venezuela in terms of the difficulties created for the opposition, difficulties created for independent media, and therefore difficulties created for democracy in Venezuela. And we think all countries in the region need to be supportive of democracy and need to call to attention to these problems with democracy there.
Second of all, we've also called attention to Venezuela's destabilizing role in the region. In the various reports and events that we've seen were, whether it's buying arms in this fashion or some of the people who have been taking refugee in Venezuela, where we've seen that Venezuela is not playing -- is playing a destabilizing role in the region.
So these things are matters of concern to the United States but they're also matters of concern to other people in the region, and -- whether it's on the democracy front or the destabilizing front, and so we've kept in touch with a number of countries in the region to call attention to those matters and to encourage all people in the region to work to persuade the Venezuelan Government to change its policies.
QUESTION: Could you be more specific about the destabilizing impact of what the Venezuelans are up to?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've talked about each of these individual matters before so, no, I don't think I have anything new to add to that list, but there are a number of things that we have talked about in the past.
Okay. We had one over here?
QUESTION: Yeah. It's a Canadian trade question. Today, Canada and the European Union slapped sanctions on U.S. cigarettes, oysters and live swines in protest of the Byrd amendment. I'm just wondering what the U.S. response might be to that and if there would be any retaliatory action,
MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I don't have anything for you on that. You'd have to check with the Trade Representative's office, I think, on that.
QUESTION: A question on Ethiopia. Ethiopia has decided today to expel three American organizations: the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and another one.
Do you have any reaction on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I mean, frankly, it's very disappointing that the Government of Ethiopia decided not to work with these three groups. The groups are the International Foundation of Election Systems, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. They have been in the country doing support for elections and education activities there. The Ethiopian Government claims that the three groups were not registered as nongovernmental organizations with the government. That, in fact, is true. But the problem is that their -- first of all, that their partners have been transparent, and other organizations that are currently working in Ethiopia on elections have also not been able to register. These three groups have worked diligently and very closely with various Government of Ethiopia ministries to try to register and they've worked with the National Election Board of Ethiopia, and so they've tried to get registration and they haven't been able to secure it. So, frankly, we find this decision disappointing and we've expressed that directly to the Ethiopian Government.
Okay. Where are we going to go? Joel.
QUESTION: Richard, do you have any reaction to the Knesset vote finalizing the Gaza settler pullout? And also within the last day, apparently, in the West Bank, President Abbas' headquarters were fired upon by militants and what will General Ward be doing to ensure security?
MR. BOUCHER: On the vote itself, no, I don't, but I think we've been very supportive of the disengagement from Gaza and the need for that to proceed in a manner that benefits Israelis and Palestinians alike. And so we'll continue to work with both parties on that matter. We think it's a very positive step and offers a real opportunity to move forward on peace. In terms of General Ward's activities, he's been in the region. I don't quite know if he's there now --
MR. ERELI: I think so.
MR. BOUCHER: We think he is. He's been spending a lot of time there. And as you know, his main goal is to try to build up -- help the Palestinians achieve a capability where they themselves can control violence. That involves coordination with both sides. It also involves a lot of work with Palestinian Authority and with those who are helping -- other people who are helping them. And so he's been a sort of a security coordinator on the ground out there.
That is really the way to answer the second part of your question about the shoot-up. It's very important that the Palestinian Authority have the tools and have the will to take on those who perpetrate violence, and that the terrorist infrastructure there, the ability of these groups to carry out violence, is ended. And that's what we look forward to doing, but that's what we look forward to seeing the Palestinian Authority themselves do and that's, I think, the tone of the remarks that you heard today from President Abbas.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: What is the State Department reaction to the new North Korean demands they now want, sort of comprehensive disarmament talks or something like that? What do you think about this?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I mean, frankly, we just saw the statement this morning. We'll study it carefully. We're starting to look at it now. It's not really clear what they mean. Are they putting up new conditions for talks? We're saying once again the goal is denuclearization. That's true and that's something everybody's accepted. But we've also made clear that people need to return to talks without preconditions. The way to achieve denuclearization on the peninsula is for all the parties to get together and sit down and work this out through the six-party talks. That's the place to do it. That's the best opportunity to achieve that goal and to end North Korea's nuclear ambitions through a process of peaceful diplomacy. And so once again, we urge the North Koreans to return to those talks without preconditions.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission report? Specifically, there are some findings in it about concerns over the quality of American intelligence and I'm wondering if this building is concerned that these findings will affect foreign policy initiatives that are at least somewhat based on intelligence, specifically Iran and North Korean nuclear programs.
MR. BOUCHER: I think there's a couple things to say about this. First is that the problems with the intelligence related to Iraq are the subject of, I think, widespread knowledge and understanding. This report then adds to our understanding of how that might have occurred and the corrective steps that need to be taken. The President is very much supportive of taking all the possible steps to improve our intelligence. So the one thing I can tell you is our intelligence will be getting better because of those steps. So that'll be a -- help solidify the basis.
The second thing is that if you look at some of the cases that you cited -- Iran, North Korea, I guess I'd add Libya to the mix -- where there's a difference, a different picture of intelligence. But it's not just U.S. intelligence that's the matter there, that there is a lot of information coming out, a lot of information, for example, from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In the case of North Korea, they're claiming to have done things that, you know, that would violate the various commitments and understandings that they've made before. So I think you have to take that -- you know, you have to deal with that at face value.
In the case of Iran, we've had repeated situations where information has come out and that has been verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency. This sort of theatrical journalist tour that they did of Natanz yesterday -- was that yesterday or today? Yesterday. You know, what does that do? That actually confirms, to some extent, something the Iranians just a little while ago were still denying -- that they had such a facility -- that was originally disclosed by other groups. So you have a public record when it comes to Iran. You have a public record established by the International Atomic Energy Agency through its inspections and its reports. And so in addition to beefing up U.S. intelligence on these matters, one of the things the President has committed us to do and indeed we are doing is trying to beef up the international scrutiny and beef up the international ability to find information about proliferation, to find information about nuclear problems and to deal with those situations as they arise.
QUESTION: Can I change the topic?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Israel's Defense Minister was here yesterday. Did Secretary Rice talk to him about selling weapons to China?
MR. BOUCHER: They had a discussion of a number of topics. I wasn't in the meeting itself so I can't specifically rule something out. But I would say that they really talked about the situation in the region, they talked about the President's vision of how to achieve two states for Israel and Palestinians to live side by side in peace and security. They talked about security issues, obviously, about the opportunity presented by disengagement from Gaza. That was a major discussion. They talked about the obligations on both sides and they discussed, to some extent, the regional situation. That's about as far as I can go for you.
QUESTION: So not specifically about China?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't specifically say they didn't, but the major topics were the ones that I discussed.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: David.
QUESTION: Richard, the Burmese authorities seem to have sent the political conventioneers that have been meeting there home. It's unlikely they're going to reconvene before the end of the year and there's a suggestion that this means that Burma will not have a constitution for 2006, when it's supposed to head ASEAN. And I was wondering if you had any reaction to those things.
MR. BOUCHER: Let me check on it.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you. Joel.
QUESTION: Yesterday, there was a scathing report issued about dwindling resources -- minerals, fuels, animal habitat, sea life -- and also saying that, unfortunately, greenhouse gases and CO2 are leading to global warming.
Are we working with other science-style bodies, such as National Academy of Sciences and other international groups, both within the UN as well with NGOs to maybe change our attitudes or give any type of donations --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not quite sure what report you're referring to, but I'll look at that.
MR. ERELI: We had guidance on it yesterday.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. I think -- did you talk about it yesterday?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll get you something more detailed about that specific report. Let me point out one thing, though. You talk about "change our attitude." Our attitude is very serious on the issue of global warming. The United States spends $5.8 billion this -- is spending $5.8 billion this year to deal with the effect of greenhouse gases, to deal with the problems of global warming and to look forward to the future to develop new sources of energy that don't contribute to this problem. We have abundant efforts internationally on this issue. We're working with other governments to develop technologies, to develop market-based programs and other ways to deal with the problem. Just don't think Kyoto is the right way to do it. But we have been, I think, leaders in both technology and the energy -- and the effort overall to try to deal with this in very specific ways, and that involves cooperation with many other governments to do this.
QUESTION: And a follow-up, Richard?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: There's call for hydrogen-type fuels and some of the automakers are working to --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, you remember the President has called to develop hydrogen fuel.
MR. BOUCHER: And the United States is spending money on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
(This briefing was concluded at 1:12 p.m.)