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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing May 5, 2005

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing May 5, 2005


Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 5, 2005

INDEX:

VIETNAM
Statement by Ambassador John Hanford on Conclusion of Religious
Freedom Agreement / Significant Vietnamese Legislative Reforms and Commitments
Issue of Determination / Status of Removal from Countries of
Particular Concern (CPC List) / Release of Prisoners and Amnesty /
New Regulations / Special Decree / Training of Provincial Leaders / Churches Re-open
International Religious Freedom Act
Deputy Secretary Zoellick's Meetings in Hanoi

TOGO
Statement on the Formation of National Unity Government

NIGERIA
Secretary Rice's Meeting with President Obasanjo / Situation in Togo
Darfur Crisis / Peacekeeping Mission / Regional Issues
Charles Taylor / Situation in Liberia / Debt Relief

COLOMBIA
Detention of US Soldiers / Issue on the Arming of Paramilitaries

DEPARTMENT
Reports on the Naming of Human Rights Envoy
Nomination of John Bolton / Reports of Allegations
Query of Harvard Study on Nuclear Proliferation / Proliferation
Security Initiative / President Bush's Comprehensive Plan

LEBANON/ SYRIA
Diplomatic Relations Between Lebanon- Syria / Secretary's Meeting
with Terje Roed-Larsen / Satisfactory Basis for Balloting

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
Palestinian Elections / US View on Hamas

TUNISIA
Jail Sentences of Mohammed Abbou and Faouzi Ben M'rad / US Concern

BRAZIL
Upcoming Summit of South American Arab Leaders
Secretary Rice's Discussion on Cooperation Between Latin America and Arab World

ITALY
Comments by Prime Minister Berlusconi / Calipari Investigation /
Cooperation Between US and Italy

IRAN
Query on Negotiations with European Union


TRANSCRIPT:

1:15 p.m. EDT

MR. BOUCHER: Ladies and gentlemen, if we can start the briefing this morning with a special guest star. Ambassador John Hanford, our Ambassador At-Large for International and Religious Freedom has come down today to tell you about something that we want to announce, in which I'm sure he can explain a little bit more adequately than I can. So if I can just turn it over to him.

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: I'm going to start by reading the press statement and then I'll take some questions. We are pleased to announce today that we have concluded an agreement with the Government of Vietnam that addresses a number of important religious freedom concerns. Vietnam's progress on these issues and the outstanding work to be done will be topics of discussion during Deputy Secretary Zoellick's visit to Hanoi on Friday, May 6th. This achievement advances a key component of the President's Freedom Agenda. Working with Congress under the International Religious Freedom Act, the Bush Administration has secured continuing cooperation with Vietnam on our religious freedom concerns. The commitments made by the Government of Vietnam result from our work over the past several years to advance religious freedom in that country.

In recent weeks, Vietnam has banned the practice of forced renunciations or coerced renunciations of faith. They've released a number of prominent prisoners of concern and they've begun to register and to permit the reopening of churches that had previously been closed. Most importantly, Vietnam has also enacted significant legislative reforms that hold the promise of major improvements in religious freedom in the near future.

A new ordinance on religion took effect on November 15, 2004 and the crucial implementation regulations for this ordinance were just released in early March. These new laws and policies provide increased latitude and protection for religious belief and practice. In addition, the Prime Minister issued special instructions in February aimed at alleviating restrictions on religious practice faced by many Vietnamese Protestants.

To build on these first steps, the Vietnamese have made a significant number of commitments. The Government of Vietnam has committed to fully implement the new legislation on religious freedom and to render previous contradictory regulations obsolete. They have also committed to instruct local authorities to strictly and completely adhere to the new legislation and ensure their compliance. The Government of Vietnam will also facilitate the process by which religious congregations are able to open houses of worship and give special consideration to prisoners and cases of concern raised by the United States during the granting of prisoner amnesties.

While these commitments offer a strong foundation, other important steps remain to be taken and the United States will continue to monitor developments in Vietnam closely. That's our statement.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Does this coincide -- this announcement coincide with an announcement, I believe, out of Vietnam that their leader will come to the U.S. next month -- or is it -- yeah, next month, I think, June?

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: I don't have the details on that. And so, someone else will have to --

QUESTION: Well, can you confirm he's coming?

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: I'm --

(Inaudible.)

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: It seems to me Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Eritrea were on your list of Countries of Particular Concern --

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: That's right.

QUESTION: -- and the deadline for reaching some sort of determination on that was the middle of March?

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: Right.

QUESTION: And now, we're in early May. Do you have anything to say about those three countries?

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: Well, you know the facts well and these deliberations, as do many negotiations, took a little longer than we would have liked. It involved my longest trip ever to a country in my position and as well as follow-up negotiations here. They were delicate and covered a number of different fronts. And so this took longer than we would have liked.

We are still in the process of discussions with Saudi Arabia and Eritrea and we do not have announcements to make at this time on those two countries.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Two quick ones, sir. Does that mean that Vietnam, at least for the purpose of this year, remains a Country of Particular Concern? And secondly, you said that there are a number of important areas where work remains to be done. What, specifically, are those areas?

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: Well, first, you're absolutely right. This does mean that Vietnam is not being removed from the CPC list -- Countries of Particular Concern list -- which is a process, as you know, mandated under the International Religious Freedom Act that we go through every year.

We will consider removing Vietnam from this list upon the implementation of the types of commitments which they have made in this agreement.

QUESTION: And what are the -- you said that other things remain to be done. What are the things that Vietnam needs to do that it has not yet committed to do?

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: Right. Well, one thing that I want to emphasize is that they are moving in the right direction on a number of important fronts. I think there's just need for continued follow-through.

For example, prisoners -- persons that we would consider prisoners who have been arrested because of the peaceful practice of their faith. There are still a number of such prisoners; however, for the first time, I think, at least that I am aware of, Vietnam just this year has begun to include religious prisoners or people we'd call religious prisoners in their amnesties. And they had a special amnesty just a couple of weeks ago. They've released a total of 12 prisoners during this time and so we are heartened by this. We see this as a good-faith effort as a result of our discussions and negotiations not only surrounding this agreement, but over the past three years.

And some of you are familiar with some of these prisoners. Father Ly was a very prominent prisoner. There was another Catholic prisoner just released in the last couple of weeks who had been in prison for 18 years. As well, there were Buddhists and Hoa Hao and a number of Protestants, Hmong Protestants, that were released during this last release, as well as a Mennonite woman.

QUESTION: That's the only thing? Prisoner releases?

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: No, that's an area where we will continue to look for progress. The new regulations, the most important of which were actually announced while I was there in Vietnam in March, open the door for a lot of progress on registering churches so that they can be legalized and not be under the duress and pressure that they've been in the past and also provide a process by which the large number of churches that have been closed, particularly in the central highlands, but also in the northwest highlands and elsewhere can be reopened.

I mentioned forced renunciations of faith. We're very pleased that the Prime Minister issued a special decree in February which addressed a number of important areas concerning Protestants, but which, for the first time, explicitly outlawed the practice of forced renunciations of faith. Now, this is something that we've been talking with the Vietnamese about for a long time because, while in Hanoi, I would be told this is against our policy and yet it continued to happen on a rather large scale in other parts of the country. So our question was then: Why don't you announce this? Why don't you make this a policy? And we see this as an important step and we're thankful that it's coming from the mouth of the Prime Minister himself.

Also, the decree, the implementation regulations which were released in early March, have the same prohibition. Now, I don't have the exact number but there are estimates that tens of thousands of people have been rounded up over the last few years and put under pressure, sometimes severe pressure, to renounce their faith. And so we are very pleased to finally be over this hurdle. This doesn't mean that there won't continue to be incidents. We still continue to hear of ones, but few and nothing like what we have faced in the past.

Another issue, just to follow up. There's always this disconnect between what the central government may profess and what local officials do, and one of the important ingredients in the new legislation is that the government is starting the process of formal training of provincial leaders, who then are turning around and passing along the same training to local leaders, which will hopefully ensure a regularity of practice. And this will remove any excuse on the part of local officials to be closing churches or beating people or doing forced renunciations of faith.

The number of incidents of people being mistreated, for example, has greatly diminished. The trend has been in a good direction. As I say, things aren't perfect. We continue to hear of cases, although they seem to be handled a little better in the past. People are rounded up but maybe not arrested or kept overnight in some cases. And so again, we see a very good trend here.

And then on the question of churches being reopened, these new laws which we have been working with Vietnam on and encouraging and advocating for all this time offer a lot of promise in this regard. In the past, there was a very confusing process. Even our Vietnamese interlocutors would laugh with us and call it the chicken-and-the-egg problem because to be registered you had to have fulfilled certain things, but to have those things you have to be registered. Well, that problem has now been solved. There's a very clear process of how a local congregation can be registered. There are deadlines for officials, local officials, provincial officials, central government officials, so that these requests can't be put off forever.

There is also the provision for denominations and groups that previously have not been legalized to apply and also for house churches to have the opportunity to regularize their activities and to become legal.

So we see a lot of promise here. Now, the proof will be in the pudding and in the implementation and there have been a few dozen churches that have been reopened. We are going to be working with Vietnam with the hopes that many, many more will be in the near future.

Yes, sir.

MR. BOUCHER: We'll take one more on this.

QUESTION: Yes. Just today in Cairo, in Egypt, they detained a thousand people that were demonstrating in a banned protest by the Muslim Brotherhood. Do you have any comments concerning that?

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: No, I think I want to keep my comments to Vietnam right now. Why don't I take one more on that? And yes, sir. And then I'll let Richard handle anything else.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. This might be a simple question but I'm just new to the process. When you say you're concluding an agreement, was there a U.S. quid pro quo? Was there anything specifically for the U.S. and anything the U.S. specifically engaged in?

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: That's a very good question. What we pledged to do was to consider removing Vietnam from the CPC list upon the implementation of the items that we have laid out. Also, at the same time, the action that we're taking here with this agreement which comes in the form of an exchange of letters, we have committed that at this time, we won't take any additional negative action. Congress actually encourages, in the International Religious Freedom Act, to pursue the working out of an agreement as the option of first choice.

I should make note of the fact that this is the first time that this has been done under the International Religious Freedom Act. These are difficult negotiations. I think that's why this hasn't been attempted before, but we're very pleased that we have the first agreement under the International Religious Freedom Act.

QUESTION: Do you have an estimate on the number of religious prisoners in Vietnam?

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: I don't right now. I can maybe get back to you later with that.

QUESTION: Hundreds?

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: No, no, uh-uh. No, it would be, maybe now, a couple of dozen or something, but I don't want to be quoted on that, because I'd rather be sure I'm accurate on it.

MR. BOUCHER: We'll get you an accurate number.

QUESTION: Okay.

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER: Thank you. Okay. These subjects, of course, will be a topic of further discussion for Deputy Secretary Zoellick in Hanoi. He's already arrived there. He'll be having his meetings there on Friday and included in his discussions will be the important public follow-up steps that you were just talking about.

Just to note, we have one other statement for you on Togo about urging them to form a national unity government. This was a subject that Secretary Rice and President Obasanjo of Nigeria discussed this morning, the situation in Togo, and we want to put out as -- we'll put out a statement shortly that says -- that encourages the government and the opposition in Togo to form a unity government.

And with that, I'll be glad to take your questions.

QUESTION: Do you have any more details on the Secretary's meeting with the Nigerian?

MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary's meeting this morning with President Obasanjo covered a lot of regional, bilateral issues. As you know, President Obasanjo is one of our key partners in Africa, especially given that he's now the head of the African Union, the chair of the African Union. They also -- they discussed Darfur and the effort that we will make to support further deployments of African troops. We have applauded the role that President Obasanjo has played in the Darfur crisis. We support this effort by the African Union to quickly increase the size of African Union peacekeeping mission there.

And as you know, the Secretary has discussed this with NATO. She discussed it with European High Representative Solana this week. And I think both NATO and the United -- and the European Union, as well as member states, will do everything they can to support an expanded deployment of African troops to Darfur as soon as possible.

They also talked about various regional issues, as I mentioned the situation in Togo, which, again, Nigeria has been working on. The situation in Cote d'Ivoire where Nigeria's had a role, ECOWAS states have had a role and then President Mbeki intervened, we think, quite helpfully to try to calm things down there. And the situation in Liberia where, I think, you're all aware of the role that Nigeria has played there. So a lot of important things.

QUESTION: Charles Taylor?

MR. BOUCHER: Charles Taylor was discussed in the context of the situation in Liberia. I think it's -- as you know, that Nigeria played a very positive role in helping end the civil war in Liberia by removing Charles Taylor from the scene. The Secretary expressed her appreciation for the role that Nigeria played there. They discussed the situation of Mr. Taylor right now and I think we and the Nigerians both agree that he should not be interfering in any way in Liberia's internal affairs; and shouldn't undermine democracy there; and that he should face justice. So we're in touch with the Nigerians on those topics. We'll stay in touch with them, as well as others, as we proceed forward.

QUESTION: If he should face justice, did she -- did Secretary Rice not ask President Obasanjo to turn him over?

MR. BOUCHER: I would say they discussed together how to accomplish those goals and leave it at that.

QUESTION: Any breakthroughs?

MR. BOUCHER: It's a matter of continuing discussion.

QUESTION: On the other side the -- agreeing that he should not interfere in any way in Liberian politics, is it your view that he is?

MR. BOUCHER: I would say there have been some reports and I think we all understand the importance of his not doing that and leave it at that.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I don't --

MR. BOUCHER: There have been some reports that he's had various contacts in Liberia and I think it's -- we all agree that it's important for Charles Taylor no longer to play any particular -- any role in Liberian politics.

QUESTION: But what keeps you from simply asking them to hand him over? Do you feel that that would itself be destabilizing for Liberia?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it's just an incorrect description of the situation that we and the Nigerians, are working together, with each other and with others, to ensure that Charles Taylor faces justice.

QUESTION: Well, was the option -- was the option of sending him to Sierra Leone discussed and what is the U.S. position on this?

MR. BOUCHER: Again, we discussed how to ensure that Mr. Taylor faces justice and I'm going to leave it at that today.

QUESTION: You don't think he should face justice in the -- at the UN-backed Special Court to Sierra Leone?

MR. BOUCHER: I certainly didn't say that.

Joel.

QUESTION: Richard, any talk of helping the fledgling new Government of Somalia, which is now based in Kenya, that moved downtown --

MR. BOUCHER: We really didn't discuss Somalia this morning and so nothing new on that.

Yeah. Sir.

QUESTION: Yesterday, two Colombian -- or in Bogotá, two U.S. military --

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, we're going to finish on Obasanjo, I think first.

QUESTION: Just one last thing, the debt relief issue, he's been asking for debt relief. Was there any discussion of that? What's the U.S. position on that?

MR. BOUCHER: Came up in a general sense that we do want to assist Nigeria with its various needs and we're talking to them about debt relief, among other things.

Yeah. Okay. Good.

QUESTION: Yesterday, two U.S. military officers were arrested in Bogotá in what Colombian civilian authorities are describing as an attempt to arm illegal paramilitary groups. Human Rights Watch in the past has produced documentary evidence to show U.S. support for the Colombian military, to have illegal relationships with these paramilitaries. Can you tell us whether or not -- and also these officers were arrested in a gated compound where many U.S. officers and contractors live -- can you tell us whether or not any U.S. agencies may be involved in secretly arming Colombian paramilitaries?

MR. BOUCHER: First, this has -- how can I say? This is a particular situation, a particular case. There is absolutely no U.S. policy and U.S. support or U.S. inclination or U.S. military operations involved in arming paramilitaries. We have declared these groups to be terrorist groups. We have supported President Uribe in his struggle against the terrorists from the left and from the right and we -- our goal in Colombia, operating under very strict laws, is to support the assertion of the power of the civilian government throughout its territory in a democratic manner that respects the human rights of all its citizens. And that's what the Secretary and President Uribe discussed just last week when she was down there.

Second, as far as this particular case, there were two U.S. soldiers who were detained by Colombian National Police on May 3rd in Melgar, Colombia. It's approximately 25 miles from Bogotá. Colombian officials released them to U.S. custody yesterday. They'll be transported to Bogotá today and we expect them to be taken on to the United States in the next few days.

Allegations that the U.S. military personnel involved were trafficking in ammunition are indeed extremely troubling to us. As with all criminal allegations against U.S. military personnel, we're committed to a full investigation and we'll be working with the Colombian authorities in that regard.

Okay, sir.

QUESTION: North Korea. Do you have any comments on reports today that Secretary Rice is preparing to name Jay Lefkowitz as the North Korea Human Rights Envoy?

MR. BOUCHER: No. Make no announcement before its time. Yeah. Okay.

QUESTION: Is he on the list?

MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't tell you who's on the list or who's not on the list. When it's time to say so, we'll say so. Sorry.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Would you please clarify your position today that The Washington Post has claimed -- is claiming today something that you haven't said yesterday. They are claiming that you accused Syria of continuing to interfere in Lebanon and that Syria is obstructing the UN team work in Lebanon. You -- as far as I know, you reserved any judgment until the team has finished there -- their work in there.

And also, it turns out, as you were talking and encouraging yesterday a diplomatic relation between Syria and Lebanon, that the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Mr. Mikati, was at the same time telling Al-Safir newspaper that President Assad had addressed the subject of a diplomatic relationship between Syria and Lebanon himself; he volunteered to do that yesterday. So I need your comment, please.

MR. BOUCHER: My comment on what The Washington Post may have written is I don't -- I make it a habit not to comment on what you or anybody in this room or The Washington Post writes every day unless it's -- except for special occasions, which I don't think this one is.

QUESTION: What's the position -- clarify?

MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, I described our position very well yesterday and that's the position.

Second of all, on the question of diplomatic relations, again, you know, whatever others may have said, I think I expressed our position yesterday. So I don't think there's too much more to say on that. I mean, I would note that today there is a Presidential Statement at the United Nations from the Security Council about the situation in Lebanon and the question of Syria. That's something the United States fully supported and we certainly stand by that.

The Secretary met this morning with Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN special envoy for matters involving Lebanon, and got his -- heard an update from him on the situation, discussed some of the issues as we go forward, including the very important issues of having a free and fair election in Lebanon, of extending the effective authority of the Lebanese Government throughout Lebanon so you don't have incidents like yesterday when a Palestinian group can fire on a UN team, and of completing this process of implementing Resolution 1559.

David.

QUESTION: Though the Syrian troops may be out of Lebanon, they appear to have left behind their election law. The President of Lebanon said that the elections will be held in a two-week span between the 29th and 17th, or whatever, but the elections are going to be conducted under a year 2000 law that many parties in Lebanon consider will leave a pro-Syrian outcome to this election. I wonder if you had any comment on that.

MR. BOUCHER: I really don't have any new comment. This question came up the other day in relation to the joint statement we issued with France and I think we put up an answer that said we want there to be a, you know, satisfactory basis for balloting that all Lebanese can understand and work with and kind of leave it at that. There is a lot of discussion of this in Lebanon but we think they can work it out.

QUESTION: Subsequent to the meeting, Mr. Barnier, in a TV interview, very pointedly declined to call Hezbollah a terrorist organization. He said it's a multifaceted organization. Has your position changed in any way on Hezbollah?

MR. BOUCHER: No.

QUESTION: On Mr. Bolton's nomination.

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you address the charge made by John Wolf that Secretary Bolton sometimes engaged in disputes with members of the Nonproliferation Bureau that sometimes had the effect of keeping issues from reaching Secretary Powell in a timely way?

MR. BOUCHER: This is -- first of all, I don't know exactly what John Wolf said, but I do know that this is a story that somehow comes up again and again. We've already said it's just untrue, that the Secretary talked to and talks with Mr. Bolton several times a day, usually. Nothing is being kept from her. She's fully aware of what's going on around here and the issues that are coming up to her. There's often a lot of discussion in the preparation of memos and things like that, but the Secretary keeps up to speed on these views and Mr. Bolton keeps her up to speed on the various views that are around the building.

QUESTION: My question was about Secretary Powell, though. Did the same apply to --

MR. BOUCHER: I think the same applied to Secretary Powell, frankly. There was very frequent discussion with Under Secretary Bolton and he kept the Secretary informed of what was going on in his area.

QUESTION: Senator Nunn, in a news conference this morning, released -- they released a Harvard study on nuclear proliferation issues, where the study said that while there has been progress with these rogue nations, it has been small and it's nothing compared to what needs to happen. And it blames -- it says that the problem is that there's not enough consistent leadership from the President. Do you have any comments on this or reaction?

MR. BOUCHER: I haven't read the study. I don't know if they just make the charge or if they try to explain what they mean. But I would say that this is the President who stood up and said we need to control the traffic and nuclear materials, and created the Proliferation Security Initiative, which now has dozens and dozens of nations participating in limiting the traffic of nuclear materials. This is the President who gave a comprehensive speech on nuclear -- on proliferation, including nuclear proliferation at the National Defense University and laid out a whole series of steps that are being taken in different fora to try to control the black market in nuclear materials, the supply of sensitive materials to various places, and to try to tighten the international proliferation regime.

This is the President who called for a UN resolution in his speech last year at the UN -- year before last at the UN to tighten international scrutiny and control of proliferation and an administration with Mr. Bolton actually at the forefront, which went out and got that resolution at the UN. So, I think the President has demonstrated consistent leadership on this topic. He's proposed things like the UN resolution, like the Proliferation Security Initiative, like tighter controls, like breaking up the black marketers. And these are, in fact, things that we are doing and the international community is doing and the President has laid forward -- put forth a fairly comprehensive plan on how to tighten proliferation, tighten controls on proliferation around the world and that's what we're putting forward at the Review Conference right now.

Joel?

QUESTION: Richard, returning to the Middle East again, you just spoke about Hezbollah, but there are municipal elections today in Gaza and there are two factions, Hamas versus Fatah and you brand both groups a terrorist-type organization. Where do you stand with regard to those municipal elections and security for Gaza?

MR. BOUCHER: Where we stand with regard to the elections is quite clear. We want to see more democratization, broader reform, renewal of Palestinian institutions and we think that elections that are transparent, open, and free can contribute to that. We do note that the balloting today appears to have gone quite smoothly.

In the end, it's a matter of, what does the Palestinian leadership do? The Palestinian leadership, President Abbas has made clear his commitment to end violence and terror and to pursue peaceful resolution of the conflict. And it's our hope that all those elected would share that commitment. That's where the action needs to be taken.

Our view of Hamas has not changed. They remain a designated terrorist organization. We would note that the new Palestinian leadership was elected on a platform of rejecting terrorism and violence and creating the institutions of a Palestinian state. We'd hope that all people in these territories would abandon violence and we support that goal.

QUESTION: Richard, in the last week, there's been two lawyers in Tunisia who've been jailed for criticizing the government, I think Mr. Mohammed Abbou and Mr. Faouzi M'rad, I think it is.

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment on this?

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. We actually -- we've been following this closely and we are very concerned about the situation of Tunisian lawyers Mohamed Abbou and Faouzi Ben M'rad. These two were convicted and given jail sentences following their public criticism of the government. We have expressed our concerns to the Government of Tunisia, both in Washington and in Tunis, reiterating that respect for the right to free and peaceful expression, association and assembly is an essential element of democracy.

The President, you'll remember, told President Ben Ali during his February 2004 visit to Washington that the U.S. Government was encouraging Tunisia to match its considerable economic and social accomplishments with comparable progress and political reform and a respect for human rights. That remains our position and that's what we're trying to do in our approaches to the Tunisian government on this particular case.

QUESTION: Richard, there's a summit that's going to be held in Brazil among South American and Arab leaders. There have been some reports that drafts of the summit declaration were to include references supporting the rights of people to oppose foreign occupations. Does the U.S. Government have any concerns that such language might give support to violence in the Palestinian territories or Israel or in Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that they are going to come out with such language. I guess we'll have to see. We certainly have discussed with the parties involved the upcoming summit between the Arabs and the South Americans. We welcome the dialogue between the people of these two important regions. We commend Presidents Lula and Butaflika for inaugurating an event whose goal is to strengthen ties between Latin America and the Arab world.

The Secretary discussed this upcoming summit with the people in Latin America during -- leaders of Latin America during the course of her last trip down there. And basically, because they were about to have this meeting, discussed with them the opportunities that existed for cooperation between Latin America and the Arab world and brought them up to date on our thinking of where we stand in the Middle East peace process since that was a subject that they were likely to discuss.

She reiterated the Quartet meeting -- reiterated our support for disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank as an opportunity for both Israelis and Palestinians to improve their situation and live more safely and emphasized the importance of the Quartet meeting coming up. So she's basically filled them in on where things stand.

I expect they'll discuss those things. We're pleased to see that democratically elected leaders from Palestinian National Authority and from Iraq will participate in the summit and we hope that this discussion is a positive one that leads their cooperation forward.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns about the reports that there might be this language and have you --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to comment on what might be potentially draft language that may never see the light of day. If it --

QUESTION: Did you raise those with them?

MR. BOUCHER: We updated them on the situation in -- between Israelis and Palestinians and how we saw the situation now.

QUESTION: This morning, Prime Minister Berlusconi gave a long speech to parliament in which he did a delicate balancing act. He reaffirmed that the Italians are not going to leave Iraq in any relation to the Calipari affair and -- but they'll leave when they're ready and when the situation permits. But he also drew a very hard line on the incident at the checkpoint and, among other things, he said that the fact that the commanders of the U.S. forces said that the rules of the checkpoints had to be changed was an implicit admission that there was something wrong with them before and that the fact that there was no deliberateness doesn't mean there's no responsibility.

Question: This thing doesn't seem to be going away, like I'm not going away. And --

MR. BOUCHER: We've noticed. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And there seems to be that even -- no matter how much you say from that podium that to play it down, the diplomatic fallout, it seems to be growing, not diminishing -- the feelings. I mean the --

MR. BOUCHER: I'm still waiting for the question mark.

QUESTION: Oh. It was right there. Do you have any comment?

MR. BOUCHER: No.

QUESTION: Now, come on.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what to tell you. I mean, yes, the fact is that this is a very tragic accident. This is a terrible thing that happened, and a man doing his job, doing his job heroically, he died in the process. And it's a very sad thing that happened in a very dangerous circumstance. We and the Italians have looked into it thoroughly. We've established a lot of the facts together and we reached some different conclusions. So I suppose, in terms of the discussion of the incident, revisiting the tragedy and trying to understand it, there is a lot to discuss that people on both sides may be discussing.

But I think what's been quite clear and consistent throughout -- whether it's the original statements that we made or the phone calls between the Secretary and the Foreign Minister, and the President and Prime Minister Berlusconi, and now the statement that Prime Minister Berlusconi himself gave -- is that the United States and Italy are allies in a very important cause, we're both committed to that cause, we're both dedicated to it and we're both going to continue to help the Iraqi people achieve their freedom.

So I'm sure there will be discussion of this particular incident, but in terms of the cooperation between the United States and Italy, I think it's been very clear throughout that that will continue.

QUESTION: And a follow-up. Today there was the news of the American soldier who -- the case was dismissed against him for killing an unarmed and injured Iraqi in a mosque in Fallujah last November; then there was the Calipari case, there was the Bulgarian surgeon -- I mean, the United States never takes any responsibility for killing friends or for -- in the case of the Iraqi insurgent, it wasn't a friend, but it was a sort of an inhumane thing to do.

MR. BOUCHER: No, this is just not true. I mean, the United States does take responsibility and we ask our soldiers and we expect our soldiers to take responsibility. We -- you know, these things are looked at by competent authorities and carefully looked at in appropriate courts and judicial process. We've already convicted some people for things that happened in Iraq, if they were out of line and breaking the law. And we will always expect our servicemen, our men and women in uniform, to live up to the highest standards of humane treatment and military justice.

But the same time, we're not going to rush to judgment against them. These things have to be looked at carefully and dispassionately, they have to be looked at under the appropriate laws and the people that might be accused of something, one has to give the whole thing a fair hearing and not jump to conclusions -- a lot of competent authority to sort these things out.

But there's no question we expect the highest standards of conduct from our men and women in uniform. And that, frankly, we get the highest standards of performance from our men and women in uniform who take very seriously their obligations.

QUESTION: Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi today said at the UN that Iran wants to continue negotiations with the European Union to resolve the stand-off on the nuclear program. Do you have any comments on that?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't particularly, I mean, in the end it's not a matter of continuing negotiations, it's a matter of resolving the issue. And Iran needs to look beyond just negotiating to how they can step forward and resolve the concerns the international community has about the years and years of covert programs they've been conducting in the direction of developing nuclear weapons.

Okay.

(This briefing was concluded at 1:47 p.m.)

DPB #78

Released on May 5, 2005


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