State Department Daily Press Briefing - August 31
Announcements - Russia – Japan – Colombia – UN – FRY – Iraq – Phillippines – Cuba – Burma – Iran – Korea - Somalia
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING INDEX THURSDAY, AUGUST 31, 2000
Briefer: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
ANNOUNCEMENTS 1 Secretary to condemn treatment of Aung Sun Suu Kyi.
RUSSIA 1-4 Russia responsible for Edmond Pope's health; US has no evidence of wrongdoing by Pope; US efforts to secure his release.
JAPAN 4-5 US opposes Japan's whaling practices and will not attend scientific meeting on whaling in Japan.
COLUMBIA 5-6 Brazil summit views of Plan Columbia; Colombia not like Vietnam.
UN / IPU 6-8 Visas for participants in UN and IPU sessions; US participation in IPU.
FRY 8 Milosevic travel to Kosovo and NATO response.
IRAQ 8-9 UNMOVIC preparations; Iraq needs to comply with resolutions.
PHILLIPINES 9-11 Mr. Schilling a Muslim; suffers long-term health problems, should be released. US opposes ransom. He is being held against his will.
CUBA 11-12 Cuba agrees to resume immigration talks; working to set a date.
BURMA 12-13 Secretary's personal concern for Aung Sun Suu Kyi.
IRAN 13 Congressional meeting with Iranian parliamentarians in New York; need for official dialogue to address US concerns.
KOREA 14 Ambassador Sherman had good meetings in Russia, is now in Korea. Will have trilateral with South Korea and Japan tomorrow. US thinks it important to follow up North Korean offer.
SOMALIA 15 Establishment of a transitional government positive development.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING DPB #89 THURSDAY, AUGUST 31, 2000, 1:15 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Sorry for being late. Let me tell you about one statement off the top and then get on to your questions.
The Secretary today is issuing a statement about the continued actions of the Burmese Government against Aung San Suu Kyi. She says she is appalled at the actions of the Burmese regime in denying Aung San Suu Kyi the freedom to travel within her own country. The Burmese Government's actions and restraints on Aung San Suu Kyi violate basic principles of international human rights instruments and are an affront to people throughout the world.
Aung Sung Suu Kyi, as we all know, has been stranded on a roadside south of Rangoon in deplorable conditions for the past week. The United States Government and the Secretary call on the Government of Burma to stop its violation of Aung Sung Suu Kyi's human rights and to immediately allow her to travel to her intended destination.
We'll have the complete statement available for you right after the briefing.
QUESTION: Speaking of statements, I don't know if you had a chance because it just, I think, came out, but the Russian Foreign Ministry is issuing a blast at the US over the Pope matter, you know, saying various things but basically they're interposing - that the US is interposing itself in a judicial proceeding, in a criminal proceeding or whatever, and it's inappropriate.
I don't know if there is anything new to say on the subject, but if you have it we'll take it.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, let's deal with two issues here. I haven't seen the Russian Foreign Ministry statement so we reserve the right to respond more directly. But you raise in your question two issues: one is the judicial matter and the other is our role. Let me say two things.
First of all, the Russian Government bears a responsibility for maintaining the health and welfare of detained American citizens. I know we have seen reports in the Russian press that seem to indicate that he is healthy. Frankly, these reports do not appear credible. Mrs. Pope has just been in Russia. She saw her husband. And his health, according to her and according to others, has seriously declined while he has been incarcerated.
The prison doctor, in fact, on August 15th told our Embassy doctor that he had no objection to our Embassy doctor seeing him. But it's other Russian officials who have refused to grant permission for our doctor to see him. Our doctor has requested and was promised medical test data, and we have received nothing on that to date either. So if the Russian authorities believe that Mr. Pope's treatment is correct, that he is healthy, they should allow us consular access and they should allow us medical access, as well, to see him.
Now, on the judicial matter, I do think it's important to say, once again, that we have seen no evidence that Mr. Pope violated any Russian laws. We're both disturbed and concerned that he remains in custody and we do think that they should release Mr. Pope and allow him to return home.
QUESTION: You seem to be implying in the first bit of the thing that you think the Russians are not allowing a doctor in because they're trying to cover up the fact that they have mistreated him? Is that correct? Or is that a conclusion that you --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, on the one hand - no, I'm not drawing a conclusion. I don't think we're making that charge. We do certainly believe his health has deteriorated while he has been in detention. But you can't have your cake and eat it, too. You can't say he's healthy and not let people go in and see him to see that he's healthy. The people who have seen him, including his wife, say his health has deteriorated seriously. And to us, that's where our concerns really are.
QUESTION: Mrs. Pope and her congressman are holding a press conference this evening at JFK in which they - a statement - they say they know more about the charges against him. Do we know more about that, as well, in this building?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't want to try to get ahead of their press conference. It's up to them to say what they have to say. We look forward to hearing what they have to say. We have been in close touch with them. Our Embassy has worked with them in Moscow. But I would repeat what I've said, that we have no evidence that he's violated Russian law.
QUESTION: When you say you've seen no evidence that he's violated Russian law, do you mean to say that you would expect that under normal circumstances at this stage of the proceedings that the Russians would present you with evidence? What exactly --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, what we've seen in the Russian press, in particular, is information from the Russian Federal Security Service that we would describe as allegations, frankly. We have looked at what we've seen -
MR. BOUCHER: No, he has been charged. He hasn't gone to trial. So we've looked at what's out there and we've seen nothing yet that we would say was evidence that he violated Russian laws. We've said also that we're examining the implications of this for other Americans, businesspeople who might travel to Russian, and we are looking at the consular information that we provide.
QUESTION: Have you seen the charge sheet, or whatever, the detailed indictment?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure exactly what we have seen. I think we've looked at all the available information.
QUESTION: Is it normal practice, though, for you to say that you haven't seen any evidence of a violation in such criminal - in cases where Americans are detained abroad. I mean it does, on the face of it, seem like an interference in judicial affairs. Basically you're saying you think he's innocent.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we call them the way we see them, I guess is the only thing I can say. Is it normal practice? I suppose sometimes if we haven't seen the evidence, we say we haven't seen the evidence. If we have, we might shut up. But in this case, we haven't seen any evidence that he violated Russian laws, and that has implications for how we consider our advice to travelers, for example.
QUESTION: Do you know if, in Russian law, an accused or his attorneys is entitled to see some part of the government case before trial? Is there discovery in Russia?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: I don't either.
QUESTION: You have said over the last few weeks that both the Secretary and the President have taken this up with Russian officials at the highest level, even with President Putin. If they are not going to acquiesce and allow the Embassy doctor in or some kind of medical - where do you take it from there? Are you considering any - I don't want to say sanctions, but any kind of appropriate measures against the Russian Government to either force them or --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I sort of have deja vu. I think we had a quite thorough discussion like this about a week ago. We keep pushing it. This is important to us. It remains important to us. His health and welfare remain important to us. So, first of all, I wouldn't expect us to drop it.
Second of all, we do have to examine the implications, as we have said before. If there are conclusions to be drawn from their handling of this case and others, we need to consider what advice we would give to American travelers in that regard.
QUESTION: But on that, Richard, how long does it take, or what is the threshold at which you make that decision? You've been saying all along that we're examining implications, and Skurkovich died and Ed Pope is apparently very sick. How long does it take to examine that?
MR. BOUCHER: It's not how long; it's what are the appropriate conclusions and whether it is necessary to change our advice. I don't think there is a precise time table for that, but it is something that we need to look at closely.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) - I mean, put it into a broader perspective. In the last five weeks, Putin has sent a high-level delegation of officials to Baghdad. I mean, is this just something that at this point the State Department would like to push off on the next administration? Are there any kind of long-term plans on how to deal with our friends in Russia?
MR. BOUCHER: Excuse me?
QUESTION: My question is: Can you put this in a larger context? It seems that --
MR. BOUCHER: I think the larger context is the context that Mr. Pope is in prison and his health is deteriorating and we think he ought to be released. That is what important in this situation.
As far as the larger context of our relations with Russia and what we are able and not able to do with them diplomatically, I wouldn't necessarily attach this to that. But certainly I'm sure you'll get updated on the larger context when the President has his meetings next week - which may or may not have been announced so, if they haven't been announced, then I haven't announced them. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You say you hold Russia responsible for his health. If he dies, how are you going to hold Russia responsible?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to start --
QUESTION: It's not hypothetical. You've said this repeatedly. How do you hold Russia responsible?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sorry, I'm not going to speculate on somebody's death. The point is, right now, not wait until he dies, but right now, they have a responsibility. And that's what I'm saying.
QUESTION: The Japanese have expressed some anger about the decision to boycott these meetings that are going on over the whaling issue, and also the Australians, who are presumably one of your allies in this, have said that they don't think that boycotting meetings is a good way to go about protesting the expansion of the whaling program. I'm wondering if you have any comments on that.
MR. BOUCHER: I think my only comment would be that we thought it was an appropriate response and that it's not appropriate for us to attend those meetings.
QUESTION: So you reject the Australian argument that there are better ways to go about showing your displeasure with something --
MR. BOUCHER: We're not taking on the Australians on this one. We're taking on the Japanese. We don't like their whaling practice. And the international community has made clear in its resolutions that they don't like these whaling practices. And in light of that, we are not attending several meetings that have to do with the environment and science that were to be held in Japan because we just don't think it's appropriate for us to go there.
QUESTION: And the UN has also expressed some frustration with - so your answer is the same as it is to the Australians, for the UN saying that they don't think that boycotting their meeting is going to have any effect?
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, the issue is not the Australians, the issue is not the UN; the issue is Japanese whaling practices and we're expressing our firm opposition. And in light of that, we just don't think it's appropriate to attend these meetings.
QUESTION: But they're going to continue the whaling anyway. Where can you go from here and what sort of options do you have?
MR. BOUCHER: We are considering what further steps might be taken. As you know, there are US laws that deal with our responses with this. And those are being examined as appropriate.
QUESTION: For example, the Pelly Amendment?
MR. BOUCHER: For example, the Pelly Amendment.
QUESTION: Would that only be limited to fish products? Or could it be broadened?
MR. BOUCHER: It's too early to speculate. The question gets considered by the Department of Commerce and they're considering it now.
QUESTION: Can I add one more kind of slightly offbeat question on this? What do you make of the fact that the Commerce Secretary, who is going to be making this decision, is himself of Japanese origin? Anything?
MR. BOUCHER: He is an American. He is the American Secretary of Commerce, end point, said the Spokesman for the American Secretary of State, in case you want to ask another question later on a similar vein.
QUESTION: South America. Do you have any comments or thoughts about the summit in Brazil with South Americans, especially with the fact that still on the table the proposal of Brazil asking the countries of the region, don't participate in Plan Colombia?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've dealt with that quite clearly during the course of the Secretary's trip and your questions afterwards. And I think if you look at what the South American countries are saying and what South American countries are doing, you will see that they support the effort. We have described this as regional effort. The Secretary's trip demonstrated that. The President's trip demonstrated the importance of our efforts in Colombia. The Secretary's trip also demonstrated the importance of the efforts throughout the region. We will be supporting countries in the region, working with countries in the region, to combat what is an Andean drug problem.
QUESTION: Do you see any threat with the Brazilian or the South American countries there, especially when Brazil is trying to build up a union in South America to increase the relationship with Europe instead of the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think we would characterize it that way.
QUESTION: On the trip and South America, Plan Colombia. Was the subject taken up yesterday or any time during Madeleine Albright's trip about Hugo Chavez' remarks, or have they been made since? Can you address Hugo Chavez' remarks that a military escalation in Colombia could spill out into the entire Amazon basin and be like a Vietnam? Is that just off the wall, or what?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I wasn't on the trip and I don't really know exactly what was taken up and what wasn't. I think you'll have to check with the White House on that. As far as analogies, I think the President made quite clear in his remarks in Colombia this is not Vietnam.
QUESTION: So you can not comment about Hugo Chavez' remarks?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. You asked me whether it was taken up on the trip. I don't know. As far as the general subject of whether this is like Vietnam, I think the President made quite clear it's not.
QUESTION: If we can just go back briefly to visa questions in general, I was curious how the US would view a visa request from the Yugoslav prime minister to the UNGA next week. And also, more specifically, can you tell me, does the US have authority to bar requests for a UN venue? How does that work? Or do they just get it no matter who applies because it's UN?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to speculate on any specific possibilities or visa requests from this person, that person, or another. I think we had the issue of visas with the Inter-Parliamentary Union people, people coming to that meeting this week. That organization is headquartered in Geneva. We don't have an obligation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union to issue visas such as we do have to the United Nations, so it is different with regard to people coming to the United Nations. We are obliged to permit entry into the United States of representatives of members.
We have a subsequent agreement with the United Nations which permits us to deny entry to representatives whose presence would be prejudicial to our security. So that's a different standard and quite a high standard. So it is different. We do have a general obligation with regards to the United Nations and the headquarters agreement, and we can only deny them if we can maintain that the presence of the individual would prejudice our security.
QUESTION: Could I try to clear up a little a legal thing? The UN apart, denying visas for the New York meeting, for instance, what is the basis for excluding Yugoslavs? Isn't there a special - I don't know what the special proclamation or whatever might be. Is there something on the books that reinforces the government's ability to screen out people they don't want here?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: What is it called?
MR. BOUCHER: That's my question, too. There is a visa ban on leaders of Serbia, leaders of Yugoslavia, that we impose as part of our sanctions, that the Europeans impose as part of their sanctions. Going back to the exact law that that's founded on --
QUESTION: No, no, no. They are specific to Yugoslavia, yes?
MR. BOUCHER: But, yes, we don't issue visas - as a general matter of course, we don't issue visas to high Yugoslav officials because we think we don't particularly want them to come here.
QUESTION: Well, Richard, does the UN overrides that visa ban or not?
MR. BOUCHER: We have obligations with regards to people coming to the United Nations. So just as we have found with the case this week of some of the people that were coming to the International Parliamentary Union, because we have no special obligation to this organization we get to decide their visas according to our proper law. When it comes to the United Nations, we have a different obligation and so we have to exercise that slightly differently.
QUESTION: My question is very simple. Does your obligation to the United Nations override the ban on visas for Yugoslav leaders?
MR. BOUCHER: It establishes different criteria, and the criteria for the United Nations --
QUESTION: But does it override it?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, it doesn't mean we have to issue every visa to the United Nations.
QUESTION: Then you can only deny --
MR. BOUCHER: The visas for people coming to the United Nations are reviewed under that particular criteria and not under all the other criteria under our law.
QUESTION: It's a separate agreement with the UN?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, part of the --
QUESTION: Which there isn't for non-UN. Can you - you'll probably say quote-camp in the Congress, but apparently no Americans showed up at this Inter-Parliamentarian session. If you tell me to call Capitol Hill, I'll drop it, but was there any US interest, do you think, in hearing 140 or 141 governments or the legislative representatives talk and confer?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the US has apparently not participated in the International Parliamentary Union since 1996. We didn't send an official delegation to this meeting. The US Congress is, in fact, the lead US Government agency with regard to participation and they're not sending an official delegation.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Yugoslavia for a second? Milosevic is apparently saying that he is planning to go to Kosovo and planning to go to Montenegro, as well. And NATO - or someone at NATO in Brussels - is saying that if he sets foot, basically, outside of Serbia - or if he sets foot in Kosovo, he will be arrested. Is that something the US is prepared to go along with?
MR. BOUCHER: I wasn't aware of his travel plans, but he is an indicted war criminal, indicted for war crimes.
QUESTION: So --
MR. BOUCHER: So that would imply that if he can be apprehended, he should be.
QUESTION: Has the United States done anything to tell Hans Blix not to announce that he has a team ready to go to Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: It was kind of funny because I read those stories, then I read the story saying he has announced he has got teams ready to go to Iraq.
MR. BOUCHER: No, no, because we didn't tell him what to say or not to say. There was a meeting last week, the College of Commissioners, that discussed with him obviously the state of his preparations and he discussed with them the state of his preparations. And he discussed how he would describe - they discussed on an advisory basis, you might say - how he would describe the state of preparations. But he's the one that describes it and he describes it accurately.
When the Secretary met with Hans Blix about 10 days ago there were two important elements, let me cite, from the conversation. The first was that the Secretary made quite clear her appreciation for the methodical and systematic way that he was preparing for the inspections. She made it explicit to him that our election or any other timetable should not distort his efforts in that regard and he should continue along the lines that he had set in making the best possible preparations for inspections in Iraq.
Two, he indicated to her what I think he indicated in the report; he is ready to conduct the preparatory work for inspections in Iraq. He made quite clear that what he is waiting is Iraq to accept the resolution, Resolution 1284. If Iraq does that, he's ready to deploy the people that would go in and start determining how to conduct the inspections and where to go and the issues that need to be decided on the ground.
So the issue is: Is Iraq ready to accept the resolution that provides them, as we've said before, the way out of the box? That's the only issue here.
QUESTION: So you don't that story was right?
MR. BOUCHER: Not from anything that I've been able to determine.
QUESTION: Well, apparently, the president of the Security Council after a meeting on Iraq came out and said that the Russians and the United States thought it would be appropriate to kind of dilute the message that he's ready to go because it might provoke Iraq at this time.
MR. BOUCHER: Nobody is looking to provoke Iraq. I don't quite see how saying he's ready to go would provoke Iraq. The fact is Iraq needs to accept the resolution. That's where we are. That's the issue that's out there right now and I think we've characterized accurately our discussions with him, which is get ready, go when you're ready. He's ready to go, but the Iraqis have to accept the resolution.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: What's your understanding of the circumstances under which Mr. Schilling has become a hostage of the Abu Sayyaf Group?
MR. BOUCHER: We have been in touch with Mr. Schilling's family in the United States and what we've learned is that he is a Moslem. He was in the Philippines to pursue his interest in Islam. In addition to expressing their concern to him, his family has conveyed to us the fact that he suffers from some long-term health problems. He does require regular prescription medication. Frankly, we see no advantage to continuing to hold Mr. Schilling, and for humanitarian reasons alone, we think he should be released quickly and safely.
QUESTION: Can you be a little bit more specific about what kind - what do you mean by long-term health problems?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't.
QUESTION: Is he a victim of sectarian strife or difference, which is not unusual in the Muslim world?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't know that that's the issue. He's a Moslem. He went there to pursue --
QUESTION: Well, maybe he's not the right kind of Muslim --
MR. BOUCHER: -- his interest in Islam. And he's being held against his will. He needs medication. We think for humanitarian reasons he should be released.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that even though he may be held against his will, that he actually went to visit the Abu Sayyaf group of his own, voluntarily, and then got caught up in --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we have that kind of detail. But clearly whatever the circumstances, he's no longer there of his free will. And he should be released. He has medical problems.
QUESTION: Are you willing to accept the Libyan help to free him?
MR. BOUCHER: We're not interested in third-party mediation. We're not seeking mediation efforts by third countries, despite misquotes that may have appeared in the newspapers this morning. The Government of the Philippines is in charge of the effort. We are certainly willing to see negotiations by the Government of the Philippines, but I think our policies on concessions and ransom and those sorts of things are well known. We do have close contact with the Philippine authorities. We have some Embassy people and other advisors down in the region to work with the Philippine Government, but the Philippine Government is in the lead in their efforts to secure his release.
QUESTION: There were some reports yesterday by US officials, and now the Philippine officials, that are saying that this may not be a kidnapping situation after all and that - I mean, it sounds a little bit farfetched that this might be like a propaganda tool that he is still there on his own free accord and is not being held against his will.
MR. BOUCHER: I think I have to say our understanding - and I think that means the understanding of the Philippine Government who is working on this as well - is that he is there against his will.
QUESTION: But they do have evidence from eyewitness - apparently, these Philippine officials are saying that they have evidence from eyewitness accounts.
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, our understanding is that he is there against his will.
QUESTION: On Cuba, is the State Department doing any effort to trying to reestablish the semiannual conversations with the Cubans about immigration?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the Secretary issued a statement - was it Monday - about that. We finally got a response from the Cubans yesterday, yesterday evening - 15 pages.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure. It's a diplomatic note that contains the same tired, old rhetoric of victimization that they have used since the '60s. The only change to the criticism of the Cuban Adjustment Act refers to a US law that's been on the books since 1966. We don't negotiate US laws with the Cubans or anybody else.
The Cubans have informed us that they are now prepared to resume these immigration talks, however. They postponed these talks for three months. We are now going to work on a date. We are certainly committed to the migration accords in order to promote safe, legal and orderly migration. We will continue to pressure the Cuban Government to address the issues that we raised in our note and to end the anguish of separated families.
QUESTION: These are going to take place in Havana, I think, right?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we're working on a date. We'll have to see where it happens.
QUESTION: I'm wondering, do they have to address your complaint before - do they have to issue those exit permits, or is that something to talk about when you talk to them?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we think they should issue the exit permits right away. If they haven't done it by the time we meet with them, we'll certainly make this an issue.
QUESTION: Did they agree to the new talks in this 15 pages to say, yes, we're ready? Is that the bottom line?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: And the rest of it was just tired old rhetoric from the '60s?
MR. BOUCHER: From the rhetoric of victimization.
QUESTION: We'll be the judge of that. (Laughter.) The news comes first. They're ready to resume the --
QUESTION: Why do you bring up the tired old rhetoric? It's a bit gratuitous.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I mean, you know, we've got to comment and there's 15 pages. We don't want to just comment on one sentence.
QUESTION: Well, it seems like there was only one sentence that was actually of interest to --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, there was one sentence that said they are now prepared to resume the migration talks, and we'll work on a day.
QUESTION: So basically they wasted the time in concocting 15 pages was just a waste of their time?
MR. BOUCHER: Am I not allowed to use five or six words to respond to 15 pages? Okay. Let me use an adjective. That's right.
QUESTION: Any clarification on the number of people who actually are being held without exit visas or who haven't been given exit visas? I think they said there were something like 50 and we said hundreds.
MR. BOUCHER: We had numbers in our statement the other day. I don't know that there is any reason to reconsider those numbers.
QUESTION: Do you think that - is it your impression that the Secretary's rather blunt language on Monday might have pushed them into resuming the - to restart the talks?
MR. BOUCHER: That's a question you'll have to ask the Cubans, but certainly there is a coincidence.
QUESTION: On Burma again, you said the Secretary made these comments. Why would the Burmese care what she thinks unless you guys are going to do something? And what can you do?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we and other members of the diplomatic community, the international community, have been quite clear. The Secretary has been quite clear. And on occasions in the past, the Burmese Government, the Burmese regime, has taken into account the diplomatic isolation that they suffer from and the views of the international community.
So the Secretary in particular feels very strongly about this. She has had a personal relationship with this issue. If you remember, in Poland she was the one who introduced the Aung Sun Suu Kyi videos and so this is something she cares about quite a bit. There are others as well in the international community that care quite a bit, and we would think that the Burmese regime would have some consideration for their international standing.
QUESTION: What can you do? Is there anything you can do, or just plead that they allow this woman to go?
MR. BOUCHER: Continue to press and encourage others to press as well.
QUESTION: Richard, while people in this building were carefully going through the Cubans' 15 pages last night, there was a meeting going on in New York between some senators and some Iranian lawmakers, which is apparently the first time that there has been such a - I mean, it was informal. I guess it was at a museum. But they discussed - according to the Iranians, they discussed the case of the Jews there.
What do you make of this meeting? Is the beginning of the kind of dialogue of civilizations that you've been pushing for?
MR. BOUCHER: The issue of the meetings we've taken note of, I guess, is about as far as I would say. It's up to the legislative branch to decide on their meetings in this case and they have done so. Really, it's up to the Hill to comment any further. I think we've made our position clear. We don't have an official relationship or dialogue with the Iranians at this point. And we have offered to have one. We want to talk about issues of concern to both sides and I think you're quite aware what those are.
QUESTION: Yes, but do you see this as the beginning? I mean, it just doesn't have to come from the Hill.
MR. BOUCHER: I know. But, no, I'm not drawing big conclusions at this point. There have been contacts - people-to-people contacts and exchanges. This is another kind of exchange. But I think as far as really a policy-related conclusion, that is that we're still looking for the official dialogue.
QUESTION: Well, what about the speaker of the Iranian parliament last night said at this dinner that the parliament is eager to kind of open up relations with the United States? I mean, did the State Department get a readout of this speech? And what do you think of these comments?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, these - I think talking in the context --
QUESTION: I'm not talking about the meeting with the Hill. I'm talking about the Iranian speaker of the parliament saying that they want to open up a relationship with the United States. Is that not significant?
MR. BOUCHER: I think - at least from the reports I saw - he was talking in the context of a legislative relationship. But in any case, in the broader context, we have taken certain steps, as you know, to open up commercial exchanges with the Iranian people. There have been certain informal exchanges, people-to-people exchanges that have taken place. This continue that pattern in terms of legislative contacts. But we would also reiterate the need for an official dialogue to address the issues that are of concern to both of us.
QUESTION: Another topic? Afghanistan. There's an AP article out about two particular subjects regarding bin Laden. The first subject - and I would appreciate any comment you might have on either one of these - the first subject is reported that bin Laden three months ago ordered and sent 400 fighters to Chechnya - fighters and arms to Chechnya. The second matter has to do with the mullah, a Mohammed Omar in Afghanistan, flatly banning bin Laden's operations. Do you got anything for us on either one?
MR. BOUCHER: Those both are new to me so I'll have to check on them to see if there's anything we have to say on them.
QUESTION: Do you have any further readout on Ambassador Sherman's travels?
MR. BOUCHER: I think so.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) - be launching satellites, North Korean satellites, into space?
MR. BOUCHER: Where is she? Where is Wendy? There she is. She's under East Asia because it's about Korea. Okay, sorry.
I want to tell you who she met with. She had good discussions in Moscow. She met with Deputy Foreign Ministers Losyukov and Mamedov. They did discuss a wide range of issues regarding North Korea policy. In the course of those talks they also discussed North Korean leader Kim Jung Il's proposal of trading missile restraint for satellite launches.
Both the US and Russian officials continue to believe it's important to explore this proposal with North Korea. Ambassador Sherman will talk with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts at the trilateral coordination oversight group meeting later this week in Seoul. That's September 1st, tomorrow. We are taking the proposal seriously and we look forward to finding out more for our part through direct discussion with North Korea.
QUESTION: Does that the mean the Russians are also taking it seriously?
MR. BOUCHER: We and the Russians both believe that it's something that needs to be treated seriously and needs to be followed up.
QUESTION: So your understanding now is that this whole joke business is not on, that it wasn't --
MR. BOUCHER: Not in the end. I can't give you final clarification of what the North Koreans have to say at this stage about it. But certainly for our part and for the Russian part, we believe it's something that needs to be pursued seriously.
QUESTION: There was supposedly a letter sent from Pyongyang to President Putin, described by Kim Jung Il, describing it in a bit more detail. Is that something that - what's her title - that Counselor Sherman - did she get any information about that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'll have to check on that.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the new Somali president. And do you think it's a good thing that they got a president. How do you see his prospects?
MR. BOUCHER: It is a good thing that they have a president.
QUESTION: Even if he has no country to rule over?
MR. BOUCHER: The overall process is going on. Let me say we're encouraged by the results of the peace conference that was held in Djibouti and we applaud the efforts of Djibouti President Geulleh. The establishment of a transitional government for Somalia, including the election of the president, are positive developments. The key to success of a newly created Somali Government will depend on whether or not it reflects the will of the Somali people and its ability to govern effectively. In addition, we encourage the leadership elected at the Djibouti conference to reach out to those areas in Somalia, such as Somaliland, which have already done much to reestablish stability, security and representative local administration.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say to the war lords in Mogadishu who refuse to recognize the new president? And does the United States have any plan to get in contact with the new transitional government? Or have you already been in contact with them, perhaps?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll check on contacts. We don't have a formal diplomatic relationships at this point. But we certainly are encouraged by the process. We're following the developments there closely. As far as others, I would simply say that we think these developments are positive. We think Somalia deserves peace and that everybody should cooperate in bringing peace to the country.
QUESTION: Another one. Maybe this has come up and I missed it. Does the United States have a position on attempts to purge the Turkish civil service of so-called Islamists?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware we have taken a position. I'll check.
QUESTION: But I mean, in principle, do you not think it's a violation of their civil rights to purge them from - to deprive them of their livelihoods on the basis of their religious beliefs?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:55 P.M.)