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State Dept. Daily Briefing Transcript August 7th

Transcript: State Department Noon Briefing, August 7, 2001

(Third anniversary of Embassy bombings in East Africa, Embassy security, terrorism, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestinians, Yemen, Egypt, NKorea/Russia, Macedonia, Belarus, Northern Ireland, World Conference Against Racism) (6650)

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher briefed.

Following is the State Department transcript:

(begin transcript)

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING Richard Boucher, Spokesman Washington, DC

August 7, 2001


DEPARTMENT -- Third Anniversary of Embassy Bombings in East Africa -- Embassy Security

TERRORISM -- US Efforts to Combat Terrorism/Sanctions Against Taliban

AFGHANISTAN -- Arrest of Employees From Humanitarian Organization, Shelter Now

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS -- US Policy on Violence and Mitchell Report Recommendations -- Letter from Chairman Arafat and Nabil Sha'ath -- US Contacts with Israeli and Palestinian Officials -- Inflammatory Statements in Region

YEMEN -- USS Cole Investigative Team/Security Situation

EGYPT -- Missile Technology

NORTH KOREA/RUSSIA -- Russian Talks with Kim Jong Il

RUSSIA -- Russian Officials' Meeting at the Pentagon

MACEDONIA -- Political Talks/Police Raid Near Skopje

BELARUS -- Seizures of Foreign Property

NORTHERN IRELAND -- Developments on Disarmament

RACE -- Geneva Meetings on World Conference Against Racism


MR. BOUCHER: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. If I can, I would like to start off today with a brief discussion of the third anniversary of the embassy bombings in East Africa. It has been now more than three years since the August -- it has been exactly three years since the August 1998 bombing of two US embassies in East Africa. More than 200 Americans, Kenyans and Tanzanians died in these bombings, some 5,000 people were injured by these heinous crimes. The families of the victims have suffered tremendously. We will not forget the sacrifice their loved ones made and we remain fully committed to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Indeed, this past year has seen some measure of justice done. The Department of State is pleased at the guilty verdicts on all 302 counts that were reached in the initial trial of suspects in the bombings. The international community, in a firm expression of its continuing fight against terrorism, has through UN Security Council Resolution 1333 further isolated the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan, supporters and protectors of terrorists.

The Department of State is committed to continue working closely with the Department of Justice, the FBI and our friends and allies to track, apprehend and bring to justice all those who are involved in these cowardly acts, including members of the al-Qaida networks that are still at large. We owe it to the victims, to their families and their friends, and to those in the international community who stand with us against terrorism in all its forms.

In terms of the commemoration today at the State Department today, the Secretary and the rest of us observed a moment of silence at 10:38 this morning in honor of the people who were hurt, who died, who served in East Africa and suffered from these bombings. There was a worldwide moment of silence around the world for our friends and colleagues.

In Nairobi, a memorial park was built -- was inaugurated today, August 7. It was built with Kenyan Trust Fund money, and survivors of the attack, including former Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, and close relatives of the Kenyan and American victims attended the park's inauguration in Nairobi today.

So that is the news on commemorating the bombings and remembering those who suffered. And, with that, I would be glad to take your questions on this or other issues.

QUESTION: Can we go forward with this embassy bombing? Does the United States intend to take any further action to apprehend people who you feel were responsible for this in any way in Afghanistan?

MR. BOUCHER: We intend to continue our efforts, along with the rest of the international community, to isolate, to pressure, to seek justice. As you know, the UN resolutions on Afghanistan, on the Taliban, have effectively isolated them in many ways and pressured them to render Usama bin Laden and other terrorists to places where they can be brought to justice. We will continue to pursue that path, along with other members of the international community, and we will continue to pursue the investigative paths as well, working with our agencies that investigate and working also with the international community to identify people who are responsible and try to bring them to justice.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Rocca met with a Taliban official in Islamabad recently. Was there any sign that the Taliban is interested in helping in any way with this bringing to justice of these people?

MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to speak for the Taliban. So it will be up to them to indicate whether there is any sign. Certainly our view has not changed, that they need to do this and we have not seen them do it.

QUESTION: Can you talk about, in the aftermath, for three years later, what it means in terms of our embassy security? How far along are we in terms of updating shatterproof glass, this sort of stuff?

MR. BOUCHER: I probably should have brought dollar figures with me, but I don't have them off the top of my head. I will try to get you some of that. In general terms, we have made a lot of efforts to upgrade security at our embassies. In many places, we have been able to build new embassies, and there is a strong effort under way by the new head of our Foreign Buildings Office to expedite, organize, and make that process smoother, quicker, and more safe and secure for our employees.

Second of all, there have been numerous security upgrades at existing buildings, even where we weren't in a position to find new property and build a new embassy. So there have been a lot of barriers built, traffic patterns changed, windows covered, and various other steps done at embassies throughout the world, including additional guard forces, counter-surveillance forces and things like that in any number of locations around the world.

And third of all, I would have to say, I think security -- the profile, the attention that is given to security in terms of the employees and the way they operate, and the way they are looked at and rated, has been raised over time so that security, we hope, has become part of the work environment, has been part of the patterns that our employees follow around the world.

Certainly we are all very, very conscious of the need to make continuous improvements in security, and we hope that will be possible with the funding and the personnel that we need to do that.

QUESTION: To follow up, do you think that our embassies are less vulnerable to these kinds of attacks now that these kinds of measures have been taken in the aftermath of this horrible tragedy?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it is safe to say -- one can say that they are less vulnerable without saying that they are safe. We all know we are in a dangerous profession. We all know that we face risks around the world. We all know that there are people out there who want to blow us up. We do everything we can, in terms of keeping our people safe, and will continue to do that. But it is never completely safe.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. BOUCHER: No, not specifically.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. BOUCHER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the US -- the Americans arrested in Afghanistan. Have you made any contact with the Taliban in Kabul, or any information in Islamabad?

MR. BOUCHER: At this point, as I think I remember saying yesterday, we talked -- contacted the Taliban in Islamabad. We have not had any information back from them, although we stayed in touch with them. We understand that the 24 Afghan and foreign employees of Shelter Now are in good health, but they still have not been allowed any outside contacts.

Our main concern is the welfare of these Americans that are in custody. We continue our effort to obtain further information. A consular officer in Islamabad has applied to the Taliban for a visa for a possible visit to Kabul later this week in order to have access to these Americans and see to their welfare. We are also in close touch with the German Government and the Australian Government, since their nationals have also been detained.

QUESTION: Richard, how do you know they're in good health?

MR. BOUCHER: Various media reports and things like that that are coming out.

QUESTION: Have you had contact with the Pakistani Government, perhaps with a view to them helping you get some information about the state of the detainees?

MR. BOUCHER: I am sure our embassy in Islamabad is in touch with the Pakistani Government as well. But we all know it is incumbent upon the Taliban to treat these people safely and fairly, and to let us see after their welfare.

QUESTION: Would you care to comment on the charges that are being directed against the Americans and the others in terms of their supposed evangelical activities there?


QUESTION: Has the US been in touch with the families of the young American women?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure I can say that. At this point, we don't have Privacy Act waivers of any kind, so there is not much I can say about the specific people. We are certainly in touch with the organization, but I have to check and see if we can talk about contact with the families or not.

QUESTION: Is the organization being helpful?

MR. BOUCHER: I have not reason to believe that they are not. I mean, yes, of course. It goes without saying, as we say.

Okay, other things? Ben, are you going to change, or are you going to go on with this?

QUESTION: When you say you have been in contact with Shelter Now, you mean the group in Germany, not the group in the United States, right?

MR. BOUCHER: I have to double-check on that, frankly. Yes, I will. I will check. I don't know for sure.

QUESTION: There are UN officials in the country. Have you been in touch with the UN to see if they can facilitate anything?

MR. BOUCHER: I am sure we are in touch with a large variety of people, that this is an important topic for all the foreign community and all the people who are concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. I am sure you can rest assured that we are pulling every lever and pushing every button that we can to try to get information, try to see to the welfare of these people.

But I don't want to detract from the responsibility that the Taliban have for seeing them safe and sound, for letting us look after their welfare, and for letting them depart and return to their families. So, yes, we are in touch with a large variety of people about the situation there.

QUESTION: The Palestinians have made an urgent call, or a call for US -- or for some sort of monitoring. The Israelis have, in a sense, loosened the restrictions on live fire against the Palestinians. And finally, there have been reports that the State Department had urged last week in some meetings, or over the weekend, that more pressure be put on the Israelis, the Israelis be encouraged to move forward somehow or other, either to accept the first day of the cease-fire under the plan -- to move Mitchell forward -- and that subsequently, that the National Security Council said -- basically rejected this idea, and sent it back for more ideas.

Could you in any way --

MR. BOUCHER: There have been a lot of reports about internal debates within the US Government, but I think we pretty much stomped those last week when they appeared. The US Government is obviously looking at different ways that we might proceed, different ways we might help. But we continue to believe very strongly that the responsibility of the parties themselves is to stop the violence and get on to implementation of Mitchell. They need to stop the provocation, stop the incitement, stop the violence that makes it hard to proceed with the implementation of the Mitchell Committee and a return to normal life, and a return to the process of negotiations.

The United States is active, so our senior officials both here and in the region have been in continuing contact with the parties. We have continued to encourage them to reduce the violence, facilitate the implementation of the Mitchell Report as quickly as possible. We think both sides need to recognize that down the path of escalation and retaliation only lies disaster, and we have urged both sides to take immediate steps to restore an atmosphere of restraint and calm. Ultimately, the parties themselves are responsible for making those difficult decisions necessary to implement Mitchell and to end the violence.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary or did he not receive a letter from Yasser Arafat or from Nabil Sha'ath or from any of the Palestinians?

MR. BOUCHER: There are two letters, and I think some people knew about one and some people knew about the other. There are two letters. One letter went from Chairman Arafat to President Bush. The White House has confirmed that. In addition, the Secretary received a letter from Nabil Sha'ath, both on the subject of the continuing violence and both expressing the Palestinian view of the situation.

QUESTION: When did he receive that letter?

MR. BOUCHER: The letter from Nabil Sha'ath, I think, actually got here yesterday or today, although it might have been dated earlier.

QUESTION: Were those letters basically -- was one just a kind of courtesy copy or a version of the other one? What's the relationship between the two?

MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to try to speak for the Palestinians any more than I try to speak for the Taliban. But in some cases, I guess, I would say that you write a shorter letter to the President and a longer letter to the Secretary of State, basically expressing the same views in more detail.

QUESTION: Is that what happened in this case?

MR. BOUCHER: And that would be the case with these, yes.

QUESTION: So the President on the golf course today in Texas seemed to answer not surprisingly, saying that the violence must stop before Mitchell can be implemented. So I don't know if he put those words on paper. What is Mr. Powell doing about his letter? Is he responding and is his message basically that?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we have sent a written response yet. But I think you will find a remarkable similarity between what the President said and what I am saying here, and what we have, in fact, consistently said all along. And that is that the only path to a normal and safe life for Israelis and Palestinians, the only path back to negotiations, is the Mitchell Committee report, Mitchell Committee recommendations. And those recommendations begin with the cessation of violence. And that has been our effort, to try to achieve a cessation of violence, to try to encourage the parties themselves to take the steps, to stop the cycle of violence and to cease the violence so we can get on with implementation of Mitchell.

QUESTION: Richard, did you have any response to the President speaking to Abdallah today on the subject?

MR. BOUCHER: I think that would be for the White House to do. I am not aware of exactly which phone calls he has made.

QUESTION: You talk every once in a while about how, if Mitchell is not implemented sooner or later, that it might become just another piece of paper on the shelf. Is there any thought to that happening any time soon? And if so, are you examining other avenues that perhaps --

MR. BOUCHER: We don't intend to shelve Mitchell and we don't intend to put forth some other option. There is not a "Plan B" waiting to be presented. As we have said before, we still consider that the Mitchell recommendations are the path back to normal life and the path back to negotiations, that that is the path that needs to be followed.

QUESTION: But if the parties aren't willing to implement Mitchell and you don't intend to shelve it, doesn't it just become a meaningless piece of paper then?

MR. BOUCHER: We have made that point in the past, that at some point eventually it does. But that doesn't mean that there is some other way to go scurrying around. If you are going to stop the violence, the way to stop the violence is to stop the violence. And that is where the rest of this all starts. You can't imagine, you can't do the things that are necessary in an atmosphere of continuing violence and escalation.

QUESTION: If you could comment on the change in the Israeli rules of engagement, which came out today. Do you have anything to say about those?

MR. BOUCHER: I am not aware of that. I don't have anything on that at this point.

QUESTION: Another one. To go back to the Mitchell Report, when the Secretary was last in the Middle East, he said that if there was no progress within maybe days or weeks -- and this was many, many weeks ago now -- he said you would have to reconsider what course of action to take.

Does this -- what you say now seems to suggest that you have pretty well abandoned any thought of adopting a new approach, as you said. But why has that been this change?

MR. BOUCHER: Jonathan, I would invite you to go back to what the Secretary said on the airplane on the way back from the Middle East, when he talked about this. He made quite clear what we were discussing before, that we recognize that eventually any report that is not implemented becomes just another piece of paper on the shelf, but that we don't have a second option, we don't have a Plan B, we don't have some other fancy-dancy attempt that is just waiting to be tried as soon as we can declare this one dead.

This is the way to go, this is what the international community agrees upon is the way to go. The international community has repeatedly endorsed implementation of the Mitchell recommendations and continues to urge the parties to stop the violence and get started with the Mitchell Report. That remains our goal. We are not looking for another option at this point.

QUESTION: He said all of that.

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I know. That's what I said he said.

QUESTION: But he also said, if it doesn't work, we are going to have to find some other way.

MR. BOUCHER: And he said, if it doesn't work, we are going to remain involved, but there is no other way waiting to be tried, I think.


QUESTION: He definitely said, within days -- if it doesn't work within days, we will have to look at other ways to do it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) That's right.

QUESTION: All right. He changed his mind.

MR. BOUCHER: No, I won't say he changed his mind; I said the days and weeks are a little longer than we might have said at the time.

QUESTION: Well, the Secretary did talk about a moment of opportunity -- he said a moment of opportunity, and he said that we risk losing that moment of opportunity. Have you lost the moment of opportunity at this point? They are just changing the rules of engagement. Everything deteriorates every day.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know about the change in the rules of engagement, so I am not going to pin anything on that, and let you pin anything on that right now. I would say that there have -- obviously the longer this goes on, the more difficult it gets. Clearly there have been moments when things were much quieter than they are now, and those are the moments when security cooperation, constructive attitudes by the parties would have brought us forward.

I guess the question, is there an alternative? And the answer I am giving you today, and I think the answer we gave before is, no. The only way to get down this road, to get back to the path of normal life, to get back to the path of peace for both the parties is to stop the violence. Since the beginning of the Administration, since before the Mitchell Report came out, the Secretary has described the process of ending the violence, easing the restrictions and the difficulties of daily life and getting back to a peace negotiation. That is the path that is described in the Mitchell recommendations. So to that extent, it is the consistent recommendation, it is the consistent urging of this Administration that we follow that path, and it remains consistent to this day.

The parties need to take the steps to get it started, and we will continue to look for the opportunities, we will continue to look for other moments. But it is within their power to do this, and we think it is still within their power to do this.

QUESTION: Are you reconsidering, at least, the timetable, the seven-week timetable? I mean, if by some miracle there was an --

MR. BOUCHER: Seven days or six weeks?

QUESTION: No, if by some miracle there were two or three days of peace --

MR. BOUCHER: I am just questioning. You said seven weeks.

QUESTION: Right, one plus six.

MR. BOUCHER: Oh, one plus six. One plus six plus two or three?

QUESTION: One plus six --

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, it is a different formula. Keep going. Are we reconsidering the timetables that have been identified?


MR. BOUCHER: I think if you look at the situation, first and foremost we have urged all along that the parties take the steps to establish a period of calm, a period of quiet. Prime Minister Sharon has asked for seven days of quiet. If you remember when we were in Ramallah, Chairman Arafat said he would make a maximum effort to do that. So in that way, that is what the parties have looked for, that is what the parties have committed to. So we are still looking for the parties to take those steps; we are still looking for the parties to create the period of quiet so we can then get the implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations.

QUESTION: On the original question that Ben asked, just to tie this loose end up, is the Secretary preparing a response to the letter from the Palestinian Authority?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if we will write a response or not, whether we will respond orally. We have meetings all the time. Our consul general has meetings out there all the time. Our ambassador has meetings all the time. And so, to some extent, some of the letters get answered orally in terms of our discussions with the parties. But I will have to check and see if there is a written response being prepared for this.

QUESTION: Richard, you say that you want the parties to establish these -- you know, end the violence and move forward. What if the parties are incapable of doing it without somebody from the outside? Not that they are unwilling, but they are incapable; they can't stop it.

MR. BOUCHER: I guess the question that you raise is, without somebody from the outside -- certainly we have been involved with the parties. We have been involved in meetings with the parties in defining the specific steps that should and could be taken. We have tried to encourage the trilateral security cooperation that gets us involved with them in looking at what needs to be done, what can be done, and how to take care of some of the most difficult areas.

So we continue to emphasize that that kind of trilateral coordination is the most important way to end the violence together, and we continue to be committed to working with them to find the opportunities in that cooperation.

So it is not like we are not there; we are there. But in the end, they are the ones that have to stop shooting.

QUESTION: Just a quick one. Just on the off chance, has the Secretary or the Assistant Secretary had any calls from Arab leaders in the last 48 hours, say, on this violence?

MR. BOUCHER: I haven't checked with Ambassador Burns. I don't think so, but I know the Secretary hasn't gotten any calls in the last day or two.

QUESTION: Change the topic. Do you have anything on Yemen, on the FBI investigators, perhaps, who --

MR. BOUCHER: We have an interagency assessment team that has gone back to Yemen to look at the situation there, to look at the security situation and the status of the investigation, to evaluate the logistical and the administrative requirements, which will need to be met in order to return a full investigative team to Yemen.

The Department is working with the FBI to assess the conditions and the necessity of the returning of a full investigative team to Yemen, and this preliminary assessment team is out there. They are composed of members of the FBI, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Department's Office of Diplomatic Security, and the Department's Office of Counter-Terrorism.

So they are out there now assessing the situation, and we will keep you informed if they decide to return to a full investigation on-site.

QUESTION: Does that mean that the terrorist threat, or the perceived threat of terrorism has somehow lessened?

MR. BOUCHER: I would remind you that we still have the Worldwide Cautions, the Regional Cautions, quite a number of different indicators, the possibility of terrorists attack in this region. They remain in place, and they remain serious.

What I would say is, though, that we can go into these situations with the proper security, look at the investigative situation, look at the security situation, and find ways to accommodate ourselves so that we can work in as safe and secure conditions as possible.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, that has sort of been the State Department's position all along, and especially the Embassy's position, but the FBI was so concerned that they obviously evacuated their agents out of concern; now they are sending some of these folks back.

Has there been any kind of change in terms of why that analysis or calculation from the FBI, that they are sending people back there?

MR. BOUCHER: I would point out that some steps have been taken in Yemen. We have certainly taken steps ourselves to better protect our own people by sending additional personnel from Diplomatic Security in and taking other steps to maintain and improve the security of our people who are working there. I think you are also quite aware that the Yemeni Government arrested some potential terrorists a while back.

So there have been steps that were taken, but I think at this point, our goal is to work with the FBI and the others who need to conduct this investigation to look at how it needs to be conducted in the future, and how it can be conducted in safety. And so that is what the assessment team is out there to look at.

QUESTION: The last warning issued by the State Department was more alarming than usual, and they are usually very alarming. It was weeks and weeks ago, and it said an attack in the area -- not Yemen, particularly -- attack in the Middle East area may be imminent. Clearly, there was no attack imminently after that warning, so there must be either a miscalculation or some easing of tensions.

MR. BOUCHER: I think if you look at the one -- well, if you look at the one we issued Friday, it had the same language, "a possibility of an imminent attack." So the threat has not receded.

QUESTION: Can you tell us when this assessment team arrived, and how long they plan to stay in Yemen?

MR. BOUCHER: They got there not too long ago, and they will stay until they are finished their work. (Laughter.) That's on the record from a guy who didn't check the details.

I will have to double-check. I think it was late last week when they arrived.

QUESTION: Do you want to tell us anything about what Mr. Kurtzer might have told Mr. Sharon that we don't know already? Because the --


QUESTION: The golf course photo opportunity spoke of Kurtzer seeing Sharon.

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. I think, as I described it to you earlier, our officials, senior officials here and in the region, have been in touch with the Israelis. Ambassador Kurtzer has met with Prime Minister Sharon. Our Consul General Ron Schlicher has met with Chairman Arafat, I believe, and we have continued to stay in touch with others on both sides.

The basic message is the one that I gave here, that the parties need to take steps to stop the violence, and we are looking to them to cease the violence and get on with the implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations.

QUESTION: There's a report from clearly a very pro-Israel group of a sermon delivered last Friday in a mosque in Gaza, that the report says was put on -- was broadcast by the Palestinian Authority. It goes on and on, urging people to put bullets in the heads of Israeli soldiers.

Does the US have occasion to monitor the sermons, and does it include provocative -- if the report is accurate -- does it include provocative sermons in its message to Yasser Arafat and his people?

MR. BOUCHER: Barry, we follow the situation in the region. I am not sure we listen to every sermon that is given out there.

QUESTION: Well, Friday was a good day to do it. They are usually weeknights -- (laughter). You don't have to listen every day; you could listen once a week.

MR. BOUCHER: My turn?

QUESTION: Sure. Especially if they are broadcast.

MR. BOUCHER: My turn? As I was starting to say before I was interrupted --

QUESTION: Rudely interrupted.

MR. BOUCHER: Rudely interrupted. We do not necessarily monitor every statement that is made out there. There's sermons, statements, inflammatory comments by people on both sides. The parties tend to often raise these to our attention. We have been very consistent with both of the parties, with people on both sides of the divide to say that this kind of inflammatory rhetoric does not lead anywhere; it only enhances the violence, and we have made that quite clear all along.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on this, I mean, the inflammatory statements in this one particular sermon -- it seems to be in some ways part of a pattern. There have been Israeli news reports of schools and summer camps in the Palestinian Authority that have continued this. Former Special Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross has talked specifically, and singled out Palestinian institutions that have specifically encouraged violence and kind of hatred on the Palestinian side, and not as much on the Israeli side. Are you -- and why -- I'm just curious about the even-handedness, sort of saying both sides are making inflammatory statements. It seems that at least, if you add it up, there be more of those kinds of statements and these kinds of things on the Palestinian side.


QUESTION: Well, there -- you can find statements on both sides, but you can find them more frequently -- I mean, I can't give you a number.

MR. BOUCHER: Let's put it this way, Eli. We have made clear to both sides that incitement and inflammatory comments do not help the situation and need to be avoided. We have made specifically clear to the Palestinian side that we were looking to them to tone down the rhetoric, that we were looking to them to avoid some of the statements and comments that they in particular were making.

QUESTION: Can I ask if you have anything more that you can say about the contacts with Egypt about missile technology?

MR. BOUCHER: All I can tell you is that we have a close strategic relationship with Egypt, and we regularly discuss a wide range of security issues, including nonproliferation. And that is where I have to stop.

QUESTION: Can you comment specifically on The Jerusalem Post saying that a new framework is being created to have this conversation?


QUESTION: Speaking of North Korea, have you guys gotten briefed by the Russians on the meetings with Kim Jong Il?

MR. BOUCHER: Speaking of North Korea? I thought we talked about Egypt. (Laughter.)

No, we don't have any detailed readout from the Russians yet of the conversations in Moscow. And obviously, it would be for the Russians or the North Koreans to provide it to you, not for me to transmit it to you.

QUESTION: Speaking of Russia, does the State Department have any presence at these talks that open today between the US and Russia at the Pentagon?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. That's about all there is to say. Members of John Bolton's staff are participating in the talks. It will be up to the Pentagon to give any information, if there is any.

QUESTION: What message is the State Department taking into these talks? Arms control, strategic --

MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to try to brief over here on something that is going on in the Pentagon in preparation for the Secretary of Defense's trip to Russia, which I think is next week. So we will leave it to them to brief.

QUESTION: Speaking of Rumsfeld, the Pentagon -- (laughter) -- speaking of Mesopotamia -- the Pentagon says that Rumsfeld is dropping in on the talks; Bolton is his traveling mate. Do you happen to know if Mr. Bolton will drop in today or tomorrow as well?

MR. BOUCHER: I am not aware of any particular plans by him to do so, although I am sure he is available, should Mr. Secretary Rumsfeld need him for anything in advance or during the trip.

QUESTION: Speaking of talks, do you have any -- what's the latest you have heard from Skopje -- not from Skopje -- from Ohrid on -- from Mr. Pardew on progress in the Macedonian talks?

MR. BOUCHER: The basic framework, I think, is the same as yesterday, that the talks are continuing, that they have achieved some significant progress and achieved some compromises with the help of the European negotiator and with Ambassador Pardew. We are continuing to work with the parties and to urge the parties to come to a closure as rapidly as possible. But at this point we are not able to make any predictions on when they might be able to do that.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the killing of five, I think, Albanians, I believe, by Macedonian forces?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, this was in connection, we understand, with the Macedonian police seizing a large weapons cache during a raid in the suburbs of Skopje, and the police, according to reports, killed five suspected National Liberation Army members and captured another five in the raid. I would say that overall the cease-fire is generally holding, and there have been incidents. There were some exchanges of fire last night around Neprosteno -- that is northwest of Tetovo -- and that then led to heavy shelling.

So we are watching this situation closely. We are monitoring compliance with the cease-fire, but generally the cease-fire has been holding, and we have been urging the parties to exercise restraint and avoid provocations and respect the cease-fire.

QUESTION: On the same subject, do you have confirmation from the Ukraine that they have decided to stop selling weapons to the Macedonians? And can you comment on what impact such a decision might have on the situation on the ground there?

MR. BOUCHER: Let me double-check on that and see what I can say.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) anything on Belarus, as a propos US accusations of theft of property? Of course, there have been other death squad reports. Has there been any hopeful turn in the government's behavior?

MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen anything new since our statement the other day.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) commented on the disarmament developments in Northern Ireland yesterday. David Tremble has said he rejects the IRA's statement. Do you have anything on that?

MR. BOUCHER: As I said yesterday, we welcome the statement that was made and the reports that the Irish Republican Army proposal would lead to putting arms beyond use in a way that meets the commission's remit. We do see this as an important development, and a step towards the Good Friday agreement's agreed goal of achieving the total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations.

So we look forward to the continuing progress on this issue, and we again, as we did yesterday, urge all parties to consider the commission's statement carefully as they prepare to respond to the proposals put forward by the British and Irish Governments late last week.

QUESTION: The crackdown on media in Azerbaijan again, and the TV station was shut down, and two journalists seeking political asylum in the United States, they are here in the United States, and editors of the newspaper also were arrested. And my question is, is the United States doing anything about this situation? Is it talking to the Government of Azerbaijan about this issue?

MR. BOUCHER: I will have to check on that and see.

QUESTION: And one more on Azerbaijan. The wires commentaries, they were on the press that the US reaction to what happened in Caspian, to Iranian actions was slow and not very persuasive. And the question is, aren't you afraid that the weak response will encourage Iran to engage in more such aggressive activity?

MR. BOUCHER: I will check on that one as well for you.

QUESTION: The American delegation must be on site now in Geneva, but the rhetoric is unchanged from last week -- the anti-Israeli rhetoric. And we know, of course, the Secretary would like to go, but doesn't like this type of language.

Is there any -- do you see any chance that a statement will be drafted that is acceptable, or is it just going to be "gang-up-on-Israel"? (Laughter.) Which wouldn't be unprecedented.

MR. BOUCHER: As you know, we have had a team out there since last week when these talks started, and we have had, I think, a very strong team out there. Discussions are continuing and indeed, there are two particular concerns. One is inflammatory language on the Middle East, particularly about Israel; and the second is the issue of reparations. Both of those issues remain in play. We are working very hard on them. Our delegation is out there, but I don't have at this point any way of predicting how they will come out. There are still a few more days of discussions in Geneva, and our delegation will work very hard on these issues, which the Secretary himself has said could derail the conference.

And then we will decide on our participation after we see how these things come out in the preparatory meetings.

Thank you.

(end State Department transcript)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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