State Dept. Daily Press Briefing August 21, 2001
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Daily Press Briefing Index Tuesday, August 21, 2001
BRIEFER: Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman
MACEDONIA 1-2 Destruction of Orthodox Monastery/ Task Force Essential Harvest /NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson's Recommendation/ Peace Deal
ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY 2-4 Possible Talks Sponsored by Germany/ Conversations Between Secretary Powell and FM Fischer 5-6 Mitchell Committee Recommendations/ Encouraging Contacts Between the Parties/ Secretary Powell's Phone Calls with Leaders in the Region 6 Two Americans Injured by Gunfire 6-7 US Government's Opposition to Policy and Practice of Targeted Killings 16 Possibility of Another Middle East International Conference
RWANDA 7-8 Documents Released by National Security Archive/ Lessons Learned from Tragic Events in Rwanda/ Annual Review of Human Rights Violations/ Work on War Crimes Initiatives CHINA 8-9 Missile Expert Talks in Beijing/ Implementation of November 2000 Arrangement 13 Compensation for Recovery of the EP-3 Plane/ Military Exercises
AFGHANISTAN 9-11 Detained Foreign Aid Workers/ International Committee for the Red Cross/ Consular Access
SUDAN 11-12 UNSC Sanctions/ Unilateral Sanctions Maintained by US Against Sudan/ Peace Process
YEMEN 12 USS Cole Investigation/ Level of Cooperation from Authorities in Yemen/ Assessment Team
NONPROLIFERATION 13-15 Plutonium Disposition Program/ Consultation with Congress
SRI LANKA 17-18 Activities of Tamil Guerrillas/ Protecting India/ Welcoming Efforts of Norway
SOUTH AFRICA 12-13,15 UN Racism Conference/ South African Muslims' Protests
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB # 120
TUESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2001 1:15 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. REEKER: Welcome back, everybody, to the State Department this fine Tuesday afternoon. I just want to take a quick moment to welcome to our briefing room a group of print journalists from Indonesia who are here as part of the State Department's International Visitor Program to study print journalism in the United States. So we are very pleased to have them with us and that they can join us for this invigorating session that we conduct each afternoon here at the State Department.
With that, I don't have any other formal announcements. I am happy to go straight to questions. Barry.
QUESTION: A little violence in Macedonia, maybe more than a little. Ethnic Albanians firing on a church. Is the State Department confident that the cease-fire or that the peace deal, as it's called, will hold?
MR. REEKER: Let me first say that we deplore categorically last night's destruction of the Orthodox monastery at Lesok and condemn all acts of destruction of cultural and religious sites. The perpetrators of this disgraceful act should be ashamed of themselves. This is an ancient monastery. There is no place in this world for this type of destruction.
We have received, as you indicated, Barry, some reports of limited exchanges of fire in some areas, as we discussed yesterday. Again, we would reiterate that the sides should cease security operations and comply fully with their cease-fire agreement.
As you know, NATO Supreme Commander in Europe, General Ralston, reported today to the North Atlantic Council on the security situation in Macedonia and, based on his assessment, the NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson has made a recommendation for consideration by the Alliance, believing the conditions permit deployment of Task Force Harvest.
And as we have discussed previously, NATO now will go through its normal process where the 19 allies will consult, obviously, with their capitals and will not authorize Essential Harvest until all the allies have decided that all the preconditions for deployment have been met. So that process continues. A cease-fire is in place and the allies are going to review the Secretary General's recommendation.
Other questions on Macedonia?
QUESTION: Yes. So what are you going to say?
MR. REEKER: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: What are you going to say? Are you going to oppose it, or do you agree with the Secretary General's recommendation?
MR. REEKER: I'll leave that for our NATO mission to be in touch, obviously, with Washington and make determinations. I don't have anything for you to announce now. We will announce --
QUESTION: Well, the decision is made here, not there, right?
MR. REEKER: We will inform, after we have discussed with our NATO mission and what they bring back to us from the Secretary General's briefing, and from General Ralston's briefing, and make the appropriate decisions at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: But on the violence, this violence does not shake the confidence on the peace deal? Is it considered --
MR. REEKER: Well, this violence that you refer to, this destruction of an Orthodox monastery, as I said, is a disgraceful act. It is something we deplore. It has no place in Macedonia, or anyplace else. And so, obviously, I think it is the type of act that all the people in Macedonia should reflect upon and realize that that is not the type of thing that their cultures have promoted over these many years, and that type of thing has to stop.
They have a plan, a political agreement by which they can move forward out of this crisis and move into a more positive framework, to move ahead for better prosperity and better conditions for all the people in Macedonia. And NATO is considering the role that they can play in terms of disarming the, I think, Albanian extremists, and we have discussed the preconditions for that and how we will let the events move forward.
Anything else on Macedonia?
QUESTION: Moving on to the Middle East. A question concerning upcoming possible talks that will be sponsored by Germany. It was announced this morning that Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres may meet next week in Berlin. Now, they are not quite certain whether those talks will be held in Germany, but from Sunday in the news reports, it appeared that Shimon Peres, acting as Foreign Minister of Israel, as a member of the Labor Party, is acting more in a dovish capacity as opposed to a hawkish capacity.
What is the State Department's reaction to those talks, and will you be taking part in any shape or form?
MR. REEKER: As we have said many times before, we support direct contacts between the parties and will support both sides in any efforts they want to make as much as possible. We have tried to facilitate security discussions before. We have talked about that at length. We have put into place structures under the basis of the Tenet work plan to facilitate that. The systems and methodologies that work well for the parties are what they need to develop, and we will support that.
And so I don't have anything to announce for you. That would be for the parties, obviously. We have seen various reports. The Germans, of course, are trusted friends and close NATO allies, and we welcome their constructive efforts with the parties, as we have done before.
In fact, Secretary of State Powell was on the phone just moments ago with Foreign Minister Fischer. As we do always in these situations, we share information. The European Union and individual members like Germany or Spain or the Norwegians, the Russians, have all been important partners in pursuing the peace process, as well as countries like Egypt and Jordan in the region. So we welcome that. And if the two parties can find a way to move forward and have the type of contacts to get the violence down so that we can move forward in the Mitchell Committee recommendations, we certainly would applaud them.
QUESTION: Any more details on that phone call?
MR. REEKER: I can't. It was ongoing as I was coming out.
QUESTION: But does the US -- you're quite clear on the US position. Is there any question, then, that the US endorses -- it came as a surprise, apparently, to Mr. Fischer, but I guess it has sunk in by now that there is the possibility of talks in Berlin. The US endorses the holding of talks between Israel and the Palestinians in Berlin, right?
MR. REEKER: We support direct contacts between the parties. I just don't have any specific answers on Berlin or anything else at this point. What the parties can do together, as I said, to establish specific methodology or a system for dealing with the issues they have to deal with together, we certainly support.
QUESTION: Well, then let me -- I hear you. A related question is: Is it correct, then, that the US feels it has no monopoly on mediation efforts? It used to be said only the US. Mr. Fischer runs a close second, I might say, but only the US is trusted by both sides and therefore it's ideally suited to be the interlocutor. Germany could be the interlocutor, at least for now?
MR. REEKER: Why don't I go back to what I just said, Barry, and that was that the Germans, in this case, since that was raised and since Foreign Minister Fischer is there in the region and since the Secretary has been speaking with him -- they're trusted friends, close allies, and we welcome their constructive efforts, just as we welcome the constructive efforts of the European Union and individual member-states like Germany, countries like Norway, Russia. We've discussed that from here many times. All the contributions of the international community.
Everyone in the international community has supported the Mitchell Committee Report and its recommendations, as have the two parties. And so as we have been saying now for some time, we think the parties need to take these steps necessary to work the security track, to get the violence down, so that they can move into Mitchell, which establishes a path forward. It gives them a road map to move away from the path of despair and destruction that they have been on.
QUESTION: The Secretary is on vacation; is that right?
MR. REEKER: Yes.
QUESTION: Can I ask two or three questions about this? One, prior to Foreign Minister Fischer going out there, I believe you mentioned that Secretary Powell had spoken with him as well. Is this kind of a bringing together of the two sides on German soil? Was that discussed in that conversation?
And if you could -- I realize you don't have details of the conversation, but if you could find out later on if this conversation between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Fischer happened after this second meeting between Fischer and Chairman Arafat.
MR. REEKER: The conversation with the Secretary and Foreign Minister Fischer was going on minutes ago. I don't know the schedule of Foreign Minister Fischer's meetings with Chairman Arafat, so I would let you check the wires as to how that proceeded.
QUESTION: Yeah, but, Phil, we are the wires here.
MR. REEKER: Right.
QUESTION: We don't know if it was -- there were two meetings. There was one meeting with Foreign Minister Fischer and Chairman Arafat this morning? There was a break, and then there was an unexpected second meeting between the two of them.
MR. REEKER: So if they had that meeting, and then at a little after one o'clock the call began with the Secretary, that's as much information as I can give you. Okay?
In terms of earlier calls, I think we did talk about last week that the Secretary had spoken with German Foreign Minister Fischer on the 14th. He speaks with him quite regularly, as a close ally and colleague. I don't have details of those calls to share with you in terms of anything that was discussed in particular, except our joint goal, as with others in the international community, to do whatever we can to help move the process forward.
QUESTION: Right. Is it fair to say that the United States is encouraging other people, like the Germans, to take a more active role?
MR. REEKER: I think what I said, yes, was clear, what the President said last week also, said that everybody in the international community needs to promote this idea, needs to carry the message to the parties. And that is what we have done publicly. It is what we have done privately. And I think it is what you are seeing other countries are doing as well. The international community is quite united in its agreement that the Mitchell Committee recommendations provide the way forward.
QUESTION: This does raise an inevitable question. If it is possible to persuade the two parties to meet, and if you welcome the Germans' apparent success in persuading them to meet, why doesn't the United States, or why hasn't the United States, done the same, given that it has even greater weight with both parties than Germany?
MR. REEKER: We have continued, Jonathan, to facilitate meetings at the security level, to offer our assistance, to support both sides as much as possible in whatever contacts they can work out. Whatever system -- or as I said, methodology -- that works for the two sides, we will support.
So we continue to stand ready to do this. We continue to have regular contacts with both sides. And that is where we will continue. Our senior officials, as we have discussed, both here in Washington and in the field, maintain daily contacts with both sides, and our message has been very much consistent in saying that the violence has got to get down, we are troubled by the violence that occurs every day, and that both sides need to take the steps necessary to get that violence down so that they can then move into the steps outlined by Mitchell.
QUESTION: Phil, if you had this offer to facilitate these meetings, a standing offer that you have repeated here every day, and now the two sides apparently are taking the Germans up on their new offer, isn't that a rebuff for the US at this point?
MR. REEKER: No, I think we all continue to work on this and do whatever we can to help the two sides come to arrangements that they can make. They have had meetings under the security rubric, under the Tenet work plan. We continue to encourage whatever contacts they can have between the two parties that will help move the situation along. That is what is necessary.
It is up to the parties to take these steps. We will continue to be very much involved and engaged. We welcome the constructive efforts of others in the international community so that we can move forward in the plans that have been set forward to move beyond this.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject?
QUESTION: No, hold on. Can I ask one more thing? Just if you can't answer it, just say you can't answer it. But doesn't -- surely this makes it appear that it takes the personal involvement of someone at the foreign minister level to bring the two sides together. Does it not?
MR. REEKER: That's up to the two sides to decide. And at our foreign minister level we have had a lot of personal involvement from the Secretary of State, who has told you himself about the involvement he has had. Some of you have traveled with him when he has visited the region and had discussions and had meetings directly with the leaders on both sides, Palestinians and Israelis; meetings he has had with other leaders in the region, and with others in the international community; the phone calls that we described for you that he has made. And that is the type of activity that the Secretary will continue to have, that other senior officials will continue to have, because we are very much engaged in this process.
QUESTION: Has he had any other phone calls in the last few days with leaders in the region?
MR. REEKER: He has spoken to the Italian Foreign Minister yesterday, and I think we already had talked about his speaking with Israeli Foreign Minister Peres on the 18th, which was Saturday
QUESTION: The Italian on the Middle East?
MR. REEKER: I don't know the full scale of the things they talked about.
QUESTION: Well, was it one of the things they talked about?
MR. REEKER: Among other things. I don't know, Barry. I don't have a readout of the call.
QUESTION: All right, so it wasn't necessarily related to what is going on.
MR. REEKER: No, I was just asked about phone calls.
QUESTION: Is there anything more to say on the two Americans that were hurt yesterday? I understand they have both been released from the hospital by now.
MR. REEKER: I don't believe I have really much more to say, obviously because we have no Privacy Act waivers allowing us to discuss their situations with the media, other than to say that those two Americans, who had been injured by gunfire over the weekend, are both recovering well.
Elise, who wants to change the subject. Unanimity? We work on consensus here. It's kind of like NATO.
QUESTION: Ambassador Walker -- former Ambassador Walker -- believes, according to the op ed at least in The Post, that Israel at least has a kind of an understanding that the Administration is sympathetic, or understanding of its targeting terrorists or suspected terrorists for assassination.
Is there any reason you know of -- we're asking the same question at the White House -- is there any reason you know of that Israel would have such an understanding?
MR. REEKER: No, Barry, and as you know, we have long made very clear - - we have made known the US Government's opposition to the policy and practice of targeted killings, and we are going to continue to urge the Israelis to desist from this policy.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: But you do understand why the question was asked? There was --
MR. REEKER: Sure. I didn't quibble with the question.
QUESTION: There was an article in the paper.
MR. REEKER: Former officials are free to write whatever they want.
QUESTION: I just wanted to make sure that Phil understood because there are other people that are raising this -- other people, people who have vast experience in this region -- who, even under this Administration, up until a couple months ago, who appear to be a little confused.
MR. REEKER: Well, then let me be very clear.
QUESTION: No, you were. I just wanted to make sure you were not denigrating Barry's question.
QUESTION: No, he wasn't. It was a clear answer.
MR. REEKER: Thank you, Barry. Thank you, Matt.
QUESTION: The one before that, I don't know.
MR. REEKER: I keep saying we ought to be able to switch to the videotape and replay. Okay, now Elise wants to change the subject, and we are going to allow that to happen.
QUESTION: This is about the documents released by the NSA on Rwanda.
MR. REEKER: The NSA, the National Security Agency?
MR. REEKER: Archives.
QUESTION: About whether, or whether or not, the US was witnessing a genocide in 1994.
MR. REEKER: History, okay.
QUESTION: And my question would be: Did the State Department realize that it was witnessing a genocide underway in 1994, and what steps did they take to --
MR. REEKER: I think all of this was stuff that we pretty much have covered, going back a number of years, and I delved into it to try to refresh my memory because we had seen the media reports concerning the National Security Archive regarding an article in a monthly magazine.
We continue to believe that it is important that the international community seek to learn lessons from the events in Rwanda in 1994. And I think we could go chapter and verse in terms of US Government policy preceding that period. There was a civil war that had broken out in Rwanda and we provided assistance in 1993 to support talks, to help the Organization for African Unity field cease-fire monitors, as stipulated under the Arusha Agreement.
So I can only refer you back to all of the things we have talked about in the past in terms of the tragedy that took place there. In the midst of this massive tragedy, our first response was to try and sort through the chaos and confusion, to protect American citizens. And as officials have said before in the previous administration, we fully recognize that what engulfed Rwanda at that time was, in fact, as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has since determined, was genocide. And I think I can refer you back to statements made by President Clinton back in 1998. The Press Office will be happy to try to help you locate some of those, or you can go to Internet archives on those.
But obviously we cannot change the past. What we can do, and do everything in our power, is to build for a better future. And so as I said at the beginning, we continue to want to look to 1994 and the tragic events in Rwanda and learn lessons from those. But again, I would just refer you to the things we have covered on this subject in the past.
QUESTION: So can I just ask: What lessons have you learned? Have you learned to speak up earlier if you see something as what you think to be a genocide, to call it such?
MR. REEKER: I think we are probably the most active nation on the planet in terms of identifying not just genocide or prospective genocide, but in talking about human rights violations, calling it as we see it in terms of our annual review of human rights in all countries around the world, in terms of our active participation in international fora, in terms of our work on war crimes initiatives and support for, for instance, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
And we will continue to do that because we think it is something that Americans value is our speaking out on these issues, and that is what we will continue to do.
QUESTION: It is already Wednesday in Beijing, and that means the nonproliferation talks are due to start shortly between the United States and China. Can you give us more than you gave us last week on what ground will be covered?
MR. REEKER: I don't have a lot to add to it, George. The US and China will hold missile experts talks -- that is, talks between and among experts on missiles issues -- beginning on Thursday, the 23rd of August, in Beijing to discuss missile nonproliferation issues. And that includes implementation of the November 2000 arrangement where China committed to not assist any country in any way in developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and to put in place comprehensive missile-related export controls.
So that is the basis of those talks. As you know, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Vann van Diepen is leading the delegation. He has members of his delegation from the Departments of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Commerce Department; obviously, from the State Department, the Nonproliferation Bureau and folks from the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. And so they will have those talks Thursday and we'll see if we have anything to report back after that takes place.
QUESTION: Is it one day only?
MR. REEKER: At this point, they are having the talks on Thursday, and I just don't know their schedule. But I know that is what they have scheduled for now.
QUESTION: You are still describing the Chinese performance as mixed, without elaborating on that; is that right?
MR. REEKER: Yes, I think I don't have anything particular to add at this point, as they begin to have those talks, as we just discussed. As you know, and as I just outlined, in November of 2000, the Chinese agreed to a particular arrangement involving missile-related export controls and commitments to not assist any countries in developing a nuclear-capable ballistic missile; and, in exchange, the United States waived missile sanctions against Chinese entities for their past cooperation with Iran and Pakistan.
And that was action that was taken because of those November 21st commitments. So that will form the basis for our discussions then in Beijing, beginning Thursday.
QUESTION: Do you know if the talks are limited to compliance with that particular arrangement?
MR. REEKER: I don't, George. I just don't have any other details on those talks.
QUESTION: Can I slide a little bit -- well, a lot -- to the left? There are some indications that the Taliban may be willing to let the International Committee for the Red Cross, or representatives of the ICRC, in to see the detainees. I realize that it is no substitute for your Consul being granted consular access, but is this something that you would be pleased to see?
MR. REEKER: Well, I think I can start off by saying that the United States and the International Committee for the Red Cross and other humanitarian assistance and international agencies have an active interest in the well-being of humanitarian assistance programs and workers in those programs in Afghanistan. So we welcome any initiative that brings about the release of the detainees.
I am not aware of any particular initiatives at this point. And just to recap where we stand, our consular officer, as well as the consular officers from Australia and Germany, returned yesterday to Islamabad -- actually, I guess it would be this morning, their time -- without gaining access to the foreign aid workers, including American citizens, who are being detained by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The consular officer -- and I am speaking for the American, but I think also for the German and Australian colleagues -- plan on maintaining contact with the Taliban's representatives in Islamabad, reiterating and reinitiating as necessary the request for visas to return to Afghanistan and press for information about the health and condition of the detainees. This, of course, in and of itself is insufficient. We continue to insist upon consular access, being able to see our citizens and verify their well-being and their condition and treatment.
As we said earlier in the week, while they were in Kabul, the consuls were able to hand over letters, toiletries, items of food to Taliban officials to pass on to the detainees. And since his return to Islamabad, our Consul, Mr. Donahue, has been able to confirm to us that the consular officers received a receipt signed by the foreign aid detainees to show that they had received those items, the first communication that we have had from the detainees.
However, the detainees have not been permitted to write to their families. So in Islamabad we are continuing our work, consulting with the Germans, with the Australians, and obviously, as I indicated, talking to the Taliban there. And we remain in contact with the families of the American detainees.
QUESTION: Phil, you said at the beginning that you welcome any initiative that brings about the release of the detainees. My question is: What if it stops short of that? What if it's just to go in and make sure they are -- you know, have an independent party, like the ICRC --
MR. REEKER: Every initiative in a positive direction we would welcome, Matt. What we want to see is the detainees --
QUESTION: Just Phil, come on -- you like to be very specific, and if it's anything, then that's great.
MR. REEKER: I'm just not aware of anything, is what I was trying to indicate to you.
QUESTION: Correct me if I'm wrong, but in earlier statements you have called for consular access, which you just repeated. But by saying we welcome any initiative that brings about the release of the detainees, isn't this the first time that you have actually used --
MR. REEKER: No, in fact, it's not.
QUESTION: It isn't? Okay.
MR. REEKER: If you want to go back and check.
QUESTION: Does that mean that you believe they are innocent of the charges?
MR. REEKER: We would obviously like to see them released. We would always like to see them released. We would like to see them first. See them, have access to them. That is our overriding goal.
So if we are done parsing that one, is there anything?
MR. REEKER: Sudan. What can I say about Sudan?
QUESTION: Possible action at the UN coming up? Any initiatives with Congress that you might be looking for them to take when they return from recess?
MR. REEKER: I think everybody is aware that the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Sudan in 1996 which called upon the Sudanese to extradite the suspects in the 1995 attack on President Mubarak of Egypt and also called upon the Sudanese to cease providing support and safe haven for terrorists. Those UN sanctions require member-states to restrict the size of Sudanese diplomatic missions in their countries and the travel of Sudanese officials through their territory. International and regional organizations are also called upon by the UN Security Council action to refrain from holding conferences in Sudan.
Those remain in effect at this time. Put on in 1996 by the UN Security Council, they remain in effect. We do understand that the Government of Sudan may again seek lifting of those sanctions in September at the United Nations. But obviously, at this point, since that would be an initiative of the Government of Sudan, it would be premature to comment on any Council vote on that, which at this point remains simply hypothetical.
Because there is some confusion on that issue, I would also just like to mention that the United States maintains certain unilateral sanctions against Sudan. Pursuant to the Sudanese sanctions regulations that we have, there are certain restrictions that have been imposed: among other things, most goods or services of Sudanese origin may not be imported into the US without a license; most property of the Government of Sudan in the US, or under the possession or control of a US person, has been frozen; financial dealings with Sudan are generally prohibited, including the performance by any US person of any contract; and no goods, technology or services may be exported to Sudan, either directly or through third countries, without a license.
And those are in place since November 1997 under a President Executive Order invoked by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act so those, of course, would be separate from anything that would involve the UN Security Council.
QUESTION: So you have sent these various missions to Sudan to talk about terrorism. Did they come to any conclusions about the current state of Sudanese Government support for these groups?
MR. REEKER: Well, I think Secretary Powell has indicated to you, and also up on Capitol Hill in testimony, that the United States is exploring ways in which we can support the search for just peace in Sudan, because it is through the peace process that the grave humanitarian and human rights crisis that we talked about in Sudan, including the bombing of civilians and slavery, will be resolved.
We are committed, as the Secretary said, to continue to provide relief assistance to the population at risk. Our overall policy review on Sudan, and that would include reviewing Sudan's status as a designated state sponsor of terrorism, is ongoing. I don't have anything to announce at this point.
In terms of Sudan policy broadly, the Secretary also made clear our intention to appoint a special envoy to spearhead the efforts that I just outlined, to support a resolution to the horrible conflict in Sudan. And at this point, I just don't have anything to announce on that direction.
QUESTION: Different subject. Is the United States still happy with the level of cooperation it is receiving from authorities in Yemen in the USS Cole investigation?
MR. REEKER: Both the United States and Yemen are committed to bringing the investigation of the USS Cole bombing to a successful conclusion. Currently, we are working together on logistical and administrative requirements, as well as security arrangements, in order to send an investigative team back to Yemen. We are hopeful that the team will be able to travel there soon. I don't have any announcements to that effect, nor can I speculate on when that would happen, but we are still working very closely with the Yemenis and are appreciative of their cooperation. And so we will continue in that vein and see if we can get our investigative team back in at the appropriate time to continue that.
QUESTION: Under the understanding that some people had gone back in on August 2nd?
MR. REEKER: Yes, an assessment team went in and came back out earlier this month. I don't have dates for you on that. I will have to check into it.
QUESTION: Did they -- they came to the conclusion that circumstances were auspicious for a larger return; is that correct?
MR. REEKER: I don't know that I have any particular conclusion to report from what that assessment team determined while they were there, other than to say that we are still working on logistical and administrative requirements, as well as the security requirements that would be necessary to send a full investigative team back to Yemen.
QUESTION: New subject? Any decision yet on the UN racism conference?
MR. REEKER: No, nothing to announce on that today.
QUESTION: Anything new on compensation for the recovery of the EP-3 plane?
MR. REEKER: Not that I am aware of. You would have to ask the Chinese. I think, as you know, our offer remains on the table, and I don't believe we have had any further --
QUESTION: The US offer is still there, right?
MR. REEKER: Still there.
QUESTION: Okay, another question. The State Department has any reaction as to the Chinese staging a large-scale military exercise across from the Taiwan Strait in the Dongshan area? And also, I have seen reports to the effect that the US are conducting some military exercises.
MR. REEKER: Those both actually sound like questions that you should direct to my colleagues at the Pentagon.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to these South African Muslims' protests against Israel and the United States?
MR. REEKER: I am not sure if I am aware of the specific protest.
QUESTION: In Cape Town. More than 20,000.
MR. REEKER: I don't have anything on that. I hadn't seen that, no.
QUESTION: Maybe you don't have anything on this. The plutonium report -- what is the status of US aid to the plutonium elimination program, or whatever you call it?
MR. REEKER: I think, as you are aware, that plutonium disposition is one of several US nonproliferation programs with Russia that was reviewed at the beginning of the Bush Administration. That would be Bush 43. The review was completed recently, and of course we need to consult with Congress prior to making any decisions on that. No decisions have been made, pending those consultations, and so at this point it would be premature to go into anything further. I would consider it still under way.
QUESTION: The review was complete. The review is complete.
MR. REEKER: Our basic review is complete. We need to have discussions, consultations with Congress, to see if there is anything else that needs to be reviewed or additional information provided. And we will continue to pursue that, but I just don't have anything new to suggest now.
QUESTION: Was any money allocated in this year's budget to this plutonium disposition program, or was this a new program that hadn't been financed before?
MR. REEKER: I think this is a continuing program, the program that was discussed in some press articles today. All of these programs, in terms of plutonium disposition, are programs that we have had and that are being reviewed. In terms of the specifics on the budget, we would have to go back to the budget papers that we had when we gave you the briefing.
QUESTION: So the review is whether you should continue funding this program?
MR. REEKER: Just like so many things, we review programs, in this case nonproliferation programs. One of those -- there are several of them - - one of those has to do with plutonium disposition and how we might work that program in the future, or what its status would be. So that's a review, and we don't have anything to report on that at this point.
QUESTION: You say the review was completed recently, but no decisions have been made. Presumably the review came to some decisions. I mean, that's what reviews are for, aren't they? Or not?
MR. REEKER: Not necessarily. Reviews "review" -- that's the active verb -- a program or a situation. As I said, we need to consult with Congress -- that is very much involved in this -- and until that is done and we have then looked at the whole picture, as it were, we won't have any final conclusions to make.
QUESTION: Well, so the review made a series of options, left open a series of options?
MR. REEKER: I just don't have a description for you of the review or its outcome, other than to say that it is something I think we talked about before, probably several times, we have been carrying out. And we will consult with Congress on that because that, in and of itself, is part of the overall review of the policy.
QUESTION: Well, presumably, though, you have come to one of three options that it would recommend at the end, which would be either get rid of it, keep it, or change it somehow. Right?
MR. REEKER: That's very prescient, Matt, and I just don't have any recommendation or option or anything else to share with you on it, other than to say that we have reviewed the program, we are going to consult with Congress as part of the big picture review, and then if we have something more to say, we will get back to you.
QUESTION: Okay, but I just want to -- but the quote from an unnamed official in one of today's reports that we were talking about --
MR. REEKER: Always a dangerous proposition.
QUESTION: -- says the review is -- you know, it's under review still. So I just want to be clear that is incorrect. The review is complete? The Administration's review is complete?
MR. REEKER: Well, it depends how you want to define "review." I mean, we have reviewed the program and completed a certain review. Now we have to consult with Congress and see what else needs to be done in the bigger picture of the review. So I am trying not to get too down in the weeds, but we have completed an aspect of our review. There are more parts to go. That's why any commentary or even suggestions by unnamed senior officials is premature at this time.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject to a different country? Sri Lanka has been having trouble with Tamil-type guerillas recently, and about a year ago they took on and bombed and destroyed extensively, roughly in the billion-dollar range, the international airport. And they just --
MR. REEKER: I think it was about two months ago.
QUESTION: Two months ago, right. They have also taken on a police station within the last day or so and have killed apparently 15 police and made off with weapons and such. Is there anything that the United States and other countries are doing to make certain that this doesn't become a staging area to hit India?
MR. REEKER: I have never heard a question formulated quite in that way on Sri Lanka. I don't think that really is our purview. Our position on the situation in Sri Lanka, which is a very tragic situation and a long-running problem with the Tamil Tigers group there, remains the same. We think there is not a military solution to this. There has got to be a dialogue. We have called for a cessation of that. We have welcomed efforts by countries like Norway to try to help with that situation, and we will continue to watch that closely. I don't have anything specific to add today on any of the recent reports.
QUESTION: Phil, was there a decision on the US representation at the Durbin conference yet?
MR. REEKER: I think it was asked by one of your colleagues a couple of minutes ago, and the answer was no.
What would you do if I said yes?
QUESTION: Could I just go back to the Middle East for one question?
MR. REEKER: Of course.
QUESTION: With all this recent international interest, do you think this could at some point acquire a more institutional form? I mean, the form of the holding of another Middle East international conference, or something like that?
MR. REEKER: I would say that is a terribly premature question. I mean, I talked about the important role that the international community has had in trying to play a constructive role. Our efforts, the efforts of our partners in this -- the Russians, the European Union and its individual member-states, the Norwegians, and of course countries in the region, like Egypt and Jordan -- they have a process. They have structures that they can work with to deal with the security situation to get the violence down. We have the Tenet work plan that has been discussed so much, and before them is a road map called the Mitchell Plan which lays out steps that can be taken. They are recommendations that both sides have agreed they want to implement. And so they have a path before them, and we think that is what needs to be taken at this point.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)