State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for August 19
Daily Press Briefing
Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman
August 19, 2002
1 Reported Death of Abu Nidal in Baghdad
10-12 US Policy Toward Iraq
12-13 Status of Readmitting Weapons Inspectors
13 News Magazine Report that US Acquiesced in Iraq's Use of
Chemical Weapons During Iran/Iraq War
2 Circumstances of Edward Lee Howard's Death
2 Reported Economic Agreement between Russia and Iraq
2-4 Reports of Agreement on a Plan to Resume Security
3,6 International Task Force on Reform Meeting Later This Week
4-6 Palestinian Efforts on Reform
7 Arrests Made and Weapons Confiscated from Company in New
7-8 Videotapes of Reported al-Qaida Training Techniques
17 Alleged Mass graves in Northern Afghanistan
8 Release of Foreign Relations Volume 1964-1968
9-10 US Ambassador's Meetings with German Officials
14 Reports Libya Next Chair of the UN Commission on Human
14 Status of Libyan Compensation to Pam Am 103 Victims'
15 Deputy Secretary Armitage's Travel to Asia and South Asia
16 Evictions of Farmers in Zimbabwe
16-17 Status of Next Steps in US-North Korea Dialogue
MR. REEKER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome back to August at the State Department. Here we all are, hard at work on this Monday. I don't have formal statements or announcements at this point, so I'd be happy to try to take your questions.
QUESTION: Can the State Department add anything to the accounts of Abu Nidal's demise?
MR. REEKER: The accounts of Abu Nidal's demise -- I don't believe I can add anything. We're following the story, but I don't have anything to contribute other than what we've seen in the press.
Abu Nidal is a craven and despicable terrorist and the world would certainly be a better place without people like Abu Nidal. He'd reportedly been living in Iraq since 1998, and as we've talked about for some time, Iraq's record of providing support, safe haven, training, logistical assistance and financial aid to terrorist groups like the Abu Nidal organization is why Iraq is listed as a state supporter of terrorism. And you can read about that organization in the April 2002 -- that is the most recent edition -- of Patterns of Global Terrorism.
QUESTION: Did you say living in Iraq since 1998? There's a slightly different version --
MR. REEKER: That's what had reportedly been -- I know there are a number of various reports out there, but reportedly he had been living there since 1998. I think that's what we're able to put out, but you might check the Patterns of Global Terrorism because it gives you what we have on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. REEKER: Sure. Is that all?
QUESTION: Can I ask about another dead person, or reportedly dead? Did you guys --
MR. REEKER: I didn't wear my dinosaur tie today. Sorry.
QUESTION: Did you guys ever find out what the story was with Edward Lee Howard?
MR. REEKER: I would have to double-check. I believe that we were informed that he had --
QUESTION: Yeah, I know. But, I mean, have you ever --
MR. REEKER: -- was dead.
QUESTION: -- or was there any interest on your part in finding out what the circumstances were behind his death? Because there were some conflicting accounts.
MR. REEKER: I don't know if there was any particular look into that, but we can ask. That is going back some time.
QUESTION: Any comments to make about Russia's potential deals with Iraq announced over the weekend?
MR. REEKER: I think I spoke to a number of you, or your colleagues, on Friday. We haven't seen the agreement that's been widely discussed in the press, but I believe the Russian Foreign Ministry has said that the agreement is fully consistent with UN Security Council resolutions.
As you know, Iraq issues are part of our regular dialogue with Russia. Russia is a fellow Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and we do consult regularly with them. But obviously we would expect that anything would be consistent with UN Security Council resolutions.
QUESTION: Are we looking into whether we believe it's consistent with UN Security Council resolutions?
MR. REEKER: I am sure we'll look at that. As I said, we hadn't seen any particular deal, and we saw what the Russian Foreign Ministry had to say.
QUESTION: -- questions about what's called "the Gaza plan," where the Israelis are supposed to be moving their troops back, both from Gaza, out of also Hebron and possibly Bethlehem?
Now, this has been apparently worked out with -- is it the moderate Palestinians that met here at the State Department with that particular group? They seem to have done it themselves.
MR. REEKER: We certainly welcome reports that the Israelis and the Palestinians have reached agreement on a plan to resume security cooperation and work to end violence and terror. We have always underscored the critical importance of direct discussions between the parties and reports of progress on security issues are encouraging. We understand that there will be a continuation of contacts now between local security commanders. This sort of regular, detailed discussion will be critical to ensuring the long-term success of this initiative, and we strongly urge the Israelis and Palestinians to continue their discussions, not only on security, but also on the Palestinian humanitarian situation, which is of grave concern to us, and on finances and the Palestinian civil reform efforts.
We look forward, as we discussed last week, to the meeting of the International Task Force on Reform, which will take place later this week in Paris. I think it's August 22nd/23rd in Paris. That's a step we believe can assist the Palestinians in their efforts to achieve civil reform.
The International Task Force on Reform is, I believe we discussed last week, represented by the members of the Quartet -- that is, The United States, The European Union, The United Nations and Russia -- and several of the major donors including international financial institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and countries like Japan and Norway. And that's focused on establishing key benchmarks and performance standards to assist with the Palestinians civil reform effort. And we'll be reviewing the work of the Humanitarian Assistance Working Group, which is one of the seven major working groups that are part of this task force. They'll be making recommendations and so senior officials from our Near East Bureau will travel to France to represent the United States at these task force meetings.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MR. REEKER: Let Joel follow up and then we'll --
QUESTION: A follow-up. Also, some of the militant groups say that they won't comply and will continue their terrorist type activities. Is this any concerted problem and if --
MR. REEKER: The focus of everybody should be on ending terror and violence. And as I've said, the cooperation, the security cooperation, is an absolutely essential part of moving forward in the strategy that we've been pursuing with others in the international community, pursuant to the President's vision to bring peace to the Middle East.
QUESTION: Can I try to get a clarification here?
MR. REEKER: Sure, Barry.
QUESTION: Your use of the word "plan." Are you saying that the two are working together to develop a plan? Or are the two working together on a plan that has been developed? Because as you know, the CIA and others were trying to come up with new approaches.
MR. REEKER: The reports we've seen, Barry, and we welcome those, are that the Israelis and Palestinians have reached agreement on a plan to resume security cooperation. I think the parties themselves would be where I'd refer you for details of their discussions. Certainly officials from our missions in the region have facilitated the discussions that they've been having, but we would let those two groups provide you with whatever details they wish to share about their plans.
QUESTION: What are the implications of this kind of agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority for the US policy of regime change in Palestine?
MR. REEKER: I don't know if I've ever heard --
QUESTION: Well, okay, for a new Palestinian leader.
MR. REEKER: Oh, I see. Your little spin on that.
QUESTION: Well --
MR. REEKER: The President, I think, was very clear. I would refer you back to his speech from July 24th on our view of the need for new leadership in the Palestinian community, leadership by those who are untainted by terror and corruption. What we want to see if forward movement in the different areas of this process, and particularly in security. It's always been of critical importance for the two sides to have direct discussions. As you know -- I think you were away, but we had meetings here, where the Secretary of State and other US officials met with a Palestinian delegation that included Mr. Yehihey, who also has met with senior Israeli officials, looking at the security. And we understand that there will be contacts now between local security commanders, which will be very important and critical.
And so we want to urge the Israelis and the Palestinians to continue their discussions and try to move this process forward.
QUESTION: If I could just follow up. I mean, if this continues and if you see more progress along these lines, you welcome the progress, but this progress is being made by the very people whom you want to see changed. It seems to me you can't really reconcile these two --
MR. REEKER: I think your -- if you go back and look at the President's speech, I don't believe there was reference to any individuals. This is not about individuals; it's about leadership and responsibility in the Palestinian community.
QUESTION: The very institutions you want to see --
MR. REEKER: And we've talked about those institutions needing reform. There is, as well as a security process that we want to see move ahead, there's a Palestinian reform effort underway to reform the institutions that will be vital for them to have their own state, according to the vision that the President of the United States and other international leaders have endorsed that. So that's, you know, consistent with what we want to see, progress in these various fields, and we'll continue to watch it closely.
QUESTION: Let me put it another way because I'm still confused. If the institutions are reformed in ways which meet your requirements, does that obviate the need for any changes in personnel?
MR. REEKER: I don't think this is about our requirements or anything else. We've laid out what we think is the way forward and what we want to do. We've dedicated ourselves -- the President has -- to seeing an independent Palestinian state living side by side with an independent Israel, of course, with secure borders.
And the way forward, as the President said, is to have movement in these following areas, including reform of institutions in the Palestinian community, financial reform, other civic reforms that are going to be necessary to have institutions that can be not tainted by terrorism or by corruption, that can provide the Palestinian people with what they need to form a state and to move forward.
And so those are going to be decisions that the Palestinians are making as they pursue this reform. We have meetings going on in Paris with the task force that I talked about, the International Task Force on Reform, which will look at a number of recommendations from the working groups that have been studying, since the last task force meeting, have been studying a variety of these initiatives to look at how all of us in the international community can help them to move forward with that. So that's a positive thing.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. Has there been enough progress on security to now move ahead on other tracks, as the Secretary especially in the administration, maybe pretty much by himself among the senior advisors -- but anyhow, he's wanted to move ahead once security is improved. And has that hurdle been cleared now that you can go into action and try to get -- this is apart from reform.
MR. REEKER: I think, again, Barry, if you look at what I've already said today, we welcome these reports that there's agreement on a plan to resume security cooperation -- a plan to resume security cooperation -- and work to end the terror and violence. And so that is something we have always underscored as being important. We're going to watch closely.
We have already said, as I indicated, that we believe that there's going to be a continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian contacts that have taken place already that will continue at the local level, which is going to be vital, and there's going to have to be regular, detailed discussions that will be very critical to this process. So we urge them to continue these discussions, not only on security but on the other parts of the process, of the strategy, as well.
QUESTION: Going back to Jonathan's issue, how is the State Department furthering the President's goal for new and different leadership in the Palestinian Authority by working with the current leadership in the Palestinian Authority?
MR. REEKER: We're working with people who we think can make a difference, that can represent the Palestinian people, the delegation that traveled here to Washington and met with senior officials in the administration, had good talks. We talked about that at the time. Some of them have gone back. They've been working with Israelis. We're working with the international community. All of this is part of the overall strategy that the President outlined in the July 24th speech, and that's what we'll continue to watch and continue to promote.
The next thing I would point you to is the meeting in Paris later this week, the 22nd and 23rd, where we'll look at some of the ideas coming out of the working groups about how we can help to move forward the reform efforts, and we're also looking closely at the humanitarian issues.
QUESTION: Before the meeting with Powell, Saeb Erekat was asked about this and he said, "I represent Yasser Arafat," who is the current leader, who is tainted by terror, of the Palestinian Authority. So, I mean, and --
MR. REEKER: I think --
QUESTION: And it looks like Mr. Erekat is going to be in Paris.
MR. REEKER: I think we went through all those issues, Eli, back at the time.
QUESTION: No, I'm sorry. I don't want belabor it.
MR. REEKER: This is far beyond a single individual. You know, these issues transcend that. What we're focused on is making progress on the things that the President outlined, and the international community has embraced.
QUESTION: In terms of -- we know we have this meeting here in Washington. But in terms of ongoing engagement with Palestinians, whether they are the current leadership or any Palestinians with US diplomats in the region, could you characterize the ongoing engagement?
MR. REEKER: I think I answered the question before you came in the room. I did discuss the fact that officials from our missions in the region facilitated the discussions that Israelis and Palestinians have had on the security front. And as I said, we would expect that there would be now a continuation of those contacts between local security commanders. And so our missions in the region remain very much in this process, as we pledged we would.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. REEKER: Okay.
QUESTION: Late last week in Roswell, New Mexico, there was an arrest made and number of weapons confiscated at a company called "HEAT for High Energy Access Tools, which is described as an antiterrorism or police training services company. Does the State Department know anything about this operation, because it had a number of foreign clients, people who came from abroad to be trained here, and --
MR. REEKER: I have to check. I've never heard of it myself.
QUESTION: You haven't heard of it? You don't know anything about --
MR. REEKER: I don't. I would have to check for you, Charlie.
MR. REEKER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Phil, any reaction from the State Department to the tapes that were found in Afghanistan that link, had proof apparently, strong links to, of course, bin Laden, al-Qaida?
MR. REEKER: Oh, okay. Right.
QUESTION: That came from CNN?
MR. REEKER: No, I instinctively go to my Mexico page when you bring those things up. Hold on a second. I will find something.
I don't believe that we've actually seen those tapes. And if I can find the page here -- there we go. As I thought, I'm not aware that the videotapes have been shown or given to State Department officials. We would welcome the opportunity to review the tapes. So I'm really not in a position to comment on their authenticity or anything about it. Certainly no one should be surprised at what the tapes purport to reflect; that is, terrorist training techniques that seem to be shown in these tapes.
Al-Qaida is well-known for its brutal terrorist tactics and has trained thousands of members to murder innocent people in a variety of ways. All of us know that all too well as we approach the first anniversary of the September 11th attacks on our country.
Certainly the videotapes appear to be indicative of the lethal threat posed by the al-Qaida network. They underscore the need for continued international cooperation to arrest al-Qaida operatives wherever they are found, to dry up terrorist financing and to remain vigilant for possible future attacks.
QUESTION: Just another question on a different matter. This is about a report that was put out by Human Rights Watch on Thursday. It basically says the United States Government investigation on the September 11 attacks had been a combination of unfair detentions and due process violations and secret arrests of many immigrants.
MR. REEKER: I would need to refer you to the Justice Department for that. That's a domestic issue that is not a State Department matter.
Yes, sir. In the back.
QUESTION: Mr. Reeker, what prompted the State Department to release the hundreds of declassified documents containing pertaining Greece, Turkey and Cyprus from '64 to '68 now, in the middle of the hot summer, and not later, creating a real political mess in Athens, Ankara and Nicosia?
MR. REEKER: Goodness. What a suggestion. (Laughter.)
I think, Lambros, if I am correct, you are referring to the release of the latest volume from the Foreign Relations of the United States, so called FRUS Series. This is the volume 1964 to 1968 on Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, Volume 16.
This is an ongoing series that we do that obviously is dealing with an era from '64 to '68 when, in fact, I wasn't born. So it's, you know, important historical documentation about US efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus problem, to try to deal with the Greek political crisis at the time.
And it's history. It's put out through the Office of the Historian. You're probably familiar with it. It's an ongoing series of very nice hardbound books. Much of the information in this particular volume has been made public before. The series, as I said, is a continuous release. They are made public and published when all the necessary editing and declassification has taken place.
QUESTION: One more question.
MR. REEKER: It gives you something to read at the beach.
QUESTION: One more question?
MR. REEKER: Yes.
QUESTION: The Jerusalem Post today reported that the Palestinian Authority has decided to start a campaign to remove Greek Orthodox Patriarch Eireneos I from his post, accusing him of trying to turn the other members of his church into a minority. In the meantime, as you will know, the Israeli Government does not recognize the Patriarch.
May we have your comment from the religious freedom perspective?
MR. REEKER: I don't know anything about that particular situation. I hadn't read that report.
QUESTION: Anything you can tell us about Ambassador Coates' conversations with members of Chancellor Schroeder's staff last week?
MR. REEKER: Our Ambassador to Germany, Ambassador Dan Coates, did have meetings with German officials at the Chancellery in Berlin last week. The meetings were part of the ongoing consultations with our German friends and allies. As you would expect, the United States Ambassador to Germany has fairly regular meetings with officials at the Chancellery in Berlin, and I don't think I could go into any particulars of the substance of the Ambassador's meeting with his German counterparts. It's not something that we usually try to read out.
QUESTION: Well, he has today given an interview to one of the German papers in which he sort of contradicts the statement out of Schroeder's office that Schroeder's foreign policy spokesman saying in the meeting the German side presented its views on the US plans for Iraq and Coates saying, oh, no, this meeting was called because we were presenting our views.
Are you -- can you not tell us what --
MR. REEKER: Maybe both sides presented all their views on issues. That's usually what diplomatic meetings are about is an opportunity to exchange views and talk about issues. Whether Iraq was part of that discussion or not, I don't know. I think we have been very clear, and the President has been very clear, that, in terms of Iraq, why we have concerns about Iraq, about their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver such weapons, about their support of terrorism -- all of that a threat not only to the Iraqi people and the neighbors of Iraq, but to security and peace around the world.
And the President has said quite clearly as well that we're seeking advice, listening carefully to many people, including our allies. That would obviously include Germany. There are no plans to attack Iraq on the President's desk. He has said that. And he has said he is patient and deliberative. And that's exactly where we stand. I can't move that along any more.
QUESTION: You say you don't know if Iraq was discussed, but, I mean, Coates today said it was. It was in The New York Times on Saturday, or did you not read that?
MR. REEKER: That's perfectly fine.
MR. REEKER: I wasn't in the meeting. I don't have a specific readout for you. I've seen all of the discussions about the meeting; I just can't give you anything. What I'm trying to reflect on is that in the course of normal diplomatic discourse, when our Ambassador meets with his counterparts and his officials in Germany, those are the types of discussions we have, where we share information and share views.
QUESTION: This was apparently a meeting that he requested at the direction from this Department.
MR. REEKER: Which also happens quite frequently.
QUESTION: Okay, fine. But in order to present a point, which is US displeasure at Schroeder's recent campaign comments --
MR. REEKER: I couldn't dissect any further the discussions that our Ambassador had with German officials. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Phil, without talking about the meeting in particular, can you say whether this building has any position on recent comments made by Chancellor Schroeder that were derogatory to any US plans that might --
MR. REEKER: Again, all I can keep reiterating is, you know, that there are no specific US plans. The President has addressed this subject repeatedly and made quite clear what our concerns are vis-à-vis Iraq, and the fact that he's deliberative, that he's patient, but that he's very focused on the threats we see there. He keeps all of his options available, all of these options on the table, but no decisions have been made in that regard, and we're very much interested in listening and hearing the views of as many people as possible, particularly our allies and others.
QUESTION: But anything about Chancellor Schroeder's comments in particular that you have any comment on?
MR. REEKER: No.
QUESTION: Phil, can you elaborate on -- this is on Iraq, too. Can you elaborate on remarks by a White House official today which brought up the possibility of limited military action against specific targets in Iraq, rather than -- falling short of --
MR. REEKER: No, I couldn't speculate on remarks: (a) I haven't seen; (b) from some apparently unnamed official.
QUESTION: -- his name --
MR. REEKER: Well, I don't have anything. Why don't you talk to the White House about it?
QUESTION: Some hawk -- this is on Iraq. Some hawkish pundits have suggested --
MR. REEKER: Hawkish pundits. Okay, here we go.
QUESTION: Hawkish pundits have suggested this weekend that the State Department has not been fully on board in expressing the President's policy of regime change for Iraq to our foreign allies. So I was just wondering if you could just sort of maybe summarize in a general sense our message. I know you've been talking about this. Have we been telling people and making it very clear that we would seek, we would like to see the Hussein regime ended?
MR. REEKER: I think anyone -- even you, Eli -- and all of the foreign leaders around the world who have read the President's remarks, the President's speeches, listened to Secretary Powell, listened to officials -- even lowly people like myself from this podium -- know what the US policy towards Iraq is; why we are concerned about Iraq and the threat that Saddam Hussein's regime poses to the people of Iraq itself, to countries in the region, including friends and allies of ours, and indeed, to all of us around the world. Weapons of mass destruction, trying to acquire the means to deliver such weapons, support for terrorism -- these are all things that we've seen from the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein.
And the President has been quite clear that the US policy toward Iraq is that there should be a different regime there, that we would all be better off if there were a different regime in Baghdad. That's been echoed by foreign leaders around the world quite clearly, even more recently when the Spanish Foreign Minister, for instance, was here and spoke to you along with Secretary Powell about a week ago.
So I don't think I can add any more to the discussion. I think it's fairly clear out there, and if anybody's having a problem understanding it, they should just pick up some of your dispatches and read them.
QUESTION: Thanks, but I'm afraid -- but that's what makes our -- the US entreaties to allies and non-allies, Arab governments for instance, puzzling. I mean they all agree. They seem all to agree, the Arabs, with a little bit of, you know, ambiguity, that they would all be pleased to see Saddam Hussein go away.
Now, if the US hasn't decided whether to attack to get rid of him and if we know what their position is -- that they don't like Saddam Hussein -- what are all these discussions about? Are you trying to line foreign governments up to endorse something that hasn't happened yet, to give the United States sort of carte blanche to do the right thing? Because you know their views and they know your views, except to know what option you're going to take.
MR. REEKER: We like to talk to other governments, Barry, because that's what diplomacy is about -- hearing their views, and perhaps their views that they haven't shared with you, specifically, as we all discuss Iraq and certainly many other things.
MR. REEKER: Certainly in the war against terrorism we have a coalition. It's working very closely together on many, many fronts: financial, law enforcement, intelligence and information sharing, as well as in the military aspects of that effort in Afghanistan.
So I think that will always continue, Barry. We want to hear from allies and friends. We want to have a good discussion about a broad variety of issues, including issues related to Iraq. We've heard their public comments. And as I was pointing out to your colleague, Mr. Lake, many of those public comments reflect exactly the views that we espouse publicly, as well.
So that type of dialogue, that type of discussion, that type of diplomacy is going to continue.
QUESTION: I understand. It's puzzling to those of us who were here last time around during the Gulf War. The US knew what it wanted to do and it went out and made a concerted effort to line up support for what the US wanted to do and managed to get some 30 countries to be part of this coalition. Now we've got discussions going on and we're supposed to believe that the US doesn't know what it wants to do, but still we're having intensive -- we haven't picked an option. I don't mean to --
MR. REEKER: I will just refer you to what the President said, Barry.
QUESTION: I don't get it.
MR. REEKER: I can't really add any more. Thank you for the history lesson, but I think you just need to stay tuned.
QUESTION: No, no, it's not a history lesson. It's a little bit -- Phil, it's a little bit of disbelief that the United States is talking to its best friends in a very serious way without telling them or knowing even having made a choice of its own, what option to take, which are the tools, as the President puts it, to use.
MR. REEKER: I think diplomatic dialogue is an important part of the way we interact in the world and that's going to continue on a broad array of issues, including on how to deal with the threat of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.
QUESTION: All right, let me ask you a specific, one quick specific.
MR. REEKER: Yes, Barry.
QUESTION: We know the inspection problem. You know, there's been no budging on it. Will there be -- is there ongoing this, for instance, a page one story in The Financial Times over the weekend. Is the article the last ditch? Because I don't suppose we'll ever give up trying to get a look at what he's got, but is the US making another effort to somehow get Iraq to open its suspect weapons sites to international inspection?
MR. REEKER: Well, Iraq knows what it has to do. There are UN, United Nations Security Council Resolutions, to which Saddam Hussein's regime agreed at the end of the Gulf War. This is about disarmament under those agreements. And inspectors are a way towards verifying disarmament. They need to have access to assess this.
Instead of readmitting inspectors so that the inspectors can assess key disarmament tasks, the Iraqis continue to propose further discussions and obfuscation and moving of the goal post. So the latest Iraqi letter, for instance, offers nothing new. They continue to refuse to comply with UN Security Council resolutions that mandate verified disarmament.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
QUESTION: One more on Iraq?
MR. REEKER: Yes. Elise.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to reports over the weekend that the previous Bush Administration aided Iraq in developing a chemical weapons program for use against Iran?
MR. REEKER: I think as you saw the responses from this Department in that particular press story. Claims that the US was complicit or acquiesced in the use of chemical weapons by Iraq, those claims are complete nonsense and utterly without foundation.
QUESTION: So, one more brief one?
MR. REEKER: Okay.
QUESTION: That same paper had a small item today saying that the President had called a meeting of his national security team for later this week in Crawford and listed the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and National Security Advisor as being invited, but not the Secretary of State. Is he planning to be there?
MR. REEKER: More recent reports that I saw about that meeting coming from the White House were discussing a defense -- a review of a variety of defense issues. So I think it's a DOD meeting, but I would refer you to the White House for that.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MR. REEKER: Changing the subject? Yes.
QUESTION: What does the United States make, if anything, of the increasing likelihood that Libya is going to be the next chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights?
MR. REEKER: I will have to look into that. I don't know how clear-cut that is or if any decisions have been made at this point, but I will check.
QUESTION: Well, it's the -- I mean it is the Africans --
MR. REEKER: I'm aware of the basic situation, but I don't know the specifics.
QUESTION: -- have chosen Libya and they have not backed down.
MR. REEKER: Yes, Barry.
QUESTION: Not much of a transition, but I was going to -- I did have a Libya question for you.
MR. REEKER: And I don't have an answer to that either.
QUESTION: You might. The parents of, you know, a victim of the Pan Am have written the Secretary. They say they are concerned that the US isn't insisting that Libya make a specific statement of responsibility for the attack, for the bombing or the assault on the plane.
MR. REEKER: I'm not aware of the specific letter. Our position on Libya has not changed one iota. Libya must absolutely comply with the UN Security Council resolutions pursuant to the downing of Pan Am 103. We've been very insistent on that. There are no shortcuts there. And so while I can't move you ahead on letters or anything else, I can try to check into that. There's no change in our position.
QUESTION: Then let me pursue it just for one more question. They say that's only implicit. In other words, if they accept, if they -- the UN route doesn't necessarily require them to say, "We blew the plane out of the skies." You understand? They are asking for an explicit --
MR. REEKER: Barry, I can't offer you anything more.
QUESTION: Well, what's policy?
MR. REEKER: I've repeated it.
QUESTION: All right, it's -- all right, then I understand. That's the question.
MR. REEKER: Okay. I have to leave you there.
QUESTION: Yes. Is there any -- change of subject. On Armitage's trip to Asia, is there any change on his planned trip to India? Because there are reports in India that he might not get the reception he wanted.
MR. REEKER: No. As far as I know, the Deputy Secretary will visit India later this week, August 23rd. He'll be meeting with senior Indian officials, following up on Secretary Powell's last visit, which was last month, and of course discuss bilateral relations and review de-escalation of tensions with Pakistan.
His specific schedule, I know, is still being finalized. I'm not aware of any particular difficulties with that. Just to recap for a number of you had missed it when we announced earlier, I believe August 5th, announced that the Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will be traveling to Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, China and Japan for meetings with senior officials in each of those countries, and he expects to leave Washington sometime tomorrow afternoon en route to his first stop, Colombo.
QUESTION: Right. But some Indian local press are saying the Deputy Prime Minister of India canceled his trip to DC because there are some disputes on Kashmir policy and that's why --
MR. REEKER: I'm not aware of any of those. Sorry.
QUESTION: A little tag end to that. The religious freedom group -- I forgot its exact title -- but it issued a statement today, urged, saying they've asked the Deputy Secretary to make religious freedom an issue in India, Pakistan and China. I guess that's a form of human rights and it's usually on the agenda. But can you verify that that's part of his brief?
MR. REEKER: I couldn't give you a rundown. Human rights usually is usually a discussion we have in our bilateral dialogue with every country, but I, you know, couldn't give you a specific -- I'm not familiar with the specific letter from this group.
QUESTION: Phil, can I just ask a very technical question about this? Who is going to be in charge of this building with the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary out? Is it going to be Grossman?
MR. REEKER: The Under Secretary for Political Affairs.
QUESTION: Marc Grossman, yes?
MR. REEKER: Yes.
QUESTION: On Zimbabwe, any reaction to the evictions from the farms and the detentions over the weekend as the government implements --
MR. REEKER: Similar to what we've been saying on an almost daily basis in briefings last week, we're certainly appalled, first of all, that at a time when 6 to 8 million Zimbabweans are facing the real possibility of famine that the Mugabe government continues its senseless campaign to evict commercial farmers and farm workers.
Until recently a food exporter, Zimbabwe has been reduced to its current state largely due to the Government of Zimbabwe's ill-considered land reform program. And the United States once again calls upon Zimbabwe to halt its pursuit of unchallenged power, restore the rule of law, and cease abusing the human rights of its citizenry.
Over 140 commercial farmers have been arrested for defying the August 8 eviction deadline. Some of these farmers continue to be detained. Others have been released on bail. There are also reports of families being evicted by squatters and pro-government militants. And in addition, there have been reports that one farmer who voluntarily vacated his farm several weeks ago was assaulted this past weekend by police and war veterans.
These are reckless and reprehensible actions by the Government of Zimbabwe and its supporters, and they are causing further damage to Zimbabwe's international standing and its ability to produce food at a time when it's declared a national emergency to deal with widespread hunger and possible famine.
I think Zimbabwe's policies and actions have devastated their economy, caused widespread suffering within Zimbabwe, as well as around the region. And so we continue to watch that situation very carefully but are rather appalled by the actions of the Government of Zimbabwe.
QUESTION: Phil, like the State Department statement two weeks ago expressing strong views, there's no mention of racism in this. Is it the State Department's judgment, these are white farmers, they are a minority now -- whites are in Zimbabwe. Is this an act of racism against whites?
MR. REEKER: Well, as you know, Barry, the United States has recognized the historical inequities of land distribution in Zimbabwe and we've supported a rational, sustainable and equitable land reform in that country. That is not what is happening there. Many of the farms seized thus far appear to have been distributed to ruling party officials and regime insiders and not to the landless peasants whose interests Mr. Mugabe pretends to represent.
QUESTION: Do you have a schedule to have a US Special Envoy sent to North Korea next month?
MR. REEKER: No, nothing has been decided on those next steps, which the Secretary said he would look at with the President and others in the national security architecture in due course, since he returned from Brunei, where he had the informal but positive meeting with the North Korean Foreign Minister.
QUESTION: Yes. The question of those alleged mass graves in northern Afghanistan has arisen again. Does the United States believe there is any substance to these reports? And what's your position on whether an investigation is warranted?
MR. REEKER: We are looking into the circumstances surrounding the events that are reported in recent press coverage, as well as other allegations of human rights abuses and war crimes, through our Embassy in Kabul. We've stressed, and continue to stress, to Afghan authorities the importance of investigating allegations of human rights violations and war crimes. We're going to continue to engage Afghan authorities on this matter in order to help seek accountability for any violations that may have occurred.
And as I indicated, I think it's very important that everyone within the Afghan Transitional Administration remain united in their efforts to build a unified Afghanistan that rejoins the community of nations and can offer hope of economic reconstruction and prosperity for all Afghans.
QUESTION: And if I can just follow up. I mean that's all very well, but you don't -- do you have any -- have you seen any evidence of any kind that suggests that there may be some substance here?
MR. REEKER: We're looking into it. I don't have anything specific to report for you. But looking into the circumstances surrounding the event and these allegations, and our Embassy in Kabul is spearheading that effort.
QUESTION: Okay. You talk about the Afghan authorities investigating. Do you think that it may be appropriate for an outside body to take part in these investigations?
MR. REEKER: At this point, Jonathan, I just think we need to look into it, and if we have something more to say about the story, the allegations, anything that we're able to learn about it, then I'll endeavor to share it with you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. REEKER: We've got another one here.
QUESTION: Sorry, Phil. Anything new on the nomination of your next Ambassador to Mexico?
MR. REEKER: That would be a question for the White House. The President makes those nominations.
QUESTION: But it comes from the State Department.
MR. REEKER: No, the President makes those nominations.