State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for September 23
Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
September 23, 2002
1-3 Elections / U.S. German relations
11 Secretary Powell s conversation with German Foreign
3,11 Secretary Powell meets with Kyrgyz President
4 Car bomb explodes in Jakarta / Travel Warning
4-5 Possible visit to Ramallah by Quartet Foreign Ministers
Update on situation in Ramallah / Incursion at Chaiman
5-8 Arafat s Compound / Possible conference between Israeli/
9-10 Situation Update / Security Council Resolution
10 Lawsuit against the former Consul General in Russia
10 Political party barred from elections
11-12 Coup Attempt / Situation Update
12-13 Peace Talks / Senator Danforth s efforts.
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements or announcements, so I'd be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Well, the White House says you're going to let it all hang out on Germany. Ari said that about two hours ago, so you haven't got much choice.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't know that there's a lot to hang. On the basic reaction to the election, obviously we welcome a democratic election. The voters of Germany have spoken clearly through a democratic process, and we look forward to working with the German Government on issues of common interest.
QUESTION: Well, do you have any observations about the state of US-German relations in the wake of the campaign?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particular observations beyond what the White House has said. There have been some issues during the course of the campaign. The White House and we have expressed views about that. We have a continuing dialogue with German Government officials on a variety of issues. I would note that German Foreign Minister Fischer called the Secretary this morning and they spoke about some of those issues. But beyond that, no particular further comment.
QUESTION: I think that the Justice Minister whose remarks caused so much offense is apparently planning to stand down. Do you have any observation on that?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about the other election, the Slovak election?
QUESTION: Can we stay on Germany?
QUESTION: This is directly related to it. I'm trying to get a juxtaposition.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. You want to get a juxtaposition?
QUESTION: Yeah, from your one-sentence observation on Germany.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, I'll jux give you the position on that.
We commend the voters in Slovakia for exercising their democratic right and responsibility to vote in a free and fair election. We welcome the high voter turnout as a sign of the vibrancy of the democratic system in the Slovak Republic. Now that the voters have spoken, we encourage the political leaders to form a government that will ensure the Slovak Republic's place within the Euro Atlantic democratic family of nations. We look forward to working with the new government and encourage it to vigorously pursue the reform agenda to best serve the people of Slovakia.
QUESTION: So I can go back and count, but how many sentences was that compared to what you had to say about Germany?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I'm going to go back and count.
QUESTION: We can do that, though? Would you encourage us to do so?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to encourage you one way or the other. I don't think particular counts of words or sentences apply in these cases.
QUESTION: Chancellor Schroeder seemed to run on an anti-American campaign, almost, because he found a lot of anti-American sentiment among the German people because of some policies recently. Can you speak to this and whether you think that maybe a public diplomacy campaign should be branched out to some European countries where the anti-American sentiment is particularly high?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I want to start commenting on particular political platforms and campaigns. We know the positions that the various German candidates took through the election. We obviously followed the whole situation closely. When there were particularly disturbing issues, like some of the comments by the Justice Minister, we raised those, we commented on them. But the general tenor of the campaign or the platforms, I really don't think we're going to get into.
QUESTION: Well, what about the anti-American sentiment in Germany right now? I mean, he capitalized on what he saw in the papers as a huge anti-American sentiment among the German public.
MR. BOUCHER: I think we'll leave that for others to analyze for the moment. Obviously the United States is out there as often as we can and in as many ways as we can expressing our views, clarifying our position, making clear what we stand for and what we work for in the world, and we look for others in the world who can work for us in the same direction of peace and democracy and security, in some cases. In many cases, we find a lot of areas to work with with our allies, including Germany. In some cases, we might have differences.
QUESTION: Today in the morning, Colin Powell, State Depart --
MR. BOUCHER: Secretary of State.
QUESTION: Secretary of State -- sorry -- met Kyrgyz President. What issues were raised there? Human Rights Watch said that human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan is quickly getting worse. Was that issue addressed?
MR. BOUCHER: It was addressed quite extensively, I would say. Human rights was a major topic both for the Secretary and for President Akayev during the course of the meetings. Secretary Powell welcomed the meeting with President Askar Akayev this morning. In their meeting, first of all, the Secretary underscored our long-term commitment to a relationship with Kyrgyzstan and to the region of Central Asia. He thanked President Akayev for the country's strong support for Operation Enduring Freedom and for the global war on terrorism. They discussed regional security issues and a number of bilateral economic and political issues.
The Secretary also stressed to President Akayev the importance of implementing political and economic reforms, especially democratic reforms and the protection of human rights, as a basis for development, for stability, and also for cooperation with the United States. A healthy economy, an open democratic society, the Secretary made clear, help to ensure the country's long-term stability and prosperity. The same messages are being discussed with President Akayev in other meetings that he's having throughout -- well, in the building and around Washington today.
I would note President Akayev gave us quite a lengthy brief on the state of human rights in Kyrgyzstan, pointing to some of the things that he had done and that they were doing in terms of drafting a new constitution and a very strong commitment to try to move forward an understanding that democracy was one of the foundations of development and prosperity. And we heard quite a number of commitments in that regard and an update on some of the things that they were doing, and the Secretary said we look forward to seeing those things done and implemented.
QUESTION: Back to the German-American relations again. The White House described the atmosphere between both countries as poisoned last week. Would the State Department share that opinion this week after the reelection of Schroeder?
MR. BOUCHER: We obviously share those remarks about -- in the context in which they were made.
QUESTION: I have two questions. Mr. Boucher, firstly, there was a device exploded in a car near the US Embassy properties in Jakarta, Indonesia this morning. According to the Embassy press release, still there is no indication that the US Embassy properties are the target, however I need your comment or you have already further explanation about this accident.
And then the second question. The Embassy has also released some kind of warning for Westerners that they are maybe targeted for violence in the immediate future in Yogyakarta area in Jakarta. I just want to know, is there any plan from the US Government will release such notification for American citizen not to visit special or certain region in Indonesia in the immediate future?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me say a couple things about that. One is we have general advice for American travelers or people who live in Indonesia that applies and, as far as I know, remains the way it is. The specific advice that the Embassy gave to people about Yogyakarta came out on Friday as well, but frankly we don't see any particular relationship between that and this device that exploded.
Let me tell you a little bit about the device that did explode. It was a grenade that exploded in a vehicle, which then careened into a residence, not a US Government residence. I think there have been various reports out there. The explosion was not at an Embassy warehouse and it was not a truck bomb.
It took place on a street that houses Indonesian Government officials as well as other well-known Indonesian individuals and two US Government residences. No Americans were hurt in the explosion. At the present time, there are no indications that Americans or American interests were intended as the target. We understand, according to the Indonesian police, that one man has been arrested, and we'll keep in close touch with Indonesian law enforcement officials.
So what's what we know about the incident.
QUESTION: On my second question, is there any plan that US Government will release such a warning?
MR. BOUCHER: We have standing advice to American citizens about travel to Indonesia. That includes, in fact, some details on areas of the country where you have to be more or less careful, or more careful than others. We revise that periodically based on changes of conditions, but I think the advice is basically sound and stands for the moment.
QUESTION: Moving on, are you aware of any travel by representatives of the Quartet coming up to the Middle East? Apparently the Danish, according to the Greek Foreign Minister, the Danish Foreign Minister told him that representatives of the Quartet would be going to the Middle East very soon, like today or tomorrow, to talk with all of the principals, including Arafat. Is there any US -- first of all, do you know about that and if there are --
MR. BOUCHER: I think "representatives of the Quartet" is kind of a phrase we don't normally use.
QUESTION: Yeah, I know. I'm not talking about the Secretary. I think it's a --
MR. BOUCHER: The Quartet involves the Russians, the Europeans, the United Nations and the United States. I only speak for the United States, not for the Quartet. I have heard that there may be some European travel, but you'd have to check with them on whether there are Europeans traveling. As far as the United States goes, I'm not aware of any particular dispatch of envoys, but obviously we're well represented in the region and we keep in close touch with people in the region from Washington by phone and other ways.
QUESTION: Well, should a delegation from the Quartet members go, and go to see Chairman Arafat in Ramallah, would the United States participate in such a --
MR. BOUCHER: I have not heard of any delegation from the Quartet. I've only heard of European, possible European travel, but you'd have to check with them.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about what contacts there have been, in fact, over the last 24 hours or so between the State Department and the parties in the Middle East on the Ramallah --
MR. BOUCHER: On the situation in Ramallah?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, our envoys in the region, ambassadors, consul general, representatives out there are very active with the governments involved. The Secretary himself has been on the phone over the weekend. He's talked to Secretary General Annan three times over the weekend. He talked to Prime Minister Sharon on Sunday night to convey the President's deep concerns about the situation. That was something like a 35-40 minute phone call.
He's also talked to Foreign Minister Maher of Egypt, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faysal of Saudi Arabia and Foreign Minister Ivanov of Russia, all those on Saturday. This morning, as I said, he received a phone call from Foreign Minister Fischer of Germany. He's also talked to the Danish Foreign Minister, Per Stig Moeller, who is currently the head of the EU. So we've been working, I would say, fairly intensely on the situation in Ramallah.
I think we've made clear in our conversations that recent Israeli actions in Ramallah and around the Muqatta, including the destruction of Palestinian civilian and security infrastructure, have aggravated the situation and they do not contribute to progress on Palestinian civil and security reform.
We've urged Israel to consider carefully the consequences of its recent actions and their effect of the goals of Palestinian security cooperation and reform of Palestinian institutions in preparation for Palestinian statehood. I find it difficult to understand how these actions can further the goals the President outlined in his June 24th speech. The United States has underscored these points at the highest levels of the Israeli Government, including with Prime Minister Sharon.
I would note, at the same time, we've condemned the two suicide bombings last week in the strongest possible terms and made very clear that acts of terrorism must end now if we're ever to be able to move ahead on implementation of the vision of two states contained in the June 24th speech, and it's imperative that Palestinians take immediate, sustained and comprehensive steps to prevent terrible attacks such as these and eradicate the structure that supports terrorism and violence.
So that's where we are. We remain closely, intensely engaged with the international community to try to calm the situation, try to build upon recent progress that was being made towards Palestinian civil and security reform.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that the people wanted by Israel in the Ramallah compound have any connection with the suicide bombings of last week?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that's a question that we would be in a position to answer at this point. I think those questions are probably more properly directed at the Israelis.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that, then?
MR. BOUCHER: So when you say it's difficult to understand how this contributes, have you come to any conclusions about what possibly might be behind all this?
QUESTION: We don't do "what possibly might be's" here. That's know as a hypothetical or a speculative answer. I'm just giving you the facts. We think these actions over the last few days around the Muqatta have aggravated the situation and don't contribute to the goals that the President outlined, including reform in the Palestinian community so that we can have a more stable situation between the two parties.
QUESTION: In other words, keep the peace.
MR. BOUCHER: Joel.
QUESTION: Did you ask for any assurances from Israel that they will not harm or exile Chairman Arafat, as you have done in the past?
MR. BOUCHER: We have discussed the situation of Chairman Arafat and our understanding remains that these, shall I say our previous understandings on this subject, remain unchanged.
QUESTION: Could you elaborate on that (inaudible)? I mean, since you've said it before, can you say it again?
MR. BOUCHER: We've previously talked with both sides in these kind of situations our view that Chairman Arafat should not be harmed, and the Israelis have made clear that they were not intending to harm him.
QUESTION: Richard, has the US asked the Israelis to withdraw from the Muqatta or from Ramallah?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, let me just say that we're working fairly intensely with both sides and other international parties to try to calm the situation and try to help resolve it. I will stop at that point.
QUESTION: If I may follow up. You said that these actions have aggravated the reform process. Would you say that it has hurt it or, I mean, I think you said aggravated --
MR. BOUCHER: I said aggravated the situation and did not contribute to the reform process.
QUESTION: Did not contribute. Has it hurt the reform process? Has it been a setback as well as a --
MR. BOUCHER: We'll make those kind of assessments later. I will give you instant analysis the way I just did.
QUESTION: Richard, when the Secretary spoke to Prime Minister Sharon last night, did the Secretary tell him --
MR. BOUCHER: Saturday night.
QUESTION: Saturday night. You said last night, but --
MR. BOUCHER: I regret having said --
QUESTION: Whenever it was he talked to him.
MR. BOUCHER: It was Saturday night. I was definitely Saturday night.
QUESTION: This was when -- as the Israelis were warning, telling people to get out of the area and there was going to be a big explosion? Was this in that timeframe, around 5 o'clock our time?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. More or less.
QUESTION: And was his phone call as a result of the ratcheting up of the tension at that point, or was he going to make this call, had he been planning to make this call anyway?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it was linked particularly to those statements or that moment. It was linked to the fact that he wanted to call and talk to the Israelis about the situation, and second of all to convey the President's deep concerns about the situation.
QUESTION: In his phone call, did he tell the Prime Minister that the President and he, and the Secretary, that they believed that Israel's actions were, you know, working counter to the President's goal and what is, in fact, apparently supposed to be Sharon's goal as well?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not in a position to get into exact words that might or might not have been used on the phone call. I'd say our view that I've expressed today is the one that we've expressed to the Israelis as well.
QUESTION: Bewilderment? That you don't know why they're -- how can --
MR. BOUCHER: Our views, as I expressed them today, are the ones that we expressed to the Israelis.
QUESTION: Do you see a receptivity on the part of Israel to back down a bit, or were they along the lines of when you tried to get them to withdraw in April that this is just an action that needs to be taken?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we'll have to see how the situation resolves itself.
QUESTION: Turkish Prime Minister Ecevit has invited both the PA as well as the Israelis and the United States and other countries to host an Israeli-Palestinian type of conference. Would you welcome that? And he has also said that he thinks that Arafat has been brought to a powerless position and also it's not helpful to peacemaking, the actions over the week, as well as the suicide bombings. Any comment to that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can give you commentary on that. I don't know the details of this meeting that they may be trying to set up, so I'll have to stay away from it for the moment.
QUESTION: Can I switch subjects to Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on the diplomacy that has taken place over the last couple days, whether or not you believe Secretary Powell or others have made some headway with the Russians and the French in particular in convincing them to sign onto this tough UN resolution?
MR. BOUCHER: We continue to pursue the diplomacy on Iraq and getting a resolution that makes clear Iraq's violations, what they have to do to correct them, and that there will be consequences if they don't. We continue our consultations in the Security Council with our partners there on a draft resolution that would make these things absolutely clear. We think a resolution like this is necessary in order to make clear -- give the inspectors unfettered access as a critical ingredient for an effective inspections regime.
We've noted the comments by Iraq over the weekend, but I'd say it's not up to Iraq to decide whether the Security Council adopts a new resolution, nor is it for Iraq to decide what sort of inspection regime the Security Council should use. Recent Iraqi statements are just further proof that Iraq is already backtracking on its commitments to have inspections without conditions.
We do believe it's necessary for the Security Council to make clear the terms of inspections and to make clear the consequences that would follow should Iraq not permit those inspections, and that's what we continue to pursue. We're working with other governments up in New York as well as in some of these telephone conversations that the Secretary's had. We have, as you know, worked with the British on text. We've talked to many others about the concepts and the elements involved, and that process is continuing now. It's not time to assess who's on board and who's not.
QUESTION: Do you have an idea of when you're going to introduce the resolution?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't give you an exact timeframe, but the Secretary has made clear this is a process that we felt should take weeks, not months, and so we're coming to that point sometime.
QUESTION: Richard, usually when there's a UN resolution, the Council seeks to have a unanimous vote so that Council unity shows that the whole Security Council is really behind any resolution, in this case behind a certain inspections regime that you're calling for. But Secretary Powell said last week that the US is hoping for nine out of 15 votes and isn't -- which would seem it doesn't really matter about Council unity calling for a tough inspections regime. Are you just looking for the resolution on the books or do you want an inspections regime that the whole Council is behind?
MR. BOUCHER: I think on any UN resolution, we want as many as possible. Iraq, in particular, has been defiant throughout the years, particularly when there was not unanimity or strength in the Security Council. So we think it's important to get as much as possible. We think it's important for the Security Council to take up this challenge, to take up this responsibility that both the President and the Secretary General referred to in their speeches last week. And we think it's important for the Security Council to make the rules, not for Iraq. So we'll continue to pursue those goals. Obviously, the more people that sign on, the better.
QUESTION: The Dutch Foreign Minister, after his meeting with the Secretary, said that -- quoted the Secretary as saying he was reasonably confident that he would get a Security Council resolution to his liking, including consequences. Is that -- would you concur with that's the way the Secretary sees it?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not quite sure we really think this is the moment to start assessing things. We're reasonably confident that a number of countries understand the need for a resolution and therefore I'd say we're -- I wouldn't dispute that, but I don't want to start predicting an outcome quite yet. Obviously, until a resolution is worked out, till we have a text for others to support or not to support, it's hard to make predictions.
QUESTION: Just a couple questions on a fairly old story, and that's the court case against the former Consul General of Vladivostok in Vladivostok. I understand that State's not involved in this lawsuit because it's argued that he was not on official business when he was in this accident. But then, how then could he have invoked his diplomatic immunity there in Russia if he were not on official business?
MR. BOUCHER: We do see this as a private matter and that the lawsuit is a private dispute that we're not involved in, so we've stayed away from that. We've not really commented very much, and I don't think I can start now.
QUESTION: Can I ask one other question about his -- whether or not -- I understand he didn't have insurance and that it is State policy to have all of your representatives overseas to have car insurance.
MR. BOUCHER: I think those are matters that are under discussion and dispute in the lawsuit, and I have to stay out of it. It's a private lawsuit and I'm not going to get involved.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Iraq for a second? The Secretary -- has he met with the Omani Foreign Minister?
MR. BOUCHER: Not yet.
QUESTION: Oh, never mind, then. I'll ask later.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. All right, 2:00 p.m.
QUESTION: In Turkey Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party leader Erdogan has been barred from running in the November elections by Turkey's high election board. Do you have anything on that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. I'm not sure it's a matter we would comment on, but I will check and see.
QUESTION: I have a question on the Colin-Akayev meeting. On the 12th of September in a statement, Human Rights Watch asked for the -- asked President Bush for the release of opposition leader Felix Kulov before the arrival of Akayev to the United States. Obviously, there was no such pressure or it was not effective because Kulov remains in prison. Was that issue raised with the Colin-Akayev meeting and will it be raised in the meeting of Bush with Akayev this evening, afternoon?
MR. BOUCHER: I think you'll have to check with the White House about what may or may not come up in their meetings. In terms of the discussion of human rights, the Secretary and President Akayev discussed many specific issues. I'm not in a position to go into each one. As for that particular one, I will check and see how it was raised with the delegation. I just don't have an answer right now.
QUESTION: Could you give us a little more readout, perhaps, on the Secretary's phone conversation with Mr. Fischer this morning? You mentioned they talked about the Mideast. Specifically, did the --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think I mentioned any particular issue. I just said that they discussed a number of issues.
QUESTION: You mentioned it in the context of the Mideast discussion.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I guess I did.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary congratulate Mr. Fischer on his surprising showing which helped, in a sense, support regime change in Berlin?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to go -- again, it's a -- (laughter) -- it's a -- you know, it's a particular matter. The Foreign Minister called him. They talk very frequently. They talked today.
QUESTION: Did the Foreign Minister say (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Ivory Coast. Do you have any -- have you come to any conclusions about what last week's ruckus was all about and can you -- also, there's a bunch -- close to 200 American schoolchildren stuck in one of the towns that's still kind of iffy. Are you speaking with the French, who have an evacuation team on standby for the people who are at the school? Is there coordination going on between you and the French on this?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Let's do the whole thing. First, I think we put out a statement on the 20th, right, that went through our basic view of the situation. We do believe that the rebels need to lay down their arms and negotiate a peaceful solution to the conflict. We've urged the government to do all it can to avoid further bloodshed and continue to respect the human rights of all citizens and residents of Cote d'Ivoire and we urge them to continue a process of national reconciliation.
The situation in Abidjan on Monday remains calm. Some shops have reopened, but there's a dusk-to-dawn curfew that remains in effect throughout the country until next Sunday. Some of the poorer neighborhoods of Abidjan, many inhabited by foreigners, by foreign residents in Cote d'Ivoire, have been burned during the soldiers' -- during the government's searches for pockets of rebellious soldiers. So there remain difficulties there, particularly for some of the foreigners who reside in those quarters.
As far as the school, the International Christian Academy is a school primarily serving the children of missionaries posted throughout West Africa. This school has approximately 160 US citizens on the campus. It's located in Bouake. Despite reports of gunfire close to the school, the school has adequate supplies and students are reported safe. Our Embassy remains in very close contact with the school.
The rebels are still in control of Bouake and Korhogo. The Minister of Sports remains held hostage by the rebels in Bouake. Rebels have appealed to the Government of Cote d'Ivoire for negotiations and the Government has demanded that the rebels lay down their arms prior to any negotiations.
French troops arrived in Abidjan on Saturday, September 21st, to help ensure the safety of French and third-country nationals in rebel-held Korhogo and Bouake, and the US is coordinating closely with French authorities.
QUESTION: You guys haven't made a determination on whether this was a coup attempt or a --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the government is calling it a failed coup attempt. We think the situation is fluid and it's hard at this point to assess the motives or organizers of the events conclusively at this point.
Okay. Last one, maybe?
QUESTION: Today, right here aside the State Department, there is a demonstration to free southern Sudan from what they say is genocide. There are a lot of people that have been exiled. And this same group had been over at the White House about two months ago. Is Senator Danforth's meetings with the Sudanese progressing to, perhaps, settle this? Will there be a separate enclave or break the country in half? What are they planning?
MR. BOUCHER: Senator Danforth, as you know, presented his report to the White House a few months ago. Since then, we've been working very intensely on the peace process that was underway, and that absorbed a lot of time from representatives of the Africa Bureau who were traveling out to Kenya to help support those peace talks and to try to do everything we could to urge the -- urge progress in this situation.
This is one of the subjects that the Secretary took up during his recent trip to southern Africa because of the interest of people in the region, as well as the number of other people he saw out there. Regrettably, at that time, there had been some fighting that broke out again. But we continue to try to see what we can to move this process forward and we do think it's important to bring peace for the people of southern Sudan -- all of Sudan, for that matter.
Released on September 23, 2002