State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for October 9
Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
October 9, 2002
1-5 Update on UN Resolution
1-3 Secretary Powell's Phone Calls to Foreign Ministers
5 Possible Air Base Negotiations with US
5-7 European Commission Accession Talks
7-8, 17 Update on US Marine Shooting Incident/Terrorist Act
8-9 Hispanic Americans in the State Department
9 Secretary Powell s Reaction to Harry Belafonte s
14-15 Deputy Secretary Armitage s Visit with Thailand Diplomats
15-17 Visa Issuance to September 11th Hijackers
10 Update on Suspect in Buffalo Arrests
10-11 Update on French Tanker Explosion
10 Ambassador Frank Taylor s Visit to the Region
13 Deputy Assistant Secretary Cheney s Travels to the Region
11-12 Article 98: Ambassador Lino s Trip to the Region
12-13 Update on Situation and Continuing Violence
13 Elections/Possible Travel Warnings
13-14 Elections Process/Reaction
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here and I'd be glad to take your questions. Mr. Schweid.
QUESTION: Well, there was a Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia said some things today are interpreted as a little headway. Could you tell us how you think you're doing on the resolution now and the usual phone calls, et cetera?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the answer is just fine, thank you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Richard.
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary has continued to talk to people this morning. He talked to Foreign Secretary Straw, continuing to work on the resolution. As you know, we've had discussions and meetings in New York as well. There was a Perm 5 meeting yesterday and we continue to keep in close touch with the other members of the Perm 5 and other members of the Council. These discussions are progressing.
The United States remains optimistic that we can bring together a resolution that will send a clear message to Iraq that this is their last chance to comply with disarmament obligations and that they need to do that. So we're working on it.
QUESTION: Richard --
MR. BOUCHER: Sorry. Terri.
QUESTION: What does "discussions are progressing" mean in the sense that we've seen a draft of the -- a draft language once. How much would you say looks different from what we've seen as one model?
MR. BOUCHER: The discussion with most of the members of the Council, including the Perm 5, has really centered on the concepts, the elements, not the draft language. As I described the other day, there's some convergence on the concepts in terms of requiring unfettered, unrestricted inspections, having the Council specify what it means by that and not allowing Iraqis to pick some things off a menu every other day.
There is some convergence of concept in terms of the -- I think the way the inspectors put it last Friday, Dr. Baradei and Dr. Blix, was that there needs to be constant pressure on Iraq, there needs to be a way for the Council to express its determination to draw the consequences. But we haven't done the full discussion of text that would result in sort of textual changes at this point. So there is some convergence on the concepts, but there is still text to be discussed and gone over.
QUESTION: And not on the -- no decision yet, no convergence of concepts on whether there should be one or two yet?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, there's some, some convergence on the idea that the Council needs to express clearly in the resolution its determination to draw the appropriate conclusions and consequences should Iraq fail to comply. The United States continues to prefer, to push strongly for, a single resolution because we think only by making clear to Iraq that there would be those consequences is there any chance of getting Iraqi cooperation.
QUESTION: Richard, unless I'm confused like I was yesterday between Mauritius and Mauritania, unless I'm confused, Jack Straw was, is or was, in Iran today. When did the Secretary -- did the Secretary call him while he was there?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know where he was. They talk to each other from all kinds of places all over the world. I'm not sure where he was when they talked today.
QUESTION: Richard, if I can get back to Terri's question, maybe and rephrase it a little bit. It wouldn't be unusual if words change. I mean, that's part of bargaining and negotiating. But could you say whether the initial American words have been changed in any respect?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I think my long answer to Terri was we haven't started working on words and texts in that context yet.
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR. BOUCHER: The discussion is of the elements, of the concepts, of what needs to be in there. Certainly we've floated --
QUESTION: I understand.
MR. BOUCHER: -- we've shown others, talked to others, about what we think needs to be in there. There was a discussion in New York yesterday among the Perm 5 based on the US text, based on the elements that we put in, but it wasn't a textual discussions to that extent of saying, well, how about you change this or that word. People are discussing the elements and the concepts.
QUESTION: One other quick thing. The President is supposed to call the French President, I think, at 2 o'clock. Has the Secretary been in touch the last day or so with the French Foreign Minister in advance of that call? I know it was the weekend. I wasn't here yesterday and I just wondered.
MR. BOUCHER: It would have been Monday. He talked to Foreign Minister Villepin twice.
QUESTION: Richard, are you losing patience with this rather tortuous process at the UN and coming slowly to the conclusion that the UN is irrelevant, as --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, Jonathan, as you know, we are confirmed multilateralists and we work a lot with the United Nations. We know how things work up there. We've done this before. We know it takes patience and takes determination, and above all it takes clarity of purpose. And the President has given us that clarity of purpose in his speech in the United Nations. He has given it to us again in terms of his speech the other night. And we continue to pursue those purposes.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you, who has confirmed that the United States is multilateralist?
MR. BOUCHER: I just have.
QUESTION: Okay. So you guys, yourselves, confirm that you're multilateralist.
MR. BOUCHER: We do a lot of work through the United Nations. We know how to do it.
QUESTION: Oh, I'm sure you but I'm just curious as to where -- is that -- I mean, is this some kind of new phrase that is going to enter the lexicon?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it's just obvious from the facts, Matt. You can say it any time you want.
QUESTION: Right. Kyoto, ICC, ABM Treaty.
MR. BOUCHER: The United Nations Security Council, international conventions, treaties with Moscow. That kind of stuff.
QUESTION: Picking up after Jonathan, if you could answer this, in these discussions is there any discussion of, if not through the UN, through some force of like-minded states, that concept?
MR. BOUCHER: These discussions in the United Nations are about what the United Nations can do, what the United Nations Security Council can do to take its responsibility, face up to its responsibility, as the Secretary General and the President both asked the Security Council to do.
We have also made clear, the Secretary and the President made absolutely clear, we've got to deal with the questions, with the dangers of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, we've got to deal with it one way or the other. And other nations, other leaders, have as well. So but these discussions are about how to do that, how to have the United Nations take the responsibility, set the rules, and make sure that what it wants accomplished gets accomplished by Iraq.
QUESTION: Without -- I know you said you haven't come up with a text yet, but when you talk about the consequences and what should be in the resolution, are you going beyond that to talk about what the consequences should be and how the UN might be involved in those consequences?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, the discussion at the UN is about what the UN needs to do now to take its responsibility --
QUESTION: Well, but have you discussed what the UN would do if Iraq does not comply?
MR. BOUCHER: We're talking about what the UN needs to do now to take its responsibility, so it would be premature to have that kind of discussion.
QUESTION: How about is there a convergence on the concept of consequences?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I described that about ten minutes ago and said that there seems to be some understanding in the Council that the Council needs to express clearly its determination and its determination that there should be consequences. How exactly that is done is still a matter of discussion and dispute, and as you know, some nations still prefer a two-resolution approach.
QUESTION: Richard, one of the issues -- and I note you seem to be reluctant to talk about this, but one of the issues was not so much a question of consequences but a question of triggers in the sense that there was reluctance to authorize the use of force by individual UN members without a second reference to the -- a second return to the Security Council. Is that -- this is obviously part of the discussion. Is the United States insistent on that, on that aspect?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to negotiate particular bits and pieces of a resolution here. We have made very, very clear that there needs to be a clear expression of determination, there needs to be a clear expression of the consequences. How the Council will do that is a matter of discussion that's continuing with other members. The Secretary said that the question of automaticity, as it's being called, is one of the issues that are being discussed in that context. But how it will be resolved or what -- how this works out, I can't tell you at this point.
QUESTION: Would you be willing to expand that, that there has to be an expression of --
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Maybe you will if you hear my question.
MR. BOUCHER: I think I just said no to him, but I'll say no to you.
QUESTION: No, it's a slightly different question. Must there be, in the US view, an expression of consequences for there to be any hope, any reasonable hope, that the reentry of inspectors would bring any positive results?
MR. BOUCHER: We have made clear our view, and Iraq in its behavior has made clear, that Iraq responds to pressure. We heard from the inspectors last Friday, Dr. Blix and Dr. Baradei, that constant pressure is required to make this work. We have made clear our view that the reason we strongly prefer one resolution is because the clearer it is to Iraq that there are consequences for noncompliance, the more likely it is that we will get some kind of compliance from Iraq, and that the way to solve this without resort to war is to make clear that we're prepared to do whatever is necessary to achieve Iraq's disarmament.
QUESTION: But do you think that what those consequences should be need to be spelled out to Iraq before or just the fact that consequences are going to be --
MR. BOUCHER: This, again, gets to how is it going to come out, and we'll just see.
Terri had one.
QUESTION: The US and the Government of Qatar are negotiating over the use of an air base, it's been announced. Does the State Department have any role in that or is that completely DOD?
MR. BOUCHER: I've seen some statements attributed to a colonel. I don't have anything on that. As you know, the President has not decided on military action so it would be premature for me to try to talk about how it might occur.
QUESTION: But it wouldn't be premature to discuss the use of the air base?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything like that for you.
QUESTION: What do you make of the refusal of the European Commission to offer -- to set a date for Turkey to open EU accession talks?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's see where we are on that. I think what we have is reports from the European Commission on the ten countries that are being recommended for membership. We made clear overall that while we're not a member of the European Union, we certainly believe its expansion is a positive and constructive process. It broadens the zone of political stability and economic prosperity in Europe. And I think you'll remember from the President's Warsaw speech and throughout this administration, that's been a major theme of this administration.
We welcome the European Commission's issuance of these reports. It represents another important step towards making the accession of a significant number of countries a reality.
Because we're not a member, we have no formal role in determining the European Union's relations with third countries. We've long believed, however, that Turkey's future is in Europe; it's in the strategic interest of the United States and the European Union, of Turkey and the European Union, that Turkey and the European Union build the closest possible relationship.
We support Turkey's aspirations to become a member of the European Union. We see the European Union's report as a positive step in that direction. As the European Union's report noted, Turkey has taken major and positive reform steps in recent months and the Commission recommends that the European Union enhance its pre-accession assistance to Turkey. We hope the European Union will begin accession talks with Turkey as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Diplomats in Washington and in capitals are saying that they are under -- member -- EU member-states are under intense pressure by the United States to grant Turkey membership. Are you making such a push for other candidates?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have made clear our view that expansion is a good thing and that we support it. We've long made that clear. We've also made our views clear, I think, consistently that we think that better relations between the European Union and Turkey are important to us. And that's something that we've consistently advocated. So the answer is yes, we've advocated both the general and some of the specifics.
QUESTION: Richard, you say you hope the Commission would start the accession talks as soon as possible. Do you think therefore it was a mistake not to start them now, and are you disappointed that they haven't?
MR. BOUCHER: As I've said, we hope they will begin accession talks with Turkey as soon as possible. We hope they will do what they said in the report to enhance their relationship with Turkey. I think final decisions on this are at the EU summit in Copenhagen in December, so we'll continue to be in touch with the European Union on these questions.
QUESTION: Well, the reaction from Turkey is not happy, obviously. I'm sure you've seen the reports of what the Foreign Minister has said talking about how this will complicate or cement the division of your old bailiwick, Cyprus, and also may complicate things within NATO. Do you share concerns like that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have put it -- we've emphasized, you might say, the other side of the coin. We've emphasized that closer relations between the European Union and Turkey would enhance the political and economic cooperation of allies and friends throughout this region and it would serve both Turkey's interests and the interests of the European Union, as well as the broader overall interests that we have in this very important region. So we certainly think that what they've done, what they've reported what they intend to do to enhance the relationship, is a positive step, and we think that should continue.
QUESTION: Would those overall interests include NATO unity and a resolution of the Cyprus issue?
MR. BOUCHER: Certainly the European Union can make a contribution to these -- to the Cyprus issue. We've worked with them. Both we and the Europeans support the efforts of the Secretary General in that regard. NATO and the European Union have never been coterminous so it's not exactly a necessity.
QUESTION: Can't the European Union better impact if it holds off until Turkey moves on Cyprus? Turkey is --
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, we're not in a position to decide the details of European policy. We certainly discuss all these questions with the Europeans, as well as with the United Nations and the others who are heavily involved in these issues. But in the end, the European Union members decide these things.
QUESTION: On the other hand, do you think it's possible that this would, in fact, stimulate a resolution of the Cyprus conflict?
MR. BOUCHER: You guys can speculate. I'm not going to speculate. We've got people working on all these issues. We certainly support the efforts. We and the Europeans work together to support the United Nations Secretary General, and I'm sure we all want to do whatever we can to support that process.
QUESTION: New subject. US officials are now saying that they do believe there is a terrorist tie to the killing of a US Marine yesterday in Kuwait and that these people trained at al-Qaida camps. Do we know that for -- how do you back that up?
MR. BOUCHER: It's my job to back up anonymous US officials?
QUESTION: It would be nice.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't want to back them all up. Some of them don't know what they're talking about sometimes. But in this case, some of them do.
MR. BOUCHER: All right. We view this attack on US military forces engaged in training exercises in Kuwait as a terrorist act. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Our deepest condolences go out to the family of the US Marine killed in the attack.
We have always enjoyed excellent counterterrorism cooperation with the Kuwaiti Government. We are in very close coordination with them now to investigate this incident fully and to investigate any possible connections to international terrorist groups that may exist.
At this time, other than pointing to the fact that the Kuwaitis themselves have talked to some extent about the individuals involved and their background, I really have nothing more for you to report. We'll see how the investigation proceeds.
QUESTION: Well, do you say "terrorist act" based on the circumstances or because you have some pretty strong hunch who did it?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it's clear from the nature of the attack that it's a terrorist attack.
QUESTION: Whether or not these guys are proven to be al-Qaida?
MR. BOUCHER: And the Kuwaitis themselves have already reached that conclusion in terms of their investigation.
QUESTION: Is that whether or not these people are proven to have links to al-Qaida? Just by virtue of it being an attack on US forces?
MR. BOUCHER: When you start shooting up American soldiers for no particular purpose, there is no purpose; we think that's a terrorist act.
QUESTION: Richard, how does this fit in with the definition of terrorism which you use, which only excludes military personnel when they're not on -- when they're not engaged in operations in some country?
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, that's not a definition that I think we use. I think there's a definition of international terrorism that you can see in the Patterns of Global Terrorism. Second of all, these military personnel were not engaged in any kind of hostile actions.
QUESTION: Of course we're not quarreling, but it's usually attacks on civilians that make it a terrorist act. But you make the point the soldier wasn't engaged in any offensive behavior.
MR. BOUCHER: The soldiers were engaged in a training exercise with a friendly government.
QUESTION: Right. Can I ask you about, if it's all right, the Secretary last night spoke of his -- he would like to do much more, see much more done, to include Hispanic Americans in the State Department. And he's trying -- we're trying to do more, he said. Can you, in any way, elaborate on how the State Department is doing this to attract Hispanics? I mean, do you --
MR. BOUCHER: I can't do it all off the top of my head.
QUESTION: No, I know. I didn't mean to sandbag you but --
MR. BOUCHER: We've repeatedly briefed here on our recruitment campaigns and how we were reaching out farther. A number of us at various times before the exams made phone calls to applicants to make sure -- to encourage them to show up and consider this seriously. We've had record numbers of people taking the exams and record percentages of minority applicants, both black and Hispanics, African American, whatever other groups taking the exam. I think we've made a real effort in this regard. I don't have the figures off the top of my head.
QUESTION: And of course I don't expect you will, but does the State Department keep book on how many Hispanics, how many blacks, then of course there are black Hispanics --
MR. BOUCHER: I think like most government agencies, we ask people if they want to classify themselves and many of them do, so we have numbers on that, yeah.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary have any response to the criticisms by Mr. Harry Belafonte?
MR. BOUCHER: He smiled when I told him about it.
QUESTION: He smiled?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I think -- he smiled. Well, he also said that both the IRS and his accountant thought he was better off as a field hand. (Laughter.) When he was out in the field he was doing a little better. But anyway --
QUESTION: Sorry? Oh, I see. I see. Really? That was a delayed reaction, yes.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I know. It took you a while. Anyway that's --
QUESTION: Does he take these -- I mean, was he offended by these remarks?
MR. BOUCHER: He smiled and has no particular comment on it.
QUESTION: Was there any -- has there been any effort made by the Department to get in touch with Mr. Belafonte or his people to find out what prompted this diatribe?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: How did the Secretary hear about -- you were the one that --
MR. BOUCHER: I think we sent him the article yesterday afternoon.
QUESTION: Another topic?
MR. BOUCHER: Another topic? Let's go in the back first, though. They've been waiting, too.
QUESTION: Do you have anything more on the Malaysia case?
MR. BOUCHER: No, nothing more today. You'll have to check with Justice as we move into the legal parts of this.
QUESTION: One like that?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: Anything more on the Yemen case? Frank Taylor's there and --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, if we're changing topics, let's do this methodically.
QUESTION: They're massing in Caracas for another monster march tomorrow. The government's brought out the tanks, is raiding homes. Meanwhile people are up here asking, demanding that the Carta Democrata, the Democratic Charter, be applied to Venezuela. Does the US Government have any reaction to that?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't tried to react every time you've come and told us of demonstrations planned. We support democracy. We'll continue to support democracy. As far as the Democratic Charter, as you know, we've often talked about the need for the OAS or some organization -- I think the Carter Center has been down there -- to try to help reconcile the parties in Venezuela through a democratic process.
QUESTION: Well, it looks very much like there may be another fight down there, as there was in April. Is that just the way --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to make predictions. I think our stand in support of democracy is clear and it remains so.
QUESTION: Can I ask my Yemen question? Frank Taylor is there, I guess, and told reporters that he'd been briefed on what's known as a blast and says it's too early to speculate. But also some counterterrorism officials are in Yemen or heading to Yemen, but apparently have not gotten permission from the Yemeni Government yet to participate. Can you tell us about that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, let me tell you two things. One, the tanker is secured and has been towed to a safe location. Yemeni and French authorities continue their efforts to ascertain the cause of the explosion. We would have to refer you to them for any further comment. We have offered our assistance to both Yemeni and French authorities in this regard. There are more US Naval investigators who will arrive soon in Yemen to provide whatever assistance we can.
MR. BOUCHER: I think that the first one or ones are already there, but more are arriving today.
Our Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Ambassador Frank Taylor, is in the Middle East for routine counterterrorism consultations. His itinerary includes stops in Riyadh, Amman, Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Sanaa. Ambassador Taylor has been discussing a wide variety of counterterrorism issues with senior officials in each of these capitals. Talks have been productive so far. He's been very pleased with the level of cooperation that we've seen from these nations in the global war on terrorism.
His visit to Sanaa was long-planned. It happened to coincide with the explosion that occurred aboard the French supertanker. He came after the explosion, not at the time of it. I can't give you any particular details on how the subject was discussed during his consultations, though.
QUESTION: But do you know whether the Yemeni Government is not granting French and/or US investigators access to the site?
MR. BOUCHER: I have not heard anything like that. I will just have to leave it at that.
QUESTION: What's your current assessment of the nature, the origin, the cause of this --
MR. BOUCHER: Our current assessment is the way it has been, that Yemeni and French authorities are looking into the cause and the origin of this, and we'll look for them to reach any determinations.
QUESTION: Another trip by another official? And also, this would be your Article 98 expert. Also, could you describe her travels and also if there's any new -- are you beyond 13 yet or --
QUESTION: We're stuck on unlucky 13.
MR. BOUCHER: Where are we going on this? No, we're still at 13 as of yesterday. The travels of Ambassador Lino are part of our continuing effort to conclude Article 98 agreements with as many countries as possible. She is the administration's lead negotiator for Article 98 agreements and she'll be traveling to a number of European capitals.
QUESTION: Which ones?
MR. BOUCHER: Don't have that at this time. Sorry.
QUESTION: Is that because that hasn't been decided or because you don't want to say?
MR. BOUCHER: Because I don't have it.
QUESTION: Well, are you --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to promise to get it because I don't think we particularly want to lay it all out right now.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. Why? What is so secret about -- I mean, you're trying to negotiate these, as the President has said, with as many countries as possible.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. And we'll talk to as many countries as possible.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, can you say how many countries in Europe she's going to be going to?
MR. BOUCHER: Not at this point.
QUESTION: Middle East. Can you talk about any discussions with the Israelis over the last few days? Are you urging -- I know the President put out a statement, but has the Secretary made any calls, has the Ambassador been in, and have you asked the Israelis to use restraint? Prime Minister Sharon has said that the attacks will continue.
MR. BOUCHER: The White House put out a statement, as you noted. The Press Secretary put out a statement on behalf of the President and made clear it's critical that Israeli forces make every effort to avoid harm to civilians as they exercise their right to self-defense, as the Israelis exercise their right to self-defense.
We have continued to stay in touch with the Israeli Government on this. As you know, we've been deeply troubled by the upsurge of violence, including the shooting of four Israeli family members yesterday, as well as the death and wounding of many Palestinians in Gaza.
We've been working closely with both sides. We've been urging them to take immediate steps to ease the situation and to refrain from words or actions that inflame the tensions. So we've continued to work on this. We've called on the Israeli military to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths of civilians and we expect them to take immediate steps to prevent the recurrence of tragic incidents like this.
QUESTION: Has the Israeli Ambassador been called in to have this message delivered to him?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if we've talked to him or not.
QUESTION: Have you guys had a chance to look at these claims by this Israeli author that there was an assassination attempt against -- that the Palestinians attempted to --
MR. BOUCHER: I checked around on that thing yesterday, the claim that there was an ambulance that was trying to get to our motorcade with explosives in it.
There was, at one point, an arrangement made for an ambulance to go through a road that was blocked off for the motorcade. The ambulance went through, it was no big deal, and the ambulance didn't try to divert its course or get close to us, and it was no indication at any time that anybody tried to get an ambulance full of explosives close to us.
QUESTION: And one other thing on the Mideast. Deputy Assistant Secretary Cheney seems to have popped up in Amman yesterday. Is she going anywhere else in the region and is she concentrating only on kind of the business or economic and trade matters, as the embassy said in its statement yesterday, or is she doing other things as well?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I have her itinerary with me. Do we? We had it the other day. I will have to get the itinerary for you. That's one I think I can get. She is responsible for economic matters in this region. Her travels involve economic and business matters. They involve economic cooperation between our nations. They involve education programs and assistance programs and things like that. So there are a great number of things like that to talk about with the countries of the region.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, she's also been involved the sub-group, the -- what are you guys calling it?
MR. BOUCHER: The task force. Yes, and the task force. I'm sure that's part of her discussions as well. Humanitarian assistance questions.
QUESTION: Wait. I've got a couple other ones here. We're about to head into election time in Pakistan. I see the Brits have put out a travel warning for their people ahead of the election and am wondering if (a) you guys plan to do the same thing, and (b) what you make of the -- what's your evaluation as we move into the election period.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think there's any new travel warning in the works. At least, I've not heard of any. We have, as you know, an existing travel warning.
QUESTION: But you and the Brits often coordinate these things, especially when--
MR. BOUCHER: We often do. We often do.
And as far as the upcoming election -- Phil, give me a copy of your piece of paper. I can't find mine. Do you have it? Well, there it goes. It's back on the desk. We'll get it for you right afterwards. I think I will stick to the exact words on that one.
QUESTION: Okay. Then if there's no one else, I've got two, brief other ones.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the Kashmir elections that have already taken place?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. The vote counting in that case is, I think, still going on. The United States has always supported free and fair elections in Kashmir, held without outside interference and violence. Throughout this process, we've condemned the extremist attempts to disrupt voting in Kashmir. The final phase of the voting took place yesterday. Officials of the election commission are now supervising the ballot count, which we expect will be finished in a few days.
We continue to note that Kashmir elections alone cannot solve the problems between India and Pakistan, but they are an important step in a broader political process. So we hope that these elections will pave the way for early resumption of the diplomatic dialogue between India and Pakistan.
QUESTION: Are you pleased with the way they went off?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll look to the vote count before making any particular judgments. We're pleased that they did occur and that efforts were made to keep them as open and as fair as possible.
QUESTION: I realize this -- I don't know if you guys handle this, and I do realize that it is a private visit, but since the Thai Crown Prince is here today being hosted by the Deputy Secretary, I'm wondering if you can tell us anything about the visit of the Queen and the Crown Prince to the US.
MR. BOUCHER: The lunch at the State Department is being hosted by Deputy Secretary Armitage in honor of His Royal Highness, The Crown Prince of Thailand. And as you noted, the Crown Prince is accompanying Queen Sirikit of Thailand on her private visit to the United States from October 4-16. She's visiting Washington, D.C., New York City and Houston. Foreign Minister Surakiart also attended the lunch.
We expect that Deputy Secretary Armitage will note the strong US-Thai relationship and the warm ties between the American and the Thai people. Mr. Armitage will also express gratitude for Thailand's counterterrorism support and for its contribution to Afghan reconstruction.
QUESTION: Since that's already happened, can we put that in the past tense?
MR. BOUCHER: Has it already happened?
QUESTION: Well, I saw him greet the Thai Crown Prince as he came in. That was about noon.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we have to put it in the --
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Fair Enough.
MR. BOUCHER: What is that called? The present perfect? He is hosting, is the way I would put it, because I think it's ongoing now.
QUESTION: And my last one. You guys have come under some pretty intense fire today about the issuances of visas to the hijackers in at least three publications that I found.
MR. BOUCHER: Only one author.
QUESTION: One author, three different publications, obviously shopping it around to a variety of places. But one former State Department official is quoted as saying that there was criminal negligence involved, and I'm wondering what you make of this allegation.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't make a lot of it. The Department has, first of all, cooperated fully and supported the efforts of our investigators to find out everything they could about the hijackers and about the circumstances under which they came to the United States. What information our US Government agencies might have had or might not have had, the fact is that with 20/20 hindsight, I'm sure one can always find a reason that you might have turned down a visa or turned down or made a different decision. But at the time, we had no information on any of these people in the namecheck system or any other indications that they didn't qualify for a visa.
I would note that since September 11th we've done an awful lot to improve the detail and the rigor of our screening of visas. We require much more information from applicants. We have much more extensive screening procedures. We have vastly expanded the information in our databases about potential terrorists and criminals. We've dramatically increased the percentage of applicants who must come for personal interviews. In Saudi Arabia, all men between the ages of 12 and 70 are being interviewed unless they are government officials or personally known already to the embassy.
So we have made any number of changes to try to improve standards of visa processing worldwide to make sure that the primary goal of keeping out the people who don't belong here, keeping out the people who may do us harm, that that goal is being met.
QUESTION: Well, of course, the article doesn't talk about post-9/11, it talks about pre-9/11, and says that -- and alleges that even under the standards that were applicable at the time, pre-9/11, these applications should have been rejected on their face because they contained either incomplete or factually incorrect information. What do you have to say to this?
MR. BOUCHER: That's easy to say now and I'm sure all of us would like to say that now. 214(b) is a catch-all that says that if the applicant doesn't establish to the satisfaction of the consular officer that he's going to the United States for a temporary period and limited purposes -- you'll see the exact language in the law -- then he can be turned down for a visa and should be turned down for a visa. And that's the way we operate around the world.
In each particular case, we look at the application, whatever interviews, whatever other information we have, we do the name checks and, you know, we turn down the people who don't deserve visas, who don't clearly qualify for visas. As I've said, it's easy sort of as a Monday morning quarterback to say somebody would have made this different decision, but I don't think that's fair to the process, and in any case, the process is vastly different now than it was then.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, but the -- but Richard, the argument that's advanced is that these people should have been turned down, and you're saying that they would have been if they were -- if their applications were -- I mean, you're saying in a sense, I think -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- that these people did qualify for visas under the existing rules at the time.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: They did?
MR. BOUCHER: They did. That was what the consular officers determined. And in the end, that's what matters.
QUESTION: Okay, but --
MR. BOUCHER: To establish to the satisfaction of the consular officer, based on all the information the consular officer had.
MR. BOUCHER: So, you know, you can second-guess these decisions, but the fact is now the situation is different: the processing is different, the information available to our consular officers is different, the amount of information required of applicants is different, the databases are different. So whatever one thinks about what could have happened, should have happened, might have happened, with those applications that were deemed legitimate at the time based on all the information we had, one has to say that it's a different situation now. We have vastly improved the processing and the security of the applications.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then, so you do not take a position on whether the consular officers who approved these visas were wrong in determining that these people were eligible?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: They -- so at the time --
MR. BOUCHER: At the time, the consular officers, based on what they had available to them, okay, which is a lot less information than somebody would have now, which wasn't the entire US Government database because we didn't get that information from all the agencies at that time -- but even then, I'm not sure we would have had a hit.
QUESTION: Okay. So the long and short of it --
MR. BOUCHER: So based on what they knew at the time, they issued the visas. That's a judgment that they had to make. I'm not checking that judgment now. I'm just saying the whole process is different now.
QUESTION: So you reject outright that there was criminal negligence as to this --
MR. BOUCHER: I saw the phrase. I think that's rhetorical and not judicial, so I'm not going to try to deal with it.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about -- go back to the Marine for a moment? Is there any al-Qaida link, do you know?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, the investigators will have to look at any possible connections with other terrorist groups.
Released on October 9, 2002