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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for Dec. 29

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for Dec. 29

Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 29, 2004


Consular Affairs Task Force Update on American Tsunami Victims
Calls from Families of American Tsunami Victims
Monitoring by Embassies in Region / Public Announcement
Confirmation of American Deaths
Assistance by U.S. Consular Officers / Embassy Staff
Embassy Bangkok 24-hour Teams
Reports of Mass Graves / Identification of Americans
Creation of Lists to Track Down Americans
Coordination of Relief Among Core Group / United Nations
Query on Worldwide Assistance
Formal Requests for Assistance by Sri Lanka / Other Nations
U.S. Military Assets
U.S. a Major Donor / U.S. Private-Corporate Contributions
American Generosity / Millennium Challenge Account / AIDS
Official Development Assistance / Steps Taken to Provide Assistance
Global Alert System for Tsunami Early Warning

Travel by Deputy Secretary Armitage

Query on U.S. Citizen David Ji

Status of South Korean Coalition Troops
Commitment to January 30 Elections


1:05 p.m. EST

MR. BOUCHER: Let me, if I can, update you on the American citizen side of things. Our Consular Affairs Task Force has been up and running 24 hours a day. They're responding to calls. They're responding to faxes. During the daytime we're getting, oh, something like 400 calls an hour to our call center and the task force itself is placing calls to families to get more information or, in many cases, to pass on information that we can find.

The embassies in the region continue to monitor the welfare of Americans who were affected by the disaster and provide us with updated information on the citizens who are out there.

Once again, family members who are seeking their American citizen relatives may call the task force toll free number. That is 888-407-4747.

We put out a public statement yesterday discussing the areas that were affected by the tsunami. I want to repeat one particular piece of advice in that statement for the Americans who are traveling in Asia or in the South Asian region or anywhere that's a long way or even -- or close to where this disaster is, and that is, "Call your mother." This is a time where people who know they're hundreds of miles away from where things might have -- where the disaster might have occurred need to call home and tell their relatives, who know it's only a quarter inch on the map. So if we can just repeat that advice to Americans.

We have confirmed, sadly, the deaths of 12 American citizens among the thousands of deaths in the region. For the moment, that's the same number as yesterday, although I don't know, it may go up. We've got seven Americans who died in Sri Lanka and five who died in Thailand.

Embassies in the region are monitoring the Americans who are injured and receiving medical information from them, but at this point we don't have any numbers on American citizens injured.

We have deployed consular officers and embassy staff throughout the region, primarily in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia. They have been in and out of the areas of greatest damage to try to locate and identify American citizens. They've been available around the clock to offer assistance to American citizens in need. We've sent in consular officers from slightly outside the affected areas, people from Vietnam, people from the embassy in New Delhi in India, who have gone to Thailand especially to help on locating American citizens, given the large numbers of Americans who are in Thailand.

The Embassy in Bangkok is operating 24-hour teams in Phuket, another one at the airport in Bangkok that provide -- another team in Bangkok airport which is providing help to American travelers. They're offering no-fee passports and they're also offering emergency loans to Americans who are affected by the tsunami. I understand there are free flights available from Phuket for those who can come back into Bangkok and our Embassy picks them up when they get to Bangkok and helps them get passports and helps them get money that they might need.

In response to the urgent calls for blood donations, our Embassy in Bangkok has also organized several blood drives and provided shuttles to local hospitals for that purpose, and they've organized visits to hospitalized Americans and contacted families.

We have also had a situation, I think, that you've seen reported in Thailand. There were some reports of mass graves being opened or bodies being put in mass graves. We have been in touch with the Thai Government in relation to the disposition of remains, particularly of those of foreigners. The government announced today that the remains of non-Thai citizens are not going to be buried without prior identification. Photographs, fingerprints and DNA samples of all non-Thai bodies are being taken for identification purposes and location of remains believed to be foreigners, including Americans, is being monitored by the Thai Government.

So that's the basic rundown on the consular matters and I'd be happy to answer your questions on this or other matters. Let's start again with Barry.

QUESTION: With many, many Americans being unaccounted for, yesterday we were told a sizeable number had been located but still there was a huge number not located. And, you know, as the days go on, a natural conclusion would be that perhaps many of them are lost. Can you advance that rough assessment on any --

MR. BOUCHER: I can't, really. It's a revolving process. We're working at any given moment two- to three thousand names now that we're looking for. In many cases we are getting lists of these people out to embassies; embassies are then able to track them down or hear from them or identify them. But let's remember there are families calling us all the time, "I haven't heard from my son. You know, it's been three days." Well, one family might call after two days when another one might call after three, another one after four. So we're always adding names to the list.

Second of all, we shouldn't assume the worst. Certainly we're doing everything we can to identify Americans in these areas to go to hospitals, to go to morgues, and identify Americans who we know to be affected. As I said, they are often Americans who are outside of the regions that directly suffered who might not have gotten in touch. There are often, given the nature of some of these places, there are people who just can't get a phone call through who are out of communication rather than any personal difficulty.

And so for all these reasons we have to assume it's a process that will go on for some time, and just because we have large numbers of Americans that we're trying to identify and look for doesn't mean that they're all in bad straits.

QUESTION: But, roughly, two- to three thousand --

MR. BOUCHER: At any given moment that we're trying to track down, we're in contact with the embassies about, things like that.


QUESTION: Richard, can we look at the same question in a different way? Are there any names you've managed to take off the list? Yesterday they were talking about over 4,000.

And secondly, where are most of them? Is there one place or one area of various countries that -- I mean, are the majority of them in Indonesia, Sri Lanka?

MR. BOUCHER: I tried to get some of that information today. We don't have good numbers. Yes, there are names, obviously, that all the time are taken off the list as others are added. I don't have a number on how many we have been able to identify in the last, you know, 24 or 48 hours. I'll see tomorrow if we can generate that kind of information.

As far as where the Americans are, there are certainly more Americans in Thailand than anywhere else, any of these other places, but there are Americans, significant numbers, in all these places and therefore we're looking, you know, with very active embassy operations in all these places.


QUESTION: Since the number hasn't changed since yesterday, the 12 dead, is it a problem with identifying nationality, identifying the families back home? I mean, you indicated that there would be more dead.

MR. BOUCHER: There may be. I can't say for sure that that's the final number. Chances are it's not. But no, I don't want to say it's a particular problem; it's just we have not confirmed any other deaths of Americans. There are, as you know, a lot of reports now coming back. There are pictures of the dead on websites and things like that. So I expect that as people look at those various pieces of information coming back, as we gather information, as people identify their loved ones, we may hear about more.

QUESTION: And of the 12 that we know are dead, or that you know are dead, can you characterize them in any way? Were they tourists, children, Americans living abroad?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm afraid I can't at this point. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Are you taking DNA or dental records or anything to try to help match up people from families who report someone's -- they're looking for someone?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure that will be done in any case where we suspect the person may have passed away or where there's -- as I said, in Thailand there is a systematic effort by the government to collect identifying information and DNA on anybody who's -- any bodies that are not Thai or believed to be foreign.

If one sort of narrows this down to an individual who may have passed away, then we would start looking at that at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: Richard, just I'm still not quite sure exactly the function and the relationship or the hierarchy of this core group of countries that was formed by the United States. Does it consider itself as actually the top lead agency in funding and implementation of relief efforts, or is it just going to be working under or within the UN, or exactly how is that going to work?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think you have to be that hierarchical about it. There are a great many needs. There are a great many people that are operating to help out in this way. We think that the best -- the coordination of relief among the donors is very important. And to the extent that we can help with that by forming the core group and reaching out to other donors, that is certainly a contribution we want to make.

So, at the immediate moment, the Secretary and the President felt it was important to pull together this core group. The Secretary talked to the Japanese and Australian Foreign Ministers yesterday. He talked to the Indian Foreign Minister this morning. They were all ready -- a quick agreement to set this up and to coordinate in this fashion among some of the principal countries that will be involved.

But there will be others involved. The UN will be involved as well. Eventually, we may get to a more systematic, coordinated donors group, if there is a conference or something like that.

QUESTION: Do you see this group as just involved in funding, or do you see it also get involved in sort of nitty-gritty details of deployment of resources, as well?

MR. BOUCHER: They're going to coordinate everything that we all can do so that -- there are a great many needs, as I said, a great many actions being taken. Today, for the United States, you have P-3s flying to help countries identify the locations that are hurt, that are most harmed by the tsunami and the after effects. You have C-130s landing in different places, bringing relief supplies. You have rice being offloaded in Indonesia. You have American embassy officers down, working with Americans in the affected areas. You have disaster assistance teams from AID that are on the ground in different places. You have disaster assistance teams from the military who are on the ground in different places. The supplies are being delivered today.

So, as that process goes forward, that's the kind of thing that we'll talk about, that we will, first of all, coordinate within the U.S. Government, and then, for our part, coordinate with other members of the international community who are doing similar things.

QUESTION: To clarify this a bit more, sorry. But will these be activities that are not being done by the UN, which I think generally takes the lead on refugee situations and humanitarian relief, particularly through the World Food Program? I'm confused as to what the exact relationship remains and whether or not there is going to be duplication here.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, the point of all this coordination is to reduce duplication, is to get supplies to places that are needed; that when you have a core group, or you have a core group plus the UN, talking to each other on a very regular basis, you can say, you know, we're all delivering food to this place but they need water, or we're all delivering water to this place but it's needed somewhere else as well.

And so, with these various assets, you can say who can cover this need. You know, maybe we can get one of these military ships out there and produce water for somebody in a different place that needs it. And that's the point of all of the coordination. The important thing is all these people talk to each other. This is an organized fashion of us to talk to some of the other major nations involved and we will be adding nations to that core group. We'll be keeping in close touch with the UN, and it is -- it's just -- it's a matter of good deployment of all of the different resources we have.

But once again, we know the needs are great and we will use -- I think, every contribution is not being -- you know, you don't have to go this way or that way. It's just the better we coordinate through these different mechanisms, the better we can get the assistance to the people where they need it.


QUESTION: Can you characterize, by the scale of the whole worldwide effort of this disaster, how it compares to past situations or, you know, natural or manmade disasters that this country and others have responded to? Can you put it in context?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that I can precisely. I think Administrator Natsios, in his last answer, was explaining that the worldwide assistance, you know, as of yesterday, was 110 million. It's probably going up. What we have seen is the geographic scope of this disaster is very, very broad. The people affected are in, many times, outlying areas, all along the coast in a particular place. And so, there's a massive, I think, response in terms of the geography of it, in terms of the number of different things that are being done, the number of different nations involved, and the money involved, the assets involved, going up every day.

That's been true for the United States, not only in pledges, but commitments, obligations, now deliveries, military assets on the ground, food on the ground, clean water on the ground, teams on the ground to keep this moving. And that's where, I think, the effort has to be concentrated.

QUESTION: Richard --


QUESTION: On Monday, we were told that only Sri Lanka had made a formal request for assistance. Have the other countries gone and made that formal request, as well?

MR. BOUCHER: There have been additional requests. I didn't -- I don't think I brought my chart with me today.

QUESTION: And also, does the military -- the cost of the military component come out of the 35 million, or is that separate?

MR. BOUCHER: No, that comes separately out of Defense Department funds. And so, it's a little hard for us to count in terms of fuel and manpower and things like that. But I think the fact is the U.S. has significant military assets in many cases that are capable of moving and being in places much more quickly than any other nation and doing things that other nations might not be able to do quite so readily.

So the use of these P-3s to go out and survey some of the areas, including some of the distant areas, and identify the problems that exist and what can be done about them, that's in some ways a capability that's very unique to the American military and something that we can do quickly and effectively that others might find it more difficult to do.

We have some requests from the Government of Indonesia. As I think Administrator Natsios noted, they have also granted access to the area of Aceh now. We have -- I'm just trying to go through this today. I'll have to get you a list on the requests. I think a lot of this is being -- all of the assistance that we'll be providing is done in coordination with the governments involved and helping work with them on identifying the kind of assistance they could need.

Yeah, Steve.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. BOUCHER: In a minute.

QUESTION: Yeah, this is just actually a request to address the issue of stinginess or not stinginess. It would help if you could pull together some figures on all of the different programs and how they have grown over time. One of the things that was said yesterday was that these categories in, obviously, AIDS, in ODA, in Millennium Challenge, in emergency relief have grown over time, and also I think the Administration counts private assistance, which is -- exceeds all government assistance.

If you could just give us some figures, not from the podium necessarily, that would be great.

MR. BOUCHER: I'll see what we can do. A couple of things to say on this: first of all, I think Mr. Egeland has explained his remarks a number of times. I don't need to do that for him.

But as we've said today, the United States has been a generous country. We've been a major donor and we intend to remain a major donor in all of these situations. During the course of the last four years, the AID budget has increased very significantly over these years. The new programs that have been added on top of that, the AIDS program, the Millennium Challenge Account programs, many of those are starting to be funded and we're seeing, during the last year or so, delivery of services under those new programs. But even they are -- there is much more to come.

And finally, the United States, in terms of generosity, private contributions, corporate contributions, and frankly, the kind of opportunities that we've offered people in terms of economic opportunity, being able to sell into the U.S. market, and things like that, makes a very significant impact on the developing countries, and I think a very positive impact on the developing countries.

QUESTION: Just following on that, do you think it's fair, as some people contend, that official assistance, as a percentage of the American gross domestic product, is lower than other developing countries? Do you think it's fair to make a judgment about American generosity on that score?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that's the sole criteria of American generosity. Obviously, the President has made a very significant commitment, in terms of his budgets, to increase that official development assistance, and the Millennium Challenge Account being another 50 percent increase when he announced it is a major contribution to increasing the official development assistance.

So I don't think we have anything to apologize for there. But official development assistance is a particular set of rules used internationally, used to compare budgets, used to assess flows, but it's not the sole criteria of how a country is helping developing countries in the -- or people in the developing world.

QUESTION: That is the framework of the (inaudible) though. It's not how much you gave. It's how much you give in relation to the GDP.

MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I realize that. I realize that. But the official development -- the percentage of official development assistance in relation to the GDP is not the -- is not a very complete measurement of how the United States helps people in the developing world.

QUESTION: Richard, can I get back to the question I tried to ask earlier? Would it not have been possible for the United States to have sent those ships earlier than last night? Would it not have been possible to form a task force headed by Marc Grossman that coordinated with other countries earlier than last night or today?

MR. BOUCHER: Let's look at what happened. We formed the task forces for the U.S. Government on Sunday, immediately, right away, as Director Natsios said. We have had consular task forces up and running constantly since that time. We've had assistance teams being deployed. What you're seeing today is a further enhancement of the effort. It's not, by any means, the beginning of the effort.

What you're seeing today, in four days, is that there are airplanes flying with relief supplies, there are airplanes flying to do the reconnaissance, there is rice being delivered, there is water being delivered, there are ships under steam, and there are people on the ground.

QUESTION: I understand that.

MR. BOUCHER: And that's what we've done in four days. That's the real result of anything that we do, forming task forces, coordinating mechanisms. You know, I'm in the government. We love that stuff. That's great. But what really matters is: Are you giving people food? Are you giving them water? Are you finding the people who need you? And that's what we're doing.

QUESTION: I understand that, Richard. But I still would like -- if I could get a direct answer to my question. Could not we have taken these steps earlier?

I mean, it's quite striking when General Conway talks about that some of these ships will be looking for bodies, either by the ships or by the helicopters. But he was talking four to six to eleven days from now. You know, it's hard to believe that anyone is going to still be alive out in the water. I'm just curious --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that was the primary thrust of his remarks.

QUESTION: No, but he did --

MR. BOUCHER: He was asked the question, and he said, of course, if there is an opportunity to do that, they will.

QUESTION: But I still get back to my question: Was it not possible to have taken these steps earlier?

MR. BOUCHER: We took many steps earlier. The steps have to be taken in sequence. You have to keep moving forward. You have to keep looking for more assets to bring to bear, more things you can do. And that's what we've been doing. The immediate things that you have to do at the beginning were done at the beginning. The things that are being done now are things that we can do now.

I don't think there is any -- I mean, four days delay, I don't think that's a correct assumption on this. In four days, we've got food being delivered, military aircraft onsite, water being delivered, and you're seeing that unfold now in the region.

QUESTION: Can we move on to --

MR. BOUCHER: Mark. I've guess we've got a couple more on this.

QUESTION: I didn't get a chance to ask General Conway this. But do you recall a military deployment of this size for a humanitarian relief operation?

MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't be able to speak to that. I'm sure the Pentagon or his office can get you an answer on that pretty quickly. But I'm not the one to try to recall military operations.

QUESTION: How do we reach his office?

MR. BOUCHER: Call the JCS spokesman -- spokesman's office.

QUESTION: So what can you add about this global alert system that the President referred to today? The tsunami-related global alert.

QUESTION: The possibility --

MR. BOUCHER: Oh, the possibility of a broader system to do early warnings. I can't add a whole lot right now. That's one of the issues that we'll all have to look at, and I'm sure the countries of the region have already started to think about and look at. But I'd say it's still -- still the focus is on humanitarian relief, and we do have, as you know, a system of early warning that works in the Pacific and we'll be talking to others. And the President said he talked this morning to some of the -- when he talked to some of the leaders about how to develop a proper warning system for the Indian Ocean, as well.

Barry was going to change topics.

QUESTION: Well, this probably came along too recently for you to have something on it, but let me try it anyhow. Huge explosion in Riyadh. Anything about whether U.S. installations were targeted or anything you might have on it?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I hadn't heard about it. It must have happened while I was down here, while I was standing here.

QUESTION: All right. The other thing is we were promised a little more detail on Mr. Armitage's travels.

MR. BOUCHER: You were?

QUESTION: We were.

QUESTION: It's all right. We've got -- we've pretty much got what we usually get --

MR. BOUCHER: I asked Adam. He said, "No, I explained it all yesterday." So I think we had --

QUESTION: Adam told us that a formal announcement --

MR. BOUCHER: Oh, you will have a formal announcement today that Deputy Secretary Armitage will be visiting Turkey and points in the Middle East, but I think Adam has already gone into more detail in terms of the actual visits.

QUESTION: Well, is Iraq still not on his itinerary? And it wasn't yesterday.

MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't talk about anybody's travel to Iraq, whether they're going or not going at any given moment.


QUESTION: If I could change the subject. A U.S. citizen named David Ji, of Chinese extraction -- in Chinese his name is Ji Long Fen -- is apparently the president of Apex, a maker of DVDs, and he's involved in a business dispute with a big television maker in China and apparently has been arrested. The U.S. Consulate in Shanghai said that there was a statement that needed to be cleared by Washington. This would have been today. This would have been Wednesday, China time. And I'm wondering if you have any follow-up on that.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I thank them all for telling you about it. I haven't heard of it yet. I'll check and see if it's in the works.


QUESTION: South Korean Congress still didn't decide whether they are pulling -- this is page 2 of their -- troops -- the current troops to Iraq, with only three days are away from new year. Do you expect South Korea to pull or will dispatch to Iraq -- South -- to Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: We have, I think, been clear before about our appreciation for the efforts South Korea has made and our desire to continue working with them in Iraq. A decision will be made by South Korea, according to their own political calendar, and I'll leave it to them to work out.


QUESTION: This is the -- Iraq's UN Ambassador had an op-ed piece yesterday in which he made a couple of suggestions. One was that perhaps the drafting of a constitution might be altered, the process for that. And the second is that it might be helpful if there was a very brief delay in the election, particularly to allow all of the absentees to vote properly. Is there -- is any thought being given in this building to following up on those suggestions?

MR. BOUCHER: I think the Secretary has answered those questions quite well in the last couple of days in relation to some of the newspaper stories that have appeared about it. It's very clear the Iraqi Government remains committed to having an election on June 30 -- on January 30th; that we're supporting them in trying to do that. I think the opportunity will exist for all Iraqis to express their point of view. There have been numerous political parties who are participating in the election and we want it to be open to everybody. And our goal is to have -- help the Iraqis have a successful election on January 30th. The process can go forward, should go forward, and we're supporting the Iraqis to do that.

QUESTION: I'm just wondering if you have any update on the case of Charles Lee, (inaudible) jailed in China?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have anything new today. Okay? Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)

DPB # 213


Released on December 29, 2004

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