Daily Press Briefing for April 18 –

Daily Press Briefing for April 18 — Transcript

   Daily Press BriefingPhilip T. Reeker, Deputy SpokesmanWashington, DCApril 18, 2002INDEX:

DEPARTMENT

1 US Government’s First Virtual IT Job Fair, April 22-26

VENEZUELA

1-2 Special Session of OAS General Assembly / US Representation

ITALY

2-3 Plane Crashes into Building in Milan

ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY

3 Demonstrations in the United States

3-4 Economic and Humanitarian Assistance to Palestinians

4 International Donors Conference in Oslo Next Week

4-5 Humanitarian Situation in Jenin

5-6,10 Status of Israeli Withdrawal

6 US Engagement with the Parties

6-7 Third Party Monitoring Mechanism

8 Chairman Arafat’s Recent Statement on Violence

9 Secretary Powell’s Trip to the Region

CONSULAR AFFAIRS

8-9 Issuance of Visas and Database Check

NORTH KOREA

10-11 Status of Dialogue with North Korea

AFGHANISTAN

11-12 King Zahir Shah Returns to Afghanistan

SRI LANKA

12 Deputy Secretary Armitage’s Meeting with Sri Lanka Minister Peiris

NEPAL

12 Maoist Attacks and Increasing Violence TRANSCRIPT:

MR. REEKER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I thought we would make the briefing a little later today to see how many of our colleagues from the Secretary’s trip arrive, but I see they haven’t arrived. So we will give them the rest of the day off.

I do have just one note I would like to call to your attention. I believe we released already a media note from the Press Office. And that is that the US Government will be having its first ever Virtual IT, Information Technology, Job Fair from April 22nd through the 26th, and the State Department will be part of this. And in particular, we at the State Department will be looking to fill over 100 positions in both the Civil Service and the Foreign Service. Those are positions involving Information Technology. There are opportunities nationwide and abroad, and the Virtual Job Fair is an opportunity for people to explore those opportunities with us. It’s a unique joint venture among 27 federal agencies and the Office of Personnel Management. So we can refer you to www.usajobs.opm.gov if you’d like to learn more about that opportunity.

So I just wanted to point that out. And with that, I’m prepared to begin questions with Mr. Gedda.

QUESTION: Let’s see. The OAS foreign ministers meeting starts this afternoon. A, is the Secretary going to be there? B, when is the American speaker, be it the Secretary or somebody else, scheduled to speak?

MR. REEKER: I don’t think I can probably give you that much of a breakdown of the OAS’s schedule. As you indicated, the 29th Special Session of the Organization of American States General Assembly will be held at their headquarters here in Washington today, April 18th. That is scheduled to begin at 4:00 p.m. As you know, this special session of the General Assembly is being called to consider the report from the OAS Secretary General, Mr. Gaviria, on the situation in Venezuela and to adopt such decisions as the General Assembly may deem appropriate.

Our delegation will be headed by Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Otto J. Reich, and of course there will be a number of other officials as part of that delegation, including Roger Noriega, our Ambassador to the Organization of the American States.

As you know, we have urged the Venezuelan Government to support fully the OAS mission, the fact-finding mission that the Secretary General has had down there, and we look forward to hearing the report from the Secretary General this afternoon. And through its good offices, we strongly believe that the OAS can play an important role by supporting a broad and inclusive national dialogue in Venezuela, one that promotes reconciliation and strengthening the essential elements of democracy in that country.

Anything else on Venezuela?

QUESTION: And to follow up on that, did you envisage the OAS establishing some kind of permanent mission in Caracas for a while to carry out some kind of dialogue promotion program?

MR. REEKER: I just don’t know that I can offer up any visions or envision anything in particular until we have had this General Assembly meeting, heard from the Secretary General, see what kinds of ideas come out of this meeting; first of all, hear his report and what he has to say following his trip to Venezuela. And then, as I indicated, the Special General Assembly is empowered to adopt decisions that they may deem appropriate. And we will just let that occur and then see where we go from there.

QUESTION: Although President Chavez has said that the plot originated in Venezuela, the press reflected today that two military had received — two of the rebellious military had received funds from a bank in Miami. Does the US Government have any evidence? The State Department —

MR. REEKER: I saw those press reports. I don’t know anything about it.

QUESTION: They quote a US diplomat.

MR. REEKER: I don’t know anything about it.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Could you tell us what you know about the plane in Milan?

MR. REEKER: The situation in Milan — I don’t have really anything to add. We have been watching this very much breaking news story. We have seen the press and television reports of a plane crash into a building in Milan, Italy. It appears that a charter plane has hit the Pirelli Center. That is about ten blocks from our Consulate in Milan. And we have been in touch with our Consulate in Milan, and facts are just coming in.

We want to take this opportunity to express our sympathy to the Italian people, the people of Milan and the Italian Government over this tragic event. We are going to continue to monitor the situation. We just don’t have any further details at this point in time, but clearly we will be monitoring that throughout the rest of today and as the details come forth.

QUESTION: You said that you have been in touch with your Consulate. Did they tell you — did they give you any indication that any American interest or business or anything might have been —

MR. REEKER: At this point, we don’t have any details of that. That is the kind of thing we would be looking into — the safety of American citizens or American interests there. Obviously, right now, we are just waiting to get details of the incident and what has happened. I just don’t have anything else to share. But we are keeping in touch obviously with our Consulate and obviously with Italian authorities as well.

QUESTION: Earlier this week, there was one of the largest pro-Israeli rally. Now, as far as this rally is concerned, was there any (inaudible) visiting the Middle East, or his mission a failure or success? And also, there is another rally, pro-Palestine, this week. These rallies do make any difference?

MR. REEKER: I think one of the hallmarks of the United States is our openness to free expression, discussion. These are issues of great interest to many people in this country, as well as those around the world, and we pride ourselves on letting people have the opportunity to express their views and opinions. That is what you have seen here in Washington and will continue to see on a whole variety of subjects, including those issues. I don’t think anything of that nature impacts the Secretary’s diplomacy that he was conducting, his trip that he has completed now and reported on to the President out there. So I think we will continue to have people expressing their views here in the United States. We listen, as we always do, and work, as the Secretary has discussed with the President, on how we can move ahead in the Middle East.

QUESTION: Has there been any discussion in this town or during the Secretary’s trip about possibly helping rebuild part of the Palestinian infrastructure that was destroyed by the Israelis over the past days?

MR. REEKER: Well, I think if you recall, and just earlier today, the Secretary was reporting to the President, and they were discussing it. The Secretary found broad support in the region for a comprehensive strategy as a way forward, and he discussed three key elements: security and freedom from terror, of course, and a serious and accelerated approach to negotiations to revive the hope of leading to a political settlement; and the third element of that was economic and humanitarian assistance to address the increasingly desperate conditions faced by the Palestinian people. And that was all part of setting out the President’s remarks, the actions called for in the President’s remarks from two weeks ago, from April the 4th. We won the support of the European Union, the United Nations, the Russian Federation, which was all expressed in the statement released after the meetings in Madrid, as you know. So this is very much an international operation.

The Secretary also met with Arab leaders, regional leaders and discussed with them the President’s call for responsibility to be taken on so many sides to do this. And one of the areas is the humanitarian assistance, the economic needs of the Palestinian people. That will be an important element in this. In that regard, I think you are aware that the Secretary announced while he was in the region an additional $30 million that we were providing for the UN Relief and Works Agency, and another $62 million in accelerated assistance for health care, water system repairs and emergency food aid.

So that’s an important element of this. The Secretary has on many occasions expressed concerns about the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people, and so we will continue to do that. There is also discussion, of course, about an international donors conference on urging humanitarian needs for the Palestinians. I believe that is expected to take place in Oslo next week, the 25th through 26th, and US officials will certainly attend that meeting as well.

So this is clearly one element of this President’s views that he expressed, that the Secretary went to the region to talk about, that we are making progress on in terms of moving ahead to find solutions to the problem in the Middle East.

QUESTION: Just one. So just to make sure that the United States is prepared to be one of those potential donors, it doesn’t expect other countries to cover the bill?

MR. REEKER: Well, I think it is something that is done in cooperation with the international community, and that part of the comprehensive strategy is one piece of what the Secretary worked on in the region, what we will continue to work on in this process. And as I said, there is a donors meeting expected to take place in Oslo next week. We will be there. And I just mentioned to you the most recent donation that we made, increased funding for the UN to help with some of the urgent needs there.

QUESTION: How then do you distinguish between the infrastructure that Israel says was a terrorist infrastructure and the one that you need for the normal living needs for the Palestinian people?

MR. REEKER: Well, I think we will work with the UN and determine the most immediate needs in terms of the humanitarian situation, and then the longer-term needs. That is something that will be discussed at the types of conferences like we will see in Oslo as we look to that, and we will let the experts focus on the needs as part of the overall strategy.

QUESTION: The NGO people have continued to complain that the Israelis are not giving them free access to Jenin, where many bodies lie buried and where thousands of people have lost their homes. Has the United States done anything in the last 24 hours to persuade the Israelis to open up — or today, rather? Since the Secretary left, has anybody in —

MR. REEKER: As you know, when he was in the region, the Secretary expressed our serious concerns about the humanitarian situation, particularly in Jenin. We have called upon Israel to respect humanitarian principles and to facilitate access by humanitarian organizations and services. We continue with that call, just as we call on Israel to continue their withdrawals.

And as you know, Assistant Secretary Burns remained in the region, where he is talking with both sides on all of these issues, and that would be one area where we continue to press those points that the Secretary made when he was there.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they don’t seem to take much notice of you. Have you done anything today to —

MR. REEKER: I don’t have a readout of all the conversations that have taken place in the region with Assistant Secretary Burns and the other officials that are there working on both sides. Our calls remain. Our concern about the situation in Jenin remains. The Secretary has been quite clear that we need to clear up what the situation was there. There was a lot of speculative reports. We need to have access for international humanitarian workers so that we can actually learn the facts about Jenin, and I think that is in Israel’s best interest as well.

QUESTION: The administration has been saying repeatedly that the Israelis — or calling on the Israelis to pull back. The President said today, though, that he understood the Israeli need or desire to try and capture the five suspects in Ramallah. Is that modifying the general call on Israel to pull back?

MR. REEKER: No, I don’t think at all. He was expressing his views that those responsible for the assassination of an Israeli minister be brought to justice. The Secretary addressed specifically that situation yesterday in his press conference. He recognized, as he said, the circumstances, first of all in Bethlehem, but also at the compound in Ramallah, and the importance of their urgent, nonviolent resolution. And so while our goal remains full implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions, 1402 in particular, I think that is something that the two sides need to work on. It is why we have kept people in the region to try to help them to see what we can do to resolve those situations peacefully. And that is what we are going to continue to work on.

QUESTION: Preferably, you believe that the Israeli troops should stay there until they get a resolution on it?

MR. REEKER: That is not what I said. I said we need to see the two sides work together to come to a resolution of this. It is what the Secretary talked about yesterday, and obviously that is what we hope to see happen.

QUESTION: But in the meantime?

MR. REEKER: In the meantime, it is something they are going to need to work out.

QUESTION: In the meantime, what should happen to those Israeli troops who are there?

MR. REEKER: Look, we have talked about the withdrawals that need to take place. The Secretary said it yesterday. Prime Minister provided him with a timeline through the weekend. And the Secretary stressed to Prime Minister Sharon the urgency of completing withdrawal, and we want to see that happen. The Secretary expressed the understanding that there are two situations in particular, circumstances that need to be addressed between the two sides, and that engagement and security talks is the way forward to find the resolution to that. And that is what the two sides need to do.

This is about everyone taking responsibility in the region. That was the underlying theme of the President’s speech two weeks ago. It is what the Secretary took with him as a message to the region, that there are responsibilities on all sides to see a way forward to reach the vision that the President has expressed, that the international community has endorsed, that the Arab world has endorsed, so that we can have two states living side by side as peaceful neighbors.

QUESTION: Now that the Secretary is back, do you have any updates on issues that were live yesterday, such as the Middle East peace conference proposal or a Tenet visit to the region?

MR. REEKER: I don’t think I have anything particular to add. The Secretary has just been to the White House, where he was briefing the President, and I don’t have anything to report per se. The Secretary mentioned some things in his remarks yesterday from Jerusalem. As he said then, should circumstances warrant, the President is prepared to send the Director of Central Intelligence, Mr. Tenet, in the near future to work with the parties on resuming security cooperation. That is very important. General Zinni we expect to return and continue his work on implementing the Tenet plan. As I said, Assistant Secretary Bill Burns remains in the region working with the two sides, along with our diplomats who are permanently stationed there.

So we are remaining intensely engaged with the parties. It is clear that improvement in the security situation has to be linked to determined pursuit of a political solution. And as I said a few moments ago, our goal remains implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1402 and progress to a just and lasting peace based on the Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

In terms of the conference idea, I just don’t have anything in particular new to add at this point. I would just refer to what the Secretary said: we are looking at ideas and possibilities, but nothing to move that along right now.

QUESTION: Kofi Annan said today that — I think he said this recently as well — a multinational force is essential to a gradual restoration of trust between Israelis and Palestinians. What do you think of that?

MR. REEKER: Well, I think you know we have always maintained that a third party monitoring mechanism could be useful if both sides agree to such a function. And Secretary Powell reiterated that, that once security meetings and political discussions begin, monitors could be a useful part of the confidence-building effort. That’s something that the Tenet work plan — excuse me, the Mitchell Committee recommendations also outline as a possible role there for monitors. The President discussed this last summer, and the G-8 statement that came out of the G-8 meetings in Italy noted that as well.

The April 10th statement from the quartet that we were discussing a few minutes ago indicated that the US, the EU, the United Nations and Russia stand ready to assist parties in implementing their agreements, including through third-party monitoring mechanism, but nothing has yet been determined. So we will continue discussions with the parties on that, and continue to see where that might be.

QUESTION: Well, why are you opposed to having a multinational force, rather than just these third-party monitors which you talk about?

MR. REEKER: I think rather than look at what we are opposed to, since I haven’t suggested I am opposed to anything, I will just describe for you — and I can do it again, but I just did — what we have talked about, what we have talked about as ways of moving forward, and what may be elements of that. But discussions will continue at many levels in the international community, with our partners in that, and of course between the two sides. Because obviously it is important that the two sides would agree on this. So it’s something we can discuss with the parties. But I just don’t have anything specific to move forward, other than what we have outlined before.

QUESTION: Mr. Sharon has today rejected Mr. Annan’s suggestion. Will you continue to — how do you go about this? Do you press Israel on this? Is it a question of —

MR. REEKER: I don’t have anything to add on that, to what I just said. You know what our views are on monitors, what we have talked about before, what the Secretary and the President have said for a long time now, what some of the documents and structures that are in place to help the process move forward refer to. And so at this point I just can’t take it any further.

QUESTION: Despite the cease-fire, if incidents continues, then who and how are you going to reinforce the cease-fire?

MR. REEKER: I guess I am not quite sure what you are referring to, what we want to see —

QUESTION: If there is a cease-fire, in the past also it happened, but incidents continues, terrorism incidents will continue, let’s say, then how are you going to —

MR. REEKER: Well, as the Secretary — I don’t know that you have read the Secretary’s transcript; maybe you missed his press conference yesterday, which was very important to understanding this. He outlined a comprehensive strategy for a way forward that reflects what the President said two weeks ago, and I know you were there when the President made his remarks. There need to be three key elements. First of all, security and freedom from terror and violence for both the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as a serious and accelerated approach to negotiations to revive hope and lead to a political settlement; and then the economic and humanitarian assistance that we discussed just a little bit ago.

So clearly violence has got to end, Chairman Arafat has got to work with other Palestinian authorities to make real his statement strongly condemning the violent operations that target Israeli civilians; he put out that statement, and that was part of the discussions that the Secretary had with him. He has got to use his moral authority, use the bully pulpit that he has by being the leader of the Palestinian people to condemn these murderous actions, which only push back the resolution of this situation, that only serve to undermine the dreams of the Palestinian people for their own state side by side with the Israeli state.

So I think there has to be a focus on ending the violence and stopping terrorism. That is what the President said again today. I think you are familiar with his words that there has to be a real focus on ending terror, on ending violence, and then focusing on the political — in parallel, the political aspects of this to work towards a solution.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow. Do you agree now, I mean the US, that the suicide bombers are or were encouraged by this Mr. Yasser Arafat?

MR. REEKER: I think you heard Arafat’s statement. He strongly condemned violent operations that target Israeli civilians. And what I just repeated to you is what the Secretary indicated, that Arafat and Palestinians leaders need to use their leadership. They have a responsibility to their own people, as well as to the process, as well as to the rest of the international community that has embraced the vision that we have talked about. And that is to act like leaders, to speak out against such violence, to speak out against the murder of innocent civilians in any form, because it’s undercutting their own hopes and goals. When a young Palestinian straps on bombs and blows him or herself up, along with other innocent civilians, it only serves the cause of terrorists who don’t want to see peace, and he has got to speak out against that. And he has got to speak for peace and an end to violence.

QUESTION: Change the topic for a moment. Can you tell us what you know about the Tanzanian pilot that was arrested in North Carolina yesterday? How was he able to obtain a visa with his background as a fugitive and the fraud charges in South Africa?

MR. REEKER: Sure, I can tell you what I can. You know that visa records are confidential and so I am not able to go into a lot of detail, but I can tell you that all visa applicants are put through what is known as the CLASS system — it is a visa lookout database — and visas can only be issued — the actual functioning of a visa issuance, the mechanical process — can only take place if no derogatory information is found. So you might want to check with INS for details about the specific case or the investigation involving that, but as we have discussed before, for visas to be issued they must go through a database check and cannot be issued if violations or if any derogatory information from that database were found.

QUESTION: So the fact that he was a fugitive on fraud charges would not —

MR. REEKER: I am not aware of those facts. I don’t know if you want to talk to the INS about the specific investigation and specific individual. I hadn’t even seen reports of particular charges in the case, but that is something that obviously would be part of the investigation. But the fact is that there is a visa lookout database that every visa applicant must be passed through, and the visa itself cannot be issued if derogatory information is found.

QUESTION: On the Secretary’s peace trip — which lasted, I believe, ten days — I guess the intentions were to bridge solutions. As this — in leaving, people have been and commentators have been offering criticism that he may have left too early. Has this more polarized the two communities, the Arab world and the Israelis?

And also, former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said on Monday at that rally that, in effect, Arafat was similar to Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and he just had better PR. Is there anything in the short-term interim that can lead to a willingness to have the parties talk with one another?

MR. REEKER: I think there will never be a shortage of commentary and column inches, and hours of discussion on television programs isn’t going to chance the reality on the ground. Secretary Powell was there to try to move forward a process, part of a process to find a solution to this. And you heard him talk this morning with the President to discuss the recent mission he had to the region, trying to assist the parties make progress towards peace.

The progress was achieved, and the situation on the ground was something the Secretary discussed with the President. There are no easy fixes to this. I think we are all aware of that. If there were, it would have been fixed by now. Meaningful progress is going to require sustained effort, and that is something that the President and the Secretary will continue to have and will continue to have discussions on that in the ways ahead.

Just to point out what the President said this morning, in the short term the Palestinian Authority has got to act to condemn terror, take action on the words that we discussed a few moments ago that Chairman Arafat put out; Israel must continue its withdrawal; and the Arab community has a responsibility too to condemn and cut off terror, and that includes suicide bombers.

So there are short-term actions people can take, and beyond that our vision in the long term is a serious one with foundations and structures for peace, and we have been through those. There are UN security resolutions, there are international structures that have been put in place — the lead of the United States so often to try to help the two parties find a way out of this. And they need to do that, and we are dedicated to doing what we can to help them. But there are responsibilities on all sides, and that includes thinking about the rhetoric, thinking how it contributes to the process, and what everybody can do to try to move the process forward for a peaceful resolution to this.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. REEKER: Yes.

QUESTION: Korea.

MR. REEKER: Korea.

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: Sorry?

MR. REEKER: Sorry, Dave.

QUESTION: If I could just stay on the same subject for a minute. This morning, the Secretary in the White House in the Oval Office said that he would like to see the Israeli withdrawal accelerated, and called it one of the difficulties facing us as we try to move forward on the integrated strategy.

And a few minutes later, the President was asked what he thought about the withdrawal, and he basically indicated that he’s okay with it. He said Sharon is keeping to the timetable he gave. And then —

MR. REEKER: Again, you need to — I think my colleague, Mr. Fleischer, went through all of this. There is a timetable that Chairman Arafat — pardon me, Prime Minister Sharon gave to the Secretary. We have been seeing the pullouts, the withdrawals. That needs to continue. If it can be speeded up, all the better, because as the Secretary has said, the sooner we get that behind us, the sooner we can move forward in other aspects of this. And so withdrawal is continuing, and it needs to continue. And that is exactly what we want to see. It is exactly what the President said. Mr. Fleischer made that quite clear, and the Secretary has been quite clear on it, both from the region and now since he is back today.

Jonathan, you were changing to Korea.

QUESTION: Yes. First of all, have you decided yet whether to get in touch with the North Koreans to ask them about the reports that they are interested in talking to you after all?

MR. REEKER: I don’t have anything new on that. I don’t believe we have heard anything from the North Koreans, and there is just nothing new in that story at this point.

QUESTION: And do you have any comment on the fact that they are resuming contacts with the Japanese?

MR. REEKER: I don’t think I had seen that particular thing. We certainly work closely with the Japanese and the South Koreans, as you know. We just recently had our Trilateral Coordination Group meeting in Tokyo, sharing approaches, information, views and ideas on dealing with North Korea. Our views are quite well known. We have heard the reports from the South Koreans that North Korea may be interested in moving ahead with a dialogue with us, the dialogue that we have offered without any conditions, but we had not yet heard from North Korea on that.

QUESTION: No, but, in effect, are you — you haven’t tried to contact them yet?

MR. REEKER: I don’t think anything has changed. We have not heard from North Korea in that regard. We have seen the reports, but I don’t have anything. You had asked earlier, last week, about Ambassador Pritchard’s next steps, and I just don’t have any new steps to announce on that.

QUESTION: Afghanistan. As the King returns to Afghanistan and they are — I mean, as far as the government of Mr. Karzai is concerned, they are ready to welcome him, and he leaves Italy now. There is an incident in Italy. We don’t know whether it’s terrorist-related or not. And also, terrorism activities are on the rise in Afghanistan itself, and there is a report also that Usama — according to some of the detainees, that Usama bin Laden was in Tora Bora and he escaped. Now we don’t know where he is.

So what we are saying is now that according to the reports on Secretary of Defense and also White House officials that a regrouping is going on now in Afghanistan from those terrorists who earlier escaped; now they are coming back. So where do we stand now — the US position in the future of —

MR. REEKER: I think you answered your own question, because the Department of Defense deals with those questions. I think you may have been there, and I would just refer you to their briefing. They answer those questions about Afghanistan and the ongoing efforts there to root out the remnants of al-Qaida and the Taliban.

You are correct; I think you noted the news that the former King of Afghanistan Zahir Shah returned today to his homeland. This is in accordance with the sequence that is outlined in the Bonn Agreement. And he is expected then to convene the emergency Loya Jirga in June that will then elect a broad-based transitional government for Afghanistan.

Security for the King has obviously been an important aspect of this, and the Afghan Interim Authority is taking the lead role in this, with the assistance from the International Security Assistance Force and other nations, particularly Italy. The Italians have played a major role in helping with that.

We believe that there is a significant symbolic role for the former King in supporting the processes leading to a permanent broad-based government for Afghanistan, which is enshrined in the Bonn document and the process that was developed there by Afghans for Afghanistan. He is going to have an important role in opening the Loya Jirga, which is clearly a major step in that, and we are working to support the Afghan people and the Afghan Interim Authority and Chairman Karzai as they strive to bring peace and unity to their country.

So we certainly applaud the Afghans for their success in planning and carrying out this process leading up to the Loya Jirga, and we urge them and all the friends of Afghanistan to continue efforts and to support the decisions of the Loya Jirga as that comes up. And we will continue to be very engaged in supporting that. We had a briefing here last week to discuss some of the assistance and reconstruction efforts that are moving forward with the US and others in the international community helping the Afghans to rebuild their country.

QUESTION: The US also fully supports the King? I mean, you said Karzai government, but including King Zahir?

MR. REEKER: I think if you go and read the Bonn documents, Goyal, you know that there is a role, a symbolic role, for the former King, for Zahir Shah. And that role is laid out in the Bonn Agreement. There is a sequence there which includes him convening the emergency Loya Jirga in June. That is exactly what is called for there. And then that body, the Loya Jirga, will elect a broad-based transitional government for Afghanistan. And so that is the process we support, the Bonn government, and we are happy to see that moving forward, as I said.

QUESTION: Yes, Phil. Do you have anything on Chechnya? There has been a new incident there, just a couple of hours before the President was about to end — to announce the end of the war —

MR. REEKER: I saw the same wire stories I am sure you saw, and I don’t have any more information on them. One more.

QUESTION: In recent weeks, officials from Nepal and Sri Lanka, they were here at the State Department meeting with the — and including Mr. Armitage and all that. Now, as far as cease-fire in Sri Lanka is concerned, what they are saying is some report that there is US pressure on Sri Lanka, and now — but there is terrorism in both countries. So what role US is playing to —

MR. REEKER: I put out a statement yesterday on Sri Lanka after Deputy Secretary Armitage’s meetings with Sri Lankan officials here in the building, so I will let that speak for itself. I think it speaks quite clearly about our hopes there for peace in Sri Lanka, with full respect for the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

In terms of Nepal, there was further fighting over the weekend with casualties among the security forces, also among the Maoists and the civilians. We have called upon the Maoists, and we continue to call upon them, to lay down their arms, stop their brutal and senseless attacks, and engage in the peaceful pursuit of their aims through a legitimate political process. And we reiterate our support for the government of Nepal to safeguard its citizens within the framework of the Nepal Constitution. I think you are aware that we have a Public Announcement that alerts American citizens to the conflict between these Maoist insurgents and the government in Nepal, and that Public Announcement continues to be enforced, noting there was a state of emergency that was imposed last November that remains in effect as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. REEKER: Okay, thanks.