Daily Press Briefing for March 22 — Transcript
Daily Press BriefingRichard Boucher, SpokesmanWashington, DCMarch 22, 2004INDEX:
1 Secretary Powells Travel to Spain
2 U.N. Commission on Human Rights China Resolution
1-2 Secretary Powells Contact with Newly Elected Government Members
3 Additional Human Rights Resolutions/ U.S.-China Relations
4-5 Newspaper Editors Sentenced/ Arrest of Priest/ Human Rights in the Constitution
5-6, 8 Killing of Sheikh Yassin by Israeli Forces
6,8 European Foreign Ministers Condemning the Attack/ Effect on Peacemaking
7-8, 11-12 Arms Export Act/ Position on Targeted Killings/ U.S. View of Hamas
9-10 Secretary Powells Meeting with Foreign Minister Shalom
10 Israels Usage of American Weaponry/ Image of U.S. in the Middle East
13 Israeli Pledge not to Harm Mr. Arafat
13-14 Meetings in Cairo/ Moving Forward on the Peace Process/ Withdrawal from Gaza
15-17 Taiwans Presidential Election Results/ Meetings of Director of American Institute in Taiwan/ Image of Taiwans Democracy/ U.S.-Taiwan Relations
17-18 Investigation of Assassination Attempt/ Referenda Matters
18-19 Contact between Secretary Powell and Chinese Foreign Minister
19 Charges against FBI and American Security Services
20-21 Vital Role of UN in Iraq/ Peacekeeping Troops/ Backing of Constitution
22-23 Problems with Oil-for-Food Program/ Iraqs Defiance of UN Resolutions
2, 21-22 Secretary Powells Hearing Before 9/11 Commission/ Clarke Allegations
23 Agenda of Meeting between Secretary Powell and President Uribe
24 Number of U.S. Troops and Civilian Contractors in Colombia
24 Qatari Arrest of Russian Agents in February 2004
24-25 U.S. Administration Contact with Government of Nepal
25 Possibility of Travel by Deputy Secretary Armitage TRANSCRIPT:
1:13 p.m. EST MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’m very sorry I’m late today, but try to do as best I can.
A couple things to announce today, if you bear with me. The first is that the Secretary will be traveling to Spain. Secretary of State Powell will travel to Spain to represent the President and the people of the United States at the memorial service for Spanish victims of the Madrid train bombing. The service will take place in Madrid on Wednesday, March 24th. He plans no other stops on this trip.
Those of you who might be traveling, well be leaving Tuesday evening, coming back Wednesday, early evening, just be in Spain for the event and then turn around and come back. We’ll be calling the usual roster of people on travel, but there may be some extra seats available, in which case we’ll take some signups for people who might want to go. Leave your name with the press office and we’ll see if there are any extra seats for you.
MR. BOUCHER: Yep.
QUESTION: Could you say if this is an opportunity to talk to Zapatero or other people of the incoming administration?
MR. BOUCHER: It’s a solemn occasion, first of all.
QUESTION: Oh, yeah. I know. Of course.
MR. BOUCHER: And it’s one of remembrance and respect for the victims.
MR. BOUCHER: So it’s not really an opportunity — it’s not going there for bilateral meetings or anything like that. Whether he has a chance and whether there’s, you know, encounters, he bumps into people, has a chance to talk, we’ll have to see.
The Secretary did talk last week on Friday with Mr. Martinez who is one of the foreign policy advisors for Mr. Zapatero. Our Ambassador has spoken with Mr. — met with Mr. Martinez as well.
So we’ll just have to see. If there’s a moment here to talk to them and to talk to our good friends in the Spanish foreign ministry and the present Spanish Government as well.
Okay, moving right along. Question of human rights resolution on China, at the Geneva conference. The United States will introduce a resolution on China’s human rights practices at the 2004 UN Commission on Human Rights meeting in Geneva. The meeting is going on from March 15th to April 23rd.
Our goal in sponsoring this resolution is to encourage China to take positive, concrete steps to meet its international obligations to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Chinese people.
The United States has been disappointed by China’s failure to meet its commitments made at the U.S. – China Human Rights Dialogue in December 2002 as well as the failure to follow through on its stated intention to expand cooperation on human rights in 2003.
We’re concerned about backsliding on key human rights issues. That has occurred in a variety of areas since that time.
We call on other members of the international community, especially members of the Commission on Human Rights, to join us in supporting a resolution. We also call on members of the Commission to vote against the procedural no-action motions that seek to prevent debate on resolutions and, as such, are not consistent with democratic principles such as freedom of speech.
Such no-action motions prevent the only global body charged specifically with human rights from fulfilling its mandate.
Okay, with that, I’d be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Sorry to keep backtracking, but the Secretary was scheduled to testify on the 9/11 attack. Can he still do that and make it —
MR. BOUCHER: He will be doing the open — he will be testifying in open session tomorrow on the September 11th events and will leave in the evening after it. Well, the testimony is late morning, I think.
QUESTION: And now on what’s happened in Gaza. Just to close a loop maybe.
MR. BOUCHER: Should we do the China resolution first?
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: Is that —
MR. BOUCHER: Why don’t we do that?
QUESTION: Well, it’s not necessarily about China. But are you introducing other — well, just about the human rights, are you going to — can you say what other resolutions you plan on introducing on human rights?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don’t have a full list at this point and we’re talking to other countries about what they will introduce. So often if there is something we’re concerned about, we’ll support somebody else’s resolution. I don’t have a full table yet of where the important resolutions are.
QUESTION: Do you have a co-sponsor for this one?
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t know of any at this point. We’ll table the resolution. We’ll be circulating the resolution in coming days, and they’ll — we’ll be discussing the text with other governments in coming days, so that may produce cosponsors, it may not.
I would say we have already talked about the human rights situation in China with a number of governments including the European Union and some other governments who are members of the Commission.
QUESTION: So you are seeking other cosponsors.
MR. BOUCHER: Or, obviously, we’d welcome other cosponsors. We’d certainly welcome support, not only for the resolution, but also support against the usual motion of no-action that has stopped this debate every year.
QUESTION: How can Secretary Powell say that relations between the two countries have never been this good in the last 20 or 30 years when the U.S. is clearly concerned about this issue?
You’ve used the phrase “backsliding” here and in the annual Human Rights Report. If there is backsliding on this, how can relations be at the best they’ve been in 20, 30 years?
MR. BOUCHER: There are some aspects that proceed better than others. It’s always been the case with China. Remember, we’ve been dealing with China since the Cultural Revolution and we’ve often praised the improvements that have been made over a long-term period of time. Unfortunately, in last the year or so, we’ve seen backsliding, and we’ve seen specific cases and questions that keep coming up that continue to disturb us.
There are some editors from a southern newspaper that are being sentenced today. We just saw the arrest of a priest not too long ago. So there are a lot of things that do continue to concern us, but I think if you have to make an overall judgment on the whole relationship, the positives and the negatives, taken on balance, that the kind of cooperation we’ve been able to establish with China in international affairs and our ability to deal with some of the issues between us is better than it’s ever been.
Yeah. Okay. Saul, you had one.
QUESTION: What do you say to the criticism that you’ve left it rather late, tabling this resolution, that you haven’t been able to garner enough support and it’s, therefore not going to pass?
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t know why anybody would say that.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, when the —
MR. BOUCHER: I mean the session started a week ago, right, a week ago today?
QUESTION: Why not do it at the beginning?
MR. BOUCHER: Because we were still working on it. We were still talking to other governments about it. The fact that we don’t table slam, but — you know, slam it down on the table the first day doesn’t indicate we don’t care about it.
MR. BOUCHER: These things are better done when they’re better prepared, and —
QUESTION: What is —
MR. BOUCHER: But I don’t think doing it a week after the session starts is late. I really think of that as a very timely submission and careful work that we’re doing.
QUESTION: Well, without handicapping, could you say anything about what these preliminary talks tell you about support?
MR. BOUCHER: I think — I don’t think I can make that kind of judgment at this point, that there’s — obviously, there are other people who are concerned about the situation in China. It’s sometimes difficult to turn that concern into actual votes in the Commission, frankly.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), what are the initial feedback with the consultants — the consultations with EU and other countries?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, yeah. Same answer. I can’t speak for them, but we’ve noted this problem in the past. So —
QUESTION: In weighing whether or not to table the resolution, how did it play with the United States, the fact that China enshrined its human rights in its — in the constitution before the Geneva meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: We note steps like that, and certainly it’s better to have the rights enshrined in the constitution, but I’m afraid we have to often base our actions, particularly when it comes to the human rights resolution, we have to consider the situation on the ground, what’s actually going on. Maybe it takes some time for the enshrinement to — maybe it takes some time after you put it in the constitution for people down below in the legal system to actually change their practices. But we have to base the resolution on the practices.
We’ll see if that happens or not, but you know, during 2003 we’ve seen arrests of democracy activists; we’ve seen arrests of Internet dissidents; we’ve seen arrests of HIV/AIDS activists; we’ve seen arrests of protesting workers, House Church members and defense lawyers.
Repression of Falun Gong practitioners continues. There have been restrictions on religious expression by Tibetan Buddhists and members of unofficial churches; the arrest of Catholic Bishop Wei Jing-Yi is the latest example of detention of individuals for the peaceful expression of their religious or political views. And as I said, the Southern Metropolis News editor is being sentenced today. So we’ve just seen a continuing series of arrests and practices that we believe go against the idea that human rights are respected or enshrined in Chinese law, and we would hope to see those practices change.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. No, we have a few more.
QUESTION: There’s more over there. Yeah.
QUESTION: Just procedural. How many votes do you know for this resolution to pass?
MR. BOUCHER: I really — I’m afraid I don’t know. I don’t have the number right now. Yeah. Sorry.
Okay. Moving right along.
QUESTION: Just to touch all bases on this. The Israeli minister has clearly said that there was no consultation with the U.S. before the attack. Condoleezza Rice, on TV, said there was no communication between the Prime Minister and the President, so could we just tighten it a little bit and ask if, from the U.S. stand — is the U.S. position that there was no contact, no advance notification of the U.S. Government, not only to the President, but other parts of the U.S. Government?
MR. BOUCHER: The United States had no knowledge in advance of the killing of Sheikh Yassin by Israeli forces.
QUESTION: And what about the impact? You realize the European foreign ministers have condemned the attack and said it will —
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — hurt peacemaking. Will it hurt peacemaking and — et cetera?
MR. BOUCHER: There are — I think there are a number of points to make about this event. First, starting off with the fundamentals, that there is no doubt of Israel’s right to self-defense against the brutal use of terror by Hamas and other organizations. At the same time, we’re deeply troubled by this morning’s events in Gaza. We do think, as you asked, that this event increases tension, and it doesn’t help efforts to resume progress towards peace.
We think all the sides need to remain focused on measures to bring to an end the terror and violence and to avoid actions that escalate tension and harm the efforts to achieve peace. It’s essential that all the parties exercise maximum restraint and do everything possible to avoid any further actions that would make more difficult the restoration of calm.
As we remain focused on how to move forward, we remember that both sides have obligations, and in particular, the Palestinian Authority must do everything in its power to confront and halt the terror and violence.
QUESTION: Had the Administration taken a stronger position on the attempt back in September, do you think that would have sort of refrained the Israelis from assassinating him today?
MR. BOUCHER: I think if you ask the Israelis, you’ll find that they take these actions with full knowledge of the United States’ positions, including our concern about some of these actions, our position on actions that are taken in the past, but also, you know, knowing that we do not approve of actions like this.
QUESTION: Let me just follow up. Let me just follow up on the Arms —
MR. BOUCHER: So they — let’s — let’s —
QUESTION: Let me just follow up with the Arms Export Act —
MR. BOUCHER: Let’s answer one question at a time. I’ll answer your previous question before we go on to another one. So I don’t think I could conclude one way or the other that the expressions that we’ve made here have changed Israeli actions in some of these cases. We’ve already — always said that Israel needs to consider carefully the consequences of its actions, and that remains our position, that they need to do that themselves.
QUESTION: Do you think that Israel violated the Arms Export Act in saying that it has used American-made weaponry in this case (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t think we’ve — we have not made such a determination.
QUESTION: But you always say that. Do you ever investigate whether, to see if there is violation —
MR. BOUCHER: If an occasion arises and we think it does violate it, then we’ll — I’m sure we’ll say so in the appropriate manner.
Okay. You had one over there.
QUESTION: Yeah. This specific act, does United States understand it is an act of self-defense from Israel?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to try to characterize this event that way. I think we’ve said we find it deeply troubling. We find the consequences of this action, in terms of raising tension and making it harder to pursue peace efforts, those are things of concern to us. Those are, as I said, things that we think people need to consider. The Israelis need to consider, as well.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. condemn the political killing of Hamas leaders — Ahmed Sheikh Yassin is the first one, but the Israeli Cabinet already took a decision that it going to follow even more. And do you think that his killing will halt suicide bombing?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not trying to characterize it that way either. That’s the opposite of the question that he asked me. Our position on targeted killings is well known, and I’ll just stick with that, just say that remains the way it always was.
QUESTION: Can I have a statement please? I don’t know what’s your position.
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t have it with me, I’m sorry. You can look it up in our previous briefings.
QUESTION: Yeah. I was asking the last question.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: But it wasn’t answered. Does the United States condemn the killing?
MR. BOUCHER: You are asking me to use different words. I’ve used the words that we want to use.
QUESTION: So we can say that you —
MR. BOUCHER: You can say that the United States is deeply concerned about — deeply troubled by this morning’s actions; that the event, in our view, increases tensions and doesn’t help our efforts to resume progress towards peace.
QUESTION: Well, does the United States — of course, as the White House said — consider Hamas a terrorist organization?
MR. BOUCHER: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Do you consider Sheikh Ahmed Yassin a terrorist?
MR. BOUCHER: What are you — he’s widely reported to be the head of Hamas. Is that not the case? I’m assuming the press reports are right.
QUESTION: But he was — the killing was condemned in the Arab world, in Europe. Does that make the United States feel some sort of isolation here?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I’ve expressed the United States’ position here. That’s all I can do for you. I can’t speak for the others.
QUESTION: Well, some days ago, the Israeli Cabinet for the security (inaudible) made a decision that it will escalate its campaign against leaders of Hamas. Over that time, over the past days, did you talk them out of this movement, or you just let it go?
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t know that we were necessarily notified. We certainly weren’t notified of this particular action. The Israelis do not notify us when theyre about to undertake a military action.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. Yeah, and maybe you just follow up that question. The sentiments back in the Arab world — and I’m sure you are aware of the thousands of demonstrators — they just put the U.S. in some sort of equation that it has the blood of Yassin somehow because it let the Israeli go with these actions before. What do you say to these sentiments?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, the United States had no prior knowledge, nor any approval of this action.
QUESTION: You made the point that makes it harder to pursue peace. I want to be a little more literal, if I can, with you about that. The Secretary, for instance, is meeting the Israeli Foreign Minister within minutes, I guess. Is there discussion? This doesn’t — this doesn’t — should I say, this doesn’t stop the U.S. from discussing peace moves, does it?
MR. BOUCHER: No, but the increase in tension in the region, the natural reaction of many people in the region is going to make progress more difficult.
QUESTION: But will the Secretary in his conversation today get into the same sort of —
MR. BOUCHER: We’ll continue to try to work with both sides and stay in touch with both sides on how to make some real progress towards peace. And that’s been our goal. That’s an effort that we have had underway, despite all the difficulties that we face and despite the difficulties we continue to face.
We continue to try to move this process forward and that’s where our focus remains. We think that’s where the parties ought to keep their focus as well and not undertake actions that make it more difficult to move forward.
QUESTION: So can I just follow up on that real quick.
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: You’re not inclined, obviously, to have running commentary on everything the visiting Israeli minister said. But he did say today at the White House to reporters that this will enhance peacemaking, because what Israel is doing is striking out against extremists. And you have said yourself, these extremists do not help peacemaking. You don’t buy that theory, I take it.
MR. BOUCHER: We’ve already said that this does not help efforts to resume progress towards peace.
QUESTION: A few months back, there was an assassination attempt of the Hamas leader who died today. And at the time, you expressed reservation that, probably the same tone that you did now. Do you feel that you’ve been let down by Israel on this one or do you feel that your reservation at that time was not strong enough to stop Israel from going ahead and doing what it did today?
MR. BOUCHER: I’m afraid to say, but I think that’s the same question I got five minutes ago. I’ll just stand by the answer I gave then.
QUESTION: Richard, I know you’ve said that the U.S. wasn’t notified about this particular assassination, but the comments made by the Israeli Government last week about it intensifying targeted killings of terrorists and political leaders of terrorist groups was, I mean, public and clear.
Did you contact the Israelis at any point and say we understand that this is, you know, that you intend to do this and this really isn’t going to help things? Did this catch you by surprise?
And are you going to, in this meeting with the Israeli Foreign Minister, reiterate the message to stop the targeted killings because it’s not going to help?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, I’m sure our — that because this issue is in the news today that this will come up and that our position will be stated as I’m stating it to you now in terms of the meetings that we have today with the Israeli Foreign Minister.
Second of all, on the question of decisions to undertake further killings, I’d say first and foremost that our position on targeted killings is well known, the Israelis are quite familiar with this, and that we do have occasion from time to time to discuss it with them.
I don’t know if it’s been discussed in the last week or so since those reports came out, but I still don’t think there’s any doubt in their mind as to what our position is on events such as targeted killings.
QUESTION: Israel’s usage of American weaponry and killing Palestinians and civilians has been damaging the United States’ image in the Middle East also a lot and making America look like it is the partner of Israel in this.
What can you say about Israel’s usage of this American weaponry? Do you have reservations that they do use that kind of weapons against civilians?
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t think — it doesn’t matter what kind of weapons are used. The action is either helpful or not helpful. The action is either self-defense or increases tensions. We can’t differen — say it’s okay to do things with Russian weapons that it’s not okay to do with American weapons. That wouldn’t make sense either.
So the point has to be that there are obvious rules governing the sale of U.S. weaponry. We follow the rules; Israel knows those rules; we expect Israel to follow them. If we were to make any determinations under those rules about the way the weapons were used, then we would do the appropriate notifications. We have not done that in this case or others, for that matter.
As far as the event itself, I think I’ve expressed our position on the event itself. It’s not, in this case, a matter of what kind of weaponry was used.
MR. BOUCHER: Let’s — let’s come back — we’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Yeah. You know, Israel used those weapons against civilian populations in south Lebanon for almost 20 years and you did nothing about it. Do you think that this inability to look at the Export Control Act, to make a determination, is endangering American (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: We do look at the Export Control Act. We follow the law, we’re quite aware of the law, we read it carefully, and we make — if we were to decide the law was violated, we would make the appropriate determination. We have not done so.
Just because we haven’t made the determination that you think we need to make doesn’t mean we’re not following the law, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: But are you going to use this incident as an opportunity to look at what Israel is doing with the weapons —
MR. BOUCHER: All I can tell you is that we’re quite aware of what our law states. Israel is quite aware of what our law states. And should we make such a determination, then I’m sure we’d make the appropriate notification.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Elise’s question. It’s no secret that the Israelis wanted the Sheikh dead; theyve said it rather openly. They’ve said it for many months now. In the course of that time period, did any State Department official contact any Israeli official and say, “Hey, I don’t think this is a good idea. I just heard what he said — this, whatever, person on air, and about an intention to kill this person. And if you do so, it would increase tension.” Is —
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t know.
QUESTION: You don’t know if any —
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t know. We have always made clear what our position is on targeted killings. We have always made clear that the Israelis need to think about the consequences of their actions. Certainly, the consequences of this event, in terms of increasing tension, and not helping us pursue efforts towards peace are becoming clear. So those are things that we think needed to be thought about.
QUESTION: There’s talk of a statement by the Security Council that would be critical of Israel’s action. Is this something that the United States would support?
MR. BOUCHER: I’m not aware of where that stands at this point. Haven’t seen any proposal like that.
Okay. A new subject?
QUESTION: As you know, Sheikh Yassin is the head of the political wing of Hamas and has no, in fact, no direct contact with the military group, which is completely different.
Is this your understanding that he, in fact — that the Israelis’ basically logic was that he was behind all this killing, or do you think that his (inaudible) is enough for him to justify the killing?
MR. BOUCHER: I think if you look back at what we’ve said in the past, we don’t make — we don’t think you can make a distinction between political wings and military wings of these terrorist groups. We’ve said that about Hamas. We’ve said that about Hezbollah. We’ve said that about other groups over time, that integral to these groups is their involvement in terror, and Hamas is a terrorist group, as far as we’re concerned.
QUESTION: Hamas reportedly issued a statement today that — saying America should also be responsible for this event, and they called the Muslim world to unite to retaliate, including Americans. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think that just shows, once again, that they’re a terrorist group, and that they’re bent on violence and bent on terrorism. We have made consistent efforts to try to work with the Palestinians to help them achieve the state that they aspire to. We have made consistent efforts to try to work with the Israelis on steps towards peace.
Unfortunately, this kind of terrorism by Hamas, in particular, and Hezbollah and others, has undercut the Palestinian dream of peace, and in carrying out the attacks that they have carried out, have made it always more difficult to achieve that. We have continuing violence. We have continuing actions and reactions rather than steps towards peace and we think Hamas has been part of that equation.
QUESTION: Try to distinguish American policy and the Israeli policy, saying your approach, like the roadmap and the Israeli, now, military policy are actually different, so that —
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think that’s obvious, what I said, that the United States has tried to pursue efforts within the roadmap, efforts within the President’s vision to try to achieve peace, to try to move this process forward. We have not supported military action; we have not proposed military action; rather, we have proposed that both sides take their obligations up. And that includes, quite clearly, on the Palestinian side, stopping the violence to begin with and ending the activities of the groups that perpetrate such violence.
QUESTION: Do you think demonstration (inaudible) Israel taking measures as assassinating Arafat? I mean, since today, some Cabinet members said this is the beginning of targeting —
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, we’ve stated a clear position in the past on Arafat and we stand by that. The Israelis have said before that they do not intend to harm Mr. Arafat’s person. We think that’s an important pledge and we would expect them to stand by that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) You said that the United States is asking all parties to refrain from any action that would cause the situation to deteriorate. Are you asking Israel specifically to not target any more leaders of Hamas?
MR. BOUCHER: I have said that we’re looking for all of the parties to exercise restraint. We’re looking at all of the parties to do everything possible to avoid actions that can further escalate the tensions in the region. As far as how specific that gets, I just don’t know at this point.
QUESTION: Well, they’re vowing to continue that.
MR. BOUCHER: As far as how specific that gets, I just don’t know at this point.
QUESTION: Richard, for you to say that, you know, Israel knows the U.S. policy and to leave it at that, I mean, isn’t diplomacy kind of an ongoing action where you continue to, I mean work with the parties —
MR. BOUCHER: Let’s stop right there.
You asked me whether we had repeated that policy in the last week and I said I would have to check, I don’t know. I then said, but Israel does know what our policy is. So it may have been an ongoing policy, but I still don’t know 15 minutes after I didn’t know before.
I can’t tell you that we’ve reiterated or had ongoing discussions about it because I haven’t had a chance to check yet.
Okay. Ma’am. On this?
QUESTION: New subject.
MR. BOUCHER: Different subject. Let’s finish this, then.
QUESTION: Richard, you are meeting tonight in Cairo and asking the UN, Russia, EU and, I suppose, the Egyptian Government — is this an emergency meeting?
And hopefully, you want to restrain the street mob mentality sweeping Gaza. How can you deal with effectively putting together your peace plan if every time it seems to evaporate — deliberately, as you sometimes say — by terrorist actions?
MR. BOUCHER: In essence, that is the problem that we’ve had — that every time we’ve come close to progress, every time we’ve seen the parties start to meet their commitments, it’s been undercut by terrorist actions. And that’s why we’ve — even in times like these, where we’ve seen actions on the Israeli side that has made it more difficult to move forward — we’re also still pointing out that fundamentally, to move on the peace process, we need to see the Palestinians take responsibility and authority for what happens from their areas and take responsibility over these groups that take — carry out terrorist action.
There are meetings today in Cairo. Assistant Secretary Burns has been in Cairo. He’s had meetings with Egyptian leaders on the events of the day, as well as on the more general areas that we want to move forward in the Middle East and coordinating how to try to move forward on the peace process.
He’s having a Quartet meeting today, probably even as we speak, with the envoys, I think, at his level, in Cairo. And so they’re discussing, too, how to move forward. We want to move forward on peace. And we’ve seen actions, terrorist attacks, in the past that have made that impossible. We have seen occasional actions from Israel such as this one, which have not helped us move forward. But we — nonetheless, we continue to try to focus on the future; we continue to try to focus on how to move forward.
Okay. Can we go on? Or not?
QUESTION: No. One other.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you consider that this action has pretty well ruined the chances for a withdrawal from Gaza by Sharon or is this going to still be pursued?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer is I don’t know. I think that’s a speculative matter at this point and we’ll have to see what people say.
QUESTION: Could we have one more on this?
MR. BOUCHER: One more on this.
QUESTION: One last one.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have you defined targeted killing? I know that the Administration in the past said that it’s okay for — on ticking bombs, ticking bombs. I’m sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: No, that’s not our position. I’d invite you to look up the —
QUESTION: — ticking bombs — on the ticking bombs, that you understand if Israel goes after the ticking bomb.
Is that narrowly defined, what is a ticking bomb?
MR. BOUCHER: We understand that that is Israeli policy, but it would be for them to define how that policy works in detail.
QUESTION: Richard, a follow-up to my earlier question. How do you hope to marginalize, I guess you could say, non-government leaders, such as in Iraq, a leader which then says, Sistani, that he’s warning the United Nations —
MR. BOUCHER: If we’re going to go to Iraq, that to me qualifies as a different subject, even though it starts with “I”.
QUESTION: It’s not a different subject. Okay.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: How do you marginalize these leaders that are not elected to government, and where, I guess, what they’re looking for is to get these — the people in the street to —
MR. BOUCHER: I’ve really got to stop you there. I don’t see any parallel between —
MR. BOUCHER: — Hamas and Ayatollah Sistani. They’re different countries, different places, different circumstances.
Let’s — the others who wanted to change the subject, can change the subject then. If you want to ask me about Sistani, we’ll do that later.
QUESTION: Richard, we’re talking about — I have a question about Taiwan’s presidential election. The result of the election has been challenged by the opposition candidates, and we understand the AIT Director in Taipei, Douglas Paal, has met both sides.
We want to know this, you know: Did the meeting has been arranged before the election or it’s a meeting having called on after election, U.S. understand there is a dispute?
And the second question is that the opposition candidate, Lien Chan, has openly called on U.S. intervention in this dispute. What’s U.S. position on this?
MR. BOUCHER: All right. Well, it’s, again, one of these questions that sorts of gives half my answer in the course of asking the question. But let me tell you what we know and what think. First of all, we congratulate the Taiwan people for exercising their right to vote in the recent election, as they did in large numbers. I think this demonstrates, once again, that Taiwan is a vibrant democracy.
Decisions on the challenges and recounts and those things, those are decisions for the people of Taiwan to make. We’re confident that both sides and their supporters will remain calm, and that they will use established legal mechanisms to resolve any questions about the election results.
That’s what I would tell you, in answer to your questions about United States’ intervention. We think that there are legal mechanisms in Taiwan to resolve questions, and would encourage the parties to use those mechanisms, as I, in fact, think they are doing. The Director of the American Institute in Taiwan did meet with leaders on both — what do you call them? Alliances? Groups?
MR. BOUCHER: Colors, yeah. And the meetings, as I understand it, were planned in advance, and he was planning on doing that anyway. When the actual arrangements were made, you’d have to check with AIT to find out.
But I think it’s important to remember the United States is supportive of free and fair elections in Taiwan, but we’re strictly neutral as regards the outcome.
QUESTION: In your statement, and you just said you congratulate the Taiwan people, but not specifically the names of the president, vice president, you know, elected. But that means you also think there is some question about this process of election, and you don’t want to prejudge the outcome of the election before those questions are clarified?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there are a number of decisions out there that are pending before the courts, that are pending before election mechanisms that have to go through a certain legal process, and we’re just comfortable waiting for those processes to work themselves out, and not for us to say who won, but for them to tell us who won.
QUESTION: Does the United States have a view on the circumstances surrounding the shooting on the eve of the election, the apparent attempt — assassination attempt at President Chen and Vice President Lu?
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t have any information on that beyond what has been reported out there, no.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) about Lien Chan, the other candidate’s invitation for sending American specialists to investigate the incident, and also to intervene the challenge of the election result?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, as I’ve said, we’re very neutral in this. We think there are appropriate legal mechanisms in Taiwan to work out the appropriate determinations, as regards the election results, and I think that would apply to any shootings — to the shooting as well.
Okay. Elise. Yes.
Okay. Well, let’s finish with this.
QUESTION: Was there more Taiwan?
MR. BOUCHER: Let’s go —
QUESTION: For many, many times, when you talk about Taiwan’s — not only the election, the referenda — the main theme of your statement to support Taiwan’s democracy. In the face of all these questions in the process of election, and the chaos after election, do you think that will hurt the image of Taiwan’s democracy and also impact on U.S.-Taiwan relations in the future, especially in terms of the credibility of the new leader?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Do you —
MR. BOUCHER: And, no, to the second part, too.
There’s no reason for that to do that. There are democratic mechanisms, legal mechanisms to sort these things out in healthy democracies, and they, I’m sure, will be worked out in Taiwan, as they should be.
Yeah. Okay. Sir.
QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the referenda that were held, but were — but became invalid because not enough voters voted in those referenda?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I think referenda matters that we’ve already expressed our views on, I don’t have any change in that today. Let’s leave it at that.
QUESTION: Richard, I just want to ask, if Taiwan invites, decided to invite U.S. expert or to help to investigate the shooting, will you consider that?
MR. BOUCHER: I’m not aware that — well, I’d just have to see if that were to happen, if they were to invite somebody. I’m not aware that we’ve had anybody, at least on the government side, that’s been invited at this point.
QUESTION: Richard, is there any communication between Beijing and Washington on the outcome of the election?
MR. BOUCHER: On the outcome. The Chinese Foreign Minister and the Secretary talked over the weekend, and this was by phone, and this — on Saturday. So this was one of the topics. You know, obviously, the election was one of the topics that came up because that’s what was going on. But I don’t know if there has been any other contact. We’re all watching this situation.
As I said, we’ve been talking to people in Taiwan as well to make sure that we understand the views of various people there including leaders of the two colors, of the two alliances. And so it’s been a matter that we’ve been following closely, and the Chinese and others have as well.
QUESTION: Can you tell us, Richard, what they’re talking about, the Secretary and the Chinese?
MR. BOUCHER: Not in any more detail, other than the fact that they did talk about the elections and how things were evolving with it.
Yeah. Let’s slow down.
QUESTION: That’s another subject, actually.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Let’s finish with this and then you’re next. Okay.
QUESTION: Can you say who called whom on the Saturday phone call?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the Chinese Foreign Minister called the Secretary.
QUESTION: And any other subjects involved?
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t have a full list for you. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary tell them about the human rights — about the resolution?
MR. BOUCHER: I’d have to check. I don’t think so.
Yeah. Okay. We’re going to change the topic?
QUESTION: Yesterday the Brazilian media has published an interview with the former FBI representative in Brazil, Carlos Costa, and he made some serious charges, quite serious charges, against the FBI and against security — American security services.
He said that there is like — the Brazilian police was bought by the U.S.; that’s what this former FBI representative said. And the report also says that American security agencies would have tapped telephones in the Brazilian presidential palace and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
So I would like to know how the United States sees the relations between the Brazilian security services and the U.S., and if telephones are tapped in Brazilian presidential palace.
MR. BOUCHER: I’m afraid I didn’t see those interviews or those charges.
We generally don’t comment on charges that are thrown around like that, but I’ll see if there’s anything to say on the relationship with the security services in Brazil. Okay? Sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: What are you raising your hand for?
QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq first?
MR. BOUCHER: We’re going to do Iraq first. Okay.
QUESTION: There were some reports that you would like to see Lakhdar Brahimi as a caretaking — whatever — governor in Iraq after Paul Bremer leaves. Have you seen that?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I haven’t seen those reports. I try not to laugh too much.
QUESTION: Apparently, yeah, there is —
MR. BOUCHER: We have certainly felt that the United Nations has a vital role to play in Iraq. We certainly welcome the Secretary General’s decision to send his team back to Iraq to work with the Iraqis and with us on the interim government and the election process.
The Secretary was just in Baghdad, as you know, last Friday — talked extensively with the members of the Governing Council and with people in the Coalition Authority about how that transition process — both those big transitions — need to proceed and how we can help out.
We heard a variety of ideas from the Governing Council members, and I think everybody welcomed the prospect, as they all have in their letter, that Mr. Brahimi or the UN Representative would come back and work with them in that process. But I had not heard any discussion there or otherwise of the Secretary General’s representative assuming another role.
Okay. More on Iraq? Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, that move was obviously not a resolution, but there are countries that are waiting, so far as committing peacekeeping troops, for the UN to directly authorize it.
Do you see that as at least some UN approval of a peacekeeping — more approval of peacekeeping? Should it motivate allies that are thinking of pulling out and others that haven’t moved in to send in peacekeepers?
MR. BOUCHER: I suppose each nation makes its decision when it decides to send troops or to provide other assistance, and we’re pleased that so many have. In fact, dozens of nations are helping out with the reconstruction. You saw them at the White House last Friday with the President.
So there are many nations that have already made the decision to get involved one way or the other. There are others who may get more involved or get involved militarily if there is a UN resolution. So that’s certainly something that we would consider as well, and we’ve said it may be appropriate as we approach that time, as we approach new circumstances of a sovereign Iraqi government, or more fully sovereign, or exercising its full sovereignty, government that the United Nations’ relationships will change and that the United Nations might want to recognize that.
Okay. Joel, you had one?
QUESTION: Richard, on Iraq. The Grand Ayatollah Sistani is warning the United Nations not to back the constitution once it goes into effect on July 1st.
Is he meddling where he shouldn’t be meddling and is too much credence being put in non-government players?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, Iraq is a free country now, and everybody can speak their mind. And that’s one of the positive developments that many people have died for. But so, you know, in terms of his particular views, I’d really leave it to him to explain them or to — I think some of the comments were about the UN role and whether he’ll meet with them, so I’ll leave that to the UN.
Overall, I would say though, that the transitional law was signed by the Governing Council, including the Shia representatives on the Council. We all saw in the last few days they consulted with the Ayatollah at that time. We think that in the interest of moving forward toward a pluralistic and democratic Iraq, it’s important that the law be implemented, and that’s the position that the Iraqis have taken as well.
The Governing Council as a whole invited the UN to return to Iraq, reiterated its belief that the United Nations has an important role, and we would expect Iraqi cooperation as the United Nations returns.
QUESTION: I have a couple on the Secretary. Do you — this recent book by Dick Clarke, about the Administration being too focused on Iraq, going after Iraq rather than terrorist — other terrorist groups, do you have anything to say on that and on Mr. Clarke’s claims that immediately after 9/11 the Administration was looking to blame Iraq and find a way to retaliate against Iraq regardless of —
MR. BOUCHER: I think, I don’t know if you’ve read the whole book. I haven’t at this point. The — I’ve seen some of the reports of it and some of the charges made. And I’ve also seen Dr. Rice explain very clearly how the Administration after 9/11 focused on all the possibilities, rapidly narrowed down the evidence to identify al-Qaida and Afghanistan as the source of this attack; postponed the option of — well, deci — didn’t postpone, decided to go first in terms of the fight on terrorism, the global fight on terrorism that we knew had to be launched, decided to go after Afghanistan and al-Qaida, because that was where this particular attack had come from.
The Secretary has been quite clear all along that he has not seen evidence of any other involvement, and indeed, I think that that’s what the Administration’s continually said whenever we were asked, so we’re quite clear on that. And I think you’ve seen many accounts of how the decisions were made by the President in the immediate days after September 11th, 2001; that they did look at all the possibilities; they came back with the evidence; they decided where the problem was and they decided at a Camp David meeting only a few days later to take action against the source of the problem, which was al-Qaida and Afghanistan.
But they also decided at that time that there needed to be a war on terrorism as a whole, all the terrorism with global reach, and that that would necessarily mean down the road taking up other areas where this particular problem of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction could come together.
QUESTION: In the Secretary’s testimony tomorrow before the 9/11 Commission, is there — are there any particular points that you think the Secretary will try to make? Or is he just there to really answer the questions?
MR. BOUCHER: No. He’ll have an opening presentation where he lays out the effort that this Administration made after having been briefed by the previous Administration on their policies towards terrorism and their concerns.
This Administration undertook an aggressive approach to develop a policy that would eliminate al-Qaida, not just squeeze it but kill it, and that the Secretary will be laying out how this Administration went forward to do that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) and not worry you that it will affect the credibility of the Administration? After all, he is the second American, very high level, to come and talk about that this Administration was determined from day one to go after Iraq because it’s an easier target than Afghanistan and al-Qaida?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I — again, of the accounts I’ve seen of this book, that’s not really the thrust of the book. That may be mentioned somewhere in there, but most of the accounts I’ve seen of the book, that’s not what it’s about. That may be what some people read into it.
QUESTION: The press reports on the “60 Minutes” that came out yesterday.
MR. BOUCHER: But I would there’s — I would say —
QUESTION: Did you say “60 Minutes?”
MR. BOUCHER: I would say that there’ll be a lot of accounts of this book and other books that — I can probably think of probably a half-dozen books out there that described how the policy towards Iraq evolved in more detail that are about our policy towards Iraq and how the war developed.
I know there are several of those that people can read if they’re interested in how this went from the beginning of the Administration. And it was quite clear that this Administration was focused on the problems created by Iraq from the beginning. Many of them had spoken about it even before they took office. The goal was to deal with the problems created by Iraq.
One of the first things this Administration did was to deal with the problems with the Oil-for-Food Program and the leakage and the sanctions-busting that was going on. And so the Secretary during his first travel to the region, if I remember correctly, and then, subsequently, with the United Nations — they revised the sanctions regime.
The Administration also looked at things like the no-fly zones where the Iraqis were continuing to shoot at our airplanes, and were there ways we could modify that. And then we looked at the problems created by Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and its defiance of UN resolutions. So that was another issue that had to be dealt with. Right from the start, the Administration indicated they would deal with it.
Now the decision that it had to be dealt with militarily only came about as a result of Iraq’s continued defiance of UN resolutions. We went to the UN and set up a proposition where Iraq could either cooperate and disclose and talk about what it had done and what it had destroyed and how it was operating, or whether Iraq could continue its indefiance and face the serious consequences that the UN talked about.
So ultimately, the decision on whether there was war or not was in the hands of the Iraqis and their failure to cooperate was the fork in the road that led to military action, not some predetermined choice.
QUESTION: So just to make a point, do you think this Oil-for-Food scandal and millions — billions of dollars, rather — that’s missing, do you think that will affect the role of the UN that’s going to play in Iraq? Because there is some accusation that the Administration is taking a soft plan on the UN because they want them to —
MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, on the questions being raised about the Oil-for-Food Program, I think we have been quite clear in our public statements, certainly in our private ones, that these matters did need to be looked at, did need to be investigated and we have been positive about the referrals that the Secretary General has made to, I guess, it’s his inspector general, or the equivalent, to look at all these questions and figure out everything that happened with these programs.
The Secretary himself, I think, has spoken about this and is quite — we’ll do everything we can in providing records, and that sort of thing, to cooperate with any investigation that they carry out.
I don’t know of any further necessary implications of this. We always knew there was leakage. I think we always estimated leakage of $1-2 billion a year of sales outside the program or money exchanging, getting into Iraqi hands outside the program. So that’s clear, but exactly how that happened, I think, is now — people are able to pin down a lot more with the availability of documents in Iraq, and those things do need to be looked at.
Okay. We have more people.
QUESTION: New subject. President Uribe of Colombia has come to Washington. There are some new expectations of this visit. Will be the Venezuelan issue present in these talks?
MR. BOUCHER: We’ll have a series of discussions with President Uribe after he arrives in Washington today. Secretary Powell will meet with him on the 23rd of March; that’s tomorrow. The Secretary will underscore continuing strong U.S. Government support for his government and the struggle against narcoterrorism. We would expect at that meeting to focus on the continued close cooperation to confront the security threat that Colombia faces from terrorists and narcotraffickers.
We’ll talk about how to strengthen democratic institutions in Colombia, how to improve the protection of human rights and the establishment of the rule of law, and then also to talk about how to increase trade and economic opportunity between our two countries. Colombia is a friend and a partner in this hemisphere. It’s a strategic regional ally in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.
Yeah. That’s good. We’ll come back.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Please.
QUESTION: Also Colombia.
MR. BOUCHER: Also Colombia. Sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah. Is the cap going up on the number of U.S. troops and civilian contractors in Colombia? And can you give us any details on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. We’ve been — together with the Department of Defense, the Department of State has been consulting with Congress about raising the ceiling on the number of U.S. military personnel and U.S. citizen civilian contractors who can be in Colombia to support Plan Colombia.
We’re requesting the flexibility to use up to 800 military personnel and 600 U.S. civilian — U.S. citizen civilian contractors in support of Plan Colombia. This change would require passage of new legislation by Congress. So that’s something we’ve been consulting with Congress about.
We think that the Uribe administration has been dealing severe blows on the narcoterrorists, and that an increase in the number of military and civilian contractors is needed to help them sustain the current high tempo of operations.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Pifer’s comment to a Russian newspaper that the U.S. provided very insignificant technical assistance to the Qataris when they arrested Russian agents in February?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Don’t have anything on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Sorry.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Nepal? Has anyone in the U.S. Administration been in touch with the Government of Nepal?
MR. BOUCHER: I don’t know if we’ve been in touch with the government. We’ve certainly been watching the situation. Nepal — we had some discussions during the Secretary’s trip to South Asia, just sort of comparing notes on what we saw going on in Nepal, and the hopes of all of us that we’ll get to a peaceful — a more peaceful situation based on more open democracy.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: What, with the President traveling — will Mr. Armitage be going to Kiev on the 25th? Do you happen to know? And if so —
MR. BOUCHER: I haven’t announced anything. I don’t know. I’ll have to check.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)
DPB # 44