State Dept. Noon Briefing, August 27, 2001

Published: Tue 28 Aug 2001 03:52 PM
(Colombia, Israel/Palestinian Authority, Afghanistan, India/Pakistan, Macedonia, Mexico, Taiwan, Bahamas, Sri Lanka, China, Iraq) (8900)
State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher briefed.
Following is the State Department transcript:
(begin transcript)
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Daily Press Briefing Index Monday, August 27, 2001
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
STATEMENT -- Notice to the Press on Secretary Powell's Travel to Colombia
COLOMBIA -- Under Secretary Grossman's Travel to Mexico and Colombia -- President Pastrana's Peace Talks with FARC/Extradition of Drug Lord
RACE -- U.S. Participation at World Conference Against Racism
ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY -- Violence/Opposition to Targeted Killings/Support for Mitchell Report Recommendations
AFGHANISTAN Consular Access to Detained Aid Workers
INDIA/PAKISTAN -- Sanctions Policy -- Terrorist Suspects Charged in India
MACEDONIA -- Recent Violence/NATO Troops for Operation Essential Harvest
MEXICO -- President Fox's Upcoming Visit/Extradition Issue
TAIWAN -- Authorities' Visits to U.S.
BAHAMAS -- Plane Crash Over Weekend
HUMAN RIGHTS -- Reported Refugee Seekers on Freighter
SRI LANKA -- U.S. Support for Peace
CHINA -- Demonstrators in U.S. Against Treatment of Falun Gong Members
IRAQ -- Sanctions Policy
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be back with you after some time off.
Let me start out with one brief announcement, and then I would be glad to take your questions.
Secretary Powell will visit Colombia September 11th and 12th after participating in the OAS General Assembly in Lima, Peru on September 10th and 11th. In Colombia he will meet with President Pastrana and officials of the Government of Colombia in order to underscore continuing U.S. Government support for Colombia's efforts to combat the illicit drug trade, to strengthen its democratic institutions, to promote economic and social development. He will also meet with other sectors of Colombian civil society.
I believe we have already had people sign up for that trip, so I don't think that changes anything. But if somebody wants to change their mind about it, get in touch.
QUESTION: And would he just do the Bogotá, or is it Cartagena?
MR. BOUCHER: Not settled yet, exactly, where he will stop. We know he will stop and he will have meetings in Bogotá. But the schedule is not finalized. So we will provide further details as the date draws nearer.
QUESTION: Well, one of the things he has been trying to do is revive peace talks with the rebels there?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have supported President Pastrana's efforts to pursue peace all along. We have also been very disappointed and concerned about the attitude that the FARC has taken, the way they have misused the areas that they have had under their control, and the way they have continued their activities, including indications that they were receiving terrorist training from the IRA, for example.
So we will certainly discuss that situation with President Pastrana and express our continuing support for the unprecedented efforts that he has made.
QUESTION: Well, on that, have you gotten any further in your looking into the IRA alleged IRA people who were arrested?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have any further information on that for you here.
QUESTION: And the other thing is that, is Under Secretary Grossman's visit a brief preview of Secretary Powell's visit? I mean, are they going to be talking about the -- they are going to be talking about the same things --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I mean, obviously we will be talking about the same sorts of things, about the narcotics situation, about the security situation, about our support for Plan Colombia and President Pastrana's efforts. Under Secretary Grossman will be in Mexico, leaving today. So he is there August 27th and 28th. He will lead an interagency delegation to Colombia August 29 to 31. In Mexico, he will be meeting with Mexican officials to discuss bilateral as well as regional issues. In Colombia they will meet with President Pastrana and Government of Colombia officials in order to underscore our continuing support.
So in some ways it is a chance to go with an interagency delegation to discuss a variety of issues, all of which are important to the United States. And obviously the Secretary's discussion will continue then.
QUESTION: You've been having a review of policy towards Colombia, and do you expect any conclusions before the Secretary's visit, or even now, for example?
MR. BOUCHER: Frankly, I don't know how to answer that. We will see when we get there. If there is something new to say, we will say it to you then.
QUESTION: Okay. You said that you are disappointed with the FARC and with the way they have used the despeje. Do you have any recommendations on how Colombia might deal with the FARC?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I would just say that we will be looking forward to discussing the situation with President Pastrana. This has been an important part of his efforts, and we will want to get his thoughts as he faces the situation now.
QUESTION: On this, do you have anything to say about President Pastrana's decision to allow the extradition of this suspected drug lord? And is this announcement truly coincidental, or is this some kind of reward?
MR. BOUCHER: I think this has been under consideration and discussion for some time. There was a Colombian supreme court decision last week that approved the extradition. That was a positive step. We do think extradition is a critical tool in combating transnational crime and preventing criminals from evading justice. So we obviously would welcome this kind of decision. We don't actually have formal confirmation of it yet.
QUESTION: Well, wait. Of the supreme court decision or the --
MR. BOUCHER: No, of the reports that he signed the order authorizing it.
QUESTION: Since the supreme court decision, have officials from this building been pressing the Colombian Government to extradite him, or is this a Justice matter?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if officials from this building have been doing it. The Department of Justice has been working with them. But obviously it is mostly our Embassy in Bogotá that works with the Colombian Government on these matters to make them happen. That is something embassies routinely do. Clearly we believe that extradition is important. Extradition in this case is very important. But our Embassy down there has been coordinating it with the Government of Colombia.
QUESTION: Given that you say that the U.S. Government supports Pastrana's way to deal with the peace process, why think the U.S. Government doesn't like the way he is working with the FARC in terms of the territory that he concede to them? What if Mr. Pastrana decides to continue that policy? You will still support in his way in the peace process?
MR. BOUCHER: That has been the policy that he has followed, and we have supported him, so --
QUESTION: Support him --
MR. BOUCHER: Let's stop. You stop, I'll start. I don't think it's what you think our policy is. I think it's what we say our policy is. And our policy has been to support President Pastrana's efforts, even as he has had these zones. We are concerned about the way the FARC has used these zones. We are concerned about the activities of the FARC, that they have not made reciprocal efforts, that they have misused the demilitarized zone, they have abused prisoners, they have held kidnap victims, they have engaged in narcotic trafficking in these areas. So certainly we are very concerned about what the FARC has done in these zones. But I think our policy has been clear enough on this.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary plan to raise human rights issues, particularly with regards to reforms that were made explicit in Plan Colombia for the Colombian military, and going after some of the paramilitary groups. And since we are on the topic, could you say you are satisfied with the efforts that Bogotá has made on this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any new observations to make on that. As you know, there have been a number of criteria that we have been following, based on our law. We will continue to do that. The Secretary always raises human rights issues when he goes to various places, and I am sure he will discuss the human rights and judicial issues with the Government of Colombia.
QUESTION: New subject?
QUESTION: Just one more on this. A question came up last week, it didn't have an answer. The Peruvians are pressing on the aerial interdiction program, saying that the north is inundated with drug flights. What has happened to Ambassador Busby's report? Why are they taking so long? Or maybe it's ready.
MR. BOUCHER: Good question. It doesn't seem to have an answer today, either. But I will try to find out for you.
QUESTION: Any comments on what the U.S. attitude is today with respect to the participation in the racism conference?
MR. BOUCHER: As you know, this has been a subject of considerable consideration and discussion by the Administration. The Secretary has been working on this issue since the early days of his tenure, in meetings with officials in the region, with officials involved in the conference, with other government officials. He raised it, I think, with Mary Robinson in early February.
All along, we have stated our concerns about several critical elements, and you heard very clearly from the President on Friday, that the elements that most concerned us and bothered us at this point were the offensive language about Israel and the singling out of Israel in many of the conference documents. We have worked very hard to get rid of this, but we haven't at this point been able to do that.
It is clear to us now that the Secretary will not go to this conference. So the Secretary will not attend this conference. But the exact nature and level of our representation, if any, is still being considered. We are working with some others to see to what extent the problems that the President cited last week might be remedied, or might be in the process of being remedied. That will certainly be a factor in our decision. But at this point, it is clear the Secretary will not go to the conference, and we haven't made the final decision on the nature and level of our participation, if any.
QUESTION: Can I make a follow-up? India is on the same track as the United States, if both have been talking about this conference, because the Indian Government also has announced the same thing, that the Foreign Minister of India may not go, and they are also on the same offensive language by the conference.
If the U.S. and India have been talking on this conference anyway?
MR. BOUCHER: We have talked to a great number of other governments about this. I am sure our embassy has been in touch with the Government of India on the subject. Frankly, I am trying to remember back to the last meeting the Secretary had with the Foreign Minister of India, and I can't remember for sure whether they talked about it then or not. But the Secretary has certainly discussed it with a whole variety of other governments.
QUESTION: Richard, as late as this morning, Mary Robinson has come out and said that the language -- some of the language you were talking about -- the Zionism equates with racism -- is not in the language, or in the documents, and isn't going to be, that that was successfully removed.
Is it -- are you saying that you still think that that is in there, or are we talking about other offensive language, the ethnic cleansing lines and things like that?
MR. BOUCHER: There was a whole series of references to one particular government, to one particular country, and to its policies as being racist. That is what we object to, that is what he President objected to on Friday. I haven't looked at the exact state of the document at this particular moment. But that is where the problems are. And we would, obviously, want to work with others who are trying to rectify this situation. We look to whatever they might be able to do.
But at this point, I think in terms of committing the Secretary to go, which we would have to do at this point, we are not going to do that.
QUESTION: But is the document that you are talking about, is this document the preparatory document that came out of the Asian regional grouping, which was -- the meeting for which was held in Tehran?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we are talking about the preparatory document that came out of Geneva, out of the preparatory meeting that came out of Geneva. It is the document that is being prepared for the conference itself.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what the solution was on the language about slavery and possible reparations that allowed the U.S. to go forward on that issue at least? Or you are saying that is no longer a problem at all?
MR. BOUCHER: The major issue is the one the President cited on Friday. I don't have an up-to-date version now with the language on reparations, slavery and things like that. I would have to look for that. Obviously that will be discussed. All these issues will be discussed further at the conference itself, but the issue at this point is really the issue of Israel.
QUESTION: You used the words "if any" a couple times about our possible representation.
MR. BOUCHER: Do you want me to do that again?
QUESTION: Just to make clear, is it quite likely we will boycott the conference entirely?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to try to gage the likelihood of different scenarios. There are different possibilities that we would have to consider. I think if you look at what the President said on Friday, if this doesn't change, if it stays the same, his feeling, I think was the way he put it, was maybe we shouldn't go at all. So that is obviously one of the possibilities that is still in play.
But we will have to look at the situation and about how this might evolve or change, based on the efforts that various people are making, and see if -- well, decide on the nature and level of our participation, if any.
QUESTION: But didn't the President basically announce that we wouldn't attend at any level if this language wasn't all changed? Is the Secretary still considering attending -- having some officials attend? The President said we wouldn't have anybody go.
QUESTION: He didn't?
MR. BOUCHER: Go back to the way you stated it the first time.
QUESTION: You wouldn't attend --
MR. BOUCHER: -- if this language doesn't change. So we are looking at how that situation is evolving and the efforts that might be under way and the prospects for change.
QUESTION: I think that the day before the President made his statement, several people in the NGO community, for want of a better word, were invited to become part of the U.S. delegation. What happens to them? If you decide not to go at all, do they not go? What is their status?
And number two, what do you say to the argument that if you are in the middle of a diplomatic situation, you go all the way and fight for your principle, rather than not?
MR. BOUCHER: On the first issue, there are congressional travelers, I think, who intend to go out. There are members of nongovernmental organizations who intend to be out there. I am not aware that outsiders have been invited to join the delegation. That may be true. We are keeping in touch with all those sorts of people, and as we decide the nature and level of our participation, if any, we will keep them informed. And that is one of the factors that obviously enters into it, how do we accommodate their desires and wishes as well.
And the second question is a question we'll deal with once we can explain exactly how we have decided to deal with the conference.
QUESTION: Can you outline for us what some of the options are that you are considering? I mean, can you be a little bit more specific than, "We're thinking about the level of the delegation"? I mean, what level are you talking about? Are you talking about assistant secretary level, are you talking about desk officer level, janitor level? What is it that you are talking about?
MR. BOUCHER: And everything in between.
QUESTION: Richard, are you disputing the arguments made by the proponents of this language, or are you merely arguing that the conference should not mention any particular countries by name?
QUESTION: Both? So what is the purpose of a conference on any subject if it doesn't talk about particular instances of the behavior which it's all about?
MR. BOUCHER: What is the point of a conference on a global issue that, in the end, only talks about one particular country?
QUESTION: Well, not only talk about one country.
MR. BOUCHER: It's the only country that seems to be singled out. We spent years working to eradicate some of these ideas from the UN system, and we don't think this is the time or the place to put them back in.
QUESTION: Is there any concern by the United States Government how the rest of the countries will be reacting to this decision by the United States? Don't you think it's going to keep the isolationalism in the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: I think if you look at other countries, first of all, there are a variety of other countries that share similar concerns to ours. Second of all, you will see that some number, not terribly large, intend to be represented at the head of state or foreign minister level. Many, many others are not represented at that level. So I don't think -- as we consider how exactly to do it, we may be the same, we may be a bit different than some others.
QUESTION: Richard, there is another UN conference that is coming up that this Administration seems to have some problems with, and that is the Special Session on Children at the General Assembly next month, in September. There is a report out there that you guys have threatened to boycott this special session unless language regarding family planning and abortion is removed from it.
Is that correct?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'll have to check.
QUESTION: Can you say whether the Secretary has received a letter from Nita Lowey and Carolyn Maloney about this? Do you know about that?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check.
QUESTION: On Durbin, did the Secretary have a conversation with Kofi Annan this morning on this subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, and he had a conversation with Kofi Annan on Saturday on the subject, and he had a conversation with Kofi Annan, I believe on Friday, on the subject.
QUESTION: That's it, and this morning?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, this morning as well. He has talked very frequently to Kofi Annan on this subject, as he has kept in touch with others as well.
QUESTION: Anything particular about it, or are they just updating each other?
MR. BOUCHER: They continue to discuss the state of play and how to work the issues.
QUESTION: The Bush Administration is threatening to boycott -- do you see this as a dent or a bad impact on the relations with South Africa?
MR. BOUCHER: No, this is not about South Africa. This is about a conference, and we would be taking these positions on the conference whether it was being held in Helsinki, Cairo, Bujumbura or anywhere. We have actually tried to work very constructively with the South Africans on this, and recognizing their positions as host, respecting all the effort that they have put into it. But in the end, we have to make the decision about the conference, not about South Africa. Our relations with South Africa are strong and will continue to be that way.
QUESTION: What happened in the last two months, the U.S. helped -- rather the UN helped rather with the US? Is this because it's Chinese influence against the United States at the UN, or what is happening there?
MR. BOUCHER: That is the first time I have heard that theory; I don't think I will endorse it today.
QUESTION: Is partly the problem in organizing these conferences, whether it be government-to-government, that it's a question that if we do come to a particular conference at a given level, that level is considered then a publicity factor? As opposed to a government-to-government factor?
MR. BOUCHER: I suppose the issue ultimately, when you have a conference that appears to be headed off in a direction like this that we find offensive, is that by participating in this conference, especially at a high level, that we would somehow associate the United States with those conclusions, whatever we happen to say at the conference. And you can state clearly that you disassociate yourself. So all those things have to be looked at.
But, yes, the level tends to imply a certain association that we may not -- we certainly don't want with this kind of language.
QUESTION: Can I go back to that conversation with Kofi Annan? Would you say that the Secretary General was urging Secretary Powell to attend or to send a high level delegation?
More on this?
QUESTION: Do you question that Kofi Annan has the power unilaterally to change the language? Or what power does he have to influence this? Powell to go?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary General is obviously a very widely respected figure in the world. He plays a diplomatic role in this, as well as in many other matters. The documents themselves have to be looked at and done by the conference participants. So, yes, there is -- he is not writing the document himself.
QUESTION: But would he have had (inaudible) to try and change it himself?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't want to characterize his efforts. He is obviously concerned about the situation with the conference. And the Secretary has been keeping in touch with him to make sure he fully understood our views.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) document anyway? I mean, couldn't the United States just attend, whether it is Secretary Powell or some other level, and block all this bracketed language from being adopted anyway?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: Can you take that question?
MR. BOUCHER: It's a good question that we will try to answer once we tell you what we have decided.
All right, change of subject. This gentleman had first rights.
QUESTION: Today, Israel killed the high-profile policy and political leader, the leader of PFLP. Any comments on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me talk a little bit about the situation. The escalation in violence in recent days in the Middle East threatens to overwhelm any chance of restoring calm and of implementing the Mitchell Committee recommendations.
Both Israelis and Palestinians know exactly what needs to be done to end their confrontation, to change the situation on the ground, and they must act to change it. Above all, the Palestinian Authority needs to take sustained and credible steps to preempt terror and to arrest those responsible, as well as take steps to bring the violence under control.
At the same time, the situation on the ground is allowed to -- if this situation on the ground is to improve, then Israel must also take the economic and security steps that are necessary to alleviate the pressure, the hardship and the humiliations of the Palestinian population.
Clearly, Israel is in a difficult situation and under pressure from terrorist attacks. It does have a right to defend itself. But I want to reiterate, we think that both sides must also do everything in their power to avoid actions that make the current situation worse.
Now, let me follow from that in addressing your question about the issue of the killings. Our position on targeted killings is the same; it hasn't changed. We remain opposed to targeted killings. We think Israel needs to understand that targeted killings of Palestinians don't end the violence, but are only inflaming an already volatile situation and making it much harder to restore calm.
We are deeply troubled by the fact that civilians, including more than 20 American citizens, some of whom were children, were living in the building which was attacked today. In the end, Israelis and Palestinians, once the violence and confrontation subsides, will need to return to a political process, and that is the only way for them to end their conflict. And we think both sides need to keep that in mind and to keep moving in that direction.
QUESTION: You mentioned the 20 civilians living in the building. I don't want to tease it out, but if there was a way for the Israelis to simply target this guy, who I believe was on -- or at least the organization the PFLP is on the list of terrorist organizations from the State Department -- would that somehow damper U.S. criticism?
MR. BOUCHER: I think our position on targeted killings has been stated many times. It has been maintained clearly and we maintain it now. So I don't think I could speculate in that direction. We are especially concerned when civilians, and particularly American citizens, are in danger. But our position is fairly well known.
QUESTION: What about new complaints of the Israelis using US-supplied weapons, equipment, F-15s now and F-16s?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new on that question.
QUESTION: Are you going to do anything about it?
MR. BOUCHER: We have made our position clear in the past. We will continue to make our position clear. This is an issue that is of concern to us, and continues to be.
QUESTION: Say that again?
MR. BOUCHER: This is an issue that has been of concern to us, and continues to be.
QUESTION: Okay, but apart from saying that your position is clear, are you actually going to -- are you engaged in any kind of diplomacy with either side to contact either side at a high level to --
MR. BOUCHER: That is what making our position clear is about. That is what we are doing.
I want to say, we are actively engaged in this situation. Our representatives in the region, our Ambassador to Israel, our Consul General in Jerusalem, have continued to meet regularly with the leaders of the two sides. Our other representatives in the region have been in close touch with people in the region. So we are continuing to actively work the situation, to actively work to help the parties, to urge the parties to take the steps to reduce the violence and to get on to the path of implementation of the Mitchell recommendations.
QUESTION: You said before that Israel has a right to defend itself. Have you recommended alternatives to targeted killings, which they say is defensive, in these contacts in terms of how Israel can defend itself?
MR. BOUCHER: We have consistently urged the parties to take concrete steps with each other to end the violence. We have consistently, as I said again today, urged the Palestinian Authority to take sustained and credible steps to preempt terror and arrest those responsible. And we have urged the parties to cooperate on security matters. So that is the path we would rather see them go.
QUESTION: So cooperation with Palestinian security forces and negotiations are seen as a way, by the State Department of Israel, defending itself against terror attacks?
MR. BOUCHER: We see that as the best way to reduce the level of violence and to get back to a more normal life for both Israelis and Palestinians.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the PA statement following the killing today that seems to, despite your protestations to the contrary and your criticisms of targeted killing, says that it is the result of a U.S. green light to Israel on these attacks and saying that the U.S. would pay a price?
MR. BOUCHER: There is no such green light. I have not seen that statement, so I don't have any further reaction. But as far as the issue of whether we give some kind of green light, it is very clear that we don't.
QUESTION: If I could follow up on that, while you say from this podium that you are against the practice of targeted killings, a lot of Israeli officials come out of this building, and most recently last week, I think it was a group of Jewish-American -- leaders of Jewish groups in America that say that you are not coming down on them, you are not telling Israel to stop --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sorry, you said, Israeli officials, or leaders of American Jewish groups?
QUESTION: Well, both. That you are not coming down on Israel, and that in private, you are saying that there is really no moral equivalency here, and that you are not as against the practice of targeted killings as you say.
MR. BOUCHER: We have made it clear in public as well as in private at all levels.
QUESTION: Well, you say that -- you tell the Israelis you are against it, but have you told them to stop it?
MR. BOUCHER: Is there a difference?
QUESTION: I guess. If you say to them that you don't think it is a good idea, telling them to stop it is something --
MR. BOUCHER: We have made clear that we are opposed to it and we think it should stop.
QUESTION: But have you threatened them with that, or told them that something will result if they continue to do it?
MR. BOUCHER: We have made clear what our position is.
QUESTION: Okay. What I wanted to know is, you talk about how you remain deeply engaged and all that. Has the Secretary been involved -- has the Secretary made any calls? Has he been --
MR. BOUCHER: He hasn't made any calls to the region, no.
QUESTION: Interesting, for the first time, we hear you use the words, "humiliations of the Palestinian population." I haven't heard that language before. Is there any particular reason why you have decided to include this reference in your statement?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it is an accurate description of the effect of some of these measures.
QUESTION: And can you elaborate on what kind of measures you are particularly thinking of which have prompted you to --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I think I will stick with the way I put it before.
Any more on this?
QUESTION: Can you explain why there seems to be some kind of a disconnect between the language coming out of this building, and the language coming out of the President's mouth? I mean, you have just been very clear about apportioning, or about placing the onus on both sides, and as Jonathan said, mentioned the humiliation of the Palestinians, whereas the President, in his last statements on this on Friday, said virtually nothing about what Israel needed to do, and put 99 percent of the blame on the PA and on Arafat.
Why is this building being more balanced or more -- not balanced; it was the wrong word -- why is this building seemingly intentionally taking a different position than the President has?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that would be a misperception on your part.
QUESTION: Would it? Explain.
MR. BOUCHER: If I can go back to what the President said, obviously the President speaks more concisely than we do. We tend to amplify on things a little bit more. The President said the U.S. is engaged with the Egyptians, the Palestinians. The President said -- I'm trying to find the right quotes -- that urging Mr. Arafat to urge the terrorists to stop the suicide bombings, stop the incursions, stop the threats, work closely with Prime Minister Sharon to urge him to show restraint. He has consistently said that. He said we are looking for 100 percent effort from the Palestinian side, and we are looking for restraint from the Israelis on all fronts. It is pretty clear that he is saying what I am saying.
QUESTION: Right, but he had to be prodded into mentioning the Israelis showing restraint. If you look at the full transcript, he was --
MR. BOUCHER: No, he didn't. I'm looking at the full transcript right now. The first paragraph is about --
QUESTION: He had to be asked specifically for a reaction about the incursion into Hebron on late Friday.
MR. BOUCHER: No, he was asked a question, and he said, Mr. Arafat, blah, blah, blah; then he said, at the same time, we have worked very closely with Prime Minister Sharon to urge him to show restraint. That is the same paragraph; no new question.
QUESTION: Richard, are you confident that the position stated in the State Department is actually reaching the President? I mean, is he aware of the position that you express here?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say -- Jonathan, I don't know where you guys get off on this, but there is no difference between what I am saying and what the President said.
QUESTION: There are 30,000 Palestinian-Americans in the area; 60,000 Israeli-Americans. Have any of them been arrested or wounded in this intifada? And when you say "incursions," you mean only Palestinian incursions into Israel, or are you also talking, as the Secretary did a couple months ago, about incursions by the Israeli tanks into Gaza and so on?
MR. BOUCHER: We have talked about incursions by the Israelis into Palestinian-controlled areas. Nothing new to say on that, particularly today.
In terms of Americans -- Israeli-Americans, Palestinian-Americans -- who might be out in the region, we have, as you know, have a Travel Advisory. We have expressed a lot of concern about their situation. We have tried to work on some of the specific and individual problems that might face them from time to time. Whether there have been people arrested, I don't really know. I would not be surprised if there had been people arrested; Americans tend to get arrested a little bit in various countries.
QUESTION: How about wounded or disappeared?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, there have been Americans killed in this, and it is very sad.
QUESTION: I have one now. I realize you are not going to be able to respond specifically, because it just happened, but I'm just wondering in general if you can give me a reaction. Apparently, the PFLP has just called in Damascus for Arab nations to, "hit American interests." "We ask the Arab world to hit American interests because the United States participates with Israel in the extermination of the Palestinian people."
What do you think about that?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I don't have people walking in the room handing me news stories while we are standing here. So I am not going to try to keep up with the wires. Sorry. I will do that when it is time.
More on this?
QUESTION: New subject? On Afghanistan. We understand that the diplomats and families of the Americans were able to see them today?
MR. BOUCHER: That's right. First of all, representatives of the Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross, had been able to visit the two American and six other foreign aid workers that were detained by the Taliban. We haven't gotten a readout of that meeting from them, but consular officials from the United States, including our Consul General David Donahue and consular officials from Australia and Germany, as well as relatives of the detainees, went to Kabul this afternoon and were able to meet with the detainees today in Kabul. They report that the conditions of detention are fine and that the people are in good health.
We will continue to work with the German and the Australian embassies in Islamabad and continue to press the Taliban for information about the status of the investigation of the detainees and on how the case might proceed under the Taliban legal system. The US, Australian and German representatives have a meeting tomorrow with Taliban officials from their Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministries in Kabul to talk more about the situation and try to understand these conditions better.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? You said that the American women were in good health, but a Talibani official said over the weekend that one of the Americans was sick and her mother has been saying that she has asthma. Is there some concern for her deteriorating health?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to be able to report on any individual circumstance or health condition, but the report that they are all in good health comes from the meeting today in Kabul.
QUESTION: Are the parents going to be allowed to see them tomorrow?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. Obviously we continue to press for access, both on a consular basis and a humanitarian basis for the relatives.
QUESTION: What about a lawyer? Have you pressed for them to be able to have lawyers?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know the Taliban legal system enough to know whether that is part of it or not.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea how long the visas were for this time? Did the diplomats get longer than a day or two?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't know. Sorry.
QUESTION: Can I just ask a quick one? We are saying that the aid workers are detained? I'm asking. Are we?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I've called them detainees about four times. They are detained. They are not free to go.
QUESTION: Could you talk about India and sanctions and whether there is a strong move to end them?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I can really only address it in a general sense to say that the U.S. and India have been in the process of transforming our relationship. India is becoming more and more important to the United States as it assumes a larger role in world affairs and as its economy expands to meet its enormous potential. We do want to work with India's leaders to expand our cooperation, and we would also note that our improved relationship with India is not directed at any other country.
The Administration is currently reviewing our policy on South Asia sanctions. No decisions have been made at this point, and obviously we would want to consult with Congress about any changes.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, the Pakistani Ambassador here in Washington is having a campaign against the United States, against this Department, and The Washington Times, actually, has since been lobbying on behalf of Pakistan and her because these stories are almost every day.
Now, she is saying that the U.S. is discriminating against -- again, she said the same thing two months or a month ago or something when we ask her the same question. So where do we stand today as far as allegations against the U.S. that it is discriminating in Pakistan as far as sanctions are concerned?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen those particular statements. I just made clear that our relationship with India, first of all, is not directed against any other country. Pakistan is a friend of long standing. It is an important regional and Islamic power. And we are committed to working through the difficult political, economic and social challenges with Pakistan.
QUESTION: One more. Sorry. India formally charged Usama bin Laden and five of his police in connection in charging plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Delhi. Do you have any comments on that on how Washington is working with the authorities, because Usama bin Laden have threatened now India because of this -- all these arrests that the Holy War against India and against the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say, first of all, that we appreciate the efforts by Indian law enforcement authorities in pursuing this matter, that we continue to be in very close touch with the Government of India about the case, that we do believe the terrorists need to be brought to justice for their crimes, but we leave any details on the case to the Government of India.
Yes, on Macedonia.
QUESTION: Any comment on the latest developments? Two incidents happened yesterday, the blast in Tetevo region killing two people, and one British soldier was severely injured and passed away this morning? And in the meantime, the Operation Essential Harvest has started.
MR. BOUCHER: In the meantime, what?
QUESTION: The Operation Essential Harvest --
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, Essential Harvest has started? Yes. Let me try to hit briefly on all those. You can pick up whichever ones you want.
First of all, let me make clear that we condemn the violence over the weekend, particularly in this circumstance. Macedonia needs calm in order to proceed with disarmament and with the political action that is necessary.
We extend our condolences to the family of the British soldier and to the family of those killed in the explosion. We expect the Macedonian authorities to conduct a full investigation into these incidents.
As for Essential Harvest, NATO forces began collecting the weapons today outside of Kumanovo. NATO continues to believe that the operation can be completed in 30 days if the parties cooperate, and we would certainly urge them to do so.
We also expect Macedonia's political leaders to pursue rapid implementation of the framework agreement and to take necessary steps towards building a real peace.
QUESTION: Today, the British Government said that they were reviewing their contribution to NATO in light of the terrible killing yesterday on one of their soldiers. What impact do you think that would have on the timeline, and can you make any kind of comment on that at this point?
MR. BOUCHER: No, that is very hypothetical at this point. Obviously we regret the tragic death. We condemn the mob violence that seems to have caused it, but I don't think this is going to deter NATO from its mission to assist with the voluntary disarmament.
QUESTION: There has been a lot of dispute about the actual numbers of weapons that the rebels are holding in proportion to the amount of weapons that they have actually been called to give up, and the Macedonians are saying that they have far greater weapons. I was wondering if you have any response to that.
And also, some reports from the region this morning that some of the weapons that they are giving up are not the ones that they are fighting with, that they are turning over like Soviet-era weapons that nobody could have done anything with, and actually could be kind of stashing their real weapons somewhere else.
MR. BOUCHER: NATO is clearly the most responsible authority for this matter, and you will have to get information from NATO on what kind of weapons they are collecting and what they might be used for.
NATO has made a careful assessment of the types and the numbers of weapons that are necessary for collection. It is part of a credible disarmament plan that will remove the combat effectiveness of the so-called National Liberation Army. That is the way the Task Force Essential Harvest Commander describes it, and that is the way we see it as well.
There is clearly some disparity between NATO's assessment and the views of some members of the Macedonian Government. We anticipate that the weapons collection effort itself will help to assure people that the process is credible. I think the most important thing is that the process is under way, it has begun, and that NATO is undertaking this in a serious manner.
QUESTION: Do you see this weapons collection as something that will actually completely disarm the rebels, or is it more of a symbolic gesture to show that they are willing to give up some weapons in return for the other Macedonian concessions in the agreement?
MR. BOUCHER: If I can choose Option C, we see this as an important part of the process of bringing and restoring calm. We think it is vital that the so-called National Liberation Army turn over these weapons. It is a very credible disarmament plan that can contribute to the calming of the situation and to the implementation of the political steps that are also necessary to bring calm and quiet to the situation over the long term.
QUESTION: On Mexico, about the interagency group that is over there, do you know if they are going to discuss the extradition of the recent major figures from the drug cartels arrested by the Mexican authorities in the past three or four months?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't.
QUESTION: Usually when the president of Mexico comes for a state visit, a big extradition traditionally. I don't know why. Is it a coincidence?
MR. BOUCHER: I would suspect that is because we cooperate very closely with the Mexicans on extradition matters, and they happen all the time, whether presidents are visiting or not.
QUESTION: One more going back to India, please?
QUESTION: On Usama bin Laden. One person has fled India. Now, if U.S. is helping in any way the Indian authorities to catch him? Or ongoing these charges in India, ongoing trials and all that, if the FBI or other officials are in India?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. Frankly, I just don't know. You might check with the Indian authorities, what they might have done with Interpol or others. That is how we get involved.
QUESTION: The Taiwanese Foreign Minister is going to give a speech at Harvard on Taiwan's foreign policy. What does that have to do with comfort, security and convenience that a transit visa provides?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'll have to check on the situation and see whether he got a visa from us. When is this supposed to be?
QUESTION: Next week, next Thursday.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll check and see what we have for you.
QUESTION: I have one more. Some other Taiwanese officials are also scheduling to come to the U.S. next month for a business conference. Is the State Department going to issue visas for them?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if they have applied. I would have to check and see.
QUESTION: Actually, can I follow up on that? There is a very interesting subject of his speech on Taiwanese foreign policy. Does the United States think that Taiwan has a foreign policy of its own?
MR. BOUCHER: You can research that question later. I will leave that one to you.
QUESTION: Back on Colombia. You said before that the U.S. supports Pastrana's efforts to achieve the peace, but the U.S. will maintain that position even if that efforts doesn't work?
QUESTION: The emphasis on --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know how to answer a question like that. Obviously we want to work with President Pastrana and encourage him to pursue those efforts. We support his efforts and we want to discuss and work with him to understand how those efforts can be effective. The goal of the policy is not to have efforts that don't work, neither on his part nor on ours.
QUESTION: Is Mr. Kiiza Besigye of Uganda -- is he going to have any meetings in the State Department, as far as you know?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know the gentleman. I'll have to check.
QUESTION: He's the opposition guy, the guy who fled the country. Musevini's opponent in the election.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check.
QUESTION: Richard, I want to go back to the plane crash in the Bahamas this weekend. What information do you have on the status of bringing bodies back and the investigation?
MR. BOUCHER: Our Embassy in Nassau has been working with the Bahamian Government to provide whatever assistance we can to the victims' families. We have been working with them and with the officials of the Government of Bahamas since Saturday night when the plane went down in the Bahamas.
First of all, let me extend our condolences to the family, the friends and the fans of the singer Aaliyah and to the others that were killed, the other eight Americans who were also killed in the crash.
So we have been working with the Bahamas Government and with others to try to see what we can do for the victims' families, but I don't have any specific information on when the remains might be repatriated.
QUESTION: As of this morning, there is a Norwegian freighter which apparently now is at Christmas Island, and it has Afghan asylum seekers, 369 men, 43 children and 26 women, and the governments of Australia, Indonesia and Norway refuse to admit these immigrants, or asylum seekers.
What is the State Department's position on this?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sorry. You mentioned Afghanistan, Norway, Australia, Indonesia and somewhere else.
QUESTION: The three countries -- being Australia, Norway and Indonesia -- are preventing Afghan asylum seekers that are in a freighter.
MR. BOUCHER: And the freighter is owned by?
MR. BOUCHER: Norway. And this is on Christmas Island, which is not U.S. territory?
QUESTION: Right. It's shades of World War II, in effect.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if I would go that far. I haven't yet found the United States connection that would cause me to want to enunciate a position on this.
QUESTION: Would we offer -- would we work with those --
MR. BOUCHER: Refugees internationally are handled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. You might check with them. I haven't heard anything that gets us involved in this one yet.
QUESTION: As a matter of principle, though, there is an obligation by countries to accept refugees.
MR. BOUCHER: As a matter of principle, we think that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is responsible for this and that they ought to help take care of it, and the countries involved, too. That applies to any refugee around the world.
QUESTION: Your Embassy in Colombo seems to have stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest in Sri Lanka by releasing a statement saying that the Ambassador had tried to intervene in the latest political crisis there. Do you know what is going on?
MR. BOUCHER: This was a couple weeks ago.
QUESTION: Yes, but it has just come to a head now because yesterday --
MR. BOUCHER: I do know that our Ambassador has been in touch with the various parties there, that occasionally he had been asked to carry messages. We have done that. We obviously have an interest in peace in Sri Lanka. I am not aware of anything new on that subject, frankly.
QUESTION: Isn't this kind of a mediation by the United States in Sri Lanka?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure I would go that far.
QUESTION: And one more just on China, that in Washington, members of the Falun Gong, they are on hunger strike in front of the Chinese Embassy. Any comments?
MR. BOUCHER: No. It's a free country. Can I say that?
QUESTION: No, I mean they are protesting really that what is happening in China against their members.
MR. BOUCHER: It is a free country here.
QUESTION: Religious persecution in China.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. This is America. They are allowed to demonstrate. And we have expressed our concerns about religious persecution in China as well.
QUESTION: Staying on China, are there new proliferation talks scheduled since they broke down on Thursday? Can you give us any update on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I have to double-check. I'm not sure I accept the characterization that you gave to it.
QUESTION: In keeping with my promise to ask -- I promised to Chuck to ask about an obscure South Pacific island -- I am wondering if you have anything to say about --
MR. BOUCHER: We're going to do that once per briefing, or twice?
QUESTION: Yes, the peace treaty.
MR. BOUCHER: Haven't we done Christmas Island already?
QUESTION: Yes, but that wasn't my question. This is about the peace treaty that is going to be signed on Thursday, apparently between Bougainville and Papua Guinea.
MR. BOUCHER: We support peace. I'll see if we have anything more to say on Thursday when they sign it.
QUESTION: Just one more, very quickly. Is there any update on the Iraq policy review in light of the shoot-down today?
(The briefing was concluded at 2:25 P.M.)
(end transcript)

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