08 March 2004
State Department Noon Briefing, March 8, 2004
Zimbabwe, India/Pakistan, Greece, South Korea/Iraq, Powell's meeting with Bronfman, Israel/Palestinians, Canada, Jordan/Middle East, Syria, Haiti, Guantanamo Bay/detainees, Middle East, Iraq, North Korea, Austria, Burma, Afghanistan
State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher briefed the media at the noon briefing March 8.
Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Monday, March 8, 2004
1:02 p.m. EST
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
-- Report of U.S. Registered Cargo Plane Seized
-- Secretary Powell's Visit to India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan/Elections in India
-- White Powder Incident Involving Indian Passport/Visa Processing Fees
-- Election Results
-- Detention of Reporters
-- Secretary Powell's Meeting with Mr. Bronfman Today
-- Raids in Gaza Strip/Disengagement from Gaza
-- Human Trafficking
-- Foreign Minister Muasher's Visit/Role of Jordan as Moderating Force
-- Possibility of Adopting Sanctions against Syria/Syria Accountability Act
-- Detention of U.S. Diplomat/Human Rights Rally
-- Former President Aristide's Interest in Returning to Haiti
-- Security in Port-au-Prince/Sporadic Incidents of Violence
-- Guantanamo Bay Detainees/Discussions with Foreign Governments
-- Support for Democratization/Middle East Partnership Initiative
-- Establishing Diplomatic Mission/June 30 Transfer of Sovereignty
-- Working Group for North Korea Nuclear Program
-- Elections in Austria
-- UN Special Envoy Razali Ismail's Visit to Burma/Meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi
-- Human Rights Report on Afghanistan/U.S. Policies in Afghanistan
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
MONDAY, MARCH 8, 2004
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
1:02 p.m. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements or announcements so I'd be glad to take your questions.
Where do we want to start? Let's start in the front row and then work our way back.
QUESTION: Zimbabwe seized what it says is a U.S.-registered cargo plane and it's got mercenaries aboard, according to them, and military material. Do you have any indications that the plane is connected with the U.S. Government?
MR. BOUCHER: We have no indication this aircraft is connected to the U.S. Government. We are aware of the reports. We've seen the Zimbabwe Government announcement and various press reports related to that. Our embassy on the ground is looking into it. We also don't have any information that there are American citizens that might have been detained by the Zimbabwe authorities. But so far, I think we've seen a lot of various reports on the press and can't really confirm any of them.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that it's a -- it is a U.S.-registered plane? Commercial plane?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't even confirm that. That's what the indications are but I can't confirm that that in fact is the aircraft. I'm not sure our people have seen the aircraft and been able to check it, as would be appropriate in those circumstances.
QUESTION: Richard --
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, let's start moving back.
QUESTION: Can you go a little bit about the Secretary's visit to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan? What -- he was supposed to make this visit earlier; it was postponed and now -- what prompted him now?
MR. BOUCHER: I think my Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli did this on Friday and talked, when he announced the trip, talked about our goals. First and foremost, I would emphasize that at any given moment, as we go out there, we have a full agenda with India, full agenda with Pakistan, bilateral relationships that we've worked very hard to improve and will continue to work to improve. Then obviously, there are other questions that need discussion that we feel we can have useful discussions face-to-face with Indian leaders, Pakistani leaders, where they stand vis-à-vis each other, proliferation issues, issues in the region like Afghanistan, the fight against terror that they all face, each faces in different ways.
So it's a full agenda of discussions with India, a full agenda of discussions with Pakistan, starting with bilateral relations and going on to both regional and more local concerns.
QUESTION: India will have soon elections, and his visit will go (inaudible) during elections and how the people will see there are some (inaudible), maybe his support for the Vajpayee government, or how do you think Secretary feels about his visit now?
MR. BOUCHER: I think in a democracy there is always some kind of politics or elections going on. We're not going out to take a side in the elections. We're going out to discuss important matters and build on the cooperation we've been able to establish in recent years with the Indian Government.
QUESTION: Yes. Can you give us your statement on the result and the decisive victory of Mr. Karamanlis in Greece in yesterday's elections?
MR. BOUCHER: We congratulate Prime Minister-designate Karamanlis on the election. We look forward to working closely with him and his new government, especially on critical issues of a Cyprus settlement by May 1st, and providing for the safety of the Summer Olympics.
QUESTION: Anything else?
MR. BOUCHER: That's -- (laughter) -- pretty much all there is to say. We've obviously kept in touch with all the various political parties in Cyprus, in Greece, as we did with the -- Mr. Karamanlis when he was leader of the main parliamentary opposition party.
So, yesterday, we note -- he cited achievement of a result, a resolution in Cyprus as one of his top priorities. And that's something we certainly welcome.
QUESTION: Will you continue your cooperation or your contacts with Mr. Papandreou?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure we'll continue our cooperation with all the major political forces in Greece, including the, I guess, what would be the new main leader of the -- leader of the main opposition party.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Sir.
QUESTION: It is reported that, recently, quite a few foreign journalists and NGOs were abused or mistreated by U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and last weekend, Korean -- some Korean journalists were the case. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, I have to say that there is not abuse by the U.S. military. There is not any significant number of incidents involved. There was an occurrence last Saturday that I think the Coalition Authority has reported on. There were -- let me get my details for me, if I can -- of course, I can't find them, but -- hang on. Tom, help me out here.
MR. CASEY: EAP (inaudible.)
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, that's right.
MR. CASEY: Why would it be under Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: Why would it be under Iraq? Okay.
This happened on Saturday at a security site near the Palestine and Sheraton Hotel complex. The journalists' baggage alerted a bomb-sniffing dog. The journalists were segregated as per standard operating procedures. Tests produced negative results about three hours later and that's when they were allowed to proceed with their business.
Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. Powell -- Secretary Powell met with Mr. Bronfman today. Could you tell us what the content of the meeting is, what's it all about?
MR. BOUCHER: Met with Mr. Bronfman?
QUESTION: Mr. Bronfman, yeah.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have any particular details on that meeting. He meets with a variety of American groups and people interested in the situation in the Middle East, and this was one of those meetings.
QUESTION: Was he trying to gauge what would -- the American-Jewish community's reaction to, let's say, the unilateral separation, or --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if they expressed an opinion on that or not. We meet with a variety of people in order just to keep abreast of thinking and compare notes on the situation and our strong support for the state of Israel and our strong support for moving towards peace and the President's vision that was outlined last year of two states that can live side by side.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up? There was a -- an (inaudible) yesterday; 15 Palestinians were killed, scores were injured and so on. Did the Department express any outrage or any concern that the situation -- this may lead to a deteriorated situation?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, I have to say we continue to work hard with parties to try to move forward in a positive direction, to try to ease the burdens and fears of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
We do recognize Israel's right to defend itself against terrorism -- terrorist attacks, and we always urge Israel to consider the consequences of any actions it might wish to take. But we also urge the Israeli Government to take all appropriate precautions to prevent death or injury of innocent civilians or damage to civil and humanitarian infrastructure.
At the same time, we believe the best way to move forward is for the Palestinian Authority to begin by making an effort against terror and violence, an effort that's far more serious than the one that they have made over the past few years.
QUESTION: The Canadian Government wants to announce some measures today aimed at reviewing its laws pertaining to human smuggling, the trafficking --
QUESTION: Can we stay on the Middle East?
QUESTION: -- human and children.
MR. BOUCHER: Let's do this, then we'll come back.
QUESTION: Can I just ask, do you -- does the United States still have concerns in this regard as to human traffic coming over the border?
MR. BOUCHER: I really don't have anything new on that. It is an area that we cooperate very closely with Canadian authorities on and one where we all need to do our part. But beyond that, I don't think I have anything on the new Canadian laws.
QUESTION: The State Department did issue a report a couple of weeks ago saying that the Canadian Government's effort were uneven and that it failed to meet some minimum standards in this area. Is that --
MR. BOUCHER: We've had things to point out in the past where we thought various countries could do more, including Canada, as you note, in the regular reports that we issue. So any further steps are certainly welcome.
QUESTION: Yes, two things, in fact. But the first one is, there were some reports saying that the American Administration just about to adopt the Israeli position, or Prime Minister Sharon's plan for this engagement from Gaza. And that's going to happen officially in the next few days. Do you have any comments on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see those reports but that doesn't really correspond to where I think we are on these issues. First of all, as you know, we've had a dialogue with the Israeli Government about these steps. We've also continued a dialogue with the Palestinians about the roadmap, about moving forward, about how these steps could fit with the idea that we all have of moving forward towards a vision of two states.
The discussions that we had, I think, in mid-February with the Israelis will continue. We've been back and forth, on and off and when we have further travel, we'll announce that. But at this point, I'd really tell you that these discussions are underway. We continue to look at the possibilities of what the Israeli Government might do in terms of taking steps to disengage by removing settlements. These could potentially reduce friction. They could address some of Israel's responsibility in moving towards the vision that the President outlined. And we'll look at them in that light, continue to talk to them, ask questions, and discuss with other parties how they might be -- how they might serve the cause that we all share of creating two states.
QUESTION: But not likely to adopt officially the position soon?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the United States doesn't adopt either side's particular positions, but we do try to work with what we're -- what the opportunities are and this seems to represent an opportunity to move forward if it's done in the context of the roadmap and the vision that the President's outlined of two states.
QUESTION: Something regarding the Middle East again. There is a visit tomorrow by the Jordanian Foreign Minister and also President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is coming in April. Is this part of this engaging the friendly countries in the Middle East with the President's vision of declaring this Greater Middle East plan in the G8? Is this the focus of these Arab leaders?
MR. BOUCHER: That's one of the things that will be discussed with Foreign Minister Muasher when he comes tomorrow to visit with the Secretary. But there's a full range of bilateral and regional issues, including the peace process, developments in Iraq, the global war on terrorism, as well as our efforts to support reform in the Middle East.
As you know, we've greatly valued the role that Jordan has played as a moderating force in the Middle East. Jordan's also taking some very important steps with respect to economic and political reforms, in many ways serves as a model in some of these areas for the region.
So we've appreciated Jordan's efforts at home, appreciated Jordan's efforts with respect to Middle East peace, appreciated Jordan's efforts in assisting with the stabilization of Iraq, for example, by hosting the training of Iraqi police cadets and military personnel, as well as training Iraqi air traffic controllers and bank officials. So these are all areas where we'll be working with Jordan to further our cooperation.
QUESTION: In the weekend, Richard, there were some reports about the possibility of adopting sanctions against Syria, whether soon or near future. Can you give us a sense of what's going on, or it was just speculations?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't -- can't give you too much of a sense. The Secretary said that we were indeed looking at it and we have, I think under the law, six months or so to formulate how we want to go about the legislation, implementing the legislation, Syria Accountability Act, that was passed. But when we have something to announce, we'll announce it. I can't give you a time for that quite yet.
QUESTION: But some officials were quoted saying that it would be in this week or next week. This is like -- is this a sense of reality or it's speculation?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particular timetable for you at this point. I just can't predict one way or the other when it would be.
QUESTION: But there was another thing which was mentioned in these reports, whether -- I'm trying to figure out what's the reality -- that there's some disagreement about that if it's, if Syria is behaving in a proper way or not. Can you -- is there any change, or --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think there's been any change, frankly. If you look at the characterization that we've given it here, that other agencies -- the White House, for example, has given it -- we've seen a bit of progress in some particular areas in the many things that we felt Libya needed to -- Syria needed to do. The -- you know, the question of the border with Iraq, we'd seen some more control but not enough. The question of the offices of Palestinian groups, we've seen a little bit of effort but certainly not enough. We'd seen continued reports of shipments to the Hezbollah groups and support for the violent groups that oppose the peace process. So there have been many things of continuing concern with Syria.
Our Ambassador recently arrived there, has been taking these up with Syria. But the Syria Accountability Act is the law of the land and we'll have to implement it. We will implement it when it's -- once we decide how we're going to go about that.
QUESTION: On Syria, can you confirm it's an American diplomat was arrested today? I think he was at the rights rally. And would you know why he was arrested?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think the Syrians will have to explain why. But the circumstances are, as you described them, the Syrian security authorities today briefly detained a U.S. diplomat who was assigned to our Embassy in Damascus. The diplomat was observing a human rights rally taking place in front of the Parliament building.
He was taken to a Syrian emergency police detention facility where he was held for about an hour before being released. He was not harmed, and Syrian security officials apologized for what clearly was a breach of diplomatic practice.
Our Embassy in Damascus has protested this incident in the strongest terms. The diplomat -- the detention of diplomats, no matter how brief, is a clear violation of Vienna Convention. It is not acceptable. The Department of State in Washington has been in contact with the Syrian Ambassador in D.C. to protest this incident and to express concern about Syrian actions against those peacefully demonstrating their freedom of expression.
QUESTION: Could you identify him further?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't at this point.
QUESTION: Do you know if he identified himself as a diplomat?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure he did. He or she did.
QUESTION: He or she were -- was just at the rally, observing the rally?
MR. BOUCHER: Was observing the rally, simply observing the demonstration. U.S. officials in Damascus regularly monitor demonstrations. Diplomats from other missions in Syria and foreign journalists were also present at the rally. We'd also note that security authorities apparently also arrested at least 25 Syrian citizens for being there.
QUESTION: Was the rally sanctioned by the Syrian Government?
MR. BOUCHER: I this -- tend to doubt it but --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) sanction?
MR. BOUCHER: Tend to doubt it, but I don't know.
Let's -- hang on. We missed the middle here. Let's --
QUESTION: Haiti. Can we go to Haiti?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's do Haiti. Same issue? Syria?
QUESTION: Did you express any concern about those 25 people who were arrested?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know how directly we expressed it. But obviously, the fact that I mention it here indicates that we are concerned, not only about the detention of our diplomat against the Vienna Convention rules, but also the fact that many others were detained at the same place.
Okay. Where were we?
QUESTION: As far as you're concerned, Richard, is former President Aristide free to go anywhere he likes? He's been saying that he wants to go back to Haiti. As far as you're concerned, is he free to get on the plane and go to Haiti or any place else?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the simple answer is, he's free to leave for any country that would grant him entry. And in terms of where he stands now, as far as asylum goes, free to go to any country that might grant his asylum request. Those are decisions that would be made by the individual countries that we wouldn't be involved in.
As far as his future in Haiti, that would be a matter for the Haitian people to decide somewhere down the road.
QUESTION: Richard --
MR. BOUCHER: I was going to go to George.
QUESTION: The U.S. and other forces have gone in there to stabilize the situation, and apparently there has been some violence. Yesterday was probably the worst day since -- in a week. And also, there were promises on the part of the rebels to lay down their arms and so far as I can tell, that hasn't happened at all. Do you have any response to this?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. Let's try to review this situation. First on the demonstration and the deaths, the demonstration on Sunday involved about 4,500 anti-Aristide demonstrators marching on the palace. It occurred without major incident until late in the afternoon when two vehicles near the palace operated by Aristide supporters opened fire on the crowd. I understand now that seven people were killed in that incident, including a Spaniard; 20 people were wounded including an American citizen cameraman, who has been evacuated to the United States. The armed group also fired on the multilateral interim force patrol which returned fire.
We find there continue to be sporadic incidents of violence in Port-au-Prince, but I would say, overall, slowly the city is returning to normal. Multilateral interim force continues to assert control over Port-au-Prince through its robust patrolling. Once security is stabilized, the Haitian Government, in conjunction with the force would then follow-on United Nations stabilization force, will undertake a systematic disarmament program.
Rebel forces are not, in any way, in control of the capital. We're assessing now security in cities and towns outside of Port-au-Prince. As Haitian authorities and Haitian National Police begin to reassert their authority, the criminal gangs will have no choice, we think, but to lay down their arms.
Okay. Where are we going? Here, here, and then working sort of towards --
QUESTION: At a --
MR. BOUCHER: Joel.
QUESTION: Yes. At a press conference, former President Aristide says that he still remains the Haitian leader. And if not returning directly to Haiti, would you want him, or if he insisted, to come to a CARICOM meeting to settle these issues?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, it needs to be pointed out again, as we have before, that Mr. Aristide resigned. He made a decision to resign for the best interests of his country. As he explained it to our representatives at the time, it was to prevent further bloodshed.
That letter has been presented to the head of the Supreme Court who's been sworn is by -- who was sworn in as president. The, sort of, formal ceremony where he assumes the office of president, that's being -- is being held today, so progress is being made in Haiti.
If Mr. Aristide really wants to serve his country, he really has to, we think, let his nation get on with the future and not try to stir up the past again. So the process is moving forward. The Council of Eminent Persons met on Friday, met on Saturday, is meeting again today, and they will proceed with the appointment of a prime minister to form a new government for all of Haiti.
Yeah, okay. We're heading -- John.
QUESTION: Still on a --
MR. BOUCHER: Same one.
Okay, Teri. I -- boy, that was the popular question.
Okay. Nicholas, and then we'll go back.
QUESTION: Yeah, if I can go back a bit. You said that whether he'll go back is for the Haitian people to decide somewhere down the road. Does that mean that you're allowing for the possibility for him to run in a future election?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, there's the Haitian constitution, and I don't think a president's allowed to succeed himself. But you can check the Haitian constitution on that. But as far as whether he has any political role or any particular role in Haiti, that would be something for Haitians down the road, as they choose their own government, for them to decide.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Despite the fact of your expression to the Syrian Government about the incident there, but do you feel that the fact that that individual was arrested along with 25 other Syrian individuals who probably were trying to violate the law somehow, do you feel that the fact that some chaos maybe took place and he was arrested along with them and the fact that the Syrian Government apologized for this incident, that it was not meant to steer any problems, or it was not really meant to insult that individual?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that that's necessarily borne out by facts, if he was detained for an hour and wasn't easily identifiable as a diplomat. We'll have to expect from the Syrian Government some further explanation rather than making an assumption.
QUESTION: Have they given any explanation for -- other than an apology?
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I'm aware of at this point.
QUESTION: I want to ask about Guantanamo. As you're probably aware, The British Daily Telegraph, today's report to the series of accusations against the four British guys who are going to be held there after five others are released, saying that they are -- they would pose a serious threat to America and Britain, and also listing a series of things they're accused of having done.
Do you agree with that characterization? Would they remain a serious threat? And why haven't you been more up front about listing the reasons you're holding these guys?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, we leave it to the Pentagon to deal with the issue of charges, tribunals, how the people are going to be -- how individuals are going to be moved through the judicial process or kept in detention.
We have released many already. We have established different kinds and classes of prisoners; those who could be released without posing a threat have been released, some -- well, more than 80 now. I forget the exact number. We're probably up towards 100.
Then there are others who have been transferred to the custody of foreign governments or transferred to foreign jurisdictions for appropriate handling or appropriate action, whatever that might be, by foreign governments. But there are some who we believe can't be transferred at this point -- can't be released, can't be transferred at this point because they would represent a threat to the United States, to the general civilized world if they were out again and able to engage in terrorism.
So without commenting on these four specific cases, I would say that the people that are being held in detention are people who potentially do pose a threat and those cases will be looked at. Their situations will be reviewed now on a regular basis; some will be charged. When those charges are out, I'm sure the Pentagon will detail for them -- detail the charges for you, but even if they're not charged, they are subject to further -- some are subject to further detention because they represent a continuing threat.
QUESTION: Why do you feel constrained in not outlining more detail? I accept you can't explain individual cases, but why do you feel constrained that you can't make you case better as you feel you have a strong case against what sort of activities these guys have been involved in?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, there is, I think, first and foremost, a need to follow a legal process with regard to any who might be tried. And that does involve due process under law as carried out through the military tribunals or the other rules that apply to these situations.
Second of all, there may be things that we know about that we can't talk about because of the way we know them. There may be intelligence matters that we know about individuals and why they represent a threat. So there might be a variety of reasons for different cases why people are continuing to be detained, but if they haven't been -- can't be transferred or released, then they have to be detained because they do represent a continuing threat.
QUESTION: We hear this so often from U.S. officials who say, you don't understand, these guys aren't aid workers, as one of them claimed to be. And yet, for some reason, the United States feels completely constrained against putting up any kind of case against them.
MR. BOUCHER: It's not a question of making a public case about an individual. There are laws. There's legal constraints on doing that. There are also intelligence constraints on doing that. So at some point, I suppose people will ask, but we're not able to answer all these questions.
Yeah, okay. Sir.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the Middle East?
MR. BOUCHER: Be my guest.
QUESTION: On Guantanamo?
MR. BOUCHER: Guantanamo, sir.
QUESTION: Yes, is there any kind of contacts between foreign governments and State Department regarding this issue, and what is the process going on in general? Or it's like you always refer them to other people?
MR. BOUCHER: No. There is a lot of contact going on between the State Department. We have stood here, we have announced the release, announced the return, the understanding with Britain about the return of five individuals to Britain. We had a return of people to Russia about a week ago.
MR. BOUCHER: Spain. There was an individual returned to Spain.
After working it out by the Spanish Government, there were individuals returned to Saudi Arabia last summer. And there have been various releases that you've seen, not only spoken about from here, but spoken about in the countries that they returned to.
And I've seen individuals interviewed in Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere after they'd gone back about the conditions and the circumstances of their detention in Guantanamo. So when we can make those decisions, when we can move forward on those things, we do move forward.
We have active and ongoing discussions with other governments. There have been many governments who have gone to Guantanamo to visit prisoners from their country that are in Guantanamo. We have facilitated that. We've had discussions with them, sharing information, discussions about the prospects or possibilities of transfer. So it's an ongoing process. But he was asking me about those who are still in detention. Why can't we go out and lay out the facts and lay out what they've done?
The answer is, first, we have to follow judicial procedure, if there is going to be trial; and second of all, we have to -- we're constrained by the kind of information we have, the intelligence information that we may have on an individual that leads us to believe he still needs to be detained.
QUESTION: Richard --
QUESTION: On the concept of (inaudible) to another government in trial, it's acceptable or not?
MR. BOUCHER: We do that all the time. We have done that in several cases. We have ongoing discussions with other governments, and I'm sure there will be further transfers and releases in the future under that -- as a result of those discussions.
Let's -- yeah.
QUESTION: Just to follow.
MR. BOUCHER: Just to follow, okay.
QUESTION: At least 82 Pakistanis are still being held there. What's their future? Because in Pakistan people are demanding their release because they are not being charged. Why you are holding them?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as you know, many people have been released. Others are still in detention. The ones who are in detention we consider to be people who are still dangerous, who were picked upon the field of battle, and who, therefore, need to be detained until such time as they no longer present a danger to us, that they might return to activities on the other side of the war on terrorism.
Yeah. Okay. Where were we going?
Sir. Do him and then you.
QUESTION: Former National Security Advisor Zbegnio Brejenskey wrote an op-ed piece today in The New York Times, in which he called that the President sabotaged his own policy on the issue of democratization is very critical, or the Vice President's comments at the economic forum in Switzerland. And he said that the Vice President's comments give the impression that there will be no resolution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict unless there is some sort of democracy. And he said that we must have actually a lessened tension for democracy to flourish. And he is listing a list of ideas that perhaps the Administration ought to follow.
As a matter of course, you guys ever take note of these suggestions, and so on?
MR. BOUCHER: We take note of every suggestion, wherever it comes from, and whatever the reasons why it might have been put forward. But I glanced over the article. I'm not sure anybody has sat down to study it quite in the way that you might have.
But, you know, there are ideas out there. We're always looking for new ideas, always looking for better ways forward. But I think this Administration has made very clear that we intend to proceed as the President has, not only with rhetoric but with money to support democratization in the Middle East. The President announced $80 million for the National Endowment for Democracy to support political reform in the Middle East.
The President inaugurated the Middle East Partnership Initiative to support reform, a variety of ways in the Middle East: educational reform, economic reform, political reform, judicial reform. We have active discussions with governments. Just recently sent two of our under secretaries out to the Middle East and we'll be talking further, as the Secretary of State meets with foreign ministers.
We have a very active, I think, program that demonstrates concrete support for democracy, reform, political and economic agenda for reform in the Middle East, as well as very active effort on the peace process. And we have made clear that the peace process and reform in the Middle East are both essential parts of the Middle East future. They're both essential parts of letting people in this region find their role in the modern world, and that we think that the two activities are mutually reinforcing.
QUESTION: Is it something that you will work with the governments, or something that you will present? Because, apparently, you know, it was leaked on Hayat newspaper and
MR. BOUCHER: We have made very, very --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, no. There was a piece of paper in Al Hayat newspaper. But the way that this has been handled -- and you see it from the travels, from the discussions the Secretary has had, Under Secretary Grossman had, Under Secretary Larson had, is that we're doing this in very close consultation with countries in the Middle East. We're not imposing anything from the outside. We're looking to hear from them about the kind of reforms that they're undertaking and how we can support those.
I cite the example of the Judicial Conference held last fall in Bahrain, where we talked to Bahraini officials. They got together a group of countries to talk about judicial reform in the region. We arranged for Sandra Day O'Connor, the Supreme Court Justice, to go out and participate in that conference.
There are things that they are doing that we can support. That's what we've said we would do and that's what we are doing, with money as well as rhetoric.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) criticized the Administration was Senator Kennedy, not surprisingly, for the handling Iraq. And now, Senator Kerry has decided to send a team to find out what's going on. Do you think that's the right -- step in the right direction, or do you feel that --
MR. BOUCHER: I can promise you that any question like that for the next --
QUESTION: Eight months.
MR. BOUCHER: -- eight months, I will decline to answer. I'm not going to get involved in the political debate here. There are going to be different views expressed in the, you know, in the political arena, and I'm just going to have to let that happen. And ultimately, the American people will decide what they think of those arguments without the benefit of commentary from me.
QUESTION: Can I change to North Korea?
MR. BOUCHER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just one quick one. Do you have any developments or updates on the working group for the North Korea nuclear program?
MR. BOUCHER: Just a quick one. No. Sorry.
QUESTION: Richard, over the weekend there was another election in Austria and Jorg Haider, whose new Freedom Party was excluded last time, won a regional election. Do you have any comments concerning his influence and aspirations back to a national level?
MR. BOUCHER: The elections were in two of the nine provinces of Austria on Sunday. In Carinthia, the Freedom Party retained a plurality and the new state parliament is expected to reelect Haider as governor, a position he's had since 1999. We don't expect this to change the makeup or the policies of the national government.
We'll continue to work closely with Austria's Government, reiterate that in the past we've found Haider's comments to be extremist and offensive, and our policy is not to meet with him.
Yeah. Okay, sir.
QUESTION: I have couple questions about visa. If you can update about this -- recently, you had received on the 7th floor a passport, white power, passport with the white powder. I understand that passport was an Indian passport. Where it came from? Where it went? And how you got that passport?
MR. BOUCHER: This story ring any bells?
MR. CASEY: I'm assuming he's referring to the white powder incident over in SA-1 three weeks ago, all reports of which were negative.
MR. BOUCHER: I -- yeah. The only white powder incident that I know was in one of our annexes, and that was handled appropriately. It was tested and it was a negative.
QUESTION: Another visa question.
MR. BOUCHER: That struck me as a white powder question, so keep going. Keep going.
QUESTION: Well, I understand that there was an Indian passport. I don't know where it came from and --
MR. BOUCHER: I see. No, I don't know and I don't know that we'd be able to tell you anyway.
QUESTION: We have received a number of letters were printed also in India Globe from Delhi. The relatives of Indian-Americans, what they are complaining, Indian-Americans here, that U.S. Embassy, when they go to apply for visa, like for visitor's visa or any kind of visa, they will ask them to pay, like, 5,000 Indian rupees and then they will ask them to come back again twice and then they are to pay again, 5,000.
So two, at least two relatives, they are in their 70s, they paid 25,000 rupees -- that's a lot of money for the Indians in their 70s -- and they were refused visa on the same grounds that you will settle in the U.S. And they have a daughter here and son-in-law and they're citizens here. They have property in India. They are rich, well to do and --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going handle visa cases here.
QUESTION: The question is --
MR. BOUCHER: I really think individuals who are applying for visas need to deal with their embassies.
QUESTION: The question is, really, my question is on -- Richard, I'm sorry to interrupt you -- if you deny visa, then you should not keep their money. That's what they are complaining about.
MR. BOUCHER: This -- worldwide, there is a processing fee that attaches to visas that's the cost of looking at an application, of moving it through the system, of doing all the proper checks that we have to do. And unfortunately, those costs are incurred whether we're able to issue the visa or not.
So we generally -- well, the policy is around the world that we're not in a position to give people back their money if they don't -- if they're not successful in obtaining the visa because that's the actual costs of handling the whole issue and looking at it carefully and running all the checks and trying to give people ample consideration, whether in the end we're able to issue or not.
QUESTION: But they ask them to come twice. They should --
MR. BOUCHER: I can't tell you about a particular case. Often, applicants show up without enough information or documentation. Sometime, when we reject people, they decide they'll come back again and try again. I don't know what the case might have been in this example.
QUESTION: Yes, please. About Iraq and you.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: What's going on regarding the diplomatic mission there or establishing a embassy there, first. And second, what's the latest with Francis Ricciardone is doing regarding this -- he was your liaison, I think, of mission or head of the mission? And the third, the concept of -- there was recently reports that there is a concept of leaving Saddam's palaces and be outside of it instead of using, become like, wherever was Saddam, now Americans are staying. You have any thoughts about these things?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer -- let me take them out of order.
The answer on Ambassador Ricciardone is he's working very hard on preparing for the transition to a U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Preparing for the transfer of sovereignty on June 30th means that we will be represented differently in Baghdad, that we won't have a Coalition Authority in Iraq, but rather that the Iraqis will be in authority and we will have a diplomatic mission that represents the United States.
It'll be a large and substantial diplomatic mission that will have many functions in it to support the new Iraqi government, to support the aid programs and projects that we're undertaking in Iraq, and to support a robust U.S. presence in Iraq in support of the Iraqi people.
That process is well underway. As far as reporting exactly where we stand on it, I don't think I can do that in that much detail at this point. I think there'll be congressional testimony on this tomorrow. Under Secretary Grossman is testifying -- right?
MR. CASEY: I believe.
MR. BOUCHER: I believe so. That's what he told me and Tom thinks it's true. So there'll be -- look for congressional testimony tomorrow on this subject. I think it's open. We'll double check and get you the details on that. If it's closed session, then maybe I can just give you some ideas on it here. But we are well underway with our preparations.
It's a big task and Ambassador Ricciardone is doing it.
As far as where the Embassy will be located, no final decision on that at this point. We will need to build our own site, to construct or find our own Embassy. Certainly, we don't want to be associated with the former regime in that matter, but I also have to say that in terms of temporary quarters, there's a limited amount of real estate available in Baghdad that would meet the requirements of size and security. So we'll have to see where they -- what they can find in order to allow operation of this diplomatic establishment.
Yeah. Okay, let me go with Mr. (inaudible).
QUESTION: Thank you. I have a question about Myanmar, Myanmar. Last week, on the UN involvement of (inaudible) twice and what's your evaluation of the meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure if we ever quite got a full readout of that so let me double check for you and see what I can get you on that.
Okay. Okay, sir. Sorry, I forgot you.
QUESTION: Do you have a response to the Human Rights Report on Afghanistan, on the U.S. policies in Afghanistan?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we don't. I'll see if we have one I can get you.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay? Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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