11 March 2004
State Department Noon Briefing, March 11, 2004
Announcement/Madrid bombing, Spain, Egypt/Palestinians, Israel/Palestinians, Syria, Syria/Iraq, Cyprus/Greece/Turkey, Greece, Russia, Iran, Haiti, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, IAEA Director's Washington visit
State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher briefed the press at the March 11 noon briefing.
Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
March 11, 2004
BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
-- Condemnation of Bombings in Spain
-- Responsibility for Bombings
-- U.S. Cooperation with Spain
-- Unaware of al-Qaida Connection to Bombings
-- No American Citizens Reported Dead or Injured
-- Global War on Terror
-- No Request for Assistance from Spanish Government
-- Terrorist Activities and Affiliations
-- Possibility of Troops at Gaza Border
-- Secretary Powell's Meeting with Minister of Defense of Israel Sha'ul Mofaz
-- Implementation of Syria Accountability Act
-- Status of Bilateral Discussions
-- Terrorist Group Operations
-- Saddam Hussein's Assets
-- Greek Reaction to Annan Plan
-- New Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis
-- New Government Political Appointees
-- Elections, Cabinet Changes and Media Concerns
-- Resumption of Uranium Processing and International Atomic Energy Agency
-- Funding for Democracy
-- Death of Abu Abbas
-- Embassy Security
-- U.S.-Saudi Online Dialogue
-- International Atomic Energy Agency Director Visit to Washington
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
THURSDAY, MARCH 11, 2004
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here.
If I might, because of the importance of the event, I want to read the statement that we put out in writing earlier about the bombing in Madrid:
"The United States vehemently condemns the outrageous and appalling terrorist attacks that took place in Madrid today. The Secretary has offered his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to the people of Spain. In his telephone call with Foreign Minister Palacio this morning, he extended our sympathies and complete support to the Spanish Government."
Of course, this statement went out earlier in the name of the Secretary, so he said, "I extended."
The United States stands resolutely with Spain in the fight against terrorism in all its forms and against the particular threat that Spain faces from the evil of ETA terrorism. No political pretext can justify this premeditated murder of the innocent. We will assist the Spanish Government in any way we can to find those responsible for these heinous crimes and bring them to certain justice.
I'm glad to take your questions on this or something else.
QUESTION: On Spain, yes? Is there already some investigations the United States is cooperating in investigating this and on the possibility that it may be related to al-Qaida?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of anything like that, at this point. The Spanish Government, of course, has said that the terrorist organization, ETA, is behind this attack. I believe the Spanish have not only looked at the pattern, but also said that they have now some physical evidence. We're all aware that there was a seizure of significant amounts of explosives not too long ago that were related to ETA.
So that's -- you know, their conclusions are based on several different aspects of this. Nobody has claimed responsibility, but we're not conducting a separate investigation. The U.S. Government, our law enforcement people, our intelligence people are in touch with their Spanish counterparts. We have a long history of cooperation with Spain, in matters regarding terrorism.
We're in touch with Spain diplomatically, very high levels -- the President called King Juan Carlos and the Prime Minister; the Secretary has talked to Foreign Minister Palacio twice this morning already. The first call was about 6 o'clock in the morning, when the Secretary called here. And as I said, our law enforcement and intelligence people are in touch as well.
So we'll be cooperating in every way possible with Spain to try to help them identify and bring to justice the people responsible for this action.
QUESTION: There are some comments in Spain today is that, well, because the United States is sitting so close with Spain in this particular fight against terrorism, maybe now Spain is more of a target of al-Qaida than before.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know why anybody would jump to that kind of conclusion. We've all been targets of terror. Spain has been a particular target of terror from this terrorist group, the ETA, and we've been with Spain for a long time in Spain's fight against terror.
But whatever group you look at, you find that the attacks around the world have occurred in many different places, many different ways; it has no differentiation between what the country is doing or not doing. They seem to be against civilization itself. And clearly, some of these attacks are just horrible murder, and that's all you can say about them. They have no political motive or political rationality to them.
QUESTION: Richard, to your knowledge, does the U.S. Government have any reason to believe that this attack might be, in any way, connected to al-Qaida or --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any other information other than the information that Spain has been uncovering and providing about ETA's responsibility.
QUESTION: Are there -- reports on the scene say there may be -- may have been one American injured or killed. Do you have that information yet?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Our Embassy -- no, we have information -- well, the information we have so far would indicate that no Americans have been injured or killed in these attacks. The Embassy is in touch with Spanish authorities and with hospitals. At this point, no American citizens are reported among the dead or injured.
The Embassy has also put out a message on its Warden system to the American community there. And I'd point out as well the U.S. Embassy in Madrid and the Consulate General in Barcelona are flying the flags at half staff for three days, and Embassy personnel have volunteered to donate blood to help the victims of the attack.
QUESTION: Will this horrible act, if proven that it was done by ETA, is it likely to impact the U.S. war on terror that has been, by and large, Middle Eastern terror and Islamic terror or al-Qaida terror centric? Has it, like, shifted that there are actually other terrorist groups and have their own agendas, different areas, different regions having different agendas?
MR. BOUCHER: The war on terror is global. The President, when he's talked about this -- I can't remember exactly which speech, but from the beginning has identified terrorism of global reach as the -- as the danger and the target. And, indeed, we've been fighting terrorism in a variety of ways, in a variety of guises, some groups affiliated with al-Qaida; obviously, al-Qaida is one of the more vicious group of people on the earth today, but they're not the only ones. And we've been working with countries around the world who face threats from al-Qaida, who face threats that might be associated.
But in Spain, in particular, we have longstanding, very, very active cooperation against Spain that's only improved in recent years and if you look at all the meetings between President Bush and President Aznar, they have enhanced the counterterrorism cooperation and much of that is directed against this group.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, Richard?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: [Inaudible] was promoting his book last night of the Council on Foreign Relations, and he warned against the usage of terms like [inaudible] that, in fact, that tends to undercut the war on terror because, you know, the Basques are different from, let's say, Hamas, different from Shia, Chechen, and so on. [Inaudible]
MR. BOUCHER: I think that's a misunderstanding of the term. People should look back at the way the President originally used it.
QUESTION: Has the Spanish Government requested any specific assistance from the U.S.?
MR. BOUCHER: No, they haven't at this point. But, as I said, we've got law enforcement, the law enforcement channels that are active always, and there may be, you know, multiple small requests as opposed to some -- I'm not aware of any sort of political level request.
QUESTION: Is this bombing still going on in the country supporting war on terrorism with the U.S. because we still don't have found bin Laden, or if you're still continuing, even if we have him?
MR. BOUCHER: Usama bin Laden --
MR. BOUCHER: I'd refer you back to the last five answers I've given.
QUESTION: I'm talking about behind these attacks.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'll refer you back to the last five answers I've given about who is responsible. The Spanish Government has made clear that they believe, based on the evidence they've collected and the patterns they've detected, that ETA, ETA, is responsible for this.
It's a Basque terrorist organization. They're on the U.S. terrorism list. They've been terrorists. They've, sadly, killed many people. They've killed some 850 persons, injured hundreds of others since they began lethal attacks in the 1960s as a group that's long been known as a terrorist group. And that's all they are. They're terrorists and murderers. That's what they've done.
So to speculate three steps beyond that is irresponsible, would be irresponsible for me. Anybody else wants to do it; you do it at your own peril.
QUESTION: Are you sure after 9/11 they have no connection at all with Usama bin Laden and al-Qaida or Taliban?
MR. BOUCHER: I guess the only way I can put it is I don't think we've ever asserted any. We have seen, in the past, I think, if you look at our Patterns of Global Terrorism reports you'll see information that we've had that ETA had done training in some other countries, like Lebanon or I think even Libya and Nicaragua. There have been links that we've known about between ETA and some other groups on the outside that have come out in court cases, also told some ETA members have allegedly received sanctuary in Cuba while some others have resided in South America at various places.
So there is some information about this group having ties or training with other locations. I'm not aware of any that ties them to al-Qaida. They're certainly not an al-Qaida subsidiary, the way some other groups around the world have been.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Middle East, as usual. The Egyptian Foreign Minister today said that he has -- Egypt has no plans of sending troops to the border with Gaza if the Israelis evacuate the settlement, and he does not want to cooperate on security issues.
Has the U.S. asked Egypt to interfere in this regard, specifically to deal with the monitoring the border after the Israeli withdrawal?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I saw some Egyptian officials quoted as saying the opposite, that they would take their responsibility on the border. Certainly -- I mean, let me say, first of all, we welcome -- yeah, on their side. That's what countries do.
QUESTION: Sure. But he specifically said he is not going to send them troops, as such, with other side, on the Palestinian side.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure. I mean, but the normal responsibility of countries and governments is to monitor and to ensure there's nothing on their side of the border.
I mean, first of all, the Israeli's Foreign Minister's visit to Cairo and the talks that they've had, we always welcome discussions between the neighbors of the region. That's a good thing. Positive.
We'd certainly welcome any steps that Egypt could take on its side of the border to prevent smuggling, to prevent terrorists from crossing and those sorts of things. It is important to prevent that, and we think both parties talking about this is helpful.
QUESTION: But --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Secretary is meeting with General Mofaz today. Is General Mofaz likely to brief the Secretary of State on the kind of talks that took place between the head of the Egyptian Mukhabarat and Mr. Sharon a couple days ago, and so on? Or what are they discussing?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. Have you asked General Mofaz what he's going to brief us on?
QUESTION: I'm asking if maybe you have some inside information.
MR. BOUCHER: You'll have to ask him what he's going to brief us on. We'll just have to see if he does or not.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: Or is the focus probably on the withdrawal from Gaza and the settlement and the visit of Shalom to Cairo, obviously?
MR. BOUCHER: Shalom to Cairo.
MR. BOUCHER: We'll see. I mean, obviously, whenever the Secretary meets with Israelis, and particularly Israeli Government officials, they talk about everything that's going on. Everything that's going on includes the discussions between the Egyptians and Israelis in Cairo, it includes the proposals for withdrawal from Gaza.
We also have a very strong bilateral defense relationship with Israel. It's important to both of us, and I'm sure that will be a subject of discussion as well, and probably other regional issues.
QUESTION: Syria? There's -- yesterday, after Assistant Secretary Burns testified, there were interpretations from his remarks that the Administration is very close to announcing its intensions on the Syria Accountability Act.
Do you have any update on that?
MR. BOUCHER: On the speculation or on the actual facts?
QUESTION: On the actual -- the actual facts that he gave.
MR. BOUCHER: The actual facts were as stated by Assistant Secretary Burns that we would expect to see implementation very shortly. It's a process that's underway and discussion within the Administration.
As you know, I think, according to the terms of the Act, final decisions need to be made at the White House. But the process is underway and we would expect it to result in decisions shortly. But precisely what "very shortly" means, I don't think I can speculate on. I can't give you a date for it, at this point.
QUESTION: Can I just add to that? The Syrian has reacted to that already, and they were saying that the whatever -- whatever you impose on them is not going to be effective because it's going to be more of a psychological effect than in actual things that will affect the relationship between Syria and America.
Do you think that's a valid thing?
MR. BOUCHER: We'll just have to see. It is important to the United States that Syria look at the situation, that Syria understand that there is a changed circumstance in the world and the region, Syria stop its support for terrorism, Syria stop its allowing groups to operate there, that Syria take a serious attitude about borders and assets and issues like that that we've raised with them where we have, indeed, seen a little bit of progress here and there.
These things are on our agenda, remain important to us, I think remain important to the region and remain important to Syria's relationship with us and with the rest of the region. If Syria chooses to ignore all those facts and ignore the positions that we and others have taken, then there's not much prospect for our relationship.
QUESTION: But they said they have closed down all the offices for the organization that you have demanded, which is the Palestinian group.
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've made clear we understood that they kind of closed the office, maybe took down the signs, but that there's still people operating.
QUESTION: Are you involved in any kind of ongoing talks with the Syrians to resolve these issues before --?
MR. BOUCHER: We have been in very constant discussion with the Syrians. The Secretary, I think, has made the point recently. We just sent an Ambassador to Syria not too long ago, and she has been active in terms of meeting with the Syrian Government to make clear what our concerns are, to make clear how the new situation in the region, we think, requires a new attitude on the part of the Syrian Government and new policies on the part of the Syrian Government to get it more in tune with the region and the prospects for Syria to be an important part of that region and the prospects for Syria more generally to achieve stability and prosperity in the future.
QUESTION: Now, the Syrians claim that they closed the offices but you asked them to throw these people out, but not to Lebanon. Is that --?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to get into the details. We asked them to end the operations of terrorist groups that have been located in Syria.
QUESTION: When you say you'd seen some progress here and there, and I just wanted to ask if there has been any such progress recently, or it's all fairly far back now?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that I have anything particular to cite recently. I think the assessment has pretty much stayed the same. Whether there have been continued small steps taken or not, I'm not sure I can pinpoint it quite that finely.
Okay, over here.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: On Cyprus, as the deadline approaches, the Greek Cypriot side is expressing their discontent with the Annan plan more and more, and now they are getting some support from some congressmen. There is a letter written to Secretary Powell and also to UN Secretary General Annan and they say that, you know, they have concerns in certain key issues, and if they are not changed the Annan plan will be unworkable.
How do you see this approach?
MR. BOUCHER: In terms of -- I mean, first of all, in terms of congressional correspondence, anything directed to us we'll reply to directly to the people who wrote it.
In terms of the Annan plan being workable, we think it is workable. We think that the additional discussions that have been held and understandings that are being worked on can add to it and make it even more workable. We think it provides a good and fair solution to all the people on the island and we think everybody should take it as seriously as we do and try to reach agreement to go forward.
The -- I would point out the Secretary did talk to the Greek Foreign Minister this morning, Foreign Minister Molyviatis, congratulated him on his new appointment, and then immediately they plunged into business, talked about Cyprus.
The Secretary welcomed the statement that the Greek Government has issued encouraging progress in the talks, and they'll be keeping in touch, I'm sure, on the issue as we move forward.
QUESTION: I guess, you know, Secretary Powell will receive the letter on Friday because of the deadlines. And I have the letter and it's quite a long letter.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that's great. But as I said, we'll reply to congressional letters directly to the congressmen. And I appreciate your offer to help us convey the news, but I think we'll write them back directly, if that's okay.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken to the new Russian Foreign Minister, who was designated?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, he did. He talked to -- on Tuesday, he called both the new Foreign Minister Lavrov and the former Foreign Minister, and I think new National Security Advisor -- is that the position?
QUESTION: Yeah, Ivanov.
MR. BOUCHER: Igor Ivanov. And they talked, all three of them, on one phone call together. And so it was very friendly, obviously.
It was very much welcoming Mr. Lavrov's visit, as a colleague and counterpart, looking forward to working with him and looking forward, it appears, to the opportunity to continue to work with his friend, Mr. Ivanov, in Mr. Ivanov's new position as well.
QUESTION: Have you been on Iraq this morning?
QUESTION: Can I stay on Russia?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't remember.
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: On Russia still. How -- is the State Department -- I don't know -- uncomfortable at all with the changing of the cabinet just before the elections? And as it runs up to the elections, do you still have concerns about it being free and fair with all these stories about people being forced to bring in voters if they want to get a restaurant license? And there are just a lot of stories out there about how Putin's Administration is handling this.
MR. BOUCHER: I can't make any judgment about the election at this point. The various concerns that we've had over time about the media and other questions going on in Russia, those stand and we've been quite clear on those. And the Secretary, if you look back at his Izvestia piece a couple months ago, was fairly clear and explicit on some of the things that had -- have been of concern to us.
As far as the conduct of elections, of course, we look for an election that is conducted in a free, fair and open manner. I'm sure there will be plenty of reporting and commentary and various stories, and it's important to look at that seriously and sort it out. But I think that gets done after the election.
QUESTION: On the basis of free and fair?
MR. BOUCHER: In terms of changing the cabinet, that's a prerogative that any democratic leader has -- any leader has, for that matter -- and, no, we don't comment on other people's cabinet choices.
QUESTION: Well, isn't a free and fair election, doesn't that start a long time before the actual voting day?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, that's why I point it out we've had concerns about the media and other things, but it's not time to make the judgment.
QUESTION: Can I ask an Iraq -- I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about Putin is consolidating a lot of power in his hands, and so on?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'll refer you back to the Izvestia article where we expressed our opinion.
QUESTION: Here's softball. On Iraq, the Secretary is referred to, without getting into any details, you know, necessarily bumps in the road along the way, but it's a good road you're traveling toward democracy and all in Iraq.
Do you have -- does the State Department have a handle on whether Ayatollah Sistani is a positive force, a helpful force?
Could you describe to some -- you know, because he's had objections, and then he subsided, and now he's -- the Shiites are raising less strenuous objections to the interim constitution. Is he an asset? Do you consider him --?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I have never done political commentary on individuals from this podium, and I don't think I'll start today with the Ayatollah Sistani.
QUESTION: All right. It wasn't a political question I was asking.
MR. BOUCHER: It was.
QUESTION: I don't know if he's a Republican or a Democrat.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't either.
QUESTION: But I wondered if he helps the peace process along -- or the democracy process -- I'm in the wrong country -- the democracy process.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I know. But I've never done it in any other country either, so I'm not going to start now.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. I've dealt with facts, history, evidence, activities [inaudible]. I've not tried to make assertions about whether people were good or bad or anything like that.
QUESTION: On Iran, do you have any reaction to Iran's announcement yesterday that it will, in fact, restart its uranium processing, which was something you were worried about from the beginning?
MR. BOUCHER: There was a statement by the Foreign Minister. Obviously, we have seen in the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency Director General, more and more evidence that Iran was not taking seriously the requirements, not even taking seriously its own commitments to suspend all reprocessing in a way that IAEA was able to define as a real suspension.
So we have these further statements about resuming, just sort of emphasize the disdain with which Iran seems to be holding the whole process at the IAEA and the need, we think, for the IAEA to stay on the case, continue to scrutinize Iran's performance against the benchmarks that the IAEA board itself set, and against the commitments that Iran itself has made. And that's why we're working with other countries in Vienna to do.
QUESTION: Does it affect the process on your resolution at all? Do you think other countries are going to be more willing to support stronger language against Iran when they see that it is flouting its promises?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we'll have to see. They're already -- we're already working with many other governments in Vienna on a text of a resolution that can be handled, that can be passed there. And I think people are aware of these kinds of statements that Iran has been making.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? I think there was a statement yesterday that they may walk out of the IAEA operation, let alone the talks. I wonder if you have a handle on that. I mean, is it better to have them in the tent or -- begrudgingly, or try to get along with them?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see the statement, but the short answer is it's better for them to comply with international norms, standards, requirements; it's better for them to comply with their own commitments, with the commitments that they made not more than a couple months ago.
QUESTION: In his testimony on the Hill yesterday, the Secretary seemed to suggest that you want a resolution in which the IAEA would commit to making a decision in June on whether or not to refer the matter to the Security Council.
Did I understand it right? Or is it just that June would be the next time that the IAEA Board would have a chance to look at this? Or do you actually want a decision in June about whether to --
MR. BOUCHER: June is the next board meeting and it's the next opportunity to assess Iran's performance, to assess Iran's performance against IAEA standards and its own commitments. I don't remember exactly the phrase the Secretary used, but I think that's what he was saying.
QUESTION: IAEA, one more.
MR. BOUCHER: One more on IAEA.
QUESTION: Richard, as far as the IAEA is concerned in Vienna, they have also issued a report that as far as Pakistan's nuclear spread of technology was concerned, it's not only with A.Q. Khan but the senior officials in the military government that knew about it. So is that changes any plans of the Secretary's -- State Department plan?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not familiar with an IAEA report like this but --
QUESTION: Seen in The Washington Post, New York Times and --
MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if it came in the IAEA as well. I'm not aware of -- I'll check and see if there is such a report.
But in any case, no, the Secretary hasn't changed his plans. We're going to visit Pakistan next week.
Joel, did you have one on this or?
QUESTION: Yes, on IAEA. There's a report saying -- or they're questioning how harshly to criticize or censure Iran. From what you just said, there is no question about that. But is there any reaction about other member countries that are not willing to participate to end that reactor and nuclear work in Iran?
MR. BOUCHER: The process of actually drafting the resolution is ongoing in Vienna even as we speak. There are constant meetings with different groups to talk about what the Board of Governors can and should do in a resolution. I would say that process has been going well. We've already reached some understandings with a substantial number of countries and governments there. We're in contact and talking to others.
We do think it's important for the board to continue its scrutiny and to continue to reiterate that Iran must meet the requirements that the Board has set and that the Iranians have set for themselves.
Yeah, okay. We had one on China.
QUESTION: Yeah. The Chinese Foreign Ministry released that Chinese President sent President Bush a letter through Envoy Minister Dai talking about Taiwan. Do you know anything about that?
MR. BOUCHER: Any comments on presidential correspondence would have to come from the White House.
QUESTION: Well, the White House hasn't found out yet.
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, well, go and tell them.
QUESTION: The contact. There is also a long article in The Far East Economic Review saying the United States have a after-election plan on Taiwan that the U.S. will help Taiwan raise its international profile. Could you check, or if you don't know now, that's in the working?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know of anything like that.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about a letter that Senator Chris Dodd said yesterday he would be sending to the State Department to -- well, to AID anyway, about investigating how the International Republican Institute is spending money in opposition activities in Haiti?
MR. BOUCHER: On that specific aspect, other than that the statement was made, I don't know that a letter has been received. But we always leave it to inspector generals to talk about what they're -- or not to talk about what they're not doing at any given moment. So you'd really have to check with them, if they want to comment, one way or the other, about letters or investigations that may or may not be conducted in the future.
I would point out, though, that on the basic issue of grants and support for democracy, USAID has had a two-year, $2.4 million grant program to promote democracy and civil society in Haiti. Through this program, they have funded $1.2 million each. That's 600,000 per organization per year for two years to the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.
These are organizations that engage in training and education in the basic skills of democracy, citizenship and advocacy around the world. They have ongoing programs in Haiti that started in September of 2002.
The International Republican Institute's program focuses on democratic and political party training and development, and the development of communication strategies, including public opinion polling, website development, public outreach. The National Democratic Institute's program focuses on civic education, community action program, strengthening political parties, providing support to Haitian journalists to develop professional ethics -- a professional ethics guide.
These two organizations both work with political organizations, civic groups, journalists and others in Haiti, as they do in other countries to try to help develop the skills of democracy. They don't take political positions and they work with anyone who's committed to peaceful, democratic conduct in the country. These are standard elements of our programs worldwide.
QUESTION: And is this a -- is Dodd's comment a culmination, as far as you know, of complaints? Or is this the first you've heard of anybody criticizing the program?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can we go back --?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any more information on the circumstances of the death of Abu Abbas in U.S. custody? His wife is claiming that he was denied medication and so on.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. That'd have to come out of the coalition, I think.
QUESTION: One more on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Palestinians have been talking about some kind of request that they put forward to receive the body, and I think General Kimmitt said something yesterday that the State Department was trying to facilitate something. Is there anything going on with that?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any news or activity concerning that. I'll check and see if something develops. We'll see.
QUESTION: There was a report today in the Arabic press about the American Consul General in Jeddah being engaged on the Internet with dialogue with Saudis. And this is the first time ever. They call it as a new era in American-Saudi relationship. So do you see that as an opening in the relationship, change of the climate in Saudi Arabia, or was this insignificant to comment on?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, I'm sure anything our Consul General in Jeddah does is significant. So I don't know. I'll check and see if there --
QUESTION: Have you seen the story?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I haven't seen the story, so -- but I'll check and see. It could be -- we look for all kinds of opportunities to talk to people. We do various, you know, internet news chats kind of things from here sometimes and it would be good to see that our embassies overseas are doing them, too, if that's what this is.
QUESTION: Richard, can I go back one second on Iraq?
Now, Iraq -- Iraqi people will have a first democratically elected government in over 30 years from the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein. One, does Saddam Hussein know what's going on in his country? And two, people of Iraq are demanding billions of dollars he has taken out of the country, mostly now in Syria. Syria said they will not return. And three, as far as security is concerned, are those people are safe there, like, as far as embassies to open and safety, who has the responsibility for the safety there now?
MR. BOUCHER: One, does Saddam know what's going on in his country? I don't know. Two -- I can't remember two. (Laughter.) Three.
QUESTION: The money.
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, the money. Money. Okay, now I'll forget three.
Number two, the money. The money. I'm sure the new Iraqi government will continue to make efforts and we'll continue to help them, as we have all along, to return the assets that might have been squirreled overseas or moved overseas by the former Iraqi regime.
If you remember correctly, right after the war, the earliest UN resolutions, and I think it's been repeated since then, have called on all governments to identify and return the assets of Iraq to the Iraqi people. So that's an ongoing effort, and indeed, that's been a discussion that we've had with neighboring countries including Syria.
The third question about who ensures the security of setting up an embassy in Iraq, certainly, we, the State Department, have primary responsibility for the security of our embassies, but we do it with a lot of assistance and support from other government agencies. We do it in Iraq also based on the overall effort that the United States military is making and will be making to provide a secure environment for everybody, not just our embassy.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MR. BOUCHER: We've got one or two more. Mr. Ota.
QUESTION: Sorry, just a quick one on the IAEA. I saw the report on the Secretary General ElBaradei is going coming to -- he's going to come to Washington next week. Can you confirm the report?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah. He'll be coming to Washington next week, meeting with a variety of people. I don't think I have too many meetings to confirm at this point, but I'd expect him to see the Deputy Secretary, for example, because the Secretary will be out of town.
We welcome this opportunity to talk to him. The President, as you know, has recently announced his nonproliferation initiatives. It's very important to him, to all of us, that we coordinate with the International Atomic Energy Agency since they have such an important role to play.
We've recently worked very, very well with them in terms of Libya and really some dramatic and very successful developments in terms -- in ridding the -- helping the Libyans rid their nation of this dangerous equipment. And there's many, many other things that we do with the International Atomic Energy Agency, so we're looking forward to seeing him in Washington and having thorough discussions of all these issues.
QUESTION: Thank you
MR. BOUCHER: I guess one more. Sorry.
QUESTION: Richard, in Iraq, do you have any -- is the climate considered good to have, I guess, NGOs come in? There was just a trick checkpoint where -- makeshift checkpoint -- where Fern Holland, an activist, was just slain.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it's really going to be for me to comment on that from here. That's information that will have to be handled out there.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 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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