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26 March 2004

State Department Noon Briefing, March 26, 2004

China/Taiwan, Middle East, Israel/Palestinians, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Africa/DRC, Cyprus, Germany, Kuwait, Japan/China, China/Hong Kong

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher briefed the press at the noon briefing March 26.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Friday, March 26, 2004
1:42 p.m. EST

BRIEFER: Richard Boucher, Spokesman

-- Comments by China on Taiwan Election
-- White House Statement Released
-- Communication Between U.S. and China
-- Demonstrations By Opposition Supporters

-- Consultations with Governments in Middle East
-- Peace and Reform Issues / Middle East Initiative / Meeting in Tunisia

-- United Nations Resolution Condemning the Killing of Sheikh Yassin
-- Statement Made By Ambassador Negroponte on UN Resolution
-- United States Expectations from Meeting in Tunisia

-- Alleged Shootings Along Syrian-Iraqi Border / Border Control
-- Status on Implementation of U.S. Sanctions
-- Syrian Accountability Act
-- Syria's Ambassador-Designate Meeting with Secretary Powell

-- Reports on Negotiations of Guantanamo Bay Detainees

-- Mining in Democratic Republic of Congo / IAEA Investigations

-- Ambassadors Weston - Klosson Meetings in Switzerland

-- Chancellor Schroeder Remarks on UN Security Council / U.S. Response

-- Upcoming Meeting with Foreign Minister

-- Sovereignty of the Islands / Senkaku and Diaoyu

-- Review of Constitution


FRIDAY, MARCH 26, 2004

1:42 p.m. EST

MR. BOUCHER: Okay. 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.

Mr. Gedda.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the Chinese statement that they cannot be indifferent to the post-election turmoil in Taiwan?

MR. BOUCHER: I would just go back to saying that the election in Taiwan is important. I think the White House, as you've seen, has expressed our sentiments about the situation, now. We've said that there are legal procedures to peacefully resolve the outcome of the election. We think that those will be used. We certainly condemn and disagree with any acts of violence, but we -- Taiwan has a vibrant democracy, and that's a good thing.

QUESTION: We have heard the White House, or Bush Administration would issue a statement. Do you have it? Do you mind read it on camera?

MR. BOUCHER: The White House issued the statement. I'm not in the habit of reading their statements over here.


MR. BOUCHER: We certainly support it, though.

QUESTION: Could you actually answer George's question, which was about --

MR. BOUCHER: Do I have something to say about the Chinese statement about some --


MR. BOUCHER: No. I have something to say about the situation. I have -- I can express our view of the same matters, which I just did. But I'm not getting in tit-for-tat with Chinese statements.

QUESTION: Well, this wasn't -- I mean, you're not -- you don't have any -- you're not concerned about the possible ramifications of what the Chinese have said?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we're fully aware, the Chinese have views about the situation. I expressed ours. Let them express theirs.

QUESTION: Is there any contact recently between U.S. and the Chinese high-level officials in this regard?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, certainly, we are in contact with the Chinese all the time on various issues. The Secretary talked to Foreign Minister Li again in the last couple of days. I don't remember exactly which day it was.


QUESTION: Middle East? Change of subject?

MR. BOUCHER: Please. We're still on Taiwan for a while?

QUESTION: I have one.


QUESTION: Can you confirm that United States is officially congratulate President Chen Shui-bian as the winner?

MR. BOUCHER: As I said, the White House has issued a statement one of your colleagues was asking about. That speaks for all of us.

QUESTION: Do you see any justification for the opposition supporters to take to the streets, as they plan to do tomorrow, you know, to contest the results of the election?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, on the issue of demonstrating and expressing their views, obviously we're in support of people expressing their views. On the other hand, we're against violence, and we caution all sides to try to maintain peace and a calm atmosphere. Let the legal procedures play themselves out. And -- but certainly, we're always -- never have a problem with people expressing their views.


QUESTION: There have been reports that the United States, under pressure, is going to withdraw its plan for the Greater Middle East Initiative and is not going to present it in front of the G-8 Summit leaders, or, if it's going to do it, it's going to be a revised version of it.

Can you just confirm that and what exactly is happening, what's going on?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't think I can say quite either one of those things.

What is going on is what you know is going on: that we have been consulting with governments in the Middle East. We've been talking to them about the process of modernization and reform in the region. We have looked at what their plans are, what their intentions are, and how we can support it.

We've had -- this has been an ongoing effort. We've had the meetings that our embassies and ambassadors have had in the region. We've had a trip by the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs; we've had a trip by the Under Secretary for Political Affairs. This was a significant topic discussed by the Secretary of State during his visit to the Gulf last week, and we've had continuing consultations with Arab governments about their own plans for reforms.

So the point to make is the one that we've made before, is that we will look for ways, and we'll be discussing with others in the European Union and elsewhere, about how we can all support the modernization and reform efforts in the Middle East. That remains something on our agenda. That remains something that we're working with others to do.

QUESTION: But there was reports specifically saying the Jordanian Foreign Minister was told when he was here that, in fact, the plan is not going to be proposed and they're going to leave it to the Arab countries to come up with their plan, which they're going to adopt the Egyptian plan in the -- in Tunisia on Monday.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I can't explain that report. That doesn't exactly coincide with what we're planning on.

Maybe it's the plan is not going to be imposed, which is certainly what we have said, that we're not imposing a Western plan or a U.S. plan on the countries of the region. We want to talk to them and understand from them what their own plans are and look for ways that we can support that. That's the effort that we've had underway, that's the effort that continues, and that's the effort that we hope can reach fruition as we continue to discuss it with other countries in the Middle East as well as partners in Europe and elsewhere who might be able to support the efforts of the Middle East to achieve modern and reformed economies.

QUESTION: No change in the U.S. positions?

MR. BOUCHER: No, we're just -- we're moving right along the way we were, but we're not planning on imposing something. If that the misunderstanding, well, I think we've tried to clarify that.

QUESTION: Richard, Ambassador Negroponte spoke to this yesterday when he cast the U.S. vote in the Security Council, but I'm just wondering. Did the United States offer alternative language for the resolution that would have allowed you -- or that would have changed your vote on a resolution condemning the assassination of Sheikh Yassin?

MR. BOUCHER: The United States offered many suggestions on this resolution during the course of negotiations. We did feel that this was a one-sided and unbalanced resolution so we tried to help craft a balanced resolution that reflected the realities of the situation. Every single one of our changes was rejected.

QUESTION: And can you say what -- how many changes there were and what specifically they were?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a full listing of them. I think we looked at this in various ways. It was many, is about as close as I can come to that.

The kinds of things that we were suggesting I think are reflected in the explanation of vote that Ambassador Negroponte did, and that is that we felt that this resolution was silent about the terrorist atrocities committed by Hamas, it didn't reflect the realities of the conflict in the Middle East, and it wouldn't further the goals of peace and security in the region. And those are the kind of things that we suggested needed to be changed in the resolution.

QUESTION: Well, is there a way we -- to try and -- because I would like to know what the changes --

MR. BOUCHER: You want like a Microsoft Word document with all the tracking changes in it? I don't think we've been in the habit of providing that, the sausage-making spreadsheets.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the reason, Richard, is because when you talk about it doesn't reflect the realities of the Middle East, a lot of people would suggest that it doesn't reflect your interpretation of the reality in the Middle East. And I think that for those of us who don't have the benefit of the wisdom of the NEA Bureau and NSC and all that kind of --

MR. BOUCHER: I go back once again -- read Ambassador Negroponte's statement. He cites more than specifics. It's not just Hamas is a terrorist -- as a terrorist organization. It's Hamas proclaimed its responsibility for the suicide bombing of the Israeli Port of Ashdod; the resolution does not condemn that attack, nor does it condemn those responsible. Those were the kind of things we wanted in.

QUESTION: So your language would have said --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have the exact language, but that's the kind of thing we would have wanted in.

QUESTION: Right. Now, it would be helpful, especially if you're interested in trying to tamp down some of the outrage in the Middle East about your vote, if you could perhaps better explain what it was you were looking for and what exactly your view of the reality of the situation is in the region.

MR. BOUCHER: I think we've amply explained that, frankly, and I'm not going to get into the kind of drafting discussions that we might have had with other delegations.

QUESTION: Well, but on that point, though, some in the region say it's a mixed message that you're sending. You came out and you said that you deplore the -- or no, I'm sorry, not deplore, you're deeply troubled. Deeply troubled.

MR. BOUCHER: Deeply troubled. Can we go make like 50 copies of this? This is -- that's what -- Negroponte explains the whole thing.

QUESTION: Well, could --

MR. BOUCHER: I mean, you all have this. I'm kind of surprised to say there's confusion when the United States put out an official explanation of vote. Our Ambassador in New York did. It's quite specific in terms of our view of the situation in the region, our view of this particular event, the killing of Sheikh Yassin, and our view of the things that weren't in the resolution that needed to be there.

QUESTION: Do you not feel that there's any link between this sort of activity and the things that are going on Monday in Tunis and the whole Greater Middle East Initiative? Do you continue to see these as completely separate and there's no link between these types of things?

MR. BOUCHER: We've never seen -- we've never said we see them as completely separate. We've said that the process of modernization and reform that's underway in the Middle East that's being looked for and promoted by governments in the Middle East and societies in the Middle East, that's very important. That's very important to the people there because of their vision of their own personal future.

We also know that the issue of peace in the region is very important to the people there and their own vision of their personal futures, and we think that both need to be attended to, both need the assistance and support of the United States if we're going to be true friends to the people in the region and help them achieve the kind of future that they aspire to.

We've said that the process of reform and the peace process are mutually reinforcing because we do think both things need to be tended to.

QUESTION: Can you say, then, what might be your expectations from the Tunis meeting?

MR. BOUCHER: I think our expectations is that the members there, the people who go there, will address the subjects they want to address. We have always kept it general. We've had -- obviously had discussions with various Arab governments about what they're doing, what they intend to do there. Anything they want to do, anything they can do to further both of these processes, whether it's the process of reform or the process of peace, both those will be welcome, would be things that we would want to support.

QUESTION: Can you be more specific?

MR. BOUCHER: No. It's up to them. It's up to them to be more specific. It's their meeting.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Is there anything new on plans for Burns, Abrams and Hadley to go, or is that still kind of gestating?

MR. BOUCHER: Just what?

QUESTION: Gestating.

MR. BOUCHER: Oh. I don't have anything new on that now.

QUESTION: Then it's still -- it's not off. It's still -- they're still expected to go, as the President said the other day?

MR. BOUCHER: I think that it's still expected that a team will go soon. I think that's the way the President put it.

QUESTION: In other words, maybe not next week?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I didn't say that, either.

QUESTION: Well, I'm just trying to find --

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not --

QUESTION: -- has anything changed from --

MR. BOUCHER: No, there's nothing new. There's no definition of who and when, at this point. But a -- I can reconfirm the expectation is what the President said: the team will go soon.

QUESTION: This is on Syria. Does anyone have any more on the Middle East?

To start, can you talk --

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

QUESTION: Well, I mean, on the -- thank you, Matt. I wouldn't have known that. He said that Syria is still in the Middle East.


QUESTION: But can you talk about -- and the shooting along the border with Iraq, whether you think -- there were some reports that perhaps Syrian border guards are responsible?

MR. BOUCHER: There were some reports of shooting along the Syrian-Iraqi border. Some of those reports say a U.S. military helicopter may have been involved. I really don't have the details at this point. I'm not sure if the Pentagon has any more detail, either. So, at this point, we're working to confirm precisely what happened.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the situation along the border? Obviously, you've had concerns with the Syrians, and they say that the situation has improved. But does something like this show you that there's still more to be done?

MR. BOUCHER: I think there is more to do done. Until we understand more what exactly happened, I can't tell you how this relates to what needs to be done.

I'd say a couple of things. First, we have seen some effort by the Syrian Government, and we appreciate those efforts to control the border. They made a certain amount of effort in the past several months that we have noticed.

But second of all, we think that there's more that needs to be done to -- before one can call the border secure. I think it still remains true that Syria is a preferred transit point for foreign fighters who are seeking to get into Iraq and that there need to be further efforts to cut that off.


QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, go ahead.


QUESTION: Here's one with Syria again. In the wake of the killing of Sheikh Yassin, there is other reports suggesting that the U.S. is postponing the implementation of the sanction until mid-April because of the situation in the Middle East is tense and therefore, they think it's better to wait.

MR. BOUCHER: We never gave a precise timing of this. We said we were looking to make these decisions and come out with an announcement in the very near future. The process of decision making is underway, but no final decisions have been made. Those get made on the White House, so I really don't have anything specific on the timing at this point.

QUESTION: Well, can you say that -- whether the -- it's a White House decision, but obviously there have been a lot of interagency discussions. Do you think that the Administration is -- has -- is of the same mind of how hard they want to impose the sanctions, what specifically they want to do? Or is it still being discussed in the various agencies?

MR. BOUCHER: There is -- I would say that there have been a lot of discussions within the interagency system of the Syrian Accountability Act. As you know, from the start, the Secretary made clear to the Syrian Government, in private as well as public, that if we didn't see the kind of changes in Syrian behavior that we were looking for, that we thought were necessary to adjust to the new situation, that there would be this kind of legislation. And indeed, the Congress proposed it and passed it and the Administration signed it.

So there's been a consensus all along about the general principles, and I think over the last period of discussion there's a fair -- there is a consensus, really, I think a broad consensus, on Syria's failure to address those issues and how to address those things, how to respond to that in terms of this Act.

So I think the -- what I'm trying to say is the process is underway and it keeps moving forward, but I can't predict exactly when it will be finished.

QUESTION: Yesterday the Syrian Ambassador-Designate painted a much rosier picture of the relationship right now, and he said that regardless of what the Congress passed on these sanctions and regardless of the sanctions, Syria is very eager to cooperate with the U.S. and very eager to improve the relationship.

Do you think that these sanctions will hurt any cooperation on any areas that you have with Syria right now? I mean, is there a --

MR. BOUCHER: Well, there are specific areas in the law, some of which may be the subject of sanctions, and obviously cooperation in those areas would have to end.

I think the point that we have made again and again is there's no unwillingness on our part to improve the relationship with Syria. Indeed, we've looked again and again for opportunities to do that. There's no lack of dialogue between the United States and Syria. We've had discussions from the Secretary to our Assistant Secretary to our Ambassador out there, who's continually pressing the Syrian Government on these issues.

But for there to be any change in the relationship, there needs to be a change in Syrian behavior. They can't expect dialogue to lead anywhere if Syria is going to continue to support the activities of violent groups, allow the representatives of terrorist groups to have places in their capital or not police the border or not take up their responsibility vis-à-vis Iraq.

So it's not a matter of being willing or unwilling. We are quite willing. It's not a matter of talking or not talking. We are talking. But we really can't expect a change in policy, a change in the relationship, until we see a change in the behavior of Syria on these issues that are very, very important to us, very, very important to people in the region, and very important to the issue of peace in this critical region.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout on the meeting (inaudible) from your end?

MR. BOUCHER: The readout, the meeting yesterday with the Ambassador, with the Ambassador-Designate, was the routine presentation of a copy of the credentials that every Ambassador does because -- before he is finally accredited by the U.S. Government. So, or it was a regular meeting. In that respect, the Secretary took advantage of the opportunity to make clear the range of our concerns, as I think I've done here, and to talk about our interest, our willingness to improve the relationship if Syria changes its behavior in these areas.

QUESTION: And did you -- or did the Ambassador-Designate, on behalf of the Syrian Government, offer any additional cooperation with al-Qaida, or in the fight against al-Qaida?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. You'd have to ask him, anyway.


QUESTION: Were the sanctions -- were the pending accountability act discussed?

MR. BOUCHER: I think the Sec -- it was a short meeting, first of all. Remember that. It wasn't -- and it was planned not as a serious and long discussion of these issues, but rather as an opportunity to do the normal presentation. But yeah, the Secretary did mention in the meeting that this Act was going to go into effect, and we would be making announcements soon, in the near future.

QUESTION: Earlier, I heard you say there had been some improvements, or some better things with Syria, and then, just now when you ticked off other things, you mentioned not policing their borders. And I wondered if you would be willing to concede that it's hard to police a long, porous border, and even if they are -- or whether they are, in fact, doing something. Perhaps it's not up to what you would like, but even our own borders, it's pretty impossible to do a 100 percent effective job of infiltration. So, is there any recognition that they are doing something?

MR. BOUCHER: I think I said they are doing something, but more needs to be done. It is, perhaps, a difficult task, but it's one that is very important to peace in the region. It's certainly very important to the welfare of the Iraqi people and the Americans who are in Iraq, and that nobody should spare any effort to keep foreign terrorists from going out and carrying out attacks.


QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia, the U.S. Ambassador, Oberwetter said a couple of days to a handful of reporters that the U.S. is in negotiations with Saudi Arabia over the release of 124 Saudi detainees at GITMO, Guantanamo Bay. I was wondering if Secretary Powell brought that up in his meetings last week, or --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't remember the number. I don't remember that particular number coming up. I'd be -- I'll have to check and see if it's that high.

We had transferred some Saudi nationals from Guantanamo back to Saudi Arabia last summer. We've indicated we're continuing -- willing to continue discussing that prospect, as far as other transferees -- potential transferees goes, from Guantanamo. It did come up during the Secretary's meetings, but it wasn't -- we need to have further, sort of, technical and legal discussions with the Saudi Government, as we proceed on these things.

QUESTION: Has there been any further discussions on the -- last week's issue, as the -- the reformists arrest. Have there been any more -- any update to that, as far as the U.S. --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have one today. I'd have to check and see if -- what happened in some of those cases, whether people were still being held.


QUESTION: In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there's evidence that uranium has been extracted, is being extracted, from a mine that produced uranium for the first atomic bombs. Given the Administration's attitude to proliferation, its efforts, is this something you're concerned about? Are you coordinating with the IAEA in the investigation, or contacts with (inaudible)?

MR. BOUCHER: This is -- yeah, this is something that we have looked into over a period of years. In fact, we've had people out to the site from our embassy. And, in fact, they've gone up there, I think, several times.

I'd have to say that we do not think that there's any connection between the illegal mining activities in the Katanga Province, and the activities of nuclear proliferation concern, like the activities in the A.Q. Khan network.

We have visited the mine in question, the Shinkolowbe mine in the Katanga Province. Commercial mining there stopped some time ago, but artisanal mining activities continue. Mine tunnels and pits are closed by concrete and water, but residual ore from the site is mined, but mined for cobalt and copper, which are in increasingly high demand because of their use in electronics, cell phones and batteries. By all indications, none of the activities involves the mining of uranium.

With respect to reports of nuclear smuggling in the region, there have been such reports over the years, but so far they have turned out to be unfounded rumors or, in some cases, scams. Obviously, we view the scams as illegal and have urged prosecution of the offenders.

So, at this point, we've followed this mine, we've watched the activities there, think we have a handle on what's going on there, but we don't really think it represents a significant proliferation concern.

As you mentioned, the IAEA is also aware of the issue, and they've been prepared to offer assistance to member states on the issues like radiation safety and security of nuclear materials and illicit trafficking. So that's something the Democratic Republic of the Congo can do with the International Atomic Energy Agency since they're a member of the Agency.

QUESTION: My understanding is that the illegal miners, they're not actually going after uranium, but it comes out as a by-product, and you're saying that the mining is not connected with any kind of proliferation network. But is there any concern that the stuff's come out and somebody could get hold of it?

MR. BOUCHER: What appears to be coming out is cobalt and copper, not any significant movement of uranium or any worrisome movement of uranium.


QUESTION: Richard, on this --

MR. BOUCHER: On this?

QUESTION: Just one thing. The last time that, I think there was a team that went either yesterday or is going today, or perhaps even this weekend? A U.S. team, an IAEA team? Can you --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know for sure. I'd have to check on that.

QUESTION: Well, even if you don't know that, can -- what you have there is your -- is the most recent U.S. reading of the situation, right?

MR. BOUCHER: That's right.

QUESTION: It's from yesterday or today?



QUESTION: On Cyprus. Apart from Ambassador Weston and Klosson meetings with the parties in Switzerland, any active involvement by Secretary Powell?

MR. BOUCHER: There is very active involvement by the United States in the person of Mr. -- Ambassador Weston and Ambassador Klosson on site. Secretary Powell has followed the issue. He's made clear, as the President's made clear, that he's prepared to be personally involved as appropriate and necessary. At this stage in the talks, though, the action has moved to Switzerland, and people are working very hard out there. We'll see where they get to. We're following it very closely.


QUESTION: On Germany.

Schroeder was saying the other day that he was going to begin another push for Germany's inclusion on the -- as a permanent member on the Security Council. I want to know if the United States is still supportive of this.

MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen anything in terms of a new position. We've supported expansion of the Security Council. We've supported the Secretary General's efforts to look at this and to try to come up with some ideas. But, at this point, I don't think there's quite any new proposals or developments from that point of view.

QUESTION: But specifically you're still supportive of Germany?

MR. BOUCHER: We're supportive of everything we've always been supportive of. I'd have to check on what the list is of countries.

QUESTION: You're supportive of expanding the number of permanent seats on the Security Council? When you say --

MR. BOUCHER: No, expanding the Council.

QUESTION: Right, exactly. So --

MR. BOUCHER: Did you ask permanent?


MR. BOUCHER: Oh. I have to check and see if that's something we did support. I really don't know for sure.

QUESTION: But, in the past, the U.S. has supported Germany.


QUESTION: As a permanent member, right?

MR. BOUCHER: I -- Let me check exactly what our position is. This is very delicate, involves a significant list of countries.


MR. BOUCHER: And I'll have to check on exactly --

QUESTION: I'm sure the Brazilians will be interested --

MR. BOUCHER: -- who's on which part of that list.


QUESTION: Do you want to check on the status of Jerusalem while you're at it?


MR. BOUCHER: Exactly. It's about the same.

QUESTION: On Kuwait, could you tell us a little bit about the Deputy Secretary meeting next week with the Kuwait Foreign Minister and what they might discuss, please?

MR. BOUCHER: Not quite yet. I'll get you something at the appropriate time. There's a meeting coming up next week when we're out of town, but I don't know precisely what they will discuss at this point. We, as you know, just saw the Kuwaitis in the region. I'm sure they'll want to discuss developments in the peace process, developments in Iraq. Whether there are further issues that need to be taken up next week, I don't know.


QUESTION: Yes, about the island dispute over -- with between Japan and China. The situation seems to be worsening. The supporters of those Chinese who landed on those islands, they are making demonstrations in Beijing and they are burning the national flag of Japan.

What would you say to this? Do you have any comment on it?

MR. BOUCHER: As we know, the sovereignty of the islands is disputed. We don't take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands. That's been our longstanding view. But we expect the claimants to resolve this issue through peaceful means. There have been several attempts to do that in the past and we've supported them. And we urge all claimants to exercise restraint as regards their activities in that area.

QUESTION: Yes, that's exactly the same what, with what Mr. Ereli said two days ago.


QUESTION: But with the issue --

MR. BOUCHER: It was intended to be.

QUESTION: Yes, it's -- the issue of ultimate sovereignty set aside, what would you say to that, the landing of those Chinese people itself?

MR. BOUCHER: I would say that it's important for all the parties to exercise restraint in this matter.

QUESTION: But I think it's well short of condemning -- condemnation.

MR. BOUCHER: I would say it's important for all the parties to exercise restraint in this matter.

QUESTION: Well, I want to ask -- you also say that the -- you admit that those islands are under the administrative control of Japan and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty applies to those islands. If you take that position, would it not be -- the landing of those Chinese people -- would it not be something to be condemned of or criticized of?

MR. BOUCHER: I have stated our position on this issue. I'll state it again if you want me to, but that's where we are.

QUESTION: On Hong Kong. The -- China said that it's going to review two parts of the constitution, the parts that involve the choosing of the leader and the legislative council. It seems like that's going back on that promise to give Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy. Is it something you're concerned about? Do you --

MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen this particular Chinese statement. This is something that the United States has been concerned about for some time. We've supported the provisions of basic law that provide for universal suffrage at the next round of choosing the next chief executive.

We've always made clear our view. We think that that needs to be in a democratic fashion, that democracy is the way the Hong Kong people -- is what -- the Hong Kong people deserve democracy, and we've always supported it.

We've always made clear what our interests are in this situation, as well, that a stable, autonomous Hong Kong with the openness of society and openness of markets and the rule of law that it's always had is very important to us, and it's also very important to China and, of course, to the people of Hong Kong.

QUESTION: This is a shot in the dark, but every year in your religious freedom reports you've come down on countries in Europe and on Russia for persecution of various minority religious groups. And in light of that, I'm just -- including Jehovah's Witnesses -- and I'm - in light of that, I'm wondering if you're aware of, or have any comment on this decision by a Russian court today to ban Jehovah's Witnesses. Which I presume you would be opposed to, but you may not know about it, so --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know about it yet. I'll have to look at it and see.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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