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14 January 2005

State Department Briefing, January 14

North Korea, Iraq, U.S. Inauguration/reported threat letter received, Serbia-Montenegro, Iran, Asian tsunami/update, Venezuela

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher briefed the media January 14.

Following is a transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing Index

Friday, January 14, 2005

12:30 p.m. EST

Briefer:  Richard Boucher, Spokesman


-- Congressional Travel to North Korea and Meetings

-- Status of Six-Party Talks


-- National Intelligence Council Report Regarding Terrorists in Iraq

-- Syrian Cooperation/Efforts to Control Border with Iraq

-- Voting Sites in U.S. for Out-of-Country Voting in Iraq Elections


-- Reported Threat Letter Received Against U.S. Inauguration


-- U.S. To Withhold $10 Million in FY 2005 Assistance to Serbia and Montenegro for Non-Compliance with the International Criminal Tribunal


-- Reported Threat of Arrest of Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi


-- Status of American Citizens Affected by Tsunami/Number of Welfare and Whereabouts Inquiries

-- 18 American Citizens Confirmed Dead/17 American Citizens Presumed Dead


-- U.S. Energy Relationship with Venezuela/U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela





12:30 p.m. EST

MR. BOUCHER:  Okay, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I don't have any statements or announcements.  I'd be glad to take your questions.

QUESTION:  Any comment on what the North Koreans told the visiting congressional delegation, please?

MR. BOUCHER:  First let me point out that Representative Weldon has briefed U.S. officials at our Embassy in Seoul.  He reported to us, as I think he's indicated in the press, that the North Koreans, during their discussions with him, indicated an intention to return to six-party talks, perhaps soon.

We hope that North Korean statements do, indeed, presage a return to the talks.  North Korea has not yet been in touch with the other parties to the talks to inform them of any decision or any intentions.  We will be consulting with other parties to the talks and, as you know, we have made very clear that we are ready to go back to six-party talks.

Any discussions in the talks, we maintain, must address the full range of North Korea's nuclear programs, including its uranium enrichment program. 

QUESTION:  Is it -- I'm sorry.

QUESTION:  I don't know if your thinking has advanced this far, but who would head the U.S. delegation to the next round?

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't think I have anything on that.  It'll depend on when it is.

QUESTION:  Is it fair to say you would pick up where you left off?  In other words, I don't expect you to reveal any great strategic decision to change things, but --

MR. BOUCHER:  I think it's fair to say that, first of all, the United States put a comprehensive proposal on the table that addresses the issues, addresses the issues of concern to North Korea, as well as those to the international community.  It lays out a way to get to a better relationship, to resolve these issues and get to a better relationship.  And so we stand behind that proposal and we are looking for a response to that proposal.  That was pretty much what we were looking for from the next round of talks.  We're still looking for that.

Second of all, we know that North Korea has put forward some ideas and we would certainly be prepared to discuss some of the things that they might raise.

But finally, I think, the goal is to make real progress and so we would hope that the North Koreans would deal seriously with these issues and come prepared to discuss how to make real progress in resolving this -- these difficulties. 

QUESTION:  And just one more.  Again, I'm not expecting you to lay out what the U.S. will say.  But do you remember that old bit about more flexibility?  Does the U.S. go into this in a flexible frame of mind, provided it gets the results it wants, which is to make the peninsula nuclear-free?

MR. BOUCHER:  We have always said the place to be flexible is in the talks themselves.  We're not going to stand around and negotiate with ourselves.  If the North Koreans raise issues that they are looking to resolve and can do that, and if we can do that in the context of resolving the issues of concern to us, then, obviously, that's what the negotiations, what the discussions, are for.  We would hope to be able to do that and hope that everybody who went to those talks will be flexible and keep the goals in mind of eliminating nuclear dangers on the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION:  Have you heard anything from the Chinese or the other partners, just about North Korea?

MR. BOUCHER:  As I said, apparently, North Korea has not been in touch with any of the parties at this point, so we don't have any news from them, no.


QUESTION:  New topic?


QUESTION:  The National Intelligence Council yesterday came out with a report that reflects the view that Iraq is the new breeding -- or not breeding -- I'm sorry -- training ground for terrorists and also talks about the rise in Jihadists over al-Qaida in the next 15 years.  Is this a view that the State Department shares, that Iraq is now the principal training ground for terrorists?

MR. BOUCHER:  I think, first of all, let's remember, this is a report about sort of long-term predictions and problems that we have to deal with, and certainly it's an important part of government planning to look at those long-term problems and to deal with them.  One of the things that we do understand it points out is that the terrorists have come to Iraq. 

I have to tell you that I think we've been saying that ourselves for a while now, to tell you that there are foreign terrorists who have come to Iraq.  There is also a domestic-based insurgency, as well, and we need to defeat those things.  We need to defeat all of those who would hold Iraq back or who see Iraq as an opportunity to attack progress, progress for Arabs, progress for Iraqis, progress for freedom. 

And so, yes, there are terrorists in Iraq.  Yes, it is important for the long term that we stand against them, that we defeat them in Iraq, lest the danger is spread elsewhere.

QUESTION:  But what about the notion of it becoming the main training ground?  I mean, you got rid of it in Afghanistan, and have you just replaced it?

MR. BOUCHER:  You know, again, terrorists are coming to Iraq and carrying out horrible murders and actions.  If you want to call that training, call it training.  We call it murder.  And the fact is that there are terrorists in Iraq that need to be defeated.  We're determined to do that.  The Iraqis are determined to do that.  And we think the entire world should be making the effort to do that because it's important, not only now to Iraq, but long term for all of us.

QUESTION:  Richard, a follow-up to that.  Can you bring us up to date on where you stand with the Syrian cooperation either with the Iraqis or with the U.S. on closing the border?

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't really have any sort of broad appraisal or new appraisal of Syria.  We've seen some steps that were positive.  We've some steps in the financial area, some steps along the border.  We think there's more that can be done, particularly with regard to Baathists, ex-Baathists, who might have taken refuge in Syria.  And so we continue to push Syria on that and to look for more progress there.


QUESTION:  On the election and the voting here in the United States, I understand that members of Congress have sent the Secretary letters, I think at least two letters, about voting sites, particularly in California, complaining that about 25,000 Iraqi Christians in San Diego have been asking for a section down in San Diego versus in L.A. 

Have you heard anything about this and --

MR. BOUCHER:  I haven't heard about those letters.  I thought you all got a complete and full briefing on it yesterday. 

QUESTION:  Right.  Well, no, I know that the IOM is in charge of all this, but if, you know, if members of Congress are concerned sufficiently, I'm sure the Secretary will respond.

MR. BOUCHER:  I'm sure we'll look into anything that the -- any concerns that are raised by members of Congress and see if there's something we can do about it.  But I'm not familiar with those particular -- that particular circumstance. 


QUESTION:  On the broad subject of terrorism, can you confirm and maybe expand on a report that we have that says that the State Department has received a letter in Kenya threatening terrorist acts against the inauguration.  I'm just --

MR. BOUCHER:  I have not heard anything about that and I'm not really sure if we would want to talk about potential threats or threat information.  But I'll see.  I'll check and see if there's anything we can share with you.

QUESTION:  Do you know, in general, if there have -- if sort of the threat level has gone up ahead of the inauguration --

MR. BOUCHER:  No, I don't.  I don't.  And I think you'd have to check with the Secret Service on the general threat level towards the inauguration.

Over there.  David. 

QUESTION:  Last night you announced the withholding of some aid from Serbia and Montenegro. 

MR. BOUCHER:  $10 million, yeah.

QUESTION:  And could you be more specific about the reasons behind this?  It mentioned Ratko Mladic, who was recently, apparently, credibly spotted in the Republika Srpska.  Are you somehow blaming Serbia and Montenegro for that or --

MR. BOUCHER:  We, I think, have made clear that there are a variety of people who we think either have the ability or the influence to see that people wanted by the tribunal are brought to justice.  That includes, obviously, the authorities in the Republika Srpska and we take steps against them. 

We also think the Serbian Government has a responsibility, indeed, has the ability and the influence to ensure that these people are brought to justice.  And so that's why we thought it was necessary to withhold the $10 million.

QUESTION:  While we're at it, have you received since yesterday -- not terribly likely -- any new information on the Iranian Nobel winner who's being harassed?  And you've put out a strong statement. 

MR. BOUCHER:  No.  We put out a statement yesterday.  I don't have anything new this morning. 

QUESTION:  Do you have the latest numbers for the American citizens affected by the tsunami?

MR. BOUCHER:  The number of American citizens who have died remains unchanged.  We know of 18 American citizens who are confirmed dead:  10 in Thailand, 8 in Sri Lanka.  Seventeen Americans are presumed dead and we're working very, very closely with the families of these people and also working with authorities in Thailand or Sri Lanka trying to work on the ground to sort of finalize the presumption and find out for sure whether they are dead or not.

Of the some 30,000 calls we received over the course of the last few weeks, we have 416 whereabouts inquiries that remain unresolved.  So we continue to work on those as well. 

QUESTION:  Is it fair to say that by now there's no or very little duplication?  In other words, you think 416 represent 416 people? 

MR. BOUCHER:  We think we've eliminated a lot of duplication.  It's hard to say no duplication.  You know, even when it came down to the presumed dead, we had -- it turned out, we originally had a case there that we thought we'd looked at very closely where there duplication.  So I can't say for sure there's none, but we have eliminated, we think, a lot of the duplicate phone calls that when two or three relatives call, or friends and associates as well as relatives call, we think we've narrowed it down to identifying who the individual is.  But I can't say for sure there's none left. 

QUESTION:  Richard. 

MR. BOUCHER:  George.

QUESTION:  The Washington Times had a story today about a tougher line toward Venezuela.  Do you have any guidance on that? 

MR. BOUCHER:  I would repeat a couple of things on Venezuela that I think are important for all of us to remember:  first, that we've long enjoyed a mutually beneficial energy relationship with Venezuela, and that remains important to us, and the sanctity of contracts remains important to us.  We want to see that relationship continue.  So I know there have been some reports the Venezuelans might seek to do something else, but as for our part, we want to see the contracts respected.  We want to see the relationship continue.

I would also point out that we have long made clear our profound concerns about the undemocratic and detrimental policies of President Chavez and his government.  We will continue to speak out firmly on issues where Venezuela takes steps that are of concern to us, particularly in the areas of freedom of the press and political -- openness of the political process.  We always speak out in favor of democracy in this hemisphere and will continue to do so in Venezuela and elsewhere.

QUESTION:  All right.  Apparently, they're doing land grabs, reminiscent of what happened in Zimbabwe, and there is also a suggestion and a story about Venezuelan meddling in the internal affairs of other countries in the region.  Anything on that?

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't have anything specific on that.  We've spoken about it in the past, though, and obviously we're against meddling in the affairs of other countries in the region or consorting with terrorists or some of the other things that have been charged.  But I don't have any new statements to make on that.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR. BOUCHER:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:45 p.m.)

(end transcript)

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

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