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03 March 2005

State Department Briefing, March 3

Indonesia, Afghanistan, Brazil, Uruguay, Japan, Rice/meetings after return from London, Lebanon, Syria, North Korea

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher briefed the media March 3.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Thursday, March 3, 2005
12:35 p.m. EST

Briefer:  Richard Boucher, Spokesman

-- Conviction of Terrorist Leader Ba'asyir Involved in Bali Bombings
-- Query on U.S. Concerns of Indonesian Judicial System/U.S. View on Indonesian Judicial Independence from Executive Branch

-- President Karzai's Appointment of General Dostam as Chief of Staff of High Command/Karzai's Attempt to Extend Central Government Control

-- Readout of Secretary's Meeting with Minster Dirceu, Chief of Staff to President Lula
-- Query on Prospects for a Free Trade Agreement

-- Election of President Vazquez and Bilateral Relationship

-- Issue of U.S Beef/Pending U.S. Legislation Calling for Economic Sanctions/Prospects for Japanese Market Opening

-- Secretary Rice's Meetings After Return from London

-- Process to Succeed Prime Minister Karami
-- Secretary's Calls for End to Foreign Interference by Syria/UN Resolution 1559

-- Query on Reports that Syrian Government has detained Senior Iraqi Insurgent Leaders

-- Ambassador Hill's Meeting with Chinese Counterpart, Wu Daiwei/Six Party Talks



12:35 p.m. EST

MR. BOUCHER:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  It is a pleasure to be here.  I don't have any statements or announcements for you right away, so I'd be glad to take your questions. 

QUESTION:  Do you have any comment on the terrorist conviction in Indonesia today?

MR. BOUCHER:  First let me say we respect the independence of Indonesia's courts and we welcome the conviction of this known terrorist leader.  He was convicted on charges of conspiracy to cause death and destruction in connection with the Bali bombing.

We do note that Indonesia has prosecuted and convicted more than 100 terrorists since the Bali bombings.  Nonetheless, I have to say we are disappointed with the results of this trial.  We believe these results are not commensurate with Ba'asyir's culpability.  During the trial the prosecutors presented substantial evidence, which we found convincing, of Ba'asyir's involvement in terrorism, and in particular therefore we are disturbed by the message sent by the relatively brief sentence.  He was convicted, as I said, on the charge of conspiracy and we think that the possibility that someone, that the person responsible for these bombings, could go free after a sentence of only 30 months is indeed cause for concern.

At the same time, I want to repeat we have respect for the Indonesian judicial system.  It was the decision of the Indonesian court during the trial and we note that both parties will likely appeal the ruling so it may not be the final ruling. 

Okay, Nicholas.

QUESTION:  Do you think it's -- the outcome of this is a shortcoming of the laws that Indonesia has to deal with those issues and cases, or do you think it was a judiciary matter and the judge who decided on this?

MR. BOUCHER:  I, frankly, can't give you that detailed of an analysis at this point.  It's a good question.  I think we will have to see how this works its way through the Indonesian judicial system, what happens subsequently on appeal, and see what it produces in the end.

QUESTION:  Well, you have had over the past couple of years, even with the previous government of Indonesia, some concerns about their way of dealing with terrorism and the people who are responsible for terrorist acts, including legislation in Indonesia.  Have your concerns been answered so far?

MR. BOUCHER:  Well, as I said, we've been relatively -- well, we've been satisfied to note that Indonesia has indeed prosecuted and convicted more than 100 terrorists since the Bali bombing.  So in that space of time, there has indeed been a stronger effort, been some real results coming out of the court system. 

But at this point on this particular trial, I'm not prepared to reverse those conclusions or draw sweeping conclusions, just at this point note the concern that we have, disappointment that we have about the particular sentence, and then see where it goes from here in the Indonesian judicial system.

QUESTION:  Just one last one.


QUESTION:  Do you believe that the Indonesian judiciary system is completely independent of the executive branch?

MR. BOUCHER:  Again, I'd refer you probably to the Human Rights Report.  That question requires a fair amount of discussion.  But I think the simple answer is more or less, yes, we are convinced that they have an increasingly independent judicial system, one that can stand on its own merits and stand on its own feet.

QUESTION:  There was a State Department-contracted translator who testified in defense of Ba'asyir; he was a defense witness.  And I'm wondering if you guys have a comment on that.  He basically bolstered the defense's case that U.S. pressured Ba'asyir's arrest, and he talked about a secret meeting that he had translated between --

MR. BOUCHER:  I wasn't aware of that.  I'm not sure we would have anything to say about --

QUESTION:  Can you check on that?

MR. BOUCHER:  -- meetings.  And you say this person was a contractor and therefore not a direct State Department employee.

QUESTION:  It was Fred Burkes.  He worked under contract in the State Department for 18 years.

MR. BOUCHER:  I'll have to check and see if we have anything to say about his testimony or his status.  But it doesn't sound like he was a direct employee.

QUESTION:  He wasn't.



QUESTION:  Change of topic?

MR. BOUCHER:  Please. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  Recently I think President Karzai in Afghanistan just appointed General Dostam as Chief of Staff of the High Command despite concerns over General Dostam's human rights record.  Do you have any comment on that?

MR. BOUCHER:  Really just to say that this is a matter for President Karzai to decide; it's an internal matter for the Afghan Government.  President Karzai has been moving forward, we think, on the fundamental issue of extending the central government control in Afghanistan throughout the country and bringing all the regions and regional leaders under Afghanistan's control.  How he goes about that is really a matter for him to decide and we have to respect his judgment on that. 


QUESTION:  It's about Brazil.  I'd like to know --

QUESTION:  On this -- can we stay on this for a few --

MR. BOUCHER:  We'll stay on this for a minute.  We'll come back to you.

QUESTION:  Just a quick update.  Does Diplomatic Security from this Department still provide security for President Karzai and, if so, would DS agents over there have any dealings with Dostam in any way at all?

MR. BOUCHER:  I'll have to double-check on the status of that contract. 


QUESTION:  It's a question about Brazil.


QUESTION:  I'd like to know what was discussed today in a meeting with Mr. Dirceu. 

MR. BOUCHER:  A lot of things.  (Laughter.)


MR. BOUCHER:  We had a good meeting today with Minister Dirceu of Brazil, the Chief of Staff for President Lula.  The Secretary and he discussed a number of issues, including regional issues.  The FTAA certainly came up.  Both of us, I think, are pleased with the effort that we're making, the progress we're making as co-chairs of the FTAA, trying to bring that fruition.

Discussed some other regional issues.  Discussed South America, Middle East meetings coming up, where the importance not only of economic reform but political reform, democratic reform to both sides, to both us and Brazil, I think is quite clear.

It seems to me I'm forgetting something big, but let me check for a second.

QUESTION:  Venezuela?  Didn't she express concern with the position of --

MR. BOUCHER:  We talked about -- let me see -- they talked about Haiti.  They talked about our own relationship between the United States and Brazil, which has been very close and we're working well together, not only as nations but also between the two presidents.

QUESTION:  Did she express any concern about the acquisition of military aircraft from Brazil?

MR. BOUCHER:  They had -- sometime it was one-on-one after the bigger meeting, but they discussed a number of regional issues but I didn't hear that come up.

QUESTION:  You mentioned the free trade negotiations.  You suggested that things were looking up for the -- for that proposal.  Could you flesh that out a little bit?

MR. BOUCHER:  Not particularly at this moment.  I'll have to get you something more on that.  Just that the United States and Brazil have been looking for ways, both of us, to move this negotiation forward.  We've been working hard on it and we think we're continuing to work well together.  When that will produce some more results, I'll have to check and see if there is anything to say or predict at this point.  But I think the general feeling is that we're both trying hard to find ways to move forward.


QUESTION:  Also on South America, the Government of Uruguay just elected a new president, Vasquez, and he immediately has strengthened his talks with Fidel Castro, with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.  Is the United States going to meet with the Uruguayans to find out what's going on in these developments?

MR. BOUCHER:  Did you do anything on the inauguration, Adam?

MR. ERELI:  Yes.

MR. BOUCHER:  I think I'll leave it that for the moment.  We'll have to see how our relationship evolves.  Certainly, we look forward to working with all countries in the hemisphere on important issues and that will be how to determine how this -- whether or not we're able to move forward.

QUESTION:  Richard, there is a Congressman out of Kansas, Mr. Jerry Moran, who's calling -- who is introducing a resolution to have U.S. beef go back to Japan, to open up the Japanese markets again; and if Japan doesn't do it, his resolution calls -- that the U.S. calls for economic sanctions on Japan.  Do you have any comment on that?

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't know if we've taken a position on that particular legislation, but I would point out that the issue of U.S. beef has been very high on the agenda for us and it was discussed quite extensively when Secretary Rice met with the Foreign Minister and in the Two Plus Two talks -- when was it, a week ago, Saturday?  Is that about right?

MR. ERELI:  February 19th.

MR. BOUCHER:  The 19th.  And the U.S. beef is good, it's important and we want Japanese customers to have it available, and so we've tried to resolve this issue.  We've gone through many, many scientific discussions, gone through many, many policy discussions.  And Secretary Rice has personally pressed the Japanese to resolve this issue through their appropriate procedures as soon as possible, and indeed we heard from our Japanese counterparts that they would look to see how this might be accelerated.  So we're working very hard to try to get this solved.

QUESTION:  Just a follow-up.  Are you still optimistic that the Japanese market will open itself up to U.S. beef?

MR. BOUCHER:  Well, the Japanese have said they would, so we expect them to meet their commitment.

QUESTION:  On that topic, Richard, did you intend "good" to be synonymous with "tasty" just now?

MR. BOUCHER:  Yes.  (Laughter.) 

QUESTION:  All right.

MR. BOUCHER:  Tasty, wholesome, healthy.  It's wonderful.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Juicy?  Can we get "juicy" on the record?

MR. BOUCHER:  I'll get "juicy" on the record, too.

QUESTION:  Can we stay juicy on the record on a different topic?  Can you give us juicy details about what Secretary Rice discussed with the President yesterday and also with the House leadership?



QUESTION:  Can you be dry about it?


MR. BOUCHER:  The Secretary's been having a number of meetings since she came back.  She did come back yesterday in order to make sure that she could make some appointments.  We got back before noon and she had a full afternoon of meetings.  She met with House Democratic leadership, House Republican leadership to talk about supplemental funding bill, the portions that are in there for the State Department needs, for the needs of our support for the war on terrorism, for the Embassy in Iraq and other supplemental funding requests that are not part of our -- were not part of our regular budget because they weren't anticipated.  And so she talked about those issues up on the Hill, but we're not going to get into any more detail than that. 

She had opportunities to talk to others in the Administration yesterday.  I don't know that she particularly talked to the President yesterday.

MR. ERELI:  Brief -- a brief drop-by.

MR. BOUCHER:  I guess they saw each other.  But she will continue discussing issues that arose during the course of her trip with others.  She has a meeting this afternoon, one of her regular meetings with the President.  I'm sure that a variety of issues involved in her trip will come up there.

QUESTION:  Is she scheduled to meet with anyone on Capitol Hill today?

MR. BOUCHER:  Not aware of any Hill meetings today, no.

QUESTION:  And just one last question.  Has the Secretary been actively involved in the search for a successor to Ambassador Negroponte?

MR. BOUCHER:  I wouldn't comment on that.  That's a White House matter to announce, to deal with. 

QUESTION:  Richard.  In Lebanon, I mean, it's been three days now since that the Prime Minister resigned and there doesn't seem to be any sign at all of parliamentary consultations to replace his successor by the President Emile Lahoud.  Is this, at this point, a cause for concern?  Is it premature or --

MR. BOUCHER:  I think we understand Lebanese politicians, Lebanese opposition and others consulting with each other, talking with each other about how to move this process forward.  There are mechanisms available to them to do that and we're trying to keep our ear to the ground and watch what's going on, but we'll leave it to them to work that and to talk about how they're working.

QUESTION:  Are you satisfied that the process is going on because so far we haven't seen any signs of that process?

MR. BOUCHER:  We're satisfied that people are talking about it and considering what to do.


MR. BOUCHER:  Yes. Okay. Sir.

QUESTION:  Richard, with respect to this, the Syrians say that they will keep 3,000 troops in eastern Lebanon and last week the Secretary came out in her London talks and interviews saying that the United States expects all these troops to be returned to Syria.  But there is also no mention of political operatives or intelligence type --

MR. BOUCHER:  Let me stop you right there.  On Tuesday in London, on Wednesday in her interviews with NBC, which you'll find on our website, I think the Secretary's been absolutely clear that when we talk about an end to foreign interference under Resolution 1559, we're talking troops, we're talking intelligence operatives, we're talking security services.  It's an end to foreign interference that's involved. 

QUESTION:  Apparently the Syrians are looking to Riyadh for some support.  Have you also spoken to the Saudis concerning this?

MR. BOUCHER:  We've kept in touch with other people in the region who are certainly concerned about the situation in Lebanon and Syria, many of them also looking for the implementation of Resolution 1559.  It's a UN Resolution.  It makes clear, I think, what many people have long said, that Lebanon needs to be able to stand on its own two feet and live without foreign interference.  And so I would hope that everybody would look at the need to accomplish that and work in that direction. 


QUESTION:  There's a report that the Syrian Government has detained senior Iraqi insurgent leadership and is willing to give them up to the United States and to the Iraqi Government --

MR. BOUCHER:  Yeah, this is something on some website.  We checked around on it.  We don't have anything that would confirm that.  In fact, we've continued to press the Syrian Government to take clear action against those who are supporting the Iraqi insurgency.  Our Chargé in Damascus had a meeting this morning with the Vice Foreign Minister.  Was it this morning or yesterday?  Can we double-check?  He had a meeting yesterday with the Vice Foreign Minister to again make that point, and we've made it, I think, publicly as well, that we expect Syria to do more to make sure that nobody on their territory is supporting the insurgency. 

QUESTION:  If this -- if, in the future, they were to crack down --

MR. BOUCHER:  That's about as speculative as I could ever get, and I never get speculative.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  That's great.  Thanks.

QUESTION:  On North Korea?

QUESTION:  One more on Syria?


QUESTION:  Sorry.  Have you verified that Iraqi TV report from last week -- it's been more than a week, I think -- about the captured Syrian intelligence officer in Iraq that is supposed to be in Iraqi custody?

MR. BOUCHER:  No, I don't have anything on that.

QUESTION:  Do you note -- again, it's been more than a week.  You have a big embassy there.  Do you have an estimate of when you might know something more?


QUESTION:  Thanks.

MR. BOUCHER:  I -- no.  Leave it there.

Okay, where were we?

QUESTION:  On North Korea.  Ambassador Hill met with the Chinese official Wu Dawei, Mr. Wu Dawei, in South Korea on North Korea issue.  I'm wondering if you can tell us about the meeting, if you had time to be in touch with him, and also if you could update us on the current status on the resumption of the six-party talks. 

MR. BOUCHER:  The Embassy in Seoul has talked about this meeting that Ambassador Hill had so I'm glad to review it with you as well.  Ambassador Hill is continuing his consultations with all the parties interested in resuming the six-party talks.  His Chinese counterpart, Wu Daiwei, was visiting Seoul and they met this morning to review the status of the six-party process.  It was we thought a good meeting and they had a constructive exchange of views. 

Both sides expressed a desire to get the talks moving.  Both parties agree on the goal of denuclearization of the peninsula and that the six-party talks are the best way to achieve that goal, and both parties -- U.S. and China -- want to see the resumption of the six-party talks as soon as possible.  So we continue to work with friends and partners in this negotiation to try to achieve that goal.

As far as the status, we and others are ready to go back whenever -- we're ready to go back right away without preconditions.  We have not, unfortunately, seen that willingness from the North Korean side and that's why they have not resumed.

QUESTION:  Do you have any schedule updates for the Secretary's travels, especially to that region?

MR. BOUCHER:  No.  We have been looking at travel, but I don't have any updates for you yet. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

QUESTION:  On Japan.  Mr. Jenkins is reported to have applied for the U.S. passport.  I wonder if you can give us any idea if you're going to issue the passport for him.

MR. BOUCHER:  I'll check on that.  I'll promise to check on it but I'm not sure I can say anything.  I think there are privacy concerns that we wouldn't be able to talk about anything, so --


MR. BOUCHER:  But I will check and see if there's something I can't talk about.


MR. BOUCHER:  Okay, Nicholas.

QUESTION:  There was a report that North Korea has ended its moratorium on long-range missile testing.  Do you have anything on that? 

MR. BOUCHER:  Adam spoke to that yesterday.  I think that came out and I'll just stick with what he said yesterday. 

QUESTION:  Richard, five men have been sentenced to death and took that to an appeal in Lahore concerning a very high-profile gang rape trial, and human rights groups are shocked that the court trial looks like you've just discussed in Indonesia, as letting people off the hook.  Are you going to insist that both parliaments as well as judicial courts --

MR. BOUCHER:  I'm not aware of the issue.  I'll have to check and see if there's anything on that.

Okay.  George?  Can I leave?


MR. BOUCHER:  Thank you. 

(The briefing was concluded at 12:55 p.m.)

(end transcript)

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