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07 March 2005

State Department Briefing, March 7

Rice/Bolton appointment, Rice/phone calls, Iraq/Italy, Syria, U.S. policy/rendition of suspects, Bolivia, Moldova, China, North Korea, Sudan

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher briefed the press March 7.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Monday, March 7, 2005
2:00 p.m. EST

Briefer: Richard Boucher, Spokesman


-- Announcement of Intention to Nominate Under Secretary John Bolton as US Ambassador to the United Nations

-- Secretary Rice's Phone Calls Today


-- Shooting Incident Involving Former Italian Hostage Giuliana Srgena

-- Investigation of Shooting Underway

-- Secretary Rice's Call to Italian Foreign Minister Fini on Saturday


-- Joint Communique on Syrian Intention to Withdraw Forces to Al-Biqa Region

-- Syrian Withdrawal and Stability in Lebanon

-- Hezbollah Endorsement of Syrian Presence


-- U.S. Policy on Rendition of Suspects


-- President Mesa's Announcement to Offer Resignation to Bolivian Congress


-- Parliamentary Elections


-- Foreign Ministry's Comments on North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Program


-- Status of Six-Party Talks/Continuation of Diplomatic Efforts

-- Ambassador Chris Hill's Travel and Meetings


-- Donors' Commitments to Sudan

-- U.S. Aid Pledges to Sudan

2:00 p.m. EST

MR. BOUCHER:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I don't have any statements or announcements.  You've seen the Secretary's statement, so I'd be glad to take your questions.

QUESTION:  Why the unusual procedure of having the Secretary come out and make the announcement (inaudible).

MR. BOUCHER:  The White House is making the appropriate announcement, the usual piece of paper, the intention to nominate.  The Secretary felt this was an important appointment, one that showed how we want to have an active energetic diplomat at the UN and it was worth highlighting, so she came out today to highlight that.


MR. BOUCHER:  Okay.  Sir.

QUESTION:  Can you tell us the thinking behind the appointment of Mr. Bolton?  I mean, he's a man in the past who has been quoted as saying that there is no such thing as United Nations, that if you lost 10 stories at the UN headquarters in New York, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.  It seems to be rather peculiar.

MR. BOUCHER:  I wouldn't call it rather peculiar.  This is a man who, in the past, has worked very closely with the United Nations on a number of issues.  He has always called for the UN to be more effective.  And as Dr. Rice said, he's a tough-minded diplomat, somebody who knows how to get things done, somebody who has worked effectively for us at the United Nations and I would say effectively for the institution in terms of getting the support in the U.S. and getting the kind of reform programs together with them that led to more support in the UN.  So I think we feel like a more effective UN and more effective U.S. support for the UN go hand in hand and that John Bolton is somebody who can help get us that.


QUESTION:  Do you have anything on the media reports that the Italians might have paid $8 million to get their hostage released?

MR. BOUCHER:  I do not have anything on that; don't have any confirmation on those reports.  I would say, some of these reports then lead to charges that somehow the shooting of the Italian hostage and the Italian security agent was somehow deliberate because we were upset about that and that nothing could be further from the truth.  There is absolutely no shred of truth to the idea that we somehow did this on purpose.  This was a very tragic accident and we and the Italians are going to look into it.

We do have an investigation going on, and the Secretary -- the President called Prime Minister Berlusconi, our ambassador has talked to Prime Minister Berlusconi.  The Secretary called Foreign Minister Fini on Saturday to express our sadness and our sympathies and condolences about the attack.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) undermines U.S. efforts to not negotiate with terrorists?

MR. BOUCHER:  That's really not the issue today and I don't think I want to comment on it.  Our policy is very well known on this and the reasons for our policy are very well known.  What we have here is a very tragic accident and I don't think I want to mess it up with speculation on other parts of the release.


QUESTION:  Syria.  And there are at least reports that there are some trucks now moving toward the eastern Bekaa.

MR. BOUCHER:  What was that I saw, three trucks full of furniture?  What was in the first report?

QUESTION:  Two is what I saw.


MR. BOUCHER:  Two trucks full of furniture.

QUESTION:  Can you talk to, you know, is this on -- are they on the right path?  Is, you know, is this a hopeful sign or?

MR. BOUCHER:  I'd come back to the fundamentals of all this, that Resolution 1559 from the United Nations Security Council says there needs to be a full and immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon.  We have said, the President has said, we're not looking for half measures here.  We're looking for full and immediate withdrawal.

So we've seen the joint statement that was issued by Presidents Assad and Lahoud.  We, once more, reiterate what the United Nations has said, what the international community is saying and that there -- that Syria must leave Lebanon now.  Time for words and communiqués and statements and discussions of more meetings is really gone.  We need to see Syria in action.  And that's what we'll be watching very carefully for, is to see Syrian action to withdraw, to see parliamentary elections that are allowed to proceed freely and fairly without outside interference.  We've seen the people of Lebanon demanding their own chance to determine their own future.  And that's what we support without foreign interference.

QUESTION:  How much thought has been given to what happens even if they don't withdraw completely, the large withdrawal of Syrian troops, as in, you know, there will be a vacuum like that?

MR. BOUCHER:  Well, these kinds of questions are premised on the idea that there is stability in Lebanon because the Syrian troops are there.  And I think if you look at the situation, the fact that a foreign prime minister could be assassinated in such a major and horrible attack shows that there's not -- there's a vacuum of authority in Lebanon now, and the vacuum of authority needs to be filled by the Lebanese government not by some foreign force.  So Syrian troops need to withdraw and there is thought going into how the international community can help the Lebanese Government exert its authority throughout the country and that boils down to two or three things.

But the major one being they need to be able to have a free and fair election in Lebanon that's free of foreign interference and allows the Lebanese political system to enjoy the legitimacy of an election throughout the country, and in the meantime, the foreign community can probably help with that.  We can help, I think, as we've said, with monitors, we can help in other ways and we can also look at ways to help the Lebanese Government extend its authority throughout the country.

QUESTION:  Can you spell out the other ways at all?

MR. BOUCHER:  I can't really at this point.  That's what we are consulting and discussing with other governments.  We've had conversations with other nations.  Political directors, I think, talked about getting together with the French political director last week.  We had Terje Roed-Larsen from the UN.  He was in town last week and last Friday, the Secretary talked to him a little bit and he had consultations with acting -- or with Under -- with Ambassador Burns, who is currently acting as the Under Secretary.

And so, we've been consulting with a variety of others.  The Secretary has talked to a number of people today about other things but talked to European High Representatives Solana and Foreign Minister Barnier both today about the situation in Lebanon, how we needed to see the Security Council resolution fully implemented, but also about how we needed to continue our discussions of how the international community can help with that.

Yeah.  David.

QUESTION:  Are you troubled at all about the Hezbollah rather strong endorsement of the Syrian presence there?

MR. BOUCHER:  We know that there are different voices that are going to be raised and discussed in Lebanon.  The point is that we need to see Syrian withdrawal so the Lebanese can express themselves freely and peacefully, I should add, and work out different points of view within the political system.  That's what we're looking for.

Tammy.  You guys can chime in too, you know.  Go ahead, Tammy.

QUESTION:  I want to ask about renditions.  Just, you know, can you help me square this?  On the one hand, the State Department in Human Rights Report criticizes other nations for torture, on the other hand, the U.S. actually renders some suspects to countries that torture, how do you square this?

MR. BOUCHER:  I'm going to have to look for something for you on that.


QUESTION:  Do you have any reaction to the Bolivian President's announced resignation?

MR. BOUCHER:  Yeah.  I think the first point to make is that President Mesa has not resigned at this point.  On the evening of March 6th -- would be yesterday evening -- he announced that he would offer his resignation to the Bolivian Congress today, and then the congress will decide whether or not to accept his resignation.  The United States remains firmly and fully committed to President Mesa as the constitutional President of Bolivia.  We expect that the current political crisis will be resolved in a peaceful and democratic manner consistent with the Bolivian constitution.  We call upon the political leaders of Bolivia to work together to reach a national consensus in favor of a more stable and prosperous Bolivia.

Yeah.  David.

QUESTION:  Reaction to the election in Moldova?  It would appear that the Communist Party won but that they're also pro-Western, want to work more closely with Europe.

MR. BOUCHER:  Yeah.  I'm not going to be able at this point to make an assessment of policy.  What I can tell you of what we've been seeing as we've watch these elections unfold, and basically this is along the same lines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's assessment.  They have a team out there.  They have a preliminary assessment of Moldova's March 6th elections that notes that while elections generally complied with most international standards that it fell short of meeting some that are central to a genuinely competitive election process.  We agree with that assessment.

While we were pleased to see that Election Day proceeded smoothly, we regret that the preliminary assessment confirms negative trends first seen in 2003's local elections, including issues of access to the media.

I would note that we have spoken about these problems in the lead-up to the election and raised them directly with Moldovan officials.  We saw, I'd say, some late progress in addressing some of these issues but still our concerns over the course of the lead-in to the election did, we think, impinge upon the outcome.  So we'd further call upon Moldova to take immediate steps to implement OSCE and Council of Europe calls for ensuring future elections are fully free and fair.


QUESTION:  Thank you.  Taiwan police announced that they had found a suspect for the attempted assassination on Taiwan President Chen and the suspect has apparently committed suicide.  Do you have any comment on that?

MR. BOUCHER:  No, I don't.

QUESTION:  Thank you.


QUESTION:  There's a story in, I believe it's the Times this morning, suggesting that China is skeptical, or at least the foreign minister, Foreign Minister Li, is skeptical about American claims about the degree to which North Korea has a nuclear weapons program.  Any comment?

MR. BOUCHER:  I think the first thing you have to do is look at the Chinese Foreign Ministry comment today.  They went -- at their Foreign Ministry's briefing today they, I think, corrected the report, reiterated China's support for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, called for the resolution on the nuclear issue through dialogue and cited China's efforts in support of the six-party talks.  So I think we are in agreement with China on the six-party talks, on denuclearization as the goal and on the need to deal with all the programs that exist.

QUESTION:  Well, to the extent that you repeated the Foreign Ministry's statement, I don't see how that contradicts the original point that there is disagreement between the U.S. and China as to how developed the weapons program is.

MR. BOUCHER:  Well, as I said, I think the Chinese certainly felt the report was wrong and issued a statement today to correct it.

QUESTION:  On the Ambassador to South Korea, Hill is -- Mr. Hill is coming back to Washington.  Are there any moves to submit any new proposals or new push for restarting the six-party talks?

MR. BOUCHER:  It is the continuation of our diplomatic efforts.  As you know, we have been consulting with other governments in the region.  He's been to Beijing.  He's met with Japanese and the South Koreans.  He's going to, obviously, stay in close touch with the South Koreans.  He'll also travel to Tokyo and Washington this week for more consultations on the six-party process.  The goal, again, is to make clear that the United States and others are willing to return to the talks as soon as possible without any preconditions and we would hope that North Korea would adopt that position as well.

Yeah.  George.

QUESTION:  There's a story that suggested donor countries have not kicked in nearly what they promised to last October for Sudan.  Any comment?

MR. BOUCHER:  We're not aware that there were any formal pledges of $500 million last October.  There is a Donors Reconstruction Conference for southern Sudan that's scheduled April 11 and 12.  We have raised the issue of donor commitments to Sudan in a number of international fora.  We do continue to urge other donors to contribute to consolidating peace.

We, as you know, lead the world in terms of providing humanitarian assistance to southern Sudan in the Darfur crisis.  To date, in fiscal year 2005, we have provided more than $309 million in humanitarian assistance in Darfur and for the 213,000 refugees who have fled into Chad.  From fiscal year 2003 to fiscal year 2005, we've contributed more than $567 million.

So the United States has certainly been at the forefront of the donor community and we have spent a lot of money assisting the people in Darfur and the refugees from Darfur and we continue to work with others to try to encourage others to continue to support this urgent need.

Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 2:15 p.m.)

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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