14 March 2005
State Department Briefing, March 14
Northern Ireland; State Department Video News Releases/Video Products, Congressional Funding Restrictions/Issues Raised in GAO Report, Hits on State Department Web site, Al Hurra's Impact on Public Opinion/Data, Lebanon/Syria, China/Taiwan/North Korea; Venezuela; Iran; Macedonia; Egypt
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher briefed the press March 14.
Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:
U.S. Department of State
Briefer: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
MONDAY, MARCH 14, 2005
12:55 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements or announcements. I'd be glad to take your questions. Senior wire correspondent.
QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible) regarding preventing Sinn Fein from raising funds in America?
MR. BOUCHER: Our law and policy on that remain the same, have remained the same since 1995. At the same time, I would note that Sinn Fein has earlier stated in public that it would not raise funds during Gerry Adams's current U.S. visit. That was Sinn Fein's decision.
I would point out that individuals who come to this country who do have a history of connections to terrorist activities or other organizations like that are ineligible to receive U.S. visas; they need to get a waiver under certain conditions. This provision can be waived and so we've gone through that process.
I can't talk about a particular visa case but I think it's just worth noting that Mr. -- that Sinn Fein has said that Mr. Adams would not be raising money during this visit.
QUESTION: Was this Sinn Fein's decision?
MR. BOUCHER: That's what they said. They made a public announcement on it, yeah.
QUESTION: What about the State Department putting out video news releases to different broadcast media? Do you still do it? If not, when did you stop doing prepackaged news? Why? Are there any legal considerations as far as providing that sort of video in the U.S. as opposed to overseas?
MR. BOUCHER: We still -- we produce video products. We all know we live in a video age and I remember one of my early conversations with Secretary Powell was about the importance of television. The video products we produce -- we've done some documentaries, we've done video for foreign audiences like the donors conferences on Afghanistan and Iraq. We do clip reels, collections of materials on what's going on, usually overseas.
Most of this stuff is directed at overseas audiences. We think that's where it would be more interesting than here and so it goes out on things like the European Broadcast Union satellite or goes out through our embassies. But in Public Affairs Bureau, we are able to produce items such as this that go to both domestic and foreign audiences. So we use web distribution and other places like that to distribute video.
The restrictions that Congress has put on materials that's produced for foreign audiences has to do with the funding, funding money -- items that are specifically funded by money for foreign audiences can only be distributed overseas. Our funding is not like that. And so it is material that's domestic and international.
Two points to make at it. One, these are basic facts and material on what's going on in Afghanistan or Iraq or often in the United States related to important issues. And it's not -- I wouldn't describe it as propaganda. It's, you know, video clips that are put together and people can use to report on things.
Second of all, that we have always distributed these in places where it's clearly marked that they come from the U.S. Government. If you look at the newsmarket.com, for example, which is a web service we use to distribute these things, you'll see they're all marked, Department of State, Department of State, Department of State. But after the recent GAO report, I had a conversation with the Secretary of State and -- about the issues that were raised in the GAO report. And her guidance to me was more transparency is better and so we've actually moved even beyond that to put -- we're going to start putting this kind of a new intro screen to everything that says it's brought to you by the Department of State so that anybody who gets that video will know where it came from.
QUESTION: Is it just clip reels that you put out or do you actually put out the prepackaged news pieces?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not quite sure I can explain to you the difference. Maybe I don't know the --
QUESTION: Un-narrated package.
MR. BOUCHER: We put out rolls of clips. We put out narrated things. For example, when we've done the documentaries on Afghanistan and Iraq we've had narration go with that. Sometimes the clips collections have scripts that go with them. It's up to the broadcaster how they want to use the material. They can take it and tear it apart and use it. They can take it and, you know, show it with their own descriptions. They can take it and make it part of something else if they want.
QUESTION: And -- I'm sorry, last question on this. As far as -- you talked about funding restrictions and how they don't apply to the PA Bureau. Is that sort of, you know, splitting a hair? Isn't the intent of Congress not to have this stuff --
MR. BOUCHER: I think the intent in Congress, because this was part of legislation having to do with USIA, was to preserve the funding and the products that were specifically directed and prepared for foreign audiences. But -- and so public affairs funding was always separate from that, and that's where the distinction comes in the law.
Is there an intent on the part of Congress to keep materials from foreigners that are prepared for foreigners from appearing in the United States? I suppose, generally, yes, if they're directed at propaganda purposes. I think there are products that we produce that need to be able to go to both audiences. Frankly, the world is too small these days. Our state.gov website gets about 70 percent domestic users and about 30 percent foreign. So we know everything on there is going overseas. You can't -- you can't keep the electrons in one spot anymore.
So you need to able to produce products that are honest, truthful, straightforward, factual and available to people both domestically and overseas, even if you sort of -- you're targeting an overseas audience if you think it's more information that they might want than people in America.
QUESTION: Is there a shift after 9/11 in terms of more domestic -- providing things domestically?
MR. BOUCHER: Not really. I mean, frankly, for our video products and -- a our lot of the stuff we've done in my bureau, and I think that applies to the State Departments as a whole, there was a shift to do more overseas after 9/11, rather than more domestic.
QUESTION: Could we stay (inaudible) just for a minute?
MR. BOUCHER: Stay on this. George.
QUESTION: I must have missed something. You said 7 percent of the hits are domestic and --
MR. BOUCHER: 70 percent of the --
QUESTION: 70 percent.
MR. BOUCHER: -- state.gov hits are domestic, about 30 percent foreign. Yeah. And then there's usinfo.state.gov, which is done by International Information Programs. It provides -- that does come from the funding stream that USIA used to have. That does specifically target a foreign audience. But I don't -- I don't know how many of their hits might end up being domestic. You can't control some of this stuff now in this day and age.
QUESTION: Related but not directly. Thirteen months after Al Hurra was launched, do you have data? How do you do assess the situation? Has it impacted Arab public opinion? How many people are watching it? I mean, where can you get -- where can one get that data?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer is yes, it has impacted public opinion. How many people watching? More than you think. And where can you get the data? Probably from Al Hurra itself. I think they do -- I do see regular reports and things that they put out but I'll leave them to talk about their audience surveys and things like that. But every time I see one, I'm rather surprised that -- I think they're making more headway than people think.
QUESTION: Public diplomacy does not issue from time to time an assessment or reassessment of something like that?
MR. BOUCHER: That's really from the Board of Broadcasters that do it, so either Board of Broadcasting Governors or Al Hurra itself would have probably better information than we might over here. We tend to our information from them when we need it.
Yeah. Okay. Nadia.
QUESTION: Lebanon. As you know, Richard, it's estimated 800,000 people are demonstrating now in Martyr's Square in Beirut. What's your take on this pro and against Syrian demonstrations? Is it helpful for the climate that Lebanon is living now? And also, if you've been in contact with the opposition regarding the investigation of the murder of Hariri?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the first thing to say is we think it's positive for the Lebanese political process that people on both sides are able to turn out peacefully and demonstrate in favor of their goals for Lebanon and their views of what Lebanon can and should be, absent foreign interference and absent foreign manipulation, and absent foreign troops and intelligence services.
So I think here we have today, again, a pretty clear demonstration of a great, very large number of Lebanese who are looking to be free from that kind of foreign interference. Our goal, as you know, is to ensure the complete implementation of Resolution 1559 that would result in the full and expeditious withdrawal of all Syrian military and intelligence forces, according to a precise timetable. That's a goal that we continue to pursue.
We've been in touch with Mr. Larsen, UN Special Envoy Larsen, who has just been out in the region, and we'll be talking more to him. I think the Security Council will be talking more to him later this week. We would point out that the requirement of Resolution 1559 for a full and immediate withdraw of Syrian forces is unconditional. It doesn't depend on other political or other requirements, doesn't depend on the formation of a new Lebanese cabinet or any agreement between Syria and Lebanon.
So we're pushing for the withdrawal of all foreign forces, including intelligence services. We are looking, as many Lebanese are, to a free and fair chance for them to decide their own government. And I think the international community will want to work with them but it's -- I think it is very noteworthy that so many Lebanese are turning out to express their views in a peaceful manner and to say that they want to have control of their country.
QUESTION: Are you happy with the rate --
QUESTION: There was this weekend --
MR. BOUCHER: Let's --
QUESTION: There was a report in the independent newspaper about a cover-up when it comes to the investigation of the killing of Hariri. Certain material was moved out and basically that, according to the newspaper, that we're expecting some kind of announcement from President Bush when he meets with --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of anything about that and I checked with the White House -- they're not either -- so I don't know where that report comes from. We have called for a full and complete investigation with international participation. The UN Secretary General has appointed someone to work on that for him and for the Security Council and we look forward to seeing what he -- what they develop.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) have anything coming in the next few days to point out to the Syrians --
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I've heard of.
QUESTION: -- or Lebanese military officers?
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I have heard of.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the rate of withdrawal, Syrian withdraw from Lebanon?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, it needs to be full, it needs to be complete, it needs to be unconditional, it needs to be expeditious. That's what we want to see. As the Secretary noted over the weekend, some pullback represents certain -- some positive elements to the situation: the fact that they have acknowledged the need for a full and complete withdrawal, the fact that they have acknowledged the need to withdraw intelligence services along with military forces. So there's some positive elements here. But what we're looking for is what the international community stood for in Resolution 1559. That's full, complete, immediate withdrawal. So there's no reason to stop along the way. There's no reason to do anything but go back to Syria for all the forces. That's what we're looking for.
QUESTION: So do you think that the rate is on target? It's slow? It's fast? I mean, what --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, all that they've announced now is a pullback to the Bekaa Valley and some troops to Syria. There's apparently no timetable for the full and complete withdrawal of all troops from Lebanon. That's what we're looking for, looking for that to happen as expeditiously as possible.
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, can you comment on the passage of China's anti-secession law?
MR. BOUCHER: The decision by the Chinese leaders to have the National People's Congress adopt an anti-secession law today is -- it's unfortunate. It really does not serve the cause of peace and stability on the Taiwan Strait and for that reason we believe it to be unhelpful. As we noted before, it runs counter to the relatively positive, the recent warming trends that we've seen in cross-strait relations; it only serves to harden positions. So we oppose any attempts to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means and we will continue to encourage both sides to engage in peaceful dialogue to solve their differences.
Yes, in the back. Yeah.
QUESTION: Is there any constructive message will Madame Secretary send to Chinese leader in her trip to China to ease the tension raised by this law?
MR. BOUCHER: We will be, I am sure, talking about Taiwan during the course of the trip. We'll be talking about it with people in the region. We'll be talking about it certainly with the Chinese. And our view remains that they need to move in the direction of peaceful dialogue. She will encourage them to do that and look forward to hearing from them as to how they might be willing to move in that direction, what they might be willing to do to move in that direction.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister since the law passed?
MR. BOUCHER: No, she'll see him very soon.
QUESTION: And also, how -- sorry. How does the passage of this legislation to -- any impact on the U.S. discussion with EU on lifting the arms embargo to China?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if it will have any impact or not. Certainly, the prospect that China would use non-peaceful means to try to resolve differences with Taiwan should be disturbing to them, to the Europeans, as it is to us. And when we look at the situation in this region we all need to take into account the polices that China has followed, the kind of legal structure they have now, the policies they've followed, the military policies they've followed and really look at that whole situation. That's what we've been encouraging the Europeans to do. I suppose this is one element of that that they should look at.
QUESTION: President Chen of Taiwan was encouraging the people of Taiwan to stage a demonstration on the 26th. What's your view toward Taiwan's possible counter-reactions of the anti-secession law?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particular view of this demonstration or counter-reaction, hypothetical as it is right now, but I think I would just go back to what I've said. We have encouraged both sides to look for opportunities for dialogue. We've encouraged both sides to avoid any steps that raise tension. We've encouraged both sides to avoid any steps to try to define unilaterally some kind of solution to their differences. The issues between Taiwan and the mainland need to be solved in dialogue. Neither side is going to get anywhere with unilateral steps. And so we'll continue to encourage both sides to look for ways of starting a dialogue and resolving their differences.
QUESTION: Well, by saying that you have -- by saying that this anti-secession law is unfortunate, will the U.S. take any concrete steps to -- you know, to show your unhappiness toward that law?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've just done that.
QUESTION: Yeah, Richard, a quick follow-up. Have you launched any formal protests to the Chinese or made any formal representation to the Chinese with regards to this law?
MR. BOUCHER: We have discussed this law, the prospect of this law, many times at different levels, senior levels of the U.S. Government, as well as a constant regular dialogue with our embassy and diplomatic channels. So we've made very clear our views of this law as we saw it coming. We've made very clear our views on Taiwan and it's a regular subject of discussion.
Can we move on? Farin, you had one?
QUESTION: Can you tell us when the last time we had a policy review on China, if the Secretary plans to look at China policy deeply again and what day she's going to arrive in Beijing?
MR. BOUCHER: We don't launch policy reviews just periodically on some regular timetable or irregular timetable. We look at policy towards any given place constantly. And certainly she is -- she'll be looking and thinking about policy towards Asia, policy towards South Asia, as she goes on her trip. But it's not a matter of having a particular policy review. We're always working these issues. We're always looking at the trends. We're always dealing with the trends and dealing with how to make things happen in the future that we'd like to see.
QUESTION: Under Secretary Powell there was a deep look at China policy, if I'm not wrong.
MR. BOUCHER: You are wrong. I don't think there was any -- I don't remember any particular thing like that, no.
QUESTION: There wasn't one that was asked for by Congress?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, there were things that -- there were various studies done in the last couple years asked for by Congress. If I remember correctly, some of that legislation actually predated this Administration. But there were a variety of different studies done several years ago about China and its future role, but that wasn't some self-initiated let's have a policy review sort of thing.
QUESTION: When will she arrive?
MR. BOUCHER: When will she arrive in China? Later this week.
QUESTION: Can I go back to the anti-secession a little bit? I'm just curious about one thing. Do you think the revision released yesterday is better or worse than the statement last week?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we didn't --
QUESTION: There are different -- little difference --
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I know, I know. But we didn't see the original text so I don't think I'd be the one to try to interpret it anyway. We'll leave that to you guys who can compare what you heard and saw beforehand. But remember, we had asked all along for the copy of the text and didn't get one until it was effectively, I think, coming out in public last week.
QUESTION: Will the anti-secession law have any impact on U.S.-China relations, U.S.-Taiwan relations?
MR. BOUCHER: U.S. policy towards these areas is guided by our "one China" policy, the three communiqués and our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act. We will continue to fulfill all those obligations under all those instruments and our basic policy.
We have also, as I said, been seeking to encourage the sides to look for ways for peaceful dialogue. That's not something I think is going to change.
QUESTION: Richard, it's been some eight months since the last six-party talks. Are you satisfied that China is doing everything it can to urge Pyongyang back to the negotiating table and do you reject the analysis of some China hands who now believe that Beijing is playing, in effect, a North Korea card and using this for its own leverage?
MR. BOUCHER: I think China has continued its efforts. You see the visible evidence of that to try to get North Korea to come back to the table. We'll be talking to China about those issues when we go out there. We certainly maintain a regular dialogue. Ambassador Chris Hill, who has taken over the North Korea account for us for the moment, he's been to Beijing already and had very good consultations there. So we will continue to work with the Chinese and look to the Chinese to do everything possible to get North Korea back to talks.
Let's face it, the problem here is North Korea. North Korea agreed to talks. North Korea hasn't shown up to talks. North Korea agreed to eliminate its nuclear programs and North Korea hasn't shown up to talk about how that can be done. So that's where the problem is.
QUESTION: You're saying that you want Chinese to do everything possible. Are they not doing everything possible now?
MR. BOUCHER: The same question he asked. I don't have any way of giving you some kind of assessment on that. We continue to work with them. I think they've done a lot and we'll continue to look with them and with the other partners in the talks at what's the best way to encourage North Korea to come back to the table and deal seriously with the issues on the table and the proposals on the table.
QUESTION: Is it okay if we discuss things this side of the planet or continue China? I mean, I would like to talk about something about Venezuela.
MR. BOUCHER: Let's go to Venezuela then.
QUESTION: Okay. Last week the Venezuelan Vice President gave an interview in which he assured that Charles Shapiro, the former U.S. Ambassador in Caracas, gave him information about an assassination plot against Mr. Chavez. Have you contacted Mr. Shapiro regarding this? Do you know what that information Mr. Shapiro gave to the Venezuela Vice President?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check and see what we can give you on that. I think if you look back at some of our briefings at the time, we made clear we were opposed to the overthrow of democratic government from whatever side it might come.
QUESTION: About Venezuela still. Sorry. There is an information in Financial Times regarding some shift of policy in (inaudible) of Venezuela because, apparently, the U.S. Government is wanting to hold the so-called threat that Venezuela represents in the area. Are you taking new steps confronting Venezuela?
MR. BOUCHER: This is sort of similar to the question your colleague asked about China review. We're always assessing our policies. We're always looking at the situation. We always look at what is going on in the region. And the fact is that President Chavez in some of his moves and statements recently has aroused concern in the region, certainly concern about democracy, and that we do talk to others in the region and we look ourselves at what we can do to try to put things back on a better track.
QUESTION: Do you consider that you have to change the policy that you have applied to Venezuela in the last years?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, we will respond to the situation. We're looking for better moves by President Chavez; unfortunately, we have not seen them. We've seen a continuation of the policies that have raised our concerns and the concerns of others in the region. So we'll take -- we'll make our decisions on specific steps as we go forward accordingly. But I wouldn't -- I guess I'll just leave it at that for the moment. I don't know any other way to explain it. It's an ongoing process of evaluating what's going on and deciding what we need to do.
QUESTION: On Iran. The Iranian Secretary of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Supreme National Security Council has said that Iran -- that the U.S. offered to allow Iranian membership of the WTO and sales of aircraft spare parts did not amount to real concessions and has asked the U.S. to naturalize its relations with Tehran saying the U.S. should unblock frozen Iranian assets, lift sanctions, and stop hostile measures. Do you have any comment on --
MR. BOUCHER: What's he bargaining for?
MR. BOUCHER: We took some steps to support the European effort, to support the European effort with the Iranians to reach a way for Iran to end its nuclear programs that have caused such concern, to end its enrichment activities that have caused such concern, not only with the EU-3 but with the International Atomic Energy Agency Board and with many people in the world community. You see the steps Russia has taken, the step the EU has taken, the step the IAEA has taken to try to get Iran to stop the activities that raise fears among its neighbors and among the whole world.
So that's the issue. The Europeans have put a package on this table. We have taken some steps to support them in doing that because we want them to succeed. But as we see from these statements, whether they succeed or not is going to depend on the Iranians and what the Iranians need to do is to understand their relations with the whole world are being affected by these things.
It's not a matter of having some -- standing around and making demands and inviting people to come and give them things. It's a matter of their taking some serious steps to reassure the world that they're not going to develop nuclear weapons. They've had 18 years of covert programs. It's about time this all came out in the light and it's about time they dealt with this honestly and up front.
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, I have two questions concerning the Republic of Macedonia. First, what is your commentary on the municipal elections in Macedonia in terms of their conduct and turnout?
And secondly, Hague Tribunal handed two indictments to Macedonian officials today against ex-Interior Minister Boskovski and Trculovski, a former bodyguard of late president Boris Trajkovsk. Your comment, please.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything on The Hague Tribunal. I'll have to look into that and get you something on that.
As far as the elections today, we would note that the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe has assessed that the first round of municipal elections was conducted largely in accordance with international standards in most of the country; however, there were significant irregularities in some particular areas. We agree with that assessment. We call on Macedonian authorities to investigate and prosecute any breaches of law during the polling and before the second round of polling is held on March 27th.
QUESTION: Can we go back to 1559 and Lebanon? When asked yesterday on Meet the Press about the status of Hezbollah, or the portion of Hezbollah-related segment of 1559, the Secretary said that when the Syrians go you will see what the balance of forces really look like in Lebanon and Lebanese will be able to deal with the situation. Does that mean that this part of 1559 is subject to amendment, you are changing your position on Hezbollah, or what is the story here?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, you quoted everything but the part where the Secretary said our position has not changed on all of these things.
QUESTION: But the --
MR. BOUCHER: You quoted everything but the part where she said we support the full and complete implementation of 1559. I think she even noted that 1559 calls for the disbandment of the militia. So, no, we support everything in 1559. That's what we're looking for. Our position on that has not changed.
QUESTION: But the thing is, you know, when she says, we'll -- we'll wait until then --
MR. BOUCHER: No, she didn't say we will wait till then.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, that's what --
MR. BOUCHER: She said we will see.
QUESTION: We'll see, yeah.
MR. BOUCHER: We will see after the election. If the Lebanese have a free and fair election, we'll find out after the election what the Lebanese people want. That's sort of -- it's not that startling a revelation there.
QUESTION: Richard, can you give us some information about the possible role of Karen Hughes taking a position in the State Department to improve American's public image, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world? And is this a sort of acknowledgement on your part that the image of America has suffered badly recently and you need somebody to rescue it?
QUESTION: And Karen Hughes at that.
MR. BOUCHER: There's nobody better. I think, first of all, it's obvious that the American image in the world has suffered, and some people disagree with us on policy grounds, some people disagree with us on other grounds. Many people are favorably inclined towards the United States but disagree with some of the things we do. And I have to say that we need to take this whole mix of things together. We need to look at what we're doing, and some of the things we're doing have been successful in making the point that the United States is a force for good in the world and a force for good in people's lives. But these programs can all be restructured and reenergized and reformed to make them better.
We also need to look at what else we can do. Having a person who's, who not only has a fair amount of experience in foreign affairs but a real expertise and ability to communicate, has done that successfully at home and abroad in the past, is a good way to take a look at all these things and really see how to move them forward and expand them as necessary to have a more effective, I think, portrayal of the United States.
We're not looking to -- this kind of gets back to the propaganda question. We're not looking to tell stories. We're looking to tell real stories. What is America? What do we do? We're looking to listen. And I think if you look at her statements upstairs and the statements of Secretary Rice upstairs, you'll find that, yes, there is a need to reenergize and reform our public outreach activities abroad and that Karen Hughes, we think, when she gets here after confirmation, we hope will be a significant addition to that effort.
QUESTION: This is almost old business, but since the last briefing Ayman Nour, the opposition politician in Egypt, is out of prison. I wonder if you have a reaction to that.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, we welcome the March 12th decision by the Government of Egypt to release Ayman Nour. We're pleased that Mr. Nour is free to continue his work and to receive the medical attention that he needs and we look forward to further steps that the Egyptian Government will take in the coming months to expand political participation in Egyptian society.
QUESTION: Do you have any information about EU delegates coming to town that's, which were announced by the French Defense Minister last week? Can you talk about it -- arm embargo on China?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check and see if we have anything on that. I'm not aware of anything specific.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 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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