05 April 2005
State Department Briefing, April 5
Israel/Palestinian Authority, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Middle East, Syria/Lebanon, China, NATO, Rice/Department announcement, North Korea
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher briefed the press April 5.
Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:
U.S. Department of State
Briefer: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
TUESDAY, APRIL 5, 2005
12:30 p.m. EDT
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements, so I'd be glad to take questions. Mr. Mackler, suddenly the senior wire correspondent.
QUESTION: How about that?
MR. BOUCHER: Good for you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) promotions (inaudible) generous, here.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: We understand that, I think it was Mr. Weissglas and Mr. Peres also was at the National Security Council and the Secretary attended meetings there. There was some discussion of the settlements, and clarifications again were asked. Can you give us any brief on that and what we learned any more?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't give you much on that. Yes, Mr. Weissglas is in town. I don't think Mr. Peres is in town yet, although he was headed this way. Whether that's affected by the Pope's funeral or not, I don't know at this point.
I think the important thing about the meetings with Mr. Weissglas is that we are talking about the subjects that will be discussed further with Prime Minister Sharon next week. That includes how to make progress on Israeli-Palestinian issues obviously, especially the emphasis being on how to make a success of disengagement from Gaza so that both Palestinians and Israelis benefit from more security from that step and that it's tied to the roadmap through the disengagement on the West Bank as well. And then there are a broad range of bilateral issues also to be discussed with Prime Minister Sharon as he -- when he comes next week. We'll have a number of discussions with the Israelis as these meetings approach. Yes, the issue of settlements was discussed with Mr. Weissglas, as it always is when we meet with him. We have noted in the past, noted again, that Israel has made commitments under the roadmap and under the statements that Prime Minister Sharon has made at Aqaba and elsewhere to stop settlement activity, that we think those are very important commitments and we expect to see them upheld. So our position on that hasn't changed, but yes, it's been communicated to the Israelis again.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? Just quickly?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: We've been hearing for weeks the United States asking for clarifications. Have you received any satisfactory clarifications that would be consistent with U.S. policy or is it still at odds with your policy?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to characterize the Israeli response at this point. As I said, these are all discussions leading to a further meeting with Prime Minister Sharon, so it's not really fair to sort of capture somebody else's position at this moment. I think the Israelis themselves have put out some information on their plans or lack of plans to move some of these announcements into a more concrete phase.
QUESTION: Was the possibility of providing American money to -- or U.S. money to Israel for disengagement discussed? Peres has said that that's going to be one of the things Israel is asking for.
MR. BOUCHER: I saw that report. As I said, I'm not quite sure where we stand on the meetings with Foreign -- Deputy Prime Minister Peres so I don't think I'll have any comment at this point on ideas he may or may not be bringing to us.
QUESTION: Yes, I was wondering if you have any reaction to Zimbabwe's elections. Some African observers, apparently, have said that they were free and fair. I'm wondering what the U.S. response is to that.
MR. BOUCHER: I think you'll see from what we have said here and from what the Secretary of State herself said in her statement, she said in the statement that we issued April 1st. When was that? Last Friday?
STAFF: April 1st.
MR. BOUCHER: That there are some really serious problems with this election. And I think the simple answer is to say, even before the vote, the playing field was tilted in favor of the government and, as many feared, the vote was not free nor fair.
For the most part, at this point, the country is peaceful. We're disappointed, however, with the mounting evidence of fraud. As we noted the other day, ten percent of the would-be voters stated -- were turned away from the polls, especially in areas that were deemed pro-opposition. There are also reports that opposition poll watchers were not allowed to witness the vote tabulation in key districts. In some cases, early official counts of total votes cast in particular districts were lower than the final number of votes awarded to the ruling party candidate.
So I think we've seen the problems with this election mount after the voting. While we noted the voting itself was orderly, the buildup to the election was tainted by restrictions on the media and the highly charged atmosphere against the opposition. And unfortunately, as they got to the vote counting, they seem to have distorted the process further and the opposition is making a lot of charges now that there was all kinds of different fraud.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed in what SADC discovered, that the election was credible and expressed the will of the people?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, basically, we don't think it was free and fair. We don't think it was. So I would have to ask them what they think their basis is for saying that. We've put out what we think is the basis for viewing this election as seriously tainted and not free and fair.
QUESTION: If I can just briefly move back to Israel, Richard, because it's been weeks back and forth, but yesterday Ehud Olmert comes out and says one thing and then Scott McClellan comes out and basically says that what Olmert said was not true. Can you clarify how clear has Israel been to you in terms of expansion of -- and those settlements outside Jerusalem -- and what exactly you have told them in terms of their obligations and how we understand their obligations?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to speak for the Israeli Government. Your colleague was asking me what -- how I would describe the Israeli position at this point. And, frankly, that's not my job and it's not something I would intend to do, especially at this moment in time. What is, I think, important to us is that there are obligations, as you know, under the roadmap to cease settlement activity. These obligations have been stated publicly before by the Israeli Government. We've been quite clear. We think their obligation is to stop settlement activity, period.
QUESTION: When the Prime Minister comes next week, are you going to look for any formal commitments from him?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's leave the Prime Minister's visit for next week. I'm not going to try to predict where things will be when we get to -- when he comes.
QUESTION: The third Arab Human Development Report released on Tuesday under UN auspices says that the occupation of Iraq by the United States has increased the human suffering, and because the United States has failed to meet its obligations to protect citizens, the country has seen an unprecedented loss of internal security. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, on those particular comments we don't agree. We understand the security difficulties in Iraq, the security difficulties that Iraqi people face. Unfortunately, they face those difficulties because of terrorists, because of an insurgency that's both domestic and supported from the outside, and that's the problem. The Iraqi security services, which are growing every day, and the U.S. and coalition partners are trying to deal with that problem, as the Iraqi political system and people are trying to deal with that problem.
So I guess the first thing I'd have to say is that while there are statements like that in the report we don't agree with, frankly, we don't -- nonetheless, I think our overall appraisal of the report is it fits in the pattern of the 2002, 2003 reports by Arab scholars where Arab scholars themselves identified impediments to development in the Middle East, including the process of reform and change that need to be undertaken in the region. We think that these reports have been very important, very positive -- the 2003 report, with the knowledge deficit. And we'll be reviewing this report for what it says about the prospects for development and the obstacles to development in the Middle East. I would say that the kind of in-depth assessments that have been done in these reports, and we assume -- it looks like is done in this one, this new one as well, is part and parcel of the framework of our -- how we design projects and activities under the Middle East Partnership Initiative and the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative. So we want to make our programs compatible with the conclusions of the Arab scholars and we see this report as another milestone in being able to focus on that.
QUESTION: The report added that the United States also undermined the international system by repeatedly using or threatening to use its UN Security Council veto, enabling Israel to build new Jewish settlements and continue with its barrier in the West Bank.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, once again, we think on these kind of gratuitous comments the report is wrong. We've been very clear about our positions on the wall, the barrier. We've been very clear on our positions on settlement activity, as I just was a few minutes ago. So I'm not -- you know, I'm not going to pretend that we embrace everything in this report, but when it sticks to the job at hand, and that's to try to diagnose and identify the impediments to development in the Arab world and the things that can and should be done in the Arab world in terms of reform and change, so we think these reports have made a very important contribution and we look forward to reviewing this one in that regard.
QUESTION: A follow-up.
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Then what does the U.S. believe to be the greatest obstacle to development in the Arab world? Is it lack of democracy? Is it a lack of economic opportunities?
MR. BOUCHER: You know, these reports have identified a number of things. They've identified a freedom deficit. They've identified a knowledge deficit. They've identified a need for economic reform and change. They've identified a need for allowing entrepreneurship and individual creativity to come forward in their own societies. So a lot of what we're trying to do in this region, the programs we're trying to design for this region, are based on conclusions from these reports. I don't think it's fair for us or anybody else to reduce this to the greatest single obstacle. There's a number of things that need to be done that have been covered in previous reports and we look forward to seeing how these are covered in this report, too.
QUESTION: You seem to agree with most of the -- in the report contains, if not all of it, with the exception of these points that have to do with Israel and Iraq. But how much objectivity do you see in your response, or negative response, to the Israeli part of that report? I mean, how much the credibility of the United States policy --
MR. BOUCHER: I have to say our response is totally and completely objective. If you want to ask me, I'll tell you.
QUESTION: But that's not the way it's going to be seen in the Middle East because that's the only area where you disagree, you see.
MR. BOUCHER: We don't disagree that there is instability and security problems in Iraq, but a lot of --
QUESTION: Well, what about the Palestinian --
MR. BOUCHER: No, no, let's start with that one. We've spent a lot of time working on that and we've spent a lot of time trying to resolve that. But where we disagree is what's the source of those problems. Those problems were not created by the United States. Those problems were created by insurgents and terrorists and people who support them. Similarly, we agree that the rights and needs of the Palestinian people have yet to flourish and have yet to be rewarded. Our opposition to things like the barrier or to settlement activity has been very well known.
So the question is: What do the Palestinians need to be able to achieve their rights and their responsibility and be able themselves to partake of the kind of future this Arab Human Development Report is looking for, for all Arabs, including the Palestinians? And at that point, I think we do have a series of policies to try to support the Palestinians, support the Palestinian Authority, in terms of creating the institutions of a Palestinian state, where we have put a lot of money, a lot of effort, a lot of people on the ground to trying to help that process go forward.
So it's not even so much that we disagree with the problems. We tend to disagree with these sort of gratuitous statements about where they come from. But many of these things, even in those sensitive areas, are things where we ourselves are working on the problem, trying to help the Palestinians, trying to help the Iraqis get the rights and freedoms that they deserve and get the prosperity and development that they deserve as well.
QUESTION: This has been all along historically the way that the people of the Middle East, they look at the way you are dealing with the problems with the Israelis by relating international laws and doing what they are doing to the Palestinians that you are not doing this, you're not criticizing, you're not doing anything vigorously or as vigorously as you do when you're dealing with any policies that the Palestinians have or any other Arab government has. I mean, you are very - you are very lenient in pursuing those policies, whether it has to do with the war, whether it has to do with the settlements of the Israeli --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I could have been clearer what our policies are in that regard. They've been very consistent, they've been very forthrightly put, both in public and in private.
QUESTION: Iinaudible) anything about the plan for Syria to withdraw its troops and intelligence agencies from Lebanon? The UN envoy -- there was no briefing yesterday. The UN envoy was saying whether it's going to work, they're going to meet the UN requirements. Are you as positively optimistic?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I didn't brief yesterday but the President did, and so I'd really stick with what the President said yesterday afternoon with Prime Minister Yushchenko.
QUESTION: Is it credible, what he said? (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah, I think it's -- it's pretty good. (Laughter.) He said, obviously, we appreciate the fact that the Syrians have announced a date for withdrawal, but the important thing is that they do it and that we want to see it happen. And we expect all troops and security forces to leave. And the second point I would make is that we want to see the elections take place on time as well. The President made that point yesterday. This is an important part of developing -- developments in Lebanon. The Syrians get out and then the Lebanese, in that new environment, be allowed to choose their leadership and their government.
QUESTION: Will that be in time for that election?
MR. BOUCHER: They have said they will. Now, it's a matter of them actually doing it. That's pretty much where we've always been. But at this moment, now that the fact that they have said they will, we look for them to actually do it.
QUESTION: Do you want to say anything about the new -- the implementation of new -- I don't know if restrictions is the right word, but passport usage in Mexico and Canada?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: You don't want to say anything?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we've got a briefer that'll do that at 2 o'clock.
QUESTION: Well, that briefer is not scheduled to do that on camera. Could the briefer do that on camera since it's on the record, and let the electronic media have an equal shot at it?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm -- I'll take it under advisement, but I don't have any plans right now to do that.
QUESTION: Is the Deputy Secretary, Mr. Zoellick, back to Washington yet?
MR. BOUCHER: Not yet. He's on his way back.
QUESTION: And he made some strong statements on the consequence if the EU were to lift the arms embargo to China.
MR. BOUCHER: Yep.
QUESTION: And can you tell us more about his meeting with Europeans and like how they left the subject? Did the European promise they would consider postponing or --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I guess I have to leave it with Deputy Secretary Zoellick's comments. I would note that his comments are very similar to the things that Secretary Rice has said in the past, that we think that this kind of step would send the wrong signal and would create a reaction in the United States. And Secretary Rice said that. Deputy Secretary Zoellick has said that. As far as how his meetings went on the subject, again, where is the European position right now? I really have to leave it more to them than to us, but I'll see if there's anything more when the Deputy Secretary gets back.
QUESTION: Richard, the Deputy Secretary yesterday or the day before talked about the impact of lifting the embargo on U.S. trade with European companies and European countries. If you can't answer this now, can you try at some point in the near future to give us a sense of what that will mean and -- except for Britain, which actually has some extensive trade in that sphere, are there any countries that will be really affected by any action that the United States might take in retaliation to lifting of the embargo?
MR. BOUCHER: I think you're sort of a few too many steps down the road. She was asking about the same comments. The Deputy Secretary said there will be calls in Congress for restrictions on trade. But it's much too early to start predicting what restrictions or whether they go into effect and what their effect might be.
QUESTION: Well, actually, what I'm asking is what do we have now in place with some of those countries in Europe in terms of programs of military assistance or trade? And I -- probably the Pentagon might be a better place to ask about this, but if there's an office in this building that deals with that and if you can help us in sort of the next few days.
MR. BOUCHER: I think all this is available on the web but I'm not prepared to give you a country-by-country rundown of all our military assistance programs in Europe right now. I don't keep that information in my head -- as much as I probably should.
QUESTION: Yeah, Richard, it's been several months since we've had a replacement for the NATO Ambassador, since Mr. Burns is now here in Washington there. According to our Brussels bureau, there are some European diplomats who privately are sort of remarking on the fact that it's been several months and don't see any prospect and was wondering if it represents some sort of weakening of the U.S. commitment to NATO. Can you describe where we are in that process there and how would you respond to these --
MR. BOUCHER: No. Never tried to describe where we are in the process of choosing ambassadors and I don't expect to. When it's the appropriate time to make the appropriate announcement, the appropriate people will do that -- that being the White House that announces Presidential appointments at the ambassadorial level. As far as whether it represents any weakening of our commitment to NATO, the answer is absolutely none.
QUESTION: Is it unusual to have such a delay though in this particular post?
MR. BOUCHER: No, no. I'd say that maybe there are a few people in Brussels who don't understand how the U.S. system works, but the bulk of them do and wouldn't find this is a very unusual situation.
QUESTION: I'll pass the word.
MR. BOUCHER: Pass the word on.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. intend to invite the UN Rapporteur on Torture to visit Guantanamo? He's expressed a desire to come and I guess has met with U.S. officials about this.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'll have to check and see. You might check with Pentagon as well.
QUESTION: Will the announcement by the Secretary at 4 o'clock be one of those announcements that's normally made by the White House but which is being made by the State Department today?
MR. BOUCHER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Maybe it's another Ambassador.
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't put any bets on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Sir.
QUESTION: A Japanese newspaper reported that North Korea sent to -- sent a letter to KEDO and it suggest to break the prior agreement to give diplomatic privileges for KEDO workers in North Korea and asks to talk with senior officers of KEDO about this. And do you have any reaction?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't. I think, generally, you'd have to find out from the North Koreans if they sent such a letter and you might check with KEDO to see if they have any reaction.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:52 p.m.)
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