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State Department Briefing, May 25

25 May 2005

Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Iran, Guantanamo/detainees, Hezbollah, Israel/Palestinians, Egypt, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Italy, Germany

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher briefed the press May 25.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
12:54 p.m. EDT

Briefer:  Richard Boucher, Spokesman

-- Opening of Caspian Basin Pipeline in Baku

-- Detention of Two American Citizens in Karachi/Consular Access

-- Conclusion of European Union 3 Meeting with Iran in Geneva
-- Importance of Iran Keeping All Paris Agreement Commitments
-- U.S. Support for European Diplomacy

-- Query on Comment by Secretary Rice
-- Program for Review & Release of Detainees at Guantanamo Detention Facility
-- U.S. View of Hezbollah/No Change
-- Query on Travel and Possible Charges Against Charles Jenkins

-- Secretary Rice's Dinner with President Abbas/Topics for Discussion
-- Israeli Withdrawal from Gaza and Parts of the West Bank
-- Activities of Future Quartet Envoy James Wolfensohn

-- Referendum on Draft Constitutional Amendment

-- Ambassador Kartman's Position as Kedo Executive Director

-- Need for a Credible, Transparent Assessment of Events in Andijan
-- U.S. Cooperation with Uzbekistan
-- Reports of Arrests of Prominent Human Rights Activists
-- Detention of Human Rights Activist Saidjahon Zainabitdinov

-- Italian Efforts and Commitment to Helping the Iraqi People

-- Agenda for Secretary Rice's Meeting with Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl



12:54 p.m. EDT

MR. BOUCHER:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  If I can, let me just preview with you a statement that we will issue after the briefing that we warmly welcome the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline in Baku, Azerbaijan.  As many of you know, the United States has long supported this historic project as a centerpiece to the East-West Energy Corridor.

It cost $4 billion, one-thousand-mile-long pipeline, that will bring crude oil initially starting at one million barrels a day from the southern Caspian offshore fields to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.  It is a project that we have long worked on because we think it will reinforce the sovereignty and prosperity of Azerbaijan and Georgia, as well as contribute to economic growth and development.  So I have a slightly larger statement for you on that.  The Secretary of Energy, Samuel Bodman is leading the U.S. Delegation to the opening ceremony.

And having said that, I'll be glad to take your questions.

QUESTION:  Do you have anything on these reports about the health and the whereabouts of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?

MR. BOUCHER:  No, I don't.  We've seen the reports on the website.  We don't have anything to confirm it.

QUESTION:  Any response to the Amnesty International report today that is -- sort of laying responsibility or at least some of the responsibility for your rollback on human rights on the United States?

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't think I've seen the report, so I'm hard-pressed to respond.  I don't know who they're talking about.  Are they talking about specific countries or they're just generally saying everything's bad in the world?

QUESTION:  Specific countries.


QUESTION:  Afghanistan and Zimbabwe.

MR. BOUCHER:  Well, I think Afghanistan and Zimbabwe is also the list of countries that we ourselves have reported on in our own Human Rights Report and we have a very strong credible human rights policy.  We have strong reporting on it.  We have very active effort in our programs to promote human rights and we promote human rights as part of achieving stability and fighting terrorism, not as, in any way, different from it.  And country after country around the world, you'll see the United States is supporting democracy and supporting the fight against terrorism.

QUESTION:  What about, specifically, on this case with the two brothers that are said to be American citizens in Pakistan?

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't have any more information today than I did yesterday.  Did we talk about it yesterday?

QUESTION:  No.  You talked about Indonesia.

MR. BOUCHER:  Let me tell you the basics of the situation.  Our Consular officers in Islamabad learned of the detention of two Americans in Karachi on October 15th through local news reports.  They contacted family members in Pakistan, offered to assist.  Our Embassy asked the Government of Pakistan for consular access to these two individuals on three occasions and followed up on those requests without success.  Between October 2004 and April 2005, the Consulate in Karachi stayed in contact with family members and continued to seek information from the police about the case.

Unfortunately, our consular officers have still not spoken with these two individuals.  So that's something we have pursued and we are not able to gain access but it is a case that we have followed closely and worked with the family on.

QUESTION:  Well, the allegations are that you knew they were being tortured and didn't intervene.

MR. BOUCHER:  Well, I think -- as far as whether the FBI visited them and what they might have learned in the course of their visits, I think you'll have to ask the FBI on that.

QUESTION:  Is it that you've received no consular access so even you wouldn't know if anything had happened to them from any source whatsoever?

MR. BOUCHER:  Again, if the FBI did visit them and has anything to say about what they heard, it would have to be the FBI to comment on that.


QUESTION:  Do you have any comment on the outcome of the meeting in Geneva between the EU-3 and the Iranians?

MR. BOUCHER:  The meeting has just ended, so there is not a whole lot I can say at this point.  We will certainly continue to work very closely with the Europeans.  We met with them frequently in the run up to this meeting.  Under Secretary Nicholas Burns met with the Europeans in Brussels on Tuesday, yesterday morning, before their political directors started meeting with the Iranians.  We have just seen the Iranians and the Iranian negotiator and the British Foreign Minister come out and talk about the meeting that they had.  We will stay in close touch with them.  I'm sure they will be in touch with us as we continue our consultations on this.

Just, I think, one or two points in addition that I would make, and that's to say that what is important in all this is that the Iranians keep all the commitments that they made in the Paris agreement last November, specifically to freeze their nuclear programs.

The United States has lent its full support to European diplomacy.  We share with the Europeans the view that Iran must not develop a nuclear weapons capability and we are coordinating closely with them on that goal.  We are of one mind that Iran must hold to its agreement with the EU-3 to suspend all of its enrichment-related and reprocessing activity and it is on that basis we will continue to work and cooperate with the Europeans.

QUESTION:  You don't have anything to say about the results as announced by the --

MR. BOUCHER:  No, the results just came out, just got announced.  We'll be in touch with them.  We'll be talking to them.  I don't have any analysis at this point.  We want to hear fully from our friends before we might comment any further.  And really, it is for them to comment on their meeting in any case.


QUESTION:  Sir, I want to refer to the speech which Mrs. Rice made in front of the AIPAC a couple days ago in which she said, and I'm quoting, that, "Some of the Arab media have asked why the only real democracy in the Middle East are the ones found in occupied lands of Iraq and Palestine."  And I was wondering -- you know, she said that this is an incredible thought, and I was wondering whether this is implying that the only way to have free press in the Arab world is to be under occupation and also whether this is a contradiction of what your reports say, that in Egypt and Jordan and Lebanon and Algeria there is freedom of the press and we're all free and independent countries.

Thank you, sir.


QUESTION:  No, just that like, you know --

MR. BOUCHER:  The first thing is that you're --

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

MR. BOUCHER:  I have a hard time reconciling the question with this quote.

QUESTION:  But what Mrs. Rice is saying --

MR. BOUCHER:  The quote -- I know.  Hold on.

QUESTION:  -- the only real democracies --

MR. BOUCHER:  Let me answer.

QUESTION:  -- exist under occupation.

MR. BOUCHER:  Let me answer, okay?  What she is saying is that Arab press have said this.  Right?

QUESTION:  I work for Arab press.  We didn't hear that, sir.

MR. BOUCHER:  Well, maybe yours didn't, but others did.  Okay?  So she's not questioning freedom of the press.  She's citing Arab press -- some Arab press -- as noting this fact that's interesting.  She is by no means saying that the only place that free elections can occur is under occupation.  She is by no means saying that there's any excuse for not having free elections anywhere else.  So it's just something she noted in the course of her speech.  It's an interesting question that has been raised by some in the Arab media and that's all she's saying.

QUESTION:  But that's -- you know, the influence in the Arab media has been largely negatively because, I mean, that's really bad public diplomacy if you say the only way we have freedom of the press is --

MR. BOUCHER:  But she didn't say that.  She --

QUESTION:  -- to be occupied by the Americans, sir.

MR. BOUCHER:  You can argue all day long, but she did not say that.  She did not say what you're saying she said and therefore it's not bad public diplomacy because that's not what she said.

QUESTION:  On the visit of the Palestinian delegation to Washington, this morning the Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority insisted that, you know, there must be some sort of -- not a letter of guarantee, but actually a clear point that will show that the Gaza withdrawal is part of the roadmap and that negotiations for final status should begin right after, immediately after the withdrawal.  Do you concur?

MR. BOUCHER:  We're going to be talking to the Palestinians this evening when the Prime Minister gets here -- President Abbas -- I'm sorry -- gets there.

QUESTION:  And the Prime Minister with him.


QUESTION:  I said I think the Prime Minister is with him.

MR. BOUCHER:  The Prime Minister is coming, too, or no?  When President Abbas gets here, the Secretary will have dinner with him tonight, have a chance to talk, prepare for the meetings tomorrow, look at the whole picture of how we can move forward.  The President will meet with him tomorrow.  This is a very important occasion for all of us.  It is a chance to host a democratically elected leader of the Palestinian Authority.  It is a chance to talk about the way forward, about how to move forward.

We have been very clear all along that the withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank needs to be seen as a chance to move forward for all the parties, for the Palestinians to establish control, to building institutions of a state, to work to prevent violence and to move forward in ways that help both Palestinians and Israelis live safer and better lives.  That is part of the process of the roadmap.  It is part of the process in moving forward.  I think we have been quite clear on that all along.  The President's been very clear on that all along.  So I'm sure we will be in a position to express our position.  It is taking the familiar from the President's speech in Brussels.  He's been very clear on many of these things.

QUESTION:  Will there be a push to go on with the negotiations immediately after withdrawal for the final status?

MR. BOUCHER:  The push as you have seen it from the Quartet and from the United States and others is to make this withdrawal from Gaza work so that it benefits both Israelis and Palestinians, so that Palestinians can get more normal lives, so they can sell their goods and go to their jobs and go to their schools and start building -- putting together organized institutions of a state that they want to create.  So that Israelis can live safer lives and not have to worry about terrorism or rockets or mortars or things like that.

So the goal is to make that work.  If we make that work with both sides, we accelerate progress on all the other things.  But that's where we are now, is focused on the present, on what needs to be done now.


QUESTION:  On Egypt.  The Egyptians voted today on the constitution's amendment as the opposition called for a walkout.  How do you assess the situation over there?

MR. BOUCHER:  Well, I can't assess the situation now.  I think it is still being reported on.  Obviously we will see what the local assessments are, what people say in general about the turnout and whether the turnout was affected by a boycott or whether it was apathy or what the factors are.  So I'm not going to have an assessment of that at this point.

I want to reiterate that we welcome the initiative that President Mubarak took on February 26th to have elections that are free, fair and open to multiple candidates.  We think that is an important step forward and we will continue to follow the electoral process very closely and to work with the Egyptians to try to make sure that they consider all these questions that have been raised by the opposition.  And to see that -- to reiterate that we expect Egypt to keep the commitment that they've made to hold genuinely competitive elections.

Yes.  Teri.  We'll start here and work back again.

QUESTION:  On Korea.  I'm just wondering if you can shed any light on why the United States failed to renew the contract for Charles Kartman as head of KEDO and what this means for the U.S. approach to Korea?  Also, if you've heard back from Pyongyang after last week's New York meeting?

MR. BOUCHER:  No news from Pyongyang in terms of their willingness to attend the talks and be serious about negotiations.  As far as Kartman's contract, I don't know, he's -- you have anything on that?

MR. ERELI:  Their board (inaudible.)

MR. BOUCHER:  That's a matter for the KEDO Board, but I don't know what position we took so I don't really have anything on that.  You'd have to check with KEDO as far as what went on there.

Okay.  Teri.

QUESTION:  The President of Uzbekistan has now gone on television and very verbally rejected, again, an international commission for an investigation.  And Russia is supporting him in not having an international investigation.  Can you comment on that?

MR. BOUCHER:  We have made clear our view of the situation there.  We have, I think, in many ways, in public and in private, made clear to the Government of Uzbekistan that we think there needs to be a credible and transparent assessment of the events in Andijan with international participation.  That is really the only way to clear up all the questions that have been raised, both about the violence that started this, the violence against government buildings and prisons, and the government's response, which by many reports involved indiscriminate shooting.

So we will continue to support that.  We will continue work with other neighbors, friends, OSCE, NATO to promote that point of view.  But we have, I think, called and continued to press for that kind of investigation.  We have continued to press for access for journalists and human rights workers to the area, humanitarian workers to the area, as well as meaningful political reform so that Uzbekistan can grow beyond these kinds of troubles.

QUESTION:  Well, apparently holding out the prospect of losing money isn't daunting for him.  What else -- what are the tools you have at your disposal?  Is there a reconsideration of Uzbekistan's position as an ally?

MR. BOUCHER:  The kind of cooperation we can have with Uzbekistan - again, the fight against terrorism -- is based on common interests, interests that the United States has in the region, interests that we all have, that the Government of Uzbekistan has in fighting terrorism.  It doesn't do any of us any good to abandon the effort against terrorism in this critical region.  So we will continue work with them in many areas, including the fight against terrorism.

At the same time, we will continue to press for the kinds of changes in the human rights situation which we think ultimately are the best bulwark against terrorism, the best way to build a healthy and prosperous society.

QUESTION:  So would you say it's unaffected, that cooperation on counterterrorism is completely unaffected by  --

MR. BOUCHER:  I wouldn't say that.  The overall effort against includes progress on human rights and we will continue pressing for that.

QUESTION:  And what about Russia, on Russia saying that an international probe would be unfair?  Are you talking with the Russians about it?

MR. BOUCHER:  Well, Russia's position is for Russia to decide.  We are in touch with the Russians.  But we and many others certainly believe that international participation is necessary to have a credible and transparent investigation.

QUESTION:  Are you in touch with them specifically on these remarks that they made today?

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't know if we have talked about the remarks they made today.  I'm sure as we discuss things we'll talk about their positions and our positions as well.

We have also, I think, been quite clear that we are concerned about arrests that are going on in Andijan.  There have been reports that some of the most prominent human rights activists have been arrested, including those who have been reporting on government abuses in this area.  We are particularly concerned about the welfare of detained human rights activist Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, who is a recipient of U.S.-funded human rights training and assistance.  So we continue to press that issue as well.  We think the government is trying to silence activists and journalists through these arrests.  And once again, freedom of speech and open access is necessary for a credible investigation.

Ma'am.  Oh, sorry, I missed a row.  Sir.

QUESTION:  In Baghdad, Italian Minister Fini said today that Italian troops could stay next year if the Iraqi Government, the allies and the UN ask for it.  Any comment on that?

MR. BOUCHER:  No, I suppose he speaks the truth.  No particular comment, frankly.  We welcome the effort that Italy has made in terms of helping the Iraqi people.  We welcome their continuing commitment and we will continue to work with them.

QUESTION:  Same topic?

MR. BOUCHER:  Okay.  Well --

QUESTION:  There were reports in The New York Times recently that the protestors in Uzbekistan were armed and they evidently confirmed it.  Does anybody know where their weapons came from?

MR. BOUCHER:  No, I don't have anything on that.  We do see these reports and we do believe, as has been reported, that this -- much of this began with armed groups trying to take over government buildings and either a release or an escape from prison, including possibly terrorists.  Those are events that need to be looked in as well.  That's why this whole situation really deserves a credible assessment, a credible and transparent investigation.


QUESTION:  Yes, sir, on Iraq.  Can we go back to Iraq?


QUESTION:  With regard to the statements made by American commanders about consolidating all of U.S. troops in four permanent bases, is that something that is coordinated in any way with the State Department or the Embassy there?

MR. BOUCHER:  It would be --

QUESTION:  Are you discussing it with the Government of Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER:  We would be talking about it.  We might be involved in the discussions with the Iraqis about it.  But as far as military matters like that, you will have to ask at the Pentagon what the plans might be.

QUESTION:  But is, you know, the Embassy there or the Department here working with the Iraqi Government to work out some sort of a --

MR. BOUCHER:  I just don't have anything on that at this point.  I think, again, you'll have to check with the Pentagon as far as what the plans might be.  If it comes down to talking with the Iraqi Government, I'm sure the Pentagon will take the lead but we'll also be involved with that.


QUESTION:  Sir, one more.  Yesterday, President Bush, with Karzai, he mentioned that the official U.S. policy is now to go through the list of prisoners in Guantanamo and probably work on their gradual release.  So I was wondering if there was any timetable on this and whether this is restricted to Afghanis only or maybe include some of the other nationalities there.  I mean --

MR. BOUCHER:  Again, you can check with the Pentagon on this.  They have a program of

regular review of all the people who are down there, whatever their citizenship, of referral of some cases for trial, but also release of those detainees who are no longer a danger or who can be turned over to the custody of another government or somehow -- where we don't have reason to feel that they'll show up on the battlefield again.

QUESTION:  But that was not an announcement of the expected new releases --

MR. BOUCHER:  There have been a lot of releases.  I think the last time I checked, it was over a 150 people who had been released or transferred to foreign custody.  It is a regular process and a continuous process.  Whether there are any new releases to be announced, you'd have to check with the Pentagon.


QUESTION:  Can you give us anything about (inaudible) by the Israeli diplomats, Mr. Weissglas, the Ambassador?

MR. BOUCHER:  Not much.  It's part of a continuing discussion that Mr. Weissglas and the Ambassador have had with the Secretary and with the State Department and the U.S. Government in terms of the situation in the region and how we move forward, all the issues that are already familiar with you.  But no, I don't have any specific readout on that meeting.


QUESTION:  Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has said today, "that any hand that reaches out to our weapons is an Israeli hand that will be cut off and if anyone thinks of disarming the resistance, we will fight them like the martyrs of Karbala," and he handed that Hezbollah has about 12,000 rockets capable of hitting northern Israel.  You have any comment on that?

MR. BOUCHER:  Our view of Hezbollah has not changed.  It doesn't sound like his has either.

QUESTION:  Richard, future Envoy James Wolfensohn was on Charlie Rose Show last evening, talked about his efforts to combat poverty with the World Bank and talked a bit about the Gaza financial plan.  I mentioned two weeks ago the Brookings Institute is opening up a new research center and the Aspen Institute that had hosted some years ago, the Palestinian and Israeli talks, are working on their end with that particular project.  Do you -- are you going to be working with those groups and others in a big way beginning when James Wolfensohn takes over in the next week?

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't know if we're specifically involved with those groups.  We often do projects and have plenty of contact with those people -- people at Bookings, people at the Aspen Institute and occasionally they've done things with the U.S. Government as you yourself noted.  Mr. Wolfensohn is an Envoy of the Quartet.  He's going to be working with the Quartet and he was in Moscow for the Quartet meeting, briefed the Quartet ministers at that point on his thinking.  He's now developing an action plan of specific steps that we can carry out to try to ensure the economic health and prosperity of Gaza and these other areas, as the Israelis withdraw.  But in that capacity, in terms of that kind of work, he's going to be working with the Quartet and for the Quartet.  And that's where the energy will be devoted.


QUESTION:  Do you have anything on the Secretary's meeting with Chancellor Kohl?

MR. BOUCHER:  No, I don't.  They were just meeting, I think, right before I came down.  So I don't have results from it.  I would just say it is a chance to talk with a senior German statesman about political developments in Germany -- obviously that's gotten interesting since the meeting was originally scheduled; about prospects for EU integration; prospects for Turkish succession to the European Union; future of the transatlantic relationship, things like that.

Former Chancellor Kohl will also meet with Deputy Secretary Zoellick later today.  And we think Helmet Kohl is a -- as a historian and an elder statesman, he's well suited to discuss U.S.-German efforts to promote democracy and development, particularly in Eastern Europe and look forward to talking with him today.

QUESTION:  Mr. Boucher, since this coming Friday, May 27th, is the beginning of the process of the creation of an independent Kosovo, may I raise a couple of questions without interruptions, however?

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't think we've put out an announcement like that.

QUESTION:  Excuse me?

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't think that's quite the right way to characterize May 27th, but go on.

QUESTION:  But as you know, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will submit a report to the -- on the status of Kosovo to the Security Council.  It was said many times by a bunch of U.S. officials, including yourself, and Under Secretary Nicholas Burns that America against the partition of Kosovo, but is considering independence as an option, which means partition of Serbia.  Therefore, I'm wondering if you are against, too, the partition of Serbia since Kosovo is a part of Serbia.

MR. BOUCHER:  Our Under Secretary spoke about this at great length last week.  I'll leave it to his remarks there.  Nothing to add.


MR. BOUCHER:  One more in the front?

QUESTION:  Yes.  Yesterday, in an important three-hours forum on the status of Kosovo, at the Wilson Center, your Director of the Office of South and Central European Affairs, Mr. Charles English, stated clearly that, "Kosovo must be governed by the Kosovars."  Do you agree since that means independence and partition of Serbia?

MR. BOUCHER:  Our Under Secretary for Political Affairs spoke at great length about the situation last week.  I'll leave it with what he said.

QUESTION:  The same U.S. official --

MR. BOUCHER:  Okay, we've got other people that want to ask questions.

QUESTION:  Yes.  The same U.S. official, Mr. Charles English, to a question of mine during this conference, "Who created Kosovo?" declared loudly that, "It was a work of God.  I have to run to the State Department.  I am late."  I submit that God might have had something to do with the creation of the official, but not of Kosovo.  I am wondering if his answer reflects the official U.S. policy to this effect.

MR. BOUCHER:  I'm sorry I don't have anything on that.  We'll try to check with God and see what He has to say.

QUESTION:  Mr. Boucher, why everyone -- why everyone in your government is so sensitive in accepting the historical fact that today's Kosovo is a product of Adolf Hitler, who created that, in September 1943, transferring Albanians from the mainland, saying that the Albanians are "vital mountain warrior race" that fitted very well in his racist theories?  So why you do not accept this?

MR. BOUCHER:  Our Under Secretary addressed these matters in great length last week and I'll stick with what he said.  If these matters are relevant to our current consideration, I'm sure he addressed them.

Okay, let's go on and finish off with the rest of the questions.

QUESTION:  A quick one.  It looks like China and Japan are getting tense again, at least in a slight way, over their shared history, notably the Japanese Prime Minister's visits to a Tokyo shrine that honors war criminals among the other war dead.  Any concerns from here?  Any plans to deal with this in --

MR. BOUCHER:  We've addressed these issues in the past.  I really don't have anything new on that today.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Sorry, I wonder if you'd comment about the story in The New York Times yesterday concerning the Syrian Ambassador's statements on Syrian ties with the United States.

MR. BOUCHER:  Well, you weren't here for the 20 minutes of yesterday's briefing.  Just read what we said yesterday.  I think it was all there.

QUESTION:  So, I mean, you're denying --

MR. BOUCHER:  I'm saying we addressed it for 20 minutes yesterday.  I'm not going to do it again today.

Okay, we've got one more in the back.  That's it?

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)  Private Charles Jenkins has been issued a passport by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and he wants to meet with his 91-year-old mother in North Carolina.  When is he coming and will he face charges when he arrives?

MR. BOUCHER:  I think the issue of charges and the military has already been dealt with.  I don't think there's anything more on that.  You can check with the Pentagon.

As far as when is he coming to see his mother that would be between him and his mother.  I don't have anything on it.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:23 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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