|Tuesday, 18 February 2020|
U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing, 01-09-10
From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
Phillip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman
September 10, 2001
MR. REEKER: Obviously Ambassador Boucher is traveling with the Secretary. They departed at 12:45 from Andrews Air Force Base en route to Lima, Peru, where, as you know, the Secretary of State will be attending the OAS General Assembly on Democracy down there before traveling on later tomorrow to Colombia.
I did want to talk about a little more travel while we are discussing travel and to note that the Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, accompanied by the Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Beth Jones, will travel to Ankara, Turkey, on September 18th. While there, the Deputy Secretary will call on Prime Minister Ecevit, meet with Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Cem, and hold a series of working meetings with other senior Turkish officials and have consultations with Turkey, our close friend and ally.
And I will also mention that our Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs Alan Larson will be traveling to Seoul, South Korea. He will be there September 12th for discussions with high- ranking officials on economic issues, including the state of the Korean economy and trade issues. Of course this is one of a series of high-level visits preparatory to President Bush's visit to South Korea later this fall. He will also -- the Under Secretary, that is -- then travel to Japan to take part in bilateral meetings of sub-cabinet level officials in Japan later in the week.
So with those travel announcements out of the way, why don't we go straight to your questions, beginning with Mr. Schweid.
QUESTION: A few stray things --
QUESTION: Can I ask one?
QUESTION: Sure, please.
QUESTION: Armitage and Jones, they're not going to Greece? They're only going to Turkey?
MR. REEKER: I don't believe there is any Greek travel involved in Mr. Armitage's travel and his trip. He's going to Ankara and he'll be back, I believe, a couple days later.
QUESTION: There is still no confirmation here as to his death or continued life?
MR. REEKER: Right. On that, we of course have seen and discussed the reports of a bombing attack on Northern Alliance military leader Ahmed Shah Masood. There are conflicting reports about his condition. There are claims that he has been killed. We are not able to confirm any of them at this point, but I am able to say that we are sorry to see this attempt on the life of a key faction leader in Afghanistan. This could set back the search for a peaceful settlement of the decades-old war.
We continue, of course, to believe that the Afghanistan conflict can not be resolved through violence. As you know, we have sought for years through multilateral and bilateral means to help end this conflict and establish a broad-based government that can rebuild the country of Afghanistan. As you know, we neither recognize nor support any faction as the government of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Can you say how you are going about, if you are going about, trying to confirm whether Masood is alive or dead?
MR. REEKER: No, I don't think I can add anything to that at this point.
QUESTION: I understand that you can't confirm the reports, but there are people in other agencies of the US Government that are saying that they believe that he is dead. So can --
MR. REEKER: I am unable to confirm those reports. There may be people that believe that, but we have to look at all the reports and wait until we have facts which I can confirm. At this point, I can't do that.
QUESTION: On Colombia, we understand there is --
QUESTION: Can we finish with Afghanistan?
MR. REEKER: Sure.
QUESTION: There was a report that the Afghans would consider releasing these jailed Christian foreign aid workers in exchange for the release of Sheikh Omar.
MR. REEKER: We did see some of those reports. I think somebody raised that Friday. We are aware of the reports that seem to have been brought in some media circles. We have not discussed with anyone any exchange of the Shelter Now detainees. We don't believe that their arrest and trial is related to any other criminal case.
Since you've brought up the situation of the Americans, and of course others in Afghanistan, let's try to take a look at where that stands. The Taliban supreme court continued today its investigative review of the case against the Shelter Now international expatriate workers. The parents of the American detainees last saw and talked to their daughters on Saturday during the first open session of the trial. The US, as well as German and Australian, consular officials were at that court session. They were not given an opportunity to speak with the detainees.
The defendants have been asked to choose between hiring legal representation or defending themselves, and they are considering their options. US consular officials in Afghanistan and in Pakistan are assisting by identifying qualified and appropriate lawyers. We have been speaking to the parents of the two Americans as well.
On Sunday night, we understand a German detainee, suffering a high fever, was visited by a doctor. The doctor also reported that he saw the American detainees in passing and that they appeared to be in good health.
Today, the US, as well as the German and Australian, consular officials, and the parents of the Americans, met with Mr. Hotaki, the head of the consular division of the Taliban's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to discuss the case. The consuls presented another letter containing yet another formal request for regular access for consular officials and lawyers, and we are going to continue to press for a free and fair, transparent trial for the detainees, as well as the access that we should have under traditional consular means.
Our main concern, of course, remains the welfare of the American citizens and that they be treated fairly and in accordance with international practices, and we want to see this case resolved as soon as possible.
QUESTION: So has any Afghan Taliban official mentioned Sheikh Omar?
MR. REEKER: You would have to ask them that. To us?
QUESTION: I mean to you.
MR. REEKER: No.
QUESTION: You have not heard that from your -- you're saying that --
MR. REEKER: Not that I'm aware of, no. I believe the only connection was in some press reports.
QUESTION: In the statement of Secretary Powell about the paramilitary groups on Colombia, two questions. Why the decision was made a day before he arrived for the meetings with President Pastrana?
And second, is there any concern from the State Department about the future of the new package to continue helping Colombia in the fight against drugs, taking the fact that some members of Congress mentioned a link between the armed forces of Colombia and the paramilitary groups?
MR. REEKER: What Jesus is referring to -- and I'm sure you have all seen the Secretary of State's statement put out earlier today regarding designation of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, commonly known as the AUC, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under United States law. And that, of course, went into effect when it was published in the Federal Register this morning.
In answer to the first part of your question, I think designating a Foreign Terrorist Organization under the US law is a lengthy process, as you are well aware, and the State Department must compile a exhaustive record demonstrating that the statutory requirements for designation have been met, and this can only take place when there is a sufficient incontrovertible evidence that a group is involved in terrorism and poses a threat to US interests, as the law defines.
The Secretary is traveling to Colombia, as I mentioned, by way of Peru. While this designation is part of a legal process, I think it is significant that it is at this time. It demonstrates that we regard terrorism as a threat to democracy, that we take this seriously of course as being part of our law, and it doesn't matter whether that threat comes from the left or the right of the political spectrum; it's important that terrorism be rooted out.
And so we have pursued this under the law through interagency review. Of course there was concurrence with the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury. And based on the established criteria under the law, they have been so designated.
Now, as the Secretary indicated in his statement, the AUC and their terrorist efforts have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians in Colombia, and the AUC has contributed to the destabilization of whole regions of the country. They are increasingly collaborating with narco-traffickers, and their campaign of terrorism poses a threat to democracy, as I just mentioned, both in Colombia and to the joint US- Colombian efforts to eradicate narcotics trafficking.
These are important US interests. The President has discussed that, as has the Secretary. These are messages he will be taking to Colombia when he visits there, and this is underlying the message that I think is being given at the OAS General Assembly in Peru about democracy and the tide of democracy in the hemisphere.
So that has now placed them on our list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations designated and applicable laws apply.
QUESTION: Can I ask a State Department question about any concern of the future of the new package that the Congress is considering, taking the fact, you know, Members of Congress in the past have mentioned a link between the paramilitary groups and the armed forces of Colombia.
MR. REEKER: Well, I think what has to speak on the facts is the designation under the criteria that are established. The Secretary will be having talks in Colombia, as you know, beginning late tomorrow after he arrives there and on Wednesday, and he will be coming back and reporting to Congress. There will be a briefing to a bipartisan and bicameral group of legislators on Thursday morning. So one of the Secretary's first steps will be to report on his trip to Congress, to brief them on matters there.
And as you know, the Administration strongly supports President Pastrana's Plan Colombia efforts to wipe out narco-trafficking, which is a threat to our democracy and our security. We have a clear policy to support democracy in Colombia, to combat narcotics trafficking and support social and economic development. I think the President and the Secretary have both expressed their support, both through Plan Colombia and now through the Administration's proposed Andean Regional Initiative. We constantly review that policy.
We work very closely with Capitol Hill, with members of both houses of Congress and their staffs, and our request to Congress for funding for the Andean Regional Initiative reflects, I think, our efforts to address the region -- those aspects that weren't included in the original Plan Colombia package. And so we will continue to move from there.
QUESTION: Following up on sort of what Jesus said, is there any greater concern in this building because this is now a paramilitary group being designated, whereas the FARC and the ELN are considered rebel groups?
MR. REEKER: Greater concern? I don't know if I quite understand your question. Sorry.
QUESTION: Do you draw any distinction between the designation of this, a paramilitary group, and the other two groups that are named in Colombia?
MR. REEKER: I think any distinctions -- you know, they are all based on the facts and the criteria for which they are established. As I said earlier, we are against terrorism and the threats it poses to democracy, whether that's from the right or the left of the political spectrum. And so in this case you do see two other groups that purport to have a different outlook than the AUC, but the facts are that the AUC has effected terrorism now for many years that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians, contributed to destabilizing not just Colombia but the whole region, and they are increasingly collaborating with narco-traffickers.
In terms of our own approach to this, we have no relationship with the AUC. We are pleased to bring to light their criminal actions. And I think we have seen with the AUC, as well as other terrorist groups -- and you might call it a tradition among terrorists -- a disconnect between the rhetoric that they try to spout and their actions. They claim to wish to protect Colombian citizens from other terrorist groups, but they then massacre and displace the same citizens. And they claim to stand against kidnapping and extortion, and then engage in those very practices.
So it is important to note that the designation process that we discussed -- and you can review in our Patterns of Global Terrorism report -- ignores a group's motives and focuses exclusively on their terrorist behavior. And our goal is to see groups abandon such behavior.
QUESTION: Does this designation affect in any way our aid to Colombia in the sense that Colombian Government, the Colombia military, in some way works with the paramilitaries? So, I mean, does it affect -- under our aid to the country, are they not allowed to do business with a designated FTO?
MR. REEKER: I think in terms of action that will be taken under this designation, I would have to refer you to the Justice Department and the FBI since that is a law enforcement matter. I mean, again, our designation is based on terrorist activity and not their sort of stated goals, the rhetoric that they spout. And so that will have to be reviewed in terms of implementing the regulations that now come into play based on the designation made by the Secretary of State. So you might want to check with those agencies and see what steps, what actions, will be taken in terms of the law enforcement matter.
But our goals in Colombia and our policy in Colombia and supporting President Pastrana, Plan Colombia, now our Andean Regional Initiative, those remain very much the case and those are things that the Secretary will be discussing in Colombia with leaders there during the next couple of days. And of course he'll be discussing democracy in the region and the whole hemisphere when he meets with the OAS representatives, the foreign affairs ministers in Lima tonight and tomorrow.
QUESTION: Two quick questions. One is, can you outline, or do we know if the AUC has any financial assets in this country that would be frozen as a result of this designation?
MR. REEKER: I would have to refer you to the Treasury Department.
QUESTION: Okay. And secondly, sort of following up on Terri's question, are you taking any steps right now to ensure that members of the AUC which are, as I understand the leadership comprised of many former military people, retired military, so that any US military aid currently going to the military does not end up in any way in the hands of or assisting this group that you have now designated as a terrorist? Is there anything that is changing as a result of this designation?
MR. REEKER: I can't outline for you any specific steps that would have been affected by this action today. Mostly you need to look to the Justice Department because they would make the determinations in terms of legal action that would have to be taken.
QUESTION: Well, legal action against the AUC --
MR. REEKER: I don't have any --
QUESTION: -- but in terms of the funding or training or anything like that that goes to the Colombian military, it seems that there is -- I would imagine, and I already know that there are several people in Congress who are concerned about the links between the military and the AUC, which don't exist with the FARC or other groups.
MR. REEKER: Obviously those are things that we would be watching very carefully in terms of how they are determined under our law. I don't have anything to announce for you today that would have changed in terms of our approach. But as I said earlier, in answer to a couple of your colleagues' questions, we will be working very closely with Congress on this. Congress has been fully briefed and apprised of this step before the designation was made.
We will continue to work with Congress. The Secretary, as I said, will meet with Congress on Thursday after he returns from Colombia, so that we continue to move ahead in what is in our best interest in terms of supporting these processes.
QUESTION: When you talked about rhetoric and not matching actions, would you use that same language to apply to the AUC's announcement last week that it was launching a political movement to back up its military offensive?
MR. REEKER: I don't know if I have anything specific on that announcement. I am not even particularly aware of it. What I was indicating, and I think as I said, like many terrorist organizations, the AUC has a lot of rhetoric which has suggested that they are trying to protect citizens from other terrorist groups when, in fact, and as our review has shown and this designation indicates, they have not done that. They have carried out their own massacres, they have displaced citizens, they have kidnapped, they have extorted, engaged in the very practices that they have tried to condemn, and also worked so closely with narco-traffickers as well.
QUESTION: So why did you wait so long to designate them?
MR. REEKER: As I said at the very beginning, Ben, and I will refer you back, designating a Foreign Terrorist Organization under US law is a lengthy process. The State Department must compile an exhaustive record demonstrating that the statutory requirements for designation are met. This can only take place when there is sufficient incontrovertible evidence that a group is involved in terrorism and poses a threat to US interests.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
MR. REEKER: He's your colleague, not mine.
QUESTION: You said that you notified Congress fully, briefed before this was announced. Did you notify the Colombians? Were they briefed?
MR. REEKER: I could check into that. I don't know who we would have talked to exactly in terms of planning for this. Usually this is a process that takes place through US channels, and I think with the announcement of it --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) going down there --
MR. REEKER: If you'd let me finish my statement, which I've now forgotten, so please go ahead with your question.
QUESTION: Well, Mr. Powell is going down there suddenly with a new explosive change in policy towards Colombia.
MR. REEKER: This is not a change in policy towards Colombia. This is a designation of a Foreign Terrorist Organization through a long-established process under US law.
QUESTION: And you're not --
MR. REEKER: Our policy toward Colombia -- and I can repeat that for you, too, although your colleagues seem to be dismayed when I have to do that -- but in case you missed it the first time, our policy towards Colombia has not changed. The President has stated very clearly, the Secretary of State has stated very clearly, that we support President Pastrana and the efforts he has made at democracy, combating narco-trafficking, supporting social and economic development. That is what underpins Pastrana's Plan Colombia, to which we are giving support, and also our Andean Regional Initiative, which builds on that to deal with some of the regional problems that occur because of that.
QUESTION: And do you support this zone that he gave to the guerillas? Do you support that?
MR. REEKER: That's an issue that we will be discussing with him. We have talked about that previously. Those are issues for President Pastrana to deal with, how he implements that in his country. I don't have anything new on that. The Secretary will obviously be reviewing all of those things in our discussions.
But we want our policy to remain effective, and it continuously affects, reflects the evolving situation in Colombia. And we think this designation under American law is absolutely appropriate, given the process that we follow.
QUESTION: Can you say how much aid this group got from this country?
MR. REEKER: This group?
QUESTION: The group that you have designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization. You are saying that people from this country can't help them; they can't give money; they can't, I assume, ship arms; they can't -- you know, there's all sorts of things --
MR. REEKER: Financial transactions. There are all kinds of things. That's right.
QUESTION: Do you know whether there were financial transactions before this went into effect, and, if so, the value and the type?
MR. REEKER: I don't. I would direct you to the Treasury Department on that.
QUESTION: Can you confirm if the US is studying more anti-drug aid to Colombia, as The Washington Post informed today?
MR. REEKER: In terms of our support for Plan Colombia, which as you know has been ongoing now for about a year, and the Andean Regional Initiative, which we have discussed, I don't have anything further to add to that. As I said earlier, we continually review our policy to ensure it remains effective and reflects the evolving situation in Colombia and advances our objectives.
Our request for congressional funding for the Andean Regional Initiative reflects the efforts that we discussed. No decisions have been made with respect to the Fiscal Year 2003 budget request yet. And I think in his meetings with President Pastrana beginning tomorrow and Wednesday and with other senior Colombian Government officials, Secretary Powell will stress our support for the peace process; he will reiterate the need for continued counter-narcotics efforts and underscore the need for the Government of Colombia to improve its human rights record in terms of severing all ties between security forces and paramilitary groups. But in terms of specific dollar figures, I don't have anything else to add.
QUESTION: But you're not studying -- like, are there any possibility of new aid?
MR. REEKER: Well, we have had briefings here about the Andean Regional Initiative and our proposals under that. That is still being discussed on the Hill.
QUESTION: Not like --
MR. REEKER: I don't have any additional things to discuss at this point. But we review our project, our support down there, regularly. The Secretary will obviously have these important meetings and come back and brief Congress on that, and then we will see where we move on from there.
QUESTION: I wanted to give you an opportunity to congratulate President Lukashenko and --
MR. REEKER: I'm sorry, we're still on Colombia, I believe. I would be happy to --
QUESTION: Do you have any evidence of complicity by senior Colombian military officers with the AUC? Active duty officers, that is.
MR. REEKER: I don't have anything to share with you or discuss on that.
QUESTION: And will this policy change have any operational consequences beyond the Justice Department's, in the sense that, will US military and intelligence in Colombia provide real-time intelligence about movements of AUC forces, as they do and as State Department officials have stated on the record, as they do with respect to the FARC or the ELN?
MR. REEKER: I don't know. At this point, in terms of implementation of that, it has been announced today. I would be happy to look into it from the State Department perspective, but in terms of other departments just remind you to check with Treasury and Justice in terms of implementation of the legal changes brought about by the designation.
Anything else on Colombia? I knew it. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: I understand the process to designate a terrorist group like the AUC involves also that the group is being directly affecting or attacking US interests. One of the reasons why the paramilitaries didn't quite make that and were not designated earlier was because I think the US State Department couldn't find a real reason to actually put it on the list.
But now it's done the day before Secretary Powell is going to Colombia. One only can think that Secretary Powell wants to get a really tough message on the situation in Colombia. Am I right?
MR. REEKER: Well, Secretary Powell certainly wants to have a tough message on the situation in Colombia, but our message is very clear that we support President Pastrana and the approach he has taken to obviously promoting, strengthening democracy and social and economic reform and countering narcotics trafficking, which does have direct implications for the United States, as you know.
I have been through before with earlier questions the lengthy process that is necessary for designation under the law, actually making a designation like the Secretary did today for the AUC. If you want to review that process, I would just send you to either the hard copy or the website of our Patterns of Global Terrorism which outlines that process and lists, of course, all of the organizations that have been so designated.
QUESTION: If designating the AUC means that the US already found a link that would actually be able to put it on the list, which is attacking directly or US interests, have you found it?
MR. REEKER: I said the AUC has been increasingly collaborating with narco- traffickers, and their campaign of terrorism poses a threat to democracy in Colombia and in the region and to the joint US-Colombian efforts to eradicate narco-trafficking. Those directly affect our interests, and so this designation has been made through the process that I described, about which you are going to read more in your further research.
But we stand firmly behind this designation. I think the Secretary's statement makes that quite clear. And so this organization has now been added to that rogues gallery of other organizations so designated.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the agenda of Secretary Powell starting tomorrow in Colombia?
MR. REEKER: I think I went through already the types of discussions he will be having. If you want to go back, I'm happy to mention it again. I think we had some briefings at the Foreign Press Center to discuss that. As you know, Under Secretary Grossman was in Colombia last week, where he talked a bit about that.
The Secretary is going to meet with President Pastrana and senior officials to stress our support for the peace process and reiterate the need for continued counter-narcotics efforts. And he is going to review implementation of Plan Colombia during a visit to the Colombian National Police Base at Guaymaral outside Bogota. So those are the types of discussions and meetings he'll have, and then come back and report to Congress on Thursday.
Are we all done with Colombia?
QUESTION: Maybe you could explain once again the lengthy review process behind -- (laughter).
QUESTION: One more on Colombia, please. That's nothing to do with the trip. Any decision about the continuation of the overflights over Peru and Colombia?
MR. REEKER: I don't think I have anything to announce on that new from what we have said before. As you know, Ambassador Busby, retired Ambassador, submitted his findings to the National Security Advisor in July and the interagency working group has been reviewing those findings. So I don't have anything to report on that. I know it will be a subject of Secretary Powell's visit this week in Colombia, and perhaps in Peru as well.
Now we are going to change regions and reporters and themes, but maybe not. We'll see.
QUESTION: I would like to know whether you would like to congratulate President Lukashenko, who has won another term of office in Belarus.
MR. REEKER: Let's talk a little bit about Belarus and the election there, and I will endeavor to put out a written version of my remarks after the briefing this afternoon.
As you may be aware, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, their international election observation mission has reported that the 2001 presidential election process in Belarus that culminated in the September 9 ballot, that process has been marked by fundamental flaws and consistent interference by Belarusan authorities.
Today the international observer mission concluded that the election process "failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections." Regrettably, no part of the electoral process has been transparent or fair. Lukashenko has merely used the façade of elections to engineer a meaningless victory for himself.
The United States concurs with OSCE's findings that the electoral process was not democratic. Elections that are neither free nor fair can not be internationally recognized. Belarusan authorities have demonstrated a clear disregard for both democracy and human rights during this election by avoiding transparency in all stages and engaging in a campaign of intimidation. They delayed or hindered participation of international and domestic observers, harassed opposition members and independent journalists, confiscated independent electoral materials and newspapers, and prevented a standard parallel vote tabulation, placing the official vote count into serious question.
The isolation of Belarus is a result of the policies of the Lukashenko regime. We regret that Belarus authorities failed to take the fundamental step via free and fair election to move away from international isolation and toward integration into Europe and the international community.
The United States will consult with our European partners and will pursue measures designed to promote civil society and restore democracy to Belarus. As you know, President Bush has stated very clearly his vision for Europe -- a vision of Europe whole, free and at peace. Belarus and its people can and should be a part of this Europe, and the United States encourages Belarusans in their efforts to return to the path of democracy and a free market economy.
QUESTION: To follow up --
MR. REEKER: Please.
QUESTION: Are you going to announce your Ambassador's withdrawal now or will you just wait for him to be thrown out?
MR. REEKER: I believe Ambassador Kozak remains in Minsk, and I don't have anything to announce about this presence there.
QUESTION: But you're saying that their behavior -- you used the word "recognition" -- the way they intimidated, et cetera, and ran corrupt elections, you know, raises questions about that they can't be recognized. If you can't recognize the election results, can you continue to deal with this government?
MR. REEKER: We will continue to talk to our friends at the OSCE and our European allies. We don't recognize the elections as free and fair. We are reviewing with our OSCE partners appropriate measures and next steps that may be taken. We are going to continue to urge the regime to return to a path of democracy, as I just indicated in my statement. Human rights, social and economic reforms are vital there.
I mean, Belarus has missed the boat in terms of setting sail on the tide of democracy all throughout Europe. (Laughter.) Cynicism being spouted from our -- the guidance says haiku. They've missed the boat, Barry, and the people of Belarus deserve to be a part of Europe. That's what they should be. It's what we have stated and we would like to see happen with Belarus.
And so this regime is living in a state of isolation from the rest of Europe, from the international community, and really living in the past. They're living and keeping themselves in power through methods that have been consigned to not just previous decades but indeed the last century, we hope.
QUESTION: It's been a while since -- at least I remember -- such a harsh and blanket condemnation of something like that. What are the options that - -
MR. REEKER: I think I can find some other harsh and blanket condemnations.
QUESTION: That one
QUESTION: You sent someone to the inauguration, I think, didn't you? Well, we can talk about --
QUESTION: Can we safely assume: (a) that there will be no one at President Lukashenko's inauguration representing the United States? But my real question is can you give us an idea of what the options are that you have now to deal with?
MR. REEKER: I think, right now, as I said, the first option and what we are already doing, is consulting, reviewing with our OSCE partners. The OSCE has had a --
QUESTION: Yes, but what kind of options are they -- or can't you say? Are you not at liberty to --
MR. REEKER: If you'll let me finish. As we review with them the steps that may be appropriate, what may be next.
We have assisted Belarus, as you know, in terms of nonpartisan assistance to support the process of free and fair elections. That has included things like grants to nonpartisan organizations, to conduct get-out-the-vote campaigns and domestic election monitoring efforts, small grants and equipments loans to independent media, things like that. It has been nonpartisan and designed to help Belarus comply with the OSCE standards, and so that is what we have been looking at in terms of OSCE as established criteria and steps that would indicate not only free and fair elections, but some democratic initiatives.
QUESTION: Are any of the options bilateral, diplomatic types of things?
MR. REEKER: I don't have anything to announce at this point. I mean, our assistance has been bilateral, obviously.
QUESTION: No, I know.
MR. REEKER: And we will continue to look. But we are going to, as we have in other situations, look to an organization like the OSCE in this case for what steps we might take in concert with other OSCE members, others in the European community.
QUESTION: So you're not planning any bilateral --
MR. REEKER: We may be. We are going to review all of those things, and I don't have anything to announce for you now, Matt, in haiku or otherwise.
QUESTION: It's about what Matt was saying that this is the harshest since Peru, but I thought it was a little harsher than Peru.
MR. REEKER: I will let you guys decide that.
QUESTION: Just back to our Ambassador. He was threatened last week that he would be -- that Minsk would actually kick him out. Has he been harassed at all? I mean, can you report how our Ambassador has been treated, given that we have been so critical of the election?
MR. REEKER: I am not aware that he has reported any personal harassment. The rhetoric aside, he remains there. He was part of our effort, reporting to us on these elections, so we are in close touch with him.
QUESTION: Doesn't the United States want to withdraw him before he's kicked out?
MR. REEKER: I don't think we have any plans at this point to make any changes. Our goals are to try to see Belarus, the country, and its people, who deserve better, get something better.
QUESTION: Different subject? A major US newspaper today had an article which said that Chinese students coming to study in this country were not being given visas at a record number. Would you agree with this assessment?
MR. REEKER: Let's talk a little bit about that since there was a major US newspaper with an article today, and there have been some other media, some other suggestions. And contrary to suggestions in some of these press articles, there has been absolutely no change in procedures or policies as regard Chinese student visa applicants. As with all visa applications, consular officers' decisions on whether or not to approve a visa -- those decisions are made on the basis of US law as applied to the information provided by the applicants.
I think one of the facts that may begin to fly in the face of some of these articles: more students from China are studying in the United States than from any other country; raw numbers of both Chinese student visa applicants and student visas issued to Chinese citizens are, in fact, increasing; and the refusal rate to Chinese student visa applicants actually dropped significantly over the past two fiscal years.
Obviously we understand the frustration of those Chinese students and scholars who have been unable to receive visas to study in the United States, but it is simply not true that we are applying tougher standards or refusing more Chinese student visa applicants than in the past. The raw numbers that I can give you include the fact that in Fiscal Year 2000 we issued 21,586 student visas to Chinese citizens, an increase of 33 percent over the 16, 303 student visas we issued to Chinese citizens in Fiscal '99.
Chinese students have long been, as I said earlier, they continue to be the largest single group of foreign students in the United States, and the statistics for the first half of Fiscal Year 2001, which we're just about to end now, indicate that the issuances will again outpace those of the preceding years.
So the refusal rate, contrary to what some of those articles have implied, has decreased significantly over the past couple of years.
QUESTION: Why do you think there's a perception that that is not the case?
MR. REEKER: Well, I think you would have to ask the reporters, those that have written those articles, where they are getting their information, if they are getting complete and full information. As I said, the disappointment of those that cannot get visas, the frustration is something we can understand. I think the articles have been focused on anecdotal reports by refused applicants, and they suggest that somehow the process has become more difficult.
But there has been no change -- I repeat, no change -- in how in how consular officers review these visa applications and assess the applications of Chinese students hoping to study in the United States.
And again, the visa issuance is actually up, the refusal rate is actually down. But of course the consular officer must still meet the obligations under US immigration law, as drafted and amended by Congress over time, that presumes that a temporary visa applicant is an intending immigrant until that applicant can satisfactorily demonstrate otherwise. So that process is continuing, and there has been no change to that.
QUESTION: I have a different subject also.
MR. REEKER: Anybody else on China or visa questions? Okay.
QUESTION: Can I have some statistics? Counting the statistics for visas granted to Chinese, students visas, are you counting Taiwan in that?
MR. REEKER: I would have to go back and check what arrangements are made under that. I don't know.
QUESTION: Is the State Department going to issue any kind of comprehensive response to the final communiqué and platform of action of the Racism Conference? And specifically, I'd like to know what the reaction is to the slavery, the provisions with respect to modern-day slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, and whether it constitutes a crime against humanity?
MR. REEKER: The short answer is that we will look forward to examining the final text when it is available. We are still awaiting that, and that has not been given to us yet.
We, as we said over the weekend, appreciate the efforts of others participating in the conference who sought to remove the offensive language that we discussed. Of course, we are disappointed that the conference, which had an opportunity to address the issue of racism, was, in fact, politicized. And we remain confident that our withdrawal was the correct measure and we hope that the decision, in fact, may have had some effect on a better, but still flawed, result. But we are going to wait and read the full text, examine that when it becomes available soon.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to provide some kind of response, as other governments?
MR. REEKER: I don't know that we have a specific intention. We are going to wait and review the final text when it becomes available. I think we certainly made our response quite clear to the draft text and the direction that the conference unfortunately went, and we will look at the final version once it is available. And if we have anything to say, we will make sure you know it.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) sign it? What is the protocol for that?
MR. REEKER: I think you are getting into a complete area of hypothetics. We left that conference. You know why we left it. We think we made the right decision. And we will certainly review the text once it is available.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on denying visas to people from Guyana?
MR. REEKER: I was trying to check into something about Guyana for you, and I don't have an answer. I'm sorry. So we'll look into that. I've got the folks in the appropriate bureaus checking on that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: This is different. Macedonia. What is the US position on the new international security forces to be deployed in Macedonia once NATO operation is over there? The Europeans said they are not prepared to leave. So your comment?
MR. REEKER: There have been a number of differing reports on that. The European Union, as you know, has had a meeting recently where they discussed this as one of their topics. We remain in close consultation with our European allies and partners regarding the implementation of the framework agreement in Macedonia. We don't have any reports from the EU on their weekend meeting.
But as you know, the European Union has a leadership role on behalf of the international community in working with the Government of Macedonia to help resolve the problems in Macedonia, to address the problems there. And the framework agreement signed by President Trajkovski and the leaders of Macedonia's four political parties requests specifically that the EU coordinate international efforts to facilitate implementation of that framework agreement.
Right now, forces from EU countries comprise the vast majority of NATO's Task Force Harvest, which is operating in Macedonia and carrying out its assignment there. And while the Government of Macedonia retains primary responsibility for the safety and security of international monitors, we do believe that an EU security mission is appropriate to help with security for those monitors.
So we welcome the development of an EU security and defense policy that includes a capability to deploy a force when NATO as a whole is not engaged, and we encourage the European Union to continue to review the situation and take the lead in assembling a follow-on mission if requested by the Government of Macedonia after Task Force Harvest completes its work on September 26th.
QUESTION: So no US involvement at all at this moment?
MR. REEKER: Let me just quickly answer Eli's little question there. The operation is known as Operation Essential Harvest. The task force that implements that operation is called Task Force Harvest.
I think the issue of a follow-on mission within the parameters that I just discussed, obviously with the Government of Macedonia making clear its views, that has to be discussed at a number of fora. That is taking place this week, including at NATO. At this point, we are not convinced it has to be a NATO-led mission. And we will continue to discuss that with our partners, our allies, and of course with our friends, the Macedonian Government.
Anything else on Macedonia?
QUESTION: There was a report from 60 Minutes yesterday. Former Secretary Kissinger and former head of the CIA are now going to be sued because of their apparent involvement in the killing of General Schneider and the Allende dictatorship. Does the State Department have some reaction on it?
MR. REEKER: No, I didn't even see that fine show. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: At the end of the week, I believe, former President Clinton goes to Taiwan, and the Taiwanese press are reporting that he will meet President Chen Shui-bian. Does the current Administration have anything to say about the visit, whether it might be helpful or hurtful to US-Sino relations?
MR. REEKER: I would have to check. I wasn't even aware of that travel. Traditionally, former Presidents are in touch before international travel, but I will just have to check into it and find out.
QUESTION: Any word from the Beijing authorities as to whether they are concerned about this?
MR. REEKER: I haven't heard a thing about it. You are the first person to bring that to my attention. I would be happy to look into that for you.
QUESTION: Well, I was just curious as to know what you made of the President's comments earlier today about Australia, given the fact that there was a refugee standoff, and the President said, "Australia is a generous land, mindful of the struggles of poor nations, always helping when and where it can."
And I assume you agree with that totally, but I'm just wondering if it fits in with what you made out of the whole incident involving the refugee ship.
QUESTION: I agree totally with what the President said, and my own personal experience would back that up in terms of my relationship with Australia. But I think I speak on behalf of the whole State Department when I echo what the President said as part of his remarks in the company of Prime Minister Howard, as part of his visit here to Washington.
As we discussed, I believe last week, the issue was one we hoped that Australia, Indonesia and Norway could resolve. We looked at them to do that. They have done that and so we are quite satisfied with that. And our relationship with Australia, as the President indicated, remains a robust one based on shared values that we will continue to work assiduously.
QUESTION: Peres and Arafat may be meeting tomorrow, and I understand the Secretary has had some phone calls.
MR. REEKER: Yes. And Barry just left, so he's going to miss the Middle East discussion.
Let's just talk a little bit about the Middle East. I would like to start off, Betsy, without addressing your question directly, but begin by noting again that we are deeply troubled by the senseless bloodshed and violence in the region that we have seen again over the past weekend. We condemn all acts of terrorism, including the latest suicide and car bombings in Israel.
The Palestinian Authority has a responsibility to act immediately to bring an end to attacks such as these and bring those responsible to justice. And we continue to call on both sides to work together to resume security cooperation and move quickly towards implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations in all their aspects.
In terms of the reports of meetings, we have always supported, as Richard said last week, and we continue to support direct discussions between the two sides as the best way to recreate a measure of trust and confidence and to begin to change the situation on the ground because, after all, focusing on the security situation and getting the violence down has got to be the primary focus, the major first step now.
We have been in close contact with both sides as part of their effort to make such a meeting helpful and productive. Just to report again, the Secretary did speak with Foreign Minister Peres on Friday. On Sunday, he spoke twice with Foreign Minister Peres. And again today, he has spoken twice with Foreign Minister Peres.
So Secretary Powell has been -- twice today is my understanding, yes. He has been active on the phone and in meetings to discuss prospects for meetings, how to make such meetings useful, about the substance that could be discussed in those meetings to make sure that those meetings have results.
And we will continue to be in close contact with both sides. We are willing to support the two sides as much as possible in their efforts to move forward, and we would consult with the parties about the best way to move forward to end the violence, to move into implementation of Mitchell, and ultimately back to talks leading to a just, lasting, comprehensive peace based on the UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
QUESTION: Can you say whether the US will be involved in mediating in the talks? Will we be involved at all in the physical talks themselves?
MR. REEKER: At this point, I think that would be premature because what I am saying here is that we are willing to support the two sides as much as possible in their efforts. So the Secretary has been discussing that type of thing with Foreign Minister Peres in their phone calls, the prospects for meetings and how to make those meetings useful, what kind of substance can be dealt with in those meetings so that they can actually have results. That is what we want to see so that we can move ahead in this.
QUESTION: Phil, you're saying you are in close touch with both sides, but you only give five conversations with Peres. Are we also talking to Arafat at some level?
MR. REEKER: I know the Secretary spoke with Mr. Arafat, Chairman Arafat, on Wednesday. I don't have any other calls from the Secretary to Chairman Arafat since then. Of course, our people on the ground and other officials are in touch with officials at various levels on both sides as well. So we continue to talk to both sides.
QUESTION: We're not involved on the ground in the talks -- when she asked if we're helping or we're discussing logistics and substance and all of that. But there won't be a US representative --
MR. REEKER: I said it's premature. There hasn't been an announcement of talks.
MR. REEKER: And so we will continue to talk to both sides about what we might be able to do to help their effort, because we are willing to do as much as possible in that. And that's clearly the message that the Secretary has conveyed in his conversations and other officials have conveyed to both sides in that process.
QUESTION: Another subject. Well, would some of the ideas the Secretary has been discussing include talks or meetings at the UN General Assembly later this month?
MR. REEKER: I don't have anything specific on meeting times or anybody's schedules at the UN General Assembly later this month.
We'll move over here to Joel, and then your friend already left, so I was going to give her an answer on Chile which was given to me. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On the substance that Secretary Powell was talking about with Peres in terms of what possible substance -- would that include confidence- building measures as outlined in the Mitchell process?
MR. REEKER: Well, again, I think the focus is on security, because that has to be the first step, get the violence down. That has been what you have heard us talk about now for many, many weeks. That is certainly an aspect of substance.
The Mitchell Committee recommendations are the roadmap to move forward once the violence has come down and we can begin implementation of those recommendations in all their aspects. That is substance and possibilities. That is our goal, that's what we think provides the roadmap. How to move forward to get to that roadmap will be for the parties to discuss. It is certainly something that we discuss with them as we try to help and facilitate in this process. And the Secretary's engagement on the telephone demonstrates that, of course.
And so our goal, again, is implementation of those Mitchell recommendations, moving forward, which of course calls for getting back to ultimately to peace talks based on the rubric of the UN Security Council resolutions.
QUESTION: Well, the reason I ask is because I just want to find out specifically what Secretary Powell is trying to do. You mentioned talking about the substance with Peres on these talks, because quite recently, the US policy that there wouldn't be talks until there were these seven days of quiet. And there was an attack yesterday.
MR. REEKER: Don't -- let's not misunderstand what I was saying. Our focus is to make the talks be substantive, okay, and that's what he has been discussing. Because we want to know how to make the talks useful and about substance.
QUESTION: Okay. So that substance includes -- and I was asking if it included the confidence-building measures as envisioned by Mitchell?
MR. REEKER: That is going to be up for the parties to decide. Their talks, we want to be substantive. If talks take place, we want them to have substance and real results. The first thing has to be security, to get the violence down.
QUESTION: So is Secretary Powell asking that Peres resume or try to talk about resuming the security dialogue? Is that part of the substance he is talking about?
MR. REEKER: I just don't have any more specifics for you on that. What we want is for the talks, if they take place, to be substantive, so that they aren't shallow, hollow talks, but talks that are substantive and produce results. That is what Secretary Powell has been working on.
QUESTION: I just want to make sure I understand, though, that you want -- that the United States now wants those talks to be substantive. You don't want to get into what the substance is, but it is -- I mean, it would seem to be important in terms of even the timing that the Mitchell process talks about, that there would be some sort of guarantee or a period of this quiet before there would be substantive talks, depending on what that substance is.
So can you give us any indication as to whether the substance would be related to what Mitchell envisioned as the substantive talks that would take place after a period of quiet or little violence?
MR. REEKER: No, Eli. You're just -- you're way ahead of the game.
QUESTION: Well, I'm not trying to get way ahead, but we're --
MR. REEKER: We have always supported and continue discussions between the two sides. We want any discussions that they have to be substantive, and to have results.
QUESTION: There were talks -- I guess it's Foreign Minister Peres had mentioned that if there were talks, he wanted to have two separate follow- up talks beyond that. Now, in the next month or so, both Arafat and Peres will be at the United Nations, and everybody I suppose from Washington will be going up there. Any chance --
MR. REEKER: Everybody? Will you?
QUESTION: Well, not everyone. I mean, President Bush and Colin Powell and such.
MR. REEKER: I think I answered your colleague's question. I don't have any schedules or anything to announce or in terms of meetings at the UN General Assembly.
QUESTION: Right, but aside from that particular location in Manhattan, is there any plan to move, if there were to be talks, elsewhere to keep it away from a media blitz?
MR. REEKER: I think you are just, again, in a hypothetical situation that doesn't exist yet. I have sort of said as much as I could in terms of where we stand, so I hope our position is fairly clear on that subject.
A last question from Matt.
QUESTION: Phil, can I -- and see if hopefully you can answer this briefly. I don't know if you'll be able to.
MR. REEKER: Is that a slight at me?
QUESTION: No, no. I'm just wondering. I think you may have a lot to say about this.
MR. REEKER: I'll take that personally, Matt. Go ahead.
QUESTION: No, no. It wasn't meant to be an insult. What do you make of President Mugabe's reported agreement to the ideas that came up at the Abuja meeting on solving the Zimbabwe crisis?
MR. REEKER: How can I be brief? I'll try. But we believe that thorough answers on important issues like this require some time. That's why we don't like to be rushed here, even as we lose most of our audience.
We welcome the agreement as a promising first step, and we think the role being played by the Commonwealth is also a very welcome role in terms of pressing these issues, which as you know, we have spoken about for some time.
However, while President Mugabe is reported to have personally endorsed the agreement, promises from the Government of Zimbabwe ultimately will not be enough. We must see a clear change on the ground. The Zimbabwe Government must end its campaign of intimidation and violence directed at different sectors of Zimbabwean society, including white commercial farmers and black farm workers.
And so while we are aware that talks have opened today in Harare, involving some heads of state from the Southern African Development Community, we support that initiative as well, and we will be following those developments very closely. As I said again, we want to see some action on the ground that should mirror and complement the work done at Abuja and result in a measurable change on the ground in Zimbabwe.
QUESTION: Thank you. [End]
Released on September 10, 2001