|Thursday, 20 February 2020|
U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing, 01-09-26
From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
September 26, 2001
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be here, and I don't have any statements or announcements, so I would be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Perhaps we've been asking about some reports that haven't been thoroughly discredited yet. One would be whether Sudan has made some detentions of their terrorist suspects. Another would be if the US -- not necessarily the State Department -- has had contact with the resistance operatives in Afghanistan.
MR. BOUCHER: I will ask you to define your second question a little further. Let me deal with the question of Sudan at this point.
For about a year, we have had a counterterrorism dialogue with Sudan, and had been making concrete progress in that regard. Since the bombings, we have seen statements from Sudan that are positive and offered sympathy and support. We have had some discussions with the Government of Sudan and feel that those discussions are good, probably a beginning of cooperation that we appreciate and that we would intend to try to pursue further.
But in keeping with the practice that we have established for all the countries in the world, we are not going to announce anything on their behalf. So we will leave it to other governments if they want to, to describe the kind of cooperation they are undertaking or are prepared to undertake. But I would characterize our discussions so far with Sudan as good.
QUESTION: The other thing that I was asking about was, there are resistance groups, and they are opposed to Taliban, which -- and the issue really is, has the US -- not necessarily American diplomats -- but has the US been in contact with those people?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say I think what we have said before about various groups, that we are in touch with a wide variety of Afghan groups and factions; we are in touch with the various factions that are involved in the situation inside Afghanistan, as well as exiled groups and other interested parties on the subject of Afghanistan. We have had some contact with the Northern Alliance. We have had contact with former King Zahir Shah in Rome. And we have had contact with others. We keep in touch with various factions inside Afghanistan, as well as people outside the country who care.
QUESTION: Richard, I assume that your aptly-named Chargé d'Affaires, Mr. Pope, in Rome has gotten back to you now with a readout of his meeting with the King. Can you shed any light on what they might have talked about, other than just the general situation in Afghanistan?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I offered you any particularly detailed readout.
QUESTION: But I presumed that that was because you hadn't yet gotten (inaudible).
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that might have been the case yesterday. Today it may be the case that I don't want to offer one. (Laughter.)
No, I don't think I am in a position to offer you any particular readout of an individual meeting like this. As I said, we keep in touch with a variety of people and factions to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, but I don't have any more detail for you on a particular group or meeting.
QUESTION: Do you know if they discussed at all the visit to Rome this week of members of the Northern Alliance who are going from, I believe, Russia to see the King?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't asked that question of anybody, but I think that is the kind of detail that we might not be able to get into. I'm not in a position, really, to describe specific discussions with specific people.
QUESTION: There was a report last night on CBS that members of this government have met with the Taliban in Pakistan.
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have told you before that State Department officials haven't had meetings with the Taliban for any reason other than to discuss the status of our detainees, who are still in Kabul. I think we got some information from them on the phone about that on Tuesday, if I remember correctly.
Yes, we were last in touch with them by phone on Tuesday. They told us the detainees are well and the trial is scheduled to resume on Saturday.
QUESTION: You haven't mentioned this, but I just wonder, since we are getting more interested in these things, have you had any contact with Ismail Kahn's people, who say they are fighting on the western front trying to take Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I don't have a list of specific groups. We have been in touch with a great variety of people and I can't rule it out. I just don't know for sure, one or the other.
QUESTION: This is probably futile, but can you just explain, why are you talking to these Afghan groups and why are you talking to the King? What is it about them that you think makes them worthy of talking to you?
MR. BOUCHER: They are Afghans.
MR. BOUCHER: Afghanistan at this point doesn't have what we would consider a legitimate government. It certainly doesn't have a representative government. And therefore, we try to keep in touch with a great variety of people who have insights, who have information, who have interests in the future of Afghanistan.
As the President and I think the Secretary have said quite clearly, we are not interested in making up the future government of Afghanistan; we are interested in getting the Taliban to stop providing safe haven for terrorists and ending the use of Afghanistan by terrorists. If the Taliban doesn't want to do that, they will obviously suffer the consequences of that failure.
But, at the same time, we are keeping in touch. We think generally Afghanistan needs a broadly representative government. But we are not in the business of making up that government; we are just keeping in touch with a lot of people who have some insights into the situation.
QUESTION: Well, I'm not suggesting that you are trying to do what you just said you weren't doing, but are you looking for -- these talks are designed to focus on the future of Afghanistan, correct?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure I would quite say that -- to talk about the current situation, as well as the future. Obviously they're going to have insights into what's going on now.
QUESTION: But the 86-year-old former King hasn't been in the country since 1987, hasn't been in the country since 1973; what specific insight do you think he has?
MR. BOUCHER: I would assume that all Afghans have either contacts or views on the situation. Granted, some people's views are going to be more relevant than others, but I don't see anything wrong with keeping in touch with all the parties who may have something to say on the subject.
QUESTION: Richard, does the US Government have any response then to the concerns raised by Pakistan about these contacts? The Pakistanis apparently have made some very clear public statements about some of these Afghan groups that we're having discussions with. And since relations with Pakistan are pretty critical at this point, I wondered what the US response to that concern is?
MR. BOUCHER: I think what I would say is that we have very continuous contacts with the Government of Pakistan about the situation in Afghanistan. They include talks about the internal situation in Afghanistan. The US and Pakistan agree that Afghanistan needs a broad-based and representative government, and we agree that that government can't be made up from the outside. So we share the goal with Pakistan of ending the use of Afghanistan as a safe haven for terrorists, and that's what we discuss with them.
QUESTION: So Pakistan doesn't yet believe that Pakistan needs a broad- based representative government?
MR. BOUCHER: I have no further comment on the political situation in Pakistan.
QUESTION: So I just want to clarify -- I hate to ask a hypothetical -- but if the Taliban was to end terrorist training camps, hand over the terrorists and the networks, but they continued to summarily hang infidels and punish women and all these other terrible human rights things that they do, we wouldn't necessarily have a problem with their government?
MR. BOUCHER: We always have problems with people who violate fundamental human rights.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) broad-based government?
MR. BOUCHER: These are such "ifs". Let's face the facts. I mean we are at a point now where the President last Thursday laid out quite clearly what the Taliban had to do. They have shown no sign of a willingness to do that; they have shown every sign of unwillingness to do that.
So speculating on changes in any specific sense is not called for at this moment.
Clearly, our goal is to end their support, end their tolerance for terrorism and the protection they provide. If they are willing to do what the President said, to kick out Usama bin Laden and the leadership, to roll up the network, close down the camps immediately, all the other things the President said, that would change the situation. It has never been our view to make the government -- to decide on the government of Afghanistan. But, you know, I don't want to speculate any farther than that until we see some sign that they might be willing to do that.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the destruction of what used to be your embassy in Kabul today?
MR. BOUCHER: What is our embassy in Kabul; it's still ours. We own this embassy, or it is still our embassy, I have to say. I'm not sure exactly whether it is owned or leased. But our general comment would be that the Taliban continue to fail to live up to their international responsibilities. They have continued their defiant response to US and international demands, and we think they need to demonstrate whether they support terrorism or support justice.
The US Embassy compound in Kabul, according to press reports, was attacked by a mob today. One of the outbuildings was set on fire. Some vehicles were damaged. None of the Embassy's Afghan national employees were present on the compound but, according to our sources, the mob left the scene and the fire was put out after causing some damage to the building.
We hold the Taliban responsible for the safety of the US facilities in the areas that they control. They must assure that these facilities are protected. I would say once again, these incidents today demonstrate once again how out of step the Taliban is with its international obligations.
QUESTION: Richard, the fact that apparently, according to the accounts from the scene, the Taliban -- whatever the Taliban fire department is made up of -- actually tried to put this fire out, and the Taliban police department tried to rein in this crowd that was going out of control.
Do you appreciate their efforts, if they were such?
MR. BOUCHER: Not having people on the scene, I wouldn't give them too much credit, given that they arrived after the mob, that the mob apparently carried out much of its damage before the Taliban intervened, if they did at all. I don't think we think that coming after the fire has started is good enough.
QUESTION: Do you know how long it was after --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have an exact timetable of all these events or what time they arrived or what they actually did. But we hold them responsible for the protection of our facilities and the safety of our personnel, which include Afghan employees who, luckily, were not there.
QUESTION: You seem to be suggesting by complaining that the fire department arrived after the fire started -- which is, I think, pretty normal operation for firefighters worldwide -- but you seem to be implying by that that the Taliban actually had something to do with this. Is that your belief?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I am quite able to say that at this point. But certainly, governments around the world protect diplomatic facilities before events happen, before mobs are allowed to go into them. And that is the responsibility that we ascribe to the Taliban. I don't know when the fire department arrived, but I would say that every other government in the world is responsible for keeping mobs out of embassies and takes that responsibility more seriously than apparently the Taliban does.
QUESTION: Two questions. Will you be sending the Taliban a bill, A? And, B, are there any Afghan assets in the United States that you would consider freezing as sort of collateral to this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about UN resolutions? The Secretary seemed to be pretty clear this morning that you would be going to the UN for additional expressions of support. Your counterpart at the White House seemed to say this hadn't been decided.
MR. BOUCHER: My what?
QUESTION: Your counterpart at the White House seemed to say that this hadn't been decided a few minutes ago.
MR. BOUCHER: What the Secretary was referring to, I believe, are the resolutions that we are working on at the United Nations. I think I mentioned yesterday that we were talking to others about the possibility of UN resolutions that deal with various aspects of the situation and, indeed, we have begun consultations in New York on a resolution aimed principally at cutting off terrorist funding.
The resolution would impose an obligation on states to cooperate in the fight against terrorism on the financial side -- the side that we announced this week -- and that many countries themselves have gone forward with steps. So this would put it into the United Nations. That is what we are discussing right now at the UN.
QUESTION: What about resolutions on authorizing the use of force?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the Secretary has said several times recently that nothing is being done that inhibits the President's right to go forward and do what is necessary, nor is any further authorization required. If you look back at the briefings that the Secretary and Dr. Rice have done, they have talked quite clearly about Article 51 and self-defense.
QUESTION: Nevertheless, in the past, when that right has been asserted, it has still been the case that the US has sometimes gone to the UN. Is there any thought of doing that? For example, Article 51 was applicable in the invasion of Kuwait, but still passed a resolution, or the UN did.
MR. BOUCHER: I would say at this point what we are discussing at the UN is a financial resolution. And, as the Secretary said, President Bush retains the authority to take whatever actions he thinks are appropriate.
QUESTION: He also said this morning though that President Bush would make an assessment --
MR. BOUCHER: Make a judgment, yes.
QUESTION: -- on whether UN authority was required.
MR. BOUCHER: True. He will. At this point, there is no such assessment or decision and, for the moment, we would assert -- we believe, we know, that President Bush maintains the right to do what is appropriate. As our colleague pointed out, in some cases even when there was a right to self- defense, we have gone to the United Nations. I suppose the President would make that kind of judgment at the appropriate time. But at this point, I don't think we have any doubt that there is the right to self-defense.
QUESTION: Would there be any mind to seeking authorization not because you think it's needed but because you think it may be essential to getting the cooperation, because there are a number of nations that are saying that without that sort of thing they won't be going along?
MR. BOUCHER: That's essentially the same question I was asked there. That kind of decision or determination or judgment has not been made. Clearly the President's judgment will decide whether we would do that sort of thing.
What I am going to assert here now is what we have said before, that we have a right to self-defense. The President, as the Secretary said this morning, has the authority to do what is necessary and appropriate. We are working with the United Nations. We want to work with the United Nations. We are currently working with other governments up there on a Security Council resolution that would cover financing.
QUESTION: On that very quickly, is this something that was -- this resolution was specifically discussed this morning with the Secretary and the Irish Foreign Minister, do you know?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, it was.
QUESTION: It was?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, because Ireland is taking over the presidency of the Security Council on October 1st, which would be Monday. So either Ireland would be involved in the passage or, if it is passed, would be involved in helping with the implementation. So they discussed that this morning.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that that is what the Irish Foreign Minister was referring to when he said that the Irish -- that they would be doing everything they can to help -- I can't remember his exact words -- but to help pass and implement --
MR. BOUCHER: Pass and implement. Yes, what is passed now would be implemented. What is not -- I am sure there will be a lot of discussion over the course of the month in the Security Council. There is a General Assembly discussion starting on October 1 on the topic of terrorism. I am sure there will be a lot of ideas raised during that. The Security Council may take some other things up after finance.
So we look forward to a very active and cooperative presidency with the Irish. And what we heard this morning from the Irish Foreign Minister, what you heard from him, was that he intends to make sure the Security Council takes its responsibilities against terrorism.
QUESTION: So he was -- it is your understanding he was referring, A, to this specific resolution you're talking about now, but also anything that might come up in the future?
MR. BOUCHER: That would be my -- that is what he said.
QUESTION: If we are getting as good cooperation as has been reported on the financial restrictions, why would a Security Council resolution be needed? In the restrictions announced this week, the penalty for not cooperating is that US banks will not do business with these countries or with these organizations. What do you need the UN for, if you are getting as good a cooperation as you said? And what would the penalty be in a UN resolution?
MR. BOUCHER: Many, many countries around the world are imposing financial steps. We have seen everything from the Caribbean to Europe to states in Africa and South America, and Poland; the European Union clearly taking steps; the Group of 7 announcing steps. So there are many, many examples that we have, countries that now taking these financial steps similar to ours. There is an international convention on the financing of terrorism that's out for approval and support that I think hasn't entered into effect yet because not everybody has ratified it. For our part, it's up on the Senate side.
What the UN can do through a financial resolution is to put in place as a matter of international obligation a lot of these financial obligations so that it wouldn't just be every country that wanted to, but it would be every country had to cooperate in this manner to help cut off the financing of terrorism.
And that, as an international obligation, is much stronger than the indirect effects of having the US deal with foreign banks.
QUESTION: What would be the incentive or penalty for not doing?
MR. BOUCHER: In the UN resolution, it's obligatory if it's done under Chapter 7. It doesn't necessarily contain penalties. It would depend on the resolution itself.
QUESTION: And you think that that would help them (inaudible) that aren't --
MR. BOUCHER: It would help. Making it an international obligation helps.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, it clearly defines who is abiding by the UN resolutions and who's not. Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein has not shown much mind to abiding by UN resolutions, so I would not predict that he would abide by it. But clearly, for the rest of the international community it makes a difference to be in line with the UN resolutions, to be in line with the international community. And for many countries, it is easier to carry out these obligations in their own national laws when they have a UN resolution to base their national action on.
So I think you will find a lot of people who find it easier to issue regulations and impose laws when they can say it is based on a UN Security Council resolution that obligates them.
QUESTION: Any comment on the cooperation of Greece against international terrorists? The Greek Government is providing full landing rights for the US military aircraft, and opened all its air corridors, as it was announced today by Greek spokesman.
MR. BOUCHER: I would say that Greece is one of our NATO allies. We move together in NATO on invoking Article V. As you know, we've had a great deal of cooperation with Greece against terrorism in the past, and we would look for that cooperation to continue in this instance. Once again, following the rule I established before, days ago, we are not going to announce on behalf of particular governments. But Greece is an ally that we cooperate very, very closely with bilaterally as well as through NATO.
QUESTION: To follow up, what was the purpose of the closed-door meeting which has been attended by the Secretary of State Colin Powell with the Senate members, including the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the Secretary explained to you -- or to whoever happened to be at the bottom of the elevator on the Hill yesterday -- he explained to the press who were assembled there that he was up there to brief members of Congress on the status of our efforts, status of our discussions, and how we are proceeding. He did that on the House side as well yesterday afternoon.
QUESTION: It was said -- I am told the Ayatollah spoke out, that only Iraq has not joined among -- with other countries in the world in condemning what happened to the US September 11th.
Do you have any observations on the Ayatollah, and what he said, and can you pretty much conclude that that channel isn't going to be very helpful to you? Iran?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any new conclusions on Iran at this point. I'm not exactly sure what you're referring to. I saw something that said that Iran had no intention of participating in military action, but I think we've made quite clear that we didn't expect everybody in the world to participate the same way.
QUESTION: So there's still a live possibility out there?
MR. BOUCHER: We still would be interested in what Iran is prepared to do against terrorism, against all forms of terrorism, to see whether they are prepared to make fundamental decisions like that. And, as the Secretary said frequently, including yesterday, it's worth exploring.
At this point, I don't think we have anything more directly on Iran's viewpoint. We have said that we look forward to hearing back from Foreign Secretary Straw after he visited to get his impressions and views on the situation with Iran. We haven't heard from him yet.
QUESTION: Could I do a follow-up on that?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) his announcement that it's going to provide intelligence cooperation on what it knows about Usama bin Laden with the United Nations. Do you have any comment?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any comment on specifics from any government in the world. I haven't followed exactly all the statements made by Iran. But, as I said, we remain interested in exploring the possibilities.
QUESTION: If I could follow up on Iran, the statements were quite strong, saying that the US lacked the credibility to go after Afghanistan, and also saying that they would not -- that they would oppose any action from the US or its allies.
Given that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, and according to the report, the leading state sponsor of terrorism, are they in any kind of trouble right now if they take this position, which appears now to be in opposition to the United States in this war on terrorism?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to start commenting on every comment that foreign governments make.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) leader of this country.
MR. BOUCHER: Not of this country, that's for sure.
QUESTION: Not this country; Iran, sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: No. I am not going to start a public debate with the Iranian Ayatollahs here. Our policy on this -- the United States policy on this -- is quite clear. We are looking for a decision by all nations that they will oppose terrorism. We are looking for nations not to pick and choose the kind of terrorism that they might oppose, but to oppose all terrorism. We have seen some interesting statements from Iran. We have also seen other statements. But how to explore and reconcile these, we will just have to see. If they are interested in making the fundamental choice, then we are interested in exploring how they do that.
QUESTION: Following the comments by President Putin, which some Russian experts see as a major shift in his perspective, could you tell us whether the United States is considering any additional measures right now to help him, given that he has shown this solid degree of cooperation?
MR. BOUCHER: I think our view of this has been that countries cooperate because it is in all our interests to do this. The kind of relationship we want to have with Russia is one where we cooperate in many, many areas, where it is not seen as a competition or a conflict or an opposition, but rather where we recognize that we have common security interests, common economic interests, common interests in the development of democracy.
And this is an area where, quite clearly, the Russians have identified our common interest, said they want to work with us and cooperate with us. That can be -- have a beneficial effect, I suppose, throughout the relationship, in that it does demonstrate clearly that we have -- we and Russia work together for a common interest and not in opposition to each other.
QUESTION: There are fears that the Russian leadership may seek to use this opportunity to resume the kind of campaign in Chechnya that the United States has been criticizing for a long time. Is it your understanding that President Putin really does intend to seek a negotiated settlement with the Chechen rebels? Did you get any kind of message like that from him?
MR. BOUCHER: I will try to answer this carefully. We have been quite clear on the whole -- every aspect of our policy towards Chechnya. We have been quite clear in welcoming Russian recognition that there needed to be a dialogue or political settlement. We have been quite clear, also, in condemning the terrorism that exists.
But we have maintained quite clearly as well our concerns about human rights, our concerns about the need for accountability there. We have also seen a Chechen response at this point. So we have seen from the Chechen side, from Mr. Maskhadov, statements that he is dispatching an envoy to meet with President Putin's representative in the North Caucasus. And we welcome on his part his willingness to begin discussions with the Russians. In some ways, this is the first positive development in this conflict for many, many months.
We do believe that President Putin made a sincere proposal to the Chechen side. We hope that Mr. Maskhadov's quick response indicates his sincere commitment as well to work towards a lasting peace in this region.
QUESTION: Richard, what about the (inaudible) ties to international terrorist (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: As we said yesterday, as the White House has said I believe today, we think it is very important for the Chechens to dissolve, to end, to terminate any ties they have with terrorist groups, including the connections that we have reported in the past with Usama bin Laden and the al-Qaida organization.
QUESTION: In last year's terrorism report, there was no reference of links to al-Qaida in Chechnya, whereas there was in the previous years. Can you tell us why that was dropped?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it changed significantly. I think it was editorial; I don't think it was of major substantive importance.
QUESTION: Along those lines --
MR. BOUCHER: That is what you tell me when something gets cut out of your stories. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That's true.
QUESTION: We don't have a year to write our stories. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: My question is, though, how much trouble are we finding it with Russia and with other countries who call certain groups terrorists that we don't agree are terrorists? When we're designating perhaps the Taliban as supporters of terrorism, that is the same thing that the Russians say about the Chechens. So isn't there some kind of understanding or at least a difficulty in meetings that we can designate certain groups as terrorists but we are not accepting the Russians' definition of one, yet we want them to support us and our definition of the Taliban and its supporters?
MR. BOUCHER: Clearly, the United States for many years has done a lot of careful study and work on this and we have designated groups as foreign terrorist organizations. We put out regular reports on this and we have established, I think, a clear definition of what constitutes terrorism.
The fact that terrorism occurs within other groups, you know some groups -- what we have said in the Chechen case is there are some on that side, on the Chechen side, who use terrorism. And that needs to be stopped and that needs to be -- immediately and unconditionally, those ties need to be broken.
But there are also legitimate political causes and legitimate political grievances on the Chechen side that need to be addressed through political negotiations. So in some cases there is something of a mix.
At the same time, when there's a political channel, anybody involved needs to take advantage of that channel and not associate themselves in any way with terrorism.
QUESTION: So are they asking us to use that channel with the Taliban? Would you say the same thing about the Taliban? There are some practices --
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't say the same about the Taliban, because no one can find any particular aspiration on the part of the Taliban, except for killing people and killing Americans in particular.
QUESTION: Richard, the Secretary spoke to the Irish Foreign Minister today. Did they talk about the IRA, and does the IRA qualify as a group with "global reach," given its Latin American connections?
MR. BOUCHER: They talked about the peace process in Northern Ireland. They talked a bit about the issue of terrorism. I don't think they analyzed the Real IRA or Provisional IRA or the other groups that we have designated as terrorist organizations.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Real IRA -- I mean, is this phase one, phase two, phase three or phase four, as the Secretary --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we've defined what the phases are. Clearly, we have been concerned about the reports that the IRA was having some contacts in Central America with the FARC -- with South America. And those reports, if they prove true, I think demonstrate quite clearly the need for the IRA in general to just totally disassociate itself from any terrorist activity.
QUESTION: Richard, along those lines, on the resolution that you're working on with the UN, are you trying to get the UN to accept the list that was put out by the Treasury? Is it getting -- are you trying to be that specific so that organizations and individuals so designated by Washington will not become --
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have said that that was not a definitive list at this point. That was the initial list. I don't have the draft of the resolution. I don't think I am prepared to describe the draft -- or it's not even in draft yet. It hasn't been circulated as a draft resolution. It is a discussion in New York about what we can do and what belongs in the resolution.
So at this point I am not prepared to describe it in any particular detail.
QUESTION: In the resolution, are you trying to aim for specific entities, individuals and groups?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say at this point I am not prepared to describe it in particular detail.
QUESTION: Talking about the list, Richard, have you examined the responses from, for example, the Rashid Trust in Karachi, which is disputing in quite some detail your description of the organization? Are you looking at those --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure we've examined their responses, but I would say that quite clearly we had more than sufficient grounds to list the organizations and entities that we did.
QUESTION: Are you prepared to provide evidence?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have made clear that we are not in a position necessarily to do that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), but the Rashid case --
MR. BOUCHER: There is a list of organizations that we know quite clearly are associated with al-Qaida and with the financing of al-Qaida. We are not in a position necessarily to give out the information that we have. But we make these determinations very, very carefully.
QUESTION: Well, Richard, that gives you so much -- you could put the March of Dimes on that list, then.
MR. BOUCHER: We wouldn't do that, unless it was an organization that we knew quite clearly and specifically was involved.
QUESTION: But when you go to the UN, if you are going to start stamping people on lists --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I didn't say we were going to do that at the UN, did I?
QUESTION: Okay, when you go to the UN, are you going to provide evidence against any organizations or groups or individuals that you want to --
MR. BOUCHER: I just told you, I think, that we were not in a position, necessarily, to do that.
QUESTION: Even at the UN?
MR. BOUCHER: I told you we were not necessarily in a position to do that anywhere.
QUESTION: Did you notice the brazen act of defiance by the VOA -- (laughter) -- in broadcasting the segments of the interview with the Taliban leader, and do you have a comment?
MR. BOUCHER: We did notice, and we maintain our view that that is not the right thing to do. We maintain our view as members of the board. We maintain our view as members of a board where, apparently, based on our discussions we would say the majority of the board agreed with us. We certainly regret that they decided to do this and we will be continuing our contact with other members of the board about the policy.
QUESTION: Would the United States like to be able to use VOA as a kind of propaganda tool in Afghanistan? I don't mean this facetiously; it's a straight question.
MR. BOUCHER: VOA's purpose and goals are quite clear and their structure is quite clear. They do have a charter, which defines very clearly their obligations and their responsibilities and their purpose. And we think that broadcasting interviews with the head of the Taliban is not consistent with that. The need to bring objective news to people and responsible discussion of US policy is something that we very strongly support and we would encourage them to do that. As you know, VOA also has clearly identified portions of its broadcast where it does broadcast views of the US Government, specifically identified as those. So that has been common practice in VOA for many years.
We just don't think that broadcasting an interview with this man is in any way consistent with the charter or the purpose or, frankly, the traditions of the Voice of America.
QUESTION: Even though the report had tape from four people, only one of which was the Taliban leader, and the other three were hostile to the Taliban? That's not a mitigating factor?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not writing their news stories for them. I am just, I think, considering the fact that US taxpayers pay for this, considering the fact that this is the Voice of America. We don't think that the head of the Taliban belongs on this radio station.
This radio station has quite significant reach. Statistics show something like 80 percent of Afghan males listen to the broadcast of the Voice of America. And, frankly, we don't want people walking around Afghanistan saying, I heard Mullah Omar on the Voice of America. The association does not sit very well, in our minds.
QUESTION: But Richard, at the same time, you apparently do want people going around Afghanistan saying, we heard the voice of the former King on VOA. Can you explain -- do you have an answer to the question I had yesterday, about whether or not the King's statement is being broadcast in portions of time on VOA that are identified as the views of the US Government?
MR. BOUCHER: The King's statement?
QUESTION: The King, for the last week and a half or so has been broadcasting over VOA and BBC a message to the Afghani people.
MR. BOUCHER: Again, their job to report the news, to report responsible discussion of policy, they decide how they do that. But we, I think, can have a very clear view on the broadcast of a particular leader of Taliban, which has given safe harbor to an organization that killed perhaps 6,000 or more Americans, without saying that we decide every broadcast, every editorial, every view, every voice that goes out over the radio.
I think one is entitled to have pretty strong views about the leader of the Taliban, without necessarily taking a view on every other piece -- snippet of tape -- that might appear on their air.
QUESTION: But Richard, you do understand, though, that it is fairly significant if the King -- former King -- is broadcasting his message over VOA in a portion that is identified or allotted as a --
MR. BOUCHER: As far as I know -- I mean, I've listened to the VOA, you've listened to the VOA. I admit to not understanding exactly what is being said on the Pashtu Service of the VOA. But at least in the English service, they say, "The following is an editorial representing the views of the US Government." They read a script that represents clearly the views of the US Government, and then they say, "The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the US Government." I would not expect anybody else's views to be put in that kind of box.
QUESTION: Okay. Though I am kind of surprised that you say that you're not familiar with it. I mean, someone in this building is pretty familiar with the Pashtu Service, because --
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I personally have not listened to it, so I can't speak from experience.
QUESTION: Can you find out what exactly the --
MR. BOUCHER: The question rests, that we had yesterday, are we broadcasting the message from the King. But again, given your desire to support the editorial independence of the Voice of America, I'd suggest you also address the question to them.
QUESTION: It's not my desire to support the editorial independence of anyone but myself.
QUESTION: Richard, you said you thought you had a majority on the Board of Governors. Could you explain to us what -- how you're so sure, and why in that case --
MR. BOUCHER: We talk to a lot of people.
QUESTION: Well, why in that case were they not able to impose their will? Can you explain how the --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I suppose that is a question we will have to look into.
QUESTION: Would you recommend any kind of disciplinary measures, like --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to speculate on this. I'd say quite clearly, we maintain our views, and we will be talking to other members of the board.
QUESTION: About what?
MR. BOUCHER: About the situation and about what happened in this situation.
QUESTION: What happened or will happen? Because I think usually the ones they support -- something might happen -- there might be some repercussions or something.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm just going to say we'll talk to other members of the board. I'll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Richard, how is this different from the editorial that was, I believe, shelved a few months ago, where the State Department was able to quash the broadcast of this one editorial regarding --
MR. BOUCHER: Because that was specifically an editorial. Obviously the State Department has control over what goes out as, "The following is the view of the US Government."
QUESTION: So (inaudible).
MR. BOUCHER: Those segments -- it's clearly understood that those are our chance to put out the views of the US Government. That's coordinated between VOA and the State Department in very regular fashion, and if there's something in one of those editorials that we don't think represents the view of the US Government, we tell them.
QUESTION: So as long as it doesn't have to go to the board, that -- the State Department is able to unilaterally decide?
MR. BOUCHER: No, that's an established procedure where if something goes out as a clear statement, as a defined statement of US policy, it has to be a defined statement of US policy.
QUESTION: Have there been any discussions with Middle Eastern states about (inaudible), the Lebanese blamed for attacks in the 1980s against the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: Richard, before the September 11th bombing, there was a lot of talk about how the US didn't feel that they had timely and accurate information on terrorism or really events in the South Asia region.
Do you feel that since the bombing that the cooperation that you have received has greatly enhanced and increased that cooperation? I mean, that information?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that is a question I am in a position to answer. It gets to the kind of information we might be receiving from a defined set of countries, and it gets into issues of intelligence. I don't think I can quite go that far. I would say that we have a great deal of cooperation generally with the countries of South Asia, indeed with many countries in the world, but particularly with the countries surrounding Afghanistan. And as I think the Secretary noted in some of his comments recently, that that is an important factor in the isolation of the Taliban and also in our ability to act correctly in this situation.
QUESTION: And you feel that it has greatly increased in scope and depth since the bombings?
MR. BOUCHER: Clearly, the cooperation against terrorism since the bombing has been excellent and at a new level for all of us with the countries around the world.
QUESTION: Overnight, there were talks between Foreign Minister Peres and Chairman Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. Do we -- are we satisfied hearing back concerning those talks? And also, did we give any checklist to them on either carrot or stick saying, if you do this and so forth and so forth?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary spoke to this outside just a few moments ago and said how pleased we were that the meeting had taken place, how we hope this was a beginning of a process that would lead quickly to implementation of the Tenet work plan and the Mitchell Committee recommendations. He said it was a hopeful sign, one that helps us get on with confidence-building measures, with seeing the cease-fire put firmly in place and which can lead to improvements in the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis, as well as the return to negotiations.
So we expect to remain fully engaged with the parties. The Secretary, our representatives and ambassadors in the region, Assistant Secretary Burns who works on this here, will all be fully engaged with the parties to try to continue this process, to try to see that this initial meeting leads to implementations of the steps that were agreed and leads us down that road where people can lead better lives and they can start solving the political issues.
QUESTION: With respect to those talks, was that just between the PA and Israel, or were they taking part in either a videoconference or a teleconference between they and other governments?
MR. BOUCHER: These were discussions between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli representatives.
QUESTION: Richard, I guess it's safe to assume that a US representative would take part in any security cooperation talks when they resume on Friday?
MR. BOUCHER: There have been both kinds of security discussions in the past. There have been security discussions at different levels and we have been involved, I would say, at the higher levels, not necessarily at the lower ones. So we look forward to that kind of direct contact, that kind of direct work together being established, as well as participating as much as we can be helpful to the process in other meetings.
I think one of the noteworthy things is that since the Intifada began almost a year ago, we have not seen this kind of direct discussion, direct willingness of the two parties to deal with each other and try to resolve these issues directly with each other, and that's perhaps one of the most welcome signs from this meeting. We hope it is brought to fruition.
QUESTION: You didn't actually say whether there would be a US representative --
MR. BOUCHER: I said that we would expect there to be contacts at different levels and we will be in some of them and not in others. I don't know if we will be in everything that happens Friday, or if it is definitely going to happen Friday. But when things happen, some of it we'll be there and some of it we won't.
QUESTION: And is Mr. Burns thinking about going to the region?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, we are considering what our next steps would be and how we can help move this process forward, both in terms of meetings and in terms of implementation of the steps they have already agreed upon. So I don't have an answer on that for you.
QUESTION: You said since the Intifada began, you have not seen a willingness of both sides to cooperate? What about the Taba Talks and what about the many times under the last months of the Clinton Administration, when people were brought here, it seemed that there was at least more substantive discussion --
MR. BOUCHER: You didn't listen to what I said. Since the beginning of the Intifada about a year ago, we haven't seen this kind of direct discussion between the parties without others involved where they dealt directly with each other, where they dealt seriously with each other's concerns. And we think that is a noteworthy and positive aspect of what they did overnight.
QUESTION: Can I move back to Afghanistan for a moment? Before September 11th, anyway, we had talked with the Taliban about crop substitution for the poppy cultivation, which they had stopped, and we validated that they had stopped. Do you have any idea what the status of that program would be? I know some of it is under the United Nations but some of it, I believe, is bilateral. And I just wanted to know if we could find out what the status of that program is right now. Obviously, they're not -- no one is going in and working on it right now.
MR. BOUCHER: We have looked at the situation and I think you are aware that since July of the year 2000, there has been a ban on the cultivation of opium poppy by the Taliban. And, indeed, our information is that there is virtually no poppy being grown in the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan. And while we welcome that ban, we are concerned about other aspects of the drug trade, including heroin production, trading and trafficking.
We had been prepared to provide over $2 million in assistance to former poppy farmers that are now affected by the drought and who have been unable, therefore, to pursue alternate crops. Those projects are currently on hold.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) they have stopped (inaudible), you believe?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we had not -- as far as I know, we had not started it. We were preparing to provide that money for projects but we haven't gone forward with that.
QUESTION: Can you comment on press reports that there were direct contacts in Geneva between Iran and American representatives?
MR. BOUCHER: We don't have direct contacts with Iran. We have meetings with Iran and other parties, sometimes, on the subject of Afghanistan. We had some meetings last week in Geneva with the United Nations. Those are meetings where a number of countries, including Iran, participated. And those are to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the views of various Afghan parties.
QUESTION: You are suggesting by saying that there is no -- virtually no opium -- there is no poppy cultivation in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, and yet at the same time there are still problems with heroin production, trade and trafficking. Are you still saying that they are getting raw poppy from somewhere else?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know where they get the raw opium. But there have been large seizures of opiates originating in Afghanistan that continue to be made in Pakistan. Drug traffickers are able to draw on stockpiles of opium produced in Afghanistan over the last several years. That appears to be the principal cause as far as I can see.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the US-China expert group, which is meeting in Washington?
MR. BOUCHER: Which met. They met yesterday. The consultations were at the State Department on September 25. As you know, that meeting was announced during Foreign Minister Tang's visit last week.
They had wide-ranging talks. They focused on the increasing counter- terrorism cooperation between China and the United States. We characterize these discussions as serious and productive. They successfully identified areas of common interest between the US and China and they laid the groundwork for further efforts. We agreed to hold further talks. I don't have anything for you at this point on the schedule.
QUESTION: What are the areas of common interest, other than the general fight against -- that terrorism is a bad thing? Or is that all they -- is that as far as they got?
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, I am not in a position to go through specific areas that we might have discussed with specific governments. So I can't do that for you on China.
QUESTION: If you have already discussed this I can find it. But there have been several mentions of the US aid to Afghanistan. What is the mechanism for that? And since we don't recognize the Taliban, who gets the money? And right now, is there any sort of new thought being given to some - - either not providing aid to Afghanistan or maybe increasing it because of the particular circumstances going on?
MR. BOUCHER: We work with various organizations, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees being the primary one, on assistance in Afghanistan and assistance to Afghan refugees.
The United States is, in fact, the largest foreign donor of assistance to the Afghan people generally. We have given something like $177 million this year to assist Afghans who are suffering from drought, suffering from the actions of the regime. And we have been a principal supporter of that.
Now, the systems of distribution inside Afghanistan that were run by non- governmental organizations or the United Nations working with them have broken down, because the Taliban has kicked the foreign workers out and shut down many of the offices. So it has become impossible -- virtually impossible -- to distribute food and provide that, the support we did provide inside Afghanistan.
We are still looking at what we can do. We are looking at what we can do in the future about Afghans who may be forced to leave their country because of drought or because of hardship or whatever. So we are looking at what we can do for Afghans who end up as refugees in neighboring countries.
QUESTION: Did any of that money in the past go to opposition groups, or is any of the money in the future being contemplated to being given to the opposition groups?
MR. BOUCHER: This is money that goes for humanitarian purposes through NGOs and the United Nations to assist the people of Afghanistan. It is not directed at opposition to the Taliban.
QUESTION: In the case of, for example, the crop substitution money to farmers, would that be distributed through the local authorities, who would be Taliban? Or would UN personnel --
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, that is a program that was contemplated that is not being pursued.
QUESTION: In similar types of programs --
MR. BOUCHER: The distribution of food goes through the United Nations and NGOs; it doesn't -- as far as I know, it is not given -- money is not given to the government, nor the state.
QUESTION: You've done anti-narcotics work before in Afghanistan -- I mean through the UN anti-narcotics bureau.
MR. BOUCHER: I would invite you to check with the UN Anti-Narcotics Bureau then on that.
QUESTION: Well, it's your money. All right.
MR. BOUCHER: It's our money. They run the programs. If you want a description of the programs, talk to them.
QUESTION: Can the State Department confirm the reports that the Chinese are sending troops to their Afghan border? Did that come up at all in the September 25th talks?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that is something to ask the Chinese. I don't have anything like that.
QUESTION: There is a report in one of the Israeli newspapers and repeated on NPR last night that yesterday or the day before the Israeli Cabinet decided to establish a 9-by-18-mile security zone on the West Bank, north of Tel Aviv. Would you comment? And, if you can't, could you take the question and confirm or deny, and give us an idea of what the impact on the peace --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as far as confirming or denying that that's the Israeli intention, you would have to ask the Israelis. I will see if we have any comment on the idea.
Thank you. [End]
Released on September 26, 2001