|Tuesday, 18 February 2020|
U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing, 01-11-01
From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
November 1, 2001
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, ladies and gentlemen, thank you. It is a pleasure to be here.
I have two things to note for you at the beginning today. One is that tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 p.m., the Secretary of State and the Administrator for the US Agency for International Development will talk to agency employees and launch the year-long celebration marking 40 years of the US Agency for International Development's providing developmental and humanitarian assistance around the world. So that will be 2:30 p.m. tomorrow and the event will be open for press coverage for anybody who wants to. Will there be cake? You'll have to go to find out.
The second thing is to note that yesterday when I talked about passport offices and mail, I said most were probably not receiving mail although a few were. I actually found out that the situation appears to be somewhat contrary. There are a few not receiving mail, including the Washington one, but it appears that most are. And I have asked the folks to get us a very precise rundown of which offices are accepting passport applications by mail still. So we will clean that up and get you better information than I was able to give you yesterday on that.
And that is all to note. I would be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: There is a story in The Post this morning about the US considering an effort to ban the transfer of ingredients used for bio- terrorism. Did you see that and do you have a comment?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the references to the Biological Weapons Convention and -- I didn't see the precise story, so I am not exactly sure what the story was. But you are talking about the Biological Weapons Convention protocols, I believe.
QUESTION: Are you considering signing it with amendments to it?
MR. BOUCHER: That doesn't make sense either. Let me tell you what we are doing.
What we are doing is we have recently had teams out in Europe, talking to friends about the Biological Weapons Convention, which we are party to, which we abide by. In fact, very early on, we destroyed all our biological weapons and dismantled or converted them to peaceful use. Now, the President has put out a statement on this describing the intentions as we go forward.
As you know, we are discussing with other governments a protocol on the Biological Weapons Convention and we told you several months ago the United States had found that protocol -- the draft that was presented -- did not achieve its purposes and was overly intrusive. So what we have had our teams out doing is talking with friends and allies about how we can indeed strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention and make it cover broader situations such as actions by non-state actors.
Now, the President has put out a statement this morning that describes the goals that he has and the kinds of things that we want to cover. We are consulting with other governments and there will be a meeting in November in Geneva, I think November 19th. There will be a review conference meeting in Geneva, and we will have a proposal for that meeting there.
QUESTION: In the event that other parties to the convention accept the new proposals that the United States is making, is the United States then willing to take a more flexible view of the inspection provisions that scuttled the recent agreement on the protocol?
MR. BOUCHER: The previous protocol that had inspection provision problems, and frankly just had the fundamental problem that we didn't think it would achieve what its goals were, we are proposing an alternative to that. We are talking with other governments. We haven't actually made a formal proposal yet. We are still going to talk to friends and allies and develop a proposal that we think will work, that will achieve the job that the President wants to achieve, and achieve the job that the nation-states want to achieve to effectively strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention with a protocol that would have all these steps in it.
QUESTION: Richard, if you'll excuse me, the other countries presumably have not abandoned the concerns that led to the previous protocol. So is the United States willing to take a new look at some of those provisions that it previously --
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, this is an alternative way of achieving those ends. The previous provisions did not achieve those ends. We have been making -- we are talking to people about how to achieve those ends effectively, how to come up with a biological weapons protocol that strengthens the Biological Weapons Convention and makes it possible to carry out inspections in a manner that is -- what does the President say -- "an effective United Nations procedure for investigating suspicious outbreaks or allegations of biological weapons use."
So you look at the President's statement, you will see the elements that will go into a proposal, and we have been consulting with other governments on that.
QUESTION: Have the recent spate of anthrax scares influenced at all the government's position in this new protocol?
MR. BOUCHER: This work has been under way since we told you in the spring, or early summer that the previous proposals for the protocol were not going to do the job. So we have been looking for alternative proposals all along. So I wouldn't say it was particularly influenced by that.
Obviously, the fact that there is anthrax around has made it all the more important to us that we do come up with an effective mechanism to control biological weapons and materials.
QUESTION: Would that mean that if this goes through that the problem that has been encountered in the investigation with finding places or a registry of places that produce anthrax, that rules on that would be taken down in this country?
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, it is not modifying those previous rules, as I understand it. That was a proposal that we didn't think worked. We have an alternative way of achieving the ends and that would involve, as the President says, an effective United Nations procedure for investigating suspicious outbreaks or allegations of weapons use, establishing procedures for addressing compliance concerns, and do a number of other things.
So it is a proposal from the United States to do what we have all set out to do and that is to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention, and the President describes that proposal in his statement today.
QUESTION: Will you shop these procedures around, or will that not be until the meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, we have been out talking to other governments about it, and we expect we will have a proposal in mid-November when the review conference meets.
QUESTION: Also at the UN, there are reports that France has suggested a Security Council resolution be arrived at about condemning the anthrax attacks. And I understand there is some debate over whether the US -- whether this has really come up and whether the US has opposed such as suggestion?
MR. BOUCHER: The first part is true. France has proposed that there be some kind of UN Security Council resolution that would condemn the anthrax attacks in the United States. Like the terrorist attacks, I think the French and other governments are very concerned about these kind of attacks on civilization. On the other hand, the story today is not accurate in saying that we have rejected it.
We have talked to the French. We certainly appreciate the spirit in which they put forward this proposal. We are in the process of studying it. We find the proposal interesting, and we will consult further with the French Government once we have had a chance to study it, and I would say also once we know more about the kind of attacks or the kind of sources of this material that is being spread in the United States.
QUESTION: Are you saying it has been formally raised at the level of the Security Council or just in a bilateral way?
MR. BOUCHER: In a bilateral sense, the French have talked to us directly about it.
QUESTION: And you would say that it is not true that some of the hesitation the United States has is that it -- you feel that it should be proven to be a foreign source before you would be in support of it?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that one of the things that will be taken into account is where will we find out more about this material and where it's coming from. But there is, you know, there are a number of elements that have to be looked at, including legal ones, and we are looking at all those things, and we will get back to the French as soon as we have a chance to finish studying them.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on this? If the anthrax is domestic or the source of it is domestic, is it appropriate for the UN Security Council to have a resolution condemning the attack?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can go into that detail at this point. We are still looking at those questions, we are still looking at how we handle this matter. We appreciate the French proposal. We just are still studying it and we are going to look at all those situations.
It is complex. We will look at all those things and decide what is the most effective means to move this forward, to move forward on the issue.
QUESTION: On anthrax specifically, what can you tell us about the update for this building and elsewhere? I understand that the samples in Vilnius tested positive, or it has been confirmed that it was anthrax. And I presume you have gotten back all the rest of the results from this building. So where --
MR. BOUCHER: We have gotten back all but three of the samples for this building and our annexes. No more have proven positive so we have had, therefore, out of a total of 150-some so far, we have gotten three positives. We have thus tested all the areas that receive mail directly from the Sterling, Virginia facility, or from the US Postal Service Brentwood facility. We are going to do two things. We are going to look at the areas where we have found the positive tests some more. We are going to re-test those areas, and we are going to extend our samplings to locations that are nearby, that are near them.
Second, we have started additional sampling of other mail rooms, of mail sorting areas and of work areas. We are going to work closely with the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, to institute an environmental monitoring system, which will permit us to sample mail flow areas, with particular emphasis on distribution centers, mail pickup areas and offices.
That is where we go next.
MR. BOUCHER: Lithuania. The situation with Vilnius is that the local authorities did get a positive confirmation of anthrax in the one of the two mail bags that they were testing for us. They said they found trace amounts of anthrax spores. They have advised us, the Lithuanian public health officials advise us that the risk of infection is very low. US officials have not been able to conduct any tests or been able to confirm independently the anthrax finding. But nevertheless, all the appropriate precautions are going to be taken.
The Embassy mail room has been sealed off for cleaning and decontamination. The Embassy is closed today for All Saints Day. The Embassy will be open on Friday, November 2nd.
None of our personnel in Lithuania has fallen ill with anthrax, nor are there any indications of symptoms. Antibiotics are being provided to mail room personnel and to any other embassy employee who wishes to take them.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Yesterday you had two bags that tested --
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, one of the two bags tested positive.
QUESTION: Only -- and the other one didn't?
MR. BOUCHER: And the other one didn't.
QUESTION: Richard, these three samples, was it because they're just not back yet, because of how long each sample took, or did you get some kind of initial --
MR. BOUCHER: No, they are just not back. We just don't have the results on those three samples yet.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the US embassy in Uruguay being closed due to a white powdery substance scare?
MR. BOUCHER: There are a lot of these around the world, I'll say "white powders" that are being tested. And now I think I have to say, except for Vilnius, none of them have come back positive. The situation in Montevideo in Uruguay is that they received an envelope earlier today, which was found to contain suspicious white powder. The envelope in which the substance was found originated in Mexico City. The envelope has been isolated, samples have been sent to local health authorities for testing. Results are due back to us by Monday.
The embassy is closed today and tomorrow. It will reopen on Tuesday, November 6, because November 5th is a local holiday, All Saints Day, in Montevideo. The embassy has issued a statement saying they are taking appropriate action and that will include testing and treatment of the personnel.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) also negative?
MR. BOUCHER: Cairo? Didn't do Cairo. Do we have final results from Cairo?
QUESTION: It was taken two days ago.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I remember Cairo. I didn't do another check to see if we got final results from there. I will check on that.
QUESTION: Just any update on Lima?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think there is anything new to say at this point on Lima. We knew the situation --
QUESTION: Regarding the visa waiver program --
QUESTION: No, one more. What is the condition of your contractor?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, he is slowly improving. He remains quite weak but his condition has been stable and he is still in the intensive care unit for observation.
QUESTION: Next week when the General Assembly meets in New York at the United Nations, do you think the anthrax issue will be the major topic of discussions among the international community?
MR. BOUCHER: I have no idea. Next question.
QUESTION: Regarding the visa waiver program, what was the criteria for the selection of the countries in the first review group? And does Portugal give the US any concern regarding the percentage of overstays? And I have a follow-up.
MR. BOUCHER: I am not able to go through it country by country with you. We looked at the 29 countries that had visa waiver programs. We decided to look at, first, at a number of countries where there were issues either of overstays, of travel documents, security. I think a couple of them were questioned, as there seemed to be a slightly higher number of overstays.
So there were sort of incidental reasons or particular reasons depending on the country for looking at them in the first tranche or review to see if these are serious matters that are affected by the visa waiver program or not.
QUESTION: The Prime Minister of Portugal said if there was any attempt to remove Portugal from the visa waiver program, he would "consider it an unfriendly act."
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen the statement, but I would say we are not anywhere near there at this point. We are going to look at six countries per year because we are required to do a review of them all by every five years and we will look at each of the countries that gets a visa waiver and we will look at the status of the program, how it works, and how we can improve it as necessary.
QUESTION: But you just said, I think -- maybe I got this wrong -- but that these countries were not chosen at random --
MR. BOUCHER: It was not totally random. It was a choice. They were chosen, as I said the other day.
QUESTION: Yes, exactly.
MR. BOUCHER: They were chosen because there were particular issues that might come up with this group of countries or with individual countries.
QUESTION: And do you have any concerns, though? I don't know what the Prime Minister of Portugal said, but in these three you have -- as I mentioned, when I asked the question before, you've chosen three NATO allies. Are there any concerns? Do you have any concerns about this affecting relations?
MR. BOUCHER: No. If half or more of the program is NATO allies, any given bunch that we choose will be --
QUESTION: Well, not necessarily. You could have chosen all non-NATO allies.
MR. BOUCHER: I suppose they might have. But we didn't.
QUESTION: Richard, have you had any response today on the question I asked the other day about Mr. Zawahiri's brother, the brother of the second- in-command --
MR. BOUCHER: I think we were still trying to track that whole thing down.
QUESTION: Okay. And secondly, Usama bin Laden was reported to have received treatment at an American hospital in Dubai in June, which he was visited by the CIA chief there in Dubai. Do you have any information --
MR. BOUCHER: I think other responsible agencies have said there is no truth to that statement.
QUESTION: As a follow-up, can you clarify -- if you can't comment on the visit of the CIA chief, is there any --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I said other responsible agencies have said that's just plain not true. And I will leave you with their statements. You can go ask the CIA, the Pentagon, whoever you want to.
QUESTION: But Usama bin Laden was not at the American hospital --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any information that would indicate that.
QUESTION: When do you plan to choose your next batch of countries to review?
MR. BOUCHER: Next year.
QUESTION: In a year?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. We will do six per year. We have now chosen six that we will do this year.
QUESTION: So is it safe to say that --
MR. BOUCHER: The same time next year.
QUESTION: -- that there was no serious consideration being given to doing away with that list altogether?
MR. BOUCHER: We have looked at how to improve the visa waiver program. Remember, once again, that all these people are checked against the same database that they would be checked against were they to have visas. Obviously, in the review of individual countries, if there are any conclusions about how we can make the program work better, that would be considered as well.
So there is serious consideration on how to make this program and all the visa programs work better and be more secure. And we are working with other agencies to improve the information and improve the whole process. But at this point, the visa waiver program is a key part of how we operate, how we bring people to the United States for a whole variety of purposes, people who come and join us for -- join their families, visit with their families, spend money, go shopping, attend events, see the United States. And that's part of the program that we have that we want to continue.
QUESTION: Richard, the fact that these six were chosen prior to September 11th, right -- do you know -- so we shouldn't be looking at a year from today and saying -- and asking what your next six are, right? Do you know when actually --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think there is a particular date established for it. I suspect the review will be done on a fiscal year basis, so sometime around September when we pick the countries for the next year.
QUESTION: A question on Vilnius. As far as US consulates and embassies are concerned overseas, what -- as far as tightening the rules on the visa to the United States -- what is different now? Are you requiring more documents or are you screening those people that they should provide? And what are you looking now, what's the difference now and before September 11 or before last week?
MR. BOUCHER: We discussed this a bit yesterday. I think a lot of the processing is left in the hands of our embassies, of our visa officers. They have to look into circumstances. They have fraud officers who do investigations locally for them. They require information from applicants, even if they don't see the person, the applicant in person, they see the documents. If they have some questions, they will call the person in for an interview.
So there are two sides to what we are doing on the visa thing. One is trying to improve the information that we have in our database so that we know better information in advance on individuals that might be trying to come here for nefarious purposes. And the second is to increase the vigilance and the information locally to our consular officers.
One of the things we are doing is we are developing an interim supplement to the current nonimmigrant visa application. This will include expanded questions on the applicant's personal history. A form is still being worked out. It's not finalized, but it will be in use soon. This will mean the consular officers will be better positioned to make their decisions because they will have better and more information available to them.
QUESTION: Just to follow, in the past number of fraudulent documents and visas and other documents were issued or people gotten, how are you going to control them now?
MR. BOUCHER: We do have very extensive fraud detection procedures and activities at embassies and consulates around the world. They do investigations, they have ways of detecting fraudulent documents. They work very closely with foreign governments. And I think that whole process certainly is a solid process, but it obviously can be further improved. We can work better with foreign governments. We can improve the science of detecting documents. A lot of things like that. I am sure we will do everything we can.
QUESTION: -- yesterday, how many of the people on the suspect list were Saudi citizens? You were going to check.
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, how many of the 15 that we did visas in Saudi Arabia were Saudi citizens. All right, we are going to keep tabs on answers a little better in the future. We'll get it. We'll get it.
QUESTION: Yesterday, the Secretary said that they were going to make sure that the green door wasn't there, that intelligence agencies -- FBI, et cetera -- who had information at all went into the database you all had access to. Does that mean that it can be improved instantly by just simply opening that door and pushing all that information in? Or is this a year- long process to enter a whole bunch of data?
MR. BOUCHER: No, it's something that is being done already because the Congress and the President have now granted us in the counterterrorism bill that was passed last week, they have granted us access to the FBI's National Crime Information Center database, so we can include that information and use that information as part of our lookout list.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. BOUCHER: Please.
QUESTION: On the Secretary's meeting with Ivanov. Is the Secretary now of the view that the ABM, for the foreseeable future, will allow the kinds of testing that the United States wants to conduct on missile defense?
MR. BOUCHER: That is what you call an interesting question that I can't answer at this moment. We are working with the Russians. Dr. Rice just did a long briefing with a lot of questions about this. We are certainly talking with the Russians, working with the Russians. The Secretary had sensitive discussions today with Foreign Minister Ivanov. They talked about strategic stability issues, strategic framework issues, as well as many others. With those, conversations with the Russians will continue.
Secretary Rumsfeld is going to Moscow. As the Secretary said, he expects to see Foreign Minister Ivanov at the United Nations in New York. And then we will have the conversations between the presidents about two weeks from now.
So those conversations are under way, and we are making progress, as Dr. Rice said, but I really can't report on a particular issue at a particular moment.
QUESTION: Dr. Rice wasn't actually in this meeting between Secretary Powell and Foreign Minister Ivanov, was she? Considering --
MR. BOUCHER: No, she wasn't.
QUESTION: So exactly how well-placed is she to be briefing people about the progress that is being made when --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think she was briefing about the particular meeting. She was describing where we stand in the overall process, and she is a lot better placed than me or you.
QUESTION: Obviously, but perhaps not as well placed as the Secretary, who actually had the conversations today. Does anything that she said -- one should not assume that anything that she said reflects on this meeting here? I mean, was there any progress made in this meeting more than what she knows about?
MR. BOUCHER: There was a continuation of progress. Just as the President said after Shanghai, we're making progress. I think I'd come back after the meeting with Foreign Minister Ivanov and say we're making progress, and that's about it. And I certainly would expect that Dr. Rice's comments reflect the US view that was reflected by Secretary Powell at the meeting.
QUESTION: I wasn't suggesting that they didn't. I was just trying to figure out if she knows something more than perhaps Secretary Powell. I am just confused as to why she is briefing --
MR. BOUCHER: No. I would say that she and Secretary Powell work very closely together. I don't think she came down to brief on this subject. But some people in the journalistic community had questions and she was very kind and forthcoming in her answers.
QUESTION: I'm sure, as she always is.
Foreign Minister Ivanov in his brief remarks outside made some reference to preparing documents for the summit. What would those documents be?
MR. BOUCHER: You know, as we work on any summit, we look on documents to describe areas of cooperation, and that is what those documents might be.
QUESTION: Something as formal as a treaty or as informal as a, you know, memorandum of understanding or what?
MR. BOUCHER: There are usually different documents. There are different documents for different kinds of things, and I am not going to go any farther than that at this point.
QUESTION: Since we don't seem to be getting anywhere with arms control, can you tell us anything about some of the media ideas that currently have been floating around?
MR. BOUCHER: As you know, the United States has always had a very strong interest in the free and independent media around the world, including in Russia, and in the United States as well, and we have often spoken out about the situation with regard to the media and Russia.
We have also had exchange programs and other contacts with journalists and media in Russia because we do believe it is an essential part of a free and democratic society. And so we have been talking to the Russians about how we can further that progress and further support independent media in Russia.
There were a great number of things discussed today. This is not about strategic framework. Let me go through the basic sort of outlines of what happened, and that's where I will stop.
There were several meetings this morning. About 8:00 a.m. they started -- the Secretary and Foreign Minister Ivanov started in a larger group. About 8:45 a.m., they had maybe a half hour of one-on-one. They broke off, came back and had more discussion with a larger group until about 10:00 a.m., I think you saw Foreign Minister Ivanov leave.
The Russians came back at about 11:00 a.m. The meetings started at, say, 11:15 a.m. They spent another half hour with the large group and then they had lunch. The Secretary and Foreign Minister Ivanov went off again for a sandwich together about 11:45 a.m. until they came out about 12:30 p.m.
Topics discussed included, as I said, the strategic issues, strategic framework issues, including offensive weapons, defense issues, nonproliferation, counter-proliferation issues. They discussed the campaign against terrorism, they discussed the situation and the future of Afghanistan. They talked about economic relations between the United States and Russia, which has been very important to us as an element of our relationship.
They talked about UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq. They need to come up towards the end of this month. They talked about nonproliferation generally. The situation in the Middle East, Chechnya, a bit about the media.
Basically, they talked about the full range of issues in the US-Russia relationship, preparing for the meetings that the presidents will have in Crawford and Washington in two weeks' time.
QUESTION: Anything new from the Russians on the Security Council resolution on Iraq, or are they still where they were?
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing to report at this point. I think I will leave it to the Russians to describe their position. But as you know, we have got about a month to keep working this, and we will.
QUESTION: Are you optimistic -- are you more optimistic at this point that the Russians would agree to our goods review list, or the British-US --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to describe optimism at any given point. We will keep working it, and we will see where we get to.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about what these economic relations have -- how they might improve, or if there are any business deals in the offing for Crawford?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can talk about specific business deals. There are business deals going on all the time, and they have our strong support.
Clearly, we look at how we can support Russian economic reform, how we can support business, for example, with financing and programs like that, how we can solve business problems that might be encountered in terms of the transition of the Russian economy.
I don't have any more specifics than that for you, though, at this moment.
QUESTION: Different subject.
QUESTION: Same subject, Richard. Over the last few years, there has been a certain level of discussions between the US and Russians on creating joint efforts for some kind of missile defense. There was a proposal by Yeltsin of the so-called "Trust Proposal 1993," there was a Ramos proposal, which is still, I think, in existence. But everything has been at a low level.
I was wondering if you can tell me, do the discussions involve not only trying to get the Russians to accept the US side of the program, but also discussions about joint efforts in dealing with problems of missile proliferation, in terms of joint systems, in terms of --
MR. BOUCHER: As you have said, that has always been part of the US-Russia framework on missile defense, but I am not going to go into any particular detail on one aspect of it now.
QUESTION: Richard, the Russians and the Secretary had exchanged ideas on Russian participation in NATO activities. You didn't mention that --
MR. BOUCHER: I forgot to mention that. Thank you. NATO/Russia was another subject, how to improve and enhance NATO's cooperation with Russia.
QUESTION: Nothing specific on these ideas that were floated during the trip?
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing specific to say at this point. We will keep working on those. We obviously think there is a lot that Russia and NATO can do together, particularly in view of the joint effort against terrorism these days.
QUESTION: You said anything about the future of Afghanistan -- did they spend a lot of time on this one, and is there anything that you can share with us?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think there is anything particular I can share on any particular topics, so no.
QUESTION: Can we switch to another topic, maybe?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: There was a report this morning, the Taliban claimed to have several Americans. This was denied -- several buildings around town denied the report. I just wondered if this building has anything to say about the Taliban?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't. Is that the same claim they claimed the other day, and then two weeks before, both of which proved untrue?
QUESTION: Well, I don't know whether it's the same or a different --
MR. BOUCHER: Or is this a new claim that we will subsequently prove untrue?
QUESTION: It was claimed this morning.
MR. BOUCHER: All right, well, the track record that they have on these things is not very good. We'll look into it for you.
QUESTION: How about the Americans that you do know they have?
MR. BOUCHER: The detainees? The two that are there?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me check when our latest information is. Mr. Ali Khan, the lawyer representing the detainees, is in Pakistan. He sent a colleague to Kabul over the past weekend to check on the status of the case and to meet with the detainees if possible. He heard from his colleague in Kabul that the colleague was not allowed to meet with the detainees, but informed that they are safe. He was informed of this by officials at the detention center, where they are being held.
The Consul General and Mr. Ali Khan are working together with the International Red Cross to send another care package and letters to the detainees by the end of the week. We have no information yet on how they can do that. And we don't have any new information at this point on the status of the trial.
Once again, we would urge the Taliban to release these people immediately.
QUESTION: Do you know if Mr. Ali Khan's colleague went to the court and spoke to the -- or --
MR. BOUCHER: If the colleague -- no. There's just no new information from the court. He went to find out, but didn't get any new information. I don't know where he checked, but he didn't get anything new.
QUESTION: Richard, if -- does Ali Khan or the US Embassy in Islamabad have a contingency plan if Kabul changes hands in the coming weeks, in terms of what to do in this situation?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not quite sure what you're talking about.
QUESTION: Well, I'm saying if you've got -- okay, you've got two Americans and these six other -- and the Australians and Germans in --
MR. BOUCHER: We think these people ought to be let go now. We think they ought to be let go whenever they --
QUESTION: Well, what happens when -- I mean, you've got troops advancing potentially towards Kabul. What happens if --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't do "what happens if" questions. There are too many of those in the world for me to spend my days answering them. Sorry.
QUESTION: On the detainees? If we're not allowed to see them anymore, and there's no trial going on, why are they just detainees, and why don't we use another word that -- like "hostages" or even "human shields," that have been used to describe people who are held against their will, and we don't know where they are, we can't talk to them?
MR. BOUCHER: Detainees is a word that describes people being held against their will, and that's what they are. That's --
QUESTION: But what is the difference between a "detainee" and a "hostage"?
MR. BOUCHER: Look it up. I'm sorry, I'm not going to try to do those from here.
QUESTION: I think the President has used the word "hostage" already. Why haven't we?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, these people are being detained. We have a strong interest in their welfare. We want to make sure we do everything possible to see that they are well kept, that they are not hurt --
QUESTION: But you don't know?
MR. BOUCHER: And that we want to do everything possible to make sure that they are well kept, that they are not hurt, that they are well tended to, and that they get out as soon as possible. We will continue to do that.
MR. BOUCHER: Hold on. Let's work our way back again.
QUESTION: When Condi Rice briefed earlier, she said that it looks like the US cannot afford to continue -- to stop its military campaign through Ramadan. Can you talk about what efforts are being made in this building to reach out to Islamic and Arab countries, as far as explaining the US position why this has to continue?
MR. BOUCHER: We are certainly in touch with a lot of governments about the issue of the military campaign, and how we are proceeding, about how we make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. We are talking to Muslim countries, Muslim leaders about Ramadan and what it means and what their feelings are about Ramadan, because we have obviously said those need to be considered.
But I am not going to predict anything particular about the military campaign. That will be decided by the need to continue the military campaign and to achieve the objectives.
I would note, we are hearing voices in the Islamic world. I think Prime Minister Ecevit of Turkey said that it is clear that the terrorists don't take a holiday, and the terrorists aren't going to take Ramadan off. So there are different views that we hear and that we see.
QUESTION: Just switching gears. There has been a stream of reports that Pakistan is arming and providing fuel to the Taliban through the Peshawar Valley. Is this something that you can confirm, and have you spoken to the Pakistanis about it?
MR. BOUCHER: As we have said -- and I think Dr. Rice answered this question again at her briefing -- we have excellent cooperation from Pakistan. We have gotten a lot of help and support in the campaign, and I think we have every indication that the Pakistani Government will be trying to avoid anything like that happening.
QUESTION: You said that they are trying to avoid something like that happening. Can you speak specifically -- more specifically as to whether it has happened, maybe not with the --
MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't. But I would say the Pakistani Government has made every effort to cooperate, made every effort to make sure that no support goes to the Taliban.
QUESTION: Just to follow. It's not only Pakistan, but also Talibans are being supported by China, also next door, in the same manner --
MR. BOUCHER: I think you have reported that, but frankly we have not, because we don't have any information like that.
QUESTION: My question is really, can we -- can the US win this war as long as supply is there, and Talibans will continue to live? And you cannot get them out, because as long as they get --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, that would be interesting if it were true, but since it's not true, you can't ask -- I can't answer the question.
QUESTION: -- anything to my yesterday's pending question regarding the statement exchange between Ambassador Tom Miller and the Greek Government for November 17 terrorist organization?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to double check and see if we got an answer to that. I'm not sure.
QUESTION: Nothing yet?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure. I don't know if we've got the transcript.
QUESTION: You didn't have a chance to talk to your embassy in Athens?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sorry. I didn't have a chance. I went home to trick-or- treat with my kids.
QUESTION: Back tomorrow.
QUESTION: Does the Administration now think that it is less likely that the Taliban will be toppled anytime soon? And given the difficulties in drawing together a post-Taliban regime, are you adjusting your thinking on whether we have to live with the Taliban for the time being?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me try to figure that out in pieces, if I can.
First of all, we have never tried to make predictions about how long the military aspect -- how long the Taliban would continue in the present power structure. We have never made predictions about how long it will take to dismantle al-Qaida and the organization. In fact, quite the contrary. The President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor have all said repeatedly that this is going to take a long time. It's going to be a multifaceted campaign. The campaign against terrorism is going to have to involve everything we have got for a long time. How long specific aspects, military action may last -- you know, I can't predict. You can ask the Pentagon. They probably won't be able to answer that, either. We are going to do what we have to as long as we have to. And it's going to be a lot of different actions -- legal, intelligence, financial and military, as well as diplomatic.
The campaign against terrorism is going to continue for a long time. We have never tried to predict the likelihood of X happening, Y happening, or Z happening at any particular moment.
In terms of the future government of Afghanistan, I think we have been quite clear. The Secretary has been quite clear, the President has been quite clear. There is no place for the currently constituted Taliban movement in the future government of Afghanistan. That Taliban leadership that has harbored al-Qaida and these terrorists on Afghan soil needs to be brought to justice, or have justice brought to them, as the President said.
Certainly, the effort under way to work with the Afghan parties so that they can decide and they can form their future government is an effort that is very actively under way. The Secretary General's representative is out in the region now. We are working with him, we are working with the Afghan parties to try to keep that effort going so that the Afghans can see that they have in the future a government that can be broad-based, that can represent them all, and that can live in harmony with its neighbors.
QUESTION: Richard, there are reports that Europeans, the closest allies, are getting weary of the campaign after just three and a half weeks. There's a story to this effect in The Times this morning, and I just wondered whether you agree with it, and if so, do you find it worrisome?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't agree with it. I read stories like that, and I sort of scratch my head, and wondering why people are then continuing to offer additional assistance, additional troops, additional military support, additional law enforcement actions, additional sharing of intelligence.
I think, in fact, people are doing a lot, and we are continuing to do a lot.
QUESTION: Well, but on the specific issue of the bombing campaign in Afghanistan, I think this is what the --
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I think you have seen a couple offers today of additional military support. So we kind of -- where are the facts here? The facts are that there are people still offering to join the military campaign. Clearly, we would all like the bombing to be over as soon as possible. We would all like to achieve our military objectives as soon as possible.
But to say that people are weary, even as they offer additional support, strikes me as a contradiction.
QUESTION: Russia is said to be offering some additional support, including tanks and heavier equipment, and we have been dropping some kind of munitions and supplies in
the North. Is there a shift in the level of coordination that is going on on Afghanistan's northern flank, and might we be talking to the Russians about coordinated supplies to those forces in the north that are going to need it as they face the Mazar-e-Sharif line?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can talk in any specific terms about support for the Northern Alliance. Clearly, the Russians have described to some extent what they are doing there. What I would say is that there is extensive coordination between the United States and Russia on the issue of Afghanistan. Deputy Secretary Armitage is out there today. They have just issued a statement in Moscow that we have available for you on their discussions out there.
And the general proposition that there is increased coordination and work together with the Russians is certainly true. But the actual, any specifics involving military assistance or aid, I can't get into that.
QUESTION: It appears that the Georgian Government has collapsed and is in disarray, and some weeks ago, Eduard Shevardnadze was visiting here in Washington, and part of it is press freedoms, which you mentioned in an earlier comment this afternoon.
Are we talking also with the Russians while they are here with respect to that? And is there any momentum to hopefully influence the outcome there?
MR. BOUCHER: We have talked to the Russians about issues involving Chechnya, Abkhazia, the relationship with Georgia, the Georgian border, the kind of assistance and support that we give and want to give to the Georgians in terms of helping them maintain border security. So that is a topic that we discuss when the Russians are here.
As far as the internal situation in Georgia, we are following that closely. As you know, as you said, after several days of political unrest, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze decided today to dismiss his cabinet. But we are confident that the political leadership in T'bilisi will successfully resolve the current situation.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:03 p.m. EDT.) [End]
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