|Thursday, 21 January 2021|
U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing, 01-12-07
From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman
December 7, 2001
1:05 p.m. EST
MR. REEKER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Friday at the State Department. I think it is welcome to all of us to have a weekend ahead.
Secretary Powell is still en route to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and expected to land there in the next hour or so, I believe. And so I am here to take your questions. We will try to keep it very short today, because as you know, we have a special briefing for you with Ambassador Richard Haass, our Director of Policy Planning and the US Coordinator for the Future of Afghanistan, and Ambassador Jim Dobbins, the US Special Representative to the Afghan Opposition, who as you know was in Bonn, there as head of our observer mission at those UN-sponsored talks that resulted in the agreement, and to discuss the next steps forward. So we might hold the Afghan questions for those gentlemen, who should be out shortly.
I will have a statement on paper later this afternoon on the certification for the new police service of Northern Ireland, so I would just call your attention to that. And I am sure the statement itself will be fully self- explanatory.
With that, Mr. Schweid.
QUESTION: I was going to ask an Afghan question, but you have a pretty good idea. Maybe we ought to defer that for later. So I have nothing else.
MR. REEKER: That would make it easy. Yes, George.
QUESTION: Phil, since free trade is the centerpiece of Latin American policy, do you have any comment on the impact of yesterday's vote, in terms of the Administration goals in the Hemisphere?
MR. REEKER: Sure. As you are indicating, and I am sure all of you are aware, yesterday the House of Representatives cast its vote for expanding trade to provide a much needed boost to the American and global economy, in passing the trade promotion authority. We call upon the Senate to pass trade promotion authority to allow the President to negotiate further trade agreements.
We think the step yesterday was indeed a big step forward. And as I indicated, we still must gain passage in the Senate. The Administration will be working with the Senate Finance Committee members, and the whole Senate, to gain expeditious passage.
While we have made considerable progress in the free trade area of the Americas negotiations, some negotiating parties have stated that the lack of trade promotion authority is an obstacle to further progress. And passing trade promotion authority will remove that obstacle.
The trade promotion authority for the President will make it much easier for us to conclude the Chile Free Trade Agreement negotiations, for example, and legislation to renew and enhance the Andean Trade Preference Act, which has already passed the House and the Senate Finance Committee. That will be important. The President remains committed to renewing and strengthening that program. And trade promotion authority will add further momentum to our trade agenda, which has already seen passage this year, as you know, of the Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, the Jordan Free Trade Agreement, and of course the launch of a new round of World Trade Organization talks.
The US Trade Representative's office may have some more specific items for you, if you have further follow-up questions to that. But obviously we think this is a very important step, and as I indicated, we will be working closely with the Senate to have expeditious passage of that important legislation.
QUESTION: So this is good news for the Ecuadorian tuna fishermen?
MR. REEKER: I am sure it is what we will continue looking at, as I mentioned yesterday.
QUESTION: Do you have -- do you know -- this is a bit out of the blue. Do you have anything on the Haitian Foreign Minister being in town?
MR. REEKER: I don't. I would be happy to check on that for you. I wasn't aware of that.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on Mr. Zinni's activities or the security committee meetings between the Israelis and Palestinians?
MR. REEKER: I think you have probably seen that a trilateral security meeting was convened today, which General Zinni attended with Israeli and Palestinian security officials. I'm told by General Zinni that the discussion was constructive and focused on security, specifically practical steps to combat terror and violence. A number of issues were put on the table by both sides but, of course, a great deal of work remains to be done.
I think as Secretary Powell has stated, again yesterday in Brussels, the fact that there have been some arrests by the Palestinian Authority is promising, but more work is required. Results are what matters and serious, sustained, long-term actions by Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are needed to ensure that the terrorists trying to prevent the restoration of a political dialogue are not successful. We have been very clear that terrorist attacks are a direct assault on Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. The perpetrators of these acts must be arrested and actions taken to ensure that the organizations responsible, their infrastructures, are unable to commit further such terror. And the fact that the groups are resisting Chairman Arafat's authority makes it that much more important for him to act decisively.
To reiterate what we have said for so long, both Palestinians and Israelis have the right to live in peace and security, and only immediate, serious and sustained efforts by Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority against those who would block the possibility of a better life for the Palestinian people can make possible an end to the Palestinian suffering.
As the Palestinian Authority acts, Israel should respond with measures that help sustain calm and rebuild confidence, including easing restrictions that have a negative impact on the daily lives of Palestinian citizens. Israel and the Palestinian Authority must not lose sight of the need to resume progress toward a lasting end to violence and the resumption of a dialogue. We want to urge people not to lose sight of the vision that the Secretary discussed in his speech in Louisville. Implementation of the Mitchell recommendations and the Tenet security work plan will help lead to peace. And, as the Secretary stated, all sides must consider the consequences of their actions and take decisions that facilitate such progress.
QUESTION: Could I get a clarification on what you just said. You said as the Palestinian Authority acts, Israel should respond. What do you mean by that? Is Israel supposed to make some concessions to give Arafat some cover? Is that the idea?
MR. REEKER: I think what I said pretty much spoke for itself. If the Palestinian Authority acts in a manner that we've described here, Israel should respond with measures that can help sustain the calm and rebuild confidence. I did mention easing restrictions that have a negative impact on the daily lives of Palestinian citizens, things that we have said before.
Again, not losing sight of the need to resume progress, not losing sight of the goals and visions that we have espoused that will lead to a lasting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians as part of the right that they all have to live in peace and security.
QUESTION: I take it you don't yet think the time has come for Israel to take these steps? Is that right?
MR. REEKER: I think what I am trying to indicate is exactly what the Secretary has indicated that there have been some promising moves, there have been some arrests. We have seen that. More is required. Results are going to be what matters. It is absolutely vital for Chairman Arafat to take those steps and, as the Palestinian Authority acts, Israel should respond, as I indicated.
QUESTION: Perhaps I'm quibbling, but the phrasing "as the Palestinians act" implies a simultaneous action by the two sides. But --
MR. REEKER: I am not again -- as I haven't any other time this week -- going to try to get into hour-by-hour, day-by-day kinds of things. It is a simple statement that what we want to see is progress, a return to the ability to move forward on the vision that the Secretary of State outlined at Louisville. We need to see more action. We need to see more results.
QUESTION: Let me just get this straight. Do you mean you need to see more results before the Israelis have to take any of these actions?
MR. REEKER: We absolutely need to see more results from the Palestinian Authority, from Chairman Arafat, in terms of arresting, in terms of dismantling the infrastructures of the terrorist organizations that perpetrate these actions against the Israelis and against Mr. Arafat and his interests, against the interests of the Palestinian people as well.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment on the Israeli attacks overnight, which yet again were on Palestinian security forces, which are supposed to be doing the rounding up and cracking down job?
MR. REEKER: I don't think I have anything specific to add on those. I have seen a variety of reports.
MR. REEKER: Yes, Barry. Quibble away.
QUESTION: You have said that the Palestinian -- frankly, the Israelis don't think they have done much at all. These are low, third-echelon people they have arrested, according to the Ambassador. But putting that aside for a minute, you credit the Palestinians with acting, and when you say, "as they act," Israel should respond. And so have the Palestinians done enough acting to warrant an Israeli response, and if so, what would that response be?
MR. REEKER: Barry, again, I am not going to try to do a step-by-step analysis of the actions. I indicated what the Secretary of State had indicated, that the fact that there have been some arrests by the Palestinian Authority is promising, but indeed more is required. We believe that Chairman Arafat can do more and must do more to end the violence. He is the recognized leader of the Palestinian people, and he and the Palestinian Authority must take action to demonstrate that leadership and move against those that perpetrate this type of terror.
QUESTION: No, that was clear -- I mean, that part was clear. I think what Jonathan and I are both coming at, in slightly different ways, is whether you -- the State Department feels -- I mean, the Louisville speech was two weeks ago, I think --
MR. REEKER: Almost three.
QUESTION: And it was before a lot of things happened. So, I mean, you know --
MR. REEKER: That remains the vision for what we would like to see in the Middle East.
QUESTION: Indeed. Some of these visions are 2000 years old, but you have to deal with the reality of the situation, too.
And you are saying that as the Palestinians act, Israel should respond. And you have said the Palestinians have acted, not enough, but they have acted. So the question is, does this occasion an Israeli response, and one would be, I suppose, if you're asking the Israelis not to do what they did last night?
MR. REEKER: Barry, I am just not going to go into that type of detail. You know our positions on this. We need to see action. We have had -- General Zinni is still in the region, we have had a trilateral security meeting take place today. We think that is important. We think it was important, the meetings that the Egyptian Foreign Minister held yesterday.
A great deal of work remains to be done, though, and the two sides, we hope, will continue the contacts that were indicated in the trilateral meeting today. They have both said they are committed to making fundamental progress, and we plan to continue trying to help them do just that.
QUESTION: Well, could you look into it and find out and see if there is a desire on the part of this building to actually get it -- to have an answer to that question, which is, when do you think the Palestinians will have done enough to warrant, or to earn, or to merit --
MR. REEKER: I think we're going --
QUESTION: I know you don't have the answer to that --
MR. REEKER: I think we are going to keep looking at that. We will keep watching the situation on the ground. General Zinni will be there to continue the types of conversations he has participated in with both sides, and in the trilateral framework. And we are just going to continue stating what we think needs to happen and hope that we see positive movement.
QUESTION: One of the things you want to see happen at some point is an Israeli response to ease the problem the Palestinians have. And so --
MR. REEKER: I don't think, Matt, we are going to try to, again, do an hour-by-hour, now-we've-seen-this, now-we-say-that. We are just not going to participate in that type of public discourse in trying to parse and analyze this on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. Our broad view is very clear. And what we have called for remains exactly what we have discussed all week.
QUESTION: Is it something you will be telling the Israelis privately, then?
MR. REEKER: We will continue to have the discussions that the Secretary has, that other senior officials have, that General Zinni has, with the Israelis and with the Palestinians, to encourage the progress that we would like to see.
QUESTION: While we hear so many calls for action on behalf of the Palestinians to detain so-called terrorists, et cetera, the ability of Chairman Arafat continues to be eroded to deal with these people, because even his -- the headquarters of his police force has been attacked today. And while when Jonathan asked you the question, you had no comment on that, many observers in the Middle East have noticed that the call for self- restraint on behalf of Israel has been muted here, in the White House and the State Department lately. Many express that as a perception of a green light. They might be wrong, but could you put America straight, please, and tell us what is the situation concerning the self-restraint calls of the past?
MR. REEKER: I don't really have anything to add to what we have discussed all week and what I have again discussed here. And, as you have heard before, there was no green light, there is no green light, there was no green light asked for, no green light given. This is not some game of red lights and green lights. This is about Chairman Arafat needing to take steps.
We believe, as the Secretary said, that he can do more and he must do more to end the type of terrorist activity --
QUESTION: More bluntly, how can Arafat proceed to use his police force to crack down on militants when his police stations are being blown up by Israelis?
MR. REEKER: As the Secretary of State has said, we think he can do more and we need to see more reaction and more results.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) are being eroded?
MR. REEKER: We think he can do more and he needs to do more, and we would see action to wipe out these terrorists who threaten him, too. And these are discussions we have had going back a long time.
QUESTION: You said, wipe them out. Do you think he should assassinate them or kill them, or --
MR. REEKER: Jonathan, we have discussed many times during the week the need to root out the infrastructure of these organizations that allow these types of things to happen, as well as make the arrests of -- Jonathan, I don't want to play word games.
QUESTION: You said, "wipe these people out"?
MR. REEKER: Terrorism needs to be removed from the equation. And so the steps he needs to take include arresting those responsible for perpetrating these types of acts, including those that took place last weekend, making serious arrests, putting them in jails that don't have revolving doors out the back side, and in taking steps to cut out, to wipe out, to remove, to render incapable the infrastructures of the organizations that allow individuals to take the actions that they have taken, that threaten Israelis as well as Palestinians, including Mr. Arafat.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) security forces to deal with these people? Why do you refuse to comment on the attack of the Israelis on the headquarters and the police and security forces of Arafat?
MR. REEKER: Mr. Arafat, we believe, can take steps and can do more to continue moving to end the violence and the terror that threatens the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.
QUESTION: Phil, are there particular people who need to be arrested? Have the Israelis said particular people -- does the United States know particular people that would then meet the threshold of having done enough?
MR. REEKER: I am not in a position to describe the details of the conversations that --
QUESTION: I am not interested in what --
MR. REEKER: If you will let me finish my sentence, I am not in a position to describe the details of conversations that take place in the context of the trilateral security talks; that is for the two sides to work on. Our structures that are in place, including General Zinni, who is there to help with this process, will continue to try to work with both sides on that so that they can make the steps --
QUESTION: But there is a US list, though? The Israeli ambassador says what we're not asking -- what we're asking is the arrest of people on the US list and not these third echelon people. And so, there is -- the US does have --
MR. REEKER: Barry, I am just not going to get into details on General Zinni's efforts with the parties.
QUESTION: I'm not talking about General Zinni at all. I'm talking about --
MR. REEKER: That is exactly what you are trying to talk about.
QUESTION: I'm trying not to. I'm trying to talk about -- I'm trying to apply to today's events --
MR. REEKER: His security meetings --
QUESTION: -- these speeches that were made two weeks ago.
MR. REEKER: The security meetings that involved General Zinni, today's events.
QUESTION: You know, I'm not trying to deal with Zinni's meeting, I promise you.
MR. REEKER: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: I am trying to deal with what US policy is. I don't -- I think it is made -- well, Secretary Powell is not in the building right now.
MR. REEKER: Secretary Powell has been very much involved in this, including telephone conversations with --
QUESTION: I know that. I mean, I don't somehow --
MR. REEKER: -- Foreign Minister Maher today --
QUESTION: I know, but I don't --
MR. REEKER: Do you have a question, Barry?
QUESTION: Yes, but you keep telling me I'm asking about Zinni, and I'm not. I'm not asking a Retired Marine Corps General what our policy is. I'm asking the State Department where the policy is made.
MR. REEKER: And I think I have restated it probably four or five times already today.-
QUESTION: In general terms you have.
MR. REEKER: -- and all throughout the week, and I don't think I have anything else to add for you.
QUESTION: Well, you are stating it in general terms -- all right, now, wait a minute. When Sharon was here, the US green light -- we've been through that a million times -- but the US did say that Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself.
MR. REEKER: Yes.
QUESTION: Was the attack last night legitimate self-defense?
MR. REEKER: Barry, I am not going to try to analyze every step the Israelis take as they meet their security needs. I said that yesterday, and I am not going to do that today. The overall position of the United States has been made quite clearly. The White House has discussed it, Secretary Powell discussed it. He said it again yesterday from Brussels, and I have repeated those things from here. We want to see progress in this, and we want to see Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority take more action to end the terrorist threats, to end the violence, and we want to see a continuation of the process that General Zinni has participated in today. That is why he is there, and he will continue to work with both sides to see if we can't move this along.
MR. REEKER: I have called on this gentleman, and then I will be happy to take your question.
QUESTION: Well, I wanted to change -- I'm on a slightly different subject.
MR. REEKER: Okay, then we don't want to change the subject.
QUESTION: Whether -- now I forgot what I was going to say.
MR. REEKER: Then let's move on to someone else. Because we are running out of time.
QUESTION: The Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Ecevit, who I am sure is reliable, said that Sharon told him that he wanted to get rid of Arafat. And the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Melchior, said today that Mr. Arafat was now irrelevant.
Does the United States share these views? Or do you -- or what's your attitude towards the --
MR. REEKER: I think I already mentioned once today that Chairman Arafat is the recognized leader of the Palestinian people, as part of the Palestinian Authority. Thank you, Matt, for reaffirming what I said already once. So I think that probably answers your question, Jonathan. Thank you.
Did you have a question?
QUESTION: Yes. Whether or not you will tell us who they are, is Chairman Arafat aware of who the individuals are the United States and/or Israel think need to be arrested?
MR. REEKER: I think you would have to direct your comments to Israel or the Palestinian Authority on that, your questions on that.
QUESTION: Have you given to Arafat a list of people you feel need to be arrested?
MR. REEKER: Again, I am not going to get into the details of those discussions that we have at a security level with General Zinni and the people supporting that effort. You can direct your questions to the Israelis, if they have answers for you on that, or the Palestinians.
Anything more on this?
QUESTION: This situation in the Middle East is just like the situation in India's Kashmir --
MR. REEKER: You're changing. We're not going to change.
QUESTION: No, I'm not changing.
MR. REEKER: You're changing; we're not going to change. Matt, go ahead. We're going to run out of time.
QUESTION: I realize that the White House is probably the place to ask about the meeting with the Saudi Foreign Minister today and Armitage.
MR. REEKER: It is.
QUESTION: But the team left last night, I guess. And since State has a leading role in that, along with Treasury, did this building want to keep that visit quiet, as was reported by one major newspaper? Was there some reason --
MR. REEKER: Absolutely not. And those of you with whom I spoke yesterday, when I came down to your quarters here in the building to discuss the day's events, are quite aware that I echoed what the White House had announced about an interagency team that is led by the State Department which arrived today in Saudi Arabia.
As you indicated, Matt, the Saudi Foreign Minister, His Royal Highness Saudi Prince Saud Al Faisal, has met with the President this morning to discuss a broad array of bilateral and regional issues. Deputy Secretary of State Armitage participated in that meeting and you will get a readout of that from the White House.
The team that we were just referring to has arrived in Saudi Arabia for bilateral discussions regarding the international campaign against terrorism and our mutual cooperative efforts to combat terrorist financing. We have had a very constructive dialogue with Saudi Arabia on a wide range of issues, including this terrorist financing effort. And, as you are well aware, we are very satisfied with the level of Saudi cooperation.
We are continuing to engage in a number of ways in this ongoing effort, which advances our mutual interests, and this team visiting there is just one part of that. Saudi Arabia, like so many other countries, has expressed a commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1373, which calls upon all UN members to ensure that persons who participate in financing, planning, preparation or perpetration of terrorist acts is brought to justice. So in the spirit of that, we are continuing this strong cooperation with Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: Just to make sure, the much-reported non-cooperation of the Saudis --
MR. REEKER: Erroneously reported.
QUESTION: Right, right, right. But on that, this team isn't going over there to complain to the Saudis that they are not cooperating?
MR. REEKER: Not at all. This team, as I indicated to some of you yesterday, is going over to do exactly what I described, to continue this cooperation. It is a natural next step as we move on this. We have had a number of contacts, the Foreign Minister being here today at the White House. This is the third such visit in the last three month. Our Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, Ambassador Burns, visited Riyadh last weekend, as you know, and met with Crown Prince Abdallah, as well as the Foreign Minister. Senior officials from the Saudi Monetary Agency and Finance Ministry have met with Treasury Secretary O'Neill and Under Secretary Taylor, and that this team of officials that we described is going to Saudi Arabia. So this is an ongoing process.
QUESTION: And just extremely briefly, is this the kind of thing -- you expect a reciprocal visit back? You mentioned that the Saudi monetary officials had been here already --
MR. REEKER: I don't think one could say what the next step in this progression would be. We will let this team visit. It is an ongoing discussion, and then we will just see. We expect the support and cooperation to continue, certainly.
You can change it now.
QUESTION: I was not trying to change, but anyway, it was in connection with --
MR. REEKER: Then cut to the chase.
QUESTION: This situation in the Middle East, in Israel, is just like the situation in Kashmir.
MR. REEKER: I wouldn't agree with that characterization, because every situation has its own unique context.
QUESTION: -- Indian Government has called many times that neighboring countries, Pakistan, have been supporting terrorists and terrorist activity --
MR. REEKER: What is your question? What is your question? We don't have time for your diatribe to be on the record today.
QUESTION: The question is are you telling the Indian Government to go after and attack those who are harboring terrorism and attacking innocent people and killing innocent civilians in Kashmir?
MR. REEKER: No. I don't know in what context you are even asking --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Israelis doing in the Middle East on the --
MR. REEKER: I don't know what context you are asking that. Every situation has its own context. Our position on the conflict in Kashmir and the need for dialogue, to find a peaceful solution to those conflicts, is very well known. I have nothing new to announce or to change today.
We really need to -- all right. If it's a serious question, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, serious. Everything is serious, but it depends on how you answer it.
MR. REEKER: Come on. We're running out of time.
QUESTION: Okay. The Home Minister of India, who is due to come here next month, he declared that India arrested two al-Qaida members in Bombay. They were planning to attack the US interests in India. What -- do you have any - -
MR. REEKER: I am not aware of those reports. I hadn't heard about that.
QUESTION: And anything on the elections in Sri Lanka?
MR. REEKER: Sure. That we can talk about. We do understand that the final results of Sri Lanka's parliamentary elections have been announced, giving the opposition -- the current opposition, the United National Front -- a bare majority of seats. We understand that President Kamoratunga has asked the leader of the United National Front, Mr. Wickremasinghe, to meet with her on December 8th to discuss formation of a new government.
We want to condemn the many incidents of violence, especially the killing of 10 Sri Lanka Muslim Congress supporters in Kandy on election day, and we call for the perpetrators of those acts to be brought to justice.
Based on what we know now, the reports we have, the election appears to have been basically free and fair in most parts of Sri Lanka. We do understand that violence, as I indicated, and some irregularities may have undermined the conduct of the election in some localities. It has been a difficult election, with reports of the violence like those I described. But it appears that the major parties are accepting the election results as the will of the Sri Lankan people.
QUESTION: As far as Nepal is concerned, the State Department issued a warning, a terror warning for Americans --
MR. REEKER: That was some time ago, yes.
QUESTION: So how serious is the situation? Because you have not issued any terror warning for Israel, but you issued at the same time Nepal --
MR. REEKER: I beg to differ. We have strong Travel Warnings for the Middle East, so I think you need to spend a little more time looking at the Consular Information Sheets if you are going to try to draw parallels again from one place to another.
On the situation in Nepal, we have been in touch with our Embassy, of course. In spite of a nationwide strike called by Maoists for today, many businesses, shops and schools remained open in Katmandu. Traffic was reported to be light, however, and armed police and army troops lined major streets and intersections.
As of late afternoon today, our Embassy had received no reports of violent incidents or demonstrations. As we have before, we continue to call on the Maoists to pursue their goals peacefully, within the democratic framework established by Nepal's constitution. We support the Nepali Government's efforts to protect its citizens and officials, as well as foreign nationals in the country. And as you indicated, we issued a public announcement for Nepal, which mirrors messages we have put out from our Embassy through the Warden system, asking American citizens to review carefully the need for travel outside the Kathmandu Valley. So we take seriously the potential threat to Americans and urge all Americans to exercise caution, avoid demonstrations and closely monitor the situation, as we are doing.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on today's clashes between NATO-led K-FOR force and Serbs in Mitrovica, Kosovo?
MR. REEKER: I am afraid I hadn't seen those reports yet, so we will have to look into that for you.
QUESTION: Do you have anything about the apparent slowdown in the process of integrating Russia into NATO's various forums? I have seen the communiqué, but it seems that they have put off the discussion of exactly what this new 19-Plus-One council will do.
MR. REEKER: I am surprised you should interpret it that way, and I think the easiest thing is to refer you to the Secretary of State's remarks when he was in Brussels. As you know, he has just recently left Brussels after some very successful meetings there. The joint communiqué is probably the best thing for you to review. It talks extensively about how NATO is committed -- NATO's 19 member states have committed themselves to forging a new relationship with Russia, enhancing our ability to work together in areas of common interest, to give a new impetus and substance to our partnership with the goal of creating with Russia a new council to identify and pursue opportunities for what the Secretary and the communiqué have called Joint Action at 20, NATO at 20. And so we will continue moving forward on that.
As you know, the Secretary will himself be in Moscow in a very short time. We have an important opportunity now to recast NATO's relationship with Russia. We are going to enhance our ability to deal with difficult issues through this NATO at 20 process. And we have many commonalities, times when there are issues on which we can work very closely together. And we are increasingly allied, as the Secretary indicated, against threats such as international terrorism. And we believe that NATO needs to reflect these new realities and develop its relationship with Russia accordingly. So I think there is a very positive movement there. I think it is something Secretary Powell has addressed and he will have an opportunity to continue discussing that.
QUESTION: I will just go to Secretary Powell's remarks. But are you suggesting that there is no slowdown, that everything is moving along just as expected and that there has not been a delay?
MR. REEKER: I guess I wasn't aware of a particular timeline that had been announced in any of these matters. We just had the ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Council, that's what Secretary Powell participated in, what took place yesterday, the day before, as well as the meetings with the Russians in the existing Permanent Joint Council structure. So I am really not sure what you are trying to compare and contrast, other than what the NATO communiqué indicated, that we are going to move forward on this and all of the countries have agreed that that is the right thing to do and what we want to do, and take advantage of these new opportunities.
QUESTION: Actually, I have a few different questions. But my first one would be the arrest of the Uzbek opposition leader who is in jail in Prague right now. Powell will be in Uzbekistan shortly. What is State's position on this fellow and will Powell be bringing this up at all in Uzbekistan?
MR. REEKER: I don't have details on that and, as would be customary, I would have to refer you to the traveling party when the Secretary is arriving in that country. Whether that is an issue on the agenda for his meetings there tomorrow, I just couldn't tell you.
QUESTION: So State has no position on this guy in jail, then?
MR. REEKER: I would be happy to look into it for you, but this is a subject for the Secretary of State to address and his party can address those questions there in the field.
QUESTION: Then the other question I had is actually about Belarus. The US Ambassador there, Michael Kozak, recently said that there is going to be a new program of US-Belarusian bilateral relations. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that?
MR. REEKER: I can't at this point. I would have to look into that for you. I don't have anything for you on that.
If we want to get to our --
MR. REEKER: -- two guests, we're going to have to hurry up, because we are going to lose our window completely.
QUESTION: Very quickly on Zimbabwe, the Government of Zimbabwe has accused the United States and Britain of being racist, which I am sure you will not agree with. But the reason that they are saying this, at least to the United States, is the passage by the House of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act. What is the Department's position on that bill?
MR. REEKER: Let me check on the specifics of the bill. You know, our concerns about Zimbabwe and the complete wrong direction we think things are going there have been things we have discussed for some time. But I will check for you on the specifics on that.
QUESTION: A very quick one?
MR. REEKER: Yes, and then we're going to have to wrap it up or we are going to miss the window of opportunity for our two guests.
QUESTION: What is the current position on the possible links between Iraq and the events of September 11th?
MR. REEKER: I don't think I have anything new to add.
QUESTION: I think you have something -- you may have something on that.
MR. REEKER: I may? (Laughter.) No, I don't think there is anything new to add at all on that. I mean, I think the Secretary has been quite plain.
QUESTION: Is the US position that you have absolutely no evidence of anything?
MR. REEKER: I think the Secretary last addressed that maybe some week or so ago on one of the Sunday shows and whatever he said then. I am not aware of anything to change that view, that we have not established a link between that.
QUESTION: Phil, I still want to get my Kofi Annan question in. But did you rustle anything up about -- I mean, given the fact that he's getting the Nobel Peace Prize on Monday, but do you have anything to say about his latest diplomatic triumph, which apparently occurred yesterday on the set of Sesame Street?
MR. REEKER: I haven't seen it yet myself. But I would say that in addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, the appearance on Sesame Street is a rare and appropriate prize for United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. As someone who remembers well watching the very first episode of Sesame Street, and although my hairline may belie that, I indeed learned a lot from Sesame Street. I think generations have continued to do that.
And I spoke with Ambassador Boucher who, on the Secretary's aircraft, indicated that he, too, had learned a lot from Elmo and was very pleased at the prospect of the Secretary General highlighting the importance of diplomacy, the importance of the United Nations in that capacity, so that generations of not just Americans but children around the world who watch Sesame Street in so many languages into which it's translated will be able to learn from that.
I think it is important to start diplomacy and education about diplomacy, Barry, at a young age. And we would recommend that we may try to see if we can get you on Sesame Street, too.
Thanks. (The briefing concluded at 1:40 p.m. EST.) [End]
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