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MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can start, let me tell you about a couple of things. A conference on Monday about the African Growth and Opportunity Act. This forum will be co-hosted by Secretary Powell, Trade Representative Zoellick, Secretary Evans, Secretary O'Neill.
It is a forum on the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. It will be the 29th and 30th in the Loy Henderson Conference Room here at the State Department. Later in the day, we will get you information on press arrangements. The Secretary will be speaking to this group about 11:45 a.m. on Monday, along with his Senegalese counterpart, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio. Their remarks will both be open for press coverage.
The forum will include trade, finance and commerce ministers from about 35 eligible sub-Saharan African countries. The forum discussions will range from strengthening commercial linkages to sound finance policies to wrestling with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, implementation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and strategies to expand trade and to take advantage of the opportunities that are offered by this act.
So this act has been a major impetus to the growth of economic ties and trade with Africa and we are going to have this forum on Monday to talk about it with the Africans who are involved and eligible to benefit from it.
QUESTION: The President apparently is going to be here Monday as well, the White House announced. Do you know what time he is speaking?
MR. BOUCHER: Has the White House announced it?
QUESTION: They announced he was speaking here; I didn't catch the time.
MR. BOUCHER: I leave it to the White House to announce anything involving the President.
Second of all, the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom is being made available on the State Department's website today. This is a report that covers the period from July 1st, 2000, to June 30th, 2001. On Thursday, that's yesterday, we submitted the report to Congress.
This year's report, again, like previous years, is a survey of the state of religious freedom throughout the world. It reemphasizes the strong commitment of the United States to respect and protect the fundamental freedom of religion, and we look forward to using this report as a basis of discussion and cooperation with other countries around the world on this very basic issue of human rights.
Make clear, we think there is no justification whatsoever for persecution of believers or discrimination against people because of their faith. And the President has made absolutely clear that we will not countenance in our country any form of discrimination, much less persecution against individuals or groups because of their religion.
The Secretary in conjunction with the issuance of this report has re-designated countries of particular concern in the International Religious Freedom Act. The countries that are re-designated are the following: Burma, China, Iran, Iraq and Sudan. He has also once again identified the Taliban regime as a particularly severe violator of religious freedom. They are not designated formally under the act because they are not a government. And finally, he has added the Democratic Republic of Korea, that's North Korea, as a country of particular concern under the act.
We continue to hold to the standards of the act. We continue to advance the cause of religious freedom around the world as part of our foreign policy.
In Afghanistan, I think you all know, but since the report gives us the information, let me review some of it. There is very rigid enforcement of a very strict interpretation of Sharia Islamic law. The Taliban has severely restricted freedom of religion in the territory that is under its control. Due to the absence of a constitution, religious freedom is not protected, and is subject to the arbitrary action of Taliban officials. Law and custom require affiliation with religion. Atheism and conversion from Islam are both considered apostasy and are punishable by death.
The Afghan Shi'a minority victims -- Afghan Shi'a minority are subject to abuse. They are victims of abuse. About 85 percent of Afghans are Sunni. In January 2001, there were a large number of civilian Hazaras -- that's a Shi'a ethnic group -- that were reportedly killed by the Taliban.
In February 2001, as you know, the Taliban also destroyed the giant Buddhist statues, despite the appeals of religious leaders from around the world. And the Taliban law and the way the Taliban have acted on religious freedom has had a particularly bad effect, made life very difficult for women. Women have been subject to beatings by religious police for not wearing proper attire, in their view. They can't leave their homes unless they are accompanied by a male relative. They are severely restricted from working outside the home. And these prohibitions have severely affected the availability of medical and educational services, since women doctors, nurses and teachers made up a large part of the work force in these two areas. So that is the situation in Afghanistan with regard to the lack of religious freedom.
Other questions on this? And then we can go on to other things.
QUESTION: The question immediately arises yet again why Saudi Arabia has not been designated, given that many of the same -- the same criticisms of the Taliban would apply to Saudi Arabia.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, the situation has not changed in Saudi Arabia. This decision, based on the criteria of the report that has been made twice before, and Saudi Arabia was not found to be subject to the provisions before. So given that there has been no change, no significant change one way or the other in the situation regarding religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, one would not expect the designation to change.
The report does make clear what the situation is with regard to religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, and that is that there is essentially no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. The government requires all citizens to be Muslim, continues to prohibit any public manifestation of non-Muslim religion. So that situation is stable. The designation has not changed.
QUESTION: Is that sufficient to warrant designation under this?
MR. BOUCHER: It is a legal definition and, as I said, it has been looked at twice before in the past. The situation hasn't changed, so it came out the same way this year as it has in the past.
QUESTION: Could you just go over what it means to be designated on this list, from a US foreign policy perspective?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't. I will have to get that for you, the exact implications.
QUESTION: The same as Jonathan's question also applies to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, I believe. Human rights groups have -- say that they have urged the State Department to declare both groups -- both countries as countries of particular concern, and that they said the State Department was seriously considering that before the -- before the publication.
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, our report reports on the state of religious freedom in these places and reports quite frankly. The section on Uzbekistan says that the government only partially respects the rights to religion that are given in its constitution. And we have in the past said quite clearly that Uzbekistan does not provide the respect to Islamic groups and mosques that we think is necessary or required under customary international law. So it is quite a frank report. But again, the situation is very similar to past years, and they haven't therefore been designated any differently than they have in years past.
In Turkmenistan, same kind of thing, that harassment of unregistered religious groups has continued and, in fact, some say intensified there, but we didn't feel that they met the standard to be designated this year.
QUESTION: What happened in the last year in North Korea that prompted the Secretary to add it to the list?
MR. BOUCHER: Granted, the reports are difficult to confirm in North Korea. But there are a lot of reports that indicate the regime seems to have cracked down on unauthorized groups, particularly in recent years. There have also been unconfirmed reports of the killing of members of underground Christian churches. In addition, people who proselytize or who have ties overseas appear to have been arrested, subjected to harsh penalties, according again to unconfirmed reports.
Religious and human rights groups outside the country have provided numerous unconfirmed reports that members of underground churches have been beaten, arrested or killed because of their religious beliefs. Reports of executions, torture and imprisonments of religious persons in the country continue to emerge.
QUESTION: How would you respond to critics that might note that people who were designated on this list are all countries primarily that are considered not in the coalition against terror and also their foreign policies are sort of aggressive against the United States; whereas, US allies like Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia were given a pass. How would you respond to that kind of --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, your generalization about Burma, China, Iran, Iraq and Sudan are pretty much -- you know, doesn't fit the facts. So the premise of the question is wrong.
QUESTION: Iran, Iraq, Burma, Sudan, I mean, you've got --
MR. BOUCHER: You've got a lot of different countries there that we are cooperating with in different ways against terrorism. Some of them, like Iraq, have put themselves outside the world's mainstream. Some, like Iran, have made interesting statements, which we have said are worthy to explore. We have said we have had very, very good cooperation against terrorism with China. We have had good cooperation against terrorism with Sudan. I'm actually not sure about the situation right now vis-à-vis Burma. North Korea, nothing particular to say, I think, against terrorism there.
But I think the fact is that we are going ahead with this report. Religious freedom remains an important aspect of US foreign policy. We have said that, in addition, you have countries designated, but the fact of the report is used as a basis for discussion with foreign governments so that we continue to advance the cause of religious freedom, as we advance the campaign against terrorism.
QUESTION: Well, since the State Department is doing a ranking here and putting people in different categories, I think it would be legitimate to ask, in what -- can you cite one possible aspect of religious practice or religious freedom in which Iraq performs worse than Saudi Arabia?
MR. BOUCHER: We are not doing comparisons from country to country, Jonathan. We are not doing a "ranking," as you pretend. We are not doing a comparison, as you pretend. We are doing a judgment based on US law. Have people gotten to a particular level? I mean, it takes not a lot of memory to remember Iraq's persecution of Kurds, Iraq's persecution of the Shi'a in the south. The system in Iraq discriminates against the Shi'as. They restrict, they ban Shi'a religious practices. For decades, they have conducted murders, summary execution, arbitrary arrests, and protracted detention against the Shi'a religious leaders and adherents.
In addition, the government sought to undermine the identity of minority Christian groups. The government has consistently politicized and interfered with religious pilgrimages, both of Iraqi Muslims who wish to travel to Mecca and Medina, and of Iraqi and non-Iraqi Muslim pilgrims who travel to holy sites in that country.
So I think you'll see that that kind of activity -- summary executions, murder and killing of religious minorities -- qualifies them for designation.
QUESTION: Richard, I had trouble understanding the Secretary of State's speech today, in which he welcomed other countries to join a coalition, and said at the same time, we're not going to lower our standards of human rights. In other words -- you know, we'd like you to come in, but we're not going to put up with bad behavior. But you put up with enormous bad behavior among members of the coalition right now.
I don't understand what he's driving it. Your standards --
MR. BOUCHER: It was perfectly clear to me, Barry.
QUESTION: Well, your standards -- US standards don't seem to be so high so far as welcoming help from Iran or from Syria, do they?
MR. BOUCHER: Barry, I guess the question of cooperation against terrorism -- we've talked about this a number of times, talking about essentially again as we talk about religious freedom. Things that are important to the United States in terms of human rights, in terms of religious freedom haven't changed. And we have made the argument, and the Secretary himself has made the argument a number of times that respect for human rights is essentially part of the tools we use against terrorism as well. You have to separate political causes. You have to separate the parasites from the bloods of discontent that they feed on.
And therefore, it does take some respect for human rights, and we have said, again, with regard to Uzbekistan, that we think that respect for Islam in that country can be an important tool in separating Islamic believers from terrorists.
But the standard for participation is what are you going to do against terrorism? That doesn't mean that everybody in the coalition has suddenly become an enlightened Western democracy. It does mean that everybody in the coalition is contributing to the fight against terrorism. People want to fight the terrorists. We want their help.
QUESTION: Presumably in Afghanistan, you would want religious freedom to be protected in any new system of government?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: But what happens if the Afghan people get together, as you have been urging them to do, and decide they don't want this in their constitution, they believe it should be an Islamic republic that doesn't permit --
MR. BOUCHER: That is about three degrees of hypothetical. I don't think I am going to try to deal with that at this point.
QUESTION: What kind of relations are there between the Saudi's radical religious regime called the (inaudible) and the Taliban and the other radical groups in Central Asia? Do you have anything about that? Can you comment about that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything about that and I don't think I can comment on it. You might find yourself an Islamic scholar to do that one. I'm not sure we will be able to do that for you.
QUESTION: Back on Saudi Arabia, Richard, you said that it was not on the list because there has been basically no change. But you have also said that there is essentially no religious freedom there. So what has kept it off the list in the past?
MR. BOUCHER: Essentially, the same decisions have been made about the criteria and the law as were made in the last two years. I am not going to go back through that. I think we have explained it in years past. We judge -- first of all, we report on the countries and we make the designations under the law.
But I think it is important to remember, the key element here is not, frankly, the designation of countries of particular concern; it is that we do reporting on religious freedom in different countries and we use these reports as a basis to talk to countries and governments about how they can improve the situation with regard to religious freedom. The prospects, perhaps, for change and improvement in the countries that are designated may not be as good as the ability to use the report in countries that are not designated to try to get them to continue to improve the situation.
QUESTION: Can we --
MR. BOUCHER: Switch gears now? Okay, let me start out by telling you the news that we have about anthrax. First, if I can, the good news. The second person who was being evaluated, who went to the emergency room with flu-like symptoms on Thursday, October 25th, was evaluated, was released. The tests are negative so far. He is taking cipro and he continues to be monitored closely. So at least in that situation we don't have a worsening.
As far as the first individual, the contractor from our mail and pouch facility in Sterling, Virginia, as I think I told you last night, this person is confirmed to have inhalational anthrax. He is currently in guarded but stable condition at Winchester Medical Center in Winchester, Virginia. And that is his status.
Now, we are taking a number of steps. I think I have described to you how employees who work in our mail handling are taking cipro, taking the antibiotics. People who work at the main center in Sterling, Virginia, who worked there -- it is now shut down -- are taking 60 days of it. The rest of the people in mail handling in this building and elsewhere are taking 10 days. We have instructed our overseas posts to give cipro to their employees who handle the bulk mail. And that will be done.
The State Department pouch system, the mail system, is essentially shut down. Some of the pouches that might have gone from this SA-32 out to overseas posts -- posts have been instructed not to open them, just put them somewhere, keep them unopened.
As I think you all know from the various reports, these reports of inhaled anthrax seem to indicate that the processing of bulk mail, the sorters, the machines, the compression, the decompression, can release the spores. And therefore we have told them to just leave the mail unopened, don't touch it.
We are sealing the mail facilities in this building and in the annexes where mail goes either from SA-32 or directly from the Brentwood facility. That involves five or six locations in this building, and six or seven locations outside this building at State Department annexes. Those are being sealed. They are shut down. They are being sealed, and they will be tested. The first testing will be done on the air filters in this building to make sure that none has entered into our air system. And, obviously, depending on the results of all those tests, we may take further action.
Those actions are starting today. They won't all be completed today. I think the testing will proceed today and then over the weekend. Actually, the facility out at Sterling probably won't be tested until early next week, because I'd say that's the most suspect location, and therefore, they are going to be very careful about preparing properly and doing that test properly.
You may see people walking around in suits, in hazardous material suits. That's what will be involved. They will be going into those sealed places and doing the testing to see if any of these spores have entered into our rooms or our systems.
QUESTION: When do you expect to have the first results from this environmental sampling in this building and in the annex?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm told that the testing and the results take about 24 hours. So presumably, if they start some of it today, the results will start coming in over the weekend.
QUESTION: So you may be able to announce some results over the weekend?
MR. BOUCHER: Don't count on it; if we can, we will.
QUESTION: Can you speak a little bit to the impact this mail interruption has on the business of the State Department? Is it -- for a few days, at least, is it not a big problem?
MR. BOUCHER: Most of our business, particularly our urgent business, is done by telegrams and by e-mail. We have in our telegram system somewhere between a half a million and a million telegrams. And probably a half a million that go to or from this building, and then some additional number that go between our embassies overseas.
QUESTION: A year?
MR. BOUCHER: A year. Sorry, a year. (Laughter.) Essential piece of information.
And that's the way we give instructions to our embassies, that's the way they report back to us on meetings, on events and developments. When we are trying to arrange over-flight clearances or improvements in religious freedom, that is generally done by telegram.
We also send a lot of e-mails, particularly on management issues, checking on pieces of information. There's enormous e-mail. So I'd say most of the urgent business and the day-to-day business goes on electronically. Certainly, we communicate with the outside world electronically. I think more and more in our bureau, where we get mail from the general public, more and more of it is electronic mail, and less and less is actual mail.
On the other hand, the mail systems are important to us, for two reasons. One is we have documents that we send back and forth to our posts overseas, things that go around this building, things that people may send us from outside, mail that people send us from outside. We always like to get real letters from people in the general public. And so it's important to have those things.
And the second reason is that many of our posts that don't have military postal facilities, this is how people get their mail, this is how we pay our bills, this is how we get news from home, this is how we get American magazines and reading material. This is how we send out our internal publications.
So the mail and pouch system is very important to a lot of us, and particularly to many of the people who are stationed in dangerous and faraway places. This is how they get their mail. So we do -- we're going to do these tests, we're going to do the checks, we're going to look at how to get it back up and running so that our people, particularly those who rely on it for personal mail, can have that again.
QUESTION: Richard, can you speculate -- that may be the only thing you can do at this point -- of how you think that that -- that the anthrax got to that particular facility?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't, because at this point we don't know a lot. We do know that this facility receives mail from the Brentwood postal facility, where I think employees there have come down with inhaled anthrax. So that's clearly one of the possibilities. But it does receive mail, also, from pouches and things like that.
I have to say, most of the diplomatic pouch mail that goes in and out, I mean, 80 percent of the mail that is handled out of this Sterling, Virginia facility is in fact the pouch mail to and from our embassies and consulates overseas. But most of that is official mail generated in the Department, or at the post, or it's the personal mail of our employees. There is not very much outside material that gets into that stream.
But about 20 percent of what they handle out there is Postal Service mail that goes to the State Department, and almost everything that they get, I think, comes from Brentwood.
QUESTION: Richard, just to clarify, and for the public at large, when you talk about the pouch and mail system, is that the same thing -- should people understand that to be the same thing as what people know to be diplomatic couriers carrying diplomatic pouches with sensitive documents? Are those two different things?
MR. BOUCHER: No, that's different. Those are two different things. We have what we call the classified pouches that are carried by diplomatic couriers. That system is internal, self-contained. It doesn't have any exposure to the outside world. Then there is the unclassified pouch system, which is our mail system for publications, personal mail, these kinds of things.
QUESTION: And does the classified pouch system go on unhindered?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: Earlier this month, there were two scares in this building regarding potential for anthrax or some other kind of powder. Can you confirm, have those test results come back? Are they negative?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we did already. Those came back as inert, non-hazardous powders. I think we are never going to be able to specify exactly what brand name they might have been. But we did -- they tested negative for anthrax or any other hazard.
QUESTION: I feel I must ask this question once again. Is there any indication that you are aware of, of the source of this anthrax? Not necessarily coming from the Brentwood facility, I mean the ultimate source? Do we believe that this stuff came from overseas, any foreign connection that you know of?
MR. BOUCHER: No, there is no way we can speculate on that at this point. I think Ari Fleischer at the White House today sort of described the kind of person and lab that could produce the quality of anthrax that has been seen in places. But that doesn't lead to any particular conclusion, in fact, about whether it's domestic or overseas or how it was done.
QUESTION: As far as the threat of anthrax is concerned, how about the international and diplomatic community? How much they are scared? Or are you hearing from them here or back home how their countries are doing as far as this threat is concerned?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know about the diplomats here. Certainly, our embassies overseas have been in close touch with a number of governments on the issue, and it is -- when it surfaced overseas, our experts at the Centers for Disease Control have contacts in any number of countries. And are, I am sure, providing expertise to various places. So there is a lot of back-and-forth discussion. Whether it's about embassies themselves, suspicious materials or packages they might want checked out, or whether it is about what's going on locally.
QUESTION: Have any State Department employees other than mail handling employees been advised to go on cipro?
MR. BOUCHER: No. All our mail handling employees have been advised to go on cipro. No one else has. We are making clear in the notices and the information that we put out to our employees that if other people have concerns, if other people don't handle bulk mail and therefore have been designated but they have concerns anyway, they should go in and talk to the medical professionals and determine if it's appropriate, they might be put on cipro as well.
QUESTION: Have you been able to pinpoint when this man might have been exposed to anthrax and tried to narrow down when that -- what mail was -- I know it is very difficult, but exactly what might have been the source?
MR. BOUCHER: They are in the process of doing that. You know, the literature on anthrax indicates an incubation period of seven days, sometimes a lot more. So I think it is a little difficult to pinpoint it exactly. But certainly, the medical professionals are in the process of doing as much as they can to identify when the exposure might have taken place, how it might have taken place.
Clearly, the sealing and then testing of the various mail rooms, you know, that will tell us if there is -- if the spores have traveled through our system, and if so where they might be, or find out where they are and be able to stop them.
QUESTION: Given some of the precautions that have been taken in the last 24 hours, can you say if the State Department is worried that this anthrax may have actually traveled to other embassies and overseas to our posts there?
MR. BOUCHER: We are, I think, being careful at this point. We are trying to be very careful. The places where it might have come, from Brentwood or SA-32, the mail facility to other places. The places where it might have come in DC are being sealed, tested directly, so we are trying to get ahead of the game there. We are trying to get ahead of the game by telling our posts not to open the pouches that they might receive that would have been shipped in the recent time period. And therefore, we're trying to stay ahead of this. And as we do the testing, we'll have more facts, we'll know where it showed up, where it doesn't show up.
As I said, things like checking the air system first. If we check the air system first and find it, that will lead to other conclusions. If we don't find it, then that tells you to concentrate elsewhere.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary been tested and is he taking the cipro? And have you been tested and --
MR. BOUCHER: I think in keeping with what the White House has done with the President and other high-level officials, we are not going to talk specifically about the Secretary. But I would say we have no reason to believe that he would have been exposed. We have described to you the kinds of employees who are getting cipro, the kinds of employees who are being tested. The Secretary, nor I, fit in those categories.
QUESTION: How many employees total are being treated with cipro or other antibiotics at this time?
MR. BOUCHER: There are about 80 or 90 employees at Sterling that are taking cipro for 60 days and are being tested. There are an additional 200 or so who were involved in mail handling who are taking cipro.
QUESTION: Have you -- I know, again, it must be speculation at this point. But have the medical professionals told you that they think this might have been from the original letter that was sent to Tom Daschle, Senator Daschle? Or do they think that it was possibly from another letter that might have come through?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer to that is, we don't know.
QUESTION: Are you asking your posts to share the new information on anthrax, which is being developed all the time, and can you describe how you're sharing that information?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know -- you mean, like medical and scientific information that's being developed?
QUESTION: Yes, and how you're treating it --
MR. BOUCHER: I think a lot of that, frankly, is shared routinely by the CDC, by the Centers for Disease Control, with their counterparts overseas. I think a lot of it, frankly, appears on their website. I don't know what our posts are doing in that regard. I'll try to check and see if we have a regular program of sharing information with foreign governments.
Okay, more on this topic, or not?
QUESTION: The Wall Street Journal today and the Washington Times stated fairly committedly that they think that the source of the anthrax is domestic, and not foreign. In fact, the Washington Times, for whatever the article is worth, said that they -- informed sources think that the source of the anthrax is not Iraq or Russia, but would be domestic. In fact, I believe AP had an Australian who said that it was right-wing militia in this country.
MR. BOUCHER: I appreciate the AP, the Australians, the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the many others that are trying to write about this and speculate about this. But I am not aware of any experts that I have talked to in this building, or heard of any elsewhere, who really think that we have enough information to speculate or to identify this with any kind of accuracy.
QUESTION: Can I pursue with you what the Secretary said about peacekeeping in Afghanistan, post-war Afghanistan yesterday?
MR. BOUCHER: Go for it.
QUESTION: He seemed -- I know everything was tenuous, and I know it's early in thinking about these things. But he told the Committee that Kofi Annan and the Afghan Rep were a little skeptical about UN blue helmets. And the Secretary said, maybe the way we'll go is volunteers. Of course, I wondered, with the role you're giving the -- any elaboration would help -- but, I mean, the role you seem to envision through the UN, would nations volunteer but still be under some UN operation? I don't quite get it.
MR. BOUCHER: I think the Secretary described it about as much as it can be described at this point. He talked about three fundamental possibilities. Working out any particular one of those possibilities in detail would be down the road. So he talked about different possibilities from blue helmets to willing -- coalitions willing to -- there have been also talk of local groups, national groups getting together and maintaining stability and security.
So those are the possibilities. They are not elaborated very much at this point. The, I think, first task remains to work with the Afghans through the UN, work with the UN, work with the Afghan parties and factions to help them get together and form a broad-based government. As that process proceeds, we will also look further at the issue of maintaining security so that that government can get set up, established and operating.
QUESTION: On that, do you have any response to reports that the Taliban opposition leader Al-Haq may have been executed?
MR. BOUCHER: We have seen them. We can't confirm them. I guess Abdul Haq's mission, he was described by Afghans as a peace mission. We can't confirm that he has been arrested or executed. Certainly, throughout his life, this gentleman has been a voice for the establishment of broad-based government for his country, and now more than ever, we think it is time for Afghans to work together to end the presence in their country of foreign terrorists and to establish this broad-based government.
QUESTION: How big a loss is his death?
MR. BOUCHER: Well --
QUESTION: Or something. I'm sorry. That was poorly asked. How big a loss is he to your fight?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can say, because I don't know for sure what's happened to the man. And, certainly, we hope these reports are not true. But we have seen them and his death would be very sad and regrettable. But I can't describe his exact role at this point.
He has been a proponent of broad-based government. We think those people are important for Afghanistan. We think -- I think many -- all those on the outside that we have spoken to agree that it is important for Afghanistan to have a broad-based and stable government. And anybody who has been an advocate of this is certainly important to that goal.
QUESTION: Richard, was he working -- was this person working directly with the US as one of the people that the United States officials in the region have been working directly with to try to sort of lay the foundation for a post-Taliban Afghanistan? And was there any direct US role in his presence in Afghanistan on this mission, however it might have turned out?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me check on those specifics. We have been in touch with all kinds of Afghan groups, leaders and people, and certainly I wouldn't be surprised if we had been in touch with this gentleman as well. I will have to check and see, though.
QUESTION: There were reports of US warplanes in the vicinity of his supposed capture, which would strongly suggest a direct US involvement in where he went. And I guess the question is, was this some sort of bungled or failed US effort to go in and do some recruiting that just went bad? I mean, is that what happened?
MR. BOUCHER: That sounds wildly speculative to me. Let me see if I can give you a definitive answer on that one.
QUESTION: Let me try this again. If Mr. Al-Haq has indeed died, would it be a blow to your efforts to bring a different kind of government to Afghanistan, if you get a chance to do that?
MR. BOUCHER: It would be a loss for those who believe in that effort, for those who believe in a broad-based government for Afghanistan. There are others who are working on this, meetings taking place. There was a meeting in Peshawar the other day. There are meetings that are planned for Istanbul in the coming days.
So I think there are many who are working on this cause of trying to help Afghanistan have a broad-based government that doesn't allow foreign terrorists to operate. And he was among them. He is among them.
QUESTION: Okay. Abdul Haq. Are we in contact with other Pashtun Taliban resistance figures in Peshawar or Afghanistan at this point and, if so, if you could name them?
MR. BOUCHER: We are in touch with all the Afghan factions, different leaders from different places. I don't have a list of names.
QUESTION: But Abdul Haq was described as one of the very few leaders who was of Pashtun origin who actually was not with the Taliban. So do we have other -- specifically, contacts that would fit that kind of description?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: What is your expectation of the coming Istanbul meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me get the details of it. The meeting in Turkey, we expect, will be soon. These are representatives of Northern Alliance and representatives of the King. I think actually the meeting is somewhat delayed because of travel arrangements, but we expect it soon. They are going to discuss lists of members for the joint Supreme National Council that they have agreed to last month. We also understand that members of the Cyprus Group -- that is another group of Afghan notables that is outside the country -- recently traveled to Rome to convey their group's support for the King's effort to gather Afghans from all the country's communities.
So we welcome these efforts by Afghans to work together for peace and for broad-based government in their country, and we will look forward to hearing about their discussions.
QUESTION: There were reports -- rumors, rather -- that several Americans were actually physically present with Abdul Haq at the time of his capture. I wonder if you can --
MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen those, so I haven't had a chance to check those out. So I can't do anything on that right now, but I will.
QUESTION: This is on poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. There are reports that farmers in the eastern provinces are starting to re-grow, in light of the -- that the Taliban seems as if it's -- it could fall. And what do you think that this is going to do to our efforts to combat drug trafficking in the region? And also, are you afraid that if there's a re-growth, that terrorists will continue to use drug money to aid their financial networks?
MR. BOUCHER: Let's deal with the issue, first, of what's going on. We don't have information that the Taliban has reversed the ban that they had last year on poppy cultivation. But there is a resumption of poppy cultivation that suggests that they are not enforcing it.
This would be very unfortunate. It would further distance the Taliban from the international community. It would further demonstrate their willingness to violate the laws of international activity in the way that countries try to respect and cut this off.
At the same time, we have said that the Taliban benefits from the drug trade, because there have been stocks that are still traded, and the Taliban has benefited from that trade. Our information now is that UN drug control officers in Pakistan have detected signs that Afghan farmers in Taliban areas have begun planting opium poppy again, and we will keep following that to see if it means that this trade, this benefit to the Taliban will resume and expand.
QUESTION: If I could follow up, some people in the region -- academics -- are calling this a missed diplomatic opportunity with the Taliban, that initially when the Taliban issued the ban on poppy cultivation, and UN drug control office said that it was working, that this should have been followed up as one area of cooperation with the Taliban that could be built upon. Do you see this as a missed diplomatic opportunity?
MR. BOUCHER: I think everything the Taliban does is missed opportunities one after another after another. They have missed the opportunity to cooperate with the international community in many, many ways, first and foremost by tolerating foreign terrorists within their borders; second of all, by not taking advantage of the opportunities to cooperate which did exist. We were, in fact, preparing a program that would have involved about $2 million in assistance to the United Nations, and the nongovernmental organizations, to help with drug control in Afghanistan. So that's another opportunity that the Taliban missed out on by pursuing terrorism and by pursuing the reliance on the drug trade that they have had.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) terrorism in Afghanistan's concern, (inaudible) of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, said that it's time for the United States and the coalition fighting in Afghanistan to look into the nuclear arsenals in Pakistan, because Taliban or Usama bin Laden may get there hands to nuclear facilities in Pakistan. What -- my question is, when the Secretary of State was in Pakistan, whether he had all these discussions with General Musharraf or not, about the safeguarding of these, which can be much worse than what is happening, anthrax and all that?
And number two, if the Secretary invited him to Washington.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know the particular gentleman you're talking about. So I have no idea if he has been in Washington or not. I don't think the Secretary has had any meetings with him.
As far as nuclear safety issues goes, this is a subject that we have discussed in the past with India and Pakistan, a subject we would expect to continue to discuss. But that's about all we say about it.
QUESTION: New topic? This is about -- another random question about the Mexican immigration agreement that the US has been working on with Mexico. In light of the September 11th attacks and US desire to get stricter border controls and a crackdown on people that are coming in the country, are talks with the Fox government still on track? Have they been impeded in any way? And what do you think is going to happen to the guest worker program as a result of what's going on right now?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't speculate in that direction. I think we have always felt that these programs can be designed to take into account the security needs of both countries. But we have always had a prohibition on terrorists entering the United States, and that would certainly be a feature of any program that we would want to design.
QUESTION: Any telephone calls, diplomatic initiatives for the Middle East?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary has kept in close touch with the parties in the Middle East. He talked to Foreign Minister Peres this morning. Our diplomats out there have been in close touch with the parties. There was a meeting of a group of diplomats with Chairman Arafat yesterday, including another specific discussion with him from the four representatives of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, directed at the need to act immediately to arrest all those responsible for the assassination of Minister Zeevi, to move decisively against all those planning or conducting acts of terror, and do all in his power to halt violence and terror.
We have also urged -- continued to urge the Israeli Government to withdraw from all Palestinian-controlled areas. We think that step can lower tensions and help restore better trust and confidence between the sides. We have also made clear we think it's important that Israel exercise discipline and restraint, and the use of force in order to avoid civilian casualties.
So we have continued to call upon both sides to do all they can to restore the violence, restore calm, act in a manner that allows progress on implementing the Mitchell report and restoration of the direct dialogue between the parties.
QUESTION: There have been reports from the region that in the initial roundup of suspects after the tourism minister's arrest from the Palestinian Authority, a janitor, who apparently had nothing to do with the assassination died under custody. Are you raising any concerns that Arafat's actions in the wake of the assassination were cosmetic and may have gotten some of the wrong guys?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check on that and see. I wasn't aware of that specific report. I'll have to check on it.
QUESTION: Richard, it's now been four days since you asked the Israelis to withdraw immediately. And it's been repeated several times since. But what do you have to say to this defiance of your wishes? And what do you say to those who are beginning to say that it's all just a charade, as you say?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say that it's the -- we think it's the right policy. We think it's the right policy for Israel to withdraw, and we will continue to state that policy and to urge that policy in our discussions with them.
QUESTION: But are you actually willing to take -- to go any further than merely saying they ought to withdraw? Are you thinking of any punitive measures?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say this is a very consistently expressed and strongly held view from the United States, and we will continue to express it.
QUESTION: Going back to Mexico, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela concluded his spectacular 15-state visit, international tour yesterday with President Fox. And the day before, he had been with Chretien, and he came over from England, where he talked with Tony Blair and had tea with the Queen. And he has been with all of the heads of state of OPEC, except Iraq. And he says that they are all favorable to cutting production.
Now, his man in the OPEC says the same, and now does the US -- one other thing, the US Ambassador in Venezuela yesterday went on television to point out to them that they were --
MR. BOUCHER: Can I have a question around here somewhere? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, it gets involved. You say very little about Venezuela, so. Well, anyhow --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, maybe there's a reason for that.
QUESTION: What is the US position regarding Chavez's -- he calls it a crusade -- to get higher prices on oil production at this juncture?
MR. BOUCHER: As far as our view of President Chavez's travels, I don't think we have any particular view of his travels. We have expressed a view when he went to certain places at certain times, but he doesn't seem to have done that again.
And as far as our view of the oil markets, I'll see if we have anything to say on that. That is a subject we are pretty careful about.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments on remarks out of North Korea's dear leader about no longer being interested in talks with the United States? We have always said we are waiting for a reply. Do you consider this a response to the offer to hold talks?
MR. BOUCHER: I think what we have seen is an editorial in a state-run newspaper -- actually we have seen reports of an editorial in state-run newspapers, and I'd just repeat our position. The President has made clear, the Secretary, both have made clear, the United States is prepared to undertake serious discussions with the North Koreans at any time at any place, and without preconditions. That remains our policy, our point of view, and we're open to discussions on whatever issues they might want to talk about.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) something less than an independent media, you don't consider that to be comments coming straight from Kim?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that we've gotten a definitive or direct reply at this point, and we remain open to the idea of serious discussions at anytime, anyplace without preconditions. That's our policy, and if we hear from them, we will.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on another Red Cross warehouse being hit in Afghanistan?
MR. BOUCHER: No, that would be a military question for the Pentagon to do.
QUESTION: Can I get a quick one? Aren't there ongoing contacts in New York with North Korea? And, I mean, in light of that, aren't we already sort of talking to them already? Albeit not at as high a level as we'd like.
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have always maintained contact with North Korea through their UN representative -- their representatives at the United Nations. As far as I know, we continue to do that regularly. But I think the kind of serious policy discussion that we have envisaged is another sort of thing. And that, as I said, we are ready to begin that anytime, anyplace they want to.
QUESTION: I mean, I'm just -- I thought that the New York channel, though, in this context, you were talking about future talks, or how that might look, albeit not the substantive policy. Is that still the case? (Inaudible.)
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So nothing's changed?
MR. BOUCHER: But the goal is to sit down and talk about the issues with North Korea. We haven't done that yet, and we're ready to do that.
QUESTION: I have a little quickie, as they say in the House. Is the Russian Foreign Minister coming here next week? And the Russians have been complaining for a long time about the Jackson-Vanik legislation -- and they're on the list. Is there any thought going into removing them from that?
MR. BOUCHER: As far as the Russian Foreign Minister's travels, let me double check on that. Certainly, he and the Secretary have kept in touch. I think they have talked twice by phone this week. And they have talked about continuing their discussions. I'll have to see if we have anything set.
QUESTION: And Jackson-Vanik?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm getting there. (Laughter.) On Jackson-Vanik, as you know, this was an amendment from 1974 that denied Permanent Normal Trade Relations to former Eastern Bloc countries, at that time, Eastern Bloc countries that restricted emigration rights.
Today, as a result, normal trade relations can be extended and maintained only after the issuance of an annual Presidential waiver. We have, however, started to consult with the Congress and interested groups on the possibility of graduating Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Moldova, Armenia, and Azerbaijan from the provisions of the amendment.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Russia -- say again?
MR. BOUCHER: Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Those are the ones we're interested in seeing whether they can be graduated.
QUESTION: And do you expect that that should be a fairly straightforward process? I mean, do you see any emigration problems from any of these countries --
MR. BOUCHER: I think in terms of certifying the emigration, we have been able to do that on an annual basis for all these countries. When it comes to graduating them out of it, some broader considerations apply.
QUESTION: What broader considerations?
QUESTION: As far as the State Department's views are concerned, what does the future of six to eight million illegal immigrants after the attack? Anything change, or any governments are in touch with the State Department?
MR. BOUCHER: That is, I think, a question you can ask the Immigration Service, because once people get to the United States, it's their responsibility.
QUESTION: Thank you.
Released on October 26, 2001
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