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MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any statements or announcements. I'd be glad to take your questions. Mr. Gedda?
QUESTION: The World Food Program has asked for -- is issuing an appeal for emergency food aid to North Korea. I'm just wondering whether you have a response yet.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a final response on this. We have always said that we would continue to support assistance in response to international appeals and the demonstrated humanitarian needs that might exist in North Korea. So we will examine this appeal and we'll look at it, consistent with our humanitarian considerations.
QUESTION: Despite the fact that everyone -- Washington officialdom seems to be saying that President Bush's comments about Iraq on Monday didn't constitute any change in policy, certainly it seems that people in the Middle East and in Europe think that -- are worried that it did. What, if anything, are you guys doing to allay these concerns?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that we've been asked to allay concerns. I've seen various public statements about things. The President himself has said quite clearly, first things first. We're going after al-Qaida and that network, and we continue to keep our eye on Iraq and watch them very, very closely. So that's what we're doing. If anybody wants to know what we're doing, that's what we tell them.
QUESTION: Is that what you expect -- you expect to bring up this subject with the Egyptian Foreign Minister? Or does the Secretary -- I mean, in general, the whole war on terrorism, and the fact that it --
MR. BOUCHER: We'll certainly talk about the war on terrorism. I don't know that, one way or the other at this point whether the Secretary and he will end up discussing Iraq. Certainly, concerns about Iraq's threats to its neighbors have been quite clearly stated by the President and others, and those need to be kept in mind by everybody even as we pursue the war on terrorism.
QUESTION: Well, I guess what I'm asking, what about the concerns of the other countries, mainly in the Arab-Muslim world, about an expansion of the war? Do those --
MR. BOUCHER: If people want to raise issues, I'm sure we'll be glad to tell them what US policy is.
QUESTION: And you -- and that will be the -- it hasn't changed that there's --
MR. BOUCHER: It will be what the President said the other day.
QUESTION: All right. Can I go to another Iraq question? The deal that you have reached with Russia at the UN on the sanctions; can you say when you expect that -- is that expected to go today, tomorrow?
MR. BOUCHER: We're working with the other members of the council still. I'm trying to think of a more formal way to say we don't want to count our chickens before they hatch. But why don't we say it that way? We are continuing to work at the United Nations, and the issue is really bringing the council together on a resolution that can implement a new system of controls on goods flowing to Iraq. Iraq, as we all know, has never complied with its obligations, except when confronted by unanimity among members of the council, and that's what we're working towards. So there are drafts under discussion in New York today. When exactly they might come to a vote, I don't know. But what we are looking for is council agreement on the principle of a goods review list. We plan to finalize the list details over the next six months. And when implemented, this arrangement would allow purely civilian goods to go to the Iraqi people without review by the Sanctions Committee.
The United States will continue to work with the council to refocus controls on items that are needed to produce weapons of mass destruction, missiles and conventional weapons. So that work is going on in New York. And, as I said, there are drafts that are being circulated and discussed by all the members of the council and we look forward to seeing council agreement before the deadline expires.
QUESTION: On Friday at midnight.
MR. BOUCHER: On Friday.
QUESTION: But you do expect that it will go before the current program expires?
MR. BOUCHER: We think we can reach agreement on this. It seems to be an approach that everybody has supported in the past, and where everybody but one has supported it in the past and it looks like an approach now that everybody will support.
QUESTION: Just three quick questions on the sanctions. One, how does the statement about the goods review list differ from previous UN Security Council statements? Two, have you -- could you just sort of inform us, I don't know if you would know, how the Syrians have taken to this? And, three, the last time there was similar diplomacy in the UN on these sanctions, the United States lifted holds on a number of civilian goods to Iraq. Is anything like that being considered at this point?
MR. BOUCHER: The United States has tried to make sure that whenever we had good information, whenever we had the ability to make decisions, we would make the decisions on goods that might be on hold. A lot of the applications are on hold because the sales are not clear, the contracts are not clear, things like that.
But certainly, we are happy to process those goods that are on hold, consistent with the understandings that the council can reach. I think we all look forward to a more precise, clearer list of goods and that's what this resolution is designed to produce.
The council, if I remember correctly, in June decided on the general approach. And then in July, by the beginning of July, was unable to reach agreement on this list and the implementation of this mechanism. So if we can get council agreement now to implement a goods review list and to reach agreement on that list and implement it in six months, that would be a step forward in terms of moving towards a more predictable situation, one where we can clearly control -- with the unanimous support of the Security Council and the Perm 5 -- clearly control the goods that matter when it comes to weapons and making weapons, and allow other things to go without review by the Sanctions Committee so that the flow of civilian goods to civilian uses would be much easier.
So it would put in place the mechanism that we have been looking for since the original intention was declared in June.
QUESTION: I'm not sure I understand, because you're saying this like it's a good thing and a success --
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, it is.
QUESTION: -- but actually, isn't this putting a step --
MR. BOUCHER: If we get it.
QUESTION: Isn't this putting in a step that you wouldn't have even had in there had you been able to convince Russia to agree with you? This is less than what you wanted to achieve by Friday, so why is it such a good thing?
MR. BOUCHER: It's no secret that we were trying to implement this new system in June, and that we have been looking since then to try to get everybody, including the Russians, on board to implement a new system that was based on a clear list of goods that needed to be reviewed.
So a commitment, we had a step to do that, a unanimous decision by the council on the mechanism to do that is a step forward. And we'll see if we can get that.
QUESTION: Can you answer the Syria question?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I can't speak for Syria.
QUESTION: Thank you, Richard. This is Arshad with the Daily Inquilab, Bangladesh. A question on Bangladesh. Since the tragic September 11 tragedy, at the US Embassy in Dakar the student visa processing has been drastically reduced, and that has been reported in a section of the press in Bangladesh. Does the State Department have any comment to that?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know the exact numbers in different places. As you know, there are sort of more careful controls that involve some delay in some places around the world. We've talked about those a couple of weeks ago. This is an interim measure so that we can do all the appropriate checks through our various databases, and until we get everything meshed up, we'll have to impose some delay on some of the applicants. But we hope to be through that interim period in a number of months, and to be able to process people, to be able to welcome people to the United States, to come to the United States in a manner that is consistent with our need to maintain security of our borders.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up question to that. Is there any specific instruction for the State Department to take those visas and go through this screening process rigorously before September 11th, a status quo was there or something like that? Is there any specific instruction?
MR. BOUCHER: We have always had steps in place to screen applicants for visas. There is a whole series of ineligibilities. Consular officers make the judgments, and consular officers need to have the best information tools at their disposal to make those judgments. And we have always had a check in a lookout system for information that we might have about individual applicants. What we're trying to do is make sure that check is made as thorough as possible, and until we merge our various databases, we have to take some of the information here and do some checks here, and that requires a further delay.
But that process will hopefully -- will be temporary, and the consular officers will be able to have complete information at hand when they make the judgment on the individual applicant's case.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Richard, could you preview the Secretary's meeting this afternoon with Kofi Annan and tell us what subjects you expect to be discussed?
MR. BOUCHER: A couple hours from now, they will be walking out together and you can ask them what subjects they did discuss. Clearly, they are going to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, and probably the situation in the Middle East. I don't know what else might come up.
QUESTION: On South Asia for a second, the situation in Nepal is deteriorating pretty badly or has deteriorated. Last night, you guys put out a notice saying you were restricting your diplomats' travel severely, and said that basically the entire country was unsafe.
On Monday, the embassy in Katmandu said it supported the government's efforts to reign in this Maoist violence from the Maoist rebels and called them terrorists. I was wondering, is the US prepared to do anything like the Indians have offered to do in assisting, other than in words and in moral support, the Nepalese as they try to crush this insurgency?
MR. BOUCHER: As you say, we have clearly condemned these attacks. We have called on the Maoists to pursue any goals they might have peacefully within the Nepalese constitution and we have said we clearly support the Nepali Government efforts to protect its citizens and officials.
We are in close touch with the Nepalese Government about this. At this point, I don't have any specific steps of support to talk about. But we have an ongoing relationship with Nepal and Nepal's military, and I'm sure that we will continue to work with them.
QUESTION: Back on Afghanistan, the reports from Bonn today suggest the Northern Alliance is not interested in having an international force or UN peacekeepers or any such thing. Do you have a view on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think that is not a new view. I think they have said that before.
Clearly, the point of getting people together in Bonn is that there are different groups with different interests and different views. And the international community is working with all of them and encouraging all of them to come to agreement on Afghanistan's interim arrangements as well as its political future.
So the talks are ongoing. They continue, in our view, to go well. They are starting to tackle some of the tough issues, but displaying what we consider to be a spirit of cooperation and willingness to get down and do the work. We're all aware that this is part of a very difficult process of reaching agreement on political arrangements for the future of Afghanistan. There seems to be general agreement already that the former King Zahir Shah could have a role, and that's an indication of the commitment that they have to finding a political resolution that's broad based. Clearly they need to define what that role is, and that's where there is more debate and discussion.
At this point, the talks have just begun, though. Our team of observers, led by our representative to the Afghan opposition, Jim Dobbins, continues to meet with Afghans at the conference, with United Nations officials, with members of the other observer group countries. And, as I said, we are continuing to urge the Afghans and outside parties to work together for a broad-based government.
QUESTION: I was going to ask a question from the opposite premise of George. Obviously, we have different reports coming out of Bonn, but my understanding was that the Northern Alliance actually said that while they didn't think there was a need for a multinational force, they would be willing to consider it and that they had somewhat softened their position. Is this your understanding?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not trying to speak for the Northern Alliance, nor to try to characterize an individual group's views. There are, indeed, various views out there. And the point of the conference is to have people come together and try to work them out. So we will see how that process proceeds.
QUESTION: What does the United States think should be done?
MR. BOUCHER: The United States thinks the Afghans should come up with an interim arrangement and a goal, a path, to get a broad-based government. We have said the last several days, including yesterday, that there are obviously several options for security arrangements. Those options still exist. But we will continue to look to what the Afghans do in terms of reaching agreement on political arrangements and be prepared to discuss with them what appropriate security arrangements have to be to go with that.
QUESTION: But you can't say or don't want to say if you've seen -- if your delegation headed by Ambassador Dobbins -- has seen a softening in the Northern Alliance position?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to try to characterize various factions' positions at this point. I don't think that is for us to do.
QUESTION: But Richard, does the US have a preference over what security arrangements -- I mean, obviously, you are saying that the Afghans should decide. But what is your advice to the --
MR. BOUCHER: Our advice to the Afghans is what I've said. You guys reach agreement on broad-based political arrangements and we will talk to you about what security arrangements -- the international community will talk to you about what the security arrangements can be to help maintain that.
QUESTION: But if we're being told in this building that the US feels that having a single security force, for example, in Kabul is not viable, not sustainable, are you also telling that to the Northern Alliance?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what you're talking about.
QUESTION: Officials in this building say that, very quickly, the Afghans need to spread out security, the provision of security amongst more than one party. Is that something that at least the United States is pressing at these meetings?
MR. BOUCHER: That fits with the concept of a broad-based arrangement of having whatever security arrangements there are need to support the idea of a broad-based arrangement.
QUESTION: Well, do you see the Northern Alliance welcoming that, if not any other force from outside?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not speaking for the Northern Alliance. So I am not going to try to characterize their view from 5,000 miles away.
QUESTION: Have you told the Northern Alliance that they can't be an interim government's army, they can't be the security force alone?
MR. BOUCHER: We have told all the parties that we look to them to reach agreement on broad-based arrangements for Afghanistan's political future, that we've discussed the security arrangements with various parties out there. But as the Afghan parties begin to reach understandings about how they want to organize the political future of Afghanistan, we will also be discussing with them in more detail which of these various possibilities for security arrangements might or might not be helpful.
QUESTION: Humanitarian aid. The President acknowledged today that it was a very difficult job trying to get humanitarian aid in. Can you tell us the status of the Friendship Bridge that -- when is it going to open? That is a major --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I have an exact date on the Friendship Bridge. This is obviously a subject of continuing discussion. We understand that there is movement towards opening the bridge. But what sort of physical repairs need to be made, what security conditions need to be obtained for that to happen, with all those factors in play, I can't give you a precise date. That would be up to the Uzbek Government in any case.
What I would say is that, as the President said, as I think the Secretary General said, that we have been moving a lot of food into Afghanistan. The difficulties arise mostly when you get to the detailed distribution, because you have continuing security problems in some parts of the country. You have continued interference by the Taliban or remnants of the Taliban in various places. And you have the drought, the harsh winter that have already created very, very difficult conditions for many people in Afghanistan.
We have taken steps, such as flying food in in bulk, and you had the first flights in a day or two ago to areas of Afghanistan, directly into areas of the country. In November, the World Food Program has been able to move almost 50,000 metric tons of food into Afghanistan. The monthly goal is about 52,000 metric tons, and if you start counting sort of mid-October to mid-November, they actually exceeded that goal.
There is food in central Asian region, approximate 88,523 metric tons in Central Asia, including in Afghanistan. So there is a need in central Afghanistan for about 51,000 tons of food for the next three months, and at present, we have been able to distribute about 33,000 metric tons in that region. So there is distribution going on. There is a lot of food in the region, and more food getting into the region. The problem has been that detailed retail level sort of distribution, because of security situations and the harsh conditions.
Clearly, we know that Afghanistan was facing an awful tough time this winter. We have been working for many months on trying to bring food in, even while the Taliban was running the place, and have worked very hard to try to provision, make sure that the supplies are there. But this continued interference by the Taliban, the continued insecurity in some places and the continued harsh conditions mean that that final distribution to people who need it is still hard.
The other things going on, there is food going down to Termez. There are 20,000 metric tons there. There's wheat being offloaded at the port -- US wheat being offloaded at the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran, 65,000 metric tons have arrived there, and I guess 25,000 of that has been offloaded already. That will be sent by road and rail up more directly towards these places in Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, surrounding areas.
The World Food Program is feeding something like 360,000 people living in six camps in and around Herat City. There are 18,000 mothers and children who continue to receive a hot meal of corn-soya porridge every day. And as I said, some 33,000 metric tons have been distributed in the Kabul area. So it is a mixed picture, depending on parts of the country and the difficulty of doing that final distribution.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on reported Russian moves in Abkhazia? Troop movements?
MR. BOUCHER: Troop movements in Abkhazia? I will have to see about that.
QUESTION: Anything on Georgia?
MR. BOUCHER: On Georgia, what we know of is that we have some confirmation that there were helicopters that entered Georgian air space from Russian territory, subsequently attacked areas on the Georgian side of the border in what's known as, I think, the Pankisi Valley, Pankisi Gorge. There are unconfirmed reports now of two deaths on the ground in the course of these attacks. We have consistently supported the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Georgia. We are deeply concerned about these intrusions which undermine stability in this region, and we've raised the situation at senior levels with the Russian government in the past and will do so again in the near future.
QUESTION: Will you raise it on the trip?
MR. BOUCHER: Meaning in Moscow or before. We'll see. We don't have an exact time and location for raising it at this point.
QUESTION: Speaking of strange Russian behavior, have you managed to find out any more about what they're doing in Kabul?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have any more details on that for you. We have, as you know, coordinated with Russia on a variety of efforts in Afghanistan, support for the Northern Alliance, humanitarian efforts, overall objectives. We continue to talk to the Russians about things that are going on, what they are doing.
As I said, I think yesterday we have seen flights that go in that are supporting humanitarian objectives and we support that.
QUESTION: What about the US Embassy in Kabul, any movement there?
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing new at this point.
QUESTION: This is on countries that are traditionally money-laundering havens. I can't really read my esteemed colleague's writing, but how many countries does the State Department traditionally consider money-laundering havens that they're looking at right now, in terms of the war against terrorism? And do you expect any kind of re-jiggering of tax treaties concerning the war against terrorism? I think they were alerted to this. I'm not really quite --
MR. BOUCHER: There is abundant literature on money-laundering and the issues involved in money-laundering. As you know, we work very closely with international organizations, with other governments. The Financial Action Task Force has been working on this around the world in the case of drugs and, recently, through the G-8 meetings and elsewhere took on the task of looking at money-laundering and terrorist financing in general.
There are a lot of international reports on the question of money-laundering. There are OECD reports where they focus quite specifically on money-laundering and tax questions. I am sure the Treasury has things available on its web sites and there is a section on money-laundering that goes into our annual narcotics report as well. So without having all that information in my hands, either scribbled or otherwise, I am not going to try to give you a list. But there is plenty of information that we do put out on a regular basis that you can find.
QUESTION: Do you expect any changes, for instance, to the Cayman Treaty to change, in terms of kind of these tax havens, given the new war against terrorism and the financial component?
MR. BOUCHER: This is something that we have been working internationally through the United Nations. We worked specifically with the OECD on the issue of tax havens and primarily the issue of information sharing. We have had some positive developments in the last few months in terms of the way we have dealt with this and worked with many of the governments involved. But I would really refer you back to the OECD process, which is where we've handled that.
QUESTION: Have you enjoyed a lot of cooperation with the Swiss Government on this?
MR. BOUCHER: A longstanding area of cooperation with the Swiss.
QUESTION: Speaking of cooperation, are the Saudis still cooperating, or have they stopped since yesterday? (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you comment on press reports that Guam may be a place where some of the terrorists arrested abroad may stop over and possibly a site for the military tribunals?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: You can't comment on that?
MR. BOUCHER: No. It wouldn't be something -- Guam, as we all know, is US territory and therefore is not under my jurisdiction.
QUESTION: But extradition agreements are also a State Department sort of thing.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know, sorry.
QUESTION: Richard, another one on North Korea. I understand that at the TCOG meeting yesterday, there was concern expressed among the three participants about the level of North Korean cooperation with the coalition. Do you have a view as to what the North Koreans might do to have a more robust policy on that issue?
MR. BOUCHER: I will have to look at that, I'll have to see. I hate to admit that I never even caught up with the statement that the meeting was going to issue. So I'm behind you on this one, but I'll catch up.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the meeting today between Mr. Arafat and the special envoys, General Zinni and Mr. Burns?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I can just tell you that it occurred. Ambassador Burns and General Zinni spent yesterday in a lot of meetings with the Israeli side. They saw Prime Minister Sharon, saw Foreign Minister Peres and had various other discussions and briefings. Today, they had a meeting with Chairman Arafat. They will continue to work out there.
Ambassador Burns is heading on to Cairo tomorrow and then he will be on to Riyadh. But General Zinni will remain in place and keep working with the two sides to try to achieve what we set out, which is to help them work towards a cease-fire.
QUESTION: I apologize if this is common knowledge; it's not to me. Did the Palestinians inform your mediators who their security committee chief would be?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure. The meeting just ended a short while ago. I don't have a readout really.
QUESTION: On very logistical things, Burns to Cairo tomorrow, and then he goes to Saudi?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you know what day?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what day.
QUESTION: When Burns goes to Saudi, will he also have a bunch of Treasury experts with him? Are they there?
MR. BOUCHER: No. Said so yesterday.
QUESTION: I'm sorry.
MR. BOUCHER: No. Burns is going to go to Saudi, talk about everything, including financing of terrorism -- I said that yesterday -- but no separate delegation.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)
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