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MR. REEKER: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome back to the State Department on this fine Monday afternoon.
In a short time, Secretary Powell will depart for Europe and Eurasia, his first stop, of course, Bucharest, where he will be attending tomorrow the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's ministerial meeting, which is taking place today and tomorrow, the annual gathering of foreign ministers of the OSCE, and expect the participants there to issue a statement addressing a number of the issues that OSCE has been involved with, as well as their action plan to combat global terrorism. So that will be the first step in the Secretary's eight-day tour. Ambassador Boucher, of course, is accompanying the Secretary.
So I am here without any other announcements to take your questions.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary ever consider not going on this trip because of developments in the Middle East?
MR. REEKER: Not that I'm aware of. I think this trip has been planned. As you know, he met yesterday -- along with the President, of course -- with Prime Minister Sharon, when that meeting was moved up, allowing the Prime Minister to return to Israel.
QUESTION: To follow that, is there any thought that he might go to the Middle East as part of this trip?
MR. REEKER: Not that I am aware of. There are, I believe, 10 stops that were announced in the notice we released last week. None of those are in the Middle East. So 10 stops in eight days.
QUESTION: I assume that you were watching at least the beginning of the White House briefing, as were we. A couple of things I wanted to get out I'm not clear on. First of all, does the President -- does the United States believe that Israel has the right to defend itself?
MR. REEKER: Yes.
QUESTION: And does the United States believe that the situation in the Middle East right now is complicated and fluid?
MR. REEKER: Yes, Matt.
QUESTION: Now that I got that straight, Prime Minister Sharon in his address made a big point saying that President Bush had told him that -- he was telling the Israelis about what the President had told him, Sharon, yesterday. And he said -- he told the Israeli people that the United States was a partner with Israel in its fight against terrorism.
Is that your --
MR. REEKER: I will have to let the White House speak to what the President said in the meeting that was at the White House, that was the President's meeting. Certainly, let me start by echoing the statements that the President made as well as Secretary Powell and General Zinni over the weekend, in terms of condemning the horrific acts of murder which were committed in Jerusalem and Haifa. All of our leaders have expressed their sympathies on that and I think made quite clear our message, as Secretary Powell said, that Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority must act immediately to bring violence and terrorism to an end through immediate, comprehensive and sustained action by the Palestinian Authority against both the individuals responsible and the infrastructure of the groups that support them.
QUESTION: Right. But -- I'll do this one more time and then, if you don't answer it, I'll assume that I'm going to get nowhere and I'll drop it.
MR. REEKER: Thank you for that admission. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Sharon said specifically that the United States was a partner with Israel in this fight against terrorism there. Is that true?
MR. REEKER: We certainly are fighting terror. We discuss that every day. As you know, we are quite involved in terrorism; we have been for a long time, and particularly since we were attacked on September the 11th, as the President has said, we have focused all the resources of the United States Government in the war against terrorism. As you know, we are involved in Afghanistan, where we are focused right now on seeking out and cutting off the al-Qaida network, Usama bin Laden and the Taliban that have protected him.
Terrorism has got to stop. And we have made that point very clear. You can't pick and choose terrorists. That's the message that we have given to the Palestinian Authority, as I just indicated, and as the Secretary said, and as the President has said, Chairman Arafat is responsible for taking steps to stop the violence, and there has to be sustained action by the Palestinian Authority against those individuals responsible. They need to bring them to justice, but they also need to take action against the infrastructure of those groups that supports those individuals. And there is absolutely no excuse for failure to take immediate and thorough action.
QUESTION: A couple quickies.
MR. REEKER: Quickies.
QUESTION: Do you agree with Prime Minister Sharon's assessment that Arafat is responsible for the terrorism?
MR. REEKER: We agree that Chairman Arafat is responsible for taking steps to stop the violence, as I just said. We have made that abundantly clear. I think the Secretary underscored over the weekend that the terrorist attacks that occurred were direct attacks against Chairman Arafat's control.
QUESTION: So it's not --
MR. REEKER: And the Palestinian Authority, he needs to respond, as I said, not just by arresting the perpetrators, which is necessary, but also by taking action to ensure that the organizations responsible -- some of them have claimed responsibility -- are unable to commit further acts of such terror. And we continue to work with the parties. General Zinni remains in the region, available to work with the parties to achieve a real cease-fire, which is the paramount focus now in moving forward on this.
As the Secretary said, it's a moment of truth for Mr. Arafat.
QUESTION: And if I can follow up. Does the State Department still oppose what you have called a policy of targeted killings?
MR. REEKER: No change in that policy.
QUESTION: There has been no change. So is that -- is it fair to say that the US would oppose Israeli actions as the one last --
MR. REEKER: Eli, I have nothing new for you on this.
QUESTION: Well, I'm not asking for something new. I'm asking you now, there have been changes since the Sharon meeting; there was a big speech. I'm saying, right now, the State Department still opposes any action the Israelis would take in terms of ending certain terrorists on the ground there?
MR. REEKER: I'm not going to agree with your words and your interpretations in trying to interpret our words. What I'm going to tell you is that there is no change in our policies.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that Chairman Arafat must dismantle the infrastructure behind these attacks. What then do you think of the Israeli strategy, which seems to be in fact to attack the very structure of Arafat, which might be useful in undermining (inaudible) structure of the terrorists?
MR. REEKER: As the President has said, as Secretary Powell has made quite clear, Israel is responsible for providing security for its citizens. And we understand Israel's needs to take decisions regarding its self-defense. Our view on that has not changed. It is important, we think that whatever actions are taken, that all parties consider carefully the repercussions of their actions, so that peace can still be achieved.
And I think Secretary Powell made quite clear again on the weekend that we say, as we always have, that the parties should always consider what happens the day after and the day after that. As he said, we'll keep making our efforts, keep trying to help achieve a cease-fire, because that's the most important step to move forward.
QUESTION: And if I can have a follow-up. Does the United States still consider Chairman Arafat to be a partner for peace? And will General Zinni be having meetings with him in the next few days?
MR. REEKER: I can't give you an exact readout on what General Zinni will be doing. He is remaining in the region, however, and expect him to have contact with Israeli officials, with Palestinian officials. That is what he is there for, that is what he has been charged by the President and the Secretary of State to do.
So he will be in contact. He will be available, because we intend to keep trying to help achieve the cease-fire. And we do think, as I said, that Chairman Arafat can do more, needs to do more, must make the sustained 100 percent effort that we have called for, as the Secretary has described.
QUESTION: Is he still a partner for peace, as you have often described him?
MR. REEKER: I think we have called on Chairman Arafat to take those steps. He can take those steps to help get a cease-fire so that we can move forward with the Mitchell Committee report, which will lead us back onto the road toward peace.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what General Zinni has been doing in the last four hours?
MR. REEKER: I can't. I know that he is in the region and he has been in touch, certainly, with our diplomats in the region. But I don't have an exact breakdown.
QUESTION: Three very elemental things, easy. Last call we know that Powell made was to -- except for the Turkish and the Greek ministers, which are on another subject -- was to Fischer. Have there been any more contacts, number one? Have you heard anything from the Arab world since this campaign got underway? And we know the obvious, but I would like you to state it so we don't have to do it. The Secretary is off to Bucharest. He is going to such distant places as Kazakhstan, I think, maybe --
MR. REEKER: No, he has announced that.
QUESTION: All right, I shouldn't say that --
MR. REEKER: He has announced that and we have put out a statement. Yes.
QUESTION: But he is going to various places. So how does he stay on top of this?
MR. REEKER: If I can --
QUESTION: Could you do a list of calls from the weekend? Thanks.
MR. REEKER: If I can remember, the first question was about calls from the weekend. On Saturday, I think, the Secretary already told you all -- those that were watching the Sunday shows -- that he spoke with Chairman Arafat on Saturday. He also spoke with the Foreign Minister of Ecuador, Foreign Minister Moeller. On Sunday, he spoke with Foreign Minister Fischer of Germany, with Mr. Cem, with Mr. Papandreou, and with Mr. Solana on Sunday. I am not aware of any calls today to give you.
The next question was his travel? As I described at the beginning, and I think I could run you through the stops, we did put out a notice that listed all of the stops, I believe 10, starting with Bucharest where he will arrive tomorrow morning. The Secretary will also visit Turkey. He will visit Brussels where he will meet at the ministerial level with his colleagues and counterparts from the other NATO member countries. Of course, he will be seeing Foreign Minister Ivanov of Russia at both stops.
He will then go on, as you indicated, Barry, to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan. And then expect him to be in Moscow and then, without any particular order, Berlin, Paris and London.
QUESTION: Okay, but --
MR. REEKER: How will he keep in touch?
QUESTION: Yes, you know, mechanically --
MR. REEKER: Very carefully.
QUESTION: Yes, I know, but he's a little bit not in the big tent right now.
MR. REEKER: We have a very big tent, Barry, and our tent includes excellent communications. The Secretary will be in regular contact, obviously, with his team back here, with his team in the field, with the President as necessary, and clearly with any foreign leaders that he needs to be in touch with.
QUESTION: Have you gotten any initial reaction from the Arabs or the Europeans or anybody?
MR. REEKER: I know there have been conversations with other officials, not with the Secretary, with our officials at our embassies. I just don't have any particular readout on any of those. I know we will be in regular touch.
QUESTION: With the repeated calls for Arafat to do more, it seems to me as though you do not believe that Arafat is beyond redemption, there is still a way for him to take the steps that are necessary? That's correct? I mean, this seems a little bit at odds with what Prime Minister Sharon was implying, in that Arafat has made a strategic choice in favor of terrorism, in favor of slaughtering innocent citizens, is what he said.
MR. REEKER: I think I will have to let Prime Minister Sharon speak for himself.
QUESTION: But you guys don't believe that Arafat is beyond --
MR. REEKER: I think the Secretary was quite clear yesterday in saying that he believes that Chairman Arafat can show leadership, can exercise his authority and can take the steps as part of a 100 percent effort to arrest the perpetrators of the heinous crimes from the weekend and, as I said, to take action against the organizations, the infrastructure that allows those groups to carry out terrorist activities. And we believe that he can do that, that take further action, can do more than he has done.
QUESTION: Can he then lead the Palestinian Authority back into peace talks with the Israelis?
MR. REEKER: That will obviously be a decision for the Palestinians. He is the leader of the Palestinian Authority. There is a roadmap for both sides to move back into a more positive direction. But first of all, they've got to get the violence down.
QUESTION: But as far as you're concerned, Arafat is still -- it is still possible for there to be talks between a Palestinian Authority led by Arafat and an Israeli Government led by whoever?
MR. REEKER: I think as the Secretary said, we believe Arafat can take steps --
QUESTION: No, no.
MR. REEKER: -- and they have -- Matt, let me finish -- and they have a road map to move forward. It's the parties that will have to decide what steps they can take, but both of them have agree to the outline of the Mitchell Plan.
QUESTION: Right. Well, let me ask it this way, you don't believe that it's a lost cause?
MR. REEKER: No. We believe that peace can still be achieved. We think that is why it is important that whatever actions the parties take, they have got to consider the repercussions, they have got to look at what happens the day after and the day after that, as the Secretary has said. Because there has got to be a movement towards peace so that all the people of the region can live more peacefully, so that their children and grandchildren will have a better opportunity.
QUESTION: Do you believe that Arafat -- does the government believe that Arafat actually has controlled these groups, and/or knows of their activities, who they are, where they are, et cetera? And does the government believe Arafat can survive?
MR. REEKER: We believe that Chairman Arafat can take steps, can take greater effort to bring individuals responsible for these crimes to justice and take steps beyond arresting the perpetrators of these acts, but take action against the organization responsible for supporting them.
As the Secretary said, these attacks over the weekend were also direct attacks against Chairman Arafat's control, and against the Palestinian Authority. And he needs to respond. He needs to show true leadership. All of those need to realize that this is a moment of truth for Chairman Arafat, and it's time for him now to show his leadership, and to take those steps.
QUESTION: So you believe that he knows who these people are and where they are?
MR. REEKER: We believe that he can work with his authorities, with his officials. He can work with the Israelis on security matters. We have helped create structures through the Tenet work plan. We have General Zinni available for justice (inaudible) to share information, to work together to bring those responsible to justice and to tear down the networks that allow that type of terrorism to take place.
QUESTION: In regard to General Zinni, over the weekend, a bunch of Israelis were shouting and booing at him. Do you think that he still has the ability to work, that they trust him, that they trust his role?
MR. REEKER: General Zinni is an envoy of the President of the United States, and the Secretary of State of the United States. He is there to keep trying to help achieve a peace. He is there to do whatever we can, on behalf of the United States, to help the parties first of all to get the violence down, to bring forward a cease-fire so that when the violence stops, the parties can move in to the path that they have all agreed to, to head towards a negotiation, political discussion that can move forward in the outlines of the Mitchell Committee Report. Definitely.
QUESTION: -- some authority that could be exercised and has a chance --
MR. REEKER: Absolutely, and he remains in the region to work with the parties and to be available to them to help do what I just described.
QUESTION: In the wake of the incidents over the weekend, do you see Zinni's role as changing in any way? At one point he was there to try to facilitate security cooperation, along those lines. Do you see him more as like doing more immediate crisis management? Or is his role exactly the same?
MR. REEKER: Well, I think it still boils down to the same thing, the need to have a cease-fire, to end the violence, to get the violence down, and General Zinni, as well as our embassy and our consulate, are in ongoing contacts with Israeli officials, with Palestinian leaders, to help the parties achieve a durable cease-fire, and that's what they will continue to do.
QUESTION: Phil, two tangentially related questions.
MR. REEKER: Uh-oh.
QUESTION: The first one, considering what this government -- the President the Secretary of State and others -- have said about the fight against terrorism, how are you able to urge restraint on the Israelis? Or are you urging restraint on the Israelis?
And the second question is, if you don't obtain some sort of restraint on the part of the Israelis, what does that do to the Arab members of the other coalition against al-Qaida?
MR. REEKER: Well, I will ask you not to particularly put words into my mouth that weren't there, but our views have not changed on that. As I said, Israeli is responsible for providing security for its citizens, and we certainly understand -- the President has said he understands, the Secretary understands Israel's need to take decisions regarding is self-defense.
To repeat what I said, it's important, we believe, that whatever actions are taken, that all parties consider the repercussions of those actions so that peace can still be achieved. And again, to quote the Secretary, to always consider what happens the say after and the day after that.
We're going to keep trying to help achieve a cease-fire. That's what we want to do. But we think that both sides need to keep these things in mind, and they need to take, in the case of Chairman Arafat, the actions that we have described right now.
QUESTION: Assuming that the Israelis are in fact thinking about what would happen after that, and if they take the sort of action that looks like they are taking now, can they claim the United States gave them a green light?
MR. REEKER: No, I think my colleague at the White House was very clear on that. There was no green light asked for, there was no green light given. This isn't a game of Red-Light-Green-Light. This is about getting a cease-fire, an end to the violence that will allow the sides to move forward. And it means an end to terrorism, it means Chairman Arafat taking the steps which he has promised to do to bring to justice those responsible.
But, again, to chop out the infrastructure, as we have talked about so much in recent weeks, of those organizations that plan and allow these heinous attacks against civilians to take place.
QUESTION: I'm not sure I understood your first answer to my question. Are you saying the United States is not urging restraint on the Israelis?
MR. REEKER: I don't think we have had any change in our view. What we are saying is we understand Israel is responsible for their security and that they need to take the decisions regarding self-defense that they take. But again, we are urging all parties to consider repercussions of their action and always look to the next day and the day after that.
QUESTION: when you say "chop out the infrastructure," I mean, that would entail a significant level of intelligence, a significant level of security forces. Is the United States -- do you think he actually has the -- Arafat has the ability to essentially chop them out, so to say, and do you see the United States helping in that regard?
MR. REEKER: We believe that Chairman Arafat can take additional steps, that he can make a 100 percent effort to have sustained action under his leadership by the Palestinian Authority against those individuals responsible and the infrastructure of the groups that support them. I mean, this didn't happen in a vacuum. And the individuals, part of these terrorist groups, need to be brought to justice, those that are still around, and he needs to take steps to shut down the terrorist networks that can allow that to happen.
We are there in the region to help with security, to help with this type of thing, to allow both sides to work together to facilitate what they have both said is their aim, and that is to end this violence and to move into the Mitchell Committee process. And so, to that extent, as I said, General Zinni remains there, our consulate and our embassy very much in touch to help both sides however we can.
QUESTION: If I could follow up, the actual process -- it is one thing to make arrests of specific individuals. But the actual rooting out and destroying the infrastructure of these groups is fairly detailed and some experts that watch the region have suggested that in terms of infrastructure, that Arafat's apparatus might not be able to do that --
MR. REEKER: I think there is a --
QUESTION: Can I finish? -- would the United States be willing to help Chairman Arafat root out the infrastructure of these groups?
MR. REEKER: Elise, as I have said a dozen times already now, we are willing to help bring about a cease-fire, get the violence down. We're there. We provide our good offices to take the steps necessary. We believe he can do that. He can take those steps. We're there to help. The Israelis can work with them. There are structures. There is the Tenet work plan that is exactly designed for that. These are not new initiatives. These are initiatives and structures that are in place. We are helping. We're there to help. It is what General Zinni is there for. So we think he has to take action against the individuals but also against the organizations responsible before they can commit further acts of terror.
QUESTION: Well, some of the Palestinians today were saying that they had contacted the United States after the Israeli attacks began, to see what you could do to help. Can you tell us about anything -- any of those contacts, who contacted whom?
MR. REEKER: I don't have any specifics on contacts. I believe it may have taken place in the region through our embassy or consulate. Certainly, in all of our messages to the Palestinians, we have emphasized the need to keep a focus on the steps that they must take, as I've indicated here.
QUESTION: Where is Mr. Burns today?
MR. REEKER: Mr. Burns is here in Washington.
QUESTION: Nobody called him, perhaps?
MR. REEKER: I don't know. I would have to check on all of his conversations. I just don't know that.
Israel has taken their own decisions in terms of their response. But we have emphasized to the Palestinians just the message I have emphasized here to all of you and publicly and made clear again that we will maintain our effort with both parties to help them achieve a cease-fire.
QUESTION: So when these contacts happened and the Palestinians called, at least one Palestinian official said that he spoke to a US official and said -- asked him to use whatever pressure the US could to get Israel to stop, you're saying that when that request was made to the US side, you responded by telling them they had to do more to stop violence?
MR. REEKER: I am not saying, because I don't have any particular knowledge of those conversations. I am giving you a general view of what all of our messages to the Palestinians have been, as told to me.
QUESTION: Back to chopping out the infrastructure, does the State Department have an opinion on the Israelis chopping out the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure? Would you counsel against it? Are you counseling against that?
MR. REEKER: I don't think I quite understand your question.
QUESTION: I am saying that there is a problem with terrorist infrastructure. Arafat, you've called on to take the steps necessary to take it out. And how I read Sharon's speech today is that he announced that he was going to take out that infrastructure.
My question is that if Israel has a right to defend itself, does that count in the circle of activities that would be considering self-defense?
MR. REEKER: Let me just refer you back to all of the things that I have said already. There is a structure in place for security talks that we have tried to help facilitate. General Zinni remains there, along with others on the ground, the Tenet work plan and the structure that it provides for the two sides to work together to end the violence and to maintain -- achieve and maintain a cease-fire. The Israelis, as we've said, we understand need to take their own decisions regarding self-defense. We always feel that they need to consider, both parties need to consider repercussions of their actions so that they are thinking about the next day and the day after that.
We are there on the ground. We want to help both sides work on this. Everybody needs to take action together. By working on it together, we think they can achieve real progress. But first and foremost, we think Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority need to take the concrete steps. We have heard the statements, we have heard the promises. We need to see the sustained action necessary to bring the perpetrators of the acts of the weekend to justice, and to bring all of the violence down, to as I said, root out the infrastructure of the groups that support terrorists to that they can't perpetrate further acts of terror.
QUESTION: Phil, can I just ask it one more time again, and then just sort of yes or no. Does the United States believe that Israeli efforts against the Palestinian terror network inside Palestinian territories counts as acting in its self-defense?
MR. REEKER: That's a decision for the Israelis to make. They have to make their decisions; we call upon them to think about the repercussions of their decisions. And I think I have answered that as well as I --
MR. REEKER: Hi. Welcome.
QUESTION: Just going back to the question of restraint. I understand that Israel has a right to defend itself, and that we -- you said we haven't changed our views in terms of all the things we have been saying. But it is significant that the US did not issue an appeal to Israel to restrain its response, and we all knew that there was going to be a response today. And --
MR. REEKER: I didn't.
QUESTION: Well, okay. Well, you knew that there was going to be a response at some point. It was obvious that there was going to be a response at some point, not today; we don't know that. But why is it that, in the past, the US has issued an appeal to the Israelis after Palestinian attacks to restrain its response to avoid further escalation of violence? Why was it okay?
MR. REEKER: I just don't think I have anything further to add to what I have already said here and repeated it numerous times, to what the President has said, what the Secretary has said, what the President's spokesman has said, and I'm sure numerous other people have said.
QUESTION: This is about what they didn't say, though.
MR. REEKER: Look, what happened over the weekend was abominable.
MR. REEKER: There were horrendous, heinous, horrific acts of violence that killed innocent people, young people. The descriptions of what happened to those people, how they were killed, defy comprehension. And so we have expressed our sympathies on that, we have made very clear what we think Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority need to do, the sustained action they need to take. We understand that Prime Minister Sharon, that Israel is responsible for providing security for its citizens.
We also say, again, that we think the Israelis and both sides need to consider the repercussions of their actions so that peace can be achieved. And that still needs to be the goal. They have got to look at what the future will hold, what tomorrow and the day after that will be. And they have the opportunity to work together, with our assistance, with the assistance of others in the international community, to get the violence down, to achieve a cease-fire, to maintain a cease-fire, and move into the process laid out before them, to which we have all agreed is the way to go.
QUESTION: Have we ever in the past, has the US ever said that the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves, when there have been 800 Palestinian deaths, all also young people killed with US missiles from helicopter, gunships, you know, Israel has gotten from the US? We have never said that the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves, when they are in fact in those territories occupied.
MR. REEKER: I think we have condemned death and killing and terrorism in all quarters, and what we need to do is see a process by which the death ends, which the violence ceases, which we get into the end to this cycle. And that is what we are calling on both sides to do, to work towards. That is why we have an envoy in the region. That is why we have said we are available to work with others to take the steps necessary to end that.
MR. REEKER: Look, there's a process, Jonathan --
QUESTION: No, it's a reasonable question.
MR. REEKER: There's a process, Jonathan, by which they can end this violence. There are suicide bombers that have gone in, committed terrorist acts of the most heinous nature. I think it does answer the question, Jonathan. And they can both take the efforts to end that type of terrorist action.
MR. REEKER: Arafat is --
QUESTION: Either they do or they don't. I mean, which one is it?
MR. REEKER: Jonathan, if they work together through the process, we can get the violence down so that we don't have to be talking about self-defense, so that we can be talking in a more positive tone about moving forward for peace.
QUESTION: Why are we talking about self-defense for the Israelis then?
MR. REEKER: Jonathan, over the weekend events occurred, and we understand the Israeli need to take action in self-defense. They will make those decisions. We think they need to make those decisions carefully. They need to think about the repercussions. We think that --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- the Israelis do. That's it?
MR. REEKER: Well, I'll let you make your statements, Jonathan, and I'll make my statements. And you as an independent journalist, I will allow you to make your statements in your writings, not here. I don't think I have anything further to add to that.
QUESTION: Essentially, you take no position on the Israeli strikes today in Gaza and Jenin and Bethlehem. I mean, you say --
MR. REEKER: I think I have been very clear on what our position is. And our bottom line position is we think both sides need to get back --
QUESTION: You are not saying it is a good thing, and you are not saying it's a bad thing. You're not condemning it. And you're not saying it's provocative. But at the same time, you're saying keep in mind --
MR. REEKER: I mean, I could review everything I haven't said --
QUESTION: -- the repercussions --
MR. REEKER: -- and I can say what I've said over again. But I think you would get bored with that.
QUESTION: And what's to say we're not already.
MR. REEKER: I'm sure you are. But I don't ask the questions. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: The point is you are not taking a position on the Israeli response today?
MR. REEKER: Our position is that responses should be thought through. The repercussions of those responses should be thought through. And that's I think all there is.
QUESTION: For instance, in the past, when Israelis have made incursions into Gaza, into other places, you have come out and said, we think this is a bad thing. You're not doing that here, correct?
MR. REEKER: I don't believe I have said that today. I don't --
QUESTION: Can we assume that everything you didn't say was not said intentionally? (Laughter.)
MR. REEKER: Norm gets the prize for the day.
We could spend all afternoon and I could keep talking. I bet I could outlast all of you. All right, if there is a new question, let's go ahead and see if there is something.
QUESTION: These missiles or bombs or whatever that they lobbed seemed to be headed right at the Palestinian authority and Arafat's headquarters. Does that mean you believe Israel is defending itself and that the attacks came from Arafat himself and his authority?
MR. REEKER: I don't know what they targeted. I saw the same pictures on television you did. I have no special information about that.
QUESTION: All right. Another subject?
MR. REEKER: Why don't we move to somebody else.
QUESTION: Do you have any details on the American that was found to be fighting with the Taliban? Have you identified this man and anything else you can --
MR. REEKER: The individual rumored to be an American.
QUESTION: He said on live television that he was American and --
MR. REEKER: That is pretty easy to do. One can do that.
The State Department is working closely with the Defense Department to try to confirm the identity of the individual in question. As you can imagine, given the possibility that he is indeed a US citizen, we must presume a right of privacy and protect that right. Obviously, we would have no Privacy Act waiver. So until we are able to make further conclusions or get further information, I just don't have anything for you on the story.
QUESTION: You don't know what he is, a naturalized US citizen or anything?
MR. REEKER: I don't have any information. We are trying to work to confirm his identity and his citizenship.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? His parents have -- his parents have said that -- have confirmed --
MR. REEKER: I am sure that is one of the factors and one of the pieces of information that is going into the analysis of his identity and his citizenship.
QUESTION: Does an American citizen found to be -- if he is indeed American -- found to be fighting against the US behind enemy lines have a right of privacy, the right to a privacy waiver, or the Privacy Act?
MR. REEKER: American citizens do have Privacy Act waiver, and at this point we don't have any reason to go around that. So we will need to wait until we get more facts and I will let you know all we can when we have something to announce.
QUESTION: Do you know what -- if he is found to be an American, what he would be charged with and what the -- such a crime would be punishable with? Is that a crime of treason?
MR. REEKER: I don't. You need to talk to the Justice Department about that.
QUESTION: If he is a US citizen, is it true that he cannot be tried in the Pentagon military tribunal?
MR. REEKER: You would need to ask the Pentagon or the Justice Department those questions.
QUESTION: On this same subject, not specifically related to this individual, what does someone have to do to lose their citizenship?
MR. REEKER: Someone suggested you were going to ask me that question.
QUESTION: And what are the implications of that, if one does?
MR. REEKER: I'm told that US citizens are not generally prohibited from serving in foreign militaries -- I can think of a number of instances where that occurs -- although doing so may have some adverse consequences for them. Without -- I leave that to you to fill in the blanks, Matt.
Without any particular relevance to this case, because we don't know the facts or the situation there, under Section 349(a)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a person could lose US citizenship by "serving in the armed forces of a foreign state, if such forces are engaged in hostilities against the United States, but only if the person intended to relinquish US citizenship."
And so there may be some questions as to whether Taliban forces would meet the definition of "armed forces of a foreign state" in this provision of the law. I think it is something obviously that would have to be looked at by the Department of Justice, by numerous lawyers. The first step, clearly, is for us to continue working with the Department of Defense in verifying identification and citizenship of the individual in question.
QUESTION: Has he been seen by a consular officer?
MR. REEKER: Not that I am aware of. There are no consular access issues involved, since he is being detained by the US military, not a foreign government.
QUESTION: What you were talking about before in terms of the immigration, does that -- does a congressional declaration of war figure into any of this?
MR. REEKER: Matt, you're way off my territory, and we need to talk to the Justice Department about those questions of law.
QUESTION: No, I'm asking about citizenship.
MR. REEKER: Yes, and the State Department is not responsible for people's citizenship. So I think we would have to talk to Justice about that. I just don't have anything more. We looked into it at a cursory level, and the Immigration and Nationality Act --
QUESTION: No, let me make it straight. If the Taliban is determined to be a force of a state engaged in hostilities with the United States, someone who is an American citizen who is fighting for them could -- and only could -- be considered to have lost their citizenship?
MR. REEKER: I'll let you look up Section 349(a)(3) --
QUESTION: I was trying to figure out what you just said, Phil.
MR. REEKER: Yes.
QUESTION: Only if they intend -- and the reason it's "could" is because they have to intend --
MR. REEKER: I'm just -- I'm not here to make a legal determination for you. I don't want to make a final legal judgment. I can't interpret the law fully. I'm pointing you to a part of the law. It's really a Justice Department matter. But the Immigration and Nationality Act is the binding law that would probably play in this still-hypothetical situation, until we have made the determinations a fact. And so that is one place you might look and see if lawyers or others would render a more firm opinion, and maybe the Justice Department would have something.
QUESTION: Have you been -- has anyone from this building been in touch with the people who claim to be this guy's parents?
MR. REEKER: I don't know. I would have to check. Or let me try to check here.
I don't have any further information on it at all. But when we get some, we will be in touch, and you may want to talk to the Defense Department or the Justice Department as well.
QUESTION: Have you heard anything from Mr. Dobbins in Bonn? And what is telling you?
MR. REEKER: I think we have been in touch with Ambassador Dobbins fairly regularly. I think you are all aware that the Afghan representatives in Bonn met through the weekend, seeking agreement on a structure and composition for an interim authority for Afghanistan, and then on details of the process to establish a broad-based government through a loya jirga, the traditional process.
Obviously it's a difficult process, but I think Ambassador Dobbins' general reports have indicated that the Afghans continue to make progress under this UN-sponsored process. There is general approval of a UN-drafted document on the structure of interim authority. And the last report I had was that they are finalizing detail and discussing the membership of the authority. But I just don't have any particular details on the whos and whats in terms of positions, or the exact role of the former King, Zahir Shah. That is still being worked out by the Afghan parties, and we certainly hope that they will keep working until they have a final agreement.
QUESTION: Anything new on your active consideration of sending someone to the embassy in Kabul?
MR. REEKER: Nothing new on that. I'm sure it is still being considered active.
QUESTION: Right. Okay, and I've got one more very brief one.
MR. REEKER: Sure.
QUESTION: On Saturday, the Interior Minister of Peru came out and said that his government had arrested two Shining Path members, who were planning to attack or blow up the US Embassy in Lima today. Shortly after, or maybe shortly before his comments, the State Department put out an announcement about Peru, saying that there were indications that the Shining Path was trying to regroup, and that they may stage attacks against American interests this month, i.e. December. Is this what that statement was talking about?
MR. REEKER: Obviously we have been in touch with the Peruvian authorities, and you are correct, we alerted American citizens in Peru, put it out there in a Public Announcement, to the possibility of heightened Shining Path activity. Embassy officials continue to review the security situation, working closely with Peruvian authorities, and as threats are discovered and they are considered credible, that is when we make these alerts.
The Embassy and US facilities in Lima remain open to the public. We do understand that the Fulbright Commission, which is a private organization, but obviously linked to the United States, is closed today, and we certainly appreciate the efforts of the Government of Peru to monitor and disrupt potential terrorist attacks against US facilities, since our security officials work very closely with them.
QUESTION: What is the Fulbright Commission?
MR. REEKER: The Fulbright Commission would be the office that oversees the Fulbright Exchange Program.
QUESTION: And is that in the embassy?
MR. REEKER: No, I believe it is in a separate location.
QUESTION: Why is it closed?
QUESTION: In Lima, though?
MR. REEKER: In Lima, yes.
QUESTION: Why is it closed? Is there any specific threat?
MR. REEKER: I don't have any more information on that, other than that they chose to close today. I don't have any further information on it. It's an independent organization. But to make clear that the embassy, however, is open.
Okay, let's get to some of these folks here. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Now that we're in Latin America, let me ask you about Venezuela. I've been trying to get somebody to say something over here. But if there is a serious political explosion down there within the next week and you don't say anything about it or appear to know anything about it, I would think you would be somewhat embarrassed. Do you know about the situation?
MR. REEKER: I'm never embarrassed when I stand up here and take your questions.
I think you are referring to the situation where the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce has called for a general strike on December 10th. Am I correct in that reference?
QUESTION: A week from today, right.
MR. REEKER: Protesting the recent enactment by President Chavez of several laws. And we have said that the Venezuelan Confederation of Workers -- they have said that they will support that strike.
It is a domestic, internal domestic matter. It is certainly not appropriate for the US to comment at this time. We are looking, of course, through our consular information program at any need for public announcements in case the situation warrants people taking a look at their travel plans or their situation there. So we will let you know if we have any updates to make in terms of that.
QUESTION: If the supply of oil from down there should be cut off, what are you prepared to do about it?
MR. REEKER: I think you are speaking in hypotheticals. I think it is not something that is part of the State Department's purview. Our embassy will continue to monitor developments in Venezuela closely, as we always do. We are not going to characterize a situation there or anywhere else based on possible future events. There is, I think, a larger democratic dialogue going on in Venezuela and this proposed general strike is part of that. So we will continue to watch events there and be happy to take your questions as things evolve.
QUESTION: Would the US be willing to apply the Carta Democratica of the OEA?
MR. REEKER: It's purely speculative at this point.
QUESTION: Would the US support making a requirement for Arafat to take additional substantive action toward ending terrorist groups as being part of a new peace agreement in the Middle East? Being an actual --
MR. REEKER: I just don't think I have anything to add that far down the road. We need to get a cease-fire, we need to end the violence. We have a structure, the Mitchell Committee recommendations, which provide for the parties to move forward in an environment free of violence and move towards a peace agreement. Obviously, to have peace, you have to end violence and so that is what we are looking for, and I have already run through what we are calling on Chairman Arafat and his authority to undertake.
QUESTION: There is an explosive article in Esquire coming out --
MR. REEKER: Coming out? Not out yet?
QUESTION: It is already out. And it is involving Sudan and US policy in Sudan.
QUESTION: Vanity Fair.
QUESTION: Vanity Fair. Sorry.
MR. REEKER: Well, then, let's move on --
QUESTION: No, no, no, no, no, let me just ask this question. In this article, one of the things the author claims is that the US supported with a lot of aid and in some cases sort of hints at military support the southern Christian rebels. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. REEKER: I don't. I haven't seen the article. It hasn't actually come out yet. When I get my copy, I'll try to read it.
QUESTION: It has. Susan Rice --
MR. REEKER: I couldn't rush out to the newsstand to get it, and my subscription may have lapsed. I'm sorry, Eli, I just don't have anything for that.
QUESTION: Assuming that the answer to my question is going to be "yes," and the question is, are the Saudis still cooperating with the US, can you tell us how Assistant Secretary Burns' visit to Riyadh went? I assume it went swimmingly well, since the Saudis are doing everything they can to help you out.
MR. REEKER: Thank you, Matt. What Matt said.
QUESTION: It went swimmingly well?
MR. REEKER: Those of you that will recall, Assistant Secretary Burns was traveling in the region. In the course of his recent trip, he stopped in Riyadh, where he discussed a range of bilateral and regional issues with Saudi Arabian officials, including terrorist financing. He had solid discussions, in which we reaffirmed our mutual commitment to targeting the sources of international terrorism funding.
As you know, we have had a constructive dialogue with Saudi Arabia on many issues, including this subject. The Secretary indicated way back on November 7th that Saudi Arabia has been prominent among the countries acting against the accounts of terrorist organizations, and like so many other countries taking action in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1333. So we understand that the Saudi Central Bank has issued instructions to banks in Saudi Arabia to look for and freeze accounts listed by the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee, and we remain very pleased with the cooperation and work we have had together with the Saudis on this matter.
QUESTION: Three related questions. Has there been any --
MR. REEKER: Three related questions? Can I get more water?
QUESTION: Has there been any support from moderate governments -- Matt did mention Saudi Arabia -- religious factions that seem not to be entering into this because they're not states, and NGOs? And, secondly, is there some support that you are getting from the media, meaning not just us, but worldwide to end this good-boy/bad-boy type of reporting so that the parties, as you say, can somewhat meet under constructive -- to put together a constructive framework to enter, as you say, into the Mitchell plan without the media spotlight, not being undermined by what, say, one media group or another?
MR. REEKER: Well, we always encourage the media not to undermine efforts toward peace. (Laughter.) That is certainly something we stand for.
Joel, I think the topics you raise are certainly interesting, and probably more for a different forum where we may -- one of the think tanks around town or perhaps something we could organize here would be interesting to talk about that.
Certainly in answer to your first question, we support numerous moderate or otherwise countries that we work with at a variety of levels, bilaterally and multilaterally in the region and elsewhere. Our goals in the campaign against terrorism are clear, and so I think that is something we will continue to work on.
There was another one over here. I don't want to miss anybody.
QUESTION: I didn't identify myself before. Lavine Salem with Islam Online. I just had one more question about Arafat's role. And I was wondering how the US could call on him to take substantive actions when all of his apparatus of doing so -- considering his headquarters is blown up, their police stations, et cetera -- how do you propose that he take those actions when his very resources are destroyed?
MR. REEKER: We believe he can take those actions. He has said he will take action. He said it in his own statements. And so we want to hold him to those statements, and we think he can take action.
QUESTION: More so than the arrests that he has made, which he has gotten a lot of grief for from Palestinians?
MR. REEKER: Well, he shouldn't get grief for it, because making those type of arrests of those that carry out criminal acts like those committed over the weekend is what he needs to do, it is what he has agreed to do, and he needs to do more, and not just arresting perpetrators, but taking action to ensure that the organizations responsible can't commit further acts of terror, because that is the way we will move forward by ending this type of violence and moving forward in an atmosphere of calm into a process that could lead to peace.
QUESTION: Just one last thing. As far as Israel's response, do you think that there now will be a Palestinian response, then another Israeli response? Because that seems to be what is happening. So unless there is a call for restraint on both sides, I think the debilitating obstacles --
MR. REEKER: Yes, I don't have anything further to add. We have been through this. We have been quite clear about what we want to see happen. We have people in the region, including General Zinni, the President's envoy, who is in close touch with officials here, with our embassy and consulate there in the region and in touch with officials from both Palestinian Authority and from the Israeli Government to try to see whatever we can do to help the process move along, to bring an end to the violence, to get a cease-fire that can be sustained so that we can move into a more positive direction than what we have seen in the last few days.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 2:40 p.m.)
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