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MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be here. Even as we speak, the UN Security Council is considering and, we hope, adopting a new resolution for an international security presence for Afghanistan to help support the establishment of the new government. As you know, the British have offered to lead this effort and already have some people going in. So we think those are positive developments. I'll leave it to our people up at the Security Council to talk a little more once that's adopted. But I think that's good news today and shows that we are moving forward towards establishing and supporting a new governing authority for Afghanistan.
I'll stop with that and take your questions about that or any other topic.
QUESTION: General Zinni slipped in today and apparently is seeing the Secretary. Is there something you can tell us about their meeting? Will he go back, for instance?
MR. BOUCHER: Go back to the Secretary or go back to the region?
QUESTION: Anyplace, Williamsburg, the Secretary, the Marine Corps, whatever. (Laughter.)
MR. BOUCHER: A, B, maybe not C, and probably D, the region, too, sometime. Let me run you through where we are.
The Secretary did meet this morning with General Zinni and Assistant Secretary Burns. They discussed the current situation of the Israelis and the Palestinians and they considered what the next steps might be. General Zinni will return to the region when the Secretary and he believe that his presence can be effective in moving towards a durable cease-fire. The Secretary and General Zinni did note improvement in the security situation in recent days, including some positive steps that have been undertaken by the Palestinian Authority and also the direct discussions between the sides that were held last night in a bilateral security meeting.
At the same time, they both noted the Palestinian Authority needs to take further steps. They need to do more to make their steps effective and decisive in ending the violence. We think the direct contact should continue if terror and violence are to be effectively combated and the relative calm of the past few days is to be sustained and strengthened.
The Secretary, General Zinni and Assistant Secretary Burns also reviewed the importance of concrete steps to improve the day-to-day lives of Palestinians. As the Palestinian Authority continues to move in a serious manner on security, Israel must also take steps on the ground to ease restrictions on the Palestinian population.
We are working with the international community to urge the Palestinian Authority to carry out a sustained and effective effort to end the violence. You saw evidence of that yesterday in our discussions with the European Union. The Secretary continues to be in close touch with other members of the international community. We also believe that steps by the Palestinian Authority to end the violence would facilitate the ability of the international community to assist them in some of their economic hardships as well.
So that is the situation where we are now. As far as when exactly, that will depend on steps in the region.
QUESTION: When you say the State Department would like the two sides to continue their direct contacts, are you saying whether or not -- even if Zinni doesn't go back right away, you know, get back to it and deal with security without him, if need be?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, yes. The United States has always had a role, whether it's General Zinni or officials of our missions out there, we have always had a role helping organize or helping the parties to the extent they need it and want it, to get together on security issues. But we think that effective steps by the Palestinian Authority, continued direct discussions of security issues, as well as Israeli steps to ease the hardships that the Palestinians are suffering, those are the elements of moving forward out of this very difficult situation that we are in now.
QUESTION: You said that Zinni will return to the region when the time seemed right; I can't remember your exact words.
MR. BOUCHER: When the Secretary and he believe that his presence can be effective.
QUESTION: Can you give us any idea of what kinds of questions will have to be answered about whether his trip could be useful? Is it a case of violence being lower than it is right now, or --
MR. BOUCHER: I think what we are really looking for is sort of sustained and decisive action, first of all, by the Palestinian Authority to carry out the elements that were promised in Chairman Arafat's positive, constructive speech. We have seen some positive steps so far. And we also believe that as the Palestinians continue to take serious steps against the violence, that the Israelis should be prepared to -- the Israelis, in fact, should take steps to ease the restrictions on the Palestinians.
So I think what we want to see is that process under way. We certainly want to see the kind of effective steps that we have asked for from the Palestinian Authority
QUESTION: Richard, when you say that as the Palestinian Authority takes further serious steps, are you saying that the steps they have taken so far are -- you do believe they are serious?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, they have taken some serious steps already. We want to see that made effective, decisive.
QUESTION: Did the Secretary, Assistant Secretary Burns and General Zinni also note the Israeli withdrawals from some areas -- the troop and tank withdrawals from some areas?
MR. BOUCHER: They discussed the overall situation, some of the particulars. I can't remember, frankly, if those particulars came up or not.
QUESTION: The reason I asked is, are those -- is that the kind of steps you would like to see the Israelis --
MR. BOUCHER: That's certainly the kind of steps we would look forward to seeing, yes. Yes. Anything to ease the restrictions and provide a better framework for normal life, to the extent it can exist within these circumstances.
QUESTION: Have you guys looked into these reports that came out yesterday, that Hamas was considering giving up suicide bombings? I don't know if you give any credibility to those reports. And also, since the Secretary announced yesterday about the Zinni meeting, why was it kept off the official schedule until five minutes before the meeting started?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't know that it was five minutes before the meeting started. I do know that the final time for the meeting was not set until this morning and that is why it was not on the schedule last night. Once the Secretary says he wants to see somebody, it sometimes takes the rest of us to find the exact time a little longer.
QUESTION: What about Hamas?
MR. BOUCHER: And what about Hamas? Nothing particular to say on that. They shouldn't be carrying out suicide bombings. They should stop; they shouldn't have started.
QUESTION: -- that this would be any more credible than any previous such suggestions?
MR. BOUCHER: We don't think that you can just rely on promises and statements from people associated with Hamas. We think that groups like that that carry out terrorism need to be shut down. That is what we have been asking for.
QUESTION: Two quick questions. When you talk about the steps that Israel needs to take to ease the economic hardship, are you saying that they need to take them as the Palestinians take further steps in terms of security? Are you saying that since the Palestinians have taken those steps now, that the Israelis should start then with other kinds of steps to ease the economic situation?
MR. BOUCHER: We have said that, as the Palestinian Authority continues to move in a serious manner on security, Israel must also take steps on the ground to ease restrictions on the Palestinian population. So that is the situation as we see it right now.
QUESTION: I don't want to be nit-picky, but are you saying that the Israelis should -- as "continue," is that a future, and the future Israel should do this, or they should do it now?
MR. BOUCHER: Present. That's the present, "now," where we are, now.
QUESTION: I had a second question, if that's all right?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: One of the factors that would be considered for sending Zinni back to the region would be whether or not the Israelis and the Palestinians would want him back. Is that one of the things you are considering?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. (Laughter.) Let's just make it obvious. I wouldn't make a grand analysis of that answer. But the answer is, obviously, yes.
QUESTION: Is it your understanding that General Zinni still is going to go see the President as well?
MR. BOUCHER: That will be up to the White House to schedule.
QUESTION: I just want to know -- when he was recalled -- I am not asking for when. I am just asking, is that still the plan?
MR. BOUCHER: We continue to expect General Zinni to report to the President and to the Secretary. And he has had a conversation with the Secretary. Exactly how he reports to the President and when and what the nature is of that report, I leave that to the White House.
QUESTION: You gave us some of the elements they were talking about. But could you characterize the overall conversation as any adjective? Frustrated or hopeful or, I don't know, frank and constructive?
MR. BOUCHER: Engaged. How about that?
QUESTION: No, I mean, what does General Zinni think? What does General Zinni think overall?
MR. BOUCHER: The discussion of the Secretary with General Zinni and Assistant Secretary Burns is serious, it's committed. We are going to continue to work to try to end the violence, to try to make lives better for Israelis and Palestinians and try to bring the parties back to a path where they can achieve peace through negotiations. That is a firm commitment of the United States. We are going to look for every opportunity to do that.
But, clearly, we are looking for the parties to take the steps that allow that to happen. So, you know, we're serious, we're committed, but we are also looking to them to take the real actions on the ground to stop the violence and get us back on that path. So serious and committed is about as good as I can do for you today.
QUESTION: Your Indian counterpart this morning has said, no thanks, we are not going to share any information with the Pakistanis. And this is directly counter to what you guys were hoping they would do.
Is the Indian position --
MR. BOUCHER: Didn't we do that yesterday? They said it again?
QUESTION: They said no again. Exactly.
MR. BOUCHER: I would go back to where we were. The Indian Government is going to need to do a full and thorough investigation. We look forward to hearing the conclusions of that investigation. We do think that any information that they can provide gives a better basis for us to all understand what happened and try to move forward against terrorism. We think it's important for India and Pakistan each to take steps against terrorism and the Pakistani authorities have made a very clear commitment to move against groups that might be carrying out terrorism and any information the Indians can provide in whatever form to whatever party would be useful in helping them do that.
QUESTION: The reason that she said that the Indians would -- they would only share information with their friends and with their allies in the global war against terrorism. Now, the last time I checked, I thought Pakistan was right near the top of the list of all the allies in the global war against terrorism --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to sit here at 12,000 miles distance and parse exact words that somebody else said.
QUESTION: I'm not asking you to parse them.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, you are.
QUESTION: No, I'm not. Do you think that India should be allowed to have its own little war on terrorism by itself with their own allies, or is it still a global campaign against all terrorism?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to attempt to explain what an Indian Government spokesman --
QUESTION: I am not asking you to explain what she said.
MR. BOUCHER: You are.
QUESTION: I am asking you whether the United States --
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to define what the Indians mean by the word "ally." I am just going to stop. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you answer this then? Do you consider Pakistan to be a member of the coalition against terrorism?
MR. BOUCHER: We consider Pakistan to be at the forefront in the fight against terrorism?
QUESTION: And do you consider India to be in that as well?
MR. BOUCHER: We consider India to be at the forefront of the fight against terrorism.
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to explain what they consider each other to be. That wouldn't get me anywhere.
QUESTION: Is this building considering sending any senior officials -- and not Francis Taylor -- to the region in the next couple days?
MR. BOUCHER: Why not Francis Taylor?
QUESTION: Well, because --
MR. BOUCHER: We're not allowed to send him anymore?
QUESTION: No, no, no. You are --
MR. BOUCHER: He is going to go to Pakistan and India early next month.
QUESTION: Is anyone else leaving to go?
MR. BOUCHER: We don't know of any other trips planned. But I'm sure we have people back and forth all the time.
QUESTION: Can you say anything about troop movements on the India northern Pakistani side of the line of control?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't. We have seen some reports of ongoing violence in Kashmir, including some exchanges between Indian and Pakistani positions on the line of control. Clashes in Kashmir today apparently resulted in death and injury to dozens of persons, including suspected members of the militant groups Lashkar-e-Tayyba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, but we have no independent confirmation of these skirmishes. So we don't have any further information for you. Just what we have seen in the reporting. Apparently this is what is happening, but we can't confirm it, really.
MR. BOUCHER: She's got one down here, too.
QUESTION: Well, it's not about -- it's not about India, so --
MR. BOUCHER: Hold on. She had one, too.
QUESTION: Unless he's got his -- I'm going to change the subject, so --
MR. BOUCHER: Okay. You're going to change the subject or not?
QUESTION: No, it's on the same. In an editorial, today's Washington Post is inviting actually India to attack your ally Pakistan in the name of terrorism, using as example, it says USA and Israel, these attacks as a matter of self-defense. Do you guarantee the security of your ally, Pakistan?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't read the editorial that way, so I don't think that's a hypothetical that I want to get into.
QUESTION: I am surprised. You did not read the editorial already? In The Washington Post?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't read it exactly the way you did. I will have to go back and see. But I don't think I want to get into commenting on editorial commentary like that at this point. We have made quite clear -- we have made quite clear this is not time for India and Pakistan to fight each other. This is time for all of us to get together and fight against terrorism. We look to them to do that. That's where we will stop.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), at least the Indian side doesn't appear to be going in that direction?
MR. BOUCHER: I do think that we have a lot of cooperation with these governments in the fight against terrorism, and that's the direction we think we are going in, too, and that's the direction we want to keep going in.
QUESTION: Would you consider offering your good offices of the US to be a conduit for Indian information to the Pakistanis?
MR. BOUCHER: As far as I know, we haven't been asked to do that. I will just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Well, would you?
MR. BOUCHER: We have always made clear that we are happy to do whatever we can to help out. We are obviously interested in whatever information is developed on this event, and who is responsible, and we will be in touch with the parties and keep talking to them about that as investigations proceed and as the parties continue to consider this problem.
MR. BOUCHER: We have made clear our willingness to help out, if we can. I'll leave it at that.
QUESTION: And this not (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: In this specific instance, we have made -- we have been in very close touch with the parties, we have made quite clear that we think investigative information, any information that can be provided is useful, and that's about where I'll stop at this point.
QUESTION: Can I ask just (inaudible), because I know we kind of danced around it. The US State Department identifies terrorist groups that Pakistan has trained to fight in Kashmir, and Indian soldiers get shot and killed by them. Is the US -- and there are skirmishes now. Is the United States telling India not to take on terrorists in Kashmir? I mean, you're not going to take them on. So there's an alliance, but you have kind of a full plate right now. And, of course, Afghanistan still is where it's at. Is the US telling India, hold your fire, don't go after terrorism?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know how many different ways you want to phrase this. I will phrase it the way we have actually said it, and that is the way I have told you for the past three days. We have made clear to Pakistan and India that it is not time for them to take action against each other. We think it's time for each of these countries, for Pakistan and India to take action against terrorism.
Pakistani officials have made clear, and continue to assure us, that they will move against extremist groups, including those that India claims is responsible for last week's attacks against the Indian Parliament, if they get evidence of the culpability. So any evidence that India can provide, Pakistan or otherwise, to establish its case --
MR. BOUCHER: I know. But instead of --
QUESTION: Isn't that what the Taliban was saying about bin Laden for the last five years?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know where we're going on this, but I'll tell you what we're saying. I don't really want to try to agree to every time somebody wants to rephrase it. Okay?
QUESTION: What I wanted to ask about was US visits to Somalia recently. There are reports of, earlier this week, US authorities visiting with the Rahanwayn Army, the resistance army opposed to the transitional government in Mogadishu. But then Glen Warren was visiting the transitional government in Mogadishu yesterday, I believe. What is the purpose of the US visits to Somalia right now, just amidst all the speculation that Somalia might be next? Although I know that Rumsfeld denied that.
MR. BOUCHER: I think we talked about that yesterday, about Glenn Warren's visit yesterday. And obviously we want to keep in touch with parties who operate in Somalia. We want to make sure that Somalia doesn't become a safe haven for terrorists or for people fleeing from Afghanistan or elsewhere, where they are under pressure from military steps or law enforcement steps or financial steps that we're carrying out in the coalition, and we will continue to discuss this with people in Somalia and consider how we can make sure that Somalia doesn't become a safe haven.
QUESTION: Is there support for one group over the other, transitional government versus the resistance army?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we want to work with anybody who is prepared to work with us on this.
QUESTION: How frequent were Mr. Warren or any predecessor's trips into Somalia, do you know, and has that changed at all?
MR. BOUCHER: I would have to check. They were periodic, as we say. But I don't know what period.
QUESTION: As in periods of a year or a month?
MR. BOUCHER: I will check.
QUESTION: Could you check? Thank you.
QUESTION: -- following the Pakistani president's visit to China closely?
MR. BOUCHER: We are aware of it. The Secretary talked to both President Musharraf and Foreign Minister Sattar yesterday, and I think they were already in China when he talked to them. But, no, I don't have any particular statements or conclusions to draw. They are just there.
QUESTION: When the Secretary called them, did they discuss anything about China?
MR. BOUCHER: Not that I am aware of.
QUESTION: I hate in a way to go back to the Middle East again. But just to mop up a little, Burns doesn't go back either, does he? And when you ask the two to work together, does that mean -- Kurtzer and the consul in Jerusalem --
MR. BOUCHER: They work together already.
QUESTION: In other words, you are not going to put a Washington overlay on it? You want our people in the region --
MR. BOUCHER: Hold it. We're not talking about Americans working with each other. The Americans already work with each other. We're encouraging the Israelis and Palestinians to work with each other.
QUESTION: I don't know how you would construct that from what I said. Zinni isn't going back right away. We didn't ask if Burns is going back.
MR. BOUCHER: The same thing. It's Zinni's mission. As you know, when he started, Burns went out with him. But it's Zinni's mission now. There is no separate travel schedule for Burns.
QUESTION: When you say we are always ready to be helpful, we're talking about the Kurtzer --
MR. BOUCHER: We are talking about people at the US Embassy, the US Consul General, who have been helpful in the past in helping organize meetings. We're always willing, we're always interested, we're always working on trying to do that.
QUESTION: Was the U.S. present at the security meeting last night?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me see if it was trilateral or bilateral. I can't remember. Trilateral. So we were there too.
QUESTION: Can you share any assessment of the Israelis and Palestinian officials who came out of it saying it was a failure and didn't achieve anything?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I'm going to offer an assessment of any particular meeting. We think the fact of meetings is important and useful and they should keep trying to make it work better and better every time.
QUESTION: Without characterizing it then, without you characterizing the meeting any way or another, just the fact that they met is a good sign?
MR. BOUCHER: We think that this kind of direct contact is important and it's good. Yes.
QUESTION: Can I move to Argentina? I mean, not physically -- but do you have anything to say about the crisis there and about US views about how it could be solved?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I would say first of all that we are very concerned about the situation in Argentina. We are following the situation very closely. For many months now, the Secretary of State and his colleagues have spent a lot of time actually looking and working on the issue of Argentina, obviously working with our Treasury Department on the financial side of things.
Argentina is a very important friend and ally. We have maintained very close contact with the Government of Argentina over many months, as it has sought to address its economic challenges.
As we have continued to stress, we want to see Argentina working with the International Monetary Fund to work through this difficult situation in ways that lead toward sustainable economic growth. We would encourage all parties in Argentina to work toward the same goal.
The Secretary met a day or two ago with the Foreign Minister of Argentina. They discussed the situation at that time at considerable length. The Secretary indicated again our support, our desire to work with them, and our desire to see all the parties in Argentina work together to try to resolve the economic problems there.
QUESTION: Any thought to anyone going there, visiting there?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any particular visits, but then I don't know what the IMF or Treasury might be doing.
QUESTION: There's no -- you have nothing on what the US views of how the IMF or the World Bank or other financial organizations --
MR. BOUCHER: We have been working closely with them already, so I will leave that part of it to Treasury.
QUESTION: Can I move -- yesterday I asked you if you knew anything about the situation on the Comoros with these mercenaries, who -- did you ever manage to figure out exactly what these guys were doing with this letter from the -- fake letter from the Pentagon?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I mean, the stories are fascinating, but frankly, we don't have any information. We don't have any people on the ground there. And so I don't really have anything more to explain.
QUESTION: Other than you don't think that it's a good idea for vigilante -- for people to use this as an excuse -- use the war on terrorism as an excuse to settle their own personal --
MR. BOUCHER: I think that's a proposition I could ascribe to, yes.
QUESTION: Do you share the -- the Comoran official this morning described these people -- at least some of them are French mercenaries, but described them all as "gullible idiots." What are you --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we have actually met them ourselves, so we will leave it to others to describe them.
QUESTION: Did we ever find out what was in Deputy Secretary Armitage's office?
MR. BOUCHER: We don't have a final result on that yet. Not yet. We said 24 to 48 hours. I think we're about 24 now.
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: Another subject. It was reported extensively today in Athens, in Ankara, that the Department of State ordered NIMA, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, not to include the maritime borders between Greece and Turkey, over the Aegean Sea in the new digital maps known as "Project CD-85". Could you please comment?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll try to get you something on that. I'm aware of the subject, but I don't have an answer right now. I will try to get you something on it.
QUESTION: Richard, one thing. I don't know if the CSCE people -- what are they called now? CSCE, or OSCE?
MR. BOUCHER: OSCE.
QUESTION: They were supposed to see the Under Secretary about human rights in Turkmenistan. Do you happen to have any results of that? I don't know if they even met yet; it's today.
MR. BOUCHER: I'll check on it for that -- for you on that one, if that's a pressing issue.
QUESTION: Another meeting that is supposed to be going on in this building today, I think the parents of the missionaries who were kidnapped in the Philippines were coming in to see someone here today; do you know anything about that?
MR. BOUCHER: Coming in here, or --
QUESTION: They were on the Hill yesterday, but --
MR. BOUCHER: Frank Ricciardone, who is the ambassadorial nominee for the Philippines met with them at Senator Brownback's office Wednesday morning. That was yesterday. I'm not aware they are coming into the building, but I'll double check on that.
QUESTION: Can you -- do you have anything on that meeting, what was -- the Ricciardone meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing particular. We have cited to them, we have made them aware of a joint press statement by President Bush and Philippine President Macapagal-Arroyo on November 20th. It called for the safe, immediate and unconditional release of the Burnham couple, and all the hostages in the Philippines. That has been our view, and that remains our view.
QUESTION: Yes, but is it -- did you get an answer -- oh, never mind.
MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.
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