September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
State Dept. Daily Briefing; December 31, 2001

Daily Press Briefing
Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 31, 2001

Editor's Note

This informal, on-the-record, press briefing took place in lieu of the regular daily press briefing. No Index was prepared for this briefing. No audio copy will be available.


MR. REEKER: All right, so what are folks interested in? Why don't we now go on the record and I wish you all a happy New Year's Eve. And we'll get started. Do you want to just start on South Asia?

QUESTION: Yes, diplomacy on South Asia.

MR. REEKER: Just to bring you up to date on the Secretary's phone calls over the weekend: On Saturday, Secretary Powell spoke with President Musharraf of Pakistan twice, and also with Indian Minister for External Affairs Singh. He spoke with Mr. Singh again on Sunday. And then today, the 31st of December, he has spoken with Foreign Minister Fischer of Germany, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and Foreign Secretary Straw of the UK, and with President Musharraf.

QUESTION: Is that all, Fischer, Kofi and Straw, all basically about South Asia?

MR. REEKER: Certainly, South Asia would have been a subject. I can't tell you everything they spoke about on this last day of the calendar year. But certainly South Asia is something that we have been well engaged with, as you know, throughout the last couple of weeks.

We welcome the efforts by India and Pakistan to defuse tensions between them over ending terrorist attacks against India. Pakistan is continuing to act against militant fundamentalist groups that are a threat to itself and to its neighbors. On Sunday, Pakistan arrested Hafiz Saeed, the founder and de facto head of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorist organization. And, as we noted before, Pakistan has also arrested other members of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed and closed offices of both organizations.

I think you all noted that Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh has welcomed the arrest of Saeed, calling it and other Pakistani actions a step forward. And we are pleased that both countries continue to act responsibly in order to avoid a conflict. As we have said so many times, they need to resolve their differences through dialogue. And it is important for each country to avoid actions that could raise tensions and spiral out of control.

So I have outlined for you the calls the Secretary has made recently. And, as we have also mentioned before, Indian and Pakistani leaders are planning to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation ministerial and summit in Kathmandu the first week of January. So this is a good opportunity for them to seek to make progress toward resolving their current differences.

QUESTION: The other day, you were calling on them to restrict military movements. That was about three days ago. Now, can you update us on that?

MR. REEKER: Yes, I think on Friday I said again that reports of missile deployments and military movements can only heighten tension and uncertainty in the situation and that certainly remains the case. I haven't seen particular new reports. But generally, again, as I said, it is important for each country to avoid actions that could raise tensions and spiral out of control, and we continue to stress that as well as the need for a dialogue and the fact that they are both going to be represented in Kathmandu. That gives them an opportunity for dialogue as well as their continued diplomatic ties. So that continues to be the message that we and others in the international community have given.

QUESTION: You don't have any specifics on the call with Musharraf today. Do you know, or do you know if he specifically said, we're happy that you arrested Saeed?

MR. REEKER: I don't, but we certainly are. I don't know -- I can't tell you exactly what his conversation -- he has had a regular dialogue now, almost daily and sometimes more than once a day, with President Musharraf. And certainly that point was clear, and we welcome that arrest. We think that's a good move. And certainly President Musharraf is taking these steps with, I think, as I indicated, public support because that is what is in the best interests of Pakistan, to not allow extremists to drive their agenda.

QUESTION: The Pakistanis are talking about these detentions as only detentions unless they get evidence against these people that the Indians have. Are we in any way trying to facilitate any transfer of evidence?

MR. REEKER: I am not aware of that specifically. It is obviously something that the two countries can talk about in their ongoing investigation of the horrible attack on the Indian parliament. We talked about that, but --

QUESTION: Is the United States willing to be a courier --

MR. REEKER: Our position hasn't changed on that. We are in touch with both countries and we are encouraging them to have a dialogue on all of these subjects and use dialogue to resolve their differences.

QUESTION: What can you say about a special envoy going to the region?

MR. REEKER: There is no decision on that. Our envoys are in the region. Ambassador Blackwell is there, Ambassador Chamberlin is there.

QUESTION: There was talk about Armitage going out there.

MR. REEKER: Well, there was talk. There was a New York Times article that listed some names.

They've got their summit meeting -- their ministerial and then their summit meeting. It is a whole process, I think, from the 2nd through the 6th or something in Kathmandu with the SAARC.

QUESTION: The heads of government will be there toward the end?

MR. REEKER: That is my understanding of it. Of course, it is not a meeting for us, so I don't know the details of it. But I think it is -- Singh and Sattar are traveling even as early as tomorrow to get to Kathmandu for meetings, I believe, the ministerial meeting, I believe, starts Wednesday.

QUESTION: Not to belabor or try to blow this out of proportion, but on the -- talking about the idea of an envoy, the Times story also mentioned Haass.

MR. REEKER: I can't answer a question on something that hasn't been decided. But we'll certainly keep you posted.

QUESTION: One on the sequence of the calls? On Saturday, was it in relation to the President's call?

MR. REEKER: I just couldn't tell you. I don't know what time the President's calls were made. I know the Secretary has been in touch, obviously, with the President and National Security Advisor Rice and others. I just can't -- I don't have tick-tock details on when the calls were made. But Saturday was Musharraf twice and Foreign Minister Singh once from Secretary Powell.

QUESTION: Can we move on?

MR. REEKER: Okay, what other parts of the world?

QUESTION: The Middle East?

MR. REEKER: What about the Middle East? What do we -- what was your question?

QUESTION: Is Mr. Zinni -- are you going to ask Mr. Zinni to go back?

MR. REEKER: I don't have anything new on Mr. Zinni at this time. I presume he is still spending the holidays with his --

QUESTION: Were you able --

MR. REEKER: I asked, and there is nothing new on Zinni.

QUESTION: Is it something that was discussed with Sharon and Arafat?

MR. REEKER: I don't have any details on those calls that I mentioned to you on Friday.

QUESTION: That's what the Israelis are saying.

MR. REEKER: Good for them. I don't know. I don't have details of the Secretary's calls. There is nothing further to add to what the Secretary said about Zinni when he last spoke about him, which was I think on the 14th, Friday the 14th, when the Secretary came down and briefed.

QUESTION: Is it at least something he mentioned in these talks with --

MR. REEKER: Let me say it plainly. I don't have any details of the Secretary's calls with either of those gentlemen, other than to say that he made those calls.

QUESTION: Do you know if the United States has played any role in this talk about the -- in the talks between Peres and (inaudible) and so on about discussions on this peace document and so on? Have you been active in this?

MR. REEKER: I don't have any details on those. I would refer you to the parties. The Secretary noted improvement in the security situation in recent weeks, including the positive steps undertaken by the Palestinian Authority and the direct discussions between the sides that they have had during bilateral security meetings.

I would just say that our view is that such direct contacts should continue if terror and violence are to be combated and the relative calm of the past several days sustained and strengthened. But, at the same time, the Palestinians need to do more to make their steps effective and decisive in ending the violence.

QUESTION: You don't have any reaction yet to Arafat's speech?


QUESTION: Argentina, and the fact that they can't seem to --

MR. REEKER: Argentina is a hard one to keep track of. Obviously, there are a variety of reports. Our understanding from our embassy is that the situation there in Buenos Aires is calm. There were sporadic protests over the weekend. They continue to work through their political difficulties within the framework provided by the Constitution of Argentina. And, obviously, it is an internal Argentine matter.

I think the President made quite clear that Argentina is our neighbor and ally and friend and we are closely following the events there and have confidence in the strength of Argentine institutions, and we will just let that play out. I don't know where, literally, from one minute to the next -- I'm seeing different reports coming from your various --

QUESTION: It's 1:35. Who's president? (Laughter.)

MR. REEKER: I will let you ask the Argentines that.

QUESTION: Moving on to the Zambian elections?

MR. REEKER: Zambia. I don't think they are due to have the final results until tomorrow.

QUESTION: Yes, but there has already been quite a lot of dispute about them.

MR. REEKER: Final results are expected tomorrow, January 1st. As our embassy reported, they understood results are pending from the last 21 of 150 tabulating centers. I think, as we said last week, we commend the Zambian people for showing their strong commitment to democracy. Due to the late delivery of election materials and heavy voter turnout, many voters had to wait long hours to cast their votes and, to their credit, that's exactly what they did.

As of this morning, we understood the ruling party was leading, but it was very, very close and the final results are expected tomorrow.

QUESTION: Okay, so you want to stop -- you don't want to say anything about the controversy. You're just saying we commend the people for showing up --

MR. REEKER: We note, as we had talked about last week, that they had welcomed international observers to monitor the polls as part of their commitment to free and open elections, and some monitors have expressed concern over possible irregularities at some polling places. But they have also commented on the peaceful and professional conduct observed at nearly all polling places and the patience shown by Zambian voters. And we will want to review the final reports of the observation mission before making any final assessment of the election process.

So again, voter turnout was heavy and --

QUESTION: Your embassy staff sometimes do some monitoring as well. Have they sent in their own independent --

MR. REEKER: No, we would wait until the final reports, until we had them all, to do any sort of assessment. I think I gave you what amounted to reports in terms of heavy voter turnout. And while many had to wait long hours to cast their votes, they did that. So we will wait and see what we have.

I would not expect that we would have anything really until Wednesday. I don't think those of you that will be trying to call our good duty officer over the holiday -- I just recommend that we wait until Wednesday and see what they have determined in their process there.

So that was Zambia. Anything else?

QUESTION: Another country beginning in Z -- Zimbabwe. Seemingly, the process of divesting white farmers of holdings is going forward. Do you have any reflection on that, the publication of names?

MR. REEKER: I don't have anything new on that. We have discussed that before but I don't have any details on that.

QUESTION: This is kind of off the wall --

MR. REEKER: We put a map up here so --

QUESTION: Yes, exactly. Peru. They haven't contacted you for any assistance, have they?

MR. REEKER: No, not that I am aware of. I don't think -- let me see what we have. So far, no known American citizens killed or injured in the tragic fire there. Our consul general suggested, given the location and time of day, it was unlikely they were there, but they are still trying to get a complete victims list, so we can check on names. But it is a horrible, tragic event -- the deaths of so many young people.

QUESTION: What are you guys saying about the -- at midnight tonight, all these East Timorese are going to get thrown out of the refugee camps in West Timor?

MR. REEKER: That is something I would have to check on.

QUESTION: Midnight tonight their time?

QUESTION: Well, no, yes, I guess.

QUESTION: I guess they're out.

QUESTION: It's just January 1st is the date --

MR. REEKER: That is not a situation I was aware of, but I would be happy to look into it.

QUESTION: Yes, it's causing quite a big ruckus because they don't want to go -- they're scared.

MR. REEKER: Nobody brought that up, but we can certainly ask the East Asia Bureau if they have something. Or, more likely, the Population, Refugees and Migration folks who liaise with UNHCR. Maybe they can enlighten us. So we will check on that one.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that Singh and Sattar are going to meet?

MR. REEKER: I don't have a particular understanding on that. You would have to ask them. All I have is they are both expected to attend, and for their personal schedules, you would need to check with them. But it is a good opportunity for them to pursue that dialogue that we talked about. That's exactly what these regional organizations like the SAARC are there for, and they can play a role in discussing the problems in the region. And this is obviously one with the tension we want to get reduced and it is of interest to the individual countries, of course, but to the region and to the world as a whole.

QUESTION: So I know you are encouraging the two heads of government to meet, but --

MR. REEKER: I don't think we made a specific -- we just said it is an opportunity at this conference, at this meeting.

QUESTION: That's what I mean. But the foreign ministers also have an opportunity, which you also --

MR. REEKER: I think we encouraged Indians and Pakistani officials. They will be in Kathmandu. It is a great opportunity for them to seek to make progress at resolving their differences. And however they might be able to use the opportunity is one -- is something we think is a good idea.

QUESTION: You don't have anything to say about the Euro?

MR. REEKER: Conversion to the Euro. We posted information on December 5th on the Consular Affairs website, notifying the American public that 12 European countries would be converting other the Euro on January 1st. So you could go to that. There are all kinds of links to the European Union Central Bank's Internet site. Travelers with questions can go also to travel.state.gov.

QUESTION: No condemnation of the Euro? (Laughter.)

MR. REEKER: That's right.

QUESTION: No welcome, either, I note. (Laughter.)

MR. REEKER: I support the Euro. I'm looking forward to --

QUESTION: Should Argentina adopt the Euro? (Laughter.)

MR. REEKER: That's a good one.

Effective January 1st, US embassies and consulates located in the 12 Euro countries will accept only dollars and the new currency -- Euros -- for fee-based services. So don't try to get your visa paying with --


All right, when is the Secretary back?

MR. REEKER: I expect him to be in on Wednesday. He is around. He is in town for the New Year, as far as I know, and Wednesday, normal hours. I think Richard will be back in on Wednesday, so I would expect we will have a briefing kind of at the normal time, maybe a little later, around 1:00 p.m. or something like that.

QUESTION: On the Week Ahead?

MR. REEKER: The Week Ahead, which came out Friday, had nothing. I don't think there are any public appointments scheduled at this point.

Happy New Year to everybody.

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