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MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm sorry I'm a little bit late today, and I realize we all have other things we want to be at, so let's make news quickly.
I don't have any announcements or statements. I would be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Obviously, you will say something, I think, about the Arafat-Peres meeting. But also, Arafat decided not to go to Syria and to have the meeting. Was it suggested to him that his time would be better spent going ahead with this meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any explanation. I think Mr. Arafat, Chairman Arafat, would have to explain why he didn't make his trip to Syria. I would like to say that we are very pleased that the Israelis and Palestinians have announced agreement to meet at the level of Foreign Minister Peres and Chairman Arafat. This is an important step, which we hope will contribute significantly to reinforcing efforts to halt the violence and build a substantive political dialogue.
As we made clear, we believe that the parties should seize this opportunity in order to begin a direct and substantive dialogue, in order to end the violence and move forward with implementing the Mitchell Committee recommendations. The Secretary has expressed this view in many, many phone calls to the region, including with the leaders. Our chiefs of mission in the field have worked actively with the leaders and with their staffs and people in Washington have been in close touch with the parties as well.
The direct discussions between the two sides are the best way to recreate the measure of trust and confidence that is necessary to change the situation on the ground and to make life better for both Israelis and Palestinians. We know -- I think you all know -- that we put a lot of effort into making this meeting not only take place, but making it productive and working with the parties so that they can make the meeting productive. And we look forward to their using this meeting to start a process that can really bring the violence down even farther, solidify that and get on with the implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations. And then where that leads, to negotiations.
QUESTION: Yesterday at this time, he had -- the Secretary -- made a call, his last call in that area was Peres. Any further calls since then?
MR. BOUCHER: There haven't been any today that I am aware of.
QUESTION: What about late yesterday?
MR. BOUCHER: Yesterday, he talked to Chairman Arafat twice. I think he talked to Foreign Minister Peres again once. So he talked to Foreign Minister Peres twice yesterday and to Chairman Arafat twice.
QUESTION: Richard, do you have any indication whether this meeting is actually going to go ahead. It seems to me that you have come up here and said we're very pleased that they have agreed to meet several times over the past few weeks, and then that meeting has fallen through.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I haven't. I said we are pleased that they announced the meeting.
MR. BOUCHER: Obviously, it's important that the meeting actually take place. I am not aware that they, in fact, in the past several days, as they looked at the possibilities of meetings and we heard about the possibility of meetings. I don't remember one that was actually announced, so this is maybe one stage further than the others.
But obviously, it is very important to us that the meeting actually take place and that it be productive. In the past, I think we have made clear we thought it was good for them to meet, we thought it was good for them to have direct contacts, but the most important thing about those contacts, they need to lead somewhere. They need to lead to a real process that improves the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, improves the security of both, and gets us back on track with the Mitchell Committee and the eventual negotiation.
QUESTION: Is this also a significant contribution to your efforts to build an international coalition against terrorism?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say that having progress in this area is important for its own sake. And we have tried to talk before, as I have again today, about the need to do this for the sake of the people who live in this region who deserve better lives, normal lives.
Obviously we also know that many people in the world, particularly in this part of the world, are following closely what happens and want to know that there is a prospect of realizing some of the aspirations of the people who live there as well, seeing the situation calm down, seeing the kind of steps that can be taken, not only to stop the violence in this area -- and we do look for the Palestinians to take immediate, sustained and effective steps to stop the violence -- but we also look for steps that the Israelis might take to improve the situation of the Palestinians. And we know that there is a lot of attention focused on those sorts of things.
So, yes, it does contribute, I think, towards solidifying the coalition and to making the point that the United States is not against Muslims, that this fight against terrorism is not a fight against the Muslim world, it's not a fight against Arabs. It's a fight against a particular group of terrorists that have used and abused the hospitality of people in this part of the world, and especially have benefited from the tolerance of the Taliban, to carry out acts which I think again and again you've seen countries say are not Islamic and not consistent with the Arabs' cause. And that was part of the Saudi announcement where they announced that they were cutting the ties with the Taliban.
QUESTION: Since September 11th, have you noticed an improvement on the part of the Palestinian Authority in disciplining members of the Tanzim and Force 17 that have conducted acts of aggression against Israelis, as noted in your report on PLO compliance on September 12th? Have you noticed any change in that? You didn't give them very good marks then. Have things improved?
MR. BOUCHER: We don't necessarily mark these things on a daily basis. I would say that we have seen steps by the Palestinian Authority to reduce the violence. We've seen the clear statement that Chairman Arafat made to call on all to implement a cease-fire, and we've seen some steps on his part to try to make that effective, to try to make that stick. But we're still looking for a continuation, for further steps, for immediate, sustained and effectives steps to make this last.
QUESTION: Have you seen anything on the Israeli side that would indicate that they're trying to make life better for the Palestinians?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I'll leave it to the Israelis and the Palestinians to announce what particular steps they might be taking. We have certainly talked to the Israelis about the kind of steps they might take, but at this point, I think, let's see what the meeting produces. Maybe that's a good question to look at tomorrow.
QUESTION: Have there been any talks with the Syrians to rein in various terrorist groups in the so-called Bekaa Valley area?
MR. BOUCHER: We have consistently been in touch with all the countries in the region, as well as around the world, to talk about the need to take steps to rein in terrorism, to stop terrorism, to squeeze terrorism, choke it off. As you know, we have said to many countries that you can't pick and choose among terrorists. And you need to continue to take steps that stop terrorism across the board, even as we go after al-Qaida organization first and foremost.
So we have an ongoing dialogue with Syria on the subject of the activities in the Bekaa Valley, and other activities that Hezbollah has carried out. And we have asked them, as well as all others, to use their influence to rein in these kind of activities.
QUESTION: Richard, has the Secretary yet heard back from Foreign Minister Straw about his discussions in Tehran?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any particular phone calls or messages at this point. I'll check and see if there has been any communication out there.
QUESTION: Well, do you see anything right now, or do you -- maybe you want to wait until after he's heard from him, but from what you've seen thus far, is there any -- do you see any movement from the Iranians?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't make any observations at this stage. I think we've said we'd be interested in the impressions and whatever observations Secretary Straw has when he comes back. As you know, we do have other ways of communicating with the Iranians, should that be necessary. And we'll fit that -- his observations obviously -- into the picture we're trying to build of what Iran is prepared to do against terrorism.
QUESTION: Different subject?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm ready for anything; let's go.
QUESTION: Straw. What does the United States think of the controversial remarks which Mr. Straw made, which upset the Israelis?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any comment on other people's remarks about other things.
QUESTION: You often do.
MR. BOUCHER: No. We'll let other friendly foreign ministers speak for themselves.
QUESTION: If we can go back and look at -- I had another question about the Palestinians. There have been a number of reports, particularly from the Israelis, that terrorists like Hamas operating in the Palestinian territories, have links to the al-Qaida network. Does the State Department have any evidence that there is any kind of connection there at all?
MR. BOUCHER: I think I would have to leave what we have said about this subject to the Patterns of Global Terrorism Report that we put out and I would invite you to look in there. I don't have anything additional I am able to share with you today.
QUESTION: Aid to refugees. Do you have anything? There are reports that there are now going to be many more Afghan refugees coming over the borders into Pakistan. Is the US going to up its funding to UN organizations?
MR. BOUCHER: I think first we need to remember the United States has been a consistent and strong supporter -- in fact, the largest foreign donor -- of assistance to the Afghan people, and that includes the refugees who end up in neighboring countries. We have contributed, I think, this year $177 million to the effort to assist the Afghan people inside Afghanistan or elsewhere.
At this moment, we are looking at the potential of refugee flows in the region. I think the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has talked about tens of thousands of people, Afghans who fled from their homes. We don't have exact confirmation of that.
At this point, there appear to be 5,000 to 10,000 refugees awaiting entry into Pakistan at least one of the border crossing points. And the reports are that 15,000 Afghans, mostly women and children, have arrived in Pakistan since September 12.
With the withdrawal of aid workers from Afghanistan, we are concentrating our efforts on working to ensure relief is available for refugees in bordering countries, particularly Pakistan. And I don't think at this point I have any new announcements. As I think we mentioned the other day, we have recently given $2 million to them to start planning work on getting a program up of emergency assistance. We will continue to support that. But I don't have any new numbers for you today.
QUESTION: My understanding is that there is an emergency budget available at this time of year, amounting to $25 million, but it would require presidential approval. Is that working its way through the system, or is that not --
MR. BOUCHER: We have emergency funding available throughout the year that can be allocated to refugee assistance because, by their nature, we can't plan a year-and-half in advance for refugee flows. So we do have money that can be applied to this sort of situation. I am not exactly sure if there is an amount for this fiscal year that is still left or if it happens on October 1st. But we are able to apply money to these circumstances as necessary throughout the year.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) of wheat?
MR. BOUCHER: No, the AID office can probably give you some. There have been shipments that are headed into the region, there are shipments that were on their way to Afghanistan that are available for distribution elsewhere. So AID has been juggling some shipments and ships and things like that to make sure that there is food available at least.
QUESTION: This time yesterday, Russian President Putin was just giving his speech and you didn't have anything to say. But I was wondering, along with President Putin's comments, Sergey Ivanov has also said in some interviews that they would be willing to assist the US in other ways and isn't going to object to the US use of air bases in Turkmenistan. Can you speak to the level of Russian cooperation thus far, and is that surprising to you?
MR. BOUCHER: We have had continuing discussions and contacts with the Russian Government. The President has had conversations himself. The Secretary met with Foreign Minister Ivanov last week. And we do note President Putin's speech yesterday.
We appreciate his offers of cooperation, of concrete cooperation in our common fight against terrorism. We think that President Putin's remarks demonstrate that Russia can make a major contribution to the common struggle while, at the same time, respecting the sovereignty and independence of its neighbors. As I said, we are and we plan to continue to be in very close contact with the Russian Government.
QUESTION: In talks with Arab allies, has Iraq come up as part of those discussions at all? And what kind of concerns have Arab countries like Saudi Arabia expressed about US policy toward Iraq?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not a spokesman here for other countries so I am not in a position to describe what they think of Iraq these days. I would say that we do continuously discuss Iraq with other governments and countries and, obviously, Iraq's position in the region is important.
But at this point, Iraq is contained and really not able to threaten its neighbors very much.
QUESTION: I heard this morning that the DOD team that's in Islamabad has come up against somewhat of a brick wall with the Pakistanis and that it finally has come to the direct question of whether US troops could use Pakistani ground space. Can you --
MR. BOUCHER: That's all very interesting, and every single word in that sentence is one that I don't comment on. Defense, troops, ground base, military -- those are all things that I don't comment on.
QUESTION: The Pakistanis?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I do comment on Pakistani cooperation, which has been excellent.
QUESTION: Have you had further opportunity to clarify the President's comments about giving the Chechen rebels 72 hours to come to talks?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we ourselves have been able to clarify them. We would note a couple things on his statements about Chechnya, though. We noted his call on Chechen insurgents to disassociate immediately from any international terrorist networks and to meet for discussions to resolve the crisis. The Chechen leadership, like all responsible political leaders in the world, should immediately and unconditionally cut all contacts with international terrorist groups. That is certainly something we agree with.
At the same time, the United States has long said that only a political process can resolve the terrible conflict in Chechnya, and we would welcome steps by Russia to engage sincerely Chechen leadership.
We remain committed to working with the Russian Government directly and within the OSCE to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Chechnya. Once again, we would say that respect for human rights and accountability for violations on all sides are crucial to a durable peace.
And finally, we continue to urge the Russian Government to refrain from military actions that endanger the well-being and legitimate interests of the Chechen people.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up. Are you acknowledging, then, Moscow's argument that it has made that the Chechen rebels have connections to al-Qaida?
MR. BOUCHER: I would have to look into that a little more before I could say that specifically, but I'll take it.
QUESTION: Isn't she saying the opposite, that there's an independence movement and then there are terrorists; that there are Chechens who are legitimate, independently minded, and then there are these awful terrorists that they ought to not associate with? Or is it kind of a mixed bag in that grouping?
MR. BOUCHER: That's what I'm saying, but that's neither the opposite nor a mixed bag. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, sure it is.
MR. BOUCHER: What we have said and what we continue to say is that terrorism is a problem in this instance as well as other places around the world, and terrorism needs to be fought, needs to be stopped. At the same time, there are legitimate political interests by the people in Chechnya that need to be addressed through a political process. And in this whole process of addressing this, whether it's with military action, the anti-terrorism action or the political action, one has to be, the Russians need to be mindful of human rights and of accountability, the need to maintain human rights and accountability, so that we don't have problems on their side too.
QUESTION: President Mubarak, your friend and ally, whose foreign minister will be here tomorrow, said today similarly that the key to fighting international terrorism was to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What do you think about that?
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, as I responded to your earlier question that was more general on the topic, we recognize that people do want to see that we are doing something to aid the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have contributed immense effort and time to that over the years. It remains an important subject for us, and one that we continue to work on.
QUESTION: You mentioned in passing earlier the decision by the Saudis to sever ties with the Taliban, but you didn't say anything -- whether you liked that step or not. So would you like to take a moment to thank the Saudis?
MR. BOUCHER: I would have come right out on the top and thanked them from here, but the President has already done so himself, and what I can add would obviously pale by comparison. But since I'm offered the chance, I do want to say that we truly welcome the Saudi decision to sever relations with the Taliban regime, because of the continued refusal to turn over Usama bin Laden. We think this announcement sends a strong message to the Taliban.
The Saudi action today is fully consistent with UN Security Council Resolutions 1267 and 1333. It constitutes further evidence that the international community of nations speaks with one voice on this issue. I'd note as well that the United Arab Emirates has taken a similar step, which we welcomed in a statement just the other day, and also note that Pakistan has withdrawn its diplomatic personnel from Afghanistan. We think that's a useful step as well.
QUESTION: Well, do you think that the Pakistanis should actually go the next step?
MR. BOUCHER: I think all we can say on that is we're coordinating closely with Pakistan. We welcome the step that they've taken to pull their people out of Kabul, and we are coordinating with them.
QUESTION: But would you prefer to see the Taliban -- you would prefer to see the Taliban as isolated as humanly possible, yes?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll stop with what I just said.
QUESTION: No? Forget about Pakistan. You would like to see, in general, the Taliban isolated --
MR. BOUCHER: I can't forget about Pakistan when I suspect you're only pretending to forget about Pakistan. (Laughter.) I mean, you ask it in that context. As a general proposition, absolutely. The whole issue here is to isolate the Taliban from their financial supporters, from their operations, from their cells -- sorry, to isolate the al-Qaida organization from their financial operation, from their cells, from their ability to travel. It's the big squeeze, and we think that all should be a party to that. The Taliban, in their tolerance, have found that they are going to suffer the same kind of isolation.
QUESTION: Well, do you see any usefulness to having any kind of diplomatic channel to the Taliban? I mean, have you given up all hope that the Taliban would even consider handing over bin Laden, and at this point, have you considered them a lost cause? Or would it help to have some kind of --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think it's a matter of hope, expectation, lost cause or any other sort of emotional phraseology. They've got to do what they've got to do. The international community has made that clear and the President has made that clear. That's all there is to it.
QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Armitage --
QUESTION: Can I follow up on (inaudible)?
MR. BOUCHER: Why don't we go to the folks in the back; they've been waiting.
QUESTION: Their arms are numb.
MR. BOUCHER: Their arms are numb.
QUESTION: Thanks. Deputy Secretary Armitage, as I understand it, is meeting later with the Indian National Security Advisor, Mr. Mishra. Can you tell me what's expected from that meeting, and what kind of operation Mr. Armitage is expected to ask for from Mr. Mishra?
MR. BOUCHER: The meeting today is at 4:00 p.m. Deputy Secretary Armitage will meet with Mr. Mishra and other senior officials. Mr. Mishra met yesterday with Dr. Rice at the National Security Council, congressional leaders, and he also saw Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
I think, in general, we want to talk to India about the situation, particularly with regard to terrorism and the kind of excellent cooperation and support we have had from India. We thank them for their unprecedented support, and we look forward to hearing their views and discussing this current situation.
India is a key player in South Asia, and the US relationship with India is among the most important ones that we have. New Delhi was one of the first to offer full support for the global coalition against terrorism. They themselves have experienced terrible acts of terrorism, and Indian citizens were among the victims on September 11th. So there is a great deal to talk to India about because of the role they play.
QUESTION: Can you tell me any specifics about what kind of cooperation, what kind of participation India is going to have --
MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid that we have consistently declined to do that with any country. We leave it to other governments to establish the baseline themselves on what they are doing and want to do.
QUESTION: The Secretary and the Secretary of Defense are going to the Congress this afternoon for a briefing, and the Secretary of Defense said it's a rare occasion. And why is it? What are they going to talk about?
MR. BOUCHER: (Laughter.) They're going to talk about the current situation, and they are going to talk in closed session. And therefore, I'm not going to describe what they're going to say. I assume the question of "rare" is that it's not very frequently that both of them appear together in front of congressional committees or Members, to have them both up there at the same time is important.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) appreciate a few comments on Macedonia.
QUESTION: No, on Afghanistan (inaudible).
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, we'll go back to Macedonia later.
QUESTION: Sure, thank you.
QUESTION: Richard, when the Administration went before Congress and asked it to support a decision to waive all sanctions against Pakistan, it was due to the fact the US was saying it was receiving excellent cooperation. What evidence is there of this excellent cooperation? We have seen the UAE and we have seen Saudi Arabia make fairly significant moves in breaking off diplomatic relations, but Pakistan has maintained diplomatic relations.
MR. BOUCHER: I am afraid this is going to be somewhat frustrating to you, because in this whole campaign over however long it takes to put the squeeze on terrorism and particularly on al-Qaida, there are going to be many, many things that happen that people do with us that are not going to be visible for whatever reasons.
And I have to maintain the position I have taken before and say countries themselves are going to have to be left to talk, to the extent they want to themselves, about the steps they have taken. There are a great many steps a great many number of nations have taken. Some of these are visible, some of these are new financial regulations that you see in Switzerland or in Japan or other places that are starting to issue them. Some of them are visible law enforcement efforts that you see in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and other places. Some of them will be tighter border controls, that we've seen in Pakistan on its border with Afghanistan.
But many of the steps that people take with us are not going to be visible. So I'm sure we'll be in a position to discuss in closed session with the Congress this afternoon some of those steps that we've seen and some of the cooperation that we're getting. But I'm afraid that just by the nature of these steps we won't always be able to talk about them publicly ourselves.
QUESTION: When the Saudi Foreign Minister was here last week, he said that they were going to take financial steps to help halt and to check on some banks, to halt other transactions. Have you seen evidence of this? Have they told you that they are now doing this?
MR. BOUCHER: Can I give the same answer I just gave to Andrea? I have to leave it to countries themselves to talk about the steps they're taking, and I'm not --
QUESTION: He did.
MR. BOUCHER: He talked about what he would be doing, and now you can go ask him if they've done it and let him talk about the steps they've taken. We greatly appreciate all the cooperation with the Saudis.
QUESTION: They're not letting journalists into Saudi Arabia.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'm afraid that various countries will go about this in their own way. We are confident of the support we have. We have excellent cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other governments. But it's not for me to talk about what they are doing. They are going to have to do it themselves.
QUESTION: Richard, a couple of questions. First of all, what are you doing or what's going on at the United Nations? There were reports yesterday that you were exploring the possibility of an Article 7 resolution, which would impose sanctions on countries that harbor terrorists. Can you confirm that and give us any details of what exactly you're aiming for here?
MR. BOUCHER: I cannot confirm that. Let me go through a couple things, though, that we have seen at the United Nations.
First, it's important to remember that within 48 hours of this attack we had both the Security Council and the General Assembly going on record, noting the need for a vigorous response to terrorism, for a sustained, comprehensive strategy to defeat it.
Secretary General Annan made a speech yesterday talking about the complete solidarity of the United Nations with Americans.
The General Assembly will begin a plenary session on October 1st to take up the issue of international terrorism, and the US will participate fully in that. In addition, we have been talking to other members of the Security Council about possible resolutions focused on this or that aspect of the problem. One of the things under discussion -- and it's not yet into a proposal for a resolution -- but talking about how to coordinate financial controls, for example.
So there are grounds for continued coordination and action up at the United Nations on various aspects of the problem, but I think the Secretary and Dr. Rice have both answered questions about self-defense and the basis on which we might act without having a further UN resolution on the overall thing.
QUESTION: Just to verify this, none of this -- are people talking about Article 7 in these consultations?
MR. BOUCHER: It's Chapter 7, and I don't know if Chapter 7 would apply to any of the particular resolutions that are being discussed or not. Chapter 7 is not only the use of force; Chapter 7 is the obligation of all members to carry out a resolution. So if we want all members of the UN, for example, to carry out financial controls, that may be one way of doing it. But those kind of topics are under general discussion at the UN now, and I'm not sure that anything has been presented or decided.
QUESTION: First, can you at least say that there has been a rapid response by countries, without specifying who they are, to the financial restrictions announced yesterday? Have countries come forward to you and been positively inclined toward working on this? And my second question is about the aid workers in Afghanistan. We haven't had an update on them very recently --
MR. BOUCHER: The detainees, the people who are detained?
MR. BOUCHER: On the reaction to the financial controls the President announced yesterday, I would say that we are seeing an international reaction that is positive, we are seeing parallel steps in many countries. I think I have already noted for you that Japan has instituted some financial regulations. Last week, the Swiss imposed a set of financial regulations on certain companies associated with the Taliban. So there is activity going on in those areas, and we hear talk in various places of further steps that might be taken. But I am not aware that all of those have yet come to the public announcement.
So I would say there is responsiveness on the issue of financial controls and we will continue to work that issue with the international community, looking both for what international action can be taken through various groupings, but also then through individual national action to impose their own regulations and controls.
QUESTION: And the aid workers, the detainees?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, the aid workers. Sorry. Our embassy officials have remained very engaged in gathering information on the status of the detainees and their trial. We would underscore the President's message of last Thursday to the Taliban. The President said that they need to release all foreign nationals, including American citizens whom you have unjustly imprisoned, protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in your country."
At this point, we have no new information, though, on the progress of the trial or the welfare of the detainees. That's since last Friday. The Pakistani lawyer that was chosen by the detainees has not reached Kabul due to security problems inside Afghanistan. The parents of the American detainees remain in Islamabad and are in close contact with our embassy.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) those talks? I mean, have we had any more talks in Islamabad?
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have had further contact with the Taliban in Islamabad on the subject of these people. The latest I remember was on Sunday when there was some contact between our consular officials and the Taliban on the subject of these detainees.
QUESTION: I believe the US chargé in Rome has been speaking with King Zahir Shah, his folks.
QUESTION: Could we just stay on the detainees --
QUESTION: Richard, when they were first -- when the detainees were first arrested, you wouldn't comment on the charges and I don't remember you saying that they were unjustly imprisoned. Are you prepared to say now that you think that these charges are false or --
MR. BOUCHER: I would say now that we have not been able to get much information on the trial and the legal situation. We are in touch with the families, we are in touch with their lawyer. But he, himself, has not been able to get to Kabul. So I don't have any more to share on the legal process than I ever did before.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) If there truly becomes an attack on Afghanistan, if they kept these people and they couldn't protect them, would this be similar to use other times, other places, of human shields? I mean, do they -- has there been any fear that these people would not be kept safe and that might deter the United States?
MR. BOUCHER: To answer a question like that would require excessive speculation on my part. I am not going to get into that road. I go back to what the President said the other day, that they need to release all foreign nationals, including these Americans.
QUESTION: The chargé and the King in Rome?
MR. BOUCHER: The chargé and the King. I think the context, first. We have had longstanding contacts with Afghan factions and with all the significant individuals involved in this situation, so US officials have had discussions with many Afghans. I think we have noted recently we have had contact with Northern Alliance leaders. We have been in touch with many Afghans since the terrorist attacks.
We do have regular contacts with the former King of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, and other Afghan expatriate groups, in coordination with the UN. The King was deposed in a 1973 coup and now lives near Rome and has a continuing interest in ending the bloodshed in his country. So today the chargé of our Embassy in Rome met with the King to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Do you have regular contacts with an octogenarian former head of -- King? When was the last time that you had a meeting?
MR. BOUCHER: Today. In Rome.
QUESTION: No, before. Before today.
MR. BOUCHER: Before that? I don't know precisely. I know we have seen him from time to time.
QUESTION: A year ago? Within a year?
MR. BOUCHER: Within a year.
QUESTION: You're sure?
MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't say it if I wasn't sure. But you lead me to question why I'm so sure. (Laughter.) I will try to get you more detailed information, Matt. Okay?
QUESTION: Can you also clarify exactly what this administration's position is toward any kind of talks or assistance to the Northern Alliance? What was said across town earlier today seemed to only confuse the matter. I am sure that was unintentional. But what is the status of the US contact and possible support for the Northern Alliance?
MR. BOUCHER: I would just say we are in regular contact with a whole variety -- with a whole gamut of Afghan factions, including the Northern Alliance. But I am really not in a position to go into detail on those contacts or their contents.
QUESTION: Do you have any more details on the discussions between the chargé and King Zahir Shah?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. We keep in touch with all sorts of factions and people.
QUESTION: What was the purpose?
MR. BOUCHER: The purpose was to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: On a related matter, the Secretary yesterday, and I believe the President this morning, both talked in rather general terms about finding Afghans, possibly within the Taliban movement, who are willing to cooperate with you against Usama bin Laden. Are you in contact with such people and how -- could you give us any details of how you assess the significance of this approach?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I'm afraid there is nothing in there that I would be able to comment on. Sorry.
QUESTION: Richard, on the King again, last week and currently -- I think it's still going on -- there is an announcement running -- the King is speaking, has a recorded announcement that has been going out over BBC and VOA, talking about the need to convene a Loya Girga for reconciliation and end to the war. Is the State Department giving him air time and decided that he is worthy of VOA air while Mullah Omar is not?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. You would have to check with VOA if he has been on their broadcast or not.
QUESTION: He has. But apparently it's an announcement. And I would imagine, since you guys take such an interest in their programming, that you would have had something to do with the King's message.
MR. BOUCHER: We respect the editorial integrity and independence of the Voice of America and those kind of decisions on broadcasting newsworthy announcements would be up to them.
QUESTION: On the Saudis, 20 questions back, is it the State Department's understanding that the end of diplomatic ties with the Taliban, would that also cover the hard line Wahhabi clerics and their financial links to the Taliban as well?
MR. BOUCHER: Without specifying exactly what steps Saudi Arabia might take, I think we have seen statements from Saudi Arabia that they intended to take steps to cut off any financial support that might exist. I leave it to them to describe any detail they want.
QUESTION: And can I follow up? Have you asked specifically about the links between these religious leaders?
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, we're not in a position to go into specific requests we might have made of individual countries.
QUESTION: I'm wondering what kind of discussion the Secretary is having with Egyptian officials and if there's been any special weight to that relationship, given its experience of its own problem in the '90s?
MR. BOUCHER: It gives me an opportunity to tell you what we do know about Foreign Minister Maher. He'll visit Washington tomorrow for meetings with senior administration officials, including a meeting with Secretary Powell. I don't have an exact time for that meeting, but it may be tomorrow.
Meetings will cover a broad range of bilateral and regional issues between the US and Egypt, including the efforts to develop an international campaign against terrorism and to bring justice to those responsible for the horrific acts of September 11th; will also discuss the current situation between the Israelis and Palestinians, how to maintain the cease-fire, how to encourage the restoration of direct discussions between the parties.
We have long valued Egypt's critical role with the parties. We welcome this opportunity to consult with one of our close regional partners. The Secretary has kept in touch with Egypt throughout this period. He has talked on the phone with Foreign Minister Maher at least once -- I can't remember if it's more than that -- in the last two weeks. And clearly through our embassy there we've kept in very close touch with the Egyptians.
QUESTION: Turkish Prime Minister Cem is coming to Washington tomorrow, and I think he will meet Secretary on Thursday. Do you have anything about that, what is about his visit -- just against terrorism or Middle East process?
MR. BOUCHER: I would expect that we will discuss any number of issues with Foreign Minister Cem, one of our NATO ally countries with which we cooperate closely on many issues. But clearly the most important issue to both of us right now is going to be the fight against terrorism and building the international coalition. That will be the prime subject.
QUESTION: And I know you can't go into details, but the Secretary mentioned yesterday that there were outstanding requests, the Central Asian states, which you were still awaiting answers to, and Sergey Ivanov has now suggested quite strongly that Dushanbe in Tajikistan may be offered as a military base.
Can you just tell us whether Central Asian states have given a more solid or more concrete indication of what they might be willing to offer in the last couple of days?
MR. BOUCHER: Even without going into details, it's hard for me to formulate an answer. I would say that you have seen, from various governments in that region, some strong expressions of support, and some specific offers of cooperation. We are in continuing contact and discussion with leaders in that region. The Secretary has talked to several of them; the President has talked to some of them as well.
If I remember correctly on the phone calls, just yesterday the Secretary talked to the Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, for example, and he has talked to the President of Turkmenistan last Saturday, and obviously we have been in contact with the countries of the region through our embassies and our ambassadors there.
So we will continue to work closely with the governments of that region, who themselves have been affected by the terrorism coming out of Afghanistan. We have cooperated with them against terrorism in the past, and we want to continue that cooperation with them in the future.
QUESTION: Richard, on that -- speaking of the Central Asian states, has the Ambassador flown back in to Tajikistan for talks -- who has been doing the talks in Tajikistan?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know; I'll have to check.
MR. BOUCHER: No, we've got Macedonia and other places back there.
QUESTION: One more on Afghanistan -- well, it's Afghan-related. I think it would be remiss for you not to -- do you have anything to say about the insinuation by William Kristol this morning that the Secretary is somehow being disloyal to the President?
MR. BOUCHER: Nothing could be further from the truth. I'll stop at that. Macedonia?
QUESTION: Yes. NATO Secretary General, George Robertson, is in Macedonia today. And the Operation Essential Harvest is finished. And also, NATO's mission officially will end tomorrow. However, President Trajkovski, the Macedonian President, requested a new mission to Macedonia to act as a security guard to OSCE monitors.
And I would appreciate your comment on that.
MR. BOUCHER: She's telling me all the things I was going to tell her. (Laughter.)
Let me cut to the chase then, and not offer you the facts, and just offer you the commentary. On the facts, the Essential Harvest -- the Task Force Harvest, sorry -- is progressing well. It's not quite finished; it comes to a close on tomorrow, September 26th, and we think that it will be able to meet or surpass its target for weapons collection by that date.
NATO has received the request for a NATO presence in Macedonia following the conclusion of that operation. The allies are currently discussing this issue and the possible options for what NATO might be able to do. There are no final decisions at this point. We refer you to NATO for details of that. I think we all look forward to hearing from Lord Robertson after his visit.
NATO has had a presence in Macedonia since before the outbreak of fighting that we saw, and we would expect to continue to have a presence after the end of Operation Essential Harvest. That's pretty much where we are.
I have also noted there has been progress in the political side in Macedonia. The parliament approved procedural votes on the draft text of the constitutional amendments that are called for. A final vote is expected after a short found of public debate. So we continue to urge the party leaders to implement fully the framework agreement according to this agreed timeline. But those steps are welcome and that progress is welcome.
QUESTION: The UN Security Council today holds closed session on the situation in Macedonia. Do you have anything about that?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't, I'm afraid.
QUESTION: Last week, the President indicated that Governor Ridge would be setting up a homeland-type defense group. Is there any equivalent with the State Department overseas for a special cabinet-type post, and also to enlarge existing type departments to function as such?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard any talk of that. There are several departments that are active on this overseas with foreign counterparts. We help manage and coordinate that. I don't think there's any change contemplated that I've heard of
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Secretary expects to hear today from the Italian Foreign Minister in their meeting this afternoon, what he will be asking and what he will be telling?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, can he have the meeting himself before we have to kind of describe it all to you? I would say that clearly Italy, among our NATO allies, has a key role to play. We have seen very strong support from Italy. So clearly we are going to thank Foreign Minister Ruggiero for that support. We have seen solidarity. The clear commitment we have seen from Italy is deeply appreciated and makes an excellent contribution to the broad and multilateral campaign that we are mounting. I'm sure they will discuss first of all the campaign against global terrorism -- the Global Campaign Against Terrorism -- as well as the situations that they have discussed in the past, like the Middle East and the Balkans.
QUESTION: Richard, did you ever find out what the answer was to the question about yesterday's sanctions?
MR. BOUCHER: We have lawyers working on this, so I don't have a final answer on everything.
QUESTION: You still don't know?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
Released on September 25, 2001
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