Weekly Briefing for Foreign Media
Deputy Spokesman, Department of State
Foreign Press Center Briefing
February 28, 2002
3:40 P.M. (EST)
Real Audio of Briefing
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(IN PROGRESS): for coming. It's deja vu for me, since I was with many of your colleagues at our New York Foreign Press Center just a couple of days ago, on Tuesday, and I must say we had quite a turnout up there, some 60 or 70 foreign journalists for a 90-minute briefing.
So, first off, I'm going to tell you I'm not going to go for 90 minutes today. I don't think I can handle it. I am still I think somewhat recovering from the Asia trip. I accompanied Secretary Powell with President Bush to Tokyo and Seoul and Beijing on what I think was a very important and successful trip -- a trip we were pleased to finally have the president be able to take after it was postponed, of course, due to the events of September 11th, but to meet with our close allies in Japan and South Korea, and also with the Chinese to discuss the many aspects of that relationship. I think it was really a very important, very timely, and I know the president and the secretary were very pleased with that. I don't know if they have the same jet lag that I do, but nevertheless, but my congratulations to all of our Asian colleagues who do that trip on a regular basis.
Let me stop there and go ahead, and Arshad, do you want to begin?
Q Yes. Thank you. It's always a welcome to have you here -- (inaudible). The question is that (owing the trail of the trip of the President, and you have been about on that trip, you know) my question is that the fight against terror has been an ongoing process, you know. What new dimension do you think came out of the trip? And, I mean, a generalized question again. And again, is there any specific message that the Chinese had for the president to undertake in its war against terror?
MR. REEKER: Well, certainly I would let the Chinese describe their own specific messages, and I think they have done that. You obviously saw the president and the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, speak together and their press availability there in Beijing.
As you said, the war against terrorism continues, and it will continue for a long time. The president has always been very clear about that. This is not something that will be over quickly, but it is something that we are determined to follow through. Right now we're still focused on finishing the job in Afghanistan in terms of the remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban who were there, who planned, plotted and perpetrated the events of September 11th against our country, and really has stood for threatening the civilized world.
So, we were able to talk with all of our interlocutors in Asia about continuing that effort. Each of those countries has contributed greatly, has supported our efforts because they realize that it is in their interests as well. Japan, with unprecedented steps taken to support us, sending of ships, military support for our efforts. All of the countries supporting the different aspects of the war against terrorism, including the financial aspect, including the intelligence and information sharing that is so vital to this law enforcement cooperation, of course. So, that will continue, and we will continue to consult with our friends and allies around the world as we go after this. We are very much determined to see this through.
I think the president and Secretary Powell have been quite clear in recent days, weeks, to remind the world that while we've had success, we've made real progress in what is almost six months since those attacks, we need to keep on with this, and we're not going to accept simply the positive results we've seen in Afghanistan and say, "Well, that's enough." We need to continue this, as the president said, in rooting out this type of terrorism wherever it exists.
Q Just a follow-up on that if I may. Just on the question of the presence of troops in Afghanistan, have you given any thought of its continuing presence in there, because I know Mr. Hamid Karzai, definitely when he was at the National Press Club, made it very, very clear that he wants American presence, you know, for an indefinite period of time. What is your comment to that?
MR. REEKER: Well, obviously, I think indefinite is an indefinite word. It's not something that is our expectation. American troops are there doing a job. They had tremendous success in liberating Afghanistan, liberating the people of Afghanistan, which has allowed them to pursue the Bonn process, allowed them to move forward with an interim authority under Chairman Karzai, allowed them to pursue the loya jirga the process outlined in the Bonn agreement. And they still have a job there to do. My colleagues at the Pentagon keep you apprized of that.
Certainly the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan is something that is under the U.N. Security Council mandate under Resolution 1386, and that still remains under discussion in terms of looking at how that International Security Assistance Force will evolve. We continue to support that along with the international community. While we don't have troops as part of that, we certainly have supported it logistically and fundamentally and helping it get going. And we certainly support the efforts of the interim authority in pursuing a restoration of peace throughout Afghanistan, including helping the Afghans establish their own national police and security forces. So, that will all be very important. And we're in very close contact with Chairman Karzai through our mission in Kabul and other channels, and we'll continue to support them as they move ahead too.
MODERATOR: Now over to this side. Sir?
Q Thank you. Jay Chen, Central News Agency in Taiwan. I'm wondering whether you can give us any information about the U.S.-China talks on non-proliferation, which I believe will be held next week in Washington? And related to that, the Chinese officials appeared to be making again a connection between U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and their proliferation activities. I'm wondering whether you can comment. Thank you.
MR. REEKER: On the latter question, I don't know that I've seen any particular remarks, so I don't have anything new to offer in terms of our position on Taiwan, on the Taiwan Relations Act and how that governs our relations with Taiwan.
But on the earlier question, I do understand that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs' director general will be in Washington to attend what's called the Fourth U.S.-China Conference on Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-proliferation. That's taking place next week, March 4th through 5th at the Brookings Institution. It's co-sponsored by the Monterey Institute of International Studies and the China Institute of International Studies. And our assistant secretary for non-proliferation, John Wolf, will be the senior U.S. government participant there. I understand that the director general, Mr. Liu (sp), will be able to meet then with our Assistant Secretary John Wolf to engage on non-proliferation issues following up in that continuing, ongoing discussion we have with China about non-proliferation. So, we'll take advantage of him being here for that conference. And we'll -- we're prepared to meet with him and see if that works out. It is a conference that, as I said, Brookings is sponsoring, but we've also -- the State Department has also helped sponsor that conference -- the fourth such conference that they've had.
MODERATOR: Yes sir.
Q Thank you. Do you have any comment on the renewed fighting in Liberia and what impact that may have in West Africa?
MR. REEKER: There's been certainly a fair amount of wire reporting and other press reports on that. You'll recall that earlier this month, February 8th, the Liberian president, Charles Taylor, declared a state of emergency. And I think since then Liberian government troops have claimed to have pushed rebels from the so- called "LURD" group -- Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy -- claimed to have pushed them back.
As I understand it, the situation and the related harassment and looting allegedly done by both sides has displaced tens of thousands of people and created new refugees who have fled to Sierra Leone. The last numbers, estimates they had on that was 7,600 refugees just in the last two weeks. Also, over a thousand to Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. Our reports are that the Monrovia security situation has remained calm, and there are rumors to the contrary regularly, but we haven't seen any evidence of widespread fleeing from the city, and I think most of the NGOs, the non-governmental folks, have been functioning at normal staffing levels.
Certainly we've felt that the continued fighting there and the state of emergency there could be used -- has the potential to be used to restrict the political competition. And what we'd like to see is opening of political dialogue and the opportunity for change, positive change in Liberia. And so we have urged President Taylor, and continue to urge him to discipline members of his security forces and others who have threatened to use violence against political or civil society leaders, with the need to provide unconditional amnesty to all political opponents.
We've definitely urged provision of respect of freedom of the press, and the need to cease harassment of members of the press and allow an independent, electronic media to broadcast on AM, on FM, on shortwave throughout the country. We've also urged them to fully address the security and safety concerns of political leaders and civil society leaders, who obviously feel threatened by the situation there.
And also, it's time to reach an agreement with all peaceful political movements and parties on the specific nature of guarantees and mechanisms required for the conduct of open political debate, free, fair and inclusive elections. And of course, as always, in our push for democracy, we call upon him to respect freedom of speech and the right of peaceful assembly. Those are so important to allow Liberia to move forward.
We'll continue to watch that situation very closely.
MODERATOR: Yes sir.
Q Greg Terrod (ph) with the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong. Can you explain the delay in the release of the human rights report?
MR. REEKER: I guess the easiest answer is who said there was a delay? We do try to put these things out. There are target dates for their release -- technically for their delivery to Congress. And obviously you are aware that we had hoped to have that out earlier this week. Usually the process, and you may be familiar with it, is we deliver the report formally to Congress and then we have a formal rollout or -- (inaudible) -- for a briefing and release of the full report, which, of course, is a massive thing. We're doing it high-tech on CD-ROM. And I'm sure when it is released, we'll have it available here as well.
I can't tell you exactly when that's going to be. I think soon. Probably early next week would be when we'd expect it. It's a massive undertaking, as you know. Obviously, it's something that's worked on continuously throughout the year, but you reach this crunch point where you're trying to get it out, and it is probably one of the most comprehensive looks at human rights around the world, that's done anywhere in the world. And so as soon as we have that done, we'll have it done and arrange -- and we schedule briefings here as well as at the main State Department.
Q Just by way of follow-up, does it need to go to the White House after it leaves the State Department, before it is released?
MR. REEKER: That's a good technical question. And certainly the White House, the National Security Council is in the loop on all this, as we say. I believe it is delivered -- before I tell you what I believe, I should check to make sure that -- exactly what the law requires, whether it's delivered on behalf of the president or directly from the secretary of state.
We obviously have the lead on democracy, human rights, and labor bureau is the lead in preparing that, but certainly we would coordinate closely with the White House, because it is a major U.S. government initiative in terms of reviewing the human rights situation all around the world, and it's something that many, including yourselves, watch for and consider a very important document. So, we want to make sure that it's done just right. But I'd be happy to check right afterwards on the specific steps as required under the law.
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) -- over here.
Q Chris Culkal (sp) from the China Post in Taiwan. Taiwan's defense minister, Tang Yao-Ming has been invited to a private conference in Florida next month. I wonder whether you can comment about whether the U.S. will be granting him a visa to attend that conference.
MR. REEKER: Yes, I was asked this in New York a couple of days ago, and I thought I'd try to find out more about it. I know that there is a U.S.-Taiwan business council, quote, "Taiwan Defense
Summit," I think that's what you're referring to, that's going to be held in Florida. As with any visa question, no, we don't usually get into specifics regarding issuance of individual visas. We'll consider any visa application in light of regular visa law and our standard policy on that. At this point I just don't have any -- anything to report back on that. But we can try to keep track of it, and if there is a development on that certainly let you know.
MODERATOR: Yes ma'am.
Q I'm -- (inaudible) -- of -- (inaudible). Philip, South Caucusus is on news today and U.S. military participation there. But first, I've got two quick questions regarding Azerbaijan. Two anniversaries celebrated there this week. One is actually tragic, 10 years since massacre in Khojaly town of of Azerbaijan, which has become the bloodiest event in Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict. Did anything come from the State Department regarding those events, maybe back in '92, maybe some time later after that?
And second, I believe today is 10 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Azerbaijan. Do you have anything to say regarding that date?
MR. REEKER: You are right on that. And while it gets tricky to try to keep track of every anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations, certainly we do want to note that and celebrate that. Having diplomatic relations with all the countries of the former Soviet Union is an important aspect of our foreign policy.
To think someone of my generation, who was educated in the 1980s, to think that we would have relations with an independent Azerbaijan, is something I certainly didn't contemplate 15 years ago. But now that we can celebrate 10 years of that, it's great, and our ambassador there, Ross Wilson, is someone I know well, and an outstanding Foreign Service officer who certainly does a terrific job representing U.S. interests there. So we do take the opportunity to acknowledge that and look forward to continuing our diplomatic relations. It's another example of how crucial diplomatic relations can be -- the simple fact of exchanging ambassadors, having relations, the opportunity for dialogue and pursuing common goals and interests is very important.
On the other anniversary, I want to go back and check what we said at the time of that -- it wasn't something that I had registered there, and I don't know if our embassy there has done anything. It's obviously something that's acknowledged in Azerbaijan, and we certainly can look back at what we said about it at the time.
Q What's the latest news on Georgia -- do you have anything on that?
MR. REEKER: I think we've sort of covered that. I don't know if you've seen Ambassador Boucher's earlier briefings yesterday and today -- and we certainly have been in discussion with Georgians for a long time on counterterrorism. I know there were a lot of news reports earlier this week that sort of seemed a little bit breathless and over the top one might say. But we have been working cooperatively with Georgia for the past several years to enhance their counterterrorism capabilities, and we have enjoyed a very strong security assistance relationship for more than five years. The United States and Georgia are planning a train-and-equip program with our assistance for Georgia, and that's what we have talked about the last couple of days. Georgia's security forces obviously will be part of this, and we'll assist them in developing a better capability to control their own borders and conduct operations against terrorist elements, this kind of thing. So, as you know, we have been aware that there are some foreign fighters that have operated or been operating in Georgia, and that's been of concern to us. We documented that in our annual report on patterns of global terrorism. So this a continuing process. We'll continue to have this dialogue with Georgia, and help them to develop these capabilities through training and equipping. And I think we have been in contact of course with Russian colleagues. The secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Ivanov about this. We have been very open and transparent about working with the Georgians on this, and we remain committed to working for stability in Georgia and throughout the Caucasus, because we think that's very important, and we think the ability of Georgia to handle these type of problems -- to be able to secure their borders, to be able to deal with terrorist threats -- is also in Russia's interests as well, so we will continue working on that.
Over here. Yes?
Q (Off mike.) Mr. Reeker, do you have any details on Assistant Secretary Burns' visit to Saudi Arabia? And does the visit indicate the seriousness with which the United States is taking the Saudi proposal?
MR. REEKER: I don't have anything particular detailed to read out. He had meetings there today, and Ambassador Boucher mentioned that in his briefing earlier this afternoon -- and he is on his way home. So I certainly haven't had an opportunity to get a read-out.
He went to Saudi Arabia to have meetings with Crown Prince Abdullah to discuss a wide range of issues -- our bilateral relationship, our regional issues obviously, including the Saudi proposals. And, as we have made clear, we welcomed the crown prince's remarks. The secretary has said how important those are. They underscore the willingness of Crown Prince Abdullah to reach out to Israel, talk about peace and normalization of relations. We think this is a significant, positive step that represents an Arab vision of normalization with Israel in the context of a negotiated peace. And it's been endorsed publicly, as you have probably seen, by others in the region, including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates are the ones that I have been made aware of.
I think also it was an opportunity to meet and do some preparation for Vice President Cheney's trip to the region, which will include Saudi Arabia, next month. Actually, tomorrow is already March -- so, you know, in the coming weeks. So he'll be back -- I expect him back at the department tomorrow -- see how his jet lag is.
Q But, Mr. Reeker, at the White House briefing this morning the emphasis seems still to be on the various other steps that have been taken -- the Mitchell report and subsequent questions, the Tenet plan. So I am wondering where does this Saudi plan fit into this --
MR. REEKER: I don't think they are at all mutually exclusive. What we have seen in terms of the crown prince's remarks is a vision, this time articulated by an Arab country -- important Arab country -- and that is very much in keeping with the vision that we have articulated that President Bush articulated at the United Nations, that Secretary Powell followed up with in his Louisville speech last fall. And so what comes next remains to be seen. This is a specific proposal to end the violence, and that's what we really need to do, as we have said so often. We have got to get the violence down. But this is an Arab state vision of normalization with Israel in the context of a negotiated peace. It serves as a promise for a better life for all the region should the parties find a way to end the violence and once again resume negotiation towards a just and lasting peace. And Tenant and that work plan for security is one step in that. It's a framework. It's a road map, if you will. And then of course the Mitchell committee recommendations, which are still fully endorsed by the Palestinians, by the Israelis, by the entire international community, offer concrete steps to move back to those negotiations. So we very much welcome the important remarks, the vision articulated by Crown Prince Abdullah. We have in place these things we have been supporting and talking about many, many months now. But I would just say again it's absolutely important that Chairman Arafat, the Palestinian Authority, undertake maximum efforts to confront the violence and terror. It's also important that the Israeli government takes steps that both facilitate Palestinian efforts on the ground and also help promote a more positive environment on the ground. And we respect Israel's right to self- defense. As you know, we continue to call upon Chairman Arafat to do that, but also to say that every possible effort be made to avoid harm to civilians. And we have been concerned -- Ambassador Boucher talked about it today -- about the recent developments at the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, and we have been in touch with the Israeli government to urge them that the utmost restraint should be exercised in order to avoid harm to the civilian population -- particularly those heavily populated areas.
And I would add to that, as Ambassador Boucher mentioned earlier, we are very pleased there has been some movement on the security front, that the two sides met for a trilateral security meeting yesterday, and then -- I take that back, that was on Tuesday -- and then yesterday they met together bilaterally in Gaza. I guess that was today -- let me get all my days straightened out here. My notes aren't always clear. They met in Gaza today bilaterally. Yesterday they had met trilaterally with us, with the United States facilitating. And that kind of cooperation is what we really want to see more of. It's so important. And their commitment to continue that is a very positive step. So keep watching.
Q Parasuram Press Trust of India. I was wondering do you see any negotiating leeway in the Saudi proposal? The Saudi proposal, as I understand it, is that the return to the pre-war borders, and there's no negotiating leeway in that. And that's how President Mubarak appears to have interpreted it in today's interview with the Washington Times. And on a different subject --
MR. REEKER: Why don't we do one, and then move on, because otherwise it gets too confused for this little brain. I think just to reiterate what I said, we have made very clear we welcome the crown prince's remarks -- and that's what they are -- they are remarks that express a vision, a vision of an Arab state. What comes next is something that remains to be seen, and we will just have to see it. This isn't a peace plan. This isn't a specific proposal to end the violence, and we need to do that as well. But it's a positive, significant step because of what it represents. And that's why we have endorsed that, we have encouraged that. We are pleased to see that there's interest in that. Obviously we'll have an opportunity to talk about this with President Mubarak himself when he comes to Washington next week, and he'll be able to report on conversations he has had as a leader in the region. Hopefully he'll continue to be able to discuss that. He plays a real leadership role. His reaction to the plan will be important. The secretary has been in very close touch with leaders all over the region over the past few days since the weekend and continuing through today.
Now, you had a question on Vietnam.
Q This is a totally different subject.
MR. REEKER: A totally different subject. Shifting.
Q There is a story in the Wall Street Journal today that says when Vietnamese -- (inaudible) -- applies for a visa to the United States, the visa officer looks at the applicant and sees whether he looks American. You know, this really intrigued me because this country is an international nation, and every race and every country in the world is represented here, and there is no typical America. I was wondering how the visa officer -- I was wondering if you read that report in the Wall Street Journal.
MR. REEKER: I didn't read that report. And --
Q And if you like it, then read the report and give a reply later. You don't have to reply.
MR. REEKER: I don't think I would, because I know what our policy is, and I know how our visa officers, my own colleagues, work. We have a law. We have a visa law that describes eligibility for different classifications of visas to visit the United States -- for tourism, for business, for other purposes. Each visa application is treated on an individual basis. It is not prejudged, but there is a certain qualification that must be met in terms of applying for a visa. The applicant must show that he or she is not an intending immigrant, for example. So that would be the -- so for specific immigration visas there are also categories. It's very well defined by law. And should one be choosing to demonstrate a particular connection to this country, there are ways of doing that, and documentation is frankly one of the most important things we look for. So I don't think I would be able to go beyond that in simply stating quite clearly that each visa application is taken on its own merits individually, and visa officers review them as such for immigrant visas, and an interview is part of the process where they would be able to meet with the candidate, the applicant, and review all the information.
Do you want to follow up? Go ahead, and then we'll keep moving back. I see you back there.
Q Tung Chee-hwa, the Hong Kong chief executive, his second term will be formally gazetted on the 1st of March. Does the State Department welcome the news of his second term, and what will you be looking --?
MR. REEKER: I will have to check. And I -- I wouldn't want to do it without asking Ambassador Boucher, who as you know has a very strong connection to Hong Kong. It's not something that -- I'm aware of the news and I just haven't looked into it to see if we have taken a position or have a reaction, but I'd be happy to check on that for you, and we can get back to you.
Q Surely you have a very strong and long relationship with Mr. Tung -- surely you have some comment off the top of your head?
MR. REEKER: I don't, and I'll have to check on it. It's just something I haven't looked into.
Q Okay, thanks.
MR. REEKER: Let's head back there.
Q Mohammed Sayeed (ph) from Al Ahram newspaper, Egypt. In 1975, we were talking to the Vietnamese over peace with Vietnam, and hostilities were not really ceased. I mean there was a spell when the Vietnamese were actually doing their best at the war arena. Why then when you come to the Middle East you insist that total termination of violence should be accomplished before moving on the political agenda? Why do you give the Israelis an advantage that you didn't even insist to have yourself?
MR. REEKER: I, first of all, think that what you just stated is entirely untrue. That's never what we said. There's a process that's in place. It's up to the two sides to be able to move forward on that. We have continued to help, continue to be engaged ceaselessly since the administration came into office with our envoys in the region, Secretary Powell when it's necessary on the phone, with the president when it's been appropriate to point the two sides in the right direction. The fact of the matter is there is violence on the ground that has to stop -- in and of itself. That does not mean that you can't continue to push on the political process. As I just said, we recognize and are pleased to see movement on the security track. The fact that there were meetings two days ago, again today -- we would like to see more of that, because that's the momentum that needs to keep going. If you look at the Mitchell committee report, which after all when the administration came into office quickly endorsed the continuation of the Mitchell committee, the international panel that made up that committee -- looking into this, endorsed their report and its recommendation, and it outlined how they view the process should work to help the two parties get back to peace. So it is not an either-or proposition. It's something that has to work in the meantime. But we look every day as we see these tragic deaths and violence on both sides, and we have got to get that violence down. Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have to exercise authority and show that they can exercise authority and leadership and take those steps, make a maximum effort to get the violence down. And we'll keep watching. We'll keep being engaged at a variety of different levels, and do all we can to help them.
Q On the same topic, President Mubarak will soon be here. Are you aware of any specific proposals or initiatives carried out by President Mubarak to the White House or the officials here?
MR. REEKER: The simple answer is: No, I am not aware of it. I'll let the White House speak for the president on that. I know he looks forward to the upcoming visit. The secretary indicated that we are looking forward to talking to President Mubarak -- as we always are -- because of his strong leadership role in the Middle East, because he's a valued U.S. ally, Egypt of course having a long, strong relationship with the United States. And he will be able to talk about his views of the Saudi proposals, the remarks that the crown prince made. So we look forward to that, and we'll just have to let that take place, and then I am sure there will be appropriate read- outs and reports on the meeting.
Q (Off mike) -- from MBC Korea. Two things, connecting things. And one is Mr. Powell mentioned, on his flight from Beijing to Washington, that the U.S. is going to talks with North Korea in New York. And after one week later said nothing happened. Is there any progress and are there any barriers?
MR. REEKER: I think you have to look at what the secretary talked about. We have a channel in New York that we have used to be in touch with North Korea from time to time, as necessary. The North Koreans know how to contact us, and that's a very useful channel. We have discussions there, including occasional face-to-face contact. And the secretary indicated that we would be using that, as appropriate.
The bottom -- and the secretary repeated this many times -- so did the president -- that our offer to North Korea for dialogue anytime, anyplace, without preconditions -- that offer remains, and it's on the table. We haven't heard back from the North Koreans on that, and we'd like to. So at this point there is nothing particular to announce. But I think one of the important parts of the trip to Asia particularly, and Seoul, was the opportunity for the president to make quite clear -- reiterate the fact that we continue to seek dialogue with North Korea, despite the concerns we have about that regime. That's what's important about diplomacy -- we can say quite clearly, be very up-front about our concerns, about particular aspects of a regime, particular elements of their behavior. But we remain prepared to have a dialogue, to meet at any place, anytime, to discuss the issues of concern we have.
Q And during Mr. President's visit to three Asian countries he mentioned North Korea is an evil state. But he did not mention the "axis." Is there any background?
MR. REEKER: I don't think so. I mean, he mentioned the axis of evil in his State of the Union address, and certainly you were all quite aware of that. And I think the secretary has also reiterated the importance of what the president was saying there: it is very much this -- being able to speak plainly about our concerns to, as we put it, call a spade a spade, and stand up in the world and say, Hey, this is behavior that we find unacceptable, of great concern to us -- development of weapons of mass destruction, support for terrorism, a despotic regime that has done nothing for its own people who are starving, even as we and others in the world continue to provide food aid to save lives, to feed the people of North Korea. And so that's what we see. That's our view. But we are ready to have a dialogue with them. And that goes for Iran -- another country that the president highlighted in that speech. And for Iraq, the third country that was highlighted in the axis, that's quite clear too -- they need to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions. They need to let the inspectors in so we can see what they are doing with weapons of mass destruction. Similarly, we have concerns there, long-standing concerns, about their sponsorship of terrorism. And we are not going to simply sit back and let these things happen. We are going to make our point. And, as the president said, deal with each of these countries in their own way, but in a time and manner of our own choosing.
Yes, ma'am, straight down the back.
Q Besides discussing with President Mubarak the Saudi initiative and hearing his point of view on that in particular, Egypt has been calling for a more active American role in the Middle East, to go back to the real influential role that once it previously you known shown. Is the secretary ready to kind of bring up some new initiative when he meets with President Mubarak about that? And would you please comment also on the bilateral relations and the regional interests since the Middle East is not the only region that will be on the table when the president will meet with the secretary on Tuesday?
MR. REEKER: Well, your basic point is correct, that we take the opportunity of meeting with President Mubarak to discuss a broad range of bilateral and regional issues -- obviously the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian is of great interest to all of us. President Mubarak has been an important leader, interlocutor on that subject. So, as I indicated already, we look forward to talking about that. I think, once again, your suggestion and your question that somehow we are not engaged and when are we going to engage is entirely wrong. We have remained absolutely engaged on the Middle East -- certainly sort of seamlessly from the end of the last administration through this administration. Secretary Powell is engaged in dealing with this issue every day.
I often wonder when people say those things -- we need new initiatives, we need more engagement -- what it is they have in mind. The two sides need to take the steps. We have put in place frameworks, road maps to help them first of to deal with security issues, to help them try to get the violence down. And then we have given them a framework for moving forward into negotiations. And we have also outlined our vision. The president spoke quite plainly last fall at the United Nations -- the secretary also outlined in very straightforward language what our vision is for the Middle East, including an independent Palestinian state called Palestine. So we have been very engaged on this. The phone diplomacy is ongoing. The activities of our diplomats there in the region is really quite astounding. If you look at the types of schedules, they keep up in terms of being in touch with the parties. If you look at the visits we have had to the region from senior officials in Washington, including the secretary when it's appropriate -- when it's necessary -- and the secretary reiterated in an interview again earlier this week that if it is going to accomplish something, when there is a reason to do it, he's always ready to travel, if there is something to be accomplished by that. But right now the message remains the same about getting the violence down. And Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority taking -- making the maximum effort to do that. And I also outlined what we said to the Israelis about considering steps they can take to support then Palestinian efforts on the ground, as well as ease the situation on the ground as well. So I am sure all of that will be discussed with President Mubarak, and I really will leave it for the White House for any more details. I just don't even know the details of the schedule, but clearly we always look forward to the opportunity to discuss our bilateral relationship as well as the region.
Let's just go over here and finish up and then I'll come back. Okay?
Q And I just want to ask you -- Mr. Shapiro is now the new ambassador --
MR. REEKER: Oh, that Shapiro. It's a big world.
Q Excuse me -- I'm talking about Venezuela. Yes, he will follow the same line as former Ambassador Donarinik (ph), or he will introduce any change?
MR. REEKER: I suspect he will follow the same line, because he represents the United States, and he represents the president of the United States and the administration's --
Q Reaction to the political situation in Venezuela?
MR. REEKER: -- foreign policy. I think, you know, we have talked about Venezuela certainly many times from here -- when I have come over here, and Ambassador Boucher has, the secretary has. Some of the concerns we've had about the status of Venezuela's democracy, about the need to pay attention to constitutional processes, how important that is, and to respect democratic institutions in Venezuela, including the independent media, including all those other parts of a civil society, and to do it peacefully, and to recognize the other political elements and to have dialogue on political differences.
And so that's what, I think, we'll continue to call upon, and to promote in Venezuela. We have a long, rich history with Venezuela, and we want to see Venezuela to continue to be a member in good standing of the community of democratic nations in this hemisphere. And the OAS has outlined that so well in the democracy charter that was agreed to and signed in Lima last fall.
So, that's where our concerns have been. And our new ambassador, I think, will represent us very well, just as Ambassador Donarinik (sp) did a tremendous job of representing the United States in Caracas.
Q Okay. And my second question is after President Pastrana from Colombian ordered to retake the control of the demilitarization zone, stay behind the menace of the guerrilla,infiltrate Venezuela. Do you have any comments about that?
MR. REEKER: Can you say that last -- the actual question again? What --
Q That they stayed behind the menace that the guerrilla, the Colombian guerrilla, can find way out in Venezuela, infiltrate the --
MR. REEKER: Through Venezuela?
Q Yes, through Venezuela.
MR. REEKER: I don't -- that would be a sort of a type of analysis that I'm not prepared to do. Our views on the FARC, the narco-trafficking rebel organization the FARC terrorist organization are quite well known. And certainly if you look at recent things -- the kidnaping of a senator, we condemn that. And this just shows again the continued pattern of FARC (?) behavior that we've had there, and which they've committed I think over a hundred terrorist acts, and a number of murders of innocent civilians in recent times, including hijacking an airliner.
So, we're quite aware of the type of evil people that the FARC represent. And we certainly would not want to see that spread to Venezuela or anything else. And we support President Pastrana and his efforts at certainly trying to stem the narco-trafficking that supports these terrorist organizations like FARC, and will continue to work very closely with the Pastrana government to help them in these issues and security matters.
Q What about the security in the region, not only in Colombian, also in Venezuela, maybe in Ecuador or in Peru?
MR. REEKER: I guess you're sort of asking me a hypothetical question. I have not seen anybody suggest that the FARC is threatening Venezuela at this point, so I can't really offer you anything on that other than our views of the FARC and the situation in Colombia, where we very much support President Pastrana's decision to break off the peace talks with the FARC, to end the "dispeje" and to begin military operations in the demilitarized zone after, of course, the FARC had hijacked the airliner and kidnaped the senator.
You know, Pastrana began a peace process three years ago, and we've repeatedly stated our support for his efforts. We've sought to work with the international community to support a negotiated, peaceful solution to Colombia's internal conflicts, and incredibly, all the goodwill that the Pastrana government has shown, I think has not been reciprocated by the FARC.
So, as I said, we'll continue to consult with the government of Colombia to determine where we can be helpful, keeping in mind the legal constraints that we have in this country in terms of our assistance, and obviously we'll respect that. But, we're going to watch the situation very carefully and see what we can do to help. There's no place for that type of behavior in the 21st century. There needs to be peaceful political dialogue. If you have problems, you look to constitutional processes, to democratic processes, and democratic institutions to solve those problems.
MODERATOR: Yes sir.
Q Thank you very much. What's the latest development in the peace process in Congo? And I understand that they were to meet sometime last week, but it was a failure, apparently.
MR. REEKER: I understood that they did reconvene the -- what do we call it? The Inter-Congolese Dialogue, if I remember correctly. They reconvened on the 25th in Sun City, South Africa, but due to disagreement over representation, the dialogue facilitator, Mr. Masire, former president, delayed the commencement of the first plenary session. And so while he originally planned to hold the first session, I think yesterday, the 27th, he has not yet put out a revised schedule.
And hopefully they'll be able to overcome that disagreement and move forward on that, because it's always been our belief that a successful inter-Congolese dialogue is an essential part of resolving the conflict there in the Democratic Republic of Congo and restoring peace to the region. This has been a terrible conflict that has cost a tremendously horribly toll in human terms and the suffering that's gone on there needs to be stopped. And this dialogue represents really a crucial opportunity to achieve a lasting peace that leads to a government democratically elected by the Congolese people. We think that's important.
And if they fail to resolve the representation issue, and failure to take part in the Inter-Congolese Dialogue would mean that the parties have failed -- aren't meeting their responsibilities that they agreed to under the Lusaka cease-fire agreement. And that would just make it more difficult to have a peace process and a peaceful settlement.
So, we'll be watching that closely and hope that the parties can come to an understanding and move forward under that -- under the facilitation of President Masire.
MODERATOR: We have time for one more question.
MR. REEKER: We can take two if we have to. I don't want to deny anyone. Here we go. We'll do Don first and then we'll --
Q This is a bit of a long shot, really, but in the sense that --
MR. REEKER: I should have quit while I was ahead. Yeah.
Q There have been state elections in India, as you must have noticed, in which the ruling BJP lost. Has there been any assessments at all of the likely impact of these results of the elections on the India-Pakistan standoff or on the borders?
MR. REEKER: You know, that really would be an internal Indian matter. And while obviously we would do our own analysis, our embassy would report on local elections, the outcome, and the views we have, conversations we have, talking to a broad variety of people in India, getting their views. It's not the kind of thing we would comment on publicly.
Not that it's tied in directly, but I would want to add that we're very saddened by violent incidents that took place in (Gujarat ?) state -- am I pronouncing that correctly -- in India. You saw, I think, the photos in many of our newspapers, where at least 58 people were reported to have died in a train after the mob attacked a train, and more deaths and injuries and property damage occurred today. We certain condemn that initial attack on innocent civilians and those that have followed it, and we offer our condolences to the families of the victims, and the people in government of India in that case. Again, there's just no need for this type of senseless violence that resulted in the deaths of so many innocent people.
Q I want to go back a little bit --
Q Phil, I'm sorry. You didn't --
MR. REEKER: I'm sorry. Let's finish up. What was I supposed to do?
Q About how is going to affect on the India-Pakistan stand- off on the border, as I said.
MR. REEKER: I thought I did answer that and said that we wouldn't comment on internal Indian developments. Certainly our views on the India-Pakistan situation are well known and I don't have anything particularly new to add on that, you know, since the secretary's trip and what we've seen there. Just the fact that we've had these violent incidents in India, as well as incidents in Pakistan. We offer our condolences to those. In Pakistan, I guess it was yesterday when 10 people were killed in a mosque -- and again, attacks on innocent civilians that we condemn most soundly.
We certainly urge India and Pakistan to avoid being provoked into responding with violence against other innocents, and that's really been our message. It's one of the obvious goals of the perpetrators of these types of attacks, is to try to then bring upon some sort of response -- and let's not let them get away with it. Let's not let them meet that objective. And I think both governments, both in India and in Pakistan, have made clear their intention to identify attackers in these cases and bring them to justice. And that's what we need to see, and an end to that type of behavior.
Is that enough?
Q The State Department is offering five million dollars to people who may help bring those responsible for the assassination of Perl in Pakistan. Is that necessary? I mean, why you didn't step in before he got killed, and then now he is killed, and you want to do something? Do you see any substance in such effort?
MR. REEKER: Well, certainly, we were actively pursuing what we had hoped would be happier end to this case after Mr. Perl was kidnapped. We worked very closely with the Pakistani authorities and continue to work very closely with them on the investigation. And now, in our pursuit of justice in this absolutely heinous murder that was carried out against one of your own colleagues, one of my countrymen. It was just an appalling example of the lack of humanity of people that would perpetrate such a horrible thing. The Rewards for Justice program is a very, I think, successful and useful way of trying to aid our investigation. Again, working very closely with the Pakistanis on this, we were outraged at the fact that the senseless murder of Mr. Perl, and we announced up to five million dollars under the Rewards for Justice program for information leading to the arrest or conviction in any country of those responsible for the kidnapping and murder that took place.
And so we posted this updated information on the Rewards for Justice website, so that it's available to anybody that can see it, and obviously it's partially your job to help advertise that development. We count on you as the journalists and the media to get that out around the world. There's lots of bits of information that can come in, and we look at each of those, and then also consider the eligibility for rewards, because both the United States and Pakistan, I think, it's quite clear, are firmly committed to identifying all the perpetrators involved in this brutal murder, and bringing them to justice. That is definitely our goal.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. REEKER: Hmm. Last one.
Q My point is when he was kidnapped, and terrorists responsible for his kidnapping asked, you know, certain things. Your government were to do to get him free. And that includes, you know, giving them terrorists --
MR. REEKER: I think we made quite clear at the time --
Q You ruled that out. Now, what's the whole point here?
MR. REEKER: I guess I don't understand your question. What is the whole point here?
Q I mean, you did not -- what if terrorists asked you seven things to do in order to free the journalist. You said your government was not stepping in.
MR. REEKER: Uh, no, that's not right. Our government stepped in. We worked very closely with Pakistani authorities to try to bring about the release of Mr. Perl. Worked tirelessly on that. Only of course to discover that he had been brutally murdered. That is far different from our stated policy, which is that we will not give in to terrorist demands, this type of thing, because they've shown once again the type of inhuman individuals they are to carry out that type of a murder. So let's not mistake our absolute willingness, our full intent to always pursue release of Americans that have been kidnapped or held hostage overseas. We recently released again our policy, we reviewed that. But we will not give in to terrorist demands. We will not pay ransom, because we don't think that that has indeed accomplished anything. And if you look at the emerging facts of this case in terms of Mr. Pearl's murder, you know, I don't think the demands that the people who were holding him made were even serious. They were brutal, cold-blooded killers, and that's why we are going to continue working to bring them to justice.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
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