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State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher
State Department
Washington, D. C.
September 18, 2001
@12:00 P.M. EDT

MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I think the Secretary just spoke to you, so I am not going to try to make any additional statements or announcements. But if there is anything I can help you with, I would be glad to.

QUESTION: Is there anything more you can add to what's happening in Afghanistan, beyond the narrow question that I asked the Secretary outside?

MR. BOUCHER: To what's happening in Afghanistan? I am not sure there is that much to say about it. The Secretary did address outside the fact that they appear to be having meetings that we don't have a lot of readout from. We have seen the various press stories, speculation or officials, people talking about the possible responses to the request that they expel Usama bin Laden. There are these reports that a council of religious scholars will make a decision on the issue in the next day or two.

I just would say, for us, the issue is quite clear. There are UN Security Council resolutions that already established the requirements and we have repeatedly made clear to the Taliban, in the face-to-face meetings we have had and in public remarks, that bin Laden must be expelled to a country where he can be brought to justice for his crimes. That is what the UN resolutions require and that is what we would expect to see.

Those same resolutions require the Taliban end their harboring of terrorist organizations. After the tragedies of last week, the attacks of last week, these goals are even more important. It is not just that bin Laden must be brought to justice but that the whole structure of support for the terrorist organizations has to be dismantled.

QUESTION: There are some reports that the Taliban has said if all 60 members of the OIC were to call for bin Laden to be turned over, that they would consider it. Are you considering -- are there contacts with the OIC about this request or is that something that you would ask the OIC to do?

MR. BOUCHER: I had not seen that particular statement or request or reports. I am a little vague on what it is. But, in any case, I would say we have been in touch with the OIC, the Secretary has talked to a number of foreign ministers and the President has talked to some leaders in the Gulf area in particular. The Secretary talked to the Qatari Foreign Minister the other day and they are currently head of the OIC. We noted especially the statement that the OIC made the other day that indicated terrorist acts were un-Islamic. I forget if they used exactly those terms, but it was a pretty strong statement. And therefore, we have and do intend to try to work closely with those governments.

QUESTION: Richard, is it fair to say that you all have been speaking with various leaders in the Moslem world to ask them, perhaps, to take bin Laden and be the place for a trial?

MR. BOUCHER: Why would it be fair to say that?

QUESTION: Well, because you just said that the UN resolution --

MR. BOUCHER: I would not say that in any way, shape or form. And, first of all, we are not negotiating this. UN resolutions are quite clear. He needs to be delivered to a place where he can face justice. As I just made clear, it is not just that he needs to be brought to justice, but that the whole network of support for this terrorist organization and others needs to be dismantled.

The UN resolutions are quite clear. In the past, we have seen statements about various formulations of Islamic courts coming out of the Taliban, but frankly none of those have ever measured up to the requirements of the UN resolution. So I don't want to speculate on what might happen now. But it is clear to us that they need, first and foremost, to meet the existing requirements of the UN resolution; and second of all, to remember that he is now the prime suspect in another horrible attack, and that could obviously lead to other consequences.

QUESTION: Who decides the appropriate place of that third country?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it's totally speculative at this point that there might be any such thing. So I'm not going to try to speculate.

QUESTION: And has any decision been taken about sending a US delegation to Islamabad at this point?

MR. BOUCHER: Not yet. We do intend to send an interagency delegation to Islamabad, as the Secretary has discussed several times. There is no decision yet on timing and who would go.

QUESTION: Any change in your intentions towards action through the United Nations; for example, a new resolution? Have there been any consultations on that? Do you have -- what's your view on that?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't, at this point, have anything new at the United Nations. I would say, first, with regard to the United Nations, there is very good news today, and that's that our Ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, was sworn in this morning, and we're glad to be able to do that. The team up at the UN has been doing an excellent job for us, and we look forward to his being able to go up there. He will be up tomorrow to present his credentials, mid-day tomorrow. And then he will be working up there to help implement the President's strategy.

We do want to work closely with the United Nations. And in the Secretary's meeting this morning with Foreign Minister Han, who is President of the General Assembly, he expressed our appreciation for the steps, the first resolution of the new General Assembly, and Foreign Minister Han was elected and then presided over that session, and for the efforts that they are making up there, and offered to continue coordinating with the United Nations in various ways.

The Secretary has spoken with Kofi Annan several times. And so we will keep working with the United Nations. But I don't have anything on a particular new step up there.

QUESTION: Do you know -- has there been any contact yet with -- or will there ever be with the Taliban themselves?

MR. BOUCHER: At this point, there has not been. The Secretary, I think, has said to you that at some point, we would expect there might be.

QUESTION: Can you tell us, to the best of the State Department's information, whether you believe the Taliban has finished meeting, in terms of a clerical assembly, and whether or not they have decided that they would not at this point hand over bin Laden?

MR. BOUCHER: No. We don't know. We don't have any direct contacts, we don't have any people there. We don't participate in clerics' meetings in Afghanistan. So, no, we don't know for sure. We're following the press reports on this. I suppose we will hear from the Pakistanis when they finish their discussions. And we'll see what they come out with.

But as I've said, we believe the requirements of the UN resolution are clear, and further know that he is the prime suspect in additional attacks.

QUESTION: I take it if the Taliban turns Usama bin Laden over, that would be insufficient; they would have to dismantle the terrorism network, for them to get off the hook.

MR. BOUCHER: The President and the Secretary have made clear our goal is to end terrorism. It is to dismantle the networks -- "rip up the networks" in the Secretary's phrase -- and make sure that other people, other cells, other groups can't do this kind of thing. And so, as I've made clear, the UN resolution makes clear already that because of the attacks in East Africa, Usama bin Laden needs to be brought to justice, and the Taliban has to end its practice of harboring terrorist groups. That is part and parcel of dismantling the entire network; it is what our goal is.

QUESTION: Has there been any decision yet, especially after the talks this morning with Foreign Minister Han, about what will happen with UNGA?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it's called the General Debate that is usually held -- that was to be held next week with high-level leaders coming in from around the world, the question of holding or not holding this debate, postponing it, is being discussed now. It has been discussed. The decision is really in the hands of the United Nations.

Everybody agrees we should look first and foremost to the wishes of the city. We discussed the matter with Foreign Minister Han today. I think he indicated it is being discussed with various regional groupings at the United Nations and that there will be some sort of session tomorrow to decide.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) is in town today and I understand he is having meetings with various US officials. Is there any plan at this point for the United States to give extra support to help those refugees who are fleeing Afghanistan or have fled Afghanistan since Tuesday?

MR. BOUCHER: If I can, let me go back a little bit to review what we have been doing and continue to do. I know that various charges have been made that somehow we are against Afghanistan or against the people of Afghanistan. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

We have been strong supporters over the years of assistance efforts for the people of Afghanistan, of assistance efforts for the internally displaced in Afghanistan, and assistance efforts for Afghans who find it necessary to flee their country as refugees. We have provided emergency food aid and other life-saving humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable people that are suffering from drought and from the conflict in Afghanistan. From the US Agency for International Development side, food that's targeted on the most impoverished. In fiscal year 2001, we provided 63,000 metric tons, that is valued at $29.29 million. Of that, about $1.9 million goes to Afghan refugees.

We have also provided life-saving assistance to help with access to food, water, medical services and shelter that result from the drought. For those programs, 2001 funding is at $18.9 million. This is only part of an overall US assistance program for Afghanistan. The total, including aid from our Bureau of Population and Refugees, comes to over $140 million for this year in support for the Afghan people and for the refugees caused by the terrible and unfortunate situation that many people in Afghanistan face.

In the immediate circumstance -- where is my number here -- we have just given the UN High Commissioner for Refugees $2 million, which can be used to meet initial emergency requirements and we are prepared to consider further contributions. So we will be working with international organizations, with US-funded nongovernmental organizations to determine their ability to ramp up assistance in Pakistan to Afghan refugees. So the UN has got emergency planners out there in Pakistan, and we will work closely with them in the field, as well as support their activities.

QUESTION: Today?

MR. BOUCHER: I would have to find the exact date. We have just given it, so -- just. I think in the past few days. I will have to check if it's exactly today or not.

QUESTION: Do the encouraging developments in the Middle East today make it -- how do they affect your attempts to build this global coalition?

MR. BOUCHER: I would go, first and foremost, to what the Secretary said over the past few days, that we consider ending the violence and getting back on a path of implementation of the Mitchell Report and back towards peace and negotiations, based on Resolutions 242 and 338, that that path is important in and of itself, for the lives of Israelis, for the lives of Palestinians.

And so we continue to work very hard on that. We have obviously noted that many in the Arab world who we work with in the coalition are as concerned -- or are very concerned about the situation in the region. And we have assured them, as we have you, that we will continue to work on the issue of peace in the Middle East.

The Secretary has had a number of discussions and phone calls with a variety of people in the Middle East over the last several days. In many of these cases, it's a discussion not only of the coalition against terrorism, but also the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians.

So we will continue to work on that. He told you he has talked to Foreign Minister Peres, Prime Minister Sharon, Chairman Arafat today. We have welcomed Chairman Arafat's very explicit call for a complete cease-fire, for maximum self-restraint, for resumption of direct contacts to end the violence. We noted, in fact, that he made the statement in Arabic. This is the kind of step -- exactly the kind of step -- that we have been talking about, that we have been looking for, and we certainly will continue to work with him and the parties to see that these kind of steps are followed by others.

If I could just say a couple other important things about this. He also reiterated the right of Israel to live within safe and secure boundaries, and he reiterated his order to Palestinian security forces to act intensively to secure a complete cease-fire. We think that's very important. We also welcome the Israeli Government's statements, that it will suspend offensive military operations and exercise restraint.

So our hope is that this effort to establish a calm, to establish a real cease-fire will be sustained, and that the initial steps, which I said are exactly the kind of steps we have been looking for, will be followed by the others that we have been looking for as well.

QUESTION: Richard, I hope this isn't too much of an esoteric question, but some people who view the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian front, believe that it's a direct outcome of Secretary Powell -- as you say, that, yes, he has raised this in conversations with Arab leaders -- but a direct outcome of this Administration's attempt to build a global coalition.

Do you hope that this new sort of spirit of camaraderie between all these countries lining up against terrorism could also affect other policy issues that you have pending right now?

MR. BOUCHER: I think there are probably a number of aspects to that. First, this kind of horrible crime has a sobering effect on a lot of people, and makes clear once again that violence is not a path to anything. And therefore, we would hope that people who have an alternate path, people who have a path to resolve their differences would once again commit themselves to that, as we see perhaps going on between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The second is that many of the people that we work with closely in combating terrorism, and that we expect to work with very closely in combating terrorism, are interested in the Israeli-Palestinian situation and, as we work on both of them, we improve the relationships and establish a further basis for cooperation.

So I think there has always been a recognition that different issues in the region are linked in people's minds and people care about it, many of them at the same time. And, in terms of our approach, we have always stressed the importance. It is not just Americans and other people around the world who deserve to live in safety and security, but Israelis and Palestinians too.

QUESTION: Two things briefly. Do you know, was there anyone from the State Department who was a victim or missing from -- do you know if this building --

MR. BOUCHER: Not that I know of, at this point.

QUESTION: And secondly, can you talk a little bit about this group of Chinese journalists who were asked to leave last week, last Friday, and why?

MR. BOUCHER: There was a group of Chinese on an international visitor tour, a group of Chinese journalists, who were on an international visitors' tour. We curtailed the visit on September 14 because, under the circumstances, it was decided not to continue the tour. They were in Washington, I believe, and their next stop was due to be New York. So there was no way that they could continue that tour.

QUESTION: Well, were the reports that they had either laughed or cheered or applauded at --

MR. BOUCHER: I really don't know. I know there have been rumors and things like that talked about. I just don't know.

QUESTION: Well, there are other groups under the international visitors' program that are in town, correct? And those groups were not -- those visits were not curtailed, as I understand.

MR. BOUCHER: We are looking at all such tours on a case-by-case basis. It will depend on the itinerary, the ease of rescheduling, things like that.

QUESTION: So you are saying that just -- do you know if they have actually left now?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't.

QUESTION: But they were asked to leave?

MR. BOUCHER: On the 14th, the visit was curtailed.

QUESTION: But they were asked to leave the country, yes?

MR. BOUCHER: The visit was curtailed. That's the way I put it.

QUESTION: Well, Richard, could you take the question as to whether it was entirely related to the situation in New York, or were there other reasons for curtailing it?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if I can get you anything on that. I will see.

QUESTION: Richard, how much credit does the United States claim for these latest developments in the Middle East? Or do you think that it's mainly the parties themselves acting on what they see as their own best interest under the circumstances?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we have to recognize that all along the United States has played a very important role. The parties do, sometimes, act in their best interests and we always encourage them to do that. The Secretary has been in close touch with the parties, he has been in close touch with people in the region. Our representatives in the region have had a lot of discussions with the parties at the senior levels, and will continue to work. I give the parties credit for recognizing that it is important to move forward, and I give us some credit for having helped them recognize that and show them a way to move forward.

QUESTION: May I follow up on that?

MR. BOUCHER: Sure.

QUESTION: This is kind of building on Andrea's question. Do you feel extra pressure to try and resolve this in order to secure the support of a lot of these Arab states to join the coalition?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I would put it that way. We recognize that there is an interplay. We recognize that people who want to work with us in the coalition against terrorism -- remember, people are doing this unconditionally. They are joining the fight against terrorism because it is in their interest. They recognize, too, that this kind of barbarism is an attack on civilization and all the great civilizations of the world. And therefore we think that people are joining the coalition, offering their support, offering their help because they recognize that it is in their own interests, that this, as many have said, is an attack on them too.

So I am not aware that anybody has is conditioned their cooperation against terrorism. At the same time, I think I go back -- we have been working very hard on the Israeli-Palestinian issues all along. The Secretary has, our representatives in the region have, the President has. Because we recognize that Israelis and Palestinians deserve a right to live in safety and security just as we do.

QUESTION: Richard, back to the aid to Afghanistan. Do you know whether all of the US AID workers who were in Afghanistan have left after the Taliban ordered all foreigners to leave? And can you tell us if anyone in our missions in Pakistan have yet availed themselves of the non-essential departure?

MR. BOUCHER: Let's do departure from Afghanistan separately from departures from Pakistan so we don't get them confused.

In terms of Afghanistan, our understanding is that all the foreign humanitarian workers that were in Afghanistan have left. And obviously that makes it impossible to conduct the programs inside Afghanistan that we did. We are working with the UN and others to try to make sure that we have good programs for the refugees that are in Pakistan and may resume.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) are -- they may be sort of Pakistanis, or other people working for the UN?

MR. BOUCHER: As far as I know, all foreign humanitarian workers have left.

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