State Department Spokeman Richard Boucher
State Department
Washington, D.C.
September 24, 2001

QUESTION: In general, since September 11, have the rates at which our consular offices issued visas declined in any way? Have they stayed the same? Has there been any change in the rate at which we've issued these visas?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't frankly know. I would not assume that there would be, because certainly given the millions of visas we issue, if we turn down five or 10 or 15 more terrorists, it's not going to show up anywhere in the rates.

QUESTION: What is your response to the political demands expressed by Mullah Omar today, apparently on behalf of Usama bin Laden? And also to bin Laden's appeal for help against what he called the Jewish crusade, or whatever it is, Jewish crusade or assault?

MR. BOUCHER: I think I just need to -- I would be glad to repeat once again that the Taliban know what they have to do. Bin Laden has to be expelled to a country where he can be brought to justice. The Taliban need to stop harboring terrorist organizations. And the whole structure of support for terrorist operations in Afghanistan must be dismantled.

We are looking for action, not words, on their part; and they have to demonstrate now whether they want to support terrorism or they want to support justice. All this other talk is really irrelevant to it. There is a broad international coalition, which includes people of many faiths, many regions, many ethnic origins, that is appalled by the kind of attack that we saw in New York, appalled with the idea that anybody could be planning such actions, and appalled by the idea that any regime could be harboring people who do this.

So it's quite clear to us that the Taliban needs to act in a way that the whole world is asking for.

QUESTION: On Mullah Omar specifically, can you explain the rationale that this building had when it expressed its opposition to VOA broadcasting portions of an interview with Mr. Omar?

MR. BOUCHER: I'd be glad to. We didn't think it was right. We didn't think that the American taxpayer, the Voice of America, should be broadcasting the voice of the Taliban. We were informed that the Voice of America intended to accept an offer from Mullah Omar to be interviewed. We indicated at that time we thought it wouldn't be appropriate for a number of reasons. One is that his commentaries have already appeared on other broadcasters. Unless he was going to accept the requirements of the United Nations, then there was no news or anything newsworthy in any interview like that.

And carrying the interview would be confusing to the millions of listeners to what is essentially a US Government broadcast, paid for by the US Government. So we -- the State Department has a seat on the board, we talked to other board members -- other Board of Broadcasting governors -- about this and indicated that we felt as a matter of policy the Board should not -- that Voice of America shouldn't be making these broadcasts, putting this man's voice on our radio. And we think, whether it was the Board of Governors or the Voice of America that ultimately made this decision, it was the right decision, and we think good sense prevailed.

QUESTION: But do you still maintain that VOA has editorial independence?

MR. BOUCHER: We recognize the independence of the Voice of America. The Voice of America works for the Board of Broadcasting Governors, and we have a seat on the Board. The VOA works according to its charter. Its charter says that they should explain US Government policy and present responsible discussion about it. We don't consider Mullah Omar to be responsible discussion.

QUESTION: Well, does this mean then that you will also oppose VOA broadcasting statements from the Taliban that are released, say, through the Afghan Islamic news agency -- the news agency in Pakistan?

MR. BOUCHER: We would not want to infringe on their ability to report the news if there is news. But there is quite a bit of difference between broadcasting that and broadcasting an interview with Mullah Omar.

QUESTION: So does this mean that any contract, say -- this is just a hypothetical question, but if this happens again in the future with someone else, that you would also oppose that? And are you --

MR. BOUCHER: With someone else?

QUESTION: Well, if bin Laden himself called up VOA and said, would you like to interview me?

MR. BOUCHER: If he wanted to tell them something newsworthy about where he expected to turn himself in, it would be fine.

QUESTION: But how would you know that?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, generally, people might say that if they were calling up. Otherwise we don't think it's up to the US taxpayer to be broadcasting these voices back into Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Hold on, Richard, can I just ask a question? Are you saying that the journalists -- the editorial wing of Voice of America -- cannot make decisions on their own as to what would be confusing to listeners? Or what would actually be considered news? I mean, is this a precedent now that you're setting? Has this happened before?

MR. BOUCHER: No. I'm saying the policy for the Voice of America and the other government broadcasters is set by a Board of Broadcasting Governors, which we participate in. I'm saying that it's up to journalists to make journalistic decisions, but it's also up to the policy board to make policy decisions on these broadcasts. And we don't think it's for the US taxpayer or the US Government to be broadcasting those voices into Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Hold on, so just to follow up. So it's a policy decision at the Voice of America as to whether or not you have this particular interview?

MR. BOUCHER: It's a policy decision above the Voice of America. It's a policy decision by the Board of Broadcasting Governors.

QUESTION: Can I ask, back to your earlier comment about bin Laden should be expelled to a country where he can be brought to justice. I may be mistaken, but I thought that the Bush speech -- the President --

MR. BOUCHER: The President said the United States.

QUESTION: The United States.

MR. BOUCHER: Which is a country where he can be brought to justice.

QUESTION: Okay, so you're not adjusting that --

MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not adjusting that. The language of "expelled to a country, brought to justice" is in the UN resolution. So it's something that is clearly and widely recognized already. The United States is clearly a country where he can be brought to justice. He has been indicted in the United States for the bombings, and that's what the President said we thought should happen.

QUESTION: I have one other question. Are you saying that he should be brought to a third country, and then would the US seek his extradition?

MR. BOUCHER: If you look at the UN resolution, I think it's fairly clear. He needs to be brought to a country where he can face justice, and then there's another clause that says, or put to a place where he could be brought to a place. I don't want to try to get into legal procedures. But it's clear that he needs to face justice in a country where he can.

QUESTION: Richard, we've been hearing a lot about how the FBI is leading the investigation, but do you have any information as to how the State Department is assisting in this investigation?

MR. BOUCHER: We're involved in a number of ways. The Diplomatic Security Bureau of the State Department works closely with the FBI and the other investigative agencies. We do things like we immediately ran down whatever visa information we might have on these individuals. We work with foreign governments, along with the FBI in places where they're located, or on behalf of the FBI and other investigators in places where they're not.

So our Diplomatic Security Agents ends up carrying up a lot of the load of investigation overseas.

QUESTION: Richard, can I go back to the VOA thing for a second? Are you saying the State Department was aware before VOA did this interview with Mullah Omar that he was not going to make any news?

MR. BOUCHER: We're saying that we had no indication that he was going to make any particular new statement.

QUESTION: So the VOA charter doesn't protect them from prior restraint?

MR. BOUCHER: The VOA charter describes what they're supposed to be doing. We think that these decisions not to broadcast are entirely consistent with the VOA charter, which is, again, what I said. Read it; you can look it up on the Web. President Ford signed it; it's out there. It says to present -- to explain US -- among other things -- to report on the news and to explain US Government policy and present responsible discussion thereof. If he's not -- if there's no indication he's going to make a new announcement, then it's not the first part of it; it's the responsible discussion part of it, and we frankly don't consider Mullah Omar to be a responsible discussion of US policy.

QUESTION: Well, what can you expect --

QUESTION: We're on the verge of going to war with this guy. You don't think that that's news, anything he has to say?

MR. BOUCHER: A lot of things that he has to say are reported, have been reported very, very widely by other media. And we're not in any way restricting that. I'm just saying that the bottom line for US Government broadcaster paid for by US taxpayers is that we shouldn't be broadcasting his propaganda.

QUESTION: Well, what can you say about -- hold on, Barry.

QUESTION: Okay, sure.

QUESTION: I'm surprised that you're not in on this. What can you say to VOA listeners out there who now may have questions about whether the news that they're listening to is going to be impartial and present all sides to the story?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm going to say, you're going to get the news, as you always have from VOA.

QUESTION: But not if the State Department objects to it.

MR. BOUCHER: I'm going to say, you're going to get the news, as you always have from the VOA, and as you continue to get every day from the VOA. You're going to get clear explanations of US policy, and you're going to get responsible discussion -- pro and con -- about US policy. Nothing different. I'm going to say exactly what's in their charter that they continue to exercise today.

QUESTION: But not from Mullah Omar?

MR. BOUCHER: Not from Mullah Omar, unless he's about to announce something that falls under another category.

QUESTION: How do you know? I don't understand how you can make this decision before --

MR. BOUCHER: If Mullah Omar wants to call up and say, I've got news for you; I want to read it out on the VOA, then it might be a different situation. But, frankly, to present another one of his statements in his voice to Afghanistan, we don't consider that compatible with the charter. We are on the board. Other members of the board did not consider it compatible with the charter and, frankly, we don't think it makes good sense to be asking US taxpayers to pay for that.

QUESTION: Was that a unanimous decision by the board?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that there was actually a vote by the board. We talked to some of the board members and they seemed to agree with us.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with the charter. But is it supposed to be, you know, the majority of people on the board that make this decision, or --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that is specified in the charter; I would have to go back in the board's rules. But I think any board that -- when board members feel strongly about these things, that they do set the policy.

QUESTION: I have something to follow up, and my hand is almost numb.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'm sorry, we have a numb hand over here, and a numb hand over here. (Laughter.) So we can do them one at a time. I'll get back to you, I'm sorry.

All right, you can go first.

QUESTION: First, the phrasing is --

MR. BOUCHER: You can take your hand down now. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: First, your phrasing is that you don't think that it is the job of Voice of America to broadcast back Mullah Omar's comments back to Afghanistan. Does it mean that you would not object if they were included in some other service being broadcast not of Afghanistan? One thing?

MR. BOUCHER: This was a particular question that had to do with some Afghan language services. I am not going to give free license to everybody to go broadcasting Mullah Omar.

As I said, you know, they report the news. If he makes news, I am sure they will report it. This was a different circumstance, though.

QUESTION: The other thing I wanted to ask. Don't you think the US taxpayer really wants balanced news and freedom of press and First Amendment for everybody in the world? Isn't that what we are fighting for?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we absolutely do. And there is --

QUESTION: That is his point of view. Because you are accusing him. He doesn't have Sixth Amendment rights under US Constitution, but at least his point of view should be heard.

MR. BOUCHER: My turn? I think we consider it plain common sense, as well as good policy, as well as consistent with the Voice of America's charter to say that we support freedom of the press around the world, we can support all these wonderful things that you people do every day. We can fight to defend all these wonderful things that you people do every day, without asking the US taxpayer to pay for broadcasting this guy's voice back into Afghanistan.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- Pakistan perhaps could buy spare parts as commercial sanctions lifted. Now, is it only spare parts, or Pakistan perhaps can buy anything, including the F-16s, which are in storage?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to go too far down this road yet. I do want to take this one step at a time. But it allows the commercial sale of military goods, so that would be a larger universe than just spare parts.

QUESTION: You said that the Secretary had made more than 200 phone calls --

MR. BOUCHER: I think it was 100; 100 in two weeks.

QUESTION: One hundred phone calls to several countries. Did he -- could he get full support of all countries that he talked to, or are there any different opinions or approaches within countries in the international coalition?

MR. BOUCHER: I would say that there has been very, very broad and solid support around the world. I think we have counted -- let me check on today's fact sheet -- messages of condolence and sympathy from 197 countries and entities. There were 60 countries that offered specific support for the disaster, the kind of search and recovery operations that need to go on.

There have been multilateral declarations of support from 46 different international entities, from the United Nations to NATO to the Organization of African Unity to the Organization of American States. The European Union, as you all know, has been very forthcoming. The NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council has issued a statement. And the list goes on and on and on.

So I think we have had very solid support around the world. We are now, I guess I would say, moving from the stage where we looked for rhetorical support, where we looked for the statements, where we looked for commitment to the stages where we are starting to do a lot of things with a lot of things with a lot of countries. And, as I said before, there are many, many things we are doing that are not visible and won't be visible. But if you look around the world, you will see all kinds of actions being taken by governments to try to squeeze the terrorist organizations, cut down their financing, cut down on front organizations, offices, their ability to move or to operate. So I think, generally, we have gotten very, very positive response.

QUESTION: One more question on this VOA issue. You spoke of some unease that the message would be misinterpreted around the world if he got on the air. Do you feel the US message which you pretty much just gave earlier in another context -- that it's a multi-ethnic coalition, that it comes from various cultures, various viewpoints -- it suggests that this argument -- I don't know what the word would be -- that this presentation the US has been making hasn't -- the US is fearful it hasn't sunk in, that you're proceeding with part of the world not sure what the US is about -- is doing here.

MR. BOUCHER: And how do you get that from what I said before?

QUESTION: Because one of the arguments you gave against letting this guy on the air was that his message might fall on naïve ears. You didn't --

MR. BOUCHER: I would say, Barry, that the message is clearly, this is a broad, multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-region coalition with people from around the world of all faiths and ethnicities, which includes virtually everybody in the world except terrorists and those who harbor them.

QUESTION: But the US has confidence that this is how this is perceived in the streets?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we have confidence that those are the facts and we have confidence that we can continue to make that clear to people.

QUESTION: Let me turn to something else, if I may? This situation is unique, I mean, this whole campaign, as the Secretary has said. Still, I wondered if it could be said, with the Taliban turning you down every which way now for days, is the diplomatic phase over?

In the Gulf War, there was a definite delineation. Mr. Baker put a piece of paper on a coffee table that Tariq Aziz did not pick up and diplomacy had come to an end. Is there any room, any more, for diplomacy to turn the Taliban on this?

MR. BOUCHER: Barry, this is not the Gulf War. We have tried to make that clear. This is not a Geneva meeting with Secretary Baker and Tariq Aziz. This is an international effort to stop terrorism. This is an international campaign that is not just military. It could involve military elements, but you see us out there every day working diplomatically with governments, working on the financial controls with governments, such as we are doing today with the President's announcements, working on information sharing with governments, working on law enforcement cooperation with governments, working on immigration controls with governments.

All of these things that we are doing that are not in the nature of military action are essential aspects of a broad campaign to squeeze terrorism, to stop it, to cut off its sources of financing, cut off its ability to operate. That diplomatic effort is strong, it is, I would say, even picking up speed. And it is going to continue for years. This is what it takes to get terrorism stopped.

That involves pressure in terms of Afghanistan, it involves continuing the pressure on the Taliban, and you've seen their offices being closed down in certain cases, diplomats being withdrawn. Pakistan has withdrawn its representatives. So it involves pressure on the Taliban, as well as an effort to cut off the al-Qaida organization, to cut off its means of communication, to stop it from being able to finance itself, to stop it from being able to plan and carry out terrorist acts.

QUESTION: But is a military element here -- and I guess I was asking in a way if there is still an opportunity to avert a military move by the US, if there's some room still for the Taliban or Taliban's friends -- I assume they still have some friends -- to divert -- to avert a blow-up, a military action?

MR. BOUCHER: I'd go back to the President's speech, which you quoted before, but I'd quote the other passage that says -- that I can't remember precisely, the one about justice -- we will render him to justice or justice will be done. But clearly there are certain things the President said he expected the Taliban to do, and that in terms of the organization of al-Qaida, I repeated them again this morning, and we expect to see them do those things. That's the way to avert any further consequences.