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State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher
State Department Daily Briefing
State Department
Washington, D.C.
September 25, 2001

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

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.

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