Department Deputy Spokesman Philip T. Reeker
October 17, 2001
MR. REEKER: Welcome back to the State Department, ladies and gentlemen. Again,
I apologize for the delay. As you know, Secretary Powell has been traveling.
He arrived this morning our time in Shanghai, China. Ambassador Boucher, of
course, is accompanying him so I am here to try to fill in that role and answer
First, I would like to recognize three groups of visitors we have from Meridian
International Center, part of our International Visitor Program here at the
State Department: a group of 12 Russian journalists; an editor from New Zealand;
and a group of 15 Finnish and 5 Estonian journalists. So 35 visitors. Thank
you very much for joining us today.
We will try to be brief. I have a 2 o'clock engagement, so with that let me
turn to the Associated Press and Mr. Schweid.
QUESTION: Phil, is there anything being done here so far as this anthrax threat?
Is the mail room still open? Are offices closed? Are you functioning as normal?
Any measures, any precautions?
MR. REEKER: Diplomatic Security has been conducting briefings to educate employees
this week. They are being briefed on what to look for in terms of handling mail
and what to do, what not to do.
I would direct you, Barry, to a Departmental Notice that was put out on October
10th following a couple of incidents we had here at the State Department, as
you know, where unidentified powdery substances were removed by hazardous materials
officials, determined to be non-hazardous. And we did put out a Security Notice
giving employees an outline of how to proceed in terms of these cases in light
of the confirmed cases of exposure to anthrax that we are all seeing now around
the city and around the country.
QUESTION: Just to follow, that's it? Just the Diplomatic Security briefings
-- mail room?
MR. REEKER: We are also taking additional steps in terms of security steps,
which I don't think I'm in a position to go into great detail on, lest someone
be able to try to circumvent those steps that we are taking to protect our people
and this facility, all our facilities overseas. We have alerted our posts, given
them guidance on dealing with suspicious letters and packages -- all of our
overseas embassies and consulates. Letters and packages obviously need to be
viewed in a different light, given these concerns.
Support from local host governments has been outstanding all around the world,
and all of our posts continue on a heightened state of alert, not just for potential
biohazards, but obviously for the terrorist hazards we are all too well aware
QUESTION: A two-part question. Have visa procedures changed since September
11th at consulate offices, including, you know, more scrutiny of applicants
from certain countries or for further background checks, longer waits, that
kind of thing?
MR. REEKER: That is a very broad question. I would have to examine each and
every post. Every visa application is taken on its own individual merits at
all of our posts around the world.
QUESTION: Have you guys changed --
MR. REEKER: There is a process -- we have discussed it here at fair length --
that includes running every visa application through what is known as the CLASS,
the lookout check. It's a computerized database that must be checked before
a visa can physically be issued. So every one of our posts would continue to
do that. That includes names and identities provided from intelligence sources
and other methods to identify those we may want to check if they are applying
for US visas.
QUESTION: So have visa procedures changed at all, though? I'm wondering. Also,
my other question was, why was there a significant drop in the number of visas
issued to Middle Eastern -- for Middle Eastern countries in the two weeks after
MR. REEKER: I would have to check those figures. I am not familiar with that
particularly. I don't think it would be a surprise to anyone that there was
a drop in visa issuance from anywhere in the world following September 11th.
I think it has been well reported the drop in travel worldwide, the concerns
that many have had about travel, given the terrorist threats and the images
they saw from what was perpetrated against the United States on September the
So, again, I don't have tallies of worldwide visa issuance. Again, each visa
is examined on an individual basis. Each post reviews that to meet the criteria
for being issued a visa under our law, under the Immigration and Naturalization
Act, which is a law passed by Congress, signed by the President of the United
States. That is the rubric in which consular officers issue visas at our posts
QUESTION: And again, I'm sorry, just to follow up. Has there been any procedural
changes with regards to visa applicants? I mean, have there -- did you guys
issue statements to consulate offices throughout the world that --
MR. REEKER: Again, I am not aware of any blanket statements. Again, we have
200-some posts around the world that are involved in visa issuance, and so I
am just not in the position to go over what every single post is reviewing.
But we have discussed the reviews that take place in terms of the lookout systems,
the coordination with other government agencies, in terms of reviewing names
and applicants for visas under our law.
And as we have discussed before and a number of senior State Department officials
have discussed on Capitol Hill with Congress, we are looking at ways to work
with Congress to strengthen the cooperation between the State Department and
other US Government agencies, law enforcement agencies and the intelligence
community to even better carry out the visa screening position. Obviously, we
have to work closely with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which
is in charge of admitting individuals into the United States at our border posts.
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on what the US is doing to help fashion
a post-Taliban government?
MR. REEKER: Let me just see if I have anything particular to update you on.
I don't think there is a tremendous amount to add. As you know, we very much
support a broad-based government in Afghanistan. We have had contacts with all
factions, a variety of factions. We would want any government there to be as
broad-based as possible, including a variety of ethnic and geographic groups,
given the makeup of that country.
We welcome the appointment of Mr. Brahimi, or reappointment, as the Secretary
General of the United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan. We will
obviously continue working closely with the United Nations and others in the
Again, you are aware that the Secretary announced that his person point person
to coordinate US-Afghan policy is Richard Haass, Ambassador and Director of
our Office of Policy Planning here at the State Department.
I think we'll have more of a chance to look at that after Ambassador Haass has
been in New York. He plans to go up tomorrow to meet with the Secretary General
and with Mr. Brahimi, and then Mr. Brahimi is expected here in Washington to
meet with Deputy Secretary Armitage and other US officials on Friday.
QUESTION: Are there any plans for Mr. Haass to go overseas?
MR. REEKER: I don't have any other travel plans for him to announce at this
point. I think we will continue to have the contacts with a variety of Afghan
groups, with those with an interest in Afghanistan, the international community,
as we have in the past through the 6 + 2 structure under the United Nations
auspices, as well as an opportunity at the APEC meetings in Shanghai to discuss
with the leaders of Russia, China and other Asia-Pacific heads of state, foreign
ministers' views on the future of Afghanistan.
But again, our goal there is to see the Afghan people choose a government, a
representative government that can pursue democracy and respect for human rights,
that can reverse what the Taliban has done to Afghanistan and to the Afghan
people for so many years, using food as a weapon, the abuses vetted out towards
women. So that is what we will continue to look for -- as broad-based as possible.
QUESTION: Any comment from this stage on the closing of the US offices in Bosnia,
maybe? Do you see it as a proof of Usama bin Laden's network presence there,
or what else? And what about other Balkan countries?
MR. REEKER: The Embassy in Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as our
branch offices in Banja Luka and Mostar and the US Agency for International
Development Office in Tuzla are closed to the public today, the 17th of October.
They will be providing only emergency American citizen services, so any American
citizens requiring assistance should still contact those offices through the
regular channels, the regular phone contacts.
This step was taken due to a credible security threat to the official US Government
facilities and personnel in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Embassy is keeping
local American citizens and the local American community apprised of the situation
through the Warden Network, the way in which we try to contact all Americans
in those communities.
I am not in a position obviously to comment on the nature of the specific threat,
but we will continue to evaluate the security there and can keep you posted
on that. As we have noted in our Worldwide Caution, reminding Americans of the
threat of terrorism and the need to evaluate their own personal security, we
have mentioned that US embassies and posts and offices abroad may on occasion
close to reevaluate their own security in light of threats or other concerns.
And this is in keeping with that.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. So you don't make any connection between Usama bin Laden's
network and US presence there in Bosnia?
MR. REEKER: I haven't made any specific comments on the threat. I'm not going
to do that. All I have told you is to confirm indeed that our Embassy and other
offices in Bosnia-Herzegovina chose to close to the public today so that they
can reevaluate their security in light of some credible security threats to
American facilities and personnel in that country.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, any other specific closures to the public today?
MR. REEKER: I think we have mentioned in the past that a number of posts are
providing only emergency American citizen services while remaining open. That
would include Bakku in Azerbaijan; Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore and Peshawar
in Pakistan; Embassy Sanaa in Yemen; and, as I mentioned, Sarajevo; also our
Consulate General in Osaka, Japan is open but just providing emergency American
citizen services today.
The US Embassy in Moscow moved several offices from the old embassy building
annex to the main embassy compound, and so as a result of that move, the consular
section is able to provide only American citizen services at this time.
Other than that, I don't have any other specific posts to mention.
QUESTION: So it's not a security issue; it's an office-moving issue?
MR. REEKER: They moved several offices -- I don't have any details on it --
from the old embassy building, I am told, to the main embassy compound, and
so that is why some people had asked earlier. They are only offering emergency
American citizen services at this time.
QUESTION: Why is Osaka closed?
MR. REEKER: I think I have something specific on that. The US Consulate General
in Osaka, Japan received a suspicious letter containing an unknown substance
on Wednesday, October 17th. That would be today. The Japanese police were immediately
called, and the letter was turned over to them. Individuals who handled the
letter are taking antibiotics and undergoing tests. The Japanese police are
running tests on the letter, and we are awaiting the results of those tests.
So the Consulate General expects to be closed on October 18th as well and will
reopen as soon as prudently possible. So we will keep you posted on that one.
QUESTION: Is that the only post that you are aware of that has received such
a piece of mail that had to be tested?
MR. REEKER: I would have to go back and check on that, Betsy. I didn't have
any other updates now, but I will look into that for you, if there are any other
posts that have -- even without closing -- taken any steps regarding suspicious
QUESTION: It didn't have a New Jersey postmark, did it?
MR. REEKER: That I am just not aware of, I'm sorry.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you have any information on any bilateral meetings
that Secretary Powell may be having between now and -- or what he will be focusing
on between now and President Bush's arrival --
MR. REEKER: I am afraid I would have to refer you to the traveling party for
that. I don't have a rundown of his schedule. He has arrived, as I indicated,
in Shanghai, where it is now the middle of the night or early tomorrow morning.
So we will allow him to get a good night's sleep and then we will endeavor to
get from the party a list of his schedule for this ministerial time during the
For those of you that weren't familiar with what the Secretary is doing in Shanghai,
he is attending the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ministerial meeting.
This is foreign ministers and trade ministers. It is taking place there in Shanghai
the 17th and 18th, and of course the President will attend the APEC leaders
meeting later this week. And, as you know, he is en route now.
That forum is the premier multilateral organization in the Asia-Pacific region
that promotes free trade and investment among the 21 economies that participate
and account for more than half of the world's GDP.
QUESTION: The assassination today of the Israeli minister in Israel -- what
kind of impact would that have on the future talks between the Palestinians
and the Israelis?
MR. REEKER: Let me say that we offer our sincere condolences to Prime Minister
Sharon, to the Israeli Government and people, and to the family of Minister
Ze'Evi. This is a despicable act of terrorism that we condemn in the strongest
We understand that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has taken
responsibility for this murder. Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority
must move now to find and arrest all those responsible for this act, as well
as to continue arrests of other known terrorists. And we urge all those authorities
and states that harbor PFLP elements to recognize that terrorism is what has
occurred, and this is what terrorism is, and to take action against those who
practice it. There is absolutely no justification for this murder or for inactivity
in the face of terrorism.
In terms of the progress we have seen in recent days, we have discussed that
from here. It would be a tragedy if the terrorists were able to derail that
progress and claim another victim today, so we want the Palestinians and the
Israelis to continue with the positive steps that they have recently embarked
on to improve the situation and begin to restore some measure of cooperation
so that they can continue moving towards implementation of the Mitchell Committee
recommendations and get into a dialogue for negotiations towards a permanent
QUESTION: Phil, I think Deputy Secretary Armitage and others -- but I know he
specifically said that the US campaign against terrorism is not only targeted
on al-Qaida, and, in fact, he said no options are ruled out going after other
terrorist groups and their supporters.
Are the supporters of this group unknown to the State Department? And if you
know who they are, do you plan to do anything beyond just looking to them to
MR. REEKER: The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the PFLP, the
group that has taken responsibility for this murder in Israel today, is designated
as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in our list of such groups, as you know
well, Barry, and subject to sanctions there under our law. I would just refer
you to the annual reports, Patterns of Global Terrorism Report, for details
about that group.
Exactly what you indicated is exactly what the President of the United States
has said: we are conducting a campaign against terrorism with a global reach;
we are focusing now on the al-Qaida network that perpetrated the acts against
the United States in New York and Washington on the 11th of September; and we
will continue to look at terrorism broadly. In this specific case, again we
are urging all those authorities and states that harbor elements of this group
to recognize this terrorism for what it is and take action against those who
QUESTION: That group is apparently based in Syria. Are we speaking to the Syrians
with relation to this? And also, there are other groups perhaps sponsored in
the Bekka Valley.
MR. REEKER: I would just again refer you to the Patterns on Global Terrorism
Report that goes into some detail on those issues. I don't have anything else
right now to report in terms of any specific conversations on this.
QUESTION: So you have nothing to suggest the US will carry through on its pledge
to take action?
MR. REEKER: We will continue, Barry --
QUESTION: You're asking the supporters who have allowed these groups to operate
to crack down on them?
MR. REEKER: We will continue, Barry, to wage our campaign against terrorism
globally. I would refer you to what the President, the Secretary of State and
other senior officials have said in regard to that campaign. We are focused
on this using all the tools at our disposal, be they financial and economic,
information and intelligence-sharing, police and law enforcement action, as
well as military action when that is appropriate. And we will continue to follow
in this, and I just have nothing further to add to what the President has said
at this point.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Does the US see any evidence that the anthrax attacks show signs of
And the second part of my question is, anything linking Iraq to the September
11th attacks, or to the anthrax?
MR. REEKER: I don't think I have anything to add on Iraq. We have addressed
that question before. I would refer you to any law enforcement officials that
are involved in conducting the investigation on the September 11th attacks,
and I don't believe that any specific links have been made at this point. Anything
that I am able to share with you from here about the anthrax attacks, again,
I would refer you to the law enforcement officials who are responsible for those
In terms of the question that we had yesterday that I think is what you may
be alluding to, and what follows on to that, we have no reason to believe at
this point that Russia or any particular Central Asian country has been the
source of anthrax or any other pathogen. We have no reason to know a particular
source of that at this point. And we work with many European countries and Japan
in coordinating a program to prevent proliferation of biological weapons, expertise,
materials and technology from Russia and other Central Asian countries.
In particular, the Department of Defense's program on biological weapons proliferation
prevention includes enhancing the physical protection of strain collections
and facilities. And I think the Department of Defense can give you more details
QUESTION: There were two Muslim terrorists who were executed by China. Now,
the President, as well as Secretary of State Colin Powell, are going to this
conference in Shanghai, and people are saying this is just another case of repression.
How do you view that?
MR. REEKER: I am afraid, Joel, I am not even aware of those particular reports.
If you want to let the Press Office know the specifics, we can try to have a
look into that.
MR. REEKER: Okay, thanks. Anything else? Two more, quickly. We've got time.
QUESTION: Another visa question. With regards to the Saudi Arabian Embassy,
consulate offices -- any changes at those offices? I know that there are allegedly
six of the hijackers had gotten visas through offices there in Saudi Arabia.
MR. REEKER: Again, I guess I am not sure what you are searching for in terms
QUESTION: Any kind of change as far as --
MR. REEKER: I think each consulate, each embassy, that is involved in issuing
visas reviews each visa on a case-by-case basis. It is run through a particular
lookout system, as we call it, before a visa can be issued. And I will be happy
to check. If you want to get with me afterwards, we can look into those two
QUESTION: Two things. The first one is, the Russians have announced today the
closure of Cam Ranh base in Cuba, as well as the closure of a navy base in Vietnam.
Is it something that you welcome?
MR. REEKER: I think the White House might have --
QUESTION: And second, a quick question about some of these articles this morning,
the press saying that the US is ready to waive sanctions on China in order to
improve its relations with Beijing.
MR. REEKER: Let me answer your first one first. I think the White House may
have something to say about what you reference in terms of Russian base closings,
so we might check with them. And if not, we can get with you afterwards.
On the report that appeared in one of the morning papers, let me say quite categorically
that the US is not deliberating a waiver of Tiananmen sanctions to sell spare
parts for China's fleet of S-70C Blackhawk helicopters. That report is wrong.
QUESTION: Is the United States considering waiving sanctions on China that apply
to the sale of -- the question of the November 2000 agreement, and the transfer
of missile technology to Pakistan?
MR. REEKER: Waiving sanctions would require, as you know, a presidential determination.
The doing so would be in the national interest. And so sanctions have been waived
in the past, sanctions may be waived in the future, but I don't have anything
to announce in terms of any particular plans.
QUESTION: Does the State Department believe that the discussions last week in
Beijing between Assistant Secretary Wolf and the Chinese were significant to
warrant that kind of a waiver?
MR. REEKER: I think we had some remarks on those discussions last week that
Ambassador Boucher addressed, so we might want to check the transcript on that,
or I can go back and look for you. I didn't have a particular readout on that.