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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #47, 00-05-22

U.S. State Department: Daily Press Briefings Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <>


U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing


Monday, May 22, 2000

Briefer: Richard Boucher

1-2	Legislative and local elections / Suspension of U.S. aid
2-4	Holds on appropriated funds / Senator Gregg
3-4	Remarks by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
5	U.S. Arrears to the UN
4-5	Foday Sankoh and Possible War Crimes
4-5	Peacekeeping Role
5-7	Threat to Democracy
6	Travel warning / U.S. citizens
6-7	Consequences for U.S.-Fiji relations
7	Departure of U.S. inspection team
7-9	Whereabouts of Ambassador Ross / Ambassador Ross' Meetings with the
8-9	Remarks by Presidential Candidate George W. Bush
9-10	Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon / Implementation of UN Security
	 Council Resolutions 
10	Energy supplies / Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline
10-11	Proposed law on fighting terrorism / Crackdown on Media in Serbia
11	U.S. role in peace process / U.S. embassy personnel
12	Safety of U.S. citizens
12-13	Threat of airstrikes against Afghanistan
13	U.S.Drought Assistance
13	Prospects for US Drought Assistance
13-14	British Government's loss of laptop computer
14	Regional violence
15	Secretary's meeting with South African Foreign Minister
14-15	Secretary's meeting with Romanian Prime Minister
15	Postponement of elections
15	Recommendation that elections be postponed


DPB #47

MONDAY, MAY 22, 2000, 12:50 P.M.


MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to, if I can, say a few words about the elections in Haiti at the beginning. And then I'll be glad to take your questions about that or anything else.

We would like to congratulate the people of Haiti on the holding of legislative and local elections May 21st in a pervasive atmosphere of non- violence and high voter participation. We commend the Government of Haiti and the Provisional Electoral Council, for their sustained efforts in carrying out these elections; the political parties and the candidates for their dedication to the process; the Haitian national police for effectively maintaining calm; the thousands of civil society and political party poll watchers for their efforts in support of transparency; and the Haitian voters for the patience throughout the day and their strong expression of support for democracy by turning out to vote in very large numbers.

We also commend the Organization of American States for their coordination of over 200 international observers throughout the country, and the United States congressional delegation, led by Representatives John Conyers and William Delahunt for its diligent efforts in assisting with monitoring.

We have a little more to say in a written statement we'll give you afterwards. But that's the essentials. Now, I'll take your questions on this or anything else.

QUESTION: Has aid to Haiti been suspended? And what must be done to get it released?

MR. BOUCHER: That's something I'll have to check on. I think it's a little premature to speculate at this stage. The observers who are down there, the Organization of American States teams that are down there -- or the teams that are down there being organized by the Organization of American States are withholding their final evaluation until the votes are tabulated. And that will take several days.

QUESTION: On Haiti. So you're saying that you congratulate the people, but you're not yet ready to say if it passed muster or not?

MR. BOUCHER: The Organization for American States, which has organized the 200 or more observers that are down there, says they're withholding their final evaluation for several days and we'll wait for that.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that. The last time there was an election held in Haiti, there was only 5 percent participation of voters. And at that time, the United States Government said they need more participation to release the aid for Haiti -- the $500 million that the organization has put in a package. This was more than 50 percent of people voting in Haiti. So what's now the problem?

MR. BOUCHER: There was over 50 percent and that's great, and we praised it in our statement. I just don't want to make any predictions until we've seen the final results. That's just one step ahead where I can't quite go until we've seen the results and had the final reports from the election observers. I'm not going to speculate, but you can if you want.

QUESTION: Can you go through exactly what is the suspended aid?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I would have to get that for you. I'll try to get it for you.

QUESTION: I asked on Thursday or something about the aid that Senator Helms had put a hold on. Do you have anything on that?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, let me see. I'm getting totally confused here. All right. I think we had something, but I don't think I have it with me today. So I'll have to double check on that a little bit more. I mean there have been a number of holds on peacekeeping and other funds. We've found ourselves adversely affected particularly by the holds on peacekeeping, and I'll check on the holds on Haiti.

QUESTION: As long as you're getting into that, holds on peacekeeping, what do you have to say to Senator Gregg?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, the holds on appropriated funds have been a problem for some time. Both the United Nations and the United States are being adversely affected by the holds. We have $226 million dollars in unpaid bills, despite having the funds already appropriated.

The US Reform Agenda for the United Nations has been placed at risk. The new arrears threatened agreement in New York on reform the scales of assessment and other Helms-Biden benchmarks, which were legislated to get past the arrears problems. I think you know how hard we're trying to work on doing that including, meetings that Ambassador Holbrooke had in New York last week.

At this point, the major holds are on Sierra Leone, Kosovo, East Timor, and the Congo. And as a result, the United Nations either has to defer payments to nations that are providing peacekeepers or skimp in some other area. Either way it damages UN peacekeeping.

QUESTION: So what do you say to Senator Gregg, when it's a case of one senator holding up funds for what you deem to be important missions?

MR. BOUCHER: What we say is that these are very important things. The United States, in these cases, has the money available. You see the places where we're not being able to operate fully and completely, where we hamper the UN, as well as ourselves, these are some of the most important issues that demand immediate attention in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, East Timor, and the Congo. So we need to get this money and get it on it's way to support UN peacekeeping there.

QUESTION: Can you give a snapshot to what it means to the mission by the US not chipping in their share?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think I went through that. We're behind on payments that we should make. It means the United Nations has to shuffle money around, or skimp in other areas, or get behind on their payments to people who are providing the peacekeepers on the ground. It means that the United States has a harder time with its overall reform agenda with the United Nations.

QUESTION: Has there been any special lobbying effort made in the direction of Senator Gregg?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything on that point.


MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything more on that for you.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction or comments on what Secretary General of the United Nations said in terms of the United States helping the poorest countries in the world?

MR. BOUCHER: Unfortunately, the facts are pretty much the way they are. We have less than 1 percent, one-tenth of 1 percent of our gross national product devoted towards foreign assistance or investment overseas in development through aid programs. We do recognize that we're in last place, behind Austria, Germany, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, France, Sweden, Netherlands, Norway and Denmark. Our aid program is less than one-half of 1 percent of the federal budget. As you know, our international programs are 1 percent of the federal budget.

With the money we have, we work to promote democracy, free markets and our other foreign policy objectives around the country. We would like to have more. We would like to be able to make a better investment in the future of democracy and the future of prosperity around the world. We do remain one of the largest contributors of economic assistance and humanitarian relief and we work very hard to make sure that our aid spending is effective and that it has a very high impact.

We also try to lead in various other ways, international organizations, pledging conferences, participation, ideas, expertise to make the money go farther and to have the United States continue to play a leading role.

QUESTION: Can I have just one more on this?

QUESTION: I don't have quite the same subject.

QUESTION: You say you do recognize that you're in last place and you say you want to do more. Does that mean that last place is unacceptable? I'm doing this for you.

MR. BOUCHER: I know you are, Matt. I know. I think I'm going to have to say what I have to say, and that is we don't like being in last place.

QUESTION: There you go.

MR. BOUCHER: This is not where the United States should be in the world, given our leading role, given our very strong support for economic development and democracy. And, frankly, given our interest in the kind of future we want in the world. If we don't have enough money to be out there building democracy and helping with economic development, it's going to come back to haunt us in future years.

QUESTION: As I understand it, one of the complaints that Senator Gregg has made is that there has not been consultation with Congress or adequate consultation with Congress on these particular missions and that it is a case of the UN shuffling money around. Can you refute that? What kind of consultation has been going on with Congress regarding these particular peacekeeping missions?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that I can do that for you now. I will try to check and see, but we try to keep in close touch with Congress in all these funding matters and we look to consult with Congress throughout the process.

QUESTION: And then also, too, could you just make one -- your pitch in terms of why missions like Sierra Leone are something that US taxpayers should be helping to pay for?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it's fairly clear to all of us that the kind of violence that's going on in these places, not only humanitarian crises but also a problem for the United States in terms of peace and stability in some key areas of the world. On the hand we're being criticized for the outbreaks of violence and for not doing enough. On the other hand it's very hard sometimes to get the resources to do something, and even when you have the resources, to be able to use them effectively.

QUESTION: Kofi Annan is coming out with some strong language against Foday Sankoh, saying that he should be held accountable -- that the international community should hold him accountable for his actions in Sierra Leone. And at the same time, there are reports that at least six bodies have been found wearing UN peacekeeping uniforms. Is it time for the US to also take a stronger position against what's going on there?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we have made clear fairly consistently a couple points that I would be happy to reiterate. First of all, we believe in both peace and justice. And if you're going to have justice, there needs to be accountability. Second of all, any crimes that have been committed by the Revolutionary United Front since the Lome Peace Agreement was signed are not covered by the domestic amnesty that was part of that agreement.

We are in consultation with the Government of Sierra Leone, the regional states, the United Nations, the United Kingdom, in order to review possible steps to bring the perpetrators of any crimes to justice. But he remains in the custody of Sierra Leone Government and question of what happens next, of any crimes in particular, that's first and foremost a question for the Government of Sierra Leone to decide.

QUESTION: But the question of "if" may be a little less iffy when you find bodies with UN uniforms?

MR. BOUCHER: That situation is still unclear. I think the UN is looking into it. I'm not sure it's definitive that these are UN personnel, frankly.

QUESTION: Do you really have support for the establishment of some sort of international tribunal?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going that far at this point. There haven't been any firm decisions on what to do next. And first and foremost, decisions are for the Sierra Leone Government to make. But we are in touch with them, as well as other international members to see what the possible steps are to bring the perpetrators of crimes to justice.

QUESTION: Without US (inaudible) to the UN, how much do you think that UN programs are going to get hurt? Like peacekeeping and other programs?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that I can give you a precise clarification. We owe them $226 million in these particular matters that we should be giving them. Yes, please.

QUESTION: On Fiji, one, that the prime minister of Fiji and his parliament are still under arrest - seized or hostages - is one. And, two, is this Department issuing any travel warnings to Americans to leave Fiji? And also if this Department is in touch with anybody there at higher?

MR. BOUCHER: Anybody there, where?

QUESTION: In touch with the Fijian Government, or whoever is --

MR. BOUCHER: We're certainly in touch with the Fijian Government. We're in very close touch with the Fijian Government. The small armed group that's led by the businessman George Speight has released several hostages. Though many, including Prime Minister Chaudhry, remain captive. There have been a few instances of arson and looting outside of Suva. To the best of our knowledge all Americans in Fiji are safe. However, we continue to recommend that travel to Fiji be deferred. That's the current recommendation. We haven't changed it at this point.

QUESTION: Also, there is no Fijian ambassador since February in Washington. Do you have any idea why?

MR. BOUCHER: That would be something for them to address.

QUESTION: Do you know how many Americans there are in Fiji that you're aware of, that are registered?

MR. BOUCHER: That's something I should normally have here but I don't see that I've got it, so I'll have to get it for you. Do you know, Phil? Yes, but we should have some kind of - we will try to get you some kind of estimate.

In some countries where they are mostly residents, the estimate of our annual report is a lot more solid. In a place where the tourist numbers fluctuate, it's hard to get a good handle but we'll see what we've got.

QUESTION: Also, this building has been very wary of characterizing what's been going on there. Obviously, it's not really a coup yet but certainly an attempt to do something. But I'm wondering, the President has said today that he can't guarantee that Prime Minister Chaudhry will be allowed to retain office once this is over. And I'm wondering if -- for the US, is it important that Chaudhry be -- you know, be allowed to continue as Prime Minister, or is that not an issue?

MR. BOUCHER: What's important to us is that the constitutional government be maintained and upheld. I don't want to be seen as affecting any particular individual's -- the outcome with regard to any particular individual. But these kinds of decisions are for governments to make. What's important to us is that that Fijian leaders uphold the constitutional order, that the gunmen release those they are holding.

Clearly, there are consequences of any unconstitutional seizure of power. They would be very substantial consequences for US-Fiji relations, very detrimental to Fiji's standing in the international community. You know, our law and our policy mandate sanctions when democratically elected governments are toppled by force.

QUESTION: But you're not - you're saying that it doesn't -

MR. BOUCHER: Matt, I can't do this. I don't want to decide an internal political question. On the other hand, this poor guy is being held and the first thing that ought to happen is he ought to be released. And at that point, any political process in Fiji is up to them.

QUESTION: Can you say if this Department knows where the army stands now, loyal to the prime minister or loyal to the gunmen?

MR. BOUCHER: Our understanding is that all the top military leaders in Fiji have come out in support of the current government.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary call anybody there personally?

MR. BOUCHER: That's a question I'll try to get you something later.

QUESTION: On North Korea Kumchang-ni inspection team has left Washington. Are they going to start inspecting tomorrow or exactly what day are they going to start and how long are they going to stay there?

MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check on that and see. I'm sorry, I don't have the exact date on that.

QUESTION: I believe the Rome talks start on Wednesday?

MR. BOUCHER: The 24th, yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have something on what they're going to talk about? Or maybe you can -- if you don't, maybe you could bring it with you tomorrow?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we've said before, it would be a full discussion within the context of the Agreed Framework. I'm not sure how much farther we'll go than that.

QUESTION: That's pretty thin. See if you can do better tomorrow?

MR. BOUCHER: I'll check. I'll see if we can do a little better.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the situation there and also can you now say anything about Dennis Ross' travels since the Stockholm talks have been called off by Mr. Barak?

MR. BOUCHER: We don't have any plans for travel at the moment. Now, let's go back to the situation there. Obviously, the violence is of serious concern to us. We've made it clear to both sides they need to do everything they can to calm the situation. It's also critical that they do everything they can to create the right environment for negotiations. And in this regard, it has long been our view that the appropriate place to raise concerns related to either interim or permanent status issues is at the negotiating table and not in the streets.

We believe that the Israelis and Palestinians are committed to trying to reach agreement on the issue of permanent status. They have an historic opportunity to do so, which should not be lost. There is strong determination to move ahead and to end this conflict.

The parties have asked us to be involved in this effort and we will continue to work with them closely with them as they work to overcome gaps and reach an agreement.

QUESTION: And on Mr. Ross' travels?

MR. BOUCHER: We don't have any plans for travel at the moment.

QUESTION: No, I meant his past travels to Stockholm?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not -- can't do anything on that for you.

QUESTION: The Palestinians have clamped down on the unrest after a week. Do you have anything to say about that?

MR. BOUCHER: Just the observation that things were apparently quieter yesterday and today than they were on Saturday. We certainly do think it's important for all the parties to do what they can to calm the situation.

QUESTION: The Palestinians are characterizing the current climate as dead, there is no peace process, it's at a standstill and they are really looking for the United States to come up with some ideas. Are there any plans for any more diplomatic channels?

MR. BOUCHER: The parties do continue to be engaged at different levels. They have contacts, we have contacts with them, so we all intend to keep trying to move this process forward. We do think that the parties are determined to reach agreement and we will try to help them do that.

QUESTION: Presidential candidate Bush -- who, I know, you are not going to speak directly to him but if you would speak to the criticism -- he is going to be speaking to AIPAC and in his speech he apparently will say that any Middle East peace solution really has to come from the parties involved, not be driven by the United States. And there has been some criticism that by entering into these talks now that the US is trying to drive the peace process rather than let the players do it themselves. Can you respond to that?

MR. BOUCHER: You're asking me to respond to something that someone hasn't said yet but he may say and he's a presidential candidate and I'm supposed to respond.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) has been said in the past that --

MR. BOUCHER: Let me do it this way, point out to you a couple of things. One, Dennis Ross is speaking to the same group this afternoon, in a few minutes, and I am sure he will give a very elaborate elaboration of the role that we play and can play and maybe an elegant presentation, too.

Second of all, our view is really taken from the parties. Prime Minister Barak had some comments over the weekend about the necessity of reaching peace and he said quite clearly that the deal is not going to get any better and the time to do it is now. We're involved with the parties because we think they are determined to reach an agreement and we are trying to help them reach an agreement.

QUESTION: Here's part of the confusion on my part. It's apparently because the Israelis are unwilling to confirm that Ambassador Ross was in Stockholm that the United States Government is unwilling to confirm that, even though we all know he was in Stockholm. So if they are even unwilling to acknowledge that he was even at the table for those talks, does that indicate any reluctance to have the United States be playing an equal role at the table or a role at the table?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't do Stockholm. How'd you know I was going to say that? (Laughter.) I don't see any way I can answer that without confirming something I'm not in a position to confirm for you. The point is, the United States has been very actively involved with the parties in a variety of places in a variety of ways at a variety of levels. We stay in very close and active touch with them, as they try to overcome these gaps. We've been in very close touch with them and we intend to stay in close touch and help them along.

QUESTION: A little on this subject, does the United States understand from its contacts with the Palestinians, does the State Department understand that the main problem at the moment is prisoner release of Palestinian prisoners by the Israelis? Is that the hang-up?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to comment on particular issues in the talks. We try to help the negotiations, we try to work on those. As you know, there is a lot of both interim and final status issues that need to be addressed.

QUESTION: Just to follow briefly, wouldn't the Palestinian prisoner issue be something that would be resolved and prisoners released late in the talks or at the end of -- when an agreement is reached?

MR. BOUCHER: I enjoy the discussion but I am not in a position to talk about particular issues involved in the talks. They have a lot of things they have to deal with in the course of this process. Which issues they deal with at a particular moment is going to happen within the talks.

QUESTION: Richard, how much concern is there in the building about what's going on in southern Lebanon and whether that may affect the final status process? Have the Israelis said anything to you about an advance pullout from there?

MR. BOUCHER: We are in close touch with the United Nations and the parties about the situation in southern Lebanon. The Secretary General will be presenting his report on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 425 and 426 to the Security Council today, we understand. Israel, of course, has made clear its determination to withdraw in accordance with those resolutions. Israel is cooperating fully with the United Nations and we would call on all parties to support the Secretary General in his efforts to ensure a peaceful and orderly withdrawal.

QUESTION: But do you sense that the Israelis are going to be pulling out at a quicker pace?

MR. BOUCHER: I am afraid that's a question you're going to have to ask them.

QUESTION: Last Friday, the President met the Greek-American leadership at the White House and he said that everybody knows how to end the Cyprus problem and right now all parties try to find out the face-saving situation especially for the Turkish side. Is that the policy for the United States against the Cyprus problem?

MR. BOUCHER: Did the President say it?

QUESTION: Yes, he said that.

MR. BOUCHER: It's the policy of the United States.

QUESTION: Okay. Another question is, is the Russian President Putin visited Turkmenistan especially after this visit especially Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is they said that is the dead end. And they blamed to Turkey because they have an agreement with Russia (inaudible). Do you have reaction on this news?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we have always supported the idea of multiple pipelines, and you've seen a series of events of various kinds to help put the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline in place that we have supported. And the Secretary obviously discussed this quite a bit when she was out in the region.

Having the energy supplies of the Central Asian region available for sale on world markets is very important to us, it's very important to Russia, and others, to have these supplies available and, given the prospects in the region, we think it's important that multiple pipeline routes be available. So I don't see any particular contradiction in there. It's not a challenge to the Russians to say that we support multiple routes.

QUESTION: Serbia. Does the US have any position today on Yugoslavia's newly proposed law on fighting terrorism, and are you worried that terrorism is now being used, sort of, as a catchall phrase to launch various types of operations against opposition?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a full analysis of the law, but I think we would certainly be very concerned were it to be used to try to crack down on dissent or on the opposition. There's been a number of steps taken in recent days, particularly with regard to the press, that we've been very, very critical of and, without commenting on a particular law, I think we are concerned that legal excuses not be used to stifle opposition there.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Africa for a second? I was reading one of the nation's large newspapers this morning, I was informed by the headline that the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea is basically the fault of the United States. The story was somewhat different beneath the headline, but there were some admissions by senior US officials in there that they perhaps had not been as strong as they could have been in their remonstrations to the presidents of the two countries in their -- in terms of arms build- ups.

I'm just wondering, is that the Administration position, that you wish you had done more, sooner?

MR. BOUCHER: I think no one has been more active in this effort, or in searching for peace in Ethiopia and Eritrea than we have. We've been very active in support of the effort of the peace plan of the Organization of African Unity. We have met with the parties, we worked with the parties, we've talked to others. I think, I don't think we have anything to apologize for.

QUESTION: So these people were not speaking for --

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know exactly what quotes you're talking about. Are there individual instances where we could have done this or that better? I suppose there always are in every situation.

But the overall tenor of this situation is that the United States has been extremely active in the search for peace, in trying to maintain a calm in the region, and trying to keep the fighting from breaking out, and in supporting efforts in the United Nations, just the other day, to have an arms embargo, and to do everything we can to get an end to the fighting and the resumption of the peace process.

QUESTION: Also on that, can you tell us how many Embassy personnel have been -- have left since the departure was ordered on Friday?

MR. BOUCHER: We had a flight out of Asmara on Sunday afternoon, local time. There were 218 people on board; 106 of those were American citizens, 112 were citizens of other countries. Of the American citizens, 94 were private citizens and 12 were official Americans.

QUESTION: In the announcement which announced the ordered departure of the non-emergency - is non-emergency the same as non-essential, or you just changed it because these people started to feel bad that they weren't -

MR. BOUCHER: I think that's -- I'm not quite sure when we changed the term, but it's a better term.

QUESTION: In that, there was a reference to the fact that private American citizens should, they hinted, I don't know if you looked at this, private American citizens should get out while they can. Are you concerned that there is going to be no air -- no transportation in or out?

MR. BOUCHER: I'd say first of all it's a little more than a hint. It says "US citizens currently in Eritrea are strongly urged to depart the country."

QUESTION: Right, right. But then it goes on to say that transportation is currently -- it's currently not, I don't want to say not reliable, but it's not --

MR. BOUCHER: Well, we laid on the flight over the weekend in order to try to take people out.

QUESTION: But there was the next sentence after that said something about they should get out while commercial planes are -- so does the US see a time when the capital is going to be completely isolated?

MR. BOUCHER: I think the point that we made is that there are still commercial flights available that are operating in and out of Eritrea, but these flights are already heavily booked. And so --

QUESTION: But read the next sentence.

MR. BOUCHER: "We have encouraged people to look at how to depart by commercial aircraft, we've laid on other abilities."

You can't necessarily make predictions about this stuff. But if we're urging people to depart the country, we think they should do so as soon as possible and try to make it possible for them to do that.

QUESTION: Russia? A senior Kremlin official has announced that Russia would consider launching air strikes on Afghanistan since it just found out that the Taliban and -- personally Usama bin Laden -- have been supporting the Chechens even more than usual. Would that change our position on the war in Chechnya? Will this change our discussions with them about what's going on in Chechnya? And what would we say about air strikes on Afghanistan?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to speculate on hypotheticals like that.

QUESTION: Hypotheticals like -- the possibility?

MR. BOUCHER: What would we say about air strikes on Afghanistan? I'll deal with that if it happens or when we come to it. I think the important point about Chechnya is that there is a strong effort on our part to talk to the Russians about this, to get them to pursue something other than a military solution because -- as we have made clear and I think they have said they agree -- that there is no real military solution there. So other military action is not going to help us get to a solution.

QUESTION: But given that the Chechens have been allowed to set up an embassy and a consulate, I believe, in Afghanistan, has this come into our discussions with them, given our own not-so-nice relationship -- our not-so- friendly relationship with Usama bin Laden?

MR. BOUCHER: With things going on in Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Yes -- and the Taliban.

MR. BOUCHER: I'll check and see if we've discussed this with them, with the Russians.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan. The US is giving or has given some aid or kind of drought assistance to Afghanistan also in the past. Is there something that the US is trying to have some kind of setting up diplomatic relations with the Taliban Government? Because assistance has gone in the past --

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not exactly clear on everything we've done. But I think anything we would do would be humanitarian and not with any political implication.

QUESTION: If I could just follow on the drought. There is a drought also in Pakistan and India. And the Pakistani community in the US is calling on the Administration to help Pakistan in this drought assistance. If you have received any official request from the Government of Pakistan or India to help in their drought situation?

MR. BOUCHER: I would have to check and see. I don't know.

QUESTION: Apparently, the Great Britain Government -- or at least an agency there -- lost a laptop that had classified material. I think it was The Daily Mirror that eventually got it and gave it back to them. I don't know if you might want to ask them for help in finding yours --

MR. BOUCHER: In finding ours?

QUESTION: Yes. Do we think this is just coincidence? Do we think -- apparently theirs had weapons information -- are you all starting to explore the possibility that laptops are now seen as the most vulnerable source of classified material and people may be targeting them? Has there been any look given that way?

MR. BOUCHER: An international laptop conspiracy?

QUESTION: Yes, from the grassy knoll. (Laughter.)

MR. BOUCHER: I wasn't aware of that report. Whatever the international coincidences or ramifications of this, we got a problem. One our laptops disappeared with a lot of classified information on it. What we have to do to improve security around here doesn't depend on who else loses laptops.

Obviously, we talk to the British Government about a whole lot of things, including security. I'm sure if our security guys see some parallel or coincidence, they'll exchange notes. But I wouldn't want to think that this would divert our attention from doing what we have to improve security about here.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, can you recall a time, a period of time when there has been as much or more violence - armed conflict that is - on the continent of Africa, looking at what's happening in Equatorial Africa and North Africa, Eritrea, et cetera?

MR. BOUCHER: Can I recall a time when there has been as much violence as there is now?

QUESTION: Many countries involved in violence?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: What period is that?

MR. BOUCHER: I think there have been several periods in the recent past. I mean, let's not forget that a lot of Africa is stable -- there are a lot of strongly democratic governments that are prospering. It's a big place with a lot of countries and we deal with the difficult situations that we have to deal with there -- the United Nations, parties in the region and others. But as you see from the visit today of President Mbeki of South Africa, the Secretary's breakfast this morning with the Foreign Minister of South Africa. There are a lot of governments out there that are as concerned as we and that are out there supporting peace and democracy in Africa.

We had assistance to Mozambique during the floods. I mean, Mozambique last year was the fastest growing nation in the world. So there are some good things in Africa, as well.

QUESTION: Very briefly, the Secretary's meeting with the prime minister of Romania this afternoon, I was wondering if you can just give us a very, very quick rundown on what they're going to be talking about without using the words "matters of mutual concern"? (Laughter.)

MR. BOUCHER: Economic reforms in Romania. I got a problem today, let me have some water. Okay, the quick rundown on that we want to discuss with the Romanian Prime Minister this afternoon -- what the Secretary will discuss. Economic reforms in Romania; developments in the Balkans, particularly the status of the stability pact and efforts to secure democratization in Serbia; military modernization and Romania's desire for NATO membership and Romania's chairmanship of the OSCE in 2001 stand out as some of the top issues. And I'm sure they may find other things to discuss.

QUESTION: Military modernization in Romania as it relates to joining NATO?


QUESTION: Will the pressroom get a read-out?

MR. BOUCHER: We'll try.

QUESTION: With the Secretary's meeting this morning with the Foreign Minister of South Africa, could you talk about if his controversial position on AIDS came up and whether you see this as becoming more of a foreign policy issue, how South Africa is dealing with their search to find treatments for AIDS?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we'll leave that for the read-out of the overall visit. They discussed a lot of things this morning: peace in Africa; a number of the situations in a number of places; democratization -- the democracy conference coming up. In that particular breakfast, I don't remember that they discussed the AIDS-HIV issue. But I'm sure during the course of the visit that will come up. And I think we'll leave it to a read- out on the overall visit.

QUESTION: Quick one on Peru. The United States supports the postponement of the elections? Or the United States -- they can fix everything to have a very open and transparent elections this Sunday -- coming Sunday?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, we support efforts of the observer mission of the Organization of American States to find a reasonable and equitable solution to the current impasse. We will support any arrangement that the Organization of American States mission there views as satisfactory to guarantee free and fair and transparent elections. We also note and welcome the fact that the candidate Alejandro Toledo has said that he and his supporters would participate in a second round at a date when the observer mission considers that all requirements for a fair election have been fulfilled.

QUESTION: Can we go to another troubled election I was -- Zimbabwe, there was a recommendation this morning from some people that that election be postponed. Does the State Department share that feeling?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we've seen that recommendation. Obviously, we believe very strongly in the importance of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe as they come up. We have some money that we prepared to use to fund observers for the elections. They are scheduled for June 24 and 25. But exactly which group will go do that we're not sure yet.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)

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