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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #90, 00-09-20

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

Press Briefing



1-2	Status of US-Iranian Relations / Albright's Participation in 6+2 /
	 Peace in Afghanistan / People-to-People Exchanges 
2-4, 5	Foreign Minister Kharazi Travels in US
4	Terrorism
3-4	Update on Downed Plane
5-6	Oil Prices & Actions of Saddam Hussein / US Policy
6-7	Oil Prices / Use of Strategic Oil Reserves / US Communications with
	 Oil-Producing Nations 
7	France Calls for Meeting of OPEC Oil Producers and US
6	US View of Saddam Hussein's Recent Actions / Compliance with
	 Resolution 1284 
8-9	Strengthening Security Procedures for Ambassadorial Nominees /
	 Steps Taken by Secretary Albright, Senior Department Officials /
	 Department Working With Congress 
9	Administration's View of Cox Report / Achievements of US Policy
	 Towards Russia 
9-10	Meeting of  Heads of State from Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan,
	 Azerbaijan & Moldova (GUUAM) at the State Department 
10	Status of Edmond Pope Case
10-12	Status of Palestinian Track / Ongoing Contacts Between the Israelis
	 and Palestinians / US Remains Engaged / Evaluation Period /
	 Possible Ross Travel to the Region / Timetable for Declaration of
	 Palestinian Statehood


DPB #90

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2000, 1:00 P.M.


MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be back here with you in Washington. I don't have any particular statements or announcements today, so I'll be glad to take your questions.

QUESTION: Let me try one of these stock-taking, intermittent appraisals from you on US-Iran. Last Friday, the Secretary and the Iranian Foreign Minister were together. We didn't see them, of course. The press wasn't there. We were outside. But they were working on the Afghanistan situation with six other ministers.

MR. BOUCHER: Barry, the press was about ten feet from the door.

QUESTION: No, no. I don't know what happened in the room. We only have an account.

MR. BOUCHER: We told you what happened in the room. She told you what happened in the room.

QUESTION: Well, we got a thin account. But the point is - not that, what they did, which we did get an account of - but the state of US-Iranian relations. In other words, this was an opportunity again to work with Iran. The Secretary has expressed, several times, an interest in improving relations. Could you please bring us up to date -- how this campaign is going? Are they receptive? What do you see down the line, maybe?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, there is a lot of things to be put together, to look at at any given moment. As you know, we had a series of events in New York where the Secretary attended the opening session of the Dialogue Among Civilizations, where President Khatami spoke. She did that because she wanted to demonstrate the US support for the Secretary General's initiative, first of all, the Dialogue Between Civilizations; and, second of all, to listen to the opening presentation of President Khatami. The President - and I think people were listening to each other in New York. The President listened to the speech by the Iranians. The Iranians listened to the speech by the President.

The Secretary's meeting on Friday in the 6+2 is part of our ongoing efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan, and we have worked at other levels with the Iranians in the 6+2 process on the problems of drugs coming out of the region and, more generally, some of the problems from Afghanistan.

There were no individual meetings or direct discussions between the Secretary and the Iranian Foreign Minister that took place in New York. In general, I would say that we have had, as you know, some easings of the embargo on Iran to allow people-to-people exchanges and contacts, to the benefit of Iranian people and Americans. We do think that we can continue to expand this policy, but basically our fundamental policy towards Iran has not changed. The sanctions regime remains in place. We continue to view with grave concern Iran's ongoing support for terrorism, its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, its opposition to the Middle East peace process, and its poor human rights record. That said, we have publicly offered to have a dialogue with the Iranian Government about the issues of concern to both sides, but the Iranian Government has not accepted. They continue to refuse this offer.

So what we see from New York is that there is some interest in exchanges; there is an interest in listening to each other. We have things to say that may be of interest to each other, but US policy continues to look for a chance to be able to address the issues of mutual concern, in an official dialogue that will address some of the tough issues that we do look at.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Iran?


QUESTION: Can you confirm that the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mr. Kharazi, was allowed to travel inside the US territory, outside the UN perimeter in New York, to attend a conference in L.A. today and in Boston a few days ago?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. We have facilitated contacts by a number of Iranian officials over the past few years in the United States, aimed at fostering dialogue, allowing people-to-people discussions between the US and Iran. The trip by the Foreign Minister is consistent with this policy, and my understanding is he is going to Boston and around the US, mostly on college campuses.


MR. BOUCHER: I don't have L.A. listed here, but my understanding is L.A., and I'm not sure where else.

QUESTION: But, I mean, you facilitate it? I mean, can you elaborate a little bit? I mean, you see no problem with the Foreign Minister of Iran speaking on campuses - several campuses, evidently? There's no ban on that, is there?

MR. BOUCHER: It's consistent with our people-to-people exchanges, with our desire to foster a dialogue between the United States and Iranian people, and so this is completely consistent with what we are doing. Whether we have to annotate his visa to permit the travel or not, I would have to check.

QUESTION: Another subject: Cuba. Can you just give us whatever we know about the Cuban plane crash and --

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I can't tell you what you know, but you will know more after I tell you what I know.

QUESTION: Thank you, Richard. And, also, have we spoken - have we had direct contacts here in Washington yet - any contacts with the Interests Section?

MR. BOUCHER: Not that I am aware of. I don't see why there would be such contacts. But you may be able to get more from the Coast Guard.

But let me tell you what we do know. Nine survivors have been picked up by a Panamanian-registered freighter in international waters, along with one casualty. One person, who was seriously injured, has been taken to a hospital in Key West, Florida. The other survivors remain aboard the freighter.

At this time, the Coast Guard Cutter Nantucket has not been able to rendezvous with the freighters due to the adverse sea condition, so the interviews with the other survivors have not yet been conducted. Until that happens, neither State nor the Coast Guard nor the Justice Department have very much additional information to give you on whether they qualify for landing in the United States.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. BOUCHER: That's all we know.

QUESTION: Is the casualty - is that person different from the one taken to - or do you mean somebody died?

MR. BOUCHER: In the casualty, somebody died. One person died. You know that. No, I think the only news in there is that the up-to-the-minute that we had was that the sea conditions have prevented a rendezvous with the Coast Guard cutter.

QUESTION: Have they requested asylum, or do we know whether or not, in fact, there was a hijacker on board? Anything along those lines?

MR. BOUCHER: The Coast Guard may be able to give you more information on that. The interviews with these people have not taken place, because they haven't been able to get on board the Coast Guard cutter where we would do the interviews to find out if they have a well-founded fear of persecution. We will follow the standard procedures with these people, as we do in all cases of Cubans that we pick up.

QUESTION: But have we determined whether or not it was a hijacking, as the Cuban Government said?

MR. BOUCHER: That's something I think I have to leave to others to explain. I'm not sure I have that information.

QUESTION: Two questions. First, on Iran again, is it unusual that such a senior person in a government that you accuse of terrorism is allowed to travel around the United States? Is he under surveillance, escort or something, or is he free to go?

MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check what escorts or security might be provided, but in this case I have to say we have facilitated various travel by Iranian officials over the past two years. We have no problem with people-to-people contacts between the United States and Iran. In fact, we have facilitated those kind of contacts. So it's consistent with our policy to allow him to travel when he is invited to go places.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) What was your question? I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Well, it was on Iraq. Do you want me to --

QUESTION: Iran. Iranian terrorism, right? You keep saying - and we have no reason not to believe you - if you ever have a real conversation with him, that will be one of the things you'll make a point of. But you also seem to detect some moderate trends in Iran at the same time. Has this moderation, which not everybody perceives but the State Department says it is the basis for, has that in any affected their support for terrorism? Are they toning that down, as far as you know?

MR. BOUCHER: The positive signs that we have seen in Iran - the election, the support for reform, the movement of changes, overall evolution of the society - these we've seen as positive trends, which we want to try to reciprocate in the people-to-people fashion. The serious issues that divide us remain serious. I'm not sure I can give you sort of a barometer of ups and downs in the support for terrorism, but they continue to support groups that engage in terrorism, and we make that clear every year when we do our terrorism report. That's the most recent sort of update on where they stand.

I'm not aware of any - I wouldn't characterize the situation as having changed significantly since we did our last terrorism report.

QUESTION: All right. Because two years ago, before this process began, American officials, Administration officials, called Iran the chief sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East. Now, if they're now only the co-chief sponsor, that would be an improvement.

MR. BOUCHER: Barry, I will refer you to this year's terrorism report and tell you that I'm not aware that anything has changed since this year's terrorism report.

QUESTION: On the Iran meeting, do you know if he is the most senior Iranian official who has been given the permission to -- (inaudible)?

MR. BOUCHER: Permission to travel in the US? I'll have to check on that. I'll have to see.

QUESTION: Iraq: Are you worried that Saddam Hussein could do something that would spike oil prices? He seems to - if he cut back his production, would drive prices up and that could have reverberations here and elsewhere. Is this something that you're worried about?

MR. BOUCHER: We have certainly looked at the situation with regard to oil prices. It's something we care a lot about. We discuss it a lot in our meetings, not necessarily with regard to Iraq. But the situation regarding oil in the world today is one of concern to us.

We have looked at this situation with Iraq's exports because, as you all know, Iraq is pumping as much as it ever did in the past. But the numbers are as follows: Iraq exports about 2.4 million barrels a day. Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing nations have excess production capacity that could cover most of any shortfall if they cut off their exports.

In addition to that, we have obviously looked at all the options that we would have in that event, and one option would be the strategic petroleum reserve. That's our insurance policy against disruptions in oil supply. There we have 570 million barrels in the strategic petroleum reserve, and other countries have strategic reserves that total 650 million barrels. So if you do the math, you see that in the highly unlikely event that Iraq would try to cut off its oil, which would be detrimental to its position in the world from a whole variety of points of view, but in the unlikely event they decided to do that, and no other country was trying to step up to meet the shortfall, we'd still be able to cover a year and a half of the cutoff from the reserves that we've got.

So this is a situation we have looked at. But if you look at the numbers, we can cover it, and we and others can provide for either surge or reserves as necessary.

QUESTION: Well, not just a cutoff. I mean, he's making the same statements now that he did ten years ago about oil fields straddling the border. Do you find that worrisome, and do you think it's more significant now that he's making these statements, as opposed to people in his government? He's not leaving it to ministers. He's saying it himself.

MR. BOUCHER: We have made clear on numerous occasions that we have a policy that is designed to - and does, we think, succeed in containing the threat that is posed by the regime of Saddam Hussein, while we promote change of regime in Baghdad. We also want accountability for Saddam's crimes against humanity, and I think you all know our Ambassador, David Scheffer, made a speech on that on Monday.

Unfortunately, he and his regime persist in aggressive policies. They are willing to threaten other nations in the world, as well as repress Iraqis at home. He blames other nations for his own situation, rather than admitting his own responsibility. Our red lines are clear. If Iraq reconstitutes its weapons of mass destruction programs, threatens its neighbors or US forces or moves against the Kurds, we have a credible force in the region and we are prepared to act in an appropriate time and place of our choosing.

QUESTION: What I'm asking you is if you think it's more significant that he is now making the statements about oil as opposed to lower-level people.

MR. BOUCHER: I think it doesn't matter who makes such statements. The fact is Iraq shouldn't be trying to threaten its neighbors, whether it's Saddam Hussein or one of his ministers. We have a policy in place that has contained him successfully for these years. We have a credible force in place if he tries to do anything against his neighbors. We have a credible force, and we are able to respond at a time and place of our choosing.

`So I'm not trying to hype this; I'm just saying that the facts are the facts. We have been there, we are there, and we can continue to contain in the way we have in the past. And we will.

QUESTION: Is Saddam Hussein attempting, at present, to climb out of his box? And is there a credible or increased threat - or a credible threat - against Kuwait at the present time?

MR. BOUCHER: As far as how the military judges threats at any given moment, I suppose the Pentagon can do that, if they have - what status they are on. In terms of getting out of his box, he is in it. The sanctions are there, the forces are there, the containment policy is there. We have continued to work with other governments to make sure that sanctions stay in place and are enforced.

We do know that Tariq Aziz was up in New York running around, trying to convince people that the UN should somehow negotiate with him on Resolution 1284. We don't think they should; 1284 remains in place, and the only way for them to get out of the box is to comply with the Resolution. As the Secretary said, it's like Alice in Wonderland. The key is on the table. If they want to get out of the room, pick up the key and open the door. And that's Resolution 1284.

QUESTION: On the same subject. There are a number of countries that have been pressing the US to ease the sanctions posture. Does the untapped oil production capacity of Iraq lead to increased pressure on the US from these countries, and give them sort of more of an argument, if you will, to say, look, you know --

MR. BOUCHER: Our understanding is there is not much untapped oil production from Iraq capacity, that they are pumping as much or more than they ever did before the invasion of Kuwait.

QUESTION: Richard, you mentioned the strategic oil reserves. Is it fair to say that the Administration is now looking anew at these reserves, or is it something that has been ongoing?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not quite sure what you mean, "looking anew." You mean sort of revising the size or the maintenance or the policy on them? That is in some ways kind of a domestic question that the White House or the Energy Department have to help you with.

In terms of their utility, they have been around for years, and they are maintained just in case - they are an insurance policy in case we need to - we have a sudden disruption in supply that we need to compensate for. So that's the point of them. They are ready if such an unlikely thing should occur. They are part of our being ready to deal with it.

QUESTION: Have you been in communication recently with the members of OPEC, in particular some of the GCC, to ask them to pump more oil?

MR. BOUCHER: I think what I would say is that we're in constant contact with oil-producing states. As you know, the President and the Secretary had a number of meetings in New York. The Secretary met with the Gulf Cooperation Council members, and she met with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. The President had meetings, I think, with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

So there were a variety of meetings with oil producers in New York, and oil production is something that comes out in every discussion. Many of us, including producers, think the price of oil ought to come down. We'll talk about what needs to be done to make that occur.

QUESTION: And did you hear what --

MR. BOUCHER: It is an ongoing discussion. Secretary Richardson is also in touch with people.

QUESTION: During those meetings, did the US hear what it wanted to hear, that this was going to be something that would be accommodated?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it is an ongoing discussion that we have with these governments, and certainly we do hear from several of them that they agree with us. I think it was while we were in New York OPEC made the decision to increase production by 800,000 barrels, which we saw as a welcome step. Price has subsequently gone up. But I think this is something that we and others will keep working on, because we do think the price needs to come down.

QUESTION: Also on the oil, what is the US position on this call from France for a meeting of OPEC producers with the US?

MR. BOUCHER: I think that was in relation to the Finance Minister's meeting that is to be held, so I don't really have anything on that. We will certainly look at it and see whether we think it is necessary. I am sure the finance ministers will discuss the situation with regard to the economies, and certainly oil prices are a part of that, so there will be some kind of discussion of oil when they get together anyway.

QUESTION: Do you have any readout on the meeting with the Irish Foreign Minister and Secretary Albright?

MR. BOUCHER: No. It hasn't happened yet.

QUESTION: It has not happened yet? Okay.

MR. BOUCHER: I mean, I could do it now. We could see how afterwards whether I was right or not. But, no, I don't. We'll do that later.

QUESTION: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee says that the State Department is changing its regulations on security violations, particularly for ambassadorial nominees. Can you explain that? It says that it will be put into the Foreign Affairs Manual starting October 1st and that the Department was notified September 1st of these changes.

MR. BOUCHER: We have been working on this. I guess my only response would be to say, we said it first; that the Secretary made quite clear, earlier this summer, that she was committed to taking steps to improve security at the State Department. And in her statement to the Foreign Service, to the people who work - the foreign and civil service people who work in this building, she made quite clear she wanted to see a higher level of security; she wanted to see a very professional level of security; and she said that people will be held accountable, and it will be made part of their records.

So we have put together a series of steps. We have certainly been in contact with people on the Hill, with the Senate committee, in order to keep them informed, to discuss these steps with them. I think if you look about a month ago, there was testimony from our Director General, Marc Grossman, and Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Secretary Carpenter, up on the Hill outlining some of the steps that we were thinking about, and those are being put into the regulations. I'll have to see when the regulations appear.

But this has been a process that the Secretary has pushed for, asked for, supported. And people are being held accountable, for their security lapses, in a much more strict and defined way than we have in the past.

QUESTION: But her problem was that she subsequently nominated people with double-digit violations to ambassadorial posts, which were then held up by the committee, and these new changes - the announcement of these new changes has now let the committee decide to go ahead and approve these people. So you would say that these were already the same changes that were in place?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I think the delays in those nominations were lifted some time ago. I'll have to look back at the exact record on that one.

QUESTION: I understand the meeting is to take place on September 27th only, now. That's what they say.

MR. BOUCHER: All right. Well, this is something we have been working on, something we have worked with the Congress on, with the Senate on. Senator Grams, I think, is the one that is most concerned about this. We will continue to work with him on that, and on the status of our nominees. It follows the Secretary's commitment. It puts into very practical and detailed steps the Secretary's commitment to hold people more accountable.

QUESTION: Do you guys have any reaction to this Republican report that was, I guess, handed to Speaker Hastert today on the troika of Russian policy, and knowingly ignoring warning signs of corruption?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to go through and try to respond to all the various charges and the politics of this report. I just want to make sure that people have the facts of what we have been doing with Russia. So let me go through some of the facts.

In this Administration, we have helped deactivate and dismantle 5,000 former Soviet nuclear warheads, 600 missile launchers, 540 intercontinental and sea-launch ballistic missiles, 64 heavy bombers, and 15 missile submarines. We have started our first rule of law project in Russia, after the summit in 1993 - I think that was the Boris and Bill Show, as you remember it. And, subsequently, we assisted in drafting a new civil code, a new criminal code, bankruptcy laws, and much of the legal and regulatory framework for Russia's Federal Securities Commission.

Our law enforcement cooperation with Russia has helped prosecute crime groups and combat financial crimes such as money laundering, and we have continued to do that. Before 1989, Russia had no non-governmental organizations; now there are 65,000, and growing. We have supported 45,000 educational and professional exchanges, and we have helped 250,000 Russian entrepreneurs. Seventy percent of the economy is now privately controlled. And we would like to think that our contributions to building civil society, to helping entrepreneurs, to helping destroy nuclear weapons - that these have been valuable not only to the development of Russia, but also to the American people.

QUESTION: Richard, my question is on the heads of state of GUUAM - Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova - in the framework of the UN Millennium Summit held the meeting where the memorandum on cooperation was signed. And on Monday, as far as I know, an informal lunch hosted by the State Department officials with participation of ambassadors of those countries to the US took place in New York. Can it be considered as a sign of the US growing interest to this organization of former Soviet republics? And, if yes, how do you see perspectives of cooperation of US with this organization?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, we have seen that kind of regional cooperation as being useful and important. It has been discussed several times. It was discussed during the Secretary's visit to Ukraine, discussed this morning in her meeting with the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Mr. Tarasyuk. It came up in several of her meetings with these states in, I think, just about every one when she had meetings in New York, when she met with President Shevardnadze. They discussed it.

And generally we see this as a positive development of regional cooperation, and certainly we will want to cooperate in any way we can. I don't have any particular details of what we might do to support them, but we do see it as positive.

QUESTION: Can we get an update on Pope while we're on Russia?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think there is anything new. We know about the denial yesterday. Let me just double-check my piece of paper and make sure there is nothing new on there.

No. Really, there is not. They denied the appeal that he be released on medical grounds. We have made quite clear we think his health has deteriorated while he has been in custody. So there is no news.

QUESTION: I've got one. Yes. Mr. Barak and his negotiating troop have called time-out; they have backed away from the negotiations that were being held in New York. What can you tell us - what can you tell me, who was missing from New York - about the state of play in those negotiations? Are the Palestinians hardening their position?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, just to review New York, there were a number of meetings in New York between - I guess I would say between the American side and the parties, the Israelis and Palestinians. The President and the Secretary met with Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat. Subsequent to that, the Secretary had further meetings with the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami. And last Thursday and Friday, Dennis Ross - Ambassador Ross and his team had meetings with teams of negotiators of Israelis and Palestinians who came to town to have a couple days of meetings -- Thursday and Friday. Those basically concluded by the end of the day on Friday, and those negotiators - most of them - returned back to the region.

Subsequently, there have been some contacts in the region. Yesterday, there was this whole business of meetings/ not meetings, time-out/ no time- out -- whatever. I guess all I would say about that is no one should be surprised that there are ups and downs in this process. As the President said yesterday, both sides are dealing with the pressure of very difficult issues. The Israelis and Palestinians have had ongoing contacts. Those contacts and discussions are continuing, and we certainly remain in touch with the parties as well.

QUESTION: The US does remain engaged and in touch with the parties?

MR. BOUCHER: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Like today, for instance.

MR. BOUCHER: What do you mean, "Like today?" I'm supposed to report on something?

QUESTION: Well, today is important because yesterday there was a time- out that lasted about 15 minutes. But if the time-out is over, it would best be demonstrated by continuing meetings between the two parties, which apparently are going on, but also with the helpful US mediators. Meetings or phone calls: anything today?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't report on every single phone call that goes back and forth. We are in touch with the parties on an ongoing basis. We were in touch with them yesterday. I expect we are in touch with them today and probably tomorrow. These continue to be in close contact --

QUESTION: Was the Secretary in touch yesterday, personally with her telephone diplomacy, to try to find out what they mean by time-out?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of anything. I will have to check to see.

QUESTION: Senior State Department officials have told us that there would be an evaluation period, based on some of the meetings in New York. And was there any kind of a formal evaluation made? And now that you're obviously still engaged in the discussions, are you hopeful based on that?

MR. BOUCHER: Certainly there is an ongoing evaluation, where people have meetings and discussions all the time, internally, of what's going on. There was a meeting yesterday with the President where the peace team met with the President yesterday afternoon, including the Secretary and Ambassador Ross, and they use that as the opportunity to review the status of negotiations. As I said, we are continuing to work with the parties. We work with them now; we will continue to do so, and we will be looking, obviously, for ways to help them make the tough decisions that lead to a lasting peace.

QUESTION: Did they find the status promising when they reviewed it? The President said a few words, but --

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, but we have tried not to characterize ups and downs. We have just said they will happen. I'm not going to give you a "thermometer reading" at this moment, as we haven't done it in the past.

QUESTION: When Dennis might be going back to the region?

MR. BOUCHER: Nothing is scheduled at this point.

QUESTION: Do you feel that the pressure is now off with regard to the declaration of statehood by the Palestinians; there is some breathing room there? Or how would you characterize it?

MR. BOUCHER: I would just say that there is still a window of opportunity to do this. It still remains very important. We still hear from the parties that they are committed. They are trying to reach agreement. And we remain involved and engaged and prepared to do whatever we can to help them do that.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:36 P.M.)

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