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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #124, 00-12-06

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

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>


806

U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing

INDEX Wednesday, December 6, 2000 Briefer: RICHARD BOUCHER, SPOKESMAN

RUSSIA

1-4 Position on conviction of Edmund Pope / Consequences of his conviction 4-5 Discussions in Moscow on arms sales to Iran

INDIA

5 India's request for US support for its bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council

YEMEN

5 Cole Investigation

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY

5-6 Economic restrictions / Multilateral and bilateral economic assistance for the Palestinians

AFGHANISTAN

7 Usama Bin Laden

COLOMBIA

7-8 Reports of Venezuelan involvement in Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador / Colombian military zone / Caffrey statement on arrest of FARC traffickers at sea


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #124

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2000, 12:45 P.M.

(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements, so I would be glad to take your questions. Where is the senior wire correspondent?

QUESTION: Edmond Pope was sentenced today to 20 years in prison. Do you have any official comment on that?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. We have quite a bit to say. Obviously this is a situation we have followed quite closely all along. We are very disturbed by the conviction. We think it is unjustified; we think it is wrong, both the conviction and the sentencing on espionage charges.

As we have said in the past, we see no evidence that Mr. Pope violated any Russian laws. The verdict is hardly surprising given the inability of Pope's lawyers to introduce evidence at the trial, but I want to stress once again, the conviction and the sentencing are wrong and they are not justified.

Mr. Pope's health has deteriorated sharply over the past nine months in prison. We saw this again yesterday during our consular visit when our consular officer visited with Mrs. Pope and went to see Edmond Pope, and it is clear that his health has continued to deteriorate over the past nine months.

Once again, we stress we look to the Russian Government to release him. We think he needs proper medical attention, he needs to be with his family, and we look to them to release him. Clearly, it is well time to do that.

QUESTION: What steps are you planning to take in terms of this? Are you going to -- have you sent them anything formal, or what can be done?

MR. BOUCHER: At this point, our Embassy in Moscow has certainly been in touch with the Russians. I think we have made clear all along; the President has raised this multiple times; the Secretary has raised this multiple times. We have made quite clear that this is an important issue to us, that his welfare and well-being are very important to us. I think the Russians do understand that this is an important issue to us, and we will continue to make that case and make the point to them directly.

QUESTION: Do you believe that at some point they will release him?

MR. BOUCHER: That is a question you will have to ask them. We believe they should release him at points in the past, but certainly now it is time for them to release him.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary talked to Ivanov today, or does she have plans to?

MR. BOUCHER: She has not talked to him so far today. She may, and if she does I will pass on word to you.

QUESTION: Do you see any signs of waning US influence in Russia given that this has been a case that the State Department and the White House made it repeated entreaties about, and have been rebuffed and ignored by the Russian Government?

MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to try to draw conclusions like that at this time. I think we have had issues like this in the past, where it has taken some time and considerable effort to resolve them. So we will continue our efforts in the hopes that Mr. Pope can be freed.

QUESTION: And given the multitude of things on the platter for US-Russian relations, how high does this rank in terms of priorities with our relationship with Russia?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that at any given moment we have a list in rank order, one, two, three. I just have to point out that any issue that has been raised by President Clinton multiple times with the Russian President, that is raised in almost every conversation that the Secretary has with the Russian Foreign Minister, that is raised repeatedly by our Ambassador in Moscow, is a very important issue to the United States, and we will continue to make that clear.

QUESTION: Are you considering to issue any travel warning for American businessmen traveling to Russia, or any advice of this kind?

MR. BOUCHER: We have during the course of the trial -- I think it was about two or three months ago -- revised our Consular Information Sheet to make it clear to American businessmen in particular who might be traveling to do high technology business that there were these risks inherent in the way the Russian legal system has handled these cases, or this case, and that they should be aware of that.

And I know I have been asked before, you know, how has that affected travelers and trade? It's hard to say because what it affects is the people who don't go, who don't talk to us. But I do know that talking to some of the people who work on these things that the trial is a subject that comes up repeatedly in their conversations with American businessmen. It obviously is a concern of people who might be considering doing business with Russia. And we have made that -- that what we have said in our Information Sheet.

QUESTION: Richard, the US has said that it hasn't seen any evidence that would convince it that Edmond Pope was spying in any way. But what evidence can the US offer, in fact, that a former naval intelligence officer who was in Moscow was not, in fact, spying?

MR. BOUCHER: The man was in private business. You can't convict everybody who may have served in the military of being a spy just because they had a period of service in the past. The man was in private business. It is incumbent upon people who present evidence at the trial to prevent such evidence. As I have said, it is clear from the way things proceeded -- even though we weren't there, it is clear that his lawyers were not able to introduce evidence at the trial -- the summation given by the judge -- I think the lawyer on Mr. Pope's behalf has pointed out a number of difficulties and holes in that.

So I think we have said all along that we were not aware that there was any evidence that would justify charges and conviction, and we still think that that is the case. And that is only part, though, of the conclusion that he deserves to be released. His health is in bad condition; there is no evidence that he is guilty of any crimes; and we therefore think he ought to be released.

QUESTION: What happens now?

MR. BOUCHER: In terms of legal steps, I think Mr. Pope, his family and his attorneys will have to decide on whether they want to appeal, what they want to do next. In terms of diplomatic steps, we will continue to press and to raise this issue. And in terms of decisions, we hope the Russian Government will make the right decision and release him.

QUESTION: If Mr. Pope is not released, do you think -- what sort of effects will this have on long-term Russian-US relations?

MR. BOUCHER: I think one just has to say that this is an issue that is very important to us; it is an issue we have raised repeatedly; it has become a subject of conversation, every conversation just about, that we have at senior levels with the Russians. It has clearly cast a shadow over the relationship, and the important thing now is for the Russians to take the right steps to remove it by releasing Mr. Pope.

QUESTION: So you think that American businessmen overall and women should see this as some kind of chilling warning not to do business in Moscow? How much of an isolated case do you consider this to be, or how dangerous do you think it is to do business in Russia?

MR. BOUCHER: I think I will have to refer you to the Consular Information Sheet that tries to describe that in some -- with perhaps more accuracy than I can develop on the spur of the moment. But clearly there are people who do business successfully in Russia without problems, but particularly in areas that involve high technology. I am sure this gives people pause and we know from our own contacts with businessmen that it does give people pause.

QUESTION: Okay, what was my question? It just popped out of my head. Hold on one second. Oh, Congressman John Peterson, who is in Moscow, has called -- and I realize this is a question for the White House -- but he has called for President Clinton to pick up the phone, call President Putin, and get this thing worked out. Is Secretary Albright thinking about calling Mr. Ivanov? I'm sorry, was that already asked?

MR. BOUCHER: I think that was just asked. She hasn't spoken to him at this point. She may speak to him, and if she does we'll try to tell you about it.

QUESTION: Well, because of the sequence of the events, will the sentencing today have any effect on the negotiations on the Gore-Chernomyrdin aide memoire discussions that have started in Moscow?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it's important to remember that we pursue a relationship with Russia that is based on United States interests, and where we have an interest in limiting Russian arms sales to places like Iran and reaching understandings with them about our common interests in resisting proliferation or resisting -- or impeding the ability of certain countries to acquire weapons, that we will pursue that with the Russians. And we need to pursue this relationship overall, as well as press on particular issues that are very important to us, like the Pope case.

The discussions that were agreed in Vienna between Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister Ivanov have proceeded in Moscow this week. We had a US interagency delegation that met with Russian counterparts December 6th in Moscow. Yuriy Kapralov, the director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of Security Affairs and Disarmament, led the experts from the Russian Federation. On our side it was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Controls, John Barker, who led our delegation.

Conversations on the first day, on the 6th -- that's Wednesday -- were full, frank and comprehensive. Discussions concentrated on conventional arms sales, including sales to Iran, and they will continue tomorrow, December 7th.

QUESTION: Richard, do they -- I mean, will they go beyond --

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't know how long they might last, whether tomorrow can conclude or not. I don't know.

QUESTION: Is there any outcome from these talks yet? I mean, do you -- are you encouraged by what you are hearing?

MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't characterize it beyond what I've said: full, frank and comprehensive.

QUESTION: Richard, in all the discussions with the President, the Secretary, the Ambassador, et cetera, at various levels, have any specific moves by the United States been suggested as possibilities that might happen? Have they been warned in some way, aside from just saying we take this seriously?

MR. BOUCHER: In all the discussions at any level is kind of broad and difficult for me to address. I think I just have to say we've made quite clear this is an issue of concern to us; it's an important issue to us. It's one that we have raised and will continue to press with the Russians.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment with India's calling on the United States that US should support India's claim on the Permanent UN Security seat? And also London has said that they are with India, they will support India's claim. Now, have you received any official claim or official request from India?

MR. BOUCHER: Certainly this has been a subject of discussion at the United Nations and elsewhere and in bilateral relationships as well. I would have to check and see exactly where we are on India's seat, the question of India getting a seat.

QUESTION: The Yemeni Prime Minister has said that up to six people may be tried after Ramadan for the attack on the COLE.

MR. BOUCHER: We saw the press report. We have actually checked around quite a bit and we really can't confirm information about trial dates being set for subjects -- suspects in the USS COLE attack. The ongoing criminal investigation is one that I can't really get into the status of. I can't really get into the status of the ongoing criminal investigation. But as I said, I've checked around. I'm not aware that they're setting dates for trials and things like that.

I would emphasize once again we have very close cooperation with the Yemeni Government officials on this. The relationships remain excellent, and we are pleased with the progress we have made together with them on the investigation so far.

QUESTION: Do you have names of these people?

MR. BOUCHER: Again, that kind of gets into the details of the investigation that I'm not able to give you.

QUESTION: Well, an NBC affiliate in Boston is saying one of these people was at one point a cab driver up there. Do you have any information whether any of these people lived in this country?

MR. BOUCHER: I am sure that investigators are very interested in things like that. But not being able to give you names, I can't give you personal histories, either.

QUESTION: Today the World Bank approved a loan to the Palestinians because of the hardships they have suffered because of Israeli crackdowns on work and movement of people out of the Palestinian territories, and there are reports that the poverty rate has doubled as most Palestinians remain out of work during the ten weeks of violence.

Do you have any comment on the hardships suffered by the Palestinians and what needs to be done by the world community?

MR. BOUCHER: Clearly the Palestinians are being harmed by the economic restrictions that have been imposed on them by Israel. Some of these restrictions have been eased, but we know that life remains very, very difficult. Some of the restrictions that Israel has imposed have been directly linked to their concerns about security, and Israeli security concerns must be addressed as part of the process of ending the cycle of violence and getting back to a calm and stable situation.

At the same time, we don't think that exerting economic pressure can be productive. This only leads to great hardship to Palestinian families and disrupts their economic life. So we have urged and continue to urge the Israelis to ease their restrictions. As we've said repeatedly, we don't think there is a military solution to this problem; we don't think there's a place for violence, nor do we think that economic and political pressure are a way to resolve it. We have consistently urged a path of negotiations and a path of cooperation to end the cycle of violence and get back to a negotiating track.

QUESTION: Well, on that front, the World Food Program asked donor nations to kitty up money to help alleviate some of the economic hardship, and especially the food problem, for Palestinians. And apparently none of the donor nations kicked in any money, and the World Food Program's take on this was that the donor nations want to donate to the peace process, not to alleviate the economic hardships.

Does the US feel strongly enough about the economic hardships being suffered by the Palestinians that they are prepared to send any aid of any kind?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think I'm not aware of this specific appeal, but we provide considerable assistance, humanitarian assistance as well as development aid, things like health, water, sanitation projects at the village level. There was some $400 million that comes out of the Wye River Accords package that goes into West Bank and Gaza to support that kind of development and community work in those areas. There is an annual assistance package in year 2000 that was $85 million of economic assistance and the same thing in Fiscal Year 2001.

So we do consistently and regularly provide assistance to areas where the Palestinians live, and we support the international humanitarian organizations like the UN relief and works agencies when they come out with emergency appeals. So we support both humanitarian needs of the area, the economic development needs, and the welfare needs to the tune of some -- well, four to five hundred million dollars, at least.

QUESTION: The World Bank loan was mentioned. Richard, was that a US-sponsored or proposed initiative at the World Bank, or did it come about by some other means?

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

QUESTION: On Usama Bin Laden, do you think he will be brought to justice and stand trial in the United States under this Administration?

MR. BOUCHER: Let us hope so.

QUESTION: On Colombia -- actually, on Colombia and Venezuela, there was an article in the Miami Herald saying that Mr. Peter Romero had said that the State Department is aware of some kind of intentions from President Chavez of (inaudible) kind of regional force in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. Do you have any comments on that?

MR. BOUCHER: Sorry. Once again? Romero says -- the Miami Herald says Romero says Chavez is trying to put together -- supporting a regional force?

QUESTION: Trying to -- making contacts with the guerillas in Colombia and trying to -- do you know what I'm talking about?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, that's what I have seen. I just wanted to make sure we were talking about the same thing.

There have been reports in various ways on Venezuelan support for violent indigenous movements in Bolivia, for military officers involved in last January's attempted coup in Ecuador, and these are situations that we do look into and we watch carefully. We do believe that the issues themselves are best dealt with bilaterally between the two countries involved, and in this case we have encouraged bilateral consultations directly.

QUESTION: And when you say that the State Department knows about this, it means that maybe the United States can take any step in this case, or you are going to leave this for the bilateral relations?

MR. BOUCHER: I think, as I said, we are aware of reports from various sources, but what is important is that the countries themselves deal with it directly in a bilateral way.

QUESTION: On Colombia again. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations today to the Colombian Government about the (inaudible) military zone? Tomorrow President Pastrana has to decide if he extends that zone or not. Do you have any comments on that?

MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check. I don't think we have taken a position on that.

QUESTION: Do you have anything about the statement General McCaffrey made yesterday about some people, members of the FARC, that were supposed to be arrested at sea in possession of cocaine or narco-trafficking?

MR. BOUCHER: No.

QUESTION: No? Okay.

MR. BOUCHER: That's the kind of detailed thing that he would handle, and not us directly.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. BOUCHER: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:20 P.M.)

[end of document]

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