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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #128, 00-12-19

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2000 Briefer: Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman


1 Statement on Bolivia Coca Reduction Efforts


1-8 Negotiations/Israeli and Palestinian Meetings in Washington/Influence of Violence on Negotiations/Possibility of Trilateral Meetings/US role in Washington Meetings


5 Secretary Albright to Host Iftaar Dinner/Secretary Albright's Holiday Plans

7-11 Transition Team Efforts and Meetings at State Department/Secretary Albright and Secretary-Designate Powell Discussions/Powell Plans

9-12 Secretary Albright Signs Cooperation Agreement with Howard University/Recruitment of Foreign Service Officers

10-11 Security Measures and Construction Projects in the Department


DPB # 128


MR. REEKER: Okay. 'Twas the week before Christmas, and here at Main State, the Spokesman was waiting, the media was late. (Laughter.) Welcome back, everybody. Always nice to see you this fine Tuesday here at the Department of State.

I do have one announcement, or one statement, and we will put this out in paper copy after the briefing. This is regarding Bolivia's coca reduction efforts. Today, Bolivian President Hugo Banzer is presiding over a ceremony to mark the elimination of all significant coca in the Chapare region, which is Bolivia's principal coca-growing region. Seven thousand five hundred hectares of coca remaining in the Chapare were eliminated this year despite severe violence directed at eradication forces, resulting in the death of seven police and military personnel.

We applaud the resolve of the Bolivian Government and the Bolivian people to free their country from the tyranny of drug trafficking. And while less than 14,000 hectares of coca remain under cultivation in the Yungas region, the Bolivian Government has outlined plans for reductions to the level needed for internal indigenous use and export to the pharmaceutical and commercial market.

With US Government support, a full range of counter-narcotics alternative development projects, coca elimination and law enforcement interdiction programs can be initiated early in the next year. So President Banzer will no doubt face challenges as he moves to consolidate the success of Plan Dignidad in the Chapare and replicate that success in the Yungas region. The United States will continue to support President Banzer in this important endeavor.

And with that, I will be happy to turn to the questions, beginning with Mr. Schweid of the Associated Press.

QUESTION: Well, we have peace talks -- well, negotiations, anyhow -- maybe begun already at Bolling Air Force Base. I wanted to check US policy a little bit with you. The violence hasn't totally gone away. Is it the US position now that it's all right to negotiate -- well, obviously it must be -- but the US now supports negotiations even without a total halt to the violence?

MR. REEKER: As we have said for some time now, Barry, the President and the Secretary of State have pledged to do what we can to support the efforts of the leaders from both sides to get back to the peace table, back to the path towards peace. Obviously Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as we discussed yesterday, have agreed to have their representatives travel here to Washington. Teams from both sides have arrived in Washington this morning. They are going to have parallel bilateral discussions this week at Bolling Air Force Base. They asked us to support their efforts, and in keeping with the President's and the Secretary's pleasures, we have agreed to do so.

It is still very critical that the cycle of violence be broken, and I said yesterday from this podium that if negotiations are to be successful, the situation on the ground will have to change. Violence can never produce an agreement, and only negotiations will be able to produce an agreement. There is truly no other way.

So right now we are going to focus on these discussions taking place at Bolling Air Force Base and watch for next steps. As I said, the parties have made this decision. We hope that this can ameliorate the situation. We are going to support their efforts. But, again, as you asked and what you raise, it is very critical that the cycle of violence be broken. Again, violence can never produce an agreement.

QUESTION: Well, it's a question of whether violence has produced a new round of negotiations. You know, there is a view that the Palestinians resorted to violence, unable to get everything they wanted in July, and now there are negotiations going on. So isn't violence a part of the picture, or do you see violence as being a separate matter not connected at all with the demands or the positions of either side?

MR. REEKER: Look, we have said many times before, Barry, going back a number of weeks as the difficult and traumatic days have unfolded in terms of the experiences we have seen over the past 11 weeks, that this violence has to stop. Violence is not the solution to the problems of the Middle East. It is not going to help produce an agreement. We have got to have negotiations to be able to produce an agreement.

The President and Secretary Albright have both said that they are committed to doing everything that they can to support peace efforts in the Middle East, and that is what we are doing here. Again, is it the two parties that have decided to send their representatives, to send negotiators to Washington. They will be having talks. We will be having bilateral talks. Our team led by Ambassador Dennis Ross, our Special Middle East Coordinator, and his Deputy Aaron Miller will be meeting with both sides today. We expect there will also be trilateral discussions and we will let those talks proceed. It is a hopeful first step, but obviously the violence has to stop as well. And we have called upon both sides to take every measure possible to reduce the violence.

QUESTION: Could you comment on the presence in this round of talks of Mohamed Dahlan and the fact that -- I mean, has he been in other discussions?

MR. REEKER: I could not. I am afraid I am not just even familiar with the readouts of specific individuals, the lists of who is in the talks. I know that the Israeli delegation is led by their Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and the Palestinian delegation is led by Saeb Erekat, and I already mentioned who is leading our delegation.

QUESTION: You said that you are expecting trilateral talks, but you're not sure? I mean, right now it's Americans with the Palestinians, and the Americans with the Israelis?

MR. REEKER: Again, the two teams have arrived in Washington today, this morning. I am not going to be able to provide you with a tick-tock readout of when talks take place, but we expect our team, led by Ambassador Ross, to meet with both teams separately in bilateral discussions. Those may take place in sort of parallel fashion. And there will also be trilateral discussions, but I am just not in a position to tell you exactly when or how, but we do expect that to take place.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up, please? When you say the bilateral discussions, is the United States bringing any sort of bridging proposals to the table here, or is it just expected the Israelis are going to present their views and then you're going to go run across the hall to the others guys and --

MR. REEKER: Again, at this point, it is an opportunity for our team to meet with each side separately to look at the situation, to talk with them. I am not going to be able to get into a review of exactly what is being discussed in this process. This is in keeping with the President of the United States and the Secretary of State's pledge to do all we can to help the two sides in a process which is theirs. And so we will have those discussions separately. We expect trilateral discussions to take place. And taking this one step at a time, then we may see at some point that the Israelis and Palestinians would meet directly on their own.

QUESTION: Can you discuss White House and/or Secretary Albright's involvement in these talks, either to get them started, or do they expect to be part of the negotiations?

MR. REEKER: Obviously the President and Secretary, as I said yesterday, will be closely following these discussions. I am sure they will be kept up to date on the discussions as they take place at Bolling Air Force Base. Contrary to some reports, I talked to the White House and there is not, I understand, an expectation of the President having any meetings today. So no definitive decisions on scheduling any meetings, but we would expect during the course of the talks and their time here in Washington that the President and the Secretary of State would at some point meet with the teams.

QUESTION: Are you planning to take cell phones off the members of the delegations and,

if so --

MR. REEKER: I don't have any specifics on the administrative details of --

QUESTION: And if so -- okay. And, also, I realize that you're not going to be able to give us what you call a tick-tock of meetings --

MR. REEKER: I think that's a journalistic term.

QUESTION: Really? But could you at least give us perhaps a daily or twice- daily account of what's happening?

MR. REEKER: We will see what we can do. I make no promises. But seeing as it is the holiday season, I will certainly be happy to ask what kind of gifts we may provide for our --

QUESTION: In the spirit of Ramadan?

MR. REEKER: I will try to check in with our team obviously and see what their ability will be or what they want to do. And obviously we would refer you to the representatives of those two sides here in Washington, who I am sure will be willing to let you know what they are doing.

QUESTION: Maybe. And can you tell us what the first item on the timetable is today? Are they --


QUESTION: No? You can't tell us that?

MR. REEKER: Well, in terms of items. I mean, as I indicated, we expect separate meetings.

QUESTION: Not the agenda, but the -- are they having a lunch together?

MR. REEKER: I just can't break it down into whether it is lunch or when it would start, what meals or beverage arrangements are made. But obviously our team, led by Dennis Ross and Aaron Miller, expects to meet with both the Israeli group and the Palestinian group.

QUESTION: But you don't know of any plans for an informal trilateral, as they did last time there?

MR. REEKER: What I know is that a trilateral meeting is certainly expected to take place in the context of this, but I don't have that kind of detail.

QUESTION: On the food portion --

MR. REEKER: On the food portion, yes.

QUESTION: Has the Palestinian delegation been invited to the Iftaar dinner that the Secretary is hosting?

MR. REEKER: I do not believe that is the case. As you mentioned -- and that you have all undoubtedly seen the Notice to the Press last week -- Secretary Albright will be hosting an Iftaar dinner this evening here in the Department for the Muslim American community. As you know, the Iftaar meal is one that breaks the fast for Muslims during Ramadan, and of course this reaffirms the Secretary's and the Department's commitment to deepening our relations with the growing Muslim American community. But I do not expect -- at least at this point I have no indication-- that the team would be joining that dinner tonight.

QUESTION: How long do you think the talks are going to take? Are you planning for more than one day, more than two days?

MR. REEKER: I don't have an indication particularly of a schedule on this. As I indicated yesterday and can reiterate today, we don't have a set schedule on this in terms of the length of time. I do think we can certainly expect this week, which is reasonably well defined for you, but I don't have a specific time. Obviously --

QUESTION: Because of Islamic week or Jewish week --

MR. REEKER: We will just try to keep you posted in the tick-tock of events that we describe for you.

QUESTION: Could I ask one follow-up? Will she be lighting Hanukah candles Thursday night or celebrating any other major religious holidays?

MR. REEKER: I will be happy to ask for you, Barry.

QUESTION: Sure, spinning of dreidles. And while we're at it, just because I know that it may seem obvious to all of us -- and nothing negative intended here -- but could you just in a sentence or two -- or more, if you would like -- explain why Mideast talks are held under such extraordinary, excruciating secrecy, as distinct from -- you know, there are other businesses of diplomacy where reporters -- and reporters being stand-ins for the public -- you know, get to get an opening statement or --

MR. REEKER: Frankly, I don't see this as being extraordinarily secret in the fact that we have been discussing now for two full days the fact that the teams are here and that they are going to have these talks. I don't think trying to make progress through these talks is benefited by conducting them in public, and I think that is the reason that we try to allow the two parties -- whose process it is, after all -- to conduct this without the assistance of our good friends from the media. And obviously we will try to do what we can to provide you updates as they go on, but to allow the process to continue apace.

QUESTION: Well, you said two different things. You said you expect there to be trilateral discussions, and then you said there will be trilateral discussions. Did both sides commit that at some point they will have a trilateral meeting, or you're basing that on any progress that --

MR. REEKER: I don't know what commitments anybody has made or whether they have focused on that. When I spoke with Ambassador Ross' team, they indicated that there will be trilateral meetings, that that's an expectation in this process. Trilateral meetings in terms of a meeting between the two parties, just the two of them, that is something that we could also expect but we have to take it one step at a time.

QUESTION: I've been gone for a while, but are you talking about this --

QUESTION: You didn't miss much.

QUESTION: Exactly. It doesn't seem like I've missed much.

MR. REEKER: We missed you, Matt. We missed you.

QUESTION: You're saying over and over this is their process, they're coming here, this is them. I thought they were invited to come here by the Secretary and the President. No?

MR. REEKER: The President and the Secretary have long said --

QUESTION: Didn't they say, "Why don't you guys come over here and have a talk?"

MR. REEKER: No. Both sides made a decision. The two sides made a decision that they wanted to meet --

QUESTION: To accept an invitation?

MR. REEKER: No, no. The parties made a decision. They each made a decision --

QUESTION: Okay. The United States had absolutely nothing to do with them coming to Bolling Air Force Base to talk? They decided that they --

MR. REEKER: Look, Matt. I mean, I don't know what point you're trying to prove, but we have said for months and months and months, if not years, that we stand ready to help the parties however we can. That is the pledge that the President and the Secretary have made in terms of this process. But obviously it is the two parties that have to make the decision to have their teams come together. They asked us to support their efforts, and we agreed to do so.

So there is a standing invitation of ours to be as helpful as possible. That has been stated very clearly by the President of the United States and the Secretary of State on any number of occasions. Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to have their representatives travel here for parallel bilateral discussions this week, and they asked us to support this effort, and we said yes.

QUESTION: What I was trying to get at was the tick-tock of this Administration and rather than -- and whether or not that they had accepted invitations to come here. And you seem to say yes, there is a standing invitation, so they have. Lovely answer.

MR. REEKER: Right, okay.

QUESTION: Is there anybody from transition team with Dennis Ross going to peace talks?

MR. REEKER: I'm sorry, one more time?

QUESTION: Is there anybody from transition team with Dennis --


QUESTION: New subject?

QUESTION: No, I have one --

MR. REEKER: Let me just follow up on what we have said now for a number of days in terms of the transition team which, as you know, is slowly developing here in the Department. The Secretary of State, and obviously the President of the United States, have a responsibility, constitutional responsibility, that they will continue to meet until January the 20th.

Both the President and the Secretary have talked extensively about having a smooth transition and how much they want to help in that process, and we reviewed yesterday the meetings that the Secretary has had with Secretary- designate Powell. And I am sure you have all seen the pictures of the President meeting with President-elect Bush, and in fact today the Secretary is continuing her meetings with the Secretary-designate by having lunch with him, as we speak, I believe. So that process goes on. And while the President and the Secretary fulfill their responsibilities, they will keep informed the transition team and the appropriate people on any developments or decisions, as appropriate.

QUESTION: Phil, when you say the US wants to help, can you just finish the sentence, if you feel like it -- I mean, if you feel like it's called for?

MR. REEKER: I have to write his copy now.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you know, we're short of facts so we're looking for maybe nuances that aren't there. But is the US trying to help them reach an agreement, or is it for them to decide if there is a basis for an agreement, or maybe the two are not mutually exclusive?

MR. REEKER: I think you are correct in the last thing you said: this isn't mutually exclusive; this is an opportunity for the two parties to meet. They have representatives that have traveled to Washington, and it is up to them to discuss the issues of concern so that they can find the way back to the peace process. That is obviously the ultimate goal, is to find peace here. Ending the violence, as we discussed just a few moments ago, is absolutely critical, absolutely important, and so this is an opportunity, which we hope is a good sign, to move back in a positive direction.

New subject? Anything else on the Middle East? No.

QUESTION: I just have one practical question. Will they ever leave the Air Force Base? I mean, are they sleeping there?

MR. REEKER: I don't know.

QUESTION: You don't know? I mean, are they always confined in that area -- (inaudible) -- cell phones?

MR. REEKER: Again, I don't know. I think my understanding would be yes. I will try to check into that if there will be more details, but I don't know the specifics of their billeting or their messing, which I hope is the correct term.

QUESTION: Transition question?

MR. REEKER: Transition, please.

QUESTION: General Colin Powell said that he was meeting Albright for lunch today. How much of a transition in terms of -- do they just talk about logistical things or do they talk about issues and, you know, the kind of handover of the big issues? And how much of the transition will be done on that level?

MR. REEKER: Well, I think it is largely a question I can't answer. I mean, we have discussed the fact that the Secretary called General Powell, now Secretary-designate Powell, from her aircraft returning from Europe on Saturday about the time of the announcement that he would be our next Secretary of State. They had a good discussion then, agreed to get together at the soonest possible convenience. In fact, that took place Sunday when they met for over three hours at Secretary Albright's residence here in Georgetown. The Secretary and Secretary-designate were alone in that meeting, and as I said yesterday to all of you, the readout I got from that meeting was that it was an excellent meeting; they had a very good and full discussion, and agreed to continue their discussions.

I don't have specifics on that, but I can certainly suggest that they talk about a wide range of issues. The Secretary noted in her statement released Saturday that she had had a lot of support in a smooth transition herself, and has been very grateful for the help she has gotten from her predecessors, and she pledged to offer similar availability and support to Secretary- designate Powell as this transition continues and into the future.

So I think those talks will continue. As I noted, they are having lunch today. I think you can expect that they discuss a wide range of issues. Secretary-designate Powell was, as we discussed yesterday, in the building yesterday. He met with a number of State Department officials in the transition offices that he and his team are occupying. And obviously those talks will continue, I am sure, at a variety of levels, and as the team expands, they will be able to focus on specific topics to which they are each assigned. So we will let the process take its course and try to report to you in due course.

QUESTION: New subject. At an event this morning, Colin Powell told us that he had had to "crash" the event because -- and I guess Congressman Rangel said that he had tried to invite Colin Powell but was told by Powell's own people that it's not appropriate for him to attend an event since he's not part of the administration yet, which is kind of ironic considering that it's a diversity event.

Do you have any explanation for why he would --

MR. REEKER: I am not sure that there is a particular irony in that but --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- Howard University --

MR. REEKER: There was a very nice event this morning, and I know that the Secretary herself was extremely pleased that Secretary-designate Powell could participate in that as well. He was here preparing to have lunch with her.

As you all know, the Secretary signed a "Principles of Cooperation" with Howard University with Howard University President Swygert today. These Principles establish a formal relationship between the Department of State and Howard University to work towards the goal of promoting a more diverse workforce here at the Department -- something we have talked about for a long time and the Secretary has been very concerned with. She has been committed to improving our workforce diversity. She has worked with Ambassador Marc Grossman, our Director General of the Foreign Service, the head of Human Resources here at the Department, to reflect --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- to invite the Secretary-designate?

MR. REEKER: Exactly. He was preparing to meet with her and --

QUESTION: No, but to this event. You don't know whether she asked him to come or whether she thought it would be appropriate that he come?

MR. REEKER: I think she thought it was perfectly appropriate, and in fact we sent out word to all of you here -- those that hadn't already gone up to it -- that the Secretary-designate would be there.

QUESTION: But it was a surprise to everyone that he came?

MR. REEKER: That could be. I can't --

QUESTION: He told us that he wasn't invited.

MR. REEKER: No, I read the transcript of what he said among the laughter that accompanied it, so I think we were all very pleased that he was there. And obviously this is an arrangement, a relationship, with Howard University that should be very important for all of us in the coming years, and obviously that will be important as the new administration takes over and Secretary-designate Powell is in charge of the State Department.

QUESTION: Do you know, is it just kind of a rough period in between the time when he takes over and he's just transitioning? I mean, do you expect that he will attend many events here? I wasn't here for the last transition.

MR. REEKER: I just couldn't say. I can't speak for his schedule or what his plans would be in terms of events. Again, Secretary Albright is the Secretary of State until the 20th of January, so she will be fulfilling her responsibilities and the role that she has up until that time. She will continue to meet with the Secretary-designate. I think they have had a very good series of meetings now. Both have seemed very pleased with that. So I am just not in a position to speak for what his schedule or expectations will be for events over the coming days and weeks.

QUESTION: Is security one of the issues that they have talked about already? I ask because there are physical things going on at the building, changes being made. Well, I mean, you have a guard every three feet in the basement, for instance. That can be increased or put in reverse, but there are changes -- the structure of the building is changing.

MR. REEKER: All the time. We're building a new briefing room, Barry.

QUESTION: A new briefing room, and I expect you'll have machine gun turrets pretty soon downstairs. But the point being that these things are hard to put in reverse if the next Secretary of State doesn't agree with it. What I am trying to say is, has she explained to him what the current people think is the need for greater security measures, including some physical changes? And has he said it makes sense to me, full speed ahead?

MR. REEKER: I think I indicated, Barry, that I just am not privy to the details of the discussions between Secretary Albright and Secretary- designate Powell, and I don't expect to be. I think they have indicated that they have wide-ranging discussions. Security is something that is paramount to the Department of State. It has been something that Secretary Albright has taken very seriously, and I have no doubt that it is something that they will discuss. But in terms of your references to specific measures, I am just not really quite sure to what you are referring, but obviously I wouldn't be in a --

QUESTION: Well, they're changing the entry, for instance, the way of driving into the building and, you know, this talk of actually closing the street. I just mean when physical changes are made, you know, they take on a certain life of their own. And I think it would maybe be helpful to know if the incoming administration, you know, thinks this is the way to go, because changing it would be very difficult.

MR. REEKER: I think, Barry, that security is something everybody takes very seriously, and we allow the professionals who make reviews of security to do their jobs and take the necessary measures. We have talked at great length over this past year about the need for some security changes here. It is a complicated world we live in. There are security threats that we are aware of that we have talked about.

Our policy, as always, is not to talk about specific security measures for the building or for any particular individual because that wouldn't be particularly prudent or responsible to discuss in a public forum. But we recognize very much the importance of security, and I think there will obviously be discussions at a variety of levels between the transition team and the current team in terms of security and the importance of security. And I think we leave that to the professionals to make the judgments there.

QUESTION: Can I ask on something else? In her remarks at this Howard ceremony, specifically with regard to trying to attract students from Howard, she also made remarks about the difficulty in recruiting people into the Foreign Service. But obviously she didn't say why it's difficult.

Is it more difficult now? And if it is difficult, why is it difficult for the State Department to keep Foreign Service professionals or to get bright college students of any ethnic background to come to work here?

MR. REEKER: Well, I think you are all aware in a thriving economy which we have experienced in the last several years, the difficulties, the competition for strong employees. The Secretary has enunciated many times, as has Ambassador Grossman and others, that the Department of State requires a skilled, motivated, flexible and diverse workforce, and that is certainly what we are aiming to do.

We have to compete for strong employees with lots of other strong employers. And so just as others in the private sector, other parts of the government sector, the growing nongovernmental sector of our economy are competing to get top employees with the right skills and also taking into account diversity, that is not an easy job. And so we work very hard. Secretary Albright has worked very hard.

This agreement that was signed today, the Principles of Cooperation with Howard University, I think will be an excellent opportunity to work with a really top national university here in Washington, D.C., to help us to create an environment here at the State Department that can continue to attract and retain the best employees in order to effectively carry out our mission on behalf of the people of the United States.

When the Foreign Service exam was given this past fall, there were still more than 10,000, I believe, people sitting for that exam. It is a very competitive process to join the Foreign Service. It is competitive to join our civil service ranks. We, as I said, need to get skilled, motivated, flexible and diverse people to join our workforce, and it is not an easy task in this day and age.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 P.M.)

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