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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing, 01-04-25

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

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


Phillip T. Reeker, Acting Spokesman

Washington, DC

April 25, 2001



1 Demonstrations by Landmine Detection Dogs

1-2 Release of Kosovar Prisoners from Serbia


2-5 US Policy of Arms Sales under Taiwan Relations Act/President Bush Remarks on US Policy

3-4 US Dialogue with Other Countries re Submarine Sales to Taiwan


5-6 US Efforts for Return of EP-3 Aircraft

6-7 Meetings with Chinese re Taiwanese Defense Needs

7 US Position on Cross-Strait Issues


8 Release of Kosovar Albanian Political Prisoners


8 Asylum Request of Wife of Journalist Mr. Gongadze

20 Political Situation


8-12 Investigative Process and Inter-Agency Team for Surveillance Flight Incident

9, 11 Suspension of Aerial Intercept Program

10 Americans Involved in Incident Return to US


9-10 Aerial Intercept Programs in Latin America, e.g., Colombia, Ecuador, Caribbean


9-10 Aerial Intercept Program

11 Report of a Plane Shot Down under Intercept Program


12 Oil Investment in Iran


12 -13 Secretary Powell's Meeting with Prime Minister Hariri


12-13 Syrian and Lebanese Positions for Security in Northern Israel

13-14 US Engagement in Security Meetings

15 Economic Pressure on Palestinians


15-16 Missing Peace Corp Volunteer Walter Poirier / Secretary Powell's Meeting with President Banzer


16-17 Readout of Secretary Powell's Meeting with Prime Minister Kostov and NATO Requirements


17-18 Conference on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria and US Delegation


18 Demonstration on April 21


18 Human Rights Report for Both Countries / Minsk Group Talks on Nagorno-Karabakh


19 Protests re Demonstrations in Addis Ababa


MR. REEKER: Good afternoon. Welcome back to the State Department. I do apologize for the slight delay. I try as hard as I can to get out here at the specified time, and sometimes it just takes a little longer, so that I can be prepared to meet your needs.

Q: Are you very sorry?

MR. REEKER: I am very sorry, Matt. I am.

Let me just note a couple of things at the top. We have issued a Notice to the Press, or are in the process of doing so, about some demonstrations of the landmine detection dog program. Our Office of Humanitarian De-Mining Programs will host two demonstrations of landmine-detecting dogs. That is part of the Department's Bring Your Children to Work Day activities which will take place tomorrow, and those demonstrations will take place on Thursday.

Q: The dogs (inaudible) the children of some State Department employees?

MR. REEKER: We think that some of the children of our employees will be interested in seeing a demonstration of this important --

Q: Will it be put forward ahead of (inaudible.)

MR. REEKER: Mine-detecting dogs receive training, Barry, to detect explosive odors, such as TNT, making them crucial for detecting and identifying non-metallic or plastic-encased landmines. As you know, we have a very vigorous program of de-mining, humanitarian de-mining, around the world.

So I did want to note that. It is often of interest not only to the children of our employees, but also to many of you in the media.

Also, I would like to draw attention to a statement I have issued this morning on the release of Kosovar prisoners from Serbia. The United States welcomes today the release of 143 Kosovar political prisoners after their verdicts were overturned by the Serbian supreme court. They have been held in custody in Serbia since the end of the Kosovo conflict in 1999. The group has been handed over to United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross officials at the Serbia-Kosovo border and has returned to Kosovo. We urge Serbian authorities to move expeditiously in releasing the remaining Kosovar Albanian political prisoners.

This action is important to improving relations between the Belgrade government and ethnic Albanians in the region. And we commend those non- governmental organizations in Kosovo and Serbia that worked so hard for the release of this group.

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

Q: Phil, thank you. The Chinese Vice Minister, Foreign Minister, had the Ambassador in, and obviously complained about the arms package for Taiwan, said it would harm relations.

I don't know that I know or not that the answer should be a surprise, but I don't think I saw an answer or a reply. Is there a response to that?

MR. REEKER: Well, I think we covered yesterday the Taiwan arms sales issues in terms of meeting our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act. We have heard formal protests from the Chinese, both in Washington and in Beijing. As you indicated, Barry, Ambassador Prueher went to the Foreign Ministry today in Beijing; and as we discussed yesterday, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Marc Grossman received Chinese Ambassador Yang here at the State Department yesterday.

As I also said yesterday, in keeping with consistent US policy and practice, we did not discuss the specifics of our arms sales to Taiwan with those representatives of the People's Republic of China Government. We told the Chinese that our decision reflects the defensive needs of Taiwan that is in keeping with our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act and the three communiqués between the United States and China, and that we continue to stand firmly for peaceful resolution of differences between the PRC and Taiwan. And we did make the point, I believe in both capitals, that China's own actions have an impact on the situation in the Strait, and we urge that China take sensible steps to reduce tensions.

As the President has indicated again today, and the Secretary on many occasions, we seek a constructive relationship with China. And as the President has said, both the United States and China must make a determined choice to have a productive relationship that will contribute to a more secure, more prosperous and more peaceful world.

Q: The Foreign Ministry made a special point of arms control, that this would have a negative effect on arms control. Arms control covers a lot of things. Is this some sort of a warning that you find unsettling?

MR. REEKER: I think you would have to ask the Chinese, who made those remarks, for details or what they may mean by that. We have been very clear, as we have been every year in terms of the arms sales that we make, the arms that we make available to Taiwan, should they choose to purchase those things, under our legal obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act. That has been the case obviously for a long time. And I think we have made very clear here and in what I just said a moment ago that we seek peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues, but we are meeting our obligations under that Act.

Q: I really wanted to ask about explosive odors, but instead I will follow up Barry's question. What is the status of the dialogue between the US and the Germans and the Dutch about the submarines?

MR. REEKER: I am not aware of any particular dialogue. I don't have any information on that.

Q: So you just sprung this on them, then? Would that -- the whole thing -- this

whole --

MR. REEKER: I think most of what has been sprung on them has been media issues about German and Dutch. I haven't seen anything that we have said that refers at all to the Germans or the Dutch in any relation to the arms we have agreed to make available to Taiwan under our obligations.

Q: And to follow on that, according to press reports, both the Netherlands and Germany do not want their technology used for these eight submarines that Taiwan may choose to purchase. If not, where do we get it? On the open market, and from whom?

MR. REEKER: That's just not a subject that I am qualified or prepared to discuss at this point. I think Mr. Fleischer at the White House made clear yesterday that obviously when we go through this and make an analysis of the needs, the defensive needs that Taiwan has, and then discuss with them what we will make available, we are prepared to help make those things available. I am just not in a position to talk about specifics.

Q: Well, follow up I may. I was at the White House when Ari said that, and he did --

MR. REEKER: I think you asked the question.

Q: I asked one of the questions. And he specifically named eight diesel electric submarines. And the question is: Is this going to cause international problems since the two prime manufacturers of these submarines apparently don't want to sell them to Taiwan? If they don't, where do we get them? From Great Britain or from Russia?

MR. REEKER: I think that is purely speculative at this point. First, the Taiwanese have to make decisions about what it is they are interested in buying, and then we would look at where we can help them to get those products. But at this point, that is just -- that's speculative and I'm just not going to go into any details on that. You would have to leave that to defense experts that could talk to you about that.

Q: Let me follow up one more time on that question. In fact, a Pentagon spokesman has also referred specifically to German and Dutch designs of these submarines. So can I just check -- has there been any diplomatic exchange at all with those countries in the run-up to --

MR. REEKER: Not that I am aware of, but I would leave it to -- I mean, no I am not aware of anything. I am happy to check into what we --

Q: Why not?

MR. REEKER: That's the kind of question -- I mean, I don't know what you expect in an answer. We make our decisions about our diplomacy --

Q: Yeah, but I mean, you've had months to think about this. It seems strange that you should string --

MR. REEKER: I'll leave that to the experts that analyze Taiwan's defense needs, consult -- study -- and then consult with Taiwan as to those needs and what we are willing to provide. And I am just not going to go into the details of that.

Q: Phil, the President seemed to -- in interviews, multiple interviews -- seemed to remove the ambiguity about the US readiness to defend Taiwan in a military situation against China. Is that a change in policy? There are experts today who have been testifying on the Hill to the effect that the ambiguity has always been a very key element, and that seems to be gone as a result of today's statements.

MR. REEKER: I have watched a number of the interviews that the President has done, as all of you have. I know -- and those transcripts are readily available, so it's easiest to let the President speak for himself. I think he was very clear on that, and he said very specifically nothing has changed in our policy. Our policy hasn't changed today; it didn't change yesterday; it didn't change last year; it hasn't changed in terms of what we have followed since 1979 with the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act. And the President was very clear on our position, and I think he reiterated what we have always said.

Q: Has there been a past time -- can you name a past time when a President or Secretary of State has said unambiguously, since 1979, that the United States would militarily defend Taiwan -- no ifs, ands or buts about it?

MR. REEKER: What I can refer to you is what the President said, that nothing has changed, and that speaks for itself.

Q: Well, he said nothing has changed, but I am asking you as a matter of diplomatic continuity whether in the past, as a result of there being no change, where has there been a previous US Government statement to this effect?

MR. REEKER: I am sure you and all of your colleagues will study the history and every statement and parse every reference to these things. What I can tell you is that there is no change in our policy. We expect any dispute to be resolved peacefully. The President said that. We expect, hope, believe that peaceful resolutions are possible. He said that the Chinese have to hear that we will uphold the spirit of the Taiwan Relations Act.

And the President also talked about the very important relationship we have with China. We have got some tough decisions coming up, as the President indicated. We have trade issues with China. We want to work with China on trade. The President talked about trade and open markets enhancing freedom. He also talked about some of the concerns he has had and some of the concerns we have had -- we have discussed it from here -- about decisions the Chinese have made, recent ones.

But he was very adamant that we adhere to a One China policy, and that while we have a difficult, complex relationship with China, there are areas where we agree and there are areas where we disagree, and that is what we are going to have continue to pursue.

Q: Is it a correct interpretation of what the President said to say that he said the United States would defend Taiwan against China in a military situation? Is that a correct reading of what the President said?

MR. REEKER: What I heard the President say -- and again, you can all go to the transcripts and the video replays -- but I know he did say, "I'll do what it takes to help Taiwan defend herself." And that is very much as our obligations are stated under the Taiwan Relations Act.

Q: Phil, the tough decisions that you have coming up and talks with the Chinese, it's now, what, Thursday in Beijing. And earlier this week, or last week, Richard talked about these terms of reference for the meeting, for the Military Maritime meeting. Have those been delivered yet? Or is there any movement on the plane?

MR. REEKER: Well, I think the President also indicated we expect to get our plane back.

Q: Right.

MR. REEKER: Our Embassy in Beijing continues to discuss the plan for the return of the aircraft through the regular diplomatic channels that we have referred to. And echoing what the President said, the Chinese should understand our position that the aircraft is our property and they should return it.

On the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement working group meeting, no new date has been set as yet for the postponed meeting. The terms of reference that you talked about that Richard referred to last week for that meeting should be provided to the PRC sometime soon. I still don't believe that has been passed over.

Q: Do you know if they have been completed?

MR. REEKER: I don't know. But they should be provided to the PRC sometime soon.

Q: And do you know if, when the Ambassador was called into the -- or went to the Chinese Foreign Ministry to hear the Chinese complaint, if he brought up the plane again?

MR. REEKER: I don't. I don't have a specific readout of that. I think, as I said, we have made very clear through the regular diplomatic channels --

Q: But you don't know if it specifically came up?

MR. REEKER: I don't, no.

Q: Phil, has there been any progress on the plane?

MR. REEKER: I am just not in a position right now to characterize that, other than to say that our Embassy continues the discussions on the plan for return of that plane and that the Chinese understand our position, and we'll keep working on that through normal diplomatic channels.

Q: You said in the meeting in the Foreign Ministry that the US did not get into the specifics, that basically is not something you tell the Chinese about.

MR. REEKER: That's right.

Q: But did the Ambassador explain the rationale; to wit, did he bring up the continuing installation of missiles that the US sees as threatening to Taiwan?

MR. REEKER: Well, I do think that in the overall approach, as I said, we told the Chinese that our decision, our analysis of Taiwan's defensive needs and our decision on what arms sales we would allow to Taiwan reflects the defensive needs on Taiwan. And that is in keeping with our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act.

And I think we made the point, as Under Secretary Grossman did yesterday to the Chinese Ambassador here, that China's own actions have an impact on the situation in the Strait and urged that China take the sensible steps that can lead to mutually productive relations in keeping with the points we have just discussed here.

Q: Well, thank you. Can you go a step further and say whether the Ambassador went away with some notion that China understands or is about to do something to --

MR. REEKER: I think, as you know, Barry, in diplomacy we make our points very clearly. Ambassador Prueher has had many discussions on a variety of issues with Foreign Ministry officials, Chinese officials and authorities, and I wouldn't begin to try to suggest what impression he has. I don't think that is something I can get into at this point.

Q: Can I change the topic?

MR. REEKER: I doubt it.

Q: Would the United States regard a Chinese renunciation of the use of force to reunify Taiwan as a positive step towards easing the tension and a way that China could avoid having to make these protests in the future about arms sales?

MR. REEKER: Well, I mean, I think our position has always been that there needs to be a peaceful resolution of the cross-Strait issues, and that hasn't changed obviously. China has never abandoned that statement which you just made, so obviously anything that focuses on peaceful resolution, resumption of dialogue, those are things we would welcome. Those are things that we look for.

Q: Phil, the President also said in an interview yesterday with The Washington Post that Taiwan is an issue for the United States and China to work through. I am just wondering, is it a violation of US China policy for not being a mediator of cross-strait issues?

MR. REEKER: I didn't hear the term "mediator" in there.

Q: Yeah, mediator.

MR. REEKER: But I would have to look at those more carefully, and you might want to talk to the White House.

Q: He did not mention mediator but he said, you know --

MR. REEKER: Well, I think you just answered your own question.

Q: Well, I'm just wondering, is it a violation of the US China policy because the President has said that he will work with China through the --

MR. REEKER: I think you are very aware of our relationship. We have just talked about the important relationship, complex relationship, we have with China. We have an unofficial relationship with Taiwan, and we pursue that in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act and the three communiqués. You are very aware of that, so I don't think I have anything to add. I don't think there is anything at odds with what the President said in that. What we want to see is a peaceful resolution of differences, of issues, through dialogue, and cross-Strait dialogue is what we have encouraged now for many, many years.

Q: On the release of the Kosovar political prisoners, can you say what impact this will have on the US decision to participate in the donors conference for Yugoslavia later this summer?

MR. REEKER: Well, I think the statement -- and you probably haven't seen it yet, but you will -- says that we see this as an important action from Belgrade. We welcome the release. So I can't make any blanket statements. I haven't asked that specific question, but this is obviously in the direction that we have been pointing in terms of what we hope to see. And we discussed that at length when we made the certification to continue our assistance to the FRY.

Q: And to follow up, this was specifically -- I just want to make sure this was specifically on the list of things we would like to see Belgrade do that the Ambassador gave prior to making --

MR. REEKER: I don't know that we have ever characterized specific lists or pieces of paper that are involved in our own notes of our diplomatic conversations, but it is obviously the type of thing that we think is important. It is important in improving relations. It demonstrates the Belgrade Government's -- the Yugoslav Government's sincerity in dealing with some of these issues.

These people were held in custody since the end of the Kosovo conflict in 1999. That's almost two years. And the Serbian supreme court overturned verdicts which we think emanated from the policies of the Milosevic regime, and so we welcome this move and we commend those that were involved in pushing for the release of these groups, and we want Serbian authorities to move expeditiously on the release of the remaining Kosovar Albanian political prisoners.

Q: Phil, do you know if the United States has granted asylum to the wife of this Ukrainian journalist Myroslava Gongadze? I'm sure I'm mangling the name.

MR. REEKER: I don't. And I know that our policy is not to discuss specifics of asylum cases.

Q: I think the Ukrainians are saying that there's something going on.

MR. REEKER: Good for them.

Q: New topic? Peru?

MR. REEKER: A new topic, Peru. That sounds like an old topic.

Q: Do you have anything on the team being sent down there, who is going to be leading it or anything new on the preliminary --

MR. REEKER: I heard lots of yeses on team, so let's discuss that. As you know, we are conducting an investigation and working closely with the Peruvian authorities to determine the facts and circumstances over this tragic accident. We are forming a US Government investigation team to go to Peru, but I don't have any details on that. That is part of the investigative process. Obviously that process is taking place here and in Peru, and the formation and sending of a team is just another step, but I don't have an answer for you yet on timing for that.

Q: On the suspension of the surveillance flights and the interception policy, will that -- how long will that suspension be? Will it be through the investigation or --

MR. REEKER: I just don't know. I mean, I think it is premature to speculate on the suspension. Obviously, pending the investigation and a review of it, the aerial intercept program has been suspended, as we have discussed. How long that would last, I just don't have even a guess because it is obviously going to depend on what transpires with the investigation.

Q: As far as the crew on the plane, there have been some reports that some of them didn't speak Spanish. Is it customary for US employees in such a mission to -- is it a requirement that they speak the language --

MR. REEKER: I don't know. As you know, the crew on that plane were contract employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, and I would refer you to the CIA for any questions on that.

Q: Phil, can you say whether the suspension --

Q: They're about as forthcoming as the North Koreans.

MR. REEKER: Actually, my colleague at the Central Intelligence Agency has been extremely forthcoming with you and a number of your colleagues, so I would like to just say that for the record.

Q: Phil, does this suspension have any effect at all on similar operations in neighboring countries, such as Colombia and --

MR. REEKER: Yes, I believe that the intercept program has been suspended also in Colombia. We have a variety of programs as part of our overall counter-narcotics support with countries working with countries in the region. But pending this investigation, we suspend that aspect of these programs, that specific aerial intercept program, and then we will go from there.

Q: When did that -- was that suspension immediate, as soon as you imposed the one in Peru?

MR. REEKER: I believe it was at the same time as the Peru one. It is a similar program, and I would have to check on the details for you.

Q: And Ecuador? What happened in Ecuador? Do you have an interception program --

MR. REEKER: I just don't have all the details of our programs in Ecuador, but I am not aware of anything suspended there.

Q: And the one in the Caribbean?

MR. REEKER: I told you what I got. There were two such things.

Q: And do you know -- the program in Colombia, was it -- did they have the same terms of reference, the same sort of rules of engagement and so on?

MR. REEKER: I don't know. It is something I can look into, but it is not something I was -- I was focusing on Peru today.

Q: And is there any assessment --

Q: (Inaudible) going to be involved in this discussion as well?

MR. REEKER: Not that I am aware of, but I would have to check on that. This is an investigation of the incident in Peru. And let me -- we have sort of veered off, but I did want to bring you up to date that -- to note that with the assistance of the US Embassy in Lima and the Government of Peru, the pilot and the surviving members of the family, the father Mr. Jim Bowers and his son Cory, have returned to the US, along with the remains of Mrs. Veronica Bowers and the infant daughter Charity, who were killed April 20th. I believe the White House has already mentioned that President Bush spoke with Mr. Bowers and had a talk with him. And we facilitated -- the State Department helped facilitate Mr. Bowers being able to speak with the Peruvian Ambassador here in Washington.

Q: Well, do you have any idea of the size of the interception operation in Colombia, and what effect will the suspension have on interdiction efforts generally in Colombia, which presumably is a much bigger problem than Peru?

MR. REEKER: I don't. And as I said about Peru, our interdiction efforts, our counter-narcotics programs, are multifaceted and have a number of different aspects, of which aerial interception is just one facet of that. And I just don't have any details on the Colombian program.

Q: But does it leave a massive loophole through which narco-traffickers will jump?

MR. REEKER: I wouldn't want to speculate on the details of that program about which I do not know much.

Q: There weren't any incidents like the one in Peru, were there? I mean, I believe we have heard that this is the only time there has been a mistaken shoot-down in all of the cases where planes have been shot down. Do we know -- this isn't being suspended because of specific concerns that it has -- there have been close calls in Colombia as well?

MR. REEKER: No. This is -- I mean, we have all been through what happened last week in terms of the shoot-down of this plane, and that is why the aerial suspensions -- the programs -- when you have the same program operated in two places, and you are studying the program and the parameters of it, investigating what happened in something, I think that is why they want to suspend this and look at this and then make decisions about restarting what has been a very successful and important program and in our national interest and in the national interest of the countries we work with to start that up again.

Q: So this is the only incident that we know of where there has been a mistake?

MR. REEKER: That I am aware of, yes.

Q: On the Colombian program, are we aware that the Colombian air force on Friday, the same day that this happened, shot down a plane -- it was a similar program that was being run there -- with five people on board who are presumed dead now?

MR. REEKER: I wasn't aware of that, no.

Q: Okay, so you don't know if there was a US observation?

MR. REEKER: I would be happy to check into that, but I might refer you to the Colombian authorities first.

Q: And do you have anything about the video, any details you can tell us about the videotape that (inaudible) two days ago?


Q: Do you have anything then about -- can you tell us why there has been this delay in sending the team? Is there --

MR. REEKER: Well, again, as I tried to characterize yesterday, you guys are the ones that decided there was a delay in sending the team. I don't think anybody ever set a timeline for when he would send the team or how the investigation would proceed. And I think the authorities that are involved in the investigation have to decide at what point they have done the necessary steps to send the right team with the right composition and know what it is they want to look at and study and investigate when they get to Peru. So I just am not in a position to accept that there is a delay in that, but --

Q: There was no negative connotation implied. I was just asking. They haven't gone yet. Does that mean you haven't decided yet which department is going to lead the investigation?

MR. REEKER: I just don't have any details on that team, and I don't know if a lead agency has been selected or how it will work. Obviously, as we noted, the aerial interdiction intercept program is something that is worked on with the State Department, the CIA, DOD and other agencies, and obviously it is an interagency effort looking at this investigation. So I just don't have any details on that, but as soon as they have decided on a team or how to proceed in the investigation, we will try to let you know.

Q: Do you have anything on an oil investment in Iran by an Austrian company, OMV, which would go beyond the limits set in the ILSA?

MR. REEKER: I don't. If you want to leave that for the --

Q: I've been asking for many hours. I assumed it would have --

MR. REEKER: Well, many hours in this world is just exactly what it is, and I am afraid we can't always provide for you in a couple of hours time our reactions on things that happen all over the world. Be happy to look into it for you, however.

Q: Lebanon?

MR. REEKER: Switch to the Middle East? Sure.

Q: Okay. Well, the US official position kind of evolved within a short period of time from hands off on Syrian influence in Lebanon, as Ambassador Walker stated while in Beirut when he said that it's a matter to be discussed by -- between the two governments, to a stronger statement by Ambassador Walker when he gave testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee when he stressed the US support for a free and independent and sovereign Lebanon, and he also talked about reducing the Syrian influence in Lebanon.

Last week, President Lahud, the Lebanese president, Emile Lahud, made a statement concerning -- and I have here the media report that says that more than two months ago Lebanon and Syria rejected offers through diplomatic channels proposing a quid pro quo, and here I quote, "a permanent Syrian presence in Lebanon in exchange for permanent Lebanese and Syrian protection for security in northern Israel."

Now, what is the US official position on what President Lahud said, and especially that some observers are hinting to those diplomatic channels are American?

MR. REEKER: I have to admit I am awfully confused by all of the information you imparted in that question. Yesterday we discussed at some length Lebanon. As you know, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, is in Washington. He met at the White House yesterday with the President and with the Secretary, and he will be back here this afternoon meeting with Secretary Powell.

I think I really need to wait until that meeting has taken place to go into any more detail on Lebanon. We would be happy to, after the meeting, take a specific look at your question. I think I would want to talk to my colleagues in that bureau to understand exactly what it is you are asking. I am not aware of the specific references made by the President to that, but we have talked about the importance of the UN Security Council Resolution 425 regarding that.

And we have enjoyed the constructive meeting that we have had with the Prime Minister so far, and we look forward to the meeting this afternoon. But why don't we try to work on something after the Secretary finishes his meeting today.

Q: Okay. I would be glad to give you the media references.

MR. REEKER: Great. Work with my colleague, Mr. Hunter, here, and we will take that on board and try to get an answer we can share with everybody. I'm sorry, I just don't have all the details, and with the meeting about to take place, I don't want to --

Q: Yesterday, a CIA official speaking in Philadelphia said that, contrary to what the State Department has been saying about these security meetings, the CIA has actually been asked to preside over those meetings.

MR. REEKER: I don't believe that is contrary to anything that we have said here. I don't think we have said a lot about it.

Q: Well, are "facilitate" and "preside" synonyms?

MR. REEKER: Say that again?

Q: Are "facilitate" and "preside" synonyms?

MR. REEKER: I will let you look it up in the thesaurus.

Q: No, I don't think they are.

MR. REEKER: But I don't -- I mean, I'll let the CIA speak for themselves and talk about that. We have talked very much about a US representative that has attended high-level security meetings --

Q: Embassy officials.

MR. REEKER: Look at the transcript. A US representative that attended the high-level security meeting to facilitate, monitor and report back developments to the Secretary. As I said yesterday, I am not going to get into further specifics of that. I will let others speak for themselves.

The bottom line is that we continue to encourage -- and the Secretary has been very straightforward about that -- encourage the parties to maintain their bilateral security efforts as a means of halting the violence, which is so important. And as I said, when the two sides agree or decide to convene another meeting, we will support their efforts then, too.

Q: Phil, I don't know where I got the idea, but I thought that at the behest of the Sharon government, the Administration -- this new Administration -- had decided to downplay and possibly eliminate CIA participation from it. The CIA had never had the kind of role the Clinton Administration gave it. And I don't know where I got the idea, but I know I had a very strong notion that this Administration was going to reverse that.

Now, if Terri is right, the CIA is back not only attending and taking notes, but it is somehow steering the discussion. Is this a fact? Is this a twist back to an old policy?

MR. REEKER: I don't know where your "steering the discussion" even came from -- Terri's question but, as I said, I would refer you to my colleagues at the CIA for any comments on this.

Q: But so far as the State Department is concerned, it is appropriate that the CIA participate in these --

MR. REEKER: So far as the State Department is concerned, it is appropriate that a US representative has attended the meetings to facilitate, monitor, and report back. That is what we will continue to support. We think it is important to end the cycle of violence, as you know very well, and we will continue to support efforts that the parties can take in that.

Q: There was a meeting yesterday, was there not? And the Secretary said the other day that he saw some traction --

MR. REEKER: I missed -- there was a meeting yesterday?

Q: Yes, a security cooperation meeting -- another one -- wasn't there?

MR. REEKER: It was two days ago. It is the meeting we discussed yesterday that took place Monday, I believe.

Q: Does this Department have any comment on the apparent breakdown of talks between Puerto Rico and the Bush Administration on Vieques?

MR. REEKER: That is a domestic issue, so I would refer you back to the White House.

Q: Does the US have an opinion on this latest Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territories for their -- I don't know if it is appropriate to call them the holidays, but --

MR. REEKER: As you know, we have in the past and continue to urge Israel to ease economic pressure on the Palestinians, and we will continue to urge them to do that, easing the pressure --

Q: But this latest clamp-down and not allowing anyone to cross --

MR. REEKER: Well, closure does place pressure on the Palestinians.

Q: So this is not a good thing?

MR. REEKER: That is a fact. So we will continue to urge them to ease the economic pressure. And that is, I think, all I want to say.

Q: But wait a second. Do you think that the Israelis are justified, that there is enough of a security threat to justify this?

MR. REEKER: I am not going to try to -- I am not on the ground to make the justifications. All I want to do is point to you what we have said and will continue to say, that we urge the Israelis to ease economic pressure on the Palestinians, and that is a fact that closure places some pressure on the Palestinians, yes.

Q: Can you tell me what you have, please, about a Peace Corps volunteer who disappeared the end of February in Bolivia and the efforts to find him?

MR. REEKER: Yes. In Bolivia. Let me say, some of you are more aware of this story, obviously, than others. It has been covered in the media.

We are very concerned about Walter Poirier, and we are very engaged in continuing efforts to locate him. We certainly share with Mr. Poirier's parents the desire to find out what happened to their son. And our Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia has been working on the case since he was reported missing March the 5th.

The Bolivian Government and law enforcement agencies there have dedicated extensive resources and manpower to the search, and I would note that five Spanish-speaking FBI agents have been in-country for the past couple of weeks working with the Bolivian police in their investigation. We are very grateful -- and the Embassy has expressed this gratitude -- grateful to the Bolivian media for running Mr. Poirier photograph consistently over the past two months, and we will continue to do all we can to determine his whereabouts.

Q: Can you tell me if there have been any reaction to the picture being run? Has anybody come forward?

MR. REEKER: I don't believe that we have gotten any specific information from that. According to Bolivian authorities and the FBI there is no indication of a kidnapping at this time, no ransom demands have been received at this date. And the Bolivian authorities have been very dedicated to this case, and we are exceedingly grateful to them, and we want to continue doing all we can to try to determine what happened to this young man.

Q: Phil, do you know if the subject came up yesterday in the Secretary's meeting with President Banzer?

MR. REEKER: I don't. We had a readout of that, and I don't know that this specific subject came up. I know it has been an ongoing one through our Embassy. I don't know that it was -- I have no reason to believe it was something on the agenda in the President's discussions with Secretary Powell.

Q: Do we have a few comments on the meeting with Mr. Kostov today, and do you have a fuller readout on that meeting?

MR. REEKER: Probably not more than what Secretary Powell told you when he brought the Minister downstairs, the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Ivan Kostov. The Secretary talked about having a good discussion on the mutual interests between the United States and Bulgaria, noted that the United States and Bulgaria have had 100 years of diplomatic relations, and we obviously talked about stability in the Balkans and Bulgaria's role in promoting stability in southeast Europe, the Stability Pact in that vein, and the progress Bulgaria is making in meeting NATO requirements for aspirant members, their role in the Partnership for Peace. And the Secretary also noted that they discussed energy issues in the region.

Q: (Inaudible) energy issues?

MR. REEKER: I am afraid I can't. I would have to look into what that was and get -- I wasn't in the meeting, so I wasn't familiar with what the details were there.

Q: You mentioned NATO and Bulgaria is a very eager aspirant to the alliance. And I'm just curious, was there a reason that the Secretary didn't mention that -- mention talking about NATO membership after he had done so with the Latvian President just the day before?

MR. REEKER: I don't think so. I wouldn't read anything into these opportunities when the Secretary does come out to bid farewell to his guests. He enjoys doing that, he enjoys the opportunity to make a few remarks for all of you. But I wouldn't read things into what is not there. And I would certainly note that, as I said, the meeting included discussion on the progress Bulgaria is making on meeting NATO requirements for aspirant members.

Q: I mean, did the Secretary say we think that you have achieved good progress towards meeting the requirements for NATO membership?

MR. REEKER: I just can't give you any more characterization because I wasn't in the meeting.

Q: Can you clarify or discuss if you have anything on why the Secretary has decided not to attend this conference in South Africa? There are reports going around about his motivations for not going.

MR. REEKER: I am not aware of a conference in South Africa.

Q: I mean -- sorry -- on Africa and AIDS. Nigeria.

MR. REEKER: If you are talking about the conference in Abuja. As you know, the Secretary has a very tough schedule in terms of demands here at home and around the world. The meeting you are referring to, a conference on HIV- AIDS, which is jointly organized by the Organization of African Unity and the UN AIDS -- the joint UN AIDS program -- will stress the importance of political leadership by African leaders on HIV-AIDS issues. It takes place, as you know, the 26th through 27th of April. It is largely going to be attended by numerous African heads of state, the OAU Secretary General, and various international organizations. Former President Bill Clinton will be there.

The US delegation is going to be led by our Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Nancy Powell. So there is a Powell going to Abuja. (Laughter.) She will lead the five additional people on the delegation that includes representatives from the Department of State, from USAID and the Department of Health and Human Services.

In terms of the Secretary's specific decision on scheduling that, obviously both the Secretary and the President have talked about the importance of HIV-AIDS as an issue, a global issue, which the White House is taking very seriously, which we are looking at in terms of coordinating international work on the matter.

The Secretary has testimony this week, budget testimony that was prescheduled by the committee, so he will be up tomorrow testifying before the committee. He had also -- and a number of you have discussed this with me -- looked into attending another meeting that included discussion of HIV-AIDS in Africa that was tentatively scheduled for next month. That meeting was postponed and is not on.

Q: But he doesn't make decisions based on who else is going to be there, like Bill Clinton?

MR. REEKER: No, I think the important thing here is that he is sending a high-level delegation led by the head of the Africa Bureau. And as I said, it is an interagency delegation, which will reflect the way we approach the HIV-AIDS issue in terms of USAID, Health and Human Services, and the State Department being very much involved on international AIDS issues.

Q: So how would you characterize this blurb in the paper this morning? Would that be kind of sniping?

MR. REEKER: Well, I note that the blurb appeared in the -- what one might call the gossip column, and I will do anything to get my name in there, so - -

Q: Well, you may just hit that.

MR. REEKER: There you go. I hope my family saw that.

Q: Last Saturday in Bakku that police used force to disperse the peaceful rally, and they put some journalists in prison, and they are still in jail since that time. And I was wondering if you have anything to say about this event.

MR. REEKER: Yes, a number of you may know that Bakku police dispersed a rally in central Bakku on Saturday, April 21st. We did check with our Embassy, and they report that that took place. I think, as we have said before, the Government of Azerbaijan should respect its citizens' rights to freedom of assembly.

In this particular case, the Embassy reports to us that the demonstrators did not have a permit. I understand that some demonstrators were fined and then released; others were sentenced to 10 to 14 days for public disorder and resisting police. I do understand that some protestors and police were reportedly injured in that situation.

Q: Just to follow up, some journalists in the region claim that because the fact that US is currently facilitating and encouraging the peace talks between Aliyev and Kocharian that Washington was more reluctant to criticize the human rights records of both of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

MR. REEKER: Well, I would just do what we do so often, and that is refer you to our Human Rights Report, which was released not that long ago. As we indicated in our Annual Human Rights Report, Azerbaijan's human rights record is poor. But we do note there -- and I will say again here -- that in the last few years there have been improvements in a few significant areas. So that is what we want to see continue.

Q: Do you have any specific information about when these peace talks in Geneva take place? Do you know that it is going to take place in June between Aliyev and Kocharian?

MR. REEKER: You are talking about the continuation of the Minsk Group talks on Nagorno-Karabakh that we discussed at the end of the Key West peace talks. I don't have a specific date or details on that yet, but we do expect that to be in June in Switzerland, and as we get closer to the date, we will try to get you details. Those are the talks that are co-sponsored by the OSCE Minsk Group under the three co-chairs.

Q: Do you have anything to say to appease the vociferous Ethiopians who are gathered today?

MR. REEKER: Where are they gathered?

Q: Outside.

MR. REEKER: See, I spend all my time trying to find answers to your questions, and I don't get to go out and see these things. I should take up smoking just because of that.

Q: They were protesting against the arrest of demonstrators, students imprisoned. Because you know it came up about a week or a few days ago.

MR. REEKER: I'm afraid I didn't realize there were -- oh, and we discussed it a bit. I think we posted a question, did we not?

Q: Yes.

MR. REEKER: Yes. I would refer you to our posted question.

Q: But they are asking now -- they have been asking for a formal condemnation. The answer in the taken question just simply said this is our understanding of what had happened at the university, and kind of be careful. I think there was a travel warning, a travel -- a Public Announcement issued as well.

At this point, you are not prepared to condemn the Ethiopian --

MR. REEKER: I'm sorry. I don't have any more details on it. I will refer you to the taken question from, I believe, late last week. We posted that answer. It is something we will continue to watch. Our Embassy obviously in Addis Ababa will be monitoring that situation and reporting back to us on it, and we will watch that. But I'm sorry, I don't have anything more today.

Q: Still the same question. Demonstrators were saying also that there is a -- civilians were detained for humanitarian -- they were humanitarian students which -- there was about 2,000 students were detained by the government. They are now released, but they opened the university. So we just want to know what your Embassy knows on this information.

MR. REEKER: As I said, I'm sorry, I don't have an update from the Embassy. I will check with our African Affairs Bureau directly after this briefing and see if we can get you anything more that they may have on that situation. I am sure they watch it, but sometimes they are just not in a position to respond quite as quickly as some of the wires services or the information you get.

Q: One more. Ukraine's government is on the brink of collapse, and given the support that this government has shown to Prime Minister Yushchenko in the past, do you have anything to say about that?

MR. REEKER: I don't really have anything to add on Ukraine. I wouldn't want to characterize things. I read the press reporting. Obviously our Embassy reports and follow developments in Ukraine very closely, and we are always concerned about developments there because it is an important country and we want to pursue our relationship with them.

Thank you. [End]

Released on April 25, 2001

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