U.S. Department of State
Briefer: Richard Boucher, Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB # 1
TUESDAY, JANUARY 2, 2001 1:10 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Happy New Year to everybody. It's a pleasure for us all to be back together again, isn't it?
If I can, I would like to start off talking a little bit about war crimes in two locations: one is generally and the other is in regard to Cambodia. We will have statements available: one, I think, shortly after this briefing, and the other a little later.
Let me take up the issue of what they have done in Cambodia. The United States welcomes the action that has been taken by the National Assembly of the Cambodian Government to unanimously approve a draft law establishing extraordinary chambers. These chambers are to investigate and prosecute senior Khmer Rouge leaders and others who were responsible for the atrocities of the 1975-79 period in Cambodia.
We look forward now to the further action necessary on this draft before the Senate of the Government of Cambodia and then final consideration by King Sihanouk, and then final consultations between the United Nations and the Government of Cambodia to implement this agreement expeditiously.
We think this is a significant step forward, and we certainly welcome this action. As you know, we have been very involved in this in the past. Senator John Kerry has been very involved in helping work this out, and we certainly tried to support the United Nations in every way to ensure that there can be accountability for the crimes that were committed in Cambodia.
That specific statement will be out shortly, and I would like to say some more general words, and then we'll have a more detailed and technical statement on the general question of war crimes as well later in the day. But I just want to talk a little bit about the signature of the International Criminal Court documents on Sunday that Ambassador Scheffer, our Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, carried out. And the President of course issued a statement on the subject.
The Secretary, as I think you all know, has worked very long and hard on this issue ever since her time at the United Nations. She believes very strongly in accountability for crimes, has talked about it and pressed it in many fora, many ways, many times. She has described this as an essential process of turning collective responsibility into individual accountability. This has been the case with the specific war crimes tribunals that have been set up for Rwanda, for Yugoslavia, for other places. And it is also a step forward in this process for the United States to sign the agreement on the International Criminal Court.
The Secretary has made this an issue of her consultations with other foreign ministers, especially in recent months in her consultations at the United Nations, at the APEC meeting and elsewhere, to try to clarify for the United States questions of jurisdiction and more precision in the definitions of the crimes so that the United States could be party to this treaty, so that we could sign.
As the President said in his statement, this process has brought us forward but it hasn't brought us to the point where he would seek ratification. We have now, by signing it, put the United States in a position to influence the further evolution of the treaty. But the President made quite clear, and the Secretary agrees, that they should not seek ratification until the US concerns are further satisfied.
And, finally, I would like to note in this context the extraordinary work that Ambassador Scheffer, our Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, has done over the past several years in bringing us to the point where the treaty is clarified so that we can sign. Maybe not clarified enough so that we could seek ratification, but he has done an extraordinary job and the Secretary values his contribution in that regard very highly.
So with those two discussions, I would be glad to take your questions on these or other matters.
QUESTION: Is it realistic to expect these concerns to be satisfied? It took the President to the very last minute. Obviously, the concerns weighed on him. And of course we all know basically what they are, that it will become a political institution to crucify, or to at least hold up for ridicule or worse, leaders who are politically unpopular, which of course the UN does regularly?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, let me take the opportunity to say a number of things. First, this is not a UN court. This is not part of the UN system. This is an independent judicial body. It is a treaty-based independent court. The United Nations serves as a depository for the Rome Treaty, as it does for many treaties, and possibly there may be discussions in the future. But this is an independent body. It is not a UN court and we would not want it to be seen that way. We don't see it that way, and it's not.
Second of all, we have succeeded in clarifying and getting more precise definitions of the crimes, doing a variety of things during this process over the time that we have been considering this, and we felt that that was to the point where we could sign. Is it realistic to think that we might clarify and be able to identify or satisfy our concerns so that someday the United States might ratify? We think, first of all, we are better off trying to get that from within by signing and putting ourselves in a position to influence it. So if we are to get to that point, we are only going to get there if we're in it and in a position to influence. And that is what the President's action has done.
Second of all, it may take some time. It could take years to get to that point, but we do think it is worthwhile for the United States to be there and to have our interests represented. And I think the President also said in his statement that he would expect that there would be some time the United States would want to see how it operates. So once it's finally ratified -- by 60 countries, I think it is -- to come into effect, the United States in any case would want to see how this actually operates before any future American leaders made a decision on seeking ratification.
QUESTION: One question on each thing, on the ICC first. So it's your opinion that the very vehement objections to signing this treaty from Senator Helms and others are kind of short-sighted?
MR. BOUCHER: Did I say that?
QUESTION: I'm asking you, is it your opinion --
MR. BOUCHER: Let me talk about the --
QUESTION: Senator Helms called this an international kangaroo court. He said it should never have been signed in the first place. But regardless, I mean, I don't think they care whether you're not going to seek their approval of it any time in the near future; they don't even want the US to be signed onto it?
MR. BOUCHER: Certainly, we share many of the concerns that are expressed by people in Congress, and we do not wish this to turn into some device that could be used against US leaders or US soldiers or US military people who are acting within the authority of the US Government. And we think that we have clarified things in that direction, and that more needs to be done. So certainly those fundamental concerns are shared.
Second of all, the President made quite clear that there are flaws that need to continue to be addressed and that we are not seeking ratification until those concerns that we have are satisfied. There were, in fact, 18 senators from both parties and 28 representatives who sent letters to the President urging him to sign. So we realize there are different opinions up on the Hill, in addition to the opposition. But, as I said, there are concerns that are well-founded that we share, and we would not think anyone would seek ratification without seeing them clarified.
QUESTION: What you do say, then, to people who argue the US should never have signed on in the first place?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, what I've just said: that we think we have to be in a position to influence the outcome; we do have these concerns that are legitimate; and we intend to continue to pursue them before we would expect anyone to seek ratification here.
QUESTION: You don't have any concern that this is basically done for show, that it's going to be doomed because the Senate is basically never going to ratify it? And if you look at the --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I guess I would say that issue will not arise with this Administration, and the future administration will take whatever position it thinks appropriate. These are the thoughts at this stage at this point in time.
QUESTION: Can I ask one about Cambodia?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: What are your concerns about this draft that's been passed? I know that what was passed was a hybrid arrived at only after some last-minute intervention by Senator Kerry, and that the UN wasn't completely satisfied. So what are your concerns now? How would you like to see this thing changed, if at all, by the Cambodian Senate before it goes into effect?
MR. BOUCHER: I think what we look forward to in terms of defining some of the specifics in further detail, or the final consultations between the United Nations and the Cambodian Government, and they need to work out a Memorandum of Understanding between them on how the process is going to work.
The process, as we see it, is designed to get agreement on issues such as the indictment and judgment between the international community and Cambodian officials, and the extraordinary chambers will include international participation by the international community as judges, prosecutors, investigating judges, administrators, staff and the Cambodian courts to bring these people to justice. So we think the framework is there and the conclusions need to be drawn, the final conclusion of a memorandum between the United Nations and the Government of Cambodia, is where to define further how exactly it will operate.
QUESTION: So you don't think that you had wanted, and the UN had wanted, more of an international component to these tribunals or trials? Are you still looking for that? Is that something you would like to see when the MOU is signed -- a greater international participation?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, as I said, what we know about the law -- and we haven't had time to review it completely or closely -- but what we know about it is it does provide for the international participation and the further definition of that participation, and the operating modalities will be between the United Nations and the Government of Cambodia. And that is the next step in the process, to define these things.
QUESTION: What is the more "international participation"?
MR. BOUCHER: I've said there is international participation. We haven't had a chance to look at the law in all its detail, but fundamentally that's the right way to go. And there is this opportunity to define it further, which we look forward to.
QUESTION: Do you believe the international participants should have veto power over the proceedings?
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, I am not able to go into that much detail at this point because we haven't had a chance to review the law completely or closely. As I said, the process is designed for the international community to participate, to reach agreement with the Cambodian Government on issues of prosecution and investigation. That is the way we think the process ought to work fundamentally. That is the right framework, and it will be defined further as the UN reaches agreement.
QUESTION: But if you haven't read it fully, how can you say that it's a positive step forward and welcome it? I don't get it.
MR. BOUCHER: Because we know enough about it to know it's good. Okay?
QUESTION: Has a liaison officer been appointed to alert the Colin Powell transition team when things like the International Court is to be announced and so on? In the next two weeks, there is probably going to be a flurry of such last-minute decisions and so on. Is there any way in which you are at least informing them ahead of time -- not asking for their approval, of course?
MR. BOUCHER: They are sort of plugged into the apparatus now and their people are giving them heads-ups on things. And something significant, somebody will give them a call, or he may hear about it and call in and get a briefing on things from appropriate people. So he and his staff are being brought into the process, told what we're doing obviously. The Secretary is the Secretary and she is making the decisions, but one way or the other we are keeping them informed of things like this that are happening.
QUESTION: As a follow-up, is she in touch with Colin Powell on a daily basis now? Or almost daily?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I don't think she personally has talked to him quite so often, but certainly he has been in touch with people in the building and the Secretariat and elsewhere, and has been kept up to date on new developments like this. I'm sort of looking through phone calls and I don't see any. She had an extensive meeting with him, I think about a week or ten days ago, before she went off on some family vacation.
QUESTION: Is he still in the building?
MR. BOUCHER: Is she back in the building?
QUESTION: Is he back in the building?
MR. BOUCHER: Is he back in the building? I don't know. I only keep track of the Secretary?
QUESTION: What about the Middle East issues as such? Are they being sort of run by --
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, all I can tell you is that the kind of cooperation that is being established with the new team is extensive and complete. They are being briefed and kept up to date, but I'm not going to start going into single phone call and every --
QUESTION: They're getting more than we are here?
MR. BOUCHER: Oh, certainly.
There is one thing I forgot to mention about the International Criminal Court. The one more thing to mention on the International Criminal Court: we worked with Israel in particular, and also with Arab governments and other countries, to achieve a consensus on a point that was of particular concern to Israel, and that was to deal with the customary international law that prevails and the customary international understanding that prevails with regard to certain phrases on the transfer of civilians. That is also an issue -- was an issue -- that we were able to satisfy our concerns and Israel's concerns about before we took this step of deciding to sign.
QUESTION: Did you work closely with the Iranians as well?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I have that anywhere in my materials.
QUESTION: How is this for a segue? Telephones. Did the Secretary make any calls lately on behalf of the US plan for a settlement? Because the Palestinians are saying whatever happens at the White House today, it has to go back to the Arab foreign ministers, so there is a lot of consultation to be done among the Arabs. Is she weighing in with any of them, or does she plan to?
MR. BOUCHER: We didn't go through phone calls with you last week, did we?
QUESTION: Well, there wasn't much of last week, really.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, there was.
QUESTION: Well, I mean we didn't have many briefings last week.
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary actually sort of spent her vacation on the phone, wherever she was. She was making phone calls constantly, so I'll go back and just very quickly give you an idea. Since a week ago, Friday the 22nd, that day she was on the phone with the Israeli Foreign Minister, the Lebanese Prime Minister, a couple senators, the Czech Ambassador on a couple issues. Then on Saturday, starting at five in the morning, they had some discussions with UN Secretary-General Anan.
MR. BOUCHER: This was local time here because she wasn't --
MR. BOUCHER: Starting early on --
MR. BOUCHER: No, she was here.
QUESTION: At three o'clock?
MR. BOUCHER: It was here before she went to mountain time. On the Saturday, she talked to the Russian Foreign Minister, to the European High Representative Solana, to the Israeli Foreign Minister, again to the German Foreign Minister on that day. I think that was Saturday. Is there a chance that -- that was either Saturday or Sunday, now that I look at it. No, that was Saturday.
On Sunday, she was on the phone with the European High Representative Solana again, French Foreign Minister Vedrine, the Spanish Foreign Minister Pique, German Foreign Minister Fischer. On Monday it was Turkish Foreign Minister Cem, Tunisian Foreign Minister Ben Yahia, European High Representative Solana, Turkish Foreign Minister Cem again, Canadian Foreign Minister Manley, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador Bandar. That was Monday.
Then Tuesday it was the Canadian Foreign Minister again. This is full vacation. This is what she does on her vacation.
QUESTION: It doesn't sound like much of a vacation.
MR. BOUCHER: Tuesday was Canadian Foreign Minister, the Dutch Foreign Minister, the Spanish Foreign Minister, the French Foreign Minister and the European High Representative Solana again.
This is only about half of her phone calls or a third of her phone calls, since she had a lot of phone calls with people in the building as well -- Sandy Berger, Dennis Ross, Ambassador Sherman, staff and others.
Wednesday, you get the Egyptian Foreign Minister three times and the European High Representative Solana again. She even talked to some journalists once or twice during her vacation. I'll mention that.
Thursday she talked to Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov. Friday, the Bahamian Foreign Minister, the Saudi Ambassador, European High Representative Solana, Secretary-General Anan. Saturday it was the Jordanian, Saudi, Egyptian, Tunisian Foreign Ministers and European Representative Solana.
On Sunday was the Tunisian Foreign Minister and European Representative Solana again. Did I miss Monday? I guess I missed yesterday, but there were plenty others.
QUESTION: What's with Solana?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there is obviously lots of things to discuss with the Europeans, but Solana has been involved and interested in the peace process all along, and that's one of the issues we discussed with him.
QUESTION: Were all of these calls --
MR. BOUCHER: Most of this has to do with the Middle East. A few other issues come up.
QUESTION: Who in that massive group that you just read out was not about the Middle East, other than the Czech?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the Czech -- she discusses other things with Foreign Minister Ivanov of Russia.
QUESTION: About the presidency?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think that is an issue that she discusses. She discusses other things with Secretary-General Anan. She discusses other things with Foreign Minister Ivanov of Russia. Who else was in there? The Canadian Foreign Minister -- the Canadians have been working -- we have talked to them quite a bit about war crimes and the International Court, for example. That was a subject when they first met at the APEC meeting.
QUESTION: Last week it was said that apropos these calls -- last week it was said, without the detailing of her calls, that the Arabs, Arab ministers, support the President's efforts, which is not the same thing as supporting the President's plan, although it could be.
Can you advance that any? I mean, did she try to rally support for his parameters, suggestions, outline? The word changes every day, but it's a summary of what the two sides need, he decided, and I wondered if she was finding it falling favorably on those ears?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not really in a position to characterize the calls in any detail other than to say that she was discussing what we're doing, discussing the importance of moving forward if we can, and discussing the need for support in this process. We will get, I am sure, a more up-to-date readout after the meetings today at the White House.
QUESTION: So can you characterize them as saying that, you know, she is not slowing down at all as she nears the end of her term?
MR. BOUCHER: I would be happy to say that because it's quite obviously true that she continues to work very hard to advance the interests of the United States and, in particular, to work very hard on the Middle East peace process. We have said all along the President and the Secretary would both be very committed to doing whatever they can. And I think she is not only talking about it, but she's doing it.
QUESTION: Without belaboring this, can you give us an indication of how much time actually these phone calls took of her vacation?
MR. BOUCHER: I --
QUESTION: Are these phone calls like 30-second calls or are they like a half hour?
MR. BOUCHER: No, these are generally --
QUESTION: Forty-five minutes, an hour?
MR. BOUCHER: I've been there during some of them. They are generally a minimum of five minutes and can often go hours. Just giving a spacing of some of the calls that were made one after another after another, I'd say most of them are in the 15-minute to a half-hour range.
QUESTION: Can we just go more macro for a second?
MR. BOUCHER: Please.
QUESTION: And have you generally assess --
MR. BOUCHER: Good. I got lost.
QUESTION: If you could just give a very general assessment of where things stand right now, what's the point of bringing Arafat here when the two sides are said to be still so far apart on key issues and what the Administration is hoping to accomplish.
MR. BOUCHER: The meetings this afternoon that President Clinton, Secretary Albright and others will have at the White House with Chairman Arafat are designed to try to ensure that there is common understanding of the parameters that the President has put forward as a basis to moving forward with the negotiations. Clearly we will have a better sense of where we are and where we're headed after this meeting.
As the President said last week, both sides have legitimately asked a lot of questions. Those questions need to be answered, but there is also no point in trying to move forward unless we have got a basic framework on which we can negotiate. So the meeting is intended to focus on ensuring that there is a common understanding of the parameters and suggestions put forward by the President and to determine whether we have a basis for proceeding with the negotiations.
QUESTION: Does that raise the possibility that a conclusion may be reached, that with 18 days left, if the disagreement is wide, that maybe there will be a decision to just hold it right there? Is that possible?
MR. BOUCHER: I am sure there are many possibilities. I think at this moment with meetings starting in an hour or so, it's probably better for me not to start prejudging the outcome.
QUESTION: Richard, this Palestinian letter that was sent to the President, the Palestinians also sent an open letter on why they disagree with some of Clinton's proposals, and in pretty fair detail go over point by point what their problems are. Today do you expect the President and Secretary to address these points one by one, or just re-instill these parameters for a more common understanding?
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, there have been questions from both sides; the questions do deserve to be answered. I'm not familiar with the letters you're speaking about so I can't tell you whether they'll go one by one through those points. But, as I said, it's important that we ensure that we do have a common understanding of the parameters, and that is what they will try to accomplish by having these meetings.
QUESTION: Last week it was said from this podium, as well as from the White House by both Clinton and his people that this was not the time to be answering more questions; this was the time to, you know, let's get it done. Why change now? Why say, okay, come on over and we'll answer or try to answer some of these questions when the United States was so vehement against that?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't think it's such a change because clearly there are questions that need to be answered, but there also has to be a basic framework that's accepted in dealing with the questions. That is why I say I'm not promising that they'll go one by one through a whole long host of questions. What is important is trying to achieve that common understanding in that process. You have to answer a certain number of questions, but you need to reach an understanding, reach a knowledge, that there is a basic framework, a set of parameters, that can be accepted by both sides. And that's what we're trying to do.
QUESTION: So the bottom line is still take-it-or-leave-it? That's what it was last week. You know, if it isn't, then it's a change.
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I say there has to be a basic framework, and we'll leave it at that until the meetings are over.
QUESTION: Isn't that what he proposed? Isn't that -- so, and it's not going to change now, is it? Is there a possibility that things in the parameters that the President suggested two weeks ago are going to be changed as a result of these consultations?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not suggesting that.
QUESTION: Is it possible?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not suggesting that. That's where I'll leave it.
QUESTION: Given some of the statements over the weekend in Israel and then some of the concern -- I think it came out yesterday that the Israeli Attorney General said that Barak maybe lacked the authority to negotiate the Temple Mount. I mean, is there still an understanding? Are you operating from the assumption that the Israelis have agreed if the Palestinians agree to proceed with the framework?
MR. BOUCHER: Once again, maybe that's the kind of question that's best answered at the end of our discussions during the course of the day. I'm not going to try to get too far ahead of this, but we think it's important for both sides to ensure that there is a common understanding of the framework and that the framework, the suggestions, the parameters, be accepted as a basis for going forward. That is the only way we're going to go forward at this stage. Time does not last forever.
QUESTION: Richard, time does last forever.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, the time available right now to do this does not last forever.
QUESTION: The Prime Minister said he is suspending all contact, he said today, with the Palestinians. Does the State Department have a view of that statement?
MR. BOUCHER: I am afraid I didn't see that statement, so I don't have any reaction.
QUESTION: Okay. Could I ask you something else that I just thought of over the long weekend? Whatever happened to that celebrated committee or commission on incitement of violence? Is that --
MR. BOUCHER: The fact-finding committee?
QUESTION: Did it quietly just -- no, no, no. A couple of years ago, I believe, if I remember right, one of the --
QUESTION: Last year.
QUESTION: Was it last year? I don't know. It was an attempt to stem violence or stop it before it starts. There was supposed to be some sort of a panel that would look into causes of violence and inciting violence. Maybe it has been subsumed by the Mitchell group. I don't know. I thought it pre-dated --
MR. BOUCHER: Well, if it pre-dates the Mitchell group, it pre-dates me as well. What I am familiar with is the fact-finding committee that was discussed during the course of the fall in Paris and elsewhere that was agreed to at Sharm el Sheikh and Senator Mitchell has headed. They've been out to the region at least once and, as we said, they are an independent body and they are undertaking their work.
QUESTION: Will he still talk about that in March? There was some talk that it wouldn't be out until March.
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure they ever set the deadline, but they'll decide when they want to report.
QUESTION: To follow up on Barry's question, can you give us any update on the status of security cooperation? Is there any right now? I mean, it was also a major issue at Sharm el Sheikh. I remember that you would have the CIA trying to get both sides together.
MR. BOUCHER: I think clearly we have continued to talk to both sides about the need to take steps to end the violence. We have strongly condemned the ongoing violence. We call on both sides to do all they can to end the bloodshed.
President Clinton spoke with both Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak yesterday in separate conversations. In these calls he discussed the need to take steps necessary to bring this violence to an end. The Secretary made clear in her statement to you about two weeks ago what kind of steps we thought were necessary from both sides. It remains important for the sides to take these steps to end the violence, and that will certainly be a subject of discussions today with Chairman Arafat.
QUESTION: Israel has taken a number of positions --
MR. BOUCHER: Can we --
QUESTION: The same subject. Israel has taken a number of positions in response to the violence, and I wondered if the Administration has any view whether they are helpful, understandable, counterproductive, dividing Gaza into three parts, the continuing of a blockade of Gaza and, of course, Barak saying we have nothing further to talk to them about. Is that something that's just --
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have generally tried not to characterize a position on each particular step. Occasionally, there have been things of particular concern or that were, we thought, particularly important. But the Secretary in her discussions with you, the Secretary publicly a couple weeks ago, laid out the kind of steps we thought were necessary. As you know, many of these were discussed at Sharm el Sheikh. Many of these were discussed before that in Paris. We have been quite clear all along on the need for the two sides to take certain steps to try to reduce the violence and to end the cycle of violence, and we remain clear on that view.
QUESTION: At this point, if this meeting is just to flesh out the parameters, is there a concern that the President -- the importance of a presidential meeting with Arafat or Barak-- is kind of diluted in a way? Like, at one point it used to be that if two leaders were to meet with the President, then there was some possibility of tangible progress. And isn't this something that should maybe be gone over with the negotiators at this level?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, let me say two things, three things, four things about that -- five things. Let's start out with the fact that the meeting is not, as you say, to flesh out the parameters. The meeting is to ascertain, to ensure that we do have a common understanding of the parameters and, on that basis, to see how to move forward with negotiations. So it's an important meeting and it's worth holding at the presidential level.
We have had meetings in recent weeks at other levels to help, as you say, flesh out some of the ideas and discussions. But the President has now put forward parameters and suggestions for how we might move forward and looks to ensure with both sides that they can proceed on that basis, and that is why the President is involved at this level. That wasn't five things; that was only three.
QUESTION: I noted, unless I misheard, that she had not talked to Arafat during the holidays and afterwards. And my question has to do with the way in which the President's invitation to Arafat to come to Washington occurred. Can you give us some glimpse of how this happened, because there didn't seem to be any contact between the Secretary of State and Arafat?
MR. BOUCHER: As you know, I think, from the White House -- and given that I was also on a family holiday I don't remember it as precisely as I should -- the President, I believe, had a couple conversations in the last few weeks with Chairman Arafat, including the ones yesterday where, as the White House described it, they suggested that he come to Washington to discuss the suggestions and ensure that we had a common understanding.
In addition to all the Secretary's phone calls, I would have to have to add that Ambassador Ross and other members of our peace team have been in close touch with various people in the region and the Arab world, Israelis and Palestinians included. So this whole process has been moving along with Ambassador Ross, with the Secretary and with the President.
QUESTION: Will Ambassador Ross be at the meeting this afternoon, I presume?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Okay, where are we going next?
QUESTION: Tomorrow, the followers of Usama bin Laden will be tried in a federal court in New York in connection with the bombings of the US Embassies in Africa. Now, as far as Usama bin Laden is concerned, where he stands, number one? Number two, a hundred witnesses from six countries will be brought for the trial. Now, which are those six countries, you think, where the witness are coming from?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me say two things. As far as the witnesses and the trial and which countries they are coming from, I'm afraid information on the trial has got to come from the court. We are not going to try to do that from here. And, second of all, Usama bin Laden, where he stands? I guess as far as we know, he stands in Afghanistan and he stands as a wanted criminal and we look forward to his being rendered unto justice.
QUESTION: Any comments about this trial for tomorrow?
MR. BOUCHER: I mean, obviously, it is very important to us that people that are accused of bombing our embassies be brought to trial and this is a process of justice that we have been extremely involved in. But as the trial begins, I think we prefer to leave it to the courts to carry out appropriate justice.
QUESTION: Greece changed 153 problematic Aegean island statue and Turkey start complain about that. In the past, the U.S. plays the mediator role between Greece and Turkey on the subject. Do you have anything on this?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'll have to see if we are involved; I will check on it.
QUESTION: On another subject, the Yugoslav Foreign Minister is due in town later this week and over the holiday period, there was this incident with the six Serbs who were kidnapped and then released. Presumably the security situation in southern Serbia will be discussed but are there any additional measures or ideas the Secretary has for diffusing the tension there and will the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic be on their agenda for discussion?
MR. BOUCHER: I am certain, first of all, that the Secretary and the Yugoslav Foreign Minister will have a wide-ranging discussion and discuss a lot of these issues.
There is actually some news on the issue a border tensions. First of all, the six ethnic Serb civilians have released. They were unharmed and we certainly welcome their release and condemn the actions of the extremist groups who kidnapped and violated the rights of ordinary citizens.
We are very engaged, as is the international community in trying to reduce tensions in the region. The Security Council discussed the situation, I think, in the week before Christmas and condemned the violent actions by extremist groups in the region. NATO and the UN interim administration in Kosovo are working closely with all the parties in the region to achieve a peaceful solution to the grievances.
Now, there has been substantial progress achieved in recent days. Over the weekend, there was a verbal agreement mediated by senior NATO officers that was reached by ethnic Serb and ethnic Albanian leaders. This agreement results in the lifting of roadblocks, reopening of civilian traffic through the three-mile-wide buffer zone. That is a positive development and one that NATO and the United Nations people on the ground were involved in helping produce.
So we think that is a substantial progress and we continue to urge all sides to refrain from violence and seek political solutions to the disputes out there.
QUESTION: And extradition?
MR. BOUCHER: Extradition, certainly the whole evolution of Yugoslavia's relations with the international community, including on legal matters, will be an issue of discussion. There is, as we know, some discussion in Yugoslavia of seeing Milosevic tried for violations of Serbian laws in Serbian courts. That doesn't change the need for him to be tried in The Hague for crimes that are within the tribunal's jurisdiction.
QUESTION: Can you say what day the meeting is? Is it Thursday?
MR. BOUCHER: It's Thursday.
QUESTION: I know that the Yugoslavs have asked for a meeting with Powell or at least some of Powell's people. Are they going to meet with them as well?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. Actually, I haven't sort of settled the policy issue of whether I'm going to try to detail his meetings as well; I think probably not.
QUESTION: Well, if we could, if we can find - because there has got to be some way of finding out if these people are actually meeting and, as you may have heard last week, there was a slight incident involving people who were trying to find out from his office what was going on. And I don't know if it is confusion among the transition team here and the transition team at the Bush-Cheney campaign or what, but there doesn't seem to be anyone in the office here that is willing to answer any questions, and going to the press office here doesn't seem to yield any results.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, maybe that's the way they want it, but let me find out.
QUESTION: If there is a meeting between Powell and the Yugoslav Foreign Minister, how are we going to find out about it?
MR. BOUCHER: The answer is, I don't know, and I will look into the matter and figure out whether this is intentional or inadvertent, but we'll see how much information they want to provide to you.
QUESTION: Richard, have all the sanctions against Yugoslavia been lifted?
MR. BOUCHER: That's a big question to which I'm sure the technical answer is, no, because some of the regulations certainly remain in effect. But in terms of the kind of restrictions, particularly in the financial area, I would have to check. Certainly the visa restrictions for individuals remain in effect, since those are many individuals that we want to see held accountable.
QUESTION: The United States was a very strong advocate of negotiations for peace in Chiapas with the government of Mexico and the Zapatistas. Now President Fox has pulled out the troops from zones where the Zapatistas were claiming to take it off and then start negotiations. Do you have any comments on the Chiapas issue in Mexico?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we don't, really. It is an internal matter that we will leave to President Fox.
QUESTION: But you give comments on every internal matter in other countries; why not Mexico? We are a very strong --
MR. BOUCHER: You may characterize it that way but I would say that we try to stay out of internal matters in other countries and this is one we intend to stay out of.
QUESTION: On that same issue, would you have anything to say about these ferries heading to the mainland and actually going there?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me just say, I'm not going to try to define jurisdiction in this matter but let me make a few comments on it. We welcome the decision by Taiwan to begin direct trade, travel and postal links between the islands of Quemoy and Matsu and the Chinese ports Xiamen and Fuzhou. We believe that improving cross-Strait economic ties serves the interests of both Taiwan and the People's Republic of China. We also believe it is conducive to peace and security in the region.
QUESTION: Could I quickly ask, if we're finished with that subject, Interfax News Agency is reporting that the Secretary will meet Foreign Minister Ivanov for the last time on the 11th of January in Paris. Is that true?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to double-check on that and see if we have anything for you.
QUESTION: Do you have any kind of a status update on what has happened with Jeffrey Schilling? And the reason I ask this is because there was a report in Manila yesterday saying that the US wants him to be charged with -- I don't know -- some charge which involves colluding with the Abu Sayyaf group and becoming what was described as a walk-in hostage. What's the deal with that?
MR. BOUCHER: I know there has been a lot of speculation about the circumstances of his capture, and I'm just not going to engage in that kind of speculation. What I want to make clear is that our concern in this all along has been exclusively on his safe release. We continue to work closely with the government of the Philippines, which is in charge of the effort to obtain his release. We continue to be in contact with his mother and with his wife. Our sole focus on this remains obtaining his safe release.
QUESTION: So not obtaining his safe release so that he can be hauled back here and put on trial for something?
MR. BOUCHER: We have nothing new to say on that kind of speculation. What we are focused on is getting the man released.
QUESTION: Can we do an update on which embassies are closed and which ones are open due to security threats?
MR. BOUCHER: No. I'll try. I'll get you something later. I don't have it all in my head.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:05 P.M.)
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