U.S. Department of State
Briefer: Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB # 5
THURSDAY, JANUARY 11, 2001, 1:15 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. REEKER: Good afternoon. No matter how hard I try, I'm always late. Sorry.
Well, welcome back everyone. This is my first opportunity to speak to you in our new facility. Somewhere here is the ejector seat, but Barry's not here today. (Laughter.)
Anyway, welcome back. As you know, the Secretary is traveling. She is in Paris as we speak. Ambassador Boucher is accompanying her, so I am here with no announcements, but happy to take your questions. I am happy to start with our friends from the wire services.
QUESTION: Is there anything -- has any decision been made on Dennis' travel plans?
MR. REEKER: No, I have nothing more for you today on Dennis' trip. There is really nothing to add to what we discussed in detail here yesterday.
QUESTION: I presume you welcome, though, the resumption of high-level talks that are imminent, I guess?
MR. REEKER: Well, I have seen and it certainly appears that the Palestinians and Israeli security contacts have produced some practical results, and we are very encouraged by that. Obviously that kind of talk and dialogue is what is important, so we will continue to watch that closely.
QUESTION: When you say that you're encouraged by that and you see practical results, can you be more specific about what you're looking for that would persuade you that it's time for Dennis to go?
MR. REEKER: Not particularly. I mean, the President still hopes to narrow the gaps, as we have discussed, narrow the gaps between the parties in the short time that is still available. That would obviously be what Dennis will attempt to do. But as I said, at this point I don't have anything more on Dennis' trip. Once some decision has been made on his travel, I will certainly endeavor to let you know as soon as I do.
QUESTION: We went in the wrong room. (Laughter.)
MR. REEKER: Let the record show, please, that two of our esteemed correspondents -- it's a hard habit to break, Barry. (Laughter.) Maybe that's the ejector seat.
QUESTION: Blame it on Barry. I think he knows -- (inaudible).
QUESTION: If you haven't yet, could you -- because the rumors are flying, and of course, like most rumors, most of them are wrong, what are the Secretary's plans now for the rest of this trip she's on. Where is she going?
MR. REEKER: The Secretary is in Paris. It is now evening in Paris. She is being hosted at a dinner by Foreign Minister Vedrine, along with other European foreign ministers. She is seeing Foreign Minister Ivanov in preparation for that dinner. He will also be at that dinner. And then she will return to Washington tomorrow.
QUESTION: That's it? That's the extent of her travels. All right. That's all I had to ask on that subject.
MR. REEKER: Anything else for those who came in late? Betsy?
QUESTION: The State Department yesterday sent a letter to Iraq about the status of a US pilot that was shot down during the Gulf War. Can you give us what information you have on the content of the letter, please?
MR. REEKER: First, just to bring everyone up to date, yesterday we delivered a demarche and a diplomatic note to an Iraqi official at the Iraqi Interests Section in the Algerian Embassy here in Washington, D.C. That demarche, that note, demands that the Iraqi Government provide an accounting for Commander Michael Scott Speicher, which they are obligated to do under international law and under United Nations Security Council resolutions.
The Iraqi official received that communication. We don't have a response from Baghdad. And a similar message is being delivered to Iraq to their representatives in New York and also in Geneva.
QUESTION: Can you tell me why the message was sent? Is there something we feel that they know about his status?
MR. REEKER: I think the Pentagon is obviously the place to discuss this in terms of their change in his status. It is not for me to speculate, nor does it serve any purpose to speculate on what the response of the Iraqis may or may not be. As I said, we haven't had a response from them yet.
But the simple point is that we believe that the Iraqis hold additional information that could help resolve the case of Commander Speicher, and they are obligated to provide that information to us.
QUESTION: Can you confirm reports and describe how these occurred, reports that there were other previous demarches to the Iraqi Government regarding Speicher?
MR. REEKER: I don't have any information on those, no. But yesterday I certainly can confirm, as I did, that we did that. But I don't have anything else.
QUESTION: Can you be more specific about the law?
MR. REEKER: I would have to go back for you and get specifics of the international law in terms of Geneva Conventions. I will refer you to the UN Security Council resolutions that I think you are fairly familiar with at the end of the Gulf War. But those resolutions and international law obligate the Iraqis to provide additional information that we believe they hold.
QUESTION: Does the State Department believe that he is still alive?
MR. REEKER: I think I would refer you to the Pentagon on those issues. What I can tell you is our role in this, and that was making the diplomatic contact that was necessary to pass that note and that demarche, that demand, to the Iraqis.
QUESTION: Can you explain what makes you believe that they hold additional information after all this time? Something must have come up that leads you to believe that.
MR. REEKER: Again, I refer you to the Pentagon for any further details on their specific decisions in terms of the status of the particular case. What the State Department has done is deliver that demarche. We do believe that they hold additional information that could help resolve the case, and, as I mentioned, they are obligated to provide that information.
QUESTION: Could you also tell us how unusual it is, or usual perhaps, for you to deliver a demarche to the Iraqis directly like this? Is this a standard practice?
MR. REEKER: It would be difficult, Jonathan. I would have to go back and check. Obviously it's not something we do often. We don't have particularly close relations with Iraq, as you are well aware. Our decision to demarche them on this issue was driven entirely by the humanitarian need that we see to resolve the case of Commander Speicher. So that is what we have done, and we did it in the manner I described.
QUESTION: This was done, I presume, at the request of the Pentagon -- that the demarche was delivered?
MR. REEKER: Right.
QUESTION: And this is something that is addressed to whom and signed by whom here, or is it just an institutional thing?
MR. REEKER: A demarche and a diplomatic note is made on behalf of the Department of State.
QUESTION: But does someone sign it? Did the Secretary sign it?
MR. REEKER: I would have to check that. I don't believe so.
QUESTION: But does someone sign it, or is it just an institution-to-institution --
MR. REEKER: It's a diplomatic correspondence. These things are done, technically, in the name of the Secretary, but this was done by a mid-level officer from our Bureau of Near East Affairs.
QUESTION: Is there any reason why you haven't done this also through the Polish Embassy in Baghdad?
MR. REEKER: As you know, we do have our Interests Section, and as you noted, it is the Polish Embassy in Baghdad. We do not have US Government personnel based there because of some of the obvious security concerns involved. But our Protecting Power Agreement permits the small number of official personnel in each location.
The Iraqis choose to take advantage of this and they have, in the Algerian Embassy here in Washington, three diplomatic representatives from Iraq and a fourth assistant, sort of assistant personnel, a locally-engaged person, that works for them there. We prefer to direct this demarche to the Iraqi officials in this manner.
QUESTION: At some point, I need to ask about the Middle East. But also on this, and I hate to put you in this position because I know you would rather this come from the Pentagon or the White House. But in having talked to both of them today, you're the on-camera briefer today. So in that capacity, could you give us the US Government's understanding of what may or may not be the current status?
MR. REEKER: I really don't have anything further to add for you. For the Department of State, our role in this was to deliver this demarche, which we have done, which is also being done, as I indicated, in New York and in Geneva. I think I outlined what the demarche demands in terms of the Iraqis providing an accounting for Commander Speicher. They are obligated to do this under international law and under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. So we are awaiting a response.
QUESTION: Okay. And you all are also not dealing with his family at all. That's all --
MR. REEKER: I believe that the family was briefed. But, again, that would be an issue that the Pentagon would be able to go over with you.
QUESTION: How optimistic are you that Iraq will respond in any way to this? And if they don't, what are the next steps done when the United States asks for cooperation and nothing happens?
MR. REEKER: I'm just not going to speculate at this point because it doesn't serve any purpose on what their response may or may not be. You know, the simple point is that we believe they hold additional information and they are obligated to provide that information to help resolve the case of Commander Speicher.
QUESTION: Well, we know how responsible they feel to fulfill those obligations. Not very, apparently. What are we going to do? Do you just drop it?
MR. REEKER: I am not going to speculate, Teri, no.
QUESTION: Why is it necessary to deliver it in three different locations? Is it the same message in all three places?
MR. REEKER: It is. And I think that way we can certainly be sure that we've delivered it.
QUESTION: You're not extremely confident in the transmission of such demarches from the Washington Interests Section --
MR. REEKER: I will let you direct that question to them. I think we chose to do this in a very directed manner. As I said, it was done yesterday in Washington. I believe it was supposed to be delivered this afternoon in New York and also in Geneva.
Other questions on this? Rebecca?
QUESTION: I was going to go to Middle East, now.
MR. REEKER: Back to Middle East?
QUESTION: If I'm repeating myself, I'll just get it from earlier -- repeating others. What hope, if any, does the US Government take from these talks that are now scheduled for tonight?
MR. REEKER: I answered that, so if you want to just go back. I noted that it appears that the Palestinian-Israeli security contacts which were discussed at length yesterday have produced some practical results, and we are encouraged by that. But as I also noted, I don't have anything more on Dennis' trip. And once a decision is made, then I'll get back to you as soon as I can.
QUESTION: But I'm not talking about Dennis' trip. I'm talking about the talks tonight between -- with Schlomo Ben-Ami and Peres and Erakat.
MR. REEKER: I don't have anything for you on those talks. Those are their talks, and we are certainly encouraged by talks. That is what we think is important. But I don't have anything specific on those.
QUESTION: Did you already comment on the significance of the inclusion of Peres?
MR. REEKER: I just don't have anything on Peres. I don't have anything on that at all.
QUESTION: One more on that, though? A report -- I believe an AP report out of Jerusalem -- quoted Palestinians as saying that Dennis was waiting for the results of these talks in which the Palestinians asserted they may draft outlines of a treaty. We've heard some comments already that that is a bit too optimistic and presumptuous at this point. But, as you understand it, is that what Dennis might be --
MR. REEKER: I just don't have anything further on Dennis' travel. And when I get it, I will give it to you as soon as I can.
QUESTION: Mr. Thodoros Pangalos stated yesterday in the Greek parliament that before the bombing of Yugoslavia, he traveled to Belgrade and received a plan from Milosevic enabling the avoidance of bombing. And he said that he mentioned the plan to Mrs. Albright and found out that the US President has already decided on the bombings.
Why Ms. Albright told Mr. Pangalos, "Don't go on; you are annoying us." Could you please comment?
MR. REEKER: No, I really couldn't. I think the history of the Kosovo air campaign, the efforts that were made by many US and European diplomats to prevent the steps that we had to take is well known, well documented. Many of your colleagues were, along with those of us that were involved in that process, and I just don't think we need to go through the history again here of what we did. And ultimately we were able to reverse the ethnic cleansing that Milosevic's forces were attempting to perpetrate in Kosovo.
QUESTION: In the same testimony, on the question of the US uranium-type bombs, Mr. Pangalos said that the discussion is not open yet in the country, mainly the responsibility of the United States of America. I'll read the quote. "There is a war crime for all who decided to use the bombs." Any comment?
MR. REEKER: No, I think we covered the issue thoroughly yesterday and in the Pentagon briefings, and certainly NATO had a very thorough briefing of it yesterday. The NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson briefed extensively, including much of the briefing that the North Atlantic Council had received on the issue from experts, so I would just refer you back to their website, which contains a lot of information on that subject.
QUESTION: Yes, I know, but with all the Pangalos statements tell us for war crimes. Could you please comment?
MR. REEKER: I haven't even seen these Pangalos statements, so I --
QUESTION: Okay. And what prompted your government's use of uranium-type bombs -- (inaudible) -- the heart of Europe?
MR. REEKER: In terms of strategy imposed and the Pentagon and their weapons, as Ambassador Boucher said yesterday, guns and bullets is handled by the Defense Department. So I will send you over there.
QUESTION: Have you heard anything back from the Russians about this abducted American in Chechnya?
MR. REEKER: Our Embassy in Moscow has been in close contact with the Russian Government, and the Russian authorities have told us that they are actively working to determine the whereabouts of the American citizen, and obviously to secure his release. We have also been in contact with Médecins Sans Frontières Holland, which is the organization for which this American was working, and we have also contacted his family. We have also been in contact with the other American since his release yesterday, and with the organization he works for, Action Against Hunger. Obviously we continue to call for the immediate release of the American citizen.
I think it is important that his abductors honor the Geneva Convention, which has provisions on the safety of civilians during armed conflicts. And we should all remember that Médecins Sans Frontières was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 for its humanitarian work in over 80 countries in the world. It is widely recognized for its courageous work and impartiality during armed conflicts. So kidnappings and attacks on humanitarian assistance groups only serve to disrupt the delivery of aid and assistance to civilian populations and to prolong their suffering. So we again stress and call for the immediate release of him.
QUESTION: By mentioning the Geneva Convention, are you trying to hint that there may have been some kind of -- that there may have been a government that is an actual signatory to the Geneva Conventions involved?
MR. REEKER: The Geneva Convention provides a very good outline, Matt, on provision of the safety of civilians during armed conflict, any armed conflict.
QUESTION: Yes. But only -- but signatory -- well, it is binding, allegedly binding, only to signatories of it.
MR. REEKER: Signatories and binding; it still exists and it is there, and it has been a standard body of work by which people should pay heed. And so I'm just noting that.
QUESTION: And so you are not trying to hint that there might be some kind of government --
MR. REEKER: I'm not trying to make any particular hints, except to note that whoever has abducted this American citizen should honor the Geneva Convention in terms of safety of civilians.
QUESTION: And you don't know who it is?
MR. REEKER: No.
QUESTION: Did the Russians give any indication of who they suspect at all?
MR. REEKER: We just can't speculate on who may be responsible or their motives at this point.
QUESTION: Do we have any contact with the Chechens? Apparently, some Chechen leaders have said they're going to help too, which is interesting.
MR. REEKER: I don't have anything particular on that. As you know, we have had contact over a period of time with individual Chechens in their capacity as individuals, as Russian citizens.
QUESTION: But I mean now.
MR. REEKER: I'm not aware of anything beyond what I described in terms of conversations with Russian authorities and with others.
QUESTION: The Yugoslavs today announced that they're going to resume diplomatic relations with Albania. I know that you would generally say that that's wonderful for those two countries, but in this case, considering the history, recent history, is there anything that you would like to say?
MR. REEKER: I know there has been considerable discussion about that. I have seen as they have discussed when that would happen. As you know, we resumed diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and we look forward to having a productive relationship with them. I think it is important that countries have diplomatic relations; and for the FRY and Albania to be able to have a diplomatic dialogue, a normal set of relations to deal with their issues through diplomatic channels, through discussion, is obviously a positive thing.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 P.M.)
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