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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing, 01-05-31

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

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


DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

Richard Boucher, Spokesman

Washington, DC

May 31, 2001

INDEX:

IRAQ

1 Update on UN Security Council Meetings on Iraqi Sanctions

YEMEN

2-3 Movement of USS COLE Investigation from Aden to Sanaa

Movement of Investigation Will Improve Cooperation with Yemeni Government

MIDDLE EAST

3 U.S. Embassies to Maintain High State of Security Alert

ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY

4-5 Secretary Powell Calls Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat to

Reinforce the Need to Implement the Mitchell Report’s Recommendations /

Calls on Arafat to Make a 100 Percent Effort to Calm Situation / Encourages Prime

Minister Sharon to Continue Policy of Restraint and De-escalation

5 Death of Palestinian Negotiator Faisal Husseini

8 Secretary Powell Discusses Middle East with Russian Foreign Minister

Ivanov / Foreign Minister Ivanov Expresses Full Support for the Process, U.S.

Position and Support of the Mitchell Committee’s Report

8-9 Israelis and Palestinians Meet for Security Discussions

8 Rewards for Justice Program

11-12 Ambassador Burns Meetings in Region / Secretary Powell to Meet with Foreign

Minister Peres in Costa Rica

ISRAEL

10-11 Visit of Israeli President Katsav

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

4 U.S. Embassy Remains Closed for Normal Business

U.S. Cannot Confirm Libyan Support

RUSSIA

6-7 Update on John Tobin

PHILIPPINES

7 U.S. Remains in Close Contact with the Philippines Government on the Current

Hostage Situation

COLOMBIA

9 President Pastrana’s Appointment of Vice President Bell to Serve Concurrently as

Minister of Defense

AFGHANISTAN

12-13 Talks Between U.S., Russia and Iran

AFRICA

13-15 HIV-Aids Testing Policy

YUGOSLAVIA

15 Ground Safety Zone Update


TRANSCRIPT_:

MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be back. Gosh, I don't see any of my fellow travelers here. I wonder why. What a shame.

All right. Well, we're here, the Secretary is here, and we're hard at work again today on American foreign policy. So I don't have any announcements or statements. I would be glad to take your questions.

Elise? Oh, sorry, we start with George. I didn't look that far. Mr. Gedda, sir.

QUESTION: Could you bring us up to date on what's happening at the UN concerning Iraq?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I think I can. There was a meeting this morning of the Perm 5. There will be a meeting of all the Council members this afternoon. As we I think have explained to you before -- and if not, let me take the occasion today -- that we do think there is agreement among Council members on the direction, on setting a new political direction for the sanctions. That the sanctions, as we have said before, need to get back to their original purpose, which is to be focused on control of Iraq's ability to develop weapons of mass destruction; and that we and others in the Security Council want to provide the civilians goods that the Iraqi people need without problems.

Ironically, Iraq seems to think that the sanctions should remain. Be that as it may, this is the right step for the international community, so in the upcoming resolutions we want to set that direction.

Now, there is a lot of detailed work that has to be done: there are detailed lists of items that need to be approved; there are procedures that have to be put in place; there are what you might call auxiliary questions that have to considered, like how you stop smuggling and how do you handle money, what if Iraq retaliates, how do you make sure there is no economic loss to states that might implement the policy. Those questions will indeed be looked at, especially the lists, which require a lot of detailed work by experts.

So we have talked to other governments about this. The Secretary had meetings in Budapest with the French, Russian and British Foreign Ministers, and then talked about it again in his meeting with Foreign Minister Ivanov yesterday. And I think we all agree -- and increasingly the countries we're talking to at the UN agree -- we do need to set a new political direction, but others have said they need more time to do the detailed work that's necessary.

So we're looking at having a resolution that would move us forward in this direction, that would change the direction of the sanctions and that would also give some time -- we think about a month, we hope about a month -- to countries to examine the list of goods carefully and for the experts to come to agreement on that. We think that work can take about a month if the others are serious in getting it done.

So that is what is under discussion right now in New York. This is the right policy. We think it's the right direction. Others think it's the right direction. We're all going to try to move that way, whatever Iraq says. And it may take a little while to get the details finished, but we think the direction can be set now.

Anything else, George?

QUESTION: No.

MR. BOUCHER: You can get the two first questions because I neglected-- all right, let's go to Elise.

QUESTION: Well, I have a question on something else, but can I follow up on Iraq first? Are you doubting some of the seriousness of some of the other Council members, without mentioning anyone in particular?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not going to mention anybody in particular. I think we have found in the discussions that the Secretary had in Budapest with the other Foreign Ministers that those people certainly agreed that this was the right direction, that we needed a resolution to set this new direction, but the other UN resolutions, the sort of structure of the program, Resolution 1284 and those things remain, but on this particular aspect we needed to set a new direction. So that's where we're going, and I think we have others who agree with that.

QUESTION: In Yemen, can you talk about any specific threats to any FBI or other US personnel in the region which might have caused you to move personnel out?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, those actually turn out to be two separate questions. First of all, as far as threats to -- well, let me start with moving the office. Since the Cole case began, we have been working out of a hotel in Aden. That was since immediately after the attack in October of 2000. This was always intended to be a temporary arrangement, working out of the hotel, and for some weeks now our investigators have considered moving back to Sanaa, or moving the investigation to Sanaa.

In Sanaa, they can work with our embassy, and we think they can continue their work there with Yemeni officials. So that is what we have decided to do now. We are doing this in consultation with our Yemeni partners, and we think this step can help improve our cooperation with them.

The investigation is not over. We still continue to need the support and the cooperation of the Yemeni President, that Yemeni President Salih has promised, so that we can get fully to the bottom of the murder of our 17 sailors.

QUESTION: What about on the specific -- do you have anything on the specific threats?

MR. BOUCHER: As far as threats, I don't have anything specific to Yemen. I think you know that in the case when the bin Laden verdicts came out, that we felt that there was indeed concerns about -- worldwide I think they were, right? Was it a worldwide thing?

MR. REEKER: It came out on the 11th of May.

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, on the 11th of May. We already were anticipating the verdicts.

So our posts in the region, in this region, including Yemen, have been at a high state of alert for a long time, since the Africa bombings. And in connection with recent events, we have asked posts to look very carefully at their security procedures. That is pretty normal anytime there is something coming on that might heighten tensions. But at this point, there is nobody that is particularly closed.

QUESTION: Still on Yemen. So you are saying that the movement of this office was not related to threats?

MR. BOUCHER: That's right. The movement of this office is part of the investigative process, has been considered for some time, and was decided now to continue the investigation from Sanaa and to do it as a way to further improve the cooperation with the Yemeni Government.

QUESTION: Richard, can you say approximately how many embassy people were there helping in this investigation?

MR. BOUCHER: How big was the office in Aden?

QUESTION: Right.

MR. BOUCHER: It went up to very large numbers, you know, right after the bombing. I would have to check and see how many there are at this stage.

QUESTION: Any particular threats from Bahrain?

MR. BOUCHER: Let me double-check and see what we have got. No, nothing particular. Embassy Manama in Bahrain is closed for the weekend, is expected to be opened for regular business on Saturday. It will be closed again on Monday for a local holiday.

But as I said, they are certainly in this region, where we expect posts to maintain a very high state of alert and where we ask our embassies when we issue Public Warnings of things coming up or when we see things coming up, then we ask our embassies to review their security procedures.

QUESTION: Are you going to suggest a closing where -- since the bombing verdicts? No?

MR. BOUCHER: No, not in connection with the bombing verdicts. Our embassy in Central African Republic is closed because of the shooting going on there now.

QUESTION: On one of those, the weekend is Thursday/Friday?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. So it is closed for the normal weekend, Thursday/Friday.

QUESTION: On Central Africa, do you have any reaction to the Libyan help to the government in Bangui?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, before we act -- unlike some of you who work for news agencies -- before we react we tend to confirm things. So at this point, we can't confirm that there is Libyan support down there. Obviously we have watched Libya's role in many places. We have also watched Libyan statements that said that they did not intend to interfere in this part of Africa; they intended to play a positive role. So we would watch very carefully anything that they might consider doing or think of doing or try to do in the Central African Republic to see if it matched those statements, but at this point we don't have confirmation of any Libyan troop presence in --

QUESTION: And if there was, would you condemn it?

MR. BOUCHER: We don't think -- yes, we would -- we don't think that anybody from outside should be in there trying to overthrow a government which, after all, was elected. We don't think it's a good thing to begin with, whether you're inside or outside.

QUESTION: Isn't that a hypothetical, though? Why are you answering a hypothetical?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm condemning a hypothetical because it involves Libya. That's the exception to the rule.

QUESTION: Can we move on to the Middle East? Can we have your version of Secretary Powell's conversation with Prime Minister Sharon, since Israel has already given us theirs, please?

MR. BOUCHER: Sure. The Secretary yesterday on the airplane spoke with both Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat. The purpose of the calls was to reiterate the points that Ambassador Burns has been making in his discussions out there, to reinforce the message that the parties need to implement immediately the Mitchell Report's recommendations in all its aspects.

In the phone call with Chairman Arafat he -- well, in both phone calls -- he expressed his concern about the recent violence. In the phone call with Chairman Arafat, he asked the Chairman to make a 100 percent effort to calm the situation and to implement the Mitchell Committee's call for an immediate unconditional cessation of violence.

The Secretary also encouraged Prime Minister Sharon to continue his policy of restraint and de-escalation, and in both these calls he asked the parties to restore effective security cooperation as a means of starting the process to implement the Mitchell Committee recommendations that are designed to end the violence, restore confidence, and resume negotiations.

QUESTION: And how concerned are you about any impact from the death of Faisal al Husseini?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we can speculate on whatever the long-term impact might be. We did, I think first of all, see Faisal Husseini as a man of open-mindedness and compassion. This made him a very important player in getting to Madrid in 1991 and in the negotiations that have followed. We are very saddened by his passing. He is a man who has worked for peace in this region for many, many years. And I think all of us who knew him and who worked with him in this building and overseas, from the highest levels to the lowest, really do extend our most sincere condolences to his family and to the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: On that same subject, his son, whose name is Abdel Qader Husseini, has offered to take up his father's role. Do you know anything about the son or what his positions would be?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't know anything about that. You would have to check in the region for that.

QUESTION: Different part of the world. In terms of the investigation in Peru, the airplane crash and drugs, there have been reports -- and we've asked in the past but I don't think we have recently -- about increased smuggling by air in the area where we have suspended flights. Can you give us an update on that? Do you find any credibility to those reports?

MR. BOUCHER: No, that's something I'll have to check into for you. I don't have anything updated at this moment.

QUESTION: This issue of tracking foreign students is coming up again.

MR. BOUCHER: Of what? Tracking foreign students?

QUESTION: Tracking foreign students. And we talked about it last year sometime. But educators are now asking -- saying that that's going to deter people from coming here to study, and that would be a bad thing. Do we weigh in on that at this point?

MR. BOUCHER: I have to scratch my head and search my memory, but I don't remember that we said much about it. I think we said it's really a domestic matter and the Immigration Service would have to deal with it.

QUESTION: You're going to say that again?

MR. BOUCHER: I'll say it again. I'll reiterate whatever I said last time as soon as I remember what it is.

QUESTION: Do you have anything else on the Tobin case, Tobin in Russia?

MR. BOUCHER: As you know I think, Representative Maloney and James Tobin's father, John, Sr., visited with John Tobin, Jr., in jail in Voronezh on Wednesday. That is today. No, that's --

QUESTION: No, that's yesterday.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I've got Wednesday, May 31st. So will you give him a call, and -- I think it was yesterday. I'm pretty sure it was yesterday from news reports. Anyway, that would be Wednesday, May 30th, that the visit took place. I will double-check to make sure they are not referring to something else that happened today.

MR. REEKER: It was yesterday.

MR. BOUCHER: It was yesterday.

We did have a consular officer with them. When they were in Moscow, they met with consular officials from our embassy, with the chargé and the director of the Fulbright Program in Russia. We will leave it to them to provide an assessment of their trip. But I would say that we have tried to help them out and have tried to facilitate their travel and their meetings to make that trip productive for them and give them the chance to look after the welfare of John Tobin, Jr.

There is an appeals process that continues. The appeals hearing is still scheduled for June 7th, so at this point it is not proper for us to comment in any substantive or procedural way on the process while it goes through.

But I would point out that Secretary Powell did raise this case with Foreign Minister Ivanov at their meeting in Washington a few weeks ago. He raised it again at the meeting they had in Budapest yesterday. So helping the family and looking after the welfare of Mr. Tobin and seeing what can be done remain important to us, and we will continue to work on those things.

QUESTION: What kind of response did Secretary Powell get from Foreign Minister Ivanov on this?

MR. BOUCHER: I would say that the Foreign Minister understood the importance of the matter to us and understood our concern about the individual, but beyond that I don't think we have a practical response. I can't remember if he noted it, but we all know that the appeals process is under way. We will have to see where that leads.

QUESTION: What can we do, beyond asking for them to take all humanitarian concerns seriously, since we don't interfere in their judicial process?

MR. BOUCHER: I think all along we have tried to make sure that his welfare was looked after, that we had our consular access, that we were able to help him with his family and things like that, help with the family to see him.

Second of all, I think our role is to help make sure that he did get the adequate legal representation that he apparently has. And obviously it is his lawyer that helps guide him through the legal process, not a consular officer.

QUESTION: So they have behaved well? I mean, you are not saying we have problems with their treatment of him?

MR. BOUCHER: Those are things we have been looking for, but we are still very concerned about the welfare of an individual who remains in Russian custody.

QUESTION: And speaking of Americans in captivity, are you talking to the Philippine Government about their apparent intentions to use violence to free their hostages -- the hostages of the rebels who are being held?

MR. BOUCHER: Why do you say "their apparent intention"?

QUESTION: Well, because they keep saying that they are ready to attack.

MR. BOUCHER: Oh, okay. At this point, I think all I can really tell you is that we are in close touch with the Philippine Government. Obviously we want to remain in close touch with them because of the welfare of the Americans involved in this situation, but beyond that I don't think I am in a position to go any farther.

QUESTION: Have they asked for US help in tracking down the rebels, since they seem to have gone underground?

MR. BOUCHER: Obviously being in close touch means we are in close touch on a whole number of things. But I think there were some reports in the Philippines that somehow indicated that we had intervened directly in this matter, and that is not the case. That is not true. We are working and in contact with the Philippine Government.

QUESTION: Would you urge them not to use violence in this --

MR. BOUCHER: I think we will stay in close touch with them, and we will work with them in this situation.

QUESTION: On the Middle East, two days ago Philip Reeker welcomed Moscow's peace efforts in the Middle East, and Mr. Primakov is not really thankful because he criticized American monopoly in the Middle East today.

Do you have any reaction there?

MR. BOUCHER: I stand with Reeker. If it is a choice between Reeker and Primakov, I will go with Reeker. (Laughter.)

I think part of the Secretary's discussion with Foreign Minister Ivanov yesterday was about the situation in the Middle East, and he told the Secretary about his intention to send his envoy down there.

He also expressed his full support for the process, the positions that we have taken, that he took the same position. I believe he said so in public when he met with Mr. Arafat in Moscow before coming to Budapest. He said that we support -- he supports -- lementation of the Mitchell Committee's Report.

As you know, the Mitchell Committee was an international committee. It was an international group that came up with a recommendation that we all feel - - and I think you have heard this from the Americans, from the Russians, from Solana, from the Europeans as well -- that the parties need to implement these recommendations in all their aspects.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how the security meeting went last night, the second one that was scheduled, and whether Mr. Rajoub showed up, as the US hoped?

MR. BOUCHER: Let me find myself. I'm slow today because I don't remember my colors.

The Israelis and Palestinians met last night, as they did on Tuesday night, for security discussions for the first time in several weeks. The United States attended and facilitated these discussions. We will continue to facilitate ongoing security discussions as a means of implementing the Mitchell Committee's recommendations.

As far as your second question, let me just say that as we were arranging these meetings we understood from Chairman Arafat that all senior Palestinian security chiefs will attend. Unfortunately, we continue to be disappointed that not all the key Palestinian officials are, in fact, attending these meetings. We recognize it's very difficult for some of these individuals and for the parties to address, but we think it's essential that both sides start the process of implementing the Mitchell Committee recommendations and get on with the process of ending the violence, restoring confidence, and resuming negotiations.

QUESTION: Richard, there are American victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks. The suggestion has arisen of posting rewards. Is that something the Administration is considering? Would it have any positive effect, do you think?

MR. BOUCHER: That comes up from time to time. It's raised in this room from time to time. I know there are people in the region that think it would be a good idea. But really, when we post rewards, there is general award money available for anyone that can provide us with information on the terrorist activities against Americans. So it exists already. We don't have to post a special reward for anybody. If there is an American who has been attacked by terrorists and you can provide some information, we want it and we can provide reward money in return.

Whether there is a specific campaign to publicize rewards in a specific case really depends a lot on the investigators and how they are proceeding and whether they think it would contribute to their own particular investigation. So if that was decided in a particular case, then we would do it; otherwise, the general program is always available.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction on the resignation -- I know it sounds pretty weird -- from the leader of the military forces, Carlos Castano, in Colombia? He announced he was resignating.

MR. BOUCHER: Resigning. But the vice president was appointed. You're talking about the leader of the military forces or the defense minister?

QUESTION: No, I'm talking about the leader of the paramilitary forces.

MR. BOUCHER: Oh.

QUESTION: He has said he is resignating from the AUC.

MR. BOUCHER: No, that's kind of news to me. I'll have to double-check on that and see if we have any particular information. As you know, we don't have any contact or relationship with those people so it's not likely we would know much more than we see in the press.

QUESTION: Okay. And then do you have about the new defense minister?

MR. BOUCHER: Fancy you should ask. Yes, I think it's worth saying because we do welcome President Pastrana's decision to appoint Vice President Bell to serve concurrently as Minister of Defense. I think it's a clear signal of the priority that the Colombian Government attaches to human rights. We would expect that Bell would work aggressively to end any collusion between the Colombian military and the paramilitary groups.

We do praise outgoing Defense Minister Luis Fernando Ramirez for improving professionalism, for improving accountability of Colombia's armed forces, and we would note that he and the forces have had recent success against the paramilitaries. A good step.

QUESTION: Also on Colombia, could you say how the US stands on the issue of certification that Congress required last year?

MR. BOUCHER: I would have to double-check that, where we are on the legal aspects.

QUESTION: The dinner tonight with Katsav. Is the Secretary going?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: It's a working dinner, no?

MR. BOUCHER: I think you --

QUESTION: No spouses. It sounds like a working dinner.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know the arrangements for dinner tonight, Barry. I'm sorry. We'll figure out where you can check on that for you.

QUESTION: I'm not trying to get invited. I'm wondering if they'll do any business or if it's symbolic.

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to predict at what point they're going to talk business and what point they're going to not, but I don't know enough about the dinner to describe that for you. The Secretary met this morning with President Katsav. They had a very useful, I think, and interesting discussion. Obviously they talked about the situation on the ground at this point. They talked about the Mitchell Committee and the steps that are necessary to see people implement that. They talked about the situation in the region. They talked about bilateral relations and some of the things we're doing together.

So they have already had quite a serious and complete discussion. What else they're going to talk about at dinner, maybe we'll find out in the morning what they did talk about.

QUESTION: The president told the Israeli press that he had asked President Bush to set a deadline for Arafat to end the violence, and the President was supposed to have kind of been noncommittal but said it's an interesting idea or something like that.

Did that come up in his meeting -- interesting idea. Did that come up in his talks with Mr. Powell that you know of?

MR. BOUCHER: I think the way I would put it is that what they discussed was the need for the parties to work immediately to implement the Mitchell Committee's Report, for the parties to make clear their intentions to end the violence, and to do that by carrying out these recommendations. So that was sort of the context for the discussion. It's not completely different from what you said, but it's not exactly what you said.

QUESTION: The tonal difference between the Israeli description of what's going on and the American is kind of interesting. I mean, the US Government talks about the parties having to do something. This Israeli leader is here to say Israel is the subject of terrorism and it's time to get it stopped. And when I hear from the US, I hear about the Mitchell Commission and both parties and the two parties, the parties.

Is the US giving any sort of an active hearing to Israel about the need to end Palestinian attacks on Israel? Israel is not shooting back right now, and Mr. Katsav says that won't go on much longer, maybe a few more days.

Is he getting a -- is the US receptive and possibly even with ideas how to get terrorism against Israel halted, the Mitchell Commission aside? As a matter of US policy, not as a matter of George Mitchell's policy, as a matter of Secretary of State Powell and President Bush's policy.

MR. BOUCHER: My turn?

QUESTION: Sure, anytime. Just jump in.

MR. BOUCHER: Just jump in, huh? Okay. I think if you look back at what I said to you five minutes ago about the Secretary's phone calls you will see that the Secretary made quite clear to Chairman Arafat he expected a 100 percent effort to stop the violence and to end these -- to implement the Mitchell Committee recommendations.

He also asked the Israeli leader to continue to exercise the restraint. So I think it is quite clear in our mind what the different parties have to do. So if I summarize by saying the parties have to implement the Report, it is quite clear that each of them have to take different kinds of steps to make the Report effective, and to make the recommendations effective. That remains our concern and our policy, and that remains our effort, to try to bring that about.

QUESTION: Yes, returning to Colombia. What else do you expect the new Minister of Defense of Colombia to do against paramilitaries? I mean, do you expect any specific action against them?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think he was just appointed as Minister of Defense. But the overall need is to effectively end any form of collusion or cooperation between members of the military and members of the paramilitaries. And since this is a person who stood up for human rights and worked very hard in that regard, we look forward to seeing him do that. In specific terms, he will obviously have to decide how he is going to run the ministry and the armed forces.

QUESTION: From your point of view, what needs to be done that he doesn't?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: That hasn't been done?

MR. BOUCHER: We still consider that there are contacts, there are ties, there are relationships, between the Colombian military and the paramilitaries in some places. They need to be found, they need to be severed. Programs need to be adopted to end any kind of collusion, contact or support with the paramilitaries. And he will have to figure out where it is and how to stop it.

QUESTION: To dot an "i" and cross a "t", when the Secretary was down here talking about the Mitchell Report, et cetera, he spoke of Mr. Burns going out there and then coming back, and he will report to me and I will plan my next moves. Is that the scenario? We know Burns is coming back; presumably, he will report to the Secretary, and the Secretary will then take it from there? What's next?

MR. BOUCHER: What's next is whatever they decide is what's next. The Secretary has been in touch with Ambassador Burns throughout Ambassador Burns' efforts. He has talked to him several times a day, I think talked to him yesterday, talked to him at midnight the night before last, from wherever we were -- Budapest. So they have been in close touch all along. They have been sending messages back and forth to each other and working closely together.

Ambassador Burns will come back over the weekend. Immediately after that, actually, the Secretary has a meeting with Foreign Minister Peres in Costa Rica, because Foreign Minister Peres will be down at the OAS General Assembly as well, so they will meet down there.

(Laughter.)

Okay, don't tell the office. I withdraw the comment, for fear that somebody will get assigned to the trip who doesn't want to be.

So there will be continuing contacts. But as far as what happens after that in terms of the Secretary, Ambassador Burns and others, they will decide, I am sure, in coming days.

Let me add to that one thing the Secretary has said, and I think Ambassador Burns said as well, after Ambassador Burns comes back here, that Ambassador Indyk and our Consul General Ron Schlicher are going to continue their efforts with the parties to try to pull things together; will keep working on security cooperation, will keep working on how to implement the Mitchell Committee recommendations at that level with those people.

And then, as I said, there is a meeting with Foreign Minister Peres at some point somewhere next week. And then I am sure that Ambassador Burns' efforts will continue in one way or the other, since he is about to be our Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary going to hold a news conference in Costa Rica?

MR. BOUCHER: I frankly don't remember. I have to check.

QUESTION: Since there had been talk of Secretary Powell meeting Arafat on this trip and that didn't happen, is he making any effort to reschedule a meeting, or initially schedule a meeting?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know of any new opportunity at this point. If it starts to happen, if it happens, we will tell you.

QUESTION: In terms of the Taliban and Afghanistan, is there any effort, as some reports would have it, of talks between the US, the Russians, and the Iranians to help those elements in northern Afghanistan who are against the Taliban, perhaps as military assistance?

MR. BOUCHER: I am not quite sure what reports you are referring to. As agreed with Foreign Minister Ivanov when he was here, we just recently had talks with the Russians. Our Afghanistan experts got together.

We certainly remain concerned and working with other governments about the situation in Afghanistan. As you remember, there is also this group -- I can't remember what it's called -- the group 6 + 4, + 2 -- something like that, anyway -- where Iran is included. So as they talk about the situation in Afghanistan and various aspects of it, there is that discussion in the presence of Iranian representatives sometimes. I don't -- I will have to check and see if they have had any recent meetings.

So it's not unusual, considering that we are all concerned about the situation. Obviously, our primary concern there remains the humanitarian crisis. We continue to emphasize the particularly dire needs that exist at this time. We continue to contribute, as the Secretary announced to you not long ago, to solving the humanitarian crisis, and we continue to expect the Taliban not to restrict or threaten or otherwise disrupt the ability of aid workers to deliver food to the needy people of Afghanistan. So that remains our primary concern.

QUESTION: When you are checking, could you check and see whether or not possible military assistance would be offered to those who are opposing the Taliban?

MR. BOUCHER: I will check and see if there was any intention in that direction.

QUESTION: Do you have any more on the review of the policy of leaving open the option of testing foreign-hired staff at embassies for HIV?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. The subject comes up because at this point this is a policy that is mission by mission. And some of our missions in Africa, some of the missions we visited in Africa, the ambassadors had decided to stop testing for HIV in societies where there are large numbers of people, where there's I think a desire to work with people who are living with AIDS. And so those humanitarian needs have been taken into account, and several of our ambassadors have taken that step. It has been a mission-by-mission policy, as I said.

We are now looking at the overall policy with a view to ending pre- employment testing for our foreign national employees. This obviously has various aspects to it that need to be looked at, including the funding implications for all of us in terms of support and insurance programs, things like that. But key among these considerations has to be the humanitarian needs of our employees.

So that's where we are at this point. If there is a decision or when there is a decision, we will try to tell you about it.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up? Just to be very clear, is this an attempt to de-stigmatize the disease or is it -- is there some other thinking behind it? I mean, why --

MR. BOUCHER: That has been one of our -- well, there's a number of things behind it. One is that is part of our thinking all along, and that's part of the general outlook that we have on HIV/AIDS; that the stigma attached, particularly in some social situations, is terrible; that there are useful, productive people who are HIV-positive that shouldn't be excluded. As an employer, obviously we are concerned about our employees and our potential employees. We are concerned about the situation of all our employees, and as an employer we also have to make sure we get the financial aspects right and that we take care of our employees properly.

So as I said, in the past, it has been a local mission-by-mission thing, where individual ambassadors or embassies may have decided to do testing or not to do testing. But now we are looking at it in terms of a general policy, and we will decide how that should be put into effect with a view to ending pre-employment screening for HIV.

QUESTION: Are Foreign Service Officers tested?

MR. BOUCHER: Foreign Service Officers are tested, as they are tested for a great many diseases. It is required, as pre-employment testing, of anybody applying to the Foreign Service, because anybody who joins this Foreign Service, one of the conditions of employment, one of the requirements for the job, is worldwide availability. So you have to be able to serve all over the world. If you have a disease or develop AIDS, then you wouldn't be worldwide available anymore, as with some other conditions that you might have.

Now, if you are already in the Foreign Service, you do get screened every time you go overseas for a whole variety of diseases that can be picked up either in the United States or tropical and other things you might get overseas. And if you are already in the Foreign Service and it is found that you have something, then your medical clearance can be changed so you are no longer available to go out all over the world. There are obviously people with certain medical conditions that can't serve in places where there is not adequate medical care. So at that point in somebody's career, their medical clearance would be looked at as far as what assignments they could qualify for.

Was that too long, or was that -- let's try to make it clear. If you are coming into the Foreign Service, you get tested for HIV/AIDS, along with a variety of other conditions and diseases that might prevent you from entering. Because if you can't come in as worldwide available, you can't come in.

And so, after you are already in, if you develop a condition that makes you not available around the world, then your medical clearance gets changed and your assignments get changed. You have to go to places where there is medical care.

QUESTION: What happens if they test positive while they are applying for a job? Does that mean that they are excluded from entry, or --

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. If you test positive while you are applying to join the Foreign Service, then you can't be available to go anywhere in the world, so you don't meet the conditions that are required of all entrants.

QUESTION: Everybody is expected to be worldwide available?

MR. BOUCHER: That is a condition of employment, yes.

QUESTION: You do have a blind person, who presumably would not be sent to a hot spot.

MR. BOUCHER: Why not?

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. BOUCHER: You know, we have people we take in, and if people have conditions that we can provide for, then we would take them in and provide those -- how can I say it -- provide whatever assistance they need to meet the requirements of the job.

QUESTION: There are reports that Yugoslav troops have rolled into the demilitarized zone bordering Kosovo. Do you have any -- can you comment on the implications of that?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, this is something that we have talked about, that we certainly talked about a lot with other NATO foreign ministers at the meetings we had over the last two days. And as you know, I think the Yugoslav Foreign Minister was at the NATO meetings. So the Secretary had some brief discussions with him. But in the larger grouping, they discussed the situation and the Ground Safety Zone.

The Yugoslav security forces began their re-entry into the central part of Sector B. This is the final and the most sensitive portion of NATO's Ground Safety Zone. So far, there have been no incidents. We don't in fact anticipate major problems, but we are watching the situation very closely. We believe the extremists have withdrawn and turned in their weapons according to their commitments. This re-entry should be completed by Saturday.

At this point, NATO has authorized Yugoslav security forces to resume security operations throughout the zone. The commander of the Kosovo force will retain overall authority under the terms of the military technical agreement. But KFOR, the Kosovo forces, are not in the zone. It is a zone that has been demilitarized, and now the Yugoslav forces are coming back in.

We heard quite a bit from other ministers and talked with other ministers and with NATO authorities when we were in Budapest, and everybody sees this as proceeding very smoothly. They think the procedures that have been followed by NATO, by the Yugoslav forces and by the Kosovo forces in terms of demilitarizing or taking weapons from people and sending them on their way, screening people as they come in, have been effective in reducing the volatile nature of the situation down there, and it seems to be working. So knock on wood, and let's watch it roll out through Saturday.

QUESTION: Thank you. [End]

Released on May 31, 2001


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