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Special Event

State Department Spokesman Holds News Briefing

Aired October 13, 2000 - 2:11 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now live to the State Department. We're getting the latest briefing from State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: This building was lobbying for the secretary to get the -- to get the award?

RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I think we think this is a wonderful and perfect choice by the prize committee, frankly.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... maybe a better idea of when she might be going to Pyongyang?

BOUCHER: By the end of the month. We don't have a date set yet.

QUESTION: OK. Well, it's the Middle East again, but it always is. This isn't the place, I guess, to ask for summitry, but it is the place to ask about telephone contacts and whatever else you might be able to tell us about any suspicions or better ideas who done it to the U.S. destroyer? Whatever you've got.

BOUCHER: Those are two separate tabs.

QUESTION: Oh, yes.

BOUCHER: All right, on the issue of summitry and telephone contacts on the violence in the Middle East, let me bring you up to date.

The diplomatic effort has continued. Obviously you know that there are people in region like UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who've been working out there -- we've been in very close touch with them and with others in the region. We have been in very close touch with the players in the region.

And I would say that if you look at the efforts being made, there's a concerted effort by the international community to work with the parties to take steps to end the violence and to sort of work toward a point where we can transition back into the peace process.

So there is a concerted diplomatic effort going on. The president has been making phone calls, and I think the White House has brought you up to date on those.

The secretary herself has talked to the Norwegian Foreign Minister Jagland today. She's talked to President Mubarak of Egypt, she's talked to Foreign Minister Fischer of Germany, she's talked to Foreign Minister Ivanov of Russia, and the foreign minister of Tunisia as well.

And I'm sure she will continue to make phone calls throughout the day.

QUESTION: And on the -- anything you can give us on the...

(CROSSTALK)

BOUCHER: On the ship explosion, there's nothing we can say at this point about responsibility. We don't think -- we're at an early stage in the investigation. We will obviously follow the investigation wherever it leads and follow any leads that appear.

But it's too early at this point to draw conclusions about culpability if it does, as we've said. If it turns out that this is a terrorist act, certainly the investigation will -- as it appears to be -- but certainly the investigation will prove that. And any leads on who might have done it will be followed wherever they go.

QUESTION: On that second point, a senior official said that was here yesterday said, "In a day or so," he said that yesterday, "we ought to be able to say with some certainty whether it was a terrorist act." It bears all the earmarks, but the U.S. government cannot yet call it a terrorist act?

BOUCHER: It appears to be. It very much appears to be a deliberate act. But, you know, I have to leave it to the investigators to give us their judgment -- I guess we're in the "so" part of that kind of statement -- but in the next day or so.

QUESTION: Richard, the Navy yesterday said they can't imagine it was anything else. Can you go so far as to say that? I mean, what else can you imagine it was?

BOUCHER: As I say, it very much appears to be a deliberate act. You know, I'm not trying to be shy about this. We're not trying to deny what appears to be very clear. It's just we have to defer a bit to the investigators, to let them get to a stage in their investigation where they feel comfortable making that assertion.

There are some investigators out there, but really the big team of investigators en route to the scene to go to Aden. We have teams from Washington that are arriving today. And they'll be working to determine the exact cause.

QUESTION: Richard, I know that yesterday morning, following the attack, you sent out cables to your various embassies and consulates around the world, asking them to assess the situation for their particular region or city. And then today you announce the closing of all embassies and consulates in the Mideast region and then some in Africa and one or two in South Asia. Is it logical then to draw the conclusions that they feel that there are threats to those particular embassies?

BOUCHER: I think we have seen the potential for demonstrations. Obviously, in light of the history of attacks, you have to be concerned of additional attacks. So we have, indeed, as I think we've briefed you, closed our embassies in the Near East bureau to more or less extend their weekend, really, from Friday until opening of business Monday. We'll review that again on Sunday and see where we are. We've closed a number of posts in other countries, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. I think it comes to 37 posts in total.

We have also sent messages to embassies worldwide to be careful, to be vigilant and, in all these situations, to keep in very close touch with the American communities, people. Our embassies are sending out the warden notices, the travel advisories to their warden networks. They're getting in touch with local business or nongovernmental organization groups, where there are Americans. And we will exercise vigilance, I think is what I would say.

BOUCHER: There's obviously the potential for demonstrations.

In general, I would say we have found that we're getting very good cooperation overseas in our various posts from the local police and the local authorities in terms of managing these situations. So I don't want to try to hype the threat, but it's very prudent to be careful.

QUESTION: Limited to demonstrations, is that what we're talking about? It's not any kind of real...

BOUCHER: I said at the beginning of the answer, clearly concerns about demonstrations, but one has to be also concerned about acts of terrorism constantly, and particularly in circumstances like this.

So a higher state of vigilance, good cooperation from local governments, but really a prudent set of preventative measures so that nothing happens, and keeping in close touch with the Americans as well.

QUESTION: Richard, yesterday the secretary said that the United States was an eagle, and would not back down from any of its responsibilities overseas. And I'm just wondering if the closure of 37 embassies and consulates around the world doesn't make the United States seem more like the ostrich that she said it wasn't.

BOUCHER: What we're doing is we are closing public activities. We are maybe, you know, not hosting English seminars or speakers or parties or handling, you know, the walk-in visas. We are still in posts, except for the weekends, when they're not operating. We're still operating internally. We're in touch with governments. We're representing the United States. We're exercising U.S. leadership and influence in the world. And we're taking care of American citizens in consular cases.

BOUCHER: In many posts, they may be taking care of visas by other procedures than having a big line of people at the door.

QUESTION: So enemies of the peace process, or whoever it is that has conducted these attacks or may conduct these violent demonstrations, should not see the closure of these facilities as any kind of withdrawal by the United States from its international commitments abroad?

BOUCHER: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

QUESTION: Why not? I mean, you've basically withdrawn, shut -- if you're not a worker, an embassy worker, you can't -- you can't go into the embassy as you might normally be able to. In Jerusalem, in East Jerusalem, embassy consulate officials who live in East Jerusalem have been relocated, their residences have been relocated temporarily.

So why is that not a pulling back from public...

BOUCHER: Because it's not, because we're out there exercising our leadership and our responsibilities. You can get in touch with us. We're still contacting people, we're still working with people, we're making phone calls, we're going to visit people. It's just we don't have our doors open to the public temporarily at a moment when it's prudent not to do that.

QUESTION: In the aftermath of the explosion, some people have criticized the fueling -- the decision to fuel the ship at the port of Aden as not the best idea. Could you go over exactly what the vetting process is -- and I understand that the State Department is in control of this issue -- for contractors in Yemen to -- I mean, how do we know that there aren't terrorist there? Can you sort of...

BOUCHER: I know everybody would like to rush out and find a scapegoat somewhere and, you know, make judgments in the press, but, really, I very much encourage you to leave this to professional investigators to reach conclusions about these things.

These sort of, "Isn't it his fault? Isn't it his fault?" you know, that's the kind of thing that -- an investigation will look at every aspect of this.

I do think it's very important to make clear, you know, we work very closely with the military on these things. But I think Admiral Clark, the chief of -- what is it, Chief of Naval Operations? -- said at the Pentagon yesterday: The responsibility for an operational decision such as refueling and security for all U.S. ships in this region rests with the commander in chief of Central Command and his subordinate commanders.

Now those decisions are made very carefully in conjunction with, you know, the best advice from the intelligence community, the best advice from the embassy and others, but, you know, they have this responsibility to make these arrangements and to decide on security questions. So you can ask them how they made these decisions.

QUESTION: So the question of who were the contractors, that's not a State Department -- because my understanding was that that's something that the embassy decided. You know, there was a bidding process, who was going to get to refuel this ship.

BOUCHER: It's all done in very close coordination with the military. The ultimate authority and decision-making rests with the military in these cases.

ALLEN: The State Department taking questions about the decision by the military decision to use that port in Yemen to refuel its ships, saying that has been a military decision. Richard Boucher also talking about the continuing diplomatic effort to try to bring the two sides in the Middle East to the table to talk.

Madeleine Albright, it seems, has been on the telephone all day talking with all the parties involved, in touch with Kofi Annan as well, who remains in Israel. And no news about who is responsible for the attack on there on the USS Cole.

And finally, that embassies will remain closed throughout the weekend. It's a prudent measure, Mr. Boucher said, when asked whether this is the U.S. pulling back. He denied that, saying that wasn't true. It was just a wise measure taken during these times.

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