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State Department Holds Daily Briefing

Aired April 9, 2001 - 12:47   ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We've heard from the White House today, so now we want to hear from the State Department. They're holding their daily briefing, an we're going to get the latest from them on the impasse with China.


RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: ... well-run and peaceful electoral process. Peruvian and international observers groups, including the Organization for American States and the Carter Center, have endorsed yesterday's contest as fully democratic. These elections are an important step in the process of strengthening Peru's democratic institutions and restoring the public's confidence in the institutions of government.

We commend President Valentin Paniagua's administration for ensuring the neutrality of all state forces throughout the electoral process and for providing all the candidates the opportunity to freely present their message.

We applaud the electoral authorities for overcoming significant logistical challenges to stage transparent and efficient contests. The United States looks forward to an equally peaceful and democratic process for the presidential runoff.

And with that statement, be glad to take your questions about this or any other topics.

QUESTION: Well, can you give us the latest rundown on what's going on over on Hainan Island? Has there been any progress made on the diplomatic front or is the only thing that's new today just the latest meeting?

BOUCHER: Well, Hainan Island is the visits with the crew. Let me do that first, and then I'll tell you about the diplomatic discussions in Beijing.

As I think most of you know by now, General Sealock and our consular section chief Ted Gong met all 24 crew members again today for about 40 minutes.

There were no Chinese officials present at the meeting. They reported the crew is in good health and in great spirits. They're getting their e-mail messages from their families, that we've been passing through the Chinese. Their health is fine. They're looking forward to coming home.

The next meeting is not yet set, but, as you know, we've asked for regular, non-fettered access. And we'll continue to have people in Hainan working on that with the Chinese officials in Hainan.

As far as the discussions going on in Beijing, the diplomatic discussions of this issues, we are in very intense discussions with the Chinese government to resolve this matter and to bring our crew home. We're discussing with the Chinese the way to move forward to a resolution.

I would say we're now at a sensitive moment in our discussions with the Chinese. Ambassador Prueher has met with his Chinese Foreign Ministry counterpart, that's Assistant Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong, twice again today. And we're continuing to be in close contact with the Chinese government in Beijing and Washington, and we do hope to resolve this matter soon.

QUESTION: You say you're now at a sensitive moment. I believe you were at a sensitive moment all last week and through the weekend, too. Is it any more sensitive or less sensitive now, and what do you mean by sensitive?


BOUCHER: That's our excuse for not telling you a little more about the discussions than we want.

QUESTION: Exactly.

BOUCHER: I think the basic framework now is, we are trying to bring this matter to a resolution.

The president made quite clear -- in our discussions with the Chinese, we're making clear -- that it is now time for our troops to come home so that our relationship does not become damaged. The president spoke quite clearly on this, and I think the secretary and Vice President Cheney and Dr. Rice all spoke to that over the weekend.

We believe it's time to move to a resolution and to see our people return home, so we're working very intensely to achieve that. Obviously, as we work on some of these issues and some of the exact details of how to make that happen, some of these issues are very sensitive for the Chinese and for us, and we're going to need to resolve them before we can talk about them publicly.

QUESTION: What difference does it make that the Chinese president is traveling at the moment? And do you think there's a real prospect that the Americans will come home before he does?

BOUCHER: I'm not exactly aware of when his travel plans bring him back to China. I would say that we have been able to continue these discussions with the Foreign Ministry in China, to have movement in those discussions even while the president of China has been traveling in South America. So we would think it's certainly possible and absolutely necessary to conclude those discussions as soon as possible, and not to allow our people to be held on some timetable like that.

But as I've said, we've managed to continue these discussions and move forward with these discussions.

BOUCHER: Even during his absence from China, they seem to have the means to communicate with their leadership, which I think, before he left, we told you we thought they did have.

QUESTION: At this stage, have you gotten a chance -- at the last briefing, you hadn't -- to see Senator Warner's remarks from Friday afternoon and what he said about the negotiations after his top-secret briefing with Secretary Powell? Anything you want to, in any way, comment on that and how it affects the process at this point?

BOUCHER: No. If I remember correctly, on Friday, I had seen Senator Warner's remarks and was happy to say that I'd seen them, but I had no comment about them, and that remains the situation.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, Secretary Powell said relations have been damaged somewhat, and now they're saying they just don't want them to be damaged further. Can you give us some examples of where this is hurting us already, that we already see? And is one of those examples the case of the detained American resident there, I mean, about whom we can't really discuss things, while this is overwhelming?

BOUCHER: We don't see a particular connection to the cases of people who might be detained Americans or permanent residents who might be detained in China. Some of those cases -- all those cases -- have existed since before this happened. All those people were in difficulties, and we were trying to help them one way or the other, either on a consular basis or just a humanitarian basis, before this happened. So we don't see any particular change in that situation nor in any particular connection to this incident.

Clearly, though, there is damage to the extent that we've heard from people who are -- that we've seen congressional delegations, for example, canceling trips. We've heard from other people in high levels of business, who were former government officials, who are either canceling or considering postponing.

As I think the secretary made clear, the damage that we've seen so far is reversible. People could reschedule. People could have the conversations that they wanted to have in China, with the Chinese.

But clearly, the public effect and the effect of these cancellations is to make it harder to pursue the kind of productive relationship that we want.

In terms of the potential for future damage, I think the president made quite clear that the potential is there for real damage to the relationship if this drags itself out.


QUESTION: Have we maintained our meetings that were at least weekly, I think, on these detained people, where we went up to the Foreign Ministry and discussed it? Have those been continuing separate from this issue?

BOUCHER: I have not checked in every single case, but certainly, in the case Ms. Gao Zhan, I think we raised it again last week, so that we have been able to raise it on a regular basis.

QUESTION: That's what I meant. Thanks.

BOUCHER: We have a variety of meetings with the Chinese; not all of them concern this.

QUESTION: Did the United States advise the congressional groups or the business groups not to go? And beyond the damage caused by groups outside the executive branch canceling trips, is there damage to the relationship at the executive branch level, in terms of the attitude of the Bush administration?

BOUCHER: I don't know if I can make an assessment like that at this point.

I think, as the president made quite clear, it will depend how long it goes, to see whether it affects either attitudes or our ability to do things that we have previously wanted to do in this relationship. So I don't think I can cite anything particular in that regard right now.

What was the first part of your question?

QUESTION: It was whether the United States or the State Department had advised congressional leaders...

BOUCHER: Congressional delegations.

QUESTION: ... one way or the other?

BOUCHER: Ultimately, the issue of congressional travel, as we all know, is up to the individual members of Congress. We have discussed with them the pros and cons of travel, I know. And there's, on the one hand, the argument of delivering a message and, on the other hand, the argument that they don't particularly want to be there while Americans are held against their will. So I'll have to see if we kind of came down with a bottom line on that, whether we made a recommendation one way or the other to some of these groups.

QUESTION: Richard, the impasse on this matter, would you care to say it has not had any effect on the surveillance activities of the United States around China?

BOUCHER: I wouldn't talk about those activities. That would be something for the Pentagon to deal with.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the case of Tan Guangguang, who, according to a Hong Kong human rights group, is also a permanent American resident who has been detained since December and is expected to be charged next week on suspicion of leaking state secrets?

BOUCHER: I think, at this point, all we have on that is the press reports. We'll obviously look into it.

Our understanding is that Mr. Guangguang is a U.S. legal permanent resident who was arrested in December and could face charges of leaking confidential information. We don't have independent confirmation of that information, of those reports, so we'll have our embassy look into it and, obviously, ask the Chinese authorities about it.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, meetings with crew members was only with eight of them. Was that a limit that the Chinese put? And did we choose the highest-ranking eight members? How did that work? What was the explanation?

BOUCHER: The numerical limit was put on us by the Chinese, by the local Chinese officials. We're glad that, at this meeting, we were able to see all members of our crew, at the meeting today, the subsequent meeting; we were able to see all of them.

In that meeting with eight members, we got to choose who we wanted to see, so General Sealock and Mr. Gong chose a cross-section. Obviously, they wanted to see the pilot and copilot, but they made sure they saw one of the female members, some of the other people at different ranks, who were together in groups. And through that process of deciding who to see, they were able to ascertain that everybody was OK and that they were all doing well.

QUESTION: Why did the Chinese not want to you to see all 24?

BOUCHER: I'm a spokesman for the U.S. government, not for the Chinese. You'll have to ask them that question.

QUESTION: Did they give you an explanation?

BOUCHER: You'll have to ask them that question.

QUESTION: Last week, we had a number of meetings between Deputy Secretary Armitage and the Chinese ambassador. Now it seems that the negotiations are basically concentrated in Beijing. Do you expect that it's going to stay focused there, and that we'll just have meetings between our ambassador and the Chinese, and then he'll report back for guidance?

BOUCHER: Obviously, we're ready to use whatever channels and whatever means are useful at any given moment. I think, over the past few days, we have found that this detailed work of negotiating is best done between our embassy and Beijing and the Chinese Foreign Ministry; that seems to be the channel that we've chosen in this case, and, therefore, it's going on that way. We are, obviously, in very, very close touch with Ambassador Prueher. The secretary speaks to Mr. Armitage constantly.

QUESTION: Without divulging too many details of the negotiations, can you say whether the question of the wording of our regrets is the main sticking point at this point?

BOUCHER: I wouldn't want to focus on any particular issue that needs to be resolved in order to bring this to a conclusion.

QUESTION: You said that things are at a very sensitive time right now in these negotiations, but can you say whether there was movement over the weekend? Have new things been put on the table? Is there anything you can say about...

BOUCHER: I guess what I would say is that there's continued to be movement. But as the president made clear this morning, it's time to bring this to a conclusion.

QUESTION: In our four meetings so far with the crew, have we been able to piece together an explanation of events? And can you talk a little bit about that at this point?

BOUCHER: I can't really talk about that at this point. We've, obviously, had some discussion with them about the events, about the accident. But I think we would need to have regular, full and unfettered access to be able to go through it with them in the proper manner before we started providing additional explanations.

QUESTION: If I could just follow up, have we been trying to get any kind of access to the plane, you know, for our purposes of trying to piece together the accident, the sequence of events? And is that necessary, as well?

BOUCHER: I don't know. That's kind of it. No more detail.

QUESTION: There's a report in a Hong Kong paper today, quoting Chinese sources, that gives a different account of the aftermath of the collision than we've had so far. This says that our plane tried to escape and was forced to land at Hainan by the other pilot, after he was denied permission to shoot it down.

BOUCHER: I guess I heard something vaguely about that. And while I would say that we don't everything about it yet -- we haven't had a chance to talk to our crew -- that that kind of explanation doesn't coincide with what we do now.

QUESTION: Richard, you've had four chances to talk to the crew. Has this not come up?

BOUCHER: Yes, it has come up, but we haven't had full and unfettered access. We haven't had the chance to talk to them in all the details we might want to talk to them about in the situation.

We, obviously, know quite a bit about what happened. And the story that you were citing doesn't really jibe with what we've discussed so far, even what the Pentagon has said in public about what they know.

But in terms of having the complete and final explanation, I think we remained concerned about our people. We remain concerned about having the kind of access to our people that would let us discuss those things in the kind of detail we would expect to.

QUESTION: U.S. is giving away billions of dollars worth of aid around the world. Why are these friends or so-called friends and allies not speaking out on this issue?

BOUCHER: I think some of our friends have spoken in public and some have spoken in private. I think I'll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: Richard, you just said that you're still seeking full and unfettered access. I thought you had gotten that this morning.

BOUCHER: We got a meeting for 40 minutes with all members of our crew. I don't think we described that...

QUESTION: But there were fetters there?


BOUCHER: There were no Chinese officials in the room, but Chinese officials -- I mean, fetters is more than that.

QUESTION: Right, OK, so no time limit? I mean, short of their release, what is it that is going to make you satisfied about full and unfettered access?

BOUCHER: I think regular, repetitive, relaxed, repeated. You know, unrestricted access would be what we want. I just think, you know, full and unfettered is as good an explanation as anything, as the chance to talk to our people when we want to and how we want to. That's what we would prefer. We've asked for having regular meetings a couple times a day with them. We've asked for having no time limits.

So anything, you know, any access we can get to our people, first and foremost, is good because we can ascertain that they're in good conditions, good spirits, well taken care of. That's fine. We've been able to do that, but we haven't really a chance to talk to them as much as we'd like and to keep in sort of continuous contact with them.

QUESTION: I have two questions. One following up on Dave's question, where you said: It has come up. Do you mean the issue of how the plane came to land in China has come up? And if so, given this alternative explanation, can you tell us what you can tell us about what you know about what actually happened, so we have it clear?

BOUCHER: I think it's premature for me to try to provide you with an entire description of the accident. The Pentagon has tried to do that to the extent they can at this point, but I don't think I can sit here and move my hands around and describe airplanes for you yet -- at least, I can't.

QUESTION: Has any consideration been given in the talks so far to the use of a neutral mediator the way that we have used them with China before, such as the Greeks or Kofi Annan or whatever?

QUESTION: And is there any indication in the talks so far that the Chinese military are seeking a new agreement on how close we can fly to the Chinese coast? BOUCHER: I have a problem answering "any consideration ever given to." I can't vouch that such a thought never crossed anybody's mind, but I will suggest to you that you look at what we're doing, and we're quite up front about what we are doing, we're pursuing this on the president's instructions, working with the State Department, with our ambassador who's in intensive discussions with the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Our ambassador is speaking on behalf of the United States government, the Foreign Ministry is speaking on behalf of the Chinese government, and we're in intensive discussions, attempting to resolve this. That's what happens. That's what is happening. I wouldn't go chasing around for any other possibilities. That's, obviously, what's happening. That is the way we're working this.

QUESTION: You said before you wouldn't want to focus on any one particular issue in terms of resolving this. Do you mean the issue of an apology is not the only issue now, or do you mean that it's no longer an issue?

BOUCHER: I don't mean either of those.

QUESTION: OK, what do you mean then?

BOUCHER: I mean that I'm not going to talk about the details of how we're going to resolve this or how we intend to resolve this, one way or the other. And it's no good fishing, throwing out different kinds of bait to see if I'll bite.

QUESTION: It was worth a try.

QUESTION: Do you expect the Chinese ambassador back here today?

BOUCHER: No meeting is scheduled at this point. Could never rule it out, but there's nothing planned.

QUESTION: I think it was "The People's Daily" that said that these 24 Americans could be put on trial. Do you have any reaction to that or have you heard that?

BOUCHER: I don't remember seeing that in "The People's Daily." I haven't read "The People's Daily" yet today. I mean, the latest thing I've seen was the Xinhua News Agency statement that said we were in discussions on how to resolve this.

QUESTION: Early on, we reported that major naval units had been told to keep clear, to retire from the area. Does that order still stand? Is there any...

BOUCHER: I don't do instructions and orders to naval units, you'll have to ask the Navy or the Pentagon about that, I'm afraid. We don't have any ships over here at the State Department.

QUESTION: Has the secretary responded to Qian Qichen's letter over the weekend?

And, another question, will all these talks push back the deadline for the Taiwan arms deal?

BOUCHER: The discussions have been ongoing. There's been exchanges of papers and ideas. Again, as we did last week, I think one has to see the process as not just we write a letter, they write a letter back; we write a letter, they write a letter back. We are having ongoing discussions through our ambassador. There are papers, letters and things that are part of that discussion. But it is a continuing conversation with different elements, different pieces of paper coming in at one moment.

So that's a quick way to say that there've been exchanges of papers and documents that would, I think, respond substantively to the ideas that first the secretary put out in this letter and Qian Qichen put out in his letter. We've continued our discussions through the weekend. We've had two more meetings during the course of Monday in Beijing. So this process continues, and as we'd say, rather intensely.

There was a second half, Taiwan arms sales. As we've said, it's a separate issue. The timetable for that, criteria for that are following the normal pattern.

QUESTION: Along the same lines, Taiwan's president in the last day or two has expressed concern that the resolution of this might somehow include elements detrimental to Taiwan and its need for defensive arms. Can you reassure them that that's not on the table in your discussions?

BOUCHER: We don't consult with the Chinese on Taiwan arms sales.

I think we've made that clear as a matter of policy. That remains policy. The secretary has recently reiterated it, if I remember correctly, in testimony. So there's no change in that. That remains the situation.

What the secretary did mention yesterday is clearly the atmosphere on the Hill is affected by these events, and the reception that might be given to any proposals from the administration might be different, depending on those attitudes.

QUESTION: Any consideration for the UN to get involved in the issue?

BOUCHER: As we've mentioned in response to all these great ideas that are coming out, we're pursuing this diplomatically, bilaterally, through the United States. At this point there's nothing else going on.

QUESTION: One more question. How do you respond to those fears that somehow in a few days from today the status is going to change hostages than to detainees?

BOUCHER: We're working to get our people out as soon as possible. There's where I'd leave it.

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: You touched upon the Xinhua News Agency report. You reported that for this time, you reported that the discussions were going on. How significant do you think it is?

BOUCHER: I think when I take on this job I have to leave my old job as an analyst of Chinese affairs, so I don't think it should be for the U.S. government to describe how significant the Chinese press report is. So I think I'll decline on that. We just noted it. We noted that they've talked about the continuing efforts to resolve the situation, and in particular the efforts that our ambassador is making to resolve it at an early date.

It's noteworthy, is what I would say, and not try to give you any further analysis from here.

QUESTION: Richard, do you have any comments or do you agree with the Cato Institute report that there should be alarm for the U.S. in Chinese military budget increase from $20 billion to $60 billion figures -- they are not providing the real figures -- that U.S. should be worried about it?

BOUCHER: I don't think I want to do anything new on that particular budget increase at this point. When it was announced, we discussed it to some extent here. We've obviously looked at it. The secretary discussed it when Vice Premier Qian Qichen was here and asked him for an understanding, encouraged him to have more open and transparent budgets.

So we're quite aware of the Chinese military budget. We're quite aware of their overall military modernization plans. But I don't think I have anything particularly new to say about it today.

QUESTION: Do you have anything current on the helicopter crash? And can you say something about the progress we're making with Vietnam on the whole MIA issue at this point?

BOUCHER: Let me see what I have on that. I'm not sure I have anything more than the Pentagon might be able to give you on this. There were 16 people, including seven U.S. military personnel, who were killed in this crash of the chartered Russian-made MI-17 helicopter on April 7 in Quang Binh province, which is around 250 miles south of Hanoi.

The U.S. and Vietnamese officials involved were working on search operations for American servicemen missing from the Vietnam War. We want to express our very sincere condolences and regrets to the families of the American and Vietnamese officials. We'd refer you, in the end, to the Defense Department's Office of Prisoner of War/Missing in Action for further details about the mission.

ALLEN: Richard Boucher at the State Department. The latest on the China standoff, he says some movement, but he would now give as we push into a second week in this standoff with China. He says the crew remains in good spirits. They are receiving e-mail from their family members. A next meeting with them is not set between the crew and U.S. attaches. As far as diplomatic discussion, the United States continues in intense discussions. He said the United States is in a sensitive moment. He used the same description last week. He said that's the State Department's way of saying they're not going to tell us any more about that. But again, the United States hopes this is resolved soon, reiterating the White House call for this to end so the relationship with China won't be damaged.



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