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Washington File


22 February 2005

State Department Briefing, February 22

Venezuela, Mexico, Nicaragua, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon/Syria, Greece, Turkey, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Israel/Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, NATO, China, Egypt

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher briefed the press February 22.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
12:45 p.m. EST

Briefer:  Richard Boucher, Spokesman

-- Response to Chavez Allegations/Relations with U.S.
-- Problems Created by Venezuela in the Region/Policy Issues/Democracy

-- U.S. Soldier Killed
-- Upcoming Elections

-- U.S. Delegation to Region/MANPADS Destruction
-- National Assembly Vote/Government Pledge
-- Keeping Missiles Out of the Hands of Terrorists and Criminals

-- North Korean Statements about Possibly Returning to 6-Party Talks
-- Contact with the Chinese/Secretary Rice's Conversation with Chinese Foreign Minister

-- Potential Earthquake Assistance

-- Political Process in Iraq/Ibrahim Jafari
-- Iranian Involvement in Iraqi Politics

-- UN Sanctions on Syria/Syrian Withdrawal from Lebanon
-- Taif Accords/Resolution 1559
-- U.S. Efforts to Apply Pressure on Syria
-- Meetings with Lebanese/Assistant Secretary Burns Meetings
-- Deputy Assistant Secretary Satterfield's Travel

-- Potential Meeting Between the Secretary and the Greek Foreign Minister
-- Greek Journalist Teaching at the Foreign Service Institute

-- U.S.-Turkey Relations/Enormous Cooperation on Broad Strategic Issues

-- Pattern of Intimidation of Journalists/Upcoming Parliamentary Elections
-- South African President Mbeki's Comments/Secretary Rice's Confirmation Hearings

-- Accusations Against Former President Sanchez de Lozada/Extradition

-- Disengagement Plan an Opportunity for Progress/Encourage Coordination on Plan
-- Proposed Route of Security Barrier

-- Release of Ahmed Abu Ali

-- President's Press Conference with NATO Secretary General
-- Broader Understanding of the Current Circumstances in the World

-- EU's Plan to Lift Arms Embargo on China

-- Postponement of G-8 Arab League Ministerial
-- Good Opportunity to Advance Dialogue on Reform
-- Series of Meetings at Different Levels/Forum for the Future
-- Imprisonment of Ayman Nour/Reform



12:45 p.m. EST

MR. BOUCHER:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I don't have any statements or announcements for you.  I'd be glad to take your questions.

QUESTION:  Well, with the Secretary and the President in Europe, maybe we can look elsewhere for news.  Venezuela over the last few days, they've come out with very strong statements -- the president says the United States is plotting to kill him.  The Information Minister says that there's some kind of propaganda campaign going on.  So I don't expect you from the podium to confirm these things, but is there anything the U.S. can do to lower the rhetoric?

MR. BOUCHER:  First of all, these allegations are ridiculous and untrue, and the idea that we were out to get the President of Venezuela is just plain wrong.  What we do want to do is look at various policy issues that we have with the Government of Venezuela, and policy issues that have risen with others in the region that we need to deal with.  I think the whole region -- whole region, which has signed the Charter of Democracy, as Venezuela has, has been concerned about some of the developments inside Venezuela with regard to the opposition, with regard to the free press, with regard to the pattern of discourse inside Venezuela.

The whole region has been concerned at times about some of the activities in Venezuela that we've noticed the FARC has had, and there have been, as you know, recent problems with Colombia, which they appear to now have addressed bilaterally, and that's good.

But we have to be concerned about these aspects of Venezuelan behavior because they are disruptive to the region and we need to address them.

QUESTION:  And when you talk about the whole region being -- having these concerns, are these -- are you citing these as concerns they make to you in private conversations, or is there some manifestation in some public forum that you could cite?

MR. BOUCHER:  I think you've seen these concerns addressed in public by different nations together.

QUESTION:  Could we stay on --

MR. BOUCHER:  Okay, sure.

QUESTION:  Mexico.  This weekend a soldier was killed in one of the states of Mexico, and I wonder if you guys have any reaction.  And can you respond to the allegation that he's a friend or brother of one of the narcotraffickers in Mexico?

MR. BOUCHER:  No, I don't have anything on that.  Who are you -- who are we talking about?

QUESTION:  A soldier, a U.S. soldier who was killed.

MR. BOUCHER:  No, I'll have to check on that and see.  I don't know anything about that.

Yes, okay.

QUESTION:  Staying in the region?

MR. BOUCHER:  Don't have to.

QUESTION:  That's all right.  On Nicaragua, we understand that the Assistant Secretary of State, Ms. Likins, I think, is in Managua discussing the issue of MANPADS.  There's also a reference in an article in Wall Street Journal today to a State Department cable saying that the Nicaraguan military might be designated a criminal organization by the United States.  Can you elaborate what's going on --

MR. BOUCHER:  I did not see that and I'm not sure I'm able to do that, to try to address that sort of thing.  Let me see if there's anything more to get on that.

As far as the delegation going down, yes, we do have a team down there of State Department and Pentagon officials working on the issue of Man Portable Air Defense Systems. This has been a longstanding issue, one that we have worked productively with the Nicaraguan Government on. The team is headed by Rose Likins, L-i-k-i-n-s, Rose Likins, Acting Assistant Secretary for Political and Military Affairs, and they are in Managua now to renew contact with Nicaraguan officials on the matter.

President Bolanos of Nicaragua assured President Bush and former Secretary of State Powell in 2003 that Nicaragua would destroy all of its man portable missiles in order to reduce the chance that they might fall into the hands of criminals and terrorists.  Since then, the Government of Nicaragua has destroyed some of these systems with U.S. assistance.

So the purpose of this visit is to review progress in light of the recent sting operation by the Nicaraguan Government in which they recovered an SA-7, as well as the recent National Assembly vote, which would require that body's approval for any further MANPADS destruction.  It remains our goal to ensure that further MANPADS cooperation remains on track, and that we do work with the Government of Nicaragua as it tries to fulfill its pledge.

QUESTION:  Are you satisfied so far with the progress on this issue?

MR. BOUCHER:  I think we have been satisfied with some of the efforts the Nicaraguan Government made to destroy missiles, to the sting operation that helped identify that there might be others out there.  But obviously, the National Assembly vote creates difficulties and it is one of the reasons why we want to get a team down there to try to work with them, to help make sure the Government can fulfill the pledge that it made at very high levels.

Yes, okay.

QUESTION:  Can I ask you a question in the area of North Korea?  You reaction --

QUESTION:  How about one last one --

QUESTION:  -- Venezuela.

MR. BOUCHER:  All right.  We're going to finish with South America first, but you get first dibs when we're done.

Okay, Said.

QUESTION:  On Venezuela, going back to the Chavez allegation, would you consider issuing a formal statement rebutting or denying these allegations, including the accusations that he is personally targeted for assassination?

MR. BOUCHER:  I just did.

QUESTION:  On the missiles, there are some press reports in Mexico that those -- some of those missiles are in the hands of narcotraffickers in the border with the U.S. and also these killers called Zetas, who according to the Dallas Morning News now are operating in Dallas, Texas and some other cities in Texas.

Do you have anything on that or it's just --

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't have anything like that.  I haven't seen those reports.  I don't think -- I'm not -- I don't have any information like that.

I would say, though, that the reason that we want to buy back -- or see these missiles destroyed -- excuse me -- in some other countries it's buybacks.  But the reason we want to see these missiles destroyed and taken off the streets everywhere is so that they do not fall into the hands of criminals and terrorists.  They are dangerous and where countries don't need them we think they should be destroyed.

QUESTION:  Also on the region, Mr. Porter Goss created a brief political storm in Mexico when he included the country in a list of potential flashpoints in 2005 due to the upcoming electoral cycle in 2006.  Do you share the CIA's view that there could be some instability in the region because of this upcoming electoral process?

MR. BOUCHER:  I'll leave that to the CIA.


QUESTION:  With this rhetoric with Chavez saying that if he gets killed you'll be blamed, President Bush will be blamed, what is it going to take for the relations to go back to good terms after all these years of rhetoric and --

MR. BOUCHER:  Our view is that this is about democracy in Venezuela, this is about Venezuela's role in the region, this is about Venezuela's contribution to controlling, you know, trafficking, terrorism and other difficulties that people face in the region.

So we have always had a positive attitude on those issues, in terms of looking for the kind of cooperation from Venezuela that other countries put into these issues, and looking for the kind of positive attitudes towards democracy that other countries put into democracy.

So our attitude towards Venezuela is going to be based on the issues.  Unfortunately, in addition to these wild charges and ridiculous statements that we've seen, we haven't seen any concrete progress on reversing the negative trends, as far as democracy in the press.  We haven't -- and we've seen a continued outbreak of different issues that involve problems that Venezuela seems to be creating in the region.

So we have taken a fairly close look at this and continue to take a fairly close look at Venezuela's position in the region.  But it's not -- it's not based on personality.  It is based on policy and problems.

North Korea?

QUESTION:   Yes, please.  Just how do you react to this apparent change of heart and whether you take it seriously.

MR. BOUCHER:  We have seen the reports of the statement by Kim Jong-Il that North Korea is prepared to participate in the six-party talks at "any time if there are mature conditions" -- I think that was the North Korean phrase.

All of the other parties, all of the other five parties, the United States, China, the Republic of Korea, Japan and Russia, are, in fact, ready to return to the table at an early date and without preconditions.  It is only North Korea that claims current conditions are unfavorable.  For our part, the United States stands ready to return to the talks to discuss the proposals that have been on the table since June.

We will seek to learn more from the Chinese regarding the Central Committee member Wang Jiarui's recent trip to Pyongyang, and we will continue to look for willingness on the part of North Korea to come back and address these issues, address these issues diplomatically as we want to, address these issues peacefully as we want to, and achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as all six parties, including North Korea, are pledged to do.

QUESTION:  Has there been any contact with the Chinese?

MR. BOUCHER:  We've had a little contact with the Chinese.  Secretary Rice, from Europe, spoke with the Chinese Foreign Minister this morning, our time, and had, let's say, an initial conversation with him about the visit.  But we expect to have further follow-up and exchanges on the subject of the visit.



MR. BOUCHER:  On Iran?

QUESTION:  Are you planning to send any assistance to Iran after the earthquake?

MR. BOUCHER:  We're willing -- it's something we're looking at.  There's nothing specific yet, in terms of knowing what they need and what we might provide, but it is something we will look at.

QUESTION:  Did you mean to say that you're willing to send it, though?  Because that's how you started out that sentence.

MR. BOUCHER:  Yeah, I did.


MR. BOUCHER:  I think I said that.

QUESTION:  Well, because you stopped abruptly.

MR. BOUCHER:  Oh, I said it's something we're willing to look at, which, by extension, means we're willing to do it if it's the appropriate thing.


MR. BOUCHER:  Yes.  Said.

QUESTION:  Could you tell us your reaction to the choice of Ibrahim Jafari as -- the apparent choice of Ibrahim Jafari as the next Prime Minister of Iraq?  They're saying that he's had close ties with Iran in the past.

MR. BOUCHER:  Well, I'd say there you have it right there in your question -- the apparent, probable, maybe, choice by a party of the next prime minister.  This is politics in Iraq that's working itself out.  Parties are choosing their proposed choices for high offices and they're going to be negotiating and talking with other parties.  Obviously, a big party like this that has a -- or a big list like this that has a lot of seats has a lot of sway.  But we're looking forward to working with whatever Iraqi Government emerges.  That will be not only a prime minister, but it will be other -- presidency and other ministers.  And we are looking forward to having a constructive relationship with the whole Transitional Government.

QUESTION:  Just to follow up, a quick follow-up, you're not concerned that they may have closer ties with Iran or that Iran might be meddling in Iraqi politics?  Are you counseling them about that?

MR. BOUCHER:  I think we have frankly addressed those questions so many times, I don't know that we need to again.  We certainly have been concerned about some of the "meddling" as you call it, that Iran has done.  The Iraqis themselves have spoken about that.  But I don't think one sees -- one can predict that based on events today or even any reasonable expectation of what is likely to emerge from the political process in Iraq.  Politicians throughout Iraq are talking about a nation that stands on its own feet, that makes its own decisions, that makes its own politics, and we will see who emerges or how the leadership emerges for a Transitional Government that will be based on a mix of interests, be based on fundamental tenets of the law, like respect for minorities, and democracy.


QUESTION:  New subject?


QUESTION:  Syria and Lebanon.  President Chirac of France today said that the UN Security Council could impose more sanctions on Syria if it doesn't withdraw from Lebanon.  Can you talk about any next steps that are going to take part at the Council?  And what do you make of Syria's supposed commitment to Amr Moussa that it would start withdrawing from Lebanon?

MR. BOUCHER:  On the question of President Chirac's statement, I really think I'd best leave it with where the President and President Chirac left it last night.  They issued a joint statement on Lebanon after their dinner last night.  I think you can see that we and the French are cooperating very closely on matters regarding Lebanon and will continue to do so.

As far as the announcement by the Arab League that the Syrians have told them that Syria was withdrawing in accordance with the Taif Accords, you know, there's a clear standard in UN Resolution 1559; it calls for all foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon.  That has not happened and that is what needs to happen as soon as possible.  So we'll judge it by the facts.

QUESTION:  So, I mean, you're just looking for them to just automatically start withdrawing all their troops, or are you looking to coordinate this with them and can this be some part of some international mechanism that --

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't think that they have indicated they are willing to withdraw their troops, so the question of who they might coordinate with is not there yet.  The fact is that there's a clear standard in 1559 and we would expect them to meet that standard, and that standard is withdrawal either immediately, I think it is, or as soon as possible.

QUESTION:  The Lebanese Foreign Minister has said yesterday that the American and French call for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon is nothing new and that the Lebanese opposition is asking the international community, especially Washington, for an effective pressure on Syria. Do you have any reaction?

MR. BOUCHER:  I'd just point to what we have been doing and what we have done with the UN resolutions, what we have done with our own meetings with Syria where this is a major factor.  As far as Lebanese politics and who's in favor of this, that and the other, I'd leave it to the Lebanese to work out.  But as the international community, at the United Nations, Resolution 1559, as the United States and France for that matter and the joint statement that the two Presidents issued yesterday, and as the United States in terms of what we've done and said about our relationship with Syria, I think you can say that we do take this very seriously.  And we do think it is a very important item on the agenda for now.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION:  Are these calls for withdrawal being coordinated with the Syrian Government?  Are you in contact with them on this as you call for Syria to withdraw, or is this just something that you and France and other countries are undertaking on your own?

MR. BOUCHER:  Well, I think you know that with the withdrawal of our Ambassador we had a series of very high-level meetings with the Foreign Ministry -

QUESTION:  No, I'm talking about the Lebanese Government, I'm sorry.

MR. BOUCHER:  Oh, you said Syria.


MR. BOUCHER:  But, again, we have meetings with the Lebanese.  Assistant Secretary Burns was out for the funeral of former Prime Minister Hariri.  He didn't have many meetings out there but he had a couple, issued some statements, I think, was able to convey our position to the Lebanese.  We continue to make our position clear to the Lebanese Government and Lebanese politicians of all stripes, but it is also something -- I mean, the whole world knows about it.  We've passed UN resolutions and taken this position very publicly.

QUESTION:  Richard, can you tell us about David Satterfield's mission out to Lebanon?  When's he going to arrive, who's he going to see, what's he trying to do?

MR. BOUCHER:  He's going to go out there.  It's not set when's he going to arrive and who's he going to see, so that's why I haven't talked to it yet, but Deputy Assistant Secretary Satterfield is looking at a trip out there to Lebanon to follow up on the discussions that we've had before.

QUESTION:  I wanted to ask about Ambassador Satterfield, because there's a Lebanese newspaper, Ad Diyar said that he's already there, he's met -- you know, he's in Awkar, as a matter of fact.

MR. BOUCHER:  He's not there is he, Adam?  Did you talk to him this morning or --

MR. ERELI:  Talked to him this morning -- he was in his office.

MR. BOUCHER:  He was in his office this morning, so he's looking at going out there but he's not there yet.

QUESTION:  And don't look at the (inaudible).

MR. BOUCHER:  Okay, we won't.

QUESTION:  On Greece, it was reported today in Athens that the Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis is going to meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sometime here in Washington, D.C. in March.  Do you have anything on that?

MR. BOUCHER:  I'm not sure anything is quite scheduled yet.  Yeah, at this point we don't have anything firmly scheduled yet but they certainly look forward to seeing each other.  We'll tell you when it's scheduled.

QUESTION:  Turkey.  After Secretary's trip to Turkey, there have been articles, comments and news on Turkish-American relations in both countries.  Does U.S. Government have any concerns about relations, and what's your comment on the recent tension between the two countries?

MR. BOUCHER:  I'd go back to what the Secretary said during her trip.  Turkey is a very important ally and we have enormous areas of cooperation on broad strategic issues like Turkey's future destiny in Europe; we have broad cooperation on the Middle East, both the peacemaking process and the events in Iraq and in the region; we have very broad cooperation economically.  So this is a very positive and healthy relationship with the United States and one that deserves the kind of work that we put into it to make sure it stays healthy and productive for both sides.


QUESTION:  Richard, at least three members of the international press corps in Zimbabwe have felt compelled to leave the country after being subjected to rather robust interrogation by the authorities about alleged violations of the media laws.  I wondered if you have anything on that.

MR. BOUCHER:  We are certainly aware of that news.  I would just cite our general concerns about Zimbabwe.  I don't think I know enough about those particular cases that those journalists felt that they were interrogated to the point they were safer or better off leaving the country.  But we have noted over time a pattern of intimidation of journalists.  We have noted over time a pattern in Zimbabwe of shutting down newspapers, shutting down civil society, restrictions on civil society, a climate where the opposition, for example, fears for its safety.

So we have, indeed, called attention to those problems there.  We've also called attention to the parliamentary elections that are coming up on March 31st and made clear, as I think others have, that these need to be free and fair elections and emphasizing that the open environment for journalists, the open environment for the opposition to peacefully contest the elections needs to be ensured.

QUESTION:  Just a related question.  The South African president, Mr. Mbeki, has given an interview with the Financial Times in which he is critical of Secretary Rice for listing Zimbabwe among six outposts of tyranny.  He says that's an exaggeration and it's counterproductive to his efforts to promote a fair election.

MR. BOUCHER:  I think if you look at the facts that we've pointed to, there is good reason for us to be concerned about Zimbabwe.  President Bush has stated he is deeply troubled by human rights violations in Zimbabwe, so the position that Secretary Rice affirmed in her confirmation hearings is one the United States has taken before, and it's also one that's based on solid fact of anybody that looks at it.

That said, I do think, and in general terms I'd say we've had positive discussions with South Africa on the question of Zimbabwe.  We have welcomed their engagement in Zimbabwe.  I think President Mbeki said in that interview that he could assist Zimbabwe in holding free and fair elections, and that's certainly a goal that we share with South Africa.

So our governments have often pursued different ways of working on the problems of Zimbabwe, but I think to some -- to a great extent South Africa is trying to work to correct some of the same problems that we are focused on.

Okay, Jesus.

QUESTION:  I just wonder if the Government of Bolivia has made contact with you with regard to the accusations to the former President Sanchez de Lozada, who is living in the U.S.  Have you had any request of his extradition?

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't know.  I'd have to check.  But if it's an extradition request, the Justice Department might be able to decline comment rather than over here.  (Laughter.)  But I'll check and see if we have anything to say.

QUESTION:  And are you worried that he is accused of human rights violations and killings and he is living in the U.S.?

MR. BOUCHER:  I'll have to look into the matter further.


QUESTION:  New topic?


QUESTION:  On Sunday the Israeli cabinet approved the pullout from Gaza but they also approved a new route for the wall and it leaves 93,000 Palestinians under direct Israeli rule -- not like originally thought, 10,000.  It takes 7 more percent of the land.  It also leaves 177,000 Palestinian Arab residents of East Jerusalem completely cut off from the West Bank.  Are you aware?  Are you talking to them on this -- about this issue?

MR. BOUCHER:  Let me address both parts of this.  The disengagement from Gaza and four settlements on the West Bank, we, as you know, think offers a real opportunity for progress in the quest for peace and an opportunity to return to a political process, to the roadmap process.  We have encouraged and continue to encourage the Government of Israel and Palestinian Authority to coordinate on the implementation of the Gaza plan and we see the announcement that the Israelis have made in that context.

The Israeli disengagement from Gaza, done in a way that's consistent with the roadmap and with appropriate support from the international community, does have the potential to move both parties closer to realization of the President's two state vision, and this is another step forward.

As far as the route of the security barrier, we are looking at the details of the proposed route.  Our position, fundamental policy position on the route, has not changed.  It is a problem to the extent that it prejudges final borders; it confiscates Palestinian property or imposes further hardship on the Palestinian people.  So we will be doing the sort of analysis that you're talking about in terms of identifying to what extent it does create those kinds of difficulties.


QUESTION:  Do you have anything on the release by the Saudis of Mr. Ahmed Abu Ali, who was indicted in a Virginia court today?

MR. BOUCHER:  I'll have to see if there's anything to say about that.  I'll check.

QUESTION:  In the context of the President's trip, ongoing trip overseas, there seems to be some talk about NATO becoming a political-military alliance, not just a military alliance, some involvement perhaps by NATO in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  There also seems to be a question as to whether or not NATO or the EU should be our principal vehicle for achieving certain diplomatic goals.

I wonder if you have any thoughts on:  (a) whether or not NATO should be a political alliance as well as a military one; and (b) the interplay between NATO and the EU, how will they coordinate their actions, et cetera.



MR. BOUCHER:  I was going to say, are we turning this in for a Master's thesis?  (Laughter.)

First of all, the President addressed precisely these questions in his press conference with the NATO Secretary General today, and that's really where sort of the present state of the discussion stands.

Second of all, in terms of being a political alliance, NATO has always been a political alliance.  And if you look in NATO's recent actions, you will see that NATO is reaching out in a lot of new and different ways that reflect a broader understanding of the current circumstances in the world, the current threats to alliance members.  So you have NATO in Afghanistan, you have NATO in Iraq, you have NATO with the Istanbul Initiative and the Mediterranean outreach looking at some of those areas. You have NATO, over the last 10 or 15 years, reaching out through the Partnerships for Peace and the other cooperation programs to create a more peaceful security environment for all of us, including the new members and those that we touch with these various programs.

Finally, NATO versus the EU:  Where do you coordinate security policy?  The answer -- and you see this from the President's visit -- both are important institutions to us in terms of working with, coordinating with our allies.  Each one does sometimes similar things, sometimes different.  Each, for example, has a role in the outreach to the Middle East, NATO more on security measures, the EU with its Barcelona process more on some of the economic and civil society kinds of things.  But you might as well add in the G-8 to the mix because the G-8 is where we took the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative that kind of integrates with all these things as well.

So I think the answer on which one is both.  NATO for us remains the key alliance.  It is the key to the transatlantic relationship.  That remains true for many others as well who have sought to join NATO just because of that transatlantic tie.

Okay, we had a lady way in the back.

QUESTION:  In Europe, the President also addressed a concern about EU's plan to lift the embargo to China.  Specifically he mentioned about that will tilt the military balance across Taiwan Strait.  Do you have any comment on that?

MR. BOUCHER:  I agree with him.


QUESTION:  A follow-up?


QUESTION:  Just, you know, in the conversation between Chinese Foreign Minister and Madame Secretary this morning, did the Chinese part express their concern about joint statement signed by Japan-American --

MR. BOUCHER:  I'm not going to try to go into detail on that conversation.  I'm afraid I don't have a readout for you.  But the principal subject of discussion was North Korea.


QUESTION:  Anything on the postponement, the indefinite postponement, by the Egyptians of the G-8 Arab League meeting next week?  And is the Secretary going to be reaching out to the Egyptians to try to get those back on track?

MR. BOUCHER:  Yeah, let me talk about that a little bit. This is a decision the Government of Egypt made, and they've announced their decision to postpone the G-8 Arab League ministerial that was being considered for March 3rd.  We do believe a conference such as this represents a good opportunity to advance the dialogue on reform that is underway in the region.  It is supported by the Broader Middle East and North African Initiatives launched by the G-8, and we look forward to working G-8 to Arab League in terms of the initiatives the Arab League has taken itself on reform.

It is one of a series of conferences that are planned.  We understand from the Egyptian discussion that they wanted to coordinate more with their Arab League colleagues and perhaps reschedule -- they've called it postpone -- reschedule after upcoming meetings with the Arab League.  So we'll continue to keep in touch with them and see when that might be done.  We think it's still a -- it's a useful meeting.  It's one of a series of meetings that are being held this year to advance the prospects of reform in the Middle East, to advance the whole initiative for the broader Middle East and North Africa.

In early April, the finance ministers from these nations will be meeting in D.C. to talk about economic and financial reform.  In May, there's an education ministerial being held in Jordan to talk about that -- work on that specific, very key element on how do you reform, modernize education systems so that they meet the needs of the populations.  And all this leads to the Forum for the Future meeting in Bahrain in November.  So you'll see a whole series of meetings at different levels that will lead to this engagement on any number of fronts that the Forum for the Future is involved in, whether it's civil society and democracy or entrepreneurship and micro-finance and starting businesses or the education side of things, so it will be a whole series of activities.  We think the G-8/Arab League meeting that was being discussed is a useful one and we would hope that it would again fit into this series of activities.

QUESTION:  There's been some reports in the Egyptian media that there's friction in the U.S.-Egypt relationship as a result of the Ayman Nour issue, that the U.S. is pressuring the Egyptians into releasing him.  Are those reports accurate?

MR. BOUCHER:  We have made clear our view that we think Mr. Nour deserves to be released. We have made that clear in public.  Secretary and Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit addressed it when he was here and they both addressed it in public as well.  So it's a known issue, it's one area where we continue to have a dialogue with the Egyptians.  We've also continued to have a dialogue on the subjects of reform and the issues that Egypt itself has brought into the agenda for reform, as well as a lot of other areas of cooperation.  So I guess I'd say look at the press conference the Secretary did with the Egyptian Foreign Minister.  You will see that issue addressed but also see that issue addressed in context of a whole lot of U.S.-Egypt cooperation in things like Middle East peace.

MR. BOUCHER:  Okay, we're going to make it back.

QUESTION:  Mr. Boucher, any answer to my pending question since last Friday, regarding the Greek correspondents who lectured and still lecture in your school of Foreign Services?

MR. BOUCHER:  I think we just got something.  We just got it up a few minutes ago, so we'll get it to you.

QUESTION:  Okay, thank you.

QUESTION:  Richard, can you tell us who is going to be Special Envoy to human rights in North Korea?

MR. BOUCHER:  No.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  You don't have anything.

MR. BOUCHER:  I don't know.  I don't have anything on that.  I'll see if there's any announcement pending, but I'm not aware of one.

QUESTION:  Thank you.


MR. BOUCHER:  Okay, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 p.m. EST)

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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