Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman
October 17, 2001
1 Welcoming International Visitors
1,2 Anthrax Threat/ Diplomatic Security Briefings/Departmental Notice of October 10/ Security Notice/Security Steps/Posts Continue on Heightened State of Alert
2,3,8 Procedural Changes for Visa Applicants/ Lookout Check/Drop in Visa Issuance
3,4 Post-Taliban Government/ Support of Broad-based Government/Welcoming Reappointment of Mr. Brahimi/Ambassador Haass' Travel Plans
4 Closings of Embassy Sarajevo, Branch Offices in Baja Luka and Mostar and US Agency for International Development Office in Tuzla/ Usama bin Laden’s Network
4,5 Posts Providing Only Emergency American Citizen Services
5 Suspicious Letter Received by Consulate Osaka
1,5,6 Secretary Powell’s Bilateral Meetings/APEC Ministerial Meeting
8,9 Executed Muslim Terrorists/ Waiver of Sanctions
6 Assassination of Israeli Minister/Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Claiming Responsibility/ Despicable Act of Terrorism/ Mitchell Committee
6,7 Global Reach of Campaign Against Terrorism
7 Anthrax Attacks Showing Signs of State Sponsorship
7 Conversations with Syrians Concerning Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
7 Linking Iraq to September 11 Attacks or to Anthrax
8 Russian Base Closings
MR. REEKER: Welcome back to the State Department, ladies and gentlemen. Again, I apologize for the delay. As you know, Secretary Powell has been traveling. He arrived this morning our time in Shanghai, China. Ambassador Boucher, of course, is accompanying him so I am here to try to fill in that role and answer your questions.
First, I would like to recognize three groups of visitors we have from Meridian International Center, part of our International Visitor Program here at the State Department: a group of 12 Russian journalists; an editor from New Zealand; and a group of 15 Finnish and 5 Estonian journalists. So 35 visitors. Thank you very much for joining us today.
We will try to be brief. I have a 2 o'clock engagement, so with that let me turn to the Associated Press and Mr. Schweid.
QUESTION: Phil, is there anything being done here so far as this anthrax threat? Is the mail room still open? Are offices closed? Are you functioning as normal? Any measures, any precautions?
MR. REEKER: Diplomatic Security has been conducting briefings to educate employees this week. They are being briefed on what to look for in terms of handling mail and what to do, what not to do.
I would direct you, Barry, to a Departmental Notice that was put out on October 10th following a couple of incidents we had here at the State Department, as you know, where unidentified powdery substances were removed by hazardous materials officials, determined to be non-hazardous. And we did put out a Security Notice giving employees an outline of how to proceed in terms of these cases in light of the confirmed cases of exposure to anthrax that we are all seeing now around the city and around the country.
QUESTION: Just to follow, that's it? Just the Diplomatic Security briefings -- mail room?
MR. REEKER: We are also taking additional steps in terms of security steps, which I don't think I'm in a position to go into great detail on, lest someone be able to try to circumvent those steps that we are taking to protect our people and this facility, all our facilities overseas. We have alerted our posts, given them guidance on dealing with suspicious letters and packages -- all of our overseas embassies and consulates. Letters and packages obviously need to be viewed in a different light, given these concerns.
Support from local host governments has been outstanding all around the world, and all of our posts continue on a heightened state of alert, not just for potential biohazards, but obviously for the terrorist hazards we are all too well aware of.
QUESTION: A two-part question. Have visa procedures changed since September 11th at consulate offices, including, you know, more scrutiny of applicants from certain countries or for further background checks, longer waits, that kind of thing?
MR. REEKER: That is a very broad question. I would have to examine each and every post. Every visa application is taken on its own individual merits at all of our posts around the world.
QUESTION: Have you guys changed --
MR. REEKER: There is a process -- we have discussed it here at fair length -- that includes running every visa application through what is known as the CLASS, the lookout check. It's a computerized database that must be checked before a visa can physically be issued. So every one of our posts would continue to do that. That includes names and identities provided from intelligence sources and other methods to identify those we may want to check if they are applying for US visas.
QUESTION: So have visa procedures changed at all, though? I'm wondering. Also, my other question was, why was there a significant drop in the number of visas issued to Middle Eastern -- for Middle Eastern countries in the two weeks after September 11th?
MR. REEKER: I would have to check those figures. I am not familiar with that particularly. I don't think it would be a surprise to anyone that there was a drop in visa issuance from anywhere in the world following September 11th. I think it has been well reported the drop in travel worldwide, the concerns that many have had about travel, given the terrorist threats and the images they saw from what was perpetrated against the United States on September the 11th.
So, again, I don't have tallies of worldwide visa issuance. Again, each visa is examined on an individual basis. Each post reviews that to meet the criteria for being issued a visa under our law, under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which is a law passed by Congress, signed by the President of the United States. That is the rubric in which consular officers issue visas at our posts overseas.
QUESTION: And again, I'm sorry, just to follow up. Has there been any procedural changes with regards to visa applicants? I mean, have there -- did you guys issue statements to consulate offices throughout the world that --
MR. REEKER: Again, I am not aware of any blanket statements. Again, we have 200-some posts around the world that are involved in visa issuance, and so I am just not in the position to go over what every single post is reviewing. But we have discussed the reviews that take place in terms of the lookout systems, the coordination with other government agencies, in terms of reviewing names and applicants for visas under our law.
And as we have discussed before and a number of senior State Department officials have discussed on Capitol Hill with Congress, we are looking at ways to work with Congress to strengthen the cooperation between the State Department and other US Government agencies, law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community to even better carry out the visa screening position. Obviously, we have to work closely with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which is in charge of admitting individuals into the United States at our border posts.
QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on what the US is doing to help fashion a post-Taliban government?
MR. REEKER: Let me just see if I have anything particular to update you on. I don't think there is a tremendous amount to add. As you know, we very much support a broad-based government in Afghanistan. We have had contacts with all factions, a variety of factions. We would want any government there to be as broad-based as possible, including a variety of ethnic and geographic groups, given the makeup of that country.
We welcome the appointment of Mr. Brahimi, or reappointment, as the Secretary General of the United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan. We will obviously continue working closely with the United Nations and others in the international community.
Again, you are aware that the Secretary announced that his person point person to coordinate US-Afghan policy is Richard Haass, Ambassador and Director of our Office of Policy Planning here at the State Department.
I think we'll have more of a chance to look at that after Ambassador Haass has been in New York. He plans to go up tomorrow to meet with the Secretary General and with Mr. Brahimi, and then Mr. Brahimi is expected here in Washington to meet with Deputy Secretary Armitage and other US officials on Friday.
QUESTION: Are there any plans for Mr. Haass to go overseas?
MR. REEKER: I don't have any other travel plans for him to announce at this point. I think we will continue to have the contacts with a variety of Afghan groups, with those with an interest in Afghanistan, the international community, as we have in the past through the 6 + 2 structure under the United Nations auspices, as well as an opportunity at the APEC meetings in Shanghai to discuss with the leaders of Russia, China and other Asia- Pacific heads of state, foreign ministers' views on the future of Afghanistan.
But again, our goal there is to see the Afghan people choose a government, a representative government that can pursue democracy and respect for human rights, that can reverse what the Taliban has done to Afghanistan and to the Afghan people for so many years, using food as a weapon, the abuses vetted out towards women. So that is what we will continue to look for -- as broad-based as possible.
QUESTION: Any comment from this stage on the closing of the US offices in Bosnia, maybe? Do you see it as a proof of Usama bin Laden's network presence there, or what else? And what about other Balkan countries?
MR. REEKER: The Embassy in Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as our branch offices in Banja Luka and Mostar and the US Agency for International Development Office in Tuzla are closed to the public today, the 17th of October. They will be providing only emergency American citizen services, so any American citizens requiring assistance should still contact those offices through the regular channels, the regular phone contacts.
This step was taken due to a credible security threat to the official US Government facilities and personnel in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Embassy is keeping local American citizens and the local American community apprised of the situation through the Warden Network, the way in which we try to contact all Americans in those communities.
I am not in a position obviously to comment on the nature of the specific threat, but we will continue to evaluate the security there and can keep you posted on that. As we have noted in our Worldwide Caution, reminding Americans of the threat of terrorism and the need to evaluate their own personal security, we have mentioned that US embassies and posts and offices abroad may on occasion close to reevaluate their own security in light of threats or other concerns. And this is in keeping with that.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. So you don't make any connection between Usama bin Laden's network and US presence there in Bosnia?
MR. REEKER: I haven't made any specific comments on the threat. I'm not going to do that. All I have told you is to confirm indeed that our Embassy and other offices in Bosnia-Herzegovina chose to close to the public today so that they can reevaluate their security in light of some credible security threats to American facilities and personnel in that country.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, any other specific closures to the public today?
MR. REEKER: I think we have mentioned in the past that a number of posts are providing only emergency American citizen services while remaining open. That would include Bakku in Azerbaijan; Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore and Peshawar in Pakistan; Embassy Sanaa in Yemen; and, as I mentioned, Sarajevo; also our Consulate General in Osaka, Japan is open but just providing emergency American citizen services today.
The US Embassy in Moscow moved several offices from the old embassy building annex to the main embassy compound, and so as a result of that move, the consular section is able to provide only American citizen services at this time.
Other than that, I don't have any other specific posts to mention.
QUESTION: So it's not a security issue; it's an office-moving issue?
MR. REEKER: They moved several offices -- I don't have any details on it - - from the old embassy building, I am told, to the main embassy compound, and so that is why some people had asked earlier. They are only offering emergency American citizen services at this time.
QUESTION: Why is Osaka closed?
MR. REEKER: I think I have something specific on that. The US Consulate General in Osaka, Japan received a suspicious letter containing an unknown substance on Wednesday, October 17th. That would be today. The Japanese police were immediately called, and the letter was turned over to them. Individuals who handled the letter are taking antibiotics and undergoing tests. The Japanese police are running tests on the letter, and we are awaiting the results of those tests. So the Consulate General expects to be closed on October 18th as well and will reopen as soon as prudently possible. So we will keep you posted on that one.
QUESTION: Is that the only post that you are aware of that has received such a piece of mail that had to be tested?
MR. REEKER: I would have to go back and check on that, Betsy. I didn't have any other updates now, but I will look into that for you, if there are any other posts that have -- even without closing -- taken any steps regarding suspicious mail.
QUESTION: It didn't have a New Jersey postmark, did it?
MR. REEKER: That I am just not aware of, I'm sorry.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you have any information on any bilateral meetings that Secretary Powell may be having between now and -- or what he will be focusing on between now and President Bush's arrival --
MR. REEKER: I am afraid I would have to refer you to the traveling party for that. I don't have a rundown of his schedule. He has arrived, as I indicated, in Shanghai, where it is now the middle of the night or early tomorrow morning. So we will allow him to get a good night's sleep and then we will endeavor to get from the party a list of his schedule for this ministerial time during the APEC thing.
For those of you that weren't familiar with what the Secretary is doing in Shanghai, he is attending the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ministerial meeting. This is foreign ministers and trade ministers. It is taking place there in Shanghai the 17th and 18th, and of course the President will attend the APEC leaders meeting later this week. And, as you know, he is en route now.
That forum is the premier multilateral organization in the Asia-Pacific region that promotes free trade and investment among the 21 economies that participate and account for more than half of the world's GDP.
QUESTION: The assassination today of the Israeli minister in Israel -- what kind of impact would that have on the future talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
MR. REEKER: Let me say that we offer our sincere condolences to Prime Minister Sharon, to the Israeli Government and people, and to the family of Minister Ze'Evi. This is a despicable act of terrorism that we condemn in the strongest terms.
We understand that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has taken responsibility for this murder. Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority must move now to find and arrest all those responsible for this act, as well as to continue arrests of other known terrorists. And we urge all those authorities and states that harbor PFLP elements to recognize that terrorism is what has occurred, and this is what terrorism is, and to take action against those who practice it. There is absolutely no justification for this murder or for inactivity in the face of terrorism.
In terms of the progress we have seen in recent days, we have discussed that from here. It would be a tragedy if the terrorists were able to derail that progress and claim another victim today, so we want the Palestinians and the Israelis to continue with the positive steps that they have recently embarked on to improve the situation and begin to restore some measure of cooperation so that they can continue moving towards implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations and get into a dialogue for negotiations towards a permanent status settlement.
QUESTION: Phil, I think Deputy Secretary Armitage and others -- but I know he specifically said that the US campaign against terrorism is not only targeted on al-Qaida, and, in fact, he said no options are ruled out going after other terrorist groups and their supporters.
Are the supporters of this group unknown to the State Department? And if you know who they are, do you plan to do anything beyond just looking to them to curtail terrorism?
MR. REEKER: The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the PFLP, the group that has taken responsibility for this murder in Israel today, is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in our list of such groups, as you know well, Barry, and subject to sanctions there under our law. I would just refer you to the annual reports, Patterns of Global Terrorism Report, for details about that group.
Exactly what you indicated is exactly what the President of the United States has said: we are conducting a campaign against terrorism with a global reach; we are focusing now on the al-Qaida network that perpetrated the acts against the United States in New York and Washington on the 11th of September; and we will continue to look at terrorism broadly. In this specific case, again we are urging all those authorities and states that harbor elements of this group to recognize this terrorism for what it is and take action against those who practice it.
QUESTION: That group is apparently based in Syria. Are we speaking to the Syrians with relation to this? And also, there are other groups perhaps sponsored in the Bekka Valley.
MR. REEKER: I would just again refer you to the Patterns on Global Terrorism Report that goes into some detail on those issues. I don't have anything else right now to report in terms of any specific conversations on this.
QUESTION: So you have nothing to suggest the US will carry through on its pledge to take action?
MR. REEKER: We will continue, Barry --
QUESTION: You're asking the supporters who have allowed these groups to operate to crack down on them?
MR. REEKER: We will continue, Barry, to wage our campaign against terrorism globally. I would refer you to what the President, the Secretary of State and other senior officials have said in regard to that campaign. We are focused on this using all the tools at our disposal, be they financial and economic, information and intelligence-sharing, police and law enforcement action, as well as military action when that is appropriate. And we will continue to follow in this, and I just have nothing further to add to what the President has said at this point.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Does the US see any evidence that the anthrax attacks show signs of state sponsorship?
And the second part of my question is, anything linking Iraq to the September 11th attacks, or to the anthrax?
MR. REEKER: I don't think I have anything to add on Iraq. We have addressed that question before. I would refer you to any law enforcement officials that are involved in conducting the investigation on the September 11th attacks, and I don't believe that any specific links have been made at this point. Anything that I am able to share with you from here about the anthrax attacks, again, I would refer you to the law enforcement officials who are responsible for those investigations.
In terms of the question that we had yesterday that I think is what you may be alluding to, and what follows on to that, we have no reason to believe at this point that Russia or any particular Central Asian country has been the source of anthrax or any other pathogen. We have no reason to know a particular source of that at this point. And we work with many European countries and Japan in coordinating a program to prevent proliferation of biological weapons, expertise, materials and technology from Russia and other Central Asian countries.
In particular, the Department of Defense's program on biological weapons proliferation prevention includes enhancing the physical protection of strain collections and facilities. And I think the Department of Defense can give you more details on that.
QUESTION: There were two Muslim terrorists who were executed by China. Now, the President, as well as Secretary of State Colin Powell, are going to this conference in Shanghai, and people are saying this is just another case of repression. How do you view that?
MR. REEKER: I am afraid, Joel, I am not even aware of those particular reports. If you want to let the Press Office know the specifics, we can try to have a look into that.
MR. REEKER: Okay, thanks. Anything else? Two more, quickly. We've got time.
QUESTION: Another visa question. With regards to the Saudi Arabian Embassy, consulate offices -- any changes at those offices? I know that there are allegedly six of the hijackers had gotten visas through offices there in Saudi Arabia.
MR. REEKER: Again, I guess I am not sure what you are searching for in terms of change.
QUESTION: Any kind of change as far as --
MR. REEKER: I think each consulate, each embassy, that is involved in issuing visas reviews each visa on a case-by-case basis. It is run through a particular lookout system, as we call it, before a visa can be issued. And I will be happy to check. If you want to get with me afterwards, we can look into those two particular ones.
QUESTION: Two things. The first one is, the Russians have announced today the closure of Cam Ranh base in Cuba, as well as the closure of a navy base in Vietnam. Is it something that you welcome?
MR. REEKER: I think the White House might have --
QUESTION: And second, a quick question about some of these articles this morning, the press saying that the US is ready to waive sanctions on China in order to improve its relations with Beijing.
MR. REEKER: Let me answer your first one first. I think the White House may have something to say about what you reference in terms of Russian base closings, so we might check with them. And if not, we can get with you afterwards.
On the report that appeared in one of the morning papers, let me say quite categorically that the US is not deliberating a waiver of Tiananmen sanctions to sell spare parts for China's fleet of S-70C Blackhawk helicopters. That report is wrong.
QUESTION: Is the United States considering waiving sanctions on China that apply to the sale of -- the question of the November 2000 agreement, and the transfer of missile technology to Pakistan?
MR. REEKER: Waiving sanctions would require, as you know, a presidential determination. The doing so would be in the national interest. And so sanctions have been waived in the past, sanctions may be waived in the future, but I don't have anything to announce in terms of any particular plans.
QUESTION: Does the State Department believe that the discussions last week in Beijing between Assistant Secretary Wolf and the Chinese were significant to warrant that kind of a waiver?
MR. REEKER: I think we had some remarks on those discussions last week that Ambassador Boucher addressed, so we might want to check the transcript on that, or I can go back and look for you. I didn't have a particular readout on that.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MR. REEKER: Thanks. [End]
Released on October 17, 2001 ---- This site is managed by the Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State. External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein._