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State Department

Aired April 10, 2001 - 12:36   ET


ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Let's go to the State Department for it's daily briefing on the China controversy. Let's go there now to Richard Boucher.


RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: ... The secretary expressed his thanks for Mr. Jackson's concern, told him about the intensive diplomacy that's going on, and said we would continue to use that channel.

We certainly appreciate the interest of Mr. Jackson and other Americans about the welfare of the aircrew and their desire to help out, if that becomes appropriate at some time. But we are clearly using the diplomatic channels at this point, trying to work this out and see the return home of our aircrew.

QUESTION: Well, he says he's going, no matter what. He's just waiting for a visa from the Chinese. You don't think that it's appropriate for him to go at this time?

BOUCHER: No, I wouldn't say that. I guess the only question is sort of, at this point, do we intend to use him as some kind of special envoy or something? And the answer is no. We're going to pursue this in diplomatic channels.

Certainly, Americans who might decide to go, you know, private visits, I mean, we don't really have any issue with that.

People who are interested in knowing what we're saying, what we consider about this, we're happy to tell them where things stand, what we're doing.

QUESTION: So, Richard, you're not ruling out his intervention at some point, if need be?

BOUCHER: Well, I'm not ruling it in.

QUESTION: Though you're not saying to him, "Don't go. We discourage this sort of tack."

BOUCHER: I'm saying that there's no present plan; there's no plan to use Mr. Jackson as a mediator or special envoy on this issue. But we are pursuing this through diplomatic channels. That applies to others as well.

There's a lot of interest in the United States about this. There's a lot of interest by former officials or people in the private sector about the welfare of our aircrew. I'm sure all Americans are concerned and interested and are willing to do things, should that be necessary.

At this point, the path that we're pursuing is intensive diplomatic discussions through our embassy.

QUESTION: You were going to take a question, yesterday, then, about what the congressional delegations may have heard from the State Department?

BOUCHER: We have had conversations with various congressional delegations that were interested in or that were planning at some point to go to China.

Frankly, most of them have decided, I think, on their own, without our advice, not to go. We certainly, clearly understand their reasons not to go.

At this point, I think all that we knew about have decided to postpone their travel, so it doesn't arise again. Our advice has generally been to leave it up to them to decide, certainly tell them about the situation, tell them about our serious concerns about the situation.

QUESTION: So no one was asked not to go by this building?

BOUCHER: We haven't been telling people not to go. If people have been asking us what's our advice and recommendation, I think in most cases we've said, "It's up to you." But clearly, we understand concerns that people have and the reasons they might have not to go. I think, in some cases, we may have said, you know, we agree with those.

QUESTION: Richard, we're hearing that parts of this building have been told it's not really appropriate to go to parties at the Chinese Embassy, to engage in other social activities. And we also hear that sort of the same is true in Beijing. Can you shed any light on that?

BOUCHER: The issue of social activities, I think, comes down to a case-by-case situation. We had the instance yesterday of a large reception at the Chinese Embassy for the outgoing ambassador and the incoming ambassador. And the secretary made quite clear that he considered it inappropriate for U.S. officials to be attending that reception.

Certainly, our primary concern, our priority in all our activities, is our concern about the aircrew and the need for them to return home. The secretary made clear he thought it inappropriate for us to attend that reception.

We passed that word to other U.S. government agencies as well, so that other people would know that. Whether they're similar circumstances that arise in Beijing, I don't know. But, I think, clearly, that's our view of these sorts of events.

QUESTION: This is just on a case-by-case, party-by-party basis?

BOUCHER: Yes, it would come up on a case-by-case basis. I'm sure if, you know, there were social contacts that we might be able to use to advance the prospect of return of our aircrew, that we would probably do that.

QUESTION: Can you tell us the latest in these intensive diplomatic efforts? Have there been any new breakthroughs or setbacks?

BOUCHER: At this point, Ambassador Prueher hasn't had any new meetings in Beijing, during the course of the day on Tuesday. We have continued to have discussions with the Chinese at other levels. And in all our discussions, we have made quite clear that they priority for us is the return of our aircrew.

As the president said yesterday, it is now time for the people to come home so that we can avoid damage to the bilateral relationship. We are at a sensitive moment in our discussions. We're ready to talk to the Chinese whenever they are ready.

In other news, though, General Sealock has met, again -- General Sealock and our consular Section Chief Ted Gong have met again with the aircrew in Hainan Island. They had a meeting of about 40 minutes without Chinese officials present.

They report, again, that our crew are in very good health, very good spirits. They're being treated well. Their morale is high. And we have been able to pass to them personal messages, news from home. They have been to provide us with messages for their families, that we're going to send back. They're getting them sports news, local news from Washington state.

We don't have another meeting schedule, but we're pushing to see them again tomorrow, as well.

QUESTION: Are you saying that there is no new meeting scheduled? Is the Chinese ambassador perhaps coming back here? And secondly, when you say you meet with the 24 Americans without Chinese present, are you assuming that the room is or is not bugged?

BOUCHER: That's not something I could address at this podium, I'm afraid.

QUESTION: And what about the Chinese ambassador question?

BOUCHER: Not aware of any meeting set with him. We have had contacts here at other levels with the Chinese Embassy. We had contacts at other levels in Beijing. And as I said, in all our meetings on this issue, we make quite clear the importance of the return of our aircrew and what the president said yesterday, it's time for them to come home, so as to avoid damage to the relationship.

QUESTION: Did Admiral Prueher request any meetings over the past 24 hours? And is the U.S. generally satisfied with the level of contact, the frequency of contact it's had with Chinese officials?

BOUCHER: I think, generally, we found it a useful and positive way to conduct the negotiations and discussions with the Chinese. These, as we've said several times during the course of this process, we've been able to move forward in these discussions. But as the president made quite clear yesterday, it's time for our people to come home, and that remains our position.

Admiral Prueher has made quite clear that he's ready to see the Chinese again, any time, any day, 24 hours a day, whenever they're ready to continue these discussions.

QUESTION: So just to pick up from that, is it a case of the U.S. waiting at the moment for some acknowledgement from the Chinese that a meeting is possible or are they granting meetings as often as the U.S. wants them?

BOUCHER: At this point, I think we made clear that Admiral Prueher is ready to meet with them any time. And whenever they're ready, we'll have further discussions.

QUESTION: When Sealock met with the crew this past time, was it all 24 members or was he just allowed to see selected members?

BOUCHER: No, it was all 24 members.

QUESTION: And when you say that there's not a new meeting scheduled, Secretary Powell said the other day that he expects you'll be able to have regular access to the crew for the duration of the standoff. Is this not the case anymore? Are you asking for another meeting and the Chinese have not granted it?

BOUCHER: I think, generally, if you look at the record of the past of the past few days, when we've finished one meeting, we haven't immediately had another one scheduled. Sometimes that's been the case, sometimes it hasn't. But we at least have yesterday and today, when we've managed to have one meeting each day with the aircrew, with the full aircrew in the evening in Hainan. That comes around again 12, 16 hours from now.

So we are continuing to press for regular meetings and for full, free and unfettered access. Certainly, we would like to see more than one meeting a day, but these meetings that we do have are important to us, to look after the welfare of our crew members.

QUESTION: Last week, Secretary Powell said that there was movement and he was encouraged, but we're not really hearing "encouragement" or "encouraged" being used anymore. Has the momentum shifted at all? There were no meetings on Tuesday in Beijing, and there are no meetings scheduled today.

BOUCHER: Today is Tuesday -- well, it's now Wednesday, just barely, in China.

QUESTION: Are we still encouraged? BOUCHER: I would say that we have moved forward throughout this process. We are at a sensitive moment now. We look to hear from the Chinese when they're ready to continue these discussions.

I don't think I can do a daily thermometer on this. We've said on one or two occasions that we were moving forward. I think that's true of the process. But I think it's equally true what the president said yesterday: It's time for them to come home.

QUESTION: Richard, these contacts at other levels, both here and in Beijing, could you describe what those levels are? And from the context of the way you mentioned it last, are these meetings specifically devoted to this issue? Or are they devoted to regular, more routine issues, which the U.S. side is bringing up, the crew members?

BOUCHER: I think I'd have to put it a little different than either one of those choices, that our priority in all our meetings remains the return of our aircrew. Our priority remains to see them returned home, to see this issue resolved, to avoid damage to the overall relationship by seeing it resolved early. And so, we make that point in every meeting.

We have also raised other issues, like the human rights situation, various people that are being held in China. We told you, I think yesterday, we were going to inquire about one of the cases that we'd seen press reports about.

We've used meetings today, at other levels, to do that.

So we are raising other things, but I would say that the real concentration in meetings that we have, whether they are in Beijing or here, has been on aircrew and stressing the importance of bringing them home.

Now, at what level do those meetings take place? Sort of the deputies, the political counselors, you know, the other diplomats that are involved in working with the Chinese on a regular basis.

QUESTION: Richard, I'm just a little unclear on your earlier answer to the Jesse Jackson and other kind of nonofficial people. You don't seem to be discouraging anyone from going over to China, but is there no concern in this building at all that if you get somehow a flood of citizen envoys flying over to Beijing, that they are going to hector the Chinese, that they may be unhelpful to the diplomatic process that is under way?

BOUCHER: Well, I guess you guys have seen Jesse Jackson say that he was going to China. I don't think that actually came up in the phone call, whether he was going or not.

The issue, when discussed with the secretary, was that he made clear that he was available for, sort of, carrying a message or intervening, if we thought that was appropriate at this time.

We appreciate the offer, but the secretary made clear we're pursuing the diplomacy in a different way right now.

You know, as far as people traveling to China, it is really a matter for individuals to decide whether they want to do that or not. We would certainly hope that any Americans that are meeting with Chinese would make clear that it's time for our aircrew to return home. But I'll leave it at that.

You know, as far as a negotiating mission, we're negotiating through the diplomatic channel.

QUESTION: First it was "regret," then it turned into a "we're sorry," plus condolences. Are the events, as they are happening, conducive to a full-fledged apology?

BOUCHER: Our position on that has not changed in any way. We don't think an apology is appropriate or necessary.

QUESTION: Richard, yesterday evening, reports were that we were waiting for the Chinese, kind of like today, waiting for a response to the Chinese on our latest attempts to formulate language that they would accept. Speaking from the road, a spokesman for Jiang Zemin, for President Jiang, said it was unacceptable. Is that not a message that's been conveyed back in Beijing to our officials as well? Or is it something that's just a public statement, and you're not hearing that privately?

BOUCHER: There have been no meetings with the Chinese since we heard the reports of that statement.

Remember, when we brief here at noon, it's actually the beginning of -- when we briefed here yesterday at noon, it was the beginning of Tuesday in China. We didn't have any meetings with the Chinese during the course of the day Tuesday. So we have not had any further official communication of that.

We certainly seen a variety of statements by the Chinese.

We've seen statements today by the Foreign Ministry. There are similar statements in Hainan Island today. So there's a variety of things being said by the Chinese.

Certainly, our position has been clear and consistent. We have expressed our regret over the Chinese loss. We've made quite clear we're sorry to see the loss of life and the loss of an airplane on the Chinese side. But we've made quite clear that we don't think that an apology is appropriate.

QUESTION: But has it been the case that when President Jiang or his spokespeople say things from this trip that they're on, has it always been followed up so far with a meeting in which exactly that is conveyed?

BOUCHER: I don't think so.

QUESTION: Can you say that you are concerned that you did not have meetings there today, given that Jiang Zemin's words were the last thing you heard from their government?

BOUCHER: First of all, I don't think they are the last thing we've heard from the Chinese government. There's been statements by Foreign Ministry spokesmen today about working toward a resolution. Certainly, the Chinese position has been restated many times in public, and it's not new to us.

What I would say is that we have made quite clear, as the president made clear yesterday, it's now time for our people to come home so that our bilateral relationship does not become damaged. That's what we've been saying and consistently saying at this point.

QUESTION: There are a number of Americans who are saying that this has not been resolved, that it's now time to get tough, bring home our ambassador, fiddle with WTO, and just generally get tough. Do you think those are reasonable responses?

BOUCHER: I would say that the president has been very consistent, very clear right from the start in this situation. The secretary has been very consistent and very clear right from the start about our understanding, our feelings and our willingness to express our concerns and our regrets about the loss on the Chinese side, but equally clear about how far we would go.

And they've been quite clear that our priority remains the return of our aircrew. So we have been very, I think, clear in the U.S. viewpoint on this.

And I would add that our ambassador is the primary channel we've been using to negotiate these matters.

So what further steps need to be considered and when they need to be considered I leave to the president and the secretary and their other Cabinet colleagues.

But I think the facts of our position and the way we have pursued our position has been very straight and very clear all along.

QUESTION: You say our position is very clear in that Ambassador Prueher is available for more meetings. Does that mean that, at this moment, the ball is in the court of the Chinese to make the next step?

BOUCHER: I don't think I'm able to do an inning-by-inning account of the diplomacy in this matter. We've tried to keep you updated on the meetings...

QUESTION: Set-by-set.

BOUCHER: Or a set-by-set, or whatever sports analogy you want to use here. I think we've made clear what our position is. The president was quite clear yesterday, saying it is time for our crew to come home. That remains our position, and whenever the Chinese are ready to talk to us again about that, we're available.

QUESTION: Richard, you keep saying, and the president and the secretary have said, that you don't want the relationship to be damaged. Can you not say that the relationship has already been damaged? Would you say that other areas of cooperation that we have with the Chinese in the whole bilateral relations have gone at a consistent level throughout this crisis?

BOUCHER: I don't think I'd be able to say that. This came up, to some extent, in the secretary's discussions on television on Sunday, where he made clear that there were areas where we already saw people canceling trips, already saw concerns being raised in the business community. So we already saw some indicators of damage to the overall relationship, which he said could be reversed if this thing were resolved.

And so the president has talked about the potential for real damage, the potential for long-term damage to the relationship that is clearly there in terms of the attitudes in the United States, in particular, and we think throughout the world about the way things are unfolding. And certainly, an early return of our aircrew would go a considerable way to preventing that kind of serious damage from occurring.

In terms of the way we are dealing with issues with the Chinese, this is clearly our priority issue in all our discussions. It's clearly our priority in our diplomacy. Does this mean we don't do anything else? No. We've raised some human rights cases; we've raised some other issues of concern to the United States. But you might think about it as such a priority that maybe we're dealing with priorities one, two and three and not four, five and six these days.

It is a broad relationship that has a lot going on at any given moment, and this is clearly the primary issue that we've all been concentrating on, and a primary issue because it's such a serious concern to us and to the rest of the United States.

QUESTION: Do you see it hampering cooperation from the Chinese side in other areas that you would normally expect more cooperation?

BOUCHER: I don't think I have any particular areas to cite for you right now.

QUESTION: Seven hours until wheels up, I guess, for the trip to Paris. At this point, is there any consideration that Secretary Powell would stay, given the fact that this crisis hasn't been resolved?

BOUCHER: No. The secretary is clearly in very close communications with everybody in Washington while he travels. Whether it's from the airplane on the ground, he has secure communications everywhere he goes. He will be able to continue, as he has done over the last few days, to keep in close touch with Dr. Rice, with the president and especially with Deputy Secretary Armitage, who has been here, working these issues in great detail for the last few days.

So, in some ways, yes, we can do the communicating. The secretary can be plugged in an in touch from the road, almost as he is when he's in Washington. So he will continue to keep in touch. Deputy Secretary Armitage will continue to organize our effort, work our effort on this and will continue to coordinate with the president and with the National Security Council, even while we're on the road.

QUESTION: Richard, a week ago yesterday, President Bush called on China for a prompt return for these Americans. Is that still possible, a prompt return? Are we beyond the point where a prompt return applies?

I mean, you talk about an early return now. He said prompt.

BOUCHER: We wanted them to come home Sunday. We wanted them to come home Monday. We wanted them to come home Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. And we will continue to work for their early, immediate and prompt return to the United States. That remains our goal, and that's what we're still working on.

QUESTION: Richard, in your contacts at either the ambassadorial level or the lower level, have the Chinese brought up unrelated issues?

QUESTION: When you've been trying to talk about the plane, for instance, have they mentioned, specifically, the condemnatory resolution that you guys are sponsoring in Geneva?

BOUCHER: Not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: Or Taiwan?

BOUCHER: Again, not that I'm aware of. I can't account for every single conversation.

I've said that in some of these other conversations, we've raised other issues. I'm not certain whether the Chinese have or not, but I'm not aware...

COSSACK: Well, you've been listening to Richard Boucher, a representative, of course, from the State Department with the daily State Department briefing regarding, obviously, the crisis with China and he has been answering reporter's question.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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