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State Department Briefing

Aired February 22, 2002 - 12:52   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Quickly, as we change gears to the State Department in Washington, we'll listen now to today's briefing, anticipated comments on Daniel Pearl.

AMB. RICHARD BOUCHER, ASST. SECY. OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: The president, the secretary, the deputy secretary and the entire U.S. government are committed to the goal of bringing the people to justice who did this horrible crime.

Deputy Secretary Armitage talked to Mrs. Pearl this morning on the telephone. On behalf of the secretary, of himself and all of us here at the State Department, he expressed our condolences and our deepest sympathy for her loss. He expressed the sympathy and condolences both to her and to the child that they're expecting. He said we will provide any and every possible assistance to her, and he stated very clearly to her, as I have to you, the commitment to bring to justice the people who are responsible for this horrible action.

So with that on the major issue of the day, I think, I'd be glad to take your questions on this or other matters.

QUESTION: Was any assistance requested?

BOUCHER: I think they discussed some of the areas with her where we might be helpful, obviously, from a consular point of view and just anything we can do for the family. But I don't have any details for you at this point.

QUESTION: Richard, are you in a position where you can go anywhere beyond what you said -- the very little you said yesterday about the evidence that you have?

BOUCHER: No, I'm not. And I'm not on the telephone if anybody wants to call me later and ask the same question in private. I'm not going to do it there either. We have evidence that Mr. Pearl is dead. It's clear to us. But the nature of that evidence and how we acquired it, things like that, I'm afraid we're not in a position to say.

QUESTION: Will the United States seek the extradition of this Saeed person on the grounds of a terrorist act against an American citizen?

BOUCHER: That remains a matter related to the investigation and I'm afraid I'm just not prepared to -- not in a position to talk about it.

QUESTION: Kind of technical aspect of the investigation: Are there more, less or the same number of FBI people over there or State Department people in Karachi or in Pakistan in general? Is this, the confirmation of his death, in any way changed -- well, it's obviously changed some of the nature of the investigation, but has it changed the U.S. component?

BOUCHER: I frankly don't know. I can't answer that one for you.

QUESTION: Richard, just in a more general way, when President Musharraf was in Washington recently, he spoke at least, I would say, somewhat confidently that this might end up, obviously, much better. Has any thought been given to what's happened or what might have happened, what people did or didn't do in that time frame that it's turned out this way?

BOUCHER: The question that you're asking, I guess, is one to reflect on over a longer period of time.

BOUCHER: It's not the question of when Mr. -- when we have evidence that people have committed a horrible crime against Danny Pearl, the issue for us is getting the people who did it. And that's the commitment of the administration; that's what we're all working on now.

I don't think that there's any particular issue to reflect upon at this moment. Frankly, I think that we have felt that the U.S. government has done everything possible. The Pakistani government mobilized a very intense and aggressive investigation of the matter.

Until all the facts are known, I would say it's not time to start claiming that something that somebody said or did or didn't do has resulted in Mr. Pearl's death.

QUESTION: Richard, can you say whether possible extradition is on a list of possible actions that you might take?


QUESTION: Are you all...

BOUCHER: Can't say whether it's possibly possible. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Are you all creating a list? I mean, there must be someone who's thinking about what your options are to bringing these people to justice.

BOUCHER: There's a lot of work going on to make sure that it happens, and there's a lot of determination to make sure that we bring these people to justice, and it starts at the highest levels of the administration. But there's also a lot of caution about what we say in public to make sure that we're not inadvertently divulging information, or tipping our hand, or otherwise making life more difficult for those many people in law enforcement agencies and in Pakistani government -- Pakistani law enforcement agencies as well who are going to work on this.

QUESTION: Kind of on that subject, after a discussion on Wednesday about the new hostage policy, we had time to look at the old policy and the new policy and we haven't had a briefing with you since then. But there appears to be some confusion about this language on paying ransom versus getting the benefit of ransom.

QUESTION: Can you say, just for clarification, whether the government in any way has changed its policy on paying ransom, and whether the U.S. government itself might pay ransom in some cases?

BOUCHER: I don't know that I can say it any better than we did in the statement, and then we did on Wednesday when we discussed this already. The U.S. government policy is to ensure that no hostage- taker gets a benefit, that they don't get a financial benefit, a political benefit or any other benefit from the taking of hostages.

We also made clear in the new policy quite categorically that should a private concern or some other individual decide to follow that course, they would not have our support, but second of all, we would not forego every possible opportunity to investigate and bring to justice the people to whom the ransom might have been paid.

So I think it's pretty clear that we're not going to get into the business of paying off hostage-takers.

QUESTION: And "we" means the U.S. government, and do you also wish to advise others against it? I mean...

BOUCHER: That's quite clear. I think our feeling again -- our view that ransom payments letting the hostage-takers get any benefit from taking hostages, is not advisable. It's based on experience, as we say in the statement, as well as policy.

QUESTION: One more point on it. If you're saying that you could give ransom as long as you were sure you could catch the guys after that and get the money back, is this a case in which the U.S. government would pay money if they were sure that that would lead them to the killers? And I'm separating whether the U.S. government would pay this money, and whether the family or company or whatever would pay it; those are two different decisions.

BOUCHER: I don't want to speculate on hypothetical circumstances. I think the policy is as clear as we can make, based on the experience and the past practice that we've had.

BOUCHER: But I don't think I want to speculate on possible circumstances.

QUESTION: So you can't rule out that the government will pay a ransom?

BOUCHER: I don't want to speculate in that direction, frankly, because the policy is against the payment of ransom, and it's very much against letting anybody get any benefit out of hostage-taking. And it's categorical on that matter. QUESTION: I would like to turn to the Pearl case, if I could. I recognize that you have said that the State Department believes that General Musharraf has done everything he can and you're very pleased with the cooperation you've gotten.

But is the State Department confident that members of the intelligence services, the ISI, or other, perhaps, members of the government, not necessarily in General Musharraf's cabinet, might have been involved in this case or might have been, in some way or another, helping the kidnappers?

BOUCHER: The investigation that was conducted in Pakistan was a joint investigation with all the different agencies, all the different capabilities that they could bring to bear on the situation. It involved their law enforcement -- it involves their law enforcement people, their intelligence services, a whole variety of people, and is motivated by the strong commitment and backing of the president himself.

We have seen a full-fledged, full-bore investigation. We would expect to continue to see that. That's what President Musharraf has promised again, and we would expect that to continue.

QUESTION: But that wasn't my question. Are you confident that the ISI or any members of the intelligence...

BOUCHER: I am confident that they are an important part of the investigation and that they have been an active and positive player in the whole matter.

QUESTION: But would you rule out the fact that members of the ISI might have been involved in this in some way, shape or form?

BOUCHER: I can't rule out that Martians were involved. I mean, I have to -- I don't want to be facetious on this, but you're asking me to speak for every member of a foreign government organization.

BOUCHER: I don't do that, whatever the question is. And I can tell you on the positive side, on the factual side, not to speculate on this, that or the other, but on the factual side, that every possible agency of the Pakistani government has been involved, and we felt the cooperation was excellent.

QUESTION: In the past two days you were put in a kind of an odd position. I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on it, maybe on a personal level or as a spokesman, on one day, on Wednesday, having to -- coming out and, you know, announcing the new guidelines for your policy on abductions, and then 24 hours later having to confirm this death. Anything you would care to say about that?

BOUCHER: I guess the simple answer is no. The connection between the two -- first of all, there's no direct...

QUESTION: I'm not suggesting...

BOUCHER: I know. I know. I know. There's no direct connection between the announcement of the policy and the fact that we now have evidence that Mr. Pearl was killed.

The connection between the two, if any -- the logical connection between the two is that the circumstances in which Mr. Pearl found himself and his subsequent death make absolutely clear why this new policy -- why the policy of the United States has to be to look into every hostage-taking situation, to deal seriously with every hostage situation, to mobilize every appropriate means to resolve these situations, and to make sure that there's no benefit from taking of hostages so that there's no encouragement to take hostages in the future.

BOUCHER: It's absolutely sad -- tragic Mr. Pearl was killed, and I don't want to use him to, sort of, justify a policy, but the connection between the two is that it's absolutely essential that we do everything we can to deal with the hostage-taking that goes on in every appropriate manner.

QUESTION: Richard, don't you think everybody, at least in authority, was doing every thing they could?

BOUCHER: When we talked about the policy on Wednesday, I said it was a restatement of a longstanding policy with some minor adjustments. It may have been the right policy for a long time and one we've been acting on for a long time.

QUESTION: Richard, shortly before President Musharaff came here, he was quoted as saying that -- he was quoted as speculating that perhaps the Indian government was involved in the Pearl kidnapping. Does that kind of speculation give you any pause in terms of your confidence that he and his government are going to be aggressive in resolving this case?

BOUCHER: I don't think we are in a position to speculate on the effect of the speculation. I'll tell you the facts as we have known them, and that is the Pakistani government has run a full-bore investigation, that we have had excellent cooperation with them, that we expect that to continue, and that we know that they are committed, as we are, from the highest levels on down to bringing the perpetrators to justice.

QUESTION: So you're not concerned of the potential that this case gets politicized within domestic Pakistani politics?

BOUCHER: I'll stick with the facts as we know them and that's what I'm telling you.

QUESTION: New subject? The secretary, on Air Force One this morning, was talking about a new attempt to persuade the North Koreans to reopen the negotiations on security issues, and he talked about the U.N. being the point of contact.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on that at all? BOUCHER: I stand by everything the secretary said, but I don't know what he said. I'm afraid that I don't have a full transcript of the secretary's remarks. I have seen the wire stories. But I'm not in a position to elaborate.

I think you've always known we maintain a certain contact through the North Korean mission to the United Nations. But, no, I don't have anything additional to what he might have said.

QUESTION: Have people at the U.N. being doing this or have people been sent up from Washington to do this?

BOUCHER: It's largely been a contact from Washington to the North Korean mission at the U.N. But the people down here who are responsible for North Korea policy, you know, are in touch with the folks from North Korea at the U.N. either by fax, phone or the occasional trip up to New York.

QUESTION: Richard, leaving aside what the secretary may or may not have said on the plane, can you -- what's the U.S. reaction to the rather strong North Korean reaction to President Bush's offer to resume talks?

BOUCHER: I think the president's offer is quite clear. The willingness of the United States to sit down any time, any place to discuss whatever issues are on the agenda, and the importance we attach to dealing with those issues are quite clear, and we'll continue to restate them.

HEMMER: The U.S. delegation en route back to the U.S. We do anticipate the president to arrive back in Washington sometime around 4:00 Eastern Time, about three hours from now. But clearly, the bulk of that press briefing, at least initially anyway, has to do with the death of Daniel Pearl, the 38-year-old journalist kidnapped about a month ago, working for "The Wall Street Journal" in the streets of Karachi. You heard Richard Boucher there at the State Department say, "The issue for us" -- meaning the U.S. government -- "is getting the people who did it."

When asked many times about actions that are possible that may be taken at some point, not much of a public comment there from Richard Boucher. But clearly, the hostage policy is being reviewed and possibly modified as well, but Boucher making it quite clear that the U.S. government does not want the kidnappers in any part of the world to ever reap any political or monetary benefit, and when asked about Pakistani government cooperation, he said, and quoting now, "It has been excellent to this point. The government of Pakistan vowing to bring Pearl's killers to justice in maintaining the crackdown that may have prompted the kidnapping."

Pervez Musharraf talked about that a short time ago.


PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT: I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to, first of all, to the wife of Daniel Pearl, and then his entire family members and editors and journalists of "Wall Street Journal" on this very sad murder of Daniel Pearl.


HEMMER: Now we look back at the life of Daniel Pearl, 38 years young, and today Pearl's family and colleagues struggle with the loss of a fiddle-playing father-to-be, who, as one friend put it, just wanted to get a story.

More now from Karachi and CNN's Chris Burns.


BURNS (voice-over): The front pages here hawked the tragic news, a kidnapping that ended as it began, shrouded in mystery. Just who abducted Daniel Pearl after he went to this restaurant on January 23rd to meet a contact with promised interview with a Muslim activist? Who were Pearl's captors? And who killed him?

The lack of answers is devastating to investigators, including Jameel Yusuf, the last person to meet with Pearl.

JAMEEL YUSUF, PAKISTANI INVESTIGATOR: I wish he had told me where he was going, what he was going to do, that I could have prevented it. I feels so helpless.

BURNS: The fateful videotape given to U.S. authorities shows the murder of Pearl. His throat split after speaking with captors, but his killer remains faceless, and Pearl's body, shown in the video, has yet to be recovered.

What exactly was the motive? Retaliation for the U.S.-led war against the Taliban? An effort to embarrass or undermine the Pakistani government of General Perves Musharraf as he cracks down on Muslim militants? Or both? Questions that investigators here, working closely with U.S. authorities, are hoping to solve.

The month-long nationwide manhunt did produce suspects who authorities say they are now requestioning. Officials say Sheikh Omar Saeed laid the trap for Pearl, who had been investigating possibly ties between alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid, and Al Qaeda groups in Pakistan. Fahad Nasim (ph) admitted to a judge on Thursday that he sent e-mails of pictures showing Pearl in captivity, as well as the demand that the United States release Pakistanis held at Guantanamo Bay.

Meanwhile, Pakistani President Musharraf vows to stand firm in his crackdown on Muslim militant groups, despite the Pearl kidnapping.

Musharraf has also ordered the arrest of all those linked to Pearl's abduction.


HARRIS: I want to get back to the State Department now, Andrea Koppel. And clearly from President Bush on down, the U.S. government officially outraged at this story. Here's Andrea back with us once again. Listening to that briefing, Andrea, there are many questions that remain going forward. What did you take from it?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, Bill, there is a tremendous amount of frustration felt by many of those in this building here at the State Department. But there's an equal sense of determination to find those responsible for Daniel Pearl's murder. We have heard on the last day since the story broke the State Department expressing outrage. That sentiment was reiterated just a short time ago by the spokesman, Richard Boucher.


RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: The murder of Daniel Pearl is an absolute outrage, and we condemn it unequivocally. Both the United States and Pakistan are committed to identifying the perpetrators of the crime and bringing them to justice, and we'll continue to work closely with Pakistani authorities who will have provided excellent cooperation in this investigation all along.


KOPPEL: There have been a lot of questions, Bill, since this story broke a month ago, as to just how much cooperation the U.S. government was getting from Pakistani officials on the ground. After all, before September 11th, the Pakistani Intelligence Service was known to have close ties with the Taliban, was supporting the Taliban, and many of them sympathetic to the case of the Taliban and to Muslim extremist. And as we know, Daniel Pearl was kidnapped by those who are extremist. The question is, whether or not there is still a connection between Pakistani intelligence services and Daniel Pearl's kidnapping.

But as we just heard Richard Boucher say there and under repeated questioning from reporters, he absolutely denies that there's any problem with the Pakistani government or any members of it, and the State Department standing by its word now for the last month that it's getting excellent cooperation from Pakistani authorities. Now, of course, the focus shifts, instead of recovering Daniel Pearl alive now. It's recovering his body. And, of course, finding those individuals who were responsible -- the State Department saying -- it will be working intensely with Pakistani officials on the ground there -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Andrea, thank you. Andrea Koppel there, live at the State Department.




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