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Last Updated:10/25/01
Excerpt from State Department Daily Briefing, September 10, 2001
Phillip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 10, 2001

QUESTION: In the statement of Secretary Powell about the paramilitary groups on Colombia, two questions. Why the decision was made a day before he arrived for the meetings with President Pastrana?

And second, is there any concern from the State Department about the future of the new package to continue helping Colombia in the fight against drugs, taking the fact that some members of Congress mentioned a link between the armed forces of Colombia and the paramilitary groups?

MR. REEKER: What Jesus is referring to -- and I'm sure you have all seen the Secretary of State's statement put out earlier today regarding designation of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, commonly known as the AUC, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under United States law. And that, of course, went into effect when it was published in the Federal Register this morning.

In answer to the first part of your question, I think designating a Foreign Terrorist Organization under the US law is a lengthy process, as you are well aware, and the State Department must compile a exhaustive record demonstrating that the statutory requirements for designation have been met, and this can only take place when there is a sufficient incontrovertible evidence that a group is involved in terrorism and poses a threat to US interests, as the law defines.

The Secretary is traveling to Colombia, as I mentioned, by way of Peru. While this designation is part of a legal process, I think it is significant that it is at this time. It demonstrates that we regard terrorism as a threat to democracy, that we take this seriously of course as being part of our law, and it doesn't matter whether that threat comes from the left or the right of the political spectrum; it's important that terrorism be rooted out.

And so we have pursued this under the law through interagency review. Of course there was concurrence with the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury. And based on the established criteria under the law, they have been so designated.

Now, as the Secretary indicated in his statement, the AUC and their terrorist efforts have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians in Colombia, and the AUC has contributed to the destabilization of whole regions of the country. They are increasingly collaborating with narco-traffickers, and their campaign of terrorism poses a threat to democracy, as I just mentioned, both in Colombia and to the joint US-Colombian efforts to eradicate narcotics trafficking.

These are important US interests. The President has discussed that, as has the Secretary. These are messages he will be taking to Colombia when he visits there, and this is underlying the message that I think is being given at the OAS General Assembly in Peru about democracy and the tide of democracy in the hemisphere.

So that has now placed them on our list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations designated and applicable laws apply.

QUESTION: Can I ask a State Department question about any concern of the future of the new package that the Congress is considering, taking the fact, you know, Members of Congress in the past have mentioned a link between the paramilitary groups and the armed forces of Colombia.

MR. REEKER: Well, I think what has to speak on the facts is the designation under the criteria that are established. The Secretary will be having talks in Colombia, as you know, beginning late tomorrow after he arrives there and on Wednesday, and he will be coming back and reporting to Congress. There will be a briefing to a bipartisan and bicameral group of legislators on Thursday morning. So one of the Secretary's first steps will be to report on his trip to Congress, to brief them on matters there.

And as you know, the Administration strongly supports President Pastrana's Plan Colombia efforts to wipe out narco-trafficking, which is a threat to our democracy and our security. We have a clear policy to support democracy in Colombia, to combat narcotics trafficking and support social and economic development. I think the President and the Secretary have both expressed their support, both through Plan Colombia and now through the Administration's proposed Andean Regional Initiative. We constantly review that policy.

We work very closely with Capitol Hill, with members of both houses of Congress and their staffs, and our request to Congress for funding for the Andean Regional Initiative reflects, I think, our efforts to address the region -- those aspects that weren't included in the original Plan Colombia package. And so we will continue to move from there.

QUESTION: Following up on sort of what Jesus said, is there any greater concern in this building because this is now a paramilitary group being designated, whereas the FARC and the ELN are considered rebel groups?

MR. REEKER: Greater concern? I don't know if I quite understand your question. Sorry.

QUESTION: Do you draw any distinction between the designation of this, a paramilitary group, and the other two groups that are named in Colombia?

MR. REEKER: I think any distinctions -- you know, they are all based on the facts and the criteria for which they are established. As I said earlier, we are against terrorism and the threats it poses to democracy, whether that's from the right or the left of the political spectrum. And so in this case you do see two other groups that purport to have a different outlook than the AUC, but the facts are that the AUC has effected terrorism now for many years that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians, contributed to destabilizing not just Colombia but the whole region, and they are increasingly collaborating with narco-traffickers.

In terms of our own approach to this, we have no relationship with the AUC. We are pleased to bring to light their criminal actions. And I think we have seen with the AUC, as well as other terrorist groups -- and you might call it a tradition among terrorists -- a disconnect between the rhetoric that they try to spout and their actions. They claim to wish to protect Colombian citizens from other terrorist groups, but they then massacre and displace the same citizens. And they claim to stand against kidnapping and extortion, and then engage in those very practices.

So it is important to note that the designation process that we discussed -- and you can review in our Patterns of Global Terrorism report -- ignores a group's motives and focuses exclusively on their terrorist behavior. And our goal is to see groups abandon such behavior.

QUESTION: Does this designation affect in any way our aid to Colombia in the sense that Colombian Government, the Colombia military, in some way works with the paramilitaries? So, I mean, does it affect -- under our aid to the country, are they not allowed to do business with a designated FTO?

MR. REEKER: I think in terms of action that will be taken under this designation, I would have to refer you to the Justice Department and the FBI since that is a law enforcement matter. I mean, again, our designation is based on terrorist activity and not their sort of stated goals, the rhetoric that they spout. And so that will have to be reviewed in terms of implementing the regulations that now come into play based on the designation made by the Secretary of State. So you might want to check with those agencies and see what steps, what actions, will be taken in terms of the law enforcement matter.

But our goals in Colombia and our policy in Colombia and supporting President Pastrana, Plan Colombia, now our Andean Regional Initiative, those remain very much the case and those are things that the Secretary will be discussing in Colombia with leaders there during the next couple of days. And of course he'll be discussing democracy in the region and the whole hemisphere when he meets with the OAS representatives, the foreign affairs ministers in Lima tonight and tomorrow.

QUESTION: Two quick questions. One is, can you outline, or do we know if the AUC has any financial assets in this country that would be frozen as a result of this designation?

MR. REEKER: I would have to refer you to the Treasury Department.

QUESTION: Okay. And secondly, sort of following up on Terri's question, are you taking any steps right now to ensure that members of the AUC which are, as I understand the leadership comprised of many former military people, retired military, so that any US military aid currently going to the military does not end up in any way in the hands of or assisting this group that you have now designated as a terrorist? Is there anything that is changing as a result of this designation?

MR. REEKER: I can't outline for you any specific steps that would have been affected by this action today. Mostly you need to look to the Justice Department because they would make the determinations in terms of legal action that would have to be taken.

QUESTION: Well, legal action against the AUC --

MR. REEKER: I don't have any --

QUESTION: -- but in terms of the funding or training or anything like that that goes to the Colombian military, it seems that there is -- I would imagine, and I already know that there are several people in Congress who are concerned about the links between the military and the AUC, which don't exist with the FARC or other groups.

MR. REEKER: Obviously those are things that we would be watching very carefully in terms of how they are determined under our law. I don't have anything to announce for you today that would have changed in terms of our approach. But as I said earlier, in answer to a couple of your colleagues' questions, we will be working very closely with Congress on this. Congress has been fully briefed and apprised of this step before the designation was made.

We will continue to work with Congress. The Secretary, as I said, will meet with Congress on Thursday after he returns from Colombia, so that we continue to move ahead in what is in our best interest in terms of supporting these processes.

QUESTION: When you talked about rhetoric and not matching actions, would you use that same language to apply to the AUC's announcement last week that it was launching a political movement to back up its military offensive?

MR. REEKER: I don't know if I have anything specific on that announcement. I am not even particularly aware of it. What I was indicating, and I think as I said, like many terrorist organizations, the AUC has a lot of rhetoric which has suggested that they are trying to protect citizens from other terrorist groups when, in fact, and as our review has shown and this designation indicates, they have not done that. They have carried out their own massacres, they have displaced citizens, they have kidnapped, they have extorted, engaged in the very practices that they have tried to condemn, and also worked so closely with narco-traffickers as well.

QUESTION: So why did you wait so long to designate them?

MR. REEKER: As I said at the very beginning, Ben, and I will refer you back, designating a Foreign Terrorist Organization under US law is a lengthy process. The State Department must compile an exhaustive record demonstrating that the statutory requirements for designation are met. This can only take place when there is sufficient incontrovertible evidence that a group is involved in terrorism and poses a threat to US interests.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

MR. REEKER: He's your colleague, not mine.

QUESTION: You said that you notified Congress fully, briefed before this was announced. Did you notify the Colombians? Were they briefed?

MR. REEKER: I could check into that. I don't know who we would have talked to exactly in terms of planning for this. Usually this is a process that takes place through US channels, and I think with the announcement of it --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) going down there --

MR. REEKER: If you'd let me finish my statement, which I've now forgotten, so please go ahead with your question.

QUESTION: Well, Mr. Powell is going down there suddenly with a new explosive change in policy towards Colombia.

MR. REEKER: This is not a change in policy towards Colombia. This is a designation of a Foreign Terrorist Organization through a long-established process under US law.

QUESTION: And you're not --

MR. REEKER: Our policy toward Colombia -- and I can repeat that for you, too, although your colleagues seem to be dismayed when I have to do that -- but in case you missed it the first time, our policy towards Colombia has not changed. The President has stated very clearly, the Secretary of State has stated very clearly, that we support President Pastrana and the efforts he has made at democracy, combating narco-trafficking, supporting social and economic development. That is what underpins Pastrana's Plan Colombia, to which we are giving support, and also our Andean Regional Initiative, which builds on that to deal with some of the regional problems that occur because of that.

QUESTION: And do you support this zone that he gave to the guerillas? Do you support that?

MR. REEKER: That's an issue that we will be discussing with him. We have talked about that previously. Those are issues for President Pastrana to deal with, how he implements that in his country. I don't have anything new on that. The Secretary will obviously be reviewing all of those things in our discussions.

But we want our policy to remain effective, and it continuously affects, reflects the evolving situation in Colombia. And we think this designation under American law is absolutely appropriate, given the process that we follow.

QUESTION: Can you say how much aid this group got from this country?

MR. REEKER: This group?

QUESTION: The group that you have designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization. You are saying that people from this country can't help them; they can't give money; they can't, I assume, ship arms; they can't -- you know, there's all sorts of things --

MR. REEKER: Financial transactions. There are all kinds of things. That's right.

QUESTION: Do you know whether there were financial transactions before this went into effect, and, if so, the value and the type?

MR. REEKER: I don't. I would direct you to the Treasury Department on that.

QUESTION: Can you confirm if the US is studying more anti-drug aid to Colombia, as The Washington Post informed today?

MR. REEKER: In terms of our support for Plan Colombia, which as you know has been ongoing now for about a year, and the Andean Regional Initiative, which we have discussed, I don't have anything further to add to that. As I said earlier, we continually review our policy to ensure it remains effective and reflects the evolving situation in Colombia and advances our objectives.

Our request for congressional funding for the Andean Regional Initiative reflects the efforts that we discussed. No decisions have been made with respect to the Fiscal Year 2003 budget request yet. And I think in his meetings with President Pastrana beginning tomorrow and Wednesday and with other senior Colombian Government officials, Secretary Powell will stress our support for the peace process; he will reiterate the need for continued counter-narcotics efforts and underscore the need for the Government of Colombia to improve its human rights record in terms of severing all ties between security forces and paramilitary groups. But in terms of specific dollar figures, I don't have anything else to add.

QUESTION: But you're not studying -- like, are there any possibility of new aid?

MR. REEKER: Well, we have had briefings here about the Andean Regional Initiative and our proposals under that. That is still being discussed on the Hill.

QUESTION: Not like --

MR. REEKER: I don't have any additional things to discuss at this point. But we review our project, our support down there, regularly. The Secretary will obviously have these important meetings and come back and brief Congress on that, and then we will see where we move on from there.

QUESTION: I wanted to give you an opportunity to congratulate President Lukashenko and --

MR. REEKER: I'm sorry, we're still on Colombia, I believe. I would be happy to --

QUESTION: Do you have any evidence of complicity by senior Colombian military officers with the AUC? Active duty officers, that is.

MR. REEKER: I don't have anything to share with you or discuss on that.

QUESTION: And will this policy change have any operational consequences beyond the Justice Department's, in the sense that, will US military and intelligence in Colombia provide real-time intelligence about movements of AUC forces, as they do and as State Department officials have stated on the record, as they do with respect to the FARC or the ELN?

MR. REEKER: I don't know. At this point, in terms of implementation of that, it has been announced today. I would be happy to look into it from the State Department perspective, but in terms of other departments just remind you to check with Treasury and Justice in terms of implementation of the legal changes brought about by the designation.

Anything else on Colombia? I knew it. Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I understand the process to designate a terrorist group like the AUC involves also that the group is being directly affecting or attacking US interests. One of the reasons why the paramilitaries didn't quite make that and were not designated earlier was because I think the US State Department couldn't find a real reason to actually put it on the list.

But now it's done the day before Secretary Powell is going to Colombia. One only can think that Secretary Powell wants to get a really tough message on the situation in Colombia. Am I right?

MR. REEKER: Well, Secretary Powell certainly wants to have a tough message on the situation in Colombia, but our message is very clear that we support President Pastrana and the approach he has taken to obviously promoting, strengthening democracy and social and economic reform and countering narcotics trafficking, which does have direct implications for the United States, as you know.

I have been through before with earlier questions the lengthy process that is necessary for designation under the law, actually making a designation like the Secretary did today for the AUC. If you want to review that process, I would just send you to either the hard copy or the website of our Patterns of Global Terrorism which outlines that process and lists, of course, all of the organizations that have been so designated.

QUESTION: If designating the AUC means that the US already found a link that would actually be able to put it on the list, which is attacking directly or US interests, have you found it?

MR. REEKER: I said the AUC has been increasingly collaborating with narco-traffickers, and their campaign of terrorism poses a threat to democracy in Colombia and in the region and to the joint US-Colombian efforts to eradicate narco-trafficking. Those directly affect our interests, and so this designation has been made through the process that I described, about which you are going to read more in your further research.

But we stand firmly behind this designation. I think the Secretary's statement makes that quite clear. And so this organization has now been added to that rogues gallery of other organizations so designated.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the agenda of Secretary Powell starting tomorrow in Colombia?

MR. REEKER: I think I went through already the types of discussions he will be having. If you want to go back, I'm happy to mention it again. I think we had some briefings at the Foreign Press Center to discuss that. As you know, Under Secretary Grossman was in Colombia last week, where he talked a bit about that.

The Secretary is going to meet with President Pastrana and senior officials to stress our support for the peace process and reiterate the need for continued counter-narcotics efforts. And he is going to review implementation of Plan Colombia during a visit to the Colombian National Police Base at Guaymaral outside Bogota. So those are the types of discussions and meetings he'll have, and then come back and report to Congress on Thursday.

Are we all done with Colombia?

QUESTION: Maybe you could explain once again the lengthy review process behind -- (laughter).

QUESTION: One more on Colombia, please. That's nothing to do with the trip. Any decision about the continuation of the overflights over Peru and Colombia?

MR. REEKER: I don't think I have anything to announce on that new from what we have said before. As you know, Ambassador Busby, retired Ambassador, submitted his findings to the National Security Advisor in July and the interagency working group has been reviewing those findings. So I don't have anything to report on that. I know it will be a subject of Secretary Powell's visit this week in Colombia, and perhaps in Peru as well.

Now we are going to change regions and reporters and themes, but maybe not. We'll see.

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