"There's planning going on ... to make sure we're able to take care of any humanitarian concerns that might arise," said Boucher.
American non-government organizations (NGOs) planning to provide humanitarian assistance independently, said Boucher, need licenses from the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Following is excerpt from the January 16 State Department briefing containing Boucher's comments on humanitarian assistance in Iraq:
QUESTION: Richard, this is Iraq-related. There are a number of American NGOs who are attempting to do some preliminary survey work in countries like Iran, Iraq and Syria for the potential humanitarian problems that could arise from a war with Iraq, and they are complaining that while the administration itself is doing all sorts of planning and contingency logistics work and sending troops to the region, the administration is at the same time holding up or the red tape and bureaucracy in the OFAC process, the process of getting OFAC licenses to do work in these countries which are state sponsors of terrorism, is hurting their -- in other words, they're applying for these licenses and they're not getting them or there are massive delays.
What is the State Department doing to -- or is the State Department doing anything to try and facilitate or speed this process up so that there can be NGO workers on the ground to do the humanitarian work that will be necessary if there is a war?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, the question of these licenses, as you correctly point out, is the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Department of Treasury, and you will have to check with them on particular licenses.
We are, as you say, looking at contingency planning for whatever might occur. Part of that is not just issues inside Iraq, but issues involving the people of Iraq, possible displacements, refugees -- things like that. There is planning on that side as well to make sure we are able to take care of any humanitarian concerns that might arise.
I would imagine we are in touch with some of the outside groups and agencies that do this sort of thing as well -- to the extent we need to be at this point. But as far as on their own -- any independent efforts and what they might want to do -- the question of licensing, those travels to some places, is Treasury.
QUESTION: Well, these people say that they have met here with the Deputy Secretary, among others, and they've gotten basically no joy from the State Department in trying to, you know, grease the wheels to allow these. And included among these are several groups that have been given State Department funding to do work in Northern Iraq and Kurdistan, which was well publicized in the Federal Register announcement that you guys had actually given these people money to go in there, and yet they can't get licenses to do -- to spend any money there.
MR. BOUCHER: We support all kinds of efforts. That does not mean we want everybody to do everything everywhere.
QUESTION: No, these are people that the State Department has already said they want the programs --
MR. BOUCHER: I am not saying there is anything wrong with these people --
QUESTION: Are you prepared to help them in the OFAC -- in the licensing process?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not saying there's anything wrong with these groups. As I said, we work with these groups in many places, many ways, and are probably in touch with some of them as we go forward with our own contingency planning to make sure we can take care of any humanitarian problems that might arise. But that does not mean that we can approve every license for everybody to go wherever they might be thinking. So, as I said, the licensing process is in the hands of Treasury and I do not have anything more to say on it.
QUESTION: Well, they would suggest, though, that the amount of red tape is some kind of sign that the President and his administration are not entirely serious when they say they care about the fate of the Iraqi people. Can you dispel that notion?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I can assure you that we absolutely are -- and we have been -- doing considerable planning on the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: Okay, and one more on this. Is the United States, or would the State Department or the US, in general, be prepared to go to the UN Sanctions Committee to ask them to allow humanitarian aid groups to bring in mobile medical units into parts of Iraq that have -- that the units themselves will have things like chlorine bleach and atropine, which are on the Goods Review List?
MR. BOUCHER: I do not know and I am not going to make specific licensing decisions from here.
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)