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U.S. Department of State 96/02/13 Daily Press Briefing
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U.S. State Department Directory
U.S. Department of State
96/02/13 Daily Press Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
I N D E X
Tuesday, February 13, 1996
Briefer: Nicholas Burns
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 1996, 1:00 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
[...]Q On this last trip, you and other U.S. officials made much of the fact that the United States and Russia were in concert on Bosnia. Today, the Russian Foreign Minister came out with a statement critical of the sort of agreement, compromise agreement, on war crimes that has been worked out and the sort of spiriting away of the two Bosnian Serb officers. It sounds like that is at least one area on Bosnia where you don't see eye to eye.
MR. BURNS: I've just seen Russian sources, without names attached. I don't know what you've seen, but I haven't seen any statements from Minister Primakov or other senior people in Moscow.
I would just say, Carol, that we fully support the action taken by NATO yesterday afternoon to transport the two Bosnian Serb officers to The Hague.
This came as a result of a request of Justice Goldstone, and after Justice Goldstone's investigators had determined that they had sufficient interest in these individuals to take them to The Hague for further questioning. Now the decision will be for Justice Goldstone whether or not they should be indicted for possible war crimes. That's a decision that only he and his associates in The Hague can make.
We think that decision yesterday, to transport them, was fully consistent with the Dayton Accords and fully consistent with the interest that all of us should have for justice. Justice is important because after four and a half years of war, some people must be judged to have been responsible for the vicious war crimes that occurred throughout those four and a half years.
The other part of this story is that there were four people who remained in detention as part of the general arrest that was made 10 days ago by the Bosnian Government. The Bosnian Government committed to us that it would release these four people. Those people have not yet been released.
The War Crimes Tribunal has no interest in these four individuals who are all Bosnian Serbs. Under the new rules of the road that were committed to yesterday, if the War Crimes Tribunal is not interested in people who are being detained under suspicion of war crimes, then they must be released. We have a commitment, and it's not happened.
Secretary Christopher will be calling President Izetbegovic at about 2:00 this afternoon to remind him of the commitment made by the Bosnian Government and to remind him that under the new rules of the road these individuals cannot be held. The United States expects that they will be released immediately.
Q What do you think of this? The Secretary goes over there; he talks to Izetbegovic personally; Holbrooke goes, he talks to Izetbegovic personally and yet the Bosnian Government is continuing to renege on agreements. What good is their word any more?
MR. BURNS: I think the Bosnian Government has by and large complied with most aspects of the Dayton Accord. We have reminded them when that is not the case. We will continue to assert to the Bosnian Government and to all the parties -- the Serbs and the Croats as well -- that they've got to comply with all of the accords. They can't pick and choose those parts of the accords that are most convenient for them. That was Dick Holbrooke's message when he went to the region this weekend, that the package is important and faithfulness to the entire package of agreements is important.
We think that this is obviously a very complicated situation, fulfilling the Dayton Accords. But we are determined that all parties will fulfill them, and we're going to continue to use our influence -- the considerable influence that we can bring to bear -- to make sure that the Dayton Accords are adhered to.
I think you say by the repeated senior level demarches on the part of the American Government how seriously we treat this. Secretary Christopher made his trip. He asked Dick Holbrooke to return. Dick Holbrooke did an outstanding job in clarifying a murky situation pertaining to war criminals. Now, it's a very clear situation.
Secretary Christopher, when he heard this morning that four detainees were still being held, decided that he had to call President Izetbegovic personally to get this done. It's that kind of senior level involvement that we will continue to assert as much as we have to make sure that these accords are implemented.
Q But you're having no influence even with the party in this conflict that has been closest to the United States?
MR. BURNS: We're having a lot of influence. I beg to differ. We stopped the war. We created a 600-mile zone of separation. There is an effective cease-fire. There is a relative degree of freedom of movement that did not exist for four and a half years. We now have clarified an ambivalent situation about the status of people suspected of being war criminals.
We have accomplished an extraordinary amount of things. But it is also true that there are problems in fulfilling the Dayton Accords. There is some fraying along the edges. That's why the Secretary went out there. That's why we'll go back, if necessary, and that's why Dick Holbrooke was there. But I do beg to differ that we haven't accomplished much. We've done quite a lot to stop the war and to give these parties a year of relative peace where we hope they can sort themselves out and determine that they will commit themselves to bringing a permanent peace to the area. That's the objective here.
Q On your statement yesterday, in Paragraph 3, there is some ambiguity which has bothered some people. It says that "People can be arrested and detained on a previously issued order, warrant, or indictment that has been reviewed and deemed consistent with the international legal standards by the International Tribunal." I presume that's the representatives now in Sarajevo.
But, specifically, does that mean a Bosnian prosecutor office could issue a warrant and then have it stamped or approved by the International War Crimes Tribunal's representatives in Sarajevo and then that would be a valid arrest order?
MR. BURNS: Yes. In fact, I checked with our Legal Advisor on this. It's the understanding that all of us have -- our Legal Advisor here in the State Department, our Legal Advisor's Office; Dick Holbrooke and John Shattuck, who helped to write these rules of the road and get them agreed to by the Bosnian Government; and everyone else in this building, including John Kornblum who is our Acting Assistant Secretary of State.
In the case that you posit -- in this case the Bosnian Government, would have to check with the War Crimes Tribunal to make sure that any indictment, any arrest warrant, any intention to detain is consistent with the international legal standards before any arrest is made. So you see, if they wanted to pick someone up under suspicion of war crimes, they would have to check with the Tribunal.
If the Tribunal had sufficient interest in an individual, then the Tribunal, in this case -- this hypothetical case -- would indicate to the Bosnian Government, "Yes, we are interested in him, and it would be consistent with our own views that you pick this person up."
But the key provision here is that once the person is detained or arrested or held by the Bosnian Government under suspicion of war crimes, then the case would, in effect, be turned over to the War Crimes Tribunal. The War Crimes Tribunal, and only the Tribunal, would answer the question: "Do we investigate with the purpose of indicting and prosecuting, or do we not pursue the case because there's insufficient evidence?"
If there is insufficient evidence, then the person should be freed under suspicion of war crimes.
Q In the specific case of these four who the Secretary is going to call the Bosnian President about, this rule would not apply since there has been no approved warrant prior to their arrest?
MR. BURNS: That's right. But in this case, this is an unusual case because the rules of the road that were worked out by Holbrooke and Shattuck with the Bosnian Government, of course, did not exist when these people were picked up. But after they were picked up, the War Crimes Tribunal looked at all of the 11 people who were picked up. They had an interest only in two. They specifically said they didn't have an interest in these four people who remain in detention. So, therefore, our very clear understanding is that these people ought to be released.
We cannot have a situation where any one of these three governments is just picking people up on any number of pretexts. It must be connected to the Tribunal. That's the distinction here.
Q Is there any clarity that's been added to the question of whether people can be detained if they have not been indicted? In other words, can people be detained because the War Crimes Tribunal would like to question them as possible witnesses in cases against other people?
MR. BURNS: Certainly. Certainly. That is certainly true --
Q Is that what has happened with these two?
MR. BURNS: I can't speculate on what the War Crimes Tribunal will do now with the two individuals who are incarcerated in The Hague. I don't know what they're going to do. That's only an issue that the War Crimes Tribunal can decide.
It's certainly true, David, that the Tribunal could ask the Serbian Government or the Croatian Government or the Bosnian Government to detain someone for whom an indictment has not yet been issued so that the Tribunal can have access to that person for questioning and to determine whether or not an indictment should be issued. That's certainly the case, and there's a precedent. Back in the autumn, when the Tribunal asked the Dutch Government to detain a person, they did. Unfortunately, the Tribunal could not develop a case against that person because the Serbian Government failed to cooperate with the Tribunal.
Q Nick, is there any more clarity? You seem to have clarified to a degree yesterday the role of IFOR. If they bump into or encounter suspected indicted war criminals, their obligation is to detain them.
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q But comments coming out of NATO officials on the scene seem to conflict with that.
MR. BURNS: We're very clear about what we understand is an obligation of any IFOR soldier to detain a person whom they know to be an indicted war criminal. That's an obligation. It's not just an opportunity; it's an obligation.
I believe the NATO Spokesman spoke out with a great deal of determination and clarity on this issue yesterday from Brussels on this same question. NATO is looking into the incident over the weekend when, supposedly, Karadzic went through a checkpoint.
There I think you have to give our troops the benefit of the doubt. They are not in the habit of stopping every car at every checkpoint. If they were doing that, there would be no freedom of movement in Bosnia. They are checking mainly military vehicles, not civilian vehicles.
But certainly the United States believes that those soldiers should have a general idea of who these people are, and, specifically, the leaders like Karadzic and Mladic who deserve to be indicted and prosecuted and convicted of war crimes.
So we will endeavor to work with NATO and IFOR to make sure that clear photographs are given to IFOR soldiers. I think if you question the relevant officials in IFOR -- I don't know who all these people are who are speaking -- they would say that it's certainly an obligation to detain an individual whom they know to be a war criminal.
Still on Bosnia, Lambros?
MR. BURNS: Can we just stick on Bosnia for a minute and then we'll go on.
Q The question of extradition apparently has become a bit of a problem with Croatia and Serbia saying that the constitution doesn't allow it. How would the United States like for countries to handle this question of extradition, given constitutional constraints?
MR. BURNS: We discussed this issue with both the Serbian and Croatian Governments during the Secretary's trip. President Tudjman told the Secretary that the Croatians were in the process of seeking an amendment to their constitution.
We're not quite sure how this amendment would read -- what impact it would have on the ability of the Croatians to extradite -- and the Serbians told us that they likewise had a problem with their own constitutional authority in terms of extradition.
Our view is this: Both governments have to figure out a way to be in compliance with the Dayton Accord provisions on war crimes and to be more specific. They have to figure out a way to cooperate when the War Crimes Tribunal wants them to act to detain someone for investigation or for indictment. It's their obligation to do that. It's their problem to do that.
I would just note in this sense that to my understanding, neither the Serbian Government nor the Croatian Government have signed up to these rules of the road. They ought to. And we're going to make an attempt to have them do that, because we can't just expect that the Bosnian Government be the only government in the area that is fully in compliance with the war crimes obligations in Dayton. All of them have to be.
Q One of the ways they got around that after World War II was to have the Tribunal actually in a specific country -- Poland or Germany. Is that something that might work for Serbia and Croatia, that they actually have the trials in their countries supervised by The Hague or The Hague judges?
MR. BURNS: That is a question for Justice Goldstone. It's entirely up to him. We recognize only his authority on the prosecution of war criminals. It's important that we not allow a situation to develop where the Bosnians decide to have their own Tribunal -- and the Croatians and the Serbians.
There's one Tribunal. It's sponsored by the United Nations, and that's the Tribunal that we support. We don't support any other efforts to prosecute war criminals.
Q You said that neither Croatia nor Serbia has signed up to these rules of the road.
MR. BURNS: That's my understanding. This was a statement made by the Bosnian Government yesterday.
Q Why did Holbrooke not -- wasn't that part of his brief when he went out there?
MR. BURNS: He certainly pushed this with both governments, and we will continue to do so. The immediate problem was the status of the individuals who had been put under detention by the Bosnian Government.
We wanted to resolve that problem, number one; and, number two, we wanted to help clarify what some of the people on the ground felt was an ambiguous situation. We did that. The rules of the road are now very clear, and we're calling upon the Croatian and Serbian Governments to also sign up to these rules of the road.
Q Did they say that they wouldn't sign up until that other situation with the Bosnian Serbs was resolved?
MR. BURNS: I don't know. I don't know if they linked it or not. I just don't know. But I just want to be clear that we expect them also to adhere to these standards.
Q That's a very inconclusive deal.
MR. BURNS: It's a very conclusive and clear deal when it comes to the Bosnian Government. What's also clear to us is the commitment that they had, because these rules of the road did not amend the Dayton Accords. They were a supplement to it.
Q Nick, I'm unclear. You asked -- the United States -- Holbrooke asked the Serbians and the Croats to sign up to what you're calling the new rules of the road, and they haven't done so yet?
MR. BURNS: The vast amount of attention was put on the Bosnian Government this past weekend, because that's where the particular problem existed. But in the course of our demarches around the region, we are asking, yes, the other two governments to sign up to this, and we are awaiting their positive response to that request.
Q But they just haven't gotten back to you yet, is that --
MR. BURNS: Since I'm not out there negotiating, I can't tell you where the ball is right now -- whose court it's in. All I know is what we want to see achieved at the end of the day, which is very clear.
Q Then you're not looking for a formal statement like the Bosnians issued yesterday?
MR. BURNS: However they do it, they need to make a clear commitment to us and to the international community that they understand what the rules of the road are, and that they intend to abide by them.
Q There's a report from Belgrade that a Mr. Seselje(?), who was the Serb paramilitary leader during the initial phases of the war in Croatia and Bosnia -- that he has volunteered to go to The Hague to present evidence against President Milosevic. He maintains that Karadzic, Mladic and everybody else is not to blame for any war crimes; that Milosevic directly commanded the Bosnian Serbs during the entire war.
Now, he used to be one of Milosevic's closest associates. According to a press report in Belgrade today, he has asked the Dutch Government for a visa to go to The Hague. He has not been invited yet by the Tribunal, but he wants to go there and voluntarily offer evidence. Would you encourage him to do so, or would you encourage the Dutch Government to give him a visa?
MR. BURNS: I'm not in a position to evaluate his claims, and the only format, the only avenue and channel for him is the War Crimes Tribunal. So this is a matter for Justice Goldstone and his associates in the Tribunal. As to whether or not they want to question him further, whether they want to use the information that he has at his disposal to look into war crimes by other individuals who have not yet been indicted, it's simply a question for the Justice.
Q It's also a question for the Dutch because he has to enter Holland.
MR. BURNS: Yes, and I'm sure in this case the Dutch Government would be looking for a signal from the War Crimes Tribunal. That's the way this system works, and I'm sure that's happening.
Are we finished with Bosnia? Lambros, yes.
Q President Clinton in addressing yesterday a big gathering of Greek-Americans here in Washington, D.C., made the following statement regarding the recent Aegean crisis: "We are all deeply concerned about the recent dispute over the island of Imia. I was personally involved in our efforts to convince our two NATO allies to pull back from the dangerous confrontation. Now we are trying to reduce tensions further and to settle the ownership question peacefully through an international tribunal as the Greek Government has proposed."
Since the Greek Government earlier today stated that she never proposed something like that, do you have any comment?
MR. BURNS: I think that's just about a perfect statement. I wouldn't take issue with any aspect of that statement. I think it's just very clear. It restates our policy that we are concerned about the problems between Greece and Turkey; that we played a leadership role in helping to resolve the immediate conflict around the islets; and that knowing that Greece many times in the past has asserted that a number of these Aegean issues between Greece and Turkey could be settled in the International Court of Justice, I think it certainly made sense that the International Court of Justice would be the place where Greece and Turkey would meet to settle this specific dispute.
So I think that the President simply, I think, stated very clearly what American policy is.
Q Finally, it is your proposal then.
MR. BURNS: Excuse.
Q Finally, it's your proposal, I understand from this statement.
MR. BURNS: Mr. Lambros, what I would say is that we have been aware for some time that the Greek Government had an interest in using the mediation of the International Court of Justice as a way to resolve specific problems in the Aegean; and, knowing that, I think that, of course, we also felt that it was a good idea to bring this issue to the International Court of Justice.
But in that case, it seemed to us to have been inspired by Greece, and that, I think, is the way we see it.
Q When was the last time you proposed that to the Greek Government?
MR. BURNS: I don't know. I think we knew that the Greek Government had an interest in the International Court of Justice, and so we're glad to see that Greece and Turkey will be there.
Q And the last question: Can you elaborate more about the proposal? What do you expect?
MR. BURNS: We certainly would expect that this issue would be resolved peacefully; that there would be no resort to the use of force, no intimidation, and that both sides would agree that the International Court of Justice would be the venue, the place where this problem could be ultimately settled, and that means compromise. It means that both sides are going to have to engage in a situation where compromise is one of the foundations of a resolution.
Q Knowing your fondness for talking about rocky islands, does the United States Government take any position on this dispute between South Korea and Japan?
MR. BURNS: Our position on this particular dispute -- you're referring to the islet in the Sea of Japan.
MR. BURNS: Our position on this particular dispute is that we hope very much that the Republic of Korea and Japan will resolve this peacefully. That has been our position for a long time, and I'm glad to reassert it again today.
Q And do you take any position on the issue of sovereignty?
MR. BURNS: Our position is that Japan and the Republic of Korea should resolve this problem peacefully. Japan and the Republic of Korea are both allies of the United States, and, of course, similar to our position on Greece and Turkey, we do not wish to see allies contest by force or by the threat of force or intimidation disputes that should be worked out peacefully.
Q And would that be suitable to go to the International Court of Justice?
MR. BURNS: That's a decision that only the Republic of Korea and Japan can make. It's similar to this case, where Greece and Turkey made the decision together to go to the International Court of Justice.
Q Accepting your proposal.
MR. BURNS: But we've already finished with Greece and Turkey. (Laughter) Now we're talking about -- I shouldn't have made that -- that was a mistake. I should not have referred to Greece and Turkey. It just gets you in too much trouble.
Q Thank you, Nick. This is Arshad of the Daily --
MR. BURNS: Oh, we're on the same issue. Excuse me, Mr. Arshad.
Q Did I hear it correct when you said Turkey has agreed to go to the International Court of Justice?
MR. BURNS: There's a proposal made for Greece and Turkey to resolve their differences over Kardak/Imia, Imia/Kardak at the International Court of Justice. I'm not sure that we've heard definitively what the positions of Greece and Turkey are, but it's our expectation that both governments will agree to international mediation. It seems to us to be a logical way to proceed in this case.
Q It's not something you heard from Turkish Government to that regard, right?
MR. BURNS: I don't know what we've heard specifically today from the Turkish Government, but it seems that the situation is heading in that direction.
We were with Mr. Arshad and then --
Q Can we go back to China?
MR. BURNS: China? Yes.
[...]Q Thank you.
MR. BURNS: Thank you.
(Press briefing concluded at 1:39 p.m.)