|Tuesday, 25 February 2020|
U.S. Department of State 96/02/23 Daily Press Briefing
From: DOSFAN <gopher://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/>
U.S. State Department Directory
U.S. Department of State
96/02/23 Daily Press Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
I N D E X
Friday, February 23, 1996
Briefer: Nicholas Burns
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 1996, 1:17 P. M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
[...]I'm going to post two statements in the Press Office, for those of you who would like to look at them after the briefing. The first is a statement that details the agreement in Sarajevo of the Provisional Election Commission of a framework electoral code for the upcoming elections that will take place probably late this summer in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
This is a very important development. As you know, it's being headed by the OSCE, and the group there is headed by an American diplomat, Bob Frowick. It's important because the parties have agreed on a parameter, a framework that will govern the elections, and I'll have this statement available to all of you.
We believe it's a good first step forward in trying to organize what will be one of the pivotal events of this year in trying to secure the Dayton peace agreements, and that is the elections that we hope will provide for political stability throughout the latter part of the year and certainly during the time period after which IFOR troops will have left.
Finally, there will be another statement posted, which is that the Department of State is pleased to announce that we now have information about travel for American citizens -- travel abroad -- visas and passports available on the World Wide Web. This is consistent with the President's call to the American Government to give the American public broader access and speedier access to information that they need. We find in our interaction with the American public that information about visas, passports and travel conditions in various countries, especially countries that are somewhat dangerous, is one of the most sought after sets of information that the State Department has.
We have been doing a lot of this by phone. We've been doing it by mailings and now, of course, all this is available on the Web, which is a positive development.
MR. BURNS: Yes, I have a few things on Bosnia that I would like to tell you.
First, I think as you all know, President Izetbegovic has been hospitalized in Sarajevo. We understand that he has good care and that he is recovering from his ailments.
President Clinton and Secretary Christopher have written him to wish him a speedy recovery. We understand that Vice President Ganic is Acting President during President Izetbegovic's convalescence. We do wish him a speedy recovery.
In the meantime, a lot is happening in Bosnia. As you know, the situation in Mostar, we think, has stabilized at least for the time being. Ambassador John Menzies, our Ambassador, visited Mostar yesterday. He found that the joint patrols were taking place; that there was general freedom of movement throughout the City. He met with the mayors of both the Croatian and Muslim sectors of Mostar.
While the situation is still obviously unsettled -- it's a new situation, as you know there have been some incidents in the streets -- in general, we think that considerable progress has been made in unifying Mostar for the first time in many years.
The situation in Sarajevo, however, is not quite as bright or as optimistic this morning.
Our initial reports were that joint patrols were underway. Unfortunately, IFOR and the United Nations, in the last couple of hours, have both criticized the Bosnian Government for having established some checkpoints in Sarajevo, in Vogosca, which are not permitted; for having tried to impede the freedom of movement of some Serbs and for having sent out their own patrols without the escort of the international police training force.
You know these joint patrols -- Serbian and Federation -- were supposed to be accompanied by the international police officials. That did not take place this morning. The Bosnian Government has been quite severely criticized by the United Nations and by IFOR for that. We certainly would support IFOR and the U.N. So we hope that the situation in Sarajevo might improve.
The other disturbing reality of the situation in Sarajevo today is that the flood of refugees -- Serb refugees -- out of the city continues despite the best efforts of IFOR and of the United Nations to advise these people that actually we think they would be better off by staying in Sarajevo.
The Bosnian Government has taken several very constructive steps to ensure the safety of the Serb residents of Sarajevo. There has been a three-week delay in the deployment of Bosnian armed forces into the Sarajevo suburbs.
As you know, the Bosnian parliament passed an amnesty bill. There has been an extensive Bosnian Government and IFOR and U.N. media campaign to try to encourage the Serb residents to stay. We have a lot of sympathy for most of these Serb residents. They have lived through a war.
Obviously, they're fleeing because they feel they will not get justice, they will not be treated well when the Bosnian Government comes in. We still encourage them to stay. We think that by fleeing they turn themselves into refugees. It adds to the misery of that country. It does not help to heal the wounds of the war. It certainly does not help to maintain the multi-ethnic nature of Sarajevo which has been its historic nature.
It's a very difficult situation. We're watching it closely. We'll do whatever we can to help. But I'm not sure that the statements that we and others have made, frankly, have much affect. The exodus continues, and that's a very sad fact.
Q On the military side of things, are the Serbs conforming or not to the Dayton Agreement at this point?
MR. BURNS: At this point, from what I understand, the Serbs have committed to returning to military consultations and to attend the military meetings with IFOR, which is positive. We'll watch the performance, the performance of the Serbs over the next week or so to make sure that actions conform with words.
As you know, we certainly remain interested in the Bosnian Government side in pursuing this issue of the foreign fighters.
IFOR said this morning they thought that there were perhaps 100 to 150 foreign fighters left in Bosnia, and that remains the responsibility of the Bosnian Government to deport those people, to move them out, to convince them to leave. It doesn't really matter how they do it but to get them out of Bosnia so that we don't have to fear that those foreign fighters represent a threat to IFOR forces, to our young men and women there.
Q I was thinking in terms of the 48-hour period given the Serbs to resume attendance at these joint meetings. According to the wires this morning, there's still no compliance. I was wondering, is that accurate as far as you know?
MR. BURNS: It's not my understanding. I think that there have been some meetings. But, Roy, what I would like to do is maybe step back and give that another look later on this afternoon when we receive our full reports.
Q Another question. How can you say that the Serbs are in compliance or that anybody is in compliance with the Dayton Agreements if the indicted war criminals are not only at large but making speeches and basically directing policy on their side? Can you say that they're supporting Dayton?
MR. BURNS: We've never said that. In fact, we've said since December 14, on a very broad measure, there have been violations of the Dayton Accords by all sides -- by the Croatians, by the Bosnian Government, by the Bosnian Serbs, and by Serbia, and specifically on the issue of war crimes.
In fact, just yesterday, I talked from this podium about the fact that they're not in compliance on war crimes and that the outer wall of sanctions remain as an inducement to them -- on Serbia.
Q On the lifting of sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs, how can you lift them? How can you contemplate lifting them if they are being directed by people who are indicted war criminals?
MR. BURNS: As you know, the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1022 sets out the conditions under which sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs will be suspended.
As you know, the IFOR commander in this case, Admiral Smith, is to submit a report to General Joulwan as to military compliance with the Dayton Accords; that means compliance with the zone of separation, with the pullback of military forces, and with the adherence to the zone of separation that has been created 600 miles long.
I don't believe that Admiral Smith has issued that report but I believe that he will be sending it to General Joulwan tomorrow. If he does send it tomorrow, and as we think there is general military compliance, I would anticipate that there would be some kind of suspension of sanctions fairly shortly -- fairly shortly.
Q But do they have to be attending the commission meetings? Isn't that also part of the separation of forces?
MR. BURNS: I believe that UNSC 1022 links suspension of sanctions with the military provisions. I think I've set out what those military provisions are.
Obviously, Roy, we do want them to attend the military meetings. That was one of the purposes of the Rome meeting. We have a commitment from them, and we expect that they'll do it.
Q It's in the military annex that they have to attend these meetings.
MR. BURNS: Of course. That's why we've called them on the carpet many times for their failure to attend those meetings.
Q Nick, aren't you being a little -- I'm a little confused. On the one hand today you say you would expect sanctions to be lifted shortly. Yesterday, you sort of said that the Bosnian Serbs should wonder what the United States is going to do about that. It's not certain whether the United States is going to support lifting.
So between yesterday and today, has the United States made some decision that it is certain that it will support lifting sanctions on --
MR. BURNS: I've commented on this, I think, three times this week. The first time I commented, I said that there would have to be a period of reflection on our part and a period of some days where we measured, monitored compliance; that there was this mechanism under the U.N. Security Council resolution, which is fairly clear, about what has to happen to suspend them and what the conditions are for suspension. I laid those out.
I think there has never been any belief that this would not happen, as long as the military arrangements were met. But we, frankly, publicly wanted to introduce some element of doubt as a public signal and public warning to the Bosnian Serbs and to the Serbs that we do take these other issues seriously. We've sent that message this week. We're continuing to do so.
Admiral Smith hasn't even issued his report yet. He hasn't sent it up to General Joulwan. Yesterday, we thought that he had. We checked again and he hadn't. We believe that will happen tomorrow.
So while I think it's probably inevitable, as long as the military conditions are being met, that sanctions will be suspended. I think it's been a very useful way for us to signal our continued concern over other aspects.
Of course, as you know, there are mechanisms at work that, if the military conditions are violated, there is a re-imposition formula here.
Q Are you admitting to publicly putting misinformation that was contrary to U.S. policy to send some sort of diplomatic message?
MR. BURNS: Sid, give me a break. Give me a little bit of a break here. The conspiratorial edge to the question, I know, is quite interesting. You'd probably like to write that story.
Go back and check what I said yesterday, Sid, and go back and check, I believe, what I said on Tuesday. It's very clear there's a mechanism here that I've spelled out for you, and I've done it again today: that certain conditions will unhinge the suspension of sanctions.
We sent a public warning to them, as well as a private warning, that they couldn't automatically bank on the support of the United States; that we would be watching their implementation on other measures. That was a useful and rational and logical thing to do.
I think your question is most inappropriate.
Q I don't mean to combative.
MR. BURNS: You're being very combative.
Q But you did say, the question was never in doubt all week; that you used this bit of public diplomacy as a warning.
MR. BURNS: It was a warning. And if there had been a wide-scale violation of the understandings arranged at Rome, I don't think the United States would go forward. What we have seen -- and I think I answered the first question on this -- is that the Bosnian Serbs have said they will now re-enter the military meetings, and we've seen some early indication of that. We're going to wait over the next 24 hours or so to see further indications of that.
Q But you said it was never -- do you stand by your comment, it was really never in question this week that the sanctions would be lifted?
MR. BURNS: Ultimately -- I said "ultimately." As long as the military provisions -- I use the word "ultimately" -- are adhered to, that was probably going to happen. But we gave them a public and private warning, which was a logical and wise thing to do. So I do take exception with the way you asked the question.
Q Nick, let me ask a question about Mladic if I may, which has a certain conspiratorial bent too. Mladic seems to be directing the actions of the Bosnian Serb military and the Bosnian Serb military appear to be adhering to all the terms of Dayton. You've said that other spokesmen for the government have said that. Does that become an argument to perhaps not assiduously pursue him on war crimes?
In other words, he appears to be enforcing a certain amount of discipline within the Bosnian Serb military which works to enforce Dayton.
MR. BURNS: No. I don't think that's an argument for us not to try to have him brought forward for prosecution by the War Crimes Tribunal. That's what we want to see happen. There is no interest that the United States has in seeing Mladic or Karadzic remain in power. There are other people who could run those institutions -- people who have not been indicted for mass murder.
Q Nick, a couple of minutes ago you said that the exodus of refugees in Sarajevo continues and it's a sad fact. A couple of days ago, from the same podium, the former Assistant Secretary, Mr. Holbrooke, said that there are some Serbs, if I remember correctly, who ought to leave and that they know which ones they are and they can sort themselves out.
What is the U.S. policy? Should all the Serbs remain in Sarajevo -- all the Bosnian Serbs?
MR. BURNS: Our policy is that -- I think I know what Dick Holbrooke was trying to say. Our policy is that the Serb residents of Sarajevo should stay. If there are people in Sarajevo who are guilty of war crimes, that's another thing. Perhaps Dick was referring to that when he made his distinction. But the Serb residents ought to stay.
The obligation that we have as one of the, in effect, guarantors of the Dayton peace agreements is to be fair to all sides. We need to be fair to the Serb population and the Bosnian Serb population, many of whom were victims of the war. We'd like to see those people stay.
Q Can I follow up? I think what Holbrooke -- had prefaced what Charlie said -- was that a certain number of the Serbs in the suburbs had come in as fighters, had evicted Muslims, had conducted ethnic cleansing, used those suburbs as a base for the siege of Sarajevo proper. You seem to be --
MR. BURNS: It's not going to be up to the United States to go through the Serb suburbs and try to identify those people who should stay and those people who should not. That's the job for the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Government and the United Nations -- the civilian side, Carl Bildt's effort. It is not the job of the United States to do that.
Q Nick, isn't there some concern about the snail's pace of the reconstruction efforts now; that if nothing really happens on the ground -- the Bosnian Serbs -- there's nothing that the Bosnian Government, with all the good will in the world that they may have, can offer to them to show that they would have improved conditions if they remained together in this agreement; and that military people have said that they're also concerned that 23,000 refugees are going to be coming back from Germany within the course, I think, of the next year, and that if something doesn't happen quickly on this area, that the whole thing could really fall apart.
Is there not concern in the Department, and, if so, are there efforts being made to try and speed things up on the reconstruction?
MR. BURNS: There is that concern. I think you heard Carl Bildt say that most persuasively at Rome when he made his introductory statement last Saturday afternoon. The concern is that we need to move quickly on the reconstruction side on civilian efforts.
I do want to give the Congress a break here. The Administration just put to Congress, two days ago, our request for an additional $860 million to help pay for some of the bonuses that our troops will be receiving -- bonuses and pay -- as a result of their service and for $200 million, which is the U.S. contribution to that civilian effort that you site.
I think that there may have been, somewhat mistakenly, the impression given to you the other day from the Department that somehow Congress was responsible for dragging its feet. Congress is not dragging its feet. Congress just got the Administration's request a couple of days ago, and I think it's only fair to let the Congress look at a very serious and complicated proposal. We certainly will work with the Congress and would expect speedy action, but they do deserve a couple of days, at least, to look at this.
Q There have been reports, though, that other countries who have pledged money for the civilian implementation have been reneging or have not been putting money into the pot. Are you all concerned about this seeming lack of response?
MR. BURNS: I don't want to stand up here and cast stones. I think that we ought to applaud the efforts of the European Union, which has met its obligations, and has contributed the first tranche of money to fund Carl Bildt's effort.
The United States has an obligation to put forward our own money. We have not done that yet, and that's why we're working closely with the Congress on the question of the $200 million, which is our share. Other countries have not come forward, as they should have and as they committed to do so.
It's up to Carl Bildt, of course, to be the lead person speaking out on this. He's in charge of the effort, but we want to fully support him. He has done, I think, a lot with very little. He started out with a cell phone in Brussels, and he has built an organization. He's got major responsibilities, and we all need to step up and help Carl Bildt, and that's what we intend to do in the weeks ahead with the consent of the Congress.
Q I just want to make sure I'm clear. It wasn't just some faceless, low-level U.S. official who talked about Congress and Congress' role. It was Dick Holbrooke himself on television and publicly here. So now you're backing off Holbrooke's criticism of Congress.
MR. BURNS: Carol, I think I've said quite clearly and quite openly, I wouldn't use the word "back off." I wanted to clarify the record, because I think it's only fair, and I know many other people -- my superiors in this building -- feel it's only fair that if Congress just received a proposal, that we not give them a hard time, we not say they're dragging their feet.
In fact, they're looking at it seriously. We're having good discussions with the Congress, and we don't want to create a problem where there is no problem. Congress has responsibilities that it needs some time to carry out.
Q What was Holbrooke talking about?
MR. BURNS: You'll have to address that question elsewhere. I think to be charitable to Dick, who I very much respect, he may not have been aware of the timing of this proposal. That's one theory. I just wanted to set the record straight about what we expect of the Congress and what we don't expect. We don't want to be unfair to the Congress.
Q Could you come back to Mladic for a second? I'm not quite sure -- yesterday at the Pentagon, they confirmed that there is this threat against Americans to kidnap American troops in IFOR; that it came from Mladic. They seem to be certain of that.
How does one square the idea of a threat against IFOR troops with compliance with the military annex of the Dayton accords?
MR. BURNS: I didn't read in Ken Bacon's briefing yesterday -- if you're referring to that -- I didn't read any kind of confirmation. What Ken Bacon and I both said yesterday was that we could not confirm that report, but obviously everyone is concerned about it. I said yesterday essentially what I heard the Pentagon saying, that our soldiers will protect themselves, and they have the ability to defend themselves.
Q But my question is, this is coming from Mladic. Mladic is the man in control. How do you square his actions and his presence there with conformity with the Dayton --
MR. BURNS: Roy, I'm not able to confirm that statement for you. I don't know that he made it. We have a responsibility here when we say that we think someone said something to know that for a fact. I don't know that for a fact.
It wouldn't surprise me, given the environment, that some Bosnian Serbs might be up to no good, and that's why we said what we did yesterday; that our troops will defend themselves.
Pertaining to the suspension of sanctions, which your question is, there are very clear conditions laid out, and we've talked about that before -- about what those are.
Q New subject. About Greek-Turkish relations. Yesterday the Turkish side withdrew the Ambassador from Athens. Do you have any reaction about this?
MR. BURNS: It's not appropriate for me to comment on actions by Turkey, given its own disposition of its diplomatic personnel. I would say this -- it's very important that Turkey and Greece avoid confrontation and work to resolve a very difficult problem over this islet, and we're ready to help them do so.
Ultimate responsibility for resolving this rests on Greece and Turkey's shoulders together, and they ought to take that responsibility and they ought to resolve this question. The bickering is not conducive to that.
Q And also is the European Union -- the Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Simitis, visiting several European capitals, asking to stop some financial due for the Custom Union. Do you support Greece -- this kind of action against Turkey?
MR. BURNS: Again, I can't -- I'm not aware of what the Greek Prime Minister may or may not have said, so I can't comment on that. But what I can do is tell you that the United States firmly supports the Customs Union. We were one of the main supporters of the Customs Union. We encouraged our European partners in the EU to conclude that agreement with Turkey and very glad they did so.
Q You said that Turkey and Greece should avoid confrontation. Can this be taken State Department view that Turkey's recalling Ambassador for consultation to Ankara is a sign of confrontation, increased tensions?
MR. BURNS: This is a conspiratorial day here at the State Department. (Laughter) It must be a lack of news or something. We're all trying to get the -- the conspiracy theorists are here.
Q My question is, do you see this as increased strains in the Greek-Turkish relations?
Q Or tensions?
MR. BURNS: There are enough tensions and strains in the relationship without me adding to them. Our position is that Greece and Turkey are valued allies of the United States. They should work their problems. They should work them out. I didn't want to comment. I said it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the actions of the Turkish Government in recalling its Ambassador.
I'm not commenting on that. I'm commenting on the general state of the Greek-Turkish relationship which we think needs to be improved. Let's face it, they need to get along better. They need to resolve their problems more amicably than they do, and we're willing to help them in any way that we can, and they know that. Both countries know that.
[...]MR. BURNS: Thanks.
(The briefing concluded at 2:08 p.m.)