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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #47, 97-04-02

U.S. State Department: Daily Press Briefings Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <>


U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing


Wednesday, April 2, 1997

Briefer: Nicholas Burns

     Secretary Albright's Activities:
1    --Throwing out First Ball at Baltimore Orioles Season Opener
1    --Mtg. w/Argentine Foreign Minister di Tella on 4/1
1    --Mtg./Lunch w/King Hussein of Jordan
3    --New York Stock Exchange Address at Nat'l. Gallery
8-9  --Mtg. w/Central American Foreign Ministers on 4/1
2    Under Secretary Tim Wirth Briefing on Global Food Security--4/3

ZAIRE Situation Update 2 --Transitional Parliament's Nomination of new Prime Minister 2 --U.S. Support for Peace Talks 2-3 --Call for Approval of UNHCR Refugee Repatriation Plan

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 3-4 Secretary Albright's Telecons w/PM Netanyahu & w/Chairman Arafat 4-6 Oslo Process 4-5 Israeli PM Netanyahu's Visit to U.S. 6-7 Violence & Terrorism 7-8 Proposed Housing Construction at Har Homa

CUBA 10 U.S. Policy on Licenses for Professional Sports Activities

CHINA 10 Reported Suicide of Former Washington Bureau Chief Wei


DPB #47

TUESDAY, APRIL 2, 1997, 12:10 P.M.


MR. BURNS: Welcome to the Noon Briefing. I've always wanted to say that for two and a half years - the "Noon Briefing."

I want to welcome to the State Department today 10 Cypriot journalists visiting the United States through the International Center for Journalists. Welcome. I think you're seated on both sides of the aisle here. I have a question for you. Do you have baseball in Cyprus?

JOURNALISTS: Unfortunately, we don't.

MR. BURNS: Unfortunately.

JOURNALISTS: We're working on it.

MR. BURNS: That was the right answer, because today is a big day. You may not know this but this is the opening day up in Baltimore where the Orioles are going to be playing the Kansas City Royals. The Secretary of State has now refined her slider, and she's even working on a change-up and she is all set to throw out the first ball in about two hours from now. She's very excited about it. The Red Sox open in Anaheim against the California Angels tonight. Tom Gordon is on the mound. So we're very pleased that all of you going up with us. I think we have around 21 journalists going up. The key question is: Will you stay the whole game? We'll be monitoring your behavior while you're up in the press box at Camden Yards.

I just want to let you know a couple of things. The Secretary of State had a good meeting last night with Foreign Minister di Tella of Argentina. They met for about an hour. They discussed President Clinton and Secretary Albright's upcoming visit to Buenos Aires which, as you know, will be held sometime in the autumn.

They also reviewed the economic and trade relationship between the United States and Argentina in some detail, the issue of United States arms sales policy to Latin America, a variety of United Nations issues, and Cuba. Cuba was a big issue in this meeting, as well as the Middle East. I'll be glad to take any questions on that.

The Secretary today, as you know, is meeting with King Hussein, His Majesty King Hussein, here in the Department. She's having a one-on-one meeting with him. She'll then have a lunch with him before he leaves the United States.

She is also going to be going tonight to address the New York Stock Exchange at the National Gallery of Art. This is an open press event. She is going to be presenting remarks on the Chemical Weapons Convention, on State Department resources, and other issues.

There is going to be pooled press coverage for those of you who wish to attend that event.

Tomorrow, we'll brief at the normal time, 1:00, but starting at 12:30 I want to encourage all of you to come to a special briefing that we're going to have conducted by Tim Wirth, our Under Secretary for Global Affairs. This will be on the United States approach to global food security. It's an important issue that he and others have given a lot of attention to, and I want to ask you to come to that briefing at 12:30 tomorrow.

Beyond that, I did have something to say about Zaire. I want to update you on the situation in Zaire as we appreciate it. First of all, the United States is pleased that the transitional parliament has moved quickly to nominate a new Prime Minister, Prime Minister Tshisekedi.

Once approved by President Mobutu, and once Prime Minister Tshisekedi takes office, we hope that the first order of business for the new Zairian Government will be to negotiate an end to the conflict inside Zaire and to prepare for arrangements for a political transition in Zaire.

"Political transition," by that I mean reform - economic and political reform, hopefully leading to elections in Zaire.

We also hope very much that the efforts of the South African Government to work out the beginning of peace talks between the rebel alliance and the Government of Zaire might be successful.

We support those efforts, and we hope those talks might begin by the end of this week or over the weekend.

What is of particular concern to the United States today is the situation of the refugees in eastern Zaire. Particularly the situation in the Ubundu- Kisangani corridor is becoming more dire for those refugees who are already in a very weakened state.

We're concerned that there be rapid and decisive action to address the urgent relief and repatriation needs. That is one reason why the United States has just allocated, as John Dinger told you on Monday, $3 million in new funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The international humanitarian agencies have gained access to an estimated 80,000 refugees located roughly 12 to 25 miles south of Kisangani. The agencies have begun to provide emergency assistance to them.

The UNHCR has developed a repatriation plan and that plan has been given to Mr. Laurent Kabila for his consent. The UNHCR cannot proceed with its repatriation efforts, as planned, until Mr. Kabila has given permission for the refugee agencies to transit Kisangani and to get to the refugees who are south of Kisangani.

Despite earlier commitments of cooperation by Mr. Kabila and by his rebel units, unfortunately, the northern most camp has been closed. That's the camp at Lula, four miles outside of Kisangani, which forced exhausted refugees to walk many miles southward.

The UNHCR has received tacit agreement from the rebels and the authorities now in Kisangani to stabilize the refugees at sites 16 miles and 25 miles south of the city of Kisangani. UNHCR reports that the health of many of the refugees continues to deteriorate.

It estimates that 50 people died at Lula during the last few days.

The World Food Program has delivered 230 tons of food to the refugees along the railroad in the vicinity during the last few days. Special efforts are being made to bring in more supplies - food supplies - to these refugees. Because of our $3 million donation two days ago, it is now possible for the UNHCR to contract an Iluyshin aircraft to begin airlift operations, we hope, as early as Friday to provide food speedily to the most desperately affected refugees.

But in order for that particular airlift operation to succeed, it does need the permission and consent of Mr. Kabila. So we welcome the cooperation, to date, given by Mr. Kabila, but we call for urgent approval by him and consent of this UNHCR refugee repatriation plan and the assistance operations so that further deaths and suffering can be prevented and rapid and safe repatriation of the refugees can be begin.

This is a very serious situation. There have been good promises from Mr. Kabila and his forces but they have not come through with the action necessary to give the United Nations access to the refugees, and some of those refugees have perished.

It is now urgent that over the next couple of days that permission be given and the additional monies given by the United States will hopefully allow some of those relief supplies to get in.

I'd be very glad to take any questions on the situation in Zaire.


QUESTION: If we can jump back to the Middle East. What can you tell us about the Secretary's telephone diplomacy in the last few days?

MR. BURNS: I can tell you that following the meeting yesterday with His Majesty King Hussein at the White House, the Secretary did have a conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but she also had two conversations yesterday afternoon with Chairman Arafat. These conversations are designed to help the United States play a constructive role in bringing the Israelis and Palestinians together so that we might help them repair some of the damage caused over the last couple of weeks by a variety of events - damage to the peace negotiations - and help to revive their mutual interest in pursuing those negotiations in the future.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have a view - is the U.S. totally wedded to the Oslo procedure? Because, as you know, the Prime Minister has proposed some fast-track final status talks; set six to nine months as a goal; cut through some of the procedure anticipated by Oslo. Does the U.S. care particularly how the parties attack these issues?

MR. BURNS: Barry, it's up to the Israelis and Palestinians ultimately to define the content as well as the structure of their peace negotiations. They agreed in 1993 to a pattern of activities, and so far both governments have indicated that they're willing to proceed with them. The Prime Minister has floated some new ideas. Obviously, it's up to the Palestinians to decide whether or not the Palestinians want to accept, or go along with those ideas or whether they don't wish to do so. But I'm not aware of any statements or actions, more importantly, that would fundamentally say that the Israelis and Palestinians are deviating or drifting away from Oslo.

They're both the central participants in the Oslo process. It has served them very well. They've made a tremendous amount of progress.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) speeding it up.

MR. BURNS: That's for the Israelis and Palestinians, I think, to decide at this point.

QUESTION: What purpose is served other than, of course, good will - and it's always good for two leaders to talk -- by Netanyahu coming here on Monday? What's the agenda?

MR. BURNS: As you know, he's coming for talks with President Clinton and Secretary Albright. He has some private activities scheduled with AIPAC and perhaps some other activities.

It's always important for the United States to be in touch with the Israeli Prime Minister, particularly now that the peace negotiations are in such dire straights.

The United States, as President Clinton said yesterday, wants to do everything it can to help revive those negotiations. He is coming. We're very pleased he's coming, and we're looking forward to productive talks with him.

QUESTION: What's the agenda, though?

MR. BURNS: The agenda, of course, in part, is to review where we are, all of us, collectively, but most importantly the Israelis and Palestinians; what problems are afflicting the peace negotiations, and what might be some ideas that could help them move the situation forward in a positive direction.

QUESTION: On a variation of the fast track, is one of the possibilities a Camp David re-run?

MR. BURNS: I think you're just going to have to ask the Israelis and Palestinians for what they want to say publicly about where these negotiations go in the future.

Our position is very clear. We think the Israelis and Palestinians must commit themselves to work together and to see each other as negotiating partners and to move forward. How they move forward is their decision. They're the only ones who can make that decision, and that's up to them. But I couldn't possibly speculate on what some other options might be.

QUESTION: As the principal mediator, does not the United States have a role to throw suggestions into the pot from time to time?

MR. BURNS: We certainly do. But I think part of that role and the effectiveness of that role is making sure that we don't float ideas publicly that we may be talking about in private. I simply can't get into that.

QUESTION: Monday is a long time from now. But do you know at this point if the Secretary will have her own private pre-Presidential meeting conversation with Netanyahu?

MR. BURNS: I just don't know the full dimensions of the schedule, Barry. But we'll give that to you as it emerges.


QUESTION: The Palestinians have talked about a three-way summit. Is that wishful thinking on their part, or are they actually suggestion that -

MR. BURNS: We've seen all sorts of reports in the press about this idea or that idea, this option or that option.

Frankly, it just isn't in my interest to discuss any of those ideas publicly. The President said we're working on some ideas that are interesting to us and we hope they may be to the Israelis and Palestinians, but we're not at liberty to discuss them publicly.

QUESTION: Sticking to the Oslo agreement and fulfilling the Oslo agreement was a cornerstone of the American policy and you, yourself, advised the sides to stick to the letter of the agreement in the past.

Do you think that fulfilling Oslo can co-exist side by side with the new idea of speeding up and stepping forward into the basic issues of the final agreement between the sides?

MR. BURNS: First, I think it's important to say again that both the Israelis and Palestinians in our view remain committed to the Oslo process. They obviously have profound disagreements about various issues in that process, and you've seen the public statements. I don't need to review them for you. They're committed to the Oslo process.

Each has a right to float new ideas and to ask the other to consider new ideas. I can't comment qualitatively, substantively, on the merits of these new ideas. But they certainly have a right to talk to each other about new approaches that may lead to progress in the peace negotiations. But that's their decision. That fundamentally is not a decision for the United States. We, as a mediator, can play a role in suggesting ideas but it's their decision mutually for how they move forward together.

QUESTION: Nick, the President, 24 hours or so ago, urged a statement of zero tolerance for terrorism. He said it's no way to carry out your political objectives. It's a little early, but has the State Department got an assessment whether some new clamp-down is underway on violence?

MR. BURNS: We've seen reports that the Palestinian Authority arrested either 15 or 30 members. We've seen various reports of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. We are not in a position to confirm those reports. You know from following this very closely that we've got to wait for confirmation before we can know what's happened.

Obviously, we'd like the Palestinian Authority to take determined, concrete efforts to crack down on those people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - perhaps even some in Jerusalem - who are bent on violence and terror and who are using that as a political tactic to achieve their narrow political objectives.

We reject terrorism in all of its forms. We have zero tolerance for it. We hope that the actions today, if, in fact, they can be confirmed, will give greater weight to the effort to fight terrorism.

There were also reports of a fire-bombing of a bus on the West Bank and reports of the wounding of a number of Israeli soldiers.

We deplore acts of violence and terrorism like this. It is not right to go after soldiers. It's not right to go after civilians.

Attacks on soldiers and civilians are wrong. They are terroristic in nature and they ought to be repudiated by everyone, as they have been by the United States quite consistently.

QUESTION: There is the suggestion that the Israelis themselves were responsible for one of those attacks. Is that something you all -

MR. BURNS: I find it implausible and absolutely difficult to conceive that the Israelis would have been responsible for an attack on their own citizens.

It is an outrageous remark. The Israeli Government is fundamentally committed to the safety and security of its own population, its civilians. I don't think that particular charge deserves a lot more comment because it is so outrageous and we repudiate it completely.

QUESTION: Going back to the possibility of future negotiations, given that it is up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to decide how, when, where they negotiate, but also given that the President expressed his personal willingness to get involved in any way he could, would the United States and would the President be willing to sponsor a Camp David type intensive negotiation of any kind?

MR. BURNS: Steve, what I cannot do today is speculate with you publicly on what is the way forward to relieve the pressure on the peace negotiations and to try to produce some kind of positive breakthrough. Obviously, what we have in mind is using the influence of the United States and the leadership of the President and the Secretary of State to do that - to help the Israelis and Palestinians overcome their differences - but I can't speculate on how we're going to do that. We have to preserve the confidentiality of all of our discussions.

QUESTION: Nick, I don't know how you could possibly answer the question I'm about to ask, but I'll ask it anyhow, because it's hard to deal with anonymous officials, one of whom knows Netanyahu so well that he calls him "Bibi" in the press this morning -- but several of these anonymous officials - maybe it's the same official speaking to several newspapers - but the general summation of what this official is saying is that it's up to Israel to make the next move. Now if I ask you who should make the next move, I'm sure I wouldn't get an answer, but maybe if I phrased it this way, is there some feeling that the impetus should come at this stage from Israel, that Israel should put forward something that would maybe inspire the Palestinians to negotiate?

MR. BURNS: Barry, I can answer your question, and maybe you expected me to answer the question after all. I don't know who the anonymous people are talking to the press, but obviously the person saying that doesn't speak for the Secretary of State.

The fact is that the Israelis and Palestinians have mutual responsibility for the peace negotiations. One party doesn't have more responsibility than the other. They're both responsible.

If the negotiations are to be revived, if the present very tense situation is to be overcome, it's going to take the efforts of both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, and we measure that responsibility equally. So both of them have to take the effort.


QUESTION: Just for the record, Nick, does the United States believe that Israel should stop construction at Har Homa?

MR. BURNS: I think the President, the Secretary of State, and others have been very clear about our views of the proposed housing construction planned at Har Homa in the past - very clear about it.

QUESTION: A decision that shouldn't have been taken, but do you believe at this stage that they should stop?

MR. BURNS: We've spoken out so often about that.

We regret the fact that the decision was taken. We've made that clear privately and publicly.

Yes, Jorge.

QUESTION: Different subject?

MR. BURNS: Sure. Any more on the Middle East before we go off? Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Central American Foreign Ministers were yesterday here meeting with Secretary Albright, and afterward their spokesman, the Nicaraguan Foreign Minister, said that they got the message from the Administration that there will be no deportations, and that somehow the Administration will try to work with Congress to make the implementation of this law more flexible. Is that the Administration position now, trying to work with Congress?

MR. BURNS: I can tell you that the issue did come up in Secretary Albright's breakfast meeting with Central American Foreign Ministers yesterday. They noted - the Foreign Ministers - their concern about the possible effects of the new United States immigration law and particularly their concerns about the cap of 4,000 people per year on suspensions of deportation that the new law imposes.

Secretary Albright assured the Foreign Ministers that for the next six months - that is, through September 30 - no immigrant will be deported who will have qualified for suspension of deportation in the absence of the cap, if you follow that convoluted sentence.

The Foreign Ministers noted the contributions of their nationals to the United States, and they asked the Secretary's help in insuring that there be no massive group deportations of those immigrants.

They explained that some of the countries in Central America - Nicaragua, El Salvador, in particular Guatemala - have not overcome the effects of their own civil disturbances and civil wars. Secretary Albright assured the Foreign Ministers that there will be no massive deportations, and that the Administration will consult with Congress to insure a just and humane implementation of the immigration law.

The Secretary recognized the deep roots that Central American immigrants now have in communities across the United States and the contributions made by those immigrants to their communities.

She promised the Foreign Ministers that she would keep them informed about the implementation of the new law, so that they could advise their own citizens on what their options might be.

Obviously, this is a very complex and emotional issue, and it's a political issue in some countries, and that's what she said to the Foreign Ministers yesterday. Obviously, you'll also want to consult with the Department of Justice which has responsibility for administering the immigration bill.

QUESTION: You said the Secretary basically said just and humane implementation of this law, but there was no message that maybe there will be some negotiation with Congress about making changes in the law?

MR. BURNS: As you know, the bill was passed by Congress.

It is United States law. Therefore, the Executive Branch has to implement that law, and that's the responsibility of the Department of Justice, not the Department of State. But as these issues were raised in a diplomatic context yesterday by very senior representatives of these governments, Secretary Albright gave them what she could about the position of the United States. I think what I've given you here is a fairly clear exposition of those views.

QUESTION: Also on Latin America, have you seen the report that your second favorite baseball team, the Orioles, have proposed an exhibition/scouting tour of Cuba? Does the United States Government take a view on that?

MR. BURNS: I don't now much about the Orioles. I know that the St. Paul Saints - the St. Paul Saints are a Triple A team - they have applied for permission to play in Cuba, and a license request for the St. Paul Saints was denied. I think the Orioles may have a pending request, but I can get more information for you on that.

Our current policy is not to issue licenses for professional sports activities in Cuba, as you know. I will say this, I can tell you that we have denied a new request made by the New York Mets to sign Fidel Castro. (Laughter) Apparently the Mets are so desperate to shore up their bullpen, which gave up a record 11 runs in the sixth inning yesterday against the San Diego Padres that they're desperate for pitching, and he once pitched, as you know.

But I would also say this: That Fidel Castro is the anti-Cal Ripken. Since this is a baseball day, we have to do baseball metaphors. Fidel Castro is the anti-Cal Ripken of dictators.

Cal Ripken hasn't missed a game in a decade. Fidel Castro hasn't missed a chance to repress his people once in 35 years.

So if we're going to mix baseball and politics today, Jim - and I'm glad you asked the question - that's how I'd do it.

QUESTION: I'm sorry I asked.

MR. BURNS: You're sorry you asked the question? I thought that was the appropriate answer. It's the American national pastime. It's a great day today.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: New subject. Chinese Xinhua news agency - their former Washington Bureau chief committed suicide in Beijing. It's reported that he was trying to request defection to U.S.

Did you have any contacts with him before?

MR. BURNS: We saw the report - the very thorough article done by Patrick Tyler in the Times this morning.

First of all, we obviously - if these reports are true, and there's ever indication that they are, we want to extend our condolences to the family of Mr. Wei upon his passing. It's obviously a great personal tragedy for his family.

Many people in this building knew him well. He was someone who had a State Department press pass and came to the briefings here and at the Foreign Press Center. Obviously, any time anything like this happens, it's certainly a tragedy.

As for the allegations that were reported in the newspaper today, I just don't have any information on them whatsoever and certainly cannot account for the reasons why he apparently took his life.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. BURNS: Thank you very much.

(The briefing concluded at 12:34 p.m.)


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