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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #52, 97-04-09

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 9, 1997

Briefer: Nicholas Burns

1         Welcome to Visitors
1         Secretary To Deliver Keynote Address at Gerald R. Ford Museum in
            Grand Rapids, Michigan, April 16
2         Secretary's Speech at the Foreign Service Institute Today
2         Secretary to Participate Today in President's Mtg with
            Congressional Leaders on Ratification of Chemical Weapons
2         Deputy Secretary Talbott's Mtg. with Cambodian Leader Sam Rainsy
3         Release of FRUS, 1964-1968, Volume on Arms Control and

ZAIRE 3-5 Situation in Zaire/US Call for Resumption of Negotiations and Ceasefire 5 International Access to Remaining Refugees 5-6 Adherence to Constitutional Processes in Selection of Prime Minister 6,8 US Efforts to Assure Safety of Americans 7 Diplomatic Contact with President Mobutu 8-9 Role of South Africa in Peace Negotiations/Deputy President Mbeki Mtg. With Secretary Albright 11 Protection of Economic Assets

NORTH KOREA 9-10 US Review of World Food Program Appeal for Additional Food Assistance 9-10 U.S.-DPRK Missile Talks/No Date Set 10 Update on Four Party Talks

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 11-12 Secretary's Meeting Tomorrow with Palestinian Delegation 12,17-18 Secretary's Calls to Middle East Leaders 13 Responsibility for Violence in Hebron 13,15-16 Possibility of Travel by Secretary to the Region 13-15 Next Steps in Peace Negotiations 15,19 US Playing Central Role in Peace Negotiations

IRAQ/SAUDI ARABIA 20-21 Flight of Iraqi Airline Carrying Haj Pilgrims

RUSSIA/NATO 21 Foreign Primakov's Comments on NATO-Russia Charter Negotiations 21-22 Deputy Secretary's Meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Mamedov

CHINA 22-24 US-Danish Co-sponsorship of UNHRC Resolution on China's Human Rights Record

IRAN 24 Robert Pelletreau Comments on Need for Wider Dialogue

COLOMBIA 25 Recertification: Report of New Extradition


DPB #52

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 9, 1997, 1:33 P. M.


MR. BURNS: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. Glad to have you all with us. A lot of news today.

I want to welcome to the briefing today, Mr. Kim Joo Eun, a South Korean journalist visiting the United States through the Meridian International Center. Welcome. And two Hungarian journalists: Peter Kovesdi and Peter Radnai, who are here from Hungary visiting.

Secretary Albright will be traveling to Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Wednesday, April 16, to deliver the keynote address on the occasion of the rededication of President Gerald R. Ford's Museum. Secretary Albright will begin her keynote address at 2:00 p.m. at the Ford Museum and will take questions from the audience at approximately 2:30 p.m.

She'll be flying out to meet President Ford, to have lunch with him, to give this speech, and then she'll be coming back late in the afternoon to Washington, because she has an evening event that night.

There will be other events that take place during the rededication ceremonies, including a panel discussion, which will include Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft and Alexander Haig, to discuss contemporary relations between the United States and Europe. Secretary Albright won't be in that panel, but that's another event that's taking place, I believe the following day. I can check that.

Former Presidents Ford, Carter and Bush will have a joint press conference on April 17th, the next day, to talk about the rededication of President Ford's Presidential museum. Secretary Albright has been honored to be asked to participate in this event, and it's another way for her not only to have discussions on a bipartisan basis this time with the former Republican President about the goals of American foreign policy, the need for engagement, the need for bipartisanship. It's also another opportunity for her to get outside of the Beltway to talk to the American people about American foreign policy. So that's April 16th.

The previous day, as I said yesterday, she'll be up at Annapolis to give a major speech that evening to Midshipmen at the Naval Academy and to the Naval Academy leadership about other issues in American foreign policy.

Secretary Albright today went over to the Foreign Service Institute. She kicked off our day-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the institute. She gave a speech, which I suppose all of you have by now - or you should have it; we have it available for you. She talked about the importance of resources for the Foreign and Civil Service and the importance of training the next generation of American diplomats.

I know that there was a good panel discussion this morning, moderated by Tim Wirth, which included Richard Haass and Sam Lewis, and that our former colleague, Bob Gallucci, gave the luncheon address - a luncheon that was hosted by Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott. So it's been a good day over at the Foreign Service Institute.

The Secretary will be participating in an event later on this evening over at the White House with President Clinton. This will be a meeting that the President and the Secretary have with senior members of Congress - the congressional leadership - about the Chemical Weapons Convention and the need for prompt ratification of the CWC.

Secretary Albright was on the phone this morning, talking to a variety of senators who will be voting on this to ask for their support on this bill, and that remains one of the major priorities for our foreign policy.

Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott had a meeting this morning with Sam Rainsy, the head of Cambodia's Khmer Nation Party. Deputy Secretary Talbott condemned the March 30th grenade attack on a demonstration in Phnom Penh led by Mr. Sam Rainsy and expressed concern about the impact of political violence on Cambodia's ability to hold free and fair elections in 1998.

Deputy Secretary Talbott expressed relief that Mr. Sam Rainsy was not seriously injured and outrage that others were killed and wounded. He offered condolences on behalf of the United States to the families of those Cambodian citizens who were killed.

The United States has called on the Royal Government of Cambodia to conduct a thorough and speedy investigation resulting in the apprehension and punishment of those responsible for this vicious attack. The United States continues to be a strong supporter of the democratic process in Cambodia. We are deeply concerned that acts of violence such as this could put at risk the significant progress toward democracy that Cambodia has made since the U.N.-sponsored elections in 1993, and that progress was certainly evident during Secretary Christopher's visit to Phnom Penh in August of 1995.

As a friend, the United States has been telling Cambodia's leaders candidly of our concerns over recent trends, including cases involving freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and how these trends might jeopardize international support for the process of change in Cambodia.

The United States continues to urge all Cambodians to reaffirm their commitment to building democratic institutions; to safeguarding democracy, including freedom of expression; and most notably freedom of the press.

I want to let you know that our Historians are releasing another volume in the History of the Foreign Relations of the United States series. This volume covers the period 1964 to 1968, "Arms Control and Disarmament," and it focuses on the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 and some other significant arms negotiations in which the Lyndon Johnson Administration participated, and that statement is available to you in the Press Room.

Finally today I wanted to say a few words about the situation in Zaire, and this is really along with the situation in the Middle East, which we have been working on very, very closely this morning. Secretary Albright has focused on the Middle East and Zaire today. The situation in Zaire is quite troubling.

The United States welcomes the April 8th Joint Communiqu&eacute; by delegations representing the Government of Zaire and the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the liberation of Congo-Zaire - that's the rebel alliance. The statement was issued following four days of peace talks mediated by the U.N. negotiator, Mohamed Sahnoun, and also assisted by senior South African Government officials.

While the Government of Zaire and the rebel alliance acknowledged that many issues are still to be resolved, their communiqu&eacute; highlights some important points of agreement, including commitments to Zairian sovereignty and territorial integrity; commitments to negotiations and a cessation of hostilities consistent with the United Nations' and the OAU peace plan for Zaire; and to fundamental and democratic change, including a process of transition that would lead to democratic elections in Zaire.

Following the issuance of this communiqu&eacute; yesterday, the two delegations have now adjourned temporarily to consult with their political leadership. The United States urges both the Government and the rebel alliance to resume negotiations as soon as possible, to agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities and to continue progress towards a comprehensive peace settlement.

The United States is pleased by the recent progress in these negotiations, and we hope that that might continue. We hope that they return to South Africa a soon as they can. There's been a lot of talk over the last 24 hours about the American position on Zaire, and I wanted to share some thoughts with you.

The United States has been pressing very hard for many months now for a negotiated solution to the conflict in Zaire and for a cease-fire, a cessation of hostilities. We recognize that any solution to the problems of Zaire - any negotiated solution - is likely to entail agreement on an interim transitional government leading ultimately to elections. For these negotiations to succeed, and if they're going to reach this objective of a transition in Zaire leading to democracy and elections, the government of President Mobutu, as well as the rebels themselves, must recognize the status quo cannot be maintained in Zaire.

The United States does believe that the era of Mobutuism is over, and we urge both sides to work together to find a negotiated settlement to the current crisis, so that stability can be returned to the country and representative government can be brought about. Certainly, the culture of authoritarianism must disappear. Certainly, it's time for dictatorship to end, and Zaire's leaders cannot live in the past.

What we are seeking is an orderly transition to democracy through elections. That is the only way to insure stability, and we would like all political parties and political movements and armed groups in Zaire to work towards that end. The fundamental problem in Zaire is the state of disrepair of the Zairian political system and of its economy. There are no institutions remaining in Zaire that have credibility in Zaire itself, among the Zairian people.

The slow pace of democratic reform in Zaire has perpetuated a system in which ordinary Zairians have had little effective political representation. Any accelerated political transition will be an improvement on the current situation, and that is where I would like to emphasize the position of the United States.

The Zairian people must decide who will lead Zaire. There must be a transition, and it's fairly clear to us that President Mobutu is no longer in control of the economy or the political institutions of the country. It's surely true in Africa, as well as it is in Central Europe or Southeast Asia or Latin America, that the people must decide who will rule them, who will rule Zaire, and what kind of political system they should have.

I wanted to share those thoughts with you, which reflect the views of the State Department and the U.S. Government, because there's been a lot of talk over the last couple of days about Zaire, about the direction in which it should head, and I wanted to make sure that our views were presented as clearly as they can be.


QUESTION: Nick, you seem to be escalating your rhetoric much more than you had been in recent days. You have the White House calling President Mobutu a creature of history, I believe, or words to that effect, and you're using language that you hadn't used before, and I wondered what has brought that about?

MR. BURNS: It's prompted, George, by the very deep political crisis underway in Zaire. The fact is that Zaire is one of the most important countries in Africa. There's no question about that, given its geopolitical location, given its economy, given the fact that it borders on nine countries. Whatever happens in Zaire inevitably is going to affect what happens in central Africa and in southern Africa and the stability of nations neighboring Zaire, bordering Zaire will be affected by how this political transition - how this civil war ends. We want it to end peacefully. We don't want it to end violently. We want to see a peaceful transition in Zaire to democratic leadership. We're very concerned by this situation.

We have noted today some modest progress in the initial negotiations in South Africa between the government and the rebel alliance, but one should not be misled by that modest progress to think that the situation is going to be improved; in fact, the situation is deteriorating. There are credible reports now that Mr. Kabila's forces have taken Lubumbashi this morning. We know, of course, that he has secured Kisangani and the whole eastern part of Zaire.

We Americans are very concerned about the territorial integrity of the country, about the sovereignty that must exist if Zaire is to survive as a nation-state, and it must survive as an integrated nation-state with its current borders. Because we're so concerned about the situation today, because we've seen this dramatic escalation of the violence, we think it's important for us to speak out on the future.

I wanted to address one other aspect of this situation that's very important. It's the humanitarian situation. The facts are that for the last two weeks a great number of people have died in the refugee camps near Kisangani because of the inaction of the leaders of that country and some of the neighboring states. You remember last week we pressed Mr. Kabila for six days to allow the United Nations to bring planes into Kisangani, and to airlift out of Kisangani 20, 000 to 30,000 people who we believe are in serious danger of either being malnourished or dying from starvation.

The United Nations has said that an estimate is that 120 people are dying per day in these camps. Surely we cannot stand by and allow this to happen without public comment. Finally, over the weekend Mr. Kabila gave his permission for the United Nations to take these people out from the Kisangani airport and by road, those who are less affected, to the Rwandan border.

But now we face another problem. The Rwandan Government is now dithering and delaying in giving the necessary permission to allow these refugees to be returned to Rwanda, and that is unacceptable. We need to see the quickest possible action by the Rwandan Government to allow air flights into Rwanda, to allow the land border to be opened, so that the Rwandan Hutu refugees, and mainly the women and children who are in danger of dying, can be transported where they can get adequate medical care and be given adequate food provisions.

Fortunately, the United Nations has done an excellent job in trying to get the food supplies into the two camps, 16 and 25 kilometers south of Kisangani. The United Nations ought to be applauded by the leadership it has shown and by the quick work. But the United Nations cannot succeed without the continued cooperation of Mr. Kabila on the one hand, and the future cooperation of the Rwandan Government.

We request quite seriously the Rwandan Government to give the necessary permission for these people to be allowed to be helped by the international community so that we don't see further deaths in these camps.

QUESTION: There's a report that the Zairian Prime Minister - I'm not sure of this pronunciation - Tshisekedi has been arrested. Have you seen that? Can you corroborate that?

MR. BURNS: There appears to be a chaotic situation in Kinshasa this morning. The reports are - there's no reason to disagree with the veracity of the reports, the accuracy of the reports - that President Mobutu has fired Prime Minister Tshisekedi. He was barred from entering his office by troops this morning, and he has been placed under house arrest.

Apparently, President Mobutu has now put in his place, and Prime Minister Tshisekedi held office for roughly a week, a new Prime Minister.

Our Embassy in Kinshasa is looking into this series of events this morning. Our view is that it's terribly important that constitutional processes be adhered to in Zaire; that the government and the parliament consult on the selection of a Prime Minister. Since the situation is so murky and so chaotic, it is very difficult for us to know at this point, at this hour, whether or not the proper constitutional processes were adhered to.

Therefore, if you ask, what do we think of this event, I'm going to have to say, we want to get further information from our Embassy in Kinshasa. We may have a situation where there are two Prime Ministers in Zaire or two people who say they are Prime Minister; we may not. We need to get to the bottom of this. Obviously, it's a question of major importance. Because the Zairian Government has to negotiate an end to the civil war, it has to provide for public security, it has to be a functioning government. Today's actions have heightened the confusion rather than enlightening people about the stability of the Zairian Government.

QUESTION: There are reports that Mr. Kabila is not only locking up refugees but perhaps been involved in the mass executions of a number of Hutus. Have you looked into those as - have you had a chance to look into those?

MR. BURNS: We are concerned by these reports, these persistent allegations that when the rebel alliance took over territory in eastern Zaire, there were massacres. Now, these are allegations.

The United Nations has investigated these allegations, and I believe that the United Nations Special Investigators have supplied some preliminary information to the United Nations Headquarters in New York. We await a final comprehensive report before we can comment publicly, but we are concerned by these reports. They won't go away. They are quite persistent, and they come from a number of sources.

QUESTION: Nick, what is the thinking of the U.S. Government at this moment on evacuating Americans?

MR. BURNS: The State Department has not made a decision to evacuate American Embassy employees or dependents from Kinshasa - from our Embassy in Kinshasa. As you know, we have in place now a voluntary departure program for dependents should they want to take advantage of it. But we're watching the situation very closely on a day by day basis.

Should the situation deteriorate in Kinshasa, should it be necessary to evacuate people, we have the ability to do so. There are American military forces in Brazzaville, just across the river from Kinshasa; in Libreville, Gabon. The USS Nassau is, of course, on station off the West African coast. Everything is in order should we have to proceed to an evacuation. But that is not currently the order of the day. We obviously want to make sure that our employees can be - that their safety can be assured and that they don't have to live under any kind of threat of civil violence or political violence.

As of today, we've not made the decision to do that, but we are watching it very closely.

QUESTION: Are you asking for Mobutu to resign, or do you think he ought to be part of the transition to a more stable government after -

MR. BURNS: That's a question for the Zairian political leadership and the Zairian Government to answer, whether or not Mr. Mobutu should resign. That's really up to him. It's up to his political associates. It's up to his political opponents. It's up to the Zairian people to decide that.

That cannot be a question for the United States to decide. But we do know one thing: we think the time for dictatorship is over in Zaire and the time for stability and democracy, if democracy can be achieved; we think that time is approaching.

QUESTION: You're not shy about calling upon Saddam Hussein to resign. Why are you not prepared now to say publicly what you're apparently saying privately, that he should step down?

MR. BURNS: First of all, the United States does not run around on a daily basis and advise governments to resign. That's a rather extraordinary political measure to take. The reason why we've taken it in the case of Saddam Hussein is because he's a special case - he's a special case. He's a major violator of human rights, of United Nations resolutions. He's a major threat to security all throughout the Middle East, so we treat him as a special problem, and he is a special problem.

Now, Mr. Mobutu is another case. He's someone who has been in power for three decades. Clearly, his regime has not resulted in an improvement in the economic situation of the Zairian people. Quite to the contrary.

Clearly, these last years of his regime have just produced this incredible array of instability that we see today. But it's not for the United States to step into a situation like this and to add to further chaos. It's up to the Zairian people - its government, its opposition - to decide these questions; not the United States.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. still in direct diplomatic contact with President Mobutu?

MR. BURNS: Yes. We're in contact with his government. I don't know if Ambassador Simpson has talked to President Mobutu in the last day or so. I can check that for you. We certainly are in contact with his entourage and his followers and people who report to him. I'd be glad to take the question on whether or not Ambassador Dan Simpson has had a conversation with him in the last day or two or three.

Yes, Betsy.

QUESTION: Nick, do you know approximately how many Americans are left in Zaire?

MR. BURNS: I've seen a variety of numbers. I think it's several hundred. It's not a huge number of people. That includes American Embassy employees as well as private Americans, but let me try to get a better answer. If the Consular Affairs Bureau is watching, or the African Affairs Bureau are listening, perhaps they could just bring that down during the course of the briefing.

QUESTION: On the other side, Mr. Kabila has stated publicly he does not wish to displace Mr. Mobutu. But tell us, what do we know from negotiations and dealings with Mr. Kabila what he does want for Zaire and what he wants specifically for a government? Is he a democrat? Is he a fellow that we would want to be involved?

MR. BURNS: I don't know if Mr. Kabila has ever been described as a democrat. I haven't seen that adjective attached to his name. We'll have to see. He has been an opposition leader. He's been in the bush for three decades. He's been a consistent opponent, historic opponent of President Mobutu. There are lots of people in Zaire who have been in that camp.

I don't believe he has a track record as a leader of a government. He's never led a government that would indicate what kind of ideology he would bring to that job should he assume that job. We'll have to see.

Our strong hope is that whatever happens in Zaire and whoever emerges as the leader of Zaire, that person ought to be committed to democracy the way the South African Government has committed itself, under President Mandela's leadership, to democracy; the way that it's happened in our own hemisphere in Latin America, the way it's happened in Asia.

We think democracy is the wave of the future. It doesn't mean it's going to take root automatically in Zaire, which is a country that's been riven by a variety of ethnic, social, political, and economic problems since decolonization. But that, we believe, is the best recipe for the future of Zaire. We've made that known today publicly as well as to the Zairian Government.

QUESTION: The Middle East?

MR. BURNS: I just want to see if there are any more Zaire questions out here.

QUESTION: Thabo Mbeki, the South African Deputy President, is headed here directly from those talks in Pretoria. He arrives tomorrow. I understand that he's got a meeting with Madeleine Albright tomorrow evening. How much importance does the U.S. place on the Deputy President's role in resolving the situation in Zaire? And, in general, how key a role can South Africa play in the process?

MR. BURNS: Deputy President Mbeki's visit is well-timed because it does coincide with this crisis in Zaire. We do look to the South African Government for major leadership on Zaire. The South African Government, more than any country in the world - that includes any European country; it includes the United States - has played the leadership role under President Mandela's leadership over the last six weeks or so to try to bring the government and the rebels together. We're very grateful for that. We've tried to support the actions of the South African Government.

We didn't have our own negotiators outside of Pretoria over the weekend, but we very much support what the South African Government is doing. I know that Secretary Albright, who is looking very closely at Zaire these days, will want to have a full - get some advice, of course, from Deputy President Mbeki and a full sense of how the South African Government sees the way forward.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the U.S. food - consideration of food request?

MR. BURNS: Carol, I think based on consultations that we've had, meetings with the World Food Program and the FAO as well as reports from a variety of U.S. Government sources, we had some U.S. Government people on the Congressional delegations that were in North Korea. There seems little doubt to the United States that there is a serious and worsening food shortage in North Korea. The evidence is too great to argue otherwise.

As we said yesterday, although we've not made any final decisions, we are looking very seriously at the expanded request for food assistance from the World Food Program. We're consulting both within our own government but also consulting with other countries on a response to that food program.

I just want to note that we've always responded positively to requests, since 1995, from the World Food Program and that we have been the largest contributor to the United Nations food appeals for North Korea.

We understand the severity of the problem. We understand that World Food Program appeal is going to be focused on children age six and under. Surely, we all have a humanitarian imperative in any kind of situation like this to try to be as helpful as we can to young kids like that.

QUESTION: A couple of follow-ups to that. When do you expect to make that decision? Have you pinned down a date on the missile talks? And have you gotten a formal response from the North Koreans on the Four-Party Proposal?

MR. BURNS: I would expect given the severity of the food situation and the urgency of the appeal, the United States Government decision will be made very soon, but I can't predict when that day will be.

On the second question, we continue to talk to the North Koreans about a date and a place for the missile talks. There is a reason for these missile talks. We do have concerns, as you know - ongoing concerns - about North Korean disposition of some of its conventional - some of its missiles and missile technology. We want to address those concerns with the North Koreans.

Bob Einhorn will lead our delegation. We hope to work out an agreement very soon for when those talks can occur and where they can occur.

On the last question, we've not yet heard back from the North Koreans or anything further, but we do believe that there will be - that they will hear shortly from the North Koreans about another meeting. We hope very much the North Koreans will want to move down the road towards Four-Party talks. That's our objective.

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

MR. BURNS: Judd's got a follow-up on North Korea.

QUESTION: Nick, there are reports in New York that there's a meeting scheduled for next week. Is that what you're referring to? That shortly you'll hear about their -

MR. BURNS: We have not scheduled a meeting for next week on the Four- Party talks. We always have week to week consultations with the North Korean Mission up at the United Nations. But I think we're talking about something different here.

What has really been in the works for the last couple of days is the possibility of another meeting that would address the Four-Party Proposal. I have no update to give you on that today. We still are waiting. The ball is in their court. We're still waiting for an answer.

QUESTION: But "soon" applies to that meeting? We expect something -

MR. BURNS: We hope the meeting can be held as soon as possible. Any more on North Korea before we go - you want to finish up Zaire?

QUESTION: There's a combination of leaders, with what's happening now in Zaire, it seems like there's a combination of leaders coming forth in Africa involving former guerrilla leaders - Museveni, Kabila, Kagame, Afwerki, who belong to a kind of network which has been together for many years since they were all guerrilla leaders.

I was wondering, how does the United States view this combination of people achieving prominence in Africa? Is this something positive, or does it have some negative sides as far as U.S. policy in Africa is concerned?

MR. BURNS: I don't want to generalize about a group of people as diverse as the group that you cited. It's up to the people of each of these countries to determine, we hope freely and fairly, how these leaders emerge and who leads their countries.

We want to be friends with all the countries that you mentioned. We are friends with many of them. We do think it's important for Zaire's neighbors to stay out of the current conflict. That's not been the case. Neighbors to the east of Zaire and to the south of Zaire have intervened in this conflict. It doesn't help the people of Zaire. It doesn't further the process of a transition to democratic rule that we believe is important.

QUESTION: A follow-up. There's also a move, with the chaos in the international markets, for a variety of companies to move into raw materials, where there's a certain amount of stability. Obviously, this area is an area where there is a lot of diamonds, gold, a lot of things that would be of interest in this respect. Is there some concern that there might be attempts to manipulate the political situation in order to do a certain amount of raw materials grab by forces around the world?

MR. BURNS: We want to see the territorial integrity of Zaire preserved so that economic life as well as political life can be stable. That includes, obviously, any kind of private or public mining or manufacturing interests that are in play here, in the southern part of Zaire, throughout the country. Of course, there are very important economic assets that need to be protected for the Zairian people and for the companies that have investments in those assets.

QUESTION: Nick, can you confirm that Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinians will be here to see Secretary Albright tomorrow afternoon?

MR. BURNS: Yes. Barry, it gives me an opportunity to talk about a variety of issues in the Middle East.

The other major issue that Secretary Albright has been working on today is the Middle East. I can confirm that Abu Mazen and Saeb Erekat will be leaving Gaza this evening, their time, to travel to Washington. We are pleased that they're coming. This is the delegation that Chairman Arafat pledged would arrive in Washington.

Secretary Albright and our Special Middle East Negotiator, Dennis Ross, look forward to meeting with them tomorrow, in the coming days. These talks, which we have encouraged, are part of our ongoing effort to try to piece together the peace negotiations, to reinvigorate them, and to help move them forward. They're very much an extension of the talks that the President and the Secretary of State had with Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this week.

We presented Prime Minister Netanyahu with specific American ideas. We will present the Palestinian delegation with specific American ideas to resurrect the peace negotiations and to try to instill - re-instill - in the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic an element of trust which, of course, is necessary for the foundation of that.

As part of that effort, Secretary Albright has been spending an enormous amount of time on the Middle East. This morning, she placed phone calls to the Saudi Foreign Minister - Foreign Minister Saud; to Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jasim of Qatar; to His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan; to Foreign Minister Zouari of Tunisia; to Sultan Qaboos of Oman. She's hoping to place a call to His Majesty King Hassan of Morocco later this afternoon.

These calls are part of her effort to keep the lines open to the Arab world; to seek the advice and counsel of many of these leaders - King Hussein, especially, who has been so constructive in the public and private advice that he has given the United States and Israel and the Palestinians; to try to seek some views, reaction from the Arab countries, to the views of the United States to seek their views on the situation.

There is lots of activity behind the scenes. I would say that the headquarters of the peace process this week is Washington, D.C., with the meetings with the Israelis and Palestinians, with the telephone shuttle diplomacy that Secretary Albright has engaged in this morning and will continue to engage in with the Arab world and with the state of Israel. We are focused on the peace process. We will remain focused on it because that has been the historic role of the United States.

QUESTION: Nick, can I stop you on that?


QUESTION: Different ideas she will - different American ideas to the Palestinians from the ones that were given the Israelis?

MR. BURNS: Pretty much the same ideas, because it takes two to tango. You've got to have mutual agreement by both the Israelis and Palestinians to make these ideas fruitful and to make the peace process succeed and let it move forward.

QUESTION: Do you think you've had now your statement of zero tolerance by Arafat for terrorism? Or does she need to make that request again tomorrow and the next day when she sees -

MR. BURNS: I think that's a continuing concern of the United States, as it is of Israel, as it is of many Palestinians. Terrorism takes Arab lives as well as Israeli lives. It's mainly taken Israeli lives over the last couple of weeks, but it's a continuing concern. There has to be an unrelenting effort against terrorism by the Palestinian leadership.

We've also been very, very concerned by the recent clashes in Hebron which have resulted in the deaths of three Palestinians and I think the hospitalization of well over 120 or 130.

QUESTION: Did you ever sort that out, or find out if the seminary students were tear-gassed before they opened fire?

MR. BURNS: I don't believe that American Consulate General officials - this is our Consulate General in Jerusalem - were present either yesterday or today to witness the fighting that took place - the terrible fighting that took place in Hebron.

It's going to be up to the Israeli police, the Palestinian police, and judicial authorities to determine who is responsible for the violence in Hebron. That's not a question that the United States can answer because we weren't there. But Palestinians and Israelis were there. That has to be answered - that question - by the proper police and judicial authorities on both sides.

The United States, however, is deeply saddened by the loss of Palestinian life in Hebron. We're concerned by the great numbers of people who have been hurt in the fighting. We want to see an end to the violence. Too many people have been victims. Too many Palestinians have been victims. Too many Israelis have been victims. We don't want to see anymore victims.

So it's time for both sides to try to work together to end the violence in the streets of Hebron, on the streets of other West Bank and Gazan towns, and time, frankly, for them to get back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) says that Madeleine Albright will be arriving April 25th. Is he well informed?

MR. BURNS: I have not seen that particular report. I've heard about that report. I've not seen it. I've not seen it in writing. I can tell you this: I spoke to the Secretary at length this morning about this. She has not made any plans to travel to the Middle East. Dennis Ross has not made plans to travel to the Middle East.

After we finish this round of consultations with the Palestinians in Washington this week, after Secretary Albright has completed her telephone round of conversations with Arab and Israeli leaders, then we'll make a determination about the proper next steps in the peace negotiations. I am not excluding the possibility of American officials traveling in the future. I couldn't do that. But I'm not aware of any plans. In fact, I know for a fact, with 100 percent certainty, that there are no plans right now for the Secretary to travel to the Middle East.

Obviously, she and the President have said many, many times over the past couple of weeks, she will travel when it's necessary and when it can be useful. Right now, the headquarters of the peace negotiations are in Washington, D.C. We'll have to determine on a week by week basis whether or not it's prudent for us, advisable, and productive for us to have the Secretary travel. That's a decision that she and the President will make together.

QUESTION: Nick, will you be specific about what the United States is looking for from Arafat? Do you want him to make a speech in which he denounces terrorism; issue a statement, call off the violence, the protests that are going on now; re-arrest all those people who were let go? What specific steps will prove to the United States and to Israel that Arafat is serious about violence?

MR. BURNS: We are looking at the Palestinians and Israelis together this week. We had meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We'll have meetings with Abu Mazin and Saeb Eraket. We're looking at them both together. We're asking both of them to consider some American ideas so that they can agree to get back to negotiations, get back to the Oslo process, get back to the commitments that they made to each other.

One party is not more responsible for the success or failure of the negotiations than the other. They're both responsible together. So while we talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu about what Israel must do, now we talk to the Palestinians about what they must do.

Obviously, one of the big issues of concern for the State of Israel - and the State of Israel obviously has a right to be concerned about this - is an end to terrorism.

The suicide bomber in Tel Aviv took the lives of innocent children and women and innocent civilians. The Israeli Government needs to be assured that there is at least 100 percent effort underway to choke off that kind of terrorism. That is an issue that we have addressed squarely to Chairman Arafat.

The Palestinians, obviously, want to be assured that all commitments will be met. That's what both parties need to do: Meet their commitments to the other, re-instill some trust in the process, and get back to the table. These are difficult issues. It's certainly far preferable to be arguing over a negotiating table than fighting in Hebron. It's certainly preferable for that to happen.

QUESTION: You didn't answer the question, though. Why won't you be specific about how Arafat could manifest this assurance?

MR. BURNS: I'm going to say what we want to say this week. The United States has decided - and I think you heard this in the President's comments and you've seen it in Secretary Albright's comments - we're not going to be telling you in public everything that we're doing privately or saying privately or proposing privately because we want to succeed in the negotiations. The best way is to keep them confidential.

I'm not going to give you a sense of what our talking points are for the Secretary's meetings in the next couple of days. But I can tell you, we're working hard on it, very hard. Secretary Albright is seized by this.

There has been a lot talk about what should happen. We know that the European Union has talked about European involvement in the general effort to get the peace process underway. We welcome that. We welcome the efforts of the Europeans to try to play a productive role.

We want to work with them. They want to work with us. In fact, I think there's even been some written communications about this in the last 24 hours, to the State Department. But there's a central point here that has to be raised. I think it's important to remind everybody about it.

The United States has the central role in the Middle East peace negotiations. The United States will continue to play the central role because that is our historic mission in the Middle East and has been for a quarter century. We look forward very much to working with the Europeans. But it's up to the United States to shoulder the responsibilities for peace. It's in our national interest to do so. It's the commitment we've made to Israel and the Palestinians. We are doing that.

I wanted to give you a sense of what the Secretary of State was doing today to show you that we are doing that.

QUESTION: One of the places that she did not make a call, from your list, is Cairo. Does the U.S. not look to the Egyptians for any help in this process?

MR. BURNS: We're in close contact with the Egyptian Government. Ambassador Ned Walker, in fact, just over the last couple of days has had very long, detailed conversations with the Egyptians. That will continue. I'm sure the Secretary will be in touch with the Egyptian leadership at some point.

QUESTION: If you (inaudible) contact, how could Osama el-Baz use the word "plans?" Here's a man who has a long background; it goes all the way back to Camp David. He was a key player in the Camp David talks. Here he is saying the Secretary has plans. You're saying she's got to complete her - she can complete her phone calls in about 12 minutes from now and the Palestinians will be done tomorrow or the next day - whenever that is - Friday afternoon. So - what? -- you'll announce the trip Friday evening? Can he be that wrong?

Can Osama el-Baz, with whom you've had close contact, be so far off the mark to say the Secretary has plans? He not only says "plans," he gives you the dates - the 25th to the 28th. They are pretty good dates for all sorts of holiday reasons, and working your way in between holidays. Why are we being so cute about it? Not you. But why is the State Department being so - you want to make one last call to Bahrain and then announce it? Is that the idea? (Laughter)

I know you're talking to Qatar. But, basically -

MR. BURNS: I'll answer it when you're finished.

QUESTION: The pieces are there. You've talked to the Palestinians, you've talked to the Israelis. There are just so many things you can do. You can send Dennis back, you can send the Secretary, you can send them both. You can have a summit. It's not that complicated. Isn't she going to the Middle East?

MR. BURNS: It's been my experience as Spokesman here that sometimes, every now and then, in a blue moon, there is something in a press report that's not completely accurate. It's been my experience.

QUESTION: It's been attributed to a very bright and informed man.

MR. BURNS: I don't blame Osama el-Baz at all for this. I think maybe there's been some - you know that old game, when you sit around in a circle with your kids and you tell a story and -

QUESTION: You telephone.

MR. BURNS: -- you telephone, and you go around the circle. You come back full circle and the story is completely changed.

QUESTION: Like the message on terrorism; right? (Laughter)

MR. BURNS: No, no. Barry, you've got to let me complete my punch lines. That's not fair. That's been sometimes my experience with journalists, with newspapers, with press - sometimes a wire report from a distant capital arrives here and sometimes it just doesn't reflect actually what was said.

QUESTION: This is true with newspapers, too, and on television.

MR. BURNS: Secretary Albright -

QUESTION: But this wire report quotes an Egyptian diplomat by name with specific dates and uses the word "plans." "Plans" is as definite as you can get.

MR. BURNS: I'm not going after the wire services.

QUESTION: We can wait.

MR. BURNS: You haven't given me a chance - I have to answer your question. The answer to the question is, I know with a hundred percent certainty that the Secretary has not scheduled a trip to the Middle East.

QUESTION: Nick, there are wire reports that go out from here that don't reflect the reality of what has been said.

MR. BURNS: Wait a minute. AP and Reuters and UPI and Agence France Presse always reflect reality here in the State Department. The reporters here are excellent. They're second-to-none.

QUESTION: Can I follow-up on that?

MR. BURNS: I'm talking about some other reporters, thousands of miles away from here. Right, Barry? (Laughter)

QUESTION: I guess. I've got to go.

QUESTION: You have cited several countries -

MR. BURNS: It's always less exciting when you leave. He just left. He walked out once again.

QUESTION: You have cited several countries with whom Secretary Albright made phone calls, contacts this morning. All of these countries are the so- called moderate Arab countries.

MR. BURNS: She didn't call Saddam Hussein. She did not call the Iranian leadership, and she didn't call Muammar Qadhafi, if that's what you're asking. She did not call -

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

MR. BURNS: She did not call the rejectionist states. Absolutely not.

QUESTION: My question is, did she ask those -

MR. BURNS: And that was the right decision.

QUESTION: -- leaders not to heed the calls for a boycott of Israel, since these are the countries who have some open challenge with Israel?

MR. BURNS: I'm not going to go into the substance - the details of her conversation, because those are confidential. But I will say this: It's obviously the position of the United States that the Arab world ought to reflect very seriously on its own interests here. It is not in the Arab interests to cut off ties to Israel, either diplomatically or economically.

Look how much progress has been made in the last three years, compared to the previous 46 years since 1948. Look how much progress has been made, and that progress has been made because Arab countries stood up for what's right - acceptance of the State of Israel, normal relations with the State of Israel - at least the sensible Arab countries. We're not talking here about Iraq and Libya, which are not sensible Arab countries.

Surely, they don't want to lose all that because there has been this crisis in the peace negotiations. There have been crises in the past, and they've all been overcome, and this one will be overcome, too, if there's good will on both sides.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) violence in Hebron. The Palestinians now say that Prime Minister Netanyahu has given the green light to the extremist settlers to commit violence and undermine the peace process now.

MR. BURNS: I don't know who made those statements, but we don't agree with them. The Prime Minister of Israel is not interested -- the Prime Minister of Israel is not interested in creating violence in the West Bank. I don't think it's right to accuse him of having fed this violence. I just don't think that's right.

QUESTION: You've talked about - at least gone as far publicly as you're willing to go at this point in describing what the United States expects from Mr. Arafat. Could you within those parameters please describe what the United States is seeking from Prime Minister Netanyahu as far as confidence- building requirements for going back to the peace negotiations? What is it that you would like to see, that the United States would like to see from the Israelis?

MR. BURNS: I was very careful not to give you a specific idea of what we are asking the Palestinian leadership.

QUESTION: Did you ask for a commitment to end the terrorism?

MR. BURNS: That goes without saying. Peace was made in 1993 between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and a fundamental building block of that is no terrorism, zero tolerance. What we're asking both to do is be serious about peace, get back to the negotiating table, treat your partner as your partner, be sensitive to that partner's political needs, and to negotiate and to maintain the commitments that they've already agreed upon in 1993 and 1995 in the two stages of the Oslo process.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the series of phone calls the Secretary made? You said - I think the words you used were "they're part of our effort to keep lines open to the Arab world." Does that mean that she's having to smooth ruffled feathers among those who feel that the United States is not being tough enough on Israel?

MR. BURNS: No, I didn't mean that. We have Ambassadors in all these countries who have been keeping the lines open, but this is at a very high political level. She feels it's very important for her to be in direct contact with the leaders of the Arab countries that have been very helpful in encouraging peace in the past, and we hope they'll be helpful in encouraging peace now. That's the reason for these phone calls.

But she also feels that we're at an impasse in the peace negotiations. It's a very serious moment, and the American Secretary of State needs to be centrally involved, and she is. That's why I said that the headquarters of the peace negotiations are not in Jerusalem or in Gaza right now; they're in Washington. The United States is shouldering its responsibilities here, and we'll continue to do that.

QUESTION: But there is a perception in some parts of the Arab world that the United States isn't being tough enough on Israel. Is that something that concerns you? Does that come up in the conversations?

MR. BURNS: We disagree with that perception, and we are very quick to tell people that when they raise it with us privately. We disagree with that. We are an impartial, objective country that wants the Palestinians and the Israelis to succeed together. I think if you look at the track record of the United States and what we've been able to accomplish in 25 years with the Egyptians and the Israelis, the Jordanians and the Israelis, and the Palestinians and the Israelis, we have an ummatched record.

That's why I say that we welcome the involvement of all other countries in these peace negotiations, but there's no question where the central role is. It's in Washington, D.C. It's with our government.

QUESTION: Nick, you're saying that you disagree with that perception, and yet two weeks ago when President Mubarak was here, he said publicly both to reporters collectively and in an interview with my newspaper that in fact perception in the Arab world is not that the United States is an evenhanded negotiator; that that perception is changing, that it's shifting dangerously, he says, because of the U.N. vetoes by the United States of the resolutions. So I'm not quite understanding when you say that you don't think that's the perception. We have the President of Egypt who's saying, "Indeed, that is the growing perception in the Arab world."

MR. BURNS: We disagree with the perception, and that perception clearly does exist in some Arab countries, but we disagree with it. I'm not arguing with the fact that many Arab countries seem to be frustrated by the current events or even by the positions of our government. But we disagree with those perceptions, and we're calling on Arab countries to work with us here, and I believe that will happen, because the United States has been a good friend of the Arab world.

QUESTION: Nick, on China -

QUESTION: Could we stay on the Middle East?

MR. BURNS: Yes, John wants to stay on the Middle East.

QUESTION: Can we stay on the Middle East?


QUESTION: I'm wondering if the United States is still maintaining AWACS in the Gulf and whether or not we saw the planes carrying Haj pilgrims from Iraq take off from Iraq today and land in Saudi Arabia, and the consequence of public relations and propaganda coup that your special case, Mr. Saddam Hussein, has been able to realize as a result of -

MR. BURNS: I wouldn't call it this a coup. I think it's a major embarrassment for the Iraqi regime. Obviously, we still maintain a very vigorous military presence in the Persian Gulf, and we'll continue to do so to contain Saddam Hussein, among other objectives.

What happened, we understand is that the Iraqi Government violated the United Nations Security Resolutions by allowing an Iraqi plane to take off from Baghdad to carry Haj pilgrims to Mecca.

Let me say two things about this. First and foremost, the United States respects Islam. We have many millions of Americans who are Muslims themselves. There's freedom of religion here in the United States for Muslims to practice, and there ought to be freedom of religion for Muslims all over the world.

Clearly, people who want to go on the Haj, people who want to celebrate the Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, which is coming up in a week or two in Mecca, ought to be able to do so. There is a way for Iraqi pilgrims to do that. It's overland. The United States has respected the right of Iraqi pilgrims to go to Mecca and Medina ever since the end of the Gulf war.

But the United Nations has agreed - the United Nations - all countries, in the Middle East, in Europe, North America, around the world - that Iraqi planes ought not to travel on normal commercial air routes. Why? Because Saddam Hussein has given away the right to be a normal person governing a normal country. So we will proceed in the United Nations to raise this issue of complaint, but it has nothing to do with the innocent Iraqis who want to meet one of their obligations as a Muslim in their lifetime, which is to travel to Mecca and Medina. We fully support the right of those people to do so, and they have that right overland. The same is true of the Libyan pilgrims, and there's a flight ban on Libya, of course.

QUESTION: There's a report that - correct - that the Iraqi plane out of Baghdad violated the "no-fly" zone, and that U.S. aircraft flying enforcement in that zone did not challenge -

MR. BURNS: I cannot speak to the path of the aircraft. I just don't know. I can't speak to whether or not allied aircraft in the region knew about the aircraft. I can just speak to the fact that Iraq has violated the United Nations Security resolutions, and we will raise that issue very vigorously.

QUESTION: Would you say U.S. aircraft are going to challenge Iraqi planes in the future if there is another attempt at this kind of flight?

MR. BURNS: No, it's not for me to comment upon the disposition of American military aircraft or allied military aircraft - British and French - in that part of the world, in the southern "no-flight" zone. The "no- flight" zone will be maintained. Obviously, we want to see the Iraqi Government follow the rules, obey the rules. The Iraqi Government does not have a right to object to this, because they lost the war, and they gave up any right to object to these rules.

QUESTION: NATO. Apparently Primakov announced today in Paris that the Russians would be ready to come to a meeting in Paris on the 27th of May to sign a NATO-Russian Partnership agreement. Are things in place for that to happen?

MR. BURNS: I saw the same press reports. We'll just have to check with the Russians to verify what the Foreign Minister meant by those remarks. We obviously want to get to the point where there's an agreement between Russia and NATO on a charter. I don't believe a final agreement has been reached on those charter negotiations. They continue and will continue in the future. In fact, Secretary Albright will be discussing this tomorrow with the NATO Secretary General who will be in Washington to visit her to talk about those negotiations for which he has direct responsibility.

So we're hopeful about a charter. We want there to be a charter, but I don't believe that NATO and Russia have agreed on the outlines of a charter deal.

QUESTION: Did Primakov's remarks come as a surprise to you? Is there something going on between the Russians and the French that the Americans are cut out of?

MR. BURNS: Oh, that would never be the case, because France is an ally of the United States, and France is a very good member of NATO, and France is operating within the NATO structure. That means that Secretary General Javier Solana is leading these negotiations. He will conclude them.

We hope that there was progress made in Paris between the Russians and the French, and I'm sure we'll be in direct contact with the French to verify what Foreign Minister Primakov meant. But I don't believe there's an end to these negotiations quite yet, however much we would welcome that.

QUESTION: Is there a deal or the outlines of a deal between France and the United States on the Southern Command issue?

MR. BURNS: I don't believe we've resolved all of the issues about the Southern Command, no. Not yet, but we hope that we can, because along with external enlargement we want to see a fulfillment of the internal adaptation of NATO structures, so that they can be modernized for the new roles that NATO must play.

QUESTION: One last question: Why is Mamedov coming?

MR. BURNS: Deputy Foreign Minister Georgiy Mamedov is here as part of his normal consultations with our government. His host is Deputy Secretary Talbott. That's normal. He's here in Washington, and he's here several times a year. Normal consultations with our government about a variety of U.S.-Russian issues.

QUESTION: Are they focusing on the NATO issue and also on the G-7 summit?

MR. BURNS: They focus certainly on both of those issues as well as a number of other issues in the U.S.-Russian relationship.

QUESTION: Nick, I want to come back to this question you elaborated on to some extent yesterday, and I know you've given an interview to Danish television also yesterday regarding the resolution in the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

The reports have it that on April 4th the United States was in contact with the Danes up at the U.N. and gave encouragement to them to go for this resolution. It was described as being their initiative, which has been supported by the U.S., but it seems as if the U.S. has been giving encouragement to this even before the operation was put into motion. I was wondering, is that the case? Has the U.S. been in favor of this, and why do they want this - why are you so keen on getting this through at this point?

MR. BURNS: There aren't always conspiracies surrounding foreign policy decisions. Sometimes things are very straightforward. In this case, we've been talking to the Europeans for months - months, not weeks, not days - about the U.N. Human Rights Commission deliberations on China. The Danish Government decided on its own accord - they made its own sovereign decision to sponsor the resolution critical of China.

The United States will enthusiastically support as a co-sponsor, that resolution. There's nothing untoward. There's nothing complex about this. This is just how international politics works.

The Chinese announced yesterday that China will sign an international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights. This is a positive step. The United States welcomes China's decision to sign and ratify one of the two international covenants by the end of 1997. We had hoped that this would be followed soon by a Chinese decision to ratify the other United Nations covenant. There are two that we have focused on as particularly important.

Having said this, the United States continues to have a number of very important and very serious concerns about China's human rights record, including the treatment of people who express their political and religious views peacefully; the preservation of Tibet's unique religious cultural and linguistic heritage; a number of other issues - the treatment of Chinese prisoners who are incarcerated.

Those concerns have not gone away, and that is why we are proceeding to be a co-sponsor to the resolution in Geneva this week and next.

QUESTION: Nick, those concerns have always been there, I mean, and during the period of what is described as constructive engagement with China, it was decided not to make those into questions which would impede a broader relationship with that country.

In terms of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, as I understand it, every year the subject is taken up, and most of the nations - and again this year I think most of the nations are not going to be supporting it - the French, the Germans - the British will support it. Maybe that's a reason for us to give support -

MR. BURNS: It's just not true that the United States has shifted positions here. It's just not true. If you remember Secretary Christopher's visit to China in November, Secretary Albright's to China in February, both of them said very consistently, "We want to engage with China. We have broad political, military and economic interests that need to be advanced." But we're going to have to continue this running dialogue and running American criticism of China's human rights record.

Secretary Christopher and Secretary Albright have consistently, publicly been very critical of China on human rights. That hasn't stopped, and it won't stop until the record improves.

At the same time, we have a variety of interests that must be met, and that's why we have a broad policy of engagement with China, and that continues.

QUESTION: You always take up this issue. You say in every conversation you have with the Chinese, granted the human rights is always there. But why make a big thing of it at this particular moment when the U.N. Human Rights Commission, in which most of the European nation - most of the EU nations -- will probably not support it.

MR. BURNS: That's their problem, not ours. We are a country that is interested in human rights. We were built on that. Jefferson built this country on that principle, on democracy and human rights, and we're not going to forget it two centuries after our own birth. We stand for that worldwide. The day the United States fails to stand up for human rights in the largest country in the world is the day that we will have changed the country, and I don't believe we'll ever do that.

So other countries may decide to take the easy way out; we're not. We're going to stand up in Geneva, which is the proper forum for human rights discussion around the world, and we're going to debate this issue.

QUESTION: The fact that Capitol Hill is rattling the sabers against China -

MR. BURNS: This is going to have to be the last question.

QUESTION: -- would not be a factor in your decision? The fact that Gingrich and some of the Republicans, Senator Helms, are making a big issue of China would not be a factor in taking this position?

MR. BURNS: Listen, I think that's a rather cynical question. I think that Senator Helms and Representative Gingrich and President Clinton and Secretary Albright share the same concern. We're all Americans. We all want to see innocent people in China have their human rights respected. There's no partisan disagreement on this issue of human rights in China.


QUESTION: Bob Pelletreau, who is now a private citizen, made a speech here yesterday and called for an increase of the existing informal ties with Iran; said that U.S. should open up a wider dialogue with Iran, and also indicated a lack of consensus in the containment policy towards that country. Would you agree that there is a lack of consensus within the Administration?

MR. BURNS: I respect Bob very much. I have not seen his speech, so I don't want to be unfair to him and comment on his speech. Our policy towards Iran has not changed and won't until the Iranians change.

QUESTION: What kind of specific changes are you -

MR. BURNS: If they would end their direct support for terrorism and their opposition to the Middle East peace process and stop trying to build nuclear and chemical and biological weapons, that would be a good starter for an improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations. But as long as they're doing all three of those things, there's not going to be a normal relationship between the United States and Iran. We have a national interest in standing up for all of those three things that I talked about.

QUESTION: But he has been the head of the Near Eastern Bureau until very recently, so obviously I think Mr. Pelletreau knows what he's talking about when he says that there are different ideas within the Administration. Are you saying as the spokesperson here that you do not expect any changes - or any discussion at all on the Iranian policy?

MR. BURNS: I hope we have lots of discussion on Iran, but the policy - Secretary Albright has reaffirmed the policy. The policy stays where it is. The great thing about our government is you get to debate inside the government, even if you don't agree with the views, but then everyone's united once the decision is made by the President and Secretary of State about what the policy would be. The President and Secretary of State have given us a very clear policy, and we all defend it. It's the right policy.


QUESTION: Yes, I have a question on Colombia.


QUESTION: The Government of President Samper has sent to Congress an initiative to reintroduce extradition. What is your idea about this initiative, and how crucial the extradition issue is for the recertification of Colombia?

MR. BURNS: We have seen reports this morning about this issue, but frankly we don't know much about it. We'll have to seek more information from the Colombian Government.

QUESTION: What about the project?

MR. BURNS: Not specific information, no. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 2:37 p.m.)


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