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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #160, 97-11-06

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


Thursday, November 6, 1997

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1		Secretary Albright's Trip to the Doha Economic Conference,
		  South Asia and the APEC Conference
1-3,15-16	Update on Middle East Peace Process Talks/Secretary
		  Albright Upcoming Meetings with PM Netanyahu and Chairman

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 2-4 Extent of Progress in Peace Talks

IRAQ 4 Update on Postponement of U2 Flights 4-5 Reported US Request to Use a Turkish Air Base for Military Strikes Against Iraq 5 US-Turkey Dialogue on Cease-fire in Northern Iraq 6-8 Amb. Butler's Letter Detailing Iraqi Interference with UNSCOM Monitoring/Possible UN Options 7 Secretary Albright-Secretary General Annan Conversations/US Dialogue with Allies

CYPRUS 4-5 Military Exercises in Close Proximity 5-6,12-13 Amb. Holbrooke-Miller Trip

BOSNIA 8-12 Developing Consensus on US Participation in a Post-SFOR International Force 10 US Intervention to Reinstall a Soap Opera on SRT Transmissions in Republika Srpska

COLOMBIA 12,15 Update on Kidnapped American Missionaries

MEXICO 13 Reports that Amado Carillo Fuentes is Alive and Working for the DEA in Chile

CUBA 13-14 Trial of American Citizen Walter Van der Veer

NORTH KOREA 14-15 Preliminary Report of Food Assessment Team Trip 14 Update on Four Party Talks


DPB #160

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 1997, 1:00 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Forgive the delay. These things happen.

Let me start by announcing the Secretary's trip to South Asia. Secretary Albright will be visiting South Asia from November 16 to November 20. She will be stopping after the Doha Economic Conference, first in Pakistan, then India and then Bangladesh. The precise schedule is still being worked out, but we wanted to give you plenty of warning.

In Pakistan, she will encourage the government's commitment to democratic development, human rights, and religious tolerance, and work with the Pakistani Government to end the conflict in Afghanistan. In India, she will be continuing our dialogue on strategic issues begun last month by Under Secretary Pickering, celebrating our shared democratic heritage, and advancing our objectives on environmental issues, particularly global warming. In Bangladesh, she will encourage the further consolidation of democracy, promote further progress on development, women's empowerment, and child labor issues.

We will get you more details on the schedule as that emerges. Again, she would arrive in Doha on the 15th, participate on the 16th, and then depart for the remainder of the trip, ending in Vancouver on the 20th of November.

Before turning to your questions, I do have kind of a wrap-up on the Middle East discussions.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a quick one about that announcement?

MR. RUBIN: Sure.

QUESTION: Is Kashmir part of the agenda, or are these all bilateral matters? Any mediation on Kashmir?

MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't rule out that the subject comes up, but it's certainly not a central theme of her trip.

The Secretary had a very useful and productive meeting with Foreign Minister Levy and Secretary General Abu Mazen this morning. They briefed her on the discussions held this week, and reported to her that there were serious discussions on all of the issues between the parties -- both the issues outlined in the four-part agenda that you all are becoming so familiar with, and the key interim committee issues that remain to be resolved. On some of the issues, the gaps have clearly been narrowed, and progress has been made. On others, there is still work to do.

To build on the work done here and to reach agreement as quickly as possible, discussions will continue at all levels. To that end, the heads of the various committees dealing with interim issues will meet on a daily basis, starting on Sunday, when they return home. That will include American involvement at some level. The steering committee will also meet, both to monitor and coordinate the work of the committees and help them finalize their efforts. That is where the US will take part in these meetings.

In addition, to follow up on the work done here and to define more clearly what is necessary to reach agreement on all the issues -- particularly those outlined in the four-part agenda -- the Secretary plans to meet separately with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat in the very near future.

I would be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: There have been reports all around of progress, not just from the US, from the parties, too. Is she planning these meetings with these leaders to be in at the closure of at least some of the items, and the most predictable ones, not necessarily the largest ones - the seaport, airport, industrial zone and corridor? Remember, she wasn't going to get in - doing traveling, at least, just, as she said, to tread water. So is there something right over the horizon that she wants to just push over the edge?

MR. RUBIN: Well, let me give you a flavor of some of the discussions that have been held, and that might give you an idea of where progress was made and what additional steps are necessary.

In the interim committee issues, the discussions were very technical because the issues themselves are very technical. In some of the areas, papers were developed and exchanged to serve as a basis of discussion. For example, on the safe passage issue, the parties began working their way through a text that merged both the Israeli and Palestinian positions. This is a long and detailed process, which they will continue when the committee meetings meet daily, back in Israel.

On the industrial estate for Gaza, the two sides agreed to develop a paper that covers the critical operating and security principles. Work on the paper was continuing last night and this morning, and progress was made. On the Gaza airport, the experts reduced differences in a merged text and crystallized the issues yet to be resolved. On the harbor, they discussed the environmental issues.

As far as the four-part agenda is concerned, these issues are much tougher and much more politically sensitive for both sides. The discussions on the four-part agenda were extensive, but I'm not in a position to get into details. What I can say is that each side has a better appreciation of the needs and concerns of the others on the issues contained in the four-part agenda.

I don't expect those meetings, that will be held very soon, to be in the Middle East.

QUESTION: No, no, I know.

MR. RUBIN: So I think the comment that you made referred to her feeling about traveling to the Middle East. As you know, she has held meetings - two now, this week - with trilateral meetings with Abu Mazen and Foreign Minister Levy. So she is prepared to engage. I think what she is saying is, there are levels of engagement. So she is looking to schedule in the very near future meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat separately so that they can move forward primarily on the four-part agenda, where the issues are so politically sensitive that leaders, as opposed to technical experts, need to get involved.

QUESTION: She's not the closer on the more technical, less dramatic issues. In fact, they probably won't be resolved by the time she gets to London and Geneva.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I wouldn't rule that out. I mean, it's a technical matter. As I understand it, there were a lot of brackets removed from a lot of long documents, and some meaty technical issues were mulled over, culled over inside and upside and outside. That's going to continue to go on. If it looks like the leaders are needed to put a closure on a couple of technical issues, I wouldn't rule that out. But certainly the focus of her work, the need to have a meeting with the leaders separately - Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat - would be to focus on what I did label the most politically sensitive issues.

QUESTION: Jamie, the parties - and some in this building - are saying the meetings will be in London with Netanyahu and in Geneva with Arafat. Is there some reason you're not announcing that now?

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, there are people in this building who seem to like to tell you things before they're nailed down. In this business, spokesmen from the podium don't announce meetings until they're nailed down. Anyone who told you that they're nailed down was not giving you correct information.

QUESTION: Jamie, you say there were serious discussions on all issues. Including on the four-part --

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION: And that included, for example, a time-out on the settlements --

MR. RUBIN: Serious discussions, yes.

QUESTION: But there was no agreement on --

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION: Is that then going to be ripe to be taken up in her separate meetings with Arafat and Netanyahu?

MR. RUBIN: I would certainly expect the four-part agenda, with the two most difficult ones -- the further redeployment issue and the time-out -- to be prime topics at meetings that she would hold in the very near future with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat.

QUESTION: Possibly to the benefit, also, of some of the other journalists here, could you tell us - because the Secretary didn't address it yesterday when I tried there - is there some problem with Saudi Arabia, so far as being the staging grounds for air operations, even surveillance, in Iraq? And if so, or even if not, is something being worked out with Turkey now? Because there are reports coming from there that the US is making some arrangement with Turkey, maybe a contingent arrangement, for Iraqi operations. I don't necessarily mean warfare; I mean operations.

MR. RUBIN: On the question of Saudi Arabia, I believe you asked yesterday about the U-2. It's not my understanding that the reason the U-2 fly - that there was any factor related to the views of Saudi Arabia. The decision on the U-2 was taken by the United Nations, and their explanation is that they believed, in light of the fact that these envoys were right in the region at that time, that it wasn't necessary to go forward with the flights at that time. They were not canceled; they were postponed. A wider window was established through next week, and they indicated that those flights will go forward next week.

As far as Turkey is concerned, the United States has not raised the subject of using Incirlik Air Base for military strikes against Iraq with Turkey. There have been some press reports suggesting that; we don't quite understand them. There are regular discussions with the Turkish Government about how to make sure that the United States, Turkey and the United Kingdom continue their cooperation in Operation Northern Watch, to enforce the no-fly zone over northern Iraq. And we regularly discuss and adjust the conduct of Operation Northern Watch with our coalition partners.

QUESTION: Can I try a very quick one on that?


QUESTION: Better start letting someone else have a chance.

There were military exercises in the Turkish area, the self-declared Turkish-Cypriot state, mock attacks on missiles and all, that - you know, rather exciting, a lot of people cheering. Does the State Department have a view as to whether that contributes in any way to tensions in the area?

MR. RUBIN: As I understand this - again, at the risk of getting this slightly wrong, which may be the goal here - is that both sides have scheduled exercises, and there was concern that the locations of those exercises were very close to one another. We certainly consulted - rather, that the location of the outer edge of some of those exercises made it possible that there could be some unintentional incident. So the State Department consulted with both governments and urged them to do all they could to make sure that the locations of those exercises did not cause an unnecessary chance of an incident.

So far, as far as I know, there have not been incidents along the edges of these exercise locations that have generated concerns; other than the general concerns that these exercises might risk inflaming tensions, which we don't yet believe - I have not seen that they do. They may have; I just haven't seen the reports. I'm sure there are some who are concerned about the incidents, but we have not focused in on any particular aspect of these incidents.

QUESTION: Jamie, just to go back to Turkey for a second, and this may be better addressed at the Pentagon, I'm not sure. But apparently there have been additional US aircraft - fighter planes - sent to Incirlik. Could that be the source of the confusion?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know the current order of battle in Turkey right now. That would be a Pentagon question.

QUESTION: Just on the Iraq happening, I guess, with the --

MR. RUBIN: Would you prefer to focus on Greece and Turkey, I see. Okay.

QUESTION: Have there been recently new talks between the US and Turkey on new de-conflicting measures?

MR. RUBIN: We are in regular contact with all the governments in the region to try to, through the process that exists, and we regularly discuss with them, how to try to get progress on the cease-fire in northern Iraq. I'm not in a position to confirm any specific new contact.

QUESTION: Can we get back to Cyprus?

MR. RUBIN: Sure.

QUESTION: And yesterday the State Department announced that Ambassador Holbrooke will be traveling to Cyprus November 10 and 11. Could you say to us something about his agenda and the target of his trip?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, Ambassador Holbrooke and Special Cyprus Coordinator Tom Miller arranged meetings and discussions over the past week with Mr. Denktash in Washington and New York, and by telephone with President Clerides. There is no pre-set agenda for these discussions; these will be informal. We have no specific game plan. We are working, as you know, to bring about a solution based on the concept of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation for Cyprus. These talks are part of those efforts.

So there's no agenda. These are informal in that sense. I think there was one thing worthy of note. Ambassador Holbrooke's meeting with Mr. Denktash led him to say in public that we discussed everything in detail in a way we had not discussed things with any diplomat before.

So we'll have to see what comes of these meetings, but there is no pre-set agenda.

QUESTION: It will be a joint meeting between Mr. Holbrooke and together with Mr. Clerides?

MR. RUBIN: That's what the statement I put out said, yes.

QUESTION: Jamie, I want to just go back to Iraq and revisit the latest development there. Butler sent a letter saying that it seems as though Iraq has been moving arms-building equipment, tampering with surveillance cameras. The first part of my question is, what does this mean to the United States and the United Nations? And what are - you know, just a read- out on that. And then, does this latest action - should Iraq be building up weapons of mass destruction - does this mean a door might be open a little wider to an aggressive action taken toward Iraq?

MR. RUBIN: This letter adds to the growing mountain of evidence that Iraq is using every means at its disposal to delay, obstruct and interfere with the work of the United Nations. It's a further indication of flouting of the international community; and frankly, it's not a hopeful sign that Iraq's leadership is getting the message the UN envoys were sent to send.

Secretary Albright spoke with Secretary General Kofi Annan this morning. We are still awaiting a final read-out of those meetings. We expect them to continue perhaps through tomorrow, and then on Monday, to get a read-out from the envoys to the Security Council about what progress, if any, they achieved.

Again, these envoys were not there to negotiate; they were there to send a clear message. The clear message is that Saddam Hussein must comply with the requirements of the United Nations. This letter and the information it contains is further evidence that he's not moving in the right direction. But we are going to await judgment until the envoys have completed their work and have had a chance to return and report to the Security Council; at which time, if the envoys' message has not yielded a response in changed behavior, if Saddam Hussein doesn't get it, if he continues to flout the international community in these ways, then we would be looking to the Security Council to take firm action.

QUESTION: So you're not ruling out aggressive action. I mean, if he's building up weapons and doing what he's not supposed to do, how are you going to stop him? What is it going to take - more sanctions, or some kind of other means?

MR. RUBIN: Let me state - the first point is, these kinds of actions only show that he is not moving in the direction of letting the UN do its work. It's only when the UN has done its work can the possibility of sanctions relief come into play.

It's a sign that perhaps Iraq is using this crisis to break free of UNSCOM's monitoring efforts. It will only postpone and delay the time when UNSCOM can make a conclusion that a full, final and complete information about the Iraqi effort has been achieved. So he's postponing the day when he can ever get the clean bill of health that he needs if sanctions relief is ever to be seriously discussed.

You've heard all of us say over and over again that we're not ruling options out. That's still our position.

QUESTION: Jamie, to just - to send three diplomats to Baghdad to say, you've got to comply; you can't screen out Americans, wouldn't seem to require such lengthy deliberations. She has had at least two - the Secretary has had at least two conversations with the Secretary General. Has she been told by him that these diplomats are not negotiating? And what if the Iraqis come to New York and make their case - try to make their case that the US is engaged in espionage, if they moved the equipment, they wanted to avoid a strike, et cetera? I mean, is this still not negotiations? Has she heard that from the Secretary General?

MR. RUBIN: As a result of her conversations with Secretary General Kofi Annan, she is confident that the UN envoys are not there to negotiate; they are there to deliver the world's message that Saddam Hussein has no choice but to comply. That doesn't mean that Iraq may not whine and complain about all sorts of aspects of the UN requirements, including crying crocodile tears over the effect of sanctions on its people.

But our issue is, we have our eye on the ball. The ball is, will Saddam Hussein allow the UN to do its job, not pick and choose - try to pick and choose who the inspectors are. And we have no reason to believe that these envoys are engaged in anything other than delivering a message of what the UN Security Council made clear -- that Saddam Hussein has no choice but to comply.

If, during the course of delivering that message, they hear a lot of complaining about the UN Special Commission's work or about the effect of sanctions, these are patient diplomats, and I'm sure they will be able to withstand such complaints. But that doesn't change what their mission is.

QUESTION: Does this latest violation make military action more likely?

MR. RUBIN: I think I just answered that question. What it does do is signal that he continues to exploit this period to raise the prospect that he is hiding and moving weapons of mass destruction. It is also not a very hopeful sign that he's gotten the message that these envoys have delivered, that the world has delivered.

But again, we're going to withhold judgment as to whether this mission has succeeded until the envoys have had a chance to finish their work, finish their meetings, and return to New York and report to the Security Council.

QUESTION: But in this context, and in the run-up to making that judgment next Monday or whenever, how extensive have the US consultations been with allies on the question of military action? Are you -- have you drafted options?

MR. RUBIN: By definition, the question you ask is one that is not answered from this podium; namely, the extent of our consultations with foreign countries we don't normally provide. And certainly, if it involved preliminary discussions of military options, we certainly wouldn't be speaking about it from here.

All I can say is that we haven't ruled any options out, that we hope and expect, if this mission is not successful, that the Council will take up this matter forthwith, and take firm action to compel Iraqi compliance with the international community.

QUESTION: Is it still the American position that the inspection team must include Americans?

MR. RUBIN: Absolutely. Saddam Hussein cannot pick and choose who the inspectors are. It's up to the UN to make those judgments. There are six or so Americans as part of the 100-plus UN inspectors. They're there for their competence. It's up to the UN to make that judgment. We've heard no indication that the UN Special Commission would even entertain such a suggestion.

QUESTION: On Bosnia, the White House and Defense Secretary Cohen seem to have at least slightly different shadings on this question of consensus - is there a consensus, at least in broad terms, on what to do about Bosnia. Could you speak to that issue? And can you also define publicly and formally for us, what the Secretary meant by "consensus" yesterday?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, let me start by saying there is one thing there is a consensus on; and that is that the SFOR mission will end next June. We are consulting with Congress and our allies about what we need to do to sustain the progress we have made and to keep the process on track.

As a result of these consultations, we believe there is a developing consensus that some form of international military presence will be needed after next June. But no decision has been made about what form that should take or what the US role should be.

What Secretary Albright was explaining yesterday - and I think all the comments are different sides of the same coin - she was saying that a consensus is developing, that there is increasing support for, that members of Congress and others are increasingly supportive of a situation in which an international military presence had a US role. But she made very clear in the remarks, as you know because you were there, that the President has made no decision. She was trying to characterize the direction these political consultations that were rather unique, that Secretary Cohen spoke about just a couple of hours ago from the Pentagon, were taking - the direction.

She clearly did not say that a consensus has been achieved. Before you can achieve a consensus, first that consensus has to be developing; then it has to be worked on; and then it can be achieved and it can be a clear consensus. All she did was indicate - and I assume all of you would prefer that people say things in their own way, rather than, as autonotoms, repeat the same information from all the different podiums around the world - and say that increasing support was developing. That's all she said. She indicated that, and other spokesmen have made clear that we haven't yet reached a consensus.

She was quite clearly not indicating that a consensus has been achieved, because the most important vote for a consensus is the President's vote; and he has not made a decision.

QUESTION: But in her sense, she sees the emerging consensus in favor of keeping an international presence there, and a US military presence? Or are you trying to draw a distinction between those two?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I am saying that what we are seeing is a recognition that the success we've had in Bosnia has been something that has been the result of extraordinary cooperation between the American military, the other military forces that are part of SFOR, and the civilian implementation agencies. We've seen extraordinary developments - hundreds of thousands of refugees returned; peace for 23 months; tens of thousands of weapons destroyed; armies demobilized; significant numbers of war criminals in jail in The Hague; freedom of movement returned; police doing their job.

That progress and the leadership the United States has played has been a result of this extraordinary cooperation between the military and the civilian sides. What she is indicating is that that logic of the military- civilian requirements for progress in Dayton to be achieve is what is increasingly understood; that people are increasingly supportive of it.

As to where this all leads, and what decisions the President makes, what her views are, what Secretary Cohen's views are, that's not what she was talking about.

QUESTION: Is there an emerging consensus in support of an American military presence after next June?

MR. RUBIN: I think if you look at what Secretary Cohen said, he talked today about the different ways in which the American military plays a role. He talked about logistics; he talked about intelligence; he talked about our airlift, support systems, et cetera. So the American military role is often understood publicly to be troops or no role. What Secretary Cohen was indicating is there are a range of different ways in which the US can make an effective contribution to any international military presence.

Secretary Albright was not purporting to spell out a specific option, a specific decision, but merely trying to give you a flavor of what congressional reaction was to a particular direction.

QUESTION: You didn't answer my question. Did she mean to say that there's an emerging consensus in support of an American military role - as yet undefined - in Bosnia?

MR. RUBIN: I think, again, I'm hesitating to answer this directly for a very good reason. It depends on what consensus you're talking about. She was talking about the reaction that she had to a meeting with key members of Congress.

Her reaction to that was that key members of Congress were increasingly supportive of a US military presence. But that is different than saying that there is a consensus emerging in the Administration, that she and Secretary Cohen have agreed on a specific military option. That is not what she was saying.

What she was saying was that it's worth noting, considering the concerns that have been expressed, especially by European countries - and remember, she said this with Foreign Minister Kinkel standing next to her -- that it was encouraging that this kind of an extraordinary meeting had occurred well in advance of any decision-making, or the end of the mission, and that there was increasing support for that kind of role.

QUESTION: Jamie, several months ago when there was the whole kerfuffle over Bosnian Serb TV --

MR. RUBIN: Kerfuffle, yes.

QUESTION: Kerfuffle -- let's see how that gets spelled in the transcript. There was - apparently, the State Department intervened to get Banja Luka TV to put back on the air a soap opera, "Kassandra." A, is that true? And B, why was State concerned to do that?

MR. RUBIN: After the staff of the Banja Luka Studio - SRT Studio took over management of their own station in August, Pale SRT cut off all Pale- originated programming, including "Kassandra," one of the more popular entertainment shows broadcast by the original TV at the time.

The State Department alerted the producers of the program to the situation and put them in direct contact with the new management of Banja Luka SRT. The producers of the program generously made tapes of the whole series available to SRT Banja Luka, free of charge. We understand the program remains a popular part of the program schedule.

We are working, as many different governments are and many different agencies are, to try to develop as effective as possible objective media in Bosnia, and sometimes one needs to help them fill up the air with what must be perceived as a perfectly good soap opera.

QUESTION: Jamie, I'm sorry; if we could just go back to this consensus question.

MR. RUBIN: No, you're not sorry.

QUESTION: (Inaudible). You're saying that when she was referring to consensus, she meant only on Capitol Hill, not --

MR. RUBIN: Developing consensus.

QUESTION: Developing consensus - not between the Administration and Capitol Hill, just only, exclusively on Capitol Hill, is there an emerging, developing consensus?

MR. RUBIN: I'll go ask her. I mean, you guys are parsing this into 75 different nuances, for very good reason. I know why you're doing that. But I know that what her intent was, was to reflect on a meeting that was an important meeting. And next time, perhaps, it would be better if she didn't reflect on those meetings, if every word is going to be parsed to the degree that you all seem to want to parse it.

What she was doing was trying to give a flavor that a year ago, if you had said that members of Congress would generally be supportive of a continued US military presence in Bosnia after next June, people would have thought that you were smoking something. So what she was indicating is that a lot of changed in the last year, and that there is increasing recognition by members of Congress, by the American public, sometimes even by those of you who write about Bosnia, that the work we've done over the last six to nine months has achieved progress, has been in the right direction; and that has not included some of the risks to American soldiers that were originally feared. Meanwhile, the war criminal track is improving; the refugee track is improving; the police track is improving; the support for Dayton amongst Bosnian Serbs is increasing.

So a lot of the concerns that may have existed a year ago have changed. She thought it was important to let you know that the mood was shifting; not that a decision was made.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) don't count.

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION: But I think, I mean, you seem to want to suggest --

MR. RUBIN: Are we still doing this, Carol?

QUESTION: Yes, yes, I'm sorry. I just have one more sort of question.

MR. RUBIN: One more parse.

QUESTION: You seem to be critical of us for asking a lot of questions about --

MR. RUBIN: No, no, no.

QUESTION: -- and going overboard and trying to parse it. But frankly, I was quite --

MR. RUBIN: That's your job.

QUESTION: I was frankly quite willing to accept the Secretary's statement as it was, knowing how she prides herself in being an effective communicator of US foreign policy. But then you get the White House sort of giving its spin, and then the Defense Secretary giving his spin, which suggests either that there is - that she was pushing the envelope, both for the Administration's purposes or her own purposes; or there is - it just reflects continued disagreement among the senior officials as to where the United States should be going on Bosnia.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I don't see it that way. And you of course, I fully expect you to ask the questions, and to seek to parse. But when one tries to answer it, there gets to be a point where you can't parse it any further. That's where I think we are right now.

The Secretary and other spokesmen are talking about different sides of the same coin. That coin is, has a decision been reached; has a clear consensus been emerged or developed? No. But is there increasing support; is there a developing consensus on Capitol Hill for some US role after next June? Yes.

The Secretary was not saying that a consensus exists on Capitol Hill. She was not saying a consensus exists in the Administration. She was merely reflecting on the fact that there was increasing support during that meeting that she thought was worthy of note.

QUESTION: Different subject.

MR. RUBIN: Please.

QUESTION: Colombia. I wonder if you could bring us up to date on a subject that involves three American missionaries that were abducted five years ago, approximately, along the Colombian-Panamanian border, allegedly by the FARC. I have a couple of questions. Do you - can you give us a status report? Do you believe --

MR. RUBIN: I'll have to get back to you with those specifics.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: Jamie, back on Holbrooke for a moment.

MR. RUBIN: I'd love to go back to Holbrooke.

QUESTION: I don't know if you will when I'm finished, but he was the big gun, and wasn't coming aboard full time. He was supposed to be run into this at critical moments, and Miller was doing the day-to-day stuff. Your description of his decision to go there sort of suggests it sort of came up and he said, what the heck. Is there a -


Has Holbrooke, who has a reputation of getting things done, but when they're ripe. What's taking him back there really? I mean, is the thing drifting out of control? Or is it nearing solution? Or is the weather good?


MR. RUBIN: I can assure you that Ambassador Holbrooke didn't just suddenly come up with this idea. He's made some --

QUESTION: Change - technical change.

MR. RUBIN: He's made some visits recently; he's had some visits with folks here. This came up first, I gather, in a discussion he had here in Washington, and in discussions he's had in the region. He felt that the time was ripe, as a result of those discussions, to bring the two together with no set agenda and see if they can have an informal discussion, which previously people thought they weren't prepared to have.

The answer to your question of whether we're on the verge of progress can't even begin to be answered until they have that informal meeting, after which somehow I will work my hardest to get Ambassador Holbrooke to report on the meeting.

QUESTION: There is a couple of Chilean newspapers that reported that the Mexican drug lord that died during surgery that was confirmed by the US Government is alive and is working for the DEA in Chile. I just want to - you are obviously going to say, we don't know. But the Chile newspapers have been reporting these stories since Monday until today.

MR. RUBIN: You won't be surprised if I said that we don't know; and I'll try to get back to you with an answer.

QUESTION: Jamie, today is the first day of the trial of William Van der Veer in Cuba on charges of treason. I understand that there is a State Department representative who is being allowed into the trial. Can you give us any information on the state of his health or how the trial is going?

MR. RUBIN: We can confirm that the Cuban Government issued a visa for American citizen, Walter Van der Veer's attorney, Dominik Salfi. However, we understand the Cuban authorities will only allow Salfi to observe the proceedings, which start in Havana today.

We do not know whether Van der Veer has been allowed adequate time with his appointed defense attorney to prepare his defense, and for example, whether he has been allowed to suggest witnesses for his defense.

According to the Cuban Government, Van der Veer is accused of armed action against Cuba. US views regarding the Cuban legal system are well-known. We will not comment until the judicial proceedings have concluded.

As part of our consular services overseas to assist detained Americans, our consular officers have visited Van der Veer regularly, helping him with dietary needs, obtaining access to a lawyer, et cetera. Our last visit was September 24. When we attempted another visit on October 29, we learned that his place of detention had been moved. A consular officer will observe the trial as we understand it, and I gather will be there.

QUESTION: Actually, this has to do with North Korea. The food assessment team, I believe, is back. Do you have any read-out of their trip? And will any of the members of the team be willing to speak to the press about what they observed?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, we have a preliminary report. The team successfully completed its mission, and we are pleased with the results. This trip improved our understanding of the food crisis in North Korea. The team visited several sites that were not previously open to international relief workers.

The team traveled through North Korea and examined assistance needs and the transparency of aid distribution. It visited sites in Pyongyang and several provinces. It also visited a province which had never before been visited by the World Food Program. The DPRK authorities were cooperative. The team had useful discussions with government officials in health, agriculture and foreign affairs.

In brief, we believe this visit was a step forward in the process of assuring greater transparency, although more can be done. We regret that there are still some areas of the DPRK that are not currently accessible. There are no current plans for a second team to visit. We are waiting for the return of this team.

We understand there is significant interest, and we will certainly be doing what we can, when they return this weekend, to try to arrange some way in which they can communicate their findings to the media.

QUESTION: Follow up on that, on the food assessment team. Do you know why they are staying there for - I mean, the mission is completed, right, so why are they taking these extra days?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know where -- it may be that's how long it takes to get back here, where they are staying overnight. I don't have that level of detail.

QUESTION: Any movement on the four-party talks?

MR. RUBIN: We're always hopeful that we can get an agreement on beginning the discussions. We're still hopeful, but nothing concrete for you yet.

QUESTION: Can you give any sort of assessment, with the food team, as to whether things were as bad as you thought, worse than your thought, or does that need to wait till --

MR. RUBIN: Well, let's see what we can do by tomorrow. We're in contact with them. They gave us this preliminary report about where they went, what kind of access they got, and said we could communicate this. But we'll try to get some more for tomorrow.

QUESTION: The name of the region they went to that was - hadn't been visited before?

MR. RUBIN: I'm going to spell it, if you don't mind. R-y-a-n-g-a-n-g, Ryangang.

QUESTION: Do you have - have you found the information about these missionaries, the five Americans? I'm just curious.

MR. RUBIN: Three US-citizen missionaries who were abducted in Panama, January 31, 1993, and taken to Colombia - David Mankins, Mark Rich, and Richard Tenenoff -- are still missing. We know they were taken to Colombia after their kidnapping, but we have had no proof of life since early 1994.

The US Embassy in Bogota is in frequent contact with the representatives of New Tribes Missions in Bogota to report all developments in the case. The Embassy is also continuing to cooperate with Colombian authorities at various levels. Ambassador Frechette has raised the issue of our captive citizens with President Samper, the Minister of Defense, and other Colombian Government officials, to ensure their ongoing cooperation.

In November 1996, embassy officers visited a region where the missionaries are believed to be held. High-ranking military and civilian officials promised to continue routine questioning of all captured guerrillas for any news of the hostages. We maintain contact with the families of the victims. It is not possible for us to speculate about their fate, and we continue to operate on the assumption that they are alive.

QUESTION: Jamie, just to back up to the Middle East again, and to quote my colleague here, "not to try to make a silk parse out of a sow's ear."


But would it be too cynical to --

QUESTION: Thanks for the credit.

QUESTION: You're welcome. Would it be too cynical to try to analyze the meetings that are coming up with the Israeli Prime Minister and the leader of the Palestinians so closely in advance of Doha, to suggest that this is in some way connected with attendance at the Doha meeting?

MR. RUBIN: I certainly don't hesitate to answer any cynical questions. But my understanding is that we have accepted the basic level of Doha participation, and are going forward with the conference with as much participation as we can get.

At this point, we don't feel a greater sense of urgency about the Middle East peace process because of the Doha conference. The urgency we feel about the Middle East peace process is because it's still in trouble. We want to get it back on track and get progress achieved in the issues of the interim committees; progress achieved in trying to address the further redeployment; and hopefully some day, be able to set up a formula by which we can get to an accelerated discussion on the most complex final status issues.

So our urgency is continuous because of our concern about the Middle East peace process. Whatever we might like to see happen with respect to the Doha conference, I think we feel that it shouldn't interfere or generate additional concern or additional work.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:35 p.m.)

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