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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #174, 97-12-04

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, December 4, 1997

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1		Background Briefing Today on Secretary Albright's Trip to
1		Representations Made for Burial of Ambassador Lawrence at
		  Arlington Cemetery

TURKEY 2-3 Secretary Albright's Meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister

RUSSIA 3-5 Status of Detained American Richard Bliss 5-6 President Yeltsin's Comments on Troop Cuts

CUBA 6-7 US-Cuba Migration Talks 7 Hunger Strike by Human Rights Group Members

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 7 Secretary Albright's Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister in Paris 8 Prospects for a Clinton-Netanyahu Meeting

IRAQ 8 Renewed Demands to Limit UNSCOM Inspections 8-9 Promise to Russia to Dismantle Nuclear Program 10 IAEA Inspection Findings on Nuclear Facilities / Monitoring Continues

COLOMBIA 9 Chamber of Deputies Adopts Penal Reform Bill / Senate to Consider Bill / Influence of Drug Dealers Working From Prison

NARCOTICS 10 Latin American Reaction to US Measures on Certification or Helms-Burton

IRAN 10-11 Attempts to Acquire Nuclear Missile Technology from South Africa

HUMAN RIGHTS 11-12 Human Rights Watch Report Critical of US / US Leadership Role in Human Rights Efforts / US Efforts to Remove Land Mines


DPB #174

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 4, 1997, 12:50 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the slightly tardy State Department briefing. I have no statements. As you know, there will be a backgrounder this afternoon on the Secretary's trip to Africa.

QUESTION: Are you prepared to talk about the background check of Larry Lawrence when he was nominated in '93?

MR. RUBIN: I am prepared to run through with you the representations that the Department made to the Pentagon -- in particular the Department of the Army - at the time that Ambassador Lawrence died.

Pat Kennedy, then the Assistant Secretary of State for Administration, wrote to the Secretary of the Army making the request that an exception be granted to Department of the Army regulations to permit Ambassador Larry Lawrence to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. That representation included a description of Ambassador Lawrence's service in the United States Merchant Marine, and was also based on a memorandum from Assistant Secretary Holbrooke to Assistant Secretary Kennedy describing Ambassador Lawrence's wartime service.

As I understand it from speaking to Ambassador Holbrooke, his information came from Ambassador Lawrence himself. I gather there was information that was released today suggesting that this is not true. Certainly I can say that at the time the representations were made, there was no reason to believe that it wasn't true. And based on the information released, of course we're going to look into it. I don't know what else one could say about it.

QUESTION: Who does the background checks? Is it the State Department or somebody else?

MR. RUBIN: Well, the vetting process for a presidential appointment includes both the State Department investigative unit -- the Diplomatic Security -- as well as a White House process. I can get you some formal descriptions of how that process works. But I guess it would be fair to say there's a combination, and that will presumably be looked at when we look into this information.

I would also emphasize that one has no reason to believe the new information changes it or doesn't change it. What one has a reason to do is to look into it.

QUESTION: A different subject - can you talk a little bit about the Secretary's meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. Secretary Albright did have a meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister just a few moments ago. It included both a group meeting and a one-on-one meeting.

She told me that she thought it was an excellent discussion. It was designed to prepare for the President's meeting with Prime Minister Yilmaz on the 19th of December. It focused on the central importance of the Turkey- US relationship and that work should be done between now and the time of that meeting to lay out a strategy for the year ahead to focus on issues where we believe we can make progress, including the question of Caspian energy, the subject of human rights, the subject of democratization and, of course, the subject of Greece-Turkey and the bilateral issues there, as well as the prospects for peace in Cyprus, and finally, of course, our efforts in Iraq.

So that was the agenda, and it was hoped that the two sides would work in the coming days and weeks to make the President's meeting with Prime Minister Yilmaz as successful as possible and with an emphasis on those areas.

QUESTION: What specifically are you looking for from the Turks for on Caspian energy issues?

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, that is an area of the world that there are clearly significant resources. I think our position on that is well known -- to ensure that there are multiple access routes for that important energy resource -- and Turkey is obviously a player in that process. As you know, one of the issues that came up recently was the pipeline for Turkmenistan gas.

So there is normally a discussion of the importance that both sides, two NATO allies, have and care about this important energy resource. They talked about the importance of working together to pursue, in our view, the goal of ensuring multiple access routes.

QUESTION: And how about Iraq? What specifically did the Secretary ask of Turkey on Iraq?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I'm not going to get into any specifics of what she asked or what they said back. I can obviously focus on the importance of Operation Northern Watch -- the importance of our mutual interest in seeing Saddam Hussein finally agree to comply with the international community's demands; that he finally and completely allow unfettered, unconditional access to weapons inspection sites; and that is the objective of the United States and Turkey and the entire world.

QUESTION: Does the United States think that Turkey is too involved with Talibani's group, the Kurdish group?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know how to handle that question directly -- too involved, not too involved. When it comes to the question of Turkish action in Northern Iraq, I think our position on that is well known. As far as Turkey's role in maximizing the chances for the cease-fire to be restored, we obviously want to work very closely with Turkey on that subject and we care about it a great deal.

QUESTION: You keep saying Turkey has - you understand Turkey's need to go after terrorists, but that their presence in Northern Iraq should be of a finite duration. They've been there since May. Was there any indication from the Turks that they were prepared to leave?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm not going to tell you what the Turkish Foreign Minister said in a meeting with the Secretary of State. But I can assure you that our view that any intervention or action should be limited in scope and duration and ensure proper regard for human rights is well-known to the Foreign Minister. I don't have any further comment on that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - what did they discuss exactly on the Aegean and Cyprus issues, if you know?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I think in general there's a desire for the United States, as you've seen for many months now, to have both Turkey and Greece work together to resolve problems. The problems are ones you're quite familiar with.

QUESTION: One more question. Do you have an answer to my pending question yesterday on the Aegean issue?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I think we have posted something for you on that, and we'll be happy to --

QUESTION: They told me that it would be on camera, not to post.

MR. RUBIN: No, I think it's going to be posted, or it has been posted.

QUESTION: Jamie, following up one of the questions that Carol had, without telling us what the Turkish Foreign Minister might have said, can you tell us whether he gave the Secretary an indication in terms of duration of the current incursion?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not going to characterize the Turkish Foreign Minister's comments in that regard.

QUESTION: Another subject - an American has been detained by --

MR. RUBIN: Do you have more on Turkey?


QUESTION: An American has been detained by Russian authorities on suspicions of espionage. What can you tell us about Richard Bliss and his present situation?

MR. RUBIN: As I understand it, the Russian investigation is continuing. Mr. Bliss is still being detained, but he has not been charged with espionage.

The Russian-American Consular Convention provides for our regular access to American citizens who have been detained or arrested in Russia. This provision has been fulfilled, and we have had appropriate access to Mr. Bliss.

We are also in frequent telephone contact with Qualcomm's representative in Rostov, who is in touch with Mr. Bliss' attorney. The attorney has full access to Mr. Bliss. An American consular officer visited Mr. Bliss on Monday, December 1, and is returning to Rostov today, December 4.

By Russian law, the authorities must decide by the end of the day on Friday, tomorrow, December 5, whether or not there is enough evidence to charge Mr. Bliss. The basic facts remain unchanged of the case.

QUESTION: In this type of situation, does the American Government actually work on his behalf, or is he working on this on his own? Are you in --

MR. RUBIN: Well, I think I've indicated that he has a lawyer, and I think it's my understanding that he feels the lawyer is doing a good job.

The role of the United States, through the consular services, is to make sure that he is getting proper access to legal treatment, to make sure the Russians are allowing us to see that he's properly treated. Obviously, if the process continues, we occasionally have views as to the appropriateness of the actions. But at this point, he has not been charged.

QUESTION: Does this constitute any kind of precedent? An American working under contract, or at least an American company working under contract with a Russian concern, that they would be exposed to this kind of charge in the course of their duties?

MR. RUBIN: Well, certainly we hope there is a climate in Russia that permits the maximum kind of economic access for our companies to be able to promote developments in Russia that are good for the Russians and good for US companies. We obviously want to promote that environment. But I'm not going to make a comment about the linkage between a case that is still pending and there hasn't even been a charge, and an overall business climate.

QUESTION: Jamie, is this man an employee of the US Government in any way?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not going to comment on that kind of issue because it leads to the obvious next issue, which is the question that we went over in this room a few days ago.

QUESTION: Jamie, the Russians have said now, two days in a row, that Bliss admitted to having illegal equipment.

MR. RUBIN: I can say this - Mr. Bliss is a private sector engineer employed by the Qualcomm Corporation. The firm is working on the installation of a wireless telecommunications telephone network under a legal agreement with a Russian client.

Yes, sorry.

QUESTION: Two days running, the Russians have said Bliss admitted to having illegal equipment on the record at the Foreign Ministry. Can you address that in any way?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have any information on that. I can try to get it for you.

QUESTION: Have you issued any kind of advisories to Americans working in Russia, that given the circumstances where he was arrested basically for possessing something that wasn't declared on his Customs form?

MR. RUBIN: Your questions are all making certain assumptions about the validity of the charges, and therefore, drawing conclusions about what our policy should or shouldn't be.

What I'm prepared to say in this forum is that we are getting consular access; we are trying to be sure that he is treated fairly and that he has a lawyer. As far as drawing conclusions about a case that hasn't even been charged yet, we're not prepared to do that.

QUESTION: Yes, but prior to the pending espionage charge, he was arrested and detained because he did not - say the Russians - because he did not declare on a Customs form that he was bringing into the country GPS equipment. Now, is that the kind of thing --

MR. RUBIN: That information hasn't been presented to me, but I'll certainly look into that and maybe we'll have a view on whether that was appropriate or not.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the Secretary's upcoming --

MR. RUBIN: Same subject? Yes. There's obviously a dearth of information.

QUESTION: I don't know if it was you or another briefer, but one of you all said the other day that he did have proper license or proper permission to bring GPS equipment into country.

MR. RUBIN: Again, I may have - we will try to get you our view of the issue of his equipment, as opposed to the other issue, which is what the Russians are presumably charging him with.

QUESTION: Jamie, also on Russia, but not in that case - have you had a chance to examine the statement by President Yeltsin yesterday about a large troop cut in the Baltic area?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we haven't had an opportunity to study the proposals, but we've had a cursory look at them.

We welcome efforts by all nations in the region to foster stability and enhance regional cooperation. We also note that Russia previously proposed measures designed for further cooperation among Northern European states on economic, social and environmental issues. We support such cooperation, and are willing to participate actively in it.

QUESTION: And do you see any catches, any hookers in it?

MR. RUBIN: Well, other than to say we welcome Russia's efforts to improve relations with its neighbors, but we also respect the inherent right of the Baltic States to choose the means to ensure their own security.

QUESTION: Do you see any connection - indirect or otherwise - with some of the Baltic States' desire to become part of NATO eventually?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I think I just said we welcome Russian efforts to improve relations with its neighbors, but we also respect the inherent right of the Baltic States to choose the means to ensure their own security.

QUESTION: Yes, on Cuba, do you have anything on the migration talks that were held in Havana this week?

MR. RUBIN: The United States and Cuba have been meeting to discuss migration matters since 1980. During these meetings, we reiterated our commitment to their full implementation. The United States has meet the goal of issuing 20,000 travel authorizations in each of the three years since the September 1994 accord.

We believe the accords are achieving their central purpose of encouraging safe, legal and orderly migration between our two countries. These talks were technical in nature, and we had a full, comprehensive, constructive and frank discussion of all the matters related to the implementation of the accords. The atmosphere in the talks was very business-like, and the talks dealt exclusively with migratory matters.

QUESTION: The Cuban Government radio says that during these talks the Cuban Government protested for the improvement of the signal of TV Marti.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I can say that the Cuban Government has expressed concern about TV Marti testing of UHF signals. The Libertad Act mandates conversion of Television Marti broadcasting to Cuba to ultra-high frequency broadcasting.

The United States Government observes all pertinent international agreements concerning broadcasting. This is a highly technical and legalistic field, and so I will try to get you any further information you might need on the specific rationales for the different frequencies.

QUESTION: And on the hunger strikes, do you have anything?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, we understand that 11 members of a human rights group in the Province of Santa Clara began a fast. They're consuming liquids. The fast began on October 9th to protest the arrest of one of their members. That member, apparently, has since been released, but other members of the group have been arrested in the interim.

The United States strongly condemns the arrest of persons solely because they are peacefully seeking to exercise fundamental rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Cuba is a party. We call on the Cuban Government to release pro-democracy and human rights activists and to take the steps necessary to guarantee the exercise of fundamental freedoms.

QUESTION: On another subject, Netanyahu said as he was departing for Europe that he's not going with a defined plan on a pull back, that nothing's been hammered out yet. Is that the state of affairs that the Secretary had been hoping to hear as she prepares to set out?

MR. RUBIN: Obviously, we're not going to make a preemptive comment on exactly what we would react to what Prime Minister Netanyahu would bring, since we haven't even left the United States yet.

I can say that Secretary Albright expects to have a very serious, substantive discussion on all the elements of the four-part agenda including, and especially, the question of the further redeployment of Israeli forces. And she expects, and has no reason to doubt, that there will be a full discussion of all the substantive elements of that. Whether someone calls that a plan or not a plan, I don't know. But she does expect, and has no reason to doubt, there will be a full substantive discussion that would merit her going to Paris to have such a meeting.

QUESTION: Because he also said that he's going to discuss with the Secretary of State their train of thought, as he put it, is there a danger that this is going to become like an intellectual exercise and nothing comes out of it?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I think, as I indicated in response to the last questioner, that we have every reason to expect that this will be a substantive discussion on all the elements of the four-part agenda, including and especially a focus on the substantive aspects of the further redeployment. And so I don't have any particular comment on how one characterizes substance. What we're looking for is substance; we expect to have substance; she's going on the expectation that she will discuss substance; and I suspect when we're done we will say that we talked substantively.

QUESTION: Is there any possibility that the talks this weekend with Prime Minister Netanyahu will set up a meeting between President Clinton and Netanyahu next week?

MR. RUBIN: I have not heard that as being the program or any timeline sketched out of that kind. But again, we don't normally announce proposed Presidential meetings from this podium. But I've not heard that particular discussion.

QUESTION: Back to Iraq.

MR. RUBIN: Okay.

QUESTION: Any comment, Jamie, on Baghdad's renewed demands to set limits and terms for the UN inspection team?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. The bottom line is that so long as Iraq doesn't get the message that it must comply fully and unconditionally with the requirements of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions -- which specify unconditional, unrestricted, unfettered access to all the sites that UNSCOM, the UN inspectors, think they need, we're not going to be out of the woods on this issue.

We will be fully supporting Ambassador Butler's trip and his effort to get the kind of access that he needs to do his job; and that job is a job that was given to him by the entire world through the United Nations Security Council. It's one that the statement yesterday demonstrates the entire Security Council supports. And he will need unrestricted, unfettered, unconditional access to locations in Iraq that he deems necessary to determine not only what Iraq may or may not have imported, but what Iraq may or may not have destroyed, and what capabilities Iraq may or may not have to develop weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: But it's not a good sign that Tariq Aziz, at this point, is sending another letter to the UN trying to spell out conditions.

MR. RUBIN: Well, we have never stated that this is over. We have made very clear for some days and weeks now that we need to see unfettered, unconditional, unrestricted access. This has been a problem for some time. It preceded the recent decision, and then reversal of that decision, by Iraq to try to determine who the inspectors would be.

It's been going on for some time. And until Iraq gets the message and allows unconditional, unfettered, unrestricted access, we're going to be continuing to talk about this subject. And as you know, as Secretary Cohen indicated, this is a matter of great concern to the United States and no options have been excluded.

QUESTION: Just one more question, Jamie. Do you think that there's any chance the UN or the US would bow to Russian pressure to accept Iraq's promise that it has dismantled its nuclear program?

MR. RUBIN: That's easy: no. I wouldn't accept the premise of the question, that the Russians would ever impose such pressure; except to say that if that hypothetical happened, I will break the hypothetical rule and answer the question "no".

QUESTION: This is on Colombia. Do you have any statement or comment about the law that the Colombian House passed this week, about the jail time?

MR. RUBIN: We understand a penal reform bill was passed Tuesday in the Chamber of Deputies. But we have not had a chance to fully review the legislation.

Based on what we have heard so far, we believe such an initiative would be a serious step backwards in Colombia's efforts to reform its judicial system and combat the problem of impunity.

It has always been our position that criminals, including the drug kingpins currently incarcerated in Colombia, should serve sentences commensurate with their crimes, and that the already inadequate sentences given to the kingpins should not be reduced in any way.

We urge the Colombian Senate to vote down this legislation, and the Colombian Government to bring its influence to bear on the Congress to stop this bill in its tracks.

QUESTION: Do you think it's a new sign of the influence of the drug dealers from prison - working from prison?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not going to try to analyze the motivations of members of the Chamber of Deputies. What I am prepared to say, as I just did quite strongly, is we think this is a serious step backwards, and we hope the senate and the government join together in stopping this bill in its tracks.

QUESTION: The United States doesn't see these actions by the Congress of Colombia as a legitimate step according to their laws or unilateral laws. Why is the United States trying to influence the senate to vote against this measure when nobody from Latin America is trying to influence the Congress of the United States in decisions like the certification process?

MR. RUBIN: They don't.

QUESTION: Why are you trying to --

MR. RUBIN: I mean, there are so many false premises in that question, I don't know where to begin. But let me state it this way: Often when I don't express our views on a possible action of another government, many of you in this room criticize us for not having a position on a possible action in another country.

Obviously, drugs and the fight against drugs are extremely important to the United States, and we think it's appropriate for us to express our views; and we have just done so.

QUESTION: But you don't think this kind of actions are emerging in Latin America in reaction to the imposition of unilateral measures by the United States, like the certification or the Helms-Burton?

MR. RUBIN: In your last question, you put forward the position that nobody in Latin America has ever questioned the legislation in the Congress of the United States, which is obviously not true.

QUESTION: There was a report that the president of the IAEA saying that the Iraqis are not rebuilding their nuclear program. Are you satisfied yourselves? Do you agree with him?

MR. RUBIN: Since resuming inspection operations November 22, the IAEA has visited known nuclear related facilities in Iraq to determine if any proscribed activity took place during the suspension of inspection and monitoring operations.

To date, the IAEA has not detected an effort by Iraq to resume operations during the suspension of inspection and monitoring operations. It continues to take steps to restore continuity in monitoring operations.

The IAEA's position is clear. While it has removed, destroyed or rendered harmless known elements of Iraq's nuclear program, it still cannot close the nuclear file or shut down this problem because, as it stated in its October report to the UN Security Council, for example, Iraq has yet to provide information about its procurement and concealment efforts, which are obviously very important.

The IAEA has done an excellent job in its efforts to uncover Iraq's nuclear program in the face of continuing Iraqi concealment efforts.

QUESTION: Is this progress on this issue - (inaudible)? You don't consider this progress by doing that?

MR. RUBIN: That sounds like a lot of reports that I saw in New York over a long period of time - sounds pretty similar; namely, the first point that it has removed, destroyed or rendered harmless known elements of Iraq's nuclear program. Iraq has yet to provide information about its procurement and concealment efforts.

I think if you go back and look at the IAEA's various reporting over recent months, you will find those two sentences very familiar.

QUESTION: Do you have any guidance on yesterday's question about whether Iran is trying to acquire nuclear missile technology from South Africa?

MR. RUBIN: We are aware of a variety of press reports, dating back several months, suggesting that Iranian officials have requested South African assistance in providing Iran with technology which could assist development of a nuclear weapons program.

One report alleged that a meeting between South African and Iranian nuclear officials occurred in South Africa in 1996. In response to that report, South African officials publicly clarified many inaccuracies in the report.

The United States has high confidence in South Africa's commitment to its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty not to assist efforts of any other countries - including Iran - to acquire nuclear weapons. South Africa's solid nuclear nonproliferation credentials are well-known to us. In addition to being a signatory to the NPT, it played a significant role - a leadership role - in securing indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995. It is a member of the nuclear suppliers' group, and voluntarily abandoned its own nuclear weapons program in 1992.

Iran, on the other hand, remains a significant and serious concern. We believe Iran continues actively to attempt to develop nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction capabilities, in violation of the Non- Proliferation Treaty and other international nonproliferation treaties and arrangements.

QUESTION: Have you seen the report by Human Rights Watch, which is very critical of the United States?

MR. RUBIN: I have not.

QUESTION: Okay. (Inaudible) -- is criticized on land mines, on use of children of soldiers and on the international criminal court issue. But obviously you can't respond, because you haven't seen it.

MR. RUBIN: I will try to get us a response for the record. I can make some preliminary responses. The United States has been a leader in trying to create the international court to prosecute violations of humanitarian law.

Secretary Albright herself played a leadership role on that in her time at the United Nations. President Clinton is one of the leaders in that effort. He gave a speech in Connecticut, laying out the needs of that court. So any suggestion the United States has not been a leader in trying to create an international humanitarian legal instrument like a court is obviously ridiculous.

As far as the land mines are concerned, I think you're quite familiar with our position. We believe we have been a leader in the fight to de-mine and stop the danger of mines from killing and maiming innocent children. I think there is no question that the United States spends more money and effort than all the other nations in the world combined to try to de-mine those locations where there are mines that have been laid.

So there's no question we've played a leadership role in trying to fight the land mine problem. We obviously have a difference of view with other governments as to whether the signing of this treaty is necessary to try to continue work on this problem. But to suggest that we are not leading in that fight, I think, is ridiculous.

QUESTION: In the report, Human Rights Watch says that the United States has an attitude of forgiveness in terms of the war on drugs, and also by the economic and commercial interests --

MR. RUBIN: I think I started down a road I will be sorry about. But, yes, please continue.

QUESTION: Well, that was my question. Do you have any answer that they said the United States don't pursue the human rights abuses --

MR. RUBIN: That specific charge, claim, assertion, analysis, I haven't seen. I think I could have surmised the rationale for the Human Rights Watch report's analysis of our position on those other two issues, which is why I was prepared to react to them. But I'll be happy to take a look at that specific issue.

QUESTION: Kind of a follow-up. Part of the criticism is that because of the record of the US in human rights, they have lost some of the moral authority to request respect for human rights in other countries.

MR. RUBIN: I think that if you look around the world and you ask the people of the world which nation they look to as the beacon for human rights, democracy and freedom, there's no question the answer will be the United States.

That's a nice high note to end on.

(The briefing concluded at 1:25 P.M.)

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