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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #176, 97-12-08

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
Off-Camera Daily Press Briefing


Monday, December 8, 1997

Briefer: James B. Foley

1		US-Turkey Joint Economic Commission
8-9		Update on Investigation into Burial of Amb. Lawrence at
		  Arlington National Cemetery

UNITED NATIONS 1,9 Status of PA Representation at UN

BOSNIA 1-3 Results of Parliamentary Elections in Republika Srpska 3-4 RS Officials' Commitment to Dayton Process/Ethnic Reconciliation 4 Timetable for a Decision on US Troop Presence Post-SFOR

IRAN 5 OIC Summit Draft Resolution on Israel 5 Comparison of OIC Summit to Doha Economic Conference 5-6 Iraqi Officials' Travel and UN Travel Sanction in Resolution 1137 10-11 Possible Signs of Reform/Moderation in Iranian Activity

AFGHANISTAN 6 Taleban Officials Meeting with Asst. Secretary Inderfurth

GREECE 6-8 License for F15-E Fighter Demonstration Flights 7 Effect on Stability in Aegean Region

RUSSIA 9-10 Update on Case of Richard Bliss/Congressional Letter


DPB #176

Briefer: James B. Foley

MONDAY, DECEMBER 8, 1997 1:00 P.M

MR. FOLEY: Welcome. I have no announcements to read. I'm going to post something. We've been asked in the last week about the US-Turkey Joint Economic Commission, which will be taking place here today and tomorrow in Washington. I have an announcement on that we'll post in the Press Office after the briefing.

QUESTION: I understand the question of the desirability of a Palestinian state is going to come up before the UN tomorrow. Do you know anything about that?

MR. FOLEY: I'm not aware of that, George. I think the issue that was before the UN was dealt with last week and was supposed to come up tomorrow at the UN. It had to do with an upgrade of the Palestinians' status at the UN, which we opposed. As I understand it, it will be addressed tomorrow; we hope, satisfactorily.

QUESTION: What would be satisfactory?

MR. FOLEY: That no action will be taken on an upgrade of the status of the mission there.

QUESTION: The Bosnian Serb vote doesn't seem to have produced the results that you might have wanted. I'm wondering what your analysis and judgment of it are?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I think that one could argue that the cup is actually half-full, and not merely half-empty.

We regard the results as indicating really a substantial expansion of pluralism in the Republika Srpska electorate. No party or coalition, indeed, has enough seats to dominate the assembly.

Yesterday the OSCE announced its provisional results; but final results are pending completion of the appeals process, which should take until next week. So we can't give any sort of definitive reaction until that's completed.

But you're referring to the fact that the Pale party, the SDS, has more seats than others, apparently, based on these provisional results. But we would note that even if that party, the SDS, joins forces with the SRS radicals, they would still be three short of a majority. This represents a significant decrease in the number of seats that the SDS held in the last assembly.

So we would rather conclude that the results show that the people of the Republika Srpska are simply fed up with the corruption and the stagnation that has characterized the RS leadership until now in the assembly.

Now, the next step after the appeals process will be for the new assembly to hold its first session by December 22, and to begin the process to form a new government. We believe that the time now has come for all the parties in the Republika Srpska to work together pragmatically to break the gridlock of Republika Srpska politics, and cooperate on Dayton implementation.

It's unclear as of now, and we won't know until later this month, how the parties, in whatever numbers they are represented, will work together to constitute a government, but we would look towards the formation of a moderate government that can effectively work with the international community to address the real needs of its residents. That's really the yardstick that we're going to be applying towards the formation of the government.

QUESTION: But let's look at the other side of the equation, and that is that Plavsic did not win. Her party did not win, despite the heavy investment of support and other kinds of interventional activities by the United States and its allies. So the election certainly is not an endorsement of Dayton, and it's not an endorsement of those who support Dayton.

MR. FOLEY: Well, I would challenge that on several grounds. First of all, I think that you have to recognize the fact that the Republika Srpska had been in the iron grip of a fairly totalitarian political party and system over the last several years, and that the progress towards greater openness and pluralism has really been dramatic over the last six months, the last half-year. I don't think anyone in the international community expected, for example, that Madame Plavsic's party, which was newly formed and was running against the SDS juggernaut, was going to win a majority in this election.

I think, if you look at it over time, we would conclude that the forces in the Republika Srpska that want to work with the international community on the basis of Dayton are increasing in strength. I would also point out that there's going to be another parliamentary election in the Republika Srpska next year, I believe in September. So I think you have to look at this over the longer run.

And I would also venture to guess that, if anyone took a fair and free public opinion sample across the Republika Srpska, you would find solid majority support in favor of a stabilization of the situation, against a return to the conflict, in favor of the reestablishment of economic links between the Republika Srpska, the rest of Bosnia, and the outside world, and we believe that there is significant momentum in favor of Dayton, in favor of working with the international community.

So I would not rush to judgment on these elections. First, we have to see the final results; secondly, how the government is put together. I would note that we believe that President Milosevic has an important role to play in this regard, because the party that is associated with his own party in Serbia won a certain number of seats, I believe nine, provisionally. We have called upon him, privately and publicly, to play a constructive role. He has signed Dayton. He has committed himself to the use of his influence in favor of implementation of Dayton. We expect to see that reflected as the new government takes shape in the Republika Srpska.

QUESTION: Has he given any indication that he's sympathetic to your view -- Milosevic?

MR. FOLEY: He's indicated to us privately his commitment to Dayton and commitment to helping to resolve the political stand-off in the Republika Srpska in that direction.

QUESTION: Did he say straight out that he would urge or direct his supporters or his allies to align themselves with Plavsic?

MR. FOLEY: I know that Ambassador Gelbard has impressed upon him the need for him to play a constructive role as this political situation unfolds and develops in the Republika Srpska. I believe he has indicated to Ambassador Gelbard that he is prepared to play that role.

Obviously, we'll have to withhold judgment until we see how the coalition politics play out over the course of the next few weeks in the Republika Srpska.

QUESTION: You said you saw progress on a number of fronts, but I don't think you mentioned ethnic reconciliation. What are your views on that?

MR. FOLEY: I think, George, that's the hardest nut to crack, if you will; the one that will take the longest time. When you consider the nature of the warfare - and it was civil warfare, which, of course, is historically the worst kind of warfare - that occurred in Bosnia, those kinds of wounds take the longest to heal.

I think that Dayton represents a willingness on the part of the people of Bosnia to put the war behind them. I think the implementation of Dayton thus far reflects a willingness on most sides - and certainly, I would say, on the part of a majority of the people of Bosnia - to begin to stitch together again the economic ties that formerly bound them, and that can link them once again to the wider Europe and to the international community.

But the point you raise - the question of the restoration of a spirit of good-neighborliness and civilized behavior towards each other - I think the evidence is anecdotal that there is a willingness on the part of most Bosnians to try to bury hatreds and to live together as they once did. But I agree with you completely, this is the one that will take the longest time.

It is our belief that as peace continues - and we've had peace there for two years now - as it continues and grows more deeply rooted, that we will indeed see reconstitution of personal ties. But that's going to take the longest.

QUESTION: I just want to get this straight. You want Milosevic to meddle in an election in another country? Is that what you're calling for here?

MR. FOLEY: I didn't say that at all, Sid. That's a rather liberal construction of what I said.

QUESTION: Well, if you're going to look at Republika Srpska in Serbia?

MR. FOLEY: You asked whether we favor meddling in elections. The elections have taken place; they've been supervised by the OSCE. The OSCE deemed the elections to have been well-run. I have no reason to challenge that.

We're talking now about the parties that emerged from the election and their willingness to work with each other on the basis of a platform of implementing the Dayton accords. We call upon not only President Milosevic, but anyone with influence to help influence the decisions of those parties in a positive and constructive direction. That's what we're trying to do on our side.

QUESTION: But you seem to be indicating that he has a little more direct role to play than you. What do you - I mean, this party, he controls nine seats?

MR. FOLEY: I didn't say he controls nine seats. I said the party that is a sister party of his own party in Serbia, provisionally, I think, has been judged to have won nine seats. To the extent that he has influence, we call upon him to play a positive role.

QUESTION: Is there any kind of a timetable yet for the decision on troops? And is Mr. Hoagland correct in his column that a decision has been made that there will be no exit date?

MR. FOLEY: Well, you pack a lot of assumptions into that question. I don't have the article before me that you're referring to; so I'd hesitate to comment on it.

Your question presupposes, however, that a decision has been made on a continuation of a military presence in Bosnia upon the expiration of SFOR's mandate this coming summer; and that's not true.

QUESTION: Actually, I'm just asking whether there's a timetable yet for when such decision will be made and when it will be announced?

MR. FOLEY: As I understand it, NATO defense ministers began to address that subject last week in Brussels. They agreed that NATO foreign ministers, when they meet in Brussels next week, will provide political guidance to the NATO military authorities to begin to develop options - a range of options - to cover possible scenarios beyond June of next year. They're going to provide political guidance to the work of the military authorities.

I think it's obvious that this decision that will need to be made by NATO and by its member states, including the United States, is not something that can be delayed well into the spring. I don't have a timetable for when the NATO military authorities will be reporting back with options to the North Atlantic Council. We might know more about that next week when the foreign ministers meet in Brussels.

QUESTION: In Tehran, some of the Islamic countries, they prepared some kind of joint declaration against Israeli-Turkish military cooperation, not only against Turkey, wherever there is cooperation with Israel, they are planning to condemn, and they urge that. Do you have any reaction on the subject?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I'm not going to comment on each and every report about what may be happening in Tehran, because that conference is still in progress. It's going on, I believe, for another couple of days. So I'd rather wait until the OIC meeting is over to provide our assessment of it after its conclusion.

But I can just say in general terms that we think that Israel's integration into the region is part and parcel of what we think needs to happen in order for there to be an overall settlement of the Middle East problem. So that's something that, obviously, we've been encouraging for quite some time now. And we have welcomed, in particular, the cooperation that has developed between Turkey and Israel.

QUESTION: On that subject, have you noticed a difference in attendance of the Arab countries in Tehran, as opposed to Doha; and do you draw any conclusions from that?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I was asked this question, Jim, last week, so I can repeat, more or less, what I said then. We see it as comparing apples and oranges. They are really completely different kinds of events. The OIC is a long-standing, international organization with nation states as members, and it meets fairly frequently. The Doha conference is a public-private sector conference that was only recently established, with completely different aims and purposes. So I wouldn't want to compare the two in any way.

QUESTION: Well, both, in a sense, are political in the way that they reflect the political shifts in the Middle East. Do you see any discernible changes in the way that the US-supported conference did not receive automatic support from the Arab world, and this conference apparently did?

MR. FOLEY: I wouldn't read anything into the fact that this conference is well-attended. The OIC is a long-standing, international organization. I believe it meets at this level -- I think it's every three years. And it's no surprise that the Islamic countries of the world will be sending delegations to attend this meeting. From the United States Government's standpoint, I would read nothing into that.

The Doha conference is a completely different matter, and I'm not going to rehearse for you what we said in the weeks preceding Doha, during the Doha conference, and our assessment of it afterwards. We believe that it was a successful meeting, especially given the difficult circumstances, the crisis of confidence in the Middle East that the Secretary is trying to address and to turn around; but I wouldn't compare the two.

QUESTION: Under the new Iraqi sanctions, would the Vice President be allowed to go to this conference?

MR. FOLEY: Well, that's a good question, but it's hypothetical at this point, because I believe that the Security Council is only now in the process of determining procedures to implement the travel sanctions that were contained in Resolution 1137; and this is not yet completed.

QUESTION: So it doesn't really - it hasn't really gone into effect?

MR. FOLEY: It hasn't kicked in yet, no. They're still working on that.

QUESTION: Representatives from the Taliban government are meeting today, or have met today with Secretary Inderfurth. Can you shed some light on that? And also, who set up the meeting?

MR. FOLEY: I don't have for you at whose initiative the meeting was set up. But you're right, Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs Inderfurth, I believe, has now met with the Taliban delegation that was headed by the Acting Minister of Mines and Industry, Ahmad Jan.


MR. FOLEY: It's in the Department.

QUESTION: When was that?

MR. FOLEY: Today, it was scheduled for today. I can't confirm to you that it's already taken place, as your question indicated.

But I would describe the meeting that was part of our general policy of being in regular contact with all Afghan factions. The meeting with the Taliban leaders provides us with the opportunity to reinforce our message of concern over Taliban behavior, particularly on human rights and the treatment of women and girls.

QUESTION: I want to ask you about the decision of the US Government to give its consent for the F-15 fighter to be among other planes that Greece will consider to purchase. Since only four countries in the world, including the US, have this plane, how significant is this decision for the US-Greek bilateral relationship?

MR. FOLEY: Well, this is a preliminary decision, if you will. The Department of State last week authorized the manufacturer of the F-15E fighter to conduct demonstration flights in Greece as part of its efforts to compete for a proposed Greek Air Force purchase of advanced fighter aircraft.

The Department of State previously had issued a similar license to the manufacturer of the F-16. We understand a number of European fighters are also in competition.

Senior State Department officials carefully deliberated over this decision to license the marketing of this sophisticated aircraft to ensure consistency with our interests in supporting the legitimate force modernization goals of NATO allies, promoting US industry and ensuring stability in Southern Europe

But what this decision does is to authorize the marketing of this aircraft to Greece. In order to allow this company to compete fairly, if the Greek Government were to select an American aircraft for purchase, then the State Department would have to decide at that time whether to authorize such a sale.

QUESTION: And Turkey already has the F-16; is that correct?

MR. FOLEY: I believe so.

QUESTION: So there would be no upset of the strategic balance in the Aegean, for instance?

MR. FOLEY: Well, there is some - obviously, that is one of the three considerations that I just mentioned - our concern for American industry; our concern for the legitimate force modernization needs of an important NATO ally. But we have to weigh - and that's why we approach these kinds of decisions with a spirit of very careful deliberation; because we have to weigh the impact in the Aegean so we contribute to stability, not to the reverse in any such decision.

QUESTION: And it's your analysis that this would not create additional instability - putting the two air forces on a par?

MR. FOLEY: Well, Sid, I don't want to answer a hypothetical question, because as I indicated, this decision enables the US manufacturer to go forward and demonstrate and market the aircraft. We'll cross the bridge when we come to it, if indeed the Greek Government decides that it wants to make an American purchase.

QUESTION: But are you saying, then, that the United States made no judgment about the effect on stability in allowing this at least preparatory phase to go forward?

MR. FOLEY: I think the answer is contained in your question - it's a preparatory phase. The tough decision will come if the Greek Government decides it wants to purchase from an American manufacturer. So I'm not prepared to characterize that question at this time.

QUESTION: But the answer must be yes, from what you said, that - because you're saying that decision about the effect on stability will be decided if Greece, in fact, selects an American.

MR. FOLEY: We'll have to make that call at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: Why would you go through this whole, probably rather costly for the manufacturer, at least, exercise, if you hadn't given them some sort of preliminary idea that you would let them sell the planes?

MR. FOLEY: I'm not aware of any preliminary ideas or indications of that kind. I would just prefer to stick to what I've been saying, which is that this enables the marketing to go forward, and we'll make the policy call, if you will, if we have to; and we haven't faced that yet.

QUESTION: I don't mean to belabor it, but it just seems to me that the policy question is so fundamental to the decision, both in terms of Greece's going through this exercise of selecting a producer, and the producer's exercise of trying to sell its wares, that if in fact you thought this would hurt the stability of the area, you have to say it straight out. You couldn't like say - you couldn't defer.

MR. FOLEY: Well, that's interesting speculation, but I'm not prepared to join you on that, at least from the podium.

QUESTION: Why are you letting the company go forward with this? What's the rationale behind that?

MR. FOLEY: To enable them to compete for the potential sale. We deemed that it was prudent to allow this to go forward. It doesn't prejudge the final decision, if we need to take it.

We can keep going on this, but I really have nothing more to offer you on the subject.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR. FOLEY: Okay. You decide.

QUESTION: You were first.

QUESTION: All right. Would you update us on the State Department's findings in the matter of the late Ambassador Lawrence's background?

MR. FOLEY: I really don't have anything new today. Let me be clear, because we faced this question last week, upon the receipt of Congressman Everett's letter. It's obviously raised troubling implications and very serious questions. The President spoke to that on Friday, and he noted that the State Department is conducting an investigation. I'm not going to be in a position to discuss piecemeal how this investigation is proceeding, except to say that this has our highest priority, and we are conducting an extremely thorough investigation. As soon as we're in a position to describe the results of the investigation, we will do so, but not on an interim basis.

QUESTION: Is there a timetable for it to end?

MR. FOLEY: As soon as possible. I can't tell you when we're going to be finished. I don't think it's going to be a matter of weeks, though.

QUESTION: Who is conducting the investigation?

MR. FOLEY: The Office of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

QUESTION: Can you speak at all to tomorrow's vote on the possibility of the Palestinian people being recognized at a higher level by the United Nations?

MR. FOLEY: I spoke to that at the beginning of the briefing.

QUESTION: Oh, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Mr. Bliss was released over the weekend. I'm wondering if you've gotten a response to your protest to the Russian Government concerning the charges -- whether there's any indication that they might be dropped.

MR. FOLEY: Well, the Russians - first of all, we welcomed his release; we were pleased with it. We felt his detention was unjustified. We believe the charges are groundless, and we've made that clear, I think, very forcefully from this podium and in our meetings and discussions with Russian Government officials.

So it is a positive step that he has been released, but the charges remain, and we would like to see them dropped. We understand, from the Russian Government that they are continuing their investigation and we have urged them to complete the investigation promptly and to resolve the matter promptly.

Mr. Bliss is in good shape. He's in Rostov now; he's been meeting with a consular representative from our embassy in Moscow. He's been conferring with his Russian lawyer. And as I said, we hope that the matter will be resolved as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Congress sent a letter. Some number of congressmen signed a letter to President Yeltsin, weighing in on this issue in the same vein you are. But they have a little more direct - can have a more direct effect on the purse strings right now. Do you think Congress should be weighing into this right now? Have you seen the letter?

MR. FOLEY: I've not seen the letter. But we share the concerns of members of the US Congress that this incident be resolved quickly and not be allowed to complicate relations, particularly in the economic and commercial field.

We stated on Friday our concern that if this matter were not resolved promptly and in a satisfactory manner, that it might have a chilling effect on the ability of American business to participate in and contribute positively to the further development of Russian economic reforms and integration into the world economy.

I have not seen the letter that you're referring to, but I'm certain that the congressional and Administration concerns are one and the same in this matter.

QUESTION: Direct American financial assistance - could it also have a chilling effect on that?

MR. FOLEY: I wouldn't want to comment on that. I think it is simply a matter of fact that if legitimate businessmen cannot go about and do their business overseas in any country - in this case, in Russia - it will have a chilling effect; and I think not only on American business, but on the ability of the private sector worldwide to contribute positively to Russian economic development. I think that's simply a fact of life.

QUESTION: Don't you think the chilling effect has already happened, though? I mean, the trick now would be to undo the damage they've done for foreign investors. Would you not agree with that?

MR. FOLEY: I wouldn't, no. I wouldn't want to draw larger conclusions yet on the basis of the incident that took place. We believe a mistake has taken place. It's time to rectify the mistake and to move on. Mistakes are made in life, and we don't see that this would have a long-term negative consequence, provided that it is addressed promptly.

QUESTION: Who made this mistake? Was this the FSB; was this the central government? Who made the mistake?

MR. FOLEY: I'm not in a position to speculate on that. I really don't know.

QUESTION: Well, it was the Russians. I mean, obviously --

MR. FOLEY: The authorities in Russia, yes.

QUESTION: Just one more - a follow on the subject of the Islamic conference in Iran. Iran is making themselves out to be a reforming government. Is there any signs that Iran is turning away from its pariah activities of terrorism and other subversion?

MR. FOLEY: Without going too much over old ground, we noted the election of President Khatemi as an interesting development - one that we hoped would translate into a response to the desire of millions of average Iranians for a better life and a better connection with the world, dependent, in our view, also on changes in the Iranian Government's policies in regard to serious issues of concern: terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and efforts to undermine the Middle East peace process.

We've not seen changes in Iranian behavior on those international subjects.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you think the OIC conference is an opportunity for Iran to show that it has a moderate --

MR. FOLEY: Well, in the areas of concern that we have, they'll have to show moderation in those areas. A conference does not change in policy in those areas make.

(The briefing concluded at 1:30 p.m.)

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