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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #52, 99-04-26

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

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>


664

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

I N D E X

Monday, April 26, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

RUSSIA
1	Deputy Secretary Talbott to arrive in Moscow shortly, to discuss 
	 Kosovo.
1	US believes Russia can play constructive role.
2	US has received many Russian assurances that it does not want to 
	 enter the conflict.
10	Explosive device detonated near US Consulate General Yekaterinburg 
	 April 24. Local authorities are investigating.

FRY (KOSOVO) 1,3 A credible international force must have NATO at its core. 3 NATO would welcome endorsement of security force by UNSC once Milosevic agrees to allow it to enter Kosovo, along with other NATO requirements. 1,3 If NATO were not at the core of a peacekeeping force, not likely displaced and refugee Kosovar Albanians would return. 2,4 NATO will be looking at variety of ways to keep oil from getting to FRY. 4 NATO won't lose sleep if Milosevic is replaced. 5 ICRC was not permitted to meet privately with prisoners, nor examine them medically.

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 5,6 US view is that both sides should implement Wye and Oslo elements. 5,6 After Israeli elections, accelerated permanent status talks should successfully conclude within one year. 6 Their incentive should be to enjoy the benefits of peace. 6 US calls on both parties to continue to cooperate, carry out their commitments. 7 Appropriate to resume negotiations after Israeli elections. 7,9 US opposes unilateral declaration of statehood; Chairman Arafat understands US view. 8 US urges both sides to avoid steps which could complicate volatile Jerusalem issue.

JAPAN 8 US welcomes Diet deliberations on important defense legislation.

ERITREA-ETHIOPIA 9 US supports implementation of OAU framework agreement, beginning with an immediate cease-fire.

COLOMBIA 9-10 US still studying National Police letter to Speaker Hastert on counter-narcotics funding.


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #52

MONDAY, APRIL 26, 1999, 1:30 P.M.

(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the State Department briefing on this post-summit Monday. I have no opening comments, other than to say that I will have a statement on the killing in Guatemala of Bishop Gerardi after the briefing. With that announcement, let me go to your questions.

QUESTION: Secretary Talbott is in Moscow. Could you tell us what he's doing?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. Deputy Secretary Talbott should be arriving shortly in Moscow. We expect him to be meeting with the Russian leadership on the subject of Kosovo. Clearly, we have had an ongoing dialogue with Russia on the subject of Kosovo. We think Russia has a constructive role to play. Secretary Albright has been consulting very closely with Foreign Minister Ivanov for some time now with the objective of bringing Russia into the mainstream of Western requirements for the resolution of this conflict.

When you hear about diplomatic solutions, what you're hearing about is diplomatic ways and means to implement the requirements that NATO has set forth. To the extent that we can have Russia agreeing with us on what those objectives are, it will be easier to talk about ways and means to achieve those objectives.

But so far, we and Russia have agreed on many of the objectives. I won't review them all with you, but they basically entail getting the refugees who were expelled back and creating a situation where the Serb forces - the military, police and paramilitary forces - are out.

With respect to what an international force would look like, we have not yet agreed with Russia. We believe that it must be a credible international force with NATO at its core for two very simple reasons. First of all, because in the absence of that, we do not believe the Kosovar Albanians will return. They will look to NATO and US participation as the key to unlocking their willingness to return. Secondly, we've made clear our participation - American participation - requires that NATO have the core command and control responsibility. That has not changed.

So Deputy Secretary Talbott will be talking to the Russians about what transpired between former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and the Belgrade leadership in Belgrade, and making clear again what our objectives are and trying to move the Russians, by force of argument and persuasiveness, closer and closer to those objectives. The closer Russia comes to NATO's objectives, the closer it is to have an agreed set of objectives by which diplomatic ways and means can resolve this conflict on the terms NATO has laid down.

QUESTION: But isn't there a big gap on the oil embargo?

MR. RUBIN: Well, on that subject, where we are there is that I think that the NATO leaders, over the weekend, made so clear their intent to make sure that oil is not going in by ship to Belgrade and to the Serb military machine so that the Serb military machine can be fueled from outside when we are destroying its ability to be fueled from inside. So I understand the situation; NATO's military authorities will be working on a concept of operations tomorrow and the next day.

The Russian position is that they don't want to enter into this conflict. When they did send humanitarian supplies into Belgrade, they did it through Hungary and there was an agreement reached by which those supplies excluded potential petroleum or oil or lubricants that could have serviced the Serb war machine. So we have been assured, as President Clinton was assured in his most recent conversations and Secretary Albright has been assured in all of her conversations, or most of them, that the Russians do not want to enter this conflict.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions. The Russians have said, however, that they do intend to continue supplying Yugoslavia with fuel which is being contracted for. Is that something that NATO is prepared to accept? And secondly, how do you interpret the various remarks made by Mr. Draskovic over the last 24 hours? Do you see this as a sign of a split in the Yugoslav leadership, or is this some kind of ploy?

MR. RUBIN: With respect to the first, I'd prefer to wait until the concept of operations has been formulated to speculate as to what would happen if and when a shipment came in. What I'm telling you is that we're working on - the military authorities are working on a way to ensure that oil does not go in. The Russians have indicated they don't want to enter this conflict. So I don't want to speculate on hypothetical shipments that may or may not exist or may or may not be delivered until that concept of operations has been formulated.

With respect to Mr. Draskovic, to the extent that Mr. Draskovic's comments reflect a recognition of reality that has been sadly missing in Belgrade, that's fine. To the extent he has recognized that NATO is getting stronger every day; that NATO's leaders -- contrary to what may have been hoped in Belgrade -- came to Washington and left with a stronger determination to pursue an intensified air campaign; and that at least somebody in Belgrade realizes that all the forces are going against Belgrade's activities - again, that's fine with us. To the extent that Mr. Draskovic recognized that Serbia is becoming more and more isolated, weaker and weaker every day, while NATO is getting stronger and stronger every day, again that's fine with us. To what extent he reflects the leadership in Belgrade has always been an open question, and I don't intend to speculate on it.

QUESTION: Your NATO counterpart this morning mentioned something about the US drafting the particulars about the oil embargo with the UN. Do you know anything about that?

MR. RUBIN: I think the accounts I heard about my namesake's briefing referred to a possible UN endorsement of a peacekeeping force, not the oil embargo issue. Let me say on this, there's always a great deal of speculation as to what this is all about. We have said and continue to say - and it's contained in the communique - that if and when President Milosevic accepts the requirements of the international community and a force with NATO at its core is moving towards deployment, that we would welcome that force being endorsed by the Security Council. That is something we envisaged at the time of Ramboulliet; it's something we could still envisage.

To my understanding, the Russians have not indicated that they would be supportive of a resolution on this subject prior to the Serbs agreeing to these conditions. So there isn't any real push at the United Nations to get a resolution that is not compatible with the Russian position, which has been that when the Serbs move to accept a force, they can go along with the Serbs. So we are not there yet. To the extent that any drafting gets done, I would call it contingency drafting. There is no push in New York to get a Security Council resolution endorsed at this time.

QUESTION: You said a few moments ago and just now that the international security force would have NATO at its core. I believe, however, that the communiques issued this weekend from NATO, in those paragraphs that dealt with the question of international security force, I don't believe that there was any mention of NATO being at its core or that NATO would even lead it. Are you expressing the US position or the NATO position?

MR. RUBIN: Perhaps you should take another look at the communique. "NATO remains ready to form the core of such an international military force." So that is NATO's position. NATO remains ready to form the core of such a force. We support NATO being ready to form the core of such a force. It is our view that in the absence of NATO being the core of such a force, as a practical matter, the Kosovar Albanians will not return.

QUESTION: But is it essential that NATO be - in other words, can a force exist without NATO being at its core? And I also read that part - your NATO counterpart also said during the summit that NATO would like to be at the core of this peace-keeping force. So is it essential or is it preferable?

MR. RUBIN: I think in response to George's question, what I indicated was that as a practical matter, without the international military force that would be required for security having NATO at its core, the objective which is stated by the NATO communique -- namely that the unconditional and safe return of all displaced persons and refugees - will not happen. We are committed to meeting our objectives. A force with NATO at its core, as a practical matter, is required to meet those objectives, and everyone understands that.

QUESTION: Now, we've talked about and we've heard a lot this weekend about oil, and especially refined products, coming in by ship through the Adriatic to ports that could possibly indirectly serve the Serbians. Now, what about the importation of refined petroleum products down the Danube? Is there any evidence that Milosevic's forces are getting any help in that particular corridor?

MR. RUBIN: With respect to the oil coming in, I think there was a sense in the last week that prior to this focus on visit-and-search, that some pre-ordered shipments of oil were getting through by sea. These involved very large quantities; and that, therefore, one wanted to get a handle on that problem. I don't think anybody can rule out very small shipments from other ways.

I don't have exact numbers to provide you, but clearly we're going to be looking at a variety of ways to make sure that petroleum oil and lubricants don't get to the Serb military machine. But one of the focuses of that effort in NATO is going to be the sea corridor. There are a number of other ways to ensure that that doesn't happen.

As you know, NATO is engaged in a punishing bombing campaign directed precisely at petroleum oil and lubricants and the means by which they are provided to the Serb authorities. I wouldn't want to be more specific about that.

QUESTION: When you say river trafficking of refined products is not a large problem --

MR. RUBIN: I didn't say that. I said the focus was on the ships. I don't have information on precisely what may or may not be going through in smaller quantities; but I will try to get that for you.

QUESTION: Does NATO not care how Milosevic is removed from office? And if possibly Draskovic is trying to split the government and replace Milosevic with himself, is that a concern with NATO?

MR. RUBIN: I don't think anybody in NATO will lose any sleep if Milosevic finds himself replaced at all. It's hard to see a combination of power and extremism that would be worse than Milosevic.

With respect to Draskovic, again, he's been in and out of government for many years. The extent to which he reflects an ability to wield power in Belgrade is unclear to me. But let me say that whenever any leader in Belgrade or anywhere else begins to recognize reality and speak the truth rather than spewing lies on television and to his people, that's certainly a step in the right direction.

QUESTION: Oh, it's on the POWs.

MR. RUBIN: POWs - yes.

QUESTION: I understand that after the meeting tomorrow between the International Red Cross and the POWs, that the International Red Cross is supposed to file a report, one copy of which will be given to the Yugoslav authorities and the other copy to the US. Do you know if that report is supposed to be given to the State Department?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we'll have to see where that goes. It would be normal for the ICRC to report to us what they found. Our initial report, some of you may know about, which is that they were not permitted to meet privately with the prisoners, as would be their normal practice; they were not permitted to conduct a medical examination of the prisoners; but the prisoners appeared to be in relatively good condition. We understand that the ICRC will be allowed a longer, private meeting with the servicemen tomorrow, and we expect such a meeting to take place in accordance with the Geneva conventions. After that happens, I will try to determine what their reporting structure will be - whether it's in writing or orally, and to whom the report is given, and how it then can be communicated to all of you.

QUESTION: Was it your understanding that the ICRC met with just two or three of the servicemen?

MR. RUBIN: My understanding, and this is obviously secondhand, met with the three. Okay, Middle East.

QUESTION: The Palestinians have been requesting that the United States set, if not a deadline, at least some kind of target date for conclusion of a final settlement in return for not declaring unilateral independence. Is the Unites States prepared to set some sort of target date as part of this plan to have a new summit six months after elections?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, the summit is not the whole picture here. What has happened is the White House has issued a statement, and President Clinton will be sending Chairman Arafat a letter.

What we will be trying to do in this effort is to make clear our views that we need to have both sides continue to implement the elements of Oslo that are relevant and the elements of the Wye agreement that are relevant, and move on to implementation of that; and shortly after the Israeli elections, begin a process of permanent status negotiations on what we call an accelerated time table. We think that if both sides approach this seriously and in good faith, that that can be completed within a year. So that is the time table that we think is reasonable. I wouldn't call it a deadline; I would call it an objective, and a sense of what is possible if there is a good faith effort on both sides. That is what we will be calling for, and that is our current view.

QUESTION: The question actually rises whether the parties will negotiate in good faith, and what instruments you have to try and ensure that these final stages talks do go ahead on an accelerated basis and that the Israelis don't continue just to play for time. What would you do in that case? What methods might you use to put pressure on --

MR. RUBIN: Well, I'm not offering new methods to pressure anybody. What I'm saying here today is it's our view that both Israelis and Palestinians have, for a long time now, believed in the importance of permanent status negotiations. We know these are difficult issues. But with the right kind of environment and the right kind of commitment, one year is a reasonable period to aim for that goal.

Frankly, if the parties don't do what they need to do to create that kind of environment and don't demonstrate a serious commitment to resolving the issues, even 20 years wouldn't be enough. So it's really up to them to make the decisions to create the right kind of environment and the right kind of commitment so that this can be achieved within the objective of a year. That is something that we want to work with them on, as the White House indicated. President Clinton is prepared to engage at the appropriate time, if the conditions are right, to try to push the process forward. But if the will is not there, even 20 years won't be enough.

QUESTION: So no carrots, no sticks?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I don't want to get into previewing what the incentives and disincentives for any negotiation might be. The biggest incentive is for the people who are living there to not live under the threat of conflict, but have an opportunity to pursue peace and get all the benefits of peace - economically, politically and the security that comes with peace. So that is the incentive; it's their incentive. They have to make those decisions, and we can only provide a catalyst. We can provide forums; we can state our views on what we think would be helpful and not helpful. But it's up to the parties to pursue peace.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, the idea here is that those interim issues which were spelled out in Oslo and which were also later wrapped into the Wye, the two parties will continue to implement those as they're negotiating the permanent status issues?

MR. RUBIN: Correct. Clearly, the declaration of principles provided for a five-year transition period. And under later agreements, May 4 of this year was designated as the five-year mark for that period.

We are calling on both parties to continue to carry out all their interim period responsibilities after May 4 and to continue their cooperation so that we can keep in place what we've achieved and get a process going to finish the job within a year, so that the peoples of Israel and all of the peoples involved can live in peace.

QUESTION: When you say within a year, you mean within a year from the talks starting?

MR. RUBIN: I'd rather not be specific at this time. Clearly, they need to sit down as soon as possible to begin permanent status negotiations. It is our view that it is possible to reach agreement within a year. I'm not creating a new deadline for all of you to write about.

Q: I realize that, but - I know - the talks won't start on May 4th but theoretically you say within a year, well, it could be 20 years.

MR. RUBIN: As I said, if the conditions are not created by the parties - if they don't create the right kind of environment, if they don't approach these seriously -- it might not be solved in 20 years. If they do - if they are serious and they create the right kind of environment -- we believe a year is a rough time frame that's reasonable.

QUESTION: Does the fact that you're not suggesting these talks start until after the elections mean that you don't have confidence in the present government - that it is willing to stop the -- (inaudible) --

MR. RUBIN: Nice try, Jonathan, nice try. As a practical matter, the Israelis are entering an election campaign. They are a democracy. We believe strongly in Israel's democracy. We believe strongly in the security of Israel. Our view on this is ironclad. They are a democracy; they are going through their democratic process, which we expect to yield a post- election government. After that happens, it would be the appropriate time to begin to sit down. It's not, obviously, the appropriate time now.

QUESTION: As you know, Jamie, Chairman Arafat has said that he reserves the right to declare a state on May 4th. This letter doesn't state in any - or this statement doesn't say in any way, shape or form that the US supports a Palestinian state. But were any assurances or reassurances made privately by US officials to the Palestinians that perhaps after the election there might be such a statement?

MR. RUBIN: We are opposed to a unilateral declaration of statehood because any enduring settlement can only come through negotiations. We made very clear to Chairman Arafat and the Palestinians our views. Chairman Arafat understands our concerns on this issue and our view that a unilateral declaration would be - that we are against it and, as I understand it, he indicated he would take our concerns into account.

QUESTION: But as to my question -

MR. RUBIN: I think I answered it by saying we are opposed to it.

QUESTION: You're opposed to any unilateral declarations?

MR. RUBIN: -- declarations of statehood.

QUESTION: Okay, but was anything said privately to Chairman Arafat that might have given him reason to -

MR. RUBIN: Our private and public positions are the same.

QUESTION: Two quick questions. One, has there been any issuance of -

MR. RUBIN: With regard to the question of our support, or actually our opposition to a unilateral declaration of statehood.

QUESTION: Has there been any guidance given to the embassy or the consulate general or any other American official with regard to staying out of the Israeli elections? Has there been any briefings concerning that to American diplomats?

MR. RUBIN: American diplomats are smart enough to know that all by themselves.

QUESTION: All right. Then I won't ask about the Orient House imbroglio and what is the Department of State's attitude since the Department has been meeting in the Orient House - some of the diplomats have met there, as you know, including the Secretary of State at one time. What is the view?

MR. RUBIN: We have seen reports of moves to close some offices of the Palestinian Authority in Orient House in Jerusalem. As with other issues relating to Jerusalem, this is an extremely sensitive matter, and we urge both sides to avoid steps that further complicate an already volatile situation.

QUESTION: Does this closure amount to a unilateral act?

MR. RUBIN: We consider this an extremely sensitive matter, and we urge both sides to avoid steps that further complicate an already volatile issue.

QUESTION: On the Middle East, there's a report out of Gaza that FBI and perhaps other agencies of the United States Government have been involved in actual interrogation of what amount to religious or political prisoners in both the Palestinian and Israeli jails. Can you assure me that there has been no actual involvement in interrogation since George Tenet said that that would not happen after Wye? Could you take that question and get back to me?

MR. RUBIN: I'll take the question. But in this briefing room, I don't know who George Tenet is.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry about that.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask the US view of the recent passage of the Defense Guideline Act in the committee in the lower house of the Japanese Diet. It's expected to pass the full house sometime tomorrow. And if it's going to have any effect on the shift in the focus of the upcoming summit - if it's going to move away from economics and trade towards defense and security issues?

MR. RUBIN: We welcome the progress in the Diet's deliberation. Since these deliberations are still ongoing, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further, other than to say that we look forward to passage of this important legislation. We are confident that this legislation, when finally enacted, will enable the US and Japan to respond quickly and flexibly to any contingencies that might arise.

QUESTION: I have a question about the Ethiopian bombing of Eritrea about a week or two ago. What does the US believe is the best possible solution for peace in this area?

MR. RUBIN: The US supports implementation of the OAU framework

agreement for resolving this border dispute. The Framework Agreement calls for an immediate cease-fire, followed by withdrawal by both sides to positions held before the conflict began in May 1998.

We believe a cease-fire is the first priority, and we do not support any preconditions for an immediate cease-fire. The US has never taken a position on the sovereign status of disputed territory in the Badme area or other regions. Our position hasn't changed. We remain in close touch with both governments, the OAU, the UN Secretariat and our colleagues on the Security Council. We in the international community continue to press for an immediate cease-fire. We urge both countries to work with the OAU and the international community to find quickly a peaceful solution to this border dispute.

The OAU framework agreement is the appropriate vehicle for a durable solution to the border conflict. We support the OAU's effort to put the agreement into effect and the UN Security Council's consistent endorsement of the framework agreement.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the Middle East for a minute? Foreign Minister Sharon said again that if the Palestinians did declare a state, then the Israelis should go out to the hilltops and annex all the parts of the West Bank which they now control. Do you have any reaction to this?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I haven't seen this particular comment, but as you know, our tradition both on the possibility of a unilateral declaration of statehood or the reactions to it are to be opposed to both. We don't want either side to take unilateral steps, whether it's on statehood, whether it's on reaction to statehood, whether it's on settlements. We think all of these issues can best be resolved through a serious peace process in which the right kind of environment for that process is created by both sides.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the hotel that was bombed in Russia today, on the main boulevard?

MR. RUBIN: I have some minimal information on that. The consulate general and a different bombing? We'll take the question.

QUESTION: On Colombia, on Saturday The Washington Post had an article saying that the Colombian National Police director is asking for an additional $51 million in aid for the counter-narcotics strategy in Colombia, bypassing the Administration with the help of the Republican-led Congress. But in a way, Republicans are saying that the White House and the Administration doesn't have a clear policy towards Colombia and the back area is getting really dangerous. They're going to have to take everything - - (inaudible). What is your reaction?

MR. RUBIN: Number one, we have a clear policy towards Colombia. We became aware of the letter on April 22 that General Serrano sent to Speaker Hastert, requesting $51 million in additional assistance. We are still studying this request. We would like to point out that Colombia will receive $203 million in this fiscal year alone, making it the largest recipient of counter-narcotics assistance in the world. We remain willing to work both with the Colombian National Police and with Congress to assure that the counter-narcotics priorities of both our nations are met.

We do have a continuing dialogue with our Congress about our counter- narcotics policy, especially and including Colombia. While the Department and Congress have disagreed at times on the direction and implementation of our policy, we remain committed to working with Congress to provide the best possible counter-narcotics assistance to the Colombian Government, including the National Police.

QUESTION: Would it be possible this move from the director of the National Police directly to Congress instead of going through the regular diplomatic channels would make some problems going on between the US Government and the Colombian Government? It looks like he also passed the Colombian Government - he also bypassed them.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I don't think there's any secret to us that sometimes different players talk to Congress. That wouldn't be the first time.

QUESTION: Jamie, do you want to read what you have on the consulate bombing in Yekaterinburg?

MR. RUBIN: If it would be helpful to you, I would be more than thrilled. Just after 6:00 a.m. local time on April 24, an explosive device detonated in a parking lot adjacent to the building housing the US Consulate General in Yekaterinburg, Russia, in the western part of Siberia. No one was seriously hurt in the explosion; only one employee of the consulate general lives in an apartment in the same building. The explosion did blow out numerous windows.

QUESTION: No claims of responsibility?

MR. RUBIN: The Russian militia are investigating the explosion, and the staff of the consulate general is working closely with the authorities to investigate who is responsible. Local authorities ensured that windows were replaced immediately, and the consulate general is open for business on Monday.

QUESTION: Were there any prior threats to this building?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have any more information on that, but we can check that for you. But threat information, as you know, is often difficult to provide.

QUESTION: Do you have any information or can you confirm whether a member of Castro's security detail has found himself in the United States seeking asylum?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have anything on that; I'll check that for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 2:05 P.M.)


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