U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #52, 99-04-26
From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing
I N D E X
Monday, April 26, 1999
Briefer: James P. Rubin
1 Deputy Secretary Talbott to arrive in Moscow shortly, to discuss
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.
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
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
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
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
8 US welcomes Diet deliberations on important defense legislation.
9 US supports implementation of OAU framework agreement, beginning
with an immediate cease-fire.
9-10 US still studying National Police letter to Speaker Hastert on
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
MR. RUBIN: American diplomats are smart enough to know that all by
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.)