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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #81, 99-06-25

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


Friday, June 25, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1-5		Embassy Heightened Status of Alert Because of Security
		  Concerns / Terrorists / Osama bin Laden / Security /
		  Taliban / Threats to Americans / Coordinator for
		  Counter-terrorism Mike Sheehan
9		No Hormel Gag Order

NORTH/SOUTH KOREA 5-8 U.S. Citizen Arrested in DPRK / Possible Violations of Geneva or Vienna Conventions / Lack of Privacy Act Waiver / Trilateral Meeting / Dr. Perry / Site Visit to Kumchang-ni / No Violation of 1994 U.S. - DPR Agreement

KOSOVO 9-12,15&16 Russian Participation / No Russian Sector / Unity of Command in KFOR / Partnership for Peace / Russian Deployment / No Orders of Assassination By Thaqi / KLA / Anti-Democratic Practices in Belgrade / Refugees / UNHC

MONTENEGRO 11&12 Independence of Montenegro Will Not Bring Stability To Balkans / Funds for Montenegro / Difference Between Montenegro and Serbia / Diplomatic Offices in Kosovo and Montenegro

ISRAEL/LEBANON/MEPP 12-15 Hezbollah Firing Into Northern Israel / Israel Retaliation / Syrian-Israeli and Lebanese-Israeli Peace Tracks / U.S. Wants Urging of Maximum Restraint By Syria on Hezbollah / Dennis Ross

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY 15 Apprehension of Terrorists Acting Against Americans


DPB #81

FRIDAY, JUNE 25, 1999, 12:45 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: Hello. Welcome to the State Department briefing. Let me say, before turning to other subjects, some of this information has come out over the last 12 to 16 hours, so let me provide for you our assessment on the embassy situation.

American embassies in Africa and the rest of the world have been placed on a heightened status of alert, due to increased security concerns. As some of our embassies in Africa have been under surveillance by suspicious individuals, we are taking the precaution of temporarily closing our embassies in Gambia, Togo, Madagascar, Liberia, Namibia and Senegal from June 24 through the 27th of June - that is Sunday. We will re-evaluate the status in the coming days to decide whether to reopen and resume operations at some or all of those embassies beginning on Monday. I don't have any new information on that for you.

In the past, at various times, most but not all of our embassies in sub- Saharan Africa were ordered to close for two days from December 17 to 18, 1998, in the heightened threat environment following our actions in Iraq. In addition, our embassy in Uganda has closed due to security reasons on a few occasions since the bombing of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Other embassies are on various statuses of closed or suspension, and I can provide you those details if you're interested.

QUESTION: A little bit more on this if we can pursue it a little bit. The account given for the six closings was that some suspicious folks had been noticed taking a hard look at the installations. Could you address - these are the six - this is it - a heightened state of alert not based, obviously, on these same suspicious folks? What do you - is it bin Laden; is it Ocalan; is it material you've received? Terrorists have always been out there - what's brought all this on?

MR. RUBIN: Again, assessing security matters is a combination of strategic information about the intentions of terrorists as well as tactical information about what individuals may be doing on the ground in specific locations.

As I indicated earlier, some of our embassies in Africa have been under surveillance by suspicious individuals, so that's certainly part of the equation. It's difficult to go into all the details, given the intelligence information involved and also in hopes of ensuring that we don't give those who might want to harm our embassies any additional information.

I can certainly say we have seen a pattern of activity indicating continued planning for terrorist attacks by members of Usama bin Laden's network, and we take reporting of such threats seriously. When we have reason to believe, through a combination of strategic information and tactical information, that it is prudent to take appropriate countermeasures and precautions, we do so and that's what we've done in this case.

QUESTION: This would be a good question at the news conference, I think, but since I won't be there, let me try you at the President's news conference. Could you step back a minute and address whether, indeed, embassy closings -- I could quickly cite that the President wrote Senator Moynihan that he had two reasons for not moving the embassy to Jerusalem. One was the familiar one: he didn't want to prejudge the outcome of negotiations; but he also said he was concerned about the security of Americans and American installations. Haven't terrorists, to an extent, influenced US operations, if not American foreign policy? Haven't they accomplished, at least, part of their goals of intimidation?

MR. RUBIN: No, we are not intending to let terrorists accomplish any of their goals. If they had accomplished their goals, we wouldn't have embassies in many countries around the world; we wouldn't have troops in many countries where they would not like to see us have troops. We have foiled their objective of stopping our determination to have an American presence around the world and to interfere with our determination as a global power to have American troop presences in various countries. So they have failed.

That doesn't mean we don't have to adjust our practices, that we don't have to spend more money to protect our people; and we are determined to do that. But we're not going to let these cowardly terrorists who kill innocent people achieve their objectives.

QUESTION: You mentioned earlier, I think I heard you say, that there were other embassies that were closed or on heightened state of alert?

MR. RUBIN: Our embassies in Somalia, Guinea-Bassau, Sierra Leone, and Congo-Brazzaville have been closed for some time, due to domestic instability. Our embassy in Sudan is open, but manned by local staff only.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that the surveillance was by members of the bin Laden group, and can you tell us --

MR. RUBIN: I've gone as far as I can on the information justifying our suspended operations.

QUESTION: You can't talk about whether there were specific threats that were directed against these embassies or against any Americans overseas?

MR. RUBIN: We try to be very careful. I've tried to give you some tactical information about surveillance, some strategic information about intentions of the Usama bin Laden organization, and I'm not prepared to go beyond that.

QUESTION: What will the re-evaluation be re-evaluating - as to whether these embassies re-open?

MR. RUBIN: Security is a complex decision-making process about where people are that we may know about; about where they may be directing their activities; about whether necessary precautions have been taken around embassies to ensure that they're in better position to protect themselves. What we try to do is take prudent and precautionary measures when we think there's a heightened threat to make sure we're in a position to meet that threat. If we're not, then they will remain suspended.

QUESTION: Jamie, can I try a two-part quick one? The US is in a process of bolstering security all over the world at installations. Are the ones that are closed -- not necessarily these six, but the others that have been closed - are they closed temporarily or whatever because of specific concerns there, or has it something to do with you haven't reached the point where their security has been improved sufficiently to satisfy people who make these decisions? And can you give us any price tag on what has been spent so far and what is projected to bring embassies up to speed?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I can get you some information after the briefing on embassy security, but to answer your question in short form, security is a combination of a threat that an installation faces and the ability of that installation to withstand such a threat. It's a combination.

If you have an American operation with no security around it, they are more subject to any potential threat. If you think there's a particular place being targeted and you have done a lot to protect it, then you have a different calculation. So it's both the precautionary measures you take, the defensive measures you take, on the one hand, weighed against what you're able to judge is the potential for attack. But what we learned in these bombings last summer is that every American installation is, at some level, a target.

QUESTION: Can you give us an update on your contacts with the Taliban?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: It's on Usama bin Laden. On Usama bin Laden, do you have reason to believe that he's within territory controlled by the Taliban? What is the Taliban telling you now about their attitude towards his presence.

MR. RUBIN: Well, we've been in regular touch with the Taliban to urge them very strongly to make sure that Usama bin Laden is brought to justice. I'm not going to speak for the Taliban. We think they need to provide the necessary steps to bring him to justice. They have not done so, and that's a major concern of ours.

QUESTION: I want to go back to what actual closure of these embassies means. I don't know if you can get into this --

MR. RUBIN: Suspended operations.

QUESTION: Yeah, but does that mean the Marine guards are still there? Are the embassies - are there local staff still there?

MR. RUBIN: Well, they haven't closed down in terms of withdrawing all personnel back to the United States or other locations; they've suspended operations. Each one will approach that differently. Whether there are Marine guards, I don't have that level of information; we can try to get that for you.

QUESTION: Jamie, could you volunteer information on embassy closings next time this happens? This never would have come to light had not one of our colleagues stumbled across it last evening.

MR. RUBIN: I will certainly endeavor to do that. Believe it or not, I had it in my book yesterday and I was waiting to be asked. I didn't get asked so I didn't answer.

QUESTION: Well, if I may actually follow up on that, is it your information or your understanding that only embassies are under threat, or are American interests in these countries or Americans who may be traveling in these countries? In other words, does your information say specifically you only think that the buildings are under threat?

MR. RUBIN: As at any time when traveling abroad, American citizens should continue to exercise caution, but we have received no specific threats targeted at American citizens overseas.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- embassies in that region issue any warnings to Americans in those countries where you all -

MR. RUBIN: I think the warden system is operating in a situation like that.

QUESTION: There are currently about six embassies being closed; I only have five on my list. Could you go through that list again?

MR. RUBIN: I named six; would you like me to repeat the six? I'd be happy to repeat the six, yes: Gambia, Togo, Madagascar, Liberia, Namibia, and Senegal.

QUESTION: Can you say what connection, if any, the decision to close was connected to today being the three year anniversary in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not going to make a practice of getting into every calculation that goes into these situations. I've been provided, after some careful research and work, with the maximum that our people feel comfortable with me saying as to why we have suspended operations at these embassies.

QUESTION: Is it not true that every time a terrorist bombs or commits an atrocious act that they expose themselves more to counter-terror, to intelligence, et cetera? Has that not been the case with bin Laden?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we recently had named a very able coordinator for counter-terrorism who is going to be subject to Senate confirmation. His name is Mike Sheehan; he's extremely capable in this area. And at the appropriate time, I would be certainly willing to urge him to have a briefing to give all of you a generic discussion of counter-terrorism goals. But I think I wouldn't want to comment beyond that as a non-counter- terrorism expert, although your question suggests that you've been very studied in this area.

QUESTION: Well not so much, Jamie, but is it not true that what the terrorist accomplishes is opening himself up?

MR. RUBIN: As I said, our hoped-to-be Ambassador Sheehan, who will hopefully be confirmed by the Senate, would be in a better position to talk about counter-terrorism techniques with you.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit about this American citizen who's been arrested by the North Koreans?

MR. RUBIN: On that issue, the government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has confirmed to Swedish authorities, who are the US protecting power in North Korea, that an American citizen was arrested on June 17 in the Rajin Sonbong area. The American is being investigated for alleged violations of law. The Swedish consulate in DPRK has requested consular access under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the Interim Consular Agreement between the US and the DPRK. We do not have a Privacy Act release from the individual, and therefore are unable to provide additional details.

QUESTION: Has this subject come up today in the trilateral talks?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not aware of that, but I'll have to check for you.

QUESTION: Since the arrest - no consular access - what does the Geneva or Vienna Convention require with respect to access?

MR. RUBIN: Certainly quick access and this doesn't.

QUESTION: Quicker than that?

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION: Is this a case where a guy just - (inaudible) - straight across the border?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I wouldn't be able to provide any more details because of the Privacy Act.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - further violation of the Vienna Convention?

MR. RUBIN: I think I didn't say that; I very carefully didn't say that. We want quick access, we want early access. I don't believe there's a number of days written in the Vienna Convention, so I will have to check with the lawyers on how to describe our concern that they haven't had quick access.

QUESTION: Can you say whether this is a Korean-American or an American?

MR. RUBIN: An American citizen.

QUESTION: Male or female?

MR. RUBIN: I'm told that because of the lack of a Privacy Act waiver, I'm not legally able to provide you more information on that.

QUESTION: The law they allegedly violated - do you have anything on that?

MR. RUBIN: Something to do with their efforts to build a hospital in a garment manufacturing business in North Korea, is my understanding.

QUESTION: Has the trilateral begun yet; and if they're not discussing this, what will they be discussing?

MR. RUBIN: The State Department Counselor, Wendy Sherman, will lead the US at today's trilateral meeting which will conclude tomorrow, June 26. The ROK side will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Jang and the government of Japan by Director General Kato. The meeting will continue discussions on a comprehensive approach to reducing tensions and instability on the Korean Peninsula.

As you know, Dr. Perry met with senior Japanese and Korean officials in Honolulu from April 23 to 25, to continue consultations in conjunction with his North Korea policy review. He earlier traveled to Seoul. The three sides agreed to establish a trilateral coordination and oversight group -- got a new acronym, TCOG - to institutionalize coordination on North Korea policy issues, and have met since in Tokyo and Seoul May 24 and 29 respectively.

The talks are not intended to specifically address any current situation. They are aimed at continuing the policy coordination among the parties. That doesn't mean that issues don't arise, but that's not their principal function.

QUESTION: Did they have -- (inaudible) --

MR. RUBIN: I don't know what time the meeting started. I'll have to check for you.* Related -- as I told some of you earlier, I'm able to provide the report on the site visit to Kumchang-ni. On May 18 through 24, a US Department of State team traveled to North Korea with the purpose of visiting the underground facility. The visit took place on an exceptional basis. Throughout the visit, North Korea provided the US delegation with good cooperation.

[* The Spokesman's office released this answer following the press briefing: The Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group (TCOG), comprised of representatives from the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, began their meeting today at 2:30 p.m. They will conclude tomorrow.]

The delegation was permitted to conduct all activities previously agreed under the March 16 US-North Korea agreement. These activities included measuring the dimensions of all underground areas at the main complex, videotaping those areas and photographing agreed above-ground facilities supporting the site at Kumchang-ni.

The DPRK allowed the delegation to conduct the visit in the manner the US deemed necessary. The US delegation spent the next two days underground - after a preliminary orientation -- in order to ensure that it covered all the underground areas. They criss-crossed those areas a number of times at a pace and according to a plan determined by the delegation in consultation with North Korea. The delegation saw no evidence of North Korean efforts to conceal any portion of the facility.

The delegation viewed a large underground tunnel complex, excavation of the complex was almost complete but a great deal of additional finishing work remained to be done, with almost all of the tunnels still bare rock. There was no indication that equipment was ever installed at this location. In addition, the delegation visited above-ground installations - dams under construction, the electric substation, as well as various utility buildings and construction support facilities.

Based on the evidence gathered by the US delegation and a subsequent review of that evidence by technical experts, we have reached the following conclusions about the underground site at Kumchang-ni. The site at Kumchang- ni does not contain a plutonium production reactor or a reprocessing plant either completed or under construction. Given the current size and configuration of the underground area, the site is unsuitable for the installation of a plutonium production reactor - especially a graphite moderated reactor of the type North Korea has built at Yongbyon. The site is also not well designed for a reprocessing plant. Nevertheless, since the site is a large underground area, it could support such a facility in the future with substantial modifications.

At this point in time, the US cannot rule out the possibility that the site was intended for other nuclear related uses, although it does not appear to be currently configured to support any large industrial nuclear function. We have concluded at present that the site at Kumchang-ni does not violate the 1994 US-DPR agreed framework. New construction of graphite moderator reactors and related facilities in North Korea would be a violation of the framework.

There are some other details in the statement I will release after the briefing. On this subject --

QUESTION: Do you have any conclusions as to what it was going to be used for?

MR. RUBIN: At this point, we are doing an analysis of what we saw, and we have made, as I indicated, certain conclusions as to what it's not well- suited for. As I also indicated, we cannot rule out the possibility of what it was intended for. At this time, that is as far as our conclusions will go.

QUESTION: Follow-up -- you don't think this was kind of red herring designed to lead people astray, that perhaps got a little --

MR. RUBIN: Well, we think that it's important when we have concerns -- significant concerns -- and suspicions, as we've had, that we need an opportunity to conduct these type of visits. These visits yielded the following information, and I don't think there's any harm in that at all. That's a pretty good way to do business. That's why we've reserved the right to return in May of next year.

QUESTION: Did they ask them what the site was intended for?

MR. RUBIN: I'm sure there were discussions to that effect. I think, as I indicated the last time someone asked me that question, what we're more concerned about is what we think it could be used for than what they say, because there have been many cases in which we've had concerns about their stated intentions on a number of issues. So we've tended to judge things based on verification, and that's what we've done in this case.

QUESTION: But if you asked and they told you something, did what they tell you --

MR. RUBIN: Well, if you're interested in their view, I welcome the opportunity for you to talk to them about it and they'll give you their view. What I'm in a position to do is tell you what our verification and our visit yielded in terms of our conclusions, based on what they saw and their technical assessments, not based on what the stated purpose was or was not.

QUESTION: Did they find any evidence that work was continuing there, or was it just basically an abandoned site?

MR. RUBIN: I think it was a site being excavated. It was not an abandoned site, to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Work was continuing while they were there?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I don't know that there weren't - the impression that I got was that this is a hole in the ground that is being excavated; that they are engaged in excavating it. As currently configured, the excavation was almost complete, but a great deal of additional finishing work remained to be done with almost all of the tunnel still their rock. But it was not abandoned, to my knowledge. Any more on this --

QUESTION: This is the report that you've been promising for several days?

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. Just wanted to make sure this was it.

MR. RUBIN: This is it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RUBIN: You're welcome.

QUESTION: Can I just ask this question? I understand James Hormel has been told by the State Department not to talk to the press about the one- and-a-half year ordeal he spent in - he went through in Congress leading up to his confirmation. Is this a gag order? And, if so, will it be lifted any time soon?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I'm usually the one who is accused of putting the gags in and I know nothing about this. So I don't think it's normal for an ambassador to begin talking to the media until he's arrived in post and to talk about his functions. I'm not aware of any gag order; that's not the way we do business around here, so I would reject the premise behind your question.

QUESTION: Well, from what I understand, he had been told specifically that he can't talk about the year and a half that he faced in Congress, and I wondered --

MR. RUBIN: Well, I still don't know anything about that; I don't know anything about it.

QUESTION: The report that the Russians had envisaged a much larger military surprise than the 200-man unit that showed up at Pristina Airport?

MR. RUBIN: Well, with respect to that report, let me say that there were a number of different possibilities of what the Russians intended to do once the first 200 troops arrived. When I get to the right place, I will - four, red four.

We were in constant contact during that period with Russia in an attempt to include Russia in the force that was to be deployed in Kosovo. They had indicated they wanted to be part of the force and we welcomed their participation. At the same time, we, as you know, were insistent on ensuring unity of command and the effectiveness of KFOR. We made clear to the Russians that we could not accept a Russian sector.

The result of these negotiations was the Helsinki agreement, which provides for Russia to contribute some 3,600 of the 50,000 or more peacekeepers to be deployed in Kosovo. Relationships between Russia and NATO forces in Kosovo are proceeding smoothly now. NATO members in such a situation as began when the original deployment started would certainly consult with the Alliance. So there were consultations between Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria on any movement of troops related to the Bosnia peacekeeping force or the Kosovo force. They would have to be coordinated with NATO; and members of the Partnership for Peace, such as Romania and Bulgaria, would also be in a position to consult with NATO. They would have to speak about what decisions they made.

I think it's fair to say that there was a great deal of uncertainty as to what the Russians intended to do on the day that the deployment began. There were some representations that were made to us that turned out to be incorrect. That was something that was a factor as well. So it was not easy to know what their intentions were and how large a force they intended to deploy. There were some indications that they did want to quickly increase the size of their deployment, and they've made that known publicly. What we wanted to do was ensure that the deployment of any Russians in Kosovo beyond the 200 at the airport were only done pursuant to arrangements worked out, which we subsequently did.

QUESTION: Did they say anything more than you are quoted as saying this morning in this report about Mr. Thaqi and his alleged ordering?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I mean, there really isn't much to say about that beyond what I have said. Let me say that we simply don't have information to substantiate these allegations that there were such activities of assassination or execution ordered or sanctioned by the leadership. It's hard to comment further on unsubstantiated and generally unprovable allegations.

I think more broadly, it's fair to say that this is a tough neighborhood. The KLA was engaged in a situation where the people of Kosovo faced a real oppression by the Serb forces in very large numbers. They were not in a position to pursue an approach that we in the West would probably want to see pursued; there was no Western parliamentary democracy; there were no parliamentary rules of order. Those are things that we want to create. And what we've been trying to do with the work that we've done with the KLA and its leaders is to encourage them to pursue their objectives through transforming their organization and pursue them, through the democratic means they now have available to them through the presence of NATO forces on the security side and the presence of the UN mission on the civilian side. So that is the path that we want them to take.

As far as these anonymous sources and their allegations, from our standpoint they're unsubstantiated and generally unprovable.

QUESTION: All right, but this is the second - well, it's not the second, it's one of a multitude of reports along this nature. I mean, are there red flags?

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, I'm regularly asked about is the KLA involved in drug dealing, and I regularly tell you that we don't have any independent confirmation of that. I'm now being asked is the KLA leadership responsible for executions, and I'm telling you we don't have any information to confirm that. We've gone to pretty significant lengths and we have very, very good contacts in the region. So we haven't been able to substantiate, after a pretty good faith effort, what are essentially anonymous allegations. The only quoted person, really, was a political opponent who didn't even specifically refer to a specific allegation but just said that this leader was capable of that behavior.

QUESTION: Today's Washington Post is reporting the upcoming independence of Montenegro, Yugoslavia, by the winter. Do you have anything on that?

MR. RUBIN: The further disintegration of Yugoslavia would not serve to promote peace and stability in the Balkans. Moreover, independence would not be a panacea for the challenges that Montenegro faces. President Djukanovic and his government represent the most credible and powerful democratic force in Yugoslavia. The US firmly supports their efforts to implement political and economic reforms as President Clinton demonstrated in his meeting on the 21st. As the leading democratic force in Yugoslavia, Montenegro plays an important role as a bulwark against Belgrade's autocratic policies. Moreover, Montenegro's active support is important for implementing the Kosovo settlement and bringing democracy to all the people of Yugoslavia.

Abuse of power by Belgrade's leaders has corrupted and de-legitimized Yugoslavia's federal institutions. The current Yugoslavia cannot be viable unless the federal government establishes the rule of law and demonstrates respect for the Yugoslav constitution and the rights of its constituent republics. Failure by Belgrade to recognize and accommodate Montenegro's calls for democratization and need for greater autonomy will aggravate the widening political gap between Montenegro and Serbia.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - Department of State has given $10 million as a special loan to Montenegro for its police forces loyal to Milo Djukanovic. Do you have anything on that?

MR. RUBIN: I know we've tried to be supportive of the government there and the strong and courageous steps that the leadership there has taken in the face of the regime that reigns in Belgrade. I know we've been giving significant funds in the past and that we've committed to significant funds in the future. With respect to the police question, I will have to check that for you.

QUESTION: Could you close a couple of loopholes here? Are you going to be able to shake that money loose from Congress? I think you've been having some problems.

MR. RUBIN: On Macedonia?

QUESTION: On Macedonia, is it, only?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I think so. I'll have to check the status of that.

QUESTION: Well, okay. And on Montenegro, as a recipient of aid, are they just as apt to get American financial support remaining in Yugoslavia as they would had they spun off? I mean, do you have any concern that Belgrade will get its hands into it?

MR. RUBIN: We're trying to ensure that Kosovo and Montenegro are treated differently than Serbia and the rest of that territory on the map. We are going to do our best to ensure that Montenegro doesn't suffer as a result of the unwillingness of the West - or key leaders in the West -- to provide reconstruction assistance to Belgrade. That doesn't mean we may not need more checks and controls to ensure that assistance that is provided to Montenegro doesn't get spun off in some way. But it's certainly our intention to distinguish and differentiate between Montenegro and Serbia.

QUESTION: Can you discuss your planning - I guess that's the right word - for opening diplomatic offices in Kosovo and in Montenegro?

MR. RUBIN: I think there certainly would be a presumption that we would re-open what we had in the past, but the situation in Kosovo is obviously different by the presence of the international civilian administration. I would expect us to re-open what we had in the past when security conditions were right. Whether they would be scaled up in any way is something that is under consideration, but I couldn't go beyond that at this time.

QUESTION: You said that you're trying to ensure that Montenegro and Kosovo are treated differently than Serbia, but doesn't that kind of go against the initial point you made in answering the first question about Montenegro, which is that the further disintegration of Yugoslavia is not conducive to stability in the Balkans?

MR. RUBIN: No, there's a difference between trying to induce change in Belgrade by demonstrating to the people and the institutions in Belgrade that their failure to follow democratic practices has costs in the form of denial of reconstruction assistance. The democratic practices that are being pursued by Montenegro should serve as an example to the people of Serbia of the advantages that they get as a result of their democratic practices. So we are trying to induce, through the leverage of reconstruction assistance, better and more democratic practices in Belgrade.

QUESTION: You don't see it at all as perhaps having the opposite effect, as this leading to the further disintegration?

MR. RUBIN: Well, there are various goals, and one has to weigh various goals. But remember that we are deeply concerned about the anti-democratic practices in Belgrade. Their leader is an indicted war criminal, and we think it would be wholly inappropriate for the West or anybody to provide the kind of reconstruction or sanctions easing to that regime in these circumstances.

QUESTION: I'm going to go to another subject. Are you keeping up with the reports that Israeli planes bombed the outskirts of Beirut and the Hezbollah has been shelling the northern settlements?

MR. RUBIN: We are deeply concerned about the situation in Lebanon. This situation escalated dramatically yesterday as a result of Hezbollah's firing barrages of Katyushas into Northern Israel. Israel retaliated with strikes against civilian infrastructure in Lebanon. We deeply regret the loss of life on both sides. We call on all parties - including those with influence with Hezbollah - to exercise maximum restraint and to calm this dangerous situation. It is difficult to see how the Syrian-Israeli and Lebanese-Israeli peace tracks can move forward in circumstances such as these.

QUESTION: Have you seen a report that the Israeli retaliation raids were not ordered by the Prime Minister-designate, but rather by the present one, Mr. Netanyahu?

MR. RUBIN: Now, that would be something that would have to be stated by the Israeli Government. I've seen the reports, obviously, I just wouldn't have any comment on that. We have been in touch with, at the Secretary's direction - there have been a number of contacts both with the Syrians and the Israelis, including contacts between top State Department officials and Defense Minister Arens, who we've been in touch with. But as far as their decision-making process, that wouldn't be for me to say.

QUESTION: Your statement there - it's difficult to see how Syrian- Lebanese- Israeli peace - that comes right on the heels of President Assad's purported interview he had with Patrick Seale, in which he talked so glowingly about the prospect for negotiations. He also talked about --

MR. RUBIN: Maybe he speaks glowingly when he talks to Patrick Seale, you know?

QUESTION: Right, I won't take that one on. But you call on those with influence over Hezbollah to --

MR. RUBIN: Including Syria.

QUESTION: Including Patrick - I mean, Syria.


Can you put those two together?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, we believe that an escalating situation -- this is the most serious type of fighting in many years in Lebanon - is not a good climate for peace. I think that stands on its own.

With respect to what our view is, we said the situation escalated dramatically as a result of Hezbollah's firing barrages of Katyushas into Northern Israel. We've urged maximum restraint on Hezbollah by talking directly to the Syrian Foreign Minister in Damascus, as well as through contacts here in Washington with the Syrian Ambassador, because we want Syria to urge the maximum restraint on Hezbollah so that this situation doesn't spin out of control - both on its own terms, and doesn't make it harder for the peace process to be pursued both in the Palestinian-Israeli track as well as the Syrian-Israeli track.

QUESTION: Do you think it draws into question President Assad's interview - the glowing interview? Does it question his commitment that he stated in that interview to pursue peace?

MR. RUBIN: We will judge his commitment to pursuing seriously the Syria- Israeli peace track by what he does in the Syria-Israeli peace track. There are other issues that we believe that he should play a constructive role to urge restraint, and that is something we certainly want him to do in this case.

QUESTION: I don't need interviews to know that Dennis Ross said the other night that there are signals from Syria that Syria's interested in pursuing the peace track -

MR. RUBIN: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Yes he did; he said it at an AIPAC dinner. And, of course, then he went off the record and I left the room. Number one, do you still stand by Syria telling the US - forget Patrick Seale -- have the Syrians let the US know in some way or other that it's interested in pursuing peace? And secondly, do you think Hezbollah spontaneously opened fire, or do you think maybe someone suggested to them they ought to?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not going to speculate on the causes of Hezbollah's decision.

QUESTION: You don't have to speculate, you could know things.

MR. RUBIN: I'm not going to speculate from the podium on the causes of Hezbollah's decision to escalate the situation.

With respect to what Dennis did or didn't say, there must be some dispute about it and we can talk about it after the briefing. He indicates he didn't say what he's reported to have said.

QUESTION: I'll get the record.

MR. RUBIN: Okay. I don't know how to help you if that's what he - I'm told he does -

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RUBIN: So let's try to deal with it after the briefing.

QUESTION: Do the people who make policy here ever entertain the notion that attacks -

MR. RUBIN: I can say yes, if it's entertaining the notion.

QUESTION: -- that there's a two-track - you like the word "track" around here - that there's a two-track approach? One track is to pursue diplomacy; the other track is to pursue military means -- even attacking civilians -- as a way to accomplish the same end? That both are geared to the same end and one isn't contradictory of the other?

MR. RUBIN: Let me suggest to you that neither Dennis Ross nor the Secretary of State has any illusions about the regime in Damascus.

QUESTION: Can I ask a related question? It's slightly related. Something that doesn't go away - way back in March a couple of Jewish groups urged or asked or urged, whatever, Mr. Indyk - I'm sure they've asked other people - to look into a long list of, they say, suspects that the Palestinian Authority could get its hands on if it wished to that are, they say, suspected in the killings in Americans in the Middle East? I don't know that you've ever responded to them, but can you deal with that a little bit?

MR. RUBIN: We have made it clear that we take this issue very seriously. The US Government wants to see the perpetrators of terrorist acts against Americans brought to justice and if found guilty, punished to the full extent of the law.

On the subject of prosecuting these suspects, I would refer you to the Department of Justice for information. We believe there are fugitives in territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority and we have pressed at the highest level for the arrest and prosecution of these individuals. We have seen a responsiveness and a serious effort on the part of the Palestinian Authority, and this will continue to be one of our highest priorities in our engagement with the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: Can I go to another? Back to Kosovo refugees, especially. Within the last 10 days it is reported that some 300,000 refugees have returned out of the approximate 900,000 that were in the camps. My question would be, one, are they going to have - are they receiving what they need in the way of shelter and food? My second question is, where are the IDPs; how many have come out of the mountains and what shape are they in? Third question to you on this subject is, how about the Kosovar Albanians who came to the United States -- are they beginning to reverse course and head back to Kosovo?

MR. RUBIN: There are increased numbers of voluntary returns of refugees to Kosovo, even as organized repatriation to three locations is scheduled to begin next week. The overall count of returnees now stands at about 300, 000. In Albania, some 25,700 refugees crossed back into Kosovo yesterday, which is a record, bringing to 175,800 the number who have gone back since June 15. I think the returnees are renting mini-vans, trucks and even taxis and are undeterred by reports of land mine incidents. In Macedonia, around 19,000 refugees returned to Kosovo yesterday; nearly 116,000 people have gone back from Macedonia.

I think for those of us who stood up here every day and were asked the question of how would we judge our success, certainly one of the judges and indicators of our success has been the fact that hundreds of thousands of refugees are now returning. At the same time, we've also made clear that we did not want to be in a position where refugees were returning to dangerous conditions. So there are a number of steps being taken on the ground by the UNHCR to try to explain to people what the conditions are, what the dangers are, and to try to encourage them to wait until conditions can be assured.

With respect to the US component, the UNHCR decided to and made an announcement that it was suspending its evacuations. To date, 8,723 refugees have been brought to the US; approximately 5,000 more have been processed and approved for admission to the US. In recent days, however, some 40 percent of those scheduled to depart for the US have failed to appear for their flights. There is a residual of several hundred close family reunification cases.

In other words, we're going to continue to allow those who had signed up and will continue to pursue family reunification cases. But many of those who signed up have not showed up for their processing to come to the United States, leading us to assume that they're returning to Kosovo. Our expectation is - or our anticipation is that it appears unlikely that all the 20,000 places that we made available will be needed, but we'll have to see how these numbers shake out in the coming days.

QUESTION: What about those that are going back in? You say they're going to have what they need to eat. And how about the ones in the mountains - the IDPs?

MR. RUBIN: Well, there have been various reports about that. Really, it's very hard - there now are real people on the ground from the UN, from NATO and others. I don't have to tell you what we're gleaning from the outside is going on in Kosovo, which is what I had to do for 60 days to three months -- because there was nobody in Kosovo and we were trying to give you our best assessment from refugee accounts, our own intelligence information and other sources about what's going on in Kosovo. Now there are UN officials by the score; there are tens of thousands of NATO troops. Your journalistic colleagues are traveling the countryside freely without the kind of restrictions the Serbs were placing on journalists before. They are the best sources of information on the IDPs.

QUESTION: This may be premature, but I'm just wondering after your generous offer yesterday, if the HEROES line has been ringing off the hook with tips about --

MR. RUBIN: Not as of yet, to my knowledge, but I will check for you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:30 P.M.)

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