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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #117, 99-09-07

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


Tuesday, September 7, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1-5	Situation very disturbing; Embassy assisting Americans to leave;
	 productive relations with international community are at stake; UN
	 special delegation will assess situation; Indonesian government
	 must either control situation or invite assistance from
	 international community. 

IRAQ 5 UN Security Council permanent members have been meeting for some time, and US expects that to continue.

NORTH KOREA 5;6-7 Bilateral meetings have just begun; sea boundary dispute came up in general officer talks last week in Panmunjom.

INDIA (KASHMIR) 5-6 US looks forward to working with new government when it is formed in October; US takes no position on elections in Kashmir.

GREECE 6 Preliminary reports mention casualties in today's earthquake; no Americans reported injured

PARAGUAY 7 Dispute has arisen with Argentina, Uruguay over extradition of Gen. Oviedo.

ISRAEL 8 US has raised subject of torture of prisoners during interrogation bilaterally, and have noted it on many occasions in our annual human rights reports.

RUSSIA (DAGESTAN) 8 US deplores cowardly bombing; US condemns attacks against lawful authority, use of force against civilians.

CUBA 9 US has seen press reports on a ban on return of individuals who left illegally after 1994; US migration policy is working.


DPB #117


TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 1999, 1:22 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: Welcome to the State Department briefing. I have no statements; I have no announcements; I only have my presence here to answer your questions.

QUESTION: We'd be interested, I think, in the latest on East Timor, including any thoughts you may have on ways in which you might be showing your displeasure with the Indonesians for the lack of order in East Timor.

MR. RUBIN: Yes. Clearly the security situation in East Timor is deeply disturbing. Armed pro-integration militia groups are forcing the displacement of thousands of people, attacking concentrations of internally displaced persons, attacking the homes and offices of prominent community leaders, and intimidating foreigners, including United Nations personnel. Many have been killed. Indonesian military and police forces have allowed - and in some cases participated in - these abuses. President Habibie has declared a military emergency and has given the authority to restore order to the armed forces lead by General Wiranto. We urge the Indonesian Government to take effective action to restore order.

Our embassy has facilitated the departure of American citizens who wish to leave. We understand that all Americans who wish to leave East Timor have done so. Almost all of the remaining Americans are members of the UN mission. The UN mission has sent some staff members out of East Timor, but hundreds of whom a small number are Americans remain. As you know, a UN Security Council delegation is being sent to the region consisting of ambassadors from Namibia, Malaysia, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, and they will begin their meetings tomorrow in Jakarta.

Secretary Albright has spoken to Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and we have been in frequent and direct communication with the government of Indonesia over the past days to express our concern over the appalling and chaotic situation in East Timor. The Indonesians do still acknowledge their responsibility to insure order and they have told us they - they told us prior to yesterday they planned to declare a military emergency. That plan has now been put into effect and we will now be assessing whether that plan has any impact on the appalling security situation in East Timor.

Clearly we do wish to maintain productive relations with Indonesia, but the maintenance of productive relations between Indonesia and the United States and the international community at large depends upon Indonesia adopting a constructive attitude toward both ending the humanitarian disaster in East Timor and supporting the UN-administered process by which East Timor will become independent. That has, in general, been the message we've been sending.

QUESTION: Have you seen any evidence so far that martial law has any impact whatsoever?

MR. RUBIN: I think it's impossible to assess it so quickly. We're talking about a number of hours since it's been initiated and I don't think we have an ability to assess this on a real-time basis. As I indicated to you, there are very few Americans there. The few that are there are obviously not in a position to spread amongst the countryside or throughout the city of Dili, so it's not possible to make that judgment yet.

QUESTION: Why would the international community or why the United States think that the military would have any greater will or capability to secure order there when it hasn't so far?

MR. RUBIN: We'll have to see. We haven't made a judgment that it would. What we've made a judgment is that we would assess the situation; that they've said they will. They continue to take responsibility for security in East Timor and that we've made very clear our view of the appalling situation and that it is their responsibility; and they continue to take responsibility and until it achieves the objective which is the restoration of law and order, we're not going to be satisfied.

QUESTION: Will the US play any role in an international interim force that Australia is pushing?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know that anybody is pushing anything really at this time. Right now what's going on is that the United States and others have been engaged in intensive discussions with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the leaders of other concerned nations, including Australia, over how to best address the breakdown of order in East Timor. We have made it known in our side of these discussions that the responsibility for security remains with Indonesia. But Secretary Albright did indicate yesterday - quite clearly - that the Indonesian government must take care of the violence or let the international community be of assistance so that order can be restored, and that is our view.

QUESTION: It's not a terribly big place. How long will you all take to make this assessment? Is there a deadline for the Indonesian Government to get control over East Timor?

MR. RUBIN: Clearly we are not talking about a long period of time in being able to determine whether the new plan is going to succeed. Clearly the UN Security Council ambassadors are going to be there tomorrow and don't expect to dally, and we should know quickly whether the Indonesians are going to take care of the violence themselves or let the international community be of assistance, and it may be necessary for the UN and the international community to be of assistance.

QUESTION: Australia has asked the United States to commit troops to a force that Australia would lead and President Clinton has said he'd consider it but the US was heavily committed elsewhere. There is a widespread perception in Australia that the US is abandoning Australia over this issue. Could you tell us why the US is reluctant to commit troops and whether you see this as a regional issue that should be sorted out by regional players?

MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't assume that any of the premises of your question are necessarily accurate. I don't think the White House has put out precisely what President Clinton said in respect --

QUESTION: The Australian Government has released that information.

MR. RUBIN: Right - well I haven't seen - normally the United States is happy to tell the press what we say in our side of the conversation but we don't always characterize the other side of the conversation, and I'm sure the Australian Government has been equally responsible.

But having said that, I did just indicate that it might be necessary to have an international peacekeeping force and if that were necessary -- and we would obviously look at ways to be helpful but we don't think it is necessary to speculate on that publicly at this point because, at this point, it's up to the Indonesians to provide the security necessary and it's also all predicated - even the Australian discussion on the Indonesians accepting an international peacekeeping force.

QUESTION: Are there US national security interests involved in East Timor?

MR. RUBIN: I think our national interest is affected by the instability in East Timor. In the broadest sense, Indonesia is a country that is a place where the United States has significant interest given the sea lanes and a number of other factors that affect international commerce through that part of the world. To the extent that East Timor affects the stability of Indonesia it therefore affects those sea lanes.

More importantly - or without grading it - in addition, rather, there is a clear human rights component here where people who are aspiring to their freedom are being killed for that aspiration, and that is something that matters to the United States. So we have interests. We have a human rights interest and we have a national interest in the sea lanes in Indonesia. Whether that interest yields what policy is a different question.

QUESTION: Is there any thought being given to any kind of tribunal to be set up to try people who have been doing - running around with machetes and such?

MR. RUBIN: I haven't heard. I think that strikes me as a bit premature. We're right now trying to deal with the security situation and dealing with the question of how to reestablish order, but I'm sure that the human rights violations that have occurred will be something we will continue to focus on.

QUESTION: Indonesia has in the past or recent past asked the IMF for several large loans. At this point would the United States be inclined to try to block such loans?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I don't want to be more specific than to say that productive relations between Indonesia and the international community, including the IMF, depend on Indonesia adopting a constructive approach towards ending the humanitarian disaster in East Timor and supporting the UN-administered process by which East Timor will become independent. Obviously the relations with the international community are affected; that doesn't mean that any specific loan or any specific fund is - I'm not answering the specific question but, in general, obviously it affects the relationship.

QUESTION: Is it viewed as sort of anticipate ways to influence the Indonesian government when, you know, if you were to withhold loans it could again destabilize the economy there which is already --

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, I didn't say we would withhold loans. I made a broader point that it is in Indonesia's interest to have productive relations with the international community. I think that's clear. The Indonesian President has made that clear, and it's not possible to have productive relations with the international community with this crisis getting worse and worse. That is a reality of a fact of life.

As to what decisions we would make on any specific IMF loan, they are primarily based on financial criteria and so I don't want to speculate beyond that.

QUESTION: Two questions. Do you know how many Americans have left East Timor in recent days, number one; and I saw a new verb on the wire. It's called "Kosovoed out" and I think the rough interpretation of that is that you don't go charging into East Timor so soon after the controversial decision to go into Kosovo which was roughly or less than six months ago.

Do you subscribe to that in any way, shape, or form?

MR. RUBIN: No, I don't. In fact, I think the controversy over that decision has been redeemed by the freedom achieved for the people of Kosovo so that controversy is over, in my opinion.

The question of East Timor and Kosovo are not the same: They are not in the same part of the world; they don't have the same objective situations; they don't come on the basis of three wars started by President Milosevic. It's very facile in facile analysis to make facile analogies between East Timor and Kosovo. In East Timor there is a referendum; in Kosovo there wasn't a referendum. In Indonesia you have a country of a very different character than a Serbia that started a war in Slovenia, started a war in Croatia, started a war in Bosnia, and was responsible for mass murder in the way that the Serb authorities were and were indicted by the war crimes tribunal for.

So it's easy for some human rights organizations or journalists or others to equate situations that we don't regard as the same. It doesn't mean we care less about East Timor than we care about Kosovo but it does mean that they are different places with different national interests, different histories, different factors at play, and people should be very careful before they throw analogies around just to make their life easier when they're trying to explain their position.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - how many Americans -- (inaudible)?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have the number but I'll get that for you.

QUESTION: Two questions. One, do you compare East Timor with Kashmir, number one? Number two, since Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country, what other Muslim countries that their views - (inaudible) - the US discussions with other Muslim countries what we read about this situation there?

MR. RUBIN: East Timor is not Kosovo and East Timor is not Kashmir, and you can quote me on that. With respect to the Muslim country question, I don't think it's really an issue of whether the country is predominantly Muslim or not and so I don't understand the question.

Next topic - anything?



QUESTION: Are there talks going on now or scheduled for sometime this week involving representatives of the Perm Five in Washington on the question of weapons of mass destruction?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. Permanent members of the Security Council have been meeting regularly for quite some time in New York and in the capitals to discuss the resolution put forward by the Netherlands and the United Kingdom on Iraq and re-establishing the inspection of weapons sites in Iraq. We expect such meetings to continue but I wouldn't be in a position to speculate on any specific meeting or any specific result.

QUESTION: Do you have any reading from Berlin on the US-North Korean talks?

MR. RUBIN: The meetings just started today and obviously they're on a subject of great importance to us - the subject of missiles - and we continue to hold the positions that we've had in the past, but we don't think it's helpful to speculate in public about such discussions as they've just began.

QUESTION: You just talked about the human rights violations and US concerns in East Timor. You know that the people of Kashmir are being persecuted for seeking self-determination under the UN resolutions and there were elections there and you know all major parties - (inaudible) - those elections. What do you say about that? What are your comments on it?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I just urge you to not get trapped into facile analogies that don't apply. Kashmir is not East Timor. With respect to the election, let me say that India's latest elections are only the most recent example of its dedication to democratic principles. We look forward to working closely with the new government when it is formed in October.

During the past several Indian national elections, turnout in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley has been particularly low. It is not for us to comment on the legitimacy of elections in any part of Kashmir. We have said repeatedly that the Kashmir dispute must be resolved between India and Pakistan in a manner that reflects the wishes of the people of Kashmir. That is our view.

QUESTION: Now - according to the India - (inaudible) - newspaper and also several newspapers around the globe India has sent several --

MR. RUBIN: Are the other newspapers entitled the globe as well?

QUESTION: They have sent a team to Washington to talk with officials here - I don't know whether somebody met in the State Department or they're going to meet today - that India has now said Usama bin Laden was involved in - (inaudible) - conflict and that means he was training terrorists in Pakistan and said Pakistan. So that means Pakistan knows where he is and that now they have proof and they want to talk about US and India talk on Afghanistan?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know whether there are Indian officials talking to the US right now about Usama bin Laden. I do know that officials in this department and elsewhere spend a lot of time working with many governments to try to obtain as much information as possible on the whereabouts of Usama bin Laden so that he can be brought to justice, and we would welcome information from whatever source it came provided it was good information.

QUESTION: Do you know anything about Kazakstan selling MIGs to North Korea?

MR. RUBIN: We had something on this and I'll get that for you afterwards.

QUESTION: I have two questions. Do you have anything on the earthquake in Athens? Were there any Americans hurt?

MR. RUBIN: We have some preliminary information. Obviously we're trying to assess this situation in an hour-by-hour way. We understand an earthquake did occur about 40 kilometers northwest of Athens at 8 o'clock this morning Washington time. Our preliminary reports say there were casualties. No American citizens have been reported killed or injured as yet so far. We hope that remains the case. The quake was estimated to be about 5.9 on the Richter scale. We understand some buildings in Athens sustained damage. Our embassy is open today with essential staff and we anticipate normal operations tomorrow.

QUESTION: Jamie, will there be any discussion in Geneva with the North Koreans about the --

MR. RUBIN: Berlin, you mean?

QUESTION: I'm sorry.

MR. RUBIN: Okay.

QUESTION: About the situation that erupted last week. They have said that they are not going to honor the line that was - the northern limit line. Today they said that they would attack South Korean ships that tried to go north of the line that they established as their own last week.

MR. RUBIN: At the general officer talks in Panmunjom, the United Nations Command urged that the issue be settled through dialog. We continue to urge a dialogue that would result in an amicable solution that will avoid future incidents. As you know from the past that bilateral discussions occasionally become a forum by which the North Koreans may raise issues like that and obviously we'd have something to say back, but to my knowledge that hasn't happened. Our view as to what should happen I just stated.

QUESTION: The past few years the governments of Argentina and Paraguay, they are having diplomatic problems. The ambassador of Argentina in Paraguay has recalled and vice versa. Do you have any comments on that, any reaction?

MR. RUBIN: Last week the Argentine and Uruguayan governments declined to take action on Paraguay's request for the extradition of former General Lino Oviedo and former Defense Minister Segovia. The government of Paraguay has strongly criticized these decisions. Paraguayans have demonstrated in front of the Argentine and Uruguayan embassies to Paraguay. Paraguay has recalled its ambassadors to the two countries for consultations and President Gonzalez has replaced the foreign minister.

This extradition request is a matter to be resolved by the governments involved and we have not been asked to mediate.

QUESTION: Jamie, the Middle East was very active over the weekend. I've got two or three questions, if you wouldn't mind. First of all, on the Wye2 agreement, can you tell me whether the monitoring group that is due to be reactivated this next month, will it include CIA and FBI people as originally envisioned?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we've never commented on specific participation of specific experts at specific meetings, and we certainly wouldn't want to change that practice.

QUESTION: Will there be Americans involved in the monitoring group?

MR. RUBIN: I will check that for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, with regard to the release of prisoners, we note that the Israeli government tends to release 20 foreign prisoners, including Jordanians, and other foreigners. Does that include any American citizens and did the Secretary raise this with David Levy the possibility of the release of some American citizens?

MR. RUBIN: I will check that as well.

QUESTION: All right. Thirdly, a Supreme Court decision by the Israeli Supreme Court is a very remarkable decision. Do you have any - and a surprising one. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have to check that. We have raised the issue of torture during interrogations with the government of Israel and addressed it on numerous occasions in our human rights reports, most recently in the 1998 report, and we welcome any actions that are consistent with internationally recognized human rights standards.

QUESTION: On Russia - on Dagestan in particular, what is your assessment of the latest events there?

MR. RUBIN: On Dagestan. I confess I'm operating a little slow motion from my head cold so you'll have to forgive me. On September 4th a powerful car bomb exploded on a military base in central Dagestan. The bomb was detonated near a military housing facility and the Russian press reports said as many as 64 people were killed and that most victims were the family members of officers serving in the region.

The United States deplores this cowardly act of terrorism. We understand that on September 5th armed groups from Chechnya again crossed into Dagestan and have seized villages in the Novolakskoye region. Russian forces in the region are using air, artillery, and tanks to dislodge the insurgents.

We continue to follow this situation very closely. We condemn the actions by armed groups against lawful authorities and innocent civilians in Dagestan which is resulting in loss of life and is displacing families from their homes. We underscore the importance for all concerned to act responsibly and to respect human rights. We urge all parties to refrain from indiscriminate or disproportionate use of force which could harm innocent civilians.

QUESTION: There is a group in El Salvador that is denouncing over the press reports that former combatants of the FMLN from El Salvador are selling missiles and other arms to the Colombian FARC group. They are all saying that they have contacted and sent letters to the US Department on this issue. Can you confirm whether your department has received these letters or reports and overall on this issue?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I will check those reports and get back to you.

QUESTION: On another issue, can you confirm or deny whether the US is planning on --

MR. RUBIN: I always hate questions that start like that, but please continue.

QUESTION: -- on whether the US is planning or thinking about sending US Green Berets to train Argentine troops in Argentina?

MR. RUBIN: I'll check that one, too.

QUESTION: Cuba - have you seen any degrees of people leaving the island - (inaudible) - after the decision of the government of Cuba to deny the rights to go back to the Cuban territory?

MR. RUBIN: We have seen press reports that the government of Cuba intends to ban the return of those who illegally departed the island after 1994. If press reports are accurate, it is unfortunate that the government of Cuba has made this extreme decision that is inconsistent with the internationally recognized rights of individuals to travel freely. However, we recognize that every country has the right to establish its immigration laws and to protect its borders.

As far as Cuban migration is concerned, we are extremely worried about the disproportionate rise in alien smuggling. The US is thoroughly committed to promoting safe, legal and orderly migration as set forth in the Migration Accords. We have met the goal of issuing 20,000 travel authorizations in each of the four years since the 1994 accord and will continue to do so. In fact, in the past four years we have surpassed the 20,000 allotment. Our migration policy is working and remains unchanged.

(The briefing concluded at 1:50 P.M.)

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