U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #117, 99-09-07
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
Tuesday, September 7, 1999
Briefer: James P. Rubin
INDONESIA (EAST TIMOR)
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
5 UN Security Council permanent members have been meeting for some
time, and US expects that to continue.
5;6-7 Bilateral meetings have just begun; sea boundary dispute came up in
general officer talks last week in Panmunjom.
5-6 US looks forward to working with new government when it is formed
in October; US takes no position on elections in Kashmir.
6 Preliminary reports mention casualties in today's earthquake; no
Americans reported injured
7 Dispute has arisen with Argentina, Uruguay over extradition of
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.
8 US deplores cowardly bombing; US condemns attacks against lawful
authority, use of force against civilians.
9 US has seen press reports on a ban on return of individuals who
left illegally after 1994; US migration policy is working.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 1999, 1:22 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. RUBIN: Welcome to the State Department briefing. I have no
statements; I have no announcements; I only have my presence here to answer
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
QUESTION: Have you seen any evidence so far that martial law has any
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
MR. RUBIN: Yes.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.)