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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #119, 99-09-13

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


Monday, September 13, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1	Secretary Albright will address Kosovar Albanian leaders here tomorrow.

RUSSIA 1 US condemns apparent bombing of two apartment buildings in Moscow. US stands ready to assist Russian investigation. 6-7 Russian delegation from the FSB here to discuss corruption and money laundering. US will talk to them about what kinds of forensic and other assistance US could provide if requested. US is also offering assistance through Ambassador Collins in Moscow.

INDONESIA (EAST TIMOR) 2-5 UN Security Council will meet today. Indonesian and Australian foreign ministers are in New York today. US seeks rapid passage of a resolution authorizing a multinational force. US role is expected to be in transport, logistics, communications and intelligence. US is considering humanitarian air drops of food and supplies.

NORTH KOREA 7-10 Based on Berlin bilateral talks, US understands DPRK will refrain from testing long-range missiles while negotiations on improving relations continue. If DPRK were to forego testing, it would be of benefit to the relationship. Secretary Albright is prepared to recommend to the President easing restrictions on non-sensitive goods, investment, certain financial transactions and transportation restrictions. Food issue was not raised in Berlin talks. This understanding is a very substantial step forward. Initial deployment of missile defense not premised upon a DPRK missile threat . Sea boundary issue did not arise in Berlin talks.

IRAN 10-12 US has had a high-level communication. Group of 13 US graduate students was in Iran, but has returned to US. US has seen no official confirmation that Iranian students taking part in July demonstrations have been condemned to death. If true, it would be cause for concern. US view of the trial of 13 Jews on espionage charges is well-known and has not changed.

TURKEY-GREECE 12 US a proponent of improving relations between the two. Secretary Albright will have opportunities to meet with their officials in New York at the UN.

AFGHANISTAN 12-13 US supports Six-Plus-Two process.

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 13-14 US congratulates the parties on the launching of permanent status talks. US stands ready to assist the parties. Us expects to have regular contact with Syria and Israel to see whether talks can be re-started.


DPB #119

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 1999, 12:47 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: Welcome to the State Department briefing and welcome, all of you, to the State Department briefing. On terms of procedure, we're going to do our normal briefing and go as long as it takes to do the work we need to do, and then we're going to take a short break and return with Assistant Secretary Martin Indyk to present a report on Iraq that we will have available to you.

Just an announcement: Secretary Albright will address a group of visiting Kosovar Albanian political and community leaders tomorrow, currently scheduled for 10:00 a.m. That may change slightly. This will be an address to the conference of Kosovar Albanians that have been meeting outside of Washington for the last couple of days. It will be at the conclusion of this conference, the aim of which is to assist these leaders in developing a framework for a democratic society in Kosovo. The conference is closed to the press, but I think there will be some - I assume you think it's OK for people to have private meetings - and they will be able to report some of their conclusions, which I've worked very hard to have done in public at this event tomorrow morning. So the details of that will be provided to you later today by our able staff.

Before beginning, let me say that the United States Government condemns the apparent bombing that took place in Moscow. Nighttime explosions in two apartment buildings were clearly planned to maximize loss of life. Acts of terror in all their forms have no place in a democratic society. We extend our condolences to the families of the victims who have suffered loss and injury. These recent events only serve to strengthen our commitment to the government of Russia and to the people of our two countries, to work more effectively together to combat these kind of heinous crimes.

Russia is conducting an investigation. We stand ready to assist that investigation and will be discussing possible assistance with the Russian authorities shortly. President Yeltsin has made clear that the investigation will be carried out in full compliance with the constitution and the laws of the Russian Federation. We note President Yeltsin's call for calm, and his statement asking his countrymen not to rush to judgment against people of certain nationalities or religious faiths.

QUESTION: A lot of ground to cover. Let's try East Timor first and maybe you can fill in some of the gaps admittedly of some of what position the US has. It isn't clear to me what form consultations will take, and you know how consultations can cover a multitude of actions. Who will consult and what does the administration mean about consulting Congress about using US peacekeepers, and will US peacekeepers have license to use weapons to maintain order? How do you - how does the administration perceive their role? I realize this story is breaking all over in New Zealand and elsewhere, but on the off-chance that State can fill in some of the gaps.

MR. RUBIN: Let me try to tell you what I can on this. During the course of today, Foreign Minister Alatas of Indonesia and the foreign minister of Australia will be in New York. There will be a closed meeting of the Security Council at 4 o'clock. Today will be an important day in the development of this important peacekeeping operation. What we have indicated is that we would like the delegations in New York to move rapidly on a fast track to pass a resolution authorizing a multinational force to move to East Timor, to provide security and restore order. We are cooperating with the UN Secretary General and other delegations, as well as the arrival of the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Australia.

The Australians have offered to lead the multinational force under a UN Security Council mandate. The United States will be one of a number of countries joining in the operation. The areas where we are expected to play a role is in the area of transport, logistics, communications and intelligence. Now those four areas involve people, and people being on the ground, but this is not the classic role of infantry troops being the units responsible for restoring order but, rather, those units responsible to assist the infantry units that do the restoration of order. We will obviously be insuring that rules of engagement are created that enable us to participate, and that means adequate rules of engagement.

As far as consultation with Congress is concerned, anytime the United States participates -- or even supports the funding of a peacekeeping operation -- we consult with Congress. That means telling them what our intentions are; telling them what going in principles are for American participation; but of course, telling them that we can't answer every precise question of how many in each category, until we know what it is that those countries like Australia, Thailand, Malaysia and others who are going to play the prominent roles on the ground, will need in terms of assistance.

Now, what's different about this operation is at this point it is envisaged as a multinational operation authorized by the Security Council, as opposed to a traditional peacekeeping operation run by the Secretariat in the United Nations. So a lot of the discussions about precise roles, numbers, details that you are asking about - legitimately - are ones that can't be answered until we've talked more to those countries who are leading the operation, such as Australia and Malaysia and Thailand and others, who will have the prominent membership in the infantry.

QUESTION: You've given us enough of a picture of what the US role would be and remembering, for instance, what I call "Bosnia I" where the Europeans weren't happy that the US was sort of keeping itself "from the ground," -- as the French would say, you want us all to do the dirty work and you want to fly up in the air.

Has this role - however you want to describe it, and I won't put an adjective in front of it - is this role acceptable to the other nations, the other major nations, and indeed with France, which stepped forward way ahead of the United States? Would European allies play a different role, as far as you know, a more hands-on role than you describe for the US, which sounds mostly like a support role?

MR. RUBIN: Right. You know, you can always define ground combat troops as one thing and everything else as something else, or you can say that those countries that have unique capabilities that are necessary to move quickly, would play the role in doing what they can that very few others can do. That is the case for what we are prepared to contribute to this operation: logistics, communications, headquarters, intelligence, lift. Those are things that the United States does better than anybody else in the world, and sometimes the United States is the only country that can move very rapidly.

So I would say that you are tending to compare apples and oranges in saying that if you are not putting boots on the ground in a combat role, you're really not doing very much; you're just supporting. I don't think the Australians see it that way. I think they see the US willingness to help them get in as extremely important and, as I understand it, they are quite satisfied with what the United States is prepared to contribute.

Again, on your analogy, let me just throw it out very quickly. Bosnia was a situation where there wasn't a peace to keep. There was a war. We are talking about a situation where the Indonesian Government, the prime authority here, which has the prime military capability, would be working hand-in-hand with this operation. So it is a very different situation.

QUESTION: Can you give us a kind of estimate of maybe numbers of US servicemen involved in this? Would it be less than a hundred or in the hundreds or more?

MR. RUBIN: I would expect it to be in the hundreds, not the thousands. But I would remind you to include the letter "s" in your reporting of this.

QUESTION: According to reports, ASEAN country doesn't want to have leadership of Australia. So can you comment on that?

MR. RUBIN: Which country?

QUESTION: ASEAN countries.

MR. RUBIN: I don't know that all of them have taken a position one way or another. Look, we recognize that there is an important value here, and that is the value of having the Asian countries that live nearby be a prominent participant, play leading roles in this operation.

There is another value, however, and that is the value of being able to move quickly. We have a dire humanitarian situation here, and rather than sitting back and trying to construct a perfect situation - which is no longer perfect because Indonesia has failed to provide security and Indonesian forces have been partially responsible for what's gone on there - we need to weigh two values: one, the value of ensuring that there is proper regional participation, including key Asian countries; and the other value, which is getting in quickly and restoring order and bringing food and medicine to the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people who need it. Those are the two values and what they'll be doing in New York is trying to achieve the most of each one of them as they move forward.

QUESTION: Is there anything you could say at this stage about possible air drops by the United States?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, we are considering that. President Habibie did indicate that he would support humanitarian airdrops, and so the United States and other countries are looking at the possibility of air-dropping food and other supplies to refugees in East Timor. We are doing that on an emergency basis given the dramatic situation unfolding there.

QUESTION: Is the United States going to move ahead with an international force if there are any hang-ups in the Security Council, if there is some sort of prolonged debate over details of the force?

MR. RUBIN: We believe that, with the support of Indonesia and the messages we have been receiving from most other countries, that that there is no reason that this resolution authorizing the force can't be moved extremely quickly - in a matter of days, a short number of days - and we don't see any reason to hold that up.

Obviously, there has been reluctance on the part of Indonesia until yesterday to support a force. They have now supported a force. We do not want to have endless haggling over the details, and I think all members of the Security Council understand the urgency. We feel a very serious and very strong sense of urgency to move forward now to deal with the situation.

QUESTION: Jamie, have the results of the voting for independence, the independence referendum in East Timor, been made public yet and are they being withheld from the public to keep from aggravating the situation?

MR. RUBIN: My understanding is that the initial results were put forward, and that 80 percent, 78, 79 percent of the voters voted for independence. I didn't know there was anything being hidden about that.

QUESTION: The -- (inaudible) -- has said --

MR. RUBIN: Maybe not all the details of which district and all that, but the overall numbers I'm confident have been put out.

QUESTION: That was put out by the UN?

MR. RUBIN: That's my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: Jamie, there is elements in Indonesia who say they don't want Australians involved in this and they don't want - some are saying they don't want Americans. Can this be a hitch or what happens if they continue to hold back?

MR. RUBIN: Again, this is similar to the previous question. We recognize that there are some concerns in that area. The United States has had a good working relationship with the Indonesian military; so has the Australian military. So we don't see this as a - need be a problem. We recognize the sensitivities and, as I said in response to the previous question, we're going to move forward with -- conscious of two goals: one, the fact that Australia has offered to lead this force; that Australia is ready, willing and able to move extremely quickly, given their preparations and; on the other hand, that it should have a very strong Asian character, including Malaysians, Thais, and other countries that have indicated a willingness to participate.

So we recognize the point you're making, but we have to take that point up against the extreme urgency of acting now. The Indonesian military and the Indonesian leaders failed to act for weeks, and that is why we're in this situation, and we're not going to allow endless haggling to prevent the restoration of order.

QUESTION: Are there any differences between the US and the Australians as to who will have the command?

MR. RUBIN: Not that I know of.

QUESTION: Has this been discussed?

MR. RUBIN: I'm sure that -- Admiral Blair briefed Secretary Albright in Hawaii yesterday when she stopped there on her way back to the United States and, as I understand it, the consultations between the United States and Australia have been going extremely well.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MR. RUBIN: Any more on East Timor?

QUESTION: The US had said that it might suspend special food programs for Indonesia and also the military assistance. When will that be suspended?

MR. RUBIN: I think what - suspending the suspension, you mean? Our view is that if the Indonesians follow through with their stated willingness to allow the necessary peacekeeping force to deploy, and deploy quickly, and get the job done without endless haggling or interference, that the kind of steps that we were pursuing in the last week -- to make clear the consequences of a failure to restore order, or a failure to ask for international support to restore order, would no longer be necessary. But we're not going to assume that that is going to happen; we're going to wait to see that the necessary cooperation from Indonesia is forthcoming.

QUESTION: A different topic?


QUESTION: Could you elaborate on what the US might - what sort of assistance the US might be able to give to the Russians in their --

MR. RUBIN: Yes. As I understand, there is a delegation from the so-called FSB here today; that they are here during the course of the week to discuss the money laundering cases and other subjects. What we would expect to do is to talk to those officials who would also have responsibilities in the criminal area like this, about what kind of forensic and other support we could provide on an urgent basis. Obviously, we would only supply that assistance that was requested, but there are certain areas where we may have some expertise that the Russians may want to avail themselves of. That will be one channel for determining what specific assistance they might be seeking.

Another channel is through Ambassador Collins, and the work that is being done now in Moscow, and what we are saying is that we have a variety of capabilities in this area and a variety of expertise, and if there are some areas where the Russians would benefit from our help, particularly in the forensic area, we would be prepared to assist.

QUESTION: Can we just try the North Korean missile situation?


QUESTION: As far as bombings are concerned in Moscow, Moscow has said that they are willing now to work with Washington as far as terrorism is concerned and terrorists, including Usama bin Laden so --

MR. RUBIN: That's good. Yes.

QUESTION: Your comments?

MR. RUBIN: That's good.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR. RUBIN: Sure.

QUESTION: On Russia, you mentioned the FSB delegation. Can you say what their program is as far as --

MR. RUBIN: As far as I know - and you will have to check with the Russian embassy on this -- they are here from Monday through Friday; that they were originally planning to come as part of an effort to work on corruption and money laundering, that they are going to meet a variety of officials including people here in the department and elsewhere. What I am suggesting is that given the current circumstances, we would avail ourselves of this opportunity to discuss with experts what kind of specific forensic or other support we could provide.

QUESTION: Could we try? This is a place -- again, some is coming from Auckland, on the North Korean "sort-of" pledge not to test missiles? What form does the pledge take and the quo is what, that the US will consider lifting sanctions?

MR. RUBIN: Let me start by making the general point. We have always said that, as the North Koreans implement the 1994 Agreed Framework, that we would move forward to improve the economic and political relationship between the United States and North Korea. So there is nothing new about that. The possibility of lifting or suspending sanctions was raised and first made possible by the 1994 nuclear agreement. So I think one has to be careful drawing direct linkages, when this possibility has existed for some time.

Where we are is that, based on Ambassador Kartman's discussions with the North Koreans in Berlin this week, he briefed the Secretary of State and what he told her is that, based on his discussions, he thinks it is fair to say that our understanding and expectation that the North Koreans will refrain from testing any long-range missiles for the duration of negotiations that are aimed at improving our relations. So in this interim period, they have indicated and made statements, and through three rounds of talks - including five full days in the third round - that Ambassador Kartman, who has a long history of working closely on this subject and understanding the difficult nuances in talking to the North Koreans, is saying that he thinks it's fair to say that we do not expect there to be any long-range missile testing during the course of the follow-up that is expected between us and the North Koreans.

So it is an interim situation, and it's our understanding that there will be an interim freeze of that kind. It is not a formal document - a treaty -- but that is our understanding, and in the past when similar arrangements were made that were short of a treaty or a formal agreement we believe that we have understood how to read the signals accurately.

QUESTION: The other freeze involved the United States, South Korea and Japan undertaking to provide a rather hefty reserve of power and less- ominous reactors to North Korea. Taking what you said at face value about the economic sanctions --

MR. RUBIN: Which I know you always do --

QUESTION: -- has always been out there. I mean, would it be unduly suspicious on my part to think that North Koreans were expecting something right on the table to reward them for a freeze? Have we said anything specifically about --

MR. RUBIN: I think we've been quite clear that --

QUESTION: The sanctions are about food.

MR. RUBIN: Yes, let me answer both questions.


MR. RUBIN: I think we've been quite clear in saying that, if North Korea were to test its long-range missile, it would have serious consequences for our relationship. That's negative consequences. We have also made clear that, if North Korea would be prepared to forego testing, that it would be a benefit to the relationship.

Based on the Secretary's conversations with Ambassador Kartman yesterday, she is prepared to recommend to the President that we move ahead with easing restrictions on the trade of non-sensitive goods and investment, certain financial transactions, and transportation restrictions. We would not make any recommendations for easing of terrorism, proliferation or statutorily controlled items.

In other words, if you look at those areas primarily under the Trading With the Enemy Act, that go beyond the restrictions imposed on North Korea because they are on the list of terrorist states, there are some sanctions that she is prepared to recommend the easing of. I am not prepared to give you the specifics, because that will come only when the recommendation goes to the President, which I would expect to occur in the coming days.

QUESTION: Jamie, is there any discussion of renewing the leading --

MR. RUBIN: Excuse me one moment. You also asked me about food. Food did not come up in Berlin. Food was not part of this discussion. There was no issue of food aid at all discussed in Berlin.

QUESTION: It's still your position food is separate; it's a humanitarian matter. They don't get rewarded with food for - or punished, depending on their activities in other areas?

MR. RUBIN: That is still our position. But in addition to that position, let me tell you that the subject of food wasn't even raised by the North Koreans in Berlin.

QUESTION: Have there been any more discussions about the US and North Korea trying to find property in each other's countries so that consular offices could be opened?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I will check that, and I don't know the answer to that. I don't think that was primary among the issues being discussed in the last couple of days. In that regard, let me say that we also expect that Secretary Perry's report will be going to the Congress in the coming days.

QUESTION: Can we nail this down a little bit further? There will be a suspension on the part of the North Koreans of any long-range missile tests, as long as there are negotiations and talks that will continue to go forward or progress; there has to be progress on the talks, or there just has to be talks, or do you know?

MR. RUBIN: The way I would frame it is the following: It's our understanding that the North Koreans will refrain from testing any long-range missiles for the duration of our negotiations, in order to improve our relations. Now, obviously, prime among any objective in our negotiations to improve relations would be to formalize the intentions of North Korea with respect to the testing of missiles. So we would expect to continue to negotiate for quite some time, until we were able to achieve that objective; including getting Bob Einhorn and others to meet with the North Koreans on the substance of this.

Let me say in this regard that, for as long as I've been standing at this podium, many of you have asked me either about North Korea's nuclear program, or about North Korea's missile programs, and accurately reflecting the concern we have and the concern the world has had about the dangers of North Korea developing a long-range missile; testing it, then deploying it and, ultimately, possibly deploying it with the combination of conventional and/or non-conventional weaponry.

We have stated as our objective to retard and prevent that development. In the nuclear side, we have been able to suspend and freeze their activities at the Yongbyon reactor, without which we would have faced a situation where there would've been many tens of nuclear weapons that North Korea could have produced by now - since 1994.

Now what we're trying to do is suspend, and then make permanent, the freeze on the testing of missiles, which will greatly enhance the security of our friends and allies in the region, and greatly enhance the security of the United States. So this is a very substantial step forward, to have an understanding like this, and let me say that obviously we're going to be monitoring this very carefully, and it's the absence of testing that will be the true achievement. But to have this kind of a situation develop, after these efforts, is something that we consider a very important step forward.

QUESTION: Does this lessen the need for a missile defense? It certainly picks at one of the arguments used.

MR. RUBIN: There are two phases involved: one is a near-term situation; and one of those - the initial deployment envisaged in Alaska -- is not designed to defend against the potential of a North Korea, or an Iran, or some other country, or an Iraq, that would in the year 2010 or 2011 be able to hit the United States. So the initial deployment is not premised on North Korea having a long-range missile in the next couple of years.

QUESTION: What about a regional defense - a Pacific theater involving Japan and Taiwan?

MR. RUBIN: This is -- as we just explained in the discussion -- this is a situation where we're expressing our understanding. This isn't a formalized treaty; we're a long way from having all the objectives of missile talks achieved; and that is what Bob Einhorn and others are going to need to pursue. So I'm not prepared to say what this, standing alone, will do, because it's not an understanding like this that is critical; it's the more formal arrangements that we would still be seeking through the missile talks, that could change the strategic calculations in East Asia.

QUESTION: One more on North Korea?


QUESTION: Was there any mention at the Berlin talks about the Northern Limit Line?

MR. RUBIN: I don't believe that - I think they had their hands full in working on this situation. I don't believe that came up.

QUESTION: Is this a step in the right direction for a formalized treaty concerning missiles between the US and North Korea? Has progress been made in that regard?

MR. RUBIN: I think there is no question that this is a step in the right direction towards achieving our objective of reducing the danger of a North Korea long-range missile capability. There is no question about that.

QUESTION: Today in the New York Times that the Department of State hired David Phillips, a specialist in conflict resolution to suggest ways of bringing the Greeks and the Turks together. Do you know what this is about?

MR. RUBIN: I didn't even see that in the paper but I will take another look at it.

QUESTION: In Iran there were reports that -- (inaudible) - Iran. Can you share some of the details of the correspondence and also can you give us an update on the Jewish prisoners there, or if, in fact, the letter was related to the Jewish prisoners?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. There are three separate issues here and so let me try to de-conflict them for you: There is the question of a communication reported by official Iranian authorities, of communication between the United States and Iran; there is the question of the US students who were in Iran; and then there is the question of the Iranian students who have been reportedly -- some sentenced to death. So let me take those one at a time, so we don't confuse them.

With respect to the first, that is, the reports of an official Iranian confirmation of a communication between the United States and Iran, high- level communication, I can confirm that we've had such a communication, but I am not in a position to detail the way in which it was made, and the substance of it. We have many different ways in which to communicate with Iran. The Swiss channel is something you have all asked me about before. There are many other ways to send messages, and diplomats are very good at developing methods for sending messages. So, yes, there was a message.

Secondly, the question of the students: We are aware that a group of 13 American graduate students from the Institute of Iranian studies has returned to the United States from Iran, but I can not go into the details or the circumstances of their departure.

Now, the third issue is the death sentence to the four persons cited for rioting in July. We have seen press reports that four people have been sentenced to death for their part in the demonstrations in Iran this July. We have, as yet, seen no official confirmation of these reports from the Iranian Government. If accurate, reports that people involved in demonstrations have been condemned to death would be cause for concern, both in the United States and among members of the international community. And that is, I hope, an answer to all of your questions.

QUESTION: Jamie, the correspondence, or whatever you want to call it, between this government and the Iranian Government: Can you say if it was in response to something that they initially sent us, or was it something initiated -

MR. RUBIN: Look, I have gone farther than I usually go in simply confirming the fact that the Iranian Government has confirmed a communication. There are many opportunities for us to pass official messages, and they happen regularly, and I'm just not going to describe any one message, what the purpose of that message was, or the substance of any one of those messages.

QUESTION: Can you deny that the original report, which came out in Al Watan, that the issue was the bombing in Saudi Arabia of an American military complex?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm not going to describe the substance of any particular message, but our concerns on that particular issue are well known.

QUESTION: You didn't mention another topic of the relations between Iran and the United States, which was the destiny of the 13 - so far, 13 as far as I understand - Iranian Jews who are accused of --

MR. RUBIN: Unfortunately, see, 13 is the number that also applies to the US scholars and so that was what I thought I was being asked about; the US students that left - scholars that left - I believe the number is also 13. I think our view on the 13 Iranian Jews who have been subject to prosecution is well known, and it stands.

QUESTION: Nothing new about them?

MR. RUBIN: We don't have a lot of real-time information about what is transpiring in Iran with respect to their cases, but our views remain the same.

QUESTION: Was that the subject of communications, sir?

MR. RUBIN: Sorry?

QUESTION: Was that the subject of communication between the two governments?

MR. RUBIN: I think you've probably noticed that, in response to the last five questions, I've refused to describe any substantive content of any discussion between us and Iran, and I don't intend to change that.

QUESTION: Can you verify what is at least a 10-day-old report, that there's been some shake-up in the Iranian judiciary which is being given as a rationale, or inferred at least by American observers, for delaying what was expected to have been the trial of the 13 Iranians?

MR. RUBIN: I would have to check that for you. I'll check that for you.

QUESTION: Jamie, today's European Union foreign minister has a meeting with the Turkish foreign minister and also --

MR. RUBIN: You know, I'm really in trouble now. They've put this new camera in and they took the clock away, so I now can't see what time it is so now I'll be accused to trying to get out of the room by looking at my watch in some caricature of a bad spokesman.

QUESTION: And also Turkey --

MR. RUBIN: Bring the clock back, yes.

QUESTION: -- Turkey and Greece getting a better atmosphere on their relationship. Do you have any reaction - do you have any comment on these two issues?

MR. RUBIN: Certainly we have long been a proponent of improving the relationship between Greece and Turkey, and to the extent that out of disaster has come some improvement, that is the one silver lining one can see in the terrible earthquakes that have struck in both Greece and Turkey. Let me say with regard to Turkey, we do have information about another earthquake that struck this morning, centered around Izmit. We don't have many more details.

But with respect to Greek-Turkish relations -- the Secretary, as you know, was in Turkey; had an opportunity to meet with Foreign Minister Cem when she was there. She'll have additional opportunities, as will others, to meet with Greek and Turkish officials at the General Assembly, and we would always be looking for ways to promote improvement between our two NATO allies.

QUESTION: Jamie, what kind of US and Afghanistan and Taliban talks are going on now, because the situation in Afghanistan is pretty bad - attacks on women, children by the Taliban, 20 years now, and the civil war going on.

MR. RUBIN: Well, we are strong supporters of the two-plus-six process for Afghanistan that the United Nations, led by Lakhdar Brahimi, has been conducting, and we have strongly supported his efforts, will continue to support his efforts, including attending critical meetings, et cetera. So that is something that remains an issue of interest and concern to the United States.

QUESTION: I don't know if this was noticed, but it was played very prominently. But with the ceremonial opening tonight - and probably it has happened already - of the formal search for an overall settlement, Barak is quoted as saying -- in contrast to the optimism voiced by the Palestinians - - that this is tough going, and maybe the result will have to be interim agreements. This is at the launching of an overall settlement.

With Dennis, I suppose, on the scene, Dennis Ross, that was the intention, is that truly representative - I know what your preference is, of course, an overall settlement. But is the Israeli Government telling the US that the going looks rough, and maybe the outcome will be interim settlements instead of an overall settlement?

MR. RUBIN: Let me say that we congratulate the parties on this important step; that is, the launching of permanent status talks on the path to a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We remain ready, as always, to do what we can to facilitate these efforts.

We have seen some press reports of that remark. The most I can offer you is to say that the parties themselves have committed to reaching a framework agreement on all permanent status issues within five months, and a comprehensive agreement within one year. We think that the final status negotiations should focus on that effort, that objective, that commitment to try to achieve those objectives. That's the way to make progress, is to focus on objectives and work hard to achieve them.

We are going to do what we can to assist both Israel and the Palestinians in reaching an agreement, and I, from this podium, would prefer not to speculate about what happens if that doesn't succeed.

QUESTION: Is there time for, and is there a disposition by Ross to nibble at the Syrian-Israeli situation while he is out there for a limited time?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I don't know every contact he is going to have. I can tell you that I would expect that Secretary Albright, and people here in the Department, including Ambassador Ross, to have regular contacts with both Israelis and the Syrians, with the objective of seeing whether one can re-start the talks and finding a formula to do so, as well as trying to see that if those talks are re-started, that they can rapidly reach a successful conclusion.

QUESTION: Any comment on the Israeli press reports that President Clinton is prepared to involve himself in the Syrian-Israeli track?

MR. RUBIN: I think it should be quite evident to anyone, including the Israeli press, that the United States is prepared to work very hard on promoting peace between Israel and Syria, and that we've worked very hard in the past, and we're prepared to work very hard in the future.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - another press report that sounds awfully premature, but there is a report that - Israeli-Palestinian - that the President is putting together --

MR. RUBIN: Without the clock I can't do my eye contact when I look at the clock, and you know what I'm looking at, and I have to do this and everybody says, he's trying to get out of the room, he's running away.

QUESTION: Get away from these television lights. Believe me. But here we go.

Is there anything in the works so far as a "Camp David II," Israel- Palestinian, Arafat, Barak, Clinton? It's kind of early to do it, but there's a report out there that it's being prepared.

MR. RUBIN: I am sure there are reports that a lot of stuff is being prepared. What I know is that Secretary Albright is focused on seeing how to be helpful; that there have been at the time of Wye, President Clinton indicated a willingness to meet with the leaders of Israel and with Chairman Arafat, to push the final status of negotiations towards a conclusion, and that commitment stands. But I am not aware there are any place mats being set for a table to complete the talks right now.

All right, let's take a short break and then we'll come back with the Iraq report. I'll give you about 10 minutes.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:30 p.m.)

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