U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #1, 98-01-05
From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing
I N D E X
Monday, January 5, 1998
Briefer: James P. Rubin
1 U.S. $29 million Contribution to UNHCR for activities in
Bosnia, Serbia-Montenegro, Croatia
1 Multi-ethnic Police Force in Brcko begins patrols
1-3 Resignation of Israel Foreign Minister David Levy;
substantive agenda unchanged
1-3,8 Dennis Ross travel to the region, goals; Israel troop
redeployment from West Bank
1-2 Netanyahu, Arafat meetings with President Clinton January
1-2 Four-part agenda, interim issues
8 Status of talks should Israeli government fall, elections
3-5 Humanitarian parole for Hernandez, two others, into U.S.;
offer valid for "reasonable period"
4-5 Situation of Cubans not paroled into the U.S.
9-10 Broadcast fees to be raised during Pope's visit;
U.S. opposes "price gouging"
5 No further information on MCC agreement
5-6 U.S. condemns RPG attack on Baghdad UNSCOM facility; no
claim of responsibility
6 Status of international cohesion in application of
sanctions on Iraq
6 No new information on reports of prisoner executions
6-7 U.S. condemns violence, encourages human rights and NGO
7 Security of oil and gas supply
7-8 U.S. policy on dialogue with Iran; reported divisions
within Iranian government
8 Zapatista rebel seizure of radio stations
TURKEY / ISRAEL
8-9 U.S. Joint Exercise Reliant Mermaid to take place despite
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
MONDAY, JANUARY 5, 1998, 12:55 P.M.
MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the State Department briefing. It is the
first briefing of the new year. We seem to have a full house. I have two
First of all, the United States is contributing $29 million to the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to support its activities in Bosnia,
Serbia-Montenegro and Croatia. This contribution responds to UNHCR's
appeals. Because most refugees and displaced persons in the region come
from areas where their ethnic groups are minorities, the UNHCR will
concentrate on overcoming obstacles to return across ethnic lines. The US
Government works closely with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to
facilitate repatriation and monitor the safety of refugees and displaced
In addition, we're pleased to note that the multi-ethnic police force in
Brcko began patrolling today. This came out of a decree issued by Brcko
supervisor Bill Farrand about two months ago that called for a reorganized,
integrated force to be functional by the first of the year. We are very
pleased with today's beginning, and it's part of an ongoing effort at
There will be a full statement on the $29 million contribution.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to add to what Mike McCurry said this
morning about the impact or lack of impact on the peace process of the
resignation of the Israeli Foreign Minister?
MR. RUBIN: Let me first say that Secretary Albright has enjoyed working
with Foreign Minister Levy and valued his cooperation and his commitment to
the peace process. Beyond that, it is not our practice to comment on
internal Israeli affairs.
I think it's fair to say that our timetable, our sense of urgency and our
focus on substance remain unchanged. We still feel a sense of urgency;
we're sticking to our timetable; and the substantive agenda is unchanged.
Ambassador Ross plans to leave for Israel tonight. He will spend several
days there meeting with the Israelis and the Palestinians. His purpose will
be to prepare for Prime Minster Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat's visits
later this month, on January 20 and January 22, respectively. And obviously,
in addition to working on the four-part agenda that you're quite familiar
with - security, further redeployment, a time-out, and accelerated
permanent status - he's going to try to finalize some of the outstanding
interim issues, such as the airport, the seaport and the safe passage.
In short, the peace process continues. This is a process about peace, and
not about people. The US Government believes it needs to move forward based
on what it thinks is best, and not based on the particular make-up of a
particular government at a particular time.
QUESTION: Jamie, you mentioned Ross' visit, which is upcoming. Would you
say that he's going to really nudge Netanyahu about this credible and
sizable - rather, significant and credible redeployment that the Secretary
has been talking about? Could you just address that a little bit?
MR. RUBIN: Well, again, I've sat through a series of these meetings in
London and Paris and Geneva and Bern in which Secretary Albright has worked
very, very hard to try to encourage both Prime Minister Netanyahu and
Chairman Arafat to seize the moment and move the peace process forward.
1997 was not a very good year for the peace process. It didn't lead to a
total collapse, but there's been no forward movement. She is determined to
do what she can reasonably do to see that 1998 is a better year for
the peace process.
First and foremost, that means for Chairman Arafat to come up with the kind
of credible, sustainable, comprehensive, 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week, 52-
weeks-a-year security package; and second of all, for Prime Minister
Netanyahu to come up with a credible and significant further redeployment
that will allow the parties to see that enough progress is being done so
that they can move to an accelerated timetable and move to address those
most complex and emotional of issues, including the borders and Jerusalem
and other matters.
So she feels a sense of urgency. Ambassador Ross is going despite the
events in Israel; and that is because we intend to move forward with our
same timetable, same urgency and same substantive goals.
QUESTION: What can he realistically expect to get out of his visit there
this week, when the Israeli Government is obviously in a state of
MR. RUBIN: Well, we have seen governments and political entities in the
region in states of turmoil for a long time, and we have still gone forward
with trying to negotiate and nudge and push for progress. Prime Minister
Netanyahu is coming here on the 20th of January to meet with the President.
Secretary Albright arranged and made that recommendation in order that the
Prime Minister and the Chairman look hard at what it is they can be
prepared to offer in terms of moving the process forward in a meeting with
the President. As you know, they are both political leaders, and it's
appropriate at a time when difficult political decisions need to be made
for political leaders to meet also with the political leader -- the
ultimate political leader, and that is the President of the United
So we do not intend to see the current situation in Israel as one that will
set back our momentum or our urging that there be momentum or our creating
momentum; and that is because we believe the peace process is important to
all the people in Israel, to all the people in the Middle East, and that's
the way we pursue our policy.
QUESTION: To follow up, are you expecting the Prime Minister to come here
with specific percentages and specific maps of further redeployment?
MR. RUBIN: Well, without getting into that level of detail, certainly we
are getting to the point where, if we're going to have a further redeployment,
details need to be worked out. But the decisions are not a simple question
of this map or that percentage. They are a complicated series of issues
that relate to how long the redeployment will take place, the quality of
the land, the type of redeployment. There are a whole series of factors,
and one can signal an intent without declaring a percentage. So what
we're looking for is the kind of seriousness that only can occur when one's
sitting down and talking substance with the President of the United States.
But we're going to wait until he gets here to say exactly what it is that
we'd like to see and whether we wish to see more.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more, and that's the issue of a third redeployment.
Is it still the United States' position that regardless of when the final
status talks begin that there should still be a third redeployment?
MR. RUBIN: It's our position that Secretary Christopher's letter applies,
that the Oslo Accords apply. But if by mutual agreement both parties agree
to move faster to discuss the permanent status issues, and put that
discussion on a fast track ahead of what was planned to be a third further
redeployment prior to the completion of the final status talks, we
certainly wouldn't stand in the way. But if that process of getting to the
permanent status negotiation doesn't work, we would stick to our view that
the further redeployments should occur as planned.
Any more on the Middle East? Any more questions?
QUESTION: I have a question. So, after all of this, the United States
wants from Prime Minister Netanyahu a commitment to a major redeployment
from the West Bank by the time he gets here?
MR. RUBIN: Well, I think we've sought a commitment from the Prime
Minister for a significant and credible and substantial further redeployment;
and that's what we want to see him pursue, yes.
QUESTION: On another subject, do you have an update on the situation of
the Cubans that went to the Bahamas last week?
MR. RUBIN: On December 31 the US granted permission for Orlando Hernandez
Pedroso, his common-law wife, and Alberto Hernandez Perez to enter the US.
This was done for humanitarian reasons, based on an urgent request from the
families in the United States, and also on the special circumstances
involved with these cases.
These circumstances - namely, the fact that the two gentlemen had been
banned from organized baseball in Cuba and would, under ordinary circumstances,
qualify for US visas issued to persons of extraordinary ability, including
in athletics -- have not changed. In other words, Fidel Castro has made
baseball very, very bad for these two gentlemen in Cuba. Had they been in a
position to get an exit visa, they would have been able to meet this
exception, as we've seen it implemented.
As I understand it, we understand that Orlando Hernandez' wife arrived in
the United States over the weekend. We further understand that the two
baseball players remain in the Bahamas. While we have seen press reports
indicating that the two players may try to seek residency in a third
country, we have no information to support that or confirm that. It is up
to these individuals to decide how they want to proceed. Our offer of
parole remains valid, and that offer remains valid for what we call a
reasonable period of time.
QUESTION: And the situation of the other five?
MR. RUBIN: Well, again, I would emphasize the unique circumstances of the
three - that their livelihood had been taken away from at least the two
players themselves; that a family member who is a legal resident in the
United States had sought this exception; and in addition, that they would
have met the special abilities exception had they been in a position to get
an exit visa from Cuba, which they were not; and finally, that they have
expressed concern about what would happen if they were returned.
As far as the other five are concerned, they are in the Bahamas - and we
want to give great credit to the Bahamian authorities, who have worked with
us closely. We expect that they will be meeting with UNHCR representatives
there. We remain confident that the Bahamians will, as they have in the
past, carefully consider any claims for protection, consistent with
international standards, and ensure that no bona fide refugee is returned
to Cuba. We will work closely with those authorities, and they have
informed us they have no plans to deport them at this time; which points
up the basic issue here, and that is that we believe it is a regional
responsibility. Let's remember that Cuba is the last Communist dictatorship
in the Western Hemisphere, and freedom is now something that has come to
every other country in the region and the hemisphere. Therefore, we believe
it is a regional responsibility, when people are suffering under that
dictatorship, for all the countries in the region who believe in freedom
and who reject the dictatorial practices of the Castro regime to work
together. We've been working closely with the Bahamians in that regard.
QUESTION: Does a "reasonable period" of time for them to take up the
parole offer extend past spring training? There's a reason for that
MR. RUBIN: I would have to check my calendar to see when spring training
QUESTION: March 1.
MR. RUBIN: But we will interpret "reasonable period" reasonably.
QUESTION: Would you point out the special abilities of the wife of --
MR. RUBIN: Well, she's the common-law wife of the player.
QUESTION: Another question on this Western Hemisphere? Do you have any
new development on the negotiations --
MR. RUBIN: And maybe it takes special abilities to be with a baseball
player, I don't know.
QUESTION: Could be.
QUESTION: On Cuba, the Costa Rican Government originally said that --
there's a lot of news saying that the Costa Rican Government was willing to
give asylum to the other five. Today it seems like it is not the case. Do
you know anything?
MR. RUBIN: I have no information on that.
QUESTION: On Panama, do you have any new development on the negotiations?
MR. RUBIN: On the MCC there, I have no further information. We can try to
get you something new if we have it, but we don't have anything new on the
details of that agreement.
QUESTION: On Iraq, do you have any information on the incident over the
weekend at the UNSCOM headquarters?
MR. RUBIN: The United Nations has said that two rocket-propelled grenades
were fired at one of its facilities in Baghdad last Friday night. We
understand the facility was the cafeteria for UN officials. The UN reported
that there were no casualties. We do not know whether, or it's not clear
whether the devices were armed. We condemned the attack at the time; it
could have injured UN personnel. We were gratified there were no casualties.
Let's be clear - we condemn any effort to interfere with the UN's important
work in Iraq. We expect a thorough and swift investigation to determine who
was responsible for the attack. It is our view that the Iraqi Government is
responsible for the safety of UN officials operating in Iraq.
QUESTION: Do you have any - or have there been any claims of responsibility
that you are aware of?
MR. RUBIN: No.
QUESTION: Are you aware of who might possibly be?
MR. RUBIN: I don't have any information on that. We all obviously were
made aware of the government's disclaimer of responsibility. We have no
information one way or the other.
Did you have another on Iraq?
QUESTION: Yes, one more on Iraq. Is the US now assessing our policy
towards Iraq? Do you feel that the US has lost some momentum, some drive in
being able to maintain sanctions and to hold the other members' of the
Security Council feet to the fire?
MR. RUBIN: The perceptions on this issue wax and wane, and over the years
there have been many times when the United States was asked are we going to
adjust our policy because the enthusiasm of some other countries has waxed
and waned. We're not going to adjust our policies because we believe that
Iraq poses a grave threat to the region. They have invaded their neighbor.
They are determined to thwart the will of the international community by
refusing to own up to what they have done in the area of weapons of mass
destruction, by refusing to implement UN Security Council resolutions.
While the enthusiasm of some may wax and wane, the determination of the
President and the Secretary remains.
QUESTION: Do you have any more information about the executions that Jim
talked about last week?
MR. RUBIN: No, I don't have any new information, but I can check on that
Any more on Iraq? Yes, over here.
QUESTION: Algeria. Following the latest massacres, Germany has proposed
that an EU team go to Algeria to investigate. I'm wondering if, from this
end, there's any discussion about envoys.
MR. RUBIN: Let me start by saying that we condemn the massacres and
bombings in Algeria that have killed so many civilians in recent days.
These attacks merit condemnation from the international community and all
Algerians. It is the responsibility of the Algerian Government to protect
civilians while also respecting the rule of law and human rights.
We do encourage the government there to allow international inquiries into
the human rights situation, and we're also encouraging independent NGOs to
undertake such inquiries. It is only then we can get to the bottom of some
of these issues to determine the extent of the massacres, perhaps begin to
pin more clearly the blame for them. So we would support allowing NGOs and
As far as what an international inquiry would look like, I would point out
that the Algerian authorities have told us that they would accept a visit
by a UN human rights rapporteur, and we encourage this step. That is,
presumably, the same kind of step that the German Government is envisaging.
QUESTION: Is there concern by the US Government about the security of oil
and gas supplies from Algeria? And is there any question being raised about
whether there ought to be pressure put on the government through those
MR. RUBIN: I have not heard in the discussions that we've had -- and
we've had numerous discussions over the last several weeks and months,
given the brutality of these crimes and the extreme nature of the killings -
- but I've not heard that the motivation for our policies was driven the
way you suggest, nor that those tools would necessarily be in our interest
At this point, we would like to see the government do more to protect its
civilians while respecting the rule of law, and we would like to see
international inquiries get to the bottom of it. But I haven't heard any
suggestion of the kind of measures you suggested.
QUESTION: Just to go back to Iran. I know you've addressed this before,
but do you think the US is going to consider any kind of new approach
toward Iran, in light of its new president?
MR. RUBIN: Well, we have made several comments that I could repeat from
the podium here to the effect that some of the statements are quite
encouraging coming out of the new president. We'll be waiting and hoping
for further encouraging statements.
But as far as our policy is concerned, our policy is based on our security
and our assessment of what the risks are, so we would want to see any
dialogue that we had with the government of Iran address those specific
concerns. We've said that in the past, and that is the basis of our policy.
So I wouldn't see it as a new or an old policy, but rather we're hopeful
that it's one that can be implemented in the new environment.
QUESTION: But how do you respond to the fact that there is really two
camps in Iran, fighting over power among themselves? It is very clear to
everybody that there are some people who want to break away from the
Ayatollah. I mean, what does the US policy do to reach out to these?
MR. RUBIN: Well, first of all, it's always risky to make those kind of
sweeping judgments from afar in a country that is not particularly open to
a lot of assessments as to what's going on. I know that has become
something of a conventional wisdom; but whether or not it's true is an open
Certainly we've seen encouraging statements from the new president, and
we've responded to those statements from - the President responded directly,
we've responded from this podium. We will continue to make our judgments
based on the actions of the government there and our assessment of what the
statements mean and what they portend.
So we will be watching this very, very carefully, as I think you would
expect us to in this time; and we will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Do you hear anything about the Zapatista's representatives in
Mexico City that seized today three radio stations and the Mexican stock -
MR. RUBIN: I do not have any new information on that. I think you know
our reaction to the situation there, about the attacks last week. But I
don't have any new information on that.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Israel and its political turmoil for a moment?
Does the US Government think that it would be feasible, possible for the
negotiations on the peace process to go forward if the Israeli Government
were to fall and new elections were required?
MR. RUBIN: Well, at the risk of answering an "if" question, I think the
way you formulated it certainly wouldn't allow it to be conducted with the
normal decision-making power if there weren't a government. So I think the
answer to your question is contained in the question itself.
QUESTION: In the past, for example, when Golda Meir was Prime Minister,
her government fell and the negotiations with Syria over the Golan
continued nevertheless. Do you think there is a technical level at which
that could continue?
MR. RUBIN: Look, the Israeli Government and the Israeli people and the
United States have a very deep relationship, going back many, many years.
The contacts are extensive at the highest levels, the medium levels and at
the low levels. I would expect our discussions and our policies to continue
to be pursued and urged and pushed, even with or without - in the midst of
some parliamentary crisis, which, again, I would emphasize is hypothetical.
I would note that the budget just passed. So a lot of the people who said
that the government was going to fall are obviously wrong. What will happen
in the future will be the future.
QUESTION: To the words "significant" and "credible," I think you added
substantial. Is that a new wrinkle?
MR. RUBIN: I don't believe that's a new wrinkle. I mean, any significant
further redeployment ought to be substantial.
QUESTION: Turkish, Israeli and the United States Navy is there conducting
naval exercise in the east of the Mediterranean. Last month, this military
exercise started or fueled most of the Islamic countries' protests. Today,
it started again. For example, Damascus and most of the Islamic countries
protesting again. Do you have any reaction to this protesting again, or do
you still support this kind of military exercise?
MR. RUBIN: I assume you're talking about Exercise Reliant Mermaid.
MR. RUBIN: Reliant Mermaid is a humanitarian search and rescue exercise
we will be participating in with the Israelis and the Turks. It is
scheduled to take place on January 7 in international waters off the coast
of Israel in the Mediterranean.
The objective is to practice coordinated emergency search and rescue
procedures. By working together we can learn much about each other's
capabilities and lay the foundation for more effective humanitarian
responses to actual maritime emergencies. Cooperation with Turkey and
Israel - two of our closest friends in those regions - is natural and
As stated in the past, Reliant Mermaid is strictly humanitarian in nature -
a search and rescue exercise - and is not related to any real-world events,
nor is it directed against any party. We have long encouraged development
of a strong relationship between these two governments, both of whom are
our major friends and allies in their respective regions.
QUESTION: Most of the Islamic countries, for example, Damascus is blaming
the United States for establishing a new military alliance in the Middle
East. Do you agree with them or this is only --
MR. RUBIN: We're doing what we think is right in encouraging this kind of
cooperation between Turkey and Israel and between Turkey and the United
States -- a NATO ally -- and between Israel and the United States. So let's
bear in mind, there will always be some who don't like some development in
the Middle East. But this is a humanitarian search and rescue operation.
QUESTION: Jamie, back to Cuba for a moment --
MR. RUBIN: Happy New Year.
QUESTION: Happy New Year, how are you, sir? Welcome back. Back to Cuba,
it was reported over the weekend that the Cuban Government was going to be
charging exorbitant fees to broadcasters that will be there to cover the
Pope. I wanted to ask what is your reaction to this gouging? And secondly,
is there going to be a similar gouging of US tourists that will be
permitted to go over to Havana for the Pope's appearances?
MR. RUBIN: As we get closer to the visit, I'll try to make sure I'm armed
with all the information surrounding that visit. But I can state with great
confidence here and now that we are against price gouging.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. RUBIN: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 1:25 P.M.)