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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #1, 98-01-05

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, 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

PEACE PROCESS 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 20,22 1-2 Four-part agenda, interim issues 8 Status of talks should Israeli government fall, elections be called

CUBA 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"

PANAMA 5 No further information on MCC agreement

IRAQ 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

ALGERIA 6-7 U.S. condemns violence, encourages human rights and NGO investigations 7 Security of oil and gas supply

IRAN 7-8 U.S. policy on dialogue with Iran; reported divisions within Iranian government

MEXICO 8 Zapatista rebel seizure of radio stations

TURKEY / ISRAEL 8-9 U.S. Joint Exercise Reliant Mermaid to take place despite regional protests


DPB #1

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 brief announcements.

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 persons.

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 reintegrating Brcko.

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 turmoil?

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 States.

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 question.

MR. RUBIN: I would have to check my calendar to see when spring training starts.

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?


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 for you.

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 greater investigations.

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 exports?

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 to implement.

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 question.

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 - studio?

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 desirable.

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.)

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