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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #2, 98-01-06

U.S. State Department: Daily Press Briefings Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <>


U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing


Tuesday, January 6, 1998

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1		Presence of Shalikashvili, Scowcroft and Perry at State
8-9		No announcement on Spokesman's future plans

TURKEY/ISRAEL/U.S. 1-2 Egypt opposes Exercise Reliant Mermaid joint search-and-rescue military exercise, concern about potential alliance; possibility of another Reliant Mermaid exercise

NORTH KOREA 2-3 WFP appeals for additional DPRK food aid under year-long program, including staff increases, doubling of monitors

MEXICO 3-4 White House responsible for nomination of Ambassador to Mexico 3 Staffing of Assistant Secretary positions at State Department 4 Mexico City Judge's release of confessed murderers of American citizen John Zarate 4 Zapatistas protest Chiapas massacres in Mexico City stock exchange, radio stations

ALGERIA 5 U.S. condemns massacres; encourages Algeria government to allow outside investigators/observers 5 U.S.-France continuing discussions on violence in Algeria 5-6 Reports of Iranian support for radical, armed Islamic groups (GIS) in Algeria

IRAN 6 U.S. consideration of ILSA violation in Total-South Pars oil development project 6-8 U.S. criteria for resumption of bilateral dialogue with Iran, including ending obstruction of Middle East peace process 7 Iranian assets in the U.S., status of claims dispute

RUSSIA 6 Timing of Wisner travel to Moscow

CAMBODIA 8 Pol Pot whereabouts; King Sihanouk travel to China

CUBA 8 Potential for political change arising from Pope's visit 9 Nothing new on status of Cuban migrants in the Bahamas


DPB #2

TUESDAY, JANUARY 6, 1998, 12:45 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: Greetings. I have no statements and no announcements, and I'm hear to take your questions.

QUESTION: Jamie, I was wondering if it's true that Shalikashvili, Scowcroft and Perry are in the building - maybe have K-rations for lunch with the Secretary. Is there some high-level meeting of former - a good reporter spotted all three of them.

MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't rule out they're in the building. I believe the Secretary is in the cafeteria eating lunch right now.

QUESTION: The cafeteria?


QUESTION: All right, that's a dry well, let's try -


The Egyptian Foreign Minister takes a very negative view of the trilateral exercises - US, Turkey and Israel. Since you always - not only you, for 20 years Egypt has been portrayed as pro-West and a great friend of Israel and all. I wondered what you made of all this.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I haven't seen his specific comments. I can say that we believe that it is certainly appropriate for the United States, Israel and Turkey to engage in exercises. These are important friends of the United States in their respective regions.

This exercise, I would remind you, is a humanitarian exercise. It's about a scenario in which a ship is suffering and needs assistance in a humanitarian operation. The exercise is not directed at any one country. It's not designed to be a real-world case, other than as a humanitarian exercise. We think it's certainly appropriate for the United States, Israel and Turkey to engage in that.

As far as what the Egyptian Foreign Minister's views are, I haven't seen them. As I said yesterday in response to a similar question, I'm sure there will be countries in the Middle East that wish things didn't happen. But wishing them not to happen doesn't make them not happen.

QUESTION: Well, it's coming from Egypt is what makes it especially interesting. You say you haven't seen a statement, but his threat - I suppose it's a threat - that maybe there has to be a counter-course to this alliance, as he looks at it.

MR. RUBIN: Well, we'll have to see what the results are. I think we've made clear that we support this relationship. We made clear we support this exercise. We certainly don't think it would justify any ramping-up of anybody else's military considerations, because, again, it's a humanitarian exercise.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up - the name of this exercise, I believe, is Reliant Mermaid I. So do you think more is in store?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I wouldn't rule it out. The information I received yesterday was just that it was Reliant Mermaid. I couldn't rule out that there will be other exercises. But again, let me remind you, these are humanitarian exercises; and we think it's totally appropriate to conduct them with major friends of the United States, important friends of the United States in their respective regions.

QUESTION: Jamie, do you have anything on the new appeal for food aid to North Korea? It's a considerable appeal. They seem to be widening the number of people and the categories of people that they would help.

MR. RUBIN: This appeal does differ from earlier ones in its size, the number of beneficiaries and the length of time covered. The amount requested is nearly double the total 1997 appeal. The WFP hopes to assist approximately 7.5 million people, as opposed to last year's 4.7 million; and the appeal is for a 12-month period, rather than for the immediate needs as it has been in the past. So previously, they have engaged in piecemeal appeals, and now they are laying out their projected needs for the year.

Our policy, as you know, has been to address specific humanitarian appeals as they come forward. We will carefully examine this appeal, and the United States intends to consult with other countries. We have always responded positively to previous appeals for the needy children of North Korea. This is a humanitarian policy we've had in the past. We have an excellent record in this regard. We've responded promptly and generously to such appeals in the past.

The United States is the largest donor of food aid to North Korea, under the auspices of the World Food Program. In 1997, we provided some 170,000 metric tons of food, valued at some $50 million, for North Korea. And I would point out that, as we understand it from the World Food Program, they are going to double the number of international staff and open two more sub- offices in the region, which gets at some of the questions that have come up before here about monitoring of the food aid as it is distributed.

QUESTION: Doubling of monitors?

MR. RUBIN: Doubling of the monitors, correct.

QUESTION: Do you have the numbers, from what to what?

MR. RUBIN: The numbers that I have here are double its international staff of 24, and open two more sub-offices in order to expand its monitoring of food distribution.

QUESTION: Did North Korea agree to that arrangement?


QUESTION: The previous arrangement which they had agreed to but not actually allowed to be implemented, is that now in place, the monitors you had wanted for last year's monitoring?

MR. RUBIN: As I understand, the additional work that had been done after our assessment team went forward were resolved. And I think, as we look forward to this next year, the demonstration that they are prepared to double the staff and open two more offices indicates that they are open to the kind of monitoring the WFP deems necessary. I will try to get you the exact number that are there monitoring the existing programs. This is laid out as an agreement for the coming year.

QUESTION: Jamie, is Jeffery Davidow being considered for the post to Mexico -- the ambassador post?

MR. RUBIN: Ambassadorial posts are the prerogative of the President of the United States, and we don't comment on personnel selections the President may or may not make prior to his making them.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say he would be a consideration, perhaps he could be a candidate, with his experience in Latin American affairs?

MR. RUBIN: He's certainly experienced in Latin American affairs.

QUESTION: Will there be a search on? This is something that's the State Department's business. Or will there be a need to find a new Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs at any time soon?

MR. RUBIN: If --

QUESTION: That's the President's prerogative, too, of course, but presumably, the Secretary of State chooses her senior deputies.

MR. RUBIN: If the President selects an ambassador from the ranks of the assistant secretaries in the State Department - and I emphasize the word "if" - then it would certainly be appropriate to seek a new assistant secretary.

QUESTION: Do you know if he speaks Spanish, by any chance?

MR. RUBIN: I think his familiarity with matters Latin American is great.

QUESTION: You don't know if he speaks Spanish?

MR. RUBIN: I would be very surprised if Jeff Davidow didn't speak Spanish. Whether it's to the satisfaction of all Spanish-speakers, I don't know; in other words, the level of his fluency and his accent.

QUESTION: This is Spanish, not French.

QUESTION: Still on Mexico, yesterday a Mexican judge set free the killers of American citizens. The judge considered them Mexican Robin Hoods. Do you have any response to that?

MR. RUBIN: Well, let me say this - we condemn unequivocally this judge's decision to release men who Mexican federal district prosecutors themselves say confessed to the murder of US citizen John Zarate. The Mexico City prosecutor's office has publicly denounced the judge's action, and is appealing the judge's ruling, and is seeking to detain the released men on other unrelated charges.

We condemn this decision. Whatever one may want to call robbers, if they've confessed to killing an American citizen, they should certainly not be released from prison. So we condemn this unequivocally.

QUESTION: Do you have any response to my question of yesterday, regarding the Zapatistas in Mexico City?

MR. RUBIN: The protest in Mexico City that you referred to yesterday, we understand these protest actions were peaceful, were taken place at the Mexico Stock Exchange. The stock exchange went forward. We understand that student sympathizers of the Zapatista movement temporarily occupied two Mexico City radio stations.

What these incidents illustrate is the continuing depth of feeling and concern about the December massacre that occurred in Chiapas. We will continue to follow closely the developments in the investigation of the massacre.

QUESTION: Is the United States Government concerned of increasing instability in Chiapas that is now spilling over to the capital and throughout Mexican society? Dangerous instability.

MR. RUBIN: We are awaiting the investigation of this particular massacre. And before we make any broader-based comments on trends or lack of trends, we'd like to know more about what exactly happened and why it happened.

QUESTION: It's been reported that there are more slaughters in Algeria. Yesterday US officials proposed that a group of independent human rights campaigners and European representatives be sent to Algeria. Has this been given the green light? And if so, when will this happen?

MR. RUBIN: Well, those US officials are standing here. We understand and share the concern of other nations in the international community with regard to the massacres in Algeria.

Let me say, first of all, that these massacres have been condemned from the entire international community. Statements from Cairo to Tehran have condemned these massacres. It is very clear that these acts of terrorism must be condemned and must be stopped.

I can repeat that it is, first and foremost, the responsibility of the Algerian Government to protect civilians, while also respecting the rule of law. We are encouraging the Algerian Government to allow outside observers to view and study the human rights situation there. Algerian authorities have told us they would accept a visit by UN human rights rapporteur, and we encourage this step. We are also encouraging independent NGOs to undertake such inquiries.

Exactly what form this outside fact-finding takes is not as important to us as that it takes place. Let's remember that the facts of many of these massacres are often unclear. The perpetrators are sometimes unclear. The best way to get to the bottom of the horror that is going on in Algeria is to get outsiders in so that they can make an assessment. That will put us in a better position, hopefully, to see what steps can be taken to stop them.

QUESTION: On Algeria, back at the UN in September, the Secretary met the French Foreign Minister, and they discussed this issue, as I recall. I forget exactly the language that was used, but they agreed the US and France would take a special responsibility and work toward trying to alleviate the violence. Has anything come of those initiatives?

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, I would hesitate to frame it precisely the way you said it. I think they met - the French Foreign Minister and the Secretary -- met at a breakfast on the very day, like today and yesterday, where massacres had occurred, and they discussed them because of the concerns of both governments about these kind of terrorist activities and the deaths of so many innocent women and children and agreed that they should continue to talk about them.

Ambassador Pickering is intending to visit Paris on other matters. He's left already, and will be discussing primarily Iraq and Iran and other subjects; and I wouldn't be surprised if this came up. But again, I think that was less an initiative than more a reflection of both countries' concerns about what's going on there.

QUESTION: On Algeria, does the US Government have any evidence of Iranian support or backing to the GIS groups - the armed Islamic groups that are alleged to be committing some of the massacres.

MR. RUBIN: I'll have to take that question. I haven't heard any, but I don't know that it's --

QUESTION: And as long as you're mentioning Ambassador Pickering's travel, could I just ask you, how close is the Administration to a decision on how to handle the --


QUESTION: -- the ILSA apparent violation by Total, Gazprom, and others?

MR. RUBIN: We are continuing to study that issue. As we get closer to a time when the Secretary will be in a position to make a judgment, we'll let you know, but we're not there yet.

QUESTION: When does Wisner go to Moscow; do you know?

MR. RUBIN: I'll have to get that date for you.

QUESTION: I mean, is it --

MR. RUBIN: I think it's this week.

QUESTION: Oh. All right.

QUESTION: On Iran -- I guess we've discussed this in the past, but not this year -- can you go over the conditions again for a dialogue between the US and Iran?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. We have made clear two procedural issues and three substantive issues. Procedurally, we've made clear we would want this dialogue to be authorized and acknowledged openly. We've also made clear that our issues of concern would be something that we would like to discuss in such a dialogue, and those three substantive issues are our concerns about weapons of mass destruction; our concerns about support for terrorism; and our concerns about opposition to the Middle East peace process. These are topics that we would think ought to be part of a serious, and substantive, and authoritative, and openly-acknowledged dialogue that we have long said we'd be prepared to enter into.

QUESTION: And a simple willingness on the part of Iran to discuss those rather than to necessarily pre-commit to doing anything about them is sufficient?

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, the first step towards progress is discussions, and what we're saying is we would want to know, procedurally, that the dialogue would be authorized with an authorized representative; that it would be publicly acknowledged; and substantively, that our agenda items would include those, and that would have to something that was acceptable.

QUESTION: On the other hand, the President, downstairs in the press conference, said something about - that any Islamic countries can have opposition on the peace process, and this would be - this is permissible for Iran to oppose the peace process, but not violently. Does this change the substantive issue that you're talking about?

MR. RUBIN: I think the President was making clear that it's one thing to have an opinion; it's another thing to support or applaud or finance those who take specific steps to kill the peace process, as some groups have done in the Middle East. And there are many countries in the world who have opinions, and there are only a few of them who interfere to the extent that I described.

Let's bear in mind, the Middle East peace process is something that is supported across the board, by countries around the world, and there are very few who see wisdom in attacking something that is supported by the legitimate representative of the Palestinians -- Chairman Arafat, on behalf of the Palestinians. So we still don't understand what possible rationale there would be for opposing a peace process that is supported by the people who are affected.

QUESTION: So you are against Iranian opposition to the peace process, as far as the Iranians are supporting groups like Hezbollah, and stuff like that?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm -today is no day to get too specific on these subjects. I think I've been quite clear.

QUESTION: Could you get for us a run-down as to what Iranian assets there are in the United States; what moneys might be in dispute between the United States and Iran? For example, at the time of the hostage crisis - what is it, 19, 20 years ago - they had paid for quite a few weapon systems that they never received. What's the status of all that? Could we get a --

MR. RUBIN: Let me get you, for the record, an answer for all those questions.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Jamie, how many Iranian leaders, spiritual and otherwise, have to sign on to make a dialogue authentic, authoritative?

MR. RUBIN: We'll know that when we see it.

QUESTION: No, no, it's a serious question because --

MR. RUBIN: It was a serious answer.

QUESTION: I know you know the problem, as we do, on this side of the roster. I guess it could be said, if the President approves a dialogue, it is authoritative. But the notion that there are two voices - two loud voices - in Iran.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I was asked this question yesterday, and I'm not sure that one should assume that there are two voices in Iran. The President and the Secretary will both be listening very carefully to see what it is that President Khatami has to say, and we will respond appropriately.

But as far as knowing when you have authorization, I don't think that's a major problem. I think the bigger problem is what the discussions would be, rather than the procedural question of authorization.

QUESTION: New subject, if I may?

MR. RUBIN: Anybody else? Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about the whereabouts of Pol Pot, and/or the departure from Cambodia of King Sihanouk?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have information directly to confirm reports that Pol Pot has left Cambodia. The information I've seen suggests that he has not.

As far as King Sihanouk going to China, we understand he has done so, and has done so many times in the past. That's what I know about their whereabouts.

QUESTION: For medical reasons, do you know?

MR. RUBIN: I gather that may have been one of the factors cited. But there are often myriad reasons for the King to travel.

QUESTION: Can I switch over to Cuba and the Pope's upcoming visit? I was wondering if the State Department has a view on whether this visit creates an opportunity for political change in Cuba.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I think we've said in the past - the Secretary herself has said that we certainly think the Holy Father will bring a message of hope for the Cuban people, and a message of respect for human rights. We hope that after that message is delivered, that the Cuban Government listens.

QUESTION: Do you plan any travel of your own without the Secretary later in the year?



No professional travel. I plan no professional travel.

QUESTION: I'll be the bad guy and ask what I think is a highly personal matter, but how would you rate The Washington Post gossip level? Accurate; semi-accurate?

MR. RUBIN: I have no announcements for you today.

QUESTION: It would be inappropriate, wouldn't it?

MR. RUBIN: Yeah, I think it would.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Wait, anything new on the Cubans in the Bahamas?

MR. RUBIN: But I'll accept wishes of congratulations.


QUESTION: Anything new on the Cubans in the Bahamas? You know, the baseball players --

MR. RUBIN: Yes, nothing new since yesterday.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:10 P.M.)

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