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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #5, 98-01-09

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


Friday, January 9, 1998

Briefer: James B. Foley

1		Condemnation of January 1 Attack

AFGHANISTAN 1 Call to End Violence/Call for Guarantee Safety of Humanitarian Relief Workers

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 1-2 Ambassador Ross' Trip to Region Ends/Topics Discussed 1,5 Israeli Prime Minister's Remarks on Troop Deployments and Settlement Activity

IRAN 2 Diplomatic Channels for Contacts 2,3 People-to-People Contacts 3 Travel to Iran by Americans/Advisories/Restrictions 3 Mujahedin-e Khalq Group's Recent Press Conference 4 Number of Iranians Coming to US/Numbers of Americans Traveling to Iran 4 Concerns about Iran's Program for Weapons of Mass Destruction

INDONESIA 5 Treasury Department to lead USG trip/ State Members of Delegation 5 Need for Indonesia to Adhere to IMF Program

ALGERIA 6 International Visit to Assess Human Rights Situation

GREECE/TURKEY 6 Turkish Decision to Modify Plans for Air Exercises 7 Greek Claims of Turkish Violations of Greek Airspace

SERBIA/MONTENEGRO 7 Ambassador Gelbard's Trip Next Week

MEXICO 7-8 Reports of Army's Involvement with Massacres in Chiapas unconfirmed


DPB #5

FRIDAY, JANUARY 9, 1998, 1:05 P.M.


MR. FOLEY: Good afternoon. I just have a few announcements. First, the United States Government condemns the violence and killing associated with the recent fighting on the outskirts of Bujumbura. We deplore the continued indiscriminate killing of civilians by both the Burundian army and the rebel forces.

Our Ambassador to Burundi, Rusty Hughes, visited the site of the village massacre, where he saw the hacked bodies of innocent children and other civilians. Such grotesque violence makes the resolution of Burundi's problems more difficult and complicates efforts to bring an enduring and equitable peace to Burundi. The United States Government calls on all parties to this conflict to respect the lives of non-combatants and immediately cease hostilities.

The US Government believes that lasting peace will come to Burundi only through a political settlement. We support the missions of both the OAU and the UN, which are currently in the region in an effort to reintegrate the regional peace process. Presidential Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Howard Wolpe, will travel to the region next week as part of our continuing effort to support endeavors to launch peace negotiations.

Secondly, the United States fully supports the statements of the UN Security Council President and Secretary General Kofi Annan, deploring Taliban air strikes on Bamian, Afghanistan. We call on the Taliban and other Afghan factions to guarantee the safety of humanitarian relief workers, and facilitate the free flow of relief supplies to all Afghan civilians in need.

We are concerned that specific ethnic groups are increasingly being targeted in the conflict. We call on all Afghans to join together to end the violence, and to begin the reconstruction of their country. We continue to work with the UN and other international organizations and groups to explore all avenues of relief for civilian groups in Afghanistan in need of humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: Dennis Ross apparently is finished with his mission. I was wondering if you had anything to say concerning Prime Minister Netanyahu's remarks on troop deployments and planned settlement activity?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I'm not going to be able to get into that. Ambassador Ross, as you say, is completing his current mission in Israel. He's returning tonight, or he's departing the region tonight. He's going to be reporting to the Secretary and also to the President, regarding his discussions with the Israelis and the Palestinians.

So I really don't want to pre-empt his report with an interim evaluation of his trip from this podium. Obviously, his discussions dealt with the four- part agenda and various interim committee issues.

No more questions?

QUESTION: On Iran, what about The Washington Post story that the Administration sent a message to Iran through the Swiss ambassador there, shortly after Khatami's appointment, suggesting a dialogue?

MR. FOLEY: Well, on Iran, generally, I'm not going to have very much to say from the podium today. As Jamie Rubin indicated yesterday, there has been 20 years of mistrust and differences between the two countries. We've seen new developments and an encouraging tone coming out of the president of Iran, and as Mr. Rubin indicated yesterday, we're going to be evaluating very carefully President Khatami's speech and our responses.

So Mr. Rubin's comments yesterday were a definitive statement of the initial United States Government reaction to his media interview and comments to the American public, and I'm not going to have anything of substance to add to that today.

However, in response to your specific question, I'd like to indicate that we're not going to comment in any way publicly concerning allegations about what may or may not transpire in diplomatic channels. Our position on a dialogue has been fully stated by the President and by other Administration officials, and Iran knows our position very well.

QUESTION: There was a rather lengthy discussion yesterday about how this dialogue would be above board, publicly acknowledged; there wouldn't be any cakes or keys or secret messages. And then, this morning it appears that there has been something that's not quite - doesn't quite meet that standard, despite Mr. Rubin's lengthy words otherwise.

MR. FOLEY: Well, first of all, let me repeat that I'm not going to comment publicly about allegations about what may or may not transpire in diplomatic channels. We do have a capability for contact through a diplomatic channel. But again, as Mr. Rubin clearly indicated yesterday, we're not in a position of commenting publicly about that channel.

And insofar as the United States Government position is concerned, we've stated it publicly. What we favor is an authorized dialogue with authorized representatives of the Iranian Government -- a dialogue that would be acknowledged. And the president of Iran indicated in his recent interview that that is not in his current plans. He has not taken up that offer. We are in the process of evaluating his suggestion that people-to-people exchanges be emphasized at this stage. We found that suggestion useful, and, as Mr. Rubin said yesterday, we're going to take a very careful look at it.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on that, Jim? Are there any visa restrictions that could be eased?

MR. FOLEY: The fact is, as Jamie Rubin mentioned yesterday, that there are no travel restrictions, as such, for Americans going to Iran. We have a travel warning in place, dated - the last issuance was July 8, 1997 - that recommends that US citizens not travel to Iran. But as Jamie Rubin said, this whole issue, though, of a more concerted effort to promote exchanges on a people-to-people basis - I believe the president of Iran talked about scholars and experts and representatives of civil society in both countries in a more concerted, pro-active way he seemed to be indicating. That's precisely what we're going to be studying -- the degree to which this is something that we can encourage on our side; the question of whether we need to look at the flow of people between the two countries, and any way to encourage, give momentum to that in the direction indicated by the president of Iran. I have nothing to announce or indicate on that subject today; only that, as we said yesterday, we're going to be looking very closely at that.

QUESTION: The same day that Khatami gave this speech, there was a press conference here in Washington by the Mujahedin-e Khalq talking about Iran developing a long-range missile capability. This has already been commented on at the podium; however, is not the Mujahedin-e Khalq the same group that was on the October report of the State Department, regarding terrorist groups? And if that is the case, have they appealed this, or done something which would mean that they were not under the ban of holding press conferences or fund raising in the United States, as was indicated by the October statement of the State Department on terrorism?

MR. FOLEY: First, you're right, they were on the list. Secondly, I'd have to refer you to the Justice Department, in terms of the application of the law, the implementation. There is bound to be an implementation phase after the Secretary of State made her decision. I would expect that they are still in that stage of implementation.

Whether or not this press conference in any way indicated a violation of the prohibitions under her determination, I'd have to refer you to the Justice Department.

QUESTION: Jim, are you aware of any cultural or academic exchanges that exist now between universities - say, University of Tehran, universities in this country - sort of certainly not government-sanctioned, but are informal arrangements that exist at this time that could be built on?

MR. FOLEY: I'm not specifically aware of that. I think it would be difficult, at least initially, to compile that kind of information. There wouldn't be a central source of information on that subject.

Certainly there are hundreds of thousands of Iranian-Americans in this country, who do travel back, which is a source of people-to-people exchange, if you will. Iranians who travel obtain visas to visit the United States. So that is going on.

But what the president of Iran was indicating, as I said, was a highlighting of this phenomenon; I think an elevation of this phenomenon to a higher plane - one that, as he said, would hopefully lead towards a breaking down of some of the walls of mistrust and alienation that have built up over the last 20 years. We found that proposal useful and, as I said, we're studying it.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea of how many Iranians travel to this country to study - who get visas to come here?

MR. FOLEY: I think we could get that information for you. I'd be glad to look into it.

QUESTION: And would the US Government have a count of the Americans who may do the same - travel to Iran to study?

MR. FOLEY: I think we'd have a better handle on the first question than on the second one, but I'll take the question.

QUESTION: Another one on Iran - on Wednesday, the spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran issued a report regarding missile proliferation. It cited that there were 350 Iranian agents being trained in North Korea. There were dozens and dozens of Chinese and North Korean missile experts stationed at a production complex - missile production complex in Iran. Also stating that guidance systems for these longer-ranged missiles that the Iranians are putting on the shelf now were coming from out of the country. So my question would be, is there concern from these reports and from other knowledge that the Chinese and North Koreans may, in fact, be directing this proliferation that puts American vital interests at risk, both in the Gulf and in the Western Pacific?

MR. FOLEY: Well, we've received assurances and commitments from the Chinese Government, dating back to around the time - most recently, to the time of President Jiang's visit here, which assure us that the Chinese are phasing out cooperation in the nuclear area with Iran.

But you're absolutely right, though, that the whole issue of Iranian attempts, by whatever means, indigenous or in conjunction with other nations, to acquire weapons of mass destruction, missile systems for delivering those weapons, is of utmost concern to the United States, and we are working very hard on this issue with nations around the world. It remains one of the three pillars of concern in our assessment of Iranian actions around the world.

QUESTION: Does this report of exchange of personnel seem to be accurate, then, to you?

MR. FOLEY: I couldn't possibly say, but certainly this is an issue of utmost concern to the United States Government.

QUESTION: I have a Middle East question if we are finished with Iran.

MR. FOLEY: Are we finished with Iran?

(No response.)

MR. FOLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: There was a story in Ha'aretz, the Israeli newspaper, today about plans to build 30,000 new units in the West Bank and Gaza by the year 2020. Do you consider that at such level, which might double Israeli settlers in --

MR. FOLEY: Do I consider what?

QUESTION: Do you consider that such level of construction in the territories that might double the settlers by 2020 to be still just unhelpful, only unhelpful to the peace process?

MR. FOLEY: We've made clear for a long, long time our view that settlement activity - any activities which tend to undermine confidence, which tend to prejudge final status issues prior to final status negotiations are very unhelpful to the peace process. They do not help to create the environment required for successful negotiations. Again, this includes settlement activity.

QUESTION: Indonesia?


QUESTION: I notice the State Department is involved in this hastily- arranged mission to Indonesia. Could you tell us what message they are taking with them?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I'd like to refer you to the Treasury Department for a definitive account of the purpose of the trip. I understand Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Summers, who will be accompanied by Ambassador Larson and Ambassador Wolf from the State Department, will be going to Indonesia to take stock of the situation there and other countries in the region, to hear authorities' thoughts and to share the Administration's views on the best way to resolve their problems.

All I can say is that in discussions with the Indonesians, the US representatives will underscore President Clinton's commitment that Indonesia do whatever is appropriate to find its way through its current difficulties. In particular, they will emphasize -- as the President did in his telephone conversation last night -- his encouragement of the Indonesians to adhere fully to the IMF program. We believe Indonesian stability is important to the region and important to the United States, and the phone call and the visit are reflective of that.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question of clarification on Algeria?

MR. FOLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Does the United States still want to see an international inquiry into the human rights situation in Algeria?

MR. FOLEY: Well, we've said that we have been encouraging the Algerian Government to allow outside observers to view and study the human rights situation. We had a semantic discussion - Jamie Rubin did yesterday - on this subject.

Algerian authorities have told us that they would accept a visit by a UN human rights rapporteur. We encouraged this step. We note the press reports that the EU is planning to send a delegation to Algeria, I believe, before the end of the month. We share the concerns of the EU and other nations in the international community with regard to the massacres in Algeria, and the need to gain a clearer picture of what is happening in Algeria. So we support the EU efforts in this direction.

QUESTION: The reason I'm asking the question, Jim, is because the Algerian Government specifically does not want to have an inquiry, an investigation. And you're not using those terms. So I assume - although it's willing to discuss and hold talks on --

MR. FOLEY: Well, again, there was a spirited, semantic exchange yesterday; and it's probably not fruitful to go over it. But what we have said is that we encourage the visit by the UN rapporteur, but we're not seeking an international commission of inquiry. So I can make that distinction for you.

QUESTION: -- said it's going to send a delegation to Algeria and the (inaudible) foreign minister's comment on that reaction was not very encouraging. Do you have any comment on the European decision?

MR. FOLEY: I just commented on the European decision. I welcomed it.

QUESTION: You said you support the UN, but you don't support a European?

MR. FOLEY: I said we support EU efforts in this direction. Check the transcript.

QUESTION: On the Aegean, Greece and Turkey, a question about the recent Turkish activity in the Aegean. Turkish fighter planes continue to challenge Greek sovereignty with flights over Greek islands these last couple of days, and they keep infringing on the Athens FIR and Greek national airspace. There is a lot of talk from Athens - a lot of disappointment, to say the least. Any reaction to that?

MR. FOLEY: I have a brief comment. First, we were pleased to note that Turkey modified some if its original exercise plans for the month of January in response to Greek concerns, most notably by canceling a plan to exercise around the Kaloyeroi islets in the mid-Aegean, which we have longed considered to be Greek.

We consider this a gratifying example of Greece and Turkey avoiding a potential problem through communication. Now, we are aware of reports - and I would emphasize reports, because they're not items that we can independently confirm - of Turkish violations elsewhere in the Aegean this week. We treat seriously all reports of airspace violations in the Aegean.

The occurrence of such violations this week, would, if they indeed happened, be needlessly provocative and contrary to the spirit of closer cooperation and reduction of tension to which the Turkish and Greek Governments have committed themselves.

QUESTION: But you don't know if it happened or not?

MR. FOLEY: No, we're not in a position to confirm them. We've seen reports - press reports, essentially.

QUESTION: The NATO monitors sit pretty closely. You all can't - it's been a week and you haven't picked up the phone to NATO to ask if it's happening?

MR. FOLEY: We're not currently in a position to confirm the reports. I would note, however, that the United States and other nations do not recognize Greece's claim to a 10-mile nautical airspace in the Aegean. Thus, we do not consider Turkish, US or any other aircraft flying in the zone between six and ten nautical miles from Greek territory to be in violation. Apparently some, but not all, of the reports we've seen regarding yesterday's Turkish air operations fall into this category. But again, that's based on the reports that described those alleged violations as such.

QUESTION: The Balkans - do you have anything on Robert Gelbard's trip to Kosovo?

MR. FOLEY: I'd have to take the question. He's leaving for the region, I think, over the weekend. He'll be there for the bulk of next week. He will be going to Belgrade; he'll be going to Sarajevo; I believe also to Zagreb; I think to Montenegro, as well. I don't know whether he's going to Kosovo, but I can check, sure, no problem.

QUESTION: A follow-up on the previous question - as a matter of policy, does the United States Government recognize Athens FIR - flight information region - as Greek national airspace?

MR. FOLEY: I'll have to take the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have any answer to the reports that the Mexican army was involved in the creation of paramilitary forces in Chiapas that were involved in the recent massacre of Indians?

MR. FOLEY: Well, we've seen the reports, but we have no information on the allegations. The Mexican Government, as we've indicated and applauded, has undertaken a full investigation of the massacre. We support President Zedillo's determination to bring to justice all those responsible, but we can't confirm those reports.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. FOLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:25 P.M.)

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