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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #13, 98-01-29

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


Thursday, January 29, 1998

Briefer: James B. Foley

1		Release of State Department's Annual Human Rights Report
1		Briefing Tomorrow on Human Rights Report

ISRAEL 1-2 Israeli Finance Minister's Visit/Discussion of US Economic Aid to Israel 2 Composition of Trilateral Security Commission 2 Cooperation Between Israeli Forces and Palestinian Authority

TURKEY/CYPRUS 2 Paphos Air Base Issue

IRAN 3 President Clinton's Remarks on the Occasion of Eid Al-Fitr 3 Prospects for People-To-People Exchanges with Iran 3-4 Prospects for Developing Better Relationship with Iran

NORTH KOREA 4-5 CIA Director Tenet's Congressional Testimony

JAPAN 5 Status of US-Japan Civil Aviation Talks


DPB #13

THURSDAY, JANUARY 29, 1998, 1:00 P.M.


MR. FOLEY: Good afternoon. I don't have any announcements to make, except to remind you that tomorrow we're going to be releasing the 1997 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which will be available in the Press Office tomorrow morning. Then Acting Secretary Talbott will make a statement here at the podium at 12:30 p.m., followed by a full briefing by Assistant Secretary Shattuck. He'll be taking all of your questions. That's beginning tomorrow at 12:30 p.m.

QUESTION: What time will the report be available?

MR. FOLEY: At 9:00 a.m. in the Press Office.

QUESTION: The Israeli Finance Minister was in town yesterday. He may still be here, and he is seeking what amounts to an aid cut over ten years, as you probably are aware. I was wondering if you have any comment on it?

MR. FOLEY: Yes, Israeli Finance Minister Ne'eman raised the concept of a phased aid reduction during his wide-ranging discussions with Administration officials on our close bilateral economic relations. We understand that Mr. Ne'eman also raised the concept with members of Congress yesterday, and you saw reference to that in some of the press reporting this morning.

We welcome the Israeli Government's initiative on this, and we will be working closely with Israel and the Congress as the concept develops.

QUESTION: As I understand it, they want a decrease in economic assistance, but an increase in military assistance. You don't - are you prepared to say anything about that breakdown?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I can't really confirm the details of the plan. This was an Israeli initiative that was prompted, as the Finance Minister stated, by Israel's very strong economic position. So I'd leave it to the Israeli Government to comment further on the details. But I would like to make clear that we reiterate our unshakable commitment to Israel's security needs.

QUESTION: In theory does that mean that the US could find its way to go along with that idea?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I think it would be premature to stake out a position at this point. We welcomed the Minister's unveiling of the concept, if you will. We're prepared to work with the Israelis and with the Congress very cooperatively as these proposals are further developed.

QUESTION: Still on Israel, there's a report from Israel that the Israelis want to expel the CIA from the trilateral security commission, and simply deal bilaterally with the Palestinians. Can you confirm that, or do you have any comment on it?

MR. FOLEY: No, I can't confirm it. I have not heard the report, therefore I can't comment on it.

QUESTION: On that general subject, the story about the foiled bomb plot and the arrest of two Arabs by Israeli forces, there were initial reports citing cooperation from the Palestinian Authority. They later denied cooperating in that alleged uncovering of the plot. Do you have any information on that?

MR. FOLEY: Well, there has been cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli officials, especially since last summer, since the Secretary's visit. I can't comment on that particular incident. I'd have to refer you to both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities.

Anything else on Israel and the Middle East?

QUESTION: Are you concerned about the continued Turkish threats for military action against Cyprus?

MR. FOLEY: Which statements are you referring to, Mr. Lambros?

QUESTION: The statements that the Turks consistently attack the Paphos air base.

MR. FOLEY: Thank you. We're aware of that particular statement. I believe that what Turkey said is that they would put the issue before the UN Security Council, concerning their concerns about this air base. We believe that as a member of the United Nations, Turkey has a right to raise issues of concern before the United Nations. But it would be premature for us to comment on that possible move.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any US attempt to prevent such an action against Cyprus?

MR. FOLEY: Well, we have been urging the parties all along to avoid taking actions and also making statements which result in increased tension in the region, and that detract from efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace on the island. We do remain concerned about the increasing militarization of Cyprus on both sides of the cease-fire line.

This is a short briefing.

QUESTION: The President is delivering - I'm not sure it's been released yet - a taped message, distributed by VOA to the Iranian people, saying he, too, favors people-to-people exchanges between Iran and the United States. That's about the gist of it, although he notes the differences between the two nations. I guess this is his - the US' formal response to Khatami. Can we look at it that way?

MR. FOLEY: I'd have to check the record to see whether the President personally had a statement on Iran to make following the CNN interview. But this is not the first time that the President himself has expressed his desire, his personal desire to see an improved relationship with Iran, and expressed his good wishes to the Iranian people, his welcoming of the encouraging and positive tone coming out of Iran through the declarations of President Khatami. So I don't think that's new. I believe Jamie Rubin, from this podium, spoke definitively on behalf of the US Government just following that CNN interview.

He stated at the time -- and really the President's message - his Eid message reiterated our willingness to take a look at the issue of people-to- people exchanges. So the President's comments in his message to the Iranian people today is certainly in keeping with the US Government's response to President Khatami's - both his press conference and the January interview with CNN.

The President recognizes and appreciates the new tone of President Khatami's public comments. He has repeatedly noted that the United States Government, the American people do not have differences with the Iranian people. We, of course, need to see changes in the government of Iran's deeds and not only words. But the President's message is meant, during the important time of the Eid, to convey our views to the people of Iran.

QUESTION: Jamie Rubin in his remarks the day after did acknowledge the possibility of people-to-people exchanges, but he stressed the need for government-to-government dialogue, and he repeated the oft-said US position on it, which is that it has to be open and acknowledged by both sides, no back channels, and on the agenda would be the three issues of concern to the United States. He did not mention any of that, however, in his message to the Iranian people - the President did not.

MR. FOLEY: As you know, we continue to have serious concerns with the Iranian Government, concerning actions on the international stage. Those concerns remain undiminished. We've always felt that the lack of a dialogue - and this is not a new Administration position - is unhelpful; and that a dialogue - an authoritative, open, authorized dialogue would be an essential step which we are calling for to help us begin to sit down with the Iranians to discuss our differences, to raise our areas of concern, to give them the opportunity to raise areas of concern to them and to begin to develop a new and better relationship on the basis of respect for international norms.

President Khatami, in his latest interview, indicated that the issue of a dialogue, an official dialogue, was not something that he was currently considering. He did propose, though, as a way of beginning to break down the walls of mistrust that have existed over the last two decades, increased people-to-people contacts. The United States has indicated that it finds that proposal worth considering, and we are currently looking at the idea of how we can help facilitate such people-to-people exchanges.

I would note that there are such exchanges, that Americans do travel to Iran and Iranians do travel to the United States. But we are looking at ways to see if we can better facilitate such contacts.

QUESTION: What's the current view of whatever the temperature is - warmer or less warm - since President Khatami's statement. I thought I had seen reporting to the effect that he seemed to have been pulling back on some of the things that he indicated in the interview, and that perhaps it was not quite as warm or as open as it might have been thought at first. What is the current view of --

MR. FOLEY: I'd hesitate to give a scorecard on the daily fluctuations out of Tehran on this subject. I believe I saw press reporting - I could be wrong - but I believe I saw press reporting in the last week or so, indicating that he had reiterated his interest in promoting better relations, at least between the two peoples. So I'm not sure that that judgment is categorical.

Certainly the President's message today was a very warm message to the people of Iran.

QUESTION: It's a North Korea question. CIA Director Tenet had testimony yesterday - Congressional testimony. He said North Korean people are more willing to blame Kim Jung Il on the plight of the country. Also he mentioned -- he said he didn't expect Kim Jung Il would take any reform on economic (inaudible). It sounds more tough than the people in this building use. The language sounds more tough. Do you share the same view?

MR. FOLEY: I caught the second part of your comment about some pessimism about economic measures. What was the first point?

QUESTION: The first point is, CIA Director Tenet said North Korean people are more willing to blame Kim Jung Il on the plight of the country. So do you share the same view?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I've not read the transcript of his testimony. Certainly it is always difficult to analyze with a high degree of confidence the internal situation in North Korea, given the opacity of the country and of the society. Clearly they are going through some difficult economic times, and they are dealing with that situation. The country has been in some kind of political transition over the last two years, which may be coming to an end. And beyond that, I can only repeat that it is very difficult to know with certitude the exact situation, both on the economic and on the political front inside North Korea.

QUESTION: People like Chuck Kartman - since last October when Kim Jung Il became their head of the party --


QUESTION: General Secretary of the party. They have expressed some optimism in the country, that North Korea would take some reform - they may take some reform. So I was just wondering, do you recognize the feel of their --

MR. FOLEY: Well, certainly it's our view that economic reforms are essential, are critical to any hope of reversing the current economic situation in North Korea. Whether Kim Jung Il is in a position and is willing to move in that direction, I think very much remains to be seen.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the civil aviation negotiations between Japan and the United States?

MR. FOLEY: Well, you know they're ongoing. I believe that the negotiations are not far from conclusion. I can't tell you for sure that they will be completed this week. We're watching that, and I'm talking to our officials involved in the negotiations, and I think they're reasonably optimistic that an agreement is imminent.

QUESTION: It is said that some Japanese officials say that already you reached the agreement in substance , but right now there is some problem regarding (inaudible) in draft agreement or document or something.

MR. FOLEY: Well, I think you've got better information about the exact and current state of the negotiations than I do. I haven't posed that question. I am aware that they're very close to agreement.

QUESTION: Also, is there any possibility for them for another talk in the next week if you cannot reach the agreement this week? Do you have another session?

MR. FOLEY: That's hypothetical. Let's wait and see at the end of the week whether they've reached agreement or not. We're reasonably optimistic.

Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:15 P.M.)

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