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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #143, 99-01-04

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 4, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1		Reports Iraqi Planes Violating the No-Fly Zone Near Kuwait
9,10		Iraqi Procedures for Visas for UN Humanitarian Workers
9-10		Status of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Program
10-11		Prospects for Lifting of Sanctions/Status of Oil for Food
11		US Assistance for Iraqi Opposition
11-12		Situation Update in Iraq/Reports of Repression of Kurdish
12		US Position on Enforcement of the No-Fly Zones
13		No-Drive Zone in Southern Iraq

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 1,6 Ambassador Ross to Meet Israeli Foreign Minister Sharon in New York 1-2,7 Travel Plans to Region by Dennis Ross 2-6,20-21 Implementation of Wye Agreement/US Assistance

ISRAEL 6-7,8 Israeli Detention of Members of "Concerned Christians" Group

CAMBODIA 13-14 US Position on Bringing Senior Khmer Rouge Leaders to Justice

TURKEY 14-15 Purchase of Armored Personnel Vehicles / Leahy Amendment 15 VOA Broadcast of Interview with Ocalan

COLOMBIA 15-19 Meeting by State Department Official with Members of FARC

TERRORISM 17-18 US Policy on Meeting with Terrorist Organizations 21 Bin Ladin's Recent Statements

BELARUS/RUSSIA 19-20 Proposed Union Between Belarus and Russia

CUBA 20 Status of Bipartisan Commission to Review Cuba Policy

SPRATLYS/CHINA PHILIPPINES 21-23 Spratly Island Dispute/Congressman Rohrabacher's Travel

INDONESIA 23 Update on Violence in Aceh

SERBIA 23-24 Update on Situation in Kosovo


DPB #143

MONDAY, JANUARY 4, 1999 1:20 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: This is a very full house. You all must have missed us a lot here.

Welcome back to the State Department briefing room. I know I missed you.


I hope everyone had a good New Year. In order to start the New Year right, I figured I'd be an hour late, and I was just shy of that.

I have no statements and no opening remarks. Let me go right to your questions.

QUESTION: Evidently the Pentagon hasn't been any help, so let me try the State Department about these curious reports that the Iraqi plane - at least more than one - but that Iraq tested the no-fly zone by flying up to the Kuwait border. Is this building of any help on that?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have any information on military movements like that.

QUESTION: There's a couple of reports out there this morning out of the Middle East saying that the Secretary was refusing to meet with Foreign Minister Sharon when he's going to be in New York later this week. Is there any truth to that?

MR. RUBIN: Foreign Minister Sharon is scheduled to be in New York at the end of the week. The suggestion that there's some problem between us and the Israeli Foreign Ministry is simply incorrect. We understood from the Israelis that they would like to be able to arrange a meeting with either the Secretary or Dennis Ross. It is my understanding that during the discussions, it was agreed that Ambassador Ross would meet with the Minister in New York on Friday, which he's going to do.

QUESTION: Then will he go to the Middle East sometime soon?

MR. RUBIN: I inquired of Ambassador Ross of his schedule, and he is scheduled to go to the Middle East as part of the conference being held at the Shimon Peres Peace Institute. I may have misstated the name but it's a scheduled conference; it's not part of a formal trip with respect to his role as Special Middle East Coordinator.

I would be surprised, however, if while in the Middle East at such a conference he didn't have the opportunity to talk to various players. But it is not a - it is a long-scheduled trip to participate in a conference.

QUESTION: Will he speak at the conference?

MR. RUBIN: I presume so, if he's going to participate.

QUESTION: And per chance, when he speaks might be possibly boost the concept of peace in the Middle East as proposed by the Laborites and Mr. Peres?

MR. RUBIN: I'm sure that Ambassador Ross, like I and like the Secretary and like most Administration officials, will speak to what we should speak to, which is the American interest in the Middle East peace process, our views as to the importance of the Middle East peace process, to the peoples of the Middle East - in much the same way the President did while he was in the Middle East. But it is not our role to interfere in an election campaign, if that was the implication in your question.

QUESTION: Well, not interfere, but sort of boost one side as being more peace-minded than another. But you've covered that. Can you tell us, please, is it the Administration's view that things are pretty much on hold until the elections; or do you see any possibilities for any serious advances?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we do believe that the situation in the Middle East is one in which the agreement that was worked out with painstaking efforts by the United States and by the parties should be implemented by both sides. We think that the Palestinians need to do their part and implement their part of the agreement. The Israeli Government and its Knesset have approved the agreement, and we think they should implement their part of the agreement; and no new conditions should be added.

QUESTION: What would be the US' hope for the next step? Whose move is it now? What's supposed to happen next? What would you like to see happen next?

MR. RUBIN: We would like to see both the Israelis and the Palestinians implement the agreement they both signed.

QUESTION: So you'd like to see Israel pull back; is that what you mean?

MR. RUBIN: We would like to see Israel follow through on the requirements of the Wye Agreement, which I'd be happy to spell out for you if I could get my copy. We'd also like to see the Palestinians fulfill their side of the agreement. We'd like both sides to do that. We think it would be inappropriate for any new conditions to be added. Regardless of the circumstances, we believe that both sides have signed this agreement. The Israeli Knesset and its government approved it and Chairman Arafat approved it and his entity; and therefore, it should be implemented regardless of circumstances.

QUESTION: You spoke in the future of your not wanting to see new conditions. Has Israel introduced new conditions? There's quite a debate about that. The Israeli Government takes the position that they're just interpreting the agreement.

MR. RUBIN: This won't be news to you, Barry, that we said this while we were there and we've said it for several weeks now -- that with respect to the question on the unilateral declaration, that is not in the Wye Agreement and we regard that as a new condition - that's what we said.

QUESTION: Name the four things they stated.

MR. RUBIN: There are several points the Israeli Government has made with respect to what the Palestinian need to do. As we told you then, and have told you for several weeks now, we regard any suggestion that the agreement prohibited aspirations or hopes for the future as simply not correct. It did not prohibit that, and we regard that as a new condition.

QUESTION: Well, I know I'm asking a lot of questions, but I think we have a theme going here. If you would have then - the State Department would have Israel withdrawal that statement or sort of set it aside -

MR. RUBIN: We don't agree with that.

QUESTION: Well, you said you don't want new conditions; you said you want the agreement to go through; you said both sides have obligations. I just want to close the circle - then Israel should, what, set aside these conditions, which they say aren't new and go ahead?

MR. RUBIN: We don't support new conditions, and we think the agreement should be implemented.

QUESTION: That means a withdrawal. I mean, I'm trying to get to specific --

MR. RUBIN: On the Israeli side, implementing the agreement would mean implementing the Phase 2 and Phase 3, at the appropriate time, further redeployments.

QUESTION: Now, what does it mean on the Palestinian side as you now see it?

MR. RUBIN: All the elements that are required by the agreement.

QUESTION: Well, they say the elements are those four things they mentioned.

MR. RUBIN: We don't agree with the one you've mentioned.

QUESTION: What do you think the elements are?

MR. RUBIN: I'm sorry - is this a quiz?


QUESTION: No, it's trying to figure out what the US wants. Israel has said what it wants from the Palestinians.

MR. RUBIN: I'll get you something in writing.

QUESTION: You say the State Department's position that there are new conditions. So I'm asking what are the old conditions the US would like to see -

MR. RUBIN: I'll get you something in writing. I'll get your own signed copy of the Wye Agreement.

QUESTION: No, I know the Wye Agreement.

MR. RUBIN: That's what we would think we ought to do.

QUESTION: We're not talking about the Wye Agreement. We're talking about various interpretations. Israel has one; the Palestinians have another; and the State Department is saying, we want it implemented. I'm trying to figure out what is it specifically that the State Department feels the Palestinians have to do? You told us what you think -

MR. RUBIN: It's in the agreement.

QUESTION: Is it the US Government position, now that the Palestinians have fulfilled their requirements under the Wye Agreement so far?

MR. RUBIN: We believe that both sides need to implement the agreement. There have clearly been problems that have occurred in the second phase. Those problems have been largely due to, in our view, the breakdown in communications that occurred successfully in the first phase did not occur in the second phase. We believe that communication has to be restored. Some of that began to occur when the President was there. We now believe that both sides need to get down to implementation.

Any suggestion that additional measures beyond the Wye Agreement, such as those related to unilateral declarations, should be a reason not to conduct a further redeployment we don't agree with and we think are not contained in the agreement and would constitute new conditions that we do not support.

That is as far as I'm prepared to go today, as you probably have surmised.

QUESTION: Well, let me just have one more try; I'm just going to turn the question around. Is it the US Government position that the Palestinians have not fulfilled all of the conditions?

MR. RUBIN: I have nothing new to add.

QUESTION: But just a few days ago, the US position - or a few weeks ago - time passes so quickly when we have holidays - just a few briefings ago it was the US position - I even think I heard Albright say - the Palestinians have to do more. Now, isn't that --

MR. RUBIN: I don't think that's inconsistent with what I just said.

QUESTION: They've done all right, he asks you --

MR. RUBIN: You're asking me to give you a score card, which I refuse to give you, as you probably have surmised.

QUESTION: Not a score card --

MR. RUBIN: What I am prepared to say is that we think both sides need to fulfill their obligations as signed in the Wye Agreement. We think that those are quite clearly spelled out, and I'd be happy to spend some time with you going through what we think those are after the briefing.

With respect to conditions beyond the Wye Agreement, such as the one I mentioned, we don't agree with that; we don't support that; and that's a new condition. So other than that, we want both sides to fulfill the agreement, and obviously that hasn't happened.

QUESTION: Jamie, has the Israeli Government informed you that they will not be going ahead with implementation until the --

MR. RUBIN: That's not their position publicly. I don't know why they would inform us something different privately. As I recall, reading their public position, they've said they would go forward with the agreement provided certain things were done. So I couldn't imagine them giving us a different position privately.

QUESTION: When President Clinton was in Gaza three weeks ago, he said that Secretary Albright would be returning to the region in roughly three weeks' time. I'm just wondering what the status of that trip --

MR. RUBIN: Those three weeks' time having passed, you mean? Let me say that the purpose of that trip was designed to come at the end of the 12- week period of the Wye implementation as a way to increase the focus on the permanent status negotiations, which would need to come into play at the end of the 12 weeks of the Wye Agreement.

Obviously, we are not at the end of the 12 weeks of the Wye Agreement in terms of implementation, nor are we close to that, which you can surmise from the last series of questions.

So the purpose of that trip was designed, again, to put a coda on the Wye Agreement and set the stage for intensified negotiations on the permanent status. We are not at that phase for obvious reasons; and therefore, such a trip is not now scheduled.

QUESTION: Would you say that this is a set-back for the Wye Agreement?

MR. RUBIN: I don't see the trip and the Wye Agreement as being particularly the set-back, no; I don't understand the linkage. What I could certainly - we can say that the Wye Agreement has seen bumps in the road in the first phase, and it's now seeing even bigger bumps in the road in the second phase.

QUESTION: Jamie, is there any reason along those lines why Dennis Ross is meeting with Foreign Minister Sharon instead of the Secretary? There was some suggestion in the Israeli press that was a snub.

MR. RUBIN: I think I answered that in response to Sid's question about ten minutes ago, but if you would like to hear it again --

QUESTION: I know you said it, and I just want to make sure I heard you right. Israel said, they really didn't care; they would just as soon - they would talk to either the Secretary or Dennis Ross.

MR. RUBIN: They wanted to schedule a meeting with the Secretary or Ambassador Ross.

QUESTION: They presented no preference?

MR. RUBIN: That's the information I've been providing.

QUESTION: Just one more - the doomsday thing. Israel - it's sort of part of the picture with all the other problems going on, Israel is bracing for an exciting year. There have been some, what, some deportations? Is the US - they formed a special group of various intelligence groups. Is the US, since a lot of these people - they may all be American citizens for all I know - is the US involved in any way in trying to discourage people from going or trying to help Israel prevent any mass suicides or disruptions or worse?

MR.RUBIN: The year of the millennium clearly has begun. The only information I have on this is that our embassy in Tel Aviv and our consulate in Jerusalem have contacted Israeli authorities regarding the detention of eight adults and six children said to be members of the American-based religious group, Concerned Christians. Three of the US citizens are in Tel Aviv's consular district; the rest are in Jerusalem. Our consular officers have requested consular access to the detainees as soon as possible. Israeli law permits the detention of individuals for up to 48 hours before they must be brought before a court.

We have not received information from Israeli authorities regarding the detentions as of yet. Consular officers from our embassy and our consulate are in contact with the authorities to clarify the reasons for the detentions. So we don't have, as of the time I came out for this briefing, any direct authoritative information about the intentions of Israeli authorities or the reasons for the detention.

QUESTION: I just thought, also, you might have something on the larger picture.

MR. RUBIN: I am unaware of any such group, but I will check.

QUESTION: Well, I meant not only the group. I mean, obviously, you know -

MR. RUBIN: You asked me whether there's an American working group being created to deal with this problem.

QUESTION: I didn't ask that at all. I asked if the United States has anything in mind, doing anything to assist or to assist Israeli authorities to cope with this problem?

MR. RUBIN: Right, is there a plan, yes.


MR. RUBIN: I know nothing about that. It may start to occur.

QUESTION: Could you just go back to Dennis Ross' speech at Peres Center? Can you put that in any sort of context as far as the American position in the upcoming elections? Is there any -

MR. RUBIN: We have no position in the upcoming elections.

QUESTION: Ambassador Ross' speech there rather than at a -

MR. RUBIN: It's a long-scheduled event that well preceded the timing of the elections. Although people will obviously have their fun, I hope that rationality will prevail and people will record the fact that this speech was scheduled well before the election was scheduled.

QUESTION: You didn't know there was going to be an election, for one thing.

MR. RUBIN: Precisely. Not only -

QUESTION: Even if there is an election, you don't have any thing to reconsider, right, having your primary negotiator appear at a Peres seminar?

MR. RUBIN: If you want to find a twisted way to report the problem, I can't stop you.

QUESTION: No, I'm saying there was no way you could know. I say there was no way to know. Now that there's going to be an election, it's full speed ahead despite the - obviously, as you yourself referred to - the way it will be interpreted by some people. That doesn't cause you to reconsider.

MR. RUBIN: No, I said the irrational way it will be interpreted, and I called for rationality. We can't make our judgments in diplomacy based on irrationality.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - Middle East.


QUESTION: This group of Americans that were arrested --

MR. RUBIN: Boy, I've missed this.

QUESTION: -- some being detained, do you know if any of these people are requesting aid from the embassy to get them out of the country?

MR. RUBIN: I think at this point, we haven't even received official information from the Israelis. Our consular officers haven't received information clarifying the reasons for the detention. This information does not suggest to me that they've then been able to meet with them yet. This just happened.

QUESTION: The embassy is back open now?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I read something somewhere that most of - some of the services are back if not all of them. All of them - I think they made an announcement there about them being open.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - I don't know whether it's accurate or not, but at least one wire report says US consular officials met with the three women and six children this afternoon and would see two more.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I will ask our consular officials here why their consular officials in Israel know information they didn't present to me here. But it was just a wire report.

QUESTION: And they released a partial list of names.

MR. RUBIN: Who has?

QUESTION: The embassy.

MR. RUBIN: I see. That's helpful. I'll be in touch with our consular officers regarding these facts. If you want to sit in on that meeting, you might enjoy it.


QUESTION: A question on the arrest, please. Do you know of any information that American authorities provided to the Israelis that may have aided the Israelis in investigating the arrest?

MR. RUBIN: I know nothing about that; I'll check into that.

QUESTION: Could you?

QUESTION: Iraq - what do you have to say about the Iraqi attempt to prevent British and US citizens from taking part in humanitarian UN operations?

MR. RUBIN: My understanding is that the Iraqi Ambassador delivered a formal notification that is still being translated. The notification was delivered to the acting head of the UN office of the Iraq program in a meeting late this morning.

In his oral presentation, the Iraqi official emphasized that no UN workers are going to be expelled; that some Americans working in UN humanitarian programs will receive visas; and that denial of visas to others is a temporary measure. Any Iraqi effort to selectively exclude some nationalities from this staff of the UN humanitarian program would contravene the UN's worldwide policy of non-discrimination on the basis of nationality. With respect to the concept of discrimination, we understand the UN has referred the matter to its legal office.

The numbers involved here are very, very small, and as my information just indicated to you, it seems that it may have little or no impact.

QUESTION: You said denial of visas is a temporary measure?

MR. RUBIN: That some Americans working in UN humanitarian programs will receive visas, and that denial of visas to others is a temporary measure. This is what the Iraqis told the UN today.

QUESTION: You can't explain that in any way?

MR. RUBIN: I've given you the information as I've received it.

QUESTION: Does the US Government believe that there is a conformity on the part of Saddam's government with regard to weapons of mass destruction; or do we feel that the attacks on allied aircraft are a defiance and a basic subversion of keeping track of what he's doing now?

MR. RUBIN: I think in our view, the Iraqi actions in recent days are the actions of frustration. They're lashing out at fellow Arab countries for having or not having a meeting, further demonstrating their isolation. They're trying to find ways to demonstrate that they were stung quite badly and punished quite badly by these missile attacks. So this is the pattern in which they at first show that they can still get their anti-aircraft missiles destroyed by using them and then they show that they can still get their anti-aircraft missiles destroyed by using them. Then, they make certain declarations which are repeated by some and understood better by others. In our view this is a clear act of frustration by a regime that has been unable to achieve its objective of getting changes in the international community's position vis-a-vis Iraq.

All that's happened is that Iraq has left itself without anybody to defend itself and left it without any allies to support its position on UNSCOM, because there is no UNSCOM. No country -- despite what I see written over and over again - no country in the Security Council has proposed changing the sanctions regime in the absence of a declaration of disarmament by UNSCOM.

So there isn't any country in the UN Security Council - and those of you who might be listening or write this subject I hope will take note - have proposed changing the sanctions regime. So there's no proposal to change the sanctions regime. His weapons of mass destruction have been set back significantly; in the case of missiles, by more than a year. His prospect of having sanction's relief has been set back by the time it would take to get an UNSCOM back in have that tested and operating. So this situation leaves Saddam Hussein stung and punished; and this is what we've come to expect when that happens.

QUESTION: Is it the duty - is it the policy of the US and Britain to monitor the weapons of mass destruction progress on the ground and possibly go back by air and make these -

MR. RUBIN: We've made very clear we reserve the right to use military force if we think he is reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction. This is not the best way to disarm Iraq - through the military - but it's another way to do it if they won't cooperate with the UN Special Commission, which they will not do.

QUESTION: To go back to the previous Iraq subject, you said the statements that were made about the visas, that was Ambassador Hamdun?

MR. RUBIN: It was an Iraqi ambassador - I didn't mention his name since it could have been in Iraq.

QUESTION: So it wasn't necessarily in New York?

MR. RUBIN: It could have been New York, too; I don't know whether it was New York. I don't think it's really relevant. It was the official Iraqi position that I was describing to you as we understood it.

QUESTION: It was made to the -

MR. RUBIN: The UN. That's the acting head of the UN office of the Iraq program, probably in New York.

QUESTION: On sanctions while ago, Ambassador Pickering - Secretary Pickering - spoke here favorably the idea of expanding the exemptions so Iraq could sell more oil, provided of course, used for food and medication, et cetera. Is that a dead issue now?

MR. RUBIN: I have nothing new for you on that.

QUESTION: There's no movement on it? This is apropos. You're saying the sanctions stand.

MR. RUBIN: I have nothing new on that.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about how the aid for Iraqi opposition groups will be apportioned?

MR. RUBIN: I do not have any information on that. I can say that we do have new reports reaching us on a weekly basis of repression of the Kurdish population in the North and the Shia population in the South. Tensions in the South rose after the assassinations of two senior Islamic clerics this summer -- killings that have been widely attributed to the regime. The repression reportedly reached a peak in November with hundreds killed and actions directed personally by Qusay Hussein.

Over the past six weeks, we have seen reports of mass arrests throughout the southern no-fly zone and in the Shia suburbs of Baghdad and hundreds of summery executions of dissidents at Amara and Radwaniyan prison.

Regime military action against the Shia is an intrinsic and continuing part of this campaign of repression. Since 1991, the regime has been carrying out the widespread and brutal repression of the Shia population of Southern Iraq. Our opposition sources from the Shia report that seven more villages at the edges of the marshlands were recently destroyed or turned into military outposts. The irrigation system was cut off and the tamarisk trees were cut down or burned. More than 2,000 civilians were unable to flee or reportedly taken hostage by regime forces and maybe sent to Baghdad. This is old people, the infirm, women and children taken as hostages and sent to Baghdad.

That is the kind of activity that is going on in the South that was the reason why the Security Council passed Resolution 688, which, of course, was the purpose of the no-fly zones. With respect to your direct question, I don't believe we've made any apportionment decisions; and when we do so, I will try to get them to you.

QUESTION: On that -- (inaudible) -- do you have anything - does State have -- to verify reports that senior people - people that are important to the regime - are moving out of Baghdad, are being taken out of that possible line of fire?

MR. RUBIN: I haven't seen those reports.

QUESTION: Oh yes, it's been all morning.

MR. RUBIN: I haven't seen the reports.

QUESTION: Do you have rough figures on the number of executions and arrests?

MR. RUBIN: The numbers that I had were talking about hundreds killed in actions directed personally by Qusay Hussein in November, mass arrests in the past six weeks and hundreds of summery executions of dissidents.

QUESTION: Okay, can we move to Cambodia, or are we still on Iraq?

QUESTION: In the last week, the Iraqis have fired on planes in the no-fly zone, and they've said that the US and UK have no right to patrol there.

MR. RUBIN: Well, we believe that the no-fly zones are very important to protect the people of Iraq from its dictatorship, which has so blatantly and completely brutalized and terrorized it. We have been enforcing no-fly zones since 1991. The coalition created them in accordance with Resolution 688, as well as Resolution 678 and 687. We are acting pursuant to those resolutions.

They're a coalition activity, but we believe they're clearly in accordance with the UN resolutions. So suggestions of illegality by a regime that is in flagrant violation of every international rule of the game, we don't take very seriously.

QUESTION: So the US will continue to fly, irrespective of what --

MR. RUBIN: Correct. Saddam Hussein can yell and scream; Saddam Hussein can act with frustration; he can have his air defense system shot down by trying to use them. But the United States will continue to enforce the no- fly zones. We will continue to keep the containment of Iraq as tight as possible.

QUESTION: Jamie, you say the no-fly zones - this is an obvious question - are designed to protect the people in the north and the south. From what you just said, not to be contentious, it doesn't sound like it's working very well.

MR. RUBIN: No, it's all a question of everything's relative. We don't own the real estate in Iraq; it's in Iraq. But what the purpose of the no- fly zones were was to prevent him from using his aircraft to brutalize the people in the south. I think all the information that I gave you did not include him using aircraft to brutalize the people of the south and north. So that's the difference.

QUESTION: The Secretary made some statements upstairs with the Kurdish leaders some months ago which were widely interpreted as security guarantees against Iraqi Government incursions in the north. Whether you consider them security guarantees or not per se, is there not the same sort of pledge for the security of the people in the south as there is in the north?

MR. RUBIN: We have never made those same comments about the south as we have in the north. I wouldn't rule out any action and I wouldn't try to prejudge any particular hypothetical situation. The north, we've stated quite clearly that if Saddam moves to the north that we are prepared to act. With respect to in the south, all I can tell you is it is something that I wouldn't rule out.

QUESTION: Could we go to Cambodia if it's all right, and get a straight notice --

QUESTION: There was a suggestion before the latest US missile strikes that at the end of the American action, some consideration would be given to a no-drive zone in Southern Iraq. Can you update us on that?

MR. RUBIN: There is a no-drive zone in Southern Iraq. The Republican Guard is prohibited from going below the 32nd parallel, I believe, which prevents the most dangerous units from operating in Southern Iraq. That's in existence.

QUESTION: Any consideration to expanding that?

MR. RUBIN: I haven't heard that. I wouldn't rule out anything with respect to Iraq.

QUESTION: Jamie, what -- (inaudible) -- in Cambodia, as best the US can understand? A couple of statements came out last week from here, urging trials - or at least justice - for the Khmer Rouge, who are being treated very nicely now. The government seems to be one day saying they may be tried, and another day taking it back. It's all very confusing. Is the US having any influence or using any leverage?

MR. RUBIN: What's not confusing, I hope, is our position. We have consistently attached great importance to bringing senior Khmer Rouge leaders, such as Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, to justice for their actions during the 1975 to 1979 period.

We are continuing to consult with the Cambodians and other interested parties on this. I believe today our ambassador met with Hun Sen about this subject. We welcome Prime Minister Hun Sen's January 1 statement supporting a trial for Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. We also welcome the statement by Prince Ranariddh in support of a tribunal for the atrocities of the 1975 to 1979 period.

We call upon the government of Cambodia to insist upon accountability for the crimes of the 1975 to 1979 period. That is our consistent position.

QUESTION: Hun Sen did not actually support the trial; what he supported was let the courts decide?

MR. RUBIN: You may be accurately describing the quote, but I think we tend to use the word "support" - my understanding is that it would be support if the courts decided. In other words, we are expressing our welcoming of him saying in principle he would be prepared to support a trial.

But I think I also said that we call upon the government of Cambodia to insist upon accountability for the crimes of that period. So we want something to happen; we don't want it to just be an idea in principle.

QUESTION: Do you care whether there's a trial in that country or in an international tribunal; do you have a preference?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we've gone through various options. We've been discussing this in the Security Council for some time. My understanding is our preferred course would be some sort of internationally recognized tribunal created by the Security Council to give it the maximum legitimacy. But I wouldn't rule out other options that would meet the test of accountability and justice for the people who suffered so tragically in Cambodia.

QUESTION: Would you rule out a trial in Cambodia by a Cambodian tribunal?

MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't rule out other options such as those; but clearly our preferred option is to have a Security Council-generated body.

QUESTION: New subject - I'd like to refer you to The Washington Post article on December 31 relating to Senator Leahy's human rights law. It seems like the State Department, in its first ruling, ruled against Turkey's $45 million purchase, if the report is correct. Now, what I want to find out is, is this the prologue of the State Department's position on upcoming purchases coming up, such as several billion dollars of helicopters or tanks and so on, based on the Leahy rule?

MR. RUBIN: You're pocketing one thing that hasn't happened yet and making it a precedent for something else that hasn't happened yet. So it's very hard to be totally responsive to your question.

What I can say is that the Ex-Im Bank asked for the State Department's opinion regarding the effect of the Leahy amendment on a proposal for the Export-Import to provide a $38 million loan guarantee for the sale of 140 non-lethal APVs - armored personnel vehicles - from a US company, AV Technology, to the Turkish National Police.

We examined information about the human rights practices of Turkish police in provinces slated to receive these vehicles. We have discussed the information we've examined with the US company, with Turkish authorities and interested members of Congress. In keeping with our strong concern for human rights, we have reached a decision which complies with US law. We have maintained our engagement with the Turkish National Police on human rights issues. We have also preserved a sale for a US company. We are still working out the final modalities of this deal and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.

QUESTION: But you think it should go forward; that's your decision?

MR. RUBIN: Well, it's a complicated set of decisions; it's not a yes or no question, which is why I can't fully answer it at this time.

QUESTION: Is this pattern pretty much going to be applied?

MR. RUBIN: Any suggestion that you would like to make a precedent and a pattern and draw a sweeping conclusion from an ambiguous statement like that, I think would be reaching pretty far.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - Kurdish section last week conducted one interview of the terrorist Ocalan at Rome. Then the Voice of America broadcast this interview in Kurdish and Turkish languages. Even you stated at this podium nobody has any contact with this terrorist.

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I think, unlike in some countries, our media is actually free and the VOA is free to repeat and use any information it wants. It's not the first time a media organization will report from someone we regard as a terrorist.

QUESTION: Is it true to all of the Voice of America employees, the government employees and the head of the agency?

MR. RUBIN: I think you're going back on a long, long issue that would require a lengthy description of the exact relationship between the United States and the VOA , but we do regard them as independent journalists, and they make their own decisions.

As I understand it, they do have an obligation to report, as policy of the United States, an editorial comment, "This is the policy of the United States." But their reporters are free to go out and do their job just the way you do yours every day - freely and can publish what they want. They're an independent journalistic operation with the exception of the editorial comment that's clearly stated as such from the United States Government.

So just as you're proud of your freedom -- and you're proud of your freedom - the VOA employees are proud of their freedom of the press.

QUESTION: So let me get it straight -- so one day we can easily see pro- Saddam broadcast on VOA -- is that what you're saying -- in the name of independence?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not sure you're being constructive.

QUESTION: Can you comment on a recent meeting between a State Department official and Colombian guerrillas, please?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, at the request and with the participation of the Colombian Government, a mid-level State Department official met in mid- December in Costa Rica with representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

We participated in this meeting to demonstrate our support for the Colombian peace process; to press the FARC to account for all kidnapped US citizens missing in Colombia; to urge them to halt all further attacks against US citizens and businesses in Colombia; and to tell the FARC that the US-Colombian counter-narcotics efforts, including aerial eradication, are non-negotiable and will be continued.

Although no further meetings are scheduled, we are prepared to consider further encounters. To jump to the obvious question, with respect to meeting with a terrorist organization, we have designated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia as a foreign terrorist organization. Nothing in this determination precludes the USG with meetings with the FARC or any other foreign terrorist organization if we determine that such a meeting is consistent with our interests, including bringing an end to Colombia's long- running civil conflict and to the terrorist attacks that accompany it.

In the case of the FARC, we met with them to press them, among other things, to account for all kidnapped US citizens missing in Colombia and to halt all further attacks against US citizens and businesses in Colombia.

QUESTION: How many missing Americans are there in Colombia, do you know?

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

QUESTION: Is the Colombian Government seeking anything specific from these meetings in Costa Rica?

MR. RUBIN: You would have to ask the Colombian Government what they were seeking.

QUESTION: Aren't you concerned that the host of this meeting, Costa Rica, -- (inaudible) -- is being sought by Colombian justice because of alleged links to the drug traffickers?

MR. RUBIN: Could you run that by me again, please?

QUESTION: The host of the meeting, Costa Rica, -- (inaudible) -- is being sought by Colombian justice because of alleged links to the drug traffickers and your concern that he was part of this meeting?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I don't know the modalities of the meeting or who hosted it or where it took place, other that it was in mid-December in Costa Rica, so I couldn't address the question.

QUESTION: If I may do a follow-up, when you mention a mid-level official, what exactly - could you give a more --

MR. RUBIN: Office director.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RUBIN: He's not an office director. He will be very insulted by what you just said.

QUESTION: It's not Peter Romero?

MR. RUBIN: I think I just said that as black and white as I could say anything.

QUESTION: You didn't say who it was?

MR. RUBIN: An office director for the region.

QUESTION: Do you know how many US officials are going to be observers at the peace process that is starting right now on January 7? Do you have information, who is the State Department going to send?


QUESTION: No person.

MR. RUBIN: I will look for that information for you.

QUESTION: What came out of the meeting?

MR. RUBIN: Well, it was obviously a first meeting of its type, and one doesn't expect meetings to instantly generate immediate results. I think we had an opportunity to make very clear that our counter-narcotics efforts are non-negotiable and will be continued. We were able to press very hard on the importance we attach to getting the information we need about the missing Americans. So we had an opportunity to do this directly, rather than through a third party or through the media.

QUESTION: Is another meeting planned?

MR. RUBIN: As I indicated, there are no further meetings scheduled, but we're prepared to consider further encounters if it meets our interests.

QUESTION: What happened to the policy - or is this now a change in policy - of not meeting with terrorist organizations?

MR. RUBIN: I've never seen that written down.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)-- written down.

MR RUBIN: You've seen it written down that we'll never meet with any of these 75 or however many -

QUESTION: I know I've heard it - I mean that's -

MR. RUBIN: I've never heard anybody say that before. It's obviously a very important policy in your mind, but it isn't in a policy in out mind.

MR. RUBIN: So the US never had a policy of not meeting with terrorist organizations?

QUESTION: This is a law - the foreign terrorist organization -- that requires certain stipulations and requires certain things to do. We have met with people who we think it is appropriate to meet with. We make the decision whether it is useful or not useful to meet. That's why we are policy-makers and we make the judgment of whether we think it will advance America's interests. We don't make simple cookie-cutter rules that say, I will never do this and I will never do that and I will never do this. Otherwise, sometimes we won't be able to serve the interests of the American people and the national interest of the United States.

So we don't have such a rule, such a policy to my knowledge. We believe this was an appropriate decision to advance our interests.

QUESTION: What rules are there governing contacts with terrorists organizations? What is the American policy?

MR. RUBIN: Well, the law has very specific requirements about what American citizens can and can't do with these stipulated organizations, and I'd be pleased to get you a copy of the bill.

QUESTION: Excuse me, Bill, to follow up. Is there not a very explicit American policy not to negotiate with terrorist organizations?

MR. RUBIN: I don't see how that's relevant. I specified for you very clearly what the purpose of the meeting was: it was not to negotiate; it was to meet with people and to explain to them that we are not going to change our counter-narcotics efforts and we want information about missing Americans. That is what we did. So it wasn't a matter of negotiations. So again, broad-brush statements like the ones that you make are useful in your business but they are not useful in business.

We, I think, have shown this government a very strong record of being extremely tough on terrorist organizations wherever they are. We're the only country in the world that creates a foreign terrorist organization list. We work very hard; we spend thousands and thousands of man hours in creating it and trying to ensure that no American dollars go to those who would be committing terrorist acts. Then we pursue very vigorously those who commit terrorist acts - sometimes going half-way around the world to bring them back to justice; sometimes imposing other kinds of restrictions.

So I think we're second to none in terms of the seriousness and the firmness with which we approach the problem of terrorism.

QUESTION: Is there not a suggestion of give-and-take in holding out the possibility of another meeting with the FARC?

MR. RUBIN: I can't imagine why there would be a suggestion of give-and- take unless you write it down that way and invent it.

QUESTION: Well, there's sufficient utility in this meeting in Costa Rica to suggest that another meeting would be desired by the US.

MR. RUBIN: I think I said that we're prepared to consider further encounters.

QUESTION: Any answer from the guerrilla group from Columbia after that meeting?

MR. RUBIN: Was there what?

QUESTION: Any answer or feedback about that meeting?

MR. RUBIN: I think I've said as much as I intend to say about this meeting; other than to tell you what we did and why we had the meeting and that we're prepared to consider another meeting. At this point, that's all I'm prepared to say.

QUESTION: The FARC guerrilla group has pledged to take over the eradication programs against drug trafficking. Are you saying that the US would not support Colombia's government efforts anymore if the guerrilla group takes over those efforts?

MR. RUBIN: I think I said the exact opposite five times in a row. Do you want me to repeat it?


Why? Let me be very clear - the United States made clear that US-Colombian narcotics efforts, including aerial eradication, are non-negotiable and will be continued.

QUESTION: Can I just - also a point of clarification. What would be the purpose of a further meeting, then, with the FARC?

MR. RUBIN: If we think it's appropriate and if we think it will advance American interests, we are prepared to have a further meeting.

QUESTION: Did they clarify, in your mind, any of the cases of missing Americans as a result of the meeting?

MR. RUBIN: I think I've specifically stated five times, no, I don't intend to answer that question. But if someone else would like to ask it, it would give me great pleasure.

QUESTION: Another subject - does the US Government take any position on the approaching or the coming together of policies of Belarus and Russia, economically and politically?

MR. RUBIN: I can't imagine why anyone would want to affiliate themselves with the government of Lukashenko, who has done so much harm to the image of Belarus around the world as a result of his attacks on human rights, his attacks on democracy and his blatant and flagrant violation of the Vienna Convention with respect to American embassies. But with respect to a more formal response, I'll have to get back to you.

QUESTION: Yes, would you; and could you break it down to both their economic approach and the political?

QUESTION: On a new subject, Jamie, in Japan for the new year a Cabinet- level official, Justice Minister Nakamura fired broadside at our cherished idea of a free market economy. He said to the effect that a free market economy exists only when the US is winning. When it's losing, it imposes military threats; it imposes trade laws and sanctions. Coming from a Cabinet official, does this kind of comment concern the United States at all, or do you merely regard it as air?

MR. RUBIN: It sounds like something I'd want to look at very carefully before I responded to.

QUESTION: On Cuba, there are some wire reports saying that US officials are saying that this week the Clinton Administration will be announcing the adoption of the bipartisan commission to review the policy toward Cuba. Is that true?

MR. RUBIN: As I've tried to indicate to you on past occasions, I wouldn't always believe what you read.

QUESTION: There's a report by a very good Israeli newspaper, -- (inaudible) -- , saying that the United States is proceeding with the reward for Wye River, at least to the Israelis and probably to the Palestinians, too; and is briefing the International Relations Committee on the Hill saying that none of the money given to Israel will be usable on the West Bank and specifically for roads. Can you confirm that, and is that a change in US policy?

MR. RUBIN: I'll have to check that for you, but I don't believe we've made any change in US policy in that regard. We would only be using the moneys that we could secure from Congress for the implementation of Wye River. Obviously, we don't believe anything in Wye River is illegal or otherwise something we're opposed to.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, because the story --

MR. RUBIN: This process is still ongoing, and I don't have the specific numbers for you.

QUESTION: Yes, would you be able to verify that the Administration also briefed the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, saying that not only would it not be usable for roads, but no military sites on the West Bank in Judea and Samaria, as the Israelis call it, would be funded by US funds?

MR. RUBIN: Again, the purpose of the money is to implement Wye River; it's to implement a further redeployment. But I will get you the specific answers to your questions.

QUESTION: And what is your attitude on the Wye River, in view of the implementation being stopped?

MR. RUBIN: I think I spent about the first 15 minutes of the briefing on that.


QUESTION: Christmas Eve or thereabouts, while all of you were nestled in your beds, Osama bin Laden in two separate interviews --one with ABC the other with an Arabic newspaper -- issued a new fatwah against Americans. What is the reaction?

MR. RUBIN: The United States regards Osama bin Laden as a terrorist. We have issued an indictment charging him with the bombings of US embassies in Africa in August that killed some 200 persons.

Although bin Laden still couches his exhortations to violence and his justification of the killing of innocents in religious terms, let's be clear - bin Laden is not talking about religion or politics; he's talking about cold-blooded murder.

I would remind you that the Department of State has a standing reward of up to $5 million for the arrest and or conviction of Osama bin Laden anywhere in the world. We have long been concerned about his attempts not only to support and instigate terrorist acts, but about members of bin Laden's network attempting to obtain weapons of mass destruction. We're deeply concerned about this. It's another reason why he and his network are so dangerous.

QUESTION: This is a fact, it's nothing that I read. You said don't believe sometimes when you read stories. The President of Argentina's comment to the United States - do you have anything to say about that?

MR. RUBIN: That's a fact. As we get closer to the visit, I'll be happy to give you something.

QUESTION: If I could, Representative Dana Rohrabacher has accused the State Department of attempting to impede his flying over the --

MR. RUBIN: Spratly Islands.

QUESTION: Spratly Islands in the aptly-named Mischief Reef. So I would like to ask your reaction to his accusation and then a little follow- up.

MR. RUBIN: We have been closely monitoring activities in the South China Sea, and follow developments regarding China's military modernization very carefully. We've reported to Congress in detail on China's military modernization. We have repeatedly spoken out both publicly and through diplomatic channels against unilateral actions that increase tensions in the region. Again, we call for all claimants of the Spratlys to resolve their differences in a peaceful manner consistent with the international law.

We have strongly denounced the use of or the threat of the use of force to resolve the conflicting claims in the Spratlys.

With the respect to anybody's suggestion that we were blocking somebody's trip, it's my understanding the Department and Embassy Manila moved promptly to facilitate Representative Rohrabacher's visit to the Philippines. We did seek to discourage his travel to the Mischief Reef area in view of security concerns, since this hadn't been done in this way before. However, in view of his decision to proceed and at his request, the State Department communicated to Philippine authorities his interest in flying and visiting to that area. His flight was subsequently arranged by the government of the Philippines.

While we take no position on the legal merits of competing claims to sovereignty in the area, maintaining freedom of navigation is a fundamental interest of the United States. Unhindered navigation by all ships and aircraft in the South China Sea is essential for the peace and prosperity of the entire Asia-Pacific region, including the United States.

We call upon all claimants to intensify diplomatic efforts to resolve their competing claims peacefully in a manner consistent with international law and to avoid unilateral actions in the South China Sea that increased tensions in that region.

QUESTION: Who are the ones that are increasing the tensions?

MR. RUBIN: With respect to any specific actions, we are hopeful that the Chinese activities on Mischief Reef came up during the recent meetings between the Philippines and China in their discussions on this. We urge China, specifically, and all claimants to use all appropriate diplomatic channels to resolve the dispute.

We note that in the past, Chinese statements on the South China Sea, including their December 1997 joint statement with ASEAN, which have indicated a willingness to resolve territorial disputes through peaceful means, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Laws of the Seas. So we urge China to solve these problems diplomatically and avoid actions that increase tensions in the region.

QUESTION: So it is true, then, that there is a progress in building a military installation on Mischief Reef and that tank-carrying amphibious type ship -

MR. RUBIN: I don't see how you could be drawing those conclusions from what I just said.


QUESTION: No, no, but this is in the article.

MR. RUBIN: Right.

QUESTION: This is in the article -- but tank land -

MR. RUBIN: I have to check on those facts.

QUESTION: Tank landing Chinese ships are within 130 miles within the Philippines and also in that very important trade route there. Is that not a disturbance?

MR. RUBIN: I will check on the facts at issue. Certainly I can say that we don't want to see actions taken that increase tensions by China or anybody else.

QUESTION: Indonesia -- any reactions or comments to --

MR. RUBIN: Well, obviously there have been a lot of disturbances, a lot of violence. Let me just simply cut to the chase and say that, other than the facts -- which I think you're quite aware of -- we call on all parties to refrain from violence in their pursuit of justice or compensation for past abuses. We urge the Indonesian Government to fully investigate past military abuses in Aceh province and elsewhere; to bring those responsible to justice; and to avoid the use of excessive force.

While this process proceeds, social order is essential to the restoration of the economy and to minimize inter-ethnic tension. We emphasized these points in our conversations with Indonesian officials.

QUESTION: The State Department has invited your new friend and new president of Venezuela to visit President Clinton here in Washington?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know how to respond to the question as posed.

QUESTION: Kosovo -- in recent weeks, there's been renewed fighting; and in recent days, the French Defense Minister has said that perhaps all of the remaining observers shouldn't go and that OSCE observers shouldn't go and that, perhaps, all observers should leave.

MR. RUBIN: Yes, with respect to Kosovo, the new year began relatively peacefully in Kosovo. For the past seven days, there have been no significant violations of the cease-fire. Monitors have been patrolling. The KLA announced yesterday that it established its own news service and will soon begin to operate a radio station. The KVM expects to investigate a reported mass grave site later this week.

We are obviously focusing our efforts, during this hiatus, on the importance of a negotiated solution. We think both sides need to understand that there is not that much time left for a negotiated solution which can give the legitimate rights to the people of Kosovo and protect the national interests of the Serbs before we face the prospect of renewed and very dangerous conflict this spring.

With respect to the increasing danger, let me just say, obviously the safety of international personnel in Kosovo is naturally a priority of the first order for the United States. If the situation in Kosovo were to deteriorate to a point where it was no longer possible to provide adequate security guarantees, the NATO extraction force based in Macedonia stands ready to assist in the extraction and evacuation of the monitors.

We do believe that this mission, however, is carrying out an important task; and the current security environment, although a concern, it does not warrant reevaluating that mission. Instead, we are concentrating our energies on reinforcing the mission, building it up, so that it can be there as a presence to deter violations, to deal with violations, when they occur, and hopefully to allow a breathing space in which a negotiating solution can be achieved lest we fall back into a tragic and bitter conflict this spring.

QUESTION: What is the latest on the negotiations?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have much new to report to you; we're still pursuing it. I don't know the whereabouts of Ambassador Hill. I think he was in town the last couple of days, but I will get that for the record for you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- Japan and South Korea?


QUESTION: Second, do you have a date of the missile talk resumption - missile talks with Korea?


QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 2:20 P.M.)

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