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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #30, 99-03-11

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

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>


1133

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing

I N D E X

Thursday, March 11, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

NORTH KOREA
1		No bilateral meetings were held yesterday. There has been
		  some progress.
1-2		US does not link food aid to other matters.
2		US pursues every report of transfers of sensitive
		  technology.
3-4		US believes Agreed Framework has functioned properly.

COLOMBIA 4-5 US continues to hold FARC accountable for recent murders of three Americans. 5 US wants FARC to cooperate fully in an investigations. 6 Return of New Tribes missionaries remains a high priority for US.

EMBASSY SECURITY 6 Admiral Crowe's report came out after FY 2000 budget was final. 6-8 State Department believes its $3 billion building plan can build 50-60 new embassies.

FRY - KOSOVO 9 Amb. Holbrooke delivered clear, forceful message to Milosevic. 9 US policy is to try to promote peace in Balkans. 9-10,17 US can't want an agreement more than the Kosovar Albanians. 11,17-18 US is concerned escalation of violence is possible; that's what US is working to avert. 12 Fighting on both sides makes it harder to implement NATO decision of Jan. 30. 13-15 Negative congressional signal could complicate effort to get Kosovar Albanians to sign agreement.

SPRATLY ISLANDS DISPUTE 18-19 US continues to call on all claimants to exercise restraint, refrain from destabilizing actions.


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #30

THURSDAY, MARCH 11, 1999, 12:20 P.M.

(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. RUBIN: Welcome to the State Department briefing. I don't see anyone of you -- only one of you who participated in the famous snowball fight. I guess the rest of them are licking their wounds.

I took some magic healing medicine and my forehead shaving cut has evaporated. I have no statements to make. We have a notice on the Chicago Passport Agency initiating some automated telephone appointment systems that we will post after the briefing. With that, I don't know what to do without a representative of the Associated Press. So let my flip a coin and go to the representative of Reuters.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about the status of talks in New York with the North Koreans? My understanding is that the two sides were consulting with capitals yesterday. What does that signify? Are you close to a deal?

MR. RUBIN: On the subject of this very important topic, which is to be able to get access to the site in North Korea that we are concerned about on their nuclear program, it is correct that there was no meeting yesterday because both sides were consulting with their capitals, and we think there will be additional contact between the two sides.

What we have been seeking is steps by the North Koreans to remove our suspicions about the site at Kumchang-ni, including by providing access to that site. There has been some progress, some headway in the discussions. But the talks are now continuing today, and I won't be able to say more about the specifics while such talks are going on. But we have made some headway.

QUESTION: Have you made a decision about the pending food aid request?

MR. RUBIN: As far as food aid is concerned, we have a long-standing policy to provide food aid based on humanitarian need. We determine our response based on the assessments by the WFP and the resources available to us. I have no announcement for you on that.

QUESTION: Jamie, on that, it may be US policy not to link food aid with any other issue, including this nuclear issue, but is it not possible that the North Koreans could make such a link?

MR. RUBIN: Well, they always try to make such a link. That's not news to us. Every time we sit down at a meeting, they try to make such a link. We explain to them our long-standing policy, that we respond based on need and resources available to us and the appeals put out by the WFP. That has long been our policy, it long will be our policy and we have no illusions that the North Koreans will continue to try to link it.

QUESTION: But whatever the US policy, can it not be the case that the North Koreans are or could be making concessions on the basis of the humanitarian food policy established by the United States?

MR. RUBIN: If the North Koreans decide to provide us access to the site that we need access to based on our long-standing policy of providing humanitarian relief, that's fine with us.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about something else - about Colombia?

QUESTION: Can you comment on reports that North Korea is in the early stages of uranium enrichment capabilities and will be able to provide fuel for nuclear weapons in the next couple of years?

MR. RUBIN: I particularly like the way you kept the word "intelligence" out of your question.

The report that you're referring to is based on alleged intelligence information, and therefore I cannot comment on that specific report. We do pursue every report concerning possible transfers of sensitive technologies, and we work closely with other responsible governments to prevent transfers of such technology that may contribute to weapons proliferation or regional tensions.

We remain concerned about North Korea's intentions regarding nuclear weapons, including the possibility that North Korea may be seeking uranium enrichment technology. We also have very serious concerns about the construction of an underground facility at Kumchang-ni, and that is why we have worked so hard and Ambassador Kartman has logged so many hours in aircraft and across the negotiating table with his North Korea counterpart in order to get access so that we can confirm that North Korea remains in compliance with the agreed framework.

Let me emphasize, we have no basis at this point to conclude that North Korea has violated this deal with the United States and the rest of the world, and we consider compliance with that 1994 agreement essential.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question, if you step back a bit. You know in a catalogue -- when critics catalogue --make complaints about US foreign policy - and you've seen one very hot criticism by columnist Krauthammer the other day - they bring up the framework agreement as being a naive agreement that the Koreans flout and that the US has no way of enforcing it except to wish that it sustains itself. Is it still a credible agreement? Has it restrained Korea?

MR. RUBIN: Well, let me say I've been waiting for the first critic question.

QUESTION: No, I'm not associating with it; I'm just saying it's asked all the time.

MR. RUBIN: I'll answer both the question and the implication of the particular column. Early on, when Secretary Albright became the Secretary, she had a meeting with Dr. Kissinger and he told her that when he was Secretary of State he thought it was very important for former Secretaries of State to be as supportive as possible for the policies of the Executive Branch. Then he told her that he has contracted to write a column for a major newspaper and he wanted her to understand that he's got to put out 1,000 words, and "I agree with Madeleine Albright" is only five. So she had to bear that in mind.

QUESTION: But he's lived up to that.

(Laughter.)

I can't recall a policy since he left government that goes back further than Madeleine Albright's tenure that he thought was just terrific.

MR. RUBIN: Yes, well, he's got a column to write and he's --

QUESTION: But it's Krauthammer, of course, that I mentioned.

MR. RUBIN: And he's got a column to write, too.

QUESTION: No, but I'm sort of drifting afield, but the framework agreement, which most people thought looked terrific at the time, the question is it has no teeth. Again, it's another thing where the US seems to have very little leverage.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I would disagree with that fundamentally.

QUESTION: I mean, you're not going to withhold food; you're not criminal in that --

MR. RUBIN: Remember where we were in 1995. The North Koreans had the prospect of moving rapidly to a major nuclear weapons program with many, many nuclear bombs for themselves and possibly sold to others. That was a very real and horrific prospect for the world.

Through the freeze that was instituted by the 1994 agreement, all that capability was frozen. So that danger has been prevented. That is real, concrete non-proliferation. That's the real stuff; not the stuff you write in columns, but the real stuff where you change things.

Now, we are concerned and have concerns about what could happen in the future and what this site might mean for the future - not the present, which the whole world was rightfully concerned about in 1994. We are now working very hard through these negotiations to resolve those concerns. If we don't, we have said the viability of this agreement would be threatened and that would have consequences.

So we think our policy has had teeth, and the teeth has been to extract from the North Koreans the threat of an immediate and significant nuclear capability. That has worked; that has made the world a safer place and made the Korean Peninsula a safer place.

Some critics can write a sentence in an article that says, "you should get more." That's easy to write on the computer; it's very hard to do at the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Could I ask you about Colombia, or are we still on this?

QUESTION: Isn't the problem, though, that the 1994 agreement was narrowly drawn to refer mostly to Yongbyon. While you can stand up there and say honestly that they kept with the agreement as it pertains to Yongbyon, that there are these other things at Kumchang-ni and apparently other places that were not captured in the agreement. So there's this dichotomy.

MR. RUBIN: But that's what these talks are about so there's no problem. We have taken the position that whether or not something is explicitly referred to in the agreement, the whole object and purpose of the agreement was to prevent them from developing a nuclear program. If we develop evidence and suspicion, we act on it. So the very charge that has been made is backwards.

Upon developing evidence and concern, we confronted the North Koreans. We've had several rounds of very serious discussions in order to get access, in order to confirm that they're in compliance and prevent some concern down the road that we had developed. That is called a rigorous compliance policy, a rigorous assurance that we're going to meet the objective that was the basic object and purpose of the 1994 accord.

So we have made the Korean Peninsula safer, temporarily, but it requires being ever vigilant about the North Koreans' intentions and capabilities because we have no illusions about the regime and what they might do in the absence of vigilance. That has long been our policy. We think it has made the Korean Peninsula a safer place. I think all the reasonable evidence that was generated in 1994 that hasn't come to fruition after five long years is pretty convincing proof of that case.

QUESTION: Okay, Colombia. That notorious rebel group says they didn't authorize it, but one of their commanders killed the three Americans. Can you tell at this point if that's a credible account of what happened?

MR. RUBIN: Let me say that we have every reason to believe that the FARC is responsible for these brutal killings. We continue to hold them accountable for this despicable event. Accepting responsibility and the identifying at least one of those responsible for the kidnapping is only one of several steps that we believe the FARC must take.

We insist that the organization fully cooperate with the appropriate authorities in the investigation of the case. Once that investigation identifies all of those responsible, the FARC must turn them over to the competent authorities. Failure on their part to do so would belie any of the expressed sentiment today about who was responsible by the FARC.

QUESTION: You may answer it, but are you saying even if one commander actually did this without authority, the fact that he worked for this group makes the group responsible? Who do you find incredible that one commander on his own would carry out such an act?

MR. RUBIN: At this point, the only way to find out what happened is to not know it in advance. One can't know everything in advance. So what we need to do is investigate. What we want to see happen is that the investigation by the appropriate authorities gets the full cooperation of the FARC so that any and all members of that organization who might be responsible are brought to justice. We have every reason to believe the organization was responsible. It's clearly unprecedented for them to say this, but it's not significant and sufficient until they meet the other steps that I laid out, which is accept the investigation, cooperate with the investigation, and once the investigation is concluded and individuals have been identified - all of the individuals responsible - then to turn those over to the proper authorities. I think that's a pretty clear answer to the question.

QUESTION: No, that is, but I just wondered about a precedent. They seem to have this reputation of taking responsibility where indeed they aren't. What do you mean unprecedented?

MR. RUBIN: Well, the people who follow this say it's not normal for them to stand up and say, we did this and we're going to put on a show trial. For those of you who doubted that they were responsible, I think even they themselves admitted that at least one of them has been responsible.

But from our standpoint, that's not significant and sufficient because it doesn't involve cooperating with authorities who are investigating, identifying all those responsible, and then turning over those responsible to the competent authorities.

QUESTION: Were those three Americans the subject of discussions between US officials and FARC in the past?

MR. RUBIN: Those discussions were about the past and about what not to do in the future. I don't believe this event - the meeting preceded by many weeks this horrible atrocity.

QUESTION: Jamie, have they asked for another meeting?

MR. FOLEY: I don't know, but it's inconceivable that we could have such a meeting in the absence of them doing what's necessary in this case.

QUESTION: Given that they seem to have admitted to this crime in some level, are we also going to ask them about the New Tribes missionaries?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we have a position on the New Tribes missionaries that we have brought up with them in the past. Throughout 1993, members of the FARC tried to extract a multimillion dollar ransom for the missionaries. The return of these men remains a high priority of the US Government, and we are committed to working with the families to resolve the case.

In December, a few months ago, a Department of State official met with representatives of the FARC and pressed them for information on the whereabouts and condition of the three missionaries. Again, today let me say they should respond to that request.

The point here is that we need a full investigation of this most recent event. We need them to accept responsibility by allowing that investigation and if people are identified, by making sure that they're turned over.

QUESTION: They already said that they're not going to hand those responsible to justice and they are not going to permit any extradition of any of the guerrillas who are responsible for this.

MR. RUBIN: The question was what's our view; and our view is that they should cooperate in an investigation and that if individuals are identified, they should turn those individuals over to the appropriate authorities. That is our view; that is why simply saying well, one guy was responsible is woefully inadequate.

QUESTION: What if they don't do that? I mean, they have said that they're not going to do that. What is going to happen?

MR. RUBIN: Again, we have declared this organization a terrorist organization, and there are certain consequences that flow from that. Any attempt they may want to get out from under that designation would be impossible if they continue to act in this despicable way.

QUESTION: New subject. Two quick questions on embassy security. Admiral Crowe today, going before Senate Foreign Relations, said that quite simply the Administration's budget is not enough for embassy security. He said we're talking money and lives here and he said he's very concerned. Assistant Secretary Carpenter was there, but none of the senators asked him to respond to the Admiral's comments, and I'm wondering if you could here.

MR. RUBIN: He is much taller than I am, so I'm sorry he didn't have a chance to respond. But this is a very serious matter. Let me say that the Crowe report and his specific recommendations came out after the Fiscal Year 2000 budget was put together and finalized. Upon receiving the recommendations, the Secretary has been working vigorously with the White House and the Office of Management and Budget to look at Admiral Crowe's recommendations and see if we can get more money faster, especially for Fiscal 2000.

But let me say that we do believe our $3 billion building plan is not insignificant. It can build 50 to 60 new embassies. Although we recognize that some have concerns about advance appropriations, we think this is an important part of the plan. Also, as all of you know who follow the State Department, we are in a period of very tight budgets and we have very little resources for the programs that we're carrying out through these platforms, the embassies. It would be ironic in the extreme if we were to create a situation where we had secure platforms but no programs to carry out if the money for the security came out of those programs.

QUESTION: This is kind of an unusual situation where you have both parties in Congress complaining that the State Department hasn't asked for enough money and saying that basically they're willing to throw as much money at the State Department. Is there a way to ask for and plan for additional money? I mean, one of their main concerns is that there's no money for Fiscal 2000 for this.

MR. RUBIN: We have set up, following Admiral Crowe's report, a task force with the White House to look at these very issues. That is being discussed between the White House and the Office of Management and Budget and the State Department on an urgent basis. We're working on that problem.

QUESTION: Is there a disagreement in philosophy between the White House, OMB and the State Department over the priority that embassy security should be given? After all, you mentioned that the Crowe report came out after the 2000 budget was in place. But the 2000 budget probably wasn't fixed before the embassies themselves were bombed -- I think also the Secretary said this.

MR. RUBIN: No, the $1.4 billion over ten years was recommended after the Fiscal 2000 budget was finalized.

QUESTION: Right, but you all have conceded in recent days that the State Department, in its negotiations with OMB, had wanted $1.4 billion for the FY 2000. So I'm asking -

MR. RUBIN: I'm talking about the specific ten-year plan. I thought you guys liked me here doing this job. If you're trying to get me to attack the White House from this podium, it isn't going to happen.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. RUBIN: This is a government - one government - and we work together, and we try to work things as best as we can. There are budget constraints the President faces overall. Every agency has its concerns, and we work together with the White House to come up with a budget. Following the Crowe report on the ten-year $1.4 billion recommendation, we set up a task force with the White House precisely to look at the very problem that you have described and that your colleague had described. Now we're working with them on that.

QUESTION: Yes, but the fact that two years ago there was bipartisan criticism of the White House low-balling what had to be spent on foreign operations and, in fact, the White House was compelled or at least found itself reconsidering and coming up with more money for the State Department. So there's a precedent for the White House underestimating what the State Department needs. Now that's not a contentious matter, is it?

(Laughter.)

MR. RUBIN: Let me in response to an earlier question, it's one thing to hear members of Congress saying the right thing about more spending on security. That's important. It's another thing when members of Congress say but that money has to come out of your existing budget, which poses the problem I discussed earlier; which is, you can have a secure platform that's impervious or as best as possible to terrorism, but inside you can't afford to have people working there and they have no programs with which to conduct. That is the real world.

It's one thing to say we'll spend all the money we have on secure embassies, but then what's the point of having a secure embassy if the people inside and the programs they are operating there's no money for. So this is a very tricky thing. So when you say it's an unprecedented situation for them to be offering to throw money, it would be unprecedented if they were offering to throw money out of somebody else's budget where they were saying we want to have a supplemental appropriation off the top and not coming out of your budget to fix the security problem. They're just saying they want to have the security problem fixed and then shrink even further at very large numbers - we're talking about billions of dollars here -- State Department programs are very small by comparison.

Some members of Congress are saying we want you to take your very scarce resources and spend virtually all of it on security. We don't think that makes sense. So this is a very complex issue. We're working with members of Congress; we're working with the White House; we're working with the security people and we're trying to come up with the best solution.

QUESTION: So is it fair to say the State Department is somewhat suspicious of this alleged largess on the --

MR. RUBIN: Well, I mean, the way you were quoting or asserting or generalizing the views of members of Congress - and I wouldn't do that. I'm just saying to the extent one thinks members of Congress are prepared to throw money at this problem, I would point out it what's extremely important is what is the source of that money? If it eliminates all the programs we're supposed to operate from abroad, then there's no point in having a terrorist-proof embassy with nobody inside it and no programs to be run.

QUESTION: Jamie, can you talk about where we stand today on Kosovo with the apparent failure, at least some people are calling it, of the Holbrooke mission?

MR. RUBIN: You guys love that word, don't you?

QUESTION: Maybe you want to characterize it differently. I'll be happy to let you do that.

MR. RUBIN: Let me say this -- Ambassador Holbrooke did exactly what the Secretary of State and the President asked him to do, which is deliver a very clear and forceful message to President Milosevic about the importance of complying with the October agreements, restraining Serbian forces in the run-up to the March 15 agreement and agreeing to the accords that were hammered out at Rambouillet.

We do not believe that the Serbian position has changed as a result of these discussions, but that should not be a surprise. What is very important is for President Milosevic to hear very clearly and forcefully that the US is determined to pursue the course that it has set out.

There are other leaders who have been in and out of Belgrade, and we have been trying to make sure that they have sent a similar message. That will help us try to convince the Serbs to adjust their position, to accept the idea of a NATO-led military implementation force. So this diplomatic pressure that has put on by Ambassador Holbrooke and others is part of the necessary activity to do what is an extraordinarily difficult thing. It's very easy to take potshots at an extraordinarily difficult policy; but let's remember, nobody has any alternative.

The only alternative that I've seen is by some in the Congress and elsewhere, which is to say that we should walk away from this problem and it's not our problem. Other than that, there are no alternatives. That means that we, as a government, have decided that it is in our interest to try to make peace in this part of the world. As hard as it may be and as difficult as it may be - meeting after meeting, day after day - we want to try to bring peace to this troubled part of the world. That's our job. And for those who can find criticism in that, I'm proud to be part of a government that is trying to make peace in the Balkans and to try to do it with an extraordinarily difficult set of circumstances.

Number one, the Kosovar Albanians have never operated on the international stage before. Number two, unfortunately and sadly this war is at an early stage and is only likely to get worse. Number three, you have a whole series of European participation which makes it more complicated. Number four, you have the Russians involved for obvious reasons. Number five, you have a Congress that's reluctant, at least some, to participate.

These are very, very difficult circumstances, but we believe it's the right thing to do, and we believe Ambassador Holbrooke made very clear that if the Serbs don't come around and the Kosovar Albanians sign, that he should understand what is to follow.

QUESTION: Can I follow up, please, and ask you what the situation is with getting a signature on the Kosovar side?

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, we can't want this agreement more than the people of Kosovo. The Secretary of State and Senator Dole went on Albanian language television yesterday and explained in very clear terms why this agreement is in the interest of the people of Kosovo. Senator Dole expressed, as you know, some frustration with the particular leadership of the Kosovar Albanians that has not signed the agreement yet. Ambassador Hill and Senator Dole have been promised that they will sign. We expect them to sign soon.

But at the end of the day, as hard as we work and as determined as we are, we can't want to pursue this peace process more than the parties themselves. If the Kosovar Albanians don't sign -- and soon -- it is going to be hard to put the necessary military pressure on the Serb side.

QUESTION: What happens next, though, and specifically on March 15, when these talks are supposed to resume?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we're going to continue to work the problem because we believe that this is an effort worth pursuing; because we know how hard it is; and because this is in a part of the world we think there are real risks to the United States. We will continue to pursue that. As far as the next step is concerned, we'll be in touch with both sides. Ambassador Hill is still in Belgrade, is my understanding. The talks are scheduled to resume in Paris on the 15th of March. Ambassador Hill will be there, and we will try our best.

But at the end of the day, we know despite our best efforts, despite our interest and our concern and our willingness to work hard, put troops on the ground if a peace agreement is signed, that it's the people themselves and their leaders who need to make these decisions. They have not yet done so. At Rambouillet, they told the Secretary of State that they had decided that the agreement was a good agreement. They wanted to consult on it. That was better than the situation that we faced when we went into Rambouillet. Two weeks have gone by. The KLA leadership has told Ambassador Hill that they voted in favor of the agreement. They told Senator Dole that. So we're expecting a signature.

QUESTION: Do you mean the 15th? Do you mean Paris, by the way? Do you know, at this stage at least, that the Serbs and Albanians will have people there?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I would ask you to address that question to the French and the British hosts, but it's my understanding that the talks are scheduled to resume on the 15th. There's an expectation that in Paris that the parties will be there, but we'll have to see.

QUESTION: Your statement earlier, "this war is at an early stage, and it's only likely to get worse," that sounds pretty pessimistic, and I wondered, is that an accurate interpretation?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I hope I've been accurate.

QUESTION: No, I don't mean the statement. I mean, is the interpretation accurate that you seem increasingly pessimistic?

MR. RUBIN: For those of you who have followed this issue, I think when Ambassador Holbrooke worked last October and was able, with the threat of NATO air strike in his quiver, to convince President Milosevic to allow the KVM in and that got the hundreds of thousands of people out of the hills and back to their homes or to shelter, we said that that was not a permanent solution because there was a political problem.

Before and during and after Racak, I think all of us expressed great concern that this spring the fighting was going to intensify and get worse. So the point that it's only likely to get worse is a point we made before, during and after Racak and then before, during and after the Rambouillet talks. So that is a view that we hold. That is why we are working so hard because we're concerned that this thing is going to escalate and get worse.

QUESTION: And it is on the ground. There's fighting today. So quiver as opposed to quaver, you have a threat out there that doesn't depend on the Albanians signing on. You have several threats out there. One is, if Albanians sign and the Serbs don't, NATO is likely to take action. But you've got another thing -- if they violate the cease fire - the Serbs do - that in itself could trigger a NATO reaction. The story today from the ground is that the Serbs are on the march again. Are they running up that possibility now, of attack simply for restoring fighting; let alone saying no to NATO?

MR. RUBIN: So what's the question?

QUESTION: The question is, how many things do the Serbs have to do wrong before you people will act on the threats you so regularly enunciated?

MR. RUBIN: I think for those who followed our threats carefully --

QUESTION: I follow them every time - every step of the way and every time they change, I've been here.

MR. RUBIN: They haven't changed.

QUESTION: No, you need an Albanian signing was the latest one.

MR. RUBIN: Do you want an answer, or do you want colloquy?

QUESTION: No, it has changed.

MR. RUBIN: If you want a colloquy, that's fine.

QUESTION: They have changed a little bit, but go ahead.

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

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RUBIN: Can I go now?

QUESTION: Sure.

MR. RUBIN: You sure?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RUBIN: Okay. We have unconfirmed reports of fighting around Prizren this morning. KVM is now investigating those reports. There are also reports of skirmishes around Vacitrn and other towns. We also have reports that Yugoslav army forces conducted extensive sweep operations this week, attempting to dislodge KLA units to the west of Kacanik to Djeneral Jankovic highway. There are no reports of fighting around Kacanik today.

Yesterday, KLA units reportedly attacked Serbian police engaged in similar sweep operations northeast of Malisevo and in the Orahovic region. UNHCR estimates that since these sweeps around Kacanik began on February 26, about 5,000 villagers have been driven from their homes. Some 4,000 of these spent at least one night outside in the open. It is not clear today how many of these internally displaced persons remain in the open. That is the situation on the ground.

With respect to NATO's willingness to act, I would only need to quote the Secretary General of NATO for you, who has said that a Serb crackdown, a Serb offensive could well lead to NATO's being ready to act. Beyond saying that, President Milosevic knows what the situation is. The kind of fighting that is provoked by both sides does make it harder to implement a decision that NATO made on January 30.

QUESTION: Drawing on just a small bit of the last question, how much more difficult, if at all, was Holbrooke's job in Belgrade, due to the fact that the Albanians hadn't yet signed?

MR. RUBIN: I think all of us would be in a better position to put military pressure on the Serbs and therefore be able to convince President Milosevic to allow NATO implementation of this agreement if the Kosovar Albanians were to sign the agreement. It is the signing of that agreement that allows the military pressure to build up again on President Milosevic, without which it is hard to imagine him allowing the necessary NATO forces to have a peace agreement.

So the Kosovar Albanians, by not signing the agreement, make it harder for us to make peace. But remember, this is their peace; it is not our peace. They have to make this decision and in the absence of their decision, we can't want it more than they do. They have to make the decision for peace. If they make it, they sign it, we're in a better position to put pressure on the Serb side; we're, therefore, in a better position to get the Serb acceptance of the peace plan and, therefore, we're in a better position to actually bring the peace to the region.

QUESTION: Jamie, is there anything you want to add to the fact that there is a debate going on on the Hill today and possible vote on whether to put US troops into Kosovo were there to be an agreement?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. Secretary Albright spoke to this yesterday. In various meetings, she's spoken to, I believe a dozen or so members of Congress on her way to Guatemala, in addition to speaking with Foreign Ministers Vedrine, Cook and Ivanov in the last 24 hours.

Our view is that an excessive debate or a negative signal from Capitol Hill could complicate our ability to get the Kosovar Albanian agreement to sign, without which we can't put the military pressure on the Serbs that is necessary to get them to agree to the peace plan. So we believe that this could be a complicating factor that could destroy the ability of the peace process we've instituted to work.

We have made clear to members of Congress that there will be time to debate this issue; that the President's final decision about sending troops will only come once the agreement were agreed - if it were agreed - and once the clear rules of engagement were established. Congress would have time to consider the issue at that time.

Apparently, the House wants to go ahead. Our view is that this is important to the United States; it's important to our European allies; it's important to the world to try to prevent a disaster in Kosovo from spinning out of control. Those same members of Congress who are expressing concerns now might think about what kinds of concerns they would be expressing six months from now if the fighting escalated, the situation began to spin out of control, further massacres occurred. They'd be calling for action.

So we're trying to take action; but we need their help, as we do so, to convince the world that NATO is prepared to send in forces. Anything that complicates that perception complicates and makes less likely the prospect of peace in Kosovo.

QUESTION: There are several ideas circulating up there. In fact, one of them you certainly wouldn't object to; it sort of mimics, mirrors the US position, which is a Democratic idea. You send troops in if there's peace. But what is it that would send a negative signal?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I'm not going to --

QUESTION: No, I mean, is there a specific action or resolution that you're focusing on?

MR. RUBIN: Certainly any action opposing the participation of American forces or creating unmeetable conditions for the participation of American forces would send a green light to the parties that the United States is not going to be there. That will make peace impossible or certainly far less likely. Impossible is one of those words I should know never to use from the podium.

QUESTION: On that specific point, do you think Milosevic's intransigence has anything to do with the divided opinions within this government between Congress and the Administration?

MR. RUBIN: I think that he would be more likely to agree to this agreement if the Kosovar Albanians signed it.

QUESTION: Your analysis, though, is that the debate that would be going on in Congress would more negatively impact the Kosovar Albanian decision process less so than Milosevic's decision.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I mean, it's sequential so I don't know how to answer the question. I said that the Kosovar Albanians expect American participation. It's the premise on which they agree in principle to the agreement. If they were to believe that wasn't coming, that would have an impact on them - we think more so than any other single issue. If they don't sign, then the military pressure we're trying to put on the Serbs is not possible.

QUESTION: I wish you could be even a little more specific.

MR. RUBIN: Boy, I thought you've been tying me down pretty good here.

QUESTION: No, no. Some of the criticism strikes me as isn't so much over the specifics, but over the consultation process. More specifically, what some folks up there are saying is that if they act now, it's the wrong time to debate it; if they wait until there's an agreement - in the hopes there is an agreement - then troops will be rushed in and they'll again not have not have an opportunity to weigh in. Are you saying that there will be a pause, a period where Congress can actually express itself?

MR. RUBIN: Let me make two points. First of all, there's been an enormous amount of consultations about this issue. There's been hearings at the highest level, Cabinet officials, at medium levels. There have been numerous phone calls, numerous discussions, dozens of briefings. So there has been a lot of consultation with Congress. Congress has been fully part of this process as we've gone step by step.

With respect to the timing of a vote, that is up to the House of Representatives to decide the timing of its vote. What we've said is that the President's final decision on sending troops will only come after an agreement is signed and after clear rules of engagement have been established, a permissive environment has been confirmed. So if Congress wants to not complicate the process and wants to be sure it votes, Congress has shown itself able to act very quickly when that's important to them. So that is the point that the Secretary has been making to them is that -

QUESTION: Will it come with an exit strategy at that point? That's one of their demands.

MR. RUBIN: Well, we've been consulting with Congress very clearly on our plan for how benchmarks would be established. They know a lot of the detail -- as much as one can know in advance on any subject. So what we're saying is if you want to participate and make your decisions, that they should take into account the fact that a negative decision or a negative signal or a negative message now could complicate, if not harm, the peace process that we are pushing forward, not without some difficulty. This is a tough process, and that only makes it harder.

If they want to be sure they can vote, we've assured them that the President's final decision won't come until after the agreement is signed and he has reviewed the three measures that I described. They could vote then.

QUESTION: A couple questions. One on the Speaker of the Congress. The Speaker of the House, just this morning, said in the opening of the debate on Kosovo, he said, I have serious reservations about putting troops in Kosovo. Do statements like that alone complicate peace or give a green light to those who -- both sides not taking the US efforts seriously?

MR. RUBIN: Look, we had made what we think is a compelling case for American participation. The President gave a radio address; the Secretary of State gave a major speech. She's testified; Secretary Cohen has testified; Hugh Shelton, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has testified. There have been numerous briefings and numerous descriptions. We believe there is a compelling case for the United States to participate.

Remember, only 4,000 of the 30,000 or so troops would be American. Many members of Congress have spent a lot of time urging burden-sharing on this Administration and previous Administrations; that is, the Europeans should bear a heavier share of the load. We took that advice very much to mind when the size and the American participation of the force was created. It's a rather unique force in that regard. Most NATO forces have a much greater American participation.

So those reasons why we think the members of Congress should be supportive, but every member of Congress is going to make their own decision as to whether they agree with those points. What we're saying is that a negative signal, a negative vote will complicate if not make extremely difficult peace in Kosovo. All of those members of Congress who know that six months from now when the fighting escalates and the refugees are in the hills and the situation deteriorates and it will be calling on the Administration to take action, should know that we're trying to take action now. We're trying to prevent this situation from getting worse.

QUESTION: You said that the Serb position has not changed. Can you share any more specifics about what Holbrooke heard from Milosevic in their meeting yesterday?

MR. RUBIN: Look, Ambassador Holbrooke spoke to his meetings. All I can tell you is that the Serb position has been to not engage seriously on the question of a NATO military implementation force. That is the key point for us and that hasn't changed.

QUESTION: What about the other hand? There were things back in Rambouillet they didn't go for - parts of the political half of the agreement. Are they still a problem on political issues as well as -

MR. RUBIN: Well, the talks haven't reconvened so it wouldn't be possible to give one a detailed listing of where the Serbs stand on each of the points that you may believe the Serbs took the position on.

QUESTION: No, we were told that.

MR. RUBIN: Told how?

QUESTION: No, we were told in a briefing.

MR. RUBIN: What kind of briefing?

QUESTION: We had a briefing, a background briefing.

MR. RUBIN: So why don't we just publish the briefing, and then you can - I don't understand.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. I think you misunderstand what I'm saying. We were informed -

MR. RUBIN: The last one you'll get, too.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: What? What are you talking about? We were informed not only did they object to the NATO peacekeepers that on the political side, there were things that they objected to - and I can name a couple of them. I just wondered if their objections are still out there or if any of that has been resolved?

MR. RUBIN: When Ambassador Hill is in a position to brief you or somebody else in a position to brief you on the Serb position on the talks, I'll try to make that happen.

QUESTION: You mean you can give us the Serb position on NATO but you can't give us the Serb position on the political side?

MR. RUBIN: We've missed you. I hope you had a very good vacation.

QUESTION: I did.

MR. RUBIN: The answer is yes, I can't.

QUESTION: Are the Kosovar Albanians still coming to Washington?

MR. RUBIN: No schedule yet.

QUESTION: One more on Kosovo, every day for the past - not since Rambouillet, but the past week, the Kosovar Albanians are supposed to be signing. Every day they say they're going to sign; people waiting every day. Why do you think the Kosovar Albanians have not signed?

MR. RUBIN: I think that's a question you should direct to the Kosovar Albanians - a very good question.

QUESTION: It's point of view. Why do you think they're not signing?

MR. RUBIN: We want them to sign; we expect them to sign. We think we've made a powerful case to the people of Kosovo for them to sign. As far as what reasons they have to not sign, that's a very good question and you should address it to them.

QUESTION: Is Senator Dole going to be playing a role in this upcoming set of talks? Is he going to Europe at your request?

MR. RUBIN: I have no information about a planned schedule. Senator Dole has played a very important role in the recent weeks in contributing to our effort to convince the Kosovar Albanians to sign the agreement. For those of you who saw his statement on Albanian language television, you know the difficulties of getting that signature were demonstrated quite clearly by Senator Dole.

QUESTION: What about the Secretary? Wouldn't it give more push if she was back in Paris on the 15th?

MR. RUBIN: There is no current plan for her to go to Paris on the 15th.

QUESTION: Going into the weekend, it seems like it's inconclusive that possibly the talks might even take place. I mean, would you say, going into the weekend, that the whole concept of what might happen - whether there's any chance for peace in Kosovo - is up for grabs going into the weekend before the talks?

MR. RUBIN: It is going to be very difficult to make peace in the Balkans if the Kosovar Albanians don't sign this agreement and allow us to put military pressure on the Serbs so that they sign the agreement.

The Paris talks are scheduled to begin. It's hard to have such high hopes for such talks in the absence of forward progress by either party. We have had movement since the talks ended. Secretary Albright managed to get them to agree to the agreement in principle, pending consultations. They had those consultations. They said that those parts of their community that were most reluctant voted in favor of the agreement. That was, in theory, a significant step forward. They reported that to Ambassador Hill and they said that they had authorized the agreement to be signed.

But in the absence of it being signed, we're in a situation where we're going to continue to have to convince both sides to sign it and we're not in a position where it will be clear that one side has agreed and the other has not. Therefore, the prospects for peace are not terrific right now. They have never been terrific, contrary to what I've often read, because of how hard this issue is to resolve. You have a conflict at a very early stage. Unfortunately, it hasn't gone on that long. The Kosovar Albanians have been repressed for ten years, have responded with an insurgency. That insurgency has not worked before with the political leadership. That has made it difficult for them to come to a unified decision. This is an extraordinarily difficult enterprise for all the reasons I've said. Therefore, it's hard to be optimistic that we're on the verge of peace at any given time, but especially right now.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to yesterday's two car bombings attack in Istanbul? The attack was in front of the shopping center and the PKK --

MR. RUBIN: I don't have anything on that.

QUESTION: Also, yesterday the President of Turkey, he laid down some conditions for dialogue with Greece.

MR. RUBIN: I haven't seen those particular conditions.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment about the Italian Prime Minister's statement in parliament yesterday on the possible need to review the NATO accord on American military bases in Italy?

MR. RUBIN: On the review - please repeat the question.

QUESTION: On the possible need to review the NATO accord on American military bases in Italy.

MR. RUBIN: No, I don't have a specific reaction to that; but we'll try to get one for you.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment or response on the resignation of the German Finance Minister?

MR. RUBIN: Domestic matter.

QUESTION: How about the President of the Philippines? Maybe the headlines in the British papers were over-written, but --

MR. RUBIN: Let me fill that out a little. That's an internal matter for Germany, and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment.

QUESTION: Well, President Estrada apparently is asking for more US involvement in issues out there. Of course, the Spratly Islands is a hot issue. Do you have something on that?

MR. RUBIN: US interests are in the maintenance of peace and stability and freedom of navigation in the area of the South China Sea. We continue to call on all claimants to maintain diplomatic efforts which address issues related to competing claims, taking into account the interests of all parties and which contribute to peace and prosperity in the region.

The United States is willing to assist in any way the claimants deem helpful. We urge all claimants in the South China Sea to exercise restraint and to avoid destabilizing actions. We have repeatedly spoken out both publicly and through diplomatic channels against unilateral actions that increase tensions in the region. We again call for all claimants to resolve their differences in a peaceful manner consistent with international law. We have strongly denounced the use of or the threat to use force to resolve the conflicting claims.

QUESTION: Your willingness to assist, I guess, is sort of something that has always been a US position?

MR. RUBIN: The United States is willing to assist in any way the claimants deem helpful.

QUESTION: Is that a new willingness or has the US been -

MR. RUBIN: We tend to be willing to assist when claimants deem it helpful.

QUESTION: Very quickly - and I doubt you have anything on this - are you aware that the Sudanese are claiming that there is a thaw in relations between the US and Sudan, and there had been meetings at the US embassy -

MR. RUBIN: Let me check into that for you.

QUESTION: That's it, and we thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:20 P.M.)


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