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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #136, 99-11-05

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

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


U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing


Friday, November 5, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin


1 Congo Peace Process

1 Joint Statement Between the United States and Saudi Arabia on the Visit of Defense Minister Prince Sultan


1 UN Humanitarian Relief Officer, Mr. von Sponeck / Oil-for-Food Program / US Views / UN Security Council Sanctions / Civilian Casualties in No-Fly Zone


2,6-7 Arms Sale between India and Russia / ABM Treaty / Ballistic Missiles / Weapons of Mass Destruction / Anti-Proliferation / Nuclear Arms Control / NMD


2-3 House Appropriation Bill / United Nations Arrears Program


3 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty


4-6 Syrian-Israeli Talks / Middle East Peace Process


8-9 Presidential Elections / Request for Agremont / Maleeha Lodhi / Deputy Secretary Talbott's Meeting with General Musharraf and Jaqub Khan / Promotion of Dialogue between India and Pakistan /Foreign Assistance Law / National Security - Counternarcotics, Law Enforcement, Nonproliferation, Regional Peace and Security


9O sama bin Laden / Taliban


10 Nairobi / Talisman Oil


10-11 Secretary Albright's Meeting with Saudi Defenses Minister, Prince Sultan


11 Attack on Opposition Base in Iraq


DPB #136

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 1999, 1:15 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: Turning to our regularly scheduled program, we have two statements, one on the Congo peace process, and one a joint statement between the United States and Saudi Arabia on the visit of Prince Sultan, which we'll issue after the briefing. With those announcements, I can turn to any questions you might still have on other issues.

QUESTION: Earlier this week you leveled some criticism against the UN humanitarian relief official in Iraq, Mr. Von Sponeck. Could you please restate, for the record today, what the US is unhappy about as regards his performance, and what do you hope or expect to see happen as a result of this public criticism?

MR. RUBIN: The statements that I made accurately reflected our views as to his shortcomings in his current post, and they basically fall into three categories.

First of all, on the direct question of, is he managing and leading the humanitarian Oil-for-Food Program effectively, we think that he has not been as forceful and as direct as he should be, in confronting the Iraqi Government, with the fact that enormous quantities of food and medicine remain in warehouses, undistributed. And then the Iraqi Government proceeds to complain that there are effects on its own population, when it is not distributing the food and medicine that has been purchased. We think Mr. Von Sponeck has not been direct and forceful in pushing the Iraqi Government to release that food and medicine, distribute it so that its own citizens can get the food and medicine it needs.

Secondly, the Security Council has imposed a sanctions regime on Iraq, imposed nine years ago. The Security Council has repeatedly - that is, all the countries of the world, acting through the Security Council -- has repeatedly reaffirmed that sanctions policy, with the ban on imports and exports that it entails. So the world has spoken; the Security Council has spoken; and we do not believe it is appropriate for a UN official, whatever private views he's entitled to have, to challenge the position the United Nations Security Council has taken about the wisdom of the sanctions regime. That decision has been made, and to question it exceeds his competence and authority.

Thirdly, he has issued reports about subjects he knows even less about, which is the effect of civilian casualties throughout Iraq in the no-fly zones. He has relied almost exclusively on Iraqi reports for what damage was done, even though we have a nine-year history of Iraq using elaborate propaganda and misrepresentation in such cases. And one shouldn't rely on an Iraqi account of what happens in any circumstance related to the United States or the United Nations relations with Iraq.

So those are our views. Our views are obviously strongly held. We do not believe that this gentleman deserves to be leading this important effort. We will continue to make our views known to Secretary General Annan, and we will continue to make our views known to him that there are a number of areas where he is very poorly advised on the situation in Iraq, with respect to other aspects.

QUESTION: First of all, I'm wondering if you could refresh all those you refreshed on who the Prime Minister of India is. And, secondly, if you are aware of this giant - according to Washington reports - $3 billion arms deal between the Indians and the Russians, and if you're worried that that will at all affect the stability in South Asia. Or are you mainly - this is conventional weapons - are you mainly concerned with the nuclear aspect?

MR. RUBIN: I did bring my cheat sheet with me today, fearing a series of questions from around the world of the names of heads of state and heads of government. I think I knew the -- Prime Minister Vajpayee is the leader of India, but he does have a president named Narayanan, so it depends on whether you're talking about the head of state or head of government. But I think it's all-important for all of us to carry our cheat sheets around, lest someone ask unfair questions about every potential prime minister and president throughout the world.

With respect to your specific question on this arms sale, I do not have any information as to what our specific reaction to it is. But I was very pleased to be able to answer the first part of your question.

QUESTION: The Secretary said that the new House Appropriations bill represents great progress. She didn't mention what she would be recommending to the President on the veto, whether she accepts it in his present form or whether --

MR. RUBIN: I think you can assume that since yesterday, when it excluded the $700 million or so - I guess $800 million that was added back, according to press reports - that she made very clear that she was going to recommend a veto prior to that, by signaling and stating quite clearly that she thinks this was substantial progress in meeting our urgent needs. I think you can draw the appropriate conclusion: that pending the satisfactory resolution of a number of details associated with it, that this is not, in the classic vernacular, "veto bate."

QUESTION: One question. What remains - as far as your concerned and the Secretary is concerned -- what remains? How much money separates the two at this point?

MR. RUBIN: Again, it's very difficult to have a public discussion of issues that are being negotiated very carefully behind closed doors, by a number of officials from the White House and from the House and Senate. Suffice it to say that we think the adding back of these funds meet our urgent priorities. That doesn't mean we may need to find other ways of funding priorities that don't absolutely have to be funded right now. That relates to the Foreign Operations bill.

The other bill that has not yet been addressed -- and the Secretary spoke very clearly about -- (is) the absence of authority and funding for the United Nations arrears program that she worked so hard to negotiate with Senator Helms and Senator Biden that is still absent from these bills.

QUESTION: My other question has to do with something that happened earlier this week, but since this is the first briefing: What do you think the Secretary's response would be, if she were asked about Trent Lott's statement earlier this week, in which he appeared to reprimand her for letting foreign governments know that the Clinton Administration will continue to abide by and adhere to the CTBT, despite the Senate's rejection?

MR. RUBIN: I think that it's very important, in a debate as constitutionally challenging as this, for people to be very clear about their terms, and there is a misunderstanding that needs to be clarified. The President is not claiming that the United States is bound by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We cannot be bound by a treaty that has not been ratified and is not in force.

What we are saying - and this is where it's important to focus on the details rather than to assume the worst - is that what we are saying is that as a signatory, there is an understanding in the international community that if you're a signatory, and you intend to seek ratification later, that you not take steps to defeat the object and purpose of a treaty. That is the legal term of art.

We fully respect the Senate's constitutional role, but we have indicated, both publicly and in discussions with foreign leaders, that we are going to seek a second chance to get approval for the Comprehensive Test Ban. In the meantime, the President is going to continue pursuing the policy that has been in effect since 1992: that is, not to conduct any nuclear explosions.

Let me be clear, as a signatory that has not ratified the treaty, the point is that we're not obligated to abide by every term and provision of an elaborate treaty document, but with respect to the basic object and purpose of the treaty -- not to test nuclear explosions -- that is the basic object and purpose; and when you are a signatory and you still intend to seek ratification. And I know that members of the Senate understand that the President has every right to have intentions about the future - and that the President has not repudiated the signature that he made.

And so if the President has not repudiated the signature, and expresses an intent to seek ratification at a later date after more time has been made available - let's remember here that the Administration has been very clear; we don't believe that this important treaty received the care and scrutiny that it merited. And so we want to approach this process again, with enough time to have the treaty examined carefully, scrutinized, issues raised, discussed -- hopefully -- concerns alleviated.

Pending that, as a signatory we believe that not defeating the object in purpose, which is the international legal language that applies, would mean not testing, and that is also a policy that the President has stated quite clearly.

QUESTION: The Israeli media are very excited about what appears to be a new formulation of the American explanation of what happened in the old Syrian-Israeli talks. I wondered, now that we have you in public, whether you would like to -

MR. RUBIN: You've really missed me. That's two questions in a row indicating how much you missed me this week.

QUESTION: -- explain your understanding of what happened, and what your position is on the various conflicting -

MR. RUBIN: Right. Let me say this: We are not going to get into an elaborate public discussion of what was and wasn't said, in private discussions between the Secretary of State and a leader of another country.

Two principles, however, have guided our efforts in this area, and these two principles need to be understood by those who may want to interpret things differently than they really transpire. Number one: Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and there were no agreements on this question during the discussions between Secretary Christopher and President Asad. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and there were no agreements.

The second principle - and this applies to whoever might raise questions about this - is the United States only conveys, from one party to another, what we are authorized to convey. We don't commit further than we're authorized to commit; we don't commit less than we're authorized to commit. We have been very clear in explaining privately, to those concerned, that we only convey from one party to another what we are authorized to convey. I think each principle, obviously, applies in different ways to different suggestions and media from around the world.

QUESTION: So does that mean then that had any kind of an offer been made about anything, and the person that made that offer is now deceased, that it no longer exists?

MR. RUBIN: I fail to see how you could have divined that from what I thought was an otherwise carefully constructed answer.

QUESTION: It was carefully constructed, but does this mean that you will no longer - if any offer, because I know you're just going to say you're not going to talk about it, but if any offer is made, if the person that made the offer in the first place dies, does that mean that the offer doesn't exist anymore?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know what the health of the "offeree" has to do with what I just said.

QUESTION: Does that make it void? I mean, you say you're only going to transfer messages between an authorized person -

MR. RUBIN: When the Secretary of State or the President or an Ambassador or a Special Envoy makes a representation on behalf of the United States of America, the government works because that representation is not made based on the health of that person. It remains a representation that applies, whether or not that particular person is in the job.

Obviously, in this case, we're talking about Secretary of State Christopher. Secretary of State Christopher is alive and doing very well, thank you, in California. I really don't know what you're talking about - and he's doing very well in California, and he communicated to Secretary Albright what he has conveyed and has not conveyed to other parties during his fine tenure in office.

Those authorized conveyances apply in the way that I suggested; namely, number one, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and that's one principle. The other principle is that we are only conveying what we are authorized to convey. I don't understand why the health of the envoy had any relationship to this.

QUESTION: It's not the health of the envoy; it's the status of the person making the offer. Obviously, he was an intermediary in this case, that we're - Christopher was, and I'm not - you know I wasn't talking about him.

MR. RUBIN: No, I don't know what you're talking about. With respect to the other party, Mr. Rabin, if that's what you're talking about, obviously there's a change of government in Israel, and it's up to the Israeli Government to decide how to deal with whatever might have been said before.

QUESTION: So is your position that anything that was said then is no longer valid?

MR. RUBIN: No, our position is that we communicated what we were authorized to convey --

QUESTION: At the time.

MR. RUBIN: -- at the time. Obviously, we can't communicate today what we're not authorized to convey.

QUESTION: Fair enough.

MR. RUBIN: So I really don't understand the relationship of the question to health, but I still don't understand it.

QUESTION: Would it be reasonable to paraphrase this no agreement language as meaning that your understanding is that there was no binding commitment by Israel to withdraw from all or part of the Golan Heights?

MR. RUBIN: Well, you know, your job is to interpret; my job is to communicate. And my communication is designed to indicate - and I've watched this happen a lot of times in the Middle East peace process - that the question of one statement being made in isolation often leads one party or the other to glom on to a particular statement without hearing every part of it, which may relate to other actions that need to be taken.

So it's a very complex issue, and I'm purposely being "dodgey" because this a very sensitive question that is obviously in play right now between the United States and Syria, and the United States and Israel and, beyond saying that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, we don't think it would be helpful to comment.

QUESTON: The Syrians said specifically that the Secretary did not dispute their interpretation when she visited. Can you comment on that? Did she dispute their interpretation?

MR. RUBIN: She did not regard that news account as reflecting the meeting she was in.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject to go back to Russia, and specifically, with regard to the ABM modifications that the United States is seeking with the Russians. What is the state of play there? I understand most everything we've heard from their press has been negative.

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I think that's an accurate representation of their media. I hope you don't think that the Russian media might have a different view than the Russian Government. In our discussions with the Russian Government, we have not overcome, yet, their concerns about this issue.

We believe that we jointly face a threat from new countries, out there, developing ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, and that the best way to deal with that threat is to combine our anti-proliferation efforts in cutting off technology to these places, with the possibility of deploying a limited defense. We think it is possible to make modest adjustments to the ABM Treaty in such a way that Russia's deterrent is not threatened; that they will still have the capability that their deterrent requires; and it would be possible for us to deploy a system capable of defending the United States against this third-country threat, in a way that allowed the United States and Russia to continue to support a modified ABM Treaty.

This is going to be a long discussion. We don't expect this to change overnight. The ABM Treaty is the cornerstone of our national security efforts, with respect to nuclear arms control and the Russians feel very strongly about the ABM Treaty. So do we. I think it's also fair to point out that the Russians just tested one of their elements of their ABM system, so they obviously see the necessity for having an ABM system. What we're saying is, we want a limited ABM system, like there's is limited, and we want to work on the limitations through constructive dialogue. We have not yet achieved agreement, but it's something we're determined to continue discussing.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- on these discussions, if I might ask?

MR. RUBIN: A number of officials. Secretary Albright has discussed this with Foreign Minister Ivanov; Deputy Secretary Talbott has discussed it with a number of officials; Under Secretary Holum has been leading a number of more technical discussions. So it's an ongoing discussion.

QUESTION: You say it's going to be a long discussion, but you're supposed to be making recommendations in June.

MR. RUBIN: Well, that's a long time.

QUESTION: That's the timeframe you're talking about?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I don't want to put a hard and fast date on it, but today I think is November, and that's eight-and-half months from now.

QUESTION: A related question to that: Between now and June or July or whenever the decision has to be made on NMD, will all US tests of the NMD, or parts of it, be in compliance with the existing ABM treaty? And do you view that the Russian test was in compliance with the treaty?

MR. RUBIN: We have no reason to doubt that the testing, at an agreed test site, of an aspect of their permitted system, is a violation of the treaty, just as our tests of our missile defenses have been consistent with the treaty, because they have been conducted at agreed test ranges and they involve fixed land-based technology, etc., etc. So we are a nation of laws, and we intend to abide by this treaty, pending any modifications of it.

QUESTION: A few minutes ago at the beginning of your briefing, you mentioned perhaps kiddingly that we should all carry cheat sheets when people ask us unfair questions, but I wonder if you can address -

MR. RUBIN: I didn't link those. That was the beginning of my quote to the end, and that's - I didn't --

QUESTION: Well, I was just wondering -

MR. RUBIN: -- that's an out of - there's a lot of ellipses between those two thoughts.

QUESTION: Fine, I'll grant you them. But I wonder what your take is, as the Spokesman for the front line national security agency, what your take is on whether it's fair to ask presidential candidates pop quizzes on national leaders. And if I can add, what -

MR. RUBIN: By the way, there's nothing on this in my briefing book, I can assure you.

QUESTION: You'll have to ad lib. And I wonder if you could also address what Mr. Bush had to say about the situation in Pakistan, specifically.

MR. RUBIN: Let me say that it is now about a year from a presidential election. I think that it is appropriate, as the Spokesman of the State Department, to try to strike the right balance between engaging in the domestic enterprise we're so proud of -- our election -- and, obviously, responding to your questions about our views with respect to particular policies. That's a hard balance to walk in an election year; I hope to walk it successfully.

Let me start walking that fine line as follows: I'm not going to comment on the legitimacy of journalists' questions. That is not my job. I take a lot questions that I have my doubts about from this podium, but I try to answer them as best as I can, and it's up to you all to decide what are fair questions, not us.

QUESTION: What about his views on Pakistan -

MR. RUBIN: I didn't see them. I don't know what you're referring to.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments: The military regime in Pakistan is sending Maleeha Lodhi as its ambassador to repair the relations and the reputation of the military, and she was Ambassador of Prime Minister Bhutto during 1993 in Washington, and she is also one of the critics of the military regime, and friend of Bhutto, of course.

MR. RUBIN: Let me say that we have received a request for agrement from the government of Pakistan for a new ambassador. That matter is under review by the Department. It is not our practice to reveal the names of individuals proposed as ambassadors to the US while we are still considering a request for agrement.

As far as whoever our interlocutors are with Pakistan -- including Mr. Yakub Khan, a former Pakistani foreign minister and highly respected senior statesman who is now in Washington meeting with various officials here at the Department including Deputy Secretary Talbott, Under Secretary Pickering -- we will make clear our view, that we think that it is very important to have the constitutional, democratic and civilian government in Pakistan restored, and that we are looking for a timetable for steps to that end to be described as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Do you think you will change the relations between Pakistan and the US, having an ambassador who was already ambassador three years spent - seen all the system?

MR. RUBIN: Obviously, I am not in a position to comment on any specific person, and I wouldn't want to exaggerate or minimize the role of any particular ambassador.

QUESTION: Staying in the region.

MR. RUBIN: Staying in the region. Let's stay in the region.

QUESTION: Can you say something about the forthcoming meeting between Jaswant Singh and Mr. Talbott in London?

MR. RUBIN: I know Deputy Secretary Talbott is going to be meeting, as I said, the envoy of General Musharaff, the leader of Pakistan.

QUESTION: Not the president.

MR. RUBIN: The leader. And he's going to be meeting Yakub Khan, and he will be talking to him about a number of issues that are before us including, obviously, our concerns on the India-Pakistan front.

I don't know what day Deputy Secretary Talbott is scheduled to meet with interlocutors from the Indian side, but I do know that he's determined to continue his efforts to try to promote progress on the nonproliferation front, and all that that entails, as well as promote the prospect of dialogue between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up. May I follow it up? There is a report in today's papers that is sort of date for Pakistani elections, they are whittling it down to benchmarks; in other words, normal US relations -- (inaudible) - elections and only certain benchmarks. It is in today's papers quoting US diplomats abroad, not in Washington.

MR. RUBIN: Let me say that we said that, in the absence of the restoration of civilian constitutional and democratic government, we cannot adjust the requirements of the section of the foreign assistance law that bans assistance. We cannot, therefore, do business as usual.

We will continue to engage with Pakistan. We do think it's important to work on issues of concern to our national security, whether they be proliferation, whether they be the importance of pressuring the Taliban to release Usama bin Laden, whether they be the prospect of improved conflict resolution in Kashmir, and whether they be the issues of nonproliferation that are so important to us.

So we are going to work on issues of national security: counter-narcotics, law enforcement, nonproliferation, regional peace and security, counter- terrorism. Those issues we need to continue to engage with Pakistan on but, with respect to business as usual, until there is a return to civilian, democratic, constitutional government, the 907 I believe - 507, the relevant provision of the foreign assistance law cannot be --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RUBIN: Yes. Is this a game of Bingo back here?

QUESTION: No, it's not.

QUESTION: On Usama bin Laden, we were talking about last week in detail about his being in Afghanistan, that he was about to move out of Afghanistan, but he's still there. So what's happening with him now because Taliban -

MR. RUBIN: You'll have to address that question to the Taliban. We'd like to see him in a country where he could be brought to justice.

QUESTION: In Nairobi, the Secretary said she was going to discuss Talisman Oil with the Canadians. Can you confirm that the Secretary has written in the last couple of days to Mr. Axworthy?

MR. RUBIN: I think that was in the works, but I'll have to give you a final confirmation after the briefing.

QUESTION: Can you tell us in brief what lines her message would be along?

MR. RUBIN: I would try to get you that after the briefing. I know that she intended to do so. I believe it was in the works, but I can't confirm that it happened.

QUESTION: Can you say why you're releasing the statement on the visit of the Saudi Defense Minister, given the fact that he never set foot in this building and had only a very brief meeting with the Secretary at the White House? Why is the State Department seeing fit to - is this a request from the Saudis?

MR. RUBIN: I think we need to put a different type of powder in your coffee in the morning, because today has been filled with the strangest, left-field questions. But of course, as I indicated earlier, I respect your right to ask them.

Let me say that Secretary Albright did meet with Prince Sultan, the Defense Minister, in a lengthy meeting at the White House. I wouldn't call it a short meeting. A number of officials here at the Department were present at a number of the discussions that he had here in Washington.

I would say that many, many hours of work of officials of the Department went into trying to ensure that we had the most constructive possible visit, and this is a way that the United States and Saudi Arabia have found, in the past, to record the work that was done in the visit, and this is a method that we have used, which is to issue a statement.

I would assume that you, like any journalist - and now I'm guessing here - would prefer more information rather than less information, and so I'll try to bear that in mind in the future.

QUESTION: The reasoning behind this question, although I understand that it escaped you, was the fact that the Minister did, in fact - was scheduled to have a meeting with the Secretary - one-on-one meeting here today.

MR. RUBIN: Right. No, it was a lunch. It was a lunch. It wasn't a one-on- one meeting. It would have been an eight or nine on eight or nine meeting. But please continue.

QUESTION: Regardless, it was to be a meeting here. Are you saying that the State Department isn't at all troubled by the fact that this meeting is not happening? You remember that there was a front page newspaper report saying that she was going to use this opportunity to discuss bin Laden and -

MR. RUBIN: And I hope you remember my reaction to this newspaper report.

QUESTION: Yes, I do.

MR. RUBIN: So I hope, therefore, if I'm very clear about the limited authenticity - not non-authenticity, limited authenticity - of a particular news account, then I hope that isn't used against me, because I obviously wouldn't be in a position to control what goes in the newspapers.

But let me say that Secretary Albright did not, nor did the State Department have any problem, with the necessary adjustment in schedule. Let's remember that she was originally scheduled to have lunch with Prince Sultan on Tuesday, but was unable to do that because she was in Oslo with the President.

QUESTION: It's a bit old now, but does -

MR. RUBIN: That hasn't stopped you today.

QUESTION: Because we haven't had a briefing.

MR. RUBIN: I know. There's a third time.

QUESTION: Does the United States take a position on the Iranian attack on the opposition base in Iraq? And do you consider this to be legitimate retaliation against terrorism?

MR. RUBIN: I don't think we've verified the facts in that case. I know there have been some claims about what transpired, but I've seen differing accounts of what really did transpire, and we'll have to check that for you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:45 P.M.)

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