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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #141, 99-11-18

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>


809

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

I N D E X

Thursday, November 18, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

EGYPT
1-8	US has been working cooperatively with government at all levels on
	 airliner crash investigation. US concerned by outlandish
	 conspiracy theories being posited in the media, both here and in
	 Egypt. Unfounded, unnecessary speculations about the
	 investigation's conclusion do no good, and can cause harm to
	 families of victims. A very senior Egyptian security official is
	 expected to meet with Acting Secretary Pickering today. Today an
	 effort to construct a transcript of the cockpit voice recorder has
	 begun.
UNITED NATIONS
8-9	State budget should be voted on today. It should be possible to pay
	 US arrears to the UN as a result of the budget passage. Arrears
	 would be paid over a three-year period. US maintains effort to
	 keep UN bureaucracy at zero-growth level. 
IRAQ
10-11	US generally blocks around 5 percent of proposed sales under
	 Oil-for-Food program. There are very good reasons for blocking
	 them. Iraq now imports more food and medicine, and exports more
	 oil, than it did before the Gulf War. US continues to meet with
	 other Perm 5 members on the Iraq omnibus resolution. 
PANAMA
11-12	US prepared to cooperate with Panama on Canal security whenever
	 asked by the Government of Panama. 
PAKISTAN
12-13	Government is arresting those who have major loan defaulters, after
 	 the expiration of a one-month grace period. US will monitor
	 Mr. Sharif's trial in anti-terrorism court. 
NORTH KOREA
13-14	The two sides have taken a short break in their talks in Berlin.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #141

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 1999, 1:20 P.M.

(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. RUBIN: Welcome to the smallest State Department briefing in modern memory on this here Thursday. We will not be briefing tomorrow so I wanted to give you a chance to ask any questions you might have today.

I don't believe I have any announcements other than the fact that we're releasing a volume on Iran of the Foreign Relations Series from 1964 through 1968. Do you need a filing break?

I know some of you are very interested in the EgyptAir issue and so let me just start with a couple of comments on that.

The main point here is that we and Egypt have been working very, very closely together at all levels in the investigation. There are a number of different Egyptian officials that have been working with the investigators from the beginning. Secretary Albright has spoken to Foreign Minister Moussa. Under Secretary Pickering is in daily contact with officials from the Embassy here and others who are sent here by the Egyptians. They are in meetings or on the telephone. There are additional Egyptian officials arriving today to examine further evidence. They include senior security officials and technical experts.

So what we have been trying to do is work with Egypt at all levels as this investigation continues. Let me say that we are troubled by the tremendous amount of inaccuracy, wild speculation and outlandish conspiracy theories coming through in a variety of media. That means both those here who speculate about the conclusion that is going to be reached before a conclusion has been reached, and those in the Egyptian media who put forward outlandish conspiracy theories. We think all of that does a great, great disservice to the families, both in the United States and in Egypt, who are obviously the real ones suffering from this tragedy.

We do have confidence that Egypt and the United States will work together on this investigation, that our long and close friendship will not be harmed because we have confidence that the Egyptian Government, like the United States Government, wants to get to the bottom of this crash and find out what happened. And we believe Egypt will work and has been working cooperatively with us in putting together the evidence that has developed so far and pursuing all of the leads that are developed during the course of this investigation.

In short, we would appeal for calm both in those who speculate about what caused the crash here and appeal for calm in those who put forward wild conspiracy theories that do a great disservice to the families involved.

QUESTION: Well, do you want to share with us the more outlandish theories that you've heard?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I've seen a number of them in the press about this was - there were military causes, that this was part of a plot, that the United States is blaming Egyptian pilots because we did it ourselves -- you know, the normal fare of the Arab -- conspiracy theories. But we just think it really has no place in a situation where there are so many families that are so affected by such a tragedy.

QUESTION: Jamie, a lot of those conspiracy theories in the Egyptian press have appeared in what are commonly recognized as officially aligned newspapers, or newspapers that are aligned with the Egyptian regime. I wondered, given your statement that the US and Egypt have been collaborating at all levels throughout, how do you explain that --

MR. RUBIN: Right, I would disagree with your characterization. My understanding is that the vast majority of the kinds of statements that I'm referring to are not in publications that are regarded as organs of the government. We have found that in our work directly with the government, that it is highly cooperative. It is based on a joint mission and a joint determination to follow the evidence where it leads. We have not found any - if anything, we have been very heartened by the extent to which Egypt shares our desire to get to the bottom of this wherever the evidence might lead.

QUESTION: Jamie, these rumors and the speculation and a lot of the leaks that have come out from US officials in this investigation, has that led to any kind of a strain in the US relationship with --

MR. RUBIN: Well, I think what I was suggesting, perhaps right before you walked in, is that there has been a lot of speculation in this country about what the cause of this crash was. We don't think that's very helpful. We think that does a great disservice to the investigators who have not reached conclusions, to the families who are going through the real pain of this tragedy. There is an echo chamber effect when we see speculation here and what effect is has in the Egyptian press and the Arab press.

But just as we're concerned about speculation and troubled by speculation here, we're equally concerned - if not more concerned and troubled by the wild conspiracy theories that have appeared in a number of Arab media.

So, yes, there is an unfortunate aspect to this. I do not believe that the US-Egyptian cooperation or the US-Egyptian relationship is going to be affected because we believe the government - like us - shares the same objective, which is to do an honest, careful, prudent, determined investigation to follow the evidence wherever it might lead. We have seen no indication in any way, shape or form that the Egyptian Government has a different view on that that we do.

QUESTION: Is there any doubt that these leaks that have come out have been coming from the US side? Or do you think that it might be coming from somewhere else?

MR. RUBIN: I'm sure that journalists would be the last to want me to begin to speculate on the cause of an ultimate source of leaks because that would put all of our ability to operate in jeopardy. Let me suffice it to say that we are concerned and troubled by speculative conclusions coming out of those in the United States involved in this general investigation. We are doubly troubled and concerned by wild conspiracy theories coming out in the Arab media.

QUESTION: But the speculation, if I can just - the speculation is based on information that is coming out of the investigation itself. And certainly you don't say that journalists are in the room listening to these tapes; they are getting it from people who were in the room listening to the tapes.

MR. RUBIN: Again, the issue isn't just the tape. For those who understand this investigation's comprehensiveness, it involves voice, it involves technical information, it involves radar, it involves a number of pieces of the puzzle. This is what investigators have to work on.

So what I am suggesting to you is that we are calling for calm. We are appealing for calm. And calm can only come if there is a minimum of speculation about conclusions here in this country and a minimum of wild, exaggerated, unfounded conspiracy theories in other media in the Middle East.

QUESTION: Has the State Department specifically asked the NTSB to stop leaking this information to the American press, which is where the information is coming from?

MR. RUBIN: I am not, and if any of you interpret anything I said as an attack on the NTSB, you will be wrong. That is not what I am suggesting. We all know the complicated ways in which speculation develops in the media and I do not believe the NTSB has put out any conclusion or allowed there to be formal conclusions reached. I am not suggesting that the NTSB has done anything wrong in any of the comments I am making. I am merely describing a reality and the reality is that speculation about what conclusions will be drawn is premature by anybody in this government -- in all of the agencies, not any one agency. And it is equally if not doubly wrong for there to be wild, exaggerated conspiracy theories put forward in the Arab world.

QUESTION: Since, Jamie, as you pointed out, there have been Egyptian officials in on the investigation from the very beginning and now they are sending a lot more, does there need to be - and there has also been a lot of FBI people from the very, very beginning quietly working. Does there need to be any change in the structure of the investigation? Or would you expect it to remain the same?

The Egyptians are concerned that the structure not be changed.

MR. RUBIN: I think the decisionmaking on how the investigation is structured, namely who leads the investigation, is something that will come as a result of intensive discussions between all of the relevant agencies and the Egyptians. But whatever agency is leading the investigation, both we and the Egyptians, I believe, and my sense is, will be prepared to pursue all the leads wherever they go regardless of who leads the investigation.

QUESTION: I want to get back to this. I realize that you are not making an attack on the NTSB.

MR. RUBIN: No, but somebody obviously interpreted it that way and that was not my intention.

QUESTION: No, but there are members - investigators or people close to these investigations with the NTSB and the FBI who have been saying things and have been drawing their speculations in the press. Does the Department consider these inferences that they are making which have been all over the front pages and everything to be irresponsible at all?

MR. RUBIN: Let me be very clear. I think it would be irresponsible for unnamed officials to allow for conclusions to be drawn before conclusions have been drawn, whether they are in the State Department, the NTSB or any other investigative organization, any agency. And I am not suggesting, and nothing I have suggested should be interpreted as suggesting, that this concern is directed at one agency or another.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - the leaking itself should stop? Are you saying that that - you don't have a problem with that?

MR. RUBIN: I am certainly suggesting that unfounded speculation and unnecessary speculation about conclusions only leads to a situation where the temperature is raised, where it makes it harder to pursue a competent, prudent but determined investigation at a determined and deliberate pace. And it also feeds the exaggerated, wild conspiracy theories that often appear in the Arab press that are unjustified. And so our call for calm is both on those who are rushing to judgment about what happened and those who are putting out what are obviously wild and ridiculous theories about what happened as well.

QUESTION: But they are basing -

QUESTION: We're beginning to beat this to death in the sense that, if you want to answer the question, please. We're not asking about speculation and conclusions. Clearly, you know, that's wrong. We are asking whether the State Department and, obviously, in some sense, protective of Egypt, we can leave that out if you want in your answer - is the State Department upset that information is being leaked from which reporters and editorial writers and bizarre people, all sorts of people, maybe the same people, draw conclusions and speculation? They're basing it, in many cases, on things they were told. They don't make it up.

MR. RUBIN: I don't think reporters make up sources. I've never suggested that.

QUESTION: I know you're not saying that.

MR. RUBIN: So let me answer this as best as I can. We've had a lot of history now of investigations of unfortunately airplane crashes and they tend to have a cycle of one direction and another. And what we've found is that those cycles are not helpful to the investigators themselves, let alone in a situation where it has the potential of creating an echo chamber in the Arab world where these wild, ridiculous conspiracy theories are put forward.

That is not, and should not in any way be perceived as a criticism of the Egyptian Government because what we found is that the Egyptian Government and we are working very comfortably, very cordially. There is not tension. A lot of these suggestions that there is a big problem between the Egyptian Government and the United States, nobody here can detect the bases for those suggestions. So what I am saying is that what we would like to see less of in the furtherance of the investigation, and in respect for the families concerned, is less speculation about the cause from those who may or may not be close to the investigation.

You know, the phrase "close to the investigation" is one of those words that has a very, very wide berth. And I think - and I hope that all of you understand that. And, secondly, that even as we try to avoid that, that we would certainly urge those in the media who have put forward these wild conspiracy theories in various Arab media, to avoid that as well in deference to the families involved, because that really is a direct - causes direct harm to them.

QUESTION: Jamie, are you all or is the US Government in any way going to try to counter these stories in the Egyptian press? Is the embassy going to --

MR. RUBIN: I don't think we're into that kind of thing. What we are just trying to urge people to do is please be responsible. You know, we haven't ruled any causes out. We're at a phase of the investigation where we're trying to find out what happened and draw conclusions in a deliberate way. And so I don't think there is going to be a rapid reaction process put in place in Egypt other than to urge responsible media outlets to avoid the needless pain they cause to the families.

QUESTION: A practical question. Can you tell us who the most senior Egyptian investigator or official, law enforcement official who arrived in Washington today is?

MR. RUBIN: I will have to check on that but I believe a very senior security official is expected to meet with Under Secretary Pickering today.

QUESTION: Do you know what level it is?

MR. RUBIN: I will check on that, yes.

QUESTION: In her conversation with Foreign Minister Moussa and Pickering's conversation with the ambassador, can you give us an idea of what - you say that there is no big problem and you can't detect any big problem between the US and Egyptian governments on this. So is the concern then - A, can you give us an idea of what the concerns of the Egyptians have been in those meetings; and, B, is it your concern directly - is that concern directly related to the families or is there something else in the investigation --

MR. RUBIN: There are several things we're trying to do here. We will, at the State Department, be following the discussions between technical and investigative experts and their counterparts in Egypt. There are a variety of experts gathering from the various agencies - the NTSB, the Government of Egypt, the FBI, the State Department. Their group began today to prepare a literal, factual transcript of the cockpit voice recorder. That's where the focus is right now. The NTSB can describe that further.

With respect to our discussions, we have been in close and regular contact in order to coordinate these efforts, including by Ambassador Pickering, by Assistant Secretary Indyk, by the Secretary and others, and there are a wide range of discussions.

If you're interested in asking the Egyptians what views they express in these meetings, or finding out what their views are, I really would urge you to talk to the Egyptians. But let me give you as much as I can from our perspective.

My sense of this from talking to Under Secretary Pickering and Assistant Secretary Indyk is that the Egyptians have been doing precisely what we and they want to do, which is doing this in a deliberate way, not wanting to rush to judgment, asking questions, trying to make sure they have the best expertise brought to bear and avoiding a situation where there is a rush to judgment. We don't want a rush to judgment. We want to pursue this at a deliberate pace.

QUESTION: At some point the FBI may want access to Egypt itself to ask questions and so forth. This was a problem with the Saudis two -- three years ago. Has this hurdle been cleared with the Egyptians?

MR. RUBIN: They, as I understand it, authorized the United States to take the lead. So far we have been working hand in glove with them. So there's no reason to believe that the process of cooperation that has existed so far would end at any point.

QUESTION: Have FBI officials been in Egypt doing any work?

MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't be able to comment on that. But I would welcome your directing that question to the FBI.

QUESTION: You and some pretty high-powered State Department officials have been involved.

MR. RUBIN: Right.

QUESTION: I thought you were going to give us a list of objectives. But the first one, clearly is the first objective, to figure out what the transcript suggests, what it means, in fact what's being said.

MR. RUBIN: That was at the expert level. That's at the expert level.

QUESTION: That's number one. But that's expert level?

MR. RUBIN: Yes.

QUESTION: So kind of, I'm wondering is there State Department interest in this beyond technical -- arranging for technical - why not be direct about this? Don't you have an objective or an interest, at least, in making sure that the US relationship with Egypt isn't jarred, or isn't hurt in any particular way?

I know we're going to let the facts go forward and - I know all that. I mean, I'm sure - this wouldn't be America if that weren't true. But aren't you concerned what impact this might have - again, without suggesting or speculating about terrorism or fundamentalism or foes of globalization or madmen or whatever the possibilities are - you know, there's going to be an impact on tourism. There's going to be lots of aftershock. Isn't the Start Department kind of thinking about this a little bit and talking to the Egyptians about that, too?

MR. RUBIN: Well, it depends on which syllable you put the emphasis on.

QUESTION: Well, you're putting it on expertise, and I understand that.

MR. RUBIN: The syllable I would put the emphasis on is that we think that the best way to get the best and most effective and most comprehensive investigation is to use the expertise we at the State Department have in working with Egypt. That's what we do every day. We work with the Egyptian ambassador. We work with the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. We know many of the senior officials involved here. We can talk to the Foreign Minister. We can talk to the President of Egypt.

So one job of the State Department is just to use its diplomatic expertise to ensure proper coordination between two countries that have different --

QUESTION: Cultures.

MR. RUBIN: -- cultures. So that is one job. That is the positive way of describing it. You've just asked the question would we like to avoid negative affects on the US-Egyptian relationship from this investigation? Obviously.

But what we have been trying to do -- and we think successfully-- is ensuring that a close friend, Egypt, which has obviously gone through a great trauma when its national airline crashed, that in so doing that the investigation is done with the maximum degree of cooperation intact, so that we can get the best chance of getting to the bottom of this. And, obviously, wherever the investigation leads, minimize the impact on the US- Egyptian relationship, but not at the expense of getting the facts.

Other subjects.

QUESTION: Just one more. A day or two following the crash, a columnist in Algomhuria in Egypt, which is one of the more prominent publications, wrote a column addressing some of these conspiracies, missiles, et cetera. And the American ambassador to Egypt felt it necessary to write a letter thereafter to try to correct the record. I am wondering if you all will be doing anything else with the Egyptian press.

MR. RUBIN: I think Betsy asked me that question just a few minutes ago and I think obviously when we think it's appropriate, we will do so. But there isn't a - as I said to her - a rapid reaction press response team that has been put together as some new action item in this process. At least, I haven't heard about it and I probably would have.

QUESTION: On the UN, can you bring us up to date on where we are with settling our debts and where the --

MR. RUBIN: My understanding is that there is general agreement on the budget, that the House is scheduled to vote today and that vote will include provisions that we believe will finally make it possible for us to repay the arrears to the United Nations. Unfortunately, we had to do it in a way where the issue of family planning was needlessly and unjustifiably linked to paying the arrearages. But as I think I have indicated to some of you, we think that the specific proposal that is contained in this legislation will have the barest minimum effect on the President's family planning policies and programs and that it will only be in one appropriations bill. It is not in permanent law. And during that period, we think it has a bare minimum effect.

QUESTION: In terms of where will the money go, there are different pots --

MR. RUBIN: Right. I've discussed this a little bit but let me try to do this as best as I can again. My understanding is that once the legislation is passed, we would contribute the $100 million from the three-year Helms- Biden legislation immediately. That we would obtain the other necessary $250 million for a total of $350 from the State-Commerce-Justice legislation, thus enabling us to avoid losing our vote.

Secondly, we would then work to put together an effort between - with a division of labor between Secretary Albright and Ambassador Holbrooke to go about getting the necessary changes in UN practices that would be required to proceed to the second year's repayment, which I believe is in the $400 million plus range for repayment in the second year. And that the - let me see if - the second year - the third tranche is 244 million. The second tranche is 475 million. So that would be, in other words, over a three- year period beginning this year, next year and the year after, we would be pursuing the reforms necessary, at the end of which, with a credit that goes back to the UN, the total would be $927 million of our debt would be retired or our arrears would be paid.

We still have issues with the United Nations. We are going to consider -- we still have to pursue a lot of these issues with them. Secretary Albright's considered view, having been the UN ambassador, and I think Ambassador Holbrooke concurs, is that with the check available, with the decision having been made by Congress on this one-time basis, the three- year plan, we will be able to pursue and achieve the reforms necessary because the dynamic will change once other UN officials and countries, member states, realize that the money really is there this time, that it's not just us promising money but it's really available.

QUESTION: Jamie, before the session, when David Welch briefed, the US had the intention - certainly on several of these things the same as you described it. But to make a big effort to keep the budget at zero growth. I mean, that was an objective. It didn't take - well, maybe you were listening to Congress, but it seemed to be an earnest Administration objective. But that's almost two months ago. Has there been any headway on that? I know the committee that handles it but is it a live issue?

MR. RUBIN: It has been an objective of the Administration for several years to keep the growth and the bureaucracy at zero growth --

QUESTION: At least - yes.

MR. RUBIN: We have been successful at that. I think we continue to have to work that issue. We're talking about next year's budget, not this year's budget.

QUESTION: Yeah, that - they can go up $100 million.

MR. RUBIN: So that process is ongoing. I don't think that we have reached an end to that. I couldn't say we have progress or not progress. It's a process that's beginning now. What I can say is we think having the bill passed - rather than just notional legislation, actually having the legislation passed and signed into law will make it that much more likely that the changes and objectives we're seeking can be achieved.

QUESTION: The main achievement of the Istanbul Summit seems to be getting the Chairman of the OSCE to go to the Russians to agree to let him go to Chechnya. Can you elaborate a little on how you see his mission? Or what you think he --

MR. RUBIN: No, I wouldn't be adding to what was briefed in Turkey on this by Secretary Albright. Obviously, he will be going. She said he would be going. The discussions about what he will doing have taken place in Istanbul. I can certainly try to get some answers for you, but I think it would be inappropriate for me to add to that from here right now.

QUESTION: I don't know what's been said over there about this. But I've got to very brief questions about the Secretary's schedule. First of all, she's going to meeting the Serb opposition leaders? Or already has? Today - it's happening now?

MR. RUBIN: I believe it should be around now. It's seven hours later there, so it's 10 of 9:00. I believe she's expected to have a short meeting or probably has had with the Vuk Draskovic.

QUESTION: Do you know what she --

MR. RUBIN: I'm not able to give you a readout of it.

QUESTION: Okay. And then what is she doing on Monday? I understand she's splitting off from -

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I'll have statement for you about her trip to Slovakia very shortly.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. RUBIN: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you give us some sense of whether the amounts, whether the numbers of programs that the Iraqis are saying that we are - or that the numbers of orders that the US and Britain are blocking in the Oil For Food Program and the amounts of - in terms of dollars that they are saying we are blocking - can you give us some sense of whether that's a small percentage of these orders? A large percentage?

MR. RUBIN: Right. My understanding is that the normal practice has been that we are raising questions and not permitting to go through immediately proposals - roughly 5 percent of the proposals fall into the category where we end up blocking them. There are usually pretty good reasons to block them. Either the company involved is a company that has been involved in sanctions busting in the past, or that the proposal lacks any specificity and could be seen as a blank check to purchase goods that could be used for other than humanitarian purposes, or the goods involved are so transparently not for humanitarian purposes that it was another attempt -

Let's remember who were dealing with here. Iraq is in violation of all of the Security Council resolutions. Some countries may want to assume that Iraqi proposals for oil in the Oil For Food Program, they should get the benefit of the doubt that these are actually for good purposes. Our view is that we want to check them rigorously because if Iraq were acting in good faith with the United Nations in general, we wouldn't have this embargo on in the first place.

So there are a very, very small number of contracts that end up getting blocked, and the reality is that Iraq now imports more food and medicine today than it did prior to the Gulf War, that Iraq now exports more oil today than it did before the Gulf War. So these claims that we are harming the Iraqi population because of the oil embargo and on the question of food and medicine are transparent nonsense.

We know that those areas where the United Nations runs the Oil For Food Program, the child mortality is now lower than it was prior to the Gulf War. In those areas where Iraq runs the program, there are major problems. So all of this is by way of suggesting, we do ask hard questions about a relatively small number of contracts. But meanwhile, billions of dollars of oil is sold and billions of dollars in food and medicine have gone in. So much so, that they've reached the threshold that they sell as much oil as they did before the Gulf War and that they import as much food and medicine as they did before the Gulf War.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to add to where the new resolution stands?

MR. RUBIN: We continue to meet with the other permanent members. Assistant Secretary Welch has been in New York most days this week. Secretary Albright discussed with Foreign Minister Ivanov some of the key elements that Russia has concerns about. We are trying to work our way through those concerns so that in a matter of weeks we can come to a conclusion one way or another about this. But we have still plenty of work to do.

QUESTION: There is a story out that a Panamanian delegation is coming here next week, and the story also said that there is concern here in Washington about the canal security after Panama takes over the canal.

MR. RUBIN: The US Government and the government of Panama have a joint treaty obligation to assure that the canal remains open to free passage of all ships of all nations - an obligation that will continue after transfer of the canal on December 31st. Both governments are well aware of that obligation.

We are prepared to cooperate with the government of Panama on canal security in areas where it identifies a need for assistance. We and the newly elected government of President Moscoso, of Panama, agreed to have a broad ranging consultation as soon as possible on a variety of bilateral issues, including canal security, regional law enforcement, economic and trade issues, the environment and social development in Panama. We hope these initial consultations will set the tone for our bilateral relationship in the coming years.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)?

MR. RUBIN: I'll try to check that for you.

QUESTION: Does that mean if the government of Panama turns around and says, look, we want all your troops back, that we'll send them back?

MR. RUBIN: We'll pose that question to the appropriate authorities.

QUESTION: No, I -- it's a serious question. What does that mean? You'll cooperate with the government of Panama in areas where it says it needs assistance. Well, I mean, if they say that they need --

MR. RUBIN: Cooperate doesn't mean that we promise to do everything they want.

QUESTION: Yes, but is that something that could be considered under this cooperation?

MR. RUBIN: You're the first person I've ever heard suggest such a thing.

QUESTION: Well, that's why I started out by saying, forgive my ignorance. I don't know enough about --

MR. RUBIN: I would certainly encourage a formal answer to be given to the single person on the planet who wants to know the answer to that question.

QUESTION: Pakistan - do you have any comment on the round-up of politicians and their associates? Do you see this as just a legitimate s

police operation? Or do you see it as politically motivated repression?

MR. RUBIN: When he took power in mid October, Pakistani Chief Of Army Staff General Musharaff announced that a top priority would be to recover the enormous funds allegedly lost to unrepaid loans to state-controlled banks and other financial institutions in Pakistan. He gave defaulters a one-month grace period to settle these debts. That period has now ended and the government is making arrests among those identified as the most serious defaulters.

The arrestees include officials in both major political parties, as well as some retired military officers. Pakistan has major economic problems due, in part, to serious corruption over the past decade. Unrepaid loans have, indeed, drained billions of dollars from the economy. We hope the government will address this problem in an expeditious and transparent manner. Those arrested should not be mistreated, should receive due process that fully respects their rights, and a quick resolution of their cases. That is our view on that development.

QUESTION: How about on Sharif's trial? It's supposed to begin tomorrow. Do you have anything new to say, or is it still the same?

MR. RUBIN: We are monitoring it carefully. Obviously, we have repeatedly urged that Sharif and all others be treated fairly and impartially and in accordance with international standards of due process. Ambassador Milam saw General Musharaff late last week and has made these points to him directly. We understand that Sharif will be tried in the special anti- terrorism courts, which were established during his tenure. These courts afford Sharif the right to an open hearing with high court-appointed judges and the right of appeal to the supreme court.

QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe so far that any of these people have been mistreated? Or that their rights have not been respected?

MR. RUBIN: I have no information to suggest that at this time.

QUESTION: Jaime, last week you mentioned the case of the Kosovar pediatrician who is being tried in Serbia. Do you have any more information on her case?

MR. RUBIN: I'll check that for you.

QUESTION: Also Pakistan. Is there any new information about their rocket attacks against the US facilities and the UN facilities?

MR. RUBIN: No, I think they're still trying to determine the cause.

QUESTION: The talks with North Korea in Berlin have been suspended. They're not supposed to start - there are not any scheduled for tomorrow - apparently, according to the --

MR. RUBIN: My understanding is that it is normal at about this time to take a break.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RUBIN: They have taken a break, but they are expected --

QUESTION: I haven't finished my question.

MR. RUBIN: Okay.

QUESTION: So the reason given was that they have to go back and consult with the capitals. Can you tell us anything about what they are consulting with the capitals on?

MR. RUBIN: That would require us to get into the substance of the talks that we have avoided assiduously so far.

QUESTION: I'll guess we're going to have to speculate.

MR. RUBIN: That is one of the risks. For those who don't like speculation - whoever they might be - please, give me more information to avoid speculation.

QUESTION: But did you have a date when they were going to restart? Or do we have that yet?

MR. RUBIN: They didn't, but I assume in a couple of days - that kind of thing - a couple of days.

QUESTION: No, they're not meeting tomorrow - they're not meeting tomorrow, definitely?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know - maybe. I'll check that for you. As soon as we know when they're going to restart, we'll let you know.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 2:05 p.m.)


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