U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #144, 99-11-29
From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing
I N D E X
Monday, November 29, 1999
Briefer: James P. Rubin
1-2 Secretary Albright will travel to the region, December 5-9.
8-9 US sees deadlock over land transfer of 5 percent of West Bank as an
inherently resolvable issue. US is aware of efforts to set up a
Syrian-Israeli summit, but agrees with Prime Minister Barak that
current process offers best chance to advance peace.
2-3 US has not received a visa application for Castro to attend WTO
meeting in Seattle. Health and welfare issues are involved in
parole case of young Elian Gonzalez. US does not condone, promote
or encourage illegal migration.
3-6 New legislation provides authority to change policy, but does not
require policy change. US has made no decision on how to implement
the legislation. US has long wanted its allies to press Sudan on
human rights standards. US believes IGAD process is proper way to
pursue serious peace agreement.
6-7 No information on President Yeltsin's health, other than Russian
9 Russia must still complete a number of IMF stipulations before next
tranche of funding is disbursed. No agreement yet on when
Vollebaek mission to Chechnya will take place.
15-17 Secretary Albright will be speaking with FM Ivanov today,
discussing Chechnya and Iraq. US does not accept linkage between
the two issues. US believes a political solution must be found for
7,8 Ocalan's sentence under review by Turkish government. Death
sentence a matter for Turkish judicial system to decide. There is
no special immigration program for earthquake victims.
7-8 US pleased that talks will take place in New York starting December 3.
9-10 US calls upon P.A. to uphold internationally recognized right to
free expression. Settlements issue remains a problem.
10 Ex-President Perez Balladares has a valid tourist visa to travel to
the United States.
10-11 US calls upon Iran to uphold internationally recognized right to
11-12 US is concerned about discrepancy between statements denouncing
terrorism and acts to support terrorism. US desire to have
people-to-people exchanges remains.
13 US does not comment on ambassadorial appointments who have not yet
14 Cooperation on investigation of EgyptAir 990 remains quite good.
14 Election results are still being tabulated, making comment
14 US hopes National Zoo's efforts to acquire more giant pandas will
15 Iraq would try to make political mischief out of a papal visit.
17 US Embassy Phnom Penh received terrorist threat information
Nov. 26, allegedly sourced to an Islamic group connected to Usama
18-19 A primary US goal is encouraging human rights. Case of missing
Americans has received high priority. US has found no evidence of
government persecution of Hmong.
19 Bilateral talks, which took place in Berlin, are in recess.
19 US condemns ETA decision to end its 14-month cease-fire.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 1999, 1:00 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the State Department briefing. Sorry for
the tardiness this here on Monday after the long weekend.
Secretary of State Albright will travel to the Middle East from December
5th through December 9th. This flows out of discussions that President
Clinton had with Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin in Oslo
indicating that he wanted to see the Secretary travel to the region once or
possibly twice prior to the middle of February, which was set as a target
date by the Palestinians and the Israelis for reaching a Framework
Agreement on the permanent status issues.
The Secretary will be going to the Middle East to assess the status of
their current efforts and will be reporting back to the President. In
addition to seeing Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat, the Secretary
will also be traveling to Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt.
Secretary Albright is committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East
and the Secretary will be working with the parties, including Prime
Minister Barak, Chairman Arafat and others, to advance the prospects for
progress on these extraordinarily difficult issues. She will also be
consulting on a number of bilateral and regional issues, probably including
Iraq in her discussions in the Gulf.
That is all I have by way of statements.
QUESTION: Do you know whether President Castro of Cuba is going to attend
QUESTION: Is Dennis Ross going at the end of this week?
MR. RUBIN: I don't know his schedule. I think that the logistics might
involve the Secretary going from another location, so I don't know Dennis
QUESTION: What do you mean?
MR. RUBIN: In other words, she might be not going from Washington so he
might go there to meet her. I really don't know and I don't think it's
particularly relevant, really.
QUESTION: Well, it's just that the Israeli radio said that - anyway,
MR. RUBIN: In other words, he might arrive in Israel or the Middle East
before the Secretary gets there, if she isn't flying from Washington
directly to the Middle East.
QUESTION: Can you say why she wouldn't be flying from Washington?
MR. RUBIN: I can't give you the details of logistics at this time. She is
planning to go to the Middle East at that time. I'm not sure where the
actual starting point will be, but we'll try to get you that information.
If Ambassador Ross doesn't join her on her aircraft, it's customary for him
to go beforehand and meet her there.
QUESTION: The Castro visit to Seattle - will he or won't he be there?
MR. RUBIN: Obviously, whether he goes or doesn't go or doesn't decide is
up to him. We have not received a visa application from President Castro
but, if we do receive one, a decision will be made in accordance with
applicable law and security, logistics and transportation requirements in
Seattle. Obviously, today is Monday and the official opening is tomorrow
when Secretary Albright will be there, so the answer to your question can
best be found in Havana.
QUESTION: Do the same rules apply for a trip to Seattle that would apply
if he were to apply to go to New York and the United Nations?
MR. RUBIN: The rules would not be the same because Seattle and New York
are different places and they have different issues of security and
logistics and requirements. There is a process by which we work to provide
visas, as appropriate, and I don't think all the details of that process
are normally discussed in public except to say that when and if we receive
a visa request we will apply applicable law, including recognition of the
fact that Cuba was a founding member of the WTO.
QUESTION: The father, the natural father of this young Cuban boy, has
apparently indicated he wants the boy returned to Cuba. Any news on that,
MR. RUBIN: This young boy, Elian Gonzalez, has been paroled into the
custody of his relatives in Miami by the Immigration and Naturalization
Service. The highest concern that we have right now is for the health and
welfare of this young boy. The issues that are raised by health and welfare
and other factors will be resolved as soon as they can, but it's fair to
say the disposition of this case might ultimately be decided by the
In that regard, let me say we found it particularly outrageous and
unconscionable for Cuban officials to suggest that the United States is
responsible for the tragic deaths at sea. Let's bear in mind these people
left Cuba because of the terrible economic, social, political, legal and
security conditions that led and have led hundreds of thousands of Cuban
citizens to seek to flee their homeland - and the reasons for that are self-
We are determined to allow and promote safe, legal and orderly migration
and urge individuals in Cuba to refrain from attempting to migrate
illegally. When they are prepared to take the extraordinary risks and go
around the safe, orderly and legal process, it is a function of the
terrible deprivations they live under in Cuba. And considering how many
tens and hundreds of thousands have preceded this particular flight, I
think the blame clearly lies squarely on Cuba's shoulders for creating the
conditions and refusing to reform the country and denying the human rights
and economic conditions to these people and, therefore, it is particularly
outrageous to try to make political hay out of the deaths of people at
sea like that.
QUESTION: Can you give us an update on the health of Boris Yeltsin and
MR. RUBIN: Over there. Anybody else on Cuba?
QUESTION: The Cuban Government also says that they informed the United
States Government about those people who left Cuba. Can you deny or confirm
MR. RUBIN: What I can certainly deny in the strongest possible terms is
any suggestion that the United States bears responsibility for these deaths,
and the technicalities sought to be used by Cuban officials to thwart the
obvious fact that people are leaving Cuba as a result of the terrible
policies of Castro and putting themselves at great, great risk is truly
QUESTION: This may be a follow-up of what he asked, and the question is
did the US authorities receive any word that these people were --
MR. RUBIN: I think you're quite aware that the Coast Guard has responded
to these questions, and if you want to get into that level of detail as to
who said what to whom and who did what in the rescue effort, you're welcome
to approach the Coast Guard.
But at a political level, what this is a clear attempt to do is to transfer
blame from Cuba, which causes hundreds of thousands of its people to flee
because of the terrible conditions and human rights violations these people
suffer, and try to put the blame somewhere else. We didn't start this blame
game; we're trying to deal with this in a humanitarian way, but when people
do make those outrageous claims they need to be responded to.
QUESTION: Julia Taft told a reporter with the New York Times that she's
not in favor of what apparently is some legislation that either has or will
be signed which changes the way humanitarian aid gets to Sudan and to whom
it gets, and I wonder what your thoughts were about that.
MR. RUBIN: First of all, the legislation doesn't change the policy. It
provides authority to change policy, and we specifically made clear that we
did not support any attempt by Congress to require assistance to be
provided under this new authority. So it doesn't do anything other than
provide flexibility to the Executive Branch to make this - address this
Now, the question is for all of us what is the best way to assist the
people of Sudan as they suffer under the deprivations caused by the regime
in Sudan. We have been providing food aid. We have provided over a billion
dollars in food aid to civilians in the Sudan conflict over the past ten
years. We continue to contribute, along with other nations, to meet the
food aid needs of the people of Sudan.
So far, and to date, that food aid has been used only for the purpose of
meeting humanitarian food needs of the people of Sudan. The Foreign
Operations Appropriations legislation, which I understand the President
either has signed or will sign shortly, authorizes - again, but does not
require - the President to provide food aid to Sudanese groups engaged in
the protection of civilian populations from attacks by regular government
of Sudan forces, associated militias, or other paramilitary groups.
We have made no decision on how to implement this legislation. It is an
issue that we're going to carefully and deliberately consider in consultation
with a number of international organizations, with the Congress. In making
the decision, we have to take account a variety of factors, and some of
them competing and potentially very complex factors.
For example, we have to determine the best way to help protect civilian
populations from attacks from Sudan Government forces and militias
supported by the government. We would also need to determine whether
providing such aid would compromise the neutrality of relief organizations
and, if so, how would we mitigate any unintended impact. We would also need
to see how to ensure accountability for any food aid provided to the
Sudanese opposition and we would also want to determine what's the best way
to increase the incentives for the Sudanese Government to negotiate a
comprehensive peace through the peace process that has been established
with the Sudanese opposition.
So we've made no decision. We are going to carefully consider a number of
issues. We have worked very hard on the Sudan issue over the last ten years,
including focusing international attention on the terrible human rights
record there, including imposing economic sanction against Sudan.
We also press for UN sanctions against Sudan because of their involvement
in the assassination attempt of President Mubarak. We've supported the
peace process under the intergovernmental authority of development - that
George knows so well is called the IGAD process. We also appointed a
special envoy - former Congressman Harry Johnston - to strengthen that
So Sudan is a very complex issue. There's a number of competing objectives
that we need to take into account and competing interests that are at play
here, but I think the implication that a new policy is forthcoming as a
result of an authority in the law is overstated.
QUESTION: The article in the New York Times seemed to suggest that
officials here in the Africa Bureau -- Susan Rice and her counterpart at
the White House -- weren't sort of at the stage of considering and not yet
coming to a decision, but that they were, in fact, very strongly in favor
of this approach and a move that seems to be opposed by a number of
humanitarian groups who are worried about their integrity being called into
MR. RUBIN: The last time I checked, the Secretary of State makes
decisions like this and so I think the fact that you can find differences
in the government is not new. The government is not a one-entity that has a
uniformity of positions on every subject. Government has to deliberate and
discuss. Bureaus often disagree. I admit that I considered bringing some
laundry detergent this morning as a result of the hanging out of some of
our dirty laundry, but this is not new to us. This is what we go through
But these are lower-level officials as opposed to the Secretary, who has to
make the decision based on recommendations from a number of different
organizations. Obviously the advice of Susan Rice - her trusted advisor on
Africa issues - is critical, and others, including Julia Taft. So this is
an issue that will be weighed based on the criteria that I quite candidly
shared with you.
QUESTION: Hasn't the fact that this rare kind of on-the-record admission
of some kind of dissension in the ranks - is it fair to say that the
discussion about this policy has been particularly lively in this
MR. RUBIN: No, not livelier than a lot of - I've seen a lot of policy
debates and I wouldn't regard this a particularly lively debate.
QUESTION: Is this change something that Garang specifically asked for in
Kenya when he met with --
MR. RUBIN: I believe they've sought this for some time, yes.
QUESTION: They have, okay. Now on -
MR. RUBIN: Keep going - I'm here for you. I'm armed for battle.
QUESTION: The Sudanese Foreign Minister has just announced that he is
going to visit Germany and France.
MR. RUBIN: Who?
QUESTION: The Sudanese Foreign Minister, whose name I'm sure you know
much better than myself. But do you have any reaction to this? You know,
here it is - the US is just contemplating changing a policy to supply aid
to the rebels and here is the foreign minister of the government going to
visit two allies - ostensible allies in this area.
MR. RUBIN: I assume you meant Mr. Ali Osman Mohamed Taha. Is that the
QUESTION: That would be it.
MR. RUBIN: I thought that's who you meant. I fail to see the connection
that the Sudanese foreign minister is traveling - I don't understand your
QUESTION: You're about to - the Administration is about to begin
MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't assume we're about to make any decision.
QUESTION: I didn't say that, Jamie. I said about to begin considering a
possible change in policy. You don't see any problem with him going to
Germany and France?
MR. RUBIN: We certainly have long wanted our allies to pressure the
Sudanese Government to comply with international standards on human rights.
This isn't the first time the Sudanese ministers have traveled; it won't be
the last time they travel and, when they travel, we encourage our allies to
make the points necessary. We've met with Sudanese officials; there's
nothing strange about that.
QUESTION: And then, one part of the Sudanese rebels has signed some kind
of a peace treaty with the government - they signed it in Djibouti and the
SPLA has rejected it as being a farce. Do you have anything to say about
MR. RUBIN: Obviously if you don't have the main rebel groups dealing with
the peace agreement, you're not going to have a peace agreement; and we
think that the IGAD process is the way to pursue a serious peace agreement
and if the Sudanese Government were serious about pursuing a peace
agreement, they would be trying to engage through the work of our special
envoy and several others who have made themselves available to help; and
that this particular development doesn't address the main concern that
we've all had that Sudan's crackdown on human rights, its deliberate
policies of deprivation and its refusal to approach peace seriously
is the ultimate cause of the problem.
QUESTION: Now, bringing this around to my first other question --
MR. RUBIN: You're bringing it all back home?
QUESTION: Exactly. One of the reasons that the foreign minister is
traveling to Germany and France - he says - is to present this peace
agreement and show the Europeans how Khartoum is committed to peace. Would
you like to see the French and the Germans say what you have just said,
that you don't think that this agreement, with only one side of the --
MR. RUBIN: It seems like you're really searching to try to create a
little news angle here. I think the French and the German ministers know
our position quite well and that nothing I've said here today will surprise
them at all. I do not expect that any of our allies will suddenly think
that Sudan has changed its stripes and is suddenly an advocate of peace and
human rights as a result of one visit or one particular action.
QUESTION: Can we go back to an update on the hospitalization of Yeltsin
if you have any information?
MR. RUBIN: I don't have any direct information on that; I would be
relying on Russian press reports, which I would have no ability to judge
for you. So we're aware of the press reports.
QUESTION: There are different sides to the same story. A Canadian company
which is one of the foremost investors in the oil in Sudan has applied for
application on the New York Stock Exchange. In recent weeks human rights
activists, religious freedom advocates, had had met with the President and
his National Security Advisor about this. We have yet to hear whether that
will be allowed or how it will be interpreted -- as a violation or not of
US sanctions against Sudan? Anything on that?
MR. RUBIN: I can try to get that for you. I think there has been no - I
have nothing new for you on that.
QUESTION: Last week Turkish appeals court uphold the PKK terrorist leader
Abdul Ocalan death sentence. Then several European countries used this
decision as a blackmail against Turkey. If they doesn't say --
MR. RUBIN: Do you think they would agree with that characterization?
QUESTION: They did, because they said that if you don't save Ocalan's
life, we don't want to sell the tank or we don't want to accept the
European Union. What is the United States view on the subject?
MR. RUBIN: Our view is a follows: Ocalan was tried in Turkey by a state
security court, convicted of treason, and sentenced to death. On November
25th, his conviction and sentence were upheld by the Circuit Court of
Appeals. Although the case is now complete within the Turkish judicial
system, in the Turkish system - as I'm sure you know - Ocalan's sentence
must be approved by the cabinet, confirmed by a parliamentary vote, and
then approved by the President. The case also may be appealed to the
European Court of Human Rights. That is the procedural situation.
We have made our views on the trial known in the past. Given the process I
have just outlined, further comment would not be appropriate at this
With respect to the death sentence, this is a question for the Turkish
judicial system, parliament and President to decide. All such cases must be
confirmed by a parliamentary vote and then approved by the President.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders will be in New
York at the end of this week. Are you hopeful on this meeting?
MR. RUBIN: We are pleased that talks will begin under UN auspices
starting on December 3rd in New York. The purpose of these talks is to
prepare the ground for meaningful negotiations leading to a comprehensive
settlement. We believe these talks should be substantive. They will be held
under the good offices of the Secretary General of the United Nations. They
will discuss core issues, including security, governance and territory.
In addition, obviously either side may bring other issues to the
table. So that is our view on the upcoming talks.
QUESTION: In the past, the United States give some extended immigration
quotas after some disaster or some unexpected events. After the Turkish
earthquake, are you planning to extend Turkish immigration quotas for the
MR. RUBIN: Since the earthquake occurred on August 17th, the United
States has given more than $15 million worth of direct aid to Turkey and
continues to provide assistance in the areas of health, temporary shelter
and reconstruction. There is no special emigration program for earthquake
QUESTION: Can I ask about the Middle East?
MR. RUBIN: Yes.
QUESTION: Can we stick with Turkey and Greece? There is a report in a
Greek newspaper today that an American naval ship dropped an atomic bomb
into the Aegean. Have you seen that?
MR. RUBIN: I haven't even seen the report, nor do I have a reaction to
QUESTION: Is it correct that Israel's new Defense Ministry Director
General is in the United States, and does the United States have a position
on his appointment?
MR. RUBIN: I think with respect to his appointment, I believe we've
regarded that as an internal matter. As far as his location is concerned,
I'll have to check that for you.
QUESTION: And will Secretary Albright seek to mediate the deadlock over
the hand-over of 5 percent of West Bank land that's been delayed?
MR. RUBIN: It certainly would be our hope that by the time Secretary
Albright arrives that that issue would be resolved. We think it's an
inherently resolvable issue. The parties have worked closely together on a
number of aspects of implementation of the Sharm el-Sheik accords and it's
certainly her intention to try to focus on the permanent status issues and
try to intensify our efforts in that regard given the fact that February is
approaching and we're not that far away from some very big decisions
that have to be made.
So we think that that's an issue, the one you raised, that we would
certainly hope would be resolved prior to her arrival.
QUESTION: One last very quick one on this.
MR. RUBIN: He wasn't quick so you don't have to be quick.
QUESTION: Thank you. Are you aware of a report that Nelson Mandela has
been trying to set up an Israeli-Syrian summit, and is it true?
MR. RUBIN: I'm aware of reports to that effect and suggestions to that
effect. I think Prime Minister Barak made clear that he sees the current
process as the best chance to advance peace for the people of the Middle
East, and we certainly agree with that.
QUESTION: What do you have to say about Ivanov's rejection of any OSCE
mediation in Chechnya? And, also, do you have any comments on what Michel
Camdessus had to say about IMF possibly withholding --
MR. RUBIN: On the IMF issue, let me state very clearly what the procedure
is. Russia must still complete a number of actions before consideration of
the next tranche of financial action by the board of the International
Monetary Fund. We, as a leading member of the Fund, will make our decision
only after these actions have been taken, the specific actions pursuant
to the agreement between the IMF and Russia; and after those actions
have been taken and we've had a chance to review them, then and only then
will we make a decision on how to proceed. So that's where that stands.
With respect to the situation, I know that Secretary Albright is scheduled,
or may have already spoken to Foreign Minister Ivanov on a number of
subjects, including Chechnya and Iraq. With respect to Chairman-in-Office
Vollebaek's mission, we understand that Chairman-in-Office Vollebaek and
Foreign Minister Ivanov have not yet come to an agreement on when
Vollebaek's visit will take place. We certainly hope and expect that Russia
will live up to the agreements reached during the Istanbul Summit.
QUESTION: When? Isn't it question also of "if" at the moment?
MR. RUBIN: In our view, we hope and expect that Russia will live up to
the agreements reached during the Istanbul Summit.
QUESTION: Did you see the reports that a number of critics of Chairman
Arafat were arrested over the weekend? And I wonder if the State Department
has a position on that.
MR. RUBIN: I am familiar with these reports that indicate that seven
Palestinians were arrested for signing a protest statement. We are
concerned about any actions that limit the freedom of expression and
peaceful dissent in the Palestinian Authority. We will be closely
monitoring events and call upon the Palestinian Authority to uphold the
internationally recognized right to freedom of peaceful expression.
Incitement to violence, however, would be another matter and does require a
vigorous response. So that is our reaction to those events.
QUESTION: Have you seen the report that the Palestinian negotiator in the
Framework talks has issued a statement that there will be no further talks
or movement unless the Israelis cease expansion of a planned 1,000 units of
MR. RUBIN: I've seen a number of statements to that effect a number of
times over the last recent weeks about their concerns in that regard. I'm
not aware that this is deemed to be a major new problem. It's been a
QUESTION: Has the United States talked to the Israelis about the wisdom
of continuing expansion of settlements during these extraordinarily
MR. RUBIN: For some time. I think there is nothing new about the fact
that we've indicated that creating the right kind of environment for
promoting peace in the Middle East is particularly important, and steps
that are unhelpful to that environment should be avoided.
QUESTION: A different subject. In recent days there has been contradictory
information about the visa situation of former Panamanian President Ernesto
MR. RUBIN: I hope I can clarify that contradictory information.
QUESTION: Yes. Do you have anything on whether his visa has been
suspended or a decision has been made not to extend a new visa?
MR. RUBIN: President Perez Balladares has a valid tourist visa which was
issued to him in July of this year. With this visa he is able to travel
freely to the United States. Do you think that clarifies the situation?
QUESTION: Can you tell me how long it lasts?
MR. RUBIN: I thought I had clarified that situation about as much as I
QUESTION: Has there been any decision about if the Secretary is going to
travel or stay in Panama during the ceremony?
MR. RUBIN: If I have any announcement about the Secretary's travel, I
will provide that to you in the normal fashion.
QUESTION: Iran - the moderate journalist, whose name I don't remember -
Nouri -- , was convicted. I'm wondering if you have any reaction to the
sentence handed down against him and if the United States is still
determined to seek rapprochement with the Iranian authorities?
And also, last week I noticed that there was -- a State Department official
was quoted by one news service as saying that there is suspicion and there
is evidence that the Iranians have once again begun to support terrorist
groups and that there had been some kind of a terrorism summit in Tehran
with the aim of disrupting the peace process.
MR. RUBIN: Let me say, with respect to the Mr. Nouri, we call on the
government of Iran to uphold international human rights standards,
including the right to freedom of expression. That is our view on that
With respect to terrorism, let me say that we are concerned by the
discrepancy between Iranian official statements denouncing terrorism and
acts of support to terrorist groups which use violence against the peace
process. Senior officials of Iran have publicly denounced terrorism and we
believe that those statements are important. But it is reasonable for us to
expect that the actions and policies of the Islamic Republic should reflect
Unfortunately, so far this has not been the case. Iran was harshly critical
of the Wye Agreement; again criticized a recent Sharm el-Sheik Agreement
and Iran's Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon has threatened Chairman Arafat's life
for the making of peace with Israel.
This is no small matter at a time when the Arab world is looking towards a
future of peace and reconciliation. Iran is encouraging terrorist activity
involving Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Ahmed Jibril's
PFLP-GC with the intention of destroying the hopes of all Arabs and
Israelis to achieve a comprehensive peace.
We have made clear to Iran that there cannot be an improvement in relations
until Iran takes meaningful steps to end its support for terrorism and
cooperates in the fight against terrorism, and there cannot be a lifting of
the sanctions we imposed in the absence of meaningful steps to those
QUESTION: Does that mean now that Iran is encouraging terrorism -- that
statement -- that you're still going to continue to get these consular
officials to go there on a temporary basis? Are you still pursuing
MR. RUBIN: Again, with respect to your first question and now your last
question, you seem to be mixing apples and oranges. The fact that there are
human rights problems in Iran; that Mr. Nouri received this sentence,
doesn't make it any less of our interest to have a meeting in which we
could raise our issues of concern on weapons of mass destruction, on
opposition of the peace process, and stopping the support for terrorism.
Those are issues that we believe are important, that affect our national
interests, so we're not deterred from seeking to pursue our national
interest because there is another example of violation of international
Similarly, the United States believes that people-to-people exchanges
between Iran and the United States are important; that the more the people
of the United States and the people of Iran understand each other and
appreciate each other's concerns and interests, the better chance it is to
improve relations which, of course, would require improvements in the
issues of concern to the United States.
When we indicated a desire to send consular officials there it was for a
very simple purpose: to visas facilities that provide visas to the people
of Iran to the United States, to promote people-to-people exchanges. We
wouldn't be focused so heavily on people-to-people exchanges if the
government-to-government relations were all fine and rosy. So the fact that
government-to-government relations are not improving doesn't make it less
of our interest to improve the people-to-people programs.
QUESTION: I wasn't trying to draw a link between Nouri and the --
MR. RUBIN: You said, "Given what just happened, are you still trying the
QUESTION: No, I was trying - when I asked it the second time I was
talking about the terrorism.
MR. RUBIN: Well, again --
QUESTION: You've just come up and said that Iran is encouraging terrorism,
which you haven't said for a long time.
MR. RUBIN: Right. The fact that Iran - when Secretary Albright reached
out to the people of Iran in her speech and promoted a road map to normal
relations in her speech at the Asia Society, we had, at that time, serious
concerns and real problems with Iranian support for terrorism. Those
concerns haven't gone away. The fact that in some respects it has been
stepped up doesn't change the basic conclusion that the more the people of
Iran and the people of the United States can interact, the greater
the chances for our mutual interest to be served.
QUESTION: Mr. Rubin, do you have any comment on reports coming out of
Colombia that Iranian terrorists and Iranian military advisors are involved
now in training the FARK troops now under the guise of some kind of cold-
storage project? And is this true? Can you tell us - what does it
MR. RUBIN: I have no comment on that. I don't know anything about
QUESTION: Before I ask a question I have to file for the record a
protest. It is in no way to put you down because you are doing a great job,
but South Asian journalists - we have been already ignored when the
Secretary is here asking questions. And if you think we are a burden, then
in the future I think, please you should invite only those people who you
think you will ask them to ask questions.
And my question is --
MR. RUBIN: Before you get that let me answer you point - is that I try to
QUESTION: If you feel it is a discrimination or kind of disconnection or
ignoring the South Asian journalists.
MR. RUBIN: I think that those journalists who make a practice of coming
to the briefing every day are the ones that I try to give priority to in
answering the questions, and that is the way I approach it; and those who
are occasionally show up when it's convenient for them are ones that I
don't give a priority to. The discrimination is based on those who show an
interest in the daily briefing each day and not just when the Secretary of
State comes up.
So I'm certainly sorry that some of you felt that way, but that's the
reason and there is a priority given to those who come every day.
QUESTION: It was 35 minutes that I - everybody in the room was given the
chance - 35 minutes it took me for you to get to me.
Anyway, the question is that if you can update please on the Pakistani
ambassador to the US, because, according to press reports in Pakistan and
in India and also in Washington in the Washington Times and the India Globe
and all that, she - there are charges against her of corruption, also,
Number two, Pakistani-American community are against in Washington earlier
and it has been reported in the Washington Times and among other papers.
And number three, those groups are saying that she has connections with JUI
with (inaudible) in Pakistan, or the anti-American terrorist organization
and (inaudible). And what they are asking is that it's a bad choice for
Washington to bring her back to Washington as the ambassador to the
MR. RUBIN: Right. We don't normally comment on ambassadors that have not
received agrement or any decision has been made. We don't comment on
reported names of ambassadors.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. Can I just follow? If she's coming next week on the
4th or 5th of December to Washington as ambassador or where is our case
standing on this?
MR. RUBIN: If you want to know her schedule and on what basis she's
traveling here, it's not my understanding she's traveling here in any
official capacity, so I'd encourage you to pose your question to the
Embassy of Pakistan and they would be in a position to give you travel
information on a Pakistani citizen who's not coming in an official
I don't know what her schedule is. I'm prohibited from commenting, as I
think you know from asking me the same question more or less over the last
month, and each time I am forced to give you the same answer, which is that
I can't comment on the reported naming of an individual who hasn't yet been
named. So that's why you'll have to approach the Pakistani Embassy.
QUESTION: So her case is still under review?
MR. RUBIN: That isn't what I said in any way, shape or form.
QUESTION: There have been some conflicting reports out of the region so
I'm hoping you might be able to tell us, have US authorities requested an
interview or to speak with relatives of Mr. Batouti?
MR. RUBIN: The investigators would have to answer that question. I don't
know what they've sought. I know that my general impression is that the
cooperation level is considered quite good.
QUESTION: Do you have any --
MR. RUBIN: I hope this question doesn't have a name in it.
QUESTION: Well it does, actually. Do you have any concerns about the
Malaysian election which Mahathir's party appears to have soundly won even
though Anwar's wife has won a seat in the parliament?
MR. RUBIN: Yes. On the Malaysian election, the results are still being
tabulated and it would be premature for us to make comments until they are
fully tabulated. We understand voter turnout was good and the polling was
peaceful. US Embassy officials observed the balloting at a number of
polling stations. There have been some reports of irregularities, but it's
the Malaysian Election Commission that's in charge of investigating such
allegations. So we're still awaiting final results.
QUESTION: A panda question.
MR. RUBIN: A what?
QUESTION: A panda question. Is the State Department trying to help the
Washington Zoo in its quest for new pandas?
MR. RUBIN: We are saddened by the news of the death of Hsing-Hsing. He
and his mate, Ling-Ling, who died in 1992, were presented as a gesture of
friendship by the People's Republic of China in 1972. The two pandas
brought joy to millions of Americans and helped raise public awareness of
the threat to endangered species around the world.
We understand that the National Zoo is currently engaged in negotiations
with China to secure a long-term loan of another pair of giant pandas, and
we certainly hope their efforts will be successful and we will obviously be
available to assist, if necessary.
QUESTION: Are you all - can you say if you all are involved?
MR. RUBIN: I don't think we are involved at this stage, but I think we
certainly hope for successful arrangements and would be available if that
QUESTION: Do you have anything new about the proposed or the possible
visit of the Pope to Iraq? There was a Reuters report over the weekend
suggesting that in fact he is still planning to go.
MR. RUBIN: You'd have to address to the Vatican the question of his
travel plans. Our view has certainly been we would want to certainly advise
His Holiness that Iraq would certainly try to make political mischief out
of any international travel to Iraq, especially by someone that the world
holds in such great esteem as His Holiness the Pope. So we would want to
urge them not to allow themselves to be manipulated or used for propaganda
purposes during the course of the trip. That's been the extent of our
discussion with them to date, but what their final plans are I do not
QUESTION: The Embassy in Phnom Penh has shut down some of its services,
curtailed and apparently reduced its staff because of a threat reportedly
from Usama bin Laden. Do you know anything about this?
MR. RUBIN: No, I don't.
QUESTION: They put out a statement.
MR. RUBIN: I always appreciate it when the embassy puts a statement out
and doesn't provide any guidance to the Spokesman, and I'll let them know
how much I appreciate that.
QUESTION: If I may go back to Russia and the IMF.
MR. RUBIN: Yes.
QUESTION: You said that - you talked - to see what Russia did before you
decided how to proceed, but you also said that Secretary Albright would be
speaking to the Minister today.
MR. RUBIN: Right.
QUESTION: Could you tell us what message she'll be delivering?
MR. RUBIN: She'll be talking about Chechnya with Foreign Minister Ivanov.
Obviously, we have some profound concerns about the way in which Russia is
prosecuting this war and the indiscriminate damage that has been done and
the effect on civilians, and our views about the lack of a long-term
strategy to deal with the problem in the absence of political dialogue. So
that will certainly be part of her discussion with Foreign Minister
I also expect her to be discussing the Iraq resolution that has been before
the Security Council in New York. The work in New York appears to have come
to a close. It's really now in the hands of capitals and ministers to make
a decision. It's our view that all the necessary work has been accomplished;
that it's time now to move to develop a consensus, as much of a consensus
as possible, and get a resolution with as much support as possible - and
that work will be discussed between ministers.
QUESTION: If I may ask the question another way, will there be any link
drawn with the IMF funding in this conversation if she doesn't hear what
she wants to hear?
MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't be in a position to comment on the specifics of her
conversation. I understand your question, and what I can tell you about it
is: before one addresses the question whether one supports this loan in
principle, there are a number of things the Russians have to do to satisfy
the IMF, and we will not address ourselves to our decision as to whether to
support the loan until they have met those steps. As far as what people
might be thinking or not thinking, I just don't think it's helpful to
speculate in public.
QUESTION: The same subject. Could I ask, I guess, the same question. Are
there perhaps any additional measures the US might be considering now to
express its displeasure about the situation in Chechnya? And I know you've
addressed this other bit before, but there continue to be news reports
about Moscow attempting to link this to Chechnya to --
MR. RUBIN: Iraq. I think that we certainly wouldn't accept any linkage by
Moscow, if indeed they are serious, to our views and approaches and
policies on Iraq to their views about our concerns on Chechnya. It's simply
a non-starter, as much as anything can be a non-starter. We have strong and
principled views about Iraq and about Chechnya, and there is no link - no
way, no shape, whatsoever - in our position, nor is a link possible.
If the Russians indicate that they will be more cooperative on an Iraq
resolution because of something we may or may not do anyway on Chechnya,
all they're doing is showing that their position on Iraq is not a strong
one; that they don't believe it as strongly as they might otherwise argue,
so they end up shooting themselves in the foot diplomatically by even
suggesting such a thing - not to mention - well, I think I've said enough
With respect to what may be considered in the US Government, obviously
we're all deeply and profoundly troubled by what's going on in Chechnya,
and we've made our views known in a number of ways. We're going to continue
to make our views known. I think increasingly the international community
wants to see Russia pursue a political solution. That is what Chairman-in-
Office Vollebaek is doing, and that involvement of the Chairman-in-Office
is a step certainly in the right direction. But what we might also be
considering I think would be inappropriate to speculate on in public.
QUESTION: On Chechnya, just to follow up, has the reports from Mr. Putin
in Moscow say that he says there will be no negotiations in Chechnya, and I
wonder if that's the same word that the Russians are giving United States
officials that they will not negotiate.
MR. RUBIN: I don't think that that broad statement comports with what I
understand them to have said publicly. I'm not going to be in a position to
comment on what they've told us privately. That would be inappropriate.
We have certainly told them privately - and we can certainly say what our
private views are and our public views - which is that they are going to
have to find interlocutors to come up with a political solution or this
will go on indefinitely, and that it's not an issue that can be resolved on
a long-term basis on the battlefield; that there have to be interlocutors.
I'll leave it to the Russians to specify their views publicly themselves.
QUESTION: The Russians are saying that their goal is to completely wipe
out the Islamic fundamentalists, what they call terrorists. How does the US
react to that particular --
MR. RUBIN: We certainly share and recognize Russia's right to deal with a
terrorist threat in its own country, and we certainly recognize that right.
The question right now is the effect it's having on civilians, the hundreds
of thousands of people that have been displaced, and the fact that over the
long term in the absence of political dialogue, we don't see how they can
achieve their objectives.
QUESTION: On Southeast Asia again --
MR. RUBIN: Can I just interrupt? I think I take back half of what I said,
that the US Embassy did receive information on Friday, November 26th, of a
purported terrorist threat against diplomatic installations in Phnom Penh,
including the US Embassy. This purported threat is directed only at
selected diplomatic missions and not at the public at large. The threat
allegedly is sourced to an Islamic extremist group linked to terrorist
Usama bin Laden, accused of masterminding the two Embassy bombings
in August 1998.
We are continuing to assess the credibility of the threat. There have been
certain precautionary measures taken, including the Embassy remaining open
with reduced staffing but only providing emergency services to American
citizens. American citizens seeking non-emergency services should call the
QUESTION: In that report do you have any information about this group
that's tied to bin Laden trying to set up bases on the Thai-Cambodian
MR. RUBIN: I think we would regard any further detail to be not
appropriate, given the situation.
QUESTION: Can I go on to a neighboring country?
MR. RUBIN: Yes.
QUESTION: Over the past couple of weeks there has been a lot of concern
expressed about Hmong refugees in Thailand.
MR. RUBIN: Boy, you knew how to pronounce that. You did that very
QUESTION: And then, of course, today there was a story in a newspaper
here in Washington about the disappearance of two Americans. I'm just
wondering what the State Department's policy is towards the forced
repatriation of these Hmong from Thailand back into Laos.
MR. RUBIN: One of our primary goals in Laos is to encourage the promotion
of human rights. Our Embassy in Vientiane monitors the situation closely
and tries to engage the Lao on democracy and human rights issues. We will
continue to pursue these issues of concern.
With respect to the two missing American citizens, the welfare of American
citizens overseas is the Department's highest priority. The case has
received full attention since the disappearances. Our Embassy in Vientiane
and Department officials in Washington have repeatedly pressed the Lao
Government at senior levels for their help in determining the whereabouts
of these two citizens, including their cooperation in aiding a US-led
investigation of the case.
After the Lao responded in early June that they had no information on the
whereabouts of the two men, the State Department proposed to the Lao
Government that the US and Laos conduct a joint fact-finding mission. The
Lao agreed and a joint team went to several provinces in July and most
recently in November. The first mission was inconclusive and the second
mission requires follow-up investigation.
With respect to the forced repatriations in July of this year, final
agreement was reached among Laos, Thailand and the United Nations to return
all remaining residents, including Hmong who have been determined not to be
refugees under international and US law. Pursuant to that agreement, two
groups have been voluntarily returned to Laos from the camp: 261 people on
September 28th and 350 on October 18th. A third group has been scheduled to
move by the end of this month.
International observers, including US Embassy staff who attended the first
returns, were satisfied that they were conducted professionally and upheld
the dignity and safety of camp residents. The remaining groups of Lao in
the camp are scheduled to be returned by the end of the year.
We share the view of the United Nations and the Royal Thai Government that
it is safe for those determined not to be refugees to return to Laos. There
have been allegations that Hmong returnees upon their return have been
singled out for persecution. We have found no evidence to confirm that the
Lao Government engages in the systematic violation of the Hmong minority's
human rights as part of a nationwide policy. They do not suffer persecutions
at the hands of the government. Individual instances of human rights
abuse do exist and there is societal discrimination against the Hmong in
Laos but, in our view, not as part of an orchestrated government policy.
QUESTION: What about the Hmong that are veterans of - there are some - a
couple hundred, I think, in this group that was repatriated last week and
some of the ones that are going to go back --
MR. RUBIN: I don't think the subquestion of discrimination against Hmong
veterans changes the general conclusion about government sponsorship as
opposed to societal discrimination.
QUESTION: Right. But there was an effort here in the US to try and get
these people to the US. You don't know anything about that?
MR. RUBIN: I'll have to check on the specific detail on that.
QUESTION: This morning William Perry gave an update on disarmament talks
in Berlin with North Korea and mentioned that there would be a high-level
delegation coming to Washington. I was wondering if that's moved into the
planning stages yet.
MR. RUBIN: I don't know what Dr. Perry said. I believe we are intending
to reschedule talks about that high-level delegation, but those talks have
not been rescheduled - the ones that were recessed in Berlin. So it would
be premature to announce a high-level trip when we haven't even announced
the beginning of negotiations about the high-level trip.
QUESTION: One more real quick one. This is the last one. Do you have
anything to say about ETA's decision to go back on their cease-fire?
MR. RUBIN: On that subject, let me say that we condemn the decision by
the ETA to turn away from the path of peace and return to the trail of
terror. The people of Spain have enjoyed a welcome period of calm from the
fear of attack and bloodshed during this 14-month period. We call upon ETA
to renounced unequivocally its use of violence and terrorism to enforce a
political point of view. This condemnation has been shared by Spanish
political leaders across the political spectrum.
(The briefing concluded at 2:00 P.M.)