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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #144, 99-11-29

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>


1165

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

I N D E X

Monday, November 29, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

MIDDLE EAST
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. 
CUBA
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. 
SUDAN
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. 
RUSSIA
6-7	No information on President Yeltsin's health, other than Russian
	 press reporting. 
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
	 Chechnya.  
TURKEY
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. 
CYPRUS
7-8	US pleased that talks will take place in New York starting December 3.
PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
9-10	US calls upon P.A. to uphold internationally recognized right to
	 free expression. Settlements issue remains a problem. 
PANAMA
10	Ex-President Perez Balladares has a valid tourist visa to travel to
	 the United States. 
IRAN
10-11	US calls upon Iran to uphold internationally recognized right to
	 free expression. 
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. 
PAKISTAN
13	US does not comment on ambassadorial appointments who have not yet
	 received agrement. 
EGYPT
14	Cooperation on investigation of EgyptAir 990 remains quite good.
MALAYSIA
14	Election results are still being tabulated, making comment
	 inappropriate. 
CHINA
14	US hopes National Zoo's efforts to acquire more giant pandas will
	 be successful. 
IRAQ
15	Iraq would try to make political mischief out of a papal visit.
CAMBODIA
17	US Embassy Phnom Penh received terrorist threat information
	 Nov. 26, allegedly sourced to an Islamic group connected to Usama
	 bin Laden. 
LAOS
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.  
NORTH KOREA
19	Bilateral talks, which took place in Berlin, are in recess.
SPAIN
19	US condemns ETA decision to end its 14-month cease-fire.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #144

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 the --

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 Ross' whereabouts.

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, never mind.

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, any position?

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 courts.

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- evident.

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 his hospitalization?

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 that?

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 unconscionable.

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 decision.

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 process.

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 question.

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 every day.

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 building?

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 guy?

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.

QUESTION: You're about to - the Administration is about to begin considering --

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 that?

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 time.

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 United States?

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 victims.

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 it.

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 settlements?

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 continuing problem.

QUESTION: Has the United States talked to the Israelis about the wisdom of continuing expansion of settlements during these extraordinarily difficult negotiations?

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 Perez Balladares.

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 can.

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 issue.

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 these statements.

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 ends.

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 this?

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 human rights.

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 rapprochement?"

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 mean?

MR. RUBIN: I have no comment on that. I don't know anything about it.

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 give --

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 one.

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 US.

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 capacity.

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 becomes useful.

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 know.

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 Ivanov.

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 on that.

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 Embassy.

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 border?

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 well.

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.)


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