U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #148, 99-12-03
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
Friday, December 3, 1999
Briefer: James P. Rubin
1 FRY (SERBIA): US regrets stoppage of heating oil plan.
1 DROC: US deeply concerned by reports of rebel attacks.
2,4 Secretary Albright considers it important to stop there on her
upcoming trip. Terrorism can be expected to be discussed.
2-4 Sec. Albright & Russian FM Ivanov spoke about Iraq UNSC resolution
this morning. She also has spoken with UK FM Cook and French FM
Vedrine about Iraq. US believes resolution meets necessary
requirements. US goal is for broadest possible support for it.
18 US hopes Vatican would not allow itself to be manipulated in a
visit to Iraq.
MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
4 Fighting terrorism is the sine qua non for progress on peace process.
8-9 Has been support on Capitol Hill for Wye River process. Premature
to speculate on costs of implementing Mideast peace.
15 One day closer to Secretary's arrival, solution to hand-over of
additional 5 percent of Israeli land has not been reached.
4-5 US aim is to have official dialogue about issues of concern,
including support for terrorism. US has not received hoped-for
responses, on terrorism cooperation or on visas for Iranians to
come to the US.
9-11 US believes Iran is an important country, located in an important
region, and that people of the two countries would benefit from
interaction. A group of Iranian clerics, who came to the US,
complained of their treatment at the airport, and left.
5-8 Serbia will not have all the oil it needs this winter; it is
cynical to refuse EU-provided oil. Previous US concerns centered
on whether heating oil would be allowed to reach intended
recipients. Since Milosevic is an indicted war criminal, US
believes it inappropriate to invite him anywhere but The Hague.
15 Has been a general refusal on Capitol Hill to fund national
security initiatives. US trying to step up support for helping
11-15 Sec. Albright asked FM Ivanov about extremely troubling report of
killing of 250 Russian soldiers. She stated US opposition actions
in Chechnya. FM Ivanov restated Russian policy, assured
Sec. Albright the OSCE visit would go forward. Chechen rebel
tactics play a part in the Chechnya situation as well. US has been
concerned for some time over links between international terrorism
and Chechen and other rebels. Russia is still completing economic
conditions required by its IMF program.
16 No comment on UN-sponsored talks while they are in progress.
16-17 Deputy Assistant Secretary Bennett Freeman visited, discussed human
rights issues, including practice of interrogations.
17-18 US has extensive sanctions regime in place. Each one addresses
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3, 1999, 12:50 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the State Department briefing, today,
Friday's briefing, the fifth briefing in this week of five days, the last
briefing I shall conduct in the millennium, the second millennium; and when
I brief you again it will be the third millennium. I don't know what the
significance of that is, but it's true.
QUESTION: The real millennium -- (Inaudible)?
MR. RUBIN: It depends on how you count it. I know there is some dispute
on that but I think you should probably discuss that extensively December
31st with whomever you're with.
Let me start with a couple of statements on this here last briefing of the
millennium. First of all the United States regrets the decision by Serbia
to not allow the humanitarian shipments that the European Union has made
available to go into Nis and Pirot and Serbia. We believe this is a cynical
maneuver designed to manipulate public opinion after Belgrade developed one
false obstacle after another. If the regime of President Milosevic really
cared about the welfare of its citizens, it would allow these and
other humanitarian fuel shipments that the EU has put together to
move forward and reach their destinations. So we deplore the decision
of Serbia, and obviously the European Union announced that it was going to
return these trucks to Skopjie pending any ability to have confidence that
the aid would go to the intended recipients.
Secondly, in Africa the United States is deeply concerned and troubled by
reports of rebel attacks on Congolese and allied Zimbabwean and Namibian
troops encircled near the town of Ikela. The United States calls on the
rebel forces to halt these attacks immediately and abide by their
commitments under the Lusaka Accords.
We express our grave concern about reports of Congolese government
offensive military operations in the Equateur province. We strongly condemn
these flagrant violations of the cease-fire. These repeated cease-fire
violations erode the confidence of the people of Central Africa and of the
There are no valid reasons for any force with troops in the Democratic
Republic of Congo to conduct active military operations. We urge participants
in the Lusaka process to use the joint military commission or bilateral
context to resolve the disputes. We will hold responsible any government or
rebel organization that violates the Accord and we call on regional leaders
to use their influence with the Congolese government and rebel forces to
assure full compliance with the Lusaka Accords.
With those statements, let me go to your questions.
QUESTION: Could you tell us -- maybe we'll hear a little more on the
plane -- but the Secretary's first stop apparently is Saudi Arabia. Could
you give us an idea of what that's all about besides touching base with an
MR. RUBIN: Well, I think you probably will hear more in the coming days,
but Secretary Albright's last trip to the Middle East did not include a
stop in Saudi Arabia, so she thought it was important that this trip did.
We have a close friendship with the government in Saudi Arabia.
I would expect, given the recent heightened activity in our discussions
with Russia and others about the Iraq question, that that would feature
prominently in her discussion with the leaders in Saudi Arabia. I would
also expect her to discuss extensively where we are in the peace process
and where we're going and what steps she intends to urge on the parties in
her stops in Damascus, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
QUESTION: What would you be seeking from Saudi Arabia in terms of
contributing to moving the Iraq issue forward?
MR. RUBIN: I didn't indicate that we were seeking anything. I indicated
that we intended to brief them on the state of play. We certainly think
it's important for Saudi Arabia and other countries that live in the region
where Saddam Hussein poses the most acute threat to understand what the
next steps are, to be as supportive as possible of getting all the
countries of the world to support a resolution requiring Iraqi compliance,
and we certainly would hope that Saudi Arabia and other countries in the
region that feel the threat from Saddam Hussein most acutely would urge
other countries to be supportive of what we're trying to do.
QUESTION: Today's Wall Street Journal reports that the administration is
set to call for a vote next week and that there is apparently an expectation
that Russia and France and China would abstain. Could you comment on
MR. RUBIN: I think that I can't confirm either of those basic points in
that story in that normally very accurate newspaper. Let me say this:
Secretary Albright spoke to Foreign Minister Ivanov this morning. They have
a very good and constructive discussion about the Iraq issue.
Foreign Minister Ivanov informed Secretary Albright that he was instructing
Ambassador Lavrov, their UN Ambassador, to return to New York to discuss
the specific details of the resolution with our people in New York,
including Ambassador Burley and others, and that we certainly hoped that
that discussion makes it possible for us to move forward with the broadest
possible support for a resolution.
Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister Ivanov also agreed that following
the discussions between Ambassador Lavrov and Ambassador Burley that they
would consult extensively on the phone over the next week.
So that is the main channel of discussion right now. She also spoke today
to Foreign Minister Cook about the resolution and she has been in touch in
recent days with Foreign Minister Vedrine about the resolution. So we would
expect those consultations to intensify in the coming week. We certainly
believe that the time has come to move quickly to a vote and that we should
move to a vote very, very, very soon. We have not made a specific
decision on any specific day that we intend to call for a vote, but
this resolution has been discussed and negotiated and mulled over
and examined from every different possible direction for many, many
weeks and months now, and it's now a question of making some decisions.
We believe this resolution meets the critical test of requiring Iraq to
allow the inspectors to return, requiring Iraq to fulfill the key
disarmament tasks and requiring a testing period for that cooperation prior
to any adjustment in the sanctions regime. So we believe this increases the
chances that we can get inspectors back to Iraq, which we want to have, but
also ensures that the Iraqi regime would not have access to unlimited and
uncontrolled resources in order to pursue a purpose of spending additional
money on it's mad military machine.
So that is what we are aiming for. I would expect the discussions to
intensify and for her to talk with a number of ministers in the coming days,
certainly as she and Foreign Minister Ivanov indicated their intention to
With respect to the report's claim as to the position of the French
government and the Russian government, I wouldn't assume that it is
QUESTION: In fact, it wouldn't be a very good way to go, would it, if
only two of the five Permanent Five actively supported --
MR. RUBIN: Our goal certainly would be to have the broadest possible
support for a resolution on Iraq. Let's remember, we're starting from a
position where the numbers in the Council are now well over ten so the
question will be whether it's nearly all or almost all of the Council
members support this resolution. Within the Permanent Five, obviously it is
important whether there is the maximum possible support.
On the other hand, seeking that support - there are limits and the limits
include the kind of points that I just made about ensuring that there is
the return of the inspectors, that key disarmament tasks are fulfilled, and
that there is a testing period of cooperation, and that the regime does not
get unlimited and uncontrolled access to resources for nefarious purposes.
So consistent with those goals, our procedural objective certainly would be
the maximum number of countries including the maximum number of permanent
members to support it.
QUESTION: But you're saying that it looks like the diplomatic impediments
to passing such a resolution have been cleared away?
MR. RUBIN: Again, you can write your own leads; you don't need my help.
I'm just telling you the situation as I see it. We've got a large body of
support, well over ten countries' support, the approach that the United
Kingdom and the Dutch initiated, and we are hopeful that we will get
support from the remaining countries consistent, of course, with the limits
QUESTION: Just a follow-up question on Middle East peace. Today, Mr.
Barak raised the possibility of the terrorist attacks by Palestinians could
halt the peace process. Do you have any response to that?
MR. RUBIN: Well, I haven't seen that particular quote, but certainly
we're aware that fighting terrorism is the sine qua non of enabling us to
move forward on the peace process. We believe that there, generally
speaking, has been good cooperation between the Palestinian Authority
representatives and security services with the Israeli counterparts and
with us, and that there has been considerable cooperation. Effort has been
We recognize that even with 100 percent effort, seven days a week, 52 weeks
a year, that there can be no guarantee against those who are prepared to
conduct terrorism. But we think cooperation has been good. We certainly
recognize that the climate and the environment would be severely affected
if there were acts of terrorism.
QUESTION: Will terrorism be one of the subjects that the Secretary
discusses in Saudi Arabia, given the threat that the United States feels
from Usama bin Ladin and his network?
MR. RUBIN: Generally speaking, when we have extensive discussions with
Saudi Arabia, one of the items high on the agenda is the subject of
terrorism, so I would expect that to be extensively discussed. I can't be
more specific than that in advance.
QUESTION: On the subject of terrorism in Saudi Arabia, could you tell us
about the attempts by the United States to get Iranian support and help in
uncovering who blew up Khobar Towers?
MR. RUBIN: Let me say in that regard, I think it should be understood
that our objective here with Iran to have a dialogue is not have a dialogue
for dialogue's sake; it's to have a dialogue so that we can engage in a
process by which Iranian policies of concern would change, including our
concern about Iranian support for terrorist organizations and those who are
enemies of the peace process.
We have made clear that the policies changing is the objective. We have not
received in our dialogue through - let me rewind that tape. We have had
contacts, diplomatic contact, messages, to Iran. There is no secret about
that. We don't have the kind of direct dialogue that we have been seeking
in order to change those policies of concern.
We have not received from Iran, the government of Iran, the kind of
responses that we have been hoping for on a wide range of issues, including
on the cooperation we seek in investigating acts of terrorism. That is
unfortunate and, generally speaking, the Iranian Government's response to
our efforts in that area and also our efforts to try to make it easier for
visas to be provided to Iranian Americans or Iranians who want to come to
America, we've sought visits that would facilitate that process that many
people in Iran want, which is to have an ability to come to the United
So on those two issues, cooperation on terrorism and making it easier for
visas to be provided for Iranians visiting the United States, the Iranian
Government's response has tended to be hide-bound and unimaginative.
So that is the state of play. We still believe that it is in our interest
to have a dialogue in which our concerns, primarily terrorism and active
opposition to the Middle East peace process can be pursued, but it's a
fundamental misunderstanding if there is an impression that we're seeking a
dialogue for dialogue's sake.
QUESTION: Did Secretary Indyk hand over a message from President Clinton
to a third party which was then sent on to Iran?
MR. RUBIN: It has not been my practice to get into the specifics of any
diplomatic contact. I'm trying to deal with the policy issues at play here
in as forward-leaning a manner as I can about the two substantive issues -
cooperation in the Khobar investigation and the question of visits for
facilitating visas for Iranian Americans - and I'm not going to comment,
and have not before, on what specific message is sent through what
QUESTION: Could you just remind us how old actually all this stuff is
that you just told us and perhaps remind the rest of the world that this
stuff was actually reported by apparently all but one news organization
several weeks ago?
MR. RUBIN: I'll leave the press commentary to the Columbia Journalism
QUESTION: Would you recommend daily attendance at briefings, though, as a
way to get the news at the time it's committed?
MR. RUBIN: Actually, that's an interesting point, and for all those who
might not be here but occasionally have the chance if possible to read what
is said here in the briefing, there is a sense of the people who are here
in the briefing that others aren't here in the briefing. I certainly would
share the view that the more attendance there is in the briefing, the more
lively the dialogue, the more incisive the opportunity for exchanges
and, as you can see, I welcome as full a room as possible.
QUESTION: I just want to go back to your first statement, Serbia, the
oil. The Serbs have said that they are going to provide - that the Serb
state oil company is going to be again providing oil to these towns
especially Nis. I think they sent a shipment there. Is it your view that EU
oil is somehow better than Serbian oil for these people?
MR. RUBIN: No, on the contrary. There is clearly going to be an energy -
they will not have all the energy resources they need this winter. Serbia
is an economy that is suffering greatly and it strikes us as manipulative
and cynical to refuse the help of fellow Europeans that is desired and
sought by the mayors of these towns. Whether or not the heating fuel
promised by the Milosevic regime gets there is very much an open question,
but there were I believe 16 trucks filled with heating fuel that were there
that would have gotten there had Milosevic, his regime, not played such a
cynical and manipulative game.
It is not a question of the quality of the heating fuel; it's a question of
whether in a situation like this, the needs of the people should be
subordinated to cynical political games.
QUESTION: But certainly you're not saying if they can't the EU oil, they
shouldn't get any oil?
MR. RUBIN: I don't think there's anything I said that should allow you to
draw that interpretation. What I'm saying is that this heating fuel was
made available; Serbia is not a country that can afford to refuse this kind
of humanitarian assistance; they've sought humanitarian assistance in
The issue is not do they need heating oil. They do; they know they do. The
issue is should the opposition mayors get credit for having made that oil
available or should the Milosevic regime try to prevent the political
support that would go to those opposition mayors as a result of getting
that fuel there or try to stop it to prevent that benefit. So it's a
cynical political game at which the real losers are the people of
QUESTION: No, I'm just not sure why it's not a cynical political game for
you to condemn it if they're going to go ahead and give the oil to these
people themselves - I mean, provided that they're given enough, I
MR. RUBIN: First of all, I think I've been as clear as I can. Let me be
clearer. There is not enough oil and fuel for all the needs of the people
of Serbia and; therefore, to deny some for one's own political cynical
reasons is to put the political goals of the regime over the needs of the
people. If there was oil going to these places, there would be more oil
available for other people, and the people of Serbia are the net losers
from this effort.
QUESTION: Do you want to say anything about the value of the Europeans
offering the oil? I think at one point there was some coolness on this side
MR. RUBIN: Well, most of our questions - and it wasn't opposition - were
about whether the oil would get there, and so we indicated we wanted to see
whether it would really happen. And this unfortunately hasn't yet arrived,
and that was a concern we had and questions we had about whether, indeed,
you'd be able to get the oil to the intended recipients without the
involvement of the regime or the siphoning off of the oil.
QUESTION: You don't want to say, "I told you so"?
MR. RUBIN: We care about the people of Serbia; we're not interested in
some game with the Europeans. We understood the motivation the Europeans
had. We thought it was a laudable goal; we still think it's a laudable
goal. The question is whether it can be implemented, and I suspect this
isn't the end of the road but certainly it's not been a good day for the
people of Serbia.
QUESTION: A question about the Palestinian authority. Were you aware that
Arafat had invited Milosevic to attend the, I guess, the millennial
Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem?
MR. RUBIN: Well, I've seen reports to that effect. We don't have any
independent confirmation that such a visit was offered or such an
invitation was issued. Given the fact that President Milosevic is an
indicted war criminal responsible for some of the most horrible massacres
in modern European history, we would discourage anybody from inviting him
anywhere except an invitation to go directly to The Hague, and that is the
only travel that we think is appropriate for President Milosevic - go to
The Hague, go straight to The Hague - that's the message the world
should be sending to him - without passing go and definitely not collecting
QUESTION: Have you been in touch with Mr. or even Mrs. Arafat to
encourage them along those very lines that this is what you would expect
them to do and that the invitation seems --
MR. RUBIN: I think I just made clear our position in as clear a way as
possible. I'll have to check whether any - as I indicated, we don't have
confirmation from them yet that this invitation was indeed proffered, and I
expect they will be made aware of our views on the subject.
QUESTION: So you've sought a confirmation?
MR. RUBIN: We're seeking it. We don't have it at this time.
QUESTION: I have some questions about Chechnya.
MR. RUBIN: Let's go over here and we'll go back.
QUESTION: Can I just go back to the fuel oil? Are you suggesting that the
MR. RUBIN: You're saying your colleague did not exhaust this subject?
QUESTION: No, I just have one question I'd like to ask, if it's all
MR. RUBIN: Please.
QUESTION: Would you say that their strategy has failed, and will you be
encouraging them to stop sending fuel oil?
MR. RUBIN: No, I wouldn't regard that as a failed strategy. The intent,
the motivation, was a good one. The questions we had were about practicality:
would the oil get there? Clearly, this tranche has not. These trucks have
gone back. That doesn't mean it's the end of the game.
We certainly said our overall support for the program would depend upon how
this particular delivery went forward, and it obviously hasn't gotten
forward and gotten to the people of Serbia as it should. The losers are the
people of Serbia, not any policymakers in Europe who had a laudable
QUESTION: You're not saying you're withdrawing your support yet?
MR. RUBIN: Right.
QUESTION: One question on the --
MR. RUBIN: On this same subject?
QUESTION: The specific point - the trucks are going back. Our last report
says that the Serbs are not letting the trucks go back, they're being
blocked in that --
MR. RUBIN: What I'm reacting to is the announcement by the European Union
today that it was intending to return its trucks to Skopjie after being
held up at the border. If the Serbs are blocking their return to Skopjie --
I don't believe they've all entered. I'm not sure that it's possible for
them to block someone on the other side of the border. Maybe some were in
and being inspected.
I'll have to get the facts as to what's going on the border there, but what
I'm reacting to is the unfortunate fact that the European Union concluded
that, at least for the time being, these trucks were not going to get to
their intended recipient.
QUESTION: Going back to the peace process, even though getting that first
installment of the Wye money and securing that this year, there's still a
lot of reluctance on Capitol Hill for committing financially long term to
the peace process. First of all, is there an estimate of what the costs
could be to the United States for the long-term costs; and, second, how
does this aversion or concern on Capitol Hill affect the Secretary's
MR. RUBIN: Let me say that there has been a general aversion on Capitol
Hill to funding the needs of our national security, and that has been a
major problem over the recent years. We have had to work extraordinarily
hard to even get the minimum necessary to provide funds, as you indicated,
for the Wye Agreement, for our threat enhancement initiative in the former
Soviet Union, for things like the Kosovo peace process.
So we've had to work overtime just to get the minimum requirements because
there is a general refusal to see that funding our foreign affairs is
funding our national security on Capitol Hill. That's a big problem. It's a
problem that's existed for some time; it's a problem that we work on all
With respect to your suggestion that there is not support on the Hill for
the peace process in general, I would have my quibbles with that. I think
there is generally support for the peace process. I think there was support
for the Wye Agreement. Clearly there are those who had questions and asked
questions, and there will be those who ask questions and have questions
about additional funds that may or may not be necessary, and that's the
part of the democratic process.
What we hope is that people come at these questions from a point of view
recognizing that a peace in the Middle East is in the vital national
interest of the United States and that, therefore, should receive
substantial support from the United States. We hope that people understand
that as the year goes forward, and we will hopefully be in a position of
making the argument in favor of support for additional agreements.
I think it would be wildly premature for me to begin to speculate on what
the costs, support or other needs would be for an agreement that we have
described as extraordinarily difficult to achieve, that we are many, many,
many weeks away from even potentially have a framework for. So I don't
intend to speculate on what the needs will be for our final permanent
status agreement, or Israel and Syria.
QUESTION: Just to go back to Iran for a moment, it seems that you've
often described the potential US relationship with Iran in sort of
addressing the negatives - support for terrorism, opposition to the Middle
East peace process - and I wonder if you have any thought about what value,
what positive value, the US might have in relations with Iran?
MR. RUBIN: We believe Iran is an important country. It is located in a
very important area. Our two peoples have a long and friendly history prior
to the most recent developments in the late '70s and throughout the '80s,
and we believe that Iran is located in a part of the world that's important
We believe that the people of Iran would benefit from increasing interaction
with the people of the United States. We believe the people of the United
States would benefit from the interaction of the long and proud culture of
Persia and Iran, and there is much to be gained on both sides, but we do
have problems. Those problems are real. Some of them have even increased
recently, and I've spoken to that.
So pending a decision by the government of Iran to move to address those
issues in a direct dialogue, we believe it's appropriate to facilitate and
promote a dialogue of the peoples of the United States and Iran in an
analogous way to that proposed by President Khatami of a dialogue of
civilizations. We welcome that. We support that. We want that to go
forward. We think it brings great benefit to both of our peoples.
We think a relationship that could overcome major problems if we could get
Iran to stop supporting the opponents of the Middle East peace process, we
think that it would make the Middle East a much more stable place, and that
would be good for everybody. We think that if we could make progress on
stopping Iran's support for those groups that engage in terrorist
activities, that would make the world a safer place, and that would be very
Beyond that, the potential for a more normal relationship was put out there
and put forward by Secretary Albright in a speech in New York - I think it
was a year and a half ago - but it's very hard to discuss the fruits of
that normal relationship at a time when we can't even get Iran to see the
wisdom in talking about the problems that we think exist.
QUESTION: Can you just comment on - you've just laid out the concerns
about Iran and then the question mark about the sanctions in Iraq - how
that might lead to a sense of urgency in terms of final settlement in the
Middle East talks?
MR. RUBIN: With respect to Iran, the issue is our concern about stepped-
up support for those who would use terrorism to thwart the Middle East
peace process, and we believe we're at a crucial moment in the future of
the Middle East that will affect profoundly the prospect for a stable and
economically successful and peaceful Middle East for all the Arabs and
Israelis who live there; and that we know that this is an extraordinarily
difficult time, and support for terrorism to oppose that peace process
is profoundly troubling to us and makes it that much harder to overcome
the already high, high obstacles to a peace agreement.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to this delegation of Iranian clerics
who withdrew from the seminar after they said they had been maltreated by
MR. RUBIN: My understanding is that there was a group of Iranians
arriving in the United States to participate in an academic conference;
they were unhappy with their treatment and canceled their planned
activities. We have tried very hard in the Department of State to promote
people-to-people exchanges to facilitate this kind of conference and, as a
general policy, we support these kind of efforts.
The fact is that the Department of Justice and the Immigration and
Naturalization Service are responsible for entry procedures. As far as what
happened in the airport, I would urge you to contact them. Suffice it to
say from our standpoint, we continue to have an active dialogue with the
Department of Justice and the INS to try to see what steps can be taken to
minimize these kind of problems.
QUESTION: And then let me just ask, in fact, what the immigration
officials said was that it was normal policy to photograph and fingerprint
people coming in from Iran. And do you think that's an appropriate way for
those individuals to be treated, given -- (inaudible)?
MR. RUBIN: Right. There are exceptions that have been made on certain
case-by-case basis, so it's not a simple question of this is the only way
to do business. So we are engaged in an active dialogue with the Department
of Justice and the INS to try to ensure that we can make the procedures as
minimally intrusive as possible. That dialogue continues and we will
continue to work to that end.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed that it didn't happen in this case?
MR. RUBIN: Again, I couldn't get into the specifics.
QUESTION: In Chechnya there is a report on the wires now that the
Russians have closed the border once again to Ingushetiya, and it's being
described as retaliation for an attack by Chechen rebels on Russians in
which a large - very large - number of Russian soldiers were killed and
maybe later some of the survivors executed.
Do you have anything on any aspect of this?
MR. RUBIN: First of all, the news about the border is news to me. I will
have to check that. With respect to the incident that you asked about, let
me say that Secretary Albright raised that press report in her conversation
with Foreign Minister Ivanov about the reported killing of 250 Russians,
and he indicated that that was not the assessment that his military had
about what transpired.
She also made very clear in that conversation our strong opposition to a
military solution; our concern that the costs of Russia's approach are
rising; that there are high civilian causalities; there are refugee flows;
and that there is the potential to harm the US-Russian relationship if this
path continues. She made that very clear to Foreign Minister Ivanov.
He continues to express his country's approach and their explanation for
their approach, and I don't think it would be fair to say there is any
change in that regard. Although we've had success in the past in trying to
minimize the humanitarian costs particularly in the area of refugees and
border closings, we have little success in convincing Russia of the wisdom
of pursuing a political solution.
On the mission of Knut Vollebaek, the Foreign Minister of Norway, Foreign
Minister Ivanov assured the Secretary that they were going to allow this
visit. I understand that Foreign Minister Vollebaek and the Russians have
exchanged written communication, and he assured her that they are going to
allow the visit. She made very clear that the visit was a commitment that
Russia signed up to in Istanbul, and he indicated they intended to fulfill
With respect to the specific cases, obviously it is dismaying in the
extreme when we read about the growing number of innocent civilians being
killed or injured as the fighting intensifies. The reports that you
indicate of the border being closed are especially troubling, because it
does prevent refugees or displaced persons fleeing the fighting from
fleeing to safety.
We've had, as I indicated, some success in the past in explaining and
urging the Russians to allow refugees and displaced persons to flee the
fighting and to go to safety, and we will be continuing to pursue them. But
again, this is at this point just a report about the border and that's
mostly what I have.
QUESTION: Did you talk to Ivanov today?
MR. RUBIN: Today. This was just a couple of hours ago.
QUESTION: And so in other words, she asked specifically about these 200
to 250 people?
MR. RUBIN: Yes.
QUESTION: The report also says that there was an attack on refugees by
Russian troops in which a bus was raked by submachine gun fire, 40 people
killed, and there's witness accounts in the wires.
MR. RUBIN: Again, the reports are troubling about the damage to and the
killing of innocent civilians as a result of the intensification of
fighting. I think with respect to the broader point of civilians, we have
made clear that we are profoundly troubled by the fact that the shelling
and bombing has an indiscriminate aspect to it that has caused civilian
casualties in large numbers and civilian deaths. We cannot verify that
particular report from where we sit and stand, but that kind of report is
QUESTION: And would these be war crimes, if they - if the Russians
actually attacked a bus full of civilians --
MR. RUBIN: I think we've talked about this. There is an intent question
versus an indiscriminate question, and I'll have to check that for
QUESTION: Because if the Chechen rebels are killing surrendered Russian
troops, is that considered a war crime?
MR. RUBIN: Let me say that on the Chechen rebel side that both sides have
obligations to respect human right and avoid involving innocent non-
combatants. There is no question in our mind that Chechen rebel tactics are
doubtlessly contributing to this senseless death and destruction. In our
view, all the parties, including the Chechen rebels, should understand that
the international community is watching, and we expect both or all the
parties concerned to live up to their international obligations.
QUESTION: I just wondered did Ivanov say when the OSCE mission might be
allowed to go in?
MR. RUBIN: I think you should - the specific dates are being discussed
between Foreign Minister Vollebaek and the Russians. What he assured her
was that the visit would take place.
QUESTION: But like when, like two years from now or soon?
MR. RUBIN: The presumption was not that it was two years from now, a
presumption that it would be soon and in a timely fashion.
QUESTION: Yes, to follow up, Mr. Rubin, are you advocating or does the
State Department advocate that the Russians should negotiate with the
Chechen rebels, some of whom they claim to be terrorists? Is this what
MR. RUBIN: No, I've never said that. What we advocate is a political
solution. It's not up to us to choose the interlocutors. Frankly, us naming
interlocutors only will probably make it less likely that they could be
effective interlocutors. There are interlocutors available. There are
legitimate leaders in Chechnya, and we urge the Russians to use whatever
methods necessary diplomatically to make it possible for discussions to be
held and a political solution to be found.
QUESTION: And finally, is there any fear on the part of the United States
Government that the Russian military is positioning themselves such that
they might be able to enter into the Ukraine or threaten the Ukraine?
MR. RUBIN: Well, I'm not aware of that particular issue. I think it's
fair to say that one of the profound concerns that we have about the
conflict in the north Caucasus is the potential of it spilling over into
Azerbaijan and Georgia, and the instability that could create in the
region. I haven't heard any particular concerns expressed about Ukraine,
and it strikes me as geographically not relevant.
QUESTION: Geographically not possible. I'm sorry, I was in error, I mean
Georgia. That's exactly what you're concerned about.
MR. RUBIN: Well, yes.
QUESTION: Could you comment on accusations by the Uzbek government --
QUESTION: He's on Chechnya.
MR. RUBIN: Is this related to Chechnya?
QUESTION: This is related to Chechnya.
MR. RUBIN: Let's do the related, I love those.
QUESTION: They're saying Chechen rebels are training their youths to help
mount a jihad against their government?
MR. RUBIN: Who's this?
QUESTION: The Uzbek Government. And they're also saying that they're
beginning to start joint military exercises or joint exercises with the
Russians and some of the other Caucasus states to try to stomp out
terrorism. I wanted to know if you have a comment on that?
MR. RUBIN: I cannot address specifically the Uzbekistan issue but,
broadly speaking, I can say that we do have and have had for some time a
lot of worry about the links between international terrorist organizations,
including Usama bin Ladin and some of the Chechen Islamic rebels who were
engaging in direct attacks against legitimate authority in Ingushetiya. We
do believe there are funds and equipment and support that exists between a
number of these organizations whose only cause appears to be to oppose
the whole civilized world, including rebels in Chechnya and rebels
throughout the former Soviet Union in the area you described. There are
ties; there are linkages; there is mutual support; and that is deeply
troubling to us.
One of the reasons that in the first phase of this conflict we expressed
some understanding for what Russia was doing in the summer time was because
the fact was that Islamic rebels who could responsibly called engaged in
terrorist activities were attacking legitimate authority, and that those
rebels did have affiliation with those kinds of people and organizations
who have shown no acceptance of the international rules of the road and
have shown only contempt for human life.
So that was a concern of ours we share with Russia which is the need to
oppose directly organizations, groups and individuals of that nature. There
is risk associated with those groups in Chechnya and others throughout the
region, and I just don't have any specific data on what I can say to you
QUESTION: Is the US still in support of disassociating the IMF, the
second tranche of the IMF with the Chechen war?
MR. RUBIN: At this point the IMF issue is pretty straightforward, and
that is that there are - Russia is still completing economic conditions
required by its program. Disbursement of the funds depends on fulfillment
of these conditions. We'll make our decisions on IMF support based on our
national interest including a democratic and stable Russia that is making
real progress on economic reform.
We commend Russia for the macroeconomic progress it has made so far, but
Russia is still working on structural measures, central bank operations,
transparency and financial safeguards pursuant to its relationship with the
IMF. So I think the issue that's been out there is at this point a moot
QUESTION: On that point, the Secretary said to Ivanov if I quote you
right that "Chechnya has the potential to harm US-Russian relations." Did
she have in mind the ability of the United States to support more IMF
MR. RUBIN: What's in the Secretary's mind I think I'll leave in the
Secretary's mind. What the Secretary said is what I indicated and you
repeated, and that is a general statement about the effect that she
believes that a prolonged conflict in Chechnya of this kind involving the
widespread use of force against - and indiscriminate use of force against
innocent civilians could have to our relationship, and I would like to
leave it at that.
QUESTION: NATO Secretary General will reportedly be going to New York on
Monday to ask that more money and troops be devoted to Kosovo. Will the
United States devote - would they actually support that action by
committing more resources to the operation?
MR. RUBIN: As I indicated in response to one of your colleagues'
questions, we've been troubled by the fact that we have not been able to
obtain all the support we need to assist the civilian operation in Kosovo.
There are some specific things we're working on right now to try to step up
that support. I don't think there's any consideration to my knowledge being
given to stepping up the number of troops. We are already a major troop
contributor, and some of the other countries that early on had large troop
presences, and if I recall correctly, publicized the size of their
troop presences in the early days, have very quickly fallen off from
their large presences while our large presence remains.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- behind gates and bars and --
MR. RUBIN: I think that if you would travel there, you would find that
our soldiers are patrolling widely. They are engaged in a large number of
activities throughout their sector, and that your characterization would be
QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- reasonably so --
MR. RUBIN: We would reject categorically your characterization that
American troops are behind bars in their camps and not performing their
QUESTION: I've got a question about the Bosnian Serbs. Have they rejected
the New York agreement that --
MR. RUBIN: I've seen that report. I'm trying to get more detail on it,
but I'm familiar with the report.
QUESTION: To bring up a question that came up yesterday again, I know
that you have said that you hope that the issue of the 5 percent of land
will be solved before the Secretary reaches the region, and I just wondered
if you had any information today that you didn't have yesterday suggesting
that that might happen?
MR. RUBIN: With each passing day it becomes obviously harder to have our
hope realized that this problem will be resolved before Secretary Albright
gets there, and we're obviously one day closer to the arrival in the
Palestinian authority in Israel, and the issue has not been moved
substantially, to my knowledge.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea of whether the meeting between President
Clinton and Chairman Arafat will go ahead before the --
MR. RUBIN: I don't know the facts on that. I think it's a scheduling
issue, and I'll try to get that for you.
QUESTION: Would you like to tell us what the US would consider or might
consider promising or encouraging outcome of UN-sponsored talks on Cyprus
that start today?
MR. RUBIN: I think although some of the figures have availed themselves
of their opportunity to speak to the world about those talks in whatever
opportunities they might or might not have had, I've been advised that the
UN is requesting that those of us who speak to the media not comment on the
specifics of those talks while they're going on, and that's often a common
practice in discussions like this.
QUESTION: That's why I was just saying some maybe some encouraging or
promising outcome, any broad --
MR. RUBIN: We are certainly for encouraging and promising outcomes but,
beyond saying that, I think I would probably being exceeding the blackout
QUESTION: A few quick questions on the Middle East. I'm sorry I was a
little late, the plane was late. But could you confirm --
MR. RUBIN: The plane? You fly in for these briefings?
QUESTION: No, my daughter did. Could you confirm or deny --
MR. RUBIN: I love questions that start like that.
QUESTION: -- that Bennett Freeman, Deputy Assistant Secretary, did raise
the question of human rights and particularly the bypass legislation? And
will the Secretary along the same lines as she did with Foreign Minister
Levy - is that the correct pronunciation?
MR. RUBIN: Yes.
QUESTION: -- perhaps raise the question again on this trip of the nine
Americans who are confirmed to have been tortured and are in Israeli jails
and the one American in a Palestinian jail under the same situation?
MR. RUBIN: Let me say that with respect to the legislation authorizing
the use of physical force, we try not to interfere with the internal
Israeli public debate on this and political debate on this issue. Bennett
Freeman, our Deputy Assistant Secretary, did visit Israel on the week of
October the 10th, discussed a full range of issues including a number of
human rights issues. Our concerns about specific practices with respect to
interrogation were discussed as part of this ongoing dialogue, and we
would welcome any actions that Israel took on this and similar issues
that are consistent with internationally recognized human rights standards.
I suspect the question came up, but I wouldn't assume that Deputy Assistant
Secretary Freeman necessarily took a position on a matter like that in the
direct way that you suggested or asked about.
The question of Secretary Albright's visit, I think it's fair to say that
this is not a visit designed to cover the full range of bilateral issues.
It's a visit focused - she'll only be there a short time - on the peace
process. She will be in Syria and the Palestinian Authority and Israel all
in a matter of a couple of days and will be pretty focused on that issue. I
think our embassy and other officials in the government do raise these
issues and seek to follow up from previous discussions. So that's
the best I can offer. I'm not going to rule it out, but I know the
focus of the visit is as I suggested.
QUESTION: May I follow up on that because three affidavits of Americans
that have been tortured and eventually released have been presented to the
Department of State some 60 days ago. They were referred to the embassy but
there has been no report either from your podium or from anybody else as to
what the reaction was.
MR. RUBIN: Let me try to get what I can for you on that subject and Jim
will follow it up with you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I'd like to re-ask the question I asked a few days ago.
MR. RUBIN: That seems to be a practice here today.
QUESTION: Does the US have specific criteria or conditions - and this is
the US - that Libya has to meet for the lifting of the US unilateral
sanctions? And I ask that because of some of the statements that came out
of the visit of the Italian Prime Minister.
MR. RUBIN: There are a whole series of unilateral sanctions. Libya is
under probably one of the strictest sanctions regime we have. So each one
of those sanctions has different legal linkages to questions like terrorism
and many other subjects, and I think it's fair to say when it comes to the
UN sanctions I've identified time and time again, and I'm sure you don't
want me to repeat, our standard there which is spelled out in the
With respect to the US unilateral sanctions, there are a whole array of
them and each of them address different issues. For example, the prohibition
on the use of passports to visit Libya is linked to the threat to American
citizens visiting Libya. There are other laws that apply to terrorism.
There are other laws that apply to weapons of mass destruction that Libya
may or may not be seeking.
So it depends on the law, and I wouldn't be able to give you sort of a
simple summary, but since most of these are legal restrictions, I think it
would be possible to get you the laws and you can be able to answer the
question directly that way.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the Namibian election?
MR. RUBIN: I had something to say about that in the last week, but let me
QUESTION: Since they just finished counting the votes today --
MR. RUBIN: No, about the imminent Namibia election.
QUESTION: It's over now.
MR. RUBIN: And so I don't have a reaction. I understand there will be a
statement made available to you and your colleagues shortly.
QUESTION: Regarding the decision next week by the Vatican on whether the
Pope will indeed go to Iraq, would you like to reiterate --
MR. RUBIN: Our view has been that we respect His Holiness' decisions as
to where to travel, but we would strongly urge the Vatican to not allow
itself to be manipulated by a regime that obviously would love to
manipulate any international visitor, especially a visitor as respected as
the Pope, to promote their bankrupt regime, and so we'd urge the Vatican
and have made that clear to them privately to try to prevent Iraq from
doing so to the extent possible.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 P.M.)