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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #11, 00-02-15

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

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


U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing


Tuesday, February 15, 2000

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1	Secretary's Travel to Croatia and Albania, February 18-19
1-2	Reported IRA Pull Out of the Disarmament Talks
2-3	Resignation of World Food Program Official in Iraq
3-4	Prospects for Resumption of Israeli-Syrian Talks
4-5	Reported Remarks by Ambassador Indyk on Mutual Defense Treaty
5	US Officials Discussions with OPEC and non-OPEC Producers
6	Reported Cartel "Bounty" for Murder of Border Patrol Agents
6,8	Possible Meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister
8-9	Deputy Secretary Talbott's Travel to Japan and China
6	Terry Anderson Lawsuit Against Iran
7	Parliamentary Election in Iran
7	Russian Oil Tanker/Contacts with Iran
7-8	IMF Managing Director Position/Candidate
9	EU Lifting Flight Ban/ Sanctions Policy
9-10	Appointment of New Defense Minister
10	Department Official's Meeting with Chechen Official


DPB #11

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2000, 12:36 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the State Department briefing on this here Tuesday. I have one announcement.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright will travel to Zagreb and Tirana, Albania, on February 18th and 19th respectively. In Zagreb, the Secretary will lead the US delegation attending the inauguration of Croatian President-Elect Stjepan Mesic. She will congratulate the Croatian people for choosing the path of economic and political reform necessary to reintegrate Croatia into the rest of Europe.

In Tirana, the Secretary will meet with Albanian President Meidani and Prime Minister Meta. She will recognize the crucial role played by the people of Albania during the Kosovo crisis and the particularly important way in which they stood out and dealt with the refugees as they came into Albania. She will also emphasize the role Albania plays in regional stability and seek to develop ways to promote greater prosperity in Albania.

With that statement, I am here to take your questions.

QUESTION: Anything on the IRA announcement this morning?

MR. RUBIN: With respect to the IRA's statement, let me simply say that the President has made clear that we want to see the parties make progress, that we welcomed the progress that was made last week that was reflected in the report of the Decommissioning Commission. For now, let me simply say that we are aware of the reports and the statements. We will continue to talk to all the parties and we will urge all of them to build on the progress made last week, to remain engaged, and to carry through on their responsibilities to work together to achieve full implementation of the Good Friday Accord. That is what we will be urging all of the parties to do.

QUESTION: That's as far as - basically, you've seen the reports but you're still looking into what it might mean? Is that fair enough? You don't want to comment more fully on the actual substance of the IRA statement?

MR. RUBIN: I am aware of what the statement said about not engaging and we are going to urge all the parties to build on the progress of last week to remain engaged and carry through on their responsibilities, having seen and being aware of this statement.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I change the subject?

QUESTION: Can I just quickly ask, does this make it more likely that the US may become involved in some mediating role?

MR. RUBIN: I don't want to speculate on that. All I know is that we've stayed in touch with all the parties. We will continue to stay in touch with all the parties. The President has done enormous work in this area and has always shown a willingness to help where it's appropriate. But for now, what we're saying is that despite this statement that we're urging all the parties, including Jerry Adams, to build on the progress of last week, to remain engaged and to carry through on their responsibilities.

QUESTION: Now, the head of the WFP, World Food Program in Baghdad, has quit. It seems like it's going to be, "Will the last UN official to leave Iraq turn out the lights?" I'm just wondering if you have anything to say about her resignation and the reasons for it, which are similar to the reasons given by Mr. Von Sponeck.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I haven't seen exactly what she said. I'm aware of another resignation and I can assure you that these are not the last UN officials in Iraq. There are plenty of people working every day to try to help the people of Iraq. Because the leaders have made these decisions doesn't mean that the work won't continue. There are many other people there. I could get you the numbers, but there are many other people there.

With respect to the reasons given, there is a suggestion that somehow this is personal. This is not personal. It is our view that the roles of the humanitarian coordinator and the humanitarian officials there are not the role of self-appointed spokesmen for the Security Council and the world as to the wisdom of sanctions. This is not a personal issue; this is a professional issue involved in people's professional duties.

If people believe that they can't in good conscience continue their work, I think all of us respect that. There are obviously different views on the wisdom of sanctions in the world. But when the Security Council has made a decision to impose sanctions and all the members of the Council have endorsed time and time again those sanctions, it's not up to a humanitarian official -- who is there to implement a program that the United States and the others started intended to generate revenue because Saddam Hussein won't use his own revenue to pay for humanitarian goods and services for the people of Iraq.

So when these well-intentioned individuals are concerned about the fate of the Iraqi people, it is our view that they should direct their concern and their blame-casting at the Iraqi regime, which refuses day after day, time after time, to spend its hard currency helping its own people, so the United Nations and the United States have to come up with a different way to create revenue for the food and medicine and other supplies that are being made available. If it were not for the US and the UN efforts in this regard, billions of dollars of food and medicine would not have gone to the people of Iraq.

So there is no question that we share concern about the people of Iraq. The only people that don't seem to share any concern about the people of Iraq are the members of the regime who would prefer to spend money on elaborate palaces, elaborate cars, elaborate houses, amusement parks, man-made lakes and many other luxury goods, rather than spend any of this hard currency helping their own people.

QUESTION: An aside, and a kind of corollary to that is, you don't see the two resignations as disrupting or affecting the programs?

MR. RUBIN: The program has existed before. You know, this is not the first time individuals have decided that they would prefer not to hold these posts. The program will continue because it is a program that we are behind, the United Nations is behind. To the extent the Iraqis allow the oil to be sold for this purpose, it will be spent for the purposes specified by the resolution and we don't see this needing to interfere in any significant way with the operations of the program.

QUESTION: Let me ask you, on the record, apparently there was a report in an Arab newspaper that Syria and Israel peace talks are going to resume. I believe the report said that the President-- well, I believe the report said it would be announced shortly -- in order for you to avoid any sort of conflict with any other office. Are these talks going to resume shortly?

MR. RUBIN: Let me just inform for those of you who are not aware of the rules here, when I speak in the briefing room it is on the record, and when the lights are on and the cameras are rolling, you can assume you can quote me for attribution, by name, and it would be nice if you included my middle initial.


With respect to the question --


MR. RUBIN: That's just a joke.

Do you want to talk about my middle initial? We can go on for five or six minutes.

QUESTION: We had gotten some reaction earlier but I wanted to see what your reaction from the podium would be.

MR. RUBIN: With respect to the question, we continue to have contact with the Syrian government and the Israeli government about ways to build the best possible base so that when the talks do resume, that each side will have a higher confidence that its objectives in these peace talks can be met and that its needs can be met.

I am not aware of any imminent announcement of the resumption of talks and I am not aware of any reason to think that there is an imminent announcement of the resumption of talks. There will continue to be contact, however, between our government, the Syrian Government and our government and the Israeli Government on this subject.

QUESTION: On somewhat the same topic, I have a report from a think tank in Israel quoting Ambassador Indyk - and I'm not sure under which circumstances he was quoted, lights on, lights off, et cetera - but it says that Indyk has reportedly proposed that the US would commit to defend Israel in the case of this potential treaty, in the case of an attack involving weapons of mass destruction and long-range ballistic missiles.

Do you have any comment on these reports?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. I spoke to Ambassador Indyk yesterday and it's quite clear that there have been a number of accounts of private conversations he has had in Israel, and I'm not going to dignify the process by which individuals can't have private conversations with individuals in Israel by commenting on them specifically.

However, we have not made a decision to pursue a mutual defense treaty with Israel. We have been engaged in a process to look at ways to strengthen and deepen the bilateral US-Israeli strategic relationship, and we are discussing a number of ideas in the security area and many of these discussions are in a preliminary phase.

We have not consulted extensively with Congress on a number of these issues that are being explored, but it is my understanding that the focus of our efforts with respect to the new security environment that would be created is on the subject of extending and expanding the existing type of cooperation and the existing relationship, and not on any mutual defense treaty. That doesn't mean that in any discussion, any serious discussion of this issue, that that subject doesn't come up, but it is not being pursued seriously at this time.

QUESTION: And as far as you know, Ambassador Indyk has not on the record - and this even says proposed this - he has not on the record said that there would be particular elements of weapons of mass destruction involving --

MR. RUBIN: Well, certainly one of the issues that Israel potentially faces in the Middle East is the introduction of weapons of mass destruction capabilities, and that has been a subject of discussion between us and the Israelis for some time.

With respect to specific suggestions - and I can assure you, at least according to Ambassador Indyk they have not been held on the record in any forum - but these are accounts of private meetings he has had with Israeli officials that then somehow magically find their way into the Israeli press. And that isn't a criticism of the Israeli press; in fact, that's a compliment.

With respect to the specific question of a defense treaty, it's not something that our policymakers have chosen and are pursuing with the Israelis, but that doesn't mean it was never mentioned in an wide-ranging discussion of all the different options that exist out there. But it's not something we're focusing our efforts on. We are focusing our efforts on ways to expand and deepen the existing arrangements in the context of a comprehensive peace agreement.

QUESTION: By complimenting the Israeli press just then, I take it to mean that these reports are actually accurate. Am I assuming something that I shouldn't be?

MR. RUBIN: I really don't understand the motivation for the question, let alone how to answer it.

QUESTION: The motivation for the question is - I mean, are these reports correct?

MR. RUBIN: I indicated today and yesterday that I don't intend to comment on private communications between the United States Government and the Israeli Government in any way, shape or form with respect to the kind of dialogue that we and Israel have on very sensitive issues like this. I just don't intend to comment on it.

Let's move to a different subject.

QUESTION: With regard to oil prices, which as you know has --

MR. RUBIN: Oil prices, yes.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary had contact with OPEC countries about the impact of rising oil prices in order to exert pressure on them?

MR. RUBIN: Without getting into the details of diplomatic exchanges - are you seeing a refrain develop here?

QUESTION: You are not having these conversations in Israel.

MR. RUBIN: Apparently. You might have a better ability to read about them.

Without getting into the details of diplomatic exchanges, senior US officials have and will continue to discuss the issues of oil with major OPEC and non-OPEC producers. And those discussions, we will note the impact on the United States and the global economy of the higher oil prices brought about by coordinated oil production cuts.

Our position has been and will continue to be that we do not believe cartels should be coordinating production levels among producers to set oil prices.

QUESTION: On another subject?


QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Rubin, there is a small but very disturbing little wire summary. Basically the Border Patrol spokesman says that the Juarez cartel is considered to be serious when they've offered a $200,000 bounty for murdering Border Patrol agents. I would just ask what the reaction of the State Department is to that and what are we going to - what can be done to protect those Border Patrol agents from paramilitary groups in the employ of the cartel?

MR. RUBIN: We take very seriously any threat against US law enforcement personnel. Additional security precautions are being taken and the matter is being investigated but it would be inappropriate for me to comment on an ongoing law enforcement investigation or specific security measures that are being taken.

QUESTION: Do not the paramilitary resources of the Juarez cartel and other Mexican cartels and the leadership of those cartels not themselves have a bounty on their heads for being arrested and prosecuted? Is there some kind of a reward system that you go out to them?

MR. RUBIN: We have had, and continue to have, a reward system. I will get you the details of it as it applies to those particular questions.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on when Secretary Albright may be meeting with the Foreign Minister of Japan Kono on his visit to the United States?

MR. RUBIN: I do not have a time for that and, when I can get you one, I will.

QUESTION: Terry Anderson is at US District Court right now pushing forward his lawsuit against Iran. The judge has ruled that Iran is in default because it was notified of the hearings and that these are carried through diplomatic channels - this communication. Can you tell us anything about that?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I think as the legal process has gone forward in this country, we have certainly made Iran aware of that process.

QUESTION: Do you answer for them?

MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't want to speak for them, but I think it wouldn't be too much of an assumption for me to say that they don't accept the jurisdiction or the awards.

QUESTION: Does the State Department have any other role in this? I'm just not familiar with it.

MR. RUBIN: Well, the only other issue out there, of course, is the question of attachment of diplomatic property, which is something that we as a matter of principle have opposed in all cases.

QUESTION: Also on Iran?


QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts on the Iranian parliamentary election which is upcoming, I believe, maybe Friday or so?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. We have watched very carefully and closely the developments in Iran in recent years. We have been encouraged by the democratic development there, including a freer press and increasingly free and fair elections. We certainly have wanted, as the President and the Secretary have indicated, to develop a dialogue with Iran where we could work on common projects of interest, where we could discuss the issues that divide us in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and to develop someday a constructive relationship with Iran.

Obviously, there are still major problems that haven't gone away, but we will be watching the election closely and we certainly hope that it is conducted freely and fairly. Beyond that, it's our view that we, by commenting too extensively on such an election in the middle of the process, we won't be helping the situation.

QUESTION: On Iran, when the whole Russian oil tanker issue broke, there was some indication that the US may have been in touch with Iran expressing its concern about the fact that this tanker specifically but, in general, tankers that might be smuggling this Iraqi oil hug the Iranian coastline.

MR. RUBIN: Beyond saying that the Security Council Sanctions Committee is normally the venue for raising questions with member states about potential actions that are inconsistent with the Security Council's resolution -- in this case, on the prohibition on the export of Iraqi oil -- and there is regular contact between the Sanctions Committees there and Iran and other governments in this area -- because we have been concerned about the increase in illicit oil exports from Iraq that have often traveled in the way you've described. So that has been something the Security Council Sanctions Committee has raised from time to time with Iran and, beyond that, I wouldn't be in a position to comment.

QUESTION: So you can't or won't say whether there have been bilateral --

MR. RUBIN: It has been my practice to not comment on messages that may or may not be sent through various means. Yes, any specific message other than confirming that there is an ability to do so. Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have anything you can say about reports that the 15- nation European Union has reached informal agreement on backing World Bank Executive Koch-Weser as its IMF candidate?

MR. RUBIN: I think it has generally been our view that the question of the new managing director is a key decision for the international community to make. Traditionally, the managing director of the IMF has been a European. We believe that it is important to have the strongest possible managing director for the IMF and it is important to identify a leader of considerable experience and judgment with credibility in the markets who is able to command a strong consensus among all IMF members and it is important, obviously, for the new managing director to be acceptable not just to the Europeans but to the membership as a whole.

Beyond saying that, I don't care to comment on any specific individuals.

QUESTION: The United States delegation led by Mr. Talbott reportedly is scheduled to visit Beijing via Tokyo. If so, could you kindly elaborate on the makeup of the delegation and the purpose of that visit?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. Deputy Secretary Talbott is leading a delegation that includes senior members of the Administration, including General Ralston, including Under Secretary of Defense Walt Slocombe and including the highly skilled, experienced and terrific Deputy National Security Advisor Jim Steinberg who are - no, he's a friend of mine.

The delegation is going to be traveling to both China and Japan. Obviously, with respect to China, they will be discussing a number of issues that we hope to improve our dialogue with China on, including military-to-military ties, including nonproliferation. I think there will be a special emphasis on the National Missile Defense program that we have developed and they will be pursuing information about the threat that has emerged from countries around the world and the nature of our program to combat that threat and the reasons why we think it can be pursued while maintaining the fundamental principles of the ABM Treaty.

In Japan, they will be engaged in a wide-ranging discussion of our longstanding relationship with Japan, including the defense side of that relationship.

And those are the major points of that trip.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say also in light of the earlier question about the Japanese Foreign Minister, that he might be setting the stage for a meeting between the Japanese Foreign Minister and Secretary Albright?

MR. RUBIN: I think it would certainly be that that would be part of the discussions, but I think that that is going on a little bit parallel as well and not needing that kind of a full inter-agency team to set up that kind of meeting. I mean, we meet regularly with the Foreign Minister of Japan. It's usually just a scheduling question as to when.

QUESTION: Do you know when they are going to be in Beijing?

MR. RUBIN: On their dates, one moment please. February 14th through 18th, Japan and China. I don't have a breakdown of that. I will try to get that for you.

I would also add that in the case of China, Deputy Secretary Talbott's team, by the way, arrived in Japan today. Talks will continue tomorrow. So that would suggest to me that they would be in China at the end of the week, on Friday.

The trip will also include an elaboration and a continuation of our strategic dialogue with China that the Secretary has been holding with both Foreign Minister Tang and Vice Minister - I'm not sure his precise title - Qian Qichen, who used to be the foreign minister who has now been promoted, Vice Premiere Qian Qichen -- that she has been holding for some time about a wide range of interests that we both have in subjects like North Korea, the India-Pakistan question, proliferation on the subcontinent, a wide range of strategic issues that we have engaged in.

QUESTION: Do you have anything regarding yesterday's decision by the European Union to suspend flight ban to Serbia and, at the same time, to strengthen some other sanctions to get --

MR. RUBIN: Right. As some of you may know, last week Secretary Albright met with Foreign Minister Cook and specifically worked out to her satisfaction a sharpening of the sanctions tool indicating, as she did, that sanctions are not an ideology; they are a tool to achieve an objective. And by strengthening the financial sanctions in the very ways that we have sought - namely, increasing personnel, informing companies in advance of how the sanctions work, reporting on the progress of these financial sanctions, as well as expanding the list of Yugoslavs who are on the visa ban, the travel ban list - that this would put increasing pressure on the regime, and; in recognition of the steps that the opposition has taken to unify, to develop a joint program, to work on common lists for elections, that we responded to their calls to have a suspension for several months of the ban on flights in and out of Yugoslavia to Europe.

So that is something that Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister Cook had consulted about, and she indicated general support for that and so we believe that this combination of sharpening the tool of sanctions by tightening and strengthening of financial and travel sanctions while permitting a wider group of Yugoslav Serbian citizens to travel back and forth by aircraft was an appropriate mix.

QUESTION: Jamie, is US Government going to follow the European lines and to allow American companies to fly to Serbia?

MR. RUBIN: We have no plans for that at this time.

QUESTION: Would you like to comment on the appointment of - I'm not going to try to say his first name --

MR. RUBIN: I do want to know what it's like.

QUESTION: General Ojdanic as the new defense minister in Yugoslavia, who is also the chief of staff and a war crimes suspect, to replace the guy who was --

MR. RUBIN: Well, I mean, I think any official in the top levels of the Yugoslav regime obviously are living in a criminal environment and, therefore, they need to be aware of the dangers of that criminal environment. We've talked about that for a long time and so it's not a job I'd want when I leave government.

QUESTION: So you're taking yourself off the list?

MR. RUBIN: They've probably taken me off.

QUESTION: Jamie, I understand yesterday for the first time US State Department officials met in this building with some Chechn personalities. Can you tell us who they were and what the conversation was about?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. We did have meetings in the Department yesterday with Chechen officials. Office Directors from our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and the Office of Russian Affairs, as well as the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration met with Deputy Chairman of the Chechen Parliament Bechaev at the State Department. We focused on human rights and humanitarian issues, and we made clear our view that all parties in the conflict should cease fighting and intensify the political dialogue to bring about a lasting peace.

Since the focus of the discussion was humanitarian issues, we deemed it appropriate for this meeting to take place in the offices of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

QUESTION: First, can you give us the spelling on this guy's last name?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, the spelling I have for him is Deputy Chairman of the Chechen Parliament Seilam, S-e-i-l-a-m, Bechaev, B-e-c-h-a-e-v.

QUESTION: Okay. And did the question of Mr. Babitskiy come up at all?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not aware of that, but I'll have to check that for you.

QUESTION: He was alone - Bechaev?


QUESTION: In answer to my yesterday's pending question, if the US Government has a list of suspects of the November 17 terrorist organization list?

MR. RUBIN: I do not have any update, but I will check with my able Deputy, Jim Foley, to try to help you out in that regard.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 P.M.)

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