U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN DAILY PRESS BRIEFING NOVEMBER 23, 1994 U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Wednesday, November 23, 1994 Briefer: David Johnson BOSNIA NATO Air Strikes ................................1,3 Siege of Bihac/Impact on Peace Process ..........1-4 US Discussions at UN/NAC/Contact Group ..........3-6 DEPARTMENT Secretary's Contacts with Congress ..............6-7
DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 1994, 1:03 P. M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. JOHNSON: Good afternoon. I don't really have anything in the way of prepared statements. If you all have questions, I'll do my best to answer them.
Q What about the airstrikes against the Serb missiles?
MR. JOHNSON: I have a couple of things about that you might find interesting. At around 10:00 a.m. local time, NATO aircraft involved in Operation Deny Flight were threatened by two SA-2 sites and an SA-6 site in the vicinity of Bihac.
Surface-to-air missile radar illuminated the NATO aircraft, which is an indication that a missile launch could be imminent. In accordance with self-defense rules of engagement, NATO aircraft attacked the SAM sites. That attack follows yesterday's Bosnian Serb attempt to target two NATO aircraft with SA-2 missiles.
UNPROFOR was aware that these actions could elicit a response and agreed that NATO retaliation was appropriate.
I'd also tell you that I understand that at approximately right now in Naples there's a press conference, conducted by AFSOUTH, which will go into a lot of the details of what took place.
Q There was a second strike today, wasn't there?
MR. JOHNSON: There were strikes. The one at 10:00 a.m. was the second of the two.
Q What's the status of the siege of Bihac?
MR. JOHNSON: I would say that humanitarian conditions in Bihac are extremely poor. The town is under siege. Bosnian Krajina Serb forces are closing in on the city. We are very concerned for the town's population which is estimated at 170,000. It is under attack and has been largely denied humanitarian aid since May.
Together with the United Nations and our NATO allies, we're looking at all possibilities for supplying humanitarian aid, including air drops.
Q When might you make that decision?
MR. JOHNSON: I don't have anything for you specific to that, but I would note that there was a North Atlantic Council meeting today in Brussels, and part of the outcome of that was the tasking of the military committee to report back tomorrow on various options which might be pursued in support of the UNPROFOR mission. That could include something here, but I don't know what it will include.
Q When do you think that Bihac could fall? How imminent is that, and why -- go ahead.
MR. JOHNSON: Go ahead with your question.
Q I'll wait.
MR. JOHNSON: I don't have any predicted value for that. I can't tell you if and when it might fall.
Q But, I mean, is it under imminent danger?
MR. JOHNSON: It's a very serious situation, but I'm unable to tell you that in X hours that situation will change in a precarious way.
Q Why or how could you deliver humanitarian aid if it's about to fall to invading forces?
MR. JOHNSON: One of the things that's being considered are air drops. Another consideration will be the potential opening of a supply route, but that would, of course, require the cooperation of the Serbs which is certainly not forthcoming right now. But the reason we would consider supplying the population is because of its need.
Q You're not protecting these Bangladeshi peacekeepers -- doesn't NATO have some sort of special responsibility to do that?
MR. JOHNSON: UNPROFOR certainly has a special responsibility to do that, and NATO has committed itself to assist UNPROFOR in that.
Q So we're waiting for them to call?
MR. JOHNSON: We would certainly respond to a call for air support and for protection of the UNPROFOR forces that are located there.
Q What about evacuation?
MR. JOHNSON: I don't know that that's something that's been requested or considered at this point.
Q In terms of the peace process, what would the fall of Bihac mean to this process?
MR. JOHNSON: It would certainly put a great deal of strain on the peace process. As you all are aware, the Contact Group plan was accepted by the Croatians and the Bosnian Government but not by the Bosnian Serbs. And they as the holdout would potentially create more pressure on themselves by continuing to push.
Q What are you going to do about it?
MR. JOHNSON: I just said that the North Atlantic Council is meeting today -- or had met today; had asked the Military Committee to consider steps which might be taken, and they're going to be reporting back to them tomorrow.
We're also working with our allies on other diplomatic steps which might be taken, but I don't have a laundry list to give you.
Q David, back on the airplanes, I'm not sure I understand. Do the pilots have the right to strike the SAM sites if they're illuminated by ground radar?
MR. JOHNSON: Under their rules of engagement, that's considered a hostile act.
Q And is that what happened today?
MR. JOHNSON: That is what happened today.
Q So it didn't require any relay back through the U.N.-NATO chain of command.
MR. JOHNSON: Exactly what happened, I don't know, but it would not require that.
Q Do all of these events put additional strains on the relations between the various NATO allies, particularly between the United States and Britain and France?
MR. JOHNSON: I wouldn't describe them as "strains," but they certainly put a premium on working together with the NATO allies to try to craft things that we might do to support UNPROFOR and to support the UNPROFOR troops on the ground.
Q David, my understanding is that the U.S. has been trying to seek the establishment of an exclusion zone around the town of Bihac. My understanding is that we have pressed for that and that it has been denied.
MR. JOHNSON: That is something that we are certainly in favor of. We've been pursuing it. I wouldn't characterize it as having been denied. It's something that we haven't secured at this point.
Q We're continuing to push it?
MR. JOHNSON: We certainly are.
Q How would that change?
MR. JOHNSON: It would provide an area around Bihac which would be exclusive of heavy weapons and provide a safer area for both the UNPROFOR troops on the ground and the population which is there.
Q It appears that the Serbs are going to be in the city in a matter of a very short period of time. How would you get them out of the city?
MR. JOHNSON: I'd say there is certainly a premium on time in establishing this zone.
Q Where are the objections coming from specifically?
MR. JOHNSON: I'm not going to get into our exchanges with governments about how we're trying to pursue this. I just don't have anything for you.
Q (Inaudible) military committee of the NAC is looking at exclusion zones?
MR. JOHNSON: I wouldn't exclude that as part of their consideration, but I don't have a list of issues that they might be pursuing.
Q David, what's the status of the situation in Sarajevo and the reports that U.N. forces have been blockaded into certain areas by Serbian forces?
MR. JOHNSON: I don't have anything for you on any blockades. Certainly, there are some activities which continue around Sarajevo. Let me see if I've got anything more specific to respond to that.
The only thing I have specific to Sarajevo is that the airport remains closed in that area. I believe, based on reports from your colleagues, that there continues to be small arms fire around the town, but I don't have anything on anything heavier.
Q There's a specific report that U.N. forces have been blockaded into specific parts of Sarajevo by Serb tanks.
MR. JOHNSON: I'll look into that for you, Barrie. That sounds as though it would be inconsistent with -- inside Sarajevo by Serb tanks -- with the heavy weapons exclusion rules.
Q I believe you said weapons collection points.
MR. JOHNSON: I'll take a look at that and see if I can get something for you.
Q David, senior officials a couple of days ago had indicated that there would be a Contact Group Foreign Ministers meeting next week. There now seems to be indications that it's only going to be senior officials. Can you sort of clarify that?
MR. JOHNSON: I think the German Foreign Minister announced that it would take place at the ministerial level, and I wouldn't take issue with his words.
Q So the Secretary will be there?
MR. JOHNSON: That's my understanding.
Q And what does the United States want to happen at this meeting?
MR. JOHNSON: I don't have a list of things on that specific agenda, but we would certainly be looking at security issues surrounding the area as well as what we might do to induce the Bosnian Serbs to accept the Contact Group's plan.
Q When is that meeting going to take place?
MR. JOHNSON: Late next week.
Q When is that ministerial meeting (inaudible)?
MR. JOHNSON: I don't have a specific time and date, but it'll be the latter part of next week.
Q Several newspapers reported today that it was going -- it had been downgraded from "ministerial level" to "senior official level." Was there some conversation today that convinced the alliance to re- upgrade it to --
MR. JOHNSON: I'm unaware of any upping and downing, despite what you say was reported in the newspapers.
Q In the New York Times today, and people here saying the same thing yesterday.
MR. JOHNSON: My information is that -- I wouldn't take issue with the German Foreign Minister's characterization.
Q Another subject. Do you have a readout on the Secretary's meeting with Senator Dole yesterday?
MR. JOHNSON: Excuse me?
Q Any information on the Secretary's meeting with Senator Dole yesterday?
MR. JOHNSON: Only that it was part of the meetings that he will have and has had with the leadership in the Senate, and in the House on both sides of the aisle, discussing a full range of issues, including GATT which the President made an announcement on only a few minutes ago and other foreign relations issues. But I don't have a direct readout on what discussion -- I'm sure that was part of the discussion.
Q David, can I ask another Bosnia question? How involved is the Secretary in the events of trying to pressure our allies, if that's necessary, or people at NATO or people at the U.N. to try and make a decision on what to do about Bihac? Or is it being handled at Assistant Secretary or the Deputy Secretary level?
MR. JOHNSON: I know that he has had a number of calls -- placed a number of calls to his ministerial colleagues. He said this morning at the briefing, in which he participated in at the Pentagon, that he had taken a call from the Prime Minister of Bosnia on Sunday. He's very active in trying to find some effective solutions to ameliorate the problems that are in Bihac.
I don't have specifics for you as to when his calls were made to his ministerial colleagues.
Q Can you say anything about Wirth's meeting with the Chinese Ambassador?
MR. JOHNSON: No, I can't. I will see if there is something to be said about that. You believe it took place when?
Q It's at 2:30.
Q Getting back to the previous question about his meeting with Senator Dole. Has the Secretary talked with, met with, Senator Helms? Does he have any specific plans to do so?
MR. JOHNSON: I'm unaware of any plans to meet with Senator Helms. I wouldn't exclude it, and I'll see if I can find out if something is planned and let you know.
Q Is the Secretary going to be in town for the holiday weekend?
MR. JOHNSON: As far as I know.
Q Thank you.
(Press briefing concluded at 1:16 p.m.)
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