U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN DAILY PRESS BRIEFING DECEMBER 12, 1994 U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Monday, December 12, 1994 Briefer: Michael McCurry BOSNIA Harassment of UN Forces .........................1 Strengthening UN Forces/Redeployment ............2-3 Arms Embargo/Leakage in Serbian Border ..........3-5 US Offer of Troops to Aid in UN Withdrawal ......5-6 RUSSIA Negotiations with Chechnya Leaders ..............6-8 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Elections .......................................9 VIETNAM Prospects for Opening Liaison Offices with US ...9
DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
MONDAY, DECEMBER 12, 1994, l2:47 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. McCURRY: Well, it is very good to be back here at the United States State Department where I am the Spokesman, holding forth five days a week. I'm here at least through the holidays and beyond, so let's go. Who wants to ask a question?
Q Do you want to start off with --
MR. McCURRY: Mr. Rothberg and then Mr. Matthews? O.K. It would be like an auction -- bidding process here.
Q O.K. We could start off with either Bosnia or Dave Barry, whichever --
MR. McCURRY: Why did I knew someone was going to ask me about bulging burritos of lust? (Laughter) I just knew that was going to happen today.
The reference here is to a David Barry column that was absolutely hysterical. But I can report to you that the Secretary of State has not read it so I cannot give you his impression. He's been hard at work at the Summit of the Americas, so he didn't have a chance to see it; but I read it, and I thought it was funny.
Q In that case, if you want to move on to Bosnia?
MR. McCURRY: Yes. Let's do something that's not --
Q Four Bangladeshis wounded, convoys being held up -- all of the elements that we're supposed to bring on, of course, certain retaliation. Where does this stand now?
MR. McCURRY: I'd prefer you to refer you to one of our Cabinet Secretaries who is out ON THE RECORD today. Secretary Perry has met a short while ago with French Defense Minister Leotard and addressed many of these same issues. This is going to be a subject of discussion at the upcoming NATO Defense Ministers Meeting.
It is true that in the last 48 hours we've seen increased harassment of U.N. forces, and within the confines of the United Nations; and also, I suspect, at NATO they will be discussing ways that they properly can deal with this situation.
There has also been, as you know, the release of some of those that have been held hostages. The first humanitarian convoy did arrive at Bihac with very badly needed relief supplies. So it's a mixed picture at this point.
Q Is the idea of any real NATO retaliation, is that over?
MR. McCURRY: The status of NATO decision-making on Bosnia is where it was when we left Brussels at the recent meeting of the North Atlantic Council, and they addressed that situation specifically.
Q Mike, Secretary Perry and Mr. Leotard appeared to be suggesting that NATO was indeed ready to strengthen the presence of the U.N. forces -- not in terms of number but in terms of their equipment, and also their capacity to be able to defend themselves, and if need be to strike back. But all this seems to pre-suppose a willingness on the part of the U.N. Commanders who, in recent days -- it's been widely reported that General Rose and Mr. Akashi would do almost anything but take military action. So why do we believe that discussions of this nature really have any meaning? It almost looks like we're trying to muddy the waters.
MR. McCURRY: Let me take issue with the first part of your question, Barrie. They didn't indicate that there was a preparedness to move ahead on those things. I think he correctly indicated that those were things that they would discuss.
Secretary Perry pointed out that those are not decisions necessarily that UNPROFOR takes unilaterally. Certainly the United States and France working together can't take those decisions unilaterally, but they're in a position where they want to discuss alternative ways of strengthening the U.N. mission in Bosnia. They've got some recommendations, and they're going to be dealing with them in coming days.
Q Just to follow the point. How might you meet the extraordinarily strong resistance, it would seem, on the part of the UNPROFOR leadership in Bosnia to take any such actions?
MR. McCURRY: Those are judgments that are made by military commanders who are on the ground; and like all decisions involving Bosnia under the dual-key approach that has been outlined by NATO and UNPROFOR, they have to be done consistent with the views of the commanders on the ground in Bosnia. I don't know the current thinking of those U.N. Commanders, specifically as they relate to the increased harassment we're seeing of U.N. personnel. We'll have to see what views they bring to the table as that matter is discussed.
Q Are you yet prepared to pronounce yourself on your basic attitude and feeling toward the actions of General Rose and Mr. Akashi?
MR. McCURRY: I've been asked and have done so numerous times in the past, and those views haven't changed yet.
Q Both Mr. Perry and Mr. Leotard spoke this morning about strengthening U.N. forces. Mr. Leotard mentioned regrouping into a smaller area. Would that require pulling UNPROFOR away from any of the current safe areas? And what would be the American position on that?
MR. McCURRY: I don't know the degree to which that has been planned for and what type of contingency plans the United Nations has made for that type of regrouping or redeployment.
I believe that Minister Leotard indicated that the French had regrouped from seven locations that they had been in in Bosnia to four, and those were part of their own strategic redeployments as a troop-contributing participant in UNPROFOR; but how those were carried out, what degree of planning was involved by the United Nations, and then more on the U.S. side of the equation -- what the NATO contingency planning would be in connection with that type of deployment -- I'm just not familiar with enough to comment on. But I would imagine it's operational in detail, in any event, and not something that I would likely comment on publicly.
Q Could I ask more? There are reports that the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia are supplying Krajina Serbs with the acquiescence of Lord Owen and the European Union. What does the United States think of that?
MR. McCURRY: As we've reported to you here in the past, we've seen some indications that there have been reductions of goods going to the Bosnia Serbs since the border closure was announced by former Yugoslavia in August. There has been, by in large, cooperation with that monitoring mission that the ICFY is running along that border. We've reported and continue to report, we see some evidence of gaps and violations despite the border closure that has been ordered by Milosevic. We're very concerned about reports of those shipments designated for Krajina Serbs. We're concerned that the material might be in the process of being diverted to the Bosnia Serb army; and that's one of the reasons why we have pressed for much tighter enforcement of sanctions, and also much tighter and more rigorous monitoring along that border.
We will continue to work with other members of the Contact Groups and others that we've had discussions on this issue about and continue, obviously, to do everything we can to monitor any indication that there is material assistance going from Serbia to the Bosnian Serbs, whether across that border with Bosnia or by the back-door through the Krajina leak.
Q Is it your impression that the Europeans are acquiescing in that?
MR. McCURRY: Based on the discussions that we have had most recently with our allies, they take a somewhat different view. They don't believe that the border itself has been as porous as we believe it may be. They have a different understanding of the situation, based on their own assessment, and of course ours is based on the information that's available to us through our own intelligence and other means.
Q If I could follow up, do the Europeans draw a distinction between enforcing an embargo against supplying the Bosnian Serbs and enforcing an embargo against supplying the Croatian Serbs? Do you disagree with them?
MR. McCURRY: They draw a distinction because Milosevic's order, as it pertains to a strict closure of the border, relates to the border between Serbia and Bosnia. So they acknowledge that there hasn't been the same degree of monitoring or compliance along those other borders, but they point out that that was not anticipated in the original order of Milosevic concerning the border.
We take the view that all of this contributes to increased fighting, increased likelihood that the situation will not be brought to a peaceful conclusion, and that's why we take the dim view of it.
Q If we're done with Bosnia, I'd like to --
MR. McCURRY: Barrie.
Q Mike, today, in The New York Times, Mr. Safire quotes former Secretary of State Eagleburger and former National Security Advisor Scowcroft as saying they're unaware of any specific written commitments that were made by this country to supply ground forces in order to help to extricate UNPROFOR.
MR. McCURRY: Say that again, Barrie? They were aware of any specific --
Q They were unaware of any specific commitment -- specific commitment, whether it's written or what -- specific commitment made by the United States to provide ground troops to assist in the extrication of UNPROFOR.
I suppose one could say that the NATO charter sort of implies that. But, in any event, what is this Administration's rationale? What is the basis for its feeling that the ground troops, indeed, should be sent, if indeed the extrication becomes essential?
MR. McCURRY: The one expressed by the President yesterday very clearly. He feels that we have a commitment to our NATO allies who are pursuing NATO decisions in support of the U.N. mission, and that that is a commitment in principle that has been given not only by this Administration but by the previous Administrations as well.
Q Can we go with Bosnia?
MR. McCURRY: Yes.
Q Another one on Bosnia, if I may. Apparently some telephone links between Belgrade and the Bosnian Serb regions have been re-established recently. Do you have a comment on that?
MR. McCURRY: I saw a report of that. I have not been able to ascertain whether that's correct or not. That would indicate some lessening of the pressure from Belgrade on the Pale Serbs. Of course, the whole thrust of our policy has been aimed at trying to increase that pressure that the former Yugoslavia -- those in Serbia and Belgrade -- can bring to bear on the Serbs in Pale in order to bring them back into discussion of a peace settlement.
Q I'd like to move into another potentially explosive situation. Does the State Department feel that the tensions in Chechnya could erupt into a full-scale war or civil war, if you prefer? And, secondly, are you concerned then that this war could become another difficult situation, another Bosnia, if you will?
MR. McCURRY: They are much different situations. Chechnya is a tragic situation. We hope it can be resolved peacefully and be resolved peacefully quickly. That has been the thrust of our presentations to the Russians as we discuss with them the need to bring about a peaceful settlement to what is largely an internal conflict that the Russians are dealing with.
There are, as you know, today talks, I believe in Vladikavkaz, that are going to be held between Russian representatives and Chechnya leaders, both opposition and representatives of Dudayev. We'll see how those go.
We have expressed our own concerns, our own belief that they should exercise restraint; and we've said that to the Russians on several occasions. We do hope that their negotiations will result in a peaceful and durable solution to this conflict.
Again, I would stress -- and I think we have stressed on several occasions -- that Chechnya is, after all, an integral part of Russia, and events in Chechnya, as a result of that, are largely an internal Russian matter.
Q In that case, we're prepared to condone violence if in fact it goes that way?
MR. McCURRY: No. We never condone violence. Obviously we would regret the loss of life that would occur. That's precisely why we have urged the Russians to try to deal with this peacefully, and that's why we are talking note of peace discussions that we hope will prove fruitful being held today in Vladikavkaz.
Q Has the Secretary talked to Foreign Minister Kozyrev about this? Has the President spoken or have any plans to speak with his friend Boris Yeltsin about this?
MR. McCURRY: The President indicated yesterday -- he answered that question yesterday, Lee. He said he had not had a discussion with President Yeltsin about it.
I don't recall Chechnya specifically coming up in the Secretary's most recent bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Kozyrev in Brussels.
As you may know, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Kozyrev are planning to get together sometime soon to sort of step back and take a review of U.S.-Russian relations, and perhaps this subject will be on the agenda at that meeting.
Q A number of key reformers split with Yeltsin on this excursion -- Gaidar and some others. Are you not concerned that this episode might bring down Boris Yeltsin?
MR. McCURRY: We are, as best we can, analyzing what the impact of this decision making will be as it relates to maintaining our own security interests and in directing our own policy as it relates to Russia.
You're asking me a question about what is a domestic, political response to the decision of President Yeltsin, and that is not something we can comment on as a point of foreign policy. We of course assess what's going on there, what it means, what it will likely mean for events as they unfold. We will draft and conduct our policy-making accordingly.
Q So are you saying that we're reassessing -- in light of this, we're reassessing our policy towards Russia?
MR. McCURRY: No. I'm saying to the contrary. We have been aware for some time, for months, of the conflict that exists in Chechnya, the efforts that the Russians have made to control violence there, to deal with what has been a very crime-ridden and corruption-ridden province. We are certainly well aware of the situation and how the Russians have been responding to it. But by no means does Chechnya define the broad parameters of the U.S.-Russia partnership.
Q Have we made any sort of assessment of what type of arms the rebels have, their military capability? Have we spoken to the Russians about the possibility of this becoming another Afghanistan for them?
MR. McCURRY: I'm not aware of discussions in that detail with the Russians on the subject of Chechnya.
Q What about an assessment of their military capabilities? Are the rebels well armed? Are they good fighters, in your analysis?
MR. McCURRY: We've got an analysis of the situation, and our analysis is based on how we view the situation there and what we think of the deployments the Russians have got underway. I'm not sure it's something I can usefully tell you about. If you're interested in that in some detail, I can find some people who analytically know more about that.
Q Is it the assessment of the United States Government now that what's going on in Chechnya and the Russian position on NATO expansion indicate a strengthening of the military and security forces in Russia?
MR. McCURRY: Look, we don't have an assessment that bleeds all of these into one uniform picture. I don't know that internal decision-making in the Russian Government as it relates to Chechnya has much to do in their thinking with how they approach a geopolitical question like the expansion of NATO.
I suspect that if you ask them, and you probably should, they see these as two very different situations. We make our own analysis. We look ahead to how we manage out issues that we've got with them. Among the issues that we deal with the Russians on are the ones that you know of that are very, very important: How do we continue to strengthen and nurture reform in the movement towards democracy in Russia? How do we accomplish the integration of Russia with Europe to diminish the collective security threat that would be posed by the drawing of another Iron Curtain line through the continent? How do we deal with issues of NATO expansion? How do we continue our close cooperation on Bosnia? How do we continue to do the kind of successful work we've done on denuclearization, represented by the going-into-effect of START I?
We are dealing with very large strategic issues with Russia that we manage very effectively, and we manage despite the differences of opinion that sometimes exists between the United States and Russia.
But I caution anyone here (not) to elevate the question of Chechnya just because it happens in the headlines and in your heads today into something that is on a par with the question of NATO expansion or the other issues in which we have a very important and focused engagement with the Russians.
That sermonizing brought a silence to this assembled masses. Let's go to Connie for all the latest on New Guinea. (Laughter)
Q No, no. I don't have New Guinea. Middle East.
MR. McCURRY: Middle East.
Q Anything on Rabin today? He's apparently now asking for more time on a pullout?
MR. McCURRY: We had very good sessions in Israel with Prime Minister Rabin, with Chairman Arafat, on the issue of elections. I think Chairman Arafat expressed himself very directly on that following a meeting he had with Secretary Christopher.
Both parties are clearly engaged in working through those issues, as they should, under the Declaration of Principles. We continue to encourage them to make progress that would lead to early elections, and early elections that are consistent with the security considerations that the PLO and Chairman Arafat acknowledge are central in their own thinking about approaching the issue of elections. So we're satisfied that the parties are directly engaged on that, and we will continue to monitor their own direct discussions.
Q What about the U.S. and Vietnam? Does this recent agreement on the past diplomatic property make it imminent that we will open Liaison Offices?
MR. McCURRY: No. I am told that they have not made final arrangements for the opening of Offices. They are still discussing exactly how they will finalize the arrangements for the opening of offices in both Hanoi and Washington. But they did, as you know, last week conclude the agreement on property which will actually clear the way for them finalizing a decision on the opening of Offices. But, as I say, no date has been set.
Q Thank you.
(Press briefing concluded at 1:10 p.m.)
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