U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN DAILY PRESS BRIEFING JANUARY 6, 1994 U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Friday, January 6, 1995 Briefer: Christine Shelly IRAQ Discussions between Tariq Aziz/French Officials .. (1) U.S. Reaction to French Proposal to open Interest Section in Baghdad ............................. (2-5) HAITI Repatriation of Haitians from Guantanamo ......... (6-7) CUBA Preliminary Planning re: Cubans at Panama Safe Haven ..................................... (7) Numbers of Cubans in Panama/Guantanamo & Movement to third Countries ............................. (7-8) Talks on Implementation of U.S./Cuba Agreement ... (8-9) GREECE/TURKEY PM Papandreou Remarks on Middle East Peace process (9) Turkish Gov't. Remarks on EU Membership .......... (9- 10) RUSSIA Letter from President Clinton to President Yeltsin (10) Chechnya Conflict Russian Gov't. Response to EU/OSCE Proposals ... (11) Discussion between State Department/Elena Bonner (11- 12) Update on Fighting ............................. (13- 14) Russian Security Council Meeting ............... (13- 14,17) President Yeltsin's Leadership/Standing/Control (14- 18)
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, JANUARY 6, 1995, 12:56 P. M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MS. SHELLY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome back to the State Department for its weekly Friday briefing. I have no announcements today, so I'll be happy to start with your questions.
Q I would like to ask you about Iraq, France and the United States. The French have had the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister -- and I guess he's Foreign Minister, too -- Tariq Aziz to Paris and is about to open a liaison -- an Interests Section in Baghdad.
I wondered if Mr. Juppe's announcement reverberates here in any way. Do you have any reaction to it -- the State Department, I mean.
MS. SHELLY: I don't know if I can put it in the reverberation terms. What I can tell you is that France had informed us in advance that the visit would take place. This is not the first time that Iraqi officials have traveled to France in the recent time frame.
We also had the opportunity to convey some views on what might be touched upon in these discussions to French officials.
As to the specific apparent decision of theirs to open an Interests Section at the Romanian Embassy in Baghdad, we do not believe that this is a timely action. We don't consider the particular decision to be helpful or constructive.
We do not believe that now is the appropriate time to make gestures toward Iraq. Iraq continues to defy the international community and to violate many U.N. Security Council resolutions.
UNSCOM Chairman Ekeus made clear in his December report to the Security Council that Iraq's failure to cooperate with their Commission's efforts in the area of weapons of mass destruction was continuing, and we believe that such behavior should not be rewarded. They did not specifically solicit our advice on this point, but that's our reaction to it.
Q Does the U.S. think that this is commerce-driven, given the French-Iraqi commercial ties, oil ties?
MS. SHELLY: Barry, I think that's really a question you'd have to put to the French. Certainly they have signaled their interest, I think, to have a more active commercial relationship. But whether this is the driving factor behind their decision or even the timing of the decision I think you'd have to put to them.
I might also add in terms of looking at where Iraq is and having Iraq's compliance looked at in the multilateral context and specifically the Security Council, as I think you know, the overall Security Council review of Iraq's compliance is actually coming up next week on the 15th.
I think that's an opportunity at that time for the Security Council in that context to give a complete review of the compliance and then presumably to pronounce themselves on that issue.
Q Have you heard of any other countries moving in that direction?
MS. SHELLY: In terms of the --
Q Opening up a degree of relations with Iraq?
MS. SHELLY: No. We have not specifically -- I don't have any information that suggests that any other countries are at this point. I'll certainly be happy to check and see if we have anything.
Q And do you think that France should have consulted the United States and other countries before going ahead?
MS. SHELLY: Certainly it's a national decision for France to make, and we certainly value the opportunity to have exchanges with our allies on issues of key interest to us like this one.
We, I think overall with France, maintain the same broad objective, which is to get full Iraqi compliance with all of the Security Council resolutions. Based on our knowledge of past French exchanges with Iraq, they have always told us that they have continued to impress this point upon the Iraqis in their discussions with them.
But beyond that probably you'd have to put more specific questions about their intentions and the factors to them.
Q Don't the Iraqis have an Interests Section in Washington?
MS. SHELLY: The Iraqis operate an Interests Section here under the Algerian flag. There are two Iraqi officials assigned here whose activities are specifically limited to the routine administrative and consular functions.
We, for our part, do not maintain an Interests Section in Baghdad. We do have what we call a "protecting power" there. I think you're aware the Polish Government serves as the U.S. protecting power.
We have no U.S. officials in Baghdad, but there are a handful of Poles who work for the U.S. under this particular arrangement who handle again the routine administrative matters and who do provide the consular services for the very small American community which does reside in Iraq.
Q Why then do you see this French gesture being so odious, because it would involve the presence of French officials there or --
MS. SHELLY: I think that it's not so much the fact that the visit took place, but that the announcement on a decision to move ahead with an Interests Section clearly sends a political signal, given the most recent report which came out of the UNSCOM Commission, which said that the failure to cooperate was making a definitive knowledge of Iraq's past programs very, very difficult, in the aftermath of that kind of report.
But I think even more importantly, just a few days prior to a Security Council review, that the timing of this action is not a good one.
Q I realize the symbolism of the timing, but the fact, though, that Iraq does have an Interests Section here and that we do have -- are represented in some way in Baghdad, I mean, is a fact.
MS. SHELLY: But I think there is certainly a very considerable political difference and political significance when you simply have a protecting power arrangement. Obviously, when you have citizens of your country in another country, you do need to have some kind of way that you can help those citizens when they have difficulties or need their consular services to be performed; and that obviously is something which is very critical for nations around the world.
But when you actually step up your presence in a way where you are putting your own diplomats in a foreign country, it may not be in a formal, diplomatic kind of arrangement; but, nonetheless, the signal that sends about your presence in that country is a different political signal.
Q One more question on this. The United States stopped enforcing the embargo against the Muslims, so that affects one U.N. Security Council resolution. One could argue that, well, you know, and it did it for its own purposes. France is now sort of modifying its approach to Iraq for its own national purposes.
Why aren't those -- I mean, how can the United States criticize France when it has made a decision in its interests to just sort of modify its approach?
MS. SHELLY: I don't think that we would draw any parallel there. In the first case that you're talking about, which has to do with Bosnia, we have not changed our policy, but we made an alteration in our participation in an enforcement action. I think that's an important distinction to make.
But again in terms of the overall policy towards Iraq, the Security Council has pronounced itself on so many occasions about the need for full compliance with these U.N. Security Council resolutions; and that's not just some, it's not selective compliance, it's a total compliance. Particularly given that the most recent report which evaluates compliance was not one which was particularly favorable to Iraq, then the timing of this is, we think, not appropriate. We also don't think that it is helpful in terms of keeping the pressure on Iraq to reach that situation of full compliance.
Q Have you seen an official readout from Iraq -- I mean, from France?
MS. SHELLY: I'm certain that we will want to get one, and I certainly would expect that they would give us one. But to my knowledge as of the time that I came into this briefing, we had not had an official readout yet. It may be that we'll have something more to say after we've had a chance to actually get that.
Q And has this been officially transmitted to France -- your sharp comments and views that you have espoused from the podium?
MS. SHELLY: As I mentioned, we did receive notice that the visit would take place. We did not get a lot of advance notice for that, I might add, but there was enough time for us to then convey some views about the issues that would come up, not the least of which was certainly hoping that France would continue to impress upon the Iraqis the need for full compliance.
But whether or not those views had any influence ultimately on how the exchanges went, I think that's something that we would not be in a position to know until we've heard back officially from the French about that visit.
Q Prior to their decision to apparently move ahead with opening an Interests Section, did you express to them it would not be helpful, would not be constructive; this is not the time to make a gesture?
MS. SHELLY: As I said, we did convey some views to them on the topics that we expected would be coming up, but I think it would not be appropriate for me to get into a detailed discussion of that exchange.
Q Let me ask you just to try to get a measure for whether the appeals -- if that's the right word -- match the rhetoric after the event. Could you say, because the Secretary and Mr. Juppe have been frequent -- they're on the phone frequently. I don't know if we can call them pen pals.
You're at a point now where you seem to be on the same track on Bosnia and on Chechnya in trying to hold the Russians accountable to CSCE standards, and that's a French- American tandem operation, as far as we can tell.
Did the Secretary weigh in on this, and does this move disturb the new spirit of cooperation with France in those other areas?
MS. SHELLY: The Secretary does speak with Mr. Juppe quite frequently, as you know, and as a matter of fact at yesterday's briefing I even indicated that they had a conversation yesterday.
I don't know from that conversation -- since at least most of it focused on Chechnya, I don't know specifically if this issue came up, but I'll be happy to check on that. But certainly the message that comes out of here does reflect the Secretary's interest in and involvement in this issue.
Q Could we do Haiti?
MS. SHELLY: Sure.
Q An update on the repatriations?
MS. SHELLY: A first group of 54 Haitian migrants are being returned to Haiti today. They boarded a Coast Guard cutter at Guantanamo yesterday evening. Their departure was peaceful and without incident.
Some 100 Haitians were processed yesterday for return to Haiti. Following their interviews with INS officers, only a very small number were held back for further evaluation.
I understand there was a press release which was put out of the Task Force that operates at Guantanamo Naval Base. They indicated that no Haitians were identified from the basis of this first set of interviews as requiring continued safehaven status.
The process so far has gone well and, as I mentioned, without incident and it will continue today. We also continue to believe that with the removal of the coup leaders and the restoration of democracy and the improved security situation throughout the country there are very few people, if any, who ultimately will not be able to return to Haiti safely.
Q How many volunteers did (inaudible) get?
MS. SHELLY: In response to the December 29 offer?
MS. SHELLY: My understanding is that there were a total of 665 Haitians who volunteered to return in response to that particular statement and offer. Five hundred fifty-eight of these have already returned to Haiti. The remaining group of 107 are expected to leave Guantanamo this morning.
In terms of the numbers that leaves, that leaves 3,854 Haitian migrants remaining at Guantanamo.
Q Christine, until now you've made it pretty clear that those who did not volunteer by the deadline would not get this enhanced repatriation benefits. Is that still the case? There are some indications that they may indeed still qualify for the higher dollar figure.
MS. SHELLY: I checked on that specifically this morning to see whether there had been any re-thinking of that. Obviously, it will be a much easier situation for those who are coming forward voluntarily to go back. I'm told that consideration will be given to granting the enhanced benefits package to Haitians who come forward and who volunteer to return home without requesting an INS hearing.
Q The Cubans in Panama will replace the Haitians at Guantanamo - - is that the idea?
MS. SHELLY: On Cuba, let me just get that. There has been some reports going around, I think, about the possibility of moving Cubans there.
The current agreement with Panama will expire in early March. We have undertaken some preliminary planning regarding their potential move should it be necessary to move them, although I would add at this point that no final decision has been made on the future of the Panama safehaven.
We continue to be in close contact and frequent contact with the Panamanian Government on the range of issues which do affect the safehaven. But in the event that we reach or get closer to the early March timeframe, we are looking into the necessary steps that would need to be prepared in order to move the Cubans from there.
In this context we would continue our efforts to look for third country resettlement possibilities for as many of those migrants as are interested in pursuing that route. Some, of course, will continue to be eligible for the humanitarian parole. It still is our very strong position that no Cuban migrant, under U.S. Government protection at a safehaven facility, would be compelled to return home. That's back to Havana. It may be that after all of these issues are looked at, Cubans who are in Panama may end up returning to Guantanamo. But no decision to that effect has been taken so far.
Q What's been happening lately, just to update, with Cubans who do want to go home? Do you have any figures for Cubans at Guantanamo, and I guess Panama?
MS. SHELLY: I've got the numbers on that. In terms of the numbers, right now we have 8,229 Cubans remaining in Panama; we have 21,266 at Guantanamo. In terms of movement to third countries, I think you're aware that 72 Cuban migrants from the camps in Panama were transported to Madrid on December 8 by the Spanish Government to join members of their families in Spain. That was the first instance in which Cuban migrants had been moved from safehavens to a third country for permanent resettlement.
We are discussing the possible resettlement, as I mentioned, of Cuban migrants with other countries.
In terms of those who have been returning voluntarily to Cuba itself, 139 Cuban migrants returned to Cuba from Guantanamo on December 28. This brings the total of Cubans who have returned voluntarily from Guantanamo to Cuba through the official channels to 422. We do expect further voluntary returns shortly.
You also know that there were unauthorized returns from Guantanamo. That was 394 Cubans that had left either by jumping the fence or by swimming from the base into Cuba.
Q Did you say 21,266 at GTMO?
MS. SHELLY: 21,266; right. Betsy.
Q Don't talks resume here with the Cuban Government on the issue surrounding this exodus -- on the lottery and other issues?
MS. SHELLY: On the next round of consultations? Certainly, it would be our turn to host these talks the next time because, as you know, the last time the U.S. team, headed by Dennis Hayes, went down and held talks in Havana. Since the pattern of this has been to alternate between here in the States and in Havana, I think we would be the host the next time. But I've not seen any indication yet that a date has been fixed for the next round of discussions on the implementation of the agreement.
Q Can you tell me what other issues remain to be resolved, or how far along we are in implementing what we said we would do?
MS. SHELLY: Let me see if I can get an update on that for you. I don't have that with me today. As far as I know, the agreement is being implemented pretty smoothly. I'm not aware of any particular problems in it recently, but let me check on that. If I can't get it for today, I'll try to make sure that we've got something worked up on where we are on this for Monday.
Q The lottery? Do you have something on that -- is going --
MS. SHELLY: Right, exactly. In fact, within the last couple of weeks I think we may have had something on that. You might want to check with the Press Office. But if not, we'll get something worked up.
Q Is there an economic component being grounded -- a decision of what to do with the Cubans in Panama?
MS. SHELLY: As I said -- and let me go back to the point -- no decision has been taken. What's been going on so far is simply in the character of preliminary planning, given the fact that we are facing at this point and have to plan for the possibility of needing to move the Cubans out of Panama in early March.
I think our experience has found that it's easiest from a logistic point of view, and probably also less costly, to keep the migrants in a smaller number of locations. So there might be economic factors regarding logistics and costs which could weigh-in ultimately in those decisions. I'm sure that the Pentagon probably has estimates of the costs involved.
I would guess that given the overall resource constraints that we face, the costs involved certainly could be a factor ultimately in the decision.
Q Do you have a ballpark figure as to what the continued safehaven arrangement is costing?
MS. SHELLY: No, I do not.
Q A new subject?
MS. SHELLY: Yes.
Q The Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Papandreou, recently he was in Damascus. He stated that his government and his country support the Syrian position against the Middle East peace process. Do you have any reaction?
MS. SHELLY: I haven't seen those remarks, so I would hesitate to comment on them without having had a chance to see them and study them fully.
Q At the same time, the Turkish Government said that they are sick and tired of the Greek Government playing the cat-and-mouse game for the Turkish entrance to the European Union. Do you have any reaction on this?
MS. SHELLY: I think my reaction would be to not get caught in the crossfire. Sometimes there is an exchange of words back and forth. I think we've always found that we can be the most helpful in our bilateral relations if we pursue our diplomacy quietly rather than from the podium.
Q As with France?
MS. SHELLY: I think in this particular case we decided to pursue this one a little more publicly.
Q Why did the Administration go public with the President's letter to Mr. Yeltsin? Is this part of the campaign to get him to curb the military? That, in itself, is unusual: to let it be known that the President has written to Mr. Yeltsin and to reveal some of the contents. This is public diplomacy, I take it. Is that the reason it was made public? And have you heard anything in response yet?
MS. SHELLY: Barry, on that, I think that sometimes the White House, or even us at the State Department, do comment on official, high-level correspondence. Certainly, in many cases, we do not.
As you know, generally, there is a continual exchange of letters that does go on between President Clinton and President Yeltsin, so there is a regular correspondence there.
President Clinton did send a letter to President Yeltsin last night in response to President Yeltsin's letter to President Clinton, which arrived at the end of the year.
President Clinton's letter dealt with a number of issues, including Chechnya. I know that concerns regarding the loss of life and the civilian casualties were in that letter. But as is our usual practice, I would have to refer you to the White House for any further details on the letter.
Q The points made on Chechnya are well-known, and I wonder if they're being reinforced in any way here in Washington? Has there been contact with Russian diplomats here? Is the letter being backed up by us -- you know, supported -- by contact in Moscow or here between American and Russian diplomats?
MS. SHELLY: Yes. But I think there were contacts with the Russians at other levels prior to the sending of the letter. I believe those same other levels of contacts and other channels are continuing to be used.
Q With the same general objectives, I suppose?
MS. SHELLY: Yes. I'm not aware of any difference in those.
Q I know you can't really comment much on it, but in President Clinton's letter, did he also urge President Yeltsin to go through the OSCE avenue to resolve the conflict?
MS. SHELLY: I think, as a general point, that's in the letter. But, again, as to the specifics on that, I think you should put that question to the White House. We have encouraged the Russian Government in other contacts with them to work with the OSCE to explore the ways that they could be helpful in healing Russia's wounds and trying to find an end to the conflict.
We understand that the Russian Foreign Ministry has responded positively to some of these proposals and certainly would expect that they will also be saying some things publicly about what's likely to happen next.
Q It's monitoring you're talking about; right?
MS. SHELLY: That's one of the ideas that's been talked about, yes.
Q That's what they're positive about? That's one thing they're positive about?
MS. SHELLY: That is, I think, one of the major ideas which has been put to them -- again, you have to get the characterization of the response from the Russians -- that is one of the main ideas that's been put forward.
Q Can you amplify on your remark just now about you would expect the Russians to be saying something soon?
MS. SHELLY: It's up to the Russians to say what it is that they're prepared to do. We went, I think, as far as we could yesterday on this in terms of indicating that we were aware of both the OSCE and the EU efforts in Moscow. I think both of those two groups were represented in their usual troika format, and they met with Russian Foreign Ministry officials to discuss their ideas. We also had said that Foreign Minister Kozyrev had also indicated openness to these ideas.
But, again, we feel that it's not our role here to try to put out in any kind of detail what the Russian response and decisions are; that that's for the Russians to put out in Moscow.
Q Any openness on a Carter mediation, or any other peace-making efforts?
MS. SHELLY: I mentioned, in the context of the readout on the Elena Bonner meeting here yesterday -- I did give a readout on that. I think there may have been some misrepresentation about the contact and the idea of inviting President Carter.
I have a little bit of a clarification on this. She was here yesterday, and I gave as full a readout as I could on this meeting yesterday. What I'm told is, actually, at that meeting -- because I was checking this point -- she actually informed State Department officials involved in the meeting about the contacts that she already had with the Carter Center in Atlanta. She briefed us here about those contacts, but she did not specifically ask the State Department to invite President Carter to lead some kind of an observation effort, which I think has been reported on at least a couple of occasions.
So the issue of our being involved in some way in issuing this type of invitation is not one which is under active consideration at this point.
Q What good would monitors alone do in Chechnya besides count the corpses?
MS. SHELLY: Sid, I honestly don't know. How this would work, what the framework would be, how many people, and what exactly they would do, that's something that would be worked up, I think, in the context of the types of things that CSCE, now OSCE, have done in the past in terms of observation missions or monitors.
But, again, this kind of thing is based on the presumption of a willingness that the parties involved to have those people present and then to also work out with them exactly what the details of that presence would be. I think it simply would be very speculative for me at this point to try to shed more light on that. That's something that will be worked out between the Russians and whatever type of mission might end up going.
Q You all aren't kicking around the idea of an OSCE peacekeeping mission, are you?
MS. SHELLY: That would be very premature at this point.
Q Premature or unlikely?
MS. SHELLY: I'm not going to say that it's unlikely. I just don't think that the ideas at this point are that firm.
Q (Inaudible) something we can do?
MS. SHELLY: I don't know. I'd have to go back and check and see what their -- go back to the summit documents and things. I'm not aware that that has been floated as a possibility, and I don't even know if that's a theoretical possibility.
Q Is that one of the visions Assistant Secretary Holbrooke has for the OSCE?
MS. SHELLY: It could be. Why don't you ask Assistant Secretary Holbrooke?
Q Does he speak for the Administration?
MS. SHELLY: Assistant Secretary Holbrooke is the Assistant Secretary for European Affairs. He certainly does speak for the Administration. I don't have a read at this point on every single idea or concept that Assistant Secretaries may or may not be talking about.
Q The Administration, then -- forget Holbrooke -- what about the Administration?
MS. SHELLY: Sid, I'll look into it. Okay? I'll see if we have anything more we want to say. I don't have anything more I want to say on it at this point.
Q In the last two days, the Russian leaders are saying that they stopped the bombing in Chechnya -- or Grozny. At the same time, the Russian army and the air force are bombing the capital of Chechnya.
How can you evaluate it? Is there some kind of disagreement between the civilian leader with the Russian army or just public relations, or public opinion on the subject?
MS. SHELLY: I think that it's not particularly helpful to the issue for us to get involved in the internal significance and internal debate question.
Certainly, President Yeltsin ordered a halt to the bombing of the raids over Grozny. We've seen reports that the bombing continues, at least, on the outskirts of town. We understand that the heavy bombing of Grozny appears to have stopped but that street fighting is continuing.
There are some conflicting reports about the bombings, so we have to try to make assessments about what exactly is or isn't going on. I think what I can say is that we are encouraged by reports that at today's Russian security council meeting, President Yeltsin reiterated his desire, very strongly, for an end to the bombing. He, obviously, from the public statements that he, himself, put out, feels a great deal of concern about his calls on this and what's actually happening on the ground.
Q Can we go over that last point again? Is the concern about the civilian casualties or is the concern about his standing? You say he's concerned about the calls that have gone out. He's concerned to see his orders implemented. Is he also concerned, do you figure, about the people getting killed?
MS. SHELLY: Barry, I think that any president is obviously very concerned if he feels that his order is not being implemented. This is, of course, the second time that he had ordered, very strongly, a halt to the bombing, and then at the Russian security council meeting today he reiterated that position once again.
What actually happens on the ground in response to this, I'm certainly not in a position to make any prediction on that. But I think he, himself, is very concerned, and his statements of today reflect that.
Q (Inaudible) sort of asking you -- do you get the impression -- State get the impression that he's concerned about the civilian toll?
MS. SHELLY: I think that --
Q The results of the bombing.
MS. SHELLY: I think that in all of our exchanges with the Russians, and certainly also in remarks that Secretary Christopher has made quite recently, the Russians have expressed very clearly their concern about the situation. They have characterized it as a tragic event. They are well aware of the civilian casualties which have taken place, and I think that is a point of great concern for them.
Q Has the U.S. Government begun a process of sort of "gaming out" the potential following leadership should Yeltsin not make it through this period?
MS. SHELLY: Again, I think that gets into the speculative domain. President Yeltsin is the President of Russia. We have a very close and intensive relationship with him. We have a very broad-gauged agenda. We are working with him and his government very closely, and I think it would be completely inappropriate of me to get into the speculative domain about what might happen next.
Q Christine, given gratification here that Yeltsin is concerned about civilian casualties, what kind of disquiet is likewise felt here that his orders to stop his military from bombing the provincial capital are not followed?
MS. SHELLY: I think that's another way of asking the same question that's already been asked a couple of times, which gets into the internal analysis and the analytical side of what all this means. Lots of people in this town have views on Russia, and you see them reflected in nearly every piece of reporting that has taken place in these last several weeks.
I simply don't think that the best and most productive thing for me to do from here is to get into that dialogue from the podium. We do have analytical capabilities, and we look at the events that take place, and we do our own in- house assessment of things.
Certainly, President Yeltsin, himself, has noted publicly the disparity between his orders and what has taken place on the ground. But I don't think I would go beyond that between noting that as a factual matter and indicating that our continued interest in having these exchanges and hearing from them about what is happening in Chechnya.
Q I guess maybe some of us are looking for the echoing of a principle that in a democracy, which the U.S. Government thinks Russia is, that the military should be subordinate to the chief executive, and they should follow his orders. Simply restating that -- or stating that wouldn't be getting into their internal problems. It would be stating a principle of democracy. That got Douglas MacArthur fired in this country, for instance.
MS. SHELLY: I don't want to make historic comparisons here. I think --
Q I wouldn't compare MacArthur anyway. I just meant as a principle, you know, that the man in charge is in charge of the generals, too. Shouldn't that apply in Russia as well?
MS. SHELLY: I think that that is --
MS. SHELLY: Russia is a democracy, and it is also a democracy that still is having some difficult moments in some of the issues that they face, but I think that President Yeltsin certainly is still very much the President of Russia, and the fact that he asked for and called for a security council meeting specifically to discuss this issue is a reflection of his concern about what is taking place on the ground.
Q I guess what you seem to be wanting to avoid, understandably, is commenting on any aspect of American angst at what is transpiring or not transpiring here in terms of this government being -- the Russian Government being able to get a handle on this. Are you worried about Yeltsin being in control of his own government, number one?
MS. SHELLY: And? Do you want me to take them one at time?
Q Take them one at a time. We'll see how you do. (Laughter)
MS. SHELLY: Does that mean that if I fail the first question, that the briefing ends? (Laughter) Put me out of my misery.
Q If you knock it out of the park, I'll stop. (Laughter)
MS. SHELLY: We continue to believe that President Yeltsin is the President of Russia, and that he exercises effective control over that government. We've also said that Chechnya is a complex and difficult issue. He certainly is aware of that. All of the exchanges that we have had with the Russians on this, signal how very, very difficult this issue is for them with a lot of different factors that have to be worked out.
Again, they are concerned, I think, about the public picture of this conflict. They are certainly mindful of the views which have been expressed by other governments. I think they, themselves, certainly are mindful of the human rights considerations in this, and that they are trying to deal with the problem.
Q You, yourself, have cited at least four times this afternoon that Yeltsin has said he is worried that no one is paying attention to the orders that he is giving to his military, and yet you have just said the U.S. believes he continues to exercise control over his government. It doesn't sound like he --
Q Effective control.
Q It doesn't sound like he's in control. I guess your words seem to be at odds with what you are saying Yeltsin, himself, is saying about who is in control.
MS. SHELLY: I think that the key event on this today was certainly the security council meeting that took place in Russia. I suppose that part of the difficulty in responding to this is not having a complete readout from that meeting yet from the senior levels of the Russian Government who obviously participated in that meeting.
Perhaps I'm functioning at a bit of a handicap on that, and obviously this is a very key factor in being able to say more about that. But, again, to go back to the fact that the meeting itself took place I think is a reflection of Yeltsin's own concerns. We are aware of those concerns, but I think that we also feel that we need to hear from our interlocutors on this issue about how things went and to hear what kinds of exchanges there were between the military representatives there and, of course, President Yeltsin himself.
I think that simply from where we are right now and with the information that we have, I think it's very difficult to take the analysis any farther.
Q People who would participate in this, which would be essentially a Cabinet-level meeting, afterwards immediately pick up the phone and call the United States to tell them everything that went on?
MS. SHELLY: No, I'm not saying that, Sid; but we have diplomatic exchanges with the Russians, and this is an issue on which we have a continuing dialogue. So I expect that we will get a readout from Russian officials on how the meeting went and what is likely to happen next.
Q But don't you think you're going to get what will put them in the best light as we would report to them out of one of our security council meetings?
MS. SHELLY: We don't have that exchange yet, and so therefore for me to characterize what it's likely to be, I think is impossible for me to do. So, again, I think I've said what I can say in response to the information that we have now, and until we have more exchanges with them and have a better readout from Russian officials about how the meeting went and what's happening next, I just don't think I can take it any farther.
Q Christine, on this topic John and others have raised, Secretary Christopher was heard yesterday on VOA to say that the Chechnya conflict has escalated out of Mr. Yeltsin's control. Does this mean his control over the military or his general control of Russia or specifically with regard to Chechnya, or can you expand at all or clarify this?
MS. SHELLY: The Secretary said what he said, and I don't think it's my job here to get into some kind of interpretation of exactly what he meant by that. You've got the transcripts that are available to you, and I think that it's not my role here to get into the next day's interpretations of that.
I think the Secretary has gotten this question in a variety of different ways, and he is clearly the most definitive source on what our thinking is on that.
Q Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 1:36 p.m.)
(###)To the top of this page