U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE 95/06/19 DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Monday, June 19, 1995 Briefer: Nicholas Burns RUSSIA Conflict in Chechnya/Events in Budyonnovsk ...............1-4 --Announcement of Ceasefire ..............................2 --OSCE Discussions in Grozny .............................1,3 --Report of Turkish Offer of Asylum for President Dudayev 4 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA War in Bosnia --Report of UN-Bosnian Serb "Deal" re: Hostages ..........4-5 --NATO Air Strikes Option ................................5 --Reports of Serb Air Strikes of Croatian Territory ......5 --Rapid Reaction Force: Consultations w/Congress .........6,12-13 --Russian Ambassador to NATO Churkin's Activities in Region ...............................................6-7 --Secretary Christopher's Meeting with FM of Bosnia ......7-8 --Withdrawal of UN Personnel from Weapons Collection Points ...............................................8,10-11 --Role of UNPROFOR .......................................8-11 --Secretary's Advisor on Bosnian Federation Affairs ......13-14 HONDURAS Investigation of Human Rights Abuses in Early-1980's .....14-17 JAPAN Auto Trade Talks .........................................17 ARMS CONTROL U.S. Position on Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ...........17-20 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Israeli-Syrian Security Talks ............................20 TURKEY Turkey-EU Relationship ...................................20-21,26-27 CYPRUS Cyprus Issue .............................................26-27 CUBA Robert Vesco Case ........................................21 LEBANON Permission for Sale of Airline Tickets to Lebanon ........21-22 CHINA Recall of Ambassador Li from U.S. ........................22,25 Plan to Schedule High-Level U.S.-China Meeting ...........23 Replacement of U.S. Ambassador Roy .......................23-26
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
MONDAY, JUNE 19, 1995, 1:24 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I'm ready to go directly to whatever questions you have.
Q Can you tell us anything about the progress of the Chechen fighters and the hostages? And also, has there been any communication with Chernomyrdin or anybody else. How the State Department feel about what's happening at this point?
MR. BURNS: Let me answer your second question. I don't believe there's been any communication with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin from our side over the last 24 hours. We have certainly paid a great deal of attention -- careful attention -- to the events there. If you'd like, I can give you what we have by way of information.
As you know, we believe that up to 1,500 people were freed today. They've been held for more than six days. We know just basically, based on press reports, that the buses with the Chechen fighters and the other volunteer hostages, and perhaps some who are not volunteers, have left the scene and are proceeding southward.
It's not clear to us how many civilians or hostages are on the buses, but we do know that 10 Russian journalists and other volunteers - - some from Moscow who have agreed to replace hostages -- are on the buses.
We've also seen press reports, but cannot confirm that President Yeltsin's Human Rights Commissioner, Sergey Kovalev, is also on board one of the buses.
Further to that, we do have some information that the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, which has a presence in Chechnya has been able to put together today some discussions in Grozny with representatives of Chechen leader Dudayev and with representatives of the Russian Government. This will be to discuss all of the problems that encumber Chechnya and Russia.
Obviously, we think that the events over the last couple of days in Budyonnovsk are one more indicator that the fighting in Chechnya should stop immediately. We do condemn in the strongest terms hostage-taking and the deaths of innocent Russian civilians at the hands of the Chechen fighters in Budyonnovsk.
At the same time, we, of course, welcome the announcement of the cease-fire and the resumption of talks under the aegis of the OSCE. We urge all sides -- all involved -- to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the OSCE to stop the fighting immediately, to implement an effective cease-fire, and to initiative and follow through on the process of creating a lasting political settlement of the conflict in Chechnya.
Q Do you have any indication of why Chernomyrdin was the one who launched the cease-fire and got this going, and what was Yeltsin's role? Did it appear that Yeltsin was a side player to that? What's your read on that, the Yeltsin-Chernomyrdin?
MR. BURNS: I'm not really in a position to comment on why Prime Minister Chernomyrdin was on the phone and why President Yeltsin was not. They both represent the same government. In the past, they have worked very closely together on all of the issues that confront the U.S.-Russian relationship.
As you know, President Yeltsin was in Halifax and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin had left his vacation in Sochi several days ago and was in Moscow. In a normal political system -- and Russia has a normal political system -- the next in command takes command when a head of state or a head of government is out of the capital. That was the case here.
I don't have any indication that somehow there is any deeper meaning here.
Q You were condemning the terrorist takeover of the hospital, but you're welcoming the results, namely, the negotiations. There's not a contradiction in this?
MR. BURNS: No, I don't think so, Roy. Any time innocent people are gunned down, anytime innocent people are taken hostage and held in the way that these people were over the last six days, it is simply abhorrent and deserves to be criticized in the strongest possible terms and we do criticize those Chechen fighters who were responsible for this.
At the same time -- now, I guess going on seven months -- it's been our position that there is not a military solution to the overall conflict in Chechyna. My remarks today pertain to the overall conflict in Chechnya in welcoming the fact that there is a cease-fire and in welcoming the fact that the OSCE has taken the initiative now to try to get some political discussions underway in Grozny.
I would just remind you that the United States pressed very hard for the OSCE to have a mission in Chechyna and to take on this role of a political intermediary between the Russian Government and the Chechen forces. They have tried to do that in a number of cases in the past. They are trying to do it now, and they deserve our full support.
Q But hasn't the Russian Government yielded to terrorism?
MR. BURNS: That's a determination that I think only Russians and the Russian Government can make. I'm not going to put myself in a position of judging the Russian Government's actions over the past couple of days in extraordinarily confusing and complex affair.
Anytime any government has to face the kinds of choices that the Russian Government faced over the weekend, I think we all have to look at this from a certain distance and understand that the Russian Government was the only party that had the responsibility to make the decision that it did. We certainly sympathize very much with the decision that they had to take.
They had over a 1,000 -- it now appears over 1,500 -- innocent people being held in the hospital, among them a significant number of women and children. We are just glad that there seems now to be an effort to implement a cease-fire. There seems to be a desire on both sides to engage, at least at some level, in discussions in Grozny. That is positive.
We lament, very much, the fact that this whole incident took place, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms the people who perpetrated it.
Q Is this a terrorist act by the people you're referring to as "Chechen fighters?"
MR. BURNS: I would think, Sid, it meets a classical definition of "terrorism." When a band of people go after innocent civilians for political means, it's cynical, it is certainly terroristic and it deserves to be condemned. We are condemning it.
Q You think it's terroristic. Is it terrorism?
MR. BURNS: It is the classical definition of "terrorism;" yes. I was trying to answer your question affirmatively.
Q Nick, there could have been some inspiration for this horrible act by the Chechen rebels from the Bosnian Serbs in what they claim is a success in taking U.N. hostages. Now, we have a situation where they're going to get a cease-fire, or at least they say the Russians say they're going to be freed. Isn't this going to encourage others around the world to use this tactic? Isn't there fear that that will come?
MR. BURNS: First, let me say, Bill, we've seen all the explanations from various Chechens and sympathizers with the Chechens that somehow there was a reason for all this. If you look at the actions of the Russian Government over the last six months, the seeds were sewn elsewhere.
Nothing can justify the type of incidents that took place over this weekend. There can be no justification for it and no defense for it.
At the same time, as President Clinton made so clear the other day, on Saturday in Halifax, it is very important that all sides understand that there is no military solution to the conflict in Chechnya. Also both parties should proceed to political-level talks and both parties should engage in efforts to promote a lasting cease-fire. That remains the basis of our own concerns about the situation and our own view of the situation.
Q Has the State Department managed to find out anything about what President Yeltsin said on Saturday about a Turkish offer of asylum for Dudayev?
MR. BURNS: We are unaware of any Turkish offer of asylum to President Dudayev. We did actively look into this. Our Embassy in Ankara did over the weekend, and we're simply unaware of any such offer and unaware of its existence.
Q A question on Bosnia? There seems to have been a deal worked out by the U.N. and the Bosnian Serbs for the release of the hostages. It's described differently in different places, but one component is obviously the release of the four Serbs who were held by the U.N. The other seems to be the withdrawal of all U.N. forces from the weapons depots.
Do you have any comment on those elements of what seems to be a deal?
MR. BURNS: I really don't, Roy. I would just have to refer you to the United Nations, and specifically to Mr. Akashi, who is the lead U.N. official on the ground, who took the lead in discussions with the Bosnian Serbs.
Q The Serbs have been saying that they have won a cessation of air action against them by releasing the hostages. Does this government have a comment?
MR. BURNS: I really don't have any comment on that.
Q Nick, do you believe there was a deal? Does the United States believe there was a deal?
MR. BURNS: I'm just going to have to refer you to the United Nations on that one. Mr. Akashi said over the weekend there was no such deal. It was his responsibility to lead these discussions; he led them. I would just refer you to the United Nations for comment on that.
Q Could I take you through several parts of the Bosnia equation and see what U.S. policy is today?
At this point, does the United States favor or not favor the use of airstrikes in Bosnia?
MR. BURNS: David, as you know, that has always been an option throughout, at least, the most recent phase of this conflict. That option has been exercised in the past and it remains, of course, an option. But I'm unaware of any plans that would put that option into effect right now.
Q Are you aware that there are reports that this weekend Serbs bombed Croatian territory with their aircraft?
MR. BURNS: I've seen the reports, yes.
Q And the U.S. doesn't feel there's any need to retaliate against that or take any action against that?
MR. BURNS: At this point, as far as I'm aware, David, we have just seen the press reports on that and are looking into those press reports, seeking to clarify them. Certainly, you don't want to initiate any type of activity just in response to reports. You have to check things out and try to ascertain the credibility of reports first.
Q What about the Rapid Reaction Force and the money for the Rapid Reaction Force? What's the U.S. position on that today?
MR. BURNS: The U.S. position on that today is the same as the U.S. position on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The position of the U.S. Government on that is that we're determined to work with our allies and with the Congress to work out the funding issue. We are exploring different approaches, but I'm certainly not going to speculate on the final outcome of this issue. It's highly complex, and it's undecided.
Q Are you in consultation with Congress? Is there some reason to believe the money will be --
MR. BURNS: There were consultations with Congress last Friday. We sent a senior U.S. official, Dick Holbrooke, to Capitol Hill for discussions with Congressional staff. The consultations with Congress have continued and will continue for the next couple of days.
We are exploring different approaches to this problem, and we are determined and committed to work out a resolution of the issue. It's a very difficult issue, and I can't really lead you in any particular direction today as to how this is going to turn out.
Q Nick, what do you know about Churkin's comings and goings? Apparently, he saw Milosevic and then was heading for Pale.
MR. BURNS: We are following Mr. Churkin's activities in the Balkans with great interest. He is someone who has had a lot of experience in that area before he became the Russian Ambassador to NATO. We certainly look forward to the opportunity to be in touch with Mr. Churkin about his activities in the area.
Q But has he not been in touch with, say, Frasure or Holbrooke or somebody in this government to coordinate what he's doing? Or is he just fulfilling, in the Russians specific way, the general commitment that Yeltsin gave to try to be influential?
MR. BURNS: We've always looked to the Russians to try to be influential with the Government in Belgrade and as much as is possible with the Bonsai Serb leadership in Pale. In fact, the Russian Government, on a number of occasions over the past year, has been very helpful to the Contact Group's efforts to understand the positions of both Belgrade and Pale and to communicate messages.
In this particular case, I'm not aware that Mr. Churkin has been in contact with either Ambassador Frasure or Assistant Secretary Holbrooke. I can check on that. I just don't know at this point, and it wasn't mentioned in the conversations I had with at least one of those people this morning.
Q So are you suggesting that the Russians are freelancing again, or do you think that this is well intentioned?
MR. BURNS: Actually, as a result of the meeting in Noordwijk of Contact Group foreign ministers, we have had very good cooperation with Russia in recent weeks. We have been in close contact with them. Of course, there was a lot of discussion of this issue in Halifax, both in some of the meetings and in the margins of the meetings, and there has been daily contact between us through our capitals and through our respective embassies.
It's no secret that since the Contact Group was formed in the winter of 1994, from time to time we've had some serious disagreements with the Russian Government on tactical issues, but in recent weeks it's been quite good. I would just remind you at the Contact Group meeting in Noordwijk, Minister Kozyrev gave very forceful, open, public support to Bob Frasure's mission to convince Mr. Milosevic to recognize Bosnia in return for limited sanctions relief. We know of nothing that would indicate that the Russian Government has changed its view on that particular matter.
So I don't think we view Ambassador Churkin's activities with any great deal of concern -- certainly not of any negative concern -- but we do want and expect to be fully briefed on his conversations as we fully brief the Russian Government on Ambassador Frasure's conversations. And I'm sure that will take place.
Q As a follow, as far as today there's a meeting upstairs with Mr. -- pardon the mispronunciation -- Sacirbey, the Foreign Minister of Bosnia. Was that an appointment that had been arranged for some time, Nick, or is that something that came up after G-7, or can you say?
MR. BURNS: Yes. Secretary Christopher will be meeting the Bosnian Foreign Minister this afternoon at 5:00 here in the Department. That was a request that came from the Bosnian Foreign Ministry for this appointment, and it came rather late, and it was just put on the Secretary's schedule this morning.
That is why the first edition of the Secretary's public schedule did not include this, but we have since published an updated version for you.
Q Can you possibly get us a photo op?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe so. I think it's the intention to have this meeting take place without a photo op.
Q The removal of the U.N. personnel from the weapons depots in a sense destroys the weapons exclusion zone, and this is something that the United States put an awful lot of energy into establishing.
So, first of all, can you tell us what the status is of this whole zone, and what you'd like to see done about it?
MR. BURNS: Roy, we are now seeking clarification from the United Nations, both in New York and in the field, in Sarajevo and Zagreb and other places, about exactly how it intends to proceed now that the U.N. personnel have been withdrawn from the weapons collections points. Those are going to be very important discussions.
Q Nick, do you have an idea how you'd like to proceed yourselves in the United States and in NATO -- as the leader of NATO, because basically NATO helps bring this whole zone about. As I say, it was certainly a great deal of focus in this room and in the White House at that time in February '94.
MR. BURNS: I think it's fair to say that there are a couple of different strands coming together, and they have been coming together for a number of weeks. First and foremost is the question of whether UNPROFOR should stay in Bosnia, and we believe that question has been answered affirmatively, both by the Noordwijk meetings and by subsequent decisions made by the French, British and Dutch Governments.
The second is can UNPROFOR in staying in Bosnia have a chance to fulfill the mandates that it has received as its leading responsibilities. The leading edge of this question, of course, is the issue of the rapid-reaction force and the attempt now by the three governments that I mentioned to try to strengthen UNPROFOR by including now a rapid-reaction force.
That leads me to a third question: What will be the role of UNPROFOR if it does stay and does have this component of a rapid- reaction force. I don't believe that that question has been fully answered either by the United Nations or by the leading troop contributors to UNPROFOR, and it remains your right to focus on it -- one of the most important questions.
It's the one that we are discussing with them bilaterally. It was discussed in the meetings at Halifax, in the margins of those meetings and is being discussed in the field. It remains, I think, the greatest unknown about how UNPROFOR will proceed.
What has happened amidst all of this diplomatic contact in these three levels that I just talked about is that UNPROFOR over the last couple of weeks has been unable to carry out most of its missions. Not only the mission that you described in terms of weapons collections of heavy weapons, but also the mission of feeding the populations in Sarajevo and the enclaves. It has been unable to carry out those responsibilities.
The question now for the United Nations and for countries like the United States that are -- well, the United States is the major financial support of UNPROFOR -- is how can we now proceed to develop a situation and develop a commitment from the West whereby these major responsibilities can be carried out.
I've posed these questions. We've discussed them in the past couple of weeks. I don't believe it's possible to say that we have answers to those questions yet. That remains the crux of our own diplomacy, to work with Secretary General Boutros-Ghali and with all the leading troop contributor countries to try to see if we can get to the bottom of those questions.
Q It sounds as though from the tone of your remarks that you might -- that the U.S. view may be evolving toward a more narrow role for UNPROFOR, simply because the other functions are not sustainable.
MR. BURNS: Carol, I wouldn't say that's the U.S. view at all. Our view, as expressed by the President and Secretary Christopher, have been for many weeks now -- as we've been in this period of flux and uncertainty -- that not only should UNPROFOR stay, it should be strengthened, and we want to see it strengthened.
But I am not in a position to affirm to you positively that all the countries involved in UNPROFOR have worked through all of these problems to the extent that I can say with any degree of certainty or satisfaction that UNPROFOR will be able to do this.
I think it remains to be seen whether UNPROFOR can organize itself to that extent. We very much hope that will be the case, because, as we have said many times before, the humanitarian mission, which gets less publicity I think than some of the military activities, the humanitarian mission is important for all of the people -- over a million and a half people who live in the affected areas.
The military mission is important as well. But at a time when the hostages have just now been released, when UNPROFOR will have added to it a rapid-reaction force, where the decision has been made to continue UNPROFOR in exceedingly difficult circumstances, we haven't with our partners answered all the questions on a level that we can answer Roy's question with any degree of specificity.
Q Isn't it also true, Nick, and doesn't it follow that you can't answer the question whether UNPROFOR will stay in the long term? I mean, that the rapid-reaction force is just here to bolster it temporarily?
MR. BURNS: That's not our understanding. That's not the assurances we've been given in private -- not only in public but in private by the major troop contributing countries. What we have been told, and we have no reason not to believe this -- we do believe it -- is that this rapid-reaction force is intended to strengthen UNPROFOR and to strengthen the ability of the United Nations to protect the military forces that are in the region. That force is now arriving by various degrees. It is not fully operational in the field, and all the forces have not yet arrived, but we hope that will happen rather quickly.
Q Do you support the closing down of the weapons exclusion zone -- I mean, of the regime? Because in all of your remarks this morning you haven't uttered a word of criticism of the U.N. decision, and it is a U.N. decision.
MR. BURNS: We supported the beginning of the effort last year. We supported the creation of the collection points, although we were not the lead backer of that particular way of doing things.
At one time the United States believed it might be more beneficial just to take the weapons completely out of the affected zone. That was not possible because of the climactic conditions present when this decision was taken, and we certainly now are going to seek clarifications on the decision that was made and the impact that the decision will have on an activity that most of the troop contributing countries and supporters of UNPROFOR, like the United States, felt was a worthwhile activity.
I'm not in a position to give you an answer I think that will satisfy you, frankly, today. I'm simply in a position to say that this action has just been taken, and we need to work through some conversations with our partners in the U.N. before we can speak more definitively about it.
Q One possibility that -- one reason you might not be criticizing it is that it has the advantage of removing troops from harm's way who have been previously subject to hostage-taking, and in a sense it frees you up. But also, obviously, there's a downside, which is that the weapons are now free to be used against civilians in Sarajevo.
MR. BURNS: I wouldn't argue with your characterization of the outcome of this decision.
Q So in a sense would you be welcoming this closing down? Maybe it was an idea whose time had passed.
MR. BURNS: Certainly, we have felt for quite a long time now that -- and this was really the basis for the discussion at Noordwijk -- that UNPROFOR had to go through a process of assembling its forces in defensible positions and in relieving of itself the problem of having many, many small groups of people in isolated areas. This was the reason why so many people were taken hostage after the NATO airstrikes against the Pale ammunition dump.
But, having said that, I wouldn't want you to believe that we were somehow cheering from the sidelines when this decision was taken. The decision was taken. We are now trying to have good discussions with the United Nations to ascertain just how it intends to proceed now to accomplish some of the functions that have been among its primary functions.
Q Nick, would the United States fight against the U.N. determination that the peacekeepers should be withdrawn if that came out of this discussion?
MR. BURNS: We do not believe that UNPROFOR should be withdrawn. We believe that UNPROFOR should stay. We believe that UNPROFOR has a mission that is important, and we believe that UNPROFOR, if properly configured, can be put in a position to accomplish that mission. We have a very clear position on that question.
Q You seem to be going along with everything else that the U.N. is doing there, at least not objecting to it publicly. Would that be the case? If the U.N. decided it was time to withdraw the peacekeepers, would the U.S. go along with that?
MR. BURNS: I can't answer philosophical or hypothetical questions. But what I can do is express to you our current policy, and that is -- and our policy hasn't changed in a long, long time -- we believe UNPROFOR should stay. We are taking steps to help UNPROFOR stay. We are going to be giving a lot of assistance to the rapid-reaction force.
As you know, Secretary Perry and General Shalikashvili have spelled out what that assistance is, and we want UNPROFOR to stay in the region. We do not support a withdrawal of UNPROFOR at this time.
Q Still on Bosnia, were there exclusions zones -- I mean, were there weapons collection points for Bosnian weapons as well as Bosnian Serb weapons, and, if so --
MR. BURNS: I believe so.
Q -- what should happen to those now? Should they be given back to the Bosnians?
MR. BURNS: David, I think that's just another part of the issue that has to be looked into quite carefully with the United Nations.
Still on Bosnia?
Q One more on Bosnia. Anybody else?
MR. BURNS: Steve, on Bosnia.
Q Doesn't the reality of the situation now suggest that if the rapid-reaction force isn't there to withdraw troops, that it will have to go on some sort of military offensive to fulfill the mandate of the U.N.? In other words, how is it going to get to these places to feed people if it doesn't fight its way in?
MR. BURNS: That is a question that has been asked, and that is an issue that has been debated about the role and mandate of the rapid- reaction force. It does remain to be seen exactly how the rapid- reaction force will accomplish its business. The way you've described it, Steve, is certainly one possible scenario, but I would remind you that that has not been how the major troop contributing countries -- the Dutch, the British and the French -- have described the role of the rapid-reaction force.
The United Nations has also put a lot of stock into the continuing hope that it might be possible to talk to the Pale Serbs -- the Bosnian Serbs -- in order to relieve the siege of Sarajevo, in order to facilitate the flow of humanitarian food and medical assistance to the aggrieved populations.
At this point, certainly, that latter course of action does not appear to be working. It's certainly not working. So we'll just have to see what transpires. But I don't believe that question has been fully illuminated, and it may not be for some time until this force is assembled and until there can be further talks between the troop- contributing countries and the U.N. officials on the ground.
Q On Bosnia?
MR. BURNS: Still on Bosnia.
Q Nick, in today's Washington Times, an AP article by Ms. Bielman, reporting that a Major Gregg Thompson, U.N. Spokesman stated, "One fact you can't dismiss is the Americans are now advising them" -- them, being the Bosnian Muslim army. Is the United States military currently involved in helping advise the Muslims?
MR. BURNS: We are not involved in advising them on either their military strategy or their military tactics. This was an article that also caught my attention. Thank you for raising it, so I'll be glad to go into a little bit of background to this.
I believe that the thrust of this story is based on speculation and a distortion of the facts as we know them. General Sewall is an advisor to Secretary Christopher on military issues related to Bosnian Federation affairs. This includes the integration of Bosniac and Bosnian Croat forces within the framework of multi-ethnic democracy in Bosnia and pertaining to UNSC Resolution 713.
In the course of his duties, General Sewall has met with Bosnian Federation officials to discuss the effective integration of the Bosniac and Bosnian Croat commands.
Let me give you some examples. He's been working with them on organizational issues pertaining to the Federation and pertaining to the hope for integration between two military commands.
He's been working with them on a military's role in a democratic society. He is not providing advice on either a military strategy or military tactics. He is not living in the region. He is based here in the D.C. area and he makes periodic trips to the region.
The Defense bill, which prohibited last autumn U.S. enforcement of the arms embargo, did contain funds for training Bosnian and Croatian officers in English language skills and in the role of the military in a democracy, which is one of General Sewall's responsibilities on the ground.
To date, no Bosnian or Croatian officers have traveled to the United States for training under this program. So I think I can say quite categorically this article, I think, was off base.
Q New area?
MR. BURNS: New area. Let me guess.
Q Several questions on Honduras.
MR. BURNS: Okay. I guessed right.
Q In the early '80s, this Department produced human rights reports on Honduras that were misleading and, in some respects, outright false. Will the Department try to hold any officials accountable from those reports?
MR. BURNS: Mark, I don't think that based on the reporting that's been done, based on a thorough examination of this issue within the Department, even over the last couple of weeks, there's any reason to think that somehow we should put into question the activities or the judgment of some of our senior people who are on the ground in the Central America, and in that particular country, in the early 1980s.
The series of articles run by the Baltimore Sun does a very good job of pulling together firsthand accounts of human rights abuses that we know took place in Honduras in the early 1980s.
The articles do not, however, appear to contain any information beyond that already published in other newspapers or that came to light during the late 1980s.
We certainly believe that the abuses that were recounted in these articles are terrible, and they deserve the most severe criticism. We condemn them unequivocally.
As we talked about last week, the Honduran Attorney General and the Human Rights Ombudsman have stated that in Honduras they remain committed to the effort to try to investigate all the allegations that have come to light during the 1980s. We have indicated our willingness to cooperate with them; and we have cooperated in the past and we will cooperate in the future when we are asked. But beyond that, I really don't have any other reaction for you.
Q Will there be no additional investigation by this Department beyond cooperating with the Hondurans?
MR. BURNS: There will be additional activities by the Administration to look into the allegations as we are asked to by the ongoing human rights investigation that is taking place in Honduras. We will make information available to the Honduran Government as it asks for that information.
Q What about making U.S. officials available for questioning or for testimony?
MR. BURNS: That is a hypothetical question. We have not been asked, as far as I know, by the Honduran Government to make any U.S. officials who were present in the region at the time available for questioning.
Q The Special Prosecutor for Human Rights in Honduras, Marlyna Duron (de Flores) last week, in broadcast interviews, said that she was interested in taking testimony from at least two former U.S. Ambassadors -- Ambassadors Negroponte and Arcos. Do you think the Hondurans should be allowed to take that testimony?
MR. BURNS: Mark, I'm not aware that the Honduran Government has made that request to us. So it's one thing to say something publicly; it's one thing to work through the press; it's quite another to work with us directly, and I'm not aware that that is the case.
Let me just take this opportunity again, as I did last week, to tell you that the Department has the greatest confidence in both of the individuals that you mentioned -- Ambassador Negroponte and Ambassador Arcos, who is now retired and is no longer an acting official of the Foreign Service. Both of them have had very distinguished careers. We stand by both of them.
Q Is it the Department's view that Ambassador Negroponte had nothing to do with sending misleading human rights reports to Congress about Honduras?
MR. BURNS: I take issue with the way you phrased your question. Let me just review for you how human rights reports are put together.
Human rights reports are initially generated by embassies in the field -- normally, by political officers. I once had this responsibility myself in the Middle East. You have an ongoing responsibility throughout the course of a reporting year to assemble information and to analyze the human rights situation in any given country.
Those reports are then sent to Washington. There are a number of bureaus here -- the regional bureau, Assistant Secretary Shattuck's bureau in this Administration -- have the responsibility for looking at those reports, for asking questions about those reports. Certainly, by the time a report is fully drafted, fully cleared, and printed in our annual human rights report, these reports have a thousand fathers, and lots and lots of people have gone through these reports.
In the case of Central America, in the early 1980s -- remember the climate in the early days of the Reagan Administration -- there was enormous scrutiny of these reports by a number of high-level officials in Washington, D.C. Therefore to say or to charge that a single American Ambassador somehow has sole authorship or sole editorial authorship of a report is simply not the way the system works.
The U.S. Government, in a real de facto sense, issues these reports, because they're looked at beyond the Department of State, and the U.S. Government has to decide if it wants to live by these reports. That's how human rights reports are drafted. So to say somehow that one individual should be singled out, I think is a little bit misleading. I think it's unfair.
Q But doesn't the Ambassador have the responsibility?
MR. BURNS: He certainly has responsibility for everything that takes place within his jurisdiction in an embassy; and broader than that, by American officials in a country in which he or she is Ambassador. That is true. I am simply responding to a specific question about someone's authorship of a human rights report.
I would just say, to be fair, we have got to understand and realize and accept the fact that these reports receive tremendous scrutiny here, not only in terms of the editorial content but sometimes even in terms of the drafting.
Q But in this particular case, evidence that was corroborated on the scene and has since been shown to be accurate was deleted from the reports before they were sent to Congress.
MR. BURNS: Mark, I can't speak to that. These are events that took place in 1982. I don't have a blow-by-blow account of how the human rights report on Honduras was put together in the State Department. But I can tell you, there were thousands of moves. If you want to track it bureaucratically between the time when the political officer first sat down at this computer -- or with pen and paper in 1982 -- to write this report to the time it was issued and made public, there were thousands of moves along the way.
I can't say what was included and what was excluded at a certain period of time. I can tell you that allegations that we brought of torture and disappearances -- "we," meaning the United States here -- did, in fact, appear in the 1982 human rights report.
I think you must also consider the fact that there is now, in the mid-1990s, much more verifiable information available than there was in the early 1980s when the report was done. I would also say that the 1983-1984 reports contained very specific information on allegations of torture and human rights abuses; a time, of course, when the individual in question served in that country.
I do want to say, in the interest of fairness -- I think this is an issue that many of us as Foreign Service officers feel very strongly about -- these are not individual acts by American Government officials. They are acts by the United States Government. I think it has to be seen in its proper light and perspective.
Q There's been a couple of reports that there's some compromise plans from both the Japanese and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on the auto talks. Is there anything to that?
MR. BURNS: No, I don't really have anything specific following the information that came out over the weekend after the President's meeting with the Prime Minister and the Secretary's meeting with the Foreign Minister.
We are hoping very much that we can make progress in the talks that are slated for Geneva in just a couple of days. I would just refer you to the President's remarks about our intentions if those talks are not successful.
Q Nick, what's the State Department's take on this whole nuclear testing debate?
MR. BURNS: I would hope to give you a U.S. Government perspective and not just a State Department perspective. Can I do that? Can I try that?
This issue has been in the press for the last couple of days. So let me try to take you through what we understand the U.S. Government's position to be.
Assuming that a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will be signed before September 30, 1996, the President, on January 29 of this year, extended our nuclear test moratorium until a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty enters into force. We have said on numerous occasions that we consider observation of a moratorium on nuclear testing to be the most favorable environment in which these negotiations for a treaty can ultimately prove to be successful.
We have no plans to resume testing. We're certainly not prepared right now to take the same decision that the French Government took just last week.
The moratorium announced by the President is in effect and will last through 1996 as this Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is under negotiation.
Under the Test Ban Treaty negotiations, one of the most important questions is the following: "What kinds of experiments and other stockpile stewardship activities would be permitted under the treaty?" That is one of the most challenging and complicated issues in the negotiations. As you know, it is currently an issue that's being looked at by the U.S. Government. That is something quite different than a decision to resume testing along the lines of what the French did last week.
The U.S. position in regard to these experiments and stockpile stewardship activities is determined on the basis of three criteria, which we made public in January. I'll be very glad to review them again today.
One: The Test Ban Treaty must be comprehensive and promote our vital national interest in curbing the further proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Two: The treaty must not prohibit activities required to maintain the safety and reliability of our nuclear stockpile.
And, third: The Treaty must be signed by all declared nuclear states and as many other nations as possible.
I think it's more accurate to say that the current discussions underway in this government pertain more to these latter types of activities that we must decide in order to have a negotiating position in Geneva and in order to have successful negotiations. But this should not be confused with a decision to resume nuclear testing, because the United States Government is not prepared to resume nuclear testing right now. We have a moratorium in effect on testing.
Q Some might say a test is a test is a test. At any rate, it was my understanding that there were discussions in the range of two to four pounds, and now there are other elements of the government who are interested in much higher testing yields. Where does the State Department stand on that? And when do you think a decision will be --
MR. BURNS: Here we enter into that very mysterious zone where we fear to tread, and that is to comment publicly on the positions of various Cabinet agencies, including our own Cabinet agency, as these issue are being worked out. You can understand that I'm reluctant to do that today, and I'm not in fact prepared to do that today.
Q When do you expect a decision to be made?
MR. BURNS: A decision will be made when it's made by the White House; in this case, probably by the President.
Q When do you expect it?
MR. BURNS: It's hard to say. As I said, it's a sometimes Byzantine, always mysterious process. To try to predict when a decision can be made is sometimes perilous. I'm not trying to lead you in any particular direction. I'm just trying to say we have to go through some very complicated issues here in the government. When we have a decision, we'll be glad to let you all know.
Q Are you worried at all, though, that this debate is eroding your credibility in the push for a CTB?
MR. BURNS: I don't think so at all. This is one of the main issues that the countries in Geneva, including the United States, have to face. So I think it's understandable that the world's leading nuclear power would need to take some time to think through these issues. Other countries understand that. They will, of course, be gratified when we come to the table with an answer to this question that will allow us to proceed, we hope, towards a successful completion of the treaty negotiations.
I don't think it's a problem at all. I think countries understand exactly what's happening here.
Q Is the U.S. moratorium being reconsidered?
MR. BURNS: No; again, it's not. The moratorium announced by the President, the extension is in effect, and we do not plan to resume nuclear testing.
Q Over the weekend there were three Israeli soldiers killed and several others wounded in southern Lebanon. That being said and with the knowledge that you have talks upcoming here in Washington which you're hosting between the Israelis and the Syrians on the withdrawal of the Golan Heights, do you have any -- might those talks be expanded or has there been any concern raised by the Israelis that something has to be done to ensure that Syria will use its influence in southern Lebanon? Might those talks perhaps be widened? Anything on that?
MR. BURNS: Charlie, there are no plans that I know of to expand the talks that will begin, I believe, here on June 27 under our auspices to have the chiefs of staff of the Syrian and Israeli armed forces discuss some of the questions involved in a future peace treaty between Syria and Israel. There are no plans to expand those discussions to take into consideration the very difficult issues pertaining to southern Lebanon.
We all believe, of course, that this fourth track of the Middle East peace process -- this Israeli-Lebanon track -- must make progress in the future. We were very sorry to see the violence that took place over the weekend, and we lament the fact that there were deaths on the Israeli side and always lament the fact that there are deaths on the other side. We simply believe that the two parties -- in this case Israel and Lebanon -- must make efforts in the future to resolve these problems as best they can.
It's certainly an assumption that we make that progress on the Israel-Syria track ultimately, we hope, will help progress in the Israel-Lebanon track.
Q Early last week a senior Administration official during a briefing at the Foreign Press Center said that Turkey would be among the top agenda items in Halifax. Was the issue of Turkey discussed in Halifax, and, if so, what's your reading?
MR. BURNS: I can't give you a complete account of all the discussions at Halifax, but I can tell you that whenever American officials meet their European counterparts, we talk about Turkey. I know Turkey was discussed at least in some meetings in Halifax, particularly the very strong view of our government that Turkey and the European Union should work to create a close relationship, and that there should, we hope, be an agreement between Turkey and the European Union on a customs agreement.
You know our policy towards Turkey. Turkey is one of our most valued allies. We believe that the process of Turkey's integration with the West through economic institutions and political relationships is a very important process for the future of Turkey. We also believe that the foundation that Turkey provides, a stable foundation in its part of the world -- which is a troubled part of the world -- is a very important factor in European security and that the European countries have to take account of that when they develop their policies towards Turkey.
Q Vesco. Has Cuba officially decided it won't send him back, and is that a result of a meeting at the Interests Section in Havana, whereby the United States refused to do business with Castro -- some sort of demands from him in return for his return of Vesco?
MR. BURNS: We've certainly expressed to the Cuban Government over the last two weeks our interest in having Mr. Vesco back in the United States where he will certainly face numerous charges. I'm not aware that the Government of Cuba has informed us that it will not return Mr. Vesco to the United States. I have seen press reports that it may not, but I'm not aware that they have informed us of that publicly.
Let's go to Sid, and then we'll go on.
Q Could you just run through the rationale for lifting -- for permitting Middle East Airlines to sell tickets in the United States?
MR. BURNS: Let me take it a step broader than that, Sid, with your permission and just say that as a result of Assistant Secretary Pelletreau's trip to Beirut last week, he was able to announce that we have decided that it should now be possible for non-Americans to purchase tickets to travel to Beirut in the United States. That was previously not possible.
This needs now to be worked out, I guess over a period of a couple of months with the Department of Transportation. There has to be a Presidential proclamation, and that process will be ongoing.
The rationale is that we believe there is no threat to the security of Americans traveling in the area by taking this action. We do believe there is a continued threat to Americans if they decide that they are going to travel in Lebanon. This is an option that we think people should not elect, and therefore the major outlines of the travel ban pertaining to Americans remains in place.
Q I'm sorry, just --
Q Just to follow up, please.
MR. BURNS: A follow-up here, and then we'll go on.
Q Okay. But why? If it's a neutral decision, why has the United States decided to do this? I mean, is there some sort of quid pro quo, say extraditions or something like that?
MR. BURNS: Sid, I think the reasons are fairly transparent, and the reasons are that as the situation slowly normalizes in Lebanon -- and over the past several years we've seen a degree of slow normalization -- we think it's appropriate to relax those parts of the travel ban that do not in our judgment affect the security of Americans who travel to Lebanon.
The responsibility that we have, particularly in the Department of State, is to advise American citizens about travel to countries like Lebanon. We cannot in good judgment and in good faith advise people that it is safe to travel to Lebanon. But considering the state of our relationship with the Lebanese Government, which is good -- we have a good relationship -- we certainly do not want to lay upon that government any undue restrictions that do not affect the central issue of security of Americans. So I think that's the essential rationale upon which the decision was based.
Q China has recalled its Ambassador to the U.S., and China has also canceled the scheduled high-level talks with Taiwan. Do you have any comment on that, and is anyone from this Department going to China to seek damage control in bilateral relations?
MR. BURNS: We said Friday when China made clear its decision to withdraw its Ambassador, Ambassador Li, from the United States that we regretted this decision by the Chinese Government, and that we hoped very much the Chinese Government would elect to return the Ambassador to Washington as soon as possible.
We continue to try to seek a constructive and stable relationship with China. Both China and the United States have an interest in that type of relationship. We are pursuing a range of both bilateral and multilateral contacts to advance our interests. For example, last week the APEC Transportation Ministers met here in Washington. The Chinese Transportation Minister was among the senior APEC officials attending the meetings at the Department of State.
We certainly hope that it will be possible to schedule another of the periodic meetings in which senior officials review bilateral issues. The Chinese have also expressed an interest in such a meeting, although we have not agreed on a date or time for such a meeting. It's our intention to try to do that in the period ahead.
Q Follow up?
MR. BURNS: Yes, on China.
Q Is the U.S. contemplating dispatching some senior official or special envoy to Beijing to repair the damage to the relationship at this point?
MR. BURNS: As I said, we are attempting to schedule one of our periodic high-level meetings, and that generally takes place at the Vice Foreign Minister level in China, the Under Secretary level here in the Department of State. We're attempting to schedule such a meeting. We do have an agreement by the Chinese Government to try to do that, but we don't have a firm date or venue. So we're simply going to have to work towards that end.
Q Do you expect this to happen shortly or --
MR. BURNS: It's hard to say. It's hard to say when it will happen. All I can do is express the very strong view of our government that even though countries have differences, we need to work through those differences; and we certainly need to have high-level diplomatic contacts, and we will work towards that end.
Q In retrospect, don't you think that the recall or the return of Ambassador Roy precipitated the recall of the PRC Ambassador?
MR. BURNS: No, I don't accept that. The return to the United States of Ambassador Stape Roy was after four years in China. It was a normal diplomatic rotation. He was extended one year beyond his term as Ambassador because we place such high value on the U.S.-Chinese relationship. He has now been assigned to another high-level post. He must prepare for that post. There has to come a time when Ambassadors leave their posts. He has left.
The Embassy is in good and capable hands, and we will continue to have a very high level of interest in this government to forging strong, stable relations with China. I think you'll see that the United States in its actions as well as in its words will take steps that are commensurate with that objective.
Q Is he on the way back? Can you make him available to us for some briefing after --
MR. BURNS: Excuse me, are you referring to Ambassador Roy?
MR. BURNS: I don't know where he is today. I know he's on his way back to this country to prepare for his next assignment.
Q But can you make him available to us, I mean, when he gets back?
MR. BURNS: Probably not. (Laughter) The other thing about leaving a diplomatic assignment is that the moment you get on the airplane, you no longer have responsibility for the relationship which you previously tended; and that is the case with Ambassador Roy.
He is our most senior China specialist. As you know, he was born there. He was raised there. He speaks the language. He is a man of great distinction. He has done a terrific job. He has the admiration of the Secretary and everyone else in this building, but his responsibilities now lie elsewhere.
Q Nick, do you have any comment on China's cancellation of the high-level talks with Taiwan?
MR. BURNS: I don't. That's simply something for China and Taiwan to talk about.
Q Following your remarks about --
MR. BURNS: Let's just keep on China here, and then we'll be glad to go back.
Q Quick question. When will the United States be appointing its replacement Ambassador?
MR. BURNS: The White House will announce the appointment of the next American Ambassador to Beijing; and when the White House does, it is something else for us all to talk about. (Laughter)
Q Can I follow up?
MR. BURNS: Still on China, Bill?
Q Yes. One thing I want to clean up here.
MR. BURNS: (Laughter) Is there a need to clean anything up from my remarks? (Laughter) Maybe from your colleagues' remarks, but not from my remarks.
Q I mean in the sense of wrap-up.
MR. BURNS: Good. I like that better.
Q Poor choice of words, Nick. I just wanted to ask if you think that a replacement Ambassador would be well received in Beijing at this time? And, second, have you heard anything at all about China continuing to retaliate, to show its displeasure by closing consuls here which would mean we would close consuls there? Has that come up yet?
MR. BURNS: No. We've not heard anything since the announcement on Friday that the Ambassador was being recalled. We hope that that recall is short, and that he returns shortly. There's something in your question, though, that I'd like to pick up on.
You'll notice that the United States did not take reciprocal action in this case. We believe that diplomatic contacts are important to forging a relationship, even in the most difficult of times; and therefore we are keeping our Embassy as it is. We have not withdrawn our Ambassador; he has left because his tour of duty is up. We look forward to the day when, with the advice and consent of the Senate, we may have a new American Ambassador in Beijing to carry on this relationship.
In the meantime, the highest levels of officials in this government will apply themselves to the effort to build a strong relationship with China.
Q In the meantime, our relations with them are crippled?
MR. BURNS: I wouldn't say that, Bill. I wouldn't characterize our relationship. It's an important relationship. It will remain important. Any more on China?
Q Yes, one quick one.
MR. BURNS: On China?
Q Yes. Are you flatly denying the repeated reports that Ambassador Roy left his post prematurely out of frustration with the depths to which U.S.-China relations had sunk?
MR. BURNS: Mark, I am just repeating what I have said consistently over the last week, and that is that Ambassador Roy --
Q So you're not --
MR. BURNS: I think you've put me in a difficult position here, and I'm going to try to extricate myself from this position.
I don't think that "yes" or "no" questions or responding affirmatively or negatively to questions whose assumptions I disagree with are fair. So let me just try to restate the policy. I'm not trying to avoid the question by answering it differently than you posed it.
The policy is that when an Ambassador's time is up, his or her time is up. Stape Roy's time after four years was up. He has left because of normal rotation, period. I'm not aware that he has left for any other reason. That's a definitive statement.
Q On China. Speaking of the replacement for Ambassador Roy, is it the same distinguished gentleman who has been reported in the press reports under consideration for the job?
MR. BURNS: That's a very difficult question to answer because I'm not sure who the press is referring to when they refer to potential nominees. Only the President can name an Ambassador. He will do that, and when he does, the White House will announce it, and then we can all talk about. But until we get to that point, I'm not going to be in a position of confirming whether it's this person or that person. I can't do that.
Q During Ambassador Roy's absence, who will be acting as the Charge? Is it Mr. Scott Hallford or --
MR. BURNS: Deputy Chief of Mission. In any situation like this, where an Ambassador leaves post for any reason, the Deputy Chief of Mission, almost always in all cases a Foreign Service Officer, takes charge as Charge d'Affaires of the Embassy until which time a new Ambassador arrives.
Q Following your remarks about Turkey and the European Union, I'm wondering: this Turkish-European approach which you suggested a few moments ago, should take place prior or after the solution to the Cyprus problem? And I have to ask this because Ankara still occupies the Republic of Cyprus.
MR. BURNS: I think you know our position on Cyprus. Assistant Secretary Holbrooke, Ambassador Boucher, Mr. Beatty, Mr. Williams -- all four of them are working very hard on the Cyprus problem these days.
Q We know this.
MR. BURNS: We're encouraged by some of the progress that has been made, but we think that obviously a lot needs to be done. Our relationship with Turkey stands on its own. Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States. It is a strategic ally. The President and the Secretary of State have a very close relationship with the current government in Ankara. We stand by our attempts to try to convince our European partners to integrate Turkey into the European Union eventually, but certainly to facilitate the Customs Union agreement.
Turkey will remain one of the most important countries in all of Europe to the United States, and our policy is based upon that fundamental fact.
Q There is no question about that, but the question is prior or after the solution of the Cyprus problem? It's very important, this process you are suggesting.
MR. BURNS: It is unclear when the Cyprus problem will be resolved. In the meantime, we will on a parallel track continue our efforts to promote the idea of Turkey's inclusion into Europe; and therefore it is not tied.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURNS: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 2:24 p.m.)
(###)To the top of this page