U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE 95/07/14 DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Friday, July 14, l995 Briefer: Nicholas Burns DEPARTMENT Introduction of Ukrainian Press Spokesman ..............1 CUBA Collision of Cuban Gov't & American Flotilla Vessel ....1-2,24 Reports of Increased Human Rights Abuses ...............2 Alleged Violation of Cuban Air Space ...................2,24-25 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA War in Bosnia--Bosnian-Serb Offensive U.S. Support for Continuation of UNPROFOR, NATO Allies .3,8,11 Current Discussions ....................................3 --Proposals/Requests of Troop Contributing Countries ...2,6-7,9-14,16,18 --Protection of Enclaves ...............................3,8-9,19 Capture/Negotiation for Release of Dutch Peacekeepers ..4 Refugee Situation: Denial of UN Access .................4-5 U.S. Humanitarian Support ..............................5-6,14 War Crimes Tribunal, Genocide Convention ...............5,7-10 Use of U.S. Ground Troops ..............................9,11-12 Mr. Churkin's Trip to Pale; Russian Involvement ........12-13 Fighting around Zepa; Defense of Gorazde; Tuzla Airport 12,15-17 U.S. Presence in Macedonia .............................17 President Clinton's Discussions w/Chirac/Kohl/Major ....18 U.S. Consultations w/Turkish Gov't. ....................19 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Ambassadorial-level & Military-to Military Talks .......19-20 Ambassador Ross' Trip to Region ........................19 THAILAND Narcotics Trafficking Allegations ......................20 MISCELLANEOUS Terrorism --Public Announcement of Threat in South America .......21-23 Consular Affairs --Processing of Passport Applications ..................23 FRANCE --French Company Agreement to Develop Sirri Field ......23-26 RUSSIA --Boris Yeltin's Physical Status .......................26 --Report of Discovery of Cholera in Moscow River .......27 CHINA --Harry Wu Case ........................................26-27 --U.S.-China Relations .................................27 UKRAINE --Kharkov Water Catastrophe ............................27-28 --Democratic/Economic Reforms ..........................28-29
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, JULY 14, 1995, 12:52 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing.
I'd like to start the briefing today by introducing to you a special guest of mine. Mr. Mychaylo Doroshenko is the Press Spokesman for the Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. He's visiting the Department today, and he's visiting the United States as part of a USAID-funded training program. I'm very pleased to have him here today because of the very close relationship that the United States has forged during the past l2 months with President Kuchma, who is one of the most respected figures in Eastern Europe, who has led Ukraine into a new era based on economic reform, based on a lot of progress on the question of nuclear weapons; and I think it's fair to say that after the President's trip to Kiev in May, U.S.-Ukraine relations are as good as they've ever been.
I'm very pleased to have you here today, Mr. Doroshenko. We promise you that we will not allow the press to ask you any questions. (Laughter)
O.K. With that I'm ready to go directly to your questions.
Q Do you have any comment on the Cuban gunboat incident outside Havana?
MR. BURNS: Yes, I do. We have received several reports about the incident that took place yesterday. It was a collision that occurred several miles inside Cuban territorial waters between a Cuban Government vessel and the vessel "Democracia," a boat from the American flotilla.
This incident, which occurred on the afternoon of July l3, yesterday, reportedly resulted in injuries to several of the people aboard the "Democracia."
The United States Coast Guard responded to a request for assistance from the flotilla and met it as it left Cuban territorial waters.
I understand that a Coast Guard helicopter medivaced one person who was suffering from a foot injury to a hospital in Florida.
We are evaluating information on the incident as it becomes available to us from the Coast Guard and from others. We deeply regret this incident.
Q One other question. We have reports that the Castro regime has increased his repression against human rights activists. Are you aware of that?
MR. BURNS: We, through our Interests Section in Havana, closely follow the human rights situation in Cuba. We have I think been the world leader in criticizing the Castro government for many decades for its brutal treatment of its own population, and we have a direct American interest in making sure that we do closely follow the situation and that we do everything we can to speak out against human rights abuse in Cuba. It's of great interest to Secretary Christopher and others here in the State Department.
Q On the Cuba issue, one more question, please. There was an airplane that dropped some pamphlets. Was that in violation of the U.S. law, and is the U.S. going to do anything in regards to that incident?
MR. BURNS: I understand as well the Cuban Government informed us yesterday that approximately six general aviation aircraft violated Cuban airspace yesterday. The Federal Aviation Administration will vigorously investigate any violations of United States and international aviation regulations, so I'm going to have to refer you to the FAA for further work on that.
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q Yesterday and the day before, you very strongly and vehemently stood there and said that the United States was prepared to assist the allies if and when they decided what they wanted to do, and Chirac seems to have some very strong views on where this should go. Is the United States prepared to support him in what he's laid out?
MR. BURNS: Since I expected this question, Carol, let me give you my considered response.
As you'd expect, in our tradition of the last couple of days, this will be a somewhat lengthy response, but bear with me.
Yesterday the French President, Jacques Chirac, called for limited military action to reassert the United Nations mandate to protect the designated safe areas in Bosnia.
President Clinton and the United States Government share France's belief that we must restore the integrity of the United Nations mission to protect innocent civilians.
We strongly believe that UNPROFOR's mission should continue. The United Nations has made a significant contribution to the welfare of the Bosnian people; and the withdrawal of the United Nations forces, especially from its humanitarian mission, would lead, we think, to an even greater humanitarian disaster in the wake of the fall of Srebrenica and assuredly in the battles that are yet to come because of this brutal Bosnian Serb offensive.
We do stand ready to support our allies who have troops on the ground in Bosnia. Today, discussions are ongoing. In the wake of the French Government proposal that was made public last night in Paris, discussions are ongoing between officials of our Government, officials of France, Britain, Germany, the United Nations, and the Netherlands, and other troop-contributing countries.
What we have asked in these discussions is that the Government of France and the other governments might be more precise about exactly what they are proposing and what they are requesting from the United States and others. I think we do need to have a more precise understanding of what the request is and what the strategy is before we can give an adequate response.
I would just remind you that as we work through these problems today and into the weekend, we're going to keep in the forefront of our own minds here in Washington two central objectives.
One, of course, is our very firm belief, as you say, Carol, that we've been talking about for a long time now, that the United Nations must stay in the field, that it should not be withdrawn, and that it must become more effective. That's the first objective.
The second is that at all costs we must retain the cohesiveness of NATO, and our support for our NATO allies is critical at this time.
Do you want to me to answer some questions on that? Then I have some further information to give out. Actually, let me do that, Carol. Let me just give out whatever information I have, and then we can have our discussion of Bosnia.
The Dutch Defense Ministry reported to us this morning in The Hague that another seven Dutch peacekeepers were captured yesterday after surrendering their observation post, just north of Srebrenica, to Bosnian Serb military forces. This brings the number of Dutch military peacekeepers being held hostage by the Bosnian Serbs to 55.
We condemn in the strongest terms the taking of peacekeepers as hostages, and we call on the Bosnian Serb military authorities and political authorities to release these people immediately. We are holding them personally responsible for their safety.
I understand that the United Nations is continuing its efforts to negotiate the release of these 55 Dutch peacekeepers.
The remaining Dutch peacekeepers are aiding the few refugees who remain at the U.N. camp in Potocari. The Dutch have told us that they will remain at Potocari until the safety of all refugees, including those detained at Bratanuc -- and they include what we think may be several thousand men and boys who were separated from their families on the buses that were leaving Potocari 24 hours ago. The Dutch have said that they will remain until they can be assured that the safety of those people is assured.
I'd just like to reiterate again the very strong United States support for the actions of the Netherlands and the very brave efforts of the Dutch peacekeepers to aid the refugees of Srebrenica.
At the same time, as we have been following the situation of the Dutch peacekeepers, we have been trying to follow very closely through the United Nations -- the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees, through the International Committee on the Red Cross, officials of the World Food Program -- the brutal situation of the more than 40,000 refugees.
The United Nations has received reports of rape and of murder by the Bosnian Serb army from many of the refugees who are arriving at the United Nations camp in Tuzla, which is inside Bosnian Government territory. The United Nations is also estimating that several thousand refugees are unaccounted for. We are deeply concerned by these reports, and the United States Government and the international community will hold the Bosnian Serb leadership personally responsible for their actions and for the safety of all of the refugees.
What we have seen over the last couple of days is perhaps not surprising, given the history of the Bosnian Serb military forces; but it does tell the world once again that these are brutal people, that they follow inhumane practices, and that they should be condemned in the strongest terms by the international community.
Words cannot describe I think what the American people and people in this Government feel today about the Bosnian Serb military forces and about the brutality that they have set upon the tens of thousands of refugees.
The Dutch peacekeepers, as I said, and the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees in Srebrenica are attempting to monitor the treatment of the refugees; but the Bosnian Serb military authorities have banned all U.N. personnel from the staging area for the deportations, where we believe people are being separated -- men from women, and some women from the rest of the refugees.
These reports certainly underlie the necessity for the Bosnian Serb military to permit international monitors unimpeded access to all parts of the enclave.
We believe that the number of detained men and boys may reach 3,000, who are being held in the vicinity of Bratanuc or in the soccer stadium there.
As I said, U.N. officials have been denied access to them.
I would just like to point out again today that the International War Crimes Tribunal is in operation. It is looking into reports of atrocities and war crimes from several years past. I believe, based on reports today, there is every reason for that Tribunal to begin very closely monitoring the situation on the ground today in Bosnia and the despicable behavior of the Bosnian Serb military forces.
That brings us to the question of what can the international community do about this situation.
The United States Government is ready to respond to the increase in humanitarian needs -- the very clear increase in those needs -- in eastern Bosnia with specific emergency relief programs that we hope might be able to address some of the needs -- the needs for food, shelter, and medicine -- of the refugees.
The Administration has approved, just in the last 24 hours, an additional $5 million in support for the non-governmental organizations who are extending assistance to the refugees. This is to support immediate humanitarian needs of the people who have become refugees from Srebrenica, and specifically to the programs of the UNHCR.
So far, in Fiscal Year 1995, we have allocated $130 million for refugee assistance in Bosnia. This brings our total to $135 million. We stand ready to do whatever we can. We stand ready to meet any request from the U.N. agencies who have responsibility on the ground.
Q Nick, you an filibuster all you want and spew out as many words as you want and talk about despicable and brutal, but the truth is words don't matter in this case anymore and they haven't for a long time.
So the question is: What action, if any, is the international community willing to take in order to do something about the situation which you yourself have gone on repeatedly describing in horrible terms?
You don't rule out limited military action as proposed by Chirac, it seems?
MR. BURNS: I take, actually Carol, deep exception to your question. You've asked me a question. You asked me to spell out what the United States Government is doing and what it is thinking. I'm trying to answer that question as best I can, so I take exception to your question.
I am not filibustering. In fact, I'm giving you all the detailed information that we have about the situation on the ground and how we consider it. If that's not of interest, fine, we'll go on to another issue.
Q People want to talk about the issue, Nick -- excuse me -- but I asked you a question. It sounds like the United States has not ruled out limited military action as proposed by Chirac. Is that true?
MR. BURNS: As I told you, we have a request for assistance from the French Government. That request is at this point imprecise. We need to give it a degree of precision. We are spending today in very close and detailed conversations with France, the UK, Germany, and the U.N. on that specific question.
Once we have satisfied ourselves to what the strategy is being proposed and what the specific requests are, then we will respond to the French Government and we will respond publicly. There will be some meetings here in Washington this afternoon of our senior Government officials to look at this particular question. That's not filibustering; it is responsible, because we are being asked to provide, apparently, military assistance in a very serious way. You have to expect, of course, that we want to satisfy ourselves as to the particulars of that request before we give a response.
It's the responsible thing to do, and that's what we're doing.
Q What is the definition of people who commit war crimes? Obviously, General Mladic would come under that category as the actual perpetrator. But in the Nuremberg Trials, we also had people who had condoned or who had promoted or who had run cover so that these war crimes could continue.
I'd like to ask, for instance, is Mr. Akashi -- would his actions or his failure to act also be considered under the category of war crimes? What is the actual definition here? How broad is it and how will it be acted upon?
MR. BURNS: I can't recite for you the actual definition of a "war crime." I know it exists because the War Crimes Tribunal has a definite set of criteria.
I can tell you that the preliminary reports -- investigative reports -- underway do implicate the Bosnian Serb military and political leadership. We spoke to that a couple of months ago.
These people are being investigated -- Mr. Mladic and Mr. Karadzic -- for their activities of several years ago.
I'm just suggesting that given what we are all viewing on television -- the shots that CNN is bringing back from the region -- that the Bosnian Serb leadership ought to expect that their behavior during the last couple of days and today will also, we think, be a subject for that tribunal.
Q A follow-up, regarding people who have assisted in this even though they be members of the United Nations. Lord David Owen, for instance, who was known in Bosnia as "Lord David Oven," has been very much responsible for the continuation of this tragedy; but also Mr. Akashi, in his role as U.N. envoy, has really promoted the kind of action -- the situation in which the actions by the Bosnian Serbs could occur. Isn't that also considered as being complicit in the war crimes?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe so.
Q Could you share with us any of the thinking that's going on as you weigh whether the United States should offer military assistance to France and others? What are some of the considerations?
MR. BURNS: The two major objectives that we have here is that we believe in whatever the troop-contributing countries do, whatever the international community does, we should try to keep the United Nations in the field and we should try to strengthen it. That's number one.
Number two: It's important now, since we got to the question of a request for United States military assistance. It's important to keep NATO cohesive and unified as to what the military strategy and tactics should be and to what our political objectives should be. Those two questions are in the forefront of our own thinking as we work through the problems today.
Q But are the French asking simply that the remaining enclaves be protected? Or do they want to go beyond that? What is it they're --
MR. BURNS: That's one of the questions that we're asking. As we saw the initial request last night, it appeared to be a request to protect all of the enclaves, including Srebrenica. It may now be that at least some people in Europe are thinking about concentrating efforts on Zepa and Goradze.
So one of the questions we have is just that: What is the scope of this proposal? Does it pertain to all of the safe areas, or some of the safe areas. We're attempting to get that question answered today.
Q Nick, assuming that you find the French plan serious, credible, and doable, can you tell us what the limits of what the U.S. would be willing to contribute?
The second question is, does your answer to David mean that the U.S. writes off Srebrenica, but would it be willing to participate in a plan to protect Goradze?
MR. BURNS: Let me make one thing clear. We're not writing off any area. We are right now attempting to fashion a strategy with our allies. It does take more than a couple of hours. So we're not writing off any of the enclaves, and we're not forsaking any of the enclaves at this point.
We've simply got to take a look at the situation and try to see what can be done on a practical basis.
As to your first question, it's rather hypothetical. Once we get an understanding of what specifically is being requested, we'll make a decision on whether we can do that, and we will communicate that to the French and, I'm sure, communicate it publicly.
Q But, certainly, you've considered whether ground troops, limited air support -- what of those kinds of options would the U.S. be willing to --
MR. BURNS: I think the President and others have been very clear. The United States is not willing to consider a request for ground troops.
Q Helicopter support --
MR. BURNS: NATO -- and I think Admiral Smith spoke to this yesterday morning -- NATO is willing to consider any request for close air support under the existing U.N.-NATO agreement and under existing rules of engagement.
As to any other requests, and there is a request, at least, there is a report of a request for helicopter transport from France. That, obviously, is something that has to be looked at specifically today and is being looked at.
Q Nick, if I could ask you a legal question. If you can't answer it, if you could have the Legal Department supply us with a written answer.
Does the United States have an obligation under the Genocide Convention to stop what's going on in Bosnia right now?
MR. BURNS: I'm not a lawyer. I've never worked in the Legal Advisor's office so I can't give you a legal answer.
I would say this: The United States is deeply concerned about the atrocities being committed by the Bosnian Serb military. We will do anything we can to contribute to efforts to stop it.
I think one has to have a certain sense of practicality here as well. We don't have anybody in the region. We don't have any diplomats in the region close to these events; we don't have any military people close to the events.
The closest that the United Nations has, in terms of military observers of these events, are the Dutch peacekeepers. As I said, they're being constrained and prevented from getting access to the area where we believe there is a lot of reason for concern in the treatment of the men and women who have been separated from the refugee convoy.
At this point, we are going to continue to say publicly -- and it's important to say it publicly -- that we condemn this and that these people are going to be held accountable by the international community no matter how long it takes.
Q Would it be possible for this State Department -- the Legal Department -- to provide an opinion on that, a written opinion?
MR. BURNS: I'll look into whether it's possible.
Q A couple of days ago you said fairly flatly that what the allies decide to do, you'll listen to it, you'll consider them; and once they make a decision, you will support that decision. Now, it seems as if you're backing off a bit.
Apart from the use of ground troops, can you still flatly say that if the allies decide on a course of action, the United States will support them, barring the use of ground troops?
MR. BURNS: I'm not trying to back off or send any signals that we're backing off that. But allies is plural, and we do need to talk to all of the allies who have troops on the ground to see what the plan is. It may be that there is a need now to unite all countries on a singular plan. It isn't apparent to us that there is a single plan right now.
We must, of course, consider the request of the French Government; also consider the views of the British and Dutch Governments and others.
Q (Inaudible) allied approval? For instance, if the French and the Dutch and everybody else in NATO wants to do it, but the British don't.
MR. BURNS: I don't believe it has to be unanimous, but I think it is certainly wise of us to take today, and perhaps tomorrow, to have detailed conversations with all the troop-contributing countries because they all have a responsibility on the ground to protect themselves and to protect the U.N. mandates. So we certainly do want to talk to everyone.
The French proposal came in quite late last evening. We've spent this morning and will spend this afternoon talking to all the countries about it.
Q Nick, what obligation does the United States have as the four-decade leader of the Atlantic Alliance to assume a leadership role in reaching a plan that everybody can agree on?
MR. BURNS: We certainly take upon ourselves a leadership role in trying to help our allies figure out what the best course of action is - - military action or other action.
We do not have troops on the ground. So therefore we are in a position in Bosnia, as we have been for a long time now -- several years -- of giving credence and great credibility to those countries that do. Oftentimes, the United States does listen in these discussions and oftentimes we talk. We're doing both today.
Q I have a follow-up question. You've said that Bosnia is not a vital, national security interest of the United States, and that is the reason given for not supplying ground troops.
Is there any sense in this building that the accumulative effect of an inadequate response to Serb aggression has weakened NATO to the point where vital national security interests are affected?
MR. BURNS: We have said that if the President is going to make a decision to put American troops into combat, that it must be for a reason that would appropriately be called "of vital national interests." That is usually the standard that Presidents bring to bear -- at least since the Vietnam war -- on this question.
That question has been looked at by two American Presidents -- by President Bush and President Clinton. Both of them have concluded it's not in the United States interests to put American men and women into Bosnia for purposes of combat.
We have said in the contingency plan for 4104 that we will put American troops into the theater to extract UNPROFOR should that become necessary.
Q There's a report today that Churkin is going to Pale. Had the Russians talked to United States about that before he went? Do you know anything about what he specifically plans to do?
MR. BURNS: I don't know anything about that trip. It's the first I've heard of it. It's possible that Mr. Churkin talked to our diplomats in Moscow about it, but I haven't heard any reports so I don't know why he would be going. But if he is going, we'll certainly want to talk to him when he gets back.
Q You also said that the United States isn't writing off any specific area in Bosnia. But isn't it true that the longer it takes to make a decision in a military situation like this, the more the facts on the ground just sort of create its own reality?
MR. BURNS: It could be true. It's one of the worries that people have. There apparently is an increase in the fighting now around Zepa and apparently there is some kind of a Bosnian Serb military attack on Zepa, so it could be the case, that the Bosnian Serbs will just create facts on the ground that make it much more difficult for the international community to act or react. It's certainly a great concern that people have this morning as we look at these events.
Q Does it create any urgency in your decision-making?
MR. BURNS: I think it does, yes. I think that we are acting with that in mind.
Q Sir, can you give us any details about the tourist threat that may happen -- I'm sorry.
MR. BURNS: We spend a lot of time every day on Bosnia. When we're finished with Bosnia, which is usually after an hour or two, we go to other questions.
Q How long do you think it will take, realistically, given the situation on the ground, to make a decision and to consider the French offer and to get the specifics you need?
MR. BURNS: It's hard to say. I would think we're talking about a matter of days, not weeks here. It's just hard to predict these things.
Q In terms of what you're hearing from the French, we know, because it's public what you're hearing from the President -- President Chirac and what he's asking for. Are you hearing the same things from the French military? Is our military hearing the same kinds of things? Or are the French saying something in public that we're not necessarily hearing in private on the military side?
MR. BURNS: No. I think the French are being very consistent in what they're saying publicly and privately. We are talking to both the French military -- the Elysee -- and, of course, the French Foreign Ministry. We have a number of contacts in the French Government back and forth, conversations across the Atlantic. I'm not aware that the French are being inconsistent here. But you know you do get different accents depending who you talk to. That's certainly one of the issues that has to be worked through.
Q Nick, follow-up on Carol's question. We haven't heard Russia mentioned much in the context of what's been happening the past few days. Do we see them now as part of the problem or part of a solution?
MR. BURNS: We certainly do not see Russia -- do not -- as part of the problem. Russia attended the Contact Group meeting in London on Wednesday night. Russia agreed to the steps that the Contact Group representatives thought the West should take, namely that we should call upon the Bosnian Serbs to cease and desist in their military actions; that the United Nations must be kept in the field and be strengthened, and that Carl Bildt should continue his diplomatic negotiations to try to see if there is by some chance a diplomatic way forward.
Russia agreed to all of that, so I would not characterize Russia as being a problem. I think Russia has been constructive. It doesn't mean that we always agree with the Russians. We oftentimes do have disagreements with the Russians. I noted that one of the Russian Government spokesmen of the Foreign Ministry complained about the NATO air strikes on Srebrenica. We would certainly take great issue with that complaint.
Q You just answered a question a few minutes ago, saying that the decision would come within a matter of days, not weeks, and as we all watch these pictures of the refugees and the dire circumstances that they find themselves in and see reports of people hanging themselves out of desperation and children starving -- isn't there a sense that you're running out of time?
MR. BURNS: There's a sense that every day counts, and that we can't sit idly by and expect the problem to disappear. Yes, there's a very great concern, a very, very great concern, about the situation of these refugees. What can we do about it.
First and foremost, the United States can contribute to the efforts of those non-governmental organizations that are with the refugees and trying to give them food, shelter, water and medical care -- principally, the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Food Program.
We are giving them $130 million this year. We're the largest contributor to them. We're giving them an additional $5 million today, specifically to meet immediate needs in Srebrenica. We will meet any request that they give to us, because we do feel a sense of urgency. That's one thing we can do.
The second thing we can do is to work with the allies of ours that have troops on the ground to figure out a military security strategy. The French have proposed an idea which we find to be a very interesting idea, one that deserves the greatest consideration by the West, and we are looking into that idea.
It is not realistic to think that any government can commit militarily to a program without looking into what the program is, without consulting with the others who would be part of that program. That's what we're doing today. We're trying to do that as quickly as we can, because we do feel a sense of urgency.
Q From the outside it looks a bit like there's a paralysis. I mean, what is happening on the ground, this is -- could have been anticipated, given the circumstances, and one would assume there was intelligence that the Bosnian Serbs were planning this, and that the peacekeepers on the ground were relaying this information back to their respective governments.
You know, as we read reports that Zepa is about to fall and that Gorazde is being targeted, yes, there need to be meetings and plans, but it seems like there have been meetings and plans, and perhaps there ought to be a conclusion.
MR. BURNS: I understand what's behind the question, and I think I understand the question itself. I think it is unrealistic to expect the President and his advisers to within an hour or so of a request agree to it. We have a responsibility to our own military forces and a responsibility to those who make the request to give it our most serious consideration.
When you do make decisions like this, you have to make them, looking at all the possible consequences. This does not mean that we're backing off from what we've been saying in the past couple of days, and it doesn't mean that we somehow are trying to string this out. It means that we have to take a very serious look at it, and frankly we have to know what the request is. And most of the efforts this morning have been centered on that particular question -- what is the request. What is the military plan. Who else would be part of it -- and putting all that information together, we will consider it very seriously.
Q Wouldn't it be already, though -- making some assumptions -- too late to do anything about Gorazde? Couldn't the Bosnian Serbs sweep through there before people begin to organize to stop them, even if there were a decision to stop them?
And a second question is, speculation is that once that happens -- if it does happen -- the Bosnian Serbs would have about the map that they want and might sue for peace. What kind of response would there be from the Contact Group to such a suing for peace?
MR. BURNS: On the second question, if that's their plan, they shouldn't expect to get an immediate, positive response or any kind of positive response from the Contact Group. If that's their plan, they're badly mistaken to think that we're going to gladly come to Pale just to discuss things on their terms. They've got to discuss things on our terms when it comes to the negotiating table.
On the first question, I do not agree. I don't think many people here -- looking at this situation this morning -- agree that somehow Gorazde should be forsaken because it is indefensible. I'm not saying. You're saying it should be forsaken. That's unfair.
But as to the question of whether it's defensible or not, I think there are people who believe it can be made defensible. There are 300 British troops there. The British are among the finest troops anywhere in the world. There are 100 Ukrainian troops there. The Ukrainians find themselves in a very difficult position in Zepa and in Gorazde, but I don't think anyone is assuming that Gorazde is indefensible.
In fact, the request that has come in from the French Government certainly focuses on Gorazde, and that is reason enough to hope that something might be able to be done.
Q (Inaudible) with French officials about this proposal. Where do they stand? You said that you shouldn't expect the President to be able to respond within hours, but how soon are you going to be able to make a decision on this specific proposal?
MR. BURNS: I can't predict when a decision will be made. It will be made by our government when we are satisfied that we fully understand the request; that we've fully looked at the consequences for the United States and our military, and I think that it will be shortly. I don't think it will be long before that decision is made, but we owe it to ourselves and to our partners, including the French, to have these discussions. I think that is reasonable, and I think it would be impractical to consider any other course at this time.
Q Have they asked you anything that you've refused already?
MR. BURNS: No.
Q Are these French proposals to hold the line at Gorazde, to reinforce Gorazde and hold it?
MR. BURNS: We are seeking clarification on that very point, David.
Q You were telling us that that was part of the proposal.
MR. BURNS: What I meant to say in responding is that seems to be certainly one of the things they want to do. What we would like to know is what the breadth of this proposal. What other areas does it cover. How many troops would be involved. What would it take in terms of lift. What would it take in terms of new equipment. What would it take in terms of logistics and communication.
I think you can assume that these are the kinds of things -- lift, communications, logistics, equipment -- that the United States would be asked for. We need to have a sense of what we're being asked for. What the strategic and tactical objectives are. Who else would be participating in this among the troop-contributing countries that have people on the ground. So these questions are all being asked this morning.
Q Are they proposing to send French troops to reinforce the British and Ukrainians in Gorazde?
MR. BURNS: I think that's the general idea here, yes.
Q Are there any considerations to reinforce the U.S. presence in Macedonia?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe that question has been raised over the last couple of days. As you know, we have a little over 500 American servicemen/women in Macedonia, and I don't believe that there is any reason to increase their number now.
Q About the opening of Tuzla airport. You've got tens of thousands of refugees streaming in there. That airport was declared open, but Serbs have not given safety guarantees, so it's not being used. Can you really feed and take care of these people in Tuzla without that airport functioning?
MR. BURNS: I think it makes it much more difficult, and I think that's one of the issues that the United Nations with our support is working on right now. I think it does make it much more difficult, if in fact that is where many thousands of these people will end up, to supply them on any effective basis without taking action to open up the major corridors, including the airport.
Q How about an airlift to do that? Is that under consideration?
MR. BURNS: We've not been requested. We have not been requested to undertake an airlift. If we are requested to do so, we will certainly look at that request very seriously.
Q I assume we have not volunteered to undertake --
MR. BURNS: At this point, because we don't have any American officials anywhere close to these events, we are relying on the United Nations to tell us what they need from us, and we are responding to those requests as effectively and as quickly as we can. So really it's not reasonable to think that we could initiate a proposal like that because we're not there to see what is needed on the ground, and we're working closely with the international organizations that are there.
Q Has Clinton talked to Major yet, and, if he has, can you tell us where Major fell on the broad outlines of the French plan?
MR. BURNS: The President talked to Chirac and Kohl yesterday. He was to have talked to Major this morning. That phone call has been postponed until early afternoon.
Q (Inaudible) the formalities of the operations in Bosnian, Nick, that if the British and, I mean, a leopard, I guess, can change its spots but up until now they haven't been interested in any kind of decisive military action -- if they would say now and the other parties were in agreement, would it not be best to try and pull out of that some effective action in spite of the British objections? You say that you're very considerate about the stability of the Alliance and everything, but what happens to the NATO Alliance if this genocide continues? Isn't it totally discredited as an organ which could prevent these things from happening in the heart of Europe? Couldn't that decision be taken? Wouldn't it be better to leave the doubters aside and to move on in order to get something done effectively in Bosnia?
MR. BURNS: Again, I just feel personally that I have to take exception with the basis of your question. I don't think it's right for me to be silent when people ask questions that implicitly or directly criticize our allies. I don't think there's any reason to criticize Great Britain -- the United Kingdom.
I think Prime Minister Major has shown a great deal of courage and resolve in increasing the number of British troops in Bosnia just over the last six weeks, which was an obviously difficult decision to take, but he took it, and the President is looking forward to his conversation with the British. We have a very close relationship with the U.K. and with the Major Government, and we're going to listen to their views, certainly, before we make any decision.
Q Another subject. Middle East.
Q I have one question on Bosnia. Is it the U.S. position to wait for the others, whether they are the ones to send the troops or not, before taking a final view?
MR. BURNS: Our decision is going to be informed by what the French, the British, the Dutch, the Germans and the U.N. choose to do. It has to be that way. These are the major actors on the ground.
Q Is it possible, whether they are going to send the troops or not?
MR. BURNS: Certainly, that's one of the questions -- whether or not the troop-contributing countries are willing to commit troops to any future plan to protect the enclaves. That's certainly one of the key questions that has to be ascertained.
Q You said the U.S. will consult all the ground -- those countries that contribute ground troops right now. Will the U.S. consult Turkish Government as well?
MR. BURNS: Yes. Absolutely. Turkey is one of our closest NATO allies.
Q Nick, on the Middle East, there are some source stories coming out of Damascus today that Ambassador-level peace talks are going to resume here in Washington. Can you comment on that?
MR. BURNS: What I can say, Sid, is that Dennis Ross just returned at about 9:30 this morning from his trip where he shuttled between Damascus and Jerusalem, where he went to Gaza and other places.
He worked very hard on the Israel-Syria track, as you would have expected him to. He had very serious discussions with both Israeli and Syrian officials and combined his discussions, combined with the recent discussions of the Chiefs of Staff, give us the view that there is a real potential for convergence on key issues relating to security arrangements.
These are very difficult talks. There are still a number of major obstacles that lie in the path of the countries involved -- Israel and Syria -- and we will remain in close contact with the parties as this process moves forward. I don't have anything specific to give you on dates for Ambassadorial level talks, though.
Q Are you saying then the parties have not agreed to resume anything -- Ambassador-level talks, security talks?
MR. BURNS: We fully expect all of the talks to continue, but I don't have any information as to the dates of the next talks. That's all I'm saying. Dennis just got back. I had a chance to speak to him by phone last night just before he left Tel Aviv. I have not had a chance to talk to him this morning, unfortunately, before I came out today.
Q Did you ask Dennis if there were going to dates -- if the Syrians and the Israelis had committed on dates to resume the talks?
MR. BURNS: I do know that right now we don't have specific dates that we can give you, and we're working on that question.
Q But do you have specific dates?
MR. BURNS: No. No, we don't have dates. The Israelis, Syrians and Americans don't have dates, so therefore we don't have any dates to give you, but we're working on that question.
MR. BURNS: No, I understand. But we don't have any to -- we don't have anything to say on that question today.
Q There's a schedule that was announced in Damascus last time the Secretary was there had military-to-military talks just below the Chief of Staff level resuming the middle of July. Today is the 14th of July, so --
MR. BURNS: Right.
Q Can we presume, though, it starts soon?
MR. BURNS: We hope very much they'll start soon, but I just don't have any specific dates to offer today. I haven't had a chance to talk to Dennis (Ross).
Q Nick, Newsday reported today that the State Department in 1992 effectively blocked the ascension to the Prime Ministership of a Thai politician by publicly saying three days after an election that he was linked to narcotics trafficking. It turns out that the main source for the information was subsequently found to be a fabricator, and a burn notice was issued late last year on the person. The question is, why does State still stick to its guns and hold that the person is involved in narcotics trafficking and a visa is denied?
MR. BURNS: I have not seen a Newsday report, and therefore I can't speak to it, and I certainly can't speak to the allegation that someone fabricated -- somebody in the U.S. Government, which I suppose that means. I don't know who the person is, and I don't know the specifics of the event.
I commented two weeks ago, I guess -- I commented last week -- excuse me -- on the Thai elections, and I commented twice on the Thai elections, and I don't think I can do anything right now to improve upon those comments.
Q Going back to Latin America, can you give us any other details in relation to the possible terrorist threat for the U.S. in South America, and also I understand you have this kind of information from time to time and you decide when you make it public or not. This time was it public, because you feel that Latin America is not too alert on this issue? Two questions.
MR. BURNS: We issued a public announcement of a general threat in South America the other day, because it's our obligation to do so. When the United States Government, through the variety of means at our disposal, has information that we think could possibly lead to a terrorist incident, we have a responsibility to share that with American citizens, not just American Government officials.
It wouldn't be fair to American citizens who do not work for the government if those of us who do have the information and they didn't -- at least the information of a possible threat. I realize this is an exceedingly general announcement, and I realize that if you're an American citizen, it might be difficult to ascertain -- to figure out how your respond to an announcement like this.
We wouldn't have issued the announcement had we not thought there was some reason to believe that a terrorist organization might strike at targets in South America for a variety of reasons which you will understand. It's not in our interest to give specific information about the threat, because we certainly would like to help governments in the area apprehend those who are planning terrorist attacks.
So I think the general thrust of the statement is that American citizens who are living or traveling in South America -- that does not include Central America or Mexico -- should understand that we do have concern that terrorist groups may be planning an operation. They should just take the normal precautions that one should take in most parts of the world these days, as people live and travel around the world.
Q Some intelligence information from Israel, though, say that the information is going to Argentina, to Buenos Aires, specifically. Is that the information you also have? I mean, can you tell us at least if it is in relation to Argentina?
MR. BURNS: I don't have that information, I'm sorry. Our announcement was very general. It was not specific. It did not say Argentina, and so therefore I cannot corroborate that.
Q It said Argentine diplomats are saying that they're beefing up security, and Argentina's Interior Minister was on -- giving radio interviews today in which he said that they're checking the borders. There's more security on the streets. Has there been contact between the United States and Argentina on this issue?
MR. BURNS: Again, I cannot link Argentina to the public announcement that we issued the other day. Because of what has happened in Argentina on a couple of occasions over the last few years -- terrorist attacks on innocent people -- we have had a close relationship, a close supportive relationship with the Argentine Government on the issue of terrorism. We're working closely with that government.
But I am not trying to link, and I cannot link, the announcement of the other night with whatever precautions may be advised now by the Argentine Government.
Q Considering the past incidents, are you in contact following this announcement with Argentina?
MR. BURNS: I am not specifically aware of who we've been in contact with in South America over the last 48 hours on this issue. I do know that this public announcement went to all of our Embassies and Consulates in South America, and I would presume that the officials in those Embassies and Consulates have alerted all the local authorities with whom they work. I think that would be reasonable. So it's probably reasonable, yes, to say that there's been contact. I just can't speak to it specifically.
Q Did the (inaudible) of Argentina have any (inaudible) this morning, because the paper reports that the (inaudible) of Argentina was going to meet with State officials today.
MR. BURNS: Here in the Department?
Q Today, yes.
MR. BURNS: I don't know if he did, but we can certainly look into that for you.
Q Yesterday CNN reported from an unknown source that the terrorists may be members of Hizbollah, an Iranian-backed group. Is this true, or have you heard anything about that?
MR. BURNS: In South America?
Q Yes. That they were the -- CNN yesterday received from an unknown source that this was the terrorist group that was involved.
MR. BURNS: I don't have anything for you on that. Sorry.
Q The Wall Street Journal today reports there are extremely long lines at passport offices across the country. Why is it taking so long to process these applications? And maybe the second question would be why is the government cutting back staffing at a time when so many people want passports?
MR. BURNS: I think it is just logical that this is the busiest time for our passport offices around the country, because the greatest number of Americans who travel, travel in the summer. People who are applying for passports or new passports apply generally in the summer.
It generally takes about three to four weeks to get a passport. I understand that the greatest number of U.S. citizens applying for a passport in person for passports are leaving within two weeks or less; and, if you need to get a passport on an urgent basis, that can usually be accomplished at a Passport Office.
We encourage all people to apply early and to plan their trips so that they are in touch with one of our 13 passport agencies about their request for passports. We are trying to do -- the Department, of course, has responsibility for this -- Department of State. We're trying to do as good a job as we can to meet the very, very heavy demand that runs into the millions for passports every year.
In 1992 we set up a National Passport Office in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to deal with the onslaught of passports that are anticipated from the expiration of a ten-year passport which began last year. So we're doing our best. People, I think, will understand that we'll try to process these applications as quickly as we can.
Q Nick, do you have anything more on the French-Iranian oil deal?
MR. BURNS: I believe I do have something on that. I just have to determine where I have the information. I have determined that. I'm going to turn to it.
We are certainly disappointed by the announcement that Total -- the French company Total -- has reached an agreement with Iran to develop the Sirri Field. Our objection to this sort of deal has been made very clear to the French Government.
The Government of Tehran continues to support activities that threaten the interests of the international community, so it's important, we think, for any government or society not to contribute to Iran's economic and financial resources.
Deals of the Total type send the wrong signal to the Iranian leadership at the wrong time. The Iranians might conclude they can sponsor terrorism, pursue weapons of mass destruction without penalty. So we would like to call upon the French Government, even though it's Bastille Day, not to extend official credits or other financial benefits to Iran.
Q Are you all going to present these words on a day when their government is not closed?
MR. BURNS: That's why I said, "even though its' Bastille Day."
MR. BURNS: I actually understand -- I checked on this question. I actually understand that we made our diplomatic protest to the French Government yesterday before the French Government closed the doors for Bastille Day. I would think that we would even follow up on Monday morning, so they should be ready to hear from the United States Government consistently that we are very disappointed in this action.
Q If the French Government is closed, are you still able to talk to them about Bosnia?
MR. BURNS: Yes. We are still able to talk to the French Government about Bosnia, even though it's Bastille Day.
Q Do you know how long the U.S. is going to wait before it protests to the Cuban Government for the attack on the Cuban exile's boat. Are you going to protest, or just --
MR. BURNS: I have noted that we regret the incident. I think that encompasses our reaction to what happened yesterday.
I would simply note that this incident took place within Cuba's territorial waters. The incident between the vessels and that several aircraft flew into Cuban air space. I think those are pertinent facts to note.
We had a number of conversations with the individuals who undertook these air and sea missions -- private individuals -- before it happened.
We certainly support the right of Americans -- of anyone else -- to say what they want and to think what they want and to believe what they want. We did point out to these individuals that when you do enter the air space or territorial waters, or territory of another country, you are subject to the law enforcement agencies of that country and to the rules and laws of that country.
We have no interest here in supporting the Cuban Government. We don't think it's a good government. We'd like to see a transition to democracy in Cuba. We've opposed the present government for 36/37 years. I just wanted to point out those pertinent facts which led us to the statement that I made, that we regret the incident.
Q Nick, I'd like to go to Iran. How far along is -- have the French told you that they're going to extend official credits or some sort of other benefit in this deal?
MR. BURNS: We understand that Total has reached an agreement. Ordinarily in a deal of this type, which is a huge multi-billion dollars deal, ordinarily national export credit agencies or insurance programs would be required to finance a deal of this type. That's certainly true of most of the major U.S. oil deals around the world. That is part of the problem that we have with the French Government, the very serious objection that we have. But we're going to look into that; and, of course, get into the details of this with the French Government.
Q Presumably, since this deal is now finalized, if export credits, or whatever, are part of it, your words aren't going to have much effect at this point?
MR. BURNS: We don't know if they'll have an effect or not. Governments can change their minds sometimes. We would hope the French Government would change its mind in supporting this particular deal. We would also hope to just keep in the forefront of our relationship with France, Germany, with other European countries, that they have as much interest as we do in preventing the Iranian Government from expanding its economy -- from improving its economy -- and therefore being more free to practice the wanton support for terrorism that they have been undertaking for quite some time now, and to plan the construction of a nuclear weapons capability which we firmly believe Iran is planning.
We don't think it's in France's interest to idly stand by for the sake of short-term profit and to sacrifice France's longer-term national interests that are clearly at stake from an Iran that affects France negatively. So we have a very deep disagreement with the French Government on this.
Q This is a different subject. Does anybody have another question on Iran?
Do you have any word on Boris Yeltsin's health?
MR. BURNS: We understand from the Russian Presidential spokesman that President Yeltsin will be staying in the hospital for another week. We were very sorry to hear this news.
We, as you know, have great respect for President Yeltsin, and the United States close relationship with Russia. We certainly wish President Yeltsin a full and speedy recovery.
Q Has there been any direct contact with Mr. Yeltsin and U.S. officials? Or are you just communicating with his spokesman?
MR. BURNS: There has not been any direct contact with President Yeltsin and American officials since he entered the hospital. But our Embassy, and Ambassador Tom Pickering, are in close touch with Yeltsin's top aides on the Presidential staff in the Kremlin.
Q Do you have anything on Harry Wu and on your exchange with the Chinese? Did anyone in this building warn Mr. Wu of what he might face before he went there?
MR. BURNS: On the first question, there's really nothing new to report. Our Consul General, Mr. Macias, is doing a very fine job on this. He has reminded the Chinese Foreign Ministry of its obligation to pursue a reasonable course in this matter, and that is to give us flexibility in the number of visits that we can have with Mr. Wu.
Our Charge d'Affaires, Mr. Scott Hallford, has made the same points at a very senior level in the Chinese Foreign Ministry. We will take every opportunity in our contacts with China to remind them of our belief that Mr. Wu should be released immediately.
As to your second question, the State Department was not advised by Mr. Wu of this trip before he undertook it -- the trip that lead him through Kazakhstan to the Chinese-Kazak border where he was detained and later apprehended.
We do believe, based on prior conversations, that officials in this Department had with Mr. Wu, that he was fully aware of the risk of travel in China. He was fully aware of it not just because him of the risks but because he had spent 19 years in Chinese prisons. We assume that Mr. Wu took into account the very obvious risks that were underway. He made the decision to go to China, and he has suffered a very unfortunate detention. We'd like to call upon the Chinese Government again to release him immediately.
Q Do you have any response to former Secretary Kissinger's comment yesterday that China-U.S. relations are in a state of free fall?
MR. BURNS: I don't have a comment on that, really. I wouldn't describe Chinese-American relations in that way. I think we have a troubled relationship with China now. But it is a relationship in which both countries have a mutual interest to see that it is strengthened.
There are so many issues -- economic, political, and security -- in which China and the United States have to talk and have to advance and cooperate. It's clearly in the best interests of both governments to cooperate, and that's what we're trying to do with the Chinese Government.
Q China's Foreign Minister, blaming the United States, said that the United States was fully responsible for the deterioration of its relations with China; and he urged the United States to pledge never to let Lee Teng-hui visit the United States. What is your response to that?
MR. BURNS: My response is that both countries are responsible for the nature of the relationship and for whatever progress we're going to make in the relationship. The Chinese Government is specifically responsible to remove a number of the problems in that relationship, notably their detention of Harry Wu.
That is my response.
Q Nick, I don't know if you mentioned in your opening statement there's now a water catastrophe in Ukraine -- that the city of Kharkov, I believe, is being evacuated; and, also, in the Moscow River, in the city of Moscow, cholera has been discovered. I don't know if you made comments on that at all or if you didn't.
MR. BURNS: I didn't comment on it in my opening statement; but I'm aware of the problem in Kharkov and I know that the Ukrainian authorities have, I think, done everything they can to cope with it. If we receive the request for assistance, we will look at that very seriously due to our close relationship with Ukraine.
Q President Kuchma, in connection with that, obviously also mentioned one of the big problems with the shock-therapy policies which Ukraine, as well as Russia, have implemented. Is it not the case in line with what Ambassador Talbott said some years ago, when he came back from Russia and said there should be less shock and more therapy -- maybe that is the case now too -- and that the IMF conditionalities, as a medicine, are starting to kill the patient and should be reevaluated? (Laughter)
MR. BURNS: That's a lot to talk about, and we have very little time because I have to go to a meeting. But let me just say that President Kuchma was elected on July l0 of l994 and since then he has made the most dramatic reforms of any leader in the former Soviet Union. There's no question about that.
He has received an IMF standby agreement, which is an enormous accomplishment considering where Ukraine was a year ago today, in terms of its economic reform efforts. It had done literally nothing from December 25, l99l, to July l0, l994. He is responsible for the turnaround in that economy, for the fact that the IMF is assisting it.
Ukraine is now the fourth largest recipient of American assistance anywhere in the world. A lot of people around the world -- private investors, as well as international financial institutions -- have a lot of confidence in him, in his economic team led by Prime Minister Marchuk, Minister Shpek and Minister Osyka. We are going to do everything we can to help the Ukrainian Government negotiate its way through the very, very big challenges it faces on the economic front.
There is always accompanying these issues, a certain tension between the international financial institutions and the countries with which they negotiate. We think the IMF has done a very, very fine job; and we congratulate the IMF and Ukraine on the work that they've been able to do together, but it's not unusual that they might have tactical disagreements about how you might phase in or stage some of these reforms.
We just have a lot of confidence in President Kuchma. He was here in November, and President Clinton went to visit him in May. We have a very strong relationship with Ukraine and we're rooting for it -- rooting for it to succeed democratically as well as economically.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURNS: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at l:55 p.m.)
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