Return to: Index of 1994 Daily Briefings || Electronic Research Collections Index || ERC Homepage

U.S. Department of State
95/08/31 Daily Press Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
                       U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE 
                        DAILY PRESS BRIEFING 
                             I N D E X 
                      Thursday, August 31, l995 
                                     Briefer:  Nicholas Burns 
  NATO-UN Military Operations ...........................  1,3,8-11,16 
  U.S. Diplomatic Mission led by A/S Holbrooke    
  --Mtgs. w/President Tudjman, Mr. Sacirbey, Ambs. of 
      Contact Group Countries, President Milosevic ......  1-2,4,7, 
  --Further Diplomatic Discussions ......................  2,7 
  Russian Foreign Ministry Statement ....................  6 
  Acting Secretary Talbott Contacts .....................  2,10 
  Serb/Bosnian-Serb Joint Negotiating Team ..............  1-4,6-7,15 
  --Contact Group Map and Plan ..........................  2-4,10 
  Deaths of European Union Officials ....................  9 
  International War Crimes Tribunal .....................  11-12 
  Russian Assistance in Negotiations ....................  14 
  Bosnian-Serb Retaliation ..............................  13,15 
  Detention of American Reporters .......................  16-17 
  Deputy Secretary of Defense White Visit to Department .  12 
  Closure of Palestinian Offices in Jerusalem ...........  17-18 
  Israeli-Palestinian Talks .............................  17-18 
  Amb. Marc Grossman Letter to Political Party Leaders ..  18-19 
  Threats to American Citizens ..........................  19-20 
  Flotilla to Cuba ......................................  20-21 
  Nuclear Tests .........................................  22 
  Report of Algerian Terrorist Org. Responsibility for 
    Bombings, Assassination .............................  22 


DPB #130

THURSDAY, AUGUST 31, 1995, 1:23 P. M.

MR. BURNS: Good afternoon and welcome to the State Department briefing.

The United States is continuing today its determined efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Bosnian conflict after four years of war. As we said yesterday, we strongly believe that decisive NATO and United Nations military action was the only step the West could take to respond to Monday's brutal attack on the Sarajevo marketplace. There has been an overwhelming international support for this effort.

We hope now that the Bosnian Serb leadership has taken time to reflect on a fundamental fact: it is time now to face the responsibility of peace. It is time to cast aside war in favor of peace.

Today, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke continued his peace mission launched more than two weeks ago by President Clinton and Secretary of State Christopher. He has been in Zagreb for discussions with the Croatian and Bosnian Governments.

I had a long discussion with Assistant Secretary Holbrooke earlier today. He reported to President Tudjman, the Croatian President, on his meeting yesterday with President Milosevic. President Tudjman reaffirmed his support for the U.S. peace initiative and the NATO-U.N. military action. He said he thought both would contribute to peace.

In addition, Mr. Holbrooke is meeting now in Zagreb with the Bosnian Foreign Minister, Mr. Sacirbey. He reiterated once again the Bosnian Government's strong support for the NATO and U.N. action.

Earlier this morning Mr. Holbrooke met in Belgrade with the Ambassadors of Contact Group countries for a briefing on the diplomatic situation.

Based on this series of meetings over the last 24 hours, we now believe that there has been an important procedural breakthrough for peace. Yesterday's announcement that the Serbian Government and the Bosnian Serbs will form a joint negotiating team is a welcome development. It's a good start. It is encouraging that President Milosevic is taking full responsibility for this delegation, and that he and others are accepting as a basis for the negotiations the Contact Group map and plan, including the 51/49 territorial parameters.

This agreement achieves one of the central objectives we have been pursuing for many months. As Assistant Secretary Holbrooke said earlier today, this appears to end a protracted year-long argument concerning who would speak for the Bosnian Serbs. But let there be no mistake. The road to peace will be long and difficult. There are many, many more steps along the way before negotiations among the parties can even begin or the war finally ended.

The United States is resolved to continue these efforts for peace. The President and Secretary Christopher are keeping in close touch with the progress of Mr. Holbrooke's mission.

Accordingly, after concluding his meetings today in Zagreb, he will return to Belgrade for further discussions with President Milosevic tomorrow, September 1. On Saturday, September 2, he will travel to Bonn in Germany for an expanded meeting of the Contact Group and for meetings with German officials.

On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Holbrooke will brief the North Atlantic Council in Brussels. He will then remain in Europe for further diplomatic discussions.

As we have said, the time for waging war has stopped. The West is united in its determination to find a peaceful end to this tragic conflict.

In the Department today, Acting Secretary of State Strobe Talbott has been up since the early morning hours and on the phone with the NATO Secretary General, Willy Claes; the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Bob Hunter; and with Mr. Talbott's colleagues here in Washington. Acting Secretary Talbott also had a good conversation with the Bosnian Foreign Minister, Mr. Sacirbey, this morning. Acting Secretary Talbott and myself and others have been in close touch with Secretary Christopher in California throughout the past 24 hours.

With that as an opening statement, I'll be glad to go, George, directly to your questions.

Q Is 51/49 subject to revision?

MR. BURNS: George, I think it's fair to say that what has been achieved, as we understand it from Belgrade, is an agreement on the joint negotiating team, and that that team is willing to enter into negotiations on the basis of the Contact Group map and plan, including the territorial parameters, 51/49. "On the basis of that", I think is an important distinction to make.

Q You say the time for waging war has passed. Are you suggesting that the current military operations are coming to an end now because of this procedural breakthrough?

MR. BURNS: No, I'm not at all. The military operations are ongoing. As NATO and the United Nations have made very clear today, they are ongoing. As Admiral Leighton Smith said earlier today, it's really up to the Bosnian Serbs to decide when the military operations will cease.

The purpose of the statement, Jim, was simply directed at the Bosnian Serbs. They have been waging war for four years. They have been waging a bitter and brutal war. It is time for them to elect peace and end war.

Q And what do they have to do to show good faith in selecting peace?

MR. BURNS: I think it's pretty clear what they have to do in a very general sense. They have to declare that they're interested in peace negotiations and they are no longer interested in shelling innocent civilians in safe areas.


Q You said that there are many, many more steps that need to be taken before negotiations can begin. Can you elaborate on that?

MR. BURNS: Betsy, I think it's a very important and fundamental fact that despite the important step that was taken yesterday in Belgrade in the formation of this joint delegation, we have to resist the temptation to be a little bit euphoric because there is good news for a change out of the Bosnian war.

There is no doubt, given the complexity of the situation -- historically, ethnically and politically -- that these negotiations, if they can begin in the future, will be exceedingly difficult ones. They will be laborious, and they will probably be very much time consuming, lengthy negotiations.

So we are simply trying to indicate a reality, and the reality is that we have taken a few steps this week towards peace. That is very gratifying, and that's good news; but we have a long, long way to go.

Q What sorts of issues have to be resolved before talks can begin if you have now resolved the issue of who will represent the Bosnian Serbs? What other -- I mean, do you need some sort of document that outlines specifically what points are to be discussed? What else do you need to do?

MR. BURNS: Dick Holbrooke's mission is to create a common ground among the parties of the conflict, to the extent that they will agree to begin negotiations. To make that decision, all of them must conclude that it's in their interest to do so, that they are ready to do so; and that is the nature of his conversations in Zagreb today with the Croatian Government and with the Bosnian Government. They are both central actors to this drama.


Q What is the -- could you state simply -- I know it's not a simple issue -- what the Contact Group plan actually is that this would be based upon, aside from the 41/59 (sic)? It's not meant to be a trick question.

MR. BURNS: Good. I'm glad. I don't like trick questions, but I'll be glad to answer your question.

I don't want to immerse ourselves today in all the details that are obviously being discussed in all these different conversations in Belgrade and Zagreb and elsewhere. But I can say, Steve, I think you know that we are seeking a negotiated settlement to a war, and we certainly have some fundamental principles that are important.

For instance, the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a single state within its present international boundaries. For instance, a single U.N. seat in the future.

Another principle: that all people residing within the borders of this state have their basic human rights respected, including their ethnic rights.

There are a vast array of territorial, constitutional, procedural, substantive political and economic issues that will make up the substance of any future negotiations. The United States is not trying to dictate in any fashion what an outcome should be or even what the complete agenda should be. The parties themselves have to take complete responsibility for a negotiating process, and they have to define what the process will lead to.

But I think we have asserted in a helpful way some fundamental principles to provide a framework for negotiations. That is what Assistant Secretary Holbrooke has been doing for more than two weeks now, and he's involved in very serious discussions on these issues, these principles, and a number of the other issues that I referred to.

But what I'm not really willing to do is to go into some of those other issues. Those are properly discussed in a confidential negotiating process, and I think I'd like to keep them there.

Q Nick, how do you respond to the threats of Mr. Karadzic yesterday that there could be a third world war from there, beginning? And the second question: Milosevic looked like he is responsive to the efforts by Holbrooke and the West, and there is a split between Milosevic and Karadzic, and Karadzic has the military power and the other guy has the political power. How are you going to correspond this effort to try to bring about a response by the Serbs there?

MR. BURNS: I can't be an expert analyst of Serbian politics, so I think I'll refrain from answering your second question, with all due respect.

But on the first question, I would just say it's very important that the Bosnian Serb leadership reflect on what has happened over the last month. There has been a Croatian offensive that was highly effective. There has been a renewed determination on the part of the international community, led by the United States, to maintain its own credibility and its commitments to defend safe areas. There is now a window of opportunity for peace; and after the military action of the last 48 hours, we would think that they'd be very interested in moving in that direction.

We've seen the public comments that came from Pale yesterday. I don't think anybody believes we're anywhere close to a third world war. That's really nonsensical. But we hope that we are close to the beginning of a diplomatic process that will lead these parties away from the war that they have fought for four years and toward some set of very difficult but we hope promising negotiations.

Q Russia is upset over this whole campaign by the West, and how are you allaying the fears of Russia that it will not expand or this has to be done in order to bring peace to that area?

MR. BURNS: Russia is a very important partner of the United States and of European countries on this issue. The Russian Government has consistently called for negotiations; and, since we are now heading in that direction, we're quite confident that the Russian Government will continue to be an effective partner.

I would also note that there was a statement out of the Russian Foreign Ministry this morning which seemed to indicate a good deal of understanding about why the United Nations and NATO took the military action that it did.

Q Nick, would you tell us, apart from Mr. Milosevic's assurances, does Mr. Holbrooke or any member of his party have independent understanding that the Bosnian Serbs will indeed defer to Mr. Milosevic's leadership, and that he will make the decisions and the negotiations and not they? And could you describe for us why you think this procedural breakthrough is so important?

MR. BURNS: David, to begin with the second question, the diplomacy on Bosnia over the past year or so has focused on one central question: Who would speak for the Bosnian Serbs -- which will get to your first question -- at any kind of negotiations, peace conference, and what would be the substantive basis to begin those negotiations?

It's our belief that with the statement out of Belgrade yesterday, and with some of the understandings that we received in the private meetings with Mr. Milosevic, those questions have been answered.

President Milosevic is a respected figure among the Serbian people. He is the leader of the Serbian people. He has a great deal of influence, we believe, on the Bosnian Serb leadership and the Bosnian Serb community in general. He gave us an unequivocal and clear statement, and he gave it to your publicly, that a negotiating team has formed and that they do accept as a basis for future negotiations the Contact Group map and plan. There will be three members of the Serbian Government on that team and three members of the Bosnian Serb leadership.

So we are relying here on clear, unequivocal statements by the Serbian President, and we have no reason to doubt them.

Q If I could follow. There was a report yesterday and then again today that three Bosnian Serb leaders were enroute to Belgrade. From your conversation on the telephone with Dick Holbrooke or from other knowledge, Nick, are these Bosnian Serbs going to be the ones that will be represented on this negotiating team that you just mentioned, that Mr. Milosevic is inviting to come for that particular purpose? I take it -- have you heard anything from Dick about whether he's going to return to Belgrade and have the views of the Bosnian Serbs presented to him?

MR. BURNS: Bill, Dick Holbrooke does intend to return sometime this evening to Belgrade for meetings tomorrow morning with President Milosevic. He has an appointment with him early tomorrow morning. That is the reason for returning to report to President Milosevic and brief him on the conversations that he's had today in Zagreb with both the Croatian and Bosnian Governments.

Dick has no scheduled meetings with Bosnian Serbs. I am unaware of any reports that there are Bosnian Serb leaders on the way to Belgrade. It could be the case. I just don't know.

I would just note that I believe two of the members of the Bosnian Serb negotiating part of the joint Serbian team are Dr. Karadzic and Mr. Mladic. I haven't seen any reports that they are headed for Belgrade.

Dick's focus tomorrow will be in meetings with the Serbian Government of President Milosevic. Then, as I said, he'll go on to Germany for meetings with the Contact Group -- that will be an expanded meeting of the Contact Group so it will include Italy, Spain, and Canada -- and then a briefing at the North Atlantic Council on Saturday afternoon in Brussels.

Q I take it then that Dick did not discuss with you on the phone any meetings with the Bosnian Serbs and the Milosevic people in Belgrade? That was not --

MR. BURNS: I'm quite sure that Dick does not have any meetings scheduled with members of the Bosnian Serb leadership at this point.

Q His knowledge of Milosevic meeting the Bosnian leadership.

MR. BURNS: I'm sorry. I misunderstood your question. I apologize. Dick didn't mention anything to me, and I don't believe that we have any understanding about any such meetings.

Q Have you seen any evidence that the Bosnian Serb military leaders are showing some willingness to pull their forces back in the safe zones?

MR. BURNS: I think that's really a question for the military experts, those who are leading the NATO and U.N. military operations in the region. It's difficult for me to be authoritative and confirm any such movements. I haven't seen such reports.

What we have noted over the past week, however, both before the military action took place and since, is a willingness to think about negotiations, to think about the peace process. As we think about the efforts of the international community over the last four days, it's important to focus on both the main activities that have been underway.

There has been a very decisive, substantial military response to the murderous attack on Sarajevo. There is also now the beginnings of a peace process. We hope very much that the military action might help persuade the Bosnian Serb leadership that the diplomatic action is where they should be heading and where they should have their thoughts and attentions directed.

Q Is your sense, though, that the fighting may be over for a while?

MR. BURNS: I can't make that assessment. I would just refer you to statements out of the NATO leadership this morning on the ground that the NATO military operations are continuing. I think that's been evident in even the television footage.

Q Can they have successful negotiations, though, if the fighting is still going on?

MR. BURNS: As we've said yesterday, and I think we've seen this in several instances in the past -- in Haiti and elsewhere, and certainly in the Middle East and Iraq -- that sometimes for diplomacy to be successful, it's got to be supported by and accompanied by a firm demonstration of military action. I think we have seen that this week, and I would just prefer to leave my comments there.

Q So it's not enough, in essence, to say we want to negotiate for the military action to stop? It's not enough to say, we're ready to negotiate, we accept the plan as a basis for negotiations?

MR. BURNS: I think the best answer to your question, in my view, came from Admiral Smith this morning in Naples when he said, "The Bosnian Serbs will determine when the military actions stop," if you get what I mean. Their actions, their outlook on the situation will determine when the military actions stop.

This is a question that was begun and will end by the military people on the ground in both NATO and the U.N. Once a political decision was made that force had to be used to respond to the outrageous attack on Monday, then the question of what kind of force was put squarely in the hands of the military leaders of the United Nations on the ground and of NATO. They are controlling the operations, and they're the ones who can best speak to those operations.

Q The Foreign Minister of Spain has issued a statement in which he said that the five European Union personnel who have disappeared and are feared to be dead in Bosnian Serb territory yesterday were in fact killed, not by NATO bombs but it is feared by a Bosnian Serb attack.

Do you know anything independently of the Spanish Foreign Minister? What can you tell us about that situation?

MR. BURNS: David, I can just tell you that we don't have any independent judgment, apart from the judgment of the Government of Spain and of the European Union. We were very distressed to see the reports and to see the comments by Foreign Minister Solana -- distressed on his behalf that he believes that the Bosnian Serb authorities, rather than NATO airstrikes, might have been responsible for the deaths of the officials of the European Union.

Assistant Secretary Holbrooke called Foreign Minister Solana this morning to express the condolences of the American people and the United States Government for what appears to be a great outrage. But I think it's proper for me to allow the Government of Spain and the European Union to speak to this in an authoritative way.

Q The U.S. doesn't have any independent intelligence to suggest that he's right or wrong?

MR. BURNS: I'm not aware of that, David. There have been a series of very confusing and sometimes contradictory reports over the last 24 hours about these five individuals. I think the best place for you and me to go is to rely upon the statements of the Spanish Foreign Minister.

Q How soon will negotiations begin?

MR. BURNS: That's very difficult to say. The object now is to convince all the parties to the conflict that negotiations should begin. How long that takes is really an open question. I can tell you that is the focus of American efforts today. It's where the attention of the American leadership is directed. The Secretary is intensely interested in what Dick Holbrooke is doing.

I can tell you we'll remain committed to pursuing this. After Dick Holbrooke's meetings in Bonn and Brussels on Saturday, he will remain in the region. He doesn't have a set itinerary that I can give to you today, but he will remain to attempt to answer your question, to get to the point where we can say that there's been an agreement, that negotiations will begin, and so forth.

Q At some point early in any negotiating process the question of who will monitor and enforce the Serb withdrawal from 30 percent or so of the territory that they now hold, that question will have to be addressed. Do you know of any discussions or any planning with respect to this subject?

MR. BURNS: I don't believe there's any detailed planning, George. You're right, that is one of the questions that ultimately, if negotiations are to begin and succeed, must be answered. We are concentrating now on more preliminary issues. I think if we can get to this particular issue, we'll have done very well. We'll be pleased to get to that point.

Still on Bosnia?

Q Can I ask a quick question? Could you confirm or deny if Turkish airplanes participated in this campaign in an escort capacity? And could you just for the record tell us the nations to which these NATO planes belong?

MR. BURNS: I'm going to have to refer you to NATO for that information -- the NATO authorities in AFSOUTH in Naples. They'd be the ones who can speak authoritatively to that.

Q You said it's up to the Serbs to determine when the fighting ends?

MR. BURNS: That's right.

Q Do they simply have to cease offensive attacks of their own, or do they have to pull back from safe areas to be free from further NATO attacks?

MR. BURNS: There's obviously a lot of discussion in the region about the question that you asked. I would just like to step back and say, I think it's going to be clear to everybody -- to all of us here in this room and everybody around the world -- when the Serbs have decided that they're going to be interested in peace and not war. It will be very clear. We await that day.

Q How will it be clear? Can you give us some idea?

MR. BURNS: It will be very clear by their actions. Again, we have said for a couple of days now, there have been some very good words coming out of Pale, in a certain respect, about the prospect of negotiations.

Words are sometimes important. They're also sometimes cheaply said. Actions speak much more loudly. We're looking for actions.

Q Is it to be diplomatic actions, though, rather than military action?

MR. BURNS: I think both.


Q Nick, I'm going to venture onto hypothetical grounds, and I know that. But since this issue has been spoken to before and it seems a little more important now, I want to ask it anyway.

Mr. Mladic and Dr. Karadzic have both been indicted for war crimes. Now that they're going to be part of a negotiating team, should they come to the table and try and offer some kind of peace or some kind of settlement in return for charges being dropped, what is the U.S. position should that take place?

MR. BURNS: Charlie, there's a reason why we don't like hypothetical questions because they're often not only hypothetical but difficult.

In this respect, let me just say, I don't think many people are even focusing on that question right now. We're focusing on some of the very serious issues that are preliminary to the beginning of negotiations. Your question focuses on an issue that may or may not be relevant once negotiations have begun.

I think you do know our position pertaining to the international tribunal. We have supported that tribunal, both financially and politically. We have people who work on that tribunal. We're cooperating with it, and we support the activities of the tribunal to look into the substantial human rights violations that have occurred on the ground during the last four years. I just want to limit myself to that for now.


Q There was, I believe, either a Deputy or Assistant Defense Secretary who stopped by here not long ago. Could you say who that was, what he was doing here, and with whom he met, or do you know?

MR. BURNS: Of which country, Steve?

Q This country.

MR. BURNS: Yes, I can certainly confirm that the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Dr. White, paid the State Department a visit today. He regularly meets and sometimes has lunch with Strobe Talbott along with other senior officials of our government. It's actually a weekly lunch that they undertake together, and that's why he was here today.

Q Was it specifically related to what is going on in Bosnia?

MR. BURNS: I'm sure Bosnia will come up in their conversation at lunch today. They were having -- as I looked, there was baklava, there was a nice Greek salad. I'm sure they had a nice lunch, and I'm sure they discussed Bosnia as well as other issues.

Q They had California wine?

Q As far as you know, are the discussions that Mr. Holbrooke is having in Zagreb and in Belgrade strictly focused on the Bosnia situation? There are other issues between Croatia and Serbia that might be involved in a peace process, not necessarily eastern Slavonia -- still occupied the Serbs. Has that been any part of the discussion at this point? And would they be delinked from other discussions on Bosnia?

MR. BURNS: Dick Holbrooke is focusing on all of the issues that would pertain to a comprehensive set of negotiations; the ones that we are pointed towards. He has a very fine and reconstituted team with him.

After the great tragedy of a week ago Saturday, when three of our senior and respected colleagues were killed, the team was reconstituted. He has good people with him from the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and from the Department of State. Some of those people are working very intensively on particular aspects of these negotiations.

Dick, of course, is supervising the delegation and working on the leading issues with the heads of state, the Foreign Ministers with whom he is meeting.

So the answer to your question is, all the most important issues.

Q If eastern Slavonia became a problem between the two leaders in Belgrade and Zagreb, would that hang up the talks? Or would you have to delink that problem from Sarajevo?

MR. BURNS: There are many, many issues, both procedural and substantive that have to be resolved before negotiations can get very far, and some that have to be resolved before negotiations can even begin. That's what Dick Holbrooke is working on.

Q Prior to the bombing and artillery campaign underway now, were assurances obtained from the Bosnians that they would not try to exploit the situation militarily?

MR. BURNS: David, I don't know if such assurances were sought. I think one way to answer your question would be to point towards the actions of the Bosnian Government. They have consistently and strongly supported the military action. I'm not aware of any reports that they are engaged in the action. They're certainly not engaged in the action with NATO or the United Nations. I can't speak to isolated fighting that may still be going on between the Bosnian Government and Bosnian Serbs.

But the action that's been taken this week has been a dual action of both NATO and the United Nations -- with those two institutions alone.

Q On that issue, Nick, is there a decrease or any change in military engagement throughout Bosnia and in other parts along other borders, perhaps with Croatia? Has this bombing, in fact -- has the Bosnian Government -- Bosnian military, Bosnian-Muslim military -- stood down and away from this action?

MR. BURNS: Again, Bill, some of these questions unfortunately really can't be answered by the Department of State. They really can only be answered by military authorities, and that I think is one of them.

Q Then, I just had a brief follow-up. With the Bosnian Serbs going to Belgrade to be represented by Milosevic and with Dick Holbrooke doing the shuttle that he's done, haven't in fact the preliminary negotiations begun with all parties -- then begun?

MR. BURNS: Certainly, preliminary discussions have been set up with all the parties. I'm not sure there's a lot of negotiations among the parties right now. The United States is shuttling back and forth between some of these capitals, carrying messages and explaining things and briefing on conversations. So we're not yet at the point, as far as I understand it, where there's cross-talk in the diplomatic channels.

Q Would you say that Dick Holbrooke then has initiated a comprehensive contact across the board.

MR. BURNS: Yes. I think, Bill, that's a fair way of describing it. Betsy.

Q Nick, yesterday, you said that one of the actions that the U.S. had taken was to ask the Russians to intercede with the Serbian to try and bring negotiations to fruition. Can you tell us if they, in fact, have done this and if they have advised us of this action?

MR. BURNS: I can't tell you specifically whether or not that's the case. We certainly did make that request of the Russian Government because of Russia's historic long-standing ties with the Serbian leadership.

We also have our own relationship with the Serbian Government, and now a relationship that resulted in six and a half hours of meetings yesterday. In a certain sense, I think we have jumped over a hurdle.

It was not entirely clear to everybody a couple of days ago what effect military action would have on diplomatic discussions. I think when Dick Holbrooke was received cordially, civilly, in Belgrade yesterday, where he and stayed for lunch and stayed for six and a half hours, that question was answered.

But let me just take another shot at your question by saying, I do want to emphasize one fact: The United States and Russia have a close supportive relationship. We don't have any major problems. We sometimes disagree on some of the tactics in Bosnia, but we do agree on the strategic objective of peace negotiations. We are confident that Russia will be a help to those negotiations as we go through them.


Q Going back to this issue of how one will know when the Bosnian Serbs are ready to stop all this from happening to them. In Belgrade, Milosevic said he was speaking for them and that he would go to talks on the basis that you have demanded. As a result of the airstrikes, there have been no major cases, as far as I know, of Bosnian Serb retaliation on civilian targets. So isn't that the answer, or do you have to have something more blatant from them than those two things? In other words, what beyond this?

MR. BURNS: Just one minor point. Mr. Milosevic said that the Bosnian Serbs had agreed to form a joint team and that they would go with him to those talks, which I think is a significant point.

On your specific question, though, Steve, we have seen some aggressive and tendentious statements from the Bosnian Serb leadership. We have heard a declaration to strike back.

I think the citizens of Sarajevo would say that there has been retaliatory shelling against them since the NATO-U.N. action began. So we have not yet seen on the ground and by deed, not just word, a cessation of the military activities that are so important to establishing some momentum towards peace.


Q Do you at this point any concept of the format of the negotiations if they take place? The Serbs have set up this negotiating team, but who will they negotiate with? Clearly, the Bosnian Government, but would anybody else get involved and would the United States get involved?

MR. BURNS: I think that is another one of those questions that we will be very pleased to reach. That's one of those questions that's got to be answered at some point before any negotiating process can begin, before a peace conference or any type of discussions can begin. But I don't believe that's been sorted out yet, Patrick.

Q So, as a minimum, then, to have the bombing halted, do the Bosnian Serbs have to halt all the shelling for definitive period of time, and clearly move or redeploy their heavy forces away from Sarajevo or the other safe havens?

MR. BURNS: Again, I know that General Janvier and others who are responsible on the ground have a responsibility to determine when it is that the Bosnian Serbs are in compliance. There's obviously some communication back and forth between the Bosnian Serbs and the military people of the United Nations on the ground. They're the ones who are going to deal with this and they're the ones who will decide it.

But let me just step back and take another shot at maybe trying to explain what I mean by this. I think it is going to be obvious to everybody when the Bosnian Serbs get to the point where they have decided that war is going to stop and peace is going to begin. It's going to be obvious by the lack of military activity in Sarajevo, in Gorazde, in Tuzla, in Bihac, and the other safe areas. It will be obvious to everybody who watches TV and follows the situation.

I don't think we're setting the bar at an Olympian height for them. We're simply asking that they accept the reality of the war; that the tide of the war has turned against them. They had some momentum some years back and even earlier this year. They were running amuck earlier this summer militarily, responsible for making tens of thousands of people refugees. Those days are gone. They don't have that kind of military space anymore, and they've really got to conclude it's in their own self-interest to go to the negotiating table. We hope that they'll reflect on this very severe punishment that's been inflicted upon them over the last two days that it's in their interest to talk peace and stop war.

Q Nick, do you know of any examples or any information that might lead to fear that the Bosnian Serbs have taken any hostages or detained any Western nationals since the bombing started?

MR. BURNS: David, I have not seen any reports of hostages of the type that we saw, certainly, when many hundreds of hostages were taken after the initial NATO airstrike in May back then. I do know that two American reporters have been detained by Bosnian Serb authorities for the last 24 hours. I unfortunately do not have any specific information as to where they may be or who is holding them, whether it's local authorities or whatever.

I can assure you that the Clinton Administration at a very high level has made representations to the Serbian Government in Belgrade about these two reporters, and we have called for their immediate release, and we certainly would expect that to happen shortly.

Q What organizations are they from?

MR. BURNS: I think because of Privacy Act considerations, Jim, I'm not permitted to reveal their names or organizations. I know there has been a lot of talk about this in the press, however from this podium, at least, because of our own laws, I'm not permitted to give that information out.

Q To follow --

MR. BURNS: Is this to complete Bosnia? Chuck.

Q It's your understanding that they are still being detained, that they have not yet been released?

MR. BURNS: We've checked with the two news organizations just in the last hour, who tell us that they are not aware that the two individuals have been released. I know there have been contradictory reports about this, so just before coming out here I called the two news organizations and was told that neither have appeared.

I can tell you that Strobe Talbott, the Acting Secretary of State, and Dick Holbrooke have both been involved in this very intensively and will continue to be so, because they are Americans, and we have a responsibility, obviously, to them, to help them.

Q Does the American commitment to provide troops to help police a settlement if and when one is reached still stand?

MR. BURNS: Again, that's one of those issues that we would be very pleased to deal with some time in the future, meaning that we need to go through many, many steps before we get there. That is a long way off. If it does appear, if it does materialize that there is a peace settlement, I think the Clinton Administration has been on record for a number of years that we would participate in that.

Anymore on Bosnian before we go to the Middle East? The Middle East.

Q All right. Do you have any ideas about the Israeli- Palestinian talks regarding the decision by the Israeli Government to close three Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, and what does the United States Government have on this? What do you -- your thoughts on that?

MR. BURNS: Let me just take your second question first on the issue of the closure of some Palestinian offices in Jerusalem. I think, as you know, our position on Jerusalem is clear. It's a very sensitive subject, and precisely for that reason the parties have agreed that Jerusalem is an issue to be addressed in the permanent status negotiations.

As you also know, since you are, yourself, an expert in this area, this is a particularly complicated issue with a very long history -- this issue of offices in Jerusalem -- and there really is no purpose served by the United States involving itself in a public debate on this.

But on your first question, I can perhaps be more helpful. We are following very closely the negotiations in Elat between the Israelis and the Palestinians. As you know, on Sunday in Cairo, there was an agreement signed that transferred eight additional administrative authorities on the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority.

We are in regular contact with the parties. You know that Ambassador Dennis Ross took time out from his vacation. This is not uncharacteristic of him to have several meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and indeed with Mr. Arafat and Foreign Minister Peres.

He was encouraged in his meetings with both the Palestinians and the Israelis. It's very clear to Ambassador Ross that they are working hard to narrow their differences and to reach agreement on the next phase of the negotiations.

Should they conclude those negotiations and should they wish to have some kind of ceremony to mark that conclusion here in the United States, I think we've said many, many times we'd be most agreeable to host that, but I don't have any announcement for you today on when that might occur. That's really up to those who are negotiating these issues.

Q But you could have an answer to the question that who will be invited from the Middle Eastern leaders to the signing ceremony when it takes place, in addition to Mr. Arafat, Mr. Rabin and Mr. Peres?

MR. BURNS: Again -- and I'm sorry to do this, to belabor this point -- but let me just translate something I said on Bosnia to the Middle East. As diplomats, we're delighted to consider problems like who's going to come to a signing ceremony for a peace agreement, but we're not there yet. When it comes, we'll be happy to deal with that.

Q I have a question on Turkey. Recently, Ambassador Grossman sent a letter to the Speaker of the Turkish Parliament, congratulating the constitutional changes, and he attached to his letter a statement I believe you made from this very podium, congratulating Prime Minister Ciller and talking -- referring to her victory.

I think this created a reaction, and the Speaker of the Parliament, you know, issued a statement, saying that the victory did not belong to her alone, and such statements by the Ambassador did not help Turkish- U.S. relations. Do you have any comments on this small storm created over this letter?

MR. BURNS: I do have a comment. I can tell you that these reports have absolutely no substance to them or no truth to them. Ambassador Marc Grossman, one of our finest Foreign Service Officers, has sent a congratulatory letter to the leaders of all political parties that supported the series of constitutional amendments that were approved on July 23, and which expanded democracy and political participation in Turkey.

In my July 25th press briefing, I conveyed the Department's congratulations to the Grand National Assembly and to the leaders of all the political parties -- and I've looked again at my statement today -- that supported these amendments, in addition to noting the Prime Minister's role, as is appropriate, of course, in securing the passage of these amendments.

So my statement was directed to the Grand National Assembly and to all political parties, and we see passage of these amendments as a victory for the Turkish people and for all political parties in Turkey. We have not, nor will we, take sides in internal Turkish politics.

Q What about the timing of this letter? I mean, at the end of August. Isn't there a problem with the timing of this statement being sent to the Speaker of the Turkish Parliament at this point in time -- the statement that has been made back in July?

MR. BURNS: I think I've given you a good answer to your question, with all due respect. I think that we have shown that we are interested in Turkish democracy; that we are not involving ourselves in the internal debates within Turkey's democracy; that we are not favoring one political party over another. We have great respect for the Turkish political system and the Turkish people. We wouldn't do that. Everything that Ambassador Gross did was consistent with everything I've just said.

Q On Syria -- take a question on Syria?

MR. BURNS: Sure.

Q Yesterday, there was a report that the Secretary had sent a very strongly worded memo to the American Embassy in Damascus, reflecting Syrian support of terrorism acts and problems at the airports in New York. Can comment on that?

MR. BURNS: I answered this question yesterday. What I said in beginning the answer was that I don't think it's a very good practice for me to comment upon documents that were leaked to the news media, so I did not comment on it. I did say very, very generally that we do take seriously any threats to American citizens anywhere.

We have conveyed that message on a variety of occasions to many different groups, in the Middle East in this case, and that was a good thing to do, and I have nothing further to say on that particular issue.

Q Nick, do you have your statement of August 29. You say that you informed the Cuban Government. Do you have any reaction from the Cuban Government? Do you have anything new since then?

MR. BURNS: I don't have any specific reaction to report to you from the Cuban Government. The statement that we issued was meant to convey our very serious concern that everyone involved in the events that may or may not take place this weekend -- exercise restraint -- and insure that these are peaceful activities -- not violent activities -- by everyone involved, I mean first and foremost the Cuban Government, as well as any individuals -- American citizens who might take part in these activities.

Q To follow on Cuba, the flotilla. What is the U.S. prepared to do if the people in the boats or in the airplanes or in motorized rafts are met with Cuban force and do get hurt or worse?

MR. BURNS: We have the greatest respect for the groups with whom we might a couple of days ago here in the Department. We have a lot of common ground with them. We share in many respects their outlook toward the problem of Castro's Government in Cuba.

We have also advised these groups that should they in any way, shape or form by land, air or sea violate the territorial integrity of Cuba, they would be subject to the laws of the Cuban state and the Cuban Government.

Should that happen, of course, our Interests Section in Havana would take very step that it could to help them. But, when I say that, it is sometimes the case that Embassies, Consulates and Interests Sections can advise people of their rights under the law when they're arrested or detained. We can try to give them access to legal counsel, but because we have to operate in foreign countries under the laws of those countries, there's sometimes not a lot that we can do.

So that is why we have taken the position in this public statement that we issued a couple of days ago that everybody involved should be conscious of the need for safety, for peaceful activities, not violent activities, and for restraint.

Q You say may or may not happen. Have you any reason or any -- to believe that those people may not go?

MR. BURNS: I just can't predict the future.

Q You have no reason to imagine that it may not happen?

MR. BURNS: I just don't know what's going to happen this weekend, but, if there are activities, we hope that they are peaceful, restrained, non-violent, and so forth.

Q Are there any provisions set up with communication with the Cuban Government in case they're right on the edge of the territorial waters, as they've been before, and there is a confrontation? How are you monitoring this on Saturday?

MR. BURNS: With all due respect to all of the people involved in this -- from the Cuban side and the American side -- they are responsible, all of them -- Cubans and private Americans alike -- for what happened a couple of months ago and what may or may not happen this weekend. They've got think very seriously and thoughtfully about what may or may not happen.

Our Interests Section in Havana is always in close touch with the Cuban Government. The United States Coast Guard patrols American waters and is sometimes in the vicinity of these incidents, but I'll have to leave it up to the Coast Guard to articulate what its presence may or may not be this weekend.

Q I guess you'll brief in Washington. You'll have someone here.

MR. BURNS: We're a full service operation. (Laughter) Both the Latin American Bureau and the Bureau of Public Affairs, my Bureau, will be in our offices this weekend, and we hope very much that this will be a peaceful day -- that Saturday will be a very peaceful day.

Q In view of the pending resumption of French nuclear tests, has the Department expressed any further U.S. feeling to the French on the nuclear tests, and does it plan to do so once the test has been completed?

MR. BURNS: I think you know that the reaction of the United States Government to the French announcement some months ago was that we regret the decision of France to undertake these tests. We would call upon all nuclear powers to adopt the same principles and procedures that the United States has adopted -- that is, no test -- and I think that is well known.

I'm not aware whether or not we've had specific conversations recently with the French Government. I do want to say that we are encouraged that the French Government is committed, as we are, to the negotiation of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by 1996, and that's an important thing to say, but our position hasn't changed. I just don't know what specific conversations we may or may not have had.

Any last question? I have one more. Sorry, George.

MR. GEDDA: If this is going to go on, let's have a filing break.

MR. BURNS: Would you like to have a filing break? Good.

Q Yes, Nick, concerning reports -- allegations by the Government of France that an Algerian terrorist organization known as the GIA, which has links to Iranian Hizbollah and Jihad, has been accused -- identified by the French police and accused by the French Government of having been responsible for the two terrorist bombings in France in recent months and a political assassination.

And my question to you is, does the United States Government share the French concern? Are we involved in an anti-terrorist capacity with the French regarding the GIA and their fellow travelers in Iran?

MR. BURNS: Bill, let me look into that for you. I just don't have anything for you on that today.

Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 2:13 p.m.) (###)

To the top of this page