U.S. Department of State 95/09/19 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Tuesday, September 19, 1995 Briefer: Nicholas Burns James Dobbins HAITI Review of Deployment of Multinational Force/ Overview of Situation in Haiti ........................1-9 DEPARTMENT Introduction of German Broadcast Journalists ............9 Statement re: U.S.-Germany Agreement on Compensation to Holocaust Survivors ...................9-12 SWITZERLAND Efforts to Open Secrecy Laws of Swiss Banks .............12 ISRAEL Hijacked Iranian Airplane Landed in Israel ..............13-14, 29-30 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA Holbrooke/Tudjman/Izetbegovic Mtg. in Zagreb ............14-15 --Bosnian-Croatian Offensive; Banja Luka ................14-20, 24-27 Ambassador Holbrooke/Milosevic Mtg. in Belgrade .........14 Withdrawal of Heavy Weapons from Sarajevo ...............16,18, 21-22 UN Secretary General's Comments re: UN in Bosnia ........22-23 U.S. Contributions to Possible Peacekeeping Force .......23-24 Ambassador Holbrooke's Return to U.S. ...................26 ARMS CONTROL France--Resumption of Nuclear Testing/ U.S.-French Nuclear Cooperation Program ...............28-29 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ...........................29 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Israeli-Palestinian Talks................................30-32 CHINA U.S.-China Relations ....................................32-33 HONG KONG Legislative Elections ...................................33-34 THAILAND Denial of U.S. Visa to Thai Politician ..................34 LEGAL Appeal of District Court Decision on Extradition ........34-35 RUSSIA Deputy Secretary Talbott/Russian Deputy FM Mamedov Talks .................................................35-37 JAPAN Okinawa--Rape, Attack of 12-Year-Old Girl ...............37-38
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 1995, 12:33 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing. It's my pleasure to introduce today Ambassador James F. Dobbins, who is the Secretary's Special Haiti Coordinator. He is our guest briefer today.
As you know, he is here to discuss what has taken place in Haiti since the deployment of a Multinational Force to Haiti one year ago today. In addition to an overview of the situation there which he will present to you, he'll be very glad to take any questions that you may have.
MR. DOBBINS: It's been a year today since U.S. forces entered Haiti at the head of a multinational coalition, with the objective of restoring Haiti's democratically elected government and assisting a transition to sustainable democracy.
At the height of the U.S. military presence, shortly after that initial deployment, there were over 23,000 American military personnel in Haiti. Today there are 2,500, out of a total of 6,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops, and 800 U.N. civilian police drawn from 3l countries
In five months -- that is to say, in February of l996 -- the mission of this peacekeeping force will be concluded. Our troops will return home, having successfully completed a complex and challenging operation.
Completion of this operation has been keyed to two processes. The first of these is the disbanding of Haiti's old institutions of repression and the creation of a new professional civilian police force, along with the reform of its judiciary.
The second process is that of democratic renewal and the constitutional transfer of power. This process involves the holding of local, municipal, parliamentary, and, finally, presidential elections, so that by the time the U.S. and other military forces leave Haiti next year, the entire Haitian Government structure, from the lowest to the highest levels, will be renewed, based on a new exercise of democratic choice within the framework of the Haitian constitution.
Both of these processes are proceeding at a pace which will permit us to meet the timetable which the United States and the United Nations have set for this peacekeeping operation.
Last June, Haitians voted to elect 2,000 mayors, municipal and county counselors, thereby providing Haiti for the first time in its history with a comprehensive system of freely elected local government.
Last Sunday, Haiti completed the second round in the election of members of its lower and upper houses of parliament. Like the June 25 vote, Sunday's balloting was peaceful. Unlike the June 25 vote, Sunday's balloting was more orderly and better administered.
Later this year, Haitians will go to the poll again to elect the successor to President Aristide who will take office next February. Yesterday, President Aristide reconfirmed "beyond a shadow of a doubt," his personal commitment to this transfer of power.
The second ongoing process to which the timing of the international peacekeeping effort has been tied is, as I have said, the disbanding of Haiti's old, corrupt, and repressive security institutions and the creation of a new professional civilian police force and the reform of the judiciary. This process is also very much on schedule.
The Haitian army has been disbanded. Over half -- that is to say, over 3,000 of its members -- have been demobilized. Most of these individuals are presently completing a six-month program of vocational training. Something less than 3,000 former members of the Haitian army remain as members of the interim police force. Several hundred of these interim police are being demobilized each month, as new classes of the Haitian National Police are fielded. This demobilization will be completed by February.
By that date, the Haitian National Police will have fielded at least 5,000 new police officers. These young men and women have been selected in an open, rigorous, and competitive national process. They are receiving four months of intensive professional training in a program organized by the U.S. Department of Justice and taught by professional law enforcement officers from France, Canada, and the United States.
The process of selection for the Haitian National Police has drawn on the best Haiti has to offer. Tens of thousands of young men and women have competed for entry. In a society where less than 25 percent of the people can read and write, the average educational level of the initial group of police cadets is two years of college.
Alongside the Police Academy, we've also assisted the Haitian Government in creating a new Judicial Academy. American, French, and Haitian lawyers are providing instruction to Haitian judges and court administrators at this new institution.
The duration of the peacekeeping operation in Haiti has not been tied to any particular level of economic performance. However, in connection with last year's restoration of democracy, Haiti has received a truly massive level of international assistance -- to which the United States, incidentally, has committed less than one-fourth of the total of $l.2 billion which has been promised for l995 and '96.
As a result of this assistance and the reforms put in place by the Haitian Government, inflation has been halved -- down from over 40 percent last September, when the U.S. troops arrived, to something under 20 percent today. Haitian currency has remained stable against the dollar. Economic activity, which fell by 25 percent in that country from '92 to '94, is now increasing at a rate of growth of 4.5 percent per annum.
Needless to say, Haiti's economic renewal is at best tentative. Its democracy remains fragile, and its new security structures are inexperienced and untested.
Business interest in Haiti as a site for investment is relatively high, but many investors are awaiting the results of the current electoral cycle.
Those elections, particularly the June 25 balloting, were far from ideal. Brian Atwood, the leader of our Presidential Observer Delegation, cited in his statement of 26 June many of the problems his group encountered. I did the same in my testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July l2. At the time, I also indicated that there were remedial steps which we believed needed to be taken. The Haitian electoral authorities have taken such steps and the make-up balloting on August l3 and the second-round balloting last Sunday corrected most of the problems observed on June 25.
We're continuing to urge further improvements in this regard, with a view to encouraging the broadest possible participation in Haiti's forthcoming presidential elections.
The human rights situation in Haiti has improved dramatically over the past year. After three years of brutal repression, during which rape, torture, and murder were the routine instruments of governance, many expected the restoration of Haiti's legitimate government to be followed by a wave of retribution. Thanks to the professionalism of American and international forces -- and thanks, particularly, to President Aristide's unrelenting campaign of reconciliation -- nothing of the sort has occurred. In the three years preceding last September's deployment of U.S. forces to Haiti, international observers estimated that more than 3,000 men, women, and children were murdered by or with the complicity of Haiti's then coup regime. In the year following the deployment of American forces, international observers assess that retribution and other political motivations may have been responsible at the most for one- or two-dozen of such deaths.
Needless to say, even one such incident is too many. With our assistance, the Haitian Government is developing the professional police, the investigative capabilities, and the judicial structure necessary to enforce and maintain the rule of law.
In short, the economic, political, and security situation in Haiti has dramatically improved since the deployment of U.S. and international forces a year ago today. These improvements are continuing at a pace which will permit the peacekeeping operation, begun a year ago today, to conclude on schedule in February of next year.
Thank you. I'll be glad to take questions.
Q To follow up on that list, a point: The legislative and municipal elections originally, as I recall, were to be held last December; and then it was April, then it was June, and they only finished up, as you know, this past Sunday.
MR. DOBBINS: Right.
Q Do you have assurances that they will be able to meet this December date for presidential elections? Are they a lot less complicated than what they just went through?
MR. DOBBINS: They're complicated by two reasons. First of all, what they've gone through is a basis for continuing in some measure. They've put in place the administrative apparatus. They've trained people. Much of this will be useful.
Secondly, the elections which took place had l0,000 candidates and 2,300 offices to be filled. The next election may have half a dozen candidates and one office to be filled.
Q So they won't have any trouble, so far as you know?
MR. DOBBINS: That would be going too far, but we're reasonably confident they can meet the schedule, which is to have elections over in time for the new president to be inaugurated on February 7.
Q This is crucial because the U.N. is supposed to leave in February --
MR. DOBBINS: Shortly thereafter.
Q -- when the President is inaugurated. And you think that deadline will be met?
MR. DOBBINS: Yes.
Q In the past, much of the structure of repression was based on the big families, the wealthy families who were the sort of hidden power in Haiti. Do they still exercise that degree of power, and what will they do when the United States and the United Nations leave?
MR. DOBBINS: I think it's fair to say that the elites in the country profited from, participated in, and to some degree influenced the repressive structures -- although the Papa Doc regime, for instance, was a populist regime which victimized many members of the elite as well as members of the country at large.
So the relationship isn't quite so simple as your question suggests. But briefly stated I think that the process has been one of democratic transformation in which the great mass of the people in Haiti is slowly assuming a responsibility for its destinies by choosing representatives that are broadly representative of its aspirations.
I think that the elites in Haiti, those who possess the wealth, are slowly and -- perhaps in some cases -- grudgingly accommodating themselves to that situation and will seek to project their influences within it.
Now, some of them may seek to project their influences from outside it or against it, but so far we don't see any evidence of that. We don't see any sense of coup-plotting or an effort to resurrect previous structures. That's not happening. It could happen. One has to be cautious and wary, but it's not happening at the moment and our hope is that those who possess wealth in Haiti will invest in their country.
Q Not that you would like to see this, but can you foresee any circumstances where they U.N. would have to stay longer than February, or be asked by the government to stay longer than February?
MR. DOBBINS: Not at the moment. I mean, I think the whole thrust of my statement was that we are on schedule and we are reasonably confident we can keep to it.
Q Can I follow an earlier question? One of Aristide's priorities was to privatize the parastatals. Can you tell us where that stands right now and what the hold-up is all about?
MR. DOBBINS: There are about seven or eight parastatal companies that have been targeted for privatization. Two have already -- bids have already been let -- The cement company and the flour mill. Bids have been let. The bids are scheduled to be opened at the end of this month.
Others are at a more preliminary stage, including some of the biggest and most important -- the power company and the telephone company, for instance.
The process is controversial in Haiti, as it is in Russia and Eastern Europe, in Germany and in France, in all of which privatization is a major political issue at the moment.
The government remains committed. Privatization was not an issue in the election campaign. It has become an issue in the last few weeks, probably partially as a result of the negotiations which are currently underway between Haiti and the IMF to conclude an agreement which will contain both Haiti's macro-economic strategy for the next several years and commitments by Haiti to follow that strategy, and then a fairly massive continuation of international assistance.
In that process the issue of privatization will be treated, and not surprisingly it is now an item of some debate in Haiti.
Q Has it been a problem finding investors or a willingness to let go of control of the parastatals?
MR. DOBBINS: I think the debate in Haiti is whether these assets, which are owned by the state -- a state which is now controlled by democratic forces and thus by the people at large -- should be sold. There is a concern on the part of some that selling these assets is essentially returning them to the elites in Haiti, who are the only people who have money to buy them.
The debate is being conducted in something of those terms, with others arguing that these companies are corrupt, they are inefficient, they don't provide the services that they are supposed to provide, they don't make any money, they are a drag on the state, and privatization is a way to make them more efficient and to distribute wealth by processes through which they are privatized. There are mechanisms that can be put in place which do indeed assure a distribution of wealth, attract foreign capital, prevent concentration among an exclusive small number of elites. So the debate will be over such processes and their efficacy in assuring the democratization of these assets.
Q Is there anything to prevent General Cedras from participating in the presidential election?
MR. DOBBINS: I don't know whether he is under indictment. He could be in some Haitian process. I suspect that if he expressed any intention of returning, he probably would be. The general assessment of the performance of the regime is the one that I have cited in my remarks, so there would probably be adequate basis to do so. But it is not an active issue. I would suppose the principal argument against it, aside from whether or not he would be indicted if he returned, would be the unlikelihood of his receiving even a minuscule proportion of the vote.
Q Can you tell us anything about whether anyone has announced that they are going to run for president, what sorts of people might be candidates, and whether the United States is confident that someone who will respect democratic norms become president?
MR. DOBBINS: I think that there are two or three people that have announced, I have seen in recent days Both of them come from within the coalition that supports President Aristide, and it is hard to know whether they will pursue their candidacies.
I think at this point, you are still in the primary stage in a sense, although there aren't going to be formal primaries in the country, but a period of political jockeying where different individuals and different factions talk to each other about who the best candidate would be in that coalition, and then in the others as well, presumably.
So there are a couple of candidates who have publicly declared. There are others who are sort of privately indicating an interest, but it hasn't gotten beyond that stage.
Q Has Aristide said whether he will support anybody in particular, or whether he will stay out of it?
MR. DOBBINS: No. He has not indicated his intention one way or the other.
Q (Inaudible) Does that mean the aid program to Haiti will take a hit next year?
MR. DOBBINS: The aid program to Haiti was intended to be reduced significantly next year. I think we had intended in 1996 to commit roughly half of what we had committed this year, and that was partially because a number of one-time efforts linked to the restoration of democracy were unnecessary.
For instance, we participated in an international program to pay off Haiti's debts to the international financial institutions so they in turn could resume lending. That's not something you have to do more than once.
Q What are the numbers?
MR. DOBBINS: Ninety million is what we have requested for '96, and I think the total for '95, which included a number of one-time things, was something like $2l5 million.
Voice: You include the food aid for '96 of $115, and last year $230.
MR. DOBBINS: So, it's $230 and $ll5, are the comparable figures between the two, and it's $90 million, plus one, plus another $25 million in food aid.
Q That doesn't include the military costs?
MR. DOBBINS: No. I dealt with the full costs of our intervention in Haiti from all agencies, including all military costs, in my testimony in late July, and we can get you those figures. It's roughly $l-l/2 billion, everything included, of which about $400 million was spent before the intervention and represented the costs of not intervening. Those were the costs of sheltering people in Guantanamo and picking them up at sea and feeding the starving people and other things, which had we not done what we did, those costs would have been incurred indefinitely.
Mr. Dinger: Mr. Dobbins, thank you, very much.
MR. DOBBINS: Thank you.
Mr. Dinger: I think Nick will be out in a few minutes. We can let you know, if you want.
(Following Mr. Dobbins briefing, which concluded at 12: 52 p.m., Spokesman Nick Burns resumed the briefing at l:07 p.m.)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon Welcome to the State Department briefing. Welcome back to the State Department briefing. Welcome to some friends who haven't been here for a while. It's kind of a slow day. We can talk about baseball. The magic number is Number 2, Barry.
For those of you who are here as guests from Germany, that's not diplomatic code. It refers to the Boston Red Sox -- baseball -- American baseball.
We can talk about the movie "Babe," that was in the style section today, if you'd like. I actually have a first-hand report from a senior official in the Department about the movie, "Babe." I can go into that if you would like. But let me just make some introductions first.
We are very, very pleased to have with us today a group of 14 German broadcast journalists who are seated, I believe, here and here. They have been in Washington for a few days to meet with officials of our government. I understand they're on a seven-week tour of the United States which includes internships at radio and TV stations, seminars at universities, and they've also visited the U.N. and some of the networks represented here today. So a warm welcome to all of you.
I do have a statement concerning Germany. Today, on September 19, 1995, the United States and Germany signed in Bonn an agreement that will provide compensation to Holocaust survivors who held American citizenship at the time of their persecution by the Nazi regime. Under this agreement, the German Government will provide $3 million German marks -- that is approximately a little over $2 million U.S. dollars -- to compensate a number of United States citizens.
This compensation will go to persons of whom we currently are aware who were subjected to persecution in concentration camps and who have not received payments from compensations programs funded by the German Government.
The agreement provides for supplementary negotiations to take place in two years to provide similar compensation to any additional American citizens who meet these criteria. There are procedures to apply for compensation under the agreement. We will publicize those shortly.
In the meantime, any citizen of the United States who believes that he or she is eligible under the agreement's criteria may inform the Department of State's Office of International Claims and Investment disputes.
That is the only statement I have. I'll be glad to go to questions. Barry.
Q When this topic was taken up last week in Europe and Brussels by several governments -- I think maybe 10 governments -- the President sent off a letter of support. The net result is you have a German agreement.
Does the State Department have anything to say about the disinclination to this point of Swiss bankers in various central European and Eastern European governments to sign similar agreements?
MR. BURNS: I don't have anything for you today, Barry.
Q Do you know what their problem is?
MR. BURNS: I think I could probably even give you a detailed explanation of that, but I don't have anything today.
Q Is there any anticipation? Hungary is supposed to be close.
MR. BURNS: I know we've had discussions with a number of governments in Europe. What I have to announce today is, after a lot of work at very senior levels, an agreement between the United States and Germany. That's what I have today.
Q But the U.S. is working this as a bilateral issues as well as --
MR. BURNS: This problem has been worked with other governments in Europe, yes. Yes, it has, Barry.
Q Do you know how many claimants there are and approximately what the value of each claim is?
MR. BURNS: Again, the people who are covered under this agreement were United States citizens during the Second World War, people who were then United States citizens, not people who have since become United States citizens, of whom there are many, many, many Holocaust survivors, as you know, in the United States.
One of the people who will benefit is Mr. Hugo Princz of New Jersey who has been a central figure in this. I believe that the names of the people who will receive compensation and the amounts they will receive is a confidential matter under the Privacy Act.
In addition, we agreed with the German Government that we would not announce the names, amounts, or the number of persons.
Q Why can't you announce the number without giving the names?
MR. BURNS: That was the agreement we have with the German Government. Again, under the Privacy Act, we can't reveal the specific names of the people. If we reveal the specific names of the group that will be affected by this, we would reveal the number as well.
Q People who were in concentration camps during World War II and have subsequently become American citizens?
MR. BURNS: No. These were American citizens at the time of the Second World War who were caught up in the fighting in Europe who found themselves to be victims of Nazi persecution. A number of them, of course, were victims of the Nazis in concentration camps.
Q So this could also apply to American soldiers who ended up in prisoner-of-war camps?
MR. BURNS: No, I don't believe it pertains to that at all. That is quite separate. These are private Americans, not American soldiers. American citizens who were in Europe and who found themselves to be victims of the Nazis. Quite specific. They are specifically not people who were victims of the Nazis, emigrated to the United States, and became American citizens. Those people have resort through other channels for compensation -- have had over the past few decades from the German Government.
Q Do families of people who were victimized have claims, or does this only apply to --
MR. BURNS: I believe it's individuals, but that's a good question. We can check into that for you.
Q You're not announcing the numbers involved because that's the agreement. You don't explain why an agreement like that was made. Why isn't the raw number available?
MR. BURNS: Jim, I'd have to check with the negotiators, the people who negotiated this, to give you a good answer to that question. Let me see if I can do that.
Q Can we move on?
Q You said that this is for people who have not yet received compensation. Has other compensation been awarded by the German or the American Governments?
MR. BURNS: Over the past couple of decades, there have been various ways that Americans and people who have become Americans since war have been able to receive compensation from the German Government.
Q There's something similar to this. Does the United States Government have any input over the request by some American Jewish groups? I think the secrecy laws of Swiss banks were opened to recover millions and millions of dollars that had been deposited by victims of the Nazi -- and some jewelry and some artifacts? There was a big story the other day, I think, in the Washington Post over this. Do you have any input into this --
MR. BURNS: I saw the same story. Let me look into it and see what we can get for you. I don't have a good answer for you today.
Q Nick, just one more. How was the number -- the amount of compensation -- arrived at?
MR. BURNS: I don't know. It's something else we can look into for you.
Q Has the State Department got anything on the hijacking, the plane that was taken to Israel? Has anybody asked asylum? Have you got a view of it?
MR. BURNS: I have a little bit of information. We understand that an Iranian aircraft, carrying almost 180 people, was hijacked today. It was on a flight from Tehran to a provincial city within Iran. It was hijacked by a group of people on board. I don't know how many people they were.
It landed in Israel after being denied permission to land elsewhere in the Middle East.
We understand that an Iranian hijacker surrendered to Israeli authorities and that this person may have asked for asylum in the United States. We are currently checking with the Israeli authorities about the identity of this person, about the request that this person may have made for asylum in the United States.
I really, at this point, cannot add to the press accounts because our Embassy in Tel Aviv is just now trying to sort this out.
As you know, this plane landed at an Israeli Air Force base -- I believe it was the Uvda Air Force Base -- in the Negev Desert. At this point, we do not believe that any United States citizens were aboard this flight.
Q Does permission to land conflict with the rules of the game that the U.S. has for combating terrorism? Do you discourage --
MR. BURNS: In this case, we'll have to look into the details of the situation. What we do know -- and what we do know from public sources -- is that the plane tried to land in several different places. It was denied permission. I understand the plane was low on fuel. It may have been a humanitarian gesture, in that sense, to allow the plane to land.
But I think what we should do here, Barry, is let our Embassy check into the facts of the situation and then see if we can provide you with more as the day goes on.
Q (Inaudible) denied the plane to land?
MR. BURNS: I cannot at this point be more specific. Again, our Embassy is looking into it, and perhaps the Israeli authorities will have something more to say on that.
Q Do you know if others on board the plane have sought asylum? And whether those who want to return have been returned?
MR. BURNS: I think it's fair to say that some on board were part of the -- at least one, perhaps others -- were part of the group that hijacked the plane, and at least one may have asked for asylum in the United States.
I think it's fair to say that others on the plane were victims, if you will, of this hijacking and desire to return to Iran. I don't have numbers, I don't have identities. The United States has not been involved. This was a situation where the Israeli Government found itself involved because the plane asked to land there. We're trying to ascertain the facts as best we can at the moment.
Q Has the plane left and gone back to Iran, as reported?
MR. BURNS: I cannot confirm that. Again, when I came out here, all this was being worked. I think at least CNN was also on top of this situation.
Q Nick, according to the reports --
MR. BURNS: It's true. The State Department and CNN -- in that order. (Laughter)
Q According to reports, the Croatians appear to have ended their military offensive. The Bosnian Government forces appear not to have and appear to have no intention of doing so. Is that the reading that Holbrooke got?
MR. BURNS: Ambassador Holbrooke is now in Belgrade. He's in the middle of a meeting with President Milosevic. I was able to talk not to him but to other participants in the meeting this morning in Zagreb -- a meeting that included President Tudjman and President Izetbegovic.
Let me just give you what I have on that. The aim of this particular meeting was to talk about the Federation; the attempt by both Bosnia and Croatia to strengthen the Federation. They both agreed. In fact, I believe they've issued now a joint statement that they would like, in many ways, to strengthen their current Federation which is good news.
The United States has been a leading supporter of that Federation.
There was a general discussion of the military situation in Bosnia. I understand that Ambassador Holbrooke, in his bilateral contacts with them before the meeting -- and, of course, the American side also in the larger trilateral meeting -- raised the issue of the offensive and urged once again that the Croatian and Bosnian Governments be restrained in their military operations.
I understand that the Croatian and Bosnian Presidents indicated that they will be restrained and that they will not now move on the city of Banja Luka.
If, in fact, this is the result of their military operations, that they in fact do cease in place where they are, they do not proceed onto Banja Luka, this will be welcome news. Because the United States has believed for a number of days during the current offensive that there is not a military solution that either the Bosnian or Croatian Governments can seek from their current operations; that they have got to seek a final resolution of this problem at the peace table.
After Dick Holbrooke's departure from Zagreb for Belgrade, the meeting with President Tudjman and President Izetbegovic continued with our Ambassador, John Menzies, who is our Ambassador in Sarajevo, and Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who is our Ambassador in Zagreb. They continue the discussion of Federation matters.
Q Did the two Presidents indicate that they would also not move on other Serb-held territory, or did they just limit their declaration to Banja Luka?
MR. BURNS: What we have seen over the last couple of hours -- and this is consistent with what our people heard in the meeting this morning -- is that there appears to be now, although the United Nations has not verified this, a general inclination to slow down or perhaps even stop all together the military offensive. That has not been verified by the relevant U.N. authorities on the ground.
If this is the case -- and that is the sense of the situation that was received by our people in the meeting this morning -- then that would be very welcome news. Because we believe that while certainly much has been gained by the two governments from a military point of view -- they've gained territory; they've perhaps have strengthened their hand for the negotiations that are going to come -- we don't believe that the continuation of this offensive -- and we've not believed this for many days -- is a positive factor or can be a positive factor in the overall situation in the Balkans.
There is a lot to worry about. Certainly, the Bosnian Serbs are not a defeated military force. They retain a very significant capability to strike back. As a number of us said yesterday, the position of the Government in Belgrade -- the Serbian Government -- has to be figured into this calculation, into this equation.
The Balkan wars have been characterized by situations in which sometimes one side is up and the other side is down and vice versa. We've seen a significant role reversal over the last month. Who is to say that the roles won't be reversed a month from now?
The United States, Germany, France, Britain, Russia -- in the Contact Group -- are offering an alternative, and that's the peace table. Dick Holbrooke flew to Belgrade to emphasize that point, emphasize our very great concern that all military operations be suspended; that the heavy weapons be completely and verifiably withdrawn by tomorrow evening -- mid-night tomorrow -- in Sarajevo so that the way forward can be found towards the peace conference.
Q The forces on the offensive had known all along that the peace table was a possibility and that the United States and others were cautioning them to slow down or stop their offensive.
Can you explain what might have motivated them to potentially agree to slow down or stop their offensive so soon after the Holbrooke visit there? In other words, what did he tell them that was new? Because they knew the other stuff beforehand that you've cited.
MR. BURNS: They certainly have heard the public calls by the United States, by other European countries, including Germany, that this offensive be ceased. They heard it directly from Ambassador Holbrooke this morning.
It's hard to know, Steve, since the two governments have not spoken to this why they may have made this decision. Again, we have public reports that military operations are slowing down. We now have a very direct indication from this meeting that they intend not to continue their military operations towards Banja Luka.
It may be, Steve, that they've just seen the way the situation has developed. There are, we believe, well over 100,000 refugees in Central Bosnia -- people who have lost their homes as a result of the action over the last several days. The parties have to focus on the imperative of peace talks and on the centrality of the peace process after four years of war. That's where we've placed our emphasis.
Q I just want to make sure I understand. Holbrooke was told specifically by the Bosnians and the Croatians that they would not go forward with any offensive on Banja Luka and that they would not pursue an offensive elsewhere -- yes, no?
MR. BURNS: Let me separate it into two parts because I want to be as accurate as I can be, obviously. I did not have a chance to talk to Dick Holbrooke. I talked to one of our Ambassadors who was in the meeting. Dick is not available. He's with Milosevic.
Specifically on the question of Banja Luka, Dick and the two Ambassadors were led to believe, in fairly clear terms, that the Croatians and Bosnians were not inclined to continue the offensive operations up to an attack on Banja Luka, which is good news for us.
We have also seen many reports from diverse sources this morning that, in fact, the military offensive that spread so rapidly through Central Bosnia over the last couple of days, appears to be growing to a halt. We hope that's the case. Because the situation, we think, should now be stabilized from a military point of view and we think the parties should focus on negotiations.
Q But they did not tell Holbrooke and company specifically that apart from Banja Luka they were going to halt their offensive in other parts of Central Bosnia?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe they had a categorical statement from either government that would be the case. You can't discount that as a possibility. But, right, it was not a categorical statement.
Q Why didn't the Americans come back and say, well, you say this about Banja Luka, what about the rest of it?
MR. BURNS: I'm sure we did. I'm sure we represented a very strong view. We're dealing with two separate governments here who are conducting military operations. We don't have complete control over -- we don't have any control over -- those operations.
Q They didn't come back and say, "No, we're not giving you a commitment not to go forward in other areas besides Banja Luka?"
MR. BURNS: I don't believe that such a commitment was made; no.
Q So what you see is, you see a slowing down -- some evidence of a slowing-down, but you don't have a commitment?
MR. BURNS: I think what we need to do now is hope that military operations will be suspended based on the talks we've had this morning and what we've seen on the ground. The people who can best verify that will be the U.N. personnel who are stationed throughout Bosnia. It's really to them to verify that, in fact, this is the case. That is one of the challenges for the next 24 hours -- to continue to use United States and Western influence to convince these parties to stop fighting.
The other imperative is to work through the U.N. and NATO to see a complete and verifiable withdrawal of all Bosnian Serb heavy weapons from the Sarajevo exclusion zone. So they're twin imperatives for us now over the next 24 hours. It's a critical period.
It's a period during which the prospects for peace may dim or they may brighten. We hope very much they'll brighten. Because after all of the work of the last couple of weeks by the United States, after all the work that Dick Holbrooke has been engaged in, for the parties now to take steps that would block peace or be negative factors in the road to peace would be highly irresponsible. It's time for all parties, led by the Bosnian Serbs, but certainly including Bosnia and Croatia, to understand that there are consequences from these actions.
Q Just to clarify before a filing break. You're using terms like "we're led to believe," "indicated." Can you say that the Bosnian and Croatian Presidents committed to Dick Holbrooke that they would stop their offensive?
MR. BURNS: I'm trying to be as accurate and as direct and as honest with you as I can.
What I don't have is a memorandum of the conversation from the meeting. I don't have a detailed line-by-line description of the conversation. What I have is a sense of the meeting, a very clear sense of the meeting, from a senior American who was in the room. I have not been able nor has anyone else in this city been able to speak to Dick Holbrooke for a couple of hours.
So I have chosen to give you this because I think it is a very clear indication of what we think happened at this meeting.
We also think this is a critical time for peace. It's a testing period for peace, and the parties -- all of them -- have to stand up and meet that test. Because we haven't had in four years in the Balkans such a good opportunity for peace and all of them must now grasp it.
Q A filing break.
MR. BURNS: Okay. The wires have called for a filing break, so we'll continue the briefing. But just duly note that they're taking a filing break.
Why don't we stay on Bosnia. Then we'll go back to the Iranian plane.
Q Can you confirm that the Croatians have crossed into Bosnian territory and taken towns back from the Serbs in Bosnia?
MR. BURNS: Roy, we have seen those reports that the Croatian Government has crossed the border and is now involved in offensive military operations. The United States does not have people on the ground in these areas. We have a few diplomats -- as you know, a very small mission -- in Sarajevo.
We can not independently confirm these reports. The United Nations is seeking to confirm them.
Q Well, is there any objection if Croatia is sending forces across the international boundary?
MR. BURNS: Certainly, I think, Roy, the United States has spoken loudly, and we have spoken clearly, over the last couple of days -- as have a number of our European allies. We and the Contact Group believe that all parties must cease their military operations, cease the fighting and turn towards peace.
Q This is a (inaudible) of the war, certainly, if Croatia is sending regular forces with their own shoulder patches into Bosnia. I mean you're sort of taking this as just another development among many.
MR. BURNS: Roy, I cannot independently -- the United States Government cannot independently confirm the events to which you refer. Therefore, I don't want to give it an official nature in terms of my response. But I can say directly to you and to everyone else that we think that the worst possible turn of events would be an escalation of the fighting, a broadening of the fighting, just at a time when the stranglehold on Sarajevo may be broken, when humanitarian goods are now flowing into Sarajevo, when we have a chance to deliver the people of Sarajevo from the heavy weapons of the Bosnian Serbs.
The United States will not be a party to an escalation of the fighting. We want to see the parties choose peace and not a continuation of warfare.
Q Isn't this an escalation of the fighting?
MR. BURNS: We have certainly seen an escalation of the fighting. So in response to your question and a number of others, what I am saying on behalf of our Government is that we don't favor an escalation of the fighting, a broadening of the conflict, a further resort to fighting after four years -- which has been fruitless.
Q In addition, a member of President Tudjman's government said the other day that the Croats do not want Serb forces, do not want a Serb territory, on their southern border -- which has great implications, well beyond just the Banja Luka area, really, suggests another collapse of the Republic of (inaudible).
Now, have you commented on that? This is -- I forget that fellow's name -- Mitchelich, or something like that.
MR. BURNS: I don't believe we have commented on it. Our comments are going to be directed towards the negotiations. There was a successful Geneva meeting on September 8, which provided the foundations for future negotiations among the parties, and the United States believes that Bosnia-Herzegovina must survive as an independent nation state.
There will probably be two entities in that. One of them would be a Serb entity.
We are not going to provide a detailed blueprint for the resolution of the many constitutional and political problems that will assuredly surface in those negotiations.
Q Nick, do you have any comment -- Ambassador Holbrooke told President Tudjman and President Izetbegovic that continued military operations would have an impact on NATO airstrikes?
MR. BURNS: I don't know if Ambassador Holbrooke raised the issue in that manner.
The United States has not resorted to threats over the course of the past seven or eight days, as we have seen the Bosnian and Croatian offensive proceed. We are trying to use our political influence with both of these governments to convince them that the time has come to choose peace after so many years of war, but I don't want the impression given that that's all we've done over the last seven or eight days -- that is, talk to the Bosnians and the Croats.
We're talking also to the Serbian Government about the necessity for the Bosnian Serbs now to meet the terms of the agreement that was voluntarily and unilaterally offered last Thursday and Friday and accepted by NATO.
I think in addition to a focus on central Bosnia, the world needs to turn its attention to Sarajevo over the next 24 hours to ensure a complete withdrawal of the heavy weapons.
Q In that connection, could you go over one more time exactly what is a heavy weapon that has to be removed?
MR. BURNS: Certainly. Under the terms --
Q In the view of the United States?
MR. BURNS: Yes, in the view of the United States -- but I believe in the view of General Janvier, and I also know from Ambassador Holbrooke it's President Milosevic's view -- that any heavy weapon equal to or greater than 82 millimeters must be withdrawn from the Sarajevo exclusion zone by midnight tomorrow night. That is the l44th hour of the agreement that was offered to the West, and to the United Nations and NATO, by the Serbs and Bosnian Serbs.
Q Eighty-two millimeters or larger is mortars and such weapons, is it not? And am I not right that artillery of l00 millimeters or larger is to be removed --
MR. BURNS: Absolutely.
Q -- and that antiaircraft guns are not covered?
MR. BURNS: David, I'm just trying to stick closely here to the written agreement as it was offered and accepted, and it refers to all heavy weapons -- all heavy weapons equal to or greater than 82 millimeters.
Now, I think the distinction that we would like to put on this is that there has to be absolute and complete compliance with this provision.
In addition to that, the Bosnian Serbs have offered to cease offensive military operations in and around Sarajevo. Until this date, until this hour, they have largely complied with that. There have been a few incidents. Needless to say, David, there will be some Bosnian Serb weapons left in the exclusion zone after tomorrow night even with complete compliance and verification.
There is no possibility for the Bosnian Serbs to use those weapons. NATO has made it completely and abundantly clear that we will return to our own use of military power should those remaining weapons be used.
Q I'm sorry. A hundred millimeter artillery, or is it 82- millimeter artillery that have to be removed?
MR. BURNS: It starts at 82. It includes 82 and encompasses all weapons that also exceed 82 millimeters in strength and in size. So that would cover any heavy weapon above that range -- above that mark.
Q I ask because I've seen the written document and that isn't what it says exactly. It says "artillery" -- it says "82-millimeter heavy weapons except for artillery," which can be 100 millimeters or more.
MR. BURNS: I've also seen the agreement. I'll have to go back and check the agreement, but that's my understanding of the agreement.
Q Anti-aircraft guns are covered?
MR. BURNS: That's my impression.
Q Despite reports to the contrary?
MR. BURNS: All heavy weapons, which would, of course, include anti-aircraft which are of great concern not only to the Bosnian Government and the citizens of Sarajevo but to NATO.
Q (Inaudible) up until now?
MR. BURNS: The United Nations is the best source. The French military component of UNPROFOR has played the largest role, I think, in actually verifying on the spot the withdrawal of the heavy weapons. Yesterday was 150. I understand from NATO AFSOUTH today in Naples that there was a report that further withdrawals were made today. They have a ways to go because we think the total number of heavy weapons that would meet the category that we've just been discussing would be far greater than 150.
We know what the weapons are. We think we have a very good idea of where they are, and so we're watching very closely -- NATO and the United Nations are watching.
Q Nick, do you have any comment or reaction to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Boutros-Boutros Ghali, that he's calling for the removal of U.S., or rather United Nations forces from Bosnia even if the peace agreement was not completed?
MR. BURNS: The United States fully expects that the United Nations will meet its commitments and its responsibilities and will remain in Bosnia for the foreseeable future -- certainly, during this transitional period as we try to convince the parties to move towards peace. If the parties are able to get to a peace conference, if they're able to work out an agreement at a peace conference, then NATO and others in the international community will have to turn to the question of how you implement such a peace, how you safeguard it, and what kind of international military presence you would need.
If at that point the United Nations chooses to withdraw the UNPROFOR contingents, then, of course, NATO and others in the international community, including Russia, would have to decide together what kind of force will then be produced to replace it. So we fully understand the nature of the Secretary General's comments. We have no argument with them.
But I don't want to leave you with the impression that our reading of it is that the United Nations will be leaving any time soon. In fact, the United Nations has a major responsibility during this period - - today and tomorrow and for the next couple of weeks and months -- to try to ensure stability as the parties move to a peace conference. Since we don't minimize the difficulty of a peace conference, we think it's going to be a long process to get to a final peace settlement in Bosnia wherein the United Nations will be a very important factor.
Q What motivated Secretary General Boutros Ghali to make this request or suggestion at this juncture?
MR. BURNS: I'd have to refer you to the United Nations for analysis of why the statement was made. We are in close contact with the Secretary General and his advisors. We'll continue to discuss these issues with him.
Q On behalf of Barry Schweid who had leave, he's wondering -- if I've got his question correct -- statements from officials, including the Secretary of State, that United States participation in any future peacekeeping mission might be significantly lower than that number of 25,000 that had been mentioned right along. Can you comment on that? Is that a fact or not?
MR. BURNS: The United States has said for a long time -- even in the darkest hours and days of the war when it looked like the situation would never turn toward a peace conference -- that should peace break out, the United States would certainly contribute its military forces to a peace implementation body.
All sorts of figures have been thrown around by people in this government and by people outside the government as to how large a force that would have to be.
There have been various contingency plans drawn up. The most direct thing we can say about that question, Steve, is, you can't answer the question of how many soldiers you'll need to police a peace until you see the dimensions of the peace.
What will be the requirements of a military force to ensure a peace? Where will that force be deployed? Will the force be used to separate armies? Will it be used to patrol cities? Once we have a peace agreement and once the parties and the intermediaries -- the Contact Group -- do an agreement, settle on those questions, then you can design a military force to implement it. So it's certainly not possible to say 25 or 15 or 10.
We would hope, obviously, that we could produce a situation in which the lowest number -- the fewest number of troops were possible, as Secretary Christopher indicated yesterday in his discussion with USA Today. We simply don't know, as the Secretary also said, what that number will be. We can't forecast it right now.
Q To follow up on that. Doesn't the most recent offensive in the northwest of the country make it likely, if that offensive holds on to the ground which it has taken, doesn't that make it likely that the United States and the overall peacekeeping force would not need to be as large as once envisioned?
MR. BURNS: We hope that would be the case, as Secretary Christopher said yesterday. We just don't know for sure what the absolute and ultimate requirements of this will be. It's a question that cannot be answered honestly on September 19.
Q By that logic, in fact, wouldn't it more advantageous to the United States if the Bosnian Government restored authority to its entire territory? Therefore, you wouldn't need peacekeeping forces except on an international frontier?
MR. BURNS: In a perfect world, there wouldn't have been a war, and the country would be intact and no one would have been killed. The fact is that there have been four years of war. For one side now to turn that situation around where they absolutely control every meter of the country I think is an illusion.
The Bosnian Serbs, in our estimation, retain a substantial capacity to fight back. We are not going to be a party to publicly or privately encourage any faction to continue fighting in a situation where we think there is a rough equilibrium among the forces. That's why we are arguing for a peace conference.
Q What, in fact, is the latest division of control as far as you understand it? Is it 50/50 now?
MR. BURNS: It's hard to say. Certainly, if you take a benchmark of 70/30 from, say, the high water mark of the Bosnian Serb military offensive after Srebrenica and Zepa in mid-July, that has certainly been reduced. There are all sorts of wildly varying figures. It looks now to be roughly 50/50 but that is not a scientific estimate. We have not produced one here. That's a guess.
Q On Banja Luka also, Foreign Minister Sacribey said yesterday, I think, that they don't intend to attack Banja Luka but just to surround it and that they would like to have a new government in Banja Luka to deal with. I think they asked the British to assist in trying to find some other negotiating partners.
Have they asked the United States to do the same? Do you or Mr. Holbrooke have a view on whether this is a good way to proceed?
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware that they have asked us specifically to participate in this proposal. I understand that Foreign Minister Sacribey has talked about this publicly.
We are not going to get into the business on a city-by-city or town-by-town basis deciding whether we think one side should keep it and the other side should not. We are going to argue very broadly for a resort here to peace.
Q New topic, Nick. Have we exhausted this?
MR. BURNS: I think we have. But I can't ultimately answer that question.
Q May I ask another topic, please?
MR. BURNS: Sure.
Q Nick, one more.
MR. BURNS: One more from Russ.
Q You said in your own words that this is a critical moment. Is Dick Holbrooke coming back to Washington tonight, or has he got another round of talks out there?
MR. BURNS: Ambassador Holbrooke will be returning to the U.S. either very late this evening or early tomorrow morning, our time. He has done an admirable job. He's been on the road pretty much for three- and-a-half weeks. He's witnessed tragedies -- personal tragedies for him and for the rest of us. He's also witnessed some fairly important breakthroughs for peace.
He's coming back for a couple of days. He will be talking with the Secretary and others here. Our Ambassadors in the region -- Ambassador- designate Menzies and Ambassador Galbraith, as well as (Chief of Mission) Rudy Perina in Belgrade -- will remain very active on a daily basis on this.
Q One more question -- if you would pardon the cynicism this question implies, but despite public comments to the contrary, there seems to be a large circumstantial case that one could make that Holbrooke's most recent visit to Zagreb was to tell the Bosnians and the Croatians that "That yellow light, in case you hadn't noticed, just turned red" on this offensive.
MR. BURNS: That question didn't seem out of the ordinary (laughter) for this group, Steve. It seemed a perfectly natural and normal question.
I think that to engage in "red light," "yellow light," "amber light," "green light" is not helpful. It's too broad and too general. I'd rather be a lot more specific, and let me be specific.
The United States does not favor the continuation of any offensive military operations anywhere in Bosnia by any party to the conflict -- Bosnian, Croatian, or Bosnian Serb. We think it is an illusion to believe that the tide of the war can be turned completely in favor of one side or another.
All that will result in the process is that more people will be killed, more people will lose their homes and become refugees, more bloodshed, more suffering. We're not going to be a party to encouraging that.
What we're trying to encourage is peace. That's what the United States has led over the last couple of weeks -- a peace effort -- and we're going to continue it.
Q In your search for that end, Nick, you've addressed the political leverage which the United States used. I don't know if "leverage" was the right term but "influence" maybe. Did Ambassador Holbrooke mention economic leverage at all, in the coming days when you foresee peace, if they did not stop?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe that we have threatened countries with which we have good relations -- Bosnia and Croatia. I don't believe we've threatened them. I know that we've talked to them in a mature way, as you expect friends to talk to each other.
Q New topic?
MR. BURNS: We're still on Bosnia. It wouldn't surprise me if we go another l0 or l5 minutes, but it's okay.
Q It sounds like there's a lot of wringing of hands here. It's sort of like a public wringing of hands, but you're really not doing anything to stop this offensive. That's the way it looks of course.
MR. BURNS: I would just ask in response: "What would you have us do?" Would you have us send in the 82nd Airborne? Would you have us resort to economic sanctions? Would you have us withdraw the diplomatic initiative?
Look, we are in the lead and have intensively pushed a peace process which is succeeding. It's succeeding in at least moving the parties towards peace.
The United States does not have the capability to turn things on and off in the Balkans. If we had that capability, then there wouldn't have been a war four years ago.
We do influence, but we don't have absolute influence; and it's not our responsibility to stop the fighting. That's the responsibility of the parties.
Q But isn't the plan of Geneva, just ten days old now -- really, isn't it overtaken by events and by trends?
MR. BURNS: No. None of the parties have in any way questioned the fact that all of them have signed on to an agreement that there will be certain principles that will be the foundation of the peace process.
Q Have they even signed this, though?
MR. BURNS: Pardon? I said "signed on" to an agreement --
Q Signed on.
MR. BURNS: But these are commitments made by the Presidents and Foreign Ministers of three countries. We take those commitments seriously, and we certainly expect that they will be adhered to and that there will be a continuation of the peace process. That's where we'll put our emphasis here.
Q New topic?
MR. BURNS: Yes, gladly.
Q On that Washington Post article today about U.S.-French nuclear testing, first of all do you have any comments? Can you confirm any aspects of it? And now that this testing has been revealed, does this enable the French to save face and perhaps cancel the other tests? Will the U.S. ask France now to cancel the other tests?
MR. BURNS: The United States has taken the position, since President Chirac announced the new round of tests three months ago, that we regret the French decision to resume nuclear testing. When the first nuclear test was made a week or two ago, we repeated that we very much regret the decision of France to undertake this action.
Now, the first part of your question deals with a slightly different topic -- the article in the newspaper this morning. Let me just say that our nuclear cooperation and discussions with France in general are not intended and do not help France conduct nuclear tests.
Our nuclear cooperation program with France is designed to help ensure the safety and reliability of existing nuclear weapons under a true zero-yield Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We are not helping France develop new nuclear weapons, but we do share with France -- and here we have, I think, agreement with President Chirac and the French Government -- that by l996 the nuclear powers should have, and we hope will negotiate, a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that will be strict and that will help us, as we look towards the next century, prepare for a peaceful future as we live with nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
Q If the French-U.S. cooperation has been so extensive, what exactly does the United States regret then?
MR. BURNS: We regret the fact that France has resorted to the testing of its nuclear weapons. The United States, of course, under President Clinton's leadership, has effected for itself a moratorium on nuclear tests; and we regret that any nuclear power would at this point resort to testing.
We regretted the decision by the Chinese Government to test, and we have told all nuclear powers that we think all of us should assume a position of no tests while the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is being negotiated.
Of course, the successful negotiation of that Treaty would answer this question completely.
Q Will the U.S. specifically asked Chirac to stop the tests when he comes here in November?
MR. BURNS: I think the position of the United States is well-known to the French Government, but I certainly can't be in a position of indicating what positions we will enunciate at a discussion two months from now.
Still on France? Any others on France? Okay.
Q On the Iranian plane incident, do you consider today's hijacking of the plane an act of terrorism?
MR. BURNS: What we'd like to do is get the facts. We'd like to know who this individual is -- why this individual, or group of individuals, took the action that it did. The United States never condones the forcible hijacking of an airplane that might endanger the lives of innocent people, and there were surely innocent people on board that aircraft.
But let's get the facts first. Let us get the facts first before we comment further.
Q The fact that we have so far is that this plane has been hijacked.
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q Will you be able to call this incident as "an act of terrorism" -- since this is the only fact that we have so far?
MR. BURNS: I've said what I wanted to say. I probably said enough, and we'll just have to wait until we get more facts before we can say anything further.
Q Is skyjacking an act of terrorism by definition?
MR. BURNS: You're asking me to --
Q I'm a little confused by the answer. You say the U.S. doesn't condone the hijacking of the plane, but you pointedly won't use the word "terrorism."
MR. BURNS: We weren't a party to this. We weren't notified by anybody on the plane that hijacking was in progress. We weren't on the ground when the plane landed. We don't know who the people are. We don't know what cause is being espoused here.
And I said, given what we do not know, it would be irresponsible to make some blanket, categorical statements about this incident. Those blanket and categorical statements will soon come from the United States once we have the facts; but, certainly, we're not going to be in the position, on the other hand, of ever applauding a forcible hijacking of an airplane.
So there you have it. I don't think that's a contradictory statement; I think it's trying to be a little bit careful, since we're dealing with the unknown.
Q (Inaudible) know the facts?
MR. BURNS: I promise we'll have a statement on this at the right moment. I'm not sure when the right moment will come, but it will come.
Q Do you have any situation report on the Israeli-Palestinian talks in Taba? And do you have any idea when a signing ceremony will take place? Is it Thursday -- this Thursday -- Friday, next week, or what? What's the situation?
MR. BURNS: Yes and no. The "yes" is that we do have -- we are in very close contact with the Palestinian Authority and with the Israeli Government, who have been working, I think, throughout the night in Taba on the very difficult question of Hebron and other issues. We believe they have narrowed their differences and we believe they want to resolve their remaining differences.
We are in constant touch with them. They have not announced an agreement. It will be up to them to announce an agreement when the time comes.
As for our longstanding offer to host a signing ceremony here in Washington that offer stands. We'll be glad to do it when and if the parties reach an agreement, and then if they decide at that time that they want to have a ceremony in Washington, we will be very glad to host it.
Q Can you describe the role of the United States in the past 24 hours on this?
MR. BURNS: It has been a very intensive role. We have been in constant touch with both sides.
Q Are you saying Thursday is still a possibility?
MR. BURNS: Well, we never -- actually we were very careful never to say that Thursday was a date -- Thursday, September 2l. There were other dates that, you know, people talked about, but Thursday was never really talked about by anybody in this government, at least in the last four or five days.
So, if there is going to be any signing ceremony, first they have got to have a peace agreement. They don't have that. There is just, there is not much one can say to prophesy what will happen.
Q Nick, if I read correctly some of the newspapers in the Middle East this morning or yesterday, it sounded like the United States, especially the White House, President Clinton, sent sort of, not a threat, or however you want to call it, a complaint, or give them sort of an ultimatum, you either sign on Thursday or it will -- I will not have any time to sit at the ceremony. How do you answer on this?
MR. BURNS: Oh, I don't know anything about that. I mean, we deal in a very, you know, good-natured way with both governments. I don't think we would resort to threats. We want them to succeed. We are trying to help them to succeed. We are a party to some of these negotiations. We have ideas. We push them. Sometimes we hold back.
You know, we are not in a position to make threats, and certainly wouldn't want to make any public threats.
Q If you make a date already, it will be a date for a ceremony set after an agreement, will King Hussein and President Mubarak be invited or will be participants?
MR. BURNS: Well, if the day comes when peace is concluded between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and they want to have a signing ceremony, we will certainly have to then address the question of who else would attend, and I don't have anything for you on that today.
Still on the Middle East or on to Asia?
Q Nick, your comments yesterday on the possibility or impossibility of a fourth Sino-U.S. communique have aroused a lot of attention in Taipei. In fact, the Taiwan Foreign Ministery cabled the State Department for further clarification. Would you take this opportunity --
MR. BURNS: Further clarification?
Q Yes. (Laughter) Would you further clarify on that, possible clarification you might have?
MR. BURNS: I was so clear yesterday about this. Now, are we talking about the fourth communique? Let me try to be even more clear today than I was yesterday.
The United States will decide who gets American visas. Nobody else will decide that. If anybody wants to propose a fourth communique, that would have in effect somebody else decide who gets the American visas, that's out of the question. We are not interested in that.
What we are interested in is a good, productive, stable, positive, forward-looking, forward-moving relationship with China, and we have a chance to enunciate our hope for all of that two days from now when Vice Foreign Minister Li arrives in Washington and has his talks with Under Secretary of State Peter Tarnoff.
Then mid-next week, in New York, when Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Qian comes to New York, the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, will have a discussion with him.
And that's how we are going to talk to the Chinese. We have a very strong wish for a good relationship. Nobody can decide who gets American visas -- nobody but American officials. Is that clear?
Q Well --
MR. BURNS: How about playing in Taiwan tomorrow? (Laughter) And how about playing in Beijing? Will it be clear to both sides what our position is?
Q To follow up on that, Nick, do you care for a communique that does not deal specifically with the visa issue?
MR. BURNS: That's an entirely different question. I am not aware that that question is right now being discussed by the two governments. But as I said yesterday, you know, we have a very -- we have a great deal of respect for the People's Republic of China. We have a great wish to get along well with that government and the more than one billion people there.
And if that government wants to propose new ideas that would help solidify the relationship in a positive direction, we'll listen to those ideas. That's what I very clearly meant to say yesterday. I notice that that was not clearly interpreted by some members of the press corps, but it was meant to be a very clear position.
Of course we will listen, but we are not going to listen seriously to any ideas where one country says, "Let us decide who gets visas that your country will issue." That is not in our interest. We have never done that in over 200 years of American history. We are not going to start now.
Q Move a little bit to, well, closer to China, the Hong Kong elections, legislative elections.
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q Do you have any comment on the elections or election results and the repeated Chinese threat to dismiss the legislature after 1997?
MR. BURNS: We welcome the election in Hong Kong as marking the continued development of Hong Kong's democratic institutions.
The election was the first in which all legislative council seats were open to direct or indirect balloting.
The United States views the dispute between China and the United Kingdom over the legislative council's future with concern.
We believe its stable governing structures are vital to Hong Kong's smooth transition and to its prospects for continuing prosperity after 1997.
We hope that China will permit those elected in this legislature to serve their full terms. We believe that this is the best way to insure a smooth transition and the best way to insure confidence in the future of Hong Kong after 1997.
Q On another part of Asia, the denial of a visa to a Thai politician has made some waves in Thailand, and they have appointed a blue ribbon commission to look into the U.S. allegations that this and another politician had been involved in drug-running.
Is the United States going to cooperate with the Thais and provide all the information it has so that they can come to a determination of what really happened?
MR. BURNS: Well, the last time I commented on this issue, it received a great deal of attention both in Thailand and the United States. I think what I said -- I said then what I had to say, and that remains the case now.
As for the last part of the question, Roy, I'll be glad to look into it. I will just, you know, try to get you the best possible answer.
Q There were also questions yesterday on extradition --
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q -- some of which you weren't able to answer. Can you tell us more about that now?
MR. BURNS: Well, I believe that we issued some guidance, we posted some guidance last evening on this particular question. I believe one of the questions that people had yesterday was whether or not the decision by Judge Royce Lamberth pertained to the ability of the United States to successfully extradite people to the United States. I think that we posted a response last evening that indicated that we could do so. At least, it was the opinion of the U.S. Government that we could do so, given the action of the Judge.
It is clearly the case that the Administration will respect the opinion of the Judge, that we are not now able to engage in the process of extraditing people from the United States to other countries, but as you know, we are I believe today, filing a motion for a stay of the District Court's nationwide injunction, and we intend to appeal the District Court's September l5th ruling here in the District of Columbia.
Q Any idea how long it will take to get a decision?
MR. BURNS: No. I have no way of knowing how long that will take, but this is a very serious issue which affects the ability of the United States Government to work with other countries to fight terrorism and to fight -- to engage in the fight against narcotics trafficking.
These are two of the most serious problems that face the American people. That is why we are filing a motion for a stay, and in fact why we are appealing this decision, that is, the Justice Department and the State Department, representing the U.S. Government in this particular case.
Q Did anybody ask you about Mamedov's arrival?
MR. BURNS: No, no one has asked me about that. I haven't been asked about the movie "Babe" either, and I was already to talk about that. (Laughter) I have a lot of information on that.
Q Well, let's take Mamedov first.
MR. BURNS: I talked to a high level source who saw the movie.
Q The Secretary had nothing else to do? (Laughter.)
MR. BURNS: This was over the weekend, when many of us are engaged in such activities.
Now, Mamedov, the Russian Deputy Foreign -- and we'll go back to "Babe" because we can talk about it -- the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Georgiy Mamedov, will be arriving today in the United States. He will be taking part, with his counterpart, Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott in strategic stability talks between the United States and Russia.
These are ongoing discussions that we have had for several years now, and Minister Mamedov has led the Russian side, I think, in all of those discussions. These will be wide-ranging talks to discuss certainly the situation in Bosnia, certainly the issue of NATO expansion, the very great interest that those of us in NATO have of forming a separate good relationship with Russia, a Russian-NATO dialogue.
It will encompass the CFE question that a number of you are interested in. It will encompass a lot of the bilateral issues that will be the subject of next week's meeting between Secretary Christopher and Minister Kozyrev. This meeting is intended to really review a number of issues in preparation for that meeting, and then Strobe Talbott and Minister Mamedov will talk about the summit meeting that President Clinton and President Yeltsin will have in New York. I believe it is just after the U.N. 50 Summit of heads of state in mid- October in New York.
So, it's a very broad agenda. He's here with an inter-agency team from the government in Moscow, and Strobe, of course, chairs our inter- agency team. Participating with him in these talks will be people from State and the National Security Council and the Pentagon and other agencies.
Q So those talks are tomorrow?
MR. BURNS: They begin, I believe -- well, he arrives today. There will be some talks today, but mostly tomorrow, and I believe into Thursday.
Q Talks here at the State Department?
MR. BURNS: Here at the State Department, yes.
Q What time is he coming?
MR. BURNS: I don't have any information on what time he is coming.
Q And on CFE, what can you say about the nature of the compromise proposal that NATO has apparently agreed to put to the Russians?
MR. BURNS: I would say pretty much what John Holum said to you this morning, so I won't go over that in excruciating detail, but just to say that, you know, we are very well aware of the concerns that the Russian Government has had about the treaty and about the effect that the treaty's limits have on flanks, Russia's flanks, particularly in the Caucasus's region, but not just in the Caucasus' region, that we in NATO, working with our allies, have developed a new proposal, some new ideas to share with the Russian Government, that we are in fact going to begin that process of sharing those ideas, that we can't talk about those ideas in public because then it might disrupt the private negotiations.
But once we have something to say and hopefully we have an agreement, then we'll be prepared to talk about it publicly.
Now, there are two important time lines here or points in the time line. In November, of course, the treaty comes into effect, and in May, there is -- I believe it is May -- there is a review conference.
So we are working against a time line. It's a very important issue in their relationship. It's being handled at a very senior level. We do have some new ideas, but we certainly think that all countries should be in compliance with the treaty, certainly in November, but of course also when the review conference takes place next spring.
Q So Talbott will begin discussing these new ideas, this new proposal with Mamedov this week. But the other sort of formal relationship is the joint consultative commission, and when will that --
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q And when will that formal presentation be made?
MR. BURNS: Well, the JCG, of course, meets frequently in Vienna, and the United States is a part of that process, as is Russia. We do have bilateral contacts, as you well imagine, and so we will begin those.
We have had them for a number of years. We will continue those this week.
Q Well, I just wondered whether the contact with Mamedov is the initial sort of foray, and then only later, when, next week, two weeks, the JCG will --
MR. BURNS: I think it's fair to say, yes, Carol, we are going to have a bilateral discussion this week, but that will be followed up by multilateral discussions within the Joint Consultative Group in Vienna.
Q There was a twelve year old Okinawan girl raped a few days ago by three U.S. military personnel, who are shielded by an agreement between the U.S. and Japan from being turned over until Japan files what is called a formal charge.
There is quite an outrage in Japan over this. Ambassador Mondale has apologized. Does the Department have anything to add from Washington, and should the agreement with Japan on that limited period of immunity remain in place?
MR. BURNS: Well, what I have to say is quite unpleasant, obviously, considering the nature of this event, but we understand that a twelve-year-old Okinawan girl was raped, brutally attacked, beaten unconscious after being sexually assaulted on September 4th.
There are three suspects, two United States Marines and one U.S. Navy person. They are now being held in the Marine Corps confinement facility at Camp Hansen in Okinawa. The United States will turn over the suspects upon formal indictment by the Government of Japan.
We were deeply distressed and shocked to learn of this attack. This type of behavior is completely unacceptable and is not what the United States military or the American people stand for.
We can only reiterate what Ambassador Walter Mondale and senior United States military officers have indicated to the Japanese Government and the Japanese people. We deeply regret this incident and will cooperate fully with the Japanese authorities in investigating this vicious assault and in seeing that justice is done.
Q Do you have the names of the men?
MR. BURNS: I do not have the names of the men, no.
Q Do you know when the indictment might come?
MR. BURNS: I don't know. Again, they are being held in confinement by the United States. Once the indictment is brought forth by the Government of Japan, by the Japanese authorities, we will agree to turn them over to Japanese authorities.
Q When did the attack take place?
MR. BURNS: September 4th.
Q Since this is such an issue in U.S.-Japan relations, why not turn them over before? Why wait for a formal indictment? Is this a legal procedure, or is it just because of the agreement that is in place?
MR. BURNS: I think we are following, you know, a normal practice here. We have -- you know, these people are suspects, and they have to be indicted. Once there is an indictment, we have pledged through our Ambassador, Ambassador Mondale, and we are pledging today, that we will certainly cooperate with the judicial process in Japan, the indictment, and I think we have noted how shocked we are and distressed we are to learn that American citizens and indeed American officials, in this case, military personnel, may have been involved in this attack.
Q Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 2:l0 p.m.)
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