U.S DEPARTMENT OF STATE 95/10/03 DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Tuesday, October 3, 1995 Briefer: Nicholas Burns DEPARTMENT Announcement re: Conviction of Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman......1 Secretary Christopher's Interview on C-Span.................2 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA Assistant Secretary Holbrooke's Mtgs. in Region ............2 --Ceasefire Issue ..........................................3-5 Assistant Secretary Shattuck's Travel in the Krajina Region ...................................................3 --Alleged Brutalities Against Serb Population...............3 --Activities of the International War Crimes Tribunal.......3 Reported Fighting Near Sarajevo ............................3 JAPAN U.S. Military Presence......................................5-6 --Review of Implementation of the Status of Forces Agreement...............................................6 CUBA Possibility of Visa for Fidel Castro/Cuba's Representation at the UN General Assembly................................6-10 VIETNAM Secretary Christopher's Meeting with Vietnamese FM..........10-11 --Review of Economic and Trade Issues.......................10,14 --Access for U.S. Companies.................................10 --Regional Security Issues..................................10 Exchange of Ambassadors.....................................11 Cam Ranh Bay Issue..........................................11 POW/MIA Cases...............................................12-14 CAMBODIA Secretary Christopher's Meeting with Cambodian FM...........11 --September 30 Grenade Attack...............................11 --Support for Democratic Progress and Economic Reform.......11 --Most-Favored-Nation Status................................11 Report by Amnesty International.............................12 FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA Assassination Attempt Against President Gligorov............14-15 BELARUS Balloonist Incident/Statement of Belarus President..........15-16 --Russia's Relations with Belarus...........................16-17 --Investigation by FAA and Department of Transportation.....17 RUSSIA Disappearance of Fred Cuny/Cooperation of Russian Gov't.....17 COMOROS ISLANDS U.S. Reaction to Coup Attempt...............................18
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 3, 1995, 1:40 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I have a short announcement. Actually, it's an announcement that we posted last evening; I wanted to draw it to your attention if you hadn't seen it. This is a public announcement concerning the conviction of Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman.
Given the recent conviction in New York of Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman and nine others on terrorism charges, the State Department advises Americans traveling abroad that there may be an increased risk of terrorist incidents carried out by supporters of these individuals against American interests.
United States Government installations abroad have been instructed to increase their security precautions. American citizens traveling abroad should pay close attention to their personal security practices overseas in light of this potential threat.
With that, I'll be glad to -- George? -- to go to your questions.
Q Given the Secretary's roots in southern California, did he rearrange his schedule to watch the verdict today?
MR. BURNS: He did not, no. He did not. He had a regularly scheduled lunch with the Director of Central Intelligence, John Deutch. They kept to that lunch, the same schedule they had before we even knew that there would be an announcement of the verdict today.
I just talked to him. He said that he did turn the television on to hear the verdict and then turned it off.
Q Was there any reaction by him?
MR. BURNS: No editorial comment implied by that. He just listened to the verdict. No, he has no reaction to the verdict; no.
I should tell you the Secretary was with the L.A. Times this morning; C-Span carried it. He was asked a couple of times to comment, to give his own views on the trial of O.J. Simpson. He declined to do so; and he said that he felt that while he had, of course, played a role in the city of Los Angeles -- and particularly after the riots in Los Angeles, on behalf of the people of Los Angeles -- he was now in a different role. He was in a Federal capacity as Secretary of State, and he said he didn't think it was appropriate for him to comment on this trial and he's going to stick by that; so he doesn't have any reaction to share with you on this particular conviction.
Q Can you give us sort of a snapshot of what else was going on in the State Department, say the last 45 minutes? (Laughter)
MR. BURNS: I can tell you where I was. I was preparing for all of your questions on issues like Bosnia and China, the Middle East peace process --
Q I know he's working!
MR. BURNS: -- and some outrageous statements by the President of Belarus that we should get into.
I think that most people here, like most people throughout the United States, were fixed on their television sets at l:00 o'clock, and we moved the timing of this particular briefing because we didn't think any of you would come out. I was perfectly willing to be here, but we just didn't think you'd show up, so -- (laughter)
Q On the state of Bosnia, can you just bring us up to speed? What's Holbrooke up to and how's he doing?
MR. BURNS: Dick Holbrooke is in Belgrade. He has been, I think for the past six hours, in a meeting with President Milosevic. I tried to get him at l2:30 and he was still meeting with President Milosevic in Belgrade.
You know why he's there. It's part of his shuttle among the major capitals of the region to try to get them to move towards a cease-fire, to tackle the problem of eastern Slavonia, to tackle the problem of constitutional issues.
In our attempt to convene an international peace conference, he will be going to Zagreb tonight, back to Sarajevo tomorrow -- Wednesday -- and then on to Rome for the expanded Contact Group meeting on Thursday.
Beyond that, he has not yet determined what his schedule will be.
I should also tell you that Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck was in the Krajina region over the weekend, and I think some of you may have seen some of the comments that he made. He visited the site of the alleged brutalities against the Croatian Serb population. He saw villages that had been ransacked, that had been burned, and he also talked to people who have some information about allegations of mass executions of elderly Serbs by the Croatian army.
We are very concerned about these reports. We would like to see the Croatian Government allow international monitors into the area to investigate this matter, and we are very anxiously awaiting the results of these and other international investigations. We certainly believe that the perpetrators of brutalities -- in this case, against Serbs -- should face certain and swift justice.
I would just like to link this, of course, with the activities of the International War Crimes Tribunal, which the United States strongly supports. A Croatian citizen has already been indicted by the War Crimes Tribunal for crimes allegedly that he committed a number of years ago. But we think that there is a reason now to be concerned about the many reports that we have heard about alleged human rights atrocities in the Krajina region.
Q Do you have any reactions to the Bosnian Muslims firing four large guns out of Sarajevo at Serb positions?
MR. BURNS: What we have seen this morning are some conflicting press reports about fighting south of Sarajevo. We've seen the ones about the guns firing out of the city. We've also seen ones about offensive military action south of the city.
I've seen conflicting reports -- one that the Bosnian Serbs were on the offensive, and one that the Bosnian Government was.
We're trying to sort out these reports. So, therefore, we'll withhold comment until we have more information.
Q In any case, Holbrooke appears to have had little success in moving toward a cease-fire?
MR. BURNS: He hasn't yet achieved success in convincing the parties to agree to a process leading to a cease-fire. I think he's told the press, and he's certainly told us, that he thinks that all the parties are interested in a cease-fire, but there are very large, wide divisions about how one can be best achieved.
I would just put it in a little bit of perspective, Jim. He's undertaken a shuttle mission now on and off for the last month, and we have been able to achieve during that month three significant agreements. He is now trying to lead us to additional agreements.
This is going to take some time. This is hard slogging. He is, I think, not setting the bar too low when he says that these negotiations are very difficult and complex; and we're not sure that we're going to reach a cease-fire -- not quickly, the way we want to.
But he'll continue to try for one and continue to negotiate among the parties. That is his mandate from the President and from Secretary Christopher.
Q (inaudible) that the best incentive for a cease-fire would be to directly link reconstruction aid to the cooperation on the cease- fire? Is that what he is doing? Is he saying, "No cease-fire; forget reconstruction aid"?
MR. BURNS: I don't want to go into everything that he's saying, that he may or may not be saying, to the parties. He's trying to convince them of one salient fact, and that is that we've seen, just in the last couple of weeks, some dramatic offensive military gains made by the Bosnian Government and the Croatian Government. Just in the last couple of days, we've seen some of that land retaken in a counteroffensive -- specifically, near the Bihac pocket -- by the Bosnian Serb military forces.
Our very strong conviction is that this isn't going to end, that the military back-and-forth will continue, that neither side is sufficiently strong to achieve a military victory on the ground; therefore, the parties have to conclude that they can only achieve what they want through negotiations. That's our very strong belief about the nature of the warfare on the ground.
I think one of his strongest selling points in arguing for a cease- fire, Jim, is that the killing will go on, the bloodshed will continue, and you won't really get what you want unless you face your opponent across a negotiating table and no longer across a battlefield.
Obviously, there are a lot of factors that go into a cease-fire and into the ability of the international community, including the United States to contribute to one.
I'm not denying that this kind of relief assistance or reconstruction assistance may be part of the mix, but there are other factors that are part of the mix as well.
Q Can we do Japan? There's a story out of Tokyo that says that the Japanese want the U.S. military to scale back on its bases in Okinawa and Ambassador Mondale seemed receptive, at least, to consider it. Do you have anything more concrete from the American side?
MR. BURNS: I understand that Ambassador Mondale did see Japanese Foreign Minister Kono today and that part of their discussion centered on the status of U.S. bases in Japan.
We have had for some time an understanding with the Japanese that we ought to review together our basing needs and that we should consolidate or revert facilities where possible. This is an ongoing process, which is carried out through the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee in Tokyo, and reviewing our presence on Okinawa is already part of that process and was part of that process before this very unfortunate incident occurred early in September.
We will continue to work closely with the Japanese Government on these issues, and we hope to have the full and complete cooperation of the Japanese Government as we undertake this ongoing review.
Having said that, George, this does not mean that the United States is considering scaling back its presence in Asia or in Japan. We are fully committed to our security obligations and to our defense treaties with the people of Japan and elsewhere -- with the people of Korea and elsewhere in Asia.
It's not a question of reducing the number of American forces in Japan. It is a question, on an ongoing basis, of determining if certain facilities can be consolidated.
I don't believe there have been any dramatic announcements or decisions made this morning -- simply a reaffirmation of both of our commitments, Japan and the United States, to this process.
Q So the crime last month is not influencing the discussions?
MR. BURNS: The crime -- certainly, the brutal crime last month -- has influenced the whole tenor of U.S.-Japan relations. It's influenced the discussion in Japan about the American presence; there's no question about that. It has certainly influenced our desire to have the best possible communication with the Japanese Government. That's why we agreed a couple of weeks ago to form this Review Committee -- now the Working Group -- on the Status of Forces Agreement, to review the implementation of that Agreement, not the structure of that Agreement.
This incident has had a major effect on the U.S.-Japan relationship. When the Secretary was with Foreign Minister Kono twice last week, this issue was the major issue in both meetings; and when Secretary Christopher and Secretary Perry had their press conference with the two Japanese Ministers, it took up a large part of that press conference. It's a major, major issue; and we're not trying at all to diminish its importance in U.S.-Japan relations.
Q (inaudible) no effect on the question of the bases? He said this is a process that began before the crime was committed --
MR. BURNS: That's right.
Q -- and it's continuing.
MR. BURNS: No. I think that the impact is that -- as Secretary Perry announced last week -- the United States has to be doubly sensitive to the nature of our role in Japan. He announced a series of steps that the military has taken to try to make sure that this type of incident does not recur.
However, our commitment to maintaining a substantial military presence in Japan has not been diminished because of this incident.
Q So the number of troops in Japan will remain the same?
MR. BURNS: That's right.
Q A question on Cuba?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q Is the U.S., in fact, prepared to grant a visa to Fidel Castro to come to the States for the U.N. anniversary later this month?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe that Fidel Castro has applied for a visa. It's not our practice to speculate on whether or not we would issue or deny the visa before the person -- in this case, Fidel Castro - - actually applies for the visa.
Let me just say it is up to the United States alone to decide whether or not a visa is issued to anybody anywhere in the world.
I was interested to see some of the press coverage on this this morning, which I found not to be exactly consistent with United States obligations. We are under no obligation to issue a visa to anybody who wants a visa. In fact, every day American Consular Officers, American Consulate Generals, American Ambassadors, make decisions, positive and negative, about who can get a visa and who cannot get a visa.
So we will decide -- if this hypothetical situation turns out to be reality -- we will decide, and we alone, whether or not this or any other individual receives a visa.
I would also like to say that we are also mindful of our obligations as host nation of the United Nations to insure access to the United Nations for those who wish it. I am just trying to be accurate here about what our legal obligations are and what they are not.
Q You have had no indication from the Cuban Government that Fidel Castro would like to come to the U.N.?
MR. BURNS: Of course, we've checked this, Sid. We've checked it this morning because of the newspaper accounts, and I'm not aware of any application by Fidel Castro for a visa, and I'm not aware of any official communication by the Cuban Government to --
MR. BURNS: Sid, I'm answering your question. If I don't answer it correctly or to your satisfaction, you'll let me know. But let me just continue.
I'm not aware that the Cuban Government has advised our mission in Havana that he intends to travel to New York. I don't have complete knowledge of every corner of U.S.-Cuban relations, and we'll continue to inquire as to whether or not he is interested in coming here. But right now I have no information about that.
Q Just to be as sharp as possible. This government has no indication from the Cuban Government that Fidel Castro would like to come to the United Nations? I said indication, not application, not official communication. I said "indication."
MR. BURNS: Let's keep it as sharp as possible. I'll try to be sharp in response. And let me be sharp by saying I don't have any indication. I can't speak for every person in the U.S. Government. There's nothing to hide here. If Castro decides he wants to come to the United States, we'll let you know that he wants to come to the United States. I'm not aware of it. I haven't heard about it before today.
Q Has Castro requested a visa since his last visit in 1979?
MR. BURNS: I don't know. I know he was last here sixteen years ago, but I don't know if, in the intervening years -- perhaps George (Gedda) would know, but I don't know if he has sought a visa to come to the United States. I just don't know.
Q Beats me!
MR. BURNS: Beats George. Okay. He's the authority.
Q Have other members of an official delegation from the Cuban Government requested visas?
MR. BURNS: I assume so. I don't have any information on that either, but the Cubans are represented at the U.N. General Assembly every year, and the Cubans are often in New York. So I assume that officials from the Cuban Government have requested visas. But I don't have names and I don't have numbers.
Q And you don't know if they've been granted?
MR. BURNS: No. But I can check on that. I think that's a reasonable request. I think it's probably easy to get that information for you.
Q Nick, which is the overriding factor here, the lack of obligation for the United States to issue a visa to anyone any place in the world, or its obligation to provide access to the United Nations as the host country?
MR. BURNS: We certainly have a major obligation as host country to permit as wide an access as possible by foreign officials and by foreigners in general to the United Nations.
I just wanted to be absolutely clear, though, because of some of the reporting this morning that we are not under a specific legal obligation to issue visas to anybody who wants a visa to come to the United Nations.
I don't believe that's written anywhere, and we will decide who gets an American visa and who does not. I just wanted to correct that, perhaps misunderstanding, from some of the reporting. But it's certainly a major obligation, Steve, that we take seriously, to permit the widest possible participation by foreign governments at the United Nations.
Q But as far as you know there is no absolute obligation upon the United States to grant a visa to the leader of a country if the United States decides that it doesn't want to?
MR. BURNS: Put it this way: The United States always reserves the right to deny a visa to any individual -- anyone, private citizen or foreign government official -- for a variety of reasons. We always reserve that right. We control our borders.
Q Just a follow-up to that. Has the United States ever exercised that right in regard to the leader of another country wanting to come to the United Nations?
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware of any instance in the past where we have exercised the right to deny a visa to a head of state or a significant leader of a foreign country to the United Nations.
Q (Inaudible) denied at one point a visa to Arafat.
MR. BURNS: I said head of state. But in this case, Arafat was the leader of, at that time, a guerrilla movement. You're talking about 20 years ago.
Q I have a dim recollection in the headquarters agreement the United States agreed that it would allow access to the United Nations headquarters to leaders of member nations. Is that not in the agreement?
MR. BURNS: I can't tell you what all the terms are of that agreement. I can just tell you this. In order to best preserve our own sovereignty and also preserve the right to protect our borders and preserve the right to control the immigration flow here and the flow of visitors, we always have the right to deny someone a visa, and that right is not overcome by any other international obligation.
Having said that, as I think a very important point of policy, we do take seriously our obligations as host country to the U.N. to facilitate U.N. meetings, such as the U.N. General Assembly.
Q Isn't there a general policy concerning any other Cuban officials specifically who want to visit the United States?
MR. BURNS: The Cubans have participated in the General Assembly for many, many years, and they do that on a regular basis. They are regular visitors to New York.
Q Can I ask about Vietnam? Do you have anything on the visit - - the meeting this afternoon between the Secretary and the Vietnamese Foreign Minister?
MR. BURNS: They will be meeting to review a number of issues since their last meeting in the first week of August in Hanoi, particularly some of the economic issues that are right now front and center in our relationship; our interest in negotiating a trade agreement between the United States and Vietnam; our interest in promoting American investment and trade in Vietnam; and access for American companies in the Vietnamese market.
Those issues are on the agenda. Also, regional security issues pertaining to Southeast Asia and more broadly to Asia and the Pacific. Those issues are all on the agenda. We have a fledgling relationship. We have now missions set up in Hanoi and Washington. They'll probably take some time to review how that is going.
As you know, we have a very fine Charge d'Affaires, Desaix Anderson, who has taken up residence in Hanoi. We're building up our mission there because of the importance of Vietnam to us, and you will have an opportunity in just about 40 minutes from now, to pose some questions to the Secretary about this relationship. He's going to be meeting the press with the Minister at the top of the meeting.
Q What are the security issues in that region?
MR. BURNS: Security issues -- certainly, the Spratlys is one of the big security issues; certainly, the desire of the United States to maintain a military presence in Asia; to maintain free access for our commercial and military shipping in the Pacific and South China Sea, to be specific. Those are important issues, and lots of other issues.
We've talked to the Vietnamese about the situation in North Korea. We have talked about the situation in China. There are a lot of issues to discuss between these two countries.
Q And the exchange of Ambassadors is still pending?
MR. BURNS: Yes. The President has not yet nominated someone to become our Ambassador to Vietnam, but I'm sure that will occur some time in the future.
Q Nick, did you expect some discussion about U.S. use of Cam Ranh Bay?
MR. BURNS: There wasn't any discussion of that when we were in Vietnam in August. I don't believe that's on the agenda for today's meeting.
Q Nick, do you have anything on the Secretary's meeting with the Cambodian Foreign Minister?
MR. BURNS: Yes, I do. The Secretary met with the Foreign Minister of Cambodia, Ung Huot, this morning. The Secretary expressed his appreciation for the hospitality that he enjoyed during his visit in early August to Phnom Penh, which, as you know, was the first visit in over 40 years by an American Secretary of State to that country.
He expressed our very deep regret and condemnation of the September 30 grenade attack on members of the Bhuddist Liberal Democratic Party in Phnom Penh. He expressed sympathy for the victims and the hope for the prompt arrest and prosecution of those responsible for this crime.
The Secretary also reiterated the American commitment to support Cambodia's progress towards democracy and towards economic reform and development. The Minister said that the Cambodian Government was committed to a democratic path, human rights for the long-suffering people of Cambodia. He called the grenade incident an attack on the basic democratic institutions of Cambodia. He said his government was determined to prosecute those responsible.
The Secretary finally welcomed the passage by the House of Representatives of Most-Favored-Nation status for Cambodia. He expressed the hope that the Senate would take up MFN soon. He noted that passage of MFN would boost foreign investment, specifically American foreign investment and trade with Cambodia.
Q Nick, Amnesty International said this morning that Cambodia ought to better protect the political parties there. Did the Secretary agree with that? Did that come up -- that particular aspect related to the grenade attack come up?
MR. BURNS: Better protect the rights for political --
Q The political -- opposition political parties.
MR. BURNS: -- expression, that kind of thing?
Q No political parties in particular.
MR. BURNS: Political parties. I have not seen the Amnesty International report. I don't know if the Secretary raised that particular issue. The general issue of freedom of expression was certainly raised by the Secretary and others during our trip to Phnom Penh in August.
Q Was the Secretary supposed to have met with these two Foreign Ministers last week in New York, but it didn't happen because the Secretary unexpectedly had to be here?
MR. BURNS: He had full schedules on Thursday and Friday planned for New York, and then, of course, had to reschedule those meetings -- I do think these were two of them -- because of the Middle East signing, yes.
Q Nick, if I could go back to Vietnam for a second. Two issues you didn't mention -- maybe just failed to mention -- were human rights and POW/MIA issues. You said economics are now front and center. Has the POW issue been pushed to the back in the last --
MR. BURNS: No, it hasn't. There are a number of POW/MIA cases that are still on the books with Cambodia, and they were reviewed in detail -- I'm sorry, I was thinking of both Cambodia and Vietnam -- with Cambodia, they were reviewed in detail when we were in Phnom Penh in August.
It was the major issue in our trip to Hanoi in August, and, of course, it will be on the agenda this afternoon. Thanks for reminding me.
Q I meant, though -- right.
MR. BURNS: Yes. It will be discussed this afternoon. It always is in each of our meetings with the Vietnamese.
MR. BURNS: I don't know what the length and breadth of the agenda is, but I'll be glad to try to get a readout after the meeting to see which issues were and were not raised.
Q Well, it is interesting that you omitted mention of MIAs and POWs when you were discussing what was going to happen in the meeting with Vietnamese Foreign Minister. Was that inadvertent?
MR. BURNS: It was certainly inadvertent; it's totally my responsibility. I'm sure that the Secretary has every intention to raise that issue -- the POW/MIA issue -- with the Vietnamese.
Q Nick, it wasn't on the guidance you were given to look at.
MR. BURNS: As you know, it's not my practice to rely solely on the guidance. Sometimes I just speak, sometimes off the top of my head. In this case, I absolutely should have listed that as one of the issues, because I know in the Secretary's mind it's one of the major issues in the relationship. So this is my responsibility. I stand duly corrected by members of the press corps, and I thank you for bringing it to my attention.
Q In the past, the United States has always said that the POW/MIA issue was the highest national priority, and that such things as business opportunities would take a back seat. Now you've said that business issues were front and center of the issues that the United States will be taking up. Can you just address -- I understand that you were speaking off the top of your head when you omitted the POW issue. Now I'm asking you to address that question of priorities.
MR. BURNS: Let's be a little bit fair here and not insist on beating a dead horse. But, if you want to, I'll go back to this. I was just listing some of the issues. When I said "front and center," did I say that these were the only issues that were front center? Absolutely not.
I have received some recommendations -- some suggestions, reminders -- from two members of the press corps that there was another issue here that is also front and center in the relationship. It is the highest national priority that we have concerning Vietnam, and I'm sorry I failed to mention it the first time around. But I'll be glad to talk about this issue for the next half hour if you'd like.
Q We're trying to get you to address that question --
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q Nick, has the Administration begun consultations with Congress on the trade -- negotiating a trade treaty with Vietnam?
MR. BURNS: Generally what we do, our practice is to let the Congress know that we intend to negotiate an agreement; and when the negotiations are well along, when they begin to take shape, then we usually keep congressional staff apprised of the developments. I don't believe we're very far along with the Vietnamese.
Q Is this going to be a long process, would you expect?
MR. BURNS: It really depends on the particular country. In some cases, in the past couple of years, with some of the new countries in Eastern Europe we've been able to negotiate them very quickly. In other cases, it's taken months, even years. It depends on the ability of the country to meet the requirements that we have for the negotiation of a trade agreement -- bilateral investment treaty, tax treaties. These are kind of the fundamental pillars of an economic relationship, and you need to negotiate the three of them with these countries.
Q Different subject.
MR. BURNS: Certainly.
Q Do you have any comment on the assassination attempt against President Gligorov of FYROM? Also, there are some indications that this has something to do with the agreement between Greece and FYROM. Do you have a comment also on that?
MR. BURNS: On the second part of your question, we have no indications of who may have been behind this attack or what may have caused this attack. Let me be very clear about that.
We understand that President Gligorov was the target of an assassination attempt this morning. We understand a remotely triggered car bomb was detonated as his motorcade passed through the streets of Skopje. It's our understanding that the President survived this attempt. He was conscious after the attack. He has sustained some injuries and is receiving medical care.
The President's driver was killed, and several passersby were injured. We understand from the authorities in Skopje that two or three suspects were apprehended. We don't know the motive for this crime or the affiliation of these suspects -- group affiliation.
We very much condemn in the strongest possible terms this cowardly terrorist attack. We certainly will not allow this crime to deter us from our determination to help the people of the Balkans achieve peace and stability and to help the United States achieve a fully cooperative and strong relationship with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Q Do you want to address the words coming out of Belarus that they still are not responsible for the downing of the balloons?
MR. BURNS: Yes, we do. The statements by President Lukashenko yesterday were absolutely outrageous and indefensible. I think all Americans are outraged by any statement that attempts to deflect responsibility for the killing of two American citizens.
What the President of Belarus said yesterday was that the organizers of the balloon expedition, competition, had not filed proper flight clearances. This is not true. It's not the case. The organizers in Switzerland filed proper flight clearances, they were received properly in Belarus, and they were processed. The fault here is with the authorities of Belarus. It's with people acting under the name of Belarus.
Let's even just assume for a minute that the flight clearances were not filed. Of course, they were filed properly. But even if they were not filed, what possible justification would the Government of Belarus have, would the military of Belarus have for shooting down a balloon in 1995?
There is no justification, and so I think that the Government of Belarus ought to return to the facts of the case and that is that they are responsible for the deaths of two Americans; that they have an obligation to carry out a full investigation of this incident; that they owe the families of these two men an explanation and an apology; that they owe it to the international community to take every precaution to change their procedures, to root out the standard operating procedures from the Soviet era, and to make sure that as people travel through Belarus or travel through the air space of Belarus, they don't have to fear being the object of some Cold War-like incident.
This is an outrageous attempt by the Government of Belarus to deflect responsibility from themselves, and they ought to take that responsibility fully on their own shoulders.
Q Has the U.S. spoken to the President of Belarus since these remarks were made?
MR. BURNS: We just saw these remarks this morning. We have a very good Ambassador in Belarus, and I'm sure that he has already communicated our sense of outrage to the government. I don't know if Ambassador Yalowitz has talked to President Lukashenko today.
Q Was their Ambassador called in here in Washington?
MR. BURNS: I have not talked to Ambassador Yalowitz; but he is at post, and I'm sure that he is doing his duty and is communicating our sense of --
Q The Belarusian Ambassador in Washington. Was he called in?
MR. BURNS: -- outrage to the Belarusian Government. I don't know if Ambassador Martynov was called in to the State Department this morning.
Q Do you see any relationship between these statements and statements also out of Belarus about confederating with Russia?
MR. BURNS: I don't think there's any relationship, because I don't think it's fair to tag the Government of Russia or the people of Russia, for instance, with this kind of outrageous behavior. It's not fair to link this to the people of Belarus. I understand that directly following the shooting down of the balloons, our Embassy switchboard in Minsk was lit up by calls from citizens -- Belarusians saying that they were in horror; that they were apologizing; that they were in opposition to what had happened.
So I think the process of Belarus' relationship with Russia is quite apart from this particular incident.
Q You don't see it as another example of Russia and perhaps now Belarus taking a harder line toward the West over (inaudible).
MR. BURNS: No. Because I can't believe that the Russian Government -- the Russian Government is not capable of issuing statements like this. The Russian Government has shown time and again in its relations with the United States that it has the deepest respect for the relationship; that it has respect for people who travel through Russia, particularly American citizens, and I don't think it's fair to link this to Russia in any way.
Q Like Fred Cuny? Deepest respect? Fred Cuny was traveling through Russia when he met --
MR. BURNS: We don't know what happened to Fred Cuny. He is someone that a lot of us know personally and care very much about. We don't know what happened to him. We're still trying to find out what happened to him. There is no credible report that would tell us what did happen to Fred Cuny.
Q But you're completely satisfied with the Russian behavior -- cooperation and behavior in the Fred Cuny matter?
MR. BURNS: We're satisfied that the Russian Government has cooperated in that case. Your original question was whether or not there was some connection between Belarus' relationship with Russia and the shooting down of the balloon, and there is absolutely no connection whatsoever that I can see.
Q To be exactly precise, my question was, is there a relationship between them coming together and the East taking a harder line toward the West -- these statements about the balloon? That was my question.
MR. BURNS: I don't think so at all. I think that these statements ought to be pinned directly on President Lukashenko, and he ought to reflect on the impact his statements are having in this government and the impact that will have on our relationship with him.
Q Nick, didn't someone from the Department of Transportation go over there after this incident?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q Are they back, and what have they had to say?
MR. BURNS: An official of the National Transportation Safety Board, as well as the FAA -- two people -- traveled to Belarus to take part in this investigation. I don't have a report on what they have concluded from this. But clearly if this is the final word or even the intermediate word from the Government of Belarus, then we are in a very difficult situation indeed with Belarus; and we haven't come to the end of it, because we will continue our efforts to try to convince the Government of Belarus that it has got to convince the international community that people are safe when traveling through their country.
I haven't concluded that. I'm sure you haven't either on the basis of their statements.
Q So you're saying it's not safe to fly over Belarus. Is that --
MR. BURNS: I'm saying that the Government of Belarus has a responsibility to insure the best possible security measures for anybody traveling through Belarus, and they've not convinced us of that. This kind of statement is indicative of a Cold War mentality where countries fail to accept responsibility for their own actions. It's reminiscent of other incidents from the Cold War.
Q Thank you.
Q Nick --
MR. BURNS: Ron, yes.
Q Does the United States now recognize the new authorities in the Comoros Islands?
MR. BURNS: We are not, no. We remain opposed to the coup attempt in the Comoros. We have a very small assistance program -- $375,000. We have suspended it, and we have made very clear privately to these people, the coup leaders, as well as publicly that we oppose what they have done. We would hope to see the government of the Comoros Islands restored to authority and would like to see the country returned to some state of normalcy.
Q You don't accept their pledges that they're going to carry out elections?
MR. BURNS: No. These are mercenaries. These people are mercenaries. These people -- in fact, one of them, the Frenchman, was involved in this type of activity 20 years ago in the developing world. We can't believe what they say. They don't represent the people of the Comoros Islands, not in any way; and so we certainly want to see the present government, which has been felled by a coup, returned to power.
Q Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 2:17 p.m.)
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