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U.S. Department of State 
95/12/08 Daily Press Briefing 
Office of the Spokesman 
 
 
 
                  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE 
                     DAILY PRESS BRIEFING 
 
                         I N D E X  
 
                  Friday, December 8, 1995 
 
 
                               Briefer:  Nicholas Burns 
 
DEPARTMENT--Announcements 
Secretary Christopher's Travel to Paris .................1-2 
President/Secretary Mtg w/Angolan President Dos Santos ..1 
Secretary's Discussions with Congress re: IFOR ..........1 
Secretary's Meeting with Israeli ForMin Peres ...........1 
Public Affairs' Christmas Party .........................1-2 
Secretary's Additional Travel ...........................2-3 
 
PEACE PROCESS 
Israeli-Syrian Track ....................................2 
Amb Dennis Ross' Schedule ...............................2 
 
FORMER YUGOSLAVIA 
Congressional Support for IFOR ..........................3 
--Legal/Constitutional Necessity ........................3-4 
--Morale of Troops ......................................4 
Treating the Bosnian Serbs Even-Handedly ................4-6 
Holbrooke to Discuss Ivica Rajic with Croatian Govt. ....10 
 
NORTHERN IRELAND 
IRA Statement on Arms Issue .............................6 
Decommissioning .........................................6-7 
 
MIDDLE EAST 
Seizure of Missile Parts on Jordanian/Iraqi Border ......7-8 
--Amb Ekeus Report to UN re: Seizure ....................8 
 
KOREA 
Investigation of Former President Roh Tae Woo ...........8 
 
DEPARTMENT 
Senate Authorization Bill ...............................9-10 
--Ambassadorial Nominations Proceeding ..................9 
 
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC 
SEANWFZ Draft Treaty ....................................10 
--U.S. Signing of Treaty ................................11 
--U.S. Required Modifications ...........................11-13 
--U.S. Support Desirable/Required .......................13 
--Countries Involved ....................................14 
 
MOROCCO 
Repatriation of POWs ....................................14-16 
 
RUSSIA 
Submarine Shadowing U.S. Fleet ..........................16-18 
Amb Pickering Statement re: Kurils ......................16-17 
Russian Troops in Bosnia ................................16-18 
Yeltsin's Health ........................................18 

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #178

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 8, 1995, 1:07 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I have a couple of announcements, and then I'll be glad to go to your questions.

Secretary Christopher intends to travel to Paris on Wednesday, December 13, for discussions prior to the signing of the Dayton Accords. He'll be joining President Clinton for the signing of the Dayton Accords on Thursday, December 14. There will be a sign-up sheet in the Press Office following the briefing for those of you who would like to accompany Secretary Christopher on Wednesday to Paris.

Secondly, the Secretary joined President Clinton today for his meeting with the Angolan President, Jose Eduardo dos Santos. I believe the White House will have a statement for you on the substance of that meeting when it concludes in about a half hour's time.

The Secretary has also been conducting a number of discussions by phone and in person with members of Congress, with both Senators and members of the House of Representatives, about the deployment of American forces as part of the NATO contingent in Bosnia. He'll be continuing those discussions for the next several days leading up to his departure from Washington for Paris in the middle of next week.

As you know, the Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, will be in Washington early next week. The Secretary intends to meet him; have a bilateral meeting on Monday morning. Following that, the Secretary will, of course, join the President for the President's meeting with Prime Minister Peres.

The most important announcement I have for you today is that the Bureau of Public Affairs would like to invite all of you to our Christmas party on December 21, from 2:30 to 5:00 in Room 6800 which is not too far from here. You're all most welcome, and we'll get around a circular to remind you of this as the date approaches.

Q Is this being nationally televised?

MR. BURNS: The PA Christmas party? Yes, reporters from all over the country are welcome. If they want to come in from California or if they want to come in from overseas, they're most welcome. Most welcome.

Q What are you serving?

MR. BURNS: We haven't decided that yet, Sid. Something appropriate for the occasion, though.

Q Nick, is Jesse Helms invited?

MR. BURNS: We'll be very glad to invite whoever is interested in coming, yes. He'd be most welcome.

Q Is the Secretary's plane actually leaving Wednesday morning, not Tuesday night?

MR. BURNS: Yes, he'll be leaving Wednesday morning; that's right.

Q Nick, you're not mentioning a coming-back time. That has to do with the meeting on Monday with Peres as to whether he goes on to other cities?

MR. BURNS: As you know, Betsy, the Secretary has been following events in the Middle East quite closely. Ambassador Dennis Ross returned to Washington early this morning and will be meeting with the Secretary later today.

The Secretary needs to have a conversation with him and also meet Prime Minister Peres before he can make any decisions on the next steps in U.S. policy or any U.S. initiatives on the Syrian-Israeli track.

Q On that topic, on the substance, would the U.S. consider offering Israel a formal security guarantee in exchange for making peace with Syria?

MR. BURNS: I think it's just getting ahead of the game. The fact is, as you know, there have been a number of important conversations that have taken place over the last couple of weeks. Our hope is that the Syrian-Israeli track can be reinvigorated; that there can be movement towards peace. That's our objective.

Dennis Ross has been in the region twice over the last couple of weeks. The first time, to have discussions with the Israeli Government. But during this past week, he was in both Damascus and in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as well as other places. He had a good set of discussions there.

Sid, let him report to the Secretary on what he saw and what he heard, and then the Secretary and the President and others will have to confer to see what the next steps are in U.S. policy. I think it's really just getting ahead of the game a little bit, to answer that particular question.

Q Nick, on the Secretary's conversations --

Q You wouldn't rule it out?

MR. BURNS: I just don't have any particular comment on it today for you.

Q On the Secretary's conversations with members of Congress on the issue of Bosnia, he sidestepped the question here, but I'd like to ask you. What difference at this point does Congressional support make?

MR. BURNS: We've said from the beginning of this national debate that we've been having for the past few months that we think it's important that the Congress offer an expression of support. It's important to the troops who are now arriving as part of the enabling force and who will arrive in great numbers next week and the week thereafter.

It's important to the Administration. For 50 years now, we have had pretty much a bipartisan consensus in this country on what are American interests overseas, how should the United States properly engage and lead overseas? We think, as the Secretary told you this morning, this is an instance where the United States must lead.

So I think, Jim, I'd say it's very important that Congress offer this support. But I think you know that the Administration is determined to press ahead with the deployment. That has begun and that will not be stopped.

Q So then the Congressional support would be moral, or for purposes of political solidarity rather than legal or constitutional requirements?

MR. BURNS: It's important that Americans unite and support our troops when our troops are deployed overseas in a situation like this which, of course, contains some risks to them.

It's important, we think, to try to achieve a bipartisan consensus when we think American interests are at stake. The Secretary's message to you and to others this morning was that those interests are at stake.

It's important that there be some kind of consensus that the United States is a leader in the world. We are not a country that can sit back on our own continent and ignore what happens in Europe where America has many vital national interests.

So for all those reasons, we think it's important to pursue a Congressional resolution. That's one of the reasons why the Secretary decided not to participate in the very important conference taking place today and tomorrow in London. He felt his presence was needed here in Washington to continue to work with members of Congress.

Q A follow-up. You said in your first answer to Jim that it was important to the troops to have that Congressional resolution in hand. Is the reverse true, that lack of such a resolution might undermine troop morale?

MR. BURNS: We have here 20,000 American men and women who are trained professional soldiers. They will do their job no matter what happens. That's what we expect of them and that's what they expect of themselves.

So the soldiers will do their job. But it really is incumbent upon those of us back here to give them our support. The President is giving them his support. He said he is taking personal responsibility for the deployment and for their welfare. We think it's appropriate that Congress stand up and support the troops as well.

Q Nick, I just caught on CNN Richard Holbrooke in Sarajevo making a statement. I believe, if I quote this correctly, he said that the problem with the Bosnian Serbs in the suburbs of the Sarajevo was they do not understand the Dayton peace agreement.

I would go a little further to say that perhaps the Bosnian Serbs do not understand our lack neutrality. As the Secretary said, in answer to my question earlier, they do not understand why we would even talk about building up the Muslim armed forces, training them and providing them arms.

Nick, how does NATO get across to the Bosnian Serbs that we are going to be evenhanded, as Perry said yesterday?

MR. BURNS: We very much agree with Secretary Perry's comments. The fact is, the United States has not been neutral in this conflict over the past four years. We know who the aggressor has been. We know who has been responsible for the atrocities.

But as we deploy American troops and NATO troops, we surely must be evenhanded in how we help to implement the Dayton accords. That means that the ethnic rights of all groups, including the Bosnian Serbs, must be respected, and that the international community and the international organizations have a role to play in that -- the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee for the Red Cross.

In London, today and tomorrow, we'll be discussing with our allies how we can form an international consensus to help all segments of the population in Bosnia.

Assistant Secretary Holbrooke had a very successful trip to Sarajevo. As you know, in the press commentary following his meeting with Dr. Izetbegovic, the Bosnian Government has said once again that the Bosnian Serb population in and around Sarajevo and, indeed, throughout the country, should remain in their homes; that their rights will be protected. That's a very important assurance from the President of Bosnia. We understand that those assurances will be repeated in the coming days and weeks.

Also, Assistant Secretary Holbrooke raised the issue of the Mujahidin. He received a very clear -- very clear -- statement of commitment from the Bosnian Government that they will adhere to the Dayton accords, specifically 1(a) -- the military annex -- which calls for the departure of all foreign forces -- paramilitary and otherwise -- within 30 days. That was a very welcome statement from the Bosnian Government this morning.

Q Has Mr. Holbrooke received any assurances or any feedback, for that matter, from the Bosnian Serb leadership in the suburbs of Sarajevo as to how his visit is being received and as to whether he's getting his message across?

MR. BURNS: He did not have meetings. He did not travel to Pale. He did not meet with Bosnian Serb leaders. He's heading onto Zagreb and to Belgrade for further talks.

Q About the same subject. Everybody is forgetting that the Serbs are the aggressor and the butcher of the Muslims and pushing to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Some of the Serbian groups, they entered Bosnia-Herzegovina and killed the civilian people. Now they are based inside of Serbia -- in Milosevic's places. Is the agreement a cover this groups -- putting a trial or to judgment?

MR. BURNS: The United States has not forgotten who is responsible for this war. About two minutes ago I reiterated our long-standing policy, that we have not been neutral in the way we perceive this conflict and understand it. We know who the victims have been -- the Muslims, the Bosnian Government. We know who the aggressors have been - - the Bosnian Serbs. So that's very clear.

But as we deploy, we have a responsibility to be evenhanded to all sides. Three Presidents signed these agreements. All of them made commitments, all of them made very difficult compromises.

We, as the principal international body -- NATO -- that will implement these agreements have a responsibility to see they're carried out in full. That's what Secretary Christopher meant when he talked about the need to be sensitive to the concerns of all the ethnic groups, including the Bosnian Serbs.

Anymore on Bosnia before we go to a new subject?

Q There's been a kind of an angry exchange between the IRA and Prime Minister Major over the past 24 hours. Do you have anything to say about that?

MR. BURNS: All I would say on that is that I think the IRA statement, as I understood it at least today, reiterated its previous position on the arms issue. On the decommissioning of weapons, President Clinton has said that the parties observing the cease-fire must take the next step and begin to discuss serious decommissioning.

We have made this clear to both Sinn Fein and to the Loyalists that we expect movement on this issue. As we saw during the President's visit to Britain and to Northern Ireland and to the Republic of Ireland last week, there's enormous support for the peace process among both Protestants and Catholics. It was encouraging to see that support.

As you know, Senator George Mitchell is working to implement the mandate accorded to the international body by both the British and the Irish Governments. He will be meeting in New York this weekend with other members of the international body to discuss this work, and he and his colleagues plan to travel to the region for their initial investigations shortly -- I believe next week.

The United States continues to urge all parties to cooperate with the decommissioning body and its work. We believe in the twin-track process. We think it has promise, and we think all sides should continue to be committed to it.

Q But, Nick, what do you make of the fact that after the President's trip, after he made a personal appeal and put his personal capital on the line there, that the IRA comes out with a statement and says, "Forget it. We're not going to give up our arms."

MR. BURNS: I think, Carol, what I would say is, it's difficult. This is a conflict that has raged for decades, if not more -- a conflict that has been very bloody. It will not be easily resolved.

I think what was encouraging about the President's trip was to see the enormous number of people who turned out for his public appearances, for his speeches, and the very clear support that average people -- Protestants and Catholics -- gave to this process.

Now the political leaders on both sides have to commit themselves to this process. It won't be easy. It may be a process where movement is made, and then there are some retractions and then additional movement is made. We need to remain calm. We're not going to overreact to public statements. We need to keep ourselves focused on the objective, which is peace.

President Clinton is personally dedicated to this, as is Secretary Christopher, as is the U.S. Government, and we'll continue to work with all sides and particularly with the Governments of the United Kingdom and of Ireland for progress.

Q Have any U.S. officials talked to the IRA since they issued this statement to try to get a clearer handle on what their motivation is?

MR. BURNS: These statements, as I understand it, were just made a few hours ago. I don't know if our Embassy officials in the area have had a chance to discuss the statements made by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness this morning, or statements made on the Unionist side, and I'll just have to take that question, Carol, and try to get back to you.

Q Another subject?

MR. BURNS: Yes.

Q Middle East. The seizure of missile parts at the Jordanian border going into Iraq or coming the other way -- I'm not sure which -- did the U.S. play a role in helping the Jordanians uncover this illegal shipment?

MR. BURNS: I really can't comment on that, except to say that we're gratified that the Government of Jordan has taken an active and positive role in helping to stop the flow of contraband, especially weapons-related contraband, to Iraq.

As for the particular event reported in the press this morning, I have no further information on the nature of what was seized -- on the types of weaponry that were seized, nor on the methods that were employed to seize them.

This was a Jordanian operation, and I would just refer you to the Jordanian Government. I certainly respect the right of the Jordanian Government to decide what type of information it wants to disclose on this.

I would expect that Ambassador Ekeus would report on the issue of the smuggling of weapons and dual-use technology by Iraq in his report to the U.N. Security Council, which I believe is due on the 15th of December -- next Friday.

Q Would this incident be something that might rightfully be included in that report?

MR. BURNS: He certainly will be discussing this issue. Whether or not this particular incident is included in his report to the U.N. Security Council, I just can't predict.

Q I mean, is that the topic under which this incident would be filed?

MR. BURNS: Yes, the fact is, as you know, there are international restrictions on trade to Iraq, and certainly anyone trying to smuggle weapons into Iraq is in violation of the United Nations restriction and United Nations resolutions.

It's the clear will of the international community that Iraq continues to be isolated because of its absolutely outrageous behavior towards its neighbors and towards its own population.

Q Do you have any idea what kind of weapons they were trying to --

MR. BURNS: No, I do not. I don't have any information available to me that takes me beyond the general description that appeared in the press this morning.

Q Will the U.S. Government support the South Korean investigation of former President Roh Tae Woo and (inaudible) regarding to the suspicious keeping money from General Dynamics?

MR. BURNS: Was the verb, "will we support"? Was that what you asked?

Q Support or going to help --

MR. BURNS: We obviously, as a friend of the Republic of Korea have been watching the events closely. Our Embassy, of course, has been following the events in Korea, but I don't think it's appropriate for us to comment on those events, because they're clearly domestic. They have to do with the political life of the country and the activities of a number of officials, and it just isn't appropriate for me to comment on that.

Q How about suspicious kick-back money given by the General Dynamics to President Roh and his staff regarding purchases of F-16 (inaudible)?

MR. BURNS: I have no comment on that.

Q Nick, do you have any comment on Senator Helms' agreement to proceed with the ambassadorial nominations and confirmations, including Senator Sasser's post in Beijing?

MR. BURNS: That was good news, wasn't it, this morning to read in the paper that there has been some progress last night? We're very pleased that the Senate announced agreement on a series of related actions which should help promote important international interests of the United States.

This, we hope, means that our pending ambassadorial nominees, including, as you mentioned, Senator Sasser, will be approved next week, and that progress will be made expeditiously on START II and on the Chemical Weapons Convention. It's a hopeful sign that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will resume normal business.

We very much appreciate the work that has been done on the Senate version of the authorization bill, including especially the work of Chairman Helms and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts -- their work to narrow the differences on difficult issues related to how the foreign affairs agencies should be organized and the resources needed to protect our international interests overseas.

I think what we need to do now -- now that there's been general agreement -- is to wait and see the specific action that is taken early next week, we hope -- to make sure that the action is taken formally by the committee to approve, ratify -- confirm -- excuse me -- the nomination of the Ambassadors and to address the issue of START II.

It's a very hopeful sign. We just now need to wait for the specific action to be taken by the committee early next week.

Q Is Ambassador Holbrooke going to bring up the case of Ivica Rajic with the Croatian Government to see if he can be recaptured and maybe turned over to The Hague?

MR. BURNS: That's a case that we have a lot of concerns about. It is the direct responsibility of authorities who believe they have in their detention an indicted war criminal, to turn those war criminals over to the Tribunal in The Hague.

Those who were in possession of this individual are being reminded of that today, and, of course, that will be a subject of ongoing concern in our discussions with all the authorities -- the Bosnian Croat authorities and the Croatian Government as well.

Q Nick, ASEAN leaders are expected to meet next week and sign a Southeast Asian Nuclear Free Zone Treaty in Bangkok. What does the U.S. think about this, and will it sign the protocol?

MR. BURNS: The United States has stated that it is prepared to consider positively a Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, provided that that zone conforms to our longstanding criteria for supporting such zones.

The draft treaty and protocol initially provided to the United States by ASEAN was insufficient to meet U.S. concerns, as outlined in our longstanding criteria. The United States therefore requested an opportunity to consult with ASEAN in an effort to resolve our concerns about the treaty and about the protocol.

We therefore appreciated ASEAN's invitation to engage in the consultations which took place on November 16 in Jakarta. These consultations were productive. We made some progress in resolving some of our fundamental concerns, both with the treaty and with the protocol.

These consultations did not, however, resolve all of the issues that are of fundamental interest to the United States and to other nuclear weapons states. We still have some serious concerns with some of the provisions of the latest version of the draft treaty and protocol. We have therefore urged ASEAN to continue to work with us to modify the treaty and the protocol in a manner that would permit the United States and other nuclear weapons states to support the proposed nuclear-free zone.

Q This is different from the South Pacific nuclear-free zone?

MR. BURNS: This is different. This is the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, yes, that has been proposed by ASEAN.

Q Will the U.S. sign the protocol then?

MR. BURNS: We are not currently prepared to sign it, no. As I said, we have made some progress, but we don't believe that ASEAN has made sufficient modifications to the treaty and the protocol to enable us to agree to this or to sign any agreement. Therefore, we're going to have to continue to negotiate and discuss this issue with ASEAN, and we hope very much that the necessary modifications will be made. If they're not made, we will not be able to support it.

Q Would you be more specific on what the U.S. concerns are?

MR. BURNS: I was afraid you'd ask me that -- afraid for you -- afraid for all of you. (Laughter) And I'll tell you why. I have been strictly instructed by the East Asia Bureau that I should read the following, and it's going to take a little bit of time. I don't want to give an incomplete answer. I don't want to mislead one, and I know they're watching me up in the East Asia Bureau right now. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to read the following U.S. Criteria for Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. The fact is that ASEAN has not yet made the modifications that would satisfy all these requirements. Are you ready?

"The initiative for the creation of the zone should come from the states in the region concerned.

"All states whose participation is deemed important should participate in the zone.

"The zone arrangement should provide for adequate verification of compliance with its provisions.

"The establishment of the zone should not disturb existing security arrangements to the detriment of regional and international security or otherwise abridge the inherent right of individual or collective self- defense guaranteed in the United Nations Charter.

"The zone arrangement should effectively prohibit its parties from developing or otherwise possessing any nuclear device, for whatever purpose.

"The establishment of the zone should not affect the existing rights of its parties under international law to grant or deny other states transit privileges within their respective land territory, internal waters and air space to nuclear-powered and nuclear-capable ships and aircraft of non-party nations, including port calls and overflights.

"The zone arrangement should not seek to impose restrictions on the exercise of rights that are recognized under international law, particularly the high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight, the right of innocent passage of territorial and archipelagic seas, the right of transit passage of international straits, and the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage of archipelagic waters."

These are the criteria that have been made available to the ASEAN members. The United States and other nuclear weapons states have said that all these criteria are important. If the proposed treaty and protocol can meet all the criteria, then we'd be in a position to support it. But the fact is, unfortunately, that the present text does not meet all the criteria. So we have these discussions underway to try to convince ASEAN that if our support is desired, they need to have more movement towards fulfillment of these criteria.

Q Criteria number 6 is that the U.S. will not sign the protocol because U.S. nuclear-powered ships want to go through ASEAN waters.

MR. BURNS: True. That is true. Nuclear-powered ships and American military vessels -- naval vessels -- do transit through those waters. That's a very important concern. We are a naval power. We are a Pacific power. The basis of our power, at least in part, is our military strength, and the right of passage and other issues are very important.

But I have been specifically asked to tell you that all of these criteria are important. I just want to make sure that I was doing my humble best to meet the concerns of all of my masters in this building. (Laughter)

Q Is it fair to say that the United States has set up so many conditions that it will be effectively impossible for there to be --

MR. BURNS: No, not at all. The purpose of this little exercise was not to do that. It was not to try to set up some impossibly -- some Olympian obstacles. The purpose was to be comprehensive. We didn't want to mislead anybody here that there are one or two criteria that had to be satisfied. In fact, there are many.

But if you listened -- I mean, you did listen to these criteria -- the United States needs to be assured that we can continue to have the rights that we deserve under international law. It's true not only of us but to other nuclear states around the world.

We have made very clear which of these criteria are not being met. I'd prefer to keep that discussion private for now, because keeping it private might enhance our chances to be successful.

Q But the United States is not a Southeast Asian nation, so why is U.S. support either desirable or required?

MR. BURNS: We are a partner of ASEAN. Secretary Christopher attends a meeting with his ASEAN colleagues every year. He was in Brunei for that meeting this past July and August. We are a Pacific nation, and the United States is important to the other nations of Asia, and we want to have a partnership with them. We want to get along with them.

If they would like to proceed with this nuclear-free zone, we would like to see if we can help support this, but it has to be certainly on conditions that we think are consistent with our national security interests. We have very important -- I would say clearly vital -- national security interests in the Pacific pertaining to American naval power and other American interests there.

Q This is open to signature to how many countries? All countries or --

MR. BURNS: I don't know the answer to that question, George. I know that the ASEAN countries are debating this, discussing this right now, and they have invited the United States and some other countries to have a dialogue with them on this issue. I just don't know what the breadth of that is -- how many other countries are involved.

Bill. Still on --

Q Any more? Go ahead.

Q Is China going to be a signatory to this?

MR. BURNS: I don't know. I can check into that for you. We're not the sponsoring body here. We've been invited to participate. That's why --

Q Well, the first or second of those criteria referred to -- all countries in the region must be a party to it. Can you tell us which countries are not?

MR. BURNS: I can't answer that question. The initiative for the creation of the zone should come from the states in the region concerned.

Q The next one --

MR. BURNS: But I don't know how to define "these states" for you - - whether it's the states of ASEAN or whether it encompasses states beyond ASEAN. That's a good question, and those of you listening up in the East Asia Bureau who have given me this very long list, I think we should take that question and answer it for Judd. Don't you think that's fair?

Q That's fair.

Q These criteria have already been made known to ASEAN, right?

MR. BURNS: Oh, yes. These criteria have been made known to ASEAN. They're very well aware of our specific concerns. I think at this point it behooves us to keep this discussion private, though, rather than get into which of these criteria are not being met.

Q Where did you say the November 16th discussion was?

MR. BURNS: Jakarta.

Q And there's one coming up as well?

MR. BURNS: We will be having additional discussions. I wasn't given the information about where those discussions would be and when they would be. There's been some progress. We're gratified by that, but we still haven't made all the progress we need to have satisfaction.

Q Nick, on a different subject. Do you know anything about this rather bizarre story involving western Morocco and some prisoners of war who were rescued in a semi-covert operation by the United States in Argentina?

MR. BURNS: This was a very interesting story in the New York Times this morning. I have a little bit of information, not a lot.

I can confirm that the United States participated in a humanitarian operation to repatriate 185 elderly and infirm Moroccan citizens from a camp in Algeria.

As the article in the Times this morning indicated, the Government of Argentina played an integral role in this effort and the mission was conducted under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

I would note that the operation had the full cooperation and support of all the regional parties, including King Hassan, II of Morocco. I believe this story highlights the important work that American diplomats are carrying out around the world, often in conditions of adversity and personal danger; and the efforts of dedicated professionals like Rick Inderfurth, our Ambassador at the United Nations -- our Deputy Ambassador at the United Nations -- reinforce America's leadership around the world. I think it speaks very well of him personally and very well of American diplomats, in general.

We'd like to express our appreciation for Argentina's Permanent Representative, Mr. Cardenas, for his tireless efforts in this regard.

Q Can you explain why it was necessary to make it semi-covert, basically, without any formal contacts with the various governments involved?

MR. BURNS: I can't go into great detail, as you will understand, about how this mission was conducted. I can say that I think it was conducted in secret and in advance because we felt that the success of the mission would be best insured by keeping it private and keeping it secret until the mission was carried out.

Having carried out the mission, having rescued 185 innocent people -- elderly people -- we believe it was appropriate to now disclose the incident.

Q Did the Algerian Government play a role, a positive role, or any kind of role?

MR. BURNS: I can't say, Bill. I can't say that it did.

Q The question referred to Western Sahara, your answer didn't make reference to it. Are these citizens of Western Sahara?

MR. BURNS: I believe they're people who have been in Western Sahara. You know pretty much about the status of Western Sahara and the dispute over the last 20 years since the Spaniards left about the status of Western Sahara. The Moroccans have had a great interest in that; the Mauritanians have. There's been a U.N. mission there, and it's been an issue of some dispute in the international community.

Q Does the U.S. take a position on that dispute?

MR. BURNS: The United States supports the efforts of the United Nations in Western Sahara to resolve this dispute amicably. Certainly, to resolve the dispute among the residents of Western Sahara who are divided, and the dispute concerning a number of the neighboring states, including Morocco and Mauritania and others.

Q Nick, just one detail of this saga. It was a U.S. C-130 that swooped in and picked these guys up? Can you confirm that?

MR. BURNS: I cannot confirm that, but let me take the question and see if we can get additional information. I have sketchy information on it but I'll be glad to try to get more information on it.

Q (Inaudible).

MR. BURNS: Russia. Yes.

Q There are several issues, with military bearing, in relation to us. Let me try to relate two of those to the issue of Russia in the NATO force in Bosnia, Nick.

Russian attack submarines have been shadowing our subs on bases in the Atlantic and Pacific for some time. Just recently, I believe with regard to the Pacific, Ambassador Pickering was censored in a statement he made about the Kurils coming back to the Japanese. I think the Russians took strong exception to that.

From what I understand, in speaking to Pentagon officials today, the deal is not done for Russian troops to be with the U.S. first armored brigade in the Tuzla area. Can you tell us --

MR. BURNS: Lots of questions there, Bill. Let me try to take them in reverse order.

Q Is the deal done?

MR. BURNS: If I can remember them, in a reverse order.

Q Is the deal done? And why are the --

MR. BURNS: The deal is done. On question number three, the deal is done. Secretary Perry and Minister Grachev have worked out an arrangement whereby a Russian brigade will combine its efforts with American troops. They'll work together. They will deploy together. They'll live together. They'll carry out common missions together.

This agreement was reconfirmed by Foreign Minister Kozyrev and Secretary Christopher in their meeting two days ago in Brussels. We have absolutely no doubt that this deal is done.

Q No details need to be worked out?

MR. BURNS: No details that need to be worked out.

Q Really?

MR. BURNS: Question number two -- well, let me just say on that, Bill, there may be some minor details but the political decision has been taken. It's going to happen.

Question number two dealt with Ambassador Pickering, our senior diplomat and American Ambassador to Russia. He made a very clear statement. The statement was to the effect that the northern territories should be returned to Japan. That has been the long- standing position of the United States going many, many, many Administrations.

The United States regularly makes known to the Russian Government - - sometimes at the Presidential level, sometimes at the Ambassadorial level, and even at lower levels -- that the northern territories should be returned to Japan.

Question number one: There have been for 50 years incidents between subs, between naval vessels, all around the world -- between the Soviet Union and the United States, between Russian and the United States. Two and a half years ago, President Clinton and President Yeltsin said publicly together that they hoped to minimize incidents between American and Russian subs and American and Russian naval vessels, in particular.

We still hope very much that that sentiment is shared by both sides. We believe it is. It's certainly shared by the United States, and I'd refer you to the Pentagon -- to Ken Bacon and Mike Doubleday -- for any specific information

on the incident that was alleged to have taken place, the incident reported in this morning's newspaper.

Q Despite these incidences, do you feel that there is goodwill for this mission in NATO between the United States and Russia?

MR. BURNS: Yes, we do. The Russian Government, I think, has demonstrated that it wants to participate in IFOR; that it's in its interest to do so. They've shown goodwill in working out the very difficult command arrangements, and we're looking forward to working with the Russians for the first time since 1945 in an active mission overseas.

Q My question four would be, do we know anything about Yeltsin's health?

MR. BURNS: We wish him well. We know that he's out of the hospital. He is still recuperating. Of course, we have great respect for him and wish him well in his recovery.

Q There was a report this morning that he was not seeing people, having guests?

MR. BURNS: I didn't see that report. But I've seen him on Russian television a number of times over the past couple of weeks.

Q (Inaudible).

MR. BURNS: Well, he's welcome. He and Senator Helms and everyone else are welcome. (Laughter) Thank you.

(Press briefing concluded at 1:44 p.m.)

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