U.S. Department of State
96/01/05 Daily Press Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
"Due to the Government furlough, this is an unedited transcript of the daily press briefing."
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, JANUARY 5, 1996, 12:56 P. M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing. Welcome back to Nanda Chitre, who's back from vacation in Boston with a new haircut, a new hair style, which has been much admired this morning by her colleagues in the Bureau of Public Affairs.
I would like to start off with three items of business and then go directly to your questions.
First I'd like to read a statement by Ambassador Dennis Ross. Secretary Christopher and I just had a phone conversation with him, and this statement is being issued on behalf of the Israeli, Syrian and American delegations at the Wye River Conference Centers. The statement reads as follows:
"On behalf of the Israeli, Syrian and American delegations, I want to report that we have concluded our six days of discussions at the Wye Conference Centers. All three delegations believe that the discussions were fruitful, constructive and practical. The discussions were conducted in a positive and open atmosphere.
"A good start was made in developing a general basis for progress on substance and on the procedures for dealing with the main issues to be overcome.
"While there is still a great deal of work to be done and gaps to be bridged, these initial talks at the Wye Conference Centers have been productive, and Secretary Christopher will build on them in his meetings with President Assad and Prime Minister Peres in his upcoming trip to the region."
I'll be glad to take your questions on this in just a minute.
In addition to that, I wanted to let you know that Secretary Christopher has asked Assistant Secretary of State Dick Holbrooke to travel to Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo early next week in advance of the President's trip to that region.
In addition to that, the Secretary is planning his own diplomatic mission to the Balkans in early February, where he'll be visiting Belgrade, Zagreb, Sarajevo and possible other capitals in the region to assess the degree of compliance with the Dayton Accords and to advance implementation of those Accords.
Ambassador Bob Gallucci, who is the American coordinator of the civilian issues, civilian affairs pertaining to Bosnia, will also be leaving this weekend for Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo. He'll be meeting with senior government officials in all of these capitals, as well as with the IFOR commanders in Sarajevo, the members of the High Representatives Office, including Carl Bildt, and also the OSCE Mission in Bosnia.
In these meetings, Ambassador Gallucci will discuss the entire range of issues related to the implementation of the Dayton Accords. This is a very important mission because Ambassador Gallucci has been asked by the Secretary to coordinate all of the U.S. Government efforts -- financial and other -- that would help Carl Bildt and his team implement the civilian side of the Dayton Accords.
Finally, I'd like to read a statement by Secretary Christopher.
"I have learned today that Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev has resigned his post in order to take up the seat he won in the recent elections to the Russian Duma. He now takes up the challenges facing Russia as a democratically elected representative of his people -- legislative challenges comparable to the diplomatic ones he dealt with so ably in his work as Foreign Minister. I wish him well.
"Andrei Kozyrev has been Russia's first and only Foreign Minister in the post-Soviet period. He joined Boris Yeltsin's Russian Republic government in 1990, building an independent foreign policy for the Russian Republic before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thereafter -- after the collapse of the Soviet Union -- he helped President Yeltsin establish the role of the new Russian Federation in the community of nations even as his country began a momentous and difficult transition. In my work with Foreign Minister Kozyrev, I have always found him to be a skilled diplomat and a determined advocate of Russian interests.
"During this period, the United States and Russia have developed a practical, productive relationship that has benefited both our nations and indeed the entire world. We have negotiated groundbreaking arms control treaties, dramatically reducing our nuclear and conventional arsenals and increasing the security of nuclear weapons and materials throughout the New Independent States. We have worked together to establish and maintain peace in Bosnia, and together we helped create the conditions for peace in the Middle East.
"The developing Russian-American relationship has been based on mutual respect, shared interests and our common desire to see Russia transformed into a market democracy that pursues its interests abroad according to international norms. On this same basis, I look forward to continued cooperation with Russia and its next Foreign Minister."
That was a statement by Secretary of State Warren Christopher, which we'll make available to you in writing after the briefing.
The only other thing I'd like to say to all of you very briefly is that we are in Day 21 of the government shutdown. This shutdown continues to affect Department operations, and I can report to you that our backlog of passport applications from American citizens has now exceeded 200,000, and our backlog of visas -- foreigners wishing to come to the United States -- is certainly in the same range, because we normally issue 20-25,000 visas per day, and we're in the 21st day of the shutdown.
The effects of this shutdown continue to be felt here in the Department and in our operations overseas.
George, with that I'll be glad to go to your questions.
Q Could you be more specific about what happened at the Wye Plantation, flesh out a bit in reference to productive talks and so forth?
MR. BURNS: I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to be specific, because I'm going to hold to the line that we've had, which is not to go into the substance of the talks. But, George, I can say based on the conversation that the Secretary and I just had with Dennis Ross, who is still at the Wye Conference Center, that we are very pleased by these six days of talks. We're encouraged by these talks. It's been a very good start, both on the substance -- the progress that was made on substantive issues -- and on the procedural matters which, as you know, are quite important in any negotiations, but particularly in these types of negotiations.
I think the Secretary, when he visited the Wye Conference Center last night, was struck by the very positive tone and atmosphere of these negotiations. As you know, the Secretary went out last night. He had a meeting with Ambassador Ross and his team, and then he had a meeting with the Israeli and Syrian negotiating teams together. Each of them presented to the Secretary their judgment as to how these negotiations have gone, and the Secretary gave his own thoughts.
So as the Secretary looks ahead to his trip next week, when he'll report directly on his own views to President Assad and Prime Minister Peres, I think we can say that since our last trip to the Middle East there has been progress made. The atmosphere is good, and both on procedure and substance we feel that these talks served their purpose.
Now the Secretary, with the Syrian and Israeli leaderships, must decide how to proceed both substantively and procedurally, and I think that will be the heart of the Secretary's trip to Damascus and Jerusalem next week.
Q Nick, what will his intent be, knowing what has been achieved -- even if you can't talk about it -- at Wye, what would the Secretary's intent be in trying to further the talks? There are certain diplomats in this town that say that one agreement from the talks would be a resumption at Wye on the 22nd or thereabout of January.
MR. BURNS: The Secretary, I think, is --
Q Could you confirm the 22nd date in that?
MR. BURNS: No, I cannot confirm that. The Secretary has, I think, stated for you before that our objective is a comprehensive peace agreement. I think you'll notice in the statement that I just read -- that is, Dennis Ross' statement, on behalf of him -- that problems, gaps, differences remain.
These are difficult negotiations. So I think that what we've got to do here, Steve -- what the Secretary will be seized with on his trip -- is to figure out what further substantive progress must be made in order for Israel and Syria to narrow their differences; and, secondly, how do you do that. What kind of talks do you structure. Who's included in those talks. When do you hold them. Where do you hold them.
I think in both substance and procedure, which are often married, the Secretary will be focusing his activities on both of those next week.
Did you have a follow-up, Steve?
Q I just wanted to know, would you -- why you can't confirm the January 22nd talks or where they would be. Would you lead one away from that claim by other diplomats?
MR. BURNS: I really can't speak to that. What I can say is that the Secretary, of course, will have some suggestions to make to Prime Minister Peres and President Assad. He certainly needs to talk to both of them in the region. I'm sure he'll have several discussions with each of them. Then on the basis of those discussions, we'll see where we are next week and what we're able to say. But I cannot confirm that particular report.
Q Do you have any figures on how many people abroad have applied for help from Consular authorities, and what's happening? I know it used to be you had to be dead or dying -- have a dead or dying relative in order to get a passport. But people who get in trouble, who get in jail, which you spoke about earlier this week, what's happening to them?
MR. BURNS: We have decided that during this government shutdown, we will provide emergency passport and visa services -- passport services to Americans, visa services to foreigners -- and other services to Americans overseas -- help in child custody cases, help with jailed Americans, help in cases of extreme illness. Our Consular sections have been doing that.
But the standard here is really life and death. Below that, of course, our Bureau of Consular Affairs, which is led by Assistant Secretary of State Mary Ryan, has been deluged with requests from Americans, and sometimes high-level Americans -- sometimes very well placed Americans in Washington who believe that an exception should be made for them. Her view is that we cannot make exceptions. We've got to be fair to all Americans.
But to give you a couple of examples, in Colombia when the plane crashed a couple of weeks back, we did mobilize every American in the Embassy in Bogota to the crash site to help the families of the many, many Americans who were on board, to help them try to gain an appreciation of what was happening and to identify the remains, unfortunately, of all the Americans that were killed.
Similarly, our Consular Officers in the Middle East were able to help a woman whose children had been abducted and were heading toward a country in the Middle East and to head off her former husband who was doing that. I think that speaks well of people who have a sense of devotion to their duties even though they're not being paid for those duties.
I just want to clear up one thing as well. Yesterday we talked about the fact that there had been a problem in our computer payroll services and several thousand of our employees overseas were going to receive incorrect paychecks. That problem has been resolved, mainly because of the very fine work of some of our employees here in our Financial Services offices and also by our Office of Administration. So I do want to give credit where credit's due. That problem has been overcome.
Chris, does that satisfy your --
Q While we're on Consular Affairs, sort of, where do we stand vis-a-vis the Taiwanese visa?
MR. BURNS: Where we stand is that we are currently and still discussing that issue with Taiwan authorities. I would just note that we have issued such transit visas in the past, and it certainly would not be inconsistent with our unofficial relationship with Taiwan were we to issue one in this case or any other in the future.
So while I don't want to anticipate for you what our decision is going to be, I just wanted to make that clear, and I also wanted to tell you that we continue our discussions about the type of transit that Vice President Li wants to make here. I'm sure that we'll have a decision shortly, and, when we do, we'll be quick to announce it.
Q That sounds like you're tipping us off. I mean, I cannot believe, after what you just said, you're going to turn him down.
MR. BURNS: George, I would never try to tip you off one way or another. (Laughter) I'm shocked that you would say anything like that. In the interest of being very open with the press, I wanted to explain everything that we're thinking about this particular case.
Q Can I follow. There's a notice that the Chinese Foreign Ministry has said that granting this visa would damage Sino-American ties. In what way, Nick? What have we heard from the Foreign Ministry of the PRC on this matter?
MR. BURNS: I don't know that we've heard much beyond the public statements that have been made by the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman over the last two days. I would disagree with that statement. U.S.- China relations is much too important to be affected by the issuance of a transit visa to an individual, if it is issued. An individual would come into an airport, change planes from one part of the airport to another, to go to the inauguration of a Guatemalan President. If that decision is made, it certainly should not affect U.S.-China relations. There's much more at stake here in the U.S.-China relations than the mere issuance of a transit visa, if in fact that is what happens.
Q If I could just follow by making this -- I may have asked this question several months ago. Let me ask it again. Why would our friends in Taiwan want to put us in such a position to have damage to ties with the People's Republic of China, due to their simply wanting to land and refuel?
MR. BURNS: Bill, I don't believe that's the case. We have unofficial relations with Taiwan. We have official relations with Beijing, and we carry on our official relationship, as you would expect, with a great deal of seriousness. I don't believe anyone in Taiwan is trying to impose that kind of problem for us.
Q No, no, I didn't imply that, Nick. I just wondered why --
MR. BURNS: That's how I took the question.
Q -- why they wouldn't have the courtesy to kind of avoid the conflict -- avoid the issue at this time. I'm talking about the Taiwanese.
MR. BURNS: I would just note, Bill, that in the case of transit visas, we have issued several transit visas in the past, including one for this particular individual.
Q Mr. Burns, what is there to discuss about with Taiwan on this visa matter if it has been done in the past?
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
Q I mean, you said you're having current discussions with Taiwan about the visa. You also mentioned the fact that it has been done in the past. If it has been done in the past, to the best of my knowledge the trip is essentially the same as what he did in the past. So what is there to discuss about?
MR. BURNS: Look, I think we have an obligation to satisfy ourselves that we understand exactly what the request is, what it entails in terms of his travel, where he's going. I think we've just taken a couple of days to do that; we haven't taken weeks to do it.
We've just been discussing this ourselves for the last three days here. I'm sure we'll arrive at a quick decision and, when we do, we'll announce it, and I don't think this is going to be a big deal. It should not be a big deal for U.S.-China relations. It should be seen for what it is, if this visa is issued, and that is the mere transit of an authority from Taiwan to the inauguration of a President in this hemisphere.
Q You seem to be saying that during the discussions you want to clarify what he might do, what he might not do while transiting through the United States. Is that -- am I correct?
MR. BURNS: We have some discussions underway through the American Institute in Taiwan, and I don't want to go into the specifics of those discussions, and you'll understand why.
Q For our planning purposes, do you expect a decision to come over the weekend or --
MR. BURNS: In these particular cases -- and you'll remember the last time we went through a slightly different case but a visa case -- it's always hard to predict exactly when this decision will be made. I think it will be made shortly, and, when it is made, we'll be quick to announce it.
Q As far as I can remember, the last time was decided on Friday. You made the announcement on Monday. The story broke over the weekend.
MR. BURNS: We'll just have to see how this unfolds this time. (Laughter) Keep you all in suspense over the weekend. Don't get too comfortable this weekend.
Q Staying in the region, do you have any statement on the resignation of Prime Minister Murayama in Japan?
MR. BURNS: Yes, I do. We, of course, saw the same reports that you did, and we were informed of this through our Embassy in Tokyo that Prime Minister Murayama had announced his intention to resign. We understand his resignation does not take effect until the Diet convenes to elect a successor, and we understand that will probably occur on January 11.
We certainly appreciate Prime Minister Murayama's efforts to further strengthen the U.S.-Japan bilateral relationship during his tenure as head of government. We look forward to working with the new leader elected by the Diet members.
Q Does that do anything to your meeting Wednesday morning in Paris with the Foreign Minister?
MR. BURNS: Yes, I believe that we will not now be having the meeting with Foreign Minister Kono. I think he informed the Secretary this morning he'll have to stay in Japan because of these deliberations, and so therefore there will not be a meeting Wednesday in Paris between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Kono.
Q Will there be a Japanese representative there?
MR. BURNS: I assume the Government of Japan will be represented because the Government of Japan is instrumental in this international effort to try to provide funds for the Palestinian Authority to support their economic reforms, but it won't be Foreign Minister Kono.
Q Mr. Ryutaro Hashimoto, Trade Minister, is likely to become Mr. Murayama's successor. What Mr. Hashimoto has said, American people, so-called top negotiator, recently demonstrated during the automobile negotiation with the United States. Would you say you are pleased or displeased with -- by the prospect of his becoming the next Prime Minister?
MR. BURNS: We certainly will not try to anticipate the decision of the members of the Diet on January 11. We'll let that process unfold. You've asked me specifically, I think, what we think of Mr. Hashimoto. He's a veteran politician. He is a very skilled and tough negotiator. We have a great deal of respect for him. Those senior people in our government who have worked with him have enjoyed their association with him in many ways. They respect him, and they certainly would want to continue that. We all would want to continue that relationship if he were to be the choice, but we can't anticipate that. This is something for the Japanese Diet to decide.
Q Do you have any comment on the British Government decision to remove the Saudi dissident from the country?
MR. BURNS: We've seen those reports. I have no particular comment to make. This doesn't involve the United States. It doesn't involve a citizen of the United States.
Q Will Ambassador Gallucci travel with Ambassador Holbrooke next week?
MR. BURNS: Bob Gallucci is leaving tomorrow morning, and he is taking a small team with him. The emphasis of his trip is to coordinate personally with Carl Bildt the construction of the civilian effort, both the international police training force, assistance to refugees, observance and monitoring of human rights; the important issue that we've dealt with this week on freedom of movement of civilians that ended happily at least for the 16 people who had been unjustly abducted by the Bosnian Serbs.
So all these issues are on the table. He's going to spend a great deal of time working through how the international effort there can build up very, very quickly now, so it can reach the level of intensity that the military, the IFOR mission, has already put into play. Then he'll be traveling, as I said, to some of the capitals in the region for particular discussions.
They may meet up, but they really are separate trips. Dick Holbrooke's trip is designed to advance in part the President's visit to the region.
Q You mentioned the Secretary going there in early February, and you mentioned the three capitals.
MR. BURNS: That's right.
Q And perhaps other stops.
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q Will those be to other European capitals?
MR. BURNS: The Secretary wants to make a trip to the Balkans, specifically to the three capitals that I mentioned -- Sarajevo, Belgrade and Zagreb -- but probably to some other points in that region, in the Balkans, in order to have a comprehensive set of diplomatic exchanges with the leaders in the area so that we can assure ourselves that the Dayton Accords are being implemented, as they should be implemented; that we deal with any problems that have arisen by early February, just about a month from now; and that we think through the challenges that are going to come down the road this summer and next autumn as IFOR begins to pull out next autumn, and as a civilian implementation force becomes that much more important in ensuring a Bosnian peace agreement.
So this trip that the Secretary will make will be quite different from the one you saw, for instance, Secretary Perry made, which was focused on the military issues. The Secretary will focus on the diplomatic and political side of the equation.
Q Might he go to places like Turkey and Greece?
MR. BURNS: He hasn't made any decisions on that. He has specifically decided to travel to the Balkans. Whether he goes outside the Balkans just remains to be seen at this point.
Q What are the destinations of Holbrooke's travel then, if this is preparation for the Secretary?
MR. BURNS: He's going to Belgrade, he's going to Sarajevo, and he's going to Zagreb.
Q Is the President planning to go to those capitals?
MR. BURNS: The President's trip was announced by Mike McCurry in very specific terms, and I would just leave it to Mike to characterize the President's trip.
Q If I can ask, is the situation in Macedonia considered so routine now that, despite the presence of American troops there, it's not necessary for him to stop there?
MR. BURNS: For Dick Holbrooke?
MR. BURNS: I think Dick Holbrooke has had a longstanding personal as well as professional interest in Macedonia, and he was there in September and made an important contribution to diplomacy between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at the time. Whether he has time to go this week in advance of the President, I just don't know. But the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia remains a large concern for us, and we'll continue to give it the concern that -- the importance that it certainly deserves.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURNS: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 1:20 p.m.)
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