U.S. Department of State 96/01/16 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Tuesday, January 16, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Secretary Christopher's Recent/Upcoming Trips to ME .....1,3-6 Wye Talks--Second Round .................................1 DEPARTMENT Secretary Christopher's Upcoming Trip to Europe .........1 Policy Address at John F. Kennedy School of Gov't. ......1-2 Town Meeting w/Secretary Christopher on January 19 ......2 Effects of Furlough .....................................2-3 Deputy Secretary Talbott Trip to Germany, Belgium .......3 INTERNATIONAL NARCOTICS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT Arrest/Expulsion of Juan Garcia Abrego ..................3,22-23 U.S.-Mexican Cooperation on Drug Trafficking ............23 U.S.-Mexico Border Patrols ..............................23 RUSSIA Conflict in Chechnya ....................................6-9 Gov't. Personnel Departures/Resignations/ Appointments ..9-13 CHINA Reported Restrictions on Flow of Economic Information ...13-14 Ambassador Sasser's Reported Remarks on Human Rights ....14-15 Detention/Interrogation of Assistant USAF Attache .......15-19 Report of Chinese Troop Reduction .......................18 Taiwan/Beijing Relations ................................19-20 TURKEY U.S. Military Assistance to Turkey ......................20-21 Progress on Human Rights Abuses .........................21 GREECE Resignation of PM Papandreou ............................21-22 BANGLADESH Political Crisis/Drug Trafficking .......................23-25 INDIA Report of Deployment of Prithvi Missile .................25 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA Exchange of Prisoners ...................................25-26 Pardew Trip--Equip and Train ............................25 Departure of Foreign Forces .............................26-28 Investigation of Alleged Mass Graves ....................28-29
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, JANUARY 16, 1996, 1:22 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Welcome to the State Department briefing. It's nice to see all of you again after a very long period of time that we didn't meet here.
I have a couple of things to note at the beginning, and then I'll be glad to go to your questions.
First is that Secretary Christopher, of course, is back in the office after his 16th trip to the Middle East. He felt it was a very successful trip. He believes that as a result we have moved the process forward to the second round of Wye talks, which will begin here, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland here in the United States, in January 24.
The Secretary intends to participate actively in these talks as he did before.
He was very glad to see that the Vice President is having an equally successful trip to both Egypt and Israel today. The Vice President, I think, noted the optimism that we have, that we might be able to now move forward towards the completion of an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement in 1996.
The Secretary intends to stay in the United States until his next trip abroad which will be in the first part of February to Europe, where he intends to meet with the new Russian Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Primakov.
As you know, the Secretary will be visiting the Balkans -- Sarajevo, Belgrade, and Zagreb -- in the first part of February. Then he also intends to travel back to the Middle East, back to Jerusalem and to Damascus, for additional discussions on our hope that we might help the parties achieve a peace agreement this year.
On Thursday -- that's two days from now -- Thursday, January 18, the Secretary will be giving a major policy address at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. We'll arrange to have this speech broadcast back here to the Briefing Room. It will also be available on the internal State Department television network, Channel 12.
This is a speech that looks at American foreign policy accomplishments in 1995, and also looks ahead to the challenges and opportunities that the United States has in the world in 1996.
The Secretary and others welcomed back today to the Department, and we welcome back to work all around the world, the 28,000 people who work for the Department of State, the majority of whom have been on furlough since December 15.
The Secretary will hold a Town Meeting in the Dean Acheson Auditorium on Friday morning to personally welcome back everybody in this building who can attend that meeting, and we'll also broadcast that on our channel inside the Department here.
The message to them will be that they are welcomed back. They are valued employees of the State Department. We need them to do all the things that the United States must do around the world to defend our national interests.
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Under Secretary Dick Moose greeted employees this morning at the "C" Street entrance. At the senior staff meeting this morning, the Secretary and Deputy Secretary Talbott urged all of the Assistant Secretaries in the building to personally meet with their employees. We're going to do that this afternoon in the Public Affairs Bureau and talk to them about what happened during the furlough and hopefully talk about all of the initiatives that we all must pursue in the period ahead and talk about our hope that this situation will not be repeated in the future.
The Secretary went to our Consulate General in Jerusalem on Thursday morning and to our Embassy in Tel Aviv on Thursday afternoon to meet our employees, and specifically our foreign national employees, to talk about the effects of the furlough.
As you know, the Department operations will continue at least through January 26 on a Continuing Resolution basis. There is a very, very big backlog of approximately 200,000 passports that our Passport Offices are now trying to deal with. There's an equally, and perhaps greater, backlog in visas all around the world.
The Secretary was very pleased to see in his visit to Embassy Tel Aviv that they have already dealt with the visa backlog in Israel.
We still do not know our final Fiscal Year '96 appropriations level so we are exercising caution in our spending.
I also wanted to note that Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott is departing tonight, January 16, for a visit to Germany and to Belgium. In Bonn, he will be carrying out some consultations -- important consultations -- with the German Government of variety of issues.
He will also meet in Bonn with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Georgiy Mamedov. This is the latest in a series of meetings that he has had with Mr. Mamedov for the past three years.
In Brussels, he'll be meeting with the NATO Secretary General, Secretary General Solana; with his counterpart, Wolfgang Ischinger, of the German Foreign Ministry; and he also will be meeting with Chancellor Kohl's foreign policy advisor, Joachim Bitterlich, in Brussels.
In addition to that, I wanted to just, in a very, very brief way, let you know that we are very pleased by the arrest and expulsion of Juan Garcia Abrego. We think it's a major breakthrough in the struggle against international drug traffickers. His capture is a triumph for the Mexican Government and its efforts to enforce and enhance closer U.S.-Mexican cooperation in anti-narcotics matters.
If you're interested in more of the background as to how Mr. Garcia Abrego came into the custody of the Mexican and U.S. Governments, I'd be very glad to go into that.
With that, Barry, I'll be glad to go to your questions.
Q Go back to your first point which was the Middle East, just to get a measurement of what you mean by "as active as he was before."
The Secretary, as far as I know, in the two weeks of the Wye Plantation, made one three- or four-hour trip up there. I sort of had the impression that he would be up there a little more this go-around. Isn't that what he intends to do, or will it be about as measured as it was last time?
MR. BURNS: We'll see. We're planning five, six, or seven days of talks in this round; certainly, talks on the 24, 25, 26. They'll break for the weekend and then come back on at least Monday and Tuesday. I think that the Secretary and Ambassador Ross have not yet determined how long these talks should go.
I think the Secretary will pay a visit to the Wye Conference Center, certainly in the first couple of days of talks. If it's necessary, I'm sure he'd be glad to go back but he hasn't made any specific plans that far down the road.
Q Let me ask you something about substance. While Vice President Gore was saying the same sort of pleasant things that you folks have been saying, Syrian officials are -- unfortunately, they're unnamed, or unnamed as far as I'm aware of -- were saying that the Israelis continue to be "evasive" in the negotiations.
Would you kindly characterize the Israeli-Syrian -- and we know what you think of your own performance -- would you characterize how the Israelis and Syrians have been approaching negotiations so far? Have they been evasive or positive or neutral or what?
MR. BURNS: Would you like me to elaborate on our performance? Is that you want me to do?
Q I think you're doing a helluva of a job. We've all taken note of that.
MR. BURNS: Good.
Q The State Department's overall -- Christopher's, etc., overall assessment.
MR. BURNS: Sure, sure.
Q Moving ahead. Could you break it down a little bit?
MR. BURNS: I'd be glad to. It has been good to notice, to read in the press, the very good reviews that the Secretary's trip had.
Barry, I'll be glad to go to your specific question. That is to say, we think there is a new atmosphere. The Secretary has spoke about this in his press conference in Damascus on Friday.
We think the new atmosphere has been evidenced by the very good talks that he had with President Assad; the fact that he had a one-on- one meeting; the fact that President Assad brought into the room with him for the first time the Syrian negotiators. There was a very specific, detailed discussion of the substantive issues that are at the heart of the Wye talks.
We have found on both sides -- and this includes certainly the Israeli delegation to Wye but also the talks that we had last week in the region -- very constructive negotiations. They're getting along in the negotiations. They are communicating with each other.
It's very difficult for me to respond to unnamed people in the Syrian press. I think what is more impressive is to read what some of the Syrian newspapers said while we were in the region, which was quite upbeat and not downbeat.
Q I read what they said, too. What they said is that Syria is there to negotiate as long as they have to. But they said they did need a public commitment from Israel that it's prepared to give up all of the Golan Heights -- this is the Editor-in-Chief of that al-Baath newspaper -- not defining, of course, what they mean by "all of the Golan Heights." There are a couple of versions, at least.
So the question really is -- and the Israelis were saying here, at the end of the last round, they didn't have a satisfactory explanation or description from the Syrians what they meant by "peace."
So with all this positive atmospherics that you report, can you tell us, has either side made any statements, made any proposals on those substantive issues that cause optimism as well as the fact that Assad takes notes and the Israelis are eager to negotiate or something? I mean, can you get to substance?
MR. BURNS: As you know, Barry, we've been reluctant to go into substance in detail because it would affect negatively our role as an intermediary, so I'd prefer not to do that.
But I would say, Barry, I think we've seen people on Background, in both Damascus and Jerusalem, urge the other side to do certain things, to say certain things. What's more important than Background comments in the newspaper is what happens in the negotiating room, what the Secretary heard from Prime Minister Peres and President Assad, which was the following: both of them want to proceed with the negotiations; both of them would like to make significant progress leading to a comprehensive peace agreement. Getting there will be extremely difficult. It will entail some very difficult and serious negotiations on the security issues, on the withdrawal issues, and others. But there are lots of issues in play here, and it's been our choice not to go into them in detail.
Q I think you're saying -- and then I'll yield the floor -- I think you're saying that the atmospherics are nice but you haven't heard any changed positions from either side on those two key issues: definition of peace, and extent of withdrawal?
MR. BURNS: Actually, what I'm saying, just so I can speak for myself in this case, what I'm saying is, I choose not to go into a description of the positions of both sides on those two important issues.
Q I understand that.
MR. BURNS: So I wouldn't drawn in qualitative inferences from that.
Q Knowing how far you're likely to go, I didn't ask you to describe their positions. I asked you if they, in their positions on those two issues, had moved at all?
MR. BURNS: I'm not willing to go into that question. I don't want you to infer from that that they have moved or they haven't moved. I don't want to cross the line of beginning to showcase in public what we think the advances or the regressions have been.
All I can say is that all these substantive issues are being discussed, in many cases in a quite detailed way.
Q What's the U.S. assessment of what's happening in Chechnya now? Do you think that Moscow is using too much force with bombers against civilian targets?
MR. BURNS: We have certainly watched the developments in Chechnya -- very tragic developments in Chechnya -- very closely over the past couple of days, and we have a couple of things that we want to say.
First, the United States Government strongly opposes all hostage- taking. The actions by Chechen rebels to take civilian hostages over the past couple of days and, in addition, this morning at a power plant near Grozny -- the action by the Chechen rebels to take hostages is reprehensible. It is terrorism, pure and simple.
The hostage-taking and the Russian military response have unfortunately created dangers of broadening this conflict and intensifying it to the detriment of the civilians in the area.
We call on the Chechen rebels to release their captives immediately. We call on both sides to return to the negotiations to resolve this tragic conflict. We are urging restraint on the Russian Government, as well as on the Chechen fighters. We are urging them to negotiate to end this conflict because we believe there is not a military solution that can be achieved by either side in Chechnya.
We are also calling on both military forces to respect those provisions of international law that protect non-combatants, that protect civilians, because time and again since December 1994 we have seen that civilians are often the victims of this fighting.
We're deeply disturbed by the violence. The longer the violence goes on, the more extreme the positions of the parties seem to be. We have consistently advised the Russian Government and the Chechens that the only way to resolve this conflict is through negotiation. We have encouraged the Russian Government to work with the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. We've urged the Chechens to work with them on ways to mediate the conflict. But nothing that we've seen over the past couple of days gives us any hope right now that either side has really heard that message.
Q Did the Secretary discuss this issue with Primakov when he spoke with him by telephone, and will Strobe Talbott discuss it with Mamedov?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe the subject came up, because the Secretary called simply last Wednesday and very briefly to congratulate Minister Primakov on his appointment as Foreign Minister and to suggest that they get together in Europe in the first part of February to talk about the full range of U.S.-Russian issues.
I'm sure when they get together, Chechnya will come up; and I know that in all high-level U.S.-Russian meetings, including those that the Deputy Secretary will have, we always raise the Chechen conflict. Given what has happened over the last couple of days, this issue is clearly in the forefront of our agenda with the Russians.
Q Nick, the Russians have stated just recently that they favor the annihilation of the Chechen rebels, and you say there's no -- I mean, total annihilation, whatever they may be -- and you say there is no mediation in view, in sight, on this hostage horror.
MR. BURNS: Bill, I've seen that statement from Mr. Zhirinovsky about annihilation. I've not seen it from anybody in the Russian Government. I would just say again that it's our opinion after 14 months of fighting that there is no military solution to this conflict, that the Russian Government cannot hope to resolve a political crisis through the use of force. Neither can we believe the Chechen rebels hope to achieve what they say they want, which is independence, through the use of military force.
In this kind of situation, we believe that ultimately a return to negotiations is the only possible solution, so that's what we've urged.
Q Speaking of annihilation, it appears that there is going to be an annihilation of this surrounded rebel band with their hostages. Do you see any hope of any kind of mitigation by OSCE or anybody else at this point?
MR. BURNS: Bill, obviously, I think everyone watching this wants to see great care taken so that casualties can be minimized. We certainly hope that this particular drama, the one being played out right now today, can be ended in a way that protects as many lives as possible. But it is very bloody. It is very tragic what is happening. I think that all of us have to look at the situation and condemn the taking of hostages by the Chechen rebels. That is contrary to any sense of decency or civility that people should practice in international life.
We also would like to call upon both the Russian Government and the Chechens to do the right thing here, which is to stop the fighting and begin negotiating.
Q At one point the U.S. Government was suggesting that if in fact the Russian military response to Chechnya did not abate, Russia may pay a price in terms of perhaps early inclusion -- formal inclusion in the G-7, G-8.
Is any thought being given to that kind of consequence at this time?
MR. BURNS: Carol, I'm not sure that that particular question is actively on the minds of people this morning, because I think what we are just trying to think about actively is how the OSCE, how the international community can try to play a role in promoting a long-term solution to the conflict.
Any other measures that would be taken in response to this I think would have to be considered after this particular crisis in this particular town is over. But certainly I think that all of us in the United States Government and in governments around the world are simply hoping today, calling upon both sides, to end the fighting. That's our immediate concern.
Q Nick, isn't this an internal matter for the Russian Government to handle as they see fit?
MR. BURNS: We've said quite consistently since mid-December 1994 that Chechnya is part of Russia. There's no question about that. We've also said that when the international community, as in this case, sees things that aren't right, sees the use of force which appears to risk unduly the lives of innocent civilians, we have a responsibility to speak out.
In this particular case, I do want to summarize our points again. I think all of us have to be quite clear that the Chechen rebels deserve severe criticism for the tactics they have deployed, which is taking civilian life and putting that in harm's way -- using women and children as human shields, as they've done, and taking thousands of people hostages.
We would just call upon the Chechen rebels to rethink their tactics, because they're losing support in the international community through their tactics. But equally we call upon the Russian Government to find a way to negotiate with the Chechen rebels and negotiate an end to this conflict, because there is no military solution.
Q Could I just go back to an earlier statement. You were talking about the Russians at the power plant, and it was a little unclear whether they had walked off the job or had been taken hostage. Have you all been able to confirm that the Chechens did in fact take those employees hostage?
MR. BURNS: We don't have absolute confirmation of that. It appears that there is a hostage-like situation, but we don't have as deep an appreciation of it as we do on the other one.
Q Another sort of Russian-related question. Chubais has resigned as Privatization Minister.
MR. BURNS: I have not seen that report.
Q I'd be interested in your reaction to that.
MR. BURNS: Okay. I haven't seen the report, so I --
Q Interfax is reporting.
MR. BURNS: Interfax is reporting it? I have not seen that report. I had not heard of this, so I don't have a reaction right now.
Q How about the news (inaudible).
MR. BURNS: Are you asking for a reaction to Mr. Yegorov's appointment?
MR. BURNS: I don't have a particular reaction on that, no.
Q Nick, in sum total, the departure of Kozyrev, the departure of Chubais today, which did happen, the re-arrival of Yegorov, the departure of Filatov -- does that produce any unease in the State Department as it looks at the Russian Government with the elections coming?
MR. BURNS: As the Secretary said last week, we had worked very, very well and productively with Minister Kozyrev over a great number of years, going all the way back to 1991 when he was the Russian Foreign Minister before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Through his efforts and through the efforts of Secretary Christopher and others, we have been able to establish a very good relationship with the Russian Government. We have noted, Steve, the departure of some people who have been very close to reform, like Mr. Filatov, the former Chief of the Presidential Administration in Moscow.
I think we need to judge this situation on the actions of the Russian Government. Certainly what is at stake for us is stability in our military relationship, is progress on nuclear and conventional military matters, progress on foreign policy cooperation. President Yeltsin remains at the head of the Russian Government. He has established with President Clinton a close working relationship and a foundation that is in the U.S. national interests.
I think, Steve, as we look at all these internal changes, I know that there is a certain fascination with them, and there's a certain propensity maybe to try to draw some conclusions. We'll draw our conclusions through the actions of the Russian Government on Bosnia, on NATO issues, on arms issues like the ratification of START II which remains a very important priority for the first part of 1996.
If the Russian Government can continue its close cooperation with us on those issues, then I think that will be good for both countries; and that remains the proper way, I think, to look at these specific personnel changes.
Q Nick, every example you gave except possibly START does not bear on whether a regime in Moscow is a reformist one or not. Roosevelt cooperated with Stalin. I mean, there was a purpose of it, to defeat Germany.
The examples you've cited can be satisfied with a reactionary regime in Moscow.
MR. BURNS: I disagree. I disagree very much.
Q Well, why don't you speak about reform and whether you see indications that Mr. Yeltsin is backing away from a reformist position politically and economically by the cashiering of all sorts of reformers.
MR. BURNS: I disagree with that for the following reason. I mean, this is an honest debate here, but because I don't think that an authoritarian government -- either the previous Communist government or a right-wing authoritarian government -- would have agreed that Russian and American troops should work together in Bosnia.
The Russian troops began to arrive in the last couple of days in our sector, and they're working, as you know, under the authority of General Nash; and that's going quite well.
I don't think we would have seen, if an autocratic or a totalitarian government were in place, the kind of cooperation in the Contact Group over the course of the last year on Bosnia. I also don't think we would have seen the co-sponsorship of the Middle East peace process in the way that that co-sponsorship has been carried out.
There have been a number of changes -- very dramatic -- not just in economic policy, which is a whole other area we can cite, but in foreign policy that really mark a great difference between the Russian Government and the Soviet Government of the pre-1991 years. We can talk about economic policy where there have been dramatic and wholesale changes in the way the Russian people live, in the creation of a liberal economic system that would have been unthinkable without the role of the reformers. So I do take issue with that.
Q So you don't see in the harsh crackdown in Chechnya and in these personnel changes a more nationalistic approach by the Government of Moscow, or you want to wait and see a little more about what they're doing?
MR. BURNS: I think we have to judge the Russian Government by its actions. That's the only way in the long term, I think, to appropriately judge the performance of a government. The Chechnya operation has been underway for 14 months. During that time, we have seen in fact an advancement, a progression on economic reform. We've also seen during that time an enhancement of Russia's cooperation on the diplomacy of Bosnia but also on the military solution -- the deployment of IFOR and the Russian participation within it -- so I don't think you can draw any conclusions that just because there is a very tragic situation in Chechnya underway that somehow all the views of the Russian Government have changed.
While we certainly have noted the departure of some very well respected reformers like Kozyrev and Filatov, I think you have to judge a situation like this by actions. That's what we'll do.
Any more on Russia before we move on? Steve.
Q Then would you say that the view of the government, for example, on Russian foreign policy and on the economy and privatization, for example, is that those new policies that have taken shape over the past four, five or six years are deeply enough embedded -- have deep enough roots that it doesn't now matter that Kozyrev doesn't run foreign policy and Chubais doesn't run the economy; that those paths will continue on more or less as they have?
MR. BURNS: We certainly hope that's the case. In a situation like this, where Russia is undergoing profound change as you know very well, it's difficult to predict where the government's going to be six to eight to nine months from now. So we have to hope that reform is going to continue, because American policy towards Russia is based on the assumption that reform is going to continue.
The substantial economic aid that we are delivering to Russia, the fact that we're trying to integrate Russia into the major Western financial institutions is all a by-product of the fact that reform is underway. I think what is most noteworthy is the fact that the Russian President, who has been the champion of reform, is still the Russian President -- Boris Yeltsin.
We'll be looking for continued advancement on reform. That's what has to happen. I have not seen the report about Mr. Chubais' resignation, but I would draw you to the fact that Prime Minister Chernomyrdin has been the shepherd of the great advance in Russian economic reform since January 1994.
You remember when Gaidar and Feodorov resigned on January 13, 1994, a lot of people said Russian reform is over. Chernomyrdin then ushered in the greatest period of Russian economic reform in the ensuing two years. So I wouldn't draw you to the conclusion that because some reformers have departed, all is lost in the cause of reform. I think we have to wait and see, hope that reform continues and hope that President Yeltsin will continue his reforms.
Q You would agree, though, as a matter of course, that the fewer reformers there are in a government, the more difficult it is to maintain a reform course. Wouldn't that seem logical?
MR. BURNS: Carol, I think it sounds logical on the surface, but I would just repeat again the President who in that system has extraordinary powers is still a reformer. He's acting in a reformist way. I have not seen any retraction on the economic reforms or any major change in Russian foreign policy.
I would also urge you not to jump ahead and just assume that someone who was not a leader in the reform movement in the past cannot now enter a government and support reform policies.
The best example of that is Prime Minister Chernomyrdin. When he took office, people said he's not a reformer; he will not contribute to reform. In January 1994, they said the fact that he will not shepherd the reforms means that the reforms will slow down. That did not happen at all. He acted to speed up the reforms, to accelerate them. So I think the proper thing for the United States Government to do is to observe, is to hope that the reforms continue. But certainly since our policy is based on reform, if we do see any dramatic reversals, we'll talk about them, and we'll make our concerns known to the Russian Government.
Q Nick, can you take something on China. Do you have any reaction to the new moves in China to restrict the flow of information, particularly financial information?
MR. BURNS: We've seen the report, and I think I do have something to say on that. Obviously, as a democratic country, we believe a free press and the free flow of information are essential for not only a healthy political system but a healthy economic system.
We are disappointed that the Chinese Government has taken what appears to be an action to restrict the amount and type of information, at least on economic matters, available in China.
We don't believe this decision serves China's long-term interests, and we hope that this decision can be re-examined in light of the damage that we believe it will do to Chinese credibility on economic issues and also on the overall economic prospects in China.
Q How is it going to affect China's bid to WTO membership?
MR. BURNS: I think what we'd like to do, Carol, first is to talk to the Chinese Government about what specifically is in this change and what it means for the direction that China hopes to take on trade matters, among others.
We, of course, have an ongoing dialogue with the Chinese about WTO membership. It's just a little bit unclear now what all the details of this action are, and therefore I think we'll resist proclaiming how it might affect the WTO relationship.
Q But they didn't give you advance warning about this?
MR. BURNS: I don't know if we had advance warning or not. I can check on that. I'm unaware of that, but I do know what we basically think about this action.
Q Nick, also on China: Ambassador Sasser yesterday said that the U.S. would sponsor another resolution and a U.N. Human Rights Conference in March criticizing China's human rights record. His remarks were criticized by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman earlier this morning, saying that any such U.S. move would plunge bilateral relations into new trouble.
Two questions: Would the U.S. sponsor a resolution this coming spring? Have you made a decision? (2) Do you have any response to China's criticism?
MR. BURNS: I did not see Ambassador Sasser's remarks, so I can't speak to them specifically. I can say, just draw you back to the fact that for the past seven or eight years we have sponsored a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva on China's human rights performance. It would not surprise me at all if we chose to do that in the future, although I don't believe we've made an official announcement of that.
I think it is to be expected in the U.S.-China relationship that there will continue to be a high degree of concentration on human rights issues, because as a democratic nation we should and can do no less. We have to speak out about our concerns, as we did in the Wei Jingsheng case, and we will continue to speak out about our human rights concerns.
Along with those human rights concerns are a number of other very important issues in U.S.-China relations -- trade issues, the political and foreign policy relationship we have, the ability to cooperate on foreign policy issues, and certainly a continued emphasis on security issues.
So it is a full relationship. It has many issues in it, and human rights is among those.
Q Just another quick follow-up on China. Have you heard anything of a couple of Americans being expelled from China in the last couple of days?
MR. BURNS: I do know that the Assistant Air Force Attache, Bradley Gerdes, was traveling in southern China on official business. He was traveling, as military attache's always do, with the permission of the Chinese Government.
Unfortunately, on January 11 he was detained by Chinese authorities in Suixi in Guangdong Province. The United States Embassy in Beijing was notified the next day of his detention, approximately 24 hours after his detention.
We sent an officer from our Consulate General in Guangzhou to Suixi at the request of the Chinese Government in order to identify Mr. Gerdes and facilitate his release on January 12; and he returned to Beijing, where he is posted, on January 13.
Our Charge d'Affaires, Scott Hallford, was summoned to the Chinese Foreign Ministry on January 13 and informed that the Chinese Government was requesting his recall -- that is, Mr. Gerdes recall, by the United States by January 19, the end of this week.
Our Charge d'Affaires, Mr. Hallford, vigorously protested the detention, the interrogation, the treatment and the requested recall of Mr. Gerdes. He observed that the interrogation, close to 19 hours, was certainly not expected. Mr. Gerdes was not allowed to be in contact with the Embassy throughout his interrogation, and Mr. Hallford, our Charge, noted that under the Vienna Convention, diplomats -- and Mr. Gerdes is a diplomat -- are not liable to arrest or detention. So that's where the matter stands.
Q What were the reasons given for his expulsion?
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
Q What were the reasons given for the request for his expulsion?
MR. BURNS: I'm going to have to refer you to the Chinese Government for that.
Q Was he mistreated in any way? Was he beaten or --
MR. BURNS: I don't have any evidence of physical abuse, but the fact that he was interrogated for 19 hours continuously -- continuously -- and was not allowed to contact the American Embassy, the fact that under the Vienna Convention he is protected as a diplomat from this type of interrogation and detention causes great concern here in Washington about the manner in which this incident was handled by the Chinese Government.
Q Is he going to be recalled? Is the United States going to send him back?
MR. BURNS: I have nothing for you on that. Stay tuned on that one, Carol.
Q Nick, what did you say he was doing exactly, because there were a couple of Air Force guys expelled a few months back for --
MR. BURNS: What I said was that he was traveling in southern China on official business; that he was traveling there with the permission of the Chinese Government. What that means is when any officer -- a political officer or an economic officer or a military attache -- decides to travel in a country like China, you need to receive advance permission to do so. You inform the Chinese Government of your specific travel plans, as Mr. Gerdes did, so everything was above-board, fully above-board. This was part of his normal course of operation. But unfortunately he was detained and interrogated in a rather irresponsible way.
Q Was he taking pictures or anything?
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
Q Was he taking pictures or anything? I think that was at the root of the last case.
MR. BURNS: I just am not willing to go into any of the specifics of this matter. We are very displeased about the way this matter was handled, and we've made those concerns known specifically to the Chinese Government.
Q This is an intelligence matter, Nick?
MR. BURNS: Sid, after having uttered the word "intelligence," as you did in your question, I now cannot say anything about it. (Laughter)
But I wouldn't describe it in any way like that. I would describe it as routine official business by a member of the United States Embassy.
Q Was he in uniform?
MR. BURNS: I don't know. I don't know the answer to that question, no.
Q Was he traveling near or on a military installation?
MR. BURNS: I just don't want to go into any other aspect of his duties.
Q He was interrogated in an unfortunate or irresponsible way, you said.
MR. BURNS: I believe, yes, that's what I said, and I stand by that. It was irresponsible and most unfortunate that he was interrogated for 19 hours against the commitments made by the Chinese Government under the Vienna Convention.
Q Nick, it was just one individual?
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
Q One individual involved in this?
MR. BURNS: Mr. Gerdes was the only American official involved, yes. I refer you to the Chinese Government for any other information.
Q Do you know how to spell his name?
MR. BURNS: Yes. His name is Bradley Gerdes -- G-e-r-d-e-s.
Q His rank?
MR. BURNS: I believe the rank is Colonel, but I'll check on that.
Q Air Force?
MR. BURNS: Let me check on that for you. Yes, he's the Assistant Air Force Attache. Let me check on his rank for you, though.
Any others still on China? Let's stay with China, and then we'll be glad to go to your question.
Q China intends to -- plans to cut 500,000 troops. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. BURNS: Are you referring to a Chinese Government announcement that they plan to reduce its military forces by 500,000 troops?
Q To reduce the 500,000 troops.
MR. BURNS: I have not seen that report. I cannot comment on that. I have not seen it.
Q Nick --
MR. BURNS: Any more on China? Charlie.
Q Back on Major Gerdes, you referred us before to the Chinese Government, but what did the Chinese Government tell you in terms of why they picked him up?
MR. BURNS: The Chinese Government has made a number of charges in this case. I mean, I use "charges" in an advisable way -- arguments, protests. I'm not going to go into our private discussions with the Chinese Government on this matter beyond what I told you.
Q Nick, what kind of consequences will the incident have on U.S.-China relations? Are you planning any retaliation?
MR. BURNS: I have nothing for you on that.
Still on China? Any more on China?
Q I've got one more on China, if I could.
MR. BURNS: Let me just make an aside. John, could we try to verify Mr. Gerdes' rank? I'd like to do that before we leave the briefing, so we don't misinform.
Q But, Nick, I asked you a question a couple of weeks ago on this issue of Taiwan and the United States policy for the protection thereof, specifically with regard to Mr. Joseph Nye's Defense Department statement that we don't know what we'll do until the situation arises. Ambassador Sasser a few nights ago said the same thing.
MR. BURNS: Interesting, isn't it? Two government officials who say the same thing. (Laughter) That must mean they agree on the policy.
Q He said the same thing, right out of Mr. Nye's report, and I remember your saying something --
MR. BURNS: I probably said the same thing.
Q No, you did not. It's not the same way at all. That's why I'm asking. Mr. Sasser's response was Mr. Nye's remark exactly.
MR. BURNS: Let me just say on that --
Q Once again, is that --
MR. BURNS: Assistant Secretary Nye is now Dean Nye of the Kennedy School of Government. He has left government service. He is the distinguished Dean of the Kennedy School now. Ambassador Sasser is on his way out to China. I also noted what both of them said, and I wouldn't disagree with anything they said, and I'd like to stand by what they said and associate myself with it.
Having done that and having talked about this a number of times, I really see no useful purpose in pursuing this much longer, much further.
Q You associate the Department then with the statements of Mr. Nye and Mr. Sasser in this particular matter.
MR. BURNS: Assistant Secretary Nye, when he was Assistant Secretary of Defense, yes -- the statements made last autumn, certainly.
Q But my question, if I might finish, my question to you is, doesn't this ambiguity or lack of specificity, does that not invite aggression?
MR. BURNS: No.
Q You don't think so?
MR. BURNS: No. It shouldn't. Of course, the United States as a Pacific power has an interest in stability in Asia, and we would not expect that there would be aggression in the Taiwan Straits. We would expect that there would be amicable relations between Taiwan and Beijing, and we, of course, work towards that however we can and continuously toward that end.
Q Last Sunday, the CBS Television Network aired "Sixty Minutes," which accused the Turkish Government of using U.S. military equipment against Kurdish civilians. If I am correct, last year you published a report on this subject -- using American military equipment against civilians -- but you didn't get the same results.
Unfortunately, on this program, Assistant Secretary of State Shattuck agreed with the programmer, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Kornblum drew some similarities between Saddam Hussein Government's behavior against the Kurds and the Ankara's attitude toward Kurdish civilians.
Since that, did you change your will against the Turkish Government attitude towards Kurdish civilians?
MR. BURNS: Thank you for asking this question, because I think it gives us an opportunity to review very quickly the basis of American support -- support -- for Turkey. I would just note at the beginning, I wouldn't say that Assistant Secretary Shattuck or Deputy Assistant Secretary Kornblum agreed with the basic line taken by "Sixty Minutes." "Sixty Minutes" chose to take the position it did. It carried very short excerpts of very long interviews with both men, and I didn't see the "Sixty Minutes" report. So I can't speak of personal knowledge about what exactly "Sixty Minutes" said, but it's been described to me.
But I can speak about U.S. policy towards Turkey. The United States will continue to have a very close supportive alliance relationship with Turkey for the foreseeable future. Turkey is a valued NATO friend and ally, and our military assistance to Turkey makes sense. It makes sense for the United States, and it makes sense for Turkey.
It helps Turkey fulfill its role in NATO. It helps the United States and other NATO countries defend our interest in southeast Europe. There are no apologies to be made for American military assistance to Turkey as a valued NATO ally.
In addition to that, the United States fully supports the Turkish Government in its fight against the PKK which, we have noted many times over, is a vicious terrorist organization, and no one can assert that it's anything but that.
It targets the civilian Kurdish population of both northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey. It targets -- the PKK -- innocent Turkish civilians and the Turkish Government has a responsibility to fight that kind of terrorism.
As you know -- I know you've read our annual Human Rights Report -- we do have concerns about the manner in which the Turkish Government has acted in some instances. We are troubled by continuing reports of torture, of restrictions on freedom of the press and on some extrajudicial killings, troubled by reports of the burning of villages and the forced evacuation of villages.
I would say, to be fair to the Turkish Government, the Turkish Government has taken significant steps just in the last twelve months to enhance human rights guarantees for all the citizens of its country, including changes to the Turkish Constitution and modification of the Article 8 Anti-Terrorism Law. We hope that this kind of progress by the Turkish Government to identify human rights abuses where they occur and to try to change the method of operation -- we hope that these kinds of changes will continue.
Q Do you have a reaction on the resignation of Prime Minister Papandreou of Greece?
MR. BURNS: Yes. I do have a reaction to that. I think all of us who are friends of Greece are saddened by the resignation for health reasons of Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou.
We understand that he may retain his position as the PASOK party leader.
Andreas Papandreou has been a significant figure in Greek political life for decades. He made an enduring contribution to the consolidation of Greek democracy and to Greece's integration into Europe. These achievements are a concrete testament to Prime Minister Papandreou's leadership in Greece.
Many Americans know him because he spent a lot of time in the United States as a Greek leader. We knew him as a student and as an educator. We know that all Americans will join us today in wishing Prime Minister Papandreou a full and speedy recovery.
Q (Inaudible) the United States for --
MR. BURNS: I don't believe there's any specific request by his family to have him transported to the United States. Of course, were such a request to be made, we would take that request very seriously, indeed.
Any further on Greece here?
Q With the deportation of Garcia-Abrego, will the U.S. increase its efforts to extradite Mario Ruiz Massieu to Mexico as a gesture of reciprocity? Will the U.S. Government seek additional deportation of other drug traffickers in Mexico even if they are Mexican citizens?
MR. BURNS: The case of Ruiz Massieu is a case before the Justice Department. I can't comment on Justice Department cases. You understand that, for legal reasons.
But going back to the first part of your question, we are very pleased by the actions of the Mexican Government which demonstrate President Zedillo's interest in trying to fight with us the scourge of narcotics trafficking.
The individual apprehended yesterday and transported to the United States is a major drug trafficker. He is responsible for 70 percent -- at least, the Mexican operation -- 70 percent of the cocaine into the United States. He will now be charged in the United States. He'll be tried in the United States. He deserves, if convicted, a very long prison sentence. We hope very much that is the case.
Q Are you seeking other drug traffickers?
Q The Mexicans are saying that they did this all by themselves, and your statement yesterday said this was a triumph for joint U.S.- Mexican efforts. Are those tow statements reconcilable?
MR. BURNS: The operation to apprehend Juan Garcia-Abrego was a Mexican operation. I understand that American Government officials were not involved in that operation.
The statement that I made yesterday, George, spoke in a larger sense to the cooperation that we hope to achieve with the Mexican Government on narcotics trafficking.
To demonstrate this point, let me tell you that on Sunday, January 14, the Mexican Under Secretary for Foreign Relations, Juan Rebolledo, informed the Department of State that the Mexican Attorney General's Office had arrested Mr. Garcia-Abrego in Monterrey.
As you know, he is now in the United States. As you know, he will now be tried by a U.S. court, and it's a very good thing, indeed.
Q Will the United States seeks additional deportation of drug traffickers even if they are Mexican citizens?
MR. BURNS: The decision to request extradition for a drug trafficker or any other criminal is a decision that we make on a case- by-case basis.
One of the priorities for this Administration in 1996 is to fight drug trafficking. We've made that clear to the Government of Mexico, the Government of Colombia, to the Government of Burma, the Government of Thailand, and governments all over the world. We'll continue to do what we have to do to win the war against narcotics traffickers, including extradition.
Q The diplomatic note Mexico was sending protesting narcotics operation in the south border, have you received that diplomatic note?
MR. BURNS: Can you be more specific -- protesting which --
Q The operation in the south border re-enforcing the border patrol and the presence of military elements?
MR. BURNS: I can tell you that the United States is not militarizing our border with Mexico. As you know, the National Guard has a limited number of personnel on the border. They have supported the border patrol along the southwestern border with training and equipment. But I'm not aware of any large-scale militarization and it's not taking place.
I want to go to Mr. Arshad. I believe he has a question on Bangladesh.
Q Nick, just an update. Do you have any update on the current Bangladesh political crisis? Specifically, on the initiative in recent weeks and months by Ambassador Merrill, on the ground, in the way of making a reconsolation among the government and opposition, number one.
Number two, you have already mentioned about the extradition matter of the drug traffickers in relation to Khun Sa and Myanmar, which has become a vulnerable point. Bangladesh has been seriously affected, which is being earmarked as a Golden Crescent, falling out with the Golden Triangle.
So what (inaudible) does the United has in helping Bangladesh in combatting drug trafficking?
MR. BURNS: To answer the first part of your question, Ambassador Merrill has acted over the past couple of months to try to facilitate meetings between the government and the opposition.
Ambassador Merrill has certainly enunciated the strong hope of the United States Government that both the Government of Bangladesh and the opposition would cooperate on a political solution to the problems of Bangladesh and that, hopefully, they would agree on free and fair and fully contested elections.
We have no specific formula that we are advancing here for a settlement between the Government and opposition, but we remain hopeful that the political leaders of the country will, together, work out a resolution that moves democracy forward, that enhances the democratic process. That's our interest.
Q But the frustration by the State Department of nothing happening?
MR. BURNS: Are we frustrated that nothing is happening?
MR. BURNS: We are determined. And, here, Ambassador Merrill has done a very fine job to push our view, which is there ought to be elections. The democratic process ought to be enhanced and there ought to be cooperation between the Government and the opposition.
Because there hasn't been significant progress doesn't mean we're going to stop our efforts. We'll continue to assert that these are things that should happen.
Q The second part of the question?
MR. BURNS: The second part of the question on drug trafficking?
MR. BURNS: We made clear to every government that has influence on this issue that it ought to be a priority in our relationships with them. You're right to point out the case of Khun Sa. We're very disturbed by the apparent political deal that's been concocted between Government leaders in Rangoon and Mr. Khun Sa. There still is a reward out for the arrest of Khun Sa and his transportation to the United States for prosecution.
Q In the same neighborhood. The Indian Government announced today they would deploy the Prithvi missile. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. BURNS: I have not seen any Indian Government statement on that. I don't have a reaction. I can look into that for you, Sid.
Q Bosnia. Has the U.S. been intervening in any way to try to get the Bosnian Muslims to agree to the exchange of prisoners? Do you have anything on Mr. Pardew's trip?
MR. BURNS: On Mr. Pardew's trip?
Q Mr. Pardew's trip on training and equipping the Bosnian Army?
MR. BURNS: Mr. Jim Pardew is back from his trip, I believe. I will get you tomorrow a description of what he discussed on equip and train and what conclusions he came to. If there's real interest, we can get all of you a session with Mr. Pardew. I'll be glad to make that possible.
On the first question, we, of course, expect that all the parties, including the Bosnian Government, the Bosnian Serbs, are going to adhere to the deadlines and the major parameters of the Dayton Accord. A prisoner exchange is called for by the 19th of this month -- by Friday. We would fully expect that that prisoner swap would take place.
I think it also stands to common sense and reason, however, that the Bosnian Serbs would take a long, hard look at what the Bosnian Government and Minister Sacribey specifically said this morning. That is, in the spirit of Dayton, in the spirit of a peace process that has got to be consolidated, it makes sense for the Bosnian Serbs to give the Bosnian Government as much information as it has and as it can produce and should produce on the fate of the several thousands of people who are missing from the massacres at Srebrenica and Zepa and from the other massacres that have taken place throughout the Bosnian war.
It's not an unreasonable request for the Bosnian Government to make. But certainly having said that, we hope that all sides will keep to the timetable. Because if timetables are not kept, then the fabric of this agreement is going to wither and we don't want that to happen.
Q Has the U.S. been talking to the Muslims privately? Do we have any assurances that they will comply?
MR. BURNS: We've had a number of conversations with the Bosnian Government -- the Muslim government -- about this particular issue. I think we've had conversations with the Bosnian Serbs as well.
Q I believe that Friday is also the deadline for the foreign fighters -- the mujahidin -- to be out of Bosnia. What's your assessment of how that's going? How many are still left, and will they be gone?
MR. BURNS: Our position is -- just to remind you of our position - - that all foreign forces, as the Dayton Accord stipulates, must be out of Bosnia-Herzegovina by the 19th of this month.
Our assessment is that a great number of them have left. We know that through a variety of sources, other information. We hope that all of them will be gone, all of them who cannot prove some kind of Bosnian citizenship should be gone by the 19th of this month.
What I don't have, Carol, is a numerical assessment of how many we thought were there in the beginning; how many we think have left, but I'm seeking that from the people who follow these matters closely.
Q Are you having any trouble achieving this goal? Are you confident?
MR. BURNS: Our sense is that the Bosnian Government has taken this request from us and this part of the Dayton Agreement very seriously; that the Bosnian Government is acting upon this; that the Bosnian Government has asked the mujahidin to leave.
What I cannot do is tell you that all of them have left because I don't know that. We are seeking a more specific assessment of how many may be left at this point.
Q What I'm trying to get from you is any sense of whether you feel there is some significant resistance to this request?
MR. BURNS: By the government or by the mujahidin?
Q By the mujahidin.
MR. BURNS: I can't say that I know there's been significant resistance because we do know that a great number of them have left. We don't have the kind of detailed knowledge, I think, though, you're asking for in this particular case.
Q On this point, surely, after the Dayton Accord, it was reported that a number of the mujahidin had obtained Bosnian citizenship or papers.
You, at the time, when asked about it, I think declared -- and I don't have the quote, obviously, in front of me -- but I think you declared that all of them had to go. Now you've just made reference to all those without proper citizenship, or all those who were not Bosnian citizens will have to go.
Is it possible that some who came have obtained citizenship and will remain?
MR. BURNS: The great majority of these people, as we understand, are clearly not Bosnian citizens or people who have any connection to Bosnian citizenship. They're Iranian guerrillas, or they're guerrillas from South Asia and they ought to go, and they ought to return to the countries from which they came.
We understand -- and I think you understand as well -- that there are a very small number of these people who may, in fact, have a link to Bosnian citizenship because of family ties. So we'll just have to see how that breaks down.
But, clearly, the great majority of the people about whom we are concerned, the Iranian guerrillas have got to leave. We would expect that all foreign forces, people who cannot prove Bosnian citizenship, should leave. We've been fairly even and consistent, Charlie, in putting that out.
Q Just to follow up. Is it possible that some of the Iranian guerrillas whom you would like to see go have obtained Bosnian citizenship and therefore would be permitted to stay?
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware that any of the Iranian guerrillas have obtained Bosnian citizenship. I'm not aware of that. It's not consistent with the reports that we have about the withdrawals of these people. We think we know why the Iranians were there, what they hope to do, and we think they should leave.
We think the Iranian presence has been very detrimental to the situation.
Q Nick, I'm sure that you aware of the stories surrounding the Ljubija Mine in northeastern Bosnia, and the allegations of a mass gravesite.
As the stories increase, the finger pointing within the region amongst the international organizations there also seems to increase to which one of them is responsible for investigating these allegations, or at least attempting to get to some of these sites. Whose responsibility is it?
MR. BURNS: It's our understanding that the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague has said that it wants to visit this site in order to investigate for itself the reports that there may be bodies there; that there may have been a cover-up of the massacres and of the disposition of the remains of the victims of the massacres.
As you know, the President and Secretary Perry both spoke to this issue over the weekend of the fact that IFOR, while this is not a central mission of IFOR -- while we have to avoid mission creep, that IFOR would attempt, once fully mobilized, to provide for the security of movement of the War Crimes Tribunal personnel.
So I think the answer to your question is, the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal.
Q Some of these soldiers and commanders in the region -- I'm referring specifically to some comments attributed to British troops -- have said that if there is a specific request from the War Crimes Tribunal, that they would secure an area.
It would seem that there is an awful lot of evidence out there. What is holding up a specific request by the War Crimes Tribunal if that's all that it takes?
MR. BURNS: I believe that the U.N. War Crimes people have told us that they understand that IFOR needs to deploy to a greater extent that it has now. And once that is the case, they will make a request to IFOR to facilitate a visit to this particular site. That would specifically involve trying to help secure the movement of people as they go into this site and come back from it.
If that request is made -- and I don't know if there is a specific request into IFOR yet -- but if it's made in the future, I think both the President and Secretary Perry have already spoken to the reaction that they would have, that IFOR would have to that.
Q Isn't there some concern, though -- and perhaps this would have to be answered by the investigators -- that in the interim, while IFOR is getting in place and everything is getting organized, that the Bosnian Serbs are getting rid of the evidence or moving the evidence or that it will be even more difficult for the investigators?
MR. BURNS: Those who are responsible for the crimes that took place in Srebrenica and Zepa and elsewhere know who they are. They know that the international community is watching. The 54 people who have been indicted for war crimes, in general, over the past four years of war know that they can't hide; that ultimately they're going to be brought to justice. Ultimately, the people who are responsible for the atrocities at Srebrenica and Zepa will be brought to justice.
Any attempt to cover up the crimes committed there will not work. There were witnesses to the executions. The witnesses have already spoken to the United Nations long ago, months ago.
There is already evidence being compiled to indict people. Justice Goldstone has spoken to that. He spoke to that when he was here in the Department of State. He said that they were vigorously investigating the massacres at Srebrenica and Zepa; that there would be indictments against those responsible. He did not name those responsible. It wouldn't be responsible of me to speculate. There's a mass of evidence that I think would make any attempt to cover these crimes up useless.
(Press briefing concluded at 2:23 p.m.)
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