U.S. Department of State 96/02/22 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Thursday, February 22, 1996 Briefers: Nicholas Burns Alec Watson DEPARTMENT Introductions: --Spokesman of Belgium Foreign Ministry ................ 1 --Ms. Sheila Goode, Press Assistant, Press Office ...... 1 --Students from Carlton College, Ottawa ................ 1,13 Secretary Christopher's Upcoming Trip to Latin America . 1 --2/22 Mtgs. w/Mexican For. Sec., and Sec. Gen. of OAS.. 1-2 --A/S Watson's Overview of 2/25-3/1 Latin American Trip 2-13 State Department's Jacksonville Town Mtg. .............. 14 OECD Environmental Mtg. in Paris ....................... 14 U.S.-Iran Settlement re: Iran Air Flight 655, Banking Issues ....................................... 14- 15,36 INTERNATIONAL NARCOTICS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT Upcoming Drug Certification Decisions .................. 13 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA Reports of General Mladic Orders to Capture IFOR Troops 15-16 Status of Bosnian-Serb/IFOR Military Mtgs. ............. 15,25 Reports of IFOR Troop Encounter w//Mladic/Karadzic ..... 16 Hospitalization of President Izetbegovic ............... 17-18 Presence/Departure of Foreign Forces ................... 18-24 --IFOR Investigation into "Safe House" ................. 19-20 Status of Equip and Train .............................. 21-24 Lifting of Sanctions Issue ............................. 24-25 Cooperation w/War Crimes Tribunal ...................... 25-26 NORTH KOREA Report of Wife of Jong-il Kim Requesting U.S. Asylum ... 16-17 Proposal for Interim U.S.-North Korean Peace Agreement . 17 CONSULAR AFFAIRS Louis Farrakhan's Trip to Africa, ME.................... 26- 33,36 Exceptions for Travel to Iraq or Libya ................. 32 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Report of Delay in Palestinian-Israeli Talks ........... 34 Next Round of Wye Talks ................................ 34-36 Report of Confiscation of Land in East Jerusalem ....... 35 TERRORISM Syria on Terrorist List ................................ 34-35 SAUDI ARABIA King Fahd's Resumption of Duties ....................... 35 CHINA Chinese Defense Minister's Expected Visit to U.S. ...... 36-37 MEXICO Upcoming Decision on Drug Certification ................ 37-38
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 1996, 12:43 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR BURNS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the State Department briefing.
I have a couple of introductions to make before we get to our presentation. I would like to introduce to you Mr. Andre Querton who is the Spokesman of the Belgian Foreign Ministry. He's our guest today, and he's observing how we prepare for these press conferences. Andre, I won't ask you to subject yourself to questioning, but you're very welcome here.
I also want to introduce Sheila Goode -- Sheila, why don't you stand -- who is our new press assistant in the Bureau of Public Affairs. She has worked for the Foreign Service Institute and the Office of Foreign Building Operations. She is a graduate of Towson State University. We're very glad to have you on board.
I also want to bid welcome to more students -- Canadian journalism students from Carlton College in Ottawa. Welcome to you. We had a group from Carlton here yesterday. I just hope none of you are Toronto Blue Jays fans. I suspect some of you may be, however. We're Red Sox fans here at the State Department briefing. If Barry was here -- right, George? -- he would second that.
Secretary Christopher is spending a lot of time today preparing for his upcoming trip to Latin America. As you know, he leaves Sunday for five countries. He will be the first American Secretary of State to make a swing through Latin America since August 1988, since Secretary Shultz' trip at that time.
The Secretary met this morning with the Mexican Foreign Secretary. He's also going to be meeting today at 2:45 p.m. with the Secretary General of the OAS, Dr. Gaviria. If any of you are interested in a report on that meeting, I'll be very glad to give that to you later on this afternoon.
To the immediate business at hand, for the next 20 to 25 minutes Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Alex Watson is going to talk to you about the Secretary's trip, about what we hope to accomplish on the trip, and go into the schedule a little bit.
As most of you know, Ambassador Watson will be leaving government service shortly after the trip after 34 years in the Foreign Service. He is one of America's greatest experts on Latin America. He's had an exceedingly distinguished career. He's been Ambassador to Peru. He, of course, has also been our Deputy Permanent Representative at the United Nations, among other things, among other highlights in his career.
I want to welcome him here today. I think he has a short statement to make, a presentation, and then he'll be glad to take your questions.
Q Can you give us a readout --
MR. BURNS: Why don't you direct that to Ambassador Watson.
AMBASSADOR WATSON: Thanks very much, Nick. The Secretary will be taking off on Sunday and will be spending the next week in Latin America, leaving on the 25th and coming back on the 4th.
It is a trip of dramatic significance, not only because it's the first one in a long time, as Nick pointed out, but also because I think the conditions in the hemisphere, which he will be visiting, are dramatically different than they have been virtually any time in the recent past.
It may sound trite, but I think it's important to point out that the hemisphere is at peace. There was one residual civil war left in Central America -- in Guatemala -- that is winding to a close with a peace process which has been undertaken again today by the new government.
It is a hemisphere that is democratic. Every country in the hemisphere has a democratically elected government with the exception with Cuba. We were counting up the other day and discovered that since President Clinton was inaugurated, there have been 17 democratically elected Presidents sworn in in Latin America, and that's not counting the several Prime Ministers in the parliamentary countries of the Caribbean that have taken office in that time.
We have a hemisphere where economic reform towards the market economies is certainly the rule of the day, much more so than any time in the past. That has tremendous implications for economic growth in the hemisphere, for U.S. exports of course to the hemisphere, which is the largest single collective market, if you will, for U.S. exports and which has a very high propensity to import from the United States, higher than any other region of the world. About 50 percent of all the imports in the region come from the U.S.
It also gives them the wherewithal to start to address, in a serious fashion, the social problems that the democratic regimes in the region understand must be addressed as quickly as possible.
We have extensive ties of history and culture with the countries of Latin America, including large numbers of immigrants from virtually all the countries in the hemisphere living in the United States.
I'd like to point out, too, that the Secretary will be visiting the three regions: Central America, South America, and also the Caribbean. He won't be visiting Mexico at this point. That's because, as he announced this morning, we'll have our next Binational Commission Meeting with the Mexicans in Mexico City on May 6-7.
Let me try to run through some parts of the schedule that I'd like to call your attention to now, and then open it up for discussion.
At every stop, he's going to be focusing on the broad themes that were highlighted at the Summit of the Americas in Miami in December 1994, of course. Those are the themes around which the political consensus in the hemisphere has covered: democracy, open markets, fighting international crime and drugs, protecting the environment, using resources well, addressing problems of social equity and poverty.
In El Salvador, in addition to meeting with President Calderon Sol -- who has led his country aggressively toward freer trade and open markets and a dramatic economic performance of growth of six percent a year for the last two years and has continued the process of reconciliation in that country which only a few years ago was torn to shreds by violent civil war -- the Secretary will be pushing obviously for the completion of the peace process which was agreed to in 1992. There are a few more steps to undertake although tremendous progress has been made so far.
He'll make an address before the National Assembly -- the Congress in El Salvador which should give him a chance to highlight the consolidation of democracy, national reconciliation, and political tolerance which the Salvadorans have manifested despite coming out of that fratricidal war.
On El Salvador, too, he will have a luncheon meeting with heads of state of other countries in Central America to discuss a variety of issues -- global issues, of course -- but also he'll want to speak a little bit about the problems of crime that are affecting all of us.
The criminal activity in the United States affects the countries of Central America and vice versa. He'll be talking about further cooperation in addressing these common problems dealing with narcotics trafficking, the trafficking in potential migrants, car thefts, and also simply strengthening the capacity of all our governments to deal with the crimes that we are facing.
When I was last in Guatemala and speaking with several Presidents of Central America, all of them highlighted to me what a serious problem crime was for them. So I think it's very appropriate that we take this opportunity to discuss that issue with them in Central America.
After El Salvador, the Secretary will go to Chile where we will be meeting, of course, with the President and the Foreign Minister and focusing a lot on global issues because of Chile's current membership on the U.N. Security Council. We'll also be looking at the dramatic economic reforms that Chile has undertaken. It has given them a decade of economic growth of over six percent a year for each year and a very, very high domestic savings rate which is a model for the countries of the hemisphere. We'll be looking at American investment in Chile as well.
I should point out to you that Mack McLarty, Counsel to the President, who is also the Special Representative of the President and of the Secretary of State for following up the Summit of the Americas, will be accompanying Secretary Christopher on this trip.
Going on to Argentina, again we'll be meeting with the President and Foreign Minister and Finance Minister. But we'll also be talking about areas of broad cooperation that we have with Argentina. The Argentines have been leaders in peacekeeping operations, enormously supportive of U.N. peacekeeping operations. We very much appreciate that.
We'll be talking to the Argentines a little bit about further cooperation in the nuclear and space fields as well. Of course, we'll be addressing trade issues that are important.
After Argentina, we'll go to Brazil. We'll go to three places in Brazil. The Secretary will make a major speech on U.S. policy toward Latin America in Sao Paulo after the previous day meeting with President Cardoso and Foreign Minister Lampreia and others.
Once again, we'll be focusing on cooperation in space, in the nuclear area, as well as on counter-narcotics efforts, and global issues, of course, and on the environment where we have a common agenda that we have signed with the Brazilians a few months ago. We'll be discussing further steps in that regard.
One of the stops that the Secretary will make, in addition to Brasilia and Sao Paulo, where he will deliver the speech, is Manaus. We'll have a chance to visit the rain forest and some of the interesting cooperative work that is being undertaken there.
Trinidad will be the last stop of the Secretary's trip. It is a very impressive Caribbean nation that has undertaken dramatic economic reforms, very low inflation, high growth rate, a multi-cultural democracy which has just chosen a new Prime Minister, the first Prime Minister of Trinidad of East Indian descent, and where there is considerable investment by American firms. In fact, we prognosticate that there will be about a billion dollars a year for the next three years of new U.S. investment, largely in the petro-chemical area because of Trinidad's petroleum resources over the next few years.
The Trinidadians have also been extremely supportive of efforts and cooperative on efforts in fighting narcotics in the Eastern Caribbean, which is an area, as you may be aware, that the major narcotics organizations are trying to exploit as they move narcotics north and east.
It also gives the Secretary a chance to talk to the Trinidadians and express our appreciation for their active participation in the multilateral efforts to resolve the problems of Haiti. The Trinidadians were leaders in that regard.
I believe the last trip by a Secretary of State to Trinidad was something like 1977, when Secretary Vance went there, so this is a significant visit by the Secretary.
Throughout the trip, as I said before, we'll be emphasizing the agenda that came out of the Summit of the Americas, not just the principles but also the specific actions that were taken on the 23 action items. It forms the basis and the framework for our policy in the hemisphere. We'll be talking about how to further the process of commercial integration -- trade integration in the hemisphere that was set forth so boldly in Miami and which was pushed forward in a meeting in Denver last June and July and will be pushed further in a meeting in Cartagena on March 21, as we move the hemisphere toward an integrated trading regime.
The first few months, and maybe even years, of that process (will take) hard analytical and research work to put the bases for negotiations that will take place in the future.
That probably is enough for an opening statement at this point. We'll give you more details on exactly what countries and what days, if you want it, either now or afterwards we can post those; and I'll be glad to take any questions that you may have.
Q Are you disappointed in the lack of progress since December of '94 when the summit was held with respect to extension of NAFTA southward? Chile was supposed to be the first country. I don't believe very much has happened on that front, and there seems to be some second- guessing in this country about the wisdom of expanding free trade.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I wouldn't be honest, George, if I didn't say that we're frustrated that we have been unable to get fast- track authority for the President to undertake trade negotiations -- not just with Chile and not just in the hemisphere but around the world. But we're committed to trying to achieve that authority as soon as possible.
This doesn't mean, though, that we can't pursue the trade agenda quite aggressively. As I mentioned, in Denver we established seven working groups that are technical groups looking at various components that must be included in any trade agreement for a free-trade area of the Americas that we reach by 2005. We're going to set up four more of these working groups at the meeting in Cartagena.
There's still an awful lot of work to be done, which I might say has been very adequately supported by the Organization of American States. There's been a lot of good research in this regard.
I think, though, when I travel around the hemisphere, I see no diminution in the commitment of the leaders of the hemisphere to trade liberalization and to an integrated free-trade area of the Americas.
We all know it's going to take a while, and we set ourselves a decade. Hopefully, we can do it before then. But never forget that it took seven years to negotiate the Uruguay Round, and something as serious and complicated as this will take some time.
So while I'm frustrated that we don't have fast-track authority yet, I'm in no way downhearted. I'm sure we will get it sooner or later.
Q Secretary Watson, referring to the Gurria visit and more specifically the point of view of many Mexicans, especially the visiting press here just this morning, that America is rendering Mexico -- handing them a secondhand status and that we are judging their suitability or certifiability and they are saying, well, what about us? We're the consuming country. How are we doing on curbing the demand that is fueling this drug trade, especially in our hemisphere.
How would you respond to their point of view on that, and then how did it go with Gurria today and the Secretary?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: Let me back up a little bit and note that you're talking, I think, principally about the so-called certification process, which is, of course, mandated by law and which the Secretary of State must make a recommendation to the President about whether certain countries who are designated as countries that have a significant involvement in narcotics production or trafficking should be certified or decertified according to this law.
The Secretary is working on that. He's receiving a lot of opinions and factors, and he'll make his recommendations in due course. He's not made them as yet.
But I'd like to pick up your second point, which is to say that, sure, we're in this together. The fight against narcotics can't be done by any one country, and that's why we have such a cooperative effort in the hemisphere and other parts of the world as well.
But let me just focus on the hemisphere. I think that in fact things have been going quite well in the cooperation with most countries in the hemisphere in this regard. And they have every right to ask what we are doing not only to reduce demand but to break up criminal organizations in this country that are trafficking in drugs as well.
I think our record is pretty good on that. I would defer to the Department of Justice to give you more details on this, but we've been talking about this quite a bit. It doesn't always get the headlines that it should, but lots of criminal organizations in the U.S. have been broken up and certainly demand in recent years for certain kinds of drugs has been dropping in large segments of the population.
I think this Administration should be proud of what it has done in that regard. There's a hell of a lot more to do -- there's no question about that -- but we don't get anywhere by avoiding that, and we shouldn't be embarrassed when someone asks us that question. It's a legitimate question, and we have to answer it as forthrightly as we can.
Q I understand the demand for cocaine, however, is flat or has increased slightly.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I don't know. You look at those University of Michigan studies, you get different results. But I think it may have increased a tiny bit lately, but still the secular trend has been down, and certainly the more casual use has been down and the use has been more concentrated is my understanding of this. But I'm not an expert. You should ask the people at the Office of National Drug Control Policy or Department of Justice or elsewhere on that.
Q And how did the talks with Gurria go on this particular --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: They were excellent. Secretary Gurria is completely on top of his brief. He's talked about a wide range of issues with Secretary Christopher in the hemisphere and in the bilateral relationship, and he talked a lot about the planning for the Binational Commission Meeting, which I mentioned a few minutes ago, which will take place in May.
Of course, we discussed narcotics questions. It's one of the areas of most important cooperation between our two countries that has been going quite well lately, I think you see with the arrest and the expulsion of Garcia Abrego not long ago.
Q Who are the Central American presidents that Christopher is going to meet in San Salvador? All of them?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I think he's going to meet with all of them and Prime Minister Esquivel of Belize, with the exception of President Arzu of Guatemala who had a previous commitment in Mexico with President Zedillo. It's just an unfortunate coincidence that he will not be able to be there, but my understanding is that all of the others will be there. But I don't want to speak for them.
Q There was a statement yesterday by the Press Office on the Cuban Government cracking down of the human rights activists from Concilio Cubano. Afterwards, the Concilio Cubano announced that they had to postpone -- they decided to postpone the meeting. Do you think this is a victory by the Cuban Government because it's actually what it wanted to do, or how do you interpret this? What do you expect to happen?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I don't see how that could be considered a victory for anybody. I mean, here's a group of 130 organizations inside Cuba who want to have a peaceful meeting to discuss human rights and other conditions in Cuba and had written to the government and asked them for permission to undertake this.
I just came back from Japan last night. To my knowledge, the Cuban Government has not responded to that, but in the last few days has been harassing people, arresting them, taking things from their houses and made it impossible to hold a meeting. How that could be a victory for anybody is beyond me.
Q Alex, do you realistically, given the results of the New Hampshire primary and a lot of the talk about trade and America first and keeping American jobs -- realistically do you expect to hear a lot of concern about potential countries joining NAFTA and concern about the level of political rhetoric in the United States during the Christopher trip?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I wouldn't be surprised if the leaders with whom the Secretary and Mack McLarty and the rest of us meet -- I wouldn't be surprised at all if they make some reference to what they read about what's happening in our campaign and ask us about that. But I don't think that that should color the nature of the Secretary's mission in any way, nor our commitment to try and find ways to continue to have a free-trade area of the Americas, which is, as I tried to indicate in my opening remarks, distinctly in our advantage, if you think that this is the area of the world that imports most of its stuff from the U.S. -- more so than any other area of the world. With dynamic growth of industrializing economies they will be importing more goods, and more of those will be coming from the U.S. and creating high-wage jobs in this country. So I don't think we should be dissuaded because of that.
Q Mr. Secretary, on a different subject, CBS News has obtained cables sent from the State Department -- I'm sorry, from the CIA to the White House and the State Department informing them that the Guatemalan rebel leader Efrain Bamaca, the husband of Jennifer Harbury, was alive five days after he was apprehended by the Guatemalan military in '92 and, of course, as you know, later killed.
For two-and-a-half years the government has said that it had no idea of his whereabouts or his condition when in fact it had been notified, according to the cables we've gotten hold of. Why wasn't Jennifer Harbury or the American people notified, and can you tell us whether or not you think this is correct that the government should hold onto the information for two years without notification?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: Without knowing exactly what cables you're referring to or when they were even sent, or to whom they were sent, it's a little hard for me to be precise. But more important than that, I think it's important to remember that after some of the allegations concerning Guatemala a few months ago, the President asked the Intelligence Oversight Board to make a thorough investigation of this entire question.
The Intelligence Oversight Board has interviewed many people, has received reports, has reviewed all of the cable traffic to my knowledge -- at least certainly what we have in the State Department and elsewhere -- and will be coming out with its conclusions fairly soon.
I thought they were going to have them come out some time in the month of March, but I don't want to speak for them. So it wouldn't be appropriate for me to try to pre-figure what they may be saying. Besides, they will do a very, very thorough analysis of all of this and may address the point that you have there.
Q Assuming that the cables are correct, assuming that they're accurate, wouldn't it be the government's obligation to inform at least Ms. Harbury in this case?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: Please, I don't want to speculate any further on this until we see what the Intelligence Oversight Board comes up with. Its mission is to determine, among other things, what exactly happened, who knew what when, and whether any employees of the U.S. Government should have done something other than what they did. So I really think it's better to wait for them -- who are doing a really thorough job -- than to just speculate on that from this podium.
Q Wait. The premise of the question was that it's news that he was taken into custody and was not killed on that day of the firefight. Haven't you been saying all along that he was alive in March of 1992 at the time of the firefight, and he was indeed taken into custody by the Guatemalan military? Haven't you been saying that all along?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I can recall we've been saying that information that we had, which was certainly not perfect, indicated that he was captured by the Guatemalan military. The evidence that we had -- although once again not perfect, not absolutely conclusive, but strong -- indicated that they dispatched with him at some point not too long thereafter. But further than that, I really don't want to go.
First of all, I haven't gone back and looked at all these documents in a while; and, secondly, the Intelligence Oversight Board, more importantly, will be giving a thorough analysis of this in a matter of weeks.
MR. BURNS: We have time for two more questions.
Q This is on the same subject. The cable is a CIA cable dated March 18, 1992, six days after Bamaca was captured. The cable was sent to the State Department, the White House, the Treasury Department, the DIA, and is very detailed that Bamaca was lightly wounded in an arm; that he was cooperating with the army; that he was captured, and he was alive.
It wasn't until November 1994 that the U.S. Government told Harbury that it had some information that he had been captured alive. The thing is for almost -- for more than two years the U.S. Government didn't tell Mrs. Harbury that the government had information that this man had been captured.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: Look, I tried to make clear: one of the things that the Intelligence Oversight Board is looking into is exactly who knew what when, and whether something else should have been done. Far be it from me to speculate on what that should be.
Q If this cable was sent to the State Department, you didn't see it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I wasn't even here in 1992. I was still up in New York.
Q Mr. Secretary, it's true that the countries in the Caribbean are very small compared to the land masses of those in South America and Latin America. But is it wrong for the Caribbean countries to assume that in the eyes of America they're seen as a footnote or an asterisk, given the fact that the NAFTA party bill in Congress has failed to support the small economies that in the U.S. they see as very small and not moving very fast? And the U.S. pending sanctions against Caribbean bananas in the European market is not in any way supporting the small economies in the Caribbean, and they've been supporting democracy and free market economies long before the countries of Latin America and South America.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: It's not correct to say that the countries of the Caribbean are a footnote for the United States by any means, and I think the level of attention that we've devoted to the Caribbean indicates that.
In the work on the free-trade areas of the Americas -- these seven working groups -- there's a specific group focused on the particular conditions of the small economies. Many, but not all of those, are in the Caribbean, so that indicates a very special and focused attention on the special problems that they have.
On your point on bananas, our complaint in the World Trade Organization is not against the Caribbeans but against the Framework Agreement established by the European Union. We have always said that we would acquiesce in preferential treatment under the Lome Agreement, Eastern Caribbean bananas to Europe -- we just will not acquiesce in a framework and a series of arrangements which discriminates patently against U.S. firms.
Q Can I follow quickly, please? A quick follow-up. The Secretary's visit is an indication, Mr. Secretary, that there's only one country in the Caribbean that will be visited -- Trinidad and Tobago -- and in your opening remarks, it seems as if the discussions are going to be on the one building new U.S. investments in the country as well as the questions of drug trafficking and not very much else. I mean --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I mentioned the contributions of the Caribbean countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, to the efforts to restore democracy in Haiti. That's one of the important reasons that he's going there.
Q Economic matters is what I'm really --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: Of course, they will be discussed.
MR. BURNS: Thank you very much. One more Sid?
Q Would you expect the Secretary to meet with Madonna when he's in Argentina? (Laughter)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: Is she there now? Is she still there? (Laughter) We have no request for such a meeting as yet, and I wouldn't presume to respond for the Secretary on that one. Thanks.
(Upon conclusion of Assistant Secretary Watson's briefing, Spokesman Nicholas Burns resumed the Daily Press Briefing at 1:13 p.m.)
Q I gather the de-certification is going to be out on --
MR. BURNS: March 1.
Q March 1. For those of us who are on the trip, can you make sure we have access to --
MR. BURNS: Absolutely. The process will be -- before we get back to Madonna -- the process will be that Bob Gelbard is going to come down here and announce the certification results -- the decisions made, and we'll certainly give you at the same time -- I think we're just going to be an hour behind -- we'll give you at the same time the results of that and all of the documents that are coming out from the Department of State.
As for Madonna, I don't believe the Secretary has any plans to meet her, Sid, but she's filming -- she's making a film in Buenos Aires, and I thought that it might be a nice excursion for the press corps to go and meet her, if you're interested in doing that.
Q I hear the Secretary's quite a tangoer --
MR. BURNS: Well, okay, welcome. I'm now going to answer questions on any non-Latin America topics.
I have a couple of announcements. One brief aside, Barry, before you came in, I welcomed students from Carleton University, a very distinguished university in Ottawa. I noted there may be Toronto Blue Jay fans among them, and I know that you have a concern about this, so I have also taken care to invite three Red Sox fans from South Dartmouth, Massachusetts -- Rick, Sharon and Kaitlin Barry -- who are good friends of mine and devout Red Sox fans. Isn't that right? (Inaudible) Very good.
I have a couple of announcements to make. The first is that the State Department's Jacksonville town meeting took place yesterday. In our view it was a very fine event, a great success. We have additional town meetings coming up in St. Louis on March 6; in Lexington, Kentucky, on March 12; and in Nashville, Tennessee, on the 13th; and Columbus, Ohio, on the 28th, for those of you who are interested -- I know some of you are -- in covering town meetings.
I have two brief statements. I'm not going to read either of them fully. They'll be posted in the press room after the briefing.
The first is that the United States attended a very important environmental meeting in Paris two days ago. We were represented by our new Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Eileen Claussen, who is a former colleague of mine from the NSC staff.
This was an OECD meeting, and the Declaration called for all governments to reduce the risk of exposure by our citizens to lead. In addition to this, the ministers there surveyed common actions required to cope with the major environmental problems facing the earth. The United States joined the other OECD countries in reaffirming that environmental protection must now be a top priority for all countries.
I mention this because, as Alex Watson told you, on the Latin American trip the environment will be a major focus of the Secretary of State's time. I think, as I mentioned to you a couple of weeks ago, he intends to make a major environmental policy speech in California in the second week of April; and I'll have more on that in a couple of days.
I also wanted to mention that the United States and Iran have settled Iran's claims against the United States which were filed before the International Court of Justice concerning the shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655 on July 3, 1988. This also settles Iran's claims against the United States that were filed before the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal concerning certain banking matters.
Today the cases in question were dismissed from the International Court of Justice. No money will be paid to the Government of Iran under the terms of the settlement.
In 1988, however, President Ronald Reagan offered what is known as ex gratia payments -- voluntary payments -- by the United States Government to the families of the victims of Iran Air 655. This settlement today allows the United States to proceed with those payments to the families of the victims of the Iranians who died on board that aircraft.
We have already been paying the families of the non-Iranian victims -- Italians, former Yugoslavs and other nationalities -- but because of this settlement we now can proceed with payments that will average roughly, I believe, $300,000 per family.
This is a very detailed and complex legal arrangement, and I've got a statement that's available to you in the press room. I also have a fact sheet available to you. If you're interested in any aspect of this, I'll be glad to respond to any questions you have as well.
I'll be glad to go your questions.
Q Bosnia. What can you tell us about the reports of General Mladic ordering Bosnian Serb troops to go after NATO forces?
MR. BURNS: We've seen the reports that Mladic -- and they're only reports in our mind, Judd, that Mladic has ordered his troops to take IFOR troops hostage. I think Mladic should understand, if in fact this order is real and genuine, that all American troops and indeed all IFOR troops have the ability to protect themselves and to defend themselves, and their rules of engagement give them the right to defend themselves.
Mladic ought to be more concerned with complying with the Dayton accords. The Bosnian Serbs have not done a very good job of that. That's why we had the Rome Conference over the weekend, and we fully expect that the Bosnian Serbs will do that.
We have received some positive indications over the last 24 hours that the Bosnian Serbs are going to return to their military meetings with the IFOR representatives in Sarajevo. There were no meetings scheduled for today, but we have received good indications from Pale and from various Bosnian Serb leaders that they will do that. That's in their self-interest. It's also the commitment they made to the international community, and we fully expect them to follow up on that.
Q You can't confirm the reports. You have no independent --
MR. BURNS: We've just seen the press reports. We've not seen any Mladic order to his troops. We have not been informed of such an order by anybody who purports to speak for the Bosnian Serbs in the field, but I think you know that our troops can defend themselves.
Q Has the U.S. attempted --
MR. BURNS: We've certainly looked into it, but we haven't been able to corroborate this particular report.
Q There are no intelligence reports of this, are there?
MR. BURNS: If there were intelligence reports, I couldn't talk about them because they're intelligence reports. But I'm not aware of any, Judd.
Q There's a part of the story about American troops being on alert. Now, has that been corroborated?
MR. BURNS: I think Ken Bacon said yesterday that our troops are not on alert. They're always on alert; they're not on any kind of special case of alert. They are prepared to defend themselves, and they're going to go about their duties, which is to separate these parties and police the cease-fire.
Q They apparently weren't willing to defend themselves -- at least the Italian NATO troops yesterday -- when they confronted Mladic or Karadzic, and they did not arrest him. What do you have to say about that?
MR. BURNS: Sid, I can't base our government policy on what we read in press reports. We have seen press reports about this particular incident. We have not been able to corroborate that. I'd refer you to IFOR. If anybody can corroborate these particular press reports which purport to be IFOR troops -- Italian troops in IFOR -- it's IFOR itself in Sarajevo. So I'd direct the question there.
Q So again there's no corroboration from this building of that incident?
MR. BURNS: No, there's not, and we have looked into that because we were interested in that report, as you may well imagine.
Q Yes, I'm Soon-Yong Cho with the Korean Broadcasting System. I have two questions about North Korea. This morning I was told of a report from Seoul, Korea, that the first wife of North Korean leader Jong-il Kim is asking asylum in USA. Could you confirm whether USA has received an asylum application? And a second one: North Korea proposed a treaty -- a temporary peace treaty with the USA, replacing the truce agreement established 45 years ago. What's the USA position on that issue? That's the two questions.
MR. BURNS: Thank you. On the first question, we've only seen the press reports. We've not been in touch with anyone in Kim Jong-il's family. We don't know where his wife might be, and we have taken no action on that matter because no one has approached us.
On the second question, we are aware that the North Koreans are proposing some kind of interim U.S.-North Korean peace agreement. There's no need for that, and we're not going to accept any such proposal from the North Koreans. There's no need because there's already a military armistice agreement from 1953. That agreement has maintained stability in the Korean peninsula for a long time, for many decades, and we would never think of entering into any agreement with North Korea that did not include our ally, the Republic of Korea.
So I think the North Koreans have to think again. They have to turn their attention back to the Armistice Commission. They have to make that work. Their record of performance there is not stellar. There have been many North Korean violations of the armistice agreement, but that's where we're going to concentrate our efforts.
Of course, we always would discuss any such proposal with the Republic of Korea. We would never enter into any agreement such as this without them.
Still on Korea? Any follow-up on Korea? Okay.
Q I have a Bosnian question.
MR. BURNS: A Bosnia question, Judd.
Q What do you hear about Izetbegovic?
MR. BURNS: We've received very disturbing reports this morning that President Izetbegovic was taken ill, that he has experienced some type of heart problem, that he's been hospitalized. We have not received specific information from the Bosnian Government about his health and his welfare. Secretary Christopher is writing him -- sending a letter just in the next hour or two to him, wishing him well and wishing him a speedy recovery.
He is obviously a very important part of the process of implementing the Dayton accords, and we do wish him a full and speedy recovery. But we don't have any specific information, Judd, about the nature of his illness. I'd have to refer you to the Bosnian Government in Sarajevo for that.
Q (Inaudible) other statements and things he may have said to the Secretary on the record, off the record, privately, publicly. Do these stand as commitments for the Bosnian Government, or do you feel -- because he was very personally involved in these negotiations. Do you have full confidence that the Bosnian Government, such as it is, will carry out his commitments, whatever his capacity?
MR. BURNS: We certainly do, and he's President of the country and he's head of the government, and when he makes a commitment to the United States or anyone else, he is speaking for the government. We've made the same requests to the Prime Minister -- Prime Minister Muratovic -- and to other officials.
So when it comes to the presence of Iranian fighters -- and we believe there are still some Iranian fighters on the ground in Bosnia -- when it comes to the three detainees who are still being held and any other issue, any commitments made by President Izetbegovic, of course, would have to be upheld by other members of his government.
Q I ask because as we all are aware, you know, there are -- as in many governments, there were serious divisions among the Bosnian leadership through the last months of the war and possibly into the negotiations. They lost a Prime Minister for political reasons.
MR. BURNS: There may be divisions, but when a government leader speaks, he speaks on behalf of his country and his government. He makes commitments. Those are commitments that have to be kept by all members of the government.
Q Let me pick up on the Iranian fighters. Weeks ago when this became a matter of some discussion, there was reference to some of them possibly having married locals, and the implication was that every last Iranian fighter would not have to leave because there were circumstances where maybe a handful could be accepted -- you could acquiesce for various personal reasons.
When you talk about Iranian fighters, do you know anything more about them? Are they in that special category, or are they the kind of folks that ought to get out of there?
MR. BURNS: It's an interesting issue. I noted that the Iranian Foreign Minister -- Minister Velayati -- said today that there aren't any Iranians any longer in Bosnia, and he said that they were only there for humanitarian purposes. That's a very curious statement indeed, given the fact that three of them were caught redhanded with explosives and firearms and all sorts of unusual plans just last week.
As Secretary of Defense Perry said this morning, we would be naive to think that there are no more Iranians present in Bosnia. We believe they're still there. Secretary Perry said that we're keeping these people under surveillance. It is up to the Bosnian Government, which is the host government to these people, to get them out -- to get them out of the country and to put the Bosnian Government in conformance with the requirement of the Dayton accords that they all must leave.
We're going to watch this situation closely, and we're simply not going to take statements from the Iranian Foreign Minister at face value.
Q Okay, but this is not a supposition on the U.S.'s part. The U.S. knows for a fact that there are Iranian fighters in Bosnia.
MR. BURNS: We believe that there are Iranians still present in Bosnia. Admiral Smith believes that, and Secretary of Defense Perry said he believes it, too. It's a very serious issue, and we're going to follow it up with the Bosnian Government.
Q Any further explanation from the Bosnian Government on exactly what was going on in the safe house and who was complicit and the role of the Interior Ministry?
MR. BURNS: I would suggest you ask IFOR because IFOR has launched an investigation, and they've been questioning -- of course, they questioned the people who were arrested, and they've also been talking to the Bosnian Government.
This had all the signs and the signature of an operation designed to threaten IFOR, and we were very concerned about it. We're still concerned about it, and we're putting a lot of efforts now and a lot of resources into getting to the bottom of this issue in general.
Q Nick, there's a Reuter wire report here that quotes -- well, it doesn't quote, but attributes to Richard Holbrooke that he believed there are four to eight more training sites -- terrorist training sites in Bosnia. And the second point: I heard from some high sources yesterday that the U.S. Government seems to believe that Bosnian Muslim officials are involved and are behind and supporting the Iranians. Can you comment on either of these points?
MR. BURNS: Dick is off in New York now. I didn't see whatever statements he may have made on that yesterday pertaining to the number of sites, but IFOR, of course, is taking the lead in monitoring whatever sites are there. We believe that IFOR will do its job.
Getting back to Barry's question, some of these foreign fighters -- not just Iranians but other nationalities -- we think have married Bosnian women and by virtue of that have taken on Bosnian citizenship. If in fact they are valid citizens of Bosnia now, it's hard for the United States to object to their continuing presence there.
However, I think the signal that we have sent publicly to the Bosnian Government is quite clear. If any of these people are active, if any of them are armed, if they're fighters, and if they are planning unpleasant acts, then those people should be removed.
We were very gratified to see the Bosnian Government deport the three Iranians who were caught redhanded in that safe house last week.
Robin, you have a question?
Q Two weeks after the Secretary left the Balkans and a month past the deadline, why is it, do you think, that the Bosnian Government has not acted on them? They've pledged that they would time and time again, and yet they don't do anything. Why?
MR. BURNS: The Bosnians tell us that it's a difficult issue for them because when the Bosnians were fighting during the three-and-a-half to four years of war, they say that the Iranians and some of the others were helpful to them. That may be the case, but that time has passed.
The fact is the war has ended. There's been a cease-fire and a peace agreement, and now there are 60,000 NATO troops essentially to protect the Bosnian state and its borders, to insure those borders, to insure peace and we hope tranquility. There's no more reason for a couple of hundred members of a motley international crew to stay behind.
So with all due respect, our argument to the Bosnian Government has been they should leave. They say it's a difficult issue, but they did say at the Rome meeting and they pledged to Dick Holbrooke that all fighters would leave, and they're going to be held accountable to that pledge.
Q They said that two weeks ago when they were there.
MR. BURNS: They did.
Q I mean, they've pledged this time and time again. Why is it that they -- I mean -- and I remember hearing these very words from you. Why is it that nothing's been done?
MR. BURNS: By the Bosnian Government, you mean.
MR. BURNS: That's really a question you're going to have to direct to them -- to those people in the Bosnian Government who may be dragging their feet on this. What we're concerned about is getting rid of all the foreign fighters. What we've said is that we cannot foresee the United States proceeding with equipping the Bosnian army, training the Bosnian army, to prepare the Bosnian army for the day when IFOR leaves -- we can't foresee that if we still believe there are foreign forces present -- Islamic forces present in Bosnia.
I think that has leverage. I think it's a message that the Bosnian Government has taken to heart, and they understand what it means. Not only would we not want to do it -- we in the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government -- I can't imagine that there would be support in the American public for it or in the Congress.
Q Have I missed this, but you haven't identified -- State hasn't identified that consulting firm that's going to oversee the training and equipping, is that correct?
MR. BURNS: No, you haven't missed it. Jim Pardew is still working on our proposals to help coordinate equip-and-train. There are a number of aspects, including identifying a consulting firm that will do some of this work. But, you know, we're not going to proceed with some of these actions until we see a better measure of cooperation.
Q I mean, by indirection -- are you saying directly that the U.S. will not proceed until there's better performance?
MR. BURNS: That's what the Secretary has said -- Secretary of State -- and what I have said repeatedly --
Q The announcement was due long before now.
MR. BURNS: A couple of months ago we thought we would have proceeded more quickly. We can't do that until we see by the actions of the Bosnian Government that they're going to fulfill their good-faith commitments to us. This is too important. It's too important to secure the safety of our troops, of our young men and women, to fool around with this issue; and we're not going to do that, and the Bosnian Government knows that.
Q All right, let me ask you one quick -- I always ask the same question when the issue comes up. Is there a decision yet whether the U.S. will be providing American weapons while and if -- now it seems to be an "if" -- it equips and oversees the training of the Bosnian army?
MR. BURNS: I don't know if there's an ironclad decision, Barry. I think the general assumption that underlies this program is that we will coordinate an international effort; that we would expect that many friends of Bosnia would contribute the majority of the arms to Bosnia.
Q The majority.
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q I mean, at one point I think it was that the United States would be the coordinator, not the provider, and I don't think that was changing.
MR. BURNS: You know, we haven't been able to proceed with some of these plans because of the non-compliance of the Bosnian Government. But I don't see us taking any kind of leading role in that. I think that's for other governments. Jim Pardew is doing an outstanding job under adverse circumstances and has been talking with the Turkish Government and with other governments that have been involved previously and will continue to be involved in the future.
Still on Bosnia?
Q Yes. On that, just to clarify. The failure to name a consulting firm for equipping and training is due to non-compliance and not bureaucratic inertia?
MR. BURNS: There are a lot of elements to this program. I don't want to say that every single element is tied to the issue of foreign fighters; but in general our ability to coordinate, lead and help to fund equipping and training is not going to go ahead, is in jeopardy until we see a better measure of compliance on the issue of foreign fighters. I think it's a fairly clear statement, and it's been our policy for a good month now.
Q I understand that, but the specific failure to name a consulting firm is due specifically to non-compliance and not because of bureaucratic hangups and the difficulty of the job?
MR. BURNS: I'd just say that the Bosnian Government has to understand that our ability to go ahead with that issue and others is going to be dependent on cooperation. We need to see a better measure.
Q Just to fill out the picture better, has any country, other than Turkey, stepped forward and said, "We would be happy and willing to provide training facilities"?
MR. BURNS: I think there are some countries. I think we need to keep that private and confidential until they are prepared to go forward.
Q European countries?
MR. BURNS: Well, there are countries from all around the world actually.
Q I mean, you've got yourself --
MR. BURNS: I can't pinpoint any country.
Q The Administration got itself into a mess in -- understandably, eagerness to level the playing field, you ended up with Iranian Freedom Fighters, or whatever they're called.
MR. BURNS: No, no, no.
Q Well -- all right --
MR. BURNS: That's not the way it worked.
Q All right, but I'm shortcutting it
MR. BURNS: You are.
Q The U.S., realizing that it wouldn't help the Bosnian Government, realizing that the Europeans weren't about to help the Bosnian Government, acquiesced and various countries contributed arms and weapons, and it is not something that disturbed the Administration, which had enough moral issues to worry about at that point anyhow by its inaction.
I just wondered if you're going to knock on the same doors and possibly get into the same kind of jams, or are you going to stick with reliable allies like Turkey?.
MR. BURNS: With all due respect, I just take issue with some of the premises here.
Q It's a synopsis.
MR. BURNS: All right, let me just try to say a couple of things, Barry, in response. We're not in a mess, and we're not in a jam.
Q Well, you've got Iranians --
MR. BURNS: If our European partners do not want to cooperate with us on equip-and-train, that's their decision. We're going to go ahead if the foreign fighters are evacuated or depart from Bosnia.
We didn't invite those Iranians in. They were invited in long before the United States brokered the peace agreement. In terms of our commitment to peace, I would say that you've got to give us the vast majority of credit for having brokered that peace agreement.
So the Iranian problem is a Bosnian problem. It's not an American problem, and the Bosnians have to deal with that problem. Equip-and- train makes sense because we want to see rough equilibrium among the various military forces on the day that IFOR departs. We do not want to see a situation of disequilibrium which could invite further warfare.
We want to see the peace continue, and we think that equip-and- train is a big part of that. The Bosnian Government should know it's in its own self-interest, and they know it has to happen for us to get there.
Q Could you help me understand something, please? You all want to suspend the sanctions on the Bosnian Serbs, for whatever reason, when there are numerous war criminals they haven't turned over, and you all have said very flatly that they were the aggressors and the Bosnians were the underdog.
Now because of a handful of Iranian mercenaries, you're threatening to withhold the most key element of the accords for the Bosnians. I don't understand the fairness of that.
MR. BURNS: We're asking all the parties -- not just the Bosnian Government but the Bosnian Serbs and the Croatians -- to fulfill the Dayton accords.
On the other side of the ledger, the United States has not yet made a decision -- a firm decision -- that we're going to support in the U.N. Security Council a lifting of sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs. I would expect that that would probably happen at some point in the future because, as you know, it's written into the Dayton accords that Admiral Smith will submit a report to General Joulwan about compliance with the military provisions of the Dayton accords, about the zone of separation, about the cease-fire.
But I think the Bosnian Serbs have to wonder today about what the United States is going to do. We're a little bit skeptical coming out of the Rome conference that they are going to, in good faith, implement everything they said they'd do. We want to see actions on the ground. If we see good actions, we'll be in a frame of mind to support a lifting of sanctions.
Admiral Smith's report has been written, and I believe it's making its way up the chain of command. But I know that he said publicly he didn't think that the sanctions should be suspended for the next 48 hours. We very much agree with that.
We want to see the Bosnian Serbs return to the military meetings. We want to see a better measure of compliance from them, too.
So, Sid, we're not singling out the Bosnian Government. We're asking all of these three parties to be faithful to the Dayton Accords. It's in their self-interest to do that.
Q Are you then saying that the Bosnian Serbs have to hand over war criminals -- namely, Mladic and Karadzic -- before you will propose suspending the sanctions?
MR. BURNS: No, I'm not saying that. I didn't mention that issue at all when I just described our position. I'm not saying that whatsoever.
I will say, however, that cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal will affect how the United States looks at our relationship with Serbia. That will be one of the factors, when we look at our ability to fully recognize and establish full diplomatic relations with Serbia. We don't have an Ambassador there; we have a Charge d'Affaires for a reason.
The outer wall of sanctions, the ability of Serbia to participate in international organizations -- U.N. organizations -- will be partially dependent on how well they commit themselves to the Dayton Accords provisions on war criminals.
Q But there's no linkage between war criminals and suspension of sanctions?
MR. BURNS: On the Bosnian Serbs?
Q On the Bosnian Serbs.
MR. BURNS: There's no specific linkage there. But there are certainly aspects of this agreement that they've got to do better on and meet before we're going to support it.
Q Different subject. Minister Farrakhan is due to return from his world tour sometime in the next 24 to 48 hours. Has the State Department determined whether he violated any of the passport regulations when he travelled to Libya and Iraq? Are you aware of whether the Justice Department or anyone else has determined that he should be detained or questioned following this trip?
MR. BURNS: Minister Farrakhan has said a lot of things during his trip and we responded to some of the things that he said. We fully stand by what we said about aspects of his trip.
On the question that you asked, that's a more narrow technical question. Here's how it works. Under U.S. law, American citizens may not travel to Libya or to Iraq without a special validation in their passport, which is granted by the Department of State.
I don't know whether or not this validation was given because I don't know that the United States Government knew that Mr. Farrakhan was going to travel to Iraq or Libya or Iran. I did find out yesterday morning that in mid-January Minister Farrakhan sent a letter to the Department of State saying that he was going to make a trip to Africa and the Middle East. He did not include, in the very detailed itinerary that he sent to us, that Iraq, Libya, and Iran were on his list of countries to visit.
So I'm not sure that this question about passport validation arose with U.S. Government officials before he left. What normally happens when a U.S. citizen re-enters the United States is that a Immigration and Nationality Service official, or a Customs Service official, will look to see if there are any entry and exit stamps from countries to which the United States citizens cannot travel. For instance, Iraq and Libya.
If they do find those stamps, they will turn those passports over to the proper authorities -- in this case, the Justice Department -- for a review of whether or not U.S. laws were violated. So I can't answer the question, number one, "Did Mr. Farrakhan approach somebody in the U.S. Government -- the State Department -- for a validation." I don't believe so, but I can't be absolutely sure until we see his passport. And, number two, we know he visited these countries. I don't know if he's got stamps on his passports, but he certainly visited the countries because we know that he stood in Tehran on the anniversary of the day that the American hostages were taken. We know that he stood with Qadhafi and condemned the United States and did not raise the fact that Qadhafi is responsible for the deaths of American citizens on Pan Am 103. We know he stood in Iraq with Saddam Hussein and said very negative things about the United States.
So there are a lot of very disturbing aspects of this case. We're just going to have to see how it goes when he gets back. I know that other government agencies have responsibility for other aspects of his travel and some of the activities that may have taken place.
We can only be responsible for passports. In the case of his statements about the United States, we have certainly spoken out and said what we feel about his activities and his standing with dictators in some countries that are clearly enemies of the United States.
Q Did his letter get a response?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe his letter got a response. As I understand it -- and I didn't know about the existence of this letter until yesterday -- the Department of State sent a cable to the embassies in those countries to which we thought he was going to travel and said, "Minister Farrakhan is coming to your country; we just wanted you to know." We didn't ask our embassies to do anything special for the visit. I just don't know if he contacted any of our embassies during his trip.
Q You said "special" -- I'm not trying to be legalistic, but do those letters customarily activate some sort of courtesy?
MR. BURNS: Sometimes when a distinguished American travels overseas, Ambassadors are asked, usually because the person requests it, that maybe the person be met at the airport, if they ask for that. He did not ask for that. He just wanted us to know that he would be travelling; but he did not tell us in his letter or in the attachment, which had his schedule of visits, about the visits to the three pariah states, the three countries that time and again have confronted the United States and are opposed to United States policy and in two cases that we know, have American blood on their hands. That's a very serious development.
Q Could I just clarify, Nick. Are you saying that Minister Farrakhan did, in fact, violate U.S. law by not getting these certifications on his passport and that he will have his passport seized at the border and will be questioned by U.S. authorities?
MR. BURNS: I very carefully tried not to say that, for the following reason. I don't know everything that he and his associates did to prepare themselves for the travel. I don't know if they requested validation for travel to countries where American citizens cannot normally travel. I just don't know the circumstances, so it would be certainly precipitous of me to make the statement that you want me to make.
All I can say is that we have to be responsible to American law. I've quoted to you the passport restrictions that are written into U.S. law from 1981 and from other years subsequent to that about these two countries.
Q Just to correct the record, because some people read these transcripts and write stories about them, I was not seeking that answer from you.
MR. BURNS: Fair enough.
Q A follow-on.
MR. BURNS: Sid still has the floor, Bill, and then we have other follow-ups.
Q Just a follow-up. It's hard to believe that if this letter existed a month or so ago that you all -- especially someone of that high profile -- did not go back to him and request him to get the stamps. Was that the case?
MR. BURNS: Here's the problem. Here's the problem. When he sent us the letter on January 9, 1996, he said he was going to travel to Africa and the Middle East. He attached to that a detailed itinerary that omitted Libya, Iraq, and Iran. We're not mind-readers here. We couldn't foresee that he would try to travel to these countries, two of which, of course, are off-limits to American citizens without the validation.
We know he was in these countries because we've seen the film footage and the press reports and the incredible statements that he made in Libya and in Iraq. Obviously, these are questions that have to be answered, but I can't stand here and say that we have perfect knowledge about all aspects of this trip because we don't.
MR. BURNS: Let Charlie go first. Then we'll go to you.
Q The same point. To follow up in the trying parts at one point finer. We know where he traveled, but assuming he returns without stamps having been provided and his passport is not stamped, is that a violation?
MR. BURNS: It is not permitted under U.S. law for American citizens to travel to Iraq or Libya without the special validation. We'll just have to determine if that validation was given or not. If it was not given, then it's a matter for other government agencies to look into it. The State Department, at that point, would not purview over this particular case. It would be the Justice Department.
Q The State Department issues the validations, in the first place. How is it that the State Department does not know if they were issued?
MR. BURNS: We have not had an opportunity to comb through all the various files. In some cases, you're not even sure who you should talk to because we have 25,000 people working here.
But needless to say, all this is happening in the open here. All of you know that Mr. Farrakhan is coming back to the United States and he'll have to answer some questions; various types of questions about his behavior on the trip. I'm sure this issue will be scrutinized by the press as well as by those of us in government.
Q If somebody travels to Iraq and Libya and his passport does not have validation but is stamped at the border by Iraq or Libya --
MR. BURNS: Is stamped -- excuse me?
Q He has an entry stamp or an exit stamp, does a Custom Official seize it as a matter of course?
MR. BURNS: I understand the regulations are that if a Customs or INS official sees an American passport, when you come through one of the airports in the United States and sees stamps from either of those countries, that that official has the obligation to take that passport. That's my understanding of the law and of the procedures here.
I can't anticipate what's going to happen. I just don't know what will happen in this particular case.
Q Has a watch effort been put on this?
MR. BURNS: I just don't know. That's a question --
Q I mean in the routine of -- just procedurally.
MR. BURNS: That would be a question, I think, for INS and the Customs Service. I just don't know in this case if that's happened.
Q If we know he's been someplace and he doesn't have any stamps from there, is that a violation?
MR. BURNS: That would be quite an unusual situation. It probably has been done before. It's not permitted. We'd have to look into that, Bill.
Q As a result of this, did you initiate any inquiries since the whole thing began to try to gather all the information that he was validated to enter other countries besides the three countries that he omitted in his request?
MR. BURNS: I wanted to get this information out today. I felt duty-bound to do that because last Friday I believe it was Carol asked me if we had any advance knowledge of his trip and I said we did not. That was a statement that I believed to be true at the time because I had no previous knowledge of his trip.
Yesterday, we received a copy of a letter from one of our bureaus here that clearly indicates that the State Department did know about his trip ahead of time. That's the first time I knew about it, and I wanted to get this out and let all of you know about it.
Q Are you all going to release a copy of the letter?
MR. BURNS: That would not be proper. He sent us a letter privately. We're not normally in the business of releasing private letters from American citizens.
Q Is there going to be any effort by anyone in this Department, though, to talk to him on his return about his various comments or even what he observed while he was meeting with some of these people?
MR. BURNS: Oh, I don't think we need to talk to him about what he observed. We know who Qadhafi is; he's a terrorist. Rafsanjani is an authoritarian figure who is responsible for American deaths in Lebanon. We know who these people are. We know a lot about Saddam Hussein. I don't think we need to get any insights from Mr. Farrakhan about the nature of dictators.
I don't believe there will be any effort to sit down and talk to him. We've commented on his trip and we've said what we have to say about his trip. It's very clear.
Q Just to keep the record straight, though, it isn't that frivolous a question, because he went to places and talked to people where the U.S. had no objection. He spoke of the rights of these people to have him in and the right of an American citizen to have freedom of speech.
It's conceivable -- it would seem conceivable that he might provide some insights. But he's not the guy you're going to look for to find out about the working minds of the leaders of Syria, Nigeria, South Africa, or any of the other places where you didn't object to him going?
MR. BURNS: We know enough -- let me just try to answer your question directly.
Q Why don't you be fair about it.
MR. BURNS: To be fair --
Q He didn't just go to Libya, Iraq, and Iran?
MR. BURNS: That's right. He went to Nigeria and he went to South Africa, and he went to many other countries.
Let's just try to summarize this and move on. I would summarize it as follows. Louis Farrakhan is an American citizen. So therefore he's free like any other American to say what he wants to say at home or overseas. Nobody is contesting his right to freedom of speech.
We have disagreed, and I have disagreed, with some of the things that he said and did do and did not do when he stood beside dictators, and that's fair game. That is fair game.
He visited a lot of people beyond Qadhafi and Saddam Hussein and Rafsanjani. He visited President Assad, and we certainly could have no objection to that. We have diplomatic relations with Syria. He visited Mr. Erbakan in Turkey. We can have no objection to that. Mr. Erbakan is a leader of a major party in Turkey.
But we did have objections to the dictators, and that's what we centered our comments on.
Q I would like to follow up.
MR. BURNS: You can follow that, and we're going to wrap this up and go onto the next --
Q As you know, there are Middle Eastern countries like the ones the Secretary of State has visited 17 times, that you can visit and not get your passport stamped so it's a real question. Is Louis Farrakhan, or anyone else, violating the law if he visits Iraq and Libya with or without getting his passport stamped, with or without getting the special validation, or with or without spending U.S. currency there? You can go to these places, particularly if it's by prior arrangement, as you well know, and not get your passport stamped.
So is it a violation of U.S. law, in any case, that he visited these countries without validation?
MR. BURNS: I understand, Lee, that you must have a validation in your passport to travel to Iraq or Libya. I've said that a couple of times. That's my understanding of the law.
Q Do you happen to know if there any exceptions as there are for Cuba? There must be a journalist exception, isn't there?
MR. BURNS: I don't know but I can check into that.
Q And he didn't ask for any, presumably? He didn't tell you he was going to those countries.
MR. BURNS: He didn't tell us he was going to these three countries.
Q (Inaudible) on this law -- I'm sorry, Bill -- do you know the penalties involved in this law?
MR. BURNS: I do not know the penalties, no. I'm sure the penalties are very clear in these cases, but I can't cite them to you. That's a question we can certainly look into for you.
Q A very much related issue. Representative Peter King, a very much outspoken critic of Qadhafi, has been under death threats. Somebody called him claiming to be a Qadhafi supporter and said, "Lay off Qadhafi." The Capitol police and the FBI are investigating this. I learned yesterday the FBI is giving Mr. King protection.
Further, I would ask, Nick, has the State Department received any threats from any sources on this particular issue? And is the FBI and the State Department working together?
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware of any threats here at the State Department on this matter. Your question is more properly addressed to the FBI. I can't answer questions like this.
Q Has this Department confirmed that, has the FBI confirmed that in the last couple of days -- that about Peter King, that is?
MR. BURNS: The State Department is not responsible for law enforcement or for protection of people under threat. So I just can't answer your question. You've gone to the FBI and Justice. That should satisfy you.
Q Is the FBI working with diplomatic security to investigate this matter of Farrakhan?
MR. BURNS: I just don't. I don't know the answer to that. Any more on this particular issue? Can we move on? We can't move on. Okay.
Q Move on.
MR. BURNS: You want to move on?
Q Oh, yeah.
MR. BURNS: Let's move on.
Q Nick, do you have any thoughts about delaying the talks on the final settlements between the Palestinians and Israelis?
MR. BURNS: Delaying the talks?
Q Yeah. They were supposed to start sometime in May. I understand that they are postponing this until after the Israeli elections which are slated for May 29.
MR. BURNS: I'll have to take that question. I'm not aware that there's been a formal decision to do so. I'll just have to look into that.
Q What are your expectations of the next round of talks between the Israelis and the Syrians, which will begin next week in Washington?
MR. BURNS: The talks begin on February 28. These are important because we believe that there has been some momentum and progress in the prior talks which should be preserved. That's the rationale for continuing the Syrian-Israeli negotiations as the Israeli people conduct an election campaign.
Secretary Christopher, when he returns from Latin America, will be going out to the Wye Conference Center and will participate directly in those talks.
Q Has Syria expressed to you any desire lately or wish to have its name expunged from the countries supporting terrorism as a condition to continue the peace talks with the Israelis?
MR. BURNS: The ability of the United States to take Syria's name off the terrorism list is a direct function of Syria's cooperation with the rest of the world on terrorism. If the record and the performance is better and if it meets the conditions under U.S. law, then Syria will be taken off. If it's not, Syria will not be taken off.
Q Can I continue, please? I will continue the last question.
Q The survey was last year --
MR. BURNS: I know that, Barry. But I was simply --
Q Whatever Syria does, the report refers to last year's activities.
MR. BURNS: And the answer that I want to give here is that a country's performance, the actual deeds of a country will force a decision or will contribute to a decision to take the country off the terrorism list or to keep it on.
Q I was in Jerusalem two weeks ago and the East Jerusalem Palestinians were complaining and crying that the Israelis are confiscating 2,200 dunams in East Jerusalem in the area that you possibly know, Jebel (Inaudible).
Have you received any communication from the Consulate or the Embassy or the protest of the Palestinians which are really adamant to go and sit there and have -- sit over the over land that will be confiscated?
MR. BURNS: Let me look into that for you. I'm not aware personally but I'll check with the Near East Bureau. We'll get back to you personally.
Q Still on the Middle East.
MR. BURNS: Still on the Middle East.
Q Were you surprised that King Fahd of Saudi Arabia has resumed his duties?
MR. BURNS: We're very pleased that the King has been able to recover from his illness and resume his duties. We congratulate him on that, and, of course, we look forward to many years of good association and cooperation with him.
Q Your answer to the previous question suggests that you don't really expect much progress in this round; that you're sort of in a holding pattern while the Israelis hold their elections but you want to keep the process, at least, public enough -- some sort of pattern that will resume in June. Is that a fair interpretation of that answer?
MR. BURNS: No, but thank you for giving me the opportunity to say we hope to make as much progress as can be made, as Israel and Syria want to make.
I was simply referring to the fact that some people have been asking, "Why are you holding talks at all because the Israelis are conducting an election campaign?" The reason is that Prime Minister Peres, President Assad, and Secretary Christopher agreed mutually during the Secretary's last trip that there has been sufficient progress made. You didn't want to lose that. You didn't want to simply cancel the process and wait for the May 29 elections. You wanted to preserve the momentum and, hopefully, build on it at this next round of talks and in subsequent discussions.
Q Back to the Iranian airbus incident. We skipped over that very quickly. How many Iranians are eligible? Can you go over the background a little bit about the case, and why it was dismissed?
Do you have indications that the Iranians will be allowed to accept the money or that they will take the money? Because at one point early on, there were some who said they wouldn't take American blood money.
MR. BURNS: We have every indication as a result of this settlement, which was reached through negotiations between our Legal Advisor, Conrad Harper, with his Iranian counterpart, that the Iranian citizens will be able to accept these ex gratia payments by the United States.
I believe there are 290 victims of the airbus disaster. I believe 248 of them were Iranians. As President Reagan said at the time, "The United States believes that we have a moral obligation to compensate the families of the victims."
As you know, we believe that the USS Vincennes was taking appropriate defensive measures when this incident occurred, and we've always said that. We've never said anything different from that.
But we do believe, regardless of the cause and the events that led up to the shootdown, that we have an obligation to compensate families who lost fathers and sons and sisters and mothers.
I would contrast that with Mr. Qadhafi. He shot down Pan Am 103 and killed 269 people. He doesn't apparently feel any kind of moral compunction to help satisfy the financial needs of the families of those victims. In fact, he's harboring the two terrorists who blew that plane up; and that gets back to the problem we have with Mr. Farrakhan's trip to Tripoli. He should have raised that.
Last two questions.
Q Can we move to China?
MR. BURNS: We can move to China, yes.
Q Is it true that China's Minister of Defense is coming to visit the U.S. next month? And also, has the U.S. Administration developed any solid (inaudible) for high-level talks with Beijing to spring? If yes, what's the itinerary?
MR. BURNS: I remember that in Osaka, in November, Secretary Christopher did have an understanding with the Chinese Government that the Defense Minister, Chi Haotian -- excuse my pronounciation -- that he would visit the United States in 1996. He was supposed to have done so in 1995, and we did want him to visit. No dates have been set, but we fully expect that visit to take place.
We look forward to high-level contacts with the Chinese Government. Secretary Christopher saw his counterpart, the Chinese Foreign Minister, I believe three times in 1995; and we certainly look forward to contacts in 1996. However, I don't believe we have set any dates for those meetings or other high-level meetings.
Q A two-part question on Mexico. A senior Mexican official this morning here in Washington said that de-certification, especially if it came with a waiver, would damage U.S.-Mexico relations. I wanted to ask you, one, how does the State Department think it would affect U.S.-Mexico relations and, two, are you satisfied with Mexico's efforts on drugs?
MR. BURNS: A two-part question. I really can't answer properly either question. Secretary Christopher spoke to this this morning. We have an excellent relationship with Mexico. We have a long, common border. We're working on many problems, including narcotics interdiction.
The decision to certify or not to certify is a decision that the President must make based on a recommendation from the Secretary of State. That decision will be announced on March 1.
I don't want to try to get ahead of the game and indicate what I think will happen. I really can't answer your second question because that might answer the first question, and I can't answer either.
Q Nick, when would you expect the Secretary to make his recommendation?
MR. BURNS: Shortly. I think shortly.
Q This week?
MR. BURNS: I don't know what day he'll make it. I believe it will be shortly because we're fast approaching March 1.
Q What's the Department's policy on Mr. Deutch's statement about using journalists in extreme conditions of national security in war and peace?
MR. BURNS: I'm going to leave that to Mr. Deutch. I think he spoke very well.
(Press briefing concluded at 2:01 p.m.)
-37- Thursday, 2/22/96
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