U.S. Department of State 96/03/25 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Monday, March 25, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns ANNOUNCEMENTS Rundown of Secretary's Trip to Middle East & Europe ..... 1-3 (Follow-Up Meeting to Sharm al-Sheikh, Bosnia, CTB, Ukraine, Central Europe, Russia) Secretary's Mtg with Chinese FM, The Hague, April 19..... 3 Secretary's Foreign Policy Address at Stanford, April 9,. 3 on Environmental Issues Secretary's Testimonies on FY 1997 Budget on Wednesday,.. 4 and on CWC on Thursday Illness of Former Secretary Muskie ...................... 4 CHINA Exports of Sensitive Material to Pakistan/Einhorn Trip... 4-5 Ex-Im Bank Loans/Sanctions .............................. 5-7 China-Taiwan Talks/US Reaction........................... 7-9 Military Exercises in Strait of Taiwan/Reaction to Taiwan 7-8 Elections/US Naval Vessels in Area Details of Secretary-FM Mtg in The Hague, April 19 ...... 8 Trilateral Relationship................................. 8 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Sharm al-Sheikh Follow Up Mtg March 28-29/Reviving Peace. 9-10,12-15 Negotiations/Suggestions on Agenda/Representatives at Mtg and Level/Secretary's Address Opening/Follow Up Mtg Peace Process Continues ................................. 9 Continued Hardships of Palestinians/Israel Relaxing...... 10 Siege Policy/Expedite Economic Assistance Choking Off Support to Hamas/Discussions with UK ........ 11 Resumption of Wye Talks/Syria-Israel Track/US Commitment. 12 SYRIA: Visit by Former President Bush ..................... 12 LIBYA: Prison Break ....................................... 16 ALGERIA: Pelletreau Visit ................................. 17 GREECE/TURKEY PM Yilmaz Remarks on Dialogue/US Serve as Mediator ...... 17-18 TURKEY: PKK Threats ....................................... 18 TURKEY/ARMENIA: Reconciliation ............................ 18 ARMENIA/AZERBAIJAN: Readout of Dep Secy Talbott Visit ..... 19-20 BANGLADESH: Army Role in Recent Crisis .................... 20-21 NATO: Status on Expansion/Relations With Russia ........... 21-22 GUATEMALA Allegations of Cover Up in Deaths of Devine & Bamaca .... 22-23 RUSSIA/BELARUS Confederation Arrangement/Reinstituting Soviet Union .... 23
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
MONDAY, MARCH 25, 1996, 1:00 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: I have a couple of things to tell you. First, as you know, the Secretary is back from his very productive, successful, and very long trip to the Middle East and to Europe. It was a very important trip because it dealt with some of the most critical issues in U.S. foreign policy.
First, the Middle East peace process and the fight against terrorism in the Middle East: The Secretary, as you know, accompanied the President to Sharm al-Sheikh and to Jerusalem. There's going to be a follow-up meeting of the Sharm al-Sheikh countries on Thursday and Friday of this week.
That meeting is going to be co-chaired by two Assistant Secretaries of State, Phil Wilcox and Bob Pelletreau. We expect an excellent turnout from the countries' representatives at Sharm. We expect that they will, together, discuss the options available to the international community to fight terrorism in the Middle East and to choke off support to terrorist groups from states in the region, including Iran.
I hope that by tomorrow I'll have more information for you about which states will be attending that conference.
Second: As you know, the Secretary's trip dealt in many ways and in two different cities with the issue of Bosnia.
The critical need for the United States and our European partners to be aggressively and continuously involved in diplomacy to try to make the Dayton Accords succeed and to ensure compliance by the parties with the Dayton Accords. In his meeting in Geneva with Milosevic, Tudjman, and Vice President Ganic, and again on Saturday afternoon in Moscow at the Contact Group Ministerial, chaired by Foreign Minister Primakov, Secretary Christopher put forward many ideas for how these parties can achieve compliance and for the need for them to keep the effort focused on compliance.
Third: A Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was a major issue on this trip, both in Geneva at the meeting with the Perm 5 Ambassadors, but most importantly in Moscow on Friday morning, in the Secretary's meeting with President Yeltsin. We now believe that our hope that a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty can be successfully negotiated and then signed by the international community, by the President, and others can be achieved this year, in 1996.
For 30 years, this has been a major objective of all American Administrations. We believe we're now on the verge -- we're now on the verge -- of reaching that objective.
Fourth: There was a major focus on Ukraine during this trip. The Secretary visited Kiev last Tuesday. He had his third meeting with President Kuchma in 1996 alone. I think that these meetings with Kuchma, with Prime Minister Marchuk and Foreign Minister Udovenko, have strengthened U.S.-Ukraine relations.
Ukraine is a key friend and partner of the United States in Central Europe.
The Secretary tried in his meetings to make sure that our economic assistance, as well as our political cooperation and our military relationships with the Partnership for Peace, would serve to strengthen Ukraine's objective, which is to build a democracy, build a market economy, and remain open to expanded relations with the West.
Fifth: There was a major focus on Central Europe. Both in the Secretary's meetings with President Havel and Prime Minister Klaus in Prague, but also in his speech in Prague, the Secretary reaffirmed and clarified the very strong commitment that the United States has to the security and to the future of the Central European democracies.
And, last, I'd just report to you, for those of you who were not with us, that on Friday and Saturday the Secretary had a series of very good meetings with the Russian leadership, and specifically with President Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Primakov.
I know at the Secretary's conclusion, coming back from Moscow on Saturday, as he spoke to your colleagues on the plane, was that on the big issues -- on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, on CFE, where we had excellent discussions with the Russians, on Bosnia, where we continue to work very, very well with the Russians, diplomatically and militarily, on China, where the Secretary had good discussions with President Yeltsin and on the follow-up to Middle East terrorism, the follow-up to the Sharm al-Sheikh summit -- on the big issues, the United States and Russia are coordinating well. We're working very well together. This is a good relationship. It's paid off in spades for the United States over the three years.
The Secretary is looking forward to his trip with the President to Moscow in mid-April.
So that's just a few thoughts about the trip. I'd be very glad to take any questions that you might have on any aspect of the trip for those of you who have it, once I finish some of the announcements that I have.
I also want to let you know that we worked out over the weekend a mutually agreed date for the Secretary's meeting with the Chinese Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen. That meeting will be held in The Hague in the Netherlands on April 19.
As you remember, we originally announced this meeting for April 21, but because of the President's schedule in Russia, the President's major meetings with the Russian leadership that will be on April 21, we went back and asked the Chinese if they could consider other dates. The Chinese were very kind and flexible, and we were able to arrange a meeting on April 19. They'll have a meeting. They may have a dinner together.
The Secretary is looking forward to several hours of discussion with his colleague, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen on the 19th.
I also want to let you know that Secretary Christopher will be delivering a major foreign policy address on the subject of "Environmental Diplomacy" at Stanford University on April 9. That speech will be given at the Memorial Auditorium at 11:00 a.m. in Palo Alto on April 9.
As the Secretary mentioned in his speech at Harvard, at the John F. Kennedy School in January, he and the President and Vice President have identified international environmental and resource concerns as vital concerns for the future of American diplomacy and for the future of the United States and how we work and interact with the rest of the world.
The purpose of the Secretary's speech at Stanford is to lay out to the American people our strategy to more forcefully integrate environmental concerns and resource concerns into mainstream foreign policy objectives. You know that the Secretary has issued a directive to all Under Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries to accomplish that throughout the great breadth of American foreign policy.
I also want to let you know that the Secretary will be testifying twice this week up on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, March 27, the Secretary will testify before the House Appropriations, Foreign Operations Subcommittee, on the Fiscal Year '97 budget for Foreign Assistance Programs. That briefing is at 2:00 p.m. in Room 2360 of the Rayburn House Building.
Then, on Thursday, March 28, the Secretary will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Secretary of Defense Bill Perry to discuss ratification of the Conventional Weapons Convention. That is at 10:00 a.m. in Room 419 of the Dirksen Building.
Last, before going to your questions, I just wanted to note some of the news reports this morning of the illness of former Senator and former Secretary of State, Edmund Muskie.
As you know, Secretary Christopher worked very closely with him -- with Senator Muskie -- Secretary Muskie -- in the Carter Administration. The Secretary is very distressed upon returning to the United States to learn of Secretary Muskie's illness. The Secretary, and all of us at the State Department, wish him a full and speedy recovery.
Q Do you have anything on the talks with the Chinese about their exports of sensitive materials to places like Pakistan? I believe Mr. Einhorn led a delegation out there?
MR. BURNS: Yes, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bob Einhorn, as you all know, was in Beijing until Saturday morning. He's returned to the United States. He'll be meeting with Secretary Christopher in a couple of hours, up in the Secretary's office, to report on his trip, to give the Secretary a comprehensive briefing on all aspects of the trip and all of his discussions with Chinese officials on this issue.
I can tell you this: The Secretary and his advisors continue to study the options available to the United States, looking at this very serious question. The Secretary has not made a determination on this question of alleged sale of ring magnets to Pakistan. He obviously wanted a full report from Mr. Einhorn, and will receive that full report this afternoon.
We'll continue to look at this issue. It's an important issue. When we have a decision to announce, we'll certainly announce that decision.
Q Go back to the first statement you made about the conference on Thursday and Friday?
MR. BURNS: I wonder if I could maybe just keep on China for a minute, and we'll just do it issue-by-issue. I think Chris probably has a question on China.
Q Just to follow up on Einhorn's trip. I'm sure you saw the Washington Post report yesterday that he had failed to persuade the Chinese to give an assurance that they would no longer sell such things as ring magnets abroad. Can you confirm that failure took place?
MR. BURNS: I think it would be most inappropriate for me to confirm a newspaper report like that when Mr. Einhorn was just arriving back in the United States and hasn't had a chance to report to the Secretary of State. So I'll let that meeting go forward.
The Administration, obviously, is very seriously concerned by these charges, and it takes them seriously. We have for a good number of weeks now. We're looking into this very aggressively. That was one of the reasons why Mr. Einhorn was asked to go to Beijing for these talks, but I don't want to characterize his talks, certainly not in advance of his report to the Secretary of State.
Q What about the temporary Ex-Im Bank sanctions which basically ran out this weekend? What's the status of those?
MR. BURNS: As you remember, the Secretary -- and I think it was a prudent move, of course -- asked Ex-Im, requested that there be a 30-day moratorium on loans. That 30-day period did expire on Saturday, the 23rd of March.
I don't believe that there are any loans regarding China for Ex-Im to consider this week. We also think it would be appropriate -- while we've not requested an extension of this moratorium, it's certainly appropriate for Ex-Im to maintain the moratorium until the Administration has had a chance to talk to Mr. Einhorn and until we've had a chance to discuss and decide on any further steps.
Q The bank says that it's open for business for loans to China this morning. It doesn't look like it's maintaining the moratorium?
MR. BURNS: Sid, all I can tell you is, I don't believe there are any loans to consider this week. We're looking at this question very aggressively. There will be a meeting this afternoon to discuss it. We don't believe that any loan decisions should be made pending a decision by the Administration.
Q (Inaudible) requested them. You seem to be asking them to take --
MR. BURNS: I don't believe there's a problem -- there's not a problem here. I believe if the review of this question does extend into next week or the week beyond and it was necessary for the State Department to make another request to Ex-Im, I'm sure we'd do that. But there's really not a need to make a formal request at this time, considering the fact that there are no loan decisions to be reviewed this week as far as we understand it.
Q But there were $10 million in loans up for consideration when the sanctions were imposed; right?
Q In the pipeline.
Q In the pipeline. What happens to those?
MR. BURNS: You ought to ask Ex-Im about what its schedule is. But what we understand from Ex-Im is that no decisions are to be made this week.
Q But, Nick, the freeze was on -- as Judd said -- for $10 million of loans in the pipeline. There's no more decision to be made. It's just for the money -- however they send it out. Are you doing something to prevent that from happening?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe that that's actually relevant this week. I think the Ex-Im Board has to meet to consider that question and other questions. There's not going to be a meeting on China this week.
Q They have to meet to consider new loans. They don't have to meet to reissue the old loans.
MR. BURNS: I'm not sure that's the case, Sid. But, if you're confused about this or you require additional information, I'd encourage you to address those questions to Ex-Im.
Q Not to be disrespectful, Nick, but I don't think I'm the one that's confused. But --
MR. BURNS: I'm sorry, Sid. I'm sorry to hear that. But if you have any questions, why don't you just direct them to Ex-Im.
Any other questions on this?
Q This is a China question. Now that the Taiwan elections are over, do you have any thoughts on U.S.-China relations, U.S.-Taiwan relations, China's relations with Taiwan in general?
MR. BURNS: On the last question, we were pleased to see this morning some constructive and positive words from both Beijing, from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, but also from Taipei about the willingness of both sides now to enter into discussion for ways on how they can resolve their problems.
We've always said that we think that the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait ought to get together and try to resolve their problems peacefully. It's good. It's productive to see some of the words coming out of both Taipei and Beijing this morning, and we would support any effort by both sides to get together, to have meetings and to talk about the problems that clearly have existed in their relationship.
As Secretary Christopher said to the reporters traveling with him on the plane on Saturday afternoon, the United States hopes very much that tensions will be reduced between China and Taiwan. We have noted with satisfaction that the military exercises have ended. All reports from the government in Beijing and all of our independent reports lead us to believe that the military exercises are over. We don't believe that they'll be resumed. That's positive.
We have also noted with great satisfaction the conduct of democratic elections in Taiwan over the weekend, and we congratulate the people on Taiwan for the conduct of free and fair elections, and we certainly hope now that the way will be cleared and the tension will be lessened for a much more productive discussion between China and Taiwan.
Q Just a follow-up. What will happen to the two carrier battle groups?
MR. BURNS: That's a question for the Pentagon. I understand the Independence is in the area, and the Nimitiz is also approaching the area, but for operational details I'd refer you to Ken Bacon at the Pentagon.
Q If I could follow John on that particular issue, now there are no further exercises expected. The purpose of putting the battle groups there was to observe, I understand. Would there be then any reason, Nick, in the U.S. policy to keep these battle groups in the Taiwan area?
MR. BURNS: I'd just have to refer you to the Pentagon. I mean, the Pentagon -- obviously, the Seventh Fleet decides where the ships are going to go, and any announcements about the deployment of those vessels is for the Pentagon to make, not the State Department.
Q Okay, Nick, and could you give us more details on the meeting on the 19th? Will there be any working level groups? How long will the meetings last? Is it all set up yet there, or can you tell?
MR. BURNS: We're not looking at working groups. The Secretary will have direct face-to-face discussions with Qian Qichen, and the Secretary and Minister Qian will have, obviously, advisers with them for this meeting and for the dinner they're going to have.
Q And the Taiwanese, I take it, are not included anyway.
MR. BURNS: Bill, I can't recall a time -- that's a very imaginative and creative question. I can't recall a time when Taiwanese officials have been present at meetings between the United States and officials from the People's Republic of China -- at least not in my experience.
Q Well, I mean, there would certainly be trilateral issues with regard to this last round of military exercises. That's what I'm getting at.
MR. BURNS: There really is no trilateral relationship that exists, because we don't have an official relationship with Taiwan. We have unofficial relations with Taiwan.
Q It's creative, you say. (Laughter)
MR. BURNS: I said your question was creative and almost unprecedented here in the briefing room, but I think you know the answer.
Q Would you say that the crisis is more or less over now?
MR. BURNS: It looks that way, Lee, and we're very pleased to see the tensions recede, to see Taiwan and China get back to a diplomatic -- a direct discussion of their issues. That's the way it should have happened all along, and we're very pleased that the military exercises have ended. I think the people in Taiwan should be congratulated for the way they have conducted themselves in trying to pursue an election amidst the military exercises, and I think they've acquitted themselves quite well.
Q Another subject?
MR. BURNS: We're off China? Still on China.
Q Not on China.
MR. BURNS: I think Abdul Salam had the first question.
Q There are concerns among the Arab-American organizations and people in Washington and in the United States that the conference which will be held on Friday and Saturday -- or rather Thursday and Friday, the 28th and 29th, does not include any item on the agenda to discuss the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank or their deteriorating economic condition.
Could you address this issue? Is there anything in the agenda for this conference which deals with this issue?
MR. BURNS: I'd just take you back to the Sharm al-Sheikh meeting, where the overwhelming focus was on the fight against terrorism. That's why Egypt and the United States convened the meeting, and that's why all of the countries and organizations came to the meeting.
The overriding focus of the many hours of discussion there were on that issue. That's the focus of the meetings on the 28th and 29th. Any time people get together to talk about that issue, however, from the Middle East -- Arabs and Israelis, Americans, Europeans -- I would be very surprised if there weren't discussions about our larger wish to make sure that the peace process continues -- the negotiations -- in all their respects, and to make sure that terrorist groups like Hamas not end the peace process.
So that's also an issue that came up at Sharm that I'm sure will come up in Washington later this week.
Q There are concerns also that what the Washington Times this morning in its editorial claims that Oslo is dead. Could you address this issue?
MR. BURNS: Oslo is not dead. I think the Washington Times got a little bit ahead of itself. The peace negotiations we hope very much will continue, and we think that obviously they have been interrupted -- progress has been interrupted by the vicious terrorist campaign of Hamas and by the people and countries that support Hamas.
I think that the Israeli Government and the Palestinians are quite right in focusing, as they have been since the beginning of this month, on the fight against terrorism. That doesn't mean that the Oslo process, the peace process, is finished. It's clearly not finished. The future has to hold out the promise of more negotiations and the conclusion of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel, as well as between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon, and that's clearly where we're focused.
Q The Washington Post this morning ran a very important story, good story, by John Lancaster, about the sufferings and the hardships of the Palestinians, as well as The New York Times last Thursday.
Due to the fact that this is not in the agenda for the conference and the pressure mounting from even in the United States media about this issue should be resolved, and I understand that there were members of the Israeli Cabinet were requested from Mr. Peres to release or relax or lift or partially or fully or totally this siege, and he refused.
Would you make -- or can we think that this issue could be made as urgent as fighting terrorism because the hardships and the deaths of people and the unemployment and the lack of food substance and medical care and all of these -- all of the above.
MR. BURNS: It's a good question. It's a good question. I understand why you ask it. I would say three things.
First, I would note that the Israeli Government has announced over the last ten days, on various days, relaxations of various aspects of the closure policy, and people in the West Bank and Gaza have been able to get out and to buy provisions, and some have been allowed to travel and some have been allowed to go back to work, although I understand it's not complete.
Second, the United States took the position at Sharm al-Sheikh that all of us who are donors to the Palestinians, who are trying to help the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority with economic assistance should redouble our efforts; that this is the time not to draw back on economic assistance but to expedite it because of some of the conditions, Mr. Abdul Salam, that you have pointed out to us.
I would just say third, however, putting all that in mind and putting it in context, I think you have to understand the psychology of the Israeli people now. They have suffered a vicious round of terrorism, almost unprecedented for any country that I know of to endure. That was apparent to those of us who were in Jerusalem and talked to Israelis, as well as Palestinians, about the psychology effect of these bombings --people having to make decisions about whether they put their kids on buses to go to school; whether they stop taking public transportation.
I think we have very great sympathy with the point of view that the people of Israel and the Israeli Government have to be allowed a certain amount of time to make sure they're doing everything possible to deter any future suicide terrorist bombing attack on anyone in Israel.
I would also point out that many of the victims killed in those four bombing attacks were Palestinians. It's a terribly difficult situation. I think all of us need to understand the position of the Israeli people at this time.
Q Nick, with regard to Hamas, the Israeli Government has expressed concern to the British that there's been a considerable amount of financing -- to a large extent Hamas has found a safehaven in Great Britain. This is not the first indication of that. The PKK is also operating quite freely because of the nature of British legislation, and the Israelis want them to crack down on this. Has this also been of concern to the United States, and has it been a subject of discussions in the bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Major and the President at Sharm al-Sheikh?
MR. BURNS: I would not single out the United Kingdom in determining how we can foreclose terrorist options for Hamas in the future. I wouldn't single out the United Kingdom. I would single out Iran. Iran directly supports Hamas and directly funds Hamas -- we know that -- and that's undeniable.
I'd single out other states in the region which can do more, which can do much more to choke off support for Hamas. I wouldn't single out the United Kingdom for this treatment. I think the message from Sharm al-Sheikh is that all of us need to combine efforts to fight the suicide terrorism of Hamas and the other terrorist groups in the Middle East.
Q Has there been any concern -- has this been a subject of discussion with regard to the British on --
MR. BURNS: I simply don't know if this particular subject has been raised diplomatically by the United States with the United Kingdom, but again I would argue very strongly that singling out the United Kingdom would be most curious right now. I think we ought to single out Iran and some of the other states in the region.
Q Nick, there was a report a few days back on Israel Army Radio that the talks at the Wye Conference Center will be resuming soon. Can you comment on that?
MR. BURNS: I don't have anything to say on that. I don't have any information that would lead me to believe that is the case. Obviously, we want to resume talks between Israel and Syria -- that's an objective of ours -- but I have no information that would lead me to believe that's going to happen in the next day or two.
Q Can I follow up on this --
Q What about the next week or two?
MR. BURNS: I just have no information to that effect, Sid. Obviously, we want to work very hard to resume negotiations, and we'll try very hard to do that. But I don't want to pinpoint or try to predict when that might be.
Q Can I follow up -- the Syrian Ambassador in Washington rejected, or the Syrian Government rejected the conditions of Israel to resume the talks -- over the Golan Heights -- and do you have any comment on that? And is President Bush, who is going to Syria and Lebanon, carrying directly or indirectly messages to the Syrians and Lebanese from the Administration?
MR. BURNS: On the second question, I just have nothing for you on that. On the first question, it's going to be up to both Israel and Syria to try to find a way at the appropriate time to resume their talks, but I just don't want to pinpoint when I think that might be.
The United States obviously will continue to work with Syria and Israel to try to prepare the time when those talks can resume. But I think we have to give the Israeli people some time to sort out the problems with terrorism. I just want to link this back to my previous answer to your other question, Abdul Salam.
Q You're saying it's not appropriate to begin the talks now, because the Iraeli people need more time to sort out the question of terrorism --
MR. BURNS: We certainly have as an objective of our foreign policy to try to help the Syrians and Israelis achieve at some point in the future a peace agreement. That's been an objective of the United States for many decades. There's been a state of war, a conflict since 1948, and we'd like to do our part to help end that.
I don't want to lead you to believe that there's an imminent announcement of a resumption of negotiations. I'm trying not to lead you astray here. I'm trying to be straight with you.
Q I'm just trying to get at your comment about the appropriateness of beginning talks now. Why is it not appropriate to begin them now?
MR. BURNS: I just link that back to my other answer on the question of terrorism. I think all of us have to give a wide berth to the Israeli Government and the Israeli people at a time of enormous stress, political and psychological, on them.
Still on the Middle East?
Q Yes. Back to the issue of the conference this week, the conference is supposed to be, as far as I understand it, a follow-up to Sharm al-Sheikh. Sharm al-Sheikh was not only to deal with terrorism but also to preserve and enhance the peace process. However, the agenda for this conference this week has nothing to do with the peace process directly. There is no mention of the peace process -- or the sessions and the working groups dealing with information exchange, intelligence exchange, and so forth.
Where does the peace process fit in this week's conference?
MR. BURNS: I disagree with that statement. How can the peace process go forward if the Israeli people fear that suicide terrorism is going to visit them again. I think that fighting terrorism -- and concentrating on ways to combine international efforts to fight terrorism -- serves the peace process, serves the peace negotiations, number one.
Number two, I believe that there will be some discussion, I'm sure, on the margins of this conference and probably directly in the meetings about ways to make sure that Hamas is not allowed to kill the peace process. You're quite right, that was one of the features of the Sharm al-Sheikh summit.
I think we're quite right to focus on specific options that this particular sub-ministerial group that will meet on Thursday and Friday can discuss and then make recommendations to their superiors. That is the crucial first step, to preserve the peace process, that has to be made.
You understand the logic. I mean, I think it's straightforward logic.
Q Yes, but there's no dealing directly with how to revive the peace process during this conference.
MR. BURNS: One of the steps in reviving the peace negotiations is to deal with terrorism, so there's a specific way that the peace process can be revived. That is what this conference this is going to focus on.
But I would imagine when people like this get together, there will be other discussions on the peace negotiations themselves, and I wouldn't be surprised at that. But the focus will be on terrorism.
Q The Palestinian side has submitted a number of suggestions to amend or change the agenda of this conference somehow. Are you discussing these changes?
MR. BURNS: Yes, several countries have made inquiries with us about the agenda, made suggestions about the agenda, and we're entertaining those requests right now. But I don't have the agenda in my head or on a piece of paper, so I'm a little bit reluctant to try to give it to you independent of my going back to our Middle East experts in the Near East Bureau and maybe tomorrow trying to give you some more specific information on this.
Q As a follow-up, since you are saying that -- and answering the Washington Times in its editorial that the peace process is alive and, you know, they went overboard. Could we expect that the United States Administration will recommit itself strongly to the issue of the peace process due to the fact that people would like very much this assurance, since the United States is the main sponsor and the main facilitator for the peace process?
MR. BURNS: The United States has done that. President Clinton reaffirmed our commitment to the peace process when he was in Sharm al-Sheikh and when he was in Israel, as did Secretary Christopher. That's clearly the policy of the United States. I'd just with all due respect to the Washington Times, which is a paper that provides very, very good international coverage, very broad international coverage, I don't think it's proper analytically to assert that somehow peace negotiations are dead.
They've been written off too many times in the past, and they've been revived many times in the past, in part because of the efforts of the United States, and we're determined to keep the peace process going.
Q Do you have a list of the countries that are coming?
MR. BURNS: I don't yet. I hope to have them today or tomorrow for you. The invitations are still out. We have some acceptances. I want to give you a complete list, not a partial one.
Q You will give us a list, right?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q (Inaudible) Sharm al-Sheikh -- was it called for this Thursday/Friday meeting to be on the Foreign Ministers' level, and this has been sort of downgraded because of some dissatisfaction with the agenda, and so forth, or was it called to be sub-ministerial in the first place?
MR. BURNS: No. There was no decision to make this a foreign ministerial meeting. There was a decision to have a follow-up meeting, and the United States and some of the other principal countries involved decided that should be sub-ministerial.
Secretary Christopher will be speaking to the conferees, probably on Thursday evening. I'll have more to say about that tomorrow -- more specific information for you on that tomorrow. So he'll be addressing them, but the two major participants from the United States will be Phillip Wilcox and Bob Pelletreau.
Q No Foreign Ministers will be coming?
MR. BURNS: No Foreign Ministers, no -- not that I'm aware of -- will be coming. But I think that we intend is to have follow-up meetings to this. The goal of the conferees on Thursday and Friday is to discuss specific recommendations to be made to high level authorities -- to Foreign Ministers.
Q But because this was a follow-up of the summit, it was widely reported it would be on the Foreign Ministers' level, and then because of the disagreement on what should be in the agenda and the dissatisfaction that the concentration is on terrorism, that could be a reason for --
MR. BURNS: Absolutely wrong. I'm sorry that that was reported, because it was reported with no basis to those reports. It was absolutely wrong. There was never an intention to have a foreign ministerial follow-up. It was always intended to have an experts level, ambassadorial level discussion, which this is.
I think after this, I'm sure there will be contacts among Foreign Ministers, because they're responsible ultimately for reporting to the heads of state.
Q Do I understand right that there will be another conference in April with a wider scope than this meeting?
MR. BURNS: One of the issues that will be discussed on Thursday and Friday is what type of follow-up, when and where. No decision has been made on that, but I'm anticipating there will be a senior-level follow-up to this conference.
Q Do you have anything on Libya, the developments there?
MR. BURNS: Which developments? There are many developments. (Laughter) They're all nefarious and they're all negative, as usual.
Q There's been a lot of confusion as to what's really happening there, and I'm wondering whether the State Department has some fresh information as to what's happening on the ground?
MR. BURNS: That's a wonderful invitation just to speak about the nature of the Qadhafi regime. I'm afraid I might bore some of my colleagues here if I do that.
Q Nick, can you specifically address the reports of a big prison break, rebels taking to the hills? Is that a positive development?
MR. BURNS: I don't have anything to say on that. No, I have nothing independent beyond press reports to tell you about that. I will tell you we're still very much disturbed by the Qadhafi regime, the fact that it is not engaged in any productive way in an effort to build peace in the Middle East, to end terrorism in the Middle East, to account for the Pan Am 103 shootdown. There are a lot of issues that we have to complain about when we think about Libya.
Q The same region, different country. Do you have any readout on Assistant Secretary Pelletreau's visit to Algeria? Do you know anything about what U.S. policy is trying to do there?
MR. BURNS: Assistant Secretary Pelletreau visited Algiers for discussions for the Algerian Government last week. I don't have a detailed readout. If you're interested, I'm sure we can get one for tomorrow, or even sooner if your deadline is today.
Still on the Middle East?
Q No, Turkey.
MR. BURNS: Okay, let's do Greece and Turkey, and then we'll go to Bangladesh.
Q The new Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Yilmaz, offered an unconditional meeting with the Greek Government about Aegean issues, and he also said that they are ready to go to all the international organizations, and also they can ask for third-party mediation.
First, what is your reaction on this suggestion? And, second, are you ready to become a third-party mediator?
MR. BURNS: We're very pleased to see Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz's remarks. They're positive and constructive remarks. I think he is taking the situation in a direction it should go. There must be peace between Greece and Turkey. We want Greece and Turkey to get along, to resolve their problems in a mutually satisfactory way. He's taken a very positive step at the beginning of his tenure as Prime Minister to signal to the Greek Government and to the Greek people that Turkey does want to have a peaceful future with Greece. It's positive.
We've often said, in answer to your second question, that whenever we can be helpful to both parties, we will. They're both allies of ours. I'm not aware of any request, however, that we become a referee or an arbiter. I think it would be positive if they can get together without us to discuss their problems. If they'd like us to be involved in some way, I'm sure we'd consider a specific request.
Q The unfortunate part is the very first reaction from Athens is a very cold shoulder on this suggestion. Do you see anything?
MR. BURNS: I haven't seen a reaction from Athens, so you're a step ahead of me. We'd hope very much that a call for peace and reconciliation and for discussions to resolve problems would be met in a similar vein, with a similar degree of interest in putting problems behind them. There's an opportunity now. There's a new Greek Government. There's a new Turkish Government after many months of uncertainty about the makeup of the Turkish Government -- an opportunity for two new leaders and for new governments to get together and resolve problems, and we encourage them in that direction.
Q Also another Turkish question. Last week is the PKK leader, Mr. Ocalan -- I believe he threatened to attack some civilian target, and he threatened the U.S. and Germany to -- attacking their interests also. Do you have any reaction?
MR. BURNS: I've seen those reports, and he ought not to do that. He ought to be wiser than that. The PKK is an organization that ought to be condemned and isolated, and we're participating in the condemnation and the isolation of the PKK, and we're going to continue that. That's a message for Mr. Ocalan.
We'll continue our efforts to make him someone who doesn't have a role to play in the Middle East, and his organization ought to disappear.
Yes. Still on Turkey.
Q In the region.
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
Q In the region; not on Turkey.
MR. BURNS: In the region. Okay.
Q There is some talk about a possible agreement, a peace agreement, between Yerevan and Baku in the next coming months. Was this dealt with during the talks with the Russians? And do you have anything on Mr. Talbott's visit to the region?
MR. BURNS: We, for several years now, have been trying to promote a good relationship between Turkey and Armenia. That's an important part of our policy in the Caucasus. We're a friend and ally of Turkey; we're a great friend of Armenia. There are many historical problems that have prevented the reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. We know they're difficult and complex. We know there's a lot of history there to sort out, but we hope that the Turkish Government and the Armenian Government will be open to any attempt to improve relations between them, both economically, diplomatically, and politically, and otherwise.
Q I actually meant the Armenian-Azerbaijani dialogue --
MR. BURNS: I'm sorry. I thought you were talking about Turkey. But that was a good answer on Turkey-Armenia, wasn't it? (Laughter)
Q Thank you. I appreciate that, but --
MR. BURNS: But that's also a problem.
Q The talk is about a peace agreement between Baku and Yerevan, rather than Ankara and --
MR. BURNS: Right. Okay, now we'll do the second question which is Yerevan-Baku. Yes, Deputy Secretary Talbott and the Deputy National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, along with Jim Collins, and Chip Blacker of the NSC were in Baku and Yerevan.
We very much would like to play a role in helping to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh war, to end it; to end the problems with the refugees, which are so severe.
We're working with the Russian Government on that. The Secretary raised this issue with President Yeltsin and with Foreign Minister Primakov. We had good discussions with the Russians.
We need to combine efforts with the Russians, and we're doing that, to try to play a useful role here. There was a time several years ago when there were several competing diplomatic efforts to try to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh war. There was an OSCE effort; there was a Russian effort. Now, I think there's one effort. It's an international effort. It features the diplomacy of the United States and Russia.
We're working well with Russia. We would appeal to Baku and Yerevan -- to both governments -- to work with us to try to end this war and put the problems between Yerevan and Baku behind them.
Q Can I just follow up?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q In the region, there were some reports about an extension of invitations to both leaders -- Azerbaijan and Armenia -- for their participation in the April 21 meeting. Is it the case?
MR. BURNS: I don't have specific details from the discussions last week. But I can tell you, we are working on ways to bring the Armenian and Azeri leaderships together. We've done that in the past. We'd like to continue that. It is an objective of ours, yes.
Anything else on the Caucasus? I think Mr. Arshad has --
Q I've got Russia.
MR. BURNS: Mr. Arshad has primacy here, Bill. Mr. Arshad.
Q Thank you, Nick. This is Arshad of the Daily Inquilab. It's very unfortunate and a total stalemate now prevailing in Dhaka. On top of it, the army has been deployed by Khaled Zia in a combative mood. Recent days have seen that the army has locked into a hand-fist battle with the people who are (inaudible) and in Dhaka yesterday. Scores of people have been hurt.
This is absolutely a situation where we are having democracy totally being stifled.
Nick, does the United States see an army role in mitigating the problems that are now being faced by Bangladesh (a) for restoration of peace and order; (b) to have a negotiation -- a successful negotiation -- under the fine Ambassadorship of Ambassador Merrill to mitigate this problem along with the army's role? Do you see any role of the army at this point of time, because we are in a total shambles out there? People are inviting the army.
MR. BURNS: Mr. Arshad, thank you for your question and for your comments. We do remain concerned by the continuing violence and damage done to the Bangladesh economy, as well as the political system, because of the current stalemate.
I would just reaffirm today our call on all political parties in Bangladesh to begin as quickly as possible a constructive dialogue to resolve their differences. We have continuously argued for a peaceful dialogue among the parties -- the opposition and the government there.
I do understand, in answer to the first part of your question, that on March 21 a bill was tabled in the Parliament that would provide for a non-party caretaker government in Bangladesh. I don't know what will happen with that bill this week. But I also understand that on March 20, the day before that, the army was deployed to help maintain essential services and security in selected areas of the country.
We understand there has been severe disruption of essential services to the population caused by the opposition's non-cooperation program. We understand that severe disruption of services does continue.
So we're arguing here very clearly for a peaceful resolution to problem, not a violent one.
Q Is there any role of the army now? Is there any role, because the armies are now in the streets? Will they take any role in this negotiating process or be left open to have the people and the army settle it in the street?
MR. BURNS: You see, Mr. Arshad, if I answer your question -- if I really go down the path you want to lead me down -- I'll become a partisan in this debate and I don't want to do that. The United States is trying to stand above this debate and not participate in it by arguing for peace and reconciliation and the end of violence. I'm going to leave my comments there.
Q As a standard rule, the army -- the intervention of the army is totally disowned by the United States -- as far as armed intervention, it is totally ruled out. That's been already expressed very explicitly by you.
MR. BURNS: I've said what I have say on this issue today -- Bill.
Q On Russia. There's an interesting wire from AP, dateline Oslo. Boris Yeltsin is in Oslo; being very playful, it says here, and advising his Norwegian hosts to be less cozy with NATO --specifically inviting them not to belong, not to participate in the Council. This goes to the issue of the visit last week in Moscow, and the big issues that you mentioned that there was accord on.
Nick, what is the status? There was very negative reporting about this matter of NATO expansion. Is there any progress there at all? And, secondly, do you believe that with Yeltsin running he might benefit from some NATO, let's say, backing off on this NATO expansion plan into the former Soviet bloc states?
Are we basically, I guess the question is, by pushing NATO now, are we hurting Yeltsin's election chances?
MR. BURNS: On the issue of coziness, I would just say that Norway is a full-fledged and loyal member of the North Atlantic Alliance. I'm sure Norway will continue to be so because that's the wish of the Norwegian people and Norwegian Government. I don't understand any reason to try to talk them out of that, because that alliance has served Norway well as it has served the United States and all other NATO members. We have great confidence in the role that Norway plays in the alliance.
On the second question, Bill, which is a very large question -- it's got many questions inside of it -- let me just be simple and clear and direct.
The Secretary went to Prague and reaffirmed and clarified -- amidst all the noises in Central Europe and out of Russia about NATO expansion -- clarified our absolutely firm commitment that NATO will be expanded in the future, because that's in the interests of NATO, the United States, and the Central European democracies.
Along with that is the fervent wish of NATO, as expressed as early as January 1994, for a Russia-NATO relationship. Together an expanded NATO and a Russia-NATO relationship form the twin halves of a policy that we hope will help to unify Europe in the next century and keep it peaceful and stable.
That's the policy that Secretary Christopher put forward in Prague. He had a very long discussion of this issue with Foreign Minister Primakov over dinner last Thursday night. It is absolutely true that the Russian Government does not agree with the NATO policy of enlargement.
We'll continue to discuss those differences with Russia, but we are committed to expanding NATO. That was the message that Secretary Christopher took to Prague but also to Moscow.
Q In spite of the fact that it could very well hurt Yeltsin? He's obviously running away from this NATO issue here in Norway. Despite that, there will be no slow down or backing off on the NATO expansion?
MR. BURNS: We're not going any faster; we're not going any slower. We're on the same path.
Q Nick, are you in a position to comment on the reports relating to Guatemala in yesterday's newspaper -- the New York Times -- alleging a cover-up, reaching to the highest levels of the Guatemalan Government over the facts of the killing of Michael Devine?
MR. BURNS: I saw the report in the New York Times yesterday. As you know, many, many months ago the President directed the Intelligence Oversight Board to conduct a government-wide investigation into all of the events surrounding the brutal murder of Michael Devine and the disappearance and murder of Efrain Bamaca, the husband of Jennifer Harbury.
The IOB -- the Intelligence Oversight Board -- has not yet completed its investigation; has not issued a report to the government and, certainly, has not released anything publicly about this. Therefore, it's just too early for me to comment any further on that article.
We must wait until the IOB finishes its investigation before we can do so.
Q What's your read on this seeming confederation between Russia and Belarus?
MR. BURNS: We haven't seen the details of this arrangement between Russia and Belarus, so I'm a little bit reluctant to comment on it. We're not quite what it means and what it entails.
On a larger point, however, the Secretary spoke out quite forcefully in Kiev and Prague last week against the Duma resolution that would seek to reform the Soviet Union. This is a resolution put forward by communists and agrarians. We're very much opposed to that.
What we've said generally, David, is that if relationships among the Commonwealth of Independent States countries are improved -- if relationships are strengthened by voluntary means and by the wishes of both parties -- then we can have no objection to that. But if it is done through intimidation or through the use of force, we would certainly object.
In the case of Russia and Belarus, I don't believe there's much evidence of intimidation. I think that the current government in Belarus, for a variety of reasons, wishes a greater integration of its own affairs with Russia. But I just don't know enough about the details of this to give you a better comment than that.
Q Thank you.
(Press briefing concluded at 1:49 p.m.)
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