U.S. Department of State 96/03/26 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Tuesday, March 26, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns ANNOUNCEMENTS Statement on Death of Former Secretary Muskey...........1 Secretary Hosting Lunch for Korean Foreign Minister.....2 Award Ceremony for Department Employees.................2-3 CHINA Sanctions Decision re: Exports of Nuclear Technology to Pakistan/Assurances on Future Exports....3, 5-6, 8-9, 10 Einhorn Trip............................................3-5 Easing of Tension since Taiwan Election.................5, 6-8 Improvement in Relationship/Secretary's Mtg w/ForMin....8 U.S. Naval Exercises in Strait..........................9-10 PAKISTAN Sanctions Decision re: Imports of Nuclear Material from China............................................6 Sale of M-11's from China...............................10-11 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Sharm al-Sheikh Follow Up Mtg--Level of Attendance/U.S. Representation ..............11-13 --Agenda...............................................12, 13 --Assistance to Palestinians...........................12, 13-15 Emergency Meeting by Arab-American Groups..............14-15 Arafat to Resume Dialogue with Hamas...................15 SYRIA: Visit by Former President Bush.........................16 GREECE/TURKEY Political Dialogue Proposed by Turkey/U.S. Mediation....16-17 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA Foreign Fighters Remaining in Bosnia..............18, 19, 21-22 Equip and Train.........................................18, 20-23 Secretary Christopher's Mtgs with Bosnian Officials.....18-19 Prisoners of War/Violations of Dayton Accords...........19 Contact Group Mtg/Situation Update......................19-20 U.S. Donations to Reconstruction Efforts................21 KOREA Famine in North Korea...................................23 CANADA Secretary's Mtg with ForMin/Helms-Burton/Waiver/Castro..23-26
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, MARCH 26, 1996, 1:07 P. M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I have two things that I want to do before you go to questions.
The first: Secretary Christopher has asked me to read to you the statement that he is issuing on the death of Secretary Muskie. I know he spoke to some of you upstairs just a minute ago. I want to read this for the record. I will make this available also after the briefing. The statement reads as follows:
"I learned with great sadness this morning of the death of former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie. In serving as his Deputy Secretary of State in 1980, I was privileged to work with one of the most distinguished American public servants of the past half century.
"Secretary Muskie's life was a great American story. He was the son of a tailor who immigrated to our country from Poland. He became Governor of Maine, a United States Senator for three decades, and his party's nominee for Vice President.
"As Secretary of State, he was a tireless proponent of American values and a champion of freedom in the lands of his parents and grandparents. While he served in the State Department for less than a year, he faced many difficult challenges. He organized economic sanctions against the former Soviet Union after its invasion of Afghanistan. He worked day and night to secure the release of our hostages in Iran. He devoted immense time and effort to implement the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel.
"Over time, all these patient efforts paid off in a stronger America and a safer, freer world. The State Department will remember his many contributions, and I will miss his friendship and his counsel."
That is the text of the Secretary's statement on the death of Secretary of State and former Senator Edmund Muskie.
I also wanted to let you know today, pertaining to the Secretary's schedule -- of course, I think you know that the Secretary is now hosting a lunch for the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, Foreign Minister Gong, and that's an important meeting. He values very much his relationship with the Minister, and we value our relationship with the Republic of Korea.
Earlier today, the Secretary presided over an award ceremony that I thought would be of interest to some of you. He presented awards to several groups of our State Department employees here -- some Foreign Service Officers, some civil servants -- who performed critical services during the furlough period when the government was shut down in November 1995 and again in January of this year.
The Secretary, in granting these awards, cited the sacrifices -- the personal sacrifices -- and the really extraordinary efforts of some of our employees here in Washington and around the world to keep American diplomacy and American foreign policy afloat.
There were several groups who received awards today. There were Consular Officers who volunteered to travel to Colombia over Christmas week -- in fact, right at Christmas -- to assist the families of the victims of the American Airlines crash in Colombia.
There were also employees from two of our bureaus -- the Financial Management Bureau and Information Management -- who worked, I remember, over several evenings without any sleep during the blizzard to arrange for the complicated payment of State Department employees.
You remember there was a time when we couldn't pay some of our Foreign Service nationals -- in fact, thousands all around the world -- and there was also a week in which all American employees received half pay. These people -- little noticed people -- never receive publicity. People who run our financial accounting system literally stayed up several nights to make sure that people were paid properly.
And, finally, I think all of you know we have an Operations Center upstairs on the 7th Floor, just down the hall from the Secretary's office. This is staffed mainly by some of our younger officers who have been in the service for a couple of years. They did work throughout the furlough, and they maintain the front line for us on events all over the world. They also helped private Americans who were in trouble overseas who weren't able to receive the normal level of services because a lot of our Embassies and Consulates weren't at full strength.
So I want to pay tribute to the Operations Center, as the Secretary did this morning. In his remarks, the Secretary told these employees that he was proud of them, that he was grateful for their dedication and hard work, and he thanked them on behalf of all of us here at the Department of State.
I would just say personally as a Foreign Service Officer, I think these people represent the very best in the tradition of public service in this country. There was a time in this country when I was younger -- I'm sure Barry and others remember it -- when public service was something that all of us felt proud of and I think that most Americans felt was a good thing.
It is now politically correct -- especially in an election year -- for people to bash Washington and to bash the tradition of public service, and I think these people who are honored today -- these people demonstrate that one can be proud of working for the federal government, and that the American public should also be proud of these people.
Q Nick, does the Administration now have all the evidence it needs to come to a decision on the Chinese technology sales to Pakistan?
MR. BURNS: Barry, let me tell you where that situation stands, as best as I know it. As I told you yesterday, the Secretary arrived back from Moscow on Saturday evening, just about the same time that Mr. Einhorn -- Bob Einhorn -- was arriving back from Beijing.
Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary received a fairly comprehensive briefing from Mr. Einhorn here in the Department. That was after my briefing. It was a couple of hours -- I think it was three or four in the afternoon.
There is a meeting today at the White House to discuss this issue, but I wouldn't lead you to believe that a decision is imminent in the space of the next couple of hours. The Secretary has not yet made a determination. He continues to study this issue, and he'll make a determination once he feels that all the relevant facts and information have been reviewed.
Q Nick, I knew about the White House, and I didn't expect the decision would be in place to weigh options. But I wondered if there's any need for any more evidence gathering. Bob Einhorn is, I'm sure a very thorough fellow. He's been at this for 20 years at least, I think.
Do you have all you need to know about proliferation and about -- I guess you can't call it a paper trail -- a technology trail -- to come to a decision?
MR. BURNS: As you know, this is an exceedingly complicated issue, and there's an important decision in front of the Administration. So while we've collected a great deal of information, and Bob Einhorn's trip was quite helpful in that respect, it's now time for people to review options and to continue to review information as it develops.
So I'm not trying to lead you to the belief that somehow a decision is just around the corner in the next couple of hours. I think there will be a meeting to discuss it, and then we'll have to see what happens from there. And the Secretary, I can tell you, has not made a determination, and I use that word "determination" in the sense of I think all of you know what the steps are in this process. He's not made a determination. He will obviously make some kind of decision once he feels that the time is ripe for that.
Q Could I try one quick thing. Would you describe the Chinese as cooperative on this? Did they cooperate with Bob Einhorn?
MR. BURNS: I can say that he had comprehensive discussions with them, ranging over a couple of days about all aspects of this issue and about other issues of concern to us. I think he developed the information that he could during his visit there, and he's brought that information and his own analysis back to the Secretary and others and we'll proceed from that position.
Q If this evidence process was so important, collecting this essential evidence, I mean, this was going on long before the 30-day Ex-Im letter. Why did it take so long to send Mr. Einhorn to the region?
MR. BURNS: We've been talking to the Chinese about this for a long time, and Mr. Einhorn's trip was simply an attempt by us to have some specific conversations about ways that we could get to the bottom of this and resolve the situation. He is, below the Assistant Secretary level, our leading expert on non-proliferation matters in the Department. He has day-to-day responsibility for it, so it was a good idea to send him.
But I can assure you that before his visit, he was active on the issue, as well as others, including all the people all the way up to the rank of the Secretary.
Q Nick, you've seen the rhetoric out of China diminish since the Taiwan elections with regard to China-Taiwan. Has there been any communication with the Chinese since Mr. Einhorn left that would indicate that their rhetoric on this issue is also softening?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe there's been any high-level communication since Saturday morning when he left Beijing. I'm not aware of any. It has been good to see the change in the rhetoric on the situation in Taiwan on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. As we said yesterday, very good to see that.
The Secretary, when he was briefed, was very pleased that what the Chinese Government is saying, as well as the authorities in Taiwan, is constructive, and we hope that there will be a lessening of tensions there, and that they can work out their problems peacefully.
On this issue, I haven't really seen very much in the way of a public commentary. I believe there was something said at the Foreign Ministry briefing today. I saw references to that, but I didn't see the statement.
Q Nick, the ring magnet case aside, is the United States satisfied that China will at least not engage in that sort of nuclear-related transaction in the future?
MR. BURNS: I think the objective here, as you know, is that all countries will live up to the international agreements that they've entered into and live up to the commitments they've made to others in the international community.
We certainly do that on our own, in our own actions, and we expect all other countries -- not just China, but other countries -- to live up to their commitments.
Q I guess what I'm trying to ask is if they've offered any sort of assurances on that point.
MR. BURNS: What I'd like to do is maybe just refrain from commenting on the specifics of what we've been discussing with the Chinese. Obviously, that's part of what we need to consider now in making a decision about this very difficult question. Once a decision is made and ready to be announced, then I think you'll see why we've made the decision we have, and I'm sure it will be fully explained by me and by others.
Q Will this decision also take into account Pakistan as well, meaning will the determination process that the United States is going through take into account both the countries as per the law of the United States?
MR. BURNS: Certainly. You know the allegations that have been made. It does involve the actions of two countries, including Pakistan, and so that's a question we've been looking at with great care. As you know, we've spent a lot of time just in the last week or so, talking to members of Congress about Pakistan and also talking to the Pakistani Government. So it is very much related to this.
Q I haven't looked at the law in a while. Is it illegal under the proliferation act to receive technology for nuclear weapons, as it is to export it to another country.
MR. BURNS: Let me do this, Barry. Right, I understand the question. In fact, I believe I asked this question yesterday. Let me try to get you an answer to that.
Still on this issue?
Q Yes. As I understand it, there's no legal link between the ring magnet issue and the transfer of equipment to Pakistan, which is allowed by the Brown Amendment. Can you say any more about where that issue stands, the transfer of that equipment? As you say, there were discussions last week with Congress.
MR. BURNS: There's not much I really can say that would carry this story forward. We are talking to members of Congress about that issue, but we're not at the end of that process.
Still on China?
Q Yes. Nick, is the easing of tension in the Taiwan Straits having any impact upon the Secretary's determination on this issue and on U.S.-China relations in general?
MR. BURNS: I think they're separate issues. We have a number of balls in the air with China right now. We have the issue of the Taiwan Straits. We have the issue of these very serious allegations on non-proliferation matters. We have trade issues that are very serious that Ambassador Kantor and others have been working on.
It's good to see the lessening of tensions in the Strait, because that was a situation that concerned us greatly. But I can't say that that will lead us to take a different position in analyzing the question of the ring magnets and other allegations that have been made against China. That has to be pursued only on the basis of the law.
Our government has a responsibility to the law and making sure that we are faithful, always, to the law; and that is really the sole basis that can govern us in this matter.
Q This is sort of related to that. I'm sure you're aware there's a suspicion, almost a skepticism, that the Administration would deal with China the same way it would deal with a smaller country or with another country on these issues; that special allowances are made out of some desire to maintain the best possible relationship with this large and increasingly prosperous country.
You say this shipment will be dealt with separately from the relaxation of tensions, military exercises. Will China be dealt with the same way another country would be dealt with, were it found to have violated the law, if that's the finding?
MR. BURNS: Without knowing what the country is and what the basis of comparison is, it's hard to answer the question.
I'd just say this, Barry. It's obvious to, I think, everybody that this relationship is a critical relationship for both countries. There's no question that we've gone through a very rough patch in that relationship over the last year or so.
We would like to arrive at the point where we can begin to resolve some of the problems. The issue here today we've been discussing, the issue of the allegation of a sale of ring magnets is a very serious issue. We need to look at the law, and we need to look at non-proliferation concerns as well as some other concerns as we look at this issue.
I don't want to tie this event, or this issue, to the issue of the Taiwan Strait. I believe they are separate. But you're right in, at least, the implication of the question. Without reference to comparing China to other countries, China is an important country to the United States, and we take great care in this relationship.
We'd like to see the relationship improve in 1996. We'd like to begin to resolve some of the non-proliferation concerns. We certainly want to use the full weight of the U.S. Government to resolve the very serious concerns we have on trade issues; particularly, on intellectual property rights, concerning technology in which the United States has, frankly, a comparative advantage in which we don't believe we're being treated fairly by the Chinese Government.
There are human rights concerns. There are concerns and issues that we work on together where we've done well like North Korea, an issue that's on the agenda today here at the State Department with the lunch for the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea.
So it's a full agenda. We need to work on all of it. That's why Secretary Christopher was so anxious to have a meeting with Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, which will take place now on April 19. Because you do need to have times where you step back from all the rhetoric and the glare of the spotlights here and the rhetorical exchanges that go back and forth on television and radio, sit down in a room and talk about all these problems to see which ones you can resolve. That's very much what he hopes to do on April 19.
Q Do we expect an decision on the ring magnets before the Qian Qichen meeting?
MR. BURNS: I don't want to try to guess as to when this decision is going to be made. That decision will be made when the Secretary of State feels that all the information and analysis has been done adequately and that he feels it's time to make a decision.
I don't want to limit him or me or anyone else by saying it's going to be done by 5:00 this afternoon or the end of this week or the end of this month. I just don't want to make a guess. It will be made; when it's made, we'll announce it promptly.
Q Nick, looking purely at the law, it sounds as if the Secretary is taking a rather legalistic approach to this.
As I understand it, ring magnets do not actually appear on the list of items that would fall under this legislation, and the Chinese have pointed that out to you. Is that accurate?
MR. BURNS: I'll have to check that for you, Sid. I'll check that for you.
Q If you could just get an answer whether --
MR. BURNS: But I think you know that the allegations that have been brought here are quite serious. There are proliferation concerns, in general. We need to be careful in looking through all aspects of this case.
Q Back to last week and the military --
MR. BURNS: Last week in . . .?
Q In the Straits of Formosa. The Chinese had an area they were conducting their exercises. They asked that the United States, and I take it other military, not send our naval vessels into that area. Question one is, has that expired now that the exercises are over?
The Chinese also had very strong words for the U.S. Navy about coming close to its coast. Has that warning been rescinded or been talked about at all? And, thirdly, there seems to be that the crux of the conflict here was, who was the protector of Taiwan? China was warning the United States that they were protector of Taiwan.
Is this an issue that's going to go to The Hague in the discussions with Qian Qichen on the 19th?
MR. BURNS: Forgive me -- and I don't mean to be disrespectful -- but I think your question, really the tone of it, was a question more appropriate for last week, for Glyn Davies, not for this week. The crisis is over, the tensions are receding, the elections have been held freely.
The Chinese now are talking as if they want to have a forum to talk to the Taiwanese peacefully, which we very much support.
As you know, the Pentagon has announced today, at least, the deployment orders for the Independence.
Frankly, Bill, I just think you're really asking historical question. You can probably look back in Glyn's briefings over the last two weeks, or of mine of three or four weeks ago, and get your answers.
Q It's over.
MR. BURNS: The crisis is over. Please, Barry, check the record. Barry is going to check the record, to tell you if the question is really appropriate. He's going to check the box scores for the Red Sox, actually.
Q There are two basic warnings there that concern us. Were they rescinded, and are we going to take this particular topic up with the Chinese?
MR. BURNS: You'll have to ask the Chinese if any warnings have been rescinded. The fact is, the United States, as Secretary Perry said so well last week, is a Pacific naval power. Our ships are in international waters. They have a right to be international waters, and we'll continue to exercise those rights of transshipment as you would expect us to do as a naval power.
We're still on China.
Q Yes, still on China, on the ring magnets. Are the Chinese tying their possible assurance of no more sales to Pakistan to U.S. restraint in arms sales to Taiwan?
MR. BURNS: I didn't quite get the first part of the question. Are the Chinese --
Q Are the Chinese linking the two issues together?
MR. BURNS: I'm sorry. I'm missing the basis of the question.
Q Are the Chinese saying to the U.S., "We will give you assurances that no sales -- of anymore ring magnet sales to Pakistan on condition that you will not make any advance weapon sales to Taiwan?"
MR. BURNS: I wouldn't lead you in that direction, no. That's the first I've heard of that. We, of course, would not want to link those two issues.
Q New subject?
MR. BURNS: We're just about ready to finish on China. We've done a lot of China today.
Q One question on the determination issue? There's still the issue of the M-11s where the determination is yet to be made. Has there been any progress on the sale of M-11s to Pakistan by China?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe there has been any determination made, no. These are questions that we look at--
Q Any problems on the determination --
MR. BURNS: I can't point to any further developments. These are issues that we look at from time to time. Sometimes when concerns are raised, we look at those very seriously. But no determination has been made on that issue, no; not that I'm aware of.
Onto the next issue. Onto the Middle East, right?
Q A follow-up to the Sharm al-Sheikh summit in Washington?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q Some of your allies are saying they're going to send lower-level representation if you don't modify the agenda. Is the United States willing to modify the agenda to help them make the decision of sending --
MR. BURNS: I don't know who those allies are, but let me just tell you what I have on the follow-up conference. As you know, it's going to be held on Thursday and Friday of this week.
It fulfills the commitment in the statement made by the leaders to form a working group to prepare recommendations on how best to implement the decisions taken at Sharm al-Sheikh by the leaders.
We look at the task of the meeting to finalize the recommendations, discuss them and finalizing them and to transmit them into higher authorities at the ministerial level.
I think that there will be a ministerial meeting that takes place at some point in the weeks following this week to look at the recommendations and then to make final recommendations to the heads of state.
We've offered to host that meeting in Washington, D.C. The decision on where that meeting should take place, of course, will be made probably at the end of this week or shortly thereafter.
The co-chairs for our effort will be Bob Pelletreau, our Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, and our Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Ambassador Phil Wilcox. There will be significant participation from other agencies in the U.S. Government, such as the Justice Department.
We think that this meeting -- to get to your question directly -- should cover all aspects of the Sharm al-Sheikh statement. We intend to begin the meetings at 5:00 p.m. on March 28. Secretary Christopher will make a statement that will be open to the press -- open press coverage of his remarks.
I would then expect after he leaves, when they go into plenary session, we close the meeting to the press. I don't expect any open press coverage for the remainder of the meeting. I'll try to see if we can arrange some briefings for you, however, at the end of the meeting.
I think that the meeting will be split into several working groups on the morning of March 29. Delegations will be free to participate in any working group that they choose. The groups will cover many of the issues outlined in the Sharm al-Sheikh statement.
There will be a working lunch on Friday; that's March 29. I would expect that this conference would conclude by Friday afternoon.
I don't expect that there will be a communique issued at the end simply because these recommendations that are going to be made will then be transmitted to the Foreign Ministers. And as I said, there would then be some kind of meeting of Foreign Ministers in the weeks following this, to follow up.
Our view on this is that terrorism is an important subject to discuss. That was the focal point of the meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh. If you can resolve some of the concerns about terrorism in the Middle East, then you can get on to rebuilding support, recommitting countries to support the Middle East peace process.
So all those issues are in play. What we just think in terms of the order of battle, terrorism has got to be a central issue. But, of course, when nations like this get together, there will be discussion of the peace process issues. I'm sure there will, and there obviously will be discussion of issues concerning the Palestinian people as well, as I said yesterday.
Q A follow-up. Do you have answers from countries like Egypt, France, or Saudi Arabia, on what level representation they will be?
MR. BURNS: I don't have a list of participants yet from our Near East Bureau. I'm sure that our Near East Bureau will make that list available to me by the time the conference starts.
The acceptances are still coming in, so we don't want to give a partial readout of who is coming.
We expect to have senior-level members of each of these governments here. Egypt is a co-chair -- was a co-chair at Sharm al-Sheikh. We certainly would expect our allies to send senior representatives.
This is below the ministerial level. Our representation is by two Assistant Secretaries; that's Ambassadorial level.
Q The United States is not modifying the agenda. You are sticking by the same agenda that you sent to them when you sent the invitations, or you're taking the suggestions and some of the proposals that these countries are putting out in consideration?
MR. BURNS: What we're doing is, we're going to stick by the agenda of the Sharm al-Sheikh summit. That agenda was terrorism. It was to try to find ways to isolate the terrorists and defeat them; and also try to find ways to build support for the peace process. So all of that will be on the agenda. We think that's completely appropriate considering the focus of the meetings at Sharm al-Sheikh.
Q Among the objectives that you mentioned in the Sharm al-Sheikh communique, to strengthen and bolster the security situation for the Palestinians and Israelis, who are paying special attention to the economic needs, immediate needs, of the urgent needs of the Palestinians.
I have a communique that says that there is no mention of such a thing in the agenda which was advanced to the people who have been invited to the countries. The Palestinians suggested in two meetings of the first committee -- two instances -- to discuss this issue of the urgent needs of the Palestinians -- economic needs and otherwise. How do you respond to this?
MR. BURNS: I would respond by saying what I said yesterday. Very briefly. President Clinton spoke to this issue at Sharm al-Sheikh. He said it was very important for all countries to recommit themselves to economic assistance to the Palestinians especially because of the situation in which Palestinians found themselves.
Prime Minister Peres has publicly advocated the creation of a fund to help the Palestinian people deal with the after effects of the terror campaign and, frankly, the effects of the closure, which Prime Minister Peres has been up front about and publicly has acknowledged to be serious concerns.
So we're aware of those concerns. We've spoken about them. We spoke about them at Sharm, and I'm sure we'll continue to speak about them here in Washington at the end of this week.
Q However, American organizations in Washington are calling for an emergency summit of Arab-American leaders for Friday, while the conference will be taking place here, or the meeting will be taking place. They addressed, especially, the hostility of the Congress and the lack of response on the part of the Administration to respond to these challenges of the Arab-Americans in this country and the Arabs and the Palestinians and Israelis.
I know that Mr. David Satterfield is going to be addressing the conference and a few other people from the Administration, including the State Department. How do you look at this emergency conference that's going to come on Friday?
MR. BURNS: We have great respect for the Arab-American groups. We have worked with them constantly for a number of years. They have been very helpful to the Administration in giving us ideas, so we're open to any comments that they have.
I'd just say this, however, because there is something in the implication of your question. There's something behind the words that I think I detected.
I would challenge you to locate on the map of the world one country that has done more than the United States -- Democrat, Republican Administrations, going back 30 years -- to support the Middle East peace negotiations. Number one.
I challenge you to find one country in the world that has done more than the United States to help the Palestinian people over the last three years. Economically, $500 million in assistance over five years is the largest bilateral commitment of aid.
And I challenge you to find any government, any Administration that has done more than ours to promote peace negotiations in which the Palestinians, for the first time since 1967, have regained territory that they lost in 1967.
So if there's an implication here that somehow the Administration is failing, I reject that completely. I'd love to continue talking about it.
Q This is not my language that I'm using here. I'm just quoting from the statement, the press advisory, which said "The hostile behavior of the Congress towards Arab and Arab-Americans' concerns and the failure of the Administration to effectively respond to any of these changes."
MR. BURNS: I'm not usually asked to defend the Congress in this fashion, but I'm glad to defend the Congress. I'm glad to defend the Senate and House. The Senate and the House have appropriated $500 million to support the Palestinian people in Gaza and in the West Bank. That's more money than any other parliament or legislature anywhere in the world has appropriated. I think you have to give the Congress it's due.
Q There's a report out of the occupied territories today that Yasser Arafat is going to resume his dialogue with Hamas. Is that something you all have seen? Do you have any comment on it?
MR. BURNS: I think we've said in the past, in the run-up to the Sharm summit and during and after the Sharm summit, that we think the time has come to isolate Hamas. We, frankly, with great respect for Chairman Arafat -- and he deserves great respect and has it from us -- we, frankly, do not believe that the dialogue that took place before the suicide terror campaign was effective in dealing with those in Hamas who then perpetrated this unspeakable terrorism upon the Israeli and the Palestinian people.
We think that in light of the suicide bombings, the Hamas leaders responsible for this -- and we know who they are and they know who they are -- ought to be arrested and they ought to be tried and convicted for murder. That's the appropriate way to deal with terrorists.
Q Noting that former President Bush was in Damascus, was he carrying any message, specific or general, from the Administration to President Hafez al-Assad?
MR. BURNS: Steve, I don't know. I don't know. I'm aware of his trip -- of President Bush's trip -- but I just don't know whether there was communication with him before the trip.
Still on the Middle East before we go to Mr. Lambros. To Greece. Thank you, Mr. Lambros.
Q You stated yesterday, March 25 -- Greek Independence Day, actually -- "We are very pleased to see Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz' remarks. They are positive and constructive. I think he's taking the situation in the direction it should go."
Allow me, however, to tell you that Mesut Yilmaz' remarks are dealing only with the Greek-Turkish political dialogue -- emphasize "political dialogue" -- for a package-deal solution on all the Aegean problems.
In order to understand better the U.S. position, could you please clarify, do you really believe that the political dialogue on a package-deal process, as proposed by Ankara, will be the appropriate one?
MR. BURNS: I believe everything I say. (Laughter) I said that yesterday.
Let me say two things, Mr. Lambros, with great respect for you and for others. I was remiss yesterday in not paying tribute to the Independence Day of Greece -- 175 years, if I'm not mistaken -- because Greece has given so much to this country in terms of our political ideals, in terms of our Constitution, and Greek-Americans have given so much to this country.
President Clinton issued a proclamation about Greek Independence Day, which is available to everybody here, issued by the White House Press Office.
Secondly, you should take seriously what we said yesterday. Prime Minister Yilmaz has done a good thing here. Perhaps his proposal didn't deal with every issue in Greek-Turkish relations, but what he said was positive. It was constructive. It was an offer to begin to discuss the differences between Greece and Turkey on an equitable basis. There was a spirit of reconciliation in his offer, and we think that's positive so we commended him for that. I stand by everything I said yesterday.
Q Almost a quarter of a century every Greek Government called upon the Turkish one that the issue of the delimitation of the (inaudible) should be addressed to the International Court of Justice, something which will give a final and complete solution to all of the Aegean problems.
I'm wondering why so far the U.S. Government never characterized this Greek legal proposal also constructive? Otherwise, why do you support the political and not the legal dialogue?
MR. BURNS: Mr. Lambros, I simply commented yesterday on the initial statement made Sunday by the new Prime Minister of Turkey about an important issue: How can Greece and Turkey get along? You shouldn't infer from that that we're against other issues being discussed in the Greek-Turkish relationship.
We've said many times over the last month or so that we would be very interested in seeing Greece and Turkey address themselves to the Imia/Kardak problem. We've even offered a place for them to do that. We've offered that we would be helpful if they wanted us to. So I think we've done the right thing here. We've said the right thing. You know where we stand. We want Greece and Turkey to get along.
Q He's proposing a political dialogue in a package-deal process. This is the specific question: What (inaudible) your position?
MR. BURNS: I think you ought to understand that the Prime Minister made a very simple statement. It was a statement that extended a hand. You ought to look at it like that. If you're looking for other promises of support from the Turkish Government, address yourself to the Turkish Government. I can't speak for the Turkish Government.
Q One more. Since the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Yilmaz, invited the U.S. Government for mediation in the Greek-Turkish dispute, I wonder, did you reply to his request so far?
MR. BURNS: Mediation is only effective when both sides to a dispute request it. I'm not aware that both sides have requested the United States to mediate, so that's not a pertinent question for the United States right now. But you know that we are allies of both Greece and Turkey. We want to be helpful. If they ask, we'll respond, but only if they ask.
Q Nick, on Bosnia. Can you bring us up to date on the foreign fighters -- numbers of; and, also, on prisoners released lately?
MR. BURNS: I'd be glad to. On foreign fighters: Secretary Christopher discussed this issue with General Joulwan at SHAPE headquarters a week ago Saturday. He discussed it with Admiral Smith as recently as Saturday afternoon in Moscow, just three days ago.
We believe, as IFOR believes, that some foreign fighters remain in Bosnia. I'm talking here about mujahedin -- Iranians and others. We believe their numbers are far lower than they were, say, on November 21, when the Dayton Accords were signed. All of them have to leave.
I would repeat today the linkage that we have made for quite a long time now, that our ability to respond with assistance to train and equip the Bosnian military is severely limited and will not occur unless the Bosnian Government makes sure that these people are asked to leave the country and that they leave the country. We do expect that will happen because we think the Bosnian Government -- and their Foreign Minister has been in the Department this morning to talk about this with the Deputy Secretary of State -- we think the Bosnian Government has a very high strategic interest in seeing the United States step forward with other countries to help provide the assistance their military is going to need when IFOR departs.
On the question of the prisoners -- you want to stick on this?
Q Can I just follow up and maybe try and sharpen it a little bit? The Secretary met with top Bosnian Government officials twice last week in foreign capitals or foreign cities?
MR. BURNS: That's right -- Geneva last Monday and in Moscow on Saturday.
Q Right. You claimed on the trip that the message had been delivered yet again. My question --
MR. BURNS: I said that on the trip; yes. I not only claimed it, I said it.
Q Right. My question is, have you received any information since your return to indicate that the Bosnians received the message and acted on it?
MR. BURNS: I think the message was received -- very clearly received. Our sense is that the Bosnian Government is now committed to the complete removal of the foreign fighters with the exception of those who can legitimately claim Bosnian citizenship, and there are a number of those who can. They, of course, will be demobilized. They will not stay active as military fighters because they're not needed with 60,000 NATO troops in the vicinity protecting the Bosnian Government and others in the area.
I think that message has been received. I think that these fighters will depart because the penalty to the Bosnian Government is much too severe. The cost is far higher than any conceivable benefit that would accrue to them from having these people remain.
On the issue of the prisoners, that's a very serious issue. All sides continue to violate the Dayton Accords -- the Bosnian Croats, the Bosnian Serbs, and the Bosnian Government. They all continue to hold prisoners despite the fact that all of them released prisoners over the weekend. In fact, some journalists were released -- an Associated Press journalist was released, I think, Slobodan, as you know, over the weekend. A considerable number of people, well over 100, are held as prisoners of war.
The Contact Group spoke clearly in Moscow on Saturday afternoon, led by the British Foreign Secretary. The French Foreign Minister, Secretary Christopher, Minister Kinkel and Minister Primakov, they all agreed if these countries do not release all prisoners, the possibility of holding the donors conference on April 12 and 13 in Brussels is going to be severely restricted. The person who agrees with this most and most strongly is Carl Bildt, who is organizing the donors conference.
So I think that these countries ought to heed this message from Moscow, delivered by Foreign Minister Primakov in the press conference on Saturday afternoon and make sure that all prisoners are released. That will then allow us to go forward with the donors conference, which is so critical to all of them.
The situation in Bosnia -- as we came back this past weekend, we think the military situation is going exceedingly well. It was very impressive to see General Joulwan and Admiral Smith at the table in Moscow with all of the Ministers. They both spoke about the successes of the military mission, and they both spoke -- you've seen references to this in the press -- about the willingness of the military mission in Bosnia to be helpful to the civilian administrators when that's possible.
Bridges are being built. Roads are being renovated, in some cases constructed. That will have a positive impact on civilian reconstruction. The military is employing over 4,000 civilians in Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of the military effort. That has a positive impact on the economy.
I think we've entered a second phase here. With the military mission having succeeded in its primary mission, we now have to concentrate on civilian reconstruction and adherence to the Dayton Accords; and that was the view of all five Contact Group Foreign Ministers at Moscow.
Q What's the status of equip-and-train preparation? Are you still preparing for that? Have you selected any U.s. company to do that or --
MR. BURNS: Yes. We are continuing to prepare to launch a train-and-equip effort along with Turkey and many other countries. We've found very good support in the Muslim world. Far less support in Europe, frankly. But we're not going to be able to actually extend the assistance unless this requirement on foreign fighters is met, and that's a very important requirement. I don't believe that the contractor has yet begun its work, because we want to make sure that there's progress on the foreign fighters' issue before that is done.
I think the message to our European partners is pretty much the message in The Washington Post editorial this morning. We have to look farther down the road than next month or the month after that. When IFOR departs, there will be a disequilibrium in the military balance among the forces unless the international community does something to build down on the weapons or, if that's not successful, to build up the Bosnian Government side -- the confederation side.
We would be foolish if we didn't make this effort, because we'd simply be leaving these countries in the state of disequilibrium in which we found them when IFOR came in in December. We hope very much that the European countries will look at this strategic imperative and understand that they need to help us to redress this imbalance.
I will ask them, "What's your answer? What's your solution to this problem if you don't agree with train-and-equip?" They don't seem to have one.
Q But they agree that it is a destabilizing element, your effort, but they say from the other side, they propose a reduction of the arms.
MR. BURNS: We're proposing that, too, and that's written into the Dayton Accords. But, if that effort is not successful, then what happens, Mr. Lambros? You have to build up.
Q (Inaudible) what they're saying.
MR. BURNS: Let me make one more point, if I could. This is a critical week in Washington, D.C., on all these Bosnia questions. The Administration has asked Congress to appropriate $200 million, which is the share -- the American share -- of the reconstruction efforts. What we saw in Geneva and Moscow last week was that the ability of Mr. Bildt is doing an excellent job. To succeed is going to be a direct function of the amount of money available to him.
The European Union has stepped up to the plate. I think we ought congratulate the European Union for doing that. The United States has not, and it's now up to the Congress of the United States to act very quickly, we hope before recess this week, to appropriate the $200 million so that the founder of the Dayton Accords -- the United States -- meets its fundamental commitment to the parties and acts in its own self-interest. We'd be acting against our self-interest if this money was not put forward by the American Congress.
Q What's the status of the foreign fighters, especially the Iranians who have been in Bosnia?
MR. BURNS: I think I answered that in response to Charlie's question. They're still there. We're not sure about the numbers. They must leave.
Q I understand that you have set a deadline or ultimatum to the Bosnian Government -- the Muslim Bosnian Government -- to get rid of them if they want to receive the $200 million from the United States. The money was --
MR. BURNS: The linkage is on equip-and-train -- train-and-equip. The Administration has not made a linkage to any other set of funds.
Q Excuse me. Jadranko Prlic, the Bosnian Foreign Minister, who spoke to Under Secretary Talbott today, proposed that a joint commission be -- or at least he told us he proposed that a joint commission be established to go and find these mujahedin, as he called them.
They maintain, of course, that there are no loose foreign fighters in Bosnia any more. Can you comment on that proposal?
MR. BURNS: Not having been in the meeting, I'm hesitant to comment on a proposal that may have been made privately and publicly. I would just say this: We think we know where these people are. We know where they are, so certainly the Bosnian Government knows where they are. They're there.
There are some people in the Bosnian Government who said they weren't there until the IFOR raided the safe house near Sarajevo. They were there. There were Iranians there, and they're up to no good. We know that Iranians remain there. So I would just take issue with the statement made this morning.
It's up to the Bosnian Government to get them out. If they need our help, we'll be glad to do it; but we think it's probably their responsibility to get them out.
Q You said before that the Muslim world has given good support on equip-and-train; and yet, as I understand it, the Saudi Arabians did not even come to the Ankara conference. Are you disappointed with that?
MR. BURNS: We think that it's in the interest of the Muslim states who clearly have an interest in supporting the Bosnian Government to step forward now when the chips are down to support the Bosnian Government and the Federation. It's certainly disappointing that some countries chose not to attend the conference.
It was also disappointing to see some countries attend and sit on their hands at the conference, which many countries from Europe did. So we are now entering a second phase of our diplomacy on train-and-equip to redouble our efforts diplomatically to convince, on a strategic basis, European allies and also Muslim partners of the United States that it's in their interest to engage in this with us.
I would like to pay tribute to the Turkish Government which volunteered to host the conference, and I think that the Turkish Government has a very similar strategic view of this as the United States.
Q As I understand it, some of the Muslim countries objected to the sort of joint arming of the Bosnians and the Croats under the Federation umbrella. Is there some way to work around that, to answer those concerns?
MR. BURNS: The Federation is one of the fundamental foundations -- it's one of the fundamental pillars in the structure of the Dayton Accords. We're going to do everything we can to support the Federation, not to diminish it, and we'll certainly continue to make that case to all countries concerned.
Q Korea. One more on Korea unless somebody else --
MR. BURNS: Korea, and then Henry has a question after that.
Q Nick, two related issues, stemming from reports by General Gary Luck, stating that a collapse would come to North Korea based on the famine pressures and government instabilities. And, secondly, last week there was a report from the U.N. that the famine was deepening in North Korea. And I would just ask your comments on these two rather pessimistic reports and basically these matters being discussed today. I take it they are.
MR. BURNS: Bill, I know that Glyn spoke about this at some length last week when there was the disaster with the ship in the Taiwan Straits. I think you know our view is that we have received reports from credible international organizations of food shortages in North Korea. We're concerned by them, and the United States has tried to respond on a humanitarian basis -- a purely humanitarian basis -- to help people in need. We'll continue to try to meet those needs as we can, along with those in the international community.
Q What does the Department think about General Luck's assessment of North Korean stability?
MR. BURNS: I haven't read General Luck's assessment, so I can't give you an intelligent answer on that.
Q The Foreign Minister of Canada, Lloyd Axworthy, is in town tomorrow and Thursday. He has two meetings with the Secretary Wednesday and Thursday. The Helms-Burton bill will clearly be at the top of the list. You know how Canada feels about that as an illegal international act. One presumes, since the Secretary previously said that he would recommend its veto if it ever came about -- if somebody hung the laundry out in front of him -- but, nonetheless, that was his previous position.
All of this leading to what is he going to tell the Canadians, who report frequently that many high-ranking American officials say, "Don't worry about anything. The waiver is in place. You will be saved from this pernicious act."
MR. BURNS: Very provocative question, Henry. (Laughter)
Q You may be provocative, sir.
MR. BURNS: Let me give you a not very provocative answer. The Secretary is looking forward to his meetings with Minister Axworthy, and they've had a number of phone conversations. They've exchanged letters since the Minister's appointment, and this will be a good opportunity, with our strongest and closest neighbor, to review all issues, including Helms-Burton.
It's been a big issue in the U.S.-Canadian relationship since the passage of Helms-Burton -- no question about it. The President signed the bill. The President supported some of the compromises made by the Congress in the final stages of deliberations on that bill. The Secretary of State obviously supports the bill that the President signed, and he'll tell the Foreign Minister that. He'll explain all dimensions of the bill.
There is a waiver provision. I can't forecast what action the President will take on that. We're many months away from it. But we understand it's a concern of the Canadian Government and to other allies of the United States, and we're certainly ready to talk about that.
I don't believe the meeting will be dominated by that, however, because there are a lot of other issues, including Haiti, in which the Administration and Canada --
Q (Inaudible) they indicated only at the --
MR. BURNS: There's a lot to do on it.
Q But let me -- you raise this point of other nations. Are you able to characterize to us formally what kind of representations you're getting from other nations besides Canada. We know Canada has been very forceful in its remarks. Any other nations, obviously, and who are they?
MR. BURNS: I would just limit myself to saying that we've had many conversations about this issue with partners -- some near and some far -- and we'll continue to try to assure them that we believe this law is consistent with international provisions and international law, and that it will be made, in the way it's applied, to be consistent with international law. We don't believe it needs to interfere in our relations with good neighbors such as Canada. But a number of other countries have -- I'd rather not name them. I'm not sure they'd want us to name them. This is in the private, diplomatic channels in which we normally discuss things.
Q One more question. One final question on this. Does the State Department find themselves in a bit of an embarrassing position in this regard in that, as you talked on others issues here, Canada is a co-contributor at a larger per capita scale to Bosnian reconstruction than the United States; that its troops are there; that they are in Haiti; that they are walking lockstep on so many foreign issues with the State Department and this country that you find yourself in this situation with Canada? Is it an embarrassment diplomatically?
MR. BURNS: I wouldn't use that word. Everything you say about Canada's contributions to the security of the West is absolutely true, and we value our relationship and our partnership with Canada. It's probably the most successful relationship we have with any country in the world.
I would pin the blame, however, on Fidel Castro. It was Castro who sent his plane -- his jets to attack unarmed Cessnas in international waters. Now the Cubans -- they're not talking about these planes having been in Cuban airspace any longer, not after the evidence was presented to them at the United Nations.
Castro is to blame, and I think that the climate in this country simply demanded the type of leadership from the Congress and the Administration to strengthen restrictions on Cuba, and that's why the Administration decided to support the bill.
If there's a villain here, it's not the United States Government, it's not the Congress, it's not the American people. It's Castro who's completely out of step with the other countries in the hemisphere.
Q Nor would Canada be considered a villain either.
MR. BURNS: I'm certainly not suggesting the case. No, I think the implication from some of the conversation we've been having is that somehow the United States is at fault for this situation, at least in terms of the bill. The Administration supported the bill. The President signed the bill, and we will implement that bill faithfully, conforming to American law and to international law.
I'm just suggesting the wider context for this is the reason that bill was passed the way it was is because Castro did a foolish and murderous thing, and he's to be blamed for that. I think if we're looking for villains, you don't have to look very far. It's Castro who's responsible for the present state of affairs.
Q I don't want to capitalize this, and I apologize to my colleagues, but since we don't often get American officials to talk on this issue, nonetheless the result of this is that you are punishing Canada for what you suggest are Castro's actions.
MR. BURNS: We don't look at it that way, as we're punishing Canada. What we're trying to do is punish Cuba, and we're trying to tighten the embargo so that the day will come, we hope, when the Cuban people will be free. We want to isolate Cuba. It's the only country in the hemisphere that is still totalitarian, and it's a brutal totalitarian dictatorship.
Before the downing of the Cessnas, Castro rounded up more than 50 members of the Concilio Cubano -- people who just wanted to exercise normal freedoms that almost all people in this hemisphere enjoy. That's the argument that we have. It's with the Government in Cuba. It's not with the Government of Canada.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURNS: Thanks.
(The briefing concluded at 2:01 p.m.)
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