U.S. Department of State 96/04/12 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Friday, April 12, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns ANNOUNCEMENT Donors Conference on Bosnia..................... 1-2 ISRAEL/LEBANON Hizbollah Rocket Attacks................................. 2-4 Reported Attacks on SyrianTargets....................... 4 --Meeting with SyrianOfficials.......................... 5 Remarks by Prime Minister Peres.......................... 5-6 Proportionality of Attack/Counter-Attack................. 7 Iranian Influence on Hizbollah........................... 7 LIBERIA Assessment of Situation/Evacuation Plans.................9-10,15-16 Actions of Regional Security Officer John Frese.......... 10-12 --Role of Diplomatic Security............................ 12 Post-Evacuation Plans/Humanitarian Relief................ 12-14 Reports of Looting....................................... 16 HELMS-BURTON LEGISLATION.................................... 17 NATO EXPANSION.............................................. 17-18 CHINA Secretary's Decision on Ring Magnets/Relations with U.S.. 18-21 Purchase of European Aircraft............................ 20-21 TURKEY/ISRAEL: Cooperation Agreement...................... .21
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, APRIL 12, 1996, 1:12 P. M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I want to welcome today ten students from George Washington University. You look like George Washington University students, seated over here on my right.
Also, a Polish journalist, Mr. Rona, I believe, is here.
And I have a very special visitor who's sitting very prominently in the back here with a Boston Red Sox cap on. His name is Brian McDevitt. He is the brother of one of our employees, Elaine McDevitt here. He's come all the way from Boston, just to remind you all of our fidelity --
MR. BURNS: No -- wrong conclusion -- of our fidelity to the Boston Red Sox here in the Bureau of Public Affairs. Brian, thank you for coming, and I love your hat.
I do have one brief announcement to make, and then we can go on to your questions. The Brussels donors conference is being held today and tomorrow. It's being hosted jointly by the European Union and the World Bank. It is to try to have countries commit -- countries and international organizations commit funds for the reconstruction effort in Bosnia.
The United States delegation is being headed by the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers, and his deputy on this delegation will be Ambassador Bill Montgomery from the Department of State.
As you know, the objective here is to raise an additional $1.2 billion to supplement the $600 million already raised. The sessions today are devoted to reviewing the status of the economic recovery efforts, the reconstruction efforts in Bosnia, and there will be a pledging session that will take place on Saturday morning.
Secretary Christopher called Larry Summers last night to discuss with him the objectives of the United States delegation. As you know, by virtue of a congressional appropriation and a positive decision by both Republicans and Democrats in the Congress to support the Administration request, the United States will be pledging $200 million for the first tranche of the reconstruction effort in Bosnia.
I can tell you that in addition to this $200 million, during the course of 1996, the United States will also put forward $339 million for humanitarian assistance programs and for demining efforts. The $339 million comes from other appropriations, from various accounts throughout the government. So the total value of United States assistance for economic recovery in Bosnia in 1996 is thus well over $500 million. It approaches $540 million. I believe that makes the United States, if not the leader, among the leaders in the world to support the reconstruction effort in Bosnia. I did want to note that.
I just wanted to mention, Jim, and then we can go right to questions -- I have a statement in the Press Office that's available afterwards about a contribution of $89.2 million that the United States is making to the International Committee of the Red Cross. This is for the Red Cross programs in all parts of the world. This does not pertain to Bosnia.
Q That $200 million -- is that new pledged money, or is that the last -- part of the $600 million that was (inaudible) last year.
MR. BURNS: The $200 million represents money that the Congress has agreed with the Administration that the United States should pledge. We have said before many times that on a three-year basis, we intend to pledge roughly $600 million. This is thus the first tranche of a multi-year American contribution to the economic reconstruction.
But I did want to note that if you put together all the other contributions by the Administration -- by the United States Government -- this year, we are then well over $500 million, approaching $540 million.
Q Nick, can we go to the Middle East and see if State has anything further to say about the increased fighting and now involving some Syrian injuries?
MR. BURNS: Yes, Barry. As you know, you saw today further Katyusha rocket attacks into northern Israel by Hizbollah, and Israel has responded -- you've seen Prime Minister Peres on the television -- has responded with further Israeli attacks on Hizbollah targets in southern Lebanon and near Beirut.
I would just point you to what Secretary Christopher said yesterday. We believe this latest round of fighting has been caused in large part by the actions of Hizbollah and the vicious Katyusha rocket attacks on the civilian population of northern Israel.
We believe that there is a way to end the current round of fighting and to restore a situation of calm and of stability in the region in both Lebanon and in northern Israel, and that is for Hizbollah to stop its Katyusha rocket attacks on northern Israel.
The United States has been active today diplomatically in Israel, in Lebanon and in Syria, talking to all the governments about how we might contribute to an effort to end this fighting. But I think the most direct way to do that is for Hizbollah to understand that it initiated the latest round of fighting on April 9; that it is responsible in large measure for it, and that it should stop its rocket attacks on innocent civilians in northern Israel.
Q Is there innovative way that is under discussion? You say to contribute -- obviously, you're trying to end the fighting. But is there some new approach that is being discussed? Some conference, I don't know what?
MR. BURNS: No, I can't point you to any new approach, Barry. I think we have, obviously, the best of relations with the Government of Israel. We have Embassies in both Beirut and Damascus, and our Ambassadors in both capitals have been in to talk to the governments this morning with messages from Secretary Christopher -- oral messages -- about the fighting.
Secretary Christopher, of course, is monitoring this, as you would expect, very closely. He has talked to many of his advisers this morning. He was active yesterday monitoring this situation, and we hope very much that Hizbollah will draw the right conclusions, and that is that it's not going to win this round of fighting. It cannot meet its objectives from this round of fighting.
There are people now -- unfortunately civilians -- who have been caught up in this and killed on both sides of the border, and I think for the sake of the civilians on both sides of the border -- the Arab civilians as well as the Israeli civilians -- Hizbollah should take the proper step to stop the attacks.
Q Nick, what do you have to say about the fact that the Israelis apparently have hit some Syrian soldiers. Is there any fear that Syria might strike back, and what exactly did the Secretary pass on to Damascus in this regard? Did he ask Syria to use its influence with Hizbollah? Did it ask Syria not to retaliate against Israel?
MR. BURNS: Carol, as you know, we believe that those who have influence over Hizbollah should exercise that influence, and I would include Syria as one of the prominent countries in the Middle East that has influence over Hizbollah. We would ask Syria and others to advise Hizbollah that their current actions are most unwise.
The oral messages that went out, went out overnight. They arrived and were delivered in the Middle East early this morning Middle East time. Therefore, it doesn't take account of some of the press reports subsequent to that, just in the last four or five hours, that Israeli attacks may have inadvertently hit Syrian positions.
I would just say on that, Carol, we can't confirm those press reports. I note that the Israelis have responded to those press reports by saying that they are not targeting Syrian positions in and around Beirut. They are targeting, the Israelis say, Hizbollah positions.
Q Have you tried to reach the Syrians yourselves? Has the Secretary put a call in to Shara?
MR. BURNS: The Secretary has not talked to Minister Shara this morning, but our Ambassador, Chris Ross, has been in touch with Syrian diplomats in Damascus, and I imagine that we'll be very closely in touch with the Syrian Government in the hours and days ahead.
Our hope is that Hizbollah will now understand that it must end its attacks and therefore lead the way back to a position of calm and of stability, if not peace, in that part of the world.
Q Why aren't you calling for restraint on the part of Israel?
MR. BURNS: As we look at the events over the last week, we are convinced, as the Secretary said quite clearly yesterday, that the fundamental problem in the latest round of fighting is the Katyusha rocket barrage by Hizbollah. That is our analysis. We believe that's an accurate representation to what has happened over the last couple of days, and therefore we're calling on Hizbollah to stop those attacks.
Q Just a follow-up to tie up a couple of loose ends. Has Ambassador Ross seen Shara or lower level people, and on a somewhat related question to what Barry asked before, is there any thought being given to ask Dennis Ross to go to the region after Brussels?
MR. BURNS: First, Ambassador Chris Ross -- our United States Ambassador to Syria -- went into the Syrian Foreign Ministry this morning and saw a Syrian Foreign Ministry official. It was not Minister Shara.
Ambassador Dennis Ross is in Brussels for a Middle East economic conference concerning Palestinian economic development in the West Bank and Gaza. I know of no plans to send Ambassador Dennis Ross to the region.
Q Could I try another approach possibly. Is it the judgment of the State Department that Peres' willingness to respond and respond forcefully to terrorist attacks enhances Israel's security and makes it more likely that Israel will resume negotiations in which it gives up lands that have been security belts in exchange for peace?
MR. BURNS: I would just refer you, Barry, to Prime Minister Peres' remarks. You've seen them this morning on television. You've seen the wire reports. I've seen them. I think he's explained the Israeli position -- that after a period of restraint, the Israelis felt that they had to defend themselves on this rather unprecedented and large round of Katyusha rocket attacks over several days that has forced the Israelis to have women and children leave the northern towns; forced others in those towns to take shelter.
Q Don't you now have an answer as a supporter of Peres' approach to negotiations -- don't you now find yourself reinforced with an answer when people say the Israeli -- when critics say the Israeli Government is not really being careful about guarding the security of Israel? Won't you all -- Dennis Ross and all of you -- feel very comfortable and say, "Look what Peres did when Hizbollah attacked. He didn't hesitate to hit back. He's a tough guy." Isn't that part of this whole thing?
MR. BURNS: It's a creative question. It's a creative way of looking at --
Q It's also a political question, because there's a lot of politics involved here.
MR. BURNS: It's a creative way of looking at things. I can't give you a political answer, because I'm not competent to give political advice or political observations from this podium. But I can tell you on a foreign policy basis, Israel has always -- all Israeli Governments, of whatever political stripe, have always taken adequate measures to provide security for the Israeli people over the last few decades. We can't give advice to various Israeli Governments as to when they decide they have to act and how they have to act.
But I would just refer you to the statements of the Prime Minister this morning, which I think are quite clear, and might help you with your question.
Q Nick, is the Israeli Government entirely within the bounds of legitimate self-defense to hit at installations in and around Beirut and also strike inadvertently, perhaps, at Syrian installations there?
MR. BURNS: Mark, all governments have to decide for themselves, obviously, how they defend their citizens from attack. The Israeli Government this week has had to respond to vicious attacks on civilians, not Israeli army positions in southern Lebanon, not Israeli army positions in northern Israel, but civilians, towns, Qiryat Shemona and other towns. You know them well. It has taken the actions that it feels it must take to protect innocent civilians in Israel.
The United States has a very strong relationship with Israel. We're not in a position here to second-guess. We are in a position as a friend of Israel and as a country that wants peace to take hold in Lebanon and between Syria and Israel to argue for restraint on the part of Hizbollah and to argue that a terrorist group like Hizbollah must understand that its actions have consequences.
So we are in a position now to argue for peace, and that's what we are arguing for. That's the American position: that if Hizbollah would stop its attacks, we believe it will be possible to have the situation return to calm and stability.
Q Are you handicapped in that by being unable to talk to Iran to which Hizbollah owes its principal allegiance?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe so. I think there are a variety of countries that have some type of influence on Hizbollah. I've named one of them this morning. If you'd like me to call publicly for Iran to exercise a degree of moderation on Hizbollah, I'm glad to do so. Iran should use its influence on Hizbollah to convince Hizbollah to moderate its activities.
We don't have American diplomats in Tehran to make that point clearly, so I'm glad to make it publicly.
Q Nick, in the past, the U.S. Government has never hesitated to discuss the proportionality of attack and counter-attack particularly in the Middle East. This time, you seem to deliberately shy away from that. What is different about this situation that precludes you from commenting on the proportional size of the Israeli response?
MR. BURNS: I would just say that all situations are different. As you know, since July 1993, we've had an agreement in that region -- the agreement worked out by Secretary Christopher and others -- that during many crises over the last three years has been able to return the situation to one of calm.
That agreement, obviously, has had great strain placed on it by the Hizbollah attacks. I think what is slightly different here, Jim, is that we have a series of Hizbollah attacks of an unprecedented nature in terms of the number of Katyusha rocket volleys and also the severity and the direction of those that have inflicted really unacceptable casualties upon civilians in northern Israel. That's certainly the viewpoint of the Israeli Government and I think accounts for the strength of the Israeli response.
Q (Inaudible) countries -- and I won't ask you to name them more than once in a day that have influence over Hizbollah -- have they not been using it at all? Is that why the rockets have been falling?
MR. BURNS: I don't know if they've been using it or not. If they have been using it -- any kind of positive influence -- to try to convince Hizbollah to cease and desist, it obviously hasn't worked. If that's the case, we'd ask them to try again. If it's not the case, if they haven't tried to use that influence, they should do so now.
Q Can you outline what sort of influence they have?
MR. BURNS: I think it's very clear that Iran certainly has a great deal of influence over Hizbollah. We think that other countries, including Syria, have influence as well -- political influence, influence in terms of the direction of that organization's activities.
Q Nick, what do you think the long-term implication might be if, in fact, Syria doesn't try to rein in Hizbollah, as it has in the past with some success?
MR. BURNS: I don't want to leap 10 steps down the road, Carol, ahead of present events and assume that the situation will deteriorate. We hope that the situation is going to improve, and it will improve if Hizbollah takes the desired action.
Q There are reports as well that Israeli jets have bombarded the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiyah. Wouldn't you at least call for restraint on the Israeli part as far as non-Hizbollah targets are concerned?
MR. BURNS: I'm not in the area. We don't have American diplomats, I don't believe, in northern Israel. I know we don't have American diplomats in southern Lebanon. I just can't confirm press reports of this attack or that attack. I just can't do that.
Q What do you know of (inaudible) Hizbollah targets?
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
Q You would call for Israeli --
MR. BURNS: I look at the Israeli public statements over the last 24 hours, both the military officers who speak on behalf of the Israeli army -- the IDF -- and Prime Minister Peres' statements. They are uniform in one respect. They say that the Israeli intention and that the Israeli operational directors are to locate Hizbollah targets. That's what Israel is saying it is doing, so I direct you to Israeli Government spokespeople and I direct you to the Lebanese Government for further comment on that.
I just am not aware of the veracity of all the different reports that are flowing in, in a very confused situation.
Q Can we ask you about Liberia?
MR. BURNS: Certainly.
Q Apart from the humanitarian evacuation effort, can you give us a kind of account or rundown of what the U.S. is doing, if anything, in Liberia?
MR. BURNS: I have a lot of information to share with you. What I propose is, let me work through that information and then respond to questions.
We are impressed by the intensity and severity of the fighting in Monrovia -- in and around Monrovia. We are very disappointed by the continued action of the various militia to try to fight each other and, in the process expose tens of thousands of people to potentially deadly fire in the streets of Monrovia.
Secretary Christopher, Under Secretary Peter Tarnoff, Under Secretary Dick Moose, and the Task Force, which has been in continuous operation on the Seventh Floor are following events in Liberia very closely.
Our primary mission continues to be the evacuation of American citizens and of other foreigners, as we can do it, from Liberia to safety in Sierra Leone and in Senegal.
I can tell you that as of noon today -- that's Eastern Daylight Time here on the East Coast -- a total of over 1,000 civilians have been evacuated by the United States military and the United States State Department over the last several days.
Of those 1,000 civilians, approximately 160/165 are American citizens. The total number of helicopter sorties today -- that's sorties from Liberia to outside the country -- is 34. If you stay tuned throughout the day, perhaps towards the end of the day, we'll have numbers that more accurately reflect all of the action today.
The number of people -- the number of civilians on the American Embassy compound fluctuates quite rapidly because as people come in, they are processed for departure. As helicopters come it, they take those people out to Sierra Leone.
The Embassy is remaining in contact with the rest of the Americans in Liberia through a radio-net and by other means. I don't have any reports that there have been any American civilian casualties during the last couple of days.
As you know, yesterday, we were able to organize a convoy to rescue Americans and bring them to safety. That was from the suburb of Elwa. We also had a helicopter convoy go outside the Embassy and rescue an additional number of Americans.
I understand the situation from our Embassy this morning in the streets is that gunfire, looting continue -- widespread looting throughout the city. There is no credible evidence to confirm the reports of a cease-fire. Quite the contrary. The fighting is quite vicious. The fighting is not restricted just to the city to Monrovia but has spilled out into the suburbs and beyond.
I do want to correct a misunderstanding from one of the newspaper reports this morning in a major American newspaper. There was an intrusion into Ambassador Milam's -- the American Ambassador -- residence yesterday by some armed individuals -- Liberians -- belonging to which faction, we don't know. They broke into a building. They beat a local guard employed by the Embassy.
American special forces, who are protecting the Embassy, went to that part of the compound and essentially chased them off. These individuals ran. They fled back over the wall when they saw the American special forces, but no shots were fired. There was no exchange of gunfire on the American Embassy compound yesterday. It was a little bit disconcerting to see the prominence of that report today because it was not accurate.
I can tell you as well that we continue to believe that upwards of 20,000 Liberian nationals continue to live at the Greystone housing complex, which is operated by the American Embassy. They are living in makeshift shelters. It's a quite tense and dramatic situation. Many of them are very low on water and food. Sanitary conditions are most unfortunate.
The efforts by the Embassy and private relief organizations to get food and water and supplies to them have been thwarted by the actions of the militia, by the continued looting and fighting around the Greystone compound.
We are going to continue our efforts today -- Ambassador Milam and his associates -- working with various organizations in Monrovia to get supplies to those people. They are in a quite desperate strait, a quite desperate situation right now.
I can tell you of a very positive action that took place yesterday and also this morning. I'd like to single out, among all the people who have done a terrific job -- American soldiers and American diplomats -- our security officer, John Frese.
On April 11 -- I want to repeat this for those of you who did not hear this yesterday -- Mr. Frese left the Embassy compound in an Embassy vehicle. He made a two-hour trip to the suburb of Elwa. He was able to pick up over 100 people and bring them to safety at another collection point in the city of Monrovia.
In addition to that, he then went, with the help of our radio-net, to various houses and other buildings in Monrovia and picked up another group of people and brought them to various collection points.
All in all, I think yesterday he was able to rescue about 140 people; of them, about 125 were Americans. He was active again today. He went out -- I would just try to paint a picture here of a city with gunfire, looting, three different militias operating in the city -- he went out again and rescued 50 people from various houses, many of them Americans, and brought them to another point where they could be picked up by military helicopter.
Obviously, the actions of John Frese, who is an officer who has seen service in Kuwait and Guatemala and other hot spots around the world, are heroic actions.
Q How do you spell his last name?
MR. BURNS: F-R-E-S-E. I think that his actions over the last two days -- he didn't have to do this, he was not ordered to do this -- his actions to go into harms way in essentially a civil war in Monrovia to rescue up to 200 individuals -- and many of them American citizens -- are heroic, they're praiseworthy. I think the American people should feel good that we've got diplomats like John Frese in Monrovia.
I do have his biography available for those of you who are interested in it.
Q What's his job?
MR. BURNS: He's a security officer, the regional security officer at our Embassy in Monrovia. He's an American diplomat. His job is to provide for security of our facilities in Liberia. He has served before in Guatemala, Kuwait, Beirut, Bamako in Mali. He's been in Monrovia since 1994. He has received various awards for good action in the past, but I think this probably represents a degree of bravery and heroism that you don't see often, that is quite unprecedented and that really deserves commendation by all of us back here in Washington.
MR. BURNS: He joined the State Department in 1985. He's served in the Embassies that I mentioned since then. He's also served in Washington. He was the first security officer into Kuwait after the Gulf War in 1991. He's 41. He's from Kenosha, Wisconsin. He graduated from high school there. He served in the Special Forces in the Army for four years. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1977 with a degree in criminology. He's married and has two children.
Monrovia is a post, by the way, where you cannot have dependents. I think his wife and kids are back here in the United States, typical of a lot of American diplomats who have serve in places like Monrovia, Sarajevo, around the world, where they can't have their families. He's risked his life over the last two days for Americans. I did want to draw a lot of attention to his actions today.
Q Since you raise this specific case, I can ask you a little more broad question? There is some in this town who are trying to get rid of DS, or have it subsumed into other law enforcement agencies. I was wondering how the State Department felt about that and whether this case suggests that DS may have a special role to play?
MR. BURNS: I think if you ask Secretary Christopher, who is protected by Diplomatic Security agents on a 24-hour basis, they travel with him, they're at his house, if you ask all of us who work here, these people are necessary. They're critical to our functioning around the world.
Remember the Diplomatic Security agents who saved the life of Ambassador Krueger in Burundi last summer, the Diplomatic Security agents who protected our diplomats so successfully in Sarajevo in intensively difficult conditions over the last couple of years, and now John Frese, who has done remarkable things over the last two days, I think that argues, Carol, for a continuation of funding for the Diplomatic Security service and for a continuation of their independence.
The State Department has to operate in over 160 countries overseas in the modern world. The modern world is dangerous. There are places like Monrovia and Sarajevo and Beirut where American diplomats are targeted, where they need to be protected. If we didn't have them there, we couldn't have diplomats there.
We're going to keep our Embassy open in Monrovia. It's going to remain open.
MR. BURNS: The first objective is to get the American citizens out. But once that is accomplished, then we have to continue with our other objectives, to try to work with our West African friends -- neighbors of Liberia -- to try to convince these militias to accept a cease-fire, return to the Abuja peace process; and, hopefully, over the longer term put in place a set of negotiations that will provide for peace and stability for the people of Liberia. That's going to require an American Embassy.
I think it's important for all of us to remember that the United States has had a special and unique relationship with Liberia. It was founded in 1847 by freed slaves -- black slaves -- from the United States. We have had a great deal of influence on the development of that country. We have been intensively involved over six years now in the peace efforts there. We have conducted evacuations before. We have a special envoy -- Dane Smith -- who is in and out of Monrovia. In fact, just left last week, a few days ahead of this latest outbreak of fighting.
We can't leave Liberia. We have an obligation to stay, and our Embassy and diplomats will stay.
Q Back to the figures. I don't know if I heard you correctly -- 160 to 165?
MR. BURNS: That's right.
MR. BURNS: Yes -- Americans. And then roughly a little over a thousand total. Those numbers are going to change because we do have a great number of people at collection points. They will be ferried by helicopter out of Liberia to Sierra Leone and Senegal shortly.
Q If those people waiting are predominately Americans, then you've answered by question --
MR. BURNS: There are a lot of Americans waiting.
Q Why is there only five more Americans than yesterday at this point?
MR. BURNS: Because we had incorrect figures yesterday. The figures that I gave you 24 hours ago were, I think, 30 more than there actually were. I can account for that by telling you it's a very confused situation. We're counting people who leave Liberia and also arrive in both Freetown and Dakar, and I think there was just a mix-up in the counting yesterday.
Q Nick, you were going to release a picture of Mr. Frese?
MR. BURNS: We have a picture of Mr. Frese in the Press Office. We have his bio. I would encourage you to talk about him in your reports. I think he deserves of commendation.
Q Have you made any decision, or is one pending on drawing down Embassy staff once the civilians are gone?
MR. BURNS: We'll have to look at that question. Once we've completed our critical mission here of protecting American civilians, American citizens, we'll have to look at the size of our Embassy and ask the question whether we want to stay at that size or drawn down. That decision will be made by the Secretary, Dick Moose, and others here. But I do believe we'll be keeping our Embassy open in the process.
Q Nick, what decision has been made on whether American forces currently on the ground in Monrovia will be used to facilitate the food and relief supply distribution once their immediate mission is completed?
MR. BURNS: We have not made a decision, Mark, about that. Right now, we're working with the international humanitarian relief organizations; also working with the Liberian authorities as they exist, as we can work with them. It's a fractured government, as you know. It's a divided, split government.
We haven't made any decisions about whether we would use our military forces for that purpose. They have a mission now. It's a singular mission. They need to complete it. I expect the evacuation will have to continue at least through the weekend in order for them to accomplish the mission.
Q Filing break.
MR. BURNS: A filing break called by AP.
Q Is that a possibility?
MR. BURNS: I just don't want to comment. I have not been involved in any discussions that would take us to that next step, Mark.
We are concerned about the humanitarian situation. We have to be concerned about it, if you look at the desperate conditions of people there. We're going to work as best we can through those problems on a day-to-day basis.
Q Nick, reports yesterday said there's a Naval Task Force, which includes helicopter carrier Guam, I think, is on its way to the West African coast. Is there a thought in mind that there would be massive evacuations eventually using the ships rather than the aircraft?
MR. BURNS: As the Pentagon explained yesterday, the naval vessels and the other forces are being sent to re-enforce the capabilities that we may need on a contingency basis for Liberia.
The objective now is to bring out all the Americans who wish to come. We strongly advise Americans to leave Liberia and all the foreigners that we can in the process. Beyond that, we have a very tall diplomatic mission, and that is to see if the United States can contribute to influencing these militias to stop their fighting. That's the focus of our efforts.
Q Nick, do you know if the Italian family that the Italian Foreign Minister was going to ask the Secretary with help in evacuating yesterday, whether they are out or rescued?
MR. BURNS: The Italian family is one well known to us -- well know to Ambassador Milam and to others who served in Liberia over the years. We know where they are. We're in contact with them. They do have a radio. We've not been able to bring them out yet. We want to bring them out. They happen to live in the area of the most intense fighting. They probably have been better off staying where they are over the last couple of days. We are going to make an attempt to get them out. We've made that commitment to Minister Angelli.
Q (Inaudible) non-American evacuees who have already been evacuated -- maybe the first five or six top nationalities?
MR. BURNS: I don't have a list of how many, for instance, nationals from each country we brought out. We'll be glad to make that available later in the day.
As you know, we brought out a considerable number of Lebanese citizens, of Egyptians, of British citizens, and many different European and Asian countries.
Q Nick, yesterday you announced that you had to make a change in the evacuation procedures because it was so dangerous on the streets. It seems that there are still quite a few Americans who would be trapped -- and others who are trapped in the outlying suburbs. Is there any change or advancement in the tactics that you're using right now to go and get Americans?
MR. BURNS: Actually, I think that we've continued those tactics today. Mr. Frese went out and was able to rescue 50 additional people, many of whom are Americans. We'll have to continue to do that in one way or another.
A number of the Americans have been brought out of harm's way and are at collection points. We don't want to say where those collection points are, for obvious reasons, for security reasons, and they will be ferried out shortly. I think you'll see the number of Americans out of Liberia grow quite dramatically over the next 24 hours.
But that, I think, Laura would still leave some Americans who have not been able to get to the Embassy or to the collection points. As I've said before, we are in touch with them through radio nets. We know where they are. We don't believe that any of them right now are in any kind of imminent and critical danger. If we thought that, we'd try to help them immediately.
Q Different subject.
MR. BURNS: Different subject, yes.
Q One more on this, and you may have touched on it yesterday. Do you have information that members of the peacekeeping force, particularly Nigerians, have been involved in looting?
MR. BURNS: Mark, I don't have firsthand information, but I have general information. Needless to say, given the breakdown of law and order in Liberia, I don't think we can judge the efforts of the West African military mission to have been exemplary in all respects. We cannot judge them to have been exemplary. There has been some disheartening information about some of the activities of those forces, and certainly their mission has not been effective as we and they had hoped it would be, given the deterioration in the situation there.
I think it's important to note they are in a difficult position. There are many very fine people, fine soldiers, in that force. They find themselves in a situation of chaos as three militias fight each other. It is a difficult situation.
Q Change of subject?
MR. BURNS: Sure.
Q Okay. Yesterday, Mr. Leon Brittan strongly objected to the Helms-Burton legislation on Cuba. How is the United States addressing the European Union concerns on this matter?
MR. BURNS: Yes, Sir Leon Brittan did raise that issue yesterday with Secretary Christopher, and we've received expressions of concern by many governments, including the Canadian Government and others, over the course of the last month.
We hope these governments will recognize that the Cuban Government's action in shooting down unarmed American civilian aircraft -- two Cessnas -- last month is the reason why the Administration joined hands with the Congress to pass the Libertad law.
We're working with all these countries, with our allies and our trading partners, to try to minimize the frictions involved as we implement this legislation. We have consulted with them widely. We've given them a lot of information -- as much as we have -- about what the law says. We've got a group working trying to operationalize this law, trying to put in place the specific regulations that will allow this law to be implemented successfully.
As we do that, we are consulting with the European Union and with individuals countries. I think they need to be a little bit patient with us. They need to understand that the United States has faced provocations and outrageous behavior by the Government of Cuba that these other governments have not faced. They ought to be a little bit understanding of the position of the United States and of the sentiments of the American people.
MR. BURNS: Do you have a follow-up?
Q Has there been any progress on how the United States will keep track of third-country companies or governments doing business with Cuba?
MR. BURNS: Obviously, that's going to be part of the process here. I don't want to speculate on how we're going to put this bill into effect before the group that is working on this develops its final suggestions here in the Administration. I think I'm just going to have to wait a little bit on that.
Q There is legislation in Congress dealing with NATO expansion and including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic as the first candidates, and it omits Slovak Republic, although in previous years Slovakia has been included in as well. My first question would be what is the position of the State Department, because the State Department is a key player in foreign policy?
And my second question is, are there any signals that Slovakia should be omitted from the first group of countries that should be admitted in NATO?
MR. BURNS: What I can tell you is that, as you know very well, the United States believes very strongly that NATO should expand in the future. Secretary Christopher made that clear in his Prague speech last month.
We have not identified any countries to be in a special or unique group to be the first countries that will enter NATO. NATO, together -- the 16 countries -- need to make that decision. They have not made that decision, and that decision will not be made in 1996.
So we're not excluding Slovakia. We're not including anybody else -- any other countries into any kind of special group. What we have said is that all the members of the Partnership for Peace -- and there are over 25 members, well over 25 members -- are candidates for NATO membership. But we've not singled out anybody for special treatment, and we won't do that.
When the time comes for NATO to make its decision to expand, all the 16 nations of NATO will make that decision together.
Q China. Is there any decision from the Secretary of State on his recommendation to the President about sanctions against China for its alleged violations of the NPT?
MR. BURNS: The Secretary has not made a decision.
Q Why not?
MR. BURNS: The Secretary has not made a decision, because he continues to look as this as a very difficult and complex problem. When he is convinced in his own mind that he has the right information, sufficient information, to make this decision, he'll make it, and I'll tell you about that as soon as I can thereafter. But he hasn't made the decision, Steve.
The Secretary is about to embark with the President on a very long trip to Korea, Japan, to Russia -- but part of that trip will be to go to The Hague on April 19, a week from today, for a very important meeting with Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen. I can't tell you when this decision will be made -- whether it will be made before that meeting or after that meeting. It's a decision that the Secretary has not made himself.
Q Nick, as the Secretary prepares for this meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister, can you characterize the tone of the relationship right now, given the pending decision by the Secretary and the various other problems that have strained the relationship in the past?
MR. BURNS: I think the senior members of the U.S. Government, as well as the senior members of the Chinese Government, understand how important this relationship is. As we work our way through 1996, there are certainly a number of difficulties and challenges on our agenda with China.
There are ways that we can work together. We can certainly continue to work together on the problem of North Korea, where we've worked quite successfully and productively in the past.
We are working well together on some of the other transnational issues that are so important to our foreign policy, including the environment. We've had a series of good discussions with the Chinese on that.
We want to continue to work for a reduction of tensions in the Taiwan Strait. We've been very heartened to see that since the Taiwan elections, the tensions have been reduced. There is a more civil, political dialogue between Taiwan and China. We have trade concerns. We have human rights concerns. We have non-proliferation concerns that are very important and at the centerpiece of our agenda with China. We're convinced of one thing. We need to keep talking. We need to keep a policy of engagement. China knows that our one-China policy is intact and will not be changed.
China knows that the United States will not attempt to contain China or engage other countries in a policy of containment of China. China is too big and important and critical to the world's future for that type of policy, so therefore we continue to follow a policy of engagement with China.
We have difficulties. We must overcome them. The way to do that is to keep the high-level meetings going. That is why the Secretary's meeting on April 19 is such an important meeting.
Q Nick, you said the Secretary is holding off his MFN decision until he gets more information. Does that mean that you do not find the information now in hand convincing that China has in fact been sending ring magnets to Pakistan?
MR. BURNS: Jim, I just want to correct a misimpression. I wasn't talking about MFN. I was talking about ring magnets. Steve, your question was about ring magnets. I just want to correct the record, so there's no misunderstanding when people read the transcript.
On the allegations of a Chinese sale of ring magnets to Pakistan, the Secretary is still looking at those allegations. We are still discussing this issue with the Chinese Government, both here and in Washington and in Beijing. The Secretary has not yet made a decision on a course of American action on that issue.
Q In the last -- in this week, the Chinese Prime Minister in France announced -- I guess reannounced -- that China would be buying $1.6 billion worth of Euro airbuses. Does this send -- and the Chinese are saying quite openly that this is meant as a signal -- is this signal being received in this capital?
MR. BURNS: I would say this: First of all, I think there's no question that aircraft produced in the United States is superior aircraft. It's the finest in the world and superior to any European aircraft. There's no question about that, from our perspective, and historically China and many other countries around the world have recognized that.
We have no evidence at this point to indicate that China's aircraft procurement decisions are being driven by anything other than commercial consideration. We, of course, would be most disturbed if China's aircraft procurement decisions were being driven by political consideration.
Our companies ought to have the capability to be judged according to their merits. I think if the Chinese and other countries around the world look at the virtues of American aircraft versus European aircraft, they'll see the obvious superiority in American design and in the aircraft in general.
Q Do you think it was a political signal --the timing and the -- specifically the timing of it.
MR. BURNS: I don't have any evidence that would point us in that direction, but we'd be most interested and most disturbed should we believe that to be the case. But I'm not aware of any evidence that's been thrown on our desk that would indicate that political considerations were used here. We would be disturbed -- most disturbed by that. It wouldn't be in the spirit of the policy of engagement that China has committed to with us.
Q Have you raised any objections with the Chinese?
MR. BURNS: I think certainly we took note of this decision and of the announcement -- of the place and the announcement, and I'm sure there have been some discussions between our two governments on this issue.
Q Different subject?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q There will be a statement on possible military cooperation with Syria, like sort of a reaction to the Turkish-Israeli military agreement. There was also strong criticism from the Egyptians of the Israeli-Turkish agreement as undermining the regional security arrangements which are part of the Mardrid peace conference multilateral talks. Do you have a reaction to that?
MR. BURNS: I would just note that Turkey and Israel are independent countries. Turkey, in its relationship with Israel, is obviously consistent with the international spirit of the times, and that is that Israel is beginning to develop its relationships with countries, not only in the Middle East -- Arab countries in the Middle East but other countries. It's certainly not inconsistent in that sense to see Turkey and Israel develop relationships that they both deem to be in their mutual interest. We are in no position to criticize this type of relationship.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURNS: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 1:58 p.m.)
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