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U.S. Department of State
96/04/17 Daily Press Briefing
Office of the Spokesman

 
                        U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE 
                          DAILY PRESS BRIEFING 
                               I N D E X  
                       Wednesday, April 17, 1996 
 
                                             Briefer:  Glyn Davies 
 
CHAD 
   Chadian Constitutional Referendum ......................   1     
 
LIBERIA 
   Status of Evacuation ....................................  1-5   
   --#s of Individuals Evacuted/#s of Americans Evacuted ...  1     
   --Situation/Fighting in Monrovia/Barclay Training Center   1-2   
   --U.S. Sending Emergency Response Team to Monrovia ......  2,4   
   --U.S. Objectives in Liberia ............................  2     
   --Status of U.S. Naval Group/Deployment/Arrival .........  2-3   
   --Departure/Evacuation of Third Country Nationals .......  3-4   
   --Contacts with Charles Taylor/Faction Leaders ..........  4-5   
 
CHINA/PAKISTAN 
   Decision on Implementing the Brown Amendment ............  5-6    
   --Release to Pakistan of Non-Strategic Military Equipment  6,8,12  
   -Symington Amendment Application ........................  6,7    
   Prospects of U.S. Sanctions .............................  6-7    
   Status of U.S. Determination re:  PRC Technology Transfer  7,9    
   Decision of Ex-Im to Resume Loans to China ..............  7-11   
   Secretary's Meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister on 4/19  10     
 
CHINA/IRAN 
   Reports China Providing Nuclear Assistance to Iran ......  11     
 
TAIWAN 
   Reported Plans to Buy Russian Military Equipment ........  12-13  
 
LEBANON/ISRAEL 
   Secretary's Diplomatic Efforts/Contacts .................  13    
   Continuing Rocket Attacks by Hizbollah ..................  13-14 
   U.S.-Syrian Contacts ....................................  14-15 
   Reconstruction Efforts in Lebanon .......................  15-16 
   U.S.-French Contacts/French Diplomatic Efforts ..........  16    
 
NORTH KOREA 
   No Official Response to President Clinton's Proposal ....  16-17 
 

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #60

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 17, 1996, 1:14 P. M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. DAVIES: Welcome to the State Department briefing. Two things real quick up top.

First, I'd like to welcome in particular five students from the Congressional Youth Leadership Council. Welcome to the State Department briefing.

Second, to let you know that last night -- I think after I left, in fact -- we put out a statement on Chad's constitutional referendum, so it's available to you. Just to sum it up, the United States congratulates the people of Chad on their adoption by popular referendum of a new constitution on March 31. The referendum is an important step on the path to democracy in Chad. The people of Chad face a number of challenges as they move forward; but as democracy advances and gathers momentum in Chad, the United States will continue to seek ways to support the process that they have begun.

I could, if you wish, go into some Liberia factoids, and then we'll go to your questions. Does that make sense? We have agreement.

Just to let you know the latest numbers. The U.S. airlift to date has evacuated a confirmed total of 1,933 people from Monrovia on 75 flights. Three hundred forty-one of those are American citizens, including 14 American officials. Right now about 35 private American citizens have decided to remain in Liberia, and we know who they are and where they are, and we continue our attempts to verify the whereabouts of fewer than 30 Americans who we believe may still be in Liberia, based both on Embassy registrations and on inquiries that we've gotten from family members in the United States.

The standoff continues at the Barclay Training Center. I don't have much of an update for you on that. There are still reports of looting and intimidation by armed men. We had a report earlier that things -- in terms of just the volume of firing going on in the city, that that had calmed down a little bit, but that there were still some reports of firing, certainly around the Barclay Training Center.

We continue to urge the warring faction leaders to abandon their military ambitions and to return to the Abuja peace process, and we're consulting with international organizations and regional powers on how to move forward on that.

A new development: The United States Government is sending a two-person emergency response team to Monrovia to assess humanitarian needs at the Greystone compound. If the security situation improves, that team may be able to get out and make similar humanitarian assessments at other sites within Monrovia. I don't have any more details on that team right now, but we'll try to get them.

The World Food Program recently brought a shipment of food into the port. It has carried out some distribution within Monrovia. Overall efforts to distribute food, however, remain hampered by the continued instability.

Finally, just to give you our bottom line on Liberia today, which is that our objective there remains the restoration of the cease-fire, the disarmament and demobilization of the warring factions by ECOMOG and UNAMIL and the return of peaceful, democratic civil society. In our view, the Liberian people have suffered enough at this stage.

Go to your questions, George.

Q What can you tell us about the naval group -- when it expects to arrive, and what they plan to do?

MR. DAVIES: I don't have a precise time or date yet for the arrival of that group. I think a Marine Amphibious Ready Group is the formal title of it, but it will be arriving, I believe, within a matter of a few days.

It has been deployed as a contingency in case we need to perform further evacuations. Of course, we announced just the other day that we're keeping our Embassy open in Monrovia, so we will keep an official presence there.

Having the Marines that close by is added insurance as we continue our efforts on the ground diplomatically and maintain a presence. It's better to have them close by offshore than to have to fly helicopters some 200 miles from Freetown, Sierra Leone.

So the objective is still to deploy it. It's on its way. I don't have a precise arrival time, and it's being deployed as a contingency.

Q But there are hardly any people who require evacuation.

MR. DAVIES: That's not, strictly speaking, true. There are, first of all, official Americans at the Embassy; and then, of course, the military has still deployed on the ground at the Embassy compound a couple of hundred Special Forces. So there are a number of Americans still on the ground. For the time being they're safe. But should the security situation deteriorate suddenly, it would be very useful, to say the least, to have the Marines close at hand. So that's the purpose for having them there.

Q Glyn, with most Americans who want to get out, out, is the U.S. considering continuing an evacuation for third-country nationals? I assume there are still a lot of them that would like to leave.

MR. DAVIES: Howard, what we've done, of course, is go from a situation where we had a dozen or more helicopter flights that are moving back and forth on a tight schedule to a situation where we're down to sporadic flights, as needed -- helicopter flights from Freetown.

The basic answer to that is on a space-available basis, as people present themselves to the Embassy, we will continue to try to make space available to take people out.

So the evacuation continues, but it's no longer at the pace that we were conducting it.

Q Is the U.S. still getting requests, or are there ongoing contacts with other countries who want their nationals out and want the U.S. to do it?

MR. DAVIES: Absolutely. I mean, I think what's fair to say is that we've now handled the bulk of the urgent needs for evacuation and taken out close to 2,000 people, nationals of 72 countries. But we continue to get requests. You'll recall one very high profile request just last week when the Foreign Minister of Italy made a request regarding an Italian family, for instance, that's in Monrovia.

So, sure, those requests continue to come in from all quarters; but luckily they've dropped off a bit, because we've been able to get a lot of people out.

Charlie.

Q As long as you mention it, has that Italian family been taken out?

MR. DAVIES: We're in touch with the Italian family, and I can't confirm for you that we've actually taken them out of the country. I think the immediate need was that we get in touch with them and insure that they were all right. My last report is that that family is doing well, and we've been in touch with them.

Q On the needs assessment team going, you said you didn't have any details, but is that a State Department team, or is that a U.N. team?

MR. DAVIES: I don't have details on that. That was something late-breaking from our standpoint, that a two-person team is going in. I think maybe what we can do is get you something before the end of our business day. We ought to be able to get some details on it.

Q Lastly, the amphibious -- the ships that are coming in. You mentioned the official Americans still there, you mentioned the American security personnel still there that might have to be evacuated. But is there an intention to take out Liberians in large numbers other than on the basis --

MR. DAVIES: No, there isn't. There's really no reason at this stage to be taking Liberians out of Liberia. What's needed at this stage is for Liberians -- certainly, the warring factions and their leaders to make a commitment to get back first to a cease-fire and then to the peace process that was underway.

So, no, we're not looking at removing Liberians from Liberia now.

Q Following up what we were talking about yesterday, has the United States had any approaches or contacts from Charles Taylor, suggesting that the United States offer internment or sanctuary to Johnson?

MR. DAVIES: I don't think we've gotten a specific request like that. We've been in touch with the faction leaders, and we are working with them to try to point them in the direction of the efforts underway on the part of ECOWAS and the ECOMOG authorities to reassert, first off, the cease-fire; and then, secondly, to get back to the peace process itself.

So we're in touch with them. I don't have anything to report now about a specific request that's been made regarding granting asylum, but it may be that the answer to this is in fact facilitating, if you will, the voluntary departure of one of the faction leaders.

We'll just have to see. Right now the action is with the regional authorities -- ECOWAS, the Ghanians, to some extent the Nigerians and the others who form that group -- and we are working with them, encouraging them to follow through on the process that they've undertaken.

Q From some of the pictures coming out, it looks like most of the people doing the fighting are 13-year-old kids armed with Kalashnikovs who are not probably susceptible to diplomatic approaches. But they do seem to be getting their ammunition from somewhere. Do you have any idea, any suspicions, of where their continuing flow of arms and ammunition --

MR. DAVIES: No, I don't know what kind of stockpiles they had. My thumbnail understanding of what's happened is that a number of youths have come in from outside of Monrovia and that they are perhaps at the core of these gangs or loose groupings that are moving around the city and looting.

Who's to say what kind of stocks of weapons they have or whether in fact ammunition or weapons are still somehow flowing into the country. I would tend to doubt it. But we would hope that the ammunition runs out, clearly, because there doesn't seem to be much left for these people to loot. So now you just have violence that's occurring without any direct purpose to it.

We think that the first step has got to be ECOMOG moving out in a stronger fashion and developing a presence on the streets of Monrovia so that they can get a grip on this fighting, quiet this down, and stop these 13-year-olds with Kalashnikovs from wreaking havoc on their fellow citizens.

Q One on the Brown Amendment. Secondly, is it possible to get the text of the letter written by Strobe Talbott to Congressmen?

MR. DAVIES: You have a question on the Brown Amendment?

Q Yes. What is the latest about it? When are they -- has it been decided to release the equipment?

MR. DAVIES: Yes.

Q Secondly, is it possible to get the text of Strobe Talbott's letter to the Congressmen?

MR. DAVIES: I'd have to look into the latter request. Normally, we don't release letters that we send out. Sometimes the recipients choose to release them. I would steer you in that direction.

It's true that following a review of relevant issues and consultations with members of Congress, the Administration is proceeding with the release to Pakistan of $368 million worth of non-strategic military equipment.

This equipment, to remind you, was purchased by Pakistan prior to the 1990 imposition of the Pressler Amendment and its sanctions. Its release, of course, is now allowed by the Brown Amendment which recently became law.

You may have seen some details on what's to be transferred. Some of the highlights are three Orion naval patrol aircraft, harpoon missiles, howitzers, and various spares and additions to items that are already in Pakistan's inventory.

The package does not include the F-16s that Pakistan had wanted.

The release is taking place in accordance with normal procedures. It involves only equipment that Pakistan purchased prior to October 1, 1990. It does not include any new sales. This release does not constitute the resumption of any kind of a U.S.-military supply relationship with Pakistan.

That sums up where we are on the Brown Amendment. It gets kind of complicated because, of course, there are cross-cutting provisions of the Symington Amendment that come into play. What's important there is that the Administration is not implementing those portions of the Brown Amendment that are subject to restrictions under the Symington Amendment, which prohibits assistance under the Foreign Assistance Act and Arms Export Control Act to countries that export or receive unsafeguarded uranium enrichment equipment.

To sum up, the Administration is committed to a responsible implementation of its non-proliferation policy. Of course, we have been consulting with members of Congress all along about all of these issues.

Q I didn't understand what you were saying about the non-proliferation part. Are you saying, then, that you have decided not to invoke any sanctions because of the possible ring magnet sales?

MR. DAVIES: No. That alleged transfer or sale raises questions under the Symington Amendment which affects new foreign assistance, not the delivery of this equipment that Pakistan in essence already owned.

Q On the ring magnets and associated materiel, there's been no decision?

MR. DAVIES: There's been no decision, and I wouldn't connect the two.

Q What about the Ex-Im Bank -- is that related the decision on ring magnets or anything else?

MR. DAVIES: No. Are you talking about the reports that they now --

Q To China?

MR. DAVIES: -- they've now begun to consider some loan guarantees?

Q They've actually approved.

MR. DAVIES: I'd caution you on that. You can check with Ex-Im. As the procedure runs now, Ex-Im must notify the Congress since it's an amount that's over $100 million. There is, in fact, a 30-day period during which the Congress can weigh in on the matter. After that, it comes back to Ex-Im, I guess for execution, for lack of a better term.

The Secretary hasn't made any kind of a determination at all on the applicability to the ring magnets case of the U.S. sanctions legislation affecting Ex-Im financing. As I say, this action by the Board wasn't a final decision, so we'll have to see what happens over the next 30 days after this notification period is over.

Q My understanding, though, is that you had indicated to Ex-Im Bank that you wanted them to hold off on decisions on loan approval by their Board of Directors until the ring magnets issue was resolved.

MR. DAVIES: No. What the Secretary did was, he requested that Ex-Im hold off for 30 days, which they did, very kindly, because it was up to them to make that decision. They held off for 30 days. After that, they went back into their normal consideration process on loan guarantees for projects relating to China.

The story that we've seen relates to one such loan that they're considering. So they considered it. They've now forwarded it to the Hill, and the Hill has 30 days to respond.

Q The Washington Post story also said that in addition to the government materials, you'll also be giving $120 million to Pakistan in cash. Secondly, does the 30-day period of notification of Congress apply to the release of the materiel, giving Congress a chance to consider whether it should be cancelled or not?

MR. DAVIES: I'm not certain on your second question. You can ask the Congress what they intend to do with this 30-day period that they have now in front of them.

I'm sorry, your first question again was . . .?

Q The Washington Post story says that in addition to the materiel, they'll also get $100 million of cash.

MR. DAVIES: The premise of your question was wrong. It's not money that we're giving to Pakistan. It's money that was Pakistan's in the first place. As we now release this materiel, there are some monies that they paid that were to have gone toward parts and downstream expenses of some of the equipment that we're withholding -- the F-16s, as I understand it. So that's the money that we're returning to Pakistan.

Q On the China thing, does the State Department have a position on Ex-Im Bank's decision to go ahead? Do you care after the 30-day period?

MR. DAVIES: I don't have a particular position to announce to you today about that. They're doing their work. We've taken note of what they've done.

The Secretary hasn't decided yet about the ring magnets. He'll make a decision when he's ready.

Q If he was going to ask for the 30-day extension in the first place, why not just extend it to a decision? Why give your foreign policy prerogatives to the Congress and say, "Alright, you guys go to bat for us?"

MR. DAVIES: I don't think that this is in any way, Kristen, turning over foreign policy prerogatives to the Congress. It's up to Secretary Christopher to make the decision about the ring magnets, and he will. He'll make it when he's ready to make it.

As to whether or not this will have any impact ultimately on how that plays out, it's difficult to say. What I think is important to note is that there is a further 30 days during which no blue ink is going to be signed on any contracts. So there's more time here, certainly.

Q Why did the Secretary ask for the 30-day delay?

MR. DAVIES: Because the issue is so complicated that he had to spend some time looking into how the various statutes fit with the facts that he had. That's number one.

Number two, we had some questions that we wanted to ask of the various parties to this; certainly, the Chinese. So that was a period during which we were able to put some questions to the Chinese and meet with them to discuss this a bit. So that was the purpose of the original request.

Q Does the Secretary believe he got as long a delay as he needed? He still seems not to have been able to make his mind up.

MR. DAVIES: The fact that the Secretary hasn't asked for any kind of a further delay of Ex-Im consideration of financing would suggest to me that he's content to let Ex-Im go ahead with its work.

Q So perhaps he has made a decision?

MR. DAVIES: I've got no decision to announce to you today.

Q Haven't you, in effect, announced one by allowing the Ex-Im Bank to go ahead with this?

MR. DAVIES: I don't think so. I don't think so at all.

Q You don't?

Q The news account this morning suggested that the Ex-Im Bank decision was a political signal, that there was a reduced chance of sanctions being applied against China. You're suggesting that Ex-Im makes these decisions not on political grounds but merely on technical grounds and that there was no political component at all to the Ex-Im decision.

MR. DAVIES: George, you'd have to ask Ex-Im for the basis they use to make the decision about these loans. I'm not an Ex-Im spokesman, so I can't say. But I wouldn't lead you to draw a conclusion from the fact that this action has gone forward that this, in some way, hems the Secretary in or signals a particular decision that he's likely to make.

Q Do you think the Chinese should be aware today that there's a quite good possibility that the Secretary may decide to ask Ex-Im Bank to stop all loan guarantees?

MR. DAVIES: We have a dialogue with the Chinese that is a daily dialogue. I think what I'll do is not go into what it is we're sharing with the Chinese in our diplomatic dialogue.

I would caution the Chinese as well as you not to draw any conclusions from what's occurred. It doesn't hamstring the Secretary of State in any way. He has to make this decision. He knows it. He'll make the decision when he's ready to make it.

Q There's a report today that he won't be doing that until after he meets with Qian Qichen?

MR. DAVIES: I don't know what that's based on, David. Certainly, nothing has been said officially. But he is meeting, of course, with Qian Qichen on the 19th. That's, what, two days away.

Q Do you have any problem with the Ex-Im Bank decision?

MR. DAVIES: I don't have any problem with the Ex-Im Bank decision, no, nor with the announcement. We're not going to be firing any shots across Ex-Im's bow today. They're doing their work. We've taken note of it. We'll go ahead with doing what we've got to do, which is, make a decision about the proliferation end of this equation.

Q Just sort of a technical question about this. So at any time during the next 30 days, the Secretary can step in and say, "I'd like to end this whole process." Or is it now within the realm of Congress and their prerogative and he'd have to wait until that comes back to the Ex-Im Bank?

MR. DAVIES: That's a bit theoretical. I don't know that there are necessarily any precedents that would illuminate this for you or for me, so we'll just have to wait and see.

The Secretary -- and I don't know what his decision will be. I don't know when it will occur -- but whatever it is and whenever it is, we'll take whatever steps we need to that relate to matters before Ex-Im -- matters that Ex-Im has already decided. We'll just have to wait and see, I think is the answer.

Q Maybe you answered this question before, but is there a 30-day waiting period for the shipment of arms to Pakistan or it just goes ahead now? I mean, after you notified Congress, is there a waiting period for the arms to go there?

MR. DAVIES: I don't know of a waiting period. I would imagine that since these arms have been on the shelf for a while, it may take a while to get them in shape to ship them to Pakistan, but I don't think there is any kind of a statutory waiting period that's involved in this process at all.

Q Let me ask a slightly different question. Is it the State Department's feeling that you just lost $160 million worth of leverage over this entire situation?

MR. DAVIES: That's a well-phrased question. But, no, it's not our view; not our view at all.

Q There's a Washington Times story today about the Sino-Iranian nuclear deal. Do you have anything on that?

MR. DAVIES: Yes, I do. I think I can address that for you. The answer that I've got to give you is a familiar one, which is to say that we're aware of the fact of those reports. We will follow up to learn as much as we can about it and take whatever action we think it warranted.

Q Will the Sino-Iranian front further complicate the Secretary's decision on the China-Pakistan nuclear deal?

MR. DAVIES: No. I don't think there's any way that the two ought to be related at all.

Q Since Iran is a member of the NPT, this wouldn't fall under the decision that the Secretary is making in regard to Pakistan; is that right?

MR. DAVIES: I don't believe it would. That's something I can follow up on, but I can't imagine that it would.

Q Can I ask about Lebanon?

MR. DAVIES: Sure. I'm sorry, is there another one here.

Q Would it be safe to deduce that there is a linkage between the Administration wanting China on the North Korea, South Korea four-way, and all these sanctions? Is there any linkage at all between Mr. Clinton's idea to have China and other states -- North Korea and South Korea -- getting into some kind of a dialogue and the whole issue sanctions against China?

MR. DAVIES: No, I don't think so. We have, with China, a very broad agenda of issues that we discuss. We've got areas where we disagree; areas where we agree. It's possible, with a country as large and important as China, to move ahead on one track that may be one where we fundamentally disagree and, at the same, to cooperate on regional issues.

We've had a number of differences with China over the years that are quite well known, but that hasn't prevented us from working together well on issues relating to the Korean Peninsula, for instance, the freezing of the North Korean nuclear program.

I think it's a mistake to try to relate the two or to say that one would have an impact on the other.

Q Can you confirm the Washington Post report that you're trying to sell F-16s, which Pakistan has bought, to Indonesia and give that money to Pakistan?

MR. DAVIES: I've heard the first part of that report and I can't confirm it. You might want to address that question to the Pentagon.

The second part of your question, I've never even heard that so I can't help you with it at all.

Q What haven't you heard?

MR. DAVIES: This business about any sale of those F-16s, the proceeds we would then use somehow for Pakistan. That's a new one on me, so I can't help you with that.

Q A quick Taiwan question here, if I may. A Taiwan legislator has disclosed that the Taiwanese Government is planning on purchasing Russian military equipment. Do you have any problem with that?

MR. DAVIES: I haven't seen that report, in fact. I really can't help you with it.

Q Well, as a general response, do you have any problem with Taiwan purchasing Russian military equipment?

MR. DAVIES: Our relationship with Taiwan -- our informal relationship -- is spelled out in the Taiwan Relations Act. Taiwan has legitimate defense needs, and we see to many of those needs. But I don't have a particular reaction to that report. That, as I say, I haven't seen that Russia may be engaged in some arms relationship with Taiwan. They purchase arms from a number of different countries.

Q Lebanon?

MR. DAVIES: Yes.

Q The Lebanese Government and Syria has rejected parts of the U.S. peace plan to stop the fighting in that region. They say that there are certain elements that they strongly disagree with. What is the status of the negotiations at this point? And how are you going to move forward on that?

MR. DAVIES: I can take you about half a foot beyond yesterday, I think, but not much further. What we said yesterday is that we've been working to develop a set of understandings in order to re-establish a workable agreement to restore and maintain calm between Israel and Lebanon.

The President, in fact, spoke to that this morning and talked about the United States making every effort to try to restore calm. So what we've been doing and what the Secretary has been doing is continuing his work to consult intensively with regional players -- regional leaders -- and, of course, part of that process is discussing various formulations that might facilitate an agreement.

The Secretary has called Egyptian Foreign Minister Moussa, Prince Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Syrian Foreign Minister Shara and others and all in this effort to try to develop a set of understandings that would move the region back toward peace.

What I won't be doing is characterizing in any way or in any detail at all the specific proposals which have appeared in the press.

Q Glyn, meanwhile the fighting goes on or the attacks go on, and there are numerous reports that Israel now appears to be targeting the Lebanese economy. I think three power plants have been hit. Do you have any observations on that specific allegation?

MR. DAVIES: I've seen those reports, and it would serve no purpose for us to get into critiquing the targets of each salvo back and forth. We continue to believe that the root cause of this problem was the actions taken by Hizbollah in firing Katyushas into northern Israel onto the heads of civilian populations.

I would note that they once again overnight and into the morning fired several dozen Katyushas into Israel. We think that the solution, therefore, must stem from Hizbollah ceasing and desisting from those firings of Katyusha rockets. So the first thing that has to happen is for Hizbollah to renounce what they've done and stop firing the rockets. Then we can move on from there.

The Secretary, of course, is talking to all the parties in the region to try to come up with some sort of a formulation that everyone can agree to to get this back under control.

Q Since much of the weaponry being used by the Israelis is U.S.-supplied, it comes with certain restrictions. Does the U.S. Government think that the use to which those American weapons are now being put are within the guidelines set in the original purchase?

MR. DAVIES: Jim, I don't know what guidelines are in the original purchase agreement or in the fine print of those sales of weapons to Israel, so I really can't say whether there's any particular problem with how they've been used. I don't know of one.

Q Well, the usual boilerplate language is legitimate self-defense. Do you think attacking a power plant in Beirut comes under the cover of "legitimate self-defense" for Israel?

MR. DAVIES: Again, I mean, what you're trying to do -- and I understand what you're trying to do -- is to draw me into a discussion of whether this or that target set is a proportional response or appropriate -- whether we approve of it. At this stage our eyes are focused on stopping the fighting that's occurring, not on talking about particular targets that have been hit or that are on target lists.

So again I take you back again to what's fundamental here, which is that the Katyushas have to stop flying, and we hope that the parties in the region will be receptive to some of the ideas that we're putting forward so that this can come to an end.

Q Has anyone been in touch with -- an American official been in touch with President Assad himself since this exchange of rockets and artillery fire started, and what was the last contact between a U.S. official and a senior Syrian official?

MR. DAVIES: On the first question, I think I'll invoke kind of State Department privilege and not get into what contacts, if any, we might have had with the Syrian leadership at that level -- the President (Assad) himself.

I know that the Secretary has spoken with the Foreign Minister of Syria, certainly within the last 24 hours. With more precision I can't say. I also know that there have been contacts on the ground in Damascus, but I don't know whether in fact our Ambassador there, Chris Ross, has had an opportunity to see the Foreign Minister himself or others in the Foreign Ministry.

But we've had ongoing contacts with the Syrians, both on the phone and on the ground in Syria, and we hope that they'll continue.

Q Does the U.S. regard them as the key player? Could Syria stop this if the government wanted to do so?

MR. DAVIES: It's important that I not handicap the efforts under way about the Secretary and others to reach some sort of an agreement to stop this fighting by talking about any more specifically how we analyze the various players and their roles and who's important and who's not.

Everybody who's involved in this in the region has a role to play, and we're engaged with as many of those players as we can to try to bring the fighting to an end.

Q Does the Administration support the reconstruction of Lebanon? It has through the World Bank supported several projects in Lebanon, and, if some of these projects are being hit now by Israel, such as these power plants that have been supported by international aid money, does the U.S. support putting in more money for reconstruction to rebuild these power plants?

MR. DAVIES: I just don't think we're there yet. Our efforts now are not engaged in kind of prospectively deciding where we go once the fighting stops. Our efforts are engaged now in stopping the fighting. So I simply don't have anything on how we might go about helping both sides rebuild from the destruction that's occurred.

This is a tragic situation -- what's happening in Lebanon -- there's no question about it. That's a great troubled border between those two countries. What's ultimately needed, of course, is a lasting peace. We can't get there unless we first get to a cease-fire, and that's what the Secretary of State is engaged in trying to achieve.

I'm simply not going to get into where we go after we get to a cease-fire. What's important first is to silence the guns and do so in the context of being able to move forward to develop a lasting peace in the region.

Q Would you be willing to give any guarantees to the Lebanese that the U.S. Administration supports reconstruction?

MR. DAVIES: We've been involved in the reconstruction of Lebanon. There's no question about it. It's in the interests, I think, of the international community to try to get that country back on its feet. What's happening now is a tragedy. It's a setback for peace generally and certainly for Israel, which is suffering from these rocket attacks on its civilian population, and it's also for Lebanon very much a tragic situation.

So right now I think what I'll do is confine myself to talking about how we get to a stage where we can talk about more peaceful matters such as reconstruction.

Q Glyn, are the Americans working with the French who are active on this, or are these parallel?

MR. DAVIES: We're very much in contact with the French, and we know what they're doing, and to the extent we can provide good offices to help them in their effort, I think we're willing to do that.

But we have a diplomatic initiative that's under way, which is the initiative we've been speaking about for a couple of days that the Secretary of State is spearheading. That's where we're focusing our efforts right now, on what the Secretary of State is up to.

Q A couple of details have escaped me. Perhaps you'd like to bring us up to date on that diplomatic initiative?

MR. DAVIES: I can't give you any details at this stage. This is a process that will enjoy its greatest chance for success if it occurs confidentially, so I'm not going to talk about any of the details of the process.

Kristen.

Q Do you have any communication from the North Koreans on the U.S. proposal?

MR. DAVIES: I don't have anything to report. We've all seen various wire service reports that this or that official at, I guess, a lower level has had something to say about the proposal made by the President. But to date I know of no official response from Pyongyang to our proposal.

Q Thank you.

MR. DAVIES: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:54 p.m.)

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