U.S. Department of State 96/05/06 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Monday, May 6, 1996 Briefer: Nick Burns DEPARTMENT Secretary Christopher Attending U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission Meeting..................................... 1 Announcement Re: A/S Lord Trip to Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan May 7-16..................................... 3 Announcement Re: A/S Shattuck Trip to Rwanda and Burundi. 3-4 Announcement Re: Acting A/S Kornblum Trip to Balkans..... 4 GUATEMALA Release of Department Documents Related to Allegations of Abuse of Sister Ortiz by Guatemalan Military.......... 2-3, 4-6,9 Involvement of Guatemalan Military in 1990 Murder of Michael Devine......................................... 6 Extent of Redactions in Released Department Documents.............................................. 7-8 Department Cable with Comment by Amb. Strook............. 8 RUSSIA Timing of Presidential Elections......................... 9-10 TURKEY U.S. Position on Future Membership in WEU................ 11 Prime Minister's Warning to Syria re: Harboring PKK Terrorists............................................. 11 PEACE PROCESS U.S.- Israel Discussions on Defense...................... 11-12 NORTH KOREA POW/MIA Talks in New York................................ 12-13 A/S Lord Travel to Asia/Topics to be Discussed........... 13 Possible Participation of Russia in Four-Party Talks..... 13-14 LEBANON UN Document on Alleging Israeli Targeting of UNAFIL camp. 14-15 Accountability for Attacks Against Civilians............. 15-16 LIBERIA Incidence of Fighting Near U.S. Embassy.................. 16-17 May 7-8 ECOWAS Meeting in Accra.......................... 17 Absence of Charles Taylor................................ 17-18 Humanitarian Assistance/Responsibility of Factions to Consider Welfare of Liberian Citizens................. 18-19 BOSNIA First Trial of War Crimes Tribunal to Take Place May 7... 19 Senator Mitchell Remarks on Capture of Karadzic and Mladic................................................. 20 HONG KONG: Visit of Governor Patten to Washington DC May 7-9 21
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB #71, 5/6/96
MONDAY, MAY 6, 1996, 1:05 P. M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Welcome, everyone, to the State Department briefing. I have a couple of announcements to make, and then we'll go right to your questions.
I'd like to welcome Mr. Jose Duarte, who is the First Secretary at the Embassy of Portugal. He is Chief of the Consular Section there. I understand that he is reviewing -- at least observing how we conduct not only consular operations but public affairs operations. You're most welcome. Thank you for joining us.
As you know, Secretary Christopher has departed for Mexico. He'll be there for two days in Mexico City for discussions with the Mexican Government as part of the Binational Commission meetings. He addressed the Council of Americas this morning on the U.S.-Mexican relationship on other Latin issues, and those remarks are available to all of you in the Press Office.
He's accompanied on this trip by a very large group of American Cabinet officials, including Secretary of Education, Secretary Reilly; Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt; the Administrator of the EPA, Carol Browner; the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala; Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Mr. Cisneros; the Attorney General, Janet Reno; General McCaffrey, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy; Secretary of Transportation Pena, and Mac McLarty, Counselor to the President, and many other U.S. officials. It's an extraordinary collection of individuals. The Secretary will be giving a press conference there in Mexico City tomorrow.
I wanted to say a word about Guatemala, because I was concerned that some of what I said on Friday, at my briefing on Friday -- part of what I said was inaccurately reported, and it's a very important distinction, and I wanted to make it clear today exactly what I said on Friday and what our position is.
As you know, President Clinton and Secretary Christopher have repeatedly expressed the willingness of the U.S. Government to provide public access, including by the American press corps, to our files here in the State Department and around the government about the many, many cases of human rights abuses that were alleged to have occurred during the 1980s and into this decade by the Guatemalan authorities -- specifically by Guatemalan military authorities.
One of the prominent cases is that of Sister Dianna Ortiz. The documents that we released to the Congress on Friday, that we made public today and that are in the FOIA reading room here in the Department of State, amount to roughly 20,000 pages of State Department documentation.
Sister Ortiz has made a very serious allegation, and that is that an American citizen who may have been in some way involved with the American Embassy in Guatemala was present when she was abused -- when she was raped -- back in November 1989.
I said at Friday's briefing the following. I said, "I don't believe there is anything in the files that would indicate that an American official was present when Sister Ortiz was abused." That's quote, unquote. I said that, because our perusal of the documents did not lead us to any document that would corroborate her allegation.
That does not mean that we don't believe her allegation, and unfortunately there was a major news report done on Friday, saying in essence that the State Department did not believe her; that the State Department in essence took issue with what she had said. That is not what I said, and I have asked the news organization in question to go back and look at the briefing on Friday. I would urge all of you, if you're writing on this, to do the same thing.
The reason I'm making such a big deal about this -- and I wanted to present it at the beginning of the briefing -- is because it would be a very serious development indeed if the State Department took issue with her and said that we didn't believe her story. That's not the case right now.
The fact is, that there's a Department of Justice investigation. The Intelligence Oversight Board is continuing its own review of what the United States Government did or should have done or didn't do in the 1980s during the Reagan and Bush Administrations on a series of human rights abuses against American citizens.
The fact is that those reviews are ongoing, and until those reviews are completed, we're not going to make any judgment, public or private, on these allegations. But we do want these allegations to be pursued. She is an American citizen. The family of Michael Devine also deserves what she deserves, and that is our best possible effort to look into these allegations of human rights abuses.
So I wanted to make myself absolutely clear today about what our views are, and I'd be glad to take any questions on this.
Just a couple of other announcements. Winston Lord, our Assistant Secretary for East Asia and the Pacific, is embarking tomorrow on a ten-day trip to Asia. He will travel first to Indonesia. He'll be having meetings with senior officials there in preparation for the ASEAN regional forum meeting, which, as you know, is being held in I think the third week of July this summer. Secretary Christopher will represent the United States at that meeting.
He then will go to South Korea from May 12th to the 15th. He's going to have there a trilateral meeting with Japanese and Korean officials on all issues pertaining to the Korean peninsula, including issues pertaining to North Korea. This follows up the meeting in Honolulu that Assistant Secretary Lord had in January of this year.
Following that, he'll travel to Tokyo on May 15th and 16th. He's going to participate in two conferences -- one on the future of Asia, sponsored by a Japanese newspaper -- and the other sponsored by the Japanese Institute for International Affairs and USIS on Northeast Asia security problems.
Two other travel notes: Assistant Secretary John Shattuck is leaving this afternoon on a mission to Central Africa. He'll be visiting both Rwanda and Burundi to look into human rights issues there. He will travel to Rwanda to meet with officials about the progress towards trials of those who may have been involved in the genocide in 1994. He's going to be accompanied by Ambassador Richard Bogosian, who's the U.S. Special Coordinator for Rwanda and Burundi.
They will also both travel to Burundi where they will look into the reports of very, very serious violence just over the last week. Although we can't confirm the number of casualties, we believe that there are credible reports of a massacre of Hutu civilians on April 26 near the town of Mutoyi in northern Gitega Province.
The reports are that more than 230 people were massacred in this particular incident, and it appears that elements within the military or the Tutsi militia may have been responsible for this massacre. We're very concerned about it. We certainly deplore the continuation of violence and the escalation of the violence in the last couple of weeks in Burundi, and we would call on all sides to abandon violence and to pursue a more peaceful expression of their political differences.
Assistant Secretary Shattuck and Ambassador Bogosian will be looking into those instances.
Finally, Ambassador John Kornblum, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, has been in the Balkans for the last 36 hours and will be there until tomorrow night. He had a Contact Group meeting yesterday with our Contact Group allies on Bosnia/Dayton implementation. He is meeting with Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic today and tomorrow to pursue some specific issues pertaining to Dayton. As I said, he should be returning tomorrow.
Q I imagine there are questions on Guatemala. I don't have any, but I'll bet there are some here.
Q I do have a question on Guatemala. Your statement about the alleged presence of the U.S. officials -- it seems very careful. In it, apart from the papers -- the documents that were released and some of which are still classified -- does the State Department have any knowledge about who this Alejandro may be?
MR. BURNS: It's not meant to be -- I mean, it's meant obviously to be careful. It's also meant to be accurate and to be both. It's a very serious allegation that has been made. First of all, that Sister Ortiz was tortured and abused and in fact very seriously abused by members of the Guatemalan military in November 1989. We take those allegations seriously, and we will help her pursue those allegations with the Guatemalan Government. Releasing the State Department documents and, we hope, releasing other documents from around the government will contribute to that.
She has also made the allegation that an American, who she believes may have been affiliated with the American Government or the American Embassy, was present at her torture and at her abuse by the Guatemalan military. We take that seriously, but we have not found any documents in the more than 6,000 that have been released in State Department files that would speak to that allegation, that would substantiate it or corroborate it. But I think the fact is that neither are we in a position to say it did not happen.
At this point we have to take her allegations seriously, and we have great sympathy for her, and we will pursue this as best we can. But we have no independent evidence at all to corroborate that particular charge at this time.
Q My question goes beyond the documents, though. Are you -- have you investigated, and apart from the documents, have you discovered any evidence that might link Alejandro to the U.S. Government -- the North American alleged to have been present?
MR. BURNS: I've spoken to lots of people last week, over the weekend and today about this. I'm not aware that we have any evidence in the State Department or anyone else in the U.S. Government that will corroborate that charge. But I do want to be very clear about this, so that I'm not misunderstood again.
We're not saying that we don't believe the story. We're not saying that she should somehow give up on this particular search. All we're saying is that we have not uncovered any evidence in the files to corroborate that particular charge.
We're going to continue to look throughout the U.S. Government and investigate this, because it's a very serious charge, and she deserves that kind of effort by the U.S. Government.
Q When is the State Department planning to answer Sister Ortiz's April 1995 FOIA request?
MR. BURNS: Her April 1995?
MR. BURNS: Sid, what we've tried to do -- as you know, we've released 20,000 pages of documents, and they're public today. The parts of those documents that are pertinent to her have been given to her. We are trying to meet the requirement here for openness. As you know, there's a small percentage of the documents that have been given to the Congress but held back from public view because of national security considerations or Privacy Act.
I don't know how many FOIA requests she has submitted, so I don't know which one you're talking about. But I do know that we have released these documents over the past couple of days.
Q She had a news conference this morning. She says what you all made public is insufficient, and she's disappointed that you're still not answering her original 1995 request; that you're saying -- that your dodge is -- not my words, hers -- that you don't want to interfere with the Oversight Board, but that the Oversight Board is saying they were specifically told by President Clinton that the FOIA request and their work would not complicate each other. She claims you're using it as -- that one is a foil for the other?
MR. BURNS: I can tell you, we're operating in good faith here. We're trying to be as open as we can.
It is true that there is not only a Justice Department investigation, there is an IOB review underway. The IOB review is not complete. There are other agencies of the U.S. Government that undoubtedly have files that need to be given to the public and given to the U.S. Congress. I'm sure that will happen.
Let me just try to give you as much as I can today, beyond the release of the documents.
Our look at the documents, our perusal of the documents, tells us that Guatemalan authorities at the highest levels of their government repeatedly tried to cover up the involvement of Guatemalan military personnel in the murder in June 1990 of Michael Devine.
The documents also tell us that there was a concerted effort by U.S. officials at the time -- that was during the Bush Administration -- to persuade the Guatemalan authorities to admit the truth and to take legal action against the murderers.
I would just note that in the case of Michael Devine, U.S. Embassy officials in Guatemala worked with Mrs. Devine, her attorney, and a private investigator to see that the murderers were brought to justice. In September 1992, six men were convicted and are now serving 30-year prison terms.
As you know, a Guatemalan army captain was convicted in May 1993 of ordering the mission which lead to the death and the murder of Michael Devine. This person escaped from prison the day he was convicted and he remains at large. We're calling upon the Guatemalan authorities today to make every effort possible to bring him back to justice. He deserves to be in prison. He is guilty of ordering a murder. That is the route that we hope the Guatemalan authorities will take.
We will continue to impress upon the Guatemalan authorities the need for openness on their part and for the need for them to account for the many examples of human rights abuses against American citizens in the 1980s.
Q Nick, a couple of questions come up. First of all, does the State Department accept that Dianna Ortiz was tortured? Do you believe that part of her tale? Do you accept it? Secondly, at her press conference this morning, she said that she was not aware of any steps -- any substantial or serious steps -- taken by the State Department or by the Embassy to investigate her claims.
I'm wondering if you can give me some information about what steps may have been taken.
Finally, she said that Mrs. Clinton, in particular, had promised her that all documents related to her case would be made available without redaction. The documents that were made available -- in particular, one that she cited which refers to "Alejandro" had major redactions in it. I'm wondering if you can give us an explanation for those redactions and say why Mrs. Clinton's promise has not been fulfilled?
MR. BURNS: On the first question, Jeff, we have no reason not to believe her. She's made very serious allegations. What she deserves from us is an honest effort to try to uncover all the information that may be in our files about her case and to interview those people -- American officials -- who were involved at the time, back in November 1989, about her case. She deserves that.
We have no reason not to believe her. But I would also say, Jeff -- that this also kind of links with your second question -- I think the important thing here is that there are investigations underway. It's a little bit premature for me to tell you what our final judgments are, what our final belief is about all these allegations on her case and other cases. It's premature until the IOB review is concluded and until the various actions and efforts taken by the Justice Department are concluded.
That's my answer to your second question. On the third question, we have made a good faith effort to uncover all the documents here that can be uncovered, that are in our files, and to release them to the public.
As I said the other day, roughly eight percent of them are not available to the American press or American citizens for two reasons: For national security reasons and for Privacy Act considerations.
Q This document which refers to Alejandro has huge redactions in it, that are obvious and plain for everyone to see. I'm just wondering how that squares with the promises that she's been receiving?
MR. BURNS: I haven't looked myself at that particular document. So perhaps you'll give me an opportunity to do that after the briefing. I'd like to do that before I comment on it. You wouldn't expect me to comment on something I haven't seen.
But I will tell you that there are two categories of information that -- there are two reasons why some information was withheld: National security, which is common in FOIA cases; and Privacy Act which is American law, which is also common in FOIA cases.
Q The final question I wanted to ask was, there is a cable in the files from Stroock, the Ambassador, in Guatemala at the time that does, in fact, state, "The Embassy disbelieves her case."
When you're saying you have no reason to disbelieve it, are you specifically repudiating what the Ambassador on the scene at the time said?
MR. BURNS: Ambassador Stroock was President Bush's Ambassador to Guatemala. He was involved. He was the person on the scene. I don't know if that was his personal view, or whether it was -- because, as you know, Ambassadors names appear on all cables -- all cables -- that come from an Embassy to Washington; or whether it was the view of one of the Embassy officers in question.
All I know is that many years have elapsed since that time. We have had an opportunity to talk to her. John Shattuck has talked to her on several occasions. And, as you said, the First Lady has talked to her. We have no reason not to believe her. She's gone through a lot. I think she deserves our sympathy and she deserves our efforts to try to uncover as best we can, working with the Guatemalans who are not always helpful on this, all the information that can be made available to her.
I think we've got to really wait for these two investigations, these two reviews, to be completed before we can pass final judgment ourselves.
Q Nick, on another subject?
Q I'd like one more on Guatemala. What's your conclusions on the possible involvement of Colonel Alpirez in both the Devine and the Bamaca cases?
MR. BURNS: What's our conclusions?
Q Yes --
MR. BURNS: What we're trying, Patrick, is not to propound any definitive, final conclusions until our own investigations in the U.S. Government are complete. I don't think we should try to answer questions piecemeal before those investigations are complete.
But I have noted today -- and this is not the first time it's been done, but I wanted to do it today for a very specific reason; this is of interest to all of you -- that we find that the Guatemalan Government has not always been open with us or with the American public about what happened to American citizens. There has been a coverup in the past.
Certainly, officials in the Guatemalan Government repeatedly have tried to cover up for Guatemalan military officials who we believe were implicated in some of these murders, and the torture of Dianna Ortiz. It's incumbent upon the Guatemalan Government to take the steps necessary now to make sure that it is doing what it must do to cooperate with our investigations. That's their obligation to us.
Q One more on Guatemala, on a parallel subject. Did you see the Guatemalan Government and the guerrillas have signed, apparently, a preliminary agreement this morning ending the war? Have you seen that?
MR. BURNS: I saw reports of that, yes.
Q And do you have any remarks about it?
MR. BURNS: I don't have a comment. I think we want to talk to the government first and see what the situation is on the ground before we make a public comment, but I have seen the press reports as well, Jim.
Q Is there a U.S. view on a suggestion that the Russian elections should be postponed?
MR. BURNS: I think President -- well, certainly, there is a U.S. view. But more importantly, there's a Yeltsin view. The Yeltsin view is -- I think he said publicly today, in so many words; I don't want to quote him, but I saw that very clear quote -- that the Russian elections are going to go forward. He asked Mr. Korzhakov not to say again -- not to repeat what he said over the weekend.
As a democracy, we think it's very important that other democracies, especially new democracies in the East, practice what democracies are all about. Elections are at the centerpiece of democracies, and we think it's important that the June 16th Presidential election go forward; that the Russian people decide who will be the Russian leader.
We have an absolutely clear-cut view on that, and we're glad to see that President Yeltsin said again this morning, the elections would go forward.
Q Nick, has our Ambassador or any official from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow spoken to anyone in the Foreign Ministry or to Yeltsin about remarks made over the weekend about the timing of the election?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe that there are any conversations with President Yeltsin over the weekend on the part of American officials. There may have been conversations in Moscow on this issue. I just don't know.
I think President Yeltsin has resolved this particular problem pretty clearly.
Q You don't view Korzhakov's remarks given the closeness of him and President Yeltsin as a "troubling trial balloon?"
MR. BURNS: Well, we certainly were disturbed to see the remarks, because they're not consistent with how a democracy works. Leaders have to be judged by the people in a democracy. They have to stand before the people -- people who have been in power as well as those who hope to be in power. They have to put their best foot forward and be judged by the people. That's what it's all about. So we were disturbed to see the remarks. We were gratified to see President Yeltsin's very strong disavowal of the remarks, as I saw it.
Q Another subject?
MR. BURNS: Yes. Another subject.
Q The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mr. Gonensay, this morning, when he departed from Istanbul to Europe, he said that Turkey wants to become a full member of the European Union. What is the U.S. position on this subject? Do you support the Turkish desire to become a full member of the Western European Union?
MR. BURNS: We have supported almost across the board Turkey's wish to become more closely linked to European institutions -- for instance, the Customs Union. The United States has supported that not only in this Administration, but in the Bush Administration as well.
As for the WEU, I'll just have to check and see whether we have a position and what that position is.
Q A second question. The Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Yilmaz, this morning, warned Syria again of giving safehaven to the PKK. This is the second time high-ranking Turkish officials warned the Syrians after the Turkish and Israeli military cooperation agreement signed.
Do you support the Turkish position on the warning to Syria to get rid of all terrorist groups from their territory?
MR. BURNS: We have consistently supported Turkey's wish that countries beyond Turkey give up their support of the PKK, specifically Syria.
Therefore, what Prime Minister Yilmaz said this morning makes sense to us. It makes sense as part of our own policy -- it's connected with it -- that we think that Syria, as a supporter of terrorist groups -- and we made that very clear when Ambassador Wilcox presented his report last week -- Syria ought to cease and desist for support of the PKK.
Q Somewhat related to that, the Israeli Foreign Minister will be here Wednesday to talk to Mr. Christopher about the possibility of strengthening defense ties, maybe a formal defense treaty. I know it's very much in the embryonic stage.
There was a notion once -- I think Dr. Brzezinski was the prime author of it -- that there should be some sort of strategic relationship in that area of countries that are on good terms with the United States.
Can you say whether -- even at this preliminary stage -- any consideration is being given to broadening this relationship to include such mutual friends as Turkey?
MR. BURNS: To include Turkey in --
Q In any new U.S.-Israeli relationship. Is it strictly bilateral, or might it be a broader, strategic cooperation agreement?
MR. BURNS: We have taken steps in just recent months, including last week when Prime Minister Peres was here, to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. But, Barry, we've done it on a bilateral basis. I'm unaware of any efforts to create a multilateral effort along the lines that you suggest that would include Turkey or anyone else.
Last week, in deciding to take steps to strengthen terrorism cooperation and also defense cooperation, it was consistent with where the President and the Secretary of State want to go in this relationship. So I'm sure that we'll talk about those issues with Foreign Minister Barak and many others as well.
Q Just to clarify. In the last six months, there's been no thought given to creating a Middle East military relationship on two levels. One, bilateral between the United States and Israel; and one sort of multilateral in which Israel and Turkey and Jordan and maybe some of the moderate Gulf nations come together to identify a common threat and a common defense against it?
MR. BURNS: Sid, we've primarily worked on a bilateral basis. There have been discussions about strengthening multilateral cooperation on economic issues, on some water issues, as you know. But that's been part of the Madrid process for over four years now.
I can't point you to anything specific that has come up in the Secretary's meetings -- I've been with him on all of his trips to Israel and to the region -- along the lines that you suggest.
Q Nick, do you have anything to say about the weekend talks with North Korea on prisoners of war?
MR. BURNS: Those talks began on Saturday. They continue today. They are ongoing. They have not yet been completed. Once they are completed, I'll have a report for you on them. They have one issue and one issue alone to discuss, and that is the fate of more than 8,100 Americans -- more than 8,100 Americans who remain missing from the Korean War. It's of very great concern of ours.
Q The fact that they carried over from the weekend, does that suggest of getting some real work done, perhaps. Has it turned out more constructive than you might have thought otherwise?
MR. BURNS: I think it suggests that we have an active dialogue underway. But I wouldn't read anything into it at this point. I will be quick to report to you once the meetings are concluded either late today or at tomorrow's briefing.
Q They may go into tomorrow?
MR. BURNS: I just don't know at this point, but they're certainly continuing today. I don't know when they're going to conclude.
Q Can you be any more specific about Assistant Secretary Lord's trip? The last time they met, the whole famine issue in North Korea was a big issue. What specifically are they going to talk about this time?
MR. BURNS: They'll talk about all of the issues that are at play here. Certainly, the Agreed Framework and our efforts through KEDO to meet the obligations that we have undertaken as well as the North in the Agreed Framework.
Secondly, the situation inside North Korea itself, as far as we can understand it. It's an opaque society. Certainly, the food situation is something that they will talk about.
Third, certainly, the four-party talks that the President and President Kim proposed at Cheju Island. In fact, Winston will be visiting Cheju Island. We'll want to talk about what we have heard from the North Koreans, how we think that that particular proposal will play out.
I do know that the North Koreans continue to consider our proposal. We have had some discussions -- preliminary discussions -- with them but they've not given us a definitive response to President Clinton's proposal.
Q Something recent, in the last couple of days, or just the initial talks?
MR. BURNS: No, just initial contacts that we've had in a variety of places, but nothing definitive. The ball is still in their court. That's fine. They ought to take some time to reflect on this and to get back to us with a considered response because it's a very serious, important proposal. We think it's the right way to go, but we certainly need the North Koreans to agree that they want to take part in this before we can proceed.
Q Is any thought being given to making the Russians somehow a party to these talks? They seemed to have reacted strongly to not being included.
MR. BURNS: As you know, there was great thought given to how we would construct this proposal before the President went to Cheju Island. We ultimately decided to include, to the four-party talks, the three countries that currently have troops on the Korean Peninsula -- North Korea, South Korea, and the United States.
China, which was a signatory of the Armistice Agreement back in 1953, and a direct participant in the Korean War, that seemed to us to be the right framework to begin these talks. We have said, however, that there are certainly a number of other countries -- Russia, Japan, and others -- who obviously have an interest and a role to play, and I'm sure they will play a role if we can get the North Koreans to agree that we ought to start walking down this road.
Q Do you have any comments on the U.N. investigation report about the Israeli shelling of south Lebanon? There are several reports that indicate the investigation says that Israelis might have deliberately hit the camp. Do you have any comments on that?
MR. BURNS: I do have some comments, actually. I have some comments. The Government of Israel, I think at the highest level, throughout the weekend, but in the person of Prime Minister Peres just in the last couple of hours, has denied that Israel intentionally targeted the refugees at the UNIFIL camp.
In fact, Prime Minister Peres has been quoted as saying that we made a mistake and we are terribly sorry, and we regret it. But he went on to say that Israel did not target those civilians. That is what the Israeli Government has said consistently, over the weekend and all the way back to this very tragic incident.
I would just direct you to the quotes and the statements -- the very consistent statements -- of the Israeli Government. I would also say that this document in question is an internal U.N. document that has not been released to the press or to the public, and that is being debated and discussed up at the United Nations in New York. It's premature for me to comment on the document.
But I would make some other comments and observations that maybe are appropriate. First is that this was a great tragedy; 102 people died that day, and that is a tragedy. The United States Government spoke very quickly after the incident, when President Clinton arrived at St. Petersburg hours following the incident.
The United States Government certainly announced our very, very deep regret that the civilians died.
I would also point you, however, to the indisputable fact that Hizbollah used those civilians as cover in a very cynical and despicable way. Hizbollah played a very dangerous game that day. They fired Katyusha rockets into northern Israel from a location within several hundred yards of the refugee camp, and they then took cover in the camp itself.
If you're looking for responsibility and for blame, you can't forget Hizbollah. It's surprising and it's not very good to see, with all this talk over the last couple of days about what happened, there's very little talk about Hizbollah.
The people up at the U.N., who are looking into this, ought to reflect on the actions of the Hizbollah leaders in the area that day who used Arab civilians as cover. That is despicable and it's evil.
No matter what happens here, no matter what the U.N. report says, the important thing is that we have stopped the firing at civilians, and that was the direct result of the United States mission led by Secretary of State Christopher. We think -- and I'm sure the Israeli Government agrees and we hope that Lebanon agrees and Syria agrees -- that we ought now to look towards the future. We ought to make sure that agreement is upheld and honored, that civilians are not attacked in the future. That's what our responsibility is now.
Q Just for the record, do you still maintain your position that Hizbollah is ultimately responsible for the tragedy in Qana?
MR. BURNS: We think it was a tragedy. The Israeli Government has said that it regrets it very, very much. They said it was an error. Hizbollah has not admitted its own complicity and its own perfidy in this tragedy.
Q Nick, there's also this issue of how truthful Israel has been. A few days ago they said that they did not send up a drone, a remotely piloted aircraft, over the base at the time, and it turns out that a U.N. soldier actually videotaped an Israeli drone at the time. Now the Israelis are saying that, "Well, yeah, we did have one up there, but we couldn't use it because of the weather." I mean, can you comment on Israel's truthfulness at all in this investigation?
MR. BURNS: One of the reactions that I have had, Sid, to seeing how this has played out on television and seeing the debate at the U.N. -- everyone's so interested in looking into the past here -- is that the Israeli Government spokesman, including the military leaders -- and you saw them all sitting there at the table together -- have consistently exposed themselves to the scrutiny of the Western press and the Middle East press on this.
Where has Hizbollah been? The Israeli Prime Minister has put himself out. The Government spokesman, Uri Dromi, has been out. The Generals have now been out -- the people who were in charge of the mission that day -- presenting their own thoughts and answering questions. Where is Hizbollah? Are they answering questions? That's how I'd answer your question.
Q Would you call then for a public explanation from Hizbollah as to why they -- in response to your charges?
MR. BURNS: I would just say that Israel has made public its explanation for what happened. There is a missing piece here, and I think it's up to Hizbollah to say what happened. No one has credibly answered the charge that Hizbollah fired Katyusha rockets from within 300 yards of that refugee base, and that they then took cover in that base. Isn't there some responsibility there? If they indeed cared about the lives of those civilians, would they have fired the rockets from 300 yards of the refugee camp itself?
There are a lot of unanswered questions here, and I know that everyone wants to look at Israel first. But Israel has answered the questions. The Prime Minister has spoken to it just in the last couple of hours. Where are the answers from the other side?
Q Liberia. Is there anything new? What about the conference in Ghana? Do you think it's going to happen?
MR. BURNS: I think the conference in Ghana, in Accra, is going to happen tomorrow and Wednesday, May 7 and 8. We know that Roosevelt Johnson will be there. We know that many of the other factions leaders will be there. I do have a little bit of new information that will shed light on what will happened this morning.
There was gunfire in the capital this morning. We know that thousands of Liberians have fled or are trying to escape the fighting in Monrovia. Earlier today there was a skirmish near the United States Embassy compound between forces loyal to Charles Taylor and forces loyal to Roosevelt Johnson.
Several rounds of fire were apparently directed at the United States Embassy. The United States Marines there fired back in self-defense. We received no injuries inside the American Embassy compound. We're not aware that any of the rounds fired by the Marines in self-defense hit any of the Liberian faction members.
The United States would warn all faction members once again to avoid the area of the United States Embassy. United States Marines have no intention of intervening in the fighting, but they will take all necessary means to defend themselves and to defend the American diplomats there and defend our Embassy compound to insure the security of Americans.
The faction members would be very foolish, indeed, if they felt that there was any question on our eagerness or our willingness to defend ourselves.
There's also fighting in the area of the Barclay Training Center over the weekend. There was fighting, in fact, in most parts of Monrovia. Diplomatically, the Ghanaian President, Jerry Rawlings, will host the emergency ECOWAS summit meeting on May 7 and 8. All members of the Liberian Council of State have been invited, and the members of the Council who are in Accra include Roosevelt Johnson. They include Chief Tamba Tailor and Oscar Quiah, as well as Chairman Wilton Sankawula.
Prominent among the missing here is Charles Taylor, who has said that he will not attend, and we think that's most regrettable. If he is interested in a solution to the many, many problems -- political and economic problems there -- he ought to be in Accra. His failure to attend is most regrettable. It is disappointing to us.
We certainly would urge him to reconsider, and we would urge all factions leaders in Liberia to make their way to Accra for the meeting.
I would also say that the United States will consider failure to attend as evidence of an unwillingness to support peace negotiations in general, and I would also remind you and them that the reimposition of visa restrictions that we announced here on Friday afternoon remain in place.
If Charles Taylor or any of the other factions leaders believe that their associates or their relatives can seek refuge from the fighting that they have caused -- to seek refuge in the United States, they are mistaken. They will not be permitted entry into the United States.
Q Nick, the other day you suggested that there were steps beyond visa restrictions that the United States might employ. Are you still considering those? Are you -- I mean, if the conference is tomorrow and you're trying to exert maximum pressure, wouldn't this be a time to take another step?
MR. BURNS: We are going to see how the conference goes. We're going to see if the conference can make headway in trying to resolve some of the problems there and in trying to end the fighting. If that doesn't happen, obviously, we'll have to consider our next options, but we have not decided on any course of action beyond the one that we took on Friday.
Q But, Nick, what can this conference do if one of the major parties is refusing to attend?
MR. BURNS: It's a big problem. That's why we're urging him to reconsider and to attend. If he doesn't show up, I think a very important political statement has been made; that the other faction leaders and the other members of the Council are interested at least in sitting down in an African setting and at talking about peace, and Charles Taylor is not. It then puts a very great part of the responsibility for the continuation of the fighting on his shoulders.
Q The U.S. is continuing to offer him transportation to the meeting?
MR. BURNS: If that's the problem, if he needs a lift, we'll give him a lift. I doubt that's the problem. But if he's having trouble booking a flight, we can get him to Accra in time for the meeting tomorrow.
Q Nick, apart from the fighting, there's an enormous humanitarian problem. There are heartbreaking pictures of people trying to crowd aboard a ship. Is the United States considering any form of humanitarian relief or transport for some of the refugees out of that hell hole?
MR. BURNS: We took as our first responsibility the emergency evacuation of the foreign community, including American citizens. We accomplished that.
Secondly, we have continued to support the efforts of the international organizations in an exceedingly difficult setting, to provide food assistance and shelter to the disadvantaged -- the refugees in Monrovia.
Third, we have offered in effect what amounts to a challenge grant of $30 million to try to help stabilize the situation, but only if -- and this is for training and for other assistance -- only if the Abuja peace accords can be adhered to; if the leaders of the various factions can recommit themselves to that process.
We do have a responsibility -- it's historical -- going back to the 19th century. It's also current. We can't do everything ourselves. I think, Jim, if we attempted to try to evacuate all the people who want to leave, we'd probably have to empty the city. There are a million civilians there, roughly, in Monrovia and surrounding areas, and we simply don't have the capacity to lift those people to Freetown and to Dakar.
We are calling upon the faction leaders to think of their own people -- think of their own supporters who are now suffering, who have lost their homes, who are dead. There were many people killed over the weekend, massacred. Think of them. That's what we're trying to do right now, put together a political process to try to end the fighting.
Q And in terms of food delivery, is the naval task force able to transport any food into parts of the city?
MR. BURNS: We've been trying to transport supplies into our Embassy to keep our own people alive and to keep them fed. We have tried as best we can, but looking to the leadership of the international organizations and the non-governmental organizations there to try to help the people at refugee centers throughout Monrovia, including the Greystone compound, which is a U.S. Government facility.
Q Briefly Bosnia. Do you have any comment about the first trial in The Hague?
MR. BURNS: I do have a comment, and that is that we're very, very pleased that tomorrow in The Hague will be the first trial of the War Crimes Tribunal. The Tribunal has indicted 57 people, and the beginning of the trial tomorrow is the first step on a long road, and that is the road to justice as well as peace in Bosnia.
We always said at Dayton that both were important. This is the first step to try to account for the humanitarian abuses and outrages of the past four years, and we have fully supported the Tribunal, and we'll continue to do so. As you know, we're the main funder and main supporter of the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal.
We know that there will be other trials in the future, including, we hope, the trials of Karadzic and Mladic at some point in the future.
Q Do you have any idea of when and how? General Joulwan said that IFOR they don't have the obligation to arrest Mladic and Karadzic, which is true, and he said that it is obligation for Pale. Could you mention that situation -- Karadzic and Mladic together -- going to The Hague?
MR. BURNS: I think it's a good question. I can't imagine that Karadzic is going to turn himself in. General Joulwan is absolutely correct. It is not the first order of business for the IFOR troops to go out and hunt for them. We said that repeatedly for months.
At some point in the future they'll miscalculate, and they will fall under the judgment of the international community, and they will be tried for their crimes.
Q Did you see the remarks of Senator Mitchell the other day in which he said that the reconciliation is not going to work until those two have in fact been brought to trial?
MR. BURNS: I wouldn't disagree with his remarks at all. Ultimately, these two guys who continue to retain positions of authority are responsible for a climate that is not conducive -- and we saw that just last week -- to reconciliation, to the return of refugees, where the Serbs acted in a very uncivilized way.
Certainly, we believe they've got to be brought to justice, and we remain hopeful -- very hopeful that at some point they will. They're not going to rule in that part of the world forever, and they will be held accountable for their crimes.
Q (Inaudible) arrest?
MR. BURNS: Barry, I don't know if they're going to miscalculate and they're going to fall under the hands of the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal or to a young soldier manning an IFOR checkpoint, but I think at some point it will happen.
Q Well, they've got to ski right into him to get arrested.
MR. BURNS: Skiing season's over.
Q So Ambassador Sacirbey is in Washington. Do you have any idea why?
MR. BURNS: I don't, no. I don't know why he's here. We have regular consultations with him. I'm sure we'll be glad to see him if he's here, but I don't have anything to say to you.
Q Pardon me if you've talked about this in the past. Is Patten going to be at the State Department when he visits -- the Hong Kong Governor?
MR. BURNS: Yes. Chris Patten is going to be -- the Governor of Hong Kong -- will be in Washington, I believe, on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The Secretary of State will see him on Thursday morning. I know that Vice President Gore will also see him, as will a variety of other people around town.
We're looking forward to this, because the issue of Hong Kong is important in the larger scheme of things in Asia. He is a very well-respected figure here in Washington, has a lot of friends here, and we're looking forward to our meetings with him.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURNS: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 1:52 p.m.)
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